What is a person? A seemingly easy question, however, once looked into, the ideas and presumptions that people have are filled with contradictions and controversies. Many people, religions, organisations, and governments have a differing opinion on what qualities an entity must possess to be a person, however, there are many similarities. Many religions, for example, believe a person, houses an immortal ‘soul’ or spirit, capable of eternal life. There is also the question raised – are human beings the only ones who can be a ‘person’, can animals and machines also be, or become persons? Philosophers generally agree that there are several key characteristics that can be discussed concerning personhood. The characteristics are as follows: A soul (or spirit), embodiment of the mental and physical (the question of the mind being separate to the body), the idea of beliefs and morals, rationality, self awareness, the use of language and meaning, self reflection (and imagination), and exploring what different societies and peoples, view as a full and whole person.
Religions house some of the oldest beliefs and explanations of this world, and hold a key way to understanding the people of the past, as well as their ways of thinking and explanation. Whilst modern science had proven a lot of religious beliefs (such as the origins and complexities of the of the universe) to be false, many people base their view of a person on that of their religions. For example, Christianity. The belief of the Christian Church is that every human being in born with a soul, this soul the dwells within them is unobservable, however, it is the immortal, personal link between themselves and God, connecting through prayer and reflection, and is believed that every person possesses this, thereby rendering a soul as a component of personhood. However, since the soul is unobservable, there is seemingly no way to tell whether or not a person has one, or if they exist at all. However, the Catholic Church also teaches that human beings were created in the image of God, therefore making every human a sacred being, and possessing a soul, their spiritual link between themselves and the divine. Therefore, a soul, spirit or equivalent is a required part of personhood to the spiritual or religious person.
Another key point of relevancy is one’s mind, the question of the mind and body, are they one thing, or do they exist separately from each other? The mind is the term often referring to the higher functions of the brain, the totally of conscious and unconscious mental activity that controls the way we think, feel judge, our intellect and consciousness, perception, emotion, memory, imagination et cetera. The mind resides within the brain, and is central to our being, it controls us, it is us. The brain is the one part of the body that humans have been unable to create via artificial means – scientific progress has allowed the body to function using artificial means, such as machines aiding, or sometimes in place of our internal organs. Given time, research and money, it is theoretically possible for the brain to function outside the body, through a machine (A body could almost be considered a machine, as the brain sends out electrical signals to control the rest of the body). In this sense, yes, the mind is a separate being to the body, able to function outside of the flesh when given an adequate source of power. The body, in a sense, is a battery, and output source for the mind, much like a gaming console and a game disc. The disc holds the functions, and the console executes them. The mind relies on the body to function, however they are two different entities. This theory completely disregards the mortal body as being a part of personhood, or rather, everything but the brain and it’s processes.
This raises the question of whether or not an animal or robot (machine) can be a person. Following on from the previous...