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date: 17 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Legal personhood is distinct from and dependent on ordinary understandings of what it means to be a human person. Yet not every human being is a person (slaves are not, for example), and there are some non-human entities (such as corporations) which are. The legal category of the person is thus at once continuous and discontinuous with that of the natural person, designating a subject of rights and duties along a spectrum from full to very partial personhood. Moreover, the mode of being of natural persons is by no means self-evident, because the status of the “natural” person is itself constituted by a juridical demarcation of the boundaries of embodied human being and by distinct institutional and practical conditions of constitution, and natural persons are not necessarily coextensive with their bodies. While Western models of personhood are based on the coherence and continuity of the self as rational or ethical substance, quite different ways of understanding personhood are found in other cultures, where persons may be taken to be the sum of their social relations or of the exchange of substances between their bodies and the rest of the social and material world. Similarly, in most cultures persons are constituted by their relation to the generations of the dead from whom they inherit, to the gods, and to the unborn descendants to whom property and some of the components of kinship (a name, a status, a genetic inheritance) are to be passed on.

Keywords: legal person, natural person, corporate person, persona, citizenship, slavery, dividuality, partibility, permeability, eschatology

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