Monday, January 31, 2005


I think Unger goes wrong in assuming that people are simply a collection of particles. One of his main points is that due to the very large number of component pieces that make up a human, gradual removal does very little, and it seems unlikely that there is a threshold point at which too many components have been removed. This idea of a threshold is indeed somewhat absurd, which is why I find it difficult to refute his argument about tables not exisiting. However, when speaking of humans, I think that in terms of what defines a human, functionality and some sort of consciousness are inherent in what we deem as "human". Within this light, it seems that the threshold problem has been resolved, because if the collection of particles we are talking about (the person) is still able to function to a point they could be defined as human. If one particle is removed and that functionality has ceased, so to has the human object. This does raise interesting ideas however about what we define to be human, e.g., a living brain with no body, etc.


Blogger Sam Lehman said...

I disagree with you in regard to the threshold concept. First, disregarding beliefs of mind-body dualism, it is entirely scientific and reasonable to permit Unger's definition of a person. We are very much collections of particles; concepts such as consciousness and empathy stem from constituent particles arranged and interacting in such a way as to be a 'brain.'
However, what Unger does not address is interaction. Unger states that since you may remove one constituent from a physical object, and because one constituent MAY BE itself the physical object, which would leave you with nothing, that nothing exists.
Now, the simplest way to deny this "Nothing Exists" claim is to deny the conclusion, that the loss of a constituent denotes no difference in identity. However, as we've seen in class, this is kinda tough.
I would choose instead to disagree with you and embrace the concept of a Threshold. I would elaborate upon my earlier assertion that a person is defined by its constituents and add that the fundamental interaction of particles also defines the person. A collection of particles identical to those of which I consist, in an infinite number of other arrangements, is not me nor anyone else.
By Unger's description of removing the least damaging particles at every point, there will be a Threshold at which the least damaging particle fatally disrupts interactions that are an aspect of the definition of human. At that point, I am no longer defined by particle interactions, and am no longer human.
This can apply to other objects aside from people; feel free to ask if you want my explanation. I just realized how much I wrote.

3:43 PM  

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