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Compare and Contrast the Philosophical Contributions Aristotle and Descartes Make to Our Understanding of a Person

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In order to begin analyzing Aristotle and Descartes contribution to our notion of a person, we need to be able to understand what the term Ð''personhood' means. Unfortunately there is no clear answer, with philosophers still presenting conflicting ideas. However by asking questions such as; is Ð''personhood' identical to human being? What is the essence of a person? What relation does a person have with the world? When does personhood begin? At what point if ever does it end? And finally what makes a good person? We move closer to a set of characteristics that make up a person. Therefore we can judge Aristotle and Descartes contribution to a person by evaluating their answers to such questions.

Personhood being purely a human phenomenon is a popular debate amongst philosophers, and the side that excludes animals is taken by both Aristotle and Descartes. Being a rationalist, Descartes begins his argument for this issue with the statement that a Ð''person' is a thinking thing. He comes to this conclusion through reason in the cogito argument as he can not doubt that he thinks, and he can not exist if he ceases to think therefore he is a thinking thing. With this foundation he is able to distinguish animals from the concept of personhood, as for Descartes a thinking thing is one that doubts, understands, conceives, affirms, denies, wills, refuses, imagines, and feels, attributes needed for self- consciousness and attributes he does not believe animals to hold. While Descartes agrees that animals have mental states he does not accept that they are self- aware of themselves in relation to others and their own existence. This idea of self consciousness being a necessity in personhood, has contributed to John Locke's theories in which he emphasises the idea of a person as a living being that is conscious of itself as persisting over time, a scholar that has greatly influenced the recently developed Ð''personhood theory'. The criteria of is that a person must hold one or more of the following; consciousness, ability to steer one's attention and action purposively, existing independently of the subject's perception of it, and having a biographic identity, all of which appear to have their origin from Descartes.Simuarly to Aristotle, Descartes also uses biology to argue why only humans are eligible to be classed as persons. Drawing on predessesors and Christian theologians view that the soul is the essence of a person, Descartes adds to the theory of the soul that it is located and connected to the body in the pineal gland. And as the organ is unique to humans, he is able to conclude that animals do not have souls, and therefore do not have the essence of a person. However, Descartes theory of the pineal gland has been almost universally rejected, mainly because his anatomical assumptions were wrong, as the pineal gland is not as Descartes said; suspended in the middle of the ventricles and is not surrounded by arteries but veins.

Aristotle uses biology contrastingly to distinguish between animals and humans. A most notible difference is on the issue of animals having souls, in which Aristotle believes animals do have souls whilst maintaining personhood as only a human phenomena. Unlike Descartes rationalist approach, Aristotle being an empiricist believes that the ultimate source of knowledge is perception, and that we arrive at concepts firstly from experience and then we use reason to understand them. Through observation Aristotle is then able to allocate parts of the soul (what he refers to as the psuche) to species, enabling him to catergorize animals and humans seperatly. He specifies 3 parts of the psuche, animals possessing the same quality as plants; the nutritive part which allows them to grow and reproduce, as well

as the appetive part. Humans however also consist of the third part; the rational. While all 3 forms of the psuche identify what it means to be a living organism, only the last identifies what it means to be a person. Furthermore it is this part (the nous) that is considered to be the immortal, which develops Plato's idea of the soul being an internal substance, that lives on after the body. Aristotle contributes to this idea, with the belief that the soul and body are both potentiality and are equally needed to cause actuality, however the intellectual part of the psuche may survive without the body. Unfortunetly for animals, as they do not posses intellect they are not entitled to the superior gift of immortality.

However, both Aristotle and Descartes arguments that animals are not Ð''persons' has gained criticism, paticuarly with modern philosophers with the development of animal rights. Singer, the founder for today's

animal rights ideology criticises the two philosophers for their emphasis on intelligience as a basis for personhood excluding animals. Instead, Singer argues that rather than adopting a form of specisism, the ability to experience suffering is a more appropriate attribute to determine personhood. This would certainly be more coherent to what constitutes a person in our human rights, as the mentaly disabled who do not quality for Descartes version of the Ð''mind' or able to think rationally, are still protected, suggesting they also possess the sacred quality that comes personhood. Similary some may argue that certain animals are more intelligient then young children, and therefore should be included in personhood. However, Aristotle responds to this by saying that children are only partially a person but unlike the most intelligient animals have the potential to develop reason. This brings us to another ethical dilema related to what makes a person; at what point does a child become a person? While Artistotle



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