What are We? A Study of Personal Ontology
Olson (Eric)
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Cover Blurb

  1. From the time of Locke, discussions of personal identity have often ignored the question of our basic metaphysical nature: whether we human people are biological organisms, spatial or temporal parts of organisms, bundles of perceptions, or what have you. The result of this neglect has been centuries of wild proposals and clashing intuitions.
  2. What Are We? is the first general study of this important question. It begins by explaining what the question means and how it differs from others, such as questions of personal identity and the mind-body problem. It then examines in some depth the main possible accounts of our metaphysical nature, detailing both their theoretical virtues and suggests a way of choosing among them.

Oxford On-Line
  1. Discussions of personal identity commonly ignore the question of our basic metaphysical nature: whether we are biological organisms, spatial or temporal parts of organisms, bundles of perceptions, or what have you. This book is a general study of this question. It begins by explaining what the question means and how it differs from others, such as questions of personal identity and the mind-body problem. It then examines critically the main possible accounts of our metaphysical nature.
  2. The book does not endorse any particular account but argues that the matter turns on issues in the ontology of material objects.
    1. If composition is universal – if any material things whatever make up something bigger – then we are temporal parts of organisms.
    2. If things never compose anything bigger, so that there are only mereological simples, then either we are simples – perhaps the immaterial souls of Descartes – or we do not exist at all.
    3. If some things compose bigger things and others do not, we are organisms.

Introductory Notes – mostly to self


In-Page Footnotes ("Olson (Eric) - What are We? A Study of Personal Ontology")

Footnote 1: Footnote 2: Footnote 3:
Book Comment

Oxford University Press, 2007.



"Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Review of 'What Are We? A Study in Personal Ontology' by Eric T. Olson"

Source: Mind, 117:1120-1122, 2008

Paper Comment

Write-up2 (as at 04/10/2023 21:59:02): Baker - Review - Olson - What Are We?

Full Text
  1. In his invigorating new book – "Olson (Eric) - What are We? A Study of Personal Ontology" – Eric Olson investigates what we are3, metaphysically speaking. ‘By “we”,’ he says, ‘I mean you and me and the people we know — we human people4.’ (p. 85). Olson emphasizes that his inquiry is not anthropological or linguistic, but metaphysical. He asks what we most fundamentally are, not what we conceive ourselves to be6. Olson takes the metaphysical question ‘what sort of beings think our thoughts and perform our actions?’ to have priority over the linguistic question, ‘To what do our personal pronouns7 and proper names refer?’ (p. 118, p.1329).
  2. Olson canvasses a number of important accounts10 of our metaphysical nature:
    1. animalism,
    2. constitutionalism,
    3. the brain view,
    4. the view that we are temporal parts of animals,
    5. the bundle view,
    6. immaterialism,
    7. nihilism,
    along with some ‘minor views11’. After a mostly balanced presentation and critical examination of summary versions of these accounts, Olson concludes his book with a more freewheeling discussion12 of his own opinions on what we are and on theories of composition.
  3. The book is engagingly written13 in a conversational style. Olson has some vivid analogies, e.g., ‘Your hylomorphic soul is supposed to stand to you as a dent14 stands to a dented car or a knot stands to a knotted rope.’ (p. 17415) And he makes up inventive labels for the positions he discusses; to take just one among many, Olson calls Chisholm’s suggestion16 that we might be tiny physical particles ‘Lilliputian materialism’ (p. 17617)
  4. Olson’s favored view (or one of them) is animalism18, a view that he defended in "Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal - Personal Identity Without Psychology" (1997). Animalism is the thesis that ‘each of us is numerically identical with an animal. (pp. 24-519) ‘[O]ur having mental features of any sort [is] a temporary and contingent feature of us.’ Olson goes on to say that ‘any of us could exist at a time without having any mental properties at that time, or even the capacity to acquire them20.’ (p. 4421)
  5. The chapters on Souls and on Nihilism22 are particularly rich. Olson treats immaterialism with much greater respect23 than do most other materialist philosophers today. And he argues that nihilism (the view that we do not exist) is not easily disposed of: ‘Why should the truth be believable?’ (p. 21024) He compares nihilism with solipsism and raises the possibility that nihilism is a ‘pathological view’ — one that is psychologically impossible to accept consistently without going mad (p. 20925). The discussion is quite thought-provoking26.
  6. Olson rules out many candidate accounts of our natures by what he calls ‘the thinking-animal problem27’: ‘If there is a human animal located where you are, and it thinks just as you do, it is hard to see how you could be anything other than that animal, or how you could ever know that you are.’ (p. 21128) Olson says that the thinking-animal problem is not only ‘an argument for animalism but also a challenge for any other account of what we are.’ (p. 21129) (However, he shortly exempts nihilism and immaterialism30 from its reach. (p. 21631)) But the thinking-animal problem is a problem only if the antecedent is true32. Many non-animalist views — constitutionalism, ‘compound dualism’, the bundle view, the brain view, etc. — are not committed to the antecedent.
  7. Consider constitutionalism. Constitutionalism33 holds that we are constituted by human animals, with which we are not identical. Olson says that constitutionalists often complain that their critics do not understand the view. Complaint or not, Olson does not seem to understand constitutionalism34. His situation is like that of a philosopher with a two-valued logic in a debate with an advocate of three-valued logic. Just as the trivalent logician can hold that there are two different ways35 for a proposition to be nontrue, the constitutionalist can hold that there are two ways for a pair of objects can be nonidentical. Thus, a pair of objects can exist separately or one can constitute the other. Olson simply does not acknowledge this ‘nonbivalent’ feature of constitutionalism.
  8. As a result of presupposing ‘metaphysical bivalence,’ Olson insists that constitutionalists, since they hold that we are not identical to animals, should be taken to hold that we are not animals at all36. (p. 2437). He simply ignores a constitutionalist who argues that there are two ways of having a property38 — nonderivatively and derivatively – both of which can be clearly defined. According to the derivative/nonderivative distinction, I am an animal derivatively in virtue of being constituted by something that is an animal nonderivatively. To be an animal derivatively is still to be an animal. Rather than arguing against the derivative-nonderivative distinction, Olson dismisses the constitutionalist’s claim that we are animals derivatively (or as he transforms it into a semantic point, ‘animals in some loose sense’) as a ‘mug’s game39’. (p. 2440)
  9. In his last chapter, Olson suggests that animalism, the temporal-parts view, and nihilism are the only viable accounts of our metaphysical natures. (p. 21441) He further argues that theories of composition42 and theories of what we are are intimately connected: If we had a good theory of either, he says, we would thereby have a good theory of the other. I want to use an example of Olson’s to cast doubt on his claim that ‘a theory of composition would tell us what we are.’ (p. 23243)
  10. Olson shows44 how mereological universalism (the theory of composition according to which any things however disparate have a sum) leads philosophers to fourdimensionalism45. He proposes a reductio of three-dimensionalist universalism46: Consider ‘the particles that currently compose you.’ Those particles — call them ‘the Ps’ — existed a month ago, and assuming universalism, there’s something that the Ps compose at every moment. Call it ‘M’ (for ‘mass of matter’). Given that the Ps cannot compose two things at once47, it follows that you are M. But you are not a persisting mass of matter48; you were not composed by the Ps a month ago. So, if you are composed of particles49 (in that you are identical to a sum of particles), then three-dimensionalist universalism is false50. So, instead of saying that you are composed of particles, some universalists are led to say that you are composed of particle-stages51. In that case, you have temporal parts. (pp. 230-23152) So, here we have a theory of composition (universalism) leading to a metaphysical view of what we are (a four-dimensional being with temporal parts).
  11. Olson notes that constitutionalism offers an alternative: A constitutionalist may be a universalist and say that M constitutes you now, but didn’t a month ago. However, Olson thinks that the alternative fails. To show this, he asks the constitutionalist what he takes to be a fatal question: “Under what circumstances do particles compose something other than a mass [like M]?” (p. 23153)
  12. It’s no wonder that he cannot find a good answer: He’s asking a question that conflates constitution and composition54. Constitutionalists who are mereological universalists hold that particles always compose a sum, and nothing but a sum. Sums are mere aggregates; they are not identical to any ordinary objects55 (like chairs, trees or people). Sums may constitute objects, but they are not identical to the objects that they constitute. You now are constituted by a human animal, which in turn56 now is constituted by a particular sum of particles. Last month, the same sum of particles existed but did not constitute you then.
  13. Universalism-cum-constitutionalism does not bloat ontology beyond constitutionalism alone; sums are ontological ‘freebies’57 that exist if their mereological parts exist. The important point is that constitution and composition are two different relations58. It is a significant (though popular) misstep for metaphysicians to try to make do with composition alone. A theory of composition would tell us what we are only if what we are is identical to a mereological sum. In light of the fact that exclusive reliance on theories of composition leads to a wildly implausible metaphysics, it is a profound mistake to suppose that ‘a theory of composition would tell us what we are.’ (p. 23259)
  14. Olson’s critical survey of ontological theories of our nature will be successful, I suspect, in a classroom60. Focussing mainly on generic versions of views rather than on specific texts, Olson assembles familiar arguments and presents new ones61. The discussions are clear and, with a few noted exceptions, even-handed. "Olson (Eric) - What are We? A Study of Personal Ontology" is a readable overview of accounts of what we are and is filled with many stimulating arguments.




In-Page Footnotes ("Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Review of 'What Are We? A Study in Personal Ontology' by Eric T. Olson")

Footnote 2:
  • This is the write-up as it was when this Abstract was last output, with text as at the timestamp indicated (04/10/2023 21:59:02).
  • Link to Latest Write-Up Note.
Footnote 3: Footnote 4:
  • Baker doesn’t point out the tendentiousness and ambiguity of Olson’s terminology, ‘human people’ confounds human beings with human persons.
Footnote 6: Footnote 7:
  • Olson is insistent (reasonable so) that I is a referring expression. See his discussion in §1.4.
Footnote 10: Footnote 11:
  • What are these ‘minor views’? Compounds of the other views (like ‘temporal parts of brains’)?
Footnote 12:
  • See Chapter 9: What Now?.
  • What does Baker imply by ‘freewheeling’? That the arguments are less rigorous?
Footnote 13:
  • The positive comments on style throughout this review somewhat hide – or maybe balance – Baker’s antipathy to Olson’s primary theses and arguments.
Footnote 14:
  • Olson deals with ‘dents’ briefly in the first two sections of his Introduction – in §1.1 & §1.2.
  • I discuss similar matters in my Note on Holes and Smiles.
  • I discuss Hylomorphism in my Note of that name.
  • Baker only highlights this usage for its style rather than content.
Footnote 16: Footnote 18:
  • See my Note on Animalism.
  • Olson’s contention that we survive the loss of all psychology is just common sense if we are animals, rather than – as Baker proposes – essentially persons.
  • Baker keeps her powder dry at this point, preferring to use the available space to correct Olson’s misunderstanding of her own position.
Footnote 20:
  • Presumably if the human animal is born without the possibility of developing the relevant mental capacities or – towards the end of life – has irretrievably lost them.
  • For Baker, the Person (one of us) would – according to the case – either not come into being or ceased to be.
  • I intend to revisit some of these comments once I’ve read Olson’s book!
Footnote 22:
  • See my Notes on Souls and on Nihilism.
  • Both strike me as absurd non-starters, but the Chapters will be worth reading for the light they shed on Olson’s views.
  • It’ll be interesting to determine wherein the ‘richness’ lies.
Footnote 23:
  • I can only comment on this when I’ve read the Chapter on Souls, though see my comments on Chapter 1.2.
  • For me, the key point requiring serious thought is the whole ‘Uploading’ issue so beloved of Transhumanists. For this to make sense, or for us to be ‘patterns in Information Space (as Andy Clark thinks) we’d probably need to be immaterial, though maybe we’d need to be embodied (in a computer or elsewhere) to experience anything.
Footnote 26:
  • It’d have been nice to have an indication of which thoughts might have been provoked.
  • Comments will have to await my reading of the Chapter on Nihilsm, though see my comments on Chapter 1.2.
  • I’m not sure if the view is Pathological. If it’s similar psychologically to Solipsism, it’s an irritating view that probably cannot be disproved, but can safely be ignored.
  • Does anyone actually hold this view these days – rather than people ‘in the literature’ trying to advance their careers by showing how clever they are?
Footnote 27:
  • This is where the review gets interesting, and where Baker departs from Olson.
  • See my Note on the Thinking Animal Argument.
  • Also my comments when Olson introduces the topic in Chapter 1.9.
Footnote 30:
  • Firstly, I’m not sure the page reference Baker gives is correct.
  • Also, while Nihilism will be exempted from the TA Argument (if there are no thinkers, this can’t be too many), I thought that something like the TA Argument was a standard objection to the Soul View (if souls think and animal’s brains think, there are two many thinkers).
Footnote 32:
  • I agree with Baker that there are problems with the TA argument, but I wish she’d been clearer what the ‘antecedent’ was.
  • It would appear to be compound “If there is a human animal located where you are, and it thinks just as you do … ”.
  • If so, one or both of these premises is in dispute:-
    1. ‘There is a human animal located where you are’, and
    2. ‘Human animals think’ (just like you do).
  • So, to which of these two premises – and why – do the following views object?
    1. Constitutionalism,
    2. ‘Compound dualism’ (… which is …),
    3. The bundle view,
    4. The brain view
  • I’ll add further comments here shortly … Constitutionalism (Baker’s preferred account) is dealt with immediately below.
Footnote 33:
  • See my Notes on Constitution and the Constitution View.
  • My question is just what is constituted by the animal with which it is not identical? Saying it’s the Person, individuated by a FPP just isn’t good enough.
  • We’ll come back to this in due course.
Footnote 34:
  • I agree. Baker and Olson seem to have talked past one another.
Footnote 35:
  • Non-true can be False or Unknown. See Wikipedia: Three-valued logic.
  • Incidentally, this is an analogy, so needs to be checked for relevance.
  • The idea is that – as Baker says – there are two ways of being non-identical: separate existence and one being constitute by the other.
  • This is fairly clear with Statue and Clay, but less so with Person and Animal.
  • But the idea of denying bivalence seems fair and useful enough.
Footnote 36:
  • This is the key point. Olson insists that you are either identical to an animal or you are not an animal at all. Yet everyone – including most philosophers – say that we ‘are’ animals in one sense or another.
  • The problem for the CV – as against other non-animalist systems – is that the others can point to what other thing they propose ‘we’ are. This isn’t really possible for those holding the CV. Of course, Baker doesn’t think this is a problem, for reasons upcoming.
Footnote 38:
  • See my Note on Properties.
  • I think Baker’s ideas of having properties nonderivatively and derivatively is worth considering, and that Olson should take the view seriously.
Footnote 39:
  • I agree with Baker that this pejorative terminology is reprehensible.
Footnote 42:
  • Baker will go on to accuse Olson of confusing Composition and Constitution.
  • I think she is right – composition – Mereology – is entirely different from constitution in Baker’s sense of the term.
  • I don’t have a Note on Composition per se (only on Mereology). Maybe I should – or create one on the difference between Composition and Constitution?
  • Olson is worried by Composition because of his TA Argument. This is why he denies the DAUP (Doctrine of Arbitrary Undetached Parts) – see "Van Inwagen (Peter) - The Doctrine of Arbitrary Undetached Parts".
Footnote 44:
  • Does Baker think that Olson’s argument is sound?
  • And – while we are about it – does Baker accept mereological universalism? What does ‘accepting’ this doctrine involve?
Footnote 45:
  • See my Notes on Perdurantism and Exdurantism.
  • I think the connection between 4D and mereological universalism supposed by Olson is confused, as Baker usefully explains.
Footnote 46:
  • This is a bad argument, as Baker goes on to explain.
Footnote 47:
  • Is this a tenet of mereological universalism? That a ‘thing’ just is the contents of a region of space(-time)? This is composition (set-theoretical), not constitution.
  • Also – in saying ‘you are M’ – according to whom?
Footnote 48:
  • Indeed, for the reasons Baker goes on to give. That is, if a mass of matter is defined by the particles it contains. But then, doesn’t this mean that no ‘mass of matter’ persists from one moment to the next. Is this true metaphysically, or useful linguistically?
  • Do mountains persist? Does the ‘lump’ persist in the famous ‘statue and the clay’ TE?
Footnote 49:
  • According to whose theory? No view of PID says this, does it? Animalism says that you are an Organism, which exchanges particles with its environment.
Footnote 50:
  • That’s if we want to say things persist – in a ‘strict and philosophical’ sense.
Footnote 51:
  • This needs a bit of spelling out, but these would be the stages that compose you at any one time. The space-time worms of the particles while they composed (part of) you.
Footnote 54:
  • I get the impression that Olson doesn’t really ‘get’ what Constitution is.
Footnote 55:
  • This is an important point. In the absence of 4D, none of these objects would persist.
Footnote 56:
  • So, there is ‘constitution all the way down’.
  • For Baker, the unifying principle to individuate a Person is that person’s FPP. What’s the unifying principle for an animal? What makes one bunch of particles M2 at T2 constitute the same animal as another bunch, M1, at the prior time T1? Maybe this is a problem for any theory of the persistence of organisms?
Footnote 57:
  • This is a good point. These sums don’t compose anything other than the sums themselves. They may temporarily coincide with something we care about (or ‘nature’ cares about).
Footnote 58:
  • This is important. However, composition is clearly defined, but not everyone understands – or thinks coherent – constitution.
Footnote 60:
  • This is rather a put-down!
  • A problem with the book is that it deals at – maybe – a superficial level with topics that Olson had often dealt with elsewhere in more detail. Maybe he deals with some of them in greater detail later.
  • I get the impression, though, that it’s supposed to be – up to a level – comprehensive and to address options that Olson had previously ignored.
Footnote 61:
  • Which arguments are new? New to Olson, Baker or philosophers generally? At least some of them are ‘stimulating’!



"Olson (Eric) - What Are We? Contents + References"

Source: What Are We? A Study in Personal Ontology - Contents + References (November 2007: Oxford University Press.)


Introductory Notes
  • This page lists the Contents and References from "Olson (Eric) - What are We? A Study of Personal Ontology". These were online at Sheffield University: Eric Olson, but now seem to have been taken down, though I have taken copies. The electronic version of the References was paged backwards!
  • The purpose of this page is firstly to make it easier for me to check out the references in "Olson (Eric) - What are We? A Study of Personal Ontology", but was also an opportunity for me to check that I had access to the books and papers.
  • Those listed with a link from the Author’s name only are not in my possession, and likely never will be.
  • The draft references are not quite identical to the list in the book. I’ve noted the couple of occasions where they are omitted from the book, but have not noted the few occasions where there are additional references.
  • I’ve not bothered to note where I have a different edition to that cited.
  • Occasionally the sequencing of the references (yyyya/b/c) differs between the draft and the published book. I’ve followed the book, but will need to be careful when I link them up in the text.
  • The Contents has links to the full text of the draft Chapters – again taken from the above site when they were there – and to the various Notes I’m writing on the chapters themselves.


Contents
  1. The Question. Full Text: "Olson (Eric) - What Are We? The Question".
    1. What are we?1
    2. Some Answers2
    3. 'We'3
    4. Rephrasing the question4
    5. Must there be an answer?5
    6. How the question differs from others6
    7. Why it matters7
  2. Animals. Full Text: "Olson (Eric) - What Are We? Animals".
    1. Animalism8
    2. What is an animal?9
    3. The thinking-animal argument10
    4. Are there animals?11
    5. Can animals think?12
    6. Too many thinkers13
    7. Revisionary linguistics14
    8. Animalism and our identity over time15
    9. Further objections16
  3. Constitution. Full Text: "Olson (Eric) - What Are We? Constitution".
    1. Material things constituted by animals17
    2. The clay-modelling puzzle18
    3. The replacement puzzle and the amputation puzzle19
    4. Thinking animals again20
    5. When does constitution occur?21
    6. What determines our boundaries?22
  4. Brains. Full Text: "Olson (Eric) - What Are We? Brains".
    1. The brain view23
    2. The thinking-brain problem24
    3. The brain view and our identity over time25
    4. Thinking-subject minimalism26
    5. Direct involvement27
    6. Homunculism28
  5. Temporal Parts. Full Text: "Olson (Eric) - What Are We? Temporal Parts".
    1. Four-dimensional hunks of matter29
    2. Temporary intrinsics30
    3. Lumps and statues31
    4. The problem of modal incompatibility32
    5. Puzzles of personal identity33
    6. Thinking animals and other worries34
    7. Thinking stages35
    8. The stage view36
  6. Bundles. Full Text: "Olson (Eric) - What Are We? Bundles".
    1. Bundle theories37
    2. Traditional arguments for the bundle view38
    3. Personal identity and the bundle view39
    4. Can thoughts think?40
    5. Thinking animals once more41
    6. Bundles of universals42
    7. The program view43
  7. Souls. Full Text: "Olson (Eric) - What Are We? Souls".
    1. Immaterialism44
    2. Traditional arguments for immaterialism45
    3. The paradox of increase46
    4. The cost of materialism47
    5. Objections to immaterialism48
    6. Compound dualism49
    7. Hylomorphism50
    8. Simple materialism51
  8. Nihilism. Full Text: "Olson (Eric) - What Are We? Nihilism".
    1. We do not exist52
    2. Is nihilism mad?53
    3. Is nihilism self-refuting?54
    4. Unity and simplicity55
    5. Paraphrase: the mentalistic strategy56
    6. Paraphrase: the atomistic strategy57
    7. What it would mean if we did not exist58
  9. What Now? Full Text: "Olson (Eric) - What Are We? What Now?".
    1. Some results59
    2. Some opinions60
    3. Animalism and the thinking-parts problem61
    4. Animalism and the clay-modelling puzzle62
    5. Theories of composition63
    6. Composition and what we are64
    7. Brutal composition65


References
Paper Comment




In-Page Footnotes ("Olson (Eric) - What Are We? Contents + References")

Footnote 66: Footnote 67:
  • I have downloaded this from Cambridge Core, but not imported it into my database as it doesn’t look sufficiently relevant. We’ll see what use Olson makes of it.
Footnotes 68, 69: Footnotes 70, 71:
  • References to this work are omitted from the hard-copy book.



"Olson (Eric) - What Are We? The Question"

Source: What Are We? A Study in Personal Ontology, Chapter 1 (November 2007: Oxford University Press.)


Oxford Scholarship On-Line Abstract
  • This chapter explains what it means to ask what we are1. It begins by breaking the question up into smaller ones, such as what we are2 made of, what parts we have, and whether we are substances. It makes clear that the question is not about people in general, but only about us human people.
  • It considers two ways of rephrasing the question:
    1. What do our personal pronouns and proper names refer to? and
    2. What sorts of beings think our thoughts and perform our actions?
  • The question is distinguished from the question of personal identity over time and from the mind-body problem.
  • It is then argued that thinking about personal identity without considering what we are3 leads to metaphysical trouble.
  • Sections
    1. What are we?4
    2. Some Answers5
    3. 'We'6
    4. Rephrasing the question7
    5. Must there be an answer?8
    6. How the question differs from others9
    7. Why it matters10

Paper Comment

Write-up12 (as at 15/05/2024 00:54:43): Olson - What Are We? The Question

Introductory Notes – mostly to self
  • This page gives the full draft text of this Chapter (Chapter 1, "Olson (Eric) - What Are We? The Question"), of "Olson (Eric) - What are We? A Study of Personal Ontology", which was available online13 at Sheffield University: Eric Olson, but which now seems to have been taken down, though I had taken a copy, and possess the book14.
  • The electronic version of the Chapter was paged backwards, though I have repaired it in the text below.
  • I’ve taken the liberty of reformatting the text to make it easier to read on-line, and to refer back to.
  • The purpose of this page is so that I can easily add a commentary to the text – given that it was available electronically – prior to producing an analysis.
  • The endnotes (“In-Page Footnotes”; subscripted) are as in Olson’s text where the colouration is pink. Otherwise, they are (or will be) my own.
  • Any superscripted links will be to other parts of Olson’s book.
  • Links to my own Notes will be via the footnotes. To save too many unhelpful links from the main text, I’ve restricted footnotes highlighting my Notes to the first occurrence, though I may have many links from the footnotes if I’m discussing other related matters.
  • It would have been interesting – once I’ve completed annotating the whole book – to see how many of my Notes have been cited within the annotations of the Book as a whole, but it seems that this functionality is not yet there15.
  • I will need to update these Notes in the light of this Chapter, but I expect to leave the updates until I’ve completed the whole book.
  • My ultimate intention is to extract my footnotes into a commentary and analysis, and the original text will disappear into the Note Archive as a ‘Previous Version’.
  • I plan to revisit this Chapter multiple times. In the interim, some of my footnotes will be placeholders, either awaiting enlightenment or time for further research.
  • A point worth noting at the start is that "Olson (Eric) - What Are We?" appears to be closely-related to this Chapter, so it’ll be worth collating my comments on the two works in due course.


Full Text
  1. What are we?16
  2. Some Answers17
  3. 'We'18
  4. Rephrasing the question19
  5. Must there be an answer?20
  6. How the question differs from others21
  7. Why it matters22

1.1 What are we?
  1. This book is about a question: What are we23? That is, what are we metaphysically speaking? What are our most general and fundamental features? What is our most basic metaphysical nature?
  2. My first task is to explain what this question means. Rather than attempting to define the daunting phrases ‘general and fundamental feature’ or 'basic metaphysical nature', I will try to give their meaning by example. We can break the large question of what we are into smaller ones that are easier to grapple with.
  3. Questions
    1. One such smaller question is what we are made of.
      • I don't mean our chemical composition … what sort of physical matter makes us up. I want to know whether we are made of matter at all. Or are we made of something other than matter? Or partly of matter and partly of something else? Come to that, are we made of anything at all? Is there any sort of stuff, material or otherwise, that makes us up?
      • It may seem obvious that we are made of matter. When you look in a mirror you see something material. You don’t see anything immaterial. And don’t you see yourself in the mirror? It follows that you are a material thing: something made of matter. But that would be too quick. You might have an immaterial ingredient that doesn't show in the mirror; so casual observation suggests at most that you are made partly of matter. Even if you were entirely immaterial, so that you didn’t strictly see yourself in the mirror at all, you could still see your body there – that physical organism by means of which you perceive and act in the world. So our appearance of being material proves nothing24. In fact the view that we are made entirely of matter – materialism25 – has not been especially popular in the history of philosophy. In any case, whether we are made of matter is an important question about what we are.
    2. If we are indeed made of matter, or of anything else, we can ask what matter or other stuff we are made of. Most materialists say that we are made of all and only the matter that makes up our animal bodies: we extend all the way out to the surface of our skin (which is presumably where our bodies end26) and no further. But a few take us to be considerably smaller: the size of brains27, for instance. I don’t know of anyone who believes that we are material things larger than our bodies28 – that we are made of the matter that makes up our bodies and other matter besides – though I suppose that is a possible view.
    3. A third question is what parts we have. This is not the same as what we are made of. Philosophers who agree about what we are made of – not only about what sort of stuff, but also about what particular stuff – may still disagree about our parts29. They may disagree about whether we have temporal parts30 – such things as earlier halves – in addition to any spatial parts we may have, such as hands31. They can even disagree about our ordinary spatial parts. Some materialists say that every part of the region of space you now occupy contains a material thing of its own that is a part of you. On their view, your current parts include not only your head and your left hand (supposing that you are made of your body’s matter), but also your northern half, "all of you but your left ear", and many further arbitrary and gerrymandered objects32 too tedious to describe. Other materialists deny that we have arbitrary spatial parts. They may accept that your parts include elementary particles, but they deny that there is such a thing as all of you but your left ear. Some even say that we extend all the way out to our skin, yet have no parts at all. So knowing what we are made of does not by itself tell us what parts we have.
    4. These considerations raise a more general question: What makes something a part of one? What determines where our boundaries lie? If your kidneys are parts of you but not your shoes, or my kidneys, why is this so? What is it about the way those things relate to you that makes some of them parts of you but not others? If you extend all the way out to the surface of your skin and no further, what accounts for this? Why say that your boundary33 is there?
    5. Here is a different sort of question: Are we abstract or concrete?
      • Though these terms are hard to define, it will suffice for present purposes to say that something is concrete if it can be causally active34 – if it can actively do something – and it is capable of change35. Whatever is not concrete is abstract. So the number seven is abstract, and donkeys are concrete – as are gods and Cartesian souls, if such there be. Hard though it may be to imagine how we could be abstract36, that is what a few people seem to think. They say that we are not so much like the number seven as like the novel Moby Dick. That novel is not the same as any of the paper tomes sitting on bookshelves, or even the original manuscript in the author's hand. Nor is it something made up of all of these concrete objects37. (It doesn't grow in size when more copies are printed.) It is, rather, an abstract object that all of those particular things exemplify. It is a universal: something that can have many instances. So it seems, anyway. A mountain, by contrast, is not an abstract universal but a concrete particular. Even if the people of Minnesota were by some heroic effort to build an exact replica of Mt. Rainier on the outskirts of St. Paul, their creation would be a reproduction and not the real thing. Mt. Rainier is not something of which the original and the reproduction would both be instances in the way that different copies of Moby Dick are instances of the novel38.
      • We can ask, then, whether we ourselves are concrete particulars like Mt. Rainier or abstract universals39 like Moby Dick. Could there be more than one of you? Suppose the people of Minnesota managed to make an exact replica40 of you: a concrete being both physically and mentally just like the original, right down to the last atom and quirk of personality. That being would be convinced (at first anyway) that she was you41. Would she be right? Would she be you in the same sense as the original is you, just42 as every copy of Moby Dick is Moby Dick? Or would only the original be you and the other a mere reproduction, as with Mt. Rainier? For that matter, might we be abstract objects other than universals43?
    6. If we are concrete beings, we can ask whether we are substances44 – metaphysically independent beings – or whether we are rather states or aspects of something else. Think of a car with a dent in it. The dent45 is not a part of the car: you couldn’t take it out of the car and put it somewhere else, as you could a wheel. It seems, rather, to be a way that the car is: a state or an aspect of the car. It is not a substance: not a thing in the most robust sense. The car, by contrast, is not a way that the dent is. In fact it does not itself appear to be a state or an aspect of anything: there is nothing, it seems, that stands to the car as the car stands to the dent. It is a good candidate for being a substance. Our question, then, is whether you are like a car or like a dent. Are you a state or an aspect46 of something other than yourself? Or an event or process47 that something else is undergoing, like the car’s cooling off? Is there something – an organism or a lump of matter, perhaps – that stands to you as the car stands to the dent in it?
    7. We can ask whether we persist through time48.
      • Do we literally continue existing for seventy years or more? Or is the sober truth that we exist only for a moment? Some say that you appear to persist only because you are instantly replaced by49 a being so much like you that no one can tell the difference – not even that being himself, for he inherits all of your mental features. Could they be right?
      • This is the sort of thing I have in mind when I ask what we are metaphysically speaking.
    8. There are many more such questions. We can ask, for instance, what our persistence conditions50 are: what is necessary and sufficient for a past or future being to be you.
    9. We can ask which of our properties are essential51 to us and which are accidental, or more generally which properties it is in any sense possible for you or me to have or lack.
    10. We can ask how exactly we relate to those biological organisms52 that we sometimes call our bodies.
  4. And so on. An answer to these questions would tell us what we are.

1.2 Some answers
  1. In understanding a question it often helps to see what would count as an answer to it; and often the answers are easier to grasp than the question itself. (Understanding the questions is the hardest thing in philosophy53.) Here, then, are some accounts of what we might be: views that would, if they were true, at least begin to tell us what we are.
  2. Answers
    1. One view is that we are animals: biological organisms. It may seem as evident that we are animals as it is that we are made of matter. We are certainly not plants54, or angels, or stones. But few philosophers say that we are animals55. It may be evident that we are in some sense animals – that we have animal bodies, for instance. (We will consider the meaning of this claim in §2.156.) But our having bodies that are animals does not by itself tell us whether we are animals. Saying what sort of thing my body is would tell me what sort of thing I am if I am my body – if my body and I are one and same thing – but whether this is so is much disputed, even among materialists.
    2. How could we be material things other than animals? Well, we might be parts of animals: brains57, for instance.
    3. Or we might be temporal parts of animals58 rather than spatial parts: you might be spatially the same size as the animal we call your body but temporally shorter, in that the animal extends further into the past or the future than you do. Many views are possible about what spatial or temporal parts of animals we might be.
    4. These two thoughts can also be combined: we might be temporal parts of brains59.
    5. Some philosophers deny that we are either animals or parts of animals, but insist that we are nonetheless material things. They say that the same matter can make up two different objects60 at once. Specifically, the matter making up a typical human organism also makes up a certain non-organism. These non-organisms, they say, are what we are. So another possible answer to our question is that we are material things made of the same matter as or “constituted by61” our animal bodies.
    6. Hume once suggested that each of us is "a bundle62 or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement" (1978: 25263). In that case we are not material things at all. Our bodies may be made of matter, but we ourselves are made up of perceptions, or mental states and events. Our parts are not organs or cells or atoms, but memories, wishes, and dreams. We are concrete particulars, but not substances: we are like dents – or, as Hume himself suggests, like theater performances.
    7. A view with a long tradition has it that we are simple immaterial substances64 – simple meaning without parts. We are not made of matter, or of perceptions, or indeed of anything else. We have no mass or shape or any other physical property. Our bodies may have such properties, but they are not what we are, or even parts of us.
    8. A related view says that each of us is a compound object65 made up of both an immaterial substance and a material organism.
    9. Some people seem to think that we are are something like novels or computer programs66: abstract universals that can be embodied in flesh or stored on magnetic disks or even written down on paper. The concrete beings that walk and talk and sleep in our beds are mere instances or "hard copies" of us.
    10. There is even the paradoxical view that there is nothing that we are. There are no such beings as you and I. We don't exist67. Strictly speaking this book has no author. The atoms we call mine may be real enough; perhaps even the thoughts and actions we call mine exist; but those atoms and events are not parts or states of any thinking, acting being.
  3. None of these views offers a complete account68 of what we are. None purports, by itself, to answer all my questions. The view that we are animals, for instance, does not by itself tell us whether we have parts, or which of our properties are essential to us and which are accidental. It is even disputable whether it implies that we persist through time. For that we should need to know whether animals persist, whether they have parts, and which of their properties are essential to them and which are accidental; and here there is room for disagreement. The same goes for the other accounts. Even so, they each tell us a good deal about69 what we are. They are mutually incompatible: if we are animals then we are not parts of animals, immaterial substances, bundles of perceptions, or any of the other sorts of things we have mentioned; if we are immaterial substances then we are not animals or parts of animals; and so on. Moreover, once we know which of them is correct, questions about our metaphysical nature become questions about the metaphysical nature of animals, bundles of perceptions, or what have you; and with any luck those questions will be easier to answer70 than the original question about our own metaphysical nature.
  4. By way of contrast, here is a view that does not answer the question of what we are: that we are people. (In this book I follow ordinary English, and depart from academic usage, in using ‘people’ as the plural of ‘person’. This is purely for stylistic purposes71.) Although in many contexts it may be a perfectly good answer to the question “What is x?” to be told that x is a person, the claim that we are people tells us nothing about our metaphysical nature. No one, no matter what her view of our metaphysical nature, thinks that we are not people. More to the point, the claim that we are people tells us nothing about the metaphysical nature of people72: whether they are material or immaterial, abstract or concrete, and so on.
  5. Nor does it answer our question to say that we are essentially or most fundamentally people. To say that we are essentially people is to say that we could not possibly exist without being people. To say that we are most fundamentally people is to say, roughly, that we have our identity conditions by virtue of our being people, and not, say, by virtue of our being organisms or concrete objects or sentient beings. Not everyone agrees that73 we are essentially or most fundamentally people. And the view that we are essentially or most fundamentally people may rule out certain accounts74 of what we are, such as the view that we are organisms (see §2.975). So this view may tell us something about what we are. But it doesn’t tell us much – not, at least, until we know whether people are76 material or immaterial, concrete or abstract, and so on.
  6. There are many other possible accounts of what we are, but this incomplete list ought to give some idea of what I am after. In particular, it shows what level of generality I have in mind. The bulk of this book is devoted to examining these views, and a number of others. I cannot discuss all possible views of what we are. I will try to divide my attention among them in proportion to their interest and importance. The rest of this chapter, meanwhile, is about the question itself:
    1. How it might be rephrased77,
    2. Some complications it raises78,
    3. How it differs from traditional questions of personal identity79, and
    4. Why it is important80.

1.3 'We'
  1. Our question is what sort of things we are, most generally and fundamentally. I have tried to say what I mean by 'what sort of things'. What do I mean by 'we'?
  2. Consider first its scope81. By 'we' I mean you and me and the people we know – we human people. I don’t mean non-human people, if there any. So our question is not about the basic metaphysical nature of people as such, but only of ourselves.
  3. Why this restriction? I don’t want to consider the metaphysical nature of people in general because for all I know there might be people of different metaphysical kinds from us. Suppose for the sake of argument that we are biological organisms. That doesn’t rule out the possibility that there are also angels or gods: rational, intelligent, self-conscious beings that are wholly immaterial. Nor does it deny that there could be inorganic artefacts with the same mental features as we have. Assuming that being rational, intelligent, and self-conscious82 suffices for being a person, all of these beings – gods, inorganic machines, and we organisms – would count as people. For that matter, there are philosophers who believe that many human people acting together can compose a larger "group" or "corporate" person83: Apple Computer, Inc. might be a person in the same sense as you and I are. I see no reason to suppose that all the items on this list would have to share the same basic metaphysical nature. That is, I see no reason to suppose that there is any one metaphysical sort of thing that people in general are, or must be. Or if there is, we cannot know it until we have either ruled out the possibility of some of the items on this list – gods, thinking machines, or the like – or else shown that despite appearances people of all these sorts would share the same basic metaphysical nature. It would be easier if we didn’t have to worry about this. So I will limit the inquiry to ourselves. That will leave us with more than enough to think about.
  4. This approach is unorthodox. Most discussions of personal identity take for it granted that claims about what we are – about our identity over time, for instance – necessarily apply to all people (see §2.884). Insofar as they consider our metaphysical nature at all, they take it to derive from our being people, rather than from our being organisms or material objects or anything else. It follows from this assumption that we must share our most basic properties with all people, including gods and inorganic thinking machines if there could be such things.
  5. This strikes me as dogmatic. Not only is it unwarranted. Worse, it rules out accounts of what we are that might otherwise be attractive. It is incompatible with the view that we are organisms, for one. It is unlikely, anyway, that the basic metaphysical nature of any organism derives from its being a person. Organisms seem to have the basic metaphysical nature they have by virtue of being organisms – a nature they share with snails and trees (which I assume are not people). It is even less likely that any organisms have the same basic metaphysical nature as gods or angels or intelligent computers would have. But if there could be people whose metaphysical nature is different from that of organisms, and all people must necessarily have the same metaphysical nature, it follows that no person could be an organism. Assuming that we are people, we ourselves could not be organisms85. This seems a poor argument for the claim that we are not organisms. Its premises were these:
    1. There could be inorganic people;
    2. Inorganic people would not have the same metaphysical nature as people who are organisms;
    3. Necessarily all people have the same metaphysical nature; and
    4. We are people.
    The most questionable of these premises seems to me to be the third86. Thus, I will not assume it.
  6. In any case, this unorthodox stance can do no harm. I am not assuming that different people could have different metaphysical natures. I am merely declining to assume that they couldn’t. If people really must all have the same metaphysical nature, then the question of what sort of things we are and the question of what sort of things people in general are will have the same answer, so we lose nothing87 by asking the first rather than the second.
  7. I said that in asking what we are I was asking about the basic metaphysical nature of us human people. By human people I don’t mean simply those people who are human beings – not, at least, if a human being is a kind of organism. Whether we are human beings in that sense, or indeed whether any people are, is a contentious matter: it is one of the questions we want answered, not something we can assume at the outset. (Despite its homely attraction, the phrase ‘human being’ is too slippery88 to be of much use in metaphysics.) Still, there is a sense in which you and I are undoubtedly human. Setting aside the possibility that some of us might be Martian foundlings, anyway, it is clear that each of us relates in an intimate way to an animal that is biologically human. When we see you, we see a human animal89; when you move, a human animal moves; you perceive the world via a human animal’s sense organs; and so on. That makes you human – rather than, say, bovine or angelic or divine. A human person is a person who relates to a human animal in this way. It is, we might say, someone with a human body. Even if in the final analysis there are really no human animals (as for instance some idealists say90), there must still be some real feature of the world – something about sense-impressions or whatever – that makes it true to say that when you look in a mirror you see a human animal and not an angel or a cow. Our question is about the fundamental nature of human people in this sense91.

1.4 Rephrasing the question
  1. So much for the intended scope of the word 'we'. Further issues about what I mean by 'we' arise if we shift from the material to the formal mode – from asking, What are we? to asking, What does the word 'we' refer to? To avoid irrelevant worries about plural reference, we can put this by asking what a human person refers to when he or she says 'I92'. I take it that I am whatever I refer to when I say 'I' – just as London is the thing we refer to when we say ‘London’. And presumably what I refer to when I say 'I' is what others refer to when they address me as 'you' or speak of me as 'he' or as 'Olson'. So anyone who finds the question, What sort of things are we? puzzling could replace it with the question, What sort things do our personal pronouns and proper names refer to?
  2. These two questions –
    1. What are we? and,
    2. What do our personal pronouns and proper names refer to?
    – are not entirely equivalent. We sometimes use personal pronouns to refer to dogs or ships, even though none of us are dogs or ships. But they come to almost the same thing. The view that we are organisms (say) amounts, near enough, to the view that our personal pronouns, in their most typical uses at least, refer to organisms93. The view that we don't exist94 – that there is nothing that we are – amounts to the view that our personal pronouns don't refer to anything because there is nothing there for them to refer to.
  3. Now this way of rephrasing the question assumes that the word 'I' and other first-person pronouns are referring expressions: expressions that purport to refer to something95, expressions that refer to something if there is anything “there” to be referred to. Anscombe (198196) has denied this. According to her, the word 'I' in 'I am walking’ no more purports to refer to something that walks than the word 'it' in 'it is raining' purports to refer to something that rains97. If she is right, then I am not the thing I refer to when I say 'I', for I don't refer to anything when I use that word. But it doesn't follow from this claim that I don't exist, or that there is nothing here speaking that could be referred to. So on Anscombe's view it is a mistake to ask what we are by asking what we refer to when we say 'I'. This suggests that it equally mistaken to ask what sort of thing I am, or what sort of things we are: that would be like asking what sort of thing it is that rains.
  4. This view seems to me to have no plausibility whatever98. Consider these apparent facts99:
    1. That I am hungry entails that something or other is hungry, just as that London is a city entails that something is a city. (That it is raining, by contrast, does not seem to entail that something is raining.) These inferences appear to be licensed by the rule of existential generalization: they have the form 'this particular thing is thus and so; therefore something is thus and so'. If so, 'I', like 'London', must be a referring expression.
    2. The sentence 'I am hungry' expresses a truth just when the being who utters it is hungry. The one who utters it is the one who must be hungry in order for it to be true. The obvious explanation for this is that 'I' refers to the being who utters it.
    3. If Rinka says 'I am hungry', we can report this by saying 'Rinka says that she (Rinka) is hungry'. This seems to imply that the word 'I' in Rinka's mouth refers to same thing as the name 'Rinka' refers to – that is, to Rinka.
    4. On solemn occasions we say such things as 'I, Alice Margaret Buggins, hereby promise...'. What could the inserted name be doing, if not specifying which person the pronoun refers to?
    5. If I am Olson and Olson is the author of this book, it follows that I am the author of this book. The most obvious explanation for the validity of this inference appeals to the principle that if x=y and y is thus and so, then x is thus and so. This assumes that 'I am Olson' is an identity sentence – one in which the identity sign is flanked by two referring expressions – in which case 'I' is a referring expression.
    Those who deny that 'I' is a referring expression need to account for these facts in a way that is consistent with their view. More generally, they need to explain what the word 'I' does do, if it doesn't refer to the person who utters it. I have never seen such an account.
  5. But no matter100: even if Anscombe is right, we can still put our question by asking what sort of things Olson and Thatcher and Socrates are, or what sort of things our second- and third-person personal pronouns and personal proper names refer to. No one denies that those words are referring expressions.
  6. What if I refer to more than one thing101 when I say 'I' or 'Olson'? Then there would be no one thing that I am. Asking what sort of thing I am would be like asking about the nature of the planet between the earth and the sun. The question would have no straightforward answer, since it would embody the false presupposition that there is only one being asking it. So perhaps we ought rather to ask, What sort of thing or things do our personal pronouns and proper names refer to?
  7. It would be especially inconvenient for our inquiry if words like 'I' and 'Olson' referred in their typical uses not just to more than one thing, but to more than one kind of thing. We cannot rule this possibility out a priori. But perhaps we can dismiss one distracting version102 of it. Some people suggest that the personal pronouns are systematically ambiguous, and refer sometimes to one's mind and sometimes to one's body, so that in one sense of the word ‘I’ I am a mind (and not a body), and in another sense of the word I am a body (and not a mind). It follows that we cannot ask what sort of thing I am without specifying which sense of 'I' (or ‘Olson’) we mean: do we mean What I am in the "mental" sense of 'I', or What I am in the "bodily" sense of that word?
  8. This view – call it linguistic dualism103 – seems to me scarcely more plausible than the view that ‘I’ is not a referring expression. Linguistic dualists are not very clear what sort of things “one's mind” and “one's body” are supposed to be, but presumably they take the mind to be the bearer of one’s mental properties, such as consciousness104 and intelligence105, and the body to be the bearer of one’s brute physical properties, such as height and weight. Further, the mind is supposed to have no physical properties (or at any rate none like height or weight), and the body is supposed to have no mental properties. Otherwise, why call one of them the mind and the other the body? Linguistic dualism therefore implies that in the mental tone of voice, where 'I' refers to my mind, I can say truly I am conscious, but have no height or weight – indeed I am entirely invisible and intangible. And it implies that in the bodily tone of voice, where 'I' refers to my body, I can say truly that I weigh 150 pounds, but am no more conscious or intelligent than a stone. The most I can say about my mental properties while speaking in the bodily tone of voice is that I relate in some intimate way to a conscious, intelligent being other than myself – a being that is not even a part of me, for the mind is not, on this view, a part of the body106. There would be no tone of voice in which I could say that I am both visible and aware of this fact, for none of the referents of my first-person pronoun would have both the property of being visible and the property of being aware of anything. Saying that I am both visible and aware of it would be like pointing to Fred and Ginger and saying, "That person is both male and female." It is tempting to call107 this a reductio ad absurdum of linguistic dualism.
  9. Nor is there any reason, even for those who believe that “the mind” is a purely mental thing and “the body” is something purely physical, to hold such a view. It would be far better for them to say that we are purely mental things. Then there would be no sense in which we are as stupid as stones. Our being invisible “minds” need not imply that such statements as 'I am visible' are always false: in ordinary contexts this may mean108 not that I have the property of being visible, but that I have the property of having a body that is visible – a property that a purely mental thing can have.
  10. Linguistic dualism looks false. But again, I needn’t insist on it. If the word 'I' in my mouth really does refer sometimes to a thinking thing and other times to an unthinking thing, then our concern is the thinking thing. Never mind the referential role of the personal pronouns. This is an essay in metaphysics, not the philosophy of language109. Our question is about the nature of the beings holding the inquiry. So we can rephrase our question in yet another way: What sort of beings think our thoughts and perform our actions?110

1.5 Must there be an answer?
  1. Let me make a few remarks about the status of the question.
  2. I take it that the question of what we are must have an answer111, whether or not it is within our power to discover or even to understand it. There must be some sort of thing that we are, if we exist at all. When we say 'I' or 'you' or 'Socrates', we either refer to something or we don't. If we do, that thing (or those things) must have some general and fundamental properties or other: it must be concrete or abstract, material or immaterial, simple or composite, and so on. If we don't refer to anything, that is presumably because there are no human people to be referred to. Again, if any beings think our thoughts112, they must have some metaphysical nature or other; if nothing thinks our thoughts, then we don’t exist.
  3. What if eliminative materialism113 is true and there is no such thing as thinking? What then becomes of the question of what we are? Well, we could still ask what sort of being wrote this book, and what sort of being is now reading it. And we could ask what sort of beings our personal pronouns denote.
  4. A more worrying possibility is that there are no hard facts about which things think. Suppose, as instrumentalists about the mental say, that it is merely useful, in explaining and predicting the behavior of certain entities, to “take up the intentional stance” towards them – that is, to ascribe to them beliefs and other mental properties (Dennett 1981114). It is more useful to attribute mental properties to chimpanzees than to amoebas or daisies: you are better off explaining the behavior of daisies115 in non-mental terms, whereas with chimpanzees psychological explanation is the only game in town116. But the question of which things really have mental properties has no answer117. There may not even be a straightforward answer to the question of what sort of things it is most useful to ascribe our mental properties to, for it may be most useful to ascribe them to one sort of thing for some purposes and to other sorts of thing for other purposes. That would suggest that our question has no answer118.
  5. If this really were so, then I suppose all we could say about the metaphysical nature of the beings that think our thoughts would be that it is most useful for certain purposes119 to attribute our thoughts to beings of one kind (organisms, say), and most useful for other purposes to ascribe them to other beings (bundles of perceptions, perhaps) – supposing that such beings actually exist, anyway. That would be at least a sort of answer to the question of what sort of beings think our thoughts, though a rather untidy one. It would make our inquiry considerably less interesting than it would otherwise be. But I don’t think there is any compelling reason to accept120 this view about the mental.
  6. In asking what we are I am not asking about our conception or our understanding of ourselves – about what sort of things we take ourselves to be121. This is metaphysics, not anthropology. What we ordinarily take ourselves to be may be wildly mistaken.
  7. Why suppose that we can discover what we are, as opposed to what we think we are? Well, why suppose that we can discover the answer to any philosophical question? All we can do is to try and see how it goes. If we seem to make progress – if many proposed answers turn out to be incoherent, or to conflict with apparently well-established facts, or to have consequences that just look plainly false, while a small number of views stand up well to interrogation – that will be a reason to think that we might be able to know what we are, or at least to muster some rational grounds in support of a partial answer. If our best efforts turn up no strong grounds for preferring one answer over any other, by contrast, or if the more we think about the possible answers the less well we seem understand them, we may have to admit that the question is too hard for us. But there is no obvious reason to suppose at the outset that we cannot learn anything about what we are. (Kant122 thought he had a reason. He thought we could not know the metaphysical nature of anything, but only how things appear to us and the conditions necessary for this appearance. If he is right, our project is doomed from the start – as is the whole of metaphysics as we know it. I hope I can be forgiven for omitting a critical discussion of Kant's philosophy from a book that is more than long enough already.)

1.6 How the question differs from others
  1. Our question may not sound quite like any of the philosophical problems we learn about as students. But it probably won’t seem completely new either: it sounds:-
    • A bit like the traditional mind-body problem, and
    • A bit like familiar problems of personal identity.
    How exactly does it relate to those problems?
  2. Those who speak of the mind-body problem are usually thinking of questions about the basic nature of mental phenomena, such as belief and conscious experience, and how they relate to such non-mental phenomena as brain chemistry and bodily movements. Our question, by contrast, is about the nature of the subjects of mental phenomena: the beings that think or are conscious. The two topics are of course related: some accounts of what we are may rule out some views on the mind-body problem and vice versa. But we could know a good deal about mental phenomena and their relation to the physical while knowing little about the basic metaphysical nature of mental subjects. If all mental events turned out to be physical events in another guise, for instance, that might rule out the view that we are immaterial substances; but it would not tell us whether we are organisms, parts of organisms, bundles of perceptions, or even whether we exist at all. Likewise, knowing our basic metaphysical nature is likely to tell us little about the nature of mental phenomena. Suppose it turned out that we are temporal parts of organisms123. That would leave it almost entirely open which account of the mind-body problem is true: it would be compatible with124 behaviorism, functionalism, property dualism, various psycho-physical identity theories, and eliminative materialism, for instance.
  3. It is especially important to distinguish the question of what we are from traditional questions of personal identity. Three questions have dominated discussions of personal identity since the time of Locke125.
    1. One is what it takes for us, or for people in general, to persist through time: the persistence question126. What sort of adventures is it possible, in the broadest possible sense, for you to survive, and what sort of event would necessarily bring your existence to an end? What determines which past or future being is you?
    2. A second question, not always distinguished from the first, is how we find out who is who: the evidence question127. What evidence bears on the question of whether the person here now is the one who was there yesterday? How do different sorts of evidence about who is who relate to one another?
    3. A third question asks what it is to be a person, as opposed to a non-person: the personhood question128.
  4. The question of what we are is more or less completely unrelated to the personhood question. What qualifications129 a thing needs in order to count as a person is one thing; what sort of thing meets130 those qualifications – organisms, immaterial substances, bundles of perceptions, or what have you – is another. Suppose for the sake of argument that something is a person if and only if it is, as Locke put it, "a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places" (1975: 335131). I take this to be a paradigmatic answer to the personhood question. Yet for all it says, “thinking intelligent beings” might be material or immaterial, simple or composite, persisting or momentary132; they might be organisms, brains, bundles of thoughts, immaterial substances, or what have you. Locke’s definition doesn't answer any of the questions we want answered. It doesn't even tell us whether we exist at all – that is, whether anything satisfies the conditions for being a person. One could have a view about what it is to be a person without having any idea what sort of things we are metaphysically speaking. (Locke’s own position is rather like this133.)
  5. To know what it is to be a person is therefore not to know what we are. Likewise, to know what we are is not to know what it is to be a person. Suppose we are human animals. That does not imply that to be a person is to be a human animal – even assuming that we ourselves are people. It is consistent with there being gods or angels or Martians who are people but not human animals134. Nor does it imply that all human animals are people: it is consistent with the view that human animals in a persistent and irreversible vegetative state135 don’t count as people136. An account of our metaphysical nature implies nothing at all about what it is to be a person.
  6. Nor is the evidence question the question of what we are. One is epistemic; the other is metaphysical. One is about how we find out who is who137; the other concerns our metaphysical nature. They could hardly be more different.
  7. If any familiar question about personal identity is the question of what we are, it is the persistence question. Some philosophers seem to think that to say what it takes for us to persist through time is to say what sort of things we are138. It is certainly one aspect of our metaphysical nature. Knowing our persistence conditions would tell us something about what we are. But it would tell us less than you might think.
  8. Consider some examples. The most popular view about our identity over time is that it consists in some sort of psychological continuity139: you are, necessarily, that future being that in some sense inherits its mental features – personality, beliefs, memories, and so on – from you; and you are that past being whose mental features you have thus inherited. There is dispute over the precise nature of this inheritance.
    1. Some say that your mental life must be (as Unger140 puts it) "continuously physically realized": your brain or something like it must remain intact and capable of supporting thought and consciousness in order for you to survive.
    2. Some also add a “non-branching” clause141 to deal with cases where two past or future beings are psychologically continuous with you at once: they say that you are identical with a past or future being who is mentally continuous with you as you are now only if no one else is then mentally continuous with you as you are now.
  9. Imagine these matters settled: suppose, let us say, that our identity over time consists in non-branching, continuously physically realized psychological continuity. Call this the conservative psychological-continuity view142. Would it tell us what we are? Not by itself it wouldn’t. It may have implications about what we are, such as ruling out our being immaterial substances – it is hard to see how any sort of physical continuity143 could be necessary or sufficient for the persistence of an immaterial substance. It may also imply that we are not organisms, for it seems possible for any organism, even a human animal, to persist without any sort of psychological continuity whatever (see §2.8). The information that we are neither immaterial substances nor organisms would certainly tell us something about what we are. But it would also leave a lot open. Moreover, the conservative view doesn’t actually say that we are not immaterial substances or organisms, and the implication might be disputed144.
  10. So the conservative view gives at best a radically incomplete picture of what we are. Even if we can derive some of our most general and fundamental properties from it, few of those derivations will be straightforward, and even then the picture will be fragmentary. Yet it is a paradigmatic answer to the persistence question. Saying what it takes for us to persist does not tell us what we are.
  11. Other answers to the persistence question teach the same lesson. Consider what Parfit145 calls the simple view146, that our identity through time does not consist in anything other than itself, but is "simple and unanalyzable": no non-trivial conditions are both necessary and sufficient for a person existing at one time to be identical with something existing at another time. The simple view appears to be compatible with almost any view of what we are. Its advocates147 have said that we are:-
    1. Simple immaterial substances,
    2. Compounds of a simple immaterial substance and a physical organism,
    3. Organisms,
    4. Things constituted by organisms,
    5. Microscopic physical parts of our brains, and
    6. Partless material objects physically indiscernible from organisms.
  12. These examples show that we could know our persistence conditions and yet know little about our other properties of metaphysical interest. The converse also holds: we could know a great deal about our basic metaphysical nature without knowing our persistence conditions. For example, Ayers, Merricks, van Inwagen, and Wiggins148 agree that we are biological organisms, and agree to a large extent about the metaphysical nature of those organisms, yet diverge widely149 about what it takes for us150 to persist.
  13. To say what our identity through time consists in is is only to begin to say what sort of things we are, just as describing a country’s coastline only begins to tell us about its geography. What it takes for a person to persist through time is one thing; what sort of beings have those persistence conditions, or indeed whether any do, is another matter.

1.7 Why it Matters
  1. The question of what we are is often neglected. It is common practice to defend an account of our persistence conditions at great length without saying a word about what we are, except perhaps to rule out our being immaterial substances: Grice, Perry, Nozick, Parfit, and Unger are notable examples151. When the matter is addressed at all, it is frequently little more than an afterthought. For example, near the end of his well-known debate with Swinburne, Shoemaker mentions that the account of our identity conditions he has been developing rules out our being organisms. He suggests instead that we are each "physically realized in” an organism and share our matter with it. But he says little about how we are to understand this, and considers no objections. It apparently seemed to him little more than an interesting corollary of his view of our identity over time (1984: 113-114; his 1999152 attempts to remedy this defect). Rovane’s book on personal identity is silent about what we are for 200 pages before mentioning in passing, as if it were rather obvious, that a person is "a set of intentional episodes" (1998: 212153). Although Rovane says a good deal about which intentional episodes go to make up a given person, she says nothing about what sort of thing a set of intentional episodes is supposed to be, and never considers the thought that we might not be sets of intentional episodes at all.
  2. Does it matter154? Why should those concerned with traditional questions of personal identity worry about what we are? Haven't we just seen that they are different questions? Well, they are different in that one could know the answer to any of the traditional questions without knowing what we are and vice versa. Yet they are also connected, in that an answer to one may constrain the range of available answers to another. In particular, accounts of what it takes for us to persist may have troublesome implications for what we are. Those who ignore our metaphysical nature may end up with a view of our identity over time that seems attractive in itself but is incompatible with any plausible account155 of what we are.
  3. Earlier I mentioned the conservative psychological-continuity view, that we persist by virtue of non-branching, continuously physically realized psychological continuity. Many would omit the qualification about continuous physical realization. They say simply that you are that future being who inherits the mental features you have now, and that past being whose mental features you have inherited. How these mental features are passed on is irrelevant, or at any rate needn't involve the continuous existence of any physical object capable of supporting thought and consciousness. Call this the liberal psychological-continuity view156.
  4. Imagine a device that records the total psychological state of your brain ("erasing" or destroying that organ in the process) and then imposes that state, or a state with the same content, onto a new brain in another head (thereby obliterating any psychological content already present there). I take it that this device is logically possible, even though it will never be within our technological capability: if you like, imagine that the machine simply destroys both brains and makes a duplicate157 of the first out of the remains of the second. The liberal view seems to imply that this “brain-state-transfer158 procedure” would move you from one human organism to another (Shoemaker 1984159: 108).
  5. What sort of things might you and I be if this were true? What sort of thinking being160 could the brain-state-transfer machine move from one animal to another161?
    1. It is hard to see how it could move any material thing (van Inwagen 1997162). The machine doesn’t move any matter163 from one head to another. So how could it move a material thing?
    2. Surely you cannot send a concrete material object as a message164 by telegraph.
    3. At most the machine would seem to cause one material thing to lose its mental properties and another material thing165 to acquire them.
    4. What it does is analogous to reading a message written on one sheet of paper, erasing it, and then writing a message with the same content on another sheet. This process of reading, erasing, and writing doesn’t move any material thing166 from one sheet of paper to the other.
    5. Nor, for that matter, does it move any non-material thing167.
    6. No persisting, concrete object of any sort is located or “realized168” first in one sheet of paper and then in another one. So it seems, anyway.
    7. Likewise169, it is hard to see how the brain-state transfer machine could move anything, let alone a thinking being, from one head to another.
    On the face of it at least, the liberal view looks incompatible with anything we could be.
  6. I don’t say that the problem is insoluble: one could turn for help to the ontology of temporal parts170 (§5.5171). But not all advocates of the liberal view would welcome this serious metaphysical commitment172; and without serious metaphysics it really is insoluble173.
  7. Nor do the problems end there. The liberal view clearly rules out our being biological organisms. Whatever the brain-state transfer machine does, it doesn't move an animal from one place to another. If you are in Paris and I am in London and the machine erases your total brain state and copies it into my head, no biological organism thereby moves from Paris to London. Rather174, an animal in Paris has its brain erased or destroyed and another animal in London has its brain remodelled to resemble that of the animal in Paris. If you are an animal, you stay in Paris. But if the liberal view is true, you move to London. If it is possible for you to leave your animal behind in this way, then175 you are not an animal: nothing can leave itself behind. Not only are you not essentially an animal, but you are not an animal at all: nothing that is even contingently an animal176 could move from Paris to London via brain-state transfer. In the story there is only one animal in Paris, and it stays in Paris.
  8. But there is an animal that we call your body177. And human animals with normal functioning nervous systems would seem to be able to think. Or at least they think if any material thing can think, and most friends of the liberal view believe that material things can think. So an animal thinks your thoughts. Yet according to the liberal view that animal is not you. It follows that there are two beings thinking your thoughts178, you and the animal. That is one thinker too many. How could you ever know179 which one you are?
  9. For that matter, an animal that was psychologically indistinguishable from you would satisfy any ordinary definition of 'person'180: for instance the Lockean view that a person is an intelligent, rational, self-conscious being. (Surely there could not be intelligent, rational, self-conscious non-people181.) So the liberal view implies that there are two people now thinking your thoughts, an animal and a non-animal. That is hard to swallow. In fact it is incompatible with the liberal view. Human animals don’t persist by virtue of psychological continuity. If your animal body counts as a person, it follows that some people don’t persist by virtue of psychological continuity. Yet the liberal view is ordinarily taken to assert that all people, not just you and I, must persist by virtue of psychological continuity (§1.3182). The liberal view appears not only to have repugnant consequences183, but to be inconsistent184.
  10. Again, I don’t want to claim that these problems are insoluble. But they are problems. In fact they afflict not only the liberal psychological-continuity view but the conservative view as well, for it too appears to imply that we are not animals: no animal persists by virtue of185 non-branching, continuously physically realized psychological continuity.
  11. I will say more about all this in the next chapter186. My point here is that these popular views about our identity over time have troubling consequences. Though some psychological continuity theorists have tried to address the problems, many more appear to be unaware of them. The reason, I think, is that they have not asked what we are. They have not asked, for instance, whether their view about our identity over time is compatible with187 our being animals. More generally, they have not asked what sort of things we could be if their view is true. If they had, the difficulty of finding a good answer might have led them to think again.
  12. Why it is that so many philosophers have neglected to think about what we are is an interesting question. I suspect that it has a lot to do with the fact that metaphysics was out of fashion188 for a long time (and is still not fully respectable in many circles). This led people to believe that they could theorize about personal identity by doing conceptual analysis. But I don’t want to speculate about history here.
  13. That completes my discussion of the meaning and importance of our question. Let us turn now to the answers.




In-Page Footnotes ("Olson (Eric) - What Are We? The Question")

Footnote 12:
  • This is the write-up as it was when this Abstract was last output, with text as at the timestamp indicated (15/05/2024 00:54:43).
  • Link to Latest Write-Up Note.
Footnote 13:
  • I can’t remember when this was. The pdfs of a few Chapters – including this one – are dated May 2007 and the pdf of the book is dated 11th November 2007 – so in the year the book was published. I think they must have been available for some considerable time thereafter, but I can’t be certain.
Footnote 14:
  • Purchased on 18th November 2007, so soon after publication.
Footnote 15: Footnote 23:
  • See my Note on this question: What Are We?.
  • I shan’t repeat the link each time this expression recurs.
Footnote 24:
  • While the above – rather annoying – observations are correct, I would like to argue that our being material should be the default position that dissenting views need to argue against. It’s ‘obvious’ – indeed, by looking in the mirror – that we are material beings; also, that we are human animals. Any philosopher who claims that these obvious facts are only apparent needs to provide arguments. It’s not really up to the materialist to do so.
  • That said, Olson denies certain ‘obvious’ facts – that he has hands, or that he goes where his brain goes. But he does provide arguments.
  • All-in-all, I think the whole question is one of inference to the best explanation: what philosophical position does the best at accommodating all the facts, intuitions and problem cases, and has the best counter-arguments to contrary intuitions and positions.
Footnote 25: Footnote 26:
  • This is complicated – as Olson will doubtless point out in due course.
  • The upper layer of our skin consists of dead cells. Are these still part of us. The same goes for hair.
Footnote 27:
  • See my Note on Brains.
  • This will be covered in detail later in this Chapter, and in Chapter 4.
  • I don’t think philosophers who hold the view ‘we are our brains’ really believe this, but believe that ‘we go with our brains’ and that ‘we would survive as our brains’.
  • My current view is that a human brain is a ‘maximally mutilated human animal’, along the lines of ‘I would survive if I lost an arm and if I lost a …’.
Footnote 28:
  • See my Note on Bodies.
  • This raises the question whether we can become Cyborgs. See "Clark (Andy) - Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence".
  • While ‘we’ – as a kind – might not be larger than our bodies, individuals might become so. I need to be on the look-out for whether Olson makes this distinction.
  • Two things immediately come to mind:-
    1. Transplants: are recently transplanted organs part of our bodies, or do they only become so once they have been assimilated.
    2. What about prosthetics, that are never assimilated? Even this is an ambiguous usage of ‘assimilation’. Prosthetics would seem not to become part of our bodies, but they are become ‘accommodated’ by (or ‘integrated’ with) our brains as though they were. Take varifocal spectacles, for example. When initially work, the field of vision appears to wobble around as the head moves. But eventually, this sensation goes away, so our brains have been rewired to take the variable focal length into account.
  • Whether externals that we rely on – our websites or libraries – are part of ‘us’ is doubtful, though they might be important to our Narrative Identity.
  • See Andy Clark and "Clark (Andy) - Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence".
Footnote 29: Footnote 30:
  • See my Note on Perdurantism and related Notes.
  • Olson covers this topic later in this Chapter, as well as in Chapter 5.
Footnote 31: Footnote 32:
  • This is a special case of mereological universalism, which posits the existence of even more gerrymandered objects. Any region of spacetime is said to contain an object – its contents – irrespective of whether the region is topologically connected or not. Something like the combination of my nose and the Eifel Tower is a favourite example. Presumably this allows for parts as separately-existing objects, as these are also the contents of regions of spacetime.
  • Olson – along with Peter Van Inwagen – denies the DAUP. See "Van Inwagen (Peter) - The Doctrine of Arbitrary Undetached Parts".
Footnote 33:
  • Olson is suspicious of ‘bodies’ and prefers to talk about ‘organisms’ on the grounds that there is a principled account of what forms part of them. We’ll cover this later.
Footnote 34:
  • See my Note on Causality.
  • I don’t like this definition. Don’t ideas have causal force? And books?
Footnote 35:
  • See my Note on Change.
  • Again, can’t abstract things change. Books go through several editions. Are these not editions of the same book?
Footnote 36: Footnote 37:
  • This could get complicated, and is a matter of dispute between Nominalists and Realists. Is a species something over and above its members?
Footnote 38:
  • Again, this is difficult. What is an ‘instance’. Each copy of Maby Dick – at least if printed rather than electronic – is a concrete particular. It is more than the information it contains. It has dog-ears, coffee stains, annotations … that are not part of the abstract object that is the novel.
Footnote 39:
  • See my Note on Universals, which is – or will be – relevant to the Notes above.
Footnote 40:
  • See my Note on Replication.
  • The use of this terminology is tendentious, of course, as it implies that the replica is not you.
Footnote 41:
  • She would, but she’d find out – from external cues – that she wasn’t you. Initially, because there’s a better candidate for being you. But even if not, on theoretical grounds.
  • See my Note on Closest Continuers.
  • All this is discussed in my Note on Teletransportation.
Footnote 42:
  • I don’t think this analogy is correct, as stated above.
Footnote 43:
  • What might these be?
Footnote 44: Footnote 45:
  • See my Note on Holes & Smiles, which is the same sort of thing – especially ‘smiles’.
Footnote 46:
  • Spinoza would think so, as there’s only one substance in his metaphysics – Deus sive natura – of which anything else is a mode, but I doubt there are many Spinozists these days.
  • But, those who think we are computer programs – and maybe holders of the Constitution View – may be committed to some such idea.
Footnote 47:
  • Our lives are events or processes (that may individuate Organisms, though I’m not convinced).
  • There’s a general metaphysical choice whether to prioritise substances over processes: see my Note on Process Metaphysics.
Footnote 48: Footnote 49:
  • Is this the idea behind Exdurantism?
  • Also, does this relate to the Logic of Identity, and the supposed distinction between ‘loose and popular’ and ‘strict and philosophical’ forms thereof?
Footnote 50:
  • See my Note on Persistence Criteria.
  • Clearly, our persistence conditions are intimately related to what we are, and what events that we intuit that we can survive guides our beliefs as to what we are.
Footnote 51:
  • See my Notes on Properties and Modality.
  • Most philosophers – and most people – seem to think that having a mind with an adequate – and continuous – psychology is an essential property of a person. They may be right, but the assumption is that we are essentially persons, which Olson and other Animalists deny.
Footnote 52:
  • See my Note on Organisms.
  • The animalist contention is that we are identical to – rather than merely constituted by, or in possession of – the biological organisms ‘we call our bodies’.
Footnote 53:
  • This is a very important point. Once the question is properly understood and clearly formulated, the answer may pop out. Much philosophical hot air is wasted in disputes where the question is unclear, or where the disputants are addressing different questions.
  • I might say, though, that it’s the ‘formulating’ of the (right) question that’s ‘the hardest thing in philosophy’.
Footnote 54:
  • See my Note on Plants, not that this is very relevant in the context.
Footnote 55: Footnote 57:
  • As previously mentioned, this will be covered in Chapter 4, so there’s no need to discuss the matter here.
Footnote 58:
  • Olson discusses Temporal Parts in Chapter 5, probably in Sections 5.6-7.
  • The suggestion will be that we should combine elements of animalism with the psychological view and say that we are those stages of human animals during which we qualify as persons.
  • This leads to all sorts of problems – including intermittent existence.
  • My view is that being a person is an honorific assigned to the human animal (and maybe others) and best dealt with via Phase Sortals.
Footnote 59:
  • This just highlights the tension between the two views and the desperate measures sometimes adopted to reconcile them in the ‘having cake and eating it’ sense.
Footnote 60: Footnote 61:
  • I have a lot to say on Olson’s treatment of this topic – for instance critiques of his Thinking Animal Argument, but this can wait until we get to his Chapter 3.
Footnote 62:
  • See my Note on Bundle Theories.
  • Olson treats of these theories extensively in Chapter 6, so my comments can wait until then.
Footnote 63: Footnote 64: Footnote 65: Footnote 66:
  • This was mentioned by me above, but the first time by Olson.
  • From a quick scan, it seems he covers this in detail in his Chapter 6 on Bundles
    (Bundles – The Program View
  • This view is of great contemporary relevance, but my comments will have to await Olson’s treatment of the topic in due course.
Footnote 67: Footnote 68:
  • Well, the bald statement – say – that we are (identical to) human animals doesn’t answer all Olson’s questions, but a fully fleshed-out account ought to, I’d have thought. Elaborations and clarifications are required to argue for this position as against its rivals.
Footnote 69:
  • Surely, Olson ought to say that the positions ‘purport to tell us’, though I dare say a lot can be learnt from considering positions that are incorrect, as most – if not all – of them must be.
Footnote 70:
  • Yes – this was Olson’s original strategy, and it is sensible. But it is somewhat circular, though maybe virtuously so. Lots of the detail has to be touched on in defending the overarching thesis.
Footnote 71:
  • I don’t believe this for a minute, and it’s the most annoying aspect of Olson’s programme. This usage is tendentious and an example of NewSpeak.
  • ‘Person’ is a term of art, invented to prise apart the concepts of human beings and appropriately qualified psychological and moral beings. Olson thinks this is a mistake, which is fair enough, but he shouldn’t adjust the philosophical language so we can’t talk about it.
  • It’s also not even common usage. When we ask ‘how many people are in the room’ we basically mean ‘how many human beings are in the room’, or – as ‘human being’ is also a term of art – how many members of the species Homo Sapiens are in the room. If there are a few great apes or AIs in the room, these may be persons, but they will be not people. And if some infants or severely mentally incapacitated people are in the room, some philosophers might consider them people but not persons. The tension arises when we consider that all people – but not all persons – have legal protection – which is maybe the reverse of what it ought to be.
  • So, Olson is right in saying that saying that we are people tells us nothing, but saying that we are (essentially, identical to ..) persons does. It claims – maybe falsely – that we cannot exist unless we are persons, so we persons may come into existence later and depart the scene earlier than mere people. This is a substantive philosophical position with potentially huge moral implications (it already does with respect to Abortion and may yet do with respect to ‘end of life’ issues when the practicalities so demand.
Footnote 72:
  • This is more complicated than Olson – or maybe I – think.
  • it seems to me that Olson – in confusing people with persons – has confused himself.
  • The claim that we are persons says that we have the metaphysical nature of persons – whatever these might be. Now, how that person is ‘realised’ will vary from persons to person. Human persons are ‘realised’ by their human animals, and this tells us a lot more about them than their ‘just’ being persons.
  • I used to think that Person wasn’t a Natural Kind term, because different kinds of person had different persistence conditions. But I now think this is a confusion. While aliens qua aliens might have different persistence conditions to angels qua angels (should either exist) their persistence conditions – qua persons – would be the same (presumably based on psychological connectivity and connectedness).
  • Olson has difficulty taking the Constitution View seriously; I suspect for reasons associated by this self-inflicted confusion.
Footnote 73:
  • What has this got to do with the matter? Not everyone – even those qualified to have an informed opinion – agrees that we are essentially human animals but that doesn’t mean that we can dismiss the position out of hand.
Footnote 74:
  • It sure would, depending what is meant by ‘people’, but any substantive philosophical position rules out others.
Footnote 76:
  • Well, we’ll never know this as the term ‘Person’ doesn’t refer to whatever instantiates them.
Footnote 78: Footnote 81:
  • I agree with what Olson has to say in this section, despite terminological reservations about people and persons.
  • It is sensible to restrict our discussions to people like us. Other sorts of Person should only be introduced ‘for the sake of the argument’ rather than being a primary focus.
  • So, while it is important to consider whether intelligent computers or AIs are – or might one day become – persons, it is outside the scope of the question of what we are. ‘We’ refers to Human Animals – if we are such – or Human Persons, if that’s what we are (and so on).
  • It is within the scope of my Thesis, however, to consider wider issues.
Footnote 82:
  • See (again) my Note on Persons for what qualifies an individual for being a Person. Olson’s list is a good start, though it doesn’t mention Forensic aspects.
Footnote 83:
  • I’m glad that Corporate Persons are out of scope. In my view, this legal notion is an extension of the term that makes no real sense, other than picking up on ‘person’ being a Forensic Concept. Lawyer like companies to be persons so they can be morally – and hence legally – accountable.
Footnote 85:
  • Well, this argument is valid, but not sound because – as it happens – we are not most fundamentally persons but are organisms. But we might have been persons.
Footnote 86:
  • This argument is difficult because the use of terms is a bit shifty.
  • The difficulty – to my mind – stems from what we are referring to when we talk of ‘persons’. If we’re talking of what constitutes them, then obviously, they have different metaphysical natures. But I don’t think most philosophers – even those who accept a psychological view but don’t explicitly accept the constitution view – are referring to the person’s ‘infrastructure’ but the persons themselves.
  • So, the premise I’d reject is the fourth. We are not essentially persons, because we can exist without being persons.
Footnote 87:
  • I found this paragraph difficult to understand, for some reason. But what Olson means is that – because his discussion is restricted to us – any answers to the wider question of the natures of persons in general is irrelevant in this context.
Footnote 88:
  • See, again, my Note on Human Beings.
  • Olson doesn’t elaborate on the slipperiness of the term.
  • Is it just down to Mark Johnston?
Footnote 89: Footnote 90:
  • Do they really? Surely not. I suspect what they say is that there are human animals, but that human animals only exist in a mind of some sort.
  • Take The Matrix: both Agent Smith and Neo exist in the Matrix, but only Neo exists in the real world. For an idealist, there is no real world.
Footnote 91:
  • I didn’t find that this paragraph added or clarified anything, so I may not have understood it.
Footnote 92:
  • See my Note on I.
Footnote 93:
  • Olson has stated that we’ve moved on to the ’formal mode’. By this, he means language and grammatical usage.
  • We’re about to consider questions raised in the middle of the last century – in particular by Wittgenstein and his followers – suggesting that ‘Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language’ ("Wittgenstein (Ludwig) - Philosophical Investigations" (1953) pt. 1, sect. 109)
  • Olson doesn’t seem to acknowledge that linguistic usage can be philosophically misleading, and that the muddles that arise can depend on the language in which the muddles are expressed (what options there are for expressing the various thoughts in different natural languages).
  • Some languages have neuter personal pronouns to refer to inanimate objects; others have grammatical genders that apply even to inanimate objects. Nothing philosophically interesting can be deduced from this, other that in some languages personal pronouns don’t – in general – refer to organisms.
  • Earlier, Bertrand Russell had hoped to circumvent such problems by creating a fully logical language (references required!).
Footnote 94: Footnote 95:
  • This is all very slippery. As noted, Olson – and van Inwagen – reject the DAUP, so don’t believe in the existence of ‘hands’. Yet, I doubt this would stop them saying they have a tennis racket in their right hand (if so) even though they may not even agree that tennis rackets exist, only ‘atoms arranged tennis-racket-wise’.
  • Oslon discusses such matters in Chapter 2.7: Revisionary Linguistics.
Footnote 96:
  • See "Anscombe (G.E.M.) - The First Person".
  • This is a fairly long, and doubtless difficult, paper that would need to be read carefully to see if Olson’s points from it are valid.
  • I’ve found an electronic version exported to my Kindle, so I’ll be able to read it while walking Bertie! It’s important reading material for my Note on I, so is worth the attention. However, it’s too difficult just to be skimmed to get the gist.
  • From a quick look, it’s addressing Descartes’ use of ‘I’ in the Cogito and is unlikely to be saying anything as absurd as Olson suggests.
Footnote 97:
  • It is true that – in saying ‘it is raining’ – we are simply referring to a state of affairs, yet even so there are clouds that are sending down rain. And an atmosphere that is ‘muggy’.
Footnote 98: Footnote 99:
  • I agree with Olson in all this. I just doubt that Anscombe & Wittgenstein really mean what Olson and company think they mean.
Footnote 100:
  • Indeed – is the above worth wasting any time on?
Footnote 101:
  • This is Olson limbering up for the Constitution View, which he accuses of positing multiple occupancy (which holders of that view deny).
  • So, ‘I’ would refer both to the human animal and to the person constituted by it.
Footnote 102: Footnote 103:
  • So, this view is distinct from substance dualism, which is taken seriously and receives extensive treatment in Chapter 7:Souls.
Footnote 104: Footnote 105: Footnote 106:
  • Is Olson a mind-brain identity theorist?
  • The brain is part of the body, but saying the mind is part of the body sounds odd, or at the very least tendentious.
  • That said, I’m not sure I believe in the existence of ‘minds’. What are they supposed to be?
Footnote 107:
  • This is all a bit quick and – as Olson admits – dismissive.
Footnote 108:
  • So, language is not straightforward and transparent. Why is Olson happy in this context but not in others?
Footnote 109:
  • Indeed. So why this rather superficial diversion?
Footnote 110:
  • Yes, that’s a good way of clarifying what the question ‘What are We’ is about.
Footnote 111:
  • If this wasn’t philosophy, this would be taken as read. If we asked ‘what are dogs’ (or chimpanzees) it would be a biological question.
  • So, it’s really only a philosophical question that has arisen because of a long history of giving speculative – and wrong – answers.
  • Contemporary interest derives from three areas:-
    1. Those still holding to – and wanting to justify – historical non-Animalist positions,
    2. Puzzle cases and Thought-Experiments.
    3. The hopes of Transhumanists.
Footnote 112:
  • While Olson thinks psychological matters are irrelevant to our persistence, our ‘thoughts’ are important to him because the Thinking Animal Argument is essential (for him) in proving that we are animals in the first place.
Footnote 113:
  • See my Note on Physicalism.
  • I don’t think that eliminative materialism denies that thinking goes on, only that it is carried out by brains rather than immaterial minds.
  • I should cover this in the above Note, which doesn’t currently mention eliminative materialism. Even my Note on Mind doesn’t cover it, though there’s an Aeon video on the topic referenced.
Footnote 114:
  • See "Dennett (Daniel) - True Believers: The Intentional Strategy and Why it Works".
  • Dennett doesn’t think that thermostats actually have intentions, only that we do will to act towards them as though they do – in their restricted range of action; the reason being that human beings have designed them that way.
  • The same stance is sensible for animate creatures – because evolution has ‘designed them’ that way.
  • Whether other animals have minds is a difficult question, as Olson notes.
Footnote 115:
  • There’s a recent fad at attribute minds to Plants, but I’m not convinced.
  • Even so, we can still adopt the intentional stance towards them (to explain why daisies turn their faces towards the sun, and so on).
Footnote 116:
  • Despite the attempts of behaviourists to operate as though this was not the case.
Footnote 117:
  • Why so? Is this for metaphysical or epistemological reasons? Is it down to vagueness, borderline cases and so on. Or is it that we don’t even know if we have mental properties?
Footnote 118:
  • Why so? Has the question ‘What are We?’ really got anything to do with minds?
Footnote 119:
  • Is this a pragmatist view (of sorts) or is it a Hybrid View?
  • That is, is Olson saying we might just adopt a stance – in an anti-realist way – depending on the circumstances, as though we were thus and so, or is he saying that we might be different things in different circumstances?
  • I note in passing that I don’t have a Note on either Realism or Anti-Realism.
Footnote 120:
  • Maybe so, but it’s a bit early in the discussion for this to be anything other than an Intuition.
Footnote 121:
  • This is an important point, though such ideas will be touched on passim in arguing against contrary positions. So:-
    1. This is not folk-psychology, nor
    2. The history of ideas (in this area), nor
    3. A report of the results of an exercise in Experimental Philosophy.
  • Olson is really trying to find out what we are, not what people at various times and places have thought – or think – we are.
Footnote 122:
  • See my Note on Kant.
  • While Kant thought we only had access to the phenomena (things as they appear to us) rather than the noumena (things in themselves) and that things appear to us the way they do because that’s how our minds work, we can still investigate the phenomena, and some theories of the phenomena will be better than others. Also, the phenomena are all that matter to us.
  • I seem to remember that there are arguments that even if we are brains in vats, we still have knowledge within our constraints. The same might be true if we are SIMs or live in The Matrix.
Footnote 123:
  • This is a position close to – but distinct from – animalism; it’s almost a hybrid view, trying to take the best bits from animalism and the psychological view.
  • However, it’s not Olson’s view, but is posited for the sake of the argument.
  • It’s also not my view. While I would argue that human persons are ‘temporal parts of (human) organisms’ – in the phase sortal sense – that’s not that we are: we are human animals (I agree with Olson on this, though maybe not for his reasons entirely) and are only persons for part of our lives.
Footnote 124:
  • No doubt; I’ve not really thought this through as it’s not hugely relevant. The point is that the mind-body problem is mostly orthogonal to what we are.
Footnote 125: Footnote 126:
  • See (again) my Note on Persistence.
  • As will always be the case with Olson, ‘us, or for people in general’ reads oddly, as though the ‘we’ are some sort of elite. Of course, he means ‘persons in general’, which includes non-human persons.
  • As noted elsewhere, it is possible that persons- qua persons – all have the same (psychological) persistence conditions.
  • Thinking about this again, though, the sort of ‘adventures’ different kinds of person can encounter differ according to kind. Presumably angels don’t have brains, so we can’t ask whether they could survive a brain transplant. But – I might ask – is a brain transplant – for those beings that have brains – something that happens to the person or to that person’s body? Presumably that depends on how we think of the person – whether as a substance in its own right or as a quality of another substance. We might get different answers depending on how the question is framed, and what our background assumptions are.
  • More on this in due course.
Footnote 127:
  • This distinction of metaphysical from epistemological questions is very important.
  • I just note here that the evidence of the individual – for instance in reduplication situations – is not reliable (or so I would claim).
Footnote 128:
  • See my Note on Person.
  • The key point is whether ‘person’ is an honorific (like ‘professor’) that an individual can earn or lose or whether it is a substance term. Also, whether persons form a natural kind.
Footnote 129:
  • Olson seems to assume – contrary to many philosophers – that ‘person’ is not a substance term.
  • More on this when we consider Locke’s view below.
Footnote 130:
  • This is where things get complicated.
  • It’s simple when we consider – say – whether a chimpanzee meets the qualifications. We draw up a (maybe somewhat arbitrary) list, and it either satisfies them or it doesn’t. Often, you’ll find the list gerrymandered to ensure that chimpanzees don’t qualify: if it looks like they might, then an extra caveat is added to the list of qualifications. In the ‘qualification’ sense, we’re stipulating rather than discovering anything.
  • Where things get interesting is when philosophers consider what adventures a person – however ‘hosted’ – can survive. They get really interesting when post-mortem survival is considered.
Footnote 131: Footnote 132:
  • How could something momentary “consider itself as itself in different times and places”? Well, a thing might consider itself as existing at different times even if it doesn’t exist at different times – just as I might consider myself rich and famous without being rich and famous.
  • Is Olson suggesting that any neo-Lockean holds this somewhat absurd view?
Footnote 133:
  • Again, see my Note on Locke.
  • Locke was interested in giving an account of personhood that would allow for the resurrection of the very same Individual (I use this term so as not to beg any questions). But, he didn’t want to rely on the existence of Souls.
  • Famously, he drew a distinction between the person and the ‘man’ – the human being.
  • He also – equally famously – allowed that a rational parrot would be a person.
  • He had a ‘resurrection trial run’ in his ‘prince and the cobbler’ Thought Experiment.
  • While Locke affects not to care which Substance the person is, presumably he thinks it is one? It’s the person that persists, after all. I presume he thought we were probably Souls.
  • For the Constitution View, which Olson so hates, the persisting element is the First Person Perspective, though quite what this is – metaphysically- rather than phenomenologically-speaking – is somewhat obscure.
  • The persistence conditions of the person – on these accounts – just are not those of the person’s ‘host’. I’m not sure such views are coherent, but Olson doesn’t seem to engage with them properly.
Footnote 134:
  • This is not news. Reference Locke’s rational parrot. But it’s true, for all that.
Footnote 135:
  • See my note on PVSs.
Footnote 136:
  • This illustrates the irritating nature of Olson’s terminological reductionism.
  • People in a PVS naturally count as ‘people’ but not – on some accounts – as ‘persons’.
Footnote 137:
  • As previously remarked, this point is well made. I have no issues with it.
Footnote 138: Footnote 139: Footnote 140: Footnote 141: Footnote 142:
  • Hereafter – unhelpfully – the Conservative View.
  • Presumably ‘conservative’ because of the ‘continuously physically realized’ clause?
Footnote 143: Footnote 144:
  • I agree with Olson that it’s difficult to see how we could be immaterial substances if there’s a ‘continuous realisation in a brain’ clause. But the best option for securing ‘non-branching’ conditions is for us to be Souls, so why bother mentioning brains?
Footnote 145:
  • See my Note on Parfit, though is he really an advocate of the ‘simple view’. He advocates the ‘no further fact’ view, but is that the same thing?
Footnote 146:
  • See my Note on the Simple View.
  • The above Note has references to a whole book on the subject, published in 2012 – ie. 5 years after this book, containing a paper by Olson.
Footnote 147: Footnote 148: Footnote 149:
  • I’ll need to tease out the differences between them in due course, as they are all Animalists of various stripes.
Footnote 150: Footnote 151: Footnote 152: Footnote 153: Footnote 154:
  • Note that this ‘does it matter?’ question has nothing to do with Parfit’s ‘What matters in survival’ question.
  • Olson’s question is why it matters to us what we are metaphysically; Parfit’s concerns why we care about survival.
Footnote 155:
  • I agree, unless ‘person’ is a substance-term in its own right, in which case that is what we are.
Footnote 156:
  • So, the difference between the ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ variants of the PV is that the latter – but not the former – demands continuous physical realisation of the psychology.
  • This is purely terminological (though the distinctions are important), but I’d place the ‘Soul View’ in the ‘conservative camp’ as there is a (purported) infrastructure than continuously realises the psychology.
Footnote 157: Footnote 158: Footnote 159: Footnote 160:
  • The following argument is so important that I’ve split it up so that the various assertions and intuitions are segregated out for individual comment.
  • The question is ‘what sort of thinking being’ could be moved in this way.
Footnote 161:
  • So, how are we consider the ‘thinking being’? If it is itself an animal, then (as Olson argues) it doesn’t make sense to say it has moved (except – just maybe – we posit temporal parts, as Olson suggests at the end of the Section).
  • But, if it’s not an animal, but only constituted by one, it might move.
Footnote 162: Footnote 163:
  • Even if it did move matter, it’d depend on what matter and how the matter was moved.
  • In certain variants of Teletransportation, matter rather than information is beamed across; even then, it’s doubtful that the individual is transferred.
  • What might work is a brain transplant, though Olson doesn’t accept this either.
Footnote 164:
  • Intuitively this doesn’t seem possible.
  • If the object were broken into its constituent atoms and reassembled at the other end, it would have been totally destroyed in the process.
  • Worse still if only information is sent and new atoms are repurposed.
  • Yet – it seems – most philosophers intuit that Teletransportation is a form of travel rather than death.
Footnote 165:
  • My intuition also, but it depends on the mind being a property of a physical thing, though this is our assumption here.
Footnote 166:
  • While this analogy is probably correct, I didn’t find it enlightening.
  • It’s true that it’s not the ink that’s transferred but the information it signifies.
  • Maybe Olson is just trying to clarify what’s happening in a Brain-State Transfer.
Footnote 167:
  • It ‘sends’ Information, but doesn’t exactly ‘move’ it.
  • Can non-material things be moved? Do they have locations?
Footnote 168:
  • I wonder whether this is another case of Olson not taking constitution views seriously.
  • What is the candidate for being a ‘concrete object’ in this case?
  • It’s a message – but not the information therein, but the ink thereof.
  • Clearly, the ink isn’t transferred.
  • But – maybe – a constitutionalist would claim that the message was first constitute by the ink on one sheet and then by the ink on another.
  • Now – if it’s claimed that the message is ‘essentially ink’ – then the message has moved and was in each case physically instantiated. But the ink hasn’t moved.
Footnote 169:
  • Well, it doesn’t move the matter, but does move the form as the Hylomorphists might say.
Footnote 170: Footnote 172:
  • This isn’t really a proper response. However, it’s true that we shouldn’t accept some outlandish metaphysical system – or one with enormous ramifications or implications for all else we hold dear – just to fix a spandrel in one area of philosophy (like reduplication problems).
Footnote 173:
  • What’s the ‘it’ – precisely – that’s insoluble?
Footnote 174:
  • I agree entirely with this description. Does anyone doubt it? As far as animals are concerned, that is.
Footnote 175:
  • This logic is absolutely fine. Holders of the ‘Liberal View’ just don’t accept that we are animals (probably for these very reasons).
Footnote 176:
  • This is where things get difficult again. According to the CV, it is metaphysically possible for your FPP to migrate from one animal to the other. These are different animals, but neither ‘is’ you – they only constitute you.
  • Also, one or other of them might not have constituted you, so you might not have ‘been’ that animal.
Footnote 177: Footnote 178: Footnote 179:
  • This is the epistemological consequence of the TA argument, the primary thrust of which is metaphysical. I’ve never been too worried by it.
Footnote 180:
  • This is true – and the reason this is not widely enthusiastically accepted is most likely down to a downplaying of our ‘animal natures’. Lynn Rudder Baker goes to town on this, if I remember correctly, and accuses Animalists of not Taking Persons Seriously. She sees and ontological step-change happening when the FPP comes into existence, so humans differ from other animals not just in degree. I don’t agree with this, of course.
Footnote 181:
  • It may mean what’s intended by ‘Self-Conscious’. If this means ‘phenomenal consciousness – of self and everything else’ then fine; otherwise, the conditions for personhood listed by Olson can be strengthened a little. Basically, we want to exclude AIs that phenomenal Zombies, but have some conception of themselves as Selves.
Footnote 183:
  • What are these? That I don’t know which thinking thing I am?
Footnote 184:
  • So, the logic behind this claim of inconsistency is that human animals are persons; animals can survive total loss of psychology; so there are some persons that can survive total loss of psychology, contra the liberal claim.
  • Now, the liberal will reply that – after the human animal has lost all psychology, it is no longer a person. So, it’s not a person that loses all psychology. So, the liberal can have his cake and eat it.
  • Back to constitution and / or phase sortals again.
Footnote 185:
  • This is true because – as Olson has oft pointed out (to much consternation) ‘psychology is irrelevant to our survival’ (or words to that effect), given that it is irrelevant to the survival of animals, and we are animals.
Footnote 187:
  • It’s difficult to know the degree to which Darwinism and ‘the Descent of Man’ has – until recently – really convinced the philosophical community that ‘we are animals’ and also that animals are much more sophisticated than ‘brute beasts’. After all, the accepted wisdom after Descartes was that they were mere machines. Humanity wouldn’t have treated animals the way they did – and do – if it realised their capacity to suffer.
Footnote 188:
  • Indeed – the Logical Positivists used the term ‘metaphysical’ as a general term of abuse.
  • I agree that speculative metaphysical system-building needed reigning in, but nothing could be more important than seeking answers to fundamental metaphysical questions where they can be addressed with scientific insight as it develops.
  • The latter point needs to be stressed even today if only to discredit some impossible thought-experiments. Taking account of ‘what we are’ needs to accommodate us as we actually ‘work’ rather than blindly assuming that brains can be transplanted or zapped with only a little technical development without needing to understand how information is stored in them and how it affects their physical structure.



"Olson (Eric) - What Are We? Animals"

Source: What Are We? A Study in Personal Ontology, Chapter 2 (November 2007: Oxford University Press.)


Oxford Scholarship On-Line Abstract
Paper Comment

Write-up14 (as at 15/05/2024 00:54:43): Olson - What Are We? Animals

Introductory Notes – mostly to self
  • This page gives the full draft text of this Chapter (Chapter 2, "Olson (Eric) - What Are We? Animals"), of "Olson (Eric) - What are We? A Study of Personal Ontology", which was available online15 at Sheffield University: Eric Olson, but which now seems to have been taken down, though I had taken a copy, and possess the book16.
  • The text differs slightly from the book.
  • The electronic version of the Chapter was paged backwards, though I have repaired it in the text below.
  • I’ve taken the liberty of reformatting the text to make it easier to read on-line, and to refer back to.
  • The purpose of this page is so that I can easily add a commentary to the text – given that it was available electronically – prior to producing an analysis.
  • The endnotes (“In-Page Footnotes”; subscripted) are as in Olson’s text where the colouration is pink. Otherwise, they are (or will be) my own.
  • Any superscripted links will be to other parts of Olson’s book.
  • Links to my own Notes will be via the footnotes. To save too many unhelpful links from the main text, I’ve restricted footnotes highlighting my Notes to the first occurrence, though I may have many links from the footnotes if I’m discussing other related matters.
  • It would have been interesting – once I’ve completed annotating the whole book – to see how many of my Notes have been cited within the annotations of the Book as a whole, but it seems that this functionality is not yet there17.
  • I will need to update these Notes in the light of this Chapter, but I expect to leave the updates until I’ve completed the whole book.
  • My ultimate intention is to extract my footnotes into a commentary and analysis, and the original text will disappear into the Note Archive as a ‘Previous Version’.
  • I plan is to revisit this Chapter multiple times. In the interim, some of my footnotes will be placeholders, either awaiting enlightenment or time for further research.


Full Text
  1. Animalism18
  2. What is an animal?19
  3. The thinking-animal argument20
  4. Are there animals?21
  5. Can animals think?22
  6. Too many thinkers23
  7. Revisionary linguistics24
  8. Animalism and our identity over time25
  9. Further objections26

2.1 Animalism
  1. What sort of things might we be? Let us begin our study of answers to this question with the view that we are animals27: biological organisms28, members of the primate species [Homo sapiens29. This has a certain immediate attraction. We seem to be animals. When you eat or sleep or talk, a human animal eats, sleeps, or talks. When you look in a mirror, an animal looks back at you. Most ordinary people suppose that we are animals. At any rate if you ask them what we are, and make the question clear enough to indicate that “animals” is one of the possible answers, they typically say that it is obviously the right answer. Few people would deny that we are animals. No one is going to feel immediately drawn to any of the alternative views – that we are bundles of perceptions, or immaterial substances, or non-animals made of the same matter as animals, say. Compared with those proposals, the idea that we are animals looks like plain common sense30.
  2. But things are not so simple. As we saw earlier, the appearance that we are animals may owe merely to our relating in some intimate way to animals – to our having animal bodies31, if you like – rather than to our actually being those animals. The weight of authority is overwhelmingly opposed32 to our being animals. Almost every major figure33 in the history of Western philosophy denied it, from Plato and Augustine to Descartes, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. (Aristotle34 and his followers are an important exception.) The view is no more popular in non-Western philosophy35, and most philosophers writing about personal identity today either deny outright that we are animals or say things that are incompatible with it. We will come to the reasons for this unpopularity later.
  3. The view that we are animals has become known as animalism36. Because animalism is easily confused with similar-sounding claims, I will say something about how I understand it. Animalism37 says that each of us is numerically identical38 with an animal: there is a certain organism, and you and it are one and the same. This would not bear stating but for the fact that some philosophers who deny that we are identical with any animal nonetheless insist on saying that we are animals. What they mean is that we “are” animals in some loose sense: in the sense of having bodies39 that are animals, or of being “constituted by” animals, or the like. We are animals in something like the sense40 in which an actor playing Lear is a king. That is not animalism.
  4. This terminological point calls for a brief comment. I wish I could persuade philosophers not to state views according to which we are non-animals by saying that we are animals. It forces us to express the view that we are really animals – that we are animals in the ordinary, straightforward sense in which we are people41 – with the ugly phrase ‘we are numerically identical with animals’. This is linguistically perverse42: the most obvious interpretation of the sentence ‘That is an animal’ is surely that the denoted object really is an animal, and not that it relates in some way to something else that really is an animal. It is also tendentious43: it makes animalism sound complicated and difficult when it ought to be simple and intuitive. Likewise, stating the view that we are non-animals constituted by animals (for instance) by saying ‘we are animals’ makes it sound simple and intuitive when it ought to be complicated and difficult. I, for one, refuse to play this mug’s game44. When I discuss the view that we really are animals, I will state it by saying ‘we are animals’. And I will state the view that we are non-animals constituted by animals by saying ‘we are non-animals constituted by animals’. I encourage others to do the same45.
  5. Anyway, animalism says that we are animals, not that people in general are; so it is compatible with the existence of people who are not animals (gods or angels, say), and of animals – even human animals that are not people. Animalism is not an account of what it is to be a person, and implies no answer to the personhood question46 of §1.647.
  6. The view that we are animals may call to mind the idea that we are identical with our bodies48. What does animalism say about this? Is it49 the same as the view that we are our bodies? Does it at least entail that we are? I find these questions hard to answer50. Suppose that a person's body, or at least a human person's body,
    1. Must always be a sort of animal: none of us could possibly have a non-animal body.
    And suppose also that
    1. None of us could ever be an animal other than the animal that is his body.
    If these assumptions51 are true, then our being animals amounts to our being identical with our bodies. But are they true?
  7. I don’t know. Someone might doubt whether a person's body must always be an animal. It is often said that we could have partly or wholly inorganic bodies: “bionic” bodies with plastic or metal parts, say, or even entirely robotic bodies. But no biological organism could come to be52 partly or wholly inorganic. If you cut off an animal's limb and replace it with an inorganic prosthesis, the animal only gets smaller53 and has something inorganic attached to it54. It doesn’t acquire prosthetic parts55. If you were to replace all an organism’s parts with inorganic prostheses, it would no longer be there at all56. You couldn’t point to an inorganic machine and say truly, “That machine developed in its mother’s womb.” So it seems to me, anyway. If this is right – if we could acquire inorganic bodies, but no organism could become inorganic – then replacing some or all of your parts with inorganic gadgets could give you a body that was not an organism57: a body that was at most partly organic. In that case you could be identical with your body without being an animal – or else be an animal without being identical with your body. Being an animal would be something different from58 being your body, even if ordinarily, when our bodies are wholly organic, the two conditions coincide.
  8. What it is right to say here depends on whether having some of your parts replaced by inorganic bits could give you a partly inorganic body (one that was not an animal), or whether it would only cause your body to shrink and become attached to those inorganic bits (as the animal would). And that depends in turn on what thing someone's body is. It depends, in other words, on what it is for a thing to be someone's body. For any objects x and y, what is necessary and sufficient for x to be y's body? What does it mean to say that
    1. A certain thing is your body, or that
    2. Your body is an animal, or that
    3. Someone might have a robotic body?
    Unless we have some idea of how to answer these questions59, we shall have no way of saying whether someone might be identical with his body without being an animal or vice versa.
  9. I have never seen a good account of what makes something someone's body (see60 van Inwagen 1980, Olson 1997: 144-150, 2006a). I don’t know how to complete the formula61 ‘necessarily, x is y’s body if and only if…’. Because of this I have no idea what would happen to62 someone’s body if some of a human animal’s parts were replaced with organic prostheses; and I therefore have no idea whether someone could be his body without being an animal or vice versa. So I cannot say how animalism relates to the thesis that we are our bodies. More generally, I find the word ‘body’ unhelpful and frequently misleading in metaphysical discussions. (§2.563 below gives an example of the sort of confusion it can cause.) For the sake of convenience I will sometimes use64 the term 'x's body' to mean
    1. The human animal intimately connected with x:
    2. The animal we point to when we point to x,
    3. The animal that moves when x moves,
    4. The animal that x would be if x were an animal at all,
    5. …and so on.
    This is merely a stipulation, however, and does not pretend to reflect the way other philosophers use the word 'body’.
  10. Here is another delicate matter. Suppose someone said, "We are animals, but not just animals65. We are more than mere biological organisms." Is that compatible with animalism? Does animalism say that we are nothing more than animals? That we are mere animals?
  11. The answer depends on whether being "not just" or "something more than" an animal is compatible with being an animal. And that in turn depends on the import of the qualifications 'not just' and 'more than'. If a journalist complains that the Cabinet is more than just the Prime Minister, she means that the Cabinet is not the Prime Minister: it has other members too. If we are more than just animals in something like that sense, then we are not animals at all66; at best we may bear some intimate relation to those animals we call our bodies. That may be because we have parts that are not parts of any animal, such as immaterial souls. On the other hand, we say that Descartes was more than just a philosopher: he was also a mathematician, a Frenchman, a Roman Catholic, and much more. That is of course compatible with his being a philosopher. We could certainly be more than just animals in this sense67, yet still be animals. We could be animals, but also mathematicians or Frenchmen or Roman Catholics. There is nothing "reductionistic68", in the pejorative sense of the term, about animalism. An animal can have properties other than being an animal69, and which do not follow from its being an animal. At any rate there is no evident reason why not. Despite its ugly name, animalism does not by itself imply that our behavior is determined by a fixed, "animal" nature, or that we have only crudely biological properties, or that we are no different in any important way from other animals. We could be unique among animals70, and yet be animals.
  12. Finally, animalism does not say that we are animals essentially71; for all it says, our being animals might be only a contingent or perhaps even a temporary feature72 of us, like our being philosophers. Whether we could be animals contingently depends on whether human animals are animals contingently: whether it is possible for something that is in fact a human animal to exist without being an animal. Animalism implies that we have the metaphysical nature of human animals; but what that nature amounts to73 is a further question (see below). My own view, and that of most philosophers, animalists or not, is that animals are animals essentially74; but few arguments for or against our being animals turn on this claim.

2.2 What is an Animal?
  1. Saying that we are animals will tell us little about what we are unless we have some idea of what sort of thing an animal is. I mean by 'animal' what biologists mean by it: animals are biological organisms, along with plants, bacteria, protists, and fungi. Animals are what zoologists study. Someone might say that ‘animal’ in the ordinary sense of the word means nothing more than ‘animate being’ – a thing that can move and perceive – and that whether animals in this sense are biological organisms is an open question. If that is the case, then my use of the word ‘animal’ is not the ordinary one, and I ought to have used the term ‘organism’ or ‘animal in the biological sense’ instead.
  2. Anyway, here is a brief sketch of what I take to be the metaphysical nature of animals. The view I will offer has [controversial elements}75, but it is nonetheless widely held. (More detailed accounts more or less consistent with mine are found in76. van Inwagen 1990b: §14, Hoffman and Rosenkrantz 1997: ch. 4 and Wilson 1999: ch. 3.)
  3. As I see it, animals, including human animals, have more or less the same metaphysical nature as other biological organisms. This is not to deny that some animals may have properties of considerable metaphysical interest – rationality and consciousness, for instance – that no plant or fungus could ever have. But if we ask
    1. What organisms are made of,
    2. What parts they have,
    3. Whether they are concrete of abstract,
    4. whether and under what conditions they persist through time,
    … and the like, I believe that the answer will be more or less the same for human organisms as it is for plants and fungi. So we need an account of the metaphysical nature of organisms generally77.
  4. I take it that
    1. Organisms are concrete particulars.
    2. They are substances78, and not events or states or aspects of something else.
    3. They persist through time; moreover
    4. They continue to be organisms when they persist.
    5. I will assume for the present that they do not have temporal parts, though we will revisit this assumption in Chapter 579.
    6. I also assume that organisms are made up entirely of matter: they have no immaterial or non-physical parts.
    Descartes thought that each normal human animal was somehow attached to an immaterial substance that is necessary for a thing to think rationally, but not necessary for it to be alive in the biological sense. If this were true, I take it that the animal would be the material thing80, and not the object made up of the material thing and the immaterial one.
  5. Organisms differ from other material things by having lives. By a life I mean more or less what Locke meant (1975: 330-31): a self-organizing biological event81 that maintains82 the vastly complex internal structure of an organism. The materials organisms are made up of are intrinsically unstable, and must therefore be constantly repaired and renewed83, else the organism dies and its remains decay. An organism must constantly take in new particles, reconfigure and assimilate them into its living fabric, and expel those that are no longer useful to it. An organism's life enables it to persist and retain its characteristic structure despite constant material turnover84.
  6. There may be things besides organisms that are in some sense alive: certain parts of organisms, such as arms, and things made up of several organisms, such as packs of wolves. They are not organisms because they lack lives of their own85. My arm's tissues are kept alive by the vital processes of the human animal it is a part of: there is no self-organizing biological event of the right sort to be a life going on throughout my arm and nowhere else.
  7. Organisms have parts86: vast numbers of them. A thing is alive in the biological sense by virtue of a vastly complex array of biochemical processes, and the particles caught up in these processes are parts of the organism. (If Aristotle87 thought that organisms were mereologically simple, that is presumably because he thought that matter was homogeneous and not particulate.) Owing to metabolic turnover, organisms are made up of different parts at different times88.
  8. What are the parts of an organism? Where does an organism leave off, and its environment begin? Where an organism's boundaries lie has presumably to do with the spatial extent of its life89. But just how its life determines its boundaries90 is not obvious. It is tempting to say that an organism is made up at a given time of just those particles that are caught up in its life – its metabolic activities91 – at that time. If you are an organism, you extend all the way to the surface of your skin and no further because that is the extent of your biological life92. Your clothes, or a prosthetic limb93, are not parts of you
    1. Because damage to them is not repaired in the way that damage to your living fabric is repaired,
    2. Because they are not nourished by your blood supply,
    3. Because their parts are not renewed and replaced in the way that parts of your kidneys are,
    … and so on. Neat though this view is, however, some find it too restrictive. They say that the particles in an animal's hair or in the dead heartwood of an ageing tree are parts of the organism, despite no longer being caught up in its life (Ayers 1991: 22594.). We needn’t settle this matter for present purposes95.
  9. As for identity over time, I am inclined to believe that an organism persists if and only if its life continues96. This has the surprising consequence that an organism ceases to exist when the event that maintains its internal structure97 stops and cannot be restarted – that is, when the organism dies. Whatever is left behind – the organism's lifeless remains or its corpse or what have you – is something other than the organism. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a dead organism: no organism can be alive at one time and dead at another. I believe this because I have never seen a plausible alternative account of what it takes for an organism to persist (Olson 2004: 269-27198.). It is not a wholly eccentric view: in addition to Aristotle (see Furth 1988: 156-15799.) and Locke (1975: 330-331), it has several contemporary advocates100. (van Inwagen 1990: 142-158, Hoffman and Rosenkrantz 1997: 159, Wilson 1999: 89-99). It is controversial, however, and nothing I say in this book turns on it. The persistence conditions of human animals will concern us again in §2.7101 and §7.7102.

2.3 The Thinking-Animal Problem103
  1. Why suppose that we are animals? Well, there are about six billion human animals walking the earth – the same as the number of human people. For each of us there is a human animal, and for every human animal (pathological cases aside104, perhaps) there is one of us. Those animals are very like ourselves: they sit in our chairs and wear our clothes; they do our work and read our newspapers and chat with our friends. They appear to be so like us, both physically and mentally, that it is hard to tell the difference. These apparent facts pose a formidable obstacle to anyone who would deny that we are animals: the thinking-animal problem.
  2. There is a human animal intimately related to you, which some call your body. Consider that animal’s mental properties. It would seem to have mental properties. You have mental properties, and the animal has the same brain and nervous system as you have (and the same surroundings too, if that is relevant). It went to the same schools as you did, and had the same teachers. It shows the same behavioral evidence of mentality as you do. What more could be required105 for a thing to have mental properties? In fact the animal seems to be mentally exactly like you: every thought or experience of yours appears to be a thought or experience on the part of the animal. How could you and the animal have different thoughts? But if the animal thinks your thoughts, then surely it is you. You could hardly be something other than the thing that thinks your thoughts106.
  3. Consider what it would mean if you were not the animal. The animal thinks. And of course you think. (We can’t suppose that the animal thinks and you don’t think. Nor can we suppose that you don’t exist, when your animal body thinks.) So if you were not that thinking animal, there would be two beings thinking your thoughts: there would be the thinking animal, and there would be you, a thinking non-animal. We should each share our thoughts with an animal numerically different from us. For every thought there would be two thinkers107.
  4. Or perhaps the animal located where you are doesn’t think, or doesn’t think in the way that you do. Something might prevent it from thinking. Someone might even suppose that it was a mistake to concede the existence of an animal sitting there in the first place: maybe there is strictly speaking no such thing as your body. In any case, there are just three alternatives to your being an animal:
    1. There is no human animal where you are;
    2. There is an animal there, but it doesn’t think in the way that you do; or
    3. There is an animal there, and it thinks exactly as you do, but you are not it.
    There is no fourth possibility108. The repugnancy of these three alternatives seems to me a powerful reason to suppose that you are an animal. Let us consider them.

2.4 Are there animals?
  1. If you are not an animal, the reason may be that there is no animal that you or anyone else could be. How could there be no human animals? What reason could anyone have for believing this?
  2. A number of general metaphysical principles are incompatible with the existence of animals. For instance, some versions of idealism entail that there are no material objects at all (so I should describe those views, anyway); and if there are no material objects, then there are no biological organisms. But let’s not discuss idealism109. Another example is the principle that nothing can have different parts at different times. According to this principle110, whenever something appears to exchange an old part for a new one, the truth of the matter is that the object composed of the old parts ceases to exist (or else begins to disperse111) and is instantly replaced by a new object composed of the new parts. Yet organisms by their very nature constantly exchange old parts for new ones. If nothing could ever survive a change of any of its parts, then organisms are metaphysically impossible112; what we think of as an organism is in in reality only a series of "masses of matter" that each take on organic form for a brief moment- -until a single particle is gained or lost – and then pass that form on to a numerically different mass.
  3. The principle that nothing can change its parts is both theoretically elegant and strikingly implausible113 (we will return to it in §7.3114-§7.4115). But few opponents of animalism deny the existence of animals. They have good reason not to: anything that would rule out the existence of animals would also rule out the existence of most of the things we might be if we were not animals. If there are no animals, then there are no beings constituted by animals, for instance, and no temporal or spatial parts of animals. And if nothing can change its parts, then persisting bundles of perceptions are no more possible than animals. If there are no animals, there will be few items remaining among the furniture of the earth116 that we might be.

2.5 Can animals think?
  1. The second alternative to our being animals is that the animals we call our bodies exist but don’t think in the way that we do. (Let any sort of mental activity or state count for present purposes as thinking.) There are two possibilities here:
    1. that human animals don’t think at all, and
    2. that they think but not as we do.
  2. Consider first the idea that they don’t think at all. You think, but the animal sitting there doesn't. The reason for this can only be that the animal cannot think: it would certainly be thinking now if it were able to. And if that animal cannot think now, no human animal can ever think, for no human animal is better suited for thinking that it is. Presumably no biological organism of any sort could think. The claim, then, is that animals, including human animals, are no more sentient or intelligent than stones; in fact they are necessarily incapable of thought. It may still be that most human animals relate in some intimate way to thinking beings – to us – and stones do not; and it might be appropriate for certain purposes to describe this fact loosely by saying that human animals are more intelligent than stones117. But strictly speaking human animals would have no mental properties whatever.
  3. That would be surprising. Human animals seem to think. Could this really be only a misleading appearance? If human animals and other organisms cannot think, there must surely be some impressive explanation of why they can’t – that is, some account of what prevents them from using their brains to think.
  4. One possible explanation is that nothing can think: there is no such thing as thinking, any more than there is such a thing as phlogiston (a chemical substance once thought to be a constituent of solid matter and released in combustion). This view is known as eliminative materialism118. But no opponents of animalism that I know of accept it. If it were true, it could not be the case that our identity through time consists in psychological continuity, or that we have our mental properties essentially; and that would leave little reason to suppose that we are anything other than animals (see §2.8119 and §2.9120).
  5. Suppose eliminative materialism is false. In that case, the reason why human animals cannot think must presumably be that they have some property that prevents them from thinking – a property that we, who clearly can think, lack. (Or maybe they lack a property of ours that is necessary for thought.) The most obvious candidate for such a property is being material. If any material thing could ever think, surely it would be some sort of animal; so if animals cannot think, we should expect the reason to be that only an immaterial thing could think121. You and I must therefore be immaterial. Of course, simply denying that any material thing could think does nothing to explain why it couldn't; but those who hold this view have said many things that would, if they were true, explain why no material thing could think. So you might expect anyone who denies that you and I are animals to deny that we are material things of any sort. But this is not so: many opponents of animalism claim to be materialists122. They cannot explain human animals' inability to think by appealing to the fact that animals are material.
  6. They might say that human animals cannot think because they are mere bodies, and mere bodies cannot think. It could only be some sort of joke, the idea goes, to say that Newton’s body believed123 in absolute space, while Leibniz’s body disagreed. Since we think, it would follow that we are not our bodies, and therefore not animals. But that wouldn't mean that we are immaterial: we might be material things other than our bodies.
  7. Now even if this is a reason to believe that animals cannot think, it does nothing to explain why124 they can’t. That a human animal is someone’s body and that it is somehow absurd to say that someone’s body thinks tells us nothing about why a human animal, call it what you will, should be unable to think. It makes that claim no less surprising or easier to believe. (Compare125: if Professor Hawking tells us that light cannot escape from a black hole, that is a reason to believe it, but no explanation of why it is so.)
  8. In any case, it is hardly an impressive argument against animal thought. I grant that there is something odd about the statement that Newton’s body believed in absolute space. But a statement can be odd without being false. Though it sounds preposterous to say126 that there is a liter of blood in my office, it is nevertheless true: I am in my office, and there is a liter of blood in me. The statement is odd because it suggests that blood is stored in my office in something like the way it is stored in blood banks, which really would be preposterous. The statement that Newton’s body believed in absolute space might be odd for a similar reason. For instance, the reason it sounds wrong might be127 that it suggests the false claim that believing in absolute space is in some sense a “bodily” property.
  9. In any case, the oddness of saying that Newton’s body believed in absolute space should not lead us to infer that the phrase ‘Newton’s body' denotes something of Newton’s – a certain human organism – that was unable to think. Compare the word 'body' with a closely related one: mind. It is just as odd to say128 that Newton’s mind was tall and thin, or indeed that it had any other size or shape, as it is to say that Newton’s body believed in absolute space. But no one would conclude from this that Newton had some mental thing with no size or shape. That would be a poor argument for substance dualism. We cannot always substitute the phrase 'Newton’s mind' for the name 'Newton' without something going wrong; but it is doubtful whether any important metaphysical conclusion follows from this. We ought to be equally wary of drawing metaphysical conclusions from the fact that we cannot always substitute the phrase 'Newton's body' for the name 'Newton' without something going wrong.
  10. Anyone who wants to explain why some material objects can think but animals cannot has his work cut out for him. I know of just two possible explanations worth considering. The first says that animals cannot think because they are too big129. The true thinkers are brains, or perhaps parts of brains. A whole animal can be said to think only in the derivative sense of having a thinking brain as a part, much as a car is powerful in the sense of having a powerful engine as a part. Animals are stupid things inhabited by clever brains. I will take up this idea in Chapter 4130.
  11. The second, which is far more interesting, is due to Shoemaker131. (1984: 92-97, 1999, 2004). He says that animals cannot think because they have the wrong identity conditions132. Mental properties, he says, have characteristic causal roles. For you to be hungry, for instance, is for you to be in a state that, among other things, is typically caused by your having low blood sugar, and which tends to cause you to act in ways you believe would result in your eating something nourishing. Now your hunger is a state that tends to combine with your beliefs – not mine – to cause you, and no one else, to behave in certain ways. That is part of the nature of hunger. More generally, for you to have any mental property is at least in part for you to be in a state disposed to combine with certain of your other states to cause you, and no one else, to do certain things.
  12. But that, Shoemaker claims, is to say that any being whose later states or actions are caused in the appropriate way by your current mental states must be you133. Now suppose your cerebrum134 is put into my head tomorrow. Then your current mental states will have their characteristic effects135 in the being who ends up with that organ, and not in the empty-headed thing left behind. The subject of those states – you – must therefore go along with its transplanted cerebrum136. It follows that137 psychological continuity of a sort must suffice for you to persist through time. More generally, the nature of mental properties entails that psychological continuity suffices138 for anything that has them to persist. Since no sort of psychological continuity suffices139 for any organism to persist – no human animal would go along with its transplanted cerebrum140 – it follows that no organism could have mental properties141. The nature of mental properties makes it metaphysically impossible for animals to think. However, material things with the right identity conditions would be able to think. Shoemaker believes that human organisms typically "constitute142" such things.
  13. It is important to see just how surprising this view is143. Suppose you and I are physically just like human animals. (Shoemaker more or less accepts this.) Then the view implies that beings with the same physical properties and surroundings can differ radically in their mental properties. In fact this happens regularly: every human person coincides with an animal physically indistinguishable from her – a perfect physical duplicate – that has no mental properties whatever. There are physically identical beings, in identical surroundings, that differ as much in their mental properties as we differ from trees. Mental properties fail to supervene on physical properties in even the weak sense that any two beings with the same physical properties will have the same mental properties. A thing's having the right physical properties and surroundings does not even reliably cause it to have any mental properties.
  14. I find Shoemaker’s argument against animal thought unpersuasive. It doesn’t seem absolutely necessary that the characteristic effects of a being’s mental states must always occur in that very being. In fact it seems that it would not be so in fission cases144. Suppose your cerebrum is removed from your head and each half is implanted into a different empty head. Then your mental states have their characteristic effects in two different people. If the nature of mental states entails that the donor must be identical with the recipient in the “single” transplant case, it ought to entail that the donor must be identical with both recipients in the double transplant. But that, as Shoemaker himself agrees, is impossible.
  15. There is more to say about Shoemaker’s argument, but this is not the place for it (see Olson 2002c145.). What if human animals do think, but not in the way that we do? There are two possibilities here.
    1. One is that they have different mental properties from us: for instance, they are conscious but never self-conscious146.
    2. The other is that human animals have the same mental properties as we have, but they have them in a different way: for instance, they think only in the derivative sense of relating in a certain way to us, who think in a straightforward and non-derivative sense147.
    By itself, however, neither of these suggestions does anything to solve the thinking-animal problem148. It would be just as surprising if human animals were incapable of having the sorts of thoughts that we have, or if they could not think in the sense that we do, as it would be if they could not think at all. It would demand the same sort of explanation, and the prospects for finding one would be similar. It is hard to see what opponents of animalism would gain by proposing such a view.

2.6 Too many thinkers
  1. Suppose human animals think in just the way that we do: every thought of yours is a thought on the part of a certain animal. How could that thinking animal be anything other than you? Only if you are one of at least two beings that think your thoughts. (Or maybe you and the animal think numerically different but otherwise identical thoughts. Then you are one of at least two beings thinking exactly similar thoughts.) If you think, and your animal body thinks, and it is not you, then there are two thinkers there, sitting and reading this book. Call this the cohabitation view. It is unattractive in at least three different ways149.
  2. Most obviously, it means that there are far more thinking beings150 than we thought: the overcrowding problem. Defenders of the cohabitation view – and it has its defenders – typically respond by proposing linguistic hypotheses. They propose that the things we ordinarily say and believe about how many people there are do not mean or imply what they appear to mean or imply. They interpret, or reinterpret, our ordinary, non-philosophical statements and beliefs in a way that would make them consistent with the cohabitation view. When I write on the copyright form that I am the sole author of this book, for instance, I might seem to be saying that every author of this book is numerically identical with me, which according to the cohabitation view is false. But it may not be obvious that that is what I mean. Perhaps I mean only that every author of this book bears some close relation to me: that they all share their thoughts with me, say, that they exactly coincide with me. In that case the ordinary statement that I am the sole author of this book comes out true, even if strictly speaking the book has at least two authors. My wife is not in any ordinary sense a bigamist151, even if she is married both to me and to this animal. At any rate it would be badly misleading to describe our relationship as a ménage à quatre.
  3. The general idea is that whenever two thinking beings relate to one another in the way we relate to our animal bodies, we "count them as one" for ordinary purposes (Lewis 1993152). Ordinary people – people not engaged in metaphysics – have no opinion about how many numerically different thinkers there are. Why should they? What matters in real life is not the number of numerically different thinkers, but the number of non-overlapping thinkers. Human people and thinking human animals don’t compete for space. The world is overcrowded only in a thin, metaphysical sort of way and not in any robust quotidian sense.
  4. If this is right, the cohabitation view is consistent with everything we ordinarily say and believe about how many of us there are. But that does not entirely deprive the overcrowding problem of its force. Philosophers of language who know their business can take any philosophical claim, no matter how absurd153, and come up with a linguistic hypothesis according to which that claim is compatible with everything we say and think when we’re not doing philosophy. If I say that I had breakfast before I had lunch today, there is no doubt something I could be taken to mean that would make my statement compatible with the unreality of time154. But that would not make it any easier to believe that time is unreal – not much, anyway. For the same reason, the mere existence of the hypothesis that we “count” philosophers by a relation other than numerical identity does little to make it easier to believe that there are two numerically different philosophers155 sitting there and reading this now. That is because that linguistic hypothesis seems to most of us to be false156.
  5. In any case, the troubles for the cohabitation view go beyond mere overcrowding. The view makes it hard to see how we could ever know that we were not animals157. If there really are two beings, a person and an animal, now thinking your thoughts, you ought to wonder which one you are158. You may think you're the person – the one that isn't an animal. But since the animal thinks exactly as you do, it ought to think that it is a person. It will have the very same grounds for thinking that it is a person and not an animal as you have for believing that you are. Yet it is mistaken. If you were the animal and not the person, you would still think you were the person. So for all you know, you are the one making the mistake. Even if you are a person and not an animal, it is hard to see how you could ever have any reason to believe that you are159. Call this the epistemic problem.
  6. The cohabitation view is unattractive in a third way as well. If your animal thinks just as you do, it ought to count as a person160. It satisfies every ordinary definition of 'person': it is, for instance, "a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places," as Locke put it. But no one supposes that your animal body is a person numerically different from you – that we each share our thoughts with another person. If nothing else, that would contradict the popular claim that people – all people – have properties incompatible with those of animals (see §2.7161 below). It would also mean that some human people are animals, even if others are not. And if human animals are not only psychologically indistinguishable from ourselves but are also people in their own right, it is even more difficult to see how anyone could have any reason to believe that she was not one of the animal people.
  7. If ordinary human animals are not people, on the other hand, despite having the same mental properties as people, all familiar accounts of what it is to be a person are too permissive. There could be non-people whose inner life was entirely indistinguishable from ours; indeed, there would be at least one such non-person for every genuine person. That would deprive personhood of any psychological or moral significance. For that matter, it would make it a real epistemic possibility that we are not people. I can verify easily enough that I am rational, self-conscious, and so on; but how could I assure myself that I have that extra feature required for personhood that rational human animals lack? Call this problem – that our animal bodies would be people different from ourselves – the personhood problem162.

2.7 Creative linguistics
  1. Some say that the epistemic problem163 has a linguistic solution (Noonan 1998164, forthcoming). They make two surprising claims.
    1. First, they say, not just any rational, self-conscious being, or more generally any being with our mental capacities, is a person. To count as a person, a thing must have not only the appropriate mental qualities, but something else as well: it must persist by virtue of psychological continuity165, or have those mental qualities essentially166, or the like. Call this extra feature F. That beings must have F in order to fall within the extension of the word ‘person’ is supposed to be a contingent fact about how we use167 that word. Human animals lack F168, and therefore do not qualify as people, despite being psychologically indistinguishable from ourselves. That is the first claim.
    2. The second is that the word 'I' and other personal pronouns, at least in their most typical uses, refer only to people169: that's why we call them personal pronouns. A being that says 'I' in normal circumstances refers thereby to the person who says it. This too is supposed to be a contingent fact about how we use language170.
  2. These two claims, together with the cohabitation view, yield the startling conclusion171 that first-person utterances (and presumably first-person thoughts as well) do not always refer to the beings that utter or think them. In particular, when your animal body says 'I', it doesn't refer to itself, as it isn't a person. But presumably you have F; so you are a person, and when you say or think 'I', you do refer to yourself. Since your animal body says and thinks just what you say and think, its first-person utterances and thoughts therefore refer to you – the person who produces them – rather than to itself. If it says, "I am hungry," it means not that it itself is hungry, but that you are. More to the point, if the animal says or thinks, "I am a person and not an animal," it does not say falsely that it is a person and not an animal, but truly that you are. So neither you nor the animal is mistaken172 about which thing it is.
  3. Call this linguistic hypothesis – that personal pronouns refer only to people and that people by definition have F – personal-pronoun revisionism173. How would it solve the epistemic problem? Suppose there are two beings thinking your thoughts: an animal, and also a nonanimal with psychological persistence conditions – a psychological continuer for short. Better, suppose that you know this. Suppose further that having psychological persistence conditions is the extra person-making feature F. Now imagine wondering which of the beings thinking your thoughts you are, the animal or the psychological continuer. How could you work out the answer to this question?
  4. Well, as a competent speaker of English you would know at least implicitly
    1. That each occurrence of the word 'I' refers only to the person who utters it. You would also know, or be able to work out,
    2. That something counts as a person only if it is a psychological continuer, which according to pronoun revisionism is true by definition. And of course you know
    3. That you are whatever you refer to when you say 'I'. These are supposed to be linguistic and conceptual facts that we can know a priori. Given that a psychological continuer thinks your thoughts, it follows from these claims
    4. That you are a person and a psychological continuer.
    If you know that animals are not psychological continuers, you can infer from this that you are not an animal – even if you share your thoughts with an animal psychologically indistinguishable from you. You can therefore know that you are a psychological continuer and not an animal. You can know which of the beings thinking your thoughts you are. That would solve the epistemic problem174.
  5. There is much to be said about this proposal (I discuss it at greater length in175 Olson 2002b; see also Zimmerman 2003: 502-503). I will make just one comment. We are supposing that the human animals that walk and talk and sleep in our beds have the full range of human attitudes and emotions, and are psychologically indistinguishable from ourselves176. (We discussed the view that human animals are psychologically different from ourselves in the previous section.) Now consider your understanding of the word ‘person’. In particular, think of the sense of the word that informs your use of the personal pronouns. What features must a being have in order for you to call it a person in that ordinary sense? What must it have in order to be a someone rather than a something, a he or a she rather than an it? If something were psychologically indistinguishable from yourself, or from one of your close friends, would you refuse to call it a person or a someone until you were told whether it persists by virtue of psychological continuity? That seems to be no part of what we ordinarily mean by ‘person’. If human animals really are psychologically just like ourselves, they will count as people in any ordinary sense of the word. It couldn’t turn out that177 half of the rational, self-conscious, human-sized beings that we know and love and interact with in daily life are not people. Human animals may fail to satisfy some specialized philosophical sense of ‘person’, owing to their having the wrong persistence conditions or on some other trivial grounds. But they are surely people in the sense of the word that informs our ordinary use of the personal pronouns.
  6. Maybe it isn’t always clear to us what we mean by our words. Some ordinary words may mean something very different from what they seem to mean. Perhaps we cannot dismiss personal-pronoun revisionism as absurd. But it is hardly part of an attractive alternative178 to animalism.

2.8 Animalism and our identity over time
  1. Those who say that we are not animals will probably want to argue either that179 human animals cannot think in the way that we can, or that we can somehow know that we are not the human animals that share our thoughts. Neither prospect looks promising. That, to my mind, is the principal case for our being animals180. What is the case against181 it?
  2. Historically, the main reason for denying that we are animals is hostility to materialism182. The conviction that no material thing, no matter how complex, could ever think in the way that we do is clearly incompatible with our being animals. But few philosophers183 set much store by it nowadays. The main contemporary objection to animalism has to do with our identity over time, the most popular account of which is that we persist by virtue of some sort of psychological continuity184. That rules out our being animals, for no sort of psychological continuity is either necessary or sufficient185 for a human organism to persist.
  3. To see that it isn’t necessary,
    1. Consider the fact that each human animal starts out as an embryo186 incapable of any sort of mental activity. There is no psychological continuity of any sort between an adult human animal and the embryo it once was: the adult animal’s mental properties cannot derive in any way from those of the embryo, for the embryo had none. The embryo is187 the adult human organism, yet there is no psychological continuity between the embryo as it started out and the full-grown animal as it is today. A human animal can therefore persist without any psychological continuity whatever. Or
    2. Consider what would happen if you were to lapse into a persistent and irreversible vegetative state188. The result of this would be a human organism that was clearly alive, in the biological sense in which an oyster189 is alive: it would breathe spontaneously, digest its food, fight infection, heal wounds, and so on. It would presumably be the very human organism190 that was once able-bodied: no one supposes that a human animal that lapses into a persistent vegetative state thereby ceases to exist and is replaced by a new animal. But the animal would no longer be capable of any mental activity. Again, a human animal can persist despite complete psychological discontinuity.
    If any sort of psychological continuity is necessary for you to persist, then your animal body existed before you did, and it could outlive you. But nothing existed before it itself existed, and nothing can outlive itself. It follows that you are not that animal191.
  4. Now the claim that psychological continuity is necessary for us to persist may sound unattractive192. Those who have actually suffered the misfortune of having a loved one lapse into a persistent vegetative state do not often believe that that person has literally ceased to exist193, and that the living thing lying on the hospital bed is a numerically different being. (They may say that their loved one’s life no longer has any value, or that he ought to be allowed to die; but that is another matter194.) Nor does this attitude appear to rest on the mistaken belief195 that there is some sort of psychological continuity in these cases. And when we see an ultrasound picture of a 12-week-old foetus, most of us are inclined believe that we are seeing something which, if all goes well, will come to be196 a full-fledged human person, even though it now has no mental properties. (This is something that most parties to debates over the morality of abortion197 agree on.) We don’t ordinarily suppose that the foetus cannot itself become a person, but can only give rise to a person numerically different from itself.
  5. In fact animalism appears to be compatible with everything we believe about our persistence in real-life situations. In every actual case, the number of people we think there are is the same as198 the number of rational human animals. Every actual case in which we take someone to survive or perish is a case where a human animal survives or perishes. Or at least this is so if we leave aside religious beliefs – our being animals may be incompatible with our being resurrected or reincarnated (though some leading philosophers of religion disagree199: see van Inwagen 1978, Zimmerman 1999, Merricks 2001a).
  6. But animalism conflicts with things we are inclined to say about science-fiction stories. This appears to show a deep and widespread conviction that some sort of psychological continuity is sufficient for us to persist200.
  7. Imagine that your cerebrum is put into another head. The being who gets that organ, and he alone, will be psychologically continuous with you on any account of what psychological continuity is: he will have, for the most part anyway, your memories, beliefs, and other mental contents and capacities; he will have your “first-person perspective201”; he will take himself to be you202; all these mental properties will have been continuously physically realized throughout the process; and there are no troublesome rival claimants. If any psychological facts suffice for you to persist, that being would be you: you would go along with your transplanted cerebrum. And many people are convinced that you would indeed go along with203 your transplanted cerebrum.
  8. What about your animal body? Would it go along with its cerebrum? Would the surgeons pare that animal down to a lump of yellowish-pink tissue, move it across the room, then supply it with a new head, trunk, and other parts? Surely not204. A detached cerebrum is no more an organism205 than a detached arm is an organism: if the animal went along with the cerebrum, it would have to cease being206 an animal for a time and then become an animal once more when the transplant is complete. More importantly, think of the empty-headed thing207 left behind when your cerebrum is removed. It is an animal. If the surgeons are careful to leave the lower brain intact, it may even remain alive208. It seems to be209 the very animal that your cerebrum was a part of before the operation. The empty-headed being into which210 your cerebrum is to be implanted is also a living human organism. And putting your cerebrum into its head surely doesn’t destroy211 that organism and replace it with a new one.
  9. So there appear to be two human animals in the transplant story. One of them loses its cerebrum and gets an empty head. That organ is then fitted into the empty cranium of the other animal, which is thereby made whole again. The surgeons move an organ from one animal to another, just as212 they might do with a liver. No animal moves from one head to another. Even though there is full psychological continuity between the cerebrum donor and the recipient, they are not the same animal. Thus, no sort of psychological continuity suffices213 for a human animal to persist through time. One human animal could be psychologically continuous in the fullest possible sense with another human animal214.
  10. The conviction that you would go along with your transplanted cerebrum is therefore incompatible with your being an animal. Your animal body would stay behind if your cerebrum were transplanted. If you would go along with your transplanted cerebrum, then you and that animal could go your separate ways. And of course a thing and itself can never go their separate ways. It follows that you are not that animal, or indeed any other animal. Not only are you not essentially an animal. You are not an animal at all, even contingently: nothing that is even contingently an animal215 would move to a different head in a cerebrum transplant.
  11. So the principal case against animalism216 is this: If we were animals, we should have the persistence conditions of animals, conditions which have nothing to do with psychological facts. Psychology would be completely irrelevant to our identity over time. Cerebrum transplants would be no different, metaphysically, from liver transplants: you could donate your cerebrum to someone else, just as you could donate your liver. But that is absurd. Psychology clearly is relevant to personal identity. You would go along with your transplanted cerebrum; you wouldn’t stay behind with an empty head. Therefore we are not animals.
  12. Taken in isolation, the transplant argument may look strong. Why deny that we should go along with our transplanted cerebrums? Isn’t it obvious that that is what would happen? But we have seen how this “transplant conviction” could be wrong: it would be wrong if we were animals. Would it really be so surprising if it were wrong? To my mind, it would be surprising if it were right217. That would mean either that human animals cannot think, or that you are one of two beings thinking your thoughts, and one of those beings would not go along with its transplanted cerebrum. That would be surprising.
  13. In any case, there are other reasons to doubt the transplant conviction. For one thing, the sort of psychological continuity that would hold between you and the recipient of your cerebrum could hold between you and two future beings. If your cerebrum were divided218 and each half implanted into a different head, at least one of the resulting beings would be mistaken in thinking that she was you, for the simple reason that one thing (you) cannot be numerically identical with two things219. Someone can be fully psychologically continuous with you and yet not be you: psychological continuity is not sufficient220 for us to persist. That undermines the judgment that the one mentally continuous with you in the original transplant story would be you. If the claim that anyone psychologically continuous with you must be you fails to hold in fission cases, it might fail221 to hold in cerebrum transplants too.
  14. For another, the transplant conviction gets much of its support from a questionable assumption about our practical attitudes – "what matters in identity222", as the jargon has it. Imagine that your cerebrum is about to be transplanted into my head. The empty-headed being left behind will then get a new cerebrum. The hospital has only enough morphine for one of the two resulting people; the other will suffer unbearable pain223. If we asked you before the operation who should get the morphine, how would you choose? (Imagine that your motives are entirely selfish.) Most people say that you would have a strong reason to give the morphine to the one who ends up with your cerebrum. You would have less reason, if any, to give it to the other person. This may lead us to infer that you would be224 the one who ends up with your cerebrum.
  15. But this inference is questionable. Many philosophers doubt whether your selfish interest in the welfare of the person who gets your cerebrum must derive from the fact that he or she is you. In the double-transplant case, they say, you would have a selfish reason to care about the welfare of both offshoots. Better, you would have the same reason225 to care about the fission offshoots as you would have to care about the one who got your whole cerebrum. Yet neither of the fission offshoots would be you. In that case the concern you would have for the person who got your cerebrum in the single transplant case would not support the claim that he or she would be you, thus depriving the transplant conviction of what appears to be its principal support226.
  16. If the transplant conviction is false, why did anyone ever accept it? Well, someone’s being psychologically continuous with you is strong evidence227 for her being you. Conclusive evidence, in fact: no one is ever psychologically continuous with anyone other than herself in real life. That makes it easy to suppose that the one who gets your cerebrum228 in the transplant case would be you, even if, because we are animals, it isn’t so.
  17. Here is another reason why someone might find the transplant argument a conclusive refutation of animalism. Suppose there are, in addition to human animals, thinking non-organisms229 that would go along with their transplanted cerebrums, or more generally beings that persist by virtue of some sort of psychological continuity. And suppose that such a being thinks your thoughts. Then there would be two beings that are otherwise equally good candidates230 for being you, except that one has the sort of persistence conditions we believe you to have and the other (the animal) doesn’t. Would it not be perverse, in that case, to suppose that you are the second being? That would make animalism look plainly wrong. I believe that many advocates of the transplant argument do assume that certain non-animals think our thoughts231. Few of them give any reason to accept that metaphysical claim, however, and some such reason is surely needed. We will consider some reasons for it in Chapters 3 and 5232. But even if assuming that human animals coincide with thinking non-animals would make the transplant argument an irresistible attack on animalism, it would not make it a strong argument for any positive view about what we are. That is because of the thinking-animal problem: the difficulty of knowing that233 we are anything other than the animals thinking our thoughts.

2.9 Further Objections
  1. We have seen that animalism conflicts with traditional thinking about our identity over time. Here are some further objections234.
  2. First, animalism seems to imply that you and I are only temporarily and contingently people235. At least this is so on most proposed accounts of what it is to be a person. Every human animal was once an embryo with no mental properties. If being a person implies having certain mental properties – rationality and self-consciousness or the like – then each human animal was once a non-person. Even if a thing need only have the capacity to acquire the relevant mental properties in order to count as a person, so that unthinking embryos might be people, human animals in a persistent vegetative state will not count as people, and any human animal could end up in such a state.
  3. I don’t want to argue about what it is to be a person. (I don’t find it an interesting question236.) The important fact is that our being animals would make our having mental features of any sort a temporary and contingent condition of us – even if it is our normal or proper condition. It would mean that any of us could exist at a time without having any mental properties whatever at that time, or even the capacity to acquire them. What is more, any of us could have existed without237 having any mental properties at any time: any of us could have died six weeks after conception. Your being able to think or experience would be no more essential to you than your being a philosopher. It would not, so to speak, be part of your being238.
  4. Second, animalism appears to entail that there are no persistence conditions for people as such239: no persistence conditions that necessarily apply to all people and only to people. The persistence conditions of human animals presumably derive from their being animals, or organisms. That makes their persistence conditions no different from those of oysters, which are not people by anyone’s lights. If so, then our being animals implies that we have the same persistence conditions as some non-people. Animalism is also consistent with there being people whose persistence conditions are different from ours240: inorganic people such as gods or angels, for instance. If there could be such beings, it would not be necessary that all people have the same persistence conditions. People’s persistence conditions, and for that matter their metaphysical nature in general, would derive not from their being people241, but from their being animals, or immaterial substances, or whatever metaphysical sort of person they are. Person would not be a kind242 that determines the identity conditions of its members.
  5. Some philosophers see in these implications a grave objection to animalism (Baker 2001: 218-20243). They find it absurd to suppose I might be a person only temporarily and contingently. We might as well say244 that the moon is only temporarily and contingently a material object. This thought appears to be incompatible with our being animals.
  6. The claim that there are no persistence conditions for people as such is said to conflict with the very idea of personal identity (Baker 2001: 124245). To think about personal identity, the objection goes, is to inquire into the identity conditions of people as such – identity conditions that things have by virtue of being people. That, they say, is why we call it personal identity246. If there are no such conditions, as animalism seems to imply, then there is no such thing as personal identity – an implication that is also taken to be absurd.
  7. I suppose these objections have some force. That you and I are people essentially is an attractive claim. But it doesn’t seem obvious. If we take seriously the idea that a person could be an organism, and we accept that organisms have mental properties only contingently, and we take being a person at a time to entail having mental properties at that time, then we can understand well enough how someone might be a person only contingently. And if nothing else, the thinking-animal problem247 shows that our being organisms is a claim that we must take seriously.
  8. That we must have our persistence conditions by virtue of being people, so that there must be persistence conditions for people as such, is another interesting conjecture. Here is how I see it. You and I have many important properties. We are people. We are also (let us suppose) material, composed of parts, biologically alive, sentient, and awake. For that matter, we might also be philosophers, Hindus, women, or Ukrainians. What principle dictates that our being people must determine our identity conditions248, rather than any of these other properties? None that I know of. It may be plausible on the face of it; but its incompatibility with our being animals249 looks like an excellent reason to doubt it.
  9. One further objection to animalism is that it implies the wrong account of what determines how many of us there are at any one time (Lowe 1996: 31250) – a topic sometimes called "synchronic identity251". If we are animals, then the number of human people at any time will always be equal to252 the number of human animals that have whatever it takes to be a person at that time. And what determines the number of animals is presumably a matter of brute biology. Perhaps it is determined by the number of biological lives in the sense sketched in §2.2253. But many philosophers, beginning with Locke, have assumed that the number of people or thinking beings at any given time is determined not by brute biology but by psychological facts: facts about mental unity and disunity.
  10. My mental states are unified in the sense of being disposed to interact with one another, and not with any others, in an especially direct way. For instance, my desire to get a train to London will tend to combine with my belief that this train goes to London to cause me to board it. My desires don't interact with your beliefs in this way to produce action. That, the idea goes, is what makes it the case that my desires and my beliefs are the states of a single person254, whereas my desires and your beliefs are not. More generally, mental states belong to the same person or thinking being just when they relate to one another in this way (Shoemaker 1984: 94- 97255). So the number of people, or thinking beings generally, is necessarily equal to the number of unified systems of mental states. Call this the psychological individuation principle.
  11. This principle looks incompatible with animalism. It seems possible for an animal to have disunified mental states – supposing that an animal can think at all, anyway. It may even be possible for an animal to have a mental life that is no more unified than yours is with mine: perhaps a single human animal could be the home of two unified mental systems. This might happen in an extreme case of multiple personality256 – not in any actual case, but in a case that we could imagine by extrapolating from actual cases. The psychological individuation principle implies that such an animal would be the home of two people.
  12. This doesn't yet show that the psychological individuation principle conflicts with animalism. Animalism doesn't say that all people are animals. Why couldn't we normal human beings be animals, while people with extreme split personality are something else? But that would be an uncomfortable view257. What sort of things would the people in those unusual cases be? They must be something. Perhaps they would be bundles of mental states, or parts of brains. But if an animal with split personality could house two or more such non-animal people, we should expect your animal (which I take to be normal and mentally unified) to house one non-animal person. And if there is a non-animal person within you, it will be hard to maintain that you are the animal. How could you ever know which person you are258? Animalism at least strongly suggests that for every animal there can be at most one human person, no matter how disunified that animal's mental states might be; and that appears to be incompatible with the psychological individuation principle.
  13. As I see it, the psychological individuation principle is yet another debatable conjecture (Olson 2003b259). In §6.3260 I will argue that it is incompatible with our being material things of any sort, and is best combined with the view that we are bundles261 of mental states.
  14. I believe that the most serious worries for animalism are very different from those we have considered here. We will come to them in Chapter 9262. In the meantime let us turn to the other views of what we are.




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

Footnote 14:
  • This is the write-up as it was when this Abstract was last output, with text as at the timestamp indicated (15/05/2024 00:54:43).
  • Link to Latest Write-Up Note.
Footnote 15:
  • I can’t remember when this was. The pdfs of a few Chapters – including this one – are dated May 2007 and the pdf of the book is dated 11th November 2007 – so in the year the book was published. I think they must have been available for some considerable time thereafter, but I can’t be certain.
Footnote 16:
  • Purchased on 18th November 2007, so soon after publication.
Footnote 17: Footnote 27: Footnote 28: Footnote 29: Footnote 30:
  • This must be right – and the default view. As such, I don’t think the philosopher’s main job is to argue for this view, other than as an inference to the best explanation. However, the animalist needs to critique rival theories.
Footnotes 31, 39:
  • This is discussed later in the Chapter, so I won’t touch on it now.
Footnote 32: Footnote 33: Footnote 34: Footnote 35:
  • This could do with some justification as it is an important point.
Footnote 36: Footnote 37: Footnote 38: Footnote 40:
  • Is this analogy apposite?
Footnote 41:
  • What does Olson mean here by ‘people’, such that it is meant in an ‘ordinary, straightforward sense’?
Footnote 42:
  • Language is much more subtle than Olson has it.
  • ‘Is’ has more meanings than ‘is numerically identical to’. Saying that Eric Olson is a professor doesn’t mean that he would cease to exist if he got the sack.
  • ‘Is’ often applies a job, status, quality or something to an individual or thing that is fundamentally something else.
  • I’ve a feeling that this idea came up in a PhD supervision I had with Jen Hornsby many years ago and that I got challenged on it. I need to look this up.
Footnote 43:
  • Natural language isn’t designed to make animalists feel comfortable.
Footnote 44: Footnote 45:
  • Maybe, for the sake of clarity, I should refer to Olson as ‘a human animal who is currently a Professor’?
Footnote 46:
  • See my Note on Persons.
  • This is important – and a useful contribution Olson has made to the debate on PID, in shifting it from talk of Persons to talking about Us. Locke had already made this distinction, but talk had been almost universally about Persons.
Footnote 48: Footnote 49:
  • It? That is, ‘is animalism the view that we are our bodies’.
Footnote 50:
  • At least the questions make sense. For the Animalist, some proposed answers to the question often asked – about the relationship between ‘us’ and ‘our bodies’ – don’t make sense. We can’t ‘have’ bodies – for instance – if there’s no ‘I’ distinct therefrom (unless all animals are said to ‘have’ bodies).
  • But … maybe things are more nuanced? Do animals ‘have’ bodies? Olson goes on to discuss this later in the Section.
Footnote 51:
  • This discussion is initially within the context where Animalism is assumed as the correct account of PID. Non-animalists would deny both these assumptions without further thought; it’s been assumed that we can swap bodies or cease to be animals (ref: Locke’s Prince and the Cobbler Thought Experiment and also the Christian hope of Resurrection into qualitatively dissimilar bodies discontinuous with our present ones.
Footnote 52:
  • Olson is not – at this point – denying that we might become Cyborgs or undergo Metamorphosis. At least I don’t think so.
  • It’s what happens to the organism during such a process that he’s interested in now.
Footnote 53:
  • This might be the case initially, and in this extreme and clear-cut case.
  • But – over time – even in this case it’s use would produce changes in the brain which would rely on it for locomotion. But, I suppose, no more so than the reliance of spectacles for vision.
  • See a Footnote in Chapter 1.1 which discusses spectacles.
Footnote 54:
  • This is clear in this case, but less so in others.
  • For instance, if I had a deformity in my leg, this might be addressed by my wearing a leg brace, which is clearly external to the leg and therefore not part of the organism.
  • However, an alternative approach would be to break and straighten the leg, inserting pins and titanium rods and the like. Over time, these inorganic parts would be integrated by the body during the healing process. Bone would grow to join with the inorganic bits. To the external view, it wouldn’t be obvious that all this had taken place, and the repaired leg would be more useful to the organism than it had been originally. Does it make sense – say a length of bone had been removed to make way for the titanium rod – that the animal had ‘got smaller’?
Footnote 55:
  • So Olson claims, but can this claim not be resisted?
  • Organisms contain lots of ‘parts’ that might be treated as ‘alien’ and therefore not part of the body. We couldn’t digest our food without our microbiome (see Wikipedia: Microbiome) and ostriches can’t without ingesting stones (see Wikipedia: Gastrolith). We have mitochondrial DNA (see my Note on Chimeras). Then there’s organ Transplants. Admittedly, all but the gastroliths are organic.
Footnote 56:
  • It would have metamorphosed – or been metamorphosed – into an Android.
  • But, could it really be useful to say that the animal had ‘got smaller and smaller’ until it finally vanished?
  • I imagine there’s a Sorites paradox lurking here somewhere.
Footnote 57:
  • So, when I point to someone with embedded inorganic prostheses, am I pointing incorrectly if my pointing includes the inorganic bits?
  • It seems our language wouldn’t really consider such an individual to be full of holes where holes ought not to be.
Footnote 58:
  • As Olson says at the end of the sentence: normally we have coincidence, but modal considerations point to non-identity even in the normal case.
  • These considerations might make us reconsider what we are. It might move us back to the Body Criterion which was the popular rival to the Psychological Criterion before the Biological Criterion came along.
  • All this connects to Transhumanism, of course.
Footnote 59:
  • Maybe it’s worth having a go now – or at least deciding whether there’s anything important at stake.
  • So:-
    1. A certain thing is your body: We can always point to someone’s body, whether or not it’s riddled with inorganic repairs. Your body is that physical thing through which you do your stuff. It would – in normal usage – tend to focus on physical stuff and ignore your mental attributes, in the dichotomy ‘mind and body’ but strictly-speaking it includes your brain and whatever it does.
    2. Your body is an animal: if you’re an animal, then you don’t ‘have’ a body, you ‘are’ one. We have a choice with prostheses – deny that what appears to be your body (albeit one that’s patched up) is your body or say that patched-up animals are still animals
    3. Someone might have a robotic body: What does this mean? What is the ‘someone’ that ‘has’ a robotic body? In normal parlance it’d be taking the ‘someone’ as a brain – ie. adopting the Brain Criterion.
Footnote 60: Footnote 61:
  • Sometimes this is asking too much. Wait until we get to asking ‘what is an animal’. Maybe we’re stuck with Wittgenstein’s approach to games – a family resemblance?
Footnote 62:
  • What does he mean? What happens is what happens! Is he asking whether it remains in existence?
Footnote 64:
  • Well, this usage is perfectly normal, even if it is a ‘stipulation’.
Footnote 65:
  • Yes – this is an important complaint against Animalism. Baker harps on about this. I think Olson has satisfactory answers.
Footnote 66:
  • This depends – as we’ve discussed – on what the ‘parts’ of the higher animals are. But we can’t be animals if we are supposed to have parts that (other) animals cannot have.
  • But none of this can be stipulated.
Footnote 67:
  • As Olson goes on to say, we are very special animals, but animals for all that.
Footnote 68:
  • See my Note on Reductionism.
  • I’m not fully clear on what the ‘pejorative’ sense of reductionism is in this context.
Footnote 69:
  • ‘Being an animal’ is rather a clunky property that all animals share! Obviously they all have multitudinous properties.
  • Importantly, most human animals, and maybe some others, have the property of being a Person.
Footnote 70:
  • So, Olson is careful – without prejudice – to distance animalism from the excesses of evolutionary psychology.
  • However, Baker goes further and claims a new ‘kind’ – a Person – comes into existence when the FPP comes into existence. Yet it is members of the species Homo Sapiens – and maybe some other animals – that have this very special property.
Footnote 71: Footnote 72:
  • I think Olson concedes too much here, though he does back-track later on.
  • He makes it sound like ‘being an animal’ could be a phase sortal.
Footnote 73:
  • Maybe. But it means that – at this stage – animalism isn’t differentiated from its rivals in ruling out certain eventualities.
  • Also, Olson had already decided that animals can’t acquire organic parts. But, this seems to imply that – in principle – human animals might do so, thereby ceasing to be Animals.
Footnote 74:
  • Including human animals.
  • A holder of the Constitution View can agree that animals are animals essentially, but deny that we are animals essentially.
Footnote 75:
  • What are these?
Footnote 76: Footnote 77: Footnote 78: Footnote 80:
  • This raises an important point. Is Olson more committed to our being material things than he is to our being animals?
  • Say it was the case that all higher animals with an ounce of rationality had a rational immaterial soul? Then Olson should acknowledge that.
  • Of course, this would require a radical change of direction for zoology, but if it was true, then zoologists would have to acknowledge the situation.
  • Of course, it’s most likely not true, but that’s not the point.
Footnote 81:
  • See my Note on Life. There’s a distinction in common parlance (and theological language) between ‘life’ and ‘lives’.
  • I agree that ‘lives’ are long complex events. Presumably such events have temporal parts even if – according to Olson’s assumption – the animal which has the life doesn’t?
Footnote 82:
  • That sounds like there’s a central controller – the ‘life force’ of the organism. Things are even more complex, with all sorts of semi-independent sub-plots going on.
  • This will become clearer when we consider Death, with some subsystems taking longer to shut down than others.
Footnote 83:
  • While this is true, there’s also the process of growth in the early stages and then of nutrition to provide energy.
Footnote 84:
  • It takes argument to insist that this is more than smoke and mirrors. The objection is that any persistence is in the ‘loose and popular’ form of identity.
Footnote 85:
  • Things get complicated. There are slime-moulds that look like organisms but are collections of individuals.
  • I agree that arms don’t have separate lives, though the cells in the arm may live on after the organism is dead.
  • I also agree that packs of wolves don’t have a life over and above those of their constituent wolves.
  • Yet ‘life’ is still somewhat mysterious. Some ‘superorganisms’ – ant colonies – seem to be more than the sum of their constituent ants which can’t survive for long outside their colony (or at any rate, ‘lead a meaningful life’.
Footnote 86:
  • This is obviously true, but I thought Olson denies it. Maybe – like Peter Van Inwagen he restricts ‘things’ to organisms and ‘simples’?
Footnote 87: Footnote 88:
  • What is meant by this? What does Olson take to be ‘parts’? Just individual molecules or major substructures?
Footnote 89:
  • Most people would think of ‘lives’ as having temporal rather than spatial extent.
  • Olson is using ‘life’ in a technical sense as the (momentary) event that an organism is involved in.
Footnote 90:
  • This is all rather strange. What sort of thing – metaphysically-speaking – is a ‘life’? Is it anything over and above the activities of the parts of the organism?
Footnote 91:
  • So, is the ‘life’ the sum total of the organism’s ‘metabolic activities’, or does it include other activities as well.
  • When asked ‘what have you done with your life’ I wouldn’t proudly say I’ve spent it metabolising.
Footnote 92:
  • This is complicated because the top skin layer – the epidermis (see Wikipedia: Epidermis) is replaced every 48 days, and presumably the top layer will be of dead cells about to slough off.
Footnote 93:
  • Clothes would certainly not seem to be ‘part of you’ despite their importance in temperature regulation as fur-substitutes.
  • The same may well go for prosthetic limbs, despite their integration with your nervous system to ensure accurate ambulation or manipulation.
  • Olson’s reason – that they are not ‘maintained’ by the usual metabolic processes, so are not caught up in the organism’s life – seems sound.
  • But I wonder whether closely-integrated repairs should ‘count’. Say a bone is repaired with a mesh into which bone is deposited over time. Or a mesh is used for hernia surgery (as was used for Bertie, our dog). Sometimes the mesh ‘dissolves’, if organic, or stays in situ, if – say – it’s a titanium mesh; see Wikipedia: Surgical Mesh and Wikipedia: Cranioplasty.
Footnote 94: Footnote 95:
  • Will it be addressed later? It might be important.
Footnote 96:
  • This is along the right lines, but is somewhat vague and open to arbitrary decisions.
Footnote 97:
  • This is it’s ‘life’. I presume that Death – like Life – is a Process.
  • Maybe we should adopt a Process Metaphysics for Organisms rather than a Substance metaphysics?
  • ‘Cannot be restarted’ has modal implications. Presumably some organisms we normally take to be dead should – for fairly brief periods – be considered alive because their vital processes could be restarted with appropriate intervention?
Footnote 98: Footnote 99:
  • I have downloaded this from Cambridge Core, but haven’t ‘processed’ it yet.
  • A relevant passage from p. 157 is:-

      We are being told
      1. That for living things, to exist is to be alive, and
      2. That one function for which any organized body that is alive must have the capacity or 'psyche' is metabolic self-sustenance or trophe di hautou, and
      3. That the continued existence of such a living thing consists at least in the continuity of that capacity, so that for a specific kind F, being the same individual = being the same F = being the same threptikon F
Footnote 100: Footnote 103:
  • This section introduces a – fairly brief – account of Olson’s ‘Thinking Animal Argument’, also known as his ‘Master Argument’. See my Note.
  • It does seem fairly plausible, both as an Argument for Animalism and as ammunition against other accounts of PID.
  • I wonder why it’s the ‘thinking’ of the animals that’s so important? After all, as Olson goes on to point out, there’s an animal doing lots of things that I’m doing: there will be too many sitters and typists as well as thinkers.
  • Presumably there’s a reaction to Descartes’ Cogito here? Note also "O'Brien (Lucy) - Ambulo Ergo Sum" and the profane joke Coito Ergo Sum.
Footnote 104: Footnote 105:
  • Historically, people would have said ‘a Soul’, where that thinking thing is not part of the animal, but this is ruled out in the context of the present discussion.
  • That would be to deny that animals think, which Olson comes on to later.
Footnote 106: Footnote 107:
  • Why is this such a great problem? The (supposedly) two thinkers share the same matter and configuration and are in the same place at the same time. It’s not as though there are two independent lots of thinking going on.
  • The ‘derivative thinking’ central to the Constitution View (CV) is completely ignored as a possibility.
Footnote 108: Footnote 109:
  • Yes, better not. In any case, idealism doesn’t deny that animals exist, only that they are not made of matter but are ideas in a mind.
Footnote 110: Footnote 111:
  • Yes – it becomes a Scattered Object.
  • Mereological essentialism and mereological universalism seem to be linked.
Footnote 112:
  • Is this really the case? Or is it just that organisms don’t Persist, at least not in any ‘strict and philosophical’ sense?
  • Also, isn’t this what Exdurance says? There’s a ‘counterpart relation’ between the successive stages. I know that Olson has explicitly excluded any idea of temporal parts, but this was purely stipulative.
  • Finally, as intimated earlier, Process Metaphysics might come to our aid.
Footnote 113:
  • It means that no complex concrete particulars persist for long.
  • This is not a very useful idea. Even if things don’t Persist – strictly speaking – we need to consider them as though they do.
Footnote 116:
  • Even inanimate objects wouldn’t persist, though – as I’ve said – they would exist.
Footnote 117:
  • Put thus baldly, the suggestion is absurd. Why would anyone be tempted by such ideas?
Footnote 118:
  • Surely this is a misdescription? Eliminative materialism doesn’t eliminate thought or other elements of folk psychology as such but eliminates ‘Minds’ and propositional attitudes as anything over and above brains and what brains ‘do’.
  • Maybe I need to look into this a bit more!
  • See "Ramsey (William) - Eliminative Materialism".
Footnote 121:
  • This used to be common sense. How could ‘mere matter’ be conscious, and all that.
  • Now we know that our thinking is done for us by our brains, common sense that ‘mere matter’ must be able to think and be phenomenally conscious. It’s just that – for consciousness, at least – we have no idea how.
Footnote 122:
  • Well, yes. There are very few non-physicalists around these days. Which materialists think that animals can’t?
Footnote 123:
  • Surely the initial reaction to this strange locution is to understand ‘body’ as it contrast to ‘brain’?
Footnote 124:
  • Indeed. Our reactions need to be at the level of metaphysics (or – better – neuroscience) than linguistic.
Footnote 125:
  • Is this a fair comparison?
  • Actually, Stephen Hawking claimed (in "Hawking (Stephen) - A Brief History of Time - From the Big Bang to Black Holes") that ‘Black Holes Ain’t so Black’ – and that they can evaporate by ripping particle-anti-particle pairs outside the event horizon in half – half of which fall into the black hole and annihilate with their anti-particles and the other half escapes. See Wikipedia: Hawking Radiation.
  • That’s beside the point, of course, which is … just the difference between knowing something (maybe on someone’s authority) and knowing why something is the case?
Footnote 126:
  • Another analogy. Is this a fair one?
  • Yes, because it does – as Olson goes on to show – why certain ‘odd’ locutions – while true – sound preposterous.
Footnote 127:
  • As I said, because it makes it sound like Newton’s body – as distinct from his brain – had the belief. Even that sounds odd in normal parlance: we say that ‘people’ believe x, not that their brains do. That’s partly because our linguistic practices arose before we knew how things work.
Footnote 128:
  • Well, I’d say this was much more odd. Minds just aren’t the sort of thing that have spatial characteristics.
  • Even mind-brain identity theorists would speak ‘oddly’ to claim that their mind could fit into a hat-box.
  • But I agree with Olson that nothing metaphysically interesting follows from these linguistic conventions.
Footnote 129:
  • This is a silly and pejorative way of putting things. It’s quite natural to say that an animal’s brain is in the business of thinking which the rest of its body is not.
  • But we can leave this discussion until Chapter 4, just as Olson does.
Footnote 131: Footnote 132: Footnote 133:
  • I misinterpreted this initially – that the being so caused needs to be you (for forensic reasons), and added that Parfit seems to deny – or at least downplay – this; but that – otherwise – it seems to be correct, and was the whole point of the ‘Forensic concept’ of PID.
  • But I now see that this is a claim – based on the Psychological View – that such a being so caused to do things by your prior mental states is you … leading up to the claim that the recipient of your cerebrum is you.
Footnote 134:
  • See my Note on Cerebrum and Brain Transplants.
  • This Thought Experiment trades on is the Brain Transplant Intuition – that ‘you go where your brain goes’.
  • This Intuition is very hard to resist, and resist it Olson does because he’s convinced that an Animalist ought to.
  • I’d prefer to find another way out.
Footnote 135:
  • There’s a general presumption in these thought experiments that cerebrums are like DIMMs (see Wikipedia: DIMMs) that can just be plugged in and will work fine in their new housing.
  • It’s admitted that there are technical wiring problems yet to be overcome, but the idea of such transplants is not deemed to be metaphysically impossible.
  • I’m not so sure about this. If we were androids with digital computers as brains then all would be relatively plain-sailing. At least the module would ‘fit’.
  • But, given we’re talking about ‘us’ – human animals – we have to consider our actual architecture. In particular, how our brains acquire the abilities and contents they do and how tightly-integrated this makes them with the bodies they belong to.
  • There’s also the issue of neurons distributed throughout the body in the PNS – not just to regulate it, but also assisting with emotions (the ‘feelings of the heart’ and ‘gut feelings’ have an element of truth to them). Not as bad as for the octopus, of course, which has its nervous system distributed throughout its body.
Footnote 136:
  • That is because – according to Shoemaker – the being that has your beliefs and desires (properly caused) is you.
Footnote 137:
  • Does it really ‘follow’, or is this an intuition or stipulation that appeared earlier in the TE?
Footnote 138:
  • So, Psychological Continuity suffices for PID, but isn’t necessary? Anyway, the recipient of the Cerebrum is you, according to this view.
Footnote 139:
  • For organisms, psychological continuity is neither necessary nor sufficient. The failure of sufficiency is explained by the (intuition of the) organism not persisting in the Cerebrum transplant case.
Footnote 140:
  • I think this is correct – no animal moves with its cerebrum. How should we describe what would happen in a cerebrum transplant? Firstly, the scenario is – it seems – of a transplant of both hemispheres, which is the simpler scenario. There are basically three:-
    1. Single-cerebral-hemisphere transplants.
    2. Double-cerebral-hemisphere transplants.
    3. Whole brain transplants.
  • Taking these cases one at a time:-
    1. SCTs: Well, the ‘donor’ animal loses some of its memories and abilities and capacity for thought. The ‘recipient’ animal might or might not be able to integrate this. If he could do so, and became convinced he was the donor, he’d be wrong, as in many other cases of fission or duplication. Olson later considers the case where the two hemispheres are transplanted individually into different donors.
    2. DCTs: Since the regulatory functions aren’t moved, the animal stays put. The donor, if he survives, has no mental life so is no longer a person but is still an animal, albeit a badly-mutilated one. If the recipient manages to integrate the new cerebrum, he’s probably just deceived into thinking he’s the donor animal. He’ll be mightily confused anyway, as any motor skills encoded in the received cerebrum most likely won’t work in the recipient’s body as they have been fine-tuned for another environment.
    3. WBTs: most people probably think – as I do – that a whole brain is a ‘maximally-mutilated human animal’ and that – if the transplant can be got to work – that you ‘go with your brain’.
Footnote 141:
  • Where does this come from? Is this a conclusion that Shoemaker draws or that Olson foists on him? Does it only follow from Olson’s ‘Too many thinkers’ argument? Ie. because you are not the animal, and you think, and because you can only have one thinker, so the animal can’t be that thinker?
Footnote 142:
  • So, Shoemaker hold to the CV? Human organisms think because they ‘constitute’ things with the right ‘identity conditions’?
Footnote 143:
  • Well, it’s only Olson’s interpretation of Shoemaker’s view.
  • It’s a deduction from what Shoemaker says, and can’t be what Shoemaker believes, … because it’s absurd.
  • If Shoemakers holds some sort of constitution view, Olson should engage with it. Maybe he does, in the next Chapter. Until then, it’s just the same old yada yada.
Footnote 144:
  • See my Note on Fission.
  • Fission cases cause problems for most non-Animalist views (ie. all views in which fission is ‘possible’). Indivisible souls escape.
  • Elsewhere, Olson agrees that Perdurantism provides general solace against fission problems, but takes it that it comes at too high a metaphysical price. I tend to agree.
  • Note also, though, that there’s a long-running discussion related to cerebrums and the corpus callosum.
  • See my Note on Commissurotomy.
  • Also, see "Puccetti (Roland) - Brain Bisection and Personal Identity", which Olson quotes in Chapter 4.1: The Brain View.
Footnote 145: Footnote 146:
  • So, this allows ‘animalian’ phenomenal Consciousness, but not Consciousness of Self.
  • But, it’s difficult to see how these could be separated in the same organism. Obviously, different organisms might pass or fail the ‘mirror test’, taken as a guide to whether the organism has a sense of self. But, how could the Animal associated with a person fail, but the Person pass?
Footnote 147:
  • Baker combines these proposals (2000: 12-18, 68n., and 2002: 42). She says that human animals have thoughts requiring a “first-person perspective” only in the derivative sense of constituting non-animals (ourselves) that have them non-derivatively, while the opposite is the case for other thoughts: human animals have them non-derivatively and we have them derivatively. .
  • See:-
    1. "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View"
    2. "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - On Making Things Up: Constitution and Its Critics"
  • Olson at least acknowledges Baker’s position, and I think he has it right.
  • I do find the ‘two-way derivative thinking’ a little hard to credit. However, I’ll leave further thought on the matter (as no doubt does Olson) until Chapter 3: Constitution.
  • I suppose, though, that ‘thinking in a different way’ might just be possible. I take it that the human animal thinks throughout more of its life than the human person does: before it has become a person and after it has ceased to be so. That’s on one of the views that distinguishes animals from persons (so, most views really: the PV, Temporal Parts View, Constitution View and even my own phase-sortal Animalism View). So, the animal can be thinking at times when the person is not, on account of non-existence. There is, however, only one thinker at this time.
Footnote 148:
  • As we’ve noted, Baker alleges a 4th possible solution – Constitution – which Olson doesn’t seem to take seriously at this point.
Footnote 149:
  • These ‘three ways’ are revealed during the rest of this Section, and are:-
    1. The Overcrowding Problem
    2. The Epistemic Problem
    3. The Personhood Problem
  • As these are all explained as this Section progresses, I’ll comment on them ad loc. Enough to say here that I think there are satisfactory answers to them all.
Footnote 150:
  • This ‘overcrowding problem’ is only an issue for those who take Persons and Human Animals to be separate substances and don’t adopt the Constitution View.
  • No-one complains of overcrowding when we count the number of French citizens and the number of philosophers at a philosophy conference and find the total exceed the number of attendees to the tune of the number of French philosophers.
  • Olson enjoys himself with his examples, but they are all beside the point and only cogent in Philosophy 101.
Footnote 151:
  • This shows how silly all this lampooning is.
  • Bigamy is a crime (where it is) for reasons of property-rights (given that adultery isn’t a crime, where it isn’t). Where the animal and person cannot ‘go their separate ways’, this isn’t an issue. However, it would become an issue were there to be two cerebral hemispheres to go into different heads. Then we’d need to decide who was who. But, until that contingency, there’s no practical issue, even for Roland Puccetti and Commissurotomy.
  • Does Olson consider Multiple Personality Disorder anywhere?
Footnote 152:
  • See "Lewis (David) - Many, But Almost One".
  • I think this is a perfectly satisfactory response.
  • There’s no reason to expect our natural language usage to track how things are in detail (below the surface), as this usage arose in a haphazard manner in a pre-scientific age and was subject to all sorts of cultural prejudices.
  • Besides, few philosophers think that there a ‘really’ two things that we count as one.
  • There are all sorts of philosophical puzzles that fall under this head.
Footnote 153:
  • Well, it depends on the situation. Some philosophical positions may well be absurd (David Lewis mentions the ‘incredulous stare’ in response to his modal realism).
  • But you can’t write off all philosophers of language as though they Mafia lawyers.
Footnote 154:
  • Personally, I agree that Time is ‘real’; yet, time isn’t Newtonian and can be counter-intuitive, especially how simultaneity is determined in Special Relativity.
  • So, things are often not as straightforward as they seem.
Footnote 155:
  • But these philosophers of language also – in general – don’t believe there are two different philosophers sitting there. They may think there are two ways of referring to the same philosopher, or that the philosopher shares stages with an animal. Nor do they believe that there are 1,001 cats sitting on the mat.
Footnote 156:
  • No it doesn’t.
Footnote 157:
  • Again, this worry assumes that there are two independent persons – or a person utterly distinct from, though qualitatively identical to, the human animal. The holder of the constitution view would say – perfectly intelligibly – that you – a person – are presently constituted by an animal. You know you are fundamentally a Person, but derivatively an animal by virtue of being constituted by one.
  • Maybe this is wrong, but they don’t have any epistemological worries.
Footnote 158:
  • You are both, in different senses of ‘are’.
Footnote 159:
  • Someone might think that this problem arises only on an "internalist" epistemology. If you are the person and not the animal, the idea would go, then your belief that that is what you are is guaranteed to be true, and so is reliably formed, and so counts as knowledge. I don't think any serious epistemologist would endorse this reasoning. Suppose I come to believe, in an insane delusion, that I am Napoleon. And suppose I am in fact Napoleon reincarnated. Finally, suppose that who I am has no influence on who, in my demented state, I believe myself to be. Then my belief is guaranteed to be true; yet it has no epistemic virtue whatever, and certainly doesn’t count as knowledge.
  • This objection of Olson sounds like the ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy. It’s also related to Gettier problems about what constitutes knowledge.
  • The example is rather contrived. How about …
  • Say George III, in his demented state, wandering around incognito in Windsor Great Park, claims to a passer-by to be George III. Would he be believed? No. Would he be justified in his claim, given that he is in fact George III (just as in Olson’s TE, Olson was in fact Napoleon)? Both claims are unlikely; claims by maniacs to be famous persons are usually false – that to be Napoleon only seems to be more unlikely because most analytic philosophers don’t believe in Reincarnation.
Footnote 160:
  • Well, it does count as a person, either in the innocuous ‘phase sortal’ sense or as constituting one. Or a temporal part of it does. This – the personhood problem – is just the other two problems in another guise.
Footnote 162: Footnote 163:
  • This is the second of the ‘3 ways’ in which Olson says (in the previous section) that the ‘Cohabitation View’ is unattractive, the other two being the Overcrowding Problem and the Personhood Problem.
Footnote 164: Footnote 165:
  • This claim – Persons persisting in virtue of mental qualities – is not ‘surprising’ – as Olson tendentiously claims – but is part and parcel of the Psychological View.
Footnote 166:
  • This claim – having mental properties essentially – is also foundational to the PV, so isn’t ‘surprising’ either.
Footnote 167:
  • Is this really Noonan’s position? Contingencies of our language can have no metaphysical implications as to what we are, can they? This is just – at most – ‘what we consider ourselves to be’.
Footnote 168:
  • This is true. Human Animals do not persist in virtue of mental properties, nor do they have any such properties essentially, as Olson is fond of – but correctly – pointing out.
Footnote 169:
  • That is, to Persons. Is this really Noonan’s position? It’s clearly false; as is the etymological suggestion behind ‘personal pronouns’; even the gendered pronouns are used of dogs and ships, and ‘it’ is used of stones.
Footnote 170:
  • Unlike the previous ‘contingency of language’ this is a perfectly respectable idea, with no metaphysical implications, though I believe it to be false. But nothing can be deduced metaphysically from our linguistic practice (though Wittgenstein pointed out that many metaphysical pseudo-problems arise from the ‘bewitchment of language’.
Footnote 171:
  • Again, tendentious words. The positions and associated arguments need to be taken seriously.
  • This is all ‘same old same old’.
  • No-one thinks that first-person thoughts aren’t thought by the being that thinks them. That’s what all this discussion about language is all about.
  • No-one thinks you and ‘your’ animal are as distinct as Tom and Jerry, or even Jekyll and Hyde.
Footnotes 172, 174:
  • So far, so good, then?
Footnote 173:
  • Why ‘revisionism’?
  • Earlier, Noonan had claimed – maybe falsely – that this theory is a contingent fact about how our language works.
Footnote 175: Footnote 176:
  • Could a being that cannot refer to itself in the first person be self-conscious? Well, pronoun revisionists agree that human animals have first-person thoughts just like our own. All that prevents them from referring to themselves in the first person, the idea goes, is the contingent linguistic fact that we (and they) use the personal pronouns to refer only to psychological continuers. We could change the way we talk, so that our personal pronouns referred only to beings with animal persistence conditions. If we did that, we should be unable to refer to ourselves in the first person, though our mental lives would otherwise remain unchanged. Would that deprive us of our capacity for self-consciousness? Not in any important sense, surely. Someone might point out, however, that according to pronoun revisionism a human animal could not “think of itself as itself”, and would therefore fail to satisfy Locke’s definition of ‘person’.
  • Wouldn’t the last point – that animals aren’t persons – be just what the whole argument is about?
  • Noonan would presumably be happy, and Olson’s third problem – the ‘Personhood Problem’, that Animals are persons – would disappear?
Footnote 177:
  • Well, indeed it couldn’t. But no-one thinks it could. You can’t ‘know and love’ a human animal apart from knowing and loving the human person. There just aren’t two beings there. This discussion just goes round and round in circles.
  • To be fair to Olson, the problems he raises do need to be ‘solved’. It’s just that the holders of non-Animalist views think they are solved – if their views are properly understood – while Olson disagrees.
Footnote 178:
  • I agree. But it’s part of the defence of these alternatives, not their primary motivation.
Footnote 179:
  • I don’t think this dichotomy properly reflects the options open to non-Animalists. Holders of the Constitution View would certainly disagree. But we’ll have to move on from this until taking a serious look at those forms of the PV that do seem subject to these options only.
Footnote 180:
  • This is important. For Olson, Animalism rests on the Thinking Animal Argument which – he thinks – shows that if we are not animals, then either human animals cannot think as we do or we cannot know that we are not animals.
  • My view is that the Animalist shouldn’t rest his case on the TA Argument, but on an abductive argument that Animalism is the default position and best answers all the puzzles cases.
  • See my Note on Animalism – Arguments For
Footnote 181: Footnote 182: Footnote 183:
  • Yet, some eminent philosophers are Dualists (usually for religious reasons; doubly misguided in my view).
  • See my Note on Christian Materialists, which has a long list of non-Materialists, though it doesn’t say what their motivation is.
  • As Olson treats dualism seriously, and has Chapter 7: Souls devoted to it, the espousal of Dualism may be motivated by other reasons than arguing that Matter cannot think.
Footnote 184: Footnote 185: Footnote 186:
  • See my Note on Embryos.
  • Most people think we started off as Embryos, apart from extreme ‘pro-lifers’ who think we started as Zygotes. The latter idea is rejected by most philosophers because of the possibility of Twinning (see "Anscombe (G.E.M.) - Were You a Zygote?").
  • Recently, it has been argued (by Elselijn Kingma) that Fetuses are part of the mother, and so the new Human Animal doesn’t arise until birth, by a process of Fission. Olson’s ante-natal argument wouldn’t work in this case.
  • But, most holders of the Psychological View or the Constitution View, believing that we are essentially psychological beings, would agree that we were never fetuses.
Footnote 187:
  • Most would say that the embryo ‘developed into’ the adult human animal, but they might not all say that it ‘was’ the very same individual.
  • Not just those who believe that the implanted embryo is part of the mother, either.
  • The embryo isn’t really a self-sustaining organism. It’s totally dependent on the mother for oxygen, nutrition and other support (though this may be analogous to adult humans on ‘life support’).
  • The same is true of the early-term fetus. That’s why Abortion is legal for any reason up to a certain point, after all.
  • By the time all are agreed that the fetus is an independent being deserving of our protection it will have developed a rudimentary psychology of its own.
  • I need to check up precisely what Baker’s position on this. When does she think the FPP develops? I think when the development of the FPP is ‘around the corner’ the fetus receives honorary personhood status, at least.
  • At least the situation isn’t as clear-cut as Olson claims.
Footnote 188:
  • See my Note on Persistent Vegetative State.
  • This is probably a clearer indication than the ‘fetus’ situation, but it’s still not incontestable.
  • Some people – even in the case of Brain Death – claim that their loved one is still ‘fighting’. They are probably wrong. See Wikipedia: Archie Battersbee Case.
  • But in the case of a PVS, it’s never clear whether the state is irreversible, nor even – given the necessarily non-invasive monitoring – whether there isn’t some cognition ‘going on in there somewhere’ (if there is, the situation might well be worse than death, so we may hope not).
  • Note that holders of the PV allow for periods with no psychological activity (dreamless Sleep – though – in fact – there’s all sorts of activity – including Memory-consolidation – going on in the brain during non-REM sleep; see "Walker (Matthew P.) - Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams"). The alternative would be to allow Intermittent Objects.
  • So, the jury is out until the animal has died and there’s no possibility of recovery.
  • Again, the situation isn’t as clear-cut as Olson claims.
Footnote 189:
  • Philosophers must like oysters; they seem to feature in multiple contexts: the other I know of is the ‘higher pleasures’ problem for utilitarianism, with oysters clocking up the ‘hedons’ and outscoring Socrates.
  • Whether patients in a PVS are like oysters – or really like plants – is an empirical matter.
Footnote 190:
  • I agree with Olson – as would most philosophers. So, this may make Human Organisms and Human Persons ‘come apart’.
Footnote 191:
  • I think all parties to the debate – despite quibbles – probably agree that if (the possibility of having) psychological states is an essential property of a Person then, if you are a person essentially, you are not numerically identical to a human animal.
Footnote 192:
  • Olson has a way of saying the opposite of what most people believe as though it’s either common sense or philosophically obvious.
Footnote 193:
  • Indeed they don’t; nor would they thinks this were the unfortunate individual brain-stem dead (when Olson would probably agree that the Organism had died.
  • The reasons are multifarious, but usually rest on hopes for a recovery, or beliefs that they are in there somewhere ‘fighting’.
  • It is popularly believed, though, that no-one can survive irreversible loss of consciousness. It’s just that no-one, when it comes to it, comfortably believes that such a state has come to pass.
  • We can’t deduce anything from popular beliefs on the matter.
Footnote 194:
  • This is an important point, with which I’m in total agreement.
  • Matters of value are orthogonal to those of metaphysics, despite PID being a Forensic Concept.
Footnotes 195, 196, 197:
  • See my comments above.
Footnote 198:
  • Is this the case? I suppose it depends which cases are ‘normal’ and who you ask.
Footnote 199: Footnote 200:
  • I wish Olson had said ‘some sorts of psychological continuity are …’.
  • The intuition of most people is that if it appears to us that we have survived, then we have. If it seems from our FPP that we’re still there, then we are.
  • Now in some TEs, it seems this Intuition is unreliable: a duplicate would be deceived as to the true situation. Backward Psychological Continuity isn’t enough.
  • However, it might – just – be possible for you to (appear to) survive some adventure fully conscious throughout. See my Note on Psychological Continuity – Forward. In that case would not direct experience of Survival trump any metaphysical argument?
  • Unfortunately most TEs would be excruciatingly painful without loss of consciousness, so the situation would never be put to the test, hopefully.
Footnote 201:
  • The FPP is very important. Everything that matters to us is delivered through this (though – I might add – non-human Animals also have a ‘window on the world – a ‘perspective’ in the ‘first person’ – though they are mostly not Persons and may not have Selves, if there are any such things).
  • This thought experiment, like most, is under-described. As I’ve said before, the cerebral hemispheres aren’t DIMMs that can be unplugged and re-plugged. Who knows whether any useful psychological properties would be ‘transferred’ and would become the property of the recipient animal?
Footnote 202:
  • As noted – and as Olson argues – this isn’t sufficient for ‘being you’.
  • The question whether the Transplant will work isn’t just a technical challenge never likely to be achieved, but there are questions over its coherence as a TE.
  • The cerebrum contains a Cortical homunculus (see Wikipedia: Cortical Homunculus); in fact, two – one for the senses, the other for motor coordination. Now these are mapped on to a particular body, with connections and weights established as the fetus developed and fine-tuned as we learnt to control our bodies and do all the things we’re good at. You can’t just plug this in to a new body and expect it to work. Maybe – over time – it could be rewired, but initially the recipient ‘person’ would be entirely insensate and paralysed.
  • Also, we don’t know which bits of the brain are necessary for ‘generating’ Consciousness and the FPP. It might require sub-cortical areas or even the PNS.
  • We’d be more confident with head Transplants – better described as Body Transplants – and better than Whole Brain Transplants (because of the integration with the major senses) though the same paralysis would occur.
  • Why is all this important? All this has to do with arguments that ‘we would go with our cerebrum’, but if this TE is metaphysically impossible, any argument depending on it would fail.
Footnote 203:
  • Well, if it could be got to work and did preserve your FPP, that would be a sensible deduction. It would show that you were not an animal. But I don’t think the TE makes sense on closer inspection.
Footnote 204:
  • Is this anything other than an Intuition?
  • I share this intuition, but not so for a whole brain transplant (or a head transplant).
Footnote 205:
  • Agreed … it’s not an organism. But the Brain’s controlling, organisational and phenomenal functions make it – or parts of it – more important than other organs.
Footnote 206: Footnote 207:
  • This is hyperbolic language. The head isn’t really empty. As Olson goes on to say, it contains the brain stem and presumably other structures of the brain.
Footnote 208:
  • Maybe so; it's not clear to me just how much cortical damage an animal can survive. I suspect rats have been subjected to such procedures.
Footnote 209:
  • ‘Seeming’ isn’t really enough as it can be a superficial assessment. Does Olson mean ‘it arguably is’? I would agree.
Footnote 210:
  • I think the TE is best described as two Human Animals having had their cerebrums destroyed and nothing of any use transferred from one to the other.
Footnote 211:
  • I agree. But, as I said earlier, things are more complicated as more and more of the brain is transplanted.
  • Fusion is more difficult to describe than Fission. Is there any correct way? It’s not just that our Concepts aren’t up to it; nor is ‘Nature’.
Footnote 212:
  • I think this ‘just as’ is designed to annoy people.
  • Livers are fungible, once ‘rejection’ problems are overcome. Provided they do their job, who cares where they came from. The same is not the case with our brains – or the most significant parts of them. They are not just ‘another organ’, not even in this context.
Footnote 213:
  • To keep track of the argument, the sections on the termini of life demonstrated failure of ‘necessity’. Cerebrum transplants are supposed to demonstrate failure of ‘sufficiency’ (of psychological continuity for the persistence of animals).
Footnote 214: Footnote 215:
  • From its logic, identity is a necessary relation. So, Olson is right if the ’is’ is the ‘is’ of identity (rather than of constitution, which is contingent; if I’m constituted by this animal I’m only contingently so constituted; that’s the whole point). See (eventually) my Note on Modality.
Footnote 216:
  • This is a useful summary. As with all syllogistic arguments, we have a choice between modus ponens and modus tollens. I’ve tended to treat it as the former, while in the context it should be treated as the latter.
  • I’d not really considered it as an Objection to Animalism but rather as an awkward and counter-intuitive consequence.
Footnote 217: Footnote 218:
  • This division– though not transplantation – occurs in Commissurotomy, of course.
  • But, this whole TE seems to rely on the idempotency of the Cerebral Hemispheres. Otherwise – given asymmetry and lateral specialisation, only part of the (supposed) person would be transplanted. There are odd features in the Psychology of patients who have had a Commissurotomy to alleviate the symptoms of epilepsy, but the two hemispheres can communicate via external cues. This wouldn’t be possible if only one hemisphere was transplanted.
  • Also, if the hemispheres really were idempotent, wouldn’t the Person already have Fissioned?
  • It is difficult to imagine how fissioning would be experienced. Presumably the two idempotent hemispheres could be kept synchronised via the corpus collosum, maybe being used alternately and ‘backed up’. But they would start to diverge once the corpus collosum was cut.
  • Maybe this idempotency occurs in cetaceans which Sleep with one hemisphere at a time?
Footnote 219:
  • Advocates of the temporal-parts view have a way of denying this claim: see §5.7.
  • Yes. Perdurantists would say that there were two Persons inhabiting the animal all the time, sharing stages, but this was only revealed when fissioning took place.
Footnote 220:
  • Of course, this depends what we are, as Olson will go on to discuss.
Footnote 221:
  • What’s the logic behind this claim?
Footnote 222:
  • This sounds like a garbling of Parfit’s question – what matters in survival (‘not Identity’, is the claim).
Footnote 223:
  • This seems to be a bungled version of the Future Great Pain Test devised to tease out our Survival Intuitions in "Williams (Bernard) - The Self and the Future".
  • The reason it’s bungled is that – in this case – it doesn’t clearly show who you think you’ll be after the operation.
  • In this case, you know that – in extracting your cerebrum for transplant – without anaesthetic you’ll be in unbearable pain while your skull is cut open and the painstaking work of extracting your Cerebrum takes place. Meanwhile the recipient – who is not you at this point on anyone’s account – will be ‘happily’ unconscious undergoing a similar operation. After this, who knows whether the transplant will work. The cerebrum itself feels no pain, and it might take years to ‘bed in’ to the recipient’s body, if it ever does, by which time the peripheral surgery will have healed. So, even if I thought I went with my cerebrum, I’d choose that the donor should receive the morphine.
  • It should be phrased in Williams’s way – the evil scientist will mercilessly torture either the cerebrum donor or the cerebrum recipient after the successful transplant. Selfishly, which would you – the donor – ‘prefer’ to be tortured? Well, if you believe you ‘go with your cerebrum’ you’d clearly say ‘the donor of your cerebrum’, because by then you’d have made your escape, you’d think.
Footnote 224:
  • Well, it would if the TE is repaired as suggested above.
Footnote 225:
  • What’s the logic behind these claims?
  • If you thought – for whatever reason – that fission was identity preserving, you’d care for both (on the grounds that the fission process had already taken place prior to the transplants, or for other reasons).
  • But, if you were convinced on logical grounds that neither could be you, then you’d want the donor to receive the morphine.
  • This is – sort of – analogous to Intuitions about whether Teletransportation is a form of transport or a means of dying.
  • The idea behind the FGPT is to get the philosopher to really think about the issue. Nothing so focuses the mind as the prospect of being hanged (Mark Twain: The prospect of hanging focuses the mind or Samuel Johnson: The prospect of hanging focuses the mind).
Footnote 226: Footnote 227:
  • While this is true, I don’t think this is the key point, which is that what we experience, whether gross or refined, is all that matters to us. Even the hedonists want it to be they themselves that experience their debaucheries.
  • I suppose we’re to ask at this point – and maybe should have earlier – what’s it like in the envisioned circumstances? Is it supposed that the recipient of your Cerebrum, feels himself to be you? Well, yes – that’s the point. Is he deceived? Well, maybe but does this matter? How are ‘you’ supposed to experience what goes on? If you – a convinced animalist – receive the cerebrum of someone else, do you suddenly experience someone else’s psychology? And does the recipient of your cerebrum suddenly gain your psychology? What happens to your FPP?
  • Unless we can answer these questions, the TE is underspecified.
Footnote 228:
  • I’m more interested – as an Animalist – on what it feels like to be the donor. I suppose you’d lapse into a PVS, having lost most of your brain, so it wouldn’t feel like anything?
  • And would it feel like you’d gone under the anaesthetic and never woken up, or would it feel like you’d woken up in a new body, which – almost on a technicality – isn’t you (or – as this is an indexical; I’m always me – isn’t the individual I – the experiencer – thought I was)?
Footnote 229: Footnote 230:
  • Well, people tend to choose their candidate theory of PID in accord with their needs – particularly on post-mortem survival.
  • But you can’t ‘choose’ which of two beings is you.
Footnote 231:
  • Well, maybe. But most think we ‘are’ animals in that that’s what our bodies are but think we can escape our animality in some way.
Footnote 232: Footnote 233:
  • I don’t find the epistemological aspect of the TA Argument worrying.
Footnote 234: Footnote 235:
  • Olson’s non-standard terminology makes this claim sound silly. But it’s true that – for the Animalist – we are only temporarily and contingently Persons.
  • Quite why this is seen as objectionable will emerge later in this Section.
Footnote 236:
  • Hmmm … so Baker is right that Olson doesn’t Take Persons Seriously!
  • I suppose – if you don’t take Person to be a Natural Kind concept, but a term invented for human purposes, maybe not all of them benign, then
  • But it’s a Forensic term, and has lots of moral and legal implications.
Footnote 237:
  • This is where Olson and Baker part company.
  • Baker thinks we are Persons essentially and Animals contingently, and Olson vice versa.
Footnote 238:
  • ‘Being’ is a tricky concept. Again, Olson’s terminology seems designed to antagonise his opponents.
  • Olson is talking metaphysics, where his opponents are often talking Narrative Identity. When people say that something (maybe a character trait, or an interest) is ‘part of their very being’ – part of what makes them ‘them’ – they are talking about Narrative Identity. Appearing to trivialise this ‘existential’ aspect just annoys people.
Footnote 239:
  • This follows from treating person as an honorific or a Phase Sortal (like ‘Professor’).
  • Maybe there are – or we could devise – persistence conditions for Professors qua Professors. I won’t try that here.
  • But philosophers (and people generally) think the persistence conditions for Persons are psychological. They think it’s possible for an individual no longer to be ‘the same person’. I think what they are referring to is a radical change of Personality, and best described that way, but others think it’s more than that – that such a change can undermine some of the Forensic aspects of Personhood, such as abrogating promises and vows made in one’s foolish youth, or having people ignore your ‘future directives’ when one is a dribbling old fogey who no longer wants to be put down.
Footnote 240:
  • Again, this assumes that ‘Person’ is not a Substance-term in its own right, and that Persons take their persistence criteria from the substance that constitutes them (‘constitution’ here taken in the informal sense).
  • But, it might be possible – and people have had many an attempt – to devise (or discover) persistence conditions for persons qua persons. A waste of effort, in my view.
Footnote 241:
  • That’s what Olson claims.
Footnote 242:
  • It looks to me that Olson has just assumed this. He thinks it’s self-evident – because gods have different persistence conditions from animals (one may assume).
  • He’s so convinced that the ‘Thinking x Argument’ doesn’t allow two substances to be in the same place at the same time that he always has the person as being the same thing as whatever else ‘is’ that person, and so the person’s persistence conditions are subsumed under that other thing.
Footnote 243: Footnote 244:
  • Is this a fair comparison? Does Baker use it?
Footnote 245: Footnote 246:
  • As Olson notes elsewhere, he’s not interested in PID as such, but in ‘our’ identity. He thinks PID – asking for the reidentification of persons – makes an assumption that he wishes to challenge. He’s retained the subject topic PID for reasons of historical continuity.
Footnote 247:
  • I think Olson leans too heavily on the TA Argument.
  • It doesn’t seem necessary to invoke it in this circumstance. The abductive – inference to the best explanation – argument is sufficient, in my view, and is not open to counter-arguments.
Footnote 248:
  • Baker thinks that being a Person makes an Ontological difference – that some ontological novelty arises when we have a person.
  • I agree with this – but would claim that the ‘novelty’ arose (maybe vaguely) when Homo Sapiens (or a prior hominin) evolved the mental capacity for personhood: achieved a FPP in Baker’s terms.
  • Baker thinks the ‘novelty’ arises for each individual when they develop their FPP, but – if I remember correctly – is a little shaky on whether it’s the capacity itself or the ‘certain’ capacity to develop one. She denies it to early-term fetuses, but may have them as persons in an honorary capacity.
  • But I agree with Olson that choosing introspective self-awareness as the definitive characteristic of persons can appear arbitrary.
Footnote 249:
  • I agree with Olson here, but not because of the TA Argument.
  • The difference in persistence conditions is sufficient – provided we can otherwise refute all the apparatus of the Constitution View.
Footnote 250: Footnote 251:
  • ‘Diachronic identity’ is the identity relation between one thing at different times.
  • Synchronic identity is the identity relation between the same thing picked out in two different ways at the same time.
  • I’m not sure how this ties in with Olson’s usage.
  • See my Note on the Logic of Identity.
Footnote 252:
  • On reflection, I suppose this is correct.
  • While Olson is clearly right in the normal case, does animalism have an agreement of counting ‘persons’ in psychopathological cases?
  • Maybe it does. Animalism treats ‘person’ much as it treats ‘professor’. If someone is a professor at both Oxford and (visiting) at Cambridge, then such a person only counts as one professor, not two.
Footnote 254:
  • This is all well said, as an account of the Psychological View.
  • Does animalism really care whether a human animals happens to ‘run’ more than one person – in this sense – at the same time?
Footnote 255: Footnote 256: Footnote 257:
  • I agree … with Olson’s next sentence and ensuing discussion. It’d be a fudge, at best.
Footnote 258:
  • The same old epistemological non-worry.
Footnote 259:
  • See "Olson (Eric) - Was Jekyll Hyde?".
  • I agree with Olson here. The ‘psychological individuation principle’ may possibly be useful in some clinical, legal or ethical circumstances, but it has no metaphysical standing.
Footnote 261:
  • See my note on Bundle Theories. Discussion will have to wait until later.
Footnote 262:



"Olson (Eric) - What Are We? Constitution"

Source: What Are We? A Study in Personal Ontology, Chapter 3 (November 2007: Oxford University Press.)


Oxford Scholarship On-Line Abstract
  • This chapter is about the view that we are material things constituted by organisms; this view is advocated by Baker, Shoemaker, and others. Each of us is made of the same matter as an organism, but our persistence conditions1 or essential properties preclude our being organisms ourselves. This goes together with the general view that qualitatively different objects can be made of the same matter at once: constitutionalism.
  • Constitutionalism is supported by arguments involving the persistence of artifacts. It is argued, however, that the view faces the thinking-animal problem, that it rules out any principled account of when one thing constitutes another, that it cannot explain why our boundaries lie where they do, and that it conflicts with a popular claim about synchronic identity.
  • Sections
    1. Material things constituted by animals
    2. The clay-modelling2 puzzle
    3. The replacement puzzle and the amputation puzzle
    4. Thinking animals3 again
    5. When does constitution occur?
    6. What determines our boundaries?

Paper Comment

Write-up5 (as at 15/05/2024 00:54:43): Olson - What Are We? Constitution

Introductory Notes – mostly to self
  • This page gives the full draft text of this Chapter (Chapter 3, "Olson (Eric) - What Are We? Constitution", of "Olson (Eric) - What are We? A Study of Personal Ontology"), which was available online6 at Sheffield University: Eric Olson, but which now seems to have been taken down, though I had taken a copy, and possess the book7.
  • I’ve taken the liberty of reformatting the text to make it easier to read on-line, and to refer back to.
  • The purpose of this page is so that I can easily add a commentary to the text – given that it was available electronically – prior to producing an analysis.
  • The endnotes (“In-Page Footnotes”; subscripted) are as in Olson’s text where the colouration is pink. Otherwise, they are (or will be) my own.
  • Any superscripted links will be to other parts of Olson’s book.
  • Links to my own Notes will be via the footnotes. To save too many unhelpful links from the main text, I’ve restricted footnotes highlighting my Notes to the first occurrence, though I may have many links from the footnotes if I’m discussing other related matters.
  • It would have been interesting – once I’ve completed annotating the whole book – to see how many of my Notes have been cited within the annotations of the Book as a whole, but it seems that this functionality is not yet there8.
  • I will need to update these Notes in the light of this Chapter, but I expect to leave the updates until I’ve completed the whole book.
  • My ultimate intention is to extract my footnotes into a commentary and analysis, and the original text will disappear into the Note Archive as a ‘Previous Version’.
  • I plan to revisit this Chapter multiple times. In the interim, some of my footnotes will be placeholders, either awaiting enlightenment or time for further research.
  • I had considered leaving the review of this Chapter until I’d completed a full review of:-
    → "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Materialism with a Human Face", and
    → "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View".
    … the reason being that "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Review of 'What Are We? A Study in Personal Ontology' by Eric T. Olson" is severely critical of Olson’s treatment of the Constitution View9 in this book.
  • However, I’ve decided to plough ahead and adjust my comments later if necessary. The primary reason is that Olson treats of holders of the CV other than Baker10, and it’ll be useful to get a flavour of some of these before focusing on Baker’s treatment.


Full Text
  1. Material things constituted by animals11
  2. The clay-modelling puzzle12
  3. The replacement puzzle and the amputation puzzle13
  4. Thinking animals again14
  5. When does constitution occur?15
  6. What determines our boundaries?16

3.1 Material things constituted by animals
  1. It is easy to suppose that we have properties incompatible with those of animals: that we are essentially capable of thinking, say, or that what it takes for us to persist is different from what it takes for an animal to persist. These claims17 rule out our being animals. Yet we appear to be material things. Not only that, but each of us appears to be made of just the same matter as a certain animal. We are no larger or smaller than our animal bodies18, and are located just where they are.
  2. The idea that we are not animals, but are nevertheless material things made of the same matter as our animal bodies and located in the same place, may sound strange. We can increase the tension by noting the apparent truism that no two material things can be in exactly the same place at once19. If we know anything about material things, we know that they compete for space and exclude one another. So we find ourselves drawn to each of four inconsistent claims:
    1. We are material things;
    2. Each of us has the same location as an animal (which is also a material thing);
    3. We are not animals; and
    4. Two material things can never be in the same place at once.
  3. What to do? Those who think that we are partly or wholly immaterial deny the first claim. Those who think that we are temporal parts of animals deny the second: they say that our animal bodies are not located precisely where we are, but occupy larger spatio-temporal regions. We will come to these views in due course20. Animalists deny the third claim. But some deny the fourth: they say that two material things can be in the same place. Not just any two material things, of course: you will never get a dog and a cat into the same place. Material things can be in the same place only if they are made of the same matter21. That, the thought goes, is the truth behind the idea that material things compete for space.
  4. The claim, then, is that two or more things can be made entirely of the same matter at the same time. For technical reasons it will be useful to recast this idea in slightly different terms22. Let us say that some things, the xs, compose something y if and only if each of the xs is a part of y, no two of the xs share a part, and every part of y shares a part with at least one of the xs23. So when a child builds a castle of Lego bricks, the castle is composed of those bricks. If each brick is itself composed of atoms, then the castle is also composed of atoms, for a part of a part of something is itself a part of that thing. So our suggestion is24 that the same things can compose two different objects. In other words, different material objects can coincide materially, where x coincides materially with y if and only if x and y are material objects and some things, the zs, compose x and also compose y. Applied to ourselves, the idea is that we coincide materially with animals, even though we are not animals ourselves. One can be made of the same matter as one’s animal body while having properties that no animal could have.
  5. If the relation between you and your animal body is not identity but material coincidence, we should expect to find more examples of material coincidence without identity; and indeed those who hold this view take it to be ubiquitous. The particles that compose a clay statue, they say, also compose a lump of clay; yet the lump and the statue are numerically different because the lump will ordinarily have existed before the statue did (before it was statue-shaped), and because squashing it would destroy the statue but not the lump. The blocks that compose the child's castle might also compose a material object called an “aggregate” of blocks, which predated and will outlive the castle. If we replaced one of the castle’s blocks, the castle would come to coincide with a different aggregate. Owing to metabolic turnover, an organism coincides with a different mass of matter or aggregate of atoms every fraction of a second. And so on.
  6. In each of these examples, our proposal says, numerically different objects not only coincide materially, but also differ in important qualitative respects – where by 'qualitative' I mean any property that doesn't specify the identity of its bearer (being Stan Getz would be a non-qualitative property). The objects differ in kind: one is a statue and not a lump, the other is a lump and not a statue; one is a person and not an animal, the other is an animal and not a person. They differ in their modal properties: statues are essentially statue-shaped, but statue-shaped lumps are only contingently statue-shaped; people are essentially able to think, but the animals coinciding with them think at best only contingently. They have different persistence conditions: statues and people can survive things that lumps and organisms cannot, and vice versa. There is no point in saying that coinciding objects are numerically different but qualitatively identical – that we are animals that coincide with other animals exactly like us, say. The attraction in saying that statues are not lumps or that we are not human animals is that statues and people have properties that lumps and human animals lack. These are not merely historical properties: a statue and its coinciding lump are supposed to differ not only in that the lump existed before the statue did. They are supposed to differ while they coincide: for instance, while they coincide the lump but not the statue is capable of surviving squashing. A statue and its coinciding lump, or a person and her animal body, would differ qualitatively even if they coincided throughout their entire careers.
  7. The view that qualitatively different things can coincide materially is called the metaphysic of constitution or constitutionalism. The name alludes to the fact that whenever two things coincide materially, one of them is supposed to “constitute” the other. Few of those who speak of constitution bother to say what they mean by it, and those who do say different things25. But most agree that constitution is necessarily asymmetric and irreflexive: two things cannot constitute each other, and nothing can constitute itself. (Material coincidence, by contrast, is an equivalence relation.) And when constitutionalists take two things to coincide materially, they usually agree about which constitutes which: people are constituted by their bodies, for instance, which in turn are constituted by masses of matter, and not vice versa. (Do not confuse constitution with composition. Constitution by definition relates one thing to one thing, whereas many things can jointly compose something.)
  8. Constitutionalism is a principle about material things in general, and not about ourselves in particular. It doesn’t say what you and I coincide with, or even whether we coincide with anything. For all it says we might be animals coinciding with masses of matter (Thomson 199726), or material objects that do not coincide with anything else, or even immaterial things. Most constitutionalists, though, say that we are non-animals coinciding materially with human animals. Or at least this is the usual situation. Although we are all non-animals, they say, we may not all coincide with animals. Perhaps some of us coincide with a thing made up of a human animal and a plastic knee. Someone who had a cerebrum transplant might coincide with different animals at different times, and briefly coincide with a naked cerebrum. Perhaps, by gradual replacement of parts, someone might one day come to coincide with a wholly inorganic machine. If we are lucky, we might be constituted in the next world by something glorious and indestructible but not in any recognizable sense biological. In this regard, say the constitutionalists, we are like statues, which by careful replacement of parts can coincide with different lumps of matter at different times. Coinciding with a particular human animal is supposed to be only a contingent and perhaps a temporary feature of us. But most constitutionalists say that we must always coincide with some material thing other than ourselves, be it animal, machine, or what have you: we could not become immaterial.
  9. Most constitutionalists say that we have certain mental properties essentially, or that some sort of psychological continuity is necessary for us to persist through time. It follows that we come into being later than our animal bodies do: you appeared when a human animal reached a certain point in its development – perhaps when it acquired those mental features that distinguish people from non-people. Depending on what those features are, this could happen at any time between the appearance of the first mental properties five or six months after fertilization and the onset of full self-consciousness a year or two after birth. And you ordinarily cease to exist when your animal body ceases to support the relevant mental features, as it would if it lapsed into a persistent vegetative state. Here again we are like clay statues, which constitutionalists say come into being when a lump of clay is modelled in a certain way, and perish, outlived by the lump, when squashed.
  10. I will call the view that you and I are non-animals coinciding with animals – as opposed to constitutionalism in general – the constitution view27.

3.2 The clay-modelling puzzle
  1. Whether the constitution view is right depends largely on the truth of constitutionalism in general. If constitutionalism is false, so is the constitution view. If constitutionalism is true, on the other hand, and if we are material things, it will be hard not to accept the constitution view.
  2. Suppose constitutionalism is true. Then statue-shaped lumps of clay in the right circumstances constitute things that are essentially statue-shaped: statues. Likewise, lumps of matter in the appropriate organic configuration constitute things that are essentially living: organisms. These are supposed to be paradigm cases of constitution. Now it doesn’t strictly follow from this that human animals in the right state and the right circumstances constitute things that are essentially able to think. It could be that statue-shaped lumps constitute things that are essentially statue-shaped but human animals never constitute things that are essentially thinkers. But that would be surprising. We should expect there to be an explanation for this important difference. The most likely explanation, it seems, would be that no material thing of any sort could think, essentially or otherwise: thinking beings are immaterial, and are not constituted by anything. (Remember, constitutionalism in general does not imply that we are material things.) The claim that thinkers are material, but don’t stand to human animals as clay statues stand to lumps of clay, sounds rather unprincipled.
  3. If human animals of the right sort constitute essential thinkers, it is but a short step to the constitution view. Those essential thinkers would not themselves be animals, for no animal is essentially able to think. And it would be hard to find any reason to suppose that we were the animals and not the essential thinkers. On the contrary, the apparently widespread and deeply held conviction that we are essentially able to think will be a reason to suppose that we are things constituted by animals.
  4. So the truth of constitutionalism in general would provide a fairly strong case for our being non-animals constituted by animals. (Someone might say that we are constituted by brains or other parts of animals, rather than by whole animals. I see this as a near variant of the constitution view, and most of what I will say about the view that we are constituted by animals applies equally to the view that we are constituted by brains.) The constitution view and constitutionalism in general are likely to stand or fall together. In effect, then, any argument for constitutionalism is an argument for the constitution view. If we can find any case where qualitatively different objects coincide materially, that will be a reason to suppose that we are constituted by animals (or perhaps by brains). And there are plenty of arguments for constitutionalism.
  5. Consider first the clay-modelling puzzle28. Take a lump of clay of nondescript shape and knead it into the form of, let us say, Margaret Thatcher. (Iron might be a more appropriate material in this case, but clay suits our purposes better.) Then squash the lump and model it into a cube. We seem to have here a material object – a lump or mass or portion of clay – that is first shapeless, then Thatcher-shaped, then cubical. There also seems to be, for a time, a statue of Thatcher. During that time the lump and the statue coincide materially. Yet we wouldn't say that the statue starts out shapeless and ends up cubical. We wouldn't say, "See that statue? It was nothing but a shapeless lump this morning. Tomorrow it will be a cube." The statue doesn't seem to start out as a non-statue, become a statue for a while, and then revert to being a non-statue. It doesn’t merely cease to exist as a statue when we squash it. It seems to go out of existence altogether.
  6. It is easy enough to make this into an argument for constitutionalism. The story invites us to accept these claims:
    • 1. There is a lump of clay that is first shapeless, then Thatcher-shaped, then cubical.
    • 2. There is a statue that is never shapeless or cubical.
    • 3. The statue coincides materially, while it exists, with the lump.
    1 and 2 imply that there are two different clay objects in the story. They have to be two because they exist at different times, and because one is shapeless for a time and the other is never shapeless. It follows, given 3, that two different things can coincide materially.
  7. Now this is not yet constitutionalism – not quite. Constitutionalism says that different things can not only coincide materially, but also differ qualitatively while they coincide. If the statue and the lump were qualitatively exactly alike while they coincided – if both were statues and both were lumps, and they shared all the same dispositions, essential properties, and so on – then the clay-modelling puzzle would support only the claim that you and I coincide materially with human animals numerically different from us. That is not yet the constitution view, since it doesn’t imply that we in any way qualitatively different from those animals.
  8. To make the clay-modelling puzzle into an argument for constitutionalism we need to establish that the statue and the lump in the story differ qualitatively while they coincide. But that is just what the story suggests. According to the story it is no accident that the lump persists throughout the various changes of shape while the statue does not. If we took a thousand shapeless pieces of clay and kneaded each of them first into the shape of Thatcher and then into a cube, it would always be the lump – the thing that was first shapeless – that survived the loss of its human shape and became cubical. The statue – the thing that comes into being when the lump becomes Thatcher-shaped – would always perish when it loses that shape. That is because lumps have the capacity to survive those changes and statues lack it: lumps, but not statues, have the modal property possibly surviving radical changes of shape. If that is right, then the lump and the statue in our story have different qualitative properties while they coexist. In fact they would differ in this way even if they were to coincide throughout their careers. So the story suggests a fourth claim as well:
    • 4. The lump has a qualitative property, while it coincides with the statue, that the statue then lacks.
    Grant this, and constitutionalism follows.
  9. There is no easy way to avoid this conclusion. If constitutionalism is false, one of the four claims must be false; yet they all seem to be true.
  10. We have already considered affirming the first three claims while denying the fourth – the view that the lump predates and outlives the statue but is qualitatively identical with it while they coincide. It is unsurprising that no one holds that view.
  11. A more likely way out would be to accept the first claim but deny the second: to say that there is a lump that changes it shape twice, but there is no statue that is always Thatcher-shaped. The only large clay object in the story is the lump, which simply happens to be temporarily Thatcher-shaped. No new material object comes into being when we knead the lump into that shape, and none ceases to be when we squash it. No two things coincide materially. Call this suggestion lumpism.
  12. Another possibility is that the second claim might be true and the first false: there is, if you like, a statue but no lump. Perhaps, when we knead the clay into the shape of the former Prime Minister, a new object, a statue, comes into being, and perishes when we squash it. But no clay object persists through these changes: nothing is first shapeless, then Thatcher-shaped, then cubical. (What about the clay? Isn’t it first shapeless, then Thatcher-shaped, then cubical? Maybe so; but that doesn’t obviously imply that any material object changes its shape. Perhaps the expression ‘the clay’ refers not in the singular to any one thing, but in the plural to a lot of particles29 – particles that never compose anything that can survive radical changes of shape. That is, perhaps the clay is merely a lot of particles and not a large composite object.) Call the view that 1 is false and 2 is true statuism.
  13. The trouble with these proposals is that they are hard to generalize (Olson 199630). Though they may sound attractive in the case of the statue and the clay, they are implausible in other cases.
  14. Take lumpism, the idea that statues are merely statue-shaped lumps. If there are such things as lumps of clay, there ought to be such things as lumps of flesh and bone as well. Why should clay particles stuck together compose lumps, but not flesh particles stuck together? But although it may sound attractive to say that clay statues are just special lumps of clay, it is not plausible to say that living things are just special lumps of flesh.
  15. Lumps of flesh ought to be able to survive crushing if lumps of clay can. So the lump composed of the flesh particles of a dog ought to be able to survive the same sorts of radical changes of shape as a lump of clay can survive. But the dog cannot survive that. If something analogous to squashing the statue and making the clay into a cube were to happen to the dog, the dog would not merely change its shape. It wouldn’t just cease to be a dog, and come to be a cubical piece of meat. Surely the dog would cease to be altogether. Or consider that dogs can survive wholesale changes of parts, owing to metabolic turnover. Lumps of flesh cannot survive this: if you take away half a lump’s particles and replace them with new ones – even if you do it gradually – you end up with a numerically different lump from the one you began with. So say those who believe in lumps, anyway. If there are such things as lumps of flesh, the lump now coinciding with a dog is not the one that coincided with it a year ago. A dog is not a lump of flesh. If there is only a lump of flesh in the dog story, in the way that according to lumpism there is only a lump of clay in the statue story, then there are really no dogs or other organisms at all: what appears to be a persisting organism is reality a series of numerically different lumps, each taking on organic form only briefly.
  16. Those who would avoid constitutionalism by saying that statues are just lumps are likely to end up concluding that all material things are lumps – things that can survive radical changes of shape but cannot be composed of different particles at different times. They will arrive at a general “lump ontology”. Because most familiar material objects – organisms, artefacts, and ourselves as well, if we are material – are not lumps, the lump ontology implies that there are no such things. That may not be a reductio ad absurdum of the lump ontology, but it shows how tough-minded you have to be to accept it. Lumpism offers no easy way round the clay-modelling argument.
  17. Now consider statuism, the idea that the only Thatcher-shaped object in the story is the statue, which has that shape throughout its career. What's wrong with that? Well, if clay particles arranged in the shape of Thatcher compose a clay statue, we should expect the organic particles that compose Thatcher herself to compose something analogous to a statue – not a statue, exactly, but something of the same metaphysical sort as a statue, with the same persistence conditions: a "statue-type object". (If you believe that Thatcher is immaterial, consider her animal body.) What principled reason could there be to suppose that clay particles arranged in the shape of Thatcher compose a statue-type object but flesh particles arranged in that way do not?
  18. But Thatcher can survive things that no statue-type object could survive. She grew in size enormously in the course of her development. She could become a good deal smaller as well. She could survive the loss of her arms and legs. Given enough life-support machinery she could probably even survive as a severed head. No one thinks that a clay statue could have that sort of history. Thatcher herself is therefore no statue-type object. If the only Thatcher-sized material thing in the story is a statue-type object, then there is no such thing as Thatcher. Or if Thatcher really is a statue-type object, her history and persistence conditions are radically different from anything anyone ever thought. Those who would avoid constitutionalism by saying that lumps are really statue-type objects are likely to end up with something at least as repugnant as the lump ontology.
  19. You might find my attempts to generalize lumpism and statuism too crude. Maybe the claymodelling story is disanalogous to the stories of dogs and prime ministers that I have tried to compare it with. Perhaps clay particles arranged in human or in canine form compose lumps of clay, but organic particles arranged in human or canine form don’t compose lumps of anything. Or maybe clay particles arranged statuewise compose clay statues but organic particles arranged in human form do not compose fleshy statue-type objects. That might enable us to resist the clay-modelling argument and avoid constitutionalism without going to such loony extremes as the lump ontology. The trouble with these suggestions is that they sound unprincipled. One would like to think that there was some reason why clay particles arranged in human form compose lumps or statue-type objects while organic particles arranged in that way do not. Claims like these ought to fit into some broader and more systematic picture of the ontology of material objects. Otherwise we ought to worry that they are more wishful thinking than reliable insight. And it is hard to come up with such a picture31.
  20. A more radical response to the clay-modelling puzzle is to reject both 1 and 2: there are neither lumps of clay nor clay statues. Of course, there is something there that sculptors work and has aesthetic value. Perhaps there are clay particles. Sculptors arrange some of these particles in special ways, with certain intentions and in special circumstances. We describe this situation loosely by saying such things as, “She has made a clay statue of Margaret Thatcher.” But really there are no clay objects, but only particles. Clay particles never compose anything: there is nothing that has many clay particles as parts and every part of which overlaps at least one of those particles. There is never any larger thing for clay particles to be parts of. The clay particles in our story start out stuck together in a nondescript fashion, then get arranged in a way that we describe as Thatcher-shaped, and end up arranged cubically. But nothing in the story is literally Thatcher-shaped or cubical. This would enable us to describe the clay-modelling case without committing ourselves to constitutionalism. We might call this proposal the sparse ontology.
  21. Some philosophers have trouble understanding the sparse ontology. What is the difference, they ask, between things' being lumped together and their composing a lump? Given that some clay particles cohere together and don't cohere with any other clay particles, how can it be a further question whether there is a lump of clay there? We might as well say that there are many people gathered in the street but there is no crowd, or that there is a left shoe and a matching right shoe but no pair of shoes. How could that be a serious view? It is hard to know how to respond to this.
  22. Consider the claim that any objects whatever, no matter what they are like in themselves or how they are arranged, always compose something. That is, for any things at all, there is something that has all those things as parts, and all the parts of which share a part with one or more of those things – something numerically different from any of those parts, unless there is just one of them. Call this compositional universalism. Those who don’t understand the sparse ontology appear to be assuming this principle. In fact they seem to think that it cannot intelligibly be doubted or denied: it is true solely by virtue of the meanings of the words used to state it, and in such an obvious way that anyone who understands the words ‘thing’, 'compose', and 'something' must see, on reflection, that it is true. Their view is apparently that it is a logical principle, like the principle of non-contradiction. Given that there are such things as your left leg, St Paul's Cathedral, and the planet Mars, anyone who fails to see that there is also an enormous disconnected material thing composed of those three objects is simply confused.
  23. That is not how it seems to me. I find it eminently doubtful whether there is anything made up of your left leg, St Paul's Cathedral, and the planet Mars. It is not only doubtful whether those three things compose a “genuine object” or a thing with natural boundaries or anything of the sort that we have reason to pay any mind to. It is doubtful whether they compose anything at all. Universalism looks to me like a substantive metaphysical principle. It is not at all like the principle of non-contradiction. It is more like the claim that God exists. It might be true, and then again it might not be. But if we can meaningfully ask whether just any things compose a larger thing, how could it be meaningless to ask whether clay particles lumped together compose anything?
  24. This is not going to satisfy those who have tried hard and failed to understand the sparse ontology. I can refer them to other sources (for instance32 van Inwagen 1990b: 6-12 and 1994; Merricks 2001: 12-28). And we will see in chapter 933 that what we say about composition has important implications for what we are.
  25. Even if we can understand the claim that there are no lumps or statues, though, we may find it hard to believe. The result of kneading some clay into the shape of Thatcher certainly appears to be a medium-sized clay object. At any rate it takes some doing to get people to take seriously the idea that there might be nothing there but particles. The proposal also raises difficult theoretical questions. For instance, if the particles in our story don't compose a lump of clay or anything else, when do particles compose something? What would it take for particles to compose something, if not their being lumped together? More to the point, if clay particles arranged in the form of a human being never compose anything, why suppose that organic particles arranged in human form compose something? Surely there is no ontologically significant distinction between clay particles and organic particles. If there are no lumps or statues, how could there be any people – unless people are immaterial? We will return to these matters in §9.534.
  26. Other opponents of constitutionalism accept that the statue and lump exist and have different careers, but deny that they coincide materially. Despite appearances, they say, there are no smaller things that compose both the lump and the statue. The lump has temporal parts that do not overlap with any parts of the statue, such as the cubical part of it located later than its statue-shaped part. If a statue and a lump were to have all the same parts, including temporal parts – if the god of the philosophers were to create a clay statue out of nothing and then annihilate it without changing its shape, for instance – they would be one and the same. This proposal at least provides a systematic way of avoiding material coincidence. However, it requires the contentious assumption that statues and lumps, and presumably all persisting objects, including ourselves, are made up of temporal parts. We will return to it in Chapter 535.

3.3 The replacement puzzle and the amputation puzzle
  1. The clay-modelling puzzle is just one of many considerations about the ontology of material objects that support constitutionalism. Here are two more.
  2. The replacement puzzle, like the clay-modelling puzzle, suggests that each ordinary material object coincides materially with something of a different sort (Thomson 199836). Suppose we break off an arm of our clay statue and burn it in a very hot fire, then replace it with a new arm made of different clay. Then the argument is this: There is a clay statue that persists throughout the story, and has first one arm and then another. There is also a statue-shaped lump of clay coinciding with the statue before the replacement, and another statue-shaped lump of clay coinciding with it afterwards. I say another lump because the original lump doesn’t get smaller when we destroy part of it, as the statue does, and then regain its original size when a new part is provided. No; the lump ceases to exist when the arm is destroyed. And when the new arm is attached, a new lump comes into being. Or perhaps a previously disconnected lump – one existing in two detached pieces – comes to be a connected lump – one that is all in one piece. Either way, the new lump is not the old one. Since the statue coincides first with one lump and then with another, it cannot be identical with either lump. More generally, every clay statue has a property that no lump of clay has, namely the capacity to have different clay parts, or to be made of different clay, at different times. It follows that no clay statue is identical with any lump of clay – not even a clay statue that never has any of its parts replaced. Once more we have qualitatively different material objects coinciding materially. The alternatives to this conclusion are similar to those in the clay-modelling puzzle.
  3. Then there is the ancient amputation puzzle. Consider an ordinary human organism, Peter. Presumably there is such a thing as Peter's left hand. And if there is such a thing as his left hand, there ought to be such a thing as his "left-hand complement" as well: something composed of all of Peter's particles save those that compose his left hand. Call it Pete. Pete and Peter are not the same thing: Peter is bigger. Pete would seem to be one of Peter's parts. Now imagine that Peter loses his left hand. Better, let the hand be entirely destroyed. This is surely something that Peter could survive. Suppose he does. Then he gets smaller by a hand. But what about Pete? What happens to it when Peter loses his hand? If the loss is clean and quick, Pete need not be directly affected. Only its surroundings would change. So it seems that both Peter and Pete would exist after the amputation. How would they then relate to one another? It seems that they would coincide materially: the very atoms that compose Peter would compose Pete as well. But they cannot be the same thing, for they were different things before they coincided. If these assumptions are all correct, then this is another case of material coincidence (Thomson 198337). (It will be a genuine case of constitution only if Peter and Pete differ qualitatively while coinciding; but those who accept the rest of the story are unlikely to deny this.) Again, there is no easy way of avoiding the constitutionalist conclusion. We will return to the amputation puzzle in §7.338-§7.439.

3.4 Thinking animals again
  1. The constitution view promises to combine the apparent fact that we are living material things with the conviction that we have identity conditions or essential properties different from those of human animals. It claims to have all the virtues of animalism with none of its vices. And it is part of a package that appears to solve a number of vexing metaphysical puzzles. This might make the constitution view sound like a gift from the gods.
  2. But it is too good to be true. For one thing, the constitution view shares some of the objections levelled against animalism. In §2.940 we saw that animalism was incompatible with the widely held claim that facts about mental unity determine how many of us there are at any one time. I will argue in §6.441 that the constitution view is also incompatible with that claim. (We will consider another objection to both animalism and the constitution view in §9.342.)
  3. The constitution view has troubles of its own as well. The most obvious is the thinking animal problem. The constitution view says that we are not identical with our animal bodies. As we saw in §2.343, this implies that one of three things must be the case: there are no human animals at all, or human animals cannot think in the way that we do, or each of us shares all our thoughts with another being. Which of these unsavory consequences should friends of the constitution view accept?
  4. They cannot deny that there are human animals. That such an animal constitutes you is part of their view. Someone might deny that there are animals and say that we coincide with lumps of flesh or masses of matter instead. (Though this is not strictly a version of the constitution view as I have characterized it, it is a close relative.) In that case there would be no thinking animal problem; but there would still be a thinking-lump problem. It might perhaps be easier to explain why a lump of flesh in human form could never think than to explain why a human animal couldn’t. But even so, advocates of this view face the considerable challenge of explaining why there are no human animals in a way that is compatible with their view of what we are. Why might there be no human animals? It might be because there are no material things at all: the physical world is an illusion. Or maybe there are no composite material things, but only elementary particles (§8.544). Or it might be because nothing can have different parts at different times (§7.345-§7.446). None of these claims are compatible with anything like the constitution view. Any grounds for denying the existence of animals are likely to grounds for denying the existence of any sort of “constituted” material things that we could be.
  5. So according to the constitution view there are human animals coinciding materially with us. What if those animals think in the way that we do? Then there are two beings thinking your thoughts, you and the animal. And that is too many. We saw the problems this raises in §2.647. The human animals coinciding with us ought to count as people. Human people would then come in two kinds: animal people and the non-animal people they constitute. That makes it hard to see how we could know whether we are the non-animal people or the animal people that constitute them.
  6. Baker48 seems to think that these problems dissolve once we see that the animal constitutes the person (2000: 169-179, 191-204; 2002: 42). If we state the constitution view correctly, she claims, the question of how we know we are not our animal bodies does not arise. She says that I am an animal as well as a person, and that the animal constituting me – call it A – is a person as well as an animal. But A and I are animals and people in different senses. I am an animal only derivatively, she says, insofar as an animal constitutes me. A, however, is an animal non-derivatively: it is an animal independently of its constituting or being constituted by anything. Contrariwise, A is a person only insofar as it constitutes a person, whereas I am a person non-derivatively, independently of any constitution relations I enter into. How does that help? In particular, how does it enable me to know that I am not A? Well, I can know that I am a person, Baker says, because I can think first-person thoughts, and only a person can think first-person thoughts (that is her definition of 'person'). Yet A is also a person. How do I know which person I am? Baker says that although I am a person, and A is a person, and we are numerically different, we are not two people. Whenever one thing constitutes another, she says, they are one thing. And because there are not two people there, it makes no sense to ask which one I am.
  7. I don’t know what Baker means when she says that that A and I, though numerically different, are one person. But whatever it means, I do not see how it could help me to know that I am not A. There is A, Baker says, and there is the person A constitutes – Olson – and they are numerically different. So I ought to be able to ask whether I identical with Olson or with A. If I am identical with Olson and not with A, as Baker claims, how can it be impossible to ask whether I am Olson or A? And if I can ask whether I am Olson or A, I can also ask what grounds I have for accepting one answer to this question rather than another – just the problem Baker’s account was supposed to do away with.
  8. Friends of the constitution view will want to solve the thinking-animal problem by denying that human animals can think, or that they can think in the way that we think49. But as we saw in §2.550, this is a hard thing for a materialist to maintain: if you say that some material things can think, you will find it hard to argue that biological organisms cannot. It is especially hard to argue that physically indistinguishable things in the same surroundings – and according to the constitution view you and I are indistinguishable in this way from our animal bodies – can nonetheless differ radically in their mental capacities. There appears to be no difference between you and your animal body that could account for any psychological difference.
  9. Someone might say that what prevents human animals from thinking is not any defect in their physical structure or surroundings or history, but that they belong to the wrong metaphysical kind. The kind might be biological organism: perhaps human animals cannot think because they are organisms. We, by contrast, are able to think because we are not organisms (as well as having the right microstructure, surroundings, history, and so on).
  10. Why should a thing’s being a biological organism prevent it from thinking (or from thinking in the way that we think)? Maybe organisms can’t think because they have the wrong persistence conditions. We considered this rather unlikely view in §2.551. Even if it were true, though, it would not yet explain why we can think and human animals can’t. That is because it doesn’t explain why we are not animals ourselves. Of course, it is part of the constitution view that we are not animals. But even if we coincide materially with animals numerically different from ourselves, the question remains: what makes us non-animals? We are physically identical with human animals. We have the same developmental and evolutionary history as those animals have (we weren’t cooked up in the lab by mad scientists). How could things like that – beings that no biologist could ever distinguish from animals – not be animals?
  11. Perhaps we are not animals because we lack the identity conditions of organisms: maybe our identity over time, but not that of organisms, consists in some sort of psychological continuity. But this raises a further question: what could give us different identity conditions from those of human animals? How could material things with the same physical properties (or at any rate the same microstructure) in the same surroundings differ in the sort of thing they can survive? What is it about human animals that enables them to survive in a persistent vegetative state (for instance), when we – beings otherwise exactly like them – cannot survive it?
  12. I have asked why we can think but the animals coinciding with us cannot, what makes us non-organisms despite being physically indiscernible from organisms, and what could give us different identity conditions from the animals coinciding with us. We might also ask what could make one object a statue and another object, physically indiscernible from it and with the same surroundings, a mere statue-shaped lump. These are all instances of a more general question, which we might call the indiscernibility problem: how can putting the same parts together in the same way in the same circumstances give you qualitatively different wholes? If the same atoms can compose two things at once, what could make those two things qualitatively different? What could give them different mental properties, or different persistence conditions, or different modal properties? If atoms really could compose more than one object at once – if numerically different objects could coincide materially – should we not expect those objects to be qualitatively identical?
  13. Constitutionalists evidently do not expect this. They are not surprised that two objects that are otherwise indiscernible should differ systematically in their mental or modal properties. Why not? Presumably it is because they take these differences to be primitive or brute: not explainable in terms of other differences. There is no saying why you would go along with your transplanted cerebrum and your animal body would not, or why you can think but the animal can’t, because there is no other difference between you and the animal that could explain it. A human animal’s inability to think is a primitive and basic feature of it. It just can’t, and that’s all there is to be said. Asking why a human animal