First, Second and Other Selves: Essays on Friendship and Personal Identity is a collection of previously published articles by Jennifer Whiting. In the preface to this volume, Whiting states that this is the first of three volumes, which will include her essays published between 1980 and 2011. Whiting is a highly respected scholar of Aristotle’s ethics, but she indicates that articles focused on interpretations of Aristotle’s ethical thought will be found primarily in the forthcoming second and third volumes. In the Introduction, Whiting explains the three themes that she takes to unify the essays in this first volume: (i) psychic contingency, (ii) friendship and (iii) the rejection of rational egoism (both as a theory and as an interpretation of Aristotle). Before saying more about the topics of the essays, however, I want to stress that the essays in this volume justify their collection together in a single volume. Reading them together gives one a comprehensive picture of persons, their relationships to others and their relationships to their own future selves. While my own views about friendship are radically opposed to those Whiting defends, I find her presentation of her views challenging and in need of a response. Any reader interested in interpersonal relationships and our reasons for action will find much to engage and challenge her in these essays. The three major themes of the volume – psychic contingency, friendship and the rejection of rational egoism – are woven throughout the volume. The first theme, psychic contingency, is perhaps best illustrated in the last piece in the volume, ‘Psychic Contingency in the Republic’, in which Whiting argues that Plato holds ‘first, that with respect to at least some of the so-called parts [of the soul], it is contingent what sort of internal structure each has in any given individual; and second, that it is contingent how many genuine parts actually belong to any given individual soul’ (224). This reading of course challenges the standard reading of the Republic according to which the tri-partite division of the soul that mirrors the tri-partite division of the just state is common to all souls. The other two themes of these essays, friendship and the rejection of rational egoism, are woven throughout all but a couple of the essays in the volume and are interwoven with discussions of personal identity. Whiting accepts a view of personal identity broadly Lockean in character: a person now is the same person as some person in the past or in the future if the former is connected with the latter via the relation of psychological continuity. Psychological continuity is constituted by overlapping chains of such psychological connections as memory, intention, desire, etc. In ‘Back to “The Self and the Future”’, Whiting responds to Bernard Williams’s well-known attempt to undermine the thought experiment most often used in defence of the psychological continuity view, the case of the alleged body-switch, and in ‘Personal Identity: The Non-branching Form of “What Matters”’, she discusses the cases of fission or splitting that lead philosophers such as Derek Parfit to argue that identity is not what matters in our survival. This view of personal identity provides the crucial background to her account of the justification of our concern for our future selves and for other people. For example, in ‘Friends and Future Selves’, Whiting offers an account of our reasons for concern for both our friends and our future selves. She observes that most take concern for one’s own future self as unproblematic while regarding concern for others such as friends as what needs justification. She flips this dialectic around, proposing to show that our concern for our future selves is justified because our relation to our future selves – psychological continuity – is relevantly similar to our relations to our friends. She claims that we make both friends and future selves by coming to care about them – concern is a constituent part of both the friendship relation and psychological continuity, where the concern that partially constitutes psychological continuity is composed of the desires that we have regarding our future selves. In fact, then, we have to have at least a ‘primitive form of self-concern’ in order to have future selves at all, i.e. in order for the appropriate form of psychological continuity to exist between me and some future self. In ‘Impersonal Friends’, Whiting continues the project of putting self-concern and concern for friends on the same footing. She argues that both are justified by an appeal to character – I am justified in coming to care about my friends and my future selves to the extent that they have good or virtuous characters. Thus, she defends what she calls a generic strategy: ‘take some characteristic common (or at least potentially common) to oneself and others as the ground of concern’ (45). This generic strategy is contrasted with an egocentric strategy: ‘if someone stands in the right sort of relationship to me (whatever that is), then I may have reasons to care for him the same in kind with those I have to care for myself’ (46). She objects to the egocentric strategy, because, as she presents it, it involves viewing the good of another as part of one’s own good. There are some problematic features of Whiting’s defence of her view of our reasons for concern for ourselves and for others, and these problematic features, I think, stem from taking rational egoism as the view to be defeated. She contrasts her impersonal approach to justifying concern – my concern for myself and for others is justified by the objects of the concern having good characters, a feature defined independently of the self – with the rational egoist approach, which justifies concern for others in so far as their good contributes to or is a constituent of my own good. But there is a third approach, one that agrees with the rational egoist that our concern for others is justified by the relationship in which those others stand to us, but refrains from regarding their good as part of our own. Whiting herself claims that ‘the friendship relation itself (as distinct from factors that may serve to explain its existence) is taken to provide reasons for concern additional to those (if any) that exist prior to its establishment’ (45). But this is an egocentric strategy for justifying concern: I am justified in caring about my friend Emilia because she is my friend. And it is certainly not the case, as Whiting seems to suggest, that if we do not appeal to character, we can only explain but not justify coming to care in the first place; for example, maybe the resulting relationship would be intrinsically and/or instrumentally valuable even if my friend does not have a virtuous character. While it would be nice to see Whiting extend the view of friendship and concern developed here in order to respond to more challenges, the essays themselves remain well worth the read and offer the reader much with which to engage. I have only very briefly touched on the several provocative and densely argued for conclusions to be found in this rewarding volume. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Analysis Trust. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Analysis – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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