Memory, Organisms and the Circle of Life
Tzinman (Rina)
Source: Draft. Retrieved from
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Suppose an evil scientist, Mona, captures Moe and transposes all of Moe’s mental life into another human organism, Doe. The human organism (previously) associated with Moe, remains intact and alive. At some point, Mona decides to use the body for other purposes, and suffocates it until all its vital functions cease and rigor mortis sets in. Mona thinks that she didn’t kill Moe because he persists as Doe, given that his entire mental life has been transposed to Doe. Therefore, whereas the remaining human animal that was associated with Moe ceases to live, Moe continues to exist.
  2. Mona is a psychological-continuity theorist of personal identity. According to psychological continuity theories, we are essentially psychological beings and have psychological persistence conditions. According to one such theory, the memory view, our persistence conditions are given in terms of memory.
  3. By contrast, some theorists, namely animalists, would argue that Moe persists as the human animal, and not as Doe; we are necessarily human animals, and not psychological beings. Accordingly, animalists think that Moe persists as long as the human animal (with which he is identical) persists. However, while animalists agree that Moe just is the human animal, and that he persists as long as it persists, they disagree about whether he (i.e. the human animal) ceases to exist at death or can persist through death as a corpse1. There are two main factions within the animalist camp, which provide two distinct answers to the question of when we – human animals – cease to exist. According to the organic animalist camp human animals persist so long as they are alive; necessarily, we are living human animals. According to the somatic animalist camp we are identical to human animals, but these human animals might persist through death as corpses2 (I am borrowing the terminology “organic animalism” and “somatic animalism” from Blatti, 2014).
  4. In this paper, I will argue that organic animalists cannot specify the persistence conditions of human animals in a non-circular way. The structure of the paper will be as follows.
    1. In section 1 I will discuss organic animalism and raise a circularity problem for it.
    2. In section 2 I will discuss an analogous worry affecting the memory view.
    3. Then I will argue that existing solutions for the circularity worry about the memory view (section 3) cannot be transposed to help organic animalists with the circularity problem affecting their persistence criterion (section 4).
    4. I will then ask whether we can solve the circularity problem in some other way, by starting with the question of what kind of a thing, and specifically what kind of an event, a life is. I will argue that on any plausible construal of events, we land in one version or other of the circularity problem.
    5. I will conclude that the organic animalist’s usual way of understanding organism persistence is hopelessly circular.

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
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