Our Identity and the Separability of Person and Organism
Persson (Ingmar)
Source: Dialogue 38, 1999, pp. 519-533
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction1

  1. Many contemporary accounts of our identity assume the broadly Lockean form of distinguishing us, as essentially being persons, from our organisms or organic or animal bodies. Let me refer to this view as personalism. There are different versions of it, but they all have in common that they take the conditions of identity for the persons we essentially are to differ from the conditions of identity for the (human) animals or organisms in which these persons are embodied. On no version of personalism is the persistence of our animal organisms sufficient for our persistence; the persons to which we are identical cease to exist when our minds come to an end — or, in other words, when all our mental faculties are lost but our organisms go on existing in a state of being permanently unconscious. (Indeed, a case can be made for saying even that our organisms often persist after their death. It seems that an organism is rather a thing created by the process of living it undergoes than identical to this process. To all appearances, this thing created often persists after the cessation of the process.)
  2. These versions may differ on whether we survive when our brains are so seriously damaged that the mentality they sustain is reduced to, say, that of an infant, i.e., on whether a person must be capable of self-consciousness2 and rationality. This is not an issue on which I shall take a stand, though the difficulty for personalism I shall discuss acquires its full force only for beings that are self-conscious — that is, conscious of their own mental states.
  3. Forms of personalism may also differ on whether the persistence of our organisms is necessary for our persistence. On the commonest forms, it is not necessary; we are held to survive when almost all of our bodies/organisms are destroyed, but our brains — or just the higher parts of them underlying psychological capacities — go on functioning, either on their own, in a vat, or as parts of new bodies/organisms into which they have been transplanted3. A personalist could maintain, however, that a person is a whole consisting of both an organism and a (possibly self-conscious) mind, in which case the identity of both is necessary for the identity of a person. For what is definitive of personalism, as I construe it, is only that it takes the identity of something essentially having a mind, however construed, to be necessary for our identity. But personalist views that insist on the necessity of sameness of organism/body are rare, presumably because they do not square with some of our strongest intuitions in the area, e.g., that we go with our brains in brain-transplant4 cases.
  4. It is with forms of personalism that concord with this intuition that I shall be particularly concerned. I shall, however, not attempt to work out in detail a plausible personalist view of this sort, but shall allow myself to speak imprecisely of "minds," their being "owned" by, or "realized" in, something physical, and so on. I will proceed in this manner not only for reasons of space, but also because, as will transpire, I am not convinced that these, or any, forms of personalism will prove tenable in the end. But I will try to answer one influential objection against these forms to the effect that persons cannot plausibly be separated from their organisms.

  1. Introduction
  2. An Animalist5 Objection to Personalism
  3. A Personalist Reply
  4. Organisms with Two Minds
  5. Difficulties for Personalism
  6. Conclusion

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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