our own survival is greatly over-valued


Let us recap. You don’t have to go where your immaterial soul goes—not at least if it doesn’t take your mind with it. You don’t have to go where your body goes—not at least if it doesn’t take your mind with it. What does this suggest? That you go where your mind goes or, as Locke puts it, “personal identity consists . . . in the identity of consciousness.” Let us not pause to examine what exactly Locke means by “identity of consciousness” and instead turn to the development of his view by the philosopher Derek Parfit, whose 1984 book Reasons and Persons is partly devoted to defending a “neo-Lockean” theory of personal identity and to extracting some astonishing implications from it. The basic neo-Lockean idea is that you survive just in case your psychology continues on in roughly the manner it does in ordinary life. Our psychological lives are not a series of unrelated mental events, but form a complex structure. A simple example: you go to the beach and enjoy the experience of basking on the hot sand. At noon you decide to return home at sunset, and this explains why at dusk you gather up your towel. In the evening at home you recall being at the beach, the feeling of the sand on your feet, and so forth. This illustrates what Parfit calls “psychological connectedness,” the sort of relation that holds between your decision to leave and subsequent towel gathering, and between your beach experience and subsequent recollection. We can think of your psychological life from childhood to old age as overlapping stretches of psychological connectedness, like strips of paper glued together to form a much longer strip. Parfit calls this “psychological continuity.” Parfit’s view is that personal identity—our survival or persistence over time—consists in psychological continuity and connectedness.

more from Alex Byrne at Boston Review here.