John Perry Argument Reconstruction-A Dialogue on Personal
Identity and Immortality, p. 27-30
MILLER: I can remember only my own past thoughts and feelings, and you
only yours. Of course, everyone would readily admit that.
Locke’s insight is to take this relation as the source of identity
and not just its consequence. To remember—or more plausibly,
to be able to remember—the thoughts and feelings of a person who
was conscious in the past is juts what it is to be that person.
Now you can see that this easily
solves the problem of the possibility of survival. As I was saying,
all you need to do is imagine someone at some future time, not on this
earth and not with your present thoughts and feelings, remembering the
very conversation we are having now. This does not require sameness
or anything else, but it amounts to sameness of person. So, now
will you admit it?
WEIROB: No, I don’t.
MILLER: Well, what’s the problem now?
WEIROB: …We must distinguish—as I’m sure you’ll
agree—between actually remembering and merely seeming to remember.
Many men who think that they are Napoleon claim to remember losing the
battle of Waterloo. We may suppose them to be sincere, and to really
seem to remember it. But they do not actually remember because they
were not at the battle and are not Napoleon.
MILLER: Of course I admit that we must distinguish between actually remembering
and only seeming to.
WEIROB: And you will admit too, I trust, that the thought of some person
at some far place and some distant time seeming to remember this conversation
I am having with you would not give me the sort of comfort that the prospect
of survival is supposed to provide. I would have no reason to anticipate
future experiences of this person, simply because she is to seem to remember
my experiences. The experiences of such a deluded imposter are not
ones I can look forward to having.
MILLER: I agree.
WEIROB: So the mere possibility of someone in the future seeming to remember
this conversation does not show the possibility of my surviving.
Only the possibility of someone actually remembering this conversation—or,
to be precise, the experiences I am having—would show that…
…Let me try to make it clear with another example. Imagine
two persons. One is talking to you, saying certain words, having
certain thoughts, and so forth. The other is not talking to you
at all, but is in the next room being hypnotized. The hypnotist
gives to the person a post-hypnotic suggestion that upon awakening he
will remember having had certain thoughts and having uttered certain words
to you. The thoughts and words he mentions happen to be just the
thoughts and words which the first person actually thinks and says.
Do you understand the situation?
MILLER: Yes, continue.
WEIROB: Now, in a while, both of the people are saying sentences which
begin, “I remember saying to Sam Miller—“ and “I
remember thinking as I talked to Sam Miller.” And they both
report remembering just the same thoughts and utterances. One of
these will be remembering and the other only seeming to remember, right?
MILLER: Of course.
WEIROB: Now which one is actually remembering?… They both
satisfy the conditions of remembering, for they both seem to remember.
So there must be some further condition that the one satisfies and the
other does not. I am trying to get you to say what that further
MILLER: Well, I said that the one who had been in this room talking would
WEIROB: In other words, given two putative rememberers of some past thought
or action, the real rememberer is the one who, in addition to seeming
to remember the past thought or action, actually thought it or did it.
WEIROB: That is to say, the one who is identical with the person who did
the past thinking and uttering.
MILLER: Yes, I admit it.
WEIROB: So you argument just amounts to this. Survival is
possible, because imaginable. It is imaginable, because my identity
with some Heavenly person is imaginable. To imagine it, we imagine
a person in Heaven who, First, seems to remember my thought and actions
and Second, is me.
Surely there could hardly be a tighter
circle. If I have doubts that the Heavenly person is me, I will
have doubts as to whether she is really remembering or only seeming to.
No one could doubt the possibility of some future person who, after death,
seemed to remember the things he thought and did. But that possibility
does not resolve the issue about the possibility of survival. Only
the possibility of someone actually remembering could do that—for
that, as we agree, is sufficient for identity. But doubts about
survival and identity simply go over without remainder into doubts about
whether the memories would be actual or merely apparent. You guarantee
me no more than the possibility of a deluded Heavenly imposter.
Miller’s Original Argument:
1. We can imagine someone in Heaven remembering Gretchen Weirob's thoughts
and feelings. (P)
2. A person can remember only their own thoughts and feelings. (P)
3. To remember the thoughts and feelings of a person who was conscious
in the past is just what it is to be that person. (P)
4. So we can imagine someone identical with Gretchen Weirob in heaven.
(from 1, 2, 3)
5. If something is imaginable, then it is possible. (P)
6. It is possible that there will be someone identical with Gretchen Weirob
in heaven. (from 4, 5)
7. If identity is imaginable, then identity is possible. (from 5)
8. Survival is identity with a future person. (P)
9. Gretchen Weirob’s survival is possible. (from 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)
Weirob first attacks (1). She (implicitly) agrees or does not challenge
2 and 3 at this point. The argument proceeds as follows: The concept
of what it is to “remember” is first analyzed. Memory
is then broken down into “seeming to remember” and “actually
remembering.” From here, Weirob shows that if “seeming
to remember” is what Miller initally meant, then his argument is
invalid and it is not possible that she, Weirob, will sruvive. If
“actually remembering” is what is meant by Miller, then
his argument is, Weirob attempts to show, circular.
10. Many men who think they are Napoleon, but are not actually, claim
to remember losing the battle of Waterloo. (P)
11. These men seem to remember losing the battle of Waterloo. (P)
12. Therefore, these men do not actually remember losing the battle, they
only seem to remember it. (from 2, 10, 11)
13. Therefore, there is a difference between actually remembering and
only seeming to remember. (from 12)
14. A person can seem to remember X’s thoughts and feelings without
being identical with X. (from 10, 12)
15. We can imagine someone in heaven seeming to remember X’s thoughts
and feelings. (P)
16. It is possible that there will be someone in heaven seeming to remember
X’s thoughts and feelings. (from 15, 5)
17. It is possible that someone in heaven seems to remember Gretchen Weirob’s
thoughts and feelings without being identical with Gretchen Weirob. (from
14, 15, 5)
This is not sufficient to show that
it is possible that Gretchen Weirob is identical with a heavenly person,
so since identity is necessary for survival (7), this is not sufficient
to show that Gretchen Weirob survives.
18. A person talks to you. (P)
19. Another person is hypnotized into believing they talked to you. (P)
20. Both people say the same thing and report remembering the same thoughts
and experiences. (P)
21. Therefore, upon examining the content of what they are now thinking
or saying, there is no way to tell the difference between the person actually
remembering and the one only seeming to remember. (from 18, 19, 20)
22. Examining the content of what a person is now thinking or saying cannot
establish whether that person is identical with a person existing at an
earlier time. (from 14, 21)
Miller's proposed account of real memory (as reconstructed by Weirob):
23. Really remembering a thought or action is just seeming to remember
it plus having really thought it or done it. (P)
Miller's argument using this proposed account (as reconstructed by Weirob):
24. If X really thought or did something, X is identical with the person
who thought it or did it. (P)
25. So Miller's proposal is that real memory is the combination of seeming
to remember and identity. (P)
26. We can imagine someone in heaven (i) remembering my thought and action
in heaven, and (ii) being identical with me. (P)
27. So my identity with a heavenly person is imaginable. (from 26)
28. So my identity with a heavenly person is possible. (from 5, 27)
29. So I can survive. (from 7, 28)
30. But anyone who had doubts about 29 would have doubts about 26(ii).
(Because this argument is a dialogue,
it deviates from the argument form that we have dealt with previously.
In this case, the reconstruction is best suited to the back-and-forth
pattern that occurs in the actual passage.) The general structure
of the argument is as follows: Miller begins by making an argument
for identity being equivalent with memory, and then uses this in an attempt
to show Weirob how it is possible that she (Weirob) will survive.
Then, Weirob wages a counterargument that differentiates between apparent
and actual memory. Once Weirob has made this distinction, she can
prove Miller wrong on both fronts by showing that, if he intended to use
“seeming to remember”, then the argument does not show the
possibility of her survival, and, if Miller intended to use “actually
rememmering”, then he is arguing in a circle. The best method
of reconstructing this argument is to first try to summarize the arguments
each character makes, then try to formalize each summary.
First, reconstruct Miller’s
original argument. Miller makes the argument that memory is identity.
He states (further in the passage, but still explicitly) that we can imagine
someone in Heaven remembering Gretchen Weirob’s thoughts and feelings.
He says that a person can remember only their own thoughts and feelings.
He states that to remember the thoughts and feelings of a person who was
conscious in the past is just what it is to be that person.
From this, Miller can conclude that we can imagine someone identical with
Gretchen Weirob in Heaven. Now that Miller has a foothold (because
it is imaginable that there will be someone identical with Gretchen Weirob
in Heaven), we must insert the premise that if something is imaginable,
it is possible. This is not exactly an implicit premise, as we have
understood the term from the other argument reconstruction examples; but
is, instead, restated later in the passage whenWeirob herself paraphrases
Miller’s argument in an attempt to show its circularity. By
drawing on Weirob’s later recapitulation of Miller’s argument,
we can reconstruct Miller’s original argument more easily here.
Having established that if something
is imaginable, then it is possible, we can conclude validly that if identity
is imaginable, then it is possible. We must now recharacterize identity
in terms of survival in order to conclude that Weirob’s survival
is possible. We need to supply the premise that survival is identity
with a future person. With this, we have completed Miller’s argument
that Gretchen Weirob’s survival is possible.
In reconstructing Weirob’s
argument, we see that her first response to Miller’s argument is
to challenge his assertion that we can imagine someone in Heaven remembering
Gretchen Weirob’s thoughts and feelings. She gives a clear
example of a case in which several people are deluded and think they are
each Napoleon. Obviously, none of these men is Napoleon, but they
all strongly believe it and all seem to remember losing the battle of
Waterloo. The example illustrates the difference between seeming
to remember and actually remembering, which is a key, if not the key,
point in Weirob’s argument.
Next, once the distinction between
actually remembering and seeming to remember has been made, we can conclude
that the possibility of someone in the future seeming to remember the
conversation does not show the possibility of Weirob surviving, since
seeming to remember is not equivalent with identity. Weirob uses
another example to clarify the argument for Miller and to further refute
his point that to be able to remember the thoughts and feelings of a person
who was conscious in the past is just what it is to be that person.
Weirob explains that there are two people, one who is actually conversing
and one who is hypnotized into believing and remembering that she was
conversing. If both people say the same thing and report remembering
the same thoughts and experiences, there is no way to tell the difference
between the two from the content of what they are now thinking or saying.
From this, Weirob can validly conclude that to be able to remember the
thoughts and feelings of a person who was conscious in the past is not
just what it is to be that person. Weirob has now taken to completion
the “seeming to remember” branch of the remembering argument,
showing that “seeming to remember” cannot extablish the possibility
of her survival.
Not yet finished her attack, Weirob
then rephrases Miller’s account of real memory as seeming to remember
a thought or action plus having really thought or done it. Now Weirob
has Miller trapped. We can reconstruct this part of the argument
in a straightforward way, drawing on much of what Weirob explicitly states.
The point of this section of Weirob’s response is to try to prove
the circularity of Miller’s argument, but this is where Weirob’s
argument runs into trouble. Miller is arguing that we can imagine
someone in Heaven who remembers Weirob’s thoughts and actions and
is identical to her. If this is the case, then her identity
with a Heavenly person is imaginable, and, since whatever is imaginable
is possible, Weirob’s identity with a Heavenly being is possible.
To continue in this fashion, if Weirob’s identity with a Heavenly
being is possible, her survival is possible. However, upon
consideration of the above argument, we now note that Weirob’s survival
being possible is assumed by the claim that we can imagine a Heavenly
being who remembers Weirob’s thoughts and action and is identical
to her. Weirob concludes that Miller’s argument is circular.
On the strict definition of circular, however, Miller’s argument
is not circular, although very flawed. Strictly speaking, a circular
argument is one in which one of the premises is the conclusion, which
is not the case with Miller’s argument. Despite this error
on Weirob’s part, she is still able to show that, regardless
of which type of remembering Miller intended (whether “seeming to
remember” or “actually remembering”), Miller’s
argument does not hold.
Sample Paper on Perry's Dialogue
Objections to Perry's Argument