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January 28th, 2016
Jenny Hung
(Lingnan University, Hong Kong)

On Baker’s Constitutionalism of Persons and the Materialist Ontology

location: Nihon University, Sakurajousui campus, room 3502.
date and time: Thursday January 28th, 16:30~18:00.


Lynne Rudder Baker proposes a constitutionalism of persons. She asserts that persons are material objects like other concrete things in the world, but they are unique in their first person perspectives - the ability to conceive of oneself as the subject of thoughts (Baker, 2007). Constitution is not identity, because the constituted objects have different essential properties, causal powers and persistence conditions from their lower-level constituters (Baker, 1997). Moreover, a first person perspective is single - there cannot be two persons at one time both with your first-person perspective; and unique - a molecular duplicate of me would have a qualitatively indistinguishable first-person perspective from mine, but not my first-person perspective (Baker, 2007).

I argue that there is a tension between Baker’s Constitutionalism of Persons and her materialistic ontology. First, Baker fails to demonstrate the nature of a first person perspective. I exist when my first person perspective is realized, but I cannot be identical with a perspective. The question “Who I am” remains unanswered. If a first person perspective is an ability as Baker suggests, it should not be unique as Baker claims. Further, it is ridiculous to say that I am an ability. On the other hand, if one’s perspective is not an ability but a thing, then it is unclear to us why a material constitution such as a body realize a particular, unique thing – my perspective, but not the other thing, such as your perspective. The essence of one’s first person perspective remains unanswered. From this, I casts doubt on whether Baker’s physicalism (Baker, 1995, 1999b, 2011) can explain the nature and the uniqueness of a first person perspective.

Second, I argue that Baker’s Constitution Theory of Persons fails to provide criteria of diachronic identity of a first person perspective over time, given that she does not regard constitution as a kind of identity relation. Baker’s theory is therefore undesirable due to lack of practical implications of personal identity. To alleviate this, I suggest that Baker provide grounds for the sameness of a first person perspective.

I propose three possibilities for grounding the identity conditions, and demonstrate that each of them has inconsistencies with other parts of Baker’s theory. The first possibility is that we ground the same first person perspective over time by virtue of psychological continuity. However, this violates Baker’s assertion that a first person perspective is single, as at any time it is possible that brain splitting produces two persons B and C both psychologically continuous with the original person A. The second possibility is to ground the identity condition by bodily continuity. That is to say, there is the sameness of a first person perspective over time if and only if there is the same body / organism. The problem is that Baker would need to admit that your fetus or your being in a vegetable state is also the same person as the normal functioning you, although it does not produce the first person perspective at that moment, and this is a position that Baker clearly refutes (Baker, 1999a). The third possibility is to acknowledge that the diachronic identity condition of a first person perspective is a brute fact that cannot be grounded by any observational data. Nevertheless, it would be necessary for her to propose a further fact, despite being a brute fact, from which the sameness of a first person perspective holds. This would digress from Baker’s naturalistic intention, since it declares that physicalism is not a complete description. I conclude that the failure of grounding the identity conditions of first person perspectives reveals that Baker’s constitutionalism of persons is inconsistent with her materialistic ontology.

Baker, Lynne Rudder (2011). Christian materialism in a scientific age. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 70 (1): 47-59.
Baker, Lynne Rudder (2007). Persons and other things. Journal of Consciousness Studies 14 (5-6): 5-6.
Baker, Lynne Rudder (1999a). What am I? Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 59 (1): 151-159.
Baker, Lynne Rudder (1999b). Unity without identity: A new look at material constitution. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 23 (1): 144–165.
Baker, Lynne Rudder (1995). Need a Christian Be a Mind/Body Dualist'? Faith and Philosophy 12 (4): 489-504.