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Let's say I'm a mad neuroscientist who successfully alters the structure of a

Let's say I'm a mad neuroscientist who successfully alters the structure of a person's brain so that they end up with a completely different personality and memory set. Have I killed this person? Should I be tried for murder?

Yes. Of course, I only think that because I think personal identity depends on continuity of memory and character traits, and I think memory and character traits are constituted by brain states. So, if you could somehow alter my brain enough to wipe out my memories (perhaps replacing them with some artificial set of memories) and change my character traits, you will have killed me. And if you did it knowingly and purposely, you have committed murder (i.e., the intentional killing of a person). But...

1. I'm not sure how our legal system would deal with it. I suspect there's something in our murder statutes that requires a dead body for a murder charge. We'd have to get our laws up to date with our science (and philosophy!).

2. Now, I've opened the door to some slippery slopes (or sorites arguments). How much of my identity does an evil neuroscientist have to mess up before he kills me. If he deletes 50% of my memories and changes half my character traits, has he killed me (killed half of me?)? What about 90%? Of course, real-life brain damage or disorders, such as amnesia, Alzheimer's, and vegetative states, raise similar questions about when a person passes away, even if the body hasn't.

Yes. Of course, I only think that because I think personal identity depends on continuity of memory and character traits, and I think memory and character traits are constituted by brain states. So, if you could somehow alter my brain enough to wipe out my memories (perhaps replacing them with some artificial set of memories) and change my character traits, you will have killed me. And if you did it knowingly and purposely, you have committed murder (i.e., the intentional killing of a person). But... 1. I'm not sure how our legal system would deal with it. I suspect there's something in our murder statutes that requires a dead body for a murder charge. We'd have to get our laws up to date with our science (and philosophy!). 2. Now, I've opened the door to some slippery slopes (or sorites arguments). How much of my identity does an evil neuroscientist have to mess up before he kills me. If he deletes 50% of my memories and changes half my character traits, has he killed me (killed half of...

In a recent response by Eddy Nahmias, he ended up talking about "the capacities

In a recent response by Eddy Nahmias, he ended up talking about "the capacities [which] are the grounds for personhood". That made me think about arguments on abortion. Some pro-life people argue that the important thing is not the capacities some being HAS, but those that it can COME TO HAVE in some specified way (e.g., a "natural" way, or a way that is grounded on that being's "essence"). And that, they say, is what makes every fetus a person, and what makes a temporarily unconscious human a person. Both have to undergo some CHANGE before they can display specifically human traits that are important for personhood. Now, I don't find this argument very persuasive, but I really do not have a good answer to it. Could you tell me what is the difference (if any) between a one week human fetus and an unconscious adult that makes the latter a person, but not the former?

These are really tough and fascinating questions, both about what capacities are and what persons are. I hope other panelists might add to what little I have to say. What I will say (briefly, and without checking to see what the relevant literature has to say) is that one way to understand capacities is this:

An object X has a capacity C to perform C-relevant functions or behaviors (C-stuff) if and only if X has a structural organization O such that, when X is in the appropriate circumstances, O allows X to do C-stuff.

For example, I have the capacity to multiply any two numbers 1-13 because some structure in my brain allows me to get the right answer when the circumstances arise (e.g., when I'm asked to multiply 8 x 9 and I am awake and paying attention, etc.).

Having a capacity to do C-stuff can be distinguished from having the potential to develop the capacity to do C-stuff. The potential might involve being in a position (both structurally and environmentally) to develop the relevant structural organization to have the capacity. I have the potential to learn Russian, but I do not yet have the capacity to speak Russian.

So, assuming that some complex organization in our brains is what gives us the capacities for self-awareness that I associated with personhood (in my earlier response you cite), we can see that most adult humans have these capacities and are hence persons, while no fetuses have these capacities and hence none are persons. Most fetuses have the potential to become persons (though about a quarter of fetuses end in miscarriages). Unconscious adults actually have the capacities for personhood because they have the structural organization in place; they just aren't in the appropriate circumstances for them to be exercised. Even while I'm asleep or under anesthesia I still possess the capacity (organization O) to do my multiplication tables. I just can't exercise those capacities. A fetus does not have the capacity to do multiplication tables, nor to does it have the capacity to reflect on mental states and consider its past and future, etc.

So, by my definition of persons, fetuses (though they are human beings) are not persons, while unconscious adults are (and dolphins and apes probably are). One can draw various ethical conclusions from this, and I won't do so here. But IF one thinks that being a person means that one deserves more moral consideration than having the potential to become a person, THEN (if one accepts my view) fetuses deserve less moral consideration than adults (and perhaps some animals).

For more on this issue, see here.

These are really tough and fascinating questions, both about what capacities are and what persons are. I hope other panelists might add to what little I have to say. What I will say (briefly, and without checking to see what the relevant literature has to say) is that one way to understand capacities is this: An object X has a capacity C to perform C-relevant functions or behaviors (C-stuff) if and only if X has a structural organization O such that, when X is in the appropriate circumstances, O allows X to do C-stuff. For example, I have the capacity to multiply any two numbers 1-13 because some structure in my brain allows me to get the right answer when the circumstances arise (e.g., when I'm asked to multiply 8 x 9 and I am awake and paying attention, etc.). Having a capacity to do C-stuff can be distinguished from having the potential to develop the capacity to do C-stuff. The potential might involve being in a position (both structurally and environmentally) to develop the...

Suppose a man commits murder and is then promptly involved in a car crash that

Suppose a man commits murder and is then promptly involved in a car crash that leads to complete loss of all his memories prior to the car crash. The police have indisputable proof that the man did indeed commit the murder. Should they prosecute? If you conclude that they should because in some sense he's physically the same person what if a murderer somehow makes a copy of themselves and then commits suicide, should the copy be prosecuted? If you conclude that they shouldn't be prosecuted because the person after the accident is a different person from before the accident what if there's indisputable evidence that all of their memories will return in 5 years? 5 weeks? 5 days? To my mind the person after the accident is a different person from the one who committed the murder and should therefore not be prosecuted. If the memories return then they should be prosecuted but we shouldn't punish them for a crime "they" didn't commit. But I am unsure as to how much of their memories need to return before...

Wow, you have come up with a case I love to use in my philosophy of mind to connect issues of personal identity to moral responsibility and "moral luck." I have students read the Oliver Sacks' case of Donald ("Murder" in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat). Donald took and, while high, killed his girlfriend. He had no memory of the incident (assume this is true for now) and was found not guilty by reason of (temporary) insanity. A few years later he was hit by a car and suddenly (re)remembered the gruesome murder (offering details only the killer could know). The case raises lots of questions: Is Donald on PCP (DPCP) the same person as Donald before (DBefore)? And is Donald at trial and the next few years (DTrial) the same as DPCP? And is Donald after recovering his memories from the accident (DAfter) the same as ... and DTrial and DBefore??

And beyond these questions about personal identity, there's the question of moral luck: assuming that Donald before (DBefore) had no more reason to think he'd become a killer than anyone else planning to take PCP, should DTrial (or DAfter) be charged with murder (DPCP seems to have intentionally killed his girlfriend, as in second-degree murder)? Or is Donald on PCP such a different person that it is only fair to blame him for doing something as stupid and illegal as taking PCP but not for murder?

So far, I've basically just re-iterated your very interesting questions, but I thought the parallels were interesting. Now, how to answer them? Well, everything depends on your theory of personal identity. If you hold John Locke's memory (or same consciousness) theory, as you seem to, then it seems that DTrial should not be punished for what DPCP did since he can't remember it, but as you suggest, DAfter could be punished for what DPCP did--unless you want to bring in the moral luck worry and say that even though DAfter remembers it, he shouldn't be blamed for more than taking PCP since DBefore had no reason to think he'd do what DPCP did! Except you might think there is something bad about DBefore's character that predisposed him to murder when he loses his inhibitions! Or you might want to charge him with manslaughter as we do with drunk drivers who kill (another case of moral luck since the drunk driver who doesn’t kill may have just gotten lucky someone didn’t cross his path). And then there's the (epistemic) problem of how we can know whether DTrial is faking it or not (the problem of other minds rears it's ugly head). Even Locke suggested that we must punish the man who commits a crime while drunk and says he doesn't remember it because we can't be sure, and we have to deter others from trying to get off by committing crimes while drunk (well, he said something like that). So, as a general rule we may need to punish bodies for what they do even if they claim not to remember doing it. Or we may decide to punish bodies because we hold a bodily criteria for personal identity. If I read Derek Parfit right, he seems to suggest that our practical interests (such as legal responsibility) will set the boundaries of the conditions for personal identity (e.g., we'll just have to stipulate what to say about weird cases) rather than there being a metaphysical truth about personal identity which we then apply to our practical interests (such as legal responsibility).

I better stop before I try to deal with your case of the murderer copying himself.

Wow, you have come up with a case I love to use in my philosophy of mind to connect issues of personal identity to moral responsibility and "moral luck." I have students read the Oliver Sacks' case of Donald ("Murder" in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat ). Donald took and, while high, killed his girlfriend. He had no memory of the incident (assume this is true for now) and was found not guilty by reason of (temporary) insanity. A few years later he was hit by a car and suddenly (re)remembered the gruesome murder (offering details only the killer could know). The case raises lots of questions: Is Donald on PCP (DPCP) the same person as Donald before (DBefore)? And is Donald at trial and the next few years (DTrial) the same as DPCP ? And is Donald after recovering his memories from the accident (DAfter) the same as ... and DTrial and DBefore?? And beyond these questions about personal identity, there's the question of moral luck: assuming that Donald before (DBefore) had no...