The 'Person' in Law
Tur (Richard)
Source: Peacocke & Gillett - Persons and Personality: A Contemporary Inquiry, 1987, Chapter 7
Paper - Abstract

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Editors’ Abstract1

  1. Law has always been an instrument whereby the relations between what we call 'persons' have been regulated. Hence it is not surprising that it has always had to operate, implicitly or explicitly, with some kind of working definition of the entities between which relations are being legally regulated.
  2. Richard Tur discusses 'The "Person" in Law' by turning first to Roman law. He explains how the idea of legally specified life conferred a certain status, or mode of public being, on a person. In Roman law, one had a status libertatis, a status civitatis, and a status familiae. Legal penalties were assessed in terms of what legal status was lost as the result of a misdemeanour. The relation between the person as construed legally and a natural human life was not a one-to-one matter. This evinced the idea of a persona, a mask or role, through which one acts and which partially defines the significance of one's actions and one's being as an agent.
  3. He notes that, in the eyes of the law, a 'person' is a party to implicit and explicit agreements, obligations, and commitments, rather than an actual or potential rational conscious being. In English law, the concept of person can be quite bewildering, for it is not co-extensional with the idea of agency, and, even more than in Roman law, is a matter of degree.
  4. He illustrates this with reference to who had the vote at the turn of the century and to contemporary debates regarding abortion2 and contraception. Throughout, Tur emphasizes that legal personality is a matter of a rather subtle conglomerate of capacities, rights, obligations, and liabilities.
  5. He concludes that legal personality is derivative from all sorts of beliefs, common wisdom, and social custom. He thereby returns the determination of the concept of what it is to be a person to the realm of extra-legal reasoning, reserving as the proper concern of the law only a diverse and shifting set of practices through which our more general beliefs are enacted and in which the idea of the person at law is constituted.



In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Taken from "Peacocke (Arthur) & Gillett (Grant) - Persons and Personality: Introduction".


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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)



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