Sortals and Human Beginnings
Gomez-Lobo (Alfonso)
Source: Medicine and Metaphysics Conference, University of Buffalo, November, 2004
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. When did I begin to exist?
  2. This is a question that has been asked many times in the past and is now asked again with renewed urgency. The reply I will give is certainly not new, but it will be reached invoking a piece of relatively recent evidence that I hope will also allow me to provide a fresh insight into the phenomenon of twinning. My main goal in this paper is critically to examine the thesis vigorously argued by Barry Smith and Berit Brogaard (S&B1) that sixteen days after fertilization marks the inception of a human individual.
  3. I shall first introduce some of the terms that I will be using.
  4. An adequate reply to the question about my beginning is a function of the proper sortal under which I fall. If “married person” is a proper sortal for me then I began to exist in 1963 (with the welcome consequence that my beloved wife began to exist at the same time I did). But “married person” surely stands for a phase sortal. It is a sortal such that someone who ceases to fall under it does not necessarily cease to exist. People, of course, exist before and after being married persons.
  5. On the other hand, a proper sortal (or “substance sortal”, as Michael Lockwood calls it) is coextensive in time with the object that falls under it. Before beginning to fall under a proper sortal the object did not exist, and after it ceases to fall under this sortal it ceases to exist. To begin to fall under a proper sortal is called in Aristotelian metaphysics “generation” or “coming-to-be”, one of the two forms of substantial change. The other one is “corruption” or “passing-away.” For the change from one phase sortal to another, that is, for a change in non-substantial attributes, the term employed is “alteration”. I will use it in the broad sense in which it is not limited to the category of quality. Growth, for example, a change in quantity, will count as an alteration. Alteration does not entail loss of identity whereas substantial change does. A change that drastically modifies the nature of a thing will count as a substantial change.
  6. Finally, I would like to add that I will call “thing” or “substance” something that can exist in its own right and “attribute’ or “property” something that can only exist insofar as it inheres in a substance. A person who walks is a substance, but walking is an attribute of a substance. Walking cannot exist by itself.


In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:

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