Illustration courtesy of NIH Image Gallery.

Brain illustration courtesy of NIH Image Gallery.

Romanell Center Fall 2020 Speaker Series

A Functional Alternative to Radical Capacities

December 11, 2020, 2:00pm via Zoom

Join us online December 11, Friday, 2:00 p.m. EST,  as Catherine Nolan delivers the talk: "A Functional Alternative to Radical Capacities." The online event is part of the Fall 2020 Speaker Series hosted by the Romanell Center. Contact David Hershenov,  

Abstract: Among those who adopt Aristotle’s definition of the human person as a rational animal, Patrick Lee and Germain Grisez argue that whole brain death is the death of the human person. Even if a living organism remains, it is no longer a human person. This is because they define natural kinds by their radical capacities (the capacity to act or the capacity to develop a further capacity). A human person is therefore a being with a capacity for rational acts, and an individual with whole brain death no longer has any such capacity.

I present two objections to the radical capacities argument: first, that it fails in defining natural kinds, and second, that it misrepresents Aristotle. Aristotle defines natural kinds not by their capacities but by their functions. A brain dead individual, I argue, is still a rational animal, but an unhealthy one that is unable to function.

Catherine Nolan.

Catherine Nolan, PhD, Romanell Fellow

About the Speaker

Catherine Nolan is currently working on issues in the intersection of metaphysics and bioethics. She is particularly interested in applying the concepts and arguments of the Christian metaphysical tradition to contemporary problems. Her dissertation, entitled “The Ethics and Metaphysics of Vital Organ Donation,” was a defense of the claim that death is a metaphysical event, unable to be determined purely scientifically.  This makes the diagnosis of death much more uncertain.  If we attempt to justify vital organ donation by claiming that the donor is dead, we are often being misleading or dishonest.  Instead, she suggests that we should focus on not killing the donor, treating those who may be dead as though they are still alive. 

Dr. Nolan taught several sections of Philosophy of the Human Person at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and taught introductions to philosophy as well as courses in bioethics and philosophy of religion at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Faculty profile.

CONTACT: David Hershenov,