The achievement of personhood

Goodenough, Jeremy (1997) The achievement of personhood. Ratio, 10 (2). pp. 141-156. ISSN 0034-0006

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The debate on personal identity tends to conflate or ignore two different usages of the word 'person'. Psychological-continuity proponents concentrate upon its use to refer to human psychology or personality, while animalist critics prefer its use to refer to individual human beings. I argue that this duality undermines any attempt to see 'person' as a genuine sortal term. Instead, adopting suggestions found in Dennett and Sellars, I consider personhood as an ascription rather like an honorific title or achievement-marker. I show how the questions of identity for a regular honorific title like 'genius' inevitably supervene on identity-questions concerning the more basic entity of 'person'. I then argue by analogy that, if 'person' be regarded as an honorific on a par with 'genius', questions of personal identity over time necessarily collapse into questions of the continuing identity of human beings. Attempts to separate the continuity of a person from that of the human being who embodies it then founder on conceptual and referential incoherencies. Room is left for increasing the extension of personhood ascriptions to non-humans in the future, while much that was previously puzzling about its behaviour as a concept is explained. At least some of the revisionist debate can now be seen more profitably as a debate about the moral and pragmatic considerations underlying non-paradigm human continuity.

Item Type: Article
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies
UEA Research Groups: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Research Groups > Philosophy
Depositing User: Pure Connector
Date Deposited: 03 Dec 2013 15:24
Last Modified: 04 Mar 2024 16:50
DOI: 10.1111/1467-9329.00035

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