Remnant Persons: Animalism's Undoing
Johnston (Mark)
Source: Blatti & Snowdon - Animalism: New Essays on Persons, Animals, and Identity, 2016: Part I, Chapter 5, pp. 89-127
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. My topic is animalism1, understood not as the relatively uncontroversial doctrine that we are animals — as opposed say to plants, angels, or separable immaterial souls — but rather as the stronger and more interesting doctrine that we are always animals, and that no one of us can cease to be animals without thereby ceasing to be. More exactly, animalism2 is, or is at least committed to, the following thesis;
      Animal is one of our substance kinds, i.e. every human person is always in fact an animal, and there is no possible future deviating from any point in his or her existence in which they are not animals3.
    This is the view that, if not precisely endorsed by "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance" (1980), is strongly encouraged by a close reading of that important book; and it was the view defended my Particulars and Persistence4 (1984).
  2. The latter work was rightly confined to oblivion by its author in part because there was a sound argument that shows that even if we are presently animals, we can, nonetheless, cease to be animals without thereby ceasing to be. This is the argument from "remnant persons": in short, if we suppose that we cannot cease to be animals without thereby ceasing to be, then we are saddled with a repugnant consequence, namely that there are very strange ways for persons to come into existence; specifically, simply as the result of the removal of non-neural tissue.
  3. Initially, animalism5 should be taken very seriously as an account of our conditions of identity over time, for at least two reasons.
    1. For one thing, there is considerable evidence that we are not (even in part) separable immaterial souls, and so the supposed entity that led many to think that we are either distinct from animals or very, very distinctive animals is not, so the evidence suggests, actually there.
    2. For another, the fact that reliance on the method of appealing to intuitions about imaginary cases
      1. Delivers the result that we go where our brain goes in a case of brain transplantation6 and
      2. Favors to some degree the result that we would survive teletransportation7 and the like, should not really worry the friends of animalism8, despite the fact that these "intuitions" are at odds with the central claim of animalism9, namely that we could not cease to be animals without ceasing to be.
      This is because the ideology behind the method of cases is deeply problematic, as is shown by a variety of considerations, only some of which will be canvassed here.

  1. Introduction
  2. How Could There Be Such a Topic “Personal Identity”?
  3. The Method of Cases and the Evidential Status of the Imagination
  4. Some New Worries About the Method of Cases
  5. The Alternative Method
  6. Animalism10 as the Point of Departure
  7. Is Homo sapiens a Substance Kind?
  8. Animalism11 and Brain Transplants12
  9. An Argument for Animalism13?
  10. Remnant Persons
  11. The Gruesome Illustration
  12. A Way Out?
  13. Olson’s Reply to the Remnant Person Problem
  14. A Problem for Everyone?
  15. Against the “Bodily Criterion”
  16. An Austere Alternative
  17. Are Severed Heads, Brains, and Cerebrums14 all Human Animals15 or Human Organisms?
  18. The Proof Set Out
  19. How Does the Proof Go in the Case of Dogs and Frogs?
  20. Where are We?

Editors’ Introduction16
  1. In Chapter 5, Mark Johnston provides an extremely rich and multifaceted evaluation of animalism17, leading to the conclusion that it is false. This conclusion Johnston regards as the point at which we need to begin the interesting task of saying what we really are, but that is, sadly, a task that he does not attempt in this chapter. The shape of the overall negative argument is familiar from some of his earlier attempts to face up to the problem of personal identity, but the present chapter develops the argument in novel, wide-ranging, and powerful ways, which this summary is barely able to indicate.
  2. Johnston’s discussion starts by fixing the target — animalism18 — as requiring not simply that we are animals, but that we cannot cease to be animals. As he puts it, this latter requirement can be expressed by saying that animalism19 requires that the kind 'animal' is a substance kind. Johnston begins with the important question; How can we determine whether animalism20 is true? One candidate method is what Johnston calls 'the method of cases', which is really the method of testing proposed accounts by whether they fit our intuitions about various imagined scenarios. This is taken to be the method of old-fashioned conceptual analysis. Standardly this method is taken to work against animalism21, given the normal intuitive verdict on brain transplants22 (and other cases). In the section 'Some New Worries About the Method of Cases', Johnston opposes this method in the present case.
    1. One new argument is that whether dualism is true is an empirical question, so we cannot settle what our basic nature is by an a priori method of cases.
    2. A second new argument is that the best model for the way we apply general concepts is that we rely on 'generic' connexions, which are not exceptionless principles, so our conceptual resources, on which the method of cases relies, does not contain data to determine verdicts about the type of cases that philosophers imagine.
    This section of argument raises the issue of whether either line of thought does discredit reliance on the method of cases. If Johnston is right then some dialectical benefit accrues to animalism23 since this method usually is taken to supply counterarguments to animalism24. In Johnston's view, though, this relief is merely temporary.
  3. Johnston suggests a new method. At a general level it is to use 'all relevant knowledge and argumentative ingenuity'. With that there could be no quarrel. But at a more specific level Johnston stresses that the kind of thing that we are must be a kind that our ordinary methods of tracing do actually trace. He proposes that his idea initially indicates that we are animals. A significant question is whether there is even this initial link.
  4. The crucial question, though, is whether the type animal is a substance type. After discussing whether 'homo sapiens' is a substance type, and arguing that it is not, Johnston focuses on the central question about 'animal'. Johnston makes two initial points.
    1. The first is that ordinary brain transplant25 arguments, pioneered by Shoemaker, do not settle this question, being examples of the discredited method of cases.
    2. The second is that the well-known too-many-thinkers26 argument for animalism27 merely shows that we are animals and not that animal is a substance kind. It does not, therefore, support animalism28.
  5. This second critical conclusion is correct. The too-many-thinkers29 argument does not show that animal is a substance kind. However, it is well worth asking
    1. Whether it remains a significant argument since not everyone, unlike Johnston, does think we are animals; and
    2. Whether in the original context (and perhaps the abiding context) in which it was proposed the idea that animal is a substance type was more or less taken for granted, in which case it would take us all the way to animalism30.
  6. In the rest of the chapter Johnston argues that some fundamental principles about the creation and destruction of persons means that animal is not a substance notion. These principles force us to describe certain cases as ones in which a person who was an animal remains in existence but ceases to be an animal. One of the principles is called No Creation and it says: you do not cause a person to come into being by removing tissue, unless that tissue is suppressing the capacity for reflective mental life. Johnston claims that if this is correct then cases like brain transplants31 on standard assumptions about the role of the brain in the generation of consciousness and reflection will be examples which merit the above verdict. Johnston himself proposes the gruesome example of a guillotine that chops off heads but also crushes and eviscerates the rest of the body. It should be pointed out that "Madden (Rory) - Thinking Parts" (Chapter 9) contains a response to this type of argument, and a crucial question is whether that reply seems strong.
  7. In the rest of the chapter Johnston considers and rejects different responses to this problem proposed by Peter Van Inwagen and by Eric Olson, and also the proposal that such severed heads can count as animals. This part of the discussion is interesting and forceful, and each significant claim deserves scrutiny. Johnston leaves us at this point, longing to know what he thinks we are, which, of course, he is entitled to in a volume focussed on animalism32.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 3: Footnote 4: Footnote 16: Taken from "Blatti (Stephan) & Snowdon (Paul), Eds. - Animalism: Introduction".

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