Tag Archives: reductionism

Derek Parfit

Consider the fact that, in a few years, I shall be dead. This fact can seem depressing. But the reality is only this. After a certain time, none of the thoughts and experiences that occur will be directly causally related to this brain, or be connected in certain ways to these present experiences. That is all this fact involves. And, in that description, my death seems to disappear.

Derek Parfit, ‘The Unimportance of Identity’, in Henry Harris (ed.), Identity: Essays Based on Herbert Spencer Lectures Given in the University of Oxford, Oxford, 1995, p. 45

Leonard Katz

If I am a momentary conscious self, and might have (numerically) the same experience as I do now even if I were not causally connected to anything more remotely past or future than the before and after internal to my momentary experience […], then it seems that my continuant personal identity should not be of all that much special interest to me-now. For if the way that I am a continuant is by being a collection of, say, segments of continuing physical processes coming together into integrated systems of neural events at one moment only to come apart the next, why should I identify with the future of some of these causal processes rather than with others? Why not care equally about other momentary consciousnesses that I can causally affect, rather than just about that which bears my name? Why not about those that carry the effects of my deeds, or of my social interaction, equally? None of these will be the same momentary consciousness as I this moment am. All will be tied to my present consciousness by causal connections.

These considerations seem plausible to me. But, of course, they cannot really be used to foster the moral virtue of benevolence—which, like all of morality, essentially concerns our relations to persons as such. If this scene of thought undermines egoism and the egocentric fears (such as, perhaps especially, the fear of death), it might seem equally to undermine morality, too—by weakening the grip that our biologically- and socially based perception and attitudes toward persons as such have. For it seems to be here that morality finds its natural ground—on which the existence of moral facts and motivation, and the application of the distinctive normative force of morality (irreducible to that of seeking pleasure or any other form of welfare or good) depends. But philosophical hedonism, while perhaps undermining morality and self-interest together in this way by suggesting the momentary view, could also provide some justification for self-interest and morality in those moments in which we wonder how it all matters, at a fundamental level, by showing a deeper ground and point to human living—a ground in the momentary experience of pleasure (no matter whose), a ground beyond self interest and morality that lies deeper in the nature of things than does our perception of persons or of prudential and moral norms.

Leonard Katz, Hedonism as Metaphysics of Mind and Value, Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, 1986, pp. 177-179

Michael Gazzaniga

To some, the possibility that great religious figures might have been influenced by epileptic experiences negates the reality of the religious beliefs that resulted from them. Yet to others, the resulting revelations are “no less expressive of truth than Dostoevsky’s novels or Van Gogh’s paintings.” Evidence does exist of an organic basis for instinctive reactions that give rise to beliefs about a moral order resulting in a religious experience. However, some would argue that this is merely the way by which a spiritual God interacts with us mortal beings.

Michael Gazzaniga, The Ethical Brain: The Science of Our Moral Dilemmas, New York, 2005, p. 159

Derek Parfit

Nagel once claimed that it is psychologically impossible to believe the Reductionist View. Buddha claimed that, though it is very hard, it is possible. I find Buddha’s claim to be true. After reviewing my arguments, I find that, at the reflective or intellectual level, though it is very hard to believe the Reductionist View, this is possible. My remaining doubts or fears seem to me irrational. Since I can believe this view, I assume that others can do so too. We can believe the truth about ourselves.

Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons, Oxford, 1984, p. 280