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American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 82, Issue 3, Summer 2008

David B. Hershenov
Pages 481-502
DOI: 10.5840/acpq200882332

A Hylomorphic Account of Thought Experiments Concerning Personal Identity

Hylomorphism offers a third way between animalist approaches to personal identity, which maintain that psychology is irrelevant to our persistence, and neo-Lockean accounts, which deny that humans are animals. This paper provides a Thomistic account that explains the intuitive responses to thought experiments involving brain transplants and the transformation of organic bodies into inorganic ones. This account does not have to follow the animalist in abandoning the claim that it is our identity which matters in survival, or countenance the puzzles of spatially coincident entities that plague the neo-Lockean. The key is to understand the human being as only contingently an animal. This approach to our animality is one that Catholics have additional reason to hold given certain views about purgatory, our uniqueness as free and rational creatures, and our having once existed as zygotes.

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