On Human Persons
Petrus (Klaus), Ed.
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BOOK ABSTRACT:

Review by Klaus Puhl, University of Graz

  1. This volume contains a short preface and eleven essays about the ontology of persons and the question of personal identity. They are written in the analytic tradition, that is, in the framework, marked on the one end by the work of John Locke and on the other by Derek Parfit1. Locke notoriously based what makes up a person on body-independent criteria such as self-consciousness2 or memory. Parfit3 influentially claimed in Reasons and Persons that what matters4 to us is not personal identity but psychological continuity5. The problem of personal identity over time is taken up by Kevin J. Corcoran in his “Biology or Psychology? Human Persons and Personal Identity”. Most of the papers, however, are concerned with the metaphysics or ontology of persons, that is, the question of what it is that makes us the persons we are. In these papers the main bogeyman seems to be Animalism6, which is only defended by Eric T. Olson’s contribution, written in German, “Warum wir Tiere sind” (“Why we are animals”). Lynne Rudder Baker in “The Difference that Self-Consciousness7 Makes”, Kevin J. Corcoran, Brian Garrett (“Some Thoughts on Animalism8”), Paul Snowdon (“Some Objections to Animalism9”) Michael B. Burke (“Is My Head a Person”), Klaus Petrus (“Human Persons: Some Conceptual Remarks”) and Käthe Trettin in “Persons and Other Trope Complexes” more or less explicitly argue against Animalism10 and for a combination of a psychological and a bodily/physical conception of persons. Daniel Cohnitz - “Personal Identity and the Methodology of Imaginary Cases” looks at the flourishing debate within analytic philosophy, started by Parfit11 and his critics, about the usefulness of thought-experiments12 for clarifying our intuitions about personhood and personal identity. Daniel von Wachter’s “Free Agents as Cause” discusses the link between being a person and acting freely, while Thomas Spitzley in his “Identität und Orientierung” (“Identity and Orientation”) critically develops Charles Taylor’s conception of personal identity as essentially linked to moral orientation.
  2. Animalism13, as put forward by Olson, claims that each of us is essentially numerically identical with a human animal14 and that psychology is irrelevant to personal identity. As psychological persistence is not necessary for the persistence of a human animal15 – there is, for instance, no psychological continuity16 between me and when I was an embryo17 or a baby -, and, according to a thought-experiment18 by Olson, also not sufficient, the persistence of persons lies in the persistence of their bodies. As an antidote to the downgrading by much of the philosophical tradition, including analytic philosophy, of the body for what it means to be a person or a subject, animalism19 has a point. Animalism20 takes the bodily nature of personhood to the extremes by claiming the irrelevance of psychological continuity21 for personal identity. Thus, Animalism22 is at odds not only with any form of mind-body dualism, a doctrine nobody in the present volume defends anyway, but also with the Lockean tradition of looking for a psychological criterion23 for personhood, or a combination of the psychological with the bodily criterion, such as the “Constitution View”24 put forward by Lynne Rudder Baker, according to which persons are constituted by their bodies, but not identical with them. Constitution is a relation weaker than identity and stronger than separation, thus forming an inseparable unity of different things. In fact, the constitutional relation between persons and their bodies “is exactly the same as the relation of a statue25 and the pieces of marble that makes it up” (p. 27, my italics), just as some statues26 are constituted by pieces of marble without being identical with these pieces. What prevents the identification of a person with the body is, for Baker, the additional capacity of self-consciousness27, underlined by the first-person-perspective, that defines a person and which cannot be reduced to the body which constitutes her or him. Self-consciousness28 corresponds to the statue29 as piece of art. However, I don’t see how the relation between a person and her body and between a statue30 and its “body” can be the same, as Baker claims. On everybody’s intuitions a statue31 cannot exist without the stuff it is made from. But the same claim about persons wouldn’t meet the intuitions of somebody claiming the possible independence of persons from their bodies (the Lockean). And an Animalist32 wouldn’t accept the identification of (the logic of) persons with (the logic of) statues33 either, as statues34 cannot just be identified with the material they are made of. Hence, the Constitutional View begs the question against both positions, as long as it identifies the relation between persons and their bodies with the one holding between statues35 and their material. Instead of defending this identification directly, Baker stresses against Animalism36 the irreducible nature of self-consciousness37 and its being required for being the persons we are. As I see it, however, Animalism38 does not deny the uniqueness of self-consciousness39, but that our continued existence as persons is constituted by the continued existence of our self-consciousness40.
  3. Käthe Trettin in her contribution claims that the concept of a person is best understood not in terms of a substance-attribute ontology but in an ontological framework which is based on tropes, that is, particular properties. She then argues that “person” is a normative and not an ontological concept based on David Wiggins’ Human Being Principle, according to which “person” and “human being” assign the same principle of individuation41 without having the same sense or even the same extension. Michael B. Burke claims to be faithful to “the Aristotelian metaphysics implicit in our ordinary ways of thinking” (p. 107) when answering the title-question of his paper: Is my head a person? He canvasses the positions defended by Olson, Merricks, Geach, Lewis and Carter and tries to show that the head and “other brain-containing parts of whole-bodied human persons or thinkers” are not themselves persons or thinkers. Generally speaking, this problem only arises in ontological accounts of the person, according to which persons are thing-like entities (usually also with psychological properties) or in fiction, specifically in science fiction. For the vast majority of philosophers our being the self and person we are, in contrast say to human beings, cannot be separated from how we conceptualize and experience ourselves as persons, that is, from an epistemological account. Quite a few philosophers like Michel Foucault or Judith Butler even argue that the concept of the human body has to be historicized, that is, they claim that our bodies are not ontologically given, but structured by forms of knowledge and practices (“technologies of the self”) directed at them. Nevertheless, in the present book, such views are not even considered, as Animalism42 and its critiques alike take for granted that our material side, the bodies or human beings (animals) we are, make up an unproblematic, gender-neutral and universal category, so that the main question is if we are different from or the same as our bodies.
  4. Kevin J. Corcoran defends a version of the Constitution View43: human persons exist as physical and psychological entities in the sense that bodily and psychological continuity44 are not only necessary but jointly sufficient for the persistence of persons. However, in an interesting move, he distances himself from Baker’s claim that the same human person could be constituted by different bodies at different times, by pointing out that Baker here relies on ontological assumptions which are independent from her Constitution View45. Klaus Petrus looks at our concept of human beings and of being a person, contrasting his approach with the ontological question of what persons and human beings are. Again, such an apparently clear distinction between conceptual and metaphysical or ontological questions might pose more problems especially in the case of persons. Petrus argues convincingly that we have a unified concept of ourselves as human persons, that is, as human beings that are inseparably connected to being persons, and vice versa. This allows Petrus for instance to reject imaginary cases of brains or whole persons switching bodies, as in these cases we are talking about mere human beings or mere persons, and not the unified concept of the person.
  5. Already Locke but especially Parfit46 rely on bizarre thought-experiments47 and puzzle cases, – body-switching minds, split-brains, fission, tele-transportation, etc. – and on appeals to intuitions and to conceivability. Since then a little industry of producing and refining contra-factual thought-experiments48 and imaginary cases has developed, not only for illustrating accounts of person and personal identity but as arguments for them. Thus it does not come as a surprise that the reader finds a fair share of them also in the present book, which sometimes makes for a tiresome read. The heavy reliance on imaginary cases is quite unique for analytic philosophy and not, as it is several times claimed in the book (e. g. pp. 145, 146, 151), common in philosophy (of the person) in general.
  6. This is probably due to Locke’s reification of self-consciousness49 which in some form or the other still structures much of the discussion of the concept of a person within analytic philosophy, even when modified or contradicted. By turning self-consciousness50 into something that is independent of bodies, souls or mental substances and that makes up the identity of a person, Locke made the possibility or conceivability of a consciousness and hence a person “jumping” into different bodies, etc. into a criterion for his theory. There have emerged quite a few books and papers on the usefulness and reliability of counterfactual cases for identifying and re-identifying persons. Opponents of the method of counterfactual thought-experiments51 usually point out that the relevant imaginary cases are question-begging insofar as their description presupposes the correctness of the position defended, or that the cases are under-described so that the same cases, described in different ways, can lead to wholly different intuitive conclusions.
  7. In the present volume this is nicely illustrated by the imaginary brain-transplant52 and body-switching cases, a modern version of Locke’s prince waking up in the body of a cobbler, where my brain is transplanted53 into the brainless skull of another person, such that the resulting person is psychologically continuous with me. (I suppose this would also have to include the continuity of my relevant bodily characteristics like mimic, posture, sound of voice, etc. which only philosophers tend to separate from the psychological.) For Brian Garrett, who, if somewhat hesitatingly, opposes Animalism54, “our reactions to these thought experiments55 suggest … that … a continuing line of … psychological continuity56 is sufficient for personal identity” (p. 44). However, Olson reacts differently by stressing the fictional character of brain-transplantations57 and by reaffirming his animalistic58 position: faced with those imaginary cases we have to say that there is no personal identity preserved, because I (the person whose brain was transplanted59, but whose body was destroyed) survive just and only in case my animal functions continue after the switch. Daniel Cohnitz revisits the debate about the role of thought-experiments60 and argues that even if contra-factual cases may not help to solve metaphysical questions they might inform us about “what really is of importance to us”, for instance by helping us to find out what we would say in contra-factual cases.
  8. The last two essays in the book discuss the possibility of agent causation61 (Daniel von Wachter) and the relation between personhood and authenticity (Thomas Spitzley). Von Wachter starts his paper with what he calls the dilemma of free will according to which there is no freedom because “if actions are caused deterministically, then they are not free, and if they are not caused deterministically then they are not free either because then they happen by chance and are not up to the agent.” This dilemma presupposes a naturalistic analysis of actions. In order to solve the dilemma, von Wachter postulates so-called “choice events” “which have no preceding cause and whose occurrence is due to an agent” (p. 185). A free agent “is somebody who can cause things by doing something for a reason and with an intention”. Having reasons and intentions is not again caused. Under the heading “Is agent causation62 mysterious?” van Wachter’s makes it clear that his free agents would have to be entities “that have the power to let certain things pop up (so that they have no preceding cause)” (p. 192) By “free agents” he can’t mean physio-psychological persons or he wouldn’t continue “The question is whether there are such entities, but there is nothing in the nature of the causal processes we know … that speaks against the existence of such entities.” Thus, von Wachter solves the dilemma of the free will, which he has presented as a naturalistic dilemma, in a super-naturalistic way, without making this clear, by introducing an entity that acts spontaneously and can intervene in causal processes and cannot be identical with a bodily person. Such an entity is traditionally called a soul, but in the paper it is presented as a new solution to the problem of the free will. (Reading some of the contributions one might get the impression that scholastic or pre-Kantian positions are happily re-interpreted within the analytic paradigm.)
  9. Thomas Spitzley’s contribution is the only one in the present book which discusses the person in a political-moral context, that is in the context of Charles Taylor’s conception of personal identity as essentially linked to moral orientation. Spitzley points out that it is not only moral orientation which constitutes our selves but also projects, attitudes, opinions, preferences, aversions, etc. Spitzley’s paper is also the only one in the book which historicizes the self by following Taylor in his account of the modern self as structured by the search for authenticity, that is, the search for self-realization, self-discovery or being true to oneself. Spitzley discusses this project in the political context of liberalism and communitarianism and argues that for Taylor, because of his communitarianism, being true to oneself particularly means being true to the requirements of society. For readers who work in the tradition of analytic philosophy and the metaphysics of the person, or are interested in it, the present book makes for an interesting and stimulating read. However, what one doesn’t find discussed in the volume, are other aspects and questions surrounding the concepts of self and persons, such as models which do not separate the question of personal identity and the self from those (historical and contingent) forms of knowledge and practices which are directed at ourselves.

BOOK COMMENT:

Ontos Verlag, Frankfurt, 2003. Paperback dreadfully adulterated by my annotations.



"Baker (Lynne Rudder) - The Difference that Self-Consciousness Makes"

Source: Petrus - On Human Persons, 2003


Author’s Abstract
  1. With all the attention given to the study of consciousness recently, the topic of self-consciousness1 has been relatively neglected. “It is of course [phenomenal] consciousness rather than ... self-conscious that has seemed such a scientific mystery,” a prominent philosopher comments. Phenomenal consciousness concerns the aspect of a state that feels a certain way: roses smell like this; garlic tastes like that; middle C sounds like this, and so on. Although phenomenal consciousness is surely a fruitful area of scientific investigation, I hope to demonstrate here that investigation of self-consciousness2 offers its own rewards, ontologically speaking.
  2. My aim here is two-fold.
    • First, I want to show that self-consciousness3 is what distinguishes persons from everything else.
    • Second, and more controversially, I want to argue that, not only is self-consciousness4 definitive of us persons, but also that self-consciousness5 makes an ontological difference. By an ‘ontological difference,’ I mean a difference in the inventory of the world. The coming-into-being of a new person is the coming-into-being of a new kind of entity; it is not just a change in an already-existing entity. I shall begin by discussing consciousness and self-consciousness6; then I shall give a very brief account of my view of persons as necessarily self-conscious. Although we human persons are the only kind of thing that we know to be self-conscious, on my view, anything that is self-conscious — Martians, computers, or whatever — is a person.
  3. Next, I shall discuss a view of human persons that opposes my view. (The opposing view is called ‘Animalism7;’ I call my preferred view ‘the Constitution View8.’)
  4. Finally, I shall discuss and defend the claim that the difference that self-consciousness9 makes is an ontological difference.


COMMENT:



"Burke (Michael) - Is My Head a Person?"

Source: Petrus - On Human Persons, 2003


Section Headings
    Introduction
  1. Terminological Preliminary
  2. The Argument that Creates the Problem
  3. The Existing Solutions
    1. Olson
    2. Merricks
    3. Geach
    4. Lewis
    5. Carter
  4. Maximality
  5. Initial Arguments for the Maximality of Personhood and Thinkerhood
  6. Reply to an Objection
  7. The Differences between Percy and His Brain-Containing Parts
  8. The Sufficiency of the Differences
  9. Conclusion

Brief Notes
  1. Solutions
    1. Olson denies the DAUP
    2. Merricks denies microphysical supervenience1
    3. Geach – relative identity2
    4. Lewis – “loose & popular” versus “strict and philosophical” identity?
    5. Carter – mereological essentialism
  2. The conclusion is a précis of the essay



"Cohnitz (Daniel) - Personal Identity and the Methodology of Imaginary Cases"

Source: Petrus - On Human Persons, 2003


Author's Abstract

The problem of what the necessary and sufficient conditions for diachronic personal identity are, is generally discussed with the help of imaginary cases. The fact that in the metaphysics of personal identity this method is more frequently employed than in other fields of philosophy has led to a rich discussion of the reliability of the philosophical methodology in this area. This paper surveys most of the arguments put forward against the reliability of thought experiments1 in the personal identity debate. None of them turns out to be conclusive. The final part of the paper gives an outlook to what a positive theory of imaginary cases might look like.


Section Headings
    Introduction
  1. General Criticism of Thought Experiments2 in Philosophy
    1.1 Thought Experiments3 are to be Abandoned in Philosophy because there is no Positive Theory to Support Them
    1.2 We Simply Don’t Know What We Would Say
    1.3 The Analytic/Synthetic Distinction and the Method of Metaphysics
    … 1.3.1 The Essential/Accidental Distinction
    … 1.3.2 Revisionary Metaphysics – Yet Another Ballgame
  2. The Very Concept of a Person Makes it Impossible to Learn From Thought Experiments4
    2.1 ‘Person’ is not a Natural-Kind Term and therefore Thought Experiments5 are Unreliable
    2.2 ‘Person’ is a Natural-Kind Term (or Pretty Much Like One) and therefore Thought Experiments6 are Unreliable
    … 2.2.1 Neo-Descriptivism
    … 2.2.2 The Putnam-Kripke Orthodoxy
    … 2.2.3 Moderate Descriptivism
  3. Conclusion: The Psychology of Context and The Explaining Away of Intuitions


COMMENT: On-line draft available at Link (Defunct).



"Corcoran (Kevin) - Biology or Psychology? Human Persons and Personal Identity"

Source: Petrus - On Human Persons, 2003


Section Headings
  1. Problem Cases: Human Vegetables, Cerebrum1 Complements and Tibetan Buddhists
  2. The Biological Approach to Personal Identity
    … 2a. Problems with the Biological Approach
    … 2b. Objections and Replies
  3. The Psychological Approach
    … 3a. Unger’s Psychological Approach
    … 3b. The Psychological Approach and the Vegetable Case
    … 3c. A Problem with Unger’s Psychological Approach
    … 3d. Unger’s Psychological Approach and the Cerebrum-complement2 Case
  4. The Constitution Relation
  5. Persons, Bodies and Constitution
  6. The Identity and Persistence Conditions3 of Bodies
  7. The Identity and Persistence Conditions4 of Persons
  8. Personal Identity and Psychological Continuity5
  9. Baker’s Prince and Cobbler Account
  10. Conclusion



"Garrett (Brian) - Some Thoughts on Animalism"

Source: Petrus - On Human Persons, 2003


Section Headings
  1. Animalism1
  2. Why it’s true
  3. Why it can’t be true
  4. A familiar Analogy
  5. Conclusion



"Olson (Eric) - Warum wir Tiere sind (Why we are animals)"

Source: Petrus - On Human Persons, 2003


Section Headings
  1. Animalism1
  2. Alternatives
  3. Why Animalism2 is disputed
  4. Thinking animals3
  5. Are there human animals4?
  6. Can human animals5 think?
  7. How many thinkers?
  8. Objections and questions


COMMENT: In German - Link (Defunct) - also translated via Babel Fish



"Petrus (Klaus) - Human Persons. Some Conceptual Remarks"

Source: Petrus - On Human Persons, 2003


Section Headings
  1. Mere Human Beings and Mere Persons
  2. Human Persons
  3. Wrong Questions
  4. Strange Talk
  5. Naturalizing Ourselves
  6. Philosophical Anthropology



"Petrus (Klaus) - On Human Persons: Preface"

Source: Petrus - On Human Persons, 2003



"Puhl (Klaus) - Review of Klaus Petrus's 'On Human Persons'"

Source: Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, 2004


Author’s introduction1
  1. This volume contains a short preface and eleven essays about the ontology of persons and the question of personal identity. They are written in the analytic tradition, that is, in the framework, marked on the one end by the work of John Locke and on the other by Derek Parfit2.
  2. Locke notoriously based what makes up a person on body-independent criteria such as self-consciousness3 or memory. Parfit4 influentially claimed in Reasons and Persons that what matters5 to us is not personal identity but psychological continuity6.
  3. The problem of personal identity over time is taken up by Kevin J. Corcoran. Most of the papers, however, are concerned with the metaphysics or ontology of persons, that is, the question of what it is that makes us the persons we are.
  4. In these papers the main bogeyman seems to be Animalism7, which is only defended by Eric T. Olson’s contribution. Lynne Rudder Baker, Kevin J. Corcoran, Brian Garrett, Paul Snowdon8, Michael B. Burke, Klaus Petrus and Käthe Trettin more or less explicitly argue against Animalism9 and for a combination of a psychological and a bodily/physical conception of persons.
  5. Daniel Cohnitz looks at the flourishing debate within analytic philosophy, started by Parfit10 and his critics, about the usefulness of thought-experiments11 for clarifying our intuitions about personhood and personal identity.
  6. Daniel von Wachter discusses the link between being a person and acting freely, while Thomas critically develops Charles Taylor’s conception of personal identity as essentially linked to moral orientation.


COMMENT:




In-Page Footnotes ("Puhl (Klaus) - Review of Klaus Petrus's 'On Human Persons'")

Footnote 1: Edited text. I’ve included the full text of the whole review as the Abstract of the book under review.

Footnote 8: Snowdon is an Animalist, so – in "Snowdon (Paul) - Some Objections to Animalism" – he is defending Animalism against the serious arguments of its critics.



"Snowdon (Paul) - Some Objections to Animalism"

Source: Petrus - On Human Persons, 2003


Section Headings
  1. Animalism1 and the Concept of a Person2
  2. Objections to Animalism3
  3. Some Non-Dissociation Arguments
  4. Conclusion



"Spitzley (Thomas) - Identitat und Orientierung"

Source: Petrus - On Human Persons, 2003

COMMENT: In German



"Trettin (Kathe) - Persons and Other Trope Complexes. Reflections on Ontology and Normativity"

Source: Petrus - On Human Persons, 2003


Section Headings
  1. Introduction
  2. Rich Entities and Ontological Dependence
  3. Kinds, Essences and Determinables
  4. Constitution and Identity I – the Substance-cum-Kinds-View
  5. Constitution and Identity II – the Trope-View
  6. Intentionality
  7. Normativity, Intentionality and the Human Being Principle
  8. Conclusion



"Von Wachter (Daniel) - Free Agents as Cause"

Source: Petrus - On Human Persons, 2003


Section Headings
  1. Introduction
  2. Is a Choice Event Caused by the Agent?
  3. Agent Causation1
  4. Peter Van Inwagen’s Mystery Objection Against Agent Causation2
  5. Is Agent Causation3 Mysterious?

I couldn’t see why this essay was in Petrus. Is free will proposed as an essential property of persons? If so, are there any persons?



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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