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A.P. Taylor


Thanks for setting up the working group. I am really excited to have a conversation about the paper. I hope my fellow Cocooners will find it interesting.


I’d be glad to bring in whatever I’d be able to bring in (not much I’m afraid: I’m not highly skilled in metaphysics), but I’m not a registered member. What does it take to become one?

Marcus Arvan

Hi Pierre: Great to hear you're interested in helping out! Normally the Working Paper Group is restricted to official contributors to the Cocoon. If you'd like to become a contributor, just send me an email.

Alternatively, I'll leave it up to Adam to decide whether he'd be willing to allow non-contributors to access the paper.

Adam: would you be willing to have me grant access to non-contributors such as Pierre, provided I know and trust them? No pressure - but it might garner you more paper comments.

A.P. Taylor

I think in keeping with the guidelines set up for the working paper group it is best to restrict commentary here on the Cocoon to verified Cocoon contributors. However if you'd like Pierre, you can email me at aptaylor_at_gmail_dot_com and I will send you a copy of the paper, you an then read it and send me any comments directly.


Adam, I’d rather comment publicly. I believe it’s better for the discussion. I just sent an email to Marcus to become a registered contributor.

As soon as I have access to the paper I’ll read it and see if I’m able to bring anything to the discussion :-) I can’t be sure, because it’s really not the domain where I’m most skilled, but I hope I’ll be able to help, even a little!

Marcus Arvan

A.P.: I'm currently working through your (very interesting!) paper -- and although I need to think about it more, I'd like to share a few initial thoughts.

My one big initial thought is that I'm not quite convinced that the problem you're raising for four-dimensionalism is a *problem*.

The problem, as you set it up, is this: according to four-dimensionalism, person-stages have pains intrinsically, and persons only have pains derivatively (and extrinsically). But, you say, this conflicts with several plausible thoughts both about pain (i.e. they are intrinsic), and about who has pains (persons!).

Have I got it right, at least as a first-gloss?

Anyway, I guess I'm not entirely persuaded that we should have those intuitions (the ones you think raise the problem). Allow me to explain why.

I recently had an odd experience relating to personal identity. I came across my undergraduate thesis on philpapers, and gave it a quick skim. It struck me as "not mine" -- that is, as the work of someone (a person-stage) only distantly related to me! It was really quite unsettling. I could hardly recognize the mind the mind that wrote the thing.

In short, I had this experience that "I" (now) am a certain person-stage, and that "I" was once a different person-stage (one that I can hardly identify with now!).

Now, if I reflect on this experience, the "puzzling" things you raise for four-dimensionalism don't seem so puzzling. First, it seems to me that pains -- and indeed, paper ideas! -- are intrinsically only held by person-stages, just as four-dimensionalism holds. Second, it seems to me that pains -- and paper ideas! -- are indeed held by *persons* only derivatively and relationally! (I recognize that the pains/paper-ideas my 20-year-old stage had are pains/paper-ideas of a spread-out-over-time person only *by* being held by the person-stages in the first instance.

So, then, when I seriously reflect on my own phenomenal experiences of personal identity, the "problems" you raise for four-dimensionalism don't seem to me to be problems! They actually *fit* with my phenomenology.

Anyway, I'll need to think more carefully about your arguments, but I thought I would share these initial reactions, and see what you think. In any case, a very interesting paper!!

A.P. Taylor


Thanks for the comment, it is enormously helpful. I think you have the initial statement of the problem correctly.

I suppose, first of all, that we have different phenomenological intuitions. When I have a pain, I experience it not as something that is being had by my present part and only derivatively be me, the person. I experience it as happening to me directly. When I look back on painful episodes that others have caused me to experience, I take it that I, the persisting being, was harmed by those experiences directly, not my then-present part.

My original thesis in an earlier draft of this paper, that a reviewer told me was too narrow, was simply that "if four-dimensionalism, and (welfare) hedonism, are jointly true true than no person experiences well-being." Why? because hedonism says that well-being consists in a balance of pains over pleasures, but if a person only derivatively exemplifies pains/pleasures then would only derivatively have well-being, but the idea of derivatively exemplifying well-being is nonsensical.

I reformulated the problem in order to make the issues more interesting even for those who are not welfare hedonists. Perhaps I need to revisit that change.

Marcus Arvan

Hi A.P.: I'm glad you found the comment helpful. I expect that I would have had your phenomenological intuitions prior to having the particular experience I had of coming across my undergraduate thesis. It was, as I noted, a *very* unsettling experience -- one that I hadn't anticipated!

In terms of whether you should revisit your initial way of framing the paper -- as a big conditional (viz. IF 4-dimensionalism is true, then X follows) -- I think it might be a good way to go, though perhaps it would be good to see how others react first (perhaps my reaction is uncommon - it wouldn't be the first time!).

Perhaps, if you do decide to go that route, you could still do more than simply give the big conditional, *suggesting* that the 3D implications are more palatable than the 4D ones. This might come off better, dialectically speaking, to readers such as myself who do not find the 4D implications obviously problematic (after all, you still might be able to convince me that 3D-ism is *better* here than 4D-ism, even if I'm not convinced in the first instance that the 4D implications are problematic). Make sense?

A.P. Taylor

Yeah, I was thinking that what I have in mind as a sort of model, for a lot of my work, is Korsgaard's 1989 paper "Personal Identity and the Unity of Agency: A Kantian Response to Parfit." In that paper Korsgaard gives an argument not from metaphysics but from the role of the unified agent in practical deliberation, against Parfit's reductive account of personal identity. I have something similar in mind here.

How do you think the paper would be served by losing the reference to the "problem" but keeping the initial setup and noting that there are at least two ways one could view the relation of persons to their pains. One could accept 1-3 and reject four. his route route is going to appeal to those who maintain a roughly Cartesian/Lockean concept of the person as a unified psychological entity, whose mental states are exemplified directly by the person they belong to. The other route would be to accept 3 and 4 and deny 1 and 2, this would be the 4Dists strategy. Then as in the current draft of the paper, I work out the implications of this view, and I argue that anyone who accepts the Cartesian view has reason to find 4D objectionable (though perhaps not decisive reason).

I think framing it this way leaves me free to actually not address the 3D position. Since their will be 3D views (logically anyway) that might still reject the Cartesian, unified account).

Marcus Arvan

Hi Adam: I think that sounds like a *great* way to set up the paper!

Marcus Arvan

Hi Adam: The more that I read and think over your paper, the more I think you're overplaying your hand (so to speak).

For instance, contra your argument in section 6, I'm not convinced that there is anything *incoherent* about a person having pains only derivatively (in virtue of their person-stages having pains intrinsically). You say you think the 4-dimensionalist is misled by a spatial analogy, but I think the spatial analogy is perfectly right. In 4D-ism, time is just another dimension akin to a spatial dimension. And, since I see nothing incoherent about pain being derivatively held in the spatial case (viz. New York State *does* contain pain derivatively if it contains a proper part -- Jones -- that exemplifies pain intrinsically), I see nothing *incoherent* about it in the 4D person case.

Your claim that it is incoherent seems to me (pardon the pun) derivative from your claim that certain aspects of pain (its intrinsicness, etc.) are "plausible." But, in that case, your argument really isn't one of incoherence -- it is one of plausibility. But again, I've suggested that phenomenologically, the 4D-er claims you think are implausible aren't obviously implausible (as they fit with my odd experience now regarding my past-person-stage).

Although I think these are serious worries to have about your argument (viz. it seems to me to come down to an array of plausibility-judgments that not everyone may share), I do not think they necessarily undermine your project. Rather, as before, I think they suggest *recasting* it -- in terms of (roughly): 4D has these implications, and these implications seem weird for reasons X, Y, and Z. Although this kind of argument isn't as forceful as what you now have (viz. 4D is wrong/incoherent because of X, Y, Z), I still think it's a very worthwhile argument to make!

A.P. Taylor


I thought that would be the way someone would take it. in the process of a front to back rewrite right now. Thanks for the comments, they have been massively useful.

Pierre Cloarec

I’m sorry I haven’t given a word so far :(

I gave only a very quick, superficial eye at the paper. What struck me is its clarity and intelligibility but that may not be very helpful or constructive. I expect to have some time in the week to come to read it more carefully and, I hope, usefully :-)

A.P. Taylor

Just in case anyone comes to this thread a little late: the paper now linked to in Dropbox was updated yesterday 6/2/2014. The (heavily)revised paper is hopefully much better than original. So enjoy reading and please do not hesitate to comment.


I’m sorry (again) I didn’t react earlier. I’ve finally read the paper more carefully (in its early version), and I have to admit that I fell unable to provide truly helpful comments. Still, I maintain it is clearly written and cleverly argued. (Also, the discussion in comments is philosophically entertaining.)

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