Monthly Archives: September 2011

Personal Identity Fraud

What does McGinn think we cannot know” is the first proper philosophy paper I wrote.  It was published in Analysis in 1997 when I was a wee postgrad.  I lost it on a crashed hard drive  years ago, and it just resurfaced when I was googling around for details of another paper on mind.  McGinn argues for a position that’s now called mysterianism, and it has quite a following.  The idea, if I remember, is that brains are evolved organs like any other, and as such there are things it can and cannot do.  So there are cognitive blindspots, conceptual spaces our minds just can’t move into, and therefore problems we just cannot solve.  The solution to the mind-body problem, McGinn argues, is in one of our blindspots — we are cognitively closed to it.  In the paper, I argue that he’s not entitled to that conclusion, with a lot of fairly breathless examples and some plodding distinctions.  I winced a bit when I read it, and I have to confess I didn’t make it all the way to the end.  But I still think I might be right.

Quite weird, reading something you wrote a while ago.  I’m not sure I recognize myself in it at all.  I don’t write like that or think like that anymore.  I’m certainly not worried about the mind-body problem.  When you get a good look at yourself as you were — in an old photograph or on an old page — you can worry less about personal identity and more about something else.  Personal identity fraud?  The feeling that you really aren’t who you were.  And if that’s possible, there’s the slightly liberating thought that the you that you are will be someone else in a few years’ time.  It makes me even less inclined to pay into a pension.

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