Can Thought Experiments Solve Problems of Personal Identity?

Synthese 200 (3):1-23 (2022)
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Abstract

Good physical experiments conform to the basic methodological standards of experimental design: they are objective, reliable, and valid. But is this also true of thought experiments? Especially problems of personal identity have engendered hypothetical scenarios that are very distant from the actual world. These imagined situations have been conspicuously ineffective at resolving conflicting intuitions and deciding between the different accounts of personal identity. Using prominent examples from the literature, I argue that this is due to many of these thought experiments not adhering to the methodological standards that guide experimental design in nearly all other disciplines. I also show how empirically unwarranted background assumptions about human physiology render some of the hypothetical scenarios that are employed in the debate about personal identity highly misleading.

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Lukas J. Meier
Cambridge University

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