- The debate over personal identity is a complex one, involving many contrasting views, and ingenious and controversial arguments. But standing back from the complexity, we can see a couple of major and strongly contrasting groupings into which many recently defended views may be seen as falling.
Though Psychological Reductionism is (deservedly, I think) more popular2, Animalism3 also has its following, and has fairly recently been given an unusually blunt, succinct, and passionate defence by "Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal - Personal Identity Without Psychology".
- At one extreme, we find diverse forms of Psychological Reductionism,
- and at the other, views we may group under the label ‘Animalism’1.
- The doctrinal opposition between these main groupings tends to line up rather neatly with a general methodological opposition which has ramifications in metaphysics generally: one where the key issue is, roughly, the relative priority in metaphysics of folk intuitions and a priori judgements, as against the findings of natural sciences.
- But the very distance between these two main doctrinal groupings makes it natural to look for some kind of intermediate position, and for some corresponding methodological middle way for defending it.
- My aim in this paper is to inspect this intermediate terrain, and in so doing to draw doctrinal and methodological conclusions of my own.
- My sympathies are with Psychological Reductionism, rather than with Animalism4, but it is not my aim here to defend the former, nor to attack the latter.
- Rather, I aim to bring out the importance in this area of very general ontological assumptions or presuppositions, and the way in which the outcome of applying a particular methodology may be radically affected by them.
- I shall build my discussion around one well-known attempt – "Johnston (Mark) - Human Beings" – to defend a middle way between the extremes of Animalism5 and Psychological Reductionism.
- I shall argue that the attempt is unsuccessful6, that the middle ground it attempts to occupy is unstable, and that the methodological proposals invoked in its defense cannot do what is asked of them.
- Not only is Johnston’s view in "Johnston (Mark) - Human Beings" (henceforth, “the Human Beings view”) one which might be thought to combine elements characteristic of our main opposing camps, it also offers what might be seen as an attempt at a methodological middle way in support, since (as we shall see below) it invokes a priori intuitions about personhood on the one hand, while expressing caution about such intuitions, and prioritising naturalistic ontological categories, on the other. I shall argue, however, that any substantive alternative to Psychological Reductionism which that methodology can be made to support will be even closer to animalism7 than the Human Beings view, which is itself, despite the appearance of compromise, already quite close to an animalist8 view.
- To move on, we must begin by saying more about the kinds of positions referred to above. I shall say quite a bit about Johnston’s position, the kind of ontological standpoint which underpins it, and the errors, as he sees them, which he wishes to avoid, before finally examining his methodological proposals, and the positive arguments for his view, to which they lead.
- Robinson has a footnote to the effect that Johnston describes PR – denominated “Wide Psychological Reductionism” – as “dominant”, citing Sydney Shoemaker, Quinton and Lewis as supporters of this view.
- Robinson also notes that "Olson (Eric) - Psychology and Personal Identity", FN13, lists over 30 philosophers – including 19 “big names” (listed on p. 20) – as supportive of some form of Psychological View.
- But Robinson notes in a footnote that we need to read other works by Johnston to get his full position, namely:-
- He says that "Johnston (Mark) - Relativism and the Self" is “perhaps both the most important and the most difficult” of the suggested papers.
- Robinson’s own view appears in "Robinson (Denis) - Failing To Agree Or Failing To Disagree?: Personal Identity Quasi-Relativism".
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