a1 University of Massachusetts at Boston
Do our customary notions of shame, blame and guilt require us to adopt a particular view of the self's singularity and invariance through time? Consider the intriguing case of John Demjanjuk, tried in Israel during 1987 and 1988 for the crimes of “Ivan the Terrible,” a concentration camp guard at Treblinka in Poland, during 1942–43. John Demjanjuk, a retired factory worker living in Cleveland, Ohio, appeared banal at his trial—old, quiet, ordinary and helpless; descriptions from survivors of Treblinka cast Ivan as monstrous in his vigorous brutality. Should John be found guilty and punished for Ivan's crimes? This question takes us beyond any answers sought at the trial. Even if the spatio-temporal identity of the later John and earlier Ivan had been established conclusively, still the justice of punishing the later man for the earlier one's crimes may be questioned. For a philosophical puzzle of personal identity lingers: is the later John the same person as the earlier Ivan? In cases such as this the passage of time and radical changes of character and personality seem to invite the notion that one self or person has succeeded another in the same body. If this were so, would—or should—culpability transfer undiminished from one self to another?