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moral patient


Subject Philosophy

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405106795.2004.x


Extract

E thics A moral status, in contrast to that of moral agent. Traditionally, only rational human beings can be moral agents, for they must hold responsibility for their actions. Marginal human beings, such as children and brain-damaged people, are not regarded as having moral responsibility for their behavior, and hence are not moral agents. However, they are still the objects of moral consideration and are protected from suffering by moral laws. Accordingly they are referred to as moral patients. Moral patients cannot formulate or follow moral principles and rules. They can bring about great pain and even disasters to others, but we cannot say that they are morally wrong for doing that. Equally, their acts may bring about good consequences, but we do not say that they are morally right for performing them. Moral agents can act wrongly or rightly in ways that affect moral patients, but moral patients cannot act reciprocally toward moral agents. Contemporary environmental ethics claims that the scope of moral patients should not only include marginal human beings, but also sentient animals, and even the whole biocommunity. A difference in moral status requires different moral considerations and can involve the appeal to different moral principles. This results in a variety of moral tensions in practice. For instance, a fetus is a moral patient. To consider its interest might ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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