Oxford Scholarship Online Abstract1
- 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).
- 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.
- On the one hand, human persons are constituted by human animals, 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 I?” 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.
- 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.
- “The Metaphysical Background” (Chapters 1-3), explores and defends the two theoretical ideas.
- “The Constitution View Explained” (Chapters 4-6), uses these two ideas to give an account of human persons.
- “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.
- Chapter 1 sets out the task. Persons and Bodies will answer three questions:
- What am I most fundamentally?
- What is a person?
- How are human persons related to their bodies?
- Three Questions
- Beyond Biology
- An Overview
- A Philosophical Stance
Write-up2 (as at 14/03/2015 11:36:58): 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:
- What I am most fundamentally?
- What is a person?
- How are human persons related to their bodies?
- Section Headings:-
- Three Questions
- Beyond Biology
- An Overview
- A Philosophical Stance
- Descartes – we are thinking things. Of what kind? Immaterialism has lost ground. Neo-Cartesian materialists take the thinking thing to be the brain.
- 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.
- 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.
- So, the problem addressed by the book is “what is a human person3, and what is the relation between a person and her body”.
- A person is constituted by a human body, but constitution is not identity.
- The aim of the Constitution View is twofold:-
- To show what distinguishes persons from all other beings (the First Person Perspective – hereafter FPP), and
- To show how we can be fully material beings without being identical to our bodies (Constitution4).
- Persons have a capacity5 for a FPP. Human persons are, in addition to this, constituted by “a body6 that is an organism of a certain kind – a human animal”.
- Mindedness is not the dividing line between persons and non-persons. Many mammals7 have conscious mental states, beliefs and desires.
- Baker briefly summarises the FPP as “(the ability to) conceive8 of one’s body and mental states as one’s own”.
- We are not “just9 animals” – we are persons.
1. Three Questions
1.1 What I am most fundamentally?
- 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.
- Immaterialism: an immaterial mind – an independent substance contingently associated with my body. Descartes. Modern supporters include
- Animalism: a materialistic account in line with Aristotle. I am most fundamentally10 a human animal. Baker credits Snowdon with inventing the term. Supporters cited by Baker are
- 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.
- 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").
- 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 my11 FPP.
1.2 What is a person?
- This is the question asked by Locke and Descartes. It is important to distinguish this from the first question (the one Descartes asked). Baker12 accuses the animalists13 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.
- 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.
- But I am a person of a certain kind – a human person – one that is necessarily14 embodied. I cannot exist without a body, but it need not be my current one.
- Baker thinks Descartes was on the right lines in asking a first-person15 question. Only beings that can ask “what am I?” have a FPP. Asking third-person questions such as “what are they?” or “what is a human being?” is not enough.
- 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 CV16, “human being” is glossed as “a person constituted by a human organism that has reached a certain level of development”.
- 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’s17 view that a human fetus becomes a human being at “quickening” – when it first acquires a rational soul – at about 12 weeks18.
- 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 / moral19 term. Being a person depends on psychological facts, while20 being a human being depends only on biological facts.
- 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 accountable21 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.
- 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).
- 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 persons22 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?
- According to the CV, human persons are constituted by their bodies, but are not identical to them.
- 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.
- 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 information23, though from a different viewpoint (in fact one antithetical to Baker’s own).
- Baker notes, however, that persons have been around for longer24 than the concept PERSON.
- 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 “biological25 persons26” (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.
- 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
A consequence of the theory is that if the body-parts of a human person were gradually replaced by inorganic ones, the person28 would still exist, but the human (animal) would not.
- the person-making property is the FPP,
- human persons are constituted by human bodies27 and
- PERSON is an ontological kind.
- 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 property29 of being a person without ceasing to exist. She closes with the obscure claim that “if a person died30 and ceased to be a person, then the entity that had been a person would cease to exist”.
- 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 “people31” as against “persons”. But her reason is instructive. It is that PEOPLE is a collective32 term and she wants to answer Descartes question “what am I?”, which is concerned with the individual and not the collective. Her theory applies to individuals distributively rather than collectively.
- 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 bodies33.
2. Beyond Biology
- Baker acknowledges that human animals have an evolutionary history in common with other animals, yet we are special. We are discoverers of, and interveners34 in, the evolutionary process. We have uniquely35 invented lots of good intellectual36 endeavours.
- 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 “merely37” 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.
- 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 supplied38
Footnote 1: Introduction to the book as a whole.
Footnote 3: Persons:
- This is the write-up as it was when this Abstract was last output, with text as at the timestamp indicated (14/03/2015 11:36:58).
- Link to Latest Write-Up Note.
Footnote 4: Constitution View:
- What sort of thing for Baker is a person? It is constituted by the whole human body, of which the brain is just an organ. This is in some ways similar to the Animalists she opposes.
- However, to my mind, taking the person as prior to the organism, rather than supervening on it, seems to have things round the wrong way; so would denying that the brain thinks (though she probably claims that it thinks derivatively; but really it’s the person that thinks derivatively).
- Is her constitution relation causal? She doesn’t deny, I don’t suppose, that the brain causes the person to think.
- Is it Olson who objects to Baker’s use of this term Constitution View (hereafter CV) – in that constitution is less central to Baker’s case than she supposes?
- Really, the focus is on the FPP.
- Baker refers to a capacity – is this a present capacity – ie. one that I presently possess even if I’m not currently using it – or does it allow one that I will (under normal developmental expectations) possess, or one that I have possessed but no longer do.
- Note that even asking the question – using the reference “I” – seems to beg it.
- As usual, Baker, unlike Olson, makes no clear distinction between body and organism.
- In what sense “is” a body an organism? Is an organism constituted by its body, and in what sense of “constitution”?
- It appears to be a matter of dispute whether beliefs and desires are strictly possible in the absence of language.
- If so, this strikes me as an argument in favour of a LoT, since the higher mammals behave as though they have intentional states.
- The key point here, presumably, is the capacity for conceptual thought, and the self-referential application of this capacity.
- Most animals presumably differentiate their own bodies from those of others (especially those that groom themselves or others), but it’s less clear whether they have concepts of their bodies, and even less clear whether they have thoughts let alone concepts of their thoughts as distinct from those of others.
- Yet (it seems to me) cats and dogs – and presumably many other higher mammals – have a ToM even of human minds. They can gesture to be let in or out, and they know how to wheedle.
- This “just” seems to have a certain dismissive overtone that is unjustified by anything that Baker has said.
- According to the animalist, being a person is being a (fully functional) example of a (very) special animal – but “just” an animal for all that.
- Is there anything wrong with this view?
- My memory has it that Olson dislikes the “most fundamentally” rider, and just asks to what I am identical.
- But for this question to make sense, we need to know the primary kind or sort to which I belong, which is effectively asking what I am “most fundamentally”.
Footnote 12: I’m not convinced that the CV really addresses personal identity either, beyond gesturing at “sameness of FPP” – but how is this cashed out?
- But what individuates my FPP, if not my body?
- Yet, according to the CV, my body is not what individuates me – or at least not for all time – but only currently constitutes me.
- I think Olson admits that he doesn’t address personal identity – only our identity.
- He retains the designation “personal identity” for the purposes of continuing the historical debate, which he thinks has been subverted.
- Why am I necessarily embodied, if what makes me a person is an FPP and I am fundamentally a person? Am I fundamentally a human person?
- Baker doesn’t specify whether this alternative body that might constitute me in the future needs to be a human body.
- Baker does not ask the question in the first person plural - “what are we”, with its overtones of community, language and reciprocity that are often thought to be central to personhood.
- See "Olson (Eric) - What are We?".
- So, I imagine, for Baker, not only am I not must fundamentally a human animal, I’m not most fundamentally a human being either.
- Because of a developmental criterion, Baker will avoid Olson’s “fetus problem”, and deny that she was ever a fetus. In so doing, she insists on a presently exercisable capacity that has actually been reached in development (even if not exercised). I’m not clear where this leaves the moral status of fetuses (or infants) for Baker, given the rift she places between persons and non-persons.
- Baker doesn’t believe that persons are immaterial souls – and presumably doesn’t think there are any such things. Why does she mention Aquinas at all?
- But what did Aquinas mean by a “rational soul”. Is he using the term in the Aristotelian sense, the dualistic sense or some hybrid concept?
Footnote 19: Reference to morality seems to pop in prematurely here – though Baker will move on to this.
- A 12-week-old fetus has no FPP, so is not a person. Indeed “quickening”, while it seems to indicate a degree of somatic integration – the first movements – is not a psychological stage at all.
- So, the “certain level of development” of the human organism required for being (identical to?) a human being is not that required for being (constituting) a person.
- There is something wrong with Baker’s contrast. The psychological facts depend on – supervene on – the biological facts. Without the appropriate biology, the psychological fact can’t exist (in the absence of dualism, which Baker agrees is false).
- But maybe she is right that conceptually there is no connection.
- But we’re talking metaphysics which is orthogonal to human concepts.
- So, for Baker, those without a FPP are not morally accountable. This seems to tie in somewhat with "Frankfurt (Harry) - Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person", who distinguishes persons from wantons who lack second-order desires.
- However, presumably wantons do have a FPP, so Baker would take them to be persons. Yet we need to reserve judgement on these issues until we have seen how Baker spells out the FPP.
Footnote 23: See "Trendelenberg (Adolf) - A Contribution to the History of the Word Person" for more on ancient and early modern history.
- Surely ontological independence is central to substancehood, and persons can’t exist without supervening on something more fundamental, so aren’t properly basic, even for Baker. That said, animals themselves supervene on the matter of which they are constituted, so aren’t basic substances either.
- This is where I part company with Baker. If human animals – or at least fully functioning ones – are mentioned, then so are persons because all the properties of a person are instantiated by that fully-functional human animal; and that human animal is a person.
- There, the “is” is not the “is” of constitution, but indicates a property or status. Like “is the Queen of England”. A world containing Elizabeth Windsor in a republican Britain is not ontologically impoverished.
- Yet is this right? The concept QUEEN OF ENGLAND still exists, there would just be nothing exemplifying it. So maybe there would be an ontological impoverishment if that’s what persons are.
- Alternatively, what if PERSON is a phase sortal – like CHILD. Is a world crowded with human animals, but no children, ontologically impoverished. Maybe it is – it would certainly be an imperilling situation for the human race. Even so, a world containing human animals under the age of 18, and human children, must not double-count the number of basic substances in its inventory.
- Baker could appeal to derivatives here, but only if a human child is constituted by a human animal. So, there might be no thinking child problem (by analogy with Olson’s TA problem) – the animal thinks derivatively in virtue of constituting a child. But say the child is so mentally retarded as not to constitute a person. Then we have only two things co-located – a human animal and a human child, but no human person, whereas normally we would have (for Baker) all three.
- Does this make PERSON a natural kind term?
- Were there students prior to the concept STUDENT? If so, is STUDENT a natural kind term? Can we not just apply concepts retrospectively?
- I agree with Baker here. The term BIOLOGICAL PERSON seems something of an oxymoron if contrasted with PSYCHOLOGICAL PERSON – since PERSON seems to essentially involve psychology.
- But again, maybe it doesn’t – maybe PERSON could be taken as implying nothing more than that an individual has certain rights, with others having responsibilities towards her. The whole area is theory-laden, as Baker points out.
- I have a similar gripe about Olson using “people” as the plural of “person”. “People” is often used just to mean “human beings”, so using it to mean “persons” can either cause confusion, or be an attempt to suggest without argument that there’s no difference between the two terms.
- Care needs to be taken in this whole area to distinguish and clarify terms, but maybe any clarification is tendentious in one way or another.
- Baker will need to explain how persons exist equally fundamentally alongside their bodies (neither is more fundamental than the other, but both have a degree of independent existence, at least modally).
- A similar explanation is required for statues and clay. This is the challenge to the CV.
- It’s an open question whether a human animal with it organic parts replaced by inorganic ones would (or could) maintain an FPP. It’s an empirical question, most likely – though could we ever know whether a purely mechanical individual experienced phenomenal consciousness.
- Moreover, even if we grant the possibility of inorganic consciousness, a really important question is whether during the siliconisation process we would have a single FPP, or the gradual fading away of one and the gradual rise of another. Presumably this question could be resolved empirically by asking the person(s) concerned, though not any time soon.
- The real question is whether Baker is right in her claim that being a person is an essential property of anything. The analogy would be being an animal is an essential property of an animal (which is why she claims that if an animal’s parts are wholly replaced by inorganic parts, we no longer have an animal) – and this seems right.
- But being a child isn’t an essential property of a child, except qua child. It all depends on what substance concept the individual falls under. CHILD isn’t a substance concept, but a phase of a substance concept (HUMAN ANIMAL).
- So the question is whether PERSON is a substance concept. Baker asserts that it is; but what arguments does she have, and what arguments can be brought against this assertion?
Footnote 31: Interestingly, Thomson takes PERSON to be the singular of PEOPLE. This seems odd, as though CATS had priority over CAT.
- What are we to make of this final claim? In what sense can persons die?
- Death is a biological event that doesn’t seem to be something that can happen to persons as such. They can cease to be, but this doesn’t even require the death of the animal. All that needs to happen is that the animal irrevocably loses the property of being a person (or constituting one, in Baker’s terms).
- Baker’s objection to collectivism runs counter to many theories of the person, which has reciprocity, agency, patiency, language and such-like as central qualifications for personhood.
- Baker reverts to the Cartesian individual looking out (and introspectively in) via the FPP.
Footnote 34: 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?
- For Baker, as for everyone in this context, the brain is well and truly part of the body and is not contrasted with it.
- So, while – as a matter of fact – the particular brain that I possess sustains my mental life – including my FPP – presumably some other brain might have done so – and some yet other brain might do so in the future if I’m resurrected and brains are parts of resurrection bodies.
- Also, given the siliconisation possibility, my FPP might be sustained by some non-brain (by something that is functionally isomorphic to, but not identical to, a brain.
Footnote 36: 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?
- Just how biologically significant are these functions?
- Surely the ontologically (and morally) significant divide is between those organisms that are phenomenally conscious and those that aren’t – those that feel and those that don’t. Are the anticipatory and retrospective mental terrors felt by those with a FPP really worse than the physical pains felt by any sentient being?
- The anticipation of the dentist may be worse than the experience – but only because the experience isn’t that bad. But I dare say the experience of dentistry in the absence of anaesthetic is worse than the anticipation of it.
- “Merely” is a weasel word.
- Historically / causally human organisms may have acquired the properties they have in order to act as more efficient survival machines for their genes, but there are no evaluative consequences of this fact.
- As Baker herself notes, “we” have to some extent transcended evolution – by developing the capacity to manipulate our own and future generations’ genes.
- The questionable claim on Baker’s part is the attribution of these facts to some ontological novelty – a person – rather than to the organisms themselves.
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