The problem to be considered here centers on the question: What is a person? The way that we answer this question is very important in practical thinking, for all moral and legal problems involve persons. In particular, discussions of the morality of abortion require some definite view as to whether the fetus is in any sense a person. Indeed, we shall see that many contemporary issues concerning the right to live a full human life receive different solutions, depending on one's view of what a person is.
Many writers today, especially in the field of the social sciences, insist that human personality is something acquired in late infancy. They suggest that the human child comes to be a person when he begins to participate actively in his surrounding society. To be a person, in this sense, is to be engaged in socialization. This occurs, they say, at some point between the middle of the first year after birth and the end of the second year of infancy.
Who started this way of looking at the human person, I do not know. However, some writers adopting this position refer to the writings of the anthropologist Ashley Montagu. In one of his semi-popular books he mentioned how “the Eskimos do not regard a baby as a complete human being until it is capable of sitting up.” At another place in the same book, Montagu apparently adopted the Eskimo view, for he now wrote that, “Human Nature is not what a man is born with, but what he becomes under the organizing influence of the socializing environment into which he is born.” In later writings Montagu has extended this social concept of the person to the domain of ethics. Now, what I propose to do is to examine this problem of the meaning of "person" not in any argumentative way but in the serious hope of throwing some light on contemporary disagreements concerning abortion and associated problems.
Bourke, Vernon J.
"Personhood and Respect for Life,"
University of Dayton Review: Vol. 12:
1, Article 7.
Available at: https://ecommons.udayton.edu/udr/vol12/iss1/7