I intend to explicate Derek Parfit's view regarding personal identity as nothing more than non-branching psychological continuity. I will be brief in my discussion to avoid redundancy, as I have more deeply explicated Parfit's infamous view in my previous paper, Parfit's View of Personal Identity. Further, I will discuss the vast implications of Parfit's view of persons as a series of psychologically continuous selves related by differing degrees of psychological connectedness. I will defend Parfit's identification of psychological continuity as the criterion for personal identity. However, in defending the basic theory, I will argue that the psychologically continuous successive selves that constitute a person will typically never be as distantly related as Parfit implies. Therefore, I will argue further that the prevailing beliefs of persons that Parfit himself identifies as susceptible to his view are in fact mostly compatible with his view, and therefore, additional evidence for a Parfitian view of personal identity.
[...] This is highly irrational and should be further weakened, if it is prevalent, with acceptance of Parfit's view of personal identity. However, Parfit excessively discounts the role of instinct in this irrational fear. The will to survive must be among the most powerful instincts of all organisms. To some extent, controlling the fear of death may simply be beyond our rational powers, no matter what we profess to believe about the nature of our existence. In our transition to a survival-by-degrees view of the nature of persons, the emotions that Parfit worries will be weakened will survive in a similar degree. [...]
[...] The implications of Parfit's view of the nature of persons are greatly unsettling and even disturbing. However, I believe that we can retain many of our qualities that Parfit fears we may lose under his theory of the nature of persons-especially “loyalty to, or love of, other particular selves”- while accepting the nature of persons as psychologically continuous successive selves of varying relation (“Personal Identity” 181). The key involves the matters of degree in which survival consists. Parfit implies that there exist great disparities in degrees of psychological connectedness among the selves that constitute a person. [...]
[...] Distinguishing between those prisoners who have changed in character from their psychologically continuous former selves and those prisoners who remain closely psychologically connected to their criminal predecessors unfortunately remains beyond our means. A prisoner remains incarcerated not because he is the same substantive self who deserves punishment but because the psychological state relevant to his imprisonment-his dangerousness-probably has not altered drastically. Therefore, long-term incarceration is not inconsistent with Parfitian survival-by-degrees. If the disjunction between deep-seated human beliefs (fear of death, the possibility and goodness of loyalty and love, the justified incarceration of criminals) and a Parfitian view of personal identity is smaller than even Parfit suggests, then I must count that [...]
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