Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Amy Kind

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© 2020 Mohnish P Shah


It is accepted that humans are persons, but what does this mean? Society equates personhood with legal rights, moral worth, and metaphysical status. But exactly what makes us persons and distinguishes us from non-persons? What does our conception of this distinction and the value and rights we grant to persons but not to non-persons say about the type of creature that we are?

Many philosophers have tried to define metaphysical personhood. However, this thesis argues that current accounts of metaphysical personhood are inadequate. Next, this thesis borrows and modifies Martha Nussbaum’s capabilities approach to human dignity in order to construct a new account of metaphysical personhood. This thesis defines metaphysical personhood as the existence of seven innate abilities: ability for self-awareness, ability to sense, ability to imagine, ability to think, ability to reason, ability to feel emotion, and ability to empathize. Each of these abilities must exist to the degree necessary for its subject to have status dignity. The concepts of innate abilities and status dignity are defined in the thesis. Finally, this thesis tests this new account of metaphysical personhood on multiple base and edge cases such as insects, dogs, children, aliens, and more. Based on these tests, this thesis makes the observation that complex imagination is the greatest hurdle for metaphysical personhood and is what differentiates humans from other species on earth.

Finally, this thesis acknowledges that controversial conclusions could arise from this new account of metaphysical personhood. Especially, under this account, some humans may not be metaphysical persons at least some of the time. However, this thesis concludes that moral persons need not be metaphysical persons and that regardless of an entity’s metaphysical status, we might still owe them moral considerations.

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Metaphysics Commons