AskDefine | Define persons

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


  • a RP /ˈpɜːsənz/


persons p
  1. ; used to refer to them individually, rather than as a group. Contrast people.
    Which persons are responsible for this mess?
    • 2007 : The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor, Current Population Survey Frequently Asked Questions — QUESTION № 5: “Who is counted as unemployed?”
      Persons are classified as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the prior 4 weeks, and are currently available for work.


More than one person; considered individually
  • Portuguese: pessoas

Extensive Definition

The term person is used informally to mean human. But in the fields of law, philosophy, medicine, and others, it means the presence of certain characteristics that grant a certain legal, ethical, or moral standing.
For example, in many jurisdictions, the law allows a group of human beings to act together as a single composite entity called a corporation, and the corporation is considered a legal person with standing to sue or be sued in court. In philosophy and medicine, person may mean only humans who are capable of certain kinds of thought, and thus exclude embryos, early fetuses, or adults with certain types of brain damage.


Discussion of what constitutes a person can occur on several different levels:
  • Analytic: definitions in a formal system, such as in legal theory;
  • Normative: arguments about what "should be the case" on a moral level;
  • Conceptual: philosophical inquiry into the fundamental nature, limitations, and scope of personhood, especially as it relates to living organisms in general or intelligences other than human;
  • Metaphysical: religious or spiritual descriptions of personhood, or mystical views and beliefs believed outside ordinary human experience;
  • Artistic: literary, rhetorical, or allegorical devices to convey personhood, especially as it relates to fantasy and science fiction
Discourse on personhood may combine different elements of the previous categories. For example, a legal scholar and economist might define a person as "any being with the neurological prerequisites to understand moral consequences and take his life morally seriously." (Markovits)
The principle of absolutism is often combined with an analytic definition of persons as co-equal participants in a given society, based on citizenship, nationality, or common humanity. This combination is common in such instruments as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Analytic definitions

A person can have recognition, existence, and legal capacity under the law (legal personhood). There are various operative definitions for legal personhood, but they all rely on formal, prescriptive definitions that are falsifiable. Most such definitions form the basis of specific rights that may be exercised or enforced (such as human rights, custody rights, conservatorship rights, and voting rights). Such definitions may also impose obligations or duties that carry a penalty if they are breached.
Some legally operative definitions of person go beyond the scope of establishing rights and obligations for individual human beings. For example, in many jurisdictions, any artificial legal entity (such as a school, business, or non-profit organization) is considered a legal person. As another example, the United States Constitution has historically applied different definitions of person for the purpose of allotting seats in the House of Representatives.

Normative views

Personhood goes to the heart of many debates over the rights and treatment to which various types of living beings are entitled. Discussion often revolves around the assumption that the qualities of intelligence or self-awareness grant certain rights. Historically, beings believed not to have these qualities, or to have them in lesser amounts, are considered non-persons and are exploited. Such exploitation has taken the form of slavery or medical torture for humans, and cruelty and vivisection for animals. A contrasting philosophical view is utilitarianism, which ultimately bases moral decision-making on the ability of a being to perceive pain or pleasure, rather than cognitive qualities per se.

Conceptual views

Human beings represent the most prevalent conceptual definition of person. Some philosophers, such as Peter Singer of Princeton University, regard certain types of animals with high cognitive abilities and a degree of societal development as persons, and argue that some human beings — for example, those with certain types of brain damage — are not. Should other intelligent life ever be discovered beyond those known to science, similar questions would be relevant in establishing personhood.

Metaphysical views

Personhood is held by some to be an attribute of more than just human beings. Some religions specify deities as occupying the place of personhood in many different forms. It is not uncommon for spiritual and archetypal roles to be depicted as persons.
For example, in the Book of Proverbs the attribute Wisdom is personified:
Scripture scholars differ on whether and the extent to which this and other similar personification represents an attribute of the Divine Nature as made manifest in the form of a distinct 'person'.

Artistic depictions

Personhood is frequently examined through any of several artistic modalities, especially in literary works. In fictional works, fantasy and science fiction often explore the question of personhood by relaxing one or more of the common characteristics associated with it, and then exploring the ramifications and possible consequences. For example, Isaac Asimov introduced the three laws of robotics by relaxing the assumption that personhood is restricted to biological organisms. As another example, David Brin explored the attributes of personhood — especially identity, autonomy, and agency — by depicting a world in which characters could copy themselves, in the novel Kiln People. and Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School, On May 9, 2008, Columbia University Press will publish Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation by Prof. Gary L. Francione of Rutgers University School of Law, a collection of writings that summarizes his work to date and makes the case for non-human animals as persons.
There are also hypothetical persons, sentient non-human persons such as sentient extraterrestrial life and self aware machines. A popular Novel and loosely based animated series called Ghost in the Shell frequently touches on the potential of inorganic sentience, while classical works of fiction and fantasy regarding extraterrestrials have challenged people to reconsider long held traditional definitions.


External links

persons in Bengali: ব্যক্তি
persons in Bulgarian: Личност
persons in Czech: Osoba
persons in Danish: Person
persons in German: Person
persons in Estonian: Isik
persons in Spanish: Persona
persons in Esperanto: Persono
persons in French: Personne
persons in Galician: Persoa
persons in Lithuanian: Asmuo
persons in Japanese: 人民
persons in Narom: Pèrsonne
persons in Polish: Osoba
persons in Portuguese: Pessoa (biologia)
persons in Russian: Личность
persons in Slovak: Jedinec
persons in Finnish: Henkilö
persons in Tagalog: Pagkatao
persons in Yiddish: פערזאהן

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Everyman, John Doe, Public, body politic, citizenry, common man, commonwealth, community, community at large, estate, everybody, everyman, everyone, everywoman, folk, folks, general public, gentry, men, nation, nationality, people, people in general, polity, populace, population, public, society, state, world, you and me
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