Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Might "animal" be a stage term?

Consider this argument:

  1. It is possible for me to exist disembodied.
  2. It is not possible for an animal to exist disembodied.
  3. So, I am not an animal.
While I accept (1), I am not convinced of (2). However I want to try a somewhat different tack in this post. Compare:
  1. It is possible for Tom Brady to exist disembodied.
  2. It is not possible for a football player to exist disembodied.
  3. So, Tom Brady is not a football player.
But (6) is false (or so I understand from one website). And even if (4) were false, we shouldn't be able to derive its falsity simply from (5) and the fact that Tom Brady is a football player. So there has to be something wrong with the second argument. And the diagnosis is very simple: "football player" is a stage term. An entity can exist at one time as not a football player and at another time as a football player. Thus, (5) is ambiguous between two claims:
  • It is not possible for someone who is presently a football player to exist disembodied at any time.
  • It is not possible for someone to exist disembodied while being a football player.
The second of these may be true[note 1] but it is insufficient for deriving (6) from (4)—it only implies that Tom Brady can't be football player when disembodied, not that he can't exist when disembodied. And the first reading simply begs the question.

Why not draw the same conclusion from the first argument? Granted (I am not sure of this) one can't be disembodied while being an animal. But why can't someone who is an animal at one time be disembodied at another time, ceasing to be an animal then? Then "animal" would be a stage term. (It could even be the case that "animal" is a stage term while "person" isn't.)

If animalism is the claim that we are animals, then this would be compatible with animalism. One couldn't, however, straightforwardly say that we are essentially animals. But one could say that it is an essential property of beings like us that they begin their existence as animals, or at least (maybe God could create someone already in the disembodied stage?) that they normally do so.

One could say that these are claims about all animals or just about rational ones. Maybe only some animals—say, the rational ones—have the capability of becoming disembodied souls.


Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Why wouldn't you just reject (1), and accept (1*)?

(1*) It is possible for that which is responsible for my thinking to exist disembodied

If you went this route, then you could accept that being an animal is an essential property of humans.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Because I think I will exist between death and the resurrection of the body, and that yields 1, and not just 1*. :-)

James said...

This reminds me of the mathematical cyclist problem, and your solution seems similar to Plantinga's de re / de dicto solution.

E.g., necessarily a well-formed football player is embodied; this is not to ay that every well-formed football player is necessarily or essentially embodied.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Right. Nothing deep on the logical side here, but the metaphysical question whether "animal" could be a stage term--in the way that unquestionably "mathematician" and "cyclist" are--is a tough one.

Unknown said...

Interesting post! But I am skeptical. Certainly, I could be attached to an animal for awhile or I could be part of an animal for awhile. I could even behave in animal like ways for awhile (to make the case analogous to the football case.) Or--more plausibly--I could be constituted by an animal for awhile. But in none of these cases am I *identical* with any animal. It is strictly false in all of these cases to say, "I am an animal." If at any time I was identical with an animal and that animal ceased to exist, then I would cease to exist. Animalism (as I understand it) is the claim that I am identical with a certain animal. So I don't see how an Animalist could accept the claim that "animal" is a stage term.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Tom Brady is identical with a football player, though probably one day he won't be identical with a football player, simply because he will retire. Why can't I say that I the same way I am identical with an animal now but won't be when disembodied?

Unknown said...

Sure, one could have "animality" as an accidental property that could come and go (much like having the property of being a football player.) But to claim that one is identical with a certain animal is to claim that one has all and only the essential features of an animal (because there is only one thing here described in two ways.) So when you say that "TB is identical with a football player" I read this as "TB is identical with a person who happens to be a football player."

But this is not what animalists are saying. They are not saying that "I am a something that happens to have animality for a time", but rather that "I have all and only the essential features of a certain animal." To make the football analogy work, I think you have to posit that I am something over and above an animal much like TB is something over and above a football player. But then that isn't animalism.

(By the way, I am a constitutionalist, not an animalist. I think that account best accounts for how one can have a physical body here and a glorified body in heaven. Same statue, different lump.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

But TB has all the essential features of a certain football player--namely of himself, since he is that football player.

However, I agree that what I said isn't all animalists want. Typical animalists want to say not only that we *are* animals, but that we *essentially are* animals. But the question is whether the arguments for animalism support the stronger conclusion. The main argument for animalism is Eric Olson's too-many-thinkers argument. But while that argument does establish that the animal that is typing this is identical with me, and hence that I am an animal, but it does not establish that I am essentially an animal.

Of course, if one adds the premise that animals are always essentially animals, then one gets the conclusion. But that premise needs justification. (And at least Christian animalists will *have to* deny it. For the second person of the Trinity is human, and hence an animal. But he is not essentially an animal, in the modal sense of "essentially", since he would have existed even had he not become incarnate.)

Unknown said...

Assuming the truth of what you've said so far, what do you make of the following inconsistent set:

1. I can exist as a non-animal
2. I am essentially human
3. Humans are animals essentially

In your last remark you seem to affirm 3 so you'd reject 2 (said by you)?

Alexander R Pruss said...

That's a choice point. :-) One could deny that we're essentially human or one could deny that all humans are animals.

Neil Bates said...
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Neil Bates said...
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Neil Bates said...

I think these kinds of exercises (in particular, about the person versus "football player") do two things: show that simplistic syllogisms are inadequate, and that analysis has to work on variations of context and not just standard forms and situations. At the same time, I think people have long realized that occupational terms etc. refer to an "as such" condition.

Here's an example my brother in law came up with, to show weakness of careless usage (in this case, more about neglected qualifiers like "all" in informal usage):

1. Americans have walked on the Moon. (i.e., several of them ...)
2. I am an American.
3. I have walked on the Moon.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I wonder: Is it any weirder to deny that all humans are animals than to deny that all humans are persons (as, sadly, many do)?

Alli said...

I think it is a little weirder to deny that all humans are animals than to deny that all humans are persons, but maybe that’s just because doing so violates the deliverances of a very standard taxonomy: humans belong to the _homo_ genus, which is of the _hominidae_ family… which is of the animal kingdom, so all humans are animals. But that’s not conclusive evidence that “animal” can’t sensibly be used as a stage term describing a human (or at least: describing a person). (And maybe Aquinas does it in his discussion of embryonic development?)

ockraz said...

I'm not sure how to interpret your comment. Ordinarily, I'd think that "to deny that all humans are persons" would be to assert that we are humans prior to our acquiring those characteristics which we use to define Lockean personhood, and that we remain humans even during times when we cease to exhibit those characteristics. I don't understand why it'd be sad for people to think that. Were you instead using 'persons' to mean something like 'individuals with moral status?'

ockraz said...

"The main argument for animalism is Eric Olson's too-many-thinkers argument. But while that argument does establish that the animal that is typing this is identical with me, and hence that I am an animal, but it does not establish that I am essentially an animal."

I believe that: 1) 'I'm identical to an animal' and 2) 'It's my identity with an animal that defines me over time'(ie, I'm essentially an animal).

Why should I make an argument for #2 if #1 has been established? I'd say that opponents of #2 have a burden to explain why it's necessary to posit the existence of some other entity which I could essentially be.

In the absence of something that an animalism view can't account for, the fact that nothing else is necessary seems like an adequate argument.

Anonymous said...

One might say that I am animal, and what I mean by this is that I have the persistence conditions of an animal, but that the persistence conditions of an animal are such that human animals can exist (temporarily) disembodied. What then makes something an animal? Arguably Aristotle and Aquinas tie animality to the capacity for sensation or the possession a sentient soul. Perhaps I could meet one of these requirements while disembodied in virtue of a sort of sentient soul persisting virtually in my persisting rational soul. I think Eleonore Stump and Jason Eberl hold a view like this.

Alexander R Pruss said...


Well, the advantage of the view that animality is not in general an essential property is that it better accounts for the possibility of a human (or a dog, for that matter) surviving as a brain in a vat or even a cerebrum in a vat or a disembodied. We get to keep the obvious fact that we are animals, we get to keep the too-many-thinkers argument, but it's also easy to say the intuitively right thing about surviving as just a brain or soul.

Granted, you might think that you lose one advantage, an explanation of our identity over time. But there really wasn't much of an explanation there--after all, the identity of an animal over time is about as puzzling or more puzzling than our identity (think of worms being cut, etc.) It was a case of explaining the mysterious by the just as mysterious. I think that in the end we would have to either adopt a deflationary view of the identity of animals, or adopt a soul view of the identity of animals, or adopt a primitive fact view of the identity of animals. But each of these three can be done directly for us, without the detour through essential animality.

Now, personally, I am not adopting the view I am defending here. For I do not think it is absurd to think an animal could survive as just a cerebrum or even a soul.

Alexander R Pruss said...


Yes, that's basically what I think. But I want to point out here that it's not the solution.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I meant: not the *only* solution. :-)

ockraz said...

I haven't yet read the paper you linked. I'm not sure how long it will take because I can't read it straight through. I'm needing to read other things to understand parts of it. So, I'm just responding to your comment right now.

What I see as the advantage of an animalism view is that it allows for a simpler ontology. I'm not sure, but it seems like you're saying that the drawback of the animalism view is that it doesn't fit well with our intuitions. You consider the added complexity to be a more than fair price to pay for greater harmony with intuition.

It's likely that I have very different intuitions, so I'm skeptical about assumptions about harmony. For example, "it better accounts for the possibility... or a disembodied" seems jarring to me. Given my intuitions, that's like saying it better accounts for bilocation. Plus, you offered worms and brains in vats as examples that should be troublesome, but (given my intuitions) I honestly don't find them at all troubling - although I certainly would if I had a body based rather than living organism based view.

I also think that individuals probably vary greatly in how averse they are to complicating their metaphysics. I'm made extremely uncomfortable by it and would need to feel my intuitions were being strongly challenged to consider it.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Apart from the intuitive evidence for the possibility of disembodied existence, we have very good evidence for the actuality of it, namely the fact that a religion for which there are on balance very good apologetic arguments teaches it.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

I have had no trouble seeing myself as an animal. Especially when I had my horse Merlin. In many ways we were more like equals. Before I became a Catholic, I was an agnostic trying to be an atheist with a "naturalistic" view point. I saw myself as one species of animal and Merlin as another. I saw Merlin as being a fellow creature with a certain capacity for rationality though certainly not at the same capacity for rationality as my self. While I am at this animal rationality thing, I would like to point out the problem solving skill of my cat, Buddy. Buddy just loved getting into the garbage under the sink. I didn't like it because that would make a mess. So I was going to stop Buddy from doing so by making it impossible for him to open the door to the cabinet under the sink. I stacked weight lifting plates up against the door. Then I watched Buddy go to work. He pushed all the weight lifting plates aside, put his paw under the door, popped it open and into the garbage he went. Then, I decided to make the job impossible or so I thought. I put the bar for use as a dumb bell through the plates so that he couldn't unstack the individual plates. Buddy nudged this stack little by little until it was sufficiently away from the door. Put his paw under the door. Popped it open and into the garbage he went. Then, I stacked 2 25 lb plates. That should do it. Buddy with all his effort nudged those, bit by bit until he had gotten them away from the door. Put his paw under the door and popped it open and into the garbage he went. So, who is the rational animal here?

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

I think Buddy may have had a soul.