The Relevance (and Irrelevance) of Questions of Personhood (and Mindedness) to the Abortion Debate


David Kyle Johnson

Johnson is professor of philosophy at King’s College (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) who also produces lecture series for The Teaching Company’s The Great Courses. His specializations include metaphysics, logic, philosophy of science, and philosophy of religion, and his “Great Courses” include Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy, The Big Questions of Philosophy, and Exploring Metaphysics. Kyle has published in journals such as Sophia, Religious Studies, Think, Philo, and Science, Religion and Culture. He has also written numerous book chapters, including eleven entries in Bad Arguments: 100 of The Most Important Logical Fallacies in Western Philosophy (Wiley-Blackwell, 2018). He is also the editor-in-chief of The Palgrave Handbook of Popular Culture as Philosophy (Palgrave, forthcoming), and the editor of Black Mirror and Philosophy: Dark Reflections (Wiley-Blackwell, 2019). He maintains two blogs for Psychology Today (Plato on Pop and A Logical Take), and most of his academic work is available for free download on academia.edu.


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Article Information:

Author: David Kyle Johnson

Title: "The Relevance (and Irrelevance) of Questions of Personhood (and Mindedness) to the Abortion Debate"

Journal: Socio-Historical Examination of Religion and Ministry

Journal Issue: Volume 1, Number 2

Date: Fall 2019

Pages: 121-153

DOI: https://doi.org/10.33929/sherm.2019.vol1.no2.02

Abstract

Disagreements about abortion are often assumed to reduce to disagreements about fetal personhood (and mindedness). If one believes a fetus is a person (or has a mind), then they are “pro-life.” If one believes a fetus is not a person (or is not minded), they are “pro-choice.” The issue, however, is much more complicated. Not only is it not dichotomous—most everyone believes that abortion is permissible in some circumstances (e.g. to save the mother’s life) and not others (e.g. at nine months of a planned pregnancy)—but scholars on both sides of the issue (e.g. Don Marquis and Judith Thomson) have convincingly argued that fetal personhood (and mindedness) are irrelevant to the debate. To determine the extent to which they are right, this article will define “personhood,” its relationship to mindedness, and explore what science has revealed about the mind before exploring the relevance of both to questions of abortion’s morality and legality. In general, this article does not endorse a particular answer to these questions, but the article should enhance the reader’s ability to develop their own answers in a much more informed way.


 

Keywords: Abortion, Personhood, Mindedness, Sapience, Sentience, Self-awareness, Pro-life, Pro-choice, Fifth Amendment, Roe v. Wade, Don Marquis, Judith Jarvis Thomson, Morality of Recreational Sex, Fetal Consciousness, Fetal Pain

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Citation Examples:

Turabian/Chicago:

(footnote) David Kyle Johnson, “The Relevance (and Irrelevance) of Questions of Personhood (and Mindedness) to the Abortion Debate,” Socio-Historical Examination of Religion and Ministry 1, no. 2 (Fall 2019): 121-53, https://doi.org/10.33929/sherm.2019.vol1.no2.02.

(bibliography) Johnson, David Kyle. “The Relevance (and Irrelevance) of Questions of Personhood (and Mindedness) to the Abortion Debate,” Socio-Historical Examination of Religion and Ministry 1, no. 2 (Fall 2019): 121-53. https://doi.org/10.33929/sherm.2019.vol1.no2.02.

MLA:

Johnson, David Kyle. “The Relevance (and Irrelevance) of Questions of Personhood (and Mindedness) to the Abortion Debate.” Socio-Historical Examination of Religion and Ministry, vol. 1, no. 2, Fall 2019, doi.org/10.33929/sherm.2019.vol1.no2.02, pp. 121-53.

APA:

Johnson, D. K. (2019). The Relevance (and Irrelevance) of Questions of Personhood (and Mindedness) to the Abortion Debate. Socio-Historical Examination of Religion and Ministry, 1(2), 121-153. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.33929/sherm.2019.vol1.no2.02.

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 2.0 License. Information on obtaining permissions beyond the scope of this license is available at SHERM Journal Permissions.

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