From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

person (plural people or persons) is a being that has certain capacities or attributes such as reasonmoralityconsciousness or self-consciousness, and being a part of a culturally established form of social relations such as kinshipownership of property, or legal responsibility.[1][2][3][4] The defining features of personhood and, consequently, what makes a person count as a person, differ widely among cultures and contexts.[5]

In addition to the question of personhood, of what makes a being count as a person to begin with, there are further questions about personal identity and self: both about what makes any particular person that particular person instead of another, and about what makes a person at one time the same person as they were or will be at another time despite any intervening changes.

The plural form “people“, is often used to refer to an entire nation or ethnic group (as in “a people”), and this was the original meaning of the word; it subsequently acquired its use as a plural form of person. The plural form “persons” is often used in philosophical and legal writing.


An abstract painting of a person by Paul Klee. The concept of a person can be very challenging to define.Main article: Personhood

The criteria for being a person… are designed to capture those attributes which are the subject of our most humane concern with ourselves and the source of what we regard as most important and most problematical in our lives.— Harry G. Frankfurt

Personhood is the status of being a person. Defining personhood is a controversial topic in philosophy and law, and is closely tied to legal and political concepts of citizenshipequality, and liberty. According to common worldwide general legal practice, only a natural person or legal personality has rights, protections, privileges, responsibilities, and legal liability. Personhood continues to be a topic of international debate, and has been questioned during the abolition of slavery and the fight for women’s rights, in debates about abortionfetal rights, and in animal rights advocacy.[6]

Various debates have focused on questions about the personhood of different classes of entities. Historically, the personhood of women, and slaves has been a catalyst of social upheaval. In most societies today, postnatal humans are defined as persons. Likewise, certain legal entities such as corporationssovereign states and other polities, or estates in probate are legally defined as persons.[7] However, some people believe that other groups should be included, depending on the theory, the category of “person” may be taken to include or not pre-natal humans or such non-human entities as animalsartificial intelligences, or extraterrestrial life.

Personal identity

What does it take for individuals to persist from moment to moment – or in other words, for the same individual to exist at different moments?Main article: Personal identity

Personal identity is the unique identity of persons through time. That is to say, the necessary and sufficient conditions under which a person at one time and a person at another time can be said to be the same person, persisting through time. In the modern philosophy of mind, this concept of personal identity is sometimes referred to as the diachronic problem of personal identity. The synchronic problem is grounded in the question of what features or traits characterize a given person at one time.

Identity is an issue for both continental philosophy[citation needed] and analytic philosophy.[citation needed] A key question in continental philosophy is in what sense we can maintain the modern conception of identity, while realizing many of our prior assumptions about the world are incorrect.[citation needed]

Proposed solutions to the problem of personal identity include continuity of the physical body, continuity of an immaterial mind or soul, continuity of consciousness or memory,[8] the bundle theory of self,[9] continuity of personality after the death of the physical body,[10] and proposals that there are actually no persons or selves who persist over time at all.[citation needed]

Development of the concept

In ancient Rome, the word persona (Latin) or prosopon (πρόσωπον; Greek) originally referred to the masks worn by actors on stage. The various masks represented the various “personae” in the stage play.[11]

The concept of person was further developed during the Trinitarian and Christological debates of the 4th and 5th centuries in contrast to the word nature.[12] During the theological debates, some philosophical tools (concepts) were needed so that the debates could be held on common basis to all theological schools. The purpose of the debate was to establish the relation, similarities and differences between the Ancient Greek: Λóγος, romanizedLógos/Verbum and God. The philosophical concept of person arose, taking the word “prosopon” (Ancient Greek: πρόσωπον, romanizedprósōpon) from the Greek theatre. Therefore, Christ (the Ancient Greek: Λóγος, romanizedLógos/Verbum) and God were defined as different “persons”. This concept was applied later to the Holy Ghost, the angels and to all human beings.

Since then, a number of important changes to the word’s meaning and use have taken place, and attempts have been made to redefine the word with varying degrees of adoption and influence. According to Noller, at least six approaches can be distinguished: “(1) The ontological definition of the person as “an individual substance of a rational nature” (Boethius). (2) The self-consciousness-based definition of the person as a being that “can conceive itself as itself” (John Locke). (3) The moral-philosophical definition of the person as “an end in itself” (Immanuel Kant). In current analytical debate, the focus has shifted to the relationship between bodily organism and person. [4.] The theory of animalism (Eric T. Olson) states that persons are essentially animals and that mental or psychological attributes play no role in their identity. [5.] Constitution theory (Lynne Baker), on the other hand, attempts to define the person as a natural and at the same time self-conscious being: the bodily organism constitutes the person without being identical to it. Rather, it forms with it a “unity without identity”. [6.] [… Another idea] for conceiving the natural-rational unity of the person has emerged recently in the concept of the “person life” (Marya Schechtman).”[13]

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See also human, i.e., imperfect (“He’s only human.”) and mortal, i.e., one who dies.

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