The term person is used in
common senseto mean an individual human being. But in the fields of law, philosophy, medicine, and others, it means the presence of certain characteristics that grant a certain legal, ethical, or moral standing.
For example, in many jurisdictions, the law allows a group of human beings to act together as a single composite entity called a
corporation, and the corporation is considered a legal personwith standing to sue or be sued in court. In philosophy and medicine, "person" may mean only humans who are capable of certain kinds of thought, and thus exclude embryos, early fetuses, or adults with certain types of brain damage. [ Strawson, P.F. 1959. "Individuals". London: Methuen: 104.] [Locke, John. 1961. " Essay Concerning Human Understanding". London:Dent: 280.]
Origin of the concept of personhood
Person and Personhood in relation to the human being are the concepts that were formulated in the early
Christiantheological tradition, during the first centuries A.D. by the great Church Fathers. The very concept of person (prosopon in Greek) was the result of a theological dispute, how God, according to the Christian ( Orthodox) teaching, can be One and three at the same time. Further explication of the problem let to the formulation that there is one substance (or being) and three persons (hypostases): God Father, God Sonand God Holy Spirit, but still just one God, not three. This theological concept of the person as something that has a specific identity and holds the fullness of being, was applied to the human beingas well. The Church Fathers interpreted the " iconof God" in man as human ability to exist as a person, having his/her own unique identity in communion with other persons. Later in the West the concept was translated into Latin as persona and was explained by Boethiusand St. Augustine as something characterized by rational capacities. [Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1997). ISBN 978-0881410297]
As an application of
Social Psychology. and other discplines, phenomena such as the "perception" and "attribution" of personhood have been scientifically studied. [Person Perception. Second Edition. Schneider, Hastdorf, and Ellsworth. 1979, Addison Wesley ISBN 0-201-06768-4] [ [http://jls.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/10/2/99 Second-Language Fluency and Person Perception in China and the United States] ] Typical questions addressed in Social Psychology are the accuracy of attribution, processes of perception and the formation of bias. Various other scientific/medical disciplines address the myriad of issues in the development of personality.
Individual rights and responsibility
Closely related to the debate on the definition of personhood is the relationship between persons',
individual rights, and ethical responsibility. Many philosophers would agree that all and only people are expected to be ethically responsible, and that all people deserve a varying degree of individual rights. There is less consensus on whether only people deserve individual rights and whether people deserve greater individualrights than non-people. The rights of animals are an example of contention on this issue.
Who is a person?
Human beings, after birth - Once human beings are born, personhood is considered automatic in the normal course of events.
** Exceptions: - Exceptions to this are often emotive and controversial. Some people have given opinions that
fetuses, the disabled, the profoundly and long term brain damaged, those in comaor other persistent vegetative states, may be dubious as regards personhood. Such views are strongly debated from both sides.
Animals - Some philosophers and those involved in animal welfare, ethology, animal rightsand related subjects, consider that certain animals should also be granted personhood. Commonly named species in this context include the Great Apes and possibly cetaceans or elephants, due to the acknowledged intelligence and intricate societies of such species.
* Certain societal constructs - certain social entities, are considered legally as persons, for example some
corporations and other legal entities. This is known as legal, or corporate, personhood.
In addition speculatively, there are three other likely categories of beings where personhood might be at issue:
* Unknown intelligent life-forms - for example, should alien life be found to exist, under what circumstances would they be counted as 'persons'?
Artificial life- at what point might human-created life be considered to have achieved personhood?
Artificial intelligence- assuming the eventual creation of an intelligent and self-aware system of hardware and software, what criteria would be used to confer or withhold the status of person?
* Modified living beings - for example, how much of a human being can be replaced by artificial parts before personhood is lost?
** Further, if the
brainis the reason people are considered persons, then if the human brain and all its thought patterns, memories and other attributes could also in future be transposed faithfully into some form of artificial device (for example to avoid illness such as brain cancer) would the patient still be considered a 'person' after the operation?Such questions are used by philosophers to clarify thinking concerning what it means to be human, or living, or a person.
Implications of the person/non-person debate
The personhood theory has become a pivotal issue in the interdisciplinary field of
bioethics. While historically most humans did not enjoy full legal protection as persons (women, children, non-landowners, minorities, slaves, etc.), from the late 18th through the late 20th century, being born as a member of the human species gradually became secular grounds for the basic rights of liberty, freedom from persecution, and humanitarian care.
Since modern movements emerged to oppose animal cruelty (and advocate
veganphilosophy) and theorists like Turing have recognized the possibility of artificial minds with human-level competence, the identification of personhood protections exclusively with human species membership has been challenged. On the other hand, some proponents of human exceptionalism(also referred to by its critics as speciesism) have countered that we must institute a strict demarcation of personhood based on species membership in order to avoid the horrors of genocide(based on propaganda dehumanizing one or more ethnicities) or the injustices of forced sterilization (as occurred in many countries to people with low I.Q. scores and prisoners).
While the former advocates tend to be comfortable constraining personhood status within the human species based on basic capacities (e.g. excluding human stem cells, fetuses, and bodies that cannot recover awareness), the latter often wish to include all these forms of human bodies even if they have never had awareness (which some would call "pre-people") or had awareness, but could never have awareness again due to massive and irrecoverable brain damage (some would call these "post-people"). The Vatican has recently been advancing a human exceptionalist understanding of personhood theory, while other communities, such as Christian
Evangelicalsin the U.S. have sometimes rejected the personhood theory as biased against human exceptionalism. Of course, many religious communities (of many traditions) view the other versions of the personhood theory perfectly compatible with their faith, as do the majority of modern Humanists.
The theoretical landscape of the personhood theory has been altered recently by controversy in the bioethics community concerning an emerging community of scholars, researchers, and activists identifying with an explicitly
Transhumanistposition, which supports morphological freedom, even if a person changed so much as to no longer be considered a member of the human species(by whatever standard is used to determine that).
Nonhuman sentient beings as persons
The idea of extending personhood to all animals has the support of legal scholars such as
Alan DershowitzDershowitz, Alan. "Rights from Wrongs: A Secular Theory of the Origins of Rights", 2004, pp. 198–99, and "Darwin, Meet Dershowitz," "The Animals' Advocate", Winter 2002, volume 21.] and Laurence Tribeof Harvard Law School, [http://www.aamc.org/newsroom/reporter/oct03/animalrights.htm "'Personhood' Redefined: Animal Rights Strategy Gets at the Essence of Being Human"] , Association of American Medical Colleges, retrieved July 12, 2006.] and animal lawcourses are now taught in 92 out of 180 law schools in the United States. [ [http://www.aldf.org/content/index.php?pid=83 "Animal law courses"] , Animal Legal Defense Fund.] On May 9, 2008, Columbia University Presswill publish [http://www.columbia.edu/cu/cup/catalog/data/978023113/9780231139502.HTM Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation] by Professor Gary L. Francioneof Rutgers UniversitySchool of Law, a collection of writings that summarizes his work to date and makes the case for non-human animals as persons.
There are also hypothetical persons, sentient non-human persons such as sentient extraterrestrial life and self aware machines. The novel and animated series
Ghost in the Shelltouch on the potential of inorganic sentience, while classical works of fiction and fantasy regarding extraterrestrials have challenged people to reconsider long held traditional definitions.
Corporate Personhood Debate
Great Ape personhood
Theory of mind
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy"
* " [http://www.iep.utm.edu/ The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy] "
* Carsten Korfmacher, [http://www.iep.utm.edu/p/person-i.htm 'Personal Identity'] , in the IEP
Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
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