The Thinking Animal Problem and Personal Pronoun Revisionism
Noonan (Harold)
Source: Analysis, Vol. 70, No. 1 (January 2010), pp. 93-98
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. In his book, Eric Olson ("Olson (Eric) - What are We?", 2007) makes some criticisms of a response to the problem of the thinking animal1 (also called the 'too many minds2' or 'too many thinkers3' problem) which I have offered, on behalf of the neo-Lockean psychological continuity4 theorist. Olson calls my proposal 'personal pronoun revisionism' (though I am not suggesting any revision). In what follows I shall say what my proposal actually is, defend it and briefly respond to Olson's criticism.
  2. The problem of the thinking animal5, briefly, is that it seems indisputable that human animals6, i.e. human beings, or at least, all normal healthy adult human beings, are thinkers. But so, by definition, are persons. However, according to the psychological continuity7 theorist of personal identity, per sons are not human beings (they differ in their persistence conditions). So the psychological continuity8 theory entails the existence of too many thinkers9. Moreover, it creates an irresoluble epistemic problem: how do I know I am the person sitting here typing this thinking truly that he is a person and not the coincident human animal10 thinking falsely that he is a person? Finally, if human animals11, in addition to persons, are thinkers, they must be persons after all, since their thoughts have whatever complexity and sophistication any ordinary definition of 'person' could require - they have just the same thoughts, after all, as the persons with whom on the psychological continuity12 account, they 'cohabit', so the neo-Lockean's attempt to identify the persistence conditions for persons collapses into incoherence, since he has to acknowledge different kinds of person with different persistence conditions - as it were person-persons and animal persons.

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