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Philosophy 1A


Drawing on the reading and your own sound reasoning and good judgment, make an argument for or against one of the following two questions, think of several strong objections to your argument, and respond to them.

In thinking of objections to your argument, think of the best possible objections that someone on the other side might be able to come up with, i. e., give yourself a hard time. If you can respond to the other side at its strongest point rather than at its weakest, that can only help to strengthen your own view and make it that much more persuasive.

The paper should be about five (5) to (7) pages in length, preferably typewritten. It is due on Friday, March 31st, in class.

1. A Kingdom for a Peach

In RICHARD III Shakespeare has Richard declare at a crucial point in the drama:

RICHARD: "I am determined to prove a villain."

His line has a marvelous ambiguity. It could mean that Richard was (in some sense) born to be a villain, that his being a villain is (as it were) written in the stars, that he ("poor Richard") has no control over his villainy, a trait which is determined (and/or caused) by forces outside and beyond his ("poor Richard's") control. On the other hand, it could mean that he is (as it were) dead set on becoming a villain, that he himself is determined to be villainous, and his villainy is a product, not so much of outside forces, but of an inner resolve, that he ("not-so-poor Richard") is all business and his villainy is his own doing, something for which he would like to take credit and for which he ought to be otherwise praised and/or blamed.

The Question is: Does Richard or anyone for that matter have a choice in a situation such as this? Are we able to (as it were) determine our own actions, to be (as it were) self-determining? And what does this mean as opposed to our actions being determined in advance by forces outside and/or beyond our own determination? Take an example, closer to home and much more mundane. Forget for the moment the grand resolve of someone like Richard and the inflated concerns of his high-minded rhetoric:

Suppose you're in USDAN going through the cafeteria line and you come to the desserts. You hesitate between a peach (does Brandeis ever serve peaches?) and a big wedge of chocolate cake with creamy white frosting. The cake looks good ("yummy," even) but you know it's chubby-making. Still you decide to take the cake and after plowing through your main course, you eat it with a gusto reminiscent of the heady days of Richard the Third. The next day you look in the mirror and get on the scale you have in your room from Lechmere's Discount Store. You say to yourself "I wish I hadn't eaten that chocolate cake. I could have had the peach instead."

"I could have had the peach instead." What does this mean, and is it even true?

Well, peaches were available when you were going through the cafeteria line: you had the opportunity ("Don't we live, in fact, in a land of opportunity"?) to take the peach. But this (surely) is not all that you mean. You mean you could have taken the peach instead of that enormous (blankety-blank) piece of chocolate cake. You did not just have an opportunity. You could have done something other than what you actually did. Before you made up you mind and resolved to have the cake, it was still open to you to take the peach.

This still doesn't seem to be quite enough. When you say to yourself "I could have had the peach instead," you don't mean only that if you had chosen the peach, you would have had the peach, you also mean you could have chosen the peach - no "if's" about it. That's why you're so angry with yourself now; and why you blame yourself for having taken and eaten that darn (blankety-blank) "enormous" piece of chocolate cake. What you are saying to yourself is not, for instance, if only Sue had been there: she eats like a sparrow and she would never eat cake at any time of the day, and if she had been there, you would have chosen the peach. What you are saying is that you could have chosen the peach instead of the cake just then, as things actually were.

This is an idea of "can" or "could" which we attribute to most people (and perhaps some animals). When you say "My car can climb to the top of Mt. Washington," you mean, I presume, that your car has enough power to reach the top of Mt. Washington without conking out on the way up. You don't mean that, on occasion, your car just takes off for the top of mountains rather than sitting in the driveway. Something else has to happen first. You have to get into your car and start the engine, etc., etc.. But when it comes to people, we seem to believe that they can do various things that they actually don't do or haven't done, just like that, without anything else happening differently first. What does this mean?

Part of what it means may be something like the following: Nothing up to the point at which you choose (remember that peach and that cake) determines irrevocably what your choice will be. It remains a real, live possibility that you will choose the peach right up to the moment when you choose the chocolate cake. Your choice of the cake wasn't determined in advance . There were no processes or forces at work before you made up your mind to have the cake that made it inevitable that you would choose the cake. If it was really determined in advance that you would choose the cake, it could not be true that you could have chosen the peach. Why you are so upset with yourself, so angry, why you now blame yourself for having taken the cake instead of the peach is because you (you yourself) closed off the possibility of having the peach when you chose the cake. You did it!

Now some people (they shall remain nameless) believe that it is never possible for us to do anything other than what we in fact do. The sum total of a person's experiences, desires and knowledge, his or her genetic make-up, the social circumstances and the nature of the choice facing the person, together with other factors that we may not be able - right off the bat - to identify, all add up to make a given action in a given set of circumstances inevitable. Given your constitution and history and psychological profile at that very moment, you had to choose that cake. There are laws of nature (we may not know all of them just yet) which govern everything that happens in the world, which govern your actions and choices as well as the planets and Hale-Bopp, and in accordance with these laws, the circumstances before an action is taken determine that it will be taken, no "if's," "ands" or "ors" about it, and these circumstances and conditions rule out any other possibility.

Now if this were true, then even while you were making up your mind whether to choose a peach, it was being determined by the factors at work that you would choose the cake. You couldn't have chosen the peach. And if you couldn't, you should stop blaming yourself for not having done otherwise.

Now some scientists believe that for certain very tiny particles such as photons it is not determined in advance where one or another of these very tiny particles will be. What if, human actions, at least some of them, are not determined in advance? Just as it is (as it were) an open possibility where a a given photon might be at any given moment, it is an open possibility what you will or will not choose. But is this enough to make sense of and to leave room for free will? Is this all you mean when you say "I could have chosen the peach instead?" No, you believe something more. You believe you determined what you would do, by doing it. It wasn't determined in advance , but it didn't just happen either. You determined it.

But if it wasn't determined in advance by your desires, and beliefs and personality, among other things, it seems to be something that just happened without any explanation. And this is odd, very odd. Things don't just happen. What makes something your doing ? How can you (or Richard the Third, for that matter) determine what you do, if nothing determines it?

One way out of this apparent puzzle is to argue that antecedent causal determination does not threaten freedom of choice - only a certain kind of cause does that. Indeed one might claim that for an action to be your doing, it has to be produced by certain kinds of causes in you. So when you chose the cake instead of the peach, what you did, did not just happen; you wanted cake more than you wanted a peach. Your appetite for cake was greater than your appetite for a peach and stronger than your desire - at that moment ­ to avoid foods that are chubby-making. In other cases the psychological explanation for your choice will be more complex, but there will always be one - otherwise that action wouldn't be yours. For an action to be your doing doesn't require that there be no antecedent determining cause at all: it just means that the cause has to be of the right, familiar psychological sort.

But this does not seem to get us anywhere. If you think that your choice of the cake was determined by your circumstances and your psychological condition, you would feel trapped. And if you thought the same of everyone else, albeit they would be acting under different circumstances and different psychological conditions, you would view them as puppets. People aren't puppets. And if they were, it wouldn't make sense to hold them responsible for their actions any more than it makes sense to hold your car responsible for refusing to start in the morning.

On the other hand, it makes little sense to hold a person responsible for anything that he or she does unless we believe the person determined his or her action. What does it mean to say that you determine your actions, if nothing about you determines the action? Perhaps to say that you could have had a peach instead is a philosophical illusion. The Question then becomes: "What would you and the world have to be like for it to be true that you could have had a peach instead of cake?"

2. Who is Julia?

The following bizarre case took place in San Francisco some time ago: in 1972 to be exact. And although there was considerable coverage of the incident at the time in the newspapers and on TV, many of you were not (yet) born and so perhaps do not recall the case or perhaps never heard of it. In any event, Julia North was run over by a San Francisco trolley in 1972, although she is now alive and well and living in Seattle (or is she? - more of this anon).

At the time Julia noticed a child wander onto the tracks just as a trolley was bearing down and she dashed in front of it and managed to push (ever so gently) the small child out of the path of the on-coming trolley just before the trolley crashed into her and crushed her. The child's mother Mary Frances Beaudine had a massive stroke while she watched these events unfold and she collapsed the very moment that the trolley hit and crushed Julia. An ambulance took both women to the hospital where a Dr. Matthews, a brilliant neurosurgeon, was in residence. Some of you may recall that Dr. John Matthews had perfected a surgical technique for performing what he called "body transplant," and he removed Julia's brain (which was healthy) from Julia's head and placed it in Mary Frances' body, being ever so careful to splice the nerves at the brain stem, using the techniques that he had perfected.

As you can guess, the operation was one of the longer operations ever performed in the twentieth century, lasting a little over seventeen days. Dr. Matthews would catch some "zzzzz" every ten hours or so when his equally brilliant assistant Alice Frankenstein would take over and continue the meticulous nerve splicing process. The operation was - as some of you may recall or as some of you may have heard from your parents or older siblings - a success. Julia survived. And although she was in recovery for a little more than a year, she held a press conference at the hospital one year to the day after she was admitted. John and Alice stood proudly at her side.

Then as if Julia's survival was not enough, a most bizarre incident occurred. Now nearly everyone at the press conference took the survivor of this horrible accident to be Julia, except (unfortunately) Mary Frances' husband who had also come to the press conference and who kept interrupting the proceedings by waving to Julia and saying "Hi, Mary. It's great to have you back." And occasionally picking up their daughter Sarah, the child whom Julia's heroic efforts had saved, and hauling her onto his shoulders and saying, "Mary! Hey there, Mary! Say Œhello' to your daughter Sarah." He then tried to kiss Julia which Julia herself found somewhat distasteful, although she did admit to friends later, that she could understood that he might be confused since she looks just like Mary Frances since she (after all) has her body. During the next few weeks Mary Frances' husband continued to pursue, some would say, "hound" Julia and she was forced to go into hiding where she still remains somewhere on the outskirts of Seattle.

As you may also recall, John and Alice's licenses were revoked; they are no longer practicing physicians. They received requests from many ill and dying patients after their successful operation on Julia, requesting body transplants.

These requests came from all over the world and some requests came from people who were - as far as one could tell - perfectly healthy. They only wanted, they wrote, to replace their present bodies with a more youthful and shapely body and offered John and Alice embarrassingly huge sums of money to accommodate their requests. The state licensing board put an end to all this when they revoked John's and Alice's licenses. As a result John also refused to divulge his technique to anyone and to date no one has been able to duplicate John and Alice's feat or been able to develop an equivalent technique. That, many neurosurgeons suspect, may (now) have to wait until the twenty-second century.

Now looking back, Julia believes that if Henry had spent any time with her, any time at all, he would have come to realize that she was not his wife. She would not have had Mary Frances' memories nor her beliefs nor her particular desires, even though she did look just like Mary Frances did. When she was fully recovered from the operation, she remembered what she, Julia, had done in the past and did not remember anything at all about Mary Frances. Indeed Julia did not have a clue who Mary Frances was except for the fact that she was told that she had her body.

As you can well imagine, philosophers have become especially fascinated by Julia's case. A number of them think Julia's case shows that a person cannot be identified with his or her body, that personal identity is not bodily identity, and that her case is just a fuller and more complete example of the phenomenon each of us has experienced early in the morning upon waking before we have opened our eyes to face the day. Then most of us know who we are before looking at our bodies or checking to see if it's our body that is there.

Of course, Julia has part of her own body; she has her brain. And if memories, beliefs, desires and the like are largely dependent on brain states (whether or not they are identical with them), it is not so surprising to find that post-operative Julia remembers things that pre-operative Julia did and that post-operative Julia is, with respect to psychological characteristics generally, like pre-operative Julia, in spite of her physical appearance and fingerprints. As a result, these same philosophers believe that it is not just having pre-operative Julia's brain that inclines them to take post-operative Julia as Julia rather than Mary Frances. It is not the brain, but what the brain, as it were, brings in its wake, what the brain (apparently) brings with it, in particular Julia's memories that is crucial.

Indeed this episode in twentieth century medicine has helped to revive the John Locke Society which had fallen on hard times in the late 60's since it was Locke who thought that personal identity consisted in links of memory or as he might put it, our ability to extend our consciousness into the past. Julia's case seemed to vindicate Locke and membership in the John Locke Society has increased ten-fold since Julia appeared at her press conference in 1973 and helps to explain why John Locke T-shirts are so popular. There are others, however, who believe that John Locke could not be right. He was, after all English and a rather plodding and methodical thinker, if much of a "thinker" at all, and they find it odd that he should be given credit for much of anything.

The David Hume Society has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance, sending out copies of relevant passages from Hume's work wherein Hume argues that memory cannot be the source of personal identity.

To complicate matters a bit further, rumor has it that Dr. John Matthews has been working all these years on a new process and that he is about to perform another operation on Julia. He too is apparently living somewhere in and around Seattle; some say he is carrying out his research on the grounds of Microsoft Corporation and that his most recent research is being funded by none other than Bill Gates. Matthews apparently has developed a technique of brain rejuvenation or "revitalization," as he calls it. He has a technique which allows him to replace a person's brain with an exact duplicate. Well, it's apparently not absolutely identical. It's a perfect replica of a person's old brain in all physical and chemical respects, except the blood vessels in the new brain are healthier and stronger than the vessels in the old brain. Julia has developed weakening of the arteries and she fears a stroke like that which killed Mary Frances. The brain transplant operation, rumor has it, is scheduled to take place on March 31st somewhere in Seattle.

Would the new person be Julia? It is expected that the post-post-operative Julia will have Julia's pre-pre-operative memories and beliefs, so if memory is key to personal identity, this new, new Julia should be Julia, no? Well, that's what many members of the John Locke Society believe, although there is some disagreement among the membership. In any event they eagerly await the outcome of this latest medical moment in the annals of neurological science, as does Bernard Williams, a philosopher. He has apparently been corresponding secretly with Dr. Matthews and encouraging him to perform a second operation making use of Julia's "old" brain. Waste not, want not. Matthews is now hoping (apparently) to have a fresh body for Julia's old brain and he plans to transplant Julia's old brain in this new body after he has removed it from her present body and performed the transplant of the duplicate. So sometime after March 31st there will be two survivors, call them, "Julia-A" and "Julia-B." Both will remember sailing on Puget Sound on March 11th and both will remember having saved Mary Frances' daughter Sarah in 1972. Both Julia-A and Julia-B will have Julia's psychological characteristics. But only one, Bernard Williams believes, will really remember, only one will be really Julia, the other will not. But now assume that Julia-A receives the duplicate brain and Julia-B has the old brain.

Now imagine that they both wake up but have not yet opened their eyes to examine their bodies. How is Julia-A to know that whether she has the original brain and is who she seems to be or whether she has a duplicate brain and is a new person, only a few minutes young, and with no memories, only delusions of having been Julia? If Dr. Matthews keeps careless records or neglects to tell Julia-A whether she received the original or the duplicate brain, she may never know who she is. Who is Julia?

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