Thinking Animals Without Animalism
Shoemaker (Sydney)
Source: Blatti & Snowdon - Animalism: New Essays on Persons, Animals, and Identity, 2016: Part I, Chapter 6, pp. 128-141
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Persons1 breathe, eat, drink, digest food, excrete waste, and in countless other ways do what animals characteristically do. They have organs — hearts, livers, etc. — and reproductive systems characteristic of mammals, and share much of their DNA with other animals. Plainly they are animals. And, of course, since they are (predicatively) animals, they have the persistence conditions2 of the kind of animals they are.
  2. Is what I have just said an affirmation of animalism3? No. What I said implied nothing about what the persistence conditions4 of animals are. Animalism5, as I understand it, is the view that the persistence conditions6 of persons are biological rather than psychological. And what I said is compatible with their persistence conditions7 being psychological.
  3. Consider creatures like dogs, whose status as animals should be uncontroversial. As Peter Unger has pointed out, there are thought experiments8 similar to those that support the claim that the persistence conditions9 of persons are psychological that support the same claim about the persistence conditions10 of dogs and other higher mammals11. Suppose that transplanting the cerebrum12 of a dog resulted in the recipient acting just as the donor had done prior to the transplant13 — it recognizes and shows affection toward the donor’s master, knows its way around the donor’s home and neighborhood, digs for bones where the donor buried them, knows tricks that were taught the donor, and so on. As Unger points out, applying his "Avoidance of Future Great Pain Test14" to this case supports the claim that the recipient is the donor. If we are concerned for the well-being of the original dog, and know that this dog has a cerebrum transplant15 in its future, we will be willing that it be subjected to mild pain now if we know that this will prevent the recipient from being subjected to much greater pain after the transplant16. And, this test aside, it is intuitively plausible that given the psychological continuity17 between them, the donor and the recipient are one and the same dog.
  4. Must someone who accepts this conclusion deny that dogs are animals? Obviously not. What she must deny is that the persistence conditions18 of this sort of animal are purely biological. But this is not to deny that where the dog is there is an animal whose persistence conditions19 are purely biological. We can imagine that when Fido's cerebrum is transplanted20, there is left behind a "canine vegetable," kept alive by an artificial support system, which has all of Fido's former body except for the cerebrum21. And there is certainly a good sense in which this is the same animal as the one that had this body before the transplant22. Let’s say that it is the same "biological animal." The dog, though certainly an animal, is — prior to the transplant23 — coincident with but not identical with the biological animal. So on this view the term "animal" is ambiguous. It has its familiar sense, in which dogs, horses, chimps — and persons24 — are animals, and it has a technical sense in which it applies only to creatures, what I am calling biological animals, whose persistence conditions25 are purely biological.
  5. If dogs are coincident with, without being identical with, biological animals, the same is true of persons. So a person is an animal with psychological persistence conditions26 that is coincident with, and in some sense constituted by, a biological animal. Psychological accounts of personal identity are often charged with the implausible denial that animals can think or have mental properties. But obviously the animals persons are can think and have whatever mental properties persons have. It is the biological animals they are coincident with that lack such properties.
  6. If the term "animal" is ambiguous in the way I have suggested, it seems likely that there is a corresponding ambiguity in at least some of the biological predicates that are applied both to persons and dogs, animals in the one sense, and to biological animals. That idea will be developed later.

Editors’ Introduction27
  1. In Chapter 6, Shoemaker continues his defence and elucidation of a modified Lockean account of personal identity, further amplifying a tradition of thought to which he has already made many significant contributions. It is extremely valuable having his recent thinking on this in the volume.
  2. Shoemaker wishes to say that persons are animals with psychological persistence conditions28, but that in the space each of us occupies, there is also what he calls a 'biological' animal, which is an entity with biological persistence conditions29. He regards this as meaning that 'animal' is ambiguous. Shoemaker follows Unger in holding that what we call animals (e.g. the cats and dogs we have as pets) are animals with psychological persistence conditions30, but they themselves also coincide with biological animals. On Shoemaker's reading of the animalist31 view, it says that persons are animals with biological persistence conditions32. The aim of his chapter is to explain how his complex view can escape the so-called 'too many minds33' objection to it, which is supposed to support animalism34. In Shoemaker's view, the objection arises because we accept physicalism, which seems to imply that physically identical things have the same mental properties, and since the psychological animal and the biological animal have the same physical properties, they will have the same mental life. Shoemakers response, therefore, is to devise a metaphysics of properties that gives an interpretation of physicalism which blocks this derivation.
  3. Shoemaker's account is centred on the distinction between thick and thin properties. Thin properties (e.g. shape) can be shared by entities of different kinds, whereas thick properties (e.g. mental properties) can be shared only by entities of the same kind. Shoemaker takes properties to be individuated by causal profiles. He distinguishes between causal roles that are defined in terms of effects generated in the entity itself and those that are not defined that way. A possible illustration of this distinction, not given by Shoemaker, is that being radioactive is not defined particularly in terms of effects on the entity itself, whereas being angry is, perhaps, defined in terms of continuing processes within the thing possessing the property. A further aspect of this distinction put forward in Section 6.3 is that a thick property 'partly determines the possessor’s persistence conditions35'. Shoemaker claims that mental properties are thin in this sense. Then, in Section 6.4, the notion of realization is clarified so that just because an entity possesses the properties which fix that there is a mental property present does not mean that that thing has the mental property. With these clarifications in place, Shoemaker proposes that he has avoided ascribing mental properties to biological animals. Further, in Sections 6.5 through 6.7, he employs the machinery that he has set up to explain the embodiment of psychological subjects, and also to explain and defend talk of bodies and corpses.
  4. The metaphysics that Shoemaker constructs around the concepts described above defies any brief summary and also any brief assessment. The challenge for a reader is to test the approach out as thoroughly as possible.



In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Footnote 11: "Unger (Peter) - The Survival of the Sentient", 2000.

Footnote 14: Footnote 24: Again – human persons.

Footnote 27: Taken from "Blatti (Stephan) & Snowdon (Paul), Eds - Animalism: Introduction".


Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)



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