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New Approaches to the Personhood in Law

Essays in Legal Philosophy

Edited By Tomasz Pietrzykowski and Brunello Stancioli

The concept of personhood becomes increasingly controversial in modern legal debates. The advancements in the contemporary science and technology entail the need for reconsideration of who should count as a person in law and why. Animals, cyborgs, artificial agents and the like may pose the most important challenge for the legal orders in the 21 st century. The volume collects essays addressing various aspects of this challenge and provide an overview of what may become the most interesting and far-reaching dilemma for the law in the years to come.
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Law, Personhood, and the Discontents of Juridical Humanism



1. The Legal Approach to Personhood

According to the standard legal account of personhood, a person is defined as an entity capable of holding rights and duties. The status of a person in law is conferred by the law itself; therefore, the choices of the particular lawmakers determine to whom legal rights and duties might be ascribed. The law traditionally distinguishes between two separate kinds of persons. Natural or physical persons include human beings, while so-called legal persons refer to various organizational entities, such as corporations, associations, states, and municipalities. The range of entities to which particular jurisdictions grant personhood vary in time and place. In particular, for the majority of the history of law, numerous groups of people, such as slaves, women, and children, were refused full recognition as independent rights holders and were practically reduced to the category of property or objects of the unlimited power of others.

Thus, at first sight, it may seem that the legal approach to personhood does not follow the philosophical tradition, which primarily identifies personhood with rational agency. As the famous early medieval thinker Boetius put it, the person is conceived mainly as rationalis naturae individua substantia. Later on, personhood became associated with the ability to make a conscious self-determination, which was typical for mature, normally developed human beings. All that seems rather distant from the above conceptualization of personhood that is operative in the legal discourse.

I shall argue, however, that such a...

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