You Are Identical To Your Life, For Better Or Worse.

By Robert Hanna





#6: Was Socrates an anarchist?

#5: Conceptual analysis from a non-conceptualist point of view.

#4: Further implications of non-conceptualism: sometimes, hell is other species.

#3: Implications of non-conceptualism: the existential counterpunch.

#2: The incoherence of public philosophy, and what can be done about it.

#1: What is “the debate about non-conceptual content,” and why does it matter so damned much?


The Omnibus Edition contains the nineteen installments of the First Series of THINKING FOR A LIVING, revised and collected into a single volume, as a downloadable .pdf for universal free sharing–




#19: The incoherence and impossibility of personal immortality.

#18: A new argument against capital punishment.

#17: Fear, denial, and loathing in the philosophy of mind.

#16: The political aesthetics of outer space.

#15: The paradox of distributive social justice, and what is to be done?

#14: How a priori knowledge is really possible.

#13: Is a priori knowledge really possible? Yes; here’s proof.

#12: Is human free agency really possible? Yes; here’s how.

#11: What is democracy?

#10: Fear, loathing, and Pascal in Las Vegas: radical agnosticism.

#9: The philosophy of policing, crime, and punishment.

#8: The philosophy of borders, immigration, and refugees.

#7: The philosophy of old age.

#6: Faces, masks, personal identity, and Teshigahara.

#5: Processualism, organicism, and the two waves of the organicist revolution.

#4: Realistic idealism: ten theses about mind-dependence.

#3: Kant, universities, The Deep(er) State, and philosophy.

#2: When Merleau-Ponty Met The Whiteheadian Kripke Monster.

#1: Introductory; The rise and fall of Analytic philosophy; Cosmopolitanism and the real philosophy of the future; How to socialize the philosophy of mind.


35. You are identical to your life, for better or worse. In this set of notes, I want to talk about the metaphysics of specifically real persons — as opposed to merely logically or conceivably possible persons that are non-animals, disembodied, or even divine, on the one hand, and also as opposed, on the other hand, to

either (i) actual artificial persons, created by human convention, like public personae (for example, Cary Grant, or Mark Twain) and public offices (for example, The President of the USA, or The Prime Minister of Canada),[i]

or (ii) actual collective persons, also created by human convention, such as legal bodies (for example, The Supreme Court of the USA, or The European Court of Human Rights), governments (for example, The US Senate, or The British House of Commons), and business corporations (e.g., Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc., etc.).

36. In order to undertake the metaphysics of real persons, however, it is crucial right from the start to distinguish carefully between

(i) the metaphysics of real personhood, and

(ii) the metaphysics of real personal identity.

The metaphysics of real personhood corresponds to the question, “what is the nature of a real person?” I will call this The “What-am-I?” Question.

Once an answer to The “What-am-I?” Question has been determined, by means of identifying a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for membership in the relevant real personhood class or kind, then we can determine the class or kind of all actual and possible real persons.

The metaphysical topic here is the essence of a kind.

According to my view, in the long-winded version, real persons essentially are

conscious, intentional, caring, rational or sapient, far-from-equilibrium, spatiotemporally asymmetric, complex, self-organizing, finegrainedly normatively attuned thermodynamic systems, with non-mechanical, uncomputable, physically irreducible, yet also non-dualist and non-supervenient properties, whose choices and acts are inherently constrained, guided, and governed by self-legislated categorically normative logical and moral principles, and whose highest aim is the achievement of principled authenticity, at least partially or to some degree.

Thus according to my view, but now in the short-winded version, real persons essentially are rational minded animals with freedom-in-life.

This metaphysics of real personhood constitutes the first part of the overall doctrine about real persons that I call Minded Animalism.

The metaphysics of real personal identity, by contrast, corresponds to the importantly distinct question, “which one of the real persons am I?”

I will call this The “Who-am-I?” Question.

Here we are looking for a necessary and sufficient criterion that singles out one and only one actual member of the class or kind of all actual and possible real persons, and determines her persistence over time.

The metaphysical topic here is individuation under a kind, together with that individual’s temporal persistence.

37. According to my view, as I’ve described and defended it in Deep Freedom and Real Persons, a real person like you or me is identical to each and every proper part of her own complete, finite, and unique rational human life, and correspondingly also identical to her whole complete, finite, and unique rational human life.[ii]

This life begins when a living organism belonging to a certain species — in our case, of course, the human species — becomes conscious or minded, continues through the eventual manifestation or realization of her capacities for minded animal free volition, and then rational animal free agency, and then ends with her permanent death.[iii]

One can characterize this fundamental fact about us more precisely and rigorously by saying that our real human personal identity is a sub-kind of the mereological relation of metonymous identity (that is, part-to-whole identity) between proper (spatio)temporal parts and their corresponding unified (spatio)temporal wholes.

But for the present purposes, it is sufficient to say that I am claiming that we are identical to each and all of the stages of our own complete, finite, and unique rational human animal lives.

38. My view on the metaphysics of real personal identity is a significant extension and strengthening of what Eric Olson calls The Biological Approach, or “Animalism,” to all and only rational minded animals, that is, conscious, intentional, caring, rational living organisms, whose mental lives are necessarily and completely neurobiologically embodied, and who are strictly identified with each and all of the stages of their minded animal lives.

Standard Animalism identifies us with individual living human animals that only contingently have mental properties, including consciousness and perhaps also rationality, and that also possess these properties only during certain phases of their animal lives.

By contrast, according to the view I am calling Minded Animalism, real human persons are identified with each and all of the stages of the lives of individual living conscious, intentional, caring, rational human animals who, by their very nature, necessarily have conscious minds that are essentially embodied.

This substantive metaphysics of real personal identity, including its significant extension and strengthening of standard Animalism, constitutes the second part of Minded Animalism.

39. The basic distinction between the metaphysics of real personhood and the metaphysics of real personal identity also leads on directly to two other important general points.

First, a correct answer to The “What-am-I?” (namely, real personhood) Question does not in and of itself yield a correct — or indeed any — answer to The “Who-am-I?” (namely, real personal identity) Question.

The term “person” is a kind term or sortal term that is also normally associated with identity conditions for individual persons falling under that kind.

But satisfying the conditions for belonging to a given kind (for example, water) does not in and of itself guarantee the satisfaction of identity conditions for individuals (for example, drops of water, lakes, rivers, or oceans) falling under that kind.

So there is no necessary entailment from the metaphysics of real personhood to the metaphysics of real personal identity.

Second, whereas the metaphysics of real personhood is the metaphysics of a kind or sort of entity, according to my view, the metaphysics of real personal identity is the metaphysics of each and all of the stages of the whole life-process of some individual member of that kind.

More precisely, according to my view the metaphysics of real personhood is the metaphysics of a kind-constituting structure, whereas the real metaphysics of real personal identity is the real metaphysics of a necessarily diachronic entity, namely, a biophenomenologically dynamic and thermodynamic process — bearing the real personhood structure, to be sure, but not the same as the structure itself — that is inherently spread out and forward-directed in actual space and actual time.

40. Real personal identity, as I am understanding it, necessarily comprehends an egocentrically-centered, essentially embodied, phenomenologically dynamic life-process of a conscious, intentional, caring, rational living organism that is inherently living in an intrinsically directional or orientable space, while also “having the time of its life,” in such a way that this unified far-from-equilibrium, complex, self-organizing thermodynamic life-process necessarily also has temporal irreversibility.

In other and fewer words, our real human personal identity, just like our minds and our free agency, is nothing more and nothing less than a form of life that grows naturally in our animal bodies.

Or in still other and even fewer words, you are identical to your life, for better or worse.

On this account, every real person’s life begins in a unique birth and ends in a unique death.

That is, the life of every real person has a definite spatiotemporal beginning or birthplace and time of birth, and also a definite ending or death-place and time of death.

Correspondingly, the metaphysics of real personal identity is the metaphysics of a special kind of real-personhood-structured spatially orientable and temporally asymmetric finite far-from-equilibrium, complex, self-organizing, finegrainedly normatively attuned, minded animal thermodynamic life-process, and not merely the metaphysics of the kind-constituting real personhood structure alone.

Hence you are nothing more and nothing less than the egocentrically-centered, spatially orientable, forward-directed Little Bang that is each and all of the stages of your own complete, finite, and unique rational human animal life.

41. Each one of us is thereby special enough for all metaphysical, epistemological, normative, and moral purposes — but not so very, very special, after all.

In particular, we are not ghostly souls, floating above the physical world.

But neither are we essentially like the chair I am sitting on, or the laptop computer I am typing on.

We are neither “something over and above the physical” (ghosts) nor “merely physical” (hunks of lifeless mechanical matter, or inert material, temporally-reversible, equilibrium thermodynamic processes, namely, natural automata).

We are neither ghosts nor machines!

Instead, we are living organisms, which means that we are fully natural and physical, yet “not so damned physical,” in the way that natural automata are, and more specifically, that we are rational human minded living organisms.

42. And the same same point generalizes smoothly beyond all rational human minded animals, to all rational minded animals or real persons whatsoever, of any species.

It is deeply metaphysically important neither to inflate or overestimate ourselves, for example, via ontological dualism or speciesism, nor to deflate or underestimate ourselves, for example, via reductive or non-reductive physicalism and natural mechanism.[iv]

That way — forever suspended between the outer-alienating rock of ontological dualism/specieism (the ghost) and the inner-alienating hard place of physicalism/natural mechanism (the machine) — metaphysical madness lies.

To recover and to preserve our metaphysical sanity, we must be able to see ourselves as we really are, namely, as rational minded “human, all too human” life-forms, identical to our lives.

“Family Group,” by Celia Paul


[i] This idea goes back to Hobbes. See, e.g., R. Hanna, “Persons and Personation in Hobbes’s Leviathan,” Southern Journal of Philosophy 21 (1983): 177–191.

[ii] See R. Hanna, Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 2) (New York: Nova Science, 2018), PREVIEW.

[iii] For more on the concept of death, and a theory of the morality of our own deaths, see also R. Hanna, Kantian Ethics and Human Existence: A Study in Moral Philosophy (New York: Nova Science, 2018), PREVIEW, ch. 6.

[iv] On the deflationary side, there are also skeptical and/or social constructivist views of persons and selves, that reject the real existence of persons or selves, or at least make persons and selves strictly dependent on historically contingent social communities and sociocultural processes. As to the fully skeptical view, it is hard to see how this view could be rationally defended, without covertly presupposing a real person who is attempting to justify her beliefs by offering reasons for them, and therefore without rational self-contradiction or self-stultification. As to the strict dependence view, I don’t deny that the concept of the person or self is significantly determined by historically contingent social communities and sociocultural processes. But since a real person or self is categorically more than the concept of a person or self, it is simply a non sequitur to infer from the social construction of concepts, to the social construction of the things described by those concepts.


Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Thursday 28 March 2019

Against Professional Philosophy is a sub-project of the online mega-project Philosophy Without Borders, which is home-based on Patreon here.

Please consider becoming a patron!



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store