Persons as Proper Parts of Organisms
Hershenov (David)
Source: Theoria, 71:1, 2005, 29-37
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. Defenders of the Psychological Approach to Personal Identity (PAPI) insist that the possession of some kind of mind is essential to us. We are essentially thinking beings, not living creatures. We would cease to exist if our capacity for thought was irreversibly lost due to a coma or permanent vegetative state.
  2. However, the onset of such conditions would not mean the death of an organism. It would survive in a mindless state. But this would appear to mean that before the loss of cognition and the destruction of the person, the organism and the person were spatially coincident entities – two beings composed of the same matter at the same time and place.
  3. Perhaps the most problematic aspect of positing spatially coincident material entities is that it would seem to result in there being one too many thinkers1. Since the person can obviously think, the organism should also have such a capacity as a result of possessing the same brain as well as every other atom of the person. This means that there now exist two thinking beings under the reader’s clothes!
  4. Jeff McMahan and Ingmar Persson independently proposed that the problems presented by spatially coincident thinkers could be avoided by treating the person as a proper part of the organism. The organism would then only think in a derivative and unproblematic way as a result of having a thinking being as a part. There wouldn’t be two distinct thinkers, atom for atom the same. Instead, there would be two entities of different size. The smaller one, the person, is described as the minimally sufficient subject of thought. The much larger entity, the organism, has its cognitive properties derivatively because it has the person as a part.
  5. My contention is that the Persson-McMahan solution just amounts to moving around the bulge in the metaphysical carpet. The earlier problems of person/organism spatial coincidence will reappear with person/cerebrum2 coincidence.


For the full text, see Hershenov - Persons as Proper Parts of Organisms.

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