My living body will become a dead body; I will never become a dead body; therefore, I am not identical to a living body.
It seems to me that if "becoming" means the same thing in both the first and the second premises, then one must say that both Bill and his living body will become a dead body, or that neither will. It seems that where a living body used to be, a dead body will begin to be. So also, it seems that where Bill used to be, a dead body will begin to be.
I don't see that the reader has refuted the argument. Yes, 'becomes' means the same in both premises.
Now the first premise is true: It is clear that one day my living body will undergo a radical change and become a dead body: the same body that today is alive will on a future date no longer have the property of being alive but will instead have the property of being dead. (I am assuming some 'normal' way of dying, as opposed to being instantaneously annihilated in a nuclear blast. More on this in a moment.) This is an alterational change: one and the same body will exist at different times in different states, first alive, then dead. So it is not the case, as the reader claims, that "where a living body used to be, a dead body will begin to be." That would be an existential change, not an alterational one. It is not the case that a dead body will begin to be; one and the same body will go from being alive to being dead.
The second premise is also true. When my body dies, I will cease to exist; but when my body dies it won't cease to exist: it will continue to exist for a while as a corpse. This is an existential change in me, not an alterational change: I will cease to exist. It is not the case that I will change in respect of the property of being alive.
Therefore, I cannot be identical to my living body. 'Will no longer exist' is true of me, but not true of my body.
"But what if you are annihilated in an explosion so that there is no corpse?" At this point the argument takes a modal turn. Even if my body does not continue to exist after I cease to exist, it could; but it is not possible that I continue to exist after I cease to exist. So again we have a difference in properties and non-identity.
I have been assuming mortalism, the doctrine that I cease to exist when my body dies. If mortalism is false, and I exist even after the death of my body, then a fortiori I am not identical to my living body.
In his latest and last book, Mortality, Christopher Hitchens writes, "I don't have a body, I am a body." (86) He goes on to observe that he has "consciously and regularly acted as if this was [sic] not true." It is a curious fact that mortalists are among the worst abusers of the fleshly vehicle. But that is not my theme.
Is a person just his body? The meditation is best conducted in the first person: Am I just my body? Am I identical to my body? Am I one and the same with my body, where body includes brain? Am I such that, whatever is true of my body is true of me, and vice versa? Let's start with some 'Moorean facts,' some undeniable platitudes.
1. I am not now identical to a dead body, a corpse. There is, no doubt, a dead body in my future, one with my name on it. But that lifeless object won't be me. I will never become a corpse. I will never be buried or cremated. I am not now and never will be identical to a dead body. For when the corpse with my name on it comes to exist, I will have ceased to exist; and when I cease to exist, it will still exist. This property difference via the Indiscernibility of Identicals entails the non-identity of me and 'my' corpse.
'My' corpse is the corpse that will come into existence when I cease to exist, or, if mortalism is false, when I am separated from my body. Strictly speaking, no corpse is my corpse: hence the scare quotes around 'my.' But I can speak strictly of my body: my body is the body that is either identical to me, or is related to me in some 'looser' way.
2. I am obviously not identical to a dead body. And I have just argued that I will never become identical to a dead body. Am I then identical to a living body? Not if the following syllogism is sound: My living body will become a dead body; I will never become a dead body; therefore, I am not identical to a living body.
This argument assumes that if x = y, then whatever is true of x is true of y, and vice versa. Little is self-evident, but surely this principle is self-evident. There is something true of my living body that is not true of me, namely 'will become a dead body.' Therefore, I am not identical to a living body. And since the only living body I could be identical to if I were identical to a living body would be my living body, I am not identical to my living body. Of course, I have a living body in some to-be-explored sense of 'have'; the point is that I am not identical to it.
3. Consider now the following rather more plausible identity claim: I am (identically) a self-conscious animal. Let's unpack this. I am a living human animal that says 'I' and means it; I am a thinker of I-thoughts, an example of which is the thought *I am just a self-conscious animal.* I am self-aware: aware of myself as an object, both as a physical object, a body, through the five outer senses, and as psychological object, a mind, through inner sense or introspection. Both my body and my mind are objects for me as subject. As such a self-aware animal, I am aware of being different from my body. In some sense I must be different from my body (and my mind) if they are my objects. 'My objects' means 'objects for me as subject.'
Now if you were paying attention you noticed that I made an inferential move the validity of which demands scrutiny. I moved from
a. I am aware of being different from my body
b. I am different from my body.
The materialist is bound to resist this inference. He will ask how we know that the awareness mentioned in (a) is veridical. Only if it is, is the inference valid. He will suggest that it is possible that I have an non-veridical, an illusory, awareness of being different from my body. I can't credit that suggestion, however. It cannot be an illusion that I am different from anything I take as object of awareness including my brain or any part of my brain. That is a primary and indubitable givenness. Awareness is by its very nature awareness of something: it implies a difference between that which is aware, the subject of awareness, and the object of awareness. Without that difference there could be no awareness of anything. If the self-aware subject were identical to that object which is its animal body, then the subject would not be aware of the body.
4. Will you say that the body is aware of itself? Then I will ask you which part of the body is the subject of awareness. Is it the brain, or a proper part of the brain? When I am aware of my weight or the cut on my arm, is it the brain or some proper part of the brain that is aware of these things? This makes no sense. My brain is no more the subject of awareness than my glasses are. My glasses don't see the wound; I see the wound by the instrumentality of the glasses. Similarly, my brain doesn't see the wound; I see the wound by the instrumentality of the brain (and the visual cortex, and the optic nerves, and the glasses, etc.) The fact that my visual awareness is causally dependent on my having a functioning brain does not show that my brain or any part of it is the subject of awareness. I am not identical to my brain or to any bodily thing.
5. Who or what asks the question: Am I identical to this body here? Does the body ask this question? Some proper part of the body such as the brain? Some proper part of this proper part? How could anything physical ask a question?
"Look, there are are certain physical objects that ask themselves whether they are identical to the physical objects they are, and entertain the (illusory) thought that they might not be identical to the physical objects they are."
This little materialist speech is absurd by my lights since no physical object -- as we are given to understand 'physical object' by physics -- could do such a thing. If you insist that some physical objects can, then you have inflated 'physical' so that it no longer contrasts with 'mental.'
So with all due respect to the late Mr Hitchens, brilliant talker about ideas whose depth he never plumbed, I think there are very good reasons to deny that one is identically one's body.
Further questions: If I am not identical to any physical thing, can it be inferred that I am identical to some spiritual thing? If I am not identical to my body or any part thereof, do I then have a body, and what exactly does that mean?
In other posts I have sketched the Buddhist doctrine of 'No Self.' I now consider an early Buddhist argument for it. Here are the words of Buddha according to the Anattalakkhana Sutta, his second discourse, the Sermon on the Mark of Not-Self:
The body [rupa], monks, is not self. If the body were the self, this body would not lend itself to dis-ease. It would be possible (to say) with regard to the body, 'Let my body be thus. Let my body be not thus.' But precisely because the body is not self, the body lends itself to dis-ease. And it is not possible (to say) with regard to the body, 'Let my body be thus. Let my body not be thus.'
Buddha then goes on to argue similarly with respect to the rest of the five aggregates or categories of personality-constituents (khandhas, Sanskrit: skandhas), namely, feeling (vedana), perception (sanna), consciousness (vinnana), and mental formations (sankharas). All are claimed to be not-self. Thus we are told that feeling afflicts us and is not amenable to our control, whence it is inferred that feeling is not one's self, not one's own inner substance. The tacit premise of this enthymematic argument is that one's self would have to be something over which one would have complete control. The tacit premise is that the self is something wholly active and spontaneous and self-regulating. And it is clear that something wholly active will not suffer: to suffer is precisely to be afflicted by something external over which one has no control. To suffer is to be passive. An agent in excelsis is an impassible agent. (In the West, impassibility became one of the divine attributes.)
After arguing that each of the personality-constituents is outside of our control and brings suffering, Buddha argues that each of the constituents is impermanent and for this reason as well is lacking in self-nature. The over-all argument of the Anattalakkhana Sutta may therefore be reconstructed in a generalized form as follows:
1. If anything were the self, then it would have two properties: it would not be liable to disease, decay, destruction or change generally, and it would be self-determining, i.e., it would have complete control over itself. 2. But nothing in our experience has either of these two properties, not the body, or feeling, or perception, or consciousness, etc. Therefore 3. Nothing in our experience can be identified as the self.
I have structured the argument so that it is not only valid in point of logical form, but also has plausible premises. (A charitable reconstruction can aim at nothing less.) Thus the addition of 'in our experience' in premise (2) makes this premise more plausible than without the addition. But this gain in plausibility exacts a price: the conclusion (3) cannot then amount to the unrestricted anatta doctrine according to which nothing at all is a self or has self-nature. It is one thing to say that nothing in our experience can be identified (veridically) as a self, and quite another to say that there is no self.
The Pali Buddhist, of course, wants to arrive at the conclusion that there is no self at all, that nothing at all has self-nature. I would insist, however, that one cannot validly move directly from (3) to
4. Nothing can be identified as the self: there is no self at all.
For it may well be that the existence of a (transcendental) self that is not experienced is a necessary condition of establishing that whatever is experienced is not a self. After all, if I come to see that my body, feelings, perceptions, and so on cannot be identified as my very self, then it is presumably I myself who come to this insight. If I come to reject body-identification, feeling- identification, etc. as false self-identifications, then presumably there must be at least the possibility of a true self-identification, even if only of the tautological form, 'I am I.' If every self-identification were false, then 'I am I' would be false. But that is either a contradiction, or implies that there is nothing that body, feelings, etc. are distinct from, which is again incoherent. For if 'I am not this body' is true, then in some sense I must exist as that from which my body is distinct. The first-person singular pronoun cannot be wholly referenceless if it is to be true, as it is true, that I am not my body, my feelings, my thoughts, the pain in my neck, etc.
Furthermore, if anyone needs and desires liberation, it is presumably in every case I myself who needs and desires it, and I myself who, if all goes well, achieves it, and indeed achieves it on the basis of my own insight into my non-identity with any of the five khandhas or with the psychophysical complex composed of them. The self who needs, desires, and possibly attains liberation is obviously distinct from each of the khandhas and from the psychophysical complex. My body, obviously enough, cannot come to realize its non-identity with itself, for the simple reason that it is not distinct from itself. The same holds for each of the khandhas, and for the lot of them taken together.
And to suppose that no one desires, needs, or attains liberation would appear to make hash of the whole Buddhist system of soteriology. Buddhism is an existentialist system in roughly Kierkegaard's sense: it is the salvation of the "existing individual" that is the unum necessarium and sole desideratum. It is therefore arguable that the existence of a transcendental self is a cognitive and soteriological presupposition: it is presupposed if there is to be the insight that no object of experience is veridically identifiable as one's very self, and it is presupposed if there is to be something that is saved from the samsaric predicament.
The gist of the control argument is this. There is no evidence of a self since nothing with which we are acquainted is immutable, and nothing with which we are acquainted is something over which we have complete control.
But this raises an obvious question: Isn't the standard for selfhood being set unattainably high? The argument isd tantamount tosaying that if I am not God or a god, then I am not a self. Arguably, God to be God must be impassible; but must a self to be a self be impassible?
For a richer and more rigorous development of this theme, see W. F. Vallicella, "No Self? A Look at a Buddhist Argument," International Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 42, no. 4 (December 2002), pp. 453-466
A friend refers me to a rather poor article, "The Dalai Lama, the Pope, and Creation," in which the dubious claims of the Dalai Lama are ineptly rebutted by a Catholic journalist. We read:
Beyond the complex world of nature, Buddhism asserts a fundamental “nothingness.” Buddhist thought sees as illusory all distinction between beings. As the Dalai Lama writes in The Universe in a Single Atom, “According to the theory of emptiness, any belief in an objective reality grounded in the assumption of intrinsic, independent existence is untenable. All things and events, whether material, mental or even abstract concepts like time, are devoid of objective, independent existence.”
This is one of the central pillars of Buddhism, the doctrine of anatta (Pali), anatman (Sanskrit), 'no self.' The idea is that nothing, or at least nothing in the realm of samsara, has self-nature, substantiality, own-being, ontological independence, even relative ontological independence. And that includes persons (selves). You and I are not independent existents. The distinction between us is illusory. From the point of view of Christian metaphysics, this cannot be right. God is an uncreated self, and we are created selves. Although we depend for our existence on God, this fact is thought to be compatible with our genuine (though dependent) existence as self-same individuals numerically distinct from other such individuals.
It is not enough to pit worldviews against one another. You have to get down to the nitty-gritty of trying to resolve the dispute by careful analysis and argument. There is no reason to be sanguine about the success of such an enterprise, but you are no philosopher if you do not make the attempt.
I will now argue against the anatta doctrine by arguing that the conscious self cannot be a Heraclitean flux of instantaneous entities but must be an individual that remains self-same through the flux of its conscious states.
Suppose my mental state passes from one that is pleasurable to one that is painful. Observing a beautiful Arizona sunset, my reverie is suddenly broken by the piercing noise of a smoke detector. Not only is the painful state painful, the transition from the pleasurable state to the painful one is itself painful. The fact that the transition is painful shows that it is directly perceived. It is not as if there is merely a succession of consciousnesses (conscious states); there is in addition a consciousness of their succession. For there is a consciousness of the transition from the pleasant state to the painful state, a consciousness that embraces both of the states, and so cannot be reductively analyzed into them. But a consciousness of their succession is a consciousness of their succession in one subject, in one unity of consciousness. It is a consciousness of the numerical identity of the self through the transition from the pleasurable state to the painful one. Passing from a pleasurable state to a painful one, there is not only an awareness of a pleasant state followed by an awareness of a painful one, but also an awareness that the one who was in a pleasurable state is strictly and numerically the same as the one who is now in a painful state. This sameness is phenomenologically given, although our access to this phenomenon is easily blocked by inappropriate models taken from the physical world. Without the consciousness of sameness, there would be no consciousness of transition.
What this argument shows is that the self cannot be a mere diachronic bundle or collection of states. The self is a transtemporal unity distinct from its states whether these are taken distributively or collectively.
Another example is provided by the hearing of a melody. To hear the melody Do-Re-Mi, it does not suffice that there be a hearing of Do, followed by a hearing of Re, followed by a hearing of Mi. For those three acts of hearing could occur in that sequence in three distinct subjects, in which case they would not add up to the hearing of a melody. (Tom, Dick, and Harry can divide up the task of loading a truck, but not the ‘task’ of hearing a melody, or that of understanding a sentence.) But now suppose the acts of hearing occur in the same subject, but that this subject is not a unitary and self-same individual but just the bundle of these three acts, call them A1, A2, and A3. When A1 ceases, A2 begins, and when A2 ceases, A3 begins: they do not overlap. In which act is the hearing of the melody? A3 is the only likely candidate, but surely it cannot be a hearing of the melody.
For the awareness of a melody involves the awareness of the (musical not temporal) intervals between the notes, and to apprehend these intervals there must be a retention (to use Husserl’s term) in the present act A3 of the past acts A2 and A1. Without this phenomenological presence of the past acts in the present act, there would be no awareness in the present of the melody. But this implies that the self cannot be a mere bundle of perceptions externally related to each other, but must be a peculiarly intimate unity of perceptions in which the present perception A3 includes the immediately past ones A2 and A1 as temporally past but also as phenomenologically present in the mode of retention. The fact that we hear melodies thus shows that there must be a self-same and unitary self through the period of time between the onset of the melody and its completion. This unitary self is neither identical to the sum or collection of A1, A2, and A3, nor is it identical to something wholly distinct from them. Nor of course is it identical to any one of them or any two of them. This unitary self is given whenever one hears a melody.
Now consider a synchronic example, the hearing of a chord. Hearing the major chord C-E-G, I hear that it is major, and hearing the minor chord C-E flat-G, I hear that it is minor. How is this possible? The hearing of the major chord cannot be analyzed without remainder into an act of hearing C, an act of hearing E, and an act of hearing G, even when all occur simultaneously. For to hear the three notes as a major chord, I must apprehend the 1-3-5 musical interval that they instantiate. But this is possible only because the whole of my present consciousness is more than the sum of its parts. This whole is no doubt made up of the part-consciousnesses, but it is not exhausted by them. For it is also a consciousness of the relatedness of the notes. But this consciousness of relatedness is not something in addition to the other acts of consciousness: it includes them and embraces them without being reducible to them. Once again the unitary self is given: it is given whenever we hear a chord.
There is also this consideration. Phenomenologically, mental change is not existential change, but alterational change, or in a word, alteration. Existential change, as when something comes into being or passes away, is not a change in something, or at least it is not a change in the thing that suffers the change: a thing that ceases to exist is no longer available to be that in which this change occurs, and a thing that comes to exist is not available prior to its coming to exist to be that in which this change occurs. We express this by saying that there is no substratum of existential change. Alteration, however, requires a substratum: alteration occurs when numerically one and the same individual is in different states at different times.
Pali Buddhism, with its interconnected doctrines of radical impermanence and universal selflessness, implies that that ultimately there is no alteration, that all change is existential change. For alteration requires substrata of alteration, and substrata are incompatible with anatta. But if mental change were existential change, there could be no consciousness of it. If the pleasant visual sensation simply passes out of existence to be replaced by the painful auditory sensation, then there is a change all right – a change in the way things are – but not a change of which there could be any consciousness in the one in whom the change occurs. Furthermore, there would be no awareness of dukkha – the starting point of Buddhist soteriology – because there would be no possibility of a perceived contrast of the dukkha-state with the earlier sukha-state (the pleasant awareness of the sunset).
To be aware of the change from the pleasurable state to the painful one, I must endure through the change. Therefore, since there is consciousness of mental change, mental change is alteration and thus requires a substratum that is numerically identical across the change. The point was appreciated by Kant, who wrote that “A coming to be or a ceasing to be . . . can never be a possible [object of] perception.” (CPR A 188 = B 231)
What this shows is that there is direct awareness of the self as that in which the two distinct states are united. The fact of experienced mental change refutes the anatta doctrine. There is not just an awareness of one state followed by an awareness of a second; I am aware of myself as the transtemporal unity of the two states. Unity, of course, is not identity: so talk of the unity of the pleasurable and painful states is consistent with their numerical distinctness. The self, therefore, is directly given in the experience of mental change; but it is of course not given as a separate object wholly distinct from its states. It is given in and through these states as their transtemporal unity. The self is not one of its states, nor the sum of all of them, nor something wholly distinct from all of them; the self is their self-unifying unity. Thus one must not think of the substratum of mental change as wholly distinct from its states. It is not like a pin cushion into which pins are stuck. A pin cushion without pins is conceivable; a self without conscious states is not. The self is not an unconscious something that supports consciousness; it itself has the nature of consciousness. Consciousness/self-consciousness is a sui generis reality that cannot be understood in terms of crude models from the physical world.
To what extent is it a sign of self-importance that one regularly draws attention to one's own insignificance? I am thinking of Simone Weil. In self-effacement the ego may find a way to assert itself. "Do you see how pure and penetrating is my love of truth that I am able to realize and admit my own personal nothingness face to face with Truth?"
The ego, wily 'structure' that it is, usually (always?) finds a way to affirm itself.
0. Am I identical to my (living) body, or to the objectively specifiable person who rejoices under the name 'BV'? Earlier I resoundingly denied this identity, in (rare) agreement with London Ed, but admitted that argument is needed. This post begins the argument. We start with the problem of first-person identity sentences.
1. 'I am I' and 'BV is BV' are logical truths. They have the logical form a = a. They are not particularly puzzling. But 'I am BV' presents a puzzle, one reminiscent of Frege's puzzle concerning informative identity statements. 'I am BV' is not true as a matter of logic, any more than it is true as a matter of logic that the morning star is the evening star. And yet it is presumably true that I am BV where 'am' expresses strict numerical identity. It is not as if 'I' and 'BV' refer to two different entities. Or at least this is not a view we ought to begin by assuming. The proper procedure is to see if we can make sense of 'I am BV' construed as an identity statement. Dualism comes later if it comes at all.
2. Here is a theory. When I say 'I am BV' I am referring to one and the same thing in two different ways, just as, when I say 'The morning star is the evening star' I am referring to one and the same thing (the planet Venus) in two different ways. Expressions have sense and they have reference. Difference of sense is compatible with sameness of reference. The difference in sense of 'morning star' and 'evening star' explains why the identity statement composed of them is informative; the sameness of reference explains the identity statement's truth.
In Frege's famous example, the common referent is the planet Venus. What is the common referent of 'I' and 'BV'? Presumably the common referent is the publicly identifiable person BV. But when BV designates himself by means of the thought or utterance of 'I, he designates BV under the aspect, or via the sense, expressed by 'I,' a semantically irreducible sense that cannot be captured by any expression not containing 'I.'
Here then we seem to have a solution to our problem. In general, one can refer to the same thing in different ways, via different modes of presentation (Darstellungsweisen, in Frege's German). So apply that to the special case of the self. What I refer to when I say 'I' is the same entity that I refer to when I say 'BV' and the same entity that Peter refers to when he says 'BV.' It is just that I refer to the same thing in different ways, a first-person way and third-person way. There is no need to suppose that 'I and 'BV' have numerically distinct referents. There is no need to deny the numerical identity of me and BV. Unfortunately, this Fregean solution is a pseudo-solution. I have two arguments. I'll give one today.
3. Consider the sentence 'I am this body here' uttered by the speaker while pointing to his body. If, in this sentence, 'I' refers to this body here (the body of the speaker), albeit via a Fregean sense distinct from that of 'this body here,' then the sense of 'I,' whatever it might be, must be the sense of a physical thing inasmuch as it must be the mode of presentation of a physical thing. Note that the 'of' in the italicized phrases is a genitivus objectivus. Somehow this 'I'-sense must determine a reference to a physical thing, this body here. But that it is the sense of a physical thing is no part of the sense of 'I.' We understand fully the sense of this term without understanding it to be the sense of a physical thing, a sense that presents or mediates reference to a physical thing. Indeed, considerations adduced by Anscombe and Castaneda show that the 'I'-sense cannot be the sense of a physical thing. For if the sense of 'I' cannot be captured by 'this body here,' then a fortiori it cannot be captured by any other expression designating a physical thing.
The analogy with the morning star/evening star case breaks down. One cannot use 'morning star' and 'evening star' with understanding unless one understands that they refer to physical things, if they refer at all. It is understood a priori that these terms designate physical things if they designate at all; the only question is whether they designate the same physical thing. But one can use the first-person singular pronoun with understanding without knowing whether or not it refers to a physical thing.
In other words, there is nothing in the sense of 'I' to exclude the possibility that it refer to a nonphysical thing, a res cogitans, for example. Descartes' use of 'ego' to refer to a thinking substance did not violate the semantic rules for the use of this term. What's more, if 'I' is a referring term and refers via a Fregean sense, then that sense cannot be the sense of a physical thing.
So that's my first argument against the Fregean approach to the problem of first-person identity sentences. The argument rests on the assumption that 'I' is a referring term. That assumption has been denied by Wittgenstein, and more rigorously, by Anscombe. That denial deserves a separate post. And in that post we ought to rehearse the reasons why 'I' cannot be replaced salva significatione by any such word or phase as 'the person who is now speaking.'