For a blog like this an article on persons seems a bit superfluous, don’t you think? And yet as I find myself musing on the things that matter to me and the relationship of each to the people I interact with I find myself trying to define humanity, you know what I mean? Or rather, describe humanity. Even more precise, describe this particular human. Which begs the question: is there a way to generalize? Is there a definition of “person” or “people” that everybody will agree with? Methinks…. Not! Especially because we are, to quote a well-known phrase, “unique, just like everybody else”.
Our definition of person depends on many variables like culture, ethnicity, era, religion etc. It seems not only impossible, but downright foolish to try and unify those as we are self-evident, like time. Except that we find exceptions (fetus, child, racially different human, non-physical beings, animals, rivers….) based on the variables described above so we are anything BUT self-evident. Or we are self evident to ourselves but not so to others and vice-versa. We are usually self-evident to our own groups but even that is not fool-proof – think children and decision making
Some general ideas: we are people when we live and behave like other people (feral children and psychopaths?), we are people because we are born so (apes and corporations?), we are people because we can make decisions (in a coma and women?)… you get the gist, for every definition, for every right granted, there are exceptions and they all sound oh so logical.
What to do, what to do?
It may be that the problem lies with the words like “definition”, with our desire for things to be clear-cut, once and for all, fixed. It may lie with our brain’s perceived inability to deal with change and uncertainty – although that is highly debatable. It has to do with the complexity of our worlds where systems and laws and policies and procedures and beliefs and biases account for more and more of our very lives.
I think it’s time for fluidity. We can both be human and grow into it. We can accept a river is important enough to count as one of us. We can continue to talk about it around the dinner table not just in obscure journals: is Puppy Dog a person? How about that gorilla or that dolphin? What makes humans human? What makes humans and non-humans persons? Are aliens persons? How about robots and clones and embryos? The key word is talk. Another key word is acceptance. My little one may not think our cat is a person, but many a people might disagree with that.
In my books relying on self-evidence is dangerous because it perpetuates ignorance. Even though I have been, am and will be, this second and forever…