Compare and Contrast the Philosophical Contributions Aristotle and Descartes Make to Our Understanding of a Person

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In order to begin analyzing Aristotle and Descartes contribution to our notion of a person, we need to be able to understand what the term ‘personhood' means. Unfortunately there is no clear answer, with philosophers still presenting conflicting ideas. However by asking questions such as; is ‘personhood' identical to human being? What is the essence of a person? What relation does a person have with the world? When does personhood begin? At what point if ever does it end? And finally what makes a good person? We move closer to a set of characteristics that make up a person. Therefore we can judge Aristotle and Descartes contribution to a person by evaluating their answers to such questions.

Personhood being purely a human phenomenon is a popular debate amongst philosophers, and the side that excludes animals is taken by both Aristotle and Descartes. Being a rationalist, Descartes begins his argument for this issue with the statement that a ‘person' is a thinking thing. He comes to this conclusion through reason in the cogito argument as he can not doubt that he thinks, and he can not exist if he ceases to think therefore he is a thinking thing. With this foundation he is able to distinguish animals from the concept of personhood, as for Descartes a thinking thing is one that doubts, understands, conceives, affirms, denies, wills, refuses, imagines, and feels, attributes needed for self- consciousness and attributes he does not believe animals to hold. While Descartes agrees that animals have mental states he does not accept that they are self- aware of themselves in relation to others and their own existence. This idea of self consciousness being a necessity in personhood, has contributed to John Locke's theories in which he emphasises the idea of a person as a living being that is conscious of itself as persisting over time, a scholar that has greatly influenced the recently developed ‘personhood theory'. The criteria of is that a person must hold one or...
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