First Contact (2)

So (I was asking, here)--when do we make first contact with our children? Did they exist way back when they were developing in the womb, or do they come into existence only once they are conscious selves or full persons? I'm not quite at the "full conviction" stage yet, but I'm finding Eric Olson very persuasive. His book The Human Animal: Personal Identity without Psychology is a thing of loveliness--clear, novel, interesting, and ever so subtly funny.  (I even like the dedication: "to unemployed philosophers"!) A short version of the core argument is here, and there's a very interesting and amusing interview with Olson here.

Obviously something very important happens when a fetus starts to have conscious feelings--probably some time between 20 and 30 weeks.  Another important milestone is when an infant or child starts to have the capacities we associate with personhood--self-awareness, rationality, and the like.   It's only at that point that a being exists who can remember its past experiences and/or in other ways maintain a continuous mental life.  The dominant view of personal identity, the psychological view, says that something even more monumental happens as these important mental powers set in: a whole new entity comes into existence.  Before one of these crucial mental milestones, only an organism existed, but not my son, not my daughter.

No doubt it makes good sense that we see these milestones as extremely significant, but should we really think of them as ontologically significant--i.e. as moments when something new pops into existence?  Olson says no.  Each of us is an organism, an animal, and we start to exist soon after conception.  More on all of that when I've finished his book ....

And now for something new.  I'm visiting the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, Texas today. Perhaps I'll come back with something to say about it.

1 comment:

faust said...

"When someone lapses into a persistent vegetative state, his friends and
relatives may conclude that his life no longer has any value. They may even conclude
that he has ceased to exist as a person. But they don't ordinarily suppose that their loved
one no longer exists at all
, and that the living organism on the hospital bed is something
numerically different from him--even when they come to believe that there is no mental
continuity between the vegetable and the person."

They may not suppose their loved one no longer exists at all, but that is because they are confused.