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Pre-Persons:  The Problem with the Bioethical Logic of Abortion

Gregory P. Schulz

Professor of Philosophy, Concordia University Wisconsin



  1. Abortion, if and when it is defended by reasoning, is defended on arbitrary grounds.
  2. The arbitrary logic of abortion is exhibited in Philip K. Dick’s 1974 short story, “The Pre-Persons.”


He said stammeringly, “I — saw — the abortion — truck.” “And you thought it was for you?” Mutely, he nodded.

“Listen, Walter,” Cynthia Best said, kneeling down and taking hold of his trembling hands, “I promise, your dad and I both promise, you’ll never be sent to the County Facility. Anyhow you’re too old. They only take children up to twelve.”

“But Jeff Vogel –”

“His parents got him in just before the new law went into effect. They couldn’t take him now, legally. They couldn’t take you now. Look — you have a soul; the law says a twelve-year-old boy has a soul. So he can’t go to the County Facility. See? You’re safe. Whenever you see the abortion truck, it’s for someone else, not you. Never for you. Is that clear? It’s come for another younger child who doesn’t have a soul yet, a pre-person.”

Staring down, not meeting his mother’s gaze, he said, “I don’t feel like I got a soul; I feel like I always did.”

“It’s a legal matter,” his mother said briskly. “Strictly according to age. And you’re past the age.”

-- Philip K. Dick, “The Pre-Persons” (1974)


  1. PKD’s “The Pre-Persons” brings to light what I call “The P-Property Listing” or P-PL approach to bioethics.



1. Recognize that the worth of human life varies [190] Factors affecting worth:

a. Consciousness

b. Capacity for physical, social and mental interaction with other beings

c. Having conscious preferences for continued life

d. Having enjoyable experiences

e. Others’ attitude towards your life (family members, etc.)

f. Finite medical resources [192]


3. Respect a person’s desire to live or die [197] Killing a person against her or his will is a much more serious wrong than killing a being that is not a person.

4. Bring children into the world only if they are wanted [200]

-- Peter Singer, Rethinking Life and Death at


  1. The underlying logic of P-PL is that who counts as a human being or as a person is conducted as (nothing more than) a cultural judgment.
  2. That is, P-PL is Protagorean, postmodern and arbitrary.
  3. In other words, P-PL is a cultural judgment such as that made by the Nazis at Dachau.
  4. The alternative to the P-PL arbitrary sorting of human beings and persons is Aristotelian ontology as augmented by the biblical and Messianic response to the question, “What is Man?” (see Psalm 8 and Hebrews 2.)
  5. Some may object that this is a religious or biblical anthropology or view of the human being.
  6. My first reply is that Aristotle is not a religious or biblical authority.



Human being            = m + x + y + z

Animal                        = m + x + y

Plant                           = m + x

Rock                           = m


Let m be matter, x be life, y be consciousness, and z be capacity to self-reflect. (Adapted from E.F. Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed, Harper Perennial, 1977.)

Then, we can also say that z is logos, as in Aristotle’s definition of the human being as zoon logon echon (ζῷον λόγοv ἔχων) in his Politics, Book 1.


Levels of Being or Ontology


  1. My second reply is that the Aristotelian ontology that is augmented by the biblical view is our traditional Western culture’s understanding of the human being.


I swear […]  that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant: […]

I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art. […]

—Translation from the Greek by Ludwig Edelstein. From The Hippocratic Oath: Text, Translation, and Interpretation, by Ludwig Edelstein. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1943.

  1. My third reply is that the biblical understanding of the infinite worth of the human being by virtue of universal creation and universal justification addresses what Jürgen Habermas has identified as the need for religion to be readmitted to the public discussion in the face of post-secularism.
  2. Thus, the arbitrary P-Property Listing by which some human beings are denied their human rights as persons ought to be replaced by the ontological understanding that all human beings are persons, ontologically and biblically, by virtue of their species membership.
  3. For example, human beings who are not yet born (nor those of a certain age or mental acuity) should not be denied their human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness on the basis of arbitrary, Dachau-istic P-PL reasoning.

Gregory P Schulz, DMin, PhD, all intellectual property rights reserved, October 2016