So Long and Thanks For All the Fish
June 3, 2010

Dolphin 1
Image via Wikipedia

I mentioned awhile ago that there was a debate going on in certain circles over whether or not dolphins are “non-human persons.” Of course, in order to debate whether or not members of a particular species are persons, you have to nail down what, exactly, personhood is. Sure enough, philosopher Thomas White has penned an article in which he establishes eight criteria for what meets a person and goes on to argue that the typical dolphin meets all of them.

Although philosophers debate the appropriate criteria for personhood, there is a rough consensus that a person is a being with a particular kind of sophisticated consciousness or inner world. Persons are aware of the world they belong to, and they are aware of their experiences. In particular, persons have self-awareness. And the presence of such a sophisticated consciousness is evident in the actions of such beings.

If we translate this general idea into a more specific list of criteria, we arrive at something like the idea that a person (1) is alive, (2) is aware, (3) feels positive and negative sensations, (4) has emotions, (5) has a sense of self, (6) controls its own behaviour, and (7) recognises other persons and treats them appropriately. A person also (8) has a variety of sophisticated cognitive abilities. It is capable of analytical, conceptual thought. A person can learn, retain and recall information. It can solve complex problems with analytical thought. And a person can communicate in a way that suggests thought.


Which I suppose is all well and good, though I’m still somewhat inclined to condense it all down to existentialist/Heideggarian “being-for-itself” concept. But what do you guys think?


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