Modal Personhood and Moral Status: A Reply to Kagan's Proposal

Journal of Applied Philosophy 33 (1):22-25 (2015)
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Kagan argues that human beings who are neither persons nor even potential persons — if their impairment is independent of genetic constitution — are modal persons: individuals who might have been persons. Moreover, he proposes a view according to which both personhood and modal personhood are sufficient for counting more, morally, than nonhuman animals. In response to this proposal, I raise one relatively minor concern about Kagan's reasoning — that he judges too quickly that insentient beings can have interests — before engaging the appeal to modal personhood. I challenge the thesis that modal personhood is relevant to one's moral status, first, by way of analogy to a kicker who misses a field goal though he might have made it; second, by casting doubt on implications for two impaired infants ; and, finally, by examining implications for dogs who would count as modal persons when genetic enhancements are capable of transforming them into persons

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David DeGrazia
George Washington University


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