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Degrees of Personhood
(Text as at 18/12/2010 19:58:05)
(For earlier versions of this Note, see the table at the end)
This is rather a dangerous thought. It seems clear that the qualities that qualify an individual to be a person (see the list in Dennett1, and also the main Note on Persons2), come in degrees. (Give examples). So, maybe some persons are more persons than others. Maybe persons come in degrees. Or maybe they are just better persons according to some criteria – whether ethical or metaphysical – and these criteria need to be sharply distinguished. For instance Frankfurt – in "Frankfurt (Harry) - Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person" – claimed that wantons3 are not persons, but maybe we should say that (from an ethical perspective) they are poor exemplars of the concept PERSON.
We can think of an analogy with ANIMALS4. Some animals (eg. human beings – or, lest we be considered a special case - chimpanzees) are, according to many evaluative criteria, superior to other animals (worms). Yet all are animals. Now ethically and practically, some animals deserve greater consideration than others – it would appear that chimpanzees have a greater capacity for suffering than worms, for instance. So too, presumably, do exemplars of the same species, though not to the same degree except in severely pathological cases.
The question from the perspective of my research is not particularly the moral dimension – the dangerous thought that some persons may be more valuable than others – but whether there are degrees of personhood, or whether the best way of describing the situation of certain individuals being better qualified to be persons is to say that all are persons, but some are better persons than others.
This depends on what a person is. If the concept PERSON is itself a substance term (rather than being a property of substances), then we may be right to make the analogy with animals – where ANIMAL is a substance term. Otherwise, the analogy may not be apt.
The issue is highlighted by the possibility that some of the higher mammals are persons, nearly persons, or persons of reduced degree. If all persons are just persons, period, and all persons have to be treated equally (if that is out ethical outlook), then we might be stuck with duties that seem counter-intuitive (to some, at least).
This is mostly a place-holder5. Currently, just see the categorised reading-list (if any).
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||When Does a Life Begin?
||Thesis - Degrees of Personhood
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