Animals, Slaves, and Corporations: Analyzing Legal Thinghood

German Law Journal 18 (5):1070-1090 (2017)
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The Article analyzes the notion of legal “thinghood” in the context of the person–thing bifurcation. In legal scholarship, there are numerous assumptions pertaining to this definition that are often not spelled out. In addition, one’s chosen definition of “thing” is often simply taken to be the correct one. The Article scrutinizes these assumptions and definitions. First, a brief history of the bifurcation is offered. Second, three possible definitions of “legal thing” are examined: Things as nonpersons, things as rights and duties, and things as property. The first two definitions are rejected as not being very interesting or serving any heuristic function. Conversely, understanding legal things as property is meaningful, useful, and helps to understand what it means to say that animals are legally things. Defining things as property has certain rather important implications, which are analyzed at the end of the Article. For instance, not everything needs to be either a person or a thing: The historical institution of outlawry involved treating individuals neither as legal persons nor as legal things. One must conclude that the person–thing bifurcation is less fundamental than is often assumed.

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Visa A. J. Kurki
University of Helsinki


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