There are diverse understanding of the concept of the human person among thinkers and philosophers. In this regard, Arthur C. Danto affirms that “Neither in common usage nor in philosophy has there been a univocal concept of ‘person”.
But basically, the English word ‘person’ is derived from the Latin word, ‘persona,’ which can be traced to the Greek ‘prosopon,’ which in its original sense denotes the ‘mask’ worn by an actor. Later it came to refer to the role played by the actor or the dramatist, and finally to the human being as an actor on the stage of life; as Willaim Shakespeare says: Life is a stage where each person is an actor. Cicero used the term ‘person’ to denote an assumed appearance, a mark of distinction or dignity, or a sum total of personal qualities.
Legally speaking, a person denotes a subject of law, a being bound by law. This is evident in the Roman legal system where a person designates gives Romani-the Roman citizen, a man who enjoys citizenship (civitatis) or freedom (libertatis). In this sense, a person refers to that being that possesses certain rights and conditions that make him capable of exercising them.
Nevertheless, the advent of the existentialist style of philosophizing brought about a kind of ‘Copernican revolution’ to the understanding of the human person in the history of Western philosophy. Kierkegaard, the “father of modern existentialism and the first European philosopher who bore the existentialist label” paid particular attention to the concept of the human person. Just like Heidegger who pointed out the forgetfulness of ‘Being’ in traditional philosophy occasioned by the influence of science, Kierkegaard reacts against the forgetfulness of the concrete problems of the “thinking subject” in the history of thought. The early Greek philosophers were physicists, who had no direct concern about the human person. It was Socrates first directed the attention of philosophy to the issues about the man himself.