What is a person?

During the Iowa Straw Poll, Mitt Romney made an interesting claim that corporations are people. His reasoning was that a corporation being a person follows from it benefiting people. He has also made this claim on the basis that a corporation consists of people. Let’s explore these two claims and see that they are poorly reasoned.

Argument from Benefit

1. Something that benefits persons is itself a person.

2. A corporation benefits persons.

3. Therefore, a corporation is a person.

Premise (1) is actually quite ridiculous. I can think of several counterexamples. Is good weather a person? Perhaps you will object and say that he was actually making the argument based on the money from corporations going to people. Very well then. Is the lottery a person? It should be quite clear that several things benefit people, monetarily or otherwise, and are not themselves a person.

Argument from Composition

4. A whole is the same as its components.

5. A corporation consists of persons.

6. Therefore, a corporation is a person.

The astute reader may notice that (4) is actually the fallacy of composition, rendering the conclusion false. Consider, for example, that this argument would lead you to conclude that you are a cell since you are made entirely of cells.

Conclusion

Obviously neither argument is particularly persuasive for conceding that a corporation should be considered a person. This goes to show the elementary mistakes in reasoning made in our political discourse, even at the highest level.

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