|Three Problems for Olson's Account of Personal Identity|
|Source: Abstracta Special Issue I – 2008 (Brazil)|
|Paper - Abstract|
|Paper Summary||Books / Papers Citing this Paper||Notes Citing this Paper||Link to Latest Write-Up Note|
Write-up1 (as at 18/12/2010 19:58:05): Markosian - The Human Animal: Three Problems for Olson
This Paper is a review of "Markosian (Ned) - Three Problems for Olson's Account of Personal Identity", which is itself a response to "Olson (Eric) - Precis of "The Human Animal"".
Markosian starts of by paraphrasing two theses from Olson.
He then sets out three problems for Olson’s account, which are identified by three thought experiments:-
Markosian’s conclusion is that both the Biological Approach (BV, Biological View – I will usually just say “animalism) and the Psychological Approach (PV) to the problem of Personal Identity are false, though he doesn’t know what the right answer is!
Immediate responses to this are that Olson is only interested in humanpersons. He allows that there might be non-biological persons, whose persistence conditions (PCs) are non-biological. If we stick to human persons, then Markosian’s account is satisfactory. The important point is that we have to have a human person at some career-stage, but not at every stage to have an interesting question of personal identity. For Olson, the human person can persist without being a person, because it is an organism.
The Mummy: A man lives, is mummified, and subsequently the particles of the mummy are rearranged to form a living woman, with no psychological continuity.
Markosian thinks we can draw two conclusions from the Mummy Thought Experiment (TE):-
He thinks (rightly) that Olson must deny that these conclusions can be simultaneously true. In fact, Olson probably ought to consider the first claim to be false but the second true. The first claim is doubtful because mummies aren’t organisms, so we have a double metamorphosis. However, as for Markosian’s second claim, while Olson denies that psychology has anything to do with personal identity claims, if the persons at the TE termini aren’t the same animal, then they aren’t the same person (in the sense of the same animal) either.
Markosian thinks this denial of joint truth is a problem for Olson, in that it implies that there is a “same person” relation other than Olson’s. In his reply2, Olson seems wiling to accept this point. But I don’t think he would agree with Markosian that he thereby mischaracterises the problem of personal identity. While he’s willing to allow a non-identity-preserving “same person” relation, he insists that if we’re talking about the logical relation for the identity of human persons, then we have only one relation – his animalist characterisation.
Markosian’s point is spoilt somewhat by his choice of TE. It’s not at all clear that we have Olson’s “same person” relation in play here, as it’s not clear that we have the “same animal” relation. However, if Markosian had chosen a different TE – something like his Salamander case, but without metamorphosis, we would have the issue he wants to raise. Ie. if we had Fred gradually changing into Jane – or something like Michael Jackson’s antics – then we might have same animal / different person. But this depends on how the “same person” relation is supposed to work. It’s not clear to me that there would be a difference of FPP here, so Baker might say that we had identity of person in this case also, so there’s no wedge between the two accounts, at least not in this TE (there are still fetus-type problems – if these are taken to be problems rather than advantages of the animalist account).
The Corpse Problem: Proponents of the psychological view (PV) have a Fetus Problem, but animalists have an analogous Corpse Problem. While the person pops into existence after the fetus (a problem for the PV) the corpse pops into existence after the animal’s demise (a problem for the animalist).
This is a bit quick. What Markosian actually says is that the supporter of the PV faces a dilemma. Since they have to deny that they were a fetus (as fetuses don’t have any psychological properties), they have a choice:-
. Markosian doesn’t like either horn, but thinks the animalist has a similar problem, as is argued in "Carter (William) - Will I Be a Dead Person?". This is the Corpse Problem, but before considering it, we must note that the CV finds no problem with the second option – cohabitation – claiming that constitution gets round this worry.
The Corpse Problem arises because if your persistence conditions are those of an organism, and a corpse is not an organism, then you are not identical to your corpse. Markosian thinks this leaves the animalist with a trilemma:-
Markosian thinks this is a problem, because he doesn’t like any of these options, but thinks that he is a physical thing, with the persistence conditions of physical things, and that a physical thing continues after death, and that physical thing – your body – is you as long as it exists. Olson rightly objects to this view – the PCs of animals aren’t at all like the PCs of lumps of matter.
Markosian thinks (rightly) that as Olson is suspicious of bodies, he’ll be suspicious of corpses too, and so will go for option 2. He thinks other animalists will go for option 1. Again, he ignores the CV whereby option 3 is not a problem. The dialectical position here, of course, is that considerations concerning the objectionabilty of (3) – cohabitation – are central to Olson’s main argument for animalism. I don’t think he needs that argument, so should accept (3).
Markosian now tries his hand at providing what he considers to be the best alternative to Olson’s view. He claims it rests on three metaphysical assumptions:-
Given these assumptions, Markosian proposes the EPPI (the Episodic Characterisation of the Problem of Personal Identity). “The problem of personal identity consists of trying to provide an answer to the following question: What are the circumstances under which an instance of personhood at t1 is part of the same episode of personhood as an instance of personhood at t2?”
This is interesting. These “episodes of personhood” are episodes of time-extended tropes – time-bound particularised properties – so aren’t universals. They are properties of things – in this case a single thing - an animal-mummy-animal. And depending on what the persistence conditions of these trope-episodes are, they may or may not coincide temporally with the thing they are properties of (in this case they don’t – because Markosian claims that the termini belong to different “episodes of personhood”, and presumably there’s no “episode of personhood” during the “mummy” stage).
He also claims that it allows animalists to get round the corpse problem. Just how does this enable us to escape the sting of the corpse problem? The problem is to have too many thinking things in the pre-mortem state. However, here we have only one thing, with various properties – because a property isn’t a thing, but a property of a thing. Or, if it is a thing, it’s not a material thing.
As an aside, Markosian’s scheme would seem to offer no hope of resurrection, unless (as far as I can see) one of two possibilities obtain:-
Markosian claims that the proponent of the BV can answer the question posed by the EPPI by saying that what makes for continuity of person is the right sort of biological continuity. He also claims that EPPI gets round the Mummy problem. This is because, though we have (he insists) a single thing throughout the TE, we can have separate trope-episodes. So, I’m still slightly at a loss as to just what a person is for Markosian. Is he a perdurantist4? I need to check5.
What to make of all this? I don’t know enough about Markosian’s philosophy to provide a “reasonableness check” on what he says. Are people really trope-episodes? This would deny that people are substances. Or maybe people are substances (animals) but persons aren’t – they are properties of animals. But this seems unattractive (to me) – surely we want to say that persons are animals with certain special properties, not that they are them? The EPPI seems to be talking about personalities, not persons. Or personality-tropes, as a personality sounds like a universal that can be a property of many different individuals.
The Salamander: Ned is a (male) human person who gradually morphs into salamander called Sally while remaining conscious. Subsequently, Sally morphs back into a human female person, Lucy, different from Ned in every important way.
Markosian thinks this TE represents a problem for both the BV and Psychological approach.
There are a number of important points about the TE, which may or may not cast doubt on its validity:-
So, why is this a problem for the BV? Markosian thinks those holding the BV are committed to saying that Ned and Lucy are the same person, whereas Markosian thinks they are obviously not. I’m not sure (from the BV perspective) that this is much of an advance on the Mummy problem. At least there is biological continuity, but it’s of the wrong sort. The salamander is not a human animal, so there’s no reason to think that Ned and Lucy are the same human animal any more than I am Caesar if made from Caesar’s atoms.
And why is it a problem for the PV? Because there is psychological continuity. But is there? Markosian tries to stipulate that there is, but can there really be psychological continuity between a human being and a salamander? Of some sort, but not of the FPP-preserving sort that Baker would require – after all, the salamander (presumably) has no FPP. And, we are to presume, though this is unclear despite the stipulation that Ned and Lucy are as different as could be, Ned and Lucy don’t share the same FPP, so aren’t the same person for Baker. So, while there may be a problems for the standard PV, there isn’t one for the CV or the BV – not unless they accept the possibility of intermittent objects and identify Ned and Lucy contrary to their own requirements.
Markosian thinks that proponents of either the BV or the PV have problems with the Salamander, because there is both biological and psychological continuity – but proponents of either view insist that the continuity has to be of the right sort, and why should they agree that this TE provides the right sort – it doesn’t appear to, though maybe others might (eg. if we just missed out the salamander step, and had Ned morph directly into Lucy. Why did he not adopt this ploy? If he had, I presume the responses would have been:-
Markosian now makes 4 claims, all of which he takes to be true. I consider them all false!
While Markosian thinks all these claims true, and is happy to call the relationships between Ned, Sally and Lucy “object identity” or even “organism identity”, he doesn’t want to call it “personal identity” (PI). He thinks there must be some other relation that is worth calling PI that does not relate Ned to Sally or Ned to Lucy.
There are several things that could be said of all this:-
Markosian’s conclusion from the Salamander example is that both the BV and PV are false, though he doesn’t know what the right view of Personal Identity is. It is not clear to me why he doesn’t invoke his “episodes of personhood” account as a possible solution.
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