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Profile: Eric T. Olson (University of Sheffield)
  1. Eric Olson, A Materialist Metaphysics of the Human Person.
    The metaphysics of personal identity is rarely approached in a systematic way. The usual practice is to start with a question such as what our identity over time consists in, and canvass our opinions about a range of fictional “test cases” (is it the same person?). The view that does best by those opinions is then taken to answer the question. Whether that view fits into any wider metaphysical picture is left open.
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  2. Eric T. Olson, Animalism and the Remnant-Person Problem.
    Animalism is the view that you and I are animals. That is, we are animals in the straightforward sense of having the property of being an animal, or in that each of us is identical to an animal-not merely in the derivative sense of having animal bodies, or of being "constituted by" animals. And by 'animal' I mean an organism of the animal kingdom." Sensible though it may appear, animalism is highly contentious. The most common objection is that it conflicts (...)
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  3. Eric T. Olson, Immanent Causation and Life After Death.
    Is life after death metaphysically possible? What would have to be the case for us to have it? What are the necessary conditions for any possible afterlife? Let us suppose for the sake of argument that there is a being with all the tools of omnipotence at its disposal-God for short. What would he have to do to give us life after death? Or is there anything he could do?
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  4. Eric T. Olson, Identity, Quantification, and Number.
    E. J. Lowe and others argue that there can be 'uncountable' things admitting of no numerical description. This implies that there can be something without there being at least one such thing, and that things can be identical without being one or nonidentical without being two. The clearest putative example of uncountable things is portions of homogeneous stuff or 'gunk'. The paper argues that there is a number of portions of gunk if there is any gunk at all, and that (...)
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  5. Eric T. Olson, Interview, to Appear in A. Steglich-Petersen, Ed., Meta H Sics: 5 Uestions (New.
    The next item on the syllabus was the ~Re ublic, and here too it was the metaphysical claims that excited me. With the naive audacity of youth, I wrote an essay arguing that Plato's doctrine of the Forms couldn't possibly be right. (My teacher, as I recall, was unconvinced; but she was not a philosopher, and was unable to defend the doctrine against my objections.) The subject I had stumbled across was so much more fun than chemistry and mathematics that (...)
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  6. Eric T. Olson, Life After Death and the Devastation of the Grave.
    This paper-written for nonspecialist readers-asks whether life after death is in any sense possible given the apparent fact that after we die our remains decay to the point where only randomly scattered atoms remain. The paper argues that this is possible only if our remains are not in fact dispersed in this way, and discusses how that might be the case.
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  7. Eric T. Olson, Self: Personal Identity.
    Personal identity deals with the many philosophical questions about ourselves that arise by virtue of our being people. The most frequently discussed is what it takes for a person to persist through time. Many philosophers say that we persist by virtue of psychological continuity. Others say that our persistence is determined by brute physical facts, and psychology is irrelevant. In choosing among these answers we must consider not only what they imply about who is who in particular cases, both real (...)
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  8. Eric T. Olson, The Nature of People.
    Or maybe the formula should be 'Necessarily, x is a person at time t if and only if...x...t...', so as not to prejudge the issue of whether something could be a person at one time and a nonperson at another." Call this the ersonhood uestion. The most common answer is that to be a person (at a time) is to have certain special mental properties (at that time). Locke, for instance, said that a person is "a thinking intelligent being, that (...)
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  9. Eric Olson, Eric T. Olson Warum Wir Tiere Sind.
    Was sind wir? Wie immer man sich zu dieser Frage stellt, eines scheint offenkundig: Wir sind Tiere, genauer gesagt: menschliche Tiere, Mitglieder der Art Homo sapiens. Dabei mag es überraschen, daß viele Philosophen diese vermeintlich banale Tatsache abstreiten. Plato, Augustinus, Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant und Hegel, um nur einige herausragende zu nennen, waren alle der Meinung, wir seien keine Tiere. Es mag zwar sein, daß unsere Körper Tiere sind. Doch sind wir nicht mit unseren Körpern gleichzusetzen. Wir sind etwas (...)
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  10. Eric Olson, Critical Notice.
    For a long time philosophers thought material objects were unproblematic. Or nearly so. There may have been a problem about what a material object is: a substance, a bundle of tropes, a compound of substratum and universals, a collection of sense-data, or what have you. But once that was settled there were supposed to be no further metaphysical problems about material objects. This illusion has now largely been dispelled. No one can get a Ph.D. in philosophy nowadays without encountering the (...)
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  11. Eric Olson, Thinking Animals and the Constitution View.
    Having already written a formal review of Persons and Bodies Mind 110, 2001, 427-430), I see this exchange as a sort of tutorial. I will try to explain why I found certain parts of the book puzzling or implausible, and Professor Baker will try to set me straight.
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  12. Eric Olson, This Review Appeared in Mind 2008.
    This book consists of fifteen new essays and an introduction by Zimmerman. Most of the authors are Christian philosophers in the ‘analytic’ tradition, and the book is of particular interest to readers of that sort; but there is nothing here that will interest only Christians. As the title suggests, all the essays have at least something to do with persons as such, and most deal with metaphysical issues. Beyond that they are pretty disparate. Seven papers are on substance dualism or (...)
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  13. Eric Olson (forthcoming). Brains. In E Olson (ed.), What Are We? A Study in Personal Ontology. Oxford University Press.
    If we are neither animals nor material things constituted by animals, we might be parts of animals. This chapter is devoted to the view that we are spatial parts of animals; the next asks whether we are temporal parts. The only spatial parts of animals that I can think of any reason to suppose we might be are brains, or something like brains--parts of brains or perhaps entire central nervous sytems. Call the view that we are something like brains the (...)
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  14. Eric T. Olson (forthcoming). In Search of the Simple View. In G. Gasser & M. Stefan (eds.), Personal Identity: Complex or Simple? Cambridge University Press.
    Accounts of personal identity over time are supposed to fall into two broad categories: 'complex views' saying that our persistence consists in something else, and 'simple views' saying that it doesn' t. But it is impossible to characterize this distinction in any satisfactory way. The debate has been systematically misdescribed. After arguing for this claim, the paper says something about how the debate might be better characterized.
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  15. Eric T. Olson (2014). The Metaphysical Implications of Conjoined Twinning. Southern Journal of Philosophy 52 (S1):24-40.
    Conjoined twinning is said to show that the number of human people—the number of us—can differ from the number of human organisms, and hence that we are not organisms. The paper shows that these arguments either assume the point at issue, rely on dubious and undefended assumptions, or add nothing to more familiar arguments for the same conclusion.
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  16. Eric T. Olson (2013). The Epicurean View of Death. Journal of Ethics 17 (1-2):65-78.
    The Epicurean view is that there is nothing bad about death, and we are wrong to loathe it. This paper distinguishes several different such views, and shows that while some of them really would undermine our loathing of death, others would not. It then argues that any version that did so could be at best vacuously true: If there is nothing bad about death, that can only be because there is nothing bad about anything.
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  17. Eric T. Olson & In B. Bradley (2013). The Person and the Corpse. In Ben Bradley, Fred Feldman & Jens Johansson (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Death. Oup Usa. 80.
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  18. Eric T. Olson (2011). The Extended Self. Minds and Machines 21 (4):481-495.
    The extended-mind thesis says that mental states can extend beyond one’s skin. Clark and Chalmers infer from this that the subjects of such states also extend beyond their skin: the extended-self thesis. The paper asks what exactly the extended-self thesis says, whether it really does follow from the extended-mind thesis, and what it would mean if it were true. It concludes that the extended-self thesis is unattractive, and does not follow from the extended mind unless thinking beings are literally bundles (...)
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  19. Eric T. Olson (2010). Ethics and the Generous Ontology. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 31 (4):259-270.
    According to a view attractive to both metaphysicians and ethicists, every period in a person’s life is the life of a being just like that person except that it exists only during that period. These “subpeople” appear to have moral status, and their interests seem to clash with ours: though it may be in some person’s interests to sacrifice for tomorrow, it is not in the interests of a subperson coinciding with him only today, who will never benefit from it. (...)
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  20. Daniel C. Dennett, Eric Olson, Derek Parfit, Ray Kurzweil & Michael Huemer (2009). What Am I? Free Will and the Nature of Persons. In Susan Schneider (ed.), Science Fiction and Philosophy: From Time Travel to Superintelligence. Wiley-Blackwell.
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  21. Eric Olson (2009). An Argument for Animalism. In John P. Lizza (ed.), Defining the Beginning and End of Life: Readings on Personal Identity and Bioethics. Johns Hopkins University Press.
    The view that we are human animals, "animalism", is deeply unpopular. This paper explains what that claim says and why it is so contentious. It then argues that those who deny it face an awkward choice. They must either deny that there are any human animals, deny that human animals can think, or deny that we are the thinking things located where we are.
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  22. Eric Olson (2009). The Passage of Time. In Robin Le Poidevin (ed.), The Routledge Companion to Metaphysics. Routledge.
    The prosaic content of these sayings is that events change from future to present and from present to past. Your next birthday is in the future, but with the passage of time it draws nearer and nearer until it is present. 24 hours later it will be in the past, and then lapse forever deeper into history. And things get older: even if they don’t wear out or lose their hair or change in any other way, their chronological age is (...)
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  23. Eric T. Olson (2009). The Rate of Time's Passage. Analysis 69 (1):3-9.
    Many philosophers say that time involves a kind of passage that distinguishes it from space. A traditional objection is that this passage would have to occur at some rate, yet we cannot say what the rate would be. The paper argues that the real problem with time’s passage is different: time would have to pass at one second per second, yet this is not a rate of change. This appears to refute decisively not only the view that time passes, but (...)
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  24. Eric Olson (2008). Précis of the Human Animal. Abstracta 3 (3):5-7.
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  25. Eric Olson (2008). Replies. Abstracta 3 (3):32-42.
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  26. Eric T. Olson (2007). What Are We? Journal of Consciousness Studies 14 (s 5-6):37-55.
    This paper is about the neglected question of what sort of things we are metaphysically speaking. It is different from the mind-body problem and from familiar questions of personal identity. After explaining what the question means and how it differs from others, the paper tries to show how difficult it is to give a satisfying answer.
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  27. Eric T. Olson (2007). What Are We?: A Study in Personal Ontology. Oxford University Press.
    From the time of Locke, discussions of personal identity have often ignored the question of our basic metaphysical nature: whether we human people are biological organisms, spatial or temporal parts of organisms, bundles of perceptions, or what have you. The result of this neglect has been centuries of wild proposals and clashing intuitions. What Are We? is the first general study of this important question. It beings by explaining what the question means and how it differs from others, such as (...)
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  28. Eric Olson (2006). Is There a Bodily Criterion of Personal Identity? In Fraser MacBride (ed.), Identity and Modality. Oxford University Press. 242.
    One of the main problems of personal identity is supposed to be how we relate to our bodies. A few philosophers endorse what is called a 'bodily criterion of personal identity': they say that we are our bodies, or at any rate that our identity over time consists in the identity of our bodies. Many more deny this--typically on the grounds that we can imagine ourselves coming apart from our bodies. But both sides agree that the bodily criterion is an (...)
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  29. Eric T. Olson (2006). Temporal Parts and Timeless Parthood. Noûs 40 (4):738-752.
    What is a temporal part? Most accounts explain it in terms of timeless parthood: a thing's having a part without temporal qualification. Some find this hard to understand, and thus find the view that persisting things have temporal parts—four-dimensionalism—unintelligible. T. Sider offers to help by defining temporal parthood in terms of a thing's having a part at a time. I argue that no such account can capture the notion of a temporal part that figures in orthodox four-dimensionalism: temporal parts must (...)
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  30. Eric T. Olson (2006). Consciousness and Persons: Unity and Identity, Michael Tye. Cambridge, Ma, and London, Uk. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 73 (2):500–503.
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  31. Eric T. Olson (2006). Consciousness and Persons: Unity and Identity. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 73 (2):500-503.
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  32. Eric T. Olson (2006). Consciousness and Persons. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 73 (2):500-503.
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  33. Eric T. Olson (2006). Imperfect Identity. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 106 (2):247–264.
    That grass is green, that pigs don’t fly, and that you are now awake are all hard facts. But there is often said to be something soft about matters of identity over time. Is today’s village church the very church that was first built here, despite centuries of repairs and alterations? How many parts of my bicycle do I need to replace before I get a numerically different bike? If a club disbands and years later some of the original members (...)
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  34. Eric T. Olson (2006). Identity, Personal Identity, and the Self, by John Perry. European Journal of Philosophy 14 (3):434–437.
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  35. Eric T. Olson (2006). The Bodily Criterion of Personal Identity. In Fraser MacBride (ed.), Identity and Modality. Clarendon Press.
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  36. Eric T. Olson (2006). The Paradox of Increase. The Monist 89 (3):390-417.
    It seems evident that things sometimes get bigger by acquiring new parts. But there is an ancient argument purporting to show that this is impossible: the paradox of increase or growing argument.i Here is a sketch of the paradox. Suppose we have an object, A, and we want to make it bigger by adding a part, B. That is, we want to bring it about that A first lacks and then has B as a part. Imagine, then, that we conjoin (...)
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  37. Eric T. Olson (2004). Animalism and the Corpse Problem. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 82 (2):265-74.
    The apparent fact that each of us coincides with a thinking animal looks like a strong argument for our being animals (animalism). Some critics, however, claim that this sort of reasoning actually undermines animalism. According to them, the apparent fact that each human animal coincides with a thinking body that is not an animal is an equally strong argument for our not being animals. I argue that the critics' case fails for reasons that do not affect the case for animalism.
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  38. Eric T. Olson (2003). Lowe's Defence of Constitutionalism. Philosophical Quarterly 53 (210):92–95.
    Constitutionalism says that qualitatively different objects can be made of the same matter at once. Critics claim that we should expect such objects to be qualitatively indistinguishable. E.J. Lowe thinks this complaint is based on the false assumption that differences in the way things are at a time must always be grounded in how things are at that time, and that we can answer it by pointing out that different kinds of coinciding objects are subject to different composition principles. I (...)
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  39. Eric T. Olson (2003). Was Jekyll Hyde? Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 66 (2):328 - 348.
    Many philosophers say that two or more people or thinking beings could share a single human being in a split-personality case, if only the personalities were sufficiently independent and individually well integrated. I argue that this view is incompatible with our being material things, and conclude that there could never be two or more people in a split-personality case. This refutes the view, almost universally held, that facts about mental unity and disunity determine how many people there are. I suggest (...)
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  40. Eric Olson (2002). Review of Hud Hudson, A Materialist Metaphysics of the Human Person. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2002 (4).
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  41. Eric Olson (2002). Thinking Animals and the Reference of ‘I’. Philosophical Topics 30 (1):189-207.
    In this essay I explore the idea that the solution to some important problems of personal identity lies in the philosophy of language: more precisely in the nature of first-person reference. I will argue that the “linguistic solution” is at best partly successful.
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  42. Eric T. Olson (2002). Personal Identity. In Stephen P. Stich & Ted A. Warfield (eds.), Blackwell Guide to Philosophy of Mind. Blackwell.
    Personal identity deals with questions about ourselves qua people (or persons). Many of these questions are familiar ones that occur to everyone at some time: What am I? When did I begin? What will happen to me when I die? Discussions of personal identity go right back to the origins of Western philosophy, and most major figures have had something to say about it. (There is also a rich literature on personal identity in Eastern philosophy, which I am not competent (...)
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  43. Eric T. Olson (2002). What Does Functionalism Tell Us About Personal Identity? Noûs 36 (4):682-698.
    Sydney Shoemaker argues that the functionalist theory of mind entails a psychological-continuity view of personal identity, as well as providing a defense of that view against a crucial objection. I show that his view has surprising consequences, e.g. that no organism could have mental properties and that a thing's mental properties fail to supervene even weakly on its microstructure and surroundings. I then argue that the view founders on "fission" cases and rules out our being material things. Functionalism tells us (...)
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  44. Eric Olson (2001). Book Review. Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View Lynne Rudder Baker. [REVIEW] Mind 110 (438):427-430.
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  45. Eric T. Olson (2001). A Compound of Two Substances. In Kevin J. Corcoran (ed.), Soul, Body, and Survival. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
    Cartesian or substance dualism is the view that concrete substances come in two basic kinds. There are material things, such as biological organisms. These may be either simple or composed of parts. And there are immaterial things--minds or souls--which are always simple. No material thing depends for its existence on any soul, or vice versa. And only souls can think.
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  46. Eric T. Olson (2001). Material Coincidence and the Indiscernibility Problem. Philosophical Quarterly 51 (204):337-355.
    It is often said that the same particles can simultaneously make up two or more material objects that differ in kind and in their mental, biological, and other qualitative properties. Others wonder how objects made of the same parts in the same arrangement and surroundings could differ in these ways. I clarify this worry and show that attempts to dismiss or solve it miss its point. At most one can argue that it is a problem we can live with.
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  47. Eric T. Olson (2001). Personal Identity and the Radiation Argument. Analysis 61 (269):38-44.
    Sydney Shoemaker has argued that, because we can imagine a people who take themselves to survive a 'brain-state-transfer' procedure, cerebrum transplant, or the like, we ought to conclude that we could survive such a thing. I claim that the argument faces two objections, and can be defended only by depriving it any real interest.
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  48. Eric N. Olson & R. Sanders Williams (2000). Remodeling Muscles with Calcineurin. Bioessays 22 (6):510-519.
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