- The Self, Agency, and Responsibility:A Reply to Mark Siderits
Mark Siderits has raised a number of interesting issues and objections concerning the "pluralist view" of the self I put forward in "Buddhist Philosophy and the No-Self View." In this short reply, I am going to focus on two main points he made, in the reverse order in which he made them. [End Page 558]
Here is a "metaphysical difficulty" that Siderits raises in the case of the pluralist view. It is useful to formulate the case from the first-person point of view, so let's consider me this morning: I wake up, have breakfast, and I am thinking about whether I should go skiing or whether I should go and start working on this reply. Siderits says that according to the pluralist view, there is a self that corresponds to the series of individual psychological states that include having breakfast and skiing—if that's what I choose to do—or a self that corresponds to the series of individual psychological states that include having breakfast and working on this reply—if that's what I choose to do. Of course, there is only one of the series, namely the second one. But the point, Siderits claims, is that if that's what I am—that is, the plurality corresponding to the second series—then I could not have chosen to go skiing. Indeed, a self that would be the plurality that corresponds to the first series, the one that involves skiing, would be a different entity, distinct from what I am. So, since it is metaphysically impossible, Siderits says, for me to be the other plurality, since I am the plurality that I am and no other, I then could not have chosen to do other than what I did.
It is worth pointing out that this worry, if it were genuine, would apply to a bundle theory of the self as well, at least if the bundle were understood as a temporally extended one. But, fortunately, I think that this worry can be dissolved. Siderits claims that under the pluralist view there is no coherent notion of a deliberative agent. To deliberate, he says, an agent must be able to consider how it would view various different outcomes were they to be realized, while the pluralist view does not have room for this. But nothing in the pluralist view prevents me from being such an agent. In the actual world, it is true that I decide to do one thing, and then, of course, I do not do the other. But I could have chosen otherwise, which can be standardly understood in terms of modal counterpart theory.1 Modal counterpart theory is a tool to deal with de re modality, and it says, in short, that x is possibly F iff there is a possible world in which x has a counterpart that is F. A counterpart of x is something that is similar enough to x, and this is the thing that is the most similar to x in that other world. In my case, there is a possible world where there is an individual exactly like me—my qualitative duplicate—until a point in time where we start to diverge: I decided to go to work while my counterpart decided to go skiing. The existence of this counterpart then makes true the statement that I could have gone skiing, even though I did not.
Let us make Siderits' case more extreme, to see how a deliberative agent can be at work here. Let us consider a genuine (albeit fictional) case of fission (this will take alethic modalities away, and we'll focus on temporal modalities). Again, I wake up, have breakfast, and I am thinking about whether I should go skiing or whether I should go to work. Suppose that right after breakfast I actually decide to go skiing, and in order to get to the mountains more quickly I enter a Star Trek transporter and I use it to get to the summit of Mont Blanc. But, due to a malfunction on the mechanism, I also stay behind—the...