Stathis writes

> There is an important difference between normative statements and descriptive 
> or empirical statements. Quoting from Wikipedia:
> 
> "Descriptive (or constative) statements are falsifiable statements that 
> attempt to describe reality. Normative 
> statements, on the other hand, affirm how things should or ought to be, how 
> to value them, which things are good or bad, 
> which actions are right or wrong."

Yes; it's always good to keep that in mind. Catch me if I slip  ;-)

> Suppose some powerful being sets up an experiment whereby organisms who 
> believe they are the same individual day after 
> day are selectively culled, while those who believe that they are born anew 
> each morning and die when they fall asleep 
> each night, but still make provision for their successors just as we make 
> provision for our children, are left alone or 
> rewarded....
> You would then have to grant the day-people that their belief is just as good 
> as ours, 
> the difference between us just being an accident of evolution. What's more, 
> to be consistent you would have to grant that 
> a duplicate is not a self, on the grounds that the great majority of people 
> do not believe this and our very language is 
> designed to deny that such a thing is possible (only the British monarch uses 
> "we" to mean what commoners refer to as "I"). 

Of course, actions speak louder than words. As you point out, people have
believed many seemingly strange things. I'm sure that some medieval
scholastics, or perhaps people in an insane asylum, have consistently
held many positions.  What determines sanity, as well as what one's
true beliefs are, is the way that one acts.

In your example, indeed people could go around saying that they were
not the same person from day to day. But (as you also point out) 
evolution might cull certain beliefs. Now what is important is that
someone *acts* as though they are the same from day to day. And in
fact, no matter how people's lips move, we would find that all but
the seriously deranged *act* as though what happened to "them" 
tomorrow mattered. 

So I can imagine people *saying* that they are not the same from 
day to day, but I cannot imagine successful human organisms acting
as thought they were not.

> Survival and continuity of identity consist solely in the fact that we 
> *believe* we survive from moment to moment.

Whereas I believe that how we act is what is important, and that our
language should simply reflect how we act. Since people do in fact
try to save their skins over days, in some sense this makes them at
least the same "vested interest".

In your scenario, language would evolve, although perhaps awkwardly,
to account for people's  behavior. For instance, contracts could no
longer be between persons (except ones whose terms expired within
the course of a single day), but instead would specify "vested 
interests" or something that meant the same thing as we ordinarily
mean by "person".

> You're right, of course [in that] The belief that we are the same
> person from moment to moment has a certain utility, otherwise it 
> would never have evolved. But do you think there is more to the idea
> than evolutionary expediency?

Offhand, I can't think of any reason except, as you say, evolutionary
expediency. As you also say, there can be no absolute truth to the 
matter. Nonetheless, as I said above, if we want our words to chase
our actual behavior, then there are the usual "persons".

Notice the great utility of it that even fits the usage I'm suggesting.
Young people strongly discount things that will happen to them when
"they" are much older. But you can see a certain reason to it; in the
sense I use, they may not later be the same person (of course it lies
on a continuum, as you know).

> Also, if a particular belief or behaviour has evolved, does that
> necessarily makes it true and/or good?

The belief---as all our beliefs---are either accurate (good maps) or
they are not. We could call our accurate beliefs "true"---isn't that
Tarski's or someone's Correspondence Theory of Truth?.

For sure, a belief is good, (or perhaps I should simply say better)
if either it advances survival or corresponds to the structure of
the world.

lee


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