Ethical Concepts: Personhood

The concept of personhood arises in a number of contexts within ethics:

  • Human fetuses, especially in regard to abortion, assisted reproductive technologies, and stem cell research (which often uses human embryos).  In addition, there are issues about twinning amd personhood and issues about embryo adoption.
  • End-of-life issues, including determining the point at which death occurs. 
  • Political/economic issues:
    • In the United States, slaves were counted as "three fifths" of a white person;
    • Corporations are often treated as persons in United States law.
  • Animal issues: should personhood be accorded to certain kinds of animals, such as great apes or bonobos?
  • Artificial Intelligence: will we reach the point where certain computers acquire the status of persons?  In 2001, HAL was certainly depicted as a person.
  • Theological issues: Catholic theology holds the doctrine of the trinity that there are three persons in one God. 



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The Issues







Lawrence M. Hinman, "Binary and Graduatist Concepts of Personhood."