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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Objectivism and Abortion

I've noticed that some politically conservative Facebook friends of mine are linking to Objectivist articles, becoming fans of Ayn Rand, etc. For those who are unfamiliar with Objectivism, Wikipedia has a decent summary. For those who are too lazy to read it, a key Objectivist belief is that following one's rational self-interest is the moral way to live; in other words, "greed is good." (Another central element is atheism, though I want to be clear that most atheists are not followers of Ayn Rand.)

The Objective Standard, an Objectivist online journal, is reaching out to Tea Partiers, applauding their embrace of limited government and encouraging them to adopt the Objectivist philosophy. The Tea Party page contains a link to an article on the Objectivist position on abortion, by Leonard Peikoff.
Nor should abortion-rights advocates keep hiding behind the phrase “a woman’s right to choose.” Does she have the right to choose murder? That’s what abortion would be, if the fetus were a person.
So far, so good.
But what it actually is during the first trimester is a mass of relatively undifferentiated cells that exist as a part of a woman’s body.
Aaaaaand it's all downhill from there.

"It's part of the woman's body" has got to be the most easily debunked pro-abortion lie. No embryologist would ever agree with this ludicrous statement. "Relatively undifferentiated cells" is also a lie. Mr. Peikoff would have us believe that the embryo is "pre-human," not only in the first trimester, but until birth (when suddenly, the Personhood Fairy endows it with rights). And then he has the gall to declare that the pro-life position is based on "mystical notions of religious dogma"!

Along the way, he inadvertently denies the rights of conjoined twins: his argument is that anyone who is physically joined to another is a "part" or "collective," while rights may be enjoyed only by "individuals."

I encourage pro-lifers to think twice before forging any alliances with the Objectivist movement.

24 comments:

Simon said...

This maybe a time to raise where the divide between left and right including Libertarian-whatever their flavour- create a large problem for Pro-life.

If one were to take the above rational selfishness or Libertarian/conservative/Scots-Irish view then everyone should support themselves and we are only under an obligation not to harm others and not to provide any other aid. So whether it is a child drowning in a bath tub or universal health care -so a child doesn't die from a preventable disease- there is no obligation to assist other people. This goes to the traditional accusation that Pro-Life are really only worried about controlling a woman’s body as they aren’t concerned about the unborn and are quite prepared to see it die from a preventable disease after it is born.

Now apart arguably from a disconnect from the idea that a human life has high value, it plays right into Pro-Choices hands that this isn’t a human rights issue and that at least some Pro-Lifers are patriarchal –often religious- bigots.

So what to do? Even just on a political level we haven’t a hope in hell if the view that we should only concern ourselves with not allowing humans to be killed and not about allowing them to die from preventable causes, is a large part of our message.

Now you might have a hard time accepting my argument that if you are going to override a rape victims bodily autonomy and use of her body to keep someone alive, you should do the same in any situation that keeps someone alive, but at the very least having Pro-Lifers say you don’t have to save a drowning child in bath or anyone else in any situation where there is no risk or only a small cost to yourself is going to get us nowhere.

secularprolife.org said...

The problem is that government policy isn't at all consistent. Legally, yes, you DO have to save the drowning child, if you are able to do so without risk. Some areas are experimenting with laws where you have to opt OUT of donating your organs upon death, rather than opting in. But we still have abortion, and we still have deaths from preventable disease. Objectivism certainly isn't going to help!

andy said...

Objectivism applied consistently with the harm principle will result in a position which sees abortion as immoral, and something that should be illegal. Libertarianism says that what is best for the individual is ultimately going to be best for society. So freedom to do whatever you like (so long as you're not impeding on another's freedom) is the way to go.

A mother's obligation to the human living inside her and attached to her is significantly greater than an individual's obligation to another human who is drowning.

Except in the case of rape, the mother has consented to engage in an action of which a possible outcome is the introduction of a human life inside her.

Therefore, in comparison, imagine the human drowning again. The mother has set in motion the events that would result in a human "drowning" (or in this case, growing inside her). Thus she has an absolute obligation to the "drowning human", to protect its life.

Unlike the human drowning in water - who may have entered the water of its own accord, or been put in the water by another person, the foetus has been "placed" inside the mother without the foetus giving consent to this. Therefore the foetus has no obligation to the mother to "separate itself from its mother", because the foetus is not responsible.

Libertarians who are decent people actually believe in charity (i.e. saving a child who is drowning in a bath-tub, even though they have no obligation) - what they don't agree with, is the Government a) taking their money to pay people to save drowning children, or b) mandating that they must save every drowning child they see.

The very important and quite unique difference in the case of the unborn child that I have tried to point out, is that the mother has an obligation to her pre-born child - not because anyone else says so, but because the responsibility for that child's existence is hers alone.*

Being pro-abortion is being not truly libertarian.

*have not mentioned the male partner, as this would further complicate the explanation. to be clear though, the male partner is absolutely morally obligated just as much as the mother.

secularprolife.org said...

Visit Libertarians for Life at L4L.org for further elaboration of Andy's comments. It's an excellent resource.

I don't think Objectivism and Libertarianism are exactly the same thing, though.

Nulono said...

Simon, the problem is abortion isn't a case of refusing to save someone's life. If you abort the child, even by simple expulsion, this is killing the child.

Simon said...

Kelsey, they aren't, but it seems to me the results are very similar; no obligation for even basic positive rights, it is entirely optional.

Andy- if you aren't obligated that could be argued that it is optional or supererogatory. That is great if you do it but by no means are you obligated. So if it isn't an obligation you could equally decide not to save the drowning child and like other supererogatory cases you cannot be censured for not doing it. Splitting hairs by saying most people -except maybe Nulono- would feel it necessary to save the child, even if technically they aren’t obligated morally to do it, just seems bizarre.

Nulono- Technically it is still a case of Double effect the early foetus doesn’t die the instant it is removed from the woman, nor is it the intent. & unlike putting a stranger out your door and into a blizzard, we have weaker ties to someone using our property as opposed to our bodies, not to mention the shorter time periods involved for property trespass.


One could argue that the occupation of your body without consent is a type of serious assault, and if there only way was to stop an similar serious assault at your home was to put someone out into a blizzard, I would then say the law would see this as justified self defense, even if it kills the aggressor. Say he was mad and an innocent aggressor, IMO that doesn't change a thing; I'm still justified in locking him out if that is the only way to end the assault.

Simon said...
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Simon said...

Splitting hairs by saying most people -except maybe Nulono- would feel it necessary to save the child, even if technically they aren’t obligated morally to do it, just seems bizarre.

Nulono tongue in cheek ;)

Michael M said...

Part 1 of 2:

You are—inadvertently perhaps—cherrypicking the Objectivist position on abortion. There is more to it than what that agglomeration of cells does or does not represent. You are not taking into consideration the nature of rights. I recommend Chapter 10 Government in Peikoff's "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand," particularly the first couple of pages.

Rights are not a gift of Gods or Governments. They are principles necessitated by the nature of man for the purpose of defining what men may not do to each other as standards for what a Government must protect its citizens from. Where there would be random small groups of men in a jungle or on other planets, there can be no political rights, because there is no neutral third party institution (government) to enforce them.

The nature of man that necessitates rights is the fact that man survives and flourishes solely from applying the products of his reason to his actions. Rights are the standards that prevent other fallible men from interfering in that task. Since the basis for demanding one's own individual right to pursue life in that way is man's nature, one must reciprocally grant to all other individuals that same right to apply their reason to their actions in the service of their life. Thus, in the context of politics, the purpose of sustaining the right to life for others is to secure that right for oneself.

Rights therefore are applicable to thinking, acting individuals who are capable of reciprocating with others. None of the preceding is applicable to an embryo or fetus. I do not need reciprocity from any fetus. I cannot get reciprocity from conjoined twins separately either. So long as they remain conjoined they are due only one set of rights. Furthermore, Rights are, by definition right. Opposite conclusions cannot both be consistent with reality in the same context. There is no such thing as "conflicting rights." To endorse such a concept would undermine your own rights.

Therefore, a mother and the fetus within her cannot each have a separate set of rights that could favor one over the other. Nor can conjoined twins. Granting a right to life to both in each case is inherently self-contradictory. When you separate a fetus from the mother or separate two conjoined twins, then each individual will have their own individual rights.

Michael M said...

Part 2 of 2:

In order to rid yourself of this contradiction, you will have to dig deeper than just politics or ethics. You need to correct your epistemology—your theory of knowledge. If one is religious and believes that the source of ultimate truths is a mystical entity results in various degrees of self induced intellectual impotence. That enables some men to conjure rationalizations that give them some special abilities to grasp whatever truths are allegedly out of reach to the average mind, which in turn enables them to dictate the definitions of the nature of man and reality, and thereby to control the thought and action of those who buy into their story. Examples include preachers, priests, popes, mullahs, witch doctors, etc.

Rand offers a different theory of knowledge. It is that the dictator of truth is the actual nature of man and reality, and that reason is your capacity to identify what the good is by identifying that which is necessitated for us by our fundamental nature. For a similar example, ask yourself what gardener would plant a tree without knowing what its nature required to sustain it and enable it to flourish. Well, when you study Objectivism, you will find detailed positions on the fundamental nature of man and what kinds of actions (virtues) are necessary to fulfill it.

Even a person who would cling to a belief in God should realize that letting equally fallible religious mystics to define truth for you is a risky venture. After all, if your God created your nature what could be wrong with defining it and living in accordance with it as Rand advocates? If God gave you reason and volition, what could be wrong with using it as it was intended as Rand advises? Why would He give you reason and then expect you to choose to abandon that capacity to the authority of others who have no greater claim to being able to define the truth than you do?

Simon said...

Michael a true believer ;) simply put not all humans even born ones are moral agents. Throw in the connection between desires and a right to life, and babies and many infants fail this connection.
I suppose BTW tht you would have no time for the law that gives property and inheritance rights to prenatals?

Michael M said...

"a true believer"

No—a true agree-er.

"not all humans even born ones are moral agents"

Yes. Humans just born, asleep, comatose, or unconscious are not—temporarily. The brain-dead are not, permanently.

"Throw in the connection between desires and a right to life, and babies and many infants fail this connection."

Not a clue what you are trying to say ...

"I suppose BTW tht you would have no time for the law that gives property and inheritance rights to prenatals?"

Yes, the concept of political rights is not applicable to prenatals for the reasons I stated.

secularprolife.org said...

I think he's saying that if you can't get reciprocity from a fetus (true), and that's a basis for denying fetal rights, then infants ought not to have any rights either. After all, newborns are not any different from fetuses in their ability to desire rights. That takes you into Peter Singer, pro-infanticide territory.

At the risk of getting off topic, I should disclose that I am a law student. The idea that there is no such thing as competing rights is therefore a huge obstacle to my acceptance of Objectivism. Even if I weren't studying law, my own experiences show me that there are indeed times when rights conflict.

Michael M said...

Refresh: I said, "Rights therefore are applicable to thinking, acting individuals who are capable of reciprocating with others."

This should not be taken to mean that rights depend on all four of these being active at every single second or one's rights disappear. It means rather that the moral concept of political rights only has meaning in respect to living entities, and the particular class of living entities to which they apply specifically are individual human beings, because they are rational (thinking) animals whose actions during their pursuit of life are capable of interfering by physical force or the threat thereof with the freedom of others to pursue their lives, but contrary to all other animals and creatures are volitional and not driven by irrevocable instincts, and so are capable of abstaining (reciprocating) from such interference.

When a fetus emerges from the womb and the cord is cut, it meets these criteria sufficiently to establish its membership in this class of living entities as opposed to all others. Actually, it is born into a state of reciprocity with precious little expectation that it could ever reach a point of utter inability to reciprocate consciously and deliberately.

Recognize also that infants, children, teens and adults all have a right to their life, but the extent of the rights that constitute their right to life are quite minimal at birth and only mature to full rights on arriving at adulthood. So too do they fulfill their qualifications more completely in phases.

That the continuum from fertilized egg to independent human is a constant process of growth is a primary cause of the difficulty of defining the multitudinous aspects of this issue and locating a single point of completed transition. I have long favored the severing of the umbilical cord as that point, because no philosopher, scientist, or mullah can dispute the fact of its occurrence.

Before that point the criterion of individuality cannot be met, and I repeat, there is no such animal as "conflicting rights." The rights that you think conflict are rights that men have asserted to be rights but in fact are not because they conflict with bona fide rights. If you think there are such things, you will have to cough up a few, and I will happy to explain. And it is a matter of the law—only the law that applies is not one of jurisprudence, but rather one of epistemology. Namely, it is the Law of Identity, A is A, B is B, and A cannot be both A and B at the same time in the same way (or context). If an act is moral, its antithesis cannot be. The exercise of a political right cannot violate a political right. If it does, you need to redefine your rights.

The most common assertions of rights conflicts (in addition to the mother/fetus conflict) are the so-called lifeboat situations in which two men face the dilemma presented by the plank of wood that can only keep one afloat. Or there is the starving man lost in a blizzard who needs to break into a cabin for food or shelter. These cease to be a dilemma or a conflict of rights when you understand that rights are inherently contextual. They are principles necessitated by the nature of man and defined by men to enable themselves to pursue their lives without interference in a society. Because rights exist for every man only as a means to further one's life, they may not be so defined that sustaining them would mean certain death.

Therefore, in the above examples, the definition of individual rights cannot be allowed to establish an obligation to sustain the right to life of the other man in the water or an obligation to sustain the property rights of the cabin owner when doing so will result in one's certain death. Nor may one assert a right for a fetus that could in any way impede a decision by the carrying mother to abort it for the sake of her own life.

Simon said...
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Simon said...

It means rather that the moral concept of political rights
Political rights aren’t ethical rights.


only has meaning in respect to living entities,...animals whose actions during their pursuit of life are capable of interfering by physical force or the threat thereof with the freedom of others to pursue their lives.... creatures are volitional and not driven by irrevocable instincts, and so are capable of abstaining (reciprocating) from such interference.

So what are you using the Functionalist or psychological continuity vs essentialist/biological continuity? This isn’t clear. A baby still doesn’t really directly interfere in the way you are talking about.


When a fetus emerges from the womb and the cord is cut, it meets these criteria sufficiently to establish its membership in this class of living entities as opposed to all others.

A foetus while attached is an individual human it is just at this stage of development it gets its care in a somewhat quasi parasitical nature rather than exterior to the mother. Being attached no more invalidates its individuality than any other species who gets its nourishment while attached to the body of another organism.


Actually, it is born into a state of reciprocity with precious little expectation that it could ever reach a point of utter inability to reciprocate consciously and deliberately.
Gee this is a new one not being able to or even comprehending reciprocity means something is in a state of reciprocity.


Recognize also that infants, children, teens and adults all have a right to their life,

Why? That is isn’t clear why being able to choose not to interfere with others through a non instinctual cognitive process justifies a right to life apart from the fact that a baby or infant hardly meet this criteria.

Simon said...

That the continuum from fertilized egg to independent human is a constant process of growth is a primary cause of the difficulty of defining the multitudinous aspects of this issue and locating a single point of completed transition. I have long favored the severing of the umbilical cord as that point, because no philosopher, scientist, or mullah can dispute the fact of its occurrence.

I would agree that philosophically justifying a right to life is a difficult and disputed argument, but many see no problem as seeing conception at that point for if we include other humans in our moral in-group where the only shared capacity is a future sentient state, then the overwhelming majority of prenatals meets this criterion.



Before that point the criterion of individuality cannot be met,
Wrong see above.


and I repeat, there is no such animal as "conflicting rights." The rights that you think conflict are rights that men have asserted to be rights but in fact are not because they conflict with bona fide rights. If you think there are such things, you will have to cough up a few, and I will happy to explain.

Bodily autonomy vs right to life esp. in cases where one party has harmed or placed another party in a state of dependency.



The most common assertions of rights conflicts (in addition to the mother/fetus conflict) are the so-called lifeboat situations ....Therefore, in the above examples, the definition of individual rights cannot be allowed to establish an obligation to sustain the right to life of the other man in the water or an obligation to sustain the property rights of the cabin owner when doing so will result in one's certain death. Nor may one assert a right for a fetus that could in any way impede a decision by the carrying mother to abort it for the sake of her own life.

In other words generally I don’t give up my life to save someone else’s. Many would argue moral responsibility for making another moral entity dependent could arguably abrogate that right. In a situation like rape that is different.

Michael M said...

"A baby still doesn’t really directly interfere in the way you are talking about."

The only threat to the above mentioned condition (freedom) is the initiation of physical force or threat thereof by other human beings. The purpose of forming a government and defining rights is to protect against the use of force by any of all human beings during their entire life spans. That a human being does not use force as an infant, or even as an adult is not relevant to that purpose.

"A foetus while attached is an individual human ..."

No. The word "individual" in this context means "separate".

"Gee this is a new one not being able to or even comprehending reciprocity means something is in a state of reciprocity."

Any person not exercising force against others, for whatever reason, is "reciprocating".

"Why? That is isn’t clear why being able to choose not to interfere with others through a non instinctual cognitive process justifies a right to life"

Briefly:
1. The most fundamental alternative all living creatures face is life or death.
2. All creatures but man are programmed to pursue a particular kind of life, while man are volitional — they can and must choose among the alternatives they face.
3. The choice to pursue life over death implicitly establishes life as one's goal and the standard of all values.
4. Man's specific means to pursue life is reason applied to action for production and exchange of values.
5. Because volitional men are fallible, individuals require autonomy to apply their own reason to their own action in the service of their own life.
6. The extension of that ethical prerequisite to a social context necessitates political rights in principle to define the range of individual autonomy as it may be claimed and must be reciprocally granted.

"Bodily autonomy vs right to life esp. in cases where one party has harmed or placed another party in a state of dependency."

You will have to be more specific. The right to life is the right to bodily autonomy. To harm someone or place them in a state of dependency by force is a violation of the right to life. What is the nature of the conflict?

"In other words generally I don’t give up my life to save someone else’s. "

You may if you choose to, but there is no explicit or implicit political right that may require it.

Many would argue moral responsibility for making another moral entity dependent could arguably abrogate that right. In a situation like rape that is different."

"Making another moral entity dependent" is nebulous ... what are you trying to say, and in what way does it apply to rape—or not?
In all other situations but those rights-or-death alternatives, a perpetrator violating the rights of another implicitly forfeits his own rights.

Simon said...

Michael M: I don't think I'm up to discussing this if you take the view that babies reciprocate. We aren't even using simple concepts in the same way.

Michael M said...

Simon: You are over-defining "reciprocate" to include meanings that the word in this context does not encompass.

It means only to abstain from initiating force when and if the occasion arises. It does not mean that an individual must be exercising that choice at every minute of his life. The time at which the occasion first arises is also not implied.

Rights are first and foremost necessitated by the nature of man that requires freedom from coercion in order to apply reason to action independent of the fallible choices of others. An infants' capacity to apply reason to action is at first no less minimal and primitive than that to reciprocate. All human capacity to exercise the kinds of actions that rights protect and the implied responsibilities is zero at birth and grows from there to adulthood when full and unqualified freedom to act on one's own is due.

If you apply your view on the relevance to reciprocity to an infant's ability to apply reason to action as well, you would be denying them the right to life during that initial period of their life and would forfeit thereby any argument against infanticide.

Simon said...

Michael: I just don't think your Objectivist use of reciprocate is coherent. By this reasoning other animals equally reciprocate.

There are others who also think only moral agents are deserving of full moral concerns, but I'm not one of them. There are other ways to ground these concerns.

Lastly yes, if one were to say only moral agents are deserving of full moral rights that would mean infanticide is justified and that is the logical end point of your view. We don’t like Marry Anne Warren, grant that arguments like this -and a strict adherence of the personhood- justify infanticide but since we don’t like infanticide, clutch at an ad hoc fallacy and sloppy reasoning to avoid this consequence. If you don’t like the end result of your reasoning you change your argument rather than ignore the result.

IdiotSeeker said...

Being pro-abortion is not being truly Libertarian?

Really? What about Judith Thompsons paper on the human rights of abortion and how she shows that some people may consider the right to ones body more important than having to sustain another persons life, despite having no obligation to them.

The Institute of Libertarian Studies agreed with her and published another paper as well, supporting and evaluating her argument.

Even Murray Rothbard agreed in his "For a New Liberty" that any Libertarian must allow abortion because a Libertarian must view 'the right to life' and 'the freedom to own ones bodily decisions' as equal.

You are the minority Libertarian, my friend.

Murray Rothbard on Abortion:
http://i1062.photobucket.com/albums/t499/rapoirier/Abortion.png

Terence57 said...

Is it more likely that they may be antagonistic? Is it possible that they occur in different hierarchical tiers according to particular value systems but not in law?
Is it possible that one right is subsumed by another?
Objectivism, at its best, understands that a right can only exist in a non-contradictory state with other rights. Life is a right. It cannot be contradictory to any other right, by definition.

Terence57 said...

Mothers and fetuses are not conjoined twins. Leonard Peikoff and Rand herself cherry pick on their own in this instance. Rand's first commandment is to "THINK," not "quote." Thinking must always be the starting and end point. At the moment of conception, a new identity is created (regardless of the temporal path that entity exists through) up to and beyond its first rush of air. A is A. Rand tortures herself to assert otherwise. If man's purpose is his own life, what right does another have to snuff it out
at any stage of it's development. I, we, are owed nothing from it, certainly. We have no moral or ethical claim to it. In short, we have no business abridging it, whatever path its existence takes, barring any danger to others' lives or freedoms it could pose to others in the couse of its life in the larger world.