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Is the Concept of the Person Necessary for Human Rights?

41 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2008  

Jens David Ohlin

Cornell University - School of Law

Date Written: January 30, 2005


The concept of the person is widely assumed to be indispensable for making a rights claim. But a survey of the concept's appearance in legal discourse reveals that the concept is stretched to the breaking point. Personhood stands at the center of debates as diverse as the legal status of embryos and animals to the rights and responsibilities of corporations and nations. This Note argues that personhood is a cluster concept with distinct components: the biological concept of the human being, the notion of a rational agent, and unity of consciousness. Use of these component concepts (in lieu of the concept of the person) in legal reasoning would promote greater systematicity and coherence.

Keywords: personhood, persons, personal identity, concept of the person, human rights, cluster concept, rational agent, human being

Suggested Citation

Ohlin, Jens David, Is the Concept of the Person Necessary for Human Rights? (January 30, 2005). Columbia Law Review, Vol. 105, p. 209, 2005. Available at SSRN:

Jens David Ohlin (Contact Author)

Cornell University - School of Law ( email )

218 Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States
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