Focusing Respect on Creatures
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Section 1: The Problem
One of our most fundamental moral intuitions is that people are owed a certain kind of regard (and must be treated in certain ways) simply because they are the kinds of beings that they are. Although this intuition is widespread, its justification becomes shaky when we consider certain so-called borderline cases, in which the reasons we might give to justify this intuition don’t seem to hold. For example, consider the case of a young woman being kept alive in an irreversible vegetative state. It is obvious that a woman like this lacks most of the features of normal adult human beings – she is not self-conscious, she is not engaged with her surroundings, she exhibits no higher rational functioning. The woman lacks precisely those features that we think are importantly human (those that make up a robust sort of rationality), and these features are arguably the ones that we think generate a lot of our moral obligations towards her.
Although cases like this one raise...