Persons, Ethics and Society: Assessing Conventionalism about Personhood

November 3, 2022 - November 4, 2022
Complutense University of Madrid


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University of the Western Cape
University of Sydney
University of Sydney
Cornell University
University of Illinois, Chicago
Cornell University


Complutense University of Madrid
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz

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Persons, Ethics and Society: Assessing Conventionalism about Personhood

International Online Conference

November 3 and 4, 2022

The debate on personal identity has traditionally been divided into two main camps. On the one hand, psychological accounts argue that we are essentially psychological beings. And thus, they claim that most problems related to personal identity should be addressed from that point of view. On the other hand, Animalists claim that we are essentially biological beings. Consequently, they attempt to address most problems related to personal identity from that angle. One of the most important disagreements between these two main contenders is, then, the question about what kind of beings we are essentially.

 On the face of it, psychological accounts seem to be more suitable to address ethical issues related to personal identity, while Animalism seems to have the upper hand when metaphysical issues are at stake. It is far from obvious, though, whether ethical issues should take precedence over metaphysical issues, or vice versa; some even argue ethical and metaphysical questions of personal identity should be kept separate.

 Given this stalemate, it seems worthwhile to address the merits of a growing alternative: Conventionalism about personhood. According to Conventionalism, persons are constituted by social convention—persons are what we collectively have needed them to be—and this is the key to account for both ethical and metaphysical challenges of personal identity. Conventionalism has been explicitly and forcefully defended over the last few years by Kristie Miller and David Braddon-Mitchell. At the same time, there is an important trend within narrative theories of personal identity to emphasize the social aspects of personal identity. Eric Olson calls this “social narrativism”. And Marya Schechtman has recently defended her “Person Life View”, which has some challenges and advantages similar to those associated with Conventionalism.

This conference intends to gather both defenders and critics of Conventionalism to further the discussion as to whether Conventionalism can be seen as a way out of the stalemate between psychological accounts and Animalism.

Confirmed speakers:

• Kristie Miller (University of Sydney) and David Braddon-Mitchell (University of Sydney)

• David Shoemaker (Cornell University) and Shaun Nichols (Cornell University)

• Marya Schechtman (University of Illinois Chicago)

• Eric Olson

• Simon Beck (University of the Western Cape)

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October 31, 2022, 9:00am CET

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