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International Journal of Applied Philosophy

Volume 17, Issue 1, Spring 2003

Kenneth Einar Himma
Pages 89-109

What Philosophy of Mind Can Tell Us About the Morality of Abortion
Personhood, Materialism, and the Existence of Self

I attempt to show that, under materialist assumptions about the nature of mind, it is a necessary condition for fetal personhood that electrical activity has begun in the brain. First, I argue that it is a necessary condition for a thing to be a moral person that it is (or has) a self—understood as something that is capable of serving as the subject of a mental experience. Second, I argue that it is a necessary condition for a fetus to be (or have) a self that some form of electrical brain activity occurs. Third, I argue that since the beginning of brain activity typically occurs at around 10 weeks of gestational age, most fetuses are not persons during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy and hence that abortion of most fetuses during this period does not rise to the moral level of murder.