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 ather. 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 t 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 Soren 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 t all human life has intrinsic moral worth. It will challenge philosophers, students of ethics, and anyone concerned about the depersonalization of contemporary life.
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.