Who Count as Persons?

Human Identity and the Ethics of Killing

John F. Kavanaugh, SJ

"Fr. Kavanaugh remembers what too many philosophers forget—that philosophy begins with the human person. . . . His book is challenging, moving, and provocative."
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Just what is a human being? Who counts? The answers to these questions are crucial when one is faced with the ethical issue of taking human life. In this affirmation of the intrinsic personal dignity and inviolability of every human individual, John Kavanaugh, S. J., denies that it can ever be moral to intentionally kill another.

Today in every corner of the world men and women are willing to kill others in the name of "realism" and under the guise of race, class, quality of life, sex, property, nationalism, security, or religion. We justify these killings by either excluding certain humans from our definition of personhood or by invoking a greater good or more pressing value.

Kavanaugh contends that neither alternative is acceptable. He formulates an ethics that opposes the intentional killing not only of medically "marginal" humans but also of depersonalized or criminalized enemies. Offering a philosophy of the person that embraces the undeveloped, the wounded, and the dying, he proposes ways to recover a personal ethical stance in a global society that increasingly devalues the individual.

Kavanaugh discusses the work of a range of philosophers, artists, and activists from Richard Rorty and Søren Kierkegaard to Albert Camus and Woody Allen, from Mother Teresa to Jack Kevorkian. His approach is in stark contrast to that of writer Peter Singer and others who believe that not all human life has intrinsic moral worth. It will challenge philosophers, students of ethics, and anyone concerned about the depersonalization of contemporary life.

Table of Contents


1. Introduction

2. Personal Losses
Traces of Lost Persons
The Fear and Call of Personal Reality
Social and Political Depersonalization
Impersonal Theory, De-Personed Philosophy
the Texture of Personal Reality and Ethical Experience

3. Personal Bodies
On the Matter and Spirit of Maps
On the Matter and Spirit of Persons
Personal Embodiment
Body as Object, Body as Subject
Ambiguities of Embodiment
The "My-ness" and "Me-Ness" of a Personal Body
Personal Consciousness
Personalized World

4. Endowments of Embodied Persons
Personal Foundations
Awareness of Awaress, Selves, and Persons
The Endowment of Freedom
The Endowment of Love in Self-Conscious Affirmation
Endowed Human Person
Personal Nature

5. Personal Entries into Ethics
Inescapable Perspectives of Persons
Achieving the Moral good and Doing the Right Thing
Kant and the Pull to the Interior
Mill and the Pull Outward
The Personal Center
The Intrinsic Turn
Killing, Autonomy, and Intrinsic Values

6. Before Good and Evil
The Field of Moral Experience
The Dynamics of Personal Moral Judgment
The Subjective Internal Dimension
Context, Culture, and Personal Challenge
Negation of Truth and the Beginning of Evil
Falls and Crimes

7. Killing Persons and Ethics
The Logic of Terror
The Moral Inviolability of Persons
Defending Life by Intending Death
Killing Incomplete Persons
Killing Defective or Dying Persons

8. Reviving Personal Life
The Choice of Realities
The "Reality" of Consumer Capitalism
Reviving Personal Solitude
Recovering Personal Relationships
Revealing Human Vulnerability





"This book offers a powerful, challenging view of the human person for the modern world as a basis for ethical decision making, especially on life-and-death issues. . . . We have much to learn from Father John Kavanaugh. He is insightful and learned, and his passionate concern for the dignity of human beings flows from every page."—National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly

"[Offers] a compelling critique of contemporary society."—Theological Studies

"A richly insightful and provocative exploration of the diverse ideologies invented to justify degrading or taking human life."—Choice

"All college and seminary libraries need this prophetic book in their collections."—Ethics

"Fr. Kavanaugh remembers what too many philosophers forget—that philosophy begins with the human person. . . . His book is challenging, moving, and provocative."—Jean Bethke Elshtain, University of Chicago

"John Kavanaugh has taken on an old and ancient and difficult issue and he brings to it verve, breadth, and an uncommon thoughtfulness. This is a valuable book, one that needs to be read by anyone concerned with the future of ethics."—Daniel Callahan, The Hastings Center

"A thoughtful, passionate, and contemporary defense of the human person."—Charles J. Dougherty, Creighton University, Creighton University


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

John F. Kavanaugh, SJ, a professor of philosophy at Saint Louis University, is author of Following Christ in a Consumer Society and The Word Embodied. He writes the "Ethics Notebook" column for the publication America.

240 pp., 6 x 9

Jan 2001

240 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-0-87840-837-5
Jan 2001

240 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-879-2
Jan 2001

Moral Traditions series
David Cloutier, Darlene Weaver, and Andrea Vicini, SJ

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