Journal of Philosophy of Life

An international peer-reviewed open access journal dedicated to the philosophy of life, death, and nature, supported by the Project of Philosophy and Contemporary Society, Advanced Research Center for Human Sciences, Waseda University


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The Moral Status of Infants and Fetuses
: Teleological Potential, Justice and Charity

Sara Chan Yun Yu

Journal of Philosophy of Life Vol.9, No.1 (June 2019):64-81




In this paper, I review accounts of the moral status of infants and fetuses to show that they either fail to establish that infants are properly rights-bearers or fail to explain the grounds of this status. I then develop an account of teleological potential understood with reference to Phillipa Foot’s Natural Norms and argue that it can ground the rights-bearing status of infants and fetuses while avoiding the typical objections to potentiality-based accounts. I then incorporate this into a two-fold account of moral status directed at concerns of justice and charity, and grounded in sophisticated cognitive capacities and sentience respectively, which allows one to maintain that fetuses possess rights-bearing status alongside the intuition that infants are due more moral consideration. Finally, I consider potential objections based on concerns about women’s autonomy and implications about the severely cognitively disabled.

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