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Towards modest naturalization of personhood in law

Tomasz Pietrzykowski
p. 59-71


Personhood is a foundational concept for legal order. Who counts as a person in law, is to a large extent conventional. At the same time, such legal determinations rely on deep philosophical underpinnings of the arrangements of positive law. For centuries, such meta-legal assumptions have been including a form of juridical humanism making human interests the sole and ultimate good that the law serves. Contemporary developments in natural science, however, undermine ever more the crucial beliefs on which such humanism has been based and compel imminent revision of some core philosophical and ethical foundations of the law. This paper examines this phenomenon and its potential solutions. It outlines the idea of the modest naturalisation of the legal approach to personhood, as opposed to its more extreme versions, as the optimal way to reconcile scientific advancements with the ethical and pragmatic concerns that jurisprudence must also address.

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In open access from November 2018.


1 Personhood from the legal perspective
2 Philosophical underpinnings of the legal approach to personhood
3 Contemporary natural sciences and their implications
4 Radical vs. modest naturalization
5 The idea of non-personal subjects of law
6 Conclusion

First lines

1 Personhood from the legal perspective

In the law, a person is usually defined as anyone regarded as capable of holding rights, duties, and responsibilities of his or her own. The law confers such status and decides who deserves to be treated as a person and for what reasons. Traditionally, the law grants rights and duties to human beings (although for most of history, it by no means meant that all human beings were regarded as persons) and so-called juristic persons. The latter include various organizational entities, such as corporations, associations, states, or municipalities.

Regulations concerning who counts as a person in law vary in time and place. Many groups of human beings have not been recognized as independent legal subjects; the best-known examples are slaves, women, children, and people punished with so-called “civil death” (exclusion from the protection of the law). In most respects, these groups have been practically reduced to the category of property or objects u...

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Bibliographical reference

Tomasz Pietrzykowski, « Towards modest naturalization of personhood in law », Revus, 32 | 2017, 59-71.

Electronic reference

Tomasz Pietrzykowski, « Towards modest naturalization of personhood in law », Revus [Online], 32 | 2017, Online since 01 November 2018, connection on 25 September 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/revus.3863

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About the author

Tomasz Pietrzykowski

Professor of Law at the University of Silesia (Poland)


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