Persons, Person Stages, Adaptive Preferences, and Historical Wrongs

Journal of Cognition and Neuroethics 9 (2):35-49 (2023)
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Let’s say that an act requires Person-Affecting Justification if and only if some alternative would have been better for someone. So, Lucifer breaking Xavier’s back requires Person-Affecting Justification because the alternative would have been better for Xavier. But the story continues: While Lucifer evades justice, Xavier moves on and founds a school for gifted children. Xavier’s deepest values become identified with the school and its community. When authorities catch Lucifer, he claims no Person-Affecting Justification is needed: because the attack set Xavier on his life’s path, it’s no longer true that the alternative would have been better by the standard of what Xavier now values most. An unappealingly paternalistic way to hold Lucifer to account is to discount Xavier’s preferences as merely adaptive. Instead, I propose understanding the persons of Person-Affecting Justification to be not persons but person stages. This allows us to hold Lucifer to account without having to discount Xavier’s actual preferences, and has interesting implications for compensatory justice, including making sense of reparations for historical wrongs.

Author's Profile

Mark Edward Greene
University of Delaware


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