Constitution and the Debate between Animalism and Psychological Views
Robinson (Denis)
Source: Blatti & Snowdon - Animalism: New Essays on Persons, Animals, and Identity, 2016: Part I, Chapter 4, pp. 64-88
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. We begin with a section discussing Animalism1's claim to be naturally favoured, by common sense, over Psychological views. This provides an opportunity also to introduce the idea of the need for Psychological views to believe in some sort of relation of coincidence or "constitution" between distinct material entities, and some attendant prima facie difficulties.
  2. The following sections further discuss constitution relations, specially a generic and minimalist version, and related issues in the ontology of material entities. A naturalistic physicalism is presupposed, setting aside both supernaturalist and Substance Dualist views, while aiming to limit essential appeal to ontological assumptions which go beyond those reasonably attributable to common sense.

  1. Introduction
  2. Animalism’s2 Distinctive Status, and the Prima Facie Acceptability of Psychological Views
  3. Constitution
  4. Examples of M-Constitution
  5. Kinds, Sortals3, Substances, and Materialist Ontology
  6. Coda

Editors’ Introduction4
  1. In Chapter 4, Denis Robinson's ambitious aim is to persuade us that what he calls psychological views of our fundamental nature fit well within what we might call a plausible metaphysics of the natural world. In particular, Robinson aims to counter the claim, promoted by Michael R. Ayers and Eric Olson, that it is a difficulty for non-animalist accounts if they employ the notion of constitution. He starts by engaging with the thought that animalism5 is more commonsensical than the psychological alternative. Robinson holds that the psychological view implies that entities of different types can coincide, but he suggests that this possibility is one that is not repugnant to common sense, since it seems to be an implication of standardly recognized cases in which we start with something, A, and things happen to A resulting in the emergence of a new thing, B, without A ceasing to exist, so that A and another thing B end up coinciding. In such cases there is often a sense in which B emerges gradually, which fits the way in which, supposedly, the human animal6 develops into a person. The psychological theorist should take 'person' as a substance concept, and, it is argued, the popularity of responses to thought-experiments7 that favour the psychological account should be granted as evidence that we do indeed operate with such a concept.
  2. Setting aside worries specifically about employing the notion of constitution in the theory of persons, Robinson investigates the general notion, or notions, of constitution. One notion is that of 'minimal constitution' (or 'm-constitution') which applies when two items are constituted at a time by the same material elements. This is contrasted with a more limited notion of constitution linked to the employment of the term by Baker. Robinsons aim is to develop an account of m-constitution, which though not specifically tied to four-dimensionalism, can easily accommodate it. He develops his account by giving a series of suggested examples of m-constitution. For the purpose of this summary, the first example will have to suffice. Robinson has a normal car, from which the doors are removed. Cars without doors can be regarded as a new type of thing called a pre-car, suitable for beach driving. This pre-car has never had doors, but Robinson’s old car — which is still there without its doors — did have doors, so the pre-car and the old car are not identical but they are composed of the same matter. In the next section, however, Robinson expands his account to cover what are the important cases of substances in the debate about personal identity, namely substances which are dynamic, constantly evolving and changing their matter (e.g. human animals8 and perhaps persons). In setting up his account, he also prepares an answer to the query, posed by Olson, as to how there can be different substances with different modal9 properties composed of the same matter at the same place and time. It is remarked that the categories we employ in describing the world involve lots of ones which merely approximate to full substance concepts, but nonetheless there are good examples of substance concepts. In developing his account of substances of this sort, Robinson alludes to the way of speaking (endorsed by Wiggins, for example) which links substance concepts to principles of activity as insightful, but he tries to make it more precise by bringing in the fundamental notion of immanent causation10, operating at different levels. The idea of coincident substances simply represents the idea that two substances constituting processes can happen to converge at a time so that the material base sustaining the appropriate processes are grounded in the same material base. This, it is claimed, does not generate any puzzles.
  3. Robinson ends by acknowledging that there are many uncovered complexities here, some to do with the way that 'person' might be a psychological substance concept, but he suggests that, despite the strong link between human animals11 and persons of our kind, there can be room for individual human persons to leave behind their animal origins.
  4. Robinson’s highly metaphysical and original analysis can, perhaps, be examined at two levels.
    1. The first is whether the metaphysical nature of substance concepts and puzzles about them have been properly resolved.
    2. The second is whether he has located solid evidence that in discussions about our nature and persistence conditions12 we need to regard 'person' as a separate substance concept.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 4: Taken from "Blatti (Stephan) & Snowdon (Paul), Eds - Animalism: Introduction".

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  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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