A Theory of Human Dignity, #15–Post-Persons.
By Robert Hanna
TABLE OF CONTENTS
VI. Enacting Human Dignity and The Mind-Body Politic
This installment contains section V.2.
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Since, as far as we now know, fetal consciousness in normal human fetuses begins roughly 25–32 weeks after conception or fertilization, and since a human real person’s life begins when they enter the phase of strong potentiality for actualized human real personhood, that is, when they first acquire consciousness, then it follows that I am identical with my third trimester fetus, a human neo-person. But if, like the unfortunate Nancy Cruzan or Terry Schiavo, some time after I have achieved actualized human real personhood, by means of accident or disease, I suffer a permanent loss of consciousness by the shut-down of most of my brain-functions and also a corresponding transition to a persistent vegetative state, then my human real personal life will have ended in my death at precisely the point of shut-down and transition, despite the fact that (most of) my living body still exists. Yet even if I escape the fate of Nancy Cruzan or Terry Schiavo, I might still at some point later in life — by the slings and arrows of accident, disease, or just aging — be reduced to the conscious and cognitive state of an infant, as for example, in the case of the brilliant philosopher Iris Murdoch during the later stages of her poignant succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease.[i]
If so, then my human real personal life will not have ended in my literal death (as in the Cruzan and Schiavo cases), but instead (as in the Murdoch case) it will have ended in what I’ll call my quasi-death. My neurobiologically continuous successor after my quasi-death will be what, following Jeff McMahan’s lead, I’ll call a post-person,[ii] who is identically the same S-type animal or living organism as I am, although he will not share a real personal identity with me, since, according to the Minded Animalism theory of personal identity, he fails a necessary condition of diachronic personal identity. My post-person is a biological-neurobiological continuant of me that retains some phenomenological continuity with me, but not enough to constitute his being a genuine biophenomenological continuant of me, which thereby triggers the termination of my human real personal identity and the end of my life, that is, which thereby triggers my death. There’s so much to say about the morality of the beginning and/or ending of a human real person’s life! As Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade facetiously says in a slightly different but closely related connection, somebody ought to write a book about it.[iii] In any case, the crucial point here is that there’s a striking metaphysical and moral asymmetry between (i) the beginning of a human real person’s life, which extends identically all the way back to one’s human neo-personhood and connects continuously with a human animal or living organism that has a strong potentiality for being a real person, and (ii) the end of a human real person’s life, for example, my death, even though there may still exist a biological-neurobiological continuant of me who also bears my proper name and has some minimal biophenomenological continuity with me. The crucial difference that grounds this metaphysical and moral asymmetry is the fact that it’s true of my neo-person that he will actually be me, if he is allowed to go on living, whereas this is false of my post-person: he will never actually be me, no matter how long he goes on living. It is prospectively rather a sad thought, but still quite true, that my post-person will always be nothing but a “has-been” me.
[i] See J. Bayley, Elegy for Iris (London: Picador, 2001).
[ii] See J. McMahan, The Ethics of Killing (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2002), p. 47.
[iii] “Somebody ought to write a book about people sometime — they’re peculiar.” See D. Hammett, “Too Many Have Lived,” in D. Hammett, The Adventures of Sam Spade and Other Stories, p. 11, available online at URL = <http://www.fadedpage.com/showbook.php?pid=20120735>.
AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 594
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