Non-PersonhoodNovember 2, 2009
Joy of joys, the “personhood amendment” is back on the docket, sponsored by the people who brought you “How to fail your introductory philosophy class” and “I don’t understand the legal ramifications of my reductio.”
And lookie here, it’s more ambitious than last year. Yippie!
The new amendment is even farther reaching, moving the initial marker for the beginning of life from “fertilization” to “the beginning of the biological development of a human being.”
Now what about about calling an ‘egg’ a ‘person’ doesn’t make sense?
A: Why… just about everything.
As any good philosophy student will know, there are strong arguments in favor of abortion even if an embryo or a fertilized egg is determined to be a person. These arguments are partly reflected in our laws protecting the rights of individuals, which means that widening the definition of ‘person’ won’t necessarily achieve anything close to the objectives aimed at by abortion opponents. Notwithstanding the legal implications of this view, there are deep and puzzling questions about personhood that should give all philosophers pause. Several of my philosophy colleagues have published extensively on abortion (here and here, among other places) and their work is not to be missed.
Also, it bears noting that personhood is primarily an ethical concept, aimed to isolate morally relevant features of biological entities. It is not a essential description of those entities. It should be relatively clear to most people that eggs don’t have the morally relevant attributes that might qualify them as persons. You can read about personal identity and ethics at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy if you’re interested in a short overview of one facet of this complex discussion. But, really, philosophical work on this issue is a mile deep.