People and Their Bodies
Thomson (Judith Jarvis)
Source: Dancy - Reading Parfit, 1997, Chapter 10
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. The simplest view of what people are is that they are their bodies. That view has other attractions besides its simplicity. I feel inclined to think that this fleshy object (my body is what I refer to) isn't something I merely currently inhabit; I feel inclined to think that it is me. This bony object (my left hand is what I refer to) – isn't it literally part of me? Certainly we all, at least at times, feel inclined to think that we are not merely embodied, but that we just, all simply, are our bodies.
  2. What stands in the way of adopting this simple and attractive view?
  3. Some people would say that the manner in which death ordinarily comes on us stands in the way of adopting it. Some people's deaths issue from total destruction of the body, as in an explosion, but that is not the ordinary case. Suppose Alfred and Bert are people who died of a disease, in their beds. Their bodies did not go out of existence at that time. So if Alfred and Bert went out of existence at that time, then they are not their bodies.
  4. But did Alfred and Bert go out of existence at that time? Don't people who die in bed just become dead people at the time of their deaths? Cats who die in bed become dead cats at the time of their deaths; why should it be thought otherwise in the case of people? Can't there be some dead people as well as some dead cats in a house after the roof falls in? The answer surely is that there can be.
  5. You might have wondered why I have been talking in the plural, of people. I did so because the only available candidate in the singular for the plural 'people' is 'person', and philosophers do not use 'person’ as a mere innocuous singular for 'people': 'person' in the hands of a philosopher trails clouds of philosophy. 'Dead people', like 'dead cats’, causes no one any discomfort; but ‘dead person’, unlike ‘dead cat’, causes a philosopher (though not, I think, a non-philosopher) to feel at best anxious.

Comment:

Also in "Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics".

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