Personhood and the Scope of Moral Duty

Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism 25 (2):119-139 (2017)
  Copy   BIBTEX


In this essay I craft a procedure for evaluating claims of moral personhood that would allow us to answer ethical questions raised by issues like abortion, animal rights, artificial intelligence, etc. I focus specifically on the abortion debate as a case study for applying my procedure. I argue that our moral instincts have evolved to promote group cohesion, a necessary prerequisite of which is reliable identification of other group members. These are “persons” in the moral sense of the word. However, while our moral intuitions may be good at picking out paradigmatic instances of moral persons, peripheral or putative instances of this category are a matter of intense debate. Further, I show that the attempt to clarify the boundaries of moral personhood by appealing to physical traits—what I characterize as the equation of moral personhood with ontological personhood—does not actually resolve the underlying ambiguity, nor does it answer the moral question why we ought to recognize moral rights in the first place. I argue instead for a three pronged inquiry that asks whether the entity in question is capable of articulating its own entitlement to moral consideration; if not, whether recognizing it as a moral person would facilitate the recognition of more paradigmatic instances of moral persons, or whether the failure so to recognize it would impede the recognition of more paradigmatic instances of moral persons; and whether the entity’s moral personhood can be recognized without cancelling or substantially burdening the moral rights of paradigmatic instances of moral persons. I argue that, applying this test, abortion is morally permissible, at least in the early stages of pregnancy when the vast majority of abortions occur anyway.



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 79,971

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

The failure of theories of personhood.Tom L. Beauchamp - 1999 - Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 9 (4):309-324.
The Moral and Metaphysical Aspects of Personhood.Michael Francis Goodman - 1986 - Dissertation, Michigan State University
On the Notion of Moral Status and Personhood in Biomedical Ethics.Azam Golam - 2010 - The Dhaka Univrsity Studies 67 (1):83-96.
At the margins of moral personhood.Eva Kittay - 2005 - Ethics 116 (1):100-131.
A Theory of Moral Personhood in the Thought of Karl Marx.Glen Vincent Melanson - 1996 - Dissertation, University of Toronto (Canada)
Humanizing Personhood.Adam Kadlac - 2010 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 13 (4):421 - 437.
What Philosophy of Mind Can Tell Us About the Morality of Abortion.Kenneth Einar Himma - 2003 - International Journal of Applied Philosophy 17 (1):89-109.
After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?Alberto Giubilini & Francesca Minerva - 2013 - Journal of Medical Ethics 39 (5):261-263.
Temporal parts and moral personhood.Hud Hudson - 1999 - Philosophical Studies 93 (3):299-316.


Added to PP

53 (#233,614)

6 months
2 (#319,278)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Citations of this work

No citations found.

Add more citations

References found in this work

No references found.

Add more references