Quick Links (well, quick by my standards)

by John Holbo on November 14, 2008

ASIFA Animation Archive has a complete scan of a WWII era cartooning guide ‘for use of U.S. Armed Forces personnel only’. It’s a pretty solid little how-to. (Confidentionally, I’m kinda nostalgic about this stuff, as you may have noticed.) Bonus points for the advice about rendering racial stereotypes and for advising budding cartoonists to sketch their fellow soldiers in the shower. (Don’t ask, don’t tell – just sketch.) Also, ‘cartooning the female’ sounds like an MLA paper title.

In other news: Will Wilkinson linked, a few weeks ago, to a TED lecture by the psychologist, Jonathan Haidt on ‘the moral mind: the real difference between liberals and conservatives’. Will didn’t agree with it much. But I quite liked it. It pretends to be doing way more paradigm-busting than a basically pat, introductory lecture could possibly manage, but that’s a pardonable rhetorical sin. It fit well with intro philosophy material I teach (not about liberalism/conservatism but about pretty much all the other stuff Haidt talks about). So I suggested to my students to watch and they liked it very much. Here’s my favorite bit (round about minute 10). He apparently did a survey in which he asked respondents whether, if they were buying a dog, they would want the one that was a member of a breed known for being ‘independent minded and relating to its owner as a friend and equal’; or would you prefer the one that is ‘extremely loyal to its home and family and doesn’t warm up quickly to strangers’? Turns out, liberals pick the first option more, conservatives the second.

[you can’t really read the scale on my little screencap. It runs along the bottom from liberal, through neutral, to conservative.]

This was funny to me because I had made a rather similar point to my students by talking about the ethics of promise-keeping, quoting Nietzsche from Genealogy of Morals: “To breed an animal with the right to make promises—is not this the paradoxical task that nature has set itself in the case of man? is it not the real problem regarding man?” I have this great schtick I do about that one – the Kantian dogshow. (Way funnier than Haidt with his ‘fetch, please!’ joke.) Here’s my cartoon to go with. (I really want to do a better one. A nervous group of humans hovering around an intense little dog that looks like it might be about to make a promise. I think Jules Pfeifer could draw a good one.)

Changing the subject one last time: I think this post by Ramesh Ponnuru is very strange. His post title is ‘category errors’ and he is critiquing a post by a pro-choice blogger that certainly seems confused. You aren’t going to get anywhere insisting that human fetuses are non-human. The issue is whether fetuses are people – or persons, as we philosophers like to call them. Likewise, the problem isn’t whether they are alive. They obviously are. But equally obviously no one thinks the issue is life, per se. Sperm are, in a sense, alive. An egg is alive. Anyway, carrots are alive. But it’s ok not just to kill but eat them because they aren’t persons. I don’t want to suggest that you solve anything by noting that the problem is what counts as a person not what counts as alive or as human. But you sure won’t solve anything by failing to note that, to the extent that one can argue this issue philosophically, this is the issue. What counts as a person? Oddly, Ponnuru – who, I take it, has written a book on the subject – seems to agree with the pro-choice blogger that the question is about ‘when life starts’, combined with the question about what gets to have the adjective ‘human’. Googling, Ponnuru summarizes his position thusly: “The fundamental question The Party of Death engages is this: Do human rights exist? Do we have certain rights, that is, simply because we are human? Or is it the case that some human beings happen to have rights and others do not? What I call the party of death believes the latter.” But this is, to put it mildly, not a good argument. The issue obviously isn’t going to be whether all human beings have rights but whether, say, a tiny little knot of cells is a human being (person), hence a bearer of human rights. (It can obviously be human, biologically, without counting as a person. A hair can be human, biologically. That doesn’t make it a person.) If you don’t get that distinction you aren’t at step one of any serious argument. Ahem. I knew Ponnuru’s book had an annoying title but I figured he was a bit more serious about the basic philosophical arguments. Seems not.

UPDATE: Ponnuru has two updates. Somehow I missed the second before I posted. He links to a response he made to Neil Sinhababu (my colleague, just down the hall). I would have more or less made the argument Neil made, and Ponnuru’s response doesn’t seem strong, to me, but it is at least more cogent and appreciative of the contours of the issue than the other stuff I was reading seemed to be. Here is what he takes to be the essential point:

The capacity we should value is the radical capacity (that is, the basic natural capacity in root form) to perform mental functions, etc. As I write in the book, “Even human beings in the embryonic, fetal, and infant stages of development” have this capacity “because of the kind of beings they are; because they have a human, and therefore rational, nature. They have the capacity to develop themselves by a process of internal self-direction to the point at which the basic natural capacity is immediately exercisable.” (I add in a footnote: “Disease, genetic defect, accident, and violence can of course block the development of this capacity in particular human beings, but these possibilities do not call its existence in those beings into question.”) I continue, “And they have this radical capacity equally, because they are equally human beings.”

My basic problem with this is that I doubt people really care so much about this ‘radical capacity’ – that is, this potentiality, as opposed to actual person-hood. Also, Ponnuru misconstrues the nature of the capacity. The proof of both criticisms is: if people really did care about all things exhibiting this ‘radical capacity’ they would care about all (or at least some) dead matter that has this capacity; stuff that could be taken up as part of an system in which intelligent life might arise, etc. We are all made of stars and all that. But obviously this is too generous a scope for our care. And, even more obviously, we don’t think that it is obvious that anything that might, by some process, evolve into intelligent life is, therefore, already intelligent life. Why think that everything that might grow into a human being is already a human being? Ponnuru would argue back against this in various ways, I expect. I’ll leave it at that.

UPDATE the 2nd: and Ponnuru responds.

{ 89 comments }

1

Will Wilkinson 11.14.08 at 3:51 pm

“Will didn’t agree with it much.”

Other than buying in to the entire controversial analytical framework!

2

Adam Roberts 11.14.08 at 4:01 pm

Isn’t the plural of ‘person’ people, rather than ‘persons’? (I’ve certainly come across ‘persons’ in usage; but isn’t ‘people’ preferable, nicer, better?) You’ll note I’m responding subtantively and at length to the many points you make in your post …

3

joel hanes 11.14.08 at 4:13 pm

But this question, which I think Ponnuru intends as rhetorical
is it the case that some human beings happen to have rights and others do not?
should not be taken so.

It is the case that some human beings have rights, and others do not.

Children’s rights are greatly restricted.
The formerly-competent-adult full rights holder can lose rights that he is no longer competent to exercise through disease or injury or criminal conduct. The brain-dead, the irreversibly comatose, the anacephalic are not treated as if they have an unequivocal “right to live”.

If a four-cell zygote is a human being with rights, then there’s an argument to be made that HeLa (an immortal human cell line derived from cancer cells originally part of a woman named Henrietta Lacks) is a human being with rights.

4

John Holbo 11.14.08 at 4:25 pm

“Isn’t the plural of ‘person’ people, rather than ‘persons’?”

I think we philosophers just think it sounds crinklier, hence more precise. (My 4-year old uses ‘persons’, too. Very funny.)

The problem with ‘people’, such as it is, is that it is not so much a plural noun as a mass noun, like ‘water’. ‘People think’. It tends to induce a proverbial vagueness: people are people. I think sometimes philosophers want to steer clear of genuine confusion, or at least looseness, that ‘people’ might cause. But then mostly they just get in the habit of saying ‘persons’. Philosophers are funny. Derek Parfit’s great book, “Reasons and Persons” will get you in the habit forever more.

Re: child rights. To be fair, children do have rights, even if they are restricted.

And yes, Will, I didn’t mean to say you denied the framework, but I didn’t actually get from your post that you did, indeed, accept the framework.

5

bob mcmanus 11.14.08 at 4:29 pm

Reading thru the comments at TED it struck me that the liberals wanted to “transcend” the 5 axes in terms of fairness and compassion, i.e., they are still in the first two frames.

Two representative quotes:
“More accepting of conservatives”.
” I had the openness to, not take a side on social/ moral issues, but to step back and take a look at the issues from all sides”

Liberals really don’t, and probably can’t “get it.” I suspect only someone fully committed to the value of loyalty, authority, and purity as emotionally prior to harm and fairness can achieve true magnanimity. Thinking of Mohammed & Nietzsche, for example.

6

mpowell 11.14.08 at 4:31 pm

The anti-choice crowd loves to jump on the scientific definition of life as a convenient proof for the validity of their position. You should never be surprised when a pro-lifer pulls that argument turd out.

7

Richard 11.14.08 at 4:34 pm

A hair is not a human (organism, being). A zygote is a living organism, and the kind of being that it is is ‘human’. So it is a human being.

Of course, some human beings (in this crude, biological sense) might not be persons. But isn’t Ponnuru exactly right in characterizing this view of ours as the view that there are no rights had by one merely in virtue of being a living human organism (human being)? It is not biological humanity, but psychological personhood, that we recognize as bestowing moral status.

8

harry b 11.14.08 at 4:39 pm

Children are people, but not persons (at least, not on one understanding of that term widely accepted by philosophers). Odd, then, that like John H’s 4-year old, my 2 year old uses “persons”, which is mildly better than my 7 year old who uses “personages”.

9

CK Dexter 11.14.08 at 4:46 pm

“He apparently did a survey in which he asked respondents whether, if they were buying a dog, they would want the one that was a member of a breed known for being ‘independent minded and relating to its owner as a friend and equal…’”

This breed of dog is more commonly known as a “cat.”

10

John Holbo 11.14.08 at 4:46 pm

“It is not biological humanity, but psychological personhood, that we recognize as bestowing moral status.”

I think that’s going to be too simple, because I don’t think we really know – most of us – exactly what we think it is, but if it just ignores the psychological personhood stuff it’s obviously going to be wrong, yeah.

A human hair is not a human, but likewise an tiny fertilized egg isn’t a human. It’s merely human, like the hair. It can grow into a human being. It’s a potential human being (which is to say: not an actual human being). Is a tadpole a frog? Is a caterpillar a butterfly? Not obviously. All this is hair-splitting semantics, up to a point. But the criticism of Ponnuru isn’t hair-splitting. The problem is that he is apparently going to carve up the semantic space in such a way that we are deprived on any word for what is obviously the key concept: person. He doesn’t use that word, and has hauled off ‘human being’ – which might have been a synonym – to be a word for something different. Human organism, or something.

11

Alex 11.14.08 at 4:57 pm

9: Conservative – someone who wants the police to make their cat more like a dog?

12

matt 11.14.08 at 4:58 pm

Harry- maybe she’s talking about the Queen?

13

Thomas 11.14.08 at 5:01 pm

John, you didn’t include the next couple of sentences from Ponnuru, which I think make it clear what he’s talking about: “You can make a sophisticated and almost coherent case for that view, arguing that not all human beings are persons with rights. I argue that that is the worldview that links all of these issues, that it’s wrong, and that it has very dangerous implications.” Dictionaries are helpful to understand the meaning: “any individual of the genus Homo, esp. a member of the species Homo sapiens” and “a man, woman, or child of the species Homo sapiens.” He’s using human being in that sense, and in the sentence I’ve quoted here, which you left out, he uses “persons” in precisely the sense that you and others use it.

14

Katherine 11.14.08 at 5:03 pm

I would like to insert this into the debate about personhood kicking off here – it really doesn’t matter what you think makes a person deserving of certain rights, or what that person over there thinks. Clearly there is legitimate debate about it, with no immediately and unassailable right answer. It is the opinion of the woman carrying the said zygote/embryo/foetus that matters, no one else’s, and certainly not the government’s.

Her personhood is not in question and other people trying to trample all over it should sling their hook.

15

bob mcmanus 11.14.08 at 5:14 pm

14 is dead on.

It might be unfair to say Ponnuru is engaged in strategic bad faith, but he certainly is not confused. To use “personhood” as the standard is to concede the entire argument.

I also am illiberal. A woman’s right to her body is inalienable, indivisible, not shared with her society in any way. Female circumcision, anyone? No arguments, end of discussion.

16

bob mcmanus 11.14.08 at 5:22 pm

And why do I say “right to choose” ends the discussion?

#3 Loyalty. To women.

Not to liberals, not to liberalism, not to empiricism, not to reason, not to “human rights”, not to justice, not to fairness.

Holbo farting around with “personhood” is exactly why not only will liberals not get Haidt or “transcend morality” but why I think they will always lose. Everything has to be on the table, everything is negotiable. Torture and habeus were open for discussion, and that is why I no longer have any loyalty to liberalism.

Start using all of Haidt’s axes.

17

Gotchaye 11.14.08 at 5:31 pm

That post of Ponnoru’s is a bit weird, but, glancing over the last two links he offers (in “Update two”), it seems clear to me that he understands the difference between ‘human’ and ‘person’. In that last link, he explicitly defends the proposition that all human beings are persons, and he’s clear that biological humanity is not identical with personhood. I think he uses ‘human’ mostly in order to try to score easy points on the “pro-choice blogger”, who also used the word instead of ‘person’. I think it’s a good example of why it’s so important to use ‘person’ and ‘persons’ when talking about this stuff rather than ‘people’ or ‘human’. The latter are too easily misconstrued by a casual audience, and they tee up pro-lifers to make the “science tells us that fetuses are human” claim.

18

bob mcmanus 11.14.08 at 5:34 pm

“Why can’t I torture?
“It is forbidden activity under the Post-War Conventions and other treaties.”
“Forbidden? What, blind obedience to authority rather than the rule of facts & reason? What if there were a ticking bomb…
“You’re under arrest.”

19

mpowell 11.14.08 at 5:48 pm

Bob, I think that if we really took that route, we would find that we cannot, in fact, play that game better than the reactionaries.

20

Josh in Philly 11.14.08 at 6:15 pm

Feiffer. Jules Feiffer.

21

ben wolfson 11.14.08 at 6:41 pm

Isn’t the plural of ‘person’ people, rather than ‘persons’?

No. “People” is in fact singular: the German people; the European peoples.

Just try speaking this way in this decayed age, though—can’t be done!

22

SamChevre 11.14.08 at 7:30 pm

it really doesn’t matter what you think makes a person deserving of certain rights, or what that person over there thinks. Clearly there is legitimate debate about it, with no immediately and unassailable right answer. It is the opinion of the woman carrying the said zygote/embryo/foetus that matters

Similarly, of course, it doesn’t matter what other people think; clearly, only his master’s opinions matter for the rights of a slave.

23

Scott 11.14.08 at 7:49 pm

Haidt’s survey question could only have been formulated by a social scientist. What could “independent minded and relating to its owner as a friend and equal” even mean as a description of a dog? I have to admit I would have written in: “I like dogs with spots” in protest.

24

noen 11.14.08 at 8:10 pm

This breed of dog is more commonly known as a “cat.”

There are cats that consider humans their equal? The mind boggles.

25

nick 11.14.08 at 8:11 pm

Haidt’s 5 axes, when aligned with the American understanding of the political spectrum, produce deceptive results, I think……historically classical liberalism is about the lack of morality, right? It’s about morality not getting in the way of coin, ultimately: it’s an ideology of abstraction, of exchange. “fairness” and “openness” translate into purely economic terms: trade.

annecdote: back in the late 80s I lived in the deep South of Italy, along with a roommate from Rome who was there doing research; she was PCI, a Communist; we would walk a good half an hour from where we lived to get espresso, to just about the most distant possible place, because this was a PCI cafe, the gleaming espresso machine bore a PCI sticker: this was what you did. you drank the coffee of the sinistra. loyalty? check….purity? check…..authority? well, this would require a more substantive understanding of Italian politics at that time than I have, but, in a sense, check. the left/avant-garde value of “community” is a huge one, and seems inaccessible to Haidt’s instruments.

all Haidt’s lines imply that he’s measuring the entire political spectrum and mapping it onto morality. I simply don’t believe that. I believe that he’s starting at the center and measuring to the right.

26

noen 11.14.08 at 8:41 pm

It is interesting that in John’s cartoon the dog is wearing a human mask. Don’t we also wear the mask of personhood? Isn’t it true that behind that mask lies the cold machinery of natural selection? Or is that a different discussion.

27

Lemmy Caution 11.14.08 at 9:02 pm

Haidt’s article The emotional dog and its rational tail is very good.

His book is good in a pop psychology way too.

28

Jesse M. 11.14.08 at 9:21 pm

In Ponnoru’s latest response he tries to distinguish between “human organisms” and mere “parts of human organisms” like human hairs, but it seems to me this is not really a well-founded distinction scientifically–”organism” is an intrinsically fuzzy category. Consider a thought-experiment: if you chop off my arm and replace it with an artificial limb, am I still a human organism? Most would probably answer “yes”. But what if you destroyed every part of me but my arm, and somehow kept the arm independently alive on life support? Most would probably not call this detached arm a human organism, but we can imagine a series of intermediate cases between these two, and there’s no “natural” or objective way to choose the dividing line, it’s really a subjective aesthetic choice about how we want to use language. Similarly, there is no natural or objective reason to say that a single unfertilized egg cell does not qualify as a human organism, while the single-celled zygote immediately after fertilization does qualify; this is an arbitrary aesthetic choice about how we choose to define a term like “human organism” which has nothing to do with any objective scientific facts.

I think if most people considered the intermediate cases in my thought-experiment about the detached arm, they would tend to arrive at the conclusion that there is something ethically special about the brain as distinct from other parts of the body. You could remove any number of parts of a person below the neck and replace them with artificial substitutes, and few would view the resulting cyborg as any less deserving of human rights–the cyborg would still have the same personality, desires, goals, and manner of thought, after all. But if you could destroy a person’s brain and keep the rest of their body alive on life support, wouldn’t the individual be effectively dead even if much of their body lived on, no more and no less than if only their arm (or only a small collection of their cells) was kept alive? Similarly, the feeling of many pro-choicers that a fetus is less than a full human (or less than a full ‘person’, to use a term that tries to separate ethical from biological terminology) has a lot to do, I think, with the underdeveloped state of its brain. In fact, the synapses of a fetus’ brain don’t even begin to form until around the end of the second trimester, so until then it is fairly safe to say the fetus has no form of consciousness at all, provided you take the modern scientific view that consciousness is completely dependent on brain function rather than some type of nonphysical soul-stuff.

29

noen 11.14.08 at 9:38 pm

the left/avant-garde value of “community” is a huge one, and seems inaccessible to Haidt’s instruments.

No, the left is just as susceptible to tribalism as the right, which is what you’re describing here I think. Haidt does say that liberals do not celebrate common ingroup membership as strongly as conservatives do.

It’s about morality not getting in the way of coin

Liberalism as we understand it today and how Haidt is using the term is about a moral objection to the amoral economies promoted by conservatives. Liberals then place greater emphasis on harm and fairness over authority i.e. rigid economic systems.

30

ME. 11.14.08 at 9:51 pm

What Ponnuru and others are getting at is the arbitrary nature of “personage.” That Holbo doesn’t recognize the different between a human hair and zygote, which not only contain DNA but the entire structure necessary for individual human development, suggests either a kind of willful ignorance of the fundamental nature of the argument, or a perverse sense of humor. Considering that pro-abortion philosophy extends the denial of personage up until birth, would Holbo suggest no difference between a nine-month fetus and a strand of hair?

It’s the distortion that the idea of “personage,” when combined with human rights, presents to the argument, that creates such embarrassingly obtuse analogies. Because personage has very shifting and subjective meanings, it has been used in a variety of ways to disenfranchise people, from African-Americans to Jews to the profoundly handicapped. It must be added that we are not alking about limited rights, as in the case of children, where their well-being is a part of the considerations behind such limitations. We are talking about the very right to exist.

Katherine’s response, which haughtily places the personage of a preganant woman above that of her living, growing child, presents an even more troubling view. Katherine’s dated perspective ignores not just the viability claims of the child (unless she cares to extend her remarks) but the profoundly simple concept that living is a fundamental right without which other rights, including choice, matter little. Katherine states that the question of personage is deabateable, meaning that she is (apparently) open to the idea that an unborn child may in fact be a person. However, by contending that the right of choice supercedes the right to life, she is in fact stating that even personage is no claim to life, if that life gets in the way of the choice aof another.

I suspect Katherine is either being inconsistent or is hiding behind the vagueries of the personhood debate (along the lines of “if it’s debateable, then we can abort”).

Gotchaye provides direct evidence for why concepts of “personhood” make a miserable basis for civil rights. He/she writes:

“I think it’s a good example of why it’s so important to use ‘person’ and ‘persons’ when talking about this stuff rather than ‘people’ or ‘human’. The latter are too easily misconstrued by a casual audience, and they tee up pro-lifers to make the ‘science tells us that fetuses are human’ claim.”

The “claim” isn’t a claim at all. It’s an indisputable fact that human fetuses are human. Please note that this isn’t a tautalogical use of the word “human” but that the word “human” is a scientific classification of the fetus in question. The statement that said fetus is human is a recognition of that classification. Gotchaye makes the suggestion that “people” and “human” are too easily misconstrued by a “casual audience” seems clearly in order to denigrate those who see personage as a poor foundation for the establishment of rights, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is.

Humanness should be the basis for the most fundamental of rights. Personage is only of value as long as society decides you qualify. The moment they don’t for whatever reasons, you’re on the outside looking in. That kind of arbitrariness is no foundation for a just system of human rights.

31

JD 11.14.08 at 10:11 pm

Ponnuru summarizes his position thusly: “The fundamental question The Party of Death engages is this: Do human rights exist? Do we have certain rights, that is, simply because we are human? Or is it the case that some human beings happen to have rights and others do not? What I call the party of death believes the latter.” But this is, to put it mildly, not a good argument. The issue obviously isn’t going to be whether all human beings have rights but whether, say, a tiny little knot of cells is a human being (person), hence a bearer of human rights. (It can obviously be human, biologically, without counting as a person. A hair can be human, biologically. That doesn’t make it a person.) If you don’t get that distinction you aren’t at step one of any serious argument. Ahem

Your response is exceedingly dimwitted. Fallacious, rather. Fallacy of equivocation. You’re using terms differently than Ponnuru, and then purporting to have refuted him.

Namely, Ponnuru first defines all human organisms (beginning at conception) as “human beings,” and then asks whether some “human beings” should be treated as beings-without-rights or as non-”persons.”

You’re assuming that “human being” simply means “person” (i.e., you equate the two terms), and that therefore Ponnuru’s question doesn’t make sense. But even you unwittingly say, “It can obviously be human, biologically, without counting as a person.” That’s precisely in agreement with how Ponnuru depicts the question, albeit omitting the word “being.” That is, Ponnuru would say, “It can obviously be a human being, biologically, without counting as a person,” except that Ponnuru would then say, “but this is the state of affairs to which I object.”

32

aimai 11.14.08 at 10:20 pm

I’m not a philosopher but it seems to me that the issue isn’t just which things count as having “personhood” but what rights, in fact, inhere in personhood that can force another person to do certain things for another person. The anti choice position is that not only is a fetus a person within the meaning of all laws, but that the right of that particular person to thrive and be born actually trumps all other rights that one individual, the mother, may have to choose otherwise. I have always resorted to this analogy to explain what we are asked to believe of this position. A man breaks into your home without your permission, or enters as a guest but refuses to leave. He demands not only shelter but food, money, and control over all your actions. He even demands control over your bodily functions. As he gets stronger, you get weaker. But you are forbidden by law from evicting him and if you do evict him and he dies–hit by a car as he leaves your house–you are charged with murder.”

People like Ponnoru pretend that once you “admit” that the fetus is “alive” it is also a “person” in every sense. But they go further, because they demand that the mother submit to a regime of rights from the fetus that no other individual person would ever be required to submit to in a non related or non fetal person. Even married couples are not required by law to care for one another *to death* or organ failure and there can be no question that the anti abortion crowd would so order if they could.

aimai

33

Leon 11.14.08 at 11:02 pm

Ironic that Haidt picked Dali as the prototypical “open artist”, considering he supported Franco and denounced Buñuel as an atheist.

34

Aulus Gellius 11.14.08 at 11:38 pm

it really doesn’t matter what you think makes a person deserving of certain rights, or what that person over there thinks. Clearly there is legitimate debate about it, with no immediately and unassailable right answer. It is the opinion of the woman carrying the said zygote/embryo/foetus that matters

But wait: what if you, or I, or that person over there, is a pregnant woman, or a woman who may become pregnant? I think she might, in making her choice (if she ever has to make it), reasonably want to hear the various arguments and come to an informed decision, yes?

People tend to talk, on this and other issues, as if personal decisions are somehow entirely removed from rational debate: as if, once you’ve agreed something should be a “personal choice,” the argument is ended. Is there an argument for this position?

35

Aulus Gellius 11.14.08 at 11:40 pm

Looking back, I note that Katherine doesn’t seem to have made the mistake I was griping about (though maybe some commenters did). Sorry if I implied that.

36

J Thomas 11.15.08 at 12:13 am

Emphatically we give different people different rights. Citizens get different rights from aliens, for example.

What rights should the unborn get? Should they perhaps have “No taxation without representation”? Should they only be responsible for the part of the national debt that was authorised while they were of voting age?

Perhaps we could pay down the rest of the debt with an inheritance tax of up to 100%….

Closer to the immediate issue, we have conflicting rights between mothers and the unborn. By one analogy, how much assistance do you owe to an accident victim who will die without your very-extensive aid? But a fetus is not a random accident victim, it is your own personal accident victim. (Unless you wanted it and changed your mind.) It’s clearly a question of competing rights, not obviously/certainly one way all the time.

I think this issue will get much less urgent if we can find a way to do placenta transfers. Something like, you take a tiny biopsy from the fetus or its umbilical cord or whatever, and implant it into another woman to quickly make a new placenta. Then cut the fetus out of the first woman, attach it to the new placenta, and you’re set. The first woman is no longer pregnant, instead the second woman is.

If we had that, then any woman who objects to abortion could prevent as many abortions as her body could manage. She could give birth to as many unwanted children as she wanted. Problem solved. The women who oppose abortion enough to put their cervixes where their mouths are, can prevent a whole lot of abortions. If there aren’t enough of them to prevent all abortions then the unlucky fetuses have been voted off the island — there’s nobody who wants them enough to save them.

The federal government could provide monetary assistance for women who choose to carry aborted fetuses, if Congress agrees to. It could also provide monetary assistance to the resulting orphans. Then everybody’s happy.

Barring a technological fix we have to settle for a political process. Everybody who wants to trample on somebody else’s rights can tell the government whose rights to trample. Anybody who thinks it isn’t his business, can stay out of the argument.

37

Jesse M. 11.15.08 at 12:14 am

ME. wrote:
The “claim” isn’t a claim at all. It’s an indisputable fact that human fetuses are human. Please note that this isn’t a tautalogical use of the word “human” but that the word “human” is a scientific classification of the fetus in question.

As I said a few posts above, if you are using “human” to refer to some notion of a “human organism” rather than “anything with human DNA” (so individual cells are excluded), then it is simply not true that there is any natural scientific definition of “organism”, it is an intrinsically fuzzy term that is useful enough in practice but which lacks any clear-cut definition. See my thought-experiment about gradually removing more and more parts of the body of a human but keeping the remainder alive on life support–do you think there is any scientific basis for claiming that there is a particular moment when the remainder ceases to qualify as an “organism”? Why would my hypothetical detached arm kept alive on life support fail to qualify as an organism, yet a person missing their heart (but with an artificial one to keep them alive) would qualify as an organism?

38

J Thomas 11.15.08 at 12:28 am

People tend to talk, on this and other issues, as if personal decisions are somehow entirely removed from rational debate: as if, once you’ve agreed something should be a “personal choice,” the argument is ended. Is there an argument for this position?

Sure. There’s a fundamental difference between arguments about what the government must do, versus arguments trying to persuade individual people what to do.

It’s like the difference between advertising detergent versus political attack ads.

To persuade individual people on the issue, you use humor, desire-for-social-approval, fear, etc. If you use the wrong detergent your husband’s shirts won’t be white and he’ll leave you. Use the right one and your friends will ask you how you did it. Etc.

To persuade individual people to pressure congress, you convince them the people they want to oppress are worthless scum. Women who have sex and shouldn’t, who get pregnant when they shouldn’t, who deserve to sacrifice their whole lives for their innocent children — not kill the children. Make it look like your victims are not anybody they know. It couldn’t be your daughter pregnant at age 15 by some almost-stranger, she’d never do anything like that. Promote rage — people who consider the issues on their merits and aren’t completely certain what to do won’t apply nearly as much pressure as people who are truly angry. Etc.

The arguments you would use to persuade pregnant women not to get an abortion are very different from what you’d use to persuade uninvolved third parties to be single-issue voters.

39

Jim Harrison 11.15.08 at 12:44 am

It seems to me that two assumptions, one metaphysical, one ethical, lie behind the prolife arguments.

The metaphysical assumption is that people are people by virtue of something like a soul, i.e. a separable, immaterial entity that can be present even in an early-stage fetus without doing anything. Traditionalists have a very hard time accepting the notion of epigenesis.

The ethical assumption is that potential persons are as valuable or nearly as valuable as actual persons. After all, if you go by actualities, you have to admit that an actual chicken has a great deal more intelligence and ability to perceive than an early-stage fetus. Prolifers, however, are not down on fried chicken. The Roman Catholic argument against contraception also depends on putting a value on potential human beings so high that it outweighs the rights of actual human beings.

Of course the metaphysical and ethical arguments are related since the soul theory makes it harder to make a distinction between a potential and an actual human being.

40

ed 11.15.08 at 2:03 am

I’ve been saying, since at the latest 1990, that people who don’t like cats are fascists because they can’t accept cats’ inherent individuality.

41

jcs 11.15.08 at 2:06 am

jess m. #37

I am having a hard time making sense of a detached arm being kept alive by life support. I take it you mean keep a fresh supply of blood circulating through it to keep the tissue healthy? My failure of imagination aside, I have always learned that an organism can be identified by its ability to carry out seven basic life processes such as respiration, excretion, reproduction, growth, the ability to produce energy from a “food” source, responding to a stimuli, movement (though not necessarily locomotion). To my mind, there is no clear way these apply to a detached arm, even one receiving a constant supply of fresh blood to keep it “alive”, unless of course you apply these criteria at the cellular level. There is, however, a very clear way in which these criteria do apply to someone who is kept alive by an aritifical heart. So I think the answer is yes, there is a moment when something ceases to be an organism, that is when it no longer can carry out the basic life processes.

These criteria apply at every stage of a preganancy from zygote to fetus. I am not sure all of this contributes to the discussion, however. It seems there is a minimialist position here: All the contributors agree that a zygote/fetus is a living something or other, i.e. an organism.

42

Aulus Gellius 11.15.08 at 2:29 am

The arguments you would use to persuade pregnant women not to get an abortion are very different from what you’d use to persuade uninvolved third parties to be single-issue voters.

Fair enough. But I think the arguments raised in this post all apply perfectly well to the purely personal, moral question, “should I abort this pregnancy?”. So when, e.g., bob mcmanus claims we shouldn’t even be entertaining these questions, I think he’s disallowing something that is (even granting his basic claims) useful.

43

joel hanes 11.15.08 at 2:37 am

ME. quoth :
zygote, which not only contain DNA but the entire structure necessary for individual human development

But the zygote does not contain the entire structure necessary.

The mother contains the entire structure necessary; without the entirity of a healthy woman, providing nurturance, hormones, nutrition, a placenta, the zygote is not viable. And as Katherine and McManus point out, the mother is already, beyond dispute, a person. The zygote’s personhood is potential; the mother’s is real.

44

josh 11.15.08 at 2:38 am

A propos of — well, not really anything in this post … but, given your interests in both WWII-era-cartooning and Hayek, John, you really should be blogging about this:
http://mises.org/books/TRTS/
(it was actually mentioned in a comment on this blog before, but that was forever ago, and we can appreciate it so much more now. Note the uncanny anticipation of Tom Friedman’s masterwork in panel 16 — or the revelation of our black-suited protagonist’s occupation in panel 14; no doubt his name is Joe. Spreading the wealth indeed …)

45

Jesse M. 11.15.08 at 2:39 am

jcs wrote:
I am having a hard time making sense of a detached arm being kept alive by life support. I take it you mean keep a fresh supply of blood circulating through it to keep the tissue healthy?

Yes, I just mean that all the cells remain alive because they are continuing to receive oxygen and nutrients from blood circulated into the arm.

My failure of imagination aside, I have always learned that an organism can be identified by its ability to carry out seven basic life processes such as respiration, excretion, reproduction, growth, the ability to produce energy from a “food” source, responding to a stimuli, movement (though not necessarily locomotion).

If a person lost both lungs but could be kept alive with some sort of artificial replacement, would you say the person was no longer an “organism” because they could not carry out respiration on their own?

Also, why wouldn’t individual cells or clumps of cells in a human body–including unfertilized egg cells–qualify as “organisms” under your definition? I suppose one might argue that in multicellular organisms, different cells are interdependent so that, for example, if the heart and lung cease to function other cells in my body won’t be able to properly respire and will die of oxygen starvation. But it is equally true that a fetus in the early stages would not be able to breathe on its own if it were taken out of the mother’s womb, that it requires oxygenated blood from the mother to live. I can’t think of any reasonable definition of “organism” in terms of functions like the ones you describe which would lead us to conclude that the egg cell to suddenly converts from non-organism to organism at the moment of conception.

To my mind, there is no clear way these apply to a detached arm, even one receiving a constant supply of fresh blood to keep it “alive”, unless of course you apply these criteria at the cellular level. There is, however, a very clear way in which these criteria do apply to someone who is kept alive by an aritifical heart.

Could you spell out this “very clear” way in which the criteria apply to a person with an artificial heart, or my hypothetical case of a person with artificial lungs, but not to an arm with an artificial heart/lung/nutrient-intake/waste-removal system supplying it with blood? In both cases the organic part of the system would not be able to perform the functions you describe with out the artificial part to help it, and would quickly die if the artificial part was shut off, but in both cases the combination of the organic and nonorganic system is able to perform all the functions you describe, with the possible exception of “response to stimuli” for the severed arm depending on whether you count responses on a cellular level (if you don’t, then you should say a zygote lacking any sort of nervous system doesn’t respond to stimuli either).

It seems there is a minimialist position here: All the contributors agree that a zygote/fetus is a living something or other, i.e. an organism.

I don’t agree that there is any coherent definition of “organism” that includes the fetus/zygote but excludes the unfertilized egg cell or the arm on life support; maybe there’s one I haven’t thought of, but the one you present above doesn’t seem to be adequate.

46

Tim May 11.15.08 at 2:43 am

The problem with ‘people’, such as it is, is that it is not so much a plural noun as a mass noun, like ‘water’. ‘People think’.

Well, no it isn’t, or it would take singular agreement: *”People thinks”. Stop misusing grammatical terminology.

(I think your actual point is reasonable enough here. The first sense the OED gives for “people” is “Used unemphatically, as a general or indefinite designation: persons unspecified as regards number, class, or identity” which it notes is “almost equivalent to a pronoun“. “Persons” gets away from this, even though “people” is the ordinary unmarked plural of “person”. But it doesn’t have anything to do with the difference between mass and count nouns.)

47

J Thomas 11.15.08 at 3:58 am

I have always learned that an organism can be identified by its ability to carry out seven basic life processes such as respiration, excretion, reproduction, growth, the ability to produce energy from a “food” source, responding to a stimuli, movement (though not necessarily locomotion).

So you figure a castrated male or a menopausal woman is no longer an organism?

A quadriplegic person is no longer an organism, because he can’t locomote?

On the other hand, while it’s true that a fetus can only survive in special environments that’s also true to a lesser extent for adult humans. Drop a naked man into the northern part of the north atlantic ocean and he’ll live for a few minutes at most. I don’t think it works to say a fetus isn’t an organism because of its environmental restrictions.

It’s a red herring to try to define the problem away. Never mind whether a fetus counts as a person or not. Call it a potential future person. What does its mother owe it?

Do we have any obligation to future generations? I say we owe them a world at least as good as the one we got. And I don’t know how we can meet that obligation.

Do we have any obligations to any specific members of the next generation? Do we owe particular ones of them the right to be born? I say there’s an obligation there too. But if a woman figures she can’t meet that obligation, then it might be better not to try?

When you have a child, is it a 9-month obligation until the birth? An 18-year obligation? Or is it a lifetime, until one of you dies? If you can’t give a child a chance at a decent life, is it better for it not to be born at all?

What good does it do anybody to make abortion illegal? Far better to provide hope for pregnant women. If you get a list of women who’re seriously considering abortion, you could offer them jobs with good pregnancy leave. You could offer to adopt their children. You could give them money to carry the children to term. If you feel an obligation to prevent abortions, there are lots of things you could do to help out.

If you get the chance to give advice to a woman who’s considering abortion you could tell her your own story. “I got pregnant and I didn’t have an abortion. I gave up my chance at college. I was on welfare for 2 years and then I went to work, I worked 3 jobs and got 5 hours of sleep a night. The daycare workers said my child was very happy. The government took her away from me when she was 10 because they said I was neglecting her. Later she tracked me down and told me what happened. She was raped by a boy who was in foster care with her when she was 16, and she showed me her baby. She said that when she was with me was the happiest time of her life and she thanked me. And then I knew it was all worth it. It will be worth it for you too.”

48

roger 11.15.08 at 4:30 am

“He apparently did a survey in which he asked respondents whether, if they were buying a dog, they would want the one that was a member of a breed known for being ‘independent minded and relating to its owner as a friend and equal’; or would you prefer the one that is ‘extremely loyal to its home and family and doesn’t warm up quickly to strangers’? Turns out, liberals pick the first option more, conservatives the second.”

That doesn’t make sense. The liberal answer is to doubt that a “breed” (airquotes if speaking to the inteviewer) can really trump circumstances in the personality of the dog. If dogs run free/than why not we – as liberals used to say. Liberals also know, from childhood, that white fang became a killer because the poor doggie was trained to kill, but with better schooling, universal health care, and social security, white fang could have contributed to society by becoming, say, a psychotherapist for other abused doggies.

I think they need to find a new pool of liberals.

49

Doctor Science 11.15.08 at 4:38 am

Aulus:
But I think the arguments raised in this post all apply perfectly well to the purely personal, moral question, “should I abort this pregnancy?”

It is my impression that of the participants in this (local) discussion only Katherine, aimai, and I could ever theoretically ask this question.

What the rest of you (presumed) guys are asking is, “should I permit this woman to abort this pregnancy?” By making the question, “when is the fetus a human person?” you-all are gliding over the true issue, which is: “when is the woman a person?”

Don’t tell me “of course the woman is a person!” There is no “of course” about it — we women have not (historically, traditionally, conservatively) had the full rights of “real”, male human persons. We might not have the right to own property, drive a car, initiate a divorce, vote, run for office, be a doctor, have legal custody of our own children … it has depended on circumstance. A cynical woman would not assume, a realistic woman should not assume, that she has will automatically be granted all the rights a man may assume.

In particular, I don’t think any of you male-type persons here have been told that your body does not belong to you. If your sibling needed a bone marrow donation to treat their cancer, for instance, you would not be legally obliged to give it. You would not expect to be shackled to a bed for weeks or months if necessary, to keep someone else alive — even someone you should love (whether you do or not). You would certainly not expect total strangers to come up to you and give their opinions about whether you are drinking too much coffee, or smoking, or to stroke parts of your body and discuss your medical condition, lifestyle choices, etc.

It’s possible I’m the only one in this discussion here who’s actually *been* in that position, who’s borne children and who knows what it’s like to have my body be considered public property, to a certain degree. Fortunately for your male-type people, the worst offenders (by far) are women of the grandmotherly demographic, and I can kind of understand where they’re coming from — though it is certainly not a place know to most philosophers, so I suggest you back off. Unless you can talk about things like “episiotomies” without turning a hair.

50

John Holbo 11.15.08 at 5:33 am

Thomas corrected me, way upstream, pointing out that Ponnuru does use the word ‘person’. My bad, I should have noticed that. But basically he wants to make the issue of ‘who gets rights?’ not hinge crucially on the question of ‘who is a person?’ (Rather, it is to hinge on the question of what is a living human organism.) And I’m inclined to think that’s not just wrong but basically a non-starter. So the basic thrust of my criticism seeks right.

Re: the Hayek “Road to Serfdom” comic. I actually have a copy. Or at least my family does. I think that’s the only comic my father owns.

51

CK Dexter 11.15.08 at 5:42 am

noen (24),

“There are cats that consider humans their equal? The mind boggles.”

The common misconception that cats have contempt for humans is the result of the rarity of equal relations among humans. It’s similar to the way Americans in Paris often have the impression that the French snobby, since the sales people and waiters won’t grovel over them. Cats only seem condescending if you’ve been jaded by dogs and humans.

52

Julian 11.15.08 at 7:33 am

But a hair or a HeLa cell (both examples cited above) will never become a human. A zygote will.

53

novakant 11.15.08 at 7:44 am

That cartooning guide is very much in the style ofAndrew Loomis – I wonder if he was actually the author or if they just ripped him off. Loomis’ drawing guides are exceptional and still used by artists today – if you want to check them out, the the first ten google results for his name will lead you to pdfs of his books (they’re out of print or something, you can only get them from Ebay/Amazon scalpers, but I think there are still copyright claims, so I didn’t want to give a direct link).

54

Doctor Science 11.15.08 at 6:05 pm

A zygote will.

No, Julian, a zygote *might*, but it usually doesn’t. To get a human being requires both a considerable amount of luck *and* months of cooperation from a woman. You don’t get to decide that the zygote — not coincidentally, the only part of the process requiring a male — is the important bit, and then force the woman’s far more substantial contribution whether she likes it or not. Not to mention blaming her for all the factors known as “luck”, which in the normal course of events doom more than half of all zygotes anyway.

55

jcs 11.15.08 at 7:00 pm

Jess M,

I absolutely think that an unfertilized egg is an organism. I think sperm are organisms as well. I think a clump of cells is a clump organisms, not merely one organism. I think that is why the idea of personhood figures so prominently into the discussion. Cells are living things, as such they are organisms. With in a body specialized cells work in concert with each other to form tissues, which in term make up an organ that has a specialized function within a biological system. I do not think a detached arm is an organism. If it is being kept alive as you suggest (and your clarification did help), then what you have is a collection of specialized cells, presummably muscle cells making up the muscle tissue, nerve cells making up the nervous system, etc. and each one of these cells would be a living organism, but the arm itself is nothing more than the totality of these cells and, it seems to me the term “arm” is nothing more than a way to collectively refer to these various specialized cells, and the tissues they make up.

I certainly would not say that an artifical heart is living, but the being who has the heart in their chest would still be an organism, because the artificial heart, insofar as it is doing the job of a heart, is allowing for the life processes within an organism to continue. So, the answer to your question is no. I would say an individual with an artifical heart/lungs is still an organism, an organism that has one vital organ in one vital system helping to perfrom one of the basic life processes.

To sum up, If I understand you correctly, something I do not take for granted, the problem with the comparison you are trying to make between a being kept alive by an artifical organ and a detached arm being kept alive, is that in one case, the heart/lung case, the artificial organ is still working as part of a system, coordinating with other biological systems to sustain an organism. In the second case, the arm is detached and so doing none of that. If you asked to compare a detached arm being kept alive by artifical means and a detached heart being kept alive by artifical means, then I would have said that the same thing about the heart, that I said about the arm above. On the other hand if you aske me to compare a being with an artificial hear and one with an artifical arm, I would say they are both organisms despite that in each case some function or other is being perfromed by some artifical construct.

Finally, I did not say that everyone in this thread agrees a definition of an organism, what I said is I think that everyone would agree that at every stage of pregnancy from fertilization onward, you have a living thing, and if you have a living thing you have an organism.

56

David Wright 11.15.08 at 7:01 pm

I fail to understand why anyone would want to own an animal that relates to me as an equal or that is slow to warm to strangers. Dog people are weird.

57

jcs 11.15.08 at 7:21 pm

JThomas @47

First, citing the life processes as criteria as what constitutes an organism is not something I made up, it is elementary life sciecne and it is criteria used by real life scientists. You can find reference to it in any life science textbook beginning at the grade school level and onward (well maybe not in life science boks used in Kentucky or Georgia, but that is a different issue).

“A quadriplegic person is no longer an organism, because he can’t locomote?”

You quoted this exceprt of mine in your post and still did not read it carefully enough:

I have always learned that an organism can be identified by its ability to carry out seven basic life processes such as respiration, excretion, reproduction, growth, the ability to produce energy from a “food” source, responding to a stimuli, movement (though not necessarily locomotion).

Most organisms in the plant family do not have locomotion, that is what I said movement but “not necessarily locomotion.”

As for the castrated bull, the answer is yes, the bull is still an organism, but I suspect you need know convincing of that. I was not and never claimed to be giving an essentialist definition for an organism. Rather, I pointed to criteriea that scientists use in cases where something is not as straight-forwardly a living organism as a bull is for example (castrated or otherwise). The more ambiguous cases of a living thing would be things like unicellular critters (well not any longer, but at one point), an egg, a sperm, a zygote, and viruses. These are where the criteria prove to be most useful.

58

jcs 11.15.08 at 7:32 pm

Is it me or is there an undercurrent of anger in doctor science’s post. Hey doctor, it is not my fault I am biologically incapable of having children.

Also, you wrote the following:
In particular, I don’t think any of you male-type persons here have been told that your body does not belong to you. If your sibling needed a bone marrow donation to treat their cancer, for instance, you would not be legally obliged to give it. You would not expect to be shackled to a bed for weeks or months if necessary, to keep someone else alive—even someone you should love (whether you do or not). You would certainly not expect total strangers to come up to you and give their opinions about whether you are drinking too much coffee, or smoking, or to stroke parts of your body and discuss your medical condition, lifestyle choices, etc.

Do really believe this is a legitimate analogy? I mean I am pro-choice, so you do not need to convince me, but do you really think the two situations are comparable?

59

noen 11.15.08 at 8:26 pm

Dexter
The common misconception that cats have contempt for humans is the result of the rarity of equal relations among humans. It’s similar to the way Americans in Paris often have the impression that the French snobby, since the sales people and waiters won’t grovel over them. Cats only seem condescending if you’ve been jaded by dogs and humans.

Dexter, are you saying that French wait staff are inhuman? ;)

novakant
Loomis’ drawing guides are exceptional and still used by artists today

I have one or two of his books. They are good for learning illustration, not so good for learning to draw, and horrible for leaning art. I also have an old book “Art Anatomy” by William Rimmer. His work is also deeply racist but it is an interesting representative of that era.

jcs
Is it me or is there an undercurrent of anger in doctor science’s post.

People, ahem… persons tend to get that way when you mess about with their bodies. BTW, have you submitted your genitalia for reproductive fitness testing and obtained your permission to sire offspring?

60

jcs 11.15.08 at 8:31 pm

#59 Submitted and licensed to reproduce!

61

jcs 11.15.08 at 8:33 pm

BTW, noen, was your question a precursor to an offer for my genetic material?

62

Doctor Science 11.15.08 at 9:16 pm

jcs:

I was going for an overcurrent of anger, actually. I’m not angry because you can’t bear children, I’m angry because, once again, a bunch of men are sitting around talking about what women should do with our bodies and our lives. As echidne of the snakes said after the final Presidential debate:

It is always extremely distasteful to watch two men discuss what should be done about abortion. Always, never mind what they say.

*Always*, dudes.

Do really believe this is a legitimate analogy? I mean I am pro-choice, so you do not need to convince me, but do you really think the two situations are comparable?

Organ donation and pregnancy? Yes.

In both cases, I’m giving up use of part of my body for the benefit of another person. In both cases, the consequences for me are at minimun painful, may include permanent changes to my body, and may be life-threatening.

Differences include that organ donation doesn’t generally take 9 months of increasing physical risk and constraint, doesn’t normally involve a 20-year commitment thereafter, and is hardly ever done more than once in a donor’s life.

In what way do you see them as *not* comparable situations?

63

noen 11.15.08 at 9:23 pm

jcs – no, I was hoping that you would maybe think a bit about what it would feel like if the tables were turned. I think that John Holbo is correct that we have to talk about persons rather than organisms and that the concept of person-hood is needed for any serious debate. Persons are bearers of human rights. Not all human organisms are persons.

Trying to draw finer and finer distinctions from biological notions about organisms doesn’t seem to me to be helpful because “organism” is a human concept while the underlying biology is fairly slippery.

Are you an organism? The person that is “You” consists of about one third by weight of bacteria you are in symbiotic relationship with. Those bacteria contain about 100 times as many genes as we do. You are not “this single thing” represented by your genetic heritage. You are a biome.

64

Righteous Bubba 11.15.08 at 9:55 pm

I’ve been saying, since at the latest 1990, that people who don’t like cats are fascists because they can’t accept cats’ inherent individuality.

It’s very important to hate particular cats and not lump them all into one kittiegory.

65

klajsdhf 11.15.08 at 10:13 pm

“It is always extremely distasteful to watch two men discuss what should be done about abortion. Always, never mind what they say.”
And it’s distasteful when whites sit around talking about blacks or when Zionists jewish and otherwise sit around talking about arabs.
Indeed it’s annoying when anyone sits around talking about others in the third person.

There’s no way around such discussions, and more importantly there’s no “right” answer about abortion, which is why so many think the “correct” answer is to say that the state should not be allowed to interfere beyond a certain point. What that point should be is another question. If the agreement is that a woman can go on an alcohol induced bungee jumping spree in the 9th month of pregnancy but be arrested for the same actions one month later with the newborn strapped this time to the outside of her body, then that’s fine with me.
In the best of all possible worlds as opposed to the best of all ideal ones, some people will still have only their consciences to face, not the law.

And as to the lecture, the data seems to show that liberals tend to want to see themselves as open-minded. Whether they are or not is something else entirely.
Just ask a Palestinian.
Liberal is a misnomer. The most common range for human temperament is from conservative to reactionary (and radicalism of course is a form of reaction.)
Imagination is rare.
This debate is stupid

66

jcs 11.15.08 at 10:13 pm

Noen,

either my posts have not been very clear in which case I apologize, or you have not read them very carefully, or both, but I agree with everything you wrote in your comment @63.

I could not agree more in fact. I did not bring up the issue of organisms another contributor did (for example see jess m @37). I was responding to that. And if you read what I wrote at the end of my first response (@ 41). I questioned the usefulness of talking about the issue on the level of organisms. To state it more clearly: I think most people would agree that a zygote is a living thing, an organism. Given that most people agree on this, I do not think it is helpful to dwell on it because I do not think it adds anything substantive to the discussion. That was the point I was trying to make to Jess M.

I absolutely agree that a concept of personhood is needed to make any traction on the topic of abortion. Beyond that, however, I think another cirterion that is an important one pertains to interests. I recall this from a human reproductive rights class I took 10 years ago, though I cannot think of the author’s name or the book (if anyone knows I would love to be reminded). At what point does a living thing have interests that warrant legal protection? One possible answer is that when something is capable of feeling pain then it has an interest that ought to be protected, and that is the interest in not being subjected to pain. Notice this interest does not depend on the tricky notion of being a person or not. The caveat to all of this, of course, is that if the abortion issue were framed in terms of the issue of interests, particularly the interest in not feeling pain, this may well involve limiting abortions (with exceptions to the health of the mother, etc.) to the point in the pregnancy prior to which the fetus can experience pain.

Finally, I have thought about what it would feel like if the tables were turned. I can never be in a position to decide whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term. But I don’t apologize for that. I have watched and listened and supported in the best way I knew how people who I care very deeply for make that decsion, and because I cared very deeply for them, I felt their anguish as they found themselves genuinely struggling to make the decision to continue the preganancy or not (yes I realize it may not be a difficult decision for everyone, but for the handful of people I know it was) and that is probably as close as I will ever be able to come to knowing what it is like. My reference to doctor science’s post that initially caught your attention is that it came off 9to me anyway) as an anger directed at all males, despite the fact that there are plenty of us who support a women’s right to make the choice herself. Yes there are men who would love to see that right go away, but there are also many women who would take it away as well. I do not think I should be villanized because I happen to be a male. I do not think I should be held responsible for the fact that I can not get pregnant and not have to know how physically and mentally trying a prgenancy can be. I do not think I should be thought a bastard because I will never have to make the choice to continue a pregnancy or not. This is how I interpreted the anger I percevied to be in her post. If I was to flippant about it I apologize. If I mininterpreted it, well I apologize for that too. I do, however, stick by my other comment -it was a horrible analogy.

67

J Thomas 11.15.08 at 10:27 pm

I think that John Holbo is correct that we have to talk about persons rather than organisms and that the concept of person-hood is needed for any serious debate. Persons are bearers of human rights.

I think that persons get more rights if they are voters or potential voters.

Live cats have no rights. They can be legally kidnapped by animal control personnel, castrated, and killed unless someone wants to pay their ransom and promises to keep them locked up for the rest of their lives. A cat that is too hard to catch can legally be shot.

Illegal aliens, though, can legally be kidnapped by any police, *not* castrated, and deported but not killed except in unusual circumstances like they are claimed to have been trying to escape. They are guaranteed a hearing in which they have the opportunity to prove that they are not illegal aliens after all.

Citizens can only be legally kidnapped if they are accused of committing a crime, and even then they may have the opportunity to lend the government money to be temporarily released. They are guaranteed a trial. They have full opportunity to prove they did not do the crimes they are accused of, and in that case they are released and may even petition to have the public record sealed that they were ever charged. They may only be held for specified times, unless their sentence is lengthened for bad behavior while imprisoned. Citizens have far more rights than noncitizens.

So the question here should be about the rights of pregnant women voters, versus the rights of unborn future voters. And if the unborn do have some of the rights of citizens, what further rights should they have? I very much like the idea that they should have the right not to owe on the part of the national debt that was allocated or spent before they reach voting age.

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jcs 11.15.08 at 10:35 pm

doctor science

“I’m not angry because you can’t bear children, I’m angry because, once again, a bunch of men are sitting around talking about what women should do with our bodies and our lives.”

As I read the thread it has more to do with when a fetus becomes a person and when it has rights that ought to be protected rather than what a women should do with her body (granted the answers to some of these questions may impact on what a woman can do with her body). It seems then, that the abortion issue is simply out of bounds for men. Should I understand your position to be that no man has any business ever discussing the notions of personhood and rights as those terms may pertain to a fetus?

Believe me when I tell you I am pro-choice. If you wanted an abortion I would unhesitatingly and unambiguously support your right to get one (not that you would need or even want my support, but you would have it nevertheless), but I think the position “it’s my body and I can do what I want with it” fails to capture all the complexities invovled in the issue. Terminating a preganancy unequivocally invovles terminating a life (notice I am ot saying human life, just life). That has to be part of the consdieration I would think, or maybe I am just being a male again. Anyway, given that a life other than the women’s is involved I would think it would be irresponsible to not ask questions such as the ones being asked here: at what point does this life become a person? At what point does this life become the bearor of rights? Or even at what point does a living thing become the bearor of rights (we do, after all, speak of animal rights, so apparently rights are not exclusively for persons)?

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noen 11.15.08 at 10:50 pm

jcs – I’m sorry if I misunderstood. It is kind of a hot button issue.

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joel hanes 11.16.08 at 3:04 am

I don’t think any of you male-type persons here have been told that your body does not belong to you.

You would be incorrect.
I received my draft notice in 1972,
and my Basic Training drill sergeant was quite explicit about who owned my ass.

And I think if you read my second comment, it’s pretty obvious that I think
that only the pregnant woman gets a vote in decisions about terminating a pregnancy.

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Tom West 11.16.08 at 3:44 pm

Back to the original observation. I think the dog preference was an unfortunate question. I can already picture a bunch of conservatives having a ball at the results.

They’d point out that it’s absolutely typical liberalism. Dogs are pack animals by nature, and the lack of a specific and rigid hierarchy makes a dog deeply unhappy and possible dangerous.

Only a Liberal would ignore an animal’s basic nature in order to try and twist it into a grotesque parody of a dog simply because he’s uncomfortable with the concept of loyalty. Never mind that it slowly destroys the dog and quite possibly endangers everyone around it.

I’m certain that many of them would be happy to extend the analogy to the human world.

Of course, this may (has probably) already have been done. I don’t see that half of the ‘sphere all that much. Has it shown up on Fox News yet?

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noen 11.16.08 at 6:34 pm

I can already picture a bunch of conservatives having a ball at the results.

I can too. What you do is show the ball and just pretend to throw it and then they run off looking all around for it. Then they come back and look at you like “Why did you do that to me?” Then you do it again. Endless fun.

What?

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CK Dexter 11.16.08 at 6:53 pm

This discussion reminds me of a wonderful Sadean parody of Kantian ethics from Philosophy in the Bedroom. Taking Kant’s first principle that one should never treat a human being as an object of possession, and his further conclusion (in his discussion of sex and marriage) that we cannot even treat _our own bodies_ as objects of possession, Sade concludes that respect for human equality and freedom morally necessitates universal mutual enslavement (a parody of Kantian marriage). After all, nobody owns my body, not even me, so anyone has the right to do with it as they will. (In the spirit of egalitarianism, I also have the moral right to do anything I will with the bodies of others.) It’s a particularly lovely parody since it exposes the shared inner logic and sympathies of liberalism (in the old sense of belief in “liberties”/rights, as well as its siblings, libertinage/anarchism and libertarianism) and totalitarianism.

Frankly, I think the abortion debate is doomed to stalemate as long as it continues to take for granted the prejudices of old-school liberalism, the mysticism of rights, etc. Yes, I’m nostalgic for its easy answers, too. And I’m not happy to be unable to criticize, say, an administration that practices torture or withholds international law for non-combatants, with an easy, rights-based answer. I’m equally unhappy to lose the easy answer to the anti-choice crowd. But it’s a dead-end, always ending with both sides asserting some form of “my correctly identified rights vs. your misidentified rights,” which is a prettified, bad-faith version of the core irrational, unethical impulse Sade has cruelly, brilliant dragged into the light of day: “my rights vs yours.”

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Doctor Science 11.17.08 at 1:19 am

jcs:
Should I understand your position to be that no man has any business ever discussing the notions of personhood and rights as those terms may pertain to a fetus?

He has no business discussing them without even noticing the woman. He has no business talking about fetal rights without mentioning that what makes fetal rights different is that they are literally embedded in another person’s rights. To discuss fetal rights without talking about women is to make women invisible, to erase us as persons, to make us The Women Men Don’t See.

I’m not so much angry at you personally, jcs, as at the way John H. could start this discussion and you-all could take it down to comment #14 before Katherine (surprise, surprise — NOT) mentions that there is a woman in the issue. At least you, jcs, seem aware that perhaps you *should* notice the woman, instead of some of the other commenters who just glide right over her, nothing to see here, move along.

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Helen 11.17.08 at 2:40 am

Not wanting to be all just-move-along, loved your comment Dr. Science. But I’d like to mention something else about the organism/human/non-human continuum:

I can’t think of any reasonable definition of “organism” in terms of functions like the ones you describe which would lead us to conclude that the egg cell to suddenly converts from non-organism to organism at the moment of conception.

Recently a family member was admitted to hospital and had a teratoma removed. As is my wont I googled, both regular Google and Images. Holy-moly. Some of these creatures are unbelievably weird. Apparently the random stem-cell development often results in a few neurons added to the mix, and they’ve even had some of these tumours respond to stimulus, I believe. Then there’s the hair and teeth and everything else. Until the 60s, the Roman Catholic church required these things be baptised.

http://www.geocities.com/hotsprings/falls/7780/images/teratoma.html

I couldn’t help thinking of the standard “pro-lifer” talking point: “Do you know your baby has hair, teeth, fingernails…” And neurons as well. Fascinating (and not a little creepy). Where would a teratoma sit on the human/not human continuum, since it’s clearly made up of human stem cells, is alive, and some are capable of response? It can never develop into a full human being. But “pro-lifers” wouldn’t abort an ancephalic foetus either, so what’s the difference?

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J Thomas 11.17.08 at 4:53 am

Doctor Science, isn’t it always that way with government?

We collect taxes unevenly and we have big disagreements about what “even” means. We like to collect “sin” taxes, from people who do things we don’t much approve of — alcohol, tobacco, etc.

And the people who feel they’re being unfairly treated naturally squawk about it.

Small business owners naturally complain about government regulation and taxation. They have to spend lots of time dealing with government when they could be doing business. Criminals complain about how unfair the system is but nobody has any sympathy for them because they broke the law. So they deserve to be raped in prison.

Of course there’s some attempt to be fair. Or at least to get the same amount of squawking on both sides. But fetuses don’t get any say in it, so self-appointed spokesmen stand up for them, and who can say how well they do? Not the fetuses.

We generally say that every interested citizen should have the right to lobby for his position on any legislative proposal. Why not, after all? The one big exception is that criminals get no say at all in what criminal law ought to be. People figure that if they’re criminals they get no rights.

Saying that men should have no say in abortion law because they’re men is like saying that middle-class people should have no say in taxes on the rich, or that civilians should have no say in military spending. That just isn’t the way we do things.

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Doctor Science 11.17.08 at 5:15 am

J Thomas:
Saying that men should have no say in abortion law because they’re men is like saying that middle-class people should have no say in taxes on the rich, or that civilians should have no say in military spending.

I’m not arguing that men should have no say in the discussion (I’m talking about discussion, not law) because they’re men, but that you should be aware that it’s not directly your business, and so you’d better pay attention to the people whose business it *is*. In particular, trying to “clarify” the issue of abortion by clarifying the woman right out is doin’ it Rong.

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arby_m 11.17.08 at 9:30 am

It’s easy for men to claim this is an abstract discussion with no bearing on anyone personally. It’s easy for them to forget about the woman who has to suffer (and sometimes die) to protect the “rights” of the fetus. As Doctor Science says, there is no equivalent in our society of such an enforced obligation to another living being.

Also I agree with her comment that you can’t just say, “All fetuses will, if not aborted, inevitably become persons” because it’s not that easy – as if the woman were an E-Z-Bake Oven. Even for the most wanted baby in the world, things go horribly awry and the woman miscarries, or even worse, has no choice but to abort – whether it’s to save her own life or because the child is no longer viable. So we don’t really have the luxury of looking at the subject of abortion or fetal personhood as this philosophical problem with no real-life consequences.

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Tracy W 11.17.08 at 12:20 pm

How is a dog independent-minded, and how do you know if it’s relating to its owner as a friend and equal? Has someone figured out a way to read dogs’ minds? Are there many breeds of dog that wander around taking unpopular political opinions if they think the position itself is right?

And assuming that dogs can be independent-minded, and relate to their owners as a friend and an equal, is this incompatible with being extremely loyal and not warming up quickly to strangers? Could not a dog, by independent thought, arrived at the political position of extreme loyalty and suspicion of strangers? Perhaps the dog concluded it is better to only offer the paw of friendship once someone has proven themself, and then stick to said person through thick and thin, rather than have a swarm of shallow friends of unproven worth?

Personally, when it comes to dog breeds, I prefer mutts as my vet relative says they tend to be healthier and more intelligent.

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J Thomas 11.17.08 at 12:23 pm

Philosophers often argue things as if they have no real-life consequences. Lobbyists do not.

We often argue government policy without consulting those who’re most affected. We argue Welfare without consulting anyone who is on welfare, we argue criminal justice without consulting any criminals, we argue what to do about iran without consulting any iranians including the iranian government, etc. (How do we make the iranians do what we want without talking to them? Pretty much only by punishment, right? Probably have to attack them….)

Once you decide that women who want abortions are criminals — intentional murderers — then of course you won’t want to consult them about abortion. You’ll only want to consult women who want to prevent abortion. And there are pretty many of those, for whatever reason.

My wife says she would not get an abortion for any reason at all. I have to respect that and hope she’ll change her mind if it’s really necessary. She gets disgusted at the idea, and she doesn’t want it to be illegal for the very unfortunate people who need to make that choice.

I figure, in the long run people who reduce their own genetic contribution to the population are their own punishment. Let them. I quarter-seriously suggest allowing abortion up to the age that children are economicly self-supporting. If Bush’s mother had aborted him at, say, age 30, when it was clear what she was getting, we’d all be better off.

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J Thomas 11.17.08 at 12:27 pm

How is a dog independent-minded, and how do you know if it’s relating to its owner as a friend and equal?

It’s a questionnaire. You say what you want, completely independent of how you’d know whether you got it.

Would you rather have a President who gives you a big war, or a President who gives you a big recession? You can make your choice on a questionnaire without any way to guess which candidate will do which.

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Tracy W 11.17.08 at 1:26 pm

JThomas – at least I know what a big war or a big recession is in general (although of course one can debate the edges of the definitions, and I have my doubts about the accuracy of statistics departments). I don’t know how an independent-minded dog differs in behaviour from a dependent-minded one, or what a dog regards friendship and equality as consisting of.

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Alara Rogers 11.17.08 at 3:16 pm

The problem with any discussion of whether or not the zygote is an organism because it can or cannot do x, y and z, as compared to a human who can or cannot do x, y, and z, is that the zygote needs a human body to do those things for it. A human never does.

For instance, the issue was raised that a human cannot live naked in the Arctic. Very true, but the alternative to living naked in the Arctic is not living in the stomach of a sentient polar bear who has loudly expressed that she does not want you there. It is living in non-sentient clothes in the arctic, or living in a non-sentient biome that is more hospitable to life. Likewise, the quadriplegic (in modern society, at least) has a wheelchair and does not require a human being to carry him around everywhere he goes… also, his ability to locomote doesn’t directly pertain to his ability to live.

A better analogy would be: A person suffers heart failure. There is no way to implant an artificial heart. The only way to save that person’s life is attach them to another person, who will pump the blood for them. If the person does not consent, is it moral to do that? What if the person didn’t consent but you attached the person with the heart failure anyway? Would it now be acceptable for the “heart donor” to detach the person with heart failure, even though doing so would kill them?

What if you woke up and found that your long-lost teenage son who you’d never met had needed this procedure done, so while you were sleeping someone came along and surgically attached you to him? You didn’t consent to his creation, although you did have the sex that caused it. You didn’t consent to being his life support. You caused him to exist by having sex, but you didn’t actively choose his existence and you never consented to being his life support. Now he’s attached to your back drawing off your blood supply until he’s strong enough to get a heart transplant. Of course by the time he is strong enough to do that you may possibly be suffering heart failure yourself, but that’s the price you paid for having sex fifteen years ago.

Would this *ever* be acceptable? Would it ever be acceptable to tell a man in this situation “You have no right to cut your teenage son off your back! He is a person and he deserves to live! You are totally selfish for wanting to have a life that doesn’t involve a human being being a physical parasite on your body! Your odds of heart failure are lower than his odds of death if you are separated, so if you want to remove him to save your own health or simply because you can’t go about the normal business of your life with a teenager attached to your back, you are prioritizing your convenience above his life!”

What if all the discussion about this situation centered around the teenage boy’s right to life, and no one *ever* brought up your right not to be the life support system for a kid you never met? And in fact you were told you were selfish for not wanting to be a life support system? Or angry, because you pointed out that in fact the real issue here is not whether the teenager deserves to live but whether you deserve to be forced to provide the heart that he needs for life?

If a person cannot live without *another person* providing their life support, physically, then they do not have the right to live without that person’s consent. I’m sorry, they don’t. It is actually a law in many states that hospitals, who only spend *money* to keep people alive, do not have to keep people on life support indefinitely when the money runs out. (In fact people in Texas who very much wanted to live were killed for this reason.) There is a good moral argument to be made for the idea that money can never be the reason for killing someone, but your body? Your health? Possibly your life? We don’t compel *anyone* to give up parts of their body, for any reason, so how can we compel anyone to be a life support system?

This is why I find any argument that centers on the personhood of the fetus pointless. It actually doesn’t matter if the fetus is a person or not. What matters is if the fetus’s human life support system wants to be their human life support system or not. Analogies to “masters didn’t care what slaves thought” are ridiculous because masters didn’t keep slaves alive; in fact the work the slaves did brought great benefit to the masters, whereas the only benefit anyone gets from pregnancy is emotional. (I say this as someone who has voluntarily had two kids. I’m not knocking the emotional value of having a baby… but aside from being adorable bundles of love, babies do not do jack for you.) In fact the implication that the idea that the woman’s opinion re the fetus is more important than the fetus’s opinion is equivalent to the master’s opinion being more important than the slave’s opinion is offensive, for two reasons: fetuses don’t have opinions, because they can’t think, while slaves do; and if there is a master/slave relationship between a mother and a fetus, it goes the other way around. The mother is temporarily enslaved to the needs of her fetus.

If we had a system of jurisprudence that routinely demanded that parents give up their kidneys for their children, that people who cause car accidents be forced to donate organs to the victims of said accidents, and that men who rape women and get them pregnant be forced to donate their organs to the mother so she does not suffer poor health outcomes from the pregnancy, then it might make sense to discuss the personhood of the fetus. But our legal system does not ever compel you to give up parts of your own body to keep another alive.

(BTW, the analogy to the draft was a good one but more comparable to rape than forced pregnancy. If you are drafted, you may be forced to fight in a war, and if forced to fight you may have to kill and you may die. You’re not, however, directly being forced to keep anyone alive; you’re forced into committing actions with your body that you may find immoral, distasteful, or mentally destructive, and you may suffer permanent physical harm or death. I consider the draft to be the state-sanctioned rape of men and oppose it for the same reasons that I oppose rape and forced pregnancy. But when we talk about the draft no one actually forgets in the discussion that men, who might die, are what we are talking about. This is more similar to rape, where we never forget that we are talking about women who were raped (although we often forget that someone actually raped them, and simply forget to talk about the rapist at all), than abortion, where the right’s favorite tactic seems to be to forget that the woman is there at all and only talk about the fetus.)

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J Thomas 11.17.08 at 3:40 pm

Tracy W, that’s the beauty of multiple-choice psychology tests. You can answer one way or the other depending entirely on what the words mean to you.

If the words don’t mean anything to you then you can either answer at random or refuse to answer, depending on the test instructions and how carefully you want to follow those instructions.

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Tracy W 11.17.08 at 3:57 pm

And of course one of the beauties of blogs is that when someone refers to the survey results of confusingly-worded questions, you can post comments wondering about what the questions mean. JThomas, do you have any idea of how an independently-minded dog would behave, or a dog that regarded you as a friend and an equal?

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J Thomas 11.17.08 at 6:40 pm

Tracy, for myself, an independent-minded dog would be more like a wolf. If you insult him, he lets you know he’s insulted and he wants an apology. If you treat him badly he leaves, maybe after biting you. He doesn’t beg, except maybe in a good-natured and ironical way.

Wolves are much harder for humans to live with than domesticated dogs, and few people try.

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Matt McIrvin 11.18.08 at 5:31 am

An observation not at all original to me:

If a zygote is a person with full human rights from the moment of conception, we have a much larger problem on our hands than the need to outlaw artificial abortion. The most common cause of death by a huge margin is then the natural failure of the zygote to implant in the uterine wall, and another major cause is spontaneous abortion of the fetus not long after. The majority of human beings, then–the majority of people with human rights–pass their entire brief existence as miniscule organisms almost invisible without a microscope and completely unknown to the outside world, and die in unseen accidents. Homo sapiens is primarily a tiny invertebrate organism, with a bipedal vertebrate phase that is all too atypical.

The implication is that we need to make major changes in society: the beings in whose interest society primarily has to be organized are not the ones we thought, since the normal state of a person is to be a defenseless zygote, and the minority of people who actually develop so far as to have such things as brains and skeletons are simply a lucky elite, in a relatively safe position, morally obligated to devote whatever effort they can to the well-being of their microscopic fellows. We need to reorganize most of our medical research into a vast project to prevent as many implantation failures and spontaneous abortions as possible. Currently, we don’t even note that most of these people exist–we can’t even tell when an egg gets fertilized until considerably after the fact, so something has to be done to change that state of affairs, presumably involving intrusive instrumentation to be implanted near the ovaries of every woman of fertile age (unless that would itself endanger the zygotes).

It might instead be easier to prevent this horrific death toll through the total prevention of conception in the first place, which I guess would imply that David Benatar’s proposal for wiping out the human species is not quite radical enough.

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Tracy W 11.18.08 at 12:04 pm

Thanks for the answer J Thomas. I’ve only lived with one dog, and she wasn’t independent by that definition except for the non-begging. On the other hand, she adored strangers and had the same sense of loyalty as the Vicar of Bray (a mutt, and an intelligent one, and we missed her very badly after old age eventually won).

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ME. 11.18.08 at 8:31 pm

Jesse M. ‘s thought experiment really doesn’t cut the mustard, for the same reason that Holbo’s “hair” analogy doesn’t. An arm is not an intrinsic organism at all, but rather a portion of one, in this case a detached portion. We know this because people have studied human anatomy long enough to figure out that if the arm falls off it will not regenerate nor can the arm itself develop into a full human being (without some offshoot of cloning coming into play).

Jesse M. is relying on a good deal of assumptions that he brings to the argument. For one, the assumption that “organism” equals “being” or “animal.” One wouldn’t cut the paw off of a lion and then point to the paw and say, “There is a lion,” precisely because we are able to distinguish the attributes that make up a lion, of which paw is only one. Note that these attributes are objective. We don’t look at a lemur and say, “sharpen it’s claws a bit and give it some fangs and it could be a lion.” Which is to say, we don’t impose some generic attributes or subjective sense in our definition of “lion.”

The other assumption Jesse brings is a more common one, that being the confusion between stages of development and objective being. In some regards this is the whole defense of the “person” argument, in that one can arbitrarily draw a line through any stage of development and plant a flag that says “person” on one side of it. If “organism” though is a fuzzy concept (and it’s not, as any good dictionary will show – http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/organism) then the concept of “person” is nearly meaningless, except as a free-flowing line that some “people” can use to write off others.

Matt McIrvin’s suggestion, just above, has been addressed by Ponnuru (and others) on countless occasions. It is pointless to use spontaneous abortion or the failure of the zygote to implant in the uterine wall as an excuse for abortion. The difference is the deliberate act of ending life as opposed to the natural process. To paraphrase Ponnuru, the likelihood of the death of elderly people is quite high but that fact is not a moral reason to justify deliberately killing them.

Alara Rogers reiterates a common recent argument that equates abortion with removing a person who has been attached in some way to another person as a “life-support system” without their consent. There are several problems with this line of reasoning. First, in all cases of pregnancy outside of rape or incest, consent is implied. There is a difference between consent and “intent.” Pregnancy is a natural outcome of sex. Indeed, as the parents in a consensual relationship bear the responsibility for the creation of the unborn child, it is doubly treacherous for them to destroy that life simply because they made a mistake. If we are to somehow accept the strange notion that pregnancy is some kind of punishment, can we not at least accept that people should pay for their own mistakes, rather than their children.

Second, one must weigh the moral consequences of “separation.” If the cost of separation is the death of one of the individuals, it can legitimately be argued that cost is too high in comparison with the limits to freedom and the relative risks of carrying a child to term. We do not allow people to kill others for convenience or liberty for a number of reasons, but in this special case, the life of an individual depends upon it.

Third, gestation is a temporary situation. The moral conflict in the unlikely example Alara offers diminishes significantly if the person in question needs only support for a limited time.

Together, these objections severly outweight the notion that pregnancy (rape and incest objections excepted) is the result of someone being forced to become life-support. It is however notable that the unborn child becomes the “other” in this view, with no rights beyond the will and freedom of the individual who bears them.

Finally, Holbo adds “(Rather, it is to hinge on the question of what is a living human organism.) And I’m inclined to think that’s not just wrong but basically a non-starter. “

There is no real answer here, other than a self-serving assertion that the position of the right to life based on “personhood” is superior to Ponnuru’s alternative position. However, Holbo offers no real substance, precisely because the argument from personhood is totally subjective, based on a collection of characteristics that shifts as it needs to in order to protect the “right” of choice. Ponnuru’s position is superior because it is an objective and fair approach to human rights. We call them human rights, instead of “person rights” for a reason.

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