Read the following excerpt from an article in Reason magazine:
Are Persons Just an Illusion?
the personhood brain network evolved because as an intensely social species, our ancestors' survival was enhanced by understanding the beliefs, motivations and personalities of others. They also speculate that the cost of ascribing intentions to non-intentional systems might have been far less than the cost of failing to recognize intentions in intentional systems. Thus the brain's personhood network may err on the side of activating too often. (This may account of religious belief systems that attributed intentions to the sun, rain, rivers, volcanoes and the like. Interestingly, the less humanity has attributed intentions to natural phenomena, the greater control we have obtained over them -- or is it the other way around?)Responses to above claims are given below:
Farah and Heberlein then claim that since the personhood network makes frequent mistakes and often attributes personhood to non-intentional systems that "suggests the personhood is a kind of illusion." They conclude, "If personhood is not really in the world, then there is no fact of the matter concerning the status of a given being as a person or not, and there is no point to the philosophical or bioethical program of seeking objective criteria for personhood more generally because there is none."
a number of thoughtful responses to Farah and Heberlein. One of the more devastating is by University of California, San Diego neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland. "Are there no mountains, no vegetables, no weeds, and no diseases?," she begins. Her point is that there are no precise criteria, or "natural kinds" that completely specify what a mountain, a vegetable, a weed or a disease is. Lambs quarter can either be a salad green or weed depending on how various gardeners regard it. Is obesity really a disease in quite the same way as smallpox? Yet despite the lack of precise criteria for all kinds of things out in the world (matters of fact, if you will), we manage to know what we're talking about and get along quite well.Read this article from the following link:
As Christian Perring, a philosopher from Dowling College in Oakdale, New York, points out there is a great deal of agreement on what constitutes personhood. These include attributes such as rationality, memory, ability to self-reflect, intelligence, and a concept of self. "We are good at distinguishing persons from non-persons in most ordinary circumstances," writes Dowling. It is the extraordinary circumstances that modern medicine engenders -- embryos in Petri dishes, severe Alzheimer's patients, anencephalic newborns, early fetuses, and patients in persistent vegetative state - that are problematic for many people. For example, it is clearly the case that prolife activists hope to activate the personhood networks of women seeking abortions by requiring them to view ultrasound images of their fetuses before undergoing the procedure.
University of Maryland philosopher Mark Sagoff makes the extremely interesting point that the notion that personhood is somehow a moral trump that demands that others recognize a being's rights is an historically new concept. "The idea that every human being prima facie is entitled to equal respect and concern under rules fair to all seems to depend not on hard-wired biological factors but on contingent historical variables," writes Sagoff. Human history, after all, is replete with tribes who kill outsiders, men who kill "dishonored" women, believers who kill and torture infidels, and so forth.
Are Persons Just an Illusion?