Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





John D. Greenwood

Subject Categories

Metaphysics | Philosophy


Cognitive Science; Comparative Cognition; Moral Psychology; Personhood; Philosophical Psychology; Philosophy of Mind


This dissertation is an analysis of the concept of a person. According to this analysis, persons are beings capable of being responsible for their actions, which requires possession of the capacities for self-consciousness, in the sense of critical awareness of one's first-order desires and beliefs and concern, meaning emotional investment in the satisfaction of one's desires and truth of one's beliefs. The persistence of a person over time requires uninterrupted maintenance of those capacities. This view is in conflict with the more popular account of persistence in terms of the continuity of distinctive psychological states. Furthermore, this account of personhood has the consequence that contrary to most alternative conceptions, the possession of rights to life and good treatment and the concern for others are neither necessary nor sufficient for being a person. In chapter one I explain and argue for my account of personhood in terms of self-consciousness and concern, illustrating that a being lacking either capacity would not be capable of responsible action and therefore would not be a person. In chapter two I argue for the claim that the persistence of a person requires only that those capacities are maintained uninterruptedly. Chapter three concerns the ontology of persons. There I argue for a Reductionist view of persons and defuse the objection that such a view necessarily slides into Eliminativism. In chapter four I draw a distinction between the concepts of 'person' and 'self,' arguing that the latter is not unique to persons and is best understood in neuro-cognitive terms. The fifth and final chapter deals with the implications of my account of personhood for ethics, as regards rights and concern for others.

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