137 results found (0.019 seconds)

  • http://www.twotlj.org
    • PDF
    • Suggested

    PLENARY SESSION When Do People Begin? Lloyd Gerson, Moderator St. Michael's College by Germain Grisez "People" here does not refer to God or angels. However, it refers not only to human persons but to beings like E.T., for if such beings arrived on earth, we surely would consider them people like ourselves. In a 1970 book on abortion, I treated three questions about people's be- ginnings. When do human individuals begin? In moral reflection, which hu- man individuals should count as persons? And, which for legal purposes? I concluded that most human individuals begin at fertilization and that both morality and law should consider all of them persons.' I still think that. But to remedy defects in my treatment and to deal with two decades of develop- ment in both embryology and the debate, the questions need fresh treatment, which this paper only sketches out. I hope it will encourage and help some- one to write a book on the subject. To those who are persons, personhood is either accidental or essential. If accidental, it is either bestowed by others or acquired naturally. If essential, persons are either nonbodily substances or bodily. If bodily, either they come to be by substantial change after the biological beginning of new human individuals or every new human individual is a person. And new human individuals come to be either after or at fertilization. Thus, there are six answers to our question. I. Some think that personhood is a status bestowed by others. On this notion, people begin when others accept them as persons. 27 II. Others think that personhood is an attribute that some entities develop by a natural process. On this notion, people begin when nonpersonal entities become able to behave as persons. 28 The Ethics of Having Children III. Others think that only certain nonbodily substances-for example, souls or minds-are persons. On this notion, the beginning of a bodily individual need not be the beginning of a person. IV. Others think that only human bodies with the organic basis for intel- lectual acts can receive personal souls. On this notion, prepersonal human organisms substantially change into persons. V. Others think that all whole, human individuals are persons, but that none of them begins until the primitive streak stage. On this notion, people begin two to three weeks after fertilization. VI. I think that all whole, bodily, substantial individuals of any species having a rational nature are persons, and that most human individuals begin at fertilization. On this notion, most human people begin when a human sperm and ovum fuse. I shall first dispose of objections against the sixth position by criticizing the other five. Then I shall sketch out the proper rationale of the sixth position. I. Personhood: A Status Bestowed Pierre de Locht, a Belgian theologian, having suggested that abortion involves a conflict of rights, formulated one line of argument for the notion that personhood is a status bestowed by others: But it seems to me useful to pose a preliminary question: How is one constituted a human person? Is it by a merely biological act? It seems to me astonishing that a spiritual being be constituted by a solely biological act. Does not the fact that the parents perceive the fetus as a human person make any difference in its constitution as a human being, as a spiritual being? Is it not necessary that there be established a relation of person to person, a relation of generators with the fetus, for it to become a human person?² On this proposal, parents confer personhood on a fetus by perceiving it as a thou, and so giving it a place in the human community. I suggest arguments along the following lines against this view. Suppose a pregnant woman does not perceive the fetus as a person, but her husband does. Is that fetus a person or not? Underlying de Locht's proposal, undoubtedly, is the fact that human meaning-giving constitutes social and cultural realities. But unlike such re- alities, people are principles of society and culture. So, human meaning- giving presupposes rather than constitutes people. When Do People Begin? 29 Also underlying his proposal is the insight that persons are beings who exist only in interpersonal communion. But granting this, one can argue, even without invoking faith, that human individuals are constituted persons not by their parents' perception of them but by God's creative knowledge and love of them.³ Mary Warnock, who thinks one can handle relevant moral issues without settling the question of personhood, offers another line of argument for the notion that personhood is a status which others bestow: The philosopher John Locke understood that, as he put it, the word 'person' (which he distinguished from the word 'man') is not a biological but a forensic term. That is as much as to say that whether or not someone, or some corporate body, is to be deemed a person is something that must be decided. To settle it, we need to know the criteria that have been established for settling such cases, or else we must establish new criteria for ourselves.4 She adds that there can be bad criteria for making such designations, and rejects as not generally applicable a criterion for personhood some apply to neonates, namely, whether they are wanted. I suggest arguments along the following lines against this view. Warnock is right in rejecting wantedness as a criterion for personhood. But can she reject it because of its lack of general applicability? To do so is to apply something like the Golden Rule, and to apply such a principle is to presuppose that one can pick out the others whom one should do unto as one would be done unto. But Warnock denies that there is any determinate class of relevant others prior to the decision about criteria. Admittedly, biologists can do without the word "person," and the law does bestow personhood on corporations, seagoing ships, and so on, as well as on some human individuals, while denying it to others. For instance, Chief Standing Bear of the Poncas became a person in April 1879 by a court decision rejecting the U.S. district attorney's contention that the Chief was not a person "within the meaning of the law." The following month, when Standing Bear's brother, Big Snake, tried to leave the reservation, General Sherman pointed out that the decision about Standing Bear applied only to him, and Big Snake was shot to death while resisting arrest.³ To those who decided criteria for his personhood, Big Snake was not a person, and so the Golden Rule did not apply to him. 5 The argument I shall sketch out against the second notion of personhood also tells against any version of this first one. 30 The Ethics of Having Children II. Personhood: An Attribute Acquired by Development Michael Tooley is the leading proponent of this notion of personhood. Like Warnock, he denies that personhood is reducible to membership in the biological species homo sapiens and thinks that he can resolve relevant- moral issues without settling the definition of "person." But unlike Warnock, Tooley thinks he can settle the definition of "person" by rational inquiry. His strategy is to begin from ethical judgments: one can first determine what properties, other than potentialities, suffice to endow an entity with a right to life. Then one can define the term 'person' as applying to all and only those things that have at least one of the relevant properties.³ To determine what properties suffice to endow an entity with the right to life, Tooley treats rights in general. He assumes that nothing which lacks desires can have rights. On this assumption he argues: The non-potential property that makes an individual a person that is, that makes the destruction of something intrinsically wrong, and seri- ously so, and that does so independently of the individual's value-is the property of being an enduring subject of non-momentary interests. 10 11 Tooley includes the phrase "and that does so independently of the individ- ual's value" to distinguish people from objects such as works of art whose destruction also might be considered intrinsically and seriously wrong.¹¹ He understands "being an enduring subject of non-momentary interests" in a way that requires "possession, either now or at some time in the past, of a sense of time, of a concept of a continuing subject of mental states, and of a capacity for thought episodes."12 Thus, in specifying that personhood be defined by a "non-potential prop- erty," Tooley wishes to exclude its definition by an operative potency, such as reason. He does not justify this restriction, but simply stipulates that the defining property may not be potential.¹³ He thus excludes not only unborn but newborn babies from personhood. 13 Tooley also assumes that the morality of acts which bear on others de- pends on how those acts affect their getting what they want. His metaethics provides no direct support for this ethics; indeed, in discussing metaethics, Tooley claims that he rests nothing important on his view of it.¹4 Since he criticizes people who hold ethical theories at odds with his, Tooley perhaps feels that he indirectly establishes his ethical theory. But he does not, because 14 When Do People Begin? 31 in many cases his criticisms do not concern his opponents' ethical theories. Thus, Tooley provides no grounds, direct or indirect, for accepting the ethical theory he presupposes. 15 It follows that Tooley's affirmative argument as a whole is question beg- ging against most who disagree with his views on abortion and infanticide.¹6 Against the notion that personhood is an acquired attribute, I suggest the following line of argument. Both this notion of personhood and the previous one miss what "people" usually means in ordinary language. True, personhood has ethical implica- tions, adult human beings are paradigmatic instances of the concept of per- son, and the word "person" does not mean the same thing as the phrase "member of the species homo sapiens." Still, in ordinary language "person" • refers to newborn babies as well as to grown men and women. And we can see why "person" is used in this way precisely by beginning from paradig- matic instances of the concept of person. 17 Adults regularly speak of themselves as persons-for example, when they use personal pronouns-in ways which show that they think of their per- sonhood, not as an acquired trait, but as an aspect of their very being. When one says "I cannot remember that far back; my earliest memory is . . . ," one assumes that one already existed before one had that experience; when one says "I was born at such and such a time and place," one takes the word "I" to refer to the same person one now is. To put the point in logical language: "person" connotes a substance sortal. But a substance sortal is an essential property, which implies that whatever has it necessarily has it and never exists without it: individual persons come to be and become persons at the same time, and they cannot cease to be persons without ceasing to be the individuals they are. ¹8 Now, a sound, nonstipulative definition of anything must begin by picking out what is to be defined, and this picking out must employ a concept un- derlying ordinary language. In forming the definition, one can refine this concept and adjust its extension. But no sound nonstipulative definition can set aside the logic of the concept from which the inquiry began insofar as that logic is evident in the use of the word to refer to the concept's paradigmatic instances. It follows that notions of personhood as a bestowed status or an acquired trait involve stipulative definitions, and that no such notion can ground a satisfactory answer to the question “When do people begin?" if that question is understood as people in general understand and wonder about it. 19 III. Personhood: Limited to Nonbodily Substances If personhood is limited to nonbodily substances, we bodily individuals are persons only because our bodies are associated with the nonbodily en-

  • https://www.pdcnet.org
    • Suggested

    Boethius’s famous definition of “person” as naturae rationabilis individua substantia (an individual substance of a rational nature) is frequently cited without reference to the specific theological purpose of his formulation (an attempt to provide some clarification about the mysteries of Christ and the Trinity). This article elucidates some of the theological issues that required philosophical progress on the nature of “personhood.” It also considers some of the residual difficulties with the application of this definition to divine persons that have been raised by subsequent theologians such as Thomas Aquinas who are otherwise sympathetic to Boethius’s definition of person when applied to human beings.

  • https://scholarship.law.nd.edu
    • Suggested

    This essay, in the context of a conference on justice, reviews and reaffirms the main theses of “The Priority of Persons” (2000), and supplements them with the benefit of hindsight in six theses. The wrongness of Roe v. Wade goes wider than was indicated. The secularist scientistic or naturalist dimension of the reigning contemporary ideology is inconsistent with the spiritual reality manifested in every word or gesture of its proponents. The temporal continuity of the existence of human persons and their communities is highly significant for the common good, which is the point and measure of social justice, properly understood. Forms of injustice that are more or less independent of this temporal dimension are nonetheless important. The nation and its lasting are neglected in much of the social-political theory assumed by contemporary legal theory. So too is the family and the “covenant” between its generations, a neglect that opens the door to euthanasia.

  • The Irreducibility of the Human Person: A Catholic Synthesis

    Catholic philosophical anthropologists have defended views of the human person on which we are irreducible to anything non-personal. For example, it is not the case that we are nothing but matter, souls, or parts of society. But many Catholic anthropologies have overlooked ways in which we are irreducible and so have not given an adequate account of the uniqueness of each human person. This book presents a philosophical portrait of human persons that depicts each way in which we are irreducible, with the goal of guiding the reader to perceive, wonder at, and love all the unique features of human persons. It builds this portrait by showing how claims from many strands of the Catholic tradition can be synthesized. These strands include Thomism, Scotism, phenomenology, personalism, nouvelle théologie, analytic philosophy, and Greek and Russian thought. The book focuses on how these traditions’ claims are grounded in experience and on how they help us to perceive irreducible features of persons. While many metaphysical claims about persons are defended, the picture of persons that ultimately emerges is one on which persons are best grasped not through abstract concepts but through aesthetic perception and love, as unique kinds of beauty. This book also explores irreducible features of our subjectivity, senses, intellect, freedom, and affections, and of our souls, bodies, and activities. It includes discussions of divine simplicity and causality, and of the nature of angels, matter, organisms, and artifacts, all of which must be understood to fully grasp our irreducibility. In showing how to synthesize various traditions’ claims, the book also offers new solutions to a number of debates in Catholic philosophy. These include debates over natural law, the natural desire to see God, the separated soul, integralism and personalism, idealist and realist phenomenology, and scholastic accounts of the act of existence.

  • https://www.abc.net.au

    How does dementia challenge our conception of personhood? Are people living with advanced dementia still “persons”? Rather than thinking through these questions in terms of particular criteria, it is better to approach all persons with a kind of reverence, as though we are in the presence of something mysterious. The mystery may be greater in the case of people living with dementia, yet perhaps their personhood deserves greater reverence for this very reason.

  • https://www.youtube.com
    Natural Law, God, and Human Dignity

    Dr. George’s lecture will explore the various ways that natural law theories lend themselves to our understanding of human dignity, human rights, personhood, and the moral life. He will examine the relationship of natural law to alternative moral theories. This will include an explanation of how natural law relates to theories based variously on commands, rules, obligations, duties, and utility, among others. And, drawing upon the rich Catholic natural law tradition, Dr. George will explain how (or whether) natural law lends itself to virtue-based moral reasoning, accounting for whether law and virtue should be understood as complementary or adversarial.