Animalism and the Remnant-Person Problem
Olson (Eric)
Source: J. Fonseca and J. Gonçalves, eds., Philosophical Perspectives on the Self, Peter Lang 2015: 21-40
Paper - Abstract

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Author's Abstract

  1. Animalism1 clashes with the conviction that we should go with our transplanted2 brains.
  2. A good reply is that if animalism3 were true, we could explain easily enough both why the conviction is false and why it seems compelling.
  3. But another objection cannot be answered so easily. Animalism4 seems to imply that the detached brain would be a person who comes into being when the brain is removed and ceases to exist when the brain goes into a new head. And that seems absurd.
  4. Although the problem is in no way unique to animalism5, it has no obvious solution.

Summary & Notes

Section 1 (Brain transplants6 as an objection to Animalism7)
  1. What Animalism8 is – we are identical to (rather than being merely constituted by9, or having the bodies10 of) human animals11.
  2. Remark that "Johnston (Mark) - 'Human Beings' Revisited: My Body is Not an Animal" asserts that we are non-animals constituted by animals, and denies that human animals12 are organisms.
  3. Objections to Animalism13TEs14, in particular Brain Transplants15.
  4. Animalist16 assertion that a human brain17,18 is “just another organ”, like a liver.
  5. The recipient of the transplant19 of your brain would not20 be you. The reason is – based on the above claim – because a mere organ has been transplanted21, and not the entire animal which is you.
  6. Olson notes the contrary view – of "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Material Beings", pp. 172-181 – that the naked brain would itself be an organism, and that the empty-headed residue would be analogous to a severed arm. Van Inwagen’s reason for according organismic status to the brain is the organising role of the brain-stem. If this alternative view were correct, then the brain-recipient would still be you (even according to Animalism22), as you would go with the organism.
  7. Olson doesn’t here adjudicate on this issue, but finesses it by modifying (or clarifying) the TE so that it’s only “a23 cerebrum”24 that’s transferred. “No-one thinks that an organism could be pared down to a naked cerebrum”25.
  8. So, from here-on in26, by “brain” Olson means “naked cerebrum”27.
  9. Animalism28, therefore, suggests that while all one’s psychological properties would be transferred in a “double-cerebrum-swap”29 the recipients would be deceived30 as to who they were.
  10. However, most who follow this TE have the opposite “Transplant31 Intuition” (hereafter TI) – they think they go where their psychology goes, and deny that transplanting32 a brain is anything like transplanting33 a liver. In fact, they use this intuition to demonstrate that we are not animals. It is possible, they say, that you could be pared down to a naked brain and moved to another head. You and “your” animal would go separate ways, so you are not an animal34.

Section 2 (Why even Animalists35 are inclined towards the “Transplant36 Intuition”)
  1. Animalism37 (for reasons given in the preceding section) explains why the TI is false. However, it also explains why it seems compelling even though it is false. That is, it explains why we human animals38 are inclined to think it true, even though it is false. Olson sees two reasons.
  2. Firstly: “the psychological and behavioural evidence that supports judgements about personal identity in familiar cases” are consistent with animalism39 yet support the transplant40 intuition. Psychological continuity41 is normally conclusive evidence for person A being person B, particularly when this psychology is “continuously physically realised” in a brain42. This is just what happens in the Brain Transplant43 case.
  3. Secondly: the practical matter of whoever ends up with your brain having “what matters44 in identity45” for you. You would have prudential concern for him (before the operation) and he would inherit your moral responsibilities and concerns. People would (rightly) treat him as you. None of these factors would apply to the “residue”, even if given a new brain. Now, in normal circumstances “a person bears these relations of practical importance only to herself”. The transplant-recipient46 has “what matters47 for you” and in practical cases no-one lese ever does.
  4. So, Olson concludes, we can expect to have these strong intuitions even when we tell ourselves that – as good animalists48 – we know them to be false. The situation is analogous to that of Fission49 where even non-Animalists admit that – while we have good reasons like those just given for supposing identity – we cannot in fact have identity because the logic of identity50 forbids it (one thing cannot be identical to two things51).

Section 3 (The Remnant-Person Problem)
  1. The brain in mid-transplant52 (such as BIVs53) is commonly thought in TEs to be capable of thinking.
  2. Olson has another worry about the brain-stem54: that this might be necessary for mental life, so – given that we’ve been considering cerebrum-transplants55 – he allows for “artificial stimulation” of the cerebrum56 to replace the missing brain-stem.
  3. Thus, your disembodied brain would – even if not itself a person – at least “realise” or “constitute” a person – it would, in terms of "Johnston (Mark) - 'Human Beings' Revisited: My Body is Not an Animal" – be a Remnant-Person.
  4. Olson defines a Remnant-Person as something that is a wholly57 organic person58, though not an organism or something constituted by an organism (all at time t), which has resulted from cutting away a large portion of a normal human person prior to t.

Section 4

Section 5

Section 6

Section 7

Section 8

Section 9

  1. "Chisholm (Roderick) - Person and Object",
  2. "Hudson (Hud) - A Materialist Metaphysics of the Human Person",
  3. "Johnston (Mark) - 'Human Beings' Revisited: My Body is Not an Animal",
  4. "Olson (Eric) - What are We? A Study of Personal Ontology", and
  5. "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Material Beings".

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 20: This “not” is missing from Olson’s text, but is a clear slip.

Footnote 23: Thereby introducing Fission into the equation.

Footnote 26: It’s a common ploy of Olson to redefine terms, and one I find confusing (though this is not what is intended).

Footnote 30: This deception is a key issue in identity studies – it is genuinely the situation in matters of fission or duplication, where at least one of the fission-products or duplicates must be deceived as to their identity, given that identity is an equivalence-relation.

Footnote 34:
  1. Note that it’s essential here to deny Van Inwagen’s intuition that a naked brain (including the brain stem) is not an animal, or to refine the TE to a double-cerebrum transfer. But I’m not so sure that all would be as convinced that cerebrum-transfers are indeed sufficient to transfer one’s identity, but might (as the animalist alleges) admit that they simply transfer your memories (and whatever other psychological functions the cerebra perform).
  2. I don’t know whether there’s any mileage to be made by considering the persistence conditions of a computer (with a view to analogies between human and computer psychologies). You can replace various bits of a computer, including its CPU, RAM and hard-drive, and it still remain the same computer (it might be said).
Footnote 42: Olson alludes to Peter Unger, without actually citing him here or elsewhere in this paper. He’ll no doubt be thinking of "Unger (Peter) - Identity, Consciousness and Value". The matter is discussed in Chapter 4 ("Unger (Peter) - The Physical Approach To Our Survival").

Footnote 45: This hails from Parfit, and is a rather irritating locution (another of Olson’s short-cuts).
  1. Parfit doesn’t think “identity is what matters in survival”, which is almost as bad. Identity is necessary for survival, but the reason we want to survive is to preserve our psychological characteristics, so if these continued we’d have what matters to us even if we didn’t survive, strictly-speaking.
  2. Olson’s “what matters in identity” is a sloppy expression for “what matters in survival”, itself a sloppy expression. Olson says (somewhere in "Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal - Personal Identity Without Psychology") that he’ll use “Personal Identity” as the topic under discussion, as it’s the conventional title for the subject area, even though it’s not appropriate for his investigations – which are about our identity and, according to Olson, we are not essentially persons as we have no essential psychological properties. So, when Olson says “what matters in identity”, he probably means “what interests us in the topic of Personal Identity”, which is the survival of our psychologies.
Footnote 51: And, contrary to Robert Nozick, there is no “closest continuer”.

Footnote 54: I have worries about all this. We can specify TEs as we like, but we’re talking about our survival and identity conditions, so we are constrained by our actual anatomy and idealised possibilities that depend on it. So, it’s unclear how far we can go in positing (“for the sake of the argument”) counterfactual anatomical situations.

Footnote 57: So, whatever may be needed to “stimulate” the cerebrum into consciousness (assuming it to be inorganic) is not part of that remnant-person.

Footnote 58: Olson doesn’t define what he means by “Person” here. Sometimes he uses “person” as “one of us”, so not necessarily possessing psychological properties; sometimes more conventionally as possessing mentation. Here, it’s clear that Olson means the classical usage.

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
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