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Personhood and Personal Identity Ethics Essay

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Personhood and Personal Identity Ethics Essay

I am investigating the topic of personhood and I am concluding that the agency theory of personhood correctly delimits all persons form non-persons. In testing the different theories of personhood one must look past biological factors and determine what a person is in the moral sense. “The best theory specifies whatever it is that enables one to say that a thing is a person; and, lacking that makes a thing a non-person.” (Abney)

The agency theory of personhood correctly delimits all persons as it states that “A thing is a person iff it is an agent.” To have agency one has “the capacity for the rational exercise of libertarian free will.” In deciding between two or more possible futures one is capable of moral responsibility. Moral value requires a moral valuer. To be a moral valuer is to be an agent. Moral value is required for the intrinsic moral community. Agency is necessary for the intrinsic moral community. Agency is necessary for personhood. To be a moral valuer is sufficient for moral responsibility. To be morally responsible is sufficient for personhood. Agency is also sufficient for personhood. Since agency is both necessary and sufficient for personhood, the agency theory of personhood is correct. (Abney)

The agency theory of personhood does not correctly delimit all persons because not all persons are agents. A man named Alan Turing developed a test called the Turing Test (also called the Imitation Game) which tested for the presence of intelligence. The test is comprised of an interrogator, a person, and a machine. The interrogator is isolated from the other two subjects and is told that he will be asking questions to both a person and a machine. His objective is to ask questions to try and figure out which subject is the person and which is the machine. The machine's goal is to try and convince the interrogator that it is a person; while the person's goal is to aide in proving that the machine is not a person. “If something could pass itself off as a person under sufficiently demanding test conditions, then we have very good reason to suppose that that thing is intelligent.” Machines that pass the Turing Test are intelligent. Intelligence is necessary for personhood. To have moral value is required to be apart of the intrinsic moral community. To be morally responsible is sufficient for personhood. Intelligence is sufficient for personhood. The Turing Test provides a new set of criteria that is both necessary and sufficient to be a person. Machines (or artificial intelligence) must, therefore, be considered persons. (Oppy & Dowe)

The Turing Test does not provide the correct theory of personhood because it does not provide logically sufficient conditions which a machine could ever satisfy. Turing believed that one day a machine would be able to pass the test because it would have sufficient intelligence required to be a person. But according to French, no machine will ever be able to pass this test because it tests “culturally-oriented intelligence”. French states that,” What's wrong with The Turing Test is that it establishes utterly uninteresting sufficient conditions for the attribution of intelligence.” In order to have a correct theory of a person one must have both necessary and sufficient conditions. The Turing Test does not meet the sufficient conditions, so this theory is not correct. It has also been said that even people that are intelligent may not be able to pass The Turing Test due to the fact that they do not share our way of life. This further supports French's claim that The Turing Test tests for “culturally-oriented intelligence”. (Oppy & Dowe)

The best theory of personhood is the agency theory of personhood. Agency makes one a person in the moral sense and lacking agency makes one a non-person. The agency theory of personhood fulfills the necessary conditions for personhood because it includes that people are apart of the intrinsic moral community. It also fulfills the sufficient conditions for personhood because people have moral responsibility. So the agency theory of personhood fulfills all conditions for personhood.

After determining the set of criteria that correctly delimits a person from a non-person, the next topic under investigation becomes clearer. I am also investigating the topic of personal identity and I am concluding that a new theory needs to be devised. The strongest existing theory is the brain continuity theory, but it needs to be modified because it does not meet the requirements for personhood. “Personal Identity is that which constitutes a person's perduring, unique identity over time.”(Abney) All persons are agents and all agents retain their own personal identity.

The best of four of the existing theories of personal identity is the brain continuity theory. It is the best existing theory because one cannot live without their brain. The brain is sufficient for life. If one is dead, then they are no longer that person. The brain is necessary for life. If they are no longer that person, then they do not have personal identity. Hence, a brain is both necessary and sufficient for personal identity. The three other theories are the soul continuity theory, the body continuity theory, and the memory continuity theory. The soul continuity theory is an inadequate theory because the soul is undetectable. Personal Identity you can detect, but the soul cannot be detected. It is not possible to prove that a person, in fact, does have a soul. The body continuity theory is proved inadequate in the following situation: A man is driving his car without a seat belt down a road, while a woman is traveling the opposite way down the same road with her seat belt on. They end up in a head on collision and the man's head goes through the windshield and is destroyed, but his body is still intact. According to the body continuity theory, since body is over 50% intact the man is still the same person. But he cannot be the same person if he does not have a brain because his self-identity has been destroyed. All that would remain is a life-less body. The memory continuity theory is also inadequate because if one's identity is determined through them remembering being them self a moment ago, then what happens if they get amnesia and they are unable to remember past events? Does this make a person no longer the same person? According to the memory continuity theory, since they have no recollection of their past and no self-awareness they are no longer the same person. (Abney)

There are problems, however, with the brain continuity theory because it conflicts with the agency theory of personhood. Say for instance, someone loses almost halve of their brain in an accident. Their brain is severely damaged so they are incapable of making moral decisions. Moral value requires a moral valuer. This person is no longer a moral valuer so they are not an agent. Agency is necessary for personhood. (Abney) Pieces are missing from the brain continuity theory which would make it the best theory for personal identity.

I take personal identity to be a mix between both the memory continuity theory and the brain continuity theory. To recall memories that make you unique and the same person throughout time requires a brain to store this information. The memory continuity theory picks up the pieces that are missing to connect the brain continuity theory to personhood. It is not enough to have over 50% of one's physical brain intact. One must be able to use their brain to think and one must use their memory to acquire a self-awareness. Having the capacity for self-concept is necessary in order to be a person. Membership in the intrinsic moral community is necessary to be a person. Membership in the intrinsic moral community is also sufficient in order to be a person. So having a self-concept is both necessary and sufficient to be a person. This self-concept is only possible if a person has a brain that can store memory. The best theory for personal identity would have to include both theories to be complete.