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What Gets Aborted?

Embryo

In his recent article "Do You Need God to Know That Abortion is Wrong?", Joe Heschmeyer shares an argument for why abortion is wrong. Now, the point of his article was not to advance or expound upon this argument, but it affords us with an opportunity to look into a common argument against abortion. As he states it, the argument goes like this:

"The pro-life argument is simple: (1) human beings are alive from the moment of fertilization, and (2) it is morally wrong (and ought to be illegal) to intentionally kill innocent human beings."

He goes on to say that “[t]he first point is a scientific one. The second is a moral and legal one, one that science can’t answer.”

Quibbles about validity aside, this simple argument encapsulates one of the most widely held reasons to be pro-life today: abortion is murder. But, the argument involves a number of problems including a crucial reliance upon an ambiguity which, when exposed, commits the pro-lifer to an untenable position.

You’ll notice that proponents of this sort of argument are adamant that (1) is a deliverance of science. And, indeed, “science” does tell us that the organism which humans produce through sexual intercourse is to be biologically classified as “human.” But, biological classifications do not always map to metaphysical classifications, and this becomes especially clear in the case at hand.

Metaphysically, the human being is an animal with rational powers. Her physical structure reflects the fact that she is an animal, and this is only to be expected since matter reflects whatever corporeal form of being it is in – e.g. solid, liquid, gaseous, sub-atomic, etc. But, as my pro-life interlocutors will agree, rationality is not a corporeal form of being. As such, it is not reflected in the physical structure of the human being.

(It may strike some of the Catholics here as bizarre that the presence or absence of rationality in a body makes no difference to its physical structure, but Catholics have long been committed to the position that human beings cannot, of their own power, reproduce members of their species: only God can create the human soul. As such, the body produced by humans only reflects the corporeal forms of being it is in, not the form of rationality.)

But, biologists classify substances according to the corporeal forms of life they come in. This is why you won’t find any talk of rational powers in Joe’s citation of Sandra Alter’s Biology: Understanding Life. In fact, as she says in the quotation, the cycle of human life she is describing is “representative of all animal life cycles.” So, the standards of humanity set by biology are not the same standards of humanity set by metaphysics, though the latter may include the former.

What all this means is that just because an organism satisfies the biologist’s criteria for being human does not mean that it satisfies the metaphysician’s criteria for being human. It’s not enough for a fetus to have this or that genotype, or whatever epigenetic primordia at whatever stage: such features are only reflective of corporeal forms of being, and the metaphysical human being enjoys more than just corporeal forms of being.

The ambiguity in the initial argument should be apparent at this point: in order to be valid, premises (1) and (2) have to mean the same thing by “human being.” But, premise (2) presents a metaphysical understanding of “human being” whereas (1) does not, being only “a scientific one.” Thus, the argument commits the fallacy of equivocation for using the same term in different ways, and the fallacy of non-sequitur for inferring a metaphysical categorization from a biological one.

However, matters are much worse than just that a premier argument against abortion is fallacious on several counts. As was stated above, metaphysically the human being is a rational animal. But, not just any ol’ parcel of matter can pass for an animal: there are features defining of the animal form of life that must be reflected in the matter. Now, my pro-life interlocutors (here at Strange Notions at least), will agree that, in terms of metaphysics, what is distinctive of the animal form of life is the power of sensation. But, nothing can have this power unless it also has the means by which to exercise that power; namely, sense organs. Just try to imagine having a sensation without having any means by which to sense, such as eyes to see or ears to hear.

The problem I’m raising is that there is at least one point in a biological human’s gestation at which she has no sense organs whatsoever: fertilization. Thus, the human zygote does not reflect any of the forms of animal life it would need to in order to be an animal in metaphysical terms. But, if the human zygote is not an animal, then, a fortiori, it is not a rational animal.

The standard pro-life argument encapsulated in Joe’s remarks therefore falls prey to a number of difficulties, including equivocation and non-sequitur. But, the going only gets tougher when we realize that the human zygote isn’t even an animal, let alone a rational one at that.
 
 
(Image credit: Pregnant Now)

Steven Dillon

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Steven Dillon is a nature loving hippy who enthusiastically supports the Philosophy of Religion, and the importance of good-willed dialogue between theists and atheists.

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  • Thanks for the thoughtful response, Steven! Two questions for you:

    1. Assuming your distinction between biological and metaphysical humanity, and assuming you would agree that all born humans are both biological and metaphysical human beings, at what specific point does someone transition from biological to metaphysical humanity? And can they transition back? Why or why not?

    2. When concerning the prohibition of murder, do you think our laws apply to the biological or metaphysical definition of humanity? If the former, as I think is the case, then wouldn't your objection fall flat? We could then re-word Joe's #2 to say, "It is legally wrong..." and you would presumably agree, right?

    • William Davis

      When concerning the prohibition of murder, do you think our laws apply to the biological or metaphysical definition of humanity?

      Personally I think we must use a metaphysical definition, otherwise we would never be justified in "pulling the plug" on a brain dead person who is still technically alive. My wife and I had the misfortune of being forced to do this to her dad. I don't think anyone ever forget the lifeless look in the eyes of a brain-dead person they love. It is quickly obvious that they are in fact dead, even though they are still breathing.
      As I mentioned to Paul, the core difference between a brain dead person and a zygote/fetus is the fact that time will likely (assuming there is no miscarriage or other calamity) result in a fully conscious human being. I think this fact makes abortion a "wrong" act, but not on the same level as murder. My personal view is that only rape or major health risk to the mother justifies abortion, but I do think it should be up to the conscious of the mother up until 20 weeks (24 weeks is where a fetus usually develops the ability to feel pain). I think abortion as a form of birth control is terrible. The 20 week number makes me "anti-abortion" to some people, but I think it is very reasonable to err on the side of caution. To allow abortion legally is not to condone it per se, it switches the decision from the government to the individual.

      • Andrew Y.

        I'm curious on what basis you decided on "20 weeks". You mentioned that the ability to feel pain usually starts at about 24 weeks, but surely the ability to feel pain is not relevant criteria. There are lots of ways to kill someone without them feeling pain but using one doesn't make a killing any less reprehensible.

        • William Davis

          The ability to respond to pain is an indicator of consciousness. Something can respond to pain and NOT be conscious, but the neurology involved with being conscious and not respond to pain is very unusual. No response to pain is a strong indicator of brain death (or a brain not yet formed).

          • materetmagistra

            @William Davis: "...or a brain not yet formed...."

            How "formed" is "formed" enough to consider the human being as being a human being ?

        • David Nickol

          A very intelligent woman whose messages I always found very persuasive in another forum once complained about those who argued that even if we weren't sure of the status of an embryo or fetus, we should "err on the side of life." She pointed out that while we might be unsure of the status of the unborn, we know the pregnant woman is a living, breathing, thinking human being.

          I would be extremely reluctant to make most decisions that are made concerning abortions, but it does seem crystal clear to me that if a pregnant woman is in serious danger of dying from complications of her pregnancy, it makes more sense to save her life than to allow both mother and child to die.

          • Andrew Y.

            Of course, but from what I understand the cases where a woman becomes in serious danger of dying from complications of her pregnancy—and where an abortion is the only way to save her life—are pretty rare.

            Procedures intended to save the mother's life, though they put the baby's life at risk or even kill the baby as a consequence, are not considered abortion even by the Church (i.e. removal of a fallopian tube due to an ectopic pregnancy).

          • David Nickol

            I have no doubt that cases where a mother's life is in danger and abortion must be considered as a means to save her are rare. But when they happen, that doesn't make them any less real to the mother involved or her loved ones. And "rare" is also a relative term.

            As for life-saving measures in cases of problem pregnancies not being considered abortion by the Church this may be true in some cases, but not true in others. Are you familiar with the "Phoenix abortion"—the case involving Bishop Olmsted and Sister Margaret McBride?

          • Alexandra

            Whether it's an embryo or fetus the baby is just as alive as the mother. "Err on the side of life"- yes. We have two lives here. Or do you think the embryo isn't alive?

            Catholics agree with the moral argument of your second paragraph.

          • David Nickol

            Whether it's an embryo or fetus the baby is just as alive as the mother. "Err on the side of life"- yes. We have two lives here. Or do you think the embryo isn't alive?

            The embryo is unquestionably alive, but "err on the side of life" clearly means "err on the side of considering the embryo a human life—a person." They mean two different things. A gall bladder is alive, but no one would ever object to removing one by arguing that we should "err on the side of life."

            Catholics agree with the moral argument of your second paragraph.

            See the Excommunication of Margaret McBride. According to the Catholic Church, a direct abortion to save a mother's life is never permissible. There may be cases where some means can be thought of that is an "indirect" abortion that both saves the life of the mother and results in the death of the baby, but that is not always the case. And when it is a matter of judgment, it will make a difference what hospital you are in and who the bishop of the diocese is.

          • Alexandra

            "err on the side of life" clearly means "err on the side of considering the embryo a human life—a person.

            A life = person
            I see. I hadn't made that assumption. Sorry for the misunderstanding. For me, a "life" = an organism (an amoeba is a life for example) thus I was saying : therefore we can be certain there are two lives here. It isn't unsure.

            As to your argument "err on the side of the person". A person wants to kill my dog. Isn't there more to consider here than the fact that I am certain one is person?

            Pregnant women without an abortion, and all goes well- baby in nine months. Pregnant woman with an abortion- no baby in nine months. I think that sums it up.
            -
            The nun has reconciled with the church and her self excommunication is lifted. Presumably she regrets what she did.

            The principle in the nun's case is - you have two innocent human lives in front of you. Is it ever okay to directly kill one of the humans to save the life of the other?

          • materetmagistra

            @davidnickol:disqus: ". A gall bladder is alive, but no one would ever object to removing one by arguing that we should "err on the side of life.""

            Well, why is it OK for the doctor to intentionally kill the living cancerous tumor within the mother's body?? Certainly it is because while we know it is "living" we also know that it is not a living human being and therefore there is no moral obligation to not intentionally kill it.

            As used in the case of a human embryo or fetus, one is indicating that one does not know the status of the being in question - therefore one does not intentionally kill it because it might (as one does not know) be a living human being with human rights.

          • El Suscriptor Justiciero

            The thing is, in the case of a human embryo or fetus we do know the status of the being in question. We know that it's certainly made of human, and we also know that until rather late in the pregnancy it's not a human person by any meaningful definition of the term.
            Please remember that consciousness and personality are not a magical thing that is mistically grafted to our bodies by a superior being; they are emergent properties of the brain. Personhood doesn't exist until the brain creates it.

          • materetmagistra

            But, that's your problem. While there IS evidence to identify the human embryo or fetus as belonging to the human species - to identify it as being a biological human being - you have ZILCH as far as evidence to show that the human embryo or fetus DOES or DOES NOT have this property you refer to as "personhood." To boot, you also have no proof that this property, "personhood," is more important when it comes to holding HUMAN RIGHTS that the property of being a biological human being.

          • El Suscriptor Justiciero

            I used "personhood" as shorthand for what I described before (edit: elsewhere in the thread actually), the qualities that make us able to think, feel, reason (or refuse to, in some cases), dream, love, invent things, learn about the world. You know, those properties of the brain that some people call "the soul". What makes us people. Or "sentient beings", as sci-fi often puts it.
            And we soooooo do have evidence about whether a 20-week fetus (or a 7-month unborn baby) has that "sentience" or not. Just ask a neurobiologist. Any neurobiologist.

            To boot, you also have no proof that this property, "personhood," is more important when it comes to holding HUMAN RIGHTS that the property of being a biological human being.

            Sure, have fun arguing that with extraterrestrials, sentient AIs, uplifted apes or hybrid transhumans. Do you really think that an intelligent individual with feelings, reasoning and emotions should be denied basic rights just because they doesn't have a 100% human genome? If you don't, then you agree with me that sentience IS more important than species.

          • materetmagistra

            @el: "And we soooooo do have evidence about whether a 20-week fetus (or a 7-month unborn baby) has that "sentience" or not. Just ask a neurobiologist. Any neurobiologist."

            No, the question is not whether an immature human being displays a particular ability or not. The vital question you have no evidence for is whether this property you call "sentience" is what gives biological human beings their "human rights." You simply assume that is the case and state it to be so (minus evidence.)

            @el: "Sure, have fun arguing that with extraterrestrials, sentient AIs, uplifted apes or hybrid transhumans. Do you really think that an intelligent individual with feelings, reasoning and emotions should be denied basic rights just because they doesn't have a 100% human genome?"

            That some hypothetical being might be discovered that holds rights that would be equal to "human rights" is indeed off topic. We are talking about whether all biological human beings necessarily hold "human rights" simply by virtue of being a biological human being. Why are they called "human rights"?? And how can they be considered "equal" unless they are based on that which every human person holds equally - his basic (biological) humanity?

          • El Suscriptor Justiciero

            It's true that being biologically human gives us sentience, barring some accidents or encephalic malformations. But sentience is not a quality that we humans alone have, quite a few animals beside us have complex intelligence (mostly apes and cetaceans, and I'd bet on cats too). And you know what? Even today, some countries are starting to give the status of "nonhuman person" to orangutans and dolphins, with a subset of rights to match. So I guess that evidence supports my claim that sentience is the important part, not humanity.

            In short, humans deserve "human rights" because being biologically human gives us sentience, not just because we are biologically human.
            Now apply that to early and late fetuses. Both are biologically humans, but ones are persons and the others are not.

          • materetmagistra

            @el: "In short, humans deserve 'human rights' because being biologically human gives us sentience, not just because we are biologically human.
            Now apply that to early and late fetuses. Both are biologically humans, but ones are persons and the others are not."

            (1) Are human rights "deserved," and earned; or are they intrinsic and fundamental?

            (2) "Both are biologically humans, but ones are persons and the others are not." Repeating ideas does nothing to prove them. What makes this true? Where is your evidence?

            (3) If something is a being of a sentient kind, it should have rights, eh? As you say, "...early and late fetuses. Both are biologically humans...," therefore as beings of a sentient kind, inherent rights are held.

          • El Suscriptor Justiciero

            (1) My wording might have been a bit off, but I agree that the right of sentient beings are fundamental and inviolable. Although, and related to (3), you and I disagree to whether those rights come from being sentient or from being part of a species that is sentient.

            For (2) I'll have to find sources that are in English (this speech is one of the references I point people to, for example, but it's in Spanish), so please give me some time to look them up.
            Anyway, sentience is a property that comes from the brain. Developmental stages of the brain during pregnancy are well known and documented. While consciousness is something about which much is still not known, we do know some indispensable prerrequisites for it, and we do know when those properties emerge. Crude metaphor: you can't learn boxing if you don't have arms, so if you know that somebody's arms haven't yet developed, you also know that he can't box.

          • materetmagistra

            @el:"...you and I disagree to whether those rights come from being sentient or from being part of a species that is sentient."

            So, you think we should change the way we treat the being of a rational kind if he becomes unconscious?

          • El Suscriptor Justiciero

            If by "unconscious" you mean things analogous to suffering full anencephalia or becoming brain-dead from severe head trauma, then yes, I do think that a dead person is dead even if the body is still partially alive.
            If that's not what you meant by "unconscious", then I call bullshit and ask you to leave the room in shame.

          • materetmagistra

            If that's the only "evidence" you can muster in support of your ideas, so be it.

          • David Nickol

            Whether it's an embryo or fetus the baby is just as alive as the mother.

            By the way, this is exactly the kind of ambiguity Steven Dillon talks about in the OP. Life can be used to have more than one meaning. An arm is alive, but amputating it is not "taking a life." A plant is a living thing, but it would be quite bizarre to say that killing a plant was "taking a life."

          • materetmagistra

            @David Nickol: "By the way, this is exactly the kind of ambiguity Steven Dillon talks about in the OP. The embryo may be just as much alive, but depending on your point of view, it may not be 'a life.' "

            Hmm. Seems there is a bit of ambiguity in your statement. Just because a thing is 'a life' does that mean we are morally obligated to not intentionally kill it? You know, like 'a fern life' or 'a squirrel life' ??

            Maybe you could clarify your meaning?

          • El Suscriptor Justiciero

            Alive, yes it is. A person, however, as in "a living being with senses, feelings, consciousness, and the ability to have emotions and a personality" --some would call that "a soul"-- an embryo is certainly not. The properties and capabilities due to which a human being is a person don't start to appear before week twenty-something (23 IIRC), well into the fetal phase. Before a human fetus starts to become a person, it is not a person.

          • materetmagistra

            @David Nickol: "...even if we weren't sure of the status of an embryo or fetus, we should "err on the side of life." She pointed out that while we might be unsure of the status of the unborn, we knowthe pregnant woman is a living, breathing, thinking human being."

            But, if you are unsure about the status of the unborn, i.e. you do not know if it is or is not worthy of protection as a human being, then, how can you know it is OK/moral/an ethical option to end its life? If you are unsure you are saying that you do not know this. Yes, you should err on the side of life.....which obligates you to not intentionally kill the unborn human being. That is, until you know this for sure....that it is not a human being worthy of protection.

          • David Nickol

            Yes, you should err on the side of life.....which obligates you to not intentionally kill the unborn human being.

            I am talking here about situations where the life a pregnant woman is in danger because of a problem pregnancy, and there is a high probability she will die without an abortion, but a high probability she will survive with one.

            In such a case, for those who are uncertain whether the embryo or fetus is a person with a right to life, it seems the decision is clear. Save the one you know to be a human person, even at the expense of the one you are unsure is a human person.

            In fact, the decision seems clear even if you know the unborn child is a human person in the case of a life-threatening pregnancy when an abortion would save the life of the mother, and doing nothing would result in the death of both mother and unborn child.

            I know the Catholic argument would be that if only a direct abortion would save the mother, direct abortion is always wrong, and the choice must be to forgo the abortion and let both mother and unborn child did. But I think it is better to save one innocent life in a case like this than to let both die.

          • Alexandra

            " let both mother and unborn child die..." Not quite- you would still use every means available to try to save them both. But, you can't directly kill either one of them. If they are in crisis, the baby could die first.

            Say the situation were in reverse. The mother is dying (say she has an infection). Can you directly kill the mother (so the infection won't spread to the baby) then keep the mothers body on life support until the baby is viable.

          • materetmagistra

            @David Nickol: "I am talking here about situations where the life a pregnant woman is in danger because of a problem pregnancy, and there is a high probability she will die without an abortion, but a high probability she will survive with one."

            So, in most cases that is the only necessary treatment? Kill the unborn child? No other medicine is necessary? Kill the child and the mother immediately returns to health?

          • David Nickol

            You've got the Catholic argument wrong.

            No, I have the Catholic argument exactly right. I said:

            I know the Catholic argument would be that if only a direct abortion
            would save the mother, direct abortion is always wrong, and the choice
            must be to forgo the abortion and let both mother and unborn child did.

            That is the Catholic argument.

            Then, my last sentence was as follows:

            But I think it is better to save one innocent life in a case like this
            than to let both die. [Emphasis added.]

          • David Nickol

            Let me just add that determining exactly what is a "direct abortion" and what is not is not something that can be done with mathematical precision. I have mentioned the "Phoenix abortion" and Sister Margaret McBride a number of times. The ethicists who signed off on the "Phoenix abortion" considered it indirect. Bishop Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix considered it direct. He has the authority to make that judgment for his diocese, but lone bishops do not speak infallibly. It is still possible to find Catholic bioethicists who disagree with widely held (and probably universally practiced, in the US) "Catholic" solution (salpingectomy) to an ectopic pregnancy.

          • materetmagistra

            David - you get it wrong when you say this: "...the choice must be to forgo the abortion and let both mother and unborn child di(e)." Catholics are not obligated to "let the mother die." There is much medically that can be done, even at risk of losing the life of the child. There is no obligation to do nothing.

            But, by aborting the unborn child, you have not simply let the unborn child die, you have intentionally killed the unborn child. It is the Catholic view that allows the saving of the mother at the risk of letting the unborn child die.

          • David Nickol

            David - you get it wrong when you say this: "...the choice must be to forgo the abortion and let both mother and unborn child di(e)."

            Please note that I said the following:

            I know the Catholic argument would be that if only a direct abortion would save the mother, direct abortion is always wrong, and the choice must be to forgo the abortion and let both mother and unborn child did.

            You can argue that instances would be rare or nonexistent where only a direct abortion would save the life of the mother, but that is a medical question, not a moral question. You cannot argue that, if there is a case where only a direct abortion would save the life of the mother, the only acceptable choice for Catholics would be to forgo the direct abortion and let the mother die. That is indisputably Catholic teaching.

            It is about as well established a principle in Catholic medical ethics as one can think of that a direct abortion may never be performed for any reason. So even if it is necessary to save the life of the mother, the Catholic Church forbids it.

            Catholics are not obligated to "let the mother die." There is much medically that can be done, even at risk of losing the life of the child. There is no obligation to do nothing.

            Let's not muddy the waters here. I did not say there is an obligation to do nothing to try to save a woman with life-threatening complications during pregnancy. I said that if the only thing that will save a woman with a problem pregnancy is a direct abortion, it is forbidden by the Catholic Church to perform that life-saving abortion.

            But, by aborting the unborn child, you have not simply let the unborn child die, you have intentionally killed the unborn child.

            I could not be clearer on this point. We do not disagree on what the Church teaches—no direct abortions, ever, not even to save the life of the mother.

          • Jonathan Brumley

            David,

            The problem with your moral dilemma is that it is entirely hypothetical - the dilemma pretends as if there exists a moral situation where we have perfect knowledge of the current situation, and perfect knowledge of all available options, and perfect knowledge of all consequences of all available options.

            This is the fallacy with all consequentialist arguments. The fallacy of consequentialism is that it considers remote consequences as the only measure of a moral action _as if_ we have perfect knowledge of the present situation _and_ perfect predictive capabilities for the consequences of all of our actions. But we don't have perfect knowledge of present or future situations. We have limited knowledge. We can speculate about remote consequences, measure risks and calculate probabilities, but we'll always more certain knowledge of a direct action. So we must consider the good or evil of a direct action first. It's fallacious to consider possible remote goods as certain to justify choosing an evil proximate consequent which is even more certain.

            Consequentialism is especially fallacious when considering pregnancy. Pregnancy can be a great risk to a mother's life in certain rare situations. However, there are so many treatment options - for instance, treating a harmful symptom (e.g. high blood pressure) or treating an actual problem (e.g. location of the fetus). In situations where there is even a remote possibility the child could live outside the womb, an option is to induce birth or to extract the child through surgery. And in other situations there's always the option to wait.

            When doctors resort to direct abortion, the doctor intends and ensures a certain proximate evil - the death of the child, for the sake of a possible future good - saving the life of the mother. That's the wrong thing. Any option which attempts to save both mother and child is proximately better, even if there is a future risk that one or both will die.

          • David Nickol

            I don't buy your analysis. Of course we never have perfect knowledge of the future, but a team of medical doctors caring for a patient can't wait until they have perfect knowledge before acting. They can say, with a high degree of confidence, that if the pregnancy continues, in their opinions, the pregnant woman will die. This is what happened in the "Phoenix abortion." The mother involved had pulmonary hypertension and was so ill the abortion was performed in her hospital room, since her condition was so precarious they dared not even try to move her to an operating room. Had the doctors done nothing, there was perhaps at list a slim possibility the woman would have lived. But we don't pay doctors to withhold treatment in cases where there is only a sliver of hope that some near-miracle may occur.

            You seem to come close to implying that there can never be a case where an abortion is necessary to save a woman's life. One can read on some "pro-life" sites that an abortion is never necessary to save a woman's life. It is simply not true.

            And in other situations there's always the option to wait.

            And let the woman die.

            When doctors resort to direct abortion, the doctor intends and ensures a certain proximate evil - the death of the child, for the sake of a possible future good - saving the life of the mother.

            No, it is not necessarily the case that the doctor (or the mother who consents to the abortion) intends the death of the child. In the Phoenix case, it was a Catholic hospital. The mother in question very much wanted the baby. The doctors did not intend to kill the baby. They intended to save the mother.

            Now, it seems to me that among "liberal" Catholics (and maybe some not so liberal), there are interpretations of medical ethics that would pretty much guarantee that any abortion necessary to save the life of the mother was an indirect abortion. See "What Is Abortion, Anyway?" and also the article it links to titled Is Abortion Always the Wrongful Killing of a Person?

            Here's a key paragraph from the second piece:

            At least in times past, however, and perhaps even today in places where modern medical equipment and skills are unavailable, certain life-saving operations meeting the four conditions would fall among procedures classified by the classical moralists as “direct” killing, since the procedures in question straightaway would lead to the baby’s death. This is the case, for example, if the four conditions are met during the delivery of a baby whose head is too large. Unless the physician does a craniotomy (an operation in which instruments are used to empty and crush the head of the child so that it can be removed from the birth canal), both mother and child eventually will die; but the operation can be performed and the mother saved. With respect to physical causality, craniotomy immediately destroys the baby, and only in this way saves the mother. Thus, not only classical moralists but the magisterium regarded it as “direct” killing: a bad means to a good end.

            However, assuming the four conditions are met, the baby’s death need not be included in the proposal adopted in choosing to do a craniotomy. The proposal can be simply to alter the child’s physical dimensions and remove him or her, because, as a physical object, this body cannot remain where it is without ending in both the baby’s and the mother’s deaths. To understand this proposal, it helps to notice that the baby’s death contributes nothing to the objective sought; indeed, the procedure is exactly the same if the baby has already died. In adopting this proposal, the baby’s death need only be accepted as a side effect. Therefore, according to the analysis of action employed in this book, even craniotomy (and, a fortiori, other operations meeting the four stated conditions) need not be direct killing, and so, provided the
            death of the baby is not intended (which is possible but unnecessary),
            any operation in a situation meeting the four conditions could be
            morally acceptable.

            [But do note this footnote] If the analysis proposed here should lead in practice to a judgment in conflict with the Church’s teaching, I would follow and urge others to follow the Church’s teaching. If the teaching is open to refinements in respect to its application, these must be completed by the magisterium.

          • Jonathan Brumley

            No, it is not necessarily the case that the doctor (or the mother who consents to the abortion) intends the death of the child. In the Phoenix case, it was a Catholic hospital. The mother in question very much wanted the baby. The doctors did not intend to kill the baby. They intended to save the mother.

            David, I agree with your statement that if a procedure does not intend to kill the baby, then the procedure should not be considered a "direct abortion", at least when classified from a moral perspective. However, we can't measure intent as what the mother or the medical staff "would have wanted". Willful, direct, intent is what someone intends measured by what they choose to do.

            A good way to determine whether the doctors actually intended to save the baby, or not, is whether they took any measures throughout the procedure, to try to protect or save the baby's life. If they took any steps to try to save the baby (no matter how small the chance), then they did not intend the death of the baby.

            On the other hand, a craniotomy or dismemberment abortion always intends the death of the child, because the direct intent of the action is to remove organs necessary to life. Such procedures actually intend for the child to die, whether or not this intent is sugar-coated by statements as to what the parties involved "would have wanted".

          • materetmagistra

            But, your assumption that that one and only one option (directly killing the unborn child) is all that is available is hard to prove. Medically, much can be done for the mother, even at risk to the child's life, as long as it is necessary proportionately to save the mother's life.

            What exactly is the point at which the doctor stops having two patients to get through the crisis?

          • David Nickol

            What exactly is the point at which the doctor stops having two patients to get through the crisis?

            The point at which, in the doctor's admittedly fallible—but nevertheless expert—opinion that both cannot be saved.

            Medically, much can be done for the mother, even at risk to the child's life, as long as it is necessary proportionately to save the mother's life.

            You do not seem to want to admit that there are cases where an abortion will save a pregnant woman's life. Such cases may be rare, but they do occur. And even if they did not occur, the Catholic position would be, in principle, that a direct abortion is never, ever permitted to save a woman's life. Why will you not acknowledge this?

          • materetmagistra

            The Catholic position is that intentionally killing an innocent human being is wrong/immoral.
            The Catholic position is that the doctor has two patients to bring through the crisis....and that it is immoral to directly kill either. It is quite possible that the doctor will be unable to save the youngest of the two.....and that he may even have to put the life of the youngest at risk to save the life of the mother, but directly killing either of his patients is antithecal to "health care."
            What if the situation was that the only way to save the baby, the youngest of the two, was to intentionally end the life of the mother. Should a doctor do that?

          • Alexandra

            "Err on the side of the person" is a worthy principle. "Err on the side of whom we deem a person" is not.
            We must evaluate moral questions using objective truths.

          • David Nickol

            How can we err on the side of the person without defining what a person is?

          • Jonathan Brumley

            I think it's important to point out that even orthodox Catholics have disagreed with Bishop Olmstead's judgment that Sr. McBride had incurred "latae sentiae" excommunication when she authorized the Phoenix abortion. (Example - Michael Liccone's article in First Things magazine). The thing is, whether or not the procedure was a direct abortion, Sr. McBride has stated that she thought she was authorizing an indirect abortion in order to save the mother's life. A "latae sentiae" excommunication only applies if she were cooperating with direct abortion. Whether Sr. McBride made a mistake in her assessment, or whether Bishop Olmstead made a mistake in his assessment, the good sister has now been reconciled with the Church.

            To understand the difference between an indirect abortion and direct abortion, you have to understand the principle of double effect. That principle allows some abortion procedures, but not others. For instance, a procedure which intends to "separate" mother and child is permissible as a proximate intent when the final intent is to save the mother's life. But a procedure where the proximate intent is to dismember the child would not be allowed under the same final intent. Another example is a procedure which intends to "move" the child in order to save the child's life. Such a procedure is moral, whereas a procedure which intends to suck out a child's brain is not.

            All this is saying is that a good end cannot justify an immoral means. As a general rule, the proximate intent matters, and the principle of double effect helps clarify conflicts between the proximate and final intent.

          • David Nickol

            I think it's important to point out that not all Catholic bioethicists agreed with Bishop Olmsted's conclusion that this was a direct abortion. There are different theories of action and intention which yield different results when doing an analysis based on the principle of double effect. What is direct in one analysis may be indirect in another.

            Some seem to think (wither they make it explicit or not) that it is a direct abortion if you actually touch the embryo or fetus, and an indirect one if you do not. That is far too simpleminded to be helpful, in my opinion. However, I am not competent to expound on the theories involved. Suffice it to say, for the purpose of this discussion, that I find Grisez's arguments about craniotomy convincing. If, under more primitive conditions than in any decent modern hospital today, a birth is impossible because the baby's head is too large, rather than let the mother die in labor, I think it would be an indirect abortion to use whatever instruments were necessary to squeeze the baby's head so it could be extracted from the mother. The intent is not to kill the baby. It is to get the baby through the birth canal and out of the mother. Obviously under modern conditions, a caesarian can be performed, but not all babies are born under modern conditions, even in the 21s century. Under those circumstances, there would be no intention to kill the baby. As Grisez argues, there is not a case where the desired outcome is a "dead baby." The procedure would be done exactly the same way if the baby were already dead.

          • Alexandra

            Yes. Agreed. What is your definition of "person"?

    • David Nickol

      When concerning the prohibition of murder, do you think our laws apply to the biological or metaphysical definition of humanity?

      I would say biological, if anything.

      1 U.S. Code § 8 - “Person”, “human being”, “child”, and “individual” as including born-alive infant

      (a) In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the words “person”, “human being”, “child”, and “individual”, shall include every infant member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development. [Emphasis added.]

      (b) As used in this section, the term “born alive”, with respect to a member of the species homo sapiens, means the complete expulsion or extraction from his or her mother of that member, at any stage of development, who after such expulsion or extraction breathes or has a beating heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definite movement of voluntary muscles, regardless of whether the umbilical cord has been cut, and regardless of whether the expulsion or extraction occurs as a result of natural or induced labor, cesarean section, or induced abortion.

      (c) Nothing in this section shall be construed to affirm, deny, expand, or contract any legal status or legal right applicable to any member of the species homo sapiens at any point prior to being “born alive” as defined in this section.

      And note that this is the law as amended in 2002 by the Federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act. There is no legal protection for unborn human beings or for embryos conceived in such places as fertility clinics. If the law protected "metaphysical humans," it would be homicide to dispose of frozen embryos in a clinic or research lab.

      • El Suscriptor Justiciero

        Actually no, if the law protected "metaphysical humans" (and got its facts right) then frozen embryos, which are not persons, would still not be protected.

    • David Nickol

      at what specific point does someone transition from biological to metaphysical humanity? And can they transition back? Why or why not?

      No one has brought up the old clichés that are usually seen in these arguments, but they are actually of some value, so I will mention them.

      Is an acorn an oak tree? (I don't think so.) At what point does an acorn become an oak tree? If we cannot identify the exact moment when an acorn becomes an oak tree, does that mean it is impossible to say that an acorn (if all goes well) will one day be an oak tree? Should we insist that acorns always must be referred to as oak trees so that we do not have the problem of deciding when an acorn becomes an oak tree?

      Is a caterpillar a butterfly? Is a maggot a fly? Is a fertilized hen's egg a chicken? Can a vegetarian (who is not a vegan) eat a fertilized hen's egg, or only an unfertilized one?

      • Papalinton

        In respect of acorns, it's my experience that millions and millions of acorns don't ever become trees. Has anyone stood under an acorn tree in the autumn? Equally, "potential' is not a valid argument for determining a zygote/foetus as a rational being.

        • Lucretius

          Dear Mr. Papalinton:

          Christians argue that there is a qualitative difference between acorns and zygotes. The best arguement for this position is that, if there is only a quantitative difference between them, either cutting down a tree would be the equivalent of murder, or murder would be the equivalent of cutting down a tree. Both cases are usually denied by the person who denies the difference in kind between an acorn and a zygote, which makes his position incoherent. George bellow pretty much sums up this defense in a nutshell (pun intended).

          What do you mean by "potential?"

          Christi pax.

          • Papalinton

            I'm interested. What's the qualitative difference that Catholics make out that is of any substantive claim? According to research, I understand God allows up to 70% of human zygotes to be aborted:

            "Over several trials, this concludes that around 70% of all zygotes fail to be carried to term.

            That's a pretty big number. And as with acorns, which are all fertilised or pollinated ova in oak flowers ['potential' oak trees], zygotes, the fertilised human ova ['potential' humans] are destroyed in far greater quantities than those that actually become humans or trees. They both represent strikingly similar reproductive processes.

            So, what the difference, again?

          • Lucretius

            Dear Mr. Papalinton:

            First of all, the study you cited from the "Rational Wiki" doesn't seem to have any links or anything scholarly to justify its claims. They might be true, but no studies are cited in order to explain these conclusions, so I don't see any reason to trust the information. Just because the article says "Science!^(TM)" proves the authors point, doesn't mean it actually does.

            Second of all, even if I assume the information is valid, I don't see how what you are saying is really relevant to the discussion. You seem to be attempting to translate to the Argument from Evil, a discussion not relevant, as far as I'm concerned. The debate is on the qualitative difference between a tree and a human.

            Now, what I think you are trying to say (which is!on topic) is that both trees and humans are relatively the same in kind as far as God is concerned, because God "treats" acorns and zygotes similarly (both are created, but have a high chance of failing to develop). Yes, it is common for zygotes to die before growth and development. It is also common for accidents ("Acts of God") to kill people too. However, it doesn't follow from there that it is morally alright to deliberately destroy a zygote, just as it doesn't follow that it is ok to deliberately smash a man's head. In other words, natural evils and moral evils are distinct.

            Remember, if there isn't a difference in kind between trees and humans, than killing trees is on the same level as killing men, or killing men is on the same level as killing trees, as both trees and humans are on the same level.

            Christi pax.

          • Papalinton

            It seems you have not yet come across one of the greatest epiphanies that resulted in humanity's 'Eureka' moment of profound intellectual insight into the understanding of life and its propagation, Darwin's fact of evolution. The great irony here is that the process for breeding new humans or propagating new oak trees was discovered to not even require or need that a God element was a fundamental factor, necessary to make the equation work. In fact no a priori assumption of a God factor was necessary or vital in explaining the evolutionary process. And every discovery down through the ages, be it Galileo, Newton, right down to Watson and Crick's discovery of the DNA Helix and to today, what was once explained as an 'act' or 'work' of god has proven time an again to be irreconcilably problematic as an explanatory paradigm. God and religion has retreated at double speed as it has repeatedly failed to provide an ontologically and epistemologically reasoned explanation. Whether it was Galileo, Newton or Watson and Crick etc etc, every scientific discovery has cleaved open and inexorably widened the truth paths of the religious explanatory mechanism and the remarkable success of the of the broader 'scientific' explanatory paradigm.

            Now. To deal with the extreme irony of your 'qualitative' argument. Qualitative arguments are subjective statements because they relate to matters of taste. You 'qualitative' statements are religious or belief-specific depending on your particular and peculiar Catholic sensibility. They are not statements of fact about the world. And they certainly do not apply to everyone. I would suggest there are many Christians that would not hold your Catholic dogma as strongly as you do on the matter of abortion. I would even say most Catholics and Christians in general are in broad agreement with Roe v Wade as the guiding principle on abortion in a modern democracy. The institutional Catholic position is little more than an obdurate dissident position, a thoroughly intractable reactionary stance without goodwill or good intent. Your 'quality' argument is a reflection of the completely parochial and tribal nature of Catholic thought. There is no ecumenism there.

          • Lucretius

            Dear Mr. Papalinton:

            It seems you have not yet come across one of the greatest epiphanies that resulted in humanity's 'Eureka' moment of profound intellectual insight into the understanding of life and its propagation, Darwin's fact of evolution.

            I am quite aware of the fact of evolution. I am also quite aware that there are certain insane interpretations of it as well :-)

            The great irony here is that the process for breeding new humans or propagating new oak trees was discovered to not even require or need that a God element was a fundamental factor, necessary to make the equation work. In fact no a priori assumption of a God factor was necessary or vital in explaining the evolutionary process.

            I don't think you understand what you are saying at all. Evolution hasn't at all effected the argument from motion, for example, which shows that primary causation is required for secondary causes to exist.

            And every discovery down through the ages, be it Galileo, Newton, right down to Watson and Crick's discovery of the DNA Helix and to today, what was once explained as an 'act' or 'work' of god has proven time an again to be irrec oncilably problematic as an explanatory paradigm.

            Galileo was in conflict with Aristotelian physics with his mechanical metaphysics. Aristotelian physics doesn't explain local motion with "God did it" at all. God is necessary as a primary explanation, but not as a secondary explanation. Are you aware of the distinction between primary and secondary causality? God uses things in creation to bring forth His will.

            God and religion has retreated at double speed as it has repeatedly failed to provide an ontologically and epistemologically reasoned explanation. Whether it was Galileo, Newton or Watson and Crick etc etc, every scientific discovery has cleaved open and inexorably widened the truth paths of the religious explanatory mechanism and the remarkable success of the of the broader 'scientific' explanatory paradigm.

            A "ontologically and epistemologically reasoned explanation" of what? What is scientific "success?" What is "the truth paths," "the religious explanatory mechanism," and "the scientific explanatory paradigm?" What do you think religion and science are for?

            Now. To deal with the extreme irony of your 'qualitative' argument. Qualitative arguments are subjective statements because they relate to matters of taste.

            If they are, than ethics are matters of taste. In fact, all value statements are.

            You 'qualitative' statements are religious or belief-specific depending on your particular and peculiar Catholic sensibility.

            How so? Last time I checked, most people believe that there is a huge difference in taking an axe to a tree trunk and taking an axe to a person's neck. And it isn't a belief only proposed by Catholics either.

            They are not statements of fact about the world.

            What are "facts?"

            And they certainly do not apply to everyone. I would suggest there are many Christians that would not hold your Catholic dogma as strongly as you do on the matter of abortion. I would even say most Catholics and Christians in general are in broad agreement with Roe v Wade as the guiding principle on abortion in a modern democracy. The institutional Catholic position is little more than an obdurate dissident position, a thoroughly intractable reactionary stance without goodwill or good intent. Your 'quality' argument is a reflection of the completely parochial and tribal nature of Catholic thought. There is no ecumenism there.

            This isn't even an argument, but rather a dismissal of old "parochial and tribal" things (whatever that means. You do know individualism and humanism develop out of Catholic thought, right?). We know that the Church is wrong because it's old. C.S. Lewis calls this sort of thinking "chronological snobbery." You are basically arguing that the Church should "get with the times, man" which is not an argument, but a sort of intellectual peer pressure.

            You are basically claiming that you're "obviously" right (without any argument), and that the "real" reason I disagree with your "obviously" correct position is because I'm addicted to Catholicism or something (actually I'm personally not comfortable with organized religion, but I have been convinced of the truth of the Catholic faith, so I have been learning to deal with it). Or to put bluntly, instead of actually countering my argument, you just dismiss it based on what you think my "real" intentions are. Marxists do this all the time too. If you don't agree with their trash philosophy, than you are either ignorant or "really" a member of the Oppressors. There is no need for them to actually consider that I might have good reasons to reject their position. Theory is the root of all evil.

            The amount of people believing something is a very bad way to judge truth. A large sum of people in the so call educated "enlightened" West believe in ghosts, but it doesn't follow that ghosts are real. Such an argument is the informal fallacy of arguing from authority.

            Let me put it simply: if you wish to reject the world of quality, you have to choose, on the pain of logical incoherency, between trees being as valuable as human or humans being as valueless as trees. I'm not fond of this postmodern psychoanalyzing distracting. You can lay me on the therapy bed only after you can demolish my arguments ;-)

            Christi pax.

          • Papalinton

            Rejecting Catholic hokum rids us of all the deep and arcane impediments to quality, and leads to exponentially greater quality of life, quality of personhood, quality of relationships, quality of thought, quality of sharing, quality of family, even quality of understanding and knowledge.

            "You do know individualism and humanism develop out of Catholic thought, right?"

            This is of course aggrandised nonsense. Such a scurrilous claim is tantamount to claiming that Hinduism and Scientology equally were developed out of Catholic thought.

            Demolish your arguments? What argument? What I have read thus far are but a litany of tired, frazzled, idiosyncratically Catholic apologetical assertions about the world masquerading as knowledge claims that one could hardly call factual let alone universal.

            As you will have no doubt experienced, society is in a state of flux as the religious paradigm dissolves into irrelevance, and is being subsumed into the broader rubric of secular humanism, the inclusive and comprehensive lingua franca of the modern period.

            While those as yourself struggle to hold ground and batten down the hatches, the broader community has moved on, sidestepping each Catholic barricade that is self-obsessedly erected in the attempt to corral society into the ambit of catholicspeak. It doesn't work any more Lucretius. The moribund Catholic paradigm is being superseded by a far more compelling and promising explanatory model than the Catholic version.

            What we are enjoying today is the qualitative beauty that change brings with it.

          • Lucretius

            Dear Mr.Papalinton:

            Rejecting Catholic hokum rids us of all the deep and arcane impediments to quality, and leads to exponentially greater quality of life, quality of personhood, quality of relationships, quality of thought, quality of sharing, quality of family, even quality of understanding and knowledge.

            I don't even know what this is suppose to mean. Can you explain what standards you are appealing to?

            This is of course aggrandised nonsense. Such a scurrilous claim is tantamount to claiming that Hinduism and Scientology equally were developed out of Catholic thought.

            False analogy. If anything else, the first humanists were Catholic, so, since Hinduism existed before Catholicism, that analogy is false on its face.

            It is off topic to discuss the relationship of humanism and Christianity, so I will end this here.

            Demolish your arguments? What argument? What I have read are but a litany of tired, frazzled, idiosyncratically Catholic apologetical assertions about the world masquerading as knowledge claims that one could hardly call factual let alone universal.

            The argument was made here: https://disqus.com/home/discussion/strangenotions/what_gets_aborted/?utm_source=reply&utm_medium=email&utm_content=read_more#comment-2029501864

            Basically what we argue is that if both acorns and humans are on the same level ontologically, that is, they are both of the same quality, then one is left with two options: the first is that humans are as valuable as acorns, which means that a serial murderer killing a human is no different than a boy smashing an acorn, and the second is that acorns are as valuable as humans, which means that every acorn you smash would call for the death penalty. If they are equal, qualitatively speaking, than you cannot coherently claim one is more valuable than the other: they are equal in value. Most sane people, Catholic or not, accept that an oak tree is not on the same level as a human, most atheists includes.

            This is my question, which I ask at least once: do you think that humans are as valuable as acorns, or that acorns are as valuable as humans? If you deny the difference in quality, then these are your two options. Please only reply if you are going to answer this question, or change your position. Otherwise, you are avoiding the logic of your views by posting irreverent information.

            As you will have experienced society is in a state of flux as the religious paradigm dissolves into irrelevance

            The last time I checked, religious belief is growing (I can't find the stats as of right now though). Honestly, I find the New Age religions to be far more threatening to the Church than the New Atheist movement, for a couple of reasons, but this is something I don't wish to get into either.

            and is being su bsumed into the broader rubric of secular humanism, the inclusive and comprehensive lingua franca of the modern period.

            What is often called humanism popularly today is not real humanism. An example of why this is so is that all humanists see humans as the most valuable things in the universe, yet secular "humanists" often deny value in the world altogether, mostly due to the influence of Darwinism. In the evolutionary view of the world, humans don't even exist, since there are no species to begin with. To put it bluntly, humanism can't even exist under such a view. And that's just one of many problems.

            "inclusive and comprehensive lingua franca of the modern period": I don't even know what this is suppose to mean.

            While those as yourself struggle to hold ground and batten down the hatches, the broader community has moved on, sidestepping each Catholic barricade self-obsessedly erected in your attempt to corral it. It doesn't work any more Lucretius. The moribund Catholic paradigm is being superseded by far more compelling and promising explanatory model than the Catholic version.

            Instead of arguing for your beliefs or against Catholic ones, you just state that Catholics are on the wrong side of history, and our kind will die out as people realize more and more that your are "obviously" right. Do you have any love of Truth? When did Truth become bases in the culture of a time period? When did it become rational to ignore your opponents arguments, and instead tell a (very) tall tale about how your beliefs are of the Enlightened, and that my unenlightened views will die from the crushing weight of "progress?"

            You do know you dismissed my argument on the basis that it is a rationalization of archaic viewpoints, right? You do also know that this doesn't actually defeat the argument, right? You do know I can use your argument to dismiss any argument I want, right?

            Mr. Papalinton, I know you are smarter than this...

            Christi pax

          • El Suscriptor Justiciero

            if both acorns and humans are on the same level ontologically

            No! You misunderstand the argument. The thing is that the difference between an acorn and an oak is comparable to the difference between a human zygote and a real person.

            Please only reply if you are going to answer this question, or change your position.

            The question itself is wrong.

            secular "humanists" often deny value in the world altogether

            Strawman fallacy. We argue against the false claim that there is an magical Great Juju outside the universe artificially giving meaning and value to everything; which is, as you can see, very different from your statement.

            In the evolutionary view of the world, humans don't even exist, since there are no species to begin with.

            WTFBBQ. This bullshit is fractally wrong on so many levels that I don't even.

          • Lucretius

            Dear El Suscriptor Justiciero:

            Nice to meet you! :-)

            Lemme check... yup, nothing but apologetical assertions. False dichotomies and false analogies aplenty.

            The irony is that you accuse me of making assertions by assertion. You should explain how such assertions are somehow false, otherwise it is just an undefended assertion.

            Anyway, I explained in more detail in the post you are responding to.

            "Nothing but apologetical assertion" is very funny though, as it sounds as if you are dismissing an argument for a religion on the basis that it is an argument for a religion, as if an argument is wrong by default if it is in defense of a religion :-)

            No! You misunderstand the argument. The thing is that the difference between an acorn and an oak is comparable to the difference between a human zygote and a real person.

            As long as we recognize that what you call "real person," really means "adult real person," and the category "real person" applies to both zygotes and adults, then I agree.

            The question itself is wrong.

            Yes, one can completely avoid this question by rejecting the foundations of it. However, the person I was debating seems to accept those premises, which means the question does apply to his philosophy.

            Strawman fallacy. We argue against the false claim that there is an magical Great Juju outside the universe artificially giving meaning and value to everything; which is, as you can see, very different from your statement.

            Ignoring the nonsense about "a magical Great Juju" (which misunderstands the Judo-Christian understanding of God anyway), do you think value is objective, that is, that things have meaning and goodness intristically?

            I also wish to note that "outside the universe artificially giving meaning and value to everything" sounds a lot like how modern thinkers tend to understand the relationship between God and the universe. Traditional Christianity has a much deeper understanding of the relationship between the universe and God, although we don't deny how the moderns understand it: we just think the moderns' understanding is incomplete, which led and leads to errors.

            WTFBBQ. This bullshit is fractally wrong on so many levels that I don't even.

            Let me clarify myself: when I say "evolutionary worldview" and the like, I mean Darwinism, and the philosophies like it, that seem to adapt a quasi-Heraclitus metaphysics to the biological theory of evolution. This is not an attempt to reject evolution as a fact, or natural selection as a theory.

            Now, what I wrote is NOT bullshit, as I just took secular "humanism," wedded to Darwinism, to its logical conclusions. The evolutionary worldview does see species as an artificial idea, as a subjective convenience. To quote Darwin:

            "From these remarks it will be seen that I look at the term
            species, as one arbitrarily given for the sake of convenience
            to a set of individuals closely resembling each other, and
            that it does not essentially differ from the term variety,
            which is given to less distinct and more fluctuating forms.
            The term variety, again, in comparison with mere individual
            differences, is also applied arbitrarily, and for mere
            convenience sake (The Origin of Species: Chapter II)."

            I don't agree with him at all. I think evolution does not demonstrate that species are arbitrary, but rather that nominalistic thinking is read into the facts. However, Darwinism does hold this view, that all "species" are really just one thing in flux, from what I understand (also don't mistake natural selection for Darwinism. Natural selection (which I think is, in part, a good theory explaining evolution) is included in Darwinism, but Darwinism is more than mere natural selection). I'm not attacking the science side of Darwinism; I'm attacking its philosophical side.

            Christi pax.

      • George

        And are we humans fossil fuel? :P

      • materetmagistra

        Hey, David Nickol. What biological species does that oak tree belong to? How about the acorn produced by that tree?

        How about a butterfly and its caterpillar?

        How about the embryo within the chicken egg, and the chicken that egg is from?

        What biological species does the human embryo belong to? Is that the same biological species the adult human belongs to?

        • David Nickol

          Hey, David Nickol. What biological species does that oak tree belong to? How about the acorn produced by that tree?

          That is not really the relevant question, but in any case I looked up "acorn" in order to respond to another question, and I can tell you that there are over 400 species of oak tree, and the acorn is the fruit of an oak tree, which usually contains one seed, but rarely contains two or three. It would seem strange, would it not, to find what we would normally call an acorn (or even the seed inside an acorn) and then be forced to determine which of the more than 400 species it belonged to before we could call it anything?

          What is that acorn-like thing? Well, it is the fruit of Quercus berberidifolia, or the California scrub oak. Inside it are one (maybe two) of the seed stage of the California scrub oak, which is identical to the mature California scrub oak shrub. The California scrub oak shrub and the California scrub oak seed inside the California scrub oak acorn are different stages of the same thing.

          • materetmagistra

            @David Nickol: "What is that acorn-like thing? Well, it is the fruit of Quercus berberidifolia, or the California scrub oak. Inside it are one (maybe two) of the seed stage of the California scrub oak, which is identical to the mature California scrub oak shrub. The California scrub oak shrub and the California scrub oak seed inside the California scrub oak acorn are different stages of the same thing."

            There you go. [Dare I say, "BINGO!"]

            ".... different stages of the same thing."

            Just as the unborn human and the born human are simply "different stages of the same thing." They are both biological human beings, Homo sapiens.

          • David Nickol

            There you go. [Dare I say, "BINGO!"]

            That was a parody of what seemed to me a crazy way of talking about acorns and oak trees!

            If an acorn that grows into an oak tree is a different stage of the mature oak tree, what is an acorn that grows on an oak tree? Isn't it the fruit of that oak tree? It does not make sense to me to say there is just one continuous "thing"—the oak tree that produces acorns, the acorns themselves, and the trees that those acorns grow into. It seems clear to me we must distinguish between oak trees, the fruit of oak trees, and the new oak trees that grow from the fruit of the old oak trees.

            We do not put olive trees in martinis!

          • materetmagistra

            @David Nickol: "It does not make sense to me to say there is just one continuous 'thing'....."

            Well, it is essentially " just one continuous 'thing'....." throughout its whole lifespan, is it not? Its accidental properties change as it matures. But, if it is essentially a scrub oak (be it an immature scrub oak or a mature scrub oak) it will never be a lacey oak (Quercus laceyi), will it?

          • David Nickol

            Well, it is essentially " just one continuous 'thing'....." throughout its whole lifespan, is it not?

            No, I don't think so. What about its development and growth on the tree? Wouldn't you say fruit on a tree is a part of the tree? It seems if you want to claim there is "one continuous thing," you have to claim it is the entire genus, following it backwards along its evolutionary path to the primeval ooze!

          • materetmagistra

            The "fruit" is the next generation. And, the "fruit" cannot be anything other than a member of the same type of thing, the same species.

            Throughout the lifetime of the individual tree, from seed to death, from acorn to mature oak up to death, it remains the same species, the same type of thing, doesn't it? Or, do you think it possible that acorns, upon being planted, might one day sprout as daisies?

      • Lucretius

        Dear Mr. David Nickol:

        "Acorn" and "Oak tree" are terms we use to describe the same thing, but at a different stage of development.

        Christi pax.

        • David Nickol

          "Acorn" and "Oak tree" are terms we use to describe the same thing, but at a different stage of development.

          Then exactly what is that "thing" called? Certain such a "thing" must have a name. Look up acorn or oak tree, and you will find something like the following:

          The fruit [of an oak tree, of which there are about 400 species] is a nut called an acorn, borne in a cup-like structure known as a cupule; each acorn contains one seed (rarely two or three) and takes 6-18 months to mature, depending on species.

          Are "orange" and "orange tree" terms we use to describe the same thing, but at different stages of development? To be very precise, then, maybe we should be talking about a seed in an acorn rather than a whole acorn.

          I think there are many in the anti-abortion movement who would simply reject the implied analogy that an acorn (or even the seed in an acorn) is to a mature oak tree as a fertilized egg is to an adult human being. They might argue that an acorn and an oak tree really are two different kinds of "things," and we value acorns quite differently from oak trees. But the anti-abortion advocate would say that the fertilized egg and the adult human being are exactly the same kind of "thing"—a human person. So while we might value an acorn and an oak tree quite differently, the fertilized egg and the mature adult have equal moral worth.

          • Papalinton

            "But the anti-abortion advocate would say that the fertilized egg and the adult human being are exactly the same kind of "thing""

            It's called the convenience of apologetical equivocation; acorns and oak trees? Two vastly different things. Zygote and human being? Exactly the same thing. The intellectual mediocrity in religious thinking in which equivocation forms the basis of the argument.

            Unconvincing and jejune.

          • Lucretius

            Dear Mr. Nickol:

            Then exactly what is that "thing" called? Certain such a "thing" must have a name.

            In the English language, we use a specific term "acorn" as shorthand for "premature oak tree," for reasons I'm not entirely sure of, although I would guess that the distinction was/is useful in a farming society: farmers talk about "maize seeds" as distinct from "maize" because such terms helps them better conceptualize the differences, which makes it easier to think and speak about them.

            I think there are many in the anti-abortion movement who would simply reject the implied analogy that an acorn (or even the seed in an acorn) is to a mature oak tree as a fertilized egg is to an adult human being. They might argue that an acorn and an oak tree really are two different kinds of "things," and we value acorns quite differently from oak trees. But the anti-abortion advocate would say that the fertilized egg and the adult human being are exactly the same kind of "thing"—a human person. So while we might value an acorn and an oak tree quite differently, the fertilized egg and the mature adult have equal moral worth.

            The problem with this sort of thinking is that the abortion defender would just claim that it is incoherent to attempt to view acorns and oak trees as different things, but eggs and men as the same thing. In other words, he would say that you

            When I plant a seed, the mature plant that results from its growth doesn't make the seed something essential new, but rather just something that has reached its mature state.

            I think this becomes more obvious when we contemplate ourselves. The term "baby" doesn't refer

          • David Nickol

            In the English language, we use a specific term "acorn" as shorthand for
            "premature oak tree," for reasons I'm not entirely sure of, although I
            would guess that the distinction was/is useful in a farming society . . . .

            Did you really just skip over all of that great information I provided about the acorn being the fruit (or nut) of the oak tree, which fruit usually contains one (but rarely two or three) seeds? Consequently, an acorn is not really a premature oak tree any more than a cherry is a premature cherry tree or a peach is a premature peach tree.

            Why do I bother? :P

            Would you argue that trees that grow fruit are really just growing premature trees? It seems that if you aren't willing to make a distinction between the fruit (or seed) from which a tree grows, you should also not be willing to make a distinction between a tree and the fruits or nuts or seeds it produces. In reality, there is just one continuous life form "oak" that flows through acorns, seeds, leaves, bark and so on over eons.

            Labour is blossoming or dancing where
            The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
            Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
            Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
            O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
            Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
            O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
            How can we know the dancer from the dance?

          • Lucretius

            I didn't realize that comment got posted, as it was incomplete.

            Christi pax.

          • David Nickol

            You must complete it! There is virtually no chance that the various disagreements in the forum about abortion will ever be resolved. But that does not mean we can't settle the matter of acorns and oak trees! ;)

          • Lucretius

            Dear Mr. Nickol:

            I think there are many in the anti-abortion movement who would simply reject the implied analogy that an acorn (or even the seed in an acorn) is to a mature oak tree as a fertilized egg is to an adult human being. They might argue that an acorn and an oak tree really are two different kinds of "things," and we value acorns quite differently from oak trees. But the anti-abortion advocate would say that the fertilized egg and the adult human being are exactly the same kind of "thing"—a human person. So while we might value an acorn and an oak tree quite differently, the fertilized egg and the mature adult have equal moral worth.

            The problem with this argument is that the abortion defender would claim your views are incoherent, as you attempt to view acorns and oak trees as different things objectively, but eggs and humans as the same thing objectively.

            When I plant a seed, the mature plant that results from its growth isn't something essential new, but rather just something that has reached its mature state.

            I think this becomes more obvious when we contemplate humans. The term "baby" doesn't refer to a thing that is in opposition with "human," but rather the opposite: one can be both a baby and a human, and in fact a baby must be a human if it is to be a baby. The same goes with "adult" and "human": I have to be a human in order to be an adult human. "Human" and "baby" are not at odds, and "human" and "adult" are not at odds, but "baby" and "adult" are. Further, "Baby" corresponds to "acorn," "adult" correspond to "oak tree," and "human" corresponds to "oak tree." One equivocates when mistaking the term "oak tree," in the sense of adult oak trees, and "oak tree," in the sense of oak trees as a species. There is a difference between "adult oak tree" and "oak tree specifically," just as there is a difference between "adult human" and "human." "Oak tree" can be used to refer to both. "Human" and "oak tree" are genera, while "baby" and "adult," as well as "acorn" and "mature tree," are species, in the logical sense.

            In short, one could say that acorns (baby oak tree) and adult oak trees are two different things objectively, but he must also confirm that babies and adults are two different things objectively.

            Christi pax.

          • El Suscriptor Justiciero

            TL;DR a fertilized oak zygote is vastly different to an adult oak tree, and a fertilized human zygote is exactly the same as an adult human.

    • Steven Dillon

      Thanks for the questions Brandon!

      1. I don't think we know at what specific point before birth it happens, or even that there is a specific point for every human being: God's creation of the rational soul leaves no detectable change. However, once God does create the rational soul, a human being cannot return to being merely biological without dying.

      2. I think the reason why predatory animals can't be tried for murder is that they lack rationality: the lion doesn't *murder* the gazelle, it just kills it out of instinct. Likewise, if our laws do not acknowledge the essence of humankind, we have no basis to try anyone for murder.

      • William Davis

        Likewise, if our laws do not acknowledge the essence of humankind, we have no basis to try anyone for murder.

        I don't think this is the case. We don't consider a dog rational, but we still put him down if he mauls a child. The fact that the dog isn't rational doesn't mean he isn't dangerous. By the same token, someone who doesn't believe free will exists can still justify prison because it protects the rest of society, no further reason is actually necessary.
        Nice article by the way :)

        • Lucretius

          Dear Mr. Davis:

          I think a problem with the free will denier's hypothetical argument is that I can take it farther and say that, just as we should kill dangerous dogs instead of imprisoning them, so too we should kill dangerous men instead of throwing them in prison. Or to put it another way, there is no reason why we shouldn't kill murderers but kill dangerous dogs (the double standard is irrational). I could even go on to argue that just using the death penalty in mass would be beneficial to society, one example being in reducing the cost of keeping such men alive. We could possibly keep them alive if we were to enslave them to do hard, but productive, laborious jobs though, as this would make their existence less of a drain, but this is another option that the free will denier would probably be hesitant to accept.

          Christi pax.

  • Steven,

    Thanks for an excellent article. I wonder, though, how you might address John Haldane's* response to pretty-much this argument. His argument (not the one that appears in the paper, but one he gave in conversation here at St Andrews) goes something like this (in my own words):

    The problem with the argument that the fetus isn't rational and therefore isn't a human being is reflected in the argument:
    1. "All cats have whiskers"
    2. "Alex (a pet he has that looks exactly like a cat in almost all respects) has no whiskers"
    3."Therefore Alex is not a cat"

    This argument doesn't work because it's comparing something Alex is lacking that other cats have, and that a cat ought to have. Lacking what one ought to have isn't the same as naturally lacking it. A dog might be blind, because dogs are made to see. Rocks can't be blind, because rocks aren't made to see. A man might be unconscious, e.g. because he is asleep. A glass of water will never be unconscious, since it couldn't be conscious in the first place. A fetus lacks rationality in the way a sleeping man lacks consciousness, and just as a sleeping man shouldn't have different rights than other men, a fetus shouldn't have different rights than other children.

    The argument is better stated in the paper, but that's what I believe to be a fair summary. I'm wondering how you would respond to it. Also, I recommend reading the paper; it's a nice piece of work.

    *Haldane, John, and Patrick Lee. "Aquinas on human ensoulment, abortion and the value of life." Philosophy 78.02 (2003): 255-278.

    • William Davis

      A fetus lacks rationality in the way a sleeping man lacks consciousness, and just as a sleeping man shouldn't have different rights than other men, a fetus shouldn't have different rights than other children.

      I've heard this before and it has a large, obvious problem. A sleeping man is fully capable of consciousness, all you have to do is wake him up. A fetus (young enough) isn't capable of consciousness, it's physically impossible. The primary difference between a zygot/fetus and a brain dead person who is still breathing is that the fetus will be conscious given time, assuming there isn't a miscarriage or something similar. I suppose one core argument in the debate is how much time matters to person-hood.
      Also note that people are conscious during parts of sleep. We call this dreaming ;) Even when unconscious the brain is still quite active during sleep

      • A fetus is fully capable of consciousness. All you do is wait a few months. Just like you say in your comment. So this doesn't seem like much of a problem with the objection, unless the time it takes to "wake up" matters (which, as you point out, it may). One could imagine aliens that took months to awaken, to regain consciousness, and it would not seem to change the way we should treat them when they're unconscious.

        Maybe the concept of regaining poses the problem to Haldane's argument. You have to at least have it the first time (although this still doesn't quite work, because blindness doesn't have to work that way; "blind people aren't human beings because human beings can see").

        It's a puzzle.

        • William Davis

          A fetus is fully capable of consciousness.

          I would argue there is a difference between "will be" and "is". A sleeping man is capable. Of course, one objection that stems from this is a man in a coma. If the brain damage isn't completely devastating, the man may not be capable of consciousness for a year, but eventually "will be", at least possibly. You're right about the puzzle :)

          • materetmagistra

            @William Davis: "A sleeping man is capable..."

            ?? He will be when he wakes up.

          • William Davis

            No, a sleeping man is fully capable of consciousness, and often is conscious while sleeping. You spend 1/4 of you time sleeping in REM, whether you remember the dream or not.

            https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-rest/201101/sleep-and-your-different-states-consciousness

          • Lucretius

            I think that what the others are trying to convey is that consciousness-in-awareness is different from consciousness-in-sleep.

            Christi pax.

          • William Davis

            Don't think that is what materetmagistra was trying to say, but that's just me. Nice to see you again :)

          • Lucretius

            I think each of you has a different definition of "conscousness" in mind. materetmagistra's seems to include an aspect to makes a sleeping man not conscious, but yours does.

            Christi pax.

          • William Davis

            Do you seriously think you're not conscious when you are dreaming?

          • Lucretius

            My response depends on the definition being used.

            If "consciousness" is taken to mean that the ego is aware of external stimuli, than a sleeping man is not conscious*.

            If "consciousness" is taken to mean that the ego is aware of something, than of course a sleeping man is conscious.

            *This doesn't mean that the subconscious isn't aware of external stimuli.

            Christi pax.

          • David Nickol

            Do you seriously think you're not conscious when you are dreaming?

            David Boonin makes an interesting point about beliefs, desires, and consciousness. If a person believes a triangle has three sides, does he believe it only when he is thinking about it? What about when he is not thinking about it? Would it make sense to say a man who believes a triangle has three sides does not believe a triangle has three sides when he is asleep? He uses another example of a man who is faithful to his wife because his wife desires him to be faithful. Does this mean he can cheat on his wife when she is playing bridge, because when she is playing bridge she is not thinking about anything else, and therefore not desiring him to be faithful? (The context is a discussion of the reason for murder being wrong because by murdering someone, you take away the future that he or she desires to experience. It would not make sense, he argues, to claim it is acceptable to kill a person while he or she sleeps, since at that moment, the person is not desiring his or her future. Beliefs and desires are not something that somehow disappear when we go to sleep and resume anew when we wake up.)

          • materetmagistra

            Huh?
            @ "...and often is conscious while sleeping..."
            So, therefore, he merely will be conscious during part of his sleeping.

          • El Suscriptor Justiciero

            So, according to you, being asleep is the same as not having a brain. I see.

          • materetmagistra

            Go back and follow the thread, thus the context. Then get back to me if you still have confusion.

          • El Suscriptor Justiciero

            Yes I know, I'm aware that you meant the very opposite: that not having a brain is the same as being asleep.
            (To clarify, I mean that I know you didn't mean that someone asleep has as little rights as something without a brain, but that a biologically alive being without mind or sentience should have the same rights as an actual person --as long as it is genetically human).

            I certainly know what you meant, and I still disagree with you.

          • materetmagistra

            @ el: "...but that a biologically alive being without mind or sentience....."

            Not just any "biologically alive being." ...A biological human being exhibiting an age-appropriate nervous system.

          • El Suscriptor Justiciero

            Yes, a biologically human being exhibiting a healthy, age-appropiate nervous system that due to its age is completely incapable of mind, personality and sentience.

          • materetmagistra

            But, nothing changes as far as the essential nature of the biological human being, the human individual, throughout his life - he is the same individual his entire lifespan. As time passes, he simply ages...abilities and appearance may change, but the being does not. Either he has "human rights" at all times he is this being, or he does not. Your hypothesis is simply a line drawn on shifting sand...and amounts to nothing more than age and/or disability discrimination.

        • El Suscriptor Justiciero

          A 28-week fetus is fully capable of consciousness.

          Fixed that for you.
          A 14-week fetus, on the other hand, is NOT capable of consciousness AT ALL.

          • This is a bit older thread than I typically respond to, but I'm very curious. What's the evidence?

    • Steven Dillon

      Thanks for the question Paul, good summary.

      I suppose I would distinguish my argument from the one that Haldane criticizes because it is not my contention that fetus' lack rationality; only that zygotes do. I think the argument Joe gave is unsound, but not that this means fetus' lack rationality. Just as Haldane's argument should cause pause for those who contend that fetus' lack rationality, I think there are good arguments which should cause pause for those who think they have it. When the human organism becomes rational is not a question I think we know the answer to yet.

      • If you change "fetus" to "zygote" in the argument, how would you respond? The idea here being that zygotes 'wake up', it just takes them a while.

        • Steven Dillon

          The problem with running his argument against zygotes, I would say, is that it is demonstrable that zygotes are not animals (metaphysically). But, if something isn't an animal, then it's not a rational animal, or any other kind of animal.

          Haldane could try to redefine the human being purely in terms of rationality (as the Cartesians do). In that way, he could argue that embodied rationality doesn't have to be animal rationality. Thus, even though the zygote's corporeal form of being is only vegetative, it could just be taking them a while to 'wake up'.

          But, he would need to not only face all of the Scholastic arguments against Cartesianism, but confront a terrible can of worms, by which we could run his argument on behalf of *anything*, radically altering the ways we should relate to blades of grass, dust particles and even boogers.

          • What makes zygotes not metaphysically animals? Because it would seem as though any property they lack presently they will have shortly, and so Haldane's argument works for those properties as well.

          • Steven Dillon

            On the theory Haldane and I run with, essential to being an animal is having the power of sensation -- roughly, the 'ability' to sense. But, one cannot have the power to sense without also having a means to exercise that power, and zygotes lack precisely those means. Their only function, really, is cellular division, which is a property of the vegetative life.

          • One of the questions Haldane's argument raises is in what way the human, when he's a zygote, is incapable of sensation. Is it in the same way a blind man lacks the ability to see or the same way a rock lacks the ability to see? It seems to be the former, because the human has the power of sensation; just wait a few months. If you don't find that very convincing (and even if you do), how would you answer these hypotheticals?

            Imagine an sentient alien species that every 12 hours entered into a regeneration cycle. In this cycle, they become physically incapable of any sensation for an hour. And then the come out of it. Would destroying one of them during this regeneration cycle qualify as killing a sentient alien?

            Or an even more sci-fi example, and not morally equivalent, but I'd be interested in your thoughts on it: A race of sentient and very advanced aliens all contracted a congenital defect a thousand years ago, reducing their life span to a year. At the end of every year they copy everything about themselves into a computer program. One month later a new body is grown (sadly with the same defect) and the information is transferred into the new body, and they go on for another year. What are the moral implications of deleting one of these programs?

          • David Nickol

            One of the questions Haldane's argument raises is in what way the human, when he's a zygote, is incapable of sensation.

            In what way is a maggot (which may eventually become a housefly) or a caterpillar (which may eventually become a butterfly) incapable of flight? It seems to me we would never say a maggot or a caterpillar is capable of flight, although they have the potential to transform into something that is capable of flight.

            Or an even more sci-fi example, and not morally equivalent, but I'd be interested in your thoughts on it:

            This hypothetical, it seems to me, will divide SN commenters into at least two groups. Those who believe in the necessity of spiritual souls as a requirement for abstract thought (and so on) will deny the situation is possible even in principle.

          • It seems to me we would never say a maggot or a caterpillar is capable of flight, although they have the potential to transform into something that is capable of flight.

            A blind man might be incapable of sight, but he may have the potential to transform into a seeing man (with technology, etc.) We give blind people the same rights as sighted people, we consider them to be human beings the same as sighted human beings. Zygotes don't have sensations. Do we consider them to be (metaphysically) human beings or not?

            This hypothetical, it seems to me, will divide SN commenters into at least two groups. Those who believe in the necessity of spiritual souls as a requirement for abstract thought (and so on) will deny the situation is possible even in principle.

            Good point. What do you think about the hypothetical? Do you think it would be bad to delete the program? How bad? Or do you think the whole situation is impossible in principle?

          • David Nickol

            We give blind people the same rights as sighted people, we consider them to be human beings the same as sighted human beings.

            We don't give them the right to drive cars or pilot airplanes.

            I have been leaving through David Boonin's A Defense of Abortion, but I will not quote it, since these are my own thoughts, and may not be faithful renderings of his. But the sections I have in mind are 2.6 The Potentiality Argument and 2.7 The Essential Property Argument.

            The question that comes to mind is whether sight is an essential property of being a human person. Clearly it is not. We couldn't argue

            • All human persons have the ability to see.
            • James does not have the ability to see.
            • James is not a human person.

            It seems to me we could not even argue that all human persons have the potential ability to see, since there may be blindness that is due to brain anomalies or injury that is beyond the capability of technology to heal. But the ability to have sensations (or the ability to think abstractly, or some other ability) might be considered an essential property. So you might be able to validly argue

            • All human persons have the ability to experience sensations.
            • Zygote X does not have the ability to experience sensations.
            • Zygote X is not a human person.

            Of course, a tremendous amount depends on the definition of human person. If it is defined as "a member of the species homo sapiens from conception to death," then the premise "All human persons have the ability to experience sensations" would be considered false. But it seems to me that defining a human person as a member of the species homo sapiens from conception to death" is begging the question.

            In line (I think) with Boonin would be the argument that if something has a potential property, it has the property itself. That is, if I have the right to life, given that there is a continuity between the zygote that I once was and my current self, the zygote also had the right to life. But the assumption there is that properties or abilities or rights are never gained nor lost. I don't find that at all convincing. It seems to me even the right to life is not absolute (something YOS and I are debating elsewhere), and by committing a capital crime, you may lose your right to life. Basic human rights like the right to marry whom you choose (even going back to the old days before same-sex marriage) did not give children the right to marry or (in the Catholic Church) impotent men the right to marry. So it seems to me that even the right to life is not absolute.

          • Well, I'm not blind and I also don't have the right to drive a car or pilot an airplane; I'd need to be licensed.

            It is difficult to imagine the ability to have sensations, or to reason abstractly, as an essential property. If I'm hit over the head, while I'm knocked out I don't have the ability to have sensations or reason abstractly, etc. I wouldn't meet the requirements in the premise "All human persons have the ability to experience sensations", and so would cease to be a human person while I'm knocked unconscious, and would resume personhood once i've regained it.

            This of course assumes that people who are knocked out really are incapable of sensations while they are unconscious. If we discovered that they were, would it mean that we discovered that when people are knocked out they temporarily cease to be human persons? It would seem odd that so much would hinge on that sort of investigation.

            This isn't at all to say that an embryo = someone knocked unconscious. It's just that the way to determine human personhood on the basis of capabilities is fraught with difficulties. It doesn't mean it can't be done, but it's hard. There are real puzzles.

          • Steven Dillon

            It seems to me that the zygote's inability to sense is more like that of a rock's because the blind man actually has the means by which to see, they have just been corrupted: he has eyes. But, zygotes aren't like that: they simply have no sense organs.

            With respect to your first thought experiment, I would say yes, destroying an alien during a regeneration cycle would count as killing a sentient alien: one can have the power to sense even though this power lie dormant.

            With respect to the second, if the alien dies before the body is grown, deleting its "reincarnation" program would not deprive the alien of a life it is due: it doesn't exist in actuality. Depending on the alien, we might feel sad that it won't return, but I don't think the alien is entitled to do so: it doesn't yet exist.

          • My intuition would be that the zygote has the means for sensation, those means just aren't fully developed yet.

            To press the first thought experiment a bit: let's imagine that the sense organs are subsumed every hour, only to re-emerge. Would that change things?

            As for the second thought experiment, that's an interesting answer. Do you think that deleting the program carries any moral weight? Say Alvin the alien had a row with Benz the alien. If he stabs Benz now, it's murder. If he stabs Benz a year from now, also murder. If he waits until Benz's information is copied onto the computer and deletes the program, what is it? Nothing wrong with it? Something wrong but not quite murder?

          • Steven Dillon

            But, what would actually constitute the means to sense if not the having of sensory organs? Would it just be having the predisposition to develop sense organs? To my mind, that would better be classified as having the potential to develop the means to sense, rather than as actually having those means, only in an "embryonic" form -- for lack of a better word.

            In answer to your first question, I would say that there is a two-way directionality to causation: effecting a thing's form of being by manipulating its matter, and effecting a thing's matter by manipulating its form of being. By subsuming a being's sensory organs, I think we would be changing its form of being, from that of an animal to something less.

            In answer to your second question, I think deleting the program would only carry moral weight with respect to intention: although we wouldn't technically be "killing" anything, we would be in the wrong for intending to do so, baring overriding justification.

            I should also be more open about my system of thought: as I see things, the alien -- like us -- is a combination of form and matter. Moreover, it's natural for us as rational animals to reincarnate after death. So, destroying the program would not prevent the alien's soul from reincarnating, it would at most prevent it from reincarnating with the properties it once had.

          • This has been a very enlightening conversation! I've deeply enjoyed your answers to the questions, and admire the consistency. My intuitions about the problem are very different.

            Your answer to the question of deleting the program is especially interesting, given your views on reincarnation. It means either that when the aliens copy their information to the computer, they die and then presumably reincarnate and copy themselves into a new body, or, if their program is deleted, they reincarnate without ever dying.

            Same with the 12 hour regenerating aliens. They'd lose all their ability to sense, and so would cease to be animals, and either would reincarnate at that point (every 12 hours), or would, once the body is destroyed, reincarnate without dying (since there was no animal to be killed).

            Bizarre, but consistent!

            And this lead to another question (only if you have the time; I don't want to take up too much in these conversations): In your view, If an embryo is aborted, does the being that embryo would have become reincarnate?

          • OldSearcher

            This has been a very enlightening conversation

            Absolutely! I thank both of you for it. This conversation has really made me reconsider some of my intuitions on this thorny topic.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            Imagine an sentient alien species that every 12 hours entered into a regeneration cycle. In this cycle, they become physically incapable of any sensation for an hour. And then the come out of it. Would destroying one of them during this regeneration cycle qualify as killing a sentient alien?

            It seems this is different from abortion in two ways.
            1) The sentient alien has a personality and memories. The alien was sentient before the regeneration cycle and his essence will continue to be after he comes out of the regeneration cycle. By killing the alien you are ending a particular essence that has already been actualized. An embryo has not personality or essence. It has never been sentient.

            2) The sentient alien is not using another sentient being during its regeneration cycle. The embryo cannot exists without another human carrying it.

          • Concerning (1) I think you're right, there's something important about having already had memories and sensations, and that's (I suspect) the key to unravelling the riddle.

            Concerning (2), I don't think this matters much to the discussion, which is whether the zygote is a human being, and not whether destroying the zygote, even if it is a human being, is morally justifiable (and under what circumstances.

            I think that (2) is the more important concern for the morality of abortion than whether the zygote/fetus is a human being. And that would be a great discussion. Strange Notions should have a post on the violinist thought experiment.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The violinist thought experiment is a good one. It would be interesting to see a write up on it.

  • SJH

    I think you are not defining humans correctly when you say that "Metaphysically, the human being is an animal with rational powers." Are those the only two attributes that make human being what they are? In my thought, a human being is a human being regardless if they have the ability to reason.
    Also, lets say, for the sake of argument that you are correct and "personhood" is not granted at fertilization but at some later stage. If this is true then it would be absolutely impossible to determine what that stage is with science. It would only be determined by the society. This is very dangerous since each society could then define it as they wish and thus there would be no problem with the Nazi's defining Jews as non-human or an early 19th century American defining Africans as non-human. There is no limiting basis to define humanity if you don't define it as science has defined it. So the assumption that "personhood" is infused at fertilization is the only rational position.

    • William Davis

      I agree about rational powers. This would make mentally handicapped people non-persons. Consciousness is different. A person incapable of consciousness is brain dead for all intents and purposes. The sleep analogy falls apart because a sleeping person is often conscious while asleep (dreams) and is fully capable of consciousness, just wake them up. Extended comas become a grey area because it is uncertain if they will ever regain consciousness.

    • David Nickol

      This is very dangerous since each society could then define it as they wish . . . .

      But this is exactly the situation we are already in! Our system of law (and the British system of which it is a descendent) has never considered life/personhood to begin at conception. When abortion was illegal in the United States, it was never treated as murder or homicide of any kind. Even anti-abortion advocates who push for the criminalization of abortion are not attempting to write laws that treat abortion as murder. ("Personhood" amendments are another story. I am basing my statement here on "trigger laws," which are laws some states have in place should Roe v. Wade be overturned. Such laws would instantly criminalize abortion in states that have them.)

      Interestingly, the only state that I know that treated abortion as murder was Nazi Germany:

      Legalization of abortion was first widely discussed in Germany during the early 20th century. During the Weimar Republic, such discussion led to a reduction in the maximum penalty for abortion, and in 1926 — by a court's decision — to the legalization of abortion in cases of grave danger to the life of the mother.

      In Nazi Germany, the penalties for abortion were increased again. In 1943, providing an abortion to an "Aryan" woman became a capital offense. Abortion was permitted if the foetus was deformed or disabled.

      • Ablemom

        Correct. It's also interesting that the horrific research Mengele (imfamous doctor of death) directed under Hitler was using other races as slaves to try to aide genetic development of a superior race of humans. The so-called scientific notion being that all other varieties within the human species, were lower on the evolutionary ladder, and destined to die off anyway. That's how the Aryan heresy tried to justify genocide - with no respect for God's commandments, nor his will to save Jews and Gentiles alike. They believed a Darwinian hypothesis about macro-evolutionary species-to-species leaps that Darwin himself said he thought impossible, saying he believed the Creator of life would have never put such possibility in the natural ordering of it. A scientific hypothesis that now with more enlightened research from genetic biology with archaeology and paleontology was disproven before the end of the past century.

    • Steven Dillon

      Thanks for the reply SJH,

      A thing's nature is just the principle of its immanent activity, and the immanent activity unique to man is embodied rationality. This is why Aristotelians take the rational soul (or form of being) to be the nature of humankind.

      While not knowing when ensoulment occurs makes things more difficult than they would otherwise need to be, at the end of day, it's because we don't know that we shouldn't behave as if we did.

      • SJH

        "at the end of day, it's because we don't know that we shouldn't behave as if we did."
        Assuming your reasoning is correct, it would then become the reason why abortion should be illegal. If you don't know that a person is present then it would be best not to kill it.

        • Steven Dillon

          Not knowing whether a fetus is a rational animal only implies that they could be. But, we shouldn't legislate on the basis of mere possibilities (just think of the overwhelming amount of actions we'd have to forbid because they could, in theory, be wrong). We need a reason to think that fetus' are probably rational animals.

          • SJH

            At some point though the possibility is so strong that you do legislate. We are talking about the possibility of murder after all. So you might say it is illegal to fire a gun in the middle of the city at night because there is a possibility that you might kill someone. The consequence of the action is severe enough to warrant a law.

    • Doug Shaver

      Also, lets say, for the sake of argument that you are correct and "personhood" is not granted at fertilization but at some later stage. If this is true then it would be absolutely impossible to determine what that stage is with science.

      Right, because the beginning of personhood is not a scientific question. But so what? No moral issue is a purely scientific question. If it were, then there would be no meaningful distinction to be made between "is" and "ought," and then the naturalistic fallacy would not be a fallacy at all. People who try to ground their moral judgments strictly on matters of scientific fact had better be careful what they wish for.

      each society could then define it as they wish

      They already do.

      thus there would be no problem with the Nazi's defining Jews as non-human or an early 19th century American defining Africans as non-human.

      Whether Jews or blacks are human is a biological question, and there certainly is a scientific problem with defining them as non-human.

      The difficulty of defining personhood does provide a convenient excuse for certain people to mistreat certain groups that they don't like, but the difficulty of defining any concept does not mean that everyone's definition is just as good as anyone else's. It does mean, though, that those who want their definition to prevail are responsible for formulating arguments sufficiently persuasive that they will gain general acceptance. Otherwise, we will all be reduced to saying "God says so" or some secular equivalent.

      There is no limiting basis to define humanity if you don't define it as science has defined it. So the assumption that "personhood" is infused at fertilization is the only rational position.

      That is just a non sequitur. I'm quite OK with science's definition of humanity, but I cannot regard it, for moral purposes, as logically equivalent to personhood.

    • Lucretius

      Dear Mr. SJH:

      First of all, "Rational" had a much broader (and richer) definition than what the popular use of the term.

      Second of all, a human being is an animal capable of reason and moral choice, which is one of the primary understandings of what it means to be made "in the Image of God," an understanding that comes from the Fathers.

      A Thomist would say that every human being has the power to reason, but not all have the power to exercise it, some due to underdevelopment (like a fetus), and some due to body damage (like a comatose victim).

      We reason because we are rational animals. We are not rational animals because we reason. Agere sequitur esse: doing follows being.

      Christi pax.

  • joey_in_NC

    But, the going only gets tougher when we realize that the human zygote isn’t even an animal, let alone a rational one at that.

    It appears what you're saying is that a living thing must be BOTH (1) rational and (2) an animal in order for it to be considered a human person.

    A human infant is definitely an animal with the power of sensation, but it is not yet rational. So given your criteria, is an infant not a human person?

  • Andre V.

    Both articles struggle to find that magical definition, that pinpoint when we can define the little collection of tissue as human, as worthy of protection and life.

    Is there not another simpler but more important consideration that we are choosing to minimize, and that is the potential of that lump of tissue, however you wish to define it and whatever time along that spectrum you wish to pause at? Even if we should agree that no pain and suffering is experienced up to x days or weeks, can much really be argued against abortion destroying the human potential of that fetus? Leaving aside, for the moment and for the sake of some progress, the interests of the mother, is this not the end of the argument as far as the interests of the potential-human is concerned? That at best for the pro-choice group abortion destroys the potential of that human being?

    • David Nickol

      One can certain regard an embryo or fetus as worth protecting by law as a potential person. In Jewish thought, "personhood" begins at birth, and the life of a pregnant mother is paramount. However, abortion for any other reason than saving the life of the mother is taken very seriously. As I have argued numerous times, when abortion was outlawed in the United States, it was never treated as murder or homicide, and if Roe v Wade is overturned, it seems very unlikely that anti-abortion legislation will treat abortion as murder or homicide.

      In a nutshell, the argument that abortion should be outlawed as the murder of an innocent person is basically novel, and those in the pro-life movement who would like to see it happen have little chance of succeeding. There is simply no legal precedent for it. This is not to say Roe v Wade will never be overturned, or if it is, that no state will outlaw abortion. It certainly could happen. But it is very unlikely that any state would ever punish abortion as murder.

      • Andre V.

        Yes, I'm not arguing that the termination of that potential should have any legal sanction attached. It is however, I think, a very strong moral consideration.

    • George

      But just as much potential is cut off by not having sex.

      • David Nickol

        There I would disagree. A fertilized egg with no serious defects implanted in the uterus is a potential person in a way quite different from the astronomical number of possible persons who might be conceived if two people engage in sex. I bet some of our Aristotelians have the vocabulary to make the distinction clearly. The potential persons who might be conceived are purely imaginary. It would be difficult to claim we have any obligation toward possible persons to bring them into existence, and it would of course be impossible to choose a particular possible person and bring him or her into existence.

        It is interesting, though, that the Jews take "Be fruitful and multiply" as a commandment and do not value celibacy the way Catholics do.

        • George

          I should have known how wrong I worded that. Of course the numbers are vastly different.

      • Andre V.

        That's making the causal chain far too long.

        • George

          Why? We don't think of would-be conceptions, say, canceled at the last second by a decision of the parties involved, to be depriving someone of their life.

          • Andre V.

            Your approach leads to absurd results, which is one good reason to reject it. The acceptance of the potential of a human being has to start somewhere. I would suggest that conception, after all those absurdities have been eliminated, is an objective, practical and moral place to start.

          • Doug Shaver

            The acceptance of the potential of a human being has to start somewhere. I would suggest that conception, after all those absurdities have been eliminated, is an objective, practical and moral place to start.

            In some contexts, the distinction between a potential X and an actual X is irrelevant. I don't think it is irrelevant in a moral context.

          • El Suscriptor Justiciero

            Both reality and philosophy suggest that the development of the brain that allows capacity for sentience is a just as objective, much more practical and much more moral place to start.

    • Doug Shaver

      Both articles struggle to find that magical definition, that pinpoint when we can define the little collection of tissue as human,

      I don't have a problem defining it as human. I have a problem defining it as a person.

      • Andre V.

        I understand and respect that stance, I am just suggesting that we drop that distinction. I am very much pro-life, with some pragmatic, humane exceptions to be recognized. And my view should be just that, I'm not going to burn down anything to enforce it.

        • Doug Shaver

          I understand and respect that stance, I am just suggesting that we drop that distinction.

          I hope I'm reciprocating your respect.

          I'm an unapologetic reductionist, but I cannot simply equate our humanity with our biology when the subject turns to ethics. The reason it is morally acceptable to kill other animals, but not other humans, for utilitarian purposes is not because their DNA doesn't match ours closely enough. It is not our close biological kinship with other races that makes racism morally repugnant, even though it is a relevant consideration. It is not wrong for a man to rape a woman just because of a scientific consensus that they both belong to the species Homo sapiens. There is something about being human that makes some of our behaviors acceptable and other behaviors unacceptable, but that something is not to be found in any genetic or other chemical analysis by which we may be distinguished from other animals.

          And my view should be just that, I'm not going to burn down anything to enforce it.

          I appreciate your tolerance, and I don't feel threatened by you or anyone else who feels the same way. But there are those who perceive, or claim to perceive, abortion to be morally equivalent to slavery or the Nazi Holocaust. I think I'm entitled to worry about what they might do to put an end to it.

      • materetmagistra

        @Doug Shaver: "I don't have a problem defining it as human. I have a problem defining it as a person."

        How does a biological human being differ from a human person?

        • Doug Shaver

          A biological human being is a scientific concept. A human person is an ethical concept. The difference is the difference between facts and values, or between what is and what ought to be.

          • materetmagistra

            Well, what criteria will you use to differentiate those biological human beings that are also human persons and which biological human beings are not human persons?? And, who is the authority on that? The government? A public majority? Who??

          • Doug Shaver

            A human person is a human being who can experience suffering.

            And, who is the authority on that?

            There is no authority. Every moral agent is responsible for his or her own moral judgments.

          • materetmagistra

            Which means you are selecting public majority, eh?

            The public majority does not approve of the rapist's moral judgments, so the public uses the might of the government against the rapist and his judgment.

            Same thing happens in an oppressive society. If the majority chooses to oppress a minority, so be it, eh? Jews, Tutsi, political opponents....watch out. If the majority opinion is such that you are not considered a "person" too bad for you. What you are describing is the way unwelcome or unwanted peoples have been exterminated through the ages.

          • Doug Shaver

            Which means you are selecting public majority, eh?

            No. If I did that, I'd be saying that the public majority was the authority.

          • materetmagistra

            Well, (b)who(/b) has decided that rape, as a particular personal choice is (i)wrong(/i)?

          • Doug Shaver

            Well, who has decided that rape, as a particular personal choice of a "moral agent," is wrong?

            Do you deny having made that decision yourself? Are you saying that you think it's wrong just because (a) somebody told you so and (b) you dare not disagree with them?

          • William Davis

            The idea that rape is wrong is in the oldest book every written, the Epic of Gilgamesh (Gilgamesh is probably the person the Torah was talking about when it spoke of Nimrod and/or the Nephilim.
            In it the king Gilgamesh used his authority to basically rape all the women he wanted. The people cried out to the gods, and that sent a wildman to change the kings ways. Criticism of rape is also in some of the oldest Greek and Roman religious texts. I'm confident we instinctively know it is wrong, comes with human nature...we don't need to be told. We do things that are wrong anyway of course, often because we let our appetite's overrun our conscience.
            When it comes to Catholics trying to prevent contraception and/or abortion for rape victims, you are letting your ideology override your conscience. My conscience tells me that contraception and abortion in the case of rape does nothing but serve justice. If my Dad had raped my mother, I'd want to be aborted to try again for a better life where I wouldn't be fatherless and represent pure evil to my mother. Yeah, abortion is truly the right thing here, any way I can look at it.

          • materetmagistra

            So, how do we know the king was wrong? You seem to think it is only because the "moral agent" (the king) is in the minority (regarding the appropriatness of rape.) That's nothing different than might makes right.

          • William Davis

            There is no evidence the king thought it was appropriate, he just did it anyway because he could. Kings learned pretty quickly that this kind of behavior would result in a revolt from the people, so stable dynasties prohibited such behavior. The Roman emperor Caligula was known for this. His own body guard ended up killing him. The power of a king only exists in the minds of the subjects. If his subjects take that away, he has no power. The abuse of "might makes right" end with the destruction of said "might".

          • materetmagistra

            No, the king does not have the might.....the majority does. If the king had enough might, his subjects would be made to accept his morality.

          • Kevin Aldrich
      • Nanchoz

        I share your concerns about labeling people as Nazi whenever you happen to not share the same point of view on a given subject.

        However we can't deny that the notion of a supposed distinction between human being (a scientific definition) and human person (metaphysical definition) is at the core of every ideology that intends to legitimate the treatment of human beings as means, tools or disposable objects in pursue of a perceived ultimately beneficial goal.

        Euthanasia, abortion, pornography, slavery, prostitution, human trafficking, genocide, racism, etc, every sin can be morally justified just by drawing an arbitrary line that separates the person from the thing.

        Who has the true knowledge to make that distinction? Who has the authority?
        Can we be sure we are not being considered as an object for other people right now? Does our ignorance makes it less wrong?

        Wouldn't it be better if we just agree that our animalness and our humanness are bound together and cannot and should not be taken apart for our own sake?

        • Doug Shaver

          However we can't deny that the notion of a supposed distinction between human being (a scientific definition) and human person (metaphysical definition) is at the core of every ideology that intends to legitimate the treatment of human beings as means, tools or disposable objects in pursue of a perceived ultimately beneficial goal.

          I can deny it. I have not seen that distinction used to justify every ideology that I disapprove of.

          Euthanasia, abortion, pornography, slavery, prostitution, human trafficking, genocide, racism, etc, every sin can be morally justified just by drawing an arbitrary line that separates the person from the thing.

          Yes, I suppose so, but "X can be used to justify Y" does not falsify X no matter what we think of Y. The Bible, too, has been used to justify all kinds of things that I'm sure you regard as abhorrent.

          • Nanchoz

            I think that kind of distinction between our physicality and our spirituality is implicit specifically in every ideology that refuses to accept every human being as a whole person.

            When we decide that we can take away the spiritual part of a person and keep the rest, then we can do with it whatever we want, everything is permitted .

            (we just need to stop, look around and see what man can do with nature. There are no limits. .... Or what is almost the same we decide the limits)

            ""X can be used to justify Y" does not falsify X no matter what we think of Y."

            then the question:
            is X true?

            X= "we can arbitrary decide when a human being can be considered to be a human person"

            if X is true then Y can be right no matter what we think of it . (we could decide it by voting, very democratically)
            if X is false then Y will be wrong no matter what we think of it.

            Can X be falsified by the scientific method? I think you already gave the answer

            "A biological human being is a scientific concept. A human person is an ethical concept. The difference is the difference between facts and values, or between what is and what ought to be"
            science can tell us much about the physical aspects of the human beings (including much of the mental aspect also) but it can't tell us nothing about the human person.

            Then our quest is a metaphysical one.

            And a moral one too. Is it right to stand for X?

            In our post- modern era we have decided that X is OK (500 years of intellectual hard work couldn't be fruitless; if we have smartphones, spaceships, 3Dtheatres, smartTVs then we must already be certain of what it truly means to be human)

            but an unpleasant feeling remains , could X be still begging the question?

          • Doug Shaver

            then the question:
            is X true?

            X= "we can arbitrary decide when a human being can be considered to be a human person"

            Strictly speaking, yes, that particular X is true. We can arbitrarily decide which human beings are persons and which are not. But just because we can doesn't mean we should, and I believe we should not make that decision arbitrarily.

            Can X be falsified by the scientific method?

            Sure, it can be, but hasn't been. On the contrary, it has been confirmed throughout human history.

            Then our quest is a metaphysical one.

            You may undertake a metaphysical quest if you'd like. Mine turned out to be fruitless, and I'm disinclined to try another one.

            And a moral one too. Is it right to stand for X?

            You mean, is it right to advocate arbitrary decisions about life and death? No, I don't think so.

        • El Suscriptor Justiciero

          You start on the wrong foot by equating ethically neutral things like euthanasia, abortion, pornography and prostitution with crimes like slavery, human trafficking, genocide, racism and forced prostitution.

          • Nanchoz

            Thank you for your remarks. I d like to clarify that when I talk about pornography and prostitution I'm referring to the consumer/producer in the former case and to the pimp/client in the latter. I consider that prostitutes are the actual victims, they are who are turned into objects for the pleasure of others.

            My point is that it's immoral to use persons as objects period. I leave criminology to the lawyers.

            When you say "ethically neutral things" you are just begging the question. You must put forward the arguments that sustain your belief that they are neutral.

            Maybe you consider that destroying a zigot is ethically neutral just because you are drawing an arbitrary line that separates the less-than-human thing from the actual human person.

            The willingness to draw that line is supported by a non neutral ideology

            the line could be drawn by anybody with sufficient back up power

            in that case the line could be drawn wherever and whenever it may be needed according to the ends that want to be accomplished.

            I don't say the line can't be drawn, I said it shouldn't.

            Lets be pragmatic, we wouldn't want to be caught in the wrong side of the line

  • GCBill

    "The ambiguity in the initial argument should be apparent at this point: in order to be valid, premises (1) and (2) have to mean the same thing by “human being.” But, premise (2) presents a metaphysical understanding of “human being” whereas (1) does not, being only “a scientific one.” Thus, the argument commits the fallacy of equivocation for using the same term in different ways, and the fallacy of non-sequitur for inferring a metaphysical categorization from a biological one."

    I agree. IIRC this objection has been raised in previous comboxes discussions of scientific pro-life arguments.

    And to make matters worse: if fully-adult nonhuman H. sapiens were walking around at one point, Catholics have no grounds on which to claim rational ensoulment must in principle take place at conception.

  • Kraker Jak

    Was the intention of this article to make things more clear for the average person? Excuse me while I beat my head on the wall one more time.

    • Andre V.

      You really should stop doing that.

      • Kraker Jak

        ButI enjoy it because it feels so good when I stop.

    • William Davis

      At least put on a helmet first. Wouldn't want to destroy your rational soul with brain damage...

  • I thought I bought six tomato plants at the local nursery this morning. Thanks to Steve, I now know they will not be tomato plants metaphysically until they bloom.

    • David Nickol

      Wow. Thanks for making such a solid contribution to the discussion.

  • Doug Shaver

    As someone who came of age during the '60s, I pedantically note that the word for someone identified with the counterculture of that decade is spelled hippie, not hippy.

    • Steven Dillon

      Hah, fair play, thanks for the correction.

      • Doug Shaver

        I was scarcely typical. I was in the military from 1965 to 1971 and didn't really want to get out (my then-wife insisted on it). But I still have fantasies of becoming known, if I live long enough, as the world's oldest hippie.

        • David Nickol

          A musical interlude for those of us who remember the 1960s fondly. Hearing this again makes me want to put flowers in my hair, except I no longer have hair! :(

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The year this song came out, my 8th grade class did go on a field trip to SF. The 60s were a decade of great music and stupid ideas.

  • Kraker Jak

    This topic and same article are also under discussion here.

    http://hammerzone.blogspot.ca/p/blog-page_16.html

  • Laney C.

    As a survivor of incest, I'd just like to let you know how utterly repulsive all of you pro-lifers are. I sincerely hope that you continue to spew your filth, and thereby push more and more people away from your disgusting, misogynist, and purely sadistic ideology. Have a good night. =]

  • Ablemom

    I think it ironic, that someone who knows they are a survivor, of any sexual union (even incest) thinks that pro-lifers make them sick. If it's the incest that made them sick as a survivor of abortion, that's quite a different matter, but I would not blame the pro-lifers. The guilt of abortion is horrible, but it's a sin that Jesus forgave just like he forgave everyone who did not know Him to be God, and did not know what they were doing, even when they yelled "crucify" and killed Him on the cross. But he rose from the dead and said whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.

  • Ablemom

    In cases of a ectopic pregnancy where a fallopian tube might be surgically removed to save the life of the mother, that is a spontaneous miscarriage because a fetus can't develop outside the uterus. Before 20 weeks, a baby rarely has sufficient strength to breath, but it is a conscious human being. All forms of birth control actually contribute to spontaneous abortions - IUD's and hormones taken before or after conception, are intended to prevent implantation in the uterus of a fertilized egg. Spermicides and condoms also prevent the strongest-swimming sperm from successfully completing that process. Life begins and ends as a naturally ordered process, in which the amazing design and resiliency of all parts function together to support life, except where people do things that interfere with that process. If someone is so weak that they can not breathe without life support, and also can't be helped to become any stronger by being fed - whether a tiny baby or in old age - when there is no hope that they may become able to breathe independently, I think it may be merciful to let them die as pain-free as possible. But that is not euthanasia - it's palliative care.

  • Ablemom

    About misogyny - I think SJH and Andre V, have it right in regard to women's needs and rights. The legal definition of a "personhood" needs to be from conception to natural death, because if you change it to any time in between, you are destroying that person's human right to dignity and respect for his or her potential. Before becoming parents, many people want children and do many things to prepare themselves to be able to enjoy raising them. Why should only mothers have the choice to enjoy that or destroy that potential and only let men into the equation as sperm donors? That is disrespectful of men's rights to fatherhood. At the end of life, even in death, people should have the right to hope their body would be treated with dignity - not just tossed in crematorium, or a mass grave, or cut up without any care of their wishes or religious and cultural traditions that they may have expressed in a will, or wanted to teach their children. In countries where there is no respect for human rights and dignity, some people suffer being murdered to have their vital organs harvested and given to someone else. It's not everywhere that criminal laws protect people's human rights to dignified funeral even after death. That is why religion has a place in criminal law and in democracy - because some autocratic despot rulers still care so little for some people deemed heretical or blasphemous criminals that they execute them in custody, by torture, and burning, or beheading, or hanging and cutting them to pieces. And that is essentially what abortion does also - promotes a culture of fear and death.

  • Bob

    Interesting article and discussion. That said, it seems to me that the abortion question really has to do with the bodily autonomy of the mother.

    • Andre V.

      Pro-choice for you, then.

      What about the probability of any divergent interests of the mother and the embryo (insert a word that you are comfortable with), including where such divergent interests would lead to the killing or then destruction of that embryo? Who speaks up for it?

      Imagine yourself in that position, as the embryo. Would you have wanted to be heard, would you have wanted to argue for your potential?

      Are there possible scenarios where you would evaluate the embryo's rights as being similar to, or even outweighing those of the mother?

      • Michael Murray

        In Australia the abortion debate has been dormant for a fairly long time. Different states have slightly different laws I think but most women who want an abortion in the first trimester can get one. So I've slightly lost track of all the language used in the US. I take it that you are defining

        pro-life = catholic position

        pro-choice = non catholic position

        Is that the way it is defined in the US ?

        • Andre V.

          I live in South Africa, not the US.

          The SN discussion is, as I see it, mostly run along the lines as you have defined them. For my own take on this I see such a position, which I would call a pro-life one, as being more layered than the simple "thou shall not" Catholic one. I accept, as a point of departure, a standard pro-life approach, but with certain defined and limited exceptions, such as the health or life of the mother, the health of the baby, rape and so on. And ultimately, I am equally adamant that my view should remain just that.

          I respect the right to choice, even though I disagree with it. Our law here has an extremely liberal approach to abortion, and in practice you can get an abortion pretty much on demand.

          I have represented people on both side of this difficult question, so I think that I understand the extremely difficult situations that can arise.

          For those reasons I dislike the one-size-fits-all Catholic approach. I am equally uncomfortable with an abortion because you changed your mind.

          • Michael Murray

            Our law here has an extremely liberal approach to abortion, and in practice you can get an abortion pretty much on demand.

            Is there some reason for that in the history or politics of South Africa ?

          • Andre V.

            It's an odd legal situation. We have moved from an ultra-conservative apartheid law society to an extremely liberal society where we now accept (legally at least) abortion, same sex marriage and other very liberal legislative ideas. All of this happened in the last twenty years since democracy.

            I think part of that has to do with a political and legislative intent not to repeat the past, and a heightened sense of protecting the rights of all. All of this is of course not accepted by the entire society. Homosexuality, same sex marriage and so on are still frowned upon by large sections of the population.

        • Greg Schaefer

          Hi Michael.

          As you likely know, what passes for the abortion debate in the US, as with far too much public debate here, has long since degenerated from reasoned and civil analysis and discourse to hyper-partisan rhetoric, name-calling and simplistic demonizing of the "others."

          But, broadly speaking, the label "pro-life" has come in the US over the past four decades since the Roe v. Wade 1973 Supreme Court decision to stand in for those who oppose abortion generally and who believe that a fetus has the "right" to be born. There are differences within the movement, of course, as is always the case with broad-based groupings of people.

          Some in the "pro-life" camp hew to the position that a human being with "personhood" and a legal and moral "right" to life exists from the moment of conception. They naturally oppose all abortions, for any reason, at any point in time past the moment of conception. This, to my understanding anyway, is roughly the position of the Catholic Church. However, there are other religious believers (particularly within more "conservative" and some of the so-called fundamentalist and evangelical Protestant churches) and even some non-religious individuals who subscribe to this view.

          There are others within the "pro-life" camp who are generally opposed to abortion but who are prepared to recognize certain exceptions, most commonly -- in the US anyway -- in cases of rape and incest and sometimes in the situation when the mother's life is said to be in danger.

          What is now typically called the "pro-life" movement in the US used to be referred to as "anti-abortion." The label changed from "anti-abortion" to "pro-life" when the kinds of folk who prioritize wordsmithing and marketing and public relations apparently decided some years back that "pro-life" was a more positive descriptive label than "anti-abortion." (Personally, I think the label "pro-birth" is a more accurate label than "pro-life" but that's another subject for another day.)

          In any event, it is not accurate, in the US anyway, to equate the "pro-life" crowd solely with the Catholic Church and the devout Catholic laity who conform to official Catholic teaching on this issue, although the Catholic Church is certainly one of the leading and most forceful voices within this movement.

          "Pro-choice," broadly speaking, is a stand-in for the broad spectrum of folks in the US who are inclined to recognize or privilege the interests ("rights") of a woman to her bodily autonomy, privacy, and self-determination as having precedence over the presumed interests ("rights") of a fetus in its continued in utero development and eventual birth.

          This includes people who state that although they are personally against abortion and would never choose to undergo abortion themselves (or for their pregnant spouses/partners), they nevertheless don't think they should have any say in whether -- or that society writ large through the government should have the legal power to dictate that -- every woman who becomes pregnant be required to give birth. These folk essentially engage in a balancing test of competing considerations and interests in which they privilege the "right" of every woman to choose whether to terminate any given pregnancy or to give birth over the interest the fetus is presumed to have in developing to term in utero and being born.

          Some within this camp would recognize an absolute right to woman, regardless of the stage of pregnancy, i.e., even within the third trimester and even into the ninth month, to abort a pregnancy. Others in this camp give greater weight to the fetus' "rights"/interests as a pregnancy develops and are prepared to privilege the fetus' right to be born over the woman's right to choose to terminate the pregnancy at different stages in fetal development, perhaps most commonly at the stage of so-called viability.

          However, this camp also includes people who think that abortion is an affirmative good, for varying reasons, such as limiting human population growth and family size, etc.

          Hope this helps!

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks Greg for writing all that. That certainly did help. I do think it helps to take the legal perspective so that pro-life / pro-choice is about what laws should be enacted rather than what is moral or ethical.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Hi Michael.

            The problem, of course, is that the legal perspective is always going to be informed and shaped, albeit to varying degrees issue by issue, by moral and ethical views that at least some of the society's citizens invoke in the discussion about what laws to enact.

            What is so tiresome to me about the endlessly divisive abortion debate in the US is how it has come to stand in as a marker of tribal identity as the two major political parties here have undergone paradigmatic reorganization in the past few decades.

            Back in the 60s and 70s, the debate over the extent to which abortions should be legal naturally presented the same moral, legal and religious perspectives as it does nowadays, although medical technology has improved since then so as to move back a bit the age of fetal viability, which some view as germane to laws restricting abortion rights after certain stages of pregnancy.

            But, back in those days, the debate wasn't inherently also always political as both the GOP and the Democrats had sizable contingents of "anti-abortion" and "pro-choice" proponents. That has changed.

            While there remain a few Democratic politicians who routinely vote in favor of laws to restrict abortion rights, the overwhelming majority of elected Dems fall squarely within the pro-choice camp. In contrast, it has become a virtual electoral kiss of death for a Republican candidate to endorse a pro-choice stance, as that stance will virtually guarantee defeat in the Republican primary election in their state, so pro-choice Republicans in the US Congress and state legislative bodies these days are spotted about as commonly as are coelacanths.

            So, unfortunately, the subject of abortion rights has now also become hyper-partisan and toxically politicized in the US. Rather than seeking to understand, hyper-partisans and single interest groups demonize those "others" who come down on the other side of what they themselves believe is the correct religious, moral or ethical stance in balancing the interests and rights of women with the interest a fetus is presumed to have in continuing to natural term in utereo and being born.

            Would that there were a way to promote greater tolerance, respect for others, and understanding.

            Anyway, glad to shed some light on the subject, even if in my usual long-winded ways. It's just one more way, I suppose, one can easily tell apart the lawyers in the crowd from the scientists and mathematicians!

          • Michael Murray

            In Australia the situation remains politically much as you describe it in the US in the 60s and 70s. There will be politicians in the left-wing party strongly opposed to abortion and politicians in the right-wing party in favour of a women's right to choose. When I was teenager in the 70s it was a hot political topic with an organisation called Right to Life. They like to target individual politicians and I think fell out of favour because of that. Now both sides of politics clearly regard it as an issue better left alone. I think partly because it is divisive for the parties internally and partly because there are no votes to be won with it. The Australian compulsory, preferential system means that about 80% of voters always vote for one of the two major parties and so elections are won and lost by the 20% of the centre of the electorate that might change their vote. They don't seem concerned enough about abortion law changes in either direction for it to make it an election winning issue.

          • Greg Schaefer

            Thanks, Michael. Very interesting and informative. I yearn for the day in which the US might follow Australia's lead on this score!

            Politics has become so hyper-partisanized in the US over the past two decades that the "middle" that is still remotely persuadable has shrunk well past that in Australia. Notwithstanding how many folks claim to be independent when pollsters ask about party affiliation, most of them actually usually vote with one or the other major party most of the time and it's surely less than 10% -- and I'd guess may be no more than about 5% in many races in most elections -- who might genuinely go either way, depending on the specific candidates and their stands on the issues that predominate in that election cycle. One hell of a lot of money chasing not many reachable voters! But, it's heaven for the media and the professional political consultants and the tv and radio pundits.

            In the US, it's become more about motivating the base and getting the party's own reliable voters out to the polls on election day. That's partly why we get the crazy apparent swings in volatility between the two major parties from election to election. In the presidential election cycle every fourth year, voter turnout tends to be higher, which tends to favor the Democratic Party (center right to center left; there is no longer any truly liberal or progressive national party left in the US) and Democratic candidates tend to do better. In the "off year" election cycle every two years that don't coincide with a presidential election, turnout tends to be significantly lower, which tends to favor the GOP/Republican Party (hard right to center right) resulting in typical large gains by the GOP in the US Congress, state legislatures, and state governors. We've witnessed this pattern pretty consistently since the 1992 presidential election, when Bill Clinton won his first term as president.

            The conservative, traditional sectors among Catholics and the fundamentalist and Evangelical Protestant churches in the US have come strongly to identify with the GOP over the past forty years, perhaps in large part due to the legalization of abortion throughout the country with a Supreme Court decision in 1973, aided and abetted over the past two decades by our equally horrendous division over gay rights and same sex marriage. Many Republican politicians are very adept these days at playing to the big culture war social issues of abortion, gay rights and same sex marriage (i.e., opposed, in each instance) to motivate voters in the religious right to get out and vote.

      • Bob

        Pro bodily autonomy, actually. As far as abortion itself is concerned - safe, legal and rare.

        In my opinion, those in the 'pro-life' camp could better spend their resources working to better educate people on the proper use of birth-control. This alone will probably lead to a significant decrease in the number of abortions due to unwanted pregnancy. A win-win, I suppose.

        • Michael Murray

          Indeed. A bit awkward though when they also think that nearly all birth-control methods are a sin.

          • Bob

            Perhaps, but one might think that the greater sin is allowing for poor reasoning to trump the actual reduction of unwanted pregnancy. I suppose that there is actually something else at play here.

          • William Davis

            I'm called a bigot for thinking it's about increasing the number of Catholics, but I do think that. I'll grant them that they started proclaiming contraception to be a sin very early, but I'm very suspicious of the motives of the people who invented hell. I think some of the early Church fathers were pretty bad people, and some were very good people. To me, that is the explanation as to why Christianity is such a mixed bag.

  • Antonia

    The trouble here is that, by the author's definition, neither born children nor toddlers nor those with serious mental disabilities are human beings either, because they do not possess rationality.

  • Charlie Ducey

    To open up the discussion a little more, I think that any consideration of abortion must take the situation of unwanted pregnancy in context. Sure, we want to be clear on terms and definitions, but if we only ever talk about abortion in the abstract, we won't really be able to address what lies at the base of the systemic problem of abortion; namely, irresponsible sexual behavior.

    I really don't understand why sexual conduct is so rarely discussed alongside abortion. It is as if the dilemma of aborting a developing human fetus exists in a vacuum without any cause or social atmosphere. We can't just talk about abortion. We need to talk about human sexuality at large as well as human personhood.

  • Sample1

    Is it immoral to procreate? How about, is it better had one not been born? The philosopher and author David Benatar offers a thesis that yes, procreation is immoral and he explains why it is better to never have been born.

    This does not mean he is arguing for death of full human beings (partial human beings like fetuses do not make the grade for the most part).Anti-natalism is the position he defends.

    I recently listened to an interview with him and his logic and reasoning held me, despite my evolutionary-directed optimistic brain. It's quite thought provoking. What if he's right?

    He has a book that's been around for a decade now, Better to Have Never Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence. Have you read it? I am tempted to buy it.

    Mike
    Edit done.

    • Rob Abney

      It sounds as if that author is in agreement with the Catholic Church, procreation might be immoral if the man and woman are not open to the possibility of life.

      • Sample1

        Non sequitur.

        Anti-natalism (the philosophical position of assigning a negative value to birth) isn't a Catholic position. I know that because I'm an atheist and we statistically know more about people's own religions. At least in this case, that is.

        Mike :-P