PART 2: CONTINUITY, TRANSFORMATION,
A Transformationist Account of Personal Continuity
Part One of this dissertation examined causal conditions necessary for personal identity, and then developed a new conception of death based on this. In Part Two I develop the psychological reductionist theory, but focus more on the effects of changes in a person on the degree of their psychological connectedness. This part of the dissertation will move from metaphysical considerations to normative conclusions about the rational constraints on our concern for our future phases.
The current chapter begins with metaphysical concerns: First, I fill in the blanks in Parfit’s explanation of psychological connections as memories, intentions, and dispositions, by examining more closely various components of connectedness to clarify their relative significance and weighting. I have endeavored to be as precise as the subject matter allows, but without pretending a quantitative pseudo-precision inappropriate to the subject matter. Because Parfit did not develop a thorough account of the nature of psychological connections, I argue, he ends up with implausible normative conclusions. Although I largely agree with Parfit’s metaphysical views on identity, in filling in the missing parts of his account I show how we can come to normative conclusions that diverge from his.
In the second, normative, part of this chapter I analyze Parfit’s view on the relative importance of connectedness and continuity. Then I set out a transformationist view of the normative consequences of psychological reductionism. I show that our degree of concern for our future phases need not (rationally) be proportional to the degree of connectedness, and that psychological reductionism does not show that life is less “deep” than we thought (as Parfit claims). Connectedness may be higher than apparent in a simple counting of connections, and we may care less about reductions in connectedness that move us closer to our “ideal selves.” I examine the role of projects, principles, life plans, and a concern with meaningfulness in connecting us with and sustaining our concern for our future selves.
The metaphysical disagreement in this chapter, then, is not with Parfit but with essentialist views. Essentialist views of personal identity (which can be reductionist or non-reductionist) hold that we require strong connectedness with regard to an essential property, such as a soul, a brain, or the capacity for consciousness.
In terms of the normative issue, a question implicit in my position is: Why should we value remaining unchanged? Parfit appears to care little or nothing for future stages of his with whom he is weakly connected. It is not clear whether Parfit is saying (a) it is rationally defensible to care only in proportion to connectedness, or (b) it is irrational to care more than proportionally to connectedness. Even if Parfit doesn’t hold (b), someone might, and I will take that strong position as a foil in contrast to which to present my view.
MEASURING PSYCHOLOGICAL CONNECTEDNESS
Parfit’s version of reductionism is based on the R-relation: Psychological connectedness and continuity. He tells us little about the elements of psychological connectedness. Since my transformationist account of psychological reductionism accepts the basics of Parfit’s theory but seeks to fill in the gaps and develop further lines of inquiry, I recognize the need to examine in more detail the components of continuity and their relative contributions to psychological continuity. Rather than simply extending Parfit’s discussion, it will turn out that a closer look at the components of continuity will lead me to conclusions at variance with Parfit’s when it comes to issues of the rationality of prudence and our attitudes towards death, as well as providing grounds on which we can determine the relative importance of various kinds of changes in the self.
Which connections does Parfit identify? In defending Locke against certain criticisms Parfit suggests revising Locke’s view to allow in elements of psychological connectedness other than memory:
Besides direct memories, there are several other kinds of direct psychological connection. One such connection is that which holds between an intention and the later act in which this intention is carried out. Other such direct connections are those which hold when a belief, or a desire, or any other psychological feature, continues to be had.
Parfit explicitly mentions memory, intention, belief, and desire, but allows for contributions to continuity by “any other psychological feature.” For convenience I will often refer to a limited set of psychological features such as this, but here I will set out a more extensive list of features, comment on each, and assess their relative significance. The list of features is as follows:
Memories: According to John Locke, personal identity over time is secured by memory connections. I am the same person as an earlier person if I can remember “from the inside” doing the actions done by the earlier person. But memory alone is not sufficient to cover all the psychological connections of importance. I might remember (or q-remember) someone’s past experiences, but I will not count as the same person if my character is entirely different from that of the person whose experiences I remember.
Suppose I have q-memories of being Prime Minister of England during the Second World War. I remember giving dramatic speeches and taking decisive actions and having the name “Winston Churchill.” If I now am a very timid and indecisive person and have no interest in politics, I should think that I am not Winston Churchill. Some of Churchill’s psychological characteristics have survived in me, but too few for me to feel intimately connected psychologically with Churchill. The degree of connectedness is too minor to sustain a judgment of psychological continuity between Churchill and myself. If some unknown cause actually preserved Churchill’s memories, later sparking them in me, we might say some part of Churchill had survived, but not the person himself. I would be too much myself and not Churchill.
Contrary to Locke, I maintain that I would still not be Churchill even if I lost all my own memories, so long as all (or enough of) my other characteristics remained intact. Memory alone constitutes a small part of personal continuity, unless we stretch the concept to include other processes and characteristics. Memory is often divided into declarative and procedural: If I have all the declarative memories of Churchill I will be only very weakly psychologically connected with him, if at all. Simply being able to recall the same facts as another person leaves room for enormous differences in character. The possession of bits of information need have little effect on a personality, especially if the information is of an impersonal kind. The same is true if we include procedural memory. I might start to q-remember Parliamentary procedure and how to plan a battle or a national budget, yet I still would say that I had acquired someone else’s q-memories rather than that I was that other person. If we talk in terms of survival or continuity rather than identity, we would say that a small aspect of Churchill’s person had continued on in me but so small a part that it would not be of significant comfort to Churchill’s surviving friends or family and would not lead me to think that my own personality had been displaced. The Churchill q-memories would be more of an addition to than a displacement of my own selfhood. The new q-memories would be interpreted with my own unique ecology of psychological characteristics rather than those of their original context in Churchill’s personality. Compared with Churchill, I may respond to the q-memories with quite different emotions, draw different conclusions and lessons, and evaluate remembered situations differently.
Memory will seem more important if we stretch its meaning to blur the distinction between memory and other psychological features. If my memories of Churchill caused me to start acting like him, then there would be more continuity of Churchill’s personality. To the extent that remembering a past action, intention, or belief leads me to adopt those actions, intentions, and beliefs I will be the person who had those psychological features. However, while memory may sometimes have some effect of this kind it is not so much the having of the memory that constitutes continuity but its effect in bringing about or maintaining other psychological connections that is important. To some extent we can blur the distinction between memory and other psychological features if we include dispositions as a form of memory. If I am disposed to act in many particular ways just as would Churchill (and because of a causal link to Churchill), I am psychologically connected to Churchill. However, I will keep memory distinct from dispositions and other characteristics. Remembering (or q-remembering) a former person’s intentions, dispositions, and values will not in itself cause me to adopt them because my view of them will be filtered through my existing personality and because dispositions, for example, are formed over a period of time through repeated stimuli; dispositions do not spring into existence because of a memory.
Intentions: I am connected to earlier person-stages if their intentions cause my actions. The earlier person-stage forms an intention, say to donate $2,000 to life extension research, and I now fulfill that intention by carrying out that action. However, a mere coincidence of intention and later action is insufficient for a connection to exist. The connection between intention and fulfillment must be causally direct: My carrying out the intended action must be because of the earlier intention. (As we will see, there can be cases in between mere coincidence and causal directness.) This causal connection between intention and fulfillment, to count as direct, will also have to operate internally to my psychology. By this I mean to exclude cases like the following:
(1) In 1994 Sarah forms the intention to read the complete works of Aristotle. After a few months of failing to start reading Aristotle’s works, Sarah relinquishes her intention. In 1995 Brian, who has no knowledge of Sarah nor any causal interaction with her, picks up the Poetics and proceeds to read through Aristotle’s entire works. Here, the intention and matching action have no causal connection of any kind.
(2) Sarah forms the intention to read the complete works of Aristotle. After a few months of failing to start reading Aristotle’s works, Sarah relinquishes her intention. Dr. Megalos—a fanatical Aristotle devotee—learns of Sarah’s giving up her intention. He can’t bear the thought of this and so imprisons Sarah and coerces her into reading Aristotle on pain of death.
I hold a modified version of the Conservative Interpretation of the Widest Reductionist View (CIWR) for changing persons. CIWR allows as genuine connections some that have indirect or abnormal causes. The abnormal or indirect causes allowed by CIWR, however, are those (such as in the transporter case) that underlie or support the typical functioning of psychological characteristics—such as the way intentions motivate actions. Neither of the present cases counts as an example of a true psychological connection. In the first, there is no causal connection between intention and later action, even though they match up. The later action cannot count as the fulfillment of the earlier intention; the apparent match is merely accidental. The second example also fails as a case of psychological connection in the relevant sense, but it fails in a more interesting and informative way.
Here a causal connection does exist between Sarah’s original intention and her later action that (in a neutral sense) fulfills it. Her intention, combined with the peculiar psychology of the fanatical Dr. Megalos, was causally sufficient to produce the behavior. On the Widest Reductionist View I cannot reject the case as an instance of a true psychological connection between the earlier and later Sarah-stages solely on the ground that the causal connection is an indirect or abnormal one. It must be the specific kind of abnormal cause that is the problem. I can reject the case because the resultant action is motivated not by the original intention but by the insane desires of Dr. Megalos combined with Sarah’s desire to live. Neither of these new desires have the same motivation as the original intention. The original intention dissipated, later to be replaced by new motivations. There is no psychologically coherent connection between, no integrated process or mechanism by which, Sarah’s original intention causes her to take the action. The real cause of her action is a desire of Dr. Megalos combined with her desire to live. Her action is motivated by her desire to live; it is only accidentally explained by her original, abandoned intention.
The contribution of intentions to connectedness derives from the significance of beliefs and desires. An intention to take some action results from a desire to see a certain outcome eventuate (or to be the agent responsible for some outcome) and a belief that the intended action will bring about the outcome.
Dispositions: This term can plausibly cover a wide range of psychological traits and so assumes much importance as a component of connectedness. Dispositions constitute a large proportion of psychological traits that lead to action. We can define a disposition as a propensity to behave in distinctive ways in certain standard situations. Alternative ways of distinguishing various kinds of disposition are possible. We could separate dispositions to act, to think, and to feel, though these are so intertwined that such a set of distinctions will not be terribly revealing. Rorty and Wong, in setting out their schema for aspects of identity, divide dispositions into (a) somatic, proprioceptive, and kinesthetic dispositions, and (b) central temperamental or psychological traits.
Somatic, proprioceptive, and kinesthetic dispositions include traits such as “deft or awkward, excitable or calm, muscularly strong or weak, active or passive, quick or sluggish, slender or heavy, flexible or stiff.”  These kinds of dispositions affect both the kinds of actions characteristically taken by a person and the manner in which she executes them. If a person is somatically awkward, for instance, she may be disposed to avoid situations and tasks calling for deft, finely-controlled movements, especially in public situations. Somatic dispositions, affecting posture and style of movement, will modify any chosen action, making it graceful, slow, jerky, or efficient.
Temperamental or psychological traits include those characteristic behavior patterns that we call virtues and vices: Aggressiveness or timidity or friendliness, cautiousness or impulsiveness, suspiciousness or trustfulness, generosity or meanness, prudence or profligacy, industriousness or indolence, optimism or pessimism. Two individuals may perform essentially the same action, yet do so in differing ways due to their distinctive temperamental dispositions. Both of them sweep and mop, but one does so sullenly, the other cheerfully. This makes it clear why simple descriptions of actions will be a poor way of assessing a person’s identity. A revealing description of the action will refer to the disposition motivating the action. In the household chore example, the first person cleans the floor resentfully and slowly, the action motivated by a mean disposition that hopes to make other members of the household feel guilty. The second person performs the same action swiftly and buoyantly, taking pleasure in efficiently reducing household entropy and benefiting everyone.
Basic temperamental dispositions commonly provoke regular and identifiable responses from other people. Thus a hostile, suspicious individual will typically encounter responses quite different from those experienced by a trusting, friendly individual. Repeated exposure to these standard responses to the person’s disposition will tend to generate further beliefs and dispositions, forming a mutually reinforcing cluster. Our suspicious and hostile individual will often spur others to back off, hold back, and keep quiet, leading her to form reinforced beliefs about people’s untrustworthiness while developing devious means of acquiring information about recalcitrant persons.
Apart from a disposition’s generating new traits as a result of other people’s responses, it will also directly lead a person to develop particular kinds of beliefs, habits, and desires. Thus the pessimist will develop self-defeating habits and predictable beliefs regarding the state of the environment, the health of the economy, and their probability of dying of heart disease.
Clearly dispositions constitute a considerable component of our overall psychological identity. Accurately determining the relative contribution of this component of connectedness is complicated by the intimate causal interactions between dispositions and other psychological components such as beliefs, values, abilities, desires, projects, and ideals. We will tend to develop dispositions to action that will further our values and projects. The dispositions we form will be selected by our beliefs and abilities: We will be disposed to act in ways that we believe will produce desired results that we see as within our abilities. The causation clearly goes in the other direction too: Our temperamental and somatic dispositions affect the likelihood that we will adopt particular values and projects. Someone of powerful physical makeup and aggressive disposition will likely place higher value on physically competitive games, and less on finer, more refined activities than will a contrary type. Dispositions, being more enduring that most beliefs and simple desires, will play a more significant role in maintaining connectedness over long periods of time. Yet, as I will argue below, dispositions are far from the most important component of diachronic identity.
Beliefs: Ordinary beliefs are a relatively insignificant component of psychological connectedness, plausibly to be ranked above only memory (in its narrow sense). A vast number of our everyday beliefs are transitory, formed specifically for particular situations and events. Many others last beyond the moment but have little implication for one’s identity. For example, I may believe that Seinfeld is the cleverest comedian currently on television, or that Intel’s P6 microprocessors will support faster computation than the PowerPC 501. Although these beliefs will have effects on my actions, in the absence of special background conditions such beliefs will have only localized, superficial, and weakly ramifying effects on my personality.
Another reason for giving the category of beliefs a low connectedness weighting stems from the realization that many beliefs are implicit and unarticulated, only becoming explicit when circumstances arise requiring a stand or demanding some action. Then, the crystallization of an explicit belief will be heavily filtered through our dispositions and values as they interact with the particular circumstances. This process indicates that originally implicit beliefs actually derive most of their importance for our personality from other traits, traits that play a role in shaping them into explicit form.
Beliefs can, of course, be far more significant than I have so far allowed. Many beliefs are trivial, but others are profound; many are transient, but others are enduring. Powerful beliefs may be simple in structure but more often are complexes of other beliefs. Such central beliefs or belief-systems we label with terms like ideology, religion, philosophy of life (or eupraxophy), principle, and morality. To the extent that we believe in an ideology or belief-system we will exhibit reasonably predictable regularities in our behavior, our other beliefs, and our attitudes—all the more so to the extent that we have ironed out personal inconsistencies and developed the ability to act on principle and resist errant desires.
A reservation regarding the degree of psychological importance to assign to beliefs considered in isolation should arise when we note that ideologies, religions, and moral systems are not only structured clusters of beliefs; they also include values, desires, and dispositions. We tend to talk of beliefs as though they can be cleanly distinguished from other parts of our personalities because they have long been bestowed this status as separately existing entities in folk psychology. Yet, typically, they may actually be merely one aspect we focus on in a complex psychological characteristic. Someone’s ‘belief’ that God is their savior cannot be adequately analyzed as a straightforwardly factual belief like the belief that Arnold Schwarzenegger has made millions of dollars acting in movies. The religious belief might partly consist in emotional dispositions such as a tendency to feel guilty, powerless, or worthless, and in a temperamental trait of locating responsibility for their life externally. So, while we should grant great psychological significance to certain kinds of beliefs, we should bear in mind their complex interrelatedness with other psychological components.
Abilities: Oddly, abilities have been ignored by most philosophers writing on identity (neither Parfit nor Rorty and Wong include them in their lists of characteristics). Physical, cognitive, and emotional abilities and skills play an undeniably sizable role in personality, especially if we focus on the self-phase. Possibly these writers intended to include abilities under the heading of dispositions. To some degree this is defensible in that dispositions and abilities are usually integrated. If I am disposed to do or think X, we would naturally expect me to have the ability to do or think X: I will rarely be disposed to do something that I am unable to do. Furthermore, many kinds of abilities are partly constituted by the appropriate disposition. We may be reluctant, for instance, to grant that someone has the ability to write a book unless she has the relevant dispositions (such as a disposition to write for its own sake, or in order to develop some urgent idea, or for rewards expected upon completion of the work). Nevertheless, while some dispositions may themselves partially constitute abilities, the latter class is not equivalent to the former: Many abilities can exist without one being disposed to exercise them. Also, for any ability, differing dispositions to exercise the ability can exist (since a disposition is individuated by a description of beliefs and desires, and one can want to exercise an ability for diverse reasons).
Not only should abilities be granted a status distinct from that of dispositions, they frequently influence which desires and dispositions we develop. We have already seen how this occurs naturally in the case of somatic dispositions where possessing a particular physiological constitution brings with it associated dispositions. This relation applies beyond somatic dispositions: We tend to have desires to engage in those activities at which we excel or find easy. Knowing that he is especially able at something, such as understanding and composing music, a person will tend to develop habits of awareness of opportunities for displaying and exercising his ability. This heightened awareness of relevant opportunities may be combined with social reinforcement and reward, turning the ability into a central personality trait, a trait that organizes and explains much of a person’s activities.
Abilities will appear to be a tremendously important psychological component, forcefully contributing to connectedness, if we focus on the short-term of a self-phase. Switching to a focus on the components of connectedness in changing persons over long stretches of time, this importance will diminish somewhat, at least relative to other components yet to be discussed (i.e., values and projects). Over time, old abilities may be weakened or lost (perhaps deliberately neglected) and new ones acquired. The acquisition of new abilities, while to some extent influenced by opportunity and happenstance, will be shaped primarily by the agent’s values and life projects. As with other components of personality, the causation will run in both directions: One’s projects will sometimes, and to some extent, be determined by the abilities one finds in oneself. In less reflective and ambitious persons abilities may have as much influence on the formation of projects as vice versa, but in highly reflective, imaginative, and ambitious persons (especially those committed to personal transformation) projects and values will motivate the extension of existing abilities, the neglect of irrelevant abilities, and the development of abilities conducive to personal projects. Basic capacities (approximate limits imposed by genetic, physiological, and neurological constraints) will have more enduring but less specific effects than abilities on the shape and development of personality, though even these can be modified by projects and values. (In the next chapter, I explore some current and future technological means that could allow changes even in basic capacities as we currently conceive of them. Under such circumstances basic capacities can be treated more like easily alterable abilities.)
Desires and Values: I will consider desires and values together since I understand values to be a particular type of desire (with important relations to beliefs). Standard explanations of human behavior proceed in terms of an agent’s beliefs and desires, so we should expect desires to be a crucial central component of anyone’s psychology. Obviously not all desires are equal in their contribution to someone’s identity, neither in their explanation of the behavior of a self-phase nor in accounting for the character and development of the self. A crude first attempt at distinguishing types of desires would divide stronger from weaker, transient from enduring, and instrumental from noninstrumental desires. Stronger desires will dominate over weaker desires and so, other things being equal, will have a greater effect on the agent’s action. Since the ceteris paribus condition often will not obtain, some weak desires may play a larger role in motivating action than some strong desires. This may occur, for instance, if the weaker desire comes into play in a more extensive range of situations.
Equally clearly, desires are more important the more persistent or enduring they are. A desire flaming brightly, pushing all else aside, on one occasion only to disappear after a moment will tell us less about a personality than a milder desire whose soft glow persists over years, gently influencing and moderating actions. The distinction between instrumental and noninstrumental desires cleanly slices the category in two in a way that may be implausible: A desire that is intrinsic in one context may be instrumental in another, and one desire may simultaneously be both: I enjoy hiking up mountains for its own sake and because it is an excellent form of exercise. Putting aside these complications, we can say that an instrumental desire plays a lesser role in our identity than an intrinsic desire in that the former is more a reflection of circumstances than the latter.
Apart from the foregoing distinctions, we bestow the term value only on a distinctive subset of our desires or wants. Economists say that every desire has a value to us which is measured by the next most highly valued thing we are willing to sacrifice for it (its ‘opportunity cost’). However, though every desire we have is of value to us in this normatively neutral sense, we do not and should not say that every desire is one of our values. Thus, if someone asks me what are my values, they would be surprised and puzzled if my answer were to begin “lemon meringue pie, a new novel by James P. Hogan, a sound board for my computer…” These lack generality and multifarious connections with other desires. An approach to the problem of distinguishing values from other desires (that many have found intuitively appealing) consists in a notion that our values are those of our desires with which we identify (in more than the sense of agreeing that they are our desires). Probably the best known account of what it is to identify with a desire is that developed by Harry G. Frankfurt. Since I will be adopting a different, though related, approach to making the desire/value distinction I will briefly explain why Frankfurt’s view is inadequate. In doing so I follow Stephen White’s arguments.
Frankfurt classifies desires as first-order and second- (or higher) order. A second order desire has another (first-order) desire as its object. My desire to eat chocolate chip cookies is a first-order desire; my desire that I not have or not act on this desire is a second-order desire. Frankfurt refers to second-order desires as volitions and goes on to develop an account of freedom of the will that need not concern us. What matters here is to see why Frankfurt’s volitions are inadequate as an account of our values, even though they seem to capture the intuitive notion that our values are those of our desires that we desire to have. Briefly, here are two arguments against Frankfurt’s view (I omit arguments showing that Frankfurt fails to solve the problem of free will that originally motivated his account):
(1) Frankfurt’s hierarchical view of desires involves an infinite regress. Although this objection has been couched in terms of a regress involving the condition for responsibility for acting on a first-order desire, it will work just as well if we state it terms of making a desire into a value, since both require identifying with the desire. The objection is that, on a hierarchical view like Frankfurt’s, for a first order desire to be a value it must be endorsed by a second-order volition. Suppose one does not have a third-order volition that one act in accordance with the second-order volition. In that case one has not identified with the second-order volition, leaving the second-order volition incapable of identifying the person with the first-order desire. One may even have a third-order desire that repudiates the second-order volition; this would also prevent the second-order volition from constituting an identification. Apparently, on hierarchical views, for one to identify with (be responsible for, validate as a value) a first-order desire that moves one to action, that desire must be endorsed at every level by a still higher-order volition.
An attempt might be made to avoid this difficulty by giving this condition for a desire to be a value: P’s first-order desire D is one of P’s values iff P has a second-order desire to have D and no third or higher-order desire not to have D. This formally removes the threat of infinite regress. It does so, however, only by removing much of the initial appeal of Frankfurt’s approach. The first-order desire can now count as a value even though it has not been endorsed in any strong sense. The first-order desire has been endorsed by another desire, but the second-order desire itself may be trivial or, more importantly, may stand in isolation from the person’s other desires. For a desire to be a value requires more than it being supported by one other desire. This account would allow a person to have many values, none of which supported or cohered with one another. The resort to higher-order desires does not adequately explain identification; we are still owed an explanation of what does.
(2) In general our higher-order desires will be closer to our true desires or values—closer to being desires with which we identify. This is plausible because a second-order desire is less likely to be unreflectively given. However, it is perfectly possible for a second-order volition to be as estranged from our personality as a first-order desire. As White states, “Take the second-order desire not to have or act on desires that were formed during a period of one’s life from which one is now alienated (say because one held religious views which one now repudiates), even when those desires would cohere perfectly with one’s present desires. This is a desire that one might struggle as hard to overcome as any of the first-order desires with which one fails to identify.”  Another example would be a superstitious second-order desire to refrain from making any decisions or take any chances after seeing a “bad omen.” Though second-order, this desire may be experienced as alien (one may have formed it in the past), having more in common with a compulsion or reflex than with a value.
What alternative is there to a hierarchical view of identification? How can we distinguish values from other desires? Stephen White provides an account that I find more convincing than Frankfurt’s (or that of Charles Taylor). I will therefore present and adopt White’s approach, modified by two reservations regarding the details of his account. According to White, values are those of our desires with which we identify, i.e., those desires that would survive in “ideal reflective equilibrium” (IRE)—desires having many connections to other desires, plus our unconditional desires (commitments). Having stated his conclusion, let me begin an explanation with this quotation:
Suppose one had complete control over one’s own noninstrumental desires. Suppose, for example, one had a pill that allowed one to eliminate noninstrumental desires that one preferred not to have, to add such desires that one wanted to have but lacked, and to increase or decrease the strengths of the desires in the resulting set... [L]et us call the set of desires that would emerge, given that one was aware of the basic facts of one’s motivational makeup, one’s ideal reflective equilibrium (IRE)... Let us say that the combination of access to the pill described and an awareness of the basic facts of one’s emotional makeup constitute conditions of IRE. And when a desire is in some subject’s IRE, I shall say that the desire is in IRE for that subject. 
It could only be one’s other desires that could motivate one to add or subtract desires, or to alter their strengths. One could not distance oneself from all of one’s desires and then make the decisions about which to keep, for then one would have no motivation of any kind, no basis on which to make any choices. Decisions about which desires to retain or eliminate would be based on relations of support or conflict between desires (just as some beliefs rationally are accepted or rejected as a result of their relations of support with one another). When desires conflict they will each provide motivation for the rejection of the other. A desire will be eliminated if it conflicts with too many other desires while lacking sufficient support from other desires for its retention.
It is not the strength of a desire that determines whether it is eliminated or retained. Someone’s desire for alcohol might be their single strongest desire in that it most strongly determined their actions and dominated all other desires whenever they came into conflict, yet if it conflicted with many other desires (such as desires to be healthy, retain a job, sustain rewarding relationships) they would eliminate it. White distinguishes motivational strength from evaluational strength. In this case, the desire for alcohol would have high motivational but low evaluational strength. Not only is motivational strength irrelevant to the elimination or retention of a desire in IRE, but so is whether the desire is of first or higher order. Since support is a matter of coherence, there is nothing to prevent first-order desires from eliminating second-order desires. Consider again the superstitious second-order desire not to make decisions or take any risks after seeing a supposedly bad omen. This second-order desire may conflict with an enormous number of first-order desires and so be eliminated. This coherentist account is far more plausible than supposing that in IRE we would retain the second-order desire simply because it has other desires as its objects.
We identify with those of our desires that are in IRE, that is, those of our desires from which we are not alienated. The desires with which we identify are then those which have high evaluational support. This account, so far, avoids the problems faced by hierarchical accounts, but needs refinement before it can adequately make the distinction between desires and values. Instances of desires that would exist in IRE yet which are not desires for things we value are easy to find. Consider preferences for one taste over another. As White states, “These are trivial desires in large part because they are not connected by relations of support to a significant number of other desires.”  One’s tastes would acquire a different status if they were tied into a network of mutually supporting desires. “Imagine, for example, that a taste for sweets, a preference for happy endings in fiction, and desires that made one prone to sentimentality were all connected by strong relations of mutual support. In this case it would be plausible to hold that a desire for sweets, if it were part of some agent’s IRE and supported by desires of the kind suggested, represented one of the agent’s values… Of course, this is plausible because we think of desires that make one prone to sentimentality as raising issues that engage our values.” 
In order to add a further refinement to his account, White introduces a distinction between conditional and unconditional desires by comparing a desire to pursue acting as a career with a desire to maintain one’s artistic integrity. Imagine a person with a present desire to pursue an acting career but who also believes that over most of the course of their life they are likely to prefer a less risky career teaching. That person would be likely be ready to change from acting to teaching at the point when her preference changed. In the case of a desire for artistic integrity, by contrast, a person might attach little importance to the belief that he might be made happier by money and fame throughout most of his life, and he might even take steps to bind himself from changing his mind in future. (White’s example brings to mind Parfit’s case of the liberal young nobleman who takes steps to ensure that he gives away his land to the peasants even if he should later become conservative.) Artistic integrity in this example is an unconditional desire, that is, a desire that some end be realized whether or not the desire persists.
Unconditional desires introduce a foundationalist element in the otherwise coherentist system. In eliminating a conditional desire, the fact that one will no longer feel the desire fully compensates for the fact that the desire will not be satisfied. But, according to White, this is no compensation if the desire we eliminate is an unconditional one. Eliminating an unconditional desire, though one will feel no loss after the elimination, will frustrate that desire (and supporting desires) since it was a desire that the state of affairs that is its object obtain in the future regardless of the existence of the desire. White concludes this means that in IRE conditional desires will always be eliminated in favor of unconditional desires, producing a two-tier system in which unconditional desires (commitments) can be thought of as foundational elements. “Within each tier, a desire’s evaluational strength is a function of its holistic support. But in cases of conflict between tiers, conditional desires are always adjusted to support unconditional desires and not vice versa.”  White refers to the unconditional desires in IRE as one’s conative core.
Our values, then consist of (a) those of our conditional, non-instrumental desires connected to many other desires in a mutually supportive network, and (b) our unconditional desires or commitments. I largely agree with this picture, with a couple of reservations. My first reservation concerns the conceptual device of ideal reflective equilibrium, especially given White’s description of its conditions involving fantastic pills capable of bestowing upon us perfect psychological self-constitution. If our values are those of our desires that would exist in IRE, and IRE is a purely hypothetical situation, how are we to discover our values in the real world? Do we really want to demarcate our values by means of a device that is not available to us? A slight reinterpretation of White’s use of IRE alleviates this concern. We can regard IRE as an idealization of our actual value-forming and validation processes, and allow that we can discover our values, with reasonable reliability, without ever achieving IRE. Every actual human being falls somewhere along a spectrum that stretches from IRE at one end to a totally unreflective, schizophrenically unintegrated state at the other. People close to the unintegrated extreme can be described as having many desires but few real values. The most introspective and self-constituting persons will have formed an extensive array of confidently held values, though they will always be capable of adjusting their desires both as they acquire superior self-knowledge through experience and as they form new desires needing to be placed into their economy of preferences.
My second reservation arises from doubts concerning the defensibility of the clean, two-tiered system of conditional and unconditional desires. Again, this seems to be an idealization of actual circumstances, in this case generated by focusing on instances close to opposite ends of a spectrum of conditionality. Is there really a sharp line between conditional and unconditional desires? According to White’s description a desire either is or is not unconditional; but are there any genuinely unconditional desires? And if we do have unconditional desires, should that protect them from elimination?
Consider a commitment to never lie to my friends. When I formed that desire I may have conceived of it as unconditional: I wanted to always stick to that commitment regardless of whether I later wanted to take the advantages of such lies. But now, reflecting on the desire in order to bring about IRE, I may see that it conflicts with too many other desires (including desires such as not to hurt my friend’s feelings through excessive truthfulness) and so may eliminate (or more likely modify) the desire. Surely most of our commitments are like this: Much less susceptible to modification or elimination than other desires, but not completely immune. In general, further reflection on one’s commitments can reveal them to be mistaken or oversimplified. Just as a rational person will hold no belief as absolutely unrevisable, there should (in IRE) be no absolutely unshakable commitments. When we first form a desire that seems to be unconditional, it may be because at that time we do not believe we could ever have a reason to question or reject that commitment. If we have a strong commitment to rationality, then all commitments will be conditional since they are open to changed conditions; they are conditional on being reasonable. Our most unconditional commitments will be those that we cannot imagine ever having good reason to abandon. If conditionality is a matter of degree, we may hold onto our more conditional desires at the expense of less conditional desires if the former turn out to be better supported by our system of desires as a whole.
If unconditionality is not a matter of degree, it won’t always be true that conditional desires will be adjusted to accommodate unconditional desires regardless of their relative degrees of systemic support. We may think of a desire as unconditional when we form it, but later eliminate it in favor of conditional desires when we come to see that the unconditional desire was based on misunderstanding or conflicts with what we now want. Given this adjustment to White’s picture, I will adopt the account as a plausible explanation of the distinction between values and other desires. Knowing what should count as values will be important in measuring connectedness, both because of the central importance of our values in our psychology and because of their role in the formation of personal projects.
Projects: Projects play a leading role in my account of psychological connectedness and continuity. In addition to this section, I will discuss projects further throughout the rest of the chapter, examining how they interrelate with our ideal self, our life plans, our values, and our sense of significance or meaning. We can begin to understand the nature and importance of projects by starting with the following definition offered by Loren Lomasky (in the context of developing a theory of the grounding of rights):
Some ends are not once-and-for-all acknowledged and then realized through the successful completion of one particular action. Rather, they persist throughout large stretches of an individual’s life and continue to elicit actions that establish a pattern coherent in views of the ends subserved. Those which reach indefinitely into the future, play a central role within the ongoing endeavors of the individual, and provide a significant degree of structural stability to an individual’s life, I call projects.
Lomasky describes an “Indiscriminate Evaluator” as someone who is open to motivation from one source at T1 and from a wildly disparate source at T2. “Various short stretches of his life, taken individually, would exhibit purposive activity, but the life as a whole would exhibit no coherence of practical activity... Being an Indiscriminate Evaluator would be like a heightened and interminable adolescence.”  The possession of personal, life-shaping projects is not a given feature of personal identity, unlike the possession of desires, memories, or somatic dispositions, for instance. It is perfectly possible to be an Indiscriminate Evaluator and, indeed, something very close to this is a good description of most children and many adolescents. Whereas we all have desires, memories, and various dispositions, being a purposive project pursuer requires periods of reflection in which values are adopted and means-ends reasoning undertaken. Just how far anyone goes in becoming a purposive project pursuer is up to them; the spectrum ranges from the diachronically chaotic behavior of the Indiscriminate Evaluator to the highly structured life of one who holds unswervingly to projects, never forgetting her plans nor acting inconsistently.
The project pursuer’s preferences not only reflect responses to particular situations as they arise, but also the different kinds of lives possible for her. Because of our ability to conceive of our existence over time, we are able to form preferences with a far wider scope than can be satisfied by particular actions in individual situations. The preferences with the broadest scope will be those for one sort of life over another. For one who has formed projects, it will be impossible to explain much of her behavior without first understanding her projects. Coming to understand her projects will enable us to discover the order supervening on her actions over time. Note the order of priority here in explaining a person’s behavior: Projects are explanatorily prior to individual actions. We may be unable to fathom the significance of a particular action to the agent until we discern the project that motivated it. We can explain specific actions by referring to projects, but we cannot understand someone’s projects simply by pointing to her actions one at a time.
What is the relationship between projects and values, as I presented the latter in the previous section? Projects are plans that structure activities taking place over stretches of time as long as a lifetime. They consist of an interrelated and integrated cluster of desires and beliefs concerned with effective means to the intermediate and final ends embodied in the project. Given the characterization of values as desires that are commitments or that have many relations of mutual support with other desires, it will be clear that the connection between values and projects is an intimate one. Other than for the simplest of projects (consisting of a minimal number of desires), the nature of projects as clusters of integrated desires and beliefs will suffice to ensure the desires involved will count as values. Projects of any ambition require reflection and planning to construct, necessitating both research and adjustment of desires to accommodate the project. This kind of reflection and adjustment of desires is one of the essential ways in which desires acquire the status of values. Some projects, such as learning to juggle, may not involve commitments or values. Our more significant projects (those I am concerned with here) typically will embody those relatively unconditional desires that, following White, I am calling commitments, or at least a well-integrated complex of values, desires, and beliefs. Consider, for example, a person who organizes and encourages support for private efforts to develop and construct space launch and habitation systems. In addition to practical reasoning regarding how to excite more people about the idea, how to generate funding, and which research to focus on, her project may embody commitments to values such as political independence and individual involvement, expansion of the human race beyond the confines of one planet, exploration of new frontiers, and optimism.
In terms of their contributions to personal continuity, are values primary and projects secondary, or vice versa? From one point of view values appear to be primary in that projects are formed in order to put values (especially commitments) to work. From this perspective, projects and the activities they enjoin are explainable in terms of their constituent values, giving values the greater significance in determining how a person lives her life. However, the structuring of clusters of values to form projects generates a supervenient order. (In the section focusing on life plans, I will explore how this supervenient order adds “meaningfulness” to a person’s life.) The economy of values essential to the formation of projects contributes substantial purpose and direction to a life, shaping behavior over time in ways that could not be explained by the individual values alone. Furthermore, once a project has been formed and implemented, it can generate new desires and values. New desires given birth by living the project may initially be instrumental desires, but some will come to acquire intrinsic aspects. For instance, someone whose project involves great physical effort may realize that a stoic attitude towards discomfort and pain will advance her goals; once she has internalized this realization, altering her self-conception, she may come to regard stoic fortitude as a personal commitment, something intrinsically valued.
Finally, I will make the obvious point that not all projects are reasonable in the sense of being well-considered. Some, especially weakly formed projects close to being mere fantasies or day-dreams, will consist of a cluster of desires some number of which would not survive in IRE (or even a little serious reflection). Such projects involve false beliefs and desires that would be eliminated once their implications were understood. (A Monty Python skit comes to mind, in which a mild-mannered accountant tells a job-placement clerk, with great enthusiasm, “I want to be a lion-tamer!” When flashed a frightening image of an actual lion, he recoils and abandons his wish. His delusion about the nature of lions reveals his project to require unexpected courage in addition to the desired excitement.) Even these unreasonable projects can play an important role in shaping a person’s life, though we should expect projects whose constituent desires (and beliefs) would survive in IRE (or extensive deliberation) to be more enduring and less frustrated by conflicts (both internal and external to the cluster), thereby having a more profound impact over the long term.
This completes my survey of the components of connectedness. The preceding survey of the nature and relative importance of the psychological components reveals that some kinds of connections are more significant than others. I have isolated various aspects of personality to determine their relative contribution to overall connectedness, but want to note again here that, while conceptually distinguishable, in practice some components will be hard to separate out. This interdependence and internal relatedness was exemplified by values and projects, where the latter depends on the former. We can count the weighting for projects to be their contribution to continuity minus that of values, so long as we bear in mind that projects cannot exist independently of values. In this section I have examined the relative importance of the different types of psychological attribute. A little way into the next section, I will look at several ways of assessing the centrality of particular attributes within each category.
Up to this point, in this chapter I have filled in Parfit’s account of psychological connectedness by examining the relative importance of the various components of connectedness and how they relate to one another. So far I have supplemented and deepened Parfit’s metaphysical view rather than questioned it. For the rest of the chapter I will make use of the elements of this expanded metaphysical account to argue that Parfit draws mistaken normative conclusions from his metaphysical account. I begin by questioning Parfit’s claim that once we accept reductionism we will see that our lives are less “deep” or significant. Then I define and argue for a view I call Transformationism. Transformationism is not a version of psychological reductionism; it is an account of the normative consequences of psychological reductionism. Transformation diverges from many of the normative consequences Parfit draws from the metaphysical view I share with him.
Parfit makes some striking claims about the psychological consequences of believing reductionism to be true. In the present section, I want to address the claim that personal identity is seen to be “less deep” when reductionism is accepted. According to this view, it follows from this that death is less bad and so we rationally should care about it less. I deny that these consequences follow, or need follow, from accepting reductionism. Death will normally be regarded as no less an evil, and lives need be no less deep. Parfit explains that, in coming to accept reductionism, he came to see death as less bad because his life is less “deep.” Parfit presents this view as his personal response to reductionism. He says that others may have a different response and he does not say this his response is rationally required, or even rationally defensible. Here are two versions of this view, with Parfit apparently holding the second, weaker version.
(a) Reductionism reveals that my life is less “deep” or significant, and rationally requires me to see my death as mattering less.
(b) Reductionism reveals that my life is less “deep” or significant, so that it is rationally acceptable to see my death as mattering less.
By contrast, I will argue that (a) is false, and (b) is highly questionable. My view is that:
(*) Changing from a belief in Non-Reductionism (or essentialism) to a belief in Reductionism should not lead me to believe that my life is less deep and should not lead me to feel that my death is less bad than I had thought.
Parfit sets out his view in the following selections:
On the Reductionist View, my continued existence just involves physical and psychological continuity. On the Non-Reductionist View, it involves a further fact. It is natural to believe in this further fact, and to believe that, compared with the continuities, it is a deep fact, and is the fact that really matters. When I fear that, in Teletransportation, I shall not get to Mars, my fear is that the abnormal cause may fail to produce this further fact. As I have argued, there is no such fact. What I fear will not happen, never happens. I want the person on Mars to be me in a specially intimate way in which no future person will ever be me. My continued existence never involves this deep further fact. What I fear will be missing is always missing.... When I come to see that my continued existence does not involve this further fact, I lose my reason for preferring a space-ship journey. But, judged from the standpoint of my earlier belief, this is not because Teletransportation is about as good as ordinary survival. It is because ordinary survival is about as bad as, or little better than, Teletransportation. Ordinary survival is about as bad as being destroyed and Replicated. [279-80]
When I believed the Non-Reductionist View, I also cared more about my inevitable death. After my death, there will be no one living who will be me. I can now redescribe this fact. Though there will later be many experiences, none of these experiences will be connected to my present experiences by chains of such direct connections as those involved in experience-memory, or in the carrying out of an earlier intention. Some of these future experiences may be related to my present experiences in less direct ways. There will later be some memories about my life. And there may later be thoughts that are influenced by mine, or things done as a result of my advice. My death will break the more direct relations between my present experiences and future experiences, but it will not break various other relations. This is all there is to the fact that there will be no one living who will be me. Now that I have seen this, my death seems to me less bad.
Instead of saying, “I shall be dead”, I should say, “There will be no future experiences that will be related, in certain ways, to these present experiences.” Because it reminds me what this fact involves, this redescription makes this fact less depressing. 
Parfit argues that when we fear that it will not be us who gets to Mars by Teletransportation, we are fearing the absence of a deep further fact. When we come to accept, or remind ourselves of, the truth of psychological reductionism, we see that our ordinary existence never involves such a further fact. This removes any reason for preferring a long spaceship journey over Teletransportation. However, it also means, Parfit claims, that ordinary survival is about as bad as been destroyed and recreated. I think this conclusion is mistaken. Coming to believe Reductionism does not and should not diminish the importance of my life continuing, nor reduce the badness of death. This is primarily because it seems to me that our concern for our lives is not tied to particular metaphysical beliefs about personal identity in the way Parfit’s argument requires. I will be brief here, since I will focus on this point in a later section.
Parfit’s hypothetical traveler to Mars, upon realizing the truth of Reductionism, comes to devalue their ordinary existence. Placing myself in that position, I find my response would differ: Upon accepting, or reminding myself of the truth of Reductionism, I would understand that I was mistaken to fear Teletransportation—in fact, having grown up watching Star Trek, I find that I have no fear of Teletransportation (except for the possibility of malfunction, a danger that applies just as much to the lengthier spaceship voyage). Also, I have found that, having accepted Reductionism and having thought about it for many hundreds of hours, I value my existence and its continuation no less than before. The appropriate response to realizing the falsity of Non-Reductionism is not to devalue our existence but to realize that we had false metaphysical beliefs about what our identity depended on. In the past, no one had much idea of why children acquired many of the somatic and psychological characteristics of their parents. Perhaps some thought it was due to God’s will, or to the passage of a spiritual essence from parents to offspring. Now we explain these similarities in terms of genetic transmission. What matters to parents is that their children are offspring of them, not the particular underlying metaphysical mechanism responsible. Or consider that it was once believed that living creatures differed from the non-living by possessing a vital force. Now we know there is no reason to believe in a vital force; life is explicable in terms of self-regulating biochemical processes and systems. We did not conclude that we were not really alive; we reinterpreted what it was to be alive, but continued to find the important difference in the functional differences between life and non-life. Similarly, in coming to accept Reductionism, we should not devalue our existence nor see death as any less an evil. We are concerned primarily with living and not with whether we are reducible rather than irreducible.
Perhaps these analogies will stir objections that personal identity is different from the value of children or the nature of life. In the case of having children, changing our beliefs in the underlying mechanism that produces children does not affect our attitudes towards our children because what we care about is the characteristics of our children and our relationships with them. These are not affected by the discovery of an unexpected mechanism. But, the objection might go, a discovery that our identity is not some further fact but is reducible to psychological connectedness and continuity does matter because we have discovered that we are not what we thought we were. In the children case, what mattered to us was unaffected by the change in beliefs. In the identity case, what mattered most to us (identity) turns out to be unlike what we had thought. Though the children analogy might diverge in this way, it seems that the vitalism analogy remains. For the objection to work it must have been rational to believe that what really mattered was the unchanging ego or soul or self. Once we understand the person as reducible to psychological connectedness and continuity we see that what really mattered to us does not exist. Our lives now seem less significant and death less bad.
This view strikes me as untenable. Some changes of belief about ourselves will have normative implications, but this one should not have the suggested consequences. What we really care about in being who we are consists in our having a set of interests, desires, values, beliefs, and goals. If these are thought to reside in and depend on a nonmaterial essence, as in the Non-Reductionist view, then we can reasonably attribute significance to this essence. If these elements of our existence are actually separable from our essence, why would be attribute significance to the essence? John Locke, who divided the person into three parts, body, personality, and soul, understood this. He believed that if the three could be separated we would be concerned with the personality rather than the vehicle of the soul or essence. So if, as Non-Reductionists, we believed that the nonmaterial essence was what gave life significance, we would be mistaken. Perhaps we acquired the idea under the influence of a religion. When we become Reductionists and we see that what really mattered to us all along was our personal attributes, we will see that life has not lost significance nor has death become less of an evil. How could it make sense to believe that what was important in our survival was the existence of a nonmaterial essence unrelated to our personalities, to our desires, values, and concerns?
Parfit claims that “Even if we are not aware of this, most of are Non-Reductionists. If we considered my imagined cases, we would be strongly inclined to believe that our continued existence is a deep further fact, distinct from physical and psychological continuity, and a fact that must be all-or-nothing.” Although he does not explicitly say so, it seems that this purported fact may be used to argue for the rationality of most people responding to Reductionism by devaluing their lives and seeing death as less of an evil. I believe that, to the extent that Parfit is right that most of us are unreflectively Non-Reductionists, this supports my thesis that for most people it is not rational to devalue life and minimize the badness of death. Most people are inclined to believe that they persist through imagined changes not because they believe they are a thing entirely distinct from their personalities, but because they do not cling to their current phase. In our unreflective way, most of us believe we survive over the long term because we place high value on the process of which we-now are a phase. That is, we value continuity more than connectedness. When we come to understand and accept Reductionism, we realize there is no further fact about our identity, but we also recognize that it makes no sense to be concerned with the existence of such a further fact. What most of us care about is living, not being all-or-nothing. Thus, becoming a Reductionist does not, for most people, motivate a devaluation of our lives nor a diminution in the badness of death. Coming to accept Reductionism will, of course, have some effect on our concerns. If we believed that we survived the death of our body, then we may now be more concerned about death. While the loss of a belief in an after-life can rationally motivate a change in our concerns about death (and the significance of life), I do not see how we could reasonably be less concerned about death simply because we now believe we are not an irreducible, unchanging entity.
So, on becoming a Reductionist, devaluing our lives and seeing death as less bad is not rationally required (as Parfit seems to agree) and, if I am correct about the way most people see themselves, most people will not have reason to respond in the way Parfit says he responded to Reductionism. If this response is not rationally required, and is not rationally motivated for most people, is it rational for anyone? Should we say that Parfit’s response is a perfectly rational (but not required) response to a new apprehension of the metaphysical facts, or should we take the stronger line that this new apprehension cannot rationally motivate anyone to respond this way? I believe that a good case can be made for the stronger line, but doing so would require an extensive detour into ethics and metaethics. Rather than trying to establish the strong position here, I will suggest what it depends on, state my view about that, then let the matter rest.
Parfit focuses on connectedness more than continuity, and I the reverse. This is why he thinks the discovery that there is no all-or-nothing, irreducible essence of self diminishes us and makes death less bad. In caring about his self-stages to the extent that they are connected, he expresses a overriding, highly conservative value. He is saying that it would have better to have turned out to be an irreducible, unchanging entity. The question of whether Parfit’s response to reductionism is rational then comes down to the question of the reasonableness of valuing stasis and metaphysical irreducibility. If we have no reason to place our concern in such an entity, then we cannot feel we have lost anything when we discover we are not such an irreducible, static entity. The strong version of the view—(a) above—must claim that this is the only rational value; thus the discovery that stasis and irreducibility do not constitute us should lead us to see our lives as less significant and death as less bad. The strong view requires that it is irrational to value development, growth, progress, and new experiences. This should be sufficient to dispose of the strong view. I do believe that rationality requires these pro-developmental, dynamic values as opposed to the anti-change values implied by Parfit’s view. That would mean that is not rational to see death as less bad and life as less deep in coming to accept Reductionism. As I said, I will not take the long side-track necessary to argue that pro-developmental, pro-transformation values are rational whereas as pro-stasis, pro-irreducibility values are irrational. I will not assert that Parfit’s view—view (b)—is wrong. I claim that (a) is definitely wrong, and that (b) is questionable.
Parfit, and others who share his reaction to Reductionism, may cease to make long-term plans, engage in long-term projects, and give up a conception of their life as a whole when they come to accept Reductionism. If they choose to focus on their current phase they will indeed care less about death and see their lives as less significant. But they could have adopted this pattern of concern just as easily while still Non-Reductionists. As Non-Reductionists we see ourselves as entirely distinct from our values, desires, beliefs, etc. (not just distinct from our current characteristics). There seems to be nothing in this belief that prevents anyone from being concerned with the present rather than with their life as a whole. If a move from Non-Reductionism to Reductionism does in fact sometimes lead to a devaluation of life and a diminution in the perceived badness of death, it may be due to other changes in belief (not necessarily rational changes) that accompany this one. For instance, when we are Non-Reductionists we may also believe we have a place in a divine plan and this imbues our life with significance. When we accept Reductionism we may abandon this and other beliefs, reacting with disappointment. We may not immediately (or ever) come to form an alternative framework within which our lives continue to be as significant (or more significant now that we are no longer mere tools of a cosmic plan). All the reasons and factors explored in the next section, regarding concern for life as a whole, or long stretches of a life, I believe rationally ground concern for our life regardless of adoption of Reductionism.
Transformationism: Connectedness vs. Continuity
When we consider our future self-phases, when we consider how much of our current rewards and opportunities to sacrifice for greater rewards and opportunities in the future, on what basis are we to decide? Should our concern for our future self-phases be proportionate to the degree of psychological connectedness between our current and future phases? Are some connections more important to us than others? Should we give weight to the fact of psychological continuity even when we have few or no direct psychological connections to a distant future self? Or should we, like Stephen Darwall and Parfit’s S-Theorists, give equal weight to all of our future phases, regardless of connectedness? One might plausibly hold any of the following four positions:
(a) A’s concern for (later phase) B ought to vary directly according to the extent to which A and B are psychologically connected (i.e., to the extent that A “survives in” B).
(b) A’s concern for (later phase) B defensibly may be greater than the degree of psychological connectedness between them so long as A and B are continuous, i.e., connected by a chain of self-stages, adjacent pairs of which are strongly connected.
(c) A’s concern for any (later phase) B (with whom A is psychologically continuous) ought to be unaffected by the degree of connectedness between them.
Parfit holds a position close to that of (a). He thinks both connectedness and continuity matter, and says (p301) that he knows of no argument to show that one is more important than the other: “I shall assume that neither relation matters more than the other. This is not the assumption that their importance is exactly equal. To a question like this there could not be an exact answer.”  However, throughout his discussions and arguments Parfit seems to put far more stress on connectedness than on continuity. He cares less about his more distant self-stages and, more revealingly, cares no more for a future self-stage with whom he is not directly connected than he cares for another person. I will take this strong view as my foil, though Parfit may hold the following weaker view:
(a*) A’s concern for (later phase) B defensibly may vary directly according to the extent to which A and B are psychologically connected (i.e., to the extent that A “survives in” B).
I agree with Parfit in rejecting a position like (c), according to which only psychological continuity matters, and loss of connectedness matters not at all. As Parfit notes, “some reductions in connectedness might be welcome, or be improvements. But we cannot plausibly claim that it would not matter if there was no psychological connectedness.”  Most of us would regret losing all our current memories, even if continuity were maintained (two days from now I will remember only the experiences I will have tomorrow). We would regret losing some of our desires, intentions, and characteristics. So connectedness does matter apart from continuity. Since Parfit does, at least in principle, allow that continuity matters in itself, he could hold position (b), though his stress on connectedness puts him closer to (a). If he holds (a*) he might hold (b), though without emphasizing it.
Position (b) brings out the distinction between the conditions necessary for a person to survive, i.e., for personal continuity, and the conditions necessary for a person’s future self-phase to matter to them. Parfit’s own usage of “what matters” suffers from an ambiguity: We could mean “what matters for us to have survived or continued”, or “whether our survival matters to us.” Continuity suffices for us to say that logically or numerically the same person has continued to exist through time. But a person reasonably may not be concerned about a future self-stage if they were to believe that their current and future stages would be completely unconnected, or if they thought they would become someone very different from their current phase – someone with conflicting and repulsive values. Consider Parfit’s own example of the radical, revolutionary youth who fears he will become corrupted into being a satisfied supporter of the status quo. The youth might agree that he would have become that later person because continuity would be maintained by a process of gradual transformation, but his later phase would not have the qualities that matter in the youthful radical’s survival.
The position expressed by (b) comes closest to my view. According to (b), your degree of concern for your future self-phase need not be tied to the degree of overall connectedness between phases and may greatly exceed it. Going a little further: Depending on our values, many of us will have positive reasons to have future-concern more than proportional to degree of connectedness. I will call my account of the normative consequences of Reductionism Transformationism. To define this view more clearly, I will say I want Transformationism to express:
Earlier stage A may reasonably care about later stage B more than proportionally to the degree of connectedness between them; i.e., continuity is significant, not just connectedness. This is because:
(i) the person may value their life as a whole (or long stretches of their life).
(ii) B may be closer to A’s conception of an ideal self.
(iii) the person may hold self-transformation as a central goal.
If connectedness is all that matters to me then, so long as a high percentage of my current characteristics exist in my future self-stage, I am not concerned if they constitute a tiny proportion of that future self-stage. In fact, the longer I want to live, and the more I want to grow, the smaller I will want the proportion of my later phase constituted by my current self. My later self-phase will continue to contain the characteristics of the earlier phase but will add more and more new characteristics and abilities. So, I want connectedness to be high, while being unconcerned about my future phase possessing many qualities I now do not possess.
On the other hand, if continuity were all that mattered (or all that need matter), I would not care if connectedness moved towards zero, so long as this reduction happened gradually and was not because my later phase was degenerating or fading away. (This is not the only condition. In the next chapter I will examine the importance of the source and degree of integration of changes in connectedness. A series of changes in personality forced upon someone has a different significance than a series of transformations initiated or at least integrated by that person.) While continuity alone may suffice for persistence of an individual, it will matter to us that at least some of our current personality be exhibited by any later phase (assuming we do not totally loathe ourselves!).
In fact, both connectedness and continuity matter to me: I want as much of my current phase to survive in later phases as is compatible with my progress. Though I will survive if connectedness eventually falls to zero so long as continuity is maintained, I would prefer some connectedness since I value many of my current characteristics. If I liked everything about my current self-phase, the ideal prospect would be where connectedness remains 100% yet my current characteristics constitute a small part of my later phase because my later phase is magnificently grander than me-now: My future phase has more memories, additional experiences, greater wisdom, a wider range of abilities, stronger virtues, and so on. Since there are aspects of myself I’d like to trim away, I’d actually prefer connectedness to drop below 100%, but not much below. So only continuity is necessary for me to continue existing, but connectedness is desirable too.
Disproportionality of Connectedness and Concern
Before arguing for the Transformationist normative claims, I will expand on the metaphysics of Reductionism in a way that will affect the normative conclusions we may draw. My claim is:
Connectedness often is higher than at first apparent (higher than Parfit’s view suggests) because:
(i) some psychological connections are more important than others.
(ii) some connections are instrumental to others, and behavior, being instrumental to the satisfaction of intrinsic desires, beliefs, and projects, can change enormously without much impact on connectedness.
According to this claim, connectedness often is higher than at first apparent. (So, to the extent that degree of concern tracks connectedness, concern for future phases will be higher than we might think prior to recognizing these points.) If we compared earlier and later stages of a person, counting connections simply, we may conclude that the stages are only weakly connected. The later stage, it may appear, exhibits only a few attributes of the earlier stage. Two factors may lead us to change our assessment of the extent of connectedness. The first factor – one already familiar from earlier in this chapter – suggests we adjust estimates of connectedness by weighting the attributes being counted. The idea of weighting attributes incorporates several adjustments: Some psychological features are experienced more intensely than others; some types of attribute are more important than others, and within any type some characteristics will be more central to behavior than others.
I will not spend much time explicating these three ways of weighting connections since I have already covered them, except for intensity. The intensity of an attribute obviously contributes something to the attribute’s effect on personality. Intensity seems nevertheless to count for relatively little of an attribute’s weighting. More important is whether a characteristic persists over time (as I wrote earlier in the chapter). Under special circumstances, we might argue, an intense but short-lived desire might have a major impact on us. For instance, if we acted on a fleeting impulse of anger, lashed out and harmed someone, the consequent chain of events (guilt, unpopularity, imprisonment) could lead us to develop quite differently than in an alternate future. Even such a case fails to show that the intensity of the desire itself constituted a substantial part of the individual’s personality. The psychological direction in which the perpetrator develops as the consequences unfold will tell us far more about his other attributes (dispositions, values, beliefs) and the choices they lead him to than about the importance of the troublemaking desire.
The intensity of a belief will typically also show less significance than the nature of the belief: A strongly held belief whose subject matter is uncontroversial (e.g., a belief that air is predominantly nitrogen) will typically have less effect on behavior and personality than a personal and controversial belief (e.g., a belief that one’s duty is to overthrow the government).
Another way of weighting attributes involves adjusting for the fact that some kinds are more influential on a personality than others. Since I’ve already examined this in the section “Measuring Psychological Connectedness” I won’t be detained by the question here. I will simply restate my conclusions that memories and simple beliefs as two classes of personal attribute will produce a less important effect on a personality over time than will attributes in the class of values and projects. Overall connectedness may be larger or small than we would estimate if we counted each type of connection equally. If all a person’s specific memories were lost in an accident, but all of his values, projects, and basic dispositions were intact, we would far more easily recognize him as the same person than if the latter attributes were destroyed while his memories, simple beliefs, and standard desires were retained.
Even after adjusting our weighting to allow some types of attribute to count more than others, we still need to allow for the completely individual variations in the relative importance or centrality of specific attributes within each category. Obviously some desires, dispositions, and abilities contribute more to an individual’s personality than others; some are more central than others. We get total connectedness by weighting each type of attribute, then summing them. We can think of a similar process resulting in each type of component. We can examine all the particular psychological features for each component type (e.g., all the particular abilities), assign each a weighting depending on its centrality to personality, then sum them. On what basis can we assess a trait’s degree of centrality to a person’s personality?
No single standard of centrality of attributes will suffice to guide us accurately. Five complementary standards come to mind:
(1) The extent of its effects on other traits; the extent to which dispositions, beliefs, desires, habits, attitudes, and actions are dependent on it.
(2) The extent of its contextual effects, that is, the extent to which a trait is operative in various spheres of life (such as work and leisure, public and private life) and in differing kinds of relationship.
(3) Persistence: The degree to which it is ingrained in a person’s character and resistant to change.
(4) The extent to which it dominates other traits when they come into conflict.
(5) Subjective or personal significance: The extent to which the person regards herself as fundamentally changed if the trait ceases or alters greatly. The person need not have succeeded in acting from it habitually. The trait may seen as central despite such lack of success so long as she struggles to develop the trait and she commits herself to changing into someone for whom the trait is integral to action. These subjectively significant traits frequently act as the basis for self-evaluation and concomitant self-esteem.
These measures of centrality of a trait will frequently correlate, though this correlation is not essential. A trait may appear central in one dimension but peripheral in another. A trait might have effects on many other traits yet always yield to other traits when they conflict. It may operate in many spheres of life and dominate when in conflict and yet be regarded as unimportant by the person. This last type of centrality—subjective or personal significance—stands apart from the rest in that the others may be objectively assessed, at least in principle.
Some examples of how attributes differ in various ways in their degree of centrality: A memory of triumphing over an enduring barrier may be more central than a memory of a visit to the beach. The ability to compose music may be more central in its effects on our personality than an ability to stand on one leg for a long time. A disposition to critically analyze one’s behavior and personality will have far more widely ramifying effects than a disposition with a more narrowly bounded object. A value of doing good work in return for the pay may be an important value yet be less significant than a value that applies in a broader range of contexts, such as a value of honesty and openness. Projects of narrow scope, such as cataloguing a book collection, will involve fewer abilities, desires, and values and have far less significant effects than a project involving the writing of a book or planning on entering a new career.
After weighting attributes in these ways, we still need to take into account the second factor affecting estimates of connectedness. This involves distinguishing between features of a person that are intrinsic and those that are instrumental. The intrinsic/instrumental distinction can influence in two ways our estimate of the actual rather than superficially apparent extent of connectedness. First, our intrinsic attributes (desires, beliefs, values, etc.) lead us to take various actions when we believe them to be instrumentally effective in expressing the attribute. These instrumental behaviors may change, perhaps drastically, while the motivating attributes behind the scenes persist largely unchanged. Second, some of our values, beliefs, and projects may form part of us only tentatively, in so far as they further other, intrinsically significant, attributes. This means that a substantial proportion of a person’s attributes might change without a resulting significant reduction in connectedness, if change is limited to the instrumental attributes.
According to the first point, a large change in behavior does not necessarily indicate notable change in connectedness. As we change our beliefs about which actions, habits, and practices effectively move us toward our goals, our behavior will change. Observed changes in behavior of apparently similar scope can indicate different actual changes in connectedness. Suppose Bill leaves his job as a computer analyst for the CIA and takes a job lobbying Congress for changes in the educational system. Bill’s daily activities will now be quite different. He will make many phone calls and write letters rather than being hunched over his keyboard. He may dress more smartly. He may travel more, sleep different hours, and talk about improving education rather than about how his software will track down foreign infiltrators and “unAmerican” citizens. We might interpret these changes in behavior to indicate a substantial reduction in connectedness between his CIA-phase and his lobbyist-phase. A superficial assessment of the degree of connectedness between these phases, an assessment that assumes behavioral change must be proportional to underlying change in attributes, could turn out far from the truth. If we understand Bob better we might reach different conclusions: Both Bob the CIA-analyst and Bob the lobbyist display an abiding and deeply felt fear of the corruption of some ideal conception they have of American society. As a CIA analyst, Bob thought he was in a good position to help crush activities he believed to threaten the established order. Later, he came to doubt the effectiveness of his work, perhaps because he found his tasks too difficult to complete, or because of bureaucratic barriers to the implementation of his work. After much thought, with no diminution in the depth or intensity of his values, dispositions, and ideology, he concludes that he can better promote his goals if he can change the ideas inculcated in state schools.
According to the second point, a substantial proportion of a person’s attributes (not merely their behavior) might change without a resulting significant reduction in connectedness, if change is limited to the instrumental attributes. Suppose that Susan, throughout the first 25 years of her life, holds honesty to others as a value. Suppose she not only claims she holds honesty as a value but also acts on it with admirable consistency. Observing her at the age of 26 or 27 we might find her lying, distorting truth, and covering up on quite a few occasions. It could be that her intrinsic values have changed. She might have held honesty as an intrinsic value until she was 25 but abandoned it after that. Still, we cannot infer such a change in intrinsic attributes simply from her changed behavior. Perhaps Susan never valued honesty in itself. She may have previously professed and practiced honesty because she thought honesty was an effective way to show her benevolence, and because she believed that her desires that others like her and give her breaks for her shortcomings were more likely to be fulfilled with this policy. She might later have decided that cautious deceit brought benefits overweighing the risks and that the nature of her job (giving care to the terminally ill, for instance) required judicious deceit if she were act benevolently.
The foregoing example involved instrumental values. Since values form a subset of desires, we can expect that desires generally may be held instrumentally. If we give up an instrumental desire but retain the intrinsic desire which motivated it, again we may discount the reduction in connectedness. Some projects may be instrumental to the achievement of intrinsic desires, values, and other broader, deeper projects. Even some beliefs may be held instrumentally. A change in belief may not, in itself, indicate any significant change in psychology. It seems that holding a belief in order to achieve some other intrinsically desired end or to maintain some other important belief has to happen largely unconsciously: It would be hard to maintain belief in something when you are fully aware that you believe it only because you find it useful. Yet instances of this suggest themselves readily. A devout Christian, who tenaciously values faith and obedience to religious authorities, might adopt a belief (perhaps concerning the age of the Earth or the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin) because it supported or was required by her central religious beliefs. The Eurocommunist Marxists of the Stalin era under orders from the Soviet Union frequently made themselves believe the contrary of what they had been told to believe before. A tricky doublethink allowed them to believe whatever they believed it their duty to believe, whatever would bring on the revolution.
Accurate assessments, then, of changes in connectedness, require us to allow for differential weighting of attributes, and to distinguish the intrinsic from the instrumental features of a person. These observations mesh with what I have previously written and have yet to write concerning the primary importance of projects, commitments, and basic enduring values in unifying a self. I will note here that sometimes we hold actions and personal attributes to be of symbolic significance. These seem to fit into the intrinsic/instrumental distinction rather uncomfortably. We could say symbolic actions have instrumental importance because they are means of expressing and affirming particular values and beliefs. Yet such actions often come to acquire intrinsic importance after a long association with the thing symbolized.
My account of the normative consequences of psychological reductionism—Transformationism—states:
Earlier stage A may reasonably care about later stage B more than proportionally to the degree of connectedness between them. This is because:
(i) the person may value their life as a whole (or long stretches of their life), that is, they may value continuity as much as or more than connectedness. (They value being a person and not just being a person-phase.)
(ii) B may be closer to A’s conception of an ideal self.
(iii) the person may hold transformation (development, growth), as a central goal.
On the first part of this view, I will argue that we have practical reasons for concerning ourselves with our life as a whole: The Self-Interest Theory (S), at least as Parfit defines it, contends that it would be irrational for me to care less about my more temporally distant (and so less connected) self-phase. I side with Parfit in rejecting this view. S holds that continuity is everything and connectedness nothing in a rational determination of our future-concern. From all of the preceding discussion it will be clear that I agree with Parfit in holding that it can be perfectly rational to care less about those future self-phases sufficiently differing from our current phase.
However, I concur with Adams when he claims that we can reasonably have a pattern of concern in which we care about our farther future phases just as much (or nearly as much) as our nearer future phases. That is, our degree of interest in and concern for our future stages need not vary according to the degree of connectedness, within the normal variations that occur in human life. Such a pattern of concern, partially uncoupled from variations in connectedness, need not depend in any way on nonreductionist beliefs. The position I support, then, disagrees not only with S, but also with the view that it is irrational to care more than proportionally to connectedness. This latter position may be Parfit’s, though it seems more likely that his position is the weaker one that: it is rationally defensible to care only in proportion to connectedness. I will take the stronger position as my foil.
This result comes about partly because variations in connectedness over a life may be less than supposed once we allow for the lower weighting and instrumental status of many attributes. Even after adjusting for these factors, we can rationally hold concern for our future phases more than proportionally to the degree of connectedness. We can reasonably concern ourselves with our future without close attention to the extent of connectedness (though an anticipated massive break in connectedness might make it impossible for us to relate to our future). In fact practically everyone does this. In practice, we do not know how we will turn out, or what might happen to us to alter our direction. Regardless, most adult persons (at least some of the time) show strong concern for their future. Without this, no one would buy life insurance nor plan their finances for the further future, including preparing for retirement.
Pointing out how people actually act, a critic might respond, cannot establish the reasonableness of such action. After all, most people also believe in astrology, gods, and other superstitions. Most people have not read Parfit and probably have never considered the rationality of their pattern of future-concern. This response, perhaps controversially, puts the burden of establishing rationality on the defender of the standard practice. We might reply that the burden of proof lies on those who claim the irrationality of an almost universal practice. But we can do better than this; we can adduce positive considerations in favor of concern with life as a whole. This will allow us to proclaim the reasonableness of this pattern of concern until and unless the critic can refute these considerations.
To some extent we have to take as given the things that we care about in a human life. Much of what matters to us about our lives cannot be found in any single experience nor in a short phase of a life. Parfit’s view implies that we should care less about persons or lives as such and more about experiences. It is the nature of the experience that Parfit stresses, not the life within which it occurs. Susan Wolf suggests that “If the reason we care about persons is that persons are able to live interesting, admirable, and rewarding lives,” Wolf argues, “we may answer that time slices of persons, much less experiences of time slices, are incapable of living lives at all.” Apart from the experiences we are having right now, it seems that most of our interest in the quality of experiences is due to our interest in the persons whose experiences they are or will be. Implicit in Parfit’s arguments appears to be the belief that we would or rationally should lose no interest in the quality of experiences if we lost interest in lives as wholes.
We have practical reasons to concern ourselves with our lives as a whole (or long stretches of them) rather than with the experiences of our current phase (and phases closely connected with it). Adopting my life as a whole as a project allows me to engage in activities and achieve rewarding results that would otherwise be closed to me. If I concern myself with my life as a whole I will be able to commit myself to a scholarly or commercial enterprise that may take many years to complete. If I do not regard the person who will complete the enterprise as me, I will be unable to take satisfaction in my tasks since they will lack the significance of being an integral part of the grand scheme. By focusing on myself as a person rather than myself as a phase, I gain satisfaction from knowing that I will complete the project and enjoy the rewards, even though my current phase will not. Similarly, having taken my life as my project I am able to take on the responsibility of long-term commitments such as marriage, raising children, and long-term loans. I can also commit myself to personal growth and development even in directions I cannot foresee, and I can take an interest in the congruence and meaning of my life as a whole. I can choose and evaluate my actions in terms of their place in my life in addition to their effects on the way I feel right now. The significance of self-concern (rather than self-phase or experience-concern) will emerge further in the subsection Structuring a Meaningful Life.
Might not Parfit reply that he does concern himself with life as a whole. He merely determines the limits of a life differently, so that a life is bounded by the limits of connectedness. This reply cannot work, however. Parfit does understand identity as connectedness and continuity, so that a life remains the life of one person so long as there is psychological continuity. The bounds of a life, for Parfit, are determined by continuity, while the extent of concern is determined by connectedness. Parfit therefore concerns himself with person-phases rather than with a person and their life as a whole.
For the sake of consistency, I should note here that although I talk of concern with one’s life as a whole, in common with Wolf’s mode of expression, I believe these considerations do not necessarily move us all the way from concern with current experiences to concern with our entire lives. Long stretches of a life (between the extremes of which there are few psychological connections) can manifest qualities of consistency, responsibility, virtue, vice, and significance. In the case of an expected life of great longevity (especially if we find a cure for aging), it may make little sense to try to value your life as a whole. You may be unable to conceive of what you will become or want to achieve in the distant future, other than perhaps continuing to hold certain open-ended values and tendencies like self-transformation and self-improvement. In the case of lives of great longevity, we can interpret “concern with a whole life” to actually mean concern with the longest stretch of a life within our current experience as humans.
Parfit criticizes Wolf’s argument from two angles: He doubts some of the undesirable consequences (such as shallower relationships) would follow from caring about psychological connections rather than persons. He also argues that it cannot be rational to adopt a pattern of concern simply on the basis that it would have good effects. From the foregoing it will be clear that I agree with much of what Wolf claim about the benefits of relating to our own and other persons’ lives as a whole (or long stretches of lives). Nevertheless I accept some of Parfit’s criticism of the supposed disadvantages of caring about people as R-related beings. Concern for people tied to their characteristics may lead to shorter relationships (if those involved change in different directions) but this does not mean the relationships will be any shallower while they exist. As Parfit says “Though such changes may remove the causes of this love, they do not affect what these causes are.” Parfit goes too far with this point, however. While relationships may not become shallower, we can gain other kinds of rewards from the more enduring relationships not strictly tied to connectedness. We may learn more about people and come to have a broader concern for our fellow persons.
More significant is Parfit’s objection that, even if caring about lives as a whole rather than about R-relatedness has desirable effects, this cannot show such a pattern of concern to be rational: “It would be irrational, for example, not to care about future Tuesdays. If something will happen on a Tuesday, this is no reason for caring about it less. But, if we shall have to endure weekly ordeals, and could schedule these for Tuesdays, it might be better for us if we had this pattern of concern. This would give us a reason to try to become in this respect irrational… On her [Wolf’s] view, the rationality of this attitude depends entirely on its effects. I agree that, if some attitude has good effects, we have a reason to try to have this attitude. But Consequentialism is not the whole truth about rationality. Whatever the effects, it would be irrational not to care about future Tuesdays.” [832-3]
I do not want to become mired in a lengthy analysis of theoretical and practical rationality, nor do I think it necessary to defend Wolf from Parfit. Since I take rationality to essentially involve a concern for the truth, I accept Parfit’s comments about future Tuesdays. What I dispute is his application of the idea. To make explicit my view of the relation between theoretical and practical rationality I will affirm the following statement from Nozick: “Two principles govern rational (even apparently purely theoretical) belief, dissolving the dualism between the theoretical and the practical: do not believe any statement less credible than some incompatible alternative—the intellectual component—but then believe a statement only if the expected utility of doing so is greater than that of not believing it—the practical component.” It cannot be rational to believe a false thing because it will make life better. In terms of the rationality of concern and action, it cannot be rational to hold a pattern of concern based on a falsity because it will make life better. Does Wolf’s view require us to do this?
Wolf would fall afoul of the constraints of rationality if, in order to produce beneficial effects, she were asking us to disbelieve that the R-relation underlies persons. Fortunately, this is not her argument. What Wolf suggests is that we care about ourselves seen as persons rather than R-related beings because this will improve our lives. That is, we focus more on our continuity with our more remotely-connected phases rather than predominantly on our closely-connected phases. No denial of the R-relation is needed here. All that is needed is a denial that rationality requires a pattern of concern directly proportional to the degree of R-relatedness. Wolf holds that our pattern of concern, rationally, does not depend on the metaphysical facts (within a broad range).
In equating Wolf’s suggestion about our pattern of concern with not caring about future Tuesdays, Parfit fails to make a convincing argument. Someone who cares nothing about what will happen on future Tuesdays seems clearly irrational: We can point out that a frustration, an injury, a reward, or a pleasure on a future Tuesday will feel just as good or bad as on any other day. If the person has motivations and concerns remotely like those of other persons, our points will provide sound reasons for them not to treat future Tuesdays differently. Continuing to treat future Tuesdays differently simply because they are future Tuesdays will be irrational, because such a pattern of concern would be completely insensitive to reasons (based in the person’s own desires and beliefs). Concern for persons disproportional to connectedness is not similarly irrational. Why is this?
Our patterns of concern are prima facie rational. We can choose, within broad limits, how to apportion our concern given the metaphysical facts about personal identity. Obviously apportioning one’s concern according to how closely a person’s face resembles a dog’s face will (in the absence of a special story) be irrational. Although desires are prima facie rational (or not irrational), this pattern of concern could not stand up to criticism based on the other desires and beliefs of the person. The pattern of concern defended by Wolf, and practiced by most people to varying degrees, can stand up to criticism, and can therefore be rational: It is difficult to see what kind of serious criticism could be made of allotting concern more than proportionally to connectedness. The critic might argue this pattern of concern to be irrational on the grounds that we ought to care about our future stages only to the extent that they are like our current stage; caring about out interests means caring about the interests of ourselves as we are right now. This attempted criticism, however, simply begs the question. In addition, there are several positive reasons to maintain or form a disproportional pattern of future-concern.
A reduction in R-relatedness often gives us some reason to be less concerned about a future stage, but there are (or may be) countervailing considerations that can more than outweigh this. I have already covered some of these and will present another immediately below (in the discussion of Whiting). To summarize some of these considerations:
(1) As I will argue in the next section, we may care more about our less connected future stage if we believe we will develop into a better person (according to our present values). (Parfit briefly even grants this, but doesn’t dwell on it.)
(2) We can choose to make our less-connected future phases a project of ours, i.e., make them of great concern to us. This especially makes sense when we realize we-now have considerable influence on the way our future phase turns out. Choosing this as a project cannot be irrational if it does not deny any truths. (See below on this.)
(3) We can rationally be concerned to grow and change. That implies that connectedness will fall. We can rationally want to grow into a stage weakly connected with our current stage. It cannot plausibly be argued that this desire is irrational while a desire to remain the same (strongly connected) is rational.
Jennifer Whiting suggests a way in which we come rationally to be concerned with our future stages more than proportionally to the initial degree of connectedness. By coming to have this concern we increase the connectedness between our current and future stages. Whiting suggests a parallel between making friends and making future self-phases. We care about our future phases, and regard benefits to them as compensating for burdens on us, in the same way as we care about friends and benefits to them. When we meet someone and learn a little about them, we often form primitive concerns that they do or experience something. We may want them to succeed in writing their book or in resolving a dispute. In the same way, we have primitive forms of self-concern. We want our future self-phases to do or experience various things. We may be concerned about a future phase because of psychological attributes that we believe we will have in common, or simply because our current actions and decisions will affect the situation and possibilities of that future stage. We do not really need any reason at all to form such concerns, just as we do not need a reason to form desires about other persons. Once some concerns for our future phase have been formed, we may develop stronger, deeper, and broader concern for that phase, without necessarily coming to believe that we are more connected with the phase than we had thought. “We do not ordinarily come to have desires that others do and experience certain things as a result of having a general concern for their welfare. Usually it is the other way around; our general concern for a person grows out of primitive concerns that she do and experience particular things… My current suggestion is that general concern for my future selves can, in much the same way, grow out of primitive concerns that they do and experience particular things.” [Whiting: 565]
Part of what makes our future phase our phase is the intention-connectedness between it and our current phase. Coming to hold primitive forms of self-concern which then expand to become a more generalized concern increases that intention-connectedness. As in the case of concern for friends, “we will think that concern for our future selves is reasonable if we happen to have it, but not something we are rationally required to have.”  So, while we may not be rationally required to have concern for our lives as a whole, or for future phases, to the extent that we have it we will be more connected over time. This result means a revision in what I said above. As I said there, generally the metaphysical facts about identity (i.e., the extent of connectedness) is one thing, and our pattern of concern another. Within a broad range we can decide on our pattern of concern in light of the facts. However, insofar as that part of our connectedness constituted by intention-connectedness results from primitive forms of self-concern and the more general concern that grows from it, the distinction between the relationship between present and future phases on the one hand, and our concern for them on the other, will wane.
The second element of Transformationism says that we may reasonably care about our later phases more than proportionately to connectedness when our later phase is closer to our conception of an ideal self. The concept of an ideal self or ideal identity is itself an idealization. Most of us have at least a few wishes about the kind of person we wish we were or want to become. Fewer of us have a thoroughly developed idea of exactly which current attributes we want to throw off, modify, or acquire. Practically every thinking person has constructed at least a sketch of their ideal self. This need not be any kind of moral ideal: While one person may seek to become more empathic another may dream of becoming more destructive or intimidating.
Since “ideal identity” has recently been used in a sense differing from mine in a recent paper by Rorty and Wong, I will first clarify my meaning by contrasting it with an alternative. Rorty and Wong note that “A person’s ideal identity sets directions for the development of central traits. Sometimes this involves imitating an idealized figure—an Eleanor Roosevelt or a Mahatma Gandhi. Sometimes it is envisioned from the acceptance of moral principles or ideology.”  So far our usage agrees, but then they write: “Of course, a person can appropriate many different, sometimes conflicting ideals, she need not always be aware of her operative ideal identifications, and need not always approve of those that are actually functioning.”  According to this usage, we may hold an ideal or be influenced by an ideal even though we do not or would not evaluate that ideal positively. Ideal, in this sense, refers to an effective template or model of behavior, a model that we may be unaware of and may not have chosen. I have no objection to this usage but restrict my own use of “ideal identity” to models of personality of which the individual approves. (You need not be aware of how you acquired the ideal, and might even doubt or relinquish the ideal if you were to realize how you absorbed it.)
Making use of a device from earlier in this chapter, we might say that a person’s ideal identity or ideal self would have all and only those desires that they would retain in Ideal Reflective Equilibrium—those desires that are our values plus any other desires not conflicting with them. In addition to these desires, an ideal self would have those additional abilities and dispositions we desire. Our ideal identity affects the direction of development of our central personality traits. An ideal self need be no more than the sum of a person’s specific ideals. The ideal self is what that person would be like if they were to realize each of their ideals. Such a person may not explicitly have an overall conception of an ideal self, or regard the shaping of an ideal self as a project. In this case, the ideal self is constructed from the projects and other attributes one has, rather than the other way around.
Others may have an ideal self in a stronger sense. Actualizing our ideal self may be one of our projects. The project of becoming our ideal self will encompass more specific projects and other personal characteristics. As a project in itself, it will act as a filter on what other projects we pursue. The relationship between the ideal self-project and other projects is not a simple superordinate/subordinate one, since the latter will have a major role in determining the shape of the ideal self. However, an ideal self as a project, rather than merely the sum of specific ideals, will have some independent shaping power. It will at least tend to seek coherence and congruence between our specific ideals. It may even lead to us creating or realizing new ideals, or to modifying or abolishing existing ones. The project of becoming our ideal self, in so far as we have such a project, contributes to our interest in long stretches of our life. Becoming our ideal is likely to be a project to occupy us over many years. In struggling to succeed in this project our ideal identity will affect both the kinds of actions we perform and the way in which we perform them.
Many people, having formed an image of an ideal self, fantasize about it without seriously attempting to forge themselves into that ideal. In these cases, the ideal self will have little or no effect on the direction in which we change, nor on how much we change. Even if we commit ourselves to transforming into our ideal we may find we are unable to fully realize it because the attributes it requires cannot be integrated with the rest of our character. The impossibility or great difficulty of making ourselves into our ideal still leaves it as a powerful contributor to our identity. Our sense of ourselves can still be strongly influenced by our continual striving toward our ideal. An ideal of great wisdom, for example, can show itself in efforts taken to learn from experience, to broaden experience, to develop listening skills, and so on.
To whatever extent we have formed an ideal self-conception, we will have another reason for apportioning our future-concern disproportionally to the expected degree of psychological connectedness. Tying concern tightly to connectedness would promote stagnation and passivity. In Parfit’s thought experiments, the individuals facing decisions about how much to sacrifice for their future phases seem always to be passive subjects being acted on by other people. In actuality, an agent is not just an integrated grouping of psychological features but an active chooser and self-creator. Parfit, true to his utilitarian tendencies, appears much more interested in an agent’s experiences rather than in their active aspect which forms ideals and seeks change and growth. If we have some conception of an ideal self and believe we shall move towards that ideal, we can reasonably more than proportionally be concerned with our future, more ideal self-phases. The reverse is also true:
Imagine two scenarios for your future self of several decades in the future. In both cases let us say that you have undergone many changes, maintaining 40% of your current attributes (after weighting). In the first scenario, you improve greatly over the years, shedding characteristics you find ignoble or incongruent while acquiring many of the dispositions, abilities, and characteristics that you desire. In the second scenario, you go into a decline, gradually losing much of your good nature, many of your abilities atrophying through neglect, while developing qualities the thought of which now makes you shudder. In both cases your current and later stages share 40% of their attributes. Nevertheless, it seems clear that you will feel far more willing to restrict current consumption and invest in yourself if you believe the first scenario rather than the second will become actual. So, depending on whether we believe ourselves to be getting stronger and better, or weaker and more corrupt, we will be more or less concerned with protecting the interests of our future selves than would be suggested by concern proportional to connectedness.
To head off a possible misinterpretation of my position I will clarify a point: Valuing attribute A and disvaluing attribute B does not, in itself, make A’s continuation in me a greater contributor to my connectedness. The degree of connectedness of my phases is an objective matter. The future stage that you dislike is just as much a stage of you as the one you like; the difference affects the degree to which you will reasonably feel concern for a future stage, and not how connected your present and future stages are. The disvalued trait still has its effects on my actions, constraining or encouraging other attributes with which it interacts. Each of my attributes contributes to me identity: those I approve of, those I disapprove of, and those about which I am indifferent or unaware. Disvaluing B does mean that I will care less about losing it than if I were to lose A. So, while the extent to which I value or disvalue an attribute does not, in itself, affect its contribution to connectedness, it does affect the extent to which I see a given degree of reduction in connectedness as a loss or as reducing my future-concern.
Despite this, there is a sense in which disvaluing an attribute can reduce its contribution to connectedness. An attribute that I disvalue will presumably conflict with many other characteristics of myself, whereas an attribute that I favor will cohere with many other values and beliefs. These desires, beliefs, and values may frequently be expressed together in a mutually reinforcing complex. Thus the disvalued attribute, though equal to a valued attribute in terms of intensity, may have less effect on my life because its effects are damped by countervailing actions resulting from opposing beliefs and values. These other beliefs, desires, and values may motivate me to block actions based on the unwanted attribute, avoid situations that encourage its manifestation, and search out ways of extirpating it. So long as and to the extent that an unwanted attribute is part of my personality it is an element of connectedness. We cannot discount that contribution simply because we disvalue it, though our disapprobation will tend to motivate us to reduce its effect on our personality over time.
A third way in which concern for future stages may be more than proportional to connectedness arises when we hold transformation of self as an ideal. Desiring self-transformation, or holding it as a project, can allow us to undergo more extensive change while preserving what matters to us. Though positive self-transformation will move us towards our ideal identity, the effects of valuing self-transformation go beyond those considered in my discussion of ideal identity above. The major point about losing connectedness as we move towards our ideal identity was that we may maintain a high degree of concern for our weakly-connected, but more ideal, future phases. Perhaps we have a definite view about the kind of person we will become. If we believe we will come to develop specific desirable new traits, or strengthen desirable existing traits, our future-concern will be affected little if at all by recognizing the fairly weak connection between our current and future phases. On the other hand, we may have little idea of the direction of our future development. We may believe we will change in ways not now foreseeable, on the basis of experiences new to us. Our projection of a more ideal self may lack specifics and be based solely or primarily on our confidence that we will continue to remedy our faults and weaknesses and seek out new and better ways of being. In this case we are not maintaining our future-concern in the face of reduced connectedness as a result of expecting to become the kind of person who better exemplifies the values we now hold. Rather, we value the process of self-transformation, partly tying our concern to the process. We maintain strong concern for our future phases, despite lack of knowledge or belief about their particular nature, because we value a progressive pattern for our life as a whole and not just particular attributes. We value (positively) transforming, not just becoming a particular kind of person. The more strongly we value self-transformation compared to valuing specific attributes, the more we are likely to maintain our future-concern in the face of substantial anticipated reduction in connectedness.
“Valuing self-transformation” might mean two things which, though they overlap, will have different effects. We can take that phrase to mean that we simply desire self-transformation; the prospect is pleasing. Or we can take it to mean we hold self-transformation as a personal project, a process we engage in, and whose effects ramify throughout our activities. Merely desiring self-transformation passively will be sufficient for us to hold strong concern for future phases which we believe will be more developed. Such a desire will still promote change by making us more aware of alternative behaviors and attributes. We will identify less with our current attitudes.
Adopting personal transformation as a project goes well beyond this. It means not only looking forward to positive change and being willing to recognize the desirability of new ways of being. It means actively designing a plan of personal growth, actively seeking out unknown and untried personal attributes, and exerting oneself to implement and integrate these discoveries. Self-transformation will lead to more personal change and so may cause a faster reduction in connectedness (if attributes are being changed, not just supplemented). Of course, the project of self-transformation itself is an element of connectedness, so its own existence will partly compensate for the reduction in other connections it causes. However, it seems reasonable to expect such a project to lead to a greater overall decline in connectedness compared with a situation where self-transformation is not a project for someone. The more heavily we weight self-transformation as a value/project, the more its persistence will compensate for the weakening of other connections it results in. We might begin to estimate self-transformation’s contribution to connectedness by breaking it down into its component attributes. Self-transformation as a value/project is composed of other attributes, such as inquisitiveness, a disposition towards novelty, a valuing of growth and improvement, a preference for progress over stagnation, and a tolerance of uncertainty rather than a desire for the security of the familiar. (Here I’m obviously only talking about self-transformation motivated by constructive values. Self-transformation may also be motivated by self-loathing and a desire to escape from one’s current personality.)
Though connectedness between current and future phases will be lower if self-transformation is held as a project (compared to having it merely as a desire or not being interested in it at all), our concern for our future stages, and interest in our lives as a whole, will be higher. Holding self-transformation as a central project will lead us to assign a more tentative importance to the persistence of most of our attributes. By this, I do not mean we will necessarily think our current attributes less important or real. Rather, we will be ready to reevaluate them and to relinquish or modify them. Incorporating into our lives a commitment to positive self-transformation means we will more readily recognize other valuable attributes we don’t yet possess; we will seek out and welcome improvements in our character and capabilities; we will tend to be more constructively critical in evaluating our current attributes. This project, in making us more self-aware and self-critical of our current phase, encourages us to apportion our concern less according to our current constitution and more based on our life as a whole as it exhibits the process of development, maturation, improvement, and exploration. This leads me to a consideration of the relationships between how we structure our lives over the long term with projects, principles, and values, and how this structuring allows our lives to cohere as a meaningful whole, rather than as a meaningless succession of experiences.
Earlier, I addressed Parfit’s claim that Reductionism makes us see human lives as less deep. His claim might be taken in another way: to imply that life is less meaningful than on a Non-Reductionist view. Parfit believes our lives to have less depth and death to be less bad according to Reductionism. If meaningfulness were unaffected by Reductionism, we should expect life to retain its depth and death its full measure of evil. In addressing the issue of meaningfulness I am showing, in another way, how my interpretation of Psychological Reductionism differs from Parfit’s. Another reason for looking at the issue of meaning is that it illuminates further, according to Transformationism, the relation between our choices, the structure of our diachronic identity, and our pattern of concern for our selves over time. The account of meaningfulness presented here will cohere effectively with my emphasis on a more dynamic conception of the self than has typically been suggested by Reductionists. Part of my account in this section owes a great deal to Robert Nozick’s treatment in Philosophical Explanations. I will begin with his summary of some conditions for a life to be meaningful:
“This is recognizable as what some have meant by a meaningful life (1) a life organized according to a plan and hierarchy of goals that integrates and directs the life, (2) having certain features of structure, pattern, and detail that the person intends his life to have (3) and show forth; he lives transparently so others can see the life plan his life is based upon (4) and thereby learn a lesson from his life, (5) a lesson involving a positive evaluation of these weighty and intended features in the life plan he transparently lives. In sum, the pattern he transparently exemplifies provides a positive lesson.” 
The first characteristic we are likely to expect to see in a meaningful life is some kind of order, structure, or coherence. By this I intend a degree of order or structure beyond the minimum sufficient to allow psychological continuity. Consider a person with memories, desires, beliefs, and values, but no real long-term projects, no conception of an ideal self, and little or no concern for the future or for goals beyond the most narrowly personal. Such a person might retain much the same personality throughout their life, or they might gradually change in a way that preserves continuity. While sufficient for continuity, such a life would lack much meaning or significance. This person does not conceive of an ideal self or make its creation a project, and the changes or lack of changes in their personality are accidental. They do not organize their life or give it integrated form. They follow their desires in the situations they face, without any plan or scheme. In terms of the shape of their life and the directions they take, they are reacting to circumstances rather than seeking out, choosing, channeling, and controlling change (or stability).
Meaningful lives result, in part, from a self-conscious ordering of ourselves and our activities. Some philosophers have written of “unified agency”, which they contrast with a mere bundle of individual desires or preferences. Meaningfulness requires a reasonable degree of unified agency, though it may not be as highly developed as expressed by Rawls’ conception of a rational life plan. A unified agent is one who has been able to examine conflicting individual preferences dispassionately and come to an all-things-considered preference. The person who plans their life not only deliberates on various considerations as they arise in particular situations, but also considers the differing kinds of lives possible for them. As Darwall notes, “As beings who can reflect on ourselves as perduring through time, we form preferences with much wider scope than those we are likely to be able to satisfy by specific actions in specific situations. In the limiting case we may prefer to lead one kind of life rather than another. When such preferences are informed and all-things-considered preferences, they provide a rational framework within which we may pursue our lives in various situations as they arise.” 
As I noted, Rawls’ conception of a rational life plan is an idealization, yet his view is an ideal form of the process undergone by people with meaningful lives. (I will explain below why a rational life plan is not sufficient for meaningfulness.) Rawls conception of a rational life plan has two general conditions: (1) A plan requires not only a preference ordering of the ends to be achieved but also an idea of how those ends are to be achieved. Means and ends must be rationally related so that one plan is preferred to another if it achieves more ends, at less cost, more quickly. (2) A rational life plan is one for which the person would have an informed, all-things-considered preference. That is, a plan chosen bearing in mind relevant facts and considering consequences so far as they are foreseeable. A rational life plan will mitigate conflict between our preferences and foster preferences that are mutually supporting and reinforcing. The plan will rule out intransitivity of preferences as well avoiding inconsistencies such as when someone approves of an activity because it embodies characteristic C while disapproving of another activity embodying C.
Intrinsic preferences may cohere not just by avoiding incoherence, but positively by complementing or mutually supporting each other. One way for this to happen is when something is preferred both intrinsically and instrumentally, such as when we work both because of the pay and because we enjoy the activity. Darwall (p.109) suggests another kind of mutual support: “two intrinsic preferences may support each other if what one finds intrinsically desirable about both are the same or similar aspects. One obvious case of this is when one thing is intrinsically preferred because it has properties that specify more general aspects that one finds intrinsically desirable. An example would be specific individual preferences for distance running and cross-country skiing, both of which specify and support a preference for moving through nature in an autonomous and self-propelled way. The more specific and general preferences support each other in the sense that finding the more specific activities intrinsically desirable supports one’s sense that the general sort of activity is, and conversely.”
It is worth noting, given the perhaps rationalistic sound of this discussion, that life plans need not be sensible or based on true or even rational beliefs in order to support a sense of meaning in a life. Many people find their lives meaningful despite basing or filtering much of their activity on a religious or otherwise delusive system. Of course, grounding the meaning of one’s life on a belief that one is the servant of Jehovah or Allah, or part of a cosmic process of a divine reawakening, runs the risk that reality will intrude and demolish the foundation of meaningfulness.
Reality-based or not, life plans consist of an ordered group of projects, desires, principles, and actions. To the extent we adopt such a plan we are actively considering ourselves less as person-stages and more as enduring selves. Persisting memories, disposition, desires, and beliefs may suffice for us to feel concern for our future self-stages, but our future-concern will be stronger when we focus on the shape of our life as a whole (or long stretches of our life). By developing a life plan and ordering our activities according to it, we are partially creating the structured self persisting over time. By focusing on the shape of our life we not only come to be more concerned with our future stages but also create a more structured relation between stages. Another way of adding structure to a life, (perhaps as part of a plan) is to adopt principles.
Adherence to principles constitutes another way of structuring oneself over time. Principles provide a means of defining ourselves, of being able to answer the question: “Who are you?” We can answer: “I am a person who embodies forthrightness, reasonableness, inventiveness, justice…” Principles, by marking boundaries, serve an invaluable function if we want to be a certain kind of person. Situations often admit of many possible responses, a range of which we may find acceptable. Without principles we can easily slide, bit by bit, from acceptable actions to unacceptable actions because there is no obvious stopping point. Well-considered principles allow us to draw a line across the path of a gradual slope of possible actions. Even if, prior to committing to a principle, there is an obvious stopping point, we may believe ourselves unable to draw a line there. For instance, if we think it impossible to never be late, we may instead create a principle if I’m late on one occasion I’ll be early the next time.
In this section I will mostly discuss principle as a structuring factor independently of the other elements of a life plan. Clearly, though, living by principles may be part of a life plan. Interwoven with and partially shaping a person’s projects are principles of thought and action. Principles can provide a framework around which to build a life plan, or a filter for evaluating the acceptability of alternative life plans.
Principles both restrict the ways in which a project can be implemented, and open up new avenues for project pursuit. On the restrictive side, principles act as regulators or governors, ruling out certain ways of tackling a goal or project. Suppose someone dedicates a stretch of their life to promoting environmental responsibility. Some people, seeing this as a supremely important goal, might tackle it by any means possible, including exaggerating or lying about the magnitude of actual environmental challenges. A more principled environmental activist will seek to increase environmental awareness and responsibility without resorting to dishonesty or scare tactics.
This may make it appear that principles only restrict our options, acting as a burden and adding barriers to the achievement of our goals. However, by shaping our personality principles also enable us to do things and enter relationships otherwise difficult or unavailable to us. For an obvious example of this effect, consider someone who adheres to a policy of truthfulness and honest disclosure. As others come to recognize this characteristic in the person they will feel more secure in trusting them, in relying on their word, and in making agreements to mutual benefit. An elegant demonstration of the effectiveness of constraining one’s actions by well-selected principles has been provided by Axelrod (1984) and subsequent work. In a series of tournaments for computer programs embodying various principles, Tit-For-Tat (or sometimes Tit-For-Two-Tats) persistently emerged victorious. TFT adhered to principles of transparency and simplicity (its actions were easily comprehensible), retaliation (it immediately retaliated against players who “defected”), and niceness (it didn’t hold grudges). David Gauthier’s work develops the idea of constrained maximization and the advantages it produces for the agent over straight maximization. A further illustration of the enabling effect of adopting principles (rights in this case) recently has been provided by John Tomasi:
Instead of asserting your claim against me, your right-claim entitles you to choose voluntarily and knowingly not to assert it. If you and I are friends, and you know that I am embarrassed by my continuing financial difficulties, when we meet on Saturday you can use your right – especially in light of my recognition that you do have such a right – to express your concern for me by withholding your claim. Rights provide opportunities for community members to act virtuously toward one another. For one way that I can recognize that your action toward me is, for example, “generous” is by first knowing what strict observance of the principles of justice requires – that is, by knowing that what you are sacrificing for me was in fact yours to sacrifice or claim. [Tomasi, 1994]
Principles, then, by binding us in some ways can multiply other options available to us. Principles allow aspects of our selves to be revealed and developed in relationships and activities that would not be possible without this self-binding.
Should we view principles as straightforwardly part of our identity, or rather as external constraints on a separable identity? A dualistic view would represent principles as constraints imposed on a separable personality constituted by desires, beliefs, and goals. Principles, especially moral principles, sometimes are presented as distinct, higher, purer restraints on our base personalities. In contrast to that view, I suggest the following account: Principles partially constitute our identity or personality just as much as do our desires and goals. Indeed, given my earlier account of values as a special kind of desire, and recognizing principles as formalized kinds of values, we can see that principles should be regarded as part of us, not as some kind of non-natural straightjacket on a separable self. At the same time we can grant that principles may be more or less constitutive of a person. The acceptance and integration of principles into our selves forms a spectrum from peripheral to fully integrated. With regard to any principles, we may progress along the spectrum or stop at any point. Initially when we claim to hold a principle we may recognize it as a desirable way to be. It then becomes part of our ideal identity, though it may initially have a minor effect on behavior. We struggle to live by a new principle as we consider how to implement and apply it while attempting to restrain or defeat conflicting desires. This early part of the spectrum most closely resembles the dualist picture. We experience the principle as a restraint, holding us back from actions and thoughts that have come naturally to us. The picture at this stage resembles a Kantian view of the moral law, where worth derives from adhering to principles in the face of our impulses.
If we continue to move along the spectrum we see a more Aristotelian picture: As we persist at living on principle, we gradually form new habits, while weakening, extinguishing or avoiding the activation of contrary desires. We adjust other beliefs, goals, and even relationships, bringing them into line with the principle. Through this process, principles become increasing constitutive rather than legislative. As we integrate principles into our personality, living according to them starts to flow more effortlessly. They will become “second nature.” Another way of putting it is to say a principle will have become a virtue.
Why define oneself in terms of principles rather than just in terms of goals? How does the acceptance and integration of principles affect the meaningfulness of one’s life? The answers to these two questions are closely related. Although goals, especially when grouped into projects, can powerfully shape our lives, principles guide more generally than goals: Principles help us select goals and subgoals and shape the manner in which we pursue them. A principle of modesty may favor a career as an anonymous functionary over that of actor or politician. By shaping the pursuit of a goal, principles partly define goals. Someone might have a goal of becoming a millionaire by age 35 and the ability to achieve this in a variety of ways. If they hold a principle of giving value for money received, they may select a specific goal of selling a product that fills an important need no one else is filling adequately.
This is not to say that principles can be simply placed ahead of goals in terms of significance in their contribution to personality. Goals and projects can be powerfully life-shaping apart from principles, even if usually in a more restricted domain. Goals and principles interact, mutually influencing one another. While principles shape and select goals, our goals can motivate us to accept or reject principles. When Gauguin left his family to paint in Tahiti he may have rejected principles of primary responsibility to his family because of his overriding goal. If we have a deeply desired goal in life, we will tend to ignore principles that make the goal harder to achieve and more likely to be aware of and receptive to principles that complement and further it. Overall, though, principles—being more abstract than goals—will apply over a broader range of our activities and relationships.
Meaning requires order and structure throughout a life, both across different activities in any given period of a life, and across periods of a life. Meaning requires a plan and an ordering of desires and actions integrate a person. This ordering allows a life to have a point. If we see this point or lesson or example as having value, we are able to perceive our life as meaningful. Principles play a vital role in making a life meaningful. They provide the strength and focus (in combination with major goals and projects) to be steadfast in the pursuit of our life plans in the face of distractions and difficulties. Being applicable to any number of situations in numerous areas of life (far more so than goals), principles integrate the diverse aspects of our life and personality. When principles are securely integrated into our personalities, they imbue us with confidence as we approach novel situations and relationships. Whereas desires can be frustrated, projects can fall apart, and relationships can wither, principles form a solid core of self, always being there to guide and sustain us.
In order to form a distinct personality or identity, we need to be able to keep commitments and follow up on decisions. Without this ability we will find ourselves pushed around by external pressures. Lacking a strong inner direction we will find little coherence in our behavior over time and so will tend to care less about our future self-stages. Adopting principles provides us with a means of adhering to our planned course of action. Principles do this by making some actions stand for others. Imagine the fabled potential movie star who has the option of having sex with a big-name producer in exchange for being cast in a major movie. In considering the situation and the avenues open to him, the actor realizes a principle is at stake: “Success in an artistic career should be sought only by appropriate means such as the display of skills, and not by letting myself be used in irrelevant and disrespectful ways.” Recognizing this principle, the actor may see this instance of exchanging sex for career advancement as one instance of a general principle conflicting with his integrity principle. Wanting the self-respect of being the kind of person who adheres to the principle, he may gather the strength to refuse the offer. Seeing an action on its own, without any relation to principles, may make it easier to give up our integrity. Our actions will then lack the significance attaching to ordered, chosen, consistent behavior over time. When we hold something as a principle, we increase the costs of behaving contrary to it and increase the rewards of adhering to it. By affecting costs and benefits in this way principles encourage us to undertake projects with more reassurance that we will keep with them until we have achieved the desired end. As a result, our lives will be more ordered, significant, and meaningful.
Living by principles, then, increases our long-term personality coherence, enabling us to care more about our future self-stages. If Reductionism is to provide a useful, accurate, and comprehensive account of personal identity, and is accurately to inform our normative inferences about future self-concern, it needs to incorporate these psychological considerations.
High-level projects, life plans, and transformations prompted by our pursuit of meaningfulness give us a dynamic structure over time, generating reasonable concerns for our future self-stages despite the likelihood of great change and reduction in connectedness. These considerations show that psychological reductionism need not lead to the view, found in Parfit, that we have no particular reason to be concerned with our weakly-connected future self-stages.
The prospect of certain kinds of change in our constitution will give us grounds for thinking of future stages as distinct from us to the extent that they might as well be another individual. In the final chapter I will examine various changes in our basic constitution and consider whether we should regard them as disruptive of our identity over time.
In the case of a declarative memory, I remember that something happened; in the case of a procedural memory, I remember how to do something.
Rorty and Wong (1990), “Aspects of Identity and Agency” in Flanagan and Rorty (1990).
I do not intend a noncognitivist view of religious language. My view is that the emotional response and the religious belief are sometimes inseparable in a person’s psychology. Nevertheless, contrary to noncognitivism, we can analytically separate the emotive and cognitive components, and evaluate the beliefs according to evidence.
Frankfurt (1971). “Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person.”
Stephen L. White (1991). The Unity of the Self, pp.230-31.
Annette C. Baier, in “Why Honesty is a Hard Virtue” in Flanagan and Rorty (1990), provides a fascinating and illuminating analysis of why the virtue of veracity does not require anything close to the Kantian extreme in truth-telling.
Except, perhaps, for the core rules of logic. A discussion of the revisability of logic from a nonjustificationist epistemology of “pancritical rationalism” is provided by W. W. Bartley, III in Appendix 5 of The Retreat to Commitment (1984).
Lomasky (1987), p.26.
Stephen L. Darwall, in the context of developing a theory of rational preference, considers the choice of possible lives and how this is essential to the formation of what Rawls terms a rational life plan. See Darwall (1983).
This is one way in which they differ from fantasies or dreams which can consist of vague longings with little or no practical reasoning.
Though he would have more reason to see death as an evil.
My list draws on that of Rorty and Wong (1990) in Flanagan and Rorty (1990), p.20.
As told by Arthur Koestler in The Richard Crossman Diaries, and as parodied by George Orwell in 1984.
Adams (1989), “Should Ethics be More Impersonal?”
Parfit (1986): 832-837.
Nozick (1993), 175-6.
To anticipate a question: As I argue later, that the expected direction of change is positive does not in itself increase connectedness. (If it did, then this factor would not provide a rationale for concern for superior future stages more than proportional to connectedness.)
Amelie Oksenberg Rorty and David Wong (1990)
By “more developed” I mean more developed in terms of one’s current values—if we are talking about one’s abilities and motivational tendencies are. The situation with one’s values themselves is more complicated: I recognize that some of my current values and desires may be based on a false or partial understanding of the facts about the world or about myself. I may come to see things differently and so relinquish or revise some of my existing values, and form new ones. So, my values will be more developed in the sense that they will evolve from my current values in conjunction with an improving understanding of the world.
Nozick (1981), p.578.
For instance, Darwall (1983), Korsgaard (1989).
Tomasi (1991 & 1994).