Review of Lynne Rudder Baker, Persons and Bodies
Sider (Ted)
Source: Journal of Philosophy 99 (2002): 45-48
Paper - Abstract

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Introduction (Start)

  1. Locke’s view that continuants are numerically distinct from their constituting hunks of matter is popular enough to be called the “standard1 account”. It was given its definitive contemporary statement by David Wiggins in "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance", and has been defended by many since. Baker’s interesting book contributes new arguments for this view, a new definition of ‘constitution’, and a sustained application to persons and human animals. Much of what she says develops this view in new and important ways. But in some cases she does not advance the position, and in others she takes steps backwards.
  2. According to Baker, a person is numerically distinct from her constituting animal. One of Baker’s leading arguments is surprisingly unconvincing2. Persons differ in important ways from non-human animals. Only persons are moral agents, modify their goals, have wars, culture, etc. If persons were identical to animals — if we were “nothing but animals”, as she puts it — then the manifest discontinuity between humans and non-human animals would be located “within the domain of biology”. “But from a biological point of view, human animals…are biologically continuous with non-human animals.” (p. 17) The argument fails: why should identifying persons with animals preclude saying that these particular animals have radically distinctive features that are of little interest to biologists3?
  3. The traditional case for non-identity (which Baker accepts) is more powerful: a person and her constituting animal differ by having different persistence conditions. If my memories were transferred to a new body and my old body destroyed, I4 the person might survive, but the human animal who constituted me would perish. Therefore, before the transfer, I and the animal that constituted me would be numerically distinct but extremely similar things located in exactly the same place.
  4. This consequence — the central thesis of the Wiggins view — is surprising: so surprising that some reject the Wiggins view on that basis. The usual response, that the consequence is unremarkable because the animal constitutes the person, only invites the question: what is constitution? Baker’s definition, greatly simplified, is this: x constitutes y iff
    1. x and y are spatially coincident, and
    2. necessarily, anything of x’s sort is spatially coincident with something of y’s sort (pp. 42-43).
    But constitution, thus understood, cannot explain away the oddness of spatial coincidence, since spatial coincidence is built into the definition. We all know Wigginsians think that certain objects (bodies, animals, lumps of clay, and so on) are, when in appropriate circumstances, necessarily co-located with distinct things; the question is how this can be. Labelling the relation of necessitated co-location ‘constitution’ is no answer. This issue is obscured by Baker’s tendentious descriptions of constitution …

  1. I could have reproduced the whole four pages, rather than just the first page and a bit, and continued adding footnotes, but have not done so.
  2. In support of the “tendentiousness” claim, Sider gives five glosses that Baker provides concerning her definition of constitution. Three are from p. 46, one from p. 55 and the last one from p. 114, which I find the most important:-
      “…it is not as if there were two separate things — my body and myself. There is a single constituted thing — me …”
    Sider claims that all Baker’s definitions of constitution reduce to (unmotivated and unexplained) necessary co-location, but Baker denies that there is any co-location because (she claims) there is only one thing present.
  3. Sider also considers a couple of formal objections to Baker’s account of constitution based on fanciful TEs5, based on possible worlds with different laws of physics, neither of which I could be bothered with6.
  4. Sider does note that Baker’s view of constitution has nothing to do with mereology, contrary to the standard Wigginsian view. She rejects (pp. 179-185) the view (says Sider) that if x and y have all the same parts, that x=y.
  5. Sider thinks Baker makes progress over Wiggins in her discussion of property-possession, in particular the distinction – in her metaphysics – between “having a property independently” and “having a property derivatively”. While this is superficially like Wiggins’s distinction between “is F predicatively” and “is F constitutively”, Baker advances by accounting for which properties fall into which categories.
  6. According to Baker, the nature, identity and essential properties of a thing may be determined by relational features. A statue is essentially a statue, but only because it relates to an art-world7. Sider thinks Baker’s claims are less radical than she thinks, and that most would agree that statues are essentially so, yet that statuehood is extrinsic.
  7. Baker thinks (says Sider) that what exists depends on human interests, whereas (and I agree) Sider thinks that whatever exists does so independently of us and our interests, though we may express more or less interest for some things than others.
  8. Sider doesn’t bring Baker’s theism into the discussion – but seems to think it’s either a “cosmic coincidence” that reality contains just those objects our concepts trace, or otherwise Baker must think that “we create the world”. I imagine that Baker thinks that God has it all sewn up, from our concepts to the world. We’re referred to "Sider (Ted) - In Favour of Four-Dimensionalism, Part 2: The Best Unified Theory of the Paradoxes of Coincidence", Section 3 for a discussion.
  9. Baker claims that what grounds the difference between the statue and the clay is that they have different essential properties, and that what might ground this is the global supervenience of essential properties on non-modal properties, since no-one has shown that she’s committed to worlds alike non-modally but differing modally. I’m not sure of the import of all this, and Sider claims to have explained an important distinction in the formulation of global supervenience in "Sider (Ted) - Global Supervenience and Identity Across Times and Worlds".


In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Footnote 2: Yes – I agree. Baker’s “Nothing but animals” argument partly trades on a low view of animals, despite the fact that (as she agrees) we are animals, albeit very special ones.

Footnote 3: Also, the cognitive capacities of non-human animals is now of great interest to cognitive ethologists (Web Link and "Griffin (Donald) - Animal Minds") and others, and the cognitive continuity between the higher animals and ourselves is ignored by Baker and her ilk.

Footnote 4: This is a very tendentious suggestion. It is doubtful that the counterpart-I would be numerically identical to me. So, I – whether labelled “the person” or not – would not survive. There is, of course, much more to be said; it all depends on the coherence of the psychological view of personal identity (Click here for Note).

Footnote 6: Follow these up later when I’ve more time.

Footnote 7: This may be so, but artefacts may be subject to different rules than are things falling under natural-kind concepts.

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