Open "challenge" to any believers/converters
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09-04-2013, 02:04 AM
RE: Open "challenge" to any believers/converters
(08-04-2013 02:00 PM)Reltzik Wrote:  Within that zone of conflict, in my mind most of it comes down to a question of "personhood": When does it become a person, from a moral standpoint? This is an incredibly difficult question to answer as a society, because personhood is not a testable condition. I can dip a litmus strip in a liquid and have it change color if its an acid or a base; there's nothing like that for whether or not something is a person. My own view is that it's something of a gradiation, more gray-scale than black-and-white, but I fully recognize that this is subjective opinion in a sea of other subjective opinions and with no objective means of evaluating them. For the most part if it is a person, no-killy (unless its doomed to miscarry anyway and/or the mother's life is significantly at risk, and see the pianist argument for a different take), and if it's not a person, it's just the woman's body and so it's usually her call (though given the choice between aborting and inducing the premature birth of a viable fetus, the latter's the call to make).

But as said, there are no objective means of evaluating personhood, so this is hardly a criteria that can form a basis for decisions as a society.

There are elements of the Caution Principle to be applied here, but by-and-large I'd take a smaller-government argument. Someone's got to make that call. Governments aren't really competent to make it (though they are competent to make other decisions, I'm not really anti-government). Maybe individuals are, maybe not. So give the decision to the individuals, and especially the most-affected individuals that are actually in a position to make the decision. I'd argue that most other stances as a society would be A) ineffective, B) inefficeint, C) costly, and D) prone to abuse and unintended consequences.

Regarding the bold part. A fetus is not just another part of the woman's body. It is a seperate organism. If you open a high school text on human biology, it will very likely show a diagram of the life cycle of a human being. That diagram always includes a zygote. Outside the abortion debate, there really isn't much dispute as to when a human being comes into existence.

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09-04-2013, 07:01 AM
RE: Open "challenge" to any believers/converters
Regarding the NAZIS point, I'll agree with most of what you said, and it's why I say the question comes down to personhood. If we're talking about a person, taking steps to disallow or dissuade the abortion becomes a more natural position. There are still objections that can be made (the pianist argument, again), but they've got a higher ethical hurdle to clear.

But the other side of the coin is this: Suppose it's not a person, yet. Suppose that whatever magic or developmental stage or ethical calculus that makes it count as a person doesn't happen until some point later. Then what we have, at this point, is not particularly worthy of defense, and the harm done to pregnant women in disallowing that level of control over their own bodies would become the overwhelming factor of consideration.

In short, while some arguments with a steep threshold could be made independent of the point either way, it mostly revolves around personhood. Answer that question and most of the rest falls into place. Err in EITHER direction and zealously pursue that erroneous interpretation, and serious harm is done. This suggests that we should attempt to discern what would or wouldn't make this thing a person, and do so with high confidence, before we attempt any action in the zone of conflict.

In particular, I would reject the biologist's viewpoint. Oh, it's got a certain validity within the narrow realm of that science. Biology is concerned with biochemical and physiological reactions and organization, and once fertilization occurs such reactions and organization are underway. (Though calling it a SEPARATE organism once it's firmly implanted into the uteran wall and drawing nutrients is a bit of a stretch, even within biology.) But biologists are not ethicists, and their findings do not in and of themselves amount to ethical proclamations. Furthermore, I doubt many biologists would contend, in their role as biologists, that the model of the human life cycle beginning at fertilization was meant to carry any strong ethical weight. Valuable in understanding how human reproduction occurs, yes. An ethical proclamation, no.

So, having said that the life-cycle model does not amount to an ethical proclamation that the fertilized embryo (which is what we're talking about, if we're going all the way back to conception) is a person, are there at least ethical implications? In particular, does the fact alone that certain biological reactions, divisions, and organizations are beginning to play out grant personhood? Not in my mind. We would not consider a headless corpse to be a person anymore, not from an ethical standpoint, even if some cells or even organs were still functioning, biologically. This suggests that cellular function alone does not amount to personhood.

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09-04-2013, 12:18 PM (This post was last modified: 09-04-2013 12:30 PM by Heywood Jahblome.)
RE: Open "challenge" to any believers/converters
The fact that a fetus is a parasite does not make it the same organism as the host. Would you consider a tapeworm to be part of your body or a seperate living organism?

I ask you, what makes it morally wrong to kill a person? I'll grant you that killing a person does tremendous emotional harm to the victims family and friends....but what is it that is deprived from the victim itself? Well the answer is you deprive the victim of his or her future life. When you kill the unborn you do the same thing....you are eliminating future life. So why is it immoral to kill an adult but not immoral to kill the unborn? What exactly is it about personhood that confers protected status that just being a human being does not?

Regarding your living headless human being, for such a being there is no expectation for a meaningful life, but the same cannot be said for an embryo or fetus. This thought experiment does not help your case.

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09-04-2013, 06:47 PM (This post was last modified: 09-04-2013 06:50 PM by Reltzik.)
RE: Open "challenge" to any believers/converters
The fact that it's physically attached made your use of the word "separate" kinda strike me as contradictory.

As for why personhood should grant that protection rather than being a human being, I'm using "person" as a more generic term for someone who DOES have that protected status, rather than as a class which I have then incidentally attached the status too. We ascribe identity to the people we talk to, in a way that we don't ascribe it to, say, garden slugs. The latter we'll gleefully eradicate in order to save a few vegetables, but the former we will not. We do this intuitively, and like most intuitive processes the conclusions can come out flawed, but the core distinction of "a person rather than a thing" is itself a reasonable one. This intuitive notion is NOT limited to human beings. Beloved pets often receive this same mental status, at least by those who know them. It's very much a subjective measure in practice, though it's worth reasoning about as if there were an objective truth behind it.

Nor does everything that counts as human count as a person, even in an objective sense. Again, I refer to the example of a human corpse.

Onto the subject of what makes killing people wrong. (Granted, I and others can certainly construct scenarios where killing another person is justified, but these are deviations from the norm. Applicability in this debate includes when the health of the mother is at risk, which is not something I intend to address in this post.) To my mind, it is not future life which is significant. I'll address that in a bit. Rather, here are some significant ills done by killing a person.

The destruction of a unique, conscious mind.
(Usually) the infliction of suffering on the victim as part of the process.
Robbing that person of agency and control over their own life.

These are just impacts on the victim, of course, and as you point out further ills can impact society. But of those three I listed, it is not reasonable to ascribe any of them to the case of a fertilized egg. The first nerve cells haven't developed. There is no mind to be destroyed, nor anything to experience suffering, nor any nervous system to relay that suffering to the not-yet-existent mind, nor anything which actually HAS agency or control over its own life.

If your view is that the moral wrong lies in the denial of a future life, why then have you chosen fertilization as the point where personhood begins? I would think that the potential of a future life would ascribe this quality to any egg cell, fertilized or not. The egg cell is alive, after all, and has every potential to be fertilized, implant, gestate, be born, and grow into an excellent human being. The infusion of genetic material during fertilization is an essential step in this process, but so too would be all the other material received from the mother during the pregnancy. Does the unfertilized egg not also have the potential for a future life? Should there be a social compulsion upon women to breed as much as possible, so as to see as many of their eggs realize the potential of a future life as can? Would a chaste woman be denying all her eggs that, just as much as a pregnant woman who, hoping to trigger a miscarriage, declined to eat for a week?

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10-04-2013, 02:06 AM (This post was last modified: 10-04-2013 02:20 AM by Heywood Jahblome.)
RE: Open "challenge" to any believers/converters
(30-04-1974 06:04 AM)Reltzik Wrote:  The destruction of a unique, conscious mind.
(Usually) the infliction of suffering on the victim as part of the process.
Robbing that person of agency and control over their own life.


I've never been under a general anesthesia but I have been told you are completely unconscious. No thoughts or dreams whatsoever...It is like you simply don't exist during that period you are "under". Suppose you were under a general anesthesia, would it be morally okay to kill you? In such a state your mind is not conscious, you are incapable of suffering, and you simply have no control over your life. Suppose you are having your appendix taken out, if your wife came in the middle of the operation and put a bullet in your brain thus killing you is that a moral wrong? I ask you this because killing you in that state does not satisfy the criteria you laid out above. Your wife would be destroying an unconscious mind, in way that causes no suffering, that belongs to a person that currently has no control over their own life.

Now I would have a problem if your wife killed you while you were under a general anesthesia. She would be destroying a future unique conscious mind, that would have control over its own life...but the same can be said of killing an embryo.

This debate is about abortion so I don't see any requirement on my part to address questions concerning gametes or the wanton destruction of the precursor materials to a pregnancy. I will if you really want me too, but I feel you are trying to move the goal posts somewhat.

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10-04-2013, 09:07 AM
RE: Open "challenge" to any believers/converters

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10-04-2013, 12:53 PM (This post was last modified: 10-04-2013 01:13 PM by Heywood Jahblome.)
RE: Open "challenge" to any believers/converters
(10-04-2013 09:07 AM)Reltzik Wrote:  The destruction of a unique, conscious mind.
(Usually) the infliction of suffering on the victim as part of the process.
Robbing that person of agency and control over their own life.

Robbing a person of agency and control over their own life by killing them is the same as robbing them of their future life. Why is a person entitled to future agency and control over their own life but a fetus isn't? Why does having past agency entitle a person to future agency?

Killing a person or killing a fetus both destroys future agency. The fact that in one case past agency existed doesn't change the fact killing a fetus destroys future agency...so why does past agency have any relavence? Suppose past agency could be destroyed as well as future agency. Suppose your wife goes back in time and causes your mother and father to never conceive you. Would she be committing an immoral act?

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10-04-2013, 10:19 PM
RE: Open "challenge" to any believers/converters
(10-04-2013 12:53 PM)Heywood Jahblome Wrote:  
(10-04-2013 09:07 AM)Reltzik Wrote:  The destruction of a unique, conscious mind.
(Usually) the infliction of suffering on the victim as part of the process.
Robbing that person of agency and control over their own life.

Robbing a person of agency and control over their own life by killing them is the same as robbing them of their future life. Why is a person entitled to future agency and control over their own life but a fetus isn't? Why does having past agency entitle a person to future agency?

Killing a person or killing a fetus both destroys future agency. The fact that in one case past agency existed doesn't change the fact killing a fetus destroys future agency...so why does past agency have any relavence? Suppose past agency could be destroyed as well as future agency. Suppose your wife goes back in time and causes your mother and father to never conceive you. Would she be committing an immoral act?

I'll leave off time travel ethics until time travel is at least feasible.

I view there as being a distinction between a mind that is fundamentally capable of decision-making, thinking, experiencing, processing, etc, even if that capacity is temporarily suspended (by sleep, slow reaction time, whatever), and a mental process that can't make decisions because it doesn't exist yet and possibly never will. One is a realized fact, the other is just a daydream.

But more than that, I view this as the wrong angle to approach the question from. It's basically a question of, why don't I equate the two. It's putting the onus on me to differentiate, rather than on someone else to equate. Now that's fine in a debate, I don't criticize you for that. But in terms of acting in the real world? Barring revolutionary and bizarre medical breakthroughs, I (a male) am never going to be pregnant. I'm never going to have to make the decision of whether or not I get an abortion. My ethical decisions are going to be what (if anything) to do about others wanting to get an abortion. And for that, before I take any action to attempt to restrict the free choice of others, I'd want a compelling argument FOR equating a fertilized egg with a person, rather than a lack of compelling argument that they are NOT equated.

For that matter, I've noticed that such arguments are much less tractable in the abstract. We've gotten a sense of each others' positions in the abstract. Let's talk about actions in the world at large, be it as individuals or as a society.

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11-04-2013, 01:00 AM
RE: Open "challenge" to any believers/converters
(10-04-2013 10:19 PM)Reltzik Wrote:  I'll leave off time travel ethics until time travel is at least feasible.

The time travel hypothetical is a bit farfetched and outlandish but so was your headless human being. I was kinda glad when you pulled that one out because that suggested to me you'd be receptive to mine. I don't have a problem using such thought experiments to make a point.

(10-04-2013 10:19 PM)Reltzik Wrote:  I view there as being a distinction between a mind that is fundamentally capable of decision-making, thinking, experiencing, processing, etc, even if that capacity is temporarily suspended (by sleep, slow reaction time, whatever), and a mental process that can't make decisions because it doesn't exist yet and possibly never will. One is a realized fact, the other is just a daydream.

The problem I have with your position is you arbitrarily created some criteria to justify killing an innocent human being. "It's okay to kill a fetus in the womb because the have no agency or control over their life". How is that any different then the NAZI saying, "its okay to kill a Jew because they aren't aryian". A lot of evil has been perpetuated by the ideology that some humans are worth less than others...that some humans deserve societal protection and others do not.

(10-04-2013 10:19 PM)Reltzik Wrote:  But more than that, I view this as the wrong angle to approach the question from. It's basically a question of, why don't I equate the two. It's putting the onus on me to differentiate, rather than on someone else to equate. Now that's fine in a debate, I don't criticize you for that. But in terms of acting in the real world? Barring revolutionary and bizarre medical breakthroughs, I (a male) am never going to be pregnant. I'm never going to have to make the decision of whether or not I get an abortion. My ethical decisions are going to be what (if anything) to do about others wanting to get an abortion. And for that, before I take any action to attempt to restrict the free choice of others, I'd want a compelling argument FOR equating a fertilized egg with a person, rather than a lack of compelling argument that they are NOT equated.

For that matter, I've noticed that such arguments are much less tractable in the abstract. We've gotten a sense of each others' positions in the abstract. Let's talk about actions in the world at large, be it as individuals or as a society.

When dealing with the lives of human beings, when in doubt you are obligated to take the safest route. If you are out hunting in the woods and you see something rustling in the bushes. If you shoot at it and kill another hunter, your guilty of manslaughter. You had an obligation to know that it wasn't a human before you shot it. The onus isn't on me to prove abortion is morally wrong. The onus is on you to be 100% sure it isn't morally wrong before you can support it. What is true of you is true of society. Collectively we aren't even close to being sure there is nothing wrong with killing a human being in the womb therefore we should restrict that act until we know for sure what it is that we are doing.

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11-04-2013, 01:17 AM
RE: Open "challenge" to any believers/converters
(10-04-2013 10:19 PM)Reltzik Wrote:  For that matter, I've noticed that such arguments are much less tractable in the abstract. We've gotten a sense of each others' positions in the abstract. Let's talk about actions in the world at large, be it as individuals or as a society.

The reason we tolerate abortion in our society is because anyone who has a say in societal actions can't be a victim of it. I'm going to use another time travel hypothetical to make my point. Suppose that in the future a device is created that can be used by parents to change the timeline so that a child they have is never born. In this future world should one or both parents decide that their lives would have been better if a child of thiers was never born, they can make that happen simply by pressing a button. Do you think such a device would be legal? I don't.

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