17 February 2015

Hohfeld and Personhood

'Why Things Can Hold Rights: Reconceptualizing the Legal Person' by Visa A.J. Kurki comments
This essay takes as its starting point a recent judgment by the New York State Supreme Court Court, Appellate Division, which denied habeas corpus from the chimpanzee Tommy. The conclusion of the judgment is not challenged, but rather its underlying premise: that legal personhood could be straightforwardly equated with right-holding and/or duty-bearing. The Tommy case was not about granting the first legal right to the chimpanzee, because it already holds numerous rights. Neither can it be claimed that legal personhood concerns the capacity to be a party in legal relations, as nonpersons participate in Hohfeldian legal relations, too. The essay argues that legal personhood should rather be understood as being encompassed in the specific legal institutions that distinguish legal persons from nonpersons.