, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 45–51 | Cite as

Valuing Life as Necessary for Moral Status

Original Paper


Many contemporary accounts of moral status consider an individual’s status to be grounded in some cognitive capacity, e.g. the capacity to experience certain states, to reason morally, etc. One proposed cognitive capacity significant particularly to killing, i.e. having a status that precludes being killed absent cause, is the capacity to value one’s own life. I argue that considering this a condition for moral status is a mistake, as it would lead to the exclusion of some individuals with mental health problems who are generally considered clear cases. While a cognitive capacities approach may turn out to be generally feasible, that particular cognitive capacity is not. In the course of this discussion I address two conceptual issues, the first regarding what it means to ‘value one’s life’ and the second regarding what conditions must obtain for something to count as a capacity. These conceptual issues, when resolved pursuant to this account of moral status, lead the account to exclude individuals with major depressive disorder, i.e. deny that it is morally wrong to kill such individuals based on their moral status. I then argue that this is decisive reason to reject this particular cognitive capacity as implicated in moral status.


Depression Mental illness Personhood Moral status Cognitive capacities Michael Tooley Abortion Infanticide Congenital insensitivity to pain 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for BioethicsNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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