Persons in the Material World
Baker (Lynne Rudder)
Source: Baker (Lynne) - Persons and Bodies, Chapter 1
Paper - Abstract

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Oxford Scholarship Online Abstract1

  1. Persons and Bodies develops and defends an account of persons and of the relation between human persons and their bodies. According to the Constitution View of human persons, as I call it, a human person is a person in virtue of having a first-person perspective, and is a human person in virtue of being constituted by a human body (or human animal)2.
  2. Thus, the Constitution View aims to give our animal natures their due, while recognizing what makes human persons ontologically distinctive. The Constitution View contrasts with two other leading accounts of human persons: Animalism and Immaterialism. Like Animalism but unlike Immaterialism, the Constitution View holds that human persons are material beings; like Immaterialism but unlike Animalism, the Constitution View holds that we are not identical to the animals that constitute us. Of course, this involves self-reference, but it is self-reference of a distinctive kind.
  3. On the one hand, human persons are constituted by human animals3, and hence cannot escape their animal natures; on the other hand, there is more to human persons than their animal natures. What sets human persons apart from other animals has nothing to do with anything immaterial; rather what sets us apart is the ability that underlies our asking, “What am I4?” That ability is a first-person perspective. First-person perspectives may well be the result of natural selection; but what is relevant here is not where they came from, but what they are and the difference that they make in what there is.
  4. So, there are two theoretical ideas needed for the Constitution View of human persons: the idea of a first-person perspective, the property in virtue of which a being (human or not) is a person, and the idea of constitution, the relation between a human person and her body.
  5. Parts:-
    1. “The Metaphysical Background” (Chapters 1-3), explores and defends the two theoretical ideas.
    2. “The Constitution View Explained” (Chapters 4-6), uses these two ideas to give an account of human persons.
    3. “The Constitution View Defended” (Chapters 7-9), argues for the coherence of the general idea of constitution-without-identity and the coherence of the application of that idea to the notion of human persons; finally, it argues directly for the Constitution View by contrasting it with its competitors, Animalism and Immaterialism.
  6. Chapter 1 sets out the task. Persons and Bodies will answer three questions:
    1. What am I5 most fundamentally?
    2. What is a person?
    3. How are human persons related to their bodies?

  1. Three Questions
  2. Beyond Biology
  3. An Overview
  4. A Philosophical Stance

Write-up6 (as at 17/04/2018 21:04:19): Baker - Persons in the Material World

This note controls my detailed review of "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Persons in the Material World", Chapter 1 of "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View". The main text is my interpretation of what Baker says, with my specific comments and objections appearing as footnotes.

Oxford Scholarship Online Note:
  • Chapter 1 sets out the task. Persons and Bodies will answer three questions:
    1. What I am7 most fundamentally?
    2. What is a person?
    3. How are human persons related to their bodies?
  • Section Headings:-
    1. Three Questions
    2. Beyond Biology
    3. An Overview
    4. A Philosophical Stance

0. Introduction
  1. Descartes – we are thinking things. Of what kind? Immaterialism has lost ground. Neo-Cartesian materialists take the thinking thing to be the brain.
  2. Baker’s view is that the thinking thing with the inner life is neither the material brain nor an immaterial mind, but the person. She claims that my brain is the organ with which I think. Yet I – a person embedded in the material world – and not it – am the thinker.
  3. So, where traditional Cartesians see a mind/body problem and neo-Cartesians see a mental-state/brain-state problem, Baker sees a person/body problem.
  4. So, the problem addressed by the book is “what is a human person8, and what is the relation between a person and her body”.
  5. A person is constituted by a human body, but constitution is not identity.
  6. The aim of the Constitution View is twofold:-
    1. To show what distinguishes persons from all other beings (the First Person Perspective – hereafter FPP), and
    2. To show how we can be fully material beings without being identical to our bodies (Constitution9).
  7. Persons have a capacity10 for a FPP. Human persons are, in addition to this, constituted by “a body11 that is an organism of a certain kind – a human animal”.
  8. Mindedness is not the dividing line between persons and non-persons. Many mammals12 have conscious mental states, beliefs and desires.
  9. Baker briefly summarises the FPP as “(the ability to) conceive13 of one’s body and mental states as one’s own”.
  10. We are not “just14 animals” – we are persons.

1. Three Questions

1.1 What I am15 most fundamentally?
  1. An ontological question, answers to which have implications for the conditions under which I exist and persist. Baker considers 4 possibilities – 2 major and 2 minor.
    1. Immaterialism: an immaterial mind – an independent substance contingently associated with my body. Descartes. Modern supporters include
    2. Animalism: a materialistic account in line with Aristotle. I am most fundamentally16 a human animal. Baker credits Snowdon with inventing the term. Supporters cited by Baker are
    3. Aquinas: follows Aristotle in taking the soul as the form of the body, but because he allows for the separation of soul from body at death (and the independent existence of the soul pending reunion with its body at resurrection) he is to be classified with the immaterialists (despite not identifying human persons with their souls). We are referred to an article by Eleonore Stump.
    4. Brain View: this is touched on briefly in Chapter 5 ("Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Personal Identity Over Time"). Baker cites "Nagel (Thomas) - The View from Nowhere", Chapter 3 ("Nagel (Thomas) - Mind and Body").
  2. Baker notes the impact on persistence conditions that the various metaphysical options have. In particular, according to the CV, my continued existence depends on the persistence of my17 FPP.

1.2 What is a person?
  1. This is the question asked by Locke and Descartes. It is important to distinguish this from the first question (the one Descartes asked). Baker18 accuses the animalists19 of confusing the two. Animalism is only an answer to the first question, and does not address the issue of personal identity. She refers to "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Material Beings", but the import is obscure.
  2. However, Baker hopes to integrate the answers to the two questions. Descartes’s question gets a non-Cartesian answer – a person. Locke’s gets a quasi-Lockean (ie. mental) answer – one with a FPP.
  3. But I am a person of a certain kind – a human person – one that is necessarily20 embodied. I cannot exist without a body, but it need not be my current one.
  4. Baker thinks Descartes was on the right lines in asking a first-person21 question. Only beings that can ask “what am I22?” have a FPP. Asking third-person questions such as “what are they?” or “what is a human being?” is not enough.
  5. Human Beings: A primary alternative answer to the first question is “I am a human being”, but what is intended by the term “human being” varies. Some philosophers like "Perry (John) - The Importance of Being Identical" take “human being” to be a purely biological concept, meaning the same as “human organism”. "Johnston (Mark) - Human Beings" has a richer concept that includes psychology as well as biology. For the CV23, “human being” is glossed as “a person constituted by a human organism that has reached a certain level of development”.
  6. Development: Baker wants to avoid the terms “man” and “human being” (which are popularly confused with “person”), but has views. Not every human organism is a human being, so it is misleading to use the two terms interchangeably. Baker quotes Aquinas’s24 view that a human fetus becomes a human being at “quickening” – when it first acquires a rational soul – at about 12 weeks25.
  7. Baker sees a conceptual difference between “human being” and “human person”. Even biologists see this when speaking of the “biological substratum of personhood” (a certain Clifford Brobstein is quoted). We could restrict the term “human being” to those human animals capable of supporting a FPP, so that all human beings are (that is, for Baker, “constitute”) persons. Even so, “person”, says Baker, is a psychological / moral26 term. Being a person depends on psychological facts, while27 being a human being depends only on biological facts.
  8. Forensics: Baker is supportive of Locke’s assignment of a moral basis to personhood – though she denies that it is merely a forensic term. She refers us to Chapter 6 ("Baker (Lynne Rudder) - The Importance Of Being a Person") for justification of her claim that only persons can be held accountable28 for their actions. She also supports Locke’s distinction between men and persons. For Locke, men are (usually) purely material beings (though occasionally he uses the term for the conjunction of body and soul), with no necessary mental qualities, while persons are purely psychological.
  9. Substances: Locke distinguished the person from the thinking substance. For Locke, personal identity consists in continuity of consciousness. So, for Locke, persons are not “basic substances”. We are referred to "Alston (William) & Bennett (Jonathan) - Locke on People and Substances", though there’s a dispute as to what Locke’s positive view actually was. See "Chappell (Vere) - Locke on the Ontology of Matter, Living Things and Persons" (compounded substances); "Lowe (E.J.) - Real Selves: Persons as a Substantial Kind" (psychological modes).
  10. Baker alludes to the “tortured history” of the term SUBSTANCE, but has this to say: if basic substances are those things required to make a complete inventory of the world – say atoms or animals – then persons are also basic substances. An inventory mentioning human animals but omitting persons29 would be seriously incomplete. The same goes for properties: those that can only be instantiated by persons must be included in a complete inventory.

1.3 How are human persons related to their bodies?
  1. According to the CV, human persons are constituted by their bodies, but are not identical to them.
  2. Baker deals with constitution in detail (with no particular reference to persons, but (I would say) with too much reference to artefacts) in the next chapter ("Baker (Lynne Rudder) - The Very Idea of Constitution"), but here notes that it is the same relation as that between a statue and the marble constituting it. She has argued in "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Why Constitution is Not Identity" that David is not identical to the piece of marble, nor to the piece plus something else.
  3. Baker plots the development of the term PERSON – unknown to Aristotle, derived from the Latin persona, meaning “mask”, highlighted by Trinitarian theology, and acquiring forensic properties via Locke. We are referred to "Poole (Ross) - On Being a Person" for more information30, though from a different viewpoint (in fact one antithetical to Baker’s own).
  4. Baker notes, however, that persons have been around for longer31 than the concept PERSON.
  5. To illustrate what some see as an ambiguity in the term PERSON, Baker now addresses the usage in "Feldman (Fred) - The Survival of Death" ("Feldman (Fred) - Confrontations with the Reaper: A Philosophical Study of the Nature and Value of Death", p. 101). Feldman distinguishes “biological32 persons33” (members of the species homo sapiens) from “psychological persons” (those organisms with psychological properties such as self-consciousness). Feldman takes it that one can cease to be a psychological person without ceasing to exist, but not a biological person. Baker takes this to be an extreme form of animalism, begging the question against the CV, and abusing the term PERSON.
  6. Theory of Persons: Baker takes it that “pre-theoretically the term PERSON applies to entities like you and me” – giving examples of famous personages. However, she has a theory – which is that
    1. the person-making property is the FPP,
    2. human persons are constituted by human bodies34 and
    3. PERSON is an ontological kind.
    A consequence of the theory is that if the body-parts of a human person were gradually replaced by inorganic ones, the person35 would still exist, but the human (animal) would not.
  7. Phase Sortals: Interestingly, Baker now rejects the possibility that persons are phase sortals of human animals (an idea I am tempted to espouse). She motivates this thought by saying that, if an adolescent grows up, she doesn’t cease to exist; she just loses the property of being an adolescent. However, according to the CV, an individual who is a person could not lose the property36 of being a person without ceasing to exist. She closes with the obscure claim that “if a person died37 and ceased to be a person, then the entity that had been a person would cease to exist”.
  8. Persons and People: Baker quotes from "Thomson (Judith Jarvis) - People and Their Bodies" about the theory-ladenness of the term PERSON. Baker agrees – and insists she is doing philosophy rather than investigating common usage – but dislikes the use of “people38” as against “persons”. But her reason is instructive. It is that PEOPLE is a collective39 term and she wants to answer Descartes question “what am I40?”, which is concerned with the individual and not the collective. Her theory applies to individuals distributively rather than collectively.
  9. Mind and Brain: Baker has ignored the question of the relation between mind and brain – between mental and neural states. She doesn’t think that there is a single relation between them (such as identity or constitution), and we are referred to "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - What is This Thing Called ‘Commonsense Psychology’?" & "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Are Beliefs Brain States?". She thinks the numerous relations between the states of mind and brain are the proper topic of empirical neuroscientific investigation. Just how the brain is involved in all the aspects of life is beyond the reach of philosophy. While ignorant of the details, she’s willing to accept that the brain sustains our entire mental life. So, her interest is in how persons, rather than minds, fit into the material world – her answer being that they are constituted by bodies41.

2. Beyond Biology
  1. Baker acknowledges that human animals have an evolutionary history in common with other animals, yet we are special. We are discoverers of, and interveners42 in, the evolutionary process. We have uniquely43 invented lots of good intellectual44 endeavours.
  2. Baker distinguishes between bad (“metaphysical”) and good (“scientific”) Darwinism. She focuses on extreme positions – eg. "Dawkins (Richard) - The Selfish Gene" and (less extreme) "Dennett (Daniel) - Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life". She claims that these theories have us as “merely45” survival machines for our genes. While she’s willing to admit that this is true of human organisms, she balks at this being so for human persons. What restores the lustre to human persons is the CV, which makes an ontological difference between the organism and the person.
  3. She’s willing to admit quoting "Pinker (Steven) - How the Mind Works", p. 541 – that as far as our “animal natures” are concerned, all our values derive from the need to survive and reproduce.

3. An Overview

4. A Philosophical Stance

… Further details to be supplied46

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Introduction to the book as a whole.

Footnote 6: Footnote 8: Persons:Footnote 9: Constitution View: Footnote 10: Footnote 11: Footnote 12: Footnote 13: Footnote 14: Footnote 16: Footnote 17: Footnote 18: I’m not convinced that the CV really addresses personal identity either, beyond gesturing at “sameness of FPP” – but how is this cashed out?

Footnote 19: Footnote 20: Footnote 21: Footnote 23: Footnote 24: Footnote 25: Footnote 26: Reference to morality seems to pop in prematurely here – though Baker will move on to this.

Footnote 27: Footnote 28: Footnote 29: Footnote 30: See "Trendelenberg (Adolf) - A Contribution to the History of the Word Person" for more on ancient and early modern history.

Footnote 31: Footnote 32: Footnote 33: Footnote 34: Footnote 35: Footnote 36: Footnote 37: Footnote 38: Interestingly, Thomson takes PERSON to be the singular of PEOPLE. This seems odd, as though CATS had priority over CAT.

Footnote 39: Footnote 41: Footnote 42: Yet we might not have done so, and until recently in evolutionary terms, hadn’t done so, so what’s the relevance of all this?

Footnote 43: Footnote 44: Most human beings seem to care little for the refined intellectual activities Baker finds definitive of human personhood. Does this mean they are not persons?

Footnote 45:

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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