We are persons because of the complex forms of consciousness, such as those linked to reasoning, self-awareness, and linguistic thought. This implies that the different forms of consciousness differentiate us from animals and other individuals. Therefore, if one loses their ability or state of consciousness, they are more or less losing their personhood (Degrazia, 2002). They may just be individuals but not regarded as persons in this context. Various diseases may affect people, and they lose their sense of personhood in the process. Reasoning is a form of consciousness that allows one to think about something logically, thus making the right decisions. It also helps in explaining the difference between individuals and animals.
Individuals regarded as persons can make sound decisions that may affect them in one way or another as they have a logical way of thinking. However, animals do not have a sense of reasoning, thus explaining why some animals get killed or fall into traps while looking (Degrazia, 2002). Self-awareness demonstrates the capability to recognize their feelings, thoughts, emotions, and actions. Therefore, they can identify what other people see in them or how they see them. It also allows one to identify their strengths and weaknesses. In addition, linguistic thought explains that language and thought depend on the belief of a mental representation. It means that language influences people’s thoughts, either positively or negatively (Degrazia, 2002). Therefore, if one loses their ability for consciousness, they have lost their personhood, meaning that it is the end of their existence; thus, they are only a representation of themselves. This also implies that they can be regarded as a particular individual and not a person because they have lost the ability.
Moreover, personhood means that one has a higher moral status compared to animals: it is what differentiates them from animals. However, some people have done things that can be termed as inhumane, making other people call them animals or savages. It is an indication that even if the high moral status differentiates us from animals, some people can be regarded as animals for their actions as they have done far worse things that even mist animals cannot do (Degrazia, 2002). Higher moral status defines how an organism relates to ethical considerations. The moral status can be regarded as morally or ethically permissible or impermissible. A person is considered to have higher moral status because they reason, are self-aware, and have linguistic thoughts. Therefore, higher moral status is closely linked to the complex forms of consciousness.
However, personhood being defined with high moral status means that those who have done the contrary can be regarded as animals even if they have complex forms of consciousness, thus making it a weaker argument or definition of personhood. It is because there are people who have done actions that do not show a higher moral status but are of sound mind meaning they possess the forms of consciousness (Degrazia, 2002). Besides, many people have been prosecuted and even executed for doing crimes that have claimed many lives, even those that can be termed as inhumane such that the best punishment they can get is being killed or executed. As much as they do all the atrocious acts, they reason well like everyone else. They are self-aware. This means that they know their strengths and weakness (Degrazia, 2002). Also, an individual understands how people would see them when they do some things; and lastly, they have linguistic thoughts. It shows that they do this when they are fully conscious. Besides, they may have experienced low moral status, but they have consciousness.
Additionally, DeGrazia states that the perception of where we are persons in a sense that implies the degree for relatively complex forms of consciousness associated with reasoning, self-awareness, and linguistic thought would mean that people who undergo progressive dementia are out of existence. I would agree with this from the other philosophers’ viewpoint. This is because people with dementia have an impaired ability to make decisions, remember or think, which interferes with their daily lives. Therefore, people with dementia have, in a way, lost their personhood in some way as they cannot reason, are not self-aware, and do not have linguistic thoughts. It would be justified to say they are impaired in some way (Degrazia, 2002). They may have lost all these abilities, but it does not mean that they are dead because they are still alive, and the only problem is that they are cannot make sound decisions regarding their lives or anything important to them since they cannot think or remember. Therefore, the philosophers suggest that anyone who has mental or other health problems that restrict them from making decisions, thinking, or remembering things is not a person.
David DeGrazia states that most people assume personhood to be more about morality which is the case with some philosophers. It explains why some argue that personhood is determined by the forms of consciousness, which explain morality (Degrazia, 2002). If one cannot reason, is not self-aware, or their linguistic thoughts are questionable, their morality is also questioned. DeGrazia claims are justified that a single concept cannot explain personhood; hence, it is vague. It cannot be analyzed into required and enough conditions. It means that personhood or being a person is a complex topic that cannot be narrowed down into particular thoughts or ideas.
Furthermore, morals do not apply in personhood as they do not help in explaining the main point behind it. Morals, especially good or positive ones, are primarily used to define people and differentiate them from animals. However, various animals can be regarded as ethically considerate to have positive morals (Degrazia, 2002). Does this mean that these animals have personhood? Animals like dolphins are considered to be humane compared to other animals. They are known to be friendly and help people; therefore, if one links personhood to morals, then dolphins qualify to be persons or part of personhood. It dismisses the notion that morals apply to personhood and even reasoning form of consciousness as dolphins have the reasoning to help humans when in need.
Besides, I agree with David that the philosophical justification is that personhood involves the forms of consciousness. When newborns come into the world, they cannot reason, nor are they self-aware. They also do not have linguistic thoughts; therefore, the philosophical judgment means that they are not persons. This is because they do not have the forms of consciousness: they are not as active as those of an average human as they are too young. The philosophical judgment of this notion brings about the question of whether a newborn is a person or can be defined through personhood (Degrazia, 2002). It is evident that the philosophical judgment of personhood may not apply in all occasions of a human being’s life. Newborns come into this world without the ability to do many things, and the only way they know how to communicate is through crying. This is because they do not know how to speak or have not yet reached the age to develop a language. They do not understand themselves at this point thus cannot reason out what to do or not do: what is right from wrong.
Newborns exist after they are born, but according to the philosophical judgment, even after they are born, they do not exist because they do not have any of the forms of consciousness. The argument on the philosophical judgment would only mean that newborns reach personhood at the age of around two to three years because, at this point, they understand they understand various things and know some things while others, they have to find out themselves (Degrazia, 2002). A good example is when they touch something hot and get burnt; they then understand that touching is wrong. It means that they are learning on their own by finding things out themselves at this age. Therefore, according to the philosophical judgment, it would mean that they would be regarded to be in personhood. They cannot be out of existence for two to three years, and after that, they are in existence. It does not make sense that as much as they are born, the philosophical judgment suggests they do not exist.
Finally, the philosophical judgment on morals applied to personhood would also not make sense when applied. According to the philosophers’ arguments, morals define personhood in that an individual with high moral status would be considered a person, thus differentiating them from animals (Degrazia, 2002). However, newborns have come into the world and do not know or understand anything; therefore, their morals cannot be measured: it is hard to determine the degree of morality. One can also say that they have neither good nor bad morals because their actions do not suggest any of these. Therefore, according to the philosophical judgment on morals, a newborn is not or cannot be considered a person. It is easy to determine whether a child has good or bad morals from four to five years (Degrazia, 2002). Also, this means at five years, one can determine whether the child is considered a person or not. The notion brings back the suggestion that personhood starts at around five years of age as they can distinguish things.
In conclusion, David DeGrazia is justified to state that personhood is complex and cannot be analyzed into required and sufficient conditions. This means that personhood is vague; there is more to what people may try to explain or evaluate based on differences in opinions, beliefs, and understanding of the concept. In addition, morals and consciousness are not the qualifications for personhood. This is because it would mean that some animals would have qualified in personhood if that was the case.
Degrazia, D. (2002). Are we essentially persons? Olson, Baker, and a reply. In The Philosophical Forum (Vol. 33, No. 1, pp. 101-120). Boston, USA and Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers Inc.. Retrieved from https://philosophy.columbian.gwu.edu/sites/g/files/zaxdzs1676/f/image/degrazia_persone ssentialism.pdf