Best Definition of a Person/Human Being?


#1

What is a Person?

What is a Human Being?

What makes someone a member of society?

What makes someone a member of the human race?


Thoughts:
Is a Person someone who has human DNA? If so, would that make tumors “persons”?

Is a Human Being someone who can think rationally? If so, would that make newborn babies not Human Beings?

Is someone a member of society someone who is born? Isn’t that arbitrary?


#2

Am moving this thread to Philosophy forum.


#3

1). A being whose repertoire of actions includes intellect and volitional interaction with others.

2). A biologically living being, in complete (or at least functional) embodiment, whose life originated from the human generational cycle.

3). Someone who is received into the society and has, at least up to a point, interacted acceptably with others therein. A foreign attacker is not a member of the society, but someone who has an established place within it is.

4). Same as “human being.”

ICXC NIKA


#4

Thanks.

So re: #3, how do we defend the fact that someone is a member of society today but wasn’t considered a member of society 200 years ago? For example: women are members of society today, but not 200 years ago, when one had to be a white, male, landowner.


#5

Define “member of the society.”

To me at least, it does not necessarily imply fullness of political rights.

ICXC NIKA


#6

I thought you were the one who had defined it, because that was part of my OP.

Is this not what you said, as a definition of a “member of society”: 3). Someone who is received into the society and has, at least up to a point, interacted acceptably with others therein. A foreign attacker is not a member of the society, but someone who has an established place within it is.


#7

Point taken.

OK.

Someone who is a member of the society has a place within it, but is not per se a participant in all rights and privileges therein. Women could not vote in 1800s America, but were very much a part of it. Children have very few civil rights as such, but arguably, the society itself exists (or should) so as to protect and uphold them.

ICXC NIKA


#8

Aristotle was really, for a long time, the apex of philosophical thought. St. Augustine and most certainly St. Thomas Aquinas developed and built on his ideas, adding Christian thoughts. St. Justin Martyr did, too, and he even claimed that Aristotle was a Christian, he just didn’t know it – rather, he was influenced by the divine Logos.

Aristotle is probably a good place to look.

[Aristotle’s] treatise is entitled On Soul, and is part of his study of the animal kingdom, because that is what humans in their full nature are—animals. And Aristotle focuses on the soul because he starts with the traditional Greek idea that there is some internal cause which separates animate from inanimate things in the world of nature. The name for this cause is “soul” (psyche).

That being said, Aristotle saw the prime feature that made humans distinct from animals as rationality. We can think objectively, we know what true suffering and sorrow are, etc.

In looking at statements, Aristotle noticed that while the number of possible statements is unlimited, the way the subjects and predicates of propositions can be related to each other is definitely limited… (a) “Socrates is human”, (b) “Socrates is able to laugh”, and © “Socrates is pale” are Aristotle’s examples of these three types of relations. Humanity describes Socrates’ very essence. Paleness is completely unrelated to Socrates’ nature, and caused by him not getting enough sun.

So really, something is a person because it is a person in its own right (essence, nature). Someone cannot “gain” personhood, they either have it or they don’t. I cannot be a person one moment and cease to be one in the next. Therefore, being a person is not an attribute, it is the very concept of being for the particular thing. This is demonstrated here:

Finally, while Socrates’ ability to laugh does not define his essential nature, it is caused by his very humanity. This can be seen if we ask why Socrates, or anyone, can laugh. This can be seen if we ask why Socrates, or anyone, can laugh. To do that, you must perceive the situation and judge how odd it is compared to the norm. Then you laugh (or cry). This requires perception (animality) and thought (rationality). Thus, the cause of Socrates’ ability to laugh is his nature as a rational animal.

So a rational animal must be able to objectively, of its own will and not by reflex, cry or laugh as given examples. Those abilities cannot exist of their own right, but must be ultimately subject to the control of an essence or nature. Socrates’ nature is human, and because of that, he laugh. It is not the other way around. [This is the source for every quote above.]

Then comes the bigger question: now that we know of humans’ animality, what is a rational animal?

Man is the only rational animal. Animals are instinct (unless if they are influenced by us, like by domestication or through animalistic attachment, as with a house pet). Real humans are rationality. We control ourselves, our motions and thoughts. They are dependent on us being humans and come from us being humans, if that makes sense.

New Advent’s Catholic Encyclopedia leaves us with some final thoughts, a definition summarizing Aristotle’s ideas on humanity:

Man is a rational animal. This signifies no more than that, in the system of classification and definition shown in [Aristotle’s work], man is a substance, corporeal, living, sentient, and rational… It has been said that man’s animality is distinct in nature from his rationality, though they are inseparably joined, during life, in one common personality.

So we have it above:** man is an animal who possesses rationality. We control ourselves and our instincts are subject to us, not the other way around.** This is the very essence of the human.

God bless!


#9

The questions you laid out are ones that have baffled philosophers since time immemorial. I’ll just explain my own beliefs as best I can.

A PERSON is something that can think. Something that can reason and feel emotions. Even if it can’t share it’s viewpoint doesn’t matter, so long as it HAS a viewpoint. A fetus in a womb and an adult in a coma (sometimes for the latter case) have brain activity. They can think, they can dream.

Animals AREN’T people because their minds are merely instincts. Even if you teach a gorilla sign language you can’t carry on a conversation with one.

A human being, in my opinion, is a Homo Sapien. Sorry, but Neanderthals are Neanderthals.

However, it is important to note that “person” and “human” are not interchangeable terms. A non-human with sufficient mental capacity can be considered a person.

A society is little more than a group of people working together. Even whom “larger society” would consider outcasts end up forming their own smaller societies.

The only way for a person to not be a member of society is if he’s living utterly alone; not alone as in “nobody understands me”, alone as in “there is nobody whom I can physically interact with”.
Think of someone marooned on an island alone for decades.

Tumors aren’t humans; they’re body parts that combined in a way that’s usually detrimental to the whole.

Babies born and unborn CAN think rationally.

Yes, because to be born someone needs parents. Even someone born from an artificial womb would still need caretakers.

If someone was artificially inseminated and born from an artificial womb on their own planet as part of a fully automated process, then they would have no society.


#10

Love this!

This ^^ is going on my Apologetics shelf! :thumbsup:


#11

Thank Aristotle! It’s pretty cool how he thought like this over 2,400 years ago. Of course, this can hold many implications. “Rationality,” as it is the essence of the human being, develops, sure, and it needs to be further defined through reasoned discourse (or we can steal other stuff from philosophers throughout the ages?) :cool:


#12

I might butcher this but:
Only God can be said to have being of and by himself and independent of anything or body else.
We have being contingent on God. Our being is given to us out of his being. Only God can truly say “I Am”, capital letters, end of story.
We as humans say “I am because I was created”.

This is important because some will look at a person’s lack of rationality (coma, handicaps, etc…) and claim a lack of human being. But we are given a unity of body/soul. The two are inseparable apart from the degree of rationality or functionality.

I mean, we came from somewhere, right?


#13

God is irrelevant for Aristotle’s arguements. He did not believe in a personal God like we did, but God for him was related (I think St. Thomas Aquinas connected them). The majority of the people who argue that certain humans (e.g., the disabled, the very young, the mentally handicapped) are not persons do not believe in God, or at least a God like us. Yes, we do depend on God. God is the only “Thing” to exist by Himself (aesity). A theological argument would apply to us theists, sure, but not to them.

Socrates gets his physical existence from his parents. He also gets his humanity from his parents. Because he is human, he has the attribute of innate, natural rationality. Yes, there are instances in which this rationality is hindered or undeveloped (an infant, a severely mentally handicapped person, etc). Yet, they are still human and rationality is a (potential or actual) attribute. It’s nature, not God (though of course, God is the ultimate originator of all things).

Humans are set apart by their rationality, making them the only rational animal, but the rationality does not define what a human is at the same time. The only thing that can define that is physical parentage.

Aristotle was not exactly intending to use these ideas and concepts for running a society (Plato, his mentor, tried to in his Republic), but rather a simple way to define personhood. He also did not go as deep into what rationality is, so he may have left out the mentally undeveloped or lame.

Someone here said that undeveloped humans can dream, making them rational. Many animals can also dream and even have “complex dreams” (source 2). [source] [source]


#14

Aristotle was not exactly intending to use these ideas and concepts for running a society (Plato, his mentor, tried to in his Republic), but rather a simple way to define personhood. He also did not go as deep into what rationality is, so he may have left out the mentally undeveloped or lame.

Certainly personhood was not, for him, contingent on ability to use one’s legs??

Someone here said that undeveloped humans can dream, making them rational. Many animals can also dream and even have “complex dreams”

I would imagine that any being can dream as complexly as it can act while awake. We’ve learned a lot about sleep and dreaming from dogs and cats. No reason there to expand personhood.

Since the Neanderthals are gone, I’d say it is safest to say that “earthly personhood” is limited to “human beings” (living bodies of the defined human genotype).

ICXC NIKA


#15

Oops. I meant mentally lame, and that was a pretty important left out detail. They are not “rational,” though they are potentially rational and still members of society who should be respected.

Exactly. Many ancients (especially Greek philosophers, I think Plato?) even assumed that animals were able to dream by virtue of simply being active.

Neanderthals actually were humans beings, just another “species.” (Like the snowy owl as opposed to the barn owl.) That should be considered distinct from race like black, white, Asian, etc, but they simply had a differently developed bone structure.

Yet another reason that rationality is what differs a human being from an animal, and vice versa, I suppose.


#16

Neanderthals actually were humans beings, just another “species.” (Like the snowy owl as opposed to the barn owl.) That should be considered distinct from race like black, white, Asian, etc, but they simply had a differently developed bone structure.

Yet another reason that rationality is what differs a human being from an animal, and vice versa, I suppose.

Yes, I’d go with that. Since it appears that H.N. crossbred with CroMagnon (essentially our folks), I’d venture that they were a human subspecies rather than a fully other species.

I.e. Human life.

ICXC NIKA


#17

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