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May 08, 2012

Comments

Amy Hall,

I'm not sure why you would suggest that the level of development is not relevant to granting entities rights. For instance, if an entity has no consciousness, that seems pretty darn relevant to me to whether I want to grant that entity a right to life. Also if an entity is part of society or not, that seems relevant too.

Regards,
Ben

Ben,

Newborns have no consciousness (that is, no self-awareness, no awareness of themselves as separate from their environment). Do they have no right to life? And how is being part of society (whatever that means) relevant?

Regards,
Kris

Kris,

I'm not sure if newborns have self-awareness or not, but I like to think they do. In contrast, a clump of undifferentiated cells is almost certainly not conscious at all, much less self-aware. And even for a conscious being, the less developed its consciousness, the less empathy I feel for it. A low-level conscious or semiconscious fetus just isn't something I feel compelled to grant rights.

As for the relevance of being part of society, I for one am much more inclined to grant rights to my fellow social agents than to non-agents (e.g. nonhuman animals).

Regards,
Ben


Amy,

>> "There's really no question that the unborn is a member of the human species. This is just a biological fact."

well, but what kind of "fact" is it.

For example, one could say:

>> "There's really no question that pluto is a planet. This is just a scientific fact."

but, see, that fact changed. Its the kind of statement that is merely based on convention.

So is your above statement about the unborn, merely based on convention as well?

Ben, by your own logic, people who are knocked unconscious would somehow lose their right to live?

Also to your second point, would a person living outside of the normal society then lose his right to live as well?

I would offer two more points to help in conversation:

  1. If it's not a human being while in the womb, then at what point does it become a human being? I honestly don't see anyone having an answer to this one...
  2. Make it personal. Ask what they would think about the possibility of them being aborted. Sounds horrific, but it points up the idea that a lot of people think they are holding these "high-minded" ideas, and don't stop to consider the implications it could have possibly had on they themselves when carried to a logical conclusion...

Ben,
You have an assertion that the unborn are outside of normal society. That is just an assertion. And it defies common sense. For most mothers and fathers who are expecting will tell you that the child is already part of their lives. Have you ever seen a couple grieve over a miscarriage? The only way to defend your position is to label the grief as misplaced.

Your assertion that consciousness is relevant is also a baseless assertion. You have no ontologically relevant justification for it. If you say that it is an arbitrary criteria to allow for reproductive rights, then will you also be open to a future arbitrary criteria that deems everyone named "Ben" as non-human and therefore expendable because that satisfies some other right? Perhaps some scientific study shows that uttering the name Ben causes brain tumor in the long run?

If our right to life is associated with a property we possess and not our essence, you put yourself on a slippery slope to extinction.

but what kind of "fact" is it.

@ToNy,

I think it is a bit disingenuous to equate determining if a human baby is actually human or not with the question of whether Pluto is a planet or not.

But, that aside, I would challenge you to provide a viable alternative "fact". I think that in order to do so, you have to answer the question of "at what point does this 'collection of cells' all of a sudden become human?"

There are 3 possible answers:

  1. The moment of birth. Well, that doesn't really work, does it? If it did, what about those that are born prematurely? Do they have to wait until their normal birth time to be awarded the status of human? Likewise, if you say then that birth-moment is a sliding scale and happens at different times for different babies, then all you've done is reduced the question to an issue of environment, which is dealt with quite well above.
  2. At some point before birth but after conception. This doesn't work either if you give it a fair thought. First, what medical evidence/capability do we have to even be able to make such a determination? Second, even if we could make such a determination, who's going to be the person or group that makes the official ruling? I certainly wouldn't trust that type of system, and neither should you...
  3. Moment of conception. It's really the only option that makes sense. I think the basic arguments for it are again covered quite well above, so I won't rehash them here.

If you think there are other options, then I am eager to learn about them...

Nick,

That is not correct. First of all, when I talk of those who have consciousness, I mean in a permanent or semipermanent way. This should be obvious from the context, and so your suggestion that I think people who lose consciousness temporarily also lose the right to life seems not very serious.

Second, I did not say we should ONLY be concerned about such things as social agency and consciousness development, but rather that these things are relevant in motivating the granting of rights. Certainly this is true in my case, and I bet it's true in your case as well. Wouldn't you be more inclined to offer rights to, say, a race of aliens, if they were intelligent like us than if they were dumb brutes? Or if they lived social lives instead of solitary lives? I sure would.

Regards,
Ben

kpolo,

By "social agent" I don't mean anything not totally disconnected from society. For instance my PC keyboard plays a role in social interaction, and I even care for my keyboard to some serious extent (enough, for instance, to pay $25 to have it shipped to my residence). Yet clearly my keyboard is not a social agent. By "agent" we mean much more than that. Well, I think it's clear that a clump of undifferentiated cells isn't a social agent either. If you think it is, or even just that it *might be*, then you must not be talking about the same thing I'm talking about when I refer to social agency.

Moreover, it is a fact that I personally find the level of development of consciousness to be relevant when granting rights. So unless you think I'm lying or mistaken about my own motivation, I have no need to offer a further defense.

Also, I don't know why you think we need some kind of "ontological justification" (???) for how we decide to grant rights. I don't seem to have any moral obligation to grant rights to unborn embryos or fetuses, and I don't see how it is even possible to have a rational obligation. So if I don't want to grant rights to those entities, why do I need any further justification than my own motivation or preference?

Regards,
Ben

g

"If it's not a human being while in the womb, then at what point does it become a human being? I honestly don't see anyone having an answer to this one..."

Actually, I have encountered those who contend that simply taking its first breath, the newborn gains independence from the mother and thus is sufficiently autonomous and viable, in the sense of being able to go through its stages of human development independently(to a greater degree than prior to this event) to qualify for social protection of life. This seems to tie humanity to filling lungs with air independently. Which rises another problem with being on life support system that does your breathing for you. But then, one could argue that if at any time in the past you were able to breath on your own, you can be grandfathered into humanity on the basis of that precedent and possibly on the expectation of full recovery of that particular function. I don't think that this is really a reasonable thing to hang our humanity on as being a human being entitled to all the rights of a human being involves a great deal more than breathing. To think that being able to breath defines me as a human being sounds like a terrible simplistic,even to the point of ridiculous, definition (based on which human rights are conferred) of such a complex creature as a human being.

Ben

"Second, I did not say we should ONLY be concerned about such things as social agency and consciousness development, but rather that these things are relevant in motivating the granting of rights. "

I get the impression that you think that the granting of human rights is something that should be up to society. If I am correct in my assessment on this, then I would like you to answer one question. Does society have the right to deny a human his human rights whenever they like for any reason they like? If not, why not? (Ok two questions)

Ben, you keep bringing up things like aliens and keyboards, but that's not what we're discussing. We're discussing human beings, which are a particular kind of being, so let's focus on that kind of being. The things you're concerned about (consciousness, social agents, etc.) are all characteristic of human beings.

We have value by virtue of being members of that family--the kind of being that you agree has value. We are human beings from the beginning until the end, and we follow the proper development that happens in that kind of being from beginning to end. The fact that we're rational, moral creatures is as true of us before we're able to express it as it is after we're able to express it. In fact, even after we're dead and have no ability to express anything ever again, the rights to our wishes about what should happen to our property and body are still respected.

Here's a quote from Peter Kreeft I posted recently:

Surely the correct answer [to how "person" is to be defined] is that a person is one with a natural, inherent capacity for performing personal acts. Why is one able to perform personal acts under proper conditions? Only because one is a person. One grows into the ability to perform personal acts only because one already is the kind of thing that grows into the ability to perform personal acts, i.e., a person (emphasis mine).

Defining some human beings out of the human family has led to tragedy on more than one occasion. Just because those being defined out today aren't able to fight back and bring their cause to our attention, that doesn't mean this isn't a tragedy as well.

First of all, it is God who grants life and not man.Whether or not He can understand is not a reason to kill him/her.How do we know that he/she cannot think or even understand. We know that babies unerstand things before they talk, they form likes and dislikes but just can't communicate that to us at that particular time.But let me ask you this. How long will it be before we say this child or that child won't have a good enough quality of life to live so let's just kill it before it can be a burden to a family or to society. God gave us life and it is up to Him who lives or dies before and after birth period.

Amy,

Well my comments about aliens and keyboards are relevant to Nick's and kpolo's defenses of your position that we ought to grant all human beings the right to life.

As for your own arguments for granting rights to the unborn, from what I can tell you have offered two of them. First you suggest that unless we can find a relevant difference between born and unborn human beings, then we should grant the same rights to the unborn as to the born. (This is the argument I was addressing above.) Of course even if we can't find a relevant difference, I don't see why we should be compelled to grant the same rights to the unborn. Nothing is forcing us into that kind of uniformity. But moreover it seems quite easy to find relevant differences, since for example development, consciousness and social agency are all relevant factors for me in motivating the granting of rights. (I think if you reflected on it then you would agree that such factors are relevant to you too, although it is quite sufficient that they are relevant to *me*.)

Your second argument I have not yet addressed. Allow me to do so now. You claim that we agree that human beings are a "kind of being," or "family," which possesses special value such that we ought to grant the right to life to anyone belonging to that kind. Since unborn humans also belong to this kind/family, then we ought to grant them the right to life.

But your key premise here is false. I do *not* agree that anyone belonging to the human "kind" have such special value that they ought to be granted the right to life. Clearly many others also disagree with you there. In particular, lots of folks think that unborn human embryos and fetuses ought not always be granted the right to life. So your conclusion does not follow.

Perhaps I have misunderstood you though. If so, feel free to clarify. Do you have a better argument than these?

Regards,
Ben

Ben

"lots of folks think that unborn human embryos and fetuses ought not always be granted the right to life."

It seems to me that a lot of folks think that when an unborn human embryo already possesses life, our claiming to grant it the right to life is kind of silly as that is a fait accompli and we were out of the loop on that.

Louis,

I understand "rights" to be freedoms and/or privileges granted to or won by conscious beings. So I'm not able to make sense of rights apart from the granting or winning thereof. Since an unborn human cannot win for himself his rights, they must be granted to him. But we are under no evident obligation to do him this great favor.

I realize you think that God can also grant rights, but I am under the impression that Amy's argument is supposed to function independently from appeals to the divine. If you want to use God in your argument, okay. But then unless we can also show that God exists, then an argument depending on the existence of God won't be worth very much.

So in answer to your question, no, society does not always have the right to violate or deny human rights capriciously. However we should be careful here. For society is under no obligation to grant certain rights in the first place, namely the right for an unborn embryo or fetus to live.

Regards,
Ben

Louis,

Regarding your most recent comment, by "right to life" I am referring to the right not to be killed.

Regards,
Ben

Ben, the reason I said we should stick to discussing human beings is because the difference between the youngest human being in the womb and us is not analogous to the difference between a keyboard and us. It's analogous to the difference between a newborn and us. And the reason why this is the case is that all of the properties you value that are unique to human beings are inherent in every human being by virtue of his or her being human. This is the case, though our ability to express those properties fluctuates throughout our lives. A keyboard, on the other hand is a keyboard--a kind of thing that has no inherent capabilities worthy of rights, none that will be fulfilled either now or later.

Killing the youngest human just because, for the time being, he hasn't yet expressed those human properties is just as morally wrong as killing an adult human who is similarly temporarily unable to express those properties (e.g., in a coma). The current expression of those things isn't relevant to their rights, rather, they have rights because they're the kind of being that expresses these things (whether they do so well or poorly). We are all in the same family--even the most disabled. The keyboard is not in the family, regardless if its inability to speak is compared to the disabled (or young) human being's inability to speak. Just because neither can speak, that doesn't mean they are analogous.

Again, why are the rights of a human being respected, even after he is dead? In your eyes, is that human being really no different from a keyboard? Or does his current lack of expression of human properties not disqualify him from being treated with human dignity?

Ben Wrote:
"Also, I don't know why you think we need some kind of "ontological justification" (???) for how we decide to grant rights. I don't seem to have any moral obligation to grant rights to unborn embryos or fetuses, and I don't see how it is even possible to have a rational obligation. So if I don't want to grant rights to those entities, why do I need any further justification than my own motivation or preference?"

I believe this might be what Greg calls the suicide tactic.

The claim here is there's no relevant difference between, say, Amy and a five day embryo.

But whether a thing has a brain is normally a relevant quality in ethics.

Only an flawed argument could hide a difference like that.

This argument hides the difference by equivocating on the word 'development'.

Sure: the difference between a 5 day embryo and a toddler is one of 'development'.

Sure: the difference between that toddler and Amy is one of 'development'.

But the the two 'developments' are of relevantly different kinds.

One involves maturing a brain the other involves getting one.

Having no brain is relevant.

RonH

g,

>> "I would challenge you to provide a viable alternative "fact". I think that in order to do so, you have to answer the question of "at what point does this 'collection of cells' all of a sudden become human?"

well i could find scientists to give lots of answers to the question of when a human starts.

lets even assume they all agree.

the point is, havent they all merely stated a preference about how we should organize atoms?

are said group of scientists obliged to change the definition of 'human' in the same way they changed the definition of 'planet'?

Amy,

>> "Defining some human beings out of the human family has led to tragedy on more than one occasion."

Amy you define all sort of things out of the "human family."

monkeys at the zoo for example.

How much is a genome allowed to vary from Amy's genome, before Amy deems that said genome is not part of the "human family?"

>> "Since an unborn human cannot win for himself his rights, they must be granted to him. But we are under no evident obligation to do him this great favor."

well toddlers cannot "win" rights either.

yet the law demands the mother oblige him all sorts of daily rights.

if she doesn't she goes to jail for child neglect.

do you think this is a bad law?

RonH,

>> "This argument hides the difference by equivocating on the word 'development'."

ya that SLED argument has lots of holes there.

literally, one could say that the only difference between ANYTHING is 'level of development'

a glass of water and a glacier
a grain of sand and a mountain
an ovum, and an adult
fertilizer and an adult
a child and a tree

They are merely invoking their prerogative to draw the lines in the sand where they think they should be.

Its fine to give your opinion about when phenomena (like humans) start and end.

But, these are just useful abstractions in the great dance of atoms.

ToNy,

The 'development' leg of SLED rests on an accident of English: We use develop to mean come into existence and to mean change/mature. If English had two words for the very different sounding ideas, SLED would be less successful - or not exist at all.

I agree with what you say too. And it reminds me of Kalaam and how it talks about "that which begins to exist". I'm familiar with "that which changes". But what "begins to exist"?

RonH

Amy,

The analogy between fetuses and keyboards was sufficient for the purpose for which I employed it. It was just an example which (hopefully) helped illustrate the problem with kpolo's strange objection that fetuses might be social agents. They might one day become social agents, but certainly they are not social agents while still in the womb.

Now, you claim that abortion is morally wrong. But you have not given a compelling argument for why this should be the case. You are welcome to categorize born and unborn humans as being in the same human "family" or "kind," but you have not given reasons to think that your categorization preserves rights. In other words, we have no means of inferring from the fact that a fetus is a "kind" of human that therefore the fetus has the same rights as born humans.

Also, you asked me why the rights of a born human are respected after he is dead. But I don't think that's what's going on, exactly. We respect the memories of the dead, but I don't know what it means to say that the dead have "rights." As for *why* we respect the memories of the dead, I'm not entirely sure. Do you have an argument that connects this to the rights of unborn humans?

Regards,
Ben

Tony,

On the contrary, I think it's great that we have laws to protect the well-being of conscious creatures like toddlers who might not otherwise be able to protect themselves. But, at least in the early stages, an unborn human is not to my knowledge a conscious creature. It may one day become a conscious creature, and at that time I will respect and care for its well-being. But until that time, there is no consciousness to respect or care for.

Regards,
Ben


Ben,

well you said:

"Since an unborn human cannot win for himself his rights, they must be granted to him. But we are under no evident obligation to do him this great favor."

so is the mother obligated to grant rights to her toddler?

Tony,

Well I'm not sure she is really in a position to be granting rights. It seems like rights are usually granted by groups of people, and not by any single individual (unless perhaps he acts on behalf of a group of people). However she certainly does have an obligation to protect the well-being of her toddler. So for instance she is obligated to support the granting of rights (by whomever) to her toddler.

Regards,
Ben

So there are some cases in which an organism "cannot win for himself his rights," and yet, we have an "obligation to protect their well-being."

but you have not given reasons to think that your categorization preserves rights. In other words, we have no means of inferring from the fact that a fetus is a "kind" of human that therefore the fetus has the same rights as born humans.

Certainly I have. I've explained why the current expression of all human qualities isn't necessary for rights because the fact that we are a valuable kind of being remains constant, regardless of our current abilities (the example being the person in the coma).

The connection with dead people is that even after they've died (and express none of the qualities you mention), we can't do whatever we wish with their bodies. Their right to determine what happens to their bodies is still respected. And respect for their bodies as human beings is still maintained, even in the absence of specific directions from the deceased. The bodies of the unborn ought to be respected in the same way--and how much more so, since they still have their entire lives (both current and future) of which others are trying to rob them--lives that are valuable because they're human lives.

Our entire legal system is built on the idea that "all men are created equal" and are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." What makes us all equal is no particular quality, since we're all different. What makes us all equal is our shared human nature. If you want to create a new grounding for rights, that's fine, but you're the one who needs to argue to change it, since the current system is supported by the idea that our natural rights are given equally to all by God, and can't rightly be taken away by the State just because we think someone isn't good enough for them.

In the past, when this was violated in this country, this grounding of the law brought us back to universal human rights, and it's my hope that it will do so again.

Anyone might be come unconscious or enter a coma. No one of us will become a 5 day embryo. So it makes perfect sense for us to agree on establishing 'rights' for the former and not the latter.

RonH

Furthermore, any of us might find ourselves in the minority - part of the out group - even if we are used to the privilege of being securely in the in group. So it makes sense for us to empathize with those who are currently in the out group. Brainless 5DE's are not an out group.

"all men are created equal" and are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."

The Declaration is not part of our legal system.

One problem with the "legal system" approach as well, is that there is not currently a federal definition of when a human starts and ends.

If they would just write one down (like the I.A.U. did when they wrote down the definition of planet) then, at least, as a matter of utility, we'd have at least something to go by.

they can start by just picking a number of genetic variation using Craig's genome as the benchmark.

Of course, the big question is, who's going to be part of this committee?

I vote for me.

Amy,

Thanks for the response. I want to make my own response brief, but you brought up a variety of points. It will take some time to go through them all, so please bear with me.

First you claim that we can infer from the humanness of a fetus that it has the same rights as born humans. But to do so, you appear to take for granted that special sense of value you talked about earlier, and which I mentioned before I do not recognize. Evidently neither do all the folks actually getting abortions. Why should we grant that all human life has this special value?

Now, you have pointed out that just because a person falls into a coma he doesn't lose all his rights. He can temporarily lose consciousness and we will still care about his (future) well-being. I certainly agree with this assessment. But it does not follow from this that therefore we should care about preserving unborn human organisms which have not yet expressed consciousness. So it doesn't work as an argument for the thesis that all human life has the kind of value you claim it to have.

Also, I reject the notion that we are not permitted to do any ol' thing with human corpses out of respect for the rights of the dead. I don't even know what it means to suggest that the dead have rights. (Please note that I am not suggesting we should be able to treat corpses disrespectfully.)

Finally, you suggest that the historical grounding for rights has been God, and that if I want to change it then I had better be ready to give a good argument. Well, again, I think you're taking far too much for granted, here. Just because some people have understood human rights to come from God doesn't mean everyone has thought the same. Certainly this has not been the case in recent history.

However, even if historically everyone thought that rights were grounded in God, unless they had good reasons for thinking so, I have no need to follow in their tradition. Don't you agree that, usually, if we don't have a good reason for thinking that X is true, we should withhold belief in X? Well I don't think past popularity is a good reason to believe a proposition when that popularity is not itself founded on good reasons.

So that about covers it. Sorry for the length!

Regards,
Ben

Tony,

You wrote:

So there are some cases in which an organism "cannot win for himself his rights," and yet, we have an "obligation to protect their well-being."

Yup! I agree completely. I hope I did not give you the opposite impression before.

Regards,
Ben

Where does such an "obligation" come from? Certainly (seems to be a favorite word here) not from a social directive because then the question is where does the obligation to abide by a social directive come from?

Dave

So it doesn't work as an argument for the thesis that all human life has the kind of value you claim it to have.

What is shows is the principle that the current expression of a human quality is not necessary for rights. And if it's not, on what basis do you deny rights to the youngest humans?

Also, I reject the notion that we are not permitted to do any ol' thing with human corpses out of respect for the rights of the dead

Are you saying that you believe that the law allows you to do whatever you want with someone's corpse?

Certainly this has not been the case in recent history.

Hence, the denial of rights to some humans based on their characteristics has begun. Don't expect it to stop there. It never does.

My point wasn't popularity, rather my point was that our legal system is based on the idea that human rights are real things that can't be given or taken by the state. They can only be recognized, and must be preserved. This is only to say that you're the one proposing a radical change in our understanding of the basis and strength of rights, and you would like to reject universal human rights and have the state remove human rights from humans who don't meet your standard (or rather, their standard...although why you would trust governments to do this is beyond me). I mentioned this because it sounds like you're assuming this is the default position, and in this country it isn't. That doesn't mean you can't argue to change it, it just means you're the one who has to convince us to change because proposing an end to universal human rights as a basis for law is something radically new (not new to the world, but new to our country).

The Declaration is not part of our legal system.

I didn't say it was. I said it was the basis for our legal system. It's the idea on which our Constitution was built. There is such a thing as natural rights that are above the state, which is why the state is limited from infringing on those rights.

Anyone might be come unconscious or enter a coma. No one of us will become a 5 day embryo. So it makes perfect sense for us to agree on establishing 'rights' for the former and not the latter.

Is your argument that since you're not personally in danger (anymore), therefore those humans don't need to be protected? The fact is that every one of us was an embryonic human--that's way more of us than will ever be in a coma. And every one of us on this blog continued to the next stage of life and became adult humans. Again, that's a way higher percentage than those who will come out of a coma. In both cases (person in coma, person in embryonic stage of life), there is a temporary period of an inability to express all human qualities. In both cases, they are not currently able to express those qualities, but will and/or have expressed them at a different time. They will and/or have expressed them because they are exactly the same kind of valuable being. We protect the coma patient because he's a valuable kind of being, even if he's not currently expressing every human quality.

In the exact same way, following the same principles, we ought to protect the human in the embryonic state because he's the same kind of valuable being, even if he's not currently expressing every human quality. The principle is the same.

Ben-

Arnold Schwarzenegger made a wretched movie several years ago called The Sixth Day. In it, a company had developed the ability to make clones of individuals and also to take a 'snapshot' of that individual's consciousness and download it into the clone. The clone would be in dreamless slumber at the end of the process. When awakened, they'd be a bit disorientated, because of the discontinuous jump from the taking of the mental 'snapshot' to the awakening. But they would have all the memories of the original and would, in fact, believe themselves to be the original.

(Several characters in the movie were killed and 'brought back' through this process. The main conflict of the story is that Schwarzenegger finds that a clone has taken over his life. But, spoiler alert, it turns out that he himself is the clone, and the person he thought had taken over his life is the original.)

Now, imagine that you are standing over Schwarzenegger's clone moments before it wakes up for the first time. Thus far it has had no conscious experiences at all. But, under the right circumstances, it would have those experiences.

Is it OK to kill it?

Some time ago, I raised this thought experiment in this forum with a doctrinaire pro-abortion advocate. She bit the bullet and said it was just fine to kill it. Or to prefer saving a Labrador Retriever to saving it from a burning building.

But isn't it utterly obvious that she was biting the bullet? She was maintaining the thesis at all costs, even that of rationality.

It would obviously be cold-blooded murder to kill the sleeping clone. As cold-blooded as any carried out by Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer.

So at best, the issue is not having consciousness, or even having had consciousness. The issue is the potentiality of having consciousness under the right circumstances. In the case of the sleeping clone, he has as much potentiality of having consciousness as his original. More, if his original is in a coma or something.

I submit that there's a huge difference in the potentiality of having consciousness between a fertilized human egg and any pre-fertilization human sperm-egg pair. And this jump in potentiality is far greater than any jump that occurs at any later stage in development. Perhaps the only other developmental event that rivals fertilization is implantation of the human being to the uterine wall.

As such, judging by the truest part of your standard one of those two events, fertilization or implantation, marks the beginning of the life of a human who has rights. The rights may increase as the human's potentiality for consciousness increases, and they might diminish as the human's potentiality for consciousness diminishes. But the human being has obviously crossed over a brightly outlined threshold after fertilization and implantation.

WL,

Is it OK to kill it?

The clone's situation is about the same as a sleeping person, no?

The idea of being protected only while you are awake has pretty limited appeal. Your fear of lethal attack is replaced by fear of going to sleep.

To compare a person who wants to go to sleep to a 5DE is absurd.

RonH

Amy,

Is your argument that since you're not personally in danger (anymore), therefore those humans don't need to be protected?

No. My life, if I'm likely to be killed anytime I go to sleep and because I'm asleep is hell.

The 5DE experiences nothing - including this hell. There is nothing to protect them from.

RonH

Amy,

You wrote

Are you saying that you believe that the law allows you to do whatever you want with someone's corpse?

Oh my no! I'm saying that the reason we have laws against that sort of thing has nothing to do with the so-called rights of dead people. I don't think it even makes sense to say that dead people have rights.

My point wasn't popularity, rather my point was that our legal system is based on the idea that human rights are real things that can't be given or taken by the state. They can only be recognized, and must be preserved. This is only to say that you're the one proposing a radical change in our understanding of the basis and strength of rights, and you would like to reject universal human rights and have the state remove human rights from humans who don't meet your standard (or rather, their standard...although why you would trust governments to do this is beyond me). I mentioned this because it sounds like you're assuming this is the default position, and in this country it isn't. That doesn't mean you can't argue to change it, it just means you're the one who has to convince us to change because proposing an end to universal human rights as a basis for law is something radically new (not new to the world, but new to our country).

I'm not saying that governments can always take away our rights. Sometimes they can. For instance the government is free to take away our right to walk on certain pieces of property. But obviously we have rights which are independent of government, e.g. the right to live freely, slave to no one.

But again, I don't see how it matters if our legal system is based on this or that understanding of rights. A view doesn't become default simply because it has gained a historical foothold (not that it even has done that, but never mind). If the view is discovered to be groundless, that's all the information we need to justify dropping it. Maybe it will one day turn out to be correct after all, but until we can actually find some reason to think that it *is* correct, then it doesn't matter that other folks may hold to it.

Regards,
Ben

Ron, if you inherit 2 million dollars, and I'm charged with delivering it to you, but instead, I keep it for myself and you never learn of it, have I harmed you? Or is there nothing to protect you from, since you have no awareness of what you've lost?

Shouldn't someone protect your money and see that it's properly delivered to you, even though you haven't received it yet, and even though you have no awareness of it?

If so, then you can't say that you must be aware of what's being taken from you in order for it to be a true loss.

The fetal human doesn't know the entire life ahead of him that needs to be protected, but does that mean that that life isn't properly his, isn't properly valuable, and isn't properly worth protecting? Just like the 2 million dollars, that life is objectively valuable, regardless of any subjective awareness of it.

Or do you truly believe that if someone had killed you while you were in the womb, you would have lost nothing?

WisdomLover,

Interesting question. I guess it sort of depends. If the clone isn't really sleeping, but rather in some kind of pre-activation stasis, then I don't think it would be murder to kill it. I'm not sure it would even be morally wrong. In fact my only concern in that case would be for setting a dangerous precedent which might lead to genuinely immoral acts. In other words, if it were immoral, it would only be because it encourages more directly immoral behavior, and not simply because it involves the death of a pre-activated clone.

If on the other hand the clone really is sleeping, i.e. breathing, heart beating, etc., then at that point my intuitions start to kick in about the possible moral wrongness of ending its life. But my intuitions are somewhat conflicting even then. For if the sleep really is dreamless, i.e. if the clone is genuinely and utterly unconscious, then my strongest intuition would be to say that it is morally acceptable/neutral to end its life, unless perhaps it too might set a bad precedent.

It's interesting to note that my intuitions are only even slightly conflicting when the clone is said to be breathing and heart beating. If in our thought experiment we keep the clone in a sort of Star Trek-ish kind of stasis, then I would have no problem at all ending its life. There is no "biting the bullet" for me in that case.

But please note that we don't need to liken abortion to something more general, such as, say, killing human beings before they ever experience consciousness. I have no problems whatsoever with what you might call laundry-list morality. If abortion is the only thing of its kind which is not immoral, then so be it.

Regards,
Ben

Amy,

In my last response I forgot to tackle this point you raised, which I think is important:

What is shows is the principle that the current expression of a human quality is not necessary for rights. And if it's not, on what basis do you deny rights to the youngest humans?

I certainly agree that the current expression of particular human qualities is not always necessary for rights. But I don't see why we need any particular basis to deny rights to unborn humans. Do we also need a basis to deny rights to, say, spiders? Surely not. It is enough that we have no reason to grant them rights in the first place.

Moreover, as I mentioned to WisdomLover, I don't see any great need to generalize to broader principles. Personally, I'd like to say something like, a human being only has rights if that human has already had experiences. But as WisdomLover pointed out, that might conflict with some of our moral intuitions. So maybe they can be resolved, or maybe not. But even if they can't, I don't see any problem with having unborn humans be just a special case---perhaps the only one of its kind, where human beings do not have rights to life. We don't need to generalize further than that. I am content with that kind of "laundry list" morality.

Regards,
Ben

But I don't see why we need any particular basis to deny rights to unborn humans. Do we also need a basis to deny rights to, say, spiders? Surely not. It is enough that we have no reason to grant them rights in the first place.

But Ben, we don't uphold universal spider rights, we uphold universal human rights. The unborn is human. Therefore, just on the face of it, it would seem they are deserving of human rights. To deny them these rights--to remove them from the set of humans to which they belong--you would need to have a reason to exclude them. It's not relevant that, as humans, they're not currently expressing every aspect of being human, so you can't exclude them on that basis. So on what basis do you exclude them?

Amy,

You uphold universal human rights, not me. And evidently neither do all the folks having and performing abortions. Given the premise that all humans have the special value you attribute to them, then sure, it may well follow that unborn humans have the right to life. But this premise is not in fact given.

Regards,
Ben

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