Please note that this is asking about whether there are any animals that are actually persons. Not asking about things being considered persons. Not asking about legal personhood. This prompt is asking about actual personhood. A "person" is a being that deserves legal rights because they have the morally relevant properties that make them a person. (Added 6/28).
Also, you should know that the distinction between "metaphysical", "moral", and "legal" personhood is not at all useful here. "Metaphysical" personhood just seems to be a synonym for "actual" personhood, so the use of "metaphysical" her. Moral "personhood" seems to be an obscure concept that adds extra requirements to the regular concept of being a person, so if you want to talk about moral personhood, you will have to explain how it is different from just plain personhood and then explain why we should care. The same applies to legal personhood, which is even less relevant, since laws are not always logical. (Added 6/28).
To think about this topic, analyze the following questions in order. First, what is it that makes a person a person. (DO NOT consult any dictionary! -Added 9/30) Then, are there any non-human animals that have all of those things. (You might want to think about the chimpanzees and gorillas who have learned sign language and taught it to their children, the gorilla Koko who had a pet cat and grieved its loss, and who made up new sign-language words, the gorillas and elephants who paint pictures, the chimp who tried to save a colobus monkey from being attacked by other chimps, the gorilla Binti Jua who fetched a keeper to help an injured human child, and so on.) Explain the best case you can for some non-human animals being people. Explain the best case you can against those non-human animals being people. (Make sure you do not state these cases as if they are both your personal opinion. You must indicate that these are arguments that someone might make, and not necessarily your personal opinion.) Say which case is better and explain why.
Don't attempt this topic unless you can accept at least the possibility
that the meaning of the word "person" doesn't automatically
include the meaning of "human." If you think that the word "person" is just
another word for "human," or "human being," or "human body," don't pick
this topic unless you are prepared to either come up with reasons
why we should define the word person so that it only includes
humans or to possibly change your mind about the definition of a
Remember, the topic here is to determine whether or not there are any non-human persons, not to decide beforehand that there aren't any, and then bend logic and evidence into whatever shape is necessary to make it look like that conclusion is true.
If you are reading this and thinking to yourself that there can't be any non-human people no matter what the facts turn out to be, and that you can fulfil this assignment by "explaining" that this unexamined conviction has to be right, you should pick another topic. (Of course, if you've spent a lot of time thinking about it, and have come to that conclusion after seriously considering the other side of the issue, you're fine.)
Students with the unexamined assumption usually start off by thinking of various differences between human and non-human animals and then claiming that because humans and non-humans are different in this way, non-humans cannot be persons.
This strategy usually fails.
Sometimes it fails because the "difference" isn't a difference. The thing that humans have turns out to be something at least some animals have too.
Other times it fails because the student cannot come up with any reason why that thing is necessary for something to be a person. (Especially since it is often the case that lots of humans lack that thing too.)
For instance, it is sometimes said "we can understand 'morality' as an abstract concept while nonhuman animals, although sometimes capable of crosspecies compassion such as rescuing or caring for humans in various ways, do not understand morality in this abstract way, therefore it is morally okay for us to inflict the most horrific tortures upon innocent animals for quite trivial ends." The understanding of morality as an abstract concept may indeed be a real difference between human and nonhuman animals, but it is not the kind of difference that has ever before been considered morally important, and no actual reason has ever been given in support of it being important. It is, in essence, an irrelevant difference, of no mor moral importance than the presence or absence of fur, wings, or horns.
Well anyway, if you can more-or-less see both sides of the issue, and are willing to accept that any answer is possible, this is a fun topic. If you can only see one side of the issue, and are totally unwilling to accept that the other side might possibly be right, you will probably write papers that are very far from being logically sound, so consider yourself warned.
Remember that "person" is a morally loaded term. If something is a person, then it has rights that non-persons do not have. Persons have rights of self-expression and self-determination, and it is morally wrong to kill, maim, torture, abuse or imprison persons. Some nonpersons, such as, say cows, have at least the right not to be tortured, but they do not necessarily have all the rights that persons have.
Generally, mentally complete and healthy humans are reckoned to be persons because they have certain capacities including free will, self awareness and a certain set of cognitive capacities including the capacity to understand such concepts as mathematics, science, the idea of morality and of seeking goals beyond immediate self gratification.
(Please look at these links for factual information and arguments to help you understand the issue. Don't take them as proving anything all by themselves. Remember you are the one who needs to figure out the answer here. If you just repeat things other people, you will not be doing the assignment. (Remember to let me know about any broken links)
Are any emotions uniquely human?
A short introduction to the issue: Mike LaBossiere: Are Animals People?Is personhood an animal right or human privilege?
A Conversation With Koko
Koko The Gorilla Mourning The Loss Of Robin Williams
She Told The Chimp She Had Lost Her Baby
Friends of Washoe : Meet : Washoe
Washoe and the family teach Loulis to use sign language
Touching Story Of A Chimp Named Washoe - YouTube
Binti Jua - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Gorilla Saved a Life - YouTube
Binti the Gorilla - Travel Channel
Mice in the Sink
Dolphins: www.beach-net.com/dolphins/communication.htmlCurrent Case Law on Animal Personhood
Philosophical Overview on The Moral Status of Animals
These ideas aren't off-limits, if any of them come up in the course of answering your assigned question, go ahead and discuss them in any way you see fit. But I do want you to focus on the question(s) I've assigned to you, so don't make any of these questions your primary topic unless I've specifically assigned you, or given you permission to do that question. If you want to focus on a follow-up question, ask me, and I might give you permission.
Define Person What is a person, anyway?
Social Persons Is our definition of a person partially based on morality, society or history? Should it be?
Considered What if humans weren't considered persons?