Neuroethics Publications

Document Type

Journal Article

Date of this Version

January 2007


Personhood is a foundational concept in ethics, yet defining criteria have been elusive. In this article we summarize attempts to define personhood in psychological and neurological terms and conclude that none manage to be both specific and non-arbitrary. We propose that this is because the concept does not correspond to any real category of objects in the world. Rather, it is the product of an evolved brain system that develops innately and projects itself automatically and irrepressibly onto the world whenever triggered by stimulus features such as a human-like face, body, or contingent patterns of behavior. We review the evidence for the existence of an autonomous person network in the brain and discuss its implications for the field of ethics and for the implicit morality of everyday behavior.


Postprint version. Published in American Journal of Bioethics - Neuroscience, Volume 7, Issue 1, January 2007, pages 37-48.
Publisher URL:



Date Posted: 04 April 2007

This document has been peer reviewed.