Human Atoms
Olson (Eric)
Source: Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 76, No 3, pp. 396--406; September 1998
Paper - Abstract

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Philosophers Index Abstract

  1. E.J. Lowe has given a novel argument for the claim that nothing could be both a person and an animal. He argues further that it follows from this (and a few plausible further assumptions) that you and I must be simple substances without parts. Finally, he claims that this view is consistent with our being six feet tall and weighing 160 pounds.
  2. The article shows that Lowe's arguments are inconclusive and that his final claim is dubious.

Author’s Introduction
  1. Philosophers of all sorts have often managed to persuade themselves that they are something other than animals. No human person, they say, is ever strictly identical with that human animal that they call 'his body'. They disagree about what we are1 instead.
    1. We might be wholly immaterial thinking substances.
    2. We might be material objects 'constituted' by our bodies – things made up of the same particles or the same stuff as those animals, and which exist in virtue of those animals, being a certain way.
    3. A few think that we are events, bundles of thoughts and experiences, properties, or abstract things analogous to computer programmes.
  2. In this paper I shall explore a novel alternative to these familiar views. In his recent book "Lowe (E.J.) - Subjects of Experience", E.J. Lowe argues, as many others have done before, that you and I are not animals. It follows from this that we must be simple substances without parts. That may sound like Cartesian dualism. But Lowe is no Cartesian. He argues from premises that many present-day materialists accept. And he claims that our being mereologically simple is consistent with our having such paradigmatically physical properties as being six feet tall and weighing 160 pounds. You and I, he claims, are mereological atoms shaped like human beings.
  3. Everyone will find something to disagree with here.
    1. Some of us think that we are animals.
    2. Most of us assume that a person could be made up of parts.
    3. Nearly everyone assumes that we have parts if we are material objects at all.
    4. For that matter, nearly everyone assumes that any extended object, especially one that looks like a human being, must have parts.
    Lowe's position flouts conventional metaphysical wisdom at every turn. It is perhaps the wildest view of personal identity on offer. Yet he claims that it follows from widely held assumptions. One cannot help but be intrigued.
  4. For all that, my main task is not to praise Lowe's view but to bury it. (In my view the other alternatives to our being animals deserve burial as well. But that is a task for another day.) I will argue that Lowe fails to establish that you and I are not animals or that we are simple, and that his view that we are six-foot mereological atoms is at least dubious.

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