Becoming persons: The ethical problems of potentiality, identity, and kinds.
AuthorCovey, Edward Hume.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThe case of human development is taken as a paradigm for rights of development and duties to cause development. I argue that our standard intuitions about the moral status of infants presuppose that we ascribe genuine moral significance (including rights of development) to non-persons. A number of considerations (both intuitive and formal) seem to lead to the thesis that there are no necessary conditions for membership in our moral community, or the nearly-equivalent thesis that certain sorts of potentiality are sufficient for rights of development. Both are tentatively defended throughout this work. In the theses suggested above, both the logical and physical possibility of the development in question would be necessary conditions for the applicability of rights of development or duties to cause development. I analyze and evaluate the general claim that potentiality is a ground for moral rights, and investigate whether the physical impossibility of becoming might block some of the supposed counterintuitive implications of potentiality principles. I argue that identity conditions form metaphysical constraints on ethical potentiality principles, ruling out the prescription of many kinds of "becoming" even with any thesis that potentiality entails rights of development. A crucial distinction is drawn between two ordinary-language senses of 'become'. I find no metaphysical grounds, and no specifically moral grounds, for considering kind membership (e.g., species) as morally significant per se, although it remains undecided whether there are reasons for such significance that are grounded in the practical constraints of application of moral principles. Changes of kind do not have significant implications for the limits of potentiality reasoning except inasfar as they are tied up with identity conditions of individuals. It is concluded that our considered intuitions about the moral status of infant development could be generated by several types of theory, all involving some sort of potentiality thesis, and that some potentiality theories are far less problematic than they initially appear to be.