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Philosophy 224 Some Candidates: Strawson on Individuals.

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1 Philosophy 224 Some Candidates: Strawson on Individuals

2 Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics The selection from Strawson is from the 1959 book that established his reputation. “Descriptive metaphysics is content to describe the actual structure of our thought about the world” (Strawson 1959, 9). It is to be contrasted with ‘revisionary metaphysics’, which “is concerned to produce a better structure” (Strawson 1959, 9).

3 Strawson’s Philosophical Perspective Strawson is an analytic philosopher. APs are the inheritors of the empiricist and (especially) naturalistic tendencies of the modern era. Strawson belongs to the linguistic analysis/ordinary language wing of analytic philosophy. A primary method of this approach is to interrogate the everyday senses of the philosophical concepts or terms at issue.

4 Strawson’s Metaphysics So what did Strawson’s interrogations produce? Strawson divides existence into particulars and universals. Some of the particulars are “basic,” which means that they are the experiential and conceptual building blocks of experience. The table can be analyzed or deconstructed into parts, but that is not the way we immediately apprehend the table.

5 So, what is a person? A person is a basic particular to which we ascribe consciousness. These two modes of predication are coeval, “a person…is a type of entity such that both predicates ascribing states of consciousness and predicates ascribing corporeal characteristics…are equally applicable to a single individual of that single type” (178c1).

6 Why is it ‘primitive?’ Strawson offers his account as part of a rejection of other competing accounts, including the mind-body dualisms of the modern era. From this perspective, ‘person’ is not logically primitive, in as much as it is definable in terms of more basic kinds (mind and matter; consciousness over time; etc.). We’ve seen the problems that come from this dualistic account. Strawson has the solution: the ‘person’ is logically basic and entities like “individual consciousness” are derivative. Cf., 179c1

7 So what? In addition to resolving many of the issues arising in connection to the accounts of the person rooted in mind/body dualism, Strawson’s account of personhood also has some useful implications for the philosophy of mind. Of particular importance is the distinction between M- and P-predicates.

8 M- and P- M- and P- predicates work in the same way (pointing out a specific, properly basic and primitive, entity), but P-predicates have an importantly different form when ascribed to oneself as opposed as being ascribed to others. This difference implies that we must also ascribe self- ascription to all of the others (181c2). This in turn undercuts species of relativism and logical behaviorism (attribution is about behavior, not mental states).

9 What about Life After Death? Strawson closes with a consideration of the implication of his picture for the belief in an immortal soul. Such a soul would in effect have P-predicates but not m-predicates. It’s not impossible (you can certainly think m- predicates without p-predicates). The question is: “What would it be like to be a soul?”

10 Solipsism, of what? P-ascription without M-ascription would condemn the entity to solipsism, “…it must remain for him indeed an utterly empty, though not meaningless, speculation, as to whether there are any other members of his class” (186c1). At best a former person, in as much as Person = P-ascription and M-ascription. One implication: ‘Argument from necessity’ for bodily resurrection.

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