“The Human Condition,” by Thomas Whitaker/Prison Arts Coalition
THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION is a five-part, four-book series, including:
PART 1: Preface and General Introduction
PART 2: Cognition, Content, and the A Priori: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge
PART 3: Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics
PART 4: Kantian Ethics and Human Existence: A Study in Moral Philosophy
PART 5: Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise
Its author is ROBERT HANNA:
THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, PART 1
PREFACE AND GENERAL INTRODUCTION
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, PART 2
COGNITION, CONTENT, AND THE A PRIORI: A STUDY IN THE PHILOSOPHY OF MIND AND KNOWLEDGE
THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, PART 3
DEEP FREEDOM AND REAL PERSONS: A STUDY IN METAPHYSICS
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A Note on References
1. Introduction: Freedom, Life, and Persons’ Lives
2. Beyond Mechanism: The Dynamics of Life
3. From Biology to Agency
4. Neither/Nor: The Negative Case for Natural Libertarianism
5. Either/Or: Deep Freedom and Principled Authenticity
6. Minded Animalism I: What Real Persons Really Are
6.3 Necessary and Sufficient Conditions for Real Personhood
7. Minded Animalism II: From Parfit to Real Personal Identity
7.1 Parfit’s Theory: Six Basic Claims
7.2 Against and Beyond Parfit 1: Two Reasons, and The Minded Animalist Criterion of Personal Identity
7.3 Against and Beyond Parfit 2: Four More Reasons
In the fullness of time, the complete, downloadable text of each part of THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION will also be made available on APP.
A NOTE ON REFERENCES
For convenience, throughout the five-part four book series, The Rational Human Condition—comprising 1. the Preface and General Introduction, 2. Cognition, Content, and the A Priori, 3. Deep Freedom and Real Persons, 4. Kantian Ethics and Human Existence, and 5. Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism—I refer to Kant’s works infratextually in parentheses. The citations include both an abbreviation of the English title and the corresponding volume and page numbers in the standard “Akademie” edition of Kant’s works: Kants gesammelte Schriften, edited by the Königlich Preussischen (now Deutschen) Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin: G. Reimer [now de Gruyter], 1902-). I generally follow the standard English translations, but have occasionally modified them where appropriate. For references to the first Critique, I follow the common practice of giving page numbers from the A (1781) and B (1787) German editions only. Here is a list of the relevant abbreviations and English translations:
BL “The Blomberg Logic.” In Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Logic. Trans. J.M. Young. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. Pp. 5-246.
C Immanuel Kant: Correspondence, 1759-99. Trans. A. Zweig. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999.
CPJ Critique of the Power of Judgment. Trans. P. Guyer and E. Matthews. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000.
CPR Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. P. Guyer and A. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997.
CPrR Critique of Practical Reason. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996. Pp. 139-271.
DiS “Concerning the Ultimate Ground of the Differentiation of Directions in Space.” Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy: 1755-1770. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. Pp. 365-372.
DSS “Dreams of a Spirit-Seer Elucidated by Dreams of Metaphysics.” Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy: 1755-1770. Pp. 301-359.
EAT “The End of All Things.” Trans. A. Wood and G. Di Giovanni. In Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996. Pp. 221-231.
GMM Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 43-108.
ID “On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World (Inaugural Dissertation).” Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy: 1755-1770. Pp. 373-416.
IUH “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Aim.” Trans. A. Wood. In Immanuel Kant: Anthropology, History, and Eduction. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007. Pp. 107-120.
JL “The Jäsche Logic.” Trans. J.M. Young. In Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Logic. Pp. 519-640.
LE Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Ethics. Trans. P. Heath. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997.
MFNS Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. Trans. M. Friedman. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.
MM Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 365-603.
OP Immanuel Kant: Opus postumum. Trans. E. Förster and M. Rosen. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993.
OT “What Does It Mean to Orient Oneself in Thinking?” Trans. A. Wood. In Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology. Pp. 7-18.
Prol Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Trans. G. Hatfield. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.
PP “Toward Perpetual Peace.” Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 317-351.
Rel Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. Trans. A. Wood and G. Di Giovanni. In Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology. Pp. 57-215.
RTL “On a Supposed Right to Lie from Philanthropy.” Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 611-615.
VL “The Vienna Logic,” Trans. J.M. Young. In Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Logic. Pp. 251-377.
WE “An Answer to the Question: ‘What is Enlightenment?’” Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 17-22.
THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, PART 3
DEEP FREEDOM AND REAL PERSONS: A STUDY IN METAPHYSICS
CHAPTER 6 Minded Animalism I: What Real Persons Really Are
Section 6.3 Necessary and Sufficient Conditions for Real Personhood
This brings me to the explicit real-metaphysical analysis of the concept and fact of a real person. As I have already said, according to Minded Animalism, every real person is also an individual S-type animal (but not conversely), and every individual S-type animal is also an S-type living organism (but not conversely). Therefore, being a living S-type organism that is an individual S-type animal is a necessary although not a sufficient condition of real personhood. The rest of my real-metaphysical analysis substantively borrows from two different sources:
(i) Harry Frankfurt’s hierarchical-desire theory of persons, and
(ii) Kant’s rationality-based theory of persons.
As I just indicated, and perhaps at first unintuitively, Frankfurt’s theory of persons is based on the notion of an hierarchically-structured set of desires. The fundamental connection here is that for Frankfurt, a person is essentially identified with the constitution of her will, which in turn is a set of desires immanently structured by the capacities for rationality and free agency, and inherently governed by the norm of “decisive identification with effective first-order desires,” that is, by the norm of authenticity or wholeheartedness. In a nutshell, that is my view of real persons too, although with an explicitly 2D conception of rational normativity; and with a more explicitly and robustly Kantian twist, or rather, set of twists; and also with my mereological conception of a personal identity-relation operating over whole lives and proper parts of those lives. Freedom and moral responsibility on my account are deep freedom and deep (non-)moral responsibility, and deep freedom is locally incompatibilistic, whereas Frankfurt’s account is explicitly friendly to classical Compatibilism/Soft Determinism. Moreover, the guiding norm of real personhood, according to my account, is the High-Bar categorical norm of principled authenticity, whereas Frankfurt’s account is not explicitly committed either to categorical (as opposed to merely instrumental) norms of agency and personhood or to overriding-reasons-providing moral principles in the Kantian sense.
Even so, modulo the differences I’ve highlighted, I do think that the full sweep of Frankfurt’s work, especially including the essays included in The Importance of What We Care About, published in 1988, and also his later 2004 book, The Reasons of Love, is largely consistent with and theoretically friendly to my commitments to categorical norms of agency and personhood, and also to my commitments to overriding-reasons-providing moral principles in the Kantian sense: so that is the working assumption I will make as I press forward.
But let me now explore some further specific Frankfurtian details, because they are fundamentally important for my account of real persons. As I mentioned in section 3.2, on my view a desire is a felt need for something, or a conscious going-for something. This is as opposed to an actual need for something—obviously not all felt needs are actual needs—and also as opposed to a mere pro-attitude towards something, a mere preference for something, or a mere wish for something. Frankfurt himself defines the notion of a desire somewhat more broadly, so as to include all pro-attitudes, preferences, and wishes; but in the present context, it is convenient to use my narrower and more conative notion of a desire. Desires in this sense are essentially equivalent with active, committed wants. So to desire X is actively and committedly to want X; and to desire to X is actively and committedly to want to X.
According to Frankfurt, some animals have not only what he calls first-order desires, which are ordinary direct desires for things, events, or real persons (e.g., the infant wanting her mother), but also effective first-order desires. Effective first-order desires are desires that move (or will move, or would move) the minded animal all the way to action. An effective first-order desire is the same as a minded animal’s will or first-order volition. First-order desires may or may not be accompanied by second-order desires: to want (not) to want X, or to want (not) to want to X. If so, then some of the second-order desires may be directed to the determination of precisely which first-order desire is to be the effective first-order desire, that is, the minded animal’s will and first-order volition; and such desires are second-order volitions.
According to Frankfurt, whatever the order-level of desires or volitions, they can be either conscious or non-conscious. For the purposes of my discussion, however, I will concentrate exclusively on conscious desires and volitions. This is, in part, because I think that there is no such thing as a mental state, whether dispositional or occurrent, that is strictly non-conscious and not to some non-trivial degree occurrently conscious. In earlier work, Maiese and I called this claim “The Deep Consciousness Thesis.”[i] But in any case, and according to Frankfurt, all and only persons have second-order volitions, because all and only persons care about the precise constitution of their wills. By contrast to persons, creatures that are “wantons” have effective first-order desires, but they either lack second-order desires (hence they cannot care about the precise constitution of their wills because they lack self-conscious desires) or if they have second-order desires they nevertheless lack second-order volitions (hence even though they have self-conscious desires, they still cannot care about the precise constitution of their wills). Again, according to Frankfurt, all non-human animals, all human infants, and some human adults are wantons. Finally, for Frankfurt a person has freedom of the will if and only if she can determine, by means of a second-order volition, precisely which among her first-order desires is the effective one. This is also known as identification or decisive identification;[ii] otherwise persons have unfreedom of the will. Wantons have neither freedom of the will nor unfreedom of the will, simply because they are not persons.
As I said above, I accept much of what Frankfurt has to say about persons and their wills, and correspondingly I want to apply much of what he says to real persons and their wills. Nevertheless, I also have substantive disagreements with him on two mid-sized (as opposed to either major or minor) points.
My first mid-sized point of substantive disagreement is that I doubt that Frankfurt’s notion of personhood adequately captures the full breadth or depth of my contemporary Kantian notion of real personhood, according to which some real persons have what I will call higher-level or Kantian (2D) rationality. This, in turn, is an innate complex capacity for strict-norm-guided logical or practical reasoning, for reflective self-consciousness, for autonomy or self-legislation, for authenticity or wholeheartedness, and for deep (non-)moral responsibility. A minded animal that also has higher-level or Kantian (2D) rationality can recognize necessary truths, judge or believe with a priori certainty, and choose or act wholeheartedly in accordance with desire-overriding non-instrumental, non-selfish, non-egoistic or non-self-interested, non-hedonistic, non-consequentialist, categorically normative reasons and duties, namely, those reasons and duties that inherently express the Categorical Imperative and the “categorical ‘ought’.”
By sharp contrast, what I will call lower-level or Humean (2D) rationality involves only the possession of innate capacities for conscious, intentional desire-based logical or practical reasoning, for more or less momentary or occasional occurrent self-consciousness, and for self-interested, or in any case instrumental, intentional agency. A minded animal that has lower-level (2D) rationality can recognize contingent truths, judge or believe with a posteriori certainty, and choose or act in accordance with broadly instrumental egoistic, hedonistic, or consequentialist reasons and duties, or those that express at most the “hypothetical ‘ought’.”
All minded animals that possess an innate capacity for higher-level or Kantian (2D) rationality also possess an innate capacity for lower-level or Humean (2D) rationality, but not the converse. For example, it is arguable that normal, healthy Great apes and perhaps also dolphins[iii] possess an innate capacity for Humean or lower-level (2D) rationality, but not a capacity for higher-level or Kantian (2D) rationality. This is of course not to say that Great apes or dolphins are “irrational” or “non-rational” in any sense. On the contrary, it is only to say that, relative to those animals that do possess an innate capacity for higher-level or (2D) Kantian rationality, the (2D) rational capacity of Great apes and perhaps also dolphins is somewhat limited in complexity and normative power. Minded animals with an capacity for (2D) rationality in the higher-level or Kantian sense are not only constrained in their intentional agency by the Categorical Imperative or at least by some strictly universal, non-instrumental, altruistic, non-hedonistic, and non-consequentialist moral reasons and objective principles, they are also capable of being moved wholeheartedly by the higher-order moral emotion of respect.[iv] Or in other words, minded animals with a fully online capacity for (2D) rationality in the higher-level or Kantian sense are also capable of Kantian autonomy and principled authenticity.[v]
By contrast, minded animals that possess only an innate capacity for (2D) rationality in the lower-level or Humean sense are constrained in their intentional agency only by (at least some of) the axioms of rational choice theory, but not by strictly universal, non-instrumental, altruistic, non-hedonistic, and non-consequentialist moral reasons and objective principles. They are therefore not capable of Kantian autonomy or principled authenticity. Instead, they are at most capable of being moved non-authentically or non-wholeheartedly by the first-order Humean moral emotion of sympathy.[vi]
What is the moral-emotional difference between Kantian respect and Humean sympathy? One way of cashing out this difference is to say that
whereas (i) someone who is being moved by Kantian respect will always and necessarily choose and act so as to heed or preserve the dignity of another real person, even if she does not find that other real person to be in any way whatsoever attractive, likeable, nice, tear-jerkingly pathetic, or pleasant—in short, even if she involuntarily finds that real person to be perfectly loathsome,
nevertheless (ii) someone who is being moved merely by Humean sympathy will choose and act so as to heed or preserve the dignity of another real person only if she finds that real person to be appropriately attractive, likeable, nice, tear-jerkingly pathetic, or pleasant.
In other words, mere Humean sympathy cannot survive the apparent loathsomeness of other real persons: mere Humean sympathy loses heart in the face of involuntary disgust. But Kantian respect inherently can and always does recognize dignity, even in the face of involuntary disgust.
—And this is not a superhuman, or “moral saint-like,” moral attitude. For example, I imagine that a great many medical doctors all over the world, especially general practitioners, and nurses or nurse-practitioners, all of whom are “human, all too human,” just like the rest of us, perfectly illustrate the sharp moral difference between respect and sympathy almost every single day of their working lives. Indeed, some, like Camus’s fictional Dr Rieux in The Plague, and the real-life Florence Nightingale, illustrate this even to the sublime level of being real-world moral saints or “sinner-saints.”
Some human animals are “persons” in Frankfurt’s sense, hence are real persons in my sense, and also (2D) rational agents in the lower-level or Humean sense, and not (2D) rational agents in the higher-level or Kantian sense, but this is not because they lack the innate capacities for agency in the higher-level sense. Rather they do possess these capacities, but in the mode of real potentiality that is not yet actualized, hence it it is simply because they are not-yet (2D) rational agents in the higher-level or Kantian sense. Indeed we—the actual and really possible readers of this book—were all of us, for a time, such creatures.
Consider, for example, normal toddlers. Normal toddlers are healthy human children between the ages of roughly 1 to 3 years who are just beginning to walk and talk. It is difficult to remember being a toddler, although of course almost everyone has a few memories from that period. But even if the introspective, memory-based phenomenological evidence is fairly thin, I think that any adult who has ever lived with and looked after a toddler knows that it is possible for someone to care very deeply about the constitution of her will, but not yet be capable of norm-guided logical or practical reasoning, self-reflection, or principled authenticity. Normal human toddlers do indeed manifest moments of non-instrumental, altruistic, non-hedonistic, and non-consequentialist thinking, feeling, and action. These are truly lovely anticipatory flashes of the higher-level or Kantian real persons they will eventually become, if their luck holds up, when all their basic innately-specified moral capacities are fully online—that is, they have fully matured, thereby becoming operative and well-developed.[vii]
In any case, toddlers are conscious, intentional, caring animals, and they also are self-conscious in the minimal sense that they can recognize themselves in a mirror and make simple judgments about some of their own mental states. They are naturally affectionate and often highly sensitive to the changing emotional states of those around them. Usually, they have a minimal and rapidly-developing competence in their native natural language(s). They have simple beliefs, and if they have also acquired minimal linguistic competence, then they can carry out some simple inferences. They want things. Also they usually know what they want; they care a great deal about getting what they want; and, often enough, they can also determine which of their first-order desires is to be the effective one. So they have second-order volitions. They can mentally cause movements of their own bodies by means of their second-order volitions and effective first-order desires. They know their own names. They are intellectually curious, have capacious memories and wonderful imaginations, and are sometimes highly insightful. And for a few truly lovely moments at least, they can spontaneously think, feel, and act in non-instrumental, altruistic, non-hedonistic, and non-consequentialist ways.
But they are also extremely naïve and uncritical, highly emotional, highly inconsistent in their behavior, and above all characteristically self-centered, fickle, and willful, and certainly cannot be, or be held to be, deeply morally responsible for their actions. They need to be most carefully looked after, gently told what to do, loved unconditionally, and at all times protected from the vicissitudes of an often unfriendly and violent world. They are incapable of conceiving their own lives as a whole, and are therefore not self-reflective agents. They cannot engage in retrospective or prospective self-interpretation and self-evaluation, explicit step-by-step deliberation about immediate action, or long-term planning. They are certainly not capable of either deep moral or non-moral responsibility, or principled authenticity. And they certainly cannot grasp the moral significance of their own deaths.[viii]
For these reasons, a toddler can, in a minimal way, self-consciously “identify” in the Frankfurtian sense—that is, make a decision—by using a second-order volition to determine precisely which among her first-order desires is her effective first-order desire. But the self-conscious “identifications” or decisions of toddlers are at best momentary or temporary, and do not occur consistently or over an extended period of time.[ix] As I mentioned just above, toddlers cannot achieve or even comprehend either deep (non-)moral responsibility or principled authenticity. Toddlers are only momentarily moved to intentional choice and action by respect for human dignity, even if they often feel it inchoately, in an essentially non-conceptual way. And toddlers are never synoptic thinkers, moral exemplars, or sublime real-world moral saints, “sinner-saints.”
In this connection, toddlers and other young children as a class are very usefully compared and contrasted with adolescents or teenagers. Adolescents are somewhat capable of achieving principled authenticity at least partially or to some degree, but again still not fully so. In my terminology, they are most accurately characterized as semi-Kantian real persons. This is because adolescents are still significantly self-centered, fickle, and willful. They still cannot adequately grasp the moral significance of their own deaths. They still are somewhat incapable of authentic or wholehearted commitment to their own moral principles, the Categorical Imperative, and the dignity of real persons, including taking complete responsibility for some things over which they have no control. So they still cannot be fully moved by respect for human dignity.
But unlike toddlers and other young children, adolescents can be intensely passionate, utterly reckless, and deeply romantic. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, Nicholas Ray’s Rebel without a Cause, and J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye all beautifully capture—in their very different ways—“what-it-is-like-to-be-an-adolescent,” hence what it is like to be a semi-Kantian real person. As Salinger’s Holden Caulfield so vividly saw, it is like living in a field of rye on the edge of a precipice—as it were, on the edge of Kierkegaard’s chasm of 70, 000 fathoms—but at the same time also intensely wanting to take deep moral responsibility for catching young children before they stray too close to the edge, and fall helplessly into the abyss.[x] Switching over now from Kierkegaard’s chasm to Maugham’s lovely metaphor, adolescent persons are poised on the razor’s edge, neither fully child nor fully adult. So there are substantive and not merely conventional reasons why we do not let adolescents marry, why we do not send adolescents to war, and why we do not treat them as fully morally responsible adults in courts of law.
Of course, as we all know, it is mostly not any of their own doing: it is, as the old saw has it, mostly their hormones talking. In any case, whatever the underlying physiological causes are, their basic innate rational-moral capacities are still somewhat immature, latent, and undeveloped. But the self-evident fact remains that adolescents, as a proper sub-class of normal human beings who are both psychophysically and morally distinct from toddlers and other young children on the one hand, and also psychophysically and morally distinct from fully autonomous and fully responsible adults on the other, are excessively self-focused, insufficiently capable of self-control, insufficiently self-reflective, insufficiently capable of long-term planning, and insufficiently capable of fully recognizing the dignity of other persons or of themselves. Somewhat like toddlers and other children, adolescents are almost never synoptic thinkers, moral exemplars, or sublime real-world moral saints, “sinner saints.” For example, as many readers of Dickens have correctly pointed out, the lovely, gentle, preternaturally wise adolescent character Little Nell in The Old Curiousity Shop is mainly a reflection of Dickens’s own kitschy, sickly-sweet fantasies about young women—although perhaps fewer have agreed with Oscar Wilde’s wickedly witty remark that it is impossible not to laugh when poor Little Nell expires.
Be that as it may, adolescents are indeed capable of relatively sustained periods and phases of non-instrumental, altruistic, non-hedonistic, and non-consequentialist thought, feeling, and action, in anticipation of their full Kantian real personhood—again, as in the case of toddlers, a truly lovely thing. But sharply unlike toddlers, although very like most other older children, normal adolescents are quite capable of doing some philosophy, and some of them are extremely good at the formal parts of philosophy, especially logic.
Of course, I am not neglecting the fact that mature normal rational human animals, or real human persons, who are fully capable of higher-level or Kantian rationality, and also principled authenticity, can sometimes be very self-centered, fickle, and willful too, just like toddlers or adolescents. But they are not characteristically or typically so. A normal human adult who characteristically or typically comported himself in the way that toddlers, other young children, or even adolescents characteristically or typically do, would, no doubt, be correctly regarded as an unfortunate victim of some cognitive or emotional syndrome, and treated accordingly.
My main point here is simply that normal toddlers and other young children are capable of a great many different sorts of complex affects and complex emotional states, including momentary anticipations of Kantian real personhood, but they are not (yet) higher-level (2D) rational human animals. Toddlers and other young children are therefore real human persons in the Frankfurtian sense, but not (yet) real human persons in the Kantian sense. Toddlers and other young children are therefore junior real human persons—as it were, tenure track assistant professors in The Realm of Ends—but not yet senior real human persons, as it were, tenured full professors in The Realm of Ends, even though they are, in terms of dignity, equal moral persons with all the other real persons. By another contrast, adolescents or semi-Kantian persons more generally are poised, as I have said, on a razor’s edge somewhere between the higher and the lower levels. They are equal moral persons of the middle rank, but not card-carrying members of the classes above or below themselves—tenured associate professors in The Realm of Ends.
Thus real personhood in the lower-level, Frankfurtian sense is a necessary and sufficient condition of real personhood, which includes all the more-or-less online basic capacities of free agents, hence it entails dignity. And as we have seen, it is based on the fully online capacity for having second-order volitions, which in turn contains several other distinct constituent fully online psychological capacities. Real personhood in the higher-level, Kantian sense, on the other hand, both includes and significantly augments real personhood in the Frankfurtian sense, by including the fully online capacity for principled authenticity, at least partially or to some degree. Correspondingly, real personhood in the higher-level, Kantian sense is based on the fully online capacity for higher-level rational agency, which also contains several other distinct online psychological capacities.
In order to display the internal complexity of the relationships between these capacities more fully, here is an explicit version of the two-level theory of real personhood that I have been developing, in the form of a three-part definition.
A Three-Part Definition of Real Personhood
Part I. X is a real Frankfurtian person (personf) if and only if X is an individual S-type animal and X has fully online psychological capacities for:
(i) essentially embodied consciousness or essentially embodied subjective experience,
(ii) intentionality or directedness to objects, locations, events (including actions), other minded animals, or oneself, including cognition (that is, sense perception, memory, imagination, and conceptualization), and caring (that is, affect, desire, and emotion), especially including effective first-order desires,
(iii) lower-level of Humean (2D) rationality, that is, logical reasoning (including judgment and belief) and instrumental decision-making,
(iv) self-directed or other-directed evaluative emotions (for example, love, hate, fear, shame, guilt, pride, etc),
(v) minimal linguistic understanding, that is, either inner or overt expression and communication in any simple or complex sign system or natural language, including ASL, etc., and
(vi) second-order volitions.
Part II. X is a real Kantian person (personk) if and only if X is a real personf and also has fully online psychological capacities for:
(vii) higher-level or Kantian (2D) rationality, that is, categorically normative logical 2D rationality[xi] and practical 2D rationality, the latter of which also entails a fully online capacity for deep (non-)moral responsibility, autonomy (self-legislation), and wholeheartedness, hence a fully online capacity for principled authenticity, at least partially or to some degree.
Part III. X is a real person if and only if X is either a real personf or a real personk; and any other finite, material creature or entity X is a non-person.
It is crucial to note that each one of the necessary conditions of real personhood is intended to be a “constitutively necessary condition” of real personhood, in the following sense, where X and Y are properties corresponding respectively to the concepts of X-hood and Y-hood—
X is a constitutively necessary condition of Y if and only if:
(i) X is a necessary condition of Y,
(ii) the existence and specific character of Y-facts is partially determined by the existence and specific character of X-facts, and
(iii) the essence of Y-facts presupposes the essence of X-facts.
In this way, roughly, X-hood flows from the essence of Y-hood. Or in other words, the analysis of real personhood I am proposing is not a conceptual analysis of the concept REAL PERSON, but in fact a “real definition” and a contemporary Kantian real metaphysical analysis of the things that fall under that concept, given in terms of the essential properties of those things. Therefore, given that it is a true statement to say that (for example) a real person possesses a fully online capacity for essentially embodied consciousness, then this statement is a non-logical, essentially non-conceptual, synthetic a priori, or “strong metaphysical” necessary truth, not a logical, conceptual, analytic, or “weak metaphysical” necessary truth.
I will not stop here to discuss the analytic-synthetic distinction, although I do so in in depth elsewhere.[xii] It would be a long stop. I will only note in passing that I accept the strongest version of the distinction, which I call Kant’s Pitchfork (as opposed to “Hume’s Fork”), because it includes not only the much-controverted Kantian “modal dualist” thesis that there are two irreducibly and categorically different types of necessary truth and non-empirical knowledge (that is, the synthetic a priori and the analytic), but also the classical Humean and Logical Empiricist thesis that there is an irreducible and categorical difference between necessary truth and non-empirical knowledge on the one hand, and contingent truths or falsehoods and empirical knowledge (that is, the synthetic a posteriori) on the other.
Before going on to say more about real persons, there is a very important point I need to make about non-personhood. Just because a creature is a non-person, it does not follow that this creature is thereby without any moral value, namely, a “mere thing.” It is true that non-persons are neither subjects of dignity nor targets of respect. But at the same time, all living things and all minded animals—even what I call “minimally minded animals,” e.g., octopuses and other marine animals, insects, reptiles, and other invertebrates[xiii]—and all conscious or fully minded non-human animals, like bats, bears, birds, cats, dogs, horses, lions, mice, and wolves, are either experiencers or subjects of moral value, to some degree, and, correspondingly, to some degree, targets of our moral concern, even if they are non-persons. This is because they share with us three constitutively necessary conditions of real personhood:
(i) organismic life,
(ii) to some degree, the capacity for consciousness or sentience, and
(iii) to some degree, the capacity for free volition or animal agency,
all of which have intrinsic moral value, to some degree. But in any case, I have much more to say about these points in Kantian Ethics and Human Existence.[xiv]
Autonomy in the Kantian sense, as I construe it, and as I have already described it in chapters 3 and 5 above, is veridically psychologically free, deeply free and deeply (non-)morally responsible, self-conscious, self-reflective self-legislation according to the Categorical Imperative or moral law, the recognition of which provides an overriding non-instrumental reason for action, and also causally triggers the innate emotional disposition to feel respect for persons and the moral law, which in turn generates the wholehearted second-order desire to achieve moral self-transcendence. So Kantian autonomy in this sense, together with the capacities for wholehearted second-order desire for moral self-transcendence and the moral emotion of self-fulfillment, jointly constitute the capacity for achieving principled authenticity at least partially or to some degree. In its occurrent or realized version, principled authentity, in turn, is a person’s wholehearted adherence to her moral principles and to some absolute moral principles, together with her sometimes taking deep (non-)moral responsibility, with no excuses, for things over which she had no control. In view of this latter feature, as I said in section 3.4, another illuminating label for principled authenticity would be passionate Kantian stoicism.
A “self-reflective” self-consciousness is not only an awareness of oneself at any given time, and of past and future phases of oneself, but also an awareness of one’s own life as a whole, including being able to grasp, at least inchoately, the moral significance of one’s own death. Therefore the capacity for principled authenticity also entails the possession of a concept of oneself as a conscious, intentional, caring, rational animal, and as a real person who is capable of free agency.[xv]
That brings me, finally, to my second mid-sized point of substantive disagreement with Frankfurt. This concerns his notion of a “wanton.” Here I have two worries.
First, I think that it is false that all non-human minded animals are wantons. On the contrary, in view of strong evidence from cognitive ethology, it is clear that at least some actual non-human minded animals—and in particular, Great apes and arguably also dolphins, perhaps parrots as well—are, at the very least, real non-human persons in the Frankfurtian sense. Hence, at the very least, they are metaphysically and morally equivalent to normal toddlers and other young children. On the opposing side, there seems to be some empirical neurobiological evidence in support of the claim that Great apes are not capable of non-instrumental, altruistic, non-hedonistic, and non-consequentialist thinking, feeling, and action.[xvi] But other primatologists would disagree with those skeptical primatologists, and I am on their side. It is one thing not to be capable of sustained non-instrumental, non-egoistic, non-hedonistic, and non-consequentialist thinking, feeling, and action. And this is perfectly consistent with being capable of brief moments of non-instrumental, non-egoistic, non-hedonistic, and non-consequentialist thinking, feeling, and action. Therefore, it is also perfectly consistent with the possession of all the basic innate capacities in such a way that some of them are not fully online. But it is categorically a different thing to lack those basic capacities altogether. My critical proposal is that those skeptical primatologists who have claimed the latter, have done so via a fallacious direct inference from the former. So, assuming that my critical proposal is correct, the fact that Great apes are not capable of sustained non-instrumental, non-egoistic, non-hedonistic, and non-consequentialist thinking, feeling, and action, does not in any way undermine their fully online Humean or lower-level (2D) rationality, and therefore it does not in any way undermine the Frankfurtian real personhood of Great apes, or their dignity. Correspondingly, we do not think that toddlers and other young children lack real personhood or dignity just because they often or even usually feel, choose and act, well, childishly.
Second, while it is true that in some extended sense of the term there can be “rational wantons,” it is false that they are not real persons. More precisely, on my view, so-called “rational wantons” are in fact real persons who do indeed have an online capacity for second-order volitions, hence for caring about their caring, but for reasons of their own, in some context or contexts, they simply refuse to manifest or realize this capacity. When thought through carefully, we can see that it is inconceivable that a 2D rational animal could possess either non-autonomous, lower-level (Humean) or autonomous, higher-level (Kantian) rationality, and thus be capable of norm-guided logical and practical reasoning according to instrumental or non-instrumental principles, and yet also be unable to care about the constitution of its own will. This is because, for a creature to be inherently constrained by logical and practical norms in its reasoning, is necessarily also for it to be able to care about the difference between its freedom and its unfreedom. Otherwise, these norms would have no role to play in the conscious, intentional life of the creature: norms have to matter to and for the creature, and this cannot be if the creature cannot represent the difference between its own freedom and unfreedom.
Still, even accepting that point, it remains true, as a matter of fact, that some rational human animals or real human persons simply refuse to care about their caring, in some context or contexts, even though they are able to do so. Take, for example, Meursault in Camus’s The Stranger as a vivid fictional instance of what I think is a real-world personality type. Meursault murders an Arab seemingly for no reason other than that he just feels like doing it at that moment; and he does it without any compunction whatsoever. Given Camus’s descriptions and the rest of the narrative, Meursault is clearly as close as one could ever get, inside fiction or outside in the real world, to being a so-called “rational wanton” in Frankfurt’s sense. Nevertheless, Meursault is also, clearly, deeply morally responsible for murdering the Arab. And this is so, even despite its being true that, because Meursault is a murderer (meurtrier) who, seemingly without any premeditation whatsoever, leaps (sauter) into the evil act, it is quite hard to judge whether his act is a special sub-kind of banal evil, or near-satanic evil. In any case, from Camus’s descriptions, it is clear not that Meursault cannot care about his caring—but rather that, although Mersault can care about his own caring, for whatever reason, in this context, he refuses to.
Therefore, a creature can be criticized and evaluated for her logical and practical deliberations, decisions, and choices only if it can matter to her which choices she makes. Interestingly, although Frankfurt initially explicitly holds that there can be rational wantons,[xvii] he later corrects himself by asserting that rationality entails personhood, which for him entails non-wantonhood.[xviii] So in that respect, as in others, he eventually came over to my contemporary Kantian “team.” In any case, my view, by contrast, is that so-called “rational wantons” are indeed real persons, and therefore are not constitutively wanton, precisely because rational free agency entails at least a capacity for second-order volitions, even if, for some special reason or reasons intentionally adopted by a free agent in some context, that capacity is suppressed or non-operative in that context.
All things considered, my two contemporary Kantian extensions of Frankfurt’s theory of persons are of central importance, although they capture only mid-sized substantive disagreements with his overall account. Let us assume, as I have just argued, that some non-human animals and all normal human toddlers and other young children are real persons; that both personsf and personsk are real persons, since an innate capacity to care about one’s own or another’s caring is minimally sufficient for real personhood; and that so-called “rational wantons” are not constitutively wanton, and are also real persons. Then it follows that the innate capacity for (2D) rationality in the higher-level or Kantian sense, including the innate capacity for deep moral or non-moral responsibility, and for principled authenticity—an innate capacity that appears to be fully possessed, in our actual world, only by adult, mature, sane humans—is not a necessary condition of real personhood, although of course it remains a sufficient condition. On the contrary, the universally necessary and minimally sufficient condition of real personhood is just real personhood in the Frankfurtian sense: the possession of an innate capacity for second-order volitions by an individual S-type animal, whether human or non-human, whether adult, adolescent, or young child, and whether or not this is accompanied by innate capacities for categorically norm-guided logical or practical reasoning, for self-reflective self-consciousness, for deep moral or non-moral responsibility, and for principled authenticity.
Furthermore, these considerations directly imply the existence of a distinct class of real persons between the class of individual S-type animals who are non-persons on the one hand, and the class of autonomous, higher-level, or Kantian (senior rank) real persons on the other: namely, the class of non-autonomous, lower-level, or Frankfurtian (junior rank) real persons.[xix] Or otherthwise put, and to end the chapter with two word-bites:
First, real personhood and being able to care about one’s own or another’s caring are one and the same thing.
Second, all normal human toddlers, other normal young children, and some non-human animals, for example, Great apes and arguably also dolphins, perhaps parrots as well, are real persons too.
[ii] See Frankfurt, “Identification and Externality,” in Frankfurt, The Importance of What We Care About, pp. 58-68; and Frankfurt, “Identification and Wholeheartedness.”
[iii] See Griffin, Animal Minds; M. Bearzi and C. Stanford, Beautiful Minds: The Parallel Lives of Great Apes and Dolphins (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2008); and S. Savage-Rumbaugh and R. Lewin, Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind (New York: Wiley, 1994). Savage-Rumbaugh’s research is highly controversial. For an alternative view, see M. Tomasello and J. Call, Primate Cognition (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1997), esp. pp. 375-379. My own view, which I spell out and defend in Kantian Ethics and Human Existence, says that Great apes and perhaps also dolphins are non-autonomous persons who are morally equivalent to normal human toddlers and other young children. This in turn suggests an argument strategy for those who seek to extend person-based legal rights to Great apes and dolphins: Since normal human toddlers and other young children clearly have real personhood and dignity, and since Great apes and (perhaps also) dolphins possess the same psychological capacities that ground real personhood and dignity, then it follows that Great apes and (perhaps also) dolphins also have real personhood and dignity, and therefore should also be accorded the same person-based legal rights. See Siebert,“Should a Chimp Be Able to Sue its Owner?”
[iv] See section 3.3 above.
[v] See section 3.4 above.
[x] Another autobiographical note: Speaking of the abyss, or rather of the Grund as der Abgrund, in mid-May 2014, walking home from the Centre Ville of Luxembourg, I saw a teenager showing off to his friends, laughing, standing on the stone parapet of the Montée Clausen. Then he jumped a metre or so across onto another parapet, less than 6 centimeters away from a fall of at least 100 metres straight down into the Grund; then he jumped back onto the Montée bridge, and simply walked away with his friends, still laughing. It was simply unbearable to watch, it made me feel sick to my stomach thinking about it afterwards, and thank goodness he didn’t fall. But it perfectly exemplified the semi-Kantian character of adolescents.
[xii] See, e.g., Hanna, Kant and the Foundations of Analytic Philosophy, chs. 3-5; Hanna, Cognition, Content, and the A Priori, chs. 5-6; and Hanna, “Kant, the Copernican Devolution, and Real Metaphysics.” It’s difficult to overstate the philosophical importance of the debate and issues surrounding the analytic-synthetic, a priori-a posteriori, and necessary/contingent truth/falsity distinctions, even despite the sociological fact that virtually all recent and contemporary philosophers find it either “obviously” resolved in favor of some sort of classical, pragmatic, or post-Quinean Empiricism, or else rebarbatively tedious, yet cannot give up some sort of implicit commitment to it, via their views about logic and mathematics.
[xv] See M. Tooley, “Abortion and Infanticide,” in M. Cohen, T. Nagel, and T. Scanlon (eds.), The Rights and Wrongs of Abortion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1974), pp. 52-84. In effect, even if not explicitly, Tooley sets the bar for personhood at the level of Kantian (2D) rationality. But this is much too high, because it certainly fails to include toddlers, and also possibly even fails to include adolescent, semi-autonomous persons, depending on how one construes the conditions on concept-possession. In any case, according to The Real Person Theory, normal third trimester fetuses, infants, toddlers, and adolescents are all real persons too.
[xix] Leaving aside for the moment, for simplicity’s sake, the intermediate class of semi-Kantian (middle rank) real persons.
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