We Are Animals
Blatti (Stephan)
Source: Philosophy for Us, ed. Lenny Clapp (Cognella, 2018), 73-82
Paper - Abstract

Paper SummaryText Colour-Conventions


  1. Introduction
  2. What Animalism Does and Doesn’t Say
  3. Arguments for Animalism
    → Thinking Animal Argument
    → Animal Ancestors Argument
  4. Death and Immortality

  1. Introduction
    • This paper comes from a book “Philosophy for Us” which is a fairly general undergraduate introduction to “doing” philosophy. The chapters are by some famous names, and looks of good quality, but is necessarily of an elementary level1.
    • The Chapter starts with a motivation for animalism with a ruse where the death and subsequent decay of a 10-year-old at the teeth of a grizzly bear is described in detail, until2 it is revealed that the individual is an elk.
    • Blatti claims that the reader had no difficulty imagining himself the subject of this drama, thereby imagining that he was:-
      1. The evolutionary descendent of animals,
      2. A creature with a biological life,
      3. A creature subject to the same diseases3 and predations as other animals,
      4. An organism that ceases to exist at death, and
      5. The progenitor of a corpse subsequently consumed by other animals and bacteria.
    • We had no difficulty imagining ourselves in this story, despite all the above being characteristics of an animal.
    • Blatti seems to suggest that we’ve been imaging ourselves as an elk – so how much easier to imagine ourselves as human animals. But this is nonsense – we didn’t imagine ourselves as elks, but as human beings facing death and decay.
    • Blatti tries to milk this delusion, mistakenly in my view. To be clear: we didn’t know this drama involved an elk until we were told. So, we never thought of ourselves as an elk, or as “inhabiting an elk’s body”. So, the story doesn’t show either that we are animals or that we might be non-animals inhabiting an animal body (our own, considered as separate to “us”).
    • But, Blatti is right – the idea of “inhabiting” one’s body is a popular idea. So, in this case:-
      → Just what would your nature be? An immaterial soul?
      → How is the “inhabiting” supposed to work?
      But, more importantly (he says),
      → what would happen to “the elk itself”, from its perspective, if this took place?
    • Blatti is right to press this Thought Experiment4. His point is that maybe there’s no “elk itself” to be displaced, or have its body shared with a human interloper. But if the elk just is its body, why isn’t the
  2. What Animalism Does and Doesn’t Say
  3. Arguments for Animalism
    • Thinking Animal Argument
    • Animal Ancestors Argument
  4. Death and Immortality

Author’s Conclusion
  1. There is much to recommend organic animalism, not least that it jibes with many of our practices and concerns regarding the dead and beliefs regarding our nonexistence. We describe the deceased as being “gone.” At a funeral service for a deceased loved one, we do not fret that we are burying her when we bury her corpse or cremate her remains. Friends and family do not rush to death beds for no reason: the moment when one of us dies is a moment of great consequence. How could anyone deny that you will cease to exist whenever you breathe your last breath?
  2. Well, imagine the moment when your grandfather eventually passes away: his heart rate slows, his blood pressure drops, his breathing becomes increasingly shallower, until finally, quietly, he expires. Now imagine the very next moment after that. What do you see on the hospital bed? Not your grandfather, according to organic animalism, for he quite literally disappeared from the realm of existence the moment before. Nor, even, do you see a human animal, as strictly speaking, on this view, there is no such thing as a “dead animal.”
  3. This has struck some animalists as an implausible upshot of organic animalism. To be sure, they say, death is a significant moment, but nothing literally goes out of existence when it occurs. Accordingly, and in contrast to organic animalism’s claim that continued life is both sufficient and necessary for human persistence, those who endorse “somatic animalism” — so called because it emphasizes the bodily aspects of the human animal — deny that continued life is necessary. On this view, a human animal persists just in case its parts remain sufficiently intact as to be apt for life. In other words, vital processes like metabolism and respiration need not actually continue for an organism to persist. All that is required is that the internal structure of its body remain organized enough as to be explicable only by appeal to the animal body’s being, or having once been, alive. What this means in the case of your imaginary grandfather is that he quite literally survives his own death: he continues existing even after all of his vital functions cease.
  4. In this way, somatic animalism can, whilst organic animalism cannot, countenance the possibility of postmortem survival. It is interesting, then, that both views can allow for the possibility of immortality. If, immediately after dying, your grandfather was cryogenically preserved in a way that maintained the functional organization of his body’s internal structure, then according to somatic animalism, he would properly be said to persist so long as he remained in this state — perhaps forever. Likewise, according to organic animalism, if it were possible to induce human animals into a protracted state of hibernation — wherein one’s vital processes are slowed dramatically without stopping, but where this state is maintained indefinitely — we could achieve “eternal life” of a kind. Neither organic nor somatic animalism could accommodate the religious idea of persisting eternally as an immaterial being in heaven or hell. But nor does either view rule out the possibility of immortality altogether.


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In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Footnote 2: Footnote 3: Footnote 4:

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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