Andy J. Baldassarre
Álvaro R. G. Barredo
Andy J. Baldassarre
Álvaro R. G. Barredo
Two Accounts of a Change in Properties: Perdurantism and Endurantism
Two theories that attempt to explain how things persist over time in spite of change are endurantism and perdurantism, and I will be making the case that a certain version of endurantism (with time-modified properties) does not account for real change, while perdurantism does – though in a surprising way. First, I will explain the puzzle.
The puzzle is this: when Brian was a one-year-old, he was one foot tall. Years later, Brian is 20 years old, and is now six feet tall. However, Brian’s one-year-old self and his 20-year-old self are numericallyidentical to one another. So Brian has both the property of “being one foot tall” (or “being not six feet tall”) and “being six feet tall.” So Brian has both the property of “being not six feet tall” and the property of “being six feet tall,” which are contradictory properties. However, one would generally posit that objects (including Brian) cannot have two contradictory properties. Wrapped up in this example are three claims that seem to be contradictory:
These three sentences together generate a contradiction. Therefore, one (or more) of these statements must be false, or there must be another way to interpret each sentence in order for it to be compatible with the other two statements.Any theory that attempts to explain how things persist despite change must either make claims about one statement’s falsity, or re-interpret what one of these statements means. Endurantism and perdurantism are attempts to do just that.
Endurantism and How it Fails
Endurantism is the theory that objects are three-dimensional, and objects persist by being “wholly present” at every point in the time of their existence.Objects are not “spread out” in time (as we will see later that perdurantism claims), but rather are only “spread out” over space. A three-dimensional object has properties (unlike a version of perdurantism, which claims that only an object’s temporal parts have properties). There is one version of endurantism that tries to get out of the puzzle using time-modified properties. [] []This version of endurantism denies statement (2) of the puzzle, by claiming that objects undergoing change do not really have contradictory properties, because properties are always modified by time. So properties are not simply “p” or “not p.” An object has the property “being p at time t1” and also the property “being not-p at time t2.” Since these are not opposite properties, no contradiction is generated. But David Lewis presents an argument for how endurantism does not account for real change in his famous argument from “Temporary Intrinsics.”He argues “reduction ad absurdum” that the idea of properties being held by objects only with respect to a certain time leads one to false conclusions. Consider the argument:
First, allow me to motivate premise (1). Ephemera are defined as “those properties and relations involved in ordinary matters of change.”Lewis argues that ephemera are intrinsic properties, or “properties that an object has in virtue of itself alone,”and not relational properties. Relational properties are properties that have to do with a relation to something else, like another object, space, or time. Some examples of an intrinsic properties would be “being six feet tall,” “having brown hair,” “being purple,” “being spherical,” etc. Some examples of relational properties would be like “being tall,” “being short,” “being five feet away from a blue wall,” “being six feet tall at time t2,” etc. What motivates this claim that properties involved in ordinary matters of change (also known as “ephemera”) are intrinsic, and not relational? Take, for example, someone who is seven feet tall. If she walks into a room full of people who are five feet tall, she has the relational property of “being tall.” But suppose these five-feet-tall people leave, and the person is left standing there alone, in the same spot. Within a few minutes, a group of people who are all ten feet tall people enters the room. This seven-foot-tall person now has the relational property of “being short.” The seven-foot-tall person experienced a change in relational properties, and not a change in intrinsic properties. One would not say that the seven-foot-tall person changed properties in a real way by standing in a room in which people with different heights walked in and out.
Another example of a relational change that does not constitute real change would be in spatial relation to other objects. For example, suppose I am standing five feet away from a chair. I have the relational property “being five feet away from a chair.” Now suppose my friend comes over, picks up this chair, and moves it ten feet away from me. Now I have the relational property “being 15 feet away from a chair.” One can see that I did not change in this example. I did not even move. So relational properties (with regard to space) do not constitute real change. By analogy, think of an example in which I have the property of “standing at t1” (a relational property). Now suppose I am “picked up” and transported to time t2, and that during the “move,” time is frozen and nothing else moves. I am put down at time t2, and thus have the property of “standing at t2.” Though one of my properties changed from being “standing at t1” to “standing at t2,” I did not change in any way. So this is an example of relational change (with time-modified properties) not constituting real change. 
Therefore, when an object undergoes real change, this does not include “changes” like going from “being five feet away from the chair” to “being 15 feet away from the chair.” Rather, real changes include things like going from “having brown hair” to “not having brown hair.” Therefore, endurantism does not provide an accurate understanding of real change. The way endurantism is able to get out of the contradiction of having two opposing properties (by claiming properties exist with respect to a certain time) is also the means by which endurantism fails to account for real change. This contradiction shows that endurantism cannot account for real (intrinsic) change when sorting properties by time periods, but rather can only account for relational change, which is really not change at all.Thus endurantism does not really get us out of the puzzle since it tried to deny statement (2) that “objects that persist through change have incompatible properties.” But Lewis’ Argument from Temporary Intrinsics shows us that this is not real change at all, and thus endurantism does not get us out of the contradiction generated by real objects persisting through real change over time. We will see later that perdurantism provides a better way to get out of the puzzle than endurantism.
Response to the Passage of Time Objection
One might object: things cannot change without the passage of time. In fact, inherent in the definition of change is that it occurs over time. So it is incoherent to require the endurantist to give objects their properties unmodified by time in order to account for “real change.” This objection holds a misunderstanding of the previous claim. Saying that “real change requires that properties be intrinsic and not relational” does not mean that no time passes during the change. On the contrary – at t1,O has the property “p,” and at t2O has the property “not p.” Thus time has moved from t1 to t2. But the argument instead is claiming that properties are not modifiedby time. Rather, these properties must be held by the objects simpliciter – not modified in some way by time.There is a difference between saying “at t1, O has property ‘p’” and saying, “O has property ‘p at t1.’” In the first statement, O could have this property “p” at any point in time (t1, t2, t3, etc) without it being a contradictory statement. In the second statement, O could only have this property “p at t1” at a single time: t1. If O had the property “p at t1” at t3, this would generate a contradiction.
Perdurantism and How it Gets out of the Puzzle
So if endurantism fails to account for real change, how about perdurantism? First, I will explain what perdurantism is. Perdurance is commonly referred to as four-dimensionalism. Perdurance states this: everyday objects are four-dimensional space-time worms (“spread out in time”), and an object persists through time by having temporal parts at each time segment of its existence. [][]In other words, time should be thought of very similarly to the way that space is thought about. For example, with regard to space: my hand is not me. My foot is notme. They are both spatial parts of me. Perdurantism claims that time works similarly to space in this way. I am spread out in parts over time in what are called “temporal parts.” My temporal part (at time t1) is not me, nor is my temporal part (at time t2). Finally, these two temporal parts are not identical to each other (because they are two numerically distinct temporal parts).
Perdurance claims to solve the aforesaid puzzle (of persistence over time) by also denying statement (2), that “objects that persist through change have incompatible properties.” The contradiction is avoided by claiming that objects (four-dimensional worms) do not gain or lose familiar properties. Rather, the temporal parts are the things that have these familiar properties, and not the object (four-dimensional worm). So one cannot say that an object has contradictory properties. An object does not have familiar properties – properties like “being 6 feet tall” and “not being 6 feet tall.”This, like endurantism, denies statement (2) of the puzzle, that “objects that persist through change have contradictory properties,” but for a different reason: because objects themselves do not have familiar properties. This argument will be further developed later in response to a parallel objection raised to perdurance.
Perdurance provides a way to explain real persistence. Since within perdurance an object is a worm (the sum of its temporal parts), there is no way that this worm cannot persist throughout the whole time it is in existence. This is the case because an object is defined as the sum of its temporal parts, and though the temporal parts are not identical to one another, the object is identical to itself. So persistence is accounted for in the very definition of an object: a four-dimensional space-time worm that is “spread out” for as “long” as the time period that it exists.
The Parallel Objection to Perdurance
One could object to perdurantism the same way that Lewis objected to endurantism. Since an object is a four-dimensional worm composed of its temporal parts, then are not properties modified by an object’s temporal parts for perdurantism in the same way that properties are modified by time for endurantism?One could object that having the properties “p at t1” and “not p at t2” are the same as having the properties “p at temporal part A” and “not p at temporal part B.” Let’s go back to the example of Brian, who is one foot tall at one-years-old, and six feet tall at 20 years old. Let us also call the one-foot-tall/one-year old temporal part of Brian Temporal Part A. Let us call the six-foot-tall/20-year-old temporal part of Brian Temporal Part B. Since Brian is a four-dimensional worm that is composed of Temporal Parts A, B, C, etc, Brian stands in the has-a-part relation to Temporal Part A, and also stands in the has-a-part-relation to Temporal Part B. So to say that Brian is not six feet tall at one years old and six feet at 20 years old is also to say that Brian has the property “not being six feet at Temporal Part A” and “being six feet at Temporal Part B.” Thus, for perdurantism, properties are modified by temporal parts in the same way that endurantism modified properties by time. Perdurantism thus attempts to account for change using relational properties and not intrinsic properties. An argument was given before that real change occurs not when an object changes relational properties, but only when an object changes intrinsic properties. So perdurantism similarly does not give an accurate account of real change.
Perdurantist Response to the Objection
The perdurantist could respond to this objection by denying that four-dimensional worm objects have properties themselves – at least familiar properties.Their temporal parts have properties, but these objects themselves do not have familiar properties. Though this response may seem initially unattractive to hold, think back to the analogy of temporal parts being like spatial parts. Suppose we say, “Shelby is holding a cup,” or “Shelby has the property ‘holding a cup.’” What we mean by saying that “Shelby has the property ‘holding a cup,’” is that Shelby’s hand (one spatial part of her) is holding the cup. In other words, Shelby’s hand(and not Shelby) has the property of “holding a cup.” So we are actually speaking loosely when we say, “Shelby is holding the cup.” Shelby (as the collection of all her spatial parts) cannot hold a cup. Once we realize that we are speaking loosely when we say that Shelby (and not Shelby’s hand) is holding a cup, it becomes less alarming to say that, metaphysically speaking, Shelby herself cannot hold a cup – and only her hand can.
Temporal parts work the same way. A four-dimensional object Brian cannot have the property “being six feet tall.” However, a temporal part of Briancanhave the property “being six feet tall.” Thus one way to account for change in properties for four-dimensional objects is to claim that objects do not have familiar properties – only their temporal parts do. Familiar properties are ordinary, day-to-day properties that we normally ascribe to objects – properties like “being six feet tall” or “being blue.”Four-dimensional objects do, on the other hand, have metaphysical properties like “being four-dimensional” and “being composed of x number of temporal parts.” But four-dimensional objects do not have familiar properties. Thus, when we ask, “Is Brian six feet tall?” we are speaking loosely. Metaphysically, we mean to ask, “Is Temporal Part B of Brian six feet tall?” to which the answer is “yes.” So, objects do not have properties modified by temporal parts. Nor do objects have familiar properties at all. Temporal parts have familiar properties.
Perdurantist Response to Another Objection
Another objection one might raise to the perdurantist account of change is the following: if four-dimensional objects do not themselves have familiar properties, and it was stated before (in Lewis’ argument for Temporary Intrinsics) that real change required a change in intrinsic properties, then how do objects really change under perdurantism? The answer the perdurantist could provide is this: for a four-dimensional object,change requires a change in temporal parts, and this is simply a version of a change in intrinsic properties. So a four-dimensional object changes in virtue of having different temporal parts across time. What distinguishes different temporal parts from one another is a change in intrinsic properties between temporal parts, and not a change in relational properties between temporal parts. In other words, an object’s temporal parts are distinct from one another in virtue of having different intrinsic properties. Thus real change still occurs. Again, let us return to the analogy of temporal parts as being like spatial parts. Suppose there is a 6-inch tall block on the floor. I would not distinguish your hand (one spatial part) from your foot (another spatial part of you) by saying, “one is three feet away from the block on the floor, and the other is a few inches away from the block on the floor.” For, if you do a handstand, this becomes untrue. So these properties are not intrinsic to your spatial parts. Instead, I should distinguish your hand from your foot by describing each of their intrinsic features. Some examples of intrinsic features of your spatial parts would be: your hand has the property of “having 3 inch phalanges,” while your foot has the property of “having 1 inch phalanges.” These are properties that the hand and the foot have in virtue of themselves, and not in relation to any other object or time. So relational properties do not account for distinctions between spatial parts. In the same way, relational properties should not account for distinctions between temporal parts. So distinctions between temporal parts are based on intrinsic properties, and thus an object’s having different temporal parts does account for real change.
Perdurantism provides a more compelling account for real change than does endurantism – at least the version of endurantism with time-modified properties and the version of perdurantism that claims that temporal parts have familiar properties and not four-dimensional objects themselves.
Richard is numerically identical with Mr. Smith.
Sally Haslanger. The Oxford Handbook of Metaphysics.New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Sallly Haslanger. The Oxford Handbook of Metaphysics.New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2003.
From now on in this paper, whenever I refer to endurantism, I am speaking about the version that accounts for change with time-modified properties.
It should be noted that there are other ways that the endurantist can attempt to get out of the puzzle. This is merely one of the major ways, and it will be compared with the way that perdurantism attempts to get out of the puzzle. One of the other notable ways that the endurantist tries to get out of the puzzle is by a belief in presentism (a theory about time), which states that only the present exists. Since only the present exists, then for any object O, all of O’s parts at time t (the present) are the only parts of O. So O is wholly present, since all of O’s parts (namely, the parts it holds at the present time) are there. So endurantism with presentism also denies statement (2) of the puzzle, by showing how objects do not have contradictory properties because only the present and presently-existing properties exist.
Many thanks to Anthony Getter for helping to fully develop this example.
Thanks to AJ Getter, who helped originate these examples.
This gets to the question about whether or not time is really analogous to space. Is “being 5 feet away from blue wall” a relational property in exactly the same way that “having x property at time t1” is a relational property?
Trenton Merricks. Persistence, Parts, and Presentism. Nous, 1999.
This objection was raised by Yifan Wang. Many thanks to her for anticipating this objection.
Theodore Sider. All the World’s a Stage. Australian Journal of Philosophy, 1996.
Trenton Merricks. Persistence, Parts, and Presentism. Nous, 1999.
Sally Haslanger. The Oxford Handbook of Metaphysics.New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2003
Of course, the object will have some properties, like “being four-dimensional” and “having temporal parts,” but not the familiar properties that we normally ascribe to ordinary objects. Special thanks to Professor Trenton Merricks for formulating this nuance to my response to the objection.
Special thanks to Professor Trenton Merricks for raising this objection.
Familiar properties are properties that we ordinarily ascribe to ordinary objects. For example, “being blue,” “being cubed-shaped,” “existing,” etc. Metaphysical properties, on the other hand, are things like “being four-dimensional,” “having temporal parts,” etc.
Special thanks to Professor Trenton Merricks for formulating this nuance of “familiar” properties for my response to the objection
This is unlike a three-dimensional object, for which a change in intrinsic properties is required. So Lewis’ Argument from Temporary Intrinsics should only apply to three-dimensional objects, since four-dimensional objects do not have parts.
Response to Bernard Williams in “The Self and the Future”
In the essay, “The Self and the Future,” Bernard Williams presents two instances of a thought experiment that, when followed, lead the reader to intuit two distinct conclusions on the preservation of personal identity, in spite of the methodological similarity of the two cases. Upon analysis of the two experiments and how differences in their presentation may influence our perception of continuity of the self, Williams concludes that the two cases highlight limitations in the methodology of thought experiments that must be recognized before drawing significant philosophical conclusions from them. Sifting through the intuition of both instances of experiment, I wish to argue that the second instance of the thought experiment provides a more accurate characterization of identity. Conversely, the first instance of the thought experiment relies on the intuitive import of psychological terms to conclude more than the proposed experiment actually justifies. These issues can be conceptually resolved by examining the language employed in each thought experiment, and considering the implications of psychological and physical changes through specific examples. Once this is done, I argue that Williams’s thought experiment in its second formulation provides significant support for a theory of personal identity based on bodily continuity and I consider several potential objections to the claim for the purpose of rebuttal.
In the first instance of Williams’ thought experiment, we are asked to entertain a scenario in which a researcher is able to extract and transfer information from two individuals, A and B, such that the memories and character of A and B are interchanged and form the entities body-person A and body-person B, entities that have the originally named bodies of A and B, but with the other person’s memory and character traits. Prior to the experiment, both of the individuals are told that one of their bodies will be given the benefit of a monetary reward, and the other will experience torture after the interchange has occurred. It is then assumed that both would prefer money over being tortured and express this desire. Once the transition is made, and body-people A and B are formed, the researcher is presumed to make an arbitrary decision over which entity receives money and which one receives torture. Williams proceeds to explain that whichever one is tortured, because he or she has the memory of a person who asked not to be tortured, will honestly insist that this is not what he or she remembers choosing. Correspondingly, the body-person that is rewarded will be able to honestly state that he or she is receiving the outcome that he or she remembers choosing. Williams concludes from this experiment that the testimony of the individuals provides good reason for thinking that the identity of A has been transferred to a new body, in the form of body-person B, and that the identity of B has been likewise implanted in body-person A (p.182).
Williams entertains a number of further possibilities in the thought experiment to support this claim, namely that if person A experienced anxiety and person B experienced painful memories prior to the experiment, that they would carry these features with them after the process, such that if body-person A were asked about anxiety, he or she would not remember and instead express disappointment at retaining painful memories while body-person B, if asked about his or her painful memories, would similarly not remember such a thing while instead expressing disappointment that his or her anxiety has not lessened (p.185).
The second instance of Williams’ thought experiment asks the reader to imagine that he or she is being experimented upon in the first-person and simply told that he or she will be tortured tomorrow. If the experimenter proceeds to tell the subject that his or her memories will be taken away before the torture and that new memories belonging to another person will be implanted in the subject’s brain, it seems quite clear from the first person perspective that fear about tomorrow’s torture will not be lessened, and that in this regard, our impression is that tomorrow’s pain will be our pain regardless of the change in information within the brain (p.186). Williams then concludes that this concern with our body’s future pain indicates that our concern for our future self does not seem to based on psychological states alone, contrary to the first thought experiment (p.187).
In order to clarify why the second thought experiment provides a more accurate intuition of personal identity than the first, we first need to consider the self not merely as an indivisible ‘monad,’ the way that Leibniz or Reid once conceived it, but as the result of an amalgamation of a number of distinct neural and cognitive processes that, in union, provide us with the experience from which our concept of self arises (Reid,109). Although there is certainly practical utility in considering the self as an indivisible entity for purposes of law and emotional simplicity in regards to human relationships, the necessity of breaking apart the components of our experience of self is made necessary by the nature of Williams’ thought experiments, which actively address such parts as the information of the brain, memory, character, and our experience of pain piecemeal. By breaking down these conventionally valued aspects of personhood, it is then possible to distinguish between aspects that are merely valued and aspects that are not only valued, but necessary for the appreciation and greater significance of the other aspects of personhood.
Problems in the first instance of the thought experiment may be divided into two categories: those that appear to arise from the presumption of more implications than the suggested changes in the experiment necessarily allow for and those that arise from the reliance on the dubious testimony of the hypothetical body-people A and B. I will focus on the former due to the significance of the observation that many or perhaps even all of these suggested problems are avoided in the second formulation of the thought experiment, which I believe makes it a strong argument for identity based on bodily continuity. Once this is done, the question of the body peoples’ sentiment and status as persons may be more carefully broken down.
In beginning examination of what actually is thought to occur in the first thought experiment, it may first be asked, is it truly coherent to think an entity can possess the real first-person memories and character once tied to another body by transmitting information alone from one brain to another? The notion that character follows predominantly from memories or information that may be transferred without fundamentally altering physical composition is itself questionable. Modern neuroscience has discovered numerous correlations between chemical balances whose alteration has been the foundation of treatment for a plethora of illnesses relevant to character, be they diseases of high anxiety, depression, or even schizophrenia (Nutt). This consideration brings into question how much of even a possible qualitative degree of identity body-people A and B could respectively have with people B and A, to say nothing of a full assertion of personal identity.
Williams could potentially respond to this charge by asserting that mental illnesses do not form the content of personality itself, but rather only frame an existing person’s feelings and the direction of his or her established thought processes. To claim this, however, would still be to concede that a large portion of personality in terms of how we act, feel, and take interest in our world around us is not itself the basis of personality, which seems somewhat preposterous, especially when one considers the essential aspects of these features in the context of social relationships where aspects of a person’s behavior are valued by others as part of how identity is communicated. Surely, the extent to which depression may cause me to lose my once avid intellectual curiosity in history, prevent me from taking joy in social relationships, and alter my very behavior through emotional and physical exhaustion constitutes a drastic enough change in my personality for me to conclude that the physical composition of my brain plays an essential role in forming the aspects of personality and character that I and my loved ones value. This relation is made even more imposing when one considers that such features have been improved and restored in patients through physical treatments, which would imply causality between physical brain and personality. A more fundamental challenge may even be presented by the consideration of physical diseases that lead to dementia and memory loss. Although many of us would be hard-pressed to agree that change in a few notable personality characteristics through illness and treatment actually yields a distinctly new personal identity, if these often physically affected personality characteristics are not held as determinative in the first instance of the thought experiment, what necessary condition may then be thought to remain? If none can be found, it would seem that at the very least people A and B are not respectively personally identical to people-bodies B and A. A more substantial argument might be proposed to establish people-bodies B and A as new persons in their own right, but I will leave this question as an alternative topic of discussion.
A further indicator that Williams’ first formulation does not coherently accommodate the physical aspects of how brains function may be observed in the experiment’s seemingly necessary presumption that psychological states can be thought of as wholly apart from their physical bases to the extent of being transported across space. This may be most directly observed when Williams assumes that the B body-person, who contains the information transferred from person A, would claim to still experience the anxiety he remembers feeling from the time he remembers in body A. In fact, there is no reason to presume that anxiety or numerous other psychological features of a person are dependent on information, let alone information that could conceivably transferred from one brain to another. A more consistent interpretation of this aspect of the first formulation of the thought experiment would be if body-person B, when asked about the anxiety person A experienced, which he or she has memory of, responds by insisting that his or her anxiety is lesser or even gone, as the presence of such anxiety reducing neurotransmitters as serotonin and norepinephrine may exist in healthier quantities in the brain of body B (Nutt). This physical, rather than information dependent interpretation of personality characteristics could then be extended in the experiment analogously to any number of psychological changes. For example, if body-person B who has the memories of A finds that he or she enjoys ice cream much more than he or she used to due to a greater physical sensitivity to sweetness, or adopts different hobbies due to a greater physical capacity for athletics, the notion that personality is conserved from transferring memory information from one body to another becomes more and more tenuous to consider.
Williams’ second formulation of the thought experiment in which the subject’s fear of future pain is used as an intuitive reason for selfishly considering the same body removed of information as something he or she continues to value as a kind of self is notably immune from the same kinds of inconsistencies present in the first formulation. The key reason for this appears to be that fewer of the features of personal identification of the self are assumed to be predicated on memory and information. Williams or any supporter of the first formulation of the thought experiment as opposed to the second could respond to this charge, however, by arguing that a person-body with such distinct memories could no more be justified to be the same person as A or B by appeal to the entity’s personality features as parts better than the new body with the original person’s memories and information-based properties of character. This objection is true in establishing that it may not be productive to consider personal identity merely by appeal to how much a personality is preserved. Importantly, however, I do not think that analysis of the self in terms of every one of its parts is ultimately the means by which to establish continuity of identity. Rather, I think that the approach best serves as a methodological means to assess the implicit conditions of the two formulations of the thought experiment with respect to what is known about the functioning of the brain and its implications.
The issue of whether continuity of memory or body as a basis for identity is better supported by Williams’ thought experiment, in my mind, seems best characterized as a phenomenological question that emphasizes continuity of conscious awareness across the changes that the thought experiment provides. In this regard, because memory and information itself does not appear to have any necessary direct alteration on the conscious awareness of sensation or the numerical sameness of the mechanism of cognitive reflection itself. In Williams’ response to objectors who may consider the thought experiments borderline cases that are conceptually undecidable, an important possibility is neglected entirely: that each person-body A and B in the thought experiment is only a respective reduction of persons A and B whereby the physical framework and cognitive processes for numerical identity are preserved, and yet socially and personally important relevant information removed to be or not be again replaced. Thesocially relevant facts as well as the content of the memories the body reflects on are altered, but there isn’t a reason to think that the numerical experience of consciousness and phenomenon of cognitive reflection on memories as a physical mechanism are fundamentally altered by changes in the information content of memories. Although there is no doubt room for considerable disagreement on exactly the relation between consciousness and the physical processes of the brain, it seems reasonable to presume that a functioning brain that only undergoes changes in its content of information and memory will maintain the phenomenon of consciousness that may be said to emerge from or consist of the particular brain’s physical functioning. The example of an individual who suffers permanent memory loss appears to demonstrate that change in memory or information content alone does not give us sufficient cause to postulate that the neural mechanism by which consciousness arises is that of a distinct consciousness in the way that a wholly independent person experiences a separate consciousness.
Nutt, DJ (2008). “Relationship of neurotransmitters to the symptoms of major depressive disorder”. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
Reid, Thomas “Of Mr. Locke’s Account of Personal Identity,” from Perry, John Personal Identity
Williams, Bernard (1970). “The Self and the Future,” The Philosophical Review
Understanding that We’re Getting Told: A Response to Richard Moran
According to Richard Moran’s view of testimony, hereafter the “assurance view,” the act of telling involves a speaker asking that listeners acknowledge his or her authority to invest an utterance with epistemic import. Moran claims telling and giving evidence can be distinguished because evidentiary concerns impinge upon the speech-act after listeners understand the illocutionary force of the speaker’s remarks. However, I will argue Moran does not account for the fact that listeners often use data about the speaker and their environment in their interpretations of the force of the speaker’s utterance. This fact seems to have practical consequences, as in the recent “lawyer dog case” brought to the Louisiana Supreme Court. Thus, it seems prudent to modify the assurance view to acknowledge that listeners use evidence to interpret and respond to speakers’ acts of assuming authority for their utterances. The modified assurance view does not treat the act of telling as the act of giving evidence, even though listeners may use evidence to interpret acts of telling. In addition, it allows epistemologists to consider the way listeners’ understanding of a speaker’s authority to testify can be informed at all levels by their interpretation of the speaker’s identity and their environment.
In “Getting Told and Being Believed,” Richard Moran offers a view of testimony that accounts for why we have reason to believe another individual. While other accounts might explain why we are justified in thinking an individual’s words are good evidence, Moran’s aims to show why we might be justified in believing other individuals themselves. He calls this view the assurance view, as it suggests a speaker is “asking for a certain authority of his be acknowledged” when he tells someone something.Moreover, Moran distinguishes the act of telling from the act of giving evidence by claiming that evidentiary concerns do not impinge upon the act of telling until after the listener has understood the force of the speaker’s utterance.However, I will argue in this paper that the listener’s interpretation of evidence about speakers and their environments informs their understanding of the illocutionary force of the remarks that speakers make. Moreover, I will claim this fact can have practical consequences, as in the “lawyer dog case” that was recently brought to the Louisiana Supreme Court. This suggests we should adopt a modified version of the assurance view according to which the listener uses evidence to interpret and respond to the speaker’s act of assuming authority for the epistemic import of his or her utterance. The modified assurance view, I will claim, still counts as non-Humean, as it involves the listener using evidence to interpret the speaker’s act of telling. Moreover, I argue, the modified view I have proposed seems useful as epistemologists consider how individuals’ authority to testify is informed at all levels by their audience’s interpretation of evidence about their identity and their environment.
Moran is interested in situations in which listeners believe an individual rather than a proposition, a piece of evidence, or some other thing. He writes that he wants “to examine the relation of believing where its direct object is not a proposition but a person.”While we might want to say a speaker is presenting evidence to a listener when they tell them something, Moran argues this is not the case. “Paradigmatic situations of telling cannot be thought of as the presentation or acceptance of evidence at all,” he claims.According to Moran, when we learn about someone’s beliefs through their testimony, we are particularly dependent on their intentions. Learning of someone’s beliefs through what they tell me means “I am dependent on such things as their discretion, sincerity, good intentions— in short, on how they deliberately present themselves to me.”After all, the speaker could be lying to me, saying something true but misleading, or being insincere. The fact that listeners are so reliant on the intention of the speaker in cases of knowledge gained from testimony points toward the difference between testimony and evidence. Moran argues that if evidence was intentionally presented to us in the same way testimony is, we would consider it doctored. “If speech is seen as a form of evidence, then once its intentional character is recognized,” he writes, “we need an account of how it could count as anything more than doctored evidence.”For instance, if I intentionally left my fingerprint on a glass for someone to find, then that fingerprint would seem suspect as a piece of evidence. But if I state something with the intention telling the truth, then that intention does not seem to render my statement suspect.
For this reason, Moran claims the act of telling involves “not simply giving expression to what’s on your mind, but… making a statement with the understanding that here it is your word that is to be relied on.”When a speaker tells a listener something, they are taking responsibility for the truth of their remarks. Moran illustrates the difference between telling and presenting evidence in his discussion of the Antonioni film Blow Up.In the film, a photographer “takes some pictures in the park of a woman and man, and then later discovers one of his shots apparently shows the man’s corpse lying in the bushes.”When the photographer looks at the photograph and sees the corpse of the man, it matters little what his intention was in taking the photograph in the first place— it counts as evidence regardless. According to Moran, the photograph’s “status as evidence is wholly independent of his beliefs or intentions.”However, this would not be the case if the photographer chose to sketch a picture of the murder instead. If the photographer were to show a sketch to a friend, Moran writes, “he would be offering him a very different kind of reason to believe what happened.”After all, the sketch would not stand on its own as a piece of evidence, as a photograph did. In the case of the sketch,“beliefs and intentions are crucial for its status as a reason to believe anything about what was there in the park.” Believing an individual’s testimony, Moran argues, is much like believing a sketch. In an act of telling, he claims, the speaker “must present his action as being without epistemic significance apart from his explicit responsibility for that significance.”That is, the speaker does not offer his utterance as evidence, but instead takes responsibility for his utterance in a way that has epistemic importance. Drawing from Paul Grice’s account of non-natural meaning, Moran claims telling is an intersubjective process involving the speaker and listener’s mutual recognition of the speaker’s intention. “Mutual recognition of intention can play a role for the audience of providing him with a reason for belief,” he writes.This occurs due to the fact that the listener sees “the speaker as presenting himself as accountable for the truth of P, and asking, through the recognition of his intention, that this offer of his assurance be accepted.”In this way, Moran accounts for the difference between testimony and evidence: the intentional presentation of evidence can detract from its value, but mutual recognition of a speakers’ intentional speech can provide a listener with a reason for belief.
Of course, Moran acknowledges there are cases when listeners can fail to recognize the speaker’s intention. When a speaker engages in the act of telling someone something, Moran writes, he “is asking for a certain authority of his be acknowledged— the authority to invest his utterance with a particular epistemic import.”If telling involves the speaker asking that their authority be acknowledged, then it makes sense that the listener could withhold that acknowledgement. As such, certain facts about the world need to be the case in order for listeners to acknowledge speakers’ authority to invest their utterances with epistemic importance. When a speaker assumes responsibility for an utterance in cases of testimony, Moran writes, “the appropriate abilities and other background conditions must be in place for it to amount to anything.”In order for the speaker to assume responsibility, the speaker must be believed to be reliable, trustworthy, and in possession of the relevant knowledge. Of course, Moran notes, we might worry that the fact that these background conditions have to be in place means acts of telling have more in common with acts of giving evidence than we might think. If mutual recognition of a speaker’s intention relies on the listener’s consideration of background conditions about the speaker, then wouldn’t we be say the listener is considering evidence presented to them?
Not so, claims Moran. “These background conditions can themselves be construed as evidential,” he writes, “but they are not themselves sufficient for giving any epistemic significance to the speaker’s words.” Even if we might take the reliability or trustworthiness of the speaker to be reasons for accepting his or her assumption of responsibility for the truth of his or her testimony, these things are not wholly what grants the utterance its epistemic significance. According to Moran, the relevance of background conditions “only comes into play once it is understood that a particular speech-act is being performed with those words (i.e., an assertion or promise rather than something else).”For Moran, it is only after listeners interpret the illocutionary force of the speaker’s utterance that they engage with evidentiary concerns such as whether the speaker is reliable, trustworthy, and in possession of the relevant evidence. Because evidentiary concerns do not impinge on listeners’ understanding of the speech act being performed, the act of telling cannot be construed as the same thing as giving evidence. “In considering the speaker’s words,” Moran writes, “the audience’s belief in his knowledge and trustworthiness do not do him any epistemic good if it is still left open just what kind of action (if any) the speaker is presenting his utterance as.”Therefore, Moran suggests, even if listeners do not accept the speaker’s assurance that his utterance is true based on evidence about the speaker, that does not mean that the act of telling is equivalent to the act of presenting evidence.
III. A Case for Modifying the Assurance View
Is it true that listeners do not consider background facts about the speaker or their situation in determining the force of his or her utterance? For instance, consider a scenario involving two students, Mary and Bill, who are enrolled in a philosophy class for which article X was assigned. Unbeknownst to Mary, Bill does not think women are very rational, intelligent or perceptive. Mary tells Bill that she has a criticism of one of the philosopher’s arguments in article X. In response, Bill explains the premise of article X to Mary. Mary protests that Bill misunderstood her. She had grasped the article perfectly and meant to express she had a criticism of it. Now, what happened in this situation? It seems Bill misunderstood the illocutionary force of Mary’s statement. Because he views women as irrational and unintelligent, he thought the force of her remark was to express confusion about article X rather than offer a criticism of it. That is, his interpretation of evidence about Mary’s identity influenced his interpretation of the illocutionary force of her remark. Before Bill could grant or withhold recognition of Mary’s intent, evidentiary concerns shaped his idea of what her intent was in the first place. As such, it does not appear the relevance of background conditions “only comes into play once it is understood that a particular speech act is being performed with those words,” as Moran suggests.Instead, Bill seems to use evidence from what he believes to be the case about Mary’s identity to understand the illocutionary force of Mary’s remark.
Of course, one might object, this is an example of the way prejudice interferes with our normal manner of interpreting illocutionary force. This could mean my example is abnormal, singular, or an exception to the general rule Moran provides. Perhaps we tend not to use evidence about speakers to interpret the illocutionary force of their remarks except for in cases when we have certain prejudices against their social identities. However, it seems we can think of many cases when we use evidence about a speaker or their environment to interpret the illocutionary force of their remarks. For instance, imagine Bill has observed a blizzard outside the window. Mary walks inside the room, covered in snow, and remarks that it is a beautiful day outside. Drawing on evidence regarding the state of the weather outside the window, Bill might infer that the force of her remark is to make an ironic joke about the weather rather than to state that it is indeed a beautiful day outside. Accordingly, even in cases when we are not using evidentiary concerns involving prejudice against a speaker’s identity to interpret the illocutionary force of a speaker’s remark, it seems we might use evidence about a person’s environment to try to determine what they are saying. What I mean to bring out by these examples is that it seems evidentiary concerns might often come into play before Moran believes they do. In many cases, it seems we use evidence we have about a particular person, the category of individuals that person belongs to, and that person’s situation in order to interpret the illocutionary force of their remarks. After all, it seems we use data about everything from a speaker’s facial expression and tone of voice, to our memories of the speaker, to the environment of the speaker to interpret the force of their remarks. This is not to say we always evaluate all of the data I have described in interpreting illocutionary force. It also need not be the case that we consciously appraise the evidence I have described in interpreting force. In some cases, we might infer the force of a speaker’s remark from data about them without even thinking about it. Or we might interpret the force of their remarks in a way that is conscious but that we find hard to articulate after the fact, as it involves non-propositional knowledge regarding how to rapidly interpret people’s expressions, posture and so on.
Moreover, it seems the fact that we use evidence about speakers’ identities to interpret illocutionary force can have serious and sometimes devastating practical consequences. In a recent case that has been termed “the lawyer dog case” by the media, the Louisiana Supreme Court decided defendant Warren Demesme had not in fact asked to receive counsel when he was under interrogation. The Washington Post reports that the Louisiana resident told the detectives who were interrogating him to “just give me a lawyer, dog.” According to Louisiana law, detectives must cease questioning a suspect when he or she requests a lawyer. However, the detectives continued to interrogate Demesme, and claimed they believed he was asking for a “lawyer dog” instead of invoking his right to counsel. The Louisiana court ruled in the detectives’ favor, and refused to throw out the portion of the interrogation that occurred after Demesme claims he asked for counsel. The judges asserted that the ambiguity of Demesme’s remarks meant they did not qualify as an act of asserting his right to counsel.However, one could argue the detective’s prejudice against Demesme’s identity as a young, black man, rather than any ambiguity on Demesme’s part, accounts for the fact that they misinterpreted the illocutionary force of his act of asserting his right to counsel. Because the court ruled his interrogation would not be thrown out, Demesme is awaiting trial in the Orleans Parish jail.Therefore, the detective’s misinterpretation of the force of Demesme’s remark will have a serious and lasting impact on his life. Given that misinterpretation of illocutionary force based on evidence about speaker’s identity and environment can have such striking practical effects, it seems we need a theory capable of discussing it. If we lack a theory that accounts for the way prejudice might interfere with our understanding of illocutionary force, then we are at a loss to explain situations such as Demesme’s.
Of course, it might be objected that we can imagine some hypothetical case in which we do not use evidence to interpret the force of a speaker’s remarks. I will not go so far as to say we always use evidence to interpret illocutionary force in every situation. Regardless, what I mean to bring out by the examples I have discussed is that there does not seem to be as sharp a distinction between giving testimony and giving evidence as Moran thinks there is. Recall that Moran argues “the paradigmatic situations of telling cannot be thought of as the presentation or acceptance of evidence at all.”Instead, Moran claims telling involves the speaker asking for a certain authority of his to be acknowledged (18).But it seems the audience often must interpret evidence about the speaker and his environment in order to determine that he is asking for his authority to be acknowledged and in order to determine whether they should in fact acknowledge it. As such, it appears the speaker’s act of asking that his or her authority be acknowledged relies in many cases on the existence of evidence, such as the speaker’s tone, identity, or environment, that he or she may not be in control of. This does not mean telling is the same thing as presenting evidence. Rather, it seems that listeners must often interpret evidence before telling can occur. Therefore, it seems too strong to claim that situations of telling cannot be thought of as involving the presentation or acceptance of evidence, as Moran does. Rather, one might refine his thesis by saying that telling often involves the acceptance and presentation of evidence but that it is not merely an evidential relation.
Of course, one might object that my modification of the assurance view loses sight of the distinction Moran means to make between instances of telling and offering evidence. Moran writes that he wants to provide a theory that will address the “question of whether believing the person… is a legitimate, and perhaps basic, source of new beliefs.”Is the modified assurance view, according to which the process of believing a person can be mediated at all levels by considerations of evidence, still the case of believing a person? It seems this might be determined by seeing how the modified assurance view addresses the difference between the sketch in the photograph in the example drawing from Antonioni’s Blow Up. After all, this example provides a useful analogy that brings out the difference between providing assurance and offering evidence. In the case of interpreting the photograph, it seems we might have to marshal evidence about it in order to understand it. We might blow it up to see if the blood in the image is fake. We might look closely at the angle of light in the photograph to see if it suggests a dead body where there is none. But it still seems to stand on its own as a piece of evidence, regardless of the intentions of the photographer. In the case of the sketch, however, we would have gather evidence about the intentions of the artist. Is the sketch an art piece intended to be hung in a museum? Is it intended to illustrate a dream or fantasy on behalf of the artist? In the case of the photograph, all we have to do is determine whether we believe it as a piece of evidence. In the case of the sketch, however, we have to gather pieces of evidence to determine how we should interpret and what we should believe about the artist’s intention. The same can be said of the act of telling under the modified version of the assurance view I have articulated. In situations in which we are presented with evidence X, it seems we merely believe or disbelieve evidence X. However, in situations of telling, it seems the audience interprets evidence X to determine if the speaker is asking for his authority to be acknowledged and whether they should in fact acknowledge it. As such, it seems I can make the case that the modified assurance view still counts as non-Humean. Moran writes that the Humean perspective considers “the speech of other people [as] something which is treated as evidence of the truth of various claims about the world.”Yet it seems the modified assurance view I have presented still vindicates testimony as a source of beliefs and does not suggest we should treat speech as mere evidence. After all, I have offered a version of the assurance view according to which the audience evaluates evidence to infer the speaker is presenting himself to be accountable for the truth of P. The epistemic import of the speaker’s act of telling still principally concerns the speaker’s act of offering assurance and the listener’s act of accepting that offer, even if the listener’s interpretation of the speech act is bound up in evidentiary concerns. As such, the modified view I have presented concerns what it means to believe a person rather than what it means to take that person’s speech as good or bad evidence. However, it allows for the fact that our act of believing a person is informed by evidentiary concerns.
Modifying Moran’s claim in this way seems important because it acknowledges that we do not have a perfect understanding of others’ intentions. Rather, our understanding of the force of a person’s speech is informed by our knowledge of who they are, what their situation is, and our beliefs about what they might be trying to say to us. The fact that a person says something does not mean the audience magically grasps the force of their remark independent of the context in which this interaction is taking place. Accordingly, the view I have presented allows us to discuss the way listeners’ interpretation of evidence about a speaker could prevent them from recognizing the speaker’s authority. When a speaker engages in the act of telling someone something, Moran writes, he “is asking for a certain authority of his be acknowledged— the authority to invest his utterance with a particular epistemic import.”Considerations of a person’s context and identity might prevent us from realizing they are even asking to us to grant them authority to testify to the truth of a certain proposition. Who we understand as authoritative, as well as who we choose to grant authority to, is often informed by our understanding of their identity and the situation at hand. As such, it appears the modified assurance view I have proposed could better equip us to account for the number of ways our recognition of a speaker’s authority to be can be disrupted. Consider the example I discussed earlier in which a pair of detectives failed to understand that Warren Demesme was invoking his right to counsel. It seems Moran’s version of the assurance view would not be able to account for how the detectives’ prejudice against Demesme caused them to misinterpret his speech act. After all, it would suggest the detectives must have understood the force of Demesme’s remark without their beliefs about his identity impinging on their understanding. My modified view, on the other hand, would allow epistemologists to speak about the way the detective’s prejudice against Demesme caused them to fail to recognize the illocutionary force of what he had to say.
Consequently, it seems Moran’s view makes understanding the force of what others are trying to say seem easier and simpler than it really is. Listeners do not understand the force of an act of telling simply because the speaker utters a series of words. Instead, their understanding that an individual is asking to have their authority be acknowledged is informed by their interpretation of that individual and their context. Thus, I have argued Richard Moran’s assurance view needs to be altered to account for the way that listeners use evidence about the speaker and their identity to interpret the illocutionary force of what they have to say. This modified assurance view still counts as non-Humean because it involves using evidence to interpret a speech act rather than treating a speech act as evidential. Moreover, it offers us the ability to account for situations in which acts of telling fail because of the listeners’ interpretation of facts about the speaker’s identity or environment. After all, given that the assurance view concerns individuals asking to be granted authority, we would want to be able to use it to address situations in which our beliefs about others’ authority is informed by our prejudices against their identities. For this reason, it seems the view I have presented provides a more accurate description of the relationship between evidence and testimony as well as one that would be useful in cases of addressing which knowers we choose to believe.
Blow Up. Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. Produced by Carlo Ponti and Pierre Rouve. Screenplay by Michelangelo Antonioni and Tonino Guerra. Performed by David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave. United States: Premier Pictures, 1966.
Grice, H. P. “Meaning .” Philosophical Review66 (1957), 377-388.
Moran, Richard A. “Getting Told and being Believed.” Philosopher’s Imprint5.5 (2005): 1-29.
Tom Jackman. “The suspect told police ‘give me a lawyer dog.’ The court says he wasn’t asking for a lawyer. “Washington Post – Blogs. Nov 2, 2017. Web. <https://search.proquest.com/docview/1959053996>.
Moran, Richard A. “Getting Told and being Believed.” Philosopher’s Imprint5, no. 5 (2005): 18.
Blow Up. Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. Produced by Carlo Ponti and Pierre Rouve. Screenplay by Michelangelo Antonioni and Tonino Guerra. Performed by David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave. United States: Premier Pictures, 1966.
Moran, Richard A. “Getting Told and being Believed.” Philosopher’s Imprint5, no. 5 (2005): 10.
Moran, Richard A. “Getting Told and being Believed.” Philosopher’s Imprint5, no. 5 (2005): 18.
“The suspect told police ‘give me a lawyer dog.’ The court says he wasn’t asking for a lawyer,” in WP Company LLC. The Washington Post [database online]. Washington, Nov 2.
Moran, Richard A. “Getting Told and being Believed.” Philosopher’s Imprint5, no. 5 (2005): 3.