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A note on psychological continuity theories of identity and neurointerventions

Abstract

An important concern sometimes voiced in the neuroethical literature is that swift and radical changes to the parts of a person’s mental life essential for sustaining his/her numerical identity can result in the person ceasing to exist—in other words, that these changes may disrupt psychological continuity. Taking neurointerventions used for rehabilitative purposes as a point of departure, this short paper argues that the same radical alterations of criminal offenders’ psychological features which under certain conditions would result in a disruption of numerical identity (and, thus, the killing of the offender) can be achieved without these having any effect on numerical identity. Thus, someone interested in making radical alterations to offenders’ psychology can avoid the charge that this would kill the offenders, while still achieving a radical transformation of them. The paper suggests that this possibility makes the question of what kinds of qualitive alterations to offenders’ identity are morally permissible (more?) pressing, but then briefly highlights some challenges for arguments against making radical qualitative identity alterations to offenders.

  • enhancement
  • prisoners
  • quality/value of life/personhood
  • government/criminal justice

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