"People and their Bodies". Evaluation and Objections to Judith Thomson


Essay, 2017

9 Pages, Grade: 4.0


Excerpt

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In her essay, "People and their Bodies," Judith Thomson writes an evaluation of
several formulations of the psychological criterion for personality, explaining her
criticisms of each. The fundamental problem Thomson identifies that she believes
makes the psychological criterion weaker than a physical criterion is that she does not
believe the psychological criterion offers a clear ontological thesis of personhood, and
that this omission leads to several problems in clarifying the psychological view of
personal identity as well as puzzlingly counterintuitive implications. In this essay, I
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will explain Thomson's central criticisms against what she refers to as Pure, Impure,
and Hybrid conceptions of psychological criteria for personal identity and proceed to
consider possible objections to her position that a proponent of a psychological view
might respond with. These objections will primarily be focused on how Thomson
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chooses to characterize psychological criteria and her hastiness in drawing conclusions
with dramatic implications for the view.
Thomson begins her analysis of the psychological approach to personal identity
by means of several similar thought experiments in which a man, Brown, has his
psychology or brain somehow implanted in the body of a different man, Robinson,
Thomson, Judith Jarvis. "Judith Jarvis Thomson, People and their bodies - PhilPapers." Judith
1
Jarvis Thomson, People and their bodies - PhilPapers. January 01, 1970. Accessed March 07,
2017. https://philpapers.org/rec/THOPAT-3. p. 205
Thomson, Judith Jarvis. "Judith Jarvis Thomson, People and their bodies - PhilPapers." Judith
2
Jarvis Thomson, People and their bodies - PhilPapers. January 01, 1970. Accessed March 07,
2017. https://philpapers.org/rec/THOPAT-3. p. 207,209

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under different conditions. By entertaining the thought of Brown's brain being
transplanted into Robinson's body, Thomson is able to consider two alternatives - one
where the brain retains the psychological properties of Brown and thus, the Robinson-
body displays the psychological characteristics of Brown; and one where the brain from
Brown's body is altered by drugs such that it resembles the Robinson's body original
brain. In these two cases, Thomson points out that we would be inclined to agree that
the first of the two apparently appears to preserve Brown's identity while the only
reason we would seem to have for the second case preserving Brown would be that the
brain originally came from Brown's body, the fact of which alone, Thomson points out,
does not appear determinative of identity if the psychology has the features of the
original Robinson.
On the basis of the distinction drawn between the two cases in which the
presence of psychological continuity seems to be factor determining whether or not we
say Brown has survived the procedure, Thomson clarifies two possible positions for the
advocate of a psychological criterion - the pure psychological criterion in which
reprogramming Robinson's brain with the psychology present in Brown's brain would
be sufficient for a transfer of identity, and the impure psychological criterion, in which only
the transfer of the fully physical brain of Brown as a carrier of his psychology would be
sufficient for transferring his identity into Robinson's body. Thomson explicitly chooses
to not consider as seriously the impure psychological criterion in her analysis of

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psychological justification for personal identity on the basis that she cannot see why it
would be necessary for the same physical brain to generate the transported psychology.
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She uses the example of a transplanted, brain-reprogramming liver from Brown as a
means of demonstrating the superfluousness of any particular transplanted part to the
psychological view.
4
In considering the Pure Psychological criterion in more depth, Thomson
proceeds to criticize that the view ultimately does not seem adequate to answering the
question of what a person's ontological status might be thought to be without some
kind of revision or clarification. She considers a possible answer from the Psychological
criterion proponent in the form of a Hybrid View of Personal Identity in which personal
identity is thought to be determined by psychological continuity, but that persons
nonetheless are their bodies ontologically. Thomson proceeds to consider several
problematic implications of this conclusion, namely the seeming inconsistency from
asserting that identity results from the possibility of psychologically continuous
duplicates in distinct physical bodies or what she claims to be the necessity of inter-
Thomson, Judith Jarvis. "Judith Jarvis Thomson, People and their bodies - PhilPapers." Judith
3
Jarvis Thomson, People and their bodies - PhilPapers. January 01, 1970. Accessed March 07,
2017. https://philpapers.org/rec/THOPAT-3. p.206,207
Thomson, Judith Jarvis. "Judith Jarvis Thomson, People and their bodies - PhilPapers." Judith
4
Jarvis Thomson, People and their bodies - PhilPapers. January 01, 1970. Accessed March 07,
2017. https://philpapers.org/rec/THOPAT-3. p.207

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temporal metaphysical objects as an implausible conclusion for delineating persons
within this framework.
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It is primarily in Thomson's limitation of what she believes to be a reasonable
view of a psychological criterion for personal identity that I believe a proponent of the
psychological criterion may find to be the most mistaken aspect of her critique. Firstly,
Thomson does not seem to at all recognize in her Brown thought experiment the
possibility that reprogramming the brain with the psychology once housed in a
different brain may lead to a qualitatively identical set of psychological characteristics,
but not a numerically identical set. Presuming that an essentially identical psychological
state can arise from wholly new matter appears to be a significant assumption that
Thomson does not explain. If numerical identity is not necessary, it is not clear why this
would be the case or at least why we should presume it. One could seemingly be
skeptical that the same numerical flow of consciousness could be transplanted by
information reprogramming alone. It's not clear at all how identity or my experience as
a person would be conserved when it seems as though it may be another conscious
experiencer who incidentally has my character, memories, and preferences due to an
information upload. The Impure Psychological Criterion appears sufficient in a way
that the Pure is not because it seems to ensure (assuming that all adequate brain and
neurological structures are successfully transplanted) that not only my outwardly
Thomson, Judith Jarvis. "Judith Jarvis Thomson, People and their bodies - PhilPapers." Judith
5
Jarvis Thomson, People and their bodies - PhilPapers. January 01, 1970. Accessed March 07,
2017. https://philpapers.org/rec/THOPAT-3. p.209,210
Excerpt out of 9 pages

Details

Title
"People and their Bodies". Evaluation and Objections to Judith Thomson
College
Indiana University  (College of Arts and Sciences - Philosophy Department)
Course
PHIL-P300 Philosophical Writing Methods
Grade
4.0
Author
Year
2017
Pages
9
Catalog Number
V375565
ISBN (eBook)
9783668529731
ISBN (Book)
9783668529748
File size
430 KB
Language
English
Tags
Judith Thomson, Philosophy, Personal Identity, Critique, Duplicates, Psychological Theory, Physical Theory, Hybridism, Evaluation, Objection
Quote paper
Seth Carter (Author), 2017, "People and their Bodies". Evaluation and Objections to Judith Thomson, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/375565

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