Personal Identity Over Time
Personal Identity Over Time
Philosophy 2010 Final Paper Prompt
You have two choices of topic for your final paper: (1) knowledge and skepticism or (2) personal identity
over time. You may only choose one of the topics (do not write a paper on both!).
An outline of the final paper is due on Monday, July 23rd. The outline should have 1-2 sentences for each
of the paragraphs in your paper summarizing what you are saying in that paragraph. Turning in the
outline is a part of your final paper’s grade.
The final paper should be about twelve paragraphs long. It must be typed, double spaced, with 12-point
font, and must have an appropriate title. You must name the file “[yourname] PHI2010 final paper” and
it must be in either a .doc or .pdf format (I cannot open Apple Pages files). Also, do not put your name
on your paper. Put your student ID number instead. When the paper is completed you can email it to
me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and put “PHI 2010 final paper” in the email’s subject line.
The final draft of the final paper is due by midnight on Wednesday, 8/1.
Prompt 1: Knowledge and Skepticism
First, explain the difference between knowing something and merely believing it, using the concepts of
certainty, evidence, and sentence competitors. Illustrate your explanation with examples; one example
being whether or not you can know that your lotter ticket is a loser and why and an example of your
Then describe the argument suggested in Descartes’s first meditation that leads to the skeptical
conclusion that we can’t know that an external, physical, 3-D world exists. Describe the idea of the
malicious demon that is central to the skeptical argument. How does it seemingly demolish any hope of
knowing anything about the world around us? Explain why this outlandish scenario need not actually be
true in order for it to have this effect, nor need we actually need to believe that it is true. Explain why
we could never have evidence sufficient to rule this possibility out. (If you’d like you can compare the
evil demon to a brain in a vat or The Matrix, but be sure to point out what is importantly different about
what these possibilities mean for what we can/can’t know!).
Explain either Hume or Cohen’s response to the skeptical solution (but not both). Do they accept
the skeptical conclusion that we cannot know that there is an external world, and what do they argue in
response? What is the main thesis of their argument? What reasons do they provide in its favor?
Finally, explain whether or not you can know that you have taken this class. If the answer is yes,
then explain how. Descartes in Meditations I and II would say that you can’t know this – as would David
Hume – so what rational mistake are they making?
If the answer is no, then are you still going to believe you have taken this class? If so, how come?
Does your acceptance of skepticism entail that every belief is just as good as any other belief, and you
might as well believe whatever you want regardless of your evidence? Why or why not?
Prompt 2: Personal Identity Over Time
Watch this promo for the movie Freaky Friday (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZ8KJ4MzzOw).
Using Tess and Anna as an example, explain what philosophers are talking about when they talk about
personal identity over time. Explain which people (who you can identify by the actresses who play the
characters – Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan) before the fortune cookie are identical to which people
after the fortune cookie according to the bodily, brain, soul, and memory criterion of personal identity
found in the introduction to your book’s section on personal identity. While writing this section, be sure
to distinguish between qualitative identity (which is not what personal identity is about) and numerical
identity (which is the relevant notion of identity).
Then explain Parfit’s two criteria of personal identity, the physical criterion and the
psychological criterion. How is Parfit’s psychological criterion similar to Locke’s memory criterion and
how is it different? Explain the concept of psychological connectedness, psychological continuity, and
uniqueness of psychological continuity and illustrate your explanation using an example. In the book’s
selection, Parfit does not endorse one of his two criteria as more important than the other. If they are
equally important to establishing personal identity, would it be possible to definitively say which actress
is portraying which character after Freaky Friday’s fortune cookie scene?
Explain what a “dividing” case look like for Parfit. While humans cannot divide like amoeba, he
thinks we can describe a case using triplets that results in a scenario very much like dividing amoeba in
the relevant respects. Describe this scenario, and explain what Parfit thinks happens to someone if they
“divide” in this way. Which of the two resulting half-brained people does Parift think the original wholebrained
person is identical to, if either?
Finally, explain Parfit’s argument that there are two ways that you could stop existing, but
having a replica is about as good as still existing, and certainly better than regular death. Then read the
textbook’s excerpt from Bernard William’s “The Self and the Future.” After reading it, do you agree with
Parfit’s conclusion? If not, why not? What is Parfit ignoring? If you agree with Parfit, what mistake is