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Hi, this is my blog for all sorts of pro-life news, statistics, stories, and personal ventings. I am a wife and mother, as well as a nursing student. I I truly believe that abortion has failed women, and will continue to do so as long as it is legal.





Thursday, November 16, 2006

On personhood

I started a debate on personhood over at Christina's blog ( here in the comment section). Because of issues with Haloscan, and also because I figured it would make a good topic for discussion here, I've decided to post my argument for personhood here. If you've read my posts in Christina's blog, this is mostly the same thing I said there, but with a bit of clarification in the realm of capacity.


Central to the abortion debate (though some claim that it is inconsequential due to the overwhelming right of Bodily Domain) is the concept of personhood. What makes a "person"? Who qualifies as a person? Is it what we can do or what we are?

My view of personhood is that humans at the youngest stages are indeed persons. This is because they are members of our species and thus have the capacity to affect change. We gain our personhood not because of the achievements of one (for alone we would never be able to access our capacity-see Feral children) but because we posses the capacity to unite as a species in a way that is far superior to any other animal.

Together we can create language, which seasons our view of the world and enables higher thought. Together we can defend ourselves from the elements in ways that would be impossible if we never experienced socialization. Unlike other animals, humans do not have the physical defenses to fight of predators, we do however have the capacity to learn from our community how to use our advanced mind to overcome this.

In light of the fact that our own ability to access our capacity is based on a group, what makes us "persons" can not be the actual achievement of the capacity. It must then be the capacity itself that gives us our humanity. Although some members of our group may never be able to fully reach the highest potential of humanity, (because of mental retardation, physical handicaps, whatever) they are equally human because they posses the innate capacity that sets all humans apart from all lower species.

Because this capacity is innate, it is with us from the very earliest moment of our existence. Since the earliest of blastocysts posses this capacity they must be members of our "group" and thus must be "people".

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  • I think you're beating a dead horse. Those of us who agree with you see it clearly, and the rest need to have the scales fall from their eyes.

    By Blogger GrannyGrump, at 7:37 AM  

  • Probably true,but I wanted to repost it to get the opinon of someone who tends to engage me in good debate.

    By Blogger Lauren, at 7:48 AM  

  • That's such bigotry when we decide who is and who is not worthy of life by our own BS set of arbitrary standards.

    This personhood argument always makes me sick. If it's a human being, it's a person. It really is that simple.

    I almost sent Kevin T. Keith an email telling him that he's acheived personhood since I cited him in my dissertation proposal, but I didn't want to get him all excited. He struggles with incontinence, you know.

    By Blogger JacqueFromTexas, at 11:03 AM  

  • Haha, we wouldn't want him to wet himself.

    By Blogger Lauren, at 12:32 PM  

  • It may not come as a surprise to you Broo (considering you know a bit more about me then most others and know just what goes into my debates), but I do not beleive in the concept of personhood. The concept is, from what I see in history, too far loose. We see it in every generation. We see a set of humans declared under the line of personhood. In ancient world it was slaves, woman, and children. In Civil War era america it was any one of color. In natzi germany is was the jews. This still goes on to day, there are still those out there who feel there are humans who are undeserving of the title of "person" Today it is no diffrent. There is today a part of humanity that is labled as non-persons simply because of size, shape, development, and location. And it is only gettign worse. I renounced all beleive in this concept because, through out history, it has only hurt us.

    By Blogger Cerberus, at 9:32 PM  

  • Lauren

    First off, I’m sorry to hear about your various troubles, and I hope they clear up for your family. As far as the personhood argument goes, I’m happy to debate you on this subject. There are the usual caveats that it is a difficult, historically variable concept with different perspectives and positions, etc.

    That being said, it is important to remember that personhood is an abstract concept. Whether or not one personally chooses to believe in the concept is irrelevant. Take gender as an example. I might argue, “Women are devalued for various reasons in this society, so I reject the concept of gender.” A similar argument could be made for the concept of race. However, even if I (a male) decide to reject gender, what do you think would happen if I sauntered into a women’s bathroom? I don’t think the occupants would be too thrilled. Abstract concepts like gender or personhood serve to organize our empirical and normative experiences in the world.

    So one of the real questions is this – what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for personhood? For you, it appears to be syngamy, or the appearance of a stable embryonic genome. I don’t want to assume anything, so please correct me if I’m wrong. What are your reasons for believing this? And of course, I’m hoping we can get beyond the human being / person distinction. For the record, the developing embryo clearly belongs to the category of homo sapiens. So you don’t have to rehash that debate.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:27 AM  

  • My reason simply stated is the fact that all humans, through evolution or design have an inhearant capacity for growth that exceeds any other creature.

    You can expose a monkey to communication, but he does not have the capacity to use the information to a degree even resembling our own.

    Though there are some humans who have blockers that impede communication, all of us have the basic genetic composition to enable it.

    Often "personhood" is defined by our actual ability. I think that capacity is a much better standard for measurement since ability is expressed while capacity is inate.

    I don't know if that clarified anyting, but hopefully it can be a springboard to further communication.

    By Blogger Lauren, at 5:31 PM  

  • Lauren

    Thanks for your comment. My replies:

    “You can expose a monkey to communication, but he does not have the capacity to use the information to a degree even resembling our own.”

    This is incorrect. Koko the gorilla was taught an approximation of American Sign Language, and could communicate with her handlers. I also recommend reading “Feral Children and Clever Animals: Reflections on Human Nature” by Douglas K. Candland for more interesting examples repudiating your assertion. There are stories of individuals who work closely with many kinds of animals, who describe deeply emotional connections with these creatures, often of a better quality than relationships with other humans. While it’s true that a monkey will never speak English as eloquently as you, how good is your monkey-ese? Or do you think that monkeys do not communicate?

    “I think that capacity is a much better standard for measurement since ability is expressed while capacity is inate.”

    OK, so how do we (or should we) measure capacity?


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:43 PM  

  • I know all about Koko's communication, but it's nowhere near the level of even a 5 year old. She simply doesn't posess the capacity to go beyond a certain point.

    On feral children, that goes into my argument regarding socialization being necessary to fulfil our capacity. I belive I wrote about it in one of Christina's posts. I'll try to find it.

    By Blogger Lauren, at 10:10 AM  

  • Lauren

    You seem to be casting about making arbitrary distinctions. First you say that a primate has no capacity for language to any degree like humans, and now you change it to a five-year-old human infant. This undermines any argument from capacity. Capacity means either you have the potential or you do not. Obviously a gorilla will never master English like a human – they lack both the vocal structure and phonetic requirements of homo sapiens. But the fact that Koko could communicate with her handlers indicates that, by definition, she had the capacity to.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:35 AM  

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