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21 comments

1 Bob Levin  Fri, Mar 2, 2012 2:14:51am

There really needs to be a time limit on how long the Oxbridge bunch are allowed to think about an issue. If they exceed, say, twenty minutes, the whole process is nullified. Otherwise they find that the solution to how many angels can stand on the head of a pin is to kill the angels, thereby ensuring a certain answer of zero.

2 Lord Baron Viscount Duke Earl Count Planckton  Fri, Mar 2, 2012 3:28:42am

Heh, I see wingnuts already use this article as an argument against abortion, because the article argues that the fetus and the newborn are morally equivalent.

The fact is, the reasoning in the article is fallacious. You can't automatically equate an infant to a fetus. Fetus goes through several stages. Most of the time fetus/embryo lacks cerebral cortex, so there is a severe discontinuity involved, and one cannot simply equate a fetus without a developed cerebral cortex to a fetus with a developed cerebral cortex - or to an infant. The former is never a person, because there are no basic prerequisites for it being a person.

The rest of the article depends on the authors' definition of a person, which is highly debatable, for what the authors see as personhood and non-personhood may actually be degrees of personhood.

3 terraincognita  Fri, Mar 2, 2012 4:21:49am

However, the argument definitely shows the arbitrariness of what constitutes "person-hood." What organ or other physicality must be developed to confer human status.

I don't believe the bullshit from either side.

4 Lord Baron Viscount Duke Earl Count Planckton  Fri, Mar 2, 2012 4:24:25am

re: #3 terraincognita

However, the argument definitely shows the arbitrariness of what constitutes "person-hood." What organ or other physicality must be developed to confer human status.

I don't believe the bullshit from either side.

Regardless of whether there is arbitrariness, what exactly do you mean by your last sentence? And more relevantly, what are your own views?

5 terraincognita  Fri, Mar 2, 2012 5:37:27am

The only consistent and logical path when defining when life exists can be termed in its “life directedness.” What properties must a being possess to make it its end result? This is not a theological argument but falls within the realm of ontology and being.

What constitutes existence? Should it be defined by man or the physical world? By the very nature of man’s temporality, any human explanation of “when life commences” is nothing more than a arbitrary and capricious journey into rational conjecture. There are no degrees to humanness any more than are different gradations to the concept of existence. One exists or one does not.

Was it not the Cartesian view that a certain organ in the human body was the conduit between the physical and metaphysical realms? Even Descartes finally saw the spurious argument in this.

As an amoral entity, I see no philosophical difference between the demise of a second trimester fetus and a two week old baby. On one side, there is an argument of convenience and seniority of the mother. On the other side, there is the hucksterism relating to the divine intention of a supreme being.

As my struggle for clarity falters, I am always buoyed by the quote from Salieri at the end of the movie Amadeus:

"I will speak for you, Father. I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint…Mediocrities everywhere... I absolve you... I absolve you... I absolve you... I absolve you... I absolve you all…"

6 Obdicut  Fri, Mar 2, 2012 5:45:29am

re: #5 terraincognita

You're, um, an amoral entity?

7 Lord Baron Viscount Duke Earl Count Planckton  Fri, Mar 2, 2012 5:47:21am

re: #5 terraincognita

Thanks for the attempted explanation.

The answer to the question of when life begins is simple: it began once, around 3.5 billion years ago, and never ended since.

So, I'm afraid, we just have to get to the question of personhood, which, yes, has a certain arbitrary element to it.

8 scogind  Fri, Mar 2, 2012 5:56:39am

A question that troubles me: why is it that someone can be charged with a double-homicide when they murder a pregnant woman if the fetus is not a person?

9 Lord Baron Viscount Duke Earl Count Planckton  Fri, Mar 2, 2012 5:58:56am

re: #8 scogind

Well, they shouldn't be, unless those are late stages of pregnancy.

10 terraincognita  Fri, Mar 2, 2012 6:38:00am

re: #6 Obdicut

My thinking in this regard is apart and distinct from any perceived rightness or wrongness of abortion, neonaticide or infanticide. It is also beyond the obfuscation of the many that seek to define in terms of some conventional thought or moral code whether for secular or religious reasons. It is the seeking of clarity without the burden of polemics. The idea of seeing what is truly present and not what one rationalizes or desires to be.

11 Obdicut  Fri, Mar 2, 2012 6:45:38am

re: #10 terraincognita

Let me know how that works out for you.

12 Romantic Heretic  Fri, Mar 2, 2012 6:47:04am

Sigh. Looks like my favourite writer is correct. Many of today's philosophers are simply sophists. "Prostitutes of wisdom" in Socrates reckoning.

13 Simply Sarah  Fri, Mar 2, 2012 7:23:12am

Well, at the risk of potentially coming off wrong, I'll say that there certainly is room to make this argument assuming you come from a viewpoint that abortion should be fine anytime up until birth. If you don't agree with that view, then any further argument on this point is probably moot since it is ruled out automatically (Except if you want to make exceptions for disabilities discovered upon birth).

But if you believe that abortion is moral up until birth, than its not really as big of a stretch as it might seem to say that using birth as a bright line is wrong. The simple act of being born doesn't make the newborn somehow far more developed than it was the moment before. Of course, one major benefit of using birth as an absolute boundary is that it prevents the issue of determining at which point after birth it stops being OK to terminate.

Not having read the piece, I cannot really comment further on it, although I will admit it doesn't sit all that well with me at first blush.

14 Obdicut  Fri, Mar 2, 2012 7:30:14am

re: #13 Simply Sarah

I don't really judge an already-near-starvation family that has another child, outside of an area where that child can be provided for, for smothering that child. It's a terrible, wretched situation, but if they left it alive they'd be dooming it to starvation.

Context is important.

15 Lord Baron Viscount Duke Earl Count Planckton  Fri, Mar 2, 2012 7:30:14am

re: #13 Simply Sarah

That much is obvious, yes (at least logically; both law and religion may disagree). Altho this is not the ground on which they argue for possibility of infanticide. They do go into the issue of what constitutes a person. BTW, the article is in an open access online.

16 Simply Sarah  Fri, Mar 2, 2012 7:33:25am

re: #14 Obdicut

I don't really judge an already-near-starvation family that has another child, outside of an area where that child can be provided for, for smothering that child. It's a terrible, wretched situation, but if they left it alive they'd be dooming it to starvation.

Context is important.

Oh, of course. I was mostly discussing what the article writers are talking about, which is across the board acceptance of doing this, context be damned. Only if you reject their argument of it being justified in all cases do you really need to consider context.

17 Lord Baron Viscount Duke Earl Count Planckton  Fri, Mar 2, 2012 7:36:36am

re: #14 Obdicut

Since we're already in extreme examples territory, I'm reminded of Jewish ob-gyns in Auschwitz, such as Dr. Gisella Perl, who performed infanticides to save lives of mothers.

18 aagcobb  Fri, Mar 2, 2012 7:39:38am

In general, it seems almost as those these people are trying to make the pro-lifers slippery slope argument for them. Though I did just recall that there are exceptions after birth when it has been considered acceptable to take actions which are known will cause a baby to die. A prime example is when cojoined twins share organs, surgeries have been performed to separate them knowing that it will cause the death of one of the twins.

19 Simply Sarah  Fri, Mar 2, 2012 7:47:18am

re: #15 sator arepo tenet opera rotas

That much is obvious, yes (at least logically; both law and religion may disagree). Altho this is not the ground on which they argue for possibility of infanticide. They do go into the issue of what constitutes a person. BTW, the article is in an open access online.

I should have perhaps been a bit more clear. I was speaking in too general language when I should have been more specific (This is a fault I often exhibit).

I understand that their main grounds for claiming this would be moral is that the newborn in question does not yet qualify as a person and is, morally speaking, effectively identical to an unborn fetus. If you also take the view that a 'potential person', which has not yet become an 'actual person', should be treated differently for morality purposes and that termination of the 'potential person' is not immoral due to the interests of 'actual people' overriding their interests, then it makes sense to say that there is no moral difference between abortion any time prior to birth and abortion after birth.

As I said before, to me the biggest weakness, one which the paper only appears to touch on in a single paragraph at the end, is that you need to determine when the 'potential person' becomes an 'actual person' and I'm just not sure how you do this. The authors basically say "Not our problem to work out", which doesn't do much to help answer the question.

20 Lord Baron Viscount Duke Earl Count Planckton  Fri, Mar 2, 2012 7:56:07am

re: #19 Simply Sarah

I understand that their main grounds for claiming this would be moral is that the newborn in question does not yet qualify as a person and is, morally speaking, effectively identical to an unborn fetus.

In fact, they could make their argument without ever mentioning fetuses. Comparison to fetuses is more of an illustration or an argument through analogy, but not the core of their argument.

What their argument actually amounts to is that newborns aren't persons and therefore can be killed. That they're not persons is established by them lacking aims, etc. (which is the most problematic part of the article).

Which is why the (indeed non-existent) difference between a baby 5 seconds after birth and 5 seconds before birth is not an issue for them.

21 Simply Sarah  Fri, Mar 2, 2012 8:04:42am

re: #20 sator arepo tenet opera rotas

In fact, they could make their argument without ever mentioning fetuses. Comparison to fetuses is more of an illustration or an argument through analogy, but not the core of their argument.

What their argument actually amounts to is that newborns aren't persons and therefore can be killed. That they're not persons is established by them lacking aims, etc. (which is the most problematic part of the article).

Which is why the (indeed non-existent) difference between a baby 5 seconds after birth and 5 seconds before birth is not an issue for them.

Very true. I do think that using the much more familiar idea of the abortion of an unborn fetus is helpful for the framing of their argument, though.

And yes, I'm avoiding getting in to their thinking on what defines a person because it's not really something I've given deep thought to myself. And, at least to me, that is a very complicated subject.


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