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A MODEL FOR APPROACHING ABORTION AND THE FATE OF SEVERILY MENTALLY DAMAGED PEOPLE

There are basically four major situations for human beings, related to their volitional conciousness.

1. Intrauterine stage. There is no volitional conciousness, no recognition of the self, nor any way in which the "self" could develop, as there is no difference for the fetus between "him" and his envirnoment. The mother could never be perceived as another person ("you") but as part of him and his environment.

2. Infancy. During the first year of age, the human being starts a process of separating the "self" from the mother (the first "other"). There is no full volitional conciousness, but it starts developing over the course of months. It is impossible to determine, overnight, when the self has "appeared".

3. Adult stage. There is volitional conciousness. An adult understands the meaning of "I want" "I choose".

4. Broken adulthood: perennial infancy. Something goes wrong and the being persists in the perceptual stage, not being able to say to himself "I want" "I choose".

Based on this, we can observe that

Rights cannot be derived from the nature of the human beings in situation 1. Embryos and fetuses have no rights. Abortion, if practiced seeking a rational goal, is justified.

Rights can or cannot be clearly recognized in human beings in situation 2, as their nature is quickly changing. Babies just born would have no self conciousness, but infants around 12 months would have some. We could treat them as if they had rights, resorting to the rights of the valuers, as we will see.

Rights can be derived from the nature of man in situation 3. Killing is not justified.

Rights cannot be clearly be derived from the nature of human beings in situation 4, although the nature of the disease and the effectiveness of the medical and family care will affect this evaluation. We could treat them as if they had rights, resorting to the rights of the valuers, as we will see.

For human beings under situations 2 and 4, we could resort to the State for protection of the rights of valuers.

This stems from the fact that

  • Human life is highly valued by many people besides the guardians for many reasons. This people can show their interest in advance through the establishment of charity associations.
  • There is an objective code of behavior displayed by the guardians (negligence, abuse, or plain confession) that shows that they do not value anymore this human being.
  • By displaying these behaviors the guardians are forsaking their role as main valuers (guardians) and that other valuers can now pursuit custody.
  • The intervention of the State secures the rights of the new valuers to pursuit their value (seek custody).

What do you think about this model?

Edited by Hotu Matua
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Note: Please familiarize yourself with the Objectivist position on abortion before participating on this thread. A good starting point is the Abortion article on the Objectivism Wiki. - GC

Rand’s original stance is expressed in, “Of Living Death,” The Voice of Reason, 58–59.: What many fail to acknowledge is that her stance DID BECOME MODIFIED CONTEXTUALLY. She later wrote in “

No they aren't and no it doesn't. Lots of killing isn't murder or even immoral. Killing weeds in a garden isn't murder. Using anti-bacterial soap doesn't make one a mass-murderer. It isn't murder to r

The model is flawed because it does not take into account the rights of the woman. Even if, hypothetically, the fetus was a fully conscious, self-aware, volitional being, it still could not impose a duty to sustain its life on anyone.

I believe it was covered in number one as Embryos and fetuses have no rights. Abortion, if practiced seeking a rational goal, is justified.

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I believe it was covered in number one as Embryos and fetuses have no rights. Abortion, if practiced seeking a rational goal, is justified.

Yes, but this conclusion was based solely on the premise that a fetus has "no volitional conciousness, no recognition of the self, nor any way in which the 'self' could develop". This is correct for at least the early stages of a pregnancy; but it is also vulnerable to slippery slope arguments.

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The model is flawed because it does not take into account the rights of the woman. Even if, hypothetically, the fetus was a fully conscious, self-aware, volitional being, it still could not impose a duty to sustain its life on anyone.

Well, we are discussing abortion based on premises taken from reality (A is A).

In reality, fetuses or embryos are what they are. They are not fully concious, self-aware, volitional beings.

If they were a different kind of being, then the scenario would be, correspondingly, different and many other considerations would have to be taken, depending on what exactly reality were (e.g. whether they deliberately invaded the mother's body and then are criminals as any other criminal, or whether they did not choose it and they happen to be dependant, whether they can negotiate with the mother a future back-payment, etc.). The possibilities are infinite. That's why we should stick to what the nature of the thing is.

Having said that, I agree with you that no person can impose upon another a duty to sustain his life, whether it is a baby or a person with severe physical damage unable to work or a refugee after Haiti's earthquake.

But this is when our theory of values comes into play.

That is why we sent food to Hait after the earthquake. It is not that the refugees imposed a duty on us. They are not entitled to any bottle of purified water we may have. It is because we valued them. Valuing Haiti refugees implies that we have reasons to think that by providing temporary support in a non-sacrificial way, our own lives will get benefit.

Edited by Hotu Matua
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Well, we are discussing abortion based on premises taken from reality (A is A).

In reality, fetuses or embryos are what they are. They are not fully concious, self-aware, volitional beings.

Perhaps you misunderstood. I do not deny that fetuses are not self-aware, volitional beings. I just think that this justification, while perfectly valid, is easy to argue against. An opponent will ask you why a newborn has rights today, but did not have them yesterday, when it was still in the womb. Your model alone, without amendment, cannot offer an objective, reality-based solution for this problem - at least none that I can see.

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Perhaps you misunderstood. I do not deny that fetuses are not self-aware, volitional beings. I just think that this justification, while perfectly valid, is easy to argue against. An opponent will ask you why a newborn has rights today, but did not have them yesterday, when it was still in the womb. Your model alone, without amendment, cannot offer an objective, reality-based solution for this problem - at least none that I can see.

If an opponent asks me that, I would say that the newborn has no rights.

My model, as you can read above, places the slippery slope after birth. The reason why the slippery slope begins at birth and not before derives from the reality of the circumstances of the intrauterine being.

Before birth, as I said, there cannot possibly be a recognition of "self" against the "other" because there is no referent for "other". The embryo/fetus lives a kind of selfless unity with his environment, even if he has a twin brother in the same uterus.

At birth, the process of identification of the self slowly starts as a result of the interaction mother-child, by which the child starts "realizing" that the mother is a separate being. Between the time in which we cannot speak of rights (before birth) to the time when we can (roughly, after one year of age) we have a twighlight zone. (which in my model I indentified as situation #2)

If we want to know whether a being can be tortured or killed without the intervention of the State in this period, we would need to either

  • Admit to extend arbirtrarily a positive "right" to them, as a courtesy,
  • Say they have rights since they are born, but it is just that they are excercised by their parents/guardians (traditional view in this forum) or
  • Apply a theory of values and valuer's rights to the problem, which is the approach I am offering.

The first approach does not satisfy me because I see a contradiction between being entitled to something and being given something as a courtesy.

The second approach has enourmous practical advantages, but then fails at two points:

  • It does not answer the question of why we are recognizing rights in potentialities, not in actualities
  • It sets a "positive" right: a right to be fed, protected, educated, etc. In the same token, Haiti earthquake refugees would also have, at least for some weeks or months, a right to protection.

The third solution, in my view, is compatible with relational values and the right of a valuer to pursue the value, as long as no owner's rights are violated.

I know my solution could lead many people to think that whales, mountain gorillas, seawater and other entities could quickly qualify for the same treatment, fulfilling the wet dream of collectivist. But I don't think this is the case. I will try to work out an answer to this concern later on.

Edited by Hotu Matua
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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 3 weeks later...

I wrote a reply to the issue of abortion for a paper recently that I feel accurately reflects the foundations of Objectivism and answers the question nicely, please feel free to point out any flaws in my reasoning.

The issue of abortion is essentially the issue of personhood, if the fetus is not a person then it has no rights. If the fetus has no rights than it cannot possibly be immoral to destroy it. (I use the term personhood because the argument that the fetus has rights because it is human is speciesist and irrational) The only objective, defining characteristic of personhood is the rational faculty (I believe this necessarily contains both general consciousness, and at least some rudimentary form of conceptual consciousness). At no stage during its development, in utero, does a fetus ever attain this state (this is in large part due to the nature of the environment in which the fetus grows, as it has no way to identify anything or anyone conceptually, it may remember things, but it cannot conceptual identify anything). However, the instant a fetus is taken out of the womb, ie born, it begins to develop this rational faculty. It identifies it's mother, it identifies the cold, it identifies feelings of hunger and it recognizes things about its own nature that it could not possibly know while in the womb (this also responds to the objection about infanticide; infanticide is not permissible because a child becomes a "person" the instant it is born). The argument for the potential personhood of the fetus does not refute this argument as the potential to be recognized as part of a certain group can never give you the true status of a member. For instance, I am studying law, this means that I have the very real potential to become a lawyer at some point in the future (just as a fetus has the potential to become a person at some point in the future) however, this does not give me a license to practice law. Neither does it mean that people should respect any legal advice that I give them. The argument that this is a faulty analogy because the fetus' potential is unconditional whereas my potential is conditional upon my actions also fails. The fetus' potential for personhood is not unconditional, there are many cases where, even left free from abortion, many fetus' do not ever reach the stage of personhood. This means that my analogy is sound and that potential personhood does not give the fetus a right to life.

Let's review:

Person = Rational faculty = general and conceptual consciousness

Fetus = no rational faculty = not a person = no right to life

Infant = rational faculty = general consciousness and rudimentary conceptual consciousness = right to life

Potential person = not a person = no rational faculty = no right to life

Any questions?

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The problem is that you're letting the issue hinge on a specific scientific position which, unfortunately, is not tenable. Although you're right that personhood is the essential fact in this debate, you're omitting a clear fact about the nature of a "person" -- it is not in the nature of a person to live physically inside another. A "person" is an autonomous, physically separate being. Birth thus dramatically distinguishes a fetus from an infant. And this is a self-evident truth.

Birth does not dramatically distinguishes a fetus from an infant with respect to cognition, and using developmental cognitive facts as your criterion, there is a continuous and quantitative cognitive development, not a qualitative one. There is now as much scientific evidence that a fetus can perform identifications in the last trimester as there is that an infant can in the first weeks of life on the outside. A fetus is not totally cut off from sensations.

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The problem is that you're letting the issue hinge on a specific scientific position which, unfortunately, is not tenable. Although you're right that personhood is the essential fact in this debate, you're omitting a clear fact about the nature of a "person" -- it is not in the nature of a person to live physically inside another. A "person" is an autonomous, physically separate being. Birth thus dramatically distinguishes a fetus from an infant. And this is a self-evident truth.

Birth does not dramatically distinguishes a fetus from an infant with respect to cognition, and using developmental cognitive facts as your criterion, there is a continuous and quantitative cognitive development, not a qualitative one. There is now as much scientific evidence that a fetus can perform identifications in the last trimester as there is that an infant can in the first weeks of life on the outside. A fetus is not totally cut off from sensations.

While I agree with your argument for the separate nature of a person (I will definitely include this as part of my argument next time) I fail to see how a fetus not being cut off from sensations = a conceptual consciousness. Also I would like some references to this data that fetus' can perform identifications as I believe this to be impossible. The fetus does not have any context for its sensations, although it certainly does feel and hear things, and therefore it cannot possibly perform identifications. Identification absent of all context is impossible

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I fail to see how a fetus not being cut off from sensations = a conceptual consciousness.
I don't understand what you mean. Maybe the simple way to put this is that you haven't given any factual reason to believe that a fetus differs from a newborn in terms of having a conceptual consciousness.
Also I would like some references to this data that fetus' can perform identifications as I believe this to be impossible.
I'll make you a deal: for every reference that you can provide that shows that a newborn can perform identifications, I'll show you an analog for fetuses. The reason why I want to do this on a one-for-one basis is that I want you to first establish what you consider to be acceptable evidence for your belief that a newborn can perform an identification, than then once I know what you consider to be acceptable proof.
The fetus does not have any context for its sensations, although it certainly does feel and hear things, and therefore it cannot possibly perform identifications.
What do you mean "has no context". In what way does a newborn "have a context" for its sensations?
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I don't understand what you mean. Maybe the simple way to put this is that you haven't given any factual reason to believe that a fetus differs from a newborn in terms of having a conceptual consciousness.

The difference between the fetus and the newborn is the context of its environment, but i'll go over that when i answer your third question.

I'll make you a deal: for every reference that you can provide that shows that a newborn can perform identifications, I'll show you an analog for fetuses. The reason why I want to do this on a one-for-one basis is that I want you to first establish what you consider to be acceptable evidence for your belief that a newborn can perform an identification, than then once I know what you consider to be acceptable proof.

The fact that a newborn can perform identification is fairly self evident. I don't really think it's necessary to claim that a baby can identify things, as soon as they are out of the womb they reach for their mother and begin breast feeding... if you really need proof of this point just go to a maternity ward.

What do you mean "has no context". In what way does a newborn "have a context" for its sensations?

A newborn has a context for its sensations because it is aware of its environment. It can feel the cold, it can see the lights and the other people around it, just because it can't speak doesnt mean its brain doesnt begin the process of identification. A fetus cannot see anything, it cannot feel its environment, if anything invades its environment and causes it to feel something it cant possibly identify that feeling with any specific object or figure because it can't see anything. You made a point earlier about a fetus being metaphysically attached to the mother, I will make a similar point that a fetus is metaphysically separated from the physical environment by way of the uterus. Until it exits the uterus it has no capability to exercise its rational faculty

Edited by Cmac19
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The fact that a newborn can perform identification is fairly self evident. I don't really think it's necessary to claim that a baby can identify things, as soon as they are out of the womb they reach for their mother and begin breast feeding... if you really need proof of this point just go to a maternity ward.

Any woman with lactating breasts would do for the newborn (or for that matter a bottle with a nipple). Suckling is a primative reflex for a baby, not a process of "there's mommy it's time to eat". The people "identifying" mommy here are the hospital staff delivering the baby which is why you won't be able to observe otherwise in a maternity (intentionally anyway). I don't think there is any evidence indicating babies who were sent home with the wrong moms knowing any difference.

Edited by RationalBiker
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The fact that a newborn can perform identification is fairly self evident. I don't really think it's necessary to claim that a baby can identify things, as soon as they are out of the womb they reach for their mother and begin breast feeding... if you really need proof of this point just go to a maternity ward.
It's also fairly self-evident that a late-term fetus react to what it senses: just ask a pregnant woman. So I think your argument would be better off if you didn't make it seem like it depends on any specific facts of developmental psychology. Don't say that that are actually false like "a fetus can't see" and don't say that a fetus can't feel its environment, because again that's just plain false and furthermore irrelevant.

In my opinion, it is a serious mistake to go inventing new arguments about abortion without understanding the Objectivist argument for a woman's right to an abortion. I understand that the entire integrated argument is complex and has a lot of parts, and it would be neat to simplify the argument to just one equation. But if you make the argument hinge on scientific claims and the scientific claims can't actually be supported (or worse, are known to be wrong), then the argument is going to get refuted.

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  • 2 weeks later...
The model is flawed because it does not take into account the rights of the woman. Even if, hypothetically, the fetus was a fully conscious, self-aware, volitional being, it still could not impose a duty to sustain its life on anyone.

Is it a widely-accepted Objectivist belief that the parent isn't responsible for the well-being of their child?

EDIT: Never mind, looked it up.

It seems as though the most widely-held Objectivist belief is that the parents of a child are responsible for that child's well-being... assuming they didn't abort it.

That seems like a complete and absolute cop-out. Why are we drawing the line at birth?

Edited by Minarchist
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It seems as though the most widely-held Objectivist belief is that the parents of a child are responsible for that child's well-being... assuming they didn't abort it.

That seems like a complete and absolute cop-out. Why are we drawing the line at birth?

Do you think the fetus should have a right to live at the mother's expense, holding potentiality over actuality?

More specifically still: "Doesn't a fetus have a right to be inside the body of the woman?

A fetus does not have a right to be in the womb of any woman, but is there by her permission. This permission may be revoked by the woman at any time, because her womb is part of her body. Permissions are not rights. There is no such thing as the right to live inside the body of another, i.e. there is no right to enslave. Contrary to the opinion of anti-abortion activists (falsely called "pro-lifers" as they are against the right to life of the actual human being involved) a woman is not a breeding pig owned by the state (or church). Even if a fetus were developed to the point of surviving as an independent being outside the pregnant woman's womb, the fetus would still not have the right to be inside the woman's womb.

What applies to a fetus, also applies to a physically dependent adult. If an adult—say a medical welfare recipient—must survive by being connected to someone else, they may only do so by the voluntary permission of the person they must be connected to. There is no such thing as the right to live by the efforts of someone else, i.e., there is no such thing as the right to enslave."

For a general overview of Abortion I suggest this article by Peikoff: Abortion is Pro Life

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Do you think the fetus should have a right to live at the mother's expense, holding potentiality over actuality?

I believe that any child has the right to live at the mother's expense.

Apparantly, so do most Objectivists. The difference between us? I don't think "birth" is a very convincing place to draw the line.

More specifically still: "Doesn't a fetus have a right to be inside the body of the woman? A fetus does not have a right to be in the womb of any woman, but is there by her permission. This permission may be revoked by the woman at any time,

Replace "fetus" with "child" and "body/womb" with "home".

There is no such thing as the right to live inside the body of another, i.e. there is no right to enslave.

Nor a right to kill.

Contrary to the opinion of anti-abortion activists (falsely called "pro-lifers" as they are against the right to life of the actual human being involved) a woman is not a breeding pig owned by the state (or church).

I've never heard such a thing stated by "pro-lifers".

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I believe that any child has the right to live at the mother's expense.

Apparantly, so do most Objectivists.

Objectivism isn't a democracy. The philosophy itself does not hold that one man has the right to live at the expense of another.

Besides, I doubt you took an accurate survey of Objectivists' opinion on the matter, anyway.

Replace "fetus" with "child" and "body/womb" with "home".

I won't. I like logic.

Nor a right to kill.

I do have the right to kill.

Edited by Jake_Ellison
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Objectivism isn't a democracy.

Besides, I doubt you took an accurate survey of Objectivists' opinion on the matter, anyway.

Nah, just a quick tally in a few threads.

Do you mean to say you disagree?

I won't. I like logic.

Me too.

I see absolutely no reason the cut-off point should be "birth".

Since you disagree, you must have a logical reason that it should.

I do have the right to kill.

In self-defense a man has any right.

Edited by Minarchist
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Nah, just a quick tally in a few threads.

I see absolutely no reason the cut-off point should be "birth".

Since you're not familiar with the logic of the Objectivist position on abortion, you need to go back to the fundamentals. What "cut-off point" are you talking about? What thing is it that you want to cut off at some point?
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Since you're not familiar with the logic of the Objectivist position on abortion, you need to go back to the fundamentals. What "cut-off point" are you talking about? What thing is it that you want to cut off at some point?

The right of a parent to stop caring for the well-being of their child. More specifically, to kill their child.

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Why are we drawing the line at birth?

Have you read any of the previous 50 some pages for this answer? Have you searched the forum for other threads relating to abortion? If the answer to that question is of value to you, you might try those options.

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Have you read any of the previous 50 some pages for this answer?

Not all of them.

Nothing regarding my particular point yet.

Have you searched the forum for other threads relating to abortion?

I've searched a few threads regarding the responsibility of children.

I see a contradiction that has yet to be addressed properly. The parent must take care of their child... after it is born. Why? How does that make sense?

Edited by Minarchist
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