Not a Person

by Luke Muehlhauser on May 7, 2010 in Ethics,Funny

this is not a person

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{ 74 comments… read them below or add one }

Justfinethanks May 7, 2010 at 6:53 pm

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Lee A.P. May 7, 2010 at 7:00 pm
Bryce May 7, 2010 at 7:02 pm

Well, the acorn is of a species of a tree, it simply hasn’t matured to be a “tree” yet, still being in the “seed” stage.

The chicken egg is unfertilized; it is but an egg.

The silk (that’s silk, right?) is only silk; it would have to be made into a dress before it would be silk that composes a dress.

The sperm and egg, juxtaposed together, are also not a person, as sperm and egg are not human beings, but human gametes.

If its supposed to be insinuated that a fertilized egg, a zygote, which is a human being, then we’re talking about something totally different here. Otherwise, the addition “This isn’t a difficult concept” seems to be pointless, as what is meant to be said is totally ambiguous.

Am I supposed to be interpreting it that a zygote isn’t a human being?

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Iulianus May 7, 2010 at 8:15 pm

But the question of the embryo being a human isn’t addressed here. If an embryo is only considered a person after it’s born, then what about an embryo that is identical, but it’s seconds from birth? It has the same characteristics of life, it’s only a matter of where it is (inside the womb versus outside). If that embryo is considered a person, then what about that same embryo a few moments or days younger? And so on…

If we set the person/embryo barrier at some point in the developtment (for the sake of argument, let’s say, 75 days), then what about the embryo mere moments before that, or a day. The problem of defining these terms is incredibly hard, which, in turn, may complicate its ethical connotations as well.

Personally, I’m not Pro-Life, though I think the unborn has the right to be taken seriously and that the parent should look into his or her options. This does not include giving it into an orphanage or any public system that is overpopulated and under-resourced (is that even a word?). If the quality of life cannot be secured, it’s best to terminate, though as an undergraduate philosophy student, I can’t say I’ve given it an incredible amount of thought since I’m still in the process of building my entire perspective from scratch. Basically, questioning every princible, even if it maybe initially obvious- it’s harder than it sounds, and it sounds tough to begin with.

As a closing comment, I was hoping Luke might put up at least something to defend his position- even if its a small paragraph. Brilliant as he is, I was a bit disappointed here. As Bryce says before me, it’s a much more difficult concept than this picture portrays (though I may have taken that out of context.)

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Bradm May 7, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Bryce is right, of course. These four pictures together make very little sense. You have a chicken egg which may or may not be fertilized. You have a tree in its embryonic stage (which is, in fact, a tree despite what the caption says). You have some silk. And you have a human egg and sperm which appears to be somewhere around the time of the process of fertilization. Can anybody make sense of what these four pictures are supposed to mean? Are they supposed to be analogous? If so, the author seems to have very little knowledge of science. If not, what is the point?

Luke, I’m a little surprised to see this on your blog. How do you make sense of these 4 apparently random pictures and captions?

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Iulianus May 7, 2010 at 8:35 pm

I looked at the Wikipedia page of ‘A Defence of Abortion’ and there was one criticism that I think should be considered. I highly doubt I’m the pioneer here, but I don’t think it’s a question merely to the child’s “Right to Life”. The Violinist and Seed examples don’t seem to take it all into consideration. You’re not just giving the unconscious stranger the right to your body, but you have to actively sustain him in other ways.

The child has a right to quality of life as well; there are other rights to consider other than just life or death. The future of its parents directly affect that child’s future. Pregnancy might come at a time where the parents are simply unable to sustain the child financially- would it be better to terminate so a future child could life a more secure life? Is it a virtue to give birth to a child knowing you could hardly support or sustain it? Is it morally justifiable to give birth knowing the quality of life of this child will not be the most desireable?

I don’t mean to say that to be born poor brings misery, but to force a woman to give birth to children she can’t support is questionable in my perspective. The parent has the obligation to take the child’s quality of life into consideration, not just the “quantity”.

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Charles May 7, 2010 at 9:07 pm

This has been discussed before. The whole question of “personhood” is irrelevant. All that matters is whether (or when) the fetus acquires desires.

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piero May 7, 2010 at 10:59 pm

Iulianus:
Do you find it “incredibly hard” to determine whether a person is bald?

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Silver Bullet May 7, 2010 at 11:44 pm

Am I supposed to be interpreting it that a zygote isn’t a human being?  

No, you’re supposed to interpret it exactly as it is written: that a zygote isn’t a person, just as an anencephalic baby isn’t a person, even though it is a human being.

Sure, we can play with definitions here and go back and forth, but I don’t think it is unreasonable to go with the notion that personhood is beyond even a gastrula.

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Beelzebub May 8, 2010 at 1:30 am

Christians do understand it, that’s just the thing. The “fire in the IVF lab” scenario tells all. Just to rehash, for those that are familiar with it: You are a fundamentalist Christian visiting an in-vitro fertilization clinic (or perhaps protesting outside it). There is a fire inside, caused by a sudden explosion. You dash into the clinic and find ten petri dishes on a counter containing fertilized embryos and one crying baby. You can’t possibly carry everything out in time. What do you do?

Everyone, fundamentalist and atheist alike, knows what they would do, so let’s stop kidding ourselves, yes? We all know the moral difference between a baby and a soul in a petri dish.

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notedscholar May 8, 2010 at 4:31 am

This clarifies the difficult issues involved not at all. It should be observed that the fetus is only a person iff and only iff abortion is murder. We must first discover whether or not it is murder. But murder contains within it an ontological deontology of life, so we are at an impasse! This is why I have constructed a strict sciento-logico proof for the impossible immorality of abortion.

The equations you proffer are very non-sequiting. Look, even if it was a chicken, it would be okay to eat it, that is iff we follow Michael Pollan’s guidelines. But we should not eat a fetus. So where’s the analogy?

Cheers,
NS

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TDC May 8, 2010 at 7:01 am

Beelzebub,

Two things about your comment. First, you seem to equate prolife with Christian. This is often the case, but not always. There are prolife atheists, such as the one who debated Richard Carrier on the infidels website. See here

http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/debates/secularist/abortion/

Second, the IVF lab scenario isn’t very helpful. The choice about “who to save” is largely emotional. Most people would probably save women, children, and those personally attached to them sooner than unrelated adult males, but that does nothing to tell us whether the adult males are living human beings or not. Our moral intuitions don’t prove that women and children have MORE value then adult males. People are more emotionally attached to babies than embryos, but I don’t think that proves your point.

Luke,

Just out of curiosity… when do you think the embryo becomes a person, then? When is abortion wrong? I’d love to see how desirism tackles these questions.

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Lorkas May 8, 2010 at 7:38 am

This clarifies the difficult issues involved not at all. It should be observed that the fetus is only a person iff and only iff abortion is murder. We must first discover whether or not it is murder. But murder contains within it an ontological deontology of life, so we are at an impasse! This is why I have constructed a strict sciento-logico proof for the impossible immorality of abortion.The equations you proffer are very non-sequiting. Look, even if it was a chicken, it would be okay to eat it, that is iff we follow Michael Pollan’s guidelines. But we should not eat a fetus. So where’s the analogy?Cheers,
NS  

Wow, this reads like a SCIgen paper.

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numeral May 8, 2010 at 7:38 am

That’s true but in only a dozen weeks the fetus will have a head and brain. How many weeks does it take to make a human? Don’t people have abortions after a dozen weeks?

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lukeprog May 8, 2010 at 7:39 am

TDC,

I dunno about “person”, but for desirism and abortion see here.

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Silver Bullet May 8, 2010 at 9:47 am

Beelzebub,Two things about your comment. First, you seem to equate prolife with Christian. This is often the case, but not always. There are prolife atheists, such as the one who debated Richard Carrier on the infidels website. See herehttp://www.infidels.org/library/modern/debates/secularist/abortion/ when do you think the embryo becomes a person, then?   

First of all, I think you are asking the relevant question. That is, the question is not ‘when does the zygote become a human’, but ‘when does the zygote become a person’. As I pointed out with the analogy of the anencephalic baby above, the terms ‘human’ and ‘person’ are different. For the purposes of zoological classification, a zygote is a ‘human’, but it is not a ‘person’.

The answer would depend on how one would define “person”. I would argue that the definition ought to revolve around some concept that depends on the development of the nervous system. Some might argue that a person has a nervous system that permits consciousness, or awareness of happiness/suffering, or desires. That’s the difficult part of the question.

Regardless of the answer, I think that we we can be reasonably certain that a zygote doesn’t have a well enough developed nervous system to be considered a “person” by anybody’s definition, and that’s the point of the image Luke posted.

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Jeff H May 8, 2010 at 11:07 am

But the question of the embryo being a human isn’t addressed here. If an embryo is only considered a person after it’s born, then what about an embryo that is identical, but it’s seconds from birth? It has the same characteristics of life, it’s only a matter of where it is (inside the womb versus outside). If that embryo is considered a person, then what about that same embryo a few moments or days younger? And so on…

If we set the person/embryo barrier at some point in the developtment (for the sake of argument, let’s say, 75 days), then what about the embryo mere moments before that, or a day. The problem of defining these terms is incredibly hard, which, in turn, may complicate its ethical connotations as well.

Well, you’re right, and yet the fact that life is not a simple dichotomy doesn’t mean we can’t make any legal pronunciations on the matter.

A similar example is the age of “adulthood”. There are certainly many immature 18-year-olds (or 20-year-olds, or 40-year-olds, for that matter). And there are certainly some very mature and intelligent 16-year-olds. There’s certainly nothing flipping on like a lightswitch on your 18th birthday turning you into an “adult”. And yet we legally set the age of adulthood at 18, even recognizing this difficulty. The point is that we have to set it somewhere, and the point is to set it at a point that seems reasonable. If better arguments come along, that point can be adjusted (like some who argue for 16 instead of 18).

To bring this back to fetuses and personhood: You’re right that an fetus right before birth is no different than a fetus right after birth. Same with an embryo at 75 days and one at 74 days. It’s obviously a gradual process, but as long as we provide a well-reasoned approach and set our definition of “personhood” to an appropriate point in time, then we can at least have an approximation that works well. In my opinion, setting it at conception and setting it at birth are both unreasonable options that tend to drown out a reasonable middle ground in the debate.

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Justin Martyr May 8, 2010 at 1:54 pm

First define terms, then assert.

If a person is a self-aware being then a fertilized egg is not a person. If a person is a member of the species Homo sapiens then a fertilized egg is a member of the species Homo sapiens. An acorn is not an oak tree, but a pollinated acorn belongs to the same species as an oak tree.

This post fails badly on either count.

Basing personhood on anything other than species fails badly. Set the bar “too low” and virtually all animals are persons. Eating meat really should be murder. Veganism should be the law of the land and meat eaters should get 20 to life. Set the “too high” and you make infanticide legal. That lady who put her month old baby in her microwave is acting perfectly within her rights.

The goal for secular people is to set the bar “just right” but the problem is that the radical vision of animal rights and legalized infanticide overlap.

David Boonin had a clever attempt to escape this trap, it’s a little abstruse but if there is a pro-choice person who thinks he’s successfully escaped the trap, I’d be happy to debunk it.

Note: you can substitute “when one gets desires” for “when one reaches personhood” and the same reasoning applies.

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Silver Bullet May 8, 2010 at 5:41 pm

“Set the bar “too low” and virtually all animals are persons. Eating meat really should be murder. Veganism should be the law of the land”

Why is that setting the bar too low? Perhaps eating meat really should be murder…

There are other scenarios where we justify murder, but perhaps we should be thinking of killing animals for consumption as murder. Perhaps it can’t be justified to eat animals.

Perhaps veganism will be the law of the land in what future generations will consider “civilized societies”.

Perhaps they will look back on our treatment of animals the way we now look back on the treatment by past generations of slaves…

I think we should be careful about “setting bars” in places that are convenient for our species.

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Josh May 8, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Silver Bullet,

Well. Fucking. Said.

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Hermes May 8, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Justin, the acorn is actually roughly analogous to a fertilized embryo. Both are fertilized. Once fertilized, both begin to form a seed or egg that contains basic structures. At the blastocyst or seed phase, both have to be ‘planted’; one in soil, another in a womb.

This does not mean that the analogy can’t be misused, but that one is valid.

* * *

Outside of the analogy, the real problem, as you identify, is where to place the bar. The chosen demarcation should be definitive and not based on legalistic time frames like trimesters as opposed to actual physiological changes. This is the case even if the choice of what is the ‘right’ demarcation is fairly arbitrary and set by aggressive politicking by agenda driven groups — say at the moment of conception, at the point that differentiation of the blastocyst occurs, when the spine is formed, or when the first unaided breath actually occurs.

It is unfortunate that the difficult question can’t even be formulated. I mean, what is the actual question? It’s not “When does life start?” as life is a continual process over the course of a few hundred billion to a couple trillion generations involving many many species. It’s also not “When does human life start?” since that leads to nothing but the the trap of dealing with the aggressive politicking by agenda driven groups.

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Justin Martyr May 8, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Hermes,

Life is a well-defined scientific concept. It does have some gray areas that involve philosophy and differing metaphysical assumptions about reality. We can debate whether or not a virus is a alive. We can debate whether a colony of leafcutter ants is one organism or millions. We can debate whether a sponge is one organism or many. But we can’t, in point of fact, debate whether or not a fertilized egg is alive.

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drj May 8, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Basing personhood on anything other than species fails badly.

OK, so the species “human” gets special treatment and members of that species get to be called “person”. But surely, many other species deserve *some* sort of moral or ethical regard, besides members of the species “human”. Very few would be willing to bite that bullet and claim that only humans deserve any kind of moral regard at all.

At the same time, its equally problematic to claim that we have moral duties to *every* single species. There are some species, to which we owe no moral duties. Some examples might be bacteria or perhaps the weeds in my garden. Neither get any moral concern from me (or anyone else, I imagine). In other words, we can act freely, without constraint, in any of our interactions with those species, insofar as those actions don’t affect some other species indirectly, to which we owe moral duty. We can kill them, we can feed them, or we can cut them up into pieces just for fun.

So this leads to a problem if one wants to use species as the delimiter for personhood. Unless the list of species to which one owes moral duties is completely arbitrary, which would seem wrong, one has to devise some sort of criteria to judge each species. Who gets on the list, and who doesn’t, and why?

It should be obvious, that its much more than an arbitrary whim, that garden weeds are left to moral exile, while, say, dolphins might get some special treatment. And once one starts trying to determine what makes one different than the other, well… things generally start to look suspiciously like personhood arguments again..

So I don’t think species works at all.

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Silver Bullet May 8, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Nicely said drj.

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drj May 8, 2010 at 7:57 pm

And of course, the other problem with using species as our metric, is that species membership itself, can be rather arbitrary. “Species” are shovelled into their respective buckets based on (often loose) criteria that are useful for scientists, and morals have absolutely nothing to do with it. We should have no expectations whatsoever, that our moral duties towards other creatures will coincide with such a categorization system.

If scientists decide to revamp their categorization system tomorrow, do we then have to adjust the way we think about moral duties to other creatures, to match their changes? Of course not.

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Hermes May 8, 2010 at 8:38 pm

Justin, were you addressing someone else? Here’s what I wrote;

It’s not “When does life start?” as life is a continual process over the course of a few hundred billion to a couple trillion generations involving many many species.

To be clear, what I’m saying ^^here^^ is that life has not stopped over that period of a few hundred billion to trillion generations. There’s no gap separating generations where there wasn’t life; it is “a continual process”. The “many many species” are our distant ancestor.

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Hermes May 8, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Nicely said drj.

Seconded.

I’ll add to that, if a sentient alien species is found on — say — Mars or Titan, do we give them no more regard than a rock or a puddle? If not, why treat non-alien species on this planet with so little regard?

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Jeff H May 9, 2010 at 8:31 am

Hermes,Life is a well-defined scientific concept. It does have some gray areas that involve philosophy and differing metaphysical assumptions about reality. We can debate whether or not a virus is a alive. We can debate whether a colony of leafcutter ants is one organism or millions. We can debate whether a sponge is one organism or many. But we can’t, in point of fact, debate whether or not a fertilized egg is alive.  

Life is not the issue here. My skin cells are alive, but we don’t declare a Holocaust every time I scratch my arm. And a fully mature fruit fly is thousands of times more complex than a fertilized ovum – it’s got a nervous system, a functional circulatory system, etc. But we don’t get all up in arms over killing live fruit flies.

Hell, if life is the criteria, even the process of conception involves a genocide of epic proportions, since most of the sperm die except for that one lucky one.

Now, I’m not trying to say that your argument was “The blastocyst is alive, therefore it’s a person.” But that is the argument that sometimes gets thrown around, when it’s obviously not the issue. Life is a necessary component of personhood, but certainly not a sufficient one.

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Reginald Selkirk May 9, 2010 at 11:30 am

If an embryo is only considered a person after it’s born, then what about an embryo that is identical, but it’s seconds from birth?

An embryo is never seconds from birth. A fetus might be. You should get clear on your terminology.

Every sperm is sacred.

Basing personhood on anything other than species fails badly.

Basing personhood solely on species also fails badly; see Jeff H’s example of skin cells, or consider a tumor.

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TDC May 9, 2010 at 11:48 am

I agree that basing personhood solely on species, or solely on the fact that it is living, fails.

Perhaps human beings are accorded special status (personhood) because of their capacity for sentience, consciousness, and the like. Discovering other sentient species would be no problem for this view, because they too would be considered persons.

The embryo would be considered a person because it is a living, whole, distinct human organism (unlike skin cells) that has a capacity for sentience/consciousness if merely given time. It may not be currently exercising its capacity, but, as far as I can tell, neither are certain comatose patients whom we consider persons.

This view may have other problems, but you it certainly doesn’t fall into the trap of basing personhood solely on species or the fact that it is living.

Thoughts?

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Hermes May 9, 2010 at 12:06 pm

TDC, a few thoughts. Consider that an entity — or a smaller structure like a cell, having a capacity for an attribute that it does not have at the moment — does not fully resolve the problem of where to draw the line.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, differentiated cells can have the potential to be ‘sentient, conscious, …’ but do not achieve that result. This has nothing to do with the cells themselves, only their career path as it were; one set of cells are sex cells and thus are in the queue, while it is not impossible to use artificial means to move cells from one category to the next. As we artificially manipulate all kinds of things about ourselves and other animals, the fact that one cell is queued up and another is not only shows that there is a preference for natural activities. Compare this chance preference for natural queues for cells to the howls of protest against IVF from about 30 years ago by religious organizations; that it was against their god’s plan (?!?!?).

Yet, not even an ideally placed sex cell’s career — say, an egg that happens to be released by a hopeful mother-wanna-be — is a given as can be shown in the case of spontaneous abortions of embryos that often occur without the female even being aware of it.

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Reginald Selkirk May 9, 2010 at 12:42 pm

The embryo would be considered a person because it is a living, whole, distinct human organism (unlike skin cells) that has a capacity for sentience/consciousness if merely given time. It may not be currently exercising its capacity, but, as far as I can tell, neither are certain comatose patients whom we consider persons.

Whether comatose patients with permanent brain injury still “have a capacity” for consciousness might not be straightforward.

Further, “having a capacity” for consciousness is not having consciousness, just as an acorn is not an oak tree.

Every sperm is sacred.

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Reginald Selkirk May 9, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Somatic cell nuclear transfer

In SCNT the nucleus, which contains the organism’s DNA, of a somatic cell (a body cell other than a sperm or egg cell) is removed and the rest of the cell discarded. At the same time, the nucleus of an egg cell is removed. The nucleus of the somatic cell is then inserted into the enucleated egg cell. After being inserted into the egg, the somatic cell nucleus is reprogrammed by the host cell.

So almost every nucleated cell in your body – including those skin cells you just scratched away – “has the capacity” to be a fully grown organism, i.e. a human person. Therefore, scratching yourself is murder.

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Mike Young May 9, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Dear Luke, You have made an obvious category mistake where you confuse and ontological category for a stage in development. To say that “Its not a person it is a fetus” is akin to saying “It is not a person it is an adult.” A fetus is on the contimuum of being a Homo sapien and does not have its own ontology further, comparing a fetus to an acorn is a bad analogy. Lets offer arguments for these two points shall we?
First it turns out that before we even get to a fetus we have to have a fertalized egg, then we have to become a zyogt, then we have to travel through the felopian tubes and attatch to the uteran wall so we can become a blastocyst. After that if we are lucky we get to grow and become an embryo and finally if we keep growing we get to become a fetus. As you can see there are at least three steps between egg and fetus. And almost all women will have no idea they are even pergnant until we get to the fetal stage. Attempting to gloss over the distintion between egg and fetus by appealing to peoples ignorance is bad philosophy. Stop it. An acorn that begins to grow is a fertalized egg, much like the fertalized egg in humans that we call the Zygote. A fetus is not analagous to an acorn. So that analogy fails
Lets look at the second point. Your picture points out that cotton is not a dress. Of course you ought to realize that a dress is a static thing, it is not a thing that we think of as having natural developmental stages. Consider the species Charaxes brutus natalensis which is a type of butterfly. Now, a butterfly, I think we all admit, is not a caterpillar. Those are clearly not the same thing. However, both a caterpillar and a butterfly can be Charaxes brutus natalensis, and if for some odd reason Charaxes brutus natalensis were to become endangered and we wanted to protect them by passing a law against killing them, we could not do it effectively by saying “no killing butterflies.” Why? Because all the butterfly haters out there would get around this law by stomping out all the caterpillars. You must pass a law protecting the species.
Now, you might want to say “But mike I am not protecting Homo-sapiens, I am protecting persons.” To which I lay down the following challenge: give me a definition of a person that is two things, ontologically objective (with a corresponding third-person ontology) and exhaustive (that is it applies to all and only persons). No one has been able to do that yet, and if you are like everyone else and cant meet my challenge your the appeal to a distinction betweens human and person fails. If that fails you then have to give me an account of why it is wrong to kill a one month old and not an 8 month old still in the womb without appealing to the fallacy of special pleading. Appeal to the rarity of 8 month abortions wont help you because I am making a conceptual point about why one is ok and one is not. The answer is going to turn on the question of bodily integrity, not on weak analogies about fetuses not being human. Back off the weak analaogies Luke.

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Hermes May 9, 2010 at 3:51 pm

comparing a fetus to an acorn is a bad analogy.

Why? I’ll repeat my previous comment to Justin;

Justin, the acorn is actually roughly analogous to a fertilized embryo. Both are fertilized. Once fertilized, both begin to form a seed or egg that contains basic structures. At the blastocyst or seed phase, both have to be ‘planted’; one in soil, another in a womb.

This does not mean that the analogy can’t be misused, but that one is valid.

If you require a 1:1 stage comparison, I can provide it but from your comments it seems as if you know those steps already and thus that would be make-work for me.

That said, the point of the pictures isn’t to posit a philosophical syllogism. It’s propaganda along the lines of these distortions;

Advertisement 1: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/upload/2010/04/face1.jpeg

Reality: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/upload/2010/04/face2.jpeg

Advertisement 2: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/upload/2010/04/genes1.jpeg

Reality: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/upload/2010/04/genes2.jpeg

Source: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/04/sunday_sacrilege_an_embryo_is.php

Does that make more sense?

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drj May 9, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Now, you might want to say “But mike I am not protecting Homo-sapiens, I am protecting persons.” To which I lay down the following challenge: give me a definition of a person that is two things, ontologically objective (with a corresponding third-person ontology) and exhaustive (that is it applies to all and only persons). No one has been able to do that yet

I do believe there really has been… the big problem is that many don’t want to accept the proposition that many animals may be persons too – we’d obviously have to make some big adjustments on the heels of such a realization.

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Hermes May 9, 2010 at 4:54 pm

I do believe there really has been… the big problem is that many don’t want to accept the proposition that many animals may be persons too – we’d obviously have to make some big adjustments on the heels of such a realization.

I can see it now;

Prisoner 1: “So, dawg, what you in for?”

Prisoner 2: “WOOF!”

Prisoner 1: “I hear you. Did a bit of that my self.”

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TDC May 10, 2010 at 12:04 am

Hey Reginald and Hermes,

Reginald, you said

Whether comatose patients with permanent brain injury still “have a capacity” for consciousness might not be straightforward.

Further, “having a capacity” for consciousness is not having consciousness, just as an acorn is not an oak tree.

I didn’t specify that the comatose patients had permanent brain injury. Others can go into a comatose state and come out of it. They didn’t cease to be persons and then become them again. That’s more what I was referring to.

I know that having the capacity for consciousness is not the same as having consciousness. I was putting forth the idea that an inherent capacity for consciousness/sentience is more useful for defining personhood than active consciousness/sentience. One reason being the comatose patients above.

Both of you guys brought up counterexamples (i.e. body cells, sperm, etc.). Here’s my attempt at clarification.

I am NOT saying that purely having that capacity to become sentient/conscious suffices. I tried to specify that embryos are living, distinct, and whole human beings. This separates them from sperm (23 genes, not a human being) and body cells, which are only parts of a whole human organism.

Body cells must be fundamentally changed by removing the nucleus and inserting it into an enucleated egg (which would then create a new organism). Sperm and egg cells must be fundamentally changed by fusing together and becoming a new organism. Embryos merely need nutrition and the right environment. I think there’s a significant difference there.

So what I’m attempting to say is that personhood requires a living, distinct, whole organism (not just a part of an organism) that has the inherent (by which I mean it is already part of its very nature. It does not need to be fundamentally changed, like differentiated/body cells. It only needs nutrition, environment, and time to grow) capacity for consciousness/sentience/etc. Sperm, body cells, skin flakes, cancer, etc. do not fit this definition.

You could charge my definition as self serving or plain wrong (by providing a better definition), but I don’t see where it is inconsistent. Although if you find a spot, please let me know, as I’m still working through this issue.

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drj May 10, 2010 at 4:44 am

TDC,

I don’t know if there’s anything inconsistent about your position, per se, though it sounds like a standard “argument from potential”. I would agree there is something to value about a potential human person, though when its rights do clash with that of a full human person, I think the human person must necessarily win.

There is a thought experiment that might highlight some possible weirdness in the potential argument. Imagine a machine, which contains both sperm cells and egg cells. This machine runs an automated routine, which fertilizes each egg with a sperm. You can only stop this process by unplugging the machine, or by destroying it or the gametes inside. So, left to their own devices, these individual sperms and eggs *will* become fertilized, and therefore (on potentiality arguments) persons. It would appear that the machine has imbibed the individual gametes with all the same potential as a fertilized egg. Each potential person even a distinct genetic pairing, even though the DNA hasn’t combined yet. Its only a matter of time, as the machine runs its course.

Potentiality arguments might lead us to believe that it is an immoral act (or perhaps even murder) to interfere with this machine. But that certainly doesn’t seem right. What do you think?

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TDC May 10, 2010 at 6:39 am

drj,

I agree that stopping that machine is neither murder nor immoral. I believe that it would prevent the creation of persons, but not kill any person.

Sperm and eggs that are soon to be joined do not fit the requirements for personhood that I laid out in my response to Reginald and Hermes. Fertilized embryos, however, do. So abortion would end the life of a person, while stopping the machine would prevent the creation of a person. One, I would argue, is immoral, the other is not.

The embryo is not a potential person, but a potential adult person. It is already a person, just less developed. An oak acorn is not an oak tree, but both are oaks.

You can look at an oak tree and say, “that was once an acorn”. Likewise, I can say that I was once an embryo. Of course, I’m bigger, more developed, in a different environment, and no longer dependent on my mother’s body for survival at this point, but I’m the same organism as that embryo.

I think that grounding human rights in our common humanity (which we give value largely due to humanity’s capacity for consciousness, ethical decisions, etc.), rather than size, level of development, environment, or degree of dependency, is a more dependable way to protect the rights of the few from the tyranny of the masses. Many injustices throughout history have been aided by claiming that some humans are full persons with full rights while other humans are less.

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Reginald Selkirk May 10, 2010 at 6:42 am

Body cells must be fundamentally changed by removing the nucleus and inserting it into an enucleated egg (which would then create a new organism). Sperm and egg cells must be fundamentally changed by fusing together and becoming a new organism. Embryos merely need nutrition and the right environment. I think there’s a significant difference there.

I see, so fundamental is your new key word. And the changes a zygote undergoes on the way to becoming a full-term fetus are somehow not fundamental.

So what I’m attempting to say is that personhood requires a living, distinct, whole organism (not just a part of an organism) that has the inherent (by which I mean it is already part of its very nature.

Living – Is a frozen embryo “living” or not?
Distinct – identical twins are not “persons”?
Whole – I do hope you are not pretending that a zygote or a blastocyst is a “whole” person.
inherent – a new key word, a new episode of goalpost-shifting. You’re going to have to work to separate the concept of inherent from the concept of potential, which fortunately you now seem to have abandoned.

The list of qualifications gets longer and longer. And each part of the list has problems. How much longer must the list become before you acknowledge the best way out is to jettison it?

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Reginald Selkirk May 10, 2010 at 9:10 am

I think that grounding human rights in our common humanity (which we give value largely due to humanity’s capacity for consciousness, ethical decisions, etc.), rather than size, level of development, environment, or degree of dependency, is a more dependable way to protect the rights of the few from the tyranny of the masses. Many injustices throughout history have been aided by claiming that some humans are full persons with full rights while other humans are less.

What a touching plea for full and equal rights. It’s a pity that your argument involves reducing the rights of women when they become pregnant, so that they are considered mere baby factories for the potential persons inhabiting their wombs.

I miss George Orwell.

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TDC May 10, 2010 at 10:58 am

Reginald,

I don’t see a need for a condescending tone. Forgive me if I had one earlier, and let’s just discuss arguments. Like I said, I’m working through the issue, so I’m open to being shown that I’m wrong. I’m partially just thinking out loud, so sorry if its a bit messy.

you said,

I see, so fundamental is your new key word. And the changes a zygote undergoes on the way to becoming a full-term fetus are somehow not fundamental.

Fair enough. It’s an ambiguous word. What I mean is that the body cell must be changed from without by scientists, doctors, etc. The embryo, however, will grow and develop based on what it already is (a human organism). It goes through drastic changes indeed, but this is natural growth. It only requires nutrition and the right environment.

Living – Is a frozen embryo “living” or not?
Distinct – identical twins are not “persons”?
Whole – I do hope you are not pretending that a zygote or a blastocyst is a “whole” person.
inherent – a new key word, a new episode of goalpost-shifting. You’re going to have to work to separate the concept of inherent from the concept of potential, which fortunately you now seem to have abandoned.

In response to each point,
1. I don’t know if frozen embryos are alive or not. I don’t see how it affects my def. of personhood.
2. Identical twins are distinct organisms, just as an embryo is distinct from the mom. They can be connected physically while still being distinct, as far as I know.
3. What I mean by whole is that it is a whole human being. A whole human organism. Not fully developed, of course, but it is not just a part of an organism like a skin flake.
4. My use of potential was confusing people (my fault), so I’m trying to be more precise. I never said that the embryo was a potential person, but that it has the potential to be conscious/sentient, and that this potential is part of its nature as a human organism (which is why I said inherent).

I agree, there are problems with it. I’m not saying its air tight. So may I ask, do you have a better definition? I think Richard Carrier’s pro-choice argument has a lot of merit, but I’m not sure I understand it well enough to bring it forth.

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TDC May 10, 2010 at 11:04 am

What a touching plea for full and equal rights. It’s a pity that your argument involves reducing the rights of women when they become pregnant, so that they are considered mere baby factories for the potential persons inhabiting their wombs.

This is a strawman. I don’t intend to reduce women to baby factories. But IF the embryo is a human person, we need to take both of their rights into account when making these decisions. Don’t ignore the mother, but don’t ignore the child either (if it is one).

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TDC May 10, 2010 at 11:06 am

Reginald,

I take back my comment about the condescending tone. It was overly sensitive and didn’t take into account the fact that internet communication is more difficult than face to face. Forgive me once again, if you can.

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Zeb May 10, 2010 at 11:23 am

What this discussion makes clear is that on the materialist view, the “personhood” of a human is located in the minds of third parties, not in the human organism in question. On that view, any statement such as, “X is/is not a person,” is meaningless. All you could say is “X is/is not considered a person by Y.” And a materialist must acknowledge that personhood is a fictional construct of those minds that hold it.

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Jeff H May 10, 2010 at 12:13 pm

TDC,

If you’re going to say that embryos should be persons now because, given time, they will develop into babies, then I have another question for you:

Do you think that four-year-olds should be considered voters now, since given time they will develop into adults? Or perhaps we should give them the right to purchase alcohol and firearms…

I think that there is something to be said for an argument from potential. However, I don’t think it’s a solid basis for attributing legal rights, because one cannot base rights now on what someone will be (or may be) in the future. Certainly the potential that embryos have gives them value to mothers and fathers and societies, but legal rights are a different issue. Especially when declaring them as “persons”, where presumably women who abort these embryos could be prosecuted as first-degree murderers.

My own view would be that the development of some physiological characteristic should be used as the basis for personhood – likely something like the nervous system. Admittedly it is somewhat arbitrary, but (as the discussion shows) any point we set is going to have some arbitrariness to it. At least it would be based on reasoned argument that tries to distinguish between the rights of animals, embryos, cognitively deficient or comatose individuals, and human adults. It’s also not based on what DNA it has or the potential it may have.

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Justin Martyr May 10, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Jeff H,

Life is not the issue here. My skin cells are alive, but we don’t declare a Holocaust every time I scratch my arm. And a fully mature fruit fly is thousands of times more complex than a fertilized ovum – it’s got a nervous system, a functional circulatory system, etc. But we don’t get all up in arms over killing live fruit flies.

Perhaps I was not clear enough. “life begins at conception” is a shorthand for “an independent living thing begins at conception.” Many pro-choice people defend abortion on the scientifically incorrect claim that a fetus is not an independent living member of the species Homo sapiens. It is.

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Hermes May 10, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Independence isn’t the issue, though.

At conception, the blastocyst is in no way independent, just as a potentially terminally ill patient is not independent. There are qualitative issues beyond independence that have yet to be addressed anywhere by anyone in this thread. That is why we keep going in circles. At this stage, I doubt that anyone has a complete and coherent set of issues that are important, so we end up talking about other things.

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Justin Martyr May 10, 2010 at 12:47 pm

My own view would be that the development of some physiological characteristic should be used as the basis for personhood – likely something like the nervous system.

Animals have developed nervous systems including brainwaves. Are you going to arrest people who eat a cheeseburger?

Once again you have walked into the fatal trap of all personhood definitions other than Boonin’s: set the bar “too low” and eating a cheeseburger is an act of genocide. Set the bar “too high” and microwaving your baby should be legal.

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Justin Martyr May 10, 2010 at 12:55 pm

At conception, the blastocyst is in no way independent, just as a potentially terminally ill patient is not independent.

A terminally ill patient is not independent in the sense of “can survive in the wild with his multitool like Survivorman.” But a terminally ill patient is an independent living thing as in “not a part of something else, like his mother’s body.” And the same thing applies to the blastocyst.

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drj May 10, 2010 at 1:04 pm

TDC,

If distinct is supposed to mean something like “lone specimen of the type human”, it seems like a skin cell in a pitri dish can be distinct, in that same way. It can even grow and reproduce, if it has all the nutrients it needs to survive (we can grow skin cells). So I guess I’m not really sure what ‘distinct’ is supposed to mean, and why a skin cell can’t be considered distinct in the same relevant way.

If distinct means “unique genetically”, then I would argue, the machine thought experiment still maps to the situation, because we’ve, in essence, created a unique genetic code by placing the sperm and egg in the automated machine, in such a way that they are certain to be combined – we’ve just added another stage of development to the mix.

I think that grounding human rights in our common humanity (which we give value largely due to humanity’s capacity for consciousness, ethical decisions, etc.), rather than size, level of development, environment, or degree of dependency, is a more dependable way to protect the rights of the few from the tyranny of the masses. Many injustices throughout history have been aided by claiming that some humans are full persons with full rights while other humans are less.  

Just a note here – conception is a process, not an instant in time. If one wants to really be reductionist about it, we can break down the entire process into thousands and thousands of chemical reactions, that happen over several hours (I believe).

Given the messy nature of biology, and all the fringe cases that exist, it is very difficult to really pin down a reliable definition of personhood that covers all the bases. I’m more than happy to let folk who are smarter than myself, quibble over where babies compare to animals or the comatose on the personhood scale and all that – but it seems to me, that a basic requirement for personhood, is this: it needs a mind/brain/thinking apparatus, at the least.
Do the egg and sperm become a distinct entity in the instant the sperm penetrates the cell wall, and the outer coating on the egg changes so that no more sperm can get through? Or perhaps its when the sperm dissolves inside the egg, and its haploid DNA is drifting in the cytoplasm. Or should we call it distinct once the DNA recombination process begins? If not then, what about after? Or perhaps its only when recombination is complete, and the cell begins to undergo mitosis?

I’m not trying to run afoul of a bald man fallacy here, but it seems to me, that the process conception is just as much a “level/stage of development”, as the formation of the cerebral cortex. So, I don’t really think its true, that ‘personhood at conception’ somehow avoids the apparent problem of being founded upon a stage of development (though I’m not sure why its such a big problem to begin with).

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TDC May 10, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Hey Jeff,

I don’t think the alcohol/firearms for toddlers situation is analogous. We have age restrictions on those things for practical reasons. But one’s right to life, according to the Declaration of Independence, is not in anyway dependent on abilities but on the fact that “all men are created equal”. So if they fit under the term “men” in that sentence, then they have a right to life under that Declaration.

I’m not saying that embryos will become persons with rights, therefore the should have the legal rights of persons. I’m saying that what they will naturally become (adult human persons) helps to show us what they already are (embryonic human persons). Their legal rights, in turn should be based on what they are. I don’t think the four differences between the embryo i was and the adult I am now (Size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency) are enough to warrant a person/non-person distinction. Either all human beings are persons, or some human beings are persons. I’m arguing that the former is the better, more consistent route to go. Let me know if I misunderstood your point.

Your position, based on a physiological characteristic, is possible. In the link I posted above to the abortion debate on the infidels website, Richard Carrier based it on the development of the cerebral cortex (among other things). There seems to be some strength to that view, and I need to spend some more time working through it before I comment.

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drj May 10, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Oops, I goofed – the below paragraph included on my post above was meant for another post… it doesnt really fit in the others up there, oh well.

Given the messy nature of biology, and all the fringe cases that exist, it is very difficult to really pin down a reliable definition of personhood that covers all the bases. I’m more than happy to let folk who are smarter than myself, quibble over where babies compare to animals or the comatose on the personhood scale and all that – but it seems to me, that a basic requirement for personhood, is this: it needs a mind/brain/thinking apparatus, at the least.

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drj May 10, 2010 at 1:16 pm

And its this post, that my mispasted paragraph was meant for:

What this discussion makes clear is that on the materialist view, the “personhood” of a human is located in the minds of third parties, not in the human organism in question. On that view, any statement such as, “X is/is not a person,” is meaningless. All you could say is “X is/is not considered a person by Y.” And a materialist must acknowledge that personhood is a fictional construct of those minds that hold it. Zeb(Quote)

Given the messy nature of biology, and all the fringe cases that exist, it is very difficult to really pin down a reliable definition of personhood that covers all the bases. I’m more than happy to let folk who are smarter than myself, quibble over where babies compare to animals or the comatose on the personhood scale and all that – but it seems to me, that a basic requirement for personhood, is this: it needs a mind/brain/thinking apparatus, at the least.

So even though its hard to pick out all the things that are and are not persons, its very easy to pick out some things that definitely are or definitely are not persons.

A fetus, I would say, until the first stirrings of the cerebral cortex, is definitely not a person, since a minimum requirement of personhood is a mind of some sort.

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TDC May 10, 2010 at 1:18 pm

drj, (woot for 3 letter names!)
you said,

If distinct is supposed to mean something like “lone specimen of the type human”, it seems like a skin cell in a pitri dish can be distinct, in that same way. It can even grow and reproduce, if it has all the nutrients it needs to survive (we can grow skin cells). So I guess I’m not really sure what ‘distinct’ is supposed to mean, and why a skin cell can’t be considered distinct in the same relevant way.

If distinct means “unique genetically”, then I would argue, the machine thought experiment still maps to the situation, because we’ve, in essence, created a unique genetic code by placing the sperm and egg in the automated machine, in such a way that they are certain to be combined – we’ve just added another stage of development to the mix.

skin cells are distinct from other cells, yes. But they are not distinct, living, and whole human beings. They are distinct in some ways, and living most definitely, but they don’t fit the “whole” part. They are only part of a whole human organism, they are not human organisms themselves AFAIK.

In the machine example, the unique genetic code may exist in the sense that it will be created unless stopped, but no distinct organism with that genetic code yet exists, so there is no foul in turning the machine off.

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TDC May 10, 2010 at 1:29 pm

drj,

Just a note here – conception is a process, not an instant in time. If one wants to really be reductionist about it, we can break down the entire process into thousands and thousands of chemical reactions, that happen over several hours (I believe)..

…Do the egg and sperm become a distinct entity in the instant the sperm penetrates the cell wall, and the outer coating on the egg changes so that no more sperm can get through? Or perhaps its when the sperm dissolves inside the egg, and its haploid DNA is drifting in the cytoplasm. Or should we call it distinct once the DNA recombination process begins? If not then, what about after? Or perhaps its only when recombination is complete, and the cell begins to undergo mitosis?

This is a very important point. Thanks for bringing this up to me.

I’m not a biologist, but the moment it becomes a distinct organism is a purely scientific question, so I’ll leave that to the biologists. I’m pretty sure, however, that it is scientifically certain that, by the end of the conception process, there exists a new distinct human organism. I could provide some quotes from embryology textbooks if necessary.

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Daniel May 10, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Obviously thats not a person….the interesting question would be whether or not a 9-month old fetus is…and then an 8, 7, 6 … ; )

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Daniel May 10, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Obviously thats not a person….the interesting question would be whether or not a 9-month old fetus is…and then an 8, 7, 6 … which then is the equivalent of a dress missing a button… ; )

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Zeb May 10, 2010 at 8:43 pm

but it seems to me, that a basic requirement for personhood, is this: it needs a mind/brain/thinking apparatus, at the least.

But when you say “it seems to me…,” don’t you really mean “I choose…”? It’s not like you’re noticing something about the way things really are, is it?

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drj May 10, 2010 at 9:36 pm

But when you say “it seems to me…,” don’t you really mean “I choose…”? It’s not like you’re noticing something about the way things really are, is it?  

Well, I’m noticing that the fetus now has a functioning brain. That, of course, is just as much an empirical fact as is the fact that a fetus has a complete and unique genetic code after conception and recombination.

I suppose it is a choice of sorts, to consider the formation of the cerebral cortex as the “significant moment”, but I don’t see how choosing some other stage of development (such as conception), is anything but the same type of choice.

As for where my choice comes from, well…

Another curious thing I notice is, that I, and most everyone I know, tend to feel and act as if moral consideration need only be extended to other things with brains. Even all the pro-life folk I know, in all circumstances besides this one outlier of a case, behave that way, all the time. So it seems to me, like those claiming that abortion (before a brain forms) is a grave moral wrong, really stand in defiance of some pretty strong and universal moral intuitions. The fact that these intuitions are strong and universal, does not mean they are correct, but they seem as good, if not better, than other moral intuitions we use as barometers for moral claims.

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Mike Young May 10, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Lets not kid ourselves, if pregnancy was caused by anything opther then sex ther ewould be no debate. The only reason that abortion is legal is because those without self-control wish to have sex and not accept the consequences.

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drj May 11, 2010 at 3:40 am

Lets not kid ourselves, if pregnancy was caused by anything opther then sex ther ewould be no debate. The only reason that abortion is legal is because those without self-control wish to have sex and not accept the consequences.  

Funny, sometimes I often get the distinct impression that the reverse is true.

If pregnancy were caused by anything other than sex, there would be no debate. The only reason many complain about abortion, is that it allows one to escape one of the most potentially life-altering consequences of sexual intercourse – hence, they might do it more, and in circumstance that I find objectionable.

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Zeb May 11, 2010 at 5:10 am

drj, you’ve made my point. In you view, “person” is not an ontological identity, it is a category of moral consideration for which you have chosen “functioning brain” as the qualifying characteristic. For most religious pro-life people, on the other hand, “person” is an ontological identity, and “has a complete and unique genetic code after conception” is merely a sign that the ontological identity is present. For such people the relevant moral category is “sacred.”

And you are wrong, people give moral consideration to things without brains quite often. First the are the proposed persons without brains, including embryos but also spiritual beings and, in some cultures, inanimate objects believed to have personhood. Second are sacred objects, words, and places that must not be harmed, disrespected, ignored, etc. And finally even some nonreligious people extend moral consideration to non-persons, such the earth, masterpieces of art, or family heirlooms. And by moral consideration I do mean special treatment of the sake of the object itself – there are people who would say it is wrong to destroy a Van Gogh even if it was about to be locked in a vault and shot into deep space, never to be seen by another mind again.

I’m not here to argue that “person” is an ontological identity and “sacred” is the relevant moral category (though that is what I do believe), just that the original post is meaningless on materialism and that your language does not match you meaning, while the language of TDC does match his, even if his statements are false.

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Hermes May 11, 2010 at 5:44 am

Obviously thats not a person….the interesting question would be whether or not a 9-month old fetus is…and then an 8, 7, 6 … which then is the equivalent of a dress missing a button… ; )

Yes. I agree with your sentiments.

To everyone: So where is the line? Does anybody actually know?

I don’t pretend that is an easy question, and I don’t claim to even know where it is.

What unambiguous criteria can be used to determine personhood that isn’t dependent on a narrow view of one species? If we are ever able to answer that question, then how it applies to our human species should also be unambiguous, allowing reasonable people to actually discuss this without being needlessly strident.

It reminds me one time where I was talking to a coworker at lunch, and I gave what I thought was a nuanced and un-judgmental discussion of these issues. Her reaction was that I was being pigheaded and that I must be challenged — because I did not agree 100% with her specific opinion. I spent the next 5 minutes calmly outlining a simple fact; unlike most people I really do not have a strong opinion on the act of abortion itself. I wish I knew more about where to draw the line, but I’m simply ignorant of where to place it.

There are some things we do know, though. People will have sex regardless of how many people promote the “personal responsibility” mantra and ignore human nature. This attitude from religious groups is as bad as the communists ignoring human nature when they attempted to implement communism.

Taking human nature into account, a reasonable step is to make contraceptives trivially easy to obtain so that unplanned pregnancies and STDs are as rare as possible.

If you are “pro-life” and also want contraceptive use and proper sex education to be restricted, you are a hypocrite and have blood on your hands for promoting such barbarism.

There probably is a point during pregnancy that abortions should be restricted; it’s clearly not at or before the blastocyst phase, and neither is it a few years after the birth has happened as is acceptable in some cultures [from memory, ancient Hebrews and Spartans though there may be some others].

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Reginald Selkirk May 11, 2010 at 8:50 am

Lets not kid ourselves, if pregnancy was caused by anything opther then sex ther ewould be no debate. The only reason that abortion is legal is because those without self-control wish to have sex and not accept the consequences.  

What is your opinion on abortion for cases of rape?

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Daniel May 11, 2010 at 2:12 pm

What is your opinion on abortion for cases of rape?  

If someone had to die, let it be the rapist not the child who did not do anything. One crime (rape) is never solved by another crime (infanticide). As simple as that.

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Zeb May 11, 2010 at 2:37 pm

If someone had to die, let it be the rapist not the child who did not do anything. One crime (rape) is never solved by another crime (infanticide). As simple as that.  

I agree with your reasoning, but saying “simple as that” makes you sound flippant and uncaring. If a woman has a moral obligation to accept the emotional, physical, and economic costs of bearing a child (rather from rape or any less tragic conception), the rest of us have the moral obligation to share and ease that burden as much as possible. To demand such a sacrifice of her is not so simple, even if it is justified. Until there is a solid and comprehensive social support system in place for all unintentional mothers, I don’t think we can demand from them what the rest of us are not willing to provide ourselves.

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Lucian December 23, 2010 at 2:58 pm

As a general note, and not directly refuting or addressing the idea you’ve expressed in this post: this is the first thing man-murderers do: denying the personhood or humanity of their victims — and it works like a charm. (I guess I was just expecting a bit more originality coming from you, that’s all…)

Signed,

Not-A-True-Scotsman.

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None November 8, 2011 at 7:25 pm

You’re right that an fetus right before birth is no different than a fetus right after birth.

Incorrect. Once born, the organism is breathing for itself. Before birth, it is not.

Once respirations cease, life is over.

This is not rocket science.

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Zeb November 8, 2011 at 7:51 pm

This is not rocket science.

Ha, you’re right. It’s not science at all.

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mrpinkeyes November 9, 2011 at 2:11 am

… it’s clearly not at or before the blastocyst phase, and neither is it a few years after the birth has happened as is acceptable in some cultures [from memory, ancient Hebrews and Spartans though there may be some others].

-so then we’re agreed? After the 36th month is definitley NOT cool.

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Tammy Slayton January 20, 2012 at 11:44 pm

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Daniel
May 10, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Obviously thats not a person….the interesting question would be whether or not a 9-month old fetus is…and then an 8, 7, 6 … ; )

Daniel(Quote)

Daniel
May 10, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Obviously thats not a person….the interesting question would be whether or not a 9-month old fetus is…and then an 8, 7, 6 … which then is the equivalent of a dress missing a button… ; )

Daniel(Quote)

Zeb
May 10, 2010 at 8:43 pm

but it seems to me, that a basic requirement for personhood, is this: it needs a mind/brain/thinking apparatus, at the least.

But when you say “it seems to me…,” don’t you really mean “I choose…”? It’s not like you’re noticing something about the way things really are, is it?

Zeb(Quote)

drj
May 10, 2010 at 9:36 pm

But when you say “it seems to me…,” don’t you really mean “I choose…”? It’s not like you’re noticing something about the way things really are, is it?

Well, I’m noticing that the fetus now has a functioning brain. That, of course, is just as much an empirical fact as is the fact that a fetus has a complete and unique genetic code after conception and recombination.
I suppose it is a choice of sorts, to consider the formation of the cerebral cortex as the “significant moment”, but I don’t see how choosing some other stage of development (such as conception), is anything but the same type of choice.
As for where my choice comes from, well…
Another curious thing I notice is, that I, and most everyone I know, tend to feel and act as if moral consideration need only be extended to other things with brains. Even all the pro-life folk I know, in all circumstances besides this one outlier of a case, behave that way, all the time. So it seems to me, like those claiming that abortion (before a brain forms) is a grave moral wrong, really stand in defiance of some pretty strong and universal moral intuitions. The fact that these intuitions are strong and universal, does not mean they are correct, but they seem as good, if not better, than other moral intuitions we use as barometers for moral claims.

drj(Quote)

Mike Young
May 10, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Lets not kid ourselves, if pregnancy was caused by anything opther then sex ther ewould be no debate. The only reason that abortion is legal is because those without self-control wish to have sex and not accept the consequences.

Mike Young(Quote)

drj
May 11, 2010 at 3:40 am

Lets not kid ourselves, if pregnancy was caused by anything opther then sex ther ewould be no debate. The only reason that abortion is legal is because those without self-control wish to have sex and not accept the consequences.

Funny, sometimes I often get the distinct impression that the reverse is true.
If pregnancy were caused by anything other than sex, there would be no debate. The only reason many complain about abortion, is that it allows one to escape one of the most potentially life-altering consequences of sexual intercourse – hence, they might do it more, and in circumstance that I find objectionable.

drj(Quote)

Zeb
May 11, 2010 at 5:10 am

drj, you’ve made my point. In you view, “person” is not an ontological identity, it is a category of moral consideration for which you have chosen “functioning brain” as the qualifying characteristic. For most religious pro-life people, on the other hand, “person” is an ontological identity, and “has a complete and unique genetic code after conception” is merely a sign that the ontological identity is present. For such people the relevant moral category is “sacred.”
And you are wrong, people give moral consideration to things without brains quite often. First the are the proposed persons without brains, including embryos but also spiritual beings and, in some cultures, inanimate objects believed to have personhood. Second are sacred objects, words, and places that must not be harmed, disrespected, ignored, etc. And finally even some nonreligious people extend moral consideration to non-persons, such the earth, masterpieces of art, or family heirlooms. And by moral consideration I do mean special treatment of the sake of the object itself – there are people who would say it is wrong to destroy a Van Gogh even if it was about to be locked in a vault and shot into deep space, never to be seen by another mind again.
I’m not here to argue that “person” is an ontological identity and “sacred” is the relevant moral category (though that is what I do believe), just that the original post is meaningless on materialism and that your language does not match you meaning, while the language of TDC does match his, even if his statements are false.

Zeb(Quote)

Hermes
May 11, 2010 at 5:44 am

Obviously thats not a person….the interesting question would be whether or not a 9-month old fetus is…and then an 8, 7, 6 … which then is the equivalent of a dress missing a button… ; )

Yes. I agree with your sentiments.
To everyone: So where is the line? Does anybody actually know?
I don’t pretend that is an easy question, and I don’t claim to even know where it is.
What unambiguous criteria can be used to determine personhood that isn’t dependent on a narrow view of one species? If we are ever able to answer that question, then how it applies to our human species should also be unambiguous, allowing reasonable people to actually discuss this without being needlessly strident.
It reminds me one time where I was talking to a coworker at lunch, and I gave what I thought was a nuanced and un-judgmental discussion of these issues. Her reaction was that I was being pigheaded and that I must be challenged — because I did not agree 100% with her specific opinion. I spent the next 5 minutes calmly outlining a simple fact; unlike most people I really do not have a strong opinion on the act of abortion itself. I wish I knew more about where to draw the line, but I’m simply ignorant of where to place it.
There are some things we do know, though. People will have sex regardless of how many people promote the “personal responsibility” mantra and ignore human nature. This attitude from religious groups is as bad as the communists ignoring human nature when they attempted to implement communism.
Taking human nature into account, a reasonable step is to make contraceptives trivially easy to obtain so that unplanned pregnancies and STDs are as rare as possible.
If you are “pro-life” and also want contraceptive use and proper sex education to be restricted, you are a hypocrite and have blood on your hands for promoting such barbarism.
There probably is a point during pregnancy that abortions should be restricted; it’s clearly not at or before the blastocyst phase, and neither is it a few years after the birth has happened as is acceptable in some cultures [from memory, ancient Hebrews and Spartans though there may be some others].

Hermes(Quote)

Reginald Selkirk
May 11, 2010 at 8:50 am

Lets not kid ourselves, if pregnancy was caused by anything opther then sex ther ewould be no debate. The only reason that abortion is legal is because those without self-control wish to have sex and not accept the consequences.

What is your opinion on abortion for cases of rape?

Reginald Selkirk(Quote)

Daniel
May 11, 2010 at 2:12 pm

What is your opinion on abortion for cases of rape?

If someone had to die, let it be the rapist not the child who did not do anything. One crime (rape) is never solved by another crime (infanticide). As simple as that.

Daniel(Quote)

Zeb
May 11, 2010 at 2:37 pm

If someone had to die, let it be the rapist not the child who did not do anything. One crime (rape) is never solved by another crime (infanticide). As simple as that.

I agree with your reasoning, but saying “simple as that” makes you sound flippant and uncaring. If a woman has a moral obligation to accept the emotional, physical, and economic costs of bearing a child (rather from rape or any less tragic conception), the rest of us have the moral obligation to share and ease that burden as much as possible. To demand such a sacrifice of her is not so simple, even if it is justified. Until there is a solid and comprehensive social support system in place for all unintentional mothers, I don’t think we can demand from them what the rest of us are not willing to provide ourselves.

Zeb(Quote)

Lucian
December 23, 2010 at 2:58 pm

As a general note, and not directly refuting or addressing the idea you’ve expressed in this post: this is the first thing man-murderers do: denying the personhood or humanity of their victims — and it works like a charm. (I guess I was just expecting a bit more originality coming from you, that’s all…)
Signed,
Not-A-True-Scotsman.

Lucian(Quote)

None
November 8, 2011 at 7:25 pm

You’re right that an fetus right before birth is no different than a fetus right after birth.
Incorrect. Once born, the organism is breathing for itself. Before birth, it is not.
Once respirations cease, life is over.
This is not rocket science.

None(Quote)

Zeb
November 8, 2011 at 7:51 pm

This is not rocket science.
Ha, you’re right. It’s not science at all.

Zeb(Quote)

mrpinkeyes
November 9, 2011 at 2:11 am

… it’s clearly not at or before the blastocyst phase, and neither is it a few years after the birth has happened as is acceptable in some cultures [from memory, ancient Hebrews and Spartans though there may be some others].
-so then we’re agreed? After the 36th month is definitley NOT cool.

mrpinkeyes(Quote)

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Kjirsten February 1, 2012 at 1:17 pm

I would like to request permission to use this graphic to submit to be put on a t-shirt. Did you create the graphic? If so, do you mind if I change it just to make it black and white and have it put on a t-shirt? If not, can you point me in the direction of the person who did create the graphic? Thanks

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