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Morally relevant potential
  1. David B Hershenov1,
  2. Rose J Hershenov2
  1. 1Philosophy Department, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York, USA
  2. 2Philosophy Department, Niagara University, Lewiston, New York, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr David B Hershenov, Philosophy Department, 135 Park Hall, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY 14260, USA; dh25{at}


Fetuses and infants are said to warrant protecting because of their potential. But valuing potential supposedly leads to absurdities like protecting cells that could be technologically altered to develop into persons. This can be avoided by recognising that morally relevant potential is determined by what is presently healthy development (proper functioning) for an organism. The only interests of mindless organisms are in the flourishing that necessarily depends upon their healthy functioning. They can be harmed when those interests are frustrated. We criticise McMahan for claiming that harm is instead a function of the degree of psychological ties to the future.

  • Abortion
  • Embryos and Fetuses
  • Health Promotion
  • Interests of Woman/Fetus/Father
  • Philosophical Ethics

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