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Challenging the principle of proportionality


The first objective of this article is to examine one aspect of the principle of proportionality (PP) as advanced by Alan Gewirth in his 1978 book Reason and Morality. Gewirth claims that being capable of exercising agency to some minimal degree is a property that justifies having at least prima facie rights not to get killed. However, according to the PP, before the being possesses the capacity for exercising agency to that minimal degree, the extent of her rights depends on to what extent she approaches possession of agential capacities. One interpretation of PP holds that variations in degree of possession of the physical constitution necessary to exercise agency are morally relevant. The other interpretation holds that only variations in degree of actual mental capacity are morally relevant. The first of these interpretations is vastly more problematic than the other. The second objective is to argue that according to the most plausible interpretation of the PP, the fetus’ level of development before at least the 20th week of pregnancy does not affect the fetus’ moral rights status. I then suggest that my argument is not restricted to such fetuses, although extending my argument to more developed fetuses requires caution.

  • Abortion
  • Embryos and Fetuses
  • Ethics
  • Philosophical Ethics
  • Rights

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