Mary Anne Warren

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Mary Anne Warren (August 23, 1946[1] – August 9, 2010) was an American writer and philosophy professor, noted for her writings on the issue of abortion.

Her essays have sometimes been required readings in academic courses dealing with the abortion debate and they are frequently cited in major publications like Peter Singer's The Moral of the Story: An Anthology of Ethics Through Literature[2] and Bernard Gert's Bioethics: A Systematic Approach.[3] She was sometimes described as a feminist, largely due to her pro-choice writings.

Warren also wrote on the implications of sex selection[4] and about animal treatment. She was a professor of philosophy at San Francisco State University for many years. Mary Anne Warren died on August 9, 2010 from cancer, aged 69.

Criteria of personhood[edit]

In response to whether a thing can be said to be a person, and so have moral standing, Warren suggested the following criteria:

  1. Consciousness (of objects and events external and/or internal to the being), and in particular the capacity to feel pain;
  2. Reasoning (the developed capacity to solve new and relatively complex problems);
  3. Self-motivated activity (activity which is relatively independent of either genetic or direct external control);
  4. The capacity to communicate, by whatever means, messages of an indefinite variety of types, that is, not just with an indefinite number of possible contents, but on indefinitely many possible topics;
  5. The presence of self-concepts and self-awareness, either individual or racial, or both.
  6. Moral agency (the capacity to regulate one's own actions by thinking about moral principles or ideals)

She stated that at least some of these are necessary, if not sufficient, criteria for personhood (which is necessary and sufficient for moral standing). She argued that fetuses do not meet any of these criteria, therefore they cannot be persons, and cannot have moral standing, and so abortion is acceptable.[5]

Select publications[edit]


  • Warren, Mary Anne, Gendercide: The Implications of Sex Selection; Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (1985) ISBN 978-0-8476-7330-8
  • Warren, Mary Anne, Moral Status - Obligations to Persons and Other Living Things ; Oxford University Press (2000) ISBN 978-0-19-825040-1


  • Warren, Mary Anne, "On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion". Monist 57:1 : 43-61. Reprinted in Mappes and DeGrazia 2001: 456-463, (1973)
  • Warren, Mary Anne, "Do Potential People Have Moral Rights?" In R Sikora and B Barry, eds. Obligations to Future Generations. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press,: 14-30, (1978)
  • Warren, Mary Anne, "Postscript on Infanticide". Reprinted in Mappes and DeGrazia 2001: 461-463, (1982)
  • Warren, Mary Anne, "The Moral Difference Between Infanticide and Abortion: A Response to Robert Card" . Bioethics, Vol. 14, pp. 352–359 (October 2000)
  • Warren, Mary Anne, "The Nature of Woman: an encyclopedia and guide to the literature"; EdgePress (1980)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Date of birth per the Social Security Death Index
  2. ^ Singer, Peter. The Moral of the Story: An Anthology of Ethics Through Literature; Oxford: Blackwell Publishing (2005); ISBN 1-4051-0584-4
  3. ^ Gert, Bernard/ Culver,Charles M./Clouser,K. Danner (2006); Bioethics: A Systematic Approach; Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-515906-3
  4. ^ Darnovsky, Marcy (January 1, 2004). "High-Tech Sex Selection: A New Chapter in the Debate". Center for Genetics and Society. Archived from the original on September 30, 2006.
  5. ^ Warren, Mary Anne. Biomedical Ethics (4th ed.). pp. 434–440.

External links[edit]