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Garrett - Animalism

(Text as at 18/12/2010 19:58:05)


This Note is currently work in progress1. It discusses that part of "Garrett (Brian) - Animalism and Reductionism" (Chapter 2 of "Garrett (Brian) - Personal Identity and Self-consciousness") that discusses Animalism. I intend to discuss the rest of this chapter – which deals with reductionism – later2. I’ve included below the full text, with annotations as bullets below the numbered sections of Garrett’s text. For standard abbreviations3, follow the link.

Animalism

  1. In Chapter 1 ("Garrett (Brian) - The Problem (of Personal Identity) and Its Place in Philosophy") we mentioned animalism as one answer to the question ‘What is a person?’. A recent defender of animalism, David Wiggins, has stated his preferred version of this theory as follows:
  2. x is a person if and only if x is an animal falling under the extension of a kind whose typical members perceive, feel, remember, imagine, desire, make projects … have, and conceive of themselves as having, a past accessible in experience-memory and a future accessible in intention, ... etc. ("Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance", p. 171)
  3. The basic doctrine of animalism is defined as follows: x is a person only if x is an animal. Note that it is not required by this doctrine that all persons have to be human beings. Chimpanzees and dolphins, for example, could qualify as persons if their behaviour revealed a suitably impressive mental life. (FN: As Wiggins concedes in "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance", pp. 171-2).
  4. On Wiggins' version of animalism, the doctrine is relational in character. That is, whether a particular animal is a person depends upon the psychology of typical members of its kind (that is, upon the psychology of other individuals). I assume, perhaps uncontroversially, that human foetuses and the irreversibly comatose are human beings, the relationality clause allows foetuses and the comatose to count as persons in virtue of the fact that typical adult human beings are rational and self-conscious.
  5. On the other hand, the relationality clause would exclude an intelligent, self-conscious creature from the extension of person if typical members of its kind happened not to be rational and self-conscious. Thus, if self-consciousness were induced into a single orang-utan by some bizarre experiment in neuro-engineering, the resulting creature would not count as a person by the lights of Wiggins' relationality clause, since typical orang-utans are not self-conscious. (Assuming, what is not uncontroversial, that the resulting creature could rightly be said to be an orang-utan.) Some would find this consequence implausible. Fortunately, inclusion of the relationality component is no essential part of the formulation of animalism.
  6. The animalist's claim that all persons must be animals, if true, will have to be an a posteriori truth. Nothing in our concept of a person supports the constraint that all persons must be animals. It is neither analytic ('true in virtue of meaning') nor a priori ('known independently of experience') that we are human beings. Rather, it is an empirical fact that we belong to the biological kind human being. Hence, people who believe in the possibility of synthetic or robot persons are not committing any conceptual error — as they would if it were a conceptual truth that all persons are animals.
  7. Animalists must therefore conceive of their definition as a necessary a posteriori truth. And its source must lie in a further supposed truth: that animality is a necessary a posteriori constraint on possession of the self-conscious mental life characteristic of persons. However, we simply have no reason to believe in the existence of such a constraint. The fact that all actual self-conscious beings are animals gives us no reason to think that all possible self-conscious beings are animals. And it is the latter thesis that must be defended if animality is deemed a necessary condition of self-consciousness.
  8. Animalism is therefore unmotivated. Further, as we shall see in Chapter 3 ("Garrett (Brian) - Criteria of Personal Identity"), the most plausible description of certain thought-experiments implies that animalism is false. First, however, I want to outline and criticise an interesting argument which purports to show that animalism must be the correct view of persons.

An Argument for Animalism
  1. Animalists sometimes try to argue for their view by appealing to a thought-experiment such as Accident (see "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance", pp. 176-9). In this thought-experiment, I am involved in an horrendous car accident which irreversibly ‘wipes out’ all my mental states. The neurosurgeons repair my brain, but the resulting individual has the mental age of a one-year old, and has to be completely re-trained. A number of years later, a re-trained person occupies my body, and that person is psychologically quite unlike me. To avoid begging any questions about who is who, let's call the human being who exists throughout ‘Animal’, and call the resulting post-accident person, ‘Reverse’.
  2. According to the animalist, the correct description of this case is quite straightforward. I am identical to Animal and to Reverse; we are all one and the same person. According to the anti-animalist, who will typically take psychological continuity to be a necessary condition of personal identity, I ceased to exist when I irretrievably lost all mental states, and Reverse is a new person who occupies my old body.
  3. The thought driving anti-animalism is that our concept of a person satisfies the moral, practical and theoretical need we have for a conception of ourselves that does not simply coincide with that of a human being. Persons are essentially psychological beings (or, at least, essentially have the capacity for self-conscious life). Human beings, in contrast, can still exist even when the capacity for self-conscious life has been extinguished. Human beings are only contingently psychological beings. Thus, according to the anti-animalist, the best description of Accident is that Animal, Reverse, and me, are three numerically distinct entities. I cannot be identical to Animal if the latter survives while I die; and, for the anti-animalist, I am not the same person as Reverse since I am not psychologically continuous with Reverse.
  4. What is the objection to anti-animalism? The animalist's counter-argument is a reductio ad absurdum. That is, he tries to show that anti-animalism is committed to an absurdity, and hence that we should reject anti-animalism and embrace animalism. The argument runs as follows. Suppose that the anti-animalist view is correct, and that Animal and I are distinct entities. If Animal and I are numerically distinct, then we were distinct even before the accident. (If X and Y are numerically distinct at one time, they are distinct at all times. Two entities cannot have been identical.)
  5. Prior to the accident, Animal and I occupied the same body. And, at that time, Animal and I were both self-conscious subjects of experience (that is, persons). Hence, two persons then occupied the same body at the same time. What is true of Animal and me prior to the accident is true of all of us now. Each normal adult human body houses two people. The population of the world is twice what we thought it was. Is this consequence not plainly absurd? If it is, and it surely is, then we should reject the anti-animalist assumption that Animal and I are distinct, and embrace animalism.

The Animalist's Argument Rebuffed
  1. Fortunately, the anti-animalist has a response to the above argument. The animalist's argument could be generalised to undermine the most plausible view about, for example, the relation between a statue and the lump of matter which constitutes it. In which case, the animalist's argument must be too strong, and so unsound.
  2. Thus, suppose that we have a bronze statue before us, and we call the statue ‘Statue’ and the lump ‘Bronze’. It might be thought that Statue is Bronze, that they are one and the same. But, as we saw in Chapter 1 ("Garrett (Brian) - The Problem (of Personal Identity) and Its Place in Philosophy"), this would be a mistake.
  3. Imagine that we take Statue and melt it down — call this thought-experiment Meltdown. Then Statue has ceased to exist, though Bronze still exists in a formless lump. (Maintaining a statuesque shape is an essential property of Statue, but not of Bronze.) If there are situations in which Bronze exists whilst Statue does not, it follows that Statue is not identical to Bronze. Hence, even before the meltdown, Statue and Bronze are numerically distinct objects. And this is so, even though they are exactly spatially coincident during that earlier time. Prior to meltdown, Statue and Bronze occupy the same space, but they are numerically distinct since governed by different criteria of identity.
  4. This description of Meltdown is very persuasive. Yet we could run an exact analogue of the animalist's argument to reduce this description to absurdity. We could reason as follows. Prior to meltdown, Bronze has ‘all that it takes’ to be a statue (what more could we demand?); hence, Bronze is a statue (at that time); yet Bronze is not identical to Statue; consequently, two statues occupy the very same space at the very same time. This conclusion is absurd, and hence we should reject the premise that Bronze is not Statue.
  5. I agree that the ‘two statue’ conclusion is absurd. But the reasoning that led to it is faulty, and there is an analogous flaw in the animalist's reduction argument. The mistake is to think that judgements of identity, ‘x is (identical to) an F’, can reasonably be made on purely synchronic grounds, that is, grounds relating to how things are at just one time, rather than to how things are, or might be, over time.
  6. We cannot judge Bronze to be identical to a statue by considering only its intrinsic properties (weight, height, colour, etc.) at some time prior to meltdown. An object can be (identical to) a statue only if any of its possible futures is a future for a statue. Since some of Bronze's possible futures are not futures for a statue, it follows that Bronze is not (ever) identical to a statue. We are not forced to the absurd conclusion that two statues occupy the same space at the same time.
  7. Similarly, the anti-animalist will insist that Animal is not identical to a person. Prior to the accident, Animal has all of the intrinsic properties that I then have, but that does not make him (identical to) a person. According to the anti-animalist, the thought-experiment Accident shows precisely that one of Animal’s futures is a not a possible future for a person. Hence, Animal is (never) identical to a person. Prior to the accident, Animal and I occupy the same space but Animal is not a self-conscious subject of experience. Hence, the anti-animalist is not forced to the absurd conclusion that two persons occupy my body before the accident.

Wiggins' Charge of Relative Identity
  1. David Wiggins has offered the following additional argument against the anti-animalist. In his description of Accident, the anti-animalist must say that I am the same animal as Reverse, but a different person. In which case, the anti-animalist, and anyone else who believes that psychological continuity is necessary for personal identity over time, is committed (absurdly) to the sortal relativity of identity (see "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance", pp. 176-9).
  2. This is a false charge. Sortal relative identity arises where objects X and Y are held to be numerically identical qua Fs, but numerically distinct qua Gs. (‘F’ and ‘G’ stand for sortal concepts, that is, concepts of a kind or sort of object — man, crocodile, tree, etc.). For example, it might be claimed that A and B are identical qua officeholders, yet distinct qua men. Such a claim does indeed verge on incoherence. How can we have a consistent conception of what X is, if it falls under sortal concepts that yield mutually incompatible criteria of identity over time?
  3. However, the anti-animalist will deny that the sentence ‘I am the same animal as Reverse’ is an expression of numerical identity. Rather, he will hold that the sentence ‘I am the same animal as Reverse’, if it is to express a truth, means that Reverse and I share our matter with the very same animal (namely, Animal). Since there is no claim to numerical identity, the anti-animalist cannot be committed to the sortal relativity of numerical identity.
  4. Similarly, someone who asserts, for example, ‘the boat (at t1) is the same as the wooden hut (at t2)’, may charitably be interpreted not as making a (false) statement of numerical identity (a boat cannot become a wooden hut), but as claiming (truly) that the boat and the hut are, at different times, composed of the very same planks.
  5. Consequently, neither the animalist's argument nor Wiggins’ additional argument are persuasive. We have not been forced to acknowledge any incoherence or absurdity in the anti-animalist position. Moreover, that position, unlike the animalist's, is well-motivated. It respects the intuitive differences between the concepts person and human being — most importantly, that person, unlike human being, is the concept of an essentially psychological being. And as we shall see in Chapter 3 ("Garrett (Brian) - Criteria of Personal Identity"), the most plausible description of certain thought-experiments provides counter-examples to animalism.



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18/12/2010 19:58:05 None available Garrett - Persons and Bodies - Response

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References & Reading List

Author Title Medium Source Read?
Garrett (Brian) Animalism and Reductionism Paper - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Garrett - Personal Identity and Self-consciousness, 1998, Chapter 2 Yes
Garrett (Brian) Criteria of Personal Identity Paper - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Garrett - Personal Identity and Self-consciousness, 1998, Chapter 3 Yes
Garrett (Brian) Personal Identity and Self-consciousness Book - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Garrett (Brian) - Personal Identity and Self-consciousness Yes
Garrett (Brian) The Problem (of Personal Identity) and Its Place in Philosophy Paper - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Garrett - Personal Identity and Self-consciousness, 1998, Chapter 1 Yes
Wiggins (David) Personal Identity Paper - Cited Low Quality Abstract Wiggins - Sameness and Substance Renewed, 2001, Chapter 7 No
Wiggins (David) Personal Identity (S&S) 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
Wiggins (David) Sameness and Substance Renewed Book - Cited Medium Quality Abstract Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance Renewed No



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