Possible persons and the problem of prenatal harm

Williams, Nicola (2013) Possible persons and the problem of prenatal harm. Journal of Ethics, 17 (4). pp. 355-385. ISSN 1382-4554

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When attempting to determine which of our acts affect future generations and which affect the identities of those who make up such generations, accounts of personal identity that privilege psychological features and person affecting accounts of morality, whilst highly useful when discussing the rights and wrongs of acts relating to extant persons, seem to come up short. On such approaches it is often held that the intuition that future persons can be harmed by decisions made prior to their existence is mistaken as identity is a most fragile thing with even the smallest differences in the conditions under which we procreate affecting not the interests of distinct future persons, but the identities of those who will come to exist in the future. Within this paper I reject this view, holding that a subscription to these two accounts need not result in the conclusion that virtually all acts relating to possible persons are permitted. Further, I argue that such accounts may in fact allow a great deal more scope for the determination of prenatal harms than accounts of personal identity that privilege physical features. Finally, by interpreting claims regarding causal identity such as Parfit’s Time Dependence Claim in terms of Counterpart Theory I suggest that a solution to the non-identity problem can be found in the acceptance of, as relevant in prenatal cases, three kinds of objective similarity relations: Biological, Environmental and Decisional counterpart relations.

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Journal Article
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Journal of Ethics
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09 Sep 2015 06:33
Last Modified:
20 Sep 2023 00:45