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semm
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First, is a fetus really part of the mother's body in the same way that the heart is? It seems to me more like a tapeworm; that is, a parasitic organism that has its own identity but happens to live inside the body of another organism.

Second, saying that the fetus is only a human being after the umbilical cord is cut implies that one could wait until the fetus was outside the body and breathing, and then still kill it. At this point the fetus is no longer dependent on the mother for oxygen, but still physically attached. So where is the exact dividing line?

Another related issue: On what grounds do parents have an obligation to care for their children? One way to interpret objectivist ethics is to say that they don’t; nobody has any obligation to support anybody else.

These seem like reasonable objections to me. I'm not sure I fully understand the Objectivist position regarding abortion either. Certainly, there are no grounds for denying a woman the right to an abortion during the first couple months of pregnancy, before the fetus is even conscious. But after that it gets a little tricky. I'd like to hear more discussion of this to help me grasp the Objectivist position more clearly and/or solidify my own views.

As for the related issue, I think we may have discussed that a bit in the guardianship thread, so check that out. Or even if we didn't, that would probably be a better place to continue discussion of that issue.

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First, is a fetus really part of the mother's body in the same way that the heart is? It seems to me more like a tapeworm; that is, a parasitic organism that has its own identity but happens to live inside the body of another organism.

Second, saying that the fetus is only a human being after the umbilical cord is cut implies that one could wait until the fetus was outside the body and breathing, and then still kill it. At this point the fetus is no longer dependent on the mother for oxygen, but still physically attached. So where is the exact dividing line?

Another related issue: On what grounds do parents have an obligation to care for their children? One way to interpret objectivist ethics is to say that they don’t; nobody has any obligation to support anybody else.

1) I like to think of it as "not a sovereign human being" rather than part of the mother's body. I think that's an analogy that only goes so far. Otherwise, you get into weird contortions like you mention.

2) And that is exactly what the concept of sovereignty obviates. The baby, once removed from the womb, is obviously and self-evidently metaphysically separate from the mother. Also, why would you do (or even contemplate) killing a baby so late in the game. It's kind of a wacko, extreme perspective that seems horrible even if you believe the counterpoint. Come back a little earlier and then your examples are debatable.

3) The way you interpret the Objectivist ethics is patently false. Rand specifically stated that children are the obligation of their parents. I'm not anywhere near the Lexicon to find a citation, but I can do it if you require. The justification is that the parents have brought the child into existence and are responsible for it until it can support itself. In no other relationship is such a situation extant and in no other relationship is such an obligation involved.

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2) And that is exactly what the concept of sovereignty obviates. The baby, once removed from the womb, is obviously and self-evidently metaphysically separate from the mother. Also, why would you do (or even contemplate) killing a baby so late in the game. It's kind of a wacko, extreme perspective that seems horrible even if you believe the counterpoint. Come back a little earlier and then your examples are debatable.

3) The way you interpret the Objectivist ethics is patently false. Rand specifically stated that children are the obligation of their parents. I'm not anywhere near the Lexicon to find a citation, but I can do it if you require. The justification is that the parents have brought the child into existence and are responsible for it until it can support itself. In no other relationship is such a situation extant and in no other relationship is such an obligation involved.

2) I'm not sure what your point is. The umbilical cord dividing line is not my suggestion; it came from the site I referenced. What do you mean by "come back a little earlier"?

3) Point taken; I have not seen that in Rand's work but other Objectivists have given the same explanation. I'd like more explanation, though. Why does bringing the child into existence create an obligation? I'm thinking especially of cases where a woman gets pregnant accidentally rather than choosing to have a child. Why can she just not abandon the child after it is born? Why does a child have "positive rights"?

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I'm not sure what your point is. The umbilical cord dividing line is not my suggestion; it came from the site I referenced. What do you mean by "come back a little earlier"?

He means that only a sick and twisted individual would want to get an abortion very late in the game, even it if is not murder. The great majority of abortions occur in the first trimester, and the status of a fetus is very clear there.

Btw, a woman's ability to get an abortion is significant because it means that having a child is always a choice, and obligations (and moral judgements) only apply to the realm of choice. Of course, even if abortions were not possible, there is always the choice to have sex, but in that case, a woman who was raped and did not have access to an abortion would not be obligated to raise that child.

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  • 3 months later...
All right, if you wanted to argue about abortions taking places later in the pregnancy when the fetus is at least conscious, I could understand. But to say that it is a human being with rights from the moment of conception?!

I am going to wax verbose here -- primilarily because I find this particular issue to be the most difficult in all of Objectivism.

The newly conceived is a human being, a member of the species homo sapiens sapiens, from the moment of conception, from a scientific standpoint. There is hardly a textbook in the field of human embryology which doesn't make that immediate classification.

The attribute that is more relevant is the philosophical classification "person", not the scientific classification "human being" or "homo sapiens sapiens". Though from conception a new human being exists (and in the case of asexual reproduction or cloning through twinning, more than one eventually exists), the question is whether that human being has the nature that allows him to have rights, which is essentially what a "person" is.

Does this happen at the onset of the existence of a human being, which scientifically is at conception, or does it happen at the point when sapience and the ability to reason have fully developed.

Since the child is only metabologically dependent on the mother, and not developmentally dependent (again, any textbook on human embryology makes this clear), this means that though the unborn human being is not feeding himself or yet breathing for himself, he is self-assembling, i.e. developing for himself. This means too that the mind is developing by degree, because the instrument that makes the mind possible, the brain, is developing by degree.

Of course that is also irrelevant if you say that the actual "person" requires full development, and without that full development, there is only a potentional "person".

Though I find that to be the most likely solution, it does raise some very serious problems from my perspective on the method for concept formulation. If I judge the concept to match the metaphysical for a "person" from measurement omission, I can't really take into account the degree of development in determination of a kind, and the development of the mind is a non-stop process from day one after conception, and the brain until around the age of 25. It seems to me that to accept a degree of development creating a new kind, in this case a degree of development of the mind of a human being eventually creating in them a kind which is a "person", would be to apply a method OTHER than measurement omission in identification of the relevant concept -- and that method is dialectic materialism -- particularly the first law which claims that degrees of difference eventually become new kinds.

Rand rejected dialectic materialism because the thesis/anti-thesis/synthesis focus of the method conflates contradictions in epistemology with competing interests in metaphysics (such as Hegel's babble about movement being a contradiction in reality -- specifically the same object being in two places at the same time was his definition of movement), but she also rejected it because of its aspects of degree to kind conceptulization. The typical example Hegel might apply here would be that one grain of corn isn't a bushel, nor two, nor three, but eventually more and more corn becomes a bushel. Rand, on the other hand, would have probably recognized that a bushel is nothing more than an abstraction of a degree, and thus isn't a new kind of anything (except of course, a kind of measurement, but that's again just an abstraction of degree).

Perhaps it sounds like I am rambling here, but I do have a point. Why is degree of development important in this case, when absent of violent interruption or deprivation the human being and his rational faculty will develop on its own? Why is degree in this case, and thus the first law of dialectics, acceptlble as a standard, rather than the concrete kind and the already inherent nature of the child to be a rational being (without which he would never become one -- anymore than a dog could become one since its not in his nature) allowable when the standard is rejected by Rand and Objectivists in general across the board for almost every other conceptulization?

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In your argument against abortion, you deny parts of Ayn Rand's philosophy. You have a different notion of rights than Ayn Rand has, and you have a different notion of what qualifies as a human being.
Though I see your point, Philosophy doesn't have the power or the authority to override scientific determinations and classifications. Rand's use of the term "human being" is unfortunate. She should have stuck with the philosophical term "person". As a result of not doing that, there is the perception of many that she was imposing philosophical meanings on scientific terms -- an improper practice to say the least.

Point taken; I have not seen that in Rand's work but other Objectivists have given the same explanation. I'd like more explanation, though. Why does bringing the child into existence create an obligation? I'm thinking especially of cases where a woman gets pregnant accidentally rather than choosing to have a child. Why can she just not abandon the child after it is born? Why does a child have "positive rights"?

I can't argue for or against abortion here. Like I said, I find the whole issue to be the most confusing in Objectivism. But in any case, if someone were to procreate a human being, intentionally or unintentionally, and if simultaneously all human beings are persons with rights, then to abort that person who did not choose the situation would be to subject him to a willful death trap. A parent who procreates and thus initiates conception and the immediate state of absolute dependency would owe a moral obligation to meet that need so long as it posed no threat to her life.

This actually isn't against what Rand might have said herself. She certainly gave sanction to Nathaniel Branden's article in the December 1962 issue of "The Objectivist Newsletter". That article was entitled "What are the respective obligations of parents to children, and children to parents?" In it, Branden stated with Rand's approval that parents have an obligation to their born children because they created their state of absolute dependency, and because that act happened outside of the consent of the child. Of course, Branden made a distinction between born and unborn children, but he didn't really give a very relevant objective reason why.

In any case, its clear from the ethics that if the purpose of the sex act was something other than procreation, the reality that procreation occured was the undenable fact. If that child is also a "person", then it doesn't really matter what the original intent was, anymore than it matters in other activities. If I were to go out for a joyride for instance, there is hardly any desire on my part to run over an innocent pedestrian. If it happens though, what I intended is irrelevant in comparison to what actually happened.

Btw, a woman's ability to get an abortion is significant because it means that having a child is always a choice, and obligations (and moral judgements) only apply to the realm of choice.
Yes but that assumes that she hasn't already had a child. If there is no "person" then I agree with you. If there is a "person", then the choice has already been made and the child already exists. His exit from the womb wouldn't be meaningful to his identity at that point or his existence.

Of course, even if abortions were not possible, there is always the choice to have sex, but in that case, a woman who was raped and did not have access to an abortion would not be obligated to raise that child.

True, but claiming that the choice to kill a "person" (if one exists) in all cases because of the very minute number who are actually conceived in a non-consensual sex act would be the fallacy of the excluded middle, would it not?

It would be tantamount to claiming that I may kill anyone on my property, regardless of their reason for being there, even if they are there through some action of mine through which they had no choice or were invited, simply because the possibility exists that someone can come onto my property without my consent and through no action of my own.

Of course, that's only if unborn children are "persons". If they are not, then its no different than removing a wart, a real parasite, or even an organ if we wanted to. We just don't get to call any of them, except for the last one, a part of the woman's body.

First, is a fetus really part of the mother's body in the same way that the heart is? It seems to me more like a tapeworm; that is, a parasitic organism that has its own identity but happens to live inside the body of another organism.

I can give you a few medical reasons why a fetus is not a parasite. Unless you are using the term "parasite" in a social/perjorative sense (such as an unhappy worker might call himself a "slave" to his job), the term "parasite" has a very specific meaning in biology with very specific criteria.

In any case, a fetus is not a part of the mother's body, again in a scientific sense. It might end up functionally the same, but we don't get to reinvent terms to fit wandering concepts.

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One's evaluation of homosexuality, on the other hand, does not follow only from one's philosophy. It is very much a scientific issue and does not hinge on Objectivism. There is nothing in Objectivism to evaluate homosexuality. Such an evaluation requires knowledge of the biological basis of homosexuality, for instance.

Some science is relevant to abortion, but the fact remains that philosophy is even more relevant to it and you reject Objectivism in your argument for it.

I would agree with that to some extent, but philosophy doesn't get to define what a human being is -- "human being" and "homo sapiens sapiens" are primarily scientific terms, and from the standpoint of the human embryologist, newly conceived zygotes are human beings.

Rand weakened her argument at least in appearance when she used the term "human" or rather "inhuman" in referring to a creature that is nothing less than a real "human". She should have used the term "person", for obvious reasons. That term is strictly defined by philosophy, and is historically referring to a (usually human) creature with rights.

In any case, that quote from Rand about homosexuality is quite accurate.

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  • 2 months later...

:)

I'm sorry. I may be talking out of school here, but I need someone to find this reference:

Rand specifically stated that children are the obligation of their parents. (...)  The justification is that the parents have brought the child into existence and are responsible for it until it can support itself. In no other relationship is such a situation extant and in no other relationship is such an obligation involved.
I was under the impression that there is not ANY possible situation in which the rights of one can require the abrogation of the rights of another for even a moment more than is practicable -- child or not.

Aside: Does this mean Rand would have been against offering children for adoption?

If we say that children have some claim on their upbringing, does that mean they have some claim on the quality of that upbringing?

There are tons of problems with this claim, which is why I'm skeptical. So, please pardon my impudence here, but I'm really going to need a citation so that I might read its justification.

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Digging through my copy of "The Ayn Rand Lexicon," this is all I can find regarding a parent's responsibility to a child. All italics are mine.

The question of abortion involves much more than the termination of a pregnancy: it is a question of the entire life of the parents.  As I have said before, parenthood is an enormous responsibility; ...particularly if they are intelligent and conscientious enough not to abandon their child on a doorstep nor to surrender it to adoption. ...parenthood would force them to give up their future, and condemn them to a life of hopeless drudgery, of slavery to a child's physical and financial needs.  ...I cannot quite imagine the state of mind of a person who would condemn a fellow human being to such a horrer.
"The Age of Mediocrity," The Objectivist Forum.

The "as I have said before" statement appears to refer to an almost identical quote about "lifelong responsibility."

So what about this whole "slavery" and "responsibility" mess. Is it possible that Ayn Rand wrote John Galt's oath, and many other statements to the same effect, and forgot to mention that children are an exception? Even if one never even wanted to have these children? Unlikely. I figure that she is speaking of the beliefs of those "who would condemn a fellow human being," when she says "slavery," not of her own.

As best as I can figure, and I am open to debate here, when one chooses to have a child (i.e. chooses not to abort their fetus), that person chooses to raise that child. At this point it would be immoral to drop the child on a doorstep or at an adoption agency*. However, it would not be immoral to, for instance, kick a teenage ruffian out of the house. This is because it is presumably better, in the interests of raising that child, to get him out of the home in which he became a teenage ruffian, and into the real world. Once again, I am open for debate about this.

Lastly, I would like to point out the Ayn Rand recognised the possiblity for debate about late stage pregnancy. But dismissed it due to the fact that late stage pregnancy is not the essential issue in the debate.

One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months.
"A Last Survey," The Ayn Rand Letter, IV

However, she said something to this effect on numberous occasions, including the once in the same paragraph of the above quote: "human life begins at birth."

Perhaps this means she was open on the topic of late term pregnancy right through her dieing days... perhaps not.

*Giving the child away to an unknown individual would be condemning him/her to who knows what. I am undecided about giving the child away to a known individual. And if you would like me to elaborate I will do so in a subsequent post.

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I was under the impression that there is not ANY possible situation in which the rights of one can require the abrogation of the rights of another for even a moment more than is practicable -- child or not.

I lend you a thousand dollars, which you promise to pay back next month. This means that next month you will have an obligation to pay me a thousand dollars. Does that constitute an abrogation of your rights?

Why not?

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What the hell is this Wittgensteinian nonsense?  First of all, we certainly can know that a being is conscious.  It is an inductive generalization that begins with our own direct, introspective awareness of our own consciousness, and subsumes other, similar creatures (such as other human beings).  If you think that we have no way to know that a being is conscious, then on what basis do you say that any other people are rational, and therefore that they have rights?  You have undercut your whole anti-abortion argument, because based on this reasoning, you could presumably reach the conclusion that murder is not wrong at all, not only as applied to fetuses, but to anyone.

Doesnt the formation of a concept necessarily involve abstraction from multiple entities? How can you form the concept of consciousness in order to apply it to others when you only encounter it as a singularity?

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It is less like a contract than a decision.  A decision to undertake something that, morally, you must complete and complete rightly.

Yes. I would say that "decision" is the broader concept, and contracts and parenthood are subtypes of "decision."

(Perhaps "commitment" would be a better word for it.)

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I lend you a thousand dollars, which you promise to pay back next month. This means that next month you will have an obligation to pay me a thousand dollars. Does that constitute an abrogation of your rights?

Why not?

Because that's a contractual agreement.

Does that mean that you would say that sex leading to conception is an 18 year 9 month contractual agreement between mother and child where she lends her body, work, and money?

Or are you just saying that if you birth the child THEN you're obliged to care for it?

I'm assuming you mean the latter due to the later citations presented. I'm just looking for clarification of what we're accepting as true at this point. I'm not posing an argument here.

This is why I'm not trying to get any babies right now. I'm impressed by all the issues associated with child-rearing and amazed that so many undertake it so casually.

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Or are you just saying that if you birth the child THEN you're obliged to care for it?

Yes, I would agree with that. The choice to have a child brings worth a helpless individual into the world – making him your responsibility until he is capable of fending for himself. I think the moral obligation of have a child is roughly analogous to incapacitating an adult individual -- in that case, you would also be responsible for supporting him until he is able to return to work. In neither case are you required to personally provide that care – hence it is acceptable to give children up for adoption, even if it is irresponsible.

As I already mentioned, the right to an abortion is a very important element in child bearing being a choice. Personally, I am careful about getting into a relationship with a woman who categorically rejects abortion, since I may end up being (morally and legally) responsible for a child – something I don’t want to do for a long time. Prior to the age of birth control and abortions, many people had their dreams were ruined by such “accidents.”

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To clarify, it is not merely giving birth, but choosing to give birth that qualifys you to this responsibility. So if abortions are banned than you would not have a moral responsibility to take care of the child (though you may choose to anyway).

As for this:

In neither case are you required to personally provide that care – hence it is acceptable to give children up for adoption, even if it is irresponsible.

You are not required to personally provide that care, but you are responible for its quality. So giving a child to a trusted individual or an adoption agency with trustworthy guidelines would be moral. However, giving him to a stranger or an untrusted agency would not.

Does this make sense?

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So if abortions are banned than you would not have a moral responsibility to take care of the child (though you may choose to anyway).

I disagree. Both parents are responsible for providing for their child even if it was unwanted and both abortions and birth control is illegal. However unjustly their choice was restricted, it is still a choice – and thus carries the corresponding responsibility. Rape is the only case in which a woman would not be responsible for raising her child.

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I disagree. Both parents are responsible for providing for their child even if it was unwanted and both abortions and birth control is illegal. However unjustly their choice was restricted, it is still a choice ? and thus carries the corresponding responsibility. Rape is the only case in which a woman would not be responsible for raising her child.

Do you believe that the father of the child should have the right to abandon the mother and the pregancy within the first 3 months or whatever (ie during the same period as the mother may have an abortion)? It seems a bit unfair that a woman is allowed to stab her child in the head repeatedlly should she desire to not look after it, whereas a man is forced to ruin his life by taking care (financially or otherwise) of a child he does not want.

I wouldnt say that the state has the right to force either mother or father to care for a child at any point, whether it's in the womb or otherwise. To force a person to support another in this manner is nothing less than a form of slavery, and one which I certainly oppose.

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He means that only a sick and twisted individual would want to get an abortion very late in the game, even it if is not murder. The great majority of abortions occur in the first trimester, and the status of a fetus is very clear there.

Why? Circumstances change; there may be new factors that have arisen that would make continuing the pregancy very detrimental to the mother's happyness (new career opportunities/heath reasons/whatever). In this case, what is morally wrong with her choosing to end the pregnancy?

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...It seems a bit unfair that a woman is allowed to stab her child in the head repeatedlly should she desire to not look after it...

These kinds of emotionalistic mischaracterizations have no place in a rational discussion. Your word choices ("stab," "child") are obviously intended to imply that abortion is murder, but without the bother of actually making an argument for that conclusion. Consider this a warning.

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I will answer your questions, poohat, but don't make Ash yell at you again.

Should the mother decide to have the child and the father dosen't want to, he may certianally leave. Than the mother may decide if she wants to have the child without him. I have an exception, if a man got involved with a woman who was opposed to abortion outright, and she got pregnant, morally, he would have to take care of the child. My reasoning here is that he made his choice to have a child when he got involved sexually with her.

And as for late term abortions. Should the need arise for the parents to abort late, there is nothing morally wrong with that. This usually happens because of threats to the mothers physical health, but I can imagine other reasons for this kind of decision.

However, should it be found that a fetus develops a rational faculty while still inside the womb, than there is to be discussion about when precisely it becomes a person. I say discussion because there are other factors to consider, such as the fetus/persons parasitical nature.

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