Saturday, May 27, 2006

Morality is Objective (And People Are Wrong)

(I posted this at Ezra's, but it's philosophical enough to post here.)

A week is an eternity in the political blogosphere, but it's a short time in the world of philosophy. Or at least, that's my excuse for responding now to a couple of Matt Yglesias' week-old posts on the objectivity of morality. Some things Matt says in the course of arguing against the existence of objective moral facts that really don't have much bearing on the question of objectivity. In fact, many of his criticisms apply just as well to areas of inquiry where objective truth is clearly at stake. Let's first consider this:
Sometimes, you face a question that you think has an objective answer like "How much should we care about budget deficits?" What you're supposed to do in those circumstances is look at the evidence in an even-handed and objective way. The big issues of political commitment don't work like that at all. Siegel didn't go learn Arabic fluently, then read the Koran (it says you should only read it in Arabic), then study the works of Sayyid Qutb and other Islamist commentators, and then objectively weigh those arguments against the great names of liberal political thought in an open-minded and unprejudiced way before deciding, "Yes, those Islamists are all wrong!" That would be dumb, and nobody lives their life like that.
Matt's pointing out that the way we usually arrive at moral beliefs is quite different from the way we ought to arrive at beliefs on the empirical questions that drive public policy. That seems right. But it's important to note that very few people -- Matt and Ezra perhaps, but not most of us -- actually arrive at their public policy views in much the same way. Most people don't wonk out on pdfs from Brookings, seek out the best arguments from all sides, and make well-considered decisions. Emotional judgments from gut feelings, sadly, play an outsized role in determining many ordinary people's beliefs on issues where there are objective right and wrong answers. You don't even need to go to normatively laden questions of the "How much should we care" variety to see this. You can just look at ordinary, purely descriptive questions -- "Do tax cuts stimulate the economy more or less than spending increases?" or "Which candidate is more electable?" to find places where many people's emotional attitudes (for example, their feelings about taxation or about the candidates) determine what sorts of beliefs they form.

Does this tear away the objectivity from facts of public policy? I don't think so. All it says is that people are forming their public policy beliefs in an unreliable and untrustworthy way. All the more reason to recognize the possibility of error within ourselves, and dedicate some energy to thinking clearly, considering well-collected empirical data, and listening carefully to all sides. Similarly, the fact that people tend to make emotionally driven moral judgments doesn't mean that morality isn't objective. It just means that we're likely to make mistakes, and so we need to understand that our intuitive moral judgments could be wrong. Objective truth could still be out there -- we're just bad at finding it.

This attitude towards moral belief underlies my own approach to the issue. I think that people very often go wrong in their beliefs about the objective moral facts. How do I separate the true moral beliefs from the false ones? I first try to determine what sorts of processes of belief-formation are generally reliable, considering many examples where morality isn't at stake. Then I look at all the ways that people form their beliefs about which states of affairs are good, and which actions are right. I throw out the beliefs that are generated by unreliable processes. Particularly, I throw out the beliefs formed by having some emotionally-driven attitude towards a state of affairs, and thus coming to believe that there's some objective goodness or badness out there in that state of affairs. All that's left is the goodness of pleasure and the badness of displeasure, which can be discovered without any emotions standing between us and our pleasure or displeasure. You can know that your sensations of black are sensations of darkness without any emotion standing between you and the black, and similarly, you can know that your experiences of pleasure are experiences of goodness without any emotion standing between you and the pleasure. Looking at your experiences and determining what they're like, with no emotional interference, is a reliable way of knowing. So the objective goodness of pleasure and the objective badness of displeasure are all we can know of objective goodness and badness.

Another related point Matt makes:

Islamists do a lot of stuff that seems cruel and repugnant -- sawing off peoples' heads, for example or stoning gay people to death. Is that "really" wrong? Do I need to check? Deduce it from first principles? If I can't come up with an airtight argument against head-sawing within the next fifteen minutes, does that throw everything into doubt? Again, that's silly; nobody thinks that.
The fact that we don't usually require airtight arguments for moral conclusions doesn't really bear much on the question of objectivity. Consider the easier questions of physics -- you don't need to determine the gravitational constant in order to know that when you shoot a basketball, it'll travel in an arc, and eventually come down. But physics is an objective matter, if anything is. So there's nothing incompatible between our being able to get it right on a fair number of the objective questions, and saying that we haven't got a good theory worked out to decide the hard cases and explain everything. (Of course, once we do figure out the gravitational constant and build our theory, we can do all sorts of neat stuff.) My point here shouldn't be taken as a rejection of the idea that we're often wrong, or unjustified, in our moral judgments. All I'm saying is that it's possible to occasionally make correct judgments while lacking any developed theory to explain them.

There's this, from Matt's next post:

When you argue with people, you try to appeal to shared sentiments, point out alleged inconsistencies in the other guy's position, and so on and so forth. What underlies the possibility of discussion isn't objective moral truth but the fact that, say, Jonah and I have a vast stockpile of things we agree about and one tries to resolve controversies with appeals to stuff in that store of previous agreement.
What I want to say to Matt here is that objective moral truth actually underlies the possibility of this kind of discussion. Why is it interesting, in these discussions, to point out "alleged inconsistencies in the other guy's position"? Why would he even care about inconsistencies? Here's one answer: because his position consists of his beliefs, and when you have inconsistent beliefs, at least one of them has to be false. And why is it a problem that one is false? Because our beliefs aspire to objective truth, and when they are false, they fail.

Now, there are sophisticated versions of anti-realism that propose their own answers to these questions, like those offered by Simon Blackburn and Allan Gibbard (Matt links to one of Blackburn's books in his post). I reject their views because I reject deflationary theories of truth, but that's a fairly technical issue that I won't get into here.

One more thing to quibble with Matt about:

Sometimes you face someone whose disagreements with you are so profound that appeals to shared premises don't get you anywhere. Or you face someone who just doesn't care about doing the right thing. It's precisely because there's no way to decide who's objectively right in a dispute between, say, Adolf Hitler and liberal democracy, that we resolve the biggest moral controversies with force and threats of force rather than moral discourse and appeals to conscience. Debate and deliberation only work for the small stuff.
But this doesn't really have that much to do with objectivity either. It's an objective question whether or not Allah exists. He exists or he doesn't. But people are really set in their beliefs on this issue, some for good reasons and others for bad reasons. And this is the kind of disagreement that could conceivably (and does actually) cause people to start using force against one another. Similarly, you don't have to take morality outside the domain of objectivity to explain why people wouldn't be able to settle their differences through debate. Sometimes people just can't come to agreement on a question with an objective answer, and their desires are such that this lack of agreement seems to them like something worth fighting about.

If there's a single take-home message to all of this, here it is: Don't just throw out the idea that there are objective facts somewhere, just because people keep forming their beliefs in wacky ways, or because there's a lot of disagreement, or because everyone is fighting over stuff. It's still possible that there are objective facts, and the people just aren't being very smart about figuring them out.

104 comments:

ku said...

Hey Neil, looks like you have some good criticisms of Matt's arguments. However, I would take issue with your dismissal of emotions in all domains. Yes, they are often misleading but not always so. Take the question of whether I am feeling angry right now. Then my feeling of anger might be very relevant to that question.

I think moral questions have a similarly close tie to emotions, though perhaps not as close as the case above. I think moral questions are about what we or others should feel guilt or resentment or approbation towards. Emotions aren't just feelings but have a cognitive appraisal component. I think much of deciding whether we should feel an emotion is essentially applying our more conscious reasoning abilities to assessing whether the corresponding appraisal of the emotion would be correct. Since I think the content of that cognitive appraisal is highly ineffable, I think it would be very hard to reason about it without feeling it and imaginatively simulating it.

So, while there is definitely still room for error, I think some felt emotions are very relevant for determining moral truths, e.g. feeling guilt is very relevant for determining whether something is guilt-worthy. Thus, I think you can't lump all emotional reasoning together and dismiss it all as unreliable. Under a more fine-grained analysis, some uses of emotion will turn out to be unreliable while others will turn out to be more reliable.

Colin Caret said...

Neil,

I agree that these lines of argument do not really undermine the notion of objective morality. They are ultimately ineffective at demonstrating the relativity of morality. However, let me pose you a related, but slightly different question: I have a strong hunch that there is no such thing as objective morality. What reasons can you give me to think that there are moral facts?

Neil Sinhababu said...

Ku, I certainly don't want to say that all beliefs formed under conditions of emotion are formed by an unreliable process. What I want to pick out as unreliable is a particular process in which we feel an emotion towards a particular state of affairs, on the basis of hearing a bunch of descriptive facts about that state of affairs, and as a result come to believe that the state of affairs instantiates some property beyond those given to us in the descriptive facts. I don't know exactly what guilt-worthiness comes to; our beliefs in it might not be formed under this process, and thus they might be reliable.

Here's what would make me think we were unreliable even in using guilt to detect guilt-worthiness: suppose it turned out that perfectly informed people felt guilt in response to a widely differing group of situations. Some situations would incite massive guilt in some people, but none in others. In this case, forming guilt-worthiness beliefs on the basis of guilt would lead to mass disagreement about the guilt-worthy. This would mean that a lot of people would have to be wrong (so it is with disagreement), and perhaps the amount of wrongness would be so high that the guilt-based way of knowing would have to be considered unreliable.

Colin, the paragraph on pleasure is my start on convincing you that objective morality exists. I argue up there that we can use phenomenological introspection about pleasure to get the objective goodness of a particular state of affairs. But maybe you want a notion of right action as well. To turn the goodness of states of affairs into a notion of right action, we just need to add the following premise -- perhaps it's a conceptual truth about right action: All else being equal, one action is more right than another if it would bring about better states of affairs. Then I can get objective moral facts out of the objective goodness of pleasant states of affairs.

ku said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ku said...

Colin, here's an analysis of objective morality (and reasons more generally) in pamphlet form that I think makes it fairly clear that there is such a thing: www.umich.edu/~jsku/reasons.html

Neil, I think I can agree with your criterion in the abstract. However, I would want a more fine-grained analysis of using emotions to arrive at conclusions about morality, i.e. on my view guilt-worthiness/resentment-worthiness/approbation-worthiness. The fact that many people use the bare feeling of guilt to arrive at differing conclusions should not speak against the reliability of using guilt supplemented with proper reasoning like reflective equilibrium (and good non-moral beliefs as well). I think you do see quite a convergence in moral beliefs then, as much as say any difficult empirical (or even philosophical) matter on which many people's values depend (e.g. global warming, atheism, economics, etc.).

P.S. I copied your blog template:
pithiness.blogspot.com

Howard said...

Good states of affairs --> Morally right action: not so fast.

Hi Neil!

I had a question about your premise (that you speculate may be a conceptual truth about right action) that “All else being equal, one action is more right than another if it would bring about better states of affairs.” Could you explain what you mean for all else to be held equal? In particular, is all else NOT held equal in any or all of the following cases?

1.) Agent S performs act A, A turns out to produce the best state of affairs, but S did not believe that A would do this (and thus did not perform A with the intention of bringing about the best state of affairs). (E.g. as part of an execution squad, a Nazi is trying to kill a Jew (because e.g. he thinks the Jew is a disgusting inferior, he thinks his duty to the fatherland requires it, he thinks it would be fun, or he just hates to Jew or some such - and thus does not try to kill with the intention of bringing about the best state of affairs), but his shot actually ricochets, causes a telephone poll to collapse, which incapacitates all the Nazi executioners, and all the Jews escape safely).

2.) S performs act A, A turns out to produce the best state of affairs, S believed that A would produce the best state of affairs (and perhaps performed A with the intention of doing this) but it was in fact irrational for S to believe that A would produce the best state of affairs. (E.g. suppose it in fact turned out that an arbitrary version of Christianity was true in its entirety, and that we all get the very bad afterlife if we don’t debase ourselves before the deity (or whatever) in the relevant way. Adherents of this version of Christianity who are trying to kidnap and brainwash us to debase ourselves before the deity will then be doing so to try to bring about a state of affairs in which their action will in fact accomplish, but it is of course irrational for them or anyone else to believe this).

3.) S performs act A, A does not in fact bring about the best state of affairs, but S had every reason to believe that her doing A will bring about the best state of affairs (and S performed act A with the intention to bring about the best state of affairs).

4.) Presumably a state of affairs in which 2 people have their feet painfully stepped on against (or at least not in accordance with) their wills is a worse state of affairs than one in which 1 person has her foot painfully stepped on against (or at least not in accordance with her will). Suppose that somehow by stepping on the foot of an innocent bystander you can prevent 2 foot stepping.

4a.) Under such circumstances, S steps on the innocent bystander’s foot to prevent the 2 foot steppings, and only 1 foot stepping takes place.

4b.) Under such circumstances, S’ refuses to step on the innocent bystander’s foot, and the 2 foot steppings take place.

5.) Cutting up for organs. (Presumably a state of affairs in which 5 (existing) people survive and live lives worth living while 1 (existing) person perishes and misses out on a life that would have been living is better than one in which 5 die and 1 survives (assume all expected lifespans are the same and the 6 peeople in question are in all other relevant respects similar). 5 people need different organ transplants to survive and can be saved by killing and cutting up an innocent bystander for organs. In these circumstances, S cuts up the bystander to save the 5, the 5 survive and the 1 dies. In identical circumstances, S’ refuses to cut up the bystander, the bystander survives, and the 5 die).

6.) Pushing the fat man. (In a scenario, the only way to stop a trolley from killing 5 people is by pushing a fat man onto the tracks to stop it. Same presuppositions about good states of affairs and features of the 5 people and fat man as in 5.). In these circumstances, S pushes the fat man to save the 5, the 5 survive and the fat man dies. In identical circumstances, S’ refuses to push the fat man, the fat man survives, and the 5 die).

Of course I could go on. In any event, I suspect that your principle (or at least the use to which you may be trying to put it) will fact the following dilemma.

First Horn: If the sense of ‘all else held equal’ in the principle is such that all else is NOT held equal in cases 1-6, then the principle may well be true, but completely useless and uninformative (if all else is NOT held equal in any cases like 1-6, it seems that your principle allows that the moral rightness of action hardly depends at all on the goodness of the state of affairs it brings about – at the very least it admits that many things other than the goodness of the state of affairs an action produces can affect or contribute to its moral rightness, such as mode of agency, intention / motivation to do things other than bring about the best state of affairs, rationality of the beliefs of the actor, etc. etc.). In any event, such a reading of the principle will in hardly allow you to reduce facts about moral rightness to facts about good states of affairs (which is I suppose is what you mean by “I can get objective moral facts out of the objective goodness of pleasant states of affairs.”

Second Horn: If the sense of ‘all else held equal’ in the principle is such that all else IS held equal in cases 1-6 (or at least a healthy subset of them), then the principle looks very false indeed, and will at least be highly controversial. More to the point, what is your method of epistemic access to this alleged principle? Even if your opponents are wrong to deny it, are they actually thinking INCOHERNETLY? Don’t you understand what they’re claiming (e.g. when I say it’s wrong to step on the bystander’s foot, cut up the bystander for organs, or push the fat man, and still maintain that these acts would bring about better states of affairs, don’t you understand what I’m saying?). If so (and I don’t see much room for resisting the conclusion that it is COHERENT (if not correct) to deny the principle), then the mode of access to the principle (or its falsity) can’t be conceptual truth. What is it then? I think it’s pretty clear that it’s going to be those moral intuitions you are so afraid of.

Matt said...

Neil: "Here's what would make me think we were unreliable even in using guilt to detect guilt-worthiness: suppose it turned out that perfectly informed people felt guilt in response to a widely differing group of situations. Some situations would incite massive guilt in some people, but none in others. In this case, forming guilt-worthiness beliefs on the basis of guilt would lead to mass disagreement about the guilt-worthy. This would mean that a lot of people would have to be wrong (so it is with disagreement), and perhaps the amount of wrongness would be so high that the guilt-based way of knowing would have to be considered unreliable."

We'd have to know a lot more about the mechanism before we can declare it unreliable. This is inadequate statistical data. Are we to assume that the two groups (those who get it right and those who get it wrong) are both using the very same mechanism (and that it works the same in both cases)? If we allow that the guilt-responding mechanism may simply be broken in the case of those who get it wrong, then it follows that the guilt-responding mechanism in those who get it right may be fine. Some people have broken perceptual mechanisms; others don't.

Basically, we need some indication of why the two groups get their different answers before we can declare *either* group unreliable. Even the group that gets it wrong may just be having a bad run. It's unlikely but nevertheless possible for a 98% reliable machine to have a bad run of failures but nevertheless remain 98% reliable. We don't want to measure reliability in a purely statistical way. Reliability involves distinctly causal factors.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Okay, Howard, I need put "morally right action" on the rationality side of the rationality/advisability distinction. (I think that's what your examples 1-3 are about.)

I'm going to take the second horn of the dilemma. Here's how I get to say that my opponents are coherent, though wrong: Because of the errors generated by relying on moral intuition, they've come to think that all else isn't equal. They're perceiving various moral restrictions on their actions that aren't actually there. If these moral restrictions actually were in force, they'd be right to think things weren't equal. In fact, these restrictions don't exist and all else is equal. This is how I deal with cases 4-6.

Howard said...

Glad to see you're putting morally right action on the rationality side (I suspected you might want to do this but wasn't sure). Of course now you need at least both good states of affairs and rational beliefs to give an account of morally right action, and one might think that we're going to have to rely on normative intuitions to determine what's rational to believe (do you have blanket skepticism about the reliability of normative intuitions, or just evaluative & moral intuitions? If only the latter, why so?). Actually, however, some variants of cases 1-3 actually get at things like mode of agency in acting as well as rationality / advisability. (One might consider cases in which A-ing can be rationally expected by the agent to bring about the best state of affairs, and the agent As, but not with the intention of bringing about the best state of affairs. This might matter more for an account of supererogatory behavior rather than merely morally permissible behavior).

In any event, I’m sorry, but I don’t quite understand how your response to the problem set by the second horn is supposed to work. I take it that you’re conceding that your opponents are coherent, but maintaining that they still subscribe to the principle by their thinking that all else isn’t equal in cases like 4-6 when it really is (in a way this would be nice for you, because it could presumably allow you to keep the principle as a conceptual truth and maintain that your mode of epistemic access to it was that you have to conceptual truths rather than substantive moral intuition, right?). First, I don’t think this will be convincing unless you can explain what the sense of ‘all else being equal’ in the principle you started with (or the suitably revised version that will account for morally right action being a rationality concept), i.e.:

“All else being equal, one action is more right than another if it would bring about better states of affairs,”

and what it is that they’re thinking isn’t held equal. What false beliefs do they have about the case?

But wait a moment – now we’re supposed to have agreement between yourself and your opponents on the principle as a conceptual truth. Fair enough. Now, you and your opponents disagree about whether or not the ‘all else being equal’ clause is satisfied in cases 4-6. They’re supposed to be wrong to think that the clause was not satisfied in 4-6 because they used substantive moral intuitions, while you’re correct to think it was satisfied because your mode of epistemic access was…what? It would seem that the conceptual truth of the principle doesn’t come with instructions as to which cases satisfy and which don’t satisfy the ‘all else being equal’ clause. This, after all, is what allows your opponents to be wrong but still coherent. So your mode of epistemic access to the alleged fact that all else is held equal in cases 4-6 can’t just be your access to the principle (which you’re going to maintain is our mode of access to conceptual truths). You had to have some other way of telling that all else was held equal in cases 4-6. What was it? I fear that it was substantive moral intuition – i.e. the same general epistemic method that you’re opponents are using to deny that all else is held equal in cases 4-6. So by making the principle a conceptual truth that is common ground to you and your opponents by maintaining they subscribe to the principle but attributing to them an allegedly false belief that all else is held equal in cases 4-6, you simply push the problem back to our mode of access to whether or not all else is held equal in cases 4-6. The worry is still that if you’re not willing to say that your opponents are making genuinely conceptual errors or that the dispute between you and they is a genuinely conceptual one (which I think you’re quite correct to resist), it seems you have no more or less general epistemic ground to stand on than them – viz. substantive moral intuitions (with reflective equilibrium stuff, etc. of course).

Colin Caret said...

"...the objective goodness of pleasure..."

Phrases like this hurt my head. Thanks for the response, Neil, but I'm still not even slightly convinced. I understand, and am not averse to the suggestion, that people value pleasure for itself. I just fail to see how that garners pleasure any moral status, let alone exhausts our understanding of moral goodness (i.e. good = pleasurable ??). Besides which it seems to me that there are counterexamples to this hedonistic thesis... surely there are 'pleasures' which are 'bad' for us, no? For example, the high the drug addict gets from shooting up.

Ku, not sure that your article convinced me of the existence of objective morality either. I guess some of the comments you make about deliberation and reasons are moves that moral realists like to make. I can see that 'objective morality' is at least a plausible position based on these moves, but I am not yet convinced that it is the best position. I am with Blackburn: we should develop a projectivist theory as far as we can and, insofar as it is sufficient for our metaethical purposes, we need pursue nothing more metaphysically robust.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Howard, when I say "All else being equal" what I mean is "all moral facts being equal."

You're concerned that I'm using the same kinds of moral intuitions which I reject elsewhere in order to generate my views about all the other moral stuff being equal. I don't need to use any moral intuitions to get this, though -- all I need are simplicity considerations.

If simplicity matters to us, we won't posit moral properties unless we have some kind of evidence for their existence. And once moral intuition is shown to be unreliable, we lack any positive evidence for the existence of moral properties that would make all else unequal between pushing and not pushing the fat man in case 6 (for example). Sure, we feel horrified at the thought of pushing the fat man, but my debunking account showed that we shouldn't trust our horror. This leaves us with no evidence for extra badness on the pushing-the-fat-man side.

Given that there's no evidence of any other moral facts in play (since our only source of such evidence turned out to be unreliable) we have nothing to go on but the facts about pleasure.

Howard said...

Colin,

First, you should note that our descriptivist view (i.e. that of Ku and myself) – as opposed to other descriptivist views like those of Platonists or Cornell School realists – does not involve any metaphysical commitments to any new kinds of facts (normative facts – including moral facts – are psychological facts; facts about what agents’ normative governance systems prescribe, which are a kind of fact (i.e. facts about what norms agents accept) we already need for explanatory purposes anyway). As such, I think there’s a sense in which it’s mistaken to call it “more metaphysically robust” and there should be no presumption in favor of expressivist views over ours on grounds of metaphysical simplicity.

Second, I should think that our paper was giving reasons why an expressivist theory is insufficient for our metaethical (or more generally our meta-normative) purposes – viz. the inability of expressivist views to account for the phenomenon of deliberation and the connection between deliberation and normative facts. For what I think is a closely related criticism (and indeed one directed specifically against Blackburn’s view, which I think is actually quite devastating) you might want to see the following paper, “Quasi-Realism and Fundamental Moral Error” by Andy Egan Forthcoming in Australasian Journal of Philosophy: http://www.sitemaker.umich.edu/egana/files/qr.ajp_revised.2006.04.14.doc

Anonymous said...

Hey Neil,

You stated, "If there's a single take-home message to all of this, here it is: Don't just throw out the idea that there are objective facts somewhere, just because people keep forming their beliefs in wacky ways, or because there's a lot of disagreement, or because everyone is fighting over stuff. It's still possible that there are objective facts, and the people just aren't being very smart about figuring them out."

When people are smart about figuring out objective facts, you still cannot force others, even intelligent people to have the courage to accept facts which they hold contrary to their beliefs. Here is an example.

http://www.pfltv.com/babies/
http://www.pfltv.com/imag/

ku said...

WARNING about the links above. These contain videos clearly meant simply to shock, disgust and emotionally manipulate people about abortion. There were no arguments given and no presentation of facts that are morally relevant. The fetuses were less than 20 weeks old and it is known that no brain activity occurs until about 24 weeks.

The post above is stupid, irrelevant and cowardly. It does not in fact present any new facts to people.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Thank you Ku. I was wondering whether to just delete the comment but your response offers sufficient warning.

Anonymous said...

Ku,

New medical advances are making it possible to measure fetal brain activity.

"Fetal brain activity demonstrated by functional magnetic resonance imaging.(Research Letters)"

COPYRIGHT 1999 The Lancet Publishing Group, a division of Elsevier Science Ltd.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to study fetal brain activity. This activity was in response to an auditory stimulus.

In the past, scientists have had to rely on changes in heart rate to find evidence of brain activity. However, current studies are finding brain activity extremely early in pregnancy. I take it, a human being has no value to you unless they have brain activity? What about people with extreme mental illness? They have brain activity, but it tells them to lay there and drool and groan. Should we stick a pair of scissors in the back of their head?

I do agree with you about one thing. Abortion is shocking and disgusting, and people should react emotionally to it. It is an inhumane system legalized to promote a "superior race." That is why 80% of planned parenthood clinics are in minority neighborhoods.

Perhaps you see these videos as appealing to emotion simply because you are "forming your beliefs in wacky ways" in the face of "objective facts."

Certainly not! You are "enlightened."

ku said...

Nice try. The article you allude to found brain activity in fetuses ranging from 38 to 39.4 weeks in gestational age, that is, practically newborn infants.
I recommend you stop while you're behind. You are not only demonstrating your lack of integrity but your incompetence as well.

Without brain activity, there is no consciousness. Without consciousness, there is no well-being. There's no more obligations to fetuses without brain activity than there would be to trees or rocks, even ones shaped like babies.

However much you seem to constitute a compelling counterexample, the mentally ill and severely retarded still have brain activity. They are not comparable to early fetuses.

Howard said...

Anonymous,

First, Ku did not say that he thought abortion was shocking or disgusting, or that people should react emotionally to it. He only made an assertion as to the intention of the makers of the segments (which I think is correct, though at least in my case this failed miserably. I had no emotional reaction to this footage other than curiosity (and perhaps boredom as the second clip dragged on, as well perhaps as some amusement at e.g. the framing of the “in god we trust” on the dime). I’ve seen dismembered corpses many times before; surely anything at a deli counter is at least as graphic as this (save perhaps for the blood, and I’ve seen the insides of mammalian bodies with blood, etc. many times before in the course of watching footage of surgeries, without significant emotional reaction). And at the deli counters you know the dismembered corpses were once those of creatures capable of well being, who had experiences, desires, and could feel emotions, pleasure and pain, for whom death was bad, whose lives were cut tragically short, and who very likely experienced some measure of distress and suffering in the process of being killed. None of this is the case of the dismembered corpses in the second clip (or the intact corpses in the first clip), for reasons that follow from the fact that they had no brain activity and others I will explain shortly). I know Ku, and he does not think that abortion is shocking, disgusting, or that people should react emotionally (which is of course compatible with thinking that some will react emotionally to it, or even the weaker thesis that it was the intention of the film makers to make people react emotionally to it). Please be responsible in your portrayal of the views of others.

Second, the only study I could find by following the information you provided was that entitled “Fetal brain activity demonstrated by functional magnetic resonance imaging,” from “The lancet,” 1999, vol:354, iss:9179, pg:645, by J Hykin, R Moore, K Duncan, S Clare, P Baker, I Johnson, R Bowtell, P Mansfield, and P Gowland. Is this the correct study? If so, then I’m very puzzled indeed, because the study only reported results for 4 cases, all of which involved scans of fetuses well in excess of 28 weeks of gestation; the ages at scanning were in fact: 38.2, 39.1, 39.4, 38.0 weeks, respectively. It sounds like a great advance to be able to engage in fMRI scans of fetuses, but this study in no way challenges the view that there is no fetal brain activity before 24 (or even 20) weeks of gestation. If you took the ‘extremely early’ in your claim that “current studies are finding brain activity extremely early in pregnancy” to refer to periods of gestation prior to 24 (or even 20) weeks, then you either haven’t told us about the studies, or (if you intend the ‘current studies’ to refer to the article you provide) you’re simply wrong about the content of the study. (I should also mention that in his 2002 book, “The Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life,” Jeff McMahan cites lots of literature reporting a consensus that there is no brain activity before 20 weeks of gestation (p.267-268). He cites in particular:

Korein, Julius, 1997, “Ontogenesis of the Brain in the Human Organism: Definitions of Life and Death of the Human Being and Person,” in “Advances in Bioethics” 2: 1-74, and

Glover, Vivette, and Fisk, Nicholas M. 1999. “Fetal Pain: Implications for Research and Practice,” in “British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology” 106: 881-86.)

Why does brain activity matter? Well, for one thing without brain function there can’t be any pain, so if any of the stuff in the links was supposed to suggest that the fetal deaths involved were supposed to be painful (e.g. repeated reference in the first study to bruising, burning, cutting up – perhaps it was taken only to explain what happens, which is good and informative, but perhaps it’s taken to suggest something like suffering or torture), it was simply wrong, given that brain activity does not onset until after 20 weeks of gestation.

Now, of course, most of us don’t think that the only thing wrong with the death or killing of certain organisms is that it is usually attended by pain or suffering. While painful death is generally worse than painless death, there is surely something deeply tragic about the painless death of, say, healthy adult humans (and non-human animals like cats, dogs, frogs, etc.), and, prima facie or in the absence of significant other factors (which are present, e.g., in cases of self-defensive killing of responsible or culpable attackers, killings of combatants in just wars, and killings of people who want to die and whose future lives will not be worth living (e.g. due to their being filled with nothing but pain & suffering & no compensatory goods), it is surely morally wrong to kill these kinds of creatures painlessly. Indeed, the strongest prima facie moral reason it’s wrong to painlessly kill creatures like healthy adult humans is that death is bad FOR THEM; they are capable of well being, and they miss out on a future life worth living that would have been theirs. The question is what features of entities make death bad for them and the killing of them prima facie morally wrong for that reason.

On the one hand we have entities, both organic and inorganic, for which death (or destruction) is clearly not bad for their own sakes, which are also such that there is nothing prima facie morally wrong about destroying or killing them (or at least nothing prima facie wrong about killing them tied to death being bad for them or our having obligations to them not to kill them. There might, e.g., be aesthetic reasons that make it wrong to destroy great artworks, but this is not because death is bad for the art work, or we owe things to the art work in the way we owe things to healthy adult humans). These would include inanimate objects like rocks, tables, and chairs, organisms like plants, mosses, and bacteria, and parts of organisms like skin cells, organs, and tissues. On the other we have entities for which death is clearly bad for their own sakes, which are such that the killing of them is prima facie morally wrong, such as healthy adult humans (and I would hope you would agree – healthy non-human animals like dogs, cats, and frogs (at least those old enough to be conscious, experience things, or have mind-states)). What is it that makes that former class of entities such that death (or destruction) is not bad for them for their own sakes, and such that there is nothing prima facie morally wrong about destroying or killing them, and what is it about the latter class of entities such that death is bad for them for their own sakes, and there is something prima facie morally wrong about killing them? Well, the answer seems to be that the former class of entities is not capable of well-being or welfare, while the latter class of entities is. That is, there is nothing bad about the death of a plant or bacterium (or the destruction of a rock) for its own sake because nothing can be good or bad for such an entity for its own sake; there isn’t really such a thing as “its sake” - a plant or bacterium’s life (or a rock’s existence) simply can’t go better or worse for it. (This is of course consistent with our having reasons not kill or destroy these kinds of entities, or their continued life or existence being instrumentally or impersonally good or bad – e.g. the continued life of a plant can support the well being of entities capable of well being, and the plant can have aesthetic value. The point is simply that death can’t be bad FOR THE PLANT in the way your or my death is bad for you or me, and the killing of the plant can’t be irrational or immoral for the same reasons).

So what is it about an entity that makes it capable of well-being / welfare, makes it possible for death to be bad for it for its own sake, and makes the killing of it prima facie morally wrong for this reason? Note that entities that intuitively aren’t capable of well-being aren’t capable of mental states or consciousness. They can’t experience things, have desires, have pleasures / pains, etc. They lack an internal life; as my colleague David Plunkett has put it, there’s “nothing it’s like to be” one of these kinds of entities. On the other hand, creatures like adult human beings, and conscious non-human animals like cats, dogs, mice, frogs, etc., do have an internal mental life. Note, moreover, that consciousness or a mental life comprised of psychological states of experiences, etc. seems to be the only thing necessary for a creature’s life to be capable of going better or worse for it for its own sake. No matter what external shape or gene therapy you give things like plants, human organs, or bacteria, unless you give them an internal mental life, they’re not going to be capable of well being. Similarly, if you take me and cut away my arms, legs, torso, etc. – as long as you keep my brain alive and capable of supporting the same mental life I had, I’ll be capable of well being. Similarly, mere species membership doesn’t matter. If a space alien – a member of no species on earth – had an internal mental life / was capable of experiences, etc. – it would be capable of being better or worse off, as would a creature much like a human but with certain kinds of silicon substituted for carbon throughout its body / in its DNA structure (so long as it had the same kind of mental life as a human). So it seems as though what’s essential for a creature to be capable of well being is for it to have the capacity for consciousness.

Without brain activity (and the proper development of the relevant neural substrates), a creature cannot be capable of consciousness, or a mental life, or be such that there’s something its like to be that creature. It’s not capable of experiences, desires, pleasures / pains, etc.. It is in all relevant respects like a plant or a rock in the sense that there’s no way its life can go better or worse for it. As such, nothing can be bad for it, including its biological death. So death can’t be bad for fetuses before the onset of the capacity for consciousness, a necessary condition of which is brain activity and (and the proper development of the relevant neural substrates), and killing them can’t be wrong for them for the usual reason – viz. that death is bad for them.

Of course, if a fetus did not die prior to 24 weeks, it would support the development of a creature capable of well being, which would be such that death would be bad for the usual reason – viz. that death would deprive it of many goods that would have been theirs had they not died. But this in no way makes the death or killing of the fetus PRIOR to 24 weeks (or 20 weeks, just to be safe) the death or killing of an entity for which death is bad for its own sake, any more than failing to bring a random sperm-egg pair together (or the killing of a plant or chair that one could turn into an entity capable of consciousness / well being if one had such technology at one’s disposal) constitutes the death or killing of such an entity. Prior to the onset of the capacity for consciousness, there simply isn’t anything capable of well being there for death to be bad for. The death of such an entity is exactly like non-conception; it’s the not coming into existence of a creature capable of well being for whom death can be bad. And surely there’s nothing wrong with non-conception (at the very least nothing that has to do with the badness of death for any creature and the wrongness of killing an entity tied to the badness of death for its own sake). If a couple decides not to have a child (via birth control or simply abstaining from sex) they’ve surely done nothing wrong.

What these reflections of course entail about severely mentally retarded (I take your ‘extreme mental illness’ to refer to severe mental retardation; mental illnesses like depression, schizophrenia, etc. seem entirely besides the point) is that:

1.) If a human has been brain damaged (or born without relevant parts of the brain, like an anecephalic infant) to the point that it’s brain is irreversibly unable to sustain the capacity for consciousness, there is no creature there capable of welfare or well being. Since we are essentially these kinds of creatures capable of welfare or well being (for an excellent presentation of this view that we are essentially “embodied minds,” and that our grounds for egoistic concern follow both the neural substrates of our mental lives and the continuous content of these lives over time, see McMahan’s book), there is no “one of us” there at all. If it had been a human that was once capable of consciousness and then suffered brain damage, the person that was once there is dead, even though its organism is still alive. In all relevant respects its organism is exactly like a corpse; it is an entity that once supported a creature capable of well being, but does so no longer (the corpse simply continues to be alive, but no longer supports a person, “one of us,” or a creature capable of well being). If it had never supported an entity capable of consciences (as is the case in anecephalic infants), then it is exactly like a corpse that was never inhabited by one of us. Biological death is not any more bad for these organisms any more than destruction is bad for a corpse – both corpses and these entities are not capable of well being, and nothing can be bad for them for their own sakes. Killing these kinds of human organisms or letting them die is no more morally wrong or objectionable than destroying a corpse or letting it be destroyed (e.g. decayed) is – the standard reason that killing one of us is wrong (viz. that death is bad for us for our own sakes) clearly does not apply, and our treatment of these kinds of things should follow our treatment of corpses (e.g. in the case of human organisms that sustain this kind of damage and once housed one of us, we should treat them as we treat the standardly dead corpses of those who have died – with a certain measure of respect for the dead & in accordance with the wishes of the deceased, but there are serious limits on how demanding this is on us. Overly lavish funerals are not required, even if requested by the deceased – similarly, requests by the dead person that his living body be maintained indefinitely need not be respected. In the case of living corpses that never supported creatures capable of well being (as well as the bodies of fetuses aborted prior to the onset of consciousness) it seems these kinds of requirements are largely absent. They’re just organic material, like plants or bacteria, which we might have aesthetic or instrumental reasons to treat in certain ways, but that’s it. There’s no creature capable of well being whose one they were out of concern for whose welfare or autonomy we need treat these living bodies in certain ways).

2.) If a human has been brain damaged (or born with certain kinds of brain damage, like a severely brain damaged but still conscious infant) only to the point that it’s brain is still supports the capacity for consciousness, there is still a creature there capable of welfare or well being. If it can feel pleasure & pain, pleasure is still good for it and pain is still bad for it for its own sake. If it is capable of a future worth living (as almost all of the mentally retarded are), death is bad for it for the standard reason – viz. that death would be bad for it due to its missing out on a future that would be its that would be good for it, and killing it is wrong for the standard reason – viz. that death would be bad for it for the standard reason. In short, if such a creature is still capable of consciousness and it can lead a life worth living, it’s in all (or almost all – see McMahan on issues of psychological connection for some complications having to do with psychological connectedness) the respects normatively and morally relevant to the ethics of killing like a healthy adult human with a life worth living. Similar remarks go for young humans and human infants, human fetuses after the onset of consciousness, and conscious non-human animals (again with reservations about the issues of psychological connectedness which we need not get into here to make the basic point).

I do not actually currently find any of these conclusions counter-intuitive. If you do, I suggest you seriously scrutinize your intuitions and put them up against tests as to what can really be the normatively and morally relevant features of entities (and make sure you’re clear on the relevant metaphysical and empirical (and other normative) facts – e.g. that there’s no “souls” and that they would not confer privileged normative status even if there were, what kinds of mental states require what kinds of brain states, what kinds of brain states various entities have, etc). I’m quite convinced you’ll come to these conclusions if you do the tests right, but I would be very interested in any worries you encounter with this view and any objections you have. I think this kind of serious normative reflection can be and really is engaged in by people all the time – all it takes is sufficient readiness to inquire seriously and to overcome reluctance to change one’s views because merely it’s difficult, the facts don’t turn out exactly how one wanted (or thought one wanted) them to, or one prides oneself on one’s skillful advocacy (or holding) of a particular view. I don’t think that there’s anything like irreconcilable impasse among those who genuinely seek the truth in such matters, rather than comfort or a venue to try to display one’s argumentative skill or the contents and staying power of one’s doxastic profile to others (or oneself).

Neil Sinhababu said...

Thanks for the link to Andy's paper, by the way. It's very good.

Howard said...

(I really should have said "with reservations about issues of psychological connectedness AND GOODS IN PROSPECT." The fact that creatures like shrimp have fewer goods in prospect (due to their lesser degree of psychological complexity), in addition to their being less psychologically connected to their futures is crucial to explaining why death is less bad for them than it is for creatures like us, cats, dogs, and mice).

Justin said...

Sorry I'm kind of late to the game, I hadn't checked your blog in awhile. Here are a few epistemological concerns (they might overlap some with others' comments, which I only skimmed).

1. I have generality concerns about your reliabilist argument. Asking Ann Coulter's opinion is a generally unreliable way of forming true beliefs about the world; still, it's an excellent way of forming true beliefs about her opinions. Similarly, even if you're right and emotion-driven processes are generally unreliable ways of forming true beliefs, they might still be excellent ways of forming true moral beliefs. This seems especially plausible if one thought that part of the function of certain emotions (e.g., jealousy) is to indicate the instantaition of certain moral properties (e.g., cheating).

Of course, there will be ways to argue against the view that emotion-driven processes are reliable ways of forming true moral beliefs. But, I worry that the *general* unreliability of such processes won't cut much ice. You'll need to appeal to something other than their general unreliability.

2. Your argument seems to have some kind of quasi-verificationist/positivist vibe. Let me grant that emotion-driven belief forming processes are unreliable across the board (and not just generally unreliable). Even if this is right, why isn't this the proper conclusion just this: this is why ethics is so hard, and why people disagree over it -- it's not that all ethics is crap (i.e., it's not that there are no objective moral facts), it's just that our epistemic access to those facts is relatively crappy. That's how life goes: no one guaranteed us good epistemic access to all types of facts.

Or in other words, why assume that moral facts are the kind of thing to which we have good epistemic access? (I take it that something like this assumption is figuring in your argument for pain being bad and pleasure being good.)

3. I'm not completely clear on how the skeptical argument is supposed to go. I assume that pain is one thing, and the judgment that pain is bad is another. Suppose I can reliably -- infallibly, even -- tell whether or not I'm in pain. This seems not completely implausible. But now, how does this bear on the judgment that pain is bad? I'm not necessarily setting up an objection here; this is a genuine question.

Is your thought that pain just wears its badness on its sleeve, so in being aware of pain, I'm being aware of badness (e.g., you might think pain is a representational state, and what it reprersents is the property badness)?

What I suspect (but am not sure about) is that your view is illicitly trading on our ability to reliably tell that we're in pain, when what's really at issue is the judgment that pain is bad. (I don't doubt that this judgment is true and reliably formed. What's at issue is whether in order to account for this judgment's reliability, you will need to take on board the reliability of other moral judgments as well.)

Anonymous said...

Howard,

Thank you for your lengthy response. Indeed, I note you draw a bright line as to what constitutes a human being by the ability to detect fetal brain activity. Perhaps we should instead draw the bright line at the point which scientists could detect human brain activity in the scientific community three hundred years ago, which was probably about the time a child begins to speak.

My reference to advances in MRI technology with regard to this topic attempted to show that scientists are finding fetal brain activity earlier and earlier due to advances in technology. Unfortunately, members of the AMA make hundreds of millions of dollars each year providing abortions, so they have little incentive to find brain activity in an unwanted fetus.

Further, your argument supports a stand against the legal decision of Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 941, which states, “The same study shows, however, that 27% of the candidates for abortion were already 13 or more weeks pregnant at the time of application, that is, they were at the end of or beyond the first trimester when they made their applications. It is too much to say, as appellants do, that these particular persons ‘were victims of a system over which they (had) no control.’ If higher risk was incurred because of abortions in the second rather than the first trimester, much of that risk was due to delay in application, and not to the alleged cumbersomeness of the system.”

“The statute's emphasis, as has been repetitively noted, is on the attending physician's ‘best clinical judgment that an abortion is necessary.’ That should be sufficient. The reasons for the presence of the confirmation step in the statute are perhaps apparent, but they are insufficient to withstand constitutional challenge. Again, no other voluntary medical or surgical procedure for which Georgia requires confirmation by two other physicians has been cited to us. If a physician is licensed by the State, he is recognized by the State as capable of exercising acceptable clinical judgment.”

“A licensed physician is justified in terminating a pregnancy if he believes there is substantial risk that continuance of the pregnancy would gravely impair the physical or mental health of the mother or that the child would be born with grave physical or mental defect, or that the pregnancy resulted from rape, incest, or other felonious intercourse. All illicit intercourse with a girl below the age of 16 shall be deemed felonious for purposes of this subsection. Justifiable abortions shall be performed only in a licensed hospital except in case of emergency when hospital facilities are unavailable. (Additional exceptions from the requirement of hospitalization may be incorporated here to take account of situations in sparsely settled areas where hospitals are not generally accessible.)”

Likely, you recognize that this case legalized abortion well beyond your bright line of “brain activity” simply if a fetus has a cleft pallet or the mother is exhibiting even minor health difficulties, simply based on the physician’s recommendation and willingness to perform the abortion. In order to help relieve you of your boredom, you may want to read the following articles.

http://www.blessedcause.org/aborticide/survivor.htm
http://www.abortiontv.com/Words/GgiannaJesseTtestimony.htm

Indeed, many Nazis looked upon the dead multitudes and judged them as sub-human. It was easy to justify the slaughter as simply masses of animals, much like you see human hands and feet and still see them as tissue or globs of cells because they don’t live up to your bright line test of “brain activity.”

I call this a being because it has a beating heart. This being has 46 separate and distinct human chromosomes. Thus, it is a “human being” and meets my bright line test and should be afforded all the protections of human life.

You likely know that the most common procedure for late term abortion includes shoving scissors in the back of the child’s head at the base of the skull, stopping any brain activity required for vital functions. Then the baby is dismembered and removed one piece at a time. A nurse then re-assembles the body to make sure no parts were left inside the mother.
http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/mld/ledgerenquirer/news/local/14740525.htm
http://www.todaysthv.com/news/news.aspx?storyid=29264
http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2006/may/06052902.html

If you still have no emotional reaction to this topic other than boredom, you may want to read up on psychopathic disorders.

Again, I agree with Neil, “If there's a single take-home message to all of this, here it is: Don't just throw out the idea that there are objective facts somewhere, just because people keep forming their beliefs in wacky ways, or because there's a lot of disagreement, or because everyone is fighting over stuff. It's still possible that there are objective facts, and the people just aren't being very smart about figuring them out.” Good luck in your pursuit of the Truth.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Since I think Coulter is sometimes insincere in the crazy views she expresses, I'm not totally sure that asking her is a reliable way to form true beliefs about her opinions. But anyway...

If you want a more specific unreliability argument against forming moral beliefs through emotion-driven processes, here's a sketch: emotion-driven processes result in widespread, irresolvable disagreement about morality. As the disagreement is really widespread, lots of people must have false beliefs, since morality doesn't allow for disagreement without error. A process that leads to that much false belief is not reliable. (Whether we have enough moral disagreement to make this argument work is a matter to be debated.)

I'm not really sure what the second point comes to. In advance of the fact that we encounter things that we take to be good, without the intervention of any unreliable processes, in phenomenological introspection, I'd see no reason to be confident that we have access to moral facts.

I regard our epistemic access to the relationship between goodness and pleasure as sort of like our access to the relationship between darkness and experiences of black. The key thing isn't our ability to reliably determine that we're experiencing pleasure (which is like the ability to know that we're experiencing blackness). It's our ability to determine that we're experiencing goodness when we're experiencing pleasure (which is like our ability to determine that we're experiencing darkness when we're experiencing black).

Howard said...

Anonymous,

1.) I note with utter astonishment that you insist:

"My reference to advances in MRI technology with regard to this topic attempted to show that scientists are finding fetal brain activity earlier and earlier due to advances in technology."

Where is your evidence that "scientists are finding fetal brain activity earlier and earlier due to advances in technology"!?! The mere fact that we can detect brain activity in 38 week old fetuses, which we definitely had evidence of before anyway, and were such that we could find evidence of brain activity in fetuses 10 weeks younger, is BY NO MEANS evidence that we are finding fetal brain activity "earlier and earlier"! Does this evidence exist? Are you making it up? The mere fact that you could dream up a reason that evidence could exist but is not being presented to us for motivated reasons (e.g. your claim that "Unfortunately, members of the AMA make hundreds of millions of dollars each year providing abortions, so they have little incentive to find brain activity in an unwanted fetus") is no more reason to believe that such evidence exists than the fact that I could dream up motivated evidence to suppress evidence that aliens exist on Mars constitutes reason for believing that such evidence exists. (Coincidentally I think those who are opposed to abortion are very well financed and have a following in various research establishments, so that their motivated reasons could kick in to bring the evidence to light if it exists, or indeed manufacture evidence that brain activity occurs earlier than we have evidence it does - at least the latter is as likely as the suppression of evidence that it occurs later than most people currently think it does. Neither of these two hypotheses about motivated overestimation or underestimation are rational to take seriously). Or do you intend your claim that "so they have little incentive to find brain activity in an unwanted fetus" supposed to be a claim that because there isn't an incentive for certain evidence to come to light, we should still think it's there, even though no one has found it? First, I think that there is an incentive to find whatever evidence there is that fetal brain activity onsets exactly when it does (at least on the part of those in the anti-abortion lobby; but surely there is pressure to get these issues correct for the standard reasons that motivate researchers - viz. that they care about the truth to some extent, get rewarded for interesting and socially relevant research, etc.). But again, is the mere fact that I can point to interests that would be benefited by not gathering evidence that aliens exist on mars any reason to believe that aliens exist on Mars or doubt our evidence that they don’t? Unless you can substantiate your claim that “scientists are finding fetal brain activity earlier and earlier due to advances in technology?" (and I emphasize again that detecting brain activity in fetuses of ages such that we already have evidence of brain activity in fetuses 10 weeks younger, is BY NO MEANS a substantiation of the claim that we are finding fetal brain activity "earlier and earlier," since your posting this in the absence of any hint of reference to actual studies that actually find it earlier seems to suggest that this point has been lost on you), I can only conclude that you are completely grasping at straws here in a way no one not already irrationally convinced without evidence that fetal brain activity occurs earlier than 20 weeks could take seriously. If you know of no actual studies that find fetal brain activity earlier than 20 weeks, this is not the way to reason about matters of fact, and you should be deeply ashamed (of holding these attitudes yourself, and surely of voicing them in public after your error was already discovered).

2.) I’ll try to respond to your claim about Doe v. Bolton in more detail later; for now I’m a little puzzled as to what you’re asking or what point you’re making. We have no reason to think that there is no capacity of consciousness before the 20th week of gestation, so I don’t understand why you’re asking me what I think about abortions between 13 and 20 weeks of gestation – I see no reason at all to consider them morally wrong or irrational (apart of course from highly contingent factors like the desirability of the couple having a child, etc. – in short the reasons couples might have to conceive in the first place). If any abortions were performed after the onset of consciousness in the fetus (i.e. after at least 20-24 weeks of gestation), then I agree that there are prima facie moral reasons against having the abortion stemming from the usual reasons it’s bad to kill or let a creature die – viz. that it is a creature capable of well being, and it misses out on a future worth living that would have been its. Here things get a could get a bit more complicated and interesting – most of us think it’s more wrong to kill an adult human than an adult dog, most of us think it’s worse to kill a mouse than a shrimp. These seem to have to do with the goods in prospect for the creature and its psychological connection to its future. It is possible that the fact that a fetus is less psychologically connected to its future in a sufficiently dramatic way could make it permissible to kill it if the pregnancy endangered the mothers’ life, even though it isn’t permissible to kill innocent bystanders to cut them up for organs to save the lives of 5 (let alone 1) other person. It is also possible that abortion isn’t quite on par with killing but more akin to denial of life support (as the Judith Jarvis Thomson argument suggests, though I think there are at least equally weighty counter-arguments to this, like McMahan’s “dependent child case” which he presents in his Ethics of Killing book). These are all interesting and complicated issues, but let me emphasize that they don’t kick in until after there is a creature there capable of well being, i.e. after the onset of the capacity for consciousness, i.e. after at least 20-24 weeks of pregnancy. The way we got going on this issue was your inclusion of links that showed dead fetuses that were all younger than 20 weeks, and thus had never had a capacity for consciousness.

If you took me to be someone potentially interested in issues of the morality of abortion after the onset of consciousness (i.e. after 20-24 weeks of pregnancy), with whom you might discuss a potentially interesting case, then you were correct; I am. But if you took me to be advocating for a strong view one way or the other, I fear you were mistaken. (I tried to explain at the end of my post how things could get a bit more complicated with welfare, the badness of death, and the wrongness of killing after the onset of consciousness; I explained that there were complications having to do with psychological connectedness and goods in prospect that could be ignored for the purpose of explaining why there was nothing objectionable about abortions prior to 20 weeks or the onset of consciousness). For one thing, I simply don’t know enough about the empirics of how developed fetal capacities for consciousness are at various ages after 20-24/28 weeks of gestation to have much to say. Even apart from the empirics, I’m not sure exactly how the philosophical issues of psychological connectedness, goods in prospect, killing v. denial of life support etc. letting die weigh in on this issue. Still, if you’re interested in my intuitions, I’d be inclined to the position that (at least either in i.) the way abortions are presently performed, which seem pretty hard to deny are killing (though, remember that, as we’ve seen, not all killing of organisms or things capable of being biologically alive is morally wrong, so don’t try to extract from this a concession that all abortion is wrong because it’s killing), or ii.) purely extractive abortions in which the woman is to some extent responsible for the pregnancy – viz. those other than cases of rape) abortion after the onset of even rudimentary consciousness for completely trivial reasons is immoral (just like I think killing shrimp for trivial reasons is immoral, though granted in the case of fetuses the case against killing / denial of life support is stronger because unlike shrimp they have greater goods in prospect – perhaps a better kind of animal to make the comparison (i.e. compensating for low psychological connectedness & greater goods in prospect in the case of fetuses by taking animals with lesser goods in distant prospect but greater goods in the immediate future and greater psychological connectedness) would be fish, frogs, or snakes – though these are just guesses; really I probably don’t know enough about the comparative neurologies of fetuses and these different animals to make these kinds of comparisons), and the more developed the capacity of consciousness, the more skeptical I am that any given reason could outweigh our reasons not to abort the fetus (i.e. kill it, deny it life support, etc.). Apart from that I’d need to know more about the extent to which a fetus of a given age had developed a capacity for consciousness. So yes, I’m sure there will be cases in which if an abortion was performed sufficiently late (i.e. some time sufficiently after the onset of the capacity for consciousness after 20-24 weeks) it is immoral. I certainly don’t think all abortions are morally permissible, or that all abortions should be legally permitted (really I think hardly anyone thinks those things). Also, if you’d like to know, I would not be in any way disturbed by the conclusion that all abortions after the onset of consciousness are immoral (I was at one point tempted to this position; it seems to comport well with my knee-jerk intuitions about the immorality of killing conscious non-human animals under almost any circumstances in which their future lives would be worth living), though I certainly doubt its truth (as I doubt some of my knee jerk intuitions about killing non-human animals; for instance I do intuitively recognize that it’s permissible to kill a shrimp to save a mouse or a cat – unless there’s some big discontinuities in psychology between mice and everything less complicated, some of my knee-jerk intuitions about the enormity of the moral barriers to killing conscious non-human animals are going to have to be in for some revision).

Also, if you were worried that the line of reasoning I was pushing to argue that death wasn’t bad and killing wasn’t wrong before the onset of consciousness would lead to counter-intuitive conclusions, I hope it’s clear how it won’t. Depending on the moves made (and how the empirics go) I hope it’s clear how various intuitive positions can be defended on the basis of considerations of the badness of death tied to the deprivation of a future life worth living on the part of a creature capable of well being and the wrongness of killing tied to that reason.

3.) What on earth is you claim:

“Perhaps we should instead draw the bright line at the point which scientists could detect human brain activity in the scientific community three hundred years ago, which was probably about the time a child begins to speak”

supposed to communicate? First, I don’t think that anyone historically really thought that children were conscious only when they could speak (apart perhaps from lunatics like Descartes was about this kind of issue) (I assume you mean speak compositionally; even the youngest infants can communicate with sounds). Second, we should follow the current evidence because of all the reasons the researchers can give you as to how their techniques reliably detect brain activity. How is your claim here communicating anything different from taking any claim about matters of fact (be they physics, chemistry, biology, etc., etc., etc.), C, and claiming “Perhaps we should instead settle the issue of C’s truth or falsity by reference to the methods scientists would have used three hundred years ago.” The answer will always be that the current methods are more reliable for the reasons explained in the scientific literature (unless of course this explanation is incorrect and the methods of 300 years ago were more reliable, which we could conceive of, though will be very rare due to the way scientific enquiry works). Third, if you’re trying to advance blanket skepticism about our research methods, consider i.) we can have evidence as to whether future scientific progress will drastically alter our views of the reliability of one of our current best methods of detecting something; in such cases scientific findings are not reported with much certainty (if they’re reported as actual findings at all). If you want an explanation of why the methods of detecting the onset of consciousness are reliable, sufficiently so to report conclusions with a good degree of confidence, and such that we don’t have good evidence that they’re going to be seriously overturned by future enquiry, go to the literature (and no, you won’t there find that because we can use fMRI to observe certain phenomena we only observed with other methods that we should now conclude the other methods were unreliable). Fourth, if your claim was supposed to communicate something along the lines of “just because we don’t have evidence of consciousness yet doesn’t mean it’s not there” the answer is no, yes we do have evidence it isn’t there – considerations of inference to the best explanation and simplicity. Consider that you would be insane to think rocks or trees are conscious and to go around preventing masonry activities and lawn care due to your view that there is massive suffering and tragic cutting short of lives due to breaking rocks and trimming plants. How do you know rocks and pants aren’t conscious? The best explanation of the phenomena entails that only things with brains (or at least features structurally or functionally identical to brains) and the right kind of brain activity are conscious. Similarly, the best explanation of the phenomena entails that brain structure is present when and only when our current tests indicate it. It’s logically possible that our tests are wrong, but it’s also logically possible that rocks and trees are conscious, that you’re a brain in a vat, that one of your friends is actually cleverly disguised evil monster who will soon kill you and everyone else you care about unless you strike first, or that there is a green Easter Bunny behind the planet Alpha Centauri. None of these are rational hypotheses to act on because they are ruled out by our best explanation of the phenomena. (The same, by the way, was never true of the view that children are conscious only when they can speak compositionally. Before speaking compositionally they exhibited all other kinds of things that made the attribution of consciousness rational, even without an understanding of mind-brain relations and neural development).

4.) You said that “I note you draw a bright line as to what constitutes a human being by the ability to detect fetal brain activity.” I don’t think you read my post very clearly, since this seems to equate “what constitutes a human being” with “what is capable of well being” or “what has moral status.” My post should have explained why this is false. You seem to continue on with this false presupposition when you say “many Nazis looked upon the dead multitudes and judged them as sub-human” and “it was easy to justify the slaughter as simply masses of animals.” Perhaps you did not understand, or perhaps you just missed it. I’ll post the explanation again:

On the one hand we have entities, both organic and inorganic, for which death (or destruction) is clearly not bad for their own sakes, which are also such that there is nothing prima facie morally wrong about destroying or killing them (or at least nothing prima facie wrong about killing them tied to death being bad for them or our having obligations to them not to kill them. There might, e.g., be aesthetic reasons that make it wrong to destroy great artworks, but this is not because death is bad for the art work, or we owe things to the art work in the way we owe things to healthy adult humans). These would include inanimate objects like rocks, tables, and chairs, organisms like plants, mosses, and bacteria, and parts of organisms like skin cells, organs, and tissues. On the other we have entities for which death is clearly bad for their own sakes, which are such that the killing of them is prima facie morally wrong, such as healthy adult humans (and I would hope you would agree – healthy non-human animals like dogs, cats, and frogs (at least those old enough to be conscious, experience things, or have mind-states)). What is it that makes that former class of entities such that death (or destruction) is not bad for them for their own sakes, and such that there is nothing prima facie morally wrong about destroying or killing them, and what is it about the latter class of entities such that death is bad for them for their own sakes, and there is something prima facie morally wrong about killing them? Well, the answer seems to be that the former class of entities is not capable of well-being or welfare, while the latter class of entities is. That is, there is nothing bad about the death of a plant or bacterium (or the destruction of a rock) for its own sake because nothing can be good or bad for such an entity for its own sake; there isn’t really such a thing as “its sake” - a plant or bacterium’s life (or a rock’s existence) simply can’t go better or worse for it. (This is of course consistent with our having reasons not kill or destroy these kinds of entities, or their continued life or existence being instrumentally or impersonally good or bad – e.g. the continued life of a plant can support the well being of entities capable of well being, and the plant can have aesthetic value. The point is simply that death can’t be bad FOR THE PLANT in the way your or my death is bad for you or me, and the killing of the plant can’t be irrational or immoral for the same reasons).

So what is it about an entity that makes it capable of well-being / welfare, makes it possible for death to be bad for it for its own sake, and makes the killing of it prima facie morally wrong for this reason? Note that entities that intuitively aren’t capable of well-being aren’t capable of mental states or consciousness. They can’t experience things, have desires, have pleasures / pains, etc. They lack an internal life; as my colleague David Plunkett has put it, there’s “nothing it’s like to be” one of these kinds of entities. On the other hand, creatures like adult human beings, and conscious non-human animals like cats, dogs, mice, frogs, etc., do have an internal mental life. Note, moreover, that consciousness or a mental life comprised of psychological states of experiences, etc. seems to be the only thing necessary for a creature’s life to be capable of going better or worse for it for its own sake. No matter what external shape or gene therapy you give things like plants, human organs, or bacteria, unless you give them an internal mental life, they’re not going to be capable of well being. Similarly, if you take me and cut away my arms, legs, torso, etc. – as long as you keep my brain alive and capable of supporting the same mental life I had, I’ll be capable of well being. Similarly, mere species membership doesn’t matter. If a space alien – a member of no species on earth – had an internal mental life / was capable of experiences, etc. – it would be capable of being better or worse off, as would a creature much like a human but with certain kinds of silicon substituted for carbon throughout its body / in its DNA structure (so long as it had the same kind of mental life as a human). So it seems as though what’s essential for a creature to be capable of well being is for it to have the capacity for consciousness.

Did you read it this time? O.K., good, so…

i.) It’s irrelevant to moral status etc. whether or not a creature “has a beating heart” – if an adult human lost her heart but her mind was still supported by some other means (e.g. a mechanical device that circulated the blood in her brain), she’d still have moral status, right? Also, if a mouse body was born without a brain that supported consciousness, but had a beating heart (as all healthy mice do - e.g. consider the case of an anecepahlic mouse) it wouldn’t have any moral status, right?

ii.) It’s irrelevant to moral status etc. how many chromosomes a creature has – what if you went through and took away a chromosome from all the cells in an adult human’s body, or gave her an extra one, without altering her psychology in any way. Wouldn’t she still have moral status? Or, what if there were space aliens – members of no species on earth, and who didn’t have the same number of chromosomes as humans (and indeed didn’t exactly have chromosomes at all but some other kind of organic or quasi organic structure the played the same role) – had the exact same kind of psychology as human beings. Wouldn’t they have moral status? Or what if you took a biological cat, mouse, dog, or chimp and altered only the genes responsible for its brain development, so that it was born as a creature with a cat, mouse, dog, or chimp body, but a human brain and psychology (and had say, the same number of chromosomes as cats, mice, dogs, or chimps). Wouldn’t it sill have the same moral status as a normal biological human?

iii.) It’s irrelevant to moral status etc. how whether a creature has cells with human DNA, can interbreed with humans to produce fertile offspring, or meets or fails to meet any of the other conceivable criteria for human species membership. Just look again at the cases in ii.) above.

“Having a beating heart,” “chromosome number,” and species membership SIMPLY WILL NOT DO AS CRITERIA FOR MORAL STATUS!!! Stop asserting insane things, or at the very least pause, consider, and respond to the arguments that seem so clearly to entail that “your bright line test” is garbage before continuing to assert it!!!

So I certainly think that things can be biological humans without the onset of the capacity for consciousness; it’s just that death isn’t bad for them (since they aren’t capable of well being) and killing them isn’t wrong for that reason. Since species membership per se is irrelevant for moral status, I don’t understand this garbage talk about “sub-human.” Finally, though this should have been crystal clear, I THINK IT IS HORRIBLE that conscious non-human animals are slaughtered (so deli-counters ARE evidence of atrocities), but, for all the reasons I’ve explained, dismembered parts of human fetuses that were killed before the onset of consciousness ARE NOT evidence of atrocities – death was not bad for them because they were never capable of well being, and killing was not morally wrong because it did not harm a creature capable of well being by depriving it of a life worth living (or making it suffer).

I have read up on sociopathology / psychopathology, and I know I’m not one because I have deep feelings of care towards creatures capable of well being, strong feelings of compunction towards doing anything to harm them, and strong feelings of outrage at anyone who does so. The fact that I don’t feel disgust when I look at dismembered fetuses is just like the fact that I don’t feel disgust when I watch surgery – the mere sight of blood and body parts just doesn’t bother me much. Do you think there’s something wrong with surgeons who don’t get grossed out when they perform surgery necessary to save the life of a person capable of well being whose future life will be worth living? It’s true I’m not a surgeon, but I assume you don’t have to be a surgeon for it to be rationally permissible not to get grossed out by surgery. The fact that I don’t feel outrage or sadness when I see dismembered fetuses less than 20 weeks old is just a function of my not being stupid and thinking that things were wrong that weren’t, or thinking that pain took place when it didn’t when I had evidence that there was no capacity for consciousness present.

I hope for your sake, however, that you are in fact a sociopath, for if you’re not one you’re psychologically capable of shame, and this will mean that your entire conduct on this blog has been deeply shameful and despicable. (If, however, you are a sociopath, then we couldn’t expect you to feel shame, and it’s just too bad you conduct yourself in this way, not something you should feel shame about, since you can’t).

Howard said...

"We have no reason to think that there is no capacity of consciousness before the 20th week of gestation," in 2.) should read "We have reason to think that there is no capacity for consciousness before the 20th week of gestation"

Justin_Tiehen said...

You're response to my #1 sounds good, so let me go to #2 and #3.

2. You wondered what 2 amounts to. In the end, it might be more stylistic than anything: your argument sounds vaguely verificationist, and I would feel more comfortable with it if it didn't.

Suppose that there are 3 different metaphyiscal theories about what X's are: one theory says they're A's, another says they're B's, the last says they're C's. Then, how good does the following argument look to you?

The only way we could reliably know about X's is if they were A's. Therefore, X's must be A's.

At least superficially, this seemed to be the sort of reasoning you were using. But I take it that this reasoning is generally not so great. I mean, it's not like God's hovering about, guaranteeing that for all X's, we can reliably know about them. Similarly, it's not as though quasif-verificationism is true, according to which 'X' must denote some entity we can reliably form true beliefs about.

If you want an example, let the X's be the most fundamental particles in physics. There's absolutely no guarantee that our cognitivie endowment is such that we can reliably know about such things; still, this point doesn't push me toward antirealism about them at all.

To be clear: I suspect you can probably purge your argument of the quasi-verificationist strand I'm objecting to (or maybe that I'm just reading into your argument); I'm just saying that I would feel more comfortable if you did (and I suspect some others might too).

3. Well, how *do* we make the inference from black to darkness? Here's one pretty plausible view: it's *analytic* that black is darkness. The analogue to this would be holding that it's analytic that pleasure is good/pain is bad. Maybe I'm wrong, but I thought you wanted the identification of pain w/badness and pleasure w/goodness to be a posteriori necessary. (If I am wrong, so much the better for you: I suspect that a posteriori necessities are wildly implausible in ethics.) Also, if it's analytic that pleasure is good/pain is bad, then I suspect you don't really need the reliability arguments you give: forget about which belief forming processes are reliable, just focus on certain analytic truths to get the right moral truths.

If you don't think it's analytic that pleasure is good/pain is bad, then you either need a new analogy, or your need to show that the black/darkness claim isn't analytically true.

P.S. I'll e-mail you later today.

Howard said...

Anonymous,

Are you even reading what you're posting? I looked at Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (there is no such thing as "Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 941"), which was settled in 1973 after and in light of Roe v. Wade 410 U.S. 113. The woman seeking declaratory and injunctive relief had been 9 weeks pregnant at the time of the suit (as the decision says, "We note, in passing, that appellant Doe had no delay problem herself; the decision in her case was made well within the first trimester"). The Georgia statue was also placing restrictions on abortions performed prior to 20 weeks of gestation or the onset of consciousness (indeed, as the court observed, "The JCAH-accreditation requirement is invalid, since the State has not shown that only hospitals (let alone those with JCAH accreditation) meet its interest in fully protecting the patient; AND A HOSPITAL REQUIREMENT FAILING TO EXCLUDE THE FIRST TRIMESTER OF PREGNANCY WOULD BE INVALID ON THAT GROUND ALONE." I emphasize this not because abortion becomes morally problematic immediately after the first trimester (since that's only about 12 weeks and not nearly the point at which there is a capacity for consciousness, but to point out how the Georgia statute was placing restrictions on abortion well within the first trimester, i.e. on abortions performed well prior to the onset of the capacity for consciousness). As such, I have absolutely no idea how on earth you could conceive of the view I've been advancing as supporting a "stand against the legal decision of Doe v. Bolton," since again I emphasize that the Georgia statute was placing restrictions on abortions prior performed prior to the onset of the capacity for consciousness in the fetus. It's of course another step from what acts are or aren't morally or rationally permissible to what statutes are or aren't constitutional, but if you're going to try to read the constitutional issue here right off the moral issue (which you would seem to have to be doing if you were to take the moral / normative view I've been explaining as relevant at all in the way you seem to think to Doe v. Bolton), you're just plain wrong that it supports upholding the Georgia statute.

Were you actually reading anything I was writing? Did you actually look at Doe v. Bolton? What are you doing over there, just finding random snippets of things (like text from Doe v. Bolton or articles on fMRI scans of 38 week old fetuses) and then making stuff up? Or are you not comprehending anything that you're reading, whether written by the justices in Doe v. Bolton, Hykin et al on fMRI scans, or the parties to this blog?

Anonymous said...

Howard,

Wow. What can I say? You stated, “really I probably don’t know enough about the comparative neurologies of fetuses and these different animals to make these kinds of comparisons), and the more developed the capacity of consciousness, the more skeptical I am that any given reason could outweigh our reasons not to abort the fetus (i.e. kill it, deny it life support, etc.). Apart from that I’d need to know more about the extent to which a fetus of a given age had developed a capacity for consciousness. So yes, I’m sure there will be cases in which if an abortion was performed sufficiently late (i.e. some time sufficiently after the onset of the capacity for consciousness after 20-24 weeks) it is immoral.”

You attempt to justify moral positions which can not be morally justified, i.e., the killing of human beings. In the process, you contrive rabid and convoluted philosophies which quite frankly make you look silly.

“It’s logically possible that our tests are wrong, but it’s also logically possible that rocks and trees are conscious, that you’re a brain in a vat, that one of your friends is actually cleverly disguised evil monster who will soon kill you and everyone else you care about unless you strike first, or that there is a green Easter Bunny behind the planet Alpha Centauri.”

My point is rather simple. Science has not yet achieved complete truth and likely will never reach such end. As a result, our current understanding of life is likely to change just as it has over the past three hundred years. There is no justification for the taking of innocent human life. According to Planned Parenthood, 250,000 abortions were performed this year making them 63 million in net profits. Trying to justify this has taken you to green easter bunnies behind alpha centauri and sci-fi theories of silicon and DNA.

Perhaps one day you will recognize that truth is not relative, and you will have the moral courage to be open to the truth even when it is inconvenient or causes you great guilt. Regards.

www.blackgenocide.org

Howard said...

Anonymous,

You’re simply wrong that it’s never justifiable to kill human beings. Think of just war, killing in self defense in the case of responsible or culpable attackers, and killing in cases in which death would be good for the person and she wishes to die (i.e. voluntary active euthanasia when it is sufficiently clear that continued life would be worse for the person, e.g. due to its containing nothing but horrible suffering and no compensating goods for the person). We might have disagreements about voluntary active euthanasia, and I could explain why it’s justified, but I hope the cases of just war and killing in self defense in the relevant circumstances are enough to convince you that it is sometimes morally permissible (and sometimes even morally obligatory to kill human beings). To call this position one that “cannot be morally justified” is simply the result of a failure to engage in some very obvious deliberative steps.

You also claim that “there is no justification for the taking of innocent human life.” This is also false, and should be by your lights. In the process of shaving, washing, or removing damaged tissues or organs, we kill things that are human and alive (e.g. human hair cells, skin cells, tissues, and organs). Of course they aren’t human organisms, but all of the examples above should explain why there’s nothing morally special about human organisms (as opposed to human hair cells, skin cells, or organs) per se – i.e. unless they’re conscious and therefore capable of well being, in which case their moral specialty has nothing to do with their being biologically human (or biologically human organisms), but rather their being psychologically capable of well being. Did you pay attention to those arguments this time? (I note that you’ve made progress to noticing certain terms that the arguments employed, but evidently not much else). Yes, to understand them we need to consult our intuitions about non-actual circumstances, some of them sci-fi in character, but many of them not (we currently have much of the technology needed to create chimeras (i.e. organisms with genetic material drawn from different existing species), and while perhaps not exactly creatures with human psychology and dog or chimp bodies, that kind of technology is not that far off, so I think the claim that these cases are too distant for us to have reliable intuitions about them is far, far, off the mark). But do you understand that when we engage in such thought experiments, we are not thereby thinking that these cases are actual? (That should be very obvious, but this is evidently no indication you will get it). Do you understand that to get at whether or not it’s really things like species membership or capacity for consciousness that make the difference for moral status we have to consult cases like this? What alternative method do you propose?

You’re point is not simple; it is simply incoherent. In one breath you seem to concede that empirical issues of what is conscious are relevant, but that the argument is that we can’t be sure enough to take any actions here (by the way, i.) what do you suggest we go on to determine what has consciousness instead of our best scientific theory? Tea leaves? ii.) issues of what’s alive and what aren’t are completely irrelevant to this issue, iii.) what is the radical change in our understanding of “life” over the past 300 years you have in mind? (I don’t think we’ve substantially revised any of our views about what is or isn’t alive or organic in the last 300 years), iv.) there is no reason to expect our understanding of consciousness and its neural substrates will substantially revise our conclusions about what is and isn’t conscious now; we know enough to make these predictions with confidence; in the past we didn’t know anything about the neural substrates of consciousness. Just because scientific theories get revised doesn’t mean everything they entail changes; when the theories are preserved most of what they entail doesn’t get revised), and in the next you make a claim that it’s irrelevant what the facts are about what’s conscious or what isn’t. Pick one and go with it. The fact that our scientific theories are not complete in detail or are conceivably false is completely irrelevant for rational action. I will try to make the point again: all action requires that we act on beliefs that are conceivably false (so it is insane to try to single this case out for criticism on that score and could only appear otherwise to someone already irrationally committed to his position in advance of any evidence), and that we act on theories that are not complete. It is conceivable that flu shots are bad for children, and our medical theory that tells us that they what they do for children that’s good for them is incomplete. Is that a reason not to give children flu shots? The stuff about green easter bunnies behind alpha centauri were taken to explain why the mere fact that a hypothesis is logically possible is no reason to take it seriously. If you can’t understand that, try harder. (Perhaps the example about flu shots will help you more if you get scared off by phrases like ‘green easter bunnies behind alpha centauri’).

In what way is anything I have said convoluted? You evidently have a hard time understanding things, but it is very clear now that that has nothing to do with the cogency of what is presented to you. Still, tell me what you don’t understand and I’ll try to explain it to you (though this does seem to be a lost cause).

Where on earth do you get off presupposing that I think that “truth is relative?” I don’t, and (on just about every sharpening of ‘truth is relative’ I can imagine) everything I have said here presupposes that it isn’t. The accusation is so wild that I must conclude you have absolutely no idea what the claim amounts to (don’t worry; for just about every cleaning up of the muck in your head it turns out false – but you really should come to have some idea of what you’re talking about), or, as seems abundantly clear, you haven’t been understanding anything I have (or anyone else has) been saying.

If you had paid any attention here, you would understand why what I’ve said is true. I hardly see why it would be inconvenient for me if it were (contrary to actual fact) that any abortions that I think are morally permissible turned out to be morally impermissible, or why it would cause me great feelings of guilt (since I’m male I’m not even in a position to get pregnant, let alone to have had an abortion, and I’m aware of all kinds of immoral things going on around the world – like massive killing and infliction of suffering on conscious non-human animals. I’m already trying to do something small on my part to stop this, and I can’t try to stop every immorality. I hardly see how adding some abortions to the pile of immoralities in the world would in any way make life any more “inconvenient” for me). In any event, it’s pretty clear I’ve been doing all I can to face up to the truth - I’ve given you argument after argument (which are the exact same reasons I believe what I believe) as to why what I’ve said is true, and you haven’t paid the slightest notice to their content. How about you have the courage to listen to reasons, even when it is hard, requires you to revise strongly held beliefs, and exposes you as wrong and stupid? (Don’t worry, you’ve already been exposed as completely incompetent, stupid as dirt, and shameful beneath contempt – at least to everyone else - so you have nothing more to lose on that score. Perhaps the problem is that taking arguments seriously would mean that you have to admit to yourself how stupid and shameful you are. That might be hard, but you’re only compounding your shame and stupidity by refusing to do so).

Anonymous said...

Howard,

I can no longer stomach your “enlightened” condescension and insults.

“Just because scientific theories get revised doesn’t mean everything they entail changes.”

Silly me! I’m so STUPID. The earth IS flat, after all! We only needed to “revise” that theory a little.

“I’m aware of all kinds of immoral things going on around the world – like massive killing and infliction of suffering on conscious non-human animals. I’m already trying to do something small on my part to stop this, and I can’t try to stop every immorality. I hardly see how adding some abortions to the pile of immoralities in the world would in any way make life any more “inconvenient” for me).”

This is moral relativism.

I feel sorry for you that you don’t realize that your tired attempts at making inconvenient humans less human are in lock step with Nazis who killed millions. You are not a true intellectual, because you are not intellectually honest. Anything that does not comport with your political wishes is “illogical” no matter what mental gymnastics you have to exhibit in order to try to make sense of them. Your insults prove your flaccid attempts at truth are simply Howard “forming his beliefs is wacky ways.” Alas, I have no more hope that I will change your views through proof and logic than that I could change the views of Adolf Eichmann.

www.blackgenocide.org

Howard said...

Anonymous,

Do you currently think our views about the shape of the world are going to be revised? If we had to act now in a way that depended upon the actual shape of the earth (e.g. in taking actions to prevent its collision with a meteor), should we suspend judgment about the shape of the earth, or reason from the premise that it’s round?

It has been known for thousands of years that the earth is round; in the intervening period many scientific theories have come and gone that entailed that; the later have been improvements over their forerunners, but the entailment about the shape of the earth has stayed the same. I think we had sufficiently good evidence several thousand years ago that the earth was round, and we continue to have so today. Several thousand years ago it would also have been rational to believe that our better scientific theories to come would not come to entail that the earth was not round (though it would have been rational to believe that some other particulars might change – like what the best theories say about the basic constituent units of the physical universe)

You evidently don’t know what the term ‘moral relativism’ means. It refers to views according to which whether a moral claim is true or false depends upon who is uttering it. The claim you cite was a straightforward moral claim, which (like all moral claims) would have sounded very strange in the mouth of a moral relativist. The attributions of moral properties in my claim would have had the same meaning in the mouth of any other moral agent. Since you don’t seem to be able to put much together, let me spell it out for you: moral relativism is false, and the claim I made is consistent with the falsehood of moral relativism (and like every other context of use of a moral claim, evidence of the falsity of moral relativism). You should not use phrases like ‘moral relativism’ that are such that you do not have the slightest clue as to their meaning.

Hey, moron, give me some “proof and logic” that suggests that my views are false!!! I’ve given you arguments, and you haven’t responded to them at all except to deny their conclusions, note that they involve hypothetical scenarios, and otherwise evince your unwillingness to engage with them. Let me recount: I gave you thought experiments that seem to show that things like species membership can’t be the basis of moral status, etc.. You met me with assertions that my cases involved strange hypothetical cases and an assertion that species membership is the basis of moral status. I gave some other thought experiments, and pointed out that some of these were closer to actual world cases, and asked what we should use to try to decide between the competing theories on moral status other than thought experiments (it seems even you seemed to recognize that thought experiments were the right method to use at first, e.g. when you used them). You gave no response, but complained that I don’t listen to logic and proof. I suggest you stop projecting.

I don’t think you actually are incapable of understanding the philosophical arguments I’ve been giving. You starting engaging in some arguments like this early in the posts. Ku made the claims about consciousness being necessary for well being, and you asked “what about the mentally disabled?” You see, you were testing out a philosophical theory against intuitions about cases! Yippie!!! Unfortunately, when people responded to you with more of the same, you seemed to shut down. That’s a terrible shame.

My insults are the result of frustration with you, and expressions of genuine attitudes that your conduct has been shameful, stupid, and merits contempt. I advise you to look back at this exchange when you’ve cooled off some. I think you’ll see that I have had enormous reason to be frustrated with you, and to think your conduct shameful and stupid. First, look at what you did with the evidence about the onset of brain activity / consciousness. You made false claim after false claim, and when your errors were pointed out, you didn’t drop it, but pressed on, trying to make pathetic excuses and resorting to claims that amounted to things like “because we don’t have logically conclusive evidence that P, we should assume P is false, or at least not use P as a premise in our practical deliberations,” and “because it is imaginable that interested parties are suppressing evidence that Q, we should believe Q.” In response to attempts to point out that these were irrational responses, you missed the point and got angry. Your bungling of the court case and the implications of my view for it were similarly frustrating. And, while you made one attempt to engage with

Here’s something that really shows that you’re not reading what I’m writing: “your tired attempts at making inconvenient humans less human.” For the last time, I agree that fetuses before the onset of consciousness are in every way biologically humans!!! My entire argument has been that species membership is irrelevant to moral status – fetuses before the onset of consciousness are human but lack moral status, and all kinds of creatures (including actual ones like conscious non-human animals, some merely hypothetical but pretty close to being technologically possible, like conscious animals with human brains and non-human bodies (e.g. DNA coding for neural substrates of consciousness drawn from humans, DNA coding for rest drawn from non-human animals), and some more distantly hypothetical like space aliens with human psychology) are not human but possess moral status.

The view that a merely biological concept like species membership is a marker of moral status is actually in the genuine spirit of the Nazi view. You’re the one with the Nazi view here. Heil, mein anonymous Fuhrer!!!

Testing moral theories against case intuitions in thought experiments and pointing out the need for consistency in our standards of empirical evidence, especially as they bear on what to do (or pointing out that certain kinds of skepticism or inferences from “imaginably not P” to “we should use not P as a premise in our practical reasoning” entail unacceptable conclusions if applied across the board) simply are not wacky ways of forming beliefs. They are the correct ways. They are the ways you use in your everyday life in figuring out what to do or what to believe. Perhaps you use other standards in some less every day cases (like in cases in which others are using these standards to show that your views are incorrect), but in those cases you’re simply reasoning irrationally. Here:

1.) Do you agree that the methods I’m using here are those of testing moral theories against case intuitions in thought experiments and pointing out the need for consistency in our standards of empirical evidence, especially as they bear on what to do (or pointing out that certain kinds of skepticism or inferences from “imaginably not P” to “we should use not P as a premise in our practical reasoning” entail unacceptable conclusions if applied across the board) simply are not wacky ways of forming beliefs? The answer to this is no, explain how I’m not doing this.

2.) If the answer to 1.) is yes, then do you think these methods constitute those of “one forming one’s beliefs in wacky ways?”

3.) If the answer to 2.) is yes, what is a better method?

4.) Do you think you’ve done something other than deny their conclusions of my arguments, note that they involve hypothetical scenarios, and insist that scientific theories can be mistaken without addressing the issue of the bearing of this on what to believe (e.g. without responding to my arguments that this is irrelevant to what to believe or what to use as premises in practical deliberation)? If the answer to this is yes, what else have you been doing? And I want specifics.

5.) If the answer to 4.) is no, then do you think that this is a good way of reasoning? Do you think this constitutes giving someone “logic and proof?”

If the answers to 2.) and 5.) are both ‘no’, then I suggest you go cower in shame. It’s not the end of the world – one of the rational responses to shame after cowering is to rebuild yourself so that you don’t suck. I really do think you could do better if you just, well, thought about what you were reading, writing, and doing, generally. If the answer to 1.) is ‘no,’ the answer to 2.) is ‘yes’, or the answer to 4.) is ‘yes’, you have some serious explaining to do. If the answer to 5.) is ‘no’, then I think you really need to take some time out and reflect on the meaning of the words ‘logic’ and ‘proof’.

I realize I probably turned you off to really thinking carefully in this discussion by calling you out for being a contemptible moron. In a way that’s probably too bad. But you were just so bloody stupid and outrageous, I couldn’t contain myself! I wish I could take comfort in the thought that you might one day have the strength to overcome bad memories of this exchange and come to actually think about the issues (see question list 1-5 again if you have any doubts about your being the air head any my being the one with arguments and evidence), but I’m sure that anyone who is so lowly as to conduct himself in the way you did on this blog will in no way be able to do this. *sigh* too bad.

Howard said...

Sorry; 1.) should read: "1.) Do you agree that the methods I’m using here are those of testing moral theories against case intuitions in thought experiments and pointing out the need for consistency in our standards of empirical evidence, especially as they bear on what to do (or pointing out that certain kinds of skepticism or inferences from “imaginably not P” to “we should use not P as a premise in our practical reasoning” entail unacceptable conclusions if applied across the board)? If the answer to this is no, explain how I’m not doing this.

Howard said...

Moron Beneath Contempt [or ‘MBC’],

I am curious as to why you think that I am being “intellectually dishonest” on the grounds that I think that “Anything that does not comport with [my] political wishes is “illogical””? I don’t think you need to have evidence as to the exact content of someone’s “political views” to have evidence for the truth of this kind of thing. (Whatever exactly a person’s “political views” are – presumably they’re just a subset of a person’s moral or broadly normative views, in which case if they’re already based on rational argument and assessment of evidence, this kind of accusation is like one leveled against a careful scientist or mathematician who has based her views on argument and evidence that she “thinks anything that does not comport with her views is illogical,” she might well, but if ‘her views’ is intended de re rather than de dicto this might be perfectly rational and she might be entirely correct to think this, since the fact that she has discerned what the arguments and evidence support jointly explains why she holds the views she does, why she justifiably thinks opposing views are irrational, and why those views actually are irrational). Still, if this is supposed to amount to an accusation that I’m forming my views in accordance with whatever my “political views” are de dicto without adequate attention to evidence and rational argument, then presumably you need some evidence that I’m doing this. Even if you don’t know much detailed information about my psychology (other than that provided my avowals in the conversation), you might have evidence that there is some such debunking psychological explanation of my holding the views I do if you have evidence that i.) my view is false, and ii.) it is so obviously so in light of my evidence set now that honest errors in reasoning cannot explain why I continue to hold it (we can set aside the question of what your evidence would be that the debunking explanation takes the form of it being the case that I think that “Anything that does not comport with [my] political wishes is “illogical,”” where ‘my political wishes’ is read de dicto rather than de re, rather than something else, like my being generally resistant to changing my views, my not wanting to admit to myself that I’m wrong, etc.). Your evidence that i.) is true is in these epistemic circumstances (i.e. without more detailed evidence of my psychology than my avowals) must be your evidence that your view is correct…which is?...oh, right, it doesn’t exist (or at the very least you haven’t presented one jot of it). Your evidence that ii.) is true is in these epistemic circumstances must either be a.) your evidence that your view is obviously correct, even in light of my evidence set before we began…which is?...oh, right, it also doesn’t exist (or is also such that you haven’t presented one jot of it), or b.) the fact that you’ve presented the evidence for your view to me, and my failing to accept it can only be explained by my making errors in reasoning so bad that the only explanation can be some debunking psychological explanation of the kind in question, and these facts do not exist because 1.) you haven’t presenting me with any evidence whatsoever that your view is correct (or in any event none that I haven’t responded to with obviously cogent arguments), 2.) I made no errors in reasoning in assessing the evidence you presented me (either because you presented no evidence whatsoever or you presented none that was not responded to completely cogently), and a fortiori 3.) I made no errors in reasoning so bad that they can only be explained by some debunking psychological explanation of the kind in question.

I, on the other hand, have abundant evidence that you are “intellectually dishonest” on the grounds that you continue to hold the view you do (or at least continue to avow it) due to some debunking psychological explanation. (I think I shouldn’t assign very much higher relative credence to any particular one of the class containing such usual explanations in such cases as i.) you think that “anything that does not comport with [your] political wishes is “illogical,”” where ‘your political wishes’ is read de dicto rather than de re, ii.) your being generally resistant to changing your views, iii.) your not wanting to admit to yourself that you’re wrong, iv.) your desire to save face, etc., though you will see from my previous posts that I favor explanations of types ii.)-iv.) over explanations of type i.), in part because I feel i.) isn’t a very complete explanation (ii.)-iv.) might be seen as good explanations of some such general tendency), in part because I don’t have any evidence as to the content of your “political wishes,” and in part because your avowals seem to follow a pattern of trying to save face in the face of the discovery of your errors (on the empirical issues of fMRI scans and what views entail about court cases) and your lack of response to arguments). First, I have evidence that your view is false (composed, again, of that drawn from testing moral theories against case intuitions in thought experiments and reflections on the need for consistency in our standards of empirical evidence, especially as they bear on what to do (e.g. reflections that certain kinds of skepticism or inferences from “imaginably not P” to “we should use not P as a premise in our practical reasoning” entail unacceptable conclusions if applied across the board).

Second, I have evidence that your view is so obviously false in light of your evidence set now that honest errors in reasoning cannot explain why you continue to hold it. I would demur from claiming that my view was, in light of your evidence prior to inquiry, so obviously true that honest errors in reasoning could not explain your failing to hold it (though I am tempted to this position – the inquiry needed to reveal this in terms of thought experiments is pretty simple, and much of what you avow constitutes inconsistency in applying standards of evidence that looks pretty difficult to explain by honest errors – I suppose the reason I demur from the claim is mostly that it might have been rationally permissible for you not to have engaged in much reasoning at all on this topic prior to our exchange). It is crystal clear, however, that I have presented the evidence for my view to you, and your failure to accept it can only be explained by your making errors in reasoning so bad (or so completely abstaining from engaging in reasoning) that the only explanation can be some debunking psychological explanation of the kind in question. This is because of the cogency of the arguments constituted by tests of moral theories against case intuitions in thought experiments and reflections on the need for consistency in our standards of empirical evidence, especially as they bear on what to do, and your lack of any response to them save denying their conclusions, pointing out that they involve thought experiments, and calling them names like “mental gymnastics” (all without a hint of addressing questions of whether these are the correct methods to use in settling such matters, why they are or are not, what you think a better method is, or your use of that method in counter-argument (unless the method is just to deny conclusions, point out that the arguments involve thought experiments, and call them names, which view certainly cannot be explained without some debunking psychological explanation)).

Anonymous said...

Howard,

Since you have interestingly stated, “Hey, moron, give me some ‘proof and logic’ that suggests that my views are false,” I have one last thing I’d like to present. It is a quote from a book by Leon F. Whitney, copyright 1934. The book is “The Case For Sterilization,” and was one of Hitler’s favorite books. Whitney was the president of the American Eugenics Society and the book is promoting the mandatory sterilization of certain “unfit” segments of society. Eugenicists in America worked closely with Nazis who were performing experiments in the death camps. American eugenicists were determined to reduce the number of rural white people and inner-city minorities in order to promote “good genes.” Based on your statements and philosophies, you would have been a supporter. Though the book is very rare, you can find this book in some libraries. It has glowing, full-paragraph endorsements on the back by:
Prof. E.M. East, Harvard University
Dr. R. B. Von Kleinsmid, Pres. of University of Southern California
Prof. William McDougall, Duke University
Dr. A Franklin Shull, University of Michigan
Dr. Max Mason, Pres. of the Rockefeller Foundation
Prof. Francis B. Sumner, University of California
Hon. Gifford Pinchot, Governor of Pennsylvania
And… Margaret Sanger, founder of the American Birth Control League and Planned Parenthood. Sanger said, “The best book on the subject. It contains exactly the material that the average person interested in human welfare whishes to know. Mr. Whitney presents scientific facts in a practical fashion so that he who reads may understand.” The author, Leon Whitney received a letter from Hitler, thanking him for writing the book, saying that he carried it with him almost always. In the book there is a chapter I want to quote. It is revealing. When you read this, please remember that less than thirty years after this was written, a President was killed and these changes were ushered in. However, where sterilization appeared to be inadequate, abortion seems to have been the solution.

A PLANNED SOCIETY

Today’s discussion of our need for “a planned society” usually emphasizes aspects of our economic structure. As yet, current talk has not touched on a far more important need of contemporary life, the foundation on which any new economic structure must be built if it is to stay firm. I mean a eugenic program.

There is no denying the fact that if we take account of the quality of a population as well as of its numbers, we strike at the root of the problem, for these two go hand in hand. Back of this question, again, stands that of ambition, of goal. Where are we heading? If we want to get somewhere, we first must ask ourselves where we are going and then take the most direct route. Where do we want to go? We have over us no dictator motivated by self-glorification; we are not being coerced into breeding a great army which he may use to acquire new territory. We do not need millions of men for national defense, since there is little likelihood of our being attacked by another nation. Perhaps we should do well to adopt as our ideal the desire to become a model nation, to live contentedly within our own boundaries, to forgo any plans of aggression, to produce as much as possible for the support of our own people, to be self-sufficing and yet have enough surplus to help other peoples when they need it.

A large proportion of our population is of innately fine stock. We still have seed-stock from which we might erect a nation such as has only been dreamed of. What else is there for us to do than just that – become an object lesson? But what kind of object lesson shall we become?

We need financial security. We are going to achieve it, with effort. It has been argued, I think convincingly, that we can get along very well indeed with a smaller population. But it must be made more and more a quality population. Perhaps we shall get that too. But if ever we are going to, our first and greatest necessity is the wide and immediate dissemination of birth-control information. Every one must do what he can in the direction of that legislative reform. We must make available to every couple at the time of marriage such information as will enable them to have as many or as few children as they want, and to space the children properly. Progressive upward evolution will inevitably set in. As I have said earlier, what if the minus social elements do have two children to satisfy their parental instinct? At that they will diminish at the rate of 50% each generation.

Give them the necessary information and instruction and let them decide for themselves whether to have few children or many. If we suppose their incomes to be reasonably stable, and if each year they must make their choice between a commodity and a baby, which do you think they will choose? Here is a nice shiny automobile; and here is a baby. Which will they take? Here is a television apparatus, the newest and best on the market. Will you choose that, Mr. Moron, or would you like another baby? There, Mrs. Moron, are the moving pictures, the public golf-course, there are nine months of freedom vs. nine months of staying home – which will you choose? Mr. Moron, here you see a squalling baby who will get you up nights, and here you see nice long evenings in the poolroom – which will you choose? A Sears – Roebuck catalogue offers a thousand choices between a baby and something else that looks pretty tempting. Which will the morons choose? If you think they will choose more than one or two babies, then you don’t know morons.

The first step in building a civilization, there-fore, is to place everybody on the same footing as that on which our intelligent classes find themselves today. This done, sterilization will come to the assistance of those who are too stupid to comprehend or to carry out the simple methods of contraception; to help those who are intelligent but resolved, because they know they bear dysgenic germ-plasm, that they will have no children at all; and finally the relatives and guardians of degenerates who want to protect themselves, their family, and the race against the trouble to which the pregnancy of a degenerate in their family might give rise. In the program for a controlled and planned society, sterilization will take the place of contraception for a host of persons. It will make contraception unnecessary in many cases and will liberate the mid of the person desiring an effective and permanent means of birth-control.

A planned society must imply the regulation of births. But its birth-control program must be threefold: birth-liberation for those best endowed by Nature; birth-maintenance for the great average; birth-reduction for the lowest social elements. Just one thing is essential: to make contraception and sterilization available. Superiority will of it-self be the deciding factor. Superior people will show their superiority in the test which is to come. That test is the survival of the fittest, but the question of who the fittest are will come to have a new meaning. No longer will we make the mistake of translating fitness as brute strength; we shall understand it to comprehend all that we hold dearest in life – beauty, love , idealism, good citizenship, honor, health, and the happiness that springs from being able to create our families by choice rather than by chance.

If I did not know that already within our ranks we are witnessing a demonstration that this condition can actually come about, I should not feel so hopeful. But all our population figures show that whereas the birth-rate dropped first in the upper classes (considering class on the basis of intelligence) the ability to control this has slowly crept downward until today it is almost possible for the border-line group to control their births. Tomorrow it will be possible for them. And that tomorrow can be brought closer by the efforts of all intelligent people.

Howard-I can no longer justify wasting my time trying to reason with you.

Howard said...

MBC,

The view that only things with the capacity for consciousness have moral status implies absolutely nothing about eugenics. My reasons for thinking that the abortion of fetuses before the onset of the capacity for consciousness is morally permissible has absolutely nothing to do with views on eugenics one way or the other. My reasons for thinking this is that fetuses before the onset of the capacity for consciousness (like all entities without the capacity for consciousness) lack moral status. This has no more to do with eugenics than do typical views about the moral permissibility of killing bacteria or cutting the grass. This is just one more piece of evidence that you have no idea what you or anyone else is talking about. If you still think that you are reasoning with me in any way, I suggest you look at my last two posts.

It actually occurred to me (and I’m very sorry this didn’t occur to me before) that your level of reading comprehension, reading ability, and maturity as a deliberator / investigator is very good evidence that you might actually be a very young child, perhaps as young as 9 or 10 years old. If (and ONLY if) so:

I’m sorry I’ve been so hard on you; it’s just that for some reason you seemed like a grown-up, you were doing things that it’s very, very bad for grown-ups to do, and you kept pushing things without being very careful to listen to what the grown-ups were saying. This would be a lot like if you were in the store with the grown-up / grown-ups who you live with, you asked them if you can buy nothing but candy for the next week, and they told you that you need to eat other things to stay healthy. But you keep asking them to buy nothing but candy. They tell you again how you have to eat other things to be healthy, maybe they even say a little bit about how your body works and why eating nothing but candy will make you sick. You just say “No, it won’t! I want nothing but candy! Buy nothing but candy!” This would make them very, very, mad right? And you can understand how even if they love you why they might be so mad? It’s not nice to do this when grown-ups are trying to tell you things that are really important, is it?

It also makes people really mad when you tell stories that aren’t true, like about what something you read on-line says, or what you thought or were saying about something you read on-line. There are times that don’t happen very often when it’s O.K. to tell stories that aren’t true (like if someone is going to do something very, very bad if you don’t tell them a story that isn’t true. It’s great to think for yourself about what’s good and what’s bad, and when you should and shouldn’t do different kinds of things. When you grow up it’s going to be very important for you to do this all the time. But thinking about what’s good and bad or what you should and shouldn’t do can be hard – you might want to ask grown-ups for help with how to think about this). But times when you’re only telling stories that aren’t true because you don’t want people to know you were wrong about something or that you made a mistake are not times that it’s O.K. to tell stories that aren’t true. Everybody makes mistakes, and good people are honest about their mistakes and admit they made them to other people and to themselves.

Also, when you run into big words that you don’t understand, you shouldn’t go around using them without looking them up in a dictionary or at least asking a grown-up what they mean first. They might mean things you don’t know they mean, and if you use them without knowing what they mean, you might say things that could be wrong or that could make people mad without even knowing you’re saying them. If somebody else like a grown-up is using big words you don’t understand, and they act like they think you know what they mean, you should ask them what they’re talking about. No one is born knowing words, so you shouldn’t feel bad just because you don’t know what a word means. But good people don’t use words they don’t understand or pretend to know what somebody else means just because they don’t want the other person to know they don’t know the words.

Finally, even if you understand the words a grown-up is using, you might not see how the words fit together. You might think the grown-up meant one thing when he or she actually meant another. Sometimes many grown-ups who say certain things also tend to say and think other things. But you shouldn’t think that all grown-ups who say these first things say and think all the other things too. When you grow up you’ll see that what grown-ups think can be more complicated than just thinking all the things you like or all the things you don’t like. It’s really important to think for yourself what the connections are between what different grown-ups say, but this can be hard, so you might want to ask a grown-up for help with it.

Howard said...

Perhaps I should try to spell this out a little more. It is irrelevant to the question of the moral permissibility of early abortion (i.e. abortions performed prior to the onset of the capacity of consciousness of the fetus) whether some advocates of this position have been evil or have advocated it for the wrong reasons. It is irrelevant to this question whether or not the founder of Planned Parenthood was evil, was in league with Hitler, or actively supported horrible moral wrongs like the Holocaust. It is even irrelevant to this question whether or not Planned Parenthood is actively engaged today in some kind of massive conspiracy to do crazy things like try to make all future humans are white. The mere fact that some people who avow or hold a position (or a views that entail a position) are evil or do so for the wrong reasons in no way damages the credibility of the position. Just because the Nazis thought smoking was bad for people didn’t mean it wasn’t. Just because Bin Laden thinks honesty in business dealings is good doesn’t mean it isn’t. Just because the president of Iran said one shouldn’t kill innocent civilians (who have the capacity for consciousness) doesn’t mean it’s O.K. to kill them. Even if it were true that most people advocating the legal permissibility of abortion today were entirely evil, active Neo-Nazis, and engaged in an insane conspiracy, this would do nothing to change the fact that fetuses before the onset of the capacity of consciousness lack moral status for the same reason rocks and trees do.

Anonymous said...

Howard,

You are living proof that education is no solution for one who lacks basic common sense. Your elitist condescension makes me sick, you Nazi. Your faith in science goes well beyond ignorance, when science has been proven over and over again to be fallible, always falling short of truth due to our human inadequacy. Science is not a morality. It never will be. For you to decide the status of a human being and human rights based on today’s technological ability to measure brain activity is murderously naïve, no matter how much philosophy you throw on top. Let me put this as simply as I can… No matter how masterfully, no matter how skillfully, no matter how artfully you polish a turd, in the end, you still have a turd.

Howard said...

MBC,

My argument was never that we should look to a scientific theory to determine the criterion for moral status. (Although yours apparently is, since you insist on using species membership – a scientific biological concept – as a criterion for moral status, which again is exactly what the Nazis were doing with race as a criterion of moral status. Of course species do show up in our best biological theory and races don’t, but that’s besides the point – you’re both trying to use a concept drawn from science rather than philosophy and moral theory to determine moral status). The criterion for moral status was discovered via philosophical argument / moral theory – that’s where the thought experiments came in to determine that it’s the capacity for consciousness (as well as degrees of psychological continuity, psychological substantiality, and goods in prospect). The science comes in in determining what particular entities have the property that we determine via philosophical and moral theory to be the essential property for moral status. Even your view that relies on species membership as the bearer of moral status relies on this. How do we know which creatures are biological humans? How do we know that a particular entity (which we might take to be a tree, rock, or bacterium) is or isn’t a biological human? We need to look to biological science, right? So by your lights we’re screwed because we can’t rely on science to tell us what things are human because science is too “fallible” for these purposes.

The fact of the matter is we have no option but to determine the criterion of moral status via philosophical and moral theory & then to see how it applies to entities in the world via empirical science. No more skepticism is warranted towards the conclusion that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation lack the capacity for consciousness than would be warranted towards the conclusion that the entity growing outside your house that you take to be a tree is in fact a tree and not a biological human (or that the earth is round, etc.). We have excellent reason to believe these conclusions – indeed all we could reasonably demand for practical purposes. Read the above posts if you have any further questions about how to determine the criterion of moral status philosophically, how to apply standards of evidence to determine to which entities that criterion does and does not apply.

Howard said...

MBC,

I heard somewhere that people of your capacities can see points better when presented with vivid, concrete examples of them rather than when they are presented more in the abstract. So here goes. How has your conduct here been any different from the Annoying Person in the following exchange?:

Annoying Person: Killing fruit-flies (entities we have thought to be members of the species drosophila melanogaster) is murder! It is seriously morally wrong to kill fruit-flies. Look at these pictures of poor little dead fruit flies!:

http://www.fftc.agnet.org/library/data/pt/pt2004013/pt2004013f3.jpg
http://www.iamtonyang.com/0205/dead_fly_in_flytrap_detail.jpg

Anyone who is not moved by them to think that killing fruit flies is morally wrong is simply ignoring inconvenient facts.

You think that the criteria for moral status (here: the criteria an entity must meet for killing it to be morally wrong due to the badness of its death for its own sake) is that of membership in the human species? O.K.; great. You see fruit flies are (for purposes of moral status anyway) biological humans on the following criteria: they have beating hearts and 46 separate and distinct chromosomes. Thinking fruit flies are not human is just as evil as the Nazis thinking Jews were somehow less than human.

In any event I draw a bright line as to what constitutes moral status at whether or not an entity is a “skeletal being.” (be it a living organism with an endo-, exo-, or even perhaps hydrostatic skeleton). I call fruit flies “skeletal beings” because they have skeletons. They are alive and organisms. Thus, they are “skeletal beings” and meet my bright line test and should be afforded all the protections of skeletal life (which are just as weighty as those we usually think should be afforded to psychologically normal adult humans).

Interlocutor (this person can be understood to be a proponent either of the view that i.) human species membership is the marker of moral status, or ii.) the capacity for consciousness (+ moral status varies to some degree with important differences in psychological continuity, connectedness, & substantiality)) : Yes, fruit-flies have beating hearts, but they don’t have 46 chromosomes, they have 8. Consult any standard biology textbook for this result and how it was obtained.

In any event, it doesn’t matter for moral status whether or not fruit files are living organisms with skeletons. Let’s do some thought experiments.

1.) What if a psychologically normal adult human lost her skeleton (i.e. without either ceasing to be biologically human or to live the same mental life). Would she lose her moral status? What if a biological human were born without a skeleton (and had developed into a creature that led the same kind of mental life as a psychologically typical adult human)? Would it lack moral status?

2.) What if we slapped skeletons on living organisms like trees, vegetables, mosses, slime-molds, or bacteria? Would they automatically come to have moral status? (Given the functional characterization of a skeleton (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skeleton) this should be pretty easy to imagine). If plants, mosses, bacteria, etc. simply had skeletons (but remained the same in terms of their biological species membership and absence of minds), would it be morally wrong to bathe and eat plants (both of which are activities that kill bacteria and plants)

Doesn’t this suggest that whether or not a creature has a skeleton is irrelevant to its moral status?

Annoying person: With respect to fruit files having only 8 chromosomes: No! Recent studies are finding that fruit flies have numbers of chromosomes very close to 46:

http://www.fortunecity.com/emachines/e11/86/cromsome.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theophilus_Painter
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromosome
http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.com/inside.asp?AID=165&UID=

(For practical purposes we must lend significant credence to the idea that they have 46 chromosomes).

With respect to your “thought experiments” about skeletons; well, they’re just mental gymnastics that involve crazy sci-fi theories about humans losing skeletons or being born without them. Your pathetic attempts to defend an obviously indefensible conclusion that it’s ever morally O.K. to kill innocent skeletal beings have reduced you to talking bout insane things like plants and bacteria being given skeletons. I assert: Having a skeleton is the basis of moral status!

Interlocutor: Those reports don’t at all challenge the idea that fruit flies have 8 chromosomes. They instead refer to advances in chromosome observation technology that took place in 1953 that allowed us better access to things like human chromosome number (which had been estimated to be 48 but later upon closer inspection turned out to be 46).

How do you propose to settle questions of moral status (i.e. whether or not moral status resides with being a living organism with a skeleton or being a member of the human species / having the capacity for consciousness)? I’m trying to give you arguments here; you’re just reasserting your conclusion and pointing out that the arguments involve hypothetical cases. Your behavior is shameful beneath contempt, and you’re acting like a moron.

Annoying Person: My point was that scientists are finding more and more chromosomes in fruit flies. The fact that they haven’t found (or reported) results that fruit flies have 46 chromosomes is the result of the fact that scientists routinely use and kill fruit flies for research purposes and sellers of fruit-fly killing products are making millions by selling them, and these people are suppressing information as to the genuine number of chromosomes of fruit flies (or at least have serious disincentives to undertake research to uncover the actual number).

(At this point, by the way, the Annoying Person might also mount an argument that it’s O.K. to kill innocent, psychologically normal creatures (i.e. capable of consciousness and all the rest of it) that we take to be adult humans because our best science is so “fallible” about chromosome number. Look! They once thought that creatures we take to be humans had 48 chromosomes (and some estimates put it as low as 38)! Now they say it’s 46, but who knows! Science isn’t infallible! Adult humans might very well have more or less than 46 chromosomes! Since we should go with something other than what the best evidence of our science warrants in making practical decisions, perhaps we should go ahead and kill psychologically typical adult creatures we took to be humans for fun, since they probably don’t have 46 chromosomes & 46 chromosomes is the magic number for moral status! But we won’t get into this. (Of course our views on biological species membership should not be dictated simply by the chromosome numbers of the creatures we take to be members of the species. But the point here is that one could level the same kinds of skeptical charges against the claim that any entity does or does not belong to a biological species on any criterion we try to use to distinguish species membership that you try to level against the view that fetuses less than 20 weeks old lack the capacity for consciousness. (In both cases the skeptical challenges fail utterly, at least as relevant to determining how we should act in light of our information). You used chromosome number (as the criterion of species membership and moral status), so the Annoying Person here does as well. Exactly similar remarks (and correspondingly similar claims on the part of the Annoying Person) would go for conceptions of species membership such as the ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring and phylogenetic descent)).

Your arguments that having a skeleton is irrelevant to moral status are disgusting. The Nazis thought it was O.K. to kill fruit-flies. Everyone who thinks it’s O.K. to kill fruit-flies is involved in a massive conspiracy to make all future humans white, so you must be too, and your view that it’s O.K. to kill fruit-flies is wrong because you and everyone like you is engaged in this conspiracy, is a racist, and thinks all future humans should be white. [Let’s even grant for the sake of argument the Annoying person his claim that leading members and large numbers of members of pro-option-to-kill-house-flies organizations are entirely evil, racist, in leauge the Nazis, etc. etc., and all the rest of it]. You’re a Nazi! I can’t argue with you just like I wouldn’t be able to argue with Heinrich Himmler.

Interlocutor: What do you mean they’re finding it “earlier and earlier”? The studies show no such thing. Just because we had some advances in chromosome measurement technology in no way means that the number of chromosomes of fruit flies is up in the air (and certainly not so much so that we should think it could be 46).

Just because the Nazis thought it was O.K. to kill fruit-flies doesn’t mean it isn’t. And my views that it’s O.K. to kill fruit flies have nothing to do with eugenics or attempts to make all future humans white. It doesn’t matter if most people who think it’s O.K. to kill fruit files are racists or are engaged in massive conspiracies to make all future humans white. This wouldn’t change the fact that, because merely being a living organism & having a skeleton is irrelevant to moral status, it’s morally permissible to kill fruit flies because they lack moral status for the same reasons plants and bacteria do.

Annoying Person: Oh, excuse me! The earth is flat! The point is that we can’t rely on science to determine such important things as human species membership, since that’s the basis of moral status.

You’re an elitist and a Nazi. You just lack common sense. Anyone not blinded by their de dicto political wishes would realize that it’s morally wrong to kill anything living organism with a skeleton, at least if they looked at my pictures of poor little killed fruit flies enough and wasn’t a sociopath. [If you’re worried that for sense to be common it has to be shard by a group of people, it should be noted that apparently the Jains have this common sense: "Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture or kill any creature or living being." Jain scripture
In following this discipline Jain monks may be observed treading and sweeping in their temples with the utmost of care so as to avoid accidentally crushing crawling insects, or wearing muslin cloths over their mouths in case they should accidentally swallow a fly.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/jainism/living/living2.shtml). I take it that common sense in holding conclusions shouldn’t have to be too widely shared either, since presumably we think that even when most people thought slavery was O.K. they had the requisite common sense to be argued out of it].

Interlocutor: Do you think the earth is flat? Should we act on that assumption or the assumption that the earth is round for practical purposes? What should we use other than our best scientific theory to determine what things are members of the human species? The same considerations of inference to the best explanation that support view that the earth is round support the view that fruit-flies have only 8 chromosomes.

Annoying Person: Your faith in science goes well beyond ignorance, when science has been proven over and over again to be fallible, always falling short of truth due to our human inadequacy. Science is not a morality. It never will be. For you to decide the status of any given living organism with a skeleton and its moral rights based on today’s technological ability to measure chromosome numbers is murderously naïve, no matter how much philosophy you throw on top. Let me put this as simply as I can… No matter how masterfully, no matter how skillfully, no matter how artfully you polish a turd, in the end, you still have a turd.

I guess what I’m saying is that science is too unreliable to determine things so important as which entities have moral status. That’s why we can’t use species membership (understood here as chromosome number) that would be such that we’d have to rely on our current scientific theory to tell us which things were biological humans (i.e. have 46 chromosomes & beating hearts); we instead have to use something like organism with a skeleton…

Interlocutor: Look, idiot, I’m not relying on science to determine that merely being a living organism with a skeleton is irrelevant to moral status. I used philosophical argument for that involving thought experiments involving humans (psychologically normal or just members of the human species) who lacked skeletons and plants and bacteria who had them to show this. What I was using science for was to determine which actual things in the world met this criterion that we discovered through philosophical argument. MORON!!! You are yourself trying to use a criterion of moral status that we’re going to have to use empirical science to determine which entities meet and don’t meet it, namely that of a living organism with a skeleton!! How are we supposed to determine which entities are and aren’t living organisms with skeletons except via the kind of empirical science you repeat over and over is so fallible?!? What the devil are we supposed to use? Tea leaves? The psychic hot line? Which particular entities are living organisms with skeletons is an empirical scientific question, just like the question of which entities have 46 chromosomes, and which entities have the capacity for consciousness! Where are your skeptical worries that our current science is so bloody fallible that it won’t be able to reliably determine which entities are living organisms with skeletons, which were so very present about the reliability of our science in determining such things as which entities in the actual world have a certain chromosome number (or a capacity for consciousness)? You are simply being as shamefully stupid as can be imagined, claiming with complete inconsistency that we can’t have enough knowledge from science for practical purposes with respect to empirical questions of which entities have certain chromosome numbers or the capacity for consciousness, but then turning around and committing yourself to the view that we can have knowledge sufficient for practical purposes of such empirical facts as which entities are living organisms with skeletons!

So, can you see why this Annoying Person is being a moron beneath contempt? Do you understand now why you are one too?

Anonymous said...

Howard the Nazi,

You left out an “inconvenient” word in the basic premise of your argument… “human.”

I said, “I call this a being because it has a beating heart. This being has 46 separate and distinct ****human**** chromosomes. Thus, it is a “human being” and meets my bright line test and should be afforded all the protections of human life.”

You said, “You see fruit flies are (for purposes of moral status anyway) biological humans on the following criteria: they have beating hearts and 46 separate and distinct chromosomes.”

Are you trying to mislead me and others reading this blog by leaving out key, important words and facts?

You may think that a human being has no more value than Nietche’s “flies in the market-place,” but most of us don’t share your sick, warped view. You continue to try to flex your philosophical muscle by polishing a turd. Aren’t you sick of living a lonely, desolate life based on a lies? It seems likely you face the same fate as Nietche. What’s your stock in this argument? Have you driven a few women to abortion clinics? Do you perform abortions? Is the potential guilt associated with acknowledging abortion as murder too great for you to face?

Your unwavering commitment to abortion somehow makes you unable to even consider the possibility that abortion is morally wrong. On the other hand, I have done a great deal of thinking and research on the issue, and the overwhelming facts have led me to the conclusion that there is something very wrong with abortion. It was forced upon us by the court for eugenic purposes. It is supported by blatant propaganda, and philosophical hacks are encouraged to find innovative ways to justify what can not be morally justified. But what do I know? I am just a “moron beneath contempt.” Certainly, you would have preferred that one as inconvenient as me were aborted.

Do you have nightmares? Sleeping in blood? Reach for the hand.

Howard said...

MBC (who is the genuine Nazi for reasons explained over and over again, namely that you continue to insist on a purely biological concept as the marker of moral status – viz. species membership, just like the Nazis used races),

I know you don’t pay very close attention to anything you read, but note that in my discussion of what the Annoying Person was doing I included the following remark:

“But the point here is that one could level the same kinds of skeptical charges against the claim that any entity does or does not belong to a biological species on any criterion we try to use to distinguish species membership that you try to level against the view that fetuses less than 20 weeks old lack the capacity for consciousness. (In both cases the skeptical challenges fail utterly, at least as relevant to determining how we should act in light of our information). You used chromosome number (as the criterion of species membership and moral status), so the Annoying Person here does as well. EXACTLY SIMILAR REMARKS (AND CORRESPONDINGLY SIMILAR CLAIMS ON THE PART OF THE ANNOYING PERSON) WOULD GO FOR CONCEPTIONS OF SPECIES MEMBERSHIP SUCH AS THE ABILITY TO INTERBREED TO PRODUCE FERTILE OFFSPRING AND PHYLOGENETIC DESCENT)).

Now, I don’t think we get much traction on the idea of species membership by talking about which creatures have 46 HUMAN chromosomes. For you see human genes and chromosomes do not come marked “human,” for example most human and chimpanzee genes are the same (see e.g. McMahan 213). Presumably what you mean by a “human chromosome” is a chromosome found in and taken from a human being. But then we cannot rely on the criterion of having 46 human chromosomes to identify humans, because the question will remain as to which organisms are humans from which these 46 chromosomes are being drawn. Since you are so very, very dense, I’ll EXPLICITLY run the relevant parts of the Annoying Person dialogue with this and with two other standard definitions of species membership, ability to interbreed with members of the group to produce fertile offspring and sufficiently close phylogenetic descent:

Annoying Person: Killing fruit-flies (entities we have thought to be members of the species drosophila melanogaster) is murder! It is seriously morally wrong to kill fruit-flies. Look at these pictures of poor little dead fruit flies!:

http://www.fftc.agnet.org/library/data/pt/pt2004013/pt2004013f3.jpg
http://www.iamtonyang.com/0205/dead_fly_in_flytrap_detail.jpg

Anyone who is not moved by them to think that killing fruit flies is morally wrong is simply ignoring inconvenient facts.

You think that the criteria for moral status (here: the criteria an entity must meet for killing it to be morally wrong due to the badness of its death for its own sake) is that of membership in the human species? O.K.; great. You see fruit flies are (for purposes of moral status anyway) biological humans on the following criteria: i.) they have beating hearts and 46 separate and distinct human chromosomes, ii.) they can in fact interbreed with creatures we take to be biological humans to produce fertile offspring (the mechanics are difficult, but when sperm is taken from creatures we usually take to be human males and introduced to fruit-fly eggs, they produce fertile offspring, and when sperm is taken from male fruit flies and introduced to the eggs of creatures we ordinarily take to be human females, they also produce fertile offspring), and iii.) they shared a common evolutionary ancestor with the creatures we usually take to be biological humans, and we, our ancestors, they, and their ancestors constitute “a lineage that maintains its integrity with respect to other lineages through both time and space” sufficient for us and they to constitute members of the same species (see e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Species for a discussion of the various criteria of species membership) (perhaps there have been many fruit-fly-“typical” human matings, but because the offspring look either like typical humans when born to typical human mothers or fruit flies when born to fruit-fly mothers, no one has noticed. Well, that and they’re of course choosing to ignore inconvenient facts).

Thinking fruit flies are not human is just as evil as the Nazis thinking Jews were somehow less than human.

In any event I draw a bright line as to what constitutes moral status at whether or not an entity is a “skeletal being.” (be it a living organism with an endo-, exo-, or even perhaps hydrostatic skeleton). I call fruit flies “skeletal beings” because they have skeletons. They are alive and organisms. Thus, they are “skeletal beings” and meet my bright line test and should be afforded all the protections of skeletal life (which are just as weighty as those we usually think should be afforded to psychologically normal adult humans).

Interlocutor: Yes, fruit-flies have beating hearts, but they don’t have 46 human chromosomes, they have 8 fruit-fly chromosomes. Also, they cannot interbreed with humans to produce fertile offspring, and they do not share a common evolutionary ancestor in a way that constitutes a sufficient integrity with respect to other lineages to constitute membership in the same species. Consult any standard biology textbook for this result and how it was obtained.

In any event, it doesn’t matter for moral status whether or not fruit files are living organisms with skeletons. Let’s do some thought experiments.

1.) What if a psychologically normal adult human lost her skeleton (i.e. without either ceasing to be biologically human or to live the same mental life). Would she lose her moral status? What if a biological human were born without a skeleton (and had developed into a creature that led the same kind of mental life as a psychologically typical adult human)? Would it lack moral status?

2.) What if we slapped skeletons on living organisms like trees, vegetables, mosses, slime-molds, or bacteria? Would they automatically come to have moral status? (Given the functional characterization of a skeleton (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skeleton) this should be pretty easy to imagine). If plants, mosses, bacteria, etc. simply had skeletons (but remained the same in terms of their biological species membership and absence of minds), would it be morally wrong to bathe and eat plants (both of which are activities that kill bacteria and plants)

Doesn’t this suggest that whether or not a creature has a skeleton is irrelevant to its moral status?

Annoying person: With respect to fruit files having only 8 non-human chromosomes: No! Recent studies are finding that fruit flies have numbers of chromosomes very close to 46:

http://www.fortunecity.com/emachines/e11/86/cromsome.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theophilus_Painter
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromosome
http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.com/inside.asp?AID=165&UID=

For practical purposes we must lend significant credence to the idea that they have 46 chromosomes. Moreover, these 46 chromosomes fruit-flies have are human chromosomes, because fruit flies are human! Also, science is totally fallible about things like which creatures can interbreed with others to produce fertile offspring and which creatures share sufficient similarity of philogenetic descent to count as members of the same species

With respect to your “thought experiments” about skeletons; well, they’re just mental gymnastics that involve crazy sci-fi theories about humans losing skeletons or being born without them. Your pathetic attempts to defend an obviously indefensible conclusion that it’s ever morally O.K. to kill innocent skeletal beings have reduced you to talking bout insane things like plants and bacteria being given skeletons. I assert: Having a skeleton is the basis of moral status!

Interlocutor: Those reports don’t at all challenge the idea that fruit flies have 8 non human chromosomes. They instead refer to advances in chromosome observation technology that took place in 1953 that allowed us better access to things like human chromosome number (which had been estimated to be 48 but later upon closer inspection turned out to be 46). I suppose we have to defer questions of whether the chromosomes the fruit flies have are human to questions of genetic similarity (i.e. the extent to which the genes on the genes on the chromosomes are the same) and the other two species definitions (i.e. the chromosomes flies have will constitute human chromosomes just in case the chromosomes have sufficiently similar genetic material, fruit-flies and typical humans can interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and fruit-flies and typical humans have sufficient similarity of philogenetic descent to count as members of the same species). On all three counts fruit flies fail to be human / have human chromosomes (whether the number of chromosomes they have is 8, 46, or something else). Fruit flies and typical humans share only about 50 percent of the genes on their chromosomes (http://www.americanscientist.org/template/InterviewTypeDetail/assetid/48442;jsessionid=baa6gWCz81), which is far too little to make them count as members of the same species on genetic similarity criteria. Also, fruit flies and typical humans can’t interbreed to produce fertile offspring and don’t share sufficient similarity of philogenetic descent to count as members of the same species for the reasons you’d find in the scientific literature. Yes, it is logically possible that we and fruit flies are members of the same species on these criteria (there is nothing incoherent about our being wrong on gene similarity, ability to produce fertile offspring, and philogenetic descent), but we have no more reason to take these hypotheses seriously than we have to take seriously the hypothesis that we will be tortured forever by an evil green Easter bunny who lives behind Alpha Centauri if we don’t sing “God save the Queen” every Tuesday at 9:15 AM for exactly 18.5 seconds.

How do you propose to settle questions of moral status (i.e. whether or not moral status resides with being a living organism with a skeleton or being a member of the human species / having the capacity for consciousness)? I’m trying to give you arguments here; you’re just reasserting your conclusion and pointing out that the arguments involve hypothetical cases. Your behavior is shameful beneath contempt, and you’re acting like a moron.

Annoying Person: My point was that scientists are finding more and more chromosomes in fruit flies. The fact that they haven’t found (or reported) results that fruit flies have 46 chromosomes is the result of the fact that scientists routinely use and kill fruit flies for research purposes and sellers of fruit-fly killing products are making millions by selling them, and these people are suppressing information as to the genuine number of chromosomes of fruit flies (or at least have serious disincentives to undertake research to uncover the actual number). These factors are also responsible for the suppression of evidence (or the failure to uncover the evidence) that fruit flies are genetically human on the counts of genetic similarity, ability to produce fertile offspring, and similar genetic descent, which evidence entails that they are humans and their 46 chromosomes are human chromosomes. You’re so crazy you’ve been reduced to talking about evil green Easter bunnies behind alpha centauri!

Your arguments that having a skeleton is irrelevant to moral status are disgusting. The Nazis thought it was O.K. to kill fruit-flies. Everyone who thinks it’s O.K. to kill fruit-flies is involved in a massive conspiracy to make all future humans white, so you must be too, and your view that it’s O.K. to kill fruit-flies is wrong because you and everyone like you is engaged in this conspiracy, is a racist, and thinks all future humans should be white. [Let’s even grant for the sake of argument the Annoying person his claim that leading members and large numbers of members of pro-option-to-kill-house-flies organizations are entirely evil, racist, in leauge the Nazis, etc. etc., and all the rest of it]. You’re a Nazi! I can’t argue with you just like I wouldn’t be able to argue with Heinrich Himmler.

Interlocutor: What do you mean they’re finding “more and more” chromosomes? The studies show no such thing. Just because we had some advances in chromosome measurement technology in no way means that the number of chromosomes of fruit flies is up in the air (and certainly not so much so that we should think it could be 46). Also, just because you can imagine motivated reasons why people are covering up or not uncovering evidence that fruit flies are humans on the counts of genetic similarity, ability to produce fertile offspring, and similar phylogenetic descent doesn’t mean we should take the hypothesis seriously.

Just because the Nazis thought it was O.K. to kill fruit-flies doesn’t mean it isn’t. And my views that it’s O.K. to kill fruit flies have nothing to do with eugenics or attempts to make all future humans white. It doesn’t matter if most people who think it’s O.K. to kill fruit files are racists or are engaged in massive conspiracies to make all future humans white. This wouldn’t change the fact that, because merely being a living organism & having a skeleton is irrelevant to moral status, it’s morally permissible to kill fruit flies because they lack moral status for the same reasons plants and bacteria do.

Annoying Person: Oh, excuse me! The earth is flat! The point is that we can’t rely on science to determine such important things as human species membership, if we take that to be the basis of moral status. We all know science is fallible about things like genetic similarity, ability to produce fertile offspring, and similar phylogenetic descent. You’re being murderously naïve to try to use these as criteria for moral status. You can’t be sure that we don’t share over 99% of our genes with fruit flies, that we can’t produce fertile offspring with them, or that we don’t share sufficiently similar phylogenetic descent to count as members of the same species. Science is just too unreliable to determine these things. Because of this you can’t hang moral status on them.

You’re an elitist and a Nazi. You just lack common sense. Anyone not blinded by their de dicto political wishes would realize that it’s morally wrong to kill anything living organism with a skeleton, at least if they looked at my pictures of poor little killed fruit flies enough and wasn’t a sociopath.

Interlocutor: Do you think the earth is flat? Should we act on that assumption or the assumption that the earth is round for practical purposes? What should we use other than our best scientific theory to determine what things are members of the human species (on grounds of genetic similarity, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogenetic descent)? The same considerations of inference to the best explanation that support view that the earth is round support the view that fruit-flies have only 8 non-human chromosomes (non human because they lack sufficient genetic similarity, can’t interbreed with typical humans to produce fertile offspring, and lack sufficiently phylogenetic descent to typical humans count as members of the human species).

Annoying Person: Your faith in science goes well beyond ignorance, when science has been proven over and over again to be fallible, always falling short of truth due to our human inadequacy. Science is not a morality. It never will be. For you to decide the status of any given living organism with a skeleton and its moral rights based on today’s technological ability to measure chromosome numbers, genetic similarity, ability to produce fertile offspring, and phylogenetic descent is murderously naïve, no matter how much philosophy you throw on top. Let me put this as simply as I can… No matter how masterfully, no matter how skillfully, no matter how artfully you polish a turd, in the end, you still have a turd.

I guess what I’m saying is that science is too unreliable to determine things so important as which entities have moral status. That’s why we can’t use species membership (understood here as genetic similarity, ability to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogenetic descent) that would be such that we’d have to rely on our current scientific theory to tell us which things were biological humans (i.e. beating hearts and 46 human chromosomes, where we determine whether or not the 46 chromosomes are human chromosomes on grounds of sufficient genetic similarity to typical humans, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring with typical humans, and sufficiently similar phylogenetic descent to typical humans to count as members of the same species); we instead have to use something like organism with a skeleton…

Interlocutor: Look, idiot, I’m not relying on science to determine that merely being a living organism with a skeleton is irrelevant to moral status. I used philosophical argument for that involving thought experiments involving humans (psychologically normal or just members of the human species) who lacked skeletons and plants and bacteria who had them to show this. What I was using science for was to determine which actual things in the world met this criterion that we discovered through philosophical argument. MORON!!! You are yourself trying to use a criterion of moral status that we’re going to have to use empirical science to determine which entities meet and don’t meet it, namely that of a living organism with a skeleton!! How are we supposed to determine which entities are and aren’t living organisms with skeletons except via the kind of empirical science you repeat over and over is so fallible?!? What the devil are we supposed to use? Tea leaves? The psychic hot line? Which particular entities are living organisms with skeletons is an empirical scientific question, just like the question of which entities have 46 chromosomes, which have beating hearts, and which have sufficient genetic similarity, which can interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and which have sufficiently similarity of phylogenetic descent to count as members of the same species (and which entities have the capacity for consciousness)! Where are your skeptical worries that our current science is so bloody fallible that it won’t be able to reliably determine which entities are living organisms with skeletons, which were so very present about the reliability of our science in determining such things as which entities in the actual world have sufficient genetic similarity, which can interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and which have sufficiently similarity of phylogenetic descent to count as members of the same species (or which entities in the actual world have a capacity for consciousness)! You are simply being as shamefully stupid as can be imagined, claiming with complete inconsistency that we can’t have enough knowledge from science for practical purposes with respect to empirical questions of which entities have sufficient genetic similarity, which can interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and which have sufficiently similarity of phylogenetic descent to count as members of the same species (or which entities in the actual world have a capacity for consciousness), but then turning around and committing yourself to the view that we can have knowledge sufficient for practical purposes of such empirical facts as which entities are living organisms with skeletons!

O.K., NOW can you see why this Annoying Person is being a moron beneath contempt in the EXACT SAME way you are?

Now, I know you’re a moron, but really, seriously, do you think I agree with the Annoying Person’s conclusion? The whole point was that the Annoying Person is arguing for a conclusion I take it we both reject (namely that fruit-flies have the same moral status as humans) but was making the exact same moves you were in arguing that fetuses less than 20 weeks old have moral status. This was to show you that the moves you were making were unacceptable.

My motives here are that you are being a ridiculously shameful idiot, and it must be explained to you why this is so. My interests in the particular issue at hand (namely the moral permissibility of early abortions) are that I think a great deal hangs on the truth of the matter. I find it bizarre that you think I am somehow unwaveringly committed to the moral permissibility of abortion; I told you before that I’m sure some abortions (after the onset of the capacity for consciousness) are morally impermissible and I told you that it would not disturb me to think that all abortions after the onset of the capacity for consciousness are morally wrong (I told you I was tempted to it before); I just find this difficult to believe for the same reasons I think it can be morally permissible to kill things like shrimp (and perhaps fish or some fish – see above on why I’m considering these creatures here) for some of the more weighty reasons people might have to have abortions.

What are your motives in trying to (or giving some pathetic semblance of) argue about the issue? Are you de dicto motivated to show others how stupid you are?

On debunking psychological explanations, how you have no reason to think one applies to me and I have abundant reason to think one applies to you, see my post above on this issue.

As to your alleged “thinking” and “research”, I can only direct you to what has been argued again and again: namely that it’s COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT to questions of whether or not abortion is morally permissible whether or not “It was forced upon us by the court for eugenic purposes. It is supported by blatant propaganda, and philosophical hacks are encouraged to find innovative ways to justify what can not be morally justified.” If you want a more vivid example of why things like the forcing of something upon people, its being supported by propaganda, its being supported for the wrong kinds of reasons, and its being thought morally permissible or impermissible by many for the wrong reasons, consider the abolition of slavery. I take it you would agree that slavery was morally impermissible. Now, the abolition of slavery was forced on the south, its abolition was supported by a concerted propaganda campaign, many Northerners only wanted to abolish it for personal financial / political gain, and many thought it wrong for the wrong kinds of reasons. Still, this didn’t make slavery any less wrong, right?

That’s right, you know absolutely nothing relevant to this issue. You are indeed a moron beneath contempt, and I hope you can understand why now. It’s not that you’re inconvenient; it’s that you’re despicable. I agree that if your conduct on this blog is an indication of how you generally are, and you continue to act this way in the future, the world very likely would have been a better place without your existence. But certainly don’t think that your being a blemish on the world was caused simply by your genetic endowment, or even acculturation beyond you’re control. It’s your fault you’re a moron beneath contempt.

Howard said...

"The whole point was that the Annoying Person is arguing for a conclusion I take it we both reject (namely that fruit-flies have the same moral status as humans) but was making the exact same moves you were in arguing that fetuses less than 20 weeks old have moral status. This was to show you that the moves you were making were unacceptable."

Should read:

"The whole point was that the Annoying Person is arguing for a conclusion I take it we both reject (namely that fruit-flies have the same moral status as humans with the capacity for consciousness) but was making the exact same moves you were in arguing that fetuses less than 20 weeks old have moral status. This was to show you that the moves you were making were unacceptable."

Anonymous said...

Howard the Nazi,

You want to try something extremely funny? Read your words with a German accent.

“That’s right, you know absolutely nothing relevant to this issue. You are indeed a moron beneath contempt, and I hope you can understand why now. It’s not that you’re inconvenient; it’s that you’re despicable. I agree that if your conduct on this blog is an indication of how you generally are, and you continue to act this way in the future, the world very likely would have been a better place without your existence. But certainly don’t think that your being a blemish on the world was caused simply by your genetic endowment, or even acculturation beyond you’re control. It’s your fault you’re a moron beneath contempt.”

http://www.blackgenocide.org/abortion.html

Did you sleep well?

Howard said...

MBC (who is the genuine Nazi for reasons explained over and over again, namely that you continue to insist on a purely biological concept as the marker of moral status – viz. species membership, just like the Nazis used races),

The words are just as true whether they’re read with a German accent or no. (One problem with the Nazis, however, was that they thought that people could be the objects of scorn and beneath contempt simply due to their genetic endowments and cultural backgrounds beyond their control. I stressed that you should recognize that you’re beneath contempt for very different reasons that involve it actually being your fault that you’re this way). By the way, I’m still waiting to hear how your conduct on this blog has been any different from the Annoying Person in the exchange in which he is explicitly arguing against using species membership conceived of as genetic similarity, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogenetic descent (and using these to try to persuade us that we can’t be sufficiently sure that fruit flies don’t have 46 chromsomes that are human ones for practical purposes) as a criterion of moral status and in favor of using organism with a skeleton as a criterion of moral status. I’m also still waiting to hear whether you agree that all the alleged research you’ve done is entirely irrelevant to questions of moral status. (I know you don’t want to think hypothetically and are loathe to recognize the import of hypothetical cases when they bear on a conclusion you disagree with, but remember I asked you to suppose the Annoying Person had done similar “research” and come up with the result that leading members and large numbers of members of pro-option-to-kill-house-flies organizations are entirely evil, racist, in leauge the Nazis, etc. etc., and all the rest of it, to which we might add that the view that it’s O.K. to kill fruit flies had somehow been forced on us by the courts, had been the target of a concerted propaganda campaign, and was such that many or even most people held it and engaged in killing fruit flies for the wrong reasons. Let’s even suppose this was correct. Would that bear one jot on the issue of whether or not it is actually morally permissible to kill fruit flies?).

Oh, and the Annoying Person is also inviting you to read your words in a German accent and submitting that it would be funny (not much of an argument for anything is it? But actually, the annoying person would have much more of a point here than you do, for the reason I’ve stressed – viz. that you continue to insist on a purely biological concept as the marker of moral status – viz. species membership, just like the Nazis used races).

I will treat lack of response on these counts as tacit admission that you’re a moron beneath contempt and have been completely incorrect about everything you have said here as it is supposed to bear on the issues at hand.

Anonymous said...

Howard the Nazi,

A kind person presented this entry in wikipedia:

“Mental breakdown and death (1889 – 1900)
On 3 January 1889, Nietzsche had a mental collapse. That day two Turinese policemen approached him after he caused a public disturbance in the streets of Turin. What actually happened remains unknown. The often-repeated (and apocryphal) tale states that Nietzsche witnessed the whipping of a horse at the other end of the Piazza Carlo Alberto, ran to the horse, threw his arms up around the horse’s neck to protect it, and collapsed to the ground. In the following few days, he sent short writings to a number of friends, including Cosima Wagner and Jacob Burckhardt, which showed signs of a breakdown. To his former colleague Burckhardt he wrote: 'I have had Caiphas put in fetters. Also, last year I was crucified by the German doctors in a very drawn-out manner. Wilhelm, Bismarck, and all anti-Semites abolished.' (The Portable Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann)
On January 6, 1889, Burckhardt showed the letter he had received from Nietzsche to Overbeck. The following day Overbeck received a similarly revealing letter, and decided Nietzsche must be brought back to Basel. Overbeck traveled to Turin and brought Nietzsche to a psychiatric clinic in Basel. By that time, Nietzsche appeared fully in the grip of insanity, and his mother Franziska decided to transfer him to a clinic in Jena under the direction of Otto Binswanger. From November 1889 to February 1890, Julius Langbehn attempted to cure Nietzsche, claiming that the doctors' methods were ineffective to cure Nietzsche's condition. Langbehn assumed greater and greater control of Nietzsche until his secrecy discredited him. In March 1890 Franziska removed Nietzsche from the clinic, and in May 1890 brought him to her home in Naumburg.”
You seem to be on the same path as Nietzsche. You insist that I respond to the insane notion that people are flies. I will not delve into your madness. I still hold to the notion that people are not flies. In fact, I still agree with the notion that intentionally mutilating a fetus and sucking it out is barbaric. You can polish your turd as much as you want. You are working with an insane premise from square one, and I refuse to acknowledge it. This is by no means a concession. It is an admission that you are out of your mind, and I am not willing to argue an insane premise.

http://abortionno.org/AbortionNO/genocide_fl.html

Howard said...

MBC (who is the genuine Nazi for reasons explained over and over again, namely that you continue to insist on a purely biological concept as the marker of moral status – viz. species membership, just like the Nazis used races),

Again you miss the point entirely. I am not insisting that you argue that people are not flies; I agree with you that they are not. What the Annoying Person was doing was arguing that we can’t be certain enough for practical purposes which entities are humans (because we would have to rely on our current scientific methods to determine which entities are humans and science is too fallible for this purpose), and that because of this we need to use some other standard to determine moral status (the replacement he proposed was that of an organism with a skeleton). The annoying person was of course a complete idiot because we’re going to need the methods of empirical science to determine which entities are organisms with skeletons as well, so the charge that “because criterion X is such that we will have to rely on science to determine to which entities it applies and science is too fallible we need to use criterion Y” (where her X is human species membership and Y is membership in the set of all organisms with skeletons) does not get off the ground, and this should be painfully obvious to anyone not irrationally convinced in advance that criterion Y must be correct and will grasp at anything that could sound like a semblance of an argument in favor of it to try to rationalize her convictions.

My claim was that you were doing EXACTLY what the Annoying Person was doing, and that by seeing why the annoying person was a complete idiot you can see why you too are a complete idiot for the same reasons. What you were doing was arguing that we can’t be certain enough for practical purposes which entities (in particular human fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation) have the capacity for consciousness (because we would have to rely on our current scientific methods to determine which entities have the capacity for consciousness and science is too fallible for this purpose), and that because of this we need to use some other standard to determine moral status (the replacement you proposed was that of human species membership). You are of course a complete idiot because we’re going to need the methods of empirical science to determine which entities are members of the human species as well, so the charge that “because criterion X is such that we will have to rely on science to determine to which entities it applies and science is too fallible we need to use criterion Y” (where her X is having the capacity for consciousness and Y is human species membership) does not get off the ground, and this should be painfully obvious to anyone not irrationally convinced in advance that criterion Y must be correct and will grasp at anything that could sound like a semblance of an argument in favor of it to try to rationalize her convictions.

What I am demanding is that you explain to me how you are any less of an idiot than the Annoying Person. I wasn’t asking you to respond to the insane notion that people are flies, but you WERE asking me to respond to the insane notion that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation (which don’t even have any bloody synaptic connections among cortical neurons!!!) have the capacity for consciousness. Or at least that was what you began by asking me to respond to. Later you seemed to move to the idea that we just can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation because science is not infallible. The Annoying Person does the exact same thing. First tries to argue with us that fruit-flies are probably biological humans (again on the criteria of genetic similarity, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogenetic descent, and that they have 46 chromosomes that will be human given the obtaining of the first three criteria). Then he seems to move to the idea that we just can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fruit flies aren’t human for practical purposes because science isn’t infallible. This notion is insane, right? It’s insane to think that we can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fruit flies aren’t human because science isn’t infallible, right? O.K., well, you ended up asking me to respond to an identically insane notion, namely that we can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation because science isn’t infallible.

Let me reiterate (I know I’m being repetitive here but you seemed to miss the point over and over again): The point is you don’t have to respond to the insane notions of the Annoying Person that:

i.) Fruit-flies are probably biological humans (again on the criteria of genetic similarity, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogenetic descent, and that they have 46 chromosomes that will be human given the obtaining of the first three criteria), and
ii.) We just can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fruit flies aren’t human for because science isn’t infallible.

What you do have to do is explain why your notions that:

i.) fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation (which bear in mind don’t even have any synaptic connections among cortical neurons!!!) have the capacity for consciousness, and
ii.) We just can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation because science isn’t infallible.

ARE ANY LESS INSANE. Or you can admit (as I think it’s abundantly evident even to you now) that you’re just a complete idiot who is completely incorrect about everything you have said as it bears on the issues at hand, and that your entire conduct on this blog has been despicable beneath contempt. Do you get it now?

Howard said...

"ii.) We just can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation because science isn’t infallible."

should read:

"ii.) We just can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation lack the capacity for consciousness because science isn’t infallible."

Howard said...

The sentences:

“Later you seemed to move to the idea that we just can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation because science is not infallible,” and

“O.K., well, you ended up asking me to respond to an identically insane notion, namely that we can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation because science isn’t infallible.”

Should also read:

“Later you seemed to move to the idea that we just can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation lack the capacity for consciousness because science is not infallible,” and

“O.K., well, you ended up asking me to respond to an identically insane notion, namely that we can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation lack the capacity for consciousness because science isn’t infallible.”

Anonymous said...

Howard, you really are dense. By making the comparison of ME (the annoying person) trying to prove that flies are humans, you are implying that a fetus DOES have the moral value of a fly.

Again, I say, that is an insane premise that I refuse to argue. No matter how you dress it up, polish it or twist it.

Instead, I propose that there is ample evidence that abortion was the brain child of eugenicists.

HOWEVER, since this result does not jive with your moral code, you refuse to acknowledge it as a possibility.

Let me put this to you as simply as I can, since you are lost in an insane maze of convoluted philosophy based on an insane premise.

1) A human fetus is human.
2) The reason why 80% of planned parenthoods, the largest abortion provider, are in minority neighborhoods is to limit the numbers of certain "inferior races," commonly referred to (as you have been doing) as morons.
3) The reason this was imposed on Americans was because in the 1960s, the "lower social elements" were demonstrating for equal rights and refusing to go off to war to get killed.
4) The billionares had no other alternative to keep American from impending revolution than to reduce the numbers of the "unfit" through birth control and abortion.
5) Why would the billionares, who run our government through business, media and political contributions, do this? Because the only way they can lose their wealth and status is if America is plunged into Revolution.

I DO NOT EXPECT YOU TO BELIEVE ME. IF YOU ARE TRULY AN INTELLECTUAL, CHECK IT OUT FOR YOURSELF. QUIT WASTING YOUR TIME AND BRAIN POWER TRYING TO SPIN INSANE JUSTIFICATIONS FOR ABORTION.

Anonymous said...

Howard the Nazi,

Here is a repost of something from earlier to give you a jump start on your research. Perhaps this time you will read it.

It is a quote from a book by Leon F. Whitney, copyright 1934. The book is “The Case For Sterilization,” and was one of Hitler’s favorite books. Whitney was the president of the American Eugenics Society and the book is promoting the mandatory sterilization of certain “unfit” segments of society. Eugenicists in America worked closely with Nazis who were performing experiments in the death camps. American eugenicists were determined to reduce the number of rural white people and inner-city minorities in order to promote “good genes.” Based on your statements and philosophies, you would have been a supporter. Though the book is very rare, you can find this book in some libraries. It has glowing, full-paragraph endorsements on the back by:
Prof. E.M. East, Harvard University
Dr. R. B. Von Kleinsmid, Pres. of University of Southern California
Prof. William McDougall, Duke University
Dr. A Franklin Shull, University of Michigan
Dr. Max Mason, Pres. of the Rockefeller Foundation
Prof. Francis B. Sumner, University of California
Hon. Gifford Pinchot, Governor of Pennsylvania
And… Margaret Sanger, founder of the American Birth Control League and Planned Parenthood. Sanger said, “The best book on the subject. It contains exactly the material that the average person interested in human welfare whishes to know. Mr. Whitney presents scientific facts in a practical fashion so that he who reads may understand.” The author, Leon Whitney received a letter from Hitler, thanking him for writing the book, saying that he carried it with him almost always. In the book there is a chapter I want to quote. It is revealing. When you read this, please remember that less than thirty years after this was written, a President was killed and these changes were ushered in. However, where sterilization appeared to be inadequate, abortion seems to have been the solution.

A PLANNED SOCIETY

Today’s discussion of our need for “a planned society” usually emphasizes aspects of our economic structure. As yet, current talk has not touched on a far more important need of contemporary life, the foundation on which any new economic structure must be built if it is to stay firm. I mean a eugenic program.

There is no denying the fact that if we take account of the quality of a population as well as of its numbers, we strike at the root of the problem, for these two go hand in hand. Back of this question, again, stands that of ambition, of goal. Where are we heading? If we want to get somewhere, we first must ask ourselves where we are going and then take the most direct route. Where do we want to go? We have over us no dictator motivated by self-glorification; we are not being coerced into breeding a great army which he may use to acquire new territory. We do not need millions of men for national defense, since there is little likelihood of our being attacked by another nation. Perhaps we should do well to adopt as our ideal the desire to become a model nation, to live contentedly within our own boundaries, to forgo any plans of aggression, to produce as much as possible for the support of our own people, to be self-sufficing and yet have enough surplus to help other peoples when they need it.

A large proportion of our population is of innately fine stock. We still have seed-stock from which we might erect a nation such as has only been dreamed of. What else is there for us to do than just that – become an object lesson? But what kind of object lesson shall we become?

We need financial security. We are going to achieve it, with effort. It has been argued, I think convincingly, that we can get along very well indeed with a smaller population. But it must be made more and more a quality population. Perhaps we shall get that too. But if ever we are going to, our first and greatest necessity is the wide and immediate dissemination of birth-control information. Every one must do what he can in the direction of that legislative reform. We must make available to every couple at the time of marriage such information as will enable them to have as many or as few children as they want, and to space the children properly. Progressive upward evolution will inevitably set in. As I have said earlier, what if the minus social elements do have two children to satisfy their parental instinct? At that they will diminish at the rate of 50% each generation.

Give them the necessary information and instruction and let them decide for themselves whether to have few children or many. If we suppose their incomes to be reasonably stable, and if each year they must make their choice between a commodity and a baby, which do you think they will choose? Here is a nice shiny automobile; and here is a baby. Which will they take? Here is a television apparatus, the newest and best on the market. Will you choose that, Mr. Moron, or would you like another baby? There, Mrs. Moron, are the moving pictures, the public golf-course, there are nine months of freedom vs. nine months of staying home – which will you choose? Mr. Moron, here you see a squalling baby who will get you up nights, and here you see nice long evenings in the poolroom – which will you choose? A Sears – Roebuck catalogue offers a thousand choices between a baby and something else that looks pretty tempting. Which will the morons choose? If you think they will choose more than one or two babies, then you don’t know morons.

The first step in building a civilization, there-fore, is to place everybody on the same footing as that on which our intelligent classes find themselves today. This done, sterilization will come to the assistance of those who are too stupid to comprehend or to carry out the simple methods of contraception; to help those who are intelligent but resolved, because they know they bear dysgenic germ-plasm, that they will have no children at all; and finally the relatives and guardians of degenerates who want to protect themselves, their family, and the race against the trouble to which the pregnancy of a degenerate in their family might give rise. In the program for a controlled and planned society, sterilization will take the place of contraception for a host of persons. It will make contraception unnecessary in many cases and will liberate the mid of the person desiring an effective and permanent means of birth-control.

A planned society must imply the regulation of births. But its birth-control program must be threefold: birth-liberation for those best endowed by Nature; birth-maintenance for the great average; birth-reduction for the lowest social elements. Just one thing is essential: to make contraception and sterilization available. Superiority will of it-self be the deciding factor. Superior people will show their superiority in the test which is to come. That test is the survival of the fittest, but the question of who the fittest are will come to have a new meaning. No longer will we make the mistake of translating fitness as brute strength; we shall understand it to comprehend all that we hold dearest in life – beauty, love , idealism, good citizenship, honor, health, and the happiness that springs from being able to create our families by choice rather than by chance.

If I did not know that already within our ranks we are witnessing a demonstration that this condition can actually come about, I should not feel so hopeful. But all our population figures show that whereas the birth-rate dropped first in the upper classes (considering class on the basis of intelligence) the ability to control this has slowly crept downward until today it is almost possible for the border-line group to control their births. Tomorrow it will be possible for them. And that tomorrow can be brought closer by the efforts of all intelligent people.

Howard said...

MBC (who is the genuine Nazi for reasons explained over and over again, namely that you continue to insist on a purely biological concept as the marker of moral status – viz. species membership, just like the Nazis used races),

1.) Actually, by comparing you to the annoying person I was not in any way directly implying that human fetuses have the moral status of flies. Comparing you to the Annoying Person shows that your claims that we can’t use the capacity for consciousness as a criterion for moral status because we need empirical science to determine which entities in the world are capable of consciousness is garbage. One can consistently accept that and still maintain that human fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation possess the same moral status as psychologically typical adult humans. (One would just be committed to refraining from using your garbage arguments about science being too unreliable to detect the capacity for consciousness for practical purposes. I have met many people who maintain that human fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation possess the same moral status as psychologically typical adult humans, you are the first such person I have ever met who has been stupid enough to make this “unreliability of scientific measurement” argument (which of course applies equally to measurement of species membership, and so is stupid to make, which is why I take it everyone else has not employed it) to try to argue against the onset of the capacity of consciousness as a criterion of moral status). Other comparisons of you to the Annoying Person involved bringing out i.) your inability to recognize that I was using philosophical arguments to identify the criterion of moral status and scientific methods to figure out which creatures in the world meet that criterion, ii.) and that these kinds of philosophical arguments (involving thought experiments and tests of possible moral status criteria against particular case intuitions) were appropriate (because they’re what we have to use to argue against the Annoying Person), iii.) that you (just like the Annoying Person) were being a moron beneath contempt by responding to these philosophical arguments merely by pointing out that they involved hypothetical cases, calling them names, and reiterating your conclusions, and iv.) the irrelevance of most people holding a view being evil, holding it for the wrong reasons, forcing it on others, etc., was irrelevant to the truth of the view. One can accept i.)-iv.) and still and still maintain that human fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation possess the same moral status as psychologically typical adult humans. (One would just be committed to refraining from making your stupid confusions about the role of science and philosophy in my view, to recognizing that the kind of philosophical methodology to determine the criterion of moral status I have employed is appropriate (which one can consistently do without embracing the conclusions I have used this method to arrive at), to refrain from thinking that pointing out that philosophical arguments involve consideration of hypothetical cases, calling them names, and reiterating one’s conclusions are appropriate arguments against them or anything less than shameful, and refrain from thinking that most people holding a view being evil, holding it for the wrong reasons, forcing it on others, etc. is relevant to its truth. Again, I have met many people who maintain that human fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation possess the same moral status as psychologically typical adult humans; by far most of them refrain from just these stupid things, or at least do so much more than you do).

Actually, given that by “an entity with moral status” I mean an entity that it is morally wrong to kill due to death being bad for the entity for it’s own sake, my view of course entails that both fruit-flies and human fetuses before the onset of consciousness after 20 weeks of gestation entirely lack moral status (as well as trees, rocks, bacteria, and sperm-egg pairs that have not yet formed fetuses or even fertilized). That should have been obvious, but for my purposes here I simply chose an example where I thought that you and I could both agree that the conclusions for which the person, who was making the exact same kinds of moves you were, was arguing was false and insane (namely that it’s just as morally wrong to kill fruit-flies as psychologically typical adult humans). A person who agrees with your conclusion that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation have the same moral status as psychologically typical adult humans (which I am not), but thinks you are making very, very stupid arguments for that conclusion might have used the exact same example.

I entirely fail to see why you think my using this example and involves me being dense. Perhaps it was because I said that “The whole point was that the Annoying Person is arguing for a conclusion I take it we both reject (namely that fruit-flies have the same moral status as humans) but was making the exact same moves you were in arguing that fetuses less than 20 weeks old have moral status. This was to show you that the moves you were making were unacceptable”? I realized that the way I put this could have been misleading, so I corrected it, clarifying that:

"The whole point was that the Annoying Person is arguing for a conclusion I take it we both reject (namely that fruit-flies have the same moral status as humans) but was making the exact same moves you were in arguing that fetuses less than 20 weeks old have moral status. This was to show you that the moves you were making were unacceptable."

Should read:

"The whole point was that the Annoying Person is arguing for a conclusion I take it we both reject (namely that fruit-flies have the same moral status as humans with the capacity for consciousness) but was making the exact same moves you were in arguing that fetuses less than 20 weeks old have moral status. This was to show you that the moves you were making were unacceptable."

You agree that it is false that fruit-flies have the same moral status as humans with the capacity for consciousness because you think humans with the capacity for consciousness are biological humans (and being a biological human is the marker of moral status), while I agree that it is false that fruit-flies have the same moral status as humans with the capacity for consciousness because I think that humans with the capacity for consciousness have the capacity for consciousness (and having the capacity for consciousness is the marker of moral status). But we both agree on the conclusion, right? So how was I being dense?

2.) O.K., now, I know this has come up again and again, but I STRONGLY SUGGEST YOU LEARN HOW TO READ!!!!!! Did you notice that I NEVER challenged ANY of the following claims?:

1) A human fetus is human.
2) The reason why 80% of planned parenthoods, the largest abortion provider, are in minority neighborhoods is to limit the numbers of certain "inferior races,"
3) The reason this was imposed on Americans was because in the 1960s, the "lower social elements" were demonstrating for equal rights and refusing to go off to war to get killed.
4) The billionares had no other alternative to keep American from impending revolution than to reduce the numbers of the "unfit" through birth control and abortion.
5) Why would the billionares, who run our government through business, media and political contributions, do this? Because the only way they can lose their wealth and status is if America is plunged into Revolution.

[You will notice that in 2) I left off your phrase “commonly referred to (as you have been doing) as morons.” This is because I have never referred to races of people as morons. Indeed, I think that race and ethnicity is entirely irrelevant to whether or not someone is a moron. If you knew how to read, you would have understood that I said that:

“But certainly don’t think that your being a blemish on the world was caused simply by your genetic endowment, or even acculturation beyond you’re control. It’s your fault you’re a moron beneath contempt,” and

“One problem with the Nazis, however, was that they thought that people could be the objects of scorn and beneath contempt simply due to their genetic endowments and cultural backgrounds beyond their control. I stressed that you should recognize that you’re beneath contempt for very different reasons that involve it actually being your fault that you’re this way.”

I certainly don’t think that anyone is a moron or merits distain or contempt simply because of what race / ethnicity (or even cultural environment beyond their control) they were born into. The problem with racists like Nazis and KKK members is not that they think some people are morons and merit distain (I think you too would agree that SOME people in the world are morons and merit distain) – the problem is that they think people are morons and merit distain merely because of the race / ethnicity they were born into. It was plain from what I said that I strongly disagreed with this. (Another problem with extreme racists like Nazis and KKK members is that they think it’s O.K. to kill and politically oppress people just because they merit distain (or because they come from a particular race or ethnic background independent of whether or not they merit distain). I certainly strongly disagree with these kinds of views as well, as I would hope you do too. For example, while I may think you are a complete moron beneath contempt (and if you’re always the way you are on the blog and don’t change in the future the world would be a better place if you hadn’t existed), I certainly think it would be morally wrong for anyone to kill you or deprive you of your basic liberties (unless of course you did something like commit a morally heinous crime, in which case it would be because you committed the crime and not because you were a moron beneath contempt).]

I certainly agree with 1.), and I was 110% willing to concede 2)-5) for the sake of argument (remember 2) as it appears here leaves out your phrase ‘commonly referred to (as you have been doing) as morons’). (I don’t actually believe any of 2)-5) them, but that is ENTIRELY BESIDES THE POINT! My point is that EVEN IF THEY’RE ALL TRUE, this has no bearing on the question of the actual moral permissibility of abortion and the moral status of fetuses). I assume that by “abortion was the brain child of eugenicists” you simply mean things like 2)-5). So you are simply dead, dead wrong that “HOWEVER, since this result does not jive with [my] moral code, [I] refuse to acknowledge it as a possibility.” For the sake of argument I don’t just acknowledge it as a possibility; I fully concede its truth!!! (Moreover the fact that I don’t actually believe them has nothing to do with my moral code – it has to do with the same kinds of epistemic considerations that lead me to believe it to be false that the government is engaged in a massive conspiracy to cover up the existence of UFOs, that the U.S. government intentionally ordered the 9/11 attacks, that the Elders of Zion are secretly in control of all developed country-governments, etc. And since my whole point is that these kinds of things are irrelevant to the real moral question here, I think you should remove any suspicions that my empirical views here have anything to do with antecedent moral beliefs. I don’t think this is relevant to the moral issue, so I have no motivated reason to believe one way or the other on them to make a moral view come out true or false. But again, I reiterate: my whole argument here is that 2)-5) are irrelevant to the issue, and I concede the truth of 2)-5) for the sake of argument.

My argument HAS NEVER BEEN that 2)-5) are false or even doubtful; my argument has been that THE TRUTH OR FALSITY OF 2)-5) HAS NO BEARING ON THE QUESTION OF THE MORAL PERMISSIBLITY OF ABORTION AND THE MORAL STATUS OF FETUSES LESS THAN 20 WEEKS OLD. Let me just go through and re-paste what I said before, and maybe you’ll read it this time:

1.) The view that only things with the capacity for consciousness have moral status implies absolutely nothing about eugenics. My reasons for thinking that the abortion of fetuses before the onset of the capacity for consciousness is morally permissible has absolutely nothing to do with views on eugenics one way or the other. My reasons for thinking this is that fetuses before the onset of the capacity for consciousness (like all entities without the capacity for consciousness) lack moral status. This has no more to do with eugenics than do typical views about the moral permissibility of killing bacteria or cutting the grass. This is just one more piece of evidence that you have no idea what you or anyone else is talking about.

2.) Perhaps I should try to spell this out a little more. It is irrelevant to the question of the moral permissibility of early abortion (i.e. abortions performed prior to the onset of the capacity of consciousness of the fetus) whether some advocates of this position have been evil or have advocated it for the wrong reasons. It is irrelevant to this question whether or not the founder of Planned Parenthood was evil, was in league with Hitler, or actively supported horrible moral wrongs like the Holocaust. It is even irrelevant to this question whether or not Planned Parenthood is actively engaged today in some kind of massive conspiracy to do crazy things like try to make all future humans are white. The mere fact that some people who avow or hold a position (or a views that entail a position) are evil or do so for the wrong reasons in no way damages the credibility of the position. Just because the Nazis thought smoking was bad for people didn’t mean it wasn’t. Just because Bin Laden thinks honesty in business dealings is good doesn’t mean it isn’t. Just because the president of Iran said one shouldn’t kill innocent civilians (who have the capacity for consciousness) doesn’t mean it’s O.K. to kill them. Even if it were true that most people advocating the legal permissibility of abortion today were entirely evil, active Neo-Nazis, and engaged in an insane conspiracy, this would do nothing to change the fact that fetuses before the onset of the capacity of consciousness lack moral status for the same reason rocks and trees do.

3.) Annoying Person: Your arguments that having a skeleton is irrelevant to moral status are disgusting. The Nazis thought it was O.K. to kill fruit-flies. Everyone who thinks it’s O.K. to kill fruit-flies is involved in a massive conspiracy to make all future humans white, so you must be too, and your view that it’s O.K. to kill fruit-flies is wrong because you and everyone like you is engaged in this conspiracy, is a racist, and thinks all future humans should be white. [Let’s even grant for the sake of argument the Annoying person his claim that leading members and large numbers of members of pro-option-to-kill-house-flies organizations are entirely evil, racist, in leauge the Nazis, etc. etc., and all the rest of it]. You’re a Nazi! I can’t argue with you just like I wouldn’t be able to argue with Heinrich Himmler.

Interlocutor: Just because the Nazis thought it was O.K. to kill fruit-flies doesn’t mean it isn’t. And my views that it’s O.K. to kill fruit flies have nothing to do with eugenics or attempts to make all future humans white. It doesn’t matter if most people who think it’s O.K. to kill fruit files are racists or are engaged in massive conspiracies to make all future humans white. This wouldn’t change the fact that, because merely being a living organism & having a skeleton is irrelevant to moral status, it’s morally permissible to kill fruit flies because they lack moral status for the same reasons plants and bacteria do.

4.) As to your alleged “thinking” and “research”, I can only direct you to what has been argued again and again: namely that it’s COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT to questions of whether or not abortion is morally permissible whether or not “It was forced upon us by the court for eugenic purposes. It is supported by blatant propaganda, and philosophical hacks are encouraged to find innovative ways to justify what can not be morally justified.” If you want a more vivid example of why things like the forcing of something upon people, its being supported by propaganda, its being supported for the wrong kinds of reasons, and its being thought morally permissible or impermissible by many for the wrong reasons, consider the abolition of slavery. I take it you would agree that slavery was morally impermissible. Now, the abolition of slavery was forced on the south, its abolition was supported by a concerted propaganda campaign, many Northerners only wanted to abolish it for personal financial / political gain, and many thought it wrong for the wrong kinds of reasons. Still, this didn’t make slavery any less wrong, right?

5.) I’m also still waiting to hear whether you agree that all the alleged research you’ve done is entirely irrelevant to questions of moral status. (I know you don’t want to think hypothetically and are loathe to recognize the import of hypothetical cases when they bear on a conclusion you disagree with, but remember I asked you to suppose the Annoying Person had done similar “research” and come up with the result that leading members and large numbers of members of pro-option-to-kill-house-flies organizations are entirely evil, racist, in leauge the Nazis, etc. etc., and all the rest of it, to which we might add that the view that it’s O.K. to kill fruit flies had somehow been forced on us by the courts, had been the target of a concerted propaganda campaign, and was such that many or even most people held it and engaged in killing fruit flies for the wrong reasons. Let’s even suppose this was correct. Would that bear one jot on the issue of whether or not it is actually morally permissible to kill fruit flies?).

Please, please learn to read. It’s such an important basic skill in life.

Do you now see why you're the one who has been wasting time because none of this stuff, even if entirely, 100% true, would matter one jot to the question of the moral permissibility of abortion and the moral status of fetuses less than 20 weeks old?

Anonymous said...

Fuhrer Howard,

I am confident that, based on your insults, you don’t seem to be able to verify that I have brain activity from where you are, sitting in front of your computer.

I find it beyond pathetic that you can look at a human being with a capacity for growth, a separate and distinct human genetic make-up, a beating human heart, growth hormones, human features, etc., but because YOU are unable to detect brain activity at this very moment, in this stage of science, with today’s technology, YOU have decided that this human-being has no right to live.

My explanations of eugenic realities were merely to show you why abortion is legal. It has NOTHING TO DO WITH BRAIN ACTIVITY. In fact, you must be aware that the outdated bright line test used in Roe was “viability.” Like it or not, most of you people who feel that those who are genetically inferior have no right to live or reproduce, largely look to and target minority races. It goes with the de-humanizing territory.

You see, a human fetus is not cancer. It is not a tumor or a growth. It is a separate human being with a built in capacity for growth to a mature adult. I could really care less whether you can detect brain activity or not. The fetus (latin for “little one”) has a great and unique value, whether you assign value to it or not.

But seriously, how did you end up like this? I am baffled how one could put such a low value on human beings. You must have been raised in an urban area with lots and lots of people, so they appeared to have very little individual value. The value of education must have been ingrained in your head to the point that you see the “uneducated” as inferior and less deserving of basic human rights. At some point in your life, the anger, coldness and aloneness you felt must have been so overwhelming that you became numb. You gained your self-esteem and identity by the webs you spin to elevate yourself over others. But what do I know? I am a moron beneath contempt. The world would be better of without me. I barely have one toe over the bright line test of brain activity.

I should trust you, Howard. You wouldn’t steer me wrong. You will show me truth. I see it all so clearly now. I have been a fool. It ALL revolves around detectible BRAIN activity. Certainly, you have proven to me that you have THE HIGHEST TYPE of brain activity. You have proven yourself superior. You can find a way to justify just about anything! You probably excelled at all the eugenic tests, ACT, SAT, MCAT, LSAT, whatever test you took, they patted you on the back and said “you are our boy… you got the brains to lead us. You see, we reward people who do good on our eugenic tests. You are one of the academic elite. You passed the monkey tests (eugenicist, Yerkes developed his tests on monkeys). You are the smartest monkey in the world."

When you are sleeping, I doubt you appear to have any brain activity. Sweet dreams, Fuhrer Howard. You are the Overman to no-one. Indeed, you are simply finding a way to justify murder.

Howard said...

MBC (who is the genuine Fuhrer for reasons explained over and over again, namely that you continue to insist on a purely biological concept as the marker of moral status – viz. species membership, just like Hitler’s party, the Nazis, used races),

1.) Of course I have sufficient evidence that you have the capacity for consciousness for practical purposes. Since you’re still on about that ridiculous line that because we can’t be certain enough about which entities have the capacity for consciousness because our scientific methods aren’t infallible, all I can do is refer you back to my previous comments (that you never responded to) arguing that the exact same considerations would weigh equally against the criterion of human species membership. For instance, in this particular case, note the following: I have absolutely no better evidence that you are a biological human (on the criteria of genetic similarity, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogenetic descent, and that they have 46 chromosomes that will be human given the obtaining of the first three criteria) than I have that you possess the capacity for consciousness. If I should be skeptical about your possession of the capacity for consciousness, surely I should be equally skeptical about your being a biological human. Of course I should be skeptical about neither, and my evidence both that you possess the capacity for consciousness and that you are a biological human are entirely sufficient for practical purposes. So you can’t malign the capacity for consciousness as a criterion for moral status on the grounds that our evidence as to whether or not a given entity meets it is weaker for practical purposes than our evidence that a given entity is a member of a particular species.

Remember what I said above about the case of the Annoying Person. Let me reiterate. I agree with you that the Annoying Person’s following claims are completely false and insane:

i.) Fruit-flies are probably biological humans (again on the criteria of genetic similarity, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogenetic descent, and that they have 46 chromosomes that will be human given the obtaining of the first three criteria), [or in this case we might add the following example. Suppose the annoying person is claiming that you, MBC, are not a biological human - again on the criteria of your lacking genetic similarity, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogenetic descent, or that you don’t have 46 chromosomes or that your chromosomes will fail to be human given the obtaining of the first three criteria)]
ii.) We just can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fruit flies aren’t human for because science isn’t infallible [to which we might add the following claim: Suppose the annoying person is claiming that we can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that you, MBC, are a biological human - again on the criteria of your possibly lacking genetic similarity, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogenetic descent, or that you possibly don’t have 46 chromosomes or that possibly your chromosomes will fail to be human given the possible obtaining of the first three criteria)]

But can’t you see how your claims that:

i.) fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation (which bear in mind don’t even have any synaptic connections among cortical neurons!!!) have the capacity for consciousness, and
ii.) We just can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation lack the capacity for consciousness because science isn’t infallible. [To which we might add your current claim that I can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that you possess the capacity for consciousness].

ARE IN EVERY WAY EQUALLY INSANE?

More about your completely stupid line about skeptical worries concerning the detecting of which entities meet a given criterion for moral status (that you never, never, responded to and is such that I can only assume you understand you are being a complete moron about):

The Annoying Person is making claims exactly parallel to those in your second paragraph:

“I find it beyond pathetic that you can look at a creature with a skeleton (here a fruit fly) that is alive and has a skeleton, has the features of a creature with a skeleton, etc., but because YOU are unable to detect its having sufficient genetic similarity, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogenetic descent, and 46 chromosomes that will be human given the obtaining of the first three criteria at this very moment, in this stage of science, with today’s technology, YOU have decided that this creature with a skeleton has no right to live.

He’s being a despicable idiot, right? At best he’s begging questions of the criteria for moral status against you, at worst he’s guilty of the insane presupposition that we can be more sure of which entites belong to which species than which entities are living organisms with skeletons. Can you now see why this is exactly what you are doing and why you are a despicable idiot too for the exact same reasons? (Try actually reading what I write for a change; I think you’ll see why if you can actually get your moron-mind around what’s being said on and put on hold the ridiculous things that your mind evidently takes to be responses but are really claims that are completely irrelevant to every issue at hand, all of which have already been addressed by me and not responded to by you).

2.) I would also be perfectly happy to concede for the sake of argument your entire explanation of why abortion is legal. When were we ever debating the historical, causal explanation as to how or why abortion came to be legal? I’d actually be more than just happy to concede for the sake of argument your claim that “the fact that abortion is legal has nothing to do with brain activity [or we might say the capacity for consciousness, which is what I’ve been using all along]” – while I think “nothing” might be a little strong, I do definitely think there is good reason to believe that this didn’t enter very prominently (at leas the majority of) the political and legal decisions. I took us to be talking about whether or not (and why) early abortion is or is not MORALLY PERMISSIBLE. The explanation here will have nothing to do with why or why not it is currently legally permissible. I never undertook to defend Roe or any explanation of why abortion is legal. (I do agree that Roe used the line of viability, and that nothing important morally hangs on a human fetus meeting or failing to meet this standard per se. If I wanted Roe to mirror the moral facts perfectly, I would insist that this line be revised. In practice viability isn’t a terrible approximation of the onset of a significant capacity for consciousness, so I don’t get that upset by Roe insofar as it has the law tracking the moral facts directly. I do get much more worried, however, about the soundness of Roe as a constitutional decision and the particular legal grounds for it). So why did you bring all this stuff up? For comments on why this kind of thing is irrelevant to the questions of moral permissibility and moral status, see again my post above that complies them (and the posts of which these remarks are parts).

[I know it’s risky to try to include things like aside comments with you, but I’ll risk it here anyway. Perhaps you wanted to talk with me about whether or not it’s a good thing that abortion is legally permissible. How I was supposed to guess that you wanted to talk about the desirability of laws seems mysterious to me, since what’s good to legally permit is quite distinct from what’s morally permissible – e.g. breaking non-contractual promises for trivial reasons is immoral, but it’s probably a good thing that it isn’t illegal (that would be too much of an encroachment of the law on our private lives), also e.g. overstaying a parking meter when there are many open spots is probably morally permissible (no one else needed them) but good to make illegal (because we need hard and fast guide lines in the law and can’t take into account sufficiently sensitive case information like whether or not there are enough spots around in writing effective legislation). I have so far only been arguing that early abortion is morally permissible. I have not been talking about whether or not it’s good that it’s legal. I will restrict my remarks on this subject to the following. Suppose abortion is legal for all the wrong, eugenic, proletariat-controlling reasons you mention (and certainly not what I’ve been arguing are the correct reasons: viz. considerations of the capacity for consciousness. Does that mean that it is intrinsically bad that it’s legal or that it should be made illegal IF it is the case that it’s genuinely morally permissible? I don’t think so. Consider the case of the abolition of slavery. It was almost certainly abolished largely for reasons other than the best reasons to abolish it – the North abolished it only in the southern states at first, and much of the motivation was to punish the south, cause rebellion in the south, demoralize the south, etc. etc.. The fact that slavery was intrinsically wrong arguably did not play the major role. Given that slavery was in fact intrinsically morally wrong, was it a bad thing that it was abolished for something less than the best reasons? I certainly think not].

3.) I find your remarks here quite mysterious: “You see, a human fetus is not cancer. It is not a tumor or a growth. It is a separate human being with a built in capacity for growth to a mature adult.” I certainly never denied these claims and indeed presupposed them all along.

(Surely it’s irrelevant to the matter at hand what the term that we now use to refer to those biological human organisms growing in uteruses after implantation meant in Latin. What if we started calling fruit flies ‘those cute little things that are our little winged cousins’ or whatever. That wouldn’t in any way challenge the conclusion that I take it you and I agree to, viz. that there is nothing morally wrong about killing fruit flies (I think this because they’re not capable of consciousness, presumably you think this because they’re not biological humans, but we both agree with the conclusion all the same), would it?)

4.) Your claim “I could really care less whether you can detect brain activity or not. The fetus (latin for “little one”) has a great and unique value, whether you assign value to it or not,” is just begging the question against me.

Here, I’ll do it to you: suppose I just said: “I really could care less whether fetuses are biologically human or not. Fetuses less than 20 weeks old have no moral status, whether they think they do or not,” in the absence of any reasons to believe this conclusion. That’s just annoying, right?

Same goes for you claim that: “Indeed, you are simply finding a way to justify murder.” The Annoying Person can say to you when you argue that fruit-flies lack moral status and that it’s morally permissible to kill them “you are simply finding a way to justify murder.” Annoying, isn’t it? Doesn’t show anything, does it?

And when you do that in response to someone who has given you argument after argument, none of which you have responded to save by name calling, and pointed out error after error in your reasoning, none of which you have challenged in any way save repeating these errors over and over again without paying any attention to the arguments as to why they are errors, and have not given any arguments of your own for your conclusion save bringing up irrelevant things that don’t bear on the issue that the other person pointed out to you were irrelevant to the issue and to this you did not respond in any way save failing to read them, repeat these irrelevant things as if they had relevance, and then ultimately claim you were just talking about something completely different from the issue at hand, etc. etc. – you’re being one of the most utter morons imaginable and so completely despicable beneath contempt as to be hardly fathomable were you not to exist as a real world example.

5.) O.K., your claim that I came to “see the “uneducated” as inferior and less deserving of basic human rights” and your presupposition that I think that those who are genetically inferior have no right to live or reproduce (in your phrase “most of you people who feel that those who are genetically inferior have no right to live or reproduce”) just show that you really, really did not read my previous post that actually explicitly explained that I don’t hold these views. Way, way back I wrote (reprinted in previous comment):

The view that only things with the capacity for consciousness have moral status implies absolutely nothing about eugenics. My reasons for thinking that the abortion of fetuses before the onset of the capacity for consciousness is morally permissible has absolutely nothing to do with views on eugenics one way or the other. My reasons for thinking this is that fetuses before the onset of the capacity for consciousness (like all entities without the capacity for consciousness) lack moral status. This has no more to do with eugenics than do typical views about the moral permissibility of killing bacteria or cutting the grass. This is just one more piece of evidence that you have no idea what you or anyone else is talking about.

I also just wrote:

I certainly don’t think that anyone is a moron or merits distain or contempt simply because of what race / ethnicity (or even cultural environment beyond their control) they were born into. The problem with racists like Nazis and KKK members is not that they think some people are morons and merit distain (I think you too would agree that SOME people in the world are morons and merit distain) – the problem is that they think people are morons and merit distain merely because of the race / ethnicity they were born into. It was plain from what I said that I strongly disagreed with this. (Another problem with extreme racists like Nazis and KKK members is that they think it’s O.K. to kill and politically oppress people just because they merit distain (or because they come from a particular race or ethnic background independent of whether or not they merit distain). I certainly strongly disagree with these kinds of views as well, as I would hope you do too. For example, while I may think you are a complete moron beneath contempt (and if you’re always the way you are on the blog and don’t change in the future the world would be a better place if you hadn’t existed), I certainly think it would be morally wrong for anyone to kill you or deprive you of your basic liberties (unless of course you did something like commit a morally heinous crime, in which case it would be because you committed the crime and not because you were a moron beneath contempt).]

Read what I’m actually writing!!!

6.) On debunking psychological explanations, how you have no reason to think one applies to me and I have abundant reason to think one applies to you, see my post above on this issue. Since you evidently still haven’t read the comment, I’ll reprint it here with emendations having to do with your current proposal that the debunking explanation had to do with acculturation:

I am curious as to why you think that some debunking psychological explanation of why I hold the views I do having to do with my acculturation obtains. You need some evidence that this was the case. Even if you don’t know much detailed information about my psychology (other than that provided my avowals in the conversation), you might have evidence that there is some such debunking psychological explanation of my holding the views I do if you have evidence that i.) my view is false, and ii.) it is so obviously so in light of my evidence set now that honest errors in reasoning cannot explain why I continue to hold it (we can set aside the question of what your evidence would be that the debunking explanation takes the form the particular acculturation story you gave rather than something else.). Your evidence that i.) is true is in these epistemic circumstances (i.e. without more detailed evidence of my psychology than my avowals) must be your evidence that your view is correct…which is?...oh, right, it doesn’t exist (or at the very least you haven’t presented one jot of it). Your evidence that ii.) is true is in these epistemic circumstances must either be a.) your evidence that your view is obviously correct, even in light of my evidence set before we began…which is?...oh, right, it also doesn’t exist (or is also such that you haven’t presented one jot of it), or b.) the fact that you’ve presented the evidence for your view to me, and my failing to accept it can only be explained by my making errors in reasoning so bad that the only explanation can be some debunking psychological explanation of the kind in question, and these facts do not exist because 1.) you haven’t presenting me with any evidence whatsoever that your view is correct (or in any event none that I haven’t responded to with obviously cogent arguments), 2.) I made no errors in reasoning in assessing the evidence you presented me (either because you presented no evidence whatsoever or you presented none that was not responded to completely cogently), and a fortiori 3.) I made no errors in reasoning so bad that they can only be explained by some debunking psychological explanation of the kind in question.

I, on the other hand, have abundant evidence that some debunking psychological explanation of why you hold the views you do obtains. (I think I shouldn’t assign very much higher relative credence to any particular one of the class containing such usual explanations in such cases, including acculturation stories of the kind you mentioned. First, I have evidence that your view is false (composed, again, of that drawn from testing moral theories against case intuitions in thought experiments and reflections on the need for consistency in our standards of empirical evidence, especially as they bear on what to do (e.g. reflections that certain kinds of skepticism or inferences from “imaginably not P” to “we should use not P as a premise in our practical reasoning” entail unacceptable conclusions if applied across the board).

Second, I have evidence that your view is so obviously false in light of your evidence set now that honest errors in reasoning cannot explain why you continue to hold it. I would demur from claiming that my view was, in light of your evidence prior to inquiry, so obviously true that honest errors in reasoning could not explain your failing to hold it (though I am tempted to this position – the inquiry needed to reveal this in terms of thought experiments is pretty simple, and much of what you avow constitutes inconsistency in applying standards of evidence that looks pretty difficult to explain by honest errors – I suppose the reason I demur from the claim is mostly that it might have been rationally permissible for you not to have engaged in much reasoning at all on this topic prior to our exchange). It is crystal clear, however, that I have presented the evidence against your view to you, and your failure to accept it can only be explained by your making errors in reasoning so bad (or so completely abstaining from engaging in reasoning) that the only explanation can be some debunking psychological explanation of the kind in question. This is because of the cogency of the arguments constituted by tests of moral theories against case intuitions in thought experiments and reflections on the need for consistency in our standards of empirical evidence, especially as they bear on what to do, and your lack of any response to them save denying their conclusions, pointing out that they involve thought experiments, and calling them names like “mental gymnastics” (all without a hint of addressing questions of whether these are the correct methods to use in settling such matters, why they are or are not, what you think a better method is, or your use of that method in counter-argument (unless the method is just to deny conclusions, point out that the arguments involve thought experiments, and call them names, which view certainly cannot be explained without some debunking psychological explanation)).

7.) My view was never that the presence of mere brain activity (of some sort or another) in an entity, or the capacity for mere brain activity, is the criterion of moral status. My view was that the an entity’s having a capacity for consciousness understood as mental states like experiences of things, desires, pleasures/ pains, etc., an internal mental life, or there being “something it’s like to be” to be that entity (along with psychological substantiality, connectedness, and goods in prospect) was the criterion / criteria of moral status. Please read what I actually wrote.

Howard said...

"Here, I’ll do it to you: suppose I just said: “I really could care less whether fetuses are biologically human or not. Fetuses less than 20 weeks old have no moral status, whether they think they do or not,” in the absence of any reasons to believe this conclusion. That’s just annoying, right?"

should ead:

Here, I’ll do it to you: suppose I just said: “I really could care less whether fetuses are biologically human or not. Fetuses less than 20 weeks old have no moral status, whether you think they do or not,” in the absence of any reasons to believe this conclusion. That’s just annoying, right?

Howard said...

Perhaps I should clarify two things.

1.) First, the capacity for consciousness (which, in addition to psychological substantiality, connectedness, and goods in prospect is the criterion / criteria for moral status) is distinct from actually being conscious and the potential to have the capacity to be conscious.

“Capacity” throughout, is completely distinct from “potential” – for instance, psychologically typical adult humans have the capacity for rationality even when they’re asleep and not exercising it, but an infant human does not have the capacity for rationality, only the potential to develop this capacity. Now I don’t think that the capacity for rationality per se is relevant to moral status; this was just an example drawn to illustrate the distinction between capacity and potential to have a capacity. Similarly, you, I, any psychologically typical human after 28 weeks of gestation, chimps, dolphins, frogs (after a particular point in gestation) all have the capacity for consciousness even when we’re knocked unconscious or in a deep sleep and not actively exercising it. When we recover or wake up, it will still be the same consciousness that was there before the sleep or being knocked unconscious.
[Another example would be the following. Infant humans also lack the psychological capacity for guilt feelings (these don’t develop until 2-4 years of age), they have only the potential to develop this capacity. On the other hand, non sociopathic humans over 4 years of age have the capacity to feel guilt, even when they’re not actively feeling it. Similarly, I don’t think that the capacity to feel guilt per se is relevant to moral status (understood as such that it’s morally wrong to kill an entity due to death being bad for it for its sake); this was just an example drawn to illustrate the distinction between capacity and potential to have a capacity].

Fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation, however, don’t have the capacity for consciousness, they have only the potential to come to have the capacity for consciousness. Now, one can have views that moral status depends not on the capacity for consciousness but instead on the potential to come to have the capacity for consciousness (these views, however, are much, much less crazy than views that species membership per se is the marker of moral status). These kinds of views, however, run into serious problems. First, as McMahan notes “The possession of the potential…to become a Y does not normally give one the rights of a Y. A tennis player, for example, may have the potential to be a Wimbledon champion, but he does not have a right to the trophy unless he realizes this potential. And Prince Charles’s potential to become the king of England does not give him the rights of a King” (The Ethics of Killing, 308).

Second, we can think of many kinds of things that have a kind of potential to develop the capacity for consciousness but surely lack moral status. First, sperm-egg pairs that have not yet come together have the potential to do so and develop into a creature capable of consciousness. But unless one is willing say that the failure to undertake every possible conception that could take place (and many that couldn’t because in principle there are sperm-egg combinations such as {sperm1, egg1}, {sperm1, egg2}, but if {sperm1, egg1} unites and develops into an entity with the capacity for consciousness, {sperm1, egg2} can never take place) constitutes a tragic event (due to the failure of the sperm-egg pairs in question to meet their potential for the capacity for consciousness) consciousness and probably morally suspect, one cannot accept this view. Second, if one had the technology to turn things like fruit-flies, house plants, trees, bacteria, tables, and chairs into conscious beings, they would in a sense have the potential to become capable of consciousness, but surely they would not now (before being turned into conscious beings) have any moral status. Now, of course the kind of potential these things would have to be capable of consciousness in the presence this kind of technology seems different from that fetuses less than 20 weeks old have to become capable of consciousness; that former seems sort of “extrinsic” or supplied from the environment, while the latter seems sort of “intrinsic” or completely determined by the nature of the thing. Spelling out this difference is notoriously difficult (though there is good reason to think it can be spelled out and has to be for other purposes in the theory of the badness of death). But actually it doesn’t seem to matter to our moral reasons to enable something to meet its potential whether this potential is extrinsic or intrinsic (McMahan gives the following example: “Consider, for example, two children, one whose ability to see has been thwarted from birth by the presence of microbes that block the action of the optic nerve, and another born without eyes. It is reasonable to suppose that the first of these children has the intrinsic potential for sight, since it possesses a complete visual apparatus whose functions are externally impeded, while the second child’s potential for sight is extrinsic, since a critical component of its potential visual apparatus has to be externally provided. Yet it is obvious that, if other things are equal, there is just as strong a moral reason to try to realize the second child’s potential as there is to realize that of the first”). So fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation have no more moral status than sperm, eggs, sperm-egg pairs that have not yet come together, or fruit-flies, house plants, trees, bacteria, tables, and chairs would in a world in which we had the technology to turn these entities into conscious beings, and surely these kinds of entities have no moral status / would still have no moral status even in the presence of the technology.

Another problem is that the potential to become capable of consciousness is not identity preserving (with the onset of the capacity for consciousness we get a new kind of entity – a creature capable of well being which is not numerically identical to its organism – where there was none such before), and non-identity preserving potential on the part of Xs to become a Ys most certainly cannot give Xs the moral status of Ys (intuitively Xs can never be Ys). This issue is somewhat technical and relies on arguments for a particular theory of personal identity over time, so I won’t pursue it; I’d refer the reader to McMahan’s “The Ethics of Killing,” especially 308-309, and chapter 1 in particular section 5 and subsection 5.5).


2.) Just because an entity lacks moral status doesn’t mean it’s despicable. Indeed, for an entity to be despicable it must be an agent and be capable of emotions like shame, and these psychological capacities require the capacity for consciousness, so for an entity to be despicable it must have the capacity for consciousness and thus moral status. My claim was never that MBC lacked moral status (again understood as such that it’s morally wrong to kill an entity due to death being bad for it for its sake, absent considerations like, if the entity is also an agent capable of moral emotions, killing that entity in a just war, killing in self or other defense when it is a responsible or blameworthy attacker, etc.) or had mitigated moral status due to lesser degrees of psychological substantiality, connectedness over time, or goods in prospect. Indeed, my claim that MBC was despicable presupposed that MBC had the capacity for consciousness and moral status, because it presupposed that MBC was an agent and capable of emotions like shame. As I said, one problem with racists like Nazis and KKK members is that they thought people are morons and merit distain merely because of the race / ethnicity (or cultural environment beyond their control) they were born into. This view makes no sense. One can only be despicable if it’s one’s fault that one has the properties that make one such, and one can’t be at fault for things like race, ethnic background, cultural environment beyond one’s control, or how innately smart one is. (Note that although MBC can’t read, I never used intelligence as a marker of moral status, I argued that what marked moral status was not intelligence but the capacity for consciousness + psych substantiality, continuity, and goods in prospect, which are entirely distinct from intelligence). This presupposes both that one is an agent and capable of emotions like shame, which presupposes that one has a significant capacity for consciousness and thus moral status. So no, MBC, you’re not just barely over the line of the capacity for consciousness; you’re significantly over it (I assume just as much as any psychologically typical adult human) – this was required for you to be a moron beneath contempt including that its’ your fault you are one. That’s right, you don’t know anything, but what makes you despicable is not that you don’t know anything but that you’re at fault for not knowing anything and continuing to act like a moron in ways that are within your control and you should feel deeply ashamed of.

Anonymous said...

My dearest Howard,

Unfortunately, I don't have time to read your extended rants. Perhaps later. For now I will just state again...

I do not subscribe to your idea that because we can not detect brain activity, abortion is morally permissible.

Perhaps a human fetus’ capacity to feel pain is important enough in your mind for you to say that it is a bright line to determining if a fetus is a person or garbage. I feel that you are polishing a turd.

A human fetus has value and is not garbage, regardless of whether you can detect brain activity. “Brain activity” is merely the next ridiculous justification for abortion, since viability has proven to be scientifically unspecific.

Howard said...

My dearest moron beneath contempt,

All you have been doing is just stating your confusions over and over again without any attention at all to the arguments that show you how wrong and confused they are. You obviously haven’t been reading my responses to you before; this is no different. I don’t see the point of your allegedly “responding” to comments on blogs that you’re not even reading. For now I will just state again:

1.) Since you’re still on about that ridiculous line that because we can’t be certain enough about which entities have the capacity for consciousness because our scientific methods aren’t infallible, all I can do is refer you back to my previous comments (that you never responded to) arguing that the exact same considerations would weigh equally against the criterion of human species membership.

Remember what I said above about the case of the Annoying Person. Let me reiterate. I agree with you that the Annoying Person’s following claims are completely false and insane:

i.) Fruit-flies are probably biological humans (again on the criteria of genetic similarity, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogenetic descent, and that they have 46 chromosomes that will be human given the obtaining of the first three criteria),
ii.) We just can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fruit flies aren’t human for because science isn’t infallible

But can’t you see how your claims that:

i.) fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation (which bear in mind don’t even have any synaptic connections among cortical neurons!!!) have the capacity for consciousness, and
ii.) We just can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation lack the capacity for consciousness because science isn’t infallible.

ARE IN EVERY WAY EQUALLY INSANE?


2.) Your claim “A human fetus has value and is not garbage, regardless of whether you can detect brain activity. “Brain activity” is merely the next ridiculous justification for abortion, since viability has proven to be scientifically unspecific,” is still just begging the question against me.

Here, I’ll do it to you: suppose I just said: “A human fetus less than 20 weeks old has no moral status, regardless of whether or not it is a biological human. “Human species membership” is merely the next ridiculous justification for thinking early abortion is morally impermissible, since Cartesian souls have proven so empirically and philosophically untenable,” in the absence of any reasons to believe this conclusion. That’s just annoying, right?

The Annoying Person can say to you when you argue that fruit-flies lack moral status and that it’s morally permissible to kill them “a fruit-fly has value and is not garbage, regardless of whether you can detect its membership in the human species. “Human species membership” is merely the next ridiculous justification for killing fruit flies, since soul pellets have proven so philosophically and empirically untenable.” Annoying, isn’t it? Doesn’t show anything, does it?

3.) Concerning your comment: “Perhaps a human fetus’ capacity to feel pain is important enough in your mind for you to say that it is a bright line to determining if a fetus is a person or garbage. I feel that you are polishing a turd,” –

i.) again, read what I’ve been saying; my whole argument has been that personhood (if conceived of as human species membership) is irrelevant to moral status (my argument also entails that for these purposes personhood conceived of as agency is also irrelevant for moral status)

ii.) The annoying person feels you are polishing a turd in arguing that it’s morally permissible to kill fruit flies. This just shows he’s a moron and doesn’t understand what the argument was, right? Cool. So now do you see why you’re a moron who doesn’t understand what’s going on but still chooses to share “feelings” that just show how despicable you are to have completely ignored what was taking place in the exchange?

iii.) If you actually read my comments, understood them, and were willing to admit to yourself that you’re wrong and have behaved shamefully beneath contempt, you would feel otherwise. I have read what you said and responded to what it is saying, just like I have done time and again. Why don’t you try actually reading what I’ve written? Why keep posting the same dribble after my explanations to you of why it’s dribble without even reading my explanations? Again, do you just have a de dicto motivation to look really dumb?

Anonymous said...

Fuhrer Howard,

Don’t you get tired of regurgitating the same old insane justifications over and over again? Of course I read your bizarre ramblings the first time. However, as I have said many times before, I disagree with the basic premise. I do not believe a human being needs to have detectible brain activity in order to receive the protections afforded to living humans.

I have chosen not to respond to your ramblings based on an insane premise, because I don’t think there is any hope that I will change a heart as hardened as yours.

Let me ask you a question. If a beautiful horse has been discovered to be brain dead but still has a beating heart and a calf inside her (with brain activity which has not been detected), is it morally permissible in your eyes to kill them and feed the mother and calf to a starving family of inbred red-necks?

Anonymous said...

Fuhrer,

A. The brain of an unborn child resembles that of a fly and is incapable of full consciousness?
1. There are a number of problems with this argument, not the least of which is the mistaken assumption that one must look human in order to be human. To cite an example, mannequins look human but are not remotely so, while the bearded lady and the elephant man don't look at all human but are. It should also be remembered that there was a time not long ago when many people thought that blacks didn't look human either. (See "Man in the Zoo," American Heritage, 10/92.)
2. The argument that brain development determines personhood is exactly the same argument that Darwin and his followers used a century ago to dehumanize women and African Americans. These men contended that women were biologically and intellectually inferior because their brain capacity was less developed than that of a man:
• Charles Darwin (The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex ):
"[Man] attains a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can women--whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands. If two lists were made of the most eminent men and women in poetry, painting, sculpture, music (inclusive of both composition and performance), history, science, and philosophy, the two lists would not bear comparison. We may also infer, from the law of the deviation from averages, so well illustrated by Mr. Garlton, in his work on "Hereditary Genius" that-the average mental power in man must be above that of women." (D. Appleton & Co.,1896, p.564)
• Gustave Le Bon (Darwin disciple and father of social psychology):
"[Even in] the most intelligent races [there] are large numbers of women whose brains are closer in size to those of gorillas than to the most developed male brains. This inferiority is so obvious that no one can contest it for a moment; only its degree is worth discussion ....Women represent the most inferior forms of human evolution and...are closer to children and savages than to an adult, civilized man. They excel in fickleness, inconsistency, absence of thought and logic, and incapacity to reason. Without a doubt, there exists some distinguished women, very superior to the average man, but they are as exceptional as the birth of any monstrosity, as, for example, of a gorilla with two heads; consequently, we may neglect them entirely." (Cited in Stephen Gold, The Mismeasure of Man, Norton & Co., 1981, pp.104-5)
3. This argument not only dehumanizes unborn babies, but many people walking around outside of the womb. If a conscious sense of self is what indeed makes one human, then the reversibly comatose, the momentarily unconscious and the sleeping would all have to be classed as non-human.
4. The rights of individuals in our society are not based on their current (actual) capacities, but on their inherent capacities. To borrow an example provided by Beckwith, no one doubts that newborn humans have fewer actual capacities than do day-old calves. Baby humans are rather unimpressive in terms of environmental awareness, mobility, etc. Yet this does not lead us to believe that the cow belongs in the nursery while the infant can be left in the barn. To the contrary, we rightly recognize that although the infant currently lacks certain capabilities, it, unlike the cow, has the inherent capacity to function as adult persons do. Yet if individual rights are rooted solely in one's current capacities, the cow should enjoy a higher moral status than do newborns.
5. From the moment of conception, the unborn child has the inherent capacity to have a functioning brain. Hence, there is no ethical difference between it and the reversibly comatose, the momentarily unconscious, etc. who enjoy the protection of law despite their current inability to "think" as self-conscious adults.
6. That the early zygote is absolutely unconscious only means that he is unable to function as a person, not that he lacks the being of a person. And it is being a person that matters. People under anesthesia cannot feel pain, think or communicate, but this simply means they cannot function as human persons, not that they cease to be persons.
B. Abortion extracts an unthinking/unfeeling tissue mass?
1. Untrue:
• The Journal of Medical Ethics reports on a study from the University of Edinburgh where 10 week developing baby girls will be killed in utero so that the eggs within their ovaries can be implanted into the bodies of women unable to conceive. These are the same baby girls we are being told are nothing more than undifferentiated tissue and now we discover that by 10 weeks gestation, these baby girls are so fully formed that their ovaries will have produced every egg they will ever produce as adult women. (And those eggs are sufficiently mature to be capable of fertilization.)
We are forcing motherhood on baby girls whose personhood we are denying. We are saying these baby girls are not people, but we are forcing them to become mothers.
• The Los Angeles Times quotes the American Academy of Pediatrics as saying it is unethical to expose a pre-term baby to any painful procedure without the benefit of anesthesia. 15,000 times a year, we are killing babies of the same age (in utero) with no anesthesia.
• Discover (2/91) reports on doctors at the University of California (San Francisco) conducting fetal surgery to repair herniated diaphragms on babies 22 to 24 weeks gestation. Both mother and baby are given the benefit of anesthesia prior to the procedure. (The article states, "A precise dose of anesthetic had put both the mother and the fetus to sleep.")
• Abortion Practice (p.303): Dr. Hern discourages the use of general anesthesia during the abortion procedure due to its well known risks and hazards. Hence, there is not even secondary anesthesia reaching the baby.
• Lancet (July 9,1994): Unborn babies (19-34 weeks) undergoing fetal blood transfusions are shown to have the same hormonal responses to pain as do older children and adults. The researchers noted that even without testing the hormonal response, unborn babies reacted to the placement of the transfusion needle (in their abdomens) with "vigorous movements." The study, the authors concluded, "provides the first direct evidence that the fetus has a hormonal stress response to invasive stimuli." The authors go on to recommend that doctors use anesthesia when performing any potentially painful operation on the unborn--including abortion:
"This applies not just to diagnostic and therapeutic procedures on the fetus, but possibly also to the termination of pregnancy, especially by surgical techniques involving dismemberment." (Emph. added)
(Such as the dismemberment techniques taught by Dr. Hern in Abortion Practice, pp.129,139,150-1,154)
2. By the eighth week of pregnancy, all physiological systems are present. This is why fetologists have concluded that the unborn child may experience pain as early as eight weeks but certainly by 13 weeks:
• Dr. Vincent J. Collins, professor of anesthesiology at Northwestern University and author of Principles of Anesthesiology (the leading medical teaching text on the subject), observes that the neurological pathways required for pain are present at eight weeks and are fully functioning by 13 weeks. Dr. Collins also points out that the presence of the cerebral cortex is not necessary for the sensation of pain. Even complete removal of the cortex does not eliminate one's capacity to experience pain.
• But even if the cerebral cortex were needed in order to feel pain, the pro-abortion claim of an unthinking, unfeeling fetus until week 32 would still be way off the mark. The New England Journal of Medicine has reported that electroencephalographic bursts in both hemispheres of the fetal brain can be seen as early as 20 weeks. These bursts indicate the beginnings of a functioning cerebral cortex at that time. (11/19/87)
3. Ultimately, the ability to experience pain has no bearing on a person's status as a human being and hence cannot be used to justify abortion. To say that it does is to grossly confuse the concept of harm with the concept of hurt. A man in a coma whose throat is slit by an intruder certainly feels no hurt, but he is nonetheless harmed. He was still a person at the time of his death. And his attacker is still guilty of a heinous crime. Likewise, abortion is still an act of violence that kills a baby even if its victims feel nothing as they undergo dismemberment.

Howard said...

MBC (who is the genuine Fuhrer for reasons explained over and over again, namely that you continue to insist on a purely biological concept as the marker of moral status – viz. species membership, just like Hitler’s party, the Nazis, used races),

By ‘read’ I didn’t just mean verbalize (whether out loud or in your own head) the words in a piece of writing; I meant actually understanding what the words are saying, how they fit together to from sentences, what these sentences mean, and understanding how these sentences fit together to form arguments, and what these arguments are. I have ample evidence that you aren’t doing this, either with what I’m saying or is being said in things you’ve lined to (look at all my previous posts).

Yes, I am tired of having to post the same responses to the same things you’re saying, but since these are the correct responses and you keep on failing to grasp what they mean and why they show what you are saying is confused or false, I don’t see much option but to keep posting them in an attempt to drill it into your thick skull the point that you should try to understand them and in the hopes that you will actually read and see this.

As to the horse and colt – if the colt had a significant capacity for consciousness and psychological connectedness to its future (perhaps beyond that of a shrimp), and the people in question had sufficient evidence that this was so, then no, this would be morally impermissible. If the colt had no capacity for consciousness at all, and the people in question had sufficient evidence of this, then yes, this would be morally permissible. (I do think that a person could try to say that horses are sufficiently less psychologically substantial, have sufficiently few goods in prospect, and are sufficiently unconnected to their futures than the rednecks with the capacity for consciousness in question, so that the killing would be morally permissible even if the colt had a capacity for consciousness beyond that of and was psychologically connected to its future more than a shrimp; I just don’t think this is so and would be prepared to argue that it isn’t by reference to arguments involving intuitions how it’s morally permissible to treat permanently mentally disabled humans with relevantly similar psychological substantiality, connectedness to future, and goods in prospect). Any worries about these implications?

By the way, you see what you’re doing here? You’re testing a philosophical theory against particular case intuitions! Yippie! Looks like you think this is the correct method after all. As such, can I refer you back to my arguments that human species membership is irrelevant to moral status and ask you what you think of them now that you recognize I was using the correct method?

Howard said...

MBC (who is the genuine Fuhrer for reasons explained over and over again, namely that you continue to insist on a purely biological concept as the marker of moral status – viz. species membership, just like Hitler’s party, the Nazis, used races),

1.) O.K., I think that either you’re barely literate (in terms of your inability to understand what I’m writing), you don’t understand what the word ‘human’ means, or you have deliberately ignored my remarks about the explicit criteria I was using for what things are ‘human.’

The concepts of species membership I was explicitly using were:
i.) ability (by which we should mean “potential” here) to interbreed with other members of the species to produce fertile offspring,
ii.) sharing of sufficiently similar phylogenetic descent with members of the species, viz. share a common evolutionary ancestor with the other species members, and their ancestors constitute “a lineage that maintains its integrity with respect to other lineages through both time and space” sufficient for it and other members of the species (see e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Species for a discussion of the various criteria of species membership)
iii.) sufficient genetic overlap with other members of the species

A given entity will be biologically human just in case it is in the same species as other humans on these criteria. This is of course consistent with a great deal of phenotypic divergence.

Now either you’re barely literate (in terms of your inability to understand what I’m writing), or you mean something very different by ‘human’ than “member of the same species as things we typically take to be human on the above 3 criteria (or one of them)”. Please explain what on earth this other sense of ‘human’ is. I actually suspect it may just be “entity with moral status identical to that of a psychologically typical adult human”, in which case your talk of which things are human making a difference to moral status is completely trivial and uninformative, and what you have said is even more question begging than I had fathomed.

2.) Darwin was claiming that men were more intelligent, are better at reasoning, and have a greater capacity for intellectual accomplishment than women. I have never used intelligence, reasoning ability or capacity for intellectual accomplishment as a criterion of moral status (see e.g. my post just previous to your last two). The view I was arguing for was that an entity’s having a capacity for consciousness understood as mental states like experiences of things, desires, pleasures/ pains, etc., an internal mental life, or there being “something it’s like to be” to be that entity (along with psychological substantiality, connectedness, and goods in prospect) was the criterion / criteria of moral status. Please read what I actually wrote. This is not ‘brain development’ or ‘brain capacity’ in the sense of intelligence or capacity for intellectually accomplishment. For instance, you and Albert Einstein in the prime of his life equally have the capacity for consciousness (you are both equally capable of experiencing things, having desires, pleasures/ pains, etc., you both equally have an internal mental life, or there is equally “something it’s like to be” to be you and Einstein). This is so even though you’re not as intelligent and have a leser capacity for intellectual accomplishment than Einstein.

3.) I’m going to read ‘human’ here as just ‘has the same moral status as psychological typical adult biological human’ (where ‘biological human’ refers to members of the same species as things we typically take to be human on the above 3 criteria of species membership (or one of them). (Because of course nothing I have said in any way challenges the view that fetuses less than 20 weeks old are biologically human). Since you obviously did not read (and remember that by ‘read’ I mean understand what the words mean) my second to last post, I’ll just post what it says again, and maybe you’ll read it this time:

First, the capacity for consciousness (which, in addition to psychological substantiality, connectedness, and goods in prospect is the criterion / criteria for moral status) is distinct from actually being conscious and the potential to have the capacity to be conscious.

“Capacity” throughout, is completely distinct from “potential” – for instance, psychologically typical adult humans have the capacity for rationality even when they’re asleep and not exercising it, but an infant human does not have the capacity for rationality, only the potential to develop this capacity. Now I don’t think that the capacity for rationality per se is relevant to moral status; this was just an example drawn to illustrate the distinction between capacity and potential to have a capacity.
[Another example would be the following. Infant humans also lack the psychological capacity for guilt feelings (these don’t develop until 2-4 years of age), they have only the potential to develop this capacity. On the other hand, non sociopathic humans over 4 years of age have the capacity to feel guilt, even when they’re not actively feeling it. Similarly, I don’t think that the capacity to feel guilt per se is relevant to moral status (understood as such that it’s morally wrong to kill an entity due to death being bad for it for its sake); this was just an example drawn to illustrate the distinction between capacity and potential to have a capacity].

Similarly, you, I, any psychologically typical human after 28 weeks of gestation, chimps, dolphins, frogs (after a particular point in gestation) all have the capacity for consciousness even when we’re knocked unconscious or in a deep sleep and not actively exercising it. When we recover or wake up, it will still be the same consciousness that was there before the sleep or being knocked unconscious.

Fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation, however, don’t have the capacity for consciousness, they have only the potential to come to have the capacity for consciousness.

If you’re still having trouble understanding the distinction between actually being conscious and having the capacity for consciousness (I suspect you either just didn’t pay attention to what my words mean the first time or are deliberately misrepresenting what I’m saying) try this: take an entity as it is and ask, could it right now become conscious? The reversibly comatose, the momentarily unconscious, and the sleeping could. A fetus less than 20 weeks old (or even take a zygote that hasn’t implanted on the uterine wall yet) could not. These kinds of entities need a lot more brain development to even be in a position to become conscious – i.e. have experiences of things, desires, pleasures/ pains, etc., an internal mental life, or there being “something it’s like to be” to be it.

4.) Let me first just say that I’m so happy you’re engaging in the philosophical method of testing moral (or more generally normative or philosophical) theories against case intuitions! (You see, that’s exactly what those “mental gymnastics” I was engaged in earlier were!).

That said, I have been careful all along to explain that the view I’ve been arguing for is that moral status (understood here as the status an entity has that makes us have moral reasons not to kill it tied to the badness of death for its own sake) is not only determined by the capacity for consciousness (this is a necessary condition for moral status) but psychological substantiality, connectedness, and goods in prospect. Let’s say (as I’m inclined to think is the case) that newborns are less psychologically substantial and less psychologically connected to their futures (by relations like memory, the forming of intentions and the carrying out of them, and the formation of desires and their satisfaction or the experience of their satisfaction or frustration) than day old calves. Newborn humans differ from calves, however, in that they are still psychologically connected to futures in which they will be very much more psychologically substantial and have many more goods in prospect. This could make an important difference in determining them to have greater moral status (e.g. it being more seriously prima facie morally wrong to kill them than to kill them due to death being bad for their own sakes) than day old calves. I actually think, however, that while this may be so, most people greatly underestimate the moral status of non-biologically-human creatures with the capacity for consciousness, like cows, whether day old or otherwise.

By ‘inherent capacity’ you seem clearly to mean what I called “potential” above. Remember what I said about using potential as a criterion for moral status:

Now, one can have views that moral status depends not on the capacity for consciousness but instead on the potential to come to have the capacity for consciousness (these views, however, are much, much less crazy than views that species membership per se is the marker of moral status). These kinds of views, however, run into serious problems. First, as McMahan notes “The possession of the potential…to become a Y does not normally give one the rights of a Y. A tennis player, for example, may have the potential to be a Wimbledon champion, but he does not have a right to the trophy unless he realizes this potential. And Prince Charles’s potential to become the king of England does not give him the rights of a King” (The Ethics of Killing, 308).

Second, we can think of many kinds of things that have a kind of potential to develop the capacity for consciousness but surely lack moral status. First, sperm-egg pairs that have not yet come together have the potential to do so and develop into a creature capable of consciousness. But unless one is willing say that the failure to undertake every possible conception that could take place (and many that couldn’t because in principle there are sperm-egg combinations such as {sperm1, egg1}, {sperm1, egg2}, but if {sperm1, egg1} unites and develops into an entity with the capacity for consciousness, {sperm1, egg2} can never take place) constitutes a tragic event (due to the failure of the sperm-egg pairs in question to meet their potential for the capacity for consciousness) consciousness and probably morally suspect, one cannot accept this view. Second, if one had the technology to turn things like fruit-flies, house plants, trees, bacteria, tables, and chairs into conscious beings, they would in a sense have the potential to become capable of consciousness, but surely they would not now (before being turned into conscious beings) have any moral status. Now, of course the kind of potential these things would have to be capable of consciousness in the presence this kind of technology seems different from that fetuses less than 20 weeks old have to become capable of consciousness; that former seems sort of “extrinsic” or supplied from the environment, while the latter seems sort of “intrinsic” or completely determined by the nature of the thing. Spelling out this difference is notoriously difficult (though there is good reason to think it can be spelled out and has to be for other purposes in the theory of the badness of death). But actually it doesn’t seem to matter to our moral reasons to enable something to meet its potential whether this potential is extrinsic or intrinsic (McMahan gives the following example: “Consider, for example, two children, one whose ability to see has been thwarted from birth by the presence of microbes that block the action of the optic nerve, and another born without eyes. It is reasonable to suppose that the first of these children has the intrinsic potential for sight, since it possesses a complete visual apparatus whose functions are externally impeded, while the second child’s potential for sight is extrinsic, since a critical component of its potential visual apparatus has to be externally provided. Yet it is obvious that, if other things are equal, there is just as strong a moral reason to try to realize the second child’s potential as there is to realize that of the first”). So fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation have no more moral status than sperm, eggs, sperm-egg pairs that have not yet come together, or fruit-flies, house plants, trees, bacteria, tables, and chairs would in a world in which we had the technology to turn these entities into conscious beings, and surely these kinds of entities have no moral status / would still have no moral status even in the presence of the technology.

Another problem is that the potential to become capable of consciousness is not identity preserving (with the onset of the capacity for consciousness we get a new kind of entity – a creature capable of well being which is not numerically identical to its organism – where there was none such before), and non-identity preserving potential on the part of Xs to become a Ys most certainly cannot give Xs the moral status of Ys (intuitively Xs can never be Ys). This issue is somewhat technical and relies on arguments for a particular theory of personal identity over time, so I won’t pursue it; I’d refer the reader to McMahan’s “The Ethics of Killing,” especially 308-309, and chapter 1 in particular section 5 and subsection 5.5).

One other thing to keep in mind: if we use potential to come to be capable of consciousness as the marker of moral status, we’re likely to get the result that it’s just as tragic that a zygote fails to implant on the uterine wall and dies as it is that a 10 year old child or 30 year old adult human dies. Does that seem right? Also, we’re likely to get the result that taking the morning after pill is just as seriously morally wrong as killing a 10 year old child or 30 year old adult human. Does that seem right? Most people are willing to think abortion (at least early abortion) is morally permissible when it threatens the life of the mother. Do you find this intuitively plausible? But most people also think it isn’t O.K. to kill a 10 year old child to save the life of its mother. Do you find this intuitively plausible? If potential to come to have the capacity for consciousness is the marker of moral status, I don’t see how we can simultaneously maintain that it’s O.K. to abort fetuses (or even embryos or zygotes) to save the life of the mother but that it’s not O.K. to kill 10 year old children to save the life of the mother.

5.) See 3.) and 4.)

6.) See 3.) and 4.)

B1.1.) Of course having eggs has nothing to do with thinking / feeling or having the capacity to think or feel. B1.1.) is just idiotic. Of course things can be biological mothers without being a person (understood as an agent), and without having any moral status (e.g. fruit-flies can be mothers).

B1.2.) I suspect that the pre-term fetuses in question are over 20 weeks old (really I strongly suspect they’re over 28 weeks old), but I could not check this because you did not provide a link or more detailed reference. Can you? If they’re over 20 weeks old (and certainly if they’re over 28 weeks old), this does not go against anything I’ve been arguing.

B1.3.) Fetuses 22 to 24 weeks old are over 20 weeks old. As such this doesn’t seem to challenge my main point argument that fetuses less than 20 weeks old lack the capacity for consciousness and thus have no moral status. (Though yes, I was raising some questions about fetuses between 20 and 28 weeks. It should also be pointed out that just because anesthesia is being given doesn’t mean the subject has the capacity for consciousness including the ability to feel pain, but it does strongly suggest that the person administering this believes it, and we usually have good evidence that people administering it would have descent grounds for their beliefs. So I’d still be curious about this article. Can you provide me with a link or more detailed reference?)

B1.4.) If the fetus is less than 20 weeks old it won’t be feeling any pain (and it won’t be wrong to kill it painlessly because it isn’t capable of well being). If it is more than 20 weeks old I agree this (as well as the abortion itself, whether painful or painless) can be a worry. Remember I wasn’t defending the moral permissibility of all abortions, just all abortions of fetuses less than 20 weeks old (absent other contingent factors quite distinct from the lack of badness of death for the fetus – e.g. if we know in advance that the mother will be killed by aborting the fetus).

B1.5.) The 19 week old fetus in the Lancet article was in the control group from which the fetal plasma was obtained by the conventional technique of needling the placental cord insertion, which is not innervated (and which showed no changes in Cortisol and Beta -endorphin concentrations). The youngest fetus in the group where the procedure was invasive and changes in Cortisol and Beta -endorphin concentrations were observed (i.e. from which fetal plasma was obtained during uncomplicated fetal blood sampling or intrauterine transfusions by needling the fetal intra-abdominal portion of the umbilical vein (intrahepatic vein) was 23 weeks old. Now, the authors did note that

Even the youngest fetus (23 weeks) in the group transfused via the intrahepatic vein showed a response (63% rise in cortisol, 492% in Beta -endorphin), which was not apparent in any of the fetuses transfused at the placental cord insertion.

Now, while this study thus in no way challenges the conclusion that fetuses before 20 weeks of age are incapable of consciousness, since I was raising some questions about fetuses between 20 and 28 weeks, it is interesting. Still, one should note a few things. First, towards the very end of their discussion the authors note:

“Since the mechanisms involved in pain perception are not fully understood, it is not possible to conclude that the fetus experiences pain; a hormonal response cannot be equated with the perception of pain. Our study shows that, as with neonates, the fetus mounts a similar hormonal response to that which would be mounted by older children and adults to stimuli which they would find painful.”

This seems quite correct; it is quite possible that hormonal changes are going on without the requisite neural-circuitry for pain responses. Still, this would bear further investigation (but again, none of this is challenging the view that fetuses less than 20 weeks old lack the capacity for consciousness).

Also, the authors note that:

“Anatomical studies show that cortical, subcortical, and peripheral centres necessary for pain perception differentiate and develop from early in the second trimester [3]. Cutaneous sensory receptors spread to the whole body of the human fetus by 20 weeks gestation, and the cutaneous flexor reflex response in infants of 28 weeks gestation is highly sensitive to painful stimuli [23]. Evidence from animal studies also suggest that fetal somatosensory afferents are activated in response to potentially painful stimuli [24]. Such nociceptor activation, for example, was first shown in vivo in fetal rats [25].”

So before the early second trimester (including before 20 weeks of gestation) these centers won’t be in place to constitute the neural substrates (and systems that feed these substrates with stimuli) requisite for mind states such as pain perception.

B2.1) Hummm…I really don’t want to be unfair to anyone’s views here; but if ‘the neurological pathways required for pain are present’ and ‘the neurological pathways required for pain are fully functioning’ mean what they usually do (perhaps we need context to fill in what is meant by ‘the neurological pathways required for X’), Dr. Vincent Collins (if you have reported his views correctly) certainly seems to be saying things that seem to contradict what everyone else I’ve read on the subject has said (including the authors of the Lancet study you cited, “Fetal plasma cortisol and Beta-endorphin response to intrauterine needling,” by Giannakoulopoulos, Xenophon; Sepulveda, Waldo; Kourtis, Ploutarchos; Glover, Vivette; Fisk, Nicholas M.). I’m very interested to read what he has to say. Should I just look at his “Principles of Anesthesiology,” or are his arguments for his claims that “the neurological pathways required for pain are present at eight weeks and are fully functioning by 13 weeks,” made out there or elsewhere?

(As I understand, it’s quite contested whether consciousness is generated just by the cerebral cortex or in other parts of the cerebral hemispheres. I haven’t looked much at this debate, so I’d also be interested to know if is arguments for his claims that “the presence of the cerebral cortex is not necessary for the sensation of pain,” and “Even complete removal of the cortex does not eliminate one's capacity to experience pain” made out in his “Principles of Anesthesiology” or elsewhere).

Now while I’m very interested in this, don’t take this as me worrying the strength of our evidence that fetuses less than 20 weeks old aren’t capable of consciousness. Collins’ claims as you report them here could be true and fetuses could still lack the capacity for consciousness (including mind states such as pain) due to the lack of other neural substrates or activity in them others have discussed (especially depending on what exactly is meant by ‘the neurological pathways required for X’, their presence and their functioning). (Also, given all your misreporting of results etc. to date, I’m most inclined to believe that you’re misreporting something here. But please tell me where you’ve read this and I’ll check it out).

B2.2) “the pro-abortion claim of an unthinking, unfeeling fetus until week 32” was of course never my position. You inclusion of remarks like this is what seems to give me conclusive evidence that you are not understanding even the simplest words and sentences I’ve been writing. You’ll note that the New England Journal is talking about signs of brain activity relevant to the capacity for consciousness as early as 20 weeks. This all started with you posting links of fetuses less than 20 weeks old, so I take it that what has been at issue is primarily whether or not fetuses less than 20 weeks old have moral status / aborting them is morally permissible, and the relevant empirical dispute has been the quality of our evidence that fetuses less than 20 weeks lack the capacity for consciousness. (Yes, there have been some claims about fetuses less than 24 or even 28 weeks old, but no one has challenged the conclusion that fetuses after 28 weeks old are fully capable of consciousness. The consensus view is that it’s clear there’s no capacity for consciousness before 20 weeks, it’s clear there is a capacity for consciousness after 28 weeks, and that between 20 – 28 weeks things are vague. The vagueness doesn’t really matter that much, however, because even if there is some rudimentary capacity for consciousness before 24 weeks it will be so insubstantial and so unconnected to its future that it won’t have much more moral status than it would have if it completely lacked the capacity on the criteria I’ve given).

B3.) I made no such confusion. You didn’t read (i.e. read and UNDERSTAND THE MEANING OF THE WORDS) my very first post, did you?:

Why does brain activity matter? Well, for one thing without brain function there can’t be any pain, so if any of the stuff in the links was supposed to suggest that the fetal deaths involved were supposed to be painful (e.g. repeated reference in the first study to bruising, burning, cutting up – perhaps it was taken only to explain what happens, which is good and informative, but perhaps it’s taken to suggest something like suffering or torture), it was simply wrong, given that brain activity does not onset until after 20 weeks of gestation.

[MBC, READ THIS!!! READ THIS!!! ] Now, of course, most of us don’t think that the only thing wrong with the death or killing of certain organisms is that it is usually attended by pain or suffering. While painful death is generally worse than painless death, there is surely something deeply tragic about the painless death of, say, healthy adult humans (and non-human animals like cats, dogs, frogs, etc.), and, prima facie or in the absence of significant other factors (which are present, e.g., in cases of self-defensive killing of responsible or culpable attackers, killings of combatants in just wars, and killings of people who want to die and whose future lives will not be worth living (e.g. due to their being filled with nothing but pain & suffering & no compensatory goods), it is surely morally wrong to kill these kinds of creatures painlessly. Indeed, the strongest prima facie moral reason it’s wrong to painlessly kill creatures like healthy adult humans is that death is bad FOR THEM; they are capable of well being, and they miss out on a future life worth living that would have been theirs. The question is what features of entities make death bad for them and the killing of them prima facie morally wrong for that reason.

On the one hand we have entities, both organic and inorganic, for which death (or destruction) is clearly not bad for their own sakes, which are also such that there is nothing prima facie morally wrong about destroying or killing them (or at least nothing prima facie wrong about killing them tied to death being bad for them or our having obligations to them not to kill them. There might, e.g., be aesthetic reasons that make it wrong to destroy great artworks, but this is not because death is bad for the art work, or we owe things to the art work in the way we owe things to healthy adult humans). These would include inanimate objects like rocks, tables, and chairs, organisms like plants, mosses, and bacteria, and parts of organisms like skin cells, organs, and tissues. On the other we have entities for which death is clearly bad for their own sakes, which are such that the killing of them is prima facie morally wrong, such as healthy adult humans (and I would hope you would agree – healthy non-human animals like dogs, cats, and frogs (at least those old enough to be conscious, experience things, or have mind-states)). What is it that makes that former class of entities such that death (or destruction) is not bad for them for their own sakes, and such that there is nothing prima facie morally wrong about destroying or killing them, and what is it about the latter class of entities such that death is bad for them for their own sakes, and there is something prima facie morally wrong about killing them? Well, the answer seems to be that the former class of entities is not capable of well-being or welfare, while the latter class of entities is. That is, there is nothing bad about the death of a plant or bacterium (or the destruction of a rock) for its own sake because nothing can be good or bad for such an entity for its own sake; there isn’t really such a thing as “its sake” - a plant or bacterium’s life (or a rock’s existence) simply can’t go better or worse for it. (This is of course consistent with our having reasons not kill or destroy these kinds of entities, or their continued life or existence being instrumentally or impersonally good or bad – e.g. the continued life of a plant can support the well being of entities capable of well being, and the plant can have aesthetic value. The point is simply that death can’t be bad FOR THE PLANT in the way your or my death is bad for you or me, and the killing of the plant can’t be irrational or immoral for the same reasons).

So what is it about an entity that makes it capable of well-being / welfare, makes it possible for death to be bad for it for its own sake, and makes the killing of it prima facie morally wrong for this reason? Note that entities that intuitively aren’t capable of well-being aren’t capable of mental states or consciousness. They can’t experience things, have desires, have pleasures / pains, etc. They lack an internal life; as my colleague David Plunkett has put it, there’s “nothing it’s like to be” one of these kinds of entities. On the other hand, creatures like adult human beings, and conscious non-human animals like cats, dogs, mice, frogs, etc., do have an internal mental life. Note, moreover, that consciousness or a mental life comprised of psychological states of experiences, etc. seems to be the only thing necessary for a creature’s life to be capable of going better or worse for it for its own sake. No matter what external shape or gene therapy you give things like plants, human organs, or bacteria, unless you give them an internal mental life, they’re not going to be capable of well being. Similarly, if you take me and cut away my arms, legs, torso, etc. – as long as you keep my brain alive and capable of supporting the same mental life I had, I’ll be capable of well being. Similarly, mere species membership doesn’t matter. If a space alien – a member of no species on earth – had an internal mental life / was capable of experiences, etc. – it would be capable of being better or worse off, as would a creature much like a human but with certain kinds of silicon substituted for carbon throughout its body / in its DNA structure (so long as it had the same kind of mental life as a human). So it seems as though what’s essential for a creature to be capable of well being is for it to have the capacity for consciousness.

Without brain activity (and the proper development of the relevant neural substrates), a creature cannot be capable of consciousness, or a mental life, or be such that there’s something its like to be that creature. It’s not capable of experiences, desires, pleasures / pains, etc.. It is in all relevant respects like a plant or a rock in the sense that there’s no way its life can go better or worse for it. As such, nothing can be bad for it, including its biological death. So death can’t be bad for fetuses before the onset of the capacity for consciousness, a necessary condition of which is brain activity and (and the proper development of the relevant neural substrates), and killing them can’t be wrong for them for the usual reason – viz. that death is bad for them.

Of course, if a fetus did not die prior to 24 weeks (or let’s say 20 just to be 100%, iron clad, safe), it would support the development of a creature capable of well being, which would be such that death would be bad for the usual reason – viz. that death would deprive it of many goods that would have been theirs had they not died. But this in no way makes the death or killing of the fetus PRIOR to 24 weeks (or 20 weeks, just to be safe) the death or killing of an entity for which death is bad for its own sake, any more than failing to bring a random sperm-egg pair together (or the killing of a plant or chair that one could turn into an entity capable of consciousness / well being if one had such technology at one’s disposal) constitutes the death or killing of such an entity. Prior to the onset of the capacity for consciousness, there simply isn’t anything capable of well being there for death to be bad for. The death of such an entity is exactly like non-conception; it’s the not coming into existence of a creature capable of well being for whom death can be bad. And surely there’s nothing wrong with non-conception (at the very least nothing that has to do with the badness of death for any creature and the wrongness of killing an entity tied to the badness of death for its own sake). If a couple decides not to have a child (via birth control or simply abstaining from sex) they’ve surely done nothing wrong.

Howard said...

Oh, about the redneck-colt case:

I’m sorry; perhaps this was supposed to be clear from context, but in the case are the rednecks supposed to run a serious risk of death (or even death for sure) or permanent health problems if they don’t eat the horse & colt, as opposed to just the distress of being very hungry? I take it the answer here is ‘yes’; I’m afraid I didn’t take that seriously enough in my response and I’m very sorry for the oversight.

So assuming that the rednecks supposed to run a serious risk of death (or even death for sure) or permanent health problems if they don’t eat the horse & colt, my full answer would have to be that the whether or not it’s morally permissible to kill the horse & colt to feed them to the rednecks when the colt does have the capacity for consciousness & one has evidence of this will depend upon the following things:

1.) How psychologically substantial is the colt; i.e. to what extent does it have a capacity for consciousness (e.g. is it more like that of a shrimp or simple fish, which it would be very soon after the onset of the most rudimentary capacity for consciousness), and how psychologically connected is the colt to its future (e.g. does it have many experiences, memory links, intentions & intention satisfactions, desires & desire satisfactions, etc. that link it psychologically from day to day – to what extent is this more like the way a shrimp is psychologically connected over time (very weakly) or more like the way an adult horse or psychologically typical adult human is psychologically connected to its future (much more strongly)),
2.) How great is the risk of death or permanent health problems to the rednecks if they don’t eat the horse & colt,
3.) How many goods the rednecks have in prospect (e.g. are they very old and going to die soon anyway, so that the eating of the horse & colt will only keep them alive for a little while longer anyway? Closely related is the question of how many rednecks there are who would be spared from death or at least the risks of death or permanent health problems to the rednecks if they eat the horse & colt and how many goods each has in prospect),
4.) How contemptible or morally reprehensible are the rednecks? (while this last feature isn’t relevant to the ethics of actually killing the rednecks or depriving them of their basic liberties / freedoms (unless they have committed a morally heinous crime or are responsible or culpable attackers), it is relevant to the ethics of killing other things to save the rednecks (or protect them from risks of death or serious health problems). We can’t go and kill the rednecks or deprive them of their basic freedoms just because they’re so contemptible and morally reprehensible (again unless they have committed a morally heinous crime or are responsible or culpable attackers, etc.), but their contemptibility and moral reprehensibility should make a difference to what we’re morally required (and even permitted) to do to help them at the expense of non-responsible / non-culpable others (of which the colt with the capacity for consciousness would be one)).

The more psychologically substantial and connected to its future the colt is, the lesser the risks to the rednecks, the lesser the goods in prospect for the rednecks (and the fewer of them there are), and the more the rednecks are contemptible & reprehensible, the greater the moral case against killing it and the more likely it is that killing it is morally impermissible. Since colts / horse fetuses (like all other kinds of creatures) will get more psychologically substantial and connected to their futures the older they are in utero after the onset of the capacity for consciousness, holding the other factors fixed it will be more likely that it’s morally wrong to kill the colt in these circumstances the older it is, and more likely that it’s morally permissible to kill the colt the younger (and closer it is to the onset of the most rudimentary psychological capacities and connections to its future) it is.

Of course I think that (holding things like personal relations to others fixed) the exact same battery of considerations should bear in the exact same way on a case in which a mother human has become brain dead and has a fetus that we know for sure is mentally disabled in such a way that its psychological future will be exactly comparable to that of an adult horse in terms of psychological substantiality, connectedness, and goods in prospect, and the question is whether or not it’s morally permissible to kill the mother human and the fetus to feed them to the group of starving rednecks. Since I’m inclined to think that it’s morally permissible to abort (& given the way abortions are performed today thus kill) some human fetuses even after the onset of the capacity for consciousness to save the life of the mother, even when these human fetuses are (albeit relatively weakly) psychologically connected to futures that will exhibit the psychological substantiality, connectedness, and goods in prospect typical of adult humans (which are certainly to some degree at least more substantial, connected, and have greater goods in prospect than those of horses), I’m certainly inclined to think that it can be morally permissible to kill the (brain dead) human mother – human fetus (that has some capacity for consciousness but its psychological future will be exactly comparable to that of an adult horse in terms of psychological substantiality, connectedness, and goods in prospect) pair to feed them to the rednecks to save the lives of the rednecks.

(To remove worries about cannibalism & respect for the dead, say the mother and the rednecks live in a culture where having one’s dead body eaten conventionally conveys respect for the dead (there have been many). This is by no means cultural moral relativism – it’s just the view that what’s morally important where dead bodies are concerned is showing them respect, that what counts as respect depends upon convention, and that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with cannibalism save that it can violate what conventionally conveys respect for the dead. Consider other kinds of ways of showing respect in different cultures like hand shaking, bowing, etc.. I take it that most of us don’t think that there’s anything intrinsically morally right or wrong with showing respect in one of these particular ways – what’s important is that one shows respect by whatever conventional means necessary). I know many people are really shocked at the thought of cannibalism under any conditions, but perhaps it should be remembered that the practice of drawing straws to select a completely psychologically typical adult human to be killed and eaten by the others in starvation situations was very commonly recognized as appropriate by sailors in the 19th century and before. Of course just because they thought it was O.K. doesn’t mean it was, but the invitation is to consider what one actually thinks of the practice and whether or not it was really that abhorrent (the sailors were also the ones closest to the practice, and that might give them some epistemic boost, but they also probably had lots of crazy normative views as well, so I won’t try to tout their epistemic status as normative judges too much).

If it could be morally permissible to do this kind of thing, and we think it’s morally permissible to kill fetuses (even after the onset of rudimentary consciousness and even ones that are - albeit relatively weakly - psychologically connected to futures that will exhibit the psychological substantiality, connectedness, and goods in prospect typical of adult humans) to save the lives of their mothers, it looks pretty hard to deny that killing a (brain dead) human mother – human fetus pair (even when the fetus is not in any way brain damaged) to feed them to the rednecks to save the lives of the rednecks can be morally permissible as well. I don’t find the conclusion that counter-intuitive. Do you? Because you see I think this particular issue is not restricted to my view – most people (even most people who don’t share my view) certainly have strong intuitions that it can be morally permissible to abort fetuses to save the lives of their mothers, but that it is not morally permissible to kill older children (say 2, 4-10 year olds) to save the lives of their mothers). Indeed, one problem I raised previously for views that the potential to have a capacity for consciousness marks out moral status and that human species membership marks out moral status was that those views don’t seem able to even accommodate the view that the abortion of ANY fetus / embryo / zygote can be morally permissible to save the mother’s life (since as I mentioned before, they seem to imply that a human fetus / embryo / zygote has at least as much moral status as a human 10 year old, and we don’t think it’s O.K. to kill 10 year olds to save their mothers’ lives).

So I’d be curious to know:

1.) What do you think about the moral permissibility of aborting human fetuses / embryos / zygotes to save the lives of their mothers?

2.) If you think it can be morally permissible to abort human fetuses / embryos / zygotes to save the lives of their mothers (well, this is of course an argument against the views you’ve been advocating, but what I’d want to ask you here is this:), what do you think about the moral permissibility of killing a (brain dead) human mother – human fetus pair to feed them to the rednecks to save the lives of the rednecks?

3.) If you don’t accept the conclusion that it can be morally permissible to kill a (brain dead) human mother – human fetus pair to feed them to the rednecks to save the lives of the rednecks (but do think it can be morally permissible to abort human fetuses / embryos / zygotes to save the lives of their mothers), how do you think we can make this consistent with the idea that it can be morally permissible to abort human fetuses / embryos / zygotes to save the lives of their mothers?

Anonymous said...

Holy crap! Is this how Nazis win arguments? By boring the otherside to death?

Let me get this straight? You think it is morally permissible to allow a family to starve to death if there is a chance a dying colt inside a dead horse has brain activity??????????????

Get help. You need a padded room.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Death,

You wrote, "take an entity as it is and ask, could it right now become conscious? The reversibly comatose, the momentarily unconscious, and the sleeping could. A fetus less than 20 weeks old (or even take a zygote that hasn’t implanted on the uterine wall yet) could not. These kinds of entities need a lot more brain development to even be in a position to become conscious – i.e. have experiences of things, desires, pleasures/ pains, etc., an internal mental life, or there being “something it’s like to be” to be it."

This is a false distinction. A person in a coma is the same as a fetus in the future potential for consciousness. The only variable is time, and this is an unknown. We cannot have degrees of nothingness. You can't have it both ways, Howard. Either brain activity and consciousness is the criteria by which we give human beings rights, or it is not.

Anonymous said...

Fuhrer,

You said, "Let me first just say that I’m so happy you’re engaging in the philosophical method of testing moral (or more generally normative or philosophical) theories against case intuitions! (You see, that’s exactly what those “mental gymnastics” I was engaged in earlier were!)."

Actually, you have been polishing a turd. Humans are not merely animals, garbage or possessions for you to purchase. I am deeply saddened by your lonely, desperate and vacant view of humanity. It really isn't as bad as you think. Alas, I fear I am wasting my time.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Death,

You wrote:

Now, of course, most of us don’t think that the only thing wrong with the death or killing of certain organisms is that it is usually attended by pain or suffering. While painful death is generally worse than painless death, there is surely something deeply tragic about the painless death of, say, healthy adult humans (and non-human animals like cats, dogs, frogs, etc.), and, prima facie or in the absence of significant other factors (which are present, e.g., in cases of self-defensive killing of responsible or culpable attackers, killings of combatants in just wars, and killings of people who want to die and whose future lives will not be worth living (e.g. due to their being filled with nothing but pain & suffering & no compensatory goods), it is surely morally wrong to kill these kinds of creatures painlessly. Indeed, the strongest prima facie moral reason it’s wrong to painlessly kill creatures like healthy adult humans is that death is bad FOR THEM; they are capable of well being, and they miss out on a future life worth living that would have been theirs.

One of your exceptions is a person who wants to die and/or whose future life would not be worth living due to pain and suffering and no compensatory goods. I see now that you are stepping into the world of euthanasia. You must be a student of Peter Singer. Who ever said that pain and suffering were bad? Who makes the determination a life is not worth living? Is it the suffering individual? Really? Is it the Doctor? Really? Is it the Judge? Really? Or is it the Nazi guard? Who makes the determination that this lowly, “moron beneath contempt” life is not worth living? YOU??????? Put them in the chamber. Drop in the can. When the screaming ends, carry the bodies to the oven. Shovel out the ashes. Decision made. Lowly moron beneath contempt whose life is not worth living has been eliminated. Problem solved.

For all I know, you are the child of Nazis who were brought to America after the war due to their intellectual superiority. Man, Howard. I feel so bad for you. Do you have any person to love? Real love, not that pretend, I guess I have nothing better to do kind. You exude emptiness, sadness and loneliness. Life doesn’t have to be that way. You can begin to see the beauty and marvel of human beings. Take a little time to watch a child at play today. You are spending too much time in front of the computer.

Howard said...

MBC,

1.) As to the starving to death in the redneck-colt case – I don’t know if you’re responding to the my first response in which I wasn’t envisioning a significant probability of starving to death or serious health risks (which I apologized for since I do think this should have been clear from context and you were not guilty of any unclarity in this respect) or the one in which I actually took account of the significant risk of death? If you were responding only to the former please accept my apologies and read the latter.

While I explained (in my second comment on this in which I actually took account of the significant risk of death or serious health impairment) how there will be many cases in which it will be morally permissible to kill the brain dead mother horse-colt pair (and perhaps morally required if actions are costless), I certainly do think there will be cases in which it will be not be morally permissible to kill the dead mother horse-colt pair. To take an extreme example, suppose it is known to the actor for sure that all of the rednecks will die within the next 48 hours anyway if they don’t eat the horse-colt pair, but if they don’t eat the horse-colt pair they will die within the next 40 hours. Assuming the colt has a significant capacity for consciousness, psychological substantiality, connectedness to its future, and goods in prospect (and this is known), I think it would be impermissible to deprive it of its whole future life (to which it is psychologically connected) just to buy the rednecks another 8 hours of life.

For the grounds that will determine any particular filling in of the details of the case, see criteria 1-4 above in my last post. (It is quite consistent with what I have said to maintain that it will usually be morally permissible to kill the horse-colt pair because one thinks that horses (even at the peak of their psychological capacities and connectedness) are sufficiently less psychologically substantial and connected over time than humans. I simply don’t think this is so, and would seek to illustrate this by reference to our intuitions about human fetuses that have the capacity for consciousness that we know for sure are mentally disabled in such a way that their psychological future will be exactly comparable to that of an adult horse in terms of psychological substantiality, connectedness, and goods in prospect, and the question).

2.) As to your claim that there is a false distinction between the potential to develop the capacity for consciousness and the capacity for consciousness:

Do you think of a sleeping person that she could (with her current neural hardware, etc.) that she could not become conscious as she is? Do you think that a zygote could (with her current neural hardware, etc.) become conscious as it is? The only variable is not time; other obvious variables include what kinds of states the entity can be in as determined via its current neural hardware and software. Zygotes don’t have any neural hardware or software; only the potential to develop it. Fetuses under 20 weeks of age don’t have the neural hardware or software required for consciousness.

Look also at my examples concerning other capacities vs. potentials to have capacities, like capacities for rationality and for feeling guilt. Do you still think there’s no real difference here between newborns who don’t have the relevant neural substrates to have these states and adults who do but whose substrates aren’t being activated save “time”?

As to your claim that there’s no difference between a person in a reversible coma and a fetus (and I take it we could even use a mere zygote?) that will in the future have the capacity for consciousness, here’s another consideration: when the person in the coma wakes up, she will remember her past experiences. She will be able to carry out intentions she had before she became comatose. Her mind / mental life is in fact THE SAME mind / mental life before and after the coma, right? Well, fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation don’t have minds or mental lives, and a fortiori when it comes to support a creature capable of consciousness later on, the mind / mental life of THIS creature cannot be the same mind / mental life as that of the fetus.

Since what we are essentially is our minds (as embodied in our brains – for an excellent presentation of this view see McMahan’s “Ethics of Killing” book), we don’t come to exist until after our fetal organisms give rise to minds that will be ours in virtue of their connection over time to us at the present moment. Fetuses before the onset of consciousness don’t have minds. In that sense they’re not one of us (since what we are essentially are minds), no matter how biologically human they are. (Similar remarks go of course for beings capable of consciousness that are not biologically human; non-human animals capable of consciousness are essentially minds, as would be any human- non-human-animal hybrids with the capacity for consciousness and any space-aliens with the capacity for consciousness). They’re just unoccupied organisms. It doesn’t matter to their moral status that they will be occupied in the future any more than it matters to the moral status of an unfertilized egg that one day it will unite with a sperm, form a zygote, and do the rest of it.

I know this kind of language of “one of us” and saying that fetuses are “just” something will make you think of nothing but Nazism. The charge is so off the mark (as all your previous charges of it have been) that I really don’t care about this – it is your problem that you can’t see that the problem with the Nazis (and racists like KKK members) is that they thought it was O.K. to kill creatures with minds (Jews and African Americans have minds every bit as much as people of other racial / ethnic backgrounds), who were (along with other psychologically typical humans) the most psychologically substantial and connected over time of all creatures on earth for the most trivial and confused of reasons – NOT that they killed things that were biologically human.

I don’t know which of two ways you think I’m trying to have anything, but no, there is indeed a distinction between having a capacity and having a potential to have a capacity for all the reasons I have explained.

Brain activity (of some sort or other) is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for consciousness. It is neither a sufficient condition nor not a necessary condition for consciousness. The capacity for brain activity (of some sort or other) is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the capacity for consciousness. It is neither a sufficient condition nor not a necessary condition for the capacity for consciousness. The relevant neural substrates (whether activated or not) are also necessary for the capacity for consciousness (and the activation of it or consciousness itself). The capacity for consciousness is a necessary condition for moral status (understood here as the status an entity has of killing it being morally wrong due to the badness of death for its own sake), the degree of moral status (how strong our moral reasons are not to kill it) are determined by the degree of psychological substantiality, connectedness over time, and goods in prospect. The truth is neither of the falsehoods you suggested we had to choose between.

You could have maintained that while species membership is not a necessary condition for moral status, it is a sufficient condition for moral status. I actually gave arguments that the capacity for consciousness, psychological substantiality, psychological connectedness, and goods in prospect were both necessary and sufficient conditions for any given degree of moral status (consisting of thought experiments to determine what it takes and what it does not take for an entity to be capable of well being and for death to be bad for an entity). Still, arguments against the necessity of species membership as a criterion of moral status (which were particularly emphasized) tend to show that species membership is also not a sufficient condition, both on general grounds of simplicity and on grounds that when we see species membership for what it is – viz. genetic similarity, ability to produce fertile offspring, and similar phylogenetic descent, we can see that alterations in this one way or another (without corresponding alterations in what really matters – i.e. the capacity for consciousness, psychological substantiality, connectedness over time, and goods in prospect) are completely irrelevant to the determination of moral status.

Actually, your continued claims that “I have been polishing a turd” show nothing other than the fact that you are so stupid and unwilling to actually think about the issues that you can’t even understand (or admit to yourself or others) the force of the arguments against you, and how completely despicable you are for thinking that simply repeating this over and over again in response to arguments of why you’re wrong and explanations of why you’re making mistakes (and even failing to understand the simplest parts of what people are saying) could be anything other than moronic deliberate refusal to engage in a serious discussion. This has been especially disgusting since (as I pointed out) in some of your last posts you were using the correct philosophical method for settling such questions (viz. testing moral theories against case intuitions, etc.) and I was trying to tell you that that is the exact same method you previously dismissed as “mental gymnastics.” You evidently missed the point entirely and in such a way that can only be explained by culpable negligence, refusal to understand, or unwillingness to admit what is going on to yourself or others.

What is your evidence that all I am doing is “polishing a turd,” rather than successfully explaining to you why my position is in fact correct and yours is incorrect (or at the very least making a strong case against your position and in favor of mine)? Do you have any evidence that I’m wrong or “polishing a turd” that the Annoying Person doesn’t have that you’re wrong or would be “polishing a turd” if you tried to argue with her that killing fruit flies is morally permissible? (Remember, the Annoying Person “feels it in his gut” that killing fruit-flies is just as morally wrong as killing psychologically typical adult humans, is moved by pictures and footage of dead and dismembered fruit-flies to think killing them is horribly shocking and deeply wrong, says things like anyone who disagrees with her that killing fruit files is wrong, is not moved by the pictures of killed fruit-flies, or is not somehow moved by her name-calling to think otherwise is simply heartless or a Nazi, says things like “fruit-flies are not garbage and have immeasurable value,” and generally thinks and says all things exactly parallel to what you say in alleged “defense” of the view that killing fetuses less than 20 weeks old is morally wrong).

3.) As to euthanasia:

I’ve never studied under Peter Singer. I have sharp disagreements with Singer as to what makes death bad or bad for an entity (and generally things like consequentalism vs. deontology & the deontic (but overridable) importance of respect for autonomy where agents are concerned). I don’t mean to caricature his position, but to put it very roughly my understanding is that he thinks death is bad because it frustrates preferences (I don’t think he even wants it to be that death is bad because it’s bad for the creature whose death it is). Anyone who is more familiar with the details of Singer’s views please feel free to correct me. What I said is that death is bad entities capable of well being because it causes them to miss out on a future life worth living that would have been theirs due to their being psychologically connected (and connected via physical continuity of physical substrates) to it. (Here I follow Jeff McMahan’s view as presented in his Ethics of Killing book). I don’t see what similarity you’re pointing to between Singer and myself other than the fact that we both agree that euthanasia can be morally permissible (and many, many people other than us think this as well so I don’t think this is much of a similarity).

The relevant sense of ‘a life worth living’ is that of it being better for the creature for its own sake to continue living rather than to die (i.e. the creature being better off, or having a greater degree of well being by living as opposed to dying). This is quite distinct from the question of whether or not an entity is contemptible or morally reprehensible. It is also quite distinct from the question of whether or not the world would have been a better or worse place if the creature had not come into existence in the first place. I may think the world would have been a better place were you not have come to exist (as I said, if your conduct on this blog is a good indication of how you generally are and you don’t change in the future. Indeed I should note that you showed some signs of improvement in terms of testing moral theories against case intuitions and actually trying to make some relevant arguments against my position; but I suppose you lose points because although you used these methods more extensively recently you also kept refusing to recognize it as a legitimate method when others do it to put pressure on your views / show that they’re mistaken / show that you’re confusing things / show that you’re not understanding things. So it’s probably a wash in terms of the score on whether or not the world would have been a better place were you not have come to exist), but I am certain that you’re life is worth living in the sense that it’s better for you for your own sake to continue to live / that you’re better off continuing to live than die.

My position was never than pain and suffering were the only things that were bad, just that they’re bad (at least in most usual contexts; perhaps e.g. in S&M it can be different). You don’t think pain and suffering are bad at all? Hmmm…that’s interesting. I think you’d be an interesting test subject for Neil (he’s the one with the argument that pleasure being good and pain being bad are the two evaluative truths we don’t have to worry about our epistemic access to). I used this kind of case because it is my understanding that it is the kind relevant to real world euthanasia cases like those involved in very painful terminal illness (so painful that the person really, really wants to die to release herself from the suffering) with no chance of recovery (yes, there will always be a logical possibility of recovery, but it’s completely irrational to pay attention to that mere possibility since there are type 2 errors from letting the life go on – viz. the uncompensated suffering) that are in fact so painful and debilitating that they crowd out any possibility of goods in the person’s life.

The ontological question of whether or not a life is worth living is quite distinct from the epistemic question of how we know when a life is worth living. You’re quite correct that we must handle the epistemic questions with extreme care. Indeed, questions of the moral permissibility of euthanasia really do rely on both – it’s not enough that a person’s life isn’t worth living (as a matter of fact) and that she autonomously wills to die. This could be so but those administering the euthanasia could lack sufficient evidence (those administering the euthanasia could be quite correct by mistake), in which case their actions would not be morally permissible even if (to at least some extent) quite desirable. The evidence must also be of a particularly good quality, because the risks of type 1 errors / false positives (i.e. euthanizing when the life is actually worth living) are enormous (i.e. the deprivation of all future goods on the part of the person) (again, I am also only considering cases of voluntary euthanasia – i.e. cases in which the subject autonomously wills to die). But the risks of type 2 errors / false negatives (i.e. failing to euthanize when the life is in fact not worth living) are also substantial (forcing the person who autonomously wills to die to remain alive when dying would be better for her). So yes, we need to be very careful epistemically (and of course we need the autonomous will to die on the part of the person who is going to be euthanized quite independent of any considerations of quality of evidence), but we shouldn’t altogether rule out euthanasia on epistemic grounds either, because being wrong about the life being worth living has enormous costs (not only in terms of well being deprivation but of failing to respect the agent’s autonomous will for no compensatory gain in well being. In a sense refusing to euthanize when we have very good evidence that a person who autonomously wills to die would be better off alive constitutes something of a failure to respect for her will, but this is certainly usually worth it for the sake of her well being and is outweighed by our moral reasons not to deprive her of it – e.g. in cases of very depressed people who want to die and request euthanasia, but are in all respects healthy and capable of a life worth living).

Since you seem particularly worried about policy here, I would of course agree that any sane practice or policy (whether formal or informal – David Velleman has a very good article, “Against the Right to Die”
http://www.law.nyu.edu/clppt/program2005/readings/Against_the_Right.pdf
arguing that the best euthanasia policy should be an informal one) on the matter would i.) only allow euthanasia when the subject has autonomously willed to be euthanized after being as well informed and removed from deviant influences (as sometimes are present in deep depression), and ii.) would seek to gather the best information from all sources as to whether or not the patient could have a life worth living / a quality of life better for her than death, including health professionals, the individual herself, those who know her well (who can be family and friends), etc.. And let me stress – the policy would not permit euthanasia even when the best evidence from all sources was present that death would be better for the subject than continued life if condition i.) was not met – i.e. involuntary euthanasia (i.e. killing an entity capable of an autonomous will (viz. an agent) against that will to the end of making her better off) is not morally permissible and should not be allowed by policy.

Countries like the Netherlands that have implemented formal policies allowing for voluntary euthanasia seem to do a very good job meeting these criteria (see e.g. http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/rn/2000-01/01RN31.htm). I’m not sure if this is preferable to the kind of informal policy Velleman advocates which also does these things or not.

Now, I find it very strange that you liken this issue to Nazi death camps in the way you do. For you see Nazi death camps did not implement voluntary euthanasia procedures (and when they did they were themselves responsible for the patient’s perception her life was not worth living and her will to die, neither of which are permissible given that the victims had done nothing wrong) – they killed innocent autonomous people against their wills (and again, if you’re autonomous, you’re capable of consciousness & thus have moral status. If you’re not capable of consciousness, you can’t have a will). I stress that in what I said I insisted that there were two equally necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for the moral permissibility of administering euthanasia to an agent:

i.) The subject autonomously wills death (and perhaps also isn’t being subject to lack of information, misinformation, or deviant mindstates, and
ii.) Those administering this voluntary euthanasia have very good evidence that death is better for this person for her own sake than continued life. [Really in its full generality this should be sensitive to other considerations (or the access of those administering the euthanasia to these other considerations) as well – other good reasons an agent may have to want to die other than those tied to her well being per se, like sufficiently weighty considerations of honor in some contexts and rational projects that may be served by her dying. The reasons (as accessed by those administering the voluntary euthanasia) cannot simply be present, they must be particularly weighty and in practice will likely only be able to play a significant role in the presence of very low quality of life as well].

If i.) does not obtain, euthanasia is not morally permitted (it would be against the person’s will even if it is better for her and known by others to be so, and thus out), and if ii.) does not obtain, even if the person wants very much to die, euthanasia is also not morally permitted (even though she wants to die it’s bad for her or she doesn’t have enough reason to want to die (or we don’t have enough evidence to the contrary), and so is similarly out).

4.) I have never questioned the moral status of human children of the ages that can be observed at play. I see you are still on about some debunking psychological explanation applying to me. Since I’ve posted the more full-dress explanation of why it’s irrational for you to think that one exists, I’ll try to put it more simply and directly. How do you know this is the case, as opposed to it simply being the case that I’m correct and trying to explain to you why you’re incorrect, making mistakes, confusing things, being a moron, and behaving in a way beneath contempt when in fact you are indeed? You would have to have some reason to think I’m actually wrong (and that you’re not this way), so obviously so that my errors can’t be explained by honest reasoning, and that you have not acted in these ways. You have no such reason. I, however, have all too much evidence that you’re wrong, making mistakes so obvious that they cannot be explained by honest errors or stupidity that is not (due to its being within your control and the product of deliberate refusals to think, admit things to yourself and others, or engage in any serious investigation or discussion) as deeply despicable as can be. Your lack of such evidence and my presence is contained in all of the posts to date (including but by no means limited to your last and my last).

I don’t feel very bad for you because you are so despicable and it is abundantly clear that it is your own fault you are so completely unable to understand how to seriously investigate important issues when so much explanation of your errors has been given. You don’t have to suck in this way, though. Learn to understand what people are saying and seriously entertain arguments that challenge your deeply held beliefs or explain why you have made errors. Take a little time to think seriously about what has been said. You are spending too much time typing and not enough time thinking.

Howard said...

"To take an extreme example, suppose it is known to the actor for sure that all of the rednecks will die within the next 48 hours anyway if they don’t eat the horse-colt pair, but if they don’t eat the horse-colt pair they will die within the next 40 hours."

Should read:

"To take an extreme example, suppose it is known to the actor for sure that all of the rednecks will die within the next 48 hours anyway if even if they do eat the horse-colt pair, but if they don’t eat the horse-colt pair they will die within the next 40 hours."

Anonymous said...

Howard,

By saying that you are polishing a turd, I mean that you are starting with a turd of an idea, namely that it is okay to kill a living human being simply because you cannot detect brain activity at a given moment, and attempting to polish it up really nice and pretty through strange ideas and philosophy.

More importantly, you introduced the “sleeping person” idea. My post was,

“Ultimately, the ability to experience pain has no bearing on a person's status as a human being and hence cannot be used to justify abortion. To say that it does is to grossly confuse the concept of harm with the concept of hurt. A man in a coma whose throat is slit by an intruder certainly feels no hurt, but he is nonetheless harmed. He was still a person at the time of his death. And his attacker is still guilty of a heinous crime. Likewise, abortion is still an act of violence that kills a baby even if its victims feel nothing as they undergo dismemberment.”

I see a grand distinction, even if you fail to address it. Did you get to watch any children play? Have a good weekend.

Howard said...

MBC,

Yes; that sense of “polishing a turd” is entirely consistent with the sense I was talking about. Here; let’s make the statement with your elaboration on what you meant (since you’re evidently too stupid to understand what I’m saying if I don’t do the copy-paste explicitly for you. Of course I fear that you’re too stupid & reluctant to investigate these matters seriously to understand anyway, but I’ll keep trying):

What is your evidence that I am starting with a turd of an idea, and attempting to polish it up really nice and pretty through strange ideas and philosophy, rather than successfully explaining to you why my position is in fact correct and yours is incorrect (or at the very least making a strong case against your position and in favor of mine)? Do you have any evidence that I’m wrong or “starting with a turd of an idea, and attempting to polish it up really nice and pretty through strange ideas and philosophy” that the Annoying Person doesn’t have that you’re wrong or would be “starting with a turd of an idea, and attempting to polish it up really nice and pretty through strange ideas and philosophy” if you tried to argue with her that killing fruit flies is morally permissible? (Remember, the Annoying Person “feels it in his gut” that killing fruit-flies is just as morally wrong as killing psychologically typical adult humans, is moved by pictures and footage of dead and dismembered fruit-flies to think killing them is horribly shocking and deeply wrong, says things like anyone who disagrees with her that killing fruit files is wrong, is not moved by the pictures of killed fruit-flies, or is not somehow moved by her name-calling to think otherwise is simply heartless or a Nazi, says things like “fruit-flies are not garbage and have immeasurable value,” and generally thinks and says all things exactly parallel to what you say in alleged “defense” of the view that killing fetuses less than 20 weeks old is morally wrong).

O.K….um….clearly what I said applies just as much to people in reversible comas as sleeping people. You’re continued inclusion of these remarks is more conclusive evidence that you have either no ability to understand written words or are completely refusing to engage in a serious investigation of the issues here, by simply repeating confusions that have been pointed out to be confusions which pointings out remain completely unaddressed by you.

What do you see a “grand distinction” between? Sleeping people and reversibly comatose people? Is that the grand distinction I failed to address? I’m not sure why you would think there’s a grand distinction between sleeping people and reversibly comatose people, but I’m sure this doesn’t matter to the issue at hand.

I shall review my remarks here, with explicit attention to people in reversible comas (since again you’re evidently too stupid to understand what I’m saying if I don’t do the copy-paste explicitly for you):

1.) [MBC, READ THIS!!! READ THIS!!! ] Now, of course, most of us don’t think that the only thing wrong with the death or killing of certain organisms is that it is usually attended by pain or suffering. While painful death is generally worse than painless death, there is surely something deeply tragic about the painless death of, say, healthy adult humans (and non-human animals like cats, dogs, frogs, etc.), and, prima facie or in the absence of significant other factors (which are present, e.g., in cases of self-defensive killing of responsible or culpable attackers, killings of combatants in just wars, and killings of people who want to die and whose future lives will not be worth living (e.g. due to their being filled with nothing but pain & suffering & no compensatory goods), it is surely morally wrong to kill these kinds of creatures painlessly. Indeed, the strongest prima facie moral reason it’s wrong to painlessly kill creatures like healthy adult humans is that death is bad FOR THEM; they are capable of well being, and they miss out on a future life worth living that would have been theirs. The question is what features of entities make death bad for them and the killing of them prima facie morally wrong for that reason.

On the one hand we have entities, both organic and inorganic, for which death (or destruction) is clearly not bad for their own sakes, which are also such that there is nothing prima facie morally wrong about destroying or killing them (or at least nothing prima facie wrong about killing them tied to death being bad for them or our having obligations to them not to kill them. There might, e.g., be aesthetic reasons that make it wrong to destroy great artworks, but this is not because death is bad for the art work, or we owe things to the art work in the way we owe things to healthy adult humans). These would include inanimate objects like rocks, tables, and chairs, organisms like plants, mosses, and bacteria, and parts of organisms like skin cells, organs, and tissues. On the other we have entities for which death is clearly bad for their own sakes, which are such that the killing of them is prima facie morally wrong, such as healthy adult humans (and I would hope you would agree – healthy non-human animals like dogs, cats, and frogs (at least those old enough to be conscious, experience things, or have mind-states)). What is it that makes that former class of entities such that death (or destruction) is not bad for them for their own sakes, and such that there is nothing prima facie morally wrong about destroying or killing them, and what is it about the latter class of entities such that death is bad for them for their own sakes, and there is something prima facie morally wrong about killing them? Well, the answer seems to be that the former class of entities is not capable of well-being or welfare, while the latter class of entities is. That is, there is nothing bad about the death of a plant or bacterium (or the destruction of a rock) for its own sake because nothing can be good or bad for such an entity for its own sake; there isn’t really such a thing as “its sake” - a plant or bacterium’s life (or a rock’s existence) simply can’t go better or worse for it. (This is of course consistent with our having reasons not kill or destroy these kinds of entities, or their continued life or existence being instrumentally or impersonally good or bad – e.g. the continued life of a plant can support the well being of entities capable of well being, and the plant can have aesthetic value. The point is simply that death can’t be bad FOR THE PLANT in the way your or my death is bad for you or me, and the killing of the plant can’t be irrational or immoral for the same reasons).

So what is it about an entity that makes it capable of well-being / welfare, makes it possible for death to be bad for it for its own sake, and makes the killing of it prima facie morally wrong for this reason? Note that entities that intuitively aren’t capable of well-being aren’t capable of mental states or consciousness. They can’t experience things, have desires, have pleasures / pains, etc. They lack an internal life; as my colleague David Plunkett has put it, there’s “nothing it’s like to be” one of these kinds of entities. On the other hand, creatures like adult human beings, and conscious non-human animals like cats, dogs, mice, frogs, etc., do have an internal mental life. Note, moreover, that consciousness or a mental life comprised of psychological states of experiences, etc. seems to be the only thing necessary for a creature’s life to be capable of going better or worse for it for its own sake. No matter what external shape or gene therapy you give things like plants, human organs, or bacteria, unless you give them an internal mental life, they’re not going to be capable of well being. Similarly, if you take me and cut away my arms, legs, torso, etc. – as long as you keep my brain alive and capable of supporting the same mental life I had, I’ll be capable of well being. Similarly, mere species membership doesn’t matter. If a space alien – a member of no species on earth – had an internal mental life / was capable of experiences, etc. – it would be capable of being better or worse off, as would a creature much like a human but with certain kinds of silicon substituted for carbon throughout its body / in its DNA structure (so long as it had the same kind of mental life as a human). So it seems as though what’s essential for a creature to be capable of well being is for it to have the capacity for consciousness.

Without brain activity (and the proper development of the relevant neural substrates), a creature cannot be capable of consciousness, or a mental life, or be such that there’s something its like to be that creature. It’s not capable of experiences, desires, pleasures / pains, etc.. It is in all relevant respects like a plant or a rock in the sense that there’s no way its life can go better or worse for it. As such, nothing can be bad for it, including its biological death. So death can’t be bad for fetuses before the onset of the capacity for consciousness, a necessary condition of which is brain activity and (and the proper development of the relevant neural substrates), and killing them can’t be wrong for them for the usual reason – viz. that death is bad for them.

Of course, if a fetus did not die prior to 24 weeks (or let’s say 20 just to be 100%, iron clad, safe), it would support the development of a creature capable of well being, which would be such that death would be bad for the usual reason – viz. that death would deprive it of many goods that would have been theirs had they not died. But this in no way makes the death or killing of the fetus PRIOR to 24 weeks (or 20 weeks, just to be safe) the death or killing of an entity for which death is bad for its own sake, any more than failing to bring a random sperm-egg pair together (or the killing of a plant or chair that one could turn into an entity capable of consciousness / well being if one had such technology at one’s disposal) constitutes the death or killing of such an entity. Prior to the onset of the capacity for consciousness, there simply isn’t anything capable of well being there for death to be bad for. The death of such an entity is exactly like non-conception; it’s the not coming into existence of a creature capable of well being for whom death can be bad. And surely there’s nothing wrong with non-conception (at the very least nothing that has to do with the badness of death for any creature and the wrongness of killing an entity tied to the badness of death for its own sake). If a couple decides not to have a child (via birth control or simply abstaining from sex) they’ve surely done nothing wrong.

2.) Do you think of a person in a reversible coma person that she could (with her current neural hardware, etc.) not become conscious as she is? Do you think that a zygote could (with its current absence of neural hardware, etc.) become conscious as it is? The only variable is not time; other obvious variables include what kinds of states the entity can be in as determined via its current neural hardware and software. Zygotes don’t have any neural hardware or software; only the potential to develop it. Fetuses under 20 weeks of age don’t have the neural hardware or software required for consciousness.

Look also at my examples concerning other capacities vs. potentials to have capacities, like capacities for rationality and for feeling guilt. Do you still think there’s no real difference here between newborns who don’t have the relevant neural substrates to have these states and adults who do but whose substrates aren’t being activated save “time”?

As to your claim that there’s no difference between a person in a reversible coma and a fetus (and I take it we could even use a mere zygote?) that will in the future have the capacity for consciousness, here’s another consideration: when the person in the coma wakes up, she will remember her past experiences. She will be able to carry out intentions she had before she became comatose. Her mind / mental life is in fact THE SAME mind / mental life before and after the coma, right? Well, fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation don’t have minds or mental lives, and a fortiori when it comes to support a creature capable of consciousness later on, the mind / mental life of THIS creature cannot be the same mind / mental life as that of the fetus.

Since what we are essentially is our minds (as embodied in our brains – for an excellent presentation of this view see McMahan’s “Ethics of Killing” book), we don’t come to exist until after our fetal organisms give rise to minds that will be ours in virtue of their connection over time to us at the present moment. Fetuses before the onset of consciousness don’t have minds. In that sense they’re not one of us (since what we are essentially are minds), no matter how biologically human they are. (Similar remarks go of course for beings capable of consciousness that are not biologically human; non-human animals capable of consciousness are essentially minds, as would be any human- non-human-animal hybrids with the capacity for consciousness and any space-aliens with the capacity for consciousness). They’re just unoccupied organisms. It doesn’t matter to their moral status that they will be occupied in the future any more than it matters to the moral status of an unfertilized egg that one day it will unite with a sperm, form a zygote, and do the rest of it.

I know this kind of language of “one of us” and saying that fetuses are “just” something will make you think of nothing but Nazism. The charge is so off the mark (as all your previous charges of it have been) that I really don’t care about this – it is your problem that you can’t see that the problem with the Nazis (and racists like KKK members) is that they thought it was O.K. to kill creatures with minds (Jews and African Americans have minds every bit as much as people of other racial / ethnic backgrounds), who were (along with other psychologically typical humans) the most psychologically substantial and connected over time of all creatures on earth for the most trivial and confused of reasons – NOT that they killed things that were biologically human.
I don’t know which of two ways you think I’m trying to have anything, but no, there is indeed a distinction between having a capacity and having a potential to have a capacity for all the reasons I have explained.

Brain activity (of some sort or other) is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for consciousness. It is neither a sufficient condition nor not a necessary condition for consciousness. The capacity for brain activity (of some sort or other) is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the capacity for consciousness. It is neither a sufficient condition nor not a necessary condition for the capacity for consciousness. The relevant neural substrates (whether activated or not) are also necessary for the capacity for consciousness (and the activation of it or consciousness itself). The capacity for consciousness is a necessary condition for moral status (understood here as the status an entity has of killing it being morally wrong due to the badness of death for its own sake), the degree of moral status (how strong our moral reasons are not to kill it) are determined by the degree of psychological substantiality, connectedness over time, and goods in prospect. The truth is neither of the falsehoods you suggested we had to choose between.

You could have maintained that while species membership is not a necessary condition for moral status, it is a sufficient condition for moral status. I actually gave arguments that the capacity for consciousness, psychological substantiality, psychological connectedness, and goods in prospect were both necessary and sufficient conditions for any given degree of moral status (consisting of thought experiments to determine what it takes and what it does not take for an entity to be capable of well being and for death to be bad for an entity). Still, arguments against the necessity of species membership as a criterion of moral status (which were particularly emphasized) tend to show that species membership is also not a sufficient condition, both on general grounds of simplicity and on grounds that when we see species membership for what it is – viz. genetic similarity, ability to produce fertile offspring, and similar phylogenetic descent, we can see that alterations in this one way or another (without corresponding alterations in what really matters – i.e. the capacity for consciousness, psychological substantiality, connectedness over time, and goods in prospect) are completely irrelevant to the determination of moral status.

There, no mention of sleeping people (only people in reversible comas – though of course the point is the same for both). Can your idiot brain wrap itself around what was being said now? I’m sure it can but I very much doubt it will choose to since you evidently don’t actually care about investigating this issue. Do please tell me what distinction you think I have failed to address.

Remember what I said: “I have never questioned the moral status of human children of the ages that can be observed at play.” Do please let me know why you keep asking after whether I’ve seen children. What are you asking me to do, look at them and then be so overcome by how cute they are that I somehow am moved to develop absurdly moronic beliefs about the presence of mental lives in fetuses less than 20 weeks old? Look at them and start thinking stupid things about the relevance of species membership (I’m sure the children would be just as cute even if they failed to meet the criteria for membership in the human species but were psychologically and superficially phonotypically identical)? What?

The Annoying person is making the same remarks about how you should observe frogs at play (I suppose he wants you to make similar stupid moves and start attributing the mental lives of frogs to fruit-flies, or get you to somehow start thinking stupid things about the moral relevance of having a skeleton of some kind per se). He’s an idiot, right? See why you are too?

Did you get a chance to try actually thinking about these issues and what people are saying about them yet? (If you have I certainly haven’t seen any evidence of it).

Anonymous said...

Howard,

You need not repost. Simply reference your previous post. I mentioned a "distinction" which you either failed to understand or refused to acknowledge. In reference to my line about cutting the throat of one who is in a "coma" or "brain dead," as being harmful though not necessarily painful, I again assert that you are polishing a turd. The only difference between those declared "brain dead" and a fetus is the issue of time until potential brain activity. Since time in this instance is an unknown, it cannot be used to justify the mutilation of a human being who has no brain activity at the moment of mutilation.

For further understanding, please read the following.

http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,600135600,00.html

http://www.wendi.com/newsletter/articles/man_wakes_from_being_declared_dead.html

http://www.all.org/article.php?id=10261

There are many, many more cases and articles such as these if you search for them. Certainly, the lives of these lowly “morons beneath contempt” were not worth saving, right? While I hope that my facts are getting through to you, I am not holding my breath. I understand that you have a vested interested in advocating murder, and pride is an issue. Alas, I must keep trying to get through to that patronizing brain of yours. Sleep well.

Anonymous said...

Howard,

One last very important article about a "moron beneath contempt" for you to consider.

http://www.family.org/cforum/commentary/a0040927.cfm

Goodnight Howard.

Anonymous said...

Howard,

Additionally, here is a very comprehensive article found at http://www.meehanreports.com/how.html#N_3_ which explains why abortion was made legal by the court thirty-three years ago for the first time in American History.

HOW EUGENICS AND
POPULATION CONTROL
LED TO ABORTION

Mary Meehan

Introduction

The typical account of the battle for legal abortion in the United States goes something like this: Brave civil libertarians and women's rights advocates, encouraged by liberating currents of the 1960s, dared to raise the abortion issue in public and to prompt serious debate about it. Some of them pressed for amendment or repeal of state anti-abortion laws, while others challenged abortion restrictions in the courts. The U.S. Supreme Court gave them a huge victory with its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Yet that decision resulted in a backlash which has kept the issue in politics, and the country badly divided over it. So the brave civil libertarians and feminists soldier on in their lonely battle.

This version, while including a few truths, leaves out so many others that it is deeply misleading. A wealth of inside information, now available in private and government archives, suggests that the eugenics movement (devoted to breeding a "better" human race) led to population control, which in turn had enormous influence on the legalization of abortion.

Civil libertarians and feminists were certainly in the picture, but in many cases they were handy instruments of the eugenicists and population controllers. Moreover, far from fighting a lonely battle, abortion supporters receive enormous aid from the American establishment or "power elite."

It is important to note the difference between birth control and population control. Birth control, although often used as another label for "contraception," actually includes any method to limit births for any reason. It can be used by individuals or couples, with no involvement by government or private agencies.

Population control, however, involves a public or private program to reduce births within a specific area or group (for example, within China or among African Americans) and/or to increase births elsewhere (for example, within France or among the highly-educated). In other words, those running the program have a specific demographic outcome in mind. While equal-opportunity population programs are theoretically possible, in practice one race or nationality uses population control against another.

Population control may involve any or all of the following: propaganda in favor of smaller families; pressure for legal change such as raising the legal age for marriage or repealing restrictions on contraception and abortion; widespread availability (often including public subsidy) of contraception, sterilization and abortion; the use of specific target numbers for birth control "acceptors" and for reduction of birth rates; economic penalties for having more than one or two children; and physical coercion to use birth control.

In democratic theory, governments are made for people. Population control stands this principle on its head, so that people are made for the government and are treated mainly as components of the economy. Government tolerates them as long as they are productive; it even "makes investments" in them to improve their productivity. Viewing them as farmers view their cattle or sheep, it watches their breeding carefully and manipulates it in various ways.





Index to Sections

Major Players in Population Control

What Francis Galton Started

Charming and Ruthless

Hobnobbing with the Nazis

Gunnar Myrdal's Mishmash

Targeting the Black Community

Frank Notestein Had a Plan

Slipping Abortifacients into the Mix

Lethal Discrimination

Cold-War Motives

Access to Their Resources

Send in a Colorful UN Force

Abortion Promotion by A.I.D.

Back in the States

Another Eugenics Fiefdom

War Against Humanity





Major Players in Population Control

Occasional internal disputes among U.S. population controllers have obscured broad areas of agreement. Key figures such as Garrett Hardin and Alan Guttmacher, for example, disagreed over whether it was best to use a radical or a gradualist approach to advance the cause of abortion within the United States.

In 1963 Prof. Hardin, an environmentalist who was also an ardent population controller and a member of the American Eugenics Society, made a radical argument for repealing anti-abortion laws. In an approach that would be copied by many others, he put his population and eugenics concerns in the background and based his argument mainly on the welfare and rights of women. To religious objections based on the commandment "Thou shalt not kill," Hardin responded that the Bible "does not forbid killing, only murder." And murder, he said, means "unlawful killing.... Murder is a matter of definition. We can define murder any way we want to." Later he said that "it would be unwise to define the fetus as human (hence tactically unwise to refer to the fetus as an 'unborn child')."(1) Hardin had learned well the Humpty Dumpty technique:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty,

"which is to be master--that's all."(2)

Dr. Alan Guttmacher, President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, wrote Hardin that anti-abortion laws could be changed "inch by inch and foot by foot, but not a mile at a time." Later Guttmacher told another correspondent that "I am in favor of abortion on demand, but feel from the practical point of view that such a social revolution should evolve by stages." Publicly he presented access to abortion as a benefit for women; indeed, he had referred women to an illegal abortionist as early as 1941. Yet he also had other motives, ones indicated by his service as vice president and board member of the American Eugenics Society.(3)

He had a fair amount of medical prestige, which he used to advance the abortion cause. But prestige alone was not enough. Substantial amounts of money were needed to promote the kind of change he wanted.

John D. Rockefeller 3rd, his family, and their foundations provided much of the money. JDR 3rd's grandfather and father (that is, oil baron John D. Rockefeller and his son, John D., Jr.) were members of the American Eugenics Society, and JDR 3rd helped keep the eugenics group afloat financially during the Depression.

While he focused especially on population growth overseas, JDR 3rd was happy to squelch it within the United States as well. In 1967 he told his sister that "the matter of abortion is the principal remaining area in the population field which has not been given the attention it should." He suggested that she join him in giving money to the Association for the Study of Abortion. This sophisticated propaganda group, which pressed for legalization, included major eugenicists such as Guttmacher, ethicist Joseph Fletcher, and statistician Christopher Tietze. JDR 3rd and other Rockefeller sources contributed substantial amounts to the Association. They also gave money to support the winning side in Roe v. Wade.(4)

Another figure in the abortion wars was Frederick Osborn, an immensely talented establishment figure who at various times was a businessman, scholar, army general, diplomat, and foundation executive. Osborn was also the strategist of the American Eugenics Society and the first administrator of a Rockefeller enterprise called the Population Council. Well before surgical abortion became a major issue, Osborn promoted Council research on chemical abortion and Council distribution of abortifacient intrauterine devices (IUDs). In 1974 he suggested that birth control and abortion were a great step forward for eugenics, but added: "If they had been advanced for eugenic reasons it would have retarded or stopped their acceptance."(5)

What Francis Galton Started

Who are the eugenicists, and why are they so obsessively interested in other people's fertility? When and why did they become involved in abortion?

English scientist Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, invented the term "eugenics" in 1883. Taken from the Greek words for "well born," the term is used to describe the movement to "improve" the human race by encouraging the healthy and well-off to have many children and persuading, pressuring or coercing others to have few or none at all. The eugenics movement took root in many Western nations and also in China and Japan, with results that are very much with us today.

Galton, writing in the heyday of the British Empire, shared the profound bias against non-whites typical of his country and time. In one book, for example, he suggested that the "yellow races of China" might eventually push "the coarse and lazy Negro from at least the metaliferous regions of tropical Africa."(6) Racial bias deeply infected Western eugenics from the start; and in the United States, it reinforced bad attitudes of the slavery and segregation eras. Eugenics encouraged superiority attitudes of the upper class and all too many members of the middle class. They flocked to an ideology that seemed to give a scientific seal of approval to bigotry against the poor, non-whites, the immigrants pouring through the Golden Door, and people with physical and mental disabilities.

Several upper-class people devoted portions of their huge fortunes to promote eugenics. Mary Harriman, widow of railroad baron E. H. Harriman, gave large sums to support the Eugenics Record Office. The Rockefellers and George Eastman (of Eastman Kodak) also backed the cause. They supported not only the efforts of academic eugenicists, but also practical efforts to limit births among the poor.

Some eugenics supporters, viewing their own heredity as splendid, had the large families that eugenics doctrine said they should have. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., had six children, as did Frederick Osborn. Some later supporters of population control have continued the tradition: Former President George Bush, television entrepreneur Ted Turner, and financier George Soros each has five children.

U.S. eugenics in the 1920s and 1930s sometimes looked like a strange assortment of academics, socialites, crackpots and racists who were going off in all directions at once--a circus in need of a ringmaster. Harry Laughlin and Rep. Albert Johnson were fighting to reduce immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. Margaret Sanger and Clarence Gamble were spreading contraception everywhere they could, but especially among the poor. Paul Popenoe, E. S. Gosney and Harry Laughlin were persuading states to pass laws for compulsory sterilization of "feeble-minded" Americans. Many eugenicists were churning out propaganda, and some were even running "Fitter Families" contests at state fairs.(7)

Late in life, Frederick Osborn would look back upon this era as one that was almost useless in advancing eugenics.(8) Yet there is much to suggest that he was too harsh in his judgment. Eugenics groups recruited many people who remained interested and active in eugenics throughout their careers, often passing on the ideology to children who also became active. Eugenics was firmly established in many prestige institutions, especially Ivy League universities and elite women's colleges. Its influence on the American establishment, through the education of its professionals and politicians and foundation executives, was profound.

Laughlin and his friends, moreover, had great influence on immigration and sterilization policies. Others turned the new birth-control movement in the direction of population control for eugenic purposes.

Charming and Ruthless

Margaret Sanger--the charming, articulate and ruthless champion of birth control--was a eugenicist through most of her long career. She was a member of the American Eugenics Society and also a fellow of England's eugenics group. Her marriage to the wealthy Noah Slee and her enjoyment of the upper-class lifestyle toned down the radicalism of her youth--so much so that she suggested birth control as a solution for unemployment and labor militance during the Depression. After a 1931 demonstration by unemployed marchers in Washington, D.C., she wrote to industrialist George Eastman: "The army of the unemployed--massed before the Capitol yesterday morning--reminded one very forcibly that birth control in practice is the only thing that is going to help solve this economic and current problem."

In one of her early books, Sanger said that eugenicists were showing "that the feeble-minded, the syphilitic, the irresponsible and the defective breed unhindered" and that "society at large is breeding an ever-increasing army of under-sized, stunted and dehumanized slaves." In 1932 she called for a Population Congress that would "give certain dysgenic groups in our population their choice of segregation or sterilization." She had in mind "morons, mental defectives, epileptics," suggesting that "five million mental and moral degenerates" would be segregated. She also estimated that a second group of "illiterates, paupers, unemployables, criminals, prostitutes, dope-fiends" could be segregated "on farms and open spaces as long as necessary for the strengthening and development of moral conduct." She mentioned numbers casually and in a confusing way, but apparently was speaking of between fifteen and twenty million Americans to be segregated or sterilized.(9)

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, writing for a 1927 Supreme Court majority that upheld a Virginia sterilization law, shared Sanger's cold view of the mentally-retarded when he said: "Three generations of imbeciles are enough." The compulsory sterilization laws, aimed at people in public institutions, victimized many poor whites in the South and elsewhere--and not just the retarded, either. Some officials lied to their victims. A woman who was sterilized as a teenager in 1928, but told she was having her appendix removed, was shocked to learn about the sterilization fifty-one years later. "I wanted babies bad," she said. "Me and him [her husband] tried and tried to have 'em. I just don't know why they done it to me. I tried to live a good life." Her husband, a retired plumber, said that they were "always crazy about kids."

One writer suggests that black people were increasingly targeted for sterilization by the early 1940s, as state institutions in the South were opened to black residents. Targeting poor women--black and white, Native American and Hispanic--continued long after that period. Sometimes it involved mainly the enticement of public subsidy (still offered today), and sometimes pressure or outright coercion.(10)

Abortion was not much discussed in the 1920s, even among eugenicists, for it was a criminal act (under state homicide codes) and was widely condemned in the medical profession and the major churches. But there were rumblings of interest in the next decade. In 1933, for example, the Eugenics Publishing Company published a book advocating substantial loosening of anti-abortion laws. At a 1935 high-level meeting of eugenicists and population controllers, Dr. Eric Matsner suggested making abortion law more permissive, but the meeting notes did not mention any discussion of his proposal. Other participants were primarily interested in encouraging births among "good stock" or in spreading contraception. When Mrs. Robert Huse of the National Committee on Maternal Health "suggested getting rid of the undesirables before trying to stimulate the birth rates of the top strata of society,"(11) she probably had contraception in mind.

Her committee sponsored a conference on abortion problems in 1942, one that indicated ambivalence on the topic but included suggestions for fighting illegal abortion.(12) This was a serious problem in large cities at the time. Had there been more interest in positive solutions among the conference participants, they might have set up a network of crisis pregnancy centers to aid women in need. That, however, would have resulted in the births of many children eugenicists would have viewed as inferior.

Hobnobbing with the Nazis

German eugenicists, including Adolf Hitler, were interested in the American experience with immigration and sterilization. In Mein Kampf, published soon after Harry Laughlin and others had persuaded the U.S. Congress to pass immigration restrictions, Hitler suggested that American immigration policy was superior to German policy, although he called American restrictions "weak beginnings" and "slow beginnings." According to Leon Whitney, who had served as executive secretary of the American Eugenics Society and had become a sterilization enthusiast, a Hitler aide "wrote me for a copy of my book, The Case for Sterilization, which I sent and which Hitler personally acknowledged." Whitney showed Hitler's letter to Madison Grant, who chaired the eugenics group's immigration committee. Grant's response? "He smiled, reached to a folder on his desk and gave me a letter from Hitler to read. It was in German. It thanked our chairman [Grant] for writing The Passing of the Great Race and said that the book was his Bible." Clarence Campbell, president of another American group called the Eugenics Research Association, attended a 1935 population congress in Berlin, where he offered a banquet toast to "that great leader, Adolf Hitler!"(13)

Frederick Osborn, who was in the process of taking over the American Eugenics Society, realized that hobnobbing with the Nazis had a down side in public relations. In 1938 he remarked that American public opinion was "opposed to the apparently excellent sterilization program in Germany because of its Nazi origin" and warned fellow eugenicists: "We must keep ourselves as Caesar's wife, beyond reproach. And that means the things we do, the people we keep company with, the things we say, and the things other people say about us."(14)

Gunnar Myrdal's Mishmash

Osborn certainly changed eugenics rhetoric for the better, but he did not really reject class and racial bias. He probably contributed some thoughts to a remarkable chapter on population in Gunnar Myrdal's An American Dilemma, the classic 1944 study of race relations in the United States. Osborn was a trustee of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which funded the massive Myrdal study. Myrdal included Osborn in his acknowledgments and cited Osborn and many other American eugenicists in his footnotes to the population chapter. Myrdal and his wife Alva, although mainly known in the U.S. as Swedish socialists, were also eugenics sympathizers.

As a whole, the Myrdal study was a strong indictment of white cruelties against the black community in America. But his population chapter might be described as intellectually chaotic, deeply cynical, or both. Perhaps his comment about the confusion, ambiguity and inconsistency that lurk "in the basement of man's soul" should be applied first to himself.

Myrdal wrote that "the overwhelming majority of white Americans desire that there be as few Negroes as possible in America." He claimed, though, that the desire for "a decrease of the Negro population is not necessarily hostile to the Negro people." He said that it "is shared even by enlightened white Americans who do not hold the common belief that Negroes are inferior as a race. Usually it is pointed out that Negroes fare better and meet less prejudice when they are few in number."

Myrdal remarked that "all white Americans agree that, if the Negro is to be eliminated, he must be eliminated slowly so as not to hurt any living individual Negroes. Therefore, the dominant American valuation is that the Negro should be eliminated from the American scene, but slowly."

Myrdal genuinely wanted to improve the living standards of the black community, but believed that until reforms could be made, "and as long as the burden of caste is laid upon American Negroes, even an extreme birth control program is warranted by reasons of individual and social welfare." He said that many Negroes "are so destitute that from a general social point of view it would be highly desirable that they did not procreate." Many, he said "are so ignorant and so poor that they are not desirable parents and cannot offer their children a reasonably good home." He suggested that expanding birth control and lowering the black birth rate could relieve "the poverty of the Negro masses" and improve black women's health.(15)

This mishmash of eugenic and humanitarian motivations became standard fare among population controllers in the decades after Myrdal wrote. By no means were all population controllers liberals. But some who were apparently made a bargain with their own consciences: they supported civil-rights laws and programs to fight poverty in the black community, while also supporting birth-control programs to contain or reduce the black population. Many of them probably believed the humanitarian rationale yet also had, deep down, a fear of growing numbers among non-whites.(16)

Myrdal also stressed the problem of sexually-transmitted disease in the black community, suggesting contraception to prevent its transmission to children and adding: "A case could also be made for extending the scope of the circumstances under which physicians may legally perform therapeutic abortions." His native Sweden had already done this.(17)

Targeting the Black Community

Myrdal was familiar with Margaret Sanger's "Negro Project," although he did not use that term in describing it. Sanger was trying to spread birth control to Southern Negroes in pilot projects that featured black doctors and nurses as well as endorsements by black ministers and other leaders. According to her defenders, Sanger was genuinely concerned about the health and welfare of black women and felt that too-frequent childbearing harmed them. Dorothy Roberts, an African American law professor who has studied the Negro Project, says that black women wanted birth control and that many were already using it at the time. Black leaders, she notes, thought it was needed for the advancement of their community. Yet Roberts also remarks that W. E. B. Du Bois "and other prominent Blacks were not immune from the elitist thinking of their time" and "sometimes advocated birth control for poorer segments of their own race in terms painfully similar to eugenic rhetoric."(18)

Possibly some black leaders had a bias against poor members of their own community that started in the house servant/field servant division of the slavery era. But Sanger, who was white, had both class bias and racial prejudice of the paternalistic variety. By dealing with doctors of their own race, she suggested, Negroes could more easily "lay their cards on the table, which means their ignorance, superstitions and doubts." She told another white eugenicist, Dr. Clarence Gamble: "We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population," adding that "the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members."

Earlier Dr. Gamble, had suggested buying black support for the project. He told a Sanger colleague that "relatively minor contributions to local churches might be made which would result in continuous backing of the project by the local ministers." He added: "If colored newspapers are found to be influential it might be found effective to exchange cash for editorial and news support."(19) It would be hard to overstate the cynicism and opportunism of these suggestions, for Gamble was speaking of communities that were desperately poor.

Sanger's friend and birth-control colleague, Mary Lasker, won large contributions from her wealthy husband for the Negro Project and other Sanger ventures. Lasker was a talented strategist in her own right. She and Sanger lobbied relentlessly to get federal and state governments involved in birth control for both blacks and whites. With help from their mutual friend in the White House, Eleanor Roosevelt, they had some success. The initial federal efforts were relatively small, and quietly arranged,(20) but they provided a precedent when Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon decided to expand federal involvement in a dramatic way.

Frank Notestein Had a Plan

In the early 1940s, while Sanger worked on her many projects, U.S. troops were fighting in World War II and U.S. policymakers were making plans for the postwar era. Much of the planning was done through a secret project called "Studies of American Interests in the War and the Peace," which was financed by the Rockefeller Foundation and conducted by the private Council on Foreign Relations for the U.S. State Department. Major concerns included postwar access to the rich natural resources of colonial areas and the possibility of finding markets everywhere for American products.

Frank Notestein--a eugenicist, an economist/demographer, and a friend and colleague of Frederick Osborn--wrote a paper on population for the project. Rapid population growth in colonial areas, he suggested, would result in great hardships for some of them, including hunger, disease and war. Such areas, he said, "will be increasingly expensive and troublesome to administer, and unsatisfactory to do business with." He proposed a program of modernization for the colonies, including the development of industries that would "draw a surplus and ineffective agricultural population into effective production," the use of popular education "to create new wants for physical and material well-being" and "propaganda in favor of controlled fertility as an integral part of a public health program."(21) Notestein's proposals for manipulating entire societies had profound effects on other population experts and eventually on government policy.

Jacob Viner, a noted economist, also wrote a paper for the war/peace studies in which he remarked that "higher-standard-of-living populations" made better trading partners for the West than did "low-standard populations even if greater in size." Lower birth rates in the "backward areas," Viner suggested, were "very much to the interest of the United States."(22) These points were important to the businessmen who participated in the Council on Foreign Relations and had great influence on U.S. foreign policy.

As American private and public agencies developed programs of population control over the next several decades, they stressed humanitarian objectives such as fighting poverty and famine and improving the status of women. Some of the population controllers, such as Notestein, actually believed the humanitarian rationale, at least in an abstract or paternalistic way. They did not, however, sit down with poor people as equals to discuss the matter; instead, they decided what poor people should have and then manipulated the poor to accept it.

For many population controllers, the humanitarian rationale was a cover for other motivations: (1) the eugenicists' desire to breed a "better" human race by suppressing the birth rate of poor people and non-whites; (2) the goal of retaining access to the natural resources of the old colonial areas and of developing markets there; and (3) as the Cold War intensified, a decision by U.S. leaders to use population control as a way of keeping the lid on poor nations so they would not fall victim to Communist take-overs. These three motivations reinforced one another; all of them were oriented toward keeping the industrialized West, and especially the United States, dominant in the world.

After the Second World War, eugenicists started two private organizations to promote population control in ex-colonial nations, where populations were increasing rapidly because of improved disease control. Margaret Sanger, C. P. Blacker of England's Eugenics Society, and others formed the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). John D. Rockefeller 3rd and Frederick Osborn launched the Population Council, a foundation that first convinced government leaders in poor nations that they had a serious population problem and then showed them how to solve it through population control.

Osborn, who was the key administrator of the Population Council in its early years, wanted it to keep a low profile in order to avoid charges of U.S. imperialism. At the Council's 1952 founding conference, he had asked, "Supposing a perfect contraceptive should be developed. Should it be announced by the University of Chicago, or Bellevue Hospital...or should it get its final development in Japan or India, so it would appear to spring from there?" Using grants and fellowships, he started building in the poor nations a network of population experts with career interests in population control. "We were trying to help foreign countries with large grants," he said years later, "and it was far better to do it quietly, without the public in the foreign countries knowing that this was an American effort."(23)

Slipping Abortifacients into the Mix

Osborn, Rockefeller and their colleagues were eager to develop birth-control drugs and devices that could be distributed on a massive basis both at home and abroad. They were interested in chemical abortifacients; for example, they funded research by Dr. J. B. Thiersch on "anti-metabolites" to induce early abortion. Documents on this project show a remarkable lack of concern about its ethical problems--not only abortion, but also the occasional disguise of the project as one involving only "the rat litter and fetus in utero" and the use of "institutionalized patients" for toxicity studies. Osborn was concerned about legal problems, though, at a time when abortion was illegal in all states with limited exceptions. Noting that an early Thiersch grant application did not "say explicitly that the people he is going to experiment on will be exclusively women certified for therapeutic abortion," Osborn asked, "Shouldn't we be so protected in making the grant?"(24)

The Population Council also put great effort into developing and distributing intrauterine devices, or IUDs. (An IUD can either prevent conception--that is, fertilization--or prevent implantation of the embryo in the womb, thus causing an early abortion.) In 1966 Osborn told a correspondent that the Council was spending major sums on IUDs, adding: "We have felt this could be done far more effectively in the name of the Population Council than in the name of eugenics...Personally, I think it the most important practical eugenic measure ever taken."(25)

Possible medical complications of IUDs include cramps, heavy bleeding, anemia, uterine perforation, pelvic infection, infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and even septic abortion and death. Feminist writer Betsy Hartmann emphasizes that IUDs can "cause or exacerbate reproductive tract infections, which are rampant in many parts of the Third World." She notes that the infertility sometimes caused by IUDs can lead to "social ostracism, abandonment, and ultimately destitution" for women there.(26)

Long ago, population controllers worked out a way to deflect criticism of abortifacient drugs and devices. At a 1959 conference, one expert suggested "a prudent habit of speech," hinting that it would be wise to consider implantation--rather than fertilization--the beginning of pregnancy. In 1962, in its "model penal code" project, the American Law Institute recommended legalizing the use of "drugs or other substances for avoiding pregnancy, whether by preventing implantation of a fertilized ovum or by any other method that operates before, at or immediately after fertilization."

In a 1964 Population Council conference, eugenicist Dr. Christopher Tietze pointedly reminded his colleagues that theologians and jurists do listen to doctors and biologists. "If a medical consensus develops and is maintained that pregnancy, and therefore life, begins at implantation, eventually our brethren from the other faculties will listen," he said. A committee of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists soon obliged Tietze by defining conception as "the implantation of a fertilized ovum."(27)

With that kind of support, the population controllers were off to the races, developing more and more abortifacients, which they usually referred to as "contraceptives" or simply "birth control." The IUDs and the later Norplant devices have proved useful in coercive population control, since it can be difficult and dangerous for non-physicians to remove them.(28)

Lethal Discrimination

While they encouraged research on abortifacients, eugenicists also turned their attention to surgical abortion as a tool that could be combined with prenatal testing to eliminate the handicapped unborn.

The Nazi era had given compulsory sterilization a bad name, but eugenicists had never lost their interest in preventing births of the handicapped. Frederick Osborn and others in the American Eugenics Society had long promoted "heredity counseling," which they once described as "the opening wedge in the public acceptance of eugenic principles." Scientists were developing prenatal testing for fetal handicap in the 1950s,(29) but that would not have meant much had abortion continued to be illegal. A Rockefeller Foundation-supported project came to the rescue. The foundation was funding the American Law Institute's production of a "model penal code" (noted above) for states to use as a guide when amending their criminal laws.

Dr. Alan Guttmacher's twin brother Manfred, a psychiatrist, was a special consultant to the model code project, and Alan himself took part in one or two meetings about it when he was vice president of the American Eugenics Society. (Later he would lead the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.) Another special consultant was a British legal scholar and eugenicist, Glanville Williams. The model code, as adopted by the American Law Institute in 1962, allowed abortions for "substantial risk" of serious handicap in the unborn child, as well as in other hard cases. In the final debate, attorney Eugene Quay declared, eloquently but to no avail, that "the state cannot give the authority to perform an abortion because it does not have the authority itself. Those lives are human lives, and are not the property of the state."(30)

Some states changed their abortion laws along the lines suggested by the model penal code. The new laws did not make as much difference as their supporters had hoped--and their opponents had feared--probably because many "respectable" doctors were already doing abortions for hard cases. While abortion supporters were disappointed and soon pressed for abortion-on-demand, the exceptions approach actually had helped their cause in several ways. It had prompted public debate on a "taboo" subject, had softened up the public to the idea of abortion as a "humanitarian" action, and probably had led many of the public to believe that the debate was about hard cases only.

Meanwhile, population experts were increasingly viewing abortion as another tool to control population numbers. They knew that legalized abortion had sharply reduced population growth in Japan after the Second World War. They were particularly interested in abortion suction machines used in China, and they worked to spread knowledge of this method. C. Lalor Burdick, a foundation executive and eugenicist, pressed the suction-machine method with great energy because it could be done on an outpatient basis and was cheaper than other methods. His Lalor Foundation helped finance a training film on suction abortion that was produced by British doctor Dorothea Kerslake and shown widely to doctors in the U.S. and elsewhere.

In 1970 Burdick told a correspondent that some day it might be accepted "that bum pregnancies of whatever character should ipso facto be terminated. And so would come the next step, namely, that the lowest grade people (as determined by performance factors) are not to have children either." He asked, "Isn't an intelligent black or mulatto a lot better than the dippings from the bottom of the white barrel?" Earlier, though, he had told population-controller Hugh Moore, "All channels with which I come in contact speak of the fecklessness of the Indians and of the hopeless inabilities of the Africans." Burdick had also complained that Americans "seem to be deifying our scruffy and unfit by putting them in temples (welfare housing)" and "re-creating some ancient fertility cult where we provide breeding pads and free sustenance for the proliferation of a kind of people that hate us and would destroy us, if they could." This lover of humanity also remarked: "The 'maternal impulse' is partly bunk. De-bunking of this might get some females off their fat duffs and into useful endeavor."(31)

Burdick was not unique. Retired army general William H. Draper, Jr., a leading figure in Planned Parenthood and the Population Crisis Committee, suggested population control as a solution to urban riots. Referring to 1967 riots in Detroit and elsewhere, he told a business executive that "it is pretty obvious that a great many unwanted children have added fuel to the fire." He said that "to cure the present ghetto problems and deal with the population question among the poorer parts of our own population...will require valiant and much greater efforts than any exerted in the past." If the executive decided to support Planned Parenthood, Draper added, "you could do no better."

In 1966 Dr. Alan Guttmacher, apparently trying to be witty, wrote from Africa to a U.S. colleague: "My trip has been great. I believe I converted the Jews in Israel and now I am working on the pigmented savages." This private comment from Guttmacher (who was Jewish, but not observant) came soon after his Planned Parenthood group gave an award to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.(32)

Cold-War Motives
Wrapped in Humanitarian Language

Population controllers started winning major and publicly-trumpeted government funding of contraception in the 1960s. Hugh Moore, a Pennsylvania businessman, had done much of the groundwork with a series of "Population Bomb" booklets mailed to prominent Americans in the previous decade. "We are not primarily interested in the sociological or humanitarian aspects of birth control," Moore and two colleagues said in a 1954 cover letter for the booklet. "We are interested in the use which the Communists make of hungry people in their drive to conquer the earth." A top New York Times executive who received the mailing passed it on to his Princeton classmate, Allen Dulles, who happened to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Timesman suggested that population control "is a project which officials of our government may not want in any way to promote, but to me it seems to have merit if followed up by some private sources." The archives file containing this letter does not have a reply from Dulles.(33)

Several months earlier, though, Dulles had been informed that CIA economic analyst Edgar M. Hoover was "leaving to go with the Office of Population Studies which is an operation of Princeton University." But Hoover would be "located in Washington," Dulles was told, and would be "an intermittent consultant to the Agency" (the CIA). Hoover and demographer Ansley Coale then produced for the Princeton office (actually called the Office of Population Research, Frank Notestein's fiefdom) a major study partly financed by the Population Council (the Osborn-Rockefeller empire) and the World Bank. They reached this conclusion about low-income nations: "...to postpone the reduction of fertility is to forego the opportunity for a more rapid rise in immediate wellbeing, and to shrink the potential growth in incomes per capita for the indefinite future." The Coale-Hoover study, widely distributed by the Population Council, had enormous impact. As one expert later remarked, it "held the field for most of 20 years. It was explained in every population textbook and was the rationale for large population programs by the United States and other countries." Although later challenged effectively by economist Julian Simon and others, the Coale-Hoover theory won the public-policy debate early and firmly--as one suspects it was designed to do.(34)

President Dwight Eisenhower, whom Allen Dulles served as CIA Director, was interested in population and asked a foreign-aid study panel to look into it. The panel, headed by retired General Draper and prodded by Hugh Moore, recommended that the U.S. assist other nations with population programs. After U.S. Catholic bishops blasted that notion, though, Eisenhower quickly retreated. "I cannot imagine anything more emphatically a subject that is not a proper political or governmental activity or function or responsibility....We do not intend to interfere with the internal affairs of any other government...," the President said in 1959.(35)

Before John F. Kennedy's 1960 election to the presidency, a Senate colleague had asked Kennedy how he, as a Catholic, viewed the issue of making "family planning information" available at home and abroad. Kennedy responded, "It's bound to come; it's just a question of time. The Church will come around. I intend to be as brave as I dare." As President, Kennedy cautiously gave encouragement to those who wanted to involve both the U.S. government and the United Nations in population control. He did not, however, share with the public his views on abortion. According to journalist Benjamin Bradlee, a friend of Kennedy's, in 1963 JFK privately "said he was all for people solving their problems by abortion (and specifically told me I could not use that for publication in Newsweek)..."(36)

Lyndon Johnson and his immediate successor, Richard Nixon, were the first U.S. presidents who publicly advocated population control abroad and made it a major part of U.S. policy. They also intensified population-control efforts in the United States, partly to demonstrate to leaders of poor countries that the U.S. was willing to restrain its own population growth. But the domestic efforts, like those abroad, primarily targeted poor people and non-whites.

Population control was so carefully wrapped in humanitarian language that most Americans probably thought it simply involved opening birth-control clinics and serving everyone who showed up at the door. But internal government documents from the Johnson administration show: 1) a carefully-orchestrated campaign to pressure governments of poor nations to adopt population control, and 2) enormous interest in manipulating cultural attitudes and motivating women to use birth control.

This required a careful approach, since it involved much meddling in the internal affairs of other nations. Thus in 1968 the Agency for International Development (A.I.D.) asked U.S. missions abroad "to discreetly investigate" the possibility of having "indigenous social scientists" do research on motivation for fertility reduction. A.I.D. also arranged for the Pathfinder Fund (established years earlier by eugenicist Clarence Gamble) to help "in the establishment of national voluntary associations which would later become members of the International Planned Parenthood Federation." But this, too, had to be done discreetly, and A.I.D. gave its troops information to "deflect any charges" that the Planned Parenthood group was "a creature of A.I.D. and the U.S. Government."(37)

Our Access to Their Resources

Soon after his 1969 inauguration, President Nixon asked White House urban affairs aide Daniel Patrick Moynihan to "develop a specific program" in population and family planning. Moynihan was a brilliant choice for the job--a Catholic, a Democrat, a Harvard professor, and a charming fellow who could handle difficult personalities.

The State Department's top population officer, Philander P. Claxton, Jr., already had such a strong program in place that Moynihan did not have to add much in the international area. Claxton, in fact, helped draft Nixon's 1969 population message to Congress, which stressed rapid population growth in the Third World and suggested that it aggravated problems of malnutrition, poor housing and unemployment.(38)

Of course, there were--and are today--areas of great poverty abroad; but population controllers often ignore the productive and energizing force of a young and growing population. As one Pakistani legislator remarked, a newborn child "comes with one mouth and two hands to earn his livelihood and is gifted with a fertile mind." Population controllers, during the Nixon administration and since, think only of the mouth to be fed; they forget the two hands to raise the food and the mind to devise better ways to raise it. Population controllers also tend to believe that they bear major responsibility for everyone else's lives. They rarely, if ever, ask themselves, "Who appointed me to be General Manager of the Universe?"

In its robust pioneer era, America had very rapid population growth; and many of its pioneer families (the parents of Abraham Lincoln, for example) were just as poor as many Third World families are today. Thomas Malthus himself, in an 1830 essay, said that population increase in the United States apparently "has been more rapid than in any known country..." With its huge territory and its current population of 77 persons per square mile, the United States is relatively sparsely-populated; yet many countries--including most in South America and many in Africa--have even fewer persons per square mile. Gabon has only 12; Bolivia has 21; Algeria has 34; Brazil has 53; Peru has 54. It is true that China has 347; but the United Kingdom (with 637 persons per square mile) and the Netherlands (with 1,023) are far more densely populated than China. All of this should give pause to Westerners who casually talk about "overpopulation" in low-income nations.(39)

Some nations do, indeed, have too few (developed) resources to meet all the needs of their people. But some archival records suggest that U.S. leaders have been mainly concerned about our access to their resources. One document in the Nixon White House files, for example, included the usual boilerplate language about humanitarian concerns, but also noted that the U.S. "is in danger of losing markets, investments and sources of raw materials" as less-developed nations "seek ways to increase their resources."

A high-level population study, commissioned by President Nixon and Secretary of State/National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, said that the United States, "with 6 percent of the world's population, consumes about a third of its resources" and that "the U.S. economy will require large and increasing amounts of minerals from abroad, especially from less developed countries." Population pressures in such countries, it suggested, could lead to expropriation, labor troubles, sabotage or civil unrest, so that "the smooth flow of needed materials will be jeopardized."

Nixon's Special Representative for Trade Negotiations suggested that restraining population growth in poor nations could help U.S. trade there. He remarked that "a people living on a bare subsistence level cannot be a prosperous market for the wide range of goods available in the modern world....Even a modest improvement in incomes in Latin America would no doubt be reflected in a greater demand for U.S. products not available at home, notably the products of our advanced industrial technology."(40)

"If You Can Send In a Colorful UN Force..."

Philander Claxton, with support from Moynihan, pressed ahead with his ambitious effort to harness every possible agency of the U.S. government and the United Nations for the cause of population control. By fiscal year 1969, the Agency for International Development was already spending over $45 million per year on population and giving direct aid to 31 countries. The Peace Corps was also involved; more than 200 of its volunteers had done population work in 1966-69. But criticism of such work in South America had signaled a need for discretion; "we have learned the need for caution in approaching this very explosive topic," the Peace Corps told President Nixon. Yet it soldiered on. In Tonga, a tiny island-nation in the Pacific that "has no acute population problem at this time" but reportedly could have one in two generations, Peace Corps volunteers taught contraception and organized village meetings on the subject. "They also introduced sex education into the schools," according to the Peace Corps report, "and it is now an accepted part of the Ministry of Education curriculum."(41)

The U.S. Information Agency was churning out propaganda to encourage "changes of attitude which will lead to effective family planning programs abroad"; but it added more emphasis on issues such as health, education and human rights. This broader approach, the agency said, "attempted to offset allegations that the U.S. was practicing a kind of 'demographic imperialism' in seeking only to impose population controls on less-developed countries."(42)

Using the United Nations to spread population control was another way to avoid resentment against the United States. In 1967, for example, the State Department had cabled the American embassy in Indonesia: "We feel it is important to involve UN agencies in support of family planning programs in Indonesia and elsewhere to avoid appearance of sole support by USG [U.S. Government]." But it suggested that the right calibration of funding sources was a tricky matter: "UNICEF role should be possible in manner which would dilute USG visibility without raising total visibility of foreign contribution to unacceptable degree."

The State Department and its allies understood the need to have non-Americans and people of color in up-front population jobs at the UN. In 1969 an American highly-placed in the international agency recommended Rafael Salas of the Philippines for the top UN population job. According to an American diplomat, the UN official thought Salas "has advantage of color, religion (Catholic), and conviction." Salas was chosen.

As Planned Parenthood's Alan Guttmacher told an interviewer, "If you're going to curb population, it's extremely important not to have it done by the damned Yankee, but by the UN. Because the thing is, then it's not considered genocide." He added: "If the United States goes to the black man or the yellow man and says slow down your reproductive rate, we're immediately suspected of having ulterior motives to keep the white man dominant in the world. If you can send in a colorful UN force, you've got much better leverage."(43)

At the White House, Moynihan tried to boost State Department efforts partly by finding more money for birth-control research at the National Institutes of Health. He told another White House aide that "if the Indians and Pakistanis are going to have workable, inexpensive contraceptives ten years from now, it will only be if we pay for the research now." Moynihan also encouraged legal scholar Luke Lee, who was promoting the notion that "legal reforms in such areas as abortion, taxation, sex education, etc., could not fail to produce significant impact on population growth." That sounded like a great idea to Moynihan and Claxton, and Lee soon received A.I.D. money to develop a Law and Population Program at Tufts University. It was a major boost to "policy development," the process by which U.S. officials pressure Third-World governments to change their laws and administrative policies to discourage childbirth.(44)

Abortion Promotion by A.I.D.

While documents intended for public consumption rarely, if ever, mentioned abortion in connection with population control, Luke Lee was not alone in talking about it privately. In fact, Dr. Reimert Ravenholt, who headed the A.I.D. population program, was promoting abortion aggressively. He, like Lalor Burdick, was an enthusiastic proponent of abortion suction machines. In 1970 Ravenholt and an A.I.D. colleague outlined five tiers of birth-control technology. They included all of the usual methods--plus surgical abortion and a self-administered abortifacient. They reported that A.I.D. had earmarked over $10 million to develop the latter, and they suggested that prostaglandin drugs could be the magic-bullet abortifacient. Ravenholt sent a batch of material on prostaglandins over to Moynihan at the White House, commenting that the prospect "for fairly rapid resolution of world excess fertility problems is now far better than it was one year ago."(45)

By 1973 A.I.D. contractors were training Third World doctors in abortion techniques. "We want to elevate the reproductive well-being of the human race," said an A.I.D. official. So aggressive was Ravenholt in his promotional activity that Senator Jesse Helms, the North Carolina Republican, tried to put A.I.D. out of the abortion business in 1973. The original Helms amendment would have forbidden any use of foreign-aid funds to pay for abortifacient drugs and devices, as well as surgical abortion. But a House-Senate conference committee watered down the amendment, so that it simply barred paying for abortions "as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions."

Ravenholt and his colleagues viewed the Helms Amendment as a major nuisance, and population controllers have complained about it ever since. But A.I.D. continued to fund research on abortifacients and massive distribution of drugs and devices that were partly-abortifacient, and private groups promoted abortion suction machines. Some distributed abortion equipment even in nations where abortion was illegal.(46) Later they used the problem of illegal abortion in poor nations--a problem they had made far worse--as a reason to legalize abortion.

Meanwhile, Back in the States

Population controllers also worked to legalize abortion within the United States. Here they had much assistance from feminists and civil libertarians (although some within each group strongly opposed abortion) and from lawyers such as Roy Lucas and Sarah Weddington, who had been personally involved in abortion.(47) The lawyers and feminists focused on the up-front, public battles. The population controllers did some of that; but they excelled in quiet, behind-the-scenes efforts where they could count on friends in high places. They arranged government promotion and funding of abortion through a series of administrative decisions, rather than through the constitutional route of authorization by Congress. This was done so quietly and effectively that, when some members of Congress realized what was happening and decided to fight it, they found themselves in a very difficult, uphill battle.

Nixon's domestic population-control programs, like Johnson's, targeted low-income women. In his 1969 population message to Congress, President Nixon suggested that five-million poor women had insufficient access to birth control and said that "no American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition." Whatever Nixon's own motivation, the targeting of poor women continued the old eugenics tradition.

When Congress passed a major domestic "family planning" bill in 1970, it provided that money appropriated for it could not "be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning."(48) But the Medicaid law, providing medical aid to poor people, had been passed several years earlier, before abortion was even a national issue, and it did not have a similar provision. Apparently operating under the notion that whatever is not specifically forbidden is permitted, one or more officials responsible for Medicaid started paying for abortion on a state-option basis. (Abortion was still illegal in most states then.)

Because some key records are missing from the National Archives, it is extremely difficult to find just when this practice started and whether the President (Johnson and/or Nixon) knew about it. A 1970 paper by two interns at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) indicates that the government was funding some abortions then. "The primary fear of the family planning services," the interns wrote, "has been that Congress might cut their appropriations if it were to become known that taxpayer's money was being used to give abortions." They suggested that "for the next two or three years, the primary thrust of the Administration and of HEW officials must remain relatively covert."(49)

The abortion subsidy did remain "relatively covert," partly because HEW officials sometimes gave misleading answers when asked about abortion funding and partly because news media were, to be charitable, less than alert about the issue. But in April, 1971, HEW official John Veneman said that under the Medicaid law, "in those states where abortions are legal and approved as one of the services provided by the states, there are federal funds going in."

This was similar to a states' rights policy that President Nixon recently had ordered military hospitals to follow. "If the laws in a particular state restrict abortion," the President announced, "the rules at the military base hospitals are to correspond to that law." But on the other side of the coin, if the laws of a particular state were permissive toward abortion, then those laws were to be followed by military hospitals in the state. But because Nixon's order changed an earlier Defense Department policy that was more permissive toward abortion, abortion foes viewed his action as helpful. They apparently were distracted, too, by his rhetoric about abortion as "an unacceptable form of population control" and about "my personal belief in the sanctity of human life."(50)

President Nixon may have been inclined to oppose abortion in a general way, at least rhetorically, but he was unwilling to let that inclination overcome his states' rights position. Possibly he, or at least many of his subordinates, wanted to have it both ways. He received political credit among abortion foes for speaking against abortion, at the same time that he (or they) advanced population control by allowing abortion funding.

Another Eugenics Fiefdom

While funding battles went on behind the scenes, abortion supporters were waging a vigorous fight to legalize abortion nationwide. A population commission, appointed by President Nixon and congressional leaders, did its best to advance that cause by calling for abortion "on request."

Nixon selected John D. Rockefeller 3rd to chair the 24-member commission. An ardent advocate of population control and a Depression-era donor to the American Eugenics Society, Rockefeller was using family money and prestige to depress birth rates through his Population Council. He and other Rockefellers also were helping to fund the Association for the Study of Abortion, which promoted the legalization of abortion. And they were helping to finance the federal court case, Roe v. Wade, which would soon strike down state laws against abortion.

JDR 3rd had lobbied for establishment of the population commission and had conferred with Moynihan on its membership and assignments. Moynihan described a conversation in which Rockefeller "assured me that, while until recently most persons concerned with population growth had directed their attention to the problem of 'unwanted children,' there is now wide agreement that in the United States, at all events, it is the wanted children who are going to cause the problem."

Another member of the population commission, sociologist Otis Dudley Duncan, was vice president of the American Eugenics Society. Other members included population-control hawks such as Sen. Robert Packwood (a Republican from Oregon) and Sen. Alan Cranston (a Democrat from California), and Population Council president Bernard Berelson. The commission's executive director, Charles Westoff, was a eugenicist; so were many professors who wrote papers for him. Anyone aware of these connections might have predicted that the commission would do what, in fact, it did: endorse legalized abortion and call for public funding of it; ask for more research on fertility control and more subsidy of contraception and sterilization; support sex education and "population education" in the schools; and recommend a national average of two children per couple.(51)

Reynolds Farley of the University of Michigan, in a paper for the commission, suggested how the black birthrate might be restrained. Noting the high abortion rate of Negro women in New York after a permissive law was passed there, Farley commented: "Liberalized abortion laws may speed a decline in Negro childbearing, although we cannot be certain that the experience of New York City will be duplicated elsewhere." He said that if then-current fertility and mortality rates continued, then the black community, which in 1970 made up 11 percent of the U.S. population, would grow to a 17-percent share by 2020--and that it could go as high as 29 percent if black fertility increased. But with low fertility for both races, the black share of the population would rise to only 12 percent of the population by 1980--and stay there through 2020.

Eugenicists have not been able to suppress the black birth rate quite as much as they wanted, but the black share of the U.S. population is still only about 13 percent and projected to be about 14 percent in 2020. The industrial-strength birth control aimed at the black community in recent decades has done much to suppress the birth rate--and the potential political power--of that community. Abortion kills nearly one-half million African American children each year.(52)

In the early 1970s, some eugenicists were so concerned about over-all numbers of people that they favored a decline in white fertility, too. Frederick Osborn, the key strategist of the American Eugenics Society, had long advocated that people of good heredity have large families, and he himself had six children. But in 1970 he was surprised to find that Otis Dudley Duncan, the eugenics society vice president who served on the Rockefeller commission, agreed with "the two-child slogan." Rockefeller, too, seemed to be on the other side of the issue from his old friend Osborn. And Chester Finn, Jr., an aide to Moynihan at the White House, referred to "the extraordinary fecundity of the American middle class--in light of its 'allotted' 2.1 children per couple." (The middle class was overwhelmingly white.) Finn also remarked that if "the government can subtly influence social mores such that families want to have fewer children, so much the better. But it isn't something we want to talk about."(53)

At first sight, this may suggest that population control was a revolution that turned on its own children. Yet it has always been a hobby of upper-class people. They are happy to use middle-class experts when needed, but do not necessarily have a high opinion of the middle class as a whole. Members of the middle class who support population control might ponder a remark attributed to Winston Churchill: "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile--hoping it will eat him last."(54)

War Against Humanity

Population control marched on triumphantly during and beyond the Nixon Administration. After the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, population controllers pressed hard, and often successfully, for public subsidy of abortions for poor women. Because they presented this as a humanitarian good, eugenicists were able to get credit for doing what they had always done: suppressing the birth rate of poor people and non-whites.

Although the Ronald Reagan and the George H. W. Bush administrations tried to hold the line against surgical abortion, they supported widespread contraception and sterilization and the distribution of birth-control methods that are partly-abortifacient--both at home and abroad. The William Clinton administration worked unceasingly for more population control abroad, helped introduce the French abortion pill called RU-486 to the United States, and defended even the horrific "partial-birth" or D & X abortions. The George W. Bush administration returned to the pattern of the Reagan and the senior Bush administrations.

Private groups continued to press population control, often as government contractors and often on their own as well. They received massive funding from the Rockefeller, Ford, Mellon, Packard, and many other foundations. Eventually they received major support from the new foundations of multi-billionaires such as Warren Buffett, Bill Gates (William H. Gates III), Ted Turner (R. E. Turner III), and George Soros.(55)

Population controllers fought hard to defend and expand abortion to the point where it now takes the lives of an estimated 46 million unborn children around the world every year. In sheer numbers, that is like destroying the entire populations of Chile, Zimbabwe, Jordan and Cambodia in one year; killing everyone in Canada, Bolivia and Sierra Leone in the second year; and so on down through the years.(56)

Population programs often look like war against women and children, and sometimes men as well. Thus in 1978 the Population Crisis Committee speculated about possible future methods of fertility control such as:

Ethanol (ethyl alcohol) abortions, to be done by injecting ethanol through the cervix
Prostaglandin suppositories for early abortion
Chemical sterilization of women by "permanent scarring" with the quinacrine drug
Investigation of "the possible use of industrial chemicals such as the pesticide DMCP" as male contraceptives
Experiments with male sterilization using "a mixture of ethanol and formalin," that is, ethyl alcohol plus a solution of water and formaldehyde(57)
If this calls to mind the Nazi sterilization experiments, the resemblance is not entirely coincidental. Those who try to breed "better" people -- whatever their definition of "better" -- eventually find themselves in a war against humanity.

The war's many casualties include Victoria Esperanza Vigo Espinoza, one of many women sterilized during an aggressive campaign in Peru. In 1996, when she had an obstetrical emergency and "a huge amount of pain," she signed--without reading--a release for what she thought was only a cesarean section for delivery of her third child. When she got up to see her baby the next day, "they told me that my child had died." Soon learning that she had been sterilized, she felt "very sad and very defeated, because I wanted to have this child and other children." She had to be treated for depression. In a campaign that involved targets and quotas, government workers deceived and pressured many other Peruvian women, some of whom were injured or killed by sterilization.(58)

Other casualties include Indonesian women who had IUDs inserted at gunpoint when they resisted other pressures. Also in Indonesia, some doctors were taught how to implant the Norplant birth-control device, but not how to remove it. There and in Bangladesh, when women sought removal of Norplant because of its side effects (which can include headaches, nausea and severe eye problems), they met great resistance from population controllers. An analyst in Bangladesh rightly protested the "coercion built into the contraceptive technology itself."(59)

There are many casualties in Africa, too. Reporting her 1999 interviews in Kenya and Tanzania, U.S. writer Elizabeth Liagin described deaths due to an IUD and to Depo Provera injections and also noted "coercion by non-removal" of Norplant and IUDs. A University of Nairobi teaching physician told her "in gory detail how doctors in Kenya routinely cut women's fallopian tubes during cesarean section operations--without even seeking permission to do so in advance," Liagin said. "When word got out that this was happening, women started explicitly telling doctors not to do it. So they didn't cut the tubes. Instead, they would take an instrument and crush them."(60)

India's aggressive sterilization campaign has been a house of horrors for women. A Washington Post reporter who observed the campaign in 1994 said that most of the women sterilized in India "are poor and illiterate, and most are lured to government clinics and camps with promises of houses, land or loans by government officials under intense pressure to meet sterilization quotas." She described the "recovery room" of one camp, "a dim ward where dozens of women lie side by side on the concrete floor, filling the room with the low moans and quavering wails of excruciating pain." In a "health clinic," she saw a doctor who "worked three tables in conveyor belt fashion" and noted that his "instruments were not sterilized between operations, and the sheets covering the tables were never changed." Women who were "found to be pregnant were offered an abortion before sterilization." This "'saves on drug consumption,' said one doctor attending the women. 'You only have to use one dose of anesthesia.'"

In the first camp, the reporter saw prizes for government workers who recruited women to be sterilized. A worker who brought in three women received only a wall clock, but one who recruited ten received a bicycle, and twenty-five recruits meant a television set.(61)

The Population Council sent teams to observe some Indian sterilization centers and camps in 1994-95. They, too, found unsanitary conditions and an assembly-line approach. In the state of Madhya Pradesh, they saw operating staff who did not change gloves between operations; needles (including suture needles) that were not changed or sterilized between operations; and women who had received inadequate anesthesia and who "were crying from the acute pain of the surgery."

In the state of Gujarat, a team observed operating rooms with peeling paint, poor ventilation and lighting--and one with "pigeon nests on the light fixture above the surgical table." There were wash basins outside of operating rooms, but "most had no water; even if they did, the surgical staff did not scrub after each operation." The observers thought that "clients who are next in line must be frightened by what they see and hear, especially if the woman being operated on cries in pain--which is common as the operation is done with local anesthesia." One woman waiting for surgery felt uncomfortable and asked for water; a nurse told her to "shut up and go to sleep."

How about "informed consent" to the surgery? Women "were simply told to sign a printed form or, in the case of the large number of illiterate women, put a thumb impression on it. Nobody explained to them what was written on the papers."(62)

In short, the Indian women were treated much like cattle in a round-up. Some cattle, though, may receive better care.

China has coercive IUD insertion, sterilization and abortion; tearing down of peasants' houses for having "unauthorized" children; and draconian fines for the same offense. Parents in rural areas often try to resist or evade official policy, but often fail. In 1991 a Chinese woman accompanied ten government workers on a village raid at two o'clock in the morning--and then described the experience for a British newspaper. She said the workers' aim was to make all village women who were "expecting a second or later baby have abortions, and then be sterilized." At one house, the husband did not respond when asked to tell his wife to dress and go to the abortion center. So four women on the government team entered the house, struggled with his wife, and then carried her out "in a folded quilt." Two other team members held the husband back when he tried to rescue his wife and unborn child.

The government team could not find all of its targets in the village, so it warned families of the missing women that their houses would be destroyed if the women did not report for abortions. The observer commented: "This was no bluff. On the way back from the raid, I saw six collapsed houses. No family in the village is allowed to provide shelter for the people whose houses have been destroyed." In the public toilet at the county abortion center, she saw "a line of waste-bins: the aborted babies--some as old as eight months--were put there, then dumped somewhere else."(63)

Gao Xiao Duan, a former Chinese population control official, said that many resisters in her part of Fujian Province "were crippled for life"; that many "were victims of mental disorders resulting from their abortions"; and that many families "were ruined or destroyed." When she enforced the Chinese policy, she said, "My conscience was always gnawing at my heart." After escaping China in 1998, with the help of the redoubtable Harry Wu, Mrs. Gao testified about her work before a U.S. congressional subcommittee. She said that she was "sincerely sorry" for what she had done and that "I want to be a real human being." She hoped that members of Congress would "extend your arms to save China's women and children."(64)

Population-control defenders now claim that the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is having some success in weaning the Chinese away from their coercive approach.(65) The UN agency is running a project in 32 Chinese counties which it says do not use birth quotas and coercion. But leading critics of the Chinese program, including Steven Mosher and Harry Wu, are highly skeptical about this claim. In the fall of 2001, Mosher's Population Research Institute sent an observation team to Sihui County, one of the 32 counties UNFPA is supposed to be improving. After interviewing "more than two dozen victims or witnesses," the team reported that: "Coercive family planning policies in Sihui include age requirements for pregnancy; birth permits; mandatory use of IUDs...crippling fines for non-compliance; imprisonment for noncompliance; destruction of homes and property for non-compliance; forced abortion and forced sterilization." In what was supposed to be a "model family planning village," two residents told the observers "that local family planning workers receive benefits and promotions based on their compliance with targets and quotas."

The observers spoke with a woman who had hidden from authorities after they ordered her to have an abortion. By hiding, she was able to save her child. But authorities punished both the woman and her relatives by damaging or destroying several of their homes. They also imprisoned nine family members, who had to borrow money to pay fines so they could leave prison. The woman also faced more fines in order to make her baby "eligible for medical care, schooling or employment in the future." Her child was "an unregistered and illegal person" who did "not exist in the eyes of the state." Such children "are punished for being born without a permit."(66)

Let's return for a moment to the Nazis. Adolf Hitler's use of sterilization, euthanasia and the death camps against people he despised has been documented many times. Less well known to the public is his interest in other techniques of population control now used by the West against Third World nations. In July, 1942, when German troops were advancing in Russia, Martin Bormann sent this message to fellow-Nazi Alfred Rosenberg: "The Führer wishes you to see to it that the following principles are applied and observed in the Occupied Territories of the East...1) When girls and women in the Occupied Territories of the East have abortions, we can only be in favor of it; in any case, German jurists should not oppose it." He added: "The Führer believes that we should authorize the development of a thriving trade in contraceptives. We are not interested in seeing the non-German population multiply...."(67)

German bureaucrat Alfred Wetzel earlier had suggested practical ways to reduce the Russian birthrate. The Wetzel proposals are remarkable in their resemblance to what population controllers--from nations that fought the Nazis--have done to Third-World countries in recent decades. Wetzel declared: "Every propaganda means, especially the press, radio, and movies, as well as pamphlets, booklets, and lectures, must be used to instill in the Russian population the idea that it is harmful to have several children." He added: "We must emphasize the expenses that children cause, the good things people could have had with the money spent on them. We could also hint at the dangerous effect of child-bearing on a woman's health."

Wetzel realized that propaganda alone would not be enough. He said that "a large-scale campaign should be launched in favor of contraceptive devices. A contraceptive industry must be established." But that would not be enough, either. "It will even be necessary to open special institutions for abortion, and to train midwives and nurses for this purpose. The population will practice abortion all the more willingly if these institutions are competently operated." Medical ethics could not be allowed to stand in the way: "The doctors must be able to help out without there being any question of this being a breach of their professional ethics...."(68)

American population controllers today do not advocate other Wetzel proposals, such as refusing to fight infant mortality and keeping mothers ignorant of child care and childhood diseases. On the other hand, many of them support the brutal population control program of China--a program worthy of the Nazis.

Those who say they support population control for humanitarian reasons should know that Hitler claimed to do the same. In Mein Kampf he declared: "The demand that defective people be prevented from propagating equally defective offspring is a demand of the clearest reason and if systematically executed represents the most humane act of mankind."(69) In a private conversation after he gained power in Germany, Hitler said that he intended a depopulation program for the Slavs, "an inferior race that breeds like vermin!" He remarked: "There are many ways, systematical and comparatively painless, or at any rate bloodless, of causing undesirable races to die out." In the past, he noted, "it was the victor's prerogative to destroy entire tribes, entire peoples. By doing this gradually and without bloodshed, we demonstrate our humanity."(70)

If population control were on trial today, this would be the time to say, "Your Honor, the prosecution rests."

Sources

Here are the locations of manuscript collections cited in the notes below:

American Eugenics Society (AES) Archives, American Philosophical Society Library, Philadelphia, Pa. Quotations published with permission of the American Philosophical Society.

Carnegie Institution of Washington Archive, Washington, D.C.

Allen W. Dulles Papers, Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University, Princeton, N.J. Quotations published with permission of the Princeton University Library.

Clarence J. Gamble Papers, The Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Boston, Mass. Quotations published with permission of the Countway Library.

Alan F. Guttmacher Papers, The Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Boston, Mass. Quotations published with permission of the Countway Library.

Norman E. Himes Archive, Boston Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Boston, Mass.

Ellsworth Huntington Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, New Haven, Conn.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston, Mass.

Hugh Moore Fund Collection, Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University, Princeton, N.J. Quotation published with permission of the Princeton University Library.

National Committee on Maternal Health Archive, Boston Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Boston, Mass.

Richard M. Nixon Presidential Materials, National Archives, Archives II, College Park, Md.

Frederick Henry Osborn Papers, American Philosophical Society Library, Philadelphia, Pa. Quotations published with permission of the American Philosophical Society.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America Records, PPFA (II) Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Mass. Quotation published with permission of the Sophia Smith Collection.

Population Council Archives, Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC), Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. Quotation published with permission of the Rockefeller Archive Center.

Rockefeller Family Archives, Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC), Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. Quotations published with permission of the Rockefeller Archive Center.

Rockefeller Foundation Archives, Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC), Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.

Margaret Sanger Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

U.S. Commission on Population Growth and the American Future (Record Group 220), National Archives, Archives II, College Park, Md.

U.S. Department of State (Record Group 59), Central Foreign Policy Files (CFPF), 1967-69, National Archives, Archives II, College Park, Md.

U.S. National Security Council (Record Group 273), National Archives, Archives II, College Park, Md.

World War II War Crimes Records (Record Group 238), National Archives, Archives II, College Park, Md.

The writer is deeply grateful to archives staff for their assistance and, where needed, for permission to quote from their documents.

Statements about membership in the American Eugenics Society (later called the Society for the Study of Social Biology), unless otherwise indicated, are based on the 1930 membership list in the Margaret Sanger Papers, microfilm reel 41; the Eugenics Quarterly (especially the membership list in the Dec. 1956 issue); or issues of Social Biology.

Statements about membership or fellowship in England's Eugenics Society are based on 1928 and 1944 lists in the Norman E. Himes Archive, box 7, folder 78; an Aug. 1957 list bound with 1957 issues of Eugenics Review, National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, Md.; and Eugenics Watch, "The British Eugenics Society, 1907 to 1994," on the Internet (www.africa2000.com). Eugenics Watch offers a vast amount of information on American and British eugenicists.

Notes

1. Garrett Hardin, Stalking the Wild Taboo (Los Altos, Calif.: W. Kaufmann, 1973), 24-25 & 66. Hardin was a member of the American Eugenics Society as early as 1956. He served on its board in 1972 and remained on it in 1973-74 after the group changed its name to Society for the Study of Social Biology.

2. Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (New York: Morrow, 1993), 124.

3. Alan F. Guttmacher to Garrett Hardin, 30 Dec. 1963, Guttmacher Papers; Guttmacher to Emily C. Moore, 20 Dec. 1968, ibid.; and Dr. Regine K. Stix to Dr. Boudreau, 11 Feb. 1941, National Committee on Maternal Health Archive, box 9. Guttmacher was vice president of the American Eugenics Society in 1956-1963 and was on its board in 1955 and 1964-1966.

4. Typed copy of John D. Rockefeller 3rd (hereafter JDR 3rd) to Frederick Osborn, 30 June 1936, Huntington Papers, Group 1, Series III, box 77; Rudolph Bertheau to Robert C. Cook, 12 March 1942, ibid., box 88; JDR 3rd to Mrs. Jean Mauze, 12 Jan. 1967, Rockefeller Archive Center (hereafter RAC); folder on "Association for the Study of Abortion," ibid.; "John D. Rockefeller 3rd Contributions in the Area of Abortion, 1966-1978," 24 April 1978, ibid.; and Series 200A folders on "Madison Const. Law Institute," ibid.

5. Frederick Osborn, "Notes on Markle and Fox...," 25 Jan. 1974, Osborn Papers, folder on "Osborn - Paper - Notes on 'Paradigms or Public Relations...'"

6. Francis Galton, Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development (London: Macmillan, 1883), 24-25 & 316-317.

7. Daniel J. Kevles, In the Name of Eugenics (New York: Knopf, 1985), 54-56 & 60; Rockefeller Foundation, 1913-14 annual report; folder on "Genetics - Eugenics Record Office/Finance 1918-1940," Carnegie Institution of Washington Archive; Ellen Chesler, Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), passim; and Elizabeth Brayer, George Eastman (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1996), 474-476. See Who's Who in America and Who Was Who in America for information on family size of noted population controllers.

8. Osborn (n.5).

9. Margaret Sanger to George Eastman, 8 Dec. 1931, Sanger Papers, microfilm reel 51; Margaret Sanger, The Pivot of Civilization (New York: Brentano's, 1922), 175; and Margaret Sanger, "A Plan for Peace," Birth Control Review 16, no. 4 (April, 1932), 107-108. Sanger appeared on the 1930 and 1956 membership lists of the American Eugenics Society. She was listed as a fellow of England's Eugenics Society in 1928, 1944 and 1957.

10. Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200, 207 (1927); Richmond Times-Dispatch, 23 Feb. 1980, 1 & 6; and Dorothy E. Roberts, Killing the Black Body (New York: Pantheon, 1997), 89-98.

11. David Garrow, Liberty & Sexuality: The Right to Privacy and the Making of Roe v. Wade (New York: Macmillan, 1994), 273; and "Notes on Meeting of Council on Population Policy," 7 Nov. 1935, II & I, Osborn Papers, folder on "Council on Population Policy."

12. National Committee on Maternal Health, The Abortion Problem (Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1944).

13. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, trans. by Ralph Manheim (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971), 439-440; Leon Fradley Whitney, (unpublished) autobiography manuscript, 204-205, American Philosophical Society Library, Philadelphia, Pa., quoted with the Society's permission; Time, 9 Sept. 1935, 20-21; New York Times, 29-31 Aug. 1935; and Stefan Kühl, The Nazi Connection (New York: Oxford, 1994), 26, 27, 32-35 & 85.

14. "American Eugenics Society, Annual Meeting - May 5, 1938," 2 & 1, American Eugenics Society Archives (hereafter AES Archives), "Osborn, Frederick Papers I," folder 9. At various times, Osborn served as president, secretary, treasurer and/or board member of the Society; he was its key strategist for about 40 years.

15. Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma (New York: Harper & Row, 1962, anniv. ed.), lxix & 167-178, emphasis in original. See Nils Roll-Hansen, "Geneticists and the Eugenics Movement in Scandinavia," British Journal for the History of Science 22, part 3, no. 74 (Sept. 1989), 342, on Gunnar Myrdal's role in proposing sterilization for handicapped people in Sweden. Alva Myrdal, Gunnar's wife, apparently was a member of the American Eugenics Society; see "Report of Activities of the American Eugenics Society for the year April 1, 1939 to March 31, 1940," Norman E. Himes Archive, box 5.

16. Gunnar Myrdal (n. 15), 1017-1018; and Hodding Carter III, The South Strikes Back (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1959), 209-210.

17. Gunnar Myrdal (n. 15), 177; and Alva Myrdal, Nation and Family (London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1945), 205-212.

18. Roberts (n. 10), 82-85.

19. Margaret Sanger to C. J. Gamble, 10 Dec. 1939, Gamble Papers, box 195; and "CJG" to Miss Rose, 26 Nov. 1939, ibid., box 136.

20. David M. Kennedy, Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger (New Haven, Conn.: Yale, 1970), 259-267; and Chesler, op. cit. (n. 7), 387-391.

21. Frank W. Notestein, "Problems of Policy Toward Areas of Heavy Population Pressure," No. T - B 72, 21 April 1944, 6 & 11, in Council on Foreign Relations, Studies of American Interests in the War and the Peace (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1944).

22. Jacob Viner, "The United States and the 'Colonial Problem,'" No. E - B 71, 24 June 1944, 10-11, in ibid.

23. Beryl Suitters, Be Brave and Angry: Chronicles of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (London: IPPF, 1973); National Academy of Sciences, transcript of "Conference on Population Problems," Williamsburg, Va., 21 June 1952, afternoon session, 16, RAC; and Frederick Osborn, Voyage to a New World, 1889-1979 (Garrison, N.Y.: privately printed, 1979), 133.

24. Population Council, 1956, 1957 & 1958 annual reports; Frederick Osborn to Laurance S. Rockefeller, 31 March 1955, Record Group IV3B4.2 (Population Council), box 16, RAC; and Frederick Osborn to Warren Nelson, 6 Dec. 1954, ibid.

25. Frederick Osborn to P. R. U. Stratton, 12 Jan. 1966, AES Archives, folder on "Osborn, Frederick, Letters on Eugenics."

26. "Patient Package Insert" for ParaGuard T 380A, n.d. (received from Food and Drug Administration in May 1998); Betsy Hartmann, Reproductive Rights and Wrongs (Boston: South End Press, 1995, rev. ed.), 218.

27. Carl G. Hartman, ed., Mechanisms Concerned with Conception (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1963), 386; American Law Institute (ALI), Model Penal Code: Official Draft and Explanatory Notes (Philadelphia: ALI, 1985), 165-166; S. J. Segal and others., ed., Intra-Uterine Contraception (Amsterdam: Excerpta Medica Fdn., 1965), 213; ACOG Terminology Bulletin, no. 1 (Sept. 1965); and Germain Grisez, Abortion: the Myths, the Realities, and the Arguments (New York: Corpus Books/World Publishing Co., 1970), 111-116. Dr. Tietze was listed as a member of England's Eugenics Society in 1948, 1957 & 1977.

28. Hartmann (n. 26), 77, 164, 180, 211 & 218; and British Broadcasting Corporation, transcript of "The Human Laboratory," 6 Nov. 1995. See, also, Barbara Mintzes and others, ed., Norplant: Under Her Skin (Delft, The Netherlands: Eburon, 1993).

29. American Eugenics Society, "Five Year Report of the Officers: 1953-1957 (New York, n.d.), 10; and Eugenics Quarterly 3, no. 4 (Dec. 1956), 200.

30. American Law Institute (ALI), The American Law Institute 50th Anniversary (Philadelphia: ALI, 1973), 170-174; ALI, Model Penal Code: Official Draft and Explanatory Notes (Philadelphia: ALI, 1985), xi-xii & 165-166; ALI, 36th Annual Meeting Proceedings, 1959 (Philadelphia: ALI, 1960), 262-263; Eugenics Quarterly 3, no. 2 (June 1956), 67-68; and Family Planning Perspectives 4, no. 4 (Oct. 1972), 5-7.

31. Lalor Foundation, "Program of Research Awards To Be Granted for 1969 and Summary of Activities for 1968," Planned Parenthood Federation of America Records, PPFA (II), box 114; C. Lalor Burdick to Dr. W. Shockley, 16 Jan. 1970, Guttmacher Papers; C. Lalor Burdick to Hugh Moore, 20 Aug. 1968, Hugh Moore Fund Collection, box 1; Who's Who in America, 1988-1989.

32. William H. Draper, Jr., to P. A. Gorman, [8 or 11] Sept. 1967, Guttmacher Papers; Alan F. Guttmacher to Frank Notestein, 13 June 1966, PPFA (II), box 125; and Congressional Record (10 May 1966), vol. 112, part 8, 10164-10165. In his statement accepting the Margaret Sanger Award, Dr. King praised Sanger and family planning and spoke of "the modern plague of overpopulation." Unfortunately, he seemed unaware of the eugenics connections of Sanger and of population control in general. Ibid.

33. Ellsworth Bunker, Will L. Clayton and Hugh Moore to Julius Ochs Adler, 26 Nov. 1954, & Julius Ochs Adler to Allen W. Dulles, 15 Dec. 1954, Dulles Papers, box 63.

34. Unsigned note to "Mr. Dulles," 5 Aug. 1954, ibid., box 64; Ansley J. Coale and Edgar M. Hoover, Population Growth and Economic Development in Low-Income Countries (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton, 1958), v, vii & 335; Nathan Keyfitz, "Population and Development within the Ecosphere: One View of the Literature," Population Index 57, no. 1 (Spring 1991), 5-22 & 8; and Julian L. Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton, 2nd ed., rev., 1996), 491-507. (Edgar M. Hoover should not be confused with J. Edgar Hoover, the late FBI Director.)

35. Phyllis Tilson Piotrow, World Population Crisis: The United States Response (New York: Praeger, 1973), 36-47; New York Times, 26 Nov. 1959, 1 & 43; and Public Papers of the Presidents: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1959 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office [hereafter USGPO], 1960), 787.

36. John F. Kennedy, quoted by Sen. Joseph S. Clark in interview by Ronald J. Grele, 16 Dec. 1965, transcript, 8, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library Oral History Program; Piotrow (n. 35), 47-79; and Benjamin C. Bradlee, Conversations with Kennedy (New York: Norton, 1975), 166.

37. U.S. Department of State, Airgram PA 207, 17 July 1968, 1, Record Group 59 (State Dept.), Central Foreign Policy Files (hereafter CFPF), 1967-69, box 2963; Airgram XA 72, 15 Oct. 1968, 2, ibid., box 2959; and Airgram XA 4280, 11 Sept. 1968, 1, ibid.

38. "RN" to Daniel P. Moynihan, 9 Feb. 1969, ibid., box 2955; Philander P. Claxton, Jr., telephone interview by author, 25 July 1997; and Public Papers of the Presidents: Richard M. Nixon, 1969 (Washington: USGPO, 1971), 522-523.

39. Senator Qazi Hussain Ahmad, press release, 5 Sept. 1991, Lahore, Pakistan; Thomas Malthus and others, On Population: Three Essays (New York: New American Library, 1960), 16; and Population Reference Bureau (PRB), "2002 World Population Data Sheet" (Washington: PRB, Aug. 2002).

40. "The Population Explosion: A Present Danger," filed 24 July 1969, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files (hereafter WHCF), Subject Files: Welfare, box 29; Henry A. Kissinger, memo on "National Security Study Memorandum 200," 24 April 1974, Record Group 273 (U.S. National Security Council), unboxed material; "NSSM 200: Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for U.S. Security and Overseas Interests," 10 Dec. 1974, chap. III, 36, 43 & 37-38, ibid.; and Carl J. Gilbert to Richard M. Nixon, 4 Nov. 1969, Nixon Materials, WHCF, Subject Files: Welfare, box 29.

41. John A. Hannah and William P. Rogers to the President, 14 Nov. 1969, with attached "Joint Report to the President...," part II, 1-2, Record Group 59 (State Dept.), CFPF, 1967-69, box 2955; "Report to the President on Peace Corps Activities in Family Planning," 24 Oct. 1969, 1 & 5, ibid.

42. Frank Shakespeare to William P. Rogers, 31 Oct. 1969, 1, and attached paper on "USIA and the President's Program on Population Matters," 5, ibid.

43. U.S. Department of State, telegram to American Embassy in Djakarta, [28?] Aug. 1967, 1-2, ibid., box 2958; U.S. Department of State, telegram to U.S. Mission at United Nations, 29 May 1969, 1, ibid., box 2956; and William Stump, "Dr. Guttmacher - Still Optimistic About the Population Problem," Baltimore Magazine 63, no. 2 (Feb. 1970), 51-52.

44. Daniel P. Moynihan to George Shultz, 14 Oct. 1970, Nixon Materials, WHCF, Subject Files: Welfare, box 30; Luke T. Lee to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 26 July 1969, ibid., box 31; Daniel P. Moynihan to Luke T. Lee, 13 Aug. 1969, ibid.; Checker Finn to Philander Claxton, Jr., 13 Aug. 1969, ibid.; and U.S. Agency for International Development, Population Program Assistance: Annual Report, 1975 (Washington: USAID, April 1976), 9-17 & 161. See, also, Luke T. Lee and Arthur Larson, ed., Population and Law (Leiden, The Netherlands: A. W. Sijthoff, 1971); and Luke T. Lee, "Legal Implications of the World Population Plan of Action," Journal of International Law and Economics 9, no. 3 (December 1974), 375-417. For details on how "policy development" works, see Information Project for Africa, Excessive Force: Power, Politics & Population Control (Washington: Information Project for Africa, 1995).

45. R. T. Ravenholt to Daniel P. Moynihan, 7 Oct. 1970, with attached paper by R. T. Ravenholt and J. Joseph Speidel on "Prostaglandins in Family Planning Strategy," presented at A.I.D.-funded Conference on Prostaglandins, 19 Sept. 1970, Nixon Materials, WHCF, Subject Files: Welfare, box 30.

46. Dr. Gerald Winfield, quoted in St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 25 Oct. 1973; Congressional Record, (1 Oct. 1973), vol. 119, part 25, 32292-32303 & (2 Oct. 1973), ibid., 32529, & (4 Dec. 1973), vol. 119, part 30, 39315. See, also, Donald P. Warwick, "Foreign Aid for Abortion: Politics, Ethics and Practice," in James Tunstead Burtchaell, ed., Abortion Parley (Kansas City: Andrews & McMeel, 1980), 301-322.

47. Garrow (n. 11), 335-336 & 393-394. Garrow offers a wealth of information on many key groups and individuals, but scarcely mentions the deep influence of eugenics.

48. Public Papers of the Presidents (n. 38), 528; and Piotrow, op. cit. (n. 35), 195.

49. Andrew M. and Janis B. Clearfield, "Socio-Legal Aspects of Abortion: A Policy Proposal," 19 Aug. 1970, 8, Nixon Materials, WHCF, Subject Files: Welfare, box 30. Forty-four boxes of 1968-1975 records from HEW (Accession No. 514-77-0006) could not be found at the National Archives or at its Suitland, Md., records center, despite extensive checking in July 1997. Staff said the records might have been destroyed by mistake or might still be lost somewhere in the system.

50. U.S. Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, "Transcript of Proceedings," 14 April 1971, 35, Record Group 220 (Temporary Agencies), Entry 37110, box 16; and Public Papers of the Presidents: Richard M. Nixon, 1971 (Washington: USGPO, 1972), 500.

51. See n. 4; Daniel P. Moynihan to Arthur F. Burns, 18 June 1969, Nixon Materials, WHCF, Subject Files: EX FG275, box 1; and U.S. Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, Population and the American Future (Washington: USGPO, 1972), 110-113 & 141-143.

52. Reynolds Farley, "Fertility and Mortality Trends Among Blacks in the United States," in Charles F. Westoff and Robert Parke, Jr., ed., Demographic and Social Aspects of Population Growth (Washington: USGPO, 1972), 111-138; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2000 (Washington: USGPO, 2000), 16; Stanley K. Henshaw (of the Alan Guttmacher Institute), interview by the author, 27 Feb. 2001. Dr. Henshaw estimated that there were 476,840 African American abortions in 1997.

53. Frederick Osborn to Lee Dice, 2 June 2 1970, AES Archives, folder on "AES: Correspondence, June 1970"; "Checker" Finn to Dr. Moynihan, 7 Aug. 1969, Nixon Materials, WHCF, Subject Files: Welfare, box 29; and Checker Finn to Steve Hess, 8 Sept. 1969, ibid.

54. Winston Churchill, as quoted by Walter Winchell, Reader's Digest, Dec. 1954, 34.

55. Mary Meehan, "Foundation Power," Human Life Review 10, no. 4 (Fall 1984), 42-60. See Foundation Center Library, Washington, D.C., for current information on foundation funding of population control. On population-control interests of the multi-billionaires, see: Thomas Goetz, "Billionaire Boys' Cause," Village Voice, 7 Oct. 1997, 41-43; Jennifer Moore and Grant Williams, "Corporate Giving, the Buffett Way," Chronicle of Philanthropy, 13 Nov. 1997, 1 ff.; Jonathan R. Laing, "Baby Bust Ahead," Barron's, 8 Dec. 1997, 37-42; Robert Stacy McCain, "Turner Supports One-Child Policy," Washington Times, 17 Feb. 1999, A-3; Tom Riley, "Keeping Ted's Promise," Philanthropy May/June 1999, 17-22; Geoffrey Knox, "A Revolution Brewing in Women's Health," Open Society News (Soros Foundations Network), Spring 1999, 4-5; and Rachel Zimmerman, "Choice Allies: Awaiting Green Light, Abortion-Pill Venture Keeps to the Shadows," Wall Street Journal, 5 Sept. 2000, A-1 & A-14.

56. Alan Guttmacher Institute (New York, N.Y.), "Unplanned Pregnancy Common Worldwide," press release, 21 Jan. 1999, 2; and PRB, "2002 World Population Data Sheet," op. cit. (n. 39). The Guttmacher Institute declared: "About 26 million women have legal abortions each year, and an estimated 20 million have illegal abortions." The actual number of abortions worldwide each year could be lower or higher than 46 million, since it is hard to obtain accurate figures. Stanley K. Henshaw, "Induced Abortion: A World Review, 1990," Family Planning Perspectives 22, no. 2, March/April 1990, 76-89, estimated the number as "between 36 and 53 million" (p. 81).

57. Population Crisis Committee/Draper Fund, Draper Fund Report, no. 6, Summer 1978, 14 ff. (The Population Crisis Committee is now called Population Action International.) Most of these methods apparently did not prove successful. But population controllers have sterilized many Third-World women with quinacrine, which is controversial even among population controllers. See Alix M. Freedman, "Population Bomb: Two Americans Export Chemical Sterilization to the Third World," Wall Street Journal, 18 June 1998, A-1 ff.; and Stephen D. Mumford, Quinacrine Sterilization: A Response... (Research Triangle Park, N.C.: Center for Research on Population and Security, 6 Jan. 2000).

58. U.S. Congress, House, Committee on International Relations, The Peruvian Population Control Program: Hearing before the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, 105th Cong., 2nd sess., 25 Feb. 1998, 26 & 54. See, also, Alianza Latinoamericana para la Familia (Wauwatosa, Wis., office), "US Government Asked to Withdraw Population Control Funds from Peru Following Reports of Massive Human Rights Abuses," press release with two attached fact sheets, 11 Feb. 1998; Calvin Sims, "Using Gifts as Bait, Peru Sterilizes Poor Women," New York Times, 15 Feb. 1998, 1 & 12; Owain Johnson, "Peru Apologizes for Forcibly Sterilizing Indians," Washington Times, 25 July 2002, A-1 & A-10; and Asjylyn Loder, "Peru Looks to Ban Poplar Birth Control Method," 30 Aug. 2002, www.womensenews.org on the Internet, 5 Sept. 2002.

59. Amnesty International USA, "Women in Indonesia & East Timor: Standing Against Repression," 13 Dec. 1995, 15-16 & 23; Polly F. Harrison and Allan Rosenfield, ed., Contraceptive Research, Introduction, and Use: Lessons from Norplant (Washington: National Academy Press, 1998), 24 & 54, n. 20; BBC, "The Human Laboratory," op. cit. (n. 28); "Norplant Is Back in Bangladesh," Ms., July/Aug. 1998, 32; and Farida Akhter, "Resist Reduction of 'Population' Issues into Women's Issues," People's Perspectives no. 8 (Dhaka, Bangladesh), March 1994, 34.

60. Elizabeth Liagin, "East Africa: The Truth about Foreign Aid," Information Project for Africa newsletter, March 2000, 2, 4 & 1.

61. Molly Moore, "Teeming India Engulfed by Soaring Birthrate: Sterilization Quotas Blasted as Inhuman and Coercive," Washington Post, 21 Aug. 1994, A-1 & A-32.

62. Michael A. Koenig and M. E. Khan, Improving Quality of Care in India's Family Welfare Programme (New York: Population Council, 1999), 284-286, 298 & 305-306. See, also, Manisha Gupte, "Women's Experience with Family Planning," Health for the Millions (New Delhi), June 1994, 33-36; Anil P., "Obsession with Targets," ibid., 37-38; P. K. Goswami, "The Cut and Dump Approach: Inhuman Tubectomy Camp," ibid., 39-40; and Celia W. Dugger, "Relying on Hard and Soft Sells, India Pushes Sterilization," New York Times, 22 June 2001, A-1 & A-10.

63. Liu Yin (pseud.), "China's Wanted Children," The Independent (London), 11 Sept. 1991.

64. U.S. Congress, House, Committee on International Relations, Forced Abortion and Sterilization in China: The View from the Inside: Hearing before the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, 105th Cong., 2nd sess., 10 June 1998, 30, 33, 19 & 12.

65. Ellen Goodman, "Birth-Control Boggler," Washington Post, 27 July 2002, A-21; and Philip P. Pan, "China's One-Child Policy Now a Double Standard," ibid., 20 Aug. 2002, A-1 & A-10.

66. Population Research Institute, "UNFPA, China and Coercive Family Planning," 12 Dec. 2001, www.pop.org on the Internet, 27 Aug. 2002; and "Statement of Harry Wu," 24 Jan. 2002, www.laogai.org on the Internet, 27 Aug. 2002.

67. Excerpt of Martin Bormann to Alfred Rosenberg, 23 July 1942, in Léon Poliakov, Harvest of Hate: The Nazi Program for the Destruction of the Jews of Europe (New York: Holocaust Library, 1979), 273. A copy of the original letter (Doc. No. 1878), is in Record Group 238 (World War II War Crimes Records).

68. [Alfred] Wetzel, 27 April 1942 memo, excerpted in Poliakov (n. 67), 273-274. A copy of the original Wetzel memo is in Record Group 238 (World War II War Crimes Records), Entry 170, box 48, Doc. No. NG 2325. I am indebted to Seattle writer Mike W. Perry for drawing my attention to the Bormann and Wetzel documents through his paper, "The Nazi View of Abortion" (Seattle, 1988).

69. Hitler (n. 13), 255. He said this in the context of urging a campaign against syphilis. But later he complained that (in the 1920s, when he wrote Mein Kampf), it was illegal to sterilize "sufferers from syphilis, tuberculosis, hereditary diseases, cripples, and cretins." He said the state "must declare unfit for propagation all who are in any way visibly sick or who have inherited a disease and can therefore pass it on..." (emphasis in original), ibid., 402 & 404.

70. Quoted in Hermann Rauschning, The Voice of Destruction (New York: Putnam's, 1940), 137-138. The only specific method of depopulation which Rauschning quoted from this Hitler conversation was keeping Slav "men and women separated for years" (ibid., 137). But in fact Hitler also used other methods that were neither painless nor "bloodless." Rauschning quit the Nazis and wrote explicit warnings about Hitler's plans. Poliakov (n. 67), 2-3, n. 1.

Howard said...

MBC,

I have asked several times after the distinction that you claim to think is of great importance which I either failed to understand or refused to acknowledge. I ask again: what is it? I could only guess that it was a distinction between sleeping people and people in reversible comas (which I fail to see the importance or relevance of). Should I now take it that it is a distinction between on the one hand sleeping people and people in reversible comas and on the other people in in principle irreversible comas? I certainly agree there is an important distinction between on the one hand sleeping people and people in in principle reversible comas on the one hand and people in in principle irreversible comas on the other. The former class of people exist and continue to be capable of well being, while the later class have cased to exist (even if their bodies are biologically alive).

The first three links reference cases in which certain people (who all clearly had a mental life before their accidents, etc.) were declared brain dead (and apparently some of whom were merely in comas thought to be irreversible or in principle irreversible), but who survived. The brain death diagnoses were clearly incorrect as the brains of the patients clearly were not destroyed, indeed so much so that the brains were still capable of supporting the same consciousness of the people who had been erroneously declared brain dead (and the comas clearly did turn out to be in practice reversible). The patients did not survive merely because their bodies retained the potential to support a creature capable of consciousness again in the future and this potential was realized (these would have been “sci-fi” cases in which a new person comes to inhabit the body of a person who has ceased to exist – which these clearly are not) – these people survived because the mental lives they had before they underwent injuries or went into comas were psychologically connected to their mental lives after this happened (via relations like memory and the physical continuity over time of the neural substrates that supported their minds).

The last link references a case in which a woman survived an attempt to abort HER when she was a 7.5 month old fetus (which is a fetus over 30 weeks old). Unlike cases of the abortions of fetuses less than 20 weeks old, this abortion (if successful) would have ended the life of one of us that is a creature capable of well being. Fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation have no capacity for a mental life and thus can’t be psychologically connected to us later on – they are neither such that anything can be bad for them for their own sakes nor such that we can be them. We begin (and some creature capable of well being begins) to exist somewhere between the 24th week (or 20th week just to be super safe) and 28th week of life of our fetal organism.

These cases show absolutely nothing about and bear in absolutely no way on philosophical issues of when creatures capable of well being come to exist or go out of existence, and even the implementation of these in neurological criteria (e.g. cortical or cerebral death). That the last link is irrelevant to this should be obvious. What the first links show is that the physicians attending the cases did not do a very good job determining that the patients met the neurological criteria. (Most of which seemed to be whole-brain death, which it should be mentioned is the most conservative of all brain-death criteria being proposed today. If one has skeptical worries about EVER implementing THIS criterion I think one should seriously think about the consequences – should we keep ALL people who are brain dead on life support but whose, say, cardio-pulmonary systems can be kept active by so doing? This would be almost all people we think to be dead. Except for people like those vaporized in accidents (or perhaps we got medical help to too late) we could never cremate or bury any of the dead. We would have to spend trillions and trillions of dollars keeping whole-brain-dead people’s bodies alive, because we think they’re still capable of well being as they are or because we think there is some chance they will recover. Clearly the only option we really have in practice is to make sure physicians do a better job determining that patients meet the neural criteria of brain, cortical, or cerebral death).

I thus fail to see how these cases could be relevant to issues of the moral permissibility of the abortion of fetuses less than 20 weeks old or voluntary euthanasia. The only two arguments I can possibly see you making here are the following:

1.) Because some physicians attending cases misdiagnosed brain death, this shows that the medical establishment is so unreliable at determining things that we can never be sufficiently sure in practice that anyone meets the second necessary condition I mentioned for voluntary euthanasia, viz. that death is better for this person for her own sake than continued life (due to the impossibility of recovery from her condition, her future being filled with nothing but the bads of pain and suffering that crowd out any goods, etc.). While I certainly agreed that one must be very careful about these questions, I fail to see how misdiagnoses of brain death bear on this issue. Moreover, as I said: yes, the evidence that a person’s future life will be worse for her than her death must also be of a particularly good quality, because the risks of type 1 errors / false positives (i.e. euthanizing when the life is actually worth living) are enormous (i.e. the deprivation of all future goods on the part of the person) (again, I am also only considering cases of voluntary euthanasia – i.e. cases in which the subject autonomously wills to die). But the risks of type 2 errors / false negatives (i.e. failing to euthanize when the life is in fact not worth living) are also substantial (forcing the person who autonomously wills to die to remain alive when dying would be better for her). So yes, we need to be very careful epistemically (and of course we need the autonomous will to die on the part of the person who is going to be euthanized quite independent of any considerations of quality of evidence), but we shouldn’t altogether rule out euthanasia on epistemic grounds either, because being wrong about the life being worth living has enormous costs (not only in terms of well being deprivation but of failing to respect the agent’s autonomous will for no compensatory gain in well being. In a sense refusing to euthanize when we have very good evidence that a person who autonomously wills to die would be better off alive constitutes something of a failure to respect for her will, but this is certainly usually worth it for the sake of her well being and is outweighed by our moral reasons not to deprive her of it – e.g. in cases of very depressed people who want to die and request euthanasia, but are in all respects healthy and capable of a life worth living).

2.) Because some physicians attending cases misdiagnosed brain death, this shows that the medical establishment is so unreliable at determining things that we can never be sufficiently sure in practice that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation in fact lack the capacity for consciousness. This is simply false. For one thing it confuses the kinds of evidence an attending physician has about whether or not a given patient meets a criterion of brain death with the kinds of evidence we have that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation lack the neural substrates, etc. requisite for the capacity for consciousness. There is no great variance in the development of these neural substrates in fetuses, and attending physicians do not have the luxury of implementing tests with the exactitude of those we use to determine the presence or absence of neural substrates or relevant neural activity in fetuses. Because of this, this kind of argument is no more convincing than the following:

Because some physicians attending cases misdiagnosed brain death, this shows that the medical establishment is so unreliable at determining things that we can never be sufficiently sure in practice that fruit flies are not biological humans (on the criteria of genetic similarity, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogentic descent).

Of course, no one is despicable merely because they survived a coma, were erroneously diagnosed as brain dead, or survived an attempt to abort them when they were a 7.5 month old fetus (which again, unlike a fetus less than 20 weeks old, one can actually be identical to over time). Even if this isn’t obvious I’ve labored to explain to you that people must be at fault for what makes them despicable in order for it to actually be despicable (or at least labored to explain to you that this is my view). Perhaps your second comment referred not to the woman who survived an abortion but to the State Congressman. I certainly do not think he is despicable beneath contempt just because he thinks the abortion of fetuses less than 20 weeks old is not morally permissible. (My evidence that he holds this view is his claim that he is a “strong pro-life legislator,” that he never seeks to make any distinction between the abortion of fetuses less than 20 weeks old and those of much older fetuses, etc. I most certainly do not think he is in any way despicable for thinking that the abortions of 7.5 month old fetuses for insufficient reasons (like the need to save the life of the mother, etc.) – indeed I am quite inclined to agree with this conclusion, as I have explained over and over again in my above comments).

(The Congressman’s religious views look pretty despicable, but that is another matter, and in any event I’m not sure he’s had anyone explain to him why they’re so very wacky and shameful. There may be some people in the world for whom serious religious belief isn’t even shameful at all – they haven’t had any the time to reflect on the issues and they have literally no epistemic access to what better explanations of the phenomena look like. I just don’t think that this description will apply to most State Congresspeople in the U.S.).

You are not despicable merely because you came into this conversation with the view that the abortion of fetuses less than 20 weeks old is morally permissible. You are despicable because of your conduct on this blog – the continued misinterpretation of studies continued after it was pointed out to you in an attempt to save face; the inconsistent applications of standards of empirical evidence after it was explained to you over and over that and how it was inconsistent; the dismissal of philosophical arguments even after it was explained to you this was the right method, you never addressed the question of what the correct method would be, you used the same method yourself and only called it the wrong method when it cut against your conclusions; the continued misinterpretation of other people’s views and posts even after clarified to you again and again that can only be explained by motivated unwillingness to understand what is being said or deliberate ignoring of it, etc., etc., etc. (see above posts). These kinds of things were very much your fault and you are not excused from them for starting from a bad epistemic position.

Your continued claim that you think any argument I give is “polishing a turd” is simply an idiotic refusal to actually engage these issues. I could just as easily have said that your position was a turd to start with and that any argument you might give in favor of it (and I am not presupposing that you have actually given any arguments in favor of the view that the abortion of fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation is morally impermissible – you have not, although you have presented lots of irrelevant material and engaged in many confusions about standards of empirical evidence) would be sophistry or trying to make your incorrect view that the abortion of fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation is morally wrong look really pretty even though it’s completely indefensible. I could have said that, right? But I didn’t. I actually gave you arguments to the conclusion that the abortion of fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation is morally permissible.

Every genuine fact you have presented here has been completely irrelevant to the issues at hand. That this is so (and that you have misinterpreted much in reporting and continued to stick to your misinterpretations even when they were pointed out to you again and again out of what can only be motivated stupidity or outright lying) has gotten through to me loud and clear.

Howard said...

O.K., I’m going to initially respond to this last post on “why abortion was made legal by the court” in two ways:

Anonymous,

O.K., you obviously realize that evidence as to why abortion was made legal in the U.S. or any country is irrelevant to the actual question of the moral permissibility of the abortion of fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation. So I take it that you just found this article interesting and wish to share it with me? Cool. I’ll read it and tell you what I think. I’m sure the historical explanation of how abortion came to be legal in the U.S. is a very interesting one (and I’m very interested in history generally), even though we both realize 100% that this historical question is completely irrelevant to the actual question of the moral permissibility of he abortion of fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation. Also, when we discuss this historical question, we’ll both be bearing very vividly in mind the fact that the question of the explanation of how abortion came to be legal in the U.S. is completely distinct from the question of the actual moral permissibility of the abortion of fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation, and that this former question in no way bears on the later question, right?


MBC,

You obviously think this is still relevant to the issue of the moral permissibility of abortion. Recall that we have been over (in fact over and over) the fact that evidence that abortion is legal because “It was forced upon us by the court for eugenic purposes,” abortion is publicly “supported by blatant propaganda,” and some or even most advocates of this position have been evil or have advocated it for the wrong reasons IN NO WAY CONSTITUTES evidence that the abortion of fetuses less than 20 weeks old is in fact morally impermissible. It is irrelevant to this question whether or not the founder of Planned Parenthood was evil, was in league with Hitler, or actively supported horrible moral wrongs like the Holocaust. It is even irrelevant to this question whether or not Planned Parenthood is actively engaged today in some kind of massive conspiracy to do crazy things like try to make all future humans are white. The mere fact that some people who avow or hold a position (or a views that entail a position) are evil or do so for the wrong reasons in no way damages the credibility of the position. I shall repeat: Just because the Nazis thought smoking was bad for people didn’t mean it wasn’t. Just because Bin Laden thinks honesty in business dealings is good doesn’t mean it isn’t. Just because the president of Iran said one shouldn’t kill innocent civilians (who have the capacity for consciousness) doesn’t mean it’s O.K. to kill them. If you want a more vivid example of why things like the forcing of something upon people, its being supported by propaganda, its being supported for the wrong kinds of reasons, and its being thought morally permissible or impermissible by many for the wrong reasons, is irrelevant to its actual moral permissibility, consider the abolition of slavery. I take it you would agree that slavery was morally impermissible. Now, the abolition of slavery was forced on the south, its abolition was supported by a concerted propaganda campaign, many Northerners only wanted to abolish it for personal financial / political gain, and many thought it wrong for the wrong kinds of reasons. Still, this didn’t make slavery any less morally impermissible, right? I am sorry to have to repeat this again, but it seemed to be lost on you earlier and I thought I should repeat it lest it be lost on you again.

Anonymous said...

Just READ THE ARTICLE Howard.

You can keep saying "IN NO WAY CONSTITUTES evidence that the abortion of fetuses less than 20 weeks old is in fact morally impermissible" over and over again, but it becomes less true each time you say it.

Here are two very simple facts that hopefully one day you will have the strength to understand and believe:

1) abortion is a eugenic program, unjustly imposed on less fortunate people throughout the world.

2) harming a human is different that hurting a human, and a capacity to feel pain is not necessary to harm a human. Harming a human is morally impermissible. Thus, abortion, which harms a human, is morally impermissible.

Howard said...

MBC (You’re evidently not the Anonymous to whom I addressed the first response in my last comment),

1) It does not matter to the moral permissibility of the abortion of fetuses less than 20 weeks old whether or not it is a eugenic program, unjustly imposed on less fortunate people throughout the world (see above posts, learn to read).

2) If you could read, you would have understood that I agreed that not all harms are composed of hurts, and not all harms are constituted by the infliction of pain. Pain was just one illustration of a mindstate that the capacity for consciousness involves a capacity to have. My explanation of why death is bad for creatures capable of well being all along was that it deprives them of a future to which they would be psychologically connected (a future in which they, the embodied minds, would exist and be the subject of goods), not that it was painful. Learn to read or stop deliberately ignoring what I have said. One thing at issue between us was whether is it bad to kill psychologically typical adult humans because they happen to be biological humans (have certain genetic similarity, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogentic descent) or because they are creatures capable of well being who death deprives of a future to which they would be psychologically connected (a future in which they, the embodied minds, would exist and be the subject of goods). To re-state the second and third sentences of 2) is to continue to beg the question of the badness of death & the wrongness of killing against me. I have given you arguments that death is bad for psychologically typical adult humans & killing them is wrong because they are capable of well being & death deprives of a future to which they would be psychologically connected (a future in which they, the embodied minds, would exist and be the subject of goods). You have given me no argument for the conclusion that death is bad for humans simply because they are biological humans. You simply continue to state your conclusion and beg the question against me. To believe 2) in light of the arguments I have given is not strength, it is the most despicable weakness – it is to believe an idiotic conclusion in the teeth of the best evidence. Why don’t you have the strength to read & understand the arguments I have given you? Because you are so pathetically and despicably weak that you cannot bear to actually investigate the issue?

Anonymous said...

Nazi,

You said, "you are so pathetically and despicably weak."

Over and over you repeat the same attempts at justifying Nazi propaganda about how to de-humanize the "despicably weak" and defenseless. You really are a true Nazi.

When you again attempt to take your Nazi ideas on the military march, we will be there to stop you again.

If you continue to attempt to do it in small steps as Guttmacher planned, we will dismantle your propaganda with truth.

Read what I have posted again, Nazi. The truth is getting out. The days of your twisted, inhumane logic are numbered. You have slowly crept in and you now kill the unborn minorities. You have now crept in and kill those who are a "financial drain" on the system, those who are in a "persistent vegitative state." Your agenda is evident.

Here is a little news for you, Nazi.
You are not better than anyone else. In fact, your depraved, pro-death philosophy lacks any rationality to the rest of us.

Are you in prison? I expect one with your militant attachment to inhumane ideas would end up there, if not now, certainly in the future.

Read what I have posted, Nazi. Watch the Nuremburg Trials. The disasterous effect you have had will end soon.

Howard said...

MBC (who is the genuine Nazi for reasons explained over and over again, namely that you continue to insist on a purely biological concept as the marker of moral status – viz. species membership, just like the Nazis used races),

I think it is quite obvious that I have read your posts very carefully, understood exactly what they were claiming, and responded to them in detail in ways that successfully explained why they contained nothing but errors, confusions, question begging, and negatively valenced appellations that were entirely inapplicable. You evidently did not do the same with mine. You evidently did not care to notice the explanation of how my view has nothing whatsoever to do with Nazism or eugenics. You evidently did not care to notice that you who will not listen to reason or engage in argument are the one being called despicably weak, not those who simply happen to be born with a certain genetic endowment, etc. You evidently have no idea what the distinction between propaganda and argument is, or at least you choose to ignore this distinction when it is clear that your opponent has arguments, you can only spit back propaganda, and you do not choose to face the fact that you are mistaken and have no rational grounds whatsoever for your view. If you read what I had said and taken care to notice what you were doing, you could have seen that my position was supported by reasons and yours was not. You also would have seen that I have evidence as to what the truth is, and you have absolutely none whatsoever.

I notice that you’re quite worked up about some kind of political action. Before you take this political action perhaps you should stop and ask yourself whether or not your views are actually correct. I seem to recall some historical examples of people who were quite worked up about political action but did not stop to bother to carefully examine whether or not they were actually correct – they were content to leave things at unjustified equations of their opponents with other things they thought bad. Their views were in fact incorrect however, and all of their political action just amounted to so much immoral behavior. Who were these people? Oh, those were Germans who joined the Nazi party in the 30s!

Anonymous said...

Howard,

It's completely obvious to me that you don't know what to do when someone blows your arguments apart. You simply reduce yourself to namecalling and claim you imbalanced reasoning "superior." You are not superior, and your arguments are not logical, as they are based on a false premise.

I hope you snap out of your Nazi mindset. However, as I mentioned, the propaganda seems to have sunk in deep with you.

I urge you to quit trying to find some ridiculous logic to justify the killing of human beings.

We have made our points, and I refuse to allow myself to fall further into a name-calling battle. Again, I urge you to genuinely search for truth, instead of trying to prove your beliefs backward. Certainly you realize that people kind find ways to justify just about anything in their own mind. However, to the rest of the world, it sometimes appears as madness. You certainly seem to have crossed that line.

Howard said...

MBC,

Please do tell me what you have said that “blows my arguments apart.” As I recall you simply responded to the arguments with name calling and the presentation of irrelevant stuff like discussions of how abortion came to become legal. To what are you referring? Please do tell.

Your claim that my arguments are “based on a false premise” is just another way to say that you’re begging the question against me. The whole question is what evidence you have that the abortion of fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation is morally wrong. I have given you evidence that it isn’t (comprised of thought experiments telling in favor of criteria of moral status of the capacity for consciousness, psychological substantiality, & psychological connectedness to futures with goods in prospect, as well as thought experiments to the effect that our evidence that fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation lack the capacity for consciousness is perfectly sufficient for practical purposes, and that general skepticism about science cuts just as much against our ability to detect species membership as it does against our ability to detect the capacity for consciousness). What is your evidence that it is? What is your evidence that my premise is false? That’s what’s at issue between us.

Why is my logic ridiculous? Because its conclusion is that it’s O.K. to kill non-morally culpable human organisms? That’s just calling the argument ridiculous because you don’t agree with the conclusion. That’s just question begging with name-calling thrown on top of it.

I have genuinely searched for the truth and all the evidence I have presented here suggests I have found it. What is your evidence that this is not the truth? If by “prove beliefs backward” you mean that I’m just driven by a conclusion and will justify it by whatever means I can find, what is your evidence that I’m doing that? I, however, have abundant evidence that, to whatever extent you’re trying to argue for your conclusion you are doing just this. Namely, your confusions are so bad (as explained again and again in above posts) that it must be that all you’re doing is grasping at whatever you think sounds like it could be somehow related to justifying your conclusion. That and your main way of responding to me is just to beg your conclusion against me. If that isn’t being married to one’s conclusion and not caring about what reason actually supports I don’t know what is.

The only way to really tell if someone has given a successful justification of a true conclusion or a mere rationalization of a false one is to climb down in and see if the reasoning is correct or not. You’ve refused to do this with my reasoning – you’ve just dismissed it on the basis of the conclusion it reaches.

If you think careful reasoning is unreliable, what do you propose instead? Just “going with your unreflective gut intuitions” on a particular issue, un-tested and un-consistentized with other intuitions? Is that what you’re doing here? Is that your evidence that the abortion of fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation is morally wrong? Your unreflective gut tells you so? Well, I think the record bears out that unreflective guts are way, way less reliable than careful reasoning. Jain’s unreflective guts tell them killing fruit-flies is morally wrong. Most pro-choice people (who do not hold anything like the views I do) have unreflective guts that tell them that killing fetuses (for many it’s fetuses well past the onset of the capacity for consciousness) is perfectly morally permissible. 19th century people in India had unreflective guts that said it was morally wrong for women not to throw themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres (and early 20th century ones had guts that said the women have to live impoverished as widows, never remarry, etc.). Nazis unreflective guts told them killing Jews (with typical adult human psychology) was O.K.. And now your unreflective gut tells you that killing fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation is morally wrong. Why should we believe your unreflective gut over that of the Jains, pro-choice people, 19th century Indians, or the Nazis? I think the only way to tell if your unreflective gut is correct or incorrect is to engage in reasoning of the kind I have engaged in here to see if it is correct or incorrect. Arguments drawn from this kind of reasoning is that I would use to argue that Jains, most pro-choice people (in their grounds for belief if not all of their actual conclusions), 19th century Indians, and Nazis were all incorrect. What would you do with them? Just beg the question against them as you have done against me? They can do that to you too. You have no more evidence that you’re correct than they do. The kinds of arguments I was advancing constitutes a way to tell whose right and whose wrong. And it just so happens that they show that you’re wrong.

Anonymous said...

Howard,

You stated, “The whole question is what evidence you have that the abortion of fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation is morally wrong. I have given you evidence that it isn’t (comprised of thought experiments telling in favor of criteria of moral status of the capacity for consciousness, psychological substantiality, & psychological connectedness to futures with goods in prospect, as well as thought experiments to the effect that our evidence that fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation lack the capacity for consciousness is perfectly sufficient for practical purposes, and that general skepticism about science cuts just as much against our ability to detect species membership as it does against our ability to detect the capacity for consciousness).”

Abortion is a eugenic program, unjustly imposed on less fortunate people throughout the world in order for powerful to maintain their wealth and status. Harming a human is different that hurting a human, and a capacity to feel pain is not necessary to be harmed as a human. Harming a human is morally impermissible. Thus, abortion, which harms two humans, is morally impermissible. To use my previous examples, people who are often declared “brain dead” often recover and live normal lives. Thus, our ability to detect “capacity for consciousness, psychological substantiality, & psychological connectedness to futures with goods in prospect” is inexact, possibly flawed, and not worthy of using to decide human life/death decisions. For a person to slit the throat of a person in a coma would harm the person, even if they at the time the person is unable to feel the pain or understand the consequences of the injury.

If I could offer a suggestion, I recommend you spend some of your intellectual vigor pondering the meaning of nature, the natural order and the consequences of an unnatural act. For example, consider the difference between abortion (an unnatural act) and removing life support (a natural act). What is the natural order, and where did it come from? If the only natural order you understand is survival of the fittest, I’m sorry to tell you that one day you will be devoured.

Anonymous said...

In the news yesterday---

Pro-life leader decries Buffett's charitable choices
Jun. 27 - An American pro-life leader has confronted American billionaire investor for supporting non-profit organizations that advocate abortion.
Buffett has been widely applauded this week for the announcement that he will donate most of his vast personal fortune-- a sum of more than $36 billion-- to the Gates Foundation, established by his fellow billionaire, Microsoft chief Bill Gates. But Father Thomas Euteneuer, the president of Human Life International, sees an ugly pattern in the investment guru's charitable activities.
"Warren Buffett's money has gone to fund the deadly abortion-causing drug RU-486, the production and distribution of portable suction-abortion devices in the developing world, organizations that push abortion on developing countries, and many other radical organizations," Father Euteneuer said. He added that the Gates Foundation, to which Buffett will now make a record donation, has also "given millions of dollars to organizations pushing abortion around the world."
Rather than lauding his philanthropy, Father Euteneuer decried Buffett's sense of priorities. "Warren Buffett's philanthropy," he said, "aims at killing preborn children, not curing childhood disease; eliminating the poor, not poverty; and destroying the developing world, not aiding development."

Howard said...

MBC,

Ah, I see that what I’ve been saying has remained just as lost on you now as it has been in the past. Let me reiterate the responses to all these claims, and perhaps now you can see that all you have is confusion (and indeed confusion you keep engaging in after it has been pointed out to you that it’s confusion and you have nothing to say in response to the explanation of why it’s confusion):

1.) On abortion being legalized and encouraged as part of a eugenic program:

A.) The view that only things with the capacity for consciousness have moral status implies absolutely nothing about eugenics. My reasons for thinking that the abortion of fetuses before the onset of the capacity for consciousness is morally permissible has absolutely nothing to do with views on eugenics one way or the other. My reasons for thinking this is that fetuses before the onset of the capacity for consciousness (like all entities without the capacity for consciousness) lack moral status. This has no more to do with eugenics than do typical views about the moral permissibility of killing bacteria or cutting the grass. This is just one more piece of evidence that you have no idea what you or anyone else is talking about.

B.) Perhaps I should try to spell this out a little more. It is irrelevant to the question of the moral permissibility of early abortion (i.e. abortions performed prior to the onset of the capacity of consciousness of the fetus) whether some advocates of this position have been evil or have advocated it for the wrong reasons. It is irrelevant to this question whether or not the founder of Planned Parenthood was evil, was in league with Hitler, or actively supported horrible moral wrongs like the Holocaust. It is even irrelevant to this question whether or not Planned Parenthood is actively engaged today in some kind of massive conspiracy to do crazy things like try to make all future humans are white. The mere fact that some people who avow or hold a position (or a views that entail a position) are evil or do so for the wrong reasons in no way damages the credibility of the position. Just because the Nazis thought smoking was bad for people didn’t mean it wasn’t. Just because Bin Laden thinks honesty in business dealings is good doesn’t mean it isn’t. Just because the president of Iran said one shouldn’t kill innocent civilians (who have the capacity for consciousness) doesn’t mean it’s O.K. to kill them. Even if it were true that most people advocating the legal permissibility of abortion today were entirely evil, active Neo-Nazis, and engaged in an insane conspiracy, this would do nothing to change the fact that fetuses before the onset of the capacity of consciousness lack moral status for the same reason rocks and trees do.

C.) Annoying Person: Your arguments that having a skeleton is irrelevant to moral status are disgusting. The Nazis thought it was O.K. to kill fruit-flies. Everyone who thinks it’s O.K. to kill fruit-flies is involved in a massive conspiracy to make all future humans white, so you must be too, and your view that it’s O.K. to kill fruit-flies is wrong because you and everyone like you is engaged in this conspiracy, is a racist, and thinks all future humans should be white. [Let’s even grant for the sake of argument the Annoying person his claim that leading members and large numbers of members of pro-option-to-kill-house-flies organizations are entirely evil, racist, in leauge the Nazis, etc. etc., and all the rest of it]. You’re a Nazi! I can’t argue with you just like I wouldn’t be able to argue with Heinrich Himmler.

Interlocutor: Just because the Nazis thought it was O.K. to kill fruit-flies doesn’t mean it isn’t. And my views that it’s O.K. to kill fruit flies have nothing to do with eugenics or attempts to make all future humans white. It doesn’t matter if most people who think it’s O.K. to kill fruit files are racists or are engaged in massive conspiracies to make all future humans white. This wouldn’t change the fact that, because merely being a living organism & having a skeleton is irrelevant to moral status, it’s morally permissible to kill fruit flies because they lack moral status for the same reasons plants and bacteria do.

D.) As to your alleged “thinking” and “research”, I can only direct you to what has been argued again and again: namely that it’s COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT to questions of whether or not abortion is morally permissible whether or not “It was forced upon us by the court for eugenic purposes. It is supported by blatant propaganda, and philosophical hacks are encouraged to find innovative ways to justify what can not be morally justified.” If you want a more vivid example of why things like the forcing of something upon people, its being supported by propaganda, its being supported for the wrong kinds of reasons, and its being thought morally permissible or impermissible by many for the wrong reasons, consider the abolition of slavery. I take it you would agree that slavery was morally impermissible. Now, the abolition of slavery was forced on the south, its abolition was supported by a concerted propaganda campaign, many Northerners only wanted to abolish it for personal financial / political gain, and many thought it wrong for the wrong kinds of reasons. Still, this didn’t make slavery any less wrong, right?

E.) I’m also still waiting to hear whether you agree that all the alleged research you’ve done is entirely irrelevant to questions of moral status. (I know you don’t want to think hypothetically and are loathe to recognize the import of hypothetical cases when they bear on a conclusion you disagree with, but remember I asked you to suppose the Annoying Person had done similar “research” and come up with the result that leading members and large numbers of members of pro-option-to-kill-house-flies organizations are entirely evil, racist, in leauge the Nazis, etc. etc., and all the rest of it, to which we might add that the view that it’s O.K. to kill fruit flies had somehow been forced on us by the courts, had been the target of a concerted propaganda campaign, and was such that many or even most people held it and engaged in killing fruit flies for the wrong reasons. Let’s even suppose this was correct. Would that bear one jot on the issue of whether or not it is actually morally permissible to kill fruit flies?).


2.) On why death is bad for creatures capable of well being (and why I’ve all along agreed that it isn’t because it’s painful):

A.) Why does brain activity matter? Well, for one thing without brain function there can’t be any pain, so if any of the stuff in the links was supposed to suggest that the fetal deaths involved were supposed to be painful (e.g. repeated reference in the first study to bruising, burning, cutting up – perhaps it was taken only to explain what happens, which is good and informative, but perhaps it’s taken to suggest something like suffering or torture), it was simply wrong, given that brain activity does not onset until after 20 weeks of gestation.

[MBC, READ THIS!!! READ THIS!!!] Now, of course, most of us don’t think that the only thing wrong with the death or killing of certain organisms is that it is usually attended by pain or suffering. While painful death is generally worse than painless death, there is surely something deeply tragic about the painless death of, say, healthy adult humans (and non-human animals like cats, dogs, frogs, etc.), and, prima facie or in the absence of significant other factors (which are present, e.g., in cases of self-defensive killing of responsible or culpable attackers, killings of combatants in just wars, and killings of people who want to die and whose future lives will not be worth living (e.g. due to their being filled with nothing but pain & suffering & no compensatory goods), it is surely morally wrong to kill these kinds of creatures painlessly. Indeed, the strongest prima facie moral reason it’s wrong to painlessly kill creatures like healthy adult humans is that death is bad FOR THEM; they are capable of well being, and they miss out on a future life worth living that would have been theirs. The question is what features of entities make death bad for them and the killing of them prima facie morally wrong for that reason.

On the one hand we have entities, both organic and inorganic, for which death (or destruction) is clearly not bad for their own sakes, which are also such that there is nothing prima facie morally wrong about destroying or killing them (or at least nothing prima facie wrong about killing them tied to death being bad for them or our having obligations to them not to kill them. There might, e.g., be aesthetic reasons that make it wrong to destroy great artworks, but this is not because death is bad for the art work, or we owe things to the art work in the way we owe things to healthy adult humans). These would include inanimate objects like rocks, tables, and chairs, organisms like plants, mosses, and bacteria, and parts of organisms like skin cells, organs, and tissues. On the other we have entities for which death is clearly bad for their own sakes, which are such that the killing of them is prima facie morally wrong, such as healthy adult humans (and I would hope you would agree – healthy non-human animals like dogs, cats, and frogs (at least those old enough to be conscious, experience things, or have mind-states)). What is it that makes that former class of entities such that death (or destruction) is not bad for them for their own sakes, and such that there is nothing prima facie morally wrong about destroying or killing them, and what is it about the latter class of entities such that death is bad for them for their own sakes, and there is something prima facie morally wrong about killing them? Well, the answer seems to be that the former class of entities is not capable of well-being or welfare, while the latter class of entities is. That is, there is nothing bad about the death of a plant or bacterium (or the destruction of a rock) for its own sake because nothing can be good or bad for such an entity for its own sake; there isn’t really such a thing as “its sake” - a plant or bacterium’s life (or a rock’s existence) simply can’t go better or worse for it. (This is of course consistent with our having reasons not kill or destroy these kinds of entities, or their continued life or existence being instrumentally or impersonally good or bad – e.g. the continued life of a plant can support the well being of entities capable of well being, and the plant can have aesthetic value. The point is simply that death can’t be bad FOR THE PLANT in the way your or my death is bad for you or me, and the killing of the plant can’t be irrational or immoral for the same reasons).

So what is it about an entity that makes it capable of well-being / welfare, makes it possible for death to be bad for it for its own sake, and makes the killing of it prima facie morally wrong for this reason? Note that entities that intuitively aren’t capable of well-being aren’t capable of mental states or consciousness. They can’t experience things, have desires, have pleasures / pains, etc. They lack an internal life; as my colleague David Plunkett has put it, there’s “nothing it’s like to be” one of these kinds of entities. On the other hand, creatures like adult human beings, and conscious non-human animals like cats, dogs, mice, frogs, etc., do have an internal mental life. Note, moreover, that consciousness or a mental life comprised of psychological states of experiences, etc. seems to be the only thing necessary for a creature’s life to be capable of going better or worse for it for its own sake. No matter what external shape or gene therapy you give things like plants, human organs, or bacteria, unless you give them an internal mental life, they’re not going to be capable of well being. Similarly, if you take me and cut away my arms, legs, torso, etc. – as long as you keep my brain alive and capable of supporting the same mental life I had, I’ll be capable of well being. Similarly, mere species membership doesn’t matter. If a space alien – a member of no species on earth – had an internal mental life / was capable of experiences, etc. – it would be capable of being better or worse off, as would a creature much like a human but with certain kinds of silicon substituted for carbon throughout its body / in its DNA structure (so long as it had the same kind of mental life as a human). So it seems as though what’s essential for a creature to be capable of well being is for it to have the capacity for consciousness.

Without brain activity (and the proper development of the relevant neural substrates), a creature cannot be capable of consciousness, or a mental life, or be such that there’s something its like to be that creature. It’s not capable of experiences, desires, pleasures / pains, etc.. It is in all relevant respects like a plant or a rock in the sense that there’s no way its life can go better or worse for it. As such, nothing can be bad for it, including its biological death. So death can’t be bad for fetuses before the onset of the capacity for consciousness, a necessary condition of which is brain activity and (and the proper development of the relevant neural substrates), and killing them can’t be wrong for them for the usual reason – viz. that death is bad for them.

Of course, if a fetus did not die prior to 24 weeks (or let’s say 20 just to be 100%, iron clad, safe), it would support the development of a creature capable of well being, which would be such that death would be bad for the usual reason – viz. that death would deprive it of many goods that would have been theirs had they not died. But this in no way makes the death or killing of the fetus PRIOR to 24 weeks (or 20 weeks, just to be safe) the death or killing of an entity for which death is bad for its own sake, any more than failing to bring a random sperm-egg pair together (or the killing of a plant or chair that one could turn into an entity capable of consciousness / well being if one had such technology at one’s disposal) constitutes the death or killing of such an entity. Prior to the onset of the capacity for consciousness, there simply isn’t anything capable of well being there for death to be bad for. The death of such an entity is exactly like non-conception; it’s the not coming into existence of a creature capable of well being for whom death can be bad. And surely there’s nothing wrong with non-conception (at the very least nothing that has to do with the badness of death for any creature and the wrongness of killing an entity tied to the badness of death for its own sake). If a couple decides not to have a child (via birth control or simply abstaining from sex) they’ve surely done nothing wrong.

B.) First, the capacity for consciousness (which, in addition to psychological substantiality, connectedness, and goods in prospect is the criterion / criteria for moral status) is distinct from actually being conscious and the potential to have the capacity to be conscious.

“Capacity” throughout, is completely distinct from “potential” – for instance, psychologically typical adult humans have the capacity for rationality even when they’re asleep and not exercising it, but an infant human does not have the capacity for rationality, only the potential to develop this capacity. Now I don’t think that the capacity for rationality per se is relevant to moral status; this was just an example drawn to illustrate the distinction between capacity and potential to have a capacity. Similarly, you, I, any psychologically typical human after 28 weeks of gestation, chimps, dolphins, frogs (after a particular point in gestation) all have the capacity for consciousness even when we’re knocked unconscious or in a deep sleep and not actively exercising it. When we recover or wake up, it will still be the same consciousness that was there before the sleep or being knocked unconscious.
[Another example would be the following. Infant humans also lack the psychological capacity for guilt feelings (these don’t develop until 2-4 years of age), they have only the potential to develop this capacity. On the other hand, non sociopathic humans over 4 years of age have the capacity to feel guilt, even when they’re not actively feeling it. Similarly, I don’t think that the capacity to feel guilt per se is relevant to moral status (understood as such that it’s morally wrong to kill an entity due to death being bad for it for its sake); this was just an example drawn to illustrate the distinction between capacity and potential to have a capacity].

Fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation, however, don’t have the capacity for consciousness, they have only the potential to come to have the capacity for consciousness. Now, one can have views that moral status depends not on the capacity for consciousness but instead on the potential to come to have the capacity for consciousness (these views, however, are much, much less crazy than views that species membership per se is the marker of moral status). These kinds of views, however, run into serious problems. First, as McMahan notes “The possession of the potential…to become a Y does not normally give one the rights of a Y. A tennis player, for example, may have the potential to be a Wimbledon champion, but he does not have a right to the trophy unless he realizes this potential. And Prince Charles’s potential to become the king of England does not give him the rights of a King” (The Ethics of Killing, 308).

Second, we can think of many kinds of things that have a kind of potential to develop the capacity for consciousness but surely lack moral status. First, sperm-egg pairs that have not yet come together have the potential to do so and develop into a creature capable of consciousness. But unless one is willing say that the failure to undertake every possible conception that could take place (and many that couldn’t because in principle there are sperm-egg combinations such as {sperm1, egg1}, {sperm1, egg2}, but if {sperm1, egg1} unites and develops into an entity with the capacity for consciousness, {sperm1, egg2} can never take place) constitutes a tragic event (due to the failure of the sperm-egg pairs in question to meet their potential for the capacity for consciousness) consciousness and probably morally suspect, one cannot accept this view. Second, if one had the technology to turn things like fruit-flies, house plants, trees, bacteria, tables, and chairs into conscious beings, they would in a sense have the potential to become capable of consciousness, but surely they would not now (before being turned into conscious beings) have any moral status. Now, of course the kind of potential these things would have to be capable of consciousness in the presence this kind of technology seems different from that fetuses less than 20 weeks old have to become capable of consciousness; that former seems sort of “extrinsic” or supplied from the environment, while the latter seems sort of “intrinsic” or completely determined by the nature of the thing. Spelling out this difference is notoriously difficult (though there is good reason to think it can be spelled out and has to be for other purposes in the theory of the badness of death). But actually it doesn’t seem to matter to our moral reasons to enable something to meet its potential whether this potential is extrinsic or intrinsic (McMahan gives the following example: “Consider, for example, two children, one whose ability to see has been thwarted from birth by the presence of microbes that block the action of the optic nerve, and another born without eyes. It is reasonable to suppose that the first of these children has the intrinsic potential for sight, since it possesses a complete visual apparatus whose functions are externally impeded, while the second child’s potential for sight is extrinsic, since a critical component of its potential visual apparatus has to be externally provided. Yet it is obvious that, if other things are equal, there is just as strong a moral reason to try to realize the second child’s potential as there is to realize that of the first”). So fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation have no more moral status than sperm, eggs, sperm-egg pairs that have not yet come together, or fruit-flies, house plants, trees, bacteria, tables, and chairs would in a world in which we had the technology to turn these entities into conscious beings, and surely these kinds of entities have no moral status / would still have no moral status even in the presence of the technology.

Another problem is that the potential to become capable of consciousness is not identity preserving (with the onset of the capacity for consciousness we get a new kind of entity – a creature capable of well being which is not numerically identical to its organism – where there was none such before), and non-identity preserving potential on the part of Xs to become a Ys most certainly cannot give Xs the moral status of Ys (intuitively Xs can never be Ys). This issue is somewhat technical and relies on arguments for a particular theory of personal identity over time, so I won’t pursue it; I’d refer the reader to McMahan’s “The Ethics of Killing,” especially 308-309, and chapter 1 in particular section 5 and subsection 5.5).

C.) If you’re still having trouble understanding the distinction between actually being conscious and having the capacity for consciousness (I suspect you either just didn’t pay attention to what my words mean the first time or are deliberately misrepresenting what I’m saying) try this: take an entity as it is and ask, could it right now become conscious? The reversibly comatose, the momentarily unconscious, and the sleeping could. A fetus less than 20 weeks old (or even take a zygote that hasn’t implanted on the uterine wall yet) could not. These kinds of entities need a lot more brain development to even be in a position to become conscious – i.e. have experiences of things, desires, pleasures/ pains, etc., an internal mental life, or there being “something it’s like to be” to be it.

D.) Let me first just say that I’m so happy you’re engaging in the philosophical method of testing moral (or more generally normative or philosophical) theories against case intuitions! (You see, that’s exactly what those “mental gymnastics” I was engaged in earlier were!).

That said, I have been careful all along to explain that the view I’ve been arguing for is that moral status (understood here as the status an entity has that makes us have moral reasons not to kill it tied to the badness of death for its own sake) is not only determined by the capacity for consciousness (this is a necessary condition for moral status) but psychological substantiality, connectedness, and goods in prospect. Let’s say (as I’m inclined to think is the case) that newborns are less psychologically substantial and less psychologically connected to their futures (by relations like memory, the forming of intentions and the carrying out of them, and the formation of desires and their satisfaction or the experience of their satisfaction or frustration) than day old calves. Newborn humans differ from calves, however, in that they are still psychologically connected to futures in which they will be very much more psychologically substantial and have many more goods in prospect. This could make an important difference in determining them to have greater moral status (e.g. it being more seriously prima facie morally wrong to kill them than to kill them due to death being bad for their own sakes) than day old calves. I actually think, however, that while this may be so, most people greatly underestimate the moral status of non-biologically-human creatures with the capacity for consciousness, like cows, whether day old or otherwise.

By ‘inherent capacity’ you seem clearly to mean what I called “potential” above. Remember what I said about using potential as a criterion for moral status:

Now, one can have views that moral status depends not on the capacity for consciousness but instead on the potential to come to have the capacity for consciousness (these views, however, are much, much less crazy than views that species membership per se is the marker of moral status). These kinds of views, however, run into serious problems. First, as McMahan notes “The possession of the potential…to become a Y does not normally give one the rights of a Y. A tennis player, for example, may have the potential to be a Wimbledon champion, but he does not have a right to the trophy unless he realizes this potential. And Prince Charles’s potential to become the king of England does not give him the rights of a King” (The Ethics of Killing, 308).

Second, we can think of many kinds of things that have a kind of potential to develop the capacity for consciousness but surely lack moral status. First, sperm-egg pairs that have not yet come together have the potential to do so and develop into a creature capable of consciousness. But unless one is willing say that the failure to undertake every possible conception that could take place (and many that couldn’t because in principle there are sperm-egg combinations such as {sperm1, egg1}, {sperm1, egg2}, but if {sperm1, egg1} unites and develops into an entity with the capacity for consciousness, {sperm1, egg2} can never take place) constitutes a tragic event (due to the failure of the sperm-egg pairs in question to meet their potential for the capacity for consciousness) consciousness and probably morally suspect, one cannot accept this view. Second, if one had the technology to turn things like fruit-flies, house plants, trees, bacteria, tables, and chairs into conscious beings, they would in a sense have the potential to become capable of consciousness, but surely they would not now (before being turned into conscious beings) have any moral status. Now, of course the kind of potential these things would have to be capable of consciousness in the presence this kind of technology seems different from that fetuses less than 20 weeks old have to become capable of consciousness; that former seems sort of “extrinsic” or supplied from the environment, while the latter seems sort of “intrinsic” or completely determined by the nature of the thing. Spelling out this difference is notoriously difficult (though there is good reason to think it can be spelled out and has to be for other purposes in the theory of the badness of death). But actually it doesn’t seem to matter to our moral reasons to enable something to meet its potential whether this potential is extrinsic or intrinsic (McMahan gives the following example: “Consider, for example, two children, one whose ability to see has been thwarted from birth by the presence of microbes that block the action of the optic nerve, and another born without eyes. It is reasonable to suppose that the first of these children has the intrinsic potential for sight, since it possesses a complete visual apparatus whose functions are externally impeded, while the second child’s potential for sight is extrinsic, since a critical component of its potential visual apparatus has to be externally provided. Yet it is obvious that, if other things are equal, there is just as strong a moral reason to try to realize the second child’s potential as there is to realize that of the first”). So fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation have no more moral status than sperm, eggs, sperm-egg pairs that have not yet come together, or fruit-flies, house plants, trees, bacteria, tables, and chairs would in a world in which we had the technology to turn these entities into conscious beings, and surely these kinds of entities have no moral status / would still have no moral status even in the presence of the technology.

Another problem is that the potential to become capable of consciousness is not identity preserving (with the onset of the capacity for consciousness we get a new kind of entity – a creature capable of well being which is not numerically identical to its organism – where there was none such before), and non-identity preserving potential on the part of Xs to become a Ys most certainly cannot give Xs the moral status of Ys (intuitively Xs can never be Ys). This issue is somewhat technical and relies on arguments for a particular theory of personal identity over time, so I won’t pursue it; I’d refer the reader to McMahan’s “The Ethics of Killing,” especially 308-309, and chapter 1 in particular section 5 and subsection 5.5).

One other thing to keep in mind: if we use potential to come to be capable of consciousness as the marker of moral status, we’re likely to get the result that it’s just as tragic that a zygote fails to implant on the uterine wall and dies as it is that a 10 year old child or 30 year old adult human dies. Does that seem right? Also, we’re likely to get the result that taking the morning after pill is just as seriously morally wrong as killing a 10 year old child or 30 year old adult human. Does that seem right? Most people are willing to think abortion (at least early abortion) is morally permissible when it threatens the life of the mother. Do you find this intuitively plausible? But most people also think it isn’t O.K. to kill a 10 year old child to save the life of its mother. Do you find this intuitively plausible? If potential to come to have the capacity for consciousness is the marker of moral status, I don’t see how we can simultaneously maintain that it’s O.K. to abort fetuses (or even embryos or zygotes) to save the life of the mother but that it’s not O.K. to kill 10 year old children to save the life of the mother.

E.) Do you think of a person in a reversible coma person that she could (with her current neural hardware, etc.) not become conscious as she is? Do you think that a zygote could (with its current absence of neural hardware, etc.) become conscious as it is? The only variable is not time; other obvious variables include what kinds of states the entity can be in as determined via its current neural hardware and software. Zygotes don’t have any neural hardware or software; only the potential to develop it. Fetuses under 20 weeks of age don’t have the neural hardware or software required for consciousness.

Look also at my examples concerning other capacities vs. potentials to have capacities, like capacities for rationality and for feeling guilt. Do you still think there’s no real difference here between newborns who don’t have the relevant neural substrates to have these states and adults who do but whose substrates aren’t being activated save “time”?

As to your claim that there’s no difference between a person in a reversible coma and a fetus (and I take it we could even use a mere zygote?) that will in the future have the capacity for consciousness, here’s another consideration: when the person in the coma wakes up, she will remember her past experiences. She will be able to carry out intentions she had before she became comatose. Her mind / mental life is in fact THE SAME mind / mental life before and after the coma, right? Well, fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation don’t have minds or mental lives, and a fortiori when it comes to support a creature capable of consciousness later on, the mind / mental life of THIS creature cannot be the same mind / mental life as that of the fetus.

Since what we are essentially is our minds (as embodied in our brains – for an excellent presentation of this view see McMahan’s “Ethics of Killing” book), we don’t come to exist until after our fetal organisms give rise to minds that will be ours in virtue of their connection over time to us at the present moment. Fetuses before the onset of consciousness don’t have minds. In that sense they’re not one of us (since what we are essentially are minds), no matter how biologically human they are. (Similar remarks go of course for beings capable of consciousness that are not biologically human; non-human animals capable of consciousness are essentially minds, as would be any human- non-human-animal hybrids with the capacity for consciousness and any space-aliens with the capacity for consciousness). They’re just unoccupied organisms. It doesn’t matter to their moral status that they will be occupied in the future any more than it matters to the moral status of an unfertilized egg that one day it will unite with a sperm, form a zygote, and do the rest of it.

I know this kind of language of “one of us” and saying that fetuses are “just” something will make you think of nothing but Nazism. The charge is so off the mark (as all your previous charges of it have been) that I really don’t care about this – it is your problem that you can’t see that the problem with the Nazis (and racists like KKK members) is that they thought it was O.K. to kill creatures with minds (Jews and African Americans have minds every bit as much as people of other racial / ethnic backgrounds), who were (along with other psychologically typical humans) the most psychologically substantial and connected over time of all creatures on earth for the most trivial and confused of reasons – NOT that they killed things that were biologically human.
I don’t know which of two ways you think I’m trying to have anything, but no, there is indeed a distinction between having a capacity and having a potential to have a capacity for all the reasons I have explained.

Brain activity (of some sort or other) is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for consciousness. It is neither a sufficient condition nor not a necessary condition for consciousness. The capacity for brain activity (of some sort or other) is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the capacity for consciousness. It is neither a sufficient condition nor not a necessary condition for the capacity for consciousness. The relevant neural substrates (whether activated or not) are also necessary for the capacity for consciousness (and the activation of it or consciousness itself). The capacity for consciousness is a necessary condition for moral status (understood here as the status an entity has of killing it being morally wrong due to the badness of death for its own sake), the degree of moral status (how strong our moral reasons are not to kill it) are determined by the degree of psychological substantiality, connectedness over time, and goods in prospect. The truth is neither of the falsehoods you suggested we had to choose between.

You could have maintained that while species membership is not a necessary condition for moral status, it is a sufficient condition for moral status. I actually gave arguments that the capacity for consciousness, psychological substantiality, psychological connectedness, and goods in prospect were both necessary and sufficient conditions for any given degree of moral status (consisting of thought experiments to determine what it takes and what it does not take for an entity to be capable of well being and for death to be bad for an entity). Still, arguments against the necessity of species membership as a criterion of moral status (which were particularly emphasized) tend to show that species membership is also not a sufficient condition, both on general grounds of simplicity and on grounds that when we see species membership for what it is – viz. genetic similarity, ability to produce fertile offspring, and similar phylogenetic descent, we can see that alterations in this one way or another (without corresponding alterations in what really matters – i.e. the capacity for consciousness, psychological substantiality, connectedness over time, and goods in prospect) are completely irrelevant to the determination of moral status.

F.) If you could read, you would have understood that I agreed that not all harms are composed of hurts, and not all harms are constituted by the infliction of pain. Pain was just one illustration of a mindstate that the capacity for consciousness involves a capacity to have. My explanation of why death is bad for creatures capable of well being all along was that it deprives them of a future to which they would be psychologically connected (a future in which they, the embodied minds, would exist and be the subject of goods), not that it was painful. Learn to read or stop deliberately ignoring what I have said. One thing at issue between us was whether is it bad to kill psychologically typical adult humans because they happen to be biological humans (have certain genetic similarity, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogentic descent) or because they are creatures capable of well being who death deprives of a future to which they would be psychologically connected (a future in which they, the embodied minds, would exist and be the subject of goods). To re-state the second and third sentences of 2) is to continue to beg the question of the badness of death & the wrongness of killing against me. I have given you arguments that death is bad for psychologically typical adult humans & killing them is wrong because they are capable of well being & death deprives of a future to which they would be psychologically connected (a future in which they, the embodied minds, would exist and be the subject of goods). You have given me no argument for the conclusion that death is bad for humans simply because they are biological humans. You simply continue to state your conclusion and beg the question against me. To believe 2) in light of the arguments I have given is not strength, it is the most despicable weakness – it is to believe an idiotic conclusion in the teeth of the best evidence. Why don’t you have the strength to read & understand the arguments I have given you? Because you are so pathetically and despicably weak that you cannot bear to actually investigate the issue?


3.) On people being erroneously declared brain dead and waking up from comas thought irreversible:

The first three links reference cases in which certain people (who all clearly had a mental life before their accidents, etc.) were declared brain dead (and apparently some of whom were merely in comas thought to be irreversible or in principle irreversible), but who survived. The brain death diagnoses were clearly incorrect as the brains of the patients clearly were not destroyed, indeed so much so that the brains were still capable of supporting the same consciousness of the people who had been erroneously declared brain dead (and the comas clearly did turn out to be in practice reversible). The patients did not survive merely because their bodies retained the potential to support a creature capable of consciousness again in the future and this potential was realized (these would have been “sci-fi” cases in which a new person comes to inhabit the body of a person who has ceased to exist – which these clearly are not) – these people survived because the mental lives they had before they underwent injuries or went into comas were psychologically connected to their mental lives after this happened (via relations like memory and the physical continuity over time of the neural substrates that supported their minds).

The last link references a case in which a woman survived an attempt to abort HER when she was a 7.5 month old fetus (which is a fetus over 30 weeks old). Unlike cases of the abortions of fetuses less than 20 weeks old, this abortion (if successful) would have ended the life of one of us that is a creature capable of well being. Fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation have no capacity for a mental life and thus can’t be psychologically connected to us later on – they are neither such that anything can be bad for them for their own sakes nor such that we can be them. We begin (and some creature capable of well being begins) to exist somewhere between the 24th week (or 20th week just to be super safe) and 28th week of life of our fetal organism.

These cases show absolutely nothing about and bear in absolutely no way on philosophical issues of when creatures capable of well being come to exist or go out of existence, and even the implementation of these in neurological criteria (e.g. cortical or cerebral death). That the last link is irrelevant to this should be obvious. What the first links show is that the physicians attending the cases did not do a very good job determining that the patients met the neurological criteria. (Most of which seemed to be whole-brain death, which it should be mentioned is the most conservative of all brain-death criteria being proposed today. If one has skeptical worries about EVER implementing THIS criterion I think one should seriously think about the consequences – should we keep ALL people who are brain dead on life support but whose, say, cardio-pulmonary systems can be kept active by so doing? This would be almost all people we think to be dead. Except for people like those vaporized in accidents (or perhaps we got medical help to too late) we could never cremate or bury any of the dead. We would have to spend trillions and trillions of dollars keeping whole-brain-dead people’s bodies alive, because we think they’re still capable of well being as they are or because we think there is some chance they will recover. Clearly the only option we really have in practice is to make sure physicians do a better job determining that patients meet the neural criteria of brain, cortical, or cerebral death).

I thus fail to see how these cases could be relevant to issues of the moral permissibility of the abortion of fetuses less than 20 weeks old or voluntary euthanasia. The only two arguments I can possibly see you making here are the following:

i.) Because some physicians attending cases misdiagnosed brain death, this shows that the medical establishment is so unreliable at determining things that we can never be sufficiently sure in practice that anyone meets the second necessary condition I mentioned for voluntary euthanasia, viz. that death is better for this person for her own sake than continued life (due to the impossibility of recovery from her condition, her future being filled with nothing but the bads of pain and suffering that crowd out any goods, etc.). While I certainly agreed that one must be very careful about these questions, I fail to see how misdiagnoses of brain death bear on this issue. Moreover, as I said: yes, the evidence that a person’s future life will be worse for her than her death must also be of a particularly good quality, because the risks of type 1 errors / false positives (i.e. euthanizing when the life is actually worth living) are enormous (i.e. the deprivation of all future goods on the part of the person) (again, I am also only considering cases of voluntary euthanasia – i.e. cases in which the subject autonomously wills to die). But the risks of type 2 errors / false negatives (i.e. failing to euthanize when the life is in fact not worth living) are also substantial (forcing the person who autonomously wills to die to remain alive when dying would be better for her). So yes, we need to be very careful epistemically (and of course we need the autonomous will to die on the part of the person who is going to be euthanized quite independent of any considerations of quality of evidence), but we shouldn’t altogether rule out euthanasia on epistemic grounds either, because being wrong about the life being worth living has enormous costs (not only in terms of well being deprivation but of failing to respect the agent’s autonomous will for no compensatory gain in well being. In a sense refusing to euthanize when we have very good evidence that a person who autonomously wills to die would be better off alive constitutes something of a failure to respect for her will, but this is certainly usually worth it for the sake of her well being and is outweighed by our moral reasons not to deprive her of it – e.g. in cases of very depressed people who want to die and request euthanasia, but are in all respects healthy and capable of a life worth living).

ii.) Because some physicians attending cases misdiagnosed brain death, this shows that the medical establishment is so unreliable at determining things that we can never be sufficiently sure in practice that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation in fact lack the capacity for consciousness. This is simply false. For one thing it confuses the kinds of evidence an attending physician has about whether or not a given patient meets a criterion of brain death with the kinds of evidence we have that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation lack the neural substrates, etc. requisite for the capacity for consciousness. There is no great variance in the development of these neural substrates in fetuses, and attending physicians do not have the luxury of implementing tests with the exactitude of those we use to determine the presence or absence of neural substrates or relevant neural activity in fetuses. Because of this, this kind of argument is no more convincing than the following:

Because some physicians attending cases misdiagnosed brain death, this shows that the medical establishment is so unreliable at determining things that we can never be sufficiently sure in practice that fruit flies are not biological humans (on the criteria of genetic similarity, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogentic descent).


4.) On worries about the reliability of our conclusions that fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation lack the capacity for consciousness:

A.) The science comes in in determining what particular entities have the property that we determine via philosophical and moral theory to be the essential property for moral status. Even your view that relies on species membership as the bearer of moral status relies on this. How do we know which creatures are biological humans? How do we know that a particular entity (which we might take to be a tree, rock, or bacterium) is or isn’t a biological human? We need to look to biological science, right? So by your lights we’re screwed because we can’t rely on science to tell us what things are human because science is too “fallible” for these purposes.

The fact of the matter is we have no option but to determine the criterion of moral status via philosophical and moral theory & then to see how it applies to entities in the world via empirical science. No more skepticism is warranted towards the conclusion that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation lack the capacity for consciousness than would be warranted towards the conclusion that the entity growing outside your house that you take to be a tree is in fact a tree and not a biological human (or that the earth is round, etc.). We have excellent reason to believe these conclusions – indeed all we could reasonably demand for practical purposes. Read the above posts if you have any further questions about how to determine the criterion of moral status philosophically, how to apply standards of evidence to determine to which entities that criterion does and does not apply.

B.) Again you miss the point entirely. I am not insisting that you argue that people are not flies; I agree with you that they are not. What the Annoying Person was doing was arguing that we can’t be certain enough for practical purposes which entities are humans (because we would have to rely on our current scientific methods to determine which entities are humans and science is too fallible for this purpose), and that because of this we need to use some other standard to determine moral status (the replacement he proposed was that of an organism with a skeleton). The annoying person was of course a complete idiot because we’re going to need the methods of empirical science to determine which entities are organisms with skeletons as well, so the charge that “because criterion X is such that we will have to rely on science to determine to which entities it applies and science is too fallible we need to use criterion Y” (where her X is human species membership and Y is membership in the set of all organisms with skeletons) does not get off the ground, and this should be painfully obvious to anyone not irrationally convinced in advance that criterion Y must be correct and will grasp at anything that could sound like a semblance of an argument in favor of it to try to rationalize her convictions.

My claim was that you were doing EXACTLY what the Annoying Person was doing, and that by seeing why the annoying person was a complete idiot you can see why you too are a complete idiot for the same reasons. What you were doing was arguing that we can’t be certain enough for practical purposes which entities (in particular human fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation) have the capacity for consciousness (because we would have to rely on our current scientific methods to determine which entities have the capacity for consciousness and science is too fallible for this purpose), and that because of this we need to use some other standard to determine moral status (the replacement you proposed was that of human species membership). You are of course a complete idiot because we’re going to need the methods of empirical science to determine which entities are members of the human species as well, so the charge that “because criterion X is such that we will have to rely on science to determine to which entities it applies and science is too fallible we need to use criterion Y” (where her X is having the capacity for consciousness and Y is human species membership) does not get off the ground, and this should be painfully obvious to anyone not irrationally convinced in advance that criterion Y must be correct and will grasp at anything that could sound like a semblance of an argument in favor of it to try to rationalize her convictions.

What I am demanding is that you explain to me how you are any less of an idiot than the Annoying Person. I wasn’t asking you to respond to the insane notion that people are flies, but you WERE asking me to respond to the insane notion that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation (which don’t even have any bloody synaptic connections among cortical neurons!!!) have the capacity for consciousness. Or at least that was what you began by asking me to respond to. Later you seemed to move to the idea that we just can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation lack the capacity for consciousness because science is not infallible. The Annoying Person does the exact same thing. First tries to argue with us that fruit-flies are probably biological humans (again on the criteria of genetic similarity, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogenetic descent, and that they have 46 chromosomes that will be human given the obtaining of the first three criteria). Then he seems to move to the idea that we just can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fruit flies aren’t human for practical purposes because science isn’t infallible. This notion is insane, right? It’s insane to think that we can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fruit flies aren’t human because science isn’t infallible, right? O.K., well, you ended up asking me to respond to an identically insane notion, namely that we can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation lack the capacity for consciousness because science isn’t infallible.

Let me reiterate (I know I’m being repetitive here but you seemed to miss the point over and over again): The point is you don’t have to respond to the insane notions of the Annoying Person that:

i.) Fruit-flies are probably biological humans (again on the criteria of genetic similarity, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogenetic descent, and that they have 46 chromosomes that will be human given the obtaining of the first three criteria), and
ii.) We just can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fruit flies aren’t human for because science isn’t infallible.

What you do have to do is explain why your notions that:

i.) fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation (which bear in mind don’t even have any synaptic connections among cortical neurons!!!) have the capacity for consciousness, and
ii.) We just can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation lack the capacity for consciousness because science isn’t infallible.

ARE ANY LESS INSANE.

C.) Of course I have sufficient evidence that you have the capacity for consciousness for practical purposes. Since you’re still on about that ridiculous line that because we can’t be certain enough about which entities have the capacity for consciousness because our scientific methods aren’t infallible, all I can do is refer you back to my previous comments (that you never responded to) arguing that the exact same considerations would weigh equally against the criterion of human species membership. For instance, in this particular case, note the following: I have absolutely no better evidence that you are a biological human (on the criteria of genetic similarity, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogenetic descent, and that they have 46 chromosomes that will be human given the obtaining of the first three criteria) than I have that you possess the capacity for consciousness. If I should be skeptical about your possession of the capacity for consciousness, surely I should be equally skeptical about your being a biological human. Of course I should be skeptical about neither, and my evidence both that you possess the capacity for consciousness and that you are a biological human are entirely sufficient for practical purposes. So you can’t malign the capacity for consciousness as a criterion for moral status on the grounds that our evidence as to whether or not a given entity meets it is weaker for practical purposes than our evidence that a given entity is a member of a particular species.

Remember what I said above about the case of the Annoying Person. Let me reiterate. I agree with you that the Annoying Person’s following claims are completely false and insane:

i.) Fruit-flies are probably biological humans (again on the criteria of genetic similarity, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogenetic descent, and that they have 46 chromosomes that will be human given the obtaining of the first three criteria), [or in this case we might add the following example. Suppose the annoying person is claiming that you, MBC, are not a biological human - again on the criteria of your lacking genetic similarity, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogenetic descent, or that you don’t have 46 chromosomes or that your chromosomes will fail to be human given the obtaining of the first three criteria)]
ii.) We just can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fruit flies aren’t human for because science isn’t infallible [to which we might add the following claim: Suppose the annoying person is claiming that we can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that you, MBC, are a biological human - again on the criteria of your possibly lacking genetic similarity, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogenetic descent, or that you possibly don’t have 46 chromosomes or that possibly your chromosomes will fail to be human given the possible obtaining of the first three criteria)]

But can’t you see how your claims that:

i.) fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation (which bear in mind don’t even have any synaptic connections among cortical neurons!!!) have the capacity for consciousness, and
ii.) We just can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation lack the capacity for consciousness because science isn’t infallible. [To which we might add your current claim that I can’t be sufficiently certain for practical purposes that you possess the capacity for consciousness].

ARE IN EVERY WAY EQUALLY INSANE?

More about your completely stupid line about skeptical worries concerning the detecting of which entities meet a given criterion for moral status (that you never, never, responded to and is such that I can only assume you understand you are being a complete moron about):

The Annoying Person is making claims exactly parallel to those in your second paragraph:

“I find it beyond pathetic that you can look at a creature with a skeleton (here a fruit fly) that is alive and has a skeleton, has the features of a creature with a skeleton, etc., but because YOU are unable to detect its having sufficient genetic similarity, ability to interbreed to produce fertile offspring, and sufficiently similar phylogenetic descent, and 46 chromosomes that will be human given the obtaining of the first three criteria at this very moment, in this stage of science, with today’s technology, YOU have decided that this creature with a skeleton has no right to live.

He’s being a despicable idiot, right? At best he’s begging questions of the criteria for moral status against you, at worst he’s guilty of the insane presupposition that we can be more sure of which entites belong to which species than which entities are living organisms with skeletons. Can you now see why this is exactly what you are doing and why you are a despicable idiot too for the exact same reasons? (Try actually reading what I write for a change; I think you’ll see why if you can actually get your moron-mind around what’s being said on and put on hold the ridiculous things that your mind evidently takes to be responses but are really claims that are completely irrelevant to every issue at hand, all of which have already been addressed by me and not responded to by you).


O.K., can you now see why all you have is confusion and failure to read (or understand, or acknowledge) what has been said, and indeed confusion and failure to read (or understand, or acknowledge) what has been said repeated again and again in the teeth of explanations as to why it is without any response to the explanations save continued repetition of the confusions and failures to read (or understand, or acknowledge) what has been said? Do you think otherwise? Then please tell me why – and do so without simply reiterating the confusions and failures to read (or understand, or acknowledge) what has been said without any other responds to the explanations of why it is so (and without just calling the explanations names because you don’t like the fact that they show you to be confused, or saying the explanations have to be wrong because your conclusions have to be correct, so any reasoning that seems to show that they’re wrong must itself be wrong).

Howard said...

O.K., I’m going to try to be charitable here and not attribute to you any religious views.

First, I shall ask: what do you mean by ‘the meaning of nature’? Lexical items and sentences have meaning in the sense of semantic content. Stories can have a kind of “meaning” in the sense of narrative structure. If by ‘nature’ you just mean how things are in the actual world, nature certainly isn’t a lexical item or a sentence, and can’t have meaning understood as semantic content. Perhaps one could claim that the history of all events in the actual world is a kind of story and can have narrative structure, but I don’t see how this is going to be possible unless agents were somehow involved in shaping it (i.e. this seems to presuppose some supernatural order involving agents, and I’m going to refrain from attributing any such views to you out of principles of charity). So I don’t see what you could mean by ‘the meaning of nature’ or how (absent certain theological commitments) nature could have “meaning.” Please explain what you are talking about.

Second, I shall ask: what do you mean by a ‘natural’ vs. an ‘unnatural’ act? If by a ‘natural act’ you just mean an act that comports with the descriptive laws of nature or the laws explaining how whatever does happen happens (e.g. those of physics, chemistry, biology, etc.) then of course anything we do in the actual world is nomically possible, consistent with the laws of nature, and thus natural. In this sense abortion, removing life support, killing fruit-flies, cutting the grass, and even killing psychologically typical adult humans just for fun are all equally natural. All acts we perform or can in the actual world perform, no matter how morally permissible or morally impermissible are equally natural. If by a ‘natural act’ you just mean an act that is morally permissible and by an ‘unnatural act’ you mean an act that is morally impermissible, then clearly you’re begging the question against me. I have no idea what else you could mean by ‘natural.’ Please explain.

Evolutionary theory (in which ‘fittest’ just means “has the properties that enable an organism to pass on its genes to future generations” and is in no way a normative term or a term of commendation) of course delivers no substantive normative results along the lines of “whatever was fitness enhancing in the environment of evolutionary adaptation is what one should do.” Everyone (save perhaps some historical crazies like Spencer who didn’t really have adequate understandings of evolutionary theory anyway and whose views we could easily debunk with some thought experiments and considerations of how normative language and reasoning works) agrees that normative facts are not facts about what went on in the environment of evolutionary adaptation. So I have no idea what your last sentence is supposed to communicate. Please explain.

P.S.
What is the relevance of the article about Warren Buffet and Father Euteneuer to anything we have been discussing here?

Howard said...

Sorry, two things about my very last post:

1.) I actually don’t think that for a story (here read just a set of events) to have narrative structure it has to be somehow shaped by agents. For example, if we came across marks on a sandy beach or in a swamp that somehow composed those indistinguishable from words making up sentences making up a great story in a novel, but which marks simply arose by chance without the intervention of any agents, I think the story could have narrative structure in the same way one composed by an agent-author could. Similarly, I would think that the events in the life of a young mammal growing to adulthood in the wild or a set of social mammals interacting in the wild (e.g. a young Meerkat or a group of Meerkats in the wild – see e.g. Animal Planet’s Meerkat Manor series) can certainly also have narrative structure even though they’re completely isolated from any shaping (or at least anything like intentional or foreseeable shaping) by agents. But for all the events that have taken place, are taking place, and will take place in the actual world to have narrative structure, I would think it very unlikely that they would have a narrative structure unless they were shaped by supernatural agents running the show (which they of course were not). Even if they did it would probably be a pretty boring one, mostly abut entropy. Ane whatever the content of this narrative structure, if it were to exist, I would think it quite irrelevant to anything we have been discussing here.

2.) There is a modern-day crazy, E.O. Wilson (a great biologist but a crazy when it comes to normativity), who has probably tried to do something much like Spencer in terms of reading the normative facts off of what happened in the environment of evolutionary adaptation (roughly: that because what we did (obviously: DE RE, or not under this description / thinking about it in this way!!!) in the environment of evolutionary adaptation was something like “promote the replication of DNA” or some such, promoting the replication of DNA is the thing for us to do). This is obviously a crazy view and can be very easily debunked via thought experiments and considerations of how normative language and reasoning works. But Wilson unlike Spencer has a very, very good understanding of how evolution works (e.g. I am told he did genuinely brilliant population genetics work on social insects). It’s just that he had a wretched understanding of how normativity works. (This kind of thing isn’t uncommon in history – e.g. Newton was a numerologist and (if I’m not mistaken) Einstein was (at least practically) a Trotskyite).

Anonymous said...

Howard,

You argue, “My reasons for thinking this is that fetuses before the onset of the capacity for consciousness (like all entities without the capacity for consciousness) lack moral status.”

This is an assumption which you have not proven. In fact, you can state it as many times and as many different ways as you want, and it will not make it true.

You also stated, “It is irrelevant to the question of the moral permissibility of early abortion (i.e. abortions performed prior to the onset of the capacity of consciousness of the fetus) whether some advocates of this position have been evil or have advocated it for the wrong reasons. It is irrelevant to this question whether or not the founder of Planned Parenthood was evil, was in league with Hitler, or actively supported horrible moral wrongs like the Holocaust. It is even irrelevant to this question whether or not Planned Parenthood is actively engaged today in some kind of massive conspiracy to do crazy things like try to make all future humans are white.”

While it may be irrelevant to an avid supporter of abortion who repeatedly refers to those who disagree with him as a “moron beneath contempt,” to a reasonable person, your display that you feel you are obviously superior to others smacks of eugenics. At the same time you are arguing that a class of humans “lack moral status” because you cannot verify that they have a capacity for consciousness at a given moment. Your ideas and philosophy scare the hell out of those who find something more than simple economic value in human beings.

Now why don’t you just set aside the turd of an idea that any particular class of humans to whom you please lacks moral status. You are wrong and obviously cannot prove your point, thus you keep repeating the same ridiculous, convoluted attempts at justification. Just for the sake of argument, you might want to try arguing the other side, that a fetus (little one) actually does have moral status. However, this would take intellectual honesty. Set aside your genetic superiority for a few minutes. Are you big enough to do it, really?

Anonymous said...

Howard,

You asked, “What is the relevance of the article about Warren Buffet and Father Euteneuer to anything we have been discussing here?”

I had stated previously, “Abortion is a eugenic program, unjustly imposed on less fortunate people throughout the world in order for powerful to maintain their wealth and status.” The Buffet article demonstrates that the same eugenic patterns exist today as they did when “The Case for Sterilization” was written; even more so. Here is my previous post which quotes the telling chapter of the book. You may want to read it this time.

It is a quote from a book by Leon F. Whitney, copyright 1934. The book is “The Case For Sterilization,” and was one of Hitler’s favorite books. Whitney was the president of the American Eugenics Society and the book is promoting the mandatory sterilization of certain “unfit” segments of society. Eugenicists in America worked closely with Nazis who were performing experiments in the death camps. American eugenicists were determined to reduce the number of rural white people and inner-city minorities in order to promote “good genes.” Based on your statements and philosophies, you would have been a supporter. Though the book is very rare, you can find this book in some libraries. It has glowing, full-paragraph endorsements on the back by:
Prof. E.M. East, Harvard University
Dr. R. B. Von Kleinsmid, Pres. of University of Southern California
Prof. William McDougall, Duke University
Dr. A Franklin Shull, University of Michigan
Dr. Max Mason, Pres. of the Rockefeller Foundation
Prof. Francis B. Sumner, University of California
Hon. Gifford Pinchot, Governor of Pennsylvania
And… Margaret Sanger, founder of the American Birth Control League and Planned Parenthood. Sanger said, “The best book on the subject. It contains exactly the material that the average person interested in human welfare whishes to know. Mr. Whitney presents scientific facts in a practical fashion so that he who reads may understand.” The author, Leon Whitney received a letter from Hitler, thanking him for writing the book, saying that he carried it with him almost always. In the book there is a chapter I want to quote. It is revealing. When you read this, please remember that less than thirty years after this was written, a President was killed and these changes were ushered in. However, where sterilization appeared to be inadequate, abortion seems to have been the solution.

A PLANNED SOCIETY

Today’s discussion of our need for “a planned society” usually emphasizes aspects of our economic structure. As yet, current talk has not touched on a far more important need of contemporary life, the foundation on which any new economic structure must be built if it is to stay firm. I mean a eugenic program.

There is no denying the fact that if we take account of the quality of a population as well as of its numbers, we strike at the root of the problem, for these two go hand in hand. Back of this question, again, stands that of ambition, of goal. Where are we heading? If we want to get somewhere, we first must ask ourselves where we are going and then take the most direct route. Where do we want to go? We have over us no dictator motivated by self-glorification; we are not being coerced into breeding a great army which he may use to acquire new territory. We do not need millions of men for national defense, since there is little likelihood of our being attacked by another nation. Perhaps we should do well to adopt as our ideal the desire to become a model nation, to live contentedly within our own boundaries, to forgo any plans of aggression, to produce as much as possible for the support of our own people, to be self-sufficing and yet have enough surplus to help other peoples when they need it.

A large proportion of our population is of innately fine stock. We still have seed-stock from which we might erect a nation such as has only been dreamed of. What else is there for us to do than just that – become an object lesson? But what kind of object lesson shall we become?

We need financial security. We are going to achieve it, with effort. It has been argued, I think convincingly, that we can get along very well indeed with a smaller population. But it must be made more and more a quality population. Perhaps we shall get that too. But if ever we are going to, our first and greatest necessity is the wide and immediate dissemination of birth-control information. Every one must do what he can in the direction of that legislative reform. We must make available to every couple at the time of marriage such information as will enable them to have as many or as few children as they want, and to space the children properly. Progressive upward evolution will inevitably set in. As I have said earlier, what if the minus social elements do have two children to satisfy their parental instinct? At that they will diminish at the rate of 50% each generation.

Give them the necessary information and instruction and let them decide for themselves whether to have few children or many. If we suppose their incomes to be reasonably stable, and if each year they must make their choice between a commodity and a baby, which do you think they will choose? Here is a nice shiny automobile; and here is a baby. Which will they take? Here is a television apparatus, the newest and best on the market. Will you choose that, Mr. Moron, or would you like another baby? There, Mrs. Moron, are the moving pictures, the public golf-course, there are nine months of freedom vs. nine months of staying home – which will you choose? Mr. Moron, here you see a squalling baby who will get you up nights, and here you see nice long evenings in the poolroom – which will you choose? A Sears – Roebuck catalogue offers a thousand choices between a baby and something else that looks pretty tempting. Which will the morons choose? If you think they will choose more than one or two babies, then you don’t know morons.

The first step in building a civilization, there-fore, is to place everybody on the same footing as that on which our intelligent classes find themselves today. This done, sterilization will come to the assistance of those who are too stupid to comprehend or to carry out the simple methods of contraception; to help those who are intelligent but resolved, because they know they bear dysgenic germ-plasm, that they will have no children at all; and finally the relatives and guardians of degenerates who want to protect themselves, their family, and the race against the trouble to which the pregnancy of a degenerate in their family might give rise. In the program for a controlled and planned society, sterilization will take the place of contraception for a host of persons. It will make contraception unnecessary in many cases and will liberate the mid of the person desiring an effective and permanent means of birth-control.

A planned society must imply the regulation of births. But its birth-control program must be threefold: birth-liberation for those best endowed by Nature; birth-maintenance for the great average; birth-reduction for the lowest social elements. Just one thing is essential: to make contraception and sterilization available. Superiority will of it-self be the deciding factor. Superior people will show their superiority in the test which is to come. That test is the survival of the fittest, but the question of who the fittest are will come to have a new meaning. No longer will we make the mistake of translating fitness as brute strength; we shall understand it to comprehend all that we hold dearest in life – beauty, love , idealism, good citizenship, honor, health, and the happiness that springs from being able to create our families by choice rather than by chance.

If I did not know that already within our ranks we are witnessing a demonstration that this condition can actually come about, I should not feel so hopeful. But all our population figures show that whereas the birth-rate dropped first in the upper classes (considering class on the basis of intelligence) the ability to control this has slowly crept downward until today it is almost possible for the border-line group to control their births. Tomorrow it will be possible for them. And that tomorrow can be brought closer by the efforts of all intelligent people.

Howard said...

MBC,

“My reasons for thinking this is that fetuses before the onset of the capacity for consciousness (like all entities without the capacity for consciousness) lack moral status.”

The view that entities without the capacity for consciousness lack moral status was not a mere assumption I started with, it was the conclusion of an argument. Again, here is the argument:

Now, of course, most of us don’t think that the only thing wrong with the death or killing of certain organisms is that it is usually attended by pain or suffering. While painful death is generally worse than painless death, there is surely something deeply tragic about the painless death of, say, healthy adult humans (and non-human animals like cats, dogs, frogs, etc.), and, prima facie or in the absence of significant other factors (which are present, e.g., in cases of self-defensive killing of responsible or culpable attackers, killings of combatants in just wars, and killings of people who want to die and whose future lives will not be worth living (e.g. due to their being filled with nothing but pain & suffering & no compensatory goods), it is surely morally wrong to kill these kinds of creatures painlessly. Indeed, the strongest prima facie moral reason it’s wrong to painlessly kill creatures like healthy adult humans is that death is bad FOR THEM; they are capable of well being, and they miss out on a future life worth living that would have been theirs. The question is what features of entities make death bad for them and the killing of them prima facie morally wrong for that reason.

On the one hand we have entities, both organic and inorganic, for which death (or destruction) is clearly not bad for their own sakes, which are also such that there is nothing prima facie morally wrong about destroying or killing them (or at least nothing prima facie wrong about killing them tied to death being bad for them or our having obligations to them not to kill them. There might, e.g., be aesthetic reasons that make it wrong to destroy great artworks, but this is not because death is bad for the art work, or we owe things to the art work in the way we owe things to healthy adult humans). These would include inanimate objects like rocks, tables, and chairs, organisms like plants, mosses, and bacteria, and parts of organisms like skin cells, organs, and tissues. On the other we have entities for which death is clearly bad for their own sakes, which are such that the killing of them is prima facie morally wrong, such as healthy adult humans (and I would hope you would agree – healthy non-human animals like dogs, cats, and frogs (at least those old enough to be conscious, experience things, or have mind-states)). What is it that makes that former class of entities such that death (or destruction) is not bad for them for their own sakes, and such that there is nothing prima facie morally wrong about destroying or killing them, and what is it about the latter class of entities such that death is bad for them for their own sakes, and there is something prima facie morally wrong about killing them? Well, the answer seems to be that the former class of entities is not capable of well-being or welfare, while the latter class of entities is. That is, there is nothing bad about the death of a plant or bacterium (or the destruction of a rock) for its own sake because nothing can be good or bad for such an entity for its own sake; there isn’t really such a thing as “its sake” - a plant or bacterium’s life (or a rock’s existence) simply can’t go better or worse for it. (This is of course consistent with our having reasons not kill or destroy these kinds of entities, or their continued life or existence being instrumentally or impersonally good or bad – e.g. the continued life of a plant can support the well being of entities capable of well being, and the plant can have aesthetic value. The point is simply that death can’t be bad FOR THE PLANT in the way your or my death is bad for you or me, and the killing of the plant can’t be irrational or immoral for the same reasons).

So what is it about an entity that makes it capable of well-being / welfare, makes it possible for death to be bad for it for its own sake, and makes the killing of it prima facie morally wrong for this reason? Note that entities that intuitively aren’t capable of well-being aren’t capable of mental states or consciousness. They can’t experience things, have desires, have pleasures / pains, etc. They lack an internal life; as my colleague David Plunkett has put it, there’s “nothing it’s like to be” one of these kinds of entities. On the other hand, creatures like adult human beings, and conscious non-human animals like cats, dogs, mice, frogs, etc., do have an internal mental life. Note, moreover, that consciousness or a mental life comprised of psychological states of experiences, etc. seems to be the only thing necessary for a creature’s life to be capable of going better or worse for it for its own sake. No matter what external shape or gene therapy you give things like plants, human organs, or bacteria, unless you give them an internal mental life, they’re not going to be capable of well being. Similarly, if you take me and cut away my arms, legs, torso, etc. – as long as you keep my brain alive and capable of supporting the same mental life I had, I’ll be capable of well being. Similarly, mere species membership doesn’t matter. If a space alien – a member of no species on earth – had an internal mental life / was capable of experiences, etc. – it would be capable of being better or worse off, as would a creature much like a human but with certain kinds of silicon substituted for carbon throughout its body / in its DNA structure (so long as it had the same kind of mental life as a human). So it seems as though what’s essential for a creature to be capable of well being is for it to have the capacity for consciousness.

Without brain activity (and the proper development of the relevant neural substrates), a creature cannot be capable of consciousness, or a mental life, or be such that there’s something its like to be that creature. It’s not capable of experiences, desires, pleasures / pains, etc.. It is in all relevant respects like a plant or a rock in the sense that there’s no way its life can go better or worse for it. As such, nothing can be bad for it, including its biological death. So death can’t be bad for fetuses before the onset of the capacity for consciousness, a necessary condition of which is brain activity and (and the proper development of the relevant neural substrates), and killing them can’t be wrong for them for the usual reason – viz. that death is bad for them.

Of course, if a fetus did not die prior to 24 weeks (or let’s say 20 just to be 100%, iron clad, safe), it would support the development of a creature capable of well being, which would be such that death would be bad for the usual reason – viz. that death would deprive it of many goods that would have been theirs had they not died. But this in no way makes the death or killing of the fetus PRIOR to 24 weeks (or 20 weeks, just to be safe) the death or killing of an entity for which death is bad for its own sake, any more than failing to bring a random sperm-egg pair together (or the killing of a plant or chair that one could turn into an entity capable of consciousness / well being if one had such technology at one’s disposal) constitutes the death or killing of such an entity. Prior to the onset of the capacity for consciousness, there simply isn’t anything capable of well being there for death to be bad for. The death of such an entity is exactly like non-conception; it’s the not coming into existence of a creature capable of well being for whom death can be bad. And surely there’s nothing wrong with non-conception (at the very least nothing that has to do with the badness of death for any creature and the wrongness of killing an entity tied to the badness of death for its own sake). If a couple decides not to have a child (via birth control or simply abstaining from sex) they’ve surely done nothing wrong.

What’s your evidence that this conclusion is incorrect? Just that your unreflective gut tells you so? We’ve been over how that doesn’t work. That you buy a particular story about how abortion was legalized? We’ve been over the irrelevance of that as well. I note you continue to claim I’m married to my conclusion and am being driven by it in giving my arguments. We’ve been over how you have no evidence for this but I have evidence that you are indeed being driven by your conclusion to try to say whatever confused and irrelevant things seem to occur to you might be relevant. I don’t call anyone who simply disagrees with me a moron beneath contempt; I call you one because your confusions and misreading are so bad that they can only be cause by deliberate stupidity or outright dishonesty. I don’t call people who have a certain genetic or cultural endowment not within their control despicable; I call you despicable for deliberately refusing to listen to reason and deliberately ignoring clear explanations that you are in fact confused and dismiss arguments and positions just because you disagree with their conclusions.

I can think of little to say in support of the position that species membership is a sufficient condition for moral status. I think there is little evidence of this other than some peoples’ unreflective and unconsistentized gut intuitions that killing zygotes is morally wrong and killing human organisms that are brain-dead but still biologically alive is morally wrong. These intuitions get washed away very quickly in the face of thought experiments. To present the evidence in favor of this position was your job because it is the view you hold and I can think of nothing to commend it. You have failed utterly at this task and I cannot help you with it because it is completely forlorn.

Anonymous said...

"The view that entities without the capacity for consciousness lack moral status was not a mere assumption I started with, it was the conclusion of an argument."

Howard,

I'm sorry to have to tell you, you present no argument. In fact, if you believe this is an argument, you need to quit sniffin glue.

For example, "While painful death is generally worse than painless death, there is surely something deeply tragic about the painless death of, say, healthy adult humans."

So then, it is not tragic if a doctor shoves a pair of scissors into your vital organ IF you have a runny nose???????

This is ridiculous dribble to allow you to justify the killing of defenseless human beings. Certainly there is "something deeply tragic" about the fact that one who purports to be educated is trying to pass this off as "argument." It is typical de-humanizing Nazi propaganda.

Yes, I know the Nazi "big lie" tactic. If you state a big lie over and over with seriousness, eventually, people will begin to question if it is true.

How many times have you repeated this garbage now?

Howard said...

MBC,

I am sorry to have to tell you, but you evidently don’t know what arguments are. (This should be obvious from all of your conduct, but this is more conclusive evidence of it). I ran thought experiments that suggest that the determining factor for whether or not something can be good or bad for a creature for its own sake is whether or not it has the capacity for consciousness. What else do members of the following set of entities have in common:

Set of things that intuitively are such that their lives can go better or worse for them: psychologically typical adult humans, healthy non-human animals like dogs, cats, frogs, mice (at least those old enough to be conscious, experience things, or have mind-states), space aliens with mental lives identical to those of psychologically typical adult humans, human-non-human-animal hybrids with the mental lives of psychologically typical adult humans, and creatures with mental lives identical to those of psychologically typical adult humans but who have been altered in small ways like having additional or fewer chromosomes, having carbon in their bodies replaced with silicon, etc.

other than the fact that they’re capable of consciousness?

What else do members of the following set of entities have in common:

Set of things that intuitively are such that their lives (or existences) CANNOT go better or worse for them:
Tables, chairs, rocks, trees, bacteria, individual water molecules, cell-phones, pieces of paper, computer keyboards, cars, tires, pencils, individual electrons, etc. (the list could go on)

other than the fact that they are not capable of consciousness?

How on earth could this not be a good argument for the conclusion that the determining factor for whether or not something can be good or bad for a creature for its own sake is whether or not it has the capacity for consciousness? How on earth could all those who think so be such that they must be sniffing glue?

Your remark about shoving scissors into a vital organ is more conclusive evidence that you can’t read. Of course my view entails that shoving pairs of scissors into your vital organs can be bad for you if i.) it hurts you, ii.) it does hurt you (i.e. does not cause you in any way to feel pain) but kills you, depriving you of a future life that would be good to you to which you would be psychologically connected, or iii.) it does not hurt or kill you but it impairs your functioning in a way makes things such that you cannot enjoy the same goods that you could in your future to which you are psychologically connected. What is your scissors remark supposed to communicate?

Calling a perfectly sound argument garbage or dribble does not make it so. Learn to read, stop lying to yourself, and stop calling perfectly sound arguments names just because they entail conclusions you don’t like. Stop sucking.

Howard said...

"ii.) it does hurt you (i.e. does not cause you in any way to feel pain) but kills you, depriving you of a future life that would be good to you to which you would be psychologically connected"

should read

"ii.) it does not hurt you (i.e. does not cause you in any way to feel pain) but kills you, depriving you of a future life that would be good to you to which you would be psychologically connected"

By the way, this MBC person would have to be so completely unbelievably stupid that I'm starting to suspect this is all some big practical joke being played on me. If someone is doing this, I get it - people can be really, really, really dumb and dishonest; you didn't have to exaggerate this much or carry the joke to such absurd extremes!

Anonymous said...

Howard the Nazi,

You stated, “I ran thought experiments that suggest that the determining factor for whether or not something can be good or bad for a creature for its own sake is whether or not it has the capacity for consciousness.”

I pointed out why this is a turd of an idea by pointing you to this website:

http://www.all.org/article.php?id=10261

Deciding whether or not a human being has a right to live or if living is good or bad for a creature based on our ability to determine a “capacity for consciousness” is absolutely absurd. It doesn’t matter whether you do “thought experiments” or experiments on humans in concentration camps, humans do not have a right to take innocent human life. In fact, human life deserves more respect than you give it. Your very argument places humans on a level with “non-human animals.” Thus, your arguments are unpalatable and illogical. You do realize that you are placing yourself above the human race, don’t you?

Howard said...

MBC (who is the genuine Nazi for reasons explained over and over again, namely that you continue to insist on a purely biological concept as the marker of moral status – viz. species membership, just like the Nazis used races),

Right – more question-begging and calling arguments (and people giving the arguments) names (like 'illogical') on no grounds other than the fact that you don’t like their conclusions. Read above posts.

Let’s try to put a little more direct pressure on your intuition that it’s just as morally wrong to kill anything that’s biologically human as any other thing that’s biologically human (or for that matter a similar, much less crazy intuition you might have that it’s just as morally wrong to kill anything with the potential to support a creature capable of well being and will have the capacity for consciousness as any other thing that is currently capable of well being and has the capacity for consciousness) by showing how it conflicts with other intuitions you have. Many of these cases have been presented before, but I think it might be helpful to bring them together to show how they put pressure on this view:

1.) Do you think it can be morally permissible to abort human fetuses / embryos / zygotes to save the lives of their mothers?

As McMahan points out:
Even most opponents of abortion appear to accept that even an abortion performed relatively late in pregnancy is less seriously wrong than the killing of an older child or adult. If people really believed that the developed fetus has the same moral status as a normal adult, it would be difficult to explain why even most of those who are in general opposed to abortion are willing to recognize certain exceptions to what they regard as the general impermissibility of abortion – for example….when the continuation of the pregnancy poses a serious threat to the pregnant woman’s life or health (McMahan, “Ethics of Killing, 271).

If we use human species membership (or potential to come to be capable of consciousness as the marker of moral status), we’re going to get the result that it’s just as tragic that a zygote fails to implant on the uterine wall and dies as it is that a 10 year old child or 30 year old adult human dies. Does that seem right? Also, we’re likely to get the result that taking the morning after pill is just as seriously morally wrong as killing a 10 year old child or 30 year old adult human. Does that seem right? Most people are willing to think abortion (at least early abortion) is morally permissible when it threatens the life of the mother. Do you find this intuitively plausible? But most people also think it isn’t O.K. to kill a 10 year old child to save the life of its mother. Do you find this intuitively plausible? If potential to come to have the capacity for consciousness is the marker of moral status, I don’t see how we can simultaneously maintain that it’s O.K. to abort fetuses (or even embryos or zygotes) to save the life of the mother but that it’s not O.K. to kill 10 year old children to save the life of the mother.

2.) Do you think that it can be morally permissible to kill abortionists and bomb abortion clinics?

As McMahan points out:
It would also be difficult to explain why even most opponents of abortion strongly disapprove of the killing of abortionists and the bombing of abortion clinics. For if even the proportionally rather small number of late abortions performed each year were morally comparable to the murder of innocent children or adults, there would be a strong case for the permissibility of defending further innocent victims by violent means. The shootings and bombings might be reasonable responses to a practice of widespread, legally sanctioned murder (McMahan, “Ethics of Killing, 271).

As Ku points out:
If abortion is murder, then killing of abortion doctors is an extension of self-defense and abortion clinic bombings, acts of heroism. These would no more constitute unjustified acts of vigilantism than bombing Nazi gas chambers would. But these actions are unjustified; therefore, abortion is not murder. Furthermore, in any humane criminal law, actions based upon "reasonable mistakes" are excusable, but the killing of abortion doctors is not. Therefore, belief that abortion is murder is unreasonable. (See full version: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jsku/abortion.html)

3.) Do you think that it is morally wrong to kill non-human animals with the capacity for consciousness for trivial reasons? What about non-human-human animal hybrids with the same mental lives & mental lives over time as psychologically typical adult humans? What about space-aliens with mental lives & mental lives over time as psychologically typical adult humans? Would it be any more wrong to kill psychologically typical adult humans than it would be to kill these creatures?

Another thought about the irrelevance of how abortion came to be legalized in the U.S. to the question of the moral permissibility of abortion. Abortion is currently legal in many countries, many ethnically quite homogenous (e.g. Sweden). Do you think that they legalized abortion for eugenic reasons? Do you think that abortion is just as morally wrong in these countries even though (or even if) it was not legalized for eugenic reasons? What about abortions performed in cases in which there is no legal framework in place – e.g. suppose an ethnically homogenous group crash-landed on a desert island. Suppose a woman on the desert island has an unwanted pregnancy – wouldn’t you think her having the abortion on the desert island would be just as wrong as it would be here in the U.S., even though there’s no legal framework on the desert island and a fortiori no eugenic explanation of why abortion is not illegal on the desert island?

Anonymous said...

Howard the Nazi,

These arguments are so weak that they don’t even hold up to your warped standards and convoluted justifications of murder. You must be on vacation, sipping a little too much wine in Paris or some other exotic place.

1. “Do you think it can be morally permissible to abort human fetuses / embryos / zygotes to save the lives of their mothers?” The reason why abortion to save the life of the mother is permissible is not because it is morally permissible to take the life of the smaller human. The phrase “life of the mother” deflates your own weak argument. If the mother dies, then the child inside her dies as well. Thus, saving one life is better than losing two, though the loss of one is tragic.
2. “Do you think that it can be morally permissible to kill abortionists and bomb abortion clinics?” No. If you are arguing that human life is valuable, perhaps even sanctified, then you don’t stop abortion by killing the abortionist. Another abortionist will simply fill his or her shoes. You effect change by respecting the abortionist and eventually, hopefully change the heart of the abortionist. Ever heard the phrase, “love the sinner; hate the sin?” Same principle. You don’t teach society to respect all human life by killing.
3. “Do you think that it is morally wrong to kill non-human animals with the capacity for consciousness for trivial reasons? What about non-human-human animal hybrids with the same mental lives & mental lives over time as psychologically typical adult humans? What about space-aliens with mental lives & mental lives over time as psychologically typical adult humans? Would it be any more wrong to kill psychologically typical adult humans than it would be to kill these creatures?” Killing animals for trivial reasons is not moral behavior. We need to respect the world around us. However, if humans are starving, feeding them is not a trivial reason. With regard to your sci-fi questions, hopefully people are intelligent enough to respect our natural environment and not begin making unnatural hybrids. If, however, I run into a human chimera or space alien, I’ll have to give some real thought about their moral status at that time. As for now, there are plenty of real and pervasive evils, such as war, abortion, poverty etc. for me to spend my time working against.
4. Regarding your final barrage of questions… abortion is morally impermissible due to natural law, regardless of whether the abortion is performed in a cold, sanitized office or on a desert island. More importantly, you ask is abortion legal for eugenic reasons in all nations? Certainly. Eugenics have gone international. The population branch of the UN is currently trying to impose abortion on nations that are overwhelmingly opposed to legalized abortion, such as Portugal, Columbia, Ireland and many others. Of course, the agenda is funded by the International Planned Parenthood federation, which is full of eugenicists. Also, eugenics is not always a matter of race. While race is one genetic factor that has traditionally been targeted by eugenicists, in America, eugenicists target those with learning disabilities and the less intellectually adept. In addition, systems have been put in place to encourage and empower those who do well on eugenic tests, such as the ACT, SAT, LSAT, MCAT, etc. If you do well, you get to go to college for free. If you are genetically superior, you get to live the life of a wealthy American. If you are a “moron beneath contempt” you get dismembered in your mother’s womb and put in your local garbage dump. Does this surprise you?

Anonymous said...

Howard,

Here is an interesting article which presents an overview of eugenics and how it has been international for well over one hundred years.

http://www.all.org/abac/eugen02.htm

Here is the text of the article:

Eugenics
Introduction to Eugenics
The principal manifestations of eugenics are racism and abortion; eugenics is the basis for "scientific racism" and laid the foundation for legalizing abortion. It is the driving force behind euthanasia, in vitro fertilization, and embryo and fetal research. It is the driving force in global population policy, which is a key element in American foreign policy. It is the force driving much of the environmentalist movement, welfare policy, welfare reform, and health care. It is found in anthropology, sociology, psychology—all the social sciences. It is reflected in much American literature, especially science fiction. So it is worth some study.
DEFINITION
Eugenics is the study of methods to improve the human race by controlling reproduction. The word was coined in 1883 by Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin. Galton believed that the proper evolution of the human race was thwarted by philanthropic outreach to the poor: misguided charity encouraged the "unfit" to bear more children. This upset the mechanism of natural selection. Hence, the human race needed a kind of artificial selection, which he called "eugenics," from Greek for good birth. Galton wanted eugenics to develop from a science to a policy and finally into a religion.1
A Study . . .
Galton defined eugenics as "the science of improvement of the human race germ plasm through better breeding." He also said: "Eugenics is the study of agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations, whether physically or mentally." This definition was used for years on the cover of the Eugenics Review, a journal published by the Eugenics Education Society (later simply the Eugenics Society).
A Program . . .
The American Journal of Eugenics 2 in 1906 called eugenics a "science," but also noted that the Century Dictionary defined it as "the doctrine of Progress, or Evolution, especially in the human race, through improved conditions in the relations of the sexes."
In 1970, I. I. Gottesman, an American Eugenics Society director, defined it actively: "The essence of evolution is natural selection; the essence of eugenics is the replacement of 'natural' selection by conscious, premeditated, or artificial selection in the hope of speeding up the evolution of 'desirable' characteristics and the elimination of undesirable ones."
A Religion . . .
Galton's suggestion that eugenics should function as a religion was ehoed by George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russel and others.3 A pungent assertion of the religious character of eugenics comes from Julian Huxley, the first Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and a member of the Eugenics Society: "We must face the fact that now, in this year of grace, the great majority of human beings are substandard: they are undernourished, or ill, or condemned to a ceaseless struggle for bare existence; they are imprisoned in ignorance or superstition. We must see to it that life is no longer a hell paved with unrealized opportunity. In this light, the highest and most sacred duty of man is seen as the proper utilization of the untapped resources of human beings."
"I find myself inevitably driven to use the language of religion." Huxley continued, "For the fact is that all this does add up to something in the nature of a religion: perhaps one might call it Evolutionary Humanism. The word 'religion' is often used restrictively to mean belief in gods; but I am not using it in this sense...I am using it in a broader sense, to denote an overall relation between man and his destiny, and one involving his deepest feelings, including his sense of what is sacred. In this broad sense, evolutionary humanism, it seems to me, is capable of becoming the germ of a new religion, not necessarily supplanting existing religions but supplementing them."4
The Population Council, one of the new eugenics organizations that emerged after World War II, no longer spoke of eugenics as a religion, but launched "studies relating to the social, ethical and moral dimensions" of population studies, recognizing that these questions involved matters "of a cultural, moral and spiritual nature."5 The new field of bioethics is a response to issues raised by eugenics.6 Bioethics is based on situation ethics, which was developed largely by Joseph Fletcher, a member of the American Eugenics Society. In 1973, Daniel Callahan, a prominent Catholic dissenter and a member of the American Eugenics Society, outlined the new field in the first issue of Hastings Center Studies.7
________________________________________
HISTORY OF EUGENICS
In 1798, an English clergyman and economist named Thomas Robert Malthus published the Essay on the Principle of Population. The central idea of his book is that population increases exponentially and will therefore eventually outstrip food supply. If parents failed to limit the size of their families, then war or famine would kill off the excess. The idea has been remarkably resilient, although the specific predictions that Malthus made were wrong. Malthus argued that the island of Britain could not sustain a population of 20 million, but 150 years later the population was more than triple Malthus' ceiling.
Charles Darwin, the biologist, was immensely impressed by Malthus' ideas, and the Malthusian theories are embedded in Darwin's theory of evolution and natural selectio (The Origin of Species, 1859, and The Descent of Man, 1871). But after Darwin borrowed ideas from economics and inserted them into biology, his cousin reversed the process and discovered ideas in biology that could be applied to humans. This is one of the first tricks that amateur magicians learn, like "finding" a coin in a child's ear. The amazing thing about Galton's stunt is that it has fooled so many people for so long.
At least one contemporary understood what Galton was doing. Friedrich Engels, a collaborator with Karl Marx, was contemptuous of the way Malthus' ideas about economics were inserted into biology and then retrieved as gospel: "The whole Darwinist teaching of the struggle for existence is simply a transference from society to living nature of Hobbes' doctrine of bellum omnium contra omnes and of the bourgeois doctrine of competition together with Malthus' theory of population. When this conjurer's trick has been performed...the same theories are transferred back again from organic nature into history and it is now claimed that their validity as eternal laws of human society has been proved. The puerility of this proceeding is so obvious that not a word need be said about it."8
When it began, eugenics was embraced by conservatives and denounced by Engels. It is noteworthy that over time this ideology of arrogance proved to be appealing on the right (Galton), then the left (British Socialists), then the right (German National Socialists), then the left (American environmentalists and the abortion movement), then the right (see the Bell Curve debate).
Galton's work is still used today. He used statistical methods, including the now-famous "bell curve," to describe the distribution of intelligence within a population. He devised various methods for measuring intelligence, and concluded that Europeans are smarter than Africans, on average. And he suggested systematic studies of twins to distinguish the effects of heredity from the effects of environment.
Galton's work was carried on, especially at the University of London, where he endowed a Chair of Eugenics. According to eugenics scholar J. Philippe Rushton, Galton's work was carried on especially by Karl Pearson and Charles Spearman, then by Cyril Burt, and in our time by Raymond Cattell, Hans Eysenck and Arthur Jensen.9 The work of these academics is built explicitly on Galton's theories, but the eugenics ideology spread far beyond this core of true believers.
________________________________________
EUGENICS SOCIETIES
In 1904, Galton endowed a research chair in eugenics at University College, London University. In Germany in 1905, Dr. Alfred Ploetz and Dr. Ernst Rüdin founded the Gesellschaft für Rassenhygiene, or Society of Race-Hygiene. In 1907 in England, the Eugenic Education Society (later the Eugenics Society) was founded. In 1910, the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) was founded in the United States. The ERO had a different emphasis from the Birth Control League, which sought "fewer childrenfor laboring classes"; the ERO felt that "ultimate economic betterment should be sought by breeding better people, not fewer of the existing sort."10
The First International Eugenics Congress was held at London University in 1912. Representatives came from a number of nations, and the congress demonstrated the growing strength of the movement, especially in England, Germany and the United States.
In October 1916, Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the United States. Several months later, she founded the Birth Control Review. She and her co-workers incorporated the American Birth Control League in 1922. (The organization was renamed the Birth Control Federation of America in 1939, and in 1942 was renamed the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.11) She wrote: "Birth control is thus the entering wedge for the Eugenic educator...the unbalance between the birth rate of the 'unfit' and the 'fit' is admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization... The most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the overfertility of the mentally and physically defective."12
In 1922, the American Eugenics Society was founded. Founders included Madison Grant, Henry H. Laughlin, Irving Fisher, Henry Fairfield Osborn, and Henry Crampton. Grant was the author of The Passing of the Great Race (1916), and wrote the preface to The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy. Laughlin was the Superintendent of the Eugenics Record Office from 1910 to 1921; he later became President of the Pioneer Fund, a white supremacist organization that is still functioning today. Fisher, who taught economics and political economy at Yale University for 40 years, said that the purpose of the society was to "stem the tide of threatened race degeneracy" and to protect the United States against "indiscriminate immigration, criminal degenerates, and race suicide."13
Henry Fairfield Osborn was the president of the American Museum of Natural History from 1908 to 1933; he wrote about evolution in From the Greeks to Darwin. In 1923, during a national debate on restricting immigration, Osborn spoke enthusiastically about the results of intelligence testing carried out by the Army: "I believe those tests were worth what the war [World War I] cost, even in human life, if they served to show clearly to our people the lack of intelligence in our country, and the degrees of intelligence in different races who are coming to us, in a way which no one can say is the result of prejudice. We have learned once and for all that the negro is not like us."14
This list of organizations is far from exhaustive. The point here is simply that eugenics in the first part of the 20th Century was not an academic exercise. Eugenicists were organizing, particularly in Germany, England and the United States, to implement policies consistent with their theories.
The work of the eugenicists included racism and white supremacy, promoting birth control among the "dysgenic," restricting immigration, sterilizing the handicapped, promoting euthanasia, and seeking ways to increase the number of genetically well-endowed individuals.
________________________________________
HITLER'S EMBRACE
A key program of the eugenicists was cleansing the human race by sterilizing the "unfit." By 1931, sterilization laws had been enacted in 27 of the United States, and by 1935 sterilization laws had been enacted in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and Germany.15 But the efficiency of the German eugenicists caused trouble.
Galton's ideas had been taken up in Germany by Friedrich Nietzsche in the 19th century. In the early 20th century Ploetz and Rüdin laid the foundations of an effective eugenics program in Germany. In 1922, two men—a lawyer and a psychiatrist, Karl Binding, J.D., and Alfred Hoche, M.D.—cooperated on a short book entitled Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens (Permission to Destroy Life Devoid of Value). The book encouraged Austrian physicians who were beginning to practice euthanasia illegally. A decade later Adolf Hitler, who had described his own eugenic ideas in Mein Kampf, came to power.
Hitler's determination to establish his "master race" was embraced by German eugenicists,16 and eugenicists elsewhere failed to criticize the Germans. In the United States, the Birth Control Review praised the effectiveness of the Germans, and published articles by Rüdin and others.17
In the United States today, there is a great deal of confusion about Hitler's view of abortion. Pro-lifers denounce abortionists furiously for imitating Hitler, who legalized abortion, and proponents of abortion denounce pro-lifers furiously for imitating Hitler, who outlawed abortion. In fact, both sides are half right. Hitler was a eugenicist, and for eugenic reasons he outlawed aborting Aryan babies, but encouraged aborting Slavs and Jews—also for eugenic reasons.
After Hitler had killed millions of people, including one-third of the Jews in the world, he lost the war. The name of his political party became and remains one of the most offensive words in the language, and ideas that are tightly associated with him are universally condemned. So the idea of building a master race became extremely unpopular. However, the eugenics movement did not die.
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EUGENICS AFTER WORLD WAR II
Most people have never heard of eugenics, and most of those who have heard of it think it died with Hitler. Among the handful who are aware that eugenics was still a force after World War II, many believe that its remnants were reformed. In fact, the eugenics movement continued to thrive, without reform:
• The development and promotion of birth control was a major eugenic success.
• The discovery of the "population explosion" and the hysteria about the need to control it was a major eugenic success.
• The field of genetics grew faster than fruit flies in the 1950's, and although the accumulating knowledge was valuable, the field was dominated by eugenicists, who could use their knowledge for eugenic purposes.
• UNESCO, founded in 1948, was directed by Julian Huxley, a determined eugenicist who used his global platform very effectively.
• The welfare state in Britain was based largely on the work of Richard Titmuss, John Maynard Keynes and William Henry Beveridge, members of the Eugenics Society.
Historians who rely too heavily on the eugenicists themselves will overlook a great deal. Daniel Kevles, for example, makes the post-war eugenics movement sound like a group of dusty academics. But one of their activities in Britain beginning in the 1960's was running a flourishing abortion business. Beginning in the 1960's, a few members of the Eugenics Society built and controlled almost the entire private abortion industry. Whether you think abortion is killing a child or exercising a fundamental liberty, this bloody and emotional activity is not the work of dusty academics: at least some of the eugenicists were activists.
The influence of the eugenicists on abortion in America is perhaps best seen by comparing Roe v. Wade and a book by Professor Glanville Williams, The Sanctity of Life and the Criminal Law. The book is cited in the 1973 abortion decision, but the citations alone do not reveal the full extent of the influence. The central ideas in Roe v. Wade are about personhood, and that section is virtually plagiarized from Williams. Justice Blackmun lifted his whole argument from Williams, including the history of abortion, ancient attitudes, the influence of Christianity, common law, Augustine's and Aquinas' teaching, canon law and English statutory law. Williams was a member of the Eugenics Society.18 Roe v. Wade was based on eugenics.
Even in Germany, the eugenics movement did not die out. The most offensive example of its resurgence after Hitler was the rehabilitation of Professor Dr. Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer. In 1935, von Verschuer said that he was "responsible for ensuring that the care of genes and race, which Germany is leading worldwide, has such a strong base that it will withstand any attacks from outside." In 1937, he was Director of the Third Reich Institute for Heredity, Biology and Racial Purity. Von Verschuer was Josef Mengele's mentor before the Nazi holocaust, and his collaborator during the holocaust.19
Mengele's horrific experiments at Auschwitz have put his name alongside those of Hitler and Eichmann. Yet, a few years after the war, von Verschuer founded the Institute of Human Genetics in Münster, where he worked educating another generation until his death in 1969. He had not turned away from his old ideas: he was a foreign member of the American Eugenics Society.
There can be no pretense that the rehabilitation of Mengele's mentor and collaborator was an accidental oversight due to unfamiliarity with his views. Eugenicists in America were aware of von Verschuer; several stories about him appeared in English in the Eugenical News in the 1930's. The first, a review of his book Erbpathologie, said: "Race culture, the selection of proposed cases for sterilization or marriage advice [i.e., genetic counseling] are impossible without the earnest collaboration of the entire medical profession. In this book the author clearly outlines the duties of the physician to the nation. The word 'nation' no longer means a number of citizens living within certain boundaries, but a biological entity. This point of view also changes the obligation of the physician...Dr. von Verschuer has successfully bridged the gap between medical practice and theoretic scientific research."20
Another article about von Verschuer appeared in the May/June 1936 Eugenical News, which specifically mentioned that von Verschuer intended to use studies of twins to test a racist idea (Mengele's horrors at Auschwitz were studies of twins), and there was a follow-up article in October 1937.
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CRYPTO-EUGENICS
In 1968, the Eugenics Review ran an article summarizing some of the activities of the Eugenics Society. The article quoted a proposal made in the late 1950's by Dr. Carlos Paton Blacker, who had been an officer in the Eugenics Society since 1931 (Secretary, then General Secretary, then Director, then Chairman):
That the Society should pursue eugenic ends by less obvious means, that is by a policy of crypto-eugenics, which was apparently proving successful in the US Eugenics Society.21
In 1960, Blacker's proposal was adopted by the Eugenics Society. A resolution which was accepted stated (in part):
The Society's activities in crypto-eugenics should be pursued vigorously, and specifically that the Society should increase its monetary support of the FPA [Family Planning Association, the English branch of Planned Parenthood] and the IPPF [International Planned Parenthood Federation] and should make contact with the Society for the Study of Human Biology, which already has a strong and active membership, to find out if any relevant projects are contemplated with which the Eugenics Society could assist.22
Planned Parenthood grew out of the eugenics movement. At the time this resolution was adopted by the Eugenics Society, Blacker was the Administrative Chairman of IPPF. When IPPF was founded in 1952, it was housed in the offices of the Eugenics Society.
The dominant figure in the eugenics movement in the United States, considered by the English to be a model of crypto-eugenics, was Major General Frederick Osborn, a master propagandist. In 1956, he said people "won't accept the idea that they are in general, second rate. We must rely on other motivation." He called the new motivation "a system of voluntary unconscious selection." The way to persuade people to exercise this voluntary unconscious selection was to appeal to the idea of "wanted" children. Osborn said, "Let's base our proposals on the desirability of having children born in homes where they will get affectionate and responsible care." In this way, the eugenics movement "will move at last towards the high goal which Galton set for it."23
Osborn stated the public relatons problem bluntly: "Eugenic goals are most likely to be attained under a name other than eugenics."24 He pointed to genetic counseling as a prime example: "Heredity clinics are the first eugenic proposals that have been adopted in a practical form and accepted by the public. . . . The word eugenics is not associated with them."25
Osborn is often credited with reforming the eugenics movement after World War II, and purging its racism. However, during the time of this "reform," he was President of the Pioneer Fund, holding that office secretly from 1947 to 1956. The Pioneer Fund is a notorious white supremacist organization. Obviously, a secret racist wouldn't purge racism; he would purge open racism, leaving a policy that critics might call "crypto-racism."
In 1960, a member of the Eugenics Society, Reginald Ruggles Gates, founded a new periodical to advance racist ideas. The Advisory Council of the new journal, Mankind Quarterly, included von Verschuer and a member of the Darwin family, Charles Galton Darwin. One idea advanced in the journal is the belief that anthropology, if it is understood honestly, shows that mankind is divided into four species. The first issue stated that desegregation happened because "American anthropologists were responsible for introducing equalitarianism into anthropology, ignoring the hereditary differences between races, . . . until the uninstructed public were gradually misled. Equality of opportunity, which everyone supports, was replaced by a doctrine of genetic and social equality, which is something quite different."26
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THE SHIFT TO GENETICS
Before the war, the American Eugenics Society laid out its research aims, including many investigations in sociology, psychology, anthropology and biology. But they noted especially two important new fields: population study and genetics.27
After the war, research in genetics was led by one of the German eugenicists besides von Verschuer who had continued his work: Dr. Franz J. Kallmann. He had been "associated with Dr. Ernst Rüdin, investigating in genetic psychiatry."28 He was half Jewish, so he was driven out of Germany in 1936 by Hitler. Nonetheless, he testified on behalf of von Verschuer after the war. Kallmann taught psychiatry at Columbia, and in 1948 he founded the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG). He became a member of the American Eugenics Society. The ASHG developed hundreds of prenatal tests but did not look for cures, although every test was hyped as a potential lead towards a cure.29
Over the next years, at least 124 people were members of both Kallmann's ASHG and the American Eugenics Society. The overwhelming evidence of a commitment to eugenics at the ASHG is especially troubling when you note that members of this society promoted, developed and now lead the billion-dollar Human Genome Project.
Negative eugenics, or ending the over-production of the "unfit," is obviously well underway with widspread contraception, sterilization and abortion. But positive eugenics, or the increased production of the "fit," can be advanced through artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and genetic engineering. The Human Genome Project would certainly help in a scheme of positive eugenics.
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SECOND NEW FIELD: POPULATION CONTROL
After World War II, the eugenics movement discovered (or invented) the "population explosion," and whipped up global hysteria about it. From 1952 on, a major part of the eugenics movement was the population control movement. The population explosion made it possible for the eugenics movement to continue its work—more from the fit, less from the unfit—with the same people doing the same things, but with a new public rationale.
The transformation from open eugenics to population planning is described well by Germaine Greer: "It now seems strange that men who had been conspicuous in the eugenics movement were able to move quite painlessly into the population establishment at the highest level, but if we reflect that the paymasters—Ford, Mellon, Du Pont, Standard Oil, Rockefeller and Shell—are still the same, we can only assume that people like Kingsley Davis, Frank W. Notestein, C. C. Little, E. A. Ross, the Osborns (Frederick and Fairfield), Philip M. Hauser, Alan Guttmacher and Sheldon Segal were being rewarded for past services."30 That is, the population control movement was the same money, the same leaders, the same activities—with a new excuse.
One of the organizations that promoted eugenics under the new population rubric was The Population Council. It was founded in 1952 by John D. Rockefeller III, and spent $173,621,654 in its first 25 years.31 That is not a bad budget for one of the organizations in a dead movement! Clearly, the people who think the eugenics movement died in the rubble in Berlin do not understand crypto-eugenics, genetics or population control.
The extent of the population control movement is hard to imagine, and harder to exaggerate. For example, during the past 25 years, there have been over 1.5 billion surgical abortions globally; the figure is simply unimaginable. The United Nations Population Fund has sponsored three meetings bringing together the heads of state from most of the world to develop a global population strategy, in Bucharest in 1974, Mexico City in 1984, and in Cairo in 1994. No other global problem has been the occasion for meetings comparable to these three. The World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and governmental agencies from nearly all the industrialized nations have contributed billions of dollars to campaigns designed to decrease population growth.
The population control movement has not been noted for respect for human rights. In 1972, for example, essays by members of the American Eugenics Society appeared in Readings in Population. Kingsley Davis explained the need for genetic control, and examined the obstacles, including a widespread attachment to he ideal of family life. But he saw some hope of developing a more effective program of improving the human race, although improvement would be slow:
Under the circumstances, we shall probably struggle along with small measures at a time, with the remote possibility that these may eventually evolve into a genetic control system. . . . The morality of specific techniques of applied genetics—artificial insemination, selective sterilization, ovular transplantation, eugenic abortion, genetic record keeping, genetic testing—will be thunderously debated in theological and Marxian terms dating from ages past. Possibly, within half a century or so, this may add up to a comprehensive program.32
What he wanted, though, was "the deliberate alteration of the species for sociological purposes," which would be "a more fateful step than any previously taken by mankind. . . . When man has conquered his own biological evolution he will have laid the basis for conquering everything else. The universe will be his, at last."
In the same book, Philip M. Hauser, also a member of the American Eugenics Society, explained the difference between family planning, which relies on the voluntary decisions of individuals or couples, and population control, which would include abortion, a commitment to zero population growth, coercion, euthanasia and restrictions on international migration.33
Perhaps the clearest example of the power of the eugenics movement today is in China, with its one-child-only family policy. This policy is an assault on both prenatal life and on women's privacy. The program was described and praised in 16 articles in a remarkable issue of IPPF's quarterly journal, People, in 1989, on the eve of the massacre in Tiananmen Square.34 But this anti-life, anti-choice policy is not unique to China; most of the nations of Asia have some coercive elements in their population policies.35
The coercive Chinese policy has a great deal of acceptance and support in the United States, including a defense offered by "pro-choice" feminist leaders such as Eleanor Smeal and Molly Yard. When the Reagan administration cut off funds for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA, formerly United Nations Fund for Population Activities) because of its support for the Chinese population program, two American organizations sued to restore funds: Rockefeller's Population Council, and the Population Institute in Washington. A 1978 survey of members of the Population Association of America found that 34 percent of members agreed that "coercive birth control programs should be initiated in at least some countries immediately."36
In fact, the United States government is responsible for much of global population control. In 1976, a formal definition of national security interests, NSSM 200, described the major threats to the United States. Some of these threats were obvious. The first, of course, was Communism in Europe, with the military charged with principal responsibility for defending American national security from this threat. In the Pacific, the threat was the possibility of losing bases; the military was charged with the principal responsibility for defending this national interest. In Latin America, there was the threat of incipient Communism; the CIA had principal responsibility for our defense. In Africa, according to the American government in 1976 and ever since, there is a threat to American national security interests: population growth. The Agency for International Development was given the responsibility of defending America from this grave threat. NSSM 200 was classified until 1992; when it was declassified, the Information Project for Africa distributed it, ad the covert depopulation policy tucked into the American foreign aid program caused a great deal of resentment.37
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CURRENT DEVELOPMENT
In late 1994, the publication of The Bell Curve revived the word "eugenics." The research quoted in the book is drawn overwhelmingly from members of the American Eugenics Society and other eugenics groups. Curiously, most commentators focused on one chapter in the lengthy book, and debated whether it was racist. The book concludes that all men are not equal, and that the Declaration of Independence is badly worded. This lengthy restatement of eugenics was on the best seller list for weeks.
The book was generally praised by conservatives (see The National Review , December 5, 1994, an issue devoted to The Bell Curve) and attacked by liberals (see The New Republic, October 31, 1994, which included a lengthy defense of the book by its authors and 21 critical or hostile responses).
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SYSTEMATIC RESPONSE
One excellent way to understand the eugenics movement is to read a list of the members of the Eugenics Society and its successor, the Society for the Study of Social Biology. Eugenics is not a conspiracy; it is a movement and an ideology. But its pieces are often considered in isolation (perhaps because of the success of the strategy of crypto-eugenics) and reading the list of members is one efficient way to see the whole picture.
A list of members of the American Eugenics Society, with notes, is available from American Life League.
In 1925, John Thomas Scopes was charged with teaching evolution in a public school in Tennessee, in violation of state law. The trial became a highly visible confrontation between Fundamentalist views of Scripture and the theory of evolution. Shaping the debate this way allowed the proponents of evolution to score a tremendous public relations victory. Nonetheless, the questions, then and now, are theological and moral, not just scientific. Darwin and the evolutionists and eugenicists had indeed precipitated a religious crisis, and were debating the existence of God and the meaning of human life.
From the beginning, the great obstacle to the eugenics movement has been the Roman Catholic Church, and the Church's position has been repeatedly distorted. A sketch of the Church's position can be found in:
Gaudium et Spes or The Church in the Modern World—the Vatican II document explaining to all people of good will why the Church wants to be involved in discussions of the problems facing the world and what she can contribute to solving them;
Humanae Vitae—Pope Paul VI's letter on human life, best known for his re-statement of the Church's unwavering assertion that contraception is objectively wrong and cannot be made moral, but also containing a sharp warning about the threat of coercive population control;
Populorum Progressio—Pope Paul VI's powerful letter on development, urging the wealthy nations to help the poor generously, and calling development the "new name for peace";
Laborem Exercens—Pope John Paul II's letter on work, offering a radically new approach to the place of work in the life of an individual and in society;
Familiaris Consortio—Pope John Paul II's letter on family life, best known for re-stating the Church's opposition to contraception, but also defending the rights of families, including the right to migrate in search of a better economic life; and
Sollicitudo Rei Socialis—one of Pope John Paul II's letters on the crises facing the modern world, declaring that the measure of a social program is its impact on the dignity of the individual, and that the route to freedom from social evil is solidarity with the victims of the evil.
The social sciences in our time are thoroughly imbued with eugenic theory. It would be a noble work to rescue them, to work through the basic texts and theories of each field, identifying the eugenic taint and replacing it with an unswerving devotion to the dignity of the individual, including the poor.
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Footnotes
1 Francis Galton, "Eugenics, Its Definition, Scope and Aims," Sociological Papers (London, 1905)
2 Formerly Lucifer the Light Bearer
3 Diane B. Paul, "Eugenics Anxieties, Social Realities, and Political Choices," in Are Genes Us: The Social Consequences of the New Genetics (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1994), p. 149
4 Julian Huxley, Evolution in Action (New York: Signet, 1957), p. 132. Huxley's career is indispensable to understanding eugenics. His grandfather Thomas Henry Huxley was a champion of Darwin's theories. Julian Huxley was the founder of the World Wildlife Fund, a member of the Euthanasia Society, a leader in the Abortion Law Reform Association. He served in the English Eugenics Society in various capacities over several decades, including three years as president.
5 The Population Council: A Chronicle of the First Twenty-Five Years, 1952-1977 (New York: Population Council, 1978), pp. 16-17
6 The word was first used to refer to questions about population and environment, in the late 1960's. In the 1970's, it came to refer to questions including abortion, contraception, euthanasia and artificial insemination.
7 Daniel J. Callahan, "Bioethics as a Discipline," Hastings Ceter Studies 1, No. 1 (1973), pp. 66-73
8 Letter to P. L. Lavrov, 12-17 November 1875, cited by R. C. Lewontin, Steven Rose, and Leon Kamin, Not in Our Genes: Biology, Ideology and Human Nature (New York: Pantheon, 1984), p. 309
9 J. Philippe Rushton, Race, Evolution, and Behavior (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1995), pp. 9-13
10 Eugenical News, 1917, p. 73
11 Robert G. Marshall and Charles A. Donovan, Blessed Are the Barren (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991)
12 Margaret Sanger, Birth Control Review, October 1921, p. 5
13 Barry Mehler, "Sources in the Study of Eugenics," Mendel Newsletter, Nov., 1978
14 Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1981), p. 231
15 Frederick Osborn, "Eugenics," Encyclopaedia Britannica (Chicago, London, et al.: 1970), Vol. 8, p. 816 ff. Osborn was an officer—treasurer, former president—of the American Eugenics Society when he wrote this article for the Encyclopaedia Britannica. It is impossible to understand the history of eugenics without grasping the extent to which the eugenicists have been able to write their own story. Osborn, for example, is frequently considered to be a key reformer in the eugenics movement, purging it of racism after World War II. But he was president of the Pioneer Fund, a secretive white supremacist organization, from 1947 to 1956.
16 Benno Müller-Hill, Murderous Science (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988)
17 Stefan Kuhl, The Nazi Connection, (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994). This is an excellent study of the extent of cooperation between eugenicists inside and outside Germany.
18 Katharine O'Keefe, "Crypto-Eugenics," unpublished paper (available through American Life League, Stafford, VA). Williams, who taught Jurisprudence at Cambridge University, was also president of the Abortion Law Reform Association and later Vice President of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.
19 Benno Müller-Hill, Murderous Science (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), pp. 18-20
20 Eugenical News, January/February 1936, pp. 21-22
21 Faith Schenck and A. S. Parkes, "The Activities of the Eugenics Society," Eugenics Review, vol 60 (1968), pp. 154-155
22 ibid.
23 Frederick Osborn, Galton Lecture, Eugenics Review, 1956-1957, pp. 21-22
24 Frederick Osborn, Future of Human Heredity (New York: Weybright and Talley, 1968), p. 104
25 ibid, p. 91
26 Mankind Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 1
27 Eugenics Review, October 1938, p. 195
28 Eugenical News, 1938, p. 34
29 Katharine O'Keefe, index to list of American Eugenics Society (available through American Life League)
30 Germaine Greer, Sex and Destiny (New York: Harper & Row, 1984), p. 377
31 The Population Council: A Chronicle of the First Twenty-Five Years, 1952-1977 (New York: Population Council, 1978), p. 210
32 Kingsley Davis, "Sociological Aspects of Genetic Control" in Readings in Population, edited by William Petersen (New York: Macmillan, 1972), p. 379
33 Philip M. Hauser, "Population Control: More Than Family Planning" in Readings in Population, edited by William Petersen (New York: Macmillan, 1972), pp. 422-423
34 People, Vol. 16, No. 1, 1989. IPPF's quarterly, from London, is not the same as the American magazine about celebrities.
35 William O'Reilly, USAID's Agenda of Fear (Gaithersburg, MD: Human Life International, 1987)
36 PAA Affairs, Fall 1978, p. 2, quoted by John S. Aird in Slaughter of the Innocents (Washington: AEI Press, 1990), p. 8. Aird, a former research specialist on China at the U.S. Bureau of the Census, documents the coercive nature of the Chinese program.
37 Population Control and National Security (Washington: Information Project for Africa, 1991)
38 Richard J. Herrnstein, and Charles Murray, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (New York: Free Press, 1994). In an excellent review in the December 1, 1994, New York Review, Charles Lane showed the extensive influence of the Pioneer Fund and Mankind Quarterly on the book.
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Bibliography
History of Eugenics
Adams, Mark, ed., The Wellborn Science: Eugenics in Germany, France, Brazil and Russia (New York and Oxford: Oxford Uni-versity Press, 1990)
Bajema, Carl L., ed., Eugenics, Then and Now (Stroudsburg, Penn-sylvania: Hutchinson & Ross, 1976)
Baker-Benfield, G. J., The Horrors of the Half-Known Life: Male Attitudes Toward Women and Sexuality in Nineteenth Century America (New York: Harper Colophon, 1976)
Bigelow, Maurice A., "Brief History of the American Eugenics Society," Eugenic News, 31 (1946): 49-51.
Chase, Allen, The Legacy of Malthus: The Social Costs of the New Scientific Racism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977).
Degler, Carl N., In Search of Human Nature: The Decline and Revival of Darwinism in American Social Thought (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991)
Haller, Mark H., Eugenics: Hereditarian Attitudes in American Thought (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1963)
Kevles, Daniel J., In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986)
Kuhl, Stefan, The Nazi Connection, (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994)
Lifton, Robert, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (New York: Basic Books, 1986)
Ludmerer, Kenneth M., Genetics and American Society (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1972)
Mehler, Barry, "A History of the American Eugenics Society, 1921-1940," dissertation, University of Illinois, 1988.
Pernick, Martin S., The Black Stork: Eugenics and the Death of Defective Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures Since 1915 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992)
Pickens, Donald K., Eugenics and the Progressives (Nashville, Tennessee: Vanderbilt University Press, 1968)
Rosenberg, Charles E., No Other Gods: On Science and American Social Thought (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976)
Shapiro, Thomas M., Population Control Politics: Women, Sterilization and Reproductive Choice (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1985)
Stepan, Nancy, The Idea of Race in Science: Great Britain 1800-1960 (London: Macmillan, 1982)
Stepan, Nancy, The Hour of Eugenics: Race, Gender and Nation in Latin America (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1991)
Trombley, Stephen, The Right to Reproduce: A History of Coercive Sterilization (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1988)
Weinreich, Max, Hitler's Professors: The Part of Scholarship in Germany's Crimes Against the Jewish People (New York: Yiddish Scientific Institute, 1946)
Weiss, Sheila F., Race Hygiene and National Efficiency: The Eugenics of Wilhelm Schallmayer (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1987)
Reproductive Technology
Corea, G., The Mother Machine (New York: Harper & Row, 1985)
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origins and on the Dignity of Procreation (Vatican City: 1987)
De Marco, Don, Biotechnology and the Assault on Parenthood (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991)
Fletcher, Joseph, Morals and Medicine (Boston: Bacon Press, 1960)
Frank, Diana, and Vogel, Marta, The Baby Makers (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1988)
Howard, Ted, and Rifkin, Jeremy, Who Should Play God? (New York: Dell Publishing, 1987)
Lejeune, Jerome; Ramsey, Paul; and Wright, Gerard, The Question of In Vitro Fertilization (London: SPUC Educational Trust, 1984)
McLaughlin, Loretta, The Pill, John Rock, and the Church (Boston: Little, Brown & Co, 1982)
Rini, Suzanne M., Beyond Abortion: A Chronicle of Fetal Experimentation (Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books, 1988)
U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Infertility: Medical and Social Choices (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1988)
Population Control
Aird, John S., Slaughter of the Innocents: Coercive Birth Control in China (Washington: AEI Press, 1990)
Greer, Germaine, Sex and Destiny (New York: Harper & Row, 1984)
Hartmann, Betsy, Reproductive Rights and Wrongs (New York: Harper & Row, 1987)
Information Project for Africa, Population Control and National Security (Washington, 1991). IPFA has four other studies that have also been used by opponents of population imperialism throughout the developing world.

Howard said...

MBC (who is the genuine Nazi for reasons explained over and over again, namely that you continue to insist on a purely biological concept as the marker of moral status – viz. species membership, just like the Nazis used races),

Why do you call arguments weak when your only responses to them are to either refuse to think about the cases they mention, respond to them in ways that get you committed to genuinely absurd conclusions (which I think you can by your own lights recognize as absurd), or concede their conclusions? You’re really being despicably pathetic (as usual).

1.) (You refused to think about the cases in question). No, no; you evidently miss the point of the cases. Not all cases in which the abortion of a fetus can save the life of the mother are such that if the abortion of the fetus is not performed, both the fetus and the mother will die. (And even if they were we could easily fix intuitions by imagining non-actual cases that aren’t like this). Apparently, there are real world cases in which trying to carry the fetus to term increases the chance of survival of the fetus and decrease the chance of survival of the mother. They can indeed be so extreme that one can pretty much know that trying to carry the fetus to term will result in a living fetus that eventually supports a child and a dead mother. The question was about these cases. So what do you want to say that in all cases in which aborting will save the life of the mother and NOT aborting WILL ensure the survival of the fetus? Do you really want to say it’s always morally impermissible?

2.) (You refused to think about the cases in question – or you just got committed to a very repugnant conclusion – viz. that self and other defense is in fact never morally permissible). The whole point is that if you really think fetuses have the same moral status as older children and psychologically typical adults, you have to think that killing abortion doctors & bombing abortion clinics is morally equivalent to killings and bombings of people who are trying to kill older children & adults. The only way to accept this equal wrongness and still deny that killing abortion doctors & bombing abortion clinics is wrong is to embrace a view that killing responsible & culpable attackers in self and other defense is never morally permissible. Trashy lines about “hating sins and not sinners” does not take away from the intuitive unacceptability of such a view (viz. that killing responsible & culpable attackers in self or other defense is never morally permissible). Recall the actual arguments McMahan and Ku give:

As McMahan points out:
It would also be difficult to explain why even most opponents of abortion strongly disapprove of the killing of abortionists and the bombing of abortion clinics. For if even the proportionally rather small number of late abortions performed each year were morally comparable to the murder of innocent children or adults, there would be a strong case for the permissibility of defending further innocent victims by violent means. The shootings and bombings might be reasonable responses to a practice of widespread, legally sanctioned murder (McMahan, “Ethics of Killing, 271).

As Ku points out:
If abortion is murder, then killing of abortion doctors is an extension of self-defense and abortion clinic bombings, acts of heroism. These would no more constitute unjustified acts of vigilantism than bombing Nazi gas chambers would. But these actions are unjustified; therefore, abortion is not murder. Furthermore, in any humane criminal law, actions based upon "reasonable mistakes" are excusable, but the killing of abortion doctors is not. Therefore, belief that abortion is murder is unreasonable. (See full version: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jsku/abortion.html)

Is that what you would have said to people who wanted to end the Holocaust by prosecuting WWII? Love the sinner and hate the sin? Is that what you would have said to those fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising? Is that what you would say to anyone who has killed a culpable attacker in self defense or in defense of a loved one? That they did wrong; they should have “hated the sin but loved the sinner” who was attacking them? Would you say to such people who killed in self defense or defense of a loved one that they made a serious error in “teaching others about the value of life” – they should have laid down and let the attacker kill them? Is that your position on self and other defense – i.e. that killing responsible and culpable attackers in self or other defense is never morally permissible? Is it?

3.) (You refused to think about the cases in question – and perhaps also conceded much of the conclusion of the argument). Wow, you really just don’t get it, do you? First, you seem to concede that non-human animals have some moral status. If that is so, then species membership can’t be the marker of moral status, since non-human animals have some moral status. This should lead you to cast around for a theory of moral status that doesn’t use species membership. How about the capacity for consciousness, psychological substantiality, psychological connectedness to a future with goods in prospect and the extent of such goods? That would explain why it’s morally O.K. to kill plants or bacteria for trivial reasons (so long as aesthetic value isn’t an issue – e.g. if they aren’t particularly beautiful – and they aren’t important to sustaining the well being of creatures capable of well being like birds, squirrels, humans, etc.) but not O.K. to kill non-human animals capable of consciousness (like birds, squirrels, dogs, horses, etc.). It would also explain how it could be morally O.K. to give precedence to the lives of humans with the capacity for consciousness over those of some non-human animals and even perhaps kill non-human animals for sufficiently great gains in the welfare of human animals capable of consciousness – viz. because humans (that in fact have the capacity for consciousness & have minds) are so much more psychologically substantial, connected to their futures over time, and capable of goods in their futures than most non-human animals, death might usually be far worse for humans (with the capacity for consciousness) than non-human animals. Of course it will also imply that all entities, whether members of the human species or not, that are such that they do not have minds (which includes human fetuses before the onset of the capacity for consciousness) lack moral status altogether. But you seriously need to suck it up and face that fact that this conclusion is correct for these reasons.

Second, you seemed to just refuse to think about non-human animal / human animal hybrids and space aliens with the same mental lives & mental lives over time as psychologically typical adult humans. Since what’s at issue is whether or not human species membership is the criterion of moral status, you can’t put off thinking about these cases. If your intuitions are that these creatures have the same moral status as psychologically typical adult humans, you should really start worrying that your view that human species membership is relevant to moral status is seriously incorrect. For these creatures would have the same moral status as psychologically typical adult humans, but aren’t humans. If so, then it looks like species membership isn’t relevant to moral status – what’s relevant is mental life & mental life over time. Since you think abortion of fetuses prior to the onset of the capacity for consciousness is a serious moral problem now, you seriously need to think about these cases now – because they in fact show your assumption to be incorrect (by showing you to have the wrong theory of moral status and helping point the way to the correct one which entails that the abortion of fetuses prior to the onset of the capacity for consciousness is morally permissible).

4.) (You conceded the conclusion of the argument). You seem to concede: “abortion is morally impermissible due to natural law.” By “natural law” I take it you mean convention and positive law independent “moral law” or moral facts. That means that the central questions of the moral permissibility of abortion do not depend upon what the positive laws or laws on the books are, and certainly not on the historical / sociological explanation of how the laws got there, right? Great. That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to convince you of. As such, shouldn’t we be trying to figure out whether or not convention and positive law independent moral facts are such that the abortion of fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation, and recognize as irrelevant all questions of how any positive laws permitting or prohibiting abortion got to be in place? If you agree with me that questions of whether or not the abortion of fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation are questions of convention and positive law independent “moral law” or moral facts, why do you keep posting this crap about eugenics?

I guess this really should be asked. Since you seem to be casting eugenics as simply trying to avoid having creatures that won’t have great lives, what’s wrong with eugenics as long as it doesn’t kill any creature already capable of well being? Surely it’s O.K. if a couple refuses to conceive fetus (by means of either abstinence or contraception) due to perceived risks that the child won’t have a great life (say the couple is very young and are thinking of waiting until they’re older, more established, and in a better position to take care of a child), right? If it’s true that fetuses before the onset of the capacity for consciousness aren’t capable of well being (as I’ve been arguing) abortion of such fetuses will be exactly like non-conception. If this is done to ensure no child comes to exist that won’t have a great life, it will be morally fine for the same reason refusing to conceive a fetus is fine. (In fact, it would probably be morally wrong NOT TO do this). So given the way you’ve cast eugenics as simply trying to avoid having children that won’t have great lives, it’s moral permissibility is going to hang on whether or not (and to what extent) fetuses are capable of well being, right? As such, shouldn’t we just settle that question (i.e. the question of whether or not fetuses prior to the onset of the capacity for consciousness at 20-28 weeks of gestation are capable of well being) and understand the moral permissibility of aborting such fetuses for the purpose of trying to avoid having children that won’t have great lives to be settled by it?

Finally, remember what I said – you’re despicable beneath contempt because of how you acted here, not because of your genetic endowment or other factors beyond your control. And you didn’t exist until your fetal organism was older than 20 weeks (because your mind didn’t exist until then), so the kinds of abortions I’ve been arguing are generally morally permissible (i.e. those performed prior to the onset of the capacity of consciousness between 20 and 28 weeks of gestation) are all such that they could not have killed YOU or any creature like you that is capable of well being, moral status, or being despicable beneath contempt.

Howard said...

MBC (who is the genuine Nazi for reasons explained over and over again, namely that you continue to insist on a purely biological concept as the marker of moral status – viz. species membership, just like the Nazis used races),

Why do you call arguments weak when your only responses to them are to either refuse to think about the cases they mention, respond to them in ways that get you committed to genuinely absurd conclusions (which I think you can by your own lights recognize as absurd), or concede their conclusions? You’re really being despicably pathetic (as usual).

1.) (You refused to think about the cases in question). No, no; you evidently miss the point of the cases. Not all cases in which the abortion of a fetus can save the life of the mother are such that if the abortion of the fetus is not performed, both the fetus and the mother will die. (And even if they were we could easily fix intuitions by imagining non-actual cases that aren’t like this). Apparently, there are real world cases in which trying to carry the fetus to term increases the chance of survival of the fetus and decrease the chance of survival of the mother. They can indeed be so extreme that one can pretty much know that trying to carry the fetus to term will result in a living fetus that eventually supports a child and a dead mother. The question was about these cases. So what do you want to say that in all cases in which aborting will save the life of the mother and NOT aborting WILL ensure the survival of the fetus? Do you really want to say it’s always morally impermissible?

2.) (You refused to think about the cases in question – or you just got committed to a very repugnant conclusion – viz. that self and other defense is in fact never morally permissible). The whole point is that if you really think fetuses have the same moral status as older children and psychologically typical adults, you have to think that killing abortion doctors & bombing abortion clinics is morally equivalent to killings and bombings of people who are trying to kill older children & adults. The only way to accept this equal wrongness and still deny that killing abortion doctors & bombing abortion clinics is wrong is to embrace a view that killing responsible & culpable attackers in self and other defense is never morally permissible. Trashy lines about “hating sins and not sinners” does not take away from the intuitive unacceptability of such a view (viz. that killing responsible & culpable attackers in self or other defense is never morally permissible). Recall the actual arguments McMahan and Ku give:

As McMahan points out:
It would also be difficult to explain why even most opponents of abortion strongly disapprove of the killing of abortionists and the bombing of abortion clinics. For if even the proportionally rather small number of late abortions performed each year were morally comparable to the murder of innocent children or adults, there would be a strong case for the permissibility of defending further innocent victims by violent means. The shootings and bombings might be reasonable responses to a practice of widespread, legally sanctioned murder (McMahan, “Ethics of Killing, 271).

As Ku points out:
If abortion is murder, then killing of abortion doctors is an extension of self-defense and abortion clinic bombings, acts of heroism. These would no more constitute unjustified acts of vigilantism than bombing Nazi gas chambers would. But these actions are unjustified; therefore, abortion is not murder. Furthermore, in any humane criminal law, actions based upon "reasonable mistakes" are excusable, but the killing of abortion doctors is not. Therefore, belief that abortion is murder is unreasonable. (See full version: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jsku/abortion.html)

Is that what you would have said to people who wanted to end the Holocaust by prosecuting WWII? Love the sinner and hate the sin? Is that what you would have said to those fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising? Is that what you would say to anyone who has killed a culpable attacker in self defense or in defense of a loved one? That they did wrong; they should have “hated the sin but loved the sinner” who was attacking them? Would you say to such people who killed in self defense or defense of a loved one that they made a serious error in “teaching others about the value of life” – they should have laid down and let the attacker kill them? Is that your position on self and other defense – i.e. that killing responsible and culpable attackers in self or other defense is never morally permissible? Is it?

3.) (You refused to think about the cases in question – and perhaps also conceded much of the conclusion of the argument). Wow, you really just don’t get it, do you? First, you seem to concede that non-human animals have some moral status. If that is so, then species membership can’t be the marker of moral status, since non-human animals have some moral status. This should lead you to cast around for a theory of moral status that doesn’t use species membership. How about the capacity for consciousness, psychological substantiality, psychological connectedness to a future with goods in prospect and the extent of such goods? That would explain why it’s morally O.K. to kill plants or bacteria for trivial reasons (so long as aesthetic value isn’t an issue – e.g. if they aren’t particularly beautiful – and they aren’t important to sustaining the well being of creatures capable of well being like birds, squirrels, humans, etc.) but not O.K. to kill non-human animals capable of consciousness (like birds, squirrels, dogs, horses, etc.). It would also explain how it could be morally O.K. to give precedence to the lives of humans with the capacity for consciousness over those of some non-human animals and even perhaps kill non-human animals for sufficiently great gains in the welfare of human animals capable of consciousness – viz. because humans (that in fact have the capacity for consciousness & have minds) are so much more psychologically substantial, connected to their futures over time, and capable of goods in their futures than most non-human animals, death might usually be far worse for humans (with the capacity for consciousness) than non-human animals. Of course it will also imply that all entities, whether members of the human species or not, that are such that they do not have minds (which includes human fetuses before the onset of the capacity for consciousness) lack moral status altogether. But you seriously need to suck it up and face that fact that this conclusion is correct for these reasons.

Second, you seemed to just refuse to think about non-human animal / human animal hybrids and space aliens with the same mental lives & mental lives over time as psychologically typical adult humans. Since what’s at issue is whether or not human species membership is the criterion of moral status, you can’t put off thinking about these cases. If your intuitions are that these creatures have the same moral status as psychologically typical adult humans, you should really start worrying that your view that human species membership is relevant to moral status is seriously incorrect. For these creatures would have the same moral status as psychologically typical adult humans, but aren’t humans. If so, then it looks like species membership isn’t relevant to moral status – what’s relevant is mental life & mental life over time. Since you think abortion of fetuses prior to the onset of the capacity for consciousness is a serious moral problem now, you seriously need to think about these cases now – because they in fact show your assumption to be incorrect (by showing you to have the wrong theory of moral status and helping point the way to the correct one which entails that the abortion of fetuses prior to the onset of the capacity for consciousness is morally permissible).

4.) (You conceded the conclusion of the argument). You seem to concede: “abortion is morally impermissible due to natural law.” By “natural law” I take it you mean convention and positive law independent “moral law” or moral facts. That means that the central questions of the moral permissibility of abortion do not depend upon what the positive laws or laws on the books are, and certainly not on the historical / sociological explanation of how the laws got there, right? Great. That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to convince you of. As such, shouldn’t we be trying to figure out whether or not convention and positive law independent moral facts are such that the abortion of fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation, and recognize as irrelevant all questions of how any positive laws permitting or prohibiting abortion got to be in place? If you agree with me that questions of whether or not the abortion of fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation are questions of convention and positive law independent “moral law” or moral facts, why do you keep posting this crap about eugenics?

I guess this really should be asked. Since you seem to be casting eugenics as simply trying to avoid having creatures that won’t have great lives, what’s wrong with eugenics as long as it doesn’t kill any creature already capable of well being? Surely it’s O.K. if a couple refuses to conceive fetus (by means of either abstinence or contraception) due to perceived risks that the child won’t have a great life (say the couple is very young and are thinking of waiting until they’re older, more established, and in a better position to take care of a child), right? If it’s true that fetuses before the onset of the capacity for consciousness aren’t capable of well being (as I’ve been arguing) abortion of such fetuses will be exactly like non-conception. If this is done to ensure no child comes to exist that won’t have a great life, it will be morally fine for the same reason refusing to conceive a fetus is fine. (In fact, it would probably be morally wrong NOT TO do this). So given the way you’ve cast eugenics as simply trying to avoid having children that won’t have great lives, it’s moral permissibility is going to hang on whether or not (and to what extent) fetuses are capable of well being, right? As such, shouldn’t we just settle that question (i.e. the question of whether or not fetuses prior to the onset of the capacity for consciousness at 20-28 weeks of gestation are capable of well being) and understand the moral permissibility of aborting such fetuses for the purpose of trying to avoid having children that won’t have great lives to be settled by it?

Finally, remember what I said – you’re despicable beneath contempt because of how you acted here, not because of your genetic endowment or other factors beyond your control. And you didn’t exist until your fetal organism was older than 20 weeks (because your mind didn’t exist until then), so the kinds of abortions I’ve been arguing are generally morally permissible (i.e. those performed prior to the onset of the capacity of consciousness between 20 and 28 weeks of gestation) are all such that they could not have killed YOU or any creature like you that is capable of well being, moral status, or being despicable beneath contempt.

Howard said...

Sorry about that last comment posting twice; it was quite unintentional and I don't know what happened.

Howard said...

i.) “So what do you want to say that in all cases in which aborting will save the life of the mother and NOT aborting WILL ensure the survival of the fetus? Do you really want to say it’s always morally impermissible?”

Should read:

“So what do you want to say about cases in which aborting will save the life of the mother and NOT aborting WILL ensure the survival of the fetus (and the death of the mother)? Do you really want to say it’s always morally impermissible in all such cases?”

ii.) “As such, shouldn’t we be trying to figure out whether or not convention and positive law independent moral facts are such that the abortion of fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation, and recognize as irrelevant all questions of how any positive laws permitting or prohibiting abortion got to be in place?”

Should read:

“As such, shouldn’t we be trying to figure out whether or not convention and positive law independent moral facts are such that the abortion of fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation is or is not morally permissible, and recognize as irrelevant all questions of how any positive laws permitting or prohibiting abortion got to be there in place?”

Howard said...

MBC,

By the way, here is another thought experiment that puts direct pressure on the view that every living organism that’s biologically human has the same moral status as any other organism that’s biologically human. Moral status is the status an entity has that makes killing it morally wrong due to the badness of death for its own sake – we could say more generally that it is the status an entity has that gives us moral reasons to prevent it from dying (whether by saving it from death or refraining from killing it) or even more generally being harmed (where it is understood that entities with moral status are such that death is at least to some extent harmful or bad for them for their own sake). This thought experiment equally puts direct pressure on the (much less crazy) view that every entity with the potential to support a creature capable of well being and will have the capacity for consciousness has the same moral status as any other entity that is currently capable of well being and has the capacity for consciousness. A link to it can be found at:

http://frozentexan.typepad.com/frozentexan/2006/03/how_not_to_resp.html, and
http://www.crooksandliars.com/2006/03/06.html#a7413

A gentleman named Mike Stark presented it to a gentleman named Andrew Wilko over the radio. Roughly, it runs:

“Suppose a fire breaks out in a fertility clinic and you can only save a petri dish with five blastulae (or zygotes or fertilized eggs) or a two-year old child, which should you save?”

If being a living biological human organism or an entity with the potential to support a creature capable of consciousness is a sufficient condition for having the same moral status as a psychologically typical adult human or older child (e.g. as a psychologically typical 2 year old human), the choice between saving a petri dish with 5 blastulae and saving a 2 year old should be identical to that between saving 5 2-year-olds and saving 1 2-year-old. (In fact on some potentiality views there is MORE moral reason to save the 5 blastulae than there is to save the 5 2-year-olds, because the blastulae have more of their lives ahead of them than the 2 year olds). If faced with such a choice between saving 5 2-year-olds and saving 1 2-year-old, one should save the 5 2-year-olds, right? If so, and if you’re not willing to say with equal certitude that one should save the 5 blastulae rather than the 1 2-year-old in the situation described by the thought experiment, 2 year old children have greater moral status than blastulae, and (since both blastulae and 2-year-old children are living biological human organisms), should it cannot be the case that all biological human organisms have the same moral status.

(Perhaps the claim that blastulae are living human organisms could be disputed; perhaps they don’t have enough cell differentiation to count as organisms instead of collections of cells. But let’s assume it’s true that blastulae are living human organisms. I took it you were thinking that way – if you weren’t, if you thought that only older zygotes / embryos / fetuses with enough cell differentiation were living human organisms and had moral status, let’s instead consider a petri dish with 5 of those older zygotes / embryos / fetuses. Indeed, Mike Stark somewhat misleadingly put the question as one of when “life begins.” Clearly what matters here is moral status and moral reasons to save things from destruction, not biological life).

Many, many, similar thought experiments can actually be designed for the same ends of putting direct pressure on the view that every living organism that’s biologically human has the same moral status as any other organism that’s biologically human, as well as putting direct pressure on the (much less crazy) view that every entity with the potential to support a creature capable of well being and will have the capacity for consciousness has the same moral status as any other entity that is currently capable of well being and has the capacity for consciousness. Here are a few that are adapted from http://mollysavestheday.blogspot.com/2006_03_01_mollysavestheday_archive.html#114188003222232180

(The person in question originally designed a list of questions intended to test views about what the legal status of fetuses should be / what laws should be regarding the treatment of fetuses. Some of her comments do seem to suggest that she has some erroneous views that questions of what laws should be are more independent than they actually are from questions of what kind of conduct is morally permissible, but no matter. Also, not all of her questions are relevant to what laws concerning abortion should be – she has some about what laws concerning prenatal damage to fetuses that are allowed to develop in such a way that they support harmed creatures capable of well being, and I actually answered ‘yes’ to quite a few of them (and as you know I think abortions of fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation are completely morally permissible and should be legally permitted as well (questions of what the laws should be are, recall, distinct from questions of which laws should be interpreted as in violation of the U.S. Federal constitution))).

1) Are women who abort (including abort fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation) guilty of moral wrongs equally as grave as the killing of an older child or adult (assuming these people are not responsible / culpable attackers, the killing is not in a just war, it isn’t morally permissible voluntary euthanasia, etc., etc, etc.)?
2) If a woman's husband knows she is aborting, and he does nothing to stop her, is he guilty of as grave a moral wrong as a person who is an accessory to the murder of an older child or adult?
3) How about her friends who know?
4) Are abortion doctors (including those who perform abortions of fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation) guilty of moral wrongs equally as grave as the killing of an older child or adult (assuming these people are not responsible / culpable attackers, the killing is not in a just war, it isn’t morally permissible voluntary euthanasia, etc., etc, etc.)?
5) If a woman smokes during her pregnancy and the fetus dies as a result (including cases in which the fetus is less than 20 weeks old), is she guilty of a moral wrong as grave as that of killing of an older child or adult (assuming these people are not responsible / culpable attackers, the killing is not in a just war, it isn’t morally permissible voluntary euthanasia, etc., etc, etc.)?
6) If her husband knew she was a smoker and could kill the fetus (including fetuses less than 20 weeks old), is he guilty of as grave a moral wrong as a person who is an accessory to - or engages in criminally negligent behavior that enables the - murder of an older child or adult?
7) If a woman eats unhealthily during pregnancy and the fetus (including cases of fetuses less than 20 weeks old) dies, is she guilty of as grave a moral wrong as a person who has engaged in negligent homicide leading to the death of an older child or adult?
8) If the husband knew, is he too guilty of as grave a moral wrong as a person who has engaged in negligent homicide leading to the death of an older child or adult?
9) If a woman has a serious medical condition that would almost always lead to the death of a fetus, but gets pregnant anyway, is she as guilty of as grave a moral wrong as a person who is criminally liable for the death of an older child or adult if the fetus dies (even in cases in which the fetus is less than 20 weeks old)?
10) If her husband knew of this condition, is he, too, guilty of as grave a moral wrong as a person who is criminally liable for the death of an older child or adult if the fetus dies (even in cases in which the fetus is less than 20 weeks old)?
11) If a company manufactures a product which lights a fire in a fertility clinic, destroying 1500 frozen embryos, is the company guilty of as grave a moral wrong as a person or an organization that has engaged in (or has been complicit in) mass murder?
12) If an electric company has a power failure which cuts power to a fertility clinic, thawing embryos and rendering them unusable, are they guilty of as grave a moral wrong as a person or an organization that has engaged in (or has been complicit in) mass murder?
13) If a woman has cancer and her chemotherapy kills a fetus, is she guilty of as grave a moral wrong as one who has murdered an older child or adult? (This, by the way, is a kind of case in which decreasing risks of death to a the mother can come at the cost of increasing risks of death to the fetus)
14) If her doctor administering the chemotherapy was aware of her pregnancy, is he guilty of as grave a moral wrong as one who is an accessory to the murder of an older child or adult?
17) Is a person with 15 frozen embryos in storage be morally required to carry each embryo as soon as possible? Is failure to do so just as morally wrong as failing to save the lives of older children or adults? If the person is responsible for the existence of the frozen embryos (e.g. it’s the doctor who fertilized them), is failure to do so just as morally wrong as having intentionally having a child, allowing it to grow to childhood or adulthood, and then abandoning it to die?

Oh, and by the way, you acknowledged in your last post that killing innocent humans can be morally permissible (even though you weren’t considering the cases I wanted you to consider) – namely when doing so saves others and they were going to die anyway. So don’t ever repeat your claim that “it’s never morally permissible to kill innocent humans” when intended to carry its literal meaning again, because you’ve admitted it’s false.

Oh, and since we’re both agreed that whether or not the abortion of fetuses less than 20 weeks old is morally permissible is a matter of moral facts that are quite independent from any conventions and positive laws, please refrain from posting any more irrelevant garbage about historical / sociological explanations of why abortion is legal or illegal in any part of the world. Or continue to be a despicable moron on this point. It’s up to you.

Anonymous said...

Howard the Nazi,

Certainly you can imagine my disappointment. I thought you had come to your senses. Instead, I see that you were simply off at some conference learning the benefits of eugenics in allowing the convenient eliminations of “morons beneath contempt.” Indeed, you have been well indoctrinated and are obviously morally invested in the abortion debate. Do you sleep well?

Your thought experiment comparing the moral value of 5 blastulae and one two year old child assumes that blastulae must have the same value and consciousness as a two year old for it to be morally impermissible to kill them. Indeed, even if the two are not of equal value (and who am I to claim any human being has greater or less value than another), it is still morally impermissible to kill the embryos.

Thus, you raise an interesting question. Does the definite potential for human life have any value, even if we are unable to verify that value, and does this value outweigh the incredible anguish a woman experiences by carrying something as loathsome as a child in her womb, as women have done for hundreds of thousands of years?

My viewpoint is that if we respect human life, then we must value human life even if it is inconvenient.

You stated, “The whole point is that if you really think fetuses have the same moral status as older children and psychologically typical adults, you have to think that killing abortion doctors & bombing abortion clinics is morally equivalent to killings and bombings of people who are trying to kill older children & adults.”

Again, I will state that killing an abortionist will only cause another abortionist to step into his or her place at the abortion mill. As a result, as long as the courts have imposed abortion upon us for eugenic reasons, killing an abortionist would simply be the senseless taking of human life and would be morally impermissible.

You also stated, “Apparently, there are real world cases in which trying to carry the fetus to term increases the chance of survival of the fetus and decrease the chance of survival of the mother. They can indeed be so extreme that one can pretty much know that trying to carry the fetus to term will result in a living fetus that eventually supports a child and a dead mother. The question was about these cases. So what do you want to say that in all cases in which aborting will save the life of the mother and NOT aborting WILL ensure the survival of the fetus? Do you really want to say it’s always morally impermissible?”

Again, you are assuming that in order for abortion to be morally impermissible, it must be equivalent to the taking of a conscious human. If you value humanity, you will understand that this is not so. However, my full response would be to point you to this:

http://www.scborromeo.org/saints/gianna.htm

Howard said...

MBC (who is the genuine Nazi for reasons explained over and over again, namely that you continue to insist on a purely biological concept as the marker of moral status – viz. species membership, just like the Nazis used races),

1.) O.K., remember what I said the thought experiments did: they put direct pressure on the view that every living organism that’s biologically human has the same moral status as any other organism that’s biologically human, as well as put direct pressure on the (much less crazy) view that every entity with the potential to support a creature capable of well being and will have the capacity for consciousness has the same moral status as any other entity that is currently capable of well being and has the capacity for consciousness. These are the views you’ve been appealing to in order to argue that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation have moral status and that it’s morally wrong to kill them. It is not true that the thought experiments assume that i.) either blastulae have the same moral status as 2 year olds or have no moral status at all, or ii.) fetuses either have the same moral status as humans with the capacity for consciousness (including psychologically typical older children or adults) or have no moral status at all.

What they certainly seem to show, however, is that i.’) blastulae can’t have the same moral status as 2 year olds, or that 2 year olds clearly have greater moral status than blastulae, and ii.’) fetuses don’t have the same moral status as humans with the capacity for consciousness (including psychologically typical older children or adults). If that is true (and we assume blastulae are living human organisms – as I think we’re both prepared to do or substitute older zygotes or embryos for blastulae in the 5 blastulae thought experiment to get the same result) it cannot be the case that all living human organisms have the same moral status. Also, since blastulae are entities with the potential to support a creature capable of well being / that will have the capacity for consciousness and fetuses are entities with the potential to support a creature capable of well being /that will have the capacity for consciousness (or if old enough are entities that are currently capable of well being and have the capacity for consciousness), and the thought experiments show i.’) and ii.’), it similarly cannot be the case that every entity with the potential to support a creature capable of well being and will have the capacity for consciousness has the same moral status as any other entity that is currently capable of well being and has the capacity for consciousness.

Thus, the sole principle (or principles) to which you have been appealing in support of the view that the abortion of fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation (viz. that all living biologically human organisms have the same moral status & / or that every entity with the potential to support a creature capable of well being / that will have the capacity for consciousness has the same moral status as any other entity that is currently capable of well being and has the capacity for consciousness) is (or are) shown to be incorrect. This, as I clearly stated, is the main point of these thought experiments. They constitute insurmountable negative arguments against your view of moral status, and render you without any support whatsoever for the view that the abortion of fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation is morally impermissible. You have to give this view (or these views) up, or admit that we should save the 5 blastulae in preference to the 1 2-year-old just as surely as we should save the 5 2-year-olds in preference to 1 2-year old, and admit that one cannot be morally permitted to abort a fetus even in cases in which aborting will save the life of the mother and NOT aborting WILL ensure the survival of the fetus.

We thus have to abandon the view that all living biological human organisms have equal moral status (as well as the view that every entity with the potential to support a creature capable of well being and will have the capacity for consciousness has the same moral status as any other entity that is currently capable of well being and has the capacity for consciousness), and look for another view of moral status that can better accommodate our intuitions, including those that one should save 1 2-year-old child in preference to 5 blastulae but one should save 5 2-year-old children in preference to 1 2-year-old child, and that aborting a fetus in cases in which aborting will save the life of the mother and NOT aborting WILL ensure the survival of the fetus is morally permissible but killing an older child or adult to save the life of its mother is not morally permissible (as well as our intuitions that non-human animals have some moral status, that various kinds of animals have more moral status than others - e.g. creatures like shrimp have less moral status than creatures like dogs, and creatures like frogs have less moral status than creatures like psychologically typical adult humans and older children, and that space aliens with the same mental lives and mental lives over time as psychologically typical adult humans or older human children have the same moral status as psychologically typical adult humans or older children). A very good candidate will be a view that the moral status of an entity is determined by its psychological substantiality, connectedness to its future, and goods in prospect to which it is connected. This view, however, will in fact entail that blastulae and generally fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation have literally NO moral status (since they have no mental lives at all, are such that they cannot be psychologically connected to any future, and are such that they are incapable of their lives going better or worse for them). As such it will in general be morally permissible to kill them, even for the most trivial of reasons (just like it is morally permissible to kill plants & bacteria and break rocks for the most trivial of reasons – assuming (in both cases of course) things like instrumental and aesthetic value are not an issue; i.e. the plants and rocks aren’t particularly important for the well being of creatures capable of well being, or beautiful, etc.). (A fortiori this will of course include the reasons equivalent to those couples may have not to conceive in the first place – e.g. the somewhat weighty reasons of the inconvenience of an unwanted pregnancy, and the much more weighty reasons of the rational expectation that the creatures capable of well being that would come to exist would not have a great life).

By showing that certain competitor theories of moral status (including the view that every living organism that’s biologically human has the same moral status as any other organism that’s biologically human, and the (much less crazy) view that every entity with the potential to support a creature capable of well being and will have the capacity for consciousness has the same moral status as any other entity that is currently capable of well being and has the capacity for consciousness) cannot be correct and providing pieces of data that the correct theory of moral status must accommodate (which the view I’ve been arguing for accommodates very well), these thought experiments offer some support to the view of moral status I’ve been arguing for. Because this view of moral status entails that the abortion of fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation is generally morally permissible, these thought experiments thus offer support to this conclusion. They do all this, even though their primary initial purpose is only as a negative attack on the view that every living organism that’s biologically human has the same moral status as any other organism that’s biologically human, and the (much less crazy) view that every entity with the potential to support a creature capable of well being and will have the capacity for consciousness has the same moral status as any other entity that is currently capable of well being and has the capacity for consciousness.

2.) You now seem to be arguing that killing abortionists or bombing abortion clinics is morally impermissible, NOT because it is generally morally impermissible to kill in other-defense under these kinds of conditions (which “hate the sin but not the sinner” and remarks about not “teaching the value of human life by taking it” etc. communicate), but that the killing would be an ineffective form of other-defense that still involves killing (even if the victims are responsible or culpable). Let me just say, good for you – this is a MASSIVE improvement over what you first said and seems to constitute a response to reasons. Keep this up and the world might just not be a worse place for your existence in it after all (even if your general conduct is like your conduct on this blog). A similar intuition would presumably hold for bombing Nazi gas chambers or generally taking lethal but ineffective action in a just war – if we had good enough evidence that bombing the gas chambers would kill lots of Nazis but not save 1 single Jew, the idea would be that the bombing would be immoral on the grounds that it would be a senseless killing of people who we would generally have moral reasons not to kill (even though they are culpable & responsible attackers). Do you get this intuition? If so, then I think you can quite consistently claim that if bombing abortion clinics would not prevent 1 single abortion, then bombing abortion clinics is morally impermissible on the grounds that it would be a senseless killing of people who we would generally have moral reasons not to kill (even though they are culpable & responsible attackers). (The only way you might not get these intuitions would be if you thought retributive principles extended sufficiently far as to justify the killings in question – of course you can (and should) endorse an element of retributivism in punishment, even if you don’t think it can go this far and even if you think it can never support killing as a means of punishment. I don’t think we need to consider this; we can continue to assume that the only clear justification for killing culpable and responsible attackers is self and other defense, and remain agnostic as to whether killing culpable & responsible attackers for purely retributive / punitive reasons is ever morally permissible, or even assume it to be the case that it isn’t).

So things would stand for killings of abortionists & bombings of abortion clinics that we could reasonably foresee would not prevent (or even forestall) 1 single abortion. But is it true that such activity would be so COMPLETELY ineffective? Do you really think bombing abortion clinics or killing abortion doctors would not prevent (or even forestall) 1 single abortion? If you don’t, then since it seems quite morally permissible to destroy property and kill even large numbers of culpable attackers in acts of other defense that one can reasonably expect to save (or even increase the probability of survival or postpone the deaths of) only small numbers of potential victims in cases in which the victims are older children and adults, it looks difficult to deny that bombing abortion clinics and killing abortion doctors is morally permissible IF fetuses have the same moral status as psychologically typical older children & adults.

Remember the way McMahan and Ku puts things:

“It would also be difficult to explain why even most opponents of abortion strongly disapprove of the killing of abortionists and the bombing of abortion clinics. For if even the proportionally rather small number of late abortions [and for you we can actually drop the ‘late’ since you’ve been appealing to principles that entail that even blastulae / zygotes/ embryos / fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation have the same moral status as psychologically typical older children or adults] performed each year were morally comparable to the murder of innocent children or adults, there would be a strong case for the permissibility of defending further innocent victims by violent means. The shootings and bombings might be reasonable responses to a practice of widespread, legally sanctioned murder” (McMahan, “Ethics of Killing”, 271).

“[If fetuses had the same moral status as typical older children and adults & killing fetuses was as grave a wrong as killing older children and adults] Bombing of abortion clinics would be unquestionably justified.…I think it is obvious that any destruction of property is justifiable in order to prevent the violation of a right to life provided that property is not necessary to sustain other lives….But…the stakes can be raised even higher. If abortion doctors are murdering fetuses, wouldn't it also be permissible to kill them at least to prevent future murders?” (http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jsku/abortion.html)

The idea is that if fetuses really have the same moral status as older children and adults, it would not have to be the case that bombing abortion clinics and killing abortionists would have to stop abortions altogether or even significantly for these acts to be morally justified. Indeed, principles of proportionality seem to dictate that the mere destruction of the property of responsible & culpable attackers can be morally justified even if they slightly increase the chance of preventing 1 murder of an adult or older child by these people. What impact would bombing Nazi gas chambers have had? Probably not too much – it certainly wouldn’t have stopped the Holocaust all by itself, and it might even be that it would not save 1 Jew. But it seems that such bombings would have been justified, right? They would have increased the probability that some Jews would survive, and certainly would have increased the probability that some Jews would not be killed as immediately. (The gas chambers would take time to rebuild, the Nazis could not costlessly transfer activity to other gas chambers or firing squads, etc.). If bombing Nazi gas chambers under such conditions would have been justified, how could bombing abortion clinics not be justified IF fetuses have the same moral status as psychologically typical older children & adults?

Also, principles of proportionality seem to dictate that one can be morally permitted in killing large numbers of culpable attackers even if this would save a relatively small number of potential victims, or even substantiality increase the probability of saving 1 victim. Take the targeted bombing of the barracks of SS guards in concentration camps for purposes of attempting to defend the victims of the camp. Of course such bombings would not by themselves end the Holocaust; there were many more SS guards that could be transferred to the camp, one probably could not expect the bombing to kill all guards at the camp, and the remaining guards could probably carry on the killings of the victims, etc. But it seems that they would have increased the probability that some Jews would survive, and certainly would have increased the probability that some Jews would not be killed as immediately. Do you think these kinds of activities would have been justified? If so, then how could killing abortion doctors not be justified IF fetuses have the same moral status as psychologically typical older children & adults?

Like the first two thought experiments discussed in this comment (i.e. the 5 blastulae thought experiment and the aborting fetuses in cases in which aborting will save the life of the mother and NOT aborting WILL ensure the survival of the fetus thought experiment), what this bombing abortion clinics & killing abortion doctors thought experiment does is put direct pressure on the view that every living organism that’s biologically human has the same moral status as any other organism that’s biologically human, as well as putting direct pressure on the (much less crazy) view that every entity with the potential to support a creature capable of well being and will have the capacity for consciousness has the same moral status as any other entity that is currently capable of well being and has the capacity for consciousness. It does not assume that fetuses either have the same moral status as psychologically typical older children or adults (including those in defense of whom one might be killing culpable attackers in bombing Nazi gas chambers or barracks involved in the Holocaust) or have no moral status at all. What it certainly seems to show, however, is that fetuses don’t have the same moral status as psychologically typical older children or adults. If fetuses did have the same moral status as psychologically typical older children or adults, it would be morally permissible to bomb abortion clinics & kill abortion doctors for the same reasons of self and other defense that makes it morally permissible to destroy the property of and even kill large numbers of culpable attackers trying to kill older children and adults, even if one can expect to save (or increase the chance of survival of, or postpone the death of) only small numbers of such children or adults. Since bombing abortion clinics & killing abortion doctors isn’t morally permissible (but destroying the property of and even killing large numbers of culpable attackers trying to kill older children and adults - even if one can expect to save (or increase the chance of survival of, or postpone the death of) only small numbers of such children or adults - is morally permissible), fetuses can’t have the same moral status as psychologically typical adults and older children. We must have weaker moral reasons (if any) not to kill fetuses, and we must have weaker moral reasons (if any) to save them if they’re threatened by attackers – e.g. such moral reasons (if any such there are) are insufficient to justify killing responsible (& if killing them is sufficiently wrong, culpable) attackers of them in attempts to prevent their being killed, while our moral reasons to save older children and adults are in fact sufficient to justify our killing responsible & culpable attackers of them in attempts to prevent their being killed.

Since fetuses are living biologically human organisms and are entities with the potential to support a creature capable of well being /that will have the capacity for consciousness (or if old enough are entities that are currently capable of well being and have the capacity for consciousness), and the thought experiment shows that fetuses have less moral status than psychologically typical older children or adults (i.e. we have weaker moral reasons – if any – not to kill them and prevent them from being killed), it similarly cannot be the case that all living human organisms have the same moral status, and it cannot be the case that every entity with the potential to support a creature capable of well being / that will have the capacity for consciousness has the same moral status as any other entity that is currently capable of well being and has the capacity for consciousness.

Thus, the sole principle (or principles) to which you have been appealing in support of the view that the abortion of fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation (viz. that all living biologically human organisms have the same moral status & / or that every entity with the potential to support a creature capable of well being / that will have the capacity for consciousness has the same moral status as any other entity that is currently capable of well being and has the capacity for consciousness) is (or are) shown to be incorrect. This, as I clearly stated, is the main point of this thought experiment (like the other two discussed in this comment). They constitute insurmountable negative arguments against your view of moral status, and render you without any support whatsoever for the view that the abortion of fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation is morally impermissible. You have to give this view (or these views) up, admit that the bombing of abortion clinics & killing of abortion doctors is morally permissible, or endorse an implausible view of the proportionality conditions under which the destruction of property of and killing of culpable attackers is morally permissible (according to which one is not morally permitted to destroy the property of culpable attackers or kill culpable attackers unless doing so will save a large number of victims, or do so with a great deal of certainty, which would also entail that bombing Nazi gas chambers & guard barracks in WWII in attempts to defend some Holocaust victims would not have been morally permissible).

So again, this third thought experiment (like the other 2 discussed in this comment) shows us that we thus have to abandon the view that all living biological human organisms have equal moral status (as well as the view that every entity with the potential to support a creature capable of well being and will have the capacity for consciousness has the same moral status as any other entity that is currently capable of well being and has the capacity for consciousness), and look for another view of moral status that can better accommodate our intuitions, including those that it is not morally permissible to bomb abortion clinics and kill abortion doctors while it is morally permissible to destroy the property of and kill culpable attackers trying to kill older children and adults even if such actions will not save many of them (so long as there is enough of a probability that at least 1 will be saved, or have her death averted for at least some time). (As well, of course, as our intuitions that i.) one should save 1 2-year-old child in preference to 5 blastulae but one should save 5 2-year-old children in preference to 1 2-year-old child, ii.) that aborting a fetus in cases in which aborting will save the life of the mother and NOT aborting WILL ensure the survival of the fetus is morally permissible but killing an older child or adult to save the life of its mother is not morally permissible iii.) that non-human animals have some moral status, iv.) that various kinds of animals have more moral status than others - e.g. creatures like shrimp have less moral status than creatures like dogs, and creatures like frogs have less moral status than creatures like psychologically typical adult humans and older children, and v.) that space aliens with the same mental lives and mental lives over time as psychologically typical adult humans or older human children have the same moral status as psychologically typical adult humans or older children). Again, a very good candidate will be a view that the moral status of an entity is determined by its psychological substantiality, connectedness to its future, and goods in prospect to which it is connected. This view, however, will in fact entail that generally fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation have literally NO moral status (since they have no mental lives at all, are such that they cannot be psychologically connected to any future, and are such that they are incapable of their lives going better or worse for them). As such it will in general be morally permissible to kill them, even for the most trivial of reasons (just like it is morally permissible to kill plants & bacteria and break rocks for the most trivial of reasons – assuming (in both cases of course) things like instrumental and aesthetic value are not an issue; i.e. the plants and rocks aren’t particularly important for the well being of creatures capable of well being, or beautiful, etc.).

Again, by showing that certain competitor theories of moral status (including the view that every living organism that’s biologically human has the same moral status as any other organism that’s biologically human, and the (much less crazy) view that every entity with the potential to support a creature capable of well being and will have the capacity for consciousness has the same moral status as any other entity that is currently capable of well being and has the capacity for consciousness) cannot be correct and providing pieces of data that the correct theory of moral status must accommodate (which the view I’ve been arguing for accommodates very well – it’s morally wrong to bomb abortion clinics and kill abortion doctors for the same reasons it’s morally wrong to destroy the property of and kill people in attempts to prevent them from killing bacteria or vegetables), this thought experiment (like the others discussed in this post) offers some support to the view of moral status I’ve been arguing for. Because this view of moral status entails that the abortion of fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation is generally morally permissible, this thought experiment (like the others) thus offers support to this conclusion. It (like the others) does all this, even though its primary initial purpose is only as a negative attack on the view that every living organism that’s biologically human has the same moral status as any other organism that’s biologically human, and the (much less crazy) view that every entity with the potential to support a creature capable of well being and will have the capacity for consciousness has the same moral status as any other entity that is currently capable of well being and has the capacity for consciousness.

3.) I won’t comment in detail on the article you linked to, since it’s shot full of religious rubbish. Since you haven’t yourself appealed to any such rubbish in attempted defense of your views, I will be charitable enough to assume that you are not doing so now. The only thing I will take you to be suggesting is that this woman was morally admirable because she risked her own life to save that of her 8 week old fetus (which risk resulted in her death). I find no intuitive pull whatsoever to this position, unless we fill in details that are such that she was in a sufficiently poor epistemic position as to make her view that the 8 week old fetus was a creature capable of well being less irrational. If we fill in such details, she may be morally admirable in the same way some Jains (in similarly epistemically impoverished positions) might be morally admirable for sacrificing their lives to try to save the lives of fruit-flies they believed to be capable of well being: they will both be people who had incorrect views as to what was capable of well being, but in light of their impoverished epistemic positions, the views were no so irrational as to render their sacrifices for what they took to be capable of well being so stupid as to mitigate entirely against their being morally admirable. Of course, this will of course do nothing to convince us either that fetuses before 20 weeks of gestation or fruit-flies have moral status or are capable of well being. These people may have been morally admirable, but were quite incorrect – their sacrifices were pointless, but admirable nonetheless because it wasn’t sufficiently irrational for them to fail to believe they were pointless.

Of course, I also take it that you aren’t using this to challenge the view that mothers are morally PERMITTED to abort fetuses (and certainly fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation) if failing to do so involves a serious threat to their lives; after all, I take it that you think this woman was admirable, not simply refraining from doing what was morally wrong. The same could NOT be said of women who refrain from killing their older or adult children to try to save their own lives – they would not be morally admirable; just refraining from doing something morally wrong. As such, this does nothing to take away from the problem cases of aborting to save the mother’s life poses for views of moral status that hold that every living organism that’s biologically human has the same moral status as any other organism that’s biologically human, or that every entity with the potential to support a creature capable of well being and will have the capacity for consciousness has the same moral status as any other entity that is currently capable of well being and has the capacity for consciousness.

(Recall: Since it’s morally PERMISSIBLE to abort (at least sufficiently young) fetuses to save the mother’s life, but morally IMPERMISSIBLE to kill older or adult children to save the mother’s life, fetuses must have lesser moral status than older children or adults. Because fetuses are living biologically human organisms and are entities with the potential to support a creature capable of well being /that will have the capacity for consciousness (or if old enough are entities that are currently capable of well being and have the capacity for consciousness), and the thought experiment shows that fetuses have less moral status than psychologically typical older children or adults, it similarly cannot be the case that all living human organisms have the same moral status, and it cannot be the case that every entity with the potential to support a creature capable of well being / that will have the capacity for consciousness has the same moral status as any other entity that is currently capable of well being and has the capacity for consciousness. This result that fetuses have less moral status than older children and adults – and the need to search for an alternative theory of moral status that can accommodate it (which I’m sorry to say is going to have the result that it’s morally permissible to kill fetuses prior to 20 weeks of gestation and we have no moral reasons to save them) – will stand even if you think it’s morally admirable to run risks to one’s life in preference to killing a fetus, because you can’t think the same thing about running risks to one’s life in preference to killing an older child or adult (which is morally REQUIRED, and which I take it you are not claiming about running risks to one’s life in preference to aborting a fetus).

4.) Oh, and I guess I should repeat (since you still aren’t reading it or are deliberatively choosing to ignore the fact that I pointed it out):

Finally, remember what I said – you’re despicable beneath contempt because of how you acted here, not because of your genetic endowment or other factors beyond your control. And you didn’t exist until your fetal organism was older than 20 weeks (because your mind didn’t exist until then), so the kinds of abortions I’ve been arguing are generally morally permissible (i.e. those performed prior to the onset of the capacity of consciousness between 20 and 28 weeks of gestation) are all such that they could not have killed YOU or any creature like you that is capable of well being, moral status, or being despicable beneath contempt.

Anonymous said...

Howard (who is the genuine Nazi for reasons explained over and over again, namely that you continue to insist that you have the unquestionable authority and ability to determine when a human being has a protected right to life or must be determined to be sub-human and of no value, holding no independent right to live outside of your imposed test which is based upon today’s insufficient scientific technology),

You have no right to determine when a human life begins. To question the value of saving five fetuses or one child is no “thought experiment.” It is simply another vain attempt to find a way to justify the killing of innocent human beings. For example, how can you determine if it is morally justifiable to choose to kill eight crab apples in order to save one juicy orange? What if the five crab apples have a unique element in them which will cure all human illness? What if the five fetuses are Beethoven, Mozart, Picasso, Einstein and Shakespeare and the two year old is Charles Manson (you will need to briefly set aside your Nazi lust for blood in order for this “thought experiment” to make sense)?

Quite simply, what you have done is decided based on your political views that abortion prior to some magical date is just great, and thus you have selected criteria upon which you can perform “thought experiments” which allow you to find justification for killing millions of unborn children each year.

I have offered ample evidence that the reason why abortion is legal in the United States is to promote a eugenic program which is at its heart based upon Nazi principles. This is logical and proven by ample evidence. You simply can’t dismiss the fact that Roe v. Wade was NOT decided based upon the “capacity for consciousness.” Rest assured, your wonderful solution which you hope will allow the continued justification of abortion falls short. I do enjoy seeing your mental gymnastics as you continue to attempt to use logic to justify the murder of defenseless children in the womb. You are an interesting psychological subject. Unfortunately, you are also a tragic example of how someone who has only one side of “faith and reason” gets lost in moral relativism. In your instance, you are simply the antithesis of a mindless evangelical. You may have a great mind (though I use this term loosely), but you are putting it to use for immoral ends. In your case, a little humility would go a long way. Science has proven itself to be only as good as our fallible human minds. It is no religion.