We Are Not Human Beings
Parfit (Derek)
Source: Blatti & Snowdon - Animalism: New Essays on Persons, Animals, and Identity, 2016: Part I, Chapter 2, pp. 31-49
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Author’s Introduction

  1. We can start with some science fiction. Here on Earth, I enter the Teletransporter. When I press some button, a machine destroys my body, while recording the exact states of all my cells. This information is sent by radio to Mars, where another machine makes, out of organic materials, a perfect copy of my body. The person who wakes up on Mars seems to remember living my life up to the moment when I pressed the button, and is in every other way just like me.
  2. Of those who have thought about such cases, some believe that it would be I who would wake up on Mars. They regard Teletransportation1 as merely the fastest way of travelling. Others believe that, if I chose to be Teletransported, I would be making a terrible mistake. On their view, the person who wakes up would be a mere Replica of me.
  3. This disagreement is about personal identity. To describe such disagreements, we can first distinguish two kinds of sameness. Two black billiard balls may be qualitatively identical, or exactly similar. But they are not numerically identical, or one and the same ball. If I paint one of these balls red, it will cease to be qualitatively identical with itself as it was; but it will still be one and the same ball. Consider next a claim like, ‘Since her accident, she is no longer the same person’. This claim involves both senses of identity, since it means that she, one and the same person, is not now the same person. That is not a contradiction, since it means that this person’s character has changed. This numerically identical person is now qualitatively different.
  4. When people discuss personal identity, they are often discussing what kind of person someone is, or wants to be. That is the question involved, for example, in an identity crisis. But I shall be discussing our numerical identity2. In our concern about our own futures, that is what we have in mind. I may believe that, after my marriage, I shall be a different person. But that does not make marriage death. However much I change, I shall still be alive if there will be someone living who will be me. And in my imagined case of Teletransportation3, my Replica on Mars would be qualitatively identical to me; but, on the sceptic’s view, he wouldn’t be me. I shall have ceased to exist. That, we naturally assume, is what matters4.
  5. In questions about numerical identity5, we use two names or descriptions, and we ask whether these refer to the same person. In most cases, we use descriptions that refer to people at different times. Thus, when using the telephone, we might ask whether the person to whom we are speaking now is the same as the person to whom we spoke yesterday. To answer such questions, we must know the criterion of personal identity over time, by which I mean: the relation between a person at one time, and a person at another time, which makes these one and the same person. We can also ask what kind of entity we are, since entities of different kinds continue to exist in different ways.
  6. Views about what we are6, and how we might continue to exist, can be placed, roughly, in three main groups.
    1. On some views, what we are7, or have as an essential part, is a soul: an immaterial persisting entity, which is indivisible, and whose continued existence must be all-or-nothing. Even if we don’t believe in immaterial souls, many of us have some beliefs about ourselves, and personal identity, that would be justified only if some such view were true. Though such views make sense, and might have been true, I shall not discuss them today, since we have strong evidence that no such view is true.
    2. Of the other views, some can be called Lockean. …
    3. The other main kind of view appeals not to psychological but to biological continuity, and is now often called Animalist8.
  7. In considering this disagreement, I shall first describe some Animalist9 objections to the various Lockean views that were put forward, in the nineteen sixties, seventies, and eighties, by such people as Shoemaker, Quinton, Perry, Lewis, and me. As Snowdon, Olson, and other Animalists10 pointed out, we Lockeans said nothing about the human beings – or to use a less ambiguous phrase, the human animals11 – that many of us think we are.

Editors’ Introduction12
  1. In Chapter 2, Derek Parfit13 provides an important contribution in presenting his current thinking on animalism14, Lockeanism, and the fundamental nature of human persons. Parfit15 observes that the whole human animal16 thinks only derivatively, i.e. only in virtue of having a proper part that is directly engaged in thinking. The part of the animal that thinks nonderivatively is not the head, since the head thinks only in virtue of having a thinking brain as a part. Nor is the animal’s brain a nonderivative thinker, since it thinks only in virtue of including a thinking cerebrum17. And while Parfit18 never tells us precisely what thing it is that thinks nonderivatively, ultimately there must be a smallest proper part of a human animal19 that does so: the cerebrum20 itself maybe, or perhaps some still smaller part. And whatever brain part it is that nonderivatively satisfies Locke's definition of a person ('a thinking intelligent Being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider it self as itself, the same thinking thing in different times and places'), this thing, Parfit21 says, is what we are22. He calls this the 'embodied person view' because this proper part of your animal is a person and this embodied person is you.
  2. Parfit23's extended argument for this position consists in demonstrating its utility. For example, this view preserves our intuition about transplant24 cases; when the part of your brain that thinks nonderivatively is removed from one animal body and implanted into another animal body, you (i.e. the person you are) are thus relocated. The embodied person view can also answer various challenges that the animalist25 has put to the Lockean. For example, the too many thinkers26 objection makes the point that the Lockean distinction between persons and animals carries the absurd implication that every thought is had by two thinkers: the person and the animal. But the Lockean who affirms the embodied person view has the resources to avoid this problem: unlike the person who thinks nonderivatively, the animal thinks only by having a part that does. Furthermore, Parfit27 presents his view as 'an obvious solution' to the thinking parts objection to animalism28. For each human animal29, there is only one thing — one small part of the animal's brain — that is nonderivatively a Lockean person. To the extent that proper parts of the animal are thinking parts, they are not thinkers in the most important sense. As a result, you can know that you are not an animal because you are whatever thing it is that thinks nonderivatively, and that thing — that person — is not an animal.
  3. Parfit30's embodied person view is innovative and represents an important contribution both to the debate over personal identity generally and to the discussion of animalism31 specifically. Indeed, it is for this reason that we wanted to include this essay in the volume, despite its having appeared in print previously. Nevertheless, the embodied person view relies on some distinctions that will require further scrutiny.
    1. One such distinction is the derivative-nonderivative distinction itself. It is unclear, for instance, precisely what conditions a thing must satisfy in order to qualify as being directly involved in thinking. In the absence of this precissification, animalists32 may suspect that any plausible candidate for being a nonderivative thinker will include as a proper part something that is not directly involved in thinking.
    2. The embodied person view also relies on a distinction between two usages of the first-person pronoun. In defending his view against an important objection, Parfit33 distinguishes the 'Inner-I' used to refer to the Lockean person and the 'Outer-I' used to refer to the human animal34. Parfit35 is certainly not the first Lockean to draw this distinction;
      "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View" (2000),
      "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - The Metaphysics of Everyday Life: An Essay in Practical Realism" (2007),
      "Noonan (Harold) - Animalism Versus Lockeanism: A Current Controversy" (1998),
      "Noonan (Harold) - Animalism versus Lockeanism: Reply to Mackie" (2001),
      → Strawson, Galen – Selves: An Essay in Revisionary Metaphysics (OUP, 2009),
      and others have done so as well. But nor is it a distinction that has escaped controversy36.


In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 12: Taken from "Blatti (Stephan) & Snowdon (Paul), Eds - Animalism: Introduction".

Footnote 36: For discussion, see My Note: See "Noonan (Harold) - The Thinking Animal Problem and Personal Pronoun Revisionism", 2010.

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