Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person

  • Harry G. Frankfurt
Part of the Contemporary Issues in Biomedicine, Ethics, and Society book series (CIBES)


What philosophers have lately come to accept as analysis of the concept of a person is not actually analysis of that concept at all. Strawson, whose usage represents the current standard, identifies the concept of a person as “the concept of a type of entity such that both predicates ascribing states of consciousness and predicates ascribing corporeal characteristics...are equally applicable to a single individual of that single type.”1 But there are many entities besides persons that have both mental and physical properties. As it happens—though it seems extraordinary that this should be so—there is no common English word for the type of entity Strawson has in mind, a type that includes not only human beings but animals of various lesser species as well. Still, this hardly justifies the misappropriation of a valuable philosophical term.


Moral Responsibility Corporeal Characteristic Order Desire Common English Word Passive Bystander 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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  1. 1.
    Peter F. Strawson, Individuals (London), Methuen, 1959, pp. 101–102. Ayer’s usage of ‘person’ is similar: “it is characteristic of persons in this sense that besides having various physical properties…they are also credited with various forms of consciousness” (A. J. Ayer, The Concept of a Person, New York: St. Martin’s, 1963, p. 82). What concerns Strawson and Ayer is the problem of understanding the relation between mind and body, rather than the quite different problem of understanding what it is to be a creature that not only has a mind and a body but is also a person.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 7.
    “Freedom and Action,” in K. Lehrer, ed., Freedom and Determinism (New York: Random House, 1966), pp. 11–44.Google Scholar

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© The Humana Press Inc. 1988

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  • Harry G. Frankfurt

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