John Macmurray’s Philosophy of the Personal and the Irreducibility of Persons
Much post-Enlightenment science and philosophy expresses the doubt that personhood has any distinctive ontological standing. No matter how profound our awareness and experience of ourselves as persons may seem, personhood is denied status as real and explained in terms of some aspect of reality taken to be more fundamental to existence. On this view, we humans are not qualitatively unique from other entities comprising the natural world. In the same way that water consists of molecules composed of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, our thoughts, actions, and experiences are said to reduce to underlying material states and processes of our brains and bodies. Personhood and the experience of agentive freedom and moral responsibility that accompany it are illusory and reducible to biology, neurophysiology, computational and other machine mechanisms, or even as the fabrication of disembodied systems of linguistic and social practice. Thus, while we might wish to preserve the convenience of describing ourselves as persons who make choices and who act on those choices based on a sense of what is good, appropriate, practical, or reasonable, and who can be called to moral account for the choices and actions they make, such descriptions bear no ontic implications whatsoever. They are little more than superstitions that inevitably will be dispelled by scientific advance.