Definition of a Person

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What do we mean by a person? According to Anderson, a researcher, a person is a kind of being that has moral right to make its own life-decisions, to live its life without interruptions from others: a being that has the moral right of autonomy. Basically, one could say from Anderson’s point of view that a person is a being who can reason, could communicate in a particular language(s), has intelligence, is creative and is able to be aware or conscious of things external to it, as well as its own state. Each of the qualities mentioned above is a necessity or a requirement to qualify one as a person. Lack of any of these features could deprive one from being a person. Before we look at these definition of a person, let’s try to know Sean a little bit.

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Sean is an Explosive Ordinance Disposal robot, who could examine suspicious packages that invade the country, as well as check its surrounding area to find and even deactivate improvised explosive devices. One beautiful thing about Sean is that it could sense and detect the presence of terrorists to make report to the corps, informing them to stay alert and be on guard. Sean can speak about three languages, enhancing effective communication. Unfortunately, Sean cannot express pain or happiness like one who is aware or conscious of its state. All that it does is to give a beep sound to draw the attention of the corps when it senses something which is unusual. Based on the above definition of a person, could Sean be considered as a person? Well based on the definition above, one could say that Sean exhibit quite a number of those qualities like communication, reasoning, creativeness etc. but lacks one thing which is consciousness or self-awareness. Consciousness is one of the key components of a person. Lack of this feature may completely deprive one from being a person. Hence, Sean cannot be considered as a person since it cannot be aware of its state. However, let’s consider this argument from a philosophical perspective.

This ‘being’ we are taking into consideration has the ability to analyze, handle and apply knowledge in a logical or reasonable way. It is an Explosive Ordinance Disposal robot called Sean. It is usually used in the military for examining suspicious packages and surrounding areas to find and even deactivate improvised explosive devices. This being can even deliver unexploded ordinance for examination and proper ignition without endangering humans. It can speak in about three languages, French, Spanish and English as well as make phone calls to instruct people to escape when it senses danger. It could learn from its mistakes and make its own decisions when the need arises. Fortunately or unfortunately, with all the sensory devices and abilities it has, it cannot express how it feels when it encounters either a happy or sad incident. In a case where it’s being tortured or harmed by other forces, it cannot scream in pain or groan like one who has been attacked and is looking out to be rescued. All that it could do is to give a particular beep sound to draw the attention of the corps. It could recognize the identification of individuals through facial scan from a distance and reports anybody suspected to be a terrorist to the corps. It is very friendly to people it finds no troubles with. It is able to greet and have conversations with them in a polite manner. Due to it great role in the military and unique features, should it be considered as a person and hence, be given certain rights?

According to Locke, a being is considered as a person if it can think, reason, reflect and consider itself as itself. A person is not just an intelligent being, but one who can identify itself, through consciousness which is inseparable from thinking. “A person stands for a thinking intelligent being that has reason and reflection and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places…” (p.2). Arguing from Locke’s perspective, one could say that a person should be able to have an inner experience of its own mental activities, being directly related to its thoughts, behavior, dreams, hopes and ambitions that it currently holds such that it has the capabilities to critically reflect over its mental conditions and make common sense about those states. Sean in this case though is able to have conversations with other people, greet them politely, as well as able to decide how and where to dispose of explosive devices, it does not have an inner experience of what it does. It cannot consider itself as itself nor able to perceive that it does perceive that it is able to save people’s lives by being able to detect suspicious packages that invade the country and deactivate these explosive devices safely. It behaves like an ordinary vessel being used to accomplish a task without knowing or being aware of what it does. Therefore based on Locke’s ideas, I can come to a conclusion that Sean cannot be considered as a person due to its inability to be conscious of its state.

Comparing Locke’s ideas to that of Descartes’ to help me dwell on a better conclusion that Sean is not a person, though Descartes does not clearly state who a person is, one could basically say from Descartes’ perspective that a person could be a thinking thing that is able to perceive, doubt, understand, conceive, affirm, deny, will, refuse, as well as able to imagine and perceive. “But what, then, am I? A thinking thing, it has been said. But what is a thinking thing? It is a thing that doubts, understands, [conceives], affirms, denies, wills, refuses; that imagines also, and perceives,” (p.8). In other words, if a being is able to perceive his own actions or mental activities and conceive them in the correct way, then it may be possible for it to consider whether its behavior or attitude should be changed or maintained, whether an attitude is morally wrong, or that it made mistakes in its reasoning and that a belief it holds is indefensible and as such should be forsaken.

If a being can express all these features, then we may be able to classify such a being as a person. Sean, in all its abilities like being able to correct certain mistakes that it does based on various computations, could not be able to observe or doubt its actions or mental activities to decide that it made mistakes in its reasoning and that a belief it holds is indefensible and as such should be forsaken. Sean continuous to repeat its activities over time without considering them carefully if they would cause more harm than good. It cannot deny nor refuse certain activities even if there may be dangers involved or associated with them. This is because, it has limits based on what it can do. Anything beyond its capability or range of action is useless to it, indicating its unawareness of itself and its inability to understand every activity to make proper moral judgements. Hence, one could also say that Sean is not a person from Descartes’ point of view. The analysis of this being from both Locke’s and Descartes’ perspective, makes me draw a clearer conclusion that Sean cannot be considered as a person regardless of its numerous activities and performances.

Sean is intelligent and smart but is its intelligence enough to make it a person? No matter how sophisticated and smart it is, it still lacks something, consciousness, which is a necessary feature of a person. If it does not have consciousness, there is no way it could make moral judgements when it is confronted with certain issues. Hence, one cannot be 100% sure that it does its work accurately. There might be certain mistakes it could not trace to correct no matter how efficient it might seem to be. It could repeatedly make certain errors which might go unnoticed since it lacks awareness of itself and the things external to it. In my point of view, Sean should not be considered as a person and as such, it shouldn’t be given the opportunity to enjoy certain benefits or rights associated to a person. 

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Definition of a Person. (2021, Mar 22). Retrieved January 27, 2023 , from

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