Persons: Natural, Yet Ontologically Unique
Baker (Lynne Rudder)
Source: Encyclopaideia: rivista di fonemenologia, pedagogia, formazione, 23:17–30, 2008
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. The question — Are Persons More than Social Objects? — is an important one, and my answer is somewhat complicated. What I shall talk about here is the way in which persons are natural objects, but I do not want to deny that we are also social objects. I believe that to be a person in the way that I shall describe — as a natural object — is a necessary condition for various enterprises that may be thought of as the social construction of persons. For example, one could not construct a self-narrative that makes sense of one’s life as a whole unless one had the formal ontological property of personhood that I’ll discuss.
  2. Let me begin with an overview: Persons are natural objects, animals that evolved by means of natural selection. Biologically speaking, I’m a Darwinian: I believe that there is important continuity between the most primitive organisms and us, that we have animal natures, and that biology can uncover all there is to know about our animal natures. But there is more to us than our animal natures. I do not believe that biological knowledge suffices for understanding our nature, all things considered. Like the Substance Dualist, I think that we are ontologically special: the worth or value of a person is not measured in terms of surviving offspring. But unlike the Substance Dualist, I do not account for what makes us special in terms of having an immaterial soul or mind. What make us ontologically special are our first-person perspectives1, as I’ll explain.
  3. So, we human persons are animals, but not just animals. What I hope to do here is to make clear how we can be animals, yet ontologically unique, and how ontologically unique beings like us can still be part of the natural order. So, on my view, ontology does not recapitulate biology. Biology is one thing, and ontology is another. I’ll begin by setting out my view of human persons.

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