This essay refers to Marc Slors "Two Conceptions of Psychological Continuity" (1998) in which he develops and defends a conception of psychological continuity based on the partial dissolution of a psychologial criterion, a body criterion and an interpretation of the psychological continuity criterion about personal identity across time. In this paper I will reconstruct his argumentation and point out three topics, that have been the most outstanding observations by Slors in the text: the third-person criterion, connectedness of perceptual contents and narrative connectedness between particular psychological contents. Afterwards I will end with my own thoughts and my evaluation about Marc Slors and his point ofview on Personal Identity across time.
1. An Alternative to Contemporary Conception of Psychological Continuity
Marc Slors persues the goal of showing that there is an alternative to the contemporary conception of psychological continuity: a conception that incorporates some (but not all) of the intuitions behind the bodily criterion and some (but not all) of the intuitions behind the ego theory. In order to give you an overview about Slors' way of argumentation I collected five claims by Slors that support his reasoning:
(1) "The body can play the part that is usually ascribed to an immaterial ego; it can provide a deeper psycho-biographical unity while at the same time providing third-person criteria for the (re)identification of persons"
(2) "Connectedness between qualitatively dissimilar contents, process-like connectedness or connectedness in virtue of intelligible succession, has not been given its philosophical due"
(3) "All or at least most ofour thoughts, experiences, associations, beliefs, desires, and so on, occur against a relatively stable background of one ongoing narrative, knowledge or awareness of which is a precondition for grasping their full contents"
(4) "Being able to make sense of the world is a prerequisite for being able to make sense of oneself as an objective continuant in that world"
(5) "Without a basic narrative, there can be no psychological continuity."
With the help of these claims by Slors I will lead you through my selected main topics in this paper and refer to them as soon as I explained why Slors comes up with them.
1.1 The third-person criterion
When talking about the third-person criterion we basically mean causally connected brain states that are accessible from a third-person point of view (c. Locke) and can be considered for reidentification. Slors complains that causally connected brain states do not provide a full reidentification criterion because we'd have to be able to determine the contents of mental states 'from the outside', which isn't possible. Another option for a "Third-Person Criterion Alternative" would be that we have to rely on verbal testimony as a criterion for reidentification, but that wouldn't be sufficiently praxis-conforming. Slors Alternative (a conception that incorporates some of the intuitions behind the bodily criterion and some of the intuitions behind the ego theory) allows both third-person criteria for (re)identification, and a more precise criterion for determining whether radical psychological change is compatible with transtemporal personal identity.
Slores states that persons can change radically in psychological respects without becoming someone else and that there is a 'deeper7 unity in terms of conscious access and/or identity of beliefs, desires, values, and character traits. The problem is that "contemporary psychological continuity theories fail to capture this intuition, just as they fail to come up with a plausible third-person criterion of reidentification"1 - this is how the first claim was dispatched:
(1) "The body can play the part that is usually ascribed to an immaterial ego; it can provide a deeper psycho-biographical unity while at the same time providing third-person criteria for the (re)identification of persons."
1.2 Connectedness of perceptual contents
Slors represents the opinion that connectedness of dissimilar contents is a kind of psychological connectedness that distinguishes from the kind of connectedness that holds between qualitatively similar contents, i.e. experiences and memories.
So each perception at a certain moment is connected to preceding and consecutive ones through the "total intelligible picture of the surroundings of the perceiving body they draw and every perceptual content is interrelated in virtue and intelligibility of the world we perceive." Multiple referrings in the text show that Slors isn't agreeing with Derek Parfits point of view on psychological continuity (in contrast to Shoemaker). He is convinced that the fact that dissimilar contents themselves are related meaningfully and that "qualifications of contents are possible only in virtue of their place in a chain of intelligibly related but qualitatively dissimilar contents." This is how Slors supports claim (2):
(2) "Connectedness between qualitatively dissimilar contents, process-like connectedness or connectedness in virtue ofintelliqible succession, has not been given its philosophical due."
1.3 Narrative connectedness between particular psychological contents
There are two different kinds of psychological connectedness: The qualitative similarity of contents and the narrative connectedness. The qualitative similaririty is required for the preservation of beliefs, values, character traits, etc. and is labeled by Slors as P-connectedness (P for 'preservation'). The second he calls N-connectedness (N for 'narrativity').
Narrative connectedness is described as a connection between 'fixed things', i.e. between particular psychological contents. The relation between contents are a necessary prerequisite for another content's full meaning and the intelligibility of its occurrence. Also, narrativity is committed to the rejection of an atomistic approach to mental states.2 The author gives an example of a person in London seeing a projection of the Eiffel Tower from Paris. The person doesn't think she is in Paris, but she would be thinking that she is 'looking at a picture of Paris being projected onto a screen in London', which is the full content of the impression had by the person in London. So we have the reasoning for claim number (3):
(3) "All or at least most of our thoughts, experiences, associations, beliefs, desires, and so on, occur against a relatively stable background of one ongoing narrative, knowledge or awareness of which is a precondition for grasping their full contents."
Philosophers often say that a human's consciousness seems 'fragmentary' or 'gappy'. Slores says that this could be used to reject the idea that all or most of our mental states are in some intelligible sense N-continuous. To strengthen his argument he shows that there is N- continuity between most mental states of persons despite the gappiness and patchiness because despite the fact that our psychological lives are sometimes gappy and patchy, there is a basic narrative that is neither patchy nor gappy and this basic narrative is represented by our consecutive perceptual contents (see 1.2). "Successive perceptions are the subjective counterpart of the objective event of one body moving through space and perceiving its surroundings."3 Slors claims that successive perceptual contents endow with narrative coherence. Therefore, successive perceptions acquire narrative connection in virtue of the fact that "we know them to be caused by one body's movements through a stable physical world with whose character and proceedings we are acquainted", from which follows claim (4) :
(4) "Being able to make sense of the world is a prereguisite for being able to make sense of oneself as an objective continuant in that world."
Leaning on to this, Slors states that "we cannot but think of our past experiences and thoughts as being had by a person-stage whose objective whereabouts were represented by perceptual contents that are narratively related to our present ones."4 Therefore a basic narrative providing an elementary timescale on which to locate certain events in our lives may be an a priori argument, but it's indispensable for psychological continuity, which brings us to the last to be proven claim in this paper (5):
(5) "Without a basic narrative, there can be no psychological continuity."
2. My own thoughts / Evaluation
Slors has a really interesting point of view on personal identity across time, especially with the focus on the psychological continuity criterion. I think his arguments are all in total valid, but more on a very theoretical basis. That's because he concludes with the statement that there cannot be a psychological continuity without the basic narrative, but he doesn't have empirical support for his thesis. In theory his arguments sound very convincing, but I am probably more in favor with Derek Parfits view from "Nothing Matters in Survival". Nevertheless, Slors gave lots of thoughtful and wise approaches, i.e. the negotiation of the common third person criterion, which I thought was very good as well as the connectedness between qualitatively dissimilar contents and the connectedness of perceptual contents.
1 Slors, Marc (1998) "Two Conceptions of Psychological Continuity", Philosophical Explorations, p. 68
2 Slors, Marc (1998) "Two Conceptions of Psychological Continuity", Philosophical Explorations, p. 70
3 Slors, Marc (1998) "Two Conceptions of Psychological Continuity", Philosophical Explorations, p. 72 p. 75
4 Slors, Marc (1998) "Two Conceptions of Psychological Continuity", Philosophical Explorations, p. 72 p. 75
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- Veronika Strauch (Autor:in), 2020, An Alternative to the Contemporary Conception of Psychological Continuity, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1309749
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