2012-2013 Institute Fellows Lectures Aleks Zarnitsyn, Dissertation Fellow, Department of Philosophy
The Cognitive Value of Fiction and Thought Experiments in Personal Identity
Imagine that after a terrible accident destroying most of my body, two of my intact and functionally identical brain hemispheres are successfully transplanted into the healthy bodies of two of my brothers, who look very much like me. The operation is successful and each of the people thinks he is me, recalls the episodes of my life, has my quirks, and in many other ways is psychologically just like me. What happened to me?
Outlandish thought experiments like this one are standard methodology in the philosophy of personal identity. But one might wonder why anybody serious about metaphysics of personal identity would look to such fictions to helps us understand who we most fundamentally are.
I argue for a 'literary model of philosophical thought experiments': their cognitive value can be found in thinking of them as like fiction. The cognitive value of thought experiments can be illuminated by thinking of them as incomplete fictions. When we bring the resources of the literary fictional to bear on our understanding of thought experiments we gain insight into the overall coherence of the cluster of features that we associate with a person's life, and their interaction.
Aleks Zarnitsyn successfully defended his dissertation “Thought Experiments in personal Identity” in the Philosophy Department of the University of Illinois at Chicago in December 2012. His philosophic interests also include Philosophy of Mind and History of Analytic Philosophy. At UIC, Aleks held a UIC Dean’s Fellowship 2011-2012 and was awarded Outstanding Teaching by a Graduate Student in 2008-09.