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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Sentient beings and persons : a novel theory of personal survival Henry, Wayne


This thesis is concerned with the philosophical problems of personal identity and personal survival. In the first case, we are concerned to establish what our identity as persons consists in at any instant. In the second case we are concerned to establish what our survival as the self-same (i.e.:numerically identical) person consists in. That is, we wish to know what it means to say that one is the same person now which one was ten years ago or will be ten years from now. I first introduce the distinction between the epistemological question of how we can know these things and the metaphysical question of what these notions actually consist in and claim that much confusion has resulted from the conflation of these two. Further, I explicitly claim that this thesis is intended as a solution to the latter only. I then move on to an historical survey of the major theories of personal identity that have been held since the time of Descartes. After demonstrating how these theories are inadequate, I introduce and explicate the theory defended here which, it is claimed, is a novel one. This novelty consists in the following two distinctions: Firstly, that between persons and sentient beings and, secondly, that between qualitative and non-qualitative psychological relations. It is claimed that sentient beings incorporate the latter in a way which makes them immune to the sorts of contextual problems that typically affect theories of personal identity. Having already established that we are all sentient beings as well as persons, I then claim that the former concept is the fundamental notion of any theory of personal identity and survival. I subsequently consider reductionism, which currently prevails in the field, and conclude that such a position inevitably leads to many counterintuitive results. I then compare reductionism with the theory defended here and conclude that the latter is preferable, since it allows us to explain personal identity without abandoning our intuitions regarding what is involved in these matters.

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