A person (
: people) is a being that has certain capacities or attributes such as
Reason is the capacity of consciously applying logic by drawing conclusions from new or existing information, with the aim of seeking the truth. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, la ...
Morality () is the differentiation of intentions, decisions and actions between those that are distinguished as proper (right) and those that are improper (wrong). Morality can be a body of standards or principles derived from a code of con ...
Consciousness, at its simplest, is sentience and awareness of internal and external existence. However, the lack of definitions has led to millennia of analyses, explanations and debates by philosophers, theologians, linguisticians, and scien ...
, and being a part of a culturally established form of social relations such as
In anthropology, kinship is the web of social relationships that form an important part of the lives of all humans in all societies, although its exact meanings even within this discipline are often debated. Anthropologist Robin Fox says that ...
Ownership is the state or fact of legal possession and control over property, which may be any asset, tangible or intangible. Ownership can involve multiple rights, collectively referred to as title, which may be separated and held by different ...
Property is a system of rights that gives people legal control of valuable things, and also refers to the valuable things themselves. Depending on the nature of the property, an owner of property may have the right to consume, alter, share, ...
, or legal responsibility
. The defining features of
Personhood or personality is the status of being a person. Defining personhood is a controversial topic in philosophy and law and is closely tied with legal and political concepts of citizenship, equality, and liberty. According to law, only a le ...
and, consequently, what makes a person count as a person, differ widely among cultures and contexts.
In addition to the question of personhood, of what makes a being count as a person to begin with, there are further questions about
Personal identity is the unique numerical identity of a person over time. Discussions regarding personal identity typically aim to determine the necessary and sufficient conditions under which a person at one time and a person at another time ca ...
The self is an individual as the object of that individual’s own reflective consciousness. Since the ''self'' is a reference by a subject to the same subject, this reference is necessarily subjective. The sense of having a self—or ''selfhood ...
: both about what makes any particular person that particular person instead of another, and about what makes a person at one time the same person as they were or will be at another time despite any intervening changes.
The plural form "
A person ( : people) is a being that has certain capacities or attributes such as reason, morality, consciousness or self-consciousness, and being a part of a culturally established form of social relations such as kinship, ownership of propert ...
" is often used to refer to an entire nation
An ethnic group or an ethnicity is a grouping of people who identify with each other on the basis of shared attributes that distinguish them from other groups. Those attributes can include common sets of traditions, ancestry, language, history, ...
(as in "a people"), and this was the original meaning of the word; it subsequently acquired its use as a plural form of person. The plural form "persons" is often used in philosophical
Law is a set of rules that are created and are enforceable by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior,Robertson, ''Crimes against humanity'', 90. with its precise definition a matter of longstanding debate. It has been vari ...
Personhood is the status of being a person. Defining personhood is a controversial topic in
Philosophy (from , ) is the systematized study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence, reason, knowledge, values, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. So ...
, and is closely tied to legal and
Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms of power relations among individuals, such as the distribution of resources or status. The branch of social science that stu ...
Citizenship is a "relationship between an individual and a state to which the individual owes allegiance and in turn is entitled to its protection".
Each state determines the conditions under which it will recognize persons as its citizens, and ...
Liberty is the ability to do as one pleases, or a right or immunity enjoyed by prescription or by grant (i.e. privilege). It is a synonym for the word freedom.
In modern politics, liberty is understood as the state of being free within society f ...
. According to common worldwide general legal practice, only a
In jurisprudence, a natural person (also physical person in some Commonwealth countries, or natural entity) is a person (in legal meaning, i.e., one who has its own legal personality) that is an individual human being, distinguished from the broa ...
Legal capacity is a quality denoting either the legal aptitude of a person to have rights and liabilities (in this sense also called transaction capacity), or altogether the personhood itself in regard to an entity other than a natural perso ...
Rights are legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement; that is, rights are the fundamental normative rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people according to some legal system, social convention, or ethical theor ...
, protections, privileges
, responsibilities, and
In law, liable means "responsible or answerable in law; legally obligated". Legal liability concerns both civil law and criminal law and can arise from various areas of law, such as contracts, torts, taxes, or fines given by government agen ...
Personhood continues to be a topic of international debate, and has been questioned during the abolition of
Slavery and enslavement are both the state and the condition of being a slave—someone forbidden to quit one's service for an enslaver, and who is treated by the enslaver as property. Slavery typically involves slaves being made to perf ...
and the fight for
Women's rights are the rights and entitlements claimed for women and girls worldwide. They formed the basis for the women's rights movement in the 19th century and the feminist movements during the 20th and 21st centuries. In some countries, ...
, in debates about
Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy by removal or expulsion of an embryo or fetus. An abortion that occurs without intervention is known as a miscarriage or "spontaneous abortion"; these occur in approximately 30% to 40% of preg ...
Fetal rights are the moral rights or legal rights of the human fetus under natural and civil law. The term ''fetal rights'' came into wide usage after '' Roe v. Wade'', the 1973 landmark case that legalized abortion in the United States. The c ...
, and in
Animal rights is the philosophy according to which many or all sentient animals have moral worth that is independent of their utility for humans, and that their most basic interests—such as avoiding suffering—should be afforded the sam ...
Various debates have focused on questions about the personhood of different classes of entities. Historically, the personhood of women, and slaves has been a catalyst of social upheaval. In most societies today, postnatal humans are defined as persons. Likewise, certain legal entities such as
A corporation is an organization—usually a group of people or a company—authorized by the state to act as a single entity (a legal entity recognized by private and public law "born out of statute"; a legal person in legal context) and re ...
, sovereign states
and other polities
, or estates
Probate is the judicial process whereby a will is "proved" in a court of law and accepted as a valid public document that is the true last testament of the deceased, or whereby the estate is settled according to the laws of intestacy in the sta ...
are legally defined as persons. However, some people believe that other groups should be included; depending on the theory, the category of "person" may be taken to include or not pre-natal humans or such non-human
Animals are multicellular, eukaryotic organisms in the biological kingdom Animalia. With few exceptions, animals consume organic material, breathe oxygen, are able to move, can reproduce sexually, and go through an ontogenetic stage i ...
, artificial intelligences
Extraterrestrial life, colloquially referred to as alien life, is life that may occur outside Earth and which did not originate on Earth. No extraterrestrial life has yet been conclusively detected, although efforts are underway. Such life might ...
Personal identity is the unique identity
of persons through time. That is to say, the necessary and sufficient conditions under which a person at one time and a person at another time can be said to be the ''same'' person, persisting through time. In the modern
philosophy of mind
Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the ontology and nature of the mind and its relationship with the body. The mind–body problem is a paradigmatic issue in philosophy of mind, although a number of other issues are ad ...
, this concept of personal identity is sometimes referred to as the '' diachronic
'' problem of personal identity. The '' synchronic
'' problem is grounded in the question of what features or traits characterize a given person at one time.
Identity is an issue for both
Continental philosophy is a term used to describe some philosophers and philosophical traditions that do not fall under the umbrella of analytic philosophy. However, there is no academic consensus on the definition of continental philosophy. Prio ...
Analytic philosophy is a branch and tradition of philosophy using analysis, popular in the Western world and particularly the Anglosphere, which began around the turn of the 20th century in the contemporary era in the United Kingdom, United St ...
. A key question in continental philosophy is in what sense we can maintain the modern conception of identity, while realizing many of our prior assumptions about the world are incorrect.
Proposed solutions to the problem of personal identity include continuity of the physical body, continuity of an immaterial
The mind is the set of faculties responsible for all mental phenomena. Often the term is also identified with the phenomena themselves. These faculties include thought, imagination, memory, will, and sensation. They are responsible for variou ...
In many religious and philosophical traditions, there is a belief that a soul is "the immaterial aspect or essence of a human being".
The Modern English noun '' soul'' is derived from Old English ''sāwol, sāwel''. The earliest att ...
, continuity of consciousness or
Memory is the faculty of the mind by which data or information is encoded, stored, and retrieved when needed. It is the retention of information over time for the purpose of influencing future action. If past events could not be remember ...
Bundle theory, originated by the 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume, is the ontological theory about objecthood in which an object consists only of a collection (''bundle'') of properties, relations or tropes.
According to bundle the ...
of self, continuity of personality after the death of the physical body, and proposals that there are actually no persons or selves who persist over time at all.
Development of the concept
In ancient Rome, the word '' persona
'' (Latin) or '' prosopon
'' (; Ancient Greek) originally referred to the masks worn by actors on stage. The various masks represented the various "personae" in the stage play.
The concept of person was further developed during the Trinitarian
In Christianity, Christology (from the Greek grc, Χριστός, Khristós, label=none and grc, -λογία, -logia, label=none), translated literally from Greek as "the study of Christ", is a branch of theology that concerns Jesus. Diffe ...
debates of the 4th and 5th centuries in contrast to the word nature. During the theological debates, some philosophical tools (concepts) were needed so that the debates could be held on common basis to all theological schools. The purpose of the debate was to establish the relation, similarities and differences between the /''Verbum'' and God. The philosophical concept of person arose, taking the word " prosopon
" () from the
Ancient Greek theatre was a theatrical culture that flourished in ancient Greece from 700 BC. The city-state of Athens, which became a significant cultural, political, and religious place during this period, was its centre, where the theatre was ...
. Therefore, Christ (the /''Verbum'') was defined as a "person" of God. This concept was applied later to the Holy Ghost, the angels and to all human beings. Trinitarianism holds that God has three persons.
Since then, a number of important changes to the word's meaning and use have taken place, and attempts have been made to redefine the word with varying degrees of adoption and influence. According to Jörg Noller, at least six approaches can be distinguished:
# "The ontological definition of the person as "an individual substance of a rational nature" (
Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, commonly known as Boethius (; Latin: ''Boetius''; 480 – 524 AD), was a Roman senator, consul, ''magister officiorum'', historian, and philosopher of the Early Middle Ages. He was a central figure in the tran ...
# The self-consciousness-based definition of the person as a being that "can conceive itself as itself" (
John Locke (; 29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704) was an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Age of Enlightenment, Enlightenment thinkers and commonly known as the "father of liberalism ...
# The moral-philosophical definition of the person as "an end in itself" (
Immanuel Kant (, , ; 22 April 1724 – 12 February 1804) was a German philosopher and one of the central Enlightenment thinkers. Born in Königsberg, Kant's comprehensive and systematic works in epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and a ...
). In current analytical debate, the focus has shifted to the relationship between bodily
In biology, an organism () is any living system that functions as an individual entity. All organisms are composed of cells (cell theory). Organisms are classified by taxonomy into groups such as multicellular animals, plants, and fungi ...
# The theory of animalism
( Eric T. Olson
) states that persons are essentially animals and that mental or psychological attributes play no role in their identity.
# Constitution theory ( Lynne Baker
), on the other hand, attempts to define the person as a natural and at the same time self-conscious being: the bodily organism constitutes the person without being identical to it. Rather, it forms with it a "unity without identity".
# .. Another idea
for conceiving the natural-rational unity of the person has emerged recently in the concept of the "person life" (Marya Schechtman)."
Other theories attribute personhood to those states that are viewed to possess intrinsic or universal value.
In ethics and the social sciences, value theory involves various approaches that examine how, why, and to what degree humans value things and whether the object or subject of valuing is a person, idea, object, or anything else. Within philosophy, ...
attempts to capture those states that are universally considered valuable by their nature, allowing one to assign the concept of personhood upon those states. For example, Chris Kelly argues that the value that is intuitively bestowed upon humans, their possessions, animals, and aspects of the natural environment is due to a value
Monism attributes oneness or singleness (Greek: μόνος) to a concept e.g., existence. Various kinds of monism can be distinguished:
* Priority monism states that all existing things go back to a source that is distinct from them; e.g., i ...
known as "richness." Richness, Kelly argues, is a product of the "variety" and the "unity" within an entity or agent. According to Kelly, human beings and animals are morally valued and entitled to the status of persons because they are complex organisms whose multitude of psychological and biological components are generally unified towards a singular purpose in any moment, existing and operating with relative harmony.
Primus defines people exclusively as their desires, whereby desires are states which are sought for arbitrary or nil purpose(s). Primus views that desires, by definition, are each sought as ends in and of themselves and are logically the most precious (valuable) states that one can conceive. Primus distinguishes states of desire (or 'want') from states which are sought instrumentally, as a means to an end (on the basis of perceived 'need'). Primus' approach can thus be contrasted to Kant's
moral-philosophical definition of a person: whereas Kant's second formulation of the
The categorical imperative (german: kategorischer Imperativ) is the central philosophical concept in the deontological moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Introduced in Kant's 1785 ''Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals'', it is a way of eval ...
states that rational beings must never be treated merely as a means to an end and that they must also always be treated as an end, Primus offers that the aspects that humans (and some animals) desire, and only those aspects, are ends, by definition.
* Cornelia J. de Vogel
(1963). ''The Concept of Personality in Greek and Christian Thought''. In Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy. Vol. 2. Edited by J. K. Ryan, Washington: Catholic University of America Press. pp. 20–
* Grant, Patrick
. ''Personalism and the Politics of Culture''. New York: St Martin's Press 1996.
* Grant, Patrick. ''Spiritual Discourse and the Meaning of Persons''. New York: St Martin's Press 1994.
* Grant, Patrick. ''Literature and Personal Values''. London: MacMillan 1992.
* Stephens, William O.
(2006). '' The Person: Readings in Human Nature
''. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. .
* Jörg Noller (2019)Person
In: Thomas Kirchhoff (ed.): Online Encyclopedia Philosophy of Nature / Online Lexikon Naturphilosophie. Heidelberg, Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg: https://doi.org/10.11588/oepn.2019.0.66403.
* Eric T. Olson (2019)"Personal Identity"
In: Edward N. Zalta (ed.): The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2019 Edition).
Rights of Non-Human Persons Program
(Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies)
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