Russell Standish writes:
> On Wed, May 31, 2006 at 04:36:46PM +1000, Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> > You're being too practical. That's fine for scientific speculation,
> > it can be an impediment in trying to understand philosophers. If I
> I'm sorry, but you've already lost me here. If there is no grounding
> in understood terms, and in this discussion group that largely means
> scientific notions, then we are not having a discussion at all.

Of course we have to have a grounding in understood terms if we are to
have any sort of discussion. But there is a difference between science
and philosophy. Philosophy need not necessarily deal with
verifiable/falsifiable facts about the world, which to science is the
sine qua non. The same thought experiment  can lead to completely
different discussions, depending on which way you look at it. Take the
idea of making an exact copy of a person. The physicist may look at
whether it is possible even in principle to make an exact copy of
something down to the quantum level, and whether this level of fidelity
would be necessary to yield functionally equivalent brain processes. The
neurosurgeon may consider what Parfit calls "fission": whether it would
in fact be possible to get two identical minds by cutting the corpus
callosum,  given the slight differences between hemispheres, the effect
of the surgical trauma, and so on. To the philosopher, on the other
hand, these questions are only a side issue. What he is interested in is
the conditional: IF a person could be perfectly duplicated, THEN which
of the two copies would we say is the continuation of the
pre-duplication person? Would it be one, both or neither? What should
the person about to undergo duplication expect to experience? Can we
come up with a definition of personal identity which provides a
satisfactory and unequivocal answer to these questions? If not, what
does this say about the concept of continuity of personal identity over
time, which hitherto we all thought we understood? 

I suppose there are some scientists (and probably even more laypeople)
who would regard the purely philosophical questions with contempt: if
mind duplication etc. is a practical or theoretical impossibility, why
waste time thinking about such nonsense? My purpose is not to enter into
that debate, but just to point out that Parfit is a philosopher, and you
have to keep that in mind when reading his work.

Stathis Papaioannou

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