On Scepticism About Personal Identity Thought Experiments

Analytic Philosophy 1 (2023)
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Many philosophers have become sceptical of the use of thought experiments in theorising about personal identity. In large part this is due to work in experimental philosophy that appears to confirm long held philosophical suspicions that thought experiments elicit inconsistent judgements about personal identity, and hence judgements that are thought to be the product of cognitive biases. If so, these judgements appear to be useless at informing our theories of personal identity. Using the methods of experimental philosophy, we investigate whether people exhibit inconsistent judgements and, if they do, whether these judgements are likely to be the source of cognitive bias or, instead, sensitivity to some relevant factor. We do not find that people’s judgements are sensitive to any of the factors we investigate (relevant or irrelevant), nor that people have inconsistent judgements across cases. Rather, people’s judgements are best explained by them having a very minimal account of what it takes for a person to survive. Since this pattern of judgements is no reason to think that we are subject to cognitive bias, we see no reason, as things stand, to be sceptical of our judgements.

Author Profiles

Andrew James Latham
Aarhus University
Kristie Miller
University of Sydney
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