Reidentification: Conclusion
Schechtman (Marya)
Source: Schechtman - The Constitution of Selves, 1996, Conclusion to Part 1
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  1. We have seen that it is not possible for a reidentification criterion to capture our intuitions about the link between personal identity and the four features, survival, moral responsibility, self-interested concern, and compensation. It is important to recognize that this discovery does not impugn the legitimacy of the reidentification question itself — only the expectation that an answer to this question should enlighten us about the four features. There are many contexts in which we have an interest in reidentifying a particular person — an adoptee searching for her birth mother wants to know whether the woman she finds is in fact the same person who gave birth to her; a researcher conducting drug efficacy studies wants to know whether the person being checked over now is the one to whom the drugs were administered; a bartender may wish to know if the person ordering a drink is really the twenty-one-year-old named on the identification card; an accident investigator needs to determine whether the person found at the crash site is the same as the person who bought the ticket.
  2. There are pretty clear procedures for addressing questions of this sort. The type of evidence marshaled might include fingerprints, blood type, dental records, or DNA tests — all evidence that serves to reidentify a human body. This is no accident; when the reidentification question is considered on its own terms there is a strong intuition that it should be answered with a bodily criterion. Before going on I should say a bit to defend this claim and describe the role of the reidentification question in my analysis of personal identity.
  3. As I explained in Chapter 1, it is a part of the landscape of work on personal identity that we have two sets of intuitions concerning persons: one pulls us toward the view that persons are to be identified with their bodies, and the other toward the view that they are to be identified with their psyches. The traditional response to this has been to place these two sets of intuitions head-to-head as competing answers to the same identity question — the question of reidentification. Psychological continuity1 theorists, emphasizing the strong practical importance of psychological features, argue that in the end the intuitions pulling us toward a psychological account of identity are more powerful than those pulling us toward a physiological one. Our impulse toward a bodily continuity2 theory derives, they argue, from the reliability of bodily continuation as a sign of the psychological continuation that really constitutes identity.
  4. This argument has a great deal of initial plausibility, but as I have shown, its conclusion is not tenable. In order to be logically consistent, a psychological account of reidentification needs to distort our conception of psychological continuation to the point that the intuitions originally supporting a psychological account no longer apply, and so a psychologically based reidentification criterion cannot do the work for which it was devised. I offer an alternative understanding of the relation between the intuition that persons should be identified with their bodies and the intuition that they should be identified with their psyches. On my view these are not competing answers to a single question, but distinct answers to different questions. According to this approach, our inclination to identify persons with their bodies arises primarily within the context of the reidentification question and the inclination to identify them with their psyches arises primarily in response to questions of characterization.
  5. Our concept of persons has a dual nature. On the one hand persons are objects in the world, whereas on the other they are subjects, with agency, autonomy, and inner lives. When we think of persons as objects, we are interested in reidentifying them and find ourselves pulled toward the view that persons are to be identified with their bodies. It is when we consider persons as subjects, however, that issues concerning personal survival, moral agency, self-interest, and compensation arise. In this context, I contend, we are mostly raising questions of characterization, not of reidentification, and so it is in conjunction with the characterization question that we find ourselves pulled toward the view that persons are to be identified with their psyches. The perceived tension between our competing intuitions concerning persons can thus be resolved by offering a physically based account of reidentification and a psychologically based account of characterization.
  6. This approach leaves us, however, with a question about the relation between identity as determined by the characterization question and identity as determined by the reidentification question. It seems that these two need somehow to be brought together. For one thing, presumably questions of reidentification and of characterization can be asked about the same person. But if the reidentification question identifies the person with a body, and the characterization question with a psychological subject, how can these two fail to be in conflict? Moreover, in practice there seems to be a very close relation between questions of bodily reidentification and questions related to subjectivity. A bartender may be interested in determining whether the body before him is really the same as one born twenty-one years ago because he is worried about legalities. But the law that requires a person to be twenty-one years old in order to drink is based on the idea that under normal conditions there is a rough connection between the age of a body and the maturity of the subject associated with it. Similarly, we are concerned to determine whether the body currently in custody is the same as the one present at the crime because we think that fact is relevant to determining facts about moral responsibility.
  7. In order to make our varied intuitions about personal identity cohere in the way I suggest, it is necessary to acknowledge that the reidentification and characterization questions are not completely independent and to show how they can be interconnected and yet provide very different perspectives on what identity entails. Roughly speaking, on the view I defend reidentifying persons via their bodies constrains (but does not determine) the kind of psychological configurations that can constitute a single psychological subject. On this view facts about the reidentification of bodies are indeed acknowledged to provide information crucial to settling issues about the four features and about identity in the sense at issue in the characterization question. Nonetheless, questions of characterization remain distinct from questions of reidentification.
  8. On my analysis, then, the reidentification question survives the argument of Part I as a serious question of personal identity. My claim is that if this question is freed from the inappropriate demand that it capture the relation between personal identity and the four features, the arguments for a bodily reidentification criterion are overwhelming. Once we have clarified its legitimate province, then, pursuit of the reidentification question will most likely involve an investigation into the specific metaphysical problems with reidentifying human beings, as well as more generic metaphysical puzzles about reidentifying changing material objects over time.
  9. I do not defend this claim in detail here, nor do I engage the reidentification question in what follows. My more immediate concern is with the characterization question, and with the attempt to understand the connection between personal identity and the four features. Survival, moral responsibility, self-interested concern, and compensation are linked to facts about characterization, not reidentification, and in Part II I develop a psychologically based account of characterization that illuminate the link between these features and identity. There are deep connections between human bodies and psychological subjects, as well as between issues of reidentification and of characterization. In order to appreciate these connections, however, we must first separate the various questions of identity and understand each strain of our concept of persons on its own.

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