Author Topic: What features are essential to personhood?  (Read 8320 times)

Offline Gareth Southwell

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What features are essential to personhood?
« on: 24/11/08 @ 13:48 »
Some philosophers argue that we can define what a person is by a set of essential criteria. But do these criteria work? What criteria do you think are essential? Are there any problems with any of them? Do we need them all, in order to consider something a person? Or, do the criteria not cover everything? (In other words, could something fulfill the criteria and still not be considered a person?).

Discuss!
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Offline CygnusX1

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Re: What features are essential to personhood?
« Reply #1 on: 01/08/09 @ 17:43 »
Hmm… maybe we can define what it is to be truly human, by examining the "needs" that we have in common?

Ok, we all need to eat and breathe – a start.

In truth what really makes us human is need? And this need projects itself in many forms. The need for communication, companionship, understanding and love. The need to express ideas with others and the exploration of Self, which ultimately leads to a fundamental question – Who am I?

Why do we feel the need to communicate ideas and feelings?
Is this a consequence of perception and intelligence?
Are all these wants and needs really an affirmation of self reality?

Can we define a human as being wholly selfish?

I feel we can, and this maybe what links all of the above – duality.

If we contemplate the Self, or the Ego we may conclude that we are separate and separated from the world around us. Selfishness is a consequence of Self and separation – because we only understand the world in terms of duality, of subject and object, of this and that, of you and me, of yours and mine?

How else do we define our own reality, other than a continual assessment of what is us, and what is not us – our perceptions and senses are honed to affirm our very reality from each moment to the next. Thus we are all bound into duality, and separation.

The only way we understand the world and ourselves is in terms of duality.

Yet is this merely a human trait?

 :)
« Last Edit: 01/08/09 @ 23:09 by CygnusX1 »
You are neither earth, water, fire, air or even ether.
For liberation know yourself as consisting of consciousness,
the witness of these.
[The Song of Ashtavakra (Ashtavakra Samhita) Chapter 1.3]

Offline Gareth Southwell

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Re: What features are essential to personhood?
« Reply #2 on: 02/08/09 @ 09:09 »
You make a number of related but separate points here:

1. Need as a defining feature. What if I don't need the things that other humans need? Am I then not human? For instance, if I like to live alone (I don't need company), then either I'm not human (not really an option), or 'needing company' is not an essential feature. But what then are the essential features?

2. Selfishness. Aren't all living creatures 'selfish' in one respect or another? That is, they all look after their own interests. Perhaps you don't mean 'selfish' in this way, but if you do, then it would seem that this isn't a strictly human quality (and so doesn't help us define what is essentially human).

3. Duality. This is a stronger point, I think. Our sense of self, and our self consciousness is one of the things that make us human. However, there are two problems with this: firstly, what about human beings who lack this (brain damaged infants, the comatose, the senile, etc.) - are these not human? Secondly, what about animals who may possess self-consciousness (chimps, dolphins, perhaps) - if this is the case, then self-consciousness would seem not to be a purely human feature, and therefore cannot be used to distinguish between animals and humans.

Hmm...more problems!
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Offline CygnusX1

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Re: What features are essential to personhood?
« Reply #3 on: 02/08/09 @ 13:54 »
Hi Gareth,

Regarding the above…

1. When I talk of human needs, I really mean to infer these attributes at a much deeper level. Indeed, the term "need" itself, although we may as humans project our wants and desires in many forms, may be classed as a general attribute as far as humans are concerned.

I feel the fundamental need for communication and companionship is deep routed because of man's need to express ideas and thoughts and to define his own reality and identity?
This is what may separate him from other animals, (although I do not wholly believe in this separation at all).

2. Again, I mention selfishness to infer the term at a much deeper fundamental level, meaning self-ishness = attribute of the self created, and a consequence of the Self separated in a dualistic understanding in the world.

However, you are correct. Neither of these attributes "need" and "selfishness" really separate us as humans from the animals, or indeed, maybe any other species – does a snake or spider understand or need to ascertain its own identity? And does it understand its own needs in terms of its selfish identity?

Maybe these traits can be wholly ascribed to mammals and warm-blooded creatures alone?

3. Regarding duality – It appears that we have absolutely no choice whatsoever in defining ourselves and our Self and Ego in terms of separation – these are the chains that bind us?
Indeed it is the Self-aware, the I-consciousness that seeks to reconcile itself, continually, within its surroundings.

Regarding damaged infants, the comatose, the senile, etc. We must not assume that any differences here actually does have affect on the deeper consciousness, since the consciousness still persists as a life force within. Certainly in the case of brain damage and the comatose, the mind may still function and dream and be exposed to the same or similar thoughts and ideas as in any other case. How the mind deals with these is another matter.

The way in which comatose patients miraculously make recoveries with little or no permanent affect on their minds serves as an indication that the mind and thoughts, dreams and ideas persist regardless of circumstance, and may be the method of Self-preservation, and the guardian of the I-consciousness?

Regarding other animals, mammals, insects and even plants – again you are correct, and I do not really believe that consciousness, or self-awareness is excluded here. The only difference may be our contemplation of duality? Yet, again I suspect dolphins, elephants, chimps and even birds may indeed contemplate this also.

Personally, and as a human being, I feel a great affinity to most mammals as do many others, and contemplate their sufferings and contemplate their own notions of sufferings in relation to my own understandings – this may be no coincidence?

Even where more distinct species like birds and reptiles and even insects are concerned, I notice I may be open to these same levels of compassion and understanding of sufferings for these also, if I merely adjust my mindset to incorporate these species.
How about a virus? Can I stretch my mind to incorporate compassion for a flu bug?

And what about dolphins? Do they feel compassion and understanding for us also?

 ;)

Oh well, back to square one – at least it’s a start !
You are neither earth, water, fire, air or even ether.
For liberation know yourself as consisting of consciousness,
the witness of these.
[The Song of Ashtavakra (Ashtavakra Samhita) Chapter 1.3]

Offline Gareth Southwell

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Re: What features are essential to personhood?
« Reply #4 on: 04/08/09 @ 10:57 »
Square 1 is where I live!

Firstly, I can now see where you're coming from as regards 'needs' and 'self-ishness' - and I agree, I think, but - as I've pointed out (and you agree also) - these are not enough in themselves to conclusively define what humans essentially are (for the reasons that I gave in my last post).

However, this is not to say that these features are not still important - and, in fact, they absolutely are: if we think of a person, we think of 'self' and 'ability to communicate/be conscious' as key features. That they also conflict with other features, or things get messy when we try to draw a neat circle around the things that meet these criteria, maybe isn't so important. Perhaps we should just treat them as 'ideal' features? In other words, a human being in the fullest and highest sense has these features - which would perhaps suggest that personhood is a matter of degree (some have it more than others). Another way of thinking about it is by analogy with happy families: Tolstoy once wrote that "All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Perhaps this is true of persons? "All complete persons are alike; every incomplete person is incomplete in its own way"...? ;D Perhaps we might even think of developing more personhood (and treat our current status as a stage of development - how might we do that...?).

As regards your third point, I think this is interesting. I think you are right: our conscious experience is what creates our duality - not merely being conscious, but being conscious of being conscious (what has been termed 'apperception'). If animals are different from us, then it is in this regard, I think, for being aware of our own thoughts, of conceptualising experience, is what would seem to make us a distinct 'self'. So, if animals have no 'souls' (as Descartes thought) then it is for this reason, I would say. However, this does not draw a clear line between humans and animals, but merely a blurry one (after all, who knows what mental experience the higher primates have? We might be surprised.).

But there is also a problem with this. You say that there may be a 'deeper consciousness' within the comatose, senile, etc., that we are unaware of, and that they may still dream/think/etc. But this is a metaphysical position: modern science would say simply that the brain is damaged, and therefore consciousness is not possible. If you want to argue otherwise, then it would seem that either (a) you are arguing for a soul (and some sort of mind-body dualism), or (b) the conditions of consciousness are different from what neuroscientists take it to be (for instance, it may persist in individual cells in the brain, even when key structures are damaged). I'm not against either of these views (and neuroscience is pretty much all at sea as regards consciousness anyway), and I think it is also interesting to consider if it is possible that 'lower' forms of life (insects, flu viruses) have any forms of conscious that we could recognise. However, this becomes a very difficult position to maintain or prove. I'd like to hear more of your thoughts on this.

Great discussion!
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Offline MoQingbird

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Re: What features are essential to personhood?
« Reply #5 on: 08/12/10 @ 16:19 »
I’d like to suggest that the idea of personhood (as distinct from humanity) is a function of the theory of mind.

A theory of mind is only required by organisms whose behavior is contingent upon the behavior of other organisms.  The other organisms may be members of the organism’s society (humans, apes, a pride of lions) and/or members of other species (e.g. a cat’s theory about mice).

A theory of mind is a progressive, emergent phenomena that can vary in sophistication between species and individuals.

Humans have a working theory of mind - they attribute goals, intentions, perceptions, knowledge and beliefs to other humans.  Their theory of mind extends to their own minds, i.e. their Self, and it develops as they grow.  A human child doesn’t fully identify with their reflection in a mirror until they are about 18 months old.  At this age they able to realize that they have a smudge of paint on their faces when they see themselves in the mirror and they’ll reach for their face to touch it or wipe it off.  Before this self-recognition emerges they won’t associate the paint on the face in the mirror with their own face unless they saw or felt it being applied there.

Chimpanzees have a theory of mind that, even at its best, is less sophisticated than a human’s.  They can understand the goals, intentions, perceptions and knowledge of other chimps, but there is no evidence that they understand false beliefs in others.
 
Lions hunting in a pride appear to understand and manipulate the perceptions and knowledge of their prey.  They have been seen to use the distraction of one visible lion to allow the rest of the pride to creep up on a herd, or use a small team of lions to drive a herd towards an ambush.  They will also give up a stalk when they realize that they’ve been spotted.

Subjectively, I would suggest that ‘personhood’ is a projection of one’s theory of mind onto another entity.  I say ‘entity’ because people are apt to project personhood onto inanimate objects, as well as living ones, e.g. my kids and their stuffed toys :) 

Over-projection onto, say, a pet cat results in us treating it as a person, albeit a child-like one.  People seem to be able to project personhood onto virtually anything that has a face, for instance, Microsoft’s ‘Clippy’ - the helpful little assistant in the Office suite.  It’s ironic that Microsoft’s attempt to give their help system personhood has resulted in so much naked hatred being directed towards the damn thing! 

Under-projection allows for some of the worst in human behavior, such as murder, genocide, exploitation, and other crimes against people.  It is the denial of the mind in others that allows ‘ordinary’ people to carry out acts that would be unconscionable if they regarded their victims as thinking and feeling human beings.

How do we objectively determine the ‘personhood’ of a creature?

This is an inherently ‘fuzzy’ problem.  We can’t even agree when a human fetus achieves personhood. Pro-Lifers say that it’s the moment when the ovum is fertilized (over-projection?)  Abortionists set it at 28 weeks (under-projecting?)  The law in the UK says that embryos used for stem cell research must be destroyed after 14 days.  Mary Warnock, who sat on the committee that set the 14-day limit, admitted that 14 days was specified because The Law requires An Objective Metric, and that different embryos could be at different developmental stages after 14 days.

If we cannot agree what constitutes personhood in a human, how can we do so for another species?  What kind of test would we use to determine if an animal has personhood?

Demonstrable actions that influence the mental states of another animal?  A bee’s waggle-dance communicates the location of nectar to other bees, but I wouldn’t say that they have personhood.

Demonstrable understanding by one animal that another animal’s mental state has been changed by the actor’s actions?  A big dog pauses in the middle of its meal to chase another dog away, and then returns to its meal when it is satisfied that the other dog has ‘got the message.’  Does this demonstrate that dogs have a theory of mind, and therefore are possessed of personhood?  I think so, though it is at the weak end of the personhood spectrum.

Note the use of ‘I’ in the two tests above.  I am attempting to subjectively define where the ‘objective’ line between person and non-person is.  That’s fuzzy problems for you!

Offline Gareth Southwell

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Re: What features are essential to personhood?
« Reply #6 on: 13/12/10 @ 09:40 »
Thanks for your very interesting post.

I'm with you on the fuzziness of personhood. I think it's an example of what is called the Sorites paradox: a certain amount of sand may be called a heap, or a number of people, a crowd, but where do we draw the line? With vague terms, adding or taking one thing away is inconclusive - it's not that "crowd" is exactly 5 people (unless, for legal purposes, we define it in that way).

It's the same with personhood, in my opinion. There is, as you say, a spectrum of qualities and characteristics, and it can be difficult in some cases (higher primates) to determine their degree of personhood, but easy in others (humans, bees) whether they have or not. However, I think the fuzziness problem is actually one which affects most of our categorical concepts, and there will always be borderline cases where we are unsure whether X belongs to class Y or class Z. I think this is a consequence of the way our concepts develop: they are not, fresh-out-of-the-box, crisply defined rational terms, but often raggedy, rule-of-thumb affairs. This is because concepts have a fundamentally non-rational basis (a point which we can discuss somewhere else, perhaps).

If the above is true, then the question is not so much "what" is X, but rather "why" we define X as we do. If bees don't have personhood, what we're actually saying is that, whilst they possess many qualities which we associate with being a person (intentionality, sense of belonging and community, etc.), the ones that they don't possess are important enough to rule them out (self-awareness, identity, etc.). Perhaps, then, it comes down to what we value in a person? This is interesting in coma patient scenarios: person X has no higher brain function, but continued respiration, heartbeat, and so on. Are they still a "person"? Perhaps this isn't a question of definition at all, but rather one of value. I suppose what I'm saying is: can we resolve the fuzziness of the personhood debate if we consider the problem to in terms of what role we want the concept to serve? X is a person, so we treat them in this way; Y isn't, so we treat them in another. Is it all a matter of utility?

Sorry for the long post.

By the way, I agree with Mr Clippy: it's really interesting that the face makes "him" more of a target for aggression!
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Offline MoQingbird

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Re: What features are essential to personhood?
« Reply #7 on: 14/12/10 @ 22:39 »
I would apologize for my long post, but I like posts with a decent bit of content to get my teeth into :-)

Quote
there will always be borderline cases where we are unsure whether X belongs to class Y or class Z

Is this uncertainty (or more generally, The Sorites paradox) only applicable to concepts that are aggregate entities? 

A heap of sand is an aggregation of quartz grains, but there’s no argument over the nature of the grains themselves as they consist of a lattice of silicon and oxygen atoms.  The ‘lattice’ relationship is a formal structural one that is intrinsic to the quartz crystal, while the ‘heap’ relationship is an informal one whose basis is extrinsic.

Similarly, ‘personhood’ is an extrinsic evaluation based on an aggregation of physical and mental characteristics: the developmental stage of the organism (from ooblast to mature individual), its intentionality, sense of belonging, community, self-awareness, self-identity, the assessor’s emotional attachment to the organism, whether or not it still has higher brain functions, etc.

Perhaps the Sorites paradox is applicable to all phenomena that 'emerge' because they are based on the loose coupling of component entities?

No-one disputes when a jigsaw puzzle is done, because the pieces are tightly coupled.

Offline Gareth Southwell

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Re: What features are essential to personhood?
« Reply #8 on: 15/12/10 @ 09:45 »
Good point, and well put, and you may be right in the sorities paradox applying to aggregate entities. However, there is a similar point that can be made against simple entities or terms. Take colour: what defines 'blue'? As with personhood, there will be borderline cases where we might argue that a certain shade is closer to green, or to purple. Furthermore, if we compare the ways that different cultures class colour shades, then we will find some contradictions - what a Western country might call 'green' might be classed with the equivalent of 'blue' in an Asian country, and so on.

The problem here is therefore with essentialism: what is the essence of a thing, concept, term? It comes down to a theory of language and how terms originate. If we think that concepts define or identify the essence of a thing, then we believe that such essences are 'real' - they exist in the real world, to be discovered (such as the structure of sand). However, if we take the colour example to be a paradigm of how language works, then this would seem to call doubt on this approach. If it is possible to classify things in different ways, then there would seem to be no 'essences', or only culturally created, relative ones.
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Offline MoQingbird

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Re: What features are essential to personhood?
« Reply #9 on: 16/12/10 @ 01:16 »
I'll admit to being a very strong believer that everything we say/do/see/think/smell/etc. is fundamentally based on pattern matching, i.e. the hardwired, associative, neural architecture of the brain.  Everything we experience is experienced after it's been processed by that architecture, and the phenomena themselves are experienced by systems that are emergent from the architecture.

The pattern matching is what gives us the abilities we have, but it can also lead to problems, e.g. telling just where the boundary between green and blue is.  We have green and blue because there is a lot of it about us and it's relatively easy to discriminate between them normally.  If a new shade of blue-green started turning up in our environment a lot, then i think we'd learn its pattern, too, and give it a name.

NB I'm glad that what I've posted to date is coming across ok.  This is the first time I've posted to a philosophy group, so please let me know if i breach any of the etiquette rules.

Offline Gareth Southwell

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Re: What features are essential to personhood?
« Reply #10 on: 16/12/10 @ 10:16 »
Yes, your contributions are fine! The basic etiquette is simply to be polite and to show respect for each other.

I think 'pattern matching' implies that (to continue the colour example) there is something that essentially differentiates 'blue' from 'green'. But the process might be one of 'pattern creation' rather than pattern matching or recognition. Now, how are we to prove that we are matching and not creating? We seem to be moving toward Kant here. The mind is fitted with an innate capacity to order experience. But 'order', or 'create'? How do we prove this?

Allegedly, the Vietnamese treat blue and green as one colour, whilst Russians treat light blue and dark blue as separate colours (see http://how-to-learn-any-language.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=21133&PN=1). If your pattern matching theory is right, then would we have to consider these cultures wrong? Or perhaps our own? However, if we admit that colour is relative to culture, then we would seem to be heading down a slippery slope...  :o
« Last Edit: 16/12/10 @ 10:21 by Gareth Southwell »
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Offline MoQingbird

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Re: What features are essential to personhood?
« Reply #11 on: 17/12/10 @ 00:08 »
Pattern matching in neural networks goes hand in hand with pattern learning.  Patterns are learned, and then matched.  Learning patterns can require a lot of effort.  I play guitar, so I can testify to how hard it can be to learn new finger patterns.  However, with repetition they become internalized so that their matching is automated.  I haven't needed to consciously think about how to finger a C-chord for a long time now.

What differentiates blue from green (in our culture) is the repeated exposure to the word 'blue' upon seeing something blue, and 'green' upon seeing something green.  If I lived in Russia then I'd have two word-pattern/color-patterns for two blues because that's what I would have learned.  There's nothing wrong with Russians having two blues, either, because two blues must make sense in their context.

Quote
if we admit that colour is relative to culture, then we would seem to be heading down a slippery slope... 

Tell me more about this slippery slope - sounds like fun! :)

Offline Gareth Southwell

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Re: What features are essential to personhood?
« Reply #12 on: 24/12/10 @ 09:31 »
Well, the slippery slope is covered with ice at the moment (bloody snow...).  ;)

I'm not being sceptical as to the process of pattern matching, or that is how we acquire colour information. This isn't so much a philosophical question, but one for the psychologist or neuroscientist. However, the question of whether or not blue is a 'real' quality in the world is philosophical - or, more generally, whether there are any 'real' qualities.

The main point is this: if, in pattern matching, we do no more than categorise something in a particular culturally-relative way, then we may argue that there are no 'real' colours, and perhaps no real qualities at all. If cultures all over the world split up the spectrum into different groupings, then 'blue', 'green', etc., are not real qualities, but simply conventional ways of experiencing colour (i.e. linked to the conventions of society). You might still argue that this does not make them 'unreal' - there is still some visual experience that is taking place - but it is not as 'real' as when we thought 'green' was a distinct property of the world distinct from 'blue'.

The slippery slope comes when we apply this argument to other concepts - e.g. personhood. If one culture says that X is a person because they possess one set of qualities, but another culture differs, and so on, then personhood is a culturally relative concept. However, the same then may be said for 'good', 'truth', etc. It's a very slippery slope indeed - I'm not sure how far down it I want to go, but it's something we need to think about.
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Offline MoQingbird

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Re: What features are essential to personhood?
« Reply #13 on: 25/12/10 @ 00:40 »
Well, the slippery slope is covered with ice at the moment (bloody snow...).  ;)

Yeah, I've spent too long hacking at ice on the steps with a shovel today :)

Quote
I'm not being sceptical as to the process of pattern matching, or that is how we acquire colour information. This isn't so much a philosophical question, but one for the psychologist or neuroscientist.

In terms of physics, there are no colors out there in the universe; they're strictly in the eye of the beholder.  We can identify exactly where blue, green and red are using the characteristic absorption peaks of human R, G and B cone cells. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cone_cell

Unfortunately, it all goes south after that.  Some people are color blind; some people have tetrachromatic vision; some people are synesthetes who attribute colors to numbers, tones, tastes and/or scents;  there is a huge variation in the ratios of R, G and B cones between individuals; and on it goes.  (That last one - the variation in R:G:B could be genetically determined, in which case Russians might typically see differently from, say, Western Europeans.  Russians might actually see two different kinds of blue in a way that makes them separate colors!)

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However, the question of whether or not blue is a 'real' quality in the world is philosophical - or, more generally, whether there are any 'real' qualities.

Are you after a 'real' Universal Blue experience, as opposed to a 'real' Personal Blue experience?

I think the closest we could get to the former is in terms of agreeing to use the standardized linguistic label 'blue' for standardized exemplars like 'the sky on a sunny day'.

Quote
The main point is this: if, in pattern matching, we do no more than categorise something in a particular culturally-relative way, then we may argue that there are no 'real' colours, and perhaps no real qualities at all. If cultures all over the world split up the spectrum into different groupings, then 'blue', 'green', etc., are not real qualities, but simply conventional ways of experiencing colour (i.e. linked to the conventions of society).

Do you think the conventional ways of labeling colors condition our experience of colors?

Quote
You might still argue that this does not make them 'unreal' - there is still some visual experience that is taking place - but it is not as 'real' as when we thought 'green' was a distinct property of the world distinct from 'blue'.

I think I'd argue that my experience of a particular color is 'real', and that the language label the we give that color is based on a statistically useful range around that color.  Real color is such a fiendish thing to agree on that your local paint shop uses a spectrophotometer to figure out 'exactly' what the color is.  Even then, the experience of the color can change alarmingly when it's placed next to another color.  The trouble I've had trying to get my digital camera, computer monitor and printer to agree on colors, only to find they all change when the print is viewed under, say, a fluorescent light, is incredibly frustrating!

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The slippery slope comes when we apply this argument to other concepts - e.g. personhood. If one culture says that X is a person because they possess one set of qualities, but another culture differs, and so on, then personhood is a culturally relative concept. However, the same then may be said for 'good', 'truth', etc. It's a very slippery slope indeed - I'm not sure how far down it I want to go, but it's something we need to think about.

Surely our concepts of good, truth and personhood have all slowly moved up the slope over time.  Yes, there are cultures that are lower down the slope (and seemingly determined to slide all the way to the bottom), and there have been occasions when cultures have sought to impose lower standards on others, but there are also cultures that are moving up the slope, that no longer have, say, the death penalty, and there are those that are exporting higher standards, too.  Down is not the only direction we can travel in.  The interesting question is, what defines the slope?

PS:

Merry Xmas, All
 ;D

Offline Gareth Southwell

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Re: What features are essential to personhood?
« Reply #14 on: 30/12/10 @ 11:08 »
You make a lot of interesting points here. I think we're largely in agreement: colour is a subjective quality which nonetheless can be to an extent measured and reduced to physical properties. So, a spectrophotometer would help decide whether two colours are similar, but it would not help you decide whether something was 'blue' or 'green', because we would have to set those boundaries ourselves. So, the Russian might indeed experience different colours (just as colour blind people do), but there is still some objective set of properties (wavelengths of light, etc) that cause those experiences.

So, the experience of colour is subjective, but may have objective, measurable causes. Some scientists will want to say that this makes colour objective: we can reduce talk of 'seeing blue' to having certain genetically determined rods and cones in our eyes, etc. However, there is always (arguably) a subjective experience that such explanations cannot capture - a phenomenal one. As for whether any of these things are 'real', this is a huge and fiendishly difficult question, because it begs the question as to what we mean by real! Philosophers tend to disagree about this...

To come back to personhood, we can draw a parallel with colour (which is what I've been trying to do). Let's say that, just as there are objective properties which determine what colours people see, there are objective and measurable properties that make up personhood. However, just as we might disagree, culturally, as to what 'green' and 'blue' are, we can disagree as to what properties personhood requires. For some, to merely be conscious might be enough; for others, we would have to possess language and a sense of self; and so on. Are these disagreements to do with culture and convention, like colour?

To talk of 'moving up the slope' is a slightly different issue, I think. We can talk about human or even animal rights, but both of these seem already to assume what a person is. You can point to the better treatment of humans and animals as a widening of the criteria for personhood (that's probably true), but then there's also the case of (e.g.) coma victims being harvested for organs. This would seem to suggest a narrowing of the criteria (some coma victims merely have damage to the cerebral cortex, for instance, impairing their capacity for rational conscious thought). But isn't it merely a value judgement/cultural preference to say that such a coma patient is 'dead' or 'not a person anymore'?

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