- There is an unresolved and generally unnoticed contradiction in a conception of the person often associated with the Enlightenment. The conception incorporates two commitments that, while they seem to support each other, can serve only to undermine each other.
- The first is a commitment to the moral importance of the individual human being.
- The second is a commitment to the moral importance of rationality.
- It does seem that these two commitments should stand and fall together. In fact, they may seem barely distinct from one another.
- When we consider the first and ask what sets individual human beings apart as having a kind of moral importance not shared by other animals (or mere things), the most salient answer seems to be that only human beings are persons. What sets them apart as persons is their capacity to engage one another in distinctively inter personal ways, such as conversation, argument, criticism, moral evaluation, and exchanging promises and contracting with one another.
- Since this obviously requires rational capacities, it does seem that the second commitment, to the moral importance of rationality, follows upon the first. And the converse would seem to hold as well. If rationality is morally important then so is the human being. For human beings are the only things known to possess the ration al capacities required for personhood. (I am simply going to set aside the contested cases of God, angels, and rational automata.)
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