LIMITS OF PERSONHOOD; call for papers



University of Jyväskylä, Finland

Conference dates: 6–8 June 2008

Invited Speakers
José Luis Bermúdez,
Michael Quante,
Ralf Stoecker,
Tim Thornton,
+ TBA.
Deadline for abstracts: February 8th
Length of abstracts: ca. 500 words
Send abstracts to jpkaukua (at)
Notifications of acceptance: February 15th
Conference dates: 6–8 June 2008
The theme of the conference

Although the line between persons and non-persons may seem relatively
clear in everyday life, advances in the experimental and theoretical
sciences have shed a different light on the issue. There is more and
more evidence to suggest that non-human animals, predecessors of the
species Homo sapiens, and even some artificial creatures, possess or
have possessed many of the features often considered unique to human

With regard to the knowledge supplied by neurosciences, biology,
developmental psychology etc., it has become increasingly difficult to
distinguish persons from non-persons. And even clear cases, paradigmatic
persons, have their personal capacities dependently on sub-personal
mechanisms, which seem to be governed by the same laws that govern the
rest of nature – so perhaps persons are not that unique after all? The
criteria applied by modern philosophy, which focus on distinctive forms
of rationality and self-consciousness shared by persons, are no longer
as evident as they used to be. New scientific findings also compel us to
reconsider the moral status of non-human animals. It is the task of
philosophers to try to bring conceptual clarity to the field by
assessing the principal consequences of the growing knowledge concerning
the features that are taken to explain the differences between living
persons and non-persons.

The aim of the conference is to explore and reconsider the borderline
between persons and non-persons. The topics of the conference involve
the following features which are central as regards the borderline:
intentionality, self-consciousness, autonomy, emotions, rationality,
normative and moral relations, and recognition from others. The general
starting point of the conference is the observation that these features
seem to allow degrees and therefore provide no easy demarcation between
persons and non-persons. Yet most of the contemporary theories of
personhood make a simple dichotomy between persons and non-persons by
using these features as criteria.       

We welcome papers that analyse the ways in which the features in
question allow degrees, and examine where and how the line between
personal and sub-personal, and personal and non-personal, should be
drawn. We also encourage papers discussing the history of views
concerning the limits of personhood and the graduality of the central
features – if possible, there will be special section(s) devoted to
historical treatments of the features pertinent to the topic of the
conference. Naturally, we also encourage papers (historical and other),
which suggest an approach which could avoid the problems related to
determining the limits of personhood.
The questions to be addressed in the conference include:

• Are there actual non–human persons?
• If the following three claims contradict, which one should we drop or
revise: 1) the moral status of persons is based on a certain set of
characteristics C, 2) all humans do not in fact have characteristics C,
3) all humans have the moral status of persons.
• What is the relation of sub-personal mechanisms and personhood? How do
the sub-personal layers enable or constitute personal-level phenomena?
• In what ways do the features of personhood allow degrees and in what
sense do humans share them with non-humans? To what extent and in what
precise form does this overlapping vary from feature to feature?
• In what ways are the features inter-connected? How does a transition
within one feature indicate transitions in other features, perhaps in
all of them?
• In what ways is the gradualitheories of personhood (mis)recognise
their graduality?
• What consequences regarding moral and legal statuses should be drawn
from the fact that the capacities central to personhood come in degrees?
• In what sense do changes in the interplay of actual life forms,
articulated scientific knowledge and ontological and epistemic
commitments influence the limits of personhood?
The conference will take place in Jyväskylä, 270 km north of Helsinki.
International flight connections to Helsinki are good and there is a
one-hour connecting flight from Helsinki to Jyväskylä. There are also
some (cheap) international flights to Tampere, 150 km from Jyväskylä.
The arrival is scheduled for Thursday 5th, the workshops and talks will
take place from Friday morning to Sunday afternoon, leaving time for
departure on Sunday evening. More information about practicalities will
be available later.
The conference is organized by the “Limits of Personhood" research
project run by the Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy,
University of Jyväskylä, and financed by the Academy of Finland. More
information about the project can be found at
The members of the organizing committee are Jussi Kotkavirta, Mikko Yrjönsuuri, Arto Laitinen, Petteri Niemi, Jari Kaukua, Vili Lähteenmäki, Heikki Ikäheimo, Mimosa Pursiainen, Juhana Toivanen and Pessi Lyyra.
Arto Laitinen
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
Fabianinkatu 24 (P.O. Box 4)
FI-00014 University of Helsinki