Human Persistence
Madden (Rory)
Source: Philosophers’ Imprint, Vol. 16, No. 17, September 2016
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. Both advocates and opponents of the animalist1 view that we are fundamentally biological organisms have typically assumed that animalism2 is incompatible with intuitive verdicts about cerebrum3 isolation and transplantation4. It is argued here that this assumption is a mistake. Animalism5, developed in a natural way, in fact strongly supports these intuitive verdicts.
  2. The availability of this attractive resolution of a central puzzle in the personal identity debate has been obscured by a range of factors, including the prevalence in contemporary metaphysics of a certain conception of the nature of organisms.
  3. I end by explaining how the animalist6 can use intuitive verdicts, usually thought to present a difficulty for the view, as positive evidence for claims about the persistence conditions7 of the relevant kind of organism. Review
  1. Very nicely written paper reconciling two intuitive claims:
    1. that we are human organisms, and
    2. that we would go with the brain in brain transplant cases.
  2. Rory Madden argues that there are reasons to think of the brain as a human organism in brain transplant cases.
    → Richard Price, University of Oxford, Quondam Fellow, June 21, 2016 Summary8
  1. Introduction: The first objection is that the compatibilist proposal implausibly separates organism persistence from the possession of 'life', understood as a certain kind of capacity for collective metabolic activity of microscopic parts. The emphasis on this capacity in the development of contemporary animalism originates in the idiosyncratic but influential reductive-mereological project of van Inwagen. It is argued that there are good reasons not to elevate this capacity over other kinds of adjustment and regulation capacities characteristic of organism kinds.
  2. The Nature And Persistence Of Macroscopic Continuants: Why does (Persistence) mention a 'sufficient number' of capacities for activity?
  3. Human Animals: However, the sensorimotor capacities characteristic of animals are no less 'biological' than any other specific mode of organismic self-regulation, such as the capacities for transpiration and photosynthesis characteristic of botanical life forms. None of these specific capacities is characteristic of every kind of organism on earth. But why should that matter?
  4. The Remnant Case: But this intervention would be so dwarfed in its contribution by the cosmically impressive complexity of the abiding structures in the cerebrum that is highly plausible to regard psychological capacities as preserved by the cerebrum, even if some external triggering is required for their activation. It is a case in which a high number of human organism characteristic capacities are preserved.
  5. Objections And Clarifications: The remaining part of the nervous system is less complex but it nevertheless continues to realize, along a unique path, characteristic capacities, for breathing, excreting, drooling, sweating, and so on. These, it seems perfectly natural to say, are a sufficient number of capacities for the persistence of a human organism. But there is no psychological continuity of the sort Lockeans claim to be necessary for our persistence.
  6. Life: As we have seen, the 'macroscopic' conception has the contrary consequence that the human organism persists in the remnant case because a massive number of capacities for activity characteristic of the human organism kind are preserved. It sees no theoretical reason to make life-support capacities in particular metaphysically necessary. Olson explicitly appeals to the absence of the proper relation among the small parts of the cerebrum: 'the detached cerebrum … is not an animal because its parts do not coordinate their activities in the way that the parts of an organism coordinate theirs.
  7. The Cutting And Grafting Of Organisms: This difference with human organism fission is metaphysically entirely superficial, but it is likely to have made the right theoretical viewpoint here difficult to spot. From the point of view of preservation of human organism capacities, a large vegetative organism is a 'smaller' fragment than the cerebrum. A human organism can be rubbed down to such a fragment, and such a fragment can be a new cutting taken from a parent organism.
  8. Conclusion: are convenient claims; but are they really principled? In response to this worry it is sufficient to reiterate theoretical points already emphasized throughout the paper, that psychological capacities are characteristic of the human organism kind, and that the cerebrum preserves a diverse range of specific such capacities in virtue of its incredibly complex structure. It is unmatched in this respect by any other part of the human organism.


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