Personhood in Philosophy and Law Spring 2009

Department of Philosophy, City University Graduate Center

Professor Samir Chopra (

What is a person? What is necessary, and what is sufficient, for something to count as a person, as opposed to a thing? What qualities (and rights) do persons have that non-persons (or mere things) do not have?  Is there such a thing as an “artificial” or a “collective” person? Can these kinds of persons be held to the same standards that “natural” persons are? May they ever have rights? Can non-humans have rights by virtue of their personhood? Is a philosophical definition of person more “natural” than the legal one? Are legal definitions of personhood mere conventional fictions? Do philosophical notions of the metaphysical or moral person carry the uncomfortable implication that no one could be a person?

We will examine the history and contemporary developments of these questions (and their answers) and pay attention to three particularly contentious debates: the legal status of fetuses and embryos, animal rights, and the possibility of legal personhood for artificial intelligences. 

Course Requirements:

A weekly 500-word report on the assigned readings (50% of final grade)

A final term paper (the remaining 50%)

Textbook:  (S&N): Cass Sunstein and Martha Nussbaum (eds.), Animal Rights: New Directions, Oxford University Press, New York, 2004

Obligatory Wikipedia Pointer:

(For Brownie Points consider updating this page as the semester goes along)

Reading Repository:

Most articles are available in this little repository I’ve put together; the rest should be available online or offline through CUNY’s collections

(Tentative) Reading Schedule:

Week1: The Metaphysical Person – History and Contemporary Answers:


John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book 2, Chapter 27

Peter Strawson, “Persons”, from Individuals, Methuen, London, 1959


Steve Bayne, “Strawson on Persons”,;

Norman Burstein, “Strawson on the concept of a person”, (

James Moulder, “Flew, Strawson and Locke's Parrot”, (

Week 2 and 3: The Metaphysical Person – History and Contemporary Answers


AJ Ayer, The concept of a person, St. Martin’s Press, 1973 (B1618.A93 C6 1963)

(R) Lynne Rudder Baker, “The Ontological Status of Persons”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. LXV, No. 2, September 2002


(R) Patricia Kitcher, “Natural Kinds and Unnatural Persons”, Philosophy, Vol. 54, No. 210 (Oct., 1979), pp. 541-547

(R) Harry G. Frankfurt, “Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person”, 68(1), 5-20


(R) Gary S. Rosenkrantz, “Reflections on the Ontological Status of Persons”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research Vol. LXV, No. 2, September 2002,


Aldrich, “Ayer’s Concept of a Person”,


(R) Sydney Shoemaker, “Persons, animals, and identity”, Synthese (2008) 162:313–324


(R) Beauchamp, “The failure of theories of personhood”, Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 9.4 (1999) 309-324

Weeks 4 and 5: Conditions for Personhood


Immanuel Kant, Excerpt from “Third Paralogism of Personality”

Daniel Dennett, “Conditions of Personhood”, from Brainstorms, MIT Press, 1981

A.O. Rorty, “Persons and Personae”, from Mind in Action, A.O.Rorty (ed.), Beacon Press, 1988

(R) David C. Wilson, “Functionalism and Moral Personhood: One View Considered”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Jun., 1984), pp. 521-529

(R) S. F. Sapontzis, “A Critique of Personhood”, Ethics, Vol. 91, No. 4 (Jul., 1981), pp. 607-618

 (R) Jerry Goodenough, “The Achievement of Personhood”, Ratio, 2,  September 1997 



(R) Lawrence A. Locke, “Personhood and Moral Responsibility”, Law and Philosophy, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Feb., 1990), pp. 39-66

GE Scott, “Material Persons”, from Moral Personhood, SUNY Press, 1990 (BJ 1031 .S37)

Week 6: The Legal Person  


John Chipman Gray, “Legal Persons” from Nature and Sources of the Law, Columbia University Press, 1921


(R)What We Talk About When We Talk About Persons: The Language of a Legal Fiction”, 114 Harvard Law Review (2001)


(R) Ngaire Naffine, “Who are Law’s Persons? From Cheshire Cats to Responsible Subjects”, 66 Modern Law Review, 346-367


Week 7 and 8: The Legal Person as Artificial, Corporate or Collective


Thomas Hobbes, Excerpt from “Leviathan”


(R) Roger Scruton and John Finnis, “Corporate Persons”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, Vol. 63 (1989), pp. 239-274


(R) Peter A. French, “The Corporation as a Moral Person”, American Philosophical Quarterly (July 1979)


Rita C. Manning, Corporate Responsibility and Corporate Personhood, Journal of Business Ethics, 3, 77-84, 8 p. February 1984.


Rita C. Manning, Dismemberment, Divorce and Hostile Takeovers: A Comment on Corporate Moral Personhood, Journal of Business Ethics, 7, 639-643, 5 p. August 1988. 

Chapters 3, 6, 7 from Peter A. French, Collective and Corporate Responsibility (HD60 .F74 1984)


(R) Sanford A. Schane, “The Corporation Is a Person: The Language of a Legal Fiction”, 61 Tulsa Law Review 563, 56365 (1987)


(R) David Copp, Hobbes on Artificial Persons and Collective Actions, The Philosophical Review, Vol. 89, No. 4 (Oct., 1980), pp. 579-606

Week9 and 10: When do persons come into existence and when do they pass away? Fetuses, Embryos, and Death

(R) Phillip Cole, “Problems with "persons”", Res Publica, 3(2) 1997


(R) John Harris Four legs good, personhood better, Res Publica, 4(1), 1998


Joel Feinberg, “Abortion”,

(R) Roslyn Weiss, “The Perils of Personhood”, Ethics, Vol. 89, No. 1 (Oct., 1978), pp. 66-75

(R) Jessica Berg, “Of Elephants and Embryos: A Proposed Framework for Legal Personhood”, 59 Hastings Law Journal 369 (2007)


(R) Paul A. Roth, “Personhood, Property Rights, and the Permissibility of Abortion”, Law and Philosophy, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Aug., 1983), pp. 163-191

(R) Ben A. Rich, “Postmodern Personhood: A Matter of Consciousness”, Bioethics, Volume 11 Number 3&4, 1997

(R) Christopher Tollefsen, “Embryos, Individuals, and Persons: An Argument Against Embryo Creation and Research”, Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 18, No. 1, 2001


Mary Anne Warren, “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion”, The Monist, 57(1), 43-61, 1973


Weeks 11 and 12: Rights (via Personhood?) for Animals



(R) “Slaves as Property”, New York Times, April 9, 1860

(R) Simon Cushing, Against “Humanism”: Speciesism, Personhood, and Preference, Journal of Social Philosophy, Vol. 34 No. 4, Winter 2003, 556–571.


Wise, Posner, Singer, Diamond, Francione, Epstein, Rachels from (S & N)


Mary Midgley, “Persons and Non-Persons”, from In Defense of Animals, Peter Singer (ed.), Blackwell 1985

Week14: Naturalizing Personhood?

 (R) Annette Baier, “A Naturalist View of Persons”, Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, Vol. 65, No. 3 (Nov., 1991), pp. 5-17

All articles below from American Journal of Bioethics, Jan 2007, Volume 7, Issue 1; total length 30 pages

Farah, Martha J.; Heberlein, Andrea S., “Personhood and Neuroscience: Naturalizing or Nihilating?

Pat Churchland, “The Necessary-and-Sufficient Boondoggle

Mark Sagoff, “A Transcendental Argument for the Concept of Personhood in Neuroscience

Adina Roskies, “The Illusion of Personhood

Grey, William; Hall, Wayne; Carter, Adrian, “Persons and Personification

John Banja, “Personhood: Elusive But Not Illusory

Zahra Meghani, “Is Personhood an Illusion?

Christopher Meyers, Personhood: Empirical Thing or Rational Concept?

James Lindemann Nelson, “Illusions about Persons

Christian Perring, “Against Scientism, For Personhood

Walter Glannon, “Persons, Metaphysics and Ethics

Week14:  Personhood for Artificial Intelligence

(R) Samir Chopra and Laurence White, “Personhood for Artificial Agents”, draft chapter

(R)  Lawrence Solum, “Legal Personhood for Artificial Intelligences?”, North Carolina Law Review, April 1992