Personhood and Moral Rights

Mary Anne Warren

in Moral Status

Published in print March 2000 | ISBN: 9780198250401
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191681295 | DOI:

Series: Issues in Biomedical Ethics

Personhood and Moral Rights

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This chapter examines two variants of the concept of a person, and considers the arguments for regarding personhood, in either of these two senses, as the sole criterion of moral status. The first, and more exclusive, concept of personhood emphasizes the mental capacities that are essential for moral agency, such as the capacity to deliberate about moral questions, and voluntarily to conform to moral standards. The less exclusive ‘subject-of-a-life’ criterion proposed by Tom Regan emphasizes the capacity to have beliefs and desires, to remember the past, to anticipate the future, and to act intentionally. It argues that personhood, in the full-blooded sense that requires the capacity for moral agency, is indeed a sufficient condition for full moral status. It is not, however, a necessary condition; infants and mentally disabled human beings ought to have the same basic moral rights as other sentient human beings, even though they may not be persons in this sense.

Keywords: moral status; Kant; personhood; Tom Regan; mental capacity; moral agency

Chapter.  12486 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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