Personhood?

Writer Dave
Dec 4, 2016 · 2 min read

Family Guy is an animated comedy about a dysfunctional family, the Griffins, and it spoofs current events and social taboo subjects, much like the Simpsons.

While watching several episodes, to get a few laughs, I was intrigued by the pet dog, Brian. Now Brian fancies himself a person because he has human characteristics. He walks on his hind legs and he talks. He is articulate, witty and urbane and he strives for person status.

Watching Brian’s antics, I started thinking about Personhood. It’s defined as the state of being an individual or having human characteristics and feelings.

Can Brian, the dog, be a person?

Reasoning tells us in order to be a person, one must be human. So, Brian lacks this necessary condition of personhood: humanity.

Another condition is you must think rationally. Brian is rational and he is a thinking being able to reason. Even Kant would agree that being a person does NOT include membership in a particular species, but must only be in possession of reason. So, you could call Brian a person that demands respect!

Now, our Brian is a cartoon, but it does lead us to the question of how to distinguish persons from pets.

Persons are the entity that has the moral right to make its own life choices, and to live its life without interference from others (self-determination). We don’t give animals the same kind of autonomy that we accord persons. We sell dogs and cats. Pets are property.

To be a person you need a modicum of intellect, and self-awareness and consciousness. I do have intelligence and I am self-aware.

Hold on! What does it mean to be self-aware?

It means you are aware of your existence and actions. You are conscious of your own self and ego.

You also need consciousness to be a person.

Hey! What’s that all about?

Well, to have consciousness requires “subjective experiences.” Which means you must possess an inner, mental life. You can put yourself in other situations through your imagination.

So, we are different from animals in that we try to understand where we came from. We look into our past and try to predict our future, and what other species thinks about their death?

So, we are a unique species.

Hooray! I am a unique person.

I conclude with:

No two people are alike — and both of them are glad of it!


Originally published at Writer Dave.

    Writer Dave

    Written by

    I was born and bred in Chicago, Illinois, USA. I left the US when I was 47 years old to live permanently in England, where I now write full time.

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