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Personal Identity and the Importance of One's Own Body: A Response to Derek Parfit

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Abstract:

In this essay I take issue with Derek Parfit's reductionist account of personal identity.Parfit is concerned to respond to what he sees as flaws in the conception of the role of 'person' in self-interest theories. He attempts to show that the notion of a person as something over and above a totality of mental and physical states and events (in his words, a 'further fact'), is empty, and so, our ethical concerns must be based on something other than this. My objections centre around the claim that Parfit employs an impoverished conception of 'life'. Parfit misconceives the connection between 'I' and one's body, and, so, despite his rejection of a metaphysical conception of 'self', remains within the logic of Cartesianism. What Parfit and other reductionists call an 'impersonal' perspective, I shall call the third-person perspective: a perspective which one in general may take. Against Parfit I shall offer a more complex conception of 'self' through the concept of 'bodily perspective'. I emphasize the irreducible ambiguities of human embodiment in order to show the presuppositions and the limitations of Parfit's view. Of interest is the conception of time and the model of continuity that is appropriate to an embodied subject's life. I employ Paul Ricoeur's concept of 'human time' to argue that the reflective character of human experience demands a model of temporality and continuity that differs significantly from the one Parfit employs.

Keywords: APPERCEPTION; EMBODIMENT; IDENTITY; IMPERSONALITY; REDUCTIONISM; TEMPORALITY

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/096725500750039309

Publication date: 2000-10-01

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