Thursday, 5 January 2017

Derek Parfit's self defeating Epitaph

Bad news from YouTube.
There's a video gone viral showing you in flagrante up Rock Hudson on the lot of Dynasty.
How did it happen?
  Well, an alien scientist from Planet X wants to find out whether, for our species, the struggle to survive entails Philosophical salience for Derek Parfit's Relation R: psychological connectedness (namely, of memory and character) and continuity (overlapping chains of strong connectedness) as opposed to some ineffable, non-reducible, ontologically dysphoric notion of personhood such as we encounter in Love and Literature, Ecstasy and Agony.

To answer this question, the alien has decided to perform a philosophical experiment. He created a perfect copy of you and inserted it into Rock Hudson's timeline and rectum.

Your reproductive success could be affected if this experiment by the alien has legal consequences- in which case the legal concept of 'personality' has salience. 

Suppose you are charged with a criminal offence as a result of your clone's lewd conduct- it may be in your interest to plead that the clone is a separate person. Your lawyer may hire a philosopher to testify that the relevant Judicial hermeneutic must rely on 'Relation R' to define personality and acquit you because you lack 'Relation R' w.r.t your buggering clone.
  At the same time, it may be in your interest to maintain the opposite doctrine so as to bring a civil action for a large money claim. It is not necessarily the case that you are 'estopped' from maintaining contradictory doctrines in the two cases. After all, you should not be punished for something done by your clone. On the other hand, you clearly have a right to benefit from any commercial use of the video of your clone's reaming Rock Hudson under extant 'right to publicity' case law. In this case, 'Relation R' has no salience. The same holds if you seek an injunction preventing YouTube's use of the video in question, under your 'right to privacy'.

As a matter of fact, the Law does recognize that a single person can have multiple legal personalities- whose interests may conflict to such an extent that one may extinguish the other for the sake of a survivable entitlement.

 Does anything similar happen for Moral Philosophy?
No, unless it is something you really care about, because Moral Philosophy can't put you in jail or get you a big settlement or bring about your obloquy by featuring you in a sordid gedanken. 
Suppose you do really care about Moral Philosophy.
In that case would it make any difference if it was you as opposed to some random dude who ended up up Hudson?
If Ethics is 'impersonal'- shouldn't the answer be no?
Surely, what matters is that this thing happened to a person, not who that person is?
What if the person to whom it happened gains or loses something thereby which makes them better able to do Ethics? Another way of saying this is- 'what happens if a gedanken re. personal identity changes 'what matters' for a being concerned with the survival of his personhood?' In this case there is still a sort of psychological continuity and connectedness- i.e. a Relation R- but it is different from what went before because 'what matters'- i.e. causal chains- have changed.
If Ethics is 'impersonal', then your being the victim of the experiment, as opposed to someone else, does change your relationship to Moral Philosophy because 'what matters' to you has changed and thus your way of specifying Relation R has changed. You can't make a personal decision to ignore the change or decide it shouldn't matter. But this means your 'Relation R' is not independent of Ethics in at least one respect- viz. 'what matters' in Ethics to you. This must be endogenously determined by things like the plausibility or other salience of a succesful implementation of a purely Philosophical Gedanken. Moreover, any specification of Relation R that 'matters' to a person claiming to do impersonal Moral Philosophy, can be ranked on the basis of the technology underlying that implementation which in turn depends on the Science that technology is based on. The better the Science, the 'more elite' the specification of Relation R, because the underlying episteme 'carves up the World more closely to its joints'.
David Lewis argues that we needn't commit to 'Relation R'; we can have multiple answers to questions re. personal identity. Parfit takes a different view- as he is entitled to do but it must be either 'personal' to him or else something which in time will be proven to be the most 'elite eligible' way of carving up the world along its 'joints'.

Suppose there is an 'impersonal' Moral Philosophy which does not hold to a narrow doctrine of Self Interest. It permits empathy or identification with a victim to change 'what matters' to a person rationally concerned with his own survival and happiness.
Would not the same result as outlined in the previous paragraph similarly obtain by simply identifying or empathizing more deeply with the victim of the alien scientist?  If so, why not identify or empathize instead with a possible victim of an experiment yet more heinous- e.g one which involved Mahatma Gandhi rather than Rock Hudson? But why stop there? Why not empathize with the incompossible victim of an ineffable experiment? And who is to say we are not all the victims of an evil experiment involving our own Doris Daying of the x*c)2$$ Chora?

One workaround is to say 'Ethics is 'impersonal' but its domain is restricted to some Platonic or otherwise pre-existing set of persons. However, unless, we are ontologically committed to a 'block Universe', such a theory isn't really 'impersonal' at all but rather is based on what some person, at a particular moment in time, thinks constitutes a person. If that person has greater power to implement or otherwise gain salience for a gedanken, then it is that person who decides what David Lewis might call the 'elite eligible' criteria by which 'Reality is carved up along its joints'. Philosophy is now the handmaiden of a hegemony based on superior technology. 

What happens if we say 'Ethics is highly personal- it's about altering our own individual Ethos in a beneficial way- a project we can work on together through rational discussion'?
Well, straight off the bat, we have to admit that alien scientists who post videos on YouTube of our clones sodomizing Rock Hudson on the set of Dynasty can advance Moral Philosophy.
Does the alien scientist have to be real?
Wouldn't an imaginary alien do the job just as well?
Does Rock Hudson really have to be reamed?
Why not consider an imaginary alien who causes us to Doris Day the x*c)2$$ Chora?
How do we know this isn't what actually happens when we do Moral Philosophy?

  One workaround is to say that Moral Philosophy only concerns itself with what is 'reasonable' or 'compossible'. But this means it can't have any truck with the subject matter of either Economics or the Law, for whom personality can be multiple, and invocation of 'Relation R' can be strategic or gameable, because both rely upon what Sir Edward Coke called 'artificial reason' and are, in any case, impersonal. 

This, then, is the dilemma facing Reductionists who care about Moral Philosophy.
If it concerns itself with persons, it can only be either empty or nonsense and one oughtn't to care for it. More concretely, one ought not grant any 'Relation R' type connection between what one does when doing Moral Philosophy and one's own inner ethos or what Lewis calls 'I Relation'.
 Suppose there exists a Kavka toxin only survivable by violators of the identity of R Relations with I Relations for 'what matters' in Moral Philosophy. Provided 'what matter's is the null set, no scandal or aporia arises precisely because the I relation is symmetrical and the R relation isn't, because it has a direction and thus features non commutative operators which fact, by itself, gives rise to uncertainty. Thus it must be impossible to prove Lewis's claim in a manner independent of one's choice of logic- i.e. in a manner that does not beg the question.
 More generally, any selective pressure, not just a Kavka toxin, will at the margin have the same effect provided 'what matters' is a set of a certain type- not necessarily null- but impredicative in some strategic sense.

Of course, an 'impersonal' Moral Philosophy can simply drop the pretense of concerning itself with anything save its own senseless burgeoning irrespective of 'what matters' to any existing or possible persons. In that case, it is a cult. Having come to this realization, you oughtn't to care about it, unless you are content to be cult fodder. 
This doesn't mean you shouldn't do Moral Philosophy.
Do it, by all means- just don't care about it.
Phone it in.

Derek Parfit didn't phone it in.
Deciding it was possible, though very difficult, to believe himself constituted by nothing other than 'Relation R'; because, he says, the Buddha had accomplished a similar feat, the epitaph he pronounces upon himself, being so thoroughly self defeating, belongs now to Literature-
My life seemed like a glass tunnel, through which I was moving faster every year, and at the end of which there was darkness. When I changed my view, the walls of my glass tunnel disappeared. I now live in the open air. There is still a difference between my life and the lives of other people. But the difference is less. Other people are closer. I am less concerned about the rest of my own life, and more concerned about the lives of others.
What changed Parfit's view?
What granted him 'Moksha'?
He says it was because he rejected the implications of 'imagined cases' like the one used here.
Why did he do so?
Au fond it was fidelity to his own posited 'Relation R'.
What prompted that fidelity?
It was the less depressing course. The alternative would have been playing backgammon and dining richly and writing the sort of highly partisan Humean Histories his undergraduate education had fitted him to do.

Like the Buddha, Parfit was born into an elite 'Sangha'- a Society- and found a way to serve it without identifying with it by showing a path to a more Universal type of association in which, however, an elite natal habitus was conserved or re-transcribed.

This appeals to Fex Urbis, bahishkrit, lumpen swine like me precisely because it is not 'Revolutionary'- it does not immanentize a Utilitarian eschaton- but rather is dimly 'Dukkha' or 'Regret' minimizing. Here 'consistency' achieves generality as 'Hannan consistency' and that's a good thing because we know in our bones that Evolution utilizes a Hannan consistent strategy to ensure the survival of my class of intellectual lepers and moral untouchables because Buddhas we will always have with us.
Parfits die.
These are deaths we are right to regret.
But only because the Pariah we represent is immortal.
But for us, every elite eligible Purusha Sukta carves up the World in vain.

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