On Animals, Persons, and the Pregnancy Problem: Implications for Discussion of Abortion

September 23, 2022 -
10:00am to 11:30am

Evangelian Collings
Doctoral Candidate in Philosophy
Health Humanities and Ethics Fellow
University of Pittsburgh

'Animalism' is the philosophical view that we are human animals. It answers questions about the persistence of persons with respect to the continuity of our physical, biological bodies. This sets it apart from theories of personal identity that look to psychological characteristics to explain what makes us the same person over time. Part of the appeal of animalism is its use of scientific, empirically-driven definitions of 'organism' to provide the details regarding the conditions under which we persist.

Animalism is often assumed as a background theory in many contributions to the abortion debate. This is especially the case in arguments that express the synchronic moral value of a zygote, embryo, or fetus rather than appealing to its expected future states. In this paper, however, Collings shows that animalism is not a theory that can be cleanly applied to pregnant individuals due to the disagreement between different methods of individuating organisms found in biology. Under some definitions, the fetus and pregnant animal are separate organisms, but they are one unified organism under other definitions. This is a significant problem for animalism in general, but poses a special issue for using this view within debates on abortion.

Center for Bioethics & Health Law Colloquium

Location and Address

Online - To receive an invitation to this colloquium, contact bioethics@pitt.edu