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Introspection - ability to construct self-referential and recursive models of world - is supposed to be a uniquely human quality. What about introspective machines? Surely, say critics, such machines are PROGRAMMED to introspect, as opposed to humans. To qualify as introspection, it must be WILLED, they continue. Yet, if introspection is willed - WHO wills it? Self-willed introspection leads to infinite regression and formal logical paradoxes.
Moreover, notion - if not formal concept - of "human" rests on many hidden assumptions and conventions.
Political correctness notwithstanding - why presume that men and women (or different races) are identically human? Aristotle thought they were not. A lot separates males from females - genetically (both genotype and phenotype) and environmentally (culturally). What is common to these two sub-species that makes them both "human"?
Can we conceive of a human without body (i.e., a Platonian Form, or soul)? Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas think not. A soul has no existence separate from body. A machine-supported energy field with mental states similar to ours today - would it be considered human? What about someone in a state of coma - is he or she (or it) fully human?
Is a new born baby human - or, at least, fully human - and, if so, in which sense? What about a future human race - whose features would be unrecognizable to us? Machine-based intelligence - would it be thought of as human? If yes, when would it be considered human?
In all these deliberations, we may be confusing "human" with "person". The former is a private case of latter. Locke's person is a moral agent, a being responsible for its actions. It is constituted by continuity of its mental states accessible to introspection.
Locke's is a functional definition. It readily accommodates non-human persons (machines, energy matrices) if functional conditions are satisfied. Thus, an android which meets prescribed requirements is more human than a brain dead person.
Descartes' objection that one cannot specify conditions of singularity and identity over time for disembodied souls is right only if we assume that such "souls" possess no energy. A bodiless intelligent energy matrix which maintains its form and identity over time is conceivable. Certain AI and genetic software programs already do it.
Strawson is Cartesian and Kantian in his definition of a "person" as a "primitive". Both corporeal predicates and those pertaining to mental states apply equally, simultaneously, and inseparably to all individuals of that type of entity. Human beings are one such entity. Some, like Wiggins, limit list of possible persons to animals - but this is far from rigorously necessary and is unduly restrictive.
The truth is probably in a synthesis:
A person is any type of fundamental and irreducible entity whose typical physical individuals (i.e., members) are capable of continuously experiencing a range of states of consciousness and permanently having a list of psychological attributes.
This definition allows for non-animal persons and recognizes personhood of a brain damaged human ("capable of experiencing"). It also incorporates Locke's view of humans as possessing an ontological status similar to "clubs" or "nations" - their personal identity consists of a variety of interconnected psychological continuities.
Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory Bellaonline, and Suite101 .
Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com