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Six Pathways  Essay A1   Essay A2   Essay B1   Essay B2   Essay C1   Essay C2   Essay D1   Essay D2   Essay E1   Essay E2   Essay F1   Essay F2   Apply now

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A. Introduction to Philosophy: 1st Student Essay

Steve Dales

'What thought experiments concerning body duplication show is that the concept of personal IDENTITY is ultimately dispensable.' — Discuss.

There are two categories of thought experiment concerning body duplication: the first employs the notion of cloning in entirety a human being, often instantaneously, and the second concerns the gradual replacement of parts and is often in the form of analogy.

The Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi movie 'The Sixth Day' involves the first category and is set in a future world where total human cloning is illegal, although cloning of parts is acceptable. Having been cloned by evil scientists (who believed his original to be dead) Arnie's character — Adam — has to avoid the scientists' thugs who, in order to cover up their illegal practices, are out to kill one of the two Adams. The cloned Adam has successfully usurped his original in the family home, the family being unaware of the unfolding drama. Inevitably Adam meets up with his cloned self who recognises and accepts his 'clonehood'.

Pared down to its basic premise the film can be read as a thought experiment concerning body duplication which is very similar to the 'Michael Harding' experiment (unit 6).

According to John Locke's model, in order to have and keep identity, an individual has to maintain memory undisrupted over time. This would raise serious difficulties in the case of cloning.

For either the original or the clone to have knowledge of their situation problematizes the proposal of continuous memory:

If the original for the clone (A) is made aware of the impending process and his/her demise then the clone (B) will be endowed with a paradoxical memory which confirms their identity as A and not B. Their self knowledge will include knowing that they are not themself.

If A and B are not informed of what is happening to them — and putting aside the immense ethical problems that situation would present — then continuity of memory can only be assured if the processes of dying and becoming can be made contiguous with daily life. Unlikely to be achievable without either human being aware of the changes taking place. Particularly if, as in these cases, the clone is to replace their original in her/his daily existence. In both experiments there is an overlap in which all parties become aware.

If A is told but B is not then there is no continuity of memory. This scenario could only arise if A continues to exist after B has come to be, as in our two experiments. Their overlapping existences providing new memories which are not shared.

If A is not told but B is, then B possesses the paradoxical self knowledge and a memory which is not shared with A.

In the Schwarzenegger film the clones conveniently carry a mark identifying their origins and having such knowledge the cloned Adam — Adam being a nice guy — is able to accept his status. This allows the producers to avoid the equally difficult question; is killing your clone suicide?

Adam (the clone) happily goes off to start a new life in Patagonia.

Of course John Locke's theory would have to admit short lapses in memory. Sleeping for instance produces a temporal ellipse where memory is discontinuous, or the acquisition of new memories is suspended. The minor lapses or differences in memory can be accommodated by experience and subsumed into ones' self. But the kind of overlaps described in our two thought experiments produce experiences and concomitant memories which fundamentally affect an individual's sense of identity. In other words these events may modify an identity in some way. The original Michael Harding would certainly have an altered existence and attitude before his imminent disposal. Adam may not have come to terms so easily with his predicament and remain unaffected. His clone living in Patagonia will develop a divergent identity to his original, will he not miss 'his' wife and child and his identity be affected by mourning their loss?

The idea of one's personal identity being a transferrable attribute, like a heart or kidney, is not altogether a comfortable one. One of the difficulties of the cloning proposal is the ability for us at this non-cloning period in history to envisage a different moral/ethical viewpoint when humans would be happy to perpetuate their self by cloning. The 6th Day tries to introduce this cultural development by depicting the cloning of pets — at the local branch of Re-pet — as commonplace.

Although this acceptance (of cloning as simply a continuance of an original organism) is undermined by the cloned Adam's acceptance of his inferior status in the face of his original's continued survival.

The replacement of individual parts is the premise on which other thought experiments are based. In order to be effective these experiments — like Schwarzenegger's films — require some suspension of disbelief. More precisely they need a willingness to overlook some semantic variability. The experiments posit some object, a car or Theseus' ship, which have their parts replaced over a period of time until all parts have been renewed. At what point, we are asked, does the object cease to be 'the same' object? If we rebuild the item from the original discarded parts. Which now is the original?

The problem lies in the fact that these are poor analogies for human identity. These objects do not possess a psychological dimension to their construction and, therefore, identity in the sense that we are concerned with cannot be attributed to them. Only physical aspects identify them. My Renault is the same as other Renaults but for the fact that it is mine and has a unique registration number. Describing it as 'the car that I bought' is simply a linguistic shorthand for, the car which I bought but have since put new tyres on and had the exhaust repaired. It is not identical to the car that I bought as it has new tyres etc. The terms identity and identical are badly conflated. One author states that we should use the term identical in the sense that, 'Clark Kent and Superman are identical'. But of course they are two identities in one physical body and not the other way around as with the car or ship scenarios.

Whilst these thought experiments lead our thinking down the right avenues they cannot be said to provide conclusive evidence that 'the concept of personal identity is ultimately dispensable'.