DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N041-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved December 05, 2022, from

Article Summary

We are all persons. But what are persons? This question is central to philosophy and virtually every major philosopher has offered an answer to it. For two thousand years many philosophers in the Western tradition believed that we were immaterial souls or Egos, only contingently attached to our bodies. The most well-known advocates of this view were Plato and Descartes. Few philosophers accept this view now, largely because it is thought to face a number of intractable metaphysical and epistemological problems (for example: how can an immaterial soul or mind interact with the material world? How can I know that you have a soul?). The recoil from Cartesianism has been in three different directions. One direction (the animalist) emphasizes the fact that persons are human beings, evolved animals of a certain sort. A second direction (the reductionist) is represented by David Hume: the self or person is not a Cartesian entity, it is a ‘bundle of perceptions’. Finally, there is a theory of persons influenced by the views of John Locke, according to which persons are neither essentially animals nor reducible to their bodies or experiences.

    Citing this article:
    Garrett, Brian. Persons, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N041-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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