SOCIAL INDIVIDUALS, AND PERSONS
MY DAUGHTER ANNA WAS born in Vietnam, and we adopted her when she was nine months old. If Anna had remained with her birth family in Vietnam, her life would have been different in many respects. She would have grown up in a peasant culture in a rural hamlet instead of in a middle-class, nonagrarian American family. But in either scenario, Anna would be the same human organism; she would be the very same member of the human species. But Vietnamese Anna and American Anna would not be the same person, the same psychological individual. Clearly, Vietnamese Anna would have different memories than her American counterpart. Vietnamese Anna would have had different parents and siblings, a different nationality, and different life experiences from American Anna. She would also have had a different set of attitudes and moral dispositions from her American counterpart, since a child’s duty to her parents in a Confucian society like Vietnam are more rigorous and exacting than the expectations in contemporary American society.1 Using the standard psychological criteria for sameness of persons, Vietnamese Anna and American Anna would not be the same person.2
1. The PBS American Experience documentary “Daughter from Danang” depicts the misunderstanding that can result from culturally different expectations concerning the obligation of a child to a parent (and vice versa).
2. An objection to this point arises in relation to the causal theory of meaning, which imagines an initial baptism (or introducing event) that fixes the reference of a name to an individual, whose different careers and life experiences we can then