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.


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 conditions 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 conditions 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.


"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.

COMMENT: Review of "Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal - Personal Identity Without Psychology".

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

Source: Abstracta Special Issue I – 2008 (Brazil)
Write-up Note1


"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 continuity is required for a person to persist?
  3. What matters 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 conditions. 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 conditions. 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 criteria 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 conditions 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 animals. 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 animalists – 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 animals.
    • There’s a further distinction between the dualists – who think that we are (identical to) immaterial souls which “have” bodies that the materialists 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. Animalists (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 Continuity:
    • Taking the second question, the question might be asked whether psychological continuity 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” device?
    • All this presumes some variant of the psychological criterion 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 similar, but read on …
  3. What Matters:
    • 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 oneself3.
    • These special cases – where we have prudential concern for others – arise from the possibility of fission. Fission is problematical because of the logic of identity, but the “problem case” is probably undermined by 4-dimensionalism4, 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 animalist would have no truck with psychological fission – multiple teletransportation, for instance. But maybe there could be physical fission – amoeba-like5 – of human animals, 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 FPP – will follow both paths, so I should be prudentially-concerned for both of them. I am in fact (pre-fission) two exactly similar co-located beings that share experiences6.
Olson’s concern is to argue that psychological continuity is neither necessary nor sufficient for our persistence.
  1. Necessity: this is clearly correct – though controversial. I started out as a fetus without any person-required psychological properties, and may end up in a PVS. 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 continuity is not sufficient – and I agree – because of the reduplication cases (despite 4D). But I think that if my FPP was maintained, by whatever manner, then I would have survived7.
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 “us8” to persist.
  2. Materialism 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 animals would not themselves be intelligent or conscious, but just associated with something else that was.
Olson doesn’t intend to address ethical9 questions – so though he will argue that we were once fetuses 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 Chapter10 for review:-
  1. Nihilism (“Are There Any People?”): Olson assumes there are “people” (the plural of “person”), glossed as “rational, conscious beings”, and that they literally persist11 through time.
  2. Relative Identity: 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 substances12 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 nihilism and relative identity, much less controversial rejections).
    • He claims that if this (or either of the other two claims) is true, then there are no non-semantic13 problems of personal identity.
Olson finishes with some terminology and some distinctions.
  1. Organism: is used in its standard biological sense.
  2. Human animal: is synonymous (for Olson) with “human organism”, and means “member of the biological species Homo sapiens”. It is NOT14 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, friends15 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 3: Presumably in cases of extreme dementia, or PVS.

Footnote 4: Olson rejects this, but will discuss it in the last Chapter. See later.

Footnote 5: 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 6: This is a new idea of mine – is it coherent?

Footnote 7:
  • I’m still not clear whether “survival” and “persistence” are synonymous.
  • However, Olson will use the terms interchangeably.
Footnote 8:
  • I suppose Olson just assumes that we are animals, or – following his “Master Argument” – that we must be, on pain of there being too many thinkers.
  • But he takes the matter up more seriously in his later "Olson (Eric) - What are We?".
Footnote 9: 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 10: See "Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal: Alternatives".

Footnote 11:
  • 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 12: So, we are animals, which fall under substance sortals; we are also, most of the time, persons, which fall under a phase sortal.

Footnote 13:
  • 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 14: 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 15:
  • 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 continuity 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 Transplants
  2. The Psychological Approach
  3. The Biological Approach

  1. Human Vegetables and Cerebrum Transplants
    • 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. TEs2).
      1. The first is the “Vegetable Case” (ie. PVS3).
        • 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 “you4” are irretrievably non-cognitive.
        • However, the parts of the brain5 (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 (Link), who continued in a PVS for 10 years after6 her respirator was switched off.
        • Olson claims that the entity7 in a PVS is “a human animal as much like you as anything could be without having a mind”.
        • The human animal in a PVS 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 responsiveness8.
        • Nor is the animal brain-dead – what Olson describes as a “ventilated corpse9” – because the brain still performs its regulative functions. The patient is alive in the sense that “oak trees and oysters10 are alive”.
        • Olson admits there is room for doubt as to whether in a PVS 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 argument11 we assume that both these assumptions are correct.
        • There are lots of ethical questions about what to do with individuals in a PVS, 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 statue is erected in your honour. Now, you are not that statue. If you had said that one day you would be that statue, you would have made a false statement in a way that is not so obviously false in the case of the PVS-individual. Whereas in the first case you have been clearly replaced by something else, has this happened in the PVS-case12?
      2. We now move on to a second TE13Cerebrum Transplants14.
        • 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 overcome15, 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-transplant recipient of your cerebrum:-
          1. She is a human being16, …
          2. Psychologically more or less exactly like you,
          3. Appears17 to remember your past,
          4. Apparently18 acts on your intentions,
          5. May be physically very unlike you,
          6. Initially, her personality, tastes and affections are just like yours,
          7. She thinks19 she is you,
          8. She does not remember20 anything that happened to the person into whose head the cerebrum was implanted, nor does she initially21 acquire any of that person’s character.
        • What about the cerebrum donor? Olson correctly adduces evidence from the survival of PVS-victims, anencephalics (Link) and single-cerebrum excision22 to show that the donor would remain a living, but irreversibly non-cognitive, human animal whose biological functions continue as before.
        • In a footnote, Olson admits that cerebrum-transplants are science fiction, and their possibility might be questioned. However, he thinks there are no further23 difficulties than for WBTs, 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 “Transplant Case”? He only24 considers 3 possibilities:-
          1. You are the donor, or
          2. You “go along” with your cerebrum, or
          3. You cease25 to exist.
        • The key question Olson asks is whether one of your organs26 has been transplanted (as a liver might have been) leaving you in situ, or whether you have been pared down to a cerebrum and rehoused, the surgeon grafting the rest of the recipient’s body (and brain) onto you. Olson’s answer will no doubt appear later on27.
  2. The Psychological Approach
    • Olson sees two sorts of considerations that might answer questions of personal identity raised by the puzzle cases:-
      1. Phychological continuity, and
      2. Biological continuity
    • He gives the usual arguments that you are psychologically continuous with the cerebrum recipient, but not the PVS-victim, or the cerebrum donor.
    • But you are biologically-related to the PVS-victim, and to the cerebrum donor, who each preserve your biological life28.
    • We are referred to Chapter 2 ("Olson (Eric) - Why We Need Not Accept the Psychological Approach"), Section II (“Whole-Brain Transplants”), for why a WBT is entirely different to a CT. In the case of a CT, the recipient does not receive your life-sustaining functions, but “just an organ29”. From the biological perspective, transplanting a cerebrum is no different to transplanting a kidney, or any other organ you could live without.
    • Olson claims there is no biological continuity between you and the cerebrum recipient, but this seems to me to go too far30.
    • Olson thinks these two sorts of continuity have not received equal attention, with the case defaulting to the PV. Biology is deemed irrelevant, with nothing continuing in either the PVS case or on the donor-side of the transplant case being you. Olson cites "Lockwood (Michael) - When Does a Life Begin?", p. 11, as describing this view as “scientifically-educated common sense”.
    • However, a footnote gives other equally-scientifically-educated dissenting views. "Ayers (Michael R.) - Locke on Living Things", p. 224, claims not only that you could survive the destruction of your mind but that you would continue to exist as a corpse31. Olson also cites "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Philosophers and the Words 'Human Body'", p. 295.
    • So, most philosophers adopt the Psychological Approach, whereby one survives if one’s mind does. Olson quotes "Johnston (Mark) - Human Beings", p. 77 to the effect that it’s a conceptual truth32 that a person cannot be outlived by what was once his mind.
    • Olson seems to agree that the TEs show that biological and psychological continuity can come apart33.
    • While biological continuity is usually good evidence34 for one’s survival, it is not what that survival consists in, according to …
    • The Psychological Approach35, which claims that some “interesting” connections between psychological states are both necessary and sufficient for my persistence. Roughly speaking, any past or future being that has my mind36 is me.
    • The traditional problem of PID is – on the assumption that the PV is correct – just which version of it is the right one. What are these psychological connections? Olson will go on to consider versions that give priority to mental contents37, and those that focus on mental capacities38 before considering whether any physical continuity39 is also considered necessary.
    • Mental Contents:
    • Mental Capacities:
      • Those who support this view point out that even if all memories and other mental contents are wiped out, there might still be psychological continuity based on mental capacities – your (now contentless) mind has not been destroyed.
      • Olson quotes "Unger (Peter) - Identity, Consciousness and Value", p. 11647, though it looks to me as though this is not the focus48 of Unger’s claim. However, he thinks various others share this view49.
      • Olson thinks – correctly in my view – that this distinction between contents and capacities may be a red herring, in that without any content, all my capacities might vanish.
    • Physical Continuity:
      • Advocates of the PV differ on whether any material50 continuity is required:-
        1. Some insist that you survive only if (enough of) your cerebrum survives so as to support conscious, rational thought51.
        2. Others only require some physical structure spatio-temporally continuous with your cerebrum as the realizer of your mental capacities.
      • Alternatively, consider a brain zap alloyed to the transfer of information – in an “unspecified but reliable way” – to a remote recipient brain52. Some philosophers think that person, who thinks she’s you and (quasi-)remembers your experiences is you, even though there’s no material continuity and a period mid-transfer when your mental contents and capacities were nowhere physically realized in a functioning organ of thought53. Supporters of the material continuity requirement would deny this.
      • Olson considers two reduplication objections, which he thinks show that psychological continuity is insufficient for survival54:-
        1. The brain-state transfer can be repeated into multiple recipient brains, which the material-continuity view would say are you – but they can’t all be55.
        2. Even if the cerebrum is transplanted, we could transplant each one into a different brain, with duplication again. This case is considered inn "Olson (Eric) - Why We Need Not Accept the Psychological Approach", Section 3 (“Fission and Hemispherectomy”).
    • Reduplication objections encourage supporters of the PV to add a Uniqueness Condition56.
    • Thus, the PV represents a wide spectrum of opinions that agree that some sort of mental continuity is necessary for our persistence, with some rider like uniqueness or material continuity to provide sufficiency57.
    • When Olson subsequently refers to the PV, he’ll not specify which of these variants he has in mind58. The reader is asked to substitute his preferred version.
  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 BIV90?
  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 transplant 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 Sorites 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 1:
  • 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 4:
  • 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 5: Footnote 6: 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 7:
  • 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 8: 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 9:
  • 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 10: 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 11: 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 12:
  • 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 13: This may be a simpler case – for the animalist – than the WBT.

Footnote 15:
  • 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 17: 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 18: 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 19:
  • 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 20:
  • To avoid tendentiousness, this probably ought to read “recall”,
  • Is all memory cerebrum-based?
Footnote 21:
  • 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 22: Not the same as a lobotomy (Link).

Footnote 23:
  • 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 24:
  • 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 25: 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 26: Footnote 27: Check that it does, and amend this footnote!

Footnote 28: So, Olson points out that this biological continuity is more intimate than that which you would bear to your corpse.

Footnote 29:
  • 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 30:
  • 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 31: So, I might add, does Fred Feldman, though not Olson himself.

Footnote 32:
  • 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 33:
  • 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 34: This is an example of the distinction between epistemological and metaphysical questions.

Footnote 35: I usually refer to this as the PV.

Footnote 36:
  • 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 37:
  • 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 38: I don’t have a Note on this either!

Footnote 40: Is he therefore saying that the relation isn’t symmetric? Does it matter?

Footnote 42:
  • 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 43: Olson draws no distinction between continuity and connectedness.

Footnote 44:
  • 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 45: See Korsakoff's Syndrome, etc.

Footnote 46: Perry contrasts a “brain zap” – where memories are totally removed – with “amnesia” in which they are present, but inaccessible.

Footnote 47: Footnote 48: Indeed, he says Unger “qualifies it” in pp. 147-52, ie. in "Unger (Peter) - A Physically Based Approach To Our Survival".

Footnote 49: Footnote 50: 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 51:
  • 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 52: Footnote 53: 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 54: Is this just sloppiness? Survival may or may not be equivalent to persistence. See Parfit.

Footnote 55: In the absence of a Perdurantist account of persistence.

Footnote 56: Olson doesn’t here mention the Closest Continuer theory.

Footnote 57: Olson doesn’t quite put matters like that.

Footnote 58: This statement shows that the book is intended as a positive statement of Animalism, rather than a refutation of the PV.

Footnote 59: I have a footnote questioning whether this strictly makes Olson not an animalist. I need to check the strict usage of this term.

Footnote 60: Olson irritatingly uses the term “people” rather than the accepted term of art “persons”. I will use “persons”.

Footnote 61:
  • 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 65:
  • 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 68:
  • 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 69:
  • 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 70:
  • 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 71: This reads oddly. Rather, it’s like an organ donation – eg. of a kidney to a sibling.

Footnote 72:
  • 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 73: Shouldn’t this be “kidneys”, though removing toxins from the blood is one of the many functions of the liver?

Footnote 74: These memories are your memories, but only apparent memories for the recipient of your cerebrum if that person isn’t you.

Footnote 77:
  • 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 78: Footnote 79:
  • This was back in 1997; since then, Animalism has become more popular.
  • See my Note on Animalists.
Footnote 80: I have my doubts about van Inwagen in this regard.

Footnote 81: See the discussion on Corpses.

Footnote 82: I have the right edition, and this is the start of the section on Personal Identity in Chapter 20 (“Mind and Body”).

Footnote 83: This would be just the last two pages of the Chapter, so the pagination may be wrong.

Footnote 84: The Section on “Disembodied Survival”.

Footnote 85: I have the second edition from 1998 and the pagination is different.

Footnote 86: Footnote 87: I don’t know what this caveat is supposed to mean.

Footnote 88: 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 89:
  • 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 identity for people2 as opposed to other things?
    • Olson has a couple of stabs at the criterion in logical form3.
      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 continuity4 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 dismisses5. 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 kind6, 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 identity7, 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. Analogously8, non-philosophers may understand “being the same person” as a resemblance or continuity that neither entails nor is entailed by numerical identity. 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-consciousness – so that “you and I are “people9” whereas dogs and cats aren’t”.
      5. Olson notes that not all philosophers agree with this definition of “person10”. 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 fetuses 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 “obscure11” – thinks that the Lockean definition of “person” is “morally and politically pernicious”.
      6. It is at least arguable – on this definition of “person” – that fetuses are not persons, and that those in a PVS12 are not persons. So, each of us – it might be argued13 – 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 treat14 “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 uninteresting15.
      1. In support of this contention, Olson points out that – while a standard psychological criterion answering the narrow question would agree that if your cerebrum is transplanted, the recipient would be you, thereby ruling out the BV as an answer to the broad16 question, it is silent on other questions.
      2. So, in the transplant case where your cerebrum 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 PV 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 “person17” is a substance18 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 identity suitable for all and only people (“persons”) – he runs through the usual list of potential persons – as they have different persistence conditions19.
    • 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 animal at one time the same animal20 as a human animal at another time?”. Yet, stating the question of our identity this way is as tendentious21 as the narrow statement of the PV.
    • 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 PV 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 am most fundamentally, and it is this – it is assumed – that determines my persistence conditions. 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 concept22 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 conditions 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 conditions – 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 criteria in virtue of being a person, and a thing cannot change its persistence criteria23 partway through its career. This will be discussed further in Chapter 4 ("Olson (Eric) - Was I Ever a Fetus?").
    • 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-concept24.
    • We need to distinguish substance concepts from what Wiggins – in the same two references cited at the start of this Section – calls phase sortals25, such as “child”, which are kinds that something can belong to temporarily. Phase sortals as such26 don’t have persistence criteria, 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 “sortal 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 conditions 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 conditions with some non-people – such as gorillas – then they would have their persistence criteria 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 we?” question would be “a member of the wider class that includes both people and gorillas”. I didn’t see the cogency27 of this argument at all.
    • So, anyone who takes person to be a substance concept can argue for the PV 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 conditions in virtue of their being people, we should expect their persistence conditions to have something to do with psychology.
      3. So, at the least, we can expect a person not to survive in a PVS, or as the relict following a cerebrum transplant, as such beings aren’t people.
    • Olson claims, therefore, that anyone who takes person to be a substance concept in effect assumes the PV28.
    • If person is only a phase sortal, then the above argument is no more convincing than would be one of the same form that claimed that an athlete29 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 conditions in virtue of being athletes.
    • So, according to the BV, person is not a substance concept but a phase sortal like athlete.
    • Olson rehearses the usual examples of non-biological persons with different persistence conditions to human persons and that biological people have the same persistence conditions some as non-persons (fetuses or those in a PVS).
    • He adds that it is likely that our persistence conditions are the same as aardvarks30, oysters or animals in general.
    • So, our substance concept – what we most fundamentally are – is not person but rather Homo Sapiens, animal or31 living organism.
    • Derek Parfit has suggested to Olson that “person” is ambiguous and can be used either as a phase sortal 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-sortal person would fall under a substance-concept other than PersonAnimal for instance – that has persistence conditions inconsistent with the substance concept Person. A phase-sortal person would have modal and possibility historical properties impossible for a substance-concept Person.
    • So, in what sense of Person are we people?
      1. If we are phase-sortal people, the PV 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 PV is true.
    • But, the issue is non-verbal:-
      1. If the PV is true, there could not be any people of the phase-sortal sort for if there were they would be rational, self-conscious agents of whom the PV 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 people32 in the substance-concept sense even if there is such a substance-concept33.
    • In the next section Olson will consider an argument that there is no substance-concept sense34 of ‘person’.
  3. Movers and Thinkers
    • If person is a substance-concept, it’s easy to argue that the PV is true. However, if not, it’s hard to see how the PV could be true. If we are animals, say, in that our persistence conditions are those of animals, then those persistence conditions cannot be psychological, as many animals persist without any psychology at all.
    • This raises a difficult challenge for the PV, because it’s not clear that person (or thinker35, 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 PV – 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 accountable36, and the like. But this capacity doesn’t tell us what it is – it might be37 a human animal, an angel Cartesian ego, …
    • Olson attempts to show the difficulty by his “locomotor” analogy38:-
      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 transplants according to the PV, 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 transplanted.
        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 evolutionary 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 conditions.
        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 conditions – 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 conditions. 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 PV 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 theory39 – 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 – merely40 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 PV 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 me41.
        2. He also points out the intended analogy that a cerebrum 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 species42 may fall under different substance concepts, and have completely different persistence conditions.
        4. Olson will consider these matters further in
          → Chapter 4: "Olson (Eric) - Was I Ever a Fetus?", and
          → Chapter 5: "Olson (Eric) - Are People Animals?"
      7. So, supporters of the PV need to explain why person is a substance-concept, while locomotor isn’t.
      8. The BV doesn’t have this problem, as human animal and similar variants are paradigm-cases of substance-concepts, and an excellent answer43 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 proposal44.
      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 restrict45 the scope of the PV to human people?
      1. Olson thinks it would be “surprising” if the PV 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 PV as human persons. Why should they be mistaken and we correct?
      4. It seems that some versions of the PV46 – eg. Peter Unger’s – require physical as well as psychological continuity, 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 way47.
  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 skip48!
    • 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 identity.
    • 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 necessarily49 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. Hence50, 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 designators51.
      3. A better example would be of Definite Descriptions52; “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 continuity 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 continuity 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 it53. We cannot leave out the times.
      4. So, Olson claims that the least misleading way of claiming that psychological continuity is necessary54 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 2:
  • 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 3:
  • 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 4: Footnote 5:
  • 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 6: 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 8: I don’t really see the analogy, but agree with what Olson says.

Footnote 9: Olson’s usual annoying usage.

Footnote 10: Also, see my Note.

Footnote 11: I need to re-read this paper by Wiggins to determine what he means.

Footnote 13:
  • 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 14:
  • 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 15:
  • 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 16: 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 19:
  • 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 20: 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 21: Because it assumes that we are human animals, just as the PV assumes that we are persons.

Footnote 23:
  • 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 24:
  • This claim presumably relies on the further claim – disputed by holders of the constitution view – that exemplifiers of two different substance-concepts cannot be in the same place at the same time (ie. “person” and “human body”, in Baker’s formulation).
  • See "Wiggins (David) - On Being in the Same Place at the Same Time", the write-up of which I need to complete!
Footnote 26: 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 27:
  • 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 28:
  • 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 29:
  • 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 30:
  • I’m confused by this.
  • See an earlier footnote on metamorphosis.
Footnote 31:
  • 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 32:
  • 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 33:
  • 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 34:
  • 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 35:
  • 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 36: 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 37: As usual, Olson takes this as indicating “numerically identical to” rather than – as Baker would argue – “constituted by”.

Footnote 38: Footnote 39:
  • 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 40: This exposes Olson to Baker’s complaint that he (and others) “don’t take persons seriously”.

Footnote 41:
  • 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 42:
  • 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 43:
  • I agree absolutely.
  • In general, I agree with Olson’s conclusions; I’m just not sure of some of his arguments.
Footnote 44: Footnote 45:
  • 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 46: Footnote 47:
  • This strikes me as a bit quick!
  • Just what would the “analogous way” be for immaterial people?
  • Continuity of immaterial substance, presumably.
Footnote 48: I’ve analyzed what Olson has to say – in my usual plodding way – to make sure I’ve “got it”.

Footnote 49: This assumes the standard account of Identity (Click here for Note) rather than – say – contingent identity.

Footnote 50: Olson doesn’t make the logical transition to this bullet explicit, but I think this is what he intends.

Footnote 51: Footnote 52: Comment initially as above, though Olson does use it shortly!

Footnote 53: This story is difficult to relate without pre-judging the issue of identity.

Footnote 54:
  • 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 Transplant Intuition
  2. Whole-Brain Transplants
  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 Transplant Intuition
    • Olson wants to give the arguments in favour of the PV2 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 PV are unpersuasive.
      2. It would be “gratifying” to find what has led astray “the great many thoughtful and intelligent philosophers” who have accepted the PV.
    • Olson will attempt both – by arguing that the PV rests on practical considerations that:-
      1. Do not provide clear support for the PV, and
      2. May well be compatible with the BV3.
    • Olson rehearses a variant of the sort of story that – he says – most arguments for the PV 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 cerebrum4 transplant5, Cobbler’s cerebrum being destroyed6.
      2. Two human beings7 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 PVS8.
    • 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 up9 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 destroyed10.
    • 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 cerebrum had not been transplanted 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 PV11 as follows:-
      1. Prince – in the transplant story – is Brainy.
      2. So, one survives over time iff one’s mental contents and capacities are preserved (perhaps with further constraints12).
    • Olson calls the inclination – the hunch or pull to say that Prince survives as Brainy the Transplant Intuition (hereafter TI).
      1. One could also argue for the PV 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 attention13 – and if we can resist this intuition, the other will be easy pickings.
    • Olson rejects the PV 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”, 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 PV 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 identity. 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 PV doesn’t follow from its premise.
  2. Whole-Brain Transplants
    • Why has Olson used a cerebrum transplant rather than a WBT as his TE? We’re referred to "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Brain Transplants".
    • His reason – of course – is that a cerebrum transplant differentiates supporters of the PV from those of the BV.
    • When the cerebrum is removed, the relict is clearly a living animal, but this is not so when the whole brain14 – 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 corpse.
    • This has led to some to argue that the whole brain is – once removed – a maximally-mutilated animal15 – still alive, initially at least.
    • So, the Whole Brain Transplant Intuition – that “you would go with your brain” might be consistent with Animalism.
    • 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 Transplant Intuition for psychological reasons will also hold the (Cerebrum) Transplant 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 hemispheres16 are transplanted 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 transplant 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 continuer17.
      2. Olson’s response is that the division of labour between the hemispheres is an accidental feature18 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. 153f19
        → "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 you20. He claims that – on John Perry’s view – there were always three individuals, one of which becomes a scattered object 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 false21.
  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 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 6:
  • 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 7: Footnote 9:
  • 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 10: See the earlier footnote.

Footnote 11:
  • 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 12:
  • 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 13:
  • 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 15: There’s lots that could be said here, but I’ve covered it – or will have soon – in my various brain-related Notes:- Footnote 16:
  • 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 18:
  • 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 19: Most likely, as he’s referring to the first edition, Chapter 7 ("Noonan (Harold) - The Reduplication Problem").

Footnote 20: This is based on the equipollency supposition.

Footnote 21:

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

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 fetus, for none of us is in any way psychologically continuous with an early fetus.
  2. This raises several problems.
  3. There follows a discussion of when we do come into being.

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

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

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

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) - 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 animals do not have psychological identity conditions.
  4. Thus, our being animals is incompatible with the Psychological Approach.

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

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

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

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 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 identity; 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 Identity
  3. Temporal Parts

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

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

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: 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 1:

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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