The Bounds of Agency

The Bounds of Agency: An Essay in Revisionary Metaphysics

Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 270
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  • Book Info
    The Bounds of Agency
    Book Description:

    The subject of personal identity is one of the most central and most contested and exciting in philosophy. Ever since Locke, psychological and bodily criteria have vied with one another in conflicting accounts of personal identity. Carol Rovane argues that, as things stand, the debate is unresolvable since both sides hold coherent positions that our common sense will embrace. Our very common sense, she maintains, is conflicted; so any resolution to the debate is bound to be revisionary. She boldly offers such a revisionary theory of personal identity by first inquiring into the nature of persons.

    Rovane begins with a premise about the distinctive ethical nature of persons to whichallsubstantive ethical doctrines, ranging from Kantian to egoist, can subscribe. From this starting point, she derives two startling metaphysical possibilities: there could begrouppersons composed of many human beings andmultiplepersons within a single human being. Her conclusion supports Locke's distinction between persons and human beings, but on altogether new grounds. These grounds lie in her radically normative analysis of the condition of personal identity, as the condition in which a certain normative commitment arises, namely, the commitment to achieve overall rational unity within a rational point of view. It is by virtue of this normative commitment that individual agents can engage one another specificallyas persons, and possess the distinctive ethical status of persons.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2242-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)

    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 3-12)

      Like much recent philosophical work on personal identity, this effort takes its main cue from Locke.

      Locke famously argued that the condition of personal identity is distinct from the condition of animal identity. Yet that is not where his real originality lay. Cartesians, and many others in the Platonic and Christian philosophical traditions, had embraced and defended this distinction well before he did. Locke’s innovations lay rather in his particular account of the distinction, and the defense he gave of it. He produced an entirely novel analysis of the condition of personal identity, and he defended that analysis with what...

    • CHAPTER ONE Preview of the Normative Analysis of Personal Identity
      (pp. 13-34)

      A full statement of the normative analysis of personal identity must wait for details that will be supplied much later, in the course of the book’s overall argument. But some sense of the analysis can be conveyed in advance by situating it in relation to Locke’s original discussion of personal identity—more specifically, by displaying what it takes from Locke and how it departs from him.

      In showing how the normative analysis departs from Locke, the aim is not to draw attention to any internal difficulty or incoherence in his position. Such difficulties have been exhaustively discussed in the secondary...

    • CHAPTER TWO On the Need for Revision
      (pp. 35-64)

      Locke did not present his thought experiment about the prince and the cobbler as the sole ground for his analysis of personal identity in terms of consciousness alone. Nor did his early opponents fasten their critical gaze on that step. They did not question whether his thought experiment was legitimate, nor did they report intuitive responses to the experiment that were contrary to his own response. Their main concern was to show that whatever our intuitions may be, Locke’s analysis of personal identity is ultimately incoherent.

      Thought experiments have played a much more dominant role in recent attempts to carry...

    • CHAPTER THREE A Revisionary Proposal
      (pp. 65-124)

      Chapter 2 left us with four conclusions: (1) we cannot resolve the philosophical dispute about personal identity, between the proponents and the opponents of Locke’s distinction between personal and animal identity, without revising some aspect of our commonsense outlook; (2) since both sides of the dispute are coherent and well supported by common sense, we cannot strictly prove that one side or the other must be correct; (3) we must seek positive reasons to embrace one side or the other anyway; (4) we must seek these positive reasons in a substantive account of the kind ‘person’.

      Chapter 2 also raised...


    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 127-135)

      The goal of the second part of the book is to deliver what was promised at the outset, namely, a new interpretation and a new defense of Locke’s distinction between personal and animal identity, via a new, normative analysis of personal identity, which equates the condition of personal identity with the condition that gives rise to a normative commitment to overall rational unity—or in other words, the condition in which there is a single rational point of view which is governed by that normative commitment.

      In a preliminary way, chapter 1 has already explained why the normative analysis brings...

    • CHAPTER FOUR A Sufficient Condition for Personal Identity
      (pp. 136-166)

      The arguments of this chapter and the next will take for granted some of the more obvious metaphysical implications of the ethical criterion of personhood that emerged in chapter 3 and that were reviewed in the Introduction to this second part of the book. These implications are: each person has its own rational point of view; each person has a normative commitment to achieving overall rational unity within its rational point of view; each person is, in consequence, susceptible to rational modes of influence, and is capable of the distinctively interpersonal forms of engagement that rest on such influence; insofar...

    • CHAPTER FIVE The Sufficient Condition Is Also Necessary
      (pp. 167-208)

      The task of this chapter is threefold. Section 1 will argue for the possibility of multiple persons within a single human being. Section 2 will use that conclusion to go on to argue that the normative analysis specifies a necessary as well as a sufficient condition for the identity of persons, where “person” is to be understood, of course, in the sense defined by the ethical criterion of personhood. Section 3 will address some of the remaining metaphysical issues that will have been raised by the normative analysis, and the account of the kind ‘person’ that entails it.

      The argument...

    • CHAPTER SIX The First Person
      (pp. 209-244)

      Although the normative analysis of personal identity ushers in a new interpretation of Locke’s distinction between personal and animal identity, it does preserve his idea that the identity of a person is bound up with the identity of a point of view—only it is a rational, as opposed to a phenomenological (or animal), point of view. The procedure by which the normative analysis was arrived at guaranteed that it would preserve this idea, for the ethical criterion of personhood stipulates that persons are agents who can engage in agency-regarding relations, and we have seen that each such agent must...

  6. Postscript
    (pp. 245-250)

    This book used an ethical premise about the nature of persons (the nature of the kind ‘person’) in order to argue for a metaphysical conclusion about the condition of personal identity. That metaphysical conclusion was unavoidably revisionist. But the ethical premise was not. Indeed, the unusual strategy of the book’s argument depended on avoiding all ethical controversy, even while arguing for a metaphysical revision in our thinking about personal identity on an ethical basis. The strategy was to find a starting point for an account of the kind ‘person’ on which all parties to the philosophical dispute about personal identity...

    (pp. 251-254)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 255-260)