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Reply to Garrett

by Lynne Rudder Baker  e-mail

Department of Philosophy
University of Massachusetts
352 Bartlett Hall
Amherst, MA 01003-0525 - USA


I want to thank Brian Garrett for his careful and detailed comments on Persons and Bodies.  I’ll respond to as many of his comments as I can.  (They make me look forward to reading his Personal Identity and Self-Consciousness.)

1. I use the term ‘the Constitution View’ simply as a name of the view of human persons that I work out.  I began by thinking about the relation between persons and bodies, and started with the idea of constitution-without-identity.   In one way, I think that the idea of constitution is the more important of the two central ideas (the other of which is the idea of the first-person perspective), because the idea of constitution has general metaphysical application for understanding the whole material world.   That’s how I came to call my view ‘the Constitution View.’  Granted, ‘the Constitution and First-Person Perspective View’ would be more descriptive, but ‘the Constitution View’ is snappier.

2.  I use Castañeda’s ‘*’ device to illustrate what I think is an important distinction—namely, that between consciousness (which infants and higher nonhuman animals have) and self-consciousness (which, as far as we know, is unique to human persons).

3.  Garrett mentions that I need not invoke the ‘*’ device since an I*-thought is just an iterated I-thought, and we could say that “being able to think iterated ‘I’-thoughts is the hallmark of self-consciousness.”

Garrett notes that Castañeda made his point with ‘he*’, not ‘I*.’  Right, but I couldn’t illustrate the point that I want to make in terms of ‘he*’.  Castañeda’s ‘he*’ is used to attribute a first-person reference.  But a first-person reference, on my view, does not always manifest a first-person perspective.  In ‘the dog believes that he* is about to be attacked,’ we are attributing to the dog a belief that (if he could speak) he would express as ‘I am about to be attacked.’  But this (pretend) speech would not indicate a first-person perspective.  The dog is conscious, and thus has a perspective, the origin of which is always himself.  For a dog, the (pretend) ‘I’ is just a default marker for the origin of his perspective.  In a given context, we can often tell whether or not ‘he*’ attributes just a (pretend) first-person reference of a dog or a real first-person perspective.  But since ‘he*’does not always doesn’t distinguish between attribution of a (pretend) first-person reference and a real first-person perspective, ‘he*’ would not serve my purposes in the way that ‘I*’ does.

Perhaps, as Garrett suggests, we should not say that a dog is involved in any (even low-grade) first-person phenomena.  I disagree, because all consciousness, it seems to me, is perspectival.  (The bone is over here, not there.)  The dog is the origin of the perspective.  (The bone is over here, not there, and I want it.)  But, lacking a first-person perspective, the dog does not know that it is only the center of a perspective, not the center of the universe.   He can’t realize that there are other perspectives.  The dog has a perspective (and thus engages in low-grade first-person phenomena); but the dog does not realize that he* has a perspective.

Garrett thinks that having a perspective is not sufficient for attributing ‘I’-thoughts.  Missiles may “have in-built maps with themselves as origin and can modify their speed and direction in sophisticated ways.  But missiles don’t have ‘I’-thoughts.”  Garrett challenges me to say how I treat missiles differently from animals and infants.  Here’s how: infants and animals are conscious and the way that a conscious being “adjusts its behavior to fit its goals” is by inferences relying on essential indexicals.  The analogue of reasoning and inferring for the missile presumably can be described without using indexicals at all.  ((Pretend) use of ‘I’ attributed to a missile would be exactly like our use of ‘now’ in a Minkowski diagram.)  But (pretend) use of ‘I’ attributed to animals or infants marks use of indexical thoughts; (pretend) use of ‘I’ is not (pretend) use of the full-fledged ‘I’ of a first-person perspective.  Attribution of (pretend) use of ‘I’ to animals and infants  just marks the center of a perspective from which the infant or animal has indexical thoughts.

5.  Garrett notes that I “give some credence to the Russell-Geach view that first-person reference is eliminable from simple, direct-discourse ‘I’ sentences.”  What I was thinking of was that for animals that have an egocentric perspective ‘I am in pain’ = ‘There is pain.’  This is really just the point that I was making before about beings that are conscious, but not self-conscious:  They can’t conceive of the difference between attributing a property to themselves and attributing it to others.  Hence, all pain is their pain, etc. I agree with Garrett that, in general, ‘I’ is ineliminable from even simple, direct-discourse sentences.

6.  I certainly share Garrett’s view that self-consciousness can’t be given a reductive analysis.  Garrett says parenthetically, “I assume that in the present discussion we’re talking only of the concept of self-consciousness, not the property it’s a concept of.  That property presumably is some kind of neural property (in us).  It’s only the concept that irreducible.”   I’m not sure (yet) how to respond to this, but I think that in the end, I will not share the view of the relation between concepts and properties that this suggests.  (In “Saving Belief” (Princeton, 1987)  and in “A Farewell to Functionalism” (Philosophical Studies 48 (1985): 1-13), I argue against functionalism in philosophy of mind.)

7. Garrett sees no advantage in my separation of a sameness-of-body criterion of personal identity from a sameness-of-living-organism criterion.  But traditionally, these are distinct.  Aristotle (and Aquinas) would accept the latter, but not the former.  He also notes that I didn’t argue against his psychological view of personal identity, but my objection to any view that faces the duplication problem (and hence requires non-branching), I think, applies to his view as well.

8. Garrett makes an interesting point about circularity:  “A circular analysis can still be illuminating, provided it makes vivid the connections between the target concept and some other range of concepts.”  Yes!  Good point!

9. Garrett criticizes my claim that we cannot give (noncircular) informative sufficient conditions for sameness of person over time without presupposing sameness of person.

I meant “informative” in the sense of helping us understand sameness of person.   If someone produced informative sufficient conditions in this sense, I’d be surprised....and I would be proved wrong. 

Garrett suggests: “If my brain, body, and psychological stream continue as normal, and there’s no duplication, fission, fusion, teletransportation, etc., then I will occupy this body tomorrow.”  Whether I deny this or not depends on the ‘etc.’  Would the ‘etc.’ rule out Locke’s Prince and the Cobbler case?  If not, then the Prince and the Cobbler case is a counterexample to the conditional.  If so, then the ‘etc’ seems to function as an open-ended ceteris paribus clause that makes the account uninformative.

Garrett also sees an epistemic problem here:  “Even in a normal everyday case, how is a person supposed to know at t2 that he existed in the same body at t1?”  I know that I exist in the same body (=am constituted by the same body) that I had yesterday, because it looks the same (warts and all).  Also, had I been videotaped throughout the time between yesterday and today, no changes in my body would have been observed.

I said: “Every morning when I wake up, I know that I am still existing—without consulting my mirror, my memory, or anything else.”  Garrett responds: “But, given Baker’s no-constraints view of the first-person perspective, how can she tell?”   My first-person perspective is essential to me.  If there is any experience that I am aware of, then I (with my first-person perspective) exist.  If I’m having an experience, there can be no question of whose first-person perspective is involved.  (The only question that can arise is which body constitutes me at that time.)

The question of how I know that my first-person perspective persisted through the night makes no sense on my view:  If I have any experience at all—indeed, if I have any property at all—then I exist; and if I exist, I have a particular first-person perspective.

Let me try to put it another way:  Suppose that: (1) S wakes up and has an experience of being glad that she’s alive; (2) I know without evidence that someone is having an experience of being glad that she’s alive.  Then it follows that (i) I exist (having my first-person perspective); (ii) I am identical to S.

I think that there is much more to develop here, and I hope to turn to this kind of issue.

11.  Re: Indeterminacy.  Vagueness is a general problem, about which I have no good solution.  All the solutions known to me—supervaluation, the epistemic view, degrees of truth, multi-valued logic—either fail to solve the problem or are patently absurd (to me, anyway).

But I do think that it is a defect in a criterion of personal identity to admit of vagueness.  (Maybe I read too much Chisholm.)   I simply can’t imagine partly existing and partly not existing.  I either exist or not.  It’s only from a third-person point of view that vagueness seems possible.  If there is a thought, then (pace Parfit) someone is having it.  Whoever is having it has to exist.

12.  The point of condition (T)—a criterion of sameness of human person over time—is to show that even though I can’t give an informative criterion for identity of persons (embodied or not) over time, the fact that human persons are necessarily embodied (de re) does allow me to give an informative criterion for identity of human persons over time.  Since the focus of the book is human persons, it seemed useful to show that I could give (noncircular) necessary and sufficient conditions for sameness of human persons over time, even if I couldn’t give (noncircular) necessary and sufficient conditions for sameness of persons generally over time.

Human person is what I called a hybrid kind.  Person is the dominant sortal.  x at t1 is the same human person as y at t2  iff  x is a person, y is a person, x is human at t1, y is human at t2 and x = y.

13. (T6) is just essential embodiment of human persons.  Garrett says: “[I]f immaterial substances are a logical possibility (as even many materialists think), then Baker should not be endorsing (T6).”  I disagree.  From my claim that human persons are essentially embodied, it does not follow that everything that exists is essentially embodied.  Perhaps there are essentially unembodied beings. 

14.  Garrett says that my conditions for taking persons seriously are idiosyncratic.

I clearly specified the sense in which I am claiming that other materialistic views fail to take persons seriously.  Conditions for taking persons seriously (in the sense specified) are these:  (1) Being a person is relevant to the fundamental kind of individual that one is; (2) Elimination of any person is elimination of an individual; (3) Having mental states is relevant to what a person is.  These conditions do not seem idiosyncratic to me—of course, they wouldn’t.

A lot of philosophers share Garrett’s view that my conditions on taking persons seriously are idiosyncratic. (But he is the first one I know of who suggests that this conception of taking persons seriously should be denounced!)  I want to hold my ground. I have a paper read at the Chisholm Memorial Conference at Brown University, “The Ontological Significance of Persons,” forthcoming in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.  In it, I develop further and argue for this construal of taking persons seriously.

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