|Source: Blatti & Snowdon - Animalism: New Essays on Persons, Animals, and Identity, 2016: Part II, Chapter 8, pp. 162-179|
|Paper - Abstract|
- Advocates of the view known as "animalism" make the following straightforward claim: we are animals.
- This claim will strike some as hardly worth asserting, let alone defending.
- But since most contemporary theorists of personal identity still deny animalism, a defense is required after all.
- The Thinking Animal Argument
- The Thinking Parts Problem
- Answering the Thinking Parts Problem
- Short-Circuiting the Thinking Parts Problem
- In Chapter 8, Stephan Blatti focuses on what might be called the standard objection to the standard argument. The standard argument for animalism — the 'thinking animal argument' — was developed and refined over the years by Michael R. Ayers, William Carter, John McDowell, Paul Snowdon, and Eric Olson. This argument registers the implausible multiplication of thinkers to which anyone who denies animalism's identity thesis is thereby committed. According to one formulation of the standard argument, since animals think, and since you think, if the identity thesis is false, then there must be two qualitatively identical mental lives running in parallel: yours and that of the animal located where you are. But since this is absurd, we should accept the identity thesis. The standard objection to this argument — one that animalism's supporters and critics alike regard as posing a formidable challenge — points out that an analogous line of reasoning seems to recommend the opposite conclusion. Since thinking is plausibly attributed to many of an animal’s proper parts — e.g. its undetached head, its brain — what entitles the animalist to suppose that each of us is the whole thinking animal rather than any one of the animals many thinking parts? This sceptical question reflects the 'thinking parts problem'.
- Blatti’s aim is not to solve this problem, but to outline several strategies that animalists might pursue further in attempting to escape the thinking parts problem without renouncing the thinking animal argument. According to one of these strategies, the animalist answers the sceptical question directly by appealing to Tim Williamson’s ("Williamson (Timothy) - Knowledge and its Limits", 2000) recent attack on the 'phenomenal conception of evidence' and its role in sceptical scenarios like the one envisioned by the thinking parts problem. According to this conception, a subject's phenomenal state just is her evidentiary state. But, Blatti suggests, if Williamson is correct that this conception is false because knowledge is factive, then the sort of evidence to which we would ordinarily appeal in ascribing thinking to the whole animal (e.g. the fact that the sensory, proprioceptive, and kinesthetic experiences that your proper, thinking parts have are detected in parts of the whole animal that are not parts of themselves) does in fact ground our claim to know — indeed, consists in our knowledge — that each of us is the whole thinking animal rather than any of its thinking parts.
- The second main strategy that Blatti explores involves short-circuiting the thinking parts problem by challenging the attribution of thinking to proper parts in the first place. Here he distinguishes Wittgensteinian from non-Wittgensteinian resistance to such ascriptions. For the Wittgensteinian, to ascribe psychological activities to a proper part is to subsume under the concept human animal something that does not fall under that concept. Thinking cannot intelligibly be attributed proper parts like heads and brains, on this view, because the criteria for the ascription of thinking lie in the behaviour of a whole animal, and proper parts do not behave. The non-Wittgensteinian diagnosis that Blatti sketches reaches the same conclusion by a different route. Rather than pointing to conceptual confusion as the culprit, he urges us to reflect on the contexts in which attributions of thinking are ordinarily made; not in isolation, let alone in the course of philosophical argument, but embedded in practices of agential understanding and moral concern. In other words, it is in our attempts to describe, explain, praise, and blame one another's actions that we credit ourselves with various cognitive and affective capacities. This, Blatti suggests, is the reason why animalism's critic is mistaken in attributing thinking to a human animal's parts: because the only behaviour eligible for agential understanding and moral concern is the behaviour of the whole animal.
- The aim of Blatti's paper is not to pursue any one of these strategies as far as they go, but to provide a roadmap for other animalists to do so. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that, for all of the strategies Blatti sketches, the devil lurks in the details, and some of those details — such as Williamson’s conception of knowledge as evidence and Wittgenstein's account of conceptual criteria — are highly contentious indeed.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)