Ph.D. Final Public Oral Examination

Explaining the Distinctiveness of Persons
May 11, 2023, 1:00 pm3:30 pm
201 Wooten Hall



Event Description

I propose a new explanation of the moral significance of persons and other morally considerable beings. The explanation appeals to a being's capacity for reflexive, valanced mental states that ground the content and weight of that be­ing's interests. In more sophisticated forms, such mental states acquire first­ personal representational content, rising to the level of what I call self-concern. Self-concern, I argue, is essential for explaining the distinctiveness of persons.

In this dissertation, I motivate the self-concern explanation by showing how it solves a recent puzzle in the metaphysics of persons. I then defend closely con­nected theories of personal identity from a challenge posed by the cognitive psy­chology of the self-concept. After developing and defending this theory of why we matter, I show how it enables a sentientist explanation of the moral signifi­cance of permanently unconscious humans. Finally, I draw from the theory to develop and begin solving a new problem in the ethics of artificial intelligence.