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

1589 words 7 pages
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 ‘personhood' means. Unfortunately there is no clear answer, with philosophers still presenting conflicting ideas. However by asking questions such as; is ‘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
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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 ‘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 ‘mind' or


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