One of the most famous, and most derided, arguments against the morality of abortion is the argument from potential, which maintains that the fetus’ potential to become a person and enjoy the valuable life common to persons, entails that its destruction is prima facie morally impermissible. In this paper, I will revisit and offer a defense of the argument from potential. First, I will criticize the classical arguments proffered against the importance of fetal potential, specifically the arguments put forth by philosophers Peter Singer and David Boonin, by carefully unpacking the claims made in these arguments and illustrating why they are flawed. Secondly, I will maintain that fetal potential is morally relevant when it comes to the morality of abortion, but that it must be accorded a proper place in the argument. This proper place, however, cannot be found until we first answer a very important and complex question: we must first address the issue of personal identity, and when the fetus becomes the type of being who is relevantly identical to a future person. I will illustrate why the question of fetal potential can only be meaningfully addressed after we have first answered the question of personal identity and how it relates to the human fetus.
© Manninen; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2007