Why We Are Not “Persons”
Languages of publication
To the question “What are we?”, the common-sense answer is “human beings”; but many philosophers prefer to say we are “persons”. This paper argues that the philosophical use of “person” (to mean, roughly, a conscious, rational agent) is problematic. It takes us away from the sound Aristotelian idea that our biological nature is essential to what we are, and towards the suspect Lockean idea that a person could migrate from one body to another. This dualistic Lockean conception is often laid at Descartes’s door, but Descartes himself in many passages underlines our status as human beings. There is a further danger in the idea of personhood as rational agency if (following Kant) it is seen as that which makes someone worthy of moral respect. Respect should be recognized as an inalienable and absolute human entitlement, independent of our circumstances, capacities, group-membership, qualifications or faculties.
- Aristotle, Categories.
- Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2005.
- Cottingham, John. Cartesian Reflections. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
- Cottingham, John. “Dignity, Autonomy and Embodiment.” In Embodied Religion. (Ars Disputandi Supplement Series; No. 6), edited by Peter Jonkers and Marcel Sarot, 181–196. Utrecht: Igitur, 2013.
- Cottingham, John. “Integrity and Fragmentation.” Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 27, no 1 (2010), 2–14.
- Dalferth, Ingolf. “Religion, Morality and Being Human: The Controversial Status of Human Dignity.” In Embodied Religion. (Ars Disputandi Supplement Series; No. 6), edited by Peter Jonkers and Marcel Sarot, 143–180. Utrecht: Igitur 2013.
- Descartes, Rene. Œuvres de Descartes. Edited by Charles Adam and Paul Tannery, revised ed. Paris: Vrin/ CNRS, 1964–76.
- Descartes, Rene. The Philosophical Writings of Descartes. Translated by John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff and Dugald Murdoch, vols. I and II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985. And vol. III, The Correspondence, by the same translators and Anthony Kenny. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
- Dworkin, Ronald. Life’s Dominion. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.
- Eustachius e Sancto Paulo. “Summa Philosophiae.” In Descartes Meditations: Background Source Materials, edited by Roger Ariew, John Cottingham and Tom Sorell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
- Frankfurt, Harry G. The Reasons of Love. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004. Gewirth, Alan. Human Rights. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.
- Homer, Odyssey.
- Kant, Immanuel. Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by Mary Gregor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
- Kenny, Anthony. What I Believe. London: Continuum, 2006.
- King, Peter. “Why isn’t the mind-body problem medieval?” In Forming the Mind: Essays on the Internal Senses and the Mind/Body Problem from Avicenna to the Enlightenment, edited by Henrik Lagerlund, 187–206. Dordrecht: Springer, 2005.
- Locke, John. Essay concerning Human Understanding. 1690.
- Maritain, Jacques. Three Reformers. London: Sheed & Ward, 1928, repr. 1947. Ryle, Gilbert. Concept of Mind. London: Hutchinson, 1949.
- Sayers, Dorothy. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club. 1928.
- Singer, Peter. Practical Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1979, 3rd ed. 2011.
- Singer, Peter. Rethinking Life and Death. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
- Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae.
- Williams, Bernard. Shame and Necessity. Berkeley: University of California Press 1993.
- Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Translated by Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1953.
- Wolterstorff, Nicolas. Justice: Rights and Wrongs. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008.
- Voss, Stephen. “Descartes: The End of Anthropology.” In Reason, Will and Sensation, edited by John Cottingham, 273–306. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994.
Publication order reference