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TitleThe Human Animal: Personal Identity Without Psychology
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Olson, Eric T. Lecturer in Philosophy and Fellow, Churchill College, Cambridge

The Human Animal
Personal Identity Without Psychology
Publication date 1999 (this edition)
Print ISBN-10: 0-19-5134230
Print ISBN-13: 978-0-19513423-0

Abstract: This book argues that our identity over time involves no psychological facts.
Psychological accounts of personal identity lead to grave metaphysical problems, and
the arguments for them are inconclusive. The book argues that we are animals, and thus
have the purely biological identity conditions of animals.

Keywords: animalism, animals, death, metaphysics, personal identity, psychological
continuity, self

The Human Animal
end p.i

Philosophy Of Mind Series
Series Editor: Owen Flanagan, Duke University

Mind, Morals, and the Meaning of Life
Owen Flanagan

In Search of a Fundamental Theory
David J. Chalmers

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development when an amoeba grows and divides into two, four, and then eight daughter
amoebas; and yet the original amoeba does not become an eight-celled object. There is
not, so to speak, any single process of growth and development that encompasses all of
the eight resulting amoebas; each daughter cell develops in complete independence of
the others. But precisely the same is true for the fertilized ovum and its daughter cells;
that is why embryologists deny that the ovum becomes a two-celled organism when it

There is a great deal more to be said about the identity of living organisms. I shall have
more to say about the matter in the next two chapters; but many questions will remain

end p.93

5 Are People Animals?
Abstract: This chapter argues that we are animals. Otherwise numerous metaphysical
and epistemological problems arise. It is then argued that human animals do not have
psychological identity conditions. Thus, our being animals is incompatible with the
Psychological Approach.

Keywords: animals, death, identity over time, Locke, personhood

Eric T. Olson

I. Human People or Human Animals?
I turn now to the most fundamental problem facing the Psychological Approach: If we
accept that view, it seems that we must deny that we are human animals. Not only are
we not essentially animals; we are not living organisms at all, even contingently.

We can see this if we consider the two puzzle cases set out in Chapter 1. In the first
story, you lapse into a persistent vegetative state, in which your mind is destroyed but
those vegetative functions that keep you alive continue. According to the Psychological
Approach, that is the end of you. But no human animal ceases to exist when this
happens. "Your" human animal—the one you point to when you point to yourself—
continues to live and breathe; it simply loses its psychological features. Even if you never
in fact lapse into a persistent vegetative state, you could do so, and if that happened,
your human animal would outlive you. And if you and the animal could come apart, you
could not be the animal: a thing cannot outlive itself. From this it follows that you are not
an animal. For there is only one human animal sitting in your chair and wearing your
shoes right now, not two, and that animal, being able to outlive you, is not you.

In the second story, we transplant your cerebrum from one head to another. But we don't
transfer any animal from one head to another when we do this. Rather, we transplant an
organ from one animal to another. The human animal associated with you stays behind
when your cerebrum is removed. You, however, go along with your cerebrum, according
to the

end p.94

Psychological Approach. Even if you in fact never get separated from your animal, you
could be separated. So you could not be that animal: a thing and itself cannot go their
separate ways.

I want to argue that since you and I are human animals, the Psychological Approach

Page 81

must be false. To do this I need to defend two claims. First, I need to argue that we really
are animals. This is the task of the next four sections. Then I must try to show that the
Psychological Approach could not be true of human animals—that no psychological
relation is necessary and sufficient for a human animal to persist through time. That is, I
must argue that a human animal really does survive when it lapses into a persistent
vegetative state; or that no human animal is transferred from one head to another when
your cerebrum is transplanted. This more difficult project is taken up in Sections VI to

II. Appearances
I said I would argue that you and I are animals. This might seem a strange thing to argue
for, given our assumption that you and I are material objects. Where are we going to find
premises that are even more obviously true than that we are animals if we are material
objects at all? We can understand how someone might deny that we are not animals by
rejecting materialism. Many philosophers have argued that we are not material objects of
any kind, but immaterial souls, or abstract objects akin to computer programs, or the like;
or that we essentially have some immaterial part. But once it is conceded that we are
material beings of some sort, it seems quite obvious what sort of material beings we are:
we are living animals. To be specific, our opposable thumbs, forward-facing eyes, and
evolutionary history make it clear that we are primates, along with apes, monkeys, and
lemurs. Any materialist could easily persuade himself that he is an animal by examining
himself in a mirror—or, if need be, by having himself examined more thoroughly by a
competent zoologist. Chisholm has written:

[I]n our theoretical thinking, we should be guided by those propositions we
presuppose in our ordinary activity. They are propositions we have a right to
believe. Or, somewhat more exactly, they are propositions which should be
regarded as innocent, epistemically, until there is positive reason for thinking
them guilty. (1977, 169)

And that we are members of the species Homo sapiens is certainly something that we
ordinarily assume when we are not doing philosophy. Anyone who claims to be a
materialist but at the same time insists that you

end p.95

and I are not animals, or holds a theory of personal identity inconsistent with our being
animals, has got some explaining to do.

But the friends of the Psychological Approach have a subtle reply to this. They will
concede that we are animals, and obviously so. They will even agree that no animal is
transferred from one head to another when your cerebrum is transplanted, and that no
animal ceases to exist when you become a human vegetable. Nevertheless, they claim,
the Psychological Approach is consistent with the fact that we are animals:

The claim that each human person is an animal (the reply goes) is ambiguous.
The source of the ambiguity is the harmless-looking word is: we must distinguish
the "is of identity" from the "is of constitution". Of course you are an animal. But
insofar as this is an undeniable empirical fact, it does not entail that you are
numerically identical with any animal. Rather (as Shoemaker puts it), "a person
'is' an animal, not in the sense of being identical to one, but in the sense of
sharing its matter with one."1 When you look in a mirror you see an animal. It is
easy to believe that you and that animal are one and the same, and that is
indeed the way it appears. That is because you are connected with that animal in
a particularly intimate way: you and the animal are made of the very same atoms

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persistence conditions.See identity, criterion of

persistent vegetative state7 , 17 , 74 , 87-88 , 94 , 111-114 , 119 , 159-160 , 165-166

personhood24 , 102-108 , 167
Lockean Account, introduced103

phase sorts29-31

physical criterion of personal identity19 , 126

Piaget, Jean75

Pollock, John19 , 20 , 143

Price, H. H.20


prudential concern53-57 , 59 , 65-66

Psychological Approach to personal identity

Puccetti, Roland169 n. 3 , 172 n. 4

end p.188

Quinlan, Karen8

Quinton, Anthony20 , 173 n. 7

reference160-161 , 163-167


religious conversion67


Rosenberg, Jay20 , 21 , 178 n. 13

Russell, Bertrand20 , 155

Sacks, Oliver147

Schechtman, Marya170 n. 6

Seifert, Josef175-176 n.8

selves172 n. 2

set theory162

Shoemaker, Sydney20 , 55 , 71 , 96

Singer, Peter173 n. 4 , 176 n. 9

Snowdon, P. F.19 , 169 n. 3 , 172 n. 4 , 174 n. 9, n. 13

Spinoza, Baruch155


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Stone, Jim173 n. 4

Strawson, P. F.20 , 152

substance concepts27-31 , 36 , 84-85 , 110-111 , 122 , 144

Swinburne, Richard103 , 126

teleology127-128 , 130

temporal parts5-6 , 39 , 162-168

Thomson, Judith Jarvis19

Transplant Intuition43-51 , 56 , 69

TRICK (principle)84

Tye, Michael148-149 , 177 n. 12

Unger, Peter15 , 20 , 37 , 75 , 82-84 , 172 n. 3 , 174 n. 8 , 175 n. 7

Uniqueness Requirement49

van Inwagen, Peter19 , 138 , 172 n. 6 , 177 n. 9

Veatch, Robert176 n. 9

Warren, Mary Anne173 n. 4

Wiggins, David20-21 , 27-29 , 84-85 , 122 , 151 , 170 n. 11 , 171 n. 1, n. 2 , 172 n. 4 ,
175 n. 1

Wikler, Daniel176 n. 9

Wilkes, Kathleen169 n. 3

Williams, Bernard19 , 178 n. 13


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