On Personal Identity: the Epistemic Problem, Personal Pronoun Revisionism, and De Se Attitudes



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The thesis focuses on the contemporary ‘animalism vs. neo-Lockeanism’ debate on personal identity over time. I will look at Noonan’s defence on behalf of neo-Lockeanism against the version of animalism formulated and popularised by Olson (1997, 2003, 2007). Noonan argues for neo-Lockeanism (1989/2003, 2010a,1998) by rejecting the animalists’ thinking animal argument. In doing so, the neo-Lockean theorist commits to claims that give rise to the epistemic problem: how do I know which thinker is me, given the neo-Lockean claim that the thinking animal and the Lockean person are numerically distinct, but qualitatively identical entities capable of occupying the same temporal-spatial location? In response, Noonan devises personal pronoun revisionism (or the linguistic solution) as an attempt to resolve the problem: personal pronouns don’t refer to the thinker who thinks the I-thought e.g. the thought that ‘I am a person’, but instead they refer to the person who thinks the I-thought. According to the neo-Locekan view, since i) you know that you are a person viz. ’you’ refers to a person and ii) persons are Lockean persons you can know that the thinker who is a person, the Lockean person, is you viz. ‘you’ always refers to the Lockean person not the thinking animal. Therefore, the epistemic problem is resolved since the question answers itself in the proposed semantic rule for the reference of personal pronouns. I argue that for considering problems of de se attitudes—propositional attitudes (knowing that, thinking that, believing that etc.) held towards propositions/beliefs identified by I-utterances such as ‘I am hungry’, ‘I want to have some ice-cream’ etc., Noonan’s response to the epistemic problem is not adequately motivated. With the epistemic problem unsolved, we have strong reasons for refuting neo-Lockeanism. This thesis will have the following structure: In Section 1 I discuss Olson’s animalism as a position on personal identity. I will explain how Noonan’s refutation of the thinking animal argument leads to the epistemic problem as part of the broader thinking animal problem. Section 2 and 3 discuss this problem and Noonan’s proposed solution, personal pronoun revisionism, to it. Section 4 is an extended exposition of Noonan’s proposal. In Section 5 I argue that Noonan’s proposal fails for considering the problem of de se attitudes. Finally, I conclude that with the problems Noonan’s account faces, we have strong reasons to reject Noonan’s neo-Lockeanism.



animalism, personal identity, Noonan, neo-Lockeanism, propositional attitudes, epistemic problem