Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

From Persons to Selfing: Some Developments of Parfit’s Legacy

Topics: Metaphysics, Philosophy of mind
Keywords: I/Me, Impersonality thesis, Realism about the self, Self


In this paper we shall discuss some aspects of Parfit’s thought in connection with what we regard as a promising, quasi-naturalist approach to the self. The focus is not so much on the concept of person (considered as the starting point of a metaphysics of person), which—for our present purposes—we take essentially to be a forensic notion; our point is, rather, that certain ideas developed by Parfit in Reasons and Persons (1984) may be viewed as a component of a bottom-up account of the self that combines psychobiological and narrativist aspects. At the same time, however, we believe that his reductionist-eliminativist approach is not able to account for certain important facts concerning the mental health of a person and her way to being in the world. Moreover, it is worth noting that in our arguments a considerable role is played by empirical evidence. This is an important difference with respect to traditional analytical approaches to personal identity, which are usually based on conceptual analysis and thought experiments. Indeed, our approach is better considered as an instance of naturalized metaphysics in Quine’s (1981) sense, even if—as we shall see—in a rather moderate sense.

The structure of the paper is the following. In the first section we describe (sketchily) our theory of the self. In the second section we discuss to what extent the main tenets of our view fit well with Parfit’s work. As we shall see, there is agreement, in particular, on his “impersonality thesis”, that is, the view (which can be also found in Daniel Dennett 1969, 1991) that personal phenomena should be ultimately explained starting from non-personal terms. In the third section, we highlight the shortcomings of Parfit’s position as a view of the self, and we explain why our particular version of narrativism can appropriately be considered as a realist account of the self.

In Di Francesco, Marraffa and Paternoster (2016; see also 2015, 2018 and 2019) we put forward a theory of the self that combines contributions from philosophical psychology with a variety of findings from developmental, social, clinical and personality psychology. On our view, the self is constituted by the couple <I, Me>—in a somewhat Jamesian way—where the I is the process of constructing diachronically a series of self-representations, each corresponding to a tentative Me.


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