Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Q & A on the Abortion Question

This note comes to me from Steve C.:

I heard Mr. Provenzo on the Laura Ingraham Show, and although I do not agree with him, I would like to thank him for going on to discuss his views. Knowing Laura I'm sure he had a fair idea of what he would receive, but he went on anyway, and I salute him.

One thing that he mentioned in his interview with her was that he believed that human life begins at birth, or once the baby is out of the birth canal. To me this is a very problematic view, and I would like to ask Mr. Provenzo two questions-

1.) Does location decide worth? It seems to me that the ONLY difference between an unborn child moments before birth, and a child moments after birth is location. Ontologically there is no change. The child's nature hasn't changed- same DNA, same level of development, same physique- only his "home" has changed. So, does human worth depend on our location? ...Also, it must be said, that since the unborn depend on their mother's bodies to survive, this in no way negates their right to full human status. All this shows is that human life's viability is dependent on at least two environments during it's natural existence. To pull a fetus from the womb will kill it as sure as if we held a grown man under the water. In BOTH cases we have pulled a human being from the environment best suited to sustain it's life at that level of development.

2.) Isn't the development of the unborn itself proof of life before birth? To say life begins at birth begs the very question. For the development necessary to bring an unborn to that point is one of the four criteria used to define life. The unborn from conception have all four criteria- metabolism, development, growth, and reproduction (in it's DNA). How can anyone deny the process within the womb as being signs of life, and then affirm the very same process outside the womb? Do not babies continue to develop after birth? ...And isn't this a form of prejudice? Developism? You seem to prefer one set of developmental stages over another purely out of preference.
I thank Steve for his questions and I'm happy to attempt to answer them as I can. To start with his first, I do not argue that a fetus/newborn child's location decides its worth. I say that its location decides its rights.

For example, for a woman who wants nothing more than to have a child, a fetus's worth is inestimable the moment it is first conceived in her womb. In contrast, for woman who does not wish to have a child, a fetus inside her carries no worth.

In this light, I say that it is only the question of individual rights that must concern us. I argue that in the womb and until birth, a woman's right to her own life and her own body supersedes any right of her fetus to be born--that is, if the woman wishes to terminate her pregnancy. A woman assigns worth to both her own live and values and in the case of her pregnancy, that of her fetus. Because we are dealing with a woman's independent body and her own internal processes, a woman's personal evaluation of her life (and her wishes for it) are and must be sovereign.

I think that Steve sees this to a certain degree when he points out that a fetus's existence is dependent upon a woman's body to survive, even if he seeks a different conclusion in respecting the right to choose to have an abortion than I do. In the womb, the fetus is physically dependent upon the woman. A woman must be able to regulate that dependence and shut it down if she judges the needs of her own life to be incompatible with its continued existence.

"Outside the hatch," as I so eloquently put it when I was a guest on the Ingraham show yesterday, the context completely changes. Now giving birth to full-fledged newborn child with a conscious faculty, biological and physical independence, the child enjoys its right to its life and its parents have a moral responsibility to care for the child that they created until it is able to sustain itself.

I think that by reading through my answer, above, one can see why I am not so concerned with the issues Steve raises in his second question. For example, I might not be particularly impressed with a woman who waits until the last moment to abort a healthy fetus absent a particularly compelling cause (such as knowledge of retardation). I might even wonder exactly what such a woman was waiting for in delaying her abortion. Nevertheless, I still and absolutely hold that such a woman has the right to abort her pregnancy; furthermore, if she is acting in her rational self-interest (a far, far more demanding task that many of my opponents consider it to be), I would hold her choice to be fully moral. I hold that rational morality comprises of those choices that advance individual human life without coercion or sacrifice. To deny a woman the right to abort an unwanted fetus would compel her against her will to sacrifice her life in the name of the unborn. I oppose any such attempt with the fiber of my being because no one has the right to coerce another in such a manner, least of all here.

9 comments:

Acolyte4236 said...

It may be true that a woman views her unborn child as having no worth, but it doesn’t follow that the child in fact has no value or worth, unless of course one wishes to entertain alethic and/or moral relativism.

And birth takes place for infants at different stages of development. So far science is able to remove and sustain children at about 4 ½ months. It seems odd to think that human evolution has sped up to veritable light speed rather than just thinking that they were human all the while. It also seems absurd to think that the mere attitudinal relation of the woman to her child determines the metaphysical identity of the child, unless you wish to dump your Rationalism for Idealism, where the mental is the real.

As I noted in previous posts here, you confuse processes that occur within a woman’s body with processes of her body. Since the child has its own DNA and its own self organizing behavior it is merely connected to the woman’s body, it biologically it is not the woman’s body. This is a fairly well established scientific fact. And the state regulates what one does with one’s body in many other instances so even if it were the woman’s body it doesn’t follow that she has an absolute right to do as she fancies.

And if we take nature to be our guide, while it is true that the child (fetus is Latin for baby anyhow) depends on the woman, it is also true that nature so structures the relation between mother and child that if the woman is lacking in nutrients the woman’s body will take nutrients from her own tissue and give it to the baby. The woman will therefore die before the child does.

As for the “outside the hatch” it isn’t clear how the assumption of radical autonomy is to be justified. As for consciousness, children simply do not enjoy the kind of consciousness that self reliant teenagers do. My dog is conscious as well, but it hardly seems a sufficient basis to afford my dog legal rights. And it seems inconsistent to argue that the parents have a moral obligation to the child they created (and when did they create a child again?) until it can sustain itself and then argue from the fact that it can’t sustain itself in the womb that the parents bear no moral responsibility to the child. If the parents bear no responsibility to the child when it cannot sustain itself in the womb, I see no reason to think that they do so when it is outside the womb and just as helpless.

And the reasoning from rational self interest would also justify the slave owners right to deem a slave as having no intrinsic value and as property and to justifiably kill the slave without due process out of the rational self interest of the slave owner. After all the slave owner ascribes only the value of property to the slave and doesn’t judge the slave to be human or a person. As for no one having he right to coerce another this begs the question since it assumes what is at issue, whether the unborn entity is a human being or not. If it is, then the mother doesn’t have the right to coerce the child into death. And one can see that this is so on sonograms of abortions where the child literally tries to move away from the saline poison that burns it alive or to get away from the abortionists hands that hold it or cut its limbs off while it is alive. So this line of reasoning about autonomy and coercion is question begging at best and if the unborn child is a human being only serves to strengthen the pro-life position.

Anthony said...

"Now giving birth to full-fledged newborn child with a conscious faculty, biological and physical independence, the child enjoys its right to its life and its parents have a moral responsibility to care for the child that they created until it is able to sustain itself."

Why? Why do parents "have a moral responsibility to care for the child that they created until it is able to sustain itself"? And why do parents not "have a moral responsibility to care for the fetus that they created until it is able to sustain itself"?

Furthermore, what level of care is necessary? If a newborn is terminally ill, can the parents choose to terminate life support? What life support can be withdrawn, and how where is the line as to how ill the newborn must be?

Why does society not have the right to stop a 39 week pregnant woman from electing an abortion on a whim, but does have the right to stop the mother of a newborn from killing her child?

Jefferson said...

"it doesn’t follow that the [fetus] in fact has no value or worth"

What matters here is its value to the pregnant woman, because she is the one facing a choice. This is not "moral relativism," it's Objectivism. The idea that a fetus might have value to itself is irrelevant here because the fetus doesn't have rights. Ayn Rand explains that rights exist because it is in each person's self-interest not to initiate force against other people (emergency situations aside). Seeking value through the initiation of force against other people is harmful to your own mental health. It is the act of a second-hander; an admission of your incompetence to deal directly with reality, i.e. that you exist as a parasite, i.e. that you sustain your life only by sacrificing others to yourself.

The relationship between a pregnant woman and her fetus is different from that between two biologically independent human beings because in the former case the woman is not seeking to gain some positive value by aborting an unwanted fetus, only to avoid the harm to her values which the fetus is causing. She is not existing as a parasite on her fetus, or sacrificing it to herself. As Nick explained, she is simply controlling the internal functioning of her own body in order to advance her own life. This involves initiating force against the fetus, just as taking an antibiotic pill involves initiating force against the bacteria living in your intestinal tract. In neither case does this constitute being a second-hander. Therefore, it would be incorrect to say that a fetus has rights, just as it is incorrect to say that the bacteria living inside you have rights.


"the state regulates what one does with one’s body in many other instances"

One inherent distinction of the concept of rights is that they pre-exist the state. As described above, they come from the principle that guides a rationally self-interested person in his interaction with others.


"If the parents bear no responsibility to the child when it cannot sustain itself in the womb, I see no reason to think that they do so when it is outside the womb and just as helpless."

As explained above, a fetus in the womb does not have rights. But once it is biologically independent, a human being does have rights; to initiate force against that human being does make a person a second-hander. At this point the parents are responsible for sustaining the child because they brought it into the world--they put it in the helpless position it is in. Now that it is a rights-possessing individual, they have the obligation to see it through to maturity, when it can sustain itself.


"the reasoning from rational self interest would also justify the slave owners right to..."

Again, human beings have rights. To enslave another human being would make you a second-hander.


Unfortunately I don't have the time to engage in more of a discussion with you, but I enjoyed your questions and want to thank you for reading what I have to say. All of what I've said in this comment comes from Ayn Rand's philosophy, so if some of the concepts are unclear (as I'm sure they are, e.g. the concept of a second-hander) I encourage you to go to the source to learn more. You may or may not find her arguments convincing, but please don't dismiss her philosophy based on what I have and haven't written here. I know it's incomplete; it's a comment on a blog after all.

For a high quality discussion of Ayn Rand's ideas on ethics, I suggest Tara Smith's book, Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist.
http://www.amazon.com/Ayn-Rands-Normative-Ethics-Virtuous/dp/0521705460/ref=pd_bbs_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1222226299&sr=8-1

Jefferson said...

I should clarify: when I said my comment "comes from Ayn Rand's philosophy" I should probably have said that it is based on my understanding of her philosophy. I used some formulations that she didn't, so if you want her unadulterated views it's best to go to the source.

Acolyte4236 said...

Jefferson,

First, as I noted, fetus is Latin for baby, so substituting baby in a foreign language doesn’t change anything. A rose by any other name...Second, Objectivism would imply a form of moral relativism if the moral value of objects is relative to the doxastic states of ascribers of moral value. Simply because a woman doesn’t deem a child as valuable it doesn’t in fact follow that the child lacks moral value any more than a Nazi doesn’t ascribe moral value to a Jew that it follows that a Jew lacks moral value. The child and the Jew both have value despite the views of the respective ascribers.

And it is quite relevant if the child has value irrespective of the law for the same reason that African Americans had value in the era of slavery and Jim Crow despite the law denying them rights. As far as the law was concerned, they had “no rights.” The right to life is a natural right and inalienable which means that the state can infringe upon it or violate it, but the state does not grant it to you and hence cannot ever take it away. So if the child has the right to life, then it does so whether the law recognizes that right or not. And if it does have that right, then whatever the law may be it is immoral to violate that right by taking the life of the child. So your claim of irrelevancy is question begging since it depends on whether the child is human and has the right to life or not. Your point could only go through on the assumption that it is not a human being and hence has no right to life.

I am sufficiently familiar with ethical egoism and Rand’s Objectivism. As a philosopher, I don’t find it unique or philosophically worthwhile. In any case, explaining it to me doesn’t amount to an argument in defense of it and it doesn’t touch the arguments I have made. Furthermore, it may be true that the use of force to establish value may be detrimental to me but it doesn’t follow that it is immoral to do so for the simple reason that the value of the consequent has yet to be established. To put it another way, it may be the case that such and so behaviors are detrimental to survival and such and so behaviors are beneficial to survival, but that doesn’t have any moral import until we know on independent grounds whether survival is to be valued or not. And no consequential analysis can tell us if it is or not. You need a non-consequentialist or non-axiological argument to show that the end or telos is valuable in the first place rather than just arbitrarily and irrationally assuming that it is so simply because it seems obvious to you or you can’t imagine it being otherwise. That would only amount to a reporting of your psychology and not an argument for it.

So claiming that it is harmful to my mental health presupposes an unargued for standard of moral goodness. And I don’t know why you get to assume that. It is an arbitrary starting point or axiom and hence irrational.

The woman in aborting her child is controlling some of the functions of her body but at the expense of the functioning of another agent’s body since the body of the child is not the body of the woman. This is an established medical fact. Likewise slave owners argued in principle that owning slaves, not to mention disposing of them, was not only to benefit the slave owner but to rid them of “harm” bad slaves caused them. The National Socialists argued the same way that unwanted agents were harming the state by refusing to embrace the vision of the future that the régime put forward and hence were harming everyone. In fact, this was the main motive for introducing abortion into the US by Margarent Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, to rid the US population of the “unwanted races.” And this is why she worked with the National Socialists in Germany on their eugenics program prior to the war. Democracy is a numbers game and fewer Africans, Asians and Latino’s translates into less political power. And this is why to this day about 75% of all Planned Parenthood clinics are in minority neighborhoods. Gee, what a coincidence. What a historical irony that those minorities whom abortion harms politically the most have been conned into advocating it. It keeps them a minority.

Furthermore, it is a flat out false analogy in comparing bacteria to a child. The relationship biologically is not the same. Bacteria does not have 50% of the DNA of the mother and has a parasitic relationship to its host whereas the baby does not have a parasitic relationship. While parasitic relationships are dependent relationships, it doesn’t follow that all dependence relationships are parasitic. Furthermore, your body doesn’t shuttle away nutrients to an infection rather than giving it to you as it naturally does in the case of a baby. In fact, the body of the woman goes out of its way to lower the woman’s biological defenses to protect the baby, which is exactly the opposite relation in the cases of bacterial infection. And bacteria are not a self organizing human entity. Bacteria will not grow into another full blown human entity but a child will. A zygote, embryo and fetus are names of the developmental stages of a baby and hence you did not come from them, but rather were them. A zygote is not a potential human since it already has everything humans have genetically speaking, but rather it is a human being with much potential. Consequently you are comparing apples and oranges. It is a fallacy of false analogy.

If you concede that the state does not confer natural rights, then you cannot consistently argue that the question of value of the child or its current lack of recognized legal rights is irrelevant. Rather it is the other way around. If the state does not confer natural rights, then it is irrelevant whether the state confers legal rights on the child or not since if the child is a human being, it already has them whether the state recognizes them or not. So you need to establish that the baby is not a human being while located in the woman. So far, I haven’t seen any argument to even attempt to demonstrate this thesis. And I don’t know why you keep appealing to your assumed and specific moral theory as a basis for public policy while precluding others from doing so. My claims and arguments are by and large compatible with multiple ethical theories in normative ethics and so my public policy doesn’t depend on my specific worldview assumptions. But it strikes me of something akin to intellectual imperialism to require others to accede to your policy grounded in your unargued for ethical worldview or religion.

Saying over again that a baby has no rights is not an answer to my point that if the parents are not morally obligated to the life they created while it is in the womb that there is no reason to think that they are so when it is out of the womb. The argument is a reductio. The latter is absurd and so is the former via modus tollens. Further, a baby is always biologically independent in terms of being a unique organism since it has its own DNA, blood type, etc. That it is helpless and dependent doesn’t change even after birth. The fact that it is connected to a woman doesn’t render it an appendage or alter its nature. Its nature is human nonetheless and that is a verifiable fact. And parents put the child in a helpless position via their baby making behavior so by parity of reasoning they bear a responsibility for it while it is in the woman. You can’t have it both ways here. If they bear no responsibility in the womb and it is fundamentally the same object outside of the womb, then they bear no responsibility when it is outside the womb. It is specious to argue that the cutting of the umbilical cord or its change in location alters its metaphysics unless you think that the vaginal canal is donned with magical metaphysical powers, which is absurd. Individuality isn’t established by a lack of dependence but by the nature of the object under consideration.

Asserting that human beings have rights isn’t an argument that they do or that your worldview can actually ground or justify that belief. Furthermore, there are many notions of rights, so you need to be specific in the idea that you are picking out. Further to assert that slaves are human beings without an argument is question begging since slave owners simply denied that slaves were fully human. They were at best 3/5ths persons according to the US Constitution. So to put a quasi human into servitude to me wouldn’t make me a second hander any more than putting a chimp in a zoo would and chimps are conscious to boot. The same fundamental move was made by the National Socialists. Executing Jews wasn’t murder under the law since Jews, Gypsises, etc. weren’t defined by law as human beings. They had no rights, just as you said about babies. The reasoning is the same. Just ignore the nature of the object and impose some arbitrary demarcating condition that the individual fails to meet, usually in terms of some ability and presto! A non-human and a non-person. It isn’t murder after all (wink, wink) since they aren’t human under the law and have no rights.

Brian said...

"First, as I noted, fetus is Latin for baby, so substituting baby in a foreign language doesn’t change anything."

First, it didn't mean "baby", it meant "offspring". Second, nobody is substituting anything. For the last 700 years, this word has been used in the English language, and in English it means, "the young of viviparous animals in the womb." (OED) So you're argument is a poor attempt at relabeling a fetus a "baby" with the assumed connotations that we presently associate with that word.

"A rose by any other name..."

And a fetus, by any other name, is still not a "baby", by any definition of the word, dating all the way back to its origins, which OED states is probably "from infantile utterance" , ie a child who has been born and is speaking.

"Objectivism would imply a form of moral relativism if the moral value of objects is relative to the doxastic states of ascribers of moral value."

How so? If everyone acts rationally toward to their self-interest, they would only assign value to those things that forward their goals and other sources of value. This is quite different from the moral relativism of every religion on Earth, which assigns an unidentifiable, indescribable subjective innate source of morality, which people must assume as a set of commandments, without explanation. Even popular atheists like Hitchens and Dawkins prescribe to moral relativism when they say that it is sourced in your intuition, as if you can just listen to an "inner self" and it will tell you all the answers.

"Simply because a woman doesn’t deem a child as valuable it doesn’t in fact follow that the child lacks moral value"

Value to whom?

"any more than a Nazi doesn’t ascribe moral value to a Jew that it follows that a Jew lacks moral value."

Completely different. The Jew has a reasoning mind and goals. Whether or not a Nazi finds the Jew valuable does not change that fact. He is an end in himself.

"The right to life is a natural right and inalienable which means that the state can infringe upon it or violate it, but the state does not grant it to you and hence cannot ever take it away."

That is correct.

"So if the child has the right to life"
A fetus does not.

"As a philosopher, I don’t find it unique or philosophically worthwhile."

You've characterized Rand's philosophy, but you have not shown that your characterization is accurate.

"In any case, explaining it to me doesn’t amount to an argument in defense of it and it doesn’t touch the arguments I have made."

You use words like "morality" and "right", but then when someone comes along to explain the source of these concepts, you call it a philosophy - a philosophy that you label "not worthwhile". What you're doing is wishing to use these words freely, without reference to concepts, as it becomes convenient to your argument to use them. Words refer to concepts, and to use them without reference to those concepts, or without care as to the nature of those concepts, is to construct grammatically-correct, but entirely incoherent sentences.

"the body of the child is not the body of the woman."

If that is the case, remove the fetus from the woman, and see if it survives on its own, without any outside assistance. Again, you're using words without reference to context.

"Likewise slave owners argued in principle that owning slaves, not to mention disposing of them, was not only to benefit the slave owner but to rid them of “harm” bad slaves caused them. The National Socialists argued the same way that unwanted agents were harming the state by refusing to embrace the vision of the future that the régime put forward and hence were harming everyone."

The difference is that those "unwanted" people of whom they wish to dispose have individual rights as rational beings, do not directly rely upon others for their survival, and if you leave them on their own, unassisted, they will survive.

"In fact, this was the main motive for introducing abortion into the US by Margarent Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, to rid the US population of the “unwanted races.”

Guilt by association.

"What a historical irony that those minorities whom abortion harms politically the most have been conned into advocating it. It keeps them a minority."

Babies don't just pop out of nowhere. People have sex to produce them. I'd blame religious advocacy for abstinence, which goes hand-in-hand with bad parenting, on this situation. Regardless, guilt by association or tradition is still a fallacy in argumentation.

"Bacteria does not have 50% of the DNA of the mother and has a parasitic relationship to its host"

How about a tumor? It has 100% of the DNA.

"whereas the baby does not have a parasitic relationship."
Again, remove the fetus from the womb, leave it alone and see if it survives. Again, words without reference to concept or context do not an argument make.

"While parasitic relationships are dependent relationships, it doesn’t follow that all dependence relationships are parasitic."
Nobody's talking about "all dependence relationships." We're talking about this one. I challenge you to explain how it is not a parasitic relationship, without contradicting yourself.

"Furthermore, your body doesn’t shuttle away nutrients to an infection rather than giving it to you as it naturally does in the case of a baby."
The same goes for a cancerous tumor. It thrives on your body's blood supply, and gets your body to generate additional vessels for further nutrients. Your body happily (ignorantly) complies.

"In fact, the body of the woman goes out of its way to lower the woman’s biological defenses to protect the baby, which is exactly the opposite relation in the cases of bacterial infection."

Again, you're arguing from evolution. Whereas you don't appeal to eugenics, you indirectly do so by conveniently appealing to its foundation.

"A zygote is not a potential human since it already has everything humans have genetically speaking"

Now define "human", and see how your definition differs from that used by those with whom you're arguing. Then attempt to justify your definition.

"I don’t know why you keep appealing to your assumed and specific moral theory as a basis for public policy while precluding others from doing so."

Because others appeal to moral relativism or innatism, which is has no basis in the facts of reality.

"My claims and arguments are by and large compatible with multiple ethical theories in normative ethics and so my public policy doesn’t depend on my specific worldview assumptions."

It is dependent upon the relativism at the basis of these ethical theories.

"But it strikes me of something akin to intellectual imperialism to require others to accede to your policy grounded in your unargued for ethical worldview or religion."

Whether or not it has been explained it detail here does not imply that there is no explanation. Do some reading... oh, that's right, you don't accept Rand's philosophy as worthwhile, but you would like it explained in detail, without explaining it.

"If they bear no responsibility in the womb and it is fundamentally the same object outside of the womb, then they bear no responsibility when it is outside the womb."

I'll quote from the one-minute case for abortion, since they put it so succinctly:

"A fetus is not an independent entity - in order to live, it must drain the resources of the mother – it is literally a parasite until it is born. A newly-born infant is also helpless, but it does not impose a burden on the mother by its very existence - others may choose to provide for it. A parent who chooses to bring an human being into the world accepts an obligation to ensure that it is provided for, but until that choice is made, the fetus has no more right to live of the mother than a thief has to live on other’s wealth."

"Asserting that human beings have rights isn't an argument that they do or that your worldview can actually ground or justify that belief."

Of course not. Nobody is simply making this assertion. There are plenty of resources for you to understand the foundation for rights. Whether or not you consider them "worthwhile" is a different matter.

"Further to assert that slaves are human beings without an argument"
They are ends in themselves. They are beings with the capacity for rationality, who choose to live, and it is right for them to choose to be rational in order to survive.

"They were at best 3/5ths persons according to the US Constitution."

Again, guilt by association, appeal to tradition, all fallacies.

Acolyte4236 said...

Brian,

Fetus is a Latin term regardless of English usage. I’d suggest you check a Latin lexicon. Second it is a medical term used to denote the stages of development of a human being and not a potential human being. And even if it weren’t a Latin term it wouldn’t follow that simply renaming it implies that it isn’t a human being. And yes, babies are offspring, which is how Latin writers have used the term. And viviparous simply means “living young.”

If Objectivism implied that the truth of moral judgments and the moral value of those judgments was dependent on the judgment of the individual or a group, that would be moral relativism. Moral relativism is the thesis that we are the truth makers of moral judgments. Further most world religions reject moral relativism since they deny that we are the truth makers of moral judgments. The major monotheistic religions of the world for example are moral realists and moral universalists and hence are incompatible logically with moral relativism. And moral relativism and moral subjectivism are distinct theses where the latter is that we are the truth makers of moral judgments whereas the former is about the location of the truth maker. The truth maker of moral judgments could be within human nature, but that would only entail moral relativism is human nature was constructed by us, but it isn’t. So you are conflating two different ideas.

If Hitchens and Dawkins appeal to intuition it doesn’t follow that they are moral relativists since intuition is simply that which strikes one as directly true or false. Intuitionism in modern moral theory is not compatible with moral relativism since it denies that we are the truth makers of moral judgments.
Further you assume that everyone’s self interest aims at the same goal, which is an unargued for assumption. Not only that you assume that reason is some universal immutable power or entity that is the same across time and space for everyone. That sounds like a God substitute. Furthermore, I have given examples of where my self interest can conflict with someone elses, implying that the same act can be both moral and immoral, relative to different interests. If one were a Platonist, this wouldn’t follow given what Plato says about the nature of the Good, but Objectivists aren’t self professing Platonists so I don’t know how you can stave off moral relativism here.

You ask to whom would a child be valuable but why think that value depends on ascriptions of value? On moral realism good things are good regardless of whether one thinks so or not. Likewise things can be evil regardless of what one thinks so or not, which is why it is possible on moral realism for people to make moral mistakes. On your view it seems it is impossible for people to make moral mistakes since their judgment is the truth maker for their moral judgments. But there are in fact clear cases of moral mistakes and therefore your view is false.

When you argue that the Jew has a mind and goals, I am not sure what you mean by “mind” if you mean something else other than a brain. Do you mean by “mind” something non-physical like a soul? If not, slaves had brains and so do primates and have goals as well and yet they had and have no legal rights. Simply asserting that Jews were intrinsically valuable isn’t a reason on your view of the world for thinking so. So my argument is untouched. If you argue that the moral value of an object of act depends on the moral value ascribed to it, then it follows just as much in the case of slavery and Jews in WW2 Germany as it does to the case of abortion.

If life is a natural right and parents create life, when do parents create the life? And further if the baby is alive, why doesn’t it have the natural right to life since natural rights are not given by the state but are inherent and intrinsic?

I didn’t think that I needed to show that my characterization of Rand’s philosophy in my general comments is correct. Is it not a species of rationalism and ethical egoism? Neither rationalism or ethical egoism are unique to Rand. Second, Rationalism is irrational since the selection of its initial axioms is arbitrary and non-rational. As an epistemology I think it is inadequate and I am hardly alone in the philosophical community for thinking so.

As far as calling things “philosophy” I don’t think you have grasped the situation. When I have used philosophical terms like morality, wrong, right, etc. I already indicated that I can cash them out in terms of a variety of normative ethical theories such as Kantianism, Utilitarianism or Virtue Ethics and my arguments will still go through so that my arguments do not turn or depend on a specific ethical model. The arguments presented here by Objectivists self professedly do depend on a specific ethical model as such advocated in the main by Rand.

As for words, not all words refer to concepts and it is philosophically controversial as to whether meaning is solely constituted by reference. Secondly, you’d need to actually demonstrate that I used words without any conceptual reference. You fallaciously slid from the fact that the terms of the argument weren’t the sole property of a given normative theory that they weren’t meaningful in any normative theory.

A dependence relation between the baby and the woman doesn’t establish that the child’s body is the woman’s body anymore than removing a blood transfusion recipient from the body giving the blood and the formers' resulting death proves that the former is the body of the latter. Things can be distinct without being separable. And in fact, infants at about 4 months now can be removed from the woman and live. What will be the argument when science advances and we get it down to 3 months or 2? Did the fundamental nature of reality change with scientific advances? That is absurd, unless you embrace some form of Idealism. Second, even if you take a newborn and leave it alone it will die. Even a one year old or probably a two year old can’t sustain itself. In fact if you take the average adult and drop them naked into the wild they cannot survive in the vast majority of cases on their own. So your criteria is insufficient to identify the body. Further, the child for the majority of the pregnancy has its own hands, arms, feet, legs, etc. Your criteria would imply that women have four arms, four eyes, two heads and are hermaphrodites when pregnant with males. In order to be the body of the woman the infant would have to have the same blood type and DNA but it doesn’t. Consequently that the child is not the body of the woman is a well established medical fact.

You assert that the case of slaves was different since the slaves had individual rights, but under the law they did not, just like the baby. And my mentioning of Sanger is not guilt by association but rather guilt by participation since the same reasoning underlies both positions and the major advocates of abortion have been either complicit or active in promoting it for those specific ends. And if the moral reasoning for a given position is identical to that of, and not merely contiguous with obviously immoral persons, that is a good reason for thinking that there is something wrong with the position.

Obviously babies don’t pop out of nowhere so when did parents produce a baby? Obviously not at birth. Changing location doesn’t bring large objects into existence, unless of course you live in a fairy tale land of magic.

Since you shift your example to that of a tumor I take that as an implicit admission that the example of bacteria is a false analogy. But the tumor is also a weak analogy for the following reasons. First it isn’t clear that tumors have identical DNA to a woman. Second, even if they did, that only establishes that the have a necessary condition to being a human being, but it doesn’t establish a sufficient condition since tumors are obviously not human beings. Third, tumors are obviously not human beings or pre-born babies by current scientific standards. If they were, doctors would tell women that they had cancer or some benign tumor but they don't. Fourth, if mere change in location were sufficient to alter human DNA into a human being, when tumors were removed they would be turned into human beings, which is false. Fifth, tumors are not self organizing and hence would never mature into an adult human if only supplied with nutrients so they lack a sufficient condition to being considered a human being. But such is not the case with babies.

Babies do not have a parasitic relationship with the mother for a number of reasons. First, the baby is not an entity of a different nature than the mother. Parasites are defined as an organism of one species living off of another organism of a different species. Second, parasites are introduced from an external source, infants are not. Third, nature equips women to reproduce, but it doesn’t equip them be support tape worms or produce them. Fourth, parasites are generally harmful to the individual and the species as a whole, and such is not the case for babies. Fifth, the connection between the baby and the mother is temporary and relatively short, whereas this is not the case with a parasite. Sixth, the mother’s body protects the baby from antibodies and such is not the case with a parasite.

As for words without reference to concepts or a context not making an argument, words with reference to either or both of them do not make an argument either since arguments are at least a premise and a conclusion connected by an inference rule. If the inference rule is truth preserving then the argument is good and if not it is a bad one. In symbolic logic, arguments can lack all kinds of context and conceptual content which is why you can evaluate an argument without reference to any context and just based on the symbols and rules.

As for autonomy again it seems like a gross mistake to argue from the helplessness of the baby to identify its nature. Simply because not all of its powers are capable of being actualized in the womb doesn’t imply that it isn’t human since those same powers of reasoning and support aren’t capable of being actualized until long after it is outside of the womb. If the criteria you proffer were sufficient, then it would follow that parents bear no responsibility for children until they can support themselves since they aren’t children until they can do so. This is absurd.

The conceptual slide has been made here from noting that the baby has a dependent relationship on the mother to the idea that it is a parasitic relationship. If you didn’t make this conceptual slide you would not have suggested that the relation between mother and child is parasitic in nature and hence it was necessary to point out that while all parasitic relationships are dependent not all dependent relationships are parasitic showing that it in no way follows that the baby is a parasite.

As for nutrients your body doesn’t give tumors privileged access to nutrients but rather tumors actively deprive the body of them so the relation is not the same. And the woman's body doesn't produce milk for the tumors. Moreover, the reproductive system reproduces humans, and not tumors. So while it is true that tumors thrive on bodily nutrients, it is false that the body gives them pride of place as it does with a baby, indicating that the two are disanalogous and not comparable.

I am not arguing from evolution when I noted that the woman’s body protects the infant, but rather from biology. Evolution is a mechanism of species change in a specific ecological niche, and not a specific biological process. I referenced the processes and not evolution.

The definition of human is not a burden my position alone bears since your position needs to define it as well. Second, consciousness is inadequate as well as reasoning since certain other species enjoy those powers as well such as certain primates for example. Third, they are inadequate logically given the possibility of non-human intelligent life. Suppose there evolves on another planet intelligent life as intelligent as human beings. Are they human since they can reason and are self aware? No. The conditions of consciousness and rationality are here being conflated with the conditions for agency. All humans may be agents but it doesn’t follow that all agents are human so these are not sufficient conditions for being human. A zygote has distinct human DNA and is self organizing to mature into an adult of the human species and it is derived from existing humans. That seems like a sufficient rough and ready set of conditions to distinguish humans from non-human beings. It doesn’t matter if my definition differs from yours but if it is a good one and if yours is a bad one. The justification of my definition is that it comports with what we know medically and historically about humans on this planet and it excludes cases of tumors, parasites, etc. which are obviously not human beings.

Moral realism doesn’t appeal to or depend on moral relativism. Take Virtue Theory for example. It is incompatible with moral relativism and such is the case with most moral theories in Normative Ethics. As for innatism, if you mean by that, that morality is grounded in some built in property or power, isn’t that your position, namely that morality is a function of an innate power, namely “reason?”

You claim that my arguments depend on moral relativism, but in fact they are all incompatible with it for the simple reason that the truth maker for the moral judgments in the arguments is not human judgment but is in fact independent of it. Kantianism, Utilitarianism, and Virtue Theory are not the same theory as Moral Relativism. Moral relativism is the thesis that we are the truth makers of moral judgments and my position logically precludes moral relativism but your species of ethical egoism doesn't seem to do so. If you think this is not the case, then you need to give an argument showing that my view is in fact not a realist one but in fact implies moral relativism. So far, all I have from you is a bald assertion.

I have done plenty of reading in ethics and taugh tit for six years, but again, you should at least give your interlocutors some reason for thinking that your ethical theory is to be preferred rather than simply repeating it as some unquestionable basis for morality and public policy that everyone must accept.

As for the one minute case, I have already refuted that the baby is a parasite by contemporary scientific and philosophical criteria. Second, I have shown that if a person does or does not accept an obligation to care for a child, this does not imply that the obligation is dependent on acceptance of it on pain of moral relativism. One can be morally bound to act even if one rejects that obligation to do so. Further, in the vast majority of cases the mother has consented to take on the possible responsibility of a child by knowingly and freely engaging in baby making behavior and so the fact that the child in the womb depends on her for a short period doesn’t imply that she is morally free to cause it harm to free herself of the responsibility she took on. Furthermore, the analogy of a thief is a weak analogy since in the vast majority of cases of abortion women are not forced into sex. Second the relation of a thief to a citizen is an extrinsic and volitional one, whereas the relation of a mother to a baby is intrinsic and natural. Mothers don’t reproduce thieves qua thieves. So this is another case of comparing apples and oranges.

But people in this thread has simply asserted that slaves did in fact have rights with vague references to “minds” or “reason” without any significant justification for those ideas and claims.

Again, simply asserting that slaves are ends in themselves isn’t a reason for thinking that they were. And lots of species have a capacity for rationality, but that doesn’t imply that they are human. Bonobo’s in captivity for example have mastered and taught unprompted to their offspring a symbolic language of 25,000 symbols, but they aren’t human. Chimps can do basic math and sequencing. And even if they didn’t why is rationality what makes something human and makes it an end in of itself? Rationality is a capacity blindly produced and purposeless just like digestion or any other bodily faculty, or don’t you believe in naturalistic evolution?

And the reference to 3/5ths persons isn’t an appeal to tradition or guilt by association, but is an argument produce by the same reasoning. The same reasoning justifies the conclusion in the original constitution that Africans were not fully human since the law said so.

Jefferson said...

"I am sufficiently familiar with ethical egoism and Rand’s Objectivism."

Clearly not, since you are still here posting questions which Rand and other Objectivists have provided answers to. You may not agree with those answers, but if you were "sufficiently familiar" with them you'd be *addressing them*, not posting non-sequiturs about existing state regulations, slavery, Nazis, and so on.

And besides, you're discussing issues that are a bit deep for a blog comment section. If you are interested in learning or arguing about Objectivism, why don't you at least read about it, learn the fundamentals, then come back and argue on that basis? If you truly don't find Objectivism "philosophically worthwhile" then why are you wasting your time commenting on an Objectivist blog?

Ryan O. said...

In the case of a woman who waits until the last moment for an abortion, though she has the right to decide to have an abortion, she would still have to find a doctor willing to perform the abortion and who would likely want to know why she waited so long. I suspect that if he suspected caprice and no actual reason, then he would refuse.

Ayn Rand's brief answer presupposes a rational context-a rational woman will take precautions to prevent pregnancy if she doesn't want to become pregnant, will take actions to terminate the pregnancy right away if the precautions failed and won't wait forever to do it or fail to notice the physiological changes that accompany pregnancy. If she wants a child, then she must certainly want a healthy, normal child and will get the tests to determine so, if they fail then she will likely have already decided that abortion is the right step. And should complications arise later, then abortion may be necessary. In all such cases, caprice never enters the equation and she should have no trouble finding a rational doctor to perform the operation.

Who wants to help perpetrate a fraud or help perpetuate irrationality? Certainly not rational men.