Personal Identity (Fall 1999) / Notes / Korsgaard's Kantian view of personal identity 23 November

The main idea

The main idea is that there are two standpoints from which we can view our lives as persons: the theoretical and the practical. If you take the practical standpoint you see that persons have a kind of unity over time. Since we are agents, we have to adopt the practical standpoint. Therefore, you can grant Parfit's metaphysical claims, which are all based on the theoretical standpoint, and nonetheless show that persons are unified in a significant way and thus that Parfit's ethical conclusions don't follow from his metaphysical doctrines.

What is the relationship between standpoints?

It seems that the conclusions from within the practical standpoint presupposes some conclusions from within the theoretical one: for example, I can't be the same agent three months into the future if I'm not able to have any perspective on the world in three months. If that's so, what did we gain by adding on the practical standpoint?

There's also Tanja's question: even if we grant that there are two utterly different standpoints and that these standpoints, how should we resolve conflicts between them? Why should we adopt the practical standpoint in order to address these questions rather than the theoretical standpoint?

Because you're an agent and thus forced to adopt the practical standpoint? But we're forced to be theoretical beings just as much as we are forced to be practical beings.

Because morality is about what one ought to do and thus questions about ethics are appropriately answered from within the practical standpoint? Does that simply beg the question against a version of utilitarianism which holds that the point of morality is to describe the goodness or badness of different states of the world? Anyway, even if that's wrong, does this argument give a compelling reply to problems of personal identity that are not about ethics? Would I feel the torture in Williams's experiment, for example?

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