The Human Animal: Personal Identity Without Psychology / Edition 1

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What does it take for you to persist from one time to another? What sorts of changes could you survive, and what would bring your existence to an end? What makes it the case that some past or future being, rather than another, is you? So begins Eric Olson's pathbreaking new book, The Human Animal: Personal Identity Without Psychology. You and I are biological organisms, he claims; and no psychological relation is either necessary or sufficient for an organism to persist through time. Conceiving of personal identity in terms of life-sustaining processes rather than bodily continuity distinguishes Olson's position from that of most other opponents of psychological theories. And only a biological account of our identity, he argues, can accommodate the apparent facts that we are animals, and that each of us began to exist as a microscopic embryo with no psychological features at all. Surprisingly, a biological approach turns out to be consistent with the most popular arguments for a psychological account of personal identity, while avoiding metaphysical traps. And in an ironic twist, Olson shows that it is the psychological approach that fails to support the Lockean definition of "person" as (roughly) a rational, self-conscious moral agent, an attractive view that fits naturally with a biological account.
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Editorial Reviews

Challenges the prevailing notions on personal identity, and defends a radically non-psychological account of the subject. Most philosophers writing about personal identity claim that what it takes for us to persist through time is a matter of psychology, and from there either take the view that we persist by continuity of our mental contents, or tie our identity to the preservation of our mental capacities. Olson (philosophy, Cambridge), argues that both approaches face daunting ontological difficulties, claiming we are biological organisms, and no psychological relation is either necessary or sufficient for an organism to persist through time. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
From the Publisher
"A very clear and powerfully argued defence of a most important and surprisingly neglected view."—Derek Parfit, author of Reasons and Persons (All Souls College, Oxford)

"For hundreds of years, almost all philosophers writing on the topic have supposed that personal identity is either entirely a matter of psychology or at least has an important and essential psychological component. This important book presents a powerful challenge to that assumption. If Dr. Olson is right, we are living animals and what goes on in our minds is wholly irrelevant to questions about our persistence through time. If this book receives the attention it deserves, it will transform philosophical thinking about personal identity."—Peter van Inwagen, author of An Essay on Free Will, Material Beings, and Metaphysics (University of Notre Dame)

"Olson's excellent and enjoyable book should be read by everyone with an interest in metaphysics. For those seriously interested in the philosophy of personal identity, or in our existence and identity, the matter is more serious; without much delay, you've got to get your hands on The Human Animal—Peter Unger, New York University

"A significant contribution to the field. It issues several important challenges to proponents of a psychological approach to personal identity."—Carol Rovane, Yale University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195105063
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/9/1997
  • Series: Philosophy of Mind Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 200
  • Lexile: 1280L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Eric Olson is a Lecturer in philosophy at Cambridge University.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 3
1 Psychology and Personal Identity 7
2 Persistence 22
3 Why We Need Not Accept the Psychological Approach 42
4 Was I Ever a Fetus? 73
5 Are People Animals? 94
6 The Biological Approach 124
7 Alternatives 154
Notes 169
References 179
Index 187
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