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J Med Ethics 39:81-83 doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-101095
  • Commentaries

Still afraid of needy post-persons

  1. Nicholas Agar
  1. Correspondence to Dr Nicholas Agar, Victoria University of Wellington, Philosophy Program, Wellington 6140, New Zealand; nicholas.agar{at}vuw.ac.nz
  • Received 3 October 2012
  • Accepted 24 October 2012
  • Published Online First 17 November 2012

I want to thank all of those who have commented on my article in the Journal of Medical Ethics.1 The commentaries address a wide cross-section of the issues raised in my article. I have organised my responses thematically.

The state of play

Allen Buchanan's scepticism2 about moral statuses higher than personhood derives, in part, from our apparent inability to describe them. We seem to have little difficulty in imagining what it might be to have scientific understanding far beyond that of any human scientist. By contrast, it is exceedingly difficult to describe moral statuses superior to that of any person. Boosting cognitive capacities seems to result in cognitively superior persons—not post-persons (putative beings with a moral status superior to personhood). I offer an explanation of our moral myopia.2 We are necessarily clueless in respect of moral statuses superior to our own. If mice understood practical reasons sufficiently well to truly understand why persons have a moral status superior to their own then they would be capable of the feats of practical reason constitutive of personhood—they would be persons. Our cluelessness about post-persons is compatible both with their possible existence and with their necessary non-existence. I propose an inductive argument for the existence of statuses superior to personhood. The observed existence of many moral statuses up to and including persons provides moderately strong inductive support for the possibility of post-persons.

Who do we trust to make decisions about higher moral statuses?

What precisely does the inductive argument predict? If my diagnosis of our moral myopia about post-personhood is correct, then mere persons cannot really understand what properties of post-persons give them a superior status. They will be able to infer their existence indirectly by an appeal to the predicted judgments of beings who lack our cognitive limitations. Wasserman3 questions my suggestion that we should defer to the sincere moral judgments of …

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