People cannot claim a right to kill you simply because they will not recognize you as a person

Quote of the Day for Wednesday, January 26th, 2011:

Joe Carter, writing an “On the Square” column over at FirstThings.com, on Being a Person:

But should all human beings be considered persons? Historically, the answer has been a resounding “no.” Slaves, women, infants, Jews, and “foreigners” all share a common history of being denied legal or moral standing as persons, despite being recognized as humans. The judgment of recent generations, however, has without exception concluded that denying personhood to these members of the human family is a great moral evil. I have no doubt that future generations will judge ours just as harshly.

Yet while recognition of personhood is the foundation of certain positive rights, it should not be required for a basic negative right—the right not to be deprived of life without due process of law. In other words, people cannot claim a right to kill you simply because they will not recognize you as a person.

This is an interesting article from Carter, in which he throws down the gauntlet to a certain extent by trying to move the arguments for the rationalization of abortion away from language concerning personhood, and toward the more ontologically coherent matter of being. That being said, I don’t see why he is apparently ready to concede any kind of functional imperative to personhood, even if the legal fiction of corporate personhood involves that kind of reductionism. It seem to me that we shouldn’t have too much trouble distinguishing in a moral argument between a person as a spiritual reality on the one hand, and on the other a legal construct that is transparently meant to be understood as a person only analogously.