Personhood: Human and Person

Topics: Human, Humans, Religion Pages: 6 (1999 words) Published: March 19, 2013
Being a ‘Human Being’
I argue that ‘being human’ is a sufficient condition for the application of the label ‘person’ to a living creature – note that a dead human being is no longer alive, therefore they are no longer a person, yet they were once a person. The reason I argue for the case of all humans being persons is that I see many issues with denying personhood to a human being. The reason I argue for all humans being persons is mainly not because of the implications of doing so, but the implications of not doing so. For example…

Abortion is justified by many in that until the foetus has reached a certain stage of development, it is not considered a person, and therefore the termination of an unborn child (before a certain stage of development) is not tantamount to murder. Therefore, if we begin to deny personhood to other human beings we can just as equally justify their killing, or even merely their mistreatment. Imagine living in a society which judged that you had lost your status as a person and therefore could be lawfully killed (not murdered) by a doctor without your consent.

Faith and belief
Another distinction that very nicely sets all humans apart from animals is the presence of faith, and a network of beliefs. Humans, as far as we know, are the only species to possess religious beliefs, and whether this makes us more or less intelligent than other animals it is not for me to say, but it certainly differentiates us! We all hold a large number of beliefs, not merely in a religious sense, but regarding the world around us. To take an example, we may believe that Americans have landed on the moon, however we base this merely on what it is reported. It is entirely possible that the entire thing is a large sham, and merely there to deceive us. I, personally, cannot prove the moon landings happened, merely point to other evidence which does, in which I have faith in.

This is not saying that animals do not have beliefs, a herd of animals may respond to danger signalled by a sentry; they have no proof the danger is there, merely the word of the sentry who is acting on evidence he supposedly has. However, humans have such a complex array of interrelated beliefs which gives our mental life a level of complexity which therefore could be used as a attribute of personhood, or, to look at it differently, a way of differentiating humans from animals and maintaining that all humans are persons.

Autonomy, or reason
Once again, different to animals, we are not governed by our instincts. Whereas my pet chickens will dash for cover when a tractor comes rumbling down the lane, my 11 year old sister will not. Although her basic instincts might tell her that what is seemingly speeding towards her is dangerous, and indeed is, she knows that she is in no actual danger. She acts on her belief and applies a degree of reason, and is therefore able to rise above her animal instincts to give her, and the rest of us, a greater degree of control over our lives than other animals have.

Individuality is also a key attribute that separates us from animals, and also one which we may use as a necessary characteristic to attain personhood. Humans are quite unlike other animals in that they like to construct for themselves a sense of being such a thing, themself, and a way to differentiate themselves from everyone else around them, to make them unique. Human beings in all societies around the world give themselves names, a very basic way of attaining individuality to a certain degree. However, the flaw with this is that if someone was unique in the same way as another person, so they were no longer individual, then would the two have some form of diminished personhood? This would be incorrect to state, not merely because it would be assuming that personhood can be gradated, however somewhat improbable to occur outside a thought experiment in a philosophy essay.

Many, if not most, religious people are of the...
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