Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy
Showing posts with label Personal Identity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Personal Identity. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

One -- but Not the Same

Schwenkler, J. Byrd, N. Lambert, E., & Taylor, M.
Philosophical Studies


Ordinary judgments about personal identity are complicated by the fact that phrases like “same person” and “different person” have multiple uses in ordinary English. This complication calls into question the significance of recent experimental work on this topic. For example, Tobia (2015) found that judgments of personal identity were significantly affected by whether the moral change described in a vignette was for the better or for the worse, while Strohminger and Nichols (2014) found that loss of moral conscience had more of an effect on identity judgments than loss of biographical memory. In each case, however, there are grounds for questioning whether the judgments elicited in these experiments engaged a concept of numerical personal identity at all (cf. Berniūnas and Dranseika 2016; Dranseika 2017; Starmans and Bloom 2018). In two pre-registered studies we validate this criticism while also showing a way to address it: instead of attempting to engage the concept of numerical identity through specialized language or the terms of an imaginary philosophical debate, we should consider instead how the identity of a person is described through the connected use of proper names, definite descriptions, and the personal pronouns “I”, “you”, “he”, and “she”. When the experiments above are revisited in this way, there is no evidence that the differences in question had an effect on ordinary identity judgments.

From the Discussion

Our findings do, however, suggest a promising strategy for the experimental study of how philosophically important concepts are employed by people without formal philosophical training. As we noted above, in philosophy we use phrases like “numerical identity” and “qualitative identity” in a somewhat artificial way, in order thereby to disambiguate between the different meanings a phrase like “same person” can have in ordinary language. But we cannot easily disambiguate things in this way when we wish to investigate how these concepts are understood by non-philosophers: for a question like “Is the man after the accident numerically the same as the man before?” cannot be posed to such a person without first explicating the meaning of the italicized phrase.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Addiction, Identity, Morality

Earp, B.D., Skorburg, J.A. Everett, J. & Savulescu, J.
(2019) AJOB Empirical Bioethics, 10:2, 136-153.
DOI: 10.1080/23294515.2019.1590480

Background: Recent literature on addiction and judgments about the characteristics of agents has focused on the implications of adopting a “brain disease” versus “moral weakness” model of addiction. Typically, such judgments have to do with what capacities an agent has (e.g., the ability to abstain from substance use). Much less work, however, has been conducted on the relationship between addiction and judgments about an agent’s identity, including whether or to what extent an individual is seen as the same person after becoming addicted.

Methods: We conducted a series of vignette-based experiments (total N = 3,620) to assess lay attitudes concerning addiction and identity persistence, systematically manipulating key characteristics of agents and their drug of addiction.

Conclusions: In Study 1, we found that U.S. participants judged an agent who became addicted to drugs as being closer to “a completely different person” than “completely the same person” as the agent who existed prior to the addiction. In Studies 2–6, we investigated the intuitive basis for this result, finding that lay judgments of altered identity as a consequence of drug use and addiction are driven primarily by perceived negative changes in the moral character of drug users, who are seen as having deviated from their good true selves.

The research is here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Death and the Self

Shaun Nichols, Nina Strohminger, Arun Rai, Jay Garfield
Cognitive Science (2018) 1–19


It is an old philosophical idea that if the future self is literally different from the current self,
one should be less concerned with the death of the future self (Parfit, 1984). This paper examines
the relation between attitudes about death and the self among Hindus, Westerners, and three Buddhist
populations (Lay Tibetan, Lay Bhutanese, and monastic Tibetans). Compared with other
groups, monastic Tibetans gave particularly strong denials of the continuity of self, across several
measures. We predicted that the denial of self would be associated with a lower fear of death and
greater generosity toward others. To our surprise, we found the opposite. Monastic Tibetan Buddhists
showed significantly greater fear of death than any other group. The monastics were also
less generous than any other group about the prospect of giving up a slightly longer life in order
to extend the life of another.

The article is here.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Essence of the Individual: The Pervasive Belief in the True Self Is an Instance of Psychological Essentialism

Andrew G. Christy, Rebecca J. Schlegel, and Andrei Cimpian


Eight studies (N = 2,974) were conducted to test the hypothesis that the widespread folk belief in the true self is an instance of psychological essentialism. Results supported this hypothesis. Specifically, participants’ reasoning about the true self displayed the telltale features of essentialist reasoning (immutability, discreteness, consistency, informativeness, inherence, and biological basis; Studies 1–4); participants’ endorsement of true-self beliefs correlated with individual differences in other essentialist beliefs (Study 5); and experimental manipulations of essentialist thought in domains other than the self were found to “spill over” and affect the extent to which participants endorsed true-self beliefs (Studies 6–8). These findings advance theory on the origins and functions of true-self beliefs, revealing these beliefs to be a specific instance of a broader tendency to explain phenomena in the world in terms of underlying essences.

The preprint is here.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Identity change and informed consent

Karsten Witt
Journal of Medical Ethics
Published Online First: 20 March 2017.
doi: 10.1136/medethics-2016-103684


In this paper, I focus on a kind of medical intervention that is at the same time fascinating and disturbing: identity-changing interventions. My guiding question is how such interventions can be ethically justified within the bounds of contemporary bioethical mainstream that places great weight on the patient's informed consent. The answer that is standardly given today is that patients should be informed about the identity effects, thus suggesting that changes in identity can be treated like ‘normal’ side effects. In the paper, I argue that this approach is seriously lacking because it misses important complexities going along with decisions involving identity changes and consequently runs into mistakes. As a remedy I propose a new approach, the ‘perspective-sensitive account’, which avoids these mistakes and thus provides the conceptual resources to systematically reflect on and give a valid consent to identity-changing interventions.

The article is here.

Editor's note: While this article deals with medical interventions, such as Deep Brain Stimulation, the similar concerns might be generalized to psychotherapy and/or psychopharmacology.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Only two sexes?

By Sarah Graham
The Independent
Originally posted October 17, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

It’s not surprising so many people are ignorant about us intersex people: Our very existence has been erased since the Roman Empire. It continued in the 20th century, as doctors got their scalpels out to “normalise” our bodies. In the last fifteen years, since some of us started finding our dissident voices and protesting, doctors have tried to rebrand us and said we have “Disorders of Sexual Development (DSDs)” - to legitimize their paternalism and on-going annihilation of our beings.

This is all to keep you - the public - in the dark. And to rigidly enforce the pink and blue boxes: the boring binary, straight-laced order. But let me bring you up-to-speed. There are not only the two sexes of male and female. This is an absolute barefaced lie. Nature produces bodies on a spectrum; a continuum of possibilities.

You have met one of us somewhere, for sure. As many as 1 in 1,500 babies is born visibly intersex, while many more are born not so obviously unique and interesting to the eye.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

How politics makes us stupid

By Ezra Klein
Originally published April 6, 2014 (How did I miss this?)

Here is an excerpt:

Kahan calls this theory Identity-Protective Cognition: "As a way of avoiding dissonance and estrangement from valued groups, individuals subconsciously resist factual information that threatens their defining values." Elsewhere, he puts it even more pithily: "What we believe about the facts," he writes, "tells us who we are." And the most important psychological imperative most of us have in a given day is protecting our idea of who we are, and our relationships with the people we trust and love.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Essential Moral Self

Strohminger, N. and Nichols, S. (in press).
The Essential Moral Self. Cognition.


It has often been suggested that the mind is central to personal identity.  But do all parts of the mind contribute equally? Across five experiments, we demonstrate that moral traits—more than any other mental faculty— are considered the most essential part of identity, the self, and the soul.  Memory, especially emotional and autobiographical memory, is also fairly important. Lower-level cognition and perception have the most tenuous connection to identity, rivaling that of purely physical traits. These findings suggest that folk notions of personal identity are largely informed by the mental faculties affecting social relationships, with a particularly keen focus on moral traits.



The studies described here illustrate several points about lay theories of personal identity. The first, most basic, point is that not all parts of the mind are equally constitutive of the self, challenging a straightforward view of psychological continuity. Identity does not simply depend on the magnitude of retained mental content; indeed, certain cognitive processes contribute less to identity than purely physical traits.

Across five experiments, we find strong and unequivocal support for the essential moral self hypothesis. Moral traits are considered more important to personal identity than any other part of the mind.

The entire article is here.