The subject of personal identity is one of the most central and most contested and exciting in philosophy. Ever since Locke, psychological and bodily criteria have vied with one another in conflicting accounts of personal identity. Carol Rovane argues that, as things stand, the debate is unresolvable since both sides hold coherent positions that our common sense, she maintains, is conflicted; so any resolution to the debate is bound to be revisionary. She boldly offers such a revisionary theory of personal (...) identity by first inquiring into the nature of persons. Rovane begins with a premise about the distinctive ethical nature of persons to which all substantive ethical doctrines, ranging from Kantian to egoist, can subscribe. From this starting point, she derives two startling metaphysical possibilities: there could be group persons composed of many human beings and muliple persons within a single human being. Her conclusions supports Locke's distinction between persons and human beings, but on altogether new grounds. These grounds lie in her radically normative analysis of the condition of personal identity, as the condition in which a certain normative commitment arises, namely, the commitment to achieve overall rational unity within a rational point of view. It is by virtue of this normative commitment that individual agents can engage one another specifically as persons, and possess the distinctive ethical status of persons. Carol Rovan is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Yale University. Originally published in 1997. The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback and hardcover editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905. (shrink)
Pettit and List argue for realism about group agency, while at the same time try to retain a form of metaphysical and normative individualism on which human beings qualify as natural persons. This is an unstable and untenable combination of views. A corrective is offered here, on which realism about group agency leads us to the following related conclusions: in cases of group agency, the sort of rational unity that defines individual rational unity is realized at the level of a (...) whole group; rational unity is never a metaphysical given but always a product of effort and will; just as it can be realized within groups of human beings it can also be realized within parts of human beings, as well as within whole human lives; in cases of group agency, the rational unity that is achieved at the level of the group typically precludes rational unity at the level of its human constituents within their whole lives, though it can be realized within parts of those human lives. Along the way, a contrast is drawn between cases of genuine group agency and the cases of political agency envisaged by Rousseau and Rawls (and by Pettit and List) which leave individual human beings intact as separate agents in their own rights. (shrink)
It is generally assumed that group agency must be a social phenomenon because it involves interactions among many human beings. This assumption overlooks the real metaphysical nature of agency, which is both normative and voluntarist. Construed as a normative phenomenon, individual agency arises wherever there is a point of view from which deliberation and action proceed in accord with the requirements that define individual rationality. Such a point of view is never a metaphysical given, but is always a product of (...) rational activities that aim to satisfy the requirements that define individual rationality. When such a deliberative point of view is forged within a whole human life, there is a single agent of human size. But such points of view can also be forged within parts of human lives so as to constitute multiple agents within them; and they can also be achieved within groups of human lives so as to constitute group agents that literally deliberate and act as one. If such a group agent were a social phenomenon, then its agency would simultaneously be the agency of many even as it was also the agency of one. In that case, its deliberations and actions would have to proceed from many separate deliberative points of view, at the same time that they also proceeded from a single deliberative point of view. A correct account of rational agency shows that this is not necessarily so, and indeed, not typically so. Moreover, if it were so much as possible for this to be so, it would require special conditions of the sort that Rousseau identified in his account of the general will. But this special case is not a good model on which to understand the cases of group agency that are most often discussed in the philosophical literature. They are more appropriately viewed as cases in which the condition of individual agency is realized at the level of a group, than as cases of social agency per se. (shrink)
Rovane explores eight related claims: persons are not merely rational, but possess full reflective rationality; there is a single overarching normative requirement that rationality places on persons, which is to achieve overall rational unity within themselves; beings who possess full reflective rationality can enter into distinctively interpersonal relations, which involve efforts at rational influence from within the space of reasons; a significant number of moral considerations speak in favor of defining the person as a reflective rational agent; this definition of (...) the person has led Locke and others to distinguish personal identity from animal identity; although it is a platitude that a person has special reason to be concerned for its own well being, it is not obvious how best to account for that platitude; groups of human beings and parts of human beings might qualify as individual agents and, hence, as individual persons in their own right; there is a sense in which the normative requirements of rationality are not categorical but merely hypothetical. (shrink)
The philosophical dispute about personal identity thrives in part because common sense supports both sides. That is, our commonsense notion of a person is rich enough to accommodate both the animalist view that we are human beings whose lives are bounded by the biological events of birth and death and, also, the Lockean view that our lives as reflective beings could in principle come apart from a given animal life. Consequently, there is no way to arrive at a consistent position (...) about personal identity without revising some aspect of our commonsense thinking about persons. This puts philosophers on a somewhat awkward footing. Other things being equal, they would prefer to provide conclusive arguments in favor of their views, arguments that rule out all of the alternatives as untenable. But this is not feasible in the case of personal identity. Any consistent account of personal identity that anyone wishes to defend must be put forward as a revisionary proposal that selects and develops some aspect of our inconsistent commonsense outlook over others. And anyone can resist the proposal by choosing to select and develop some other strand instead. (shrink)
Thought experiments about personal identity have generated conflicting conclusions. Unger attempts, but fails, to refine the thought experimental approach, so as to yield consistent results -- in support of a novel analysis of personal identity. A better strategy is to regard the thought experiments as posing a problem rather than providing a solution. The problem they raise concerns the basis of self-concern. Examining this problem provides grounds for a psychological analysis of personal identity that differs substantially from Unger's.