Death, Persons, and Sparse Ontologies: The Problem of Too Many Dying Thinkers
Hershenov (David)
Source: American Philosophical Association Newsletter on Philosophy and Medicine. Forthcoming.
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. If persons and animals are atom for atom the same, then if one can think so can the other. Neither is missing any parts that the other uses to generate thought.
    • What has been overlooked in discussions of the Problem of Too Many Thinkers1 is that conflicts in interests will arise due to the person and organism having different persistence conditions2. One may die or go out of existence before the other, thus resulting in their having different interests at the end of their lives.
    • Since they physically overlap, the autonomy exercised by one could come at the expense of the other in a way quite unlike how you and I can thwart each other’s autonomy. Your choosing to do something to your body doesn’t involve doing it to mine and preventing me from refraining to do the same to my body.
  2. Examples may be helpful.
    • Since the Lockean person would go out of existence with the loss of self-consciousness3, the organism could outlive it in some sort of unreflective conscious state.
    • If there was a risky experimental Alzheimer’s drug that was more likely to kill the person than preserve his self-conscious capacities, it could be in the person’s interest to take it since he would go out of existence anyway. But it might not be in the interest of the organism who would survive in a more minimal conscious state akin to that of a young child.
    • Matters are even worse if there is an epistemic problem and the animal and the person don’t know whether each is the animal or the person. One can’t make autonomous decisions when one confuses oneself with another.
    • But the problem remains even if there is, as Derek Parfit recommends, some referential machinery (using “inner I” and “outer I”) that avoids the epistemic problem. Despite the animal and person knowing to whom they are each referring with first person pronouns, they can’t both simultaneously and autonomously endorse the pursuit of their conflicting interests.


For the full text, see Hershenov - Death, Persons, and Sparse Ontologies: The Problem of Too Many Dying Thinkers.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: See Olson’s Thinking Animal Argument.

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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