when does a human become a person /has an animal ever attained personhood?

One definition of person is “individual”
Are we individuals at birth?Befoere birth?At 4 months?
Is Koko the gorilla a person?
Is Alex the parrot a person?
Can a non-human ever be considered a person?

I can think of some middle management that I’d not consider a person.

Again, Snuffy, I’d have to say it’s all fluid and hazy.

How do we define “person”? A biological entity with a personality and history, unique among other persons? Any much-loved household pet would meet the qualifications.

I think we tend to consider “persons” as individuals, each with a particular appearance and personality that distinguishes one from another. Of course, appearance changes gradually over time and sometimes more abruptly, say as the result of cosmetic surgery or severe burns. Children grow quickly, and their personalities warp along with their bodies. The very cells in your body are not the same as the chemical makeup that was your body a month ago. A woman who loses an arm is not “less” of a person; personhood is deeper than that but crucially linked to the outside shell. After losing an arm (or giving birth, or getting married, or growing old) the woman is not the same woman she was before.

Personality changes. I’m particularly interested in this as it relates to brain-injured people. A person who sustains a severe head injury is not the same person he was. (Or is he?) A person who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease becomes a different person- or does he? On what do we base “personhood”?

Behavior can change dramatically. A man who was once a respected and charismatic leader becomes more “animalistic”, throwing temper tantrums and his own feces, due to a degenerative brain disease. Who is he? The person he is now, or the person he once was? If you lose all memory of everyone you knew and who you were, are you the same person?

Then again, humans are a social species. We are all indelibly marked by those around us: our parents, our friends, our foes. Is any human being really a separate person? Not really.

Koko the gorilla has been taught sign language:
she can understand and be understood through signs.
Has she ever asked a judge “Do I have rights?”
Has she ever asked a priest “Do I have a soul?”

These are questions only a sentient being would ask.

If she could ask those questions, I submit to you the answer is yes, she is a person.

Some persons are quite a bit less sentient than Koko the gorilla. None of us are sentient all of the time.

I knew a girl who was in a coma from the age of 18 months until she died at age 14. She never woke up and showed no sign of interaction with the world. Could she think? Could she dream? I don’t know, but some parts of her brain worked. If she could think, she had no way to communicate this.

Was she a person? Her family seemed to think so, and they loved her dearly. They’re still grieving for her.

Is a person with advanced Alzheimer’s disease still a person? If so, is he the same person he once was? If he’s not still a person because he’s no longer sentient, at what point does personhood end?

This may be a bit off-topic, but I believe it is a fact that pets have been left money in wills, sometimes significant amounts. I would think that ownership of property is a concept that applies to humans only (e.g. if a dog finds a stick it does not “belong” to him). Therefore by recognizing the animals as the heirs to, and owners of, the estate, the law is treating them as humans.

However, I a unfamiliar with the exact details of those wills. It may be that the money was not treated as actually belonging to the pets, but rather as held by the executor in trust to be used for the benefit of the pets.

This reminds me of a question I wrote a theme on back in University.

Basically the question was if a chimp could suddenly talk, think and understand his sense of self should he be granted the same rights as humans.

Most would say yes. However this is simply a backhanded way to an eviler motive.

A person is a human being. That is all. By defining a person by intellegence or appearence we are leaving the floodgates open for another Hitler to claim "retarded people aren’t humans(they have no intellegence…Let’s rid them from society. Who defines at what level for what age is a living being a human?

In this case a chimp shouldn’t be granted rights to equal humans because they could talk etc.

NOTE: This in no way implies that any animal should not be treated in a HUMANE manner (not HUMAN manner) and certainly anyone that would use the above thread to justfy cruelty to any animal is simply inhuman as well as inhumane

So in order to make sure no one can gets away with genocide* we should open the floodgates to xenocide? I assume this same reasoning would apply equally well to hypothetical non-human intelligent extraterrestrials. Hey, great, we humans get to be Lords of the Universe (so long as we treat all the e.t.'s “humanely”–which could mean nothing more than killing them all quickly and painlessly) because only we mighty humans are “persons”.

[sub]*OK, euthanasia, actually.[/sub]

Merriam-Webster dictionary:
“Main Entry: per·son
Pronunciation: 'p&r-s&n
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Old French persone, from Latin persona actor’s mask, character in a play, person, probably from Etruscan phersu mask, from Greek prosOpa, plural of prosOpon face, mask – more at PROSOPOPOEIA
Date: 13th century
1 : HUMAN, INDIVIDUAL – sometimes used in combination especially by those who prefer to avoid man in compounds applicable to both sexes <chairperson> <spokesperson>
2 : a character or part in or as if in a play : GUISE
3 a : one of the three modes of being in the Trinitarian Godhead as understood by Christians b : the unitary personality of Christ that unites the divine and human natures
4 a archaic : bodily appearance b : the body of a human being; also : the body and clothing <unlawful search of the person>
5 : the personality of a human being : SELF
6 : one (as a human being, a partnership, or a corporation) that is recognized by law as the subject of rights and duties
7 : reference of a segment of discourse to the speaker, to one spoken to, or to one spoken of as indicated by means of certain pronouns or in many languages by verb inflection.”

So what is the debate? The dictionary defines a person as a human being or an entity recognized by law as having rights and duties. This excludes all animals, the ref to rights and duties being to artificial persons. The debate can be when does a human being come into existence? At conception? At the end of the first trimester? At birth? In some cases, never.

The theological answer is that a human being (“person”)comes into existence when the soul enters the entity, which is at conception, according to all religions I know of.

Well, around here (San Juan) the legal definition of a “natural person” (an “individual”) is: a live-born human being. The by-now-dated-sounding text says literally “who lives detached from the womb”. [ It then goes on to say that personhood is not diminished by any deformity, disability or debauchment, but only by death (it doesn’t alliterate as nicely in the original, that’s just my paraphrase).] Dolphins need not apply, nor artificial intelligences. “Legal Persons” are corporations, agencies and such entities that may incur in liability for their actions in society.

I do not think ANY nation has even considered adjusting its laws to contemplate the possibility of “natural person” status (i.e. the entity “endowed with certain unalienable rights”) for anything other than Homo sapiens.

Find me a way to collect a TAX from the dolphins, though, and I’ll tell you another story :slight_smile:

(I really couldn’t find a place to cut the quote)

Yeah, but what if the chimp starts asking the hard questions? What if he begins to ask why he’s treated differently from human society? What if he wants to know why she’s being discriminated?

Side question: What if there was found a way to put a human consciousness (Let’s call him George) into the chimp without degradation. Even though in the chimp’s body, George behaves as George did before. He doesn’t lose his facilities. Is George still a person, even though he’s short and hairy.

I just don’t think where to draw the line is as easy as it looks.

Here’s something interesting.

From JohnBarleycorn’s sig (currently “This sentence is false.”)–which leads to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy–I found this page on Moral Personhood. The shame is the page doesn’t go into much detail.