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Personal Identity

Thesis - Chapter 02 (What are We?)

(Text as at 05/04/2016 23:19:41)

(For other versions of this Note, see the tables at the end)


  1. The topic “personal identity” has historically presupposed that we are (in the sense of “identical to”, or “most fundamentally”) persons, whereas I (along with other animalists) claim that we are identical to human animals.
  2. “We” requires explanation. This chapter attempts to sort out the topic of discussion for the Thesis as a whole.
  3. I need to address the concept of a SOUL as souls are the major counter-claim to the persisting entity being an animal; or at least popularly so. The same goes for SELVES, and also for HUMAN BEINGS, insofar as these are supposed to be distinct from HUMAN ANIMALs.
  4. I also need to have some discussion of what is meant by the various other possibilities of what we are, but leave explications of PERSONs, BODIES and ANIMALs / ORGANISMs until later Chapters.
  5. I’m not quite sure where the possibility that we are BRAINs ought to go, but for the time being it’s here; and this leads on to the possibility (tacitly assumed in some TEs) that we might be individual CEREBRA.

Research Methodology

Chapter Introduction
  1. This Chapter has the title “What Are We?”. The “We” is of some significance, as we will see in the course of this Thesis when we consider the social and reciprocal aspects of what it is to be a person. Nonetheless, should we not start with the singular, maybe even solipsist, question “What Am I?”, and expand out from there into the collective question? How we phrase our initial question has an impact on the course of our investigations, and may reflect our deepest presuppositions. The first-person question adopts the Cartesian stance of looking from the inside out, whereas the third-person question considers “us” collectively. The first-person question may presuppose that the answer to the question is that I am primarily a psychological being, whereas the third-person question may assume or expect the answer that I am fundamentally physical.
  2. Some of the potential answers to the question will be the same whether we phrase the question in the singular or the plural.
  3. Taking it in the plural for now, we need to distinguish, as candidates for what we might be on the physical side, (prefixing “human-” passim):-
    • Animals,
    • Organisms,
    • Bodies,
    • Beings, and
    • Brains.
  4. On the psychological side, I might be a self or, more popularly, a person. I might even be a non-essentially-embodied entity like a soul.
  5. I will consider all these options in due course; with the exception of a detailed discussion of the concept PERSON (which is reserved for the next Chapter3), I will do so later in this chapter.
  6. Olson4 also considers whether we might be Humean bundles of mental states and events, and even the nihilist view that we don’t exist at all. I’m not sure I’ll have space for these, but need to remain aware of the possibilities and motivations for these positions.
  7. However, for the moment I want to consider some themes connecting the possible answers to our question. Firstly, does there have to be a single answer? I know that I, and presume that my readers also, fall happily under the concepts HUMAN ANIMAL, HUMAN ORGANISM and HUMAN BEING. I at least have a human body and a human brain, though I would initially feel reluctant to say that I am one of either of these things. I would certainly claim to be a SELF, and also a PERSON, as no doubt would my reader. So, cannot all these answers be correct?
  8. This raises the question of what I mean by saying what I am (or we are) something. In saying that I am any of these things, what sort of relation is the “am”? Am I using am in the sense of an identity relation, a constitution relation, ascribing a predicate, or have some other sense in mind?
  9. There are two kinds of questions I want to ask. Firstly, what sort of being am I identical to? Secondly, what sort of properties do I have; both metaphysically essential properties (those without which I would cease to exist), and those I merely consider essential (that is, “very important”, though I would continue to exist without them)?
  10. Any “is” that does duty for the identity relation inherits the formal properties of an equivalence relation; in particular, it is a transitive relation. Additionally, the “two” identical entities either side of the copula must satisfy Leibniz’s law; “they” share (at a time) all their properties; actual and modal, intrinsic and relational. So, if I am identical to a human animal, and also identical to a human person, then that human animal must be identical to that human person. This would mean that these “two” entities are really one. They co-exist at all times in all possible worlds where either of “them” exists, and share all their properties and relations, at any time and world. Everything that happens to “one” at a world and time happens to the “other” at those coordinates. This places strong logical constraints on how much cake I can have and eat. I may want to say that I am identical both to a human animal, and to a human person, yet claim that a human person has certain mental properties essentially, but deny that a human animal does. However, I am then claiming what is logically impossible, at least for the classical logic of identity that denies that such notions as relative identity are coherent. As we will see, this point is essential to the animalist case that we are not identical to human persons (given the claim that we are identical to human animals).
  11. My thesis addresses the topic of personal identity, but we might claim that what we’re really interested in is in our identity. Not that we have doubts as individuals as to which particular individual we are (as though I, as Bill Clinton, don’t know whether I am Bill Clinton or George W. Bush), but what sort of individual we are, together with worries about our persistence (how long we are going to last, and in what form). Historically, it has been a standard presupposition that what we are most fundamentally is persons, or at least that’s all we care about. So, concern about our identity has been elided with concern for personal identity, almost as though we thought that the two questions are the same. Animalists argue that the two questions are indeed different, but for convenience, and the historical continuity of the general topic under discussion, still say they are talking about personal identity.

Main Text
  1. To be supplied.

Links to Books / Papers to be Addressed5
  1. For this Chapter I have already worked on the various papers or book chapters under supervisory control. Where this is the case, for ease of reference, the analytical Note for each reference is hyperlinked directly.
  2. Additionally, I may need to consider other papers or book chapters in the following lists (together with some others referenced by these). There are doubtless many more that are relevant and which will be addressed in the course of the thesis, but these are probably sufficient to get us going. Some that I have considered have been culled or reserved for later.
  3. The General Question:-
  4. Brains / Cerebra
  5. Neurological Background
  6. Human Beings
  7. Selves32
  8. Souls34
  9. Nihilism
  10. Many aspects of these papers will need to be left for later chapters.

The Cut
  1. There had already been a lot of cutting in the various selections of the original reading list – the reading lists attached to the Notes run on and on – and these items just represent the works in my possession (though I have sought out all that I’ve heard of that look relevant).
  2. However, the items in the lists following were given some attention, and have been culled – at least temporarily – from the lists above, where they originally appeared. I’ve not always given a reason as I’ve not studied them sufficiently closely. But, you have to draw a line somewhere.
  3. The General Question
  4. Brains / Cerebra
  5. Human Beings
  6. Selves
  7. Souls

Links to Notes
  1. For an out-of-date skeleton giving a fuller reading list, follow this link37.
  2. Candidates for what we are, considered in this Chapter:-
  3. Candidates for what we are, considered in later Chapters:-

Final Remarks
  1. This is work in progress48.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 4: In "Olson (Eric) - What are We? A Study of Personal Ontology"

Footnote 5: Footnote 12: The excerpt from Brandom raises some questions about the community we call “we”.

Footnote 15: Baker often expresses indebtedness to Roderick Chisholm, who is reviewed on that account.

Footnote 17: An annoying book, but one I ought to study.

Footnote 21: The book. From my perspective, probably the most important source for this Chapter.

Footnote 22: See also the Chapters on Brains and Souls in the subsequent reading-lists.

Footnote 26: Useful historical background, maybe!

Footnote 28: Lockwood might deny that this is his view, but he seems committed to it, as far as I can see.

Footnote 29: This maybe ought to be categorised as an “anti-soul” view.

Footnote 30: Some of the papers by Puccetti will be reconsidered in (or maybe reserved for – a couple already have been) Chapter 10.

Footnote 32: Footnote 33: Alexander thinks that we are Selves, and that Selves are tropes – abstract particulars – which by my lights is about as far from the truth as you can get, so I need to consider his arguments carefully.

Footnote 34: Footnote 35: This looks interesting, but is somewhat off-topic for a priority reading-list.

Footnote 36: This is rather elementary, and ought to have been reviewed in Chapter 01.

Live Version of this Archived Note

Date Length Title
02/06/2019 10:10:34 15172 Thesis - Chapter 02 (What are We?)

Table of the 9 Earlier Versions of this Note

Date Length Title
04/04/2015 00:17:17 14560 Thesis - Chapter 02 (What are We?)
13/01/2015 19:07:41 14517 Thesis - Chapter 02 (What are We?)
06/11/2014 10:13:26 14248 Thesis - Chapter 02 (What are We?)
02/10/2014 17:12:29 13468 Thesis - Chapter 02 (What are We?)
22/07/2014 22:23:31 8719 Thesis - Chapter 02 (What are We?)
05/07/2014 13:48:00 8052 Thesis - Chapter 02 (What are We?)
18/12/2010 19:58:05 7347 What are We? (Essay)
12/02/2009 21:30:14 7650 What are We? (Essay)
15/02/2008 20:36:58 7509 What are We? (Essay)

Table of the 2 Later Versions of this Note

Date Length Title
18/04/2019 18:18:43 15172 Thesis - Chapter 02 (What are We?)
24/04/2018 00:12:58 14748 Thesis - Chapter 02 (What are We?)

This version updated Reading List for this Topic Parent Topic
05/04/2016 23:19:41 None available Thesis - Introduction

Summary of Notes Links from this Page

Animals Awaiting Attention (Personal Identity) Baillie - What Am I? Baker - What Am I? Body
Brain Brandom - Toward a Normative Pragmatics (Introduction) Cerebrum Chisholm - Which Physical Thing Am I? DeGrazia - Are We Essentially Persons?
Human Beings Jen_080204 (Brandom, Chisholm, Baillie) (3) Jen_080218 (Olson) Jen_080303 (Olson, Baillie) Jen_080317 (Baker)
Johnston - Human Beings Nihilism Olson - What Are We? Olson - What Are We? The Question Olson - What Are We? What Now?
Organisms Parfit - What We Believe Ourselves To Be Person Self Souls
Status: Thesis Dashboard (2016: March) Swinburne - Personal Identity: The Dualist Theory Thesis - Chapter 03 (What is a Person?) Thesis - Method & Form What are We?

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Summary of Note Links to this Page

Jen_080204 (Brandom, Chisholm, Baillie), 2 Self, 2 Status: Personal Identity (2016 - December) Status: Personal Identity (2016 - June) Status: Personal Identity (2016 - March)
Status: Personal Identity (2016 - September) Status: Personal Identity (2017 - December) Status: Personal Identity (2017 - June) Status: Personal Identity (2017 - March) Status: Personal Identity (2017 - September)
Status: Personal Identity (2018 - March) Status: Personal Identity (Summary of Progress to Date) Status: Summary (2016 - December) Status: Summary (2016 - June) Status: Summary (2016 - March)
Status: Summary (2016 - September) Status: Summary (2017 - December) Status: Summary (2017 - June) Status: Summary (2017 - March) Status: Summary (2017 - September)
Status: Summary (2018 - March) Status: Thesis Dashboard (2016: March) Status: Thesis Dashboard (2018: March) Thesis - Chapter 01 (Introduction), 2 Thesis - Chapter 06 (Animalism and Arguments for It)
Thesis - Outline What are We?      

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