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In rejecting 25 Bernard Williams the all-or-nothing view of personal identity, Parfit cites dramatic variation in degrees of psychological connectedness, so dramatic, in fact, that he feels warranted in referring to “successive selves” in those cases “When the connections have been markedly reduced – when there has been a significant change of character, or style of life, or of beliefs and ideals” (Parfit 1984: 304–5). Such talk seems seriously to threaten the concept of unity of agency over time and, moreover, to raise one particular moral theory above its rivals: If we cease to believe that persons are separately existing entities, and come to believe that the unity of a life involves no more than the various relations between the experiences in this life, it becomes more plausible to become more concerned about the quality of experiences, and less concerned about whose experiences they are.

That someone pulls the right levers and so effects the desired action or combination of actions is crucial. Just who actually does the pulling is largely irrelevant: “As a Utilitarian agent I am just the representative of the satisfaction system who happens to be near certain causal levers at a certain time” (Williams 1981f: 4). And this indifference to the particular circumstances of agency is, Williams feels, closely related to utilitarianism’s doctrine of negative responsibility: “that if I am ever responsible for anything, then I must be just as responsible for things that I allow or fail to prevent, as I am for things that I myself .

Korsgaard interestingly critiques Williams’s focus on pain, given what she sees as the relatively tenuous link between what it is to experience pain and what it is to be some particular person: “Although it is true that there is an important way in which my physical pains seem to happen to me and to no one else, it is also true that they seem to have less to do with who I am (which person I am) than almost any other psychic events” (Korsgaard 1996b: 394n36). Korsgaard’s remarks reflect, among other things, dissatisfaction at the pre-eminence of minimal re-indentification criteria in discussions of personal identity to the exclusion of more substantial notions of 20 Personal identity selfhood, about which more will be said in the next section (see also, importantly, Schechtman, 1996).

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