The Human Animal - Personal Identity Without Psychology
Olson (Eric)
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Oxford Scholarship Online

    This book argues that our identity over time involves no psychological facts. Psychological accounts of personal identity lead to grave metaphysical problems, and the arguments for them are inconclusive. The book argues that we are animals, and thus have the purely biological identity conditions of animals.

Book Comment

Oxford University Press, 1997

"Dainton (Barry) - Review of Eric Olson's 'The Human Animal: Personal Identity Without Psychology'"

Source: Mind 107/427 (July 1998), pp. 679-682

Author’s Introduction
  1. Although Darwinian explanatory strategies are being employed ever more widely, in areas as diverse as culture and cosmology, there remains a wide-spread reluctance to subscribe to a central tenet of Darwinism, namely the thesis that we ourselves are animals. This reluctance does not, for the most part, stem from a belief that we are immaterial souls, but from a doctrine about objects and their identity conditions. We may be wholly material beings, but are nonetheless material beings of a distinctive sort, namely persons. Whereas animals have biological identity conditions, persons have mentalistic identity conditions, from which it follows that persons and animals are numerically distinct.
  2. "Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal - Personal Identity Without Psychology" is a sustained vigorous assault on this way of thinking. Olson's contention is that the Lockean or "Psychological Approach", irrespective of how it is developed in detail, is metaphysically flawed, and he urges us to accept in its stead a Biological Approach, according to which we human persons are organisms of a particular kind, members of the biological species Homo sapiens, entities whose persistence conditions1 are entirely independent of mentality.

Author’s Conclusion
  1. The book as a whole is admirably succinct, clear, and forcefully argued, and is a fresh and enjoyable read. It also contains a number of arguments I have not mentioned. Although some of these struck me as being less potent than the argument discussed above, they are far from negligible – though I did at times wonder how the author intended to reconcile his hostility to coincident entities with his commitment to Wiggins's account of substance concepts.
  2. And, lest I leave the wrong impression, the book is not entirely negative: chapter six introduces a provocative proposal concerning the persistence conditions2 of organisms.
  3. Those who have long harboured suspicions that the Psychological Approach has problems of an ontological sort will welcome this attempt to show that such suspicions are well-founded; those who are more sympathetic to the Lockean view can look forward to encountering some interesting challenges, and some awkward moments.

Paper Comment

For the full text, follow this link (Local website only): PDF File3.

"Shoemaker (Sydney) - Review of Eric Olson's 'The Human Animal: Personal Identity Without Psychology'"

Source: Nous, Sep99, Vol. 33 Issue 3, p496, 9p;

Philosopher’s Index Abstract
  1. Presents a critique of the book "Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal - Personal Identity Without Psychology".
  2. Olson's opposition to the 'Psychological Approach,' to the topic of personal identity;
  3. Lockean definition of 'person';
  4. Olson's view on the attempts to reconcile the Psychological Approach with the view that people are, in the sense of being identical with, living animals.

Paper Comment

"Olson (Eric) - Precis of 'The Human Animal'"

Source: Abstracta Special Issue I – 2008 (Brazil)

Paper Comment

Write-up2 (as at 18/12/2010 19:58:05): Olson - The Human Animal (Precis)

Olson’s paper isn’t a formal précis of "Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal - Personal Identity Without Psychology" as such, but picks out a few themes that Olson thinks are most important. See the following Terminological Disclaimer3 related to what I have to say below.

He thinks that historically the whole question of personal identity has been wrongly put. It assumes without argument that we are Persons, and so expresses the “same person” relation as between persons, rather than simply between individuals who at some time in their existence are persons. So, the question has been assumed to be concerning persons A and B at two times, and trying to determine what the necessary and sufficient conditions are for them to be the same person (A = B). Olson thinks (rightly) that this prejudices the case against Animalists and others who don’t think that persons qua person are substances, and that consequently the question should rather be whether a person at time x is the same individual at time y, whether or not that individual then qualifies as a person. Otherwise, the question whether I was ever a fetus, or might ever end up in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) cannot even arise.

Olson doesn’t use the term “substance” – so, as the disclaimer4 allows, I might be distorting his thought, but it seems to me that this is the root of his disagreement with certain other philosophers (in particular Baker, though I’m not sure whether she uses this concept either). Olson thinks there is one substance present – the Human Animal, which at certain times in its existence has the property of being a person (where – to qualify as a person – the possession if not exercise of certain psychological capacities is needed). He doesn’t consider a person to be a separate substance that can exist independently of the human animal. Other philosophers think that several substances are co-located where a human person is, and Olson finds this objectionable for metaphysical and epistemological reasons, as we will see below. I need to determine Baker’s view on this – does she think of the Person and the Animal as separate substances, one constituted by the other? Substance dualists are rare these days – though see "Van Inwagen (Peter) & Zimmerman (Dean) - Persons: Human and Divine", reviewed by Olson in "Olson (Eric) - Review of 'Persons: Human and Divine'".

It’s interesting that Olson in fact says that assuming that we are persons means that I could not have been an embryo (rather than, as usual, a fetus). Elsewhere, I think, Olson denies that I was ever a zygote (a fertilised ovum) – because a zygote isn’t an animal, in that it can’t maintain itself in any sense (obviously, early-term fetuses aren’t “viable” either, but with the aid of a functioning placenta do carry out a lot of animal functions).

It seems that before I can work out my persistence conditions, I have to decide what sort of thing I am – but is this a principled decision? Olson claims that this is an open question, but not one that should be answered in the way the question is asked. I’m not sure he hasn’t done just this, but I may be being unfair. I need to read his new book – "Olson (Eric) - What are We? A Study of Personal Ontology" – where he looks at this most fundamental question in more detail.

Olson asks whether the persistence conditions of all persons are the same? Do Gods, angels and intelligent computers all have the same persistence conditions as human persons. Olson allows that they might, but still claims that this factor shouldn’t be built into how the question is asked. I’m not sure what this means. I was surprised by this admission – in "Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal - Personal Identity Without Psychology", if I remember correctly, Olson thinks it obvious that they don’t, and consequently that there’s no such thing as the persistence conditions of persons as such. That he is less confident now steps, presumably, from his reduced confidence in being able to answer what we are. We need to decide whether a “person” (qua person) is the sort of thing that has persistence conditions at all. I’m not sure how this decision is to be made; is the answer a matter of fact or a matter of conceptual analysis? Baker thinks persons are ontologically significant – in that they are a separate kind without which the world would be ontologically impoverished. Presumably for her the persistence conditions of persons – for which a necessary and sufficient condition for persistence is the maintenance of the same first person perspective5 (FPP)6 – is a fact, though how FPPs7 are individuated is somewhat mysterious.

Anyway, Olson thinks that the question should be what it takes for us to persist simpliciter, not what it takes for us to persist as persons.

Olson gives a brief synopsis of the Thinking Animal argument for Animalism – what Zimmerman (in "Zimmerman (Dean) - Problems for Animalism") calls his Master Argument – split between the metaphysical “two many minds” objection and the epistemological “how would I know which I was” objection. As usual, Olson fails to even consider Baker’s Constitution View.

This argument – that the human animal thinks, and because there is only one thinker present, therefore I am (identical to) that animal, leads to the claim that what it takes for me to persist is what it takes for an animal to persist.

It seems to me, though that it might still make sense to ask the “same person qua person” question, and Markosian8 raises this as an issue. We might just be talking about personalities in that case, but maybe there is a third situation – where enough of the brain has been transplanted to move the “first person perspective”9, but the animal has been left behind. I might want to describe such cases as those of fission and fusion of animals.

Olson consequently claims that psychology is irrelevant to our persistence conditions – neither necessary nor sufficient. Not necessary because we start off as embryos and may end up in a PVS. Not sufficient because of our intuitions on brain transplants. In fact, Olson talks of cerebrum transplants, which is not the same thing as a whole brain transplant, nor a head transplant.

It occurs to me that the term “persistent vegetative state” may hark back to the Aristotelian tri-partite soul – where plants just have nutrition and reproduction, animals have goal-direction, and human beings have rationality. So, should an individual in a PVS – or an embryo – be considered an animal or a plant? This might be central to the case for Animalism. At least it might make the pill easier to swallow if Animalists could consistently deny that I was ever an embryo or could ever been in individual in a PVS – though the religious right might get even more annoyed.

We are only temporarily and contingently people – at least if a person needs to have present certain psychological capacities (Olson says “mental properties”) to qualify as such.

Olson tried to give a positive account of what it takes for a human animal to persist, along the lines of Locke and Aristotle – like other animals, it is what it takes for our biological lives to continue. I need to re-read "Wilson (Jack) - Biological Individuality - The identity and Persistence of Living Entities" concerning the persistence conditions of animals.

In-Page Footnotes ("Olson (Eric) - Precis of 'The Human Animal'")

Footnote 2:
  • This is the write-up as it was when this Abstract was last output, with text as at the timestamp indicated (18/12/2010 19:58:05).
  • Link to Latest Write-Up Note.

"Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal: Introduction"

Source: The Human Animal, September 1999, Introduction, pp. 3-7


Olson sees 3 main issues in the recent2 philosophy of personal identity.
  1. Informative Criteria of Personal Identity.
  2. What physical continuity3 is required for a person to persist?
  3. What matters4 in survival?
Olson is not interested in these questions. However, …
  1. Criteria:
    • The first question is defined here by Olson in the Narrow sense – criteria for Person-A at time t1 to be the same person as Person B at t2. But this has embedded in it the assumption that persons, as such, are the sort of things that have persistence conditions5. But – as Olson points out elsewhere – if there are human persons and divine, or angelic, persons then there is no single set of criteria, since human beings and gods or angels have different persistence conditions6. But this may still be to confuse the “person” with its “host” and to beg the question against the claim that PERSON is a kind term (rather than a classification of individuals belonging to kinds).
    • The Wide question of personal identity is of identity criteria7 for individuals, that are classified as persons at various stages of their existence. So, is Individual-A at t1 (who may or may not be classified as a person at t1) is the same individual as Individual-B at time t2 (where Individual-B, etc.). But we can’t ask questions of sameness of individual (says Wiggins) unless we know what kind the individual falls under, as persistence conditions8 are specific to kinds rather than just things.
    • Olson states that those who claim that there are no non-trivial identity conditions for persons are dualists who thing that persons – you and I – are not material objects. Olson’s concern is with “our” identity conditions – whatever kind of things we are; and his further claim is that we are human animals9. Of course we “are” also persons – at least most of the time for most of us – but this “are” isn’t the “are” of identity but that of property-possession. The division is between those – the animalists10 – that take this view and between the personalists who say that we are (identical to) persons who have the properties (maybe occasional) of being instantiated (or constituted) by human animals11.
    • There’s a further distinction between the dualists – who think that we are (identical to) immaterial souls which “have” bodies that the materialists12 who deny the existence of souls but who may still not agree that we are (identical to) animals. This is a divide roughly between hardware-theorists and software-theorists. Animalists13 (and maybe others) claim that we are hardware, whereas the other camp claims (effectively) that we are software that can run on various hardware platforms.
  2. Physical Continuity14:
    • Taking the second question, the question might be asked whether psychological continuity15 has to be realized in the same functioning brain, for instance. Or will any brain do, or some inorganic substitute? Can I be shifted around from one platform to another via a “Brain State Transfer”16 device?
    • All this presumes some variant of the psychological criterion17 of personal identity. At first sight, it seems important that the psychology that is preserved is numerically identical to my own, rather than just qualitatively identical, or even qualitatively similar18, but read on …
  3. What Matters19:
    • We have a special attitude to our own futures as against those we have to those of others, however much we might care about them.
    • Some philosophers have denied that this special prudential concern is essentially tied to identity – ie. is essentially concern for oneself. Exceptionally, it might be proper to have this concern for someone else; or even not to have prudential concern for oneself20.
    • These special cases – where we have prudential concern for others – arise from the possibility of fission. Fission is problematical because of the logic of identity21, but the “problem case” is probably undermined by 4-dimensionalism22, where I (now, and unbeknownst to me) might share my present and past stages with another hitherto co-located individual, from whom I may fission in due course. But, this seems to imply not that it is rational to feel prudential concern for someone else, but that the fission cases don’t prove what they seem to prove – a metaphysical objection. Instead it is just an epistemological objection. My present stage is shared with some other 4-D individual, but I don’t know which of the two 4-D worms I am, so it would be rational for me to be concerned with both of them, even though I can only be one of them.
    • As with all TEs, these fission cases need to be adequately described to be persuasive. An animalist23 would have no truck with psychological fission – multiple teletransportation24, for instance. But maybe there could be physical fission – amoeba-like25 – of human animals26, where it wouldn’t be obvious beforehand which fission product would be me.
    • But, I suspect that such cases are best resolved grammatically. “I” refers to both co-located individuals who share their past experiences, and have identical current experiences, but will subsequently diverge. I – in in the sense of my FPP27 – will follow both paths, so I should be prudentially-concerned for both of them. I am in fact (pre-fission) two exactly similar28 co-located beings that share experiences29.
Olson’s concern is to argue that psychological continuity30 is neither necessary nor sufficient for our persistence.
  1. Necessity: this is clearly correct – though controversial. I started out as a fetus31 without any person-required psychological properties, and may end up in a PVS32. Of course, this assumes that I am an animal, and not “most fundamentally” a person.
  2. Sufficiency: this is less clear. Olson wants to deny that mere psychological continuity33 is not sufficient – and I agree – because of the reduplication34 cases (despite 4D). But I think that if my FPP35 was maintained, by whatever manner, then I would have survived36.
Olson makes two basic assumptions, because these are necessary for his argument to get off the ground. They are not uncontroversial, but to argue for them would be a diversion, and he has little original to say:-
  1. There is an answer to what it is for “us37” to persist.
  2. Materialism38 is true. That is, we are “material objects made up entirely of material particles”. Hence
    • We are not events or processes happening to human organisms.
    • Not property instances,
    • Not abstract objects like computer programs.
    Olson claims that if any of the above were the case, then human animals39 would not themselves be intelligent or conscious, but just associated with something else that was.
Olson doesn’t intend to address ethical40 questions – so though he will argue that we were once fetuses41 and might end up as human vegetables, he’ll leave the ethical consequences of this stance for others more competent.

Olson has makes three further assumptions – in rejecting three controversial doctrines – justification for which is reserved until the final Chapter42 for review:-
  1. Nihilism43 (“Are There Any People?”): Olson assumes there are “people” (the plural of “person”), glossed as “rational, conscious beings”, and that they literally persist44 through time.
  2. Relative Identity45: Olson insists on the traditional understanding of identity. So it is either true, false or indefinite whether “a being” is the same being as “another” a week later. But what Olson denies is that such a being can be the same animal, but not the same person (say) – at least unless either term is (say) an honorific like “president”, and office that can be held by numerically different individuals.
  3. Temporal Parts: Olson explicitly rejects 4-dimensionalism of any sort.
    • He thinks that we are enduring concrete substances46 that are wholly present at different times.
    • While your career may be extended in time, you yourself are not.
    • He seems to think that having temporal parts would make us like events.
    • He states that most philosophers reject 4D (as well as nihilism47 and relative identity48, much less controversial rejections).
    • He claims that if this (or either of the other two claims) is true, then there are no non-semantic49 problems of personal identity.
Olson finishes with some terminology and some distinctions.
  1. Organism: is used in its standard biological sense.
  2. Human animal50: is synonymous (for Olson) with “human organism”, and means “member of the biological species Homo sapiens”. It is NOT51 synonymous (for Olson) with the term “Human Body”.
  3. People:
    • For Olson is just the plural of “person”. He says he has no philosophical axe to grind here, and has rejected the use of “persons” for purely stylistic reasons. We are allowed to read “persons” passim for “people” if we so wish.
    • However, friends52 have tried to persuade him that “people” is the plural of “human being”, and that appropriate aliens might be persons but not people, whereas human vegetables would be people but not persons.

In-Page Footnotes ("Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal: Introduction")

Footnote 1: In these Notes, I’ve not been especially careful to distinguish Olson’s points from my own, nor even Olson’s points here from those he makes elsewhere. See also the general disclaimer (Click here for Note).

Footnote 2: He says “in the last 25 years”, prior to 1997.

Footnote 20: Presumably in cases of extreme dementia, or PVS.

Footnote 22: Olson rejects this, but will discuss it in the last Chapter. See later.

Footnote 25: Better than half-brain transplant, in the case where an animalist denies that a brain is a maximally-mutilated human animal, but claims that it is just an organ.

Footnote 29: This is a new idea of mine – is it coherent?

Footnote 36:
  • I’m still not clear whether “survival” and “persistence” are synonymous.
  • However, Olson will use the terms interchangeably.
Footnote 37: Footnote 40: This remark appears under the head of “what matters”, but while Parfit does have major ethical concerns, is this central to his use of the term “what matters”?

Footnote 42: See "Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal: Alternatives".

Footnote 44:
  • The way Olson describes the situation is that a “person” has existed for 30 years. But what Olson really believes (as do I) is that it’s the human animal that has persisted 30 years, and that that human animal has been a person throughout that period. Or so I think.
  • Later, Olson admits that for him, “people” is also the plural of “human being”. So, just wht does his admission mean?
Footnote 46: So, we are animals, which fall under substance sortals; we are also, most of the time, persons, which fall under a phase sortal.

Footnote 49:
  • I partly agree (as I stated above). But this needs some spelling out (maybe it is, in the last Chapter).
  • But the question of what we are remains, and – if we were to find a solution to the problems of personal identity (as 4D appears to be) – then there would be no outstanding problems. Olson acknowledges this, but thinks his arguments are sufficiently interesting to justify the book in any case.
Footnote 51: I agree with Olson’s terminology on (1) and (2) above, and agree that organisms and bodies have different persistence criteria, so are non-identical and should not be confused.

Footnote 52:
  • I agree with these friends, and suspect there’s something underhand – or at least tendentious – in his philosophically-unorthodox use of the term “people”.
  • I’m not fully sure what his metaphysical understanding of “person” is. If “people” are just “human beings”, then his acceptance of the existence of “people” (as in his assumption 1 in the first set of assumptions above) is unremarkable and uninformative.
  • Also, I don’t yet know whether Olson makes a distinction between “human animal” and “human being”. I assume not, though others (eg. Mark Johnston) might.

"Olson (Eric) - Psychology and Personal Identity"

Source: The Human Animal, September 1999, Chapter 1, pp. 7-21

Oxford Scholarship Online
  1. Most philosophers agree that some sort of psychological continuity1 is necessary or sufficient for us to persist – the Psychological Approach to personal identity.
  2. Some implications of this view are sketched.
  3. The Biological Approach, by contrast, says that our identity, over time, consists in brute biological continuity.

  1. Human Vegetables and Cerebrum Transplants2
  2. The Psychological Approach
  3. The Biological Approach

  1. Human Vegetables and Cerebrum Transplants4
    • Olson wants to consider “our” identity over time, without at this stage deciding what “we” are.
    • To do this, he will consider some “puzzle cases” (ie. TEs5).
      1. The first is the “Vegetable Case” (ie. PVS6).
        • The cells in the cerebral cortex have died of anoxia. Claims:
          1. Brain cells don’t regenerate;
          2. Consciousness and thought are cortex-based, so are irretrievably lost.
          3. So “you7” are irretrievably non-cognitive.
        • However, the parts of the brain8 (thalamus, basal ganglia, cerebellum, brain-stem) that support your vegetative functions are more resistant to oxygen starvation and might survive intact.
        • Olson mentions Karen Quinlan (Wikipedia: Karen Ann Quinlan), who continued in a PVS9 for 10 years after10 her respirator was switched off.
        • Olson claims that the entity11 in a PVS12 is “a human animal13 as much like you as anything could be without having a mind”.
        • The human animal14 in a PVS15 is not in a coma but “is awake but unaware”; “the lights are on, but no-one’s at home”. Various reflexes remain, but there’s no behavioral responsiveness16.
        • Nor is the animal brain-dead – what Olson describes as a “ventilated corpse17” – because the brain still performs its regulative functions. The patient is alive in the sense that “oak trees and oysters18 are alive”.
        • Olson admits there is room for doubt as to whether in a PVS19 you have really lost all cognitive function, and that the loss is permanent – though this is the medical consensus. But this is effectively a TE, so for the sake of the argument20 we assume that both these assumptions are correct.
        • There are lots of ethical questions about what to do with individuals in a PVS21, but these aren’t Olson’s concern here. Rather, he wants to know what happened to “you” in this story. He doesn’t care about lots of legal issues, or quality-of-life issues either. All he wants to know is whether “you” are still there in that pathetic state. Has your existence been brought to an end as in ordinary cases of death, or have you survived?
        • Olson considers the case where you die and are cremated, and a memorial statue22 is erected in your honour. Now, you are not that statue23. If you had said that one day you would be that statue24, you would have made a false statement in a way that is not so obviously false in the case of the PVS-individual25. Whereas in the first case you have been clearly replaced by something else, has this happened in the PVS-case26?
      2. We now move on to a second TE27Cerebrum Transplants28.
        • Olson refers to “that organ” (which is most responsible for your higher cognitive functions), so is presumably thinking of both hemispheres at this stage. The supposition is that the technical wiring difficulties can be overcome29, so that “it is able to function properly inside its new head just as it once functioned inside yours”.
        • Olson assumes various things about the post-transplant30 recipient of your cerebrum31:-
          1. She is a human being32, …
          2. Psychologically more or less exactly like you,
          3. Appears33 to remember your past,
          4. Apparently34 acts on your intentions,
          5. May be physically very unlike you,
          6. Initially, her personality, tastes and affections are just like yours,
          7. She thinks35 she is you,
          8. She does not remember36 anything that happened to the person into whose head the cerebrum37 was implanted, nor does she initially38 acquire any of that person’s character.
        • What about the cerebrum39 donor? Olson correctly adduces evidence from the survival of PVS-victims40, anencephalics (Wikipedia: Anencephaly) and single-cerebrum41 excision42 to show that the donor would remain a living, but irreversibly non-cognitive, human animal43 whose biological functions continue as before.
        • In a footnote, Olson admits that cerebrum-transplants44 are science fiction, and their possibility might be questioned. However, he thinks there are no further45 difficulties than for WBTs46, and adduces the following in support of the theoretical possibility of the latter:-
          1. "Puccetti (Roland) - Brain Transplants and Personal Identity",
          2. "Snowdon (Paul) - Personal Identity and Brain Transplants" (pp. 114-7), and
          3. "Wilkes (Kathleen) - Thought Experiments", p. 37.
        • Olson asks what has become of you in the “Transplant47 Case”? He only48 considers 3 possibilities:-
          1. You are the donor, or
          2. You “go along” with your cerebrum49, or
          3. You cease50 to exist.
        • The key question Olson asks is whether one of your organs51 has been transplanted52 (as a liver might have been) leaving you in situ, or whether you have been pared down to a cerebrum53 and rehoused, the surgeon grafting the rest of the recipient’s body (and brain) onto you. Olson’s answer will no doubt appear later on54.
  2. The Psychological Approach
  3. The Biological Approach

End Notes

I made a few hand-written notes at the end of the Chapter, which are reproduced here for what little they are worth.
  1. Throughout, when Olson talks about “our” persistence, his choice is that it refers to the living human organism. This seems to make the term “person” either redundant / irrelevant or of identical reference to “human organism”.
  2. What does Olson understand by “person”?
  3. Is consciousness of “self” essential to being a person?
  4. Is Stephen Hawking (say, or a more diminished individual on a heart-lung machine & drip) a BIV216?
  5. The brain as an organ: it was certainly possible to view it so (eg. in Aristotle’s time) before its functions were understood, but no longer?
  6. It seems to me that the regulatory functions of the brain are essential to life, so if we transplant217 these – and get them to regulate another body – we have moved the animal to another body, irrespective of the mental aspects.
  7. Note different forms of Sorites218 arguments. “Paring down” atom by atom isn’t the same as gradual replacement of parts while maintaining (or gradually evolving) function.
  8. If we have a story to tell, we are in a better situation to maintain persistence.

In-Page Footnotes ("Olson (Eric) - Psychology and Personal Identity")

Footnote 3:
  • My copy of this Chapter of the book is very heavily covered with hand-written notes, most of which are reproduced and refined here.
  • In these Notes, I’ve not been especially careful to distinguish Olson’s points from my own, nor even Olson’s points here from those he makes elsewhere.
  • See also the general disclaimer.
  • This write-up is logged as a Paper Abstract rather than a Write-up Note. This is contrary to my current standard, and I will make the appropriate adjustment when I’ve completed annotating the whole book.
Footnote 7:
  • This usage is, of course, tendentious as a personalist who claims “you” are essentially a person would (or might) claim that “you” then cease to exist.
  • There is opportunity to quibble over the assumptions / claims – just which parts of the brain are responsible for what? But, I suppose, the case could always be patched up according to the contingencies of actual brain function – this is an empirical matter.
Footnote 8: Footnote 10: This is correct. She was initially put on a respirator, but taken off after a court battle – presumably to die, but she lived on for the reasons Olson gives.

Footnote 11:
  • It is difficult to know what to call KQ.
  • One is tempted to say “person” but this is tendentious.
  • Human animal” is correct, though some will say it’s equally tendentious, as insufficient.
Footnote 16: This seems to be the definition of (at least the VS part of) a PVS; note the sharp contrast between PVS and brain-death.

Footnote 17:
  • So, presumably, Olson considers brain-dead individuals to be dead.
  • Yet, while the body cannot breathe unaided, it must be carrying on a lot of its vegetative functions, metabolizing food and maintaining its body temperature, etc. Presumably only the autonomic nervous system is required for this.
  • Olson uses the politically-incorrect term “human vegetable” for the individual in the PVS, but this seems better reserved for a brain-dead individual.
  • That is, if Olson wants to claim that the individual in the PVS is still an animal, even though it cannot perform any of the (Aristotelian) animalian functions.
Footnote 18: Oysters are animals, while oak trees are vegetables. A person in a PVS cannot display any goal-directed behavior in the sense that (even) oysters can. So, can they be said to be displaying animalian characteristics?

Footnote 20: But we’re (going to be) interested in what we are (maybe not in this chapter) so we can’t assume too much that is counter-factual.

Footnote 26:
  • I have some final hand-written footnotes asking
    1. whether identity and non-identity are the only alternatives,
    2. whether there are degrees of connectedness, and
    3. what is the situation with corpses, biological human beings being cyborgised and bones becoming fossils.
  • Presumably, I ought to follow these points up later?
Footnote 27: This may be a simpler case – for the animalist – than the WBT.

Footnote 29:
  • This is a big ask, conceptually as well as practically.
  • The supposition that brains – or brain-parts – can be rehoused in a new head and make sense of their new bodies – or be integrated with the host brain-part – is very moot.
  • For example, the sensory homunculus covers the cerebrum, so how would this map to the new body?
  • Connections are reinforced using “connectionist” principles, so how could these – even in principle – be surgically applied – or even known without destroying what is to be transplanted.
  • As always, these are empirical matters – cerebra might have been more “modular” – but we are talking about “us”.
  • "Claxton (Guy) - Intelligence in the Flesh: Why Your Mind Needs Your Body Much More Than it Thinks" argues that the entire body is involved in thought.
Footnote 33: She does “recall” your past, but “memory” – as distinct from “quasi-memory” – assumes the identity of the recaller with the individual whose experiences are recalled.

Footnote 34: I’m not sure of Olson’s grammar here, as to whether the “apparently” caries through. Maybe it’s just that intentions are private to the intender, deduced from the actions.

Footnote 35:
  • Baker would say that she has your FPP. She probably has.
  • But, this is very unlike the teletransportation case, as the cerebrum-recipient (like Locke’s prince and cobbler) has lots of physical evidence that she is not who she thinks she is, or has at the very least been subject to very radical change.
  • Yet, if Baker is right, and persons are individuated by FPPs, then she is right to consider herself you.
  • But, there is room for doubt that the FPP has been transferred – it may depend on how the case is described – eg. as in "Williams (Bernard) - The Self and the Future".
Footnote 36:
  • To avoid tendentiousness, this probably ought to read “recall”,
  • Is all memory cerebrum-based?
Footnote 38:
  • Maybe she would over time, having the body-donor’s body and environment, presumably.
  • It’s an empirical matter whether she would retain / lose / acquire any skills that might be (substantially) enabled by non-cerebral parts of the CNS / PNS.
Footnote 42: Not the same as a lobotomy (Wikipedia: Lobotomy).

Footnote 45:
  • Philosophically, WBTs are entirely different to CTs, but here we are talking about practical issues.
  • For WBTs, presumably, the “only” technical problem is wiring up the nerves in the spinal cord. Even this is doubtful, as there might (for all I know) be a mismatch for different bodies – ie. would we have any “nerves” or “connectors” left over?
  • But for cerebra, it’s not clear what would be wired to what.
Footnote 48:
  • He doesn’t consider the possibility – coherent under a 4D account of persistence – that you might have fissioned, or that the transfer is a case of fusion.
  • He doesn’t seem to specify what happened to the recipient’s cerebrum. I presume it is taken to have been destroyed.
Footnote 50: This is hard to believe – on any account of PID – because:-
  • If you are a human animal, you would have survived even if the cerebrum had not been re-housed (analogously to the PVS case).
  • If you are a person, and the resulting fusion is not you, then admittedly you would have ceased to exist.
  • But if you are a person, then the recipient would have ceased to exist (or had moved) when its cerebrum was removed, so there is no principled reason for doubting that you would continue to exist, rehoused, as the recipient is the unique individual enjoying (we suppose) your psychological properties, with appropriate spatio-temporal continuity, etc.
Footnote 51: Footnote 54: Check that it does, and amend this footnote!

Footnote 60: So, Olson points out that this biological continuity is more intimate than that which you would bear to your corpse.

Footnote 63:
  • This distinction between cerebra and whole brains is important.
  • The controlling function of the brain-stem and higher brain means that it would be unconvincing to describe this as “just another organ”, while – despite the popularity of the PV – this seems much more reasonable for cerebra.
  • That said, most “organs” have clearly defined boundaries and connections, whereas this isn’t so – or not to the same degree – for the cerebral hemispheres.
Footnote 67:
  • There is enough physical continuity to satisfy the holder of the psychological view that there’s sufficient causal continuity for the recipient’s psychology to be (initially) identical to your own (rather than a copy).
  • And there is biological continuity at the cellular level – you could describe the situation as your most important part having moved from one life-support machine to another.
  • I have a (probably confused) footnote to the effect that Olson may well (as I do) consider a (human) person to be a phase sortal of a human animal. But, if so, is it possible for that (very same) phase sortal to hop from one animal to another? I suspect not.
Footnote 71: So, I might add, does Fred Feldman, though not Olson himself.

Footnote 72:
  • Johnston’s view is that each of us is a “Locus of Mental Life”, and that this locus is the brain – so we go where our brain goes.
  • If we are such a locus – wherever this is instantiated – then it would be a conceptual truth that we can’t be outlived by that life.
  • I’ve now written up Johnston’s paper – which deserves the close reading I’ve given it.
Footnote 74:
  • It seems to me that, it would at least beg the question – and may even be incoherent – to say that one’s biological and psychological continuity can come apart.
  • Still, it’s an interesting question – on the animalist view – who owns the psychological continuity. I’m not sure what Olson’s answer is.
Footnote 75: This is an example of the distinction between epistemological and metaphysical questions.

Footnote 76: I usually refer to this as the PV.

Footnote 77:
  • This is a weaker claim than that I am (identical to) my mind, or that minds can exist disembodied, and the like.
  • Quite what makes a bundle of mental states “my mind” is a difficult question for a holder of the PV to answer, as are the reduplication objections.
Footnote 79:
  • I don’t have a Note on Content – maybe I should!
  • I have a collection of papers on the sub-topic “Content” (see this link). However, most will be associated with slightly different topic in the philosophy of Mind. I do need a Note to sort this out!
Footnote 80: I don’t have a Note on this either!

Footnote 83: Is he therefore saying that the relation isn’t symmetric? Does it matter?

Footnote 87:
  • Or, a time when I remembered a time … This is the ancestral of memory, though Olson doesn’t use the term.
  • I’ve dealt with this in an essay on Locke.
Footnote 90: Olson draws no distinction between continuity and connectedness.

Footnote 92:
  • This is a consequence of the “contents-based” PV, but seems very counter-intuitive.
  • The main challenge – from the psychological perspective – is from the presumed continuity of the FPP.
Footnote 93: See Wikipedia: Korsakoff's Syndrome, etc.

Footnote 94: Perry contrasts a “brain zap” – where memories are totally removed – with “amnesia” in which they are present, but inaccessible.

Footnote 96: Footnote 97: Indeed, he says Unger “qualifies it” in pp. 147-52, ie. in "Unger (Peter) - A Physically Based Approach To Our Survival".

Footnote 98: Footnote 101: Olson (like many) oscillates between “material” and “physical”. There’s a technical distinction between the two concepts, but not so as to cause a problem in the present context.

Footnote 103:
  • That, is, so you continue to be a person.
  • One could quibble about whether more than a cerebrum is needed to support consciousness.
  • Of course, Olson will challenge whether this is even sufficient, as he treats the cerebrum as “just another organ”, which can be replaced without affecting our (numerical) identity, and certainly doesn’t take “us” with it if transplanted.
Footnote 105: Footnote 106: This is important – your mental contents (and maybe your mental capacities) might be physically preserved – as Olson suggests – in a big book and posted rather than being transmitted telegraphically.

Footnote 109: Is this just sloppiness? Survival may or may not be equivalent to persistence. See Parfit.

Footnote 110: In the absence of a Perdurantist account of persistence.

Footnote 116: Olson doesn’t here mention the Closest Continuer theory.

Footnote 118: Olson doesn’t quite put matters like that.

Footnote 120: This statement shows that the book is intended as a positive statement of Animalism, rather than a refutation of the PV.

Footnote 124: I have a footnote questioning whether this strictly makes Olson not an animalist. I need to check the strict usage of this term.

Footnote 125: Olson irritatingly uses the term “people” rather than the accepted term of art “persons”. I will use “persons”.

Footnote 127:
  • I don’t think Olson says what he understands a person – or “people” in his terms – to be.
  • However, intelligence, rationality and consciousness seem to be on his list of required attributes.
Footnote 131:
  • Thus, Olson seems to dismiss out of hand Locke’s main claim to fame in this area – the distinction between “persons” and “men”.
  • However, the distinction can be maintained by the Animalist – by taking “person” to be a non-substance term, but rather an honorific applied to the substances, human animals (and other substances that deserve it).
Footnote 147:
  • Olson says “people”, again when he really ought to say “persons”.
  • He gives a couple of sample attributes: rationality and the capacity for self-consciousness.
Footnote 148:
  • The two others seem to be candidates for being Phase Sortals, while this one seems rather flippant.
  • The important point is that students (say) are not separate individuals from the persons (or animals) that are students, but pick them out during phases of their careers.
  • This is also my “line” on what human persons are – phase sortals of human animals.
  • The important point is that – if this is what persons are – then we are not persons; Olson’s view is that we are animals, full stop, though we may be persons for periods of our existence.
Footnote 153:
  • This is an interesting alternative description of what is supposed to take place.
  • I agree that it is inappropriate in this case; the reasons being:-
    → A cerebrum is not an animal, and
    → There are two cerebrums, so there are reduplication objections (though maybe Olson means both cerebrums to avoid this objection).
  • However, it is more appropriate in the case of a WBT.
Footnote 156: This reads oddly. Rather, it’s like an organ donation – eg. of a kidney to a sibling.

Footnote 157:
  • This is the key claim.
  • There would be o temptation to say that you had ceased to exist, or “were no longer the same person” if you lost your liver, but many would claim this if you lost all mental capacity.
Footnote 158: Shouldn’t this be “kidneys”, though removing toxins from the blood is one of the many functions of the liver?

Footnote 160: These memories are your memories, but only apparent memories for the recipient of your cerebrum if that person isn’t you.

Footnote 188:
  • I don’t seem to have a Note on the “physical criterion”, though I do have one on physical continuity, and also on the psychological criterion. I need to create an extra Note.
  • However, I’m not sure there is any one such view.
  • What Olson describes sounds to me like the Brain Criterion.
Footnote 194: Footnote 196: Footnote 197: I have my doubts about van Inwagen in this regard.

Footnote 199: See the discussion on Corpses.

Footnote 201: I have the right edition, and this is the start of the section on Personal Identity in Chapter 20 (“Mind and Body”).

Footnote 202: This would be just the last two pages of the Chapter, so the pagination may be wrong.

Footnote 203: The Section on “Disembodied Survival”.

Footnote 204: I have the second edition from 1998 and the pagination is different.

Footnote 205: Footnote 207: I don’t know what this caveat is supposed to mean.

Footnote 212: Several things here:-
  1. I agree that Wiggins’s work is “difficult”, and wonder whether Olson has him right.
  2. Saying that human animals – as distinct from human persons – “perish” when lapsing into a PVS seems clearly incorrect.
  3. It looks to me as though Wiggins is taking the person as the substance term, a person being a phase sortal of a human animal. In contrast Olson – as do I – takes the animal as the substance, so I am identical to the animal, but have the property of being a person for stages of my existence.
  4. Wiggins updated his views in "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance Renewed", 2001, after Olson was writing.
  5. He had earlier (1996) clarified his views in an interchange - "Snowdon (Paul) - Persons and Personal Identity" & "Wiggins (David) - Reply to Snowdon (Persons and Personal Identity)" - recorded in "Lovibond (Sabina) & Williams (S.G.) - Identity, Truth & Value: Essays for David Wiggins", though Olson makes no mention of this.
Footnote 214:
  • This is what Olson refers to elsewhere as the “brain transplant intuition”.
  • It is really hard to resist – so much so that saying that a brain is a “maximally mutilated” (or “pared down”) human organism may be the way to go.
  • We don’t need to include psychology as the motivator for this intuition – the regulatory function may do – but have the psychological “first person perspective” benefits come along for the ride.
  • That said, the brain transplantee would consider himself to have swapped bodies, there would be a principled reason why he has, no rival candidates and little objection in either the philosophical or wider community. What more could you want?

"Olson (Eric) - Persistence"

Source: The Human Animal, September 1999, Chapter 2, pp. 22-41

Oxford Scholarship Online
  1. This chapter is about how to state the question of personal identity over time.
  2. The question is often put in a way that assumes a person cannot start out or end up as a nonperson.
  3. This prejudges an important metaphysical question, and rules out the Biological Approach.
  4. The chapter then turns to the language of identity over time in general.

  1. Criteria of Personal Identity
  2. Substance Concepts
  3. Movers and Thinkers
  4. “Person P1 and Time t1

  1. Criteria of Personal Identity
    • The Psychological Approach is a proposed criterion of personal identity – what it takes for a person to exist at two different times.
    • Olson sees two problems with making the claim sufficiently precise to be accepted by both supporters and detractors:-
      1. Confusion about persistence through time in general – to be treated in Section 4 of this Chapter.
      2. What is it to give a criterion of identity2 for people3 as opposed to other things?
    • Olson has a couple of stabs at the criterion in logical form4.
      1. The first is a psychological relation R between a person at one time, and another individual at another time. There is no explicit pre-requisite that this “second” individual be a person, but it clearly must be capable of entertaining a psychology such that R holds.
      2. The second version – just an example – makes R explicit. Requirements are psychological continuity5 and uniqueness at each time between the end-times of identification.
    • Olson’s preferred understanding of the question is to take someone who is a person at a time and ask under what conditions is something – “anything at all” – existing at another time numerically identical to that person.
    • There is – however – an objection, which Olson dismisses6. Some say that you can’t say anything of a “thing” without saying what sort of thing you are referring to. In David Wiggins’s terms, a “thing” is “not an adequate covering concept”.
    • Olson stresses – with an allusion to "Wiggins (David) - Outline of a Theory of Individuation (S&S)", p. 53 (“Proposition D and the rationale of the ‘same what?’ question”) – that such “criteria” are constitutive rather than epistemic – they are about what “our identity through time consists in” not about how “we find out whether a person has survived or perished”.
    • Olson points out the radical distinction between his formulation of the criterion for a person’s persistence through time and that proposed by the majority of philosophers: Olson has the later individual unconstrained in kind7, while the majority view is that both putative identicals have to be persons.
    • Olson thinks there are several reasons why the majority view is objectionable:-
      1. A quibble: “same person” is ambiguous. While taken by philosophers to require numerical identity8, there are alternative understandings of “sameness relations”:-
        1. Numerically distinct individuals can be the same K, for some K: eg. Bill Clinton and Robert Reagan were the same official.
        2. Analogously9, non-philosophers may understand “being the same person” as a resemblance or continuity that neither entails nor is entailed by numerical identity10. Someone may no longer “be the same person” since she underwent some major psychological change (such as a religious conversion). Olson will discuss this further in the next Chapter ("Olson (Eric) - Why We Need Not Accept the Psychological Approach").
      2. We can satisfy the previous objection by using the expression “being one and the same as” rather than “being the same person as”. However, this raises a deeper issue …
      3. The “same person” relation relies on you persisting as a person – but this prejudges the issue.
      4. The term “person” is usually used by philosophers to imply the capacities of rationality and self-consciousness11 – so that “you and I are “people12” whereas dogs and cats aren’t”.
      5. Olson notes that not all philosophers agree with this definition of “person13”. We’re referred to two:-
        1. "Chisholm (Roderick) - Coming Into Being and Passing Away: Can the Metaphysician Help?", p. 181: Chisholm says that a person is anything that can come to be rational and conscious. Olson claims this is “no more than a verbal disagreement” – but it strikes me as substantive, as it would make fetuses14 persons, which many deny.
        2. "Wiggins (David) - Locke, Butler and the Stream of Consciousness: And Men as Natural Kind", p. 164ff: Wiggins – for reasons Olson finds “obscure15” – thinks that the Lockean definition of “person” is “morally and politically pernicious”.
      6. It is at least arguable – on this definition of “person” – that fetuses16 are not persons, and that those in a PVS17 are not persons. So, each of us – it might be argued18 – might not be or remain a person throughout the full period of our existence.
      7. Even if – for some reason – this is not so, it is a question for philosophical investigation, and should not be decided merely by our definition of persistence for persons.
    • Olson rejects the view that it is in some sense paradoxical that a person can exist while not yet being, or no longer being, a person. His analogy is with “infant”. When an infant grows up, he is no longer an infant, but that infant continues to exist – as an adult or a philosopher. Olson wants us to treat “person” just as we treat19 “infant” (or “adult” or “philosopher”). He’ll address this matter further in Section II (“Substance Concepts”).
    • Olson considers whether his proposal is purely verbal. If personal identity is about persons, then either:-
      1. He’s disagreeing with his opponents about the meaning of the words “personal identity”, or |
      2. He’s refusing to discuss the topic of personal identity and talking about something else instead.
      In support of this contention, we are referred to
      → "Gert (Bernard) - Personal Identity and the Body", p. 475 ff, “the question of personal identity does not arise if the body has no psychological features”, and
      → "Johnston (Mark) - Relativism and the Self", p. 449
    • He admits that there are indeed two questions – the broad one he wants to consider, where one end-point is unconstrained, and the narrow one restricted to persons at both ends. Both questions are legitimate, but – Olson claims – philosophers often mistakenly ask the narrow question when they mean to be asking the broad one. He thinks the narrow question uninteresting20.
      1. In support of this contention, Olson points out that – while a standard psychological criterion21 answering the narrow question would agree that if your cerebrum is transplanted22, the recipient would be you, thereby ruling out the BV as an answer to the broad23 question, it is silent on other questions.
      2. So, in the transplant24 case where your cerebrum25 is destroyed, it says nothing about whether you survive – other than if you do, it’s not as a person. Similarly with the vegetable case.
    • Olson thinks that supporters of the PV26 intend their answers to be of the broad question. They claim that you cease to exist when your mind is destroyed – not just that you cease to be a person.
    • If it were a necessary truth that “person27” is a substance28 concept, then the broad and narrow questions would be equivalent, which is why they are so often run together. This will be addressed in the next section.
    • If I could start as a person and end as a non-person, isn’t it misleading to describe the problem of my persistence as “personal identity”?
    • Olson’s response is that we are people, and he’s interested in our identity, just the same as has historically been the case.
    • However, he denies that there is any single criterion of identity29 suitable for all and only people (“persons”) – he runs through the usual list of potential persons – as they have different persistence conditions30.
    • However, according to Olson’s version of the BV, the question of our identity boils down to “under what possible circumstances is something that is a human animal31 at one time the same animal32 as a human animal33 at another time?”. Yet, stating the question of our identity this way is as tendentious34 as the narrow statement of the PV35.
    • So, in summary – Olson claims – there is no such thing as “personal identity” and more than “philosopher identity”. We can ask what it takes for a philosopher to persist through time, but not as a philosopher. The same goes for infants and – Olson claims – “people”.
  2. Substance Concepts
    • Supporters of the PV36 typically assume without question that personhood is what Wiggins (in "Wiggins (David) - Identity & Spatio-temporal Continuity" – ie. "Wiggins (David) - Identity & Spatio-temporal Continuity: Parts 1.3-8: Five Ways to be Wrong About Relative Identity", p. 7 – and "Wiggins (David) - The Absoluteness of Sameness (S&S)", p. 24) calls a substance concept. While I may also be an adult, a human being, a club member, being a person is a more privileged position because “a person” is what I am37 most fundamentally, and it is this – it is assumed – that determines my persistence conditions38. I’m a person first and everything else second.
    • Olson gives an extensive quotation from "Wiggins (David) - The Absoluteness of Sameness (S&S)", p. 15 to the effect that:-
      1. Every particular object falls under some kind or concept39 that tells us – or would tell us if we knew it – what that object is, as distinct from describing some accidental features of it, and
      2. This concept determines the persistence conditions40 that necessarily apply to things of this kind.
    • Olson claims that this view – hailing originally from Aristotle (says Wiggins) – is too fundamental to argue for against a detractor, but is one that he will rely on throughout this book.
    • However, the theory of substance doesn’t tell us what substance concept we fall under.
    • Olson claims that treating person as a substance concept has two interesting consequences:-
      1. All persons would have the same persistence conditions41 – and if not we’d have to invent further substance concepts like A-people and B-people.
      2. Once a person, always a person. It would be incoherent to talk about former people or potential people. A non-person doesn’t have its persistence criteria42 in virtue of being a person, and a thing cannot change its persistence criteria43 partway through its career. This will be discussed further in Chapter 4 ("Olson (Eric) - Was I Ever a Fetus? (Human Animal)").
    • So, if I was once a non-person, and survived the transition from non-person to person, there must be some other substance-concept under which I fall. Olson also claims that this would show that person is not a substance-concept44.
    • We need to distinguish substance concepts from what Wiggins – in the same two references cited at the start of this Section – calls phase sortals45, such as “child”, which are kinds that something can belong to temporarily. Phase sortals46 as such47 don’t have persistence criteria48, and to become a philosopher is not to come into existence simpliciter.
    • Olson has an extensive footnote on “a complication that he shall ignore”:-
      1. In "Wiggins (David) - Identity & Spatio-temporal Continuity: Parts 1.3-8: Five Ways to be Wrong About Relative Identity", p. 7, Wiggins:-
        1. Defines substance concepts as “sortal49 concepts which present-tensedly apply to an individual x at every moment throughout x’s existence”, and
        2. Claims that these “give the privileged and (unless context makes it otherwise) the most fundamental answer to the question ‘what is x?’
      2. However, it might be possible for something to be a substance concept in sense (a) without being so in sense (b).
      3. Sense (a) is “an abiding sort” in "Snowdon (Paul) - Persons, Animals, and Ourselves", p. 87 or a “temporally essential attribute” in "Lockwood (Michael) - When Does a Life Begin?", p. 12.
      4. Olson equates sense (b) with “determining the persistence conditions50 for all and only things of that kind”, but I don’t see why he makes this leap. He calls sense (b) an “ultimate sort”.
      5. This theory appears after a fairly long motivating example: if people shared all their persistence conditions51 with some non-people – such as gorillas – then they would have their persistence criteria52 in virtue of falling under some kind that included both people and gorillas - thinking being maybe. While it would be true that we are people – and true (for the sake of the argument) that we are people throughout our careers, a more fundamental answer to the “what are we53?” question would be “a member of the wider class that includes both people and gorillas”. I didn’t see the cogency54 of this argument at all.
    • So, anyone who takes person to be a substance concept can argue for the PV55 as follows:-
      1. The concept of a person is at least partly a psychological concept: any person has to be rational and self-aware, for instance.
      2. Because people have their persistence conditions56 in virtue of their being people, we should expect their persistence conditions57 to have something to do with psychology.
      3. So, at the least, we can expect a person not to survive in a PVS58, or as the relict following a cerebrum transplant59, as such beings aren’t people.
    • Olson claims, therefore, that anyone who takes person to be a substance concept in effect assumes the PV60.
    • If person is only a phase sortal61, then the above argument is no more convincing than would be one of the same form that claimed that an athlete62 could not survive the loss of his athletic abilities. Such an argument is invalid because athlete is not a substance concept – because athletes do not have their persistence conditions63 in virtue of being athletes.
    • So, according to the BV, person is not a substance concept but a phase sortal64 like athlete.
    • Olson rehearses the usual examples of non-biological persons with different persistence conditions65 to human persons and that biological people have the same persistence conditions66 some as non-persons (fetuses67 or those in a PVS)68.
    • He adds that it is likely that our persistence conditions69 are the same as aardvarks70, oysters or animals in general.
    • So, our substance concept – what we most fundamentally are – is not person but rather Homo Sapiens, animal or71 living organism.
    • Derek Parfit has suggested to Olson that “person” is ambiguous and can be used either as a phase sortal72 or as a substance concept. This might reduce discussion to arguments about words – what is the primary English usage of the word “person”, say. However, Olson thinks the suggestion gets us into “deep waters”: both these terms cannot apply to a person at the same time, because a phase sortal73 person would fall under a substance-concept other than PersonAnimal for instance – that has persistence conditions74 inconsistent with the substance concept Person. A phase sortal75 person would have modal76 and possibility historical properties impossible for a substance-concept Person.
    • So, in what sense of Person are we people?
      1. If we are phase sortal77 people, the PV78 is false, as we might once have been non-people, and so could survive radical psychological discontinuity.
      2. If we are people in the substance-concept sense, the PV79 is true.
    • But, the issue is non-verbal:-
      1. If the PV80 is true, there could not be any people of the phase sortal81 sort for if there were they would be rational, self-conscious agents of whom the PV82 is false. We are referred to Chapter 5 ("Olson (Eric) - Are People Animals?"), Section V (“Why We Are Animals”).
      2. If the BV is true, there are presumably no people83 in the substance-concept sense even if there is such a substance-concept84.
    • In the next section Olson will consider an argument that there is no substance-concept sense85 of ‘person’.
  3. Movers and Thinkers
    • If person is a substance-concept, it’s easy to argue that the PV86 is true. However, if not, it’s hard to see how the PV87 could be true. If we are animals, say, in that our persistence conditions88 are those of animals, then those persistence conditions89 cannot be psychological, as many animals persist without any psychology at all.
    • This raises a difficult challenge for the PV90, because it’s not clear that person (or thinker91, or similar) could be a substance concept.
    • Olson reminds us of the difference between substance-concepts, that answer “what is it?” questions, and other concepts that answer attributive questions (“where is it?”, “what does it weigh?”, …).
    • Olson thinks that “person” – in the sense considered by the PV92 – focuses on what an individual does, rather than what it is. Such a person can ordinarily think in a certain way – it is rational, conscious, self-aware, morally accountable93, and the like. But this capacity doesn’t tell us what it is – it might be94 a human animal95, an angel Cartesian ego96, …
    • Olson attempts to show the difficulty by his “locomotor” analogy97:-
      1. We are to imagine a philosopher impressed by “locomotive capacities” – the ability to move under one’s own steam, a capacity shared by human beings and lots of other things. Such beings are “locomotors”.
      2. By analogy with TEs involving cerebrum transplants98 according to the PV99, we are to imagine that:-
        1. A ship with a broken engine ceases to exist;
        2. Adding a motor to a prior non-locomotor creates a numerically different individual;
        3. Moving the engine from one ship to another makes the recipient identical to the donor.
        4. If locomotor has two engines – by analogy with the two cerebral hemispheres – fission paradoxes arise if they are transplanted100.
        5. If a locomotor (eg. Stephen Hawking) loses its means of locomotion, it perishes, even though it is otherwise fully functional
      3. Why is the locomotor theory so daft?
        1. Compare crabs and barnacles. Our theory is unimpressed by evolutionary101 proximity and similar physiology but insists that they – and even crabs that cannot move – belong to different substantial kinds.
        2. Juvenile barnacles are locomotors – pending their attachment to their rock – so are numerically distinct from their sessile adults, having – on this theory – different persistence conditions102.
        3. If we compare a healthy crab with a model airplane they are anatomically utterly distinct and have different ways of maintaining themselves – or being maintained – in existence. But our locomotor theorist is unimpressed – the fact that they are both locomotors is sufficient for them to form a kind.
        4. If – somehow – crabs and battleships did have the same persistence conditions103 – different to barnacles and rowboats – we would not expect this to be because the former are locomotors and the latter not, but because – contrary to all expectation – crabs and battleships turned out to have some more significant feature in common.
        5. Self-locomotion is just not the sort of feature that could determine an object’s persistence conditions104. Locomotor could not be a substance-concept.
      4. Further:-
        1. If you ask “what’s that” pointing to a crab, and get the answer “a locomotor”, this doesn’t answer your question. Lots of things can move, but what is this one? So, what’s wrong with the “locomotor” answer?
        2. Olson thinks this is a difficult matter, but that part of the problem is that locomotion is dispositional or functional property realized in a wide variety of intrinsic structures. Locomotors may have little in common beyond the ability to perform a certain task – and even that may be grounded in completely different internal structures.
        3. Morover, some non-locomotors have more in common with some locomotors than different locomotors have with one another.
        4. So, locomotion appears to be a superficial similarity. A difference or similarity in one particular ability need have no wider significance.
        5. locomotion is a mere capacity – and one that is not closely connected to a thing’s internal structure. Anything whatever that is functionally-equivalent will do.
          Hence, Locomotor is a functional kind, rather than a substance-concept.
      5. Assuming that this is a correct diagnosis of the problems with “locomotors”, Olson now makes the explicit comparison with way the PV105 takes “person” to be a substance-concept:-
        1. Person also seems to be a functional kind rather than a substance-concept. To be a person is to have certain mental properties, and – according to a widely-accepted theory106 – these are essentially dispositions. Mental states have causal powers, and there’s no a priori reason why these have to be grounded in brain-states. Other structures – in Martians or computers – might do just as well, so such beings might also be people.
        2. Personhood is – like locomotion – merely107 a capacity of a thing. Olson claims – maybe improbably – that the various candidate persons have less in common than crabs and battleships (candidate locomotors). So, saying someone is a person tells us even less about them than calling them a locomotor.
        3. Olson points out the PV108 analogies to the “daft” consequences of the locomotor theory given above. While the analogies are fairly obvious, some of what he has to say is sufficiently contentious to be worth remarking on.
      6. “Daft” consequences:-
        1. Olson claims that just as a barnacle larva would cease to exist on losing its locomotive capacity, so would a human organism cease to exist on losing its mental capacities – and both are numerically distinct from the sessile / non-cognitive beings that supersede them. This seems a conceptual error to me109.
        2. He also points out the intended analogy that a cerebrum110 transfer extinguishes the recipient animal. I think this is open to the same objection.
        3. Both theories claim that different members of the same biological species111 may fall under different substance concepts, and have completely different persistence conditions112.
        4. Olson will consider these matters further in
          → Chapter 4: "Olson (Eric) - Was I Ever a Fetus? (Human Animal)", and
          → Chapter 5: "Olson (Eric) - Are People Animals?"
      7. So, supporters of the PV113 need to explain why person is a substance-concept, while locomotor isn’t.
      8. The BV doesn’t have this problem, as human animal114 and similar variants are paradigm-cases of substance-concepts, and an excellent answer115 to the question “what is it that thinks”.
    • Olson now considers the objection that personhood is more than a mere dispositional property and having certain psychological capacities. Maybe it is more like animal or immaterial substance than locomotor.
      1. It’s hard to evaluate this claim without an actual proposal116.
      2. However, Olson doesn’t think it’ll be possible because the difference between persons and non-persons of the same ((human) species is simply a matter of what they can do – one can think and act and the other – an anencephalic infant, say – cannot.
      3. Of course, these abilities – or the lack thereof – are grounded in neural structures, but these are not part of the concept of a person since non-human, non-biological persons can be such without any biological brains at all. It’s only what the brain can do that’s important.
    • Can’t we restrict117 the scope of the PV118 to human people?
      1. Olson thinks it would be “surprising” if the PV119 only applied to human people.
      2. Even if there are in fact only human people, there might have been non-human ones.
      3. Such non-human-persons – whether angels or aliens – would have the same reasons for accepting the PV120 as human persons. Why should they be mistaken and we correct?
      4. It seems that some versions of the PV121 – eg. Peter Unger’s – require physical as well as psychological continuity122, so cannot apply to immaterial people.
      5. But – says Olson – we should not expect such an account to be true of material people unless some generalization were true of immaterial people.
      6. That is, if we survive just in case our mental capacities are preserved in a physically continuous way – we should expect any person to survive just in case her mental capacities are preserved in some analogous way123.
  4. “Person P1 and Time t1
    • Olson now turns to a technical matter that he says deserves more attention than it has received, though it “may never have led anyone astray” so the bored are encouraged to skip124!
    • The problem of PID is usually stated as the filling in of the dots in a statement like
        A: x at time t is identical to y at time t* iff …
      with a criterion of identity125.
    • But, how are we to understand the variables and times? Should we make substitutions like in the formulation below?
        B: Tom today is identical to Tim tomorrow iff …
    • How are we to understand the temporal qualifications?
      1. They seem to be adverbs telling us when the predicates are true of the subjects. So, is B telling us that the identity holds between Tom and Tim at two different times, just like Tom might visit Tim at two different times? In that case, the formulation would be
          C: Tom and Tim are one, both today and tomorrow, iff …
      2. Olson thinks this cannot be right. There is no point qualifying a predicate with an adverb unless different adverbs can change the truth value of the sentence. Tom doesn’t visit Tim all the time, but if Tom and Tim are one, they are necessarily126 so and not just identical at certain times. It’s as odd as saying “5 is greater than 3 in Cleveland”.
      3. However, a possibility is that the temporal predicates merely indicate that Tom and Tim exist at the times in question. This would lead to
          D: Tom and Tim are identical, and exist today and tomorrow, iff …
      4. Hence127, the temporal adverbs in A and B modify the predicate “exists” – which appears in the “deep structure” of the sentences – rather than “is identical with”. If so, it is at best misleading to use them to talk of identity through time. Additionally, the order of the temporal adverbs could be reversed without affecting the sense, and one could be omitted while leaving a meaningful sentence.
      5. Olson doesn’t think this is what philosophers want to say when using “x at t”. When we fill out A to become
          x at t is identical to y at t* iff x at t is psychologically continuous with y at t*
        we cannot simply reverse the times or leave one out without changing the meaning.
    • Some have argued against the adverbial use of the temporal predicates, saying what is meant by “Tom today” is a noun phrase signifying the temporal part of Tom that occurs today.
      • We are referred to "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Plantinga on Trans-world Identity" (1985) and to Chapter 7 ("Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal: Alternatives"), Section III.
      • This proposal seems to give us an awkward choice. Either:-
        1. The “identity statement” is not talking about identity at all, but is saying that the “today part” of Tom is part of the same person as the “tomorrow part” of Tim, or
        2. If it is talking about identity, it’s making a false statement as temporal parts even of the same individual cannot be identical unless they are the very same part, though "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Plantinga on Trans-world Identity", p. 106 shows how the temporal-part theorist can avoid this.
      • In any case, this option is only open to those who espouse the “contentious” doctrine of temporal parts. Olson will discuss this in Chapter 7 (see reference above).
      • However, there is a kernel of truth in this proposal …
    • How are we to understand the relata of the identity predicate?
      1. The temporal adverbs do not modify the identity predicate. Rather, they determine the relata of that predicate: “they are components of complex noun phrases”.
      2. “Tom” and “Tim” are bad examples as their reference cannot be modified by temporal qualification: they are rigid designators128.
      3. A better example would be of Definite Descriptions129; “the sapling back then” … “the tree today”.
      4. So, Schema A is – if interpreted in the usual way – both semantically and grammatically confused. A better attempt would be:-
          The x that is F at t is the y that is G at t*
    • So, if we interpret the temporal expressions in identity statements as closet Definite Descriptions, what are we to make of the conditions of identity?
      1. We are referred to "Noonan (Harold) - Personal Identity", Chapter 1 - "Noonan (Harold) - An Initial Survey" p. 13 (“The revised psychological continuity130 criterion”)
          P2 at t2 is the same person as P1 at t1 iff P2 at t2 is psychologically continuous with P1 at t1
      2. Psychological continuity131 is a 4-place relation between two people and two times.
      3. Olson gives an example of someone who suffered some radical psychological change (then) 10 years ago. She is now psychologically continuous with herself following this change, but not with herself before the change – as is agreed by both those who say she survived the change and those who deny it132. We cannot leave out the times.
      4. So, Olson claims that the least misleading way of claiming that psychological continuity133 is necessary134 for a person to persist is:-
          Necessarily, for any x that is a person at t, and any y that exists at another time t*, x=y only if x is at t psychologically continuous with y as she is at t*.

In-Page Footnotes ("Olson (Eric) - Persistence")

Footnote 1:
  • In these Notes, I’ve not been especially careful to distinguish Olson’s points from my own, nor even Olson’s points here from those he makes elsewhere.
  • See also the general disclaimer.
  • This write-up is logged as a Paper Abstract rather than a Write-up Note. This is contrary to my current standard, and I will make the appropriate adjustment when I’ve completed annotating the whole book.
Footnote 3:
  • As always, Olson says “people” rather than “persons”.
  • Maybe he means by “people” specifically human persons, but I doubt it.
  • I will usually restrain myself from complaining about this usage further, and will often follow Olson’s usage without comment.
Footnote 4:
  • I won’t repeat the formalism here, but just draw out salient points.
  • Olson’s preferred formulation is given at the end of Section 4 of this Chapter.
Footnote 5: Footnote 6:
  • He gives a formula, and says that nothing Wiggins says would make it “illegitimate, incomplete or incomprehensible”.
  • This may be the case, but the reason for this is that when the comparison is made, the “thing” would have a covering concept applied – for instance “is this human animal in a PVS numerically identical to this person?”. Olson just wants to keep the covering concept of the later individual open – and I agree.
  • It would have been helpful if Olson had supplied a reference to Wiggins. I’ll add this later.
Footnote 7: Several issues here:-
  1. Olson doesn’t use the term “Kind” immediately, but does so when he gets to shared office-holders forming a kind.
  2. Do “persons” as such form a kind? This – presumably – depends what we mean by “kind”. Olson seems to use it where others might use “sort” or Sortal.
  3. Can the very same individual change its kind? Again, this depends whether it’s a substance-kind or not.
  4. See my notes on Kinds, Natural Kinds and Metamorphosis.
Footnote 9: I don’t really see the analogy, but agree with what Olson says.

Footnote 12: Olson’s usual annoying usage.

Footnote 13: Also, see my Note.

Footnote 15: I need to re-read this paper by Wiggins to determine what he means.

Footnote 18:
  • It seems impossible not to be tendentious here.
  • Olson – rightly – says that the traditional account of personal identity stacks the deck against the animalist by insisting that the individual under consideration remain a person.
  • But saying that “we might survive in a PVS” assumes that we are human animals.
Footnote 19:
  • This will be as phase sortals.
  • Alternatively as properties, or honorifics.
  • The important point is that “person” – and the other kinds – are not substance kinds but are phases or categories of things that are substance kinds.
Footnote 20:
  • He would, wouldn’t he!
  • Upholders of the PV – particularly those willing to contemplate MPD – no doubt find the narrow question of great interest.
Footnote 23: This is an important point, which is that – given that on this view you survive the transplant in the form of the recipient, the “brainless relict” cannot be you, as the BV claims.

Footnote 30:
  • This seems to beg the question against the supporters of the PV, at least at this point in the argument.
  • If “person” turns out to be a substance concept, then all persons might have the same persistence-conditions “qua person”, though an intelligent computer – qua computer – would have different persistence conditions to a human animal.
  • Also, if the Constitution View is correct, the very same person might be constituted by individuals with very different persistence conditions (mortal and immortal bodies, for instance).
Footnote 32: The omission of “human” here is benign, as the animals being compared are both human. Olson doesn’t contemplate the possibility of princes turning into frogs.

Footnote 34: Because it assumes that we are human animals, just as the PV assumes that we are persons.

Footnote 43:
  • I suspect this is more complicated than is said here.
  • Hares and rabbits – or even rabbits and foxes – probably have the same persistence conditions, but we can’t have rabbits metamorphosing into foxes.
  • That said, maybe they may share all their persistence conditions bar one – “being a hare” (or what have you).
  • However, in the cases we’re considering in the book, the persistence conditions between persons and non-persons are different. Something that has no mental contents or capacities cannot have its persistence conditions in virtue of these qualities; so the persistence conditions of fetuses and persons (assuming both to be substance-concepts – though “fetus” is a phase sortal of “animal”) must differ.
Footnote 44: Footnote 47: They do have persistence criteria, of course, but these criteria are derivative of the substance concept under which they fall – “human animal” or “human being” in the case of human children.

Footnote 54:
  • Surely the narrower category takes precedence?
  • Gorillas are primates, mammals, chordates, … but they are most fundamentally gorillas.
  • I need to think about this a bit harder – the issue isn’t just about classification, but about persistence conditions, and visualizing what’s supposed to be going on is difficult because of the counter-factual nature of it all – “person” isn’t a substance concept, and persons and gorillas don’t share all their persistence conditions.
  • Presumably the argument is that the “has the same persistence conditions as” relation forms equivalence classes, which are the “abiding sorts”.
Footnote 60:
  • I agree, even though it seems to be an argument for the PV.
  • Certainly the motivation for holding that person is a substance concept is the PV.
  • But maybe all it shows is that if you don’t think that person is a substance concept, then a good argument for the PV disappears.
Footnote 62:
  • As always, it depends on the referent of the term.
  • It might be inappropriate to call a human being with lost athletic abilities “an athlete”, so in that sense, the athlete doesn’t persist.
  • But, of course, the human being does.
Footnote 70:
  • I’m confused by this.
  • See an earlier footnote on metamorphosis.
Footnote 71:
  • See the earlier comments on hierarchies of substance terms.
  • Isn’t what we “most fundamentally are” the term with narrowest scope that includes all of us, and none that aren’t of us?
Footnote 83:
  • What is Olson’s evidence for this?
  • There might still be computers or angels that are persons of whom the BV is irrelevant.
  • This seems to show how easy it is to slide from using “people” for “persons” to thinking or saying that “people” are all and only human beings.
Footnote 84:
  • Olson says the same of phase-sorts people.
  • He seems at this point to allow that there might be a concept that necessarily has no members – ie. that is incoherent.
  • But read on ...!
Footnote 85:
  • See the previous note.
  • So – presumably – Olson will argue that not only are there no persons that fall under this concept, but that it is incoherent and that even the supposed concept doesn’t exist.
  • If so, the argument is probably unsound.
  • It’s probably the case that there can be no biological persons who fall under the substance-person concept, but there might be non-biological persons that do.
  • In which case we – in that we are persons – would have to be persons in a different sense to those putative substance-concept persons. We’d temporarily share some attributes of those who have these attributes essentially.
  • Let’s see!
Footnote 91:
  • We need to watch out for this suggestion that “person” and “thinker” are similar concepts.
  • “Thinker” is obviously an individual of any kind that thinks – ie. has an ability and inclination to perform a particular action.
  • Olson can validly rubbish the idea that “thinker” might be a substance-concept … by comparing it to “locomoter” – one who moves – but this won’t necessarily work with “person”.
  • “Person” is a much more complex concept, and is taken to have moral content – in particular a moral status that is fairly independent of attributes.
  • Lynne Rudder Baker – who Olson tends to ignore in irritation – argues (albeit unsoundly, in my view) that when a person – defined as a being with a FPP – comes into existence, there is an ontological change, rather than just an attribute change.
  • Olson (and I) need to engage with her arguments carefully, and not set up straw men.
Footnote 93: This is a bit slippery – a person is not just supposed to think they are morally accountable, but to actually have a moral status – an ontological claim.

Footnote 94: As usual, Olson takes this as indicating “numerically identical to” rather than – as Baker would argue – “constituted by”.

Footnote 97: Footnote 106:
  • I’m not sure how important one’s particular theory of mind is here – and whether acceptance of a materialist theory, as distinct from thinking of the mind as dualistically distinct from matter, is critical to the argument.
  • A dualist might well believe there to be a single mental substance that interacts somehow with a variety of material infrastructures, if required by thought in material beings; immaterial beings would be pure thinking things.
Footnote 107: This exposes Olson to Baker’s complaint that he (and others) “don’t take persons seriously”.

Footnote 109:
  • What is said to cease to exist is the locomotor / person, not the barnacle / human animal.
  • These substance theories would need to explain how their preferred substance could be co-located with another.
  • Olson recognizes this later with his “thinking animal” argument.
Footnote 111:
  • Again, I think this is wrong – the theories both claim that the person / locomotor is numerically distinct from the coincident constituting individual.
  • There is no claim that species-members – qua species-members – have different persistence conditions depending on the their cognitive / locomotive capacities.
Footnote 115:
  • I agree absolutely.
  • In general, I agree with Olson’s conclusions; I’m just not sure of some of his arguments.
Footnote 116: Footnote 117:
  • The suggestion and ensuing discussion is similar to that in the philosophy of mind to the debate between identity-theorists (“pain is a brain state”) and functionalists (“pain is an avoidance disposition”).
  • Just what is it that makes human-pain and octopus-pain (or alien pain) both pain is pain is a brain state?
Footnote 121: Footnote 123:
  • This strikes me as a bit quick!
  • Just what would the “analogous way” be for immaterial people?
  • Continuity of immaterial substance, presumably.
Footnote 124: I’ve analyzed what Olson has to say – in my usual plodding way – to make sure I’ve “got it”.

Footnote 126: This assumes the standard account of Identity (Click here for Note) rather than – say – contingent identity.

Footnote 127: Olson doesn’t make the logical transition to this bullet explicit, but I think this is what he intends.

Footnote 128: Footnote 129: Comment initially as above, though Olson does use it shortly!

Footnote 132: This story is difficult to relate without pre-judging the issue of identity.

Footnote 134:
  • Olson omits the sufficiency claim, for some reason.
  • He also omits the condition that y be a person at t*, though maybe this is implied by the psychological continuity condition.
  • Note my usual caveat about continuity versus connectedness. People say “the stodgy conservative now is not the same person as the radical revolutionary of 60 years ago”, even though the views might have changed “continuously”, rather than by some Damascus event. This sort of case arises where “future directives” are to be taken into account (or not). This is the sort of issue Derek Parfit raises.

"Olson (Eric) - Why We Need Not Accept the Psychological Approach"

Source: The Human Animal, September 1999, Chapter 3, pp. 42-72

Oxford Scholarship Online
  1. Most arguments for the Psychological Approach are based on the conviction that anyone who got your psychological features would be you.
  2. The possibility of fission proves this conviction false.
  3. Those who think that identity has no practical importance will find it even more difficult to argue for the Psychological Approach.
  1. The Transplant1 Intuition
  2. Whole-Brain Transplants2
  3. Fission and Hemispherectomy
  4. Prudential Concern
  5. Moral Responsibility
  6. The Treatment Argument
  7. The Same Person
  8. Practical Consequences of the Biological Approach

  1. The Transplant4 Intuition
    • Olson wants to give the arguments in favour of the PV5 for two reasons:-
      1. If there are compelling arguments for a theory, difficulties are merely opportunities for further research. So, Olson must show that the arguments for the PV6 are unpersuasive.
      2. It would be “gratifying” to find what has led astray “the great many thoughtful and intelligent philosophers” who have accepted the PV7.
    • Olson will attempt both – by arguing that the PV8 rests on practical considerations that:-
      1. Do not provide clear support for the PV9, and
      2. May well be compatible with the BV10.
    • Olson rehearses a variant of the sort of story that – he says – most arguments for the PV11 are based on:-
      1. The story is a variant of Locke’s “Prince and Cobbler”, but in this case Prince’s psychology is transferred to Cobbler’s head by means of a cerebrum12 transplant13, Cobbler’s cerebrum being destroyed14.
      2. Two human beings15 result from this – Brainy and Brainless.
      3. Brainy: Has Cobbler’s body – so looks like him, but has Prince’s memories and character, but remembers nothing of Cobbler’s past.
      4. Brainless: has Cobbler’s body, is alive, but has no psychology – he’s effectively in a PVS16.
    • So, what has happened to Prince?
      1. Many “intuit” that he goes with his organ of cognition. Despite physical appearances to the contrary, Brainy is Prince, and believes – indeed – himself so to be.
      2. The first thing Brainy will want to know when he wakes up17 is why his new body is strange to him, and what happened to his old one.
    • And what has happened to Cobbler?
      1. Olson doesn’t – at this point – discuss this.
      2. But – since Prince occupies Cobbler’s body – we may presume Cobbler is no more – he ceased to exist when his cerebrum was destroyed18.
    • Who is Brainless?
      1. Brainless looks like Prince, but has little of what made Prince “Prince”. Indeed, he’s not a person at all if personhood requires certain mental powers.
      2. If Prince’s cerebrum19 had not been transplanted20 but simply destroyed, that would have been the end of Prince – who would be just like Brainless in our story.
    • So, Olson constructs an argument for the PV21 as follows:-
      1. Prince – in the transplant22 story – is Brainy.
      2. So, one survives over time iff one’s mental contents and capacities are preserved (perhaps with further constraints23).
    • Olson calls the inclination – the hunch or pull to say that Prince survives as Brainy the Transplant24 Intuition (hereafter TI).
      1. One could also argue for the PV25 from the intuition that Prince does not survive as Brainless – the Vegetable Intuition.
      2. However, Olson will focus on the TI because it has received more attention26 – and if we can resist this intuition, the other will be easy pickings.
    • Olson rejects the PV27 despite feeling the pull of the TI:-
      1. Because he accepts the BV, he is committed to rejecting the premise of the TI – you do not “go with your cerebrum”28, but simply lose your organ of thought as you would your liver. Prince is not Brainy but Brainless.
      2. He rejects the intuition because he believes – for other theoretical reasons to be laid out in later chapters – that Prince is a living organism, and that no living organism was once Prince and later Brainy.
      3. In addition, supporters of the PV29 have to defend their intuition against counter-intuitive consequences.
    • Olson now provides – in summary – some excellent arguments as to why the TI has a “pull”. It relies on some principles that may well be true, but which the BV can also accommodate:-
      1. Prince should be providentially concerned about what happens to Brainy rather than Brainless.
      2. Brainy is morally responsible for Prince’s actions, but not for Cobbler’s.
      3. Everyone would feel compelled to treat Brainy as Prince.
    • All these practical concerns are perfectly valid, but don’t require numerical identity30. Olson will postpone their discussion until Section IV.
    • He will now proceed to:-
      1. Section II: Discuss why the version of the TI just presented differs from that usually offered, and then
      2. Section III: Argue that the conclusion of the TI argument for the PV31 doesn’t follow from its premise.
  2. Whole-Brain Transplants32
    • Why has Olson used a cerebrum transplant33 rather than a WBT34 as his TE? We’re referred to "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Brain Transplants".
    • His reason – of course – is that a cerebrum transplant35 differentiates supporters of the PV36 from those of the BV.
    • When the cerebrum37 is removed, the relict is clearly a living animal, but this is not so when the whole brain38 – including the brain-stem – is removed. The whole brain is not “just another organ” – because of its regulatory function. Without it, the animal is dead – a corpse39.
    • This has led to some to argue that the whole brain is – once removed – a maximally-mutilated animal40 – still alive, initially at least.
    • So, the Whole Brain Transplant41 Intuition – that “you would go with your brain” might be consistent with Animalism42.
    • However, this intuition is commonly held for the wrong reason. We don’t “go with our brain” because it is the bearer of our psychology, and the recipient of my brain is psychologically continuous with me, but because it is a pared-down animal.
    • Because of this confusion – and because anyone who holds the Whole Brain Transplant43 Intuition for psychological reasons will also hold the (Cerebrum)44 Transplant45 Intuition to the same degree, Olson is right to focus on the latter.
  3. Fission and Hemispherectomy
    • The TE in the previous section is varied so that the two hemispheres46 are transplanted47 into different skulls – resulting in Lefty and Righty.
      1. Since both Lefty and Righty are psychologically and physically continuous with the donor, they are both perfect candidates for being that person.
      2. However, as they are not identical to one another, the transitivity of identity says that they cannot both be identical to the donor.
      3. There seems to be no principled reason why you should be one rather than the other.
      4. So, you are neither, contrary to the transplant48 intuition, unless there is some brute fact that says you are one rather than the other.
    • Some claim there is such a fact:-
      1. The suggestion is that the two hemispheres aren’t equipollent, but are differently specialized, so that one might be more closely psychologically continuous with the donor than the other, who might persist as the closest continuer49.
      2. Olson’s response is that the division of labour between the hemispheres is an accidental feature50 of the case, and is differently marked in some people than others. Some might be equipollent.
    • Another response is that – while agreeing that Lefty and Righty are indeed distinct individuals – we should insist that both existed before the operation.
      1. We are referred to:-
        → "Perry (John) - Can the Self Divide?"
        → "Lewis (David) - Survival and Identity"
        → "Noonan (Harold) - Personal Identity", p. 153f51
        → "Robinson (John) - Personal Identity and Survival"
      2. Olson thinks that this view – that there “always two of you” – whatever it’s theoretical merits – undermines some of our most fundamental beliefs about ourselves.
      3. He claims that – if you are to fission in the future – then there was never “you” but only Lefty and Righty all along – two people who were exactly like you52. He claims that – on John Perry’s view – there were always three individuals, one of which becomes a scattered object53 after the fission.
      4. Olson claims that before the fission, the reference of “I” is both Lefty and Righty, so that any future claim where Lefty and Righty’s actions differ is false54.
  4. Prudential Concern
  5. Moral Responsibility
  6. The Treatment Argument
  7. The Same Person
  8. Practical Consequences of the Biological Approach

In-Page Footnotes ("Olson (Eric) - Why We Need Not Accept the Psychological Approach")

Footnote 3:
  • In these Notes, I’ve not been especially careful to distinguish Olson’s points from my own, nor even Olson’s points here from those he makes elsewhere.
  • See also the general disclaimer.
  • This write-up is logged as a Paper Abstract rather than a Write-up Note. This is contrary to my current standard, and I will make the appropriate adjustment when I’ve completed annotating the whole book.
Footnote 14:
  • The transplant intuition would be strengthened were Cobbler’s cerebrum removed to a vat of nutrients so that his mental life continues. We’d then be even less insistent that Brainy is Cobbler.
  • Olson follows the standard usage of referring to both cerebral hemispheres as “the cerebrum”.
  • Transplanting single hemispheres raised the possibility of fission, but that comes later! See Section III.
Footnote 15: Footnote 17:
  • Since we’re in the realms of Sci-Fi, and operations on the cerebrum are usually undertaken using only local anaesthetic, might we not imagine that Prince remains conscious throughout?
  • Would this strengthen the intuition?
  • Of course, Prince would not see or hear – and therefore not really know – what has been going on in the operation – but would remain fully conscious throughout, and therefore would not be so easily persuaded that he is not who he thinks he is when the lights come on in Cobbler’s body.
Footnote 18: See the earlier footnote.

Footnote 21:
  • It’s a bit quick, and Olson will attack it in Section III.
  • So, it may not be the best effort for the PV.
Footnote 23:
  • These will include non-branching conditions, the logic of which prohibit identity-preservation.
  • Modal considerations along these lines make some insist on some physical continuity as well.
Footnote 26:
  • OK – but it has received more attention because it is the stronger intuition - we're certain that we'd go with our cerebrum.
  • However, we’re less certain that we’d cease to exist as Brainless – especially were it to come to being switched off.
  • Olson also says that we could argue for the PV based on the intuition that Cobbler does not survive as Brainy: but this is even less secure – see "Williams (Bernard) - The Self and the Future", though this uses a BST rather than a cerebrum transplant.
Footnote 40: There’s lots that could be said here, but I’ve covered it – or will have soon – in my various brain-related Notes:- Footnote 46:
  • I had added “and the corpus callosum is cut”, not in Olson’s text, but this is not necessary.
  • It does appear in examples where – it is claimed – fission can be achieved by having two persons resident in the same skull without the need for practically unachievable transplants.
  • This relies on equipollency considerations as in Olson’s TE.
  • See Commissurotomy.
Footnote 50:
  • I agree – in this case.
  • However, we have to keep our TEs a little under control – as we’re dealing with our identity – what we are – not identity and persistence in general.
  • When tinkering with the case, we have to ensure that the individual(s) under consideration remains one of us.
Footnote 51: Most likely, as he’s referring to the first edition, Chapter 7 ("Noonan (Harold) - The Reduplication Problem").

Footnote 52: This is based on the equipollency supposition.

Footnote 54:

"Olson (Eric) - Was I Ever a Fetus? (Human Animal)"

Source: The Human Animal, September 1999, Chapter 4, pp. 73-93

Oxford Scholarship Online
  1. The Psychological Approach implies that none of us was ever an early fetus1, for none of us is in any way psychologically continuous with an early fetus2.
  2. This raises several problems.
  3. There follows a discussion of when we do come into being.

  1. The Fetus3 Problem
  2. Playing the Problem Down
  3. Future-Directed Identity and Disjunctive Criteria
  4. Second-Order Capacities
  5. When Did I Begin?

  1. The Fetus5 Problem
  2. Playing the Problem Down
  3. Future-Directed Identity and Disjunctive Criteria
  4. Second-Order Capacities
  5. When Did I Begin?

Paper Comment

See also "Olson (Eric) - Was I Ever a Fetus?" and "Olson (Eric) - Was I Ever a Fetus? ('New Version')".

In-Page Footnotes ("Olson (Eric) - Was I Ever a Fetus? (Human Animal)")

Footnote 4:
  • In these Notes, I’ve not been especially careful to distinguish Olson’s points from my own, nor even Olson’s points here from those he makes elsewhere.
  • See also the general disclaimer.
  • This write-up is logged as a Paper Abstract rather than a Write-up Note. This is contrary to my current standard, and I will make the appropriate adjustment when I’ve completed annotating the whole book.

"Olson (Eric) - Are People Animals?"

Source: The Human Animal, September 1999, Chapter 5, pp. 94-123

Oxford Scholarship Online
  1. This chapter argues that we are animals.
  2. Otherwise numerous metaphysical and epistemological problems arise.
  3. It is then argued that human animals1 do not have psychological identity conditions.
  4. Thus, our being animals is incompatible with the Psychological Approach.

  1. Human People or Human Animals2?
  2. Appearances
  3. Coincidence
  4. Personhood
  5. Why We Are Animals
  6. Psychological Persistence Conditions3 for Animals?
  7. Death and Ceasing to Be
  8. A Counterattack

  1. Human People or Human Animals5?
  2. Appearances
  3. Coincidence
  4. Personhood
  5. Why We Are Animals
  6. Psychological Persistence Conditions6 for Animals?
  7. Death and Ceasing to Be
  8. A Counterattack

In-Page Footnotes ("Olson (Eric) - Are People Animals?")

Footnote 4:
  • In these Notes, I’ve not been especially careful to distinguish Olson’s points from my own, nor even Olson’s points here from those he makes elsewhere.
  • See also the general disclaimer.
  • This write-up is logged as a Paper Abstract rather than a Write-up Note. This is contrary to my current standard, and I will make the appropriate adjustment when I’ve completed annotating the whole book.

"Olson (Eric) - The Biological Approach"

Source: The Human Animal, September 1999, Chapter 6, pp. 124-153

Oxford Scholarship Online
  1. This chapter discusses what an animal or an organism is and what it takes for one to persist.
  2. Following Locke and van Inwagen, it is proposed that an animal persists as long as its biological life continues.
  3. The Biological Approach is then distinguished from the bodily criterion of personal identity.

  1. Further Questions
  2. Organisms
  3. The Identity of Organisms
  4. Lives
  5. Brainstem Replacement and Other Difficulties
  6. The Bodily Criterion

  1. Further Questions
  2. Organisms
  3. The Identity of Organisms
  4. Lives
  5. Brainstem Replacement and Other Difficulties
  6. The Bodily Criterion

In-Page Footnotes ("Olson (Eric) - The Biological Approach")

Footnote 1:
  • In these Notes, I’ve not been especially careful to distinguish Olson’s points from my own, nor even Olson’s points here from those he makes elsewhere.
  • See also the general disclaimer.
  • This write-up is logged as a Paper Abstract rather than a Write-up Note. This is contrary to my current standard, and I will make the appropriate adjustment when I’ve completed annotating the whole book.

"Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal: Alternatives"

Source: The Human Animal, September 1999, Chapter 7, pp. 154-169

Oxford Scholarship Online
  1. Discusses three claims that have been assumed in previous chapters:
    1. That we exist;
    2. That there is such a thing as absolute numerical identity1; and
    3. That we are not composed of temporal parts.
  2. One could avoid many of the book's arguments by denying any one of these claims.

  1. Are There Any People
  2. Relative Identity2
  3. Temporal Parts

  1. Are There Any People
  2. Relative Identity4
  3. Temporal Parts

In-Page Footnotes ("Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal: Alternatives")

Footnote 3:
  • In these Notes, I’ve not been especially careful to distinguish Olson’s points from my own, nor even Olson’s points here from those he makes elsewhere.
  • See also the general disclaimer.
  • This write-up is logged as a Paper Abstract rather than a Write-up Note. This is contrary to my current standard, and I will make the appropriate adjustment when I’ve completed annotating the whole book.

"Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal: References"

Source: The Human Animal, September 1999, References (pp. 179-185)

  1. To save having to look these up in my database each time they occur, they are listed below.
  2. Where I don’t have a copy, this is either because the work is peripheral, out of date or too expensive for what it has to offer.
  3. Occasionally, the link is to a different edition to that cited by Olson. I’ll note this if it matters.
  4. Compare & contrast with "Olson (Eric) - What Are We? Contents + References".


In-Page Footnotes ("Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal: References")

Footnote 4:

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2023
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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