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Grant number: AQ-50762-12

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Eastern University (St. Davids, PA 19087-3617)
Steven McGuire (Project Director: September 2011 to present)

NEH Enduring Questions Course on "What Is a Person?"

The development of an undergraduate course to investigate the question, What constitutes personhood?

Steven McGuire, assistant professor of political science at Eastern University, develops a course to investigate the definition of "person" by examining historically contested cases of personhood. These fall under five categories: "non-human animals, artificial intelligence, prenatal and cognitively impaired human beings, women, and slaves." The course is organized around these categories, with leading questions and readings to guide each section. Some of the key questions are: "What distinguishes human beings from animals? Is it possible for artificial intelligences to become persons? What is the biological basis of personhood? How we determine whether a computer or an android is a person? Are prenatal and/or cognitively impaired humans persons? Can a human being lose his or her personhood? Why have women been historically denied the rights of full personhood? Is a slave a person or property?" Class readings include Aristotle's De Anima, Descartes' Discourse on Method, the Book of Genesis, Frans de Waal's Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved, Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, Huxley's Brave New World, Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, as well as exemplary court cases involving abortion, slavery, and women's rights. In addition to class meetings and blog discussions, the project director has also planned a trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, two film screenings (Truffaut's Wild Child and Spielberg's E.T.), and dissemination of the course at a national conference.

Project fields:
Interdisciplinary Studies, General

Enduring Questions: Pilot Course Grants

Education Programs

Total amounts:
$24,887 (approved)
$24,886 (awarded)

Grant period:
5/1/2012 – 4/30/2015