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Fr. 631

May 22, 2015

In all of the preceding examples, it has proven necessary to tease out the background notions and relevant purposes for each undertaking before determining which traits come to constitute person and personhood in that field or sub-field. For try as one might to put forward an inclusive candidate trait, there will inevitably be cases to which it does not apply, all of which suggest that no such candidate can be basic or foundational in this narrow sense. Accordingly, the original question “What is a person?” must likewise yield some more limited background and purpose before receiving an answer.

What then is this purpose presently under consideration? The hint of an answer comes in the question’s focus on scientific advancement with regards to deterministic processes. The presentation implies that the personhood of whatever is subject to control and modification by science comes into doubt. For better or worse, the notion of person and personhood on which this presentation trades proves “that which resists deterministic processes”, as per its usage and overt interests. Against all hope, the question seeks to find something both identifiable by empirical, deterministic processes and resistant to apprehension and modification thereby. Yet the fact of being apprehensible and modifiable by these processes follows from being identifiable therefor. Put simply, these processes do not pick out qualities on which they cannot act in some way. The question therefore poses itself a threshold impossible to meet for any candidate definition of person. In short, the question’s formulation is incoherent.

That is not to say that the question is without hope. Indeed, in tempering its standard for “resistance”, this notion can encompass factors identifiable or, at least, suggested by empirical processes, the interconnection of which proves difficult to replicate in empirical models, if not impossible. Through the link between these factors (e.g. social and historical background, personal history, character, etc.) and person and personhood, one might put forward this weaker version of resistance to deterministic process as the trait or locus of person and personhood, qua manysided network of factors.

Could a metaphysically modest account of personhood (or self) find broader application outside of the notions, purposes and interests at play in this question? Only through careful extension and testing could any answer be given.

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