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, 288 pages

1 line drawing

January 2014



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Metaphysical and Bioethical Dimensions

What is the moral status of humans lacking the potential for consciousness? The concept of potentiality often tips the scales in life-and-death medical decisions. Some argue that all human embryos have the potential to develop characteristics—such as consciousness, intellect, and will—that we normally associate with personhood. Individuals with total brain failure or in a persistent vegetative state are thought to lack the potential for consciousness or any other mental function. Or do they?

In Potentiality John Lizza gathers classic articles alongside newly commissioned chapters from leading thinkers who analyze the nature of potentiality in bioethics, a concept central to a number of important debates. The contributors illustrate how considerations of potentiality and potential persons complicate the analysis of the moral consideration of persons at the beginning and end of life. A number of works explicitly uncover the Aristotelian background of the concept, while others explore philosophical issues about persons, dispositions, and possibility. The common assumption that potentiality is intrinsic to whatever has the potentiality is challenged by a relational view of persons, an extrinsic account of dispositions, and attention to how extrinsic factors affect realistic possibilities.

Although potentiality has figured prominently in bioethical literature, it has not received a great deal of logical, semantic, and metaphysical analysis in contemporary philosophical literature. This collection will bring these thorny philosophical issues to the fore.

Incorporating cutting-edge research on the topic of potentiality, this thought-provoking collection will interest bioethicists, philosophers, health care professionals, attorneys engaged in medical and health issues, and hospital and governmental committees who advise on policy and law concerning issues at the beginning and end of life.

John P. Lizza is the chair of the Department of Philosophy at Kutztown University, author of Persons, Humanity, and the Definition of Death, and editor of Defining the Beginning and End of Life: Readings on Personal Identity and Bioethics, both published by Johns Hopkins.

"Lizza is exactly right about the importance of potentiality in bioethical debates about the status of forms of early human life and disputes about the understanding of death. His collection of essays examines reproduction, maternal-fetal relationship, embryo research, stem cell harvesting, organ procurement, and other end-of-life discussions. This book will help readers—scholars, medical practitioners, and the public—better understand and discuss these bioethical dilemmas."

"This book is a very precious work that contributes vigorously to philosophical research."

"I highly recommend this collection to anyone interested in the potentiality debate at the margins of life’s beginnings and endings."

"In sum, both for the richness of its content and for the challenging questions it raises, this volume offers an enjoyable reading about potentiality and its implications in debates concerning the beginning and end of life."

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