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What makes someone a "person" or "being", and not just human? Are all humans "beings" or "persons", and if so, can other creatures in the universe be "beings" or "persons" too?

asked Jul 26 '11 at 02:12

Benjamin%20Kingstone%20Faria's gravatar image

Benjamin Kingstone Faria
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edited Jul 26 '11 at 17:05

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦
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A person is a human being. A being, in regards to living things, is an independently, self-sufficiently existing living organism, as opposed to an organism's parts, which do not exist independently or apart from it. There are many types of living beings; just observe the wide variety of living organism in our world. But to be a person is to be a human being. Neither beast nor plant nor bacteria are persons.

(Jul 27 '11 at 23:26) Antonio Antonio's gravatar image

'What makes someone a "person" or "being", and not just human?'

To be human is to be a person. To be a person is to be human. Neither is more than the other. The term "being" by itself is not commonly used. "Human being" and "person" are synonyms. "Human" alone can be used as a shortening of "human being".

The questioner should define what he means by "a being". Most people don't use the word "being" that way.

'Are all humans "beings" or "persons", and if so, can other creatures in the universe be "beings" or "persons" too?'

All humans are persons. All persons are human. If a creature is not a human, it is not a person.

I wonder what the questioner means by "person" when he tries to make the term have a different meaning than "human being". I would recommend he name his idea using other words, and leave the term "person" to mean what it does mean: "human being."

Once the terminology is straightened out, I invite the questioner to re-ask his question, using proper terms.

answered Aug 03 '11 at 08:38

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦
1002956310

Better answer than mine. +1.

(Aug 03 '11 at 09:46) Rick ♦ Rick's gravatar image

Thanks. I deleted my other one because I had made unwarranted assumptions about the purpose of the question. It's the questioner's job to clarify his purpose, not mine.

(Aug 03 '11 at 10:40) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Can a sufficiently sentient robot or alien be a person as well? Is a person a composite of characteristics that make up an individual or is personhood simply and absolutely the state of being a human?

(Jan 22 '13 at 15:02) JK Gregg ♦ JK%20Gregg's gravatar image
1

No.

The term "person" means "human". You can't take some subset of attributes of humans and claim that those attributes are sufficient to warrant calling an entity a person. That would be re-defining what "person" means.

That said, someone could invent a new term which includes persons and sentient robots or aliens. Maybe "sentient" (as a noun).

It is not honest, nor logically warranted, to redefine an existing term to suit one's own (generally devious) purposes.

(Jan 22 '13 at 15:31) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

If in the future humans no longer live in organic bodies and instead in either mechanical ones or virtual ones, would we cease to be persons?

(Jan 22 '13 at 16:04) JK Gregg ♦ JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

Hmm. Each term has its useful connotations and shadings for me: I use 'human' when focused more on the individual as a member of a certain biological species, whereas I use 'person' when I'm focused more on the individual as a moral agent. While these usually imply the other, sometimes they simply aren't interchangeable -- for example, a fetus would be readily called a human, but not a person. On the (way) hypothetical of discovering a moral agent who was not a human, I would have no reason to consider classifying it as 'human', but I would be driven to reconsider my referents for 'person'.

(Jan 22 '13 at 16:07) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

A fetus is not a human. It might be humanoid (adjective), but not a human. It's part of a human. Humans are what have rights.

Humans, and persons, are the same things. They are all moral agents.

As to JK Gregg's idea of humans living in another form, if we are still humans, we are still persons. You cannot pry apart these two, synonymous words.

(Jan 22 '13 at 16:33) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Then we would not be persons if we no longer lived in organic bodies. We would no longer fit the definition of human beings. Do I have that right?

(Jan 22 '13 at 16:43) JK Gregg ♦ JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

I did not say that. I meant that if, at such a stage of development, we called ourselves humans, we'd also call ourselves persons.

"Human" means, in an important sense, "one of us", that is, one of what I, John Paquette, and you, JK Gregg, are. If, over a period of generations, human consciousness somehow gets transplanted into some other physical form, we'd still call ourselves persons, and humans, I think. That's because the context for the definition of "human" would have changed. Today, a robot is not "human". Tomorrow, a human might look like one.

(Jan 22 '13 at 16:48) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Interesting. Thank you John. I might ask a separate question about the nature of an objective morality in a post-organic human existence later, as I see some possible areas of dispute if the nature of man's existence changes dramatically.

(Jan 22 '13 at 16:51) JK Gregg ♦ JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

Ok, well now you are getting into science fiction, which isn't really relevant to Objectivism. Interesting to write about, but there's an awful lot of imagination there. You just have to make an assumption, and then go write a Hollywood script. :-)

(Jan 22 '13 at 17:01) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Some people do not classify "person" and "human" as synonyms. Consider Wikipedia entries for example: Humans (Homo sapiens) are primates of the family Hominidae ... A person is a being, such as a human, that has certain capacities or attributes constituting personhood, ...

(Jan 22 '13 at 17:05) sector7agent ♦ sector7agent's gravatar image

The Wikipedia entry on "person" says little more than that historically, "person" meant "human deserving moral respect", as differentiated from humans of a lesser status. For instance, blacks and women were (and are) not considered persons in some societies.

We don't live in those societies. "Human" and "person" are therefore synonymous today. Every human has all the "capacities constituting personhood."

(Jan 22 '13 at 17:13) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John, the point I was getting at is that I have two different terms because I am making two different classifications with two different concepts. One is more of a classification by species; the other is more of a classification by mental capacity. Both are valid and useful in various contexts. The brain-dead accident victim is not suddenly of a different species after the accident; yet suddenly a person went away.

(Jan 22 '13 at 17:23) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

The augmented conceptual framework helps in answering the question. If Spock were to drop in on you tomorrow, would you call him human? Would this stand up to your rule: "It is not honest, nor logically warranted, to redefine an existing term to suit one's own (generally devious) purposes."

(Jan 22 '13 at 17:25) sector7agent ♦ sector7agent's gravatar image

Greg, you can say the the mind went away, but not the person. The person is still lying on the table, brain-dead. A person is not a soul, nor a mind, nor a capacity to reason.

(Jan 22 '13 at 17:29) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

I wouldn't call Spock human, or a person. I'd call him a Vulcan (let's ignore, for now, his half-breed status). On encountering aliens such has him, we'd have to determine, in this new context, whether the term "person" should be sundered from humanity to denote a wider class of existents. But not until then.

(Jan 22 '13 at 17:33) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Greg, would you say that a brain-dead person is a human, but not a person? What about an all-the-way-dead person?

Would you say that the question of "How many humans are there in the world?" has a different answer to "How many people are there in the world?"

Sometimes I might use one term rather than the other in order to place emphasis on certain aspects. But I believe the referents are nonetheless the same.

(Jan 22 '13 at 17:39) anthony anthony's gravatar image

But I don't consider a person any of those, as I explained above: I consider moral agents to be people. The only things we've found like that are (some, not all) instances of a certain animal species on Earth. Here's the thought experiment: if you were to come across a moral agent that was not of your biological species, would you naturally include that new thing under your single concept human/person that for some reason has two perfectly synonymous labels? Or would you naturally form some new concept that recognizes your common moral standing and political needs?

(Jan 22 '13 at 17:49) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

The answer to the thought experiment would probably depend on the specifics. If there were some link between the other species and humans, or if I had mistakenly thought there were, I might call them humans/people. But in most cases I'd probably come up with a new name for their species, and initially use a term such as "moral agent" to recognize the common moral standing and political. In the long-term "moral agent" would probably get shortened. But I doubt, without some sort of historical link, like a common prehistoric ancestor, we'd call them humans or people.

(Jan 22 '13 at 18:01) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Anthony: It really depends on the context if you want to be precise/pedantic, but there's a lot of wiggle room before people just can't figure out what you're trying to say. I'm fine with talking about a dead [human or person's] body when it's fresh; then a decomposed [human or person's] body when it's not so fresh; then skeletal remains of someone/a human further down the line. Obviously there's no moral agent around in any of these cases, so nobody but a mystic could possibly be confused about that. ;^)

(Jan 22 '13 at 18:03) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

And mainly I use the different terms for emphasis on this or that aspect, but the sets are nearly but not exactly the same (see the above examples of non-moral-agent homo sapiens organisms). I think it is cognitively useful to distinguish the two: when I'm talking about, say, nutrition I'm going to focus more on the biological classification; when I'm focused on morality and law I'm going to focus more on the cognitive classification. Both are super-important.

(Jan 22 '13 at 18:10) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

So you might be persuaded by future events. Today there are unborn, brain-dead, and dead humans. Are they all either human-persons or not human-persons, or would it be helpful to consider any as humans but not persons, that is as instances of a species but not as moral agents?

(Jan 22 '13 at 18:10) sector7agent ♦ sector7agent's gravatar image

Rand's excellent epistemological "razor" is at play: concepts are not to be multiplied beyond necessity—the corollary of which is: nor are they to be integrated in disregard of necessity.

"Just as the requirements of cognition forbid the arbitrary subdivision of concepts, so they forbid the arbitrary integration of concepts into a wider concept by means of obliterating their essential differences..."

(John may think that I'm forcing an arbitrary distinction, while I suspect he's papering over an important distinction.)

(Jan 22 '13 at 18:18) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

I'm confused as to what your examples are, other than a fetus (which I believe you're saying is "a human" but not "a person", and which John has disagreed with). I thought maybe you were also saying that a brain-dead individual was also "a human" but not "a person", but I'm not sure.

(Jan 22 '13 at 18:18) anthony anthony's gravatar image

For those not aware of it, there's a lot of relevant discussion at http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/analytic-synthetic_dichotomy.html

(Jan 22 '13 at 18:24) anthony anthony's gravatar image

What is the important distinction?

(Jan 22 '13 at 18:26) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I don't understand the confusion. John and I are arguing that different sets of existents should be categorized differently to best serve our cognitive needs -- we are not disagreeing on crude, brute facts as far as I can tell. I have been perfectly clear that by "human" I mean an instance of the species homo sapiens. An instance of homo sapiens that is about to give birth in fact contains another instance of homo sapiens, as any biologist would attest (and the one isn't "a part of" the other -- they are distinct organisms). That's what I term "human", along with the biologists.

(Jan 22 '13 at 21:33) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

At the same time, I am recognizing that morality and the law requires recognizing moral agency to have any meaning or purpose. The fact is that we haven't observed moral agency anywhere except in homo sapiens. But it is also a fact that not all instances of homo sapiens exhibit the capacity for moral agency. It comes and goes, as noted above. Morality and the law are incredibly important, so recognizing this distinction is likewise important, so I distinguish "human" from "person".

(Jan 22 '13 at 21:40) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Are you saying that a fetus does not have the capacity for moral agency, but a newborn does?

(Jan 22 '13 at 22:15) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Interesting -- what have I written that leads you to think I implied/said that?

(Jan 23 '13 at 00:08) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

You said "a fetus would be readily called a human, but not a person". Obviously a newborn "would be readily called" both "a human" and "a person" - I didn't think you were disputing that. Then when asked about "the important distinction", you said "that not all instances of homo sapiens exhibit the capacity for moral agency".

Maybe you're saying that a newborn child is not a person? But, that'd be even more strange...

You also brought up the example of a brain-dead individual, but I wasn't able to figure out the point of that.

(Jan 23 '13 at 06:53) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Looking back at the brain-dead comment, you said "The brain-dead accident victim is not suddenly of a different species after the accident". I don't think John or anyone is disputing that a dead body is "human" (the adjective, meaning "of the human species"). The question is whether or not a dead body is "a human" (the noun, meaning "a person").

My arm is human. My arm is not a human. Elvis Presley's body is human. Elvis Presley's body is not a human. A zygote is human. A zygote isn't a human. (I think even "the scientists" would agree on that one.)

(Jan 23 '13 at 06:59) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I actually like this ongoing discussion. I don't greatly disagree with Anthony or Greg, here. Of course, "human" (n) primarily regards biological species, and "person" (n) primarily regards moral agency. But the meaning, meaning the referents of both terms, in our context is the same.

The purpose of having two words is to be clear about what you are contrasting your meaning from. Human contrasts with the biologically different, and person contrasts with the morally different. But, in our context, moral difference directly results from biological difference. [cont'd]

(Jan 23 '13 at 10:57) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

One can only speculate about what will happen to our concepts when we discover entities which are biologically different yet morally very similar. Many people would rebel against calling a moral alien a person. Some would not. Perhaps the proper term would be "rational", used as a noun (as "human" is now used as a noun), rather than "person".

[cont'd]

(Jan 23 '13 at 11:03) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Of the essence, here, is that the meaning of a concept is not its definition. Two different concepts might be defined in terms of two different sets of essential characteristics, yet, because of the context, the two concepts would have the same meaning (i.e. referents).

The definition of a concept does not dictate that the meaning will change as the context changes. In practice, it is the other way around: the definition changes to keep the same meaning in the new context.

[cont'd]

(Jan 23 '13 at 11:06) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

A child's definition of man "something that walks and makes noises from its mouth" doesn't require that when he discovers dogs he must call them men. Similarly, when we discover moral aliens, we are not required to call them people.

(Jan 23 '13 at 11:08) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Anthony, I have not said anything about newborns and it was on purpose. I don't need or want to debate exactly when moral agency arrives (why not save that for an abortion question?) to establish a point I consider salient in this question: that moral agency isn't present in all organisms of the species homo sapiens. I cited two clear and uncontroversial cases that demonstrate this, and it is counterproductive to entertain controversial ones that would only serve as distractions from the point I'm trying to make.

(Jan 23 '13 at 11:15) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

The fact that not all homo sapiens have moral agency is what leads me to distinguish "human" ala homo sapiens from "person" ala moral agent. This fact is why we have recurring and bitterly-fought cases around abortion and brain-dead patients. That is more than enough prompting for me to want to to highlight what is important and remove the potential for confusion (in the innocent) and equivocation (in the not-so-innocent) that is invited by a lexicon which simply asserts "human=person, period."

(Jan 23 '13 at 11:50) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

John, can you give me another example of a concept which changes definitions to fit a new context? I'm trying to wrap my head around this.

(Jan 23 '13 at 13:11) JK Gregg ♦ JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

I don't understand why we're talking about moral agency in the first place. This was a question about the word "person".

You say "not all homo sapiens have moral agency". I think I agree, and I think that a newborn would be a good, non-controversial, example - an example which in fact avoids the abortion question.

On the other hand, at one point you said "not all instances of homo sapiens exhibit the capacity for moral agency". On this point, I either disagree or am confused. Again using what should be a non-controversial example, a newborn does exhibit the capacity for moral agency.

(Jan 23 '13 at 13:17) anthony anthony's gravatar image

JK Gregg, here's another example: "Bird" might be originally defined as "a flying animal". Once we learn about insects, "Bird" becomes "a flying animal with two wings and two legs". Once we learn about pterodactyls, "Bird" becomes "a warm-blooded flying animal with two wings and two legs."

The more kinds of animals we learn about which might get confused with birds by our current definition, the more our definition must expand in order to refer only to birds in our current context. With scientific understanding of animals, the definition becomes the scientifically mature definition.

(Jan 23 '13 at 13:35) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

That makes sense. And that's why you think we'd still call ourselves humans and persons even if we didn't quite fit the current definition, right?

(Jan 23 '13 at 14:43) JK Gregg ♦ JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

I didn't say that.

Speculating about what we'd call ourselves in the future is futile. Who knows? We might NOT want to call ourselves human, or person, because we'd consider such to be inferior.

The point is that a definition should change to match the context. You can't hold a definition fixed across a context switch. And you shouldn't want to.

(Jan 23 '13 at 16:27) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John, what you describe is correct but incomplete. It is also the case that we sometimes find it necessary to adjust or even abandon a concept entirely to replace it with a better concept (not merely adjust its definition). Easy example: whales used to be commonly classified as fish, and now they're not. Both the referents and the definition of 'fish' changed because we found that the concept wasn't formed in terms of (enduring) fundamentals in the first place. (Basically a new concept adopted the old one's name, which is reasonable given the great overlap in the two concepts' referents.)

(Jan 23 '13 at 17:11) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image
showing 2 of 45 show all

As Antonio pointed out above: "A being, in regards to living things, is an independently, self-sufficiently existing living organism, as opposed to an organism's parts, which do not exist independently or apart from it. There are many types of living beings; just observe the wide variety of living organism in our world. But to be a person is to be a human being. Neither beast nor plant nor bacteria are persons."

Now every living creature is a being. What makes us humans? Specifically and almost exclusively our reason. Because we have reason we are selfishly concerned to grow as we want to, as an individual, as a person. Reason it's characteristic of man and what makes it what it is.

As for the word "person" it means human but individually. There isn't any other living being which can be called a person. And no, a robot or even an alien can't be called a person. Person is a human being. Persons are human beings alone and nothing else. There are of course expressions which can refer to other things. But the usage in question here, as I said, it is only possible or correct to apply it to human beings.

answered Jan 22 '13 at 17:15

Juan%20Diego%20dAnconia's gravatar image

Juan Diego dAnconia
110113

edited Jan 22 '13 at 17:16

http://oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/person?q=Person

(Jan 22 '13 at 17:17) Juan Diego dAnconia Juan%20Diego%20dAnconia's gravatar image

"Anything that partakes in being is also called a 'being' ..." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Being). As noted in the referenced article, the notion is so broad as to be inevitably elusive and controversial. I'd suggest dropping "being" from the question, though remaining ignorant of "being" controversy details, I'd offer that "human being" seems redundant.

"A person is a being, such as a human, that has certain capacities or attributes constituting personhood ..." ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Person). This asserts that "person" could include other than humans, and that some humans might not be persons. Humans that are "persons" have certain capacities or attributes constituting personhood. This defers the discussion to personhood. As the referenced article notes, "Personhood continues to be a topic of international debate", and "In most societies today, living adult humans are usually considered persons ...". The article links to articles distinguishing "legal persons" from "natural persons", and introduced to me "legal fiction".

"Humans (Homo sapiens) are primates of the family Hominidae, and the only extant species of the genus Homo." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human). Finally a solid base. "Human" refers to a biological classification, "person" does not. Your (rephrased) question has two easy parts, "Are all 'humans' 'persons'?", and "could other creatures be 'persons' too?". Humans are persons only if they have certain capacities or attributes constituting personhood, and there could exist a nonhuman life form that satisfies the requirements of personhood.

answered Jan 23 '13 at 11:42

sector7agent's gravatar image

sector7agent ♦
956

"Wikipedia has been accused of systemic bias, which is to say its general nature leads, without necessarily any conscious intention, to the propagation of various prejudices."

"Inaccurate information may persist in Wikipedia for a long time before it is challenged."

"While Wikipedia policy requires articles to have a neutral point of view, it is not immune from attempts by outsiders (or insiders) with an agenda to place a spin on articles."

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reliability_of_Wikipedia)

(Jan 23 '13 at 13:42) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Of course any authority might be accused of anything. (Oddly you chose to cite it to point out this weakness that it shares with all authorities.) Can you present evidence that its entries for "being, "person", or "human" are inaccurate or propagate prejudices?

(Jan 23 '13 at 15:49) sector7agent ♦ sector7agent's gravatar image

The evidence is right there in the nonsense you copied from it.

Can you present any evidence that it's accurate?

I hope we have a higher standard here than just repeating stuff that no one cares to bother proving wrong.

(Jan 23 '13 at 17:38) anthony anthony's gravatar image

This is no answer. It just says that "person" doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as "human", but it gives no clue as to what attributes are essential to being a "person".

Until someone gives a good example of a person which isn't a human, or a human which isn't a person, I consider the two terms to be coextensive.

(Jan 23 '13 at 17:45) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

All persons are human beings but not all human beings are persons. A seed cannot be called a tree till it has grown, through hardships and challenges which try to suppress its growth and ultimately kill it, rendering it no longer a tree but a piece of timber. The same goes for a human being. Only through growth (achieved through productivity, self sustainability and adaption) can a person remain in existence. The lack thereof renders the human being a lifeless organic capsule, an inanimate object void of 'personality' and therefore void of attributes making it a person.

(Jan 23 '13 at 18:16) John Galt John%20Galt's gravatar image

John, such examples have been provided repeatedly. Can you please classify John Smith the brain-dead accident victim using your terms? And can you please classify Suzy Smith and her six-month-old fetus using your terms? Very simply: human or not, and person or not, for each.

Here's my answer for comparison: I identify all three as human (because I am with the biologists in identifying organisms of the species homo sapiens as humans). And I identify Mary as a person but not John or the fetus (because I identify personhood with moral agency, which only Mary has the capacity for).

(Jan 23 '13 at 18:30) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Sorry Anthony, could you be more specific in what you identify as nonsense. Is it that humans are primates? That anything that partakes in being is also called a 'being'? That many people find it valuable to consider personhood as distinct from human? It is difficult to take you seriously when you identify such statements as nonsense.

(Jan 23 '13 at 18:42) sector7agent ♦ sector7agent's gravatar image

The body of the brain-dead accident victim is a corpse, not a person nor a human. The accident victim himself no longer exists. A body without a soul is a corpse. The body of a once-living but now-dead creature is not an organism, and I think biologists would agree with this. As for the fetus, I thought you didn't want to get into the abortion discussion.

In any case, John has already said that he considers a fetus to be a part of a human, not a human. For my part I'm not sure. A couple days ago I would have agreed with John, but your equation of human with "organism" is compelling.

(Jan 23 '13 at 20:38) anthony anthony's gravatar image

"And I identify Mary as a person but not John or the fetus (because I identify personhood with moral agency, which only Mary has the capacity for)."

You seem to have mixed up the names, but presumably Mary is the pregnant woman.

What constitutes the capacity for moral agency?

(Jan 23 '13 at 21:07) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Anthony: I don't think I have anything to offer you here. Good luck with your assumption that biologists (or many non-biologists for that matter) would join you in thinking that a breathing, metabolizing body with a beating heart a corpse. And good luck with your assumption that biologists (or many others) consider a fetus to be a part of it's host rather than a distinct organism contained in and sustained by it's host.

(Jan 23 '13 at 22:02) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

(And no, I did not mix up the names at all. I wouldn't change a word of that post, so perhaps you can help me be a better writer... What did I write which could/should be taken to imply that Mary wasn't the pregnant woman, or that she was a fetus or a brain-dead accident victim?)

(Jan 23 '13 at 22:08) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

(Ohhh. Sorry, I did substitute Mary for Suzy -- my bad! I don't need writing help on that, just memory help.)

(Jan 23 '13 at 22:11) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

"What did I write which could/should be taken to imply that Mary wasn't the pregnant woman"

You wrote "Suzy Smith and her six-month-old fetus".

And I never made the assumption that biologists would consider a fetus to be "a part of it is host".

As far as biologists calling a once-living but now-dead creature an organism, I don't know, you may be right. Probably more likely they'd say that a brain-dead person isn't dead, though. (And I guess within the context of biology, as opposed to philosophy, they've got a valid point.)

(Jan 23 '13 at 22:13) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Sorry, you're right, you didn't assume that biologists would consider a fetus to be part of its host (I was busy overreacting to the previous lines, so again, my bad). My eye-roll at your breathing corpse stands, of course. :^) And it would be wonderful if John could explain why he thinks one should consider a fetus to be part of it's host rather than a distinct organism contained by it's host despite the myriad biological indications to the contrary.

(Jan 23 '13 at 23:12) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

I wouldn't consider the use of a machine to put air inside the lungs of a dead body to be "breathing". (Even if it were, what is doing the breathing, the body or the machine?)

Ultimately you have to draw the line somewhere, and I think brain-death is the right spot. I believe John actually disagrees with me on that one.

I feel more confident about this line than about the line at the beginning of life, but I feel most confident of all in that the point where we begin/cease to be a human is the point where we being/cease to be a person.

(Jan 24 '13 at 07:00) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I see no point in distinguishing between person-humans and non-person-humans. The argument that they are distinguished by mental capacity does not make sense. A couple with a newborn child does not consider mental capacity when saying that there are three people in the family. We don't say that a mentally-insane individual is a non-person-human. You refuse to consider these hypotheticals, ostensively to avoid the abortion debate, but then you question others on the matter with regard to fetuses and brain-death.

If you believe that newborns and the insane aren't people, admit it.

(Jan 24 '13 at 07:10) anthony anthony's gravatar image

John, regarding your rejection of my answer, I was addressing the question, not commenting on your conceptual framework.

You implied interest in the start of "personhood". Consider //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beginning_of_human_personhood for a list of noted possibilities: fertilization, implantation, segmentation, heartbeat neuromaturation, "quickening", capable of pain, of cognition, viability, birth.

I'm wondering if any of these biological offerings align with your ideas, or if you can add another perspective. When do you think--in your conceptual framework--that the human-person appears?

(Jan 24 '13 at 11:05) sector7agent ♦ sector7agent's gravatar image

Anthony writes: "You refuse to consider these hypotheticals, ostensively to avoid the abortion debate, but then you question others on the matter with regard to fetuses and brain-death. / If you believe that newborns and the insane aren't people, admit it."

Anthony, it seems a bit bizarre for you to not yet understand/appreciate the distinction I am trying to offer, even while you are also presuming to criticize and correct my efforts to illustrate it.

No, I'm not being cagey, nor am I employing a double standard. I simply want to avoid knowingly presenting controversial examples to illustrate my point when I have others at hand that shouldn't require nearly as extensive a discussion to support my point. Why on earth should I help you further cloud an already cloudy discussion by being pointlessly draw into a discussions of newborns and the insane when we haven't met on those less-contentious examples I've already offered of humans (aka organisms of the species homo sapiens) that are not people?

Perhaps they need to be sharpened more? Okay, first up: please consider that there are humans (aka organisms of the species homo sapiens) which are alive and developing, but which haven't yet achieved personhood -- think 10th week fetus. Second up: please consider that there are humans (aka organisms of the species homo sapiens) who did achieve personhood but then lost it permanently even while remaining alive -- think individuals in a Permanent Vegetative State.

Either case alone supports my point that some humans aren't people. The two terms aren't coextensive in their referents -- they aren't synonyms.

(Jan 24 '13 at 19:57) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Why do you think human, the noun, as in a human being, is defined as "organisms of the species homo sapiens"? As I understand it, that would mean that a zygote is a human, and that doesn't fit my understanding of the concept.

As for your questions about personhood, before we start talking about it we should agree on whether or not personhood is hierarchically dependent on "person", or if it's the other way around. I am under the impression that it is the former (if "personhood" is a valid concept at all), in which case we should define "person" before attempting to define "personhood".

(Jan 25 '13 at 06:37) anthony anthony's gravatar image

As for your unwillingness to discuss newborns, I don't think it's at all contentious that a newborn is both a human and a person. On the other hand, the question with regard to a fetus, or an individual in a permanent vegetative state, is quite contentious.

(Jan 25 '13 at 06:43) anthony anthony's gravatar image

This issue of hierarchy, by the way, would be one of my major criticisms of the Wikipedia entry copy/pasted above.

According to Wikipedia, "A person is a being, such as a human, that has certain capacities or attributes constituting personhood". And according to Wikipedia, "Personhood is the status of being a person.")

Of course, this kind of circular reasoning is to be expected from a source which is written ad hoc by anyone who cares to write it. It is probably not the same person who wrote those two sentences. It's one reason among many why we shouldn't rely on Wikipedia for anything.

(Jan 25 '13 at 07:13) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Maybe it would also help to clarify why you believe "individuals in a Permanent Vegetative State" have "lost personhood" and what you mean by it. Unlike situations of brain-death, where the bodies are legally regarded as corpses (despite what you claim biologists would say), individuals in a persistent vegetative state are recognized by the government as having rights. This is why, for example, the forced feeding of Terri Sciavo was held to violate her civil rights as protected under Florida Statutes 765.401(3). Non-persons don't have civil rights or guardians or health care proxies.

(Jan 25 '13 at 10:14) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Anthony, the cited Wikipedia articles introduce the concepts with historical background citing research. The articles demonstrate that many other people have considered the ideas of the question, and provide a convenient platform for learning more.

I think "human", in the use "human being" is an adjective describing the noun "being". It has a similar use in "human zygote", describing the noun "zygote": a zygote of human origin. A human zygote is not a human. A chicken egg is not a chicken; an apple seed is not an apple, or a tree of any type.

(Jan 25 '13 at 10:29) sector7agent ♦ sector7agent's gravatar image

To the extent the Wikipedia articles present accurate historical information I do not fault them. However, to that extent they are fairly irrelevant when it comes to the question of how to properly define "human" and "person". And that's not the part you quoted anyway.

"A human zygote is not a human." Right. But a human zygote is, I believe, an "organism[] of the species homo sapien".

Anotonio's definition of being as "an independently, self-sufficiently existing living organism" is better, though the grey areas around "independent" and "self-sufficient" are where a lot of arguments lie.

(Jan 25 '13 at 10:54) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Anthony, once again it bizarre for you to not grasp my point but to presume to guide me in properly illustrating it.

You write, "As for your unwillingness to discuss newborns, I don't think it's at all contentious that a newborn is both a human and a person." Sure. So that would make it exactly the wrong example for me to focus on, wouldn't it? If I want to draw your attention to the fact that not all apples are red, I won't be interested in finding more red apples to point to. I'll go get a green one.

This is not productive, so I will bow out for now. Cheers.

(Jan 25 '13 at 11:51) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

I would think if you want to draw my attention to the fact that not all apples are red, you should point to a green apple, not a green apple seed. And if, to lay a point of common ground, I hold up a red apple, which everyone agrees is a red apple, and say "this is a red apple, right?", a response of "I have purposely said nothing about that apple" would probably not be the best response. Of course the analogy only goes so far. "Red" is an adjective, and some apples are green.

Anyway, it's quite common for someone who doesn't understand someone else to ask questions. Not it bizarre at all.

(Jan 25 '13 at 12:43) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Maybe I was wrong to say a human zygote is not a human. It could be more correct to identify it as a human in a stage of development. It is not an adult human, like a larval tussock moth is not a moth, yet is an organism in a stage of tussock moth life. If this is the case, then it provides an example of (yes, no) = (human, person).

(It also helps with the chicken or egg conundrum.)

(Jan 25 '13 at 13:23) sector7agent ♦ sector7agent's gravatar image
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Asked: Jul 26 '11 at 02:12

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Last updated: Jan 25 '13 at 13:23