Review of Lynne Baker's 'Persons And Bodies'
Olson (Eric)
Source: Mind, 110, Number 438, April 2001, pp. 427-430(4)
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction1

  1. Many philosophers believe that constitution is not identity: that the very same matter can make up two or more concrete objects of different kinds at once. "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View" applies this idea to ourselves. Its main thesis is that we are 'constituted by' but not identical with the human organisms that we call our bodies. It provides by far the most detailed exposition and defence of this view to date. The book is written clearly enough to be accessible to some undergraduates. Anyone with an interest in personal identity, or in the metaphysics of material objects in general, will want to read it.
  2. We can see that we are not animals, Baker argues, by reflecting on 'what we are2 most fundamentally'. Her answer is persons, which, following Locke, she takes to be beings that can 'consider themselves as themselves' that is, beings with a first-person perspective3. We persons have such a perspective essentially, whereas animals, even human animals4, have it only accidentally. (Consider a human animal5 in a persistent vegetative state6.) This metaphysical essence is also what is ethically most special about us: only a creature with a first-person perspective7 can be responsible for its actions and evaluate its goals. For good measure, Baker uses familiar Prince-and-Cobbler stories to argue that we have different persistence conditions8 from those of our bodies – though she stops short of endorsing a psychological-continuity theory of our identity.
  3. If you think that we really do exist and are material things, and that there really are such things as human animals9, and that nothing could be both a person and an animal – and if you reject the ontology of temporal parts-you will probably end up with something like Baker's view. She says it has further advantages as well: it is supported by considerations about other concrete objects (pieces of marble constitute statues10 but are not identical with them). It implies that our identity is always determinate (though I couldn't follow the argument for this). It avoids relativizing identity to times or sorts. It is compatible with intuitive judgments about our identity through time. And it gives a unified account of both what we are11 metaphysically and of what is special about us ethically.


Review of "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View".

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:

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