What’s Personhood Got to Do with it?

Philosophia 48 (2):557-571 (2020)
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Consider a binary afterlife, wherein some people go to Heaven, others to Hell, and nobody goes to both. Would such a system be just? Theodore Sider argues: no. For, any possible criterion of determining where people go will involve treating very similar individuals very differently. Here, I argue that this point has deep and underappreciated implications for moral philosophy. The argument proceeds by analogy: many ethical theories make a sharp and practically significant distinction between persons and non-persons. Yet, just like in the binary afterlife, this involves treating very similar individuals very differently. I propose two ways out. The first is to deny that such theories are strictly speaking true, but to claim that it is practically best if people adopt them. The second is to modify such theories so as to allow for continuous variation in the scope and strength of the moral obligations arising from personhood.
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