Merrick's Identification of the Person and Organism
Hershenov (David)
Source: Australasian Journal of Philosophy. (Resubmission Requested).
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Trenton Merricks argues for the eliminativism of every kind of composite object except for one on the basis of some familiar and some original arguments ("Merricks (Trenton) - Objects and Persons", 2001).The older arguments arise from the well-known objections to spatially coincident entities. If there are lumps colocated with statues1, there is the problem of accounting for their different modal2 properties given their identical microphysical structures. Moreover, there would be a needless multiplication of objects as far as causal explanations go. Whatever the statue3 causes, the lump arranged statuewise4 would seem to as well. Merricks also rehearses some familiar arguments against person/organism spatial coincidence: there would then be two thinkers where we prefer just one and consequently epistemic problems would arise as each thinker had no reason to believe she was the organism rather than the person.
  2. Merricks also provides a fascinating, original argument against there even existing just one composite object that is not spatially coincident with another. This argument is based on the overdetermination that would arise if the composite object has causal powers for it would seem not to cause anything that wasn’t already being caused by the microphysical objects composing it. The “atoms arranged statuewise”5 seem to be causally able to produce anything that the statue6 does. Merricks doubts that there is pervasive overdetermination involving every composite object and its microphysical components. If there is only microphysical causation7, that would mean any existing composite object would be epiphenomenal.
  3. Since Merricks insists that every existing physical object should have causal powers, he concludes that we ought to eliminate all but one kind of composite object on the grounds that they don’t do any causal work. His exception is thinking beings. They possess nonredundant causal powers. The person’s conscious powers don’t supervene8 on the properties and relations of their microphysical parts and so their effects aren’t overdetermined. He believes persons exist and they are organisms though not necessarily organisms. He is open to the possibility that a person could exist without being biologically alive if its cognitive capacities were preserved when all of its organic parts were gradually replaced with inorganic parts….


For the full text, see Hershenov - Merrick's Identification of the Person and Organism.

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