- Eric T. Olson has argued that any view of personal identity in terms of psychological continuity1 has a consequence that he considers untenable – namely, that I was never an early-term fetus.
- I have several replies.
- First, the psychological-continuity view of personal identity does not entail the putative consequence; the appearance to the contrary depends on not distinguishing between de re and de dicto theses.
- Second, the putative consequence is not untenable anyway; the appearance to the contrary depends on not taking seriously an idea that underlies a plausible view of persons that I call 'the Constitution View'.
- Finally, Olson's own "Biological View of personal identity" has liabilities of its own.
Philosopher’s Index Abstract
- Argues on the role of personal identity in terms of psychological continuity2 as viewed by philosopher Eric Olson.
- Argument on the difference between fetus and adolescent from the common sense;
- Role of psychological-continuity in distinguishing between de re and de dicto theses;
- Biological View of personal identity.
- I’ve written a paper on this work – (Click here for Note), which was reviewed at a supervision (write-up accessible from the file-note).
Write-up3 (as at 17/04/2018 21:04:19): Baker - What Am I?
This write-up is a review of "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - What Am I?", which is itself a reply to "Olson (Eric) - Was I Ever a Fetus?". Consequently, it may not be the best place to start with Baker. I chose the paper because of its title and brevity. However, it is very dense, and my exposition and commentary is similar in size to the original paper. I found the paper unsatisfying because all the important arguments depend on the coherence of Baker’s account of constitution – in particular the “ontological novelty” claim about persons – and the account and defence of this position are given elsewhere. As usual, my comments universally feature as “Note:”.
- Olson argues that any psychological thesis of Personal Identity has the objectionable consequence that he was never an early-term fetus.
- Baker’s reply is that:
- Distinguishing de re from de dicto theses avoids the consequence.
- Olson ignores the Constitution View which can explain the objection.
- Olson’s “Biological View” also has objectionable consequences.
- Introduction ... the Fetus Problem
- Olson’s Argument
- The Constitution View (CV)
- The Biological View (BV)
- Olson claims that I started life as an unthinking fetus and may end up in a PVS. This is the Biological View (BV) of personal identity (PI), which treats psychology as irrelevant to PI. Baker’s source for this view is the paper "Olson (Eric) - Was I Ever a Fetus?", p. 106, though it seems Olson himself refers us to "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Material Beings".
- Olson attacks an alternative he styles the Standard View (SV) that claims that what is required for us to persist is some sort of psychological continuity – an overlapping chain of memories or other psychological connections or capacities.
- Olson alleges the SV against Nagel, Unger, Grice, Lewis, Noonan, Parfit, Perry, Quinton, Shoemaker and Wiggins.
- Note: these attributions seem fine with the exception of Wiggins, who is sometimes alleged to be a proto-animalist. I need to follow4 this up in due course.
- According to Olson, the SV has the “untenable consequence” that I was never an early-term fetus. Baker reconstructs his argument in Section 2.
- Baker’s response is three-fold:-
1). The “untenable consequence” is not in fact a consequence of the SV.
2). That I never was an early-term fetus is benign and a consequence of a plausible account of persons.
3). Olson’s BV has its own problems.
2). Olson’s Argument
- Baker’s reconstruction of Olson’s argument that the SV implies that I was never an early term fetus is as follows:-
1). Any x that is now a person is only identical to past or future things with which it is presently psychologically continuous.
2). Anything psychologically continuous with a person has present psychological contents or capacities.
3). No early-term fetus has such contents or capacities.
4). If x is a person now, then nothing that was an early-term fetus is identical to x.
- Baker encapsulates the conclusion, taken to be a consequence of the SV, as “no person was ever a fetus, and no fetus ever becomes a person”.
- Note: I have re-phrased 1-3, but 4 is verbatim.
- Baker now comes to her first objection: that the SV need not have this consequence, even though many holders of the view might accept that it does. Baker notes that the holders of the supposed SV differ amongst themselves on many matters. Amongst the views consistent with the SV is that I (now a person) may be identical with something at another time that is not a person. In which case there would be no psychological continuity between me and this non-person.
- The problem is with premise (1), which confounds two premises with different modal scope:-
(A) De Dicto: Necessarily, if x is a person, then x has psychological properties.
(B) De Re: If x is a person, then x necessarily has psychological properties.
Supporters of the SV are only committed to (A) - the de dicto thesis.
- Baker makes an analogy between persons and wives: wives are necessarily married, but the individual that is a wife is not necessarily married – indeed, Baker herself existed for many years in the unmarried state.
- The view here expounded seems only to be a possible view of supporters of the SV, rather than the one all its supporters actually hold. This may be important to note to avoid confusion. The possible view seems to be the view that persons are phase sortals of substances (presumably human animals) rather than themselves substances.
- Baker doesn’t explain her de re / de dicto terminology. It seems to be similar to the distinction I’ve been attempting to use in reviews of Baillie5 and Olson6. It’s worth spelling out what she might mean, so here goes (in reverse order, for convenience).
1): De Re: here we are referring to the thing itself (the substance). The substance that is in fact now a person is not necessarily a person – ie. it might not be a person at other times, or in other possible worlds.
2): De Dicto: here we are not referring to the substance itself, but to the manner under which it is conceived. Insofar as that thing is conceived of as a person, it has certain psychological properties essentially, because it is analytic that persons qua persons have such properties, it being part of the definition of persons that they have the appropriate psychological capacities.
- Anyone rejecting (B) would reject Olson’s Premise (1) by modus tollens, since (1) implies (B). The point at issue is that while (A) is true – a person cannot exist as a person without psychological properties, that person could exist simpliciter in the absence of such properties.
- Note: So, this again uses the de re expression, where it is the animal that is referred to. It seems as though animalism and this sort of supporter of the SV have little to argue over. In that case “same person” reduces to “same animal with the same personality”. Different animals with the same personality would not be the same person. This isn’t Baker’s own view, which is that the same person can be constituted by different animals (or, probably, “bodies”) at different times.
- Baker now accuses Olson of failing to distinguish two questions:
(a) What is a person?
(b) What am I7 most fundamentally?
She claims that the SV answers question (a) whereas Olson assumes that it answers question (b). In fact she doesn’t mention SV, but says that the psychological criterion answers question (a).
- The criterion of PI is an epistemological term – how we know that x is a person, and that y at t2 is the same person as x at t1. It is not a metaphysical question about what persons most fundamentally are. So far Baker is right to make a distinction. But I’m not sure that supporters of the SV are interested only in epistemological questions. Yet maybe this is correct, and they are merely interested in evidential questions, remaining agnostic as to what persons are metaphysically-speaking. In this way they might escape the accusation of reifying personalities and confusing them with persons.
- Does Olson really not distinguish these questions? In fact, doesn’t he credit himself with making this very distinction when almost all others have either missed or downplayed it? See, for instance, "Olson (Eric) - What Are We?". Maybe this is an anachronistic claim, made in the light of Baker’s prompting. In general, he doesn’t care too much about what a person is, because he’s interested in the metaphysical question.
- I seem to remember that Olson in "Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal - Personal Identity Without Psychology" denies that he’s interested in what I am8 “most fundamentally”, but rather in the simpliciter sense of what (sort of thing) I am (identical to). Since this formulation is objectionable, I need to track9 down the evidence for it.
- Baker gives a theory that combines a Psychological-Continuity-View (hereafter PV) answer to question (a) with an animalist answer to question (b):-
PI-1: Necessarily (if I am a person at t1 and t2, then my states at t1 are psychologically continuous with my states at t2).
PI-2: I am necessarily a human animal, but only contingently a person.
Notes: I think these tenets are best unpacked in reverse order:-
- Unpacking PI-2: The reference of “I” is de re in the first clause, but de dicto in the second. It’s saying that I am essentially a human animal, but have the contingent property of being a person. Note that this again brings up the contested issue of the distinction between identity and property possession, which I need to explain and defend.
- PI-2 implies that I might never have been a person. This is a standard animalist claim, based on my identity to “my fetus”, and the possibility that that fetus might have died at 3 months.
- Unpacking PI-1: Here, it is “I” – a de re reference to a substance – that holds together the two diachronic parts of the claim. Yet the claim appears to be false, because I (the substance) might have suffered a radical personality change that has broken the chain of psychological continuity.
- Unpacking PI-1 further: I am a person at t1, so I have some set of psychological properties P1. Similarly, I am P2 at t2; but even though I am the same substance at t1 and t2, a can see no reason why my psychological states are sufficiently continuous for P1 = P2. It seems as though the reference of I has slipped between PI-1 and PI-2. For PI-1 to be true, the reference of “I” needs to be de dicto, to the personality, in which case an analytic truth might be expressed. But then don’t we have equivocation?
- Note that I’ve taken PI-1+2 as tenets alleged as capable of being held consistently by a single philosopher. Such a philosopher would seem to be an animalist. I’m not sure where this has got us.
- A point to continually bear in mind is that Olson isn’t interested in personal identity, but only with our identity.
- Baker points out that PI-1+2, together with the fact that all human animals start life as early fetuses lacking psychological properties, entail the denial of Olson’s premise (1). So, a supporter of the PV can deny this premise.
- Baker now comes clean and admits that the above argument has been somewhat academic, because she, in fact, admits that she was never an early-term fetus.
- Note: Does this mean that while supporters of the PV need not take the de re stance, Baker does take it?
3). The Constitution View (CV)
- Baker says that she has expounded the CV elsewhere; first in “Need a Christian be a Mind/Body Dualist” in Faith and Philosophy 12 (1995), and most recently (as of March 1999) in a book under contract for CUP; presumably "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View", though then entitled “What am I10? An Enquiry Concerning Persons and Bodies”.
- I’ve not been able to track down the 1995 paper, and assume it’s not worth the bother, given that it will have been superseded by Baker’s later writings.
- However, I presume that Baker is a Christian of some stripe and it would be interesting to see how Baker expresses herself in a non-secular context.
- The CV is that persons are constituted by human bodies, without being identical to them, in the same way that pots are constituted by the lumps of clay that constitute them.
- Barker chooses bodies rather than organisms as the constituting entity. This may be intentional or a slip, because she later refers to human organisms.
- The analogy is with one thing being constituted by another thing, not one thing being constituted by its parts. These are different views that are easily confused.
- Baker has defended this view of constitution in "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Why Constitution is Not Identity" and "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Unity without Identity: A New Look at Material Constitution", which she says are incorporated in her book.
- The CV is not a variant of the SV, even though it does posit that a person has certain essential psychological properties; in particular, a first person perspective (FPP). We are referred to "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - The First-Person Perspective: A Test For Naturalism". Baker views the CV as a rival to Olson’s anti-psychological views of persons.
- It’s not clear to me why Baker’s view is not a variant of the SV. I dare say this is spelled out in "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View". In defence of Baker’s claim, it can be said that Baker’s view is ontological and consequently anti-functionalist. This new thing – a person – while it has essential psychological properties, is not dependent on any continuity of content or particularised capacities (it seems), but on a FPP that appears basic.
- Baker appears to claim that CV is an anti-psychological view. Maybe this isn’t what Baker means. Rather, the CV is anti-SV and is a rival to Olson’s anti-SV views, which are anti-psychological.
- Thus, Baker accepts (A), namely - “De Dicto: Necessarily, if x is a person, then x has psychological properties”. She also accepts (B) – “De Re: If x is a person, then x necessarily has psychological properties”. Consequently, she doesn’t avail herself of the dialectical resources developed in Section 2.
- Baker accepts (B) because “no person could exist without being a person”. This is interesting, because it clarifies the thing “re” in the formula (B) – the thing is the person – not the animal, or the animal’s body. The person necessarily has psychological properties because these properties are constitutive of what a person is, and on the de re reading, the person is a thing in its own right, and not a phase of a thing with some special but temporary property.
- So, what of the de dicto reading (A)? Presumably this is consistent with animalism – effectively while the animal is a person it has psychological properties – again because that’s what being a person means. But the thing – the animal – doesn’t have these properties essentially. So, the animalist denies (B).
- Baker’s view is that while there is such a thing as a human organism, I am not identical to one, but only constituted by one. Presumably the organism comes into existence when the zygote reaches a certain stage, so that we have a fetus. The organism persists through birth, infancy, childhood, adulthood, old age, senescence and into a PVS, but not as far as a corpse. Baker’s claim is that at a certain stage, at which the organism becomes capable of having a FPP, an ontological novelty arises. A person comes into being. When this capacity departs, the person ceases to be, even though the organism persists.
- In this paper she’s not explicit about quite when this is, but since she refers to development, this must refer to the possession of the faculty, not the potential to develop it, which is even possessed by zygotes. Elsewhere she seems to think that a key attribute of a person is that they can worry about their own future death, which is why animals are allegedly not persons. So presumably infants and young children aren’t persons either. I’ll need to follow11 this up.
- Baker claims that “if something ceases to be a person, it ceases to be”, even if the once-constituting organism persists. It’s not clear to me just what has ceased to be, and what it was that existed when it did exist. Also, I believe that Baker believes in resurrection (she allows in this paper that I am “at least initially” constituted by a human organism, implying that I might later be constituted by something else) so this ceasing to be is only temporary. I suppose we need to follow the analogy of the statue and the clay. If the clay is squashed into a ball, there’s no longer a statue, though there’s still a lump of clay. But if a new lump of clay is re-formed into a look-a-like of that statue, do we have the same one?
- So Baker has answers to the two questions we had in the second section (at point 7), namely:-
… (a) What is a person?
… (b) What am I12 most fundamentally?
with the answer that I am most fundamentally a human person, and that a human person is a being with a FPP at least initially constituted by a human organism.
- Baker accepts Olson’s conditional that …
…“if I have psychological properties essentially, then I am not identical to anything that was an early-term fetus”,
but whereas Olson denies the consequent and applies modus tollens to deny the antecedent as well and argue that I have no psychological properties essentially, Baker accepts the antecedent and applies modus ponens to accept the consequent also. Whereas the organism (Baker reverts to “my body” for some reason) that constitutes me was an early-term fetus, I was not, for I would have never existed if my mother had had an early term miscarriage.
- Hence there is no “fetus problem” for the CV because the relation between me and the fetus is clear – I am presently constituted by something that was a fetus.
- The CV denies the premise (I):
Instead it asserts (II):
- (I): There is an x such that at t x was an embryo and x is now a developed human being and I am identical to x.
- (II): There is an x such that at t x was an embryo and x is now a developed human being and I am constituted by x now.
- Olson thinks that the denial of (I) is fatal to the Constitutionist’s cause, because of three arguments in favour of (I):
1). The argument from Embryology.
2). The argument from Common Sense.
3). Four “serious philosophical problems”:
Baker has answers to these objections, which we now discuss in turn:-
- The CV entails that we are not members of the species Homo Sapiens
- There might be pseudo-people, indistinguishable from real people.
- Both the animal and you think you are a person; the animal is mistaken, so why aren’t you?
- That the “exact duplicate that accompanies you” cannot think causes problems for any theory of intentionality.
- Embryology: Baker says that Olson argues that embryology shows that I once had gill slits. But Baker correctly points out that on the CV, the properties of an embryo are irrelevant, since I am not identical to it, nor was ever constituted by it. Embryology is even consistent with substance dualism and is irrelevant to the philosophical issues at hand.
- Common Sense: Does common sense really claim that I am identical to a fetus? Baker thinks common sense is insufficiently precise to distinguish identity from constitution. Olson claims there’s no significant difference between claiming that I was once an adolescent and that I was once a fetus. Baker denies this, and provides a story. This reflects different likely attitudes in the seventeenth century vis a vis the royal succession had Mary (of “William and Mary” fame) had a teenage son, rather than simply been five-months pregnant (the point being that a fetus might happily be brought up a Protestant by Protestant parents, whereas a teenage son might already be a Catholic under the Catholic monarch of James II).
- Note: Some anti-abortionists take the opposite view, but Baker is probably right that common sense does not provide a ruling, if only because there’s no such thing as common sense in some areas of judgement.
- Species-Membership: Olson alleges that the CV entails that we are not human animals, not members of the species homo sapiens. Baker responds again that we “are” human animals, again using the “are” of constitution, and the borrowing of properties described in detail in "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Unity without Identity: A New Look at Material Constitution".
- Pseudo-people: Olson’s argument is that if I’m biologically just like an organism without being one, what’s to stop me being psychologically just like a person without being one. Indeed, if I’m a pseudo-organism, why aren’t human animals pseudo-people? Bakers thinks this an “outrageous caricature” of the CV.
- Note: Here we have the makings of Olson’s TA argument – the Thinking Animal – with consequential overpopulation and (as we see next) epistemic concerns.
- Epistemological Problems: How can you (the thinker) know whether you are the person or the animal? Baker thinks this problem only arises if (as Olson supposes) if they are non-identical, then I and my body are two wholly separate things. However, there is only one thought – mine – and one thinker – me – so no confusion can arise.
- Again we have the slide between “body” and “organism”, though I doubt it is of much significance in this context.
- And again, this depends on how constitution is spelled out. There seems to be a fine line here. If I’m so closely identified with the organism that there’s no obvious difference, why am I not identical to it. And if there is a discernible difference, why are there not two things?
- Having said earlier that Baker’s CV is non-mereological – by which I mean that it’s spatially non-mereological – it seems that it might be temporally mereological – I’m made up of a sum of phases of human animals (or human animals and other things – whatever resurrection bodies might be). This need not commit Baker to an ontology of temporal parts. However, it’s not clear what glues the various temporal phases together. Baker would, of course, say that it’s the same FPP. But just how are FPPs cashed out? What are their identity and persistence criteria? If it is psychological-functionalist, then we seem to have the SV back again. I think Baker responds elsewhere to the standard reduplication objections by claiming that there would just be a fact of the matter, and that I’d just know which of the duplicates I was. But would I, and how would I know I was not deceived?
- Intentionality: How is the inability of the human animal to think or speak English consistent with any available theory of intentionality, given that it is a perfect duplicate that accompanies you. Baker, of course, denies that it is any such thing. It is not a duplicate of me, but constitutes me. She gives an example of a memorial constituted by its granite – if the granite had stayed in the quarry, there would have been no memorial, so memorial and its granite are non-identical. Yet, the memorial is not something separate from the granite.
- Note: This does seem quite persuasive, and Olson does seem to caricature Baker’s view – but maybe only because it’s not clear what Baker’s view really amounts to. If she claimed that a person was just a phase of a human being, then Olson would have no quarrel. There would then obviously (on an endurantist view) only be one thing present, and Olson’s objections would have no purchase. But Baker claims more than this – she makes the ontological claim that when a human person comes into existence – superficially, when a human animal develops sufficiently to possess certain psychological properties – a new thing numerically distinct from the animal comes into existence. So it does seem that we have two things. But what happens in the case that Baker takes to be parallel? Baker claims that a new thing – a memorial – comes into existence. But is this really a new thing, or an old thing with new properties, additionally one viewed in a different way by people who value memorials? More could be said here.
- Perdurantism: Baker mentions that Olson briefly covers a four-dimensional ontology of temporal parts, but doesn’t pursue the matter here.
- In summary, there is no “fetus” problem because I’m not identical to a human organism in the first place, only constituted by one.
- Note: This is all rather tedious and repetitive stuff. The claim is that Olson hasn’t understood the constitution relation, but is merely caricaturing it. So, the arguments all depend on whether Baker’s non-mereological version of the constitution relation makes sense. As this isn’t covered in this paper, the argument remains undecided.
4). The Biological View (BV)
- Baker thinks Olson’s BV should be rejected because it lacks motivation in the absence of a “fetus problem” (disposed of either by the CV or by the account in Section 2).
- Additionally, it rules out as metaphysically impossible certain alleged possibilities: cyborgisation or resurrection into a new (presumably non-animal) body.
- These are large issues and ones that the BV needs to answer. I would just say here that Baker has simply alluded to these as problems, for which the BV might or might not have answers.
- With respect to cyborgisation, presumably the BV would say that the animal gets “pared down” as its parts are replaced by inorganic ones. The interesting issue for Baker is when the “siliconisation” (or whatever) of the brain takes place. Who knows whether this is possible so that the phenomenal consciousness presumably necessary for Baker’s FPP is maintained? Alternatively, the replacement of organic parts by inorganic might have to be done in so intricate a way that we could view the process as analogous to the way the organism maintains its own parts (this notion would require more careful consideration than I’ve given it here). We have to be careful about the soundness of though experiments and the reliability of our intuitions about them.
- With respect to resurrection, what ties together the two bodies? OK – it’s the same FPP – but how can we be sure that they would have the same FPP (rather than just seeming to have)?
- What Baker sees as the BV’s greatest difficulty is its failure to give an account of the relation between the human organism and the human person. Baker thinks Olson faces a dilemma: either (i) to be a person simply is to be a human organism or (ii) it is something more.
- Baker thinks that (i) leaves human organisms on a moral and ontological par with cockroaches. Also, that equating human beings and persons distorts the meaning of the term PERSON.
- More large issues. Baker’s “cockroaches” claim strikes me as outrageous, or at least one that requires a lot more justification than is given here. Any justification would be a start. It also ignores the continuities found in biology between human beings and other organisms.
- I don’t think the BV does equate persons and human organisms. Olson can be accused of not taking persons sufficiently seriously, in the sense of not centering the debate on the concept PERSON; but he is trying to move the focus of debate by saying that the kind we are referring to when we treat of human persons is HUMAN ANIMAL, and that human animals may count as persons for (only) phases of their existence. Baker’s claim is that the kind we need to focus on is that of PERSON, and that her account of constitution allows for the co-location of exemplars of two kinds without the double-counting that Olson accuses her of. Elsewhere, Olson denies that PERSON is a kind term, because the various beings (angels, gods, klingons ..) that might fall under this putative kind have different persistence conditions, though Baker would reply that he’s confusing the persistence conditions of the thing constituted with those of the thing constituting.
- Secondly, Olson’s choosing the second horn, (ii), and admitting that persons are more than human organisms leaves him with nothing to say about personal identity as such. Of the two questions raised in Section 2, Olson only addresses question (b) – “What am I13 most fundamentally?” – ignoring question (b) – “What is a person?”. Consequently, the BV is not a view of personal identity at all.
- Note: Olson admits this. Olson is interested in us. He doesn’t deny that there might be other kinds that qualify as persons, but he’s not concerned with them.
- Baker had argued in Section 2 that Olson’s arguments don’t necessarily hit their target – that is, that they don’t prove that I wasn’t a fetus. But, even those who accept that I wasn’t a fetus – such as supporters of the CV – have answers to Olson, as Baker argued in Section 3.
- Any thoughts I had on these conclusions were covered in the sections themselves. Enough to note here that – since Baker herself doesn’t accept that we were fetuses – Section 2 is somewhat tangential to the paper as a whole, and provides a resource to only a small subset of philosophers.
- Secondly, the case for Baker’s rejection of the BV rests wholly on her account of constitution, which is not even sketched in this paper (other than vague references to FPPs). This makes the arguments rather unsatisfying.
- Bakers’s final point is that the CV gives reasons for regarding human animals as morally significant in ways that other kinds of things are not. Baker sees this moral significance as arising from their ontological role of constituting persons.
- So, for Baker, it is persons that have the moral status, and human animals have this status wholly on account of constituting persons. I have a lot of concerns about this. Surely, even if the great apes do not constitute persons for Baker (ie. they do not pass the test for having a FPP – I believe that Baker simply raises the bar if it looks as though they might pass it), they are of greater moral significance than cockroaches. And so are human infants, on the presumption that they don’t have a FPP and don’t yet constitute persons. By instituting a saltation – an ontological novelty – at a certain stage of human development – Baker drives apart things that ought to be viewed as similar.
- The moral aspect – especially the exalted status of persons over against the rest of sentient beings, important though this might be – just breezes in unannounced at the end of Section 4, and could do with a lot more motivation.
- This is the write-up as it was when this Abstract was last output, with text as at the timestamp indicated (17/04/2018 21:04:19).
- Link to Latest Write-Up Note.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)