Personhood 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 natural person or legal personality has rights, protections, privileges, responsibilities, and legal liability."Where it is more than simply a synonym for 'human being', 'person' figures primarily in moral and legal discourse. A person is a being with a certain moral status, or a bearer of rights. But underlying the moral status, as its condition, are certain capacities. A person is a being who has a sense of self, has a notion of the future and the past, can hold values, make choices; in short, can adopt life-plans. At least, a person must be the kind of being who is in principle capable of all this, however damaged these capacities may be in practice." Charles Taylor, "The Concept of a Person", Philosophical Papers. Volume 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985, 97.
Personhood continues to be a topic of international debate and has been questioned critically during the abolition of human and nonhuman slavery, in theology, in debates about abortion and in fetal rights and/or reproductive rights, in animal rights activism, in theology and ontology, in ethics, and in debates about corporate personhood and the beginning of human personhood. "Justices, 5–4, Reject Corporate Spending Limit", The New York Times, January 21, 2010.
Processes through which personhood is recognized socially and legally vary cross-culturally, demonstrating that notions of personhood are not universal. Anthropologist Beth Conklin has shown how personhood is tied to social relations among the Wari' people of Rondônia, Brazil.Beth A. Conklin and Lynn M. Morgan, "Babies, Bodies, and the Production of Personhood in North America and a Native Amazonian Society," 'Ethos,' Vol. 24, No. 4 (Dec., 1996), pp. 657–694. Bruce Knauft's studies of the Gebusi people of Papua New Guinea depict a context in which individuals become persons incrementally, again through social relations.Bruce Knauft, 'The Gebusi: Lives Transformed in a Rainforest World, 3e" New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012. Likewise, Jane C. Goodale has also examined the construction of personhood in Papua New Guinea.Jane Goodale, 'To Sing With Pigs Is Human: The Concept of Person in Papua New Guinea,' Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995.
According to Charles Taylor, the problem with the naturalist view is that it depends solely on a "performance criterion" to determine what is an agent. Thus, other things (e.g. machines or animals) that exhibit "similarly complex adaptive behaviour" could not be distinguished from persons. Instead, Taylor proposes a significance-based view of personhood:
Others, such as American Philosopher Francis J. Beckwith, argue that personhood is not linked to function at all, but rather that it is the underlying personal unity of the individual.
Philosopher J. P. Moreland clarifies this point:
Harry G. Frankfurt writes that, "What philosophers have lately come to accept as analysis of the concept of a person is not actually analysis of that concept at all." He suggests that the concept of a person is intimately connected to free will, and describes the structure of human volition according to first- and second-order desires:
According to Nikolas Kompridis, there might also be an intersubjective, or interpersonal, basis to personhood:
Other philosophers have defined persons in different ways. Boethius gives the definition of "person" as "an individual substance of a rational nature" (" Naturæ rationalis individua substantia"). Mary Midgley defines a “person” as being a conscious, thinking being, which knows that it is a person (self-awareness). "Persons and non-persons", in Peter Singer (ed), In Defense of Animals. Basil Blackwell, 1985, pp. 52–62.
Philosopher Thomas I. White argues that the criteria for a person are as follows: (1) is alive, (2) is aware, (3) feels positive and negative sensations, (4) has emotions, (5) has a sense of self, (6) controls its own behaviour, (7) recognises other persons and treats them appropriately, and (8) has a variety of sophisticated cognitive abilities. While many of White's criteria are somewhat Anthropocentrism, some animals such as would still be considered persons. Some animal rights groups have also championed recognition for animals as "persons". Fellow Champions Dolphins as “Non-Human Persons”, Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, January 10, 2010; Midgley, Mary.
Another approach to personhood, Paradigm Case Formulation, used in Descriptive Psychology and developed by Peter Ossorio, involves the four interrelated concepts of 1) The Individual Person, 2) Deliberate Action, 3) Reality and the Real World, and 4) Language or Verbal Behavior. All four concepts require full articulation for any one of them to be fully intelligible. More specifically, a Person is an individual whose history is, paradigmatically, a history of Deliberate Action in a Dramaturgical pattern. Deliberate Action is a form of behavior in which a person (a) engages in an Intentional Action, (b) is cognizant of that, and (c) has chosen to do that. A person is not always engaged in a deliberate action but has the eligibility to do so. A human being is an individual who is both a person and a specimen of Homo sapiens. Since persons are deliberate actors, they also employ hedonic, prudent, aesthetic and ethical reasons when selecting, choosing or deciding on a course of action. As part of our "social contract" we expect that the typical person can make use of all four of these motivational perspectives. Individual persons will weigh these motives in a manner that reflects their personal characteristics. That life is lived in a “dramaturgical” pattern is to say that people make sense, that their lives have patterns of significance. The paradigm case allows for nonhuman persons, potential persons, nascent persons, manufactured persons, former persons, "deficit case" persons, and "primitive" persons. By using a paradigm case methodology, different observers can point to where they agree and where they disagree about whether an entity qualifies as a person.P. G. Ossorio, The Behavior of Persons, Ann Arbor: Descriptive Psychology Press, 2013Schwartz, Wynn. (1982) The Problem of Other Possible Persons: Dolphins, Primates, and Aliens. in, Advances in Descriptive Psychology, vol 2, (eds: Davis & Mitchel), Greenwich, CT: JAI Press
As an application of social psychology and other disciplines, phenomena such as the perception and attribution of personhood have been scientifically studied.
A political movement in the United States seeks to define the beginning of human personhood as starting from the moment of fertilisation with the result being that abortion, as well as forms of birth control that act to deprive the human embryo of necessary sustenance in implantation, could become illegal. Supporters of the movement also state that it would have some effect on the practice of in-vitro fertilization (IVF), but would not lead to the practice being outlawed. Jonathan F. Will says that the personhood framework could produce significant restrictions on IVF to the extent that reproductive clinics find it impossible to provide the services.Will, Jonathan F. (2013) "Beyond Abortion: Why the personhood movement implicates reproductive choice". American Journal of Law and Medicine. (Boston: American Society of Law and Medicine) 39 (4): 601–602.
A representative organization within this movement is Personhood USA, a Colorado-based umbrella group with a number of state-level affiliates, which describes itself as a nonprofit Christian ministry. and seeks to ban abortion. Personhood USA was co-founded by Cal Zastrow and Keith MasonPro-Life Profiles,  Retrieved 2014-11-02. in 2008 following the Colorado for Equal Rights campaign to enact a state constitutional personhood amendment.
Proponents of the movement regard personhood as an attempt to directly challenge the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision, thus filling a legal void left by Harry Blackmun in the majority opinion when he wrote: “If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment.”
Some medical organizations have described the potential effects of personhood legislation as potentially harmful to patients and the practice of medicine, particularly in the cases of ectopic and molar pregnancy.
Susan Bordo has suggested that the focus on the issue of personhood in abortion debates has often been a means for depriving women of their rights. She writes that "the legal double standard concerning the bodily integrity of pregnant and nonpregnant bodies, the construction of women as fetal incubators, the bestowal of 'super-subject' status to the fetus, and the emergence of a father's-rights ideology" demonstrate "that the current terms of the abortion debate – as a contest between fetal claims to personhood and women's right to choose – are limited and misleading."Susan Bordo, "Are Mothers Persons?", Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2003, 71–97.
Others, such as Colleen Carroll Campbell, say that the personhood movement is a natural progression of society in protecting the equal rights of all members of the human species. She writes, “The basic philosophical premise behind these personhood amendments is eminently reasonable. And the alternative on offer – which severs humanity from personhood – is fraught with peril. If being human is not enough to entitle one to human rights, then the very concept of human rights loses meaning. And all of us — born and unborn, strong and weak, young and old — someday will find ourselves on the wrong end of that cruel measuring stick."
Frank Pavone agrees, adding, “Nor is this a dispute about the state imposing a religious or philosophical view. After all, your life and mine are not protected because of some religious or philosophical belief that others are required to have about us. More accurately, the law protects us precisely in spite of the beliefs of others who, in their own World view, may not value our lives. …To support Roe vs. Wade is not merely to allow a medical procedure. It is to acknowledge that the government has the power to say who is a person and who is not. Who, then, is to limit the groups to whom it is applied? This is what makes “personhood” such an important public policy issue.
The Vatican has recently been advancing a human exceptionalist understanding of personhood theory. Catechism 2270 reads: “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person—among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”
The summer of 2008 a citizen initiated amendment was proposed for the Colorado constitution.http://ballotpedia.org/Colorado_Definition_of_Person_Initiative,_Amendment_48_%282008%29 Three attempts to enact the from-fertilization definition of personhood into U.S. state constitutions via referenda have failed. Following two attempts to enact similar changes in Colorado in 2008 and 2010, a 2011 initiative to amend the state constitution by referendum in the state of Mississippi also failed to gain approval with around 58% of voters disapproving. In an interview after the referendum, Mason ascribed the failure of the initiative to a political campaign run by Planned Parenthood.
Several state Supreme Courts have rejected challenges to personhood measures brought by opponents in states including Colorado, Ohio, Nevada, and Mississippi. In the Mississippi majority opinion, Justice Randy G. Pierce wrote:
Personhood proponents in Oklahoma sought to amend the state constitution to define personhood as beginning at conception. The state Supreme Court, citing the U.S. Supreme Court's 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, ruled in April 2012 that the proposed amendment was unconstitutional under the federal Constitution and blocked inclusion of the referendum question on the ballot. In October 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the state Supreme Court's ruling.
In 2006, a 16-year-old girl was charged in Mississippi with murder for the still-birth of her daughter on the basis that the girl had smoked cocaine while pregnant.ProPublica, 18 March 2014: A Stillborn Child, A Charge of Murder and the Disputed Case Law on ‘Fetal Harm’ These charges were later dismissed.The Dispatch, 3 April 2014: Judge dismisses Rennie Gibbs' depraved heart murder case
In 2014 a new national group formed, National Personhood Alliance. Founded by Daniel Becker, then President of Georgia Right to Life, the new group formed to house the growing state personhood movement and to provide educational resources and training to the burgeoning state personhood affiliates.http://www.personhood.net/index.php/press/georgia-right-to-life-responds-to-call-for-new-national-pro-life-group
In 1853, Sojourner Truth became famous for asking Ain't I a Woman? and after slavery was abolished, black men continued to fight for personhood by claiming, I Am A Man!
Some proponents of human exceptionalism (also referred to by its critics as speciesism or human supremacismEnvironmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason By Val Plumwood) have countered that we must institute a strict demarcation of personhood based on species membership in order to avoid the horrors of genocide (based on propaganda dehumanizing one or more ethnicities) or the injustices of forced sterilization (as occurred in many countries to people with low I.Q. scores and prisoners).
Other theorists attempt to demarcate between degrees of personhood. For example, Peter Singer's two-tiered account distinguishes between basic sentience and the higher standard of self-consciousness which constitutes personhood. Wynn Schwartz has offered a Paradigm Case Formulation of Persons as a format allowing judges to identify qualities of personhood in different entities.Schwartz, W, 2013 "The Problem of other possible persons" http://freedomliberationreaction.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-problem-of-other-possible-persons.html Julian Friedland has advanced a seven-tiered account based on cognitive capacity and linguistic mastery. Amanda Stoel suggested that rights should be granted based on a scale of degrees of personhood, allowing entities currently denied any right to be recognized some rights, but not as many.
In 1992, Switzerland amended its constitution to recognize animals as beings and not things. A decade later, Germany guaranteed rights to animals in a 2002 amendment to its constitution, becoming the first European Union member to do so. New Zealand granted basic rights to five great ape species in 1999. Their use is now forbidden in research, testing or teaching. "A STEP AT A TIME: NEW ZEALAND’S PROGRESS TOWARD HOMINID RIGHTS" BY ROWAN TAYLOR In 2007, the parliament of the Balearic Islands, an autonomous province of Spain, passed the world's first legislation granting legal rights to all great apes.
In 2013, India's Ministry of Forests and Environment banned the importation or capture of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) for entertainment, exhibition, or interaction purposes, on the basis that "cetaceans in general are highly intelligent and sensitive" and that it "is morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment." It noted that "various scientists" have argued they should be seen as "non-human persons" with commensurate rights, but did not take an official position on this, and indeed did not have the legal authority to do so.Indian Ministry of Forests and Environment, Circular F. No. 20-1/2010-CZA(M), “Policy on establishment of dolphinarium,” May 17, 2013, from Laura Bridgeman, “India takes another anti-captivity stance,” Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project, May 18, 2013, http://dolphinproject.org/blog/post/india-bans-captive-dolphin-entertainment http://www.dw.de/dolphins-gain-unprecedented-protection-in-india/a-16834519
In 2014, a hybrid, zoo-born orangutan named Sandra was termed by the court in Argentina as a "non-human subject" in an unsuccessful habeas corpus case regarding the release of the orangutan from captivity at the Buenos Aires zoo. The status of the orangutan as a "non-human subject" needs to be clarified by the court. Court cases relevant to this orangutan are continuing in 2015.For corporations, see "Justices, 5–4, Reject Corporate Spending Limit", Reuters, December 21, 2014.
In 2015, for the first time in world history, two chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, were thought to be "legal persons," having been granted a writ of habeas corpus. This meant their detainer, Stony Brook University, had to provide a legally sufficient reason for their imprisonment. This view was rejected and the writ was reversed by the officiating judge shortly thereafter.
In 1819, the US Supreme Court ruled in Dartmouth College v. Woodward, that corporations have the same rights as natural persons to enforce contracts.