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Health, Harm, and Potential

The Metaphysics of Teleology
Friday, November 12, 2021, 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm

A naturalist account of health involving an etiological conception of function is the key to understanding the moral status of the mindless and minimally minded. All living beings, including the mindless and minimally minded, have an interest in their heathy development. Since mentally healthy human beings can obtain levels of well-being unrivaled by other creatures when their affective and cognitive capacities are functionally properly, they can suffer greater harms when their healthy development is thwarted. An account that posits an interest of the mindless in their healthy development will avoid being reduced to absurdity by scenarios devised to show the moral insignificance of potential. These typically involve imagining non-human beings altered so as to develop into rational persons. Since non-humans are not unhealthy when they don’t develop into persons, they don’t have an interest frustrated by any potential for personhood being left unfulfilled. A health-based account of the moral status does a better job than McMahan and Marquis’s accounts in explaining harms to the mindless and minimally minded. McMahan’s restriction of time-relative interests to those constitutive of psychological continuity leads him to underestimate the harms of early death and injury while Marquis overestimates such harms and who can suffer them by concentrating upon the future goods lost rather than one’s time-relative interests in the benefits of healthy development.

David Hershenov is a philosopher interested in the metaphysics of personal identity, bioethics, and the philosophy of medicine. He is a professor at the University at Buffalo and the Co-Director of the Romanell Center for Clinical Ethics and the Philosophy of Medicine.

The chief goal of the "Meant to Be: Resuscitating the Metaphysics of Teleology" project is to foster intelligent debate on philosophical issues concerning science, religion, and their conflicts and connections.
Headed by principal investigator Daniel Kodaj, along with research assistant Tamás Paár, and co-investigators László Bernáth and Martin Pickup and running from October 2020 to March 2022, the project will include a public seminar series, two international conferences, two edited volumes, and an online materials and bibliography that will be available on-line at the project website. In addition to its research activities, the project is launching a Hungarian YouTube channel to explore some of the project’s main topics intending to be accessible to non-academics, too.

"Meant to Be: Resuscitating the Metaphysics of Teleology", is supported by a subgrant from the New Horizons for Science and Religion in Central and Eastern Europe initiative, is supported by grants from the Ian Ramsey Centre and the John Templeton Foundation.and is hosted by the CEU Center for Religious Studies.

To find out more about this project, visit the website