Assuming that zygotes are not moral agents and healthy, intelligent, rational, human adults are moral agents, at what point(s) do(es) their status change? What arguments have been offered for those points' significance? Are there intermediate stages of moral agency?

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    This becomes even more complex once you add in various philosophies and cultures where moral agency lies with the parents until the child is of a certain age. Commented Oct 22, 2013 at 10:47
  • Peter Singer wrote a lot on that in Rethinking Life and Death, as well as in Practical Ethics. See a little summary here.
    – iphigenie
    Commented Nov 22, 2013 at 15:48

2 Answers 2


That point of conversion from amoral agent to moral agent is not clearly defined, and may be intrinsically vague. You might start by asking, "does moral agency have clear existential borders, or can it exist as a matter of degree?"

It's been pointed out before that we should not seek to do philosophy here on Philosophy.SE, so rather than engage in a conversation on the topic I'll just refer you to the sources on the subject.

Jean Piaget is probably the best person to start with on the subject of childhood development and morality. If you can dig up any of his papers, many of them begin with this very topic.

For a general review of childhood as a philosophical status, try the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.


They became moral persons the moment they can discern between good and evil and can make conscious decisions.

  • Care to source or argue for this claim?
    – virmaior
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 17:44
  • This is a bit short as an answer. Could you expand? On Philosophy SE answers should include an argument for the proposition advanced.
    – DBK
    Commented May 10, 2014 at 22:43

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