Persons and a Metaphysics of the Navel

Persons and a Metaphysics of the Navel

Dennis M. Weiss

York College of Pennsylvania

Keywords: personhood, science fiction, cyborg, Yod, Piercy, Grene, Baier, naturalism


Naturalist views of persons, such as those of the philosophers Annette Baier and Marjorie Grene, emphasize that human persons are cultural animals: We are living, embodied, organic beings, embedded in nature, the product of Darwinian evolution, but dependent on culture. Such naturalist views of persons typically eschew science fiction and look askance at the philosophical fantasies and thought experiments that often populate philosophical treatments of personal identity. Marge Piercy’s dystopian, cyberpunk, science fiction novel He, She and It weaves a complex tale around the debate over the status of its central character Yod, a cyborg created in a lab but humanized through the efforts of two women, Malkah Shipman and her granddaughter Shira Shipman. Is Yod a person, despite having been engineered in a lab for a specific purpose? Piercy’s tale both challenges and ultimately supports a naturalist view of persons while simultaneously forewarning us of possible new styles of persons to come.

About the author

Dennis M. Weiss is Professor of Philosophy in the English and Humanities Department at York College of Pennsylvania.

Published: 2018-06-03

Issue: Vol 1 (2018): All Persons Great and Small: The Notion of Personhood in SF

Section: Yearly Theme

Copyright (c) 2018 Dennis M. Weiss

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