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Could I have come into existence and experienced my "self" if my ancestors had not been the same persons, or if a different sperm cell had coupled with my mothers egg? Would my "I" then have remained unborn or been born to a different body, maybe at a different time, or my vacancy occupied by a different persons "I"? In order for a particular "I" to be realized, must it have existed as a potential beforehand, like a lottery tickets potential for winning? Evolution and probability theory indicate that the chances for any particular individual to exist is practically zero. Have we who exist been incredibly lucky, or can our "I" be realized in some other being? If so, on what grounds is the particular potential self assigned to a particular body. I have explored several philosophical texts hoping to find something about this topic, but without success. I would be very glad if you could comment on it or direct me to some illuminating textbook or other source.

Your questions touch on several interesting and difficult issues. If you haven't already consulted it, I recommend looking at the SEP entry on "Possible Objects" . It's a somewhat challenging read, but it contains discussion (for example, in Section 2.2) of the issues you raised, and (as usual for the SEP) copious references that you can follow up. Best of luck as you grapple with this topic!

Does it actually make any sense when someone claims that they wish they were born in a different era or location or to a different family? Sometimes, someone will say that they wish they'd been born in, say, 1950. Without thinking too hard about it, it seems to make sense. But if I do think about what they said, it really doesn't. Let's say we have two timelines. We have the first one in which the person says they wish they were born in 1950. And then we have the second one in which, for whatever reason, there was one more person born in 1950 that wasn't born that year in the first timeline. The problem I see is that there's really no way of linking these two people. Who's to say if they're "the same"? They'd have different experiences, different looks, and probably different personalities. I could see this maybe being resolved by throwing in the concept of a soul, but that doesn't really seem like a logically-sound option (if you and I (as souls) switched bodies for the day, would either of us be...

Excellent questions. They engage the issue of whether one's biological parentage or the time of one's birth are essential to one's identity . I doubt I can do any better than to refer you to two SEP entries that are relevant to this issue: "Essential vs. Accidental Properties" "Arguments for Origin Essentialism" I hope you find them helpful.

As far as I can tell western and Buddhist philosophers would probably agree that if at noon Jones is in London and Brown is in Paris, then Jones and Brown are not identical people, because they are discernible (in this case by location). However it seems like they would disagree in the case of Jones in London at noon and in Paris at 6 PM. A western philosopher might say that while Jones in London can be discerned from Jones in Paris, this discernment is cancelled out by the fact that the two situations don't happen at the same time, as in the example with Jones and Brown, and so Jones in London at noon is still identical to Jones in Paris at 6. Whereas a Buddhist philosopher might say that Jones in London at noon and Jones in Paris at 6 can't be identical people, not only because they are discernible by location, but also because they are discernible by time. Mustn't there be something wrong with one of these views, or both perhaps? If they're both correct then Jones in London at noon is both identical...

One thing to ask is what is being referred to by the expressions "Jones in London at noon" and "Jones in Paris at 6pm." Whatever, if anything, is referred to (denoted by) those expressions would seem to be strange: a "time slice" of Jones or a "space-time slice" of Jones. Now, some philosophers do say that such things exist, which are usually called "temporal parts" of Jones. Other philosophers say that there's no good reason to believe in the existence of temporal parts. Defenders of temporal parts would agree that the two temporal parts referred to aren't identical. But, they say, those two temporal parts can belong to a single individual, Jones, provided that the temporal parts are related (perhaps causally related) to each other in the right way. On the other hand, opponents of temporal parts can say that a single individual, Jones, has both the property of being in London at noon and the property of being in Paris at 6pm . Jones doesn't have those properties literally at the same time but...

Does the identity of indiscernibles principle indicate that, for example, a person with N number of hairs, who then loses a hair, is not identical to the person with N -1 number of hairs? Unless I'm mistaken the principle is basically that entities having all of their properties in common are identical entities, but is it also true that two entities not having all of their properties in common (like Bill with N hairs and Bill with N -1 hairs) are not identical? Can entities with different properties nevertheless be identical? If so, how can we determine that Bill and Sally aren't identical, since merely not having all of their properties in common does not exclude the possibility of identity?

You're correct that the Identity of Indiscernibles says that qualitative identity (i.e., identity of properties) implies numerical identity (i.e., just one individual rather than more than one). You then asked about the converse principle, which says that numerical identity implies qualitative identity: in other words, any individual has all and only the properties that it has. This converse principle, the Indiscernibility of Identicals, is even more secure than the Identity of Indiscernibles. Even those who challenge the Identity of Indiscernibles (such as Max Black, in his classic dialogue "The Identity of Indiscernibles") tend to accept the Indiscernibility of Identicals. As for Bill with n hairs and Bill with n -1 hairs: The defender of the Indiscernibility of Identicals would probably insist on describing Bill's properties in a more fine-grained way. For example: Bill has the property of having exactly n hairs at time t1 and the property of having exactly n-1 hairs at...

Why is relative identity an unpopular theory? What I read generally asserts that it is not accepted by very many philosophers, but some of the examples don't seem defective at first blush, like two copies of Animal Farm being identical stories but distinct books. What don't philosophers seem to like about the theory of relative identity?

I'm not sure why other philosophers dislike the notion of relative identity. I find it unattractive because (1) it's a more complicated notion than absolute identity and (2) I don't see how the added complication solves any problems or illuminates any distinctions that we can't solve or illuminate without it. Take the example you gave: two printed copies of Animal Farm . I say that those items are absolutely distinct. I take it that relative-identity theorists say that the items are identical -- one and the same individual -- qua story but not qua printed book. But why not say, instead, that the two printed books are type-identical tokens -- absolutely distinct physical tokens of a single story-type -- just as multiple distinct tokens of the single word-type "tokens" occur on the screen you're now reading? The type/token distinction is already available and independently motivated. So I see no reason to invoke relative identity in order to understand the example you gave. At any rate, the...

How can I define myself? I'm basically a combination of cells created by DNA instructions who react to stimuli. Can I take credit for anything I do if everything I say, believe, and do is based on my genetic make-up and environment? Furthermore, how can I ethically love someone for reasons that aren't their doing? My parents tell me not to love someone for things they can't help, such as looks and intelligence, but you can't help anything you do. If I donate to charity, that's not really 'me' being a good person, it's my body reacting to my surroundings and determining it would be a good contributor to my overall survival. Is there a 'me?' Please help!!!!

I responded to somewhat similar skeptical worries about personal identity in my reply to Question 4958 . You might have a look there. To respond to your specific claims here: (1) Even if we grant that you're "basically a combination of cells created by DNA instructions [that] react to stimuli," surely that's not all you are. In a petri dish we can grow a combination of cells created by DNA instructions that react to stimuli, but it won't submit a question to AskPhilosophers. Not all combinations of cells -- again, assuming that's what you are -- have equally impressive capacities. (2) Even if "everything [you] say, believe, and do is based on [your] genetic make-up and environment," surely that not all it's based on. You submitted a question to AskPhilosophers at least partly based on your desire to get an answer to it and your belief that this website is one place to go; there's no reason to think you would've done so without any such desire or belief. ...

Look at what I just read in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "2. You could not have been born of different parents. (Someone born of different parents wouldn't be you.) (...) Each of these claims appears to have a true reading." Do you all think this way? A son of my paternal twin-uncle and my maternal twin-aunt could easily (so to say) have exactly the same DNA as I have. He could have been born on the same day. He could have been told that his parents were my actual parents. He could have been given my name. My actual parents could have had no biological child. Things in the whole world could have been exactly as they actually were and are since then. So, in what reasonable sense wouldn't this person be me?

Interesting question. Can't we interpret the story you told as one in which you never exist but someone quite similar to you does instead? Why would such an interpretation be unreasonable? You list six conditions that you seem to regard as jointly sufficient for someone's being you: (1) having exactly your DNA sequence; (2) being born on your birth-date; (3) being told that your parents are his parents; (4) being given your name; (5) your parents' having no biological child; (6) all else being equal. None of those conditions is individually sufficient for someone's being you. (1) Given identical twinning or cloning, someone else (your twin or clone) could have exactly your DNA sequence; (2) plenty of other people share your birth-date; (3) someone else could be told that your parents are his parents (and has been if you have a brother); (4) someone else could (and may actually) share your name; (5) your parents' having no biological child is certainly not sufficient for someone's being you; (6)...

It's absurd to say "If I were him I would have behaved differently" right? I mean, if you were him you would BE him, all his atoms and neurons and flesh, etcetera, and you would have the same thoughts, desires, impulses, everything. (Unless there's some transference of my Cartesian Ego or soul or something that can rise above the fact that I'm simply just him now, but at this point that seems ridiculous unless there's a god, although I know some dualists might disagree). We so often speak as if we can judge other people's actions by just inserting ourselves into "their shoes", but can we really do that and make any sense? Thanks a lot!

You're right to detect absurdity in the literally construed antecedent "If I were him." (It's also ungrammatical: "If I were he .") There's good reason to think that statements of identity and distinctness (i.e., non-identity) are noncontingent: they never just happen to be true. So, given that you're not identical to him, you couldn't have been identical to him, regardless of the existence of God or a Cartesian ego. In that case, "If I were he" is an impossible antecedent, which (on the standard semantics for conditionals) makes the entire conditional "If I were he, then p " trivially true no matter what statement p is: "If I were he, I wouldn't be he" comes out true, for example. But that's all metaphysics and semantics. As you say, the real point of statements beginning "If I were him [or he, or you]" is to offer advice or to pass judgment on someone's actions. It assumes that you can imagine being in his circumstances in all the relevant respects and that the...