Ludger Honnefelder

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Ludger Honnefelder (25 March 1936) is a German bioethicist and emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Bonn.


  • Person, in a moral context, is a practical ascription by which I identify myself and other as amoral subject. This identification implies the respect for the dignity of the moral subject, i.e. an acknowledgement of its inviolability. The immediate grounds for this inviolability are not certain biological or metaphysical traits, but its status as a subject, capable of determining its own ends and of taking responsibility for them, i.e. its freedom as the condition of the possibility for binding itself to the good. Because being such a subject is part of every moral demand, moral philosophy does not depend on prior metaphysical insight. The question, how far the acknowledgment of personhood can be extended, is also primarily a question of one's moral point of view. If we recognize those as persons that are actually able to reciprocate, we may able to explain morality as fairness and justify a basic level of generalisation, but we will not be able [...] to justify morality and solidarity. Solidarity which comprises even the weakest members of society implies a level of generalisation which shuns all special attributes and ascribes inviolability only to the human being as human being. This makes it clear that the dignity of the person needs to be related to the notion of specific nature, if the two aspects of the notion of human rights: inviolability and the prohibition to restrict its application, are to be retained. Every interpretation of the concept of a person which restricts the reference to nature is therefore taking the onus of proof.
  • [The concept of a person] designates a human individual to which an open-ended list of mental and material predicates, which mutually imply each other, can be applied. This shows an original relation from the concept of a person to the notion of nature, which makes it justifiable, and indeed mandatory, to respect as a person any individual which has the active potency to develop the traits which justify a human individual’s claim for personal protection.

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