- Persons, in everyone’s book, form a special category of things. It is common to outline the category of persons in terms of some general features or capacities they possess – consciousness, as well as perhaps self-consciousness2, agency, higher cognition, rationality. Like other authors, Simon Evnine, in his book "Evnine (Simon J.) - Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood", distinguishes between the category of persons and the category of human beings. Although normal, adult human beings can be presumed to be persons, he sees no reason to rule out the possibility of nonhuman persons. Persons, as Evnine conceives of them, satisfy several necessary conditions:
- they are finite beings with a particular spatio-temporal location within the universe (“Finitude”);
- they are subjects of beliefs (“Belief”),
- capable of performing intentional actions and engaging in planning (“Agency”), and
- possessing second-order beliefs about their own and others’ beliefs (“Second-Ordinality”).
- In the course of his investigation into the nature of persons, Evnine teases out several surprising consequences of this conception. Of special interest is his attempt to trace out some epistemic dimensions of personhood that emerge. These are essential features of being a person that have specifically to do with the substantive character and structure of persons’ concepts and beliefs. Very briefly, Evnine puts forth the following three theses:
- To be a person, one must have certain logical concepts, such as conjunction, conditionality, disjunction3, negation, and quantification;
- To be a person, one must be subject to certain norms governing belief (specifically, one ought to believe the conjunction of everything one believes, and one ought to defer to one's future beliefs, unless one has special reason not to do so); and
- To be a person, one must be unable fully to satisfy the demands of epistemic rationality
- I shall not here take issue with thesis (1). At least if we accept Finitude, Belief, Agency, and Second Ordinality as necessary conditions on being a person, the idea that persons must possess certain basic logical concepts doesn’t seem too controversial. Thesis (2) is much more controversial. In connection with thesis (2), Evnine spells out and defends two normative principles. “Reflection” is the principle that: “if one were to come to know one’s future beliefs and not learn of any reason why one should not, one should make those beliefs one’s current beliefs” (p. 109). And “Self-Knowledge” is the principle that one must have knowledge of “Ameliorism”, which is the claim that “in general, people’s beliefs get better over time (p. 111). Though I have misgivings about these principles (even while having some sympathy to thesis (2)), I shall not discuss them in what follows.
- My main focus will be thesis (3). More specifically, I am interested in Evnine’s defense of this thesis (offered in Chapter 6), which appeals to a phenomenon much discussed in recent years: the so-called ‘transparency of beliefs’. I think transparency is a very interesting phenomenon, but I want to question Evnine’s use of it in arguing for thesis (3). Nothing about the phenomenon of transparency, properly understood, can help support this thesis of Evnine’s. Or so I will argue. If this is right, then Evnine fails to establish one of three key theses of his book.
- An earlier version of this commentary was presented at an Author Meets Critics session at the Pacific APA, April 2009.
- The present version benefited from Simon Evnine’s response to my comments (as well as subsequent correspondence), …
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)