Metaphysics and biology: a critique of David Wiggins’ account of personal identity
Ferner (Adam)
Source: PhD Thesis, Birkbeck, 2014
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. Over his philosophical career, David Wiggins has produced a body of work that, though varied and wide-ranging, stands as a coherent and carefully integrated whole. Its parts cannot be studied in isolation, and a central aim of this thesis is to examine how three vital elements of his systematic metaphysics interconnect: his conceptualist-realism, his sortal theoryD’, and his account of personal identity – his human being theory.
  2. Yet critics murder to dissect, and Wiggins’ project is often unfairly decomposed into its parts. Thus, this study aims both to introduce his thoughts without neglecting the relations between them, and to rectify the various misinterpretations of them by – among others – Paul Snowdon, Eric Olson and Lynne Rudder Baker.
  3. In clarifying and exploring these connections another sunken, yet central, vein is revealed. It is argued that Wiggins’ metaphysics bears on, and is borne upon, by various discussions in the philosophy of biology. This is a connection that he himself adverts to, but which commentators have rarely investigated. Attending to it, one finds in his analyses of natural substances a novel form of biological anti-reductionism, which stands as a productive alternative to emergentism.
  4. Closer attention to his construal of substances – specifically organisms – also reveals a worry. At the core of Wiggins’ account of personal identity is the consilience he sees between the concept of a person and the concept of a natural substance (a human being). It is argued below that organ transplantation disturbs the Aristotelian distinction between natural substance and biological artefact, and thus tests the heart-string of his human being theory.


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