Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Miryam Segal

Subject Categories

Family, Life Course, and Society | Land Use Law | Law and Philosophy | Philosophy | Property Law and Real Estate | Social Psychology and Interaction | Sociology of Culture


Personhood, Identity, Property, Dennett, Berger, Radin


This paper seeks to demonstrate that a more robust understanding of personhood both reveals flaws in the underlying assumptions of modern property law, and orients that law to a more just application. To do this, the law needs not only a better definition of what persons are, but also a better understanding of how persons function in their society. First, in order to provide some context to the issues at stake, there is a brief historical introduction to some of the problems that personhood inquiries have faced. After the introduction, this paper is divided into four sections. Part I summarizes Daniel Dennett’s six necessary conditions for personhood, and posits these conditions as preferable to the currently accepted, and rather vague, legal definition. Part II critically examines three historically significant views of personhood: the Psychological View, the Biological View and the Anthropological View. This examination is done in terms of Dennett’s necessary conditions, in order to show that a person should be conceived of as a “who” rather than a “what”. The difference between these two conceptions must be made explicit in order to show the necessity of a seventh condition, that a person have a life narrative. Part III explains how this life narrative functions in society, providing a framework to understand the interaction between persons and institutions such as the law. Lastly, Part IV examines Lockean conceptions that have shaped our legal treatment of property, and whether or not that treatment accommodates persons as they have been defined and understood in the previous sections of this paper. To conclude, this paper makes recommendations for future treatments of property issues that would better respect the structure and functions of personhoods.