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Kip3 comments on Changing Emotions - Less Wrong

22 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 05 January 2009 12:05AM

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Comment author: Kip3 05 January 2009 03:42:45AM 0 points [-]

Great post.

You seem to think of personal identity (PI) as a brittle thing, easily broken.

I want to note that the issue you raise, about whether PI is thick or thin (e.g. thick to the point of brittleness), seems to divide compatibilists and incompatibilists: compatibilists think PI is thick, incompatibilists thin. Consistent with my interpretation, you both (i) defend a thick notion of PI and (ii) strongly sympathize with compatibilism. Note that Daniel Dennett, another compatibilist (whom you seem fond of), raises many of the same objections about people-switching and memory-wiping at the end of Freedom Evolves (in particular, in criticizing Mele's view).

Here's how the issue of PI divides compatibilists and incompatibilists. Suppose PI is thin. In fact, suppose that PI is just associated with numerical identity (in the philosophical sense). Numerical identity, as I will call it, just picks out one particular thing in world, and tracks it, *even if the thing slowly evolves into a competely different TYPE of thing*.

The classic example is Theseus's ship. Is it still the same ship? Incompatibilists will say yes. This will still tend to be true, even if the ship slowly morphs into a completely different kind of ship.

Compatibilists say no. They focus on, not on picking out and tracking an evolving object, but on expressing characteristics and features of a person. What matters to them is that angry people can express anger, throw punches, and start fights, without being held back by chains; and sad people can cry and lie in bed all day, without being held back by chains. Compatibilists, in short, are concerned with a freedom that nobody doubts most people have most of the time.

Incompatibilists, rather than being concerned by this shallow freedom, are concerned with how people came to be the types of people they are. In particular, they are concerned with the idea that, if people did not control how they came to be who they are, and if what they do flows naturally and inevitably from who they are, how fair it is to hold them responsible and accountable.