Lecture 7: Personhood

Cigarette smoking should be banned in public areas
Lok Kit
Video Project
If you haven’t yet, discuss the topic of your project
with me today.
Projects are due on November 16th.
Videos will be shown in class on and November 23rd
and 30th.
What is a person?
Why does it matter?
“Human” rights: do you have to be human to
deserve human rights?
Restricted rights? Rights of protection, etc.
granted to children, the severely mentally ill and
others that are not granted full human rights
The right to be counted in utilitarian calculations,
i.e. to have one’s pleasure and suffering matter
What does it take to be a person?
1) A member of the species Homo sapiens
• People vs. “persons”
• Brain-dead, talking pig, aliens, computers, robots,
apes, dolphins
• Cyborgs (part human, part machine): how much
of a human being can be replaced by machinery
or artificial parts before personhood is lost?
2) A certain level of intelligence?
• How to define? Merely quantitative or qualitative,
e.g. understanding concepts, having intentionality?
• Not necessary? Baby, mentally disabled
• Not sufficient? Intelligent but not sentient computer,
deep blue, “zombie”
3) Being consciousness and/or having feelings
• Lower animals, e.g. rabbits, chickens
• Does consciousness come in degrees? Is a certain
degree of consciousness necessary?
• How to determine consciousness?
• The Problem of Other Minds
4) Moral agenthood
“…rational beings are called persons inasmuch as their nature already
marks them out as ends in themselves” (1785)
Definition of a person: "a thinking intelligent Being, that has reason and
reflection, and can consider it self as it self, the same thinking thing in
different times and places; which it does only by that consciousness,
which is inseparable from thinking, and as it seems to me essential to
it" (Kant, Essay on Human Understanding)
• Kant’s requirements of a person: rationality, autonomy, able to
understand moral judgments and choose to act morally, free will
• Problem cases:
Babies, mentally deficient people, apes, dolphins, computers, robots
Problem cases
Babies, mentally deficient people, apes, dolphins,
computers, robots
Morally responsible vs. morally considerable
– Even if only “persons” are moral agents (hence,
morally responsible) , “non-persons” may be
morally considerable
5) Some combination?
• Having sufficient intelligence, being a moral agent, being
conscious, having free will, (being homo sapiens)?
• What combination would you choose?
• Are the criteria too strict?
• Can fulfilling some criteria be sufficient, e.g. either being
homo sapiens or being sufficiently intelligent and conscious?
Apes and Persons
Great Apes
• Chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, bonobos
• Could apes fit all the criteria (except being homo
• Do apes have:
Sufficient intelligence
The ability to be moral agents
Free will
Human-like abilities in apes
• Self-consciousness
– The mirror test
– Learning through imitation
Tool use
Social organization
Moral sense
The Great Ape Project
Campaigning for a United Nations Declaration on Great Apes
Supported by Peter Singer, Jane Goodall, Richard Dawkins, etc.
To create a “community of equals” among people and apes
• Three goals:
• Right to life (except in cases of self-defense, etc.)
• Right to liberty (except where in the ape’s best interest,
or where necessary to protect the public)
• Right to be protected from physical abuse
• Ban on using apes in scientific research
• Ban on eating ape-meat (bush meat)
• Ban on using apes in circuses, zoos, tv commercials, pets
Ape rights success
• 2007 Balearic Islands (province of Spain)
passed world’s first laws to grant rights to
great apes
• 2008 Spanish parliament drafted bill to grant
primates right to life and liberty
• Apes cannot enter into a reciprocal
legal relationship with people
– Apes cannot be held responsible
– Apes cannot enter into contracts, obey laws, etc.
– Roger Scruton: only humans have duties and thus only humans
have rights
• People have a natural and justifiable tendency to favor their
own species
• Slippery slope
Singer, Peter, “All Animals are Equal”, available at:
Robert Nozick, “Moral Constraints and Animals”, available
Constraints and Animals.htm
The Great Ape Project at: www.greatapeproject.org/

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