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Honors Class Challenges Views of Human Person
4/8/2013

Honors Class Challenges Views of Human PersonReflecting on the view of the human person from multiple perspectives, the Honors Program class of 2013 has prepared a provocative presentation for the Research Symposium: “Person: The Endangered Species,” to be given at 4 p.m. on April 12 in UST's Jones Hall, 3910 Yoakum Blvd.

The Honors Colloquium is the culmination of a four-month Contemporary Problems Seminar, the final course of the Honors Program, in which students select a contemporary problem that interests them and then collaborate on research to present to the University of St. Thomas community. This class studied contemporary understandings of the human person.

Senior biology major Dusty Tobin said the group wanted to pick a topic that is both interesting and has significance in the life of every person.

“We want the audience to walk away from our presentation asking questions about the definition of a human person and the intrinsic value of the human person,” Tobin said. “We want people to realize that this affects everyone. We all have fundamental rights, and we all have fundamental responsibilities; we often forget the latter.”

An Interdisciplinary Approach

The 11 seniors represent nine majors, and the interdisciplinary project approaches the topic from the perspective of their individual studies. International studies major Marissa Valle said their education is defined by the influence it will have on their actions.

“This project is a fitting conclusion to our studies at the University of St. Thomas,” Valle said. “As we continue our work in the world, we will remember the importance of our duty to protect the rights of all, as doctors, government officials, accountants and musicians.”

Music major Meeka Opong said the issues are relevant to everyone and will continue to be relevant to their children and grandchildren.

“These problems are important right now, not just in the classroom or in your homework, but in your life,” Opong said. “Perhaps you don't feel endangered at the moment, but what about when you give birth, or when you're 87, or in the hospital? Will you wait to think about these issues until then?”

Their presentation addresses a topic that has far reaching implications for medicine, education, economics, and for national and international relations.

Brittany Garza, a mathematics major, said the students were confident in their ability to approach this issue from multiple perspectives because of their conviction that truth in one discipline will not contradict truth in another.

“Truth does not contradict itself,” Garza said. “While our discussions at times involve serious disagreements, we trust that we will be able to offer a presentation that truly integrates our diverse points of view.”

What is the Human Person?

By focusing on what they call “authentic inclusivity,” the students will explore the consequences of extending personhood to all living human beings, from infants to the elderly.

“In this project, I have been forced to think through the implications of universal rights and equality and it has challenged my views in unexpected ways,” said Rebecca Reardon, an accounting major. “Without an awareness of these issues, a well-meaning person may adopt views that are detrimental to those we wish to help.”

The students assert that popular notions of independence and autonomy have served to excuse people from their responsibility to others and exclude an ever-increasing number of human beings from the category of persons with rights. The presentation is a response to ethical theories that are making radical changes to what it means to be a human person.

Students work as collaborators

English major John Kriescher said the project was not always easy.

“We wrestled with difficult concepts, each other and our own selves in an attempt to make sense of it all,” Kriescher said. “However, it is through this struggle that we were able to find significance and apply what we learned to our everyday lives.”

The students chose the Rev. Anthony Giampietro, CSB, professor and chair of philosophy, as the faculty member to facilitate their project. He said he enjoyed working with the Honors students.

“Such different personalities, such a variety of interests, they have nevertheless met the challenge of real collaboration,” Father Giampietro said. “I am inspired by their willingness to consider changing their own lives in light of what they have learned.”

Garza said she looks forward to sharing the presentation with the community.

“We offer this presentation to our friends, families, and professors as an opportunity to think more deeply about the significance of every human life and about how we may need to live differently in order to better to accept our responsibilities to our fellow human beings.”

Honors Abstract: “Person: The Endangered Species”

Influential contemporary philosophies of the human person exclude some human beings from the category of persons with rights. These philosophies are often put forward by proponents of tolerance and compassion whose goal is an inclusive and diverse society. In some ways, our society has indeed become more inclusive, but in other ways, we fall short. The fact that we refuse legal protection for some human beings, by defining them out of existence rather than caring for them, is a contemporary problem. Having studied this problem using resources from our various disciplines, we propose a theory that we call authentic inclusivity. This approach eliminates no one, and calls for a greater awareness of our duties to all human beings. Authentic inclusivity goes beyond theoretical discussion, compelling us to recognize even the most vulnerable as persons with rights. We intend to engage and refute contemporary “inclusive” philosophies that are, in reality, exclusive.

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