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Johnston - Human Beings

(Text as at 13/02/2016 13:46:34)

(For earlier versions of this Note, see the table at the end)

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This write-up is an analysis and review of "Johnston (Mark) - Human Beings". Note that Johnston has updated his views of 1987 with "Johnston (Mark) - "Human Beings" Revisited: My Body is Not an Animal" published in 2007.

Sections

  1. Introduction
  2. The Conundrum
  3. What Kind of Locus of Mental Life?
  4. Human Organisms and Human Beings
  5. The Conundrum Again

Notes & Annotations
  1. Introduction1
    1. A question worth asking is “What is it that we are?”, but this can easily stray into desiccation.
    2. Philosophy needs to be precise without being desiccating. Avoid the analytic paradigm of death by thought experiment, with competing accounts of the necessary and sufficient conditions for Personal Identity evaluated by how well they compare with intuitions derived from the TEs2.
    3. Compare Gettier cases in Epistemology. The paradigm is somewhat dry, but works well because we’re analysing the relations between concepts – and concepts that are agreed upon.
    4. But the situation isn’t as clear-cut when we come to people. Mental or physical continuity might be evidence for personal survival, but is not part of its meaning. We’re not just dealing with relations between concepts.
    5. Reliance on intuitive reactions to puzzle cases would be justified as an approach to personal identity only if two conditions are satisfied:-
      • Reductionist Requirement3: our concept of “same person4” must be capable of being grasped in non-circular terms of necessary and sufficient conditions based on continuity and dependence relations.
      • No Overgeneralisation Requirement : responses to the puzzle cases are to be based on the above, not on overgeneralisations5 from normal cases or from religious (or secular) preconceptions.
    6. But, empirically, there is no universally-accepted concept of what people are; so, the concept is unspecific and will give the “method of cases” problems. The topic of Personal Identity will address a dry generalisation, as against any of the interesting specific alternative views of what a person might be that have guided practical life.
    7. The dominant view is that we (people) are minds, maybe essentially embodied, but not dependent for our survival on any particular body or brain.
    8. This is Parfit’s wide psychological reductionism, hereafter WPR. See "Parfit (Derek) - What We Believe Ourselves To Be", Section 78, pp. 207-8.
      • Psychological Reductionism: claims of personal identity are solved by the holding of relations of psychological continuity6, the ancestral of psychological connectedness7.
      • Wide: this adjective is applied because – it is held – mental continuity and connectedness can constitute personal identity even in the absence of its normal cause – such as the persistence of a particular human body or brain (which are the usual, but contingent) causes.
    9. Supporters of this view are:-
      1. "Lewis (David) - Survival and Identity",
      2. "Quinton (Anthony) - The Soul", and
      3. "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Personal Identity: a Materialist Account".
    10. With respect to Shoemaker, Johnston claims that "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity" had some sympathy with the view that bodily continuity is constitutive of PID, but that he allowed the bodily criterion to be overridden by the memory criterion in exceptional cases. However, he’s decisively abandoned the bodily criterion by the time of "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Persons and Their Pasts".
    11. Johnston notes that the “most notable” opponents of WPR (what he calls “the dominant view”) are:-
      1. Bernard Williams:-
      2. Wiggins8: "Wiggins (David) - Personal Identity (SS)".
    12. The WPR is usually defended using the intuition that we could find ourselves inhabiting a new body, as confirmed by others noting our re-housed psychological traits. Rather tendentiously, Johnston sees this intuition as being “wrung9” from one of three TEs:-
      1. Locke’s10 Prince and Cobbler: apparent body-swapping. See Quinton.
      2. Teletransportation11:
      3. Brain-State Transfer14:
    13. The “body-changing intuition” generated by these “fantastic” cases is supposed to support the claim that mental continuity and connectedness – however caused – are jointly15 sufficient for personal identity. As regards their necessity, it’s pointed out that in their absence, we wouldn’t be inclined to think these processes identity-preserving16.
    14. So, orthodoxy consists in a combination of the method of cases and WPR. Johnston repeats his opening accusation that orthodoxy is boring, and wants to challenge both the method and WPR.
    15. Johnston wants to give up the reductionist17 requirement that statements about PID are reducible to statements about connectivity and connectedness18. Instead, rather than being constitutive of PID, these just provide evidence for PID, and the more unusual the TE, the less evidence they provide – hence reducing the value of cases – because the usual evidential connections are severed.
    16. This means he adopts what Parfit calls a Further-fact view. The truth-makers of PID-statements differ from those related to psychological – and physical – continuity and connectedness.
    17. Johnston stresses in a footnote that:-
      1. This paper does not in any way suggest – as Parfit says – that we are “separately existing” entities distinct from human brains and bodies.
      2. Instead, Johnston will argue that
        1. We19 are20 Human Beings21”, and that
        2. “Human Beings are constituted by human bodies22”.
      3. Further, this paper “can be read as” an extended refutation of Parfit’s claim (in the previously-cited "Parfit (Derek) - What We Believe Ourselves To Be", Section 79, p. 216) that appeal to “further-facts” implies separately-existing entities.
      4. Parfit relies on this assumption for his revisionary ethics in Part Three of "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons", and – without it – his revisionary programme is “broken backed”.
      5. Additionally, we can allow that PID might be indeterminate23 in some puzzle cases without accepting his revisionism.
      6. We’re referred to "Johnston (Mark) - Reasons and Reductionism" for an elaboration.
    18. So, with what does Johnston replace the method of cases? His suggestion is that we take seriously the methods whereby we re-identify one another over time. If any theory fails to give the answers these commonplace methods do, it should be rejected. Thus, we should “automatically rule out” the bare-locus view24 (to be discussed in his Section II), and any other theory that makes our routine practice of re-identification “extremely problematical”.
    19. If multiple theories survive the above cull, we can then – as a secondary measure – resort to the method of cases and compare our intuitions against the theories’ pronouncements.
    20. However, our intuitions can be defeated if one of the following applies:-
      1. They can be shown to be overgeneralisations25 from the ordinary cases,
      2. They can be shown to be due to some distorting influence, or
      3. They are outweighed by other judgements we have reason to respect.
    21. We will make more of cases where intuitions conflict, and look for explanations of why this might be so. Sometimes these explanations will discredit the intuitions, sometimes not.
    22. Johnston allows that we might still be left with multiple surviving theories – a genuine indeterminacy26 – which theory of PID should “articulate”.
    23. He now articulates his own view, which he will argue in this paper falls out of his method:-
      1. We are Human Beings27, as “somewhat stipulatively28” defined by Johnston himself,
      2. Human Beings are necessarily normally29 constituted by human organisms30,
      3. Our persistence conditions differ from those of our constituting organisms only because a Human Being continues to exist31 if his mind does.
      4. So, if a Human Being were reduced to a mere brain, that Human Being would continue to exist as long as that brain supports that Human Being’s mental life.
      5. In such circumstance, the human organism would no longer exist, while the Human Being would plausibly do so.
      6. But, no Human Being could survive teletransportation or similar cases of complete body transfer32.
    24. This is in contrast to the dominant view that considers us to be minds whose particular33 embodiment is contingent.
    25. Johnston has a footnote34 to the effect that he’s talking about our actual concept of PID.
      • It could be the case that the concept gets modified in a culture in which teletransportation is routine so that “they” – “acculturated human animals” – would be said to survive teletransportation.
      • To avoid complications, this is set aside in the present paper, but the main claim of the paper is that there’s no reason to suppose our present concepts would allow us to survive.
      • Johnston describes the “survival option” as a form of relativism about PID35.
      • This would mean that – while we would remain of the kind36 Human Being – this would then no longer be a substance37 kind, in that it would no longer fix what changes we could survive.
      • However, because this conceptual change is unlikely to happen, we can treat the kind Human Being “as if” it were a substance kind and “as if” it determined our essence.
    26. In the next section, Johnston will introduce a well-known conundrum as a test case of his alternative method. He thinks it will attack both aspects of the orthodox position – the method of cases and the dominant view. He thinks it will become evident that the dominant view depends on the puzzle cases’ systematically distorting influences on our intuitions.
  2. The Conundrum
    1. Johnston takes the conundrum from "Williams (Bernard) - The Self and the Future", but presents it in its own way.
      1. We’re to suppose a machine exists that produces the same effects as a brain transplant. It is capable of recording “dispositional and occurrent mentality” from one brain and adjusting a second brain with this information.
      2. So, two patients – A & B – can “swap minds”.
      3. However, from the perspective of A – we are to suppose – it is as if he has “swapped bodies”.
      4. So, if A is asked to choose in a self-interested way who should receive pain after the transfer – he would (as the case is presented) choose A-body.
      5. Many would agree with this assessment, because38 the machine seems to produce the same effect as a brain transplant39.
    2. But consider an alternative
      1. A is to imagine he has some illness and that a very painful surgical procedure – for which there is no anaesthetic – has a small chance of curing it.
      2. The surgeon suggests that this can be circumvented by using a machine to
        1. record A’s mind, then
        2. scramble his brain so that it has some different psychology, then
        3. restore his psychology as before.
      3. Most of us would intuit that the pain would be A’s, despite the psychological manipulation, which is just a further assault.
      4. Johnston appeals to Williams40 to the effect that psychological continuity is not required for pain-ownership.
    3. Now, these two scenarios are just the same thing – though in the second one B is left out of the equation: but how – Johnston claims – can B’s experiences have anything to do with A’s?
    4. There are two lessons to draw:-
      1. The second presentation counts against the dominant view, and
      2. We have a conflict of intuitions – does or doesn’t A “swap bodies”? This uncertainty threatens the method of cases.
    5. We’re referred to Nozick’s then recent41 Closest Continuer42 theory which promises to rescue the method of cases and only make a minor modification to the dominant view. As expounded by Johnston:-
      1. The closest continuer theory is a schema because the factors to be weighed – and the strength of the weightings – in determining which continuer is “closest” vary with the kind of continuant.
      2. Nozick claims that our intuitions about PID conform to this schema, whereby the closest continuant is the persisting individual.
      3. This explains – according to Nozick – our responses to the two presentations of Williams’s TE:-
        1. The intuition behind the second presentation shows that, for persons, bodily continuity can make up sufficient continuity even in the absence of psychological continuity. That’s why we think A will feel the pain.
        2. That behind the first presentation shows that when bodily and psychological continuity diverge, we give more weight to psychological. This explains – when we hear of the adventures of B, we agree that A and B have “swapped bodies”.
        3. The two intuitions are consistent – according to Nozick – because the first presentation provides – in B – a better continuer for A than is provided in the second. This is why mentioning B and his brain is relevant.
        4. Only a modification43 to the dominant view is required. Psychological continuity can be – on its own – sufficient for personal identity and – in the absence of bodily continuity – is necessary.
    6. This would be an OK response to the conundrum if it could be shown that our intuitions in general follow the closest-continuer schema as interpreted by the modified dominant view. But – Johnston argues – they don’t.
      1. Johnston’s first challenge is to consider carefully what we are to say in the case where the machine copies A’s psychology to patients B-body and, 10 minutes later) to C-body, and A-body dies.
      2. Both B-body and C-body are sufficiently close psychologically to be continuers of A – and hence to be A – but we’re to suppose C-body is in fact a much better continuer44, and this is sufficient to compensate for the extra 10-minute delay – the copying time – in producing C.
      3. But – a twist – once B-body has been “produced” – but before C-body has been “completed” – B-body thinks to himself “I didn’t just come into existence, but am A”, but realises that if he doesn’t act now, C-body will be completed and will be A, rather than he himself.
      4. So, B-body terminates C-body’s copy-process. And now – according to the closest-continuer theory – B-body has made it true that he is A.
    7. All this – Johnston claims – is problematical:-
      1. Our intuition is that facts are made true only by what has happened up to the time they are made, not by future events45.
      2. So, B-body’s statement “I am A, …” is true (or false) at the point he first makes it – which is before he decides to terminate the production of C-body. Its truth-value46 cannot be affected by subsequent events.
      3. So, to the extent that we are in thrall to the above intuition, we will not be convinced that the Closest-Continuer theory resolves this conundrum even if a form of the Closest-Continuer theory were to be adopted (for persons) for other reasons.
    8. Johnston also thinks that the Closest-Continuer theory cannot explain the second presentation of Williams’s conundrum unless it is presented one-sidedly, because as soon as it’s presented two-sidedly, it reverts to the body-swapping of the first presentation. But – Johnston claims – we can easily understand the stipulation47 – in the second telling – that the psychological change happens to A (and to B) without body-swapping.
    9. At this point, Johnston abandons Nozick48, and considers a “minimal response” to Williams’s conundrum, which will be elaborated in subsequent sections:-
      1. A person is a locus of mental life49, which
      2. Typically exhibits psychological continuity by which it can be traced, but
      3. Need not do so, and can exhibit psychological discontinuity of the most radical sort, and
      4. We must not think of psychological continuity as sufficient for our survival.
    10. This can accommodate both presentations of Williams’s conundrum. It is reasonable to trace a locus of mental life in terms of psychological continuity, but it might be the case that this general practice leads us astray in particular cases.
    11. This leads us to consider our reaction to the second presentation of the conundrum as prima facie evidence against the wide psychological view, without taking our reaction to the first presentation as suggesting that psychological continuity – however secured – is always sufficient.
    12. We now need to answer the question “what kind of locus of mental life are we?”, and this is a question that has to be answered by any theorist of PID, whether or not he seeks to reduce PID to continuity of whatever sort.
  3. What Kind of Locus of Mental Life?
    1. The method of cases – in particular, Williams’s conundrum – can be made to show that neither bodily nor psychological continuity is necessary for personal identity.
      1. This points towards a “bare-locus of mental life” view of personal identity.
      2. However, such a view is ruled out by Johnston’s earlier considerations50.
      3. In a footnote:-
        • We’re referred to "Madell (Geoffrey) - The Identity of the Self", esp. pp. 117-140 (ie. Sections 2-4 of "Madell (Geoffrey) - Personal Identity Through Time"),
        • However, despite requiring neither mental or physical continuity for PID, Madell may not hold the bare-locus view as he holds the view that “people” are not objective entities at all, but entirely subjective.
        • For this view51 we’re referred to "Nagel (Thomas) - Subjective and Objective" to explain what is intended by “subjective”.
        • Johnston opines that the idea of ourselves as subjective is a seductive52 Kantian Idea of Reason, which arises because the only idea of ourselves that reflective “I”-thoughts appear to underwrite is an unspecific conception of ourselves as a locus of reflective mental life.
        • We’re referred on to Johnston’s FN1653.
    2. Johnston considers cases where we think we can imagine – from the inside – various vicissitudes happening to us such as departing from a human body or even a human personality:-
      1. For instance Kafka’s “beetle-man” in Metamorphosis in "Kafka (Franz), Pasley (Malcolm) - Metamorphosis and Other Stories".
      2. Johnston doesn’t think there’s anything internally incoherent about such imaginings.
      3. Nor does he think they are due to some religious (or secular) conception of people that the imaginer has picked up.
      4. They are consistent with our concept of a person and as such are not idle, but – given the method of cases – can be used to flesh out our concept and so indicate the correct theory of PID.
    3. But, Johnston insists, the imaginings are idle for all that, and if this can be shown, then our concept of person as revealed by the puzzle cases is shown to be too unspecific to be of interest, and to mislead us in the cases themselves.
      1. Treating the person as a locus of (reflective) mental life allows the person to survive any conceivable vicissitude.
      2. The presence of imagined bodily or mental continuities provides evidence for survival in the puzzle cases by a harmless extension of our practice in normal cases.
      3. But, in their absence there’s no constraint and we end up with the bare locus view.
    4. So, how are we to show that imaginings that detach us for the human beings we appear to be are idle without begging the question against the bare locus view?
      1. Johnston repeats his earlier claim that a constraint on any theory of PID is that it allows us to reconstruct our everyday practices of unproblematic re-identification of people over time – and that the bare-locus theory flouts this constraint.
      2. He imagines an extreme case consistent with the bare-locus view – that of one’s body turning to stone. If I could survive this, what is my relation to my body? It is contingent54 – and it cannot be that I am identical with or necessarily constituted by my living body.
      3. So, at best, there would need to be some actual but contingent causal channel whereby I – the bare locus – receive information from – and direct changes in – my body.
      4. But Johnston considers what would be said if petrification happened during a dreamless sleep when there’s an interruption to the mental life of the subject – there’s nothing in the specification to forbid this state and – in any case – this would make the bare-locus view at odds with the presumed facts of PID, where we routinely think of ourselves as surviving periods of unconsciousness.
      5. In this “twist” the bare-locus isn’t – at the moment of petrification – actually communicating with or controlling its body55 at all.
      6. Johnston now claims there are epistemological difficulties.
        1. Our evidence that a person is persisting through a dreamless sleep56 is based on their continued bodily life.
        2. Also – we know P on condition (inter alia) that our evidence converges on P as opposed to relevant alternatives to P.
        3. But, on the bare-locus view, we can’t rule out the possibility that various distinct loci have been serially associated with the sleeping body, so we don’t know who we’ve been sleeping with!
      7. It won’t do to object that multiple loci can be ruled out by an appeal to the numerically simplest explanation of the observed bodily continuity.
        1. No-one claims to know how bare loci “work”.
        2. No hypothesis would explain how a bare locus can control a body in the absence of a mental life.
        3. Indeed, the simplest explanation of what happens in dreamless sleep would be that the bare locus had wandered off.
      8. Suppose there were an empirical theory of the ways of bare loci:-
        1. Maybe obtained from introspection, the observation of others, or even by revelation, and
        2. We had the best case scenario where bare loci do not migrate or rotate during periods of unconsciousness.
        3. This – an empirical57 theory that fits human experience – is what any substance dualist should take himself as offering.
        4. Then – just maybe – one might rule out the alternatives and so know that a single person is associated over time with a sleeping or otherwise unconscious body.
        5. Johnston has a footnote on Dualism:-
      9. But our ordinary claims to know that our unconscious friends are where their bodies are have nothing to do with any theory that rules out any number of bare loci becoming associated with their bodies. We never consider any such thing – and – philosophical scepticism aside – we do have this knowledge, which we would not have were the bare-locus theory correct.
      10. We can’t wriggle out of this conclusion on the grounds that – if the bare-locus theory were better known – people would consider it. Johnston gives an example60.
        1. Two of us see someone (“Mary”) steal a book, but only I now that the thief has a twin sister and the two dress alike.
        2. It is in fact Mary, as I believe, but am not in a position to know – because I cannot rule out a relevant alterative.
        3. My friend can’t know either. Indeed, it would be absurd that he could know – yet I not – when I know more of the relevant facts than he does.
      11. For similar examples, see:-
        "Goldman (Alvin) - Discrimination and Perceptual Knowledge", and
        "Swain (Marshall) - Reasons, Causes, and Knowledge".
      12. Hence, the bare-locus view fails, and with it various others, such as Richard Swinburne’s substance dualism as expounded in
        "Swinburne (Richard) - Personal Identity: The Dualist Theory", and
        "Swinburne (Richard) - Personal Identity".
        This is so even if the substance dualist claims that some mental features are permanent or essential properties. Using a locus of mental life just isn’t how we trace unconscious people.
    5. So, where are we?
      1. The bare-locus view is straightforwardly supported by the method of cases.
      2. To the extent that we find this view absurd, we should be suspicious of the method.
      3. Our response to the puzzle cases reifies our unspecific concept of ourselves as some or other sort of locus of mental life.
        1. We’re referred to Kant in the promised FN16. The passage – given in full below61 – is from B42762.
        2. "I think myself on behalf of a possible experience, at the same time abstracting from all actual experience, and I conclude therefrom that I can be conscious of my existence even apart from experience and its empirical conditions. In so doing I am confusing a possible abstraction from my empirically determined existence with the supposed consciousness of a possible separate existence of my thinking self, and I thus come to believe that I have knowledge that what is substantial in me is the transcendental subject."
    6. So, what is the correct conception of ourselves and how should we argue for it?
  4. Human Organisms and Human Beings
    1. So, we change our approach, and start from a biological assumption:-
      1. We start from the presumption that we are organisms – evolved animals of species homo sapiens – the view that places us most comfortably within the naturalistic worldview of scientific common-sense63.
      2. Hence, the locus of mental life we re-identify when re-identify a person over time just is an instance of a biological kind whose typical members exhibit a complex mental life.
      3. What’s wrong with this?
    2. Johnston thinks we must relinquish this position because of the – even then – familiar Brown / Brownson TE in pp. 23-24 of "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Self-Knowledge and the Body".
      1. Brown and Robinson have their brains swapped over. Brown-body dies, but “Brownson” – namely Brown’s brain in Robinson’s body – survives to regain consciousness, and shows all the psychological traits consistent with him being Brown.
      2. The standard intuitive response is that Brownson is Brown and that during the operation, Brown survived as a disembodied brain.
      3. Johnston claims the intuition is “robust” because64:-
        1. It remains even if the TE is modified so that Brown’s brainless body – called “Brownless” – is supplied with65 sufficient brain-stem to keep it alive indefinitely, in the absence of any mental life.
        2. Brownless – a badly mutilated human organism – didn’t just come into existence, and so must be the same human organism as Brown.
        3. While Brownson continues Brown’s mental life, he’s not the same human organism as Brown if we insist that human organisms are purely biological kinds, for whom metabolic functions are more important in tracing continuing life than are mental functions.
        4. So, if “human organism” is a purely biological kind, then Brownless – and not Brownson – is the same human organism as Brown.
      4. Hence, if Brown survives as Brownson, then Brown – and others of his kind – cannot be essentially human organisms.
      5. In the promised FN17, Johnston argues that this causes a problem for Wiggins in "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance".
        1. Wiggins’s definition of a person66 is: “any animal that is such by its kind to have the biological capacities to enjoy fully the psychological capacities enumerated,”
        2. And from this he deduces (p. 172): “There would be no one real essence of person as such, but every person could still have the real essence of a certain kind of animal. Indirectly this would be the real essence in virtue of which he was a person”.
        3. But, for Johnston, this reasonable suggestion is contradicted by the claim that Brown is Brownson; for, if so, the kind human animal doesn’t capture Brown’s essence67.
        4. Johnston adds that similar remarks apply to the claim in "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Material Beings" that (human) persons are human organisms.
    3. Now, the predominant intuition that Brownson is Brown is just down to an uncritical reliance on the method of cases and – indeed – to two distorting influences that Johnston will explain later, namely the psychological- and social-continuer effects. What we need is a principled reason consistent with Johnston’s methods.
      → Which are that we should easily be able to trace through time those of our kind.
      1. We typically trace ourselves back in time using experiential memory, and memory itself makes an identity assumption – that the supposed rememberer was indeed the experiencer.
      2. Even the Cartesian sceptic who (temporarily) doubts the existence of the external world takes memory as proof of personal identity68.
      3. But, once we agree that certain conditions of bodily continuity are necessary for PID, the deliverances of memory might only provide evidence for the persistence of minds69 rather than of persons70. How could anything purely mental have any corporeal implications?
      4. Johnston thinks that the solution to the above “difficulty” is to realise that it’s a conceptual truth71 that a person cannot be outlived72 by what was once his own mind.
      5. Talk of a particular mind just is talk of a particular person’s mental functioning.
      6. So, the conviction – and usually the knowledge – that the mind that remembers an experience is the same mind that originally had it is just saying the same thing with “person” substituted for “mind”.
      7. So, if we have evidence for the persistence of a mind, we have evidence for the persistence of a person.
      8. Given the naturalistic view of our mental functioning as the characteristic functioning of our brains, one’s mind will continue on if only one’s brain does.
      9. So – Johnston thinks – we now have an argument for the brain transplant intuition: if our own memories are to give knowledge of our own personal persistence (rather than simply our mental persistence), then – assuming a “mere brain” would preserve our mental life – we would survive as a “mere brain”.
      10. Thus, we have to over-ride the naturalistic feeling that we are human organisms and say instead that we are human beings73.
    4. Having proved to his satisfaction that we are human beings, according to Johnston’s rather obscure definition of the term, he now has to fend off the suggestion that we are in fact human brains74.
      1. We’re referred to the following supporters of the “brain view”:-
        Nagel (Thomas), "Are You Your Brain?75," paper delivered to Princeton Philosophy Colloquium and APA Pacific Division, 1984.
        "Mackie (J.L.) - The Transcendental 'I'".
      2. Johnston thinks this view very odd, and has paradoxical consequences that Olson later pointed out in detail – so “I weigh 150 pounds” (when – strictly speaking – if I am my brain, I only weigh 3 pounds) is analogous to a truck-driver saying “I weigh 3 tons”.
      3. However, his focus is on the motivation for entering into paradox in this way.
      4. The motivation – of course – is that the survival of one’s brain is sufficient for one’s survival, and may well be necessary76.
      5. But this does not imply that we are of the kind human brain.
      6. The reason is that the rare occasion in which one of us might survive as a disembodied human brain is in a radically mutilated condition.
      7. This concept of mutilation is important here because we cannot determine the characteristic form and extent of a human being by determining how much mutilation it can undergo. Its characteristic form and extent is exemplified, rather, in its unmutilated77 form.
    5. The bottom line of all this is that rather than being of kind human brain we are of a kind such that we survive if our mental life does – but only as a result of the survival of our organ of mentation.
      1. The kind human being gives primary importance to mental functioning, so names a partly psychological kind.
      2. In contrast, the kind human organism represents a purely biological kind, in which mental functioning has no special persistence-guaranteeing status.
      3. Practically-speaking, the survival of the human organism is a necessary condition for the survival of a human being.
      4. However, there are Shoemaker-cases such that a human being can come to be constituted by a mere brain, and then by a new human organism in which that brain comes to be housed.
      5. But, the survival of that brain is critical – so a human being cannot survive teletransportation and the like.
      6. The fact of causal dependence between mental states pre- and post-teletransportation should not seduce us into thinking these states are states of the same mind.
    6. A human mind is neither
      1. A substance in its own right, nor
      2. A bundle-theorist’s ersatz for such a substance.
    7. Instead, it is just the mode of functioning of a “natural unit” – eg. a human organism or a human brain whose persistence conditions are given in non-mental terms. Talk of the mind is often overly reified talk of an aspect of some minded thing.
    8. Johnston has a footnote that’s helpful in showing what he thinks he’s proved and what he’s left for future work.
      1. Items on the “to do list” are:-
        1. Justification78 of his claim about what a human mind is.
        2. An acceptable account79 of constitution80, persistence81 and kinds82.
      2. He says that all that’s required of kinds for present purposes is that all actual and potential members of a kind share, across time:-
        1. The same persistence conditions, and
        2. The same possible types of constitution.
  5. The Conundrum Again
    1. Johnston’s conclusion is that we are essentially human beings who can survive having our brains tampered with, but cannot switch bodies without a brain transplant. If this is the case, how do we explain Williams’s conundrum? The first presentation of Williams’s TE is therefore misleading. What is going on?
      1. We must be suspicious of intuitions that suggest either psychological or physical continuity is not necessary for survival, as they incline us to the “unspecific locus of mental life” view.
      2. But, in the first presentation of Williams’s TE, this is not the case – we have two continuity options, but psychological continuity wins out over physical. Is this because we’re implicitly committed to the WPV?
      3. Johnston thinks not – but rather that it’s an overgeneralisation from ordinary life.
        1. Johnston defines an excellent continuer of Y as some X whose psychology83 – both occurrent and dispositional – is both very similar to, and evolves out of, that of Y.
        2. In everyday life, one’s death leaves no excellent continuer, and one’s life preserves one unique excellent continuer – namely, oneself.
      4. But if we are essentially human beings, it will be possible to imagine cases in which either:-
        1. A person ceases to be, yet has a unique excellent continuer (teletransportation), or
        2. A person continues to exist, but another person becomes his unique excellent continuer (Williams’s first presentation).
      5. If the cases are described purely in terms of continuities, we may be misled into tracing people using the usual psychological continuity. This is an understandable overgeneralisation84, which leads us to trace individuals according to the WPC.
      6. Johnston describes this tendency as the psychological continuer effect.
    2. But this can only be part of the explanation:-
      1. Why do we not respond to Williams’s first presentation using the usual bodily continuity?
      2. Johnston claims that people can be got to react that way – and usually do – if the case is described after cases that highlight the importance of bodily continuity.
      3. But, when Johnston presented the case, it was described in a way that assimilated it to the brain-transplant case – alleging that it produced the same psychological effects without the surgical messiness – which allows the psychological continuer effect to operate.
      4. Because our responses are inconsistent, it shows we’re not suited to making judgements about PID in such bizarre cases, and just opt for a partial extension of our ordinary practice of re-identification.
    3. But, some people do react to Williams’s first presentation in the “body swapping” sense even when there are no cases mentioned to which it might be assimilated, at least provided there is some bodily similarity to go with the psychological continuity. Why is this so? Johnston can think of two reasons:-
      1. We expect people – at least in the short term – to continue to fulfil a complex of social roles.
        1. PID typically guarantees that one has a unique social continuer.
        2. This is fulfilled – especially when the bodies involved are alike – in Williams’s first presentation.
        3. So, we can fixate on the practical concomitants of PID.
        4. Thus – in addition to the psychological continuer effect – we have the social continuer effect.
        5. This is a distorting influence, as we are not essentially occupants of a complex of social roles85.
        6. So, the WPV is parasitic on these two effects – and gives roughly the right persistence conditions for personas86 - but persons antedate, outlive and may sometimes be outlived by87, their personas.
      2. We have an inchoate conception of ourselves as souls88, that is – “primarily psychological and not essentially physical loci of reflective mental life”.
        1. The reason for this – Johnston thinks – is that
          • “there is such a thing as the pure or merely determinable89 concept of personal identity, the concept of a persisting person as some or other unspecified kind of persisting locus of reflective mental life,” and
          • “the psychological-continuer effect leads us to trace such loci along lines of psychological continuity in cases in which bodily and psychological continuity come apart.”
        2. Thus, a tendency to trace ourselves as non-physical souls – brought on by a pure concept of PID and the psychological continuer effect – survives a transition to a secular worldview – to the embarrassment of those physicalists who espouse the WPV.
    4. In a concluding paragraph:-
      1. Johnston admits that nothing in this paper gives a direct argument against the WPV, but only points out why arguments for it are unconvincing.
      2. We are referred to "Johnston (Mark) - Reasons and Reductionism" for more direct arguments. Further pursuit here would be a distraction, because …
      3. The main import of this paper is that the WPV depends on an analytical method90 we have no reason to respect and which in any case leads to the bare locus view.
      4. Hence, he thinks the WPV cannot be rehabilitated, and – indeed – why should it be, given we have a better alternative – that we are human beings.
      5. The advantages of the view that we are human beings are twofold:-
        1. We can locate ourselves in a broadly naturalistic91 conception of the world, and
        2. We find nothing problematic about the way we normally re-identify ourselves and others on the basis of our normal and continuous mental and physical functioning as human organisms92.
      6. There are no real costs in adopting Johnston’s view (he thinks93). Rather, we’re
        1. Freed from imaginative conceits,
        2. Freed from the deliverances of the method of cases,
        3. Shown that the common conception of PID is just the unilluminating – because “merely determinable94” – concept of an unspecified locus of mental life.



In-Page Footnotes:

Footnote 1: Footnote 5: Footnote 8: Johnston says his disagreement with Wiggins is in his FN17.

Footnote 9: I think the intuition – though mistaken – arises naturally from these TEs, and have found it difficult to persuade intelligent non-philosophers from the view that they prove the case for WPR.

Footnote 12: Johnson suggests pp. 119-20, but this is a typo, I think.

Footnote 13: See my Note on Parfit.

Footnote 15: Footnote 16: Footnote 17: Presumably Johnston – unless he takes the Simple View, doesn’t want to give up on reductionism altogether, only that associated with WPR?

Footnote 18: Johnston doesn’t restrict the C & C to psychology, but presumably that’s what he means.

Footnote 20: Presumably, this is the “is” of identity, rather than of constitution.

Footnote 22: Footnote 23: Footnote 24: I assume this is something like haecceity.

Footnote 25: Footnote 26: This is not – presumably – “indeterminate identity” – but indeterminacy as to which theory to choose.

Footnote 28: Footnote 29: Footnote 30: Footnote 31: Footnote 32: Footnote 33: Johnston highlights “particular”. The view he rejects seems very similar to Baker’s constitution view, which superficially sounds like Johnston’s own.

Footnote 34: Footnote 35: I don’t know what this means. Is he talking about Relative Identity, or something else?

Footnote 38: Footnote 40: Footnote 41: Footnote 43: Footnote 44: Presumably for corporeal rather than psychological reasons.

Footnote 45: Footnote 46: Footnote 47: Footnote 48: Footnote 49: Footnote 50: In the Introduction, on the grounds that such a view makes our re-identification over time “extremely problematical”.

Footnote 51: Presumably not to be confused with Nihilism.

Footnote 52: Footnote 54: I have a footnote that suggests that Noonan (Harold) (or was it Shoemaker (Sydney)) objected to modal arguments like this in discussions of the statue and the clay.

Footnote 55: Footnote 56: Footnote 57: But dualists tend to be rationalists rather than empiricists.

Footnote 58: Ie. See "Strawson (Peter) - Persons".

Footnote 59: Footnote 60: Footnote 61: Some day I’ll translate it into my own words – I can’t do this faithfully at the moment.

Footnote 62: In "Kant (Immanuel), Kemp Smith (Norman) - Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason".

Footnote 63: Footnote 64: Footnote 65: Footnote 66: Footnote 67: Footnote 68: Footnote 69: Footnote 70: So, what – for Johnston – are “persons”? Click here for Note.

Footnote 71:
  1. Standard PV:
    • Holders of the PV think that there are some psychological changes that a person cannot survive.
    • But, if there’s still a mind there after these drastic changes, whose mind is it?
    • Presumably it’s a new person’s – as in “he’s no longer the same person”, taken literally.
    • Do holders of the PV really believe this? If so, the claim to conceptual truth is unchallenged.
  2. Transhumanism:
    • But, the transhumanists think that we – our minds – can be uploaded to a computer.
    • If so, a person might well be outlived by his own mind?
Footnote 72: Footnote 75: Footnote 76: Footnote 77: Footnote 78: I agree with this claim, so a detailed justification would be welcome.

Footnote 79: Footnote 83: Note this bias towards psychology.

Footnote 84: Footnote 85: Footnote 86: Footnote 87: Presumably only in bizarre TEs?

Footnote 89: Footnote 90: Johnston doesn’t remind us of what this is, but it’s – presumably – the method of cases.

Footnote 91: This might be a disadvantage for those of a super-naturalist inclination.

Footnote 92: I find a slight tension here – in that we trace organisms, despite not being organisms.

Footnote 93: This whole bullet & sub-bullets reflect an unpacking of an unduly complex final sentence.

Footnote 94: See this Footnote.


Printable Versions:



Table of the Previous 7 Versions of this Note:

Date Length Title
11/02/2016 16:48:00 50507 Johnston - Human Beings
05/02/2016 17:51:22 37620 Johnston - Human Beings
01/02/2016 00:17:17 26316 Johnston - Human Beings
26/01/2016 20:21:07 16119 Johnston - Human Beings
18/12/2010 19:58:05 2488 Johnston - Human Beings
22/12/2009 14:54:14 2392 Johnston - Human Beings
12/02/2009 21:30:14 559 Johnston - Human Beings



Note last updated Reading List for this Topic Parent Topic
13/02/2016 13:46:34 None available What are We?

Summary of Note Links from this Page

Animalism Animalists Aristotle - Sea Battle Baker Brain
Brain State Transfer Brain Transplants Closest Continuer Connectedness vs Continuity Constitution
Constitution View First-Person Perspective Human Beings Intermittent Objects Johnston - Human Beings
Kinds Life Locke Mind Nihilism
Parfit Persistence Person Personality Psychological Continuity
Psychological View Quasi-Memory Reductionism Relative Identity Simple View
Souls Substance Teletransportation Thisness (Haecceity) Thought Experiments
Vague Identity What are We?      

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Summary of Note Links to this Page

Johnston - Human Beings, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 Thesis - Chapter 02 (What are We?)      

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Authors, Books & Papers Citing this Note

Author Title Medium Extra Links Read?
Johnston (Mark) Human Beings Paper High Quality Abstract 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 Yes
Shoemaker (David) Personal Identity and Ethics - Conclusion: Notes on Method Paper High Quality Abstract   Yes



References & Reading List

Author Title Medium Source Read?
Aristotle De Interpretatione, Chapter 9 Paper - Cited High Quality Abstract J. L. Ackrill, 1963, Aristotle's Categories and De Interpretatione Yes
Armstrong (David) The Resemblance of Universals (I): Criticism of Received Accounts Paper - Cited Low Quality Abstract Armstrong - Universals and Scientific Realism (Vol. 2: A Theory of Universals), 1978, Chapter 21 No
Armstrong (David) Universals and Scientific Realism (Vol. 2: A Theory of Universals) Book - Cited (via Paper Cited) Low Quality Abstract Bibliographical details to be supplied No
Goldman (Alvin) Discrimination and Perceptual Knowledge Paper - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Journal of Philosophy 73.20, Nov. 1976, pp. 771-791 No
Johnston (Mark) Human Beings Paper - Cited High Quality Abstract Journal of Philosophy, Volume 84, Issue 2 (Feb 1987), 59-83 Yes
Johnston (Mark) Human Beings Paper - Referencing High Quality Abstract Journal of Philosophy, Volume 84, Issue 2 (Feb 1987), 59-83 Yes
Johnston (Mark) Reasons and Reductionism Paper - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Philosophical Review, July 1992; 101(3): 589-618 No
Kafka (Franz), Pasley (Malcolm) Metamorphosis and Other Stories Book - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Kafka (Franz), Pasley (Malcolm) - Metamorphosis and Other Stories Yes
Kant (Immanuel), Kemp Smith (Norman) Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason Book - Cited Low Quality Abstract Kant (Immanuel), Kemp Smith (Norman) - Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason No
Lewin (Roger) Is Your Brain Really Necessary? Paper - Cited Low Quality Abstract Science, New Series, Vol. 210, No. 4475 (Dec. 12, 1980), pp. 1232-1234 Yes
Lewis (David) Philosophical Papers Volume I Book - Cited (via Paper Cited) Low Quality Abstract Bibliographical details to be supplied Yes
Lewis (David) Survival and Identity Paper - Cited Low Quality Abstract Lewis - Philosophical Papers Volume I, Part 1: Ontology, Chapter 5 Yes
Mackie (J.L.) The Transcendental 'I' Paper - Cited Mackie - Persons and Values: Selected Papers Volume II, 1985 No
Madell (Geoffrey) Personal Identity Through Time Paper - Cited Low Quality Abstract Madell - The Identity of the Self, 1981, Chapter 5 No
Madell (Geoffrey) The Identity of the Self Book - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Madell (Geoffrey) - The Identity of the Self No
Nagel (Thomas) Mortal Questions Book - Cited (via Paper Cited) Low Quality Abstract Bibliographical details to be supplied Yes
Nagel (Thomas) Subjective and Objective Paper - Cited Nagel (Thomas) - Mortal Questions Yes
Noe (Alva) Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness Book - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Noe (Alva) - Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness No
Noonan (Harold), Ed. Personal Identity (Readings) Book - Cited (via Paper Cited) Low Quality Abstract Bibliographical details to be supplied No
Nozick (Robert) Personal Identity Through Time Paper - Cited Low Quality Abstract Nozick - Philosophical Explanations - Metaphysics; The Identity of the Self; Chapter 1.I No
Nozick (Robert) Philosophical Explanations Book - Cited (via Paper Cited) Medium Quality Abstract Bibliographical details to be supplied No
Parfit (Derek) Reasons and Persons Book - Cited Low Quality Abstract Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons Yes
Parfit (Derek) What Does Matter Paper - Cited Low Quality Abstract Parfit - Reasons and Persons, January 1986, pp. 281-307(27). Yes
Parfit (Derek) What We Believe Ourselves To Be Paper - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Parfit - Reasons and Persons, January 1986, pp. 199-219(21). Yes
Perry (John), Ed. Personal Identity Book - Cited (via Paper Cited) Medium Quality Abstract Bibliographical details to be supplied Yes
Quinton (Anthony) The Soul Paper - Cited Low Quality Abstract Perry - Personal Identity Yes
Rosenberg (Jay) Thinking Clearly About Death Book - Cited Low Quality Abstract Rosenberg (Jay) - Thinking Clearly About Death No
Shoemaker (David) Personal Identity and Ethics - Conclusion: Notes on Method Paper - Referencing High Quality Abstract Shoemaker (David) - Personal Identity and Ethics: A Brief Introduction, 2009, Conclusion Yes
Shoemaker (David) Personal Identity and Ethics: A Brief Introduction Book - Referencing (via Paper Referencing) Low Quality Abstract Bibliographical details to be supplied Yes
Shoemaker (Sydney) Identity, Cause and Mind Book - Cited Shoemaker (Sydney) - Identity, Cause and Mind No
Shoemaker (Sydney) Immortality and Dualism Paper - Cited Shoemaker - Identity, Cause and Mind No
Shoemaker (Sydney) On an Argument For Dualism Paper - Cited Shoemaker - Identity, Cause and Mind No
Shoemaker (Sydney) Personal Identity: a Materialist Account Paper - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Shoemaker & Swinburne - Personal Identity, 1984, pp. 67-132 No
Shoemaker (Sydney) Persons and Their Pasts Paper - Cited Low Quality Abstract Shoemaker - Identity, Cause and Mind No
Shoemaker (Sydney) Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity Book - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Shoemaker (Sydney) - Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity No
Shoemaker (Sydney) Self-Knowledge and the Body Paper - Cited Shoemaker - Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity, Chapter 1 No
Shoemaker (Sydney) & Swinburne (Richard) Personal Identity Book - Cited (via Paper Cited) Medium Quality Abstract Bibliographical details to be supplied No
Strawson (Peter) Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics Book - Cited Low Quality Abstract Strawson (Peter) - Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics No
Strawson (Peter) Persons Paper - Cited Low Quality Abstract Strawson - Individuals, Chapter 3 No
Swain (Marshall) Reasons, Causes, and Knowledge Paper - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 75, No. 5 (May, 1978), pp. 229-249 No
Swinburne (Richard) Personal Identity Paper - Cited Low Quality Abstract Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, Vol. 74 (1973 - 1974), pp. 231-247 No
Swinburne (Richard) Personal Identity: The Dualist Theory Paper - Cited Low Quality Abstract Shoemaker & Swinburne - Personal Identity, 1984, pp. 1-66 No
Van Inwagen (Peter) Material Beings Book - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Van Inwagen (Peter) - Material Beings No
Wiggins (David) Personal Identity (SS) Paper - Cited Low Quality Abstract Wiggins - Sameness and Substance, 1980, Chapter 6 No
Wiggins (David) Sameness and Substance Book - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance No
Williams (Bernard) Are Persons Bodies? Paper - Cited Williams - Problems of the Self (1970) Yes
Williams (Bernard) Bodily Continuity and Personal Identity Paper - Cited Williams - Problems of the Self (Analysis XXI, 1960) Yes
Williams (Bernard) Personal Identity and Individuation Paper - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Williams - Problems of the Self No
Williams (Bernard) Problems of the Self Book - Cited (via Paper Cited) Low Quality Abstract Bibliographical details to be supplied No
Williams (Bernard) The Self and the Future Paper - Cited High Quality Abstract Williams - Problems of the Self Yes



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