Friday, March 11, 2005

Final Chapter of Sameness and Substance

Last night we (David F., Jay E., Nat H., David H., Nate Z., Tom L., Chris F., Will S.) had a spirited discussion of the final chapter of Wiggins's Sameness and Substance. The main threads of conversation were the following:

(1) David F. demanded an account of how Wiggins's argument against Q-memory was supposed to go. Tom L. and David H. favored an interpretation of Wiggins that involved the purported inability of Q-memory to be mistaken. Valiant efforts to push this interpretation through eventually failed, though David F. said that there was "something to" this criticism. Nat H. and Jay E. demurred.

(2) A second possible line of criticism that was considered involved the idea that the Q-memory advocate might not be entitled to certain kinds of theoretical and practical inferences: One might, observing rain falling outside, find oneself wanting one's raincoat. If one only has a Q-memory of someone hanging someone's raincoat on some peg, one cannot directly use the content of that Q-memory in an inference that concludes (for example) with going to get one's own coat, or knowing where to look for it if one wanted it. This was meant as one way of fleshing out the idea that Q-memory doesn't appropriately capture the epistemological role that memory plays in our lives--that it cannot place knowledge of the past in relation to our understanding of our lives as a whole. But this line of criticism was not fleshed out in detail.

(3) Two additional comments that were made about the definition of Q-memory.

First, David F. wanted to strike the word "accurate" from Parfit's definition. Wiggins makes heavy weather of the presence of "accurate" in the definition. We couldn't determine why Wiggins cared about it so much, and it didn't help that most of his discussion of its significance was taken up with a speculative psychological explanation of why Parfit included "accurate" in his definition. ("Mere verbiage" according to Jay E.)

Second, Nat H. pointed out that there could be memories that did not seem to be memories. For example, one could have a recurring, vivid image of (e.g.) falling off a swingset that one is convinced is merely imaginary, but which counts as a memory because it is caused by an actual experience in the right way. So, Nat H. asked why Parfit needed the "seem to be memories" condition in his definition of Q-memory (condition (1)).

This is not a complete report of conversations that took place last night. Comments from other workshop attendees should help fill this summary out.

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