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A person is in the vernacular one by its individual characteristics and idiosyncrasies marked man . Different sciences have a specific understanding of terms .


The concept of the person is present in almost all cultural and scientific contexts (colloquial language, literature , art , law , philosophy , theology or ethics ). It is not defined uniformly, but differently in the various subject areas and also within a single discipline, depending on the specific understanding of the object of knowledge or depending on the specific question. The noun agentis formed from person is the personnel , the workforce of organizations . It forms the defining word that occurs in compounds such as the personnel department , personnel file , personnel appraisal or personnel requirements planning. Terms that are not related to this, such as identity card , personal details or personal credit, indicate the person as the addressee. Partnership , one-person company , personality cult , personal name , civil status or personal traffic, in turn, are compounds that relate to people through their defining word.


The origin of the word person is not fully understood; there are various theories on this. The loan word person presumably comes from the ancient Greek word for “what one can see”, i.e. face, countenance or visible figure of the human being ( ancient Greek πρόσωπον prosopon ), where the unity of consciousness , thought , will and action is expressed. The origin from the Etruscan " phersu ", which was found as the inscription of a representation of a train of masked people, is considered possible. The derivation from the Etruscan language (meaning “mask”, “masked figure” or “masked person”) was adopted by the Duden editorial team , among others . Phersu was the proper name of a figure from the underworld who appeared at funeral games and revealed himself in a disguise typical for them.


The concept of the person has an eventful history. Entire groups of people were excluded from civil rights in ancient times. Strangers , women , children and slaves were denied full personal status in the sense of unrestricted legal capacity .

The expression “persona” can be traced back to Homer , where it was used as a designation for the face of a person or occasionally a god, but never for the face of an animal. Since then, the person has mainly found himself in the context of the theater, where he described a role or a mask . The Old Testament contains a multitude of personal quotations, whereby the judges are often supposed to judge without regard to the person. So it says in the 5th book of Moses about judges: “You should not bend the law, nor should you look at the person or take any presents” ( Deut. 16:19  EU ). The Book of Proverbs also rejects consideration in the judicial process: "These are also words of the wise: looking at the person in judgment is not good" ( Prov. 24:23  EU ). Jesus Sirach said: “Do not rely on an unjust sacrifice; for the Lord is a judge, and before him there is no respect for the person ”( Sir 35.15  EU ). The term person developed during the Trinitarian and Christological discussions of the 4th and 5th centuries. During these theological debates, some philosophical terms were necessary so that the discussions could be conducted on a common basis for all theological schools. The aim of the discussion was to determine the relationship, similarities and differences between the Logos Λóγος / verb and God the Father . The philosophical concept of person arose from the word “prosopon” (πρόσωπον) of the Greek theater. Therefore, Christ (the Λóγος / verb) and God the Father were defined as different "divine persons". This term was later applied to the Holy Spirit , angels, and all human beings.

The Roman law of antiquity differed Free ( Latin homines liberi ) and slaves ( in Latin servi ). Free citizens and released slaves, as long as neither belonged to the foreigners, had all civil rights ( Latin status civitatis ). The slave was against quite incompetent and stood as a thing owned by his master ( Latin dominus ), for him found the principles of property law application. He was therefore not a legal subject , but a legal object that could be sold in the context of the slave trade . The slave thus also had no legal capacity, rather he and the subordinate members of the associated family ( Latin familia ) were subject to the external representation of the head of the house ( Latin pater familias ). There was a second division between citizens ( Latin cives ) and foreigners ( Latin peregrini ), the latter were excluded from all civil rights. Only as a guest ( Latin hospes ) of Roman citizens could he participate in legal life through them. The stranger as enemy ( Latin hostis ) was without rights . The lawlessness of the slaves did not change until Justinian I. During the imperial period, provisions were issued to protect slaves, which were supposed to protect them from unjustified killing, cruel abuse, and also from prostitution.

Women had no public duties and tasks ( Latin officia ), they were therefore not allowed to hold any political office , had no right to vote (active or passive) , were not allowed to be a guarantor or guardian (restricted to their own children) and had no party ability . The institutions of Gaius from around 160 AD used people as a demarcation from the three legal areas of persons ( Latin personae ), things ( Latin res ) and possibilities for legal action ( Latin actiones ), which is still valid today in many legal systems . He already knew a special personal law ( Latin ius personarum ), which he dealt with first before the "res" and "actiones".

It was only with the development of the concept of person in the Middle Ages that a personal law based on this arose in Germany, for example in 1610. Kaspar Stieler added the word personal law to his dictionary in 1691. The Codex Maximilianeus Bavaricus Civilis of January 1756 dealt with the "right of persons" in detail. The General Prussian Land Law (APL) of June 1794 headed its 45 paragraphs comprehensive regulations as "Of persons and their rights in general". It defined: "In so far as he enjoys certain rights in civil society, a person is called a person" (I 1, §§ 1 ff., APL). The Austrian ABGB , which came into force in January 1812 , stipulates in Section 15 ABGB that personal rights are based partly on personal characteristics and circumstances, and partly on family relationships. The BGB , which has been in force since January 1900, already deals with people in Book 1 , Section 1 of which is entitled "People". The Swiss Civil Code (ZGB) from January 1912 regulates natural persons in Sections 11–51 ZGB and legal persons in Sections 52–89c ZGB.


In the BGB, person is the generic term for natural persons and legal persons , depending on whether a human being or an association of persons is meant as a legal subject with its own rights and obligations.

In addition to humans as natural persons, the BGB recognizes legal persons as legal subjects. Natural persons have had legal capacity since their birth and are therefore bearers of rights and obligations . Legal persons regularly acquire their legal capacity by entering them in one of the public registers kept by the local courts ( association : Section 21 BGB, stock corporation : Section 41 (1 ) AktG , limited liability company : Section 11 (1) GmbHG , cooperative : Section 21 GenG ). The nature of the legal person imposes certain restrictions on its legal capacity. While legal entities in civil legal relations are quite capable of their determined basic legal capacity by 19 Art. Para. 3 GG . As a result, legal persons can be bearers of fundamental rights , provided that they are essentially applicable to them, which is excluded in the case of certain fundamental rights such as Article 6 (marriage, family, upbringing) or Article 2, Paragraph 2 of the Basic Law (physical integrity). Conversely, this means that natural persons have unrestricted fundamental rights.

The legal classification of electronic persons ( e-persons ) is still unclear. It is discussed whether so-called autonomous machines should get their own legal status. Autonomous machines are machines that act independently and react flexibly to environmental data. There are autonomous machines with bodies (such as robots ) and autonomous machines without bodies, so-called software bots . Such a step could have the consequence that such machines would have rights and obligations and would therefore be liable and could be sanctioned and punished. It would also be potentially illegal to shut down such machines; see. also the debates about artificial intelligence (AI). One way out of the discussion is to designate such machines not as autonomous , but as (fully) automatic or at least only partially autonomous.

Personal data or highly personal law deal with specific legal issues .


The economic agent household consists of one person. To determine the cost of living , statisticians use a shopping cart that contains the consumption habits of an average household of up to four people. From this, among other things, the inflation rate or the average income per person can be determined. In economic life, people appear as consumers , entrepreneurs or market participants .

Personnel is the general term used by business administration for all employees who perform assigned work tasks and cause personnel costs through their work . The term private person makes it clear that a person pursues a self-interest and does not act on behalf of or as a representative of companies or authorities in the interests of others or as an entrepreneur.



Jörg Noller in Online Encyclopedia Philosophy of Nature :

"In the history of philosophy three paradigms [of the determination of a person] can be distinguished: (1) The ontological determination of the person as" a substance individual to a reasonable nature "( Boethius ). (2) The self-consciousness theoretical determination of the person as a being, that “can regard oneself as oneself” ( John Locke ). (3) The moral-philosophical definition of the person as “an end in oneself.” ( Immanuel Kant ) In the current analytical debate, the focus has been on the connection between body organism and Person moved. [4] The theory of animalism (Eric T. Olson) states that persons are essentially animals and that mental or psychological properties play no role in their identity. [5] Constitutional theory ( Lynne Baker ), on the other hand, tries to prevent the person to be defined as a natural and at the same time self-confident being: the body organism constitutes the person without being identical with him rather a “unity without identity” with him. [6] In the recent debate, the concept of the personal form of life has emerged as a promising candidate for thinking about the natural, rational unity of the person ( Marya Schechtman ). "

Individual provisions

The person in the philosophical sense is seen by some as the essence of being human against the background of the Western horizon of thought: Man as a person is ascribed a certain freedom of decision and responsibility for his actions. Other philosophical currents do not see the concept of person as being limited to people.

In classical philosophy , Boethius' definition is the starting point for understanding the human being as a person: it is the indivisible ("individual") substance of a rational (reasonable) nature ( Latin persona est rationalis naturae individua substantia ). According to this, the appearance of man as a thinking living being is not perceptible to the senses, i.e. H. metaphysical essence. However, its definition is considered insufficient in philosophy because it does not consider the categorical concept of person and its ontological status.

“Person” in this sense was then more often identified in medieval philosophy with the term “ immortal soul ”. In the Christian religion, for example, the concept of person even stands for one of the central characteristics of God . In the philosophy of the modern age ( Enlightenment ) the term person was criticized as a substantial reality in many ways and its metaphysical dimension was contested argumentatively. Since the 20th century, there is no longer any talk of substance, but of personality in the sense of an existential .

Immanuel Kant made a clear distinction between the concept of the person as a rational being and the “immortal soul” as a pure concept of reason . "A person is the subject whose actions are capable of attribution." A person is "subject to no other laws than those which he gives himself (either alone or at least at the same time with others) [...]."

In modern philosophical currents, people are the subjects of ethics . Some ethicists, according to Peter Singer , differentiate between human and person. In terms of discourse ethics , this can be justified in such a way that only a person can be considered a person who is able to express himself in the discourse. Critics like Robert Spaemann question Singer's distinction between man and person, particularly because of the impossibility of graduation between 'something' and 'someone'; for them, biological membership of the human species is the sole criterion for personality. Proponents of natural law also argue that human beings - through their minds - are entitled to being a person and thus their special dignity from the outset and in all situations (e.g. in a coma) .

Romano Guardini defined: »Person is self-possessing spirit . Possessing oneself in the self-belonging of consciousness and freedom; in the peculiarity of the unique being «.

The philosophy of personalism has defined the term person to a special degree , namely not as the individual's awareness of himself, but as the “active subjectivity ” of the individual through which he creates himself. In principle, this status is granted to everyone; Since it is an ethical and moral principle, it cannot be alienated: Man is always a person in himself and should at the same time become one by making more and more use of his freedom and determining himself. The distinction between person as a concept of essence and personality as individuation must be observed; In the hierarchy of inner-worldly values, the person of the human being stands above all other values, be it the personality, the social role , the community or the biological individual .

The Christian social doctrine sees the personality in addition to solidarity , subsidiarity and the common good and justice one of the principles for a successful human coexistence in society and state.


In psychology , person is used synonymously with the term individual and is therefore the subject of any psychological research ( differential psychology , personality , individual psychology ), since individuals have the same characteristics. According to CG Jung , the person is in the sense of dialectic "a psychic system which, in the event of an impact on another person, interacts with another psychic system."


Person in the sociological sense denotes an individual , a person who takes on different roles sociologically , e.g. B. as parents and siblings, an office (e.g. as a civil servant, judge), a profession , an origin (e.g. ethnic group, ethnic group such as Kurd, Same, Basque, etc.).

In Ferdinand Tönnies ' classic study of 1887 Community and Society , "person" is the bearer of social roles insofar as he willingly seeks "society" with others for his own benefit ; the term thus approximates Marx'scharacter mask ”. Tönnies on this: "Regarding the concept of the person, no other empirical subjects can be deducted, except from the individual people, who are understood, insofar as everyone is [...] willing in thought, consequently there are real and natural persons in this respect, exist as people who introduce themselves as such, take on and play this 'role', or hold the 'character' of a person like a mask in front of their face. "

In Tönnies' work, the term “person” stands in opposition to the term “ self ”: the latter describes the self-image of the individual insofar as he seeks “community” with others in order to willingly integrate himself into it.

Niklas Luhmann's system theory clearly distinguishes between the concepts of “human” and “person”. The latter is considered - at least potentially - immortal.

Pejorative meaning

In earlier times, the term " person " had a negative connotation. Mainly a female person was meant. The male counterpart was dubbed " Individual" .


  • Martin Brasser: Person. Philosophical texts from antiquity to the present . Reclam, Ditzingen 1999, ISBN 3-15-018024-4 .
  • Clemens Breuer: person from the beginning? The retort and the question of the beginning of human life . 2nd Edition. Schöningh, Paderborn, Vienna, Munich, Zurich 2003, ISBN 3-506-70236-X .
  • Michael B. Buchholz : Identity . Small literary tour. In: DGPT (Ed.): Psycho-News-Letter . No. 92 , 2012 ( [PDF; 834 kB ; accessed on October 25, 2018]).
  • Roland Harweg : A person, a person and someone . In: German language . tape 27 , 1971, ISSN  0340-9341 , p. 101-112 .
  • Benjamin Jörissen, Jörg Zirfas (Hrsg.): Key works of identity research. A textbook . VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2010, ISBN 978-3-531-15806-8 .
  • Roland Kipke: Man and Person. The concept of the person in bioethics and the question of the right to life of all people . Logos, Berlin 2001, ISBN 978-3-89722-692-0 .
  • Klaus Robra: And because the human being is a person ... the concept of the person and personalism in the age of (world) crises . The Blue Owl, Essen 2003, ISBN 3-89924-069-3 .
  • Robert Spaemann : People. Try on the difference between 'something' and 'someone' . 3. Edition. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1996, ISBN 978-3-608-91813-7 .
  • Hans-Dieter Spengler , Benedikt Forschner, Michael Mirschberger (eds.): The idea of ​​the person as a Roman legacy? Verlag der Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Erlangen 2016, ISBN 978-3-944057-53-8 .
  • Dieter Sturma (Ed.): Person. History of philosophy. Theoretical Philosophy. Practical philosophy . Mentis, Paderborn 2001, ISBN 3-89785-301-9 .
  • Dieter Teichert : People and Identities . De Gruyter, Berlin 1999, ISBN 978-3-11-016405-3 .
  • Joachim Wiesner : The concept of person as a linguistic problem. Requirements - methods - research goals . In: German language . tape 25 , 1969, ISSN  0340-9341 , p. 49-64 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Person  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikiquote: Person  - Quotes
  • Current literature on the understanding of the human being
  • Person in the dictionary of basic philosophical terms by Friedrich Kirchner (1907)

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Günter Rager / Adrian Holderegger (eds.), Consciousness and person , 2000, p. 87
  2. Alois Walde : Latin etymological dictionary. 3rd edition (revised by Johann Baptist Hofmann ). I-II. Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, Heidelberg 1938–1954 (= Indo-European Library , First Department, II. Row, 1), supplemented by a register volume by Elsbeth Berger, 1956, Volume 2, p. 291 f.
  3. ^ Franz Altheim: Persona. In: Archive for Religious Studies. Volume 27, 1929, p. 35 ff.
  4. Dudenredaktion, Der Duden 7, The dictionary of origin , 1989, p. 521.
  5. Martin Brasser: In the role of the individual. The meaning of 'person' and the etymology of 'persona'. 2008, pp. 54 and 59
  6. Katja Wagner-Westerhausen, Die Statusfrage in der Bioethik , 2008, p. 14
  7. Digests 4, 5, 3, 1
  8. ^ Heinrich Honsell, Römisches Recht , 2015, p. 23
  9. ^ Herbert Hausmaninger / Walter Selb, Römisches Privatrecht , 2001, p. 74
  10. ^ Gaius , Institutiones , 1, 53
  11. ^ Philipp Charwath, Römisches Recht , 2011, p. 237 f.
  12. ^ Gaius, Institutiones , 1, 48
  13. Helmut Coing , On the history of the private law system , in: Wissenschaft und Gegenwart, Issue 22, 1963, p. 63
  14. ^ Johannes Barter / Christoph Crusius, Disputatio Ex tit. 5. 6. & 7. Lib. I. Pandectarum , De Statu et Iure Persoarum, 1610
  15. Kaspar Stieler, Der Teutschen Sprache Genealogy and Fortwachs , Volume 2, 1691, Col. 1551
  16. Codex Maximilianeus Bavaricus Civilis, Part I, Chapter 3, §§ 1 ff. CMBC
  17. Adolph Julius Mannkopff (ed.), General Landrecht für die Prussischen Staats , 1837, p. 117
  18. Reinhard Bork: General part of the civil code . 2006, p. 79 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  19. ^ Gerhard Baumgartner: General administrative law . Springer-Verlag (Vienna and New York) , 2003, ISBN 978-3-211-40370-9 , pp. 42 .
  20. Eric Hilgendorf, Law, Machines and the Idea of ​​the Posthuman ,, May 24, 2014, accessed on June 22, 2017
  21. Gunter Laßmann, Asimovs Robot Laws (Telepolis): What do they really do? , 2017, o. P.
  22. Machines should be liable for their own errors , from August 1, 2008, accessed on June 22, 2017
  23. Noller, Jörg (2019): Person . In: Kirchhoff, Thomas (ed.): Online Encyclopedia Philosophy of Nature / Online-Lexikon Naturphilosophie. Heidelberg, Heidelberg University Library: .
  24. cf. on this Christoph Schwöbel : God in relationship: studies on dogmatics . Mohr Siebeck Verlag , 2002, ISBN 3-16-147846-0 , p. 210 ( excerpt online from Google).
  25. Michael Quante: Person . Verlag Walter de Gruyter , 2007, ISBN 978-3-11-018190-6 , p. 4 ( excerpt online from Google).
  26. Jean-Christophe Merle: A Kantian alternative to general prevention and retaliation . In: Kant and the Berlin Enlightenment: Files of the IX. International Kant Congress . tape 4 . Verlag Walter de Gruyter, 2001, ISBN 3-11-016979-7 , p. 200 ( excerpt online from Google).
  27. CG Jung: Fundamentals of practical therapy . 1935. Quoted about Toni Wolff : Studies on CG Jung's psychology . 1959, p. 149 ( excerpt online from Google).
  28. ^ Ferdinand Tönnies: Community and Society . Berlin 1887, 3rd book, §§ 2 + 7 ( online in the German text archive ).
  29. ^ Ferdinand Tönnies, Community and Society . Berlin 1887, 3rd book, Darmstadt 2005, p. 151
  30. Steffen Roth: Dying is only human. The case death makes for the immortality of the person . In: Tamara Journal for Critical Organization Inquiry . Volume 11, No. 2 . Akademia Leona Koźmińskiego , June 2013, p. 37–41 ( PDF; 469 kB ).