The Southern Journal of Philosophy has just published an annual Spindel Supplement on animalism and a new theory of personal identity. The problem of personal identity is one of the most bewitching puzzles in all of philosophy. Consider how much each of us changes during our lifetimes. In so many ways—biologically, psychologically, socially, physically—you are today very different from the person you were last year or twenty years ago or on the day of your birth. And yet just one person has persisted through these changes. The first facet of the problem of personal identity focuses our attention on this question: what exactly are the conditions under which beings like you and me persist through time and change?
Until quite recently, most philosophers subscribed to the answers to these questions advocated by the seventeenth-century British philosopher, John Locke. Locke held that our fundamental nature is given by our status as self-conscious, rational agents (“persons”) and that the conditions under which we persist through time and change are thus to be accounted for in terms of psychological continuity. Central to this view is a sharp distinction between the person and her animal body.
But today’s Lockeans face a powerful new challenge to the distinction underlying their core commitments. According to the view known as animalism, there is no distinction to be drawn between human persons and their animal bodies. You do not “have” a body in the sense that you are one thing and the animal located where you are is something else. Rather, on this view, human persons just are their animal bodies: the primate located where you are is you.
Though Aristotelian in spirit, animalism is a relative latecomer to the debate over personal identity, having been articulated and defended only within the past twenty-five years or so. During these first two and a half decades of work, advocates of the view sought mainly to specify and defend its central claims and to understand its relation to the Lockean opposition. While highly important work along these lines continues to be done, a second, overlapping wave of work on animalism seems now to be emerging. This new wave is beginning to broaden animalism’s import beyond metaphysics and philosophy of mind into a diverse array of fields and topics, including ethics, philosophy of language, conjoined twinning, epistemology, evolutionary theory, philosophy of religion, death, and so on.
The guiding aim of the thirty-second annual Spindel Conference on “The Lives of Human Animals” (University of Memphis, September 26–28, 2013) was to spotlight and facilitate this second wave of work by providing a forum in which metaphysicians and philosophers of mind working on animalism were brought together with philosophers who are presently engaged in pertinent debates in other areas of philosophy. The Spendel conference and supplementary issue were organized by Stephen Blatti, former SJP editor and associate professor of philosophy at the University of Memphis.
Read the full issue here!