Review of Wiggins's 'Continuants'
Noonan (Harold)
Source: Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews; 2016.06.10
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Conclusion

  1. In the other chapters1, and also in the wide-ranging first chapter2, Wiggins discusses the topic of personal identity. One of the main questions he addresses is what to say about Sydney Shoemaker's Brown / Brownson case. The standard psychological continuity account of personal identity goes with the claim that Brownson is Brown (because the same person), though not the same human animal. The standard animalist position goes with the claim that Brownson is not Brown (because not the same animal) and person is merely a phase sortal. Wiggins is not willing to take sides in this debate. In a piece of writing not in this collection he writes:
      If I must allow survival, I am not sure why I am committed to denying that the survivor that emerges from all these goings on is the same human being or the same animal as the one who enters them. It is my strong impression that, while I have always refrained from saying or writing that 'person' is itself a natural kind word, I have insisted on the dependence of the concept of a person upon the concept of a human being. But once you understand what a human being is and what the seat of consciousness is, surely you will not too readily assume that you will know what it is for the human being to be given a new seat of consciousness. If transplantation really were possible, then would not the person follow the seat of consciousness? In that case does not the animal that is the survivor follow it too?
      "Wiggins (David) - Reply to Snowdon (Persons and Personal Identity)" in "Lovibond (Sabina) & Williams (S.G.) - Identity, Truth & Value: Essays for David Wiggins", p. 246
  2. This suggests a sort of disjunctive account between the standard neo-Lockean and animalist positions: human beings can persist through psychological continuity and also, in its absence, through mere biological continuity; in this sense we are animals the persistence conditions of which are partly biological and partly psychological.
  3. But Wiggins is not content with something so simple. He ends Chapter 5 with the words 'what if the remnant (brain) is housed in another body, what then? Even then the most that we can find is not a person but a sad remnant (or remnants) of a human being.' He adds in a footnote, 'such a remnant of a thing does not count as the thing, itself. Matters have gone too far.'
  4. So Wiggins has moved on between 1996 and 2014. But as in the rest of his discussion, it is not exactly clear where he has got to. What is clear is that he is not content with any position which allows straightforward classification. After four and a half decades of thought he is still searching for satisfactory answers to the questions that obsess him, and though there is no denying the difficulties his writings sometimes present the reader, we should join him in his search and be grateful that he is still continuing, after more than forty years, to contribute to discussion of these topics on which his past writings have been so influential.


In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Footnote 2: Chapter 1: "Wiggins (David) - Identity, Individuation, and Substance".

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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