Process Animalism

PI: Stephan Blatti

The problem of personal identity is one of the most bewitching puzzles in all of philosophy. Until relatively recently, most philosophers subscribed to an approach to this problem first advanced by John Locke (1632–1704). 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. A new approach known as "animalism" opposes this tradition, insisting that our fundamental nature is given not by our psychological capacities, but by our biological constitution. On this view, each of us is identical with an organism of the primate species Homo sapiens, and like all organisms, we persist through time and change just in case we continue living. Despite the naturalistic orientation of this approach, philosophers and scientists have never jointly attended to animalism's prospects. The present project corrects this oversight by investigating the import of current research in theoretical biology and cognitive psychology for further development of the animalist view. Specifically, I bring to bear work in cognitive ethology, evolutionary biology, and comparative psychology in defending a distinctive form of animalism called "process animalism." On this view, an empirically grounded, naturalistic understanding of life commends us to formulate animalism outside the traditional substance ontology and within an ontology of events and processes instead. Organisms in general and human animals in particular are best understood not as substances that persist despite undergoing the metabolic influx and expulsion of the physical particles that make up our bodies, but as dynamic processes whose continuation consists in such turnover and whose conclusion just is our death.

Selected Publications:

  • Stephan Blatti, "A New Argument for Animalism," Analysis (forthcoming, 2012).
  • Stephan Blatti, "The Dying Animal," in Essays on Animalism: Persons, Animals, and Identity, eds. Stephan Blatti and Paul Snowdon (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).
  • Stephan Blatti, "Animalism, Dicephalus, and Borderline Cases," Philosophical Psychology 20 (2007): 595-608.