7. Some Reluctant Concessions
The first part of this chapter will be concerned with two statements of a position which comes very close to the view advanced in this book and seems to make substantial concessions to it. But they are also statements which shy away from full acceptance of the view I have presented and call for some supplementation in the form of some more explicit account of personal identity than the recognition of it in its uniqueness and finality by each individual in his own case. The statements in question appear in two related articles the second of which takes its cue from the first and seeks to build further upon it. These are (1) an article by Professor J. A. Brook in the American Philosophical Quarterly for July 1975 entitled ‘Imagination Possibility and Personal Identity’ and (2) ‘Who I am’ by Professor Don Locke in the Philosophical Quarterly for October 1979.
Two statements in the first part of Professor Brook’s article give us the clue to his general concern. He declares with a bow to Leibniz that:
One key part of general identity theory would if correct be enough to show that any concept of identity at any rate has necessary conditions one of which is that wherever identity is there also something non-trivially sufficient for it must occur.1 Again: I hope to show that the presence or possibility of personal identity does require the presence of something different from identity namely some minimal connection between the persons being identified.2
With these aims in mind Brook turns to the question of ‘what a person can imagine concerning himself’3 and the claim that ‘I can refer to my present self as myself without supposing in the act of referring that I have any properties (except perhaps the property of being a subject of experience)’.4 Such references are ‘non-ascriptive’. ‘In the same way apparently I can non-ascriptively refer to past persons (in memories or supposed or imagined memories) as myself and to possible future persons (in daydreams etc.) as myself. That is I need not suppose in my reference that the remembered (or apparently remembered) person or the imagined past or future person has any properties whatsoever (except trivially the property of being me and perhaps of being a subject of experience’.5
It is admitted that it is tempting to admit that one can refer in ‘the imagination to an imagined past or future person as oneself while supposing no connection with one’s present self different from identity’.6 I can in this way ‘imaginatively identify the person they called Napoleon with myself’.7 But it is maintained this does not entail that I do not suppose any connections. In using terms such as ‘I’ ‘me’ ‘myself’ to refer to one’s present self we may not be making explicit reference to one’s own properties or even believe that one has them. But one must know how to use such terms and must thus have a grasp of the conditions for using them for example the condition of referring to a subject of experience. To use such terms ‘intelligibly’ one must suppose such conditions satisfied without strictly knowing or thinking about them.
When moreover we claim identity with some person other than one’s present self we must it would seem ‘make suppositions non-trivially relevant to that imagined identity i.e. suppositions of connections different from identity’.8 To this the reply might be made that the only relevant condition is that the person is me. But this is said to be unintelligible. For in that case ‘there would be no difference between that person being you and his not being you’.9 To this in turn the reply might be made that ‘there would be a difference; but nothing further can be said about it’.10 This is the submission which Brook sets out especially to challenge claiming that ‘imagining identity entails supposing in the imagination connections different from identity’.11 This may not be prominent in imagining oneself identical with some past or future person — indeed it may be overlooked; but ‘that is not enough to show that one has supposed no such connection nor therefore that it is logically possible that one will be a future person with whom one is not otherwise connected’.12
To reinforce this Brook turns to the case of ‘thought-experiments in which one has maximal reason to believe that one is supposing no connection (other than identity) between oneself and a future person whom one is to imagine as oneself’.13 I am thus required to imagine myself the future King of China. It is not enough for the purpose in question to imagine myself becoming a future King of China. We have to imagine that ‘the person you are’ and the future King are one person. This might seem easy — ‘I have just done so’ one might reply ‘I have imagined giving the orders and feeling the pride etc.’ But what one really does it is further urged is to imagine oneself or ‘what one can only call oneself’14 witnessing and having and doing. That does not amount to ‘the person referred to in the imagination’ being ‘the person doing the imagining’.15 It may be no more than oneself imagining ‘from the standpoint of being the person witnessing or having or doing so-and-so’.16 But this is not the same as imagining that person to be oneself.
Indeed in one way it is perfectly easy to imagine oneself being another person. I could imagine being a doctor and doing the sort of things a doctor (or a lawyer) does. I could imagine being Napoleon that is I might dress like him and speak as I suppose he spoke I might even do this on the field of Waterloo; this is the sort of thing a clever actor does. Some can do it more effectively than others but it presents no inherent difficulty. Childrens’ games involve it. But this does not amount to imagining that you are the other person even in the case of Henry Irving — we are told — so entering into the part that he continued off-stage walking about with uplifted sword. There certainly is a difference between imagining (or should we say ‘pretending’) in this ordinary sense and seriously imagining oneself as Napoleon or a character in fiction. For here in the ordinary sense there is no deep suspension of belief.
One can therefore concede a difference between imagining in the common or garden sense that one is Napoleon even doing this very intensely and thoroughly and so imagining oneself as Napoleon that one seriously takes oneself to be Napoleon. But is the latter impossible? Are there not crazy people who do just that? And moreover whatever may be the truth here however difficult it may be in fact or practice for me to so sever my connection with my present environment and all I remember about myself as to seriously take myself to be Napoleon or anyone else that is very different from my being able to conceive of my circumstances feelings actions etc. being so changed that they are not discernibly different from those of someone else a fictitious or real character famous or ordinary and yet its being me to whom all this has happened. If I am the cobbler I can readily imagine that I have actually and not in simulation or pretence become the prince. It would still be me to whom this has happened and normally I could be fully aware of the fact even though I could not convince anyone else.
This is what Brook seems to be really challenging. I agree with him that I can never imagine — or even properly understand — what it would be for me to be someone else. Indeed this is what I especially stress. I just could not be other than myself being myself is ultimate as I find in the fact of being myself. But in all that appertains to me beyond this I could change and there appears to be no inherent difficulty in imagining that this has come about. This is what Brook is reluctant to admit. I can imagine being X that is conjure up the sorts of thing that is happening to X but as I have also stressed this is not imagining my being X. Brook holds that for this to happen there must be ‘some imagined connection’.17 This could be memories or imagined bodily causal or spatio-temporal continuity.
Now awareness or some imagination at least of such connection (memories are what I would stress) would be necessary for me to be aware and accordingly to imagine being aware that I had become Napoleon or a future King of China. But on my view I might have been or in the second case become either of these without retaining knowledge of my present condition. I might be reincarnated — and for this reason I have argued elsewhere18 the idea of reincarnation without any knowledge of our past existence is at least perfectly conceivable whatever the strength of the case for it — evidential or metaphysical — may be. I would simply have the same self-awareness in my new existence or in some radically transformed state that I have now.
For Brook however there has to be added some ‘further connection’ other than my unique self-awareness and the full present state of the person I imagine myself to be. There are two possibilities here. I can imagine being the other person — and we can all fairly easily do this enter into his feelings etc. — but secondly to imagine being strictly identical with the other person this is something else and so far fine but Brook claims that we cannot thus ‘imagine identity with some imagined person while imaginatively supposing no connection different from identity to him’.19
It is the neglect of this not only in the case of Chisholm standing by the ultimacy of self-identity as such but also of Bernard Williams unable to decide as to which of two possible persons in the future he should from the point of self-interest be most concerned to benefit that causes the trouble. The connection need not be memories indeed ‘the connection you suppose need not be anything specific’.20 I might have no notion what it was except that it was relevant to identity. I might believe all current theories of identity to be false but have no notion what to replace them with.
This is a very weak conclusion and it suggests to me that Professor Brook has been driven to a somewhat desperate and lame conclusion because of some ingrained reluctance to break with contemporary fashion and reject what he describes as the ‘strict’ theory of identity when the main force of his arguments points strongly towards it. There would have to be something more than the properties of the imagined person but he will not rest content here with merely saying that one would just have to be the identical person having them; and thus not being able to specify anything further or be happy about any such specification Brook falls back on the rather desperate move of claiming that there must be some connection. Thus he declares: ‘A great many things necessary for identity may be missing from what is actually imagined. That an identity with a future person has been imagined without imagining (or supposing) those things proves nothing to the contrary’.21 The suppositions may be unnoticed and we may remain very uncertain what they are. And this in turn opens up the possibility in the absence of strict identity that the connection could be such that I no longer persist as strictly the same person. We do not have to hold on to the ‘notion of a designator (“I”) whose designation could unambiguously persist as the same person if it persists at all’.22 ‘My ability to achieve reference to myself as myself without ascribing any identifying property to myself does not tell me of a thing namely myself which must be projected into the future always me always unambiguously identical with the person I now call me until its unambiguous death’.23 A future person need not be strictly me or not me. He may end ‘by elanguescence! Or by becoming another person. Or for that matter by becoming two’.24
And so once the interest has been shifted to ‘some connection’ we are indeed back again with the possibilities we queried in the last chapter of the fusion or the merging of persons which I have argued to be inherently impossible from the way we know ourselves each in his own case to be the persons we are.
It is at this point that Professor Don Locke takes up the problem from Professor Brook. He sets out in full agreement with Brook that there is all the difference in the world ‘between imagining being Napoleon and imagining that you are Napoleon’.25 The first of these is straightforward as we have already seen. I can imagine what it ‘would be like to have seen what Napoleon saw to have done what he did thought what he thought felt what he felt’.26 There are difficulties in trying to reconstruct in this way what someone’s life is like ‘from the inside’ but they are psychological or epistemological and do not threaten ‘the very coherence of the enterprise’.27 That only happens when I try seriously to imagine that I am Napoleon instead in this case of Don Locke.
The proper account of this it seems to me again is that it is inherently impossible for one person to be or to become another and that to try to imagine it is to try to imagine the impossible. As the author himself puts it ‘whatever I succeed in imagining whoever I succeed in imagining myself to be that person will always be myself even if I am Napoleon; I cannot imagine that I am anyone or anything without imagining that it is me’.28 What I can do is simply imagine ‘not that this present individual is Napoleon but that in using “I” I refer not to this present individual but to Napoleon instead’.29
According to Brook the only way that the present individual could be also Napoleon would be if some connection ‘the missing ingredient’ could be established between the present individual and Napoleon for example that Napoleon had escaped and lived long enough to figure now as Don Locke. But this is inadequate for it would simply mean that it was strictly the same individual in both cases.
At the same time Don Locke wants to give some account of why I could not in any other sense be another person and he offers us something other than the finality of self-identity as we seem normally to recognise it. How does he proceed?
He proceeds by turning instead to the question of when an alleged autobiography would no longer be a proper autobiography of oneself or a serious candidate for it. Now a proper autobiography of Don Locke would tell us correctly what his life had been like where he was born and brought up educated what jobs he had held and so on. But it is also conceivable that his life could have run a different course. Instead of becoming a philosopher and academic teacher he might have become a librarian. Indeed his life might have run a more radically different course. He might have been abducted or adopted at birth and taken to some quite different environment from that in which he was actually nurtured and be engaged in some work very far removed from that which occupies him now. That would give us a very different autobiography but it is still a possible autobiography of Don Locke. Things might have happened that way. This gives us a ‘different possible’ or ‘alternative’ biography. But there are also biographies which would have to be biographies of someone else — if of anyone. They could not be biographies of Don Locke. These are labelled ‘distinct biographies’.
The question then is when a biography which was not a sound or genuine one would still be a possible or alternative biography and when it would have to be regarded as a ‘distinct’ biography that is could not be conceived as a biography of Don Locke but if at all of some other individual.
Now there are some things which I could rule out of a possible biography of me as I have come to know myself now and as obvious evidence suggests. No training however early it started could have got me to be an Olympic winner of a gold medal. I might be brought to run much faster than I ever did run but it is just not in me to run like an Olympic winner. I just do not have those bodily aptitudes any more than I could become a famous singer. On the other hand if I had been born with a different endowment or different physique and capacities I might have become these things.
This suggests that the point from which to start is birth. ‘Biographies qualify as alternatives so long as they share the same beginning whereas if they have different origins they will be distinct’.30 If I were abducted at birth my entire life might have been very different. All sorts of things are possible in this way and they are features of what my life could have been. Even so Professor Locke does not think identity of birth altogether sufficient. I might have been born a week earlier or later. So we are pushed back to conception ‘of which particular combination of sperm and egg he is the product’. But even this is not strictly necessary. It is simply that we are strongly inclined to suppose that subsequent histories cannot be the same once the beginnings are different — the range of possibilities are bound to be different in some ways. But we might by some very unusual chance get off with the same genetic make-up even if born of different parents. So that what really matters is the genetic make-up.
Kripke it is noticed takes a different line on this although he offers no strict argument for it only an ‘intuition’ whatever that word so familiar but so obscure in very recent philosophy — as it was not forty years ago — may mean. Locke has a different ‘intuition’ (hunch?). If we imagine that the Queen of England had in fact been the daughter of Harry Truman but passed off from the start as the daughter of George VI and then living the life of the Queen just as it has been lived we would not according to Locke be imagining the life history of some other woman than the Queen. ‘If the difference were solely a difference of parentage if the rest of her history were very much as it has been I can see no reason to deny that it is still that same person’.31
At this point the writer seems to waver. ‘It is difficult to see how Harry Truman could father a daughter with Elizabeth’s face’ but ‘if we start with the mature Elizabeth sitting on the throne it does seem possible to envisage a different past for her in which this very woman is the child of different parents’.32 This leads to a different account of what would be ‘the mark of alternative biographies’ namely that they should be for a time indistinguishable’.33 ‘Instead of speaking of biographies as converging or diverging let us speak of them as coinciding at those points where they are the same’.34 Biographies may thus coincide for a period they ‘are alternatives only for the period during which they do coincide’.35
That however is not thought to be quite satisfactory. For ‘biographies which diverge remain alternatives even after they no longer coincide’.36 We are thus brought to the conclusion ‘that differing biographies qualify as alternatives when and only when they have coincided and afterwards but not before’.37 ‘Biographies coincide at those moments or periods when their subjects are indistinguishable from each other’.38 This is weakened however to the extent that only ‘sufficient important things’ be true of both cases for them to be regarded as alternative biographies and they must coincide for ‘a significant period of time’.39 It is also claimed that the alternative biographies must coincide at some sufficiently early point however much they may differ thereafter.40 This as the author himself puts it is ‘intolerably vague’. If my closing year in a geriatric ward coincides closely with that of an Australian journalist a man ‘differing in almost every (other) respect’41 from me there is no temptation to think that our cases might present ‘possible (alternative) biographies of one and the same individual’. ‘The coincidence’ must occur sufficiently early for the biographies to qualify as alternatives through the greater part of the individual’s existence.
The main significance of this discussion for the question of personal identity and related questions appears to be that if my life had in fact taken any of the courses regarded as alternative biographies I would still have to be regarded as the same person. Identity is here made to depend on some continuity with one’s origins. It is not clear to me whether it is seriously envisaged that the coincidences described would involve a genuine merging of persons. That would seem to be difficult to reconcile with the insistence on a common genetic origin and one would also expect it to involve as the case is envisaged in this article a very complete coincidence of physical as well as psychological states and properties such as is extremely unlikely to happen. The upshot seems to be that when we have followed all the distinctions and qualifications the decisive factor is some psychological and physical continuity of the sort envisaged already in the papers we have considered earlier and this seems well brought out in a concluding note.
In this note the issue is firmly returned to the question of spatio-temporal continuity the crucial issue being what degree of resemblance is required to ensure this. Much importance seems to be attached to the suddenness with which drastic changes may occur. We are told:
If my eyes were suddenly to change colour if I were suddenly to age biologically by three weeks I do not think we would regard those discontinuities as conflicting with the claim that one individual had endured through the change …But if the differences are such that were some actual individual to change instantaneously in those respects we would no longer be prepared to regard him as the one continuing individual then those differing biographies cannot be regarded as coinciding even in the weakened sense.42
In coming to this conclusion Professor Locke takes no account of phenomena like dreams where far-reaching and sometimes fantastic changes occur. As I have maintained earlier however strange the dream we do not in the least lose the sense of our own particular consciousness or individuality — all this is happening to me. There is also the case of reincarnation. This I have argued is perfectly conceivable even without presupposing that one has any memory of a previous existence. It would involve all the changes Don Locke has in mind but it would not preclude identity in the sense of the same consciousness of the being that I am.
In his own reference to reincarnation early in his paper43 Don Locke finds no difficulty in one’s imagining oneself to be Napoleon in the sense of thinking myself into the mind and experiences of Napoleon or that Napoleon had lived much longer than we thought and emerged on the public scene in a vastly altered form but I could not imagine myself to be Napoleon in the sense of taking the person I actually am now to be Napoleon. I would simply be using ‘I’ in a peculiar way for it is just not possible for the individual I know myself now to be to be also another individual. I can only be the one person I am. This is what I urged is promising in the cases of Brook and Locke. But instead of taking the full and to me obvious import of this namely that the person one is is final or ultimate whatever drastic changes we undergo in character or circumstances both writers seek other ways of accounting for what is I believe an initially quite sound insight which they are determined to explain in various ingenious ways that do not question the understanding of identity in terms of some form of continuity or like feature of our existence.
My own submission here is that the failure of these attempts and the strains to which they put their authors should be strong inducements to reflect again and consider more seriously the claim that one’s failure to seriously think oneself any other person than one is notwithstanding being able to imagine oneself another person in the senses readily admitted namely giving oneself his role and attitudes etc. is simply due to the finality of each one’s consciousness of being the one person he is whatever fate or change of circumstance befall him now or hereafter.
If I were in fact to find myself in some future state after my death there would certainly be some drastic changes. I would no longer have my present body presumably reduced to ashes in a crematorium.44 I might have another body resembling my present body or function in some different medium not known to me now or as I have also considered in The Self and Immortality (Chapter 8 ‘A World of Thoughts Alone’) no body at all. These would all be drastic changes some more severe (and for that reason perhaps less probable) than others; but in each case there would have to be the consciousness of being the person I now find myself to be which I have now. Whether I linked this with memories of a previous existence is a further matter. Without that I could not think of myself as the person who had lived out this present life and that is I think a strong reason for expecting that if a future existence were to be conferred upon us it would involve some linkage with my present life.
These are matters for further discussion elsewhere. All that needs to be noted now is that the possibilities I have noted seem all to be ruled out by the positions adopted by both Brook and Don Locke. Notwithstanding the insistence that to imagine myself someone else would fall short of imagining being someone else and the impossibility of being someone else they understand this additional factor of just being the person I am in terms of some properties by which I am to be identified such as continuity or an initial common start to all the experience and doings which can properly be said to be mine. They come close to what seems to me the nub of the matter and then shy away again in line with the more common way of treating the matter today.
I turn now to a somewhat different approach to the subject I have been discussing an approach which also in its own way comes very close to the position I advocate but which also when it comes to the crunch drifts away from it and it seems to me fails to do the fullest justice to the insights which make the concessions persuasive and significant. This is found in the paper contributed by Mr John Foster to the volume of essays published in honour of Professor Sir Alfred Ayer Perception and Identity.
The first part of Mr Foster’s essay is remarkably far removed from what one has come to expect from impressive Oxford philosophers in days still not very far distant from the publication of The Concept of Mind and its considerable impact. It appears after all that we have at least to come to terms in some way with Descartes again.
Mr Foster declares that ‘the concept of a person’45 ‘is to be analysed in terms of the special way in which two logically separable components a body and a mind combine’.46 ‘The person himself though qualifying for personhood only in virtue of this combining of body and mind is essentially mental and only contingently corporeal’.47 This is ‘what we may call the dualistic doctrine of the person’.48 ‘The subject of consciousness is as Descartes conceived him a simple mental continuant a pure ego not requiring a body for his existence but possessing that body with which his mind thus causally combines’.49 In these terms there is rejected the notion that ‘the concept of a person is logically primitive’50 and the avoidance attempted in that way by Sir Peter Strawson of the traditional problems of body and mind.
‘I do not see’ Mr Foster adds ‘how to avoid even in the case of action the sharp contrast between mental and physical states’.51 We know of our own mental states ‘without observation or inference’ and this ‘self-ascription’ is not as Strawson had insisted logically bound up with ‘other-ascription’. The latter is not a ‘precondition of self-ascription’. ‘The most that self-ascription logically requires is the capacity to conceive of the existence of other subjects of the same type as oneself and with similar mental states’.52 We recognise such mental states in the case of other-ascription not by analogy but as Mr Foster sensibly points out on the basis of what would ‘provide the most plausible explanation of a body’s ‘behaviour’.53 The intention is ascribed when we see someone coiling a rope ‘as an interpretation of the movement. In other words we discern in action a point where the co-ascription of mental and physical attributes has or seems to have a natural intelligibility’.54
So far so good. But Mr Foster does not stop here. He feels that he must find some means of giving a further account of personal identity which is nonetheless consonant with what he has already said. This seems to me strange for if ‘the person himself’ is ‘a simple mental continuant’ how is it possible to say more about what it is in itself beyond the recognition of it by each one of us in his own case and the ascription of the like to others. There is of course as I have shown a problem of how we are certain that the person as we all apprehend ourselves to be at any time is the same as the one who experienced or did something else at another time and I have indicated how we may think of this on the basis of memory in the strict sense and of events which we have reason to relate to this as a continuity of the experience of the same being. It is also possible to use the word ‘person’ differently; that is rather than identify ‘the person himself as Mr Foster does initially firmly with ‘the subject of consciousness’ we may think of person as the totality to which both physical and mental properties are ascribed; and at one point Mr Foster declares that although the person is ‘essentially mental and only contingently corporeal’ we also find ourselves ‘qualifying for personhood only in virtue of this combining of body and mind’. The concept of a person becomes thus ‘a subject of both mental and physical attributes’ ‘to be analysed in terms of the special way in which two logically separable components a body and a mind combine’.55
If this were a matter of words it need not trouble us greatly and perhaps not at all. It is perfectly proper to ask questions about the relation of the mind to the body and how we can best understand the relation of the two in the continuity of their very close combination in any particular case. But this is a further and distinct problem and it is bound to be a little misleading to set it out as an account of persons if a person is also affirmed to be ‘essentially mental’. I suspect that Mr Foster has brought some confusion into his own thinking in this way. He has tried to answer the further problem as if in the last resort the two problems were the same and in this way he makes it hard for us to see how he can continue to maintain his thesis of a ‘pure ego’ and simple continuant — or take the full force and implications of this particular stance.
To carry out his task in more detail Mr Foster calls upon David Hume to provide a supplementation and in this way a corrective also of Descartes the two becoming for once rather strange and unexpected bedfellows. But first there has to be a radical corrective of Hume. ‘We can it seems only make sense of a thought perception or belief as the state of something which thinks perceives or believes and this intelligibility seems to evaporate if the something is equated with or dissolved into a collection of discrete items’.56 The something in question is not ‘a conceptual illusion sustained by dispensable features of our mental language’57 but is rather to be found in ‘our introspective awareness’.58 On the other hand we have to make sense of the concept of a continuing subject and this involves giving an account of ‘the continuity between successive phases of the same subject’;59 and the only way to do this since time and not physical location is ‘the only dimension’ here is in terms of ‘unifying relations between mental items’.60 This is where Hume is so helpful the Cartesian making the mistake of grounding ‘the unity of the mind wholly on the identity of the subject’.61
Locke had come close to this combining a Cartesian acceptance of mental substance with a Humean view of subject identity but he also got the worst of both views by failing to take the identity of the substance to be the same as the identity of the subject to whom mental states ‘are ascribable in the ordinary sense’.62 What we have to do on the contrary is ‘to construe the subject as a simple and genuine mental continuant but explain its identity in terms of unifying relations between its states’.63
This is a bold but it seems to me misconceived enterprise. If the subject is ‘a simple mental continuant’ I do not see how its identity can also consist of relations between its states. The latter on a Cartesian view can only disclose to us the particular modes of the continuity of the subject in its various experiences according to what these happen to be. It does not tell us at all what the nature of the subject — and its unity — is in itself. Indeed if we proceed by way of the unity of the relations it is hard to see how we could ever get beyond them.
In his own account of the requisite unity of our mental states Mr Foster turns attention mainly to sense experience interpreted broadly to cover hallucinations bodily sensations and mental imagings to ‘explain the identity of a subject in terms of actual and potential sensible continuity among items in that domain’.64 The key idea here is a special interlocking of presentations made possible when there is an overlap of some last portion of a successive total presentation with the first portion of another — ‘in other words a presentation of a temporal pattern is itself temporarily extended and it overlaps its predecessor and successor in so to speak presentational substance to the extent that its pattern overlaps theirs in phenomenal content. It is this double overlap which provides the sensible continuity of sense experience and unifies presentations into a stream of awareness’.65 There is a ‘projection through time of the unity of a presentation’ and this makes possible the projection through time of the individuality of the subject ‘at a moment’ and thus his persistence by ‘the over-lapping of his successive total presentations the same awareness being preserved as it were through a constant contraction and expansion at its temporal edges’.66
This is a little reminiscent of the much discussed ‘specious present’ but it is not quite the same notion. It is deployed within the limits of one paper with great ingenuity and skill and it may well have great importance for our understanding of perceptual awareness. This is not the place to consider it closely on its own account in that context. My own complaint is with the submission that if this analysis or any applification of it is sound it is here ‘in the unity of a stream that we primarily discern the identity of a subject’.67 Even when we extend as Mr Foster does the unity found in a single stream to sets of streams we are still in the realm of the contiguity and overlap of the mental states or experiences themselves and once we have made this the proper provenance for our discussion the talk of a pure ego and simple continuant sounds rather strange. The considerations adduced by Mr Foster may provide grounds for positing a continuing subject along the lines of Kant but even that seems a little remote from the ‘something’ that is reflected in introspective awareness. If the identity of the subject is equated with the kind of identity established along the lines indicated then it would seem that the insistence on the simple and essentially mental continuant ‘the subject of consciousness’ has been defeated by the mistaken supposition that the identity and nature of this kind of subject can be explained and requires to be explained in some further terms. What Mr Foster seems to be offering us at the start and of which he seems very firmly convinced becomes in its translation from a Cartesian to a Humean guise a very different sort of creature altogether; and is not the moral of this that we must not be faint-hearted if clear reflection presents us at some points in our thinking with something which has to be taken in the immediacy and finality in which it presents itself to us and without the explanation of what it is in itself which can only explain away?
This becomes peculiarly evident in the closing stages of Mr Foster’s discussion. For he believes that we can not only find the individuation of the subject ‘in the overlapping of his successive total presentations’68 but that we can indeed that we must give a further account for the extension to sets of streams of the kind of unity found in a single stream; and while this may be taken to be ‘logically grounded on the continuity of the subject’69 there is ‘an alternative and attractive explanation’ in terms of ‘certain natural laws’ which involve ‘dependence on the same brain’. If this merely means that we must in a Kantian way insist that awareness of persistent subjectivity requires a unified or ordered experience and that for us this involves an ordered physical reality and one’s own brain there would be nothing to be seriously disputed. But in what sense are these supplementary considerations thought to be attractive alternatives? Do they in themselves relate at all directly to the unity of the subject? Mr Foster does allow (as indeed he seemed earlier to insist) that ‘a logically possible alternative would be a persistence relation of a purely mental kind’ although he ‘cannot think of any empirically plausible example’.70 But the position in which he seems to come to rest at the close is that ‘the persistence of a subject is the persistence of a capacity’ which thus stretches ‘across periods of unconsciousness by a law-based potential’71 the latter in turn depending on the brain; and there is the possibility in this way also of ‘splitting and fusing’ of two subjects ‘for a certain period’ sharing ‘numerically the same mental states’. This is not it is admitted ‘as radically dualistic’ as Descartes’ doctrine. But have we not at this point departed altogether from Descartes? Mr Foster states that he has ‘to recognise the possibility of subjects who are self-sufficient in Descartes’s way’72 but he is ‘not committed to saying that all subjects are of that sort nor in particular that we are’.73 It might be thought possible to have some disembodiment by ‘a severing of the neural connections between brain and body’ but ‘our existence is dependent on the existence of our brains and on these laws (1) and (2) whereby the same brain sustains the same awareness’.74
If this merely meant that in the experience and existence we find that we have we are in fact embodied and extensively dependent on our brains nobody need seriously quarrel with it. We are clearly dependent in point of fact on our brains at the moment. But Mr Foster seems to be suggesting also that this is inherently unavoidable for us that no other sort of embodiment or of intelligible experience is even conceivable for us and this (which makes it very much worse in my view) is because Mr Foster favours a view of the very nature of the subject itself the ‘attractive alternative’ in terms of capacities and laws made possible by our brains in other words making us essentially dependent on our brains and perhaps in the last resort identical with them; and however much this may allow us to retain the Cartesian terminology of ‘the simple mental continuant’ etc. this seems now peculiarly far removed from the ‘subject of consciousness’ ‘reflected in the nature of our introspective awareness’ and ‘the subject of physical states only through his contingent attachment to a particular body’.
I hope I am not doing Mr Foster an injustice and I come to my conclusion with some reluctance in view of Mr Foster’s firm repudiation of Professor Strawson’s ‘co-ascription of mental and physical attributes to the same subject’ but I find it hard all the same to avoid concluding that Mr Foster though initially convinced of the distinctively mental nature of the ‘simple continuant’ disclosed in introspective awareness — and being thus very close at least to what Descartes maintained — has found it hard to break away as firmly as he seemed to do from the prevailing corporealist doctrines of the self and has set out to reconcile two positions which seem to be as radically opposed to one another as any philosophical positions could be. He sets out running well with the Cartesian hounds but is found in due course to be running also not only with Humean hares but also with ‘corporealist’ ones; and I do not think that any amount of ingenuity can make this a sensible course to take.