Exceptional Persons: On the Limits of Imaginary Cases

Tamar Szabó Gendler

in Intuition, Imagination, and Philosophical Methodology

Published in print December 2010 | ISBN: 9780199589760
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191595486 | DOI:
Exceptional Persons: On the Limits of Imaginary Cases

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When should we trust our judgments about far‐fetched imaginary cases? This chapter argues that if the imaginary scenario is adduced to illuminate a concept structured around a set of necessary and sufficient conditions, and if these conditions play a role in how we identify candidates as falling under that concept, then our judgments about the far‐fetched imaginary cases may help us to separate essential features of the concept from accidental ones. But if the concept is not structured in that way, or if the features in question do not govern our application of the concept, then our judgments about imaginary cases are likely to be misleading. The chapter then argues that the concept of personal identity falls into the second of these classes, and hence that far‐fetched thought experiments may not illuminate the concept in the way that they have been purported to. The chapter includes detailed discussions of John Locke's Prince and Cobbler case, Derek Parfit's case of teletransportation, and Bernard Williams's A‐body/B‐body case.

Keywords: imaginary case; philosophical thought experiment; personal identity; concept; John Locke; Derek Parfit; Bernard Williams; teletransportation; philosophical methodology

Chapter.  11108 words. 

Subjects: Metaphysics

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