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I feel most ethical discussions of abortion are flawed

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BrianB
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Being prevented from killing another human being (once it meets that criteria) is not an act of force against you, it is the whole reason for having a government.

Obviously you do not mean this categorically -- otherwise you'd have to assert lethal force for self defense should be forbidden. So if the mandate to prevent killing another human being is not a categorical right of the government, where does the line lie?

It would seem that in answering that question, it would be particluarly appropriate for you to share your feelings regarding this analogy I posted earlier:

As an analogy let's say we have someone who is presently in a vegetative state (they have no ability to exercise will) and they are currently connected to life support in my facility. It is expected that in 9 months time they will emerge from their vegetative state and no longer require my life support facility (though they may still require other care). I no longer wish to provide this care or the use of my facility. Perhaps I'm getting out of the care giving business, just want to use the facility for another purpose, can no longer afford to operate it, etc. There are other facilities who may be willing to take the person, but unfortunately the state of technology is such that an attempt to transfer them would almost certainly result in their death. Must I continue to stay in the care giving business and share my resources just because this particular individual demands it? To avoid any contract issues, say my willingness to provide this care was voluntary and charitable at the outset. Even though the person has no will, they consume resources I no longer wish to provide or share. I would say that intuitively I can get out of the business and redeploy my resources and the person must take their chances with a transfer to another facility even though they will almost surely die. And if you agree with that, should I not be able to control my body in the exact same way and for the exact same reasons?

My understanding of your argument is that you think it's irrelevant if the fetus becomes a human being at some point or not, because before that point it is not a human being and therefore ok to abort, and after that point even if it is a human being it is a rights violator for taking sustenance from the mother and therefore still ok to abort.

Pretty close. It's not that it's taking sustenance. Parents are (and should be) required to provide sustenance for their children. "Sustenance" is not the question -- the question is the use of your body in a way you do not permit.

I agree with the first half, that it is ok to abort a non-human being. But I disagree with the second. A fetus, not having the power of restraint or mind control over the mother, is not violating her rights merely by taking sustenance. Therefore once it reaches the point of becoming a human being, it is a non-rights violating human being and she may properly be prevented by the government from aborting it. But I do not know at what point this transition takes place.

I previously conceded that it was a bit extreme to characterize the fetus as a rights-violator and that perhaps "unauthorized resource consumer" would be better. Even that really doesn't do justice to the situation. It is not simply that the fetus is an unauthorized consumer of resources, but it is that those resources are your body and you may not wish to share them. You may be fully willing to provide other similar resources -- the best science and technology can provide, but simply not your body. And I think that you have that right. If you disagree, then I think I'd be particularly interested in your feelings about this analogy (which I previously posted).

The determined will object that Henry Fonda owes me nothing, but the person who became pregnant owes a duty to the fetus that a stranger does not. Dismissing that notion seems as simple as asking when does that duty end? Assume that your 3 year old child needs a liver transplant, you are a match, and could donate part of your liver and survive just fine. As a parent, you might say you'd do it without a second thought. But that's not the question. The question is, "may the state compel you to do it against your will?"

If you refuse to provide the resources, your child will die. Is this the same as "killing" it? I don't think so. But you may.

Actually I don't know why a woman would object to such a law. It is not like saying, once you are pregnant society owns you. It is like saying if you get pregnant, it's your life, you can get an abortion. But you don't have forever to decide because at some point it will get rights too. It is only the religious interpretation, that gives rights at conception, that makes the woman a slave, because she has no period of decision. But as long as there is a period of decision, there is a decision! It is not an all or nothing thing where if you can't defend abortion at all times in all circumstances then women lose, it's that once you've defended a long enough decision period, women have won regardless of the rest of it.

You're fairly close to my position here. I think that when you say "abortion" you are assuming the destruction of the fetus, not simply the eviction of it from the body (and allowing life or death to follow as science and technology allows). If it were possible to non-destructively deliver all fetuses, and then let them live or die by the capability of technology to provide an alternative to the mother's body, what would be your thoughts about it?

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"The case for abortion rests on when the fetus obtains rights. Individual rights. I've personally heard arguments from Andrew Bernstein on this matter which in summary state that in order to properly place individual rights onto a fetus, that fetus would have to have reached a point in their development where they’ve achieved individuation as an organism sufficient enough that it could survive independently of its host organism i.e., the mother. The weakness in Bernstein’s argument is that you could have fetus’s that’ve developed conscious faculties being aborted at 8 and 9 months. Babies who could well be able to survive outside of the mother as human beings. In other words his argument is a good one but is flawed in that he bases rights on the event of physical individuation and negates the fact that a conscious being is being terminated."

This turns on whether we are arguing for the right to destroy or the right to evict. I only argue for the right to evict, not for the categorical right to destroy.

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It is not physical individuation, but mental individuation what matters.

Siamese twins may be physically bond together, yet have separate minds and hence be separate individuals.

Rights, to exist, demand a volitional conciousness interacting with other volitional conciousness.

We cannot detach rights from facts of reality. We cannot deal with a toddler as if we were dealing with an adult. We cannot deal with a newborn as if we were dealing with a toddler. We cannot deal with a newborn as if we were dealing with an embryo.

We must investigate how volitional conciousness develops, and then act accordingly. This is the realm of science... Philosophy is here to guide us by reminding us that A is A, that a concept cannot be detached from its referents, and that we should deal with things for what they are.

It is not human DNA which gives an entity rights.

It is not physical separatedness, or the ability to survive outside the womb.

It is all about volitional conciousness.

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It is not human DNA which gives an entity rights.

It is not physical separatedness, or the ability to survive outside the womb.

It is all about volitional conciousness.

I didn't want to quote your whole post, but I'll say I like your general approach here in that it follows a somewhat ordered progression, and attempts to address at least some of my analogies (which I don't think anybody has really done thus far -- but I'd have to re-read the replies to be sure). It also removes any issues about sentient aliens, sentient robots, etc. (all would have rights if they demonstrated volitional consciousness -- which at first blush would be the right answer I believe).

I like that you drew some sort of line in the sand -- and one that is not so arbitrary as "at birth". Your line in the sand is "t is all about volitional conciousness", and that's something that isn't facially absurd, so it leaves room for intelligent discussion.

For the purposes of the following, I will assume that by volitional consciousness, you mean what is described by AR here:

Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality—or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make.

Also, for any arguments I make on the topic, when I speak of abortion I really mean the right to evict from the woman's body regardless of consequence to the fetus, and not necessarily the unilateral right to destroy. They may seem like the same thing, but they aren't.

Some exploratory questions:

  1. When would you say (approximately) that most humans become possessed of volitional consciousness? My sense is that it occurs quite some time after birth. It would seem reasonable that if something that lacks volitional consciousness has no rights, then even post-birth the mother (or arguably the father) could destroy it at will up until that point. Perhaps if you regarded it as jointly owned property it would require the consent of both (such as a jointly owned dog or cat). What would your opinion on that be? [And yes, I realize that even if the logical conclusion is that we can destroy 6 month old babies that still doesn't negate the validity of the argument.]
  2. What of those who once possessed volitional consciousness but have now (temporarily or permanently) lost it? Are the vested rights irrevocable -- you had volitional consciousness once, and gained rights, and now even though you lack it (volitional consciousness), you still have rights? I ask so that we can ponder the status of the gravely injured who may or may not recover from their injury (and are, say, in a coma), as well as those who have lost their mental faculties due to Alzheimer's or other cognitive disease.
  3. If rights vest at that point, which people's bodies (if any) do I inherit the right to use, against their will, for my own benefit? [it seems like an absurd question, but there is a purpose.]
  4. If, somehow, it could be proven that at 2 months an particularly special embryo demonstrated volitional consciousness, and were therefore vested with rights, how would (or would) that supersede the woman's right to control the use of her body?

With #3 and #4 my purpose is to explore whether or not volitional consciousness and the rights you argue it confers, change the outcome of our analysis of the rights held by the woman.

If you say (as I suspect you must) that volitional consciousness occurs sometime well after birth, then you could argue that absent some sci-fi super-fetus, the whole abortion discussion becomes moot because the woman is the only rights-bearing entity in the equation, so her will is unchallenged. That's where my #3 and #4 come into play. For me, the answer to #3 is "your vested rights do not give you the right to use anybody's body against their will", and my answer to #4 is therefore "it wouldn't". If you agree, then it would seem that, just as if the volitional consciousness position is valid we needn't consider any other factors when weighing the abortion question, so would it be if you share my position about #3 and #4. In other words if having rights doesn't give you the right to use other people's bodies against their will, then how does the point at which your rights vest come into play in the abortion question? I'm not saying it isn't important -- perhaps it's equally important -- because if you agree with either one then abortion on demand is a given.

I'm interested in your answers to #1 through #4 as well as anything else you care to comment on. I think I addressed too much in this post. It probably would have been better to pick one facet and work on it a bit and then take others in turn.

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Hi, BrianB

I'll try to answer some of your questions

Some exploratory questions:

  1. When would you say (approximately) that most humans become possessed of volitional consciousness? My sense is that it occurs quite some time after birth. It would seem reasonable that if something that lacks volitional consciousness has no rights, then even post-birth the mother (or arguably the father) could destroy it at will up until that point. Perhaps if you regarded it as jointly owned property it would require the consent of both (such as a jointly owned dog or cat). What would your opinion on that be? [And yes, I realize that even if the logical conclusion is that we can destroy 6 month old babies that still doesn't negate the validity of the argument.]

I don't know when most humans become possessed of volitional conciousness. This is a question for science to reveal. From the few readings I have made, I believe that volitional conciousness is the result of a continuous process taking place over the first year.
Maybe someday we will know for true at which month after birth we can speak about an idea of "self" being made. But we will know it by indirect data. The sense of self is proven only by introspection and we might never know when, por a particular baby, such concept has arised.
Therefore, I suspect we must settle down with a safe threshold for a while. And that safe threshold may be at Birth and when the first eye-to-eye contact between baby and mother occurs. I would love to speculate that such an eye contact triggers the most primitive sense of self in a brain that is ready for making such a thing.

But let' suppose I am wrong and volitional conciousness arise, say, around six months after birth.
That would imply that babies would have no rights before that.
However, what that would NOT imply necessarily is that it is moral for parents to kill their baby. It would only mean that we could use persuasion, social ostracism and boycott, (which can be powerful weapons) to oppose to such an action, but not the force of the State.




  • What of those who once possessed volitional consciousness but have now (temporarily or permanently) lost it? Are the vested rights irrevocable -- you had volitional consciousness once, and gained rights, and now even though you lack it (volitional consciousness), you still have rights?

  • the difficulty here is epistemological, not metaphysical.
    A man under the effects of anesthesia or in a comatous state cannot decide by himself. If decisions have to be taken or not in his behalf ( whether his rights can be excercised or not in his behalf) is a matter of how feasible is for us to put that man out of that state. For a man who is just taking a nap, this is so easy that we would not dare, morally, to start exercising his rights. For an intoxicated man who will be OK in 12 hours, we might wait for certain decisions. But for a comatous person whose chances to get back to volitional conciousness are near zero, decisions should be taken for him completely, including the decision to stop expensive, uneffective vital support.

    Again, the cornerstone here is to investigate as honestly as possible all relevant facts of reality, and act accordingly.
    What we should avoid is sticking to the rationalistic approach that links rights which any entity for which we use the name "human".

    If my swimming pool is void of water, I would be a fool if I insist to plunge in it and swim, arguing "This is a swimming pool, and a swimming pool is a big container of water where people can swim". If I do it I may break my neck because I would be dealing with reality not for what it is, but for clinging to an abstraction detached from the referent I have in front of me.



  • If rights vest at that point, which people's bodies (if any) do I inherit the right to use, against their will, for my own benefit? [it seems like an absurd question, but there is a purpose.]

  • I didn't understand your question. could you rephrase it?


  • If, somehow, it could be proven that at 2 months an particularly special embryo demonstrated volitional consciousness, and were therefore vested with rights, how would (or would) that supersede the woman's right to control the use of her body?
  • Objectivism is the philosophy to live on earth and such an scenario, of a clash of rights, does not seem to occur in this earth.

    Let me give it a shot, though.

    If the mother chose to create a life of volitional conciousness, she is responsible for sustaining it until this new entity can survive by himself.

    It is probably similar to the case of a child having rights over part of his parent's money and time to sustain his life.

    Parents got the new little person into a particular problem ( being dependant for survival) so they must get the kid out of that problem ( by enabling him, through nutrition, education and loving care, to survive by using his own mind).

    Edited by Hotu Matua
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    To me the whole abortion debate is loaded with problems. For one thing the argument centers about the womans rights, but what of the man's rights? I believe that abortions are simply murder, to explain my reasoning:

    Bacteria are considered living, therefore any single cell that is reproducing is considered living, therefore a fetus is alive.

    A fetus is undeniably human. (as a species)

    A fetus does not have a choice in becoming a fetus, it is forced into it by the mother and fathers actions.

    Therefore a fetus is incable of violating a mothers right to her body, as she is responsible for it being there. (you may say in cases of rape that that is not her responsibility, but she could have prevented the pregnancy by taking contraceptive pills, something I believe is a pragmatic thing women should do just in case, and to manage PMS)

    It is not like a mentally retarded individual firing a handgun in a mall, it is like kidnapping someone off the street, locking them in your basement, then claiming they are violating your property rights.

    While a fetus may not be currently capable of rational thought, it will become capable.

    Newborns are not capable of ration thought at the moment of birth, yet they will become capable of rational thought.

    Disposing of a newborn is murder.

    Therefore disposing of a fetus is murder.

    There is also the issue that if a woman is in a consenting relationship with her partner, whether the partner should be allowed to prevent the abortion. I believe that if we are going to hold men responsible for their children through child support ( a broken system that needs a major overhaul) then they should be allowed to ensure they are born.

    As for the example of a three year old with liver cancer, that is different as the government is compelling you to act, not preventing you from acting. Abortions are a conscious action to end the life of a human, not donating organs is a conscious inaction, which may not even result in the death of the individual. The difference between action and inaction is paramount here.

    Edited by rdrdrdrd
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