Personhood = Self-awareness

Is there a good argument against the belief that personhood is determined by self-awareness? For instance a fetus is not self-aware, therefore it is not a person and has no right to life. Any good argument to refute this?

You will want to look at the transcripts of the first few talks on Theology of the Body by St. Pope John Paul II. He speaks about “The subjective definition of being a man”, “Man’s awareness of being a person”, etc.


A six month old baby is not self-aware. Does that mean it’s not a person and has no right to life? What about someone in a coma? Do they suddenly lose their personhood status?

What about memory?

Just because we don’t remember being in the womb or self awareness as a baby doesn’t mean that we didn’t know at the time?

I have a first few memories at the age of about 4 yrs, there are things I don’t remember at all, but I was there and it happened. :shrug:

Notice how the discussion has moved from “the unborn baby is not human” to “the unborn baby is not a person”! This has happened because no one is willing to deny anymore that the baby is human. I would ask the do we know that the baby is not self-aware? That the baby is not self-aware is based purely on conjecture without any proof whatsoever. And even if this could be proven, we know that it is a temporary condition!

I would challenge the premise itself. Is there any scientific evidence that a fetus is not self-aware? If it responds to external stimuli, is it not self aware? Is there even a scientific definition of the concept of “self aware?”

Is a cat self-aware? Does a cat know when it is hungry or thirsty, or content or in pain? Doesn’t this represent some level of self-awareness?

Self awareness is not the same as intelligence (which is what I think some people are trying to equate). Self awareness simply means that we are aware of our own needs and respond to both favorable and unfavorable external stimuli.

Is a single-celled bacteria self-aware? If (for example) a water-borne bacteria is well adapted to water at in certain temperature range, and the water becomes too warm or cool, does the bacteria not attempt to move to a more desirable environment? Isn’t this a form of “self-awareness?”

There is a pro-life bumper sticker that reads, “Abortion stops a beating heart.” This is a scientific fact. The heart of a fetus begins beating 18 days after conception, and by 21 days it is pumping its own blood type (which may differ from the mother or father) through a closed circularity system. This would be before a woman had missed her first period, and before most pregnancy tests (especially the drug-store variety) could even determine she was pregnant.

If a fetus is attacked by an abortionist, and makes an effort to evade the attack (as its arms and legs are sliced off), and exhibits a reaction that can reasonably compared to a scream, does this not demonstrate some level of self-awareness?

If I chop the arms and legs off of a teddy bear, it does not react. A teddy bear is not self-aware. If an organism reacts, it has some level of self-awareness.

You can actually watch a video of a fetus being attacked by an abortionist, and trying to evade while screaming. Many abortions are guided by ultrasound, and one such recording can be seen here. WARNING: you probably don’t want to watch this murder. It is quite disturbing.

Pereon is a legal term defined by law. So back in the early days of the US, slaves were counted as only 3/5ths of a person. Today, corporations are considered persons.

Thus, the term is really meaningless for the purpose of abortion. We could define a person to be someone with self-awareness, or at least whom we deem to have self-awareness, or we could define person to mean someone capable of holding a job, or being a particular religion.

While on a variety of different drugs, a person is no longer self aware. So perhaps one could argue that if the lack of self-awareness is temporary it is still a person. Of course, we would easily then use the same argument against the proposed lack of self awareness of a fetus because that is only temporary also. You’re not self aware while you’re sleeping, either. There are a slew of reasons why the “Self awareness” argument is inadequate. :thumbsup:

This is also a line of reasoning used by the euthanasia movement.

I would ask them to give a good reason of why self-awareness should be a determination of personhood. Like others have said, there are many different brain states that we encounter today that would suspend self-awareness (sleep, coma, etc).

The abortion movement has admitted that the unborn are human, so they need something else do disqualify person-hood from other humans. I would simply call them on this search. Ask them to give you a historical example of when separating a human from the legal concept of person-hood was ever a good idea.

I’d be more interested in a good argument that shows that personhood is determined by self-awareness. I’ve not seen one, have you?

When you go to sleep do cease to be a person since you are not self-aware?
If you get knocked out and so loose self-awareness do you cease to be a person?
If you are in an accident and in a long term coma, do I then have the right to sell your organs since you no longer have person-hood?

Do people who can’t reason properly, such as those suggesting that those who are not self-aware are not persons, really have personhood since they cannot reason properly and so cannot be said to properly have self-awareness, truly even have the right to claim personhood?

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