Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Animalism and Personal Identity

From guest blogger, Zach.

For my paper, I'd like to defend Stephan Blatti's fairly new take on animalism. 

In general, animalism is a theory of identity that asserts that we are essentially animals. In the words of Blatti:

“[Advocates of animalism] make the following straight-forward claim: we are animals.  According to the intended reading of this claim, 'are' reflects the 'is' of numerical identity (not the 'is' of non-identical constitution); the 'we' is intended to pick out you, me, others of our kind; and 'human animals' is meant to refer to biological organisms of the Homo Sapiens species” (Blatti, 685).

Blatti provides a modernized argument for this view with what he calls the “Animal Ancestors Argument.” In short, Blatti offers a reductio, beginning by assuming that animalism is false.  He contends that denying animalism entails denying that your parents, grandparents, and ancestors back through the ages were animals.  And this entails that, as none of your ancestors were animals, evolutionary theory is false.  Blatti concludes that rejecting evolution is “too high a price to pay,” and therefore we should reject the assumption that animalism is false. 

Blatti considers and rebuts the objection that while one might have ancestors that were animals, we've evolved to be more than animals (i.e. evolution can be compatible with the rejection of animalism); he also considers and rebuts an objection that takes issue numerical identity mentioned in the definition of animalism given above. 

The difficulty I'm having with this topic is finding objections to respond to that Blatti hasn't already considered.  His position seems pretty strong to me, but also seems sturdy, so far.  Does anyone have any thoughts?


Blatti's article, “A new argument for animalism” can be found here: http://www.academia.edu/1472039/A_New_Argument_for_Animalism

4 comments:

Stoehr said...

What if we are willing to give up evolutionary theory? There are certainly individuals who believe in creationism and our descent from Adam and Eve, as opposed to our evolution from less complex organisms. Does Blatti provide a response to this? It might be an interesting avenue to entertain.

Annalee Galston said...

Blatti needs to clarify what is meant by we've evolved to be more than animals". Obviously animals and humans are both animals in a biological sense. So are our actions, choices, will more evolved than other animals? If so, how do we know? Is it because of our perceptions or something else?

Andrea Manthei said...

i think this is an interesting issue. I tended to side with the constitutionalist. but in the end, leaned more toward the animalist side.
Can't humans be a variety of animals, just more evolved? What puts us aside from animals then would be rational capacity and our ability to make rational decisions. But if that is what makes us different from animals, then what about those that are mentally ill, who cannot make rational decisions or have rational thoughts? Wouldnt this then make them not human beings? How does the author distinguish the two?

Also, in his reply to the evolving person's objection, he says "natural selection produces new varieties of organisms, but does not produce non-organisms." I dont think this adds to his argument because humans are organisms still. It doesnt help show that humans are animals.

And to say that "denying evolution is too high a price to pay" almost seems to beg the question or some other type of fallacy. "We are animals and evolution is true" are the two horns of that argument. Its unsatisfying to me to say its "too much of a price to pay to deny it" because it sounds like it has to be an intrinsic truth, but there's still debate about it.

Caitlin C said...


I agree with Annalee saying that Blatti needs to clarify what he means by people have evolved to more than animals. That statement immediately made me think of aliens or robots. It is incredibly frustrating in philosophy to have to deal with defining every day terms and clarifying exactly what is attempting to be said, but sometimes it just needs to be done. I think that it is pretty obvious that we are animals, but we are more evolved so that we should be (and are mostly) held responsible for our actions. Do people tend to disagree with this?