Adventures in Homeschooling in Southern Indiana

Friday, November 14, 2008

What IS a person?

I've been thinking about Anon's comment below some more. (Thanks Anon! :) ) and I'm thinking the question doesn't really even come down to "When does human life begin" but rather, "What is a person?"

How do we decide what a person is? Well, we can decide based on the law. As in "The law defines x as a person, but y as not a person, so it is ok to kill/enslave/exploit y, but not x"

The problem is, when we allow the law to make some humans people, and some not-people, it's pretty arbitrary. (See slavery. And women under the Taliban). So there has to be a universal definition of "Person."

Christianity takes, I think, the broadest possible definition: All human beings. Because God gave them souls. Which is why the Church is against abortion.

Our current society seems to take the definition as "Anyone born. Unless they have a terminal disease, are in a coma, want to die, or are in this country illegally."

Personally, I find the latter definition, and the way that it's ever expanding, really creepy.

But from a non-religious perspective, what makes a person?

Is it Usefullness to society? Not really, since it's wrong to murder crazy old homeless guys on the corner. And we don't go around killing people simply because they use more than they produce.

Is it potential years to live? No, because if a drunk driver kills someone, it doesn't matter if the victim is 16 or 95. He's still killed a PERSON. There don't seem to be degrees of personhood. It's an all or nothing proposition.

Is it memories? No. Because Amnesiacs and Alzheimers patients are still people.

So how DO we define a person? And what's our reason for choosing that specific definition? (And if we define person more narrowly than others, are we doing it for selfish reasons? Like the factory owner who thinks it's ok to pay illegals an unjust wage, or the plantation owner who lives a life of luxury because he can exploit the slaves?)


Anonymous said...

No one in this country denies that the terminally ill, comatose, suicidal or illegal are people. I'm really not sure how you came to that conclusion. (At the risk of sounding liberal, I believe the detainees at Guantanamo are people too). There is a difference between a person and what rights that person is afforded. I doubt, for example, that you would say homosexuals should be permitted to marry. That means they are not afforded the same rights as heterosexuals, but it does not mean they are not people.

You believe anything with a soul is a person, and that a soul is conferred at conception. I don't believe in souls. I believe a person's life starts when he or she is born. Once again, your arguments are so intertwined with religion that they cannot stand up in a society where the church and state are supposed to be separate. If you want to win the abortion debate, find a non-religious, society enhancing reason to ban abortion.

Dal Jeanis said...

Actually, anonymous, you are confusing philosophy with religion, and legal definitions with accurate observations.

"A person's life starts when he or she is born"?

You can define it that way if you choose, but only if you define "life" in some very restricted sense.

Ask any pregnant woman if the fetus is alive. Ask her if it has a personality. Ask her what that personality is. Wait one year, then meet the child. Assess the personality. Make your conclusion.

Then come back and post the result, if you are honest enough to do so.

Or, shortcut the process and go out and find ten toddlers. Ask their parents exactly when they knew what their child's personality would be.

Half the time, the answer is second trimester. That's the real world, not religion, and not political argumentation. That's certainly the case with my own son.

Now, that's not an argument for why we should or shouldn't have abortion, it's just an observation that pretending that life (or personhood) starts at birth is a legal pretense, not a scientific fact.