Oxford Scholarship Online
- This chapter is about how to state the question of personal identity over time.
- The question is often put in a way that assumes a person cannot start out or end up as a nonperson.
- This prejudges an important metaphysical question, and rules out the Biological Approach.
- The chapter then turns to the language of identity over time in general.
- Criteria of Personal Identity
- Substance Concepts
- Movers and Thinkers
- “Person P1 and Time t1”
- Criteria of Personal Identity
- The Psychological Approach is a proposed criterion of personal identity – what it takes for a person to exist at two different times.
- Olson sees two problems with making the claim sufficiently precise to be accepted by both supporters and detractors:-
- Confusion about persistence through time in general – to be treated in Section 4 of this Chapter.
- What is it to give a criterion of identity for people2 as opposed to other things?
- Olson has a couple of stabs at the criterion in logical form3.
- The first is a psychological relation R between a person at one time, and another individual at another time. There is no explicit pre-requisite that this “second” individual be a person, but it clearly must be capable of entertaining a psychology such that R holds.
- The second version – just an example – makes R explicit. Requirements are psychological continuity4 and uniqueness at each time between the end-times of identification.
- Olson’s preferred understanding of the question is to take someone who is a person at a time and ask under what conditions is something – “anything at all” – existing at another time numerically identical to that person.
- There is – however – an objection, which Olson dismisses5. Some say that you can’t say anything of a “thing” without saying what sort of thing you are referring to. In David Wiggins’s terms, a “thing” is “not an adequate covering concept”.
- Olson stresses – with an allusion to "Wiggins (David) - Outline of a Theory of Individuation (S&S)", p. 53 (“Proposition D and the rationale of the ‘same what?’ question”) – that such “criteria” are constitutive rather than epistemic – they are about what “our identity through time consists in” not about how “we find out whether a person has survived or perished”.
- Olson points out the radical distinction between his formulation of the criterion for a person’s persistence through time and that proposed by the majority of philosophers: Olson has the later individual unconstrained in kind6, while the majority view is that both putative identicals have to be persons.
- Olson thinks there are several reasons why the majority view is objectionable:-
- A quibble: “same person” is ambiguous. While taken by philosophers to require numerical identity7, there are alternative understandings of “sameness relations”:-
- Numerically distinct individuals can be the same K, for some K: eg. Bill Clinton and Robert Reagan were the same official.
- Analogously8, non-philosophers may understand “being the same person” as a resemblance or continuity that neither entails nor is entailed by numerical identity. Someone may no longer “be the same person” since she underwent some major psychological change (such as a religious conversion). Olson will discuss this further in the next Chapter ("Olson (Eric) - Why We Need Not Accept the Psychological Approach").
- We can satisfy the previous objection by using the expression “being one and the same as” rather than “being the same person as”. However, this raises a deeper issue …
- The “same person” relation relies on you persisting as a person – but this prejudges the issue.
- The term “person” is usually used by philosophers to imply the capacities of rationality and self-consciousness – so that “you and I are “people9” whereas dogs and cats aren’t”.
- Olson notes that not all philosophers agree with this definition of “person10”. We’re referred to two:-
- "Chisholm (Roderick) - Coming Into Being and Passing Away: Can the Metaphysician Help?", p. 181: Chisholm says that a person is anything that can come to be rational and conscious. Olson claims this is “no more than a verbal disagreement” – but it strikes me as substantive, as it would make fetuses persons, which many deny.
- "Wiggins (David) - Locke, Butler and the Stream of Consciousness: And Men as Natural Kind", p. 164ff: Wiggins – for reasons Olson finds “obscure11” – thinks that the Lockean definition of “person” is “morally and politically pernicious”.
- It is at least arguable – on this definition of “person” – that fetuses are not persons, and that those in a PVS12 are not persons. So, each of us – it might be argued13 – might not be or remain a person throughout the full period of our existence.
- Even if – for some reason – this is not so, it is a question for philosophical investigation, and should not be decided merely by our definition of persistence for persons.
- Olson rejects the view that it is in some sense paradoxical that a person can exist while not yet being, or no longer being, a person. His analogy is with “infant”. When an infant grows up, he is no longer an infant, but that infant continues to exist – as an adult or a philosopher. Olson wants us to treat “person” just as we treat14 “infant” (or “adult” or “philosopher”). He’ll address this matter further in Section II (“Substance Concepts”).
- Olson considers whether his proposal is purely verbal. If personal identity is about persons, then either:-
In support of this contention, we are referred to
- He’s disagreeing with his opponents about the meaning of the words “personal identity”, or |
- He’s refusing to discuss the topic of personal identity and talking about something else instead.
→ "Gert (Bernard) - Personal Identity and the Body", p. 475 ff, “the question of personal identity does not arise if the body has no psychological features”, and
→ "Johnston (Mark) - Relativism and the Self", p. 449
- He admits that there are indeed two questions – the broad one he wants to consider, where one end-point is unconstrained, and the narrow one restricted to persons at both ends. Both questions are legitimate, but – Olson claims – philosophers often mistakenly ask the narrow question when they mean to be asking the broad one. He thinks the narrow question uninteresting15.
- In support of this contention, Olson points out that – while a standard psychological criterion answering the narrow question would agree that if your cerebrum is transplanted, the recipient would be you, thereby ruling out the BV as an answer to the broad16 question, it is silent on other questions.
- So, in the transplant case where your cerebrum is destroyed, it says nothing about whether you survive – other than if you do, it’s not as a person. Similarly with the vegetable case.
- Olson thinks that supporters of the PV intend their answers to be of the broad question. They claim that you cease to exist when your mind is destroyed – not just that you cease to be a person.
- If it were a necessary truth that “person17” is a substance18 concept, then the broad and narrow questions would be equivalent, which is why they are so often run together. This will be addressed in the next section.
- If I could start as a person and end as a non-person, isn’t it misleading to describe the problem of my persistence as “personal identity”?
- Olson’s response is that we are people, and he’s interested in our identity, just the same as has historically been the case.
- However, he denies that there is any single criterion of identity suitable for all and only people (“persons”) – he runs through the usual list of potential persons – as they have different persistence conditions19.
- However, according to Olson’s version of the BV, the question of our identity boils down to “under what possible circumstances is something that is a human animal at one time the same animal20 as a human animal at another time?”. Yet, stating the question of our identity this way is as tendentious21 as the narrow statement of the PV.
- So, in summary – Olson claims – there is no such thing as “personal identity” and more than “philosopher identity”. We can ask what it takes for a philosopher to persist through time, but not as a philosopher. The same goes for infants and – Olson claims – “people”.
- Substance Concepts
- Supporters of the PV typically assume without question that personhood is what Wiggins (in "Wiggins (David) - Identity & Spatio-temporal Continuity" – ie. "Wiggins (David) - Identity & Spatio-temporal Continuity: Parts 1.3-8: Five Ways to be Wrong About Relative Identity", p. 7 – and "Wiggins (David) - The Absoluteness of Sameness (S&S)", p. 24) calls a substance concept. While I may also be an adult, a human being, a club member, being a person is a more privileged position because “a person” is what I am22 most fundamentally, and it is this – it is assumed – that determines my persistence conditions. I’m a person first and everything else second.
- Olson gives an extensive quotation from "Wiggins (David) - The Absoluteness of Sameness (S&S)", p. 15 to the effect that:-
- Every particular object falls under some kind or concept23 that tells us – or would tell us if we knew it – what that object is, as distinct from describing some accidental features of it, and
- This concept determines the persistence conditions that necessarily apply to things of this kind.
- Olson claims that this view – hailing originally from Aristotle (says Wiggins) – is too fundamental to argue for against a detractor, but is one that he will rely on throughout this book.
- However, the theory of substance doesn’t tell us what substance concept we fall under.
- Olson claims that treating person as a substance concept has two interesting consequences:-
- All persons would have the same persistence conditions – and if not we’d have to invent further substance concepts like A-people and B-people.
- Once a person, always a person. It would be incoherent to talk about former people or potential people. A non-person doesn’t have its persistence criteria in virtue of being a person, and a thing cannot change its persistence criteria24 partway through its career. This will be discussed further in Chapter 4 ("Olson (Eric) - Was I Ever a Fetus?").
- So, if I was once a non-person, and survived the transition from non-person to person, there must be some other substance-concept under which I fall. Olson also claims that this would show that person is not a substance-concept25.
- We need to distinguish substance concepts from what Wiggins – in the same two references cited at the start of this Section – calls phase sortals26, such as “child”, which are kinds that something can belong to temporarily. Phase sortals as such27 don’t have persistence criteria, and to become a philosopher is not to come into existence simpliciter.
- Olson has an extensive footnote on “a complication that he shall ignore”:-
- In "Wiggins (David) - Identity & Spatio-temporal Continuity: Parts 1.3-8: Five Ways to be Wrong About Relative Identity", p. 7, Wiggins:-
- Defines substance concepts as “sortal concepts which present-tensedly apply to an individual x at every moment throughout x’s existence”, and
- Claims that these “give the privileged and (unless context makes it otherwise) the most fundamental answer to the question ‘what is x?’”
- However, it might be possible for something to be a substance concept in sense (a) without being so in sense (b).
- Sense (a) is “an abiding sort” in "Snowdon (Paul) - Persons, Animals, and Ourselves", p. 87 or a “temporally essential attribute” in "Lockwood (Michael) - When Does a Life Begin?", p. 12.
- Olson equates sense (b) with “determining the persistence conditions for all and only things of that kind”, but I don’t see why he makes this leap. He calls sense (b) an “ultimate sort”.
- This theory appears after a fairly long motivating example: if people shared all their persistence conditions with some non-people – such as gorillas – then they would have their persistence criteria in virtue of falling under some kind that included both people and gorillas - thinking being maybe. While it would be true that we are people – and true (for the sake of the argument) that we are people throughout our careers, a more fundamental answer to the “what are we28?” question would be “a member of the wider class that includes both people and gorillas”. I didn’t see the cogency29 of this argument at all.
- So, anyone who takes person to be a substance concept can argue for the PV as follows:-
- The concept of a person is at least partly a psychological concept: any person has to be rational and self-aware, for instance.
- Because people have their persistence conditions in virtue of their being people, we should expect their persistence conditions to have something to do with psychology.
- So, at the least, we can expect a person not to survive in a PVS, or as the relict following a cerebrum transplant, as such beings aren’t people.
- Olson claims, therefore, that anyone who takes person to be a substance concept in effect assumes the PV30.
- If person is only a phase sortal, then the above argument is no more convincing than would be one of the same form that claimed that an athlete31 could not survive the loss of his athletic abilities. Such an argument is invalid because athlete is not a substance concept – because athletes do not have their persistence conditions in virtue of being athletes.
- So, according to the BV, person is not a substance concept but a phase sortal like athlete.
- Olson rehearses the usual examples of non-biological persons with different persistence conditions to human persons and that biological people have the same persistence conditions some as non-persons (fetuses or those in a PVS).
- He adds that it is likely that our persistence conditions are the same as aardvarks32, oysters or animals in general.
- So, our substance concept – what we most fundamentally are – is not person but rather Homo Sapiens, animal or33 living organism.
- Derek Parfit has suggested to Olson that “person” is ambiguous and can be used either as a phase sortal or as a substance concept. This might reduce discussion to arguments about words – what is the primary English usage of the word “person”, say. However, Olson thinks the suggestion gets us into “deep waters”: both these terms cannot apply to a person at the same time, because a phase-sortal person would fall under a substance-concept other than Person – Animal for instance – that has persistence conditions inconsistent with the substance concept Person. A phase-sortal person would have modal and possibility historical properties impossible for a substance-concept Person.
- So, in what sense of Person are we people?
- If we are phase-sortal people, the PV is false, as we might once have been non-people, and so could survive radical psychological discontinuity.
- If we are people in the substance-concept sense, the PV is true.
- But, the issue is non-verbal:-
- If the PV is true, there could not be any people of the phase-sortal sort for if there were they would be rational, self-conscious agents of whom the PV is false. We are referred to Chapter 5 ("Olson (Eric) - Are People Animals?"), Section V (“Why We Are Animals”).
- If the BV is true, there are presumably no people34 in the substance-concept sense even if there is such a substance-concept35.
- In the next section Olson will consider an argument that there is no substance-concept sense36 of ‘person’.
- Movers and Thinkers
- If person is a substance-concept, it’s easy to argue that the PV is true. However, if not, it’s hard to see how the PV could be true. If we are animals, say, in that our persistence conditions are those of animals, then those persistence conditions cannot be psychological, as many animals persist without any psychology at all.
- This raises a difficult challenge for the PV, because it’s not clear that person (or thinker37, or similar) could be a substance concept.
- Olson reminds us of the difference between substance-concepts, that answer “what is it?” questions, and other concepts that answer attributive questions (“where is it?”, “what does it weigh?”, …).
- Olson thinks that “person” – in the sense considered by the PV – focuses on what an individual does, rather than what it is. Such a person can ordinarily think in a certain way – it is rational, conscious, self-aware, morally accountable38, and the like. But this capacity doesn’t tell us what it is – it might be39 a human animal, an angel Cartesian ego, …
- Olson attempts to show the difficulty by his “locomotor” analogy40:-
- We are to imagine a philosopher impressed by “locomotive capacities” – the ability to move under one’s own steam, a capacity shared by human beings and lots of other things. Such beings are “locomotors”.
- By analogy with TEs involving cerebrum transplants according to the PV, we are to imagine that:-
- A ship with a broken engine ceases to exist;
- Adding a motor to a prior non-locomotor creates a numerically different individual;
- Moving the engine from one ship to another makes the recipient identical to the donor.
- If locomotor has two engines – by analogy with the two cerebral hemispheres – fission paradoxes arise if they are transplanted.
- If a locomotor (eg. Stephen Hawking) loses its means of locomotion, it perishes, even though it is otherwise fully functional
- Why is the locomotor theory so daft?
- Compare crabs and barnacles. Our theory is unimpressed by evolutionary proximity and similar physiology but insists that they – and even crabs that cannot move – belong to different substantial kinds.
- Juvenile barnacles are locomotors – pending their attachment to their rock – so are numerically distinct from their sessile adults, having – on this theory – different persistence conditions.
- If we compare a healthy crab with a model airplane they are anatomically utterly distinct and have different ways of maintaining themselves – or being maintained – in existence. But our locomotor theorist is unimpressed – the fact that they are both locomotors is sufficient for them to form a kind.
- If – somehow – crabs and battleships did have the same persistence conditions – different to barnacles and rowboats – we would not expect this to be because the former are locomotors and the latter not, but because – contrary to all expectation – crabs and battleships turned out to have some more significant feature in common.
- Self-locomotion is just not the sort of feature that could determine an object’s persistence conditions. Locomotor could not be a substance-concept.
- If you ask “what’s that” pointing to a crab, and get the answer “a locomotor”, this doesn’t answer your question. Lots of things can move, but what is this one? So, what’s wrong with the “locomotor” answer?
- Olson thinks this is a difficult matter, but that part of the problem is that locomotion is dispositional or functional property realized in a wide variety of intrinsic structures. Locomotors may have little in common beyond the ability to perform a certain task – and even that may be grounded in completely different internal structures.
- Morover, some non-locomotors have more in common with some locomotors than different locomotors have with one another.
- So, locomotion appears to be a superficial similarity. A difference or similarity in one particular ability need have no wider significance.
- locomotion is a mere capacity – and one that is not closely connected to a thing’s internal structure. Anything whatever that is functionally-equivalent will do.
Hence, Locomotor is a functional kind, rather than a substance-concept.
- Assuming that this is a correct diagnosis of the problems with “locomotors”, Olson now makes the explicit comparison with way the PV takes “person” to be a substance-concept:-
- Person also seems to be a functional kind rather than a substance-concept. To be a person is to have certain mental properties, and – according to a widely-accepted theory41 – these are essentially dispositions. Mental states have causal powers, and there’s no a priori reason why these have to be grounded in brain-states. Other structures – in Martians or computers – might do just as well, so such beings might also be people.
- Personhood is – like locomotion – merely42 a capacity of a thing. Olson claims – maybe improbably – that the various candidate persons have less in common than crabs and battleships (candidate locomotors). So, saying someone is a person tells us even less about them than calling them a locomotor.
- Olson points out the PV analogies to the “daft” consequences of the locomotor theory given above. While the analogies are fairly obvious, some of what he has to say is sufficiently contentious to be worth remarking on.
- “Daft” consequences:-
- Olson claims that just as a barnacle larva would cease to exist on losing its locomotive capacity, so would a human organism cease to exist on losing its mental capacities – and both are numerically distinct from the sessile / non-cognitive beings that supersede them. This seems a conceptual error to me43.
- He also points out the intended analogy that a cerebrum transfer extinguishes the recipient animal. I think this is open to the same objection.
- Both theories claim that different members of the same biological species44 may fall under different substance concepts, and have completely different persistence conditions.
- Olson will consider these matters further in
→ Chapter 4: "Olson (Eric) - Was I Ever a Fetus?", and
→ Chapter 5: "Olson (Eric) - Are People Animals?"
- So, supporters of the PV need to explain why person is a substance-concept, while locomotor isn’t.
- The BV doesn’t have this problem, as human animal and similar variants are paradigm-cases of substance-concepts, and an excellent answer45 to the question “what is it that thinks”.
- Olson now considers the objection that personhood is more than a mere dispositional property and having certain psychological capacities. Maybe it is more like animal or immaterial substance than locomotor.
- It’s hard to evaluate this claim without an actual proposal46.
- However, Olson doesn’t think it’ll be possible because the difference between persons and non-persons of the same ((human) species is simply a matter of what they can do – one can think and act and the other – an anencephalic infant, say – cannot.
- Of course, these abilities – or the lack thereof – are grounded in neural structures, but these are not part of the concept of a person since non-human, non-biological persons can be such without any biological brains at all. It’s only what the brain can do that’s important.
- Can’t we restrict47 the scope of the PV to human people?
- Olson thinks it would be “surprising” if the PV only applied to human people.
- Even if there are in fact only human people, there might have been non-human ones.
- Such non-human-persons – whether angels or aliens – would have the same reasons for accepting the PV as human persons. Why should they be mistaken and we correct?
- It seems that some versions of the PV48 – eg. Peter Unger’s – require physical as well as psychological continuity, so cannot apply to immaterial people.
- But – says Olson – we should not expect such an account to be true of material people unless some generalization were true of immaterial people.
- That is, if we survive just in case our mental capacities are preserved in a physically continuous way – we should expect any person to survive just in case her mental capacities are preserved in some analogous way49.
- “Person P1 and Time t1”
- Olson now turns to a technical matter that he says deserves more attention than it has received, though it “may never have led anyone astray” so the bored are encouraged to skip50!
- The problem of PID is usually stated as the filling in of the dots in a statement like
A: x at time t is identical to y at time t* iff … with a criterion of identity.
- But, how are we to understand the variables and times? Should we make substitutions like in the formulation below?
B: Tom today is identical to Tim tomorrow iff …
- How are we to understand the temporal qualifications?
- They seem to be adverbs telling us when the predicates are true of the subjects. So, is B telling us that the identity holds between Tom and Tim at two different times, just like Tom might visit Tim at two different times? In that case, the formulation would be
C: Tom and Tim are one, both today and tomorrow, iff …
- Olson thinks this cannot be right. There is no point qualifying a predicate with an adverb unless different adverbs can change the truth value of the sentence. Tom doesn’t visit Tim all the time, but if Tom and Tim are one, they are necessarily51 so and not just identical at certain times. It’s as odd as saying “5 is greater than 3 in Cleveland”.
- However, a possibility is that the temporal predicates merely indicate that Tom and Tim exist at the times in question. This would lead to
D: Tom and Tim are identical, and exist today and tomorrow, iff …
- Hence52, the temporal adverbs in A and B modify the predicate “exists” – which appears in the “deep structure” of the sentences – rather than “is identical with”. If so, it is at best misleading to use them to talk of identity through time. Additionally, the order of the temporal adverbs could be reversed without affecting the sense, and one could be omitted while leaving a meaningful sentence.
- Olson doesn’t think this is what philosophers want to say when using “x at t”. When we fill out A to become
x at t is identical to y at t* iff x at t is psychologically continuous with y at t*we cannot simply reverse the times or leave one out without changing the meaning.
- Some have argued against the adverbial use of the temporal predicates, saying what is meant by “Tom today” is a noun phrase signifying the temporal part of Tom that occurs today.
- We are referred to "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Plantinga on Trans-world Identity" (1985) and to Chapter 7 ("Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal: Alternatives"), Section III.
- This proposal seems to give us an awkward choice. Either:-
- The “identity statement” is not talking about identity at all, but is saying that the “today part” of Tom is part of the same person as the “tomorrow part” of Tim, or
- If it is talking about identity, it’s making a false statement as temporal parts even of the same individual cannot be identical unless they are the very same part, though "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Plantinga on Trans-world Identity", p. 106 shows how the temporal-part theorist can avoid this.
- In any case, this option is only open to those who espouse the “contentious” doctrine of temporal parts. Olson will discuss this in Chapter 7 (see reference above).
- However, there is a kernel of truth in this proposal …
- How are we to understand the relata of the identity predicate?
- The temporal adverbs do not modify the identity predicate. Rather, they determine the relata of that predicate: “they are components of complex noun phrases”.
- “Tom” and “Tim” are bad examples as their reference cannot be modified by temporal qualification: they are rigid designators53.
- A better example would be of Definite Descriptions54; “the sapling back then” … “the tree today”.
- So, Schema A is – if interpreted in the usual way – both semantically and grammatically confused. A better attempt would be:-
The x that is F at t is the y that is G at t*
- So, if we interpret the temporal expressions in identity statements as closet Definite Descriptions, what are we to make of the conditions of identity?
- We are referred to "Noonan (Harold) - Personal Identity", Chapter 1 - "Noonan (Harold) - An Initial Survey" p. 13 (“The revised psychological continuity criterion”)
P2 at t2 is the same person as P1 at t1 iff P2 at t2 is psychologically continuous with P1 at t1
- Psychological continuity is a 4-place relation between two people and two times.
- Olson gives an example of someone who suffered some radical psychological change (then) 10 years ago. She is now psychologically continuous with herself following this change, but not with herself before the change – as is agreed by both those who say she survived the change and those who deny it55. We cannot leave out the times.
- So, Olson claims that the least misleading way of claiming that psychological continuity is necessary56 for a person to persist is:-
Necessarily, for any x that is a person at t, and any y that exists at another time t*, x=y only if x is at t psychologically continuous with y as she is at t*.
- In these Notes, I’ve not been especially careful to distinguish Olson’s points from my own, nor even Olson’s points here from those he makes elsewhere.
- See also the general disclaimer.
- This write-up is logged as a Paper Abstract rather than a Write-up Note. This is contrary to my current standard, and I will make the appropriate adjustment when I’ve completed annotating the whole book.
- As always, Olson says “people” rather than “persons”.
- Maybe he means by “people” specifically human persons, but I doubt it.
- I will usually restrain myself from complaining about this usage further, and will often follow Olson’s usage without comment.
Footnote 4: Footnote 5:
- I won’t repeat the formalism here, but just draw out salient points.
- Olson’s preferred formulation is given at the end of Section 4 of this Chapter.
Footnote 6: Several issues here:-
- He gives a formula, and says that nothing Wiggins says would make it “illegitimate, incomplete or incomprehensible”.
- This may be the case, but the reason for this is that when the comparison is made, the “thing” would have a covering concept applied – for instance “is this human animal in a PVS numerically identical to this person?”. Olson just wants to keep the covering concept of the later individual open – and I agree.
- It would have been helpful if Olson had supplied a reference to Wiggins. I’ll add this later.
Footnote 8: I don’t really see the analogy, but agree with what Olson says.
- Olson doesn’t use the term “Kind” immediately, but does so when he gets to shared office-holders forming a kind.
- Do “persons” as such form a kind? This – presumably – depends what we mean by “kind”. Olson seems to use it where others might use “sort” or Sortal.
- Can the very same individual change its kind? Again, this depends whether it’s a substance-kind or not.
- See my notes on Kinds, Natural Kinds and Metamorphosis.
Footnote 9: Olson’s usual annoying usage.
Footnote 10: Also, see my Note.
Footnote 11: I need to re-read this paper by Wiggins to determine what he means.
- It seems impossible not to be tendentious here.
- Olson – rightly – says that the traditional account of personal identity stacks the deck against the animalist by insisting that the individual under consideration remain a person.
- But saying that “we might survive in a PVS” assumes that we are human animals.
- This will be as phase sortals.
- Alternatively as properties, or honorifics.
- The important point is that “person” – and the other kinds – are not substance kinds but are phases or categories of things that are substance kinds.
Footnote 16: This is an important point, which is that – given that on this view you survive the transplant in the form of the recipient, the “brainless relict” cannot be you, as the BV claims.
- He would, wouldn’t he!
- Upholders of the PV – particularly those willing to contemplate MPD – no doubt find the narrow question of great interest.
Footnote 20: The omission of “human” here is benign, as the animals being compared are both human. Olson doesn’t contemplate the possibility of princes turning into frogs.
- This seems to beg the question against the supporters of the PV, at least at this point in the argument.
- If “person” turns out to be a substance concept, then all persons might have the same persistence-conditions “qua person”, though an intelligent computer – qua computer – would have different persistence conditions to a human animal.
- Also, if the Constitution View is correct, the very same person might be constituted by individuals with very different persistence conditions (mortal and immortal bodies, for instance).
Footnote 21: Because it assumes that we are human animals, just as the PV assumes that we are persons.
- I suspect this is more complicated than is said here.
- Hares and rabbits – or even rabbits and foxes – probably have the same persistence conditions, but we can’t have rabbits metamorphosing into foxes.
- That said, maybe they may share all their persistence conditions bar one – “being a hare” (or what have you).
- However, in the cases we’re considering in the book, the persistence conditions between persons and non-persons are different. Something that has no mental contents or capacities cannot have its persistence conditions in virtue of these qualities; so the persistence conditions of fetuses and persons (assuming both to be substance-concepts – though “fetus” is a phase-sortal of “animal”) must differ.
Footnote 27: They do have persistence criteria, of course, but these criteria are derivative of the substance concept under which they fall – “human animal” or “human being” in the case of human children.
- This claim presumably relies on the further claim – disputed by holders of the constitution view – that exemplifiers of two different substance-concepts cannot be in the same place at the same time (ie. “person” and “human body”, in Baker’s formulation).
- See "Wiggins (David) - On Being in the Same Place at the Same Time", the write-up of which I need to complete!
- Surely the narrower category takes precedence?
- Gorillas are primates, mammals, chordates, … but they are most fundamentally gorillas.
- I need to think about this a bit harder – the issue isn’t just about classification, but about persistence conditions, and visualizing what’s supposed to be going on is difficult because of the counter-factual nature of it all – “person” isn’t a substance concept, and persons and gorillas don’t share all their persistence conditions.
- Presumably the argument is that the “has the same persistence conditions as” relation forms equivalence classes, which are the “abiding sorts”.
- I agree, even though it seems to be an argument for the PV.
- Certainly the motivation for holding that person is a substance concept is the PV.
- But maybe all it shows is that if you don’t think that person is a substance concept, then a good argument for the PV disappears.
Footnote 32: Footnote 33:
- As always, it depends on the referent of the term.
- It might be inappropriate to call a human being with lost athletic abilities “an athlete”, so in that sense, the athlete doesn’t persist.
- But, of course, the human being does.
- See the earlier comments on hierarchies of substance terms.
- Isn’t what we “most fundamentally are” the term with narrowest scope that includes all of us, and none that aren’t of us?
- What is Olson’s evidence for this?
- There might still be computers or angels that are persons of whom the BV is irrelevant.
- This seems to show how easy it is to slide from using “people” for “persons” to thinking or saying that “people” are all and only human beings.
- Olson says the same of phase-sorts people.
- He seems at this point to allow that there might be a concept that necessarily has no members – ie. that is incoherent.
- But read on ...!
- See the previous note.
- So – presumably – Olson will argue that not only are there no persons that fall under this concept, but that it is incoherent and that even the supposed concept doesn’t exist.
- If so, the argument is probably unsound.
- It’s probably the case that there can be no biological persons who fall under the substance-person concept, but there might be non-biological persons that do.
- In which case we – in that we are persons – would have to be persons in a different sense to those putative substance-concept persons. We’d temporarily share some attributes of those who have these attributes essentially.
- Let’s see!
Footnote 38: This is a bit slippery – a person is not just supposed to think they are morally accountable, but to actually have a moral status – an ontological claim.
- We need to watch out for this suggestion that “person” and “thinker” are similar concepts.
- “Thinker” is obviously an individual of any kind that thinks – ie. has an ability and inclination to perform a particular action.
- Olson can validly rubbish the idea that “thinker” might be a substance-concept … by comparing it to “locomoter” – one who moves – but this won’t necessarily work with “person”.
- “Person” is a much more complex concept, and is taken to have moral content – in particular a moral status that is fairly independent of attributes.
- Lynne Rudder Baker – who Olson tends to ignore in irritation – argues (albeit unsoundly, in my view) that when a person – defined as a being with a FPP – comes into existence, there is an ontological change, rather than just an attribute change.
- Olson (and I) need to engage with her arguments carefully, and not set up straw men.
Footnote 39: As usual, Olson takes this as indicating “numerically identical to” rather than – as Baker would argue – “constituted by”.
Footnote 40: Footnote 41:
Footnote 42: This exposes Olson to Baker’s complaint that he (and others) “don’t take persons seriously”.
- I’m not sure how important one’s particular theory of mind is here – and whether acceptance of a materialist theory, as distinct from thinking of the mind as dualistically distinct from matter, is critical to the argument.
- A dualist might well believe there to be a single mental substance that interacts somehow with a variety of material infrastructures, if required by thought in material beings; immaterial beings would be pure thinking things.
- What is said to cease to exist is the locomotor / person, not the barnacle / human animal.
- These substance theories would need to explain how their preferred substance could be co-located with another.
- Olson recognizes this later with his “thinking animal” argument.
- Again, I think this is wrong – the theories both claim that the person / locomotor is numerically distinct from the coincident constituting individual.
- There is no claim that species-members – qua species-members – have different persistence conditions depending on the their cognitive / locomotive capacities.
Footnote 46: Footnote 47:
- I agree absolutely.
- In general, I agree with Olson’s conclusions; I’m just not sure of some of his arguments.
Footnote 48: Footnote 49:
- The suggestion and ensuing discussion is similar to that in the philosophy of mind to the debate between identity-theorists (“pain is a brain state”) and functionalists (“pain is an avoidance disposition”).
- Just what is it that makes human-pain and octopus-pain (or alien pain) both pain is pain is a brain state?
Footnote 50: I’ve analyzed what Olson has to say – in my usual plodding way – to make sure I’ve “got it”.
- This strikes me as a bit quick!
- Just what would the “analogous way” be for immaterial people?
- Continuity of immaterial substance, presumably.
Footnote 51: This assumes the standard account of Identity (Click here for Note) rather than – say – contingent identity.
Footnote 52: Olson doesn’t make the logical transition to this bullet explicit, but I think this is what he intends.
Footnote 53: Footnote 54: Comment initially as above, though Olson does use it shortly!
Footnote 55: This story is difficult to relate without pre-judging the issue of identity.
- Olson omits the sufficiency claim, for some reason.
- He also omits the condition that y be a person at t*, though maybe this is implied by the psychological continuity condition.
- Note my usual caveat about continuity versus connectedness. People say “the stodgy conservative now is not the same person as the radical revolutionary of 60 years ago”, even though the views might have changed “continuously”, rather than by some Damascus event. This sort of case arises where “future directives” are to be taken into account (or not). This is the sort of issue Derek Parfit raises.
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