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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Philosophy in the abortion issue: part two

[Today's post is part of a series by SPL member Clinton Wilcox. Read part one here.]

Now that we’ve learned what goes into making an argument, let’s talk about how to respond to an argument. First, a bit about why philosophy is necessary.

Philosophy is all around us. Why are you an Atheist/Christian/Buddhist/etc.? That can only be answered through philosophical reasoning. All of our laws are based on philosophy. Why should abortion be legal or illegal? Science can’t tell us. That can only be answered through philosophical reasoning. Why is murder wrong? Why are rape or theft immoral? What is the meaning of life? All of the important questions are philosophical ones. How should we behave toward other people? Another philosophical concern. If abortion can be shown to be immoral through philosophical reasoning, then anyone who wishes to live a moral life should not have an abortion, or suggest one to another person considering abortion. The only result of rejecting philosophy is that you will continue to do philosophy, badly.

Consider my argument from my last article,

P1: It is prima facie immoral to kill a human being.
P2: Abortion kills a human being.
C1: Therefore, abortion is prima facie immoral.
P3: The unjustified killing of human beings should be illegal.
C2 (from P2 and P3): Therefore, abortion should be illegal.

First, I will justify my argument. Then I will illustrate how one could respond to it.

Premise One: It is prima facie immoral to kill a human being.

Prima facie is Latin for “at first sight.” I include this because it is not always immoral to kill a human being. Some forms of killing are justifiable. For example, self-defense. Every human being has a right to self-defense. If someone wishes to take your life, you have the right to defend yourself (within limits). The right to self-defense also entails reasonable measures being taken. If your life is not being threatened, you do not have the right to take life.

Human beings are uniquely valuable based on the kind of thing they are, humans (that is, members of species Homo Sapiens). I do not mean that humans are valuable simply for being human (as opposed to being a dog, cat, etc.). But human beings are valuable due to their inherent nature as rational, moral agents.

The burden of proof must always be on the one wishing to take human life. We do not allow anyone to take anyone’s life without proper justification. Murder is illegal, as are infanticide, genocide, etc. If you look at every human being, we all have different hair color, eye color, height, weight, skin color, etc. The only thing we all have in common that makes it as wrong to kill one human as to kill another is our common humanity. Ergo, it is unjustified to kill someone without provocation.

Premise Two: Abortion kills a human being.

This is self-explanatory. Science has proven long ago that the unborn are living human beings (biologically). The only people who disagree with this premise are lay pro-choice people with an agenda.

The unborn from fertilization are alive because they grow. They also exhibit other forms of life, such as cell division, metabolism, and response to stimuli. In fact, the only thing the unborn need to survive are adequate nutrition, a proper environment, and an absence of fatal threats. That’s all any of us need. There is no point in human development when the developing entity goes from non-life to living.

The unborn are also human from fertilization. We know that everything reproduces after its own kind; dogs have dogs, cats have cats, and humans have humans. They have separate human DNA from, and often a different blood type than, the mother. A white human embryo can be created in a petri dish, implanted into a black mother, and be born white. In fact, if the unborn organism were simply a “part of the mother’s body,” then the pregnant woman would have four arms, four legs, two heads, four eyes, two noses, and roughly have the time male reproductive organs. But this is absurd. At no time during human development does the unborn ever go from “non-human” to human.

In every scientific sense of the word, the unborn is a separate, whole, living, human individual organism. I have literally dozens of quotes from embryologists, doctors, and pro-choice philosophers that attest to this I could offer, but in the interest of space, I’ll offer two. The first one is from the most-used embryology textbook:

“Although life is a continuous process, fertilization (which, incidentally, is not a ‘moment’) is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte.” [1]

“A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e. an embryo).” [2]

To top it all off, past president of Planned Parenthood, Alan Guttmacher, wrote the following concerning the scientific fact of the unborn human being in 1933, a full forty years before Roe v. Wade:

“This all seems so simple and evident that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn’t part of the common knowledge.” [3]

Pro-choice philosophers accept this scientific fact, as well:

“It is possible give ‘human being’ a precise meaning. We can use it as equivalent to ‘member of the species Homo sapiens’. Whether a being is a member of a given species is something that can be determined scientifically, by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in the cells of living organisms. In this sense there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being.” [4]

“Prior to conception there is only a sperm and an ovum. As these are both necessary for bringing somebody into existence, but because they are distinct entities prior to conception, they cannot be identical with the being that will be brought into existence. Two cannot be identical with one. Thus we cannot speak of a new organism as having come into existence prior to conception. Put another way, each one of us was once a zygote, but none of us was ever a sperm or an (unfertilized) ovum.” [5]

Conclusion One: Therefore, abortion is prima facie immoral.

If it is prima facie immoral to kill a human being, and abortion kills a human being, then it naturally follows that abortion is prima facie immoral. The burden of proof is on the pro-choice advocate to show that abortion is morally justified.

Abortions are, in fact, justified to save the life of the pregnant woman if her life is in immediate jeopardy and the child is not yet viable. If the child is viable, the child must be delivered (not only to save the child, but it is safer and faster for the mother to deliver the child). If the child is not yet viable, then the doctor must do the greatest good he can. If only one can be saved, the doctor must save the one with the greatest chance of survival (the mother).

In all other cases, abortion is simply not morally justified.

Premise Three: The unjustified killing of human beings should be illegal.

By unjustified, I simply mean killing a human being without moral justification. It is wrong to go and kill a human being without just cause. And humans are uniquely valuable (as I have shown), so valuable that society does, in fact, make their killing illegal. It doesn’t just take moral justification to kill a human being, it takes strong moral justification to kill one. Killing a human being without just cause should be illegal, and is made illegal by civilized societies. If the unborn are human beings, which is strongly supported by science, then killing them should be illegal, as well.

Conclusion Two: Abortion should be illegal.

My second conclusion naturally follows. If we make the unjustified killing of human beings illegal, which the unborn certainly are, then killing them should also be illegal.

Now that my argument has been supported, how does one respond?

There are three ways you could respond to an argument:

1) Search for logical fallacies. I have shown several logical fallacies and some of the arguments made by pro-life and pro-choice people in my previous article. My argument here does not contain any logical fallacies. I have supported my premises with arguments, and the conclusions naturally follow.

2) Rebut the premises. If there are no logical fallacies, then what remains is to argue against the premises. You could tackle premise two, but you’re arguing against science if you try to do so. Embryologists (the experts on human embryology) consistently agree that human beings are human beings from fertilization. The only people I’ve ever heard contest this are lay pro-choice people who are so desperate to prove that abortion is moral that they are willing to argue against science. But I’ve always found it bizarre that people will accept science’s word when it comes to evolution, but suddenly science can’t be trusted when it comes to determining human life.

However, the best pro-choice arguments attack premise one. Pro-choice people agree that it is prima facie immoral to kill a human being, but they believe that abortion is justified killing. If you can show that abortion is justified killing, my argument fails to show that abortion is immoral. This is usually done by arguing for bodily rights (the best defenders of this being Judith Jarvis Thomson and David Boonin). But even then, bodily rights arguments are not sufficient to show that abortion is moral or should be legal. [6]

3) Concede the argument. If there are no logical fallacies and there are no arguments strong enough to refute it, then the only thing left is to change your views. I fully admit I could be mistaken in my views. I don’t believe that I am, and I’m open to discussion about my argument. However, I have read the best arguments on both sides of the equation (from pro-life, as well as pro-choice, philosophers). The best arguments, with the greatest explanatory power, lie on the pro-life side.

In my next and last article in the series, I will discuss bad arguments from both sides of the abortion fence.

[1] Ronan O’Rahilly and Fabiola Muller, Human Embryology and Teratology, 3rd ed., New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001, p. 8.
[2] Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th ed., Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003, p. 2.
[3] Alan Guttmacher, Life in the Making: The Story of Human Procreation, New York: Viking Press, 1933, p. 3.
[4] Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 85-86.
[5] David Benatar, Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence, (Oxford University Press: Oxford, New York, 2006), p. 134
[6] http://prolifephilosophy.blogspot.com/2012/08/bodily-rights-arguments.html

41 comments:

Jameson Graber said...

There is another way to attack Premise 2, other than contradicting scientific claims: one searches for a different meaning of "human." This is very common, as I think most pro-life apologists know. There are many factors which are purported to exclude the fetus from being considered human, absence of consciousness being the big one.

Jameson Graber said...

Also, I'm a little confused by your argument here. You claim C2 follows from P2 and P3. Strictly speaking, then, P1 and C1 are irrelevant. Thus you commit a fallacy here: P2 and P3 do not imply C2, because nowhere in P2 do we gain the information that abortion is unjustified.


Indeed, your use of the phrase "prima facie" in this argument is a bit misleading, because you never fully and precisely define it. You make exception for self-defense, but you don't state the precise conditions that qualify, and you never state definitively that this is the only exception. I don't think the arguments of Judith Jarvis Thomson, for example, actually attack P1. Instead, they try to demonstrate that abortion is a legitimate exception to the prima facie prohibition against killing, just like self-defense.

Clinton Wilcox said...

Thanks for reading.

The problem with that is that if someone finds a different definition of "human," then they're committing another logical fallacy, the fallacy of equivocation. In my argument, "human" always means biologically human. My argument rests on human equality -- we're all equally valuable as humans, so since the unborn are biologically human like we are, they deserve to be protected like we are. Using another definition of "human" won't do to defeat my argument.

Clinton Wilcox said...

P1 is not irrelevant. C1 logically follows from P1 and P2. C2 logically follows from P2 and P3. I think you're expecting an argument to do what it's not designed to do. This argument is not meant to be the "last nail in the coffin" to pro-choice arguments. That would be unfair to expect that. Of course a pro-choice advocate could respond to this argument. That's the nature of philosophy. But if they can't find a morally justifiable reason that abortion is moral, then my argument succeeds.

My use of "prima facie" is not misleading. Literally translated, it means "at first face." I can't use the premise "it is immoral to kill a human being," because I don't believe that it is immoral, *in all cases,* to kill a human being. That's where the term "prima facie" comes into play. You need proper moral justification to kill a human being; in fact, you need *strong* moral justification to kill a human being. You can kill in self-defense, but only if your life is threatened. It is immoral to kill someone if all they intended to do was slap you across the face.

Jameson Graber said...

C2 does not follow logically from P2 and P3, that's the point. The structure that seems to be implied by the flow of the article is

P1 + P2 = C1,
P3 + C1 = C2,

but instead you have

P2 + P3 = C2,

making P1 and C1 irrelevant in proving C2.

Even this will not work, because it is also not true that C2 follows from P3 and C1. Something can be prima facie immoral without being illegal.

LN said...

Thank you, Jameson, very good point. And great post, Clinton, I really enjoyed it.

Clinton Wilcox said...

Yes, something can be immoral without being illegal. But that's why I have P3, because the unjustified killing of a human being should be illegal. Since abortion is the unjustified killing of human beings, then it (like murder, genocide, etc.) should be illegal. C3 follows from the argument.

By unjustified, I simply mean killing a human being without moral justification; in other words, the immoral killing of a human being.

NorthStar156 said...

Again, your case is poorly reasoned. Two parts of your arguments were particularly conspicuous.

If "[w]e do not allow anyone to take anyone’s life without proper justification," then why are any additional laws necessary? All pre-viability abortions are legal in the United States so, if this assertion is true, pre-viability abortions must be either justified or embryos must not be lives. Either way, the assertion contradicts other parts of your case.

"Science has proven long ago that the unborn are living human beings..."

You have not established that the unborn are living. Your only clear pretense at proving this claim is your assertion that "[t]he unborn from fertilization are alive because they grow." However, you have established neither that all unborn babies grow at all times nor that a zygote is alive if it grows. You seem to be confusing the concept of whether an organism is alive with whether it is human.

Bryan Maack said...

"You have not established that the unborn are living."

Fetuses are without doubt alive. Fetuses fulfill the 7 generally accepted criteria for life (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life#Biology), and more importantly asserting fetuses aren't alive violates the law of biogenesis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biogenesis). Abiogenesis is definitely possible (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiogenesis), but in the context of modern day human beings we're not going to see any abiogenesis.

Bryan Maack said...

"You have not established that the unborn are living."

Fetuses are without doubt alive. Fetuses fulfill the 7 generally accepted criteria for life, and more importantly asserting fetuses aren't alive violates the law of biogenesis. Abiogenesis is definitely possible, but in the context of modern day human beings we're not going to see any abiogenesis.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life#Biology

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biogenesis

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiogenesis

Bryan Maack said...

Ignore this post.

Clinton Wilcox said...

Sorry, but with respect, you're not reading very carefully. My case is not poorly reasoned. The unborn are alive and human in every biological sense of the word, and used more than growth to establish that (but of course, dead and non-living things don't grow, so growth is one sign that an entity is alive).

Roe v. Wade was passed due to revisionist history by an activist judge (Judge Blackmun). Before that point, the unborn were considered persons, legally protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Abortions are unjustified, and unfortunately, our country has allowed corruption in to allow the legal death of our most vulnerable citizens.

I am not confusing "life" with "humanity." If you don't know that the unborn are alive and human, then you should peruse any elementary school biology textbook. It's indefensible to claim that the unborn are not alive, or are not human. It's high time pro-choice people start accepting this basic biological fact. On top of that, the best pro-choice arguments accept the full humanity and personhood of the unborn, and still argue that abortion is moral. Trying to argue that the unborn are not alive or are not human is incredibly weak argumentation. Even Planned Parenthood admitted that abortions kill the life of a baby before it is born, before they were able to start doing legal abortions.

Jameson Graber said...

OK, so I take it that the structure of your argument is really as follows:

premise: abortion kills a human being

premise: killing a human being should be illegal except in the case when it satisfies X

conclusion: abortion should be illegal except in the case when it satisfies X

Of course, then you really have to go into what "X" is. And that's really where all the action in this debate lies.

I just find the structure of argument you have adopted for this article to be lacking. In particular, C1 here is trivial: saying abortion is prima facie immoral only means that there is a burden of proof. What the true opposition will claim quite openly is that they have given the required proof. (By true opposition here I mean those who can give a coherent defense of abortion, not the average voter.)

As stated, the premises do not imply C2, because, even with all the premises true, there still remains the possibility that, on further inspection, abortion is in fact a justified killing (like self-defense) of a human being and therefore should not be illegal. The best version of C2 you can get from these premises is, echoing what I said above, "Therefore, abortion should be illegal in those cases in which killing a human being is justified."

Jameson Graber said...

Fair enough. If we all agree to use the scientific definition of "human," then all objections go toward P1, which is now open to more objections than simply the bodily autonomy argument. Many will claim that not all humans, as defined by science, are entitled to the same rights as others.

RONPAULvsKarlRoveCAGEMATCH said...

This is self-explanatory. Science has proven long ago that the unborn are living human beings (biologically). The only people who disagree with this premise are lay pro-choice people with an agenda.

Hey I can't hear you, your head is so far up your ass all that comes out are these farting noises. If took a moment to pull your face out of your rectum you might be able to see that zygotes, people who are born, children, adults, and comatose old people in hospice situations are treated differently regardless of whether or not they are "biologically human". This stupid trope of "fetuses have human DNA therefore if you have an abortion you're a kid killer" is beyond idiotic. All that happens when you people get in power is you try to slut shame women who don't have sex the way you want. Just admit it already.

Clinton Wilcox said...

You're a troll, so it's hardly worth responding. So this is for anyone else's benefit who might come across this. Yes, certain people are treated different, but that doesn't mean they're any more or less valuable. All humans are equally intrinsically valuable. It is just as morally wrong to kill a toddler as it is to kill an adult, and the penalty under the law is the same (in fact, in some states, like my home state of California, the penalty is the same if you kill an unborn child the mother wanted or an adult, such as in the case of Scott Petersen).

Clinton Wilcox said...

That's a fair approach, but they have to argue for that. They can't just assert it.

Clinton Wilcox said...

My C2 follows logically. There is nothing logically fallacious with this argument.

Yes, someone can argue that abortion is justified killing, but that's not an error in reasoning as far as my argument is concerned. That means they have to show exactly how, and in what instances, abortion would be a justified killing (and I've seen many pro-choice arguments; none of them sufficiently do the job). But again, all arguments are open to rebuttal. They can't just assert their argument, they have to support it. If abortion is justified killing, then they have to show how abortions are justified killing, and under what conditions. But they I could rebut their arguments and possibly show that their arguments don't really support abortion as justified. That's just how argumentation goes.

But after seeing many pro-choice arguments, and reading books and articles by pro-choice philosophers (including, but not limited to, Judith Jarvis Thomson, David Boonin, Mary Anne Warren, and Peter Singer), no pro-choice argument is sufficient to justify abortion. Or if it does justify abortion, it also justifies killing someone outside the womb. As someone once said (the name escapes me), every good argument for abortion is a good argument for infanticide.

RONPAULgravyromancelovemachine said...

Our medical technology allows us to almost indefinately prolong the life of someone living in hospice care, yet the family is given the legal right to end life. Does that mean we treat hospice care as murder? No! The decision to end a life is made with consideration for the quality of life of the individual and the family's capability of supporting him/her. This is completely fine and nobody argues about it (unless you're one of those "death panels" people). Yet you are completely fine with calling anybody who choses to terminate a pregnancy a "baby killer". Seriously, nobody buys that crap out side of your "pro-life" circles of discourse. You take a complicated issue and simplify it in a way that hurts real people.

NorthStar156 said...

"The unborn are alive...in every biological sense of the word..."

Repeating the claim does not make it any less unsupported.

"...and [I] used more than growth to establish that..."

Here is your entire relevant sentence: "The unborn from fertilization are alive because they grow." The sentence implies that growth alone proves that they are alive. You then said that zygotes merely "...exhibit other forms of life, such as cell division, metabolism, and response to stimuli." Again, you have established neither that all unborn babies possess these characteristics at all times nor that a zygote is alive if it has all, or some, of those characteristics. You have not even defined any of your terms.

"...[N]on-living things don't grow, so growth is one sign that an entity is alive..."

Many non-living things do grow. For example, water grows when it freezes into ice.

NorthStar156 said...

"It's indefensible to claim that the unborn are not alive..."

You have not supported your case for the opposite.

"Even Planned Parenthood admitted that abortions kill the life of a baby before it is born..."

So are you saying that Planned Parenthood is a reliable authority on these matters?

NorthStar156 said...

"...[A]sserting fetuses aren't alive violates the law of biogenesis."

I fail to follow your logic. According to your source, the law of biogenesis simply says that "...living things come only from other living things." It does not say that everything that comes from life is also life.

"Fetuses fulfill the 7 generally accepted criteria for life..."

What is your evidence that fetuses fulfill those criteria? Also, do you have a better source for that definition of life? Wikipedia's sources do not support either its assertion or your assertion. For example, the source for one of its two sources lists seven different characteristics from the ones Wikipedia lists. Also, the list is more of an preliminary attempt by one person to define life rather than a precise, generally accepted definition.

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/295/5563/2215.full

Even if you could prove that all zygotes exhibit all of those characteristics at all times and that such characteristics prove that they are alive, you encounter another problem. No law prohibits ending life as you define it. Why would we create a law that only applies to the unborn? To be consistent, you would need to advocate completely new murder laws that apply to all human beings. Have you done so?

https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=145.135&year=2012

Jameson Graber said...

I agree with your assertions about pro-choice arguments, I just think you need to make your argument clearer. It ought to be clear just from reading the premises and the conclusions that the conclusions follow. Instead, I feel like you're burying the argument in between the premises and conclusions, so that it's not immediately obvious where the argument is. In particular, I maintain that C2 does not follow unless you strengthen one of the premises. It is especially absurd that you continue to insist C2 follows merely from P2 and P3, when that is far from being the case. Read these premises apart from whatever else you've written, there's no way you can argue that they imply C2.

Jameson Graber said...

Hospice does not kill people, I don't understand that comparison at all. I am not fine with calling a post-abortive woman a "baby killer." I think, on the contrary, the pro-choice movement has oversimplified the issue: let's just leave women alone to make this dark decision, so the rest of us can move on with our lives. That's an awfully grim application of libertarian morality. Personally, I think we can do better than that.

Bryan Maack said...

"I fail to follow your logic. According to your source, the law of biogenesis simply says that "...living things come only from other living things." It does not say that everything that comes from life is also life."

If a fetus were not alive, there is no point where it would suddenly come alive, because that would violate the law of biogenesis. Living entities don't come from non-living entities (except in very rare circumstances such as the beginning of life on earth). If you don't agree with me, can you point to where exactly between conception and birth that a fetus becomes alive? Because I assume at very least you believe born human beings are alive.

"Wikipedia's sources do not support either its assertion or your assertion."

The terminology changes, but the idea is the same.

"Also, do you have a better source for that definition of life?"

http://wps.prenhall.com/esm_audesirk_bloe_7/17/4453/1139972.cw/index.html

The definition of life, while hotly debated within the field of biology, has not changed all that much in years. That definition has been around at least since I was in high school (in fact that's the textbook I read) and persisted to the modern day. It's fairly solid.

As far as the criteria for life, yes fetuses fulfill all of them. Fetuses are complex and organized. Fetuses respond to stimuli. Fetuses maintain homeostasis. Fetuses acquire and use materials and energy. Fetuses grow. Fetuses reproduce their DNA. Fetuses have the capacity to evolve. Without even arguing the specifics, think about it. Everything from fungi to jellyfish to single-celled organisms are alive. Why wouldn't fetuses be alive?

"No law prohibits ending life as you define it. Why would we create a law that only applies to the unborn?"

I assume you want to argue about the personhood of fetuses. I don't really care about that subject. Well, actually, I care a lot about that subject, but my interest here is only to get you to recognize that fetuses are biologically alive.

Bryan Maack said...

"Many non-living things do grow. For example, water grows when it freezes into ice."

Ice does not grow in the same sense that fetuses or other living organisms grow. Fetuses grow by acquiring material and energy to reproduce their cells and mature. Ice grows because water forms air pockets when it freezes. If you don't believe me:

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/grow?s=t

See #1. The word grow in reference to living organisms has a specific definition. Definition #4 is what ice would fall under.

Bryan Maack said...

Actually technically speaking ice is less dense than water because it expands upon freezing due to the nature of the crystal lattice. But often that expansion allows for air pockets to form. Minor note.

Clinton Wilcox said...

Again, you're a troll so I'm not going to take the time to respond to you. I can just point out that you're obviously biased against pro-life people and would not give them a fair hearing. You assert that I call women who have abortions "baby killers." I don't, and that term appears nowhere in my argument or in any of my articles.

Clinton Wilcox said...

Again, my argument follows necessarily. We may just have to agree to disagree, but I think the argument is clear enough. If abortion kills human beings, and the prima facie killing of human beings is immoral, then it logically follows that abortion is prima facie immoral.

If the unjustified (that is, immoral) killing of human beings should be illegal, and abortion is the unjustified (that is, immoral) killing of human beings, then it logically follows that abortion should be illegal.

I know my argument is clear because you and one other person on this article are having trouble understanding it (for some reason). But I used this same argument frequently in debates, discussions, etc., and no one has ever had a problem understanding the argument. They argue against the premises, but that's what you're supposed to do. I really don't know how I can make it any clearer.

NorthStar156 said...

"Actually technically speaking ice is less dense than water because it
expands upon freezing due to the nature of the crystal lattice. But
often that expansion allows for air pockets to form."

According to Webster's Dictionary, "grow" means "to increase in size by assimilation of material into
the living organism or by accretion of material in a nonbiological process (as crystallization)"

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/grow

He never did define the word "grow."

Bryan Maack said...

Despite the mention of crystallization, when water turns into ice there's no accretion for the water itself. See the sample sentence:

"There was an accretion of ice on the car's windshield."

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/accretion

More importantly, though, I think you know how he means grow. There's far more important and interesting arguments to be had than semantics.

NorthStar156 said...

"If a fetus were not alive, there is no point where it would suddenly come alive, because that would violate the law of biogenesis."

I think you are misinterpreting that principle. Biogenesis merely holds that living beings descend from living beings of the same kind, not that living beings are not composed of parts that once were non-living. For example, Louis Pasteur remarked about the opposite view: "There is not one circumstance known at the present day which justifies the assertion that microscopic organisms come into the world without
germs or without parents like themselves."

http://www.pasteurbrewing.com/spontaneous-generation/the-question-of-spontaneous-generation.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spontaneous_generation

"If you don't agree with me, can you point to where exactly between conception and birth that a fetus becomes alive?"

It depends on the definition of life used. In my opinion, a very important guide is the implicit definition of life given in the murder statutes of all fifty states. If a human being has never had either circulatory or respiratory functions and he or she has never had a functioning brain, it arguably should not be considered alive.

Let me ask you this question: if an unborn baby is conceived but her brain never starts functioning, her circulatory system never starts operating, and her respiratory system never becomes active and the child is born, is the child dead? If so, when exactly did the child die?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uniform_Determination_of_Death_Act

I actually think the best theoretical definition of life is when a present capacity for consciousness exists in a being, but a definition that uses brain function might be easier to implement in practice.

NorthStar156 said...

"The terminology changes, but the idea is the same."

Then could you please at least match up the list items in the Wikipedia article you cited with the list in the source link?

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/295/5563/2215.full

"The definition of life, while hotly debated within the field of biology, has not changed all that much in years."

I do not think you have established that assertion. That link merely indicates that life tends to have certain characteristics; it does not give a precise definition. The Wikipedia article states that "...there is no unequivocal definition of life..."

Do you really want to change the definition of life for purposes of murder laws? I would think that doing so would create great problems for the legal system. How would police officers, lawyers, and courts determine, for example, whether someone went from a state of exhibiting homeostasis to not exhibiting homeostasis? I would think that such arguments would create very complicated legal controversies.

NorthStar156 said...

"As far as the criteria for life, yes fetuses fulfill all of them."

To establish that life begins at fertilization, you need to establish that zygotes fulfill all of the criteria, not just that fetuses do. Simply asserting that they do is not sufficient for that purpose.

"I assume you want to argue about the personhood of fetuses."

Please respond in a germane fashion.

Bryan Maack said...

"It depends on the definition of life used."

There isn't any depends going on here. We're talking about the biological definition of life.

"I actually think the best theoretical definition of life is when a present capacity for consciousness exists in a being, but a definition that uses brain function might be easier to implement in practice."

You're talking about the medical definition of life. That's a completely different subject and more closely tied to the philosophical concept of personhood.

I think this will be the easiest place to state this so you stop misinterpreting what I'm trying to say: I am pro-choice. I believe personhood should be based on cognitive capability. But that's a completely different subject from what makes an organism biologically alive.

Bryan Maack said...

I was gonna respond more, but I give up on this conversation for now. Will return later.

NorthStar156 said...

"Despite the mention..."

The fact of the matter is that I provided an example that disproved his assertion. Nothing prevented him from specifying a particular definition. However, he did not do so. Therefore, I can use whatever dictionary definition that suits me.

"I think you know how he means grow."

He is an adult. He could have told us what he meant.

NorthStar156 said...

"We're talking about the biological definition of life."

We are talking about whether abortion should be banned. He states the following: "Murder is illegal..." But murder is not against the law using your definition of life. Therefore, either he does not understand the implications of his position or he is not using your definition.

I note that you did not answer my question.

"You're talking about the medical definition of life. That's a completely different subject and more closely tied to the philosophical concept of personhood."

Are you talking about the former or latter definition? The latter definition is the legal definition. The former, I think, is what best matches the most common conceptual understanding of life. The concept of "personhood" is completely meaningless in this context.

"I think this will be the easiest place to state this so you stop misinterpreting what I'm trying to say: I am pro-choice."

I have no idea what you mean by misinterpreting what you are trying say, but I am not suprised that you favor legalized abortion. I think many supporters and allies of the abortion industry are quite happy to hear pro-lifers argue that life begins at fertilization. Many of them know that the position leads pro-lifers to overreach and try to ban early-term abortions, contraception, and stem-cell research. Those initiatives are easy for the abortion industry to beat.

Bryan Maack said...

Oh man I just realized who you are NorthStar156. No wonder this discussion has been so inane and frustrating.

NorthStar156 said...

"No wonder this discussion has been so inane and frustrating."

Translation: "I have been beaten like a drum in debate once again."

Or, perhaps that description is too kind. Perhaps a better translation is: "Waah! Waah!"

My comments have not been remotely inane.

trip*toe*fan said...

I think your argument oversimplifies the issue. Yes a fetus is the start of a human. But that doesn't mean they are morally the same as a human post-birth.


For example, would you ask a fire fighter who is rushing into a burning fertility clinic to save not only any trapped clinic workers but also to round up all the frozen embryos stored inside? And if that firefighter had only one trip available to rush into the burning building, would you tell that person to save the embryos over the clinic workers? On the face of it, it would be absurd to ask a firefighter to save embryos over the trapped adults.


I would say putting fetuses on the same moral level as children or adults is a gray area, at best. Basically, there is no way to deny biological reality that fetuses are alive and human. But I'd suggest they aren't in the same moral class as humans post-birth.


Also none of your argument considers the morality of forcing a woman to incubate a fetus. What if there was a fatal blood disease that required joining the circulatory systems of a sick patient with a healthy person for several weeks or a few months. The healthy person's kidney clears some offending virus or protein and cures the sick person. Would it be right for the government to force healthy people to join circulatory systems with matching dying people, even if they didn't want to do it? Not doing so would kill the sick person.


Of course, that is the perfect analogous situation. But I think by completely ignoring the morality of forcing an adult to do something with their body against their will seriously weakens your argument. You are only seeing the issue through the lens of the fetus. And I think your assessment there is overly simple.