Family Guy is an animated comedy about a dysfunctional family, the Griffins, and it spoofs current events and social taboo subjects, much like the Simpsons.

While watching several episodes, to get a few laughs, I was intrigued by the pet dog, Brian. Now Brian fancies himself a person because he has human characteristics. He walks on his hind legs and he talks. He is articulate, witty and urbane and he strives for person status.

Watching Brian’s antics, I started thinking about Personhood. It’s defined as the state of being an individual or having human characteristics and feelings.

Can Brian, the dog, be a person?

Reasoning tells us in order to be a person, one must be human. So, Brian lacks this necessary condition of personhood: humanity.

Another condition is you must think rationally. Brian is rational and he is a thinking being able to reason. Even Kant would agree that being a person does NOT include membership in a particular species, but must only be in possession of reason. So, you could call Brian a person that demands respect!

Now, our Brian is a cartoon, but it does lead us to the question of how to distinguish persons from pets.

Persons are the entity that has the moral right to make its own life choices, and to live its life without interference from others (self-determination). We don’t give animals the same kind of autonomy that we accord persons. We sell dogs and cats. Pets are property.

To be a person you need a modicum of intellect, and self-awareness and consciousness. I do have intelligence and I am self-aware.

Hold on! What does it mean to be self-aware?

It means you are aware of your existence and actions. You are conscious of your own self and ego.

You also need consciousness to be a person.

Hey! What’s that all about?

Well, to have consciousness requires “subjective experiences.” Which means you must possess an inner, mental life. You can put yourself in other situations through your imagination.

So, we are different from animals in that we try to understand where we came from. We look into our past and try to predict our future, and what other species thinks about their death?

So, we are a unique species.

Hooray! I am a unique person.

I conclude with:

No two people are alike—and both of them are glad of it!

Also published on Medium.

6 thoughts on “Personhood?

  1. Walt Disneys Goofy is a dog. He has a dog named Pluto. How can a dog be another dogs pet? I don’t seem to think as clearly as you Dave. You are intelligent and self aware. I read your blog in order to become human so I too can be intelligent and self aware. It’s a work in progress. Very slow. Some days I stand very still to try and feel the earth moving. If I concentrate I can feel the energy in my hands. If you understand any of this you know how my mind works. Sick! Very sick.

  2. You are into some weird shit, aren’t you?
    People were once property. I’m not talking solely about persons of colour either.
    And anyone watching a pet will immediately see that they are ‘persons’ though some of them are pretty daft.
    People have ‘rights’. This implies they have responsibilities. This does not apply to pets….. except that some of them – especially cats- assume they have rights.
    I think it’s rather homo-chauvinistic to limit personhood to the sapiens. Certainly other species have personhood although I suspect their definitions are very different from ours.

  3. I like how you sprinkled your blog with questions. Questions can provide the framework to a piece of writing, especially in philosophy. Yours help to do just that.

    Since you have not read, or if you have you have not commented on my blog – “Does Baxter Compute?” I will pass on any specific comments at this time. I covers some of your same questions, although in a different manner, or style; personhood is not one of them though. It maybe a future blog for me.

  4. Great blog I hear where you are coming from. The world is made up
    of many people each one different. But if you get to know them you
    find some are a lot like yourself. The more I talk to people ,I find similarities
    between them and myself. Sometimes its uncanny.

  5. Hello, these comments may be rather random, as I’m quite tired.

    Humans (in my opinion) are arrogant in elevating themselves so far above other species. (And in a lot of other things as well.)

    Humanity definition (besides the human race one): compassion, brotherly love, fraternity, fellow feeling, philanthropy, humaneness, kindness, consideration, understanding, sympathy, tolerance; leniency, mercy, mercifulness, clemency, pity, tenderness; benevolence, charity, goodness, magnanimity, generosity.

    Traits of “humanity” are not limited to homo sapiens. I more align species with genetics, number of chromosomes. I think of animals in terms of individuals rather than members of an inferior species. I adopted a cat who pines for his previous person, and tries to tell me what I’m supposed to do to be a good “parent”. I’ve figured out I was supposed to feed him treats, and call him by whistling. I’d like to find someone who knew him before he came here, to explain to me all of his unique behaviors. He is like a child rather than a cat, heartbreaking when something reminds him of his previous life and he goes from door to door and up and down the hall looking for someone I don’t know how to find. That tastes strongly of humanity to me.

    There is great intelligence there, and a lot of thought. I’ve seen a soulful serenity in another’s green eyes, of such a strong nature it’s hard to put to words. Intelligence, kindness, loyalty. My horse has on multiple occasions restrained her initial animal instincts to take care of me. There’s a thought process, intelligence, loyalty, kindness going on in that mind.

    So often, “seek and ye shall find” would reveal aspects of life we’d never have expected. Those who have an open heart and an open mind have a gift. And so do those around them.

    Oh, Tom, I too, can sometimes feel the energy in my hands. Do you ever hold them an inch or so apart, palms facing, and feel something that feels like magnetic fields pushing them apart if you move them slowly toward one another? I put them about an inch apart and do a slow sort of bouncing motion, never quite touching, and it’s quite noticeable.

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