Life at its edges: A new ontological look at the persistence conditions for organisms
Niswonger, Mark Eugene
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While there has been much development in specifying what constitutes the persistence conditions of human beings, most of this development has been within a psychological approach to personal identity. When one turns to the biological approach to personal identity, which considers humans as organisms, there has been much focus on pointing out metaphysical problems that psychological approaches face. However, due to a general philosophical preference towards psychological accounts, the work on persistence conditions within biological accounts has not been quite as systematic or with as much depth. My dissertation aims to fill this lacuna. My dissertation claims that the persistence conditions for organisms depend on processes, rather than the parts of organisms, dispositions within the organism, or any measure of entropy within the organism. I conclude that an organism persists if and only if there is perdurance of three processes within a membrane: a process of assimilation, a process of metabolism, and a process of regulation of that assimilation and metabolism. In this way, the persistence of substances, such as organisms, is tied to the perdurance of certain life processes. Against previous philosophers within the biological approach to personal identity, I argue that the persistence of an organism cannot be tied to a particular part, such as the whole brain for Peter van Inwagen or the brain stem for Eric Olson. My dissertation has ramifications for the conceptual coherence of whole brain death, what the unit of selection is in evolution and population biology, and relations between ontologies of three-dimensional entities (such as substances) and four-dimensional entities (such as processes).