Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Swinburne Pt. I: The Simple View

Today we turn to Swinburne, who puts forward two theses.  The first thesis is the independence thesis, also known as the simple view.  The independence thesis is that personal identity can occur without bodily continuity, memory connections or other psychological connections.  In other words, neither bodies (including brains) nor memories are necessary for personal identity.  The second thesis supports dualism.  Swinburne thinks that a person is made up of a physical body and a non-physical soul.  He thinks that the soul is essential to being a (specific) person.  Swinburne says that the body is not necessary to be a person.  In other words, the body is accidentally part of a person whereas the soul is essential to the person.  Swinburne’s view can be summed up in what he calls the soul criterion: A person is only identical to himself or herself at a later time if he or she has the same soul.

Swinburne starts his paper by dividing the problem of personal identity into two questions: First, what are the criteria of personal identity?  Second, what is the evidence we have to think that there actually is personal identity?  Swinburne thinks that these two questions have been treated as a single question, which is just confusing and wrong.  He says that we can have true beliefs that are not supported by evidence.  In other words, Swinburne thinks that we can have true beliefs that are not justified.  This is why Swinburne thinks that we should not think that the evidence we have about personal identity points to the right criteria for personal identity.

Specifically, Swinburne thinks that the evidence we have may support the view that personal identity is made up of psychological continuity, so we tend to think that psychological continuity is the criterion for personal identity.  Swinburne thinks that the evidence we have, however, is misleading and fallible.   This is why Swinburne thinks that we cannot use this evidence as proof that the criterion for personal identity is a psychological connection.  Swinburne thinks that a soul is the real criterion for personal identity.

Now remember that scamp Thomas Reid who had all those objections to Locke’s theory of personal identity?  Well, it turns out that he made these same kinds of objections to Locke as Swinburne is making against Parfit.  I wonder if Swinburne had his paper vetted on turnitin.com.  JK.

The upshot is that Swinburne thinks that theories like Locke’s and Parfit’s are verificationist.  Parfit and Locke are called verificationist because they think that things must be verifiable in order to be true.  In other words, verificationists think that only statements or beliefs that are empirically provable can be true.  Sven notes that being a verificationist means that you don’t think statements like “I love him” or “the sun will rise tomorrow” can be true because they cannot be verified.  Although verificationism was popular once in philosophical literature, now people largely think that verificationism is too exclusive of a theory about truth because there are times where something is true but not verifiable.

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