Assignment on the concept of capacity

Philosophy 2

Spring 2021

Fifth paper assignment on the concept of capacity and Mary Anne Warren’s article “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion”

Due by 11:59 pm on Wednesday, April 28.


Section I.

Discuss the concept of capacity and its connection to human rights and duties.

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Use the following strategy for writing Section I of your paper: answer every question in the prompt for this section, then combine your answers into a short (400 word) essay.


First, discuss the concept of capacity in general.  What does it mean for a human being (or other animal) to have a capacity to perform some activity?  Is an animal’s capacity to perform an activity based on its nature (as the kind of being that it is), or on its stage of development towards full functioning (as the kind of being that it is)?


For example, a developmentally normal kitten is born with its eyes closed; its eyes do not open for seven to ten days after its birth.  During that time, we say that the kitten “cannot see.”  Does it have the capacity to see during this early period of its life when it is “blind”?  Why do you say that it does, or that it doesn’t?


If rationality is the attribute which gives human beings moral rights and moral duties, are these rights and duties based on our capacity to reason, or on our active use of our reason?


We usually say that a developmentally normal adult human being who is sleeping has the capacity to reason, while we usually say that a developmentally normal human fetus at ten weeks of gestation does not have the capacity to reason.  Is the way we “usually” think about these two situations correct?


Neither the sleeping adult nor the growing ten-week fetus is actively reasoning in the present moment.  Under normal conditions, the capacity to reason in the adult will become active in eight hours, while the capacity to reason in the fetus will become active in three to five years.  Does this time difference make a moral difference—does it justify us in treating the adult human differently than the human fetus?  Why or why not?


Come to your own conclusion about the meaning of capacity and its relation to human rights; state your conclusion at the end of Section I of your paper.




Section I should be around 400 words in length.


Section II.

Summarize Mary Anne Warren’s argument in her article “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion.”  Focus on ¶¶ 23-28 of the article.


Section II should be around 400 words in length.


Section III.

Use your discussion about capacity from Section I of your paper to comment on Warren’s remarks on “Fetal Development and the Right to Life” and “Potential Personhood and the Right to Life” (the two sections of her paper where she replies to objections to her argument).


Section III should be around 400 words in length.

Rubric for paper

(1) Respond to every part of the prompt.

(2) Write complete sentences; use periods at the end of your sentences.

(3) Proofread carefully.  Make sure there are no misspelled or seriously misused words in your paper.

(4) Accurately represent the views of any author you discuss.

(5) Satisfy the word-count minimum.  Your paper should be at least 1,200 words in length.

(6) Avoid rhetorical questions.


Papers which satisfy all of these criteria will receive an A or a B.  Papers which do not satisfy all of these criteria will receive a C, D, or F depending on how close they come to being a paper which is at least “good” (a B) because it satisfies all the criteria.  In the Appendix to the syllabus, there is a more detailed rubric for evaluating papers.

Other requirements

Please use Times New Roman, 12-point type, with one-inch margins on all sides.

Please double space your work.

Please read your paper aloud to yourself before you submit your final draft.

Late-paper policy

You may hand in a paper up to one week late with no penalty.  You may hand in a paper up to two weeks late with a loss of 10 points from your grade on the paper.  If you hand in a paper on time, I will comment on your paper.  If you hand in a paper late, I may read your paper and give you a grade but no comments.  If you have not submitted a paper within two weeks after its due date, you will receive 0 points for that paper and the highest grade you will be able to earn for the course is a D.


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