Author Topic: What Makes a Person a Person?  (Read 1384 times)

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Offline JamesR

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What Makes a Person a Person?
« on: May 20, 2012, 04:21:43 PM »
Religiously speaking, what is it that makes us unique compared to everything else in the animal kingdom? Why are we special? I know that it is because we were made in the 'image of God' but that does not really answer the question, it only raises it again, what does being made in the 'image of God' mean? What is that unique godly thing we possess that separates us from the animal kingdom? Is it our intelligence? But what makes intelligence so special? The great apes and dolphins have shown exceeding intelligence, even to the point of learning sign language, and it is very possible that in the future they will evolve to be as intelligent as us. Likewise, what about the mentally disabled humans who are incapable of rationality and intelligence? Surely we would not exclude them from personhood because of this. Is it because we are capable of receiving the Eucharist? Well that only asks the same question; why are we the only creatures capable or seen as worthy to receive the Eucharist? Is it simply biological? For some reason, God just chose homosapiens to be special and have these privileges because of our species? But that once again only raises the same question; why did He choose homosapiens? And what would it mean for us if other animals like great apes evolved self-awareness or self-aware life from another planet were to visit us? Would we still be special? If so, why? And would they be entitled to human, God-given rights? Could an alien receive the Eucharist if they showed interest? How about a great ape? Would it be considered murder if we killed them, or would be it be no different than slaughtering a pig for dinner?
...Or it's just possible he's a mouthy young man on an internet forum.
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Offline NicholasMyra

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Re: What Makes a Person a Person?
« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2012, 04:32:44 PM »
Perhaps this chapter from St. Irenaeus on the Image of God and the Body and Soul may be of use to you:

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.vii.vii.html
http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103506.htm

(St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, Book 5 Chapter 6. Translated by Alexander Roberts and William Rambaut. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.)
« Last Edit: May 20, 2012, 04:34:54 PM by NicholasMyra »
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Offline GabrieltheCelt

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Re: What Makes a Person a Person?
« Reply #2 on: May 20, 2012, 06:18:00 PM »
1.  Humans have souls.

2. We're made in the Image of God.

3. We can philosophize.

4.  Animals would never create/watch a show called 'Glee'.
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Offline orthonorm

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Re: What Makes a Person a Person?
« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2012, 07:16:17 PM »
1.  Humans have souls.

2. We're made in the Image of God.

3. We can philosophize.

4.  Animals would never create/watch a show called 'Glee'.

All life is ensouled.

Humans are not unique in this regard.
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Offline Shiny

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Re: What Makes a Person a Person?
« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2012, 07:31:30 PM »
1.  Humans have souls.

2. We're made in the Image of God.

3. We can philosophize.

4.  Animals would never create/watch a show called 'Glee'.

All life is ensouled.

Humans are not unique in this regard.

But the image of God?
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Offline dzheremi

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Re: What Makes a Person a Person?
« Reply #5 on: May 20, 2012, 07:35:06 PM »
Why is this an important question? Are space aliens attending your parish, or are you going on an ape-hunting trip soon?

Offline Happy Lutheran

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Re: What Makes a Person a Person?
« Reply #6 on: May 20, 2012, 07:48:20 PM »
Not totally on topic but funny, worth 2 minutes of your time, do dogs go to Heaven? Not sure why but this thread made me think of this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-dgNAbvABI
1 Corinthians 1:27 - But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong

Offline Tgebar

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Re: What Makes a Person a Person?
« Reply #7 on: May 20, 2012, 08:07:42 PM »
Learning sign language and constructing vast civilizations across the entire globe belie quite the gap of intelligence. Evolution is not something that progresses along a bar towards better things such as intelligence, it is an adaptation to the current environment; so, if nothing is requiring that dolphins or apes develop intelligence to adapt, as nothing has for countless generations, we can't expect them to suddenly develop a modicum of intelligence equal to our own suddenly in a short period of time.

That being said, humans fully participate in the rational aspects of existence, and don't do so merely as an accident of some other behavior. We are capable of sub-creation, art, in other words, and we are capable of revealing a depth of our character to others through language that as of yet no other animal has been able to replicate - at least to us. Through our abilities and choices we can work with the natural world other than us to create a glorification of God in all things, thus bettering the world itself, but as has been proven by history, we are not capable of such unity as of yet. Sometime though, and sometime soon.  ;)
« Last Edit: May 20, 2012, 08:11:25 PM by Tgebar »
:)

Offline GabrieltheCelt

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Re: What Makes a Person a Person?
« Reply #8 on: May 20, 2012, 08:52:37 PM »
1.  Humans have souls.

2. We're made in the Image of God.

3. We can philosophize.

4.  Animals would never create/watch a show called 'Glee'.

All life is ensouled.

Humans are not unique in this regard.

Perhaps.  But a distinction must be made clear; an animals' soul is not immortal nor are they created in the Image of God. 
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Offline Justin Kissel

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Re: What Makes a Person a Person?
« Reply #9 on: May 20, 2012, 09:10:51 PM »
The real answer to this would probably take a fairly large tome to explain. Actually, strike that, from what I've read, Christians throughout the centuries admitted that they couldn't precisely put their finger on this. If we are made in the image of God, and God is as mysterious as we say, then it stands to reason that we also are beyond being fully understandable (for a somewhat more philosophical version of this, see St. Gregory of Nyssa's On the Making of Man, 11). However, if someone put a gun to my head and asked me to sum things up in one statement, it'd probably be something along the lines of: a person is an animal with the ability to be deified.
« Last Edit: May 20, 2012, 09:12:45 PM by Asteriktos »

Offline orthonorm

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Re: What Makes a Person a Person?
« Reply #10 on: May 20, 2012, 09:27:22 PM »
The real answer to this would probably take a fairly large tome to explain. Actually, strike that, from what I've read, Christians throughout the centuries admitted that they couldn't precisely put their finger on this. If we are made in the image of God, and God is as mysterious as we say, then it stands to reason that we also are beyond being fully understandable (for a somewhat more philosophical version of this, see St. Gregory of Nyssa's On the Making of Man, 11). However, if someone put a gun to my head and asked me to sum things up in one statement, it'd probably be something along the lines of: a person is an animal with the ability to be deified.

Animality might not be proper to persons from a fundamental ontology.

Certainly it is not from a traditional Christian viewpoint.

After all two persons of the Trinity certainly are outside of the animal kingdom no matter how anyone cuts it.

Then you have the matter of the noetic beings. Are they persons?
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Offline JamesRottnek

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Re: What Makes a Person a Person?
« Reply #11 on: May 20, 2012, 09:30:01 PM »
1.  Humans have souls.

2. We're made in the Image of God.

3. We can philosophize.

4.  Animals would never create/watch a show called 'Glee'.

All life is ensouled.

Humans are not unique in this regard.

But animals do not have a nouse.
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Offline orthonorm

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Re: What Makes a Person a Person?
« Reply #12 on: May 20, 2012, 09:34:14 PM »
1.  Humans have souls.

2. We're made in the Image of God.

3. We can philosophize.

4.  Animals would never create/watch a show called 'Glee'.

All life is ensouled.

Humans are not unique in this regard.

But animals do not have a nouse.

I am not sure why people are replying to my point here. I am simply stating the often misheld belief that human are the only ensouled beings is wrong.
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Offline Justin Kissel

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Re: What Makes a Person a Person?
« Reply #13 on: May 20, 2012, 09:35:56 PM »
Animality might not be proper to persons from a fundamental ontology.

Certainly it is not from a traditional Christian viewpoint.

After all two persons of the Trinity certainly are outside of the animal kingdom no matter how anyone cuts it.

Then you have the matter of the noetic beings. Are they persons?

I'm going to have to get back to you on these. I have some thoughts, eventually...  though for now it'll have to just be left at: when I was thinking of that post I was thinking of the concept of a human person... don't know about anyone/anything/anywhat else  :angel:

Offline orthonorm

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Re: What Makes a Person a Person?
« Reply #14 on: May 20, 2012, 09:40:52 PM »
Animality might not be proper to persons from a fundamental ontology.

Certainly it is not from a traditional Christian viewpoint.

After all two persons of the Trinity certainly are outside of the animal kingdom no matter how anyone cuts it.

Then you have the matter of the noetic beings. Are they persons?

I'm going to have to get back to you on these. I have some thoughts, eventually...  though for now it'll have to just be left at: when I was thinking of that post I was thinking of the concept of a human person... don't know about anyone/anything/anywhat else  :angel:

Yeah, the whole "human person" question is boring especially in the light being discussed.

The animal in the image of God.
The rational animal.
The political animal.
The tool using animal.
The playful animal.
etc.

All rest upon a shared ontology which is tired and worn.
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Offline JamesRottnek

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Re: What Makes a Person a Person?
« Reply #15 on: May 20, 2012, 09:42:40 PM »
1.  Humans have souls.

2. We're made in the Image of God.

3. We can philosophize.

4.  Animals would never create/watch a show called 'Glee'.

All life is ensouled.

Humans are not unique in this regard.

But animals do not have a nouse.

I am not sure why people are replying to my point here. I am simply stating the often misheld belief that human are the only ensouled beings is wrong.

I know; but I think there may be people who will view the thread and not realize there is anything extra that a human has that an animal does not.
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Offline orthonorm

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Re: What Makes a Person a Person?
« Reply #16 on: May 20, 2012, 09:52:47 PM »
1.  Humans have souls.

2. We're made in the Image of God.

3. We can philosophize.

4.  Animals would never create/watch a show called 'Glee'.

All life is ensouled.

Humans are not unique in this regard.

But animals do not have a nouse.

I am not sure why people are replying to my point here. I am simply stating the often misheld belief that human are the only ensouled beings is wrong.

I know; but I think there may be people who will view the thread and not realize there is anything extra that a human has that an animal does not.

This further demonstrates the ontology that gets constantly used. The tinker-toy model.

Human = Animal + x

Not sure that will ever be satisfying, especially since mosts attempts to give an account for animality have been less that satisfactorily done and will always be done within the context of "human" activity.

It is not so much a matter of the difference between humanity and animality not existing, but rather the nature of difference as such that allows such inquiry to be possible in the first place.

Animality, however it is understood, rests upon and comes first to be in light of human activity. The reduction of humanity to animality+ is only appropriate to pursuits of something like natural science, but not to inquiry proper to philosophy or theology.



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Offline JamesR

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Re: What Makes a Person a Person?
« Reply #17 on: May 20, 2012, 10:44:28 PM »
1.  Humans have souls.

All animals are ensouled

Quote
2. We're made in the Image of God.

This is simply just another way of asking the question; in what way are we made unique in the image of God?

Quote
3. We can philosophize.

Small children and the mentally disabled cannot, does that mean that they are not persons?

Quote
4.  Animals would never create/watch a show called 'Glee'.

Actually, chimps have been observed to watch television and have their favorite TV shows.


Learning sign language and constructing vast civilizations across the entire globe belie quite the gap of intelligence.

Ever consider the idea that maybe great apes are the intelligent ones and we are actually the stupid ones? They do not bother to go through all of this trouble to construct vast empires and civilizations which only lead to warfare, political corruption and all of the evils which make human human. They live together in a close unit, make the best of what they have, eat what nature provides, have hot monkey sex all day and sleep. From the sound of it, I would say that we should follow the examples set forth by the great apes; maybe then we would be in better shape. For all our alleged 'intelligence' we've sure been the most destructive species on the planet. Maybe apes are more intelligent because they have chose not to unleash the same destruction that we have upon the world.

Quote
That being said, humans fully participate in the rational aspects of existence, and don't do so merely as an accident of some other behavior. We are capable of sub-creation, art, in other words, and we are capable of revealing a depth of our character to others through language that as of yet no other animal has been able to replicate - at least to us.

Not all of us. The mute are incapable of language and speech, those who do not have hands are incapable of creating art, the mentally disabled are incapable of philosophy and rationality. All human infants at a particular time are incapable of doing any of this. So clearly our personhood must lie in something else. Likewise, what makes art and language so important or uniquely intelligent? The great apes do not have language or art and they have gotten along just fine, using their intelligence for more basic needs. Likewise, given enough training, a chimpanzee can virtually do anything that a human is capable of. They've learned sign language, how to drive a car, using the television, cooking, using silverware, the toilet, changing clothes etc. I'd be surprised if there was anything that a chimp cannot learn to do. They've even been able to perform basic math equations and play chess.

Quote
Through our abilities and choices we can work with the natural world other than us to create a glorification of God in all things, thus bettering the world itself, but as has been proven by history, we are not capable of such unity as of yet. Sometime though, and sometime soon.  ;)

But this does not answer the question but only rephrases the question once again; why did God choose us to glorify Him and what is the special aspect about us that gives us the potential to glorify God in a way that no other creature in the world or universe can?
...Or it's just possible he's a mouthy young man on an internet forum.
In the infinite wisdom of God, James can be all three.

Offline Tgebar

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Re: What Makes a Person a Person?
« Reply #18 on: May 21, 2012, 11:55:23 PM »
James, I don't think you really provided much of a substantial reply to what I said. You insinuated that you find the vanity of the world foolish, which I can agree with to an extent, but not to the extent of saying that the animal level of existence is more wise by comparison. A healthy organism does precisely the things you say make the human race is foolish for doing: things that are unnecessary for their survival, but that they find beauty in. It is only an unhealthy organism that looks upon bare survival longingly, because it doesn't have even that (thus why we say in our prayers that we are lower than beasts). Granted, I think the modern age is a corruption of this noble tendency of humanity, and that we have replaced doing unnecessary things for the sake of beauty, as our ancestors did, with unnecessary things for the sake of gratifying our pleasures.

Orthonorm, are you basically accusing classical ontology of not being hip enough? I didn't know that passed for valid criticism anymore. Post-modernism for the win.  :P
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Offline ialmisry

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Re: What Makes a Person a Person?
« Reply #19 on: May 22, 2012, 08:06:42 PM »
Question a friend, perhaps he did not do it; but if he did anything so that he may do it no more.
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Offline KShaft

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Re: What Makes a Person a Person?
« Reply #20 on: May 22, 2012, 08:26:15 PM »
1.  Humans have souls.

2. We're made in the Image of God.

3. We can philosophize.

4.  Animals would never create/watch a show called 'Glee'.

number 4 is actually a win for the animals....

Offline NightOwl

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Re: What Makes a Person a Person?
« Reply #21 on: May 22, 2012, 10:47:20 PM »

Ever consider the idea that maybe great apes are the intelligent ones and we are actually the stupid ones? They do not bother to go through all of this trouble to construct vast empires and civilizations which only lead to warfare, political corruption and all of the evils which make human human. They live together in a close unit, make the best of what they have, eat what nature provides, have hot monkey sex all day and sleep. From the sound of it, I would say that we should follow the examples set forth by the great apes; maybe then we would be in better shape. For all our alleged 'intelligence' we've sure been the most destructive species on the planet. Maybe apes are more intelligent because they have chose not to unleash the same destruction that we have upon the world.

Not all of us. The mute are incapable of language and speech, those who do not have hands are incapable of creating art, the mentally disabled are incapable of philosophy and rationality. All human infants at a particular time are incapable of doing any of this. So clearly our personhood must lie in something else. Likewise, what makes art and language so important or uniquely intelligent? The great apes do not have language or art and they have gotten along just fine, using their intelligence for more basic needs. Likewise, given enough training, a chimpanzee can virtually do anything that a human is capable of. They've learned sign language, how to drive a car, using the television, cooking, using silverware, the toilet, changing clothes etc. I'd be surprised if there was anything that a chimp cannot learn to do. They've even been able to perform basic math equations and play chess.

Yikes...

I think you're giving apes too much credit. They have not "chosen" to unleash the same destruction that we have upon the world because they have not been given that choice in the first place. They have to seek survival by any means necessary. We've been given another option, which is life through Christ. This choice means that mankind alone is capable of living a worthy life in communion with God and the saints (or, visa versa, one of destruction and death), and even while trees may stretch their branches towards Heaven, there's a spiritual gap between us and the rest of the natural world that can never be crossed. Chesterton wrote a brief poem to parody the envy some may feel for our animal friends:

I wish I were a jelly fish
That cannot fall downstairs:
Of all the things I wish to wish
I wish I were a jelly fish
That hasn't any cares,
And doesn't even have to wish
'I wish I were a jelly fish
That cannot fall downstairs.'


Of course it's very silly, but highlights the spiritual limitations of animals as well as the responsibility (and freedom) that comes with living in the world as a human being. If jellyfish can't "fall downstairs," neither can they "wish" to do the opposite.
« Last Edit: May 22, 2012, 11:13:36 PM by NightOwl »