Sure, and if Parfit's discussion boiled down to "if we assume that a
spectrum of identies is possible for the sake of argument, then..."

We can also make the opposite assumption, and come to the opposite
conclusions. Not especially edifying, wouldn't you think.

Parfit was trying to bias the discussion one way by providing some
plausibility arguments. With our extra twenty years of knowledge in
complex systems, neurology and genetics, I argue that these
plausibility arguments are looking a little threadbare. This does not
diminish Parfit's contribution, seen in the context of the time he
wrote his book. But I am not interested in historical relativism, I'm
interested in the best understanding of a topic that can be wrought
using all evidence and arguments available.


On Wed, May 31, 2006 at 10:19:56PM +1000, Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> 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
A/Prof Russell Standish                  Phone 8308 3119 (mobile)
Mathematics                                    0425 253119 (")
UNSW SYDNEY 2052                         [EMAIL PROTECTED]             
            International prefix  +612, Interstate prefix 02

You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups 
"Everything List" group.
To post to this group, send email to
To unsubscribe from this group, send email to [EMAIL PROTECTED]
For more options, visit this group at

Reply via email to