By Robert Hanna
TABLE OF CONTENTS
IV. Nonideal Dignitarian Moral Theory
V. Some Hard Cases For Broadly Kantian Nonideal Dignitarian Moral Theory
VI. Enacting Human Dignity and The Mind-Body Politic
This installment contains section III.2.
But you can also download or read a .pdf of the complete text of this essay HERE.
What, more precisely, is a real person?
Necessarily, every real person is also an individual animal that inherently belongs to some species or another (for example, a human real person), but the converse is not the case: not every individual animal within a species is a real person. For example, human infants born with anencephaly — without a cerebrum or a cerebellum, and lacking the top part of the skull — are really biologically human, but not human real persons. So not every individual human being is a human real person. Moreover, not every particular living organism within a species is even an individual animal within that species, much less a real person in that species. For example, normal human embryos or zygotes prior to 14 days after conception, during the period of “totipotency,” are not even individual human animals, precisely because during that period they can still either split into twins or fuse with several other embryos into a chimera.[i]
If, necessarily, all real persons are individual animals within some species or another, then obviously we can make some headway towards explicating the nature of real persons only if we are able to answer a preliminary question: “what is an animal?” The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that the word “animal” means “a living organism which feeds on organic matter, usually one with specialized sense organs and nervous system, and able to respond rapidly to stimuli.”[ii] In the usage of contemporary biologists, the term “animal” also has a taxonomical sense, in that animals are said to constitute one of the five kingdoms of living things: Monera (bacteria), Protists, Fungi, Plants, and Animals. The class of animals that is jointly specified by these ordinary language and biological-taxonomical senses includes vertebrates and invertebrates, mammals and non-mammals — including birds, reptiles, amphibians, various kinds of fish, insects, and arachnids. My usage of the term “animal” throughout this essay, however, is a slight precisification of the ordinary language and biological-taxonomical usages, intended also to coincide with its use in cognitive ethology, that is, the scientific study of animal minds and especially non-human animal minds in the context of macrobiology, cognitive psychology, and behavioral psychology.[iii] To signal this precisification, I’ve coined the quasi-technical term minded animal. Minded animals are living organisms with innate capacities for consciousness, intentionality, and emotion (including affective sub-capacities for feeling, desiring, and the passions).
Now minded animals are always creatures within some real species S or another, hence they are always S-type (say, human, or feline, or canine, or equine, etc.) animals. But as I noted above, not every living organism within a species S is an individual S-type animal. For example, a single human embryo or zygote (that is, the sperm-fertilized ovum) is a living organism within the human species, in the strictly phylogenetic sense of sharing our species-specific biological essence, but a single human embryo is not necessarily a human individual. This is because, as I also noted above, early human embryos up to about the 14th day of their existence are totipotent. This means, among other things, that one embryo can split and later become two distinct human individuals (twins), and also that two embryos can fuse and later become a single human individual (chimeras). What, more generally, is an individual belonging to some species S, that is, what is an individual S-type animal? My claim is this:
Something X is an individual S-type (human, feline, etc.) animal if and only if X is a living S-type organism, and X is past the period of totipotency for that species S.
Within the human species — and also within a few non-human animal species — many or even most of the animals within that species can also become real persons within that species. The beginning of a real person’s life for a given S-type animal is what I call the neo-personhood of that animal.[iv] In the human species, as far as we currently know, the capacity for consciousness first manifests itself in normal fetuses between 25 and 32 weeks after conception or fertilization, hence roughly at the beginning of the third trimester.[v] My view is that this is when your very own human real personal life started — when you became a human neo-person. Prior to that, and from roughly 14 days after your parents conceived the human organism that eventually became you, there also existed a living human animal that also eventually became you — but, just like the totipotent human organism that became that human animal after 14 days, it was not yet you.
This distinction between animals within a species S on the one hand, and either neo-persons or actualized real persons within a species S on the other hand, is a deeply important difference, both metaphysically and morally. This can be seen in at two ways, with specific application to human animals. First, normal human fetuses after the period of totipotency but still before the emergence of consciousness at 25–32 weeks after conception or fertilization, are human animals but not human real persons, whether human neo-persons or actualized human real persons. Second, anencephalic human infants — a famous example is the real-world case of Baby Theresa[vi] — are human animals, but neither human neo-persons nor actualized human real persons. Obviously these two claims, if true, will have serious implications for the morality of abortion and infanticide.[vii] Every real person is also an S-type animal or living organism (but not conversely), and every individual S-type animal is also an S-type animal or living organism (but not conversely). Therefore, being an S-type animal or living organism (although not necessarily an individual one, in order to accommodate totipotent organisms in general and chimeras in particular) is a necessary although not a sufficient condition of real personhood.
[i] See, e.g., H. Kuhse and P. Singer, “Individuals, Humans, and Persons: The Issue of Moral Status,” in P. Singer, H. Kuhse, S. Buckle, K. Dawson, and P. Kasimba (eds.), Embryo Experimentation (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990), pp. 65–75.
[ii] J. Hawkins and R. Allen (eds.), Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon/Oxford Univ. Press, 1991), p. 52.
[iv] See, e.g., C. Allen and M. Bekoff, Species of Mind (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997); M. Bearzi and C. Stanford, Beautiful Minds: The Parallel Lives of Great Apes and Dolphins (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 2008); D.R. Griffin, Animal Minds (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2001); D.R. Griffin, Animal Thinking (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1984); and D.R. Griffin, The Question of Animal Awareness (New York: Rockefeller Univ. Press, 1976).
[iv] See also R. Hanna, Kantian Ethics and Human Existence: A Study in Moral Philosophy (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION. Vol. 3) (New York: Nova Science, 2018), sections 3.1–3.3.
[v] See, e.g., D. Boonin, A Defense of Abortion (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003), ch. 3.
[vi] See J. Rachels and S. Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy (6th edn., New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010), pp. 1–5.
[vii] See Hanna, Kantian Ethics and Human Existence: A Study in Moral Philosophy (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 3), ch. 3; and also sub-section V.1 below.
AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 535
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