What is a Person?

Recently on the religious/philosophical site First Things, Joe Carter posted an intriguing op-ed piece on what it takes to be a “person”.

To paraphrase, being human and being a person are two different things, even though the terms are often used interchangeably.  The difference is that a human being is defined by DNA, while a person can be defined by a set of criteria.  For example, in Spain the great apes are legally considered “persons”.

Carter systematically traces the dangers of using “person” and “human” interchangeably – especially if being a person is determined by things like intelligence or capability. If a person’s rights are based on someone being considered a person, then at times humans might find themselves without rights. I won’t retell his fine post here, but it’s very worth reading and is quite thought-provoking.

I bring up the subject in that through speculative fiction, we are often faced with fictional life forms and artificial intelligences which would be considered persons. Yet it’s not so cut and dry.  Should these entities, these persons, have rights on par with humans? Should a computer program, which has demonstrated the minimum requirements for personhood be protected against being turned off?

Tackling questions like these is what speculative fiction does best. With the continual advancement in genetics and computer science, we may soon be faced with such moral  dilemmas. Speculative fiction can help us explore these scenarios ahead of time and perhaps help guide us through to the best outcomes.

Yet there is one other component to consider. What about the worldview of those who legally define personhood? What about the belief systems of those who influence tomorrow’s policy through creating speculative fiction today? Both will have a huge impact on how these questions will ultimately be answered.

The question is: who’s voice should and/or will be the most persuasive?


About EDC

EDC is an award-winning author with a passion for telling imaginative stories resonating with universal truths. His latest novel, Runaway, is a futuristic action/adventure inspired by the book of Philemon. EDC was born in Georgia, growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta, where he now lives with his wife, Amy, and daughter, Emma. Besides writing and being employed as an analyst in the airline industry, he has worked as a volunteer with youth, church planting, and Compassion International. He enjoys landscape gardening, listening to alternative rock, and playing the swordfight game on Wii Sports Resort.
This entry was posted in Blogs and the Web, Ethics, Philosophy, and Religion, Science, Speculative Fiction and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to What is a Person?

  1. Good points. Have you seen the movie “Moon”? Excellent example of how speculative fiction is great at posing ethical and spiritual questions…issues we may not want to think about but should. I have a short story coming out in an online publication that deals with questions about genetic engineering. Basically, if we are able to create sentient life, what rights are we going to afford it?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s