What is a person?

Discussion in 'Religion and Ethics' started by Dragon, Feb 9, 2012.

  1. Dragon
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    Dragon Senior Member

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    This is, or at least is likely to become, an important moral issue, so I want to discuss it here. We recognize "persons" as having rights under the law and in custom. We acknowledge that they are entities in their own right, and not merely tools or toys to be used -- that's what it means to be a "person." An inanimate object, a plant, or even an animal is not regarded as having the same rights as a person, even if cruelty to animals is frowned upon.

    But what exactly IS a person? We think of this as synonymous with "human being," but let me present four hypothetical circumstances in which it could be argued that entities that are definitely NOT human beings might be considered persons, or in which the concept of a "human being" becomes fuzzy.

    1) Extraterrestrial intelligence. Say a spaceship lands on Earth and intelligent aliens reveal themselves. These creatures are certainly not human. Are they persons? Should their rights be respected under the law? Should we regard them as beings like ourselves, or may we use or destroy them like things?

    2) Human genetic engineering. This is definitely coming. At first, it will be used to treat genetic diseases and possibly cancers, but it's a short step from there to improving human intelligence, overall health, and physical abilities. A century from now, there may be human beings adapted to life in free-fall, or with wings, or with genetically-engineered perfect recall, or other things hard to imagine. At what point does this fiddling cross the line so that we are no longer dealing with a "human being," and at that point, are we still dealing with a person?

    3) Animal genetic engineering. This may or may not happen, but anyone who has read David Brin's "Uplift" science fiction novels will recognize what I"m talking about. Suppose that chimpanzees, dolphins, parrots, gorillas, or other fairly intelligent animals are modified to give them full human-scale intelligence. Would such beings be considered persons?

    4) Artificial intelligence. This field of technology is advancing very rapidly, and will have economic consequences leading to radical change, but suppose that it goes so far as to generate artificial intelligence that is human in scale and self-willed. Would such a robot be a person?

    Discuss.
     
  2. editec
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    editec Mr. Forgot-it-All

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    That which is not a place or thing.

     
  3. masquerade
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    masquerade positivity

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    Light.
    Love.
    A soul creating a Life of happiness, sadness and everything in between.
    A shell.
    A vehicle on the road of spiritual evolution.
     
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  4. waltky
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    waltky Wise ol' monkey Supporting Member

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    "Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle...
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    Genome Shows Humans More Gorilla-like than Thought
    March 23, 2012 - Study confirms humans, great apes separated from common ancestor
     
  5. Katzndogz
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    Katzndogz Diamond Member

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    We might have to learn to respect all persons, whether they are human beings, other worldly or have fur or other kinds of skin.

    Sometimes our respect of "people" don't make a lot of sense. There is no problem whatsoever recognizing different types of people even if they live in remote savage villages or on isolated mountain tops with a vastly different form of civilization than we do. They are human life-forms. Yet, there's a problem with accepting dolphins as people even though they have an identifiable language, family structure, community structure and every other trapping of what we normally consider civilized.

    The modern definition of people has developed into being "Can this form of being develop a weapon that can kill you and large numbers of others?" Using that definition an extraterrestrial life form that came here in a flying saucer will be considered people IF they have a death ray.
     
  6. shalabi
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    shalabi Rookie

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    It's pretty straightforward in the realm of Philosophical discussion.

    (1) Self aware.
    (2) Rational (on even a very basic scale)
    (3) Capable of moral distinction.

    Politically... it's a clusterf#ck of bs ideas of what makes a person. It seems highly focused on "potential of human" rather than actual personhood.
     
  7. Katzndogz
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    Katzndogz Diamond Member

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    Hmmmm, Haven't you just described a dog?
     
  8. shalabi
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    shalabi Rookie

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    Not at all.

    (a) most dog's do not recognize themselves in mirrors
    (b) Do not make make moral distinction.

    We often misconstrue protective action for moral action. This is simply our not understanding pack mentality. It is still unclear whether or not any dog who discontinues barking at itself in a mirror is capable of knowing the "other dog" is him/her. Instead, the dogs seem to simply understand that the "other dog" is no threat.


    And I suppose we can argue about rationale... but cause/effect is below the basic level. They are unaware on a second-tier level, making them lesser than those who know they are enacting a process.
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2012
  9. Katzndogz
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    Katzndogz Diamond Member

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    You don't know much about dogs. Dogs are very much self aware. They recognize themselves in mirrors, they just don't care.

    Animal's Self Awareness

    Dogs have a very high moral sense, much higher than human beings. They know property is theirs and what belongs to someone else. They can be ashamed of what they have done, proud of themselves, or sorry that they were bad. They can develop skills without specific training but by observation of cause and effect.

    I wish people were as intelligent as dogs. People can't even be trained as well or as quickly as dogs can be trained.
     
  10. strollingbones
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    strollingbones Diamond Member

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    most humans dont reconize themselves in mirrors

    and dogs do make moral distinctions

    i.e. protecting the baby or chewing its fingers off...some dogs make bad moral distinctions just like humans
     

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