Thursday, August 31, 2006

More On Minds

I've got my rebuttal to Ponnuru here.


Anonymous said...


You say this:
"Frodo, Spock, Yoda, and many other fictional nonhumans have minds like ours so their moral status is like that of humans."

So is this the claim?

(1) For every thing X, if X has a mind like ours, then X's moral status is like that of humans.

Then you go on to say:
"Not all human organisms have minds -- zygotes certainly don’t."

So is this the claim?:

(2) For every zygote Z, Z does not have a mind (like ours).

But it seems you want this conclusion:

(3) For every zygote Z, Z's moral status is not "like" that of humans.

You want the moral status of zygotes to be so unlike that of humans that destruction of zygotes is permissible. But it's not obvious to me how (3) is meant to follow from (1) and (2).

Did you mean for (1) to be biconditional? Are we missing this conjunct of that biconditional?

(1a) For every thing X, X's moral status is "like" that of humans only if X has a mind like ours.

Do you -- either in your initial review or in your rebuttal -- offer evidence for (1a)?

About (1a). It's unclear what it takes to be a "mind like ours", and you'll have to deal with vagueness. At first glance, it seems that young children are clear cut cases of things that do NOT have "minds like ours". So they also do not have moral status "like" that of humans. Yet I don't think you'd agree that killing young children (up until adolescence?) is morally permissible. So though they may not have moral status "like" us, they may have another moral status that renders killing impermissible. And why can't the pro-lifer claim the same thing about fetuses and zygotes?

The only alternative I see is that young children, including infants, do have "minds like ours". In which case I can't see why babies about to be born do not have "minds like ours".


You also say this:

"Birth provides a clear and natural line for the inception of a right to life."

I don't see that at all. Why is the baby's journey of several inches morally significant? That journey doesn't have a bearing on whether the baby has a "mind like ours". So what other criterion are you using here?

Also, you approvingly cite an article in JAMA saying that fetuses probably don't feel pain until 23-30 weeks. However, they presuppose this:

"Pain perception requires conscious recognition or awareness of a noxious stimulus."

It sounds like they're claiming that in order for an organism to feel pain, that organism must have the capacity for introspection, the capacity to be aware of or to recognize pain. That seems overly restrictive, to say the least. I'm pretty sure that some lower animals experience pain, even if they don't have the ability to introspect and be aware of their pain. The fetus doesn't have to recognize that he or she is in pain, in order to be in pain. I think we can agree on that.

Anyway, yours was a good article that was well written. I think it just needs some work.

Progressive Traditionalist said...

I haven't finished reading all of Ponnuru's rebuttal; but I read your reply to his first.


I was under the impression that the laws of irritability kicked in at the cellular level -- receptivity, memory, conditioning, and fatigue.

Also, you might say that society at large has no regard for potentialities. Consider the case of a criminal caught red-handed. Perhaps by the time of the trial he is rehabilitated? If the potential for rehabilitation exists, then may we forego the trial?

It is inescapable that protoplasm is a much different thing than minerals. Regenerative, and all that.
Likewise, the value of comparison to animals is rather limited. Think of the limitations & uses for animals, and you should be able to figure it out.

Ponnuru says, "[H]e straightforwardly defends the view that not all living human organisms are persons with rights."
Now, whether you do or not, this is indeed the case. The right to life is not an absolute right, else capital punishment could not be conceived. That is, life, like other rights, is a non-absolute right, it is not infinite; it has a definite beginning point, and can be subsequently revoked.

Now, which of the rights enumerated in the bill of rights do you suppose applies to fetuses?
Consider the case of a fetus whose mother is on crack. Should the fetus have the right to petition a court to be removed to a surrogate?

The arguments about mind, while they may be appealing, are of no consequence. Were I to plow down a retarded kid in a crosswalk should that be any less of a crime than running over an athlete (supposing that it's not University Ave in Lubbock we're talking about here)?
Do you suppose the cop would wave it off and say, "Oh, it's just a retarded kid," and wish me good day, congratulate my efficiency?

Ponnuru also says, "By treating human organisms and "persons" as separate..."
Well, DUH!!, they ARE separate. Look up what Texas state law says about "non-persons." You might be in for a shocker.

Conclusion: Ponnuru's assertions are off-base, and your reply to him (ie mind capacity) isn't much better. Makes for an interesting argument, but it's all beside the point.

Nevertheless, it is good to see the congeniality among partisans. Refreshing, actually.