PHL471: Butler on Identity
Butler on Identity
Butler selection on identity
Butler aims to criticize Locke's memory theory, and
especially the idea that the self might be something
other than a substance.
- Butler argues that whether a person is the same person over
time (e.g., whether one body harbors the same person over time)
should be seen as a question of "similitude or equality."
- Butler's standard for similitude or equality appears to be
very strong: something on the order of Leibniz's principle of the
indiscernability of identicals. In second order logic, (a=b) -->
/\F(Fa <--> Fb).
- Butler makes on important distinction, however: he includes
that we perceive that identity is the same over time. Thus, any
properties directly concerned with time are apparently ruled out.
- What then is this thing that has all the same properties
(except for, for example, age) over time? It is some special
- Butler's notion of this substance might be something like
the collection of essential properties of the self. Otherwise,
it would seem to fall to Locke's poignant criticism that spiritual
substance should be like material substance and change to explain
changes (we learn, for example).
- Butler argues that the idea of consciousness presupposes
a self existing over time.
- Locke's use of the word "same" must not really be the right
use of the word "same," Butler concludes. (I think that Locke
could grant this without harm to Locke's position, by just noting
that his use of "same" and Butler's use of "same" are different,
but that both are as good a candidate for the colloquial use.)
- Butler describes three problems with a lack of personal
identity. He means to attack Locke, but we might best read him
to see some problems with any denial that there is a personal
- A person who did not believe that he would exist
tomorrow (e.g., that his body would not include him tomorrow)
would not care about his conduct now. (NOTE: Parfit makes
a virtue of something quite like what Butler thinks is here
a vice: he argues we should not be selfish because our
future selves are not much closer to our present selves than
many other people's self now or in the future.)
- To say a being suffered or enjoyed is to admit that the
being endured over time. We cannot deny that individuals
endure without denying our use of such claims.
- We know that we are the same as the person we once were.
This is recognition of a substance that exists in both times.