The Person as Object of Science, as Subject of Experience, and as Locus of Value
Wiggins (David)
Source: Peacocke & Gillett - Persons and Personality: A Contemporary Inquiry, 1987, Chapter 4
Paper - Abstract

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Editors’ Abstract1

  1. Wiggins addresses the philosophical problems of our concept of a person. He identifies three elements which need to be brought into a single focus: the notions of the person as biological entity, subject of consciousness, and bearer of ethical attributes.
  2. He insists on the need to distinguish the sense of the term 'person' from its reference. In other words, we need to know not only what the term stands for, but also how it is being used, or the way of thinking implied by it. He notes that many words can be defined by some description or other, but that others are not susceptible to this kind of specification, so that one must appeal to what the entities being denoted are, what they are like. He suggests that 'person' is a term like this, that what it stands for and the way of thinking implied by it can only be grasped adequately by encounter with persons - indeed, with human beings. We need the idea of 'human being' to give some matter and substance to our idea of 'person'.
  3. To strengthen this claim, Wiggins turns to P. F. Strawson's notion that 'person' is a primitive concept in our practices of mental and physical ascriptions to human beings. He regards Strawson's 'P-predicates' (that is, predicates not ascribable to material objects, such as actions, intentions, thoughts, feelings, perceptions, memories, sensations and so on) as predicates which stand for properties that are not reducible2 to predicates proper to the physical sciences, but which are also matter-involving.
  4. If we remove a certain technical difficulty from Strawson's definition of these things, then perhaps every P-property is also an M-property (one ascribable to material objects). Wiggins illustrates this by reference to perception and memory.
  5. Turning to Locke's conception of what it is to be a person, he proposes that a person is one of a kind whose typical members perceive, feel, think, take up attitudes to themselves, and so on. The 'and so on' indicates that the indefinite set of further properties which we bring to our concept of a person has to be filled out in the light of our experience with human beings. In this experience, human beings are not only conscious, but also make sense of one another. In so far as we do this - and there is no alternative but for us to try to do this - we are engaged with others.
  6. Other persons and their thoughts and feelings cannot help but be significant to us. In so far as we understand others, we see them not only as organisms of a certain type, but also as thinking subjects and as objects of reciprocity - indeed, to put the culmination of a Humean argument in more Kantian terms, as members of the kingdom of ends.


In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:

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