Abortion: two choices… provided you’re not into eugenics.

I recently made a vlog on abortion, but feeling the issue was not adequately explained, I’ve decided to make my personal treatise on the issue.

Abortion is, and is likely to be, a controversial and enduring debate. By its very nature it’s a corner where freedom, life, religion and science converge and it’s quite easy to think that these ideas (if not ideologies) have a capacity to amalgamate into a view that is equal parts reasonable, free, respectful of life and giving religion its dues. I endeavor to explain in this article nothing could be further from the truth. As an aside this post will deal with first trimester abortions, although with a little tweaking could accommodate all the way up to birth.

To begin with, let’s take the two sides of the coin. A religious and ‘life affirming’ view holds that a fetus is a baby, and a baby is a life, and to kill one is murder. There are several grievous problems with this view that I will go into a little detail here. To begin with, it is probably highly unrealistic that this view could ever be correctly enforced or the consequences effectively dealt with (not that ethical standpoints always have to confer to such demands). Secondly, the pro-life view ignores the capacity for suffering that unwanted babies will give to the mother and the world in general. Thirdly, you have the problem of regression- who is to say that no one should masturbate lest a potential life is lost? Should a woman have sex with an aim to have a child at every estrous? While their is a clearly definable point where a sperm meets the egg, does that mean that the morning after pill should be abandoned? Contraception likewise? There are pro-life advocates who will go very close to saying yes to all these questions, but I would say that the vast majority of the world will disagree.

The pro-choice view is a sort of default for most. It states that abortion is the woman’s right, and as a result left up to her to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy or not. While some may cry foul over a few issues, such as the contributing man’s lack of right in determining an outcome, we’ll work on what pro-choice has essentially shown itself to be: a better system for society in general. In addition there is plenty of scientific and ethical support. Utilitarianism would argue an unwanted child would cause great suffering, and the neural network of a fetus has next to no ability to feel pain (much less than the cow from the steak you had last night) and that to call it a baby is to call an engine and gearbox the utter machinations and workings of a car.

Abortion therefore seems to have a few ideologies involved. The first I would like to call religious (it could be called “rights of the child”), as it originates most often from it, and has to do with the definition of the fetus as a baby and as a result to kill it is murder. The religious ideology is almost entirely pro-life. The second ideology is the rights of the woman and has to do with the recognition of the child as entirely supported and consisting of its potential mother. The woman’s rights ideology is almost entirely pro-choice. The third ideology is ubiquitous but eclipsed by the other two- the ideology of suffering. What suffers more? The ideology of suffering is utilitarian, and can lean to pro-life and/or pro-choice depending on circumstance.

So what is the problem here? Clearly there are only two views. Take it all or leave it all. Popular conceptions (no pun intended) of abortion place it in a funny light of being acceptable to have all three ideologies at once in some way or another. The incongruity of the three makes it rationally impossible without making absurd claims. A popular and superficially attractive idea on abortion can be:

Abortion can be a choice for women if the child is mentally or physically handicapped, or if the child is a product of rape, but not if the woman instigated unprotected/protected sex and didn’t take the morning after pill. This is because a handicapped/ rape child will cause undue suffering and hardship to the mother and itself, but if the mother was stupid enough not to take precautions then she doesn’t deserve an abortion.

Here we can see all three ideologies met, at the same time completely dismantled. The baby can live if the woman wasn’t cautious, the woman can abort if it wasn’t her fault, and suffering can be allayed if it falls beyond the traditional boundaries of suffering as per an unwanted baby. So what’s the problem with this?

The issue exists over a person’s definition of a fetus. One can either say it is a baby, or it isn’t. To give particular rights to a fetus (over other rights) is at best misguided and at worst a way of wrangling competing emotions (with the possible exception of “right to life” but that is purely the religious ideologue). I couldn’t think of rights that I could give a fetus and other rights that wouldn’t fall in whatever boundary I could envisage. Let alone all this that the scientific appreciation that a fetus it is nothing more than a collection of unmarked cells.

Let’s take apart what a person with the above quotation must think of what a fetus is. If they recognise the fetus as not a baby, as a collection of cells that has the potential to be a child, then abortions should be allowed to occur. The woman has plenty of rights, especially over what is essentially her own body, and she can do with it what she wills.

From a suffering perspective, if the child is handicapped/product of rape then it should definitely be up to the mother to keep it (suffering purists would say it must be aborted). It’s not like the arguments over suffering somehow magically don’t exist if the mother forgot the pill by the way, so the untold hardships of unwanted pregnancy would easily outweigh any concerns for a moment’s pain for an organism that doesn’t have a working neural network.

If a person recognises a fetus as a baby, then you must stop an abortion at all costs. To say that you believe it is a baby, but to believe it’s OK to abort in cases of handicapped/product of rape instances is to promote eugenics. It is to say that you think that people who are handicapped or products of rape are less human and less worthy of attention, rights and freedoms than someone who isn’t these things and that makes you a eugenicist and/or horribly racist and discriminatory, especially to someone who isn’t even born yet. In essence, you agree that the handicapped and people who are products of rape can be murdered if their mother wishes it to be.

These conclusions lead to uncomfortable issues if I follow suffering or woman’s rights ideologies as well. I find myself leaning towards woman’s rights, and the recognition of the fetus as a collection of cells and not a baby. There’s good reasons for this- socially speaking it is far more viable, it allows the best freedoms for which most countries aspire and is scientifically valid (scientific validation is more than enough reason by itself in my opinion). But on the flipside I must concede that, unlike Barack Obama (whose own ideas here are eerily similar to the quote above) I am not concerned with how many abortions anyone has- everyone can abort away practically all the time, however they see fit. I might be emotionally uncomfortable with this notion, but so be it.

If I follow the suffering guise, it follows a similar gesture, especially if the person is intellectually honest about the idea. Natural aversions to embarrassment and pain for the mother would alleviate any minuscule potential notion that excessive abortions could somehow outweigh the pain scale for a woman not wanting pregnancy. Taking on the suffering ideology leads to a few problems elsewhere but local, such as barring a woman’s right to pregnancy, so its not an attractive option if science and freedoms are your bag.

So is there a way out of this supposed conundrum? I believe that pro-choice and pro-life are not two extremes, rather they are sides of a coin that you must decide one way or the other. Any rational human being looking at the evidence would favor pro-choice of course, but if you want to throw away the freedoms and scientific understanding developed, then I suppose pro-life is technically acceptable.

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~ by freeze43 on August 29, 2010.

15 Responses to “Abortion: two choices… provided you’re not into eugenics.”

  1. “A religious and ‘life affirming’ view holds that a fetus is a baby, and a baby is a life, and to kill one is murder. […] To begin with, it is probably highly unrealistic that this view could ever be correctly enforced or the consequences effectively dealt with (not that ethical standpoints always have to confer to such demands).”

    Why? In most parts of the world, murderers are punished; isn’t this standpoint just solidifying the definition of a life, and thus a murder, to include foetuses?

    “Secondly, the pro-life view ignores the capacity for suffering that unwanted babies will give to the mother and the world in general.”

    This is an unfair generalisation – while many anti-abortionists do hold this view, many others recognise that there is potential harm on both sides but believe the harm to the foetus outweighs that of the mother.

    “Thirdly, you have the problem of regression- who is to say that no one should masturbate lest a potential life is lost? Should a woman have sex with an aim to have a child at every estrous? While their is a clearly definable point where a sperm meets the egg, does that mean that the morning after pill should be abandoned? Contraception likewise? There are pro-life advocates who will go very close to saying yes to all these questions, but I would say that the vast majority of the world will disagree.”

    Again, this is an unfair generalisation – the majority of anti-abortionists are quite clear in defining the moment of conception as the morally significant transition.

    “The pro-choice view is a sort of default for most.”

    That depends on what population you are looking at. Many people in the world have no access to abortion, let alone a default stance on it.

    “Utilitarianism would argue an unwanted child would cause great suffering, and the neural network of a foetus has next to no ability to feel pain (much less than the cow from the steak you had last night) and that to call it a baby is to call an engine and gearbox the utter machinations and workings of a car.”

    To most anti-abortionists, the relevant ethical question is not the amount of pain experienced by the foetus but whether it is human. It is possible to kill an adult human in their sleep and cause them no pain, but this does not make it ethically right. Adults, like foetuses, are made of more or less the same biological engines and gearboxes.

    “Clearly there are only two views. Take it all or leave it all.”

    It’s not clear if you are making this claim from a natural rights standpoint (“either foetuses are human and therefore wrong to kill, or non-human and therefore acceptable to kill”) or a utilitarian one (“either the suffering of the foetus outweighs that of the mother or vice-versa”). Can you clarify this?

    “…the recognition of the fetus as a collection of cells and not a baby.”

    You repeat this and similar phrases many times, but I don’t think you recognise that it has no bearing on the central dilemma you identify (foetus is or is not human). Foetuses, and adult humans, are and will be collections of cells, whether or not they are human. I am a collection of cells, and I am a human; a bird is a collection of cells, and it is not.

    “…it allows the best freedoms for which most countries aspire…”

    This is conditional on which side of the human vs. non-human decision one falls. I aspire to the freedom to control my own body, but also to the freedom not to be murdered; if a foetus is a human, it too would enjoy the same freedoms. There’s nothing about either stance which is particularly supportive or oppressive of any particular individual rights – each side simply makes a claim about the entities to which those rights extend. Many people agree perfectly on the individual rights obtaining to a human but disagree violently on abortion.

  2. “Why? In most parts of the world, murderers are punished; isn’t this standpoint just solidifying the definition of a life, and thus a murder, to include foetuses?”
    Backdoor abortions were and are common in societies that do not permit abortions. They are both very dangerous and difficult to detect- many people with no medical background perform these procedures, making it a more risky alternative. The difficulty of finding such procedures and the ease at which dumping the ‘body’ means that people, often innocent of everything else, can get away with the supposed murder.

    “This is an unfair generalisation – while many anti-abortionists do hold this view, many others recognise that there is potential harm on both sides but believe the harm to the foetus outweighs that of the mother.”
    For someone such as myself, I can only put in this article my own ideas and it seems ludicrous to me to suggest that a foetus is capable of more suffering than a mother. Secondly the generalisation was just that- getting into anything more detailed for the purposes of this article didn’t seem necessary.

    “Again, this is an unfair generalisation – the majority of anti-abortionists are quite clear in defining the moment of conception as the morally significant transition.”
    Yes they do, but akin to the point of the article, there isn’t a particularly valid explanation for why that is the case.

    “That depends on what population you are looking at. Many people in the world have no access to abortion, let alone a default stance on it.”
    Now now wilkox, rather than let us get caught up in arguing about what population etc. you were talking about regarding our arguments on anarchy (I’ll get round to finishing it, promise!) and how people are most likely not to require intervention for their children, or how people are likely not to require interventions against violence etc., I decided to let it be that we spoke about it in a way that treated the world as essentially educated and respectably well-off. Same applies here.

    “To most anti-abortionists, the relevant ethical question is not the amount of pain experienced by the foetus but whether it is human. It is possible to kill an adult human in their sleep and cause them no pain, but this does not make it ethically right. Adults, like foetuses, are made of more or less the same biological engines and gearboxes.”
    …yeah? Of course it is. Hence why I consider the religious ideology separate from a utilitarianist perspective.

    “It’s not clear if you are making this claim from a natural rights standpoint (“either foetuses are human and therefore wrong to kill, or non-human and therefore acceptable to kill”) or a utilitarian one (“either the suffering of the foetus outweighs that of the mother or vice-versa”). Can you clarify this?”
    A bit of both. What my statement refers to is that we must either have complete encouragement of abortion or zero abortion whatsoever. We can’t have our cake, letting mothers abort when its considered OK by society, and eat it whilst saying accidental pregnancies are not grounds for abortion. However you get to a conclusion that a fetus is legitimately deserving to be saved or not doesn’t quite enter into this part.

    “You repeat this and similar phrases many times, but I don’t think you recognise that it has no bearing on the central dilemma you identify (foetus is or is not human). Foetuses, and adult humans, are and will be collections of cells, whether or not they are human. I am a collection of cells, and I am a human; a bird is a collection of cells, and it is not.”

    Perhaps I should have defined myself a bit better by saying that the fetus begins as a collection of non-specific (ie stem) cells. My reference to them being a collection of cells lies in my understanding that a fetus does not have a consciousness which would be worth defending.

    “This is conditional on which side of the human vs. non-human decision one falls. I aspire to the freedom to control my own body, but also to the freedom not to be murdered; if a foetus is a human, it too would enjoy the same freedoms. There’s nothing about either stance which is particularly supportive or oppressive of any particular individual rights – each side simply makes a claim about the entities to which those rights extend. Many people agree perfectly on the individual rights obtaining to a human but disagree violently on abortion.”

    Somewhat agreed. Please note that there are plenty of anti-abortionists that will kill abortion doctors, thus limiting their rights in a very real way. My view is that the pro-choice system warrants a capacity for more freedom, hence better, than pro-life.

    • “Backdoor abortions were and are common in societies that do not permit abortions. They are both very dangerous and difficult to detect- many people with no medical background perform these procedures, making it a more risky alternative. The difficulty of finding such procedures and the ease at which dumping the ‘body’ means that people, often innocent of everything else, can get away with the supposed murder.”

      A fair point.

      “For someone such as myself, I can only put in this article my own ideas and it seems ludicrous to me to suggest that a foetus is capable of more suffering than a mother. Secondly the generalisation was just that- getting into anything more detailed for the purposes of this article didn’t seem necessary.”

      Your original statement – “Secondly, the pro-life view ignores the capacity for suffering that unwanted babies will give to the mother and the world in general” – is a claim about the beliefs of anti-abortionists in general; either it was actually a statement of your own beliefs, in which case it was not clearly marked so, or it was a generalised claim about anti-abortion beliefs, in which case it was misleading.

      “Yes they do, but akin to the point of the article, there isn’t a particularly valid explanation for why that is the case.”

      I agree completely that the question when a gamete/embryo/foetus becomes human is a central one in this conundrum, and that many people hold views on this which lack justification. However, it is possible to make that point without making sweeping generalisations about the positions of anti-abortionists.

      “Now now wilkox, rather than let us get caught up in arguing about what population etc. you were talking about regarding our arguments on anarchy (I’ll get round to finishing it, promise!) and how people are most likely not to require intervention for their children, or how people are likely not to require interventions against violence etc., I decided to let it be that we spoke about it in a way that treated the world as essentially educated and respectably well-off. Same applies here.”

      So we can talk about “Backdoor abortions”, in “societies that do not permit abortions”, except when we can’t?

      “…yeah? Of course it is. Hence why I consider the religious ideology separate from a utilitarianist perspective.”

      My point is simply that, religious or utilitarian or whatever, the relevant moral question is “status as human” first, and “amount of suffering” second. Even utilitarians need to decide what entities are capable of ethically relevant suffering before they can start deciding whose suffering outweighs whose; very few of them would claim, for example, that the suffering of the placenta is of interest in this debate. Your claim that “Utilitarianism would argue an unwanted child would cause great suffering […] and that to call it a baby is to call an engine and gearbox the utter machinations and workings of a car” presupposes the answer to the human-or-not question on these hypothetical utilitarians’ behalf.

      “What my statement refers to is that we must either have complete encouragement of abortion or zero abortion whatsoever. We can’t have our cake, letting mothers abort when its considered OK by society, and eat it whilst saying accidental pregnancies are not grounds for abortion. However you get to a conclusion that a fetus is legitimately deserving to be saved or not doesn’t quite enter into this part.”

      I agree, except that the route by which you get to the conclusion on foetus-as-human probably will (and should) influence the next part of the argument.

      “Perhaps I should have defined myself a bit better by saying that the fetus begins as a collection of non-specific (ie stem) cells. My reference to them being a collection of cells lies in my understanding that a fetus does not have a consciousness which would be worth defending.”

      These are two very different claims. The types of cells of which a foetus is composed are, again, not particularly useful when it comes to separating human from non-human; there are plenty of such cells in both humans (me) and non-humans (a frog), and it’s not clear what relevance the cell type has anyway. Your claim about consciousness is a step towards settling foetus-as-human, but there are still many questions flowing from it: what is consciousness and what is not? Are all consciousnesses human consciousnesses? etc.

      “Somewhat agreed. Please note that there are plenty of anti-abortionists that will kill abortion doctors, thus limiting their rights in a very real way.”

      From the perspective of those who kill abortion doctors, they are exacting punishment for murdered humans with the same moral legitimacy as, for example, the state imprisoning the killer of an 18-year-old. The answer to foetus-as-human must come before judging the morality of their actions – as you rightly point out, we can’t have our cake and eat it.

      “My view is that the pro-choice system warrants a capacity for more freedom, hence better, than pro-life.”

      Again, you are measuring freedom in a way which presupposes the answer to foetus-as-human. If the foetus is not human, it is a violation of individual freedom to prevent abortions; if it is, it is murder to commit them.

  3. “However, it is possible to make that point without making sweeping generalisations about the positions of anti-abortionists.”

    There’s no sweeping generalisation here- if an anti-abortionist has a valid reason beyond “cuz I said so” as to when a gamete/fetus/embryo is a baby or not then I’ll happily accept it. As it stands, as you agree, the issue is a core one. Do pro-choicers face the same conumdrum? Perhaps.

    “So we can talk about “Backdoor abortions”, in “societies that do not permit abortions”, except when we can’t?”

    We totally can. Backdoor abortions were, for instance, very common in Britain in the 1960s when abortion was illegal.

    “My point is simply that, religious or utilitarian or whatever, the relevant moral question is “status as human” first, and “amount of suffering” second. Even utilitarians need to decide what entities are capable of ethically relevant suffering before they can start deciding whose suffering outweighs whose; very few of them would claim, for example, that the suffering of the placenta is of interest in this debate. Your claim that “Utilitarianism would argue an unwanted child would cause great suffering […] and that to call it a baby is to call an engine and gearbox the utter machinations and workings of a car” presupposes the answer to the human-or-not question on these hypothetical utilitarians’ behalf.”

    As I stated elsewhere in the article, the ideology of suffering could find itself on either side of the coin depending on circumstance. There’s nothing to say that a utilitarian must define it as human first- plenty of utilitarian theory (I’m looking at you, Singer) put focus on non-human suffering.

    “Your claim about consciousness is a step towards settling foetus-as-human, but there are still many questions flowing from it: what is consciousness and what is not? Are all consciousnesses human consciousnesses? etc.”

    Very good point. In fact I was thinking of making a blog or ten on what consciousness might be.

    “From the perspective of those who kill abortion doctors, they are exacting punishment for murdered humans with the same moral legitimacy as, for example, the state imprisoning the killer of an 18-year-old. The answer to foetus-as-human must come before judging the morality of their actions – as you rightly point out, we can’t have our cake and eat it.”

    One subtle difference between the state an a abortion-doctor-killer is that the state is the will of the people etc, the abortion-doctor-killer does it without that kind of backing (including countries where the death penalty doesn’t exist). Please please please please please don’t get into definitions and usefulnesses and validities of state. We’ve had that, it’s boring.

    “Again, you are measuring freedom in a way which presupposes the answer to foetus-as-human. If the foetus is not human, it is a violation of individual freedom to prevent abortions; if it is, it is murder to commit them.”

    Very true, due to the fact I consider a fetus not human. This article wasn’t whether a fetus is human or not by the way, it was made to elucidate the point that one cannot be halfway pro-life or pro-choice. Did you have a view in that regard?

    • “There’s no sweeping generalisation here- if an anti-abortionist has a valid reason beyond “cuz I said so” as to when a gamete/fetus/embryo is a baby or not then I’ll happily accept it. As it stands, as you agree, the issue is a core one. Do pro-choicers face the same conumdrum? Perhaps.”

      So, in a sentence, what do you think most anti-abortionists believe on this question?

      “We totally can. Backdoor abortions were, for instance, very common in Britain in the 1960s when abortion was illegal.”

      This is turning into a silly point of order. Let’s just talk about whatever group of people is pertinent to the point we happen to be making.

      “As I stated elsewhere in the article, the ideology of suffering could find itself on either side of the coin depending on circumstance. There’s nothing to say that a utilitarian must define it as human first- plenty of utilitarian theory (I’m looking at you, Singer) put focus on non-human suffering.”

      This is a self-contradictory claim. How can a utilitarian decide to “put focus on non-human suffering” until they define what a non-human, and by extension a human, is? Isn’t the central thesis of your post that all other ethical decisions must flow from this distinction, regardless of the ethical system being employed?

      “One subtle difference between the state an a abortion-doctor-killer is that the state is the will of the people etc, the abortion-doctor-killer does it without that kind of backing (including countries where the death penalty doesn’t exist). Please please please please please don’t get into definitions and usefulnesses and validities of state. We’ve had that, it’s boring.”

      That dodge doesn’t work. I would be ashamed to catch myself avoiding a thorny question because it is “boring” or “icky” or generally difficult to think about – that’s how horrific ethical mistakes get made (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banality_of_evil). If a person genuinely wants to make the right ethical decisions they are obligated to think honestly even about boring issues. If you don’t, you are a metaethical Bad Person.

      Fortunately for your attention span, the state/non-state issue is not particularly relevant here. There are plenty of things “the people” seem to think are wrong that are not wrong, and vice versa; and this has been true throughout history. My broader point is that you seem to constantly pre-empt the answer to your own question. I agree with you completely that the question of “when a gamete/fetus/embryo is a baby or not” is “a core one”, to use your own words. Since the answer to “is killing abortionists wrong?” depends entirely on the answer to that question, you cannot use doctor murders as evidence in favour of one side or the other without committing the logical fallacy of “begging the question”, also known as a circular argument.

  4. “So, in a sentence, what do you think most anti-abortionists believe on this question?”

    I would say that they would believe it’s the moment of conception, and whatever that entails. I would not say that anti-abortionists would be particularly clear on the issue either, there are plenty of controversial debates that rely on fuzzy appreciation.

    “This is turning into a silly point of order. Let’s just talk about whatever group of people is pertinent to the point we happen to be making.”

    You started it. nyah nyah nyah.

    This is a self-contradictory claim. How can a utilitarian decide to “put focus on non-human suffering” until they define what a non-human, and by extension a human, is? Isn’t the central thesis of your post that all other ethical decisions must flow from this distinction, regardless of the ethical system being employed?

    It doesn’t need to be self-contradicting. As I’ve put throughout the article, a utilitarian is concerned with suffering period. The “human-ness” of the suffereree is irrelevant.

    “If a person genuinely wants to make the right ethical decisions they are obligated to think honestly even about boring issues. If you don’t, you are a metaethical Bad Person.”

    I was just terrified of having another anarchy debate in the comments section. It’s not a big point anyway. The point I’m making regarding abortion-doctor-killers is actually a Dawkins one, wherein the preservation of life of babies seems to be far more important than the preservation of a fully functioning member of society with family that everyone would easily define as human. But this is all beside the point! This article is a seperate issue, if we are debating whether or not the fetus is human we are debating whether abortion is right or wrong. This article is about the fact you can’t say its OK for some and not OK for others.

    • “I would say that they would believe it’s the moment of conception, and whatever that entails. I would not say that anti-abortionists would be particularly clear on the issue either, there are plenty of controversial debates that rely on fuzzy appreciation.”

      I agree.

      “It doesn’t need to be self-contradicting. As I’ve put throughout the article, a utilitarian is concerned with suffering period. The “human-ness” of the suffereree is irrelevant.”

      So utilitarians are concerned with ALL suffering? What about the suffering of a bird; or a nemotode; or a rock; or an abstract concept?

      Even utilitarians need to carve up the world into categories, if only to decide which parts of the world are able to suffer and with whose suffering we should be concerned. The relevant category doesn’t have to be human, necessarily – but it often is, and in this particular case it definitely is. Just so my claim is absolutely clear: when a utilitarian considers the issue of abortion, they are concerned with what ethically relevant entities are experiencing what levels of suffering; and the question of whether a foetus at a given stage of development is an ethically relevant entity is an essential prerequisite for this decision. Whether you call this a human or a sufferee or an agent or whatever is entirely semantic – the decision still must be made.

      Recall my original point which lead to this thread of the discussion: that regardless of the ethical system being employed, the question of humanness (or suffereeness, or agency or whatever) must come first. Can you clearly state your objection to this in the case of utilitarianism? If you still disagree with me, can you describe how a utilitarian might approach the issue of abortion without this initial step of categorisation?

      “The point I’m making regarding abortion-doctor-killers is actually a Dawkins one, wherein the preservation of life of babies seems to be far more important than the preservation of a fully functioning member of society with family that everyone would easily define as human.”

      Can you provide a link for this? I’m surprised if Dawkins actually made this point, because it is a very weak one: he seems to be trying to have his cake and eat it too in the way you describe. Either abortionists are murderers or they are not; as you rightly point out, it can’t be “OK for some and not OK for others.”

  5. “So utilitarians are concerned with ALL suffering? What about the suffering of a bird; or a nemotode; or a rock; or an abstract concept?”

    Well considering that a rock does not suffer, a nemotode and bird might, yes they would. Singer makes the point quite clear and states that while it is probably impossible we should at least *strive* to do so. Furthermore they appreciate that there are human lives that are entities and so on, and that killing them (for example euthanasia) is completely acceptable to finish suffering. There can be very little doubt that the embryo or fetus or whatever is capable of suffering, but that’s beside the point. I would argue that utilitarians only carve it up because its easier to do so, but in the fuzzy area of an embryo they would make clearly obvious exceptions. Using science to determine suffering would make things even easier.

    “Can you provide a link for this? I’m surprised if Dawkins actually made this point, because it is a very weak one: he seems to be trying to have his cake and eat it too in the way you describe. Either abortionists are murderers or they are not; as you rightly point out, it can’t be “OK for some and not OK for others.”

    No worries. The point is made p333 of The God Delusion but the abortion debate in the book starts at 329. This of course is made in the context that Dawkins is fervently pro-choice, and absolutely against religious interference in these sorts of decisions. He views the embryo as a cluster of tiny cells very different from a fully grown person. He makes the point that typically this view observes the “sanctity of life” (that is, life must prosper at all times) yet this particular group is also pro-death penalty.

    What is your opinion on abortion wilkox? Also maybe it would be a good idea to define the fetus in the context of ascribing to the features that constitute life. Just a thought.

    Again… this discussion is not regarding the issue I made in the blog…

    • “Well considering that a rock does not suffer, a nemotode and bird might, yes they would.”

      You seem to be avoiding the question. How do you know that a rock does not suffer? On what basis are you carving the world up in this particular way, with rocks in the utility-irrelevant pile and nemotodes in the utility-significant pile?

      I’m not just making this point for the sake of argument. There are many people who put, for example, a newly concieved embryo in the utility-irrelevant pile, and many others who put it in the utility-significant pile. You claim that we “should at least strive” to minimise the suffering of entities in the utility-significant pile, like birds and nemotodes. Such a claim about a particular entity is predicated on which pile you choose to put it in to. Likewise, many people who claim aborting a newly concieved embryo is ethically good do so directly because they believe a newly concieved embryo belongs in the utility-irrelevant pile, while many who claim abortion is wrong do so as a direct consequence of putting newly concieved embryos in the utility-significant pile. This point is not only applicable to utilitarians, but to any ethical system which treats humans (or “sentient beings”, or “God’s children” or whatever) as distinct in an ethically significant way from other entities.

      “He makes the point that typically this view observes the “sanctity of life” (that is, life must prosper at all times) yet this particular group is also pro-death penalty.”

      Again, I’m surprised to hear that Dawkins had espoused such an unsophisticated view, committing the logical fallacy of “Poisoning the well”.

      “What is your opinion on abortion wilkox? Also maybe it would be a good idea to define the fetus in the context of ascribing to the features that constitute life. Just a thought.”

      My comments have been a response to the claims you made; my own position is not relevant.

      • “You seem to be avoiding the question. How do you know that a rock does not suffer? On what basis are you carving the world up in this particular way, with rocks in the utility-irrelevant pile and nemotodes in the utility-significant pile?”

        A rock doesn’t have a nervous system? I’m not going to put words into utilitarianist mouths, but it is completely acceptable to put am embryo into a utility-significant pile and still abort it due to an appreciably reduced utility-significance compared to a fully functioning adult. There’s no binary system of “is/isn’t” here once suffering is at least capable. It would be difficult and indeed impossible for a utilitarian, and there are varying levels of suffering able to be taken by different organisms.

        Dawkins’ discussion is admittedly quite rhetorical, but perfectly acceptable because he relies on scientific evidence to support his pro-choice claim. Unlike this blog, which was about defining what approaches are rationally permissable, and which ones are not, his writing was a discussion on anti abortion activists in the United States, and a brief treatise on pro-choice attitudes. I’ll lend you it next time you come over.

        “My comments have been a response to the claims you made; my own position is not relevant.”

        Bah, you’re no fun. I suppose my own position isn’t particularly important here either. Life could be a good way of defining validity though. Can an embryo reproduce, excrete, have acceptable levels of homostasis etc.? Just a thought. Surely starting at this level of definition would make it far easier for the utilitarians in the room to make a significant/non- significant separation which they apparently need to do.

  6. “I’m not going to put words into utilitarianist mouths, but it is completely acceptable to put am embryo into a utility-significant pile and still abort it due to an appreciably reduced utility-significance compared to a fully functioning adult.”

    Until you have actually put the foetus into the utility-significant pile, you do not know to apply that utilitarian principal of minimising suffering. In fact, you don’t know to treat it any differently to a rock. It turns out that a lot of people disagree about which pile the foetus belongs in. Once the sorting has taken place, the question becomes a lot simpler: utilitarianism, like all mainstream ethical system, has a clear way of approaching ethical questions like “is it alright to kill humans” – but these cannot be applied prior to the sorting.

    Suppose you showed a utilitarian and a Christian a sealed box, and told them: “there might be a rock in this box, or there might be a fully conscious adult human – is it right for me to burn the box?” They couldn’t answer, of course, without first checking inside the box. At best, they would give a conditional answer like “it depends on what is inside the box”. Most people who disagree over abortion are not disagreeing over whether it is good or bad to burn a rock or a human. They are disagreeing over what is in the box.

  7. “Until you have actually put the foetus into the utility-significant pile, you do not know to apply that utilitarian principal of minimising suffering. In fact, you don’t know to treat it any differently to a rock. It turns out that a lot of people disagree about which pile the foetus belongs in.”

    I’ll go along with that. But if its literally a capacity for people to bare witness over whether a 1st trimester embryo has the capacity for suffering then we are in bigger trouble than I thought.

    The idea you have over the definition of the embryo as human or not being the big issue is intriguing (and for all account probably does work in most people’s decision making), but skirts rather scarily across being dependent on what it is to be named one thing or another. Whether I call the fetus a human or not doesn’t change the fetus itself. But I suppose if the courts can have a name change and suddenly its a whole different kettle of fish then it does occur.

  8. “But if its literally a capacity for people to bare witness over whether a 1st trimester embryo has the capacity for suffering then we are in bigger trouble than I thought.”

    Naturally we don’t need to each directly and personally inspect every foetus before making an ethical call – as you said a few comments back, “Using science to determine suffering would make things even easier.”

    “The idea you have over the definition of the embryo as human or not being the big issue is intriguing (and for all account probably does work in most people’s decision making), but skirts rather scarily across being dependent on what it is to be named one thing or another. Whether I call the fetus a human or not doesn’t change the fetus itself. But I suppose if the courts can have a name change and suddenly its a whole different kettle of fish then it does occur.”

    That’s a good point, especially about the courts; it is frighteningly true that many people with legal training think in this over-literal way. However, in reality it’s not a purely semantic issue. In fact, proponents of different ethical systems will probably use different names for their two piles – human or not human, capable of suffering or not capable of suffering, has a soul or doesn’t have a soul. The point is that it doesn’t matter what you call the two piles – you still have to make the choice.

  9. OK then.

  10. […] permit women to abort in cases of rape and/or child deformities. I would consider therefore that my previous post applies to far more people than I originally intended it […]

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