Why We Need Not Accept the Psychological Approach
Olson (Eric)
Source: The Human Animal, September 1999, Chapter 3, pp. 42-72
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  1. Most arguments for the Psychological Approach are based on the conviction that anyone who got your psychological features would be you.
  2. The possibility of fission proves this conviction false.
  3. Those who think that identity has no practical importance will find it even more difficult to argue for the Psychological Approach.
  1. The Transplant1 Intuition
  2. Whole-Brain Transplants2
  3. Fission and Hemispherectomy
  4. Prudential Concern
  5. Moral Responsibility
  6. The Treatment Argument
  7. The Same Person
  8. Practical Consequences of the Biological Approach

  1. The Transplant4 Intuition
    • Olson wants to give the arguments in favour of the PV5 for two reasons:-
      1. If there are compelling arguments for a theory, difficulties are merely opportunities for further research. So, Olson must show that the arguments for the PV are unpersuasive.
      2. It would be “gratifying” to find what has led astray “the great many thoughtful and intelligent philosophers” who have accepted the PV.
    • Olson will attempt both – by arguing that the PV rests on practical considerations that:-
      1. Do not provide clear support for the PV, and
      2. May well be compatible with the BV6.
    • Olson rehearses a variant of the sort of story that – he says – most arguments for the PV are based on:-
      1. The story is a variant of Locke’s “Prince and Cobbler”, but in this case Prince’s psychology is transferred to Cobbler’s head by means of a cerebrum7 transplant8, Cobbler’s cerebrum being destroyed9.
      2. Two human beings10 result from this – Brainy and Brainless.
      3. Brainy: Has Cobbler’s body – so looks like him, but has Prince’s memories and character, but remembers nothing of Cobbler’s past.
      4. Brainless: has Cobbler’s body, is alive, but has no psychology – he’s effectively in a PVS11.
    • So, what has happened to Prince?
      1. Many “intuit” that he goes with his organ of cognition. Despite physical appearances to the contrary, Brainy is Prince, and believes – indeed – himself so to be.
      2. The first thing Brainy will want to know when he wakes up12 is why his new body is strange to him, and what happened to his old one.
    • And what has happened to Cobbler?
      1. Olson doesn’t – at this point – discuss this.
      2. But – since Prince occupies Cobbler’s body – we may presume Cobbler is no more – he ceased to exist when his cerebrum was destroyed13.
    • Who is Brainless?
      1. Brainless looks like Prince, but has little of what made Prince “Prince”. Indeed, he’s not a person at all if personhood requires certain mental powers.
      2. If Prince’s cerebrum14 had not been transplanted15 but simply destroyed, that would have been the end of Prince – who would be just like Brainless in our story.
    • So, Olson constructs an argument for the PV16 as follows:-
      1. Prince – in the transplant17 story – is Brainy.
      2. So, one survives over time iff one’s mental contents and capacities are preserved (perhaps with further constraints18).
    • Olson calls the inclination – the hunch or pull to say that Prince survives as Brainy the Transplant19 Intuition (hereafter TI).
      1. One could also argue for the PV from the intuition that Prince does not survive as Brainless – the Vegetable Intuition.
      2. However, Olson will focus on the TI because it has received more attention20 – and if we can resist this intuition, the other will be easy pickings.
    • Olson rejects the PV despite feeling the pull of the TI:-
      1. Because he accepts the BV, he is committed to rejecting the premise of the TI – you do not “go with your cerebrum”21, but simply lose your organ of thought as you would your liver. Prince is not Brainy but Brainless.
      2. He rejects the intuition because he believes – for other theoretical reasons to be laid out in later chapters – that Prince is a living organism, and that no living organism was once Prince and later Brainy.
      3. In addition, supporters of the PV have to defend their intuition against counter-intuitive consequences.
    • Olson now provides – in summary – some excellent arguments as to why the TI has a “pull”. It relies on some principles that may well be true, but which the BV can also accommodate:-
      1. Prince should be providentially concerned about what happens to Brainy rather than Brainless.
      2. Brainy is morally responsible for Prince’s actions, but not for Cobbler’s.
      3. Everyone would feel compelled to treat Brainy as Prince.
    • All these practical concerns are perfectly valid, but don’t require numerical identity22. Olson will postpone their discussion until Section IV.
    • He will now proceed to:-
      1. Section II: Discuss why the version of the TI just presented differs from that usually offered, and then
      2. Section III: Argue that the conclusion of the TI argument for the PV doesn’t follow from its premise.
  2. Whole-Brain Transplants23
    • Why has Olson used a cerebrum transplant24 rather than a WBT25 as his TE? We’re referred to "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Brain Transplants".
    • His reason – of course – is that a cerebrum transplant26 differentiates supporters of the PV from those of the BV.
    • When the cerebrum27 is removed, the relict is clearly a living animal, but this is not so when the whole brain28 – including the brain-stem – is removed. The whole brain is not “just another organ” – because of its regulatory function. Without it, the animal is dead – a corpse.
    • This has led to some to argue that the whole brain is – once removed – a maximally-mutilated animal29 – still alive, initially at least.
    • So, the Whole Brain Transplant30 Intuition – that “you would go with your brain” might be consistent with Animalism31.
    • However, this intuition is commonly held for the wrong reason. We don’t “go with our brain” because it is the bearer of our psychology, and the recipient of my brain is psychologically continuous with me, but because it is a pared-down animal.
    • Because of this confusion – and because anyone who holds the Whole Brain Transplant32 Intuition for psychological reasons will also hold the (Cerebrum)33 Transplant34 Intuition to the same degree, Olson is right to focus on the latter.
  3. Fission and Hemispherectomy
    • The TE in the previous section is varied so that the two hemispheres35 are transplanted36 into different skulls – resulting in Lefty and Righty.
      1. Since both Lefty and Righty are psychologically and physically continuous with the donor, they are both perfect candidates for being that person.
      2. However, as they are not identical to one another, the transitivity of identity says that they cannot both be identical to the donor.
      3. There seems to be no principled reason why you should be one rather than the other.
      4. So, you are neither, contrary to the transplant37 intuition, unless there is some brute fact that says you are one rather than the other.
    • Some claim there is such a fact:-
      1. The suggestion is that the two hemispheres aren’t equipollent, but are differently specialized, so that one might be more closely psychologically continuous with the donor than the other, who might persist as the closest continuer38.
      2. Olson’s response is that the division of labour between the hemispheres is an accidental feature39 of the case, and is differently marked in some people than others. Some might be equipollent.
    • Another response is that – while agreeing that Lefty and Righty are indeed distinct individuals – we should insist that both existed before the operation.
      1. We are referred to:-
        "Perry (John) - Can the Self Divide?"
        "Lewis (David) - Survival and Identity"
        "Noonan (Harold) - Personal Identity", p. 153f40
        "Robinson (John) - Personal Identity and Survival"
      2. Olson thinks that this view – that there “always two of you” – whatever it’s theoretical merits – undermines some of our most fundamental beliefs about ourselves.
      3. He claims that – if you are to fission in the future – then there was never “you” but only Lefty and Righty all along – two people who were exactly like you41. He claims that – on John Perry’s view – there were always three individuals, one of which becomes a scattered object42 after the fission.
      4. Olson claims that before the fission, the reference of “I” is both Lefty and Righty, so that any future claim where Lefty and Righty’s actions differ is false43.
  4. Prudential Concern
  5. Moral Responsibility
  6. The Treatment Argument
  7. The Same Person
  8. Practical Consequences of the Biological Approach

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 3: Footnote 9: Footnote 10: Footnote 12: Footnote 13: See the earlier footnote.

Footnote 16: Footnote 18: Footnote 20: Footnote 29: There’s lots that could be said here, but I’ve covered it – or will have soon – in my various brain-related Notes:- Footnote 35: Footnote 39: Footnote 40: Most likely, as he’s referring to the first edition, Chapter 7 ("Noonan (Harold) - The Reduplication Problem").

Footnote 41: This is based on the equipollency supposition.

Footnote 43:

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