Response to Eric Olson
Baker (Lynne Rudder)
Source: Abstracta Special Issue I – 2008 (Brazil)
Paper - Abstract

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Write-up1 (as at 17/04/2018 21:04:19): Baker - The Human Animal: Response to Olson

  • This paper is a review of "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Response to Eric Olson", which is itself a response to "Olson (Eric) - Replies to Baker, Markosian & Zimmerman".
  • Baker has two objections to Olson’s reply3 to her objections4 to Animalism:
    1. That Olson accused her of mis-describing her own view, and
    2. That Olson accused her of making a simple logical error.
  • She raises two technical points, both related to her Constitution View (CV) that she had not had time to elaborate on during her initial response to Olson:-
    1. The “Key Distinction”: between having properties derivatively and non-derivatively.
    2. Not all properties can be had derivatively.
  • According to Baker, properties are had derivatively if they are had in virtue of the individual being constituted by something else that has them non-derivatively. The derivative and non-derivative having of properties is exhaustive. This is the Key Distinction (KD).
  • She says that the KD shows that some Fs have their persistence conditions (PCs) in virtue of being Fs while others do not. She notes that persistence conditions only apply to primary-kind properties (introduced without definition). If F is a primary-kind property, then all and only non-derivative F’s have their PCs in virtue of being Fs.
    • PCs are sortal-related, and “what it is to be an F is what it is to (continue to) be”. If F is the property that defines the Sort, you can’t have an F that doesn’t have PCs in virtue of being an F. I presume that SORT and PRIMARY KIND are synonyms. However, TEACHER is not a Sort (or Primary Kind), so no teacher has her PCs in virtue of being a teacher, but in virtue of being a human being (pace Baker). Teachers as such don’t have PCs. The big issue here is whether PERSON is like TEACHER, in not being a Sort. It’s not clear that we need the concept of constitution or the KD to explain these differences in PCs. What is Baker’s view of teachers – are they constituted by human animals too – or just properties of human animals (or maybe persons)?
    • Baker doesn’t mention substances - but are they pre-supposed by talk of Kinds, or are these orthogonal concepts? Are the major accounts of persistence (endurantism5, perdurantism6, exdurantism7) orthogonal to ideas about substances – ie. does endurantism presuppose substances, and perdurantism deny them?
    • If substances are the key to this debate, is it the case that PERSON is not a substance-term, but only a property of a substance? In that case, it is the human animal that has the FPP8, and it is this that qualifies it to be a person. So, the person’s PCs are the PCs of an appropriate animal (one capable at some time of having a FPP)9.
    • We might ask about the persistence of a personality, but it’s not clear what a personality is. Personalities seem to be able to develop, but they seem rather abstract. Are they collections of properties? They can’t really be universals, as universals are timeless and changeless.
  • As an example – and application – Baker says that her body is an animal non-derivatively, and has its PCs in virtue of being an animal. There’s lots to say here:-
    1. Olson (and I) would disagree bodies are animals in any sense. Olson probably denies that (living) bodies exist, though he probably agrees that corpses exist, and organisms certainly exist. I’m not impressed by co-location arguments, though I’m not quite sure what the relation of an animal to its body is – presumably some form of constitution.
    2. My difference with Baker is not with constitution per se, but with ontological priorities. Baker has it that there are two substances involved (the person and the animal, or the statue and the clay) and that one is temporarily constituted by the other. But in my view one is not a substance – the statue cannot exist apart from the clay, and the person cannot exist apart from the animal. The ontological priority is that x constitutes y, for periods of x’s existence, but for the whole of y’s existence.
    3. The PCs of a body differ from those of an animal – at least if the body is taken to persist as a corpse, as is often said.
  • As a second example, Baker says that she is an animal derivatively, and does not have her PCs in virtue of being an animal. This is just Baker’s main thesis, and doesn’t require any further comment here.
  • As for Baker’s second technical point, she gives three examples of properties that cannot be had derivatively:-
    1. Those expressed by “constitutes”.
    2. Those expressed by “is identical with”.
    3. Those rooted outside the time that they are had – such as “started out as an embryo”.
  • I couldn’t see any explicit reference to this point in the subsequent discussion. However, they do have applications to the case in hand. If the second example were allowed, then Baker might be identical to a human animal derivatively, and consequently have the PCs of a human animal, which she denies. And if the third were allowed, then only being an animal derivatively would not protect her from having been a fetus, or about to be in a PVS. I couldn’t quite get my head around the first example. If it were allowed, then Baker might be self-constituting. I need to follow-up10 on this.
  • She then applies (the first of) these distinctions to Olson’s response. She looks at what is wrong with the apparently valid:-
    1. I am an animal
    2. Every animal started out as an embryo
    3. I started out as an embryo
  • Baker’s response is that the argument, as it stands, is ambiguous, and doesn’t work however it is disambiguated. The problem is with premise (2). If it claims that all animals, derivative or otherwise, started out as embryos, then it is (by Baker’s lights) false, as she (being a person essentially, and only an animal derivatively) did not start out as an embryo. She couldn’t have, because embryos aren’t persons, and she is essentially a person (she says). The alternative, making both the premises true, leads to an invalid argument:-
    1. I am an animal derivatively
    2. Everything that is an animal non-derivatively started out as an embryo
    3. I started out as an embryo
  • I presume that the same repair has to be made for all sorts of (human) substitutes for “I” … student, professor, bus-inspector, but that it gets a bit wobbly is we get less intellectual – toddler, baby, neonate, chimpanzee, individual in a PVS, and so on.
  • Baker makes further application of the KD, claiming that it:-
    1. Answers Olson’s worries about ‘separate existence’,
    2. Defeats Olson’s claim that if x constitutes y at t, then x and y are numerically different, and
    3. Answers Olson’s “epistemological question” about how someone non-identical to an organism can know this alleged fact.
  • My immediate responses to these claims are as follows:- :-
    1. Separate existence: What was this worry? Presumably that (according to Olson’s view of Baker’s ontology) we have two things rather than one. If so, it’s the same worry is Baker answers in the next point.
    2. Constitution and Numerical Difference: this is really awkward, it seems to me. Baker is claiming that the person and the human organism are not “numerically different”. But what is “numerical difference”. Normally we’d say that two things are “numerically the same” if they are identical, but Baker denies this – one thing is not identical to the thing that constitutes it (because it might have been constituted by something else, yet identity is a necessary relation, and the existences may not be coterminous – so we’d have a failure of Leibniz’s Law).
    3. Epistemological Questions: Maybe the KD does answer this worry, but Baker doesn’t explain how here. Presumably the knowledge isn’t immediate, but is a metaphysical deduction.
  • Baker sees a single thread of misunderstanding in Olson’s response to her. Indeed, he doesn’t so much refute her arguments as ignore them, a complaint I think can be sustained. She says a whole Section of a Chapter of "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View" is devoted to this topic. Presumably this is part of "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - The Very Idea of Constitution", though it could be part of "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - The Constitution View of Human Persons", or "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - The Coherence Of the Idea of Material Constitution", or "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - The Coherence Of the Constitution View of Human Persons". I need to follow-up11 on this when reviewing these chapters.
  • Baker agrees that Identity is a necessary relation, but thinks there are two ways non-identical x, y can be related at time t:-
    1. By being constitutionally related, and
    2. By having separate existence.
  • These two ideas are “explicitly defined in familiar terms” (presumably in the aforementioned Section). The idea, presumably, is that where we don’t have identity we can either have completely separate things (apples and pears, or apple1 and apple2) or two things that nevertheless are not “separate existences”. This would be impossible on a perdurantist view (as the temporal worms are clearly distinct when not coterminous), but on an endurantist view (where a thing is “wholly present” at each time, is not obviously false.
  • Baker has another rant about Olson and whether she might have misunderstood him. While acknowledging that he believes that there are persons (though we should note that Olson avoids this term, preferring people), he ignores what’s distinctive about them. “On Olson’s view, being a person is no more fundamental to what we are12 than is being a fancier of fast cars”.
  • She makes a closing assertion that it is not her view that all value or matters of significance to us have ontological significance. However, she doesn’t explain where the boundaries lie.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:
  • This is the write-up as it was when this Abstract was last output, with text as at the timestamp indicated (17/04/2018 21:04:19).
  • Link to Latest Write-Up Note.

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2022

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