Beyond Horses and Oak Trees: A New Theory of Individuation for Living Entities
Wilson (Jack)
Source: Wilson, Jack - Biological Individuality: The identity and Persistence of Living Entities; 1999, Chap. 1, pp. 1-21
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

    In this chapter I show that past philosophers have failed to explicate the conditions an entity must satisfy to be a living individual. I then explore the reasons for this failure and explain why we should limit ourselves to examples involving real organisms rather than use thought experiments1.

for the meaning of any abbreviations in what follows.


1. Introduction
2. The Meaning of 'a Life'
3. The Poverty of Examples
4. Imaginary Examples and Conceptual Analysis
5. What is It?
Outstanding Tasks
  1. Review the critique of unspecified BG assumptions / concepts in "Wilkes (Kathleen) - Thought Experiments".
  2. Urgently read:-
    "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance", and
    "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance Renewed".
  3. Populate the Notes on:- .

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 6: Problems like this incline Olson to deny that we were ever zygotes (though perdurantism (Click here for Note) would allow us to say that we were, it seems to me).

Footnote 10: We might ask why we care about these restrictions – maybe we’re only interested in organisms of the “normal” kind? Wilson’s response to this unasked question appears to be in the following bullet.

Footnote 11: The 5 kingdoms are Monera (Prokaryota), Protista, Fungi, Plantae, and Animalia. See Link (Defunct) (for instance) for further information. No doubt we could dispute whether this “two out of five kingdoms” point weighs the kingdoms appropriately – and what criteria for weighting are appropriate in the first place. Or, as noted previously, we might just not care about the individuation of non-animals (or even non-higher-animals), or at least not see why they all need to be satisfied by a single criterion.

Footnote 14: It looks like "Wilson (Edward O.) - Sociobiology: The Abridged Edition", Chapter 18 - The Colonial Invertebrates - would be worth a look?

Footnote 15: The colony is functionally isomorphic to a jellyfish, so it seems to me the issue has to do with the degree of integration of the cells and organs, and their ability to survive in isolation from one another. Also, the degree of neurological integration is important (cf. the dicephalus - Click here for Note).

Footnote 18: Question: Currently we can’t “do” brain transplants, but one day we might be able to do. Just what is “this world”?

Footnote 19: Question: Is there really such a plethora of actual exotic cases in Personal Identity, which means that we can do without TEs?

Footnote 23: Presumably this is a process that could happen; but is “it” – the mass of cells – still a dog? If not, could Clover really be (identical to) Rover? Is this a conceptual issue – that things cannot change their primary kind – assumed to be DOG in the case of dogs – or has it to do with the empirical possibilities open to the natural kind DOG?

Footnote 25: Pursue the idea of “truth within the story” under the head of anti-realism (Chapter 5 of "Vardy (Peter) & Arliss (Julie) - The Thinker's Guide to God").

Footnote 26: But, presumably, if we ask enough questions about the missing details in the TE or literary fantasy we can expose the impossibilities. Also, the impossibility of such fantasies is conceptually revealing, and so helpful. We don’t find impossibilities in nature, so need TEs to reveal them.

Footnote 27: So, what might be metaphysically possible might not be nomologically possible. This is important when we consider minds, which supervene on real physical things (brains), and so might not exist if the laws of nature were significantly different.

Footnote 29: Is it really the case that everything would be so different in this case?

Footnote 30: Concepts (Click here for Note) are central in this discussion, as they are in the rest of philosophy – I need to have something to say on the matter. See "Papineau (David) - The Importance of Philosophical Intuition", which refers on to "Brandom (Robert) - Making It Explicit: Reasoning, Representing & Discursive Commitment", pp. 126-7.

Footnote 31:
  1. But surely TEs help us to prise apart what we habitually run together, and
  2. Sometimes we want to consider what would happen in worlds other than our own – or at least in (what may be) aspects of our world of which we have no direct experience - eg. resurrection.
Footnote 32: But, surely, this has to be reviewed on a case by case basis – though it is an important warning. Also, doesn’t this objection apply as much to obscure real-world cases that were not pre-supposed when our concepts were created? As noted before, if our concept INDIVIDUAL works OK for oak-trees, horses and the like, when what does it matter if it fails for slime-moulds?

Footnote 33: What’s the justification for introducing natural kinds here? Is the idea that without a covering natural kind concept, the boundaries of the concept will be arbitrary or conventional, or even that the concept will be ill-defined?

Footnote 35: This would be a case of Exdurantism.

Footnote 36: This is the acceptance of endurantism and a rejection of perdurantism. I need to ensure I fully understand the antipathy between substances / sortals and perdurantism, which completely escaped me when I first touched on the topic of perdurantism.

Footnote 37: The “potential” seems a little quaint, in that no-one believes in the possibility of everlasting organisms.

Footnote 38: I understand property-essentialism, but the use of the term “temporal” implies that the doctrine has something to do with a philosophy of time, when it doesn’t, other than that we’re talking about persistence of an object through time. Wilson has a footnote – in which he points out that this assumption – of temporal essentialism – doesn’t imply the modal essentialism he argues for in "Wilson (Jack) - The Necessity of Biological Origin and Substantial Kinds"; but the footnote otherwise just repeats what he had said earlier about temporal essentialism, without explaining the “temporal”. “Temporal essentialism” is hot a technical term in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Footnote 39: Might it not be – as with games and family resemblances – while no one property is essential, that we need “enough” to the “right degree”?

Footnote 40: At least, I think that’s what he means. Presumably this causes a problem for evolutionary theory, in that it would make species static, rather than continually evolving. He says he comes back to the matter later – presumably in "Wilson (Jack) - The Necessity of Biological Origin and Substantial Kinds".

Footnote 41: But, is this so obviously so, in either case?
  1. People have imagined the Phoenix – or Dracula – being regenerated from the ashes (and something similar was imagined in a recent episode of Torchwood - the hero was splatted to bits but somehow regenerated). Now these TEs might be incoherent (as they most certainly are) but some discussion is required.
  2. Metamorphosis is a complex matter – if (say) a grub persists to the imago via the pupa, why couldn’t a tree metamorphose into an animal, if it did so gradually enough and we had a detailed story to tell? Again, the story would probably be incoherent, but the tale needs telling.
Footnote 43: "Wilson (Jack) - Biological Individuality - The identity and Persistence of Living Entities" was published in 1999, which is earlier than "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance Renewed".

Footnote 51: I’m not sure this is expressed correctly. The human being who was well-dressed doesn’t cease to exist, yet there’s no WDM in evidence.

Footnote 52: Occasionally, Wilson uses the verb “living” instead of “existing” – we need to be careful as they are not the same concept. Life is a biological term (Click here for Note), and if non-biological entities are said to “live” then we have widened the scope of the term. This should make us wary of talking about “artificial life” or “spiritual life”.

Footnote 53: While I fully agree, this is not uncontroversial (witness the alleged “corpse problem” for animalism - Click here for Note and Click here for Note).

Footnote 55: Click here for Note. Wilson isn’t contradicting himself here, because at a time a thing still has to belong to one kind or another. But, I had thought that a bare particular could belong to no kind at all.

Footnote 56: So, we would have unrestricted metamorphosis involving change of kind.

Footnote 57: Ensure that we do, and remove this footnote if so!

Footnote 58: See "Kripke (Saul) - Naming and Necessity: Lecture III", Section 4.3 in my write-up.

Footnote 60: So, transubstantiation involves a bare particular, and so would resurrection, if the resurrection body has different persistence conditions to the mortal one (as it must) – though this is to hop on a bit, relying as it does on a kind being defined by its persistence criteria. So, are we bare particulars? Only, I suppose, if we are essentially bodies (and can survive resurrection). If we are essentially immaterial – souls (say) – then our bodies might be inessential attributes that can be changed like clothes (which seems to be the Pauline take on the matter).

Footnote 62: In "Aristotle - Aristotle 1", but I’m not sure I care.

Footnote 63: Are death and annihilation supposed to be the same thing? They aren’t, and don’t seem to exhaust the possibilities. Can a thing cease to be without either dying or being annihilated? What happens when Goliath is squished so that only Lump1 still exists? (see "Gibbard (Allan) - Contingent Identity")

Footnote 64: I couldn’t really follow the argument here, and have rather unsuccessfully re-ordered it.

Footnote 65: Again, see if there’s any development between "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance", and "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance Renewed" (ie. "Wiggins (David) - Outline of a Theory of Individuation").

Footnote 68: Because it’s of finite duration, there must be a change it cannot survive, so there must be a property it cannot survive the loss of, and so it must belong to one or more substantial kinds defined by this property.

Footnote 69: Ie., presumably, "Lowe (E.J.) - Kinds of Being: Introduction".

Footnote 71: Though he also refers to “other non-living natural objects”. Does this include, for instance, gold? Some such also certainly seem mind-independent, though mountains, say, may not be?

Footnote 72: Footnote 73: Given that Wilson doesn’t accept 4D, fission (Click here for Note) is equivalent to perishing.

Footnote 75: What are these? I thought the only example Wilson gave of a phase sortal was “a well-dressed man”.

Footnote 78: By which, I think, he means “what substantial kinds there are”.

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