The puzzle of personhood

Date created: 
Private property
Market relations
Human being

In a marketplace society, we believe we confront each other as human beings. The following argument will demonstrate this assumption to be incorrect. To understand why the person and the human are not coextensive terms, we must demonstrate their mutually contradictory relationship in market society and the estrangement of the latter by the former. What is a person, then, if not a human being? In demonstrating this distinction, we will show how the constitution of the person stands in contradiction to our social and collective nature as human beings. This contradiction is already an expression of there being no essential basis for being human in personhood itself. From the legal standpoint, not all humans are persons and not all persons are human. Only on the basis that being a human is neither necessary nor sufficient for being a person is our market behaviour as persons inessential and contrary to our existence as humans. The exclusion of some humans from personhood, and hence their loss of rights, equality, freedom, and hence dehumanization, is the net result of this contradiction. Following a definition of the human being, this thesis offers a critique of three social categories of thought and behaviour constitutive of personhood for market society: the legal, the egoistic, and the moral. It will be shown that these categories are reflections of various aspects of market relations alone and not human relations. The argument tackles yet another problem at the core of personhood: the historical appearance of these constitutive moments of personhood, and hence private property ownership, are taken to be the transhistorical essence of the human being. It is in this confusion between appearance and essence that our existence as persons becomes an ideological existence. The novel approach to the problem of the person presented here, is to demonstrate that the person and the human are two social existences that stand in contradiction with one another.

Document type: 
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes. Copyright remains with the author.
Gary Teeple
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.