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Pro-choice vs Pro-abortion
Posted: 27 August 2009 11:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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Chris Crawford - 27 August 2009 10:40 AM

I think you are conflating two different kinds of potentiality:

1. Potential that COULD be realized if some intervention in the natural course of events takes place.
2. Potential that WILL be realized if the natural course of events proceeds undisturbed.

An egg in a woman’s ovaries has potential #1, but a developing fetus has potential #2. This distinction, I think, undermines your argument.

I agree with Doug’s reply to this. The difference is only a matter of degree - the probability of becoming a person is higher or lower, but there is no bright line separating them. And, perhaps more importantly, Doug points out that moral implications do not follow logically from this distinction.

A zygote is just as human as a baby. As is a sperm. As is a skin cell.

I disagree. A zygote cannot write witty comments on a blog; a human can. You are asserting that the consideration must be black or white; I maintain that the matter is grey, with a zygote being just a tiny fraction of a human. I agree that those who maintain that a zygote is fully human have a weak case; but I acknowledge the inherent subjectivity of the problem.

But by the argument you just presented, a baby isn’t fully human, either. Moreover, a 6-year-old child is not fully human! Not to mention that a lot of adults are incapable of writing a witty comment.

However, I do not think there is anything gray in the right to life of a 6-year-old child or an adult with no sense of humor. As annoying as both can be.

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Posted: 27 August 2009 12:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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Chris C: There’s nothing magical or religious about claiming that a zygote has some degree of humanness. It’s a matter of recognizing the impossibility of drawing a definitive line between “human” and “non-human” for a developing fetus.

I also disagree with drawing a quantitative line of ‘human’ continuity between a skin cell, a zygote and a person. There are qualititative differences between skin cells, zygotes on the one hand, and a person on the other which render this approach less than useful. 

The magical thinking enters with the term ‘potential’, which may be why CC omitted it.

A hamster and a zygote might be at a similar stage of sentience and consciousness (though the hamster would definitely have an edge).  The effective difference in terms of ‘life’ is that the zygote might become a human in future.

The pseudo-secularist’s ‘potential human’ is only a place-holder for the religionist’s ‘soul’ - neither describe what exists. But what exists is the zygote growing in the body of the actual person (the woman). Raising the zygote (whether in the guise of its ‘soul’ or ‘potential’) over the woman and her autonomy - or placing them on an equal plane - expresses the fundamentally anti-human agenda of those calling themselves ‘pro-life’.

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Posted: 27 August 2009 01:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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dougsmith - 27 August 2009 10:51 AM

And why should we consider that a natural course of events is de facto morally superior?

Maybe for the same reason why we consider “unnatural” course of events (e.g. killing somebody, as opposed to allowing that person dying of old age) morally inferior (?).

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Posted: 27 August 2009 01:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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I think empirical observation is possible here, although it is noisy, but not any noisier than sociological data usually are. In most Communist countries, (early) abortion was completely legalized in the 1960s and no public debate was allowed on those issues. A large number of people born after 1960s in those countries did in fact grow up with no stigma attached to abortion. Probably not a majority, but far more than in Western Europe or America. The fact is that former Communist countries now have the highest rates of abortion. It is less clear that a lot more people don’t see it as a moral issue there than in the West, but I think it is likely enough that it is not fair to say that there is no more evidence for my hypothesis than for yours.

The example of the USSR is often raised by theists in an attempt to show what morality without religion would be like. I think it’s a bad example for several reasons. Not truly a secular society but one in which theistic religion was repressed by the “cult of the State.” And since many of the reaons for unintended pregnancies and abortions are socioeconomic, I think it’s a stretch to claim that the number of abortions in the former USSR somehow is a reflection of people growing up ith a secular attitude o morality.

I did not say that religion invented the ethical side of abortion - that it never was a secular ethical issue. (In fact, I do not believe that religion has ever invented any ethical issue, at least not successfully, in the sense that it would stick around. The most morally inventive religion has been is to come up with particular arbitrary rules when there was a secular demand for some kind of arbitrary rules.) What I said is that it is not a secular moral issue in our actual world, i.e., in the modern society, that could be justified by any mainstream secular principles of today.

Well, I would agree if you mean that restrictions on abortion cannot be justified by strictly secular arguments. That’s why I’m pro-choice. But what you said was “How is abortion a complicated moral issue from a secular viewpoint?...The only real ethical issue with early abortions is whether some women should be compelled to have an abortion.” That sound slike denying that there is a moral dilemma to be analyzed from a secular perspective, and I still disagree. What Chris and I are arguing is not that abortion should be restricted necessarily, but simply that the question doesn’t disappear if you take away the religious arguments about it. Do you disagree?

Long ago, societies had a need to increase their numbers, because that brought advantages in fighting wars, and arguably in labor force (although without wars or epidemics the expansion of labor typically ran into the Malthusian trap). Not having all the offspring one could have was therefore against the interests of the society. Thus, abortion was bad…But today the idea that women have to have as many children as possible, so that we could have a lot of warriors (or for any other purpose) is far out of the mainstream in any Western society.

Well, it’s almost a different discussion, but I don’t find this argumentfor why abortion came to be regarded as wrong at all convincing. As I indicated above, I think the tendancy to view the fetus as somehow “special” or “like us” is a psychological one rooted in the ways our brains interpret and organize phenomena. We have evolved the tendancy to view inanimate things as having agency and individuality, we see connections and similarities between things as meaningful in a deeper sense, and so on, and all of these traits lead us to view a dveloping human fetus as having some individuality and moral standing out of proportion to it’s actual neural capacity or whatever objective valuation we might make. These are the same kinds of cognitive devices that lead us to believ all sorts of irrational things, and while they probably evolved as useful and advantageous heuristics, they often lead us astray if not mitigated by sound reasoning. I think most moral questions, and religion, superstition, and many other ways humans view and describe the world, stem from these devices, and I see the abortion question as no different. I don’t see it as simply arising from either arbitrary religious dogma or some cultural belief that came about simply to support reproduction for labor and warfare.

That’s a silly argument, you are assuming that you can read my mind. How do you know what intuitive senses I have or lack? Of course you can’t know anything about it, so you shouldn’t talk about it.

Easy. you said “How is abortion a complicated moral issue from a secular viewpoint?...The very notion that it is an ethical issue is religious BS.” Clearly evident in that statement is the absence of any feeling that the fetus might be a moral agent with rights. You even argue that any such feeling only arises as a result of religious indoctrination, and clearly you don’t have it. My point was that the lack of this feeling makes you presum that no one else could have it without religious reasons, and when those of us who are not religious claim that we do in fact have a sense that the fetus has interests which must be considered, you dismiss this with a bit of trivial pop psychology as the result of our exposure to religion. Ultimately, this is an argument about why you feel one way and cannot imagine why anyone else might feel differently without the influence of religion.

 

You can’t imagine yourself as an embryo. If you think you are imagining yourself as an embryo, it can be demonstrated that what you are imagining yourself as is nothing like an embryo. Thus empathy fails - it is either nonexistent or false - and thus intuitive basis for ethical stance toward an embryo crumbles, and it was the last hope for a secular basis of ethical issues of (early at least) abortion.

I’ll ignore the stuff about magical tinking since I obviously didn’t explain clearly wat I meant and you thus misunderstood me. I was merely using it as an example of the kinds of irrational thinking that we engage in and which, I believe, underlies a lot of the feelings and intuition that lead us to moral debates.

As for the empathy argument, I think you’re once again making what I have come to call an Agument from Incredulity. You believe it impossible to empathize with a fetus because no one can imagine not having consciousness, and when they try to imagine being like a fetus the impressions they create are not accurate to what being a fetus is really like. But it is impossible for us to imagine being dead (again witout conasciousness), yet we can easily have false impressions of what it might be like that are very frightening (trapped with consciousness in a body that doesn’t work, for example). The fact is that the imagination leads to the emotion, and whether or not the imagined impressions are accurate, he emotions they generate are real. I would submit none of us can ever really imagine what it is like to be someone else, but empathy exists anyway because we feel like we can. I can imagine myself as a fetus hoping to be a “real boy” someday, and as ridiculous as this is, it can generate real empathy which creates for me a moral question. It may be irrational, but frankly I think most moral intuitions are far more emotional than rational, so if we are to base morality only on purely dispassionate thinking we’re going to have to throw out most of contemporary morality.

Now I do think that we have to use our reason to discount the feelings we generate about what fetushood feels like because they are irrational, and that is one reason why he interests of the fetus cannot compete with those of the woman, who clearly has a far greater capacity for real feelings and pinions, which is wat we often think counts towards earning status as a moral agent. But yo still sound like you’re dismissing the idea that a secularist could view a fetus as having interests at all unless it was the result of some kind of religious miasma that infected their thinking, and I still disagree.

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Posted: 27 August 2009 01:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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Doug, I do see a big difference between the two kinds of potential. Here’s a ridiculous example:

1*. Potential that could be realized if some intervention in the natural course of events takes place.
A man has the potential to die if somebody drops a boulder on his head.

2*. Potential that could be realized if the natural course of events proceeds undisturbed.
A man has the potential to die if a boulder naturally falls on his head.

It seems to me that these two cases are, from an ethical point of view, quite different.

But by the argument you just presented, a baby isn’t fully human, either. Moreover, a 6-year-old child is not fully human! Not to mention that a lot of adults are incapable of writing a witty comment.

However, I do not think there is anything gray in the right to life of a 6-year-old child or an adult with no sense of humor. As annoying as both can be.

Shiraz, your position strikes me as inconsistent. On the one hand, you argue that a 6-year-old child is 100% fully human, and that a zygote is 0% human. So at what point does a fetus jump from 0% human to 100% human?

also disagree with drawing a quantitative line of ‘human’ continuity between a skin cell, a zygote and a person.

OK, so you too argue that a zygote is 0% human, yet that same zygote, nine months later (after it has developed enormously), is unquestionably 100% human. So please tell me, at what point does it suddenly make the jump from 0% human to 100% human?

The pseudo-secularist’s ‘potential human’ is only a place-holder for the religionist’s ‘soul’ - neither describe what exists.

Your position is that the future outcome of present conditions does not exist, because it does not YET exist. Let’s explore that concept. Suppose that I inject you with a poison that will surely kill you in 24 hours. Have you any justification for being angry with me? After all, I have not done you any harm in the present. The injury I have done you exists only in the future—which by your reasoning does not exist in the present, and therefore has no significance. We can continue to be the best of friends until the poison takes effect in the future.

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Posted: 27 August 2009 01:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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George - 27 August 2009 01:14 PM
dougsmith - 27 August 2009 10:51 AM

And why should we consider that a natural course of events is de facto morally superior?

Maybe for the same reason why we consider “unnatural” course of events (e.g. killing somebody, as opposed to allowing that person dying of old age) morally inferior (?).

Not so for the general case. E.g., someone with a bad illness would naturally die if there were no intervention. We consider it morally superior to intervene.

Or if you put two oversexed fourteen year olds in a closed room for long enough, “naturally” the girl will get pregnant. But again, we don’t consider that the morally superior outcome. (Indeed, we consider it morally superior to intervene against what is otherwise “natural” in that case).

So there is no general societal assumption that what is “natural” is morally best. (Although in certain circumstances I know that “natural” is considered superior, at least as a marketing term).

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Posted: 27 August 2009 01:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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Chris Crawford - 27 August 2009 01:26 PM

Doug, I do see a big difference between the two kinds of potential. Here’s a ridiculous example:

1*. Potential that could be realized if some intervention in the natural course of events takes place.
A man has the potential to die if somebody drops a boulder on his head.

2*. Potential that could be realized if the natural course of events proceeds undisturbed.
A man has the potential to die if a boulder naturally falls on his head.

It seems to me that these two cases are, from an ethical point of view, quite different.

Sure, but they are not ethically different because of what is natural or unnatural. Rather, they are ethically different because one involves human agency and the other does not. Clearly, the only events that may be ethically judged are those that are agent caused.

Now, it might seem that unnatural events brought about by human agency were always morally inferior, but they are not. Reusing my above example, a doctor intervenes in the natural course of events to cure disease which otherwise would kill the patient. However, the doctor’s intervention is morally superior, even though it is an intervention in the natural course of events.

Again, I don’t think there’s an easy jump from asserting that a course of events is, in some sense, natural to saying that it is morally preferable.

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Posted: 27 August 2009 01:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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Sounds good, Doug. I think you summed it pretty well in here:

dougsmith - 27 August 2009 01:46 PM

the only events that may be ethically judged are those that are agent caused.

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Posted: 27 August 2009 02:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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Yes, I can certainly agree with the notion that agency is a necessary component in evaluating the moral worth of events. And I think we’re talking about agency here. Without the intervention of an agent, the fetus is most likely to develop into a human being, whereas without the intervention of an agent, a skin cell is not likely to develop into a human being. Thus, they can both be potentially human, but that potentiality is different in that one form of potentiality depends upon human intervention and the other does not.

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Posted: 27 August 2009 03:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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Chris Crawford - 27 August 2009 02:11 PM

Yes, I can certainly agree with the notion that agency is a necessary component in evaluating the moral worth of events. And I think we’re talking about agency here. Without the intervention of an agent, the fetus is most likely to develop into a human being, whereas without the intervention of an agent, a skin cell is not likely to develop into a human being. Thus, they can both be potentially human, but that potentiality is different in that one form of potentiality depends upon human intervention and the other does not.

Agreed. The question, however, is whether that’s a difference that makes a difference, ethically. As I’ve argued, I don’t think so.

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Posted: 27 August 2009 04:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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Boy, Doug, we are REALLY misunderstanding each other. As I read your comments, you appear to be saying that there is no ethical difference between murder and a fatal accident. I am absolutely certain that this is not your meaning. Could you clarify your meaning with respect to the difference between the agency of breeding a cell into a baby and the agency of aborting a fetus? As I see it, the first case is one of creating a potential life, which we presumably hold to be laudable, and the second case is a matter of terminating a potential life. Are you saying that creating a potential life and terminating a potential life are morally indistinguishable because they both involve agency?

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Posted: 27 August 2009 05:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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asanta - 26 August 2009 09:53 PM

Before the legalization of abortion, women who had money got them anyway, the doctor just called them something else. But there were also many, many women who died trying to abort, in ‘in back alleys, kitchen tables—you name it. Ask your mothers about it. Women ended up mutilated, or infertile, or dead. A woman that does NOT want to carry a child to term will do whatever is necessary not to carry the child to term. It has been this way throughout history, and I do not see it changing if abortion is outlawed. How could anyone possibly suppose that a woman who does not want to carry that child would make a good parent to the child?

Good points!  I completely agree that outlawing abortion would just mean more “back alley abortions”.  There was a time when the weight of that argument calmed the opposition, at least a bit.  I seem to remember that dominated the pro-choice side during the late 80’s.  Is that true?  I’m not sure; I was in middle school.

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Posted: 27 August 2009 08:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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This is not a simple issue.  I don’t find a bright line that separates an autonomous human being from something less.  But, I don’t equate a zygote with a newly delivered infant.  More importantly, and relevant to this thread, I don’t equate a woman capable of conception as an equal moral agent with a zygote.  If there is evidence that a zygote is sentient, can be removed from the woman without any harm to her, and developed to maturity independent of her then I would be forced to reconsider my position.  Until then, I would hope that abortion remain available for those women that feel they need that option.

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Posted: 27 August 2009 08:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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they are ethically different because one involves human agency and the other does not…Clearly, the only events that may be ethically judged are those that are agent caused…I don’t think there’s an easy jump from asserting that a course of events is, in some sense, natural to saying that it is morally preferable.

I’m confused here too. It sounds like you’re saying that if an event is the result of the actions of a moral agent, the action can be morally judged, but if it is a consequence of inanimate forces it cannot. I agree. But then you also seem to be saying there is no salient difference between miscarriage and abortion just because one is “natural” (in the sense of not caused by a human agent) and the other is human caused. Isn’t this a contradiction?

No one is saying that the “natural” death of a fetus is morally superior because of some sort of natural=good fallacy, only that it is not caused by the deliberate choice of a human agent and so does not pose an ethical question. The fact that the potential, one might even say the high probability these days, of the fetus to become a human being is an unfortunate loss either way. but there’s no point in considering the death a moral or ethical issue if it isn’t deliberate. But if it is, I still think that raises a moral question. Of course, it does then require us to make some sort of determination of what that potentiality is worth at various points in development, since no one is suggesting the “every sperm is sacred” notion either. But the fact is that abortion involves a deliberate choice to stop a natural process highly likely to result in a person, and that seems sufficient to me to merit at least considering it as a moral issue, which you and shiraz seem to be saying is impossible without recourse to religious principles.

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Posted: 28 August 2009 04:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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mckenzievmd - 27 August 2009 08:51 PM

they are ethically different because one involves human agency and the other does not…Clearly, the only events that may be ethically judged are those that are agent caused…I don’t think there’s an easy jump from asserting that a course of events is, in some sense, natural to saying that it is morally preferable.

I’m confused here too. It sounds like you’re saying that if an event is the result of the actions of a moral agent, the action can be morally judged, but if it is a consequence of inanimate forces it cannot. I agree. But then you also seem to be saying there is no salient difference between miscarriage and abortion just because one is “natural” (in the sense of not caused by a human agent) and the other is human caused. Isn’t this a contradiction?

I’m saying that a process’s being “natural” or not is irrelevant to its being ethically laudable or ethically condemnable. So one can’t simply argue that since an agent does something unnatural (or stops a natural process) that therefore that agent is doing something ethically wrong.

As I saw it, that was the essence of the argument that Chris was giving, above. (That since abortion stopped a natural process, it was wrong. See, e.g., my reconstruction in #30).

mckenzievmd - 27 August 2009 08:51 PM

No one is saying that the “natural” death of a fetus is morally superior because of some sort of natural=good fallacy, only that it is not caused by the deliberate choice of a human agent and so does not pose an ethical question. The fact that the potential, one might even say the high probability these days, of the fetus to become a human being is an unfortunate loss either way. but there’s no point in considering the death a moral or ethical issue if it isn’t deliberate. But if it is, I still think that raises a moral question. Of course, it does then require us to make some sort of determination of what that potentiality is worth at various points in development, since no one is suggesting the “every sperm is sacred” notion either. But the fact is that abortion involves a deliberate choice to stop a natural process highly likely to result in a person, and that seems sufficient to me to merit at least considering it as a moral issue, which you and shiraz seem to be saying is impossible without recourse to religious principles.

Well, I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as shiraz in saying that religious principles must be involved. I’d just say that I don’t see the argument that this is a moral issue.

Again, forbidding two oversexed fourteen year olds from sleeping together in the same bed “stops a natural process highly likely to result in a person” as well. So is it wrong?

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