Week 8: Personhood


Exam 2, Nov. 1

Short answer questions: You will need to answer 4 out of 5. Make your answers as detailed as you can - they should be a paragraph long, written in complete sentences. Your answers should be based on the textbook, the Web lecture notes, and class lectures and discussions. If you answer all 5, only the first 4 will be marked.

Short essay question: You will need to answer 1 out of 2. Your essay should have an introduction, discussion, and conclusion, organized into paragraphs with complete sentences. Essays will be marked according to the comprehensiveness and quality of your arguments, not according to your conclusion. To prepare essays, use the following template:


Rights & Duties

Option A Pro & Con Pro & Con  
Option B Pro & Con Pro & Con  
  Overall Overall Overall

Guest lecture

Why the Question of Personhood Matters

Technology can keep bodies alive unnaturally.

There is a need for organs to transplant.

Issues about abortion depend on whether the fetus is a person.

Is the Fetus a Person?

Should the courts protect the fetus from maternal abuse?

1990 decision: Rights of a person apply only after birth.

But mother has duty to pre-natal care.

When is a Person Dead?

1. When the organs stop working.

Defense argument: The men who dropped Junor on his head are not guilty of manslaughter, because the doctors killed him when they removed his kidneys.

Arguments against this criterion:

  1. Technology now exists to keep organs functioning long after there is real life.
  2. Would prevent organ transplants.

2. When the whole brain stops working.


1. Does not keep body alive pointlessly.

2. Allows transplantation (positive consequences).

Con: The brain stem is not sufficient to constitute a person.

3. When the neocortex stops working. (Puccetti).

Pro: Without the possibility of thinking and consciousness, a body is not a person.

Con: This standard may lead to premature death because of the difficulty of determining cortical function.

Problem: New technologies are finding more brain activity and responses.

When does a Person and the Brain Begin?

Possible Answers

  1. Conception
  2. 5-8 weeks: Cerebral developments, EEG (brain waves).
  3. 22-24 weeks: EEG waves in neocortex.
  4. 32-36 weeks: EEG waves suggest consciousness.
  5. Birth

Combined Answers

  1. Jones: Brain birth I (6-8 weeks) and II (24-36).
  2. Continuum: no starting point.

What is the Self?

P. Thagard; The self as a complex system, Philosophical Psychology.

Reasoning and Caring

Reason without caring is empty, but caring without reason is blind.

Review Questions for Week 8

1. What are the arguments against using general organ functioning to determine whether a person is dead?

2. What is Puccetti's argument that neocortex functioning is better for determining death than whole brain functioning?

3. Essay question: Critically discuss the advantages and disadvantages with respect to consequences and rights of 2 criteria for determining death. For each option, discuss: consequences pro, con, and overall; rights pro, con, and overall; your overall conclusion concerning the options based on consequences and rights.

4. Why does Jones think that the brain begins in two main stages?


Phil 226

Paul Thagard

Computational Epistemology Laboratory.

This page updated Oct. 29, 2012