Brent Meeker writes:

> Of course such cases already arise in which Alzheimer's or schizophrenia changes a person into
> "someone else", i.e. we say he is "no longer himself".  Just because there is an continuum of
> intermediate states it doesn't follow that there is no "fact of the matter".


We say "he is no longer himself", but what we mean is that even though we know he is the same person, he is not like the person he used to be before he got sick. And we know that he *is* the same person despite this fact because he has continuously occupied the same body. So yes, in every situation anyone has ever encountered, there is a simple enough criterion - body identity - which will determine the "fact of the matter" in case there is any doubt. But the challenge is to come up with a criterion that covers all *possible* situations. Body identity will not do if we could teleport from one place to another: I could kill someone, teleport away, then argue in court that it wasn't me who did it because I have a different body now. DNA evidence could then be cited to prove that I was the criminal, even though I had a different body. But I could get around this by genetically modifying all the cells in my body in such a way as to leave my memories and personality intact, or I could upload my mind to a computer and destroy my biological body. What about defining identity in terms of psychological continuity? Apart from it being much harder to prove this, there are other ways to escape punishment. I could deliberately or accidentally excise parts of my memory including any knowledge of the crime, or I could spread my memories of the crime and aspects of my personality to other individuals. On a computer network, how would you show that these electrons over here are descended from the original  murderer and deserve punishment, while those electrons over there, which appear to encode the same information, are innocent? I'm sure legislators will try to come up with something, but at this point, it should be obvious that the certainty with which we currently view matters of personal identity is just a consequence of the fact that we live simple, animal lives from birth to death.


Stathis Papaioannou

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