The Ockham Society (Week 3, TT18)

Ockham Society

"Why we can't appeal to the universe to explain the value of creating new lives"

Many people believe we have some moral reason to create happy lives and that we have some moral reason to avoid creating miserable lives. However, these intuitions are in tension with the plausible view that coming into existence cannot be better or worse for someone than their never coming into existence. One way to preserve the intuition that there is value in creating lives despite the incomparability of never existing and existing is to claim that while creating new lives is not better or worse for the lives created, the creation of these lives might be better or worse "for the universe." In this paper, I will raise three problems for this strategy.

"Teleological potentiality for rational agency as the grounds for moral rights"

Dominant theoretical accounts of human rights hold that they accrue to individuals in virtue of their capacity for rationality and autonomy. Contemporary discussions of what it takes for an entity to be above the threshold of respect similarly tend to posit psychological capacities for self-consciousness and reason as key requirements. The prevailing opinion in academic theory, then, is that for one to be a rights-bearer, or to be above the threshold for respect, one must be an agent with the capacities for reason and autonomy. This however, implies that young children, infants and the severely cognitively disabled do not have human rights, and are not above the threshold of respect, which is counter to both intuition and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In this presentation, I develop an account grounding the bearing of rights, or being above the threshold of respect in the teleological potentiality to be a rational agent, given that the entity in question possesses moral status. An entity has teleological potential to be an X, if and only if that entity is in some way meant to be an X. An infant has the teleological potential to be an agent not because it is characteristic of a human person that she is an agent, but because a human person should be an agent. That is, potential is determined with reference to a standard rather than to actuality or possibility. I then explore how this account evades the typical reductio pitfalls of potentiality accounts of rights. Finally, I suggest that if this account of potentiality is accepted, it implies that fetuses may also be beings above the threshold of respect and bearers of rights.


Chair: Farbod Akhlaghi-Ghaffarokh

Ockham Society Convenor: Charlotte Figueroa | Ockham Society Webpage