Last Updated 27 Jan 2021

Do we have a defensible account of what is to be a person?

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To support the assertion that a person exists as a person in their individual unique position and that, they do not, cannot and can never occupy the space and position of another person must be proven using unchallengeable, unquestionable or unchanging evidence. Before we begin answering this question, we must first of all establish who and what a person is: i.e. what are the basic and universal characteristics of a person?

Where does the definition of a person begins and ends along the continuum that is occupied by all species – they could be hominoids - monkeys, baboons, apes, chimps, or non-person species etc….” When does a person cease being a person to become a non-person? Is this a reversible process – if so, why? If not, why?

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According to Wiktionary a person is a human being, then a human being is defined as man, the characteristics of man are identified from the later “human being” being signifies existence, human means belonging to the species of Homo sapiens some of the characteristic that would be associated to this is ability to express, feel, all humankind characteristics like being weak or fallible. Where then do we find the person in the human being is it the physical body of an individual being?

Aristotle says man is a logical “word using” animal and a featherless two footed animal. These however, are not the only differences.

A lot of other animals share these characteristics for instance insects and apes though remotely but it emerges that people are distinctly quite distinctive, befitting account of what it is to be a person could give the core of this distinction hence illustrating why certain characteristics are important and the others but incidental John Haugeland Noûs, Vol. 16, No. 1, 1982.

We are told, that modern philosophers and Christians interpreted Aristotle’s “logical” as “rational” thus proposing this rationality as our principle differentia, therefore Descartes maintains that people can talk because they reason and he could have stated the same on other characteristics.

Contrary to other animals humans have a highly developed brain with an ability to reason abstractly, use words and examining thoughts, it is due to this mental capacity together with their body structure that allows their upper limbs to make more use of tools than other animals. Human beings are social by nature a characteristic of most primates; nevertheless they are more skillful in using systems of communication for self-expression, interaction, exchange of ideas and planning.

Man has put in place social structures made of competing and cooperating groups such structures are, families marked by blood relations and other relations, nations originating from geographical boundaries, social groups and so on.

These interactions between humans have put in place a wide variety of traditions, rituals, ethics values laws and social norms which are the foundation of a human society. Man has a clearly noticeable recognition for beauty and tastefulness which is compounded by the human desire for self-expression has given rise to cultural inventions and innovations such as art, literature and music.

Humans are distinct for their desire to understand and influence the world around them, man seeks to explain and manage natural occurrences by science, mythology, philosophy and religion, this curiosity in man has led to development of tools and skills, this may be one of the most significant characteristic of human beings. It is by these characteristics:

Anatomical structures, mental abilities, social responsibility, cultural norms, conscious and unconscious will and freedom of choice, innovativeness that we define a person. This may be the basic and universal characteristics of a person.

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