Who are you? This is the core context of the arguments analyzed by Bernard Williams in his essay “The Self and the Future”. It is a pivotal part of answering the question “who”, to give an account of the self based on the past. This is done through a process of recollection of bits and pieces of information that the self had experienced, which gives an identity to the body. Bernard Williams’ essay tried to uncover a deeper understanding about the extent of ‘identity’ by presenting two contradictory arguments regarding memory-swapping.
Williams presented a case wherein two persons, A and B, participated an experiment that involves taking away each of their memories along with their psychological attributes and placing it to the other person’s body (A’s memories will go to B’s body while B’s memories will go to A’s body). In this essay, I would like to argue that a person is recognizable through his/her past experiences and therefore, despite having any type of brain damage or memory loss remains to be the same person.
In my opinion, the person is not defined merely by memory and other psychological attributes alone. A person’s identity is something that is dependent on the past which defines current circumstances. Thus, with respect to the views presented by Williams, I believe that the second scenario has more weight and is more reasonable than the first one. To further defend my position, there will be an elucidation of the two scenarios. Then the two scenarios will be compared and analyzed based on the idea that a person’s identity is not dependent on memory alone.
In the end, the second scenario will be considered as more permissible than the first. As explained above, the scenario that Williams’ considered involved two distinct individuals who had agreed to be the subjects of an experiment. The nature of the experiment entails extracting the subjects’ memories and switching them. In the first case, Williams make it to a point that the two subjects are well aware of the experiments aftermath. In this case there are several considerations that had been raise regarding the identity of the participants after the ‘mind-switch’
The first thing is concerned with whether the Person A is still “body-person A” or simply Body A. The second one considered the Body B as Person A. The third consideration assumes that Person A must have been both Body A and B. The last consideration pertains to the possibility that Person A does not anymore exist. Since a Body A cannot be a Body B at the same time, the third choice is already false. The last consideration is also ruled out since what would become of Person A’s body and/or mind if Person A will be regarded as non-existing.
The first consideration implies that even after the experiment and despite Body A having different mind, memory and traits, nothing changed in the person’s identity. Obviously, this is also mistaken because everyone will realize how different the two really is. Then the only possibility that remain is the second consideration which assumes that the Body B is now Person A because personal identity is a product of person’s memory and psychological attributes.
This argument is similar to Locke’s argument when he explained that identity is something that can be transferred (Perry). The second case is rather more specific yet more ambiguous. It is specific in the sense that it takes into account the perspective of a single participant (Person A). It includes the concepts of fear and expectation. This case tries to bring fort the notion of past experiences and its relevance to fear and anxiety. It explores the person’s or subject’s reaction as he was being informed about what will happen to him in the future in a progressive manner.
The knowledge of being torture in the near future is something that will not change despite being presented by several pieces of information that ought to make the participant feel better. Williams argued that a person’s fear “will extend to future pain whatever precedes it” (Perry, 198). Thus, a rational Person A, who will be engaged in the experiment, knowing or given the choice to choose between being tortured or receiving $100,000, would rationally and selfishly choose the $100,000.
This choice is grounded on the idea that the identity of A-body does not rest on the properties of the B-body. Therefore, Williams suggest, that if the memories and traits of A person and B person will be swap, however an accident occurred and prevents B’s memory and traits to be replaced by A’s, while A’s memories and traits are successfully replaced by those of B’s; then it will be absurd to say that A is non-existent or that A is now B because B is still B. Furthermore, the fear of being torture is something that will not be easily removed despite the knowledge that A will not going to recall anything about the torture.
Thus, even if the body is not with A’s memory and traits, the A-body will continue to experience fear even after the minds are swap for any rational mind experience fear towards the thought of torture, unless the person is sadistic. Therefore, the emotions including fear, anxiety and pain, that the A-body experience (or will experience) is not dependent on the mind or memory and traits but in the past, present and future predicaments.
Several author commend on how Williams had made an important point in laying down the fact that self-identity is not equivalent to mind, consciousness or memory. It is a notion that had been dismissed or not even been considered by previous philosophers such as Descartes and Locke (Perry, 121). The notion that the personal identity is something that involves body-continuity affirms the fact that a person’s identity is largely determined by the past which leads to current circumstances, which will later affect the person’s future.
Personal identity is also shaped by social perspectives or the environment. Therefore, it will be impossible to transfer the person’s identity since the experiences and the way the person is identified by the people around him/her will not be transferred. Also, Williams had presented several arguments based on various possibilities and through recognizing the limitation of the cases. Williams did not directly affirm which argument is wiser to take and even commented that the choice is quite disturbing.
Other authors had criticized him for rejecting his own theory (Sides; Perry). Indeed the body will continue to suffer base upon circumstances and not simply because of a change in the state of mind. The personal identity is inseparable with the body. If indeed a hypothetical situation such as the ones presented by Williams will become reality, personal identity is of Person A, despite having Person B’s memory will remain the same.