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Deep Metaphysical Differences

Lynne Rudder Baker

Reply to Dean Zimmerman's Critical Response

Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at University of Massachusetts
April 29, 2017

First, I’d like to thank Dean Zimmerman for his thoughtful and thought-provoking essays.

My basic difference with Dean, I believe, is a deep metaphysical difference: I do not think that what a particular thing is made up of—organic matter, silicone, spiritual “stuff” or something else—determines what the thing is. Not even structure is a reliable guide (think of sculptures). What a thing is is determined by its primary kind.1

Dean is right that my view depends on the idea of constitution, but unlike Dean, I believe that constitution is more than spatial coincidence. Moreover, I do not believe that the constituting thing is more fundamental than the constituted thing: on my view, a person is more fundamental—has greater ontological significance—than the body that constitutes her. (I would like to turn mainstream metaphysics on its head.)

Dean’s remarks on functions and how their values are derivative entities that can “jump” are quite interesting, but there is no reason to think that I am stuck with any such view. I don’t think that “all the best ways to make room for coincident objects” treat ordinary things as derivative entities. Mine doesn’t. On my view, (1) constituted objects, though spatially coincident, do not “jump,” and (2) they are not derivative entities.

(1) Consider my driver’s license, constituted now by a particular piece of plastic. Suppose that it melts in a fire and is replaced. What gets replaced? The piece of plastic. I would have the same license, with the same driving record. Was there any “jumping”? I don’t think so. There would be “jumping” only if you thought that the license just was identical to the piece of plastic that constituted it. But what makes something a license is not the same as what makes it a piece of plastic. So, the license is not identical to the piece of plastic, and my particular license, issued on 12/31/2013, can continue to exist constituted by an entirely different piece of plastic.

In the natural world, human persons are subject to the same natural laws as every other kind of concrete object; we do not “jump from one place to another without constraint.” And my view of constitution does not imply otherwise.

(2) A driver’s license is not a derivative entity. A driver’s license has different and greater causal powers than its constituting piece of plastic would have had if it had constituted nothing. Again, what is constituted (e.g. a driver’s license, a person) has greater ontological significance than what constitutes it (e.g., a piece of plastic, a human body).

In The Metaphysics of Everyday Life and elsewhere, you can see that my view of constitution does not imply that persons are derivative entities.2 Like Dean, I take myself to be a genuine cause that “does some real pushing and pulling.” I exercise these powers by moving my constituting body.

Let’s turn back from constitution in general to persons. Each person, unlike other objects in the material world, is unique; persons, unlike atoms, are not interchangeable. Hence, I need to appeal to something more fine-grained than the property of being a person, or of having a first-person perspective essentially—something more fine-grained than a property that all persons share. That’s why I turned to the idea of exemplification of a first-person perspective essentially. It is my exemplification of the property of having a first-person perspective essentially that makes me me, and your exemplification of the property of having a first-person perspective essentially that makes you you.

If you find the idea of exemplification of a property too obscure, you can suppose instead that there is a different property for each person, such that one person, and only one person, can have it essentially. You can say: LB has the property of having a first-person perspective(LB) essentially, and Dean has the property of having a first-person perspective(DZ) essentially, and so on. In that way, you can avoid reference to exemplifications and still retain the constitution view. For my part, I prefer to appeal to different exemplifications of the same property, rather than to different individualized properties.

By the way, I do not think that there are any logically sufficient criteria for personal identity over time. So, I take the identity of persons over time to be primitive—a “brute fact,” as Dean calls it—and hence I must deny that having a first-person perspective is a criterion of personal identity, on pain of circularity.

In every case, resurrection is a miracle performed by God. On my model—same person, different body, no soul—there is not a new person in the resurrection; there is only a new body, a spiritual body. Admittedly, I don’t know what a spiritual body would be like, but I am confident that no immaterial soul is required.


1. cf. Lynne Rudder Baker, Naturalism and the First-Person Perspective (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 224-225.

2. Lynne Rudder Baker, The Metaphysics of Everyday Life: An Essay in Practical Realism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 32-39.