Animalism and the Unity of Consciousness: Some Issues
Snowdon (Paul)
Source: Blatti & Snowdon - Animalism: New Essays on Persons, Animals, and Identity, 2016: Part III, Chapter 13, pp. 266-282
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. For the purposes of discussion in this chapter I shall understand animalism1 as the thesis that each of us is identical with an animal. Many questions could, no doubt, be raised about this formulation, and also about the truth of the formulated claim, which I shall not pursue here. The thing I wish to stress is that animalism2 so defined is not well characterized as a thesis about personal identity.
    1. First, if providing a theory of personal identity means providing a specification of what constitutes our remaining in existence over time, animalism3 does not explicitly provide that. The thesis implies that we have the same requirements for persistence as the animals we are, but it does not say what they are. Determining that is a matter for further debate.
    2. Second, and more significantly, as I shall argue, the animalist4 thesis has implications about matters other than personal identity. In particular I shall develop the claim that it has implications about how we should think about the unity of consciousness5 and the unity of psychological subjects.
  2. The point can be put more generally: animalism6 identifies us with a certain type of natural object — human animals7 — and so it implies that the understanding of any important features that we may possess must be consistent with the idea that it is an animal that possesses them. There is really no limiting in advance what implications this idea has. We are, in fact, currently at the stage of working out these implications. In the light of our estimate of them we shall either accept them as correct, or alternatively reject animalism8.
  3. In a single chapter it is impossible to consider all the implications that animalism9 might have for the issue of unity of consciousness10 and of mind. In order, then, to make a start with the issue in the space available I propose to consider what animalism11 implies about actual split-brain cases — but also about imagined and more extreme extensions of such cases. By a split-brain case I am thinking of a case where we start with an ordinary human being and in an operation its corpus callosum is severed. Having tried to work out what the implications are I shall ask whether there is anything wrong in supposing that the implied verdicts are actually correct.

  1. Introduction
  2. Puzzles of Commisurotomy
  3. The Animalist12 Treatment
  4. Unity Requirements
  5. The Possibility of a Consistent Interpretation
  6. Other Constraints
  7. Inferential Conditions
  8. Unity of Experience Principles
  9. Some Problems
  10. What Experience Must Be Like
  11. Conclusion

Editors’ Introduction13
  1. In Chapter 13, Paul Snowdon attempts to broaden the exploration of animalism14. The chapter tries to work out what implications animalism15 has about the conditions for different mental states to belong to a single subject. When we are talking about experiences this might be called the unity of consciousness16.
  2. Focussing on the example of split-brain cases,
    1. It is argued that animalism17 is committed to a singularist verdict; that is, the verdict that the post-operative states are states of a single subject, despite the functional disunity among them.
    2. It is then argued that no contradiction can be generated in psychological theories for such single subjects,
    3. Nor are there principles of interpretation (of a kind proposed by Donald Davidson) that such a psychological theory must flout.
    4. Nor are there, contrary to what Tim Bayne proposes, any principles about inferences a single subject must make in relation to first-person beliefs, which create difficulties for this account.
  3. When the debate focuses on experiences it is argued that no reason exists not to count the various experiences that the post-operative patients enjoy as experiences of a single subject. Thomas Nagel, it is claimed, fails to unearth any principle that rules this out. In conclusion, it is proposed that the question as to what degree of unity the mental states of a single subject must possess is an empirical one, and there are no reliable a priori principles that we can discern.
  4. Various questions can be raised about this argument.
    1. Does the chapter really explain how to avoid problems for singularism in relation to split-brain cases?
    2. Does it seriously disarm the Nagelian intuition that the experiences of a single subject must have some strong degree of functional unity?
    3. Are there perhaps other more difficult cases for the singularism to which animalism18 is committed?

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 13:

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  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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