Most philosophers writing about personal identity in recent years claim that what it takes for us to persist through time is a matter of psychology. In this groundbreaking new book, Eric Olson argues that such approaches face daunting problems, and he defends in their place a radically non-psychological account of personal identity. He defines human beings as biological organisms, and claims that no psychological relation is either sufficient or necessary for an organism to persist. Olson rejects several famous thought-experiments dealing (...) with personal identity. He argues, instead, that one could survive the destruction of all of one's psychological contents and capabilities as long as the human organism remains alive--as long as its vital functions, such as breathing, circulation, and metabolism, continue. (shrink)
This paper is about the neglected question of what sort of things we are metaphysically speaking. It is different from the mind-body problem and from familiar questions of personal identity. After explaining what the question means and how it differs from others, the paper tries to show how difficult it is to give a satisfying answer.
From the time of Locke, discussions of personal identity have often ignored the question of our basic metaphysical nature: whether we human people are biological organisms, spatial or temporal parts of organisms, bundles of perceptions, or what have you. The result of this neglect has been centuries of wild proposals and clashing intuitions. What Are We? is the first general study of this important question. It beings by explaining what the question means and how it differs from others, such as (...) questions of personal identity and the mind-body problem. It then examines in some depth the main possible accounts of our metaphysical nature, detailing both their theoretical virtues and the often grave difficulties they face. The book does not endorse any particular account of what we are, but argues that the matter turns on more general issues in the ontology of material things. If composition is universal--if any material things whatever make up something bigger--then we are temporal parts of organisms. If things never compose anything bigger, so that there are only mereological simples, then we too are simples--perhaps the immaterial substances of Descartes--or else we do not exist at all (a view Olson takes very seriously). The intermediate view that some things compose bigger things and others do not leads almost inevitably to the conclusion that we are organisms. So we can discover what we are by working out when composition occurs. (shrink)
Personal identity deals with questions about ourselves qua people (or persons). Many of these questions are familiar ones that occur to everyone at some time: What am I? When did I begin? What will happen to me when I die? Discussions of personal identity go right back to the origins of Western philosophy, and most major figures have had something to say about it. (There is also a rich literature on personal identity in Eastern philosophy, which I am not competent (...) to discuss. Collins 1982 is a good source.). (shrink)
The Human Animal is an extended defense of what its author calls the Biological Approach to personal identity: that you and I are human animals, and that the identity conditions under which we endure are those which apply to us as biological organisms. The somewhat surprising corollary of this view is that no sort of psychological continuity is either necessary or sufficient for a human animal—and thus for us—to persist through time. In challenging the hegemony of Psychological Approaches to personal (...) identity, Olson offers a number of inventive and original arguments which are certain to evoke discussion and debate. (shrink)
The view that we are human animals, " animalism ", is deeply unpopular. This paper explains what that claim says and why it is so contentious. It then argues that those who deny it face an awkward choice. They must either deny that there are any human animals, deny that human animals can think, or deny that we are the thinking things located where we are.
It is often said that the same particles can simultaneously make up two or more material objects that differ in kind and in their mental, biological, and other qualitative properties. Others wonder how objects made of the same parts in the same arrangement and surroundings could differ in these ways. I clarify this worry and show that attempts to dismiss or solve it miss its point. At most one can argue that it is a problem we can live with.
The Standard View of personal identity says that someone who exists now can exist at another time only if there is continuity of her mental contents or capacities. But no person is psychologically continuous with a fetus, for a fetus, at least early in its career, has no mental features at all. So the Standard View entails that no person was ever a fetus--contrary to the popular assumption that an unthinking fetus is a potential person. It is also mysterious what (...) does ordinarily happen to a human fetus, if it does not come to be a person. Although an extremely complex variant of the Standard View may allow one to persist without psychological continuity before one becomes a person but not afterwards, a far simpler solution is to accept a radically non-psychological account of our identity. (shrink)
Trust me: my chair isn't big enough for two. You may doubt that every rational, conscious being is a person; perhaps there are beings that mistakenly believe themselves to be people. If so, read ‘rational, conscious being’ or the like for 'person'.
The extended-mind thesis says that mental states can extend beyond one’s skin. Clark and Chalmers infer from this that the subjects of such states also extend beyond their skin: the extended-self thesis. The paper asks what exactly the extended-self thesis says, whether it really does follow from the extended-mind thesis, and what it would mean if it were true. It concludes that the extended-self thesis is unattractive, and does not follow from the extended mind unless thinking beings are literally bundles (...) of mental states. (shrink)
The apparent fact that each of us coincides with a thinking animal looks like a strong argument for our being animals (animalism). Some critics, however, claim that this sort of reasoning actually undermines animalism. According to them, the apparent fact that each human animal coincides with a thinking body that is not an animal is an equally strong argument for our not being animals. I argue that the critics' case fails for reasons that do not affect the case for animalism.
Many philosophers say that time involves a kind of passage that distinguishes it from space. A traditional objection is that this passage would have to occur at some rate, yet we cannot say what the rate would be. The paper argues that the real problem with time’s passage is different: time would have to pass at one second per second, yet this is not a rate of change. This appears to refute decisively not only the view that time passes, but (...) any tensed theory of time. (shrink)
According to a view attractive to both metaphysicians and ethicists, every period in a person’s life is the life of a being just like that person except that it exists only during that period. These “subpeople” appear to have moral status, and their interests seem to clash with ours: though it may be in some person’s interests to sacrifice for tomorrow, it is not in the interests of a subperson coinciding with him only today, who will never benefit from it. (...) Or perhaps there is no clash, and a subperson’s interests derive from those of the person it coincides with. But this makes it likely that our own interests derive from those of other beings coinciding with us. (shrink)
The Standard View of personal identity says that someone who exists now can exist at another time only if there is continuity of her mental contents or capacities. But no person is psychologically continuous with a fetus, for a fetus, at least early in its career. has no mental features at all. So the Standard View entails that no person was ever a fetus---contrary to the popular assumption that an unthinking fetus is a potential person. It is also mysterious what (...) does ordinarily happen to a human fetus, if it does not come to be a person. Although an extremely complex variant of the Standard View may allow one to persist without psychological continuity before one becomes a person but not afterwards, a far simpler solution is to accept a radically non-psychological account of our identity. (shrink)
ABSTRACTMany philosophers say that the nature of personal identity has to do with narratives: the stories we tell about ourselves. While different narrativists address different questions of personal identity, some propose narrativist accounts of personal identity over time. The paper argues that such accounts have troubling consequences about the beginning and end of our lives, lead to inconsistencies, and involve backwards causation. The problems can be solved, but only by modifying the accounts in ways that deprive them of their appeal.
In this essay I explore the idea that the solution to some important problems of personal identity lies in the philosophy of language: more precisely in the nature of first-person reference. I will argue that the “linguistic solution” is at best partly successful.
Conjoined twinning is said to show that the number of human people—the number of us—can differ from the number of human organisms, and hence that we are not organisms. The paper shows that these arguments either assume the point at issue, rely on dubious and undefended assumptions, or add nothing to more familiar arguments for the same conclusion.
What is a temporal part? Most accounts explain it in terms of timeless parthood: a thing's having a part without temporal qualification. Some find this hard to understand, and thus find the view that persisting things have temporal parts--fourdimensionalism--unintelligible. T. Sider offers to help by defining temporal parthood in terms of a thing's having a part at a time. I argue that no such account can capture the notion of a temporal part that figures in orthodox four-dimensionalism: temporal parts must (...) be timeless parts. This enables us to state four-dimensionalism more clearly. (shrink)
The Epicurean view is that there is nothing bad about death, and we are wrong to loathe it. This paper distinguishes several different such views, and shows that while some of them really would undermine our loathing of death, others would not. It then argues that any version that did so could be at best vacuously true: If there is nothing bad about death, that can only be because there is nothing bad about anything.
It is often said that the same particles can simultaneously make up two or more material objects that differ in kind and in their mental, biological and other qualitative properties. Others wonder how objects made of the same parts in the same arrangement and surroundings could differ in these ways. I clarify this worry and show that attempts to dismiss or solve it miss its point. At most one can argue that it is a problem we can live with.
It seems evident that things sometimes get bigger by acquiring new parts. But there is an ancient argument purporting to show that this is impossible: the paradox of increase or growing argument.i Here is a sketch of the paradox. Suppose we have an object, A, and we want to make it bigger by adding a part, B. That is, we want to bring it about that A first lacks and then has B as a part. Imagine, then, that we conjoin (...) B to A in some appropriate way. Never mind what A and B are, or what this conjoining amounts to: let A be anything that can gain a part if anything can gain a part, and let B be the sort of thing that can become a part of A, and suppose we do whatever it would take to make B come to be a part of A if this is possible at all. Have we thereby made B a part of A? It seems not. We seem only to have brought it about that B is attached to A, like this. (shrink)
Because there is no agreed use of the term 'self', or characteristic features or even paradigm cases of selves, there is no idea of "the self" to figure in philosophical problems. The term leads to troubles otherwise avoidable; and because legitimate discussions under the heading of 'self' are really about other things, it is gratuitous. I propose that we stop speaking of selves.
Animalism is the view that you and I are animals. That is, we are animals in the straightforward sense of having the property of being an animal, or in that each of us is identical to an animal-not merely in the derivative sense of having animal bodies, or of being "constituted by" animals. And by 'animal' I mean an organism of the animal kingdom." Sensible though it may appear, animalism is highly contentious. The most common objection is that it conflicts (...) with widespread and deep beliefs about our identity over time. These beliefs are brought out in reactions to fictional cases. Suppose, for instance, that your brain is transplanted into my head. The being who ends up with that organ, everyone assumes, will remember your life and not mine. More generally, he will have your beliefs, preferences, plans, and other mental properties, for the most part at least. Who would he be-you, me, or someone else? (shrink)
Substance dualism says that all thinking beings are immaterial. This sits awkwardly with the fact that thinking requires an intact brain. Many dualists say that bodily activity is causally necessary for thinking. But if a material thing can cause thinking, why can’t it think? No argument for dualism, however convincing, answers this question, leaving dualists with more to explain than their opponents.
Derek Parfit claims that we are not human beings. Rather, each of us is the part of a human being that thinks in the strictest sense. This is said to solve a number of difficult metaphysical problems. I argue that the view has metaphysical problems of its own, and is inconsistent with any psychological-continuity account of personal identity over time, including Parfit's own.
Sydney Shoemaker argues that the functionalist theory of mind entails a psychological-continuity view of personal identity, as well as providing a defense of that view against a crucial objection. I show that his view has surprising consequences, e.g. that no organism could have mental properties and that a thing's mental properties fail to supervene even weakly on its microstructure and surroundings. I then argue that the view founders on "fission" cases and rules out our being material things. Functionalism tells us (...) little if anything about personal identity. (shrink)
In The Human Animal I argued that we are animals, and that those animals do not persist by virtue of any sort of psychological continuity. Rather, personal identity in this sense consists in having the same biological life. And I said that a human life requires a functioning brainstem. Rina Tzinman takes this and other remarks to imply that personal identity consists in the continued functioning of the brainstem, which looks clearly false. I say it doesn’t follow. But Alan Shewmon (...) appears to have refuted my claim about the brainstem. (shrink)
This paper—written for nonspecialist readers—asks whether life after death is in any sense possible given the apparent fact that after we die our remains decay to the point where only randomly scattered atoms remain. The paper argues that this is possible only if our remains are not in fact dispersed in this way, and discusses how that might be the case. -/- 1. Life After Death -- 2. Total Destruction -- 3. The Soul -- 4. Body-Snatching -- 5. Radical Resurrection (...) -- 6. Irreversibility -- 7. Atomic Reassembly -- 8. The Transporter -- 9. Replicas and Originals -- 10. Survival and Causal Connections. (shrink)
Cartesian or substance dualism is the view that concrete substances come in two basic kinds. There are material things, such as biological organisms. These may be either simple or composed of parts. And there are immaterial things--minds or souls--which are always simple. No material thing depends for its existence on any soul, or vice versa. And only souls can think.
Philosophers often talk as if what it takes for a person to persist through time were up to us, as individuals or as a linguistic community, to decide. In most ordinary situations it might be fully determinate whether someone has survived or perished: barring some unforeseen catastrophe, it is clear enough that you will still exist ten minutes from now, for example. But there is no shortage of actual and imaginary situations where it is not so clear whether one survives. (...) Here reasonable people may disagree. There are "fission" cases where each of one's cerebral hemispheres is transplanted into a different head; Star-Trek-style "teletransportation" stories; actual cases of brain damage so severe that one can never again regain consciousness, even though one's circulation, breathing, digestion, and other "animal" functions continue; and stories where one's brain cells are gradually removed and replaced by cells from someone else, to name only a few favorites. (shrink)
Many philosophers say that the same atoms may compose at once a statue and a lump of matter that could outlive the statue. I reject this because no difference between the statue and the lump could explain why they have different persistence conditions. But if we say that the lump is the statue, it is difficult to see how there could be any human beings. I argue that this and analogous problems about material objects admit only of solutions that at (...) least appear to be radically at odds with our ordinary thinking. (shrink)
Many philosophers say that two or more people or thinking beings could share a single human being in a split‐personality case, if only the personalities were sufficiently independent and individually well integrated. I argue that this view is incompatible with our being material things, and conclude that there could never be two or more people in a split‐personality case. This refutes the view, almost universally held, that facts about mental unity and disunity determine how many people there are. I suggest (...) that the number of human people is simply the number of appropriately endowed human animals. (shrink)
Accounts of personal identity over time are supposed to fall into two broad categories: 'complex views' saying that our persistence consists in something else, and 'simple views' saying that it doesn' t. But it is impossible to characterize this distinction in any satisfactory way. The debate has been systematically misdescribed. After arguing for this claim, the paper says something about how the debate might be better characterized.
Personal identity deals with philosophical questions that arise about ourselves by virtue of our being people (or, as lawyers and philosophers like to say, persons). This chapter first surveys the main questions of personal identity, and then focuses on the one that has received most attention in recent times, namely our persistence through time. There is no single problem of personal identity, but rather a wide range of questions that are at best loosely connected. The familiar ones include: who am (...) I, what is it to be a person, and what does it take for a person to persist from one time to another. There are three main sorts of answers to the persistence question in the literature: the most popular psychological‐continuity views, according to which the holding of some psychological relation is necessary or sufficient (or both) for one to persist; brute‐physical views; and anticriterialism. (shrink)
We are material things of a specific sort: animals of the primate species Homo sapiens. This is the view known as animalism. The most common reason for rejecting animalism is that it is has unattractive consequences about what it takes for philosophers to persist through time. If human animals are animals essentially, then our being animals implies that we are animals essentially. If they are animals accidentally, then animalism implies that we are animals only accidentally. Aristotelians say that an animal (...) is a compound of matter and form. Animalists accept the indisputable fact that we have important features not shared by any nonhuman organisms that we know of: the capacity for sophisticated rational thought, for instance, and to speak a language with a complex grammatical structure. Since animals are bodies, it follows that people are not animals. Animals, even human animals, cannot have life after death. (shrink)
In special cases of partial twinning, two heads, each supporting a more-orless normal human mental life, emerge from a single torso. It is often argued that there must be two people in such a case, even if there is only one biological organism. That would pose a problem for ‘animalism’, the view that people are organisms. The paper argues that it is very hard to say what sort of non-organisms the people in such cases would be. Reflection on partial twinning (...) is no more comfortable for those who think we’re not organisms than for those who think we are. We may have to accept that a single person could have two separate mental lives. (shrink)
Transhumanists want to free us from the constraints imposed by our humanity by means of “uploading”: extracting information from the brain, transferring it to a computer, and using it to create a purely electronic person there. That is supposed to move us from our human bodies to computers. This presupposes that a human being could literally move to a computer by a mere transfer of information. The chapter questions this assumption, then asks whether the procedure might be just as good, (...) as far as our interests go, even if it could not move us to a computer. (shrink)
This chapter contains sections titled: The Problems of Personal Identity Understanding the Persistence Question Accounts of Our Identity Through Time The Psychological Approach The Fission Problem The Problem of the Thinking Animal The Somatic Approach Conclusion.
The paradox of increase in an ancient argument purporting to show that nothing can grow by acquiring new parts. If it is sound, similar reasoning leads to the more general conclusion that nothing can ever change its parts. After discussing the implicationsof this principle, the paper lays out the paradox in a way that reveals the premises that figure in it. It emerges that the paradox has no easy solution, and can be resisted only by taking on one of five (...) serious metaphysical commitments. (shrink)
One of the main problems of personal identity is supposed to be how we relate to our bodies. A few philosophers endorse what is called a 'bodily criterion of personal identity': they say that we are our bodies, or at any rate that our identity over time consists in the identity of our bodies. Many more deny this--typically on the grounds that we can imagine ourselves coming apart from our bodies. But both sides agree that the bodily criterion is an (...) important view which anyone thinking about personal identity must consider. (shrink)
In “Was I Ever a Fetus?” I argued that, since each of us was once an unthinking fetus, psychological continuity cannot be necessary for us to persist through time. Baker claims that the argument is invalid, and that both the premise and the conclusion are false. I attempt to defend argument, premise, and conclusion against her objections.
The prosaic content of these sayings is that events change from future to present and from present to past. Your next birthday is in the future, but with the passage of time it draws nearer and nearer until it is present. 24 hours later it will be in the past, and then lapse forever deeper into history. And things get older: even if they don’t wear out or lose their hair or change in any other way, their chronological age is (...) always increasing. These changes are universal and inescapable: no event could ever fail to be first future, then present, then past, and no persisting thing can avoid growing older. We call this process time’s passage. (shrink)
In this paper I shall explore a novel alternative to these familiar views. In his recent book Sub ects of Ex erience, E. J. Lowe argues, as many others have done before, that you and I are not animals. It follows from this, he says, that we must be simple substances without parts. That may sound like Cartesian dualism. But Lowe is no Cartesian. He argues from premises that many present-day materialists accept. And he claims that our being mereologically simple (...) is consistent with our having such paradigmatically physical properties as being six feet tall and weighing 160 pounds. You and I, he claims, are mereological atoms shaped like human beings. (shrink)