What is a Person

  • Martyn Evans
Part of the International Library of Ethics, Law, and the New Medicine book series (LIME, volume 8)


Let us admit right at the start that this is by no means an easy question to answer. However, the reason for this is not that no straightforward answer can be given. I think a perfectly straightforward answer certainly can be given, and I will say in a moment what I think the answer is. No, the reason the question is not an easy one is that the straightforward answer is not likely to be what is wanted by anyone who actually asked the question. And the reason for this is that it is unlikely that the question itself is ever asked in a straightforward sense. If someone asks me (as happened the other week), “What is a camellia?”, there seems no reason why the question should not be a straightforward request for information. That is why the simple and straightforward answer, “It is a flowering shrub related to the tea bush”, is just the sort of answer I can expect to satisfy whoever asks. It is perfectly reasonable for someone who happens not to be particularly interested in gardening not to know what a camellia is. Then it becomes perfectly reasonable for them to ask what a camellia is in the simple spirit of asking for information. But it is hard to think that the question, “What is a person?”, could be asked in this spirit. You could ask for information in this sense only if you did not know what a person was. There could be few competent language-users who really did not know what a person was. The question “What is a person?” is, I would confidently say, almost certainly never a request for information. But then if it is not such a request, what sort of question is it? It is certainly an unusual, even odd, question.


Ordinary Sense Moral Question Ordinary Usage Straightforward Answer Social Sense 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

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  • Martyn Evans

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