Going topless

Ratio 11 (2):125-140 (1998)

Abstract

The view that people go where their brains go remains popular in discussions of personal identity. But since the brain is only a small part of the body, defenders of that view need to provide an account of what it is that makes the brain specially relevant to personal identity. The standard answer is that the brain is special because it is the carrier of psychological continuity. But Peter van Inwagen has recently offered (in Material Beings) an alternative account of the brain' special relevance. Those who reject the view that we go with our brains obviously need to respond to this new account. According to van Inwagen, there is an important difference between the life-support requirements of a severed head and those of a headless body: whereas a severed head would need only a pump to survive, a headless body would need the functional equivalent of a computer in its life-support system. It follows, according to van Inwagen, that we go with our brains. In this paper I argue that van Inwagen's argument is doubly defective: the inference from his premisses to his conclusion is dubious; and in any case his premisses misrepresent the relevant physiological facts.

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