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  Different philosophers have given different definitions of ‘person’. (The original Latin persona means ‘mask’ or ‘character in a play’.) One early definition was ‘rational human being’. According to this definition, something is a person just if it is both rational and a member of the species human being. Locke distinguished between the concept ‘person’ and the concept ‘human being’, claiming that there could be people who were not human beings. Locke characterized a person as a thinking, intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and is aware of its own identity over time. So if there were a thinking intelligent parrot, which was aware of its own identity over time, then it would be a person. According to Locke, then, something can be a person without being a member of the species human being.

Many, including Locke, have linked the notion of personhood with the notion of moral responsibility. Only people are responsible for their actions, so animals which are not people are not morally responsible for their actions. And a person can only be responsible for their actions, not for the actions of a distinct person. AJ

See also no-ownership theory of the self; personal identity.Further reading J.L. Mackie, Problems for Locke; , P.F. Stawson, Individuals.



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