Defining Person (Part 1)

I have dealt before with the concept of personhood and how it relates to abortion (if fetus=person, abortion=murder), but after reading more materials I wanted to get a little deeper and a little more organized in discussing personhood.

Before you can decide if a fetus is a person or not, you have define "person".

Everybody (except perhaps weirdly twisted philosophy students) would call this a person.
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Smart, Pretty, Successful
This is also a person.
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Homeless Drunk
Even this is a person.
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How does define "person"? (So sophisticated, I know.)
1. a human being, whether man, woman, or child: The table seats four persons.
2. a human being as distinguished from an animal or a thing.
3. Sociology: an individual human being, especially with reference to his or her social relationships and behavioral patterns as conditioned by the culture.
4. Philosophy: a self-conscious or rational being.
If we relied on the first three definitions, there would be no argument. Human being = person. But we've become too smart to be satisfied with such a simplistic definition, and thus we must get into the abstract (and often arbitrary). I say "abstract", because there are multiple definitions of "person", both current and past definitions, that don't just stop at "human being". In other words, person = human being, but human being =/= person.

There are many, many different definitions of "person" other than "human being", which, frankly, gets into the realm of the ridiculous. But I will be covering many of them, starting with the simplistic, then going into the more convincing, and then into the ridiculous.

What's the difference between this human being
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Smart, Pretty, Successful
and this human being?
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3-Day Old Embryo
The first obvious difference is the physical appearence. However, while physical appearence may indicate a difference in personhood status (as the physical appearence of a daisy and a rose indicate different species), physical appearence or physical facts does nothing to prove the personhood of one or the other, because personhood does not have to do with the physical world. Personhood is an abstract concept. A rose is a symbol of love, but love is an abstract concept. In our minds, a rose = love, but in the real world a rose is nothing but a rose.

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Lady Cassandra (Doctor Who)
and this
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Horta (Star Trek)
look vastly different from this
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Pretty, Smart, Successful
but that means nothing to the abstract concept of personhood.

Another difference is their environment. A fetus is in her mother's womb. A businesswoman moves all around, going into many different environments and doing many different things. Our current laws, illogically, follow this mindset. A 23-week-old premature, but otherwise healthy, baby can be born and immediately taken into intensive care and everything done to save her life. A 23-week-old "unwanted", but perfectly healthy, fetus (notice the difference in the terminology) that poses no danger to the mother, can be aborted.
23-Week-Old Preemie

It gets even more confusing. Sometimes, if a 23-week-old fetus survives the abortion, attempts are made to save her life...and succeed. Why? All that changed was the fetus's location. At least be consistent, abortion advocates. If there's nothing morally wrong with aborting a 23-week-old "unwanted" fetus, logically, there's nothing morally wrong with killing a 23-week-old "unwanted" fetus. The fetus did not change. The mother did not change. The staff did not change. The only thing that changed was that the fetus is now one foot away from where she was five minutes ago.

In my next post I will get into deeper definitions of personhood that branch off of the two addressed here: namely, level of development and dependency.

(I have also decided to, for now, go to one written post per week, on Fridays. Tuesdays may feature videos, suggested articles, or short news updates. This will allow me to organize my time better and have higher-quality posts.)

All images found via Google Images. No copyright infringement intended.


  1. Fascinating that you choose to brave the one subject that has hounded philosophers and poets for thousands of years. My hope is that, as you intend, you pursue it far beyond the limits of outlines and illustrations. In fact, I hope your readers' eyes shall never behold 'Defining Person (Final Part)'. I divine there to be no last word on the subject.

    I must congratulate you on the acknowledgement of Hitler's personhood, especially from a view which so often compares his ideals and those of prominent abortionists. Saying this, of course, Hitler is dead, and no longer exhibits the tangible quirks of personhood. I wonder how many people who once were can still be considered people in the now, and why it should be, if it is, some and not others.

    Troubling, though, is this: If Hitler's mother had known him for the man he was to be, would she be justified in terminating his life before birth? Are certain lives so set at differing values, to the point of negativity?

    I dislike, for reasons of equality, the common argument that abortion has terminated the curer of cancer. Any unborn babe could with ease be a madman, a hypocrite, or a criminal. Why should we prize the life of a future physician over any other? A life should be valued not by the way it is led, but by itself. A life is worth one life; no more, no less.

    Perhaps my ways seem controversial and traitorsome, but I believe it unfair that the death of a monarch should be mourned any more than that of his subjects. Too often we mourn the deeds and not the man. How hard it is, then, to mourn those who have done nothing! The ‘cure’ argument does not persuade even myself; I am more touched to know if the child was a braggart or a squanderer. Neither argument, I would hazard, wins any hearts particularly.

    I am a fool by trade, and long-winded by nature, but I hope you will take up your own position on some of these notions. I would like very much to learn of your ideas of personhood, even though you are perhaps only now discovering these for yourself.


  2. Hello Yorrick,

    Wow. Thank you for your words on this subject. I will eventually discuss the point you made that "a life is worth one life; no more, no less", probably in the context of Hitler (and others like him), the death penalty, war, euthenasia, and the like.

    I actually have a very simple definition of personhood, but I can't simply state it and expect someone with a different belief system from my own to take me seriously, even if they don't agree with me. I'm a very logical and scientific-minded person. I have to have a reason for everything or I'm not content with myself.

    I rather like the idea of not having a last "part" to my Personhood series. Perhaps I'll simply keep adding to it as the years go on.

    Thank you for your thoughts,



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