A Content-Oriented Conception of Psychological Continuity

  • Marc Slors
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series book series (PSSP, volume 86)


A substratum-oriented conception of psychological continuity fails to solve the five problems of Chapter 2, despite initial appearances to the contrary. It does not take into account the important role played by psychological, social and physical contexts in co-constituting the full contents of mental states and hence the epistemic merits of beliefs and memories. A conception of psychological continuity is called for that does take these contexts, their interrelation and the way they interrelate mental states into account. Such a conception is what I intend to develop in this chapter.


Mental Content Qualitative Similarity Perceptual Content Full Content Bodily Continuity 
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  1. 1.
    E.g. Noonan (1989), Shoemaker (1984), (1985), Schechtman (1990a, 1994a, 1994b), Lewis (1976), and occasionally even Parfit (1984) himself.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Or, to include unconscious psychological contents, ‘of mind’.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The term is Davidson’s. It was suggested to me in an interchange with Igor Douven, although he had a slightly different use in mind. See—in this order—Slors (1998a), Douven (1999) and Slors (1999).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Consider e.g. the following quote from MacIntyre: “Empiricists, such as Locke and Hume, tried to give an account of personal identity solely in terms of mental states or events. Analytical philosophers, in so may ways their heirs as well as their critics, have wrestled with the connection between those states and events and strict identity understood in terms of Leibniz’s Law. Both have failed to see that a background has been omitted, the lack of which makes the problems insoluble. That background is provided by the concept of a story and of that kind of unity of character which a story requires. Just as a story is not a sequence of actions, but the concept of an action is that of a moment in an actual or possible history abstracted for some purpose from that history, so the characters in a history are not a collection of persons, but the concept of a person is that of a character abstracted from a history” (MacIntyre 1981, p.217). MacIntyre’s emphasis on the relevance of stories for personal identity raises the question whether the stories or narratives he speaks of are mere constructions or whether they are real (cf. Maclntyre’s (1981, p.212) siding with Hardy (1968) against Mink (1970)). My use of the term ‘narrativity,’ by contrast, avoids this question by concentrating mainly on mental states and their interrelation. The narrative background which such an approach lacks, according to MacIntyre, is largely made up for by introducing narrativity at a ‘sub-personal’ mental level and connecting it at least partly with what goes on in a person’s social and physical surroundings.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    C. Pallisser, The Quincunx,Penguin Press, (1989, resp. pp. 39–40 and p. 479).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Note that Parfit’s teletransportation allows for patchy perceptual sequences: one moment I am here, the next I am on Mars. Therefore I am inclined to be somewhat sceptical with regard to the idea that teletransportation can preserve psychological continuity. See the end of this section for more on this.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    This does not preclude our misconstruing perceptual narratives or our misrepresenting them when we remember (part of) our past narratives. The point here is merely that any interpretation of a string of consecutive perceptual contents requires them to be taken as subjective counterparts of an objective story. A misconstrual of such a string of contents simply misrepresents an objective story. It is impossible to see how any interpretation of a string of perceptions could do without the supposition that there is at least an objective story to be told that connects these perceptions with a certain well determined set of sense organs.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Evans stresses the non-conceptual character of memories. My talk of beliefs here is not meant to deny his claims about the (non-)conceptual character of memories. Nor do I necessarily have to endorse it. My point is neutral with regard to the issue of the possibility of non-conceptual contents.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marc Slors
    • 1
  1. 1.Royal Dutch Academy for the Arts and SciencesUniversity of NijmegenThe Netherlands

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