Assessing Ontologies: The Question of Human Origins and Its Ethical Significance

In E. Runggaldier & C. Kanzian (eds.), Persons: An Interdisciplinary Approach. öbv&hpt. pp. 243--259 (2003)
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In their paper “Sixteen Days” Barry Smith and Berit Brogaard try to answer the question: when does a human being begin to exist? In this paper we will address some methodological issues connected with this exercise in ontology. We shall begin by sketching the argument of “Sixteen Days”. We shall then attempt to characterize what is special about the ontological realism of “Sixteen Days” as contrasted to the linguistic constructivism which represents the more dominant current in contemporary analytic philosophy. This will allow us to infer guidelines for assessing the quality of ontological theories of various types. We shall argue that ontological parsimony, groundedness, faithfulness to ordinary language, consistency with science, coherence, and fruitfulness are at least part of the adequacy criteria for such theories. These criteria will then be applied to the theory presented in “Sixteen Days”, and they will lead us to some revisions of this theory as well as to some reflections on its ethical implications.
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