Is there a Bodily Criterion of Personal Identity
Olson (Eric)
Source: MacBride - Identity and Modality, 2006, Chapter 11
Paper - Abstract

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Editor’s Introduction1

  1. Eric T. Olson's 'Is There a Bodily Criterion of Personal Identity?' continues the theme of questioning how we relate to our bodies.
  2. One of the perennial debates about personal identity concerns whether we should adopt a bodily criterion of personal identity as opposed, say, to a psychologistic criterion. But this debate only makes sense if there is such a thing as a bodily criterion of personal identity; about the existence of such a criterion Olson expresses scepticism.
  3. The bodily criterion is supposed to offer an account according to which we are our bodies or, at least, that our identity over time consists in the identity- of our bodies. So the bodily criterion is supposed to be a non-trivial thesis about our bodies and how we are related to them that determines that we go where our bodies go.
  4. But, Olson argues, we cannot specify the bodily criterion in such a way as to ensure that it does what it is supposed to do. Olson's argument for this conclusion proceeds by elimination, considering in turn a variety of different purported specifications of the bodily criterion. Either these criteria imply too little or they imply too much: either
    • (1) they say nothing about, or leave it open that we may survive, the destruction of our bodies or
    • (2) they imply that you could never be a foetus2 or a corpse.
  5. It may be suggested that the difficulties identified are a consequence of the surreptitious assumption of a Cartesian account of body ownership. But Olson dismisses this suggestion, arguing that the accounts of body ownership proposed by Shoemaker and Tye imply that the bodily criterion is not the substantial thesis debate assumes but a trivial consequence of materialism.
  6. How did such a depth of misunderstanding arise? Olson ventures a diagnosis. We are misled by the superficial grammar of such expressions as 'Wilma's body'; in this case, an expression that appears to be the name of an object with which Wilma enjoys an especially intimate relationship.
  7. But, Olson argues, we should no more believe that 'Wilma's body' names a special object than we should believe that the expression 'Wilma's mind' names another object with which she enjoys a different, but not less intimate, relationship.

Author’s Abstract
  1. One of the main problems of personal identity is supposed to be how we relate to our bodies. A few philosophers endorse what is called a 'bodily criterion of personal identity': they say that we are our bodies, or at any rate that our identity over time consists in the identity of our bodies. Many more deny this – typically on the grounds that we can imagine ourselves coming apart from our bodies. But both sides agree that the bodily criterion is an important view which anyone thinking about personal identity must consider.
  2. I have never been able to work out what the bodily criterion is supposed to be. Despite my best efforts, I have not found any clear position that plays the role in debates on personal identity that everyone takes the bodily criterion to play. What role is that? What is the bodily criterion supposed to be? ….


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In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:

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