Re: The Copy Paradox

Nick Bostrom (
Sun, 16 Nov 1997 13:46:01 +0000

John K Clark wrote:

> "Nick Bostrom" <> On Fri, 14 Nov 1997 Wrote:
> >human beings are not words or concepts
> Obviously I agree that people are not words, but I strongly disagree with
> your other statement. A concept is a mental state and I don't have mental
> states, I am a mental state, or a collection of them.

"Mental state" is a bit ambigous. I think the traditional line
of thinking goes like this: The thought "Mary loves John." involves
the same concepts as "John loves Mary.", namely the concepts "John",
"loves" and "Mary". Nevertheless the two thoughts are quite distinct.
So let's assume I agree that you are a mental state or a collection
of them. You would then be constituted by a thought or a collection
of thoughts. This means, if you hade very different thoughts, you
would be a different person. Hence you are not defined by the
concepts you entertain, since there are many very different ways in
which these concepts could be put together into thoughts; and
different thoughts would constitute a different person. So rather
than saying that you are a collection of concepts, you have to say
that you are a collection of conceps cum a structure defined on that
collection. And I don't think it makes literal sense to say that this
collection cum structure is an adjective -- it would be more correct
to say that it was a proposition.

At this point I may also ask you if you don't think that feelings and
values and desires enters in what constitutes being you?

Moreover, in order to be a human being, it is not enough to be a
person. One also has to belong to the human species, and whether one
does so presumably depends on one's ancestry and one's biological
constitution, not just on one's thoughts or concepts.

> >Also, note the interdefinability of nouns, adjectives and nouns, in
> >a natural (at least in the eyes of philosophers) extension of
> >English: Dog=that which "dogs"=that which is "doggish".
> True, and it's almost enough to give circular reasoning a bad name. Actually
> I think all it proves is that definitions are not all that important and
> except when doing mathematics or formal logic we seldom use them or need to.

Yes, on some deeper level I think I agree with you there.

Nick Bostrom