Review of Eric Olson's 'The Human Animal: Personal Identity Without Psychology'
Dainton (Barry)
Source: Mind 107/427 (July 1998), pp. 679-682
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Although Darwinian explanatory strategies are being employed ever more widely, in areas as diverse as culture and cosmology, there remains a wide-spread reluctance to subscribe to a central tenet of Darwinism, namely the thesis that we ourselves are animals. This reluctance does not, for the most part, stem from a belief that we are immaterial souls, but from a doctrine about objects and their identity conditions. We may be wholly material beings, but are nonetheless material beings of a distinctive sort, namely persons. Whereas animals have biological identity conditions, persons have mentalistic identity conditions, from which it follows that persons and animals are numerically distinct.
  2. "Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal - Personal Identity Without Psychology" is a sustained vigorous assault on this way of thinking. Olson's contention is that the Lockean or "Psychological Approach", irrespective of how it is developed in detail, is metaphysically flawed, and he urges us to accept in its stead a Biological Approach, according to which we human persons are organisms of a particular kind, members of the biological species Homo sapiens, entities whose persistence conditions1 are entirely independent of mentality.

Author’s Conclusion
  1. The book as a whole is admirably succinct, clear, and forcefully argued, and is a fresh and enjoyable read. It also contains a number of arguments I have not mentioned. Although some of these struck me as being less potent than the argument discussed above, they are far from negligible – though I did at times wonder how the author intended to reconcile his hostility to coincident entities with his commitment to Wiggins's account of substance concepts.
  2. And, lest I leave the wrong impression, the book is not entirely negative: chapter six introduces a provocative proposal concerning the persistence conditions2 of organisms.
  3. Those who have long harboured suspicions that the Psychological Approach has problems of an ontological sort will welcome this attempt to show that such suspicions are well-founded; those who are more sympathetic to the Lockean view can look forward to encountering some interesting challenges, and some awkward moments.


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