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Potential Personhood



“When do I become a full person? What is it about me that makes me only a potential person? The bad news is that for anything you say–for example, having rationality–it becomes real difficult not to say that real smart people are not more persons than uneducated people, because whatever criterion you use, if it’s quantifiable, it’s pretty tough to justify everyone having equal rights based on that. Maybe you could posit some threshold, or something. Joseph Fletcher says the minimum threshold rationality is 85 on an IQ test, I think it is. That’s enough to allow Down Syndrome to fall just below the line, I think, of personhood for him…

“What I’m trying to surface is, that if you’re of the view that there is such a thing as potential personhood–I’m not saying that everyone on the pro-choice side agrees with that; indeed they don’t–but if you think there is such a thing as potential personhood, so that personhood is the thing that, number one is what gives me value, and number two something I can have more or less of, then you do have to draw lines because that becomes a sliding scale that becomes terribly problematic. What you’ve got to do now is try to show why your view does not entail the idea that very self-aware, good, language-using people with a good self-concept aren’t more persons than plumbers that are out of touch with themselves and can’t speak very well.

“If this is your view–if you hold the potential person view–it becomes very difficult to justify abortion and not infanticide because the reasons that a person will give for justifying abortion will also apply to the two-week old child as well, and there are some philosophers that are in fact drawing that conclusion.”

J.P.Moreland on Stand to Reason Blog

J. P. Moreland, Ph.D. is Professor of Philosophy at Biola Unviersity. He has authored or co-authored many books including Christianity and the Nature of ScienceScaling the Secular CityDoes God Exist?Immortality: The Other Side of Death and The Life and Death Debate: Moral Issues of Our Times. He is also co-editor of Christian Perspectives on Being Human. His work has appeared in a wide variety of journals, including Christianity Today,Journal of the Evangelical Theological SocietyPhilosophy and Phenomenological Research and The American Philosophical Quarterly. Dr. Moreland served with Campus Crusade for 10 years, planted two churches, and has spoken on over 100 college campuses.

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