“I am a Person”, not “I do Personhood”

by nonewsisnew


In a strange misunderstanding of person-ness, a professor at a Catholic university things dolphins might be people.


Relatedly, dogs are also seen as people by a professor at a university founded by Methodists.

The first image in my mind when someone says "two people hanging out"

Surprisingly, this is not the first image in my head when someone says, “Two people going for a swim.”

Both of these professors appear to have their conception of personhood corrupted by Capitalism, where function overtakes existence (in that the value of a person is related to how much capital they can generate).  In these articles dogs and dolphins do functions that people do (emotion and introspection, respectively), and are therefore assumed to be people.  In Capitalism and in these articles, functionality is seen as the defining characteristic of the value of a person rather than any inherent property.

In contrast to this, Catholic thought considers people to be people based on essence, not based upon capability.  Cats can walk, and people can walk, but that doesn’t make cats people because personhood is existential and not based on performance.  A human who has the brain functioning of an African Grey Parrot is still a person because we exist as persons, we don’t “do” personhood.  To say “I am a person” means my being is a person’s being and isn’t related to function — as “am” is a conjugate of “to be” rather than “to do”.

Relaxing confident in the knowledge she's still more "person" than a parrot.

Relaxing confident in the knowledge she’s still more of a person than a parrot will ever be.

Confusing who we are with what we do is one of the greatest dangers of Capitalism.  It means the wealthy, the successful, the powerful are all more “people” than the poor, the failures, and the the weak.  This view creates a hierarchy of people, where those only 3/5ths successful are only 3/5ths a person.

We all know what happens when some humans are seen are more "person" than others.

We all know what happens when some humans are seen as only 3/5ths of a person.

These are dangerous times we are living in, where some places already kill off the sick an the old at a rate nearly equivalent to the 6th leading global cause of death.  Rather than comforting those who feel they are a burden or who struggle with life, our societies agree and therefore kill them.  Death with dignity looks like this:


Not like this:


Until we throw off the dangers of Capitalism for some better system, we will face a constant struggle to remember our personhood and value come from our existence and not our contributions to society or our personal achievement.