Abortion doctor shot to death at his church

by Luke Muehlhauser on May 31, 2009 in Ethics

tillerAt 10am CST this morning, abortion doctor George Tiller was shot to death at his church.

His abortion clinic in Witchita, Kansas specializes in late-term abortions performed “to the time in the pregnancy when the fetus is viable.”1 Unusually, the clinic offers funerary services for aborted babies (the website calls them babies, not fetuses), which optionally include footprinting and handprinting, baptism, and cremation.

Dr. Tiller has been the victim of pro-life violence before. He was shot twice in 1993.

In March of this year, Dr. Tiller went to trial for 19  misdemeanors related to his abortion procedures. The trial became a lightning rod of the abortion debate, with pro-lifers comparing him to Nazi war criminals and pro-choicers comparing him to Martin Luther King, Jr. (Tiller was found not guilty of all charges.)

Today, he was shot dead in the lobby of his church. The suspect fled the scene.

Atheists will be quick to say something like: “Pro Life” does not mean what you think it means. Presumably, the suspect who killed Dr. Tiller was a pro-life activist. Murder is an odd way to be “pro life.”

Or is it? The suspect probably thought Dr. Tiller was murdering thousands of human persons by performing late-term abortions. If this is the correct perspective, then killing Dr. Tiller may have been like assassinating Hitler. The argument is that killing one man may save thousands of lives. Also, the killing may deter others from killing pre-born human persons, and thereby save tens of thousands of lives, or more. (But, wouldn’t imprisoning a mass murderer be better than killing him, anyway? That’s another tough question.)

The morality of abortion

When I lost my Christian faith, abortion was one of many issues about which I was morally agnostic: I literally had no idea if it was morally right or wrong. So I turned my new skills of critical thinking on the problem.

I quickly found out that most of the arguments I could find – from either side of the debate – were hopelessly lame.

Much later, I came to think that desire utilitarianism was the only theory of moral realism likely to be true about the universe. So, what does desire utilitarianism say about abortion?

Desire utilitarianism claims that desires are the only reasons for action that exist. There is no moral value without desire. And desire is the product of a sufficiently advanced neurological system.

A first-week embryo does not have desires. You cannot harm a first-week embryo in a morally relevant way for the same reason you cannot harm a coconut in a morally relevant way: neither one has desires.

But some time before birth, probably between weeks 10 and 25, a pre-born human develops desires. At that point, we have to start considering their desires in our moral equations. I think it’s a fair bet that among the desires of a late-term fetus are very strong desires not to be poisoned, stabbed in the brain, or vacuumed into a tube. These are desires that must be weighed along with a mother’s desires to avoid the burdens of motherhood, etc. – along with all the other desires that exist.

How does our moral calculation turn out? That is an empirical question. We will have to do lots of scientific work to know the answer to this moral question. Right now, the best we can do is make an educated guess.

More thoughts on abortion and desire utilitarianism here and here.

  1. According to his website. []

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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Reginald Selkirk May 31, 2009 at 12:48 pm

When I lost my Christian faith, abortion was one of many issues about which I was morally agnostic: I literally had no idea if it was morally right or wrong.

I suspect many Christians are anti-abortion because their particular church tells them they should be; and then, with conclusion in hand, they fill in reasons why they think they reached that conclusion. I have seen exactly this in a relative.  (The question of an exception for cases of rape is a fairly easy way to find out if someone has put any actual thought into the issue.)

I myself was raised Catholic, and was in a similar state. I had never really thought the issues through until once, several years after de-converting, I got into an online discussion about it. I recall rewriting my response several times before posting it, as I worked my way through arguments I had never really considered before.

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Reginald Selkirk May 31, 2009 at 1:51 pm

I think it’s a fair bet that among the desires of a late-term fetus are very strong desires not to be poisoned, stabbed in the brain, or vacuumed into a tube.

I don’t see any way to settle that bet, but I think you would lose. For months after birth, babies don’t do much but eat, poop and cry. I don’t think a late-term fetus could form coherent thoughts on the topic of poison. Look at how many young children eat lead paint chips, for example.

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Haukur May 31, 2009 at 2:46 pm

What about the (once widespread) practice of exposing newborns (or sacrificing them to Moloch or whatever) when the parents could not support more children? That doesn’t, prima facie, seem any less moral than late-term abortions.

And this isn’t meant as a reductio ad absurdum, I’m perfectly willing to countenance the idea that sacrificing infants to Moloch can be ethical.

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lukeprog May 31, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Reginald,

I do not differentiate between conscious and unconscious desires. A baby could not verbally express “Please don’t stab me in the face” but the baby still has many and strong desires that would be thwarted by a stab in the face.

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Lorkas May 31, 2009 at 4:31 pm

lukeprog,
I’m not sure that your example of stabbing the baby in the face is exactly parallel to the poison example when it comes to desire formation in infants. It seems that an infant is capable of having a desire to avoid pain (which would be caused by a stab in the face), but I’m not so sure that a baby could have a desire not to be poisoned. For that, the child would have to understand that it is “alive” and that it could be made “dead” by poison. Pain is easy to understand, death is not. I’m pretty sure a baby has the desire not to feel pain, but I’m not sure they can have a desire not to experience painless death, since they don’t even understand what death is, as we know by the fact that children have to learn about death after learning to speak.

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Chuck May 31, 2009 at 7:25 pm

It doesn’t matter the child doesn’t have an explicit desire to live. The child has explicit desires to bond with its parents, to eat, to experience its world, etc. It is these desires that would be thwarted.

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Lorkas May 31, 2009 at 7:52 pm

Chuck: It doesn’t matter the child doesn’t have an explicit desire to live. The child has explicit desires to bond with its parents, to eat, to experience its world, etc. It is these desires that would be thwarted.

But are these “very strong desires”, as lukeprog says? I’m not so sure. Just because a fly might have a desire not to be swatted doesn’t mean that it is a “very strong desire”. We don’t even know what capacity an infant has for desire as we understand it. A baby’s actions can be understood in terms of desires, but so can a thermostat’s actions. *shrug*

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lukeprog May 31, 2009 at 8:15 pm

Lorkas:

Yes, this is why we need the science to be done.

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IbnAbuTalib May 31, 2009 at 11:26 pm

luke:I think it’s a fair bet that among the desires of a late-term fetus are very strong desires not to be poisoned, stabbed in the brain, or vacuumed into a tube. These are desires that must be weighed along with a mother’s desires to avoid the burdens of motherhood, etc. – along with all the other desires that exist.

How do you weigh desires given that, like pain and pleasure, desires are unquantifiable?

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UNRR June 1, 2009 at 2:43 am

This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 6/1/2009, at <a href=”http://unreligiousright.blogspot.com/”>The Unreligious Right</a>

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Pete June 1, 2009 at 2:49 am

lukeprog: Lorkas:Yes, this is why we need the science to be done.

But Lorkas gave an argument why we can’t ascribe to babies the desire not to be killed painlessly: The evidence stronlgy suggests that babies do not have the concept of “death” (or “dying”).

So your argument against (painless) late-term abortion fails.

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Pete June 1, 2009 at 2:53 am

… or rather, your argument that the desires of the mother have to be weighed against the desires of the baby.

In the case of painless late-term abortions, at least, there are no desires on the baby’s side that have to be taken into account!

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Pete June 1, 2009 at 4:59 am

Chuck: It doesn’t matter the child doesn’t have an explicit desire to live. The child has explicit desires to bond with its parents, to eat, to experience its world, etc. It is these desires that would be thwarted.

I disagree. How can a baby have a desire “to bond with its parents” (!), “to eat” or “to experience the world” if it is still in the womb and has none of the concepts necessary to form these desires?

I think you are way too generous in attributing desires.

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Chuck June 1, 2009 at 6:03 am

I never said they were conscious desires. Obviously, you can’t carry on an internal dialogue without language. (That happens between 18 months and 3.)

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Democritus June 1, 2009 at 6:09 am

Actually, I’d take a more pragmatical approach to this subject – if we consider people with “brain death” really dead, we should consider people with active brains (and with neural activity other than the basal lines) as alive. This is not an argument on the correctness of either case, but one of coherence.

Also, how could we detect “desire”? Perhaps non-basal brain activity is equal to desire, on a conscious or subconscious level. Have you thought about that?

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Lorkas June 1, 2009 at 6:26 am

Has anyone disputed that infants and fetuses (at any stage) are alive? It’s not a matter of whether the individuals are alive or dead, but whether or not they have “very strong desires”.

To be clear, I do think that a state of affairs where abortion rates are as low as possible is preferable to one with high abortion rates, all things being equal, but this is from a yay/boo perspective. I even think that you can justify saying abortion is immoral (barring exceptional circumstances) from a desire utilitarianism perspective. I was just arguing against the specific example lukeprog gave (stabbing a baby in the face vs. painless death).

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Lorkas June 1, 2009 at 6:27 am

lukeprog: Lorkas: Yes, this is why we need the science to be done.

I (almost) always agree with this. :)

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Democritus June 1, 2009 at 6:38 am

Lorkas, where I said “alive” you should read “with strong desires”. I meant the “metaphisical” life, the mental capability for desire, not the chemical processes we usually associate with life.  Sorry if I didn’t make it more clear, but I thought the mention to non-basal brain activity would be clear enough.

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Lorkas June 1, 2009 at 6:50 am

Then you are left exactly where we were at the beginning of the discussion, Democritus. Lukeprog claimed that fetuses have “very strong desires”, and Reginald and I contested that claim as one for which no real evidence exists.

If you don’t share our skepticism of this claim, fine, but I am skeptical of this claim for the same reason I am skeptical of the existence of fairies, deities, etc: there is no evidence for the entities being proposed. Lukeprog proposed a remedy: research. I agree that this is a good way to progress, but in the absence of evidence, we should be skeptical.

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Pete June 1, 2009 at 7:26 am

Chuck: I never said they were conscious desires. Obviously, you can’t carry on an internal dialogue without language. (That happens between 18 months and 3.)

I’m not talking about conscious desires either, I’m talking about desires simpliciter (conscious or unconscious).

What I’m saying is this: A desire that p is a propositional attitude with the content “p”, and you can’t have propositional attitudes with the content “p” if you do not have the concepts involved in “p”.  (This is almost unanimously accepted among philosophers of mind, I think.)

So, again, babies can’t have the desires you ascribe to them – neither consciously nor unconsciously.

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lukeprog June 1, 2009 at 7:37 am

Pete,

Fetuses developed beyond a certain point have desires in the same way that most animals have desires, even though neither can form their desires into a propositional sentence.

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Jeff H June 1, 2009 at 7:47 am

Two questions:

1) Luke, you define “desires” as “reasons for action.” Under this definition, what do fetuses do in terms of “action”? Breathe? Take in nourishment? Do they have any choice in this matter anyway? I would say that they really have no reasons for action because they don’t perform any actions. Even after birth, a baby’s life is primarily one of reaction. So are you saying that they specifically breathe or eat because they have a desire to bond with their mother? Because I don’t think that’s the case. I think they breathe and eat because that’s how their bodies are hardwired, and because there is oxygen in the air and their mothers offer them food.

2) How would science go about measuring the desires of fetuses? And even moreso, how would they go about measuring the strength of these desires? It’s fine to say that “we need to do more science” to figure it out, but I don’t see a way to even coherently measure such things…

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Pete June 1, 2009 at 8:13 am

lukeprog: Pete,Fetuses developed beyond a certain point have desires in the same way that most animals have desires, even though neither can form their desires into a propositional sentence.

First, I have to clear up a misunderstanding: I’m not assuming that language is necessary for concept possession.

What is necessary, though, are certain recognitional and inferential capabilities. Animals have these capabilities (a dog, e.g., can recognize people and make certain simple inferences like “master goes to the food can, therefore I will probably get some food”), but fetuses don’t.

Therefore, I do not think that we are justified to ascribe to them the concepts (and desires) that you and Chuck ascribe to them.

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Pete June 1, 2009 at 8:19 am

Jeff H:

2) How would science go about measuring the desires of fetuses? And even moreso, how would they go about measuring the strength of these desires? It’s fine to say that “we need to do more science” to figure it out, but I don’t see a way to even coherently measure such things…

That’s a good point. Imagine what a neuroscientist would answer to the question “Is the desire of the fetus not to be hurt stronger than my desire to pursue a career in philosophy?”. My guess is that he would dismiss this question as nonsensical.

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Reginald Selkirk June 1, 2009 at 8:24 am

Google says:
“Your search – desiromoter – did not match any documents”

So I guess someone will have to invent one from scratch.

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Democritus June 1, 2009 at 9:21 am

Lorkas, I understood your claim, and I agree with you that “strong desires” needs a better definition. I also agree that more scientific research is needed to actually define that in a better way. Let me exemplify.

Suppose we can relate the nature of utilitarian, strong desires to some specific brain patterns. If we do so, we could search for those patterns on fetuses, to try to determine when they exhibit such behavior, thus tracing an approximate “timeline” in which the moral “laws” would be applied.

So, I mostly agree with you, just in somehow different terms. While we don’t know for sure, though, I think it’s a good compromise to use the same standards for human life/sentience that we use for terminal patients in the case of unborn babies, until we know better. That was basically my point.

Sorry if I can’t express myself better… I’ve been writing these commentaries in sort of a hurry, and English is not my native language. Also, considering the fact that I’m still pondering on the different takes on moral and ethics, after a whole life as a Christian, that’s probably the best I can do at the moment.

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Lorkas June 1, 2009 at 9:46 am

Democritus: I think it’s a good compromise to use the same standards for human life/sentience that we use for terminal patients in the case of unborn babies, until we know better. That was basically my point.

Hmm… that’s a whole different animal. I’ll have to think about this.

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Pete June 1, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Another way to put my point:

Most theorists agree that ‘desire’, ‘thought’ and ‘belief’ are “package deal concepts”: you can have desires for x only if you can have thoughts or beliefs about x.

So the question is: Can fetuses have beliefs or thoughts about parents, eating, vacuum tubes or poison? As I see it, the answer is clearly “no”. (It is not just that fetuses are not conscious of these beliefs or thoughts, or that they cannot verbalize them; they simply do not have them. Or so I would argue.) If this is the case, then fetuses cannot have desires about these things.

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cartesian June 1, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Luke,
>>Desire utilitarianism claims that desires are the only reasons for action that exist. There is no moral value without desire. And desire is the product of a sufficiently advanced neurological system.>>

This leads to a bad result. If I drug you so that you lack a neurological system that functions in the right way to have desires, could it be that there is nothing wrong with killing you? Looks like desire utilitarianism has to say “yes.” But it sure looks like the right answer is “no.” So let’s reject desire utilitarianism.

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Daniel June 1, 2009 at 5:43 pm

The other side:
http://www.albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=3866
I applaud anyone open minded enough to carefully consider both sides. Keep the debate going.

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Lorkas June 1, 2009 at 6:49 pm

cartesian: If I drug you so that you lack a neurological system that functions in the right way to have desires, could it be that there is nothing wrong with killing you?

It would be immoral for you to drug him in the first place. If the drug effect is permanent, you would have already effectively killed him in all but the physiological sense. If they do wear off, then it is immoral to kill him because he is still a being with desires, but just temporarily deprived of them (by an immoral action on your part).

Furthermore, you’re assuming that you wouldn’t be thwarting the desires of any of his relatives, friends, or blog readers. You would be mistaken on that count. I have the desire to read more material, and the desire for people not to be killed while being drugged. You would be thwarting both of those desires, and I am only one person quite removed from lukeprog’s personal life.

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diracdelta June 1, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Maybe I missed in the previous comments anyone bringing up the fact that the reason late term abortions were performed (at Tiller’s clinic) was because the mother’s life was in danger. The notion that the mother desire of trying to avoid “the burdens of motherhood, etc.”  seems immaterial because that was not considered in this particular equation. It is illegal to have a late-term abortion in the US unless the mother’s life is at high risk. 

Does the mother’s desire to live outweigh a late-term fetus’? Should we put the prime caregiver of the fetus in question at high risk of death? Then what happens if they both die?

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lukeprog June 1, 2009 at 8:26 pm

Jeff H,

All this will be clearer when I’ve taken the time to finish my “Intro to Ethics” course, but just briefly…

You can have a ‘reason for action’ without the current ability to act. Animals have reasons for action to encourage humans to treat them better, but they are unable to even understand this, and can’t really do much about this.

Neuroscience will soon tell us more about desires. Unless you’re a dualist, desires are brain states, and eventually we’ll be able to see them and measure them directly in the brain, the way we can now measure, say, dopamine whereas just a few years ago we couldn’t.

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lukeprog June 1, 2009 at 8:29 pm

cartesian,

No, no, no. These are all very fair questions because I haven’t properly explained desire utilitarianism, but I really can’t respond fully to all these dozens of criticisms until I do. So once again I must say: that’s a good question but please wait.

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Reginald Selkirk June 2, 2009 at 7:10 am

Daniel: The other side:
http://www.albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=3866

That was not as stupid as most stuff I have read by Mohler. (I tend to read on evolution & creationism, on which issue he is bone stupid.)

We make these arguments because we know they are true.  Abortion is murder.

I have seen this often from Southern Baptists. Why does he say we “know” these things are true, rather than we “think” they are true, or “believe” they are true? It is simply escalating the rhetoric to falsely magnify the certainty. The teaching of such rhetoric is brainwashing.

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Lorkas June 2, 2009 at 7:22 am

Why think critically when you could have *absolute certainty*?

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Jeff H June 2, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Alright, thanks for the explanation Luke. Now quit stallin’ and get to the good stuff :P

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lukeprog June 2, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Jeff H,

What’s the ‘good stuff’ for you? A proper defense of desire utilitarianism?

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Jeff H June 4, 2009 at 3:55 am

Lol yeah something like that. You know we’re all waiting for it….SO WE CAN RIP IT TO SHREDS!

Or…you know….discuss it.

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Theguy June 13, 2009 at 9:12 pm

Reginald Selkirk: I don’t see any way to settle that bet, but I think you would lose. For months after birth, babies don’t do much but eat, poop and cry. I don’t think a late-term fetus could form coherent thoughts on the topic of poison. Look at how many young children eat lead paint chips, for example.


Well you said they do not do much than eat,poop and cry…Well they eat and they want to eat…..because they want  to live.So they have desire to eat so they can live and that desire is a continuation from being a  fetus.    Kids sometimes eat things that do not know are poison like your example paint chips….If you ate beef and was contaminated and did not know and got sick…then are you saying that you did not have a desire to live?

The same as a alcoholic mother drinking while pregnant. the baby had no choice to drink the alcohol and when it gets born it has some problems….Was that a right choice of the mom doing that….no there are laws stating that..So what is the difference to these questions?

People and babies want to live, that’s why they cry ,that’s why we survive.People get sick but “most” still have desire to live, and the mother choice feeding her fetus has a condescending choices for a separate persons life with it’s own DNA.

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Theguy June 13, 2009 at 9:31 pm

 
The baby has nerves, So how could there be a painless death, Salt…that sounds painfull, Stabed in the face…yup….tube with shredding blads …..thats preety barbaric contraption …especially a baby that looks like a infent outside. But if we look at crabs…They are all nervs but they have the concept of servival and wanting to live.  I think it’s found in natuer that everything living, even plants want to survive. Do Tree’s know they are living? but if sun does not get to them they reach for there food sorce. Roots grow, tree branches strech, flowers point towards the sun….It’s natuer….
Why do we want to surive? what is the concept…Because we want to live? that is a superfiscal concept…We just do.
I am pissed off at the 97% of women who just have abortion because of not disering the child…This day and age we should not have accidents and using aborting as a birth controle. My heart goes out for the 3 % that are rape vitems.
But going back to natueral instents….It’s mans diseres to have a offspring and to protect it’s offspring….Would you die for the surivial of your child…would you take a bullet for someone else to live? If you face a gun man and he gives you a choice…You or a child…who would you choose….So my heart goes out to the women that have to choose but it should be a natueral instent to have the baby.Try to have a c-section try to survive it….if you die..my heart goes out…I don’t want anyone have to face death but as a parent it’s your job to make sure that your offspring will continue.
 

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Theguy June 13, 2009 at 9:47 pm

P.s sorry …….The only reason pro-choice people want to contunie this suraid of it’s “their right” is because they know it’s wrong…They don’t have anything else….I ackowledge the rape  scenario as a gray area…(but who is worse the raper or her but it’s a hard choice) but the rest that want it on the demand…There just wrong and they know it…”IT’s my choice” thats all they have to say…The Pro Fetis rights, science anthiest and even the christians have more of an argument then the Pro-choice and they are hostle because they know they are wrong…they just don’t want to admite it and If the human race got choices on selfish acts and self gain they are going to take it..So thats why they contunie this genocide..I know women that regret having one and effects there mental state and phyical state everyday.. There are 40,000 people we will never meet and will not influence the world…What friend would you never meet and who would of change the world? We will never know. But I know there are some ladies that have legitment cases that need to be looked at but majority they have a shallow concept of what they are fighting for…They are only concerned about there rights and not considering the rights of others who can not speek. The Fetus are the new oppresses people that have their rights and their dessions taken from them.  If it’s natueal to wanting to survive then we can assume that it’s babies best interest to live.  There are many loving people want to expierence caring a child  that would love to have your baby.

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Jack August 8, 2009 at 10:25 pm

Hey Luke – I’ve been catching up on old posts I’ve missed, and these past few have been really incredible! I really appreciate your commitment to intellectual honesty – you point out flaws in an argument even if you agree with the conclusion. That’s how the genuine search for truth is done, and I’m glad to see it here :).

I’m personally more sympathetic to hedonistic act utilitarianism than desire utilitarianism myself. I think I’ll need to learn more about what these “unconscious desires” are all about before I can evaluate some of your claims here. But anyway, I wanted to apply a particular heuristic I learned from hedonistic utilitarian calculation to the following statement of yours from the post:

But some time before birth, probably between weeks 10 and 25, a pre-born human develops desires. At that point, we have to start considering their desires in our moral equations.

It’s the “at that point” that I take issue with here. In a sufficiently sophisticated formulation of hedonistic utilitarianism, the prevention of some quantity of future pleasure is equivalent to causing that quantity of pain, much like preventing $X offuture revenue for a business is the same as increasing costs by $X. So it’s not about the desires of the fetus starting at the moment it has its first desires – it’s about preventing the satisfaction of all desires it would have had satisfied over it’s entire life (bad) and preventing the frustration of all the desires it would have had frustrated over its entire life (prima facie… good?). These considerations should be part of the calculation as well.

But that’s not all – it’s also relevant what effects that unborn person would have on the satisfaction or frustration of the desires of others (including, of course, the mother) for better and for worse. And the ripples go on over time and the population.

I get the impression that you already know this, but it would have been an unnecessary detail that may detract from the post as a whole :).

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lukeprog August 9, 2009 at 6:30 am

Jack, I’ll address these concerns eventually in my desirism FAQ.

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Justin Martyr August 17, 2009 at 8:48 am

“But some time before birth, probably between weeks 10 and 25, a pre-born human develops desires. At that point, we have to start considering their desires in our moral equations. I think it’s a fair bet that among the desires of a late-term fetus are very strong desires not to be poisoned, stabbed in the brain, or vacuumed into a tube. These are desires that must be weighed along with a mother’s desires to avoid the burdens of motherhood, etc. – along with all the other desires that exist.”
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If a fetus of 10 weeks can form intentional thoughts (which I doubt) then you run into another problem. The vast majority of animals are also capable of intentional thoughts. That means that animals have exactly the same ethical status as humans. That may sound good to a PETA member, but it opens a Pandora’s box of absurd consequences. Even a staunch animal rights activist like Peter Singer needs to dodge these. He does this by denying that animals (and fetuses for that matter) are capable of forming preferences. I believe he is right. They only get a slight moral status because they can suffer and feel pain. The “slight moral status from suffering” option is not viable on desire utilitarianism. Animals would have exactly the same moral status as humans. That means we’d need to provide Medicaid to cows and hawks, and find a way to keep wolves and foxes from killing deer and rabbits.
 
 

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Simon September 29, 2009 at 12:51 am

Justin Martyr: “But some time before birth, probably between weeks 10 and 25, a pre-born human develops desires. At that point, we have to start considering their desires in our moral equations. I think it’s a fair bet that among the desires of a late-term fetus are very strong desires not to be poisoned, stabbed in the brain, or vacuumed into a tube. These are desires that must be weighed along with a mother’s desires to avoid the burdens of motherhood, etc. – along with all the other desires that exist.”—————————————————————————————- If a fetus of 10 weeks can form intentional thoughts (which I doubt) then you run into another problem. The vast majority of animals are also capable of intentional thoughts. That means that animals have exactly the same ethical status as humans. That may sound good to a PETA member, but it opens a Pandora’s box of absurd consequences. Even a staunch animal rights activist like Peter Singer needs to dodge these. He does this by denying that animals (and fetuses for that matter) are capable of forming preferences. I believe he is right. They only get a slight moral status because they can suffer and feel pain. The “slight moral status from suffering” option is not viable on desire utilitarianism. Animals would have exactly the same moral status as humans. That means we’d need to provide Medicaid to cows and hawks, and find a way to keep wolves and foxes from killing deer and rabbits.  

Nice thread, I’ve had many similar thoughts.

I agree on Singer he does some nice work but he is on shaky ground stopping infanticide of unwanted children.

IMO they certainly don’t have the sophisticated cognitive desires that Tooley talks about and with Singer relying on the argument that parents wouldn’t want it to happen flies in the commonsense response that the desires of the parents who don’t want the kid is being fulfilled by killing it.

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