RE: Belief Statements

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Sun, 16 Jan 2005 01:32:51 +1100

On 15/1/05 Bruno Marchal wrote:

>Obviously! But it is so only because you dismiss the "failure induction
>problem". Also: third person identity is arguably an illusion. But I hardy
>doubt first person identity can ever be an illusion or that it could even
>be useful to consider like it. What is painful in pain for the suffering
>first person is mainly that the pain can last, and this independently of
>any precise idea the first person could have about who she is.

This type of argument is often used to support the more "common sense"
position on personal identity, but it is flawed. If I believe (as I do) that
my future will consist of a series of people who live only for a moment, who
believe they are me and share most of my memories, but aside from this
similarity are no more "me" than any stranger is, then I shouldn't worry
about "my" future suffering any more than I should worry about the suffering
of a stranger. As a matter of fact, I would worry more if I expected to be
tortured tomorrow than if I expected someone else would be tortured
tomorrow. Therefore, the idea that continuity of personal identity is an
illusion must be wrong, or at least my claim to believe this idea must be

In fact, all this argument shows is that humans, and for that matter other
animals, have evolved to behave as if the conventional view of personal
identity is true. It is so primitive and deep-seated that "belief" is
probably not the best word for it; it is more a feeling or instinct. And it
is certainly not something I can overcome with mere reason!

There wouln't be much point in arguing about all this if it were not for the
theoretical possibility of teleportation, multiple universes, time travel
and so on. Efforts to save the conventional view of personal identity in
discussing these matters result in a complicated mess. If we allow that all
that exists is individual moments of first person experience which can be
grouped according to their similarity, as a stamp collector groups stamps,
giving the impression of continuous streams of consciousness, all the
apparent paradoxes and other difficulties disappear.

--Stathis Papaioannou

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Received on Sat Jan 15 2005 - 09:36:07 PST

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