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Why do human babies have rights?

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The scientific answer to this is obvious. I'm interested in the view of Objectivists.

Ayn Rand distinguishes humans from animals by the humans' ability to choose life, as opposed to living by instinct. Babies live wholly by instinct just like animals. The age of 7 is the classically accepted "age of reason," and from my personal observations of children, I think that is a fairly accurate average for when a child gains the ability to choose life rather than simply live by instinct. Of course, this ability is gained by degrees, not necessarily all at once in an epiphany.

The only way that I can see to classify babies as human would be to grant them a special exception based on their future potential of becoming human. However, I'm aware that Objectivism, in other areas at least, rejects the equivalance of potenialities with realities. What is the tack taken by Rand or other Oists?

Edited by Myrtok
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Well, as you indicate, the rigorous definition of "human" is obviously the scientific definition.

When Rand discusses what distinguishes humans from animals, she is distinguishing the characteristic mode of living and supporting one's life. Infants of any species are a special case in that they are generally incapable of supporting themselves. Thus, Rand's statements about morality and what is appropriate to a person generally apply to adults, or children old enough to begin asking the questions relevant to charting one's own course through life. She was not attempting to put forth an alternate definition of "human;" she was merely attempting to clarify the difference in modes of living between grown humans and other animals.

Babies are most certainly classified as human; Rand wasn't trying to replace a rigorous scientific classification system. Her interest was in what moral codes are proper to a human being who is capable of choosing between different moral options. In addressing this question, obviously she focused on people who are capable of choice, which excludes infants, people in vegetative states, etc. The point to take away is not that these people are not human, but rather that the moral questions that we need to ask are not relevant to them (or not yet, in the case of infants).

Edited by Dante
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The original question occured to me while I was scanning through other forum posts and discovered that Rand was unable to forumlate a rational justification for animal rigts, despite her desire to do so. This seems to be based on the reasoning that animals are not volitional beings. The fact that animals have no volition means they have no right to life, nor even any rights that should prohibit a man from torturing them. I am trying to discover within that frame of reasoning some justification for a government to use force against a person who is torturing a baby without resorting to the fact that the baby has the potential of eventually becoming a volitional being.

Perhaps I was unclear in my original post. By "human" I meant the philosophical, objectivist definition of a being that has life and volition.

Edited by Myrtok
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What you're really looking to get at is the justification of rights for human babies, not questioning if they actually are humans. :P

When babies are born, they lack two things adult humans generally have - a lot of physical capacities, and mental content that they have accrued over years and years of observations and thought in their lives. What babies do not lack though is the basic rational faculty. That rational faculty which they do have is what rights are based upon.

Babies of course cannot and should not be expected to go about making their own way in the world like any adult human though because as I said earlier, they lack the observations that adults have had over time to be able to make good use of their rational faculty and they lack the physical capacity to to act on much of any thoughts even that they may have for quite a while. This is why babies and children have some basic rights, like their right to life and not to be tortured or anything like that, but they do not have some of the same rights adults do, like to not be locked in a room without their consent. They have rights to what they currently have the capacity for, but other things that they need and otherwise would have capacities for if they were adults, are designated to some adult volunteer or volunteers to take care of on their behalf.

Animals on the other hand do not just lack some of our physical capacities and content, they lack the basic rational faculty itself. They aren't just at some present disadvantage that they can be expected to at least largely overcome just given some time, they are a fundamentally differently operating thing. From birth, these other animals are already possessing of their fundamentally different nature, their different way to survive. Babies don't actually start off surviving primarily on instincts, but automated reflex and care from other human beings and those other human being's rationality. Animal babies though may learn to mimic some things that are demonstrated to them by older animals at some point, but they've got instincts that are their characteristic way to survive built into them from the start and that is what they've got to direct them primarily from the start and from that point on. It's like how many animals don't really need to learn to walk, within minutes of birth they may get up and start walking, perhaps a bit feebly at first, but still, walking right off the bat.

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I'm not sure I agree that a baby has any basic rational faculty. I certainly haven't seen any such faculty in any of my babies. Whether one describes the basic few things that all babies do to survive (like sucking on a nipple and swallowing) as instincts or automated reflex, the result is the same: they are automatic and require no rationale. I also can't accept the premise that a babies lack of reasoning is only the result of it's lack of experience or ability to take action. A human brain isn't fully developed at birth. It takes 18-21 years to grow a brain and get all of its connections and functions working properly. At birth, and for at least a few months thereafter, the behavior of babies I've known seems to suggest that the physical capacity for even rudimentary logic and reasoning does not exist.

I am interested in your use of the word "volunteer" to describe a baby's caretaker though. I'm curious about the ethical conclusion an objectivist would draw when considering a mother who gives birth to a baby and then takes the baby home and decides to simply quit feeding it after a week or two. Does that mother owe the baby anything? Obviously the baby's NEED for adult intervention wouldn't suffice as any kind of burden on the mother or any other adult. If she doesn't want to feed the baby, does she even owe it the time and effort it might take to arrange for a new caretaker? What if nobody else will volunteer to take care of the baby? Obviously, no government intervention would be permissible, since she isn't using force.

So, far, I'm really liking the objectivist philosophy. However, I seem to hit some spots where its practical results no longer seem so desirable when I start applying it to situations like this and a few others. That's why I'm asking these questions. After all, when Ayn Rand first told me that selfishness is a great standard by which to live one's life, I was horrified. Now that I understand the reasoning behind that assertion, I love it. Perhaps someone will be able to explain the reasoning in this situation in a way that I haven't yet been able to work out for myself.

Edited by Myrtok
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By "rational faculty" I mean they have the basic parts, they have the essential brain structures for use as a rational animal, not that they actually are practicing logical thinking from birth. It's like they've got the machine to produce a certain product even if they don't yet have electricity and chemicals going into the machine and thus haven't yet actually produced any of that product. I also did not mean to imply a baby's brain is EXACTLY the same as an adults, sans the content, just that the essential part relevant to this discussion was the same. As I said, they need some time to grow and develop still. I was counting a little growth of their brain among other parts of their body that still need to grow. There will be brain growth, and yes, some development, but at birth it is still an essentially human brain with the rudimentary basics needed for an animal that will survive via reason.

Whoa, whoa, no, the lady is not allowed to just quit feeding the baby she volunteered to be the caretaker for. D: Since the baby does have a right to life, the volunteer caretaker is not allowed to prevent the baby from getting its necessary sustenance SOMEHOW. If the volunteer wants to stop volunteering, then at the very least, their final obligation is to see to it that they pass the care of that baby along safely to a new volunteer before they cease caretaking. If nobody else can be found, then I'd say the latest caretaker is bound to the job until or unless they finally eventually can find another, that that is part of the terms of taking on the kid in the first place. If this means the birth parent in particular can't find anybody else to take it as opposed to somebody where there was some kind of maybe formal contract involved in the signing over of custody of the child, they didn't make any kind of contractual agreement with anybody here to take over the responsibility, but in this case they have the responsibility first because it is their actions that are responsible for putting somebody here on planet earth with a right to life and an inability to take care of that right on their own.

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Ayn Rand distinguishes humans from animals by the humans' ability to choose life, as opposed to living by instinct.

She first starts out possessing the concept man, and then searches for the essence of man. For a first level concept, the concept comes first then the definition. The meaning of any concept is the referents it picks out. The concept "man" picks out men and women, the healthy and the infirm, the old and the infants. Babies are human. Putting the definition into priority before the entities that exist to deny babies are human is a grotesque dogmatism, it is parallel to a Nazi claiming non-Aryans are subhuman, or a slave owner claiming his slaves are not human.

The reasoning behind this is found in Ayn Rand's Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology where she presents her theory of concept formation and emphasizes that a word is a symbol for a concept, and the meaning of a concept is the referents it points to. Definitions are critical to logically link concepts to other concepts, but there are first level concepts that can be defined and justified by pointing at types of things out in the world without fundamentally depending upon the use of other words. The philosophical issue is, if all words are ultimately defined as other words then all human knowledge is a giant circular argument having no special claim to validity, it is all social convention and accidents of history and no objectivity.

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I'm not sure I agree that a baby has any basic rational faculty. I certainly haven't seen any such faculty in any of my babies.

Then I don't think you are looking hard enough -- remember though to take into account their context of knowledge and the resulting logical capacity. There are plenty of studies on testing infant's ability to choose. There is one where they sent babies crawling out on a sheet of plexiglass initially supported by a solid surface and then crossing an opening with a drop: the babies refused to cross the apparent drop -- some stopping and sitting, others stopping and crying. In their context of knowledge this seems perfectly reasonable. Heck, even some adults become scared at amusement parks.

Another interesting story is the one of a five year old flying on a plane for the first time. She sat calmly and waited for a while after takeoff before asking the adult next to her: "when do we get smaller?". Now clearly she has made an error but even fully rational people make mistakes because of incomplete knowledge or even mistaken reasoning. Her question seems to have a certain logic to it considering her lack of knowledge or integration of the concept "perspective".

At birth, and for at least a few months thereafter, the behavior of babies I've known seems to suggest that the physical capacity for even rudimentary logic and reasoning does not exist.

I think bluecherry is exactly right: you need to distinguish between rationality on the one hand and rational faculty or ability on the other. We are born with a rational faculty, it is what makes us human. However, being fully rational takes experience and practice, and even some adults are not fully rational. In all those things open to a baby's choice that is how it acts: by choice -- it is human. It chooses when and if to flail its arms and legs. It chooses what to focus its attention on and when to change that focus.

You are making headway on this issue as you seem to have adjusted your position already from 7 years to a few months for reasoning.

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Ayn Rand distinguishes humans from animals by the humans' ability to choose life, as opposed to living by instinct. Babies live wholly by instinct just like animals. The age of 7 is the classically accepted "age of reason," and from my personal observations of children, I think that is a fairly accurate average for when a child gains the ability to choose life rather than simply live by instinct. Of course, this ability is gained by degrees, not necessarily all at once in an epiphany.

I think you may be thinking of the use of reason in a much more particular way than anyone here would mean. By reason, it really just means the ability to at least make some simplistic comparisons between objects such as noting differences in sizes, it isn't always thinking abstractly on level of solving puzzles. Babies often make comparisons like this poorly, and oftentimes seem incapable of thinking in that way because of how much guidance they need. Still, there's a basic capacity present, where there is something a bit more than a mere reaction. Rudimentary choices are made on a near-animal level, but a baby is fundamentally different compared, say, a baby horse. On top of the obvious physical differences, cognitive development is still clear, volition is present.

As far as babies being human, similar to what Grames is saying, words are symbols for a concept. While the essentials of being human would be "rational animal", there is a whole lot more to being human than that, like having two eyes, two legs, having a digestive system, etc. A baby is just a subset of human, with some more particular characteristics which include small size, limited cognitive ability, not having a full set of teeth, lack of hair on the head, etc.

Edited by Eiuol
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Oh, certainly.

By rational faculty I mean in context, capacity. Babies are born taubla-rasa indeed, i.e., their knowledge is not automatic and thus concepts are not particularly and arbitrarily genes, but, a thought, the process of integration and identification, is necessarily an act of choice. If while solving the problem of universals there context consists of no volition, then one is neither conscious nor rational, but rather an automatic animal, acting for its survival, whose inventions set of no valuable consequences on reality.

But: p1. since yet they cannot use in real-life problems, and

p2. since life is not the negation of death (see reification of zero)

p3. their parents brought them to here and now's world

Therefore, their means of survival is not merely they reason, but their parents' as well. When man's justification to the right to property and liberty (and self defense of them) is inferred from the fact it is his means of survival, of the ownership of his very own body, to promise to cause a baby's latter right to liberty and property, they should be used for the sake of his previous life. His whole only fundamental rights (i.e., that which symbolize of a certain principle from which all other allowed things are inferred) are life and the support of present and future rights, from his parents. The last one, moreover, like any other right, is contextual: a parent has no right to force his baby repeat Marx' writings nor does he have the right to forbid the reading of more `educational` books (whether should he forbid his right to read malevolent philosophies such as Marx' is his very own decision).

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The property of rationality needed to form a concept of man. But it would be wrong to define each and every man only by this essential property. Rationality is a property which essentially differentiates humans from other animals, but it is not the only distinguished property. Humans differ from other species by appearance, anatomy, physiology etc...If one ignores these properties, he won't be able to define mentally ill as human.

Edited by Leonid
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I think bluecherry is exactly right: you need to distinguish between rationality on the one hand and rational faculty or ability on the other. We are born with a rational faculty, it is what makes us human. However, being fully rational takes experience and practice, and even some adults are not fully rational. In all those things open to a baby's choice that is how it acts: by choice -- it is human. It chooses when and if to flail its arms and legs. It chooses what to focus its attention on and when to change that focus.

You are making headway on this issue as you seem to have adjusted your position already from 7 years to a few months for reasoning.

Yes. Since I am here to learn, I have no problem with adjusting my stance when I am taught something :D My example of 7 years old was based on a misunderstanding of Rand's definition when she describes her epistomology in Atlas Shrugged. (Start with the difference between a rock and a living thing, progress to the difference between all other living things and a man- the man must choose to live). I can see a two year old applying some rationality, but not choosing whether or not to live. To put it another way, I can see a two year old making certain rational connections, but not having the ability to "choose life" in the moral fashion described by Rand.

As for an infant waving its arms around or "choosing" to look at bright colors and movement, that is not a demonstration of any rationality at all. A cat flicks its tail back and forth and focuses intently on movement as well. A kitten can even distinguish between a plexiglass bridge and a hole into which it might drop. The human baby may learn faster, but I would argue that is a function of intelligence rather than rationality. After all, a dog might also learn faster than the cat, and they both may learn faster than a mouse. Some animals would probably even learn to trust the plexiglass faster than a human toddler.

However, just to keep things simple and avoid the need for such arguments, let's just consider a newborn baby - from birth to a few days old. There is nothing it can do to distinguish it from an irrational animal. Whether it's brain has the proper form to give it the ability to reason is unclear. We don't know. It obviously has the potential to become a rational man, but equivalence of actuality and potentiality is frowned upon by Oism.

I am having trouble reconciling the fact that a newborn baby has any more rights than an unborn baby. If the test to determine whether it has any rights is whether it has ANY rational faculty, then wouldn't it become imperative to determine exactly when that ratinal faculty comes into existence? Of course, this only applies to whether it's permissible to torture a baby.

As for a mother's obligation to care for the baby and keep it alive after birth, I don't think that has been answered sufficiently. Bluecherry's response assumes that the mother has volunteered to care for the baby and then changed her mind. Let us instead suppose that the mother has NOT volunteered to care for the baby, but instead has only refrained from exercising her rights up until that point. If I allow you to push me two times, that does not negate my right to forcibly stop you the third time. If I give you two meals, that does not obligate me to give you a third meal. If a mother lets a baby impose on her body for nine months, and drain her productivity for two or three days after it is born, that does not give it a claim to a fourth day.

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The original question occured to me while I was scanning through other forum posts and discovered that Rand was unable to forumlate a rational justification for animal rigts, despite her desire to do so.

Would you cite passages in Rand's writing that support your statement that she desired to formulate a justification of animal rights? I don't recall ever reading any such passage.

John Link

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Would you cite passages in Rand's writing that support your statement that she desired to formulate a justification of animal rights? I don't recall ever reading any such passage.

John Link

I originally read something of that nature on this forum. Unfortunately, I can't find it now.

Doing a normal web search I found this: http://sanseverything.wordpress.com/2007/10/24/from-ayn-rand-to-animal-rights-an-interview-with-henry-mark-holzer-2/

This is an interview with her lawyer. Be forewarned that he is also a prominent animal rights lawyer. So, take it for what it's worth but he said :

Your readers might be interested in knowing that once she said to me that if I could figure out a theoretical basis for animal rights' date=' I “would be doing the world a great service.”[/quote']

I'll keep searching around to see if I can find the original reference, since this one seems fairly weak.

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Babies, despite not being rational, are humans.

Humans, despite having stages of growth, are always human, and when they do work for their own survival, rational.

It is logical to grant rights to humans, because of their nature. Criminals who act irrationally are punished accordingly. Humans in vegetative states are, in fact, euthanized if it can be reasonably proved that they are not, nor will ever again, possess consciousness (reason). Babies, then, by their nature, are rational beings in a state of incubation. On the one hand, there are the rights of their grown selves. On the other hand, all humans alive were necessarily once babies. Even if a baby was born with full rational capacity, it would still need time to learn how to survive before it could. It's just the most basic common sense to grant rights to babies, for exactly the same reasons why one would grant them to human adults.

As for animals, this is a difficult question indeed. I have an answer though. Man lives morally so long as he does not demand of the world that which is beyond its nature. Thus a rational man may never improperly demand the compliance of another to his own will. Rational men do not live in such a world, nor do they or their actions permit or sustain it. This applies to animals in the sense that man may not attempt to impose on animals any sort of life that is contrary to that which is natural to the animal.

Thus, man may kill animals for food, breed them, kill them young even. He may manipulate them genetically, or through breeding, an create new and different types of animals with different natures.

What he may not do is that which is unnatural - torture, excessive exploitaton (force feeding an animal so depressed it would rather starve, or bizarre experimentation), and so forth. Again, the reason is for man's sake. That which is 'unnatural' is that which seeks some gain from the animal that defies its nature. Torture fulfills man's bloodlust, an arbitrary and abstract sickness, for which the nature of animalkind provides no given mode of fulfillment.

I'd say that mammals generally require happiness to sustain a limited volitional capacity. So, in general, torture or abuse is forcing mammals to live against their nature. Torture is a negative gain for man, an easy example, but what if there is a positive gain like increased meat capacity from torturous barn conditions? Unfortunately, the best answer I can come up with is as ambiguous and vague as the provision of the bill of rights that bans 'cruel and unusual' punishment. If the cattle ranch conditions are 'unnatural' - not as in unlike nature, but rather, as in, denying the very fundamental nature of the cow, turning it completely from a living organism into a meat factory - then perhaps at that point it would be immoral.

Even so, if it was immoral, there'd be only a limited claim for 'rights'. Government is limited, and governs intra-man. Extending its authority to animals is tricky, because doing so grants it too much authority philosophically. I suppose one man could claim an abused animal from another, claiming stewardship. Thus the government would arbitrate between men. That would work, and I could see the torture type situations being regulated like this. I could also see commercial rules, such as banning sale of dogs to dog fightes. But if a dog fighter had some secret stash of puppies that the animal rights advocate couldn't keep up with... well too bad really...

As for the cows, I think it's a matter of consumption and choice. One would make the rather subjective decision about 'unnatural stewardship' and not purchase meat from factory farms if they could afford it. I don't mean to say that 'unnatural stewardship' is a subjective standard, only that it's complex. Being that it involves non-humans, the political process can only go so far in making conclusions by it. Hence, the personal choice. So, the 'rights' then, are limited, and ultimately retained by humans who love animals.

In fact, that's one way to deal with babies - stewardship claims. If a child is abused or mistreated, stewards may claim it, and the arbitration is between rational adults, not an adult, the state, and the child. As for the state, it would have to assume responsibility for children of criminal adults whom it locks away. Although, if a child truly is not developed, can it not live in the prison with the parents? Or, basically something to that effect with an orphanage? Since the state must provide the needs of the incarcerated adult, as a steward of a child, the adult's imprisonment extends that entitlement to the child. Again, the adult's 'rights' are being met as a steward.

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I can see a two year old applying some rationality, but not choosing whether or not to live. To put it another way, I can see a two year old making certain rational connections, but not having the ability to "choose life" in the moral fashion described by Rand.

We are the rational animal, we have free will, choosing is what we do -- whether we acknowledge it or not -- it is in our nature. I can agree that children are not fully moral in the same way and for the same reasons that they are not fully rational, But that doesn't make them any less a human being than does being an ignorant adult.

As for an infant waving its arms around or "choosing" to look at bright colors and movement, that is not a demonstration of any rationality at all.

It is a demonstration of the volitional faculty which is the rational faculty.

A cat flicks its tail back and forth and focuses intently on movement as well. A kitten can even distinguish between a plexiglass bridge and a hole into which it might drop. The human baby may learn faster, but I would argue that is a function of intelligence rather than rationality. After all, a dog might also learn faster than the cat, and they both may learn faster than a mouse. Some animals would probably even learn to trust the plexiglass faster than a human toddler.

I could say that you are comparing an expert perceptual animal to an unformed ignorant animal but we don't really need to argue that do we? You accept that there is a fundamental difference between humans and other animals don't you? And the difference exists at birth as a faculty, right? And that this difference is the reason babies grow into men while animals grow into animals?

However, just to keep things simple and avoid the need for such arguments, let's just consider a newborn baby - from birth to a few days old. There is nothing it can do to distinguish it from an irrational animal.

Nothing? I beg to differ. It certainly looks different. And, more fundamentally, there is a faculty it possess that other animals don't and that is why those animals won't ever be men.

Whether it's brain has the proper form to give it the ability to reason is unclear. We don't know. [...]

No, it is pretty clear. Barring an injury, death or malformation babies will become men.

[...] It obviously has the potential to become a rational man, but equivalence of actuality and potentiality is frowned upon by Oism.

I am having trouble reconciling the fact that a newborn baby has any more rights than an unborn baby. If the test to determine whether it has any rights is whether it has ANY rational faculty, then wouldn't it become imperative to determine exactly when that ratinal faculty comes into existence? Of course, this only applies to whether it's permissible to torture a baby.

All of the answers to these questions can be found in the Abortion thread here

As for a mother's obligation to care for the baby and keep it alive after birth, I don't think that has been answered sufficiently. Bluecherry's response assumes that the mother has volunteered to care for the baby and then changed her mind. Let us instead suppose that the mother has NOT volunteered to care for the baby, but instead has only refrained from exercising her rights up until that point. If I allow you to push me two times, that does not negate my right to forcibly stop you the third time. If I give you two meals, that does not obligate me to give you a third meal. If a mother lets a baby impose on her body for nine months, and drain her productivity for two or three days after it is born, that does not give it a claim to a fourth day.

The questions on children's rights are answered here

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My personal opinion is that babies don't have rights, but they have grights.

As a result, they deserve protection from the State.

Acknowledging the concept of "GRIGHTS" solves ethical issues around abortion, the rights of babies and children, the rights of severily retarded people, old people with severe dementia, people in reversible coma, and mammals with almost human-like intelligence.

A gright is the way the State protects an entity who closely resembles, on objective grounds, an entity with rights. In protecting a subject of grights, the State eliminates a threat to the violation of rights. In contrast to rights, grights are extended as a courtesy. They are not inherent to the ability to function rationally, but inherent to the ability to resemble rationallity, develop rationallity or demostrate past rationality.

A subject of grights is an entity that is very close to say "I am. I think. I choose" or who has said it in the past.

I elaborate further this position in the thread "Rights and Grights" of the Ethics section of the forum.

Edited by Hotu Matua
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The essential question the OP asked as I see it hasn't been answered. Why is a baby a human, but a foetus is not a human? Both depend on others for their survival, and both exist because of parental choices, namely choosing unprotected sex produces a foetus and choosing not to abort produces a baby. So unless the woman was raped (i.e. no parental choice) how is it logical to treat a foetus and a baby differently in an Objectivist framework?

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The essential question the OP asked as I see it hasn't been answered. Why is a baby a human, but a foetus is not a human? Both depend on others for their survival, and both exist because of parental choices, namely choosing unprotected sex produces a foetus and choosing not to abort produces a baby. So unless the woman was raped (i.e. no parental choice) how is it logical to treat a foetus and a baby differently in an Objectivist framework?

Let's keep this topic in line with the OP'd intended discussion please.

Rehashing the abortion debate could easily derail this discussion.

If you do a forum search you will find many pages devoted to the question you are asking here.

This is a very comprehensive one: http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.php?showtopic=14916&st=1080&p=242462&hl=abortion&fromsearch=1&#entry242462

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The reason we feel horrified by the sight of someone torturing or murdering a full developed fetus, an already born baby, a severily retarded person, an old man with severe dementia, or a gorilla, is because that emotion (horror) is the result of an idea: The idea that when you kill something which is close enough to a fully rational being, you are showing little respect for a fully rational being.

I think our sense of horror is not misleading in this regard. We should take it into consideration, not as a cognitive tool, but as a signal of a deeper cognitive process by means of which we understand what murder/torture/negligence really mean.

If I abhor strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, and blackberries, there is a great chance I will also abhor blueberries. Why? Beacuse I am very likely to be abhorring the concept of "berries".

If a man tortures babies or chimps or people with dementia, he is showing despise for entities that look or behave similar to those who can say "I am. I think. I choose". He becomes a threat for those who hold rights.

As a corollay, a person who represents a threat to other's rights should be treated by the State as a drunk driver: punished.

Edited by Hotu Matua
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