What Does it Mean to be a Person?

Moderator: Jim Averill
Role of participants: Prepare a report on a controversial issue related to personhood, invite alternative views, and lead the discussion. The moderator will provide a list of suggested topics, but participants are encouraged to select topics not on the list, subject to the moderator’s approval.
Number of participants (including the moderator): 16-18
Time: Tuesdays, 9:30–11:30 am
Place: Amherst College, Converse Hall, Porter Lounge, 100 Boltwood Avenue, Amherst
Parking: You will be issued an Amherst campus parking permit

An examination of the necessary and sufficient conditions, if any, for personhood.

Should a human organization (e.g., corporation) be granted some of the rights of personhood, as the Supreme Court has recently ruled?  Should an infrahuman animal (a chimp, say) be afforded some of the rights of personhood, as some animal rights activists advocate? Should a fetus be declared a person, as many personhood amendments to state constitutions propose? Can more than one person occupy the same body (multiple personality disorder) and, if so, can one of those persons be held responsible for acts committed while another was in control? Theologically, does personhood survive death, as many religions teach? Is God a person, even three persons in One, as Trinitarian Christians believe. As a last example, with advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) might a robot someday declare itself a person, superior to mere human beings?

Questions such as these can easily be multiplied. They raise some of the most difficult and consequential issues facing contemporary societies. They will be addressed in this seminar from legal, cultural, psychological, and philosophical points of view.

Format: Seminar

Resources: Before the start of the seminar, participants are asked to read the short novel, You Shall Know Them, by Vercors (a pseudonym for the French author Jean Marcel Bruller). The internet provides a wealth of data and opinion pieces on both sides of almost every issue. Law reviews and court opinions are also important sources.

The moderator: This is the first LIR seminar I will have moderated; so, all I can say is, caveat emptor.

Leave a Reply