The Human Animal: Personal Identity without Psychology

The Human Animal: Personal Identity without Psychology

The Human Animal: Personal Identity without Psychology

The Human Animal: Personal Identity without Psychology

Synopsis

Most philosophers writing about personal identity in recent years claim that what it takes for us to persist through time is a matter of psychology. In this groundbreaking new book, Eric Olson argues that such approaches face daunting problems, and he defends in their place a radically non-psychological account of personal identity. He defines human beings as biological organisms, and claims that no psychological relation is either sufficient or necessary for an organism to persist. Olson rejects several famous thought-experiments dealing with personal identity. He argues, instead, that one could survive the destruction of all of one's psychological contents and capabilities as long as the human organism remains alive--as long as its vital functions, such as breathing, circulation, and metabolism, continue.

Excerpt

Most philosophical work on personal identity of the last twenty-five years or so has focused around three issues. The first is whether there is any informative criterion of personal identity. Are there necessary and sufficient conditions for someone to persist through time? Can the formula, "Necessarily, if x is a person at one time and y is a person at another time, x is y if and only if . . . ," be completed in a non-trivial way -- by a condition that one could know to obtain without knowing beforehand whether x was y? This question is closely connected with the ancient debate between dualism and materialism: most of those who argue that there are no nontrivial conditions of personal identity take this claim to go along with the view that you and I are not material objects.

Second: Given that there are informative persistence conditions for people, what sort of physical continuity, if any, is required for a person to persist from one time to another? Do my psychological features -- my memories, personality, and so forth -- have to continue to be realized in a functioning brain, for example? Could I come to have a numerically different brain, or an inorganic substitute for a brain, and still exist? Could you transfer me from one human body to another simply by moving the information encoded in my brain into a new brain via a "brain-state transfer" device? And so on.

The third issue is "what matters" in survival. Although most of us are concerned for the well-being of many people besides ourselves, ordinarily you have a special attitude towards your own future well-being: you look forward to your own pleasures, and fear your own pains, in a way in which you do not look forward to or fear things that will happen to others. Even utterly selfish people, who are completely indifferent to the fate of anyone . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.