The Self and the Future

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Personal identity is a special case of a more general topic, the survival (or, as philosophers often say, the persistence) of objects over time. Bernard Williams insists that bodily continuity is always a necessary criterion of personal identity. His essay “The Self and the Future” discusses the two cases of a thought experiment which lead the readers to intuit two distinct conclusions on the preservation of the personal identity. The methodological similarities between these two instances are significantly notable. Upon analysis of the two demonstrations and how contrasts in their presentation may impact our perception of continuity of the self, Williams presumes that the two cases feature confinements in the methodology of thought experiments that must be perceived before reaching critical philosophical inferences from them. In this essay, I will explain the Williams’ first example about the exchanging bodies, second example of expectations and the self, and my analyzation of these two cases. His essay shows that his second thought experiment has characteristics of first experiment, results are in an opposite conclusion: that psychological relations are not necessary for personal identity.

In his version of the “exchanging bodies” thought experiment, Williams imagines that there are two individuals, A and B, such that they will undergo to transfer the psychological attributes of A into B’s body and transfer the psychological attributes of B into A’s body. It results that the originally named bodies of A and B, but with the other person’s memory and character.

Prior to the experiment, researcher presents the proposition: Of the two resulting persons (A body person and B body person), one will be given $100,000, while the other will be tortured. Suppose that both A and B preferred the money over being tortured. Body person A and B are formed after the transition is made. The experimenter presumed to make a random decision over which body receives the money and which one receives the torture. Williams explains that whichever one is tortured will insist that this is not what he/she remembers choosing because he/she has the memory of a person who asked not to be tortured. Correspondingly, whichever one is receiving money will be able to honestly state that he/she is receiving the outcome that he/she remembers choosing. Williams explains that the testimony of the individuals provides good reason for thinking that the identity of A has been transferred to new body B, and the identity of B is implanted to A body (Williams 534). For instance; Suppose individual A-body-person experienced depression and B-body person experienced the worst nightmare prior to the experiment, that they would convey these characteristics with them after the process, such that if body person A were asked about the depression, he/she would not recall and rather than he/she will express the worst nightmare while body-person B will express the depression instead of worst nightmare that his/her depression has not lessoned. A subject concern about what happens to his/her body is not a concern as long as they are not occupying them.

In Williams’ second instance of thought experiment, he explains that he/she is being examined upon in the first-person and simply told that he/she will be tortured tomorrow. If the researcher tells him/her that his/her memories will be removed before the torture, and the new memories of other person will be transposed in his/her brain. From the first-person’s perspective that fear about tomorrow’s torture will not be reduced because he/she can easily imagine being unexpectedly tortured. He/she will still fear of torture regardless of the change of information in brain (Williams 535). Williams concludes that he/she remain the same person even though his/her memories completely changed. It shows that his/her future concern for his/her future self does not seem to be based on only psychological states.

Williams’ first thought experiment claims that personal identity is reserved by psychological continuity not bodily continuity. Problem in the first thought experiment arise from the dependence on the uncertain evidence of the theoretical body person A and B. According to his example, after the experiment; A body can still experience depression even it has B’s memory because depression cannot only depend on memories and characteristics. In my opinion, it is not scientifically logical to think that first person attributes transposed to another body. In addition, his second thought experiment seems to lead the conflicting conclusion that personal identity is reserved by bodily continuity. Second thought experiment presents more precise instinct than first, but there are still some flaws. This second principal doesn’t always work. For instance; I might fear of water, so experimenter told me that he/she will put me in the water soon. However, if I’m told that I will be cured of my hydrophobia before that torture. I will not fear of water anymore. In this situation, psychological change does affect my fear of the event. The disclinations to fear is minimally dependent on character or belief.

In conclusion, Bernard Williams explains the personal identity and the idea of body exchange from two individuals: the relations between psychological states and body and the relations. The first thought experiment cannot give a realistic notion about the personal identity which depends on hypothetical bodies A and B. These thought experiments must not depend on critical assumptions. The second thought experiment does not apply on every theoretical challenge that bodily continuity is the most necessary for personal identity. Nonetheless, he provides the strong thought experiment in spite of these challenges. In my opinion, my mind has to associated with my body because my behavior also depends on physical condition. Only my psychological state or physical state cannot define my personal identity.

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The Self And the Future. (2020, Jun 26). Retrieved June 21, 2024 , from

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