Few would deny that potentiality is valuable; indeed, potentiality is clearly valuable for the sake of its actualisation, or fulfilment. But is it plausible to hold that potentiality has also intrinsic value? As we saw earlier, arguing in favour of the intrinsic value of a property is a very difficult task, for it is unclear what needs to be shown to account for the intrinsic value of something. In what follows, however, I first refute some of the reasons that are usually given against the intrinsic value of potentiality: this will help us to elucidate further the meaning of potentiality and, moreover, to clarify on what basis it cannot be argued that potentiality is not valuable in and of itself. Second, on a more positive note, I conclude by discussing two reasons why we should think that the PCMP is also valuable in and of itself and, therefore, satisfies the Intrinsic Value condition.
To begin with, it will be instructive to examine the distinction between capacity and potentiality. As Thomas K. Johansen observes, Aristotle, for example, uses these two terms almost interchangeably. More precisely, we can distinguish two conceptions of capacity, or potentiality, in Aristotle: first, the notion of a capacity “in the sense of a power to bring about or undergo change” (Johansen 2012, p. 209). Second, the modal notion of capacity which “underlies our talk of things being in capacity, in contrast to their being in activity” (Johansen 2012, p. 209). Accordingly, saying that “A has the capacity for X” means (1) that A has the power to undergo, or bring about, a change—i.e. to pass from a state in which A is not doing X to a state in which A is actually doing X, and (2) that A is in the modal state of being able to do X, rather than in the modal state of actually doing X. But if this is true, then there is a plausible sense in which “capacity” and “potentiality” are not two different metaphysical notions; rather, they are two different kinds of the same metaphysical concept.
To appreciate this, consider the statements “A has the capacity to read” and “B has the potentiality for reading”. As we have just seen, these two statements indicate the same modal state in that neither A nor B is in activity—i.e. neither is reading. Furthermore, just as the first statement refers to A’s power to cause a change—A can pass from a state in which she does not read to a state in which she actually reads—so, analogously, the second statement indicates B’s power to bring about, or undergo, a change—B has the power to pass from a state in which she does not have the ability to read to one in which she actually possesses this ability. Therefore, it seems reasonable to maintain that “capacity” and “potentiality” are not different concepts, but they are two notions which describe two kinds of the same concept. Put simply, “capacity” and “potentiality” are used to distinguish two different kinds of “potentialities”—that is, two different powers to undergo or bring about a change.
This discussion can help us to rule out some of the reasons that are commonly advanced against the intrinsic value of potentiality in the literature. First, it is often suggested that since what is morally relevant is “what is here and now”, rather than “what may be”, potentiality cannot be morally significant in and of itself, for it has to do with what may be in a hypothetical future. As Warren observes:
Merely potential people […] are just things that might have existed, that is, that at some time were empirically possible, but which in fact do not, never did, and never will exist. And what does not exist and never will cannot be harmed or wronged or have its rights violated. (Warren 1977, p. 280; emphasis added).
Even if we grant the assumption that what may be is not morally relevant in and of itself, this does not entail that the potential capacity for X cannot have intrinsic value because the latter describes an ability, or a power, that certain entities possess here and now. In other words, while potential people refers to some entities that may be in the future—e.g. future generations—but are not here and now, potential capacity denotes a specific ability that a range of actual beings hold here and now. Therefore, the value of the potential capacity is grounded in what is here and now, rather than in what may be.
Second, and relatedly, it is sometimes observed that only “what A can do here and now”—as opposed to “what A may be able to do in the future”—is morally relevant. Here again, even if we accept that what A may do in the future is not morally relevant in and of itself, this does not imply that the potential capacity for X is not intrinsically valuable. The reason for this is that, as has been noted above, capacity and potentiality denote two different abilities—i.e. powers to do something—that are held here and now. Accordingly, maintaining that A’s potential capacity for X is morally relevant when assessing A’s moral status amounts to saying that A holds an ability to do something here and now that confers moral worth on her. Therefore, potential capacity for X does not ground A’s value in what A may be able to do in the future; rather, it justifies A’s value on the basis of what A is able to do here and now.
The analysis of the metaphysical distinction between the capacity for X and the potential capacity for X allowed us to refute some of the objections that are usually raised against the intrinsic value of potentiality. Admittedly, however, this does not say anything on whether the PCMP can indeed meet the Intrinsic Value condition. In the final part of this section, then, I discuss two reasons as to why the PCMP should be considered to also have intrinsic value.
A standard line of argument to justify the moral significance of potentiality is to contend that those beings that have the ability to acquire some goods in the future have a right to be helped to obtain those goods. More precisely, the possession of the ability to acquire a range of goods generates an interest in the acquisition of those goods which, in turn, grounds a right to be helped to obtain those goods (Stone 1985).
To begin with, it should be pointed out that, as we saw in Sect. 1, the mere existence of an interest is not sufficient to ground a right to the satisfaction of that interest: if A has an interest in X, this alone does not entail that A has a right against B to be helped to satisfy her interest in X, for it is not clear why B has a directed duty owed to A, in particular and for its own sake, unless A has intrinsic value. Thus, for instance, someone who denies that nonhuman animals have a right to life need not deny that nonhuman animals have a fundamental interest in living. It is conceptually coherent to affirm that despite nonhuman animals have an interest in living, they do not hold any intrinsically valuable property which confers moral worth on them; therefore, they do not have the moral standing to have a right to life.
It follows from this that a justification for the possession of the moral status of a right-holder on the grounds of potentiality must show that potentiality is intrinsically valuable. And, this seems to rest on the claim that the possession of the ability to acquire a range of goods is itself intrinsically valuable. Put differently, the possession of this kind of ability confers moral worth upon its holder and thus accounts for her moral standing to have rights against others to be helped to obtain the goods she has the potential to acquire.
Now, it is important to observe that, for our purposes, we do not need to justify the intrinsic value of any type of potentiality to acquire some goods. Rather, we only need to justify the intrinsic value of a specific kind of potentiality, namely, the PCMP. Hence, following a similar line of argument, I argue that while the possession of the PCMP is not intrinsically valuable simply because it represents the ability to obtain some goods, it has intrinsic value because it consists in the ability to obtain a range of non-instrumentally valuable moral powers. Put simply, the possession of the ability to acquire a range of non-instrumentally valuable moral powers is itself intrinsically valuable and thus confers moral worth on its holder; hence, the PCMP is a basis of moral status.
This, however, is not the only line of argument that can be put forward in favour of the intrinsic value of PCMP. A different justification for PCMP’s intrinsic value, I argue, can be mounted by appealing to a constitutive argument, whereby the intrinsic value of X lies in being a constitutive part of an intrinsic value, Y, which makes the former share in the value of the latter while being less valuable.
To see this, we need to address the following question: what is a constitutive value? What kind of relationship must there be between the part and the whole for the former to be a constitutive part of the latter?
According to some proponents of constitutive values, “things are constituent goods if they are elements of what is good in itself which contribute to its value, i.e. elements but for which a situation which is good in itself would be less valuable” (Raz 1986, p. 200). This kind of constitutive argument is often invoked by Aristotelians to account for the intrinsic value of those goods that are part of human flourishing (MacIntyre 2007, p. 149). For instance, relationships of love and companionship are usually considered to be elements of a flourishing life. This, however, Aristotelians argue, does not entail that these relationships are only valuable for the sake of the promotion of human flourishing. On the contrary, they are also non-instrumentally valuable because they are a constitutive component of human flourishing that contributes to the value of human flourishing itself.
As some observed, however, a part X can be a constitutive part of Y even if X does not contribute to the value of Y—or, at least, even if X does not contribute to Y’s value in the same way that relationships of love contribute to the value of a flourishing life. To illustrate this, consider Cruft’s (2010) analysis of the value of the duties of friendship. The duties that A owes to B, Cruft observes, are not only instrumentally valuable to the extent that they motivate A to behave in a friendly manner—indeed, a good friend should not care for her friend out of a sense of duty. The reason for this is that “the duties themselves […] are a conceptually necessary constituent of friendship. Without such duties, the relationship would lack the directed normative character necessary for it to be friendship” (Cruft 2010, p. 452; emphasis added). Accordingly, duties of friendship are not merely valuable to the extent that they promote friendship relation, but they are also valuable in and of themselves, insofar as they are a conceptually necessary constituent of what friendship—which, ex hypothesi, has intrinsic value—is. Crucially, then, duties of friendship do not contribute to the value of friendship in the same way that relationships of love contribute to the value of a flourishing life: a friendship without duties of friendship would not be less valuable, but it would not be friendship at all, for the former is a conceptually necessary constituent of the latter.
We are now in the position to see that the metaphysical relation that holds between potentiality and actuality reveals that there is a plausible sense in which the PCMP is a constitutive part of the CMP in the same way in which duties of friendship are a constitutive part of friendship. In brief, this is because actuality retains its potentiality: hence, having the PCMP is a constitutive part of having the CMP. To appreciate this, consider Michael Frede’s example:
If we have an actually healthy person, what underlies the health – the person independently of being healthy – remains potentially healthy even after having being cured by a doctor, namely in so far as he continues to be in a state such that, if he were to be ill, he could still be cured by a doctor. (Frede 1994, p. 192).
Analogously, then, it can be argued that part of what it means to be a being capable of moral personality is to be a being that retains the PCMP. Put differently, part of what it means to be a moral person is to be that kind of being that has the potentiality to reacquire the CMP if and when this has been lost; hence, the PCMP is a conceptually necessary constituent of the CMP. It follows from this that the PCMP is not merely instrumentally valuable but it is also intrinsically valuable because it is a constitutive part of something that is valuable for its own sake.
A critic may object to this constitutive argument by noting that, for example, some individuals late in life lose their PCMP and never recover it.Footnote 14 While the validity of this claim seems to ultimately depend on the specific account of potentiality that one endorses, it is worth noting that affirming that part of what it means to be a moral person is to retain the PCMP does not entail that the PCMP will be actualised in all circumstances. Indeed, this claim is consistent with maintaining that there are several ways of losing the CMP which imply a loss of the PCMP, too. Thus, for example, a middle-aged adult human being capable of moral personality retains the potentiality to reacquire the CMP if and when this is lost. Nonetheless, this is compatible with acknowledging that there are cases in which such potentiality will not be realised, such as if this person dies or if she becomes severely cognitively disabled.
Accordingly, it seems plausible to maintain that individuals late in life, who are still capable of moral personality, do not necessarily lose their PCMP completely. Rather, their PCMP is diminished because for them losing the CMP implies losing the PCMP in a wider range of cases than it does for middle-aged adult human beings who have the CMP, other things being equal. For this reason, I argue that these cases do not undermine the validity of the metaphysical relation between the CMP and the PCMP.
To conclude, in this section, I showed that there are fewer reasons to be suspicious about the intrinsic value of potentiality and more reasons to maintain that potentiality is also valuable in and of itself than is commonly thought. In particular, I argued that the PCMP has intrinsic value because (1) it consists in the ability to acquire a range of non-instrumentally valuable moral powers, and (2) it is a constitutive value of the CMP, for the former is a conceptually necessary constituent of the latter.
As we saw earlier, an argument in favour of the intrinsic value of the PCMP must explain what the PCMP is and, by doing so, pump the intuition that it indeed has value in and of itself. This discussion, however, will inevitably reach an end; at that point, we will have to seek a reflective equilibrium by testing the implications of a theory that maintains that the PCMP is a basis of moral status against particular cases, and vice versa. Therefore, it seems reasonable to hold that we should regard the bar of justification of the intrinsic value of the PCMP as lower the more intuitively convinced we are about the strength of the NASO. Far from begging the question, this allows us to reach a “mutual fit” between our considered judgment and our theory. With this point in mind, then, I conclude that we have enough reasons to affirm that the PCMP satisfies the Intrinsic Value condition.