Problems for Animalism
Zimmerman (Dean)
Source: Abstracta Special Issue I – 2008 (Brazil)
Paper - Abstract

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Write-up1 (as at 18/12/2010 19:58:05): Zimmerman - The Human Animal: Objections

This is a review of "Zimmerman (Dean) - Problems for Animalism", which is itself a response to "Olson (Eric) - Precis of 'The Human Animal'". Zimmerman’s paper is the most cogent critique of Olson’s views, according to Olson. Zimmerman applauds Olson for charting (in "Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal - Personal Identity Without Psychology" and "Olson (Eric) - What are We? A Study of Personal Ontology") the range of arguments against his Master Argument for animalism (what Olson himself refers to as the Thinking Animal argument). So, Zimmerman’s paper is a discussion of this argument, and therefore interesting to me since my view is that this argument is both unsound and unnecessary. Zimmerman’s main point is that Olson’s argument is self-defeating because its argument-form allows for rival candidates for who we are, and one of the premises – that animals exist – is undermined by the assumptions underlying the argument itself. In addition, Olson’s commitment to his Master Argument restricts the options open to him in accounting for animals as vague objects.

The Sections are:-
  1. Olson’s Master Argument: after describing the argument, Zimmerman shows that rival candidates for being us can be argued for using arguments cast in the same form.
  2. Chisholm’s Entia Successiva Argument: for dualism, but showing that Olson is unjustified in believing that animals exist, given the supporting premises he relies on that imply the non-existence of other common-sense things.
  3. The Vagueness of Animals: Olson’s insistence that only one animal-like object is present (else we have too many thinkers) rules out plausible accounts of vagueness.

1. Olson’s Master Argument

Zimmerman takes the argument from a recent (but unspecified2) paper by Olson. If I am alone in the room:-
  1. There is a human animal in the room.
  2. Any human animal in the room is thinking.
  3. You are the only thinking being in the room.
  4. You are a human animal.
In support of the premises, Zimmerman glosses as follows:-
  1. The human animal in the room has biological and not psychological persistence conditions (PCs).
  2. The human animal has a brain, doing what your brain is doing – ie. thinking. As always, it is the reference of “you” that is important here. Presumably different entities substituted for “you” (once we’ve decided what “you” are) would “have” brains in different senses.
  3. If multiple entities were present, all thinking the same thoughts, how would you know which you are? This is Olson’s epistemological argument.
  4. So you have biological and not psychological PCs.
. Zimmerman notes that this argument is of the following schema:-
  1. There is a human-shaped F in the room.
  2. Any human-shaped F in the room is thinking.
  3. You are the only thinking being in the room.
  4. You are an F.
For some reason, Zimmerman doesn’t have the conclusion, as is warranted, as “You are a human-shaped F”. This is because the conclusion in the original argument just has “human animal” rather than “human-shaped human animal”. Presumably this is firstly for brevity (can human animals be other than human-shaped? Maybe they can if they are maximally-mutilated – ie. brains aren’t human-shaped) and due to the fact that the original argument doesn’t mention shapes at all. Now clearly, any human-shaped F is an F, but some Fs can’t (presumably) be human-shaped.

This may be important when we consider other things that Zimmerman suggests might be substituted for F:-
  1. Mere Body: while the animal presumably does not exist after its death, its body does, and did also exist pre-mortem. So, we can substitute “body” for F, as in "Carter (William) - Will I Be a Dead Person?". Note that this paper was also quoted by Markosian3, so must be judged to contain a cogent argument.
  2. Psychological Person (PP): but, I ask, is a PP, qua PP, shaped like anything? Just what is a PP if it isn’t a human animal? We are referred to Shoemaker, though we’re not given a reference4 (though Zimmerman does say that Shoemaker’s latest thoughts on the matter are in "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Physical Realization"). It seems that Shoemaker accepts the Master argument with F = PP. Zimmerman asks “Is there something now shaped like this body but that would survive the transfer of the cerebrum? If so, and if an animal can’t, then there is another candidate, call it a “psychological person”;”. I’m not clear quite what Shoemaker (as expounded by Zimmerman) has in mind here, and nor does Olson in his reply, but the details may not matter. I’d thought that Shoemaker would propose that the psychological person is the cerebrum, which isn’t exactly human-shaped, and isn’t what Zimmerman says. There’s a whole bunch of stuff by Shoemaker I ought to review5, in addition to "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Physical Realization", for instance:- Be this as it may, the consequence for Shoemaker is that because he accepts this argument in its entirety (with PP substituted for F), but in its original form (with “human animal” substituted for F) he accepts premises (1) and (3), yet denies the conclusion (4, that you are a human animal), he has to deny (3) – that human animals think – and indeed in his later work (we’re referred to "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Physical Realization") he argues that no animal with a sufficiently complex psychology thinks. This seems paradoxical, though less paradoxical than claiming that it’s only human animals that don’t think. What is supposed to do the thinking is something else in the vicinity of the animal’s body that has psychological persistence conditions. Zimmerman doesn’t say what Shoemaker considers these PPs to be (or what his criteria of personhood are). I need to follow6 this up.
  3. Mere Hunk of Matter: this is related to Chisholm’s arguments, though only loosely by the sound of things.
    • We are referred to Chisholm’s “Is There a Mind-Body Problem?”, (from which I’ve reviewed the excerpted version – follow this link7"Chisholm (Roderick) - Which Physical Thing Am I? An Excerpt from 'Is There a Mind-Body Problem?'"). I think Chisholm distinguishes between entia nonsuccessiva, for which strict and philosophical identity conditions apply, and entia successiva for which we just talk as if there was identity, when in fact there is not. I had thought that mere hunks of matter would fall into the latter category, but it seems we’re to think of the actual particles that make them up – which are only temporarily locally assembled. Chisholm seems to think there is some material core (analogous to the Rabbinic Luz bone), which preserves the identity of material persons, but isn’t clear on what it is (this is an empirical matter).
    • Zimmerman notes all this and equates a “mere hunk of matter” with an ens nonsuccessivum. Entia successiva are dealt with in the next section of Zimmerman’s paper
    • Anyway, the bottom line is that – according to Zimmerman – Chisholm has (1), (3) and not-(4), leading to not-(2) – and (Zimmerman says) dualism.
    • I don’t suppose it matters what Chisholm thought, because Zimmerman’s point is that if we plug F = “mere hunk of matter” in Olson’s schema – with the rider that the PCs of a “mere hunk of matter” require mereological essentialism – the conclusion is that “you” are a “mere hunk of matter” – something that was, and will shortly be, scattered. Because this is absurd, Chisholm denies (2), and claims that “you” are either a tiny particle or a monad.
    • Zimmerman claims that Olson says (where8?) that this is “the most impressive sort of argument for dualism he knows”. Zimmerman “is inclined to agree”, but is looking for a better one. Two things might be said about this.
    • Firstly, Zimmerman seems to think that philosophy is just a tool for thinking up clever arguments to justify his pre-philosophical prejudices (I’ve a feeling someone else9 said that recently).
    • Secondly, what have monads or tiny particles got to do with dualism? I’d thought Chisholm was arguing for (a rather odd form of) materialism – which just goes to show what a waste of time it is reading one (or part of one) of a philosopher’s papers in isolation. However, I suppose the argument is that if the human animal isn’t thinking, then something else – presumably something immaterial – must be; this is interesting given that Chisholm seems to think that there is some identity-preserving physical thing present, though presumably not one capable of thinking.
The bottom line of all this is that Olson’s Master Argument stinks, because its form allows for rival candidates.

2. Chisholm’s Entia Successiva Argument

The purpose of this discussion is to raise the question whether Olson can assume that animals exist. Basically, in answering the first problem he has to deny the existence of lots of common-sense objects like undetached heads, and mere chunks of matter. But, if he’s willing to give up on common sense, what is his justification that he can believe his eyes when he sees a human animal in the room? Again, Zimmerman compares Olson’s argument form with another – due to Chisholm – for the negation of Olson’s conclusion. Chisholm’s argument approximates to:-
  1. If you are a human animal, then there is a mere hunk of matter in the room shaped like an animal only if the mere hunk of matter in question is thinking.
  2. There is a mere hunk of matter in the room, shaped like a human animal; that recently was and soon will be scattered.
  3. So, you are a human animal only if the mere hunk of matter in question is thinking.
  4. You are the one and only thinking being in the room.
  5. You are not a mere hunk of matter.
  6. Therefore, the mere hunk of matter is not thinking.
  7. Therefore, you are not a human animal.
This argument invites comment (mine or Zimmerman’s, as indicated):-
  1. Chisholm/Zimmerman justifies this by the usual Olson arguments – the hunk of matter has a brain …
  2. Olson denies the existence of any such thing. Also, the scattered object doesn’t think, does it? The thinking is done by a better-connected object (the animal, not the hunk). Also, there’s a distinction to be made between the hunk (the mereological sum of atoms) and the animal’s body – which has PCs like those of an artefact, but not those of an animal or a hunk. Of course, Olson denies the existence of bodies as well.
  3. This follows from (1) & (2).
  4. One of Olson’s core claims.
  5. Again, a core Olson claim.
  6. Follows from (4) and (5); Olson would deny this claim, if he believed the mere hunk existed. In that case, he’d have to deny (4).
  7. Follows from (3) and (6); Zimmerman notes that the same argument applies not just to animals, but to any “gross physical objects” that can gain or lose parts. Why10 is this so?
I did not fully understand11 Zimmerman’s use of Chisholm, and need to follow it up later. But in any case, Zimmerman draws the following conclusions:-
  1. If Olson accepted the existence of the various alternatives, he’d have to say (based in this argument form; at least with equal justification) that he was not an animal, but one of the alternatives. Therefore, he adopts what he calls “biological minimalism” and denies that the alternative candidates – whether mere hunks of matter, bodies or psychological persons – exist.
  2. Biological Minimalism: was first expounded in "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Material Beings" and is supported by "Merricks (Trenton) - Objects and Persons". Olson has to deny that coincident objects of these sorts exist – and in particular that there exist undetached proper parts of me that are big enough to become me if other parts are removed.
  3. The point here is that if undetached heads – say – exist, then my head exists right now, and if – per impossibile – my head were to become detached and placed on life support, it would have a good claim to be me. But right now, my undetached head isn’t me, because it’s a proper part of me (the whole human animal); so – if undetached heads exist, we would have two thinking things more or less where I am located – which is one too many by Olson’s lights.
  4. Hence Olson goes along with Van Inwagen in denying the DAUP (Doctrine of Arbitrary Undetached Parts; see:- .
  5. On this analysis note that Olson need not be troubled by feet (because a foot is not a candidate for being me); but see "Olson (Eric) - Dion's Foot" and "Olson (Eric) - Why I Have No Hands". Maybe Olson is just being consistent – if heads don’t exist, then hands and feet ought not to exist either.
  6. Zimmerman has something further to say about Olson’s views on Mere Hunks of Matter, but I couldn’t understand what his point was. He says that (from Olson’s perspective) there shouldn’t be the sort of things that would cease to exist because of merely extrinsic changes – changes in what’s attached to them.
Zimmerman now asks what the consequences are for Olson of denying the existence of brains, rocks or clouds, given that we really seem to interact with such things? Zimmerman thinks that this stance undermines Olson’s first premise in his Master Argument – that there is a human animal in the room. What are the reasons Olson gives for thinking, when he is alone in the room, that there is an animal in the room?

Zimmerman thinks Olson just uses common sense (though he doesn’t use the term). What are the alternatives? Zimmerman doesn’t think it can be a tacit appeal to biology, because Olson denies the existence of mere hunks of matter, despite the prestige of physics – and (in the case of psychological persons) despite the prestige of psychology (at least given some future predictive power of neuroscience). Zimmerman concludes this section with an elegant argument:-
  1. He grants Olson that we have no immaterial parts, and that “you” are located in the vicinity of your whole body.
  2. He also grants Olson that thinking cannot be done by a plurality, so that you (the thinker) must be a (single) object made of the parts in the vicinity of your body. What is the favourite candidate?
  3. Olson claims this is the human animal, since we know there are such things.
  4. But, prior to Olson’s arguments, we would also have said we knew there exist lots of other macroscopic objects – such as lumps of clay, statues, organs, … and all sorts of other things we can tell exist simply by looking around. But once this conviction is shaken, why should we think animals exist?

3. The Vagueness of Animals

Zimmerman wants to provoke Olson into addressing vagueness, but the following argument which (when combined with Olson’s 3rd premise – that “you” are the only thinking thing in the room) gives an argument against animalism:-
  1. Animals are vague objects, which means that there are very many hunks of matter with an equal right to be identified with each animal.
  2. If I am an animal, there are very many hunks of matter with an equal right to be identified with me.
  3. If these hunks have an equal claim to be me, then either each of them is conscious, or only one is
  4. They can’t each be conscious, because there’s only one thinker
  5. It is implausible to suppose that just one is conscious
  6. So, it is false that there exist all these hunks of matter with an equal right to be me.
  7. I am not an animal.
Zimmerman adds the following riders in support of the premises and arguments:-
  1. Zimmerman claims that “this” – presumably “that these hunks have equal right” – is a crucial component of either “semantic indecision” or “epistemic” theories of vagueness. I need to follow12 up on these theories.
  2. Follows from (2).
  3. No further comment.
  4. This depends on Olson’s “too many minds” objections.
  5. Zimmerman thinks this another “Olson-ish” claim.
  6. Follows from (3), (4) & (5).
  7. Follows from (2) and (6).
My thoughts on these premises and arguments are as follows:-
  1. That does “identified” mean? Not “identical”, because the PCs of animals and hunks of matter differ. So, presumably, the thought is that one hunk or another constitutes (in some sense) the current temporal phase (in some sense) of the animal? Also, what does Zimmerman mean by “each animal”? It sounds as though he’s saying not only that we have lots of hunks present, but also lots of animals. Presumably he just means that for any particular animal, there are lots of hunks – and that we’re only considering one animal (as commonly conceived) in this case. Having said that, why give priority to the animal? There are definitely lots of hunks present (they are defined cleanly by mereological considerations if we adopt mereological essentialism), so presumably a particular hunk could claim to instantiate lots of different animals, if we were to allow animals to overlap – though this might depend on how fuzzy we allow our animals to be – it might be the case that if “two” animals overlap in any way, we have one animal – though pathological cases – eg. the dicephalus or less radically conjoined individuals – make this suggestion implausible.
  2. I “am” an animal if identical to one, rather than constituted by one.
  3. I couldn’t see why there were only two possibilities. Might not “some” be conscious, rather than one or all, at least at this stage in the argument?
  4. The whole argument is of the form “valid ad hominem” – attempting to show inconsistencies in Olson’s arguments. However, in his reply, Olson claims that if these hunks of matter existed, he would admit that they think. I’m not sure how the logic of this works. Is his foundational problem the epistemological one – that if they all thought, I wouldn’t know which he was, or the plain metaphysical one – wastage? I presume it’s the latter – Olson doesn’t want this plurality whether they think or not, but if they do exist, we have extra problems.
  5. This “argument from idempotency” arises a lot – and seems perfectly legitimate – it is, for instance, an objection to “closest continuer” theories of personal identity when there are lots of equally-qualified candidates (as in the botched teletransportation TE). Baker doesn’t seem to accept it, however. She says, somewhere13, that in reduplication cases, “I’d just know” which one maintained my FPP – though I’ve no idea how (and nor has she).
  6. No further comment.
  7. No further comment.
Zimmerman thinks that Olson would deny (1), and therefore (2). Unfortunately, Premise (1) isn’t atomic. Olson accepts that animals are vague objects (despite the arguments of "Evans (Gareth) - Can There Be Vague Objects?" (and probably others) claiming that such objects are illogical). He just denies that each mereological sum that has a claim to constitute an animal does so. It strikes me (and this is indeed Zimmerman’s point) that if animals are vague objects, then there’s only one of them where an animal is commonly presumed to be, whereas if they aren’t vague, then there are lots of mostly-overlapping ones. Anyway, the reason Zimmerman gives for Olson’s rejection of (1) is that (for Olson) “the vagueness of the boundaries of an animal cannot be a matter of there being many hunks of matter that are equally good candidates for being the animal”, which seems fair. Zimmerman thinks this leads to problems, and rules out certain popular accounts of vagueness, namely:-
  1. Semantic indecision among many things with only slightly different spatiotemporal boundaries, or
  2. Timothy Williamson’s epistemicism, since it too requires many good candidates in (nearly) the same place at the same time.

    The reason is that Olson insists that there’s only one thing present. Therefore, Zimmerman thinks Olson has to choose between:-
  3. Merricks: There is just one thing there, and it is superprecise, and
  4. Van Inwagen: There is just one thing there, and it fades out, objectively.
Zimmerman gives no precise references for any of this, other than gesturing towards "Williamson (Timothy) - Vagueness" (and John Hawthorne’s Epistemicism and Semantic Plasticity (Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, Vol. 2, 2006), which I don’t yet possess), but I presume the following are likely candidates, which I need to follow14 up:-
  1. Semantic indecision: My database has no references to this, so will need to check with "Keefe (Rosanna) & Smith (Peter) - Theories of Vagueness".
  2. Timothy Williamson’s epistemicism: presumably "Williamson (Timothy) - Vagueness as Ignorance" would be a good place to start?
  3. Merricks’ superprecision: try "Merricks (Trenton) - Composition and Vagueness"?
  4. Van Inwagen: "Van Inwagen (Peter) - The Problem of the Many and the Vagueness of Composition", Olson’s preferred solution.
Zimmerman’s worries are that neither of the accounts of vagueness available to Olson seems appropriate for animals. I don’t have enough background15 in theories of vagueness to understand or evaluate what he has to say. The points he makes are that:-
  1. The vagueness of animals – of the spatial boundaries of its body and the temporal boundaries of its life – seems similar to that of artefacts such as ships or natural features such as mountains.
  2. Artefacts and natural features do not seem best dealt with by positing super-precision or objective fade-outs.
  3. He alleges that the super-precision Olson needs is much worse that Williamson’s variety. Olson needs “exactly one object, its parts somehow very different from all the other collections of parts that almost make up a ship, a mountain, …”. I can’t comment on this – yet16.
  4. Both the lone candidates of Merricks’ superprecision and Van Inwagen’s fade-outs are incompatible with:-
    • Vagueness being resolved by linguistic revision, or
    • People being able validly to draw boundaries in different places.
    … unless we are idealists (ie. immaterialists), which neither Olson nor Zimmerman are.
These points, and especially the point about idealism, were lost17 on me.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:
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