Problems and Persons: Preface
Forrester (Mary)
Source: Forrester - Persons, Animals, and Fetuses: An Essay in Practical Ethics, 1996, Preface
Paper - Abstract

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Preface (Full Text)

  1. This is a book about practical ethics. Much has been written already about the problems discussed here: namely, animal rights1, obligations to future generations, abortion2, when medical treatment should be stopped, and euthanasia. Why is yet another book needed?
  2. I believe that there is something lacking in most of the literature on applied ethics. What is missing is theory: a rationale for choosing the paths to solutions based on a clear philosophical account of what can justify moral judgments. While many books on practical ethics begin with some general principles, little is said about where the principles came from or why these principles should be adopted rather than others. Moreover, it is also not always evident how general principles can generate answers to very specific, very complex dilemmas. It sometimes seems that any moral theory can generate different answers to the same question.
  3. One result of these problems is that philosophy is often considered irrelevant by the people in the trenches. As a nurse practitioner, I receive countless journals and brochures announcing conferences. Many of these conclude something on medical ethics, and those writing the articles or conducting the workshops are never philosophers and often have little or no background in philosophy.
  4. I believe that practical ethics needs a large injection of metaethics and moral theory. It needs answers to the following three questions.
    … (1) How do we justify choosing one moral theory over another?
    … (2) What moral theory or theories are justifiable?
    … (3) How do we apply moral theories to complex practical situations? In Part II of this book I propose answers to these questions. I believe that these answers put my practical conclusions on a sounder basis than they would have without them.
  5. This theoretical work gives some grounding for the development of a concept of personhood, which I undertake in Part III. Personhood is the glue that ties together the practical problems discussed here. How we should treat human fetuses3 and nonhuman animals depends largely upon whether they are persons. And the limits to which we ought to go to preserve life also have much to do with when an individual stops being a person. Once we can say what a person is, we may have answers to a large number of thorny questions.
  6. Theoretical ethics can, however, be tedious reading for someone who has not had much prior experience reading philosophy. I have tried to alleviate the pain for beginners by making the book accessible on three levels:
    • Those who are primarily interested in the practical issues may wish to read the introductory material (Part I), then the summaries of Parts II (Theory and Justification) and III (The Nature of Persons), and finally Part IV (Practical Applications).
    • Those who want to know how I justify my positions should also read all of Parts II and III.
    • Professional philosophers will probably not be satisfied with what appears in the text alone. I discuss many fine points, as well as actual and possible objections, in extensive endnotes. I strongly encourage anyone who finds an argument in the text unconvincing to examine the notes provided.
      This procedure is meant to make the book of use not only to professional philosophers, but also to non-philosophers with an interest in practical ethics. In particular, I hope it will appeal to those who deal with moral problems in medical and environmental areas, and those with concerns about abortion4, euthanasia, and animal rights5. It might also serve as supplementary reading for courses in practical ethics.
  7. I would like to thank three people whose help has been invaluable, and who have made this book much better than it would otherwise have been. David Resnik, of the University of Wyoming, Bernard Rollin, of Colorado State University, and James Forrester, of the University of Wyoming all read and made many helpful comments on the manuscript at different stages of its progress. Besides, Professor Forrester — who is also my husband — spent many days making the manuscript camera ready and dealing with a constant barrage of computer problems. He has also endured my ill-tempered objections to some of his comments. His suggestions, both substantive and stylistic, have been extremely useful, even in the few cases where I have not accepted them. He has been a constant support throughout. There is no way I can express my appreciation fully.
  8. I would like to thank the University of Wyoming for appointing me a Faculty Affiliate, thus giving me expanded library privileges. My children also deserve much thanks: Jim Forrester, for designing the computer on which this book was written, and Sarah Bright, for her constant encouragement and good suggestions.
  9. I am grateful to the outside reviewer for Kluwer Academic Publishers for his useful suggestions and in particular for forcing me to take more account of the libertarian viewpoint and drawing my attention to the work of Julian Simon and the recent publications of Jan Narveson.


Annotated printout (of this and book-summary) filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 06 (F-G)".

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