Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Swinburne Pt. II: Complications for the Simple View

This post is all about objections to Swinburne's theory of personal identity.

"Miracle" Objection to Swinburne’s Simple View: It seems that the criteria of bodily continuity and psychological continuity work for most cases where we think about personal identity.  Our evidence about psychological criteria for personal identity is a reliable way to find out if personal identity has been kept or lost.  Swinburne is silly to think that it’s just a simple coincidence that our evidence for the criteria of bodily continuation and psychological continuation is usually right!  In other words, Swinburne must think that it is a miracle that there is another criterion for personal identity when we already have perfectly good evidence that works most the time!

Swinburne’s Argument for the Independence Thesis:
1. Fission cases show that neither psychological nor bodily continuity are sufficient for personal identity.
2. It’s conceivable that a person could acquire a new body.
3. It’s conceivable that a person could exist without a body.
4. It’s conceivable that a person could exist without any memory of his or her past life.
5. It’s conceivable that a person gets a new body and have no memories of his or her former life.
6. If (2), (3), (4) and (5) are true, then it is possible that a person undergoes exactly this kind of change.
7. If it is possible that a person undergoes (2)-(5) and if (1) is true, then the independence thesis is true.
8. Therefore, the independence thesis is true.  Neither bodily nor psychological continuity are necessary for personal identity.

Let’s examine these premises.

Premise 2: Getting a New Body.  Swinburne basically says, hey,  I can imagine that I can have a new body.  It’s not contradictory to think that in such a case, I could still be the same person that I was before (that I could still see, feel and act like I did before).  This is a notion that is supported by Eastern notions of reincarnation and Western notions about resurrection.

Premise 3: Disembodied Existence.  It’s coherent to think that a person could control different bodies or perhaps incorporable inhabit a region of space.  Again, there's no contradiction here.  People can ditch their bodies.

Premise 4: Existing without Memories.  Swinburne thinks that cases of amnesia are clear examples where a person continues to exist without his or her memories.

Premise 5: Existing without Memories and with a New Body.  Swinburne notes that world religions believe in stories of a person’s soul losing all of his or her memories and then being reincarnated in a new body.  He thinks this is a good reason to believe this premise.

Sven notes that aside from issues of soundness (truth) of the premises, a philosophically interesting part of the argument is premise (6).  Swinburne thinks that both possibility and conceivability only require that there be no logical contradiction.  But Sven says that even though we don’t make a logical contradiction when we say “It is conceivable that there be 6 pink elephants in the room”, this does not entail that it is possible that there could be 6 pink elephants in the room.  Sven notes that many think that a lack of contradiction is necessary for possibility but that lack of contradiction is not sufficient for possibility.  This is why Swinburne is wrong to make the move he does in premise 6.

Bertrand Russel also disagrees with the independence thesis.  Russel admits that sure, reincarnation might be possible.  He says that if it were possible to be reincarnated, then our memories and habits would have to be exhibited in our new bodies.  But Russel thinks that this is very unlikely because our memories and habits depends on our bodies (specifically our brains).  Russel admits that reincarnation might be possible but he says that it is entirely unlikely to be a case where a person keeps his or her identity.

Russel thinks that Swinburne’s view is appealing because (1) people are afraid of death so they want to believe in life after death and (2) people admire human beings so much that they think that it would be too terrible if a person just ended when his or her body died.  Basically, Russel thinks that there are emotional reasons for accepting Swinburne's dualism but there are not good philosophical reasons to do so.

Swinburne’s dualism is much like Descartes’ dualism.  According to both views, a person is made up of two kinds of things: physical substance and a non-physical substance.  Descartes calls this mind and Swinburne calls it a soul.  Where Swinburne differs from Cartesian dualism is that Swinburne says that memories are physical stuff whereas Descartes would think that memories are part of mind.

Reconstruction of Swinburne’s Argument for the Existence of Souls:
1. Having a soul is necessary for me to survive without my body. (If P, then Q)
2. It is possible that I can exist without my physical body. (P is possible)
3. Therefore, I have a soul. (Therefore Q)

An argument with a similar structure is this:
1. It is necessary that if someone is a bachelor then he is unmarried. (If P, then Q)
2. It is possible that Obama is a bachelor. (P is possible)
3.  Therefore, Obama is unmarried. (Therefore, Q)

Can we say "reductio-ed"?

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