Friday, January 31, 2014

A Discussion of Capacities and Their Relation to Human Personhood

There has been some confusion on some of my articles as to what it means for humans to have an inherent nature as rational agents, so I'd like to take the time now to expound upon just what is meant by an inherent nature, as well as the concept of capacities and what they have to do with human personhood.

When I say that a particular ability is in a thing's nature, I mean that just by virtue of what that thing is, it can perform certain functions. What is in a particular entity's nature is available simply by observation. For example, it is in a dog's nature to bark, to bury items, to chase rabbits, and do all manner of things. It is in a cat's nature to mew, to be independent, to catch mice, and to murder you in your sleep (okay, maybe not that last one). And human beings have certain capacities, too, such as the capacity to walk, to speak, to engage in higher-level thought, to be rational, to be conscious, to fall in love, etc. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of capacities. This is also not a Christian convention -- the concept of nature and capacities goes back at least to Aristotle, though Aristotelian thought has permeated Christianity quite a bit (in particular, read Aristotle's Metaphysics).

Talk of capacities is just another way to talk about what is in a thing's nature, though more specifically as there are different degrees that capacities come in, and different types of capacities that a thing can have. Capacities can also be thought of in terms of potency -- a capacity a thing has gives it the potential to develop or become something. Russell DiSilvestro, in his book Human Capacities and Moral Status (Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2010, p.17), says:
A capacity is the metaphysical ground or truth-maker of a true conditional statement about a thing. For example, the capacities of sub-atomic particles are what make statements describing what would happen to these particles in different circumstances true. Both ordinary language and the language of philosophy and science are suffused with statements about capacities. For example, you have the capacity to speak English, my pet rat has the capacity to experience pain, and salt has the capacity to dissolve in water. Such capacity-statements typically have a structure containing three elements: one which refers to the capacity itself, another which refers to the bearer of the capacity, and a third element which refers to what the capacity is a capacity for.
There is a bit of a difficulty in philosophy, in that different philosophers often use different terms to refer to the same thing. So I will give the name that I prefer as to the capacity, and any alternate name for the capacity that eventually comes up in philosophical literature. There is also much to be said on capacities and this article is only a basic treatment of these capacities. But this should give you a basic understanding of what capacities are and how they relate to the abortion issue and the discussion of human personhood.

Active vs. Passive capacities

Strictly speaking, an active capacity is a capacity that an entity has to develop something that is within its nature to develop. You have the capacity to read this article, and you still had this capacity while you were a human embryo (more on that below). Even though you couldn't read this article at the time when you were an embryo, you had it within yourself to develop that ability. Active capacities are identity-preserving capacities; in other words, everything that you have within yourself to develop you develop without becoming a different person. So you are the same person now as you were as an adolescent, a toddler, a fetus, and an embryo.

A passive capacity (sometimes called a compositional capacity) is the capacity for something to become part of the identity of something else, thereby losing its own identity. A passive capacity is not identity-preserving. For example, an oak sapling has the active potential to become an oak tree, but it has a passive potential to become a desk or a house (thereby no longer being a tree).

Sometimes active and passive capacities are understood as identity-preserving capacities, and referring to the passive potentiality as explained above by the term "compositional capacity," but the context of the passage should make it clear which sense of "active" and "passive" are intended. DiSilvestro in the same book (p.19) refers to an active potential as a potential to change things, whether in the world or in the bearer of the capacity. An example he uses is the act of standing. You remain the same person when you stand as when you sit. A passive identity-preserving capacity can be understood as powers for being changed by things in the world or in the bearer of the capacity. An example of a passive capacity in this respect would be the capacity for something oily to be burnt. An example of a compositional capacity (a passive capacity as illustrated in the previous paragraph) would be a lump of bronze being made into a statue. The statue is not identical to the lump of bronze it came from.

So all of the abilities that the zygote will develop are present from the very beginning, albeit not the ability to perform them. Any potential that an entity has within itself to develop is an identity-preserving capacity, which is why you are identical with the zygote that was conceived in your mother's womb, even though there are obvious differences between the two. But in what sense can the human zygote be said to have these abilities?

Inherent vs. Presently-Exercisable capacities

This simply refers to a hierarchy of capacities. You currently have the ability to read this article, to think, to sing (however off-key), to stand, to dance (a capacity woefully lacking in Caucasians like myself), etc.

An inherent capacity is a capacity that one has within oneself to develop. So whether or not you have developed these capacities, if entities of your kind naturally develop these abilities, then all entities of that kind have that capacity inherently. It's not until you actualize the potentiality that it moves from being merely an inherent capacity to a presently-exercisable capacity, and you will only actualize capacities that are within your nature to actualize (human beings will not develop the capacity to fly because it is not in their nature, nor will birds develop the capacity to write an opera).

I prefer the terms "inherent" and "presently-exercisable," or "immediately-exercisable," because it is obvious just in the names what that capacity entails, but capacities exist in a hierarchy. So you will sometimes see them referred to as second-order capacities (inherent capacities) and first-order capacities (presently-exercisable capacities). Or you will see them referred to as lower-order capacities, which is a presently-exercisable capacity, and higher-order capacities, which is just the capacity to obtain a lower-order capacity. DiSilvestro gives an example in his book (p. 20):
Liquid water has the lower-order capacity to evaporate, while ice has the higher-order capacity to obtain this lower-order capacity. An oak tree has the lower-order capacity to support a tree house, while an oak sapling has a higher-order capacity to obtain this lower-order capacity.
Sometimes philosophers, like Eric Olson or Michael Tooley, speak of blocked or suppressed capacities. An example that Michael Tooley, a pro-choice atheist, uses in his book Abortion and Infanticide is about "Mary," who has the capacity to run a five-minute mile. If she gets drunk or gets out of shape, she would still have the capacity but it would become blocked or suppressed by external factors. But if you are speaking in terms of first- and second-order capacities, then suppressed capacities can be understood as second-order capacities.

So this naturally leads to the question of severely disabled human beings, such as anencephalic fetuses. According to J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae, in their book Body and Soul (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2000, p. 72),
Higher-order capacities are realized by the development of lower-order capacities under them. An acorn has the ultimate capacity to draw nourishment from the soil, but this can be actualized and unfolded only by developing the lower capacity to have a root system, then by developing the still lower capacities of the root system, and so on. When a substance has a defect (e.g. a child is colorblind), it does not lose its ultimate capacities. Rather, it lacks some lower-order capacity it needs for the ultimate capacities to be developed.
So in the case of an anencephalic fetus, they are still persons because they still have the same inherent capacities as other human beings, they are just being prevented from actualizing them due to external factors. A hundred years ago, someone who lost their sight would have lost it permanently. But today we have cornea transplants and other methods of restoring sight so that it is now possible for someone to regain their sight. This is because it went from being a first-order, immediately exercisable capacity to a second-order, inherent capacity. But the capacity was never lost, just like it was never lost a hundred years ago when it was impossible to restore it. So anencephalic humans are still human persons.

So this is what is meant when we talk about human nature, and the capacities (inherent and otherwise) that an entity possesses by virtue of the kind of thing that it is. Human zygotes have the same capacities we do now, just at a different level in the hierarchy. But these capacities they have are identity-preserving capacities, so they remain the same person throughout all of these changes. You are the same person now as you were in your mother's womb, right from the very beginning.


Jameson Graber said...

Since this post is primarily about philosophy, it gives me a good opportunity to express my sharp philosophical disagreement with Clinton. That's a good thing, because it shows that the pro-life position, just as it need not be wed to any paricular religious position, also need not be wed to any particular metaphysical position concerning human nature (or the nature of things in general).

I think the reason many philosophers have moved away from Aristotle on this is because of conceptual advances fostered by modern science--namely, evolution. It gets tricky to the point of incoherence to talk about capacities which inhere to particular things, when in fact the things themselves are the product of an evolutionary process of selection. For instance, did our ancestors ten million years ago have the inherent capacity to use language? It seems pretty unlikely that any of them actually used language. Worse still, there are many animals which have apparently no inherent capacity to read and write, yet are our close cousins in the evolution of species. Not being an expert in biology, I won't venture to go all the way back, but assuming that *all* living things have roughly the same set of (very old) ancestors, that makes it extremely difficult to sort out this hierarchy of capacities. That's because evolution is not the process of one species "becoming" another, but of species gradually differentiating themselves.

From the evolutionary perspective, one might say your argument puts the cart before the horse. It's not the nature of a species which gives it certain capacities; rather it's the development of certain capacities which gradually differentiates new species.

Completely ironing out the philosophical questions here is not my goal. So I'll just state quickly that, given my disagreement with this philosophical post, I still believe all human life merits certain basic rights, and that the right to life is the most basic of all. Whether or not there's such a thing as human nature, endowed with inherent capacities such as reason, is, to me, merely tangential to the abortion debate.

Josh Brahm said...

This is a very well thought-out comment, Jameson. I'd like to learn a little more about your views, if you have the time to explain them.

First, couldn't you say that by this point in the evolutionary process, every member of the species homo sapiens sapiens has the natural inherent capacity for rational nature? It seems like we could argue that even if we don't know precisely which species in our ancestry had this capacity, it seems clear that modern humans do.

Then it seems like we could say that every human from here to the future can be assumed to also have this natural capacity until something else significant happens, like a new species or something. Would that be possible in your view?

I'm also wondering why you think humans have basic rights if it's not because of their natural inherent capacity for a rational nature.

Thanks for any reply you can offer. And if you don't have time, thanks for writing your first comment to give me something to chew on. :)

GEIxBattleRifle said...

What's a ''rational nature'' to begin with? Because it seems like nothing more but a scream out for ''potentials must be fulfilled!'' sort of thing. And the last time I checked, potentials don't need to be fulfilled at all as in the case of unborn humans and the 1 one cell human chilling out in my glass of water (if that were to happen lol)
From what I known, ''rational(ity)'' is a word not really agree upon since some used it to include cats and dogs in it as well.
In the end, it seems defining that word is nothing but arbitrarily to begin with.

Clinton said...

Hey, Jameson. Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I do have a response, but it may be a little bit before I can really respond to it since I have a lot on my plate for today.

Clinton said...

By your definition, though, just about anything is arbitrary to begin with, since people disagree on a whole slew of issues. The fact that people disagree doesn't prove that something is arbitrary. It just means you have to do the work of reading and understanding the arguments, then coming to a conclusion about them.

The Nun said...

Wow I was just contemplating this in the shower this morning. Well written Clinton.

Clinton said...

Thanks. :)

Paul Stark said...

I wonder, Jameson, if one's commitment to equal human dignity and rights can be a reason to think that human natures (with certain inherent capacities) do exist because only then can human equality be adequately explained. What is the basis for the pro-life position apart from that?

LN said...

My thoughts exactly. Also, I feel Jameson's post makes light of the fact that even a 1% difference in DNA can confer a multitude of new capacities. Maybe 10,000 years ago our ancestors could not use language the way we can today, but whatever DNA changes occurred -- even if they are relatively small -- made a big difference. Every one of our offspring maintain that difference, and that's clear-cut enough to value our present capacities.

I don't understand how the history of evolution undermines the capacities of today's homo sapiens.

VasuMurti said...

With or without the abortion issue: why do only humans have rights? Is personhood grounded in the human species, or in an attribute found in other animals as well, like sentience? Would insentient humans be at risk, if species membership is not the criterion for personhood?

The mere presence of vegetarians and especially vegans puts meat-eaters on the defensive: we see them suddenly debating with vegetarians whether or not humans are natural omnivores; claiming humans have been hunting since the days of the caveman; debating whether or not Jesus was a vegetarian; bringing up the thoroughly debunked myth that Adolf Hitler was a "vegetarian"; claiming a vegetarian or vegan diet is unhealthy and claiming meat is a good source of protein, etc.

We animal activists are supposed to respect pro-lifers as conscientious objectors when as pharmacists they refuse to fill prescriptions for "contraceptives" that are really abortifacients or even if they're morally opposed to contraceptives; or we're supposed to respect their not wanting their tax dollars to fund abortions; or if they refuse vaccines containing aborted fetal cells; or even if they are not consistent either when it comes to sanctity-of-life issues (e.g., opposing only late-term abortions, or only sex-selective abortions; preferring pro-choice Republicans over pro-life Democrats) etc.

...But they don't respect our moral opposition to killing animals...What to speak of becoming nonviolent toward animals themselves!

Pro-lifers show greater hostility when told not to kill animals than pro-choicers show when told not to kill the unborn. That kind of response is completely irrational! Their irrational hostility proves Pythagoras' own words: "Those who kill animals for food will be more prone than vegetarians to torture and kill their fellow men."

VasuMurti said...

Thank God for *secular* pro-lifers (no pun intended)! Religious pro-lifers are willing to listen to people outside of their faith, but only on abortion.

They'll listen to pro-life columnist Nat Hentoff, a self-described "liberal Jewish atheist" without crying "Red!", without making any anti-semitic gestures or slurs (e.g., pointing their fingers at their noses, sticking their legs out mimicking a dog taking a leak, throwing things in the "garbage", etc.).

They'll listen to Dr. J.C. Willke, former head of National Right to Life, whom I believe is Catholic, and we all know how much born agains *love* the Catholic Church.

Heck, they'll even listen to A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the Hindu spiritual master who brought Krishna Consciousness to the West, when he designated the unborn a "baby" over Episcopal priest Joseph Fletcher, who said, "There is no such thing as an 'unborn baby.' The fetus is gametic material."

But on the issue of animal rights, suddenly, religious identity matters to religious pro-lifers! They'll ask whether we worship in a church or temple, whether we "work" for our salvation, whether we refer to the fallen as "dogs" or with half a dozen different animal words, etc.

On the issue of abortion, religious identity is irrelevant, whether you're presenting your own arguments, or whether you're repeating the words of others more knowledgeable verbatim.

But on the issue of animal rights, religious identity makes a difference.

I'm sorry, but all I see are a bunch of goddamn bigots!

ignorance_is_curable said...

The entire post was wasted effort after the first and erroneous part of the first sentence, which I quote:
"There has been some confusion on some of my articles as to what it means for humans to have an inherent nature as rational agents,"

It is erroneous because it is easy to prove that humans do not have an inherent nature as rational agents.

See any true "feral child", like this one (prepend only the http):

That human is basically just a clever animal, no more rational than, say, a gorilla or chimpanzee. And any human who happens to be raised in the absence of appropriate Nurture is going to end up the same way, feral, not rational.

Meanwhile, if the statement was correct, it would be impossible for any child to end up as a feral child. An "inherent nature" for rationality means that it is inevitable that a healthy human child will develop rationality. But the Fact is, they will fail to develop rationality in the absence of appropriate external stimulus (Nurturing).

And therefore all the rest of the main blog post here is just worthless blather.

William Cable said...

Don't you think the fact that humans have the ability to manifest those characteristics when they do have appropriate nurturing, something which no other animal on this planet can do, rather significant? If you keep someone in a locked room with no light their whole life their optic nerve is likely to atrophy as t is not being used so resources are diverted elsewhere. That is a result of the body's adaptability and it being a physical object it does not alter the fact that the person had the inherent genetic capacity to see that would have been manifested had it been in the proper environment. All living things need to be in their correct environment in order to flourish, judging the moral worth and capabilities on what happens when they are denied that is hardly fair or accurate.

Also work done with feral children has shown some success at realising their inherent cognitive abilities, and who knows where that could lead with time.

ignorance_is_curable said...

You need to look up "Koko the Gorilla", because she also responded to appropriate Nurturing by becoming a rational entity (but only at human-toddler-level, because gorilla brains are about the size of human toddler brains).

Therefore, according to the anti-abortion argument in the blog-post here, and your comment, all gorillas must be granted person status, right?

Next, who are you to specify what the "correct environment" is, for any given species? The environment for which humans are biologically best adapted is a "savanna", but that hasn't stopped us from finding ways to survive in other places, such as, for example, the surface of the Moon. And in their most-natural environments, gorillas don't fulfill their potential to exhibit Generic traits of persons, and humans didn't for more than 100,000 years. Why should you call our present situation more "correct" than the one in which we evolved?

Finally, the degree to which feral children can "return from the wild" and become non-feral depends strongly on two factors: How much appropriate Nurturing did the child receive before entering the wild, and how long the child was out there.

The human (and gorilla) brain has a "window of opportunity", in terms of "mental malleability", for the acquisition of Generic personhood traits. When the window closes, certain aspects of the brain become "set in their ways". So, when those factors mentioned in the previous paragraph are "too little" for the first, and "too much" for the second, there is almost no chance that the child's brain can develop Generic traits of persons.

William Cable said...

Koko the gorilla is a somewhat controversial case as to exactly what intelligence she has, but whatever it is it is clear an inherent part of what her brain is capable of, but as you have pointed out, she cannot advance beyond the toddler stage prcisely because her brain lacks the capcity to do so, unlike a human brain, so there is no need to grant them personhood. I would thought it was fairly obvious what I mean by environment, that is one where human received the required stimulation to reach the full mental capcity, and while it is true there is a window of opportunity, we have no way of knowing if that can be widened of not. Feral children are still persons, just as a plant denied sunlight is still a plant. Just becuase it's whithered, doesn't change what it is or it's inherent nature.

Em said...

The difference between an unborn human and a full grown cow is that, although the cow may currently have greater mental capabilities than the human, the human has a greater mental capacity due to her human nature. And she/he is the same individual at this point as she/he will be as a toddler, or a teen, just younger. Similarly, I'm pretty sure most dogs can think more rationally, communicate more intentionally, and sense the emotions of others far better than a newborn human. Regardless, I would save a newborn before a dog, even though I love dogs. A newborn is a person, and a dog is not.

I'm not saying that means it is or isn't ethical to eat animals; I'm just saying that I don't think it's hypocritical or irrational to experience greater outrage over the killing of a human than the killing of an animal, even if the human in question is very young.

Also, I think a fair number of people in general get defensive in response to vegetarian beliefs....not just pro-lifers.

Em said...

"Religious pro-lifers are willing to listen to people outside of their faith, but only on abortion."

That's a pretty sweeping statement.

And for the record, I am a pro-life non-Catholic Christian, and I have never and would never make an anti-semetic gesture or slur, regardless of how a person felt about abortion. And I respect Catholics and Hindus even if I do not agree with them on everything (especially when it comes to Hindu beliefs, obviously).

I mean, I respect my non-Christian pro-choice good friend a whole lot more than, say, a pro-life so-called "Christian" who decides to bomb an abortion clinic. (Not that I know any of those.)

VasuMurti said...

You're right. I shouldn't make generalizations. My own experience has been that the conservative Christians dominating the pro-life movement operate with double-standards.

I commented four years ago that Carrie Prejean represents all that’s wrong with Christianity today. You remember Carrie Prejean, right? She's the beauty queen who posed for topless photos (after a boob job?), later claiming the wind accidentally blew her top off?

I write this not out of envy or spite… she’s probably out of my league anyway!

Fornication is acceptable to today’s Christians, same-sex relations are not.

Wine is acceptable to today’s Christians (and anyone who says otherwise is a “Muslim,” of the “devil,” or both!), marijuana is not.

Secular arguments to protect the unborn are good politics, because secular arguments are religion-neutral, and thus applicable to *everyone*, including atheists and agnostics. Secular arguments to protect animals are met with the cry, “MOVE”!

These Christians expect their secular arguments on behalf of the unborn to apply to everyone outside of their faith, but then they think their religion exempts them from secular arguments to protect animals! A double-standard.

Protecting the unborn is a Christian duty, whereas protecting animals is dismissed as “good work.”

I’m surprised pro-choice Christians aren’t dismissing protecting the unborn as “good work,” citing “three times…” to justify their right to an abortion; dismissing whatever meager concern for the unborn is given in the Law as “garbage,” etc. in response to pro-lifers!

If our relationship with other species is partly an environmental ethics issue, conservative pro-lifers dismiss it as none of their concern. By their logic, liberals and environmentalists don't have to be pro-life, either?

Em said...

Well, again, I would avoid over generalizations. I know many Christians who honestly believe in sexual purity (and not because they think sex is bad or icky, just the opposite, really). And many think wine is okay but only in moderation. Also marijuana is illegal, and one should follow the law unless it conflicts with a higher moral law, so there's that.

Point is, not everybody is a hypocrite. But yes, many are.

I'm not sure I'm entirely understanding your point though, regarding "they think their religion exempts them from secular arguments to protect animals!" I've never heard anyone make this sort of claim. But then, I probably encounter less counter-arguments to vegetarianism than you do. Are you referring to arguments that eating animals is okay because they don't have souls, or something?

William Cable said...

First of all it is highly debated about whether Koko can do certainly 5 and several of the other points you mention. Many feel her use of sign language to communicate is not that much different than a dog working out it needs to sit by the back door to tell it's owner it wants to go out. I am not basing personhood specifically on humanity, but on the fact that being a human gives you the inherent capacity to be a creature with all the points you mention. Aliens that had the same qualities would also qualify. The immediate ability to exhibit those qualities is not, I repeat not important, if it were, coma patients would not be people, a point you feebly failed to answer in our last comment thread. Personhood must be considered an inherent, not an acquired characteristic.

ignorance_is_curable said...

Of course Koko's status is debated! There are lots of prejudiced idiots out there who refuse to be convinced that a non-human can be a person (they also are against the notion that dolphins might qualify). But Koko uses sign language as well as any deaf human toddler could be expected to use it, which is much more than an ordinary animal can do.

Next, you continue to spout nonsense about "inherent capacity", when you should be honest enough to specify the word "potential", instead. The whole blog post here is all about trying to show how an obviously FALSE notion might become believable if only enough blather is spouted about it. "Capacity" is strictly about something that exists Right Now, like 'the capacity of a milk jug". It cannot hold all the liquid that a tanker-truck might carry! And, likewise the capacity of an unborn human is strictly limited; it cannot acquire any traits associated with personhood, period. It has to be born and then increase its capacity significantly, first.

Then there is the Fact that almost all abilities are acquired, one way or another. The ability to see depends on the body acquiring-by-growing eyeballs and appropriate data-transport nerves and a visual-processing system in the brain. The ability to tie a shoelace depends on acquiring some learning via practice. And so on.

And I thoroughly riposted the other nonsense you spouted, about comatose persons. They Do Not Lose Abilities While Comatose, Period. They only stop using them, Nothing you posted in any way proves that their person-class abilities are actually "lost" such that the abilities would have to be re-acquired from scratch, the way if you lose a fortune (say by investing everything in some company that went bankrupt), you would have to re-acquire that fortune from scratch.

Meanwhile unborn humans never had person-class abilities in the first place, period. They do have to be acquired from scratch!

And so it is Stupid to think that "Personhood must be considered inherent", when it is provably a FALSE notion (it is always Stupid to deny Facts). Not to mention that you are forgetting the possible R-strategist person-class aliens out there, whose every breeding event yields 10,000 offspring.

Your definition of "person" would require all of those offspring to be protected like you want an unborn human to be protected --and that is a thing impossible to do. Go ahead, imagine a planet with 100 million breeding events each year (Earth currently has about 160 million confirmed pregnancies, of which maybe 30 million are aborted), and every such breeding event yields 10,000 offspring instead of just one. Are you seriously going to think that 10,000 x 100 million (that's 1 trillion) offspring, every year, can be fed, clothed, housed, etc?

Right now Earth has about 50 million deaths annually from all causes, of which 2 or 3 million are due to offspring starving. Why don't you so-called "pro-lifers" put your efforts into saving them, instead of insisting that even more mouths-to-feed must be born???

It is extremely fortunate (in terms of "no triage needed") that undeveloped members of any species are only mere animal organisms, that don't all need to be protected!

William Cable said...

Just because you assert things doesn't make them facts. If you are so dead set on defining capacity as something 'immediate' fine, we'll use the word nature instead, it works just as well. It is part of a fetus's inherent nature to acquire the attributes of personhood, that is what it is designed to do, and how those traits manifest themselves is largely part of the design too. How do you explain the fact that genetics dictate so many of our personality traits, eh? Your comatose argument is simply pathetic. Comatose patients by your definition are not persons because they are unable to demonstrate any of the characteristics of personhood, anymore than a fetus can. The fact that they used to possess them is irrelevant, and there is no guarantee that they'll get them back if they come out of the coma, and if they do, it'll be due to physical developments in the brain that are beyond their control, and through external stimuli, exactly like a baby developing first in the womb then at their mothers breast. There are two intellectually defensible positions on this issue. Either personhood begins at conception, or is i only present when a developed human is awake. There is no middle ground.

William Cable said...

I'm bored of this now. I've several days now pointing out the obvious flaws in your reasoning, you clearly aren't going to listen, and I have a life, so I'm calling time.

William Cable said...

To the feral child question I would point out that if you take a newborn baby and palce them in an environment with no light whatsoever, and otherwise raise them perfectly normally, if you then introduce light once they'd reached say adolescence they probably would have lost the ability to see as their optic nerves will have atrophied. That doesn't change the fact the ability to see is part of the inherent nature of the human animal. For that matter, if you put them in an environment where there wasn't enough oxygen they would rapidly lose their ability to live, which is obviously part of the inherent nature of any living things. The fact any living organism needs the correct environmental factor to fully actualise it's inherent biological nature doesn't mean that nature doesn't exist. The fact that a person might be exposed to environmental conditions that inhibit their ability to actualise their full personhood doesn't mean that personhood isn't an inherent part of who they are.

ignorance_is_curable said...

You are still spouting nonsense. The "inherent nature" of humans includes lots of potential, and not all of it routinely gets fulfilled. Here is an example of a very unusual potential-fulfillment (prepend only the http): --her hands have fingers that are longer and stronger than normal, a physical adaptation to her early environment. Meanwhile, no older human can adapt as thoroughly as younger humans can adapt.

According to this link (prepend only the http), ,

hominins have had brains comparable to modern gorilla brains since well before Homo Habilis came along. That implies that H. Habilis had more potential to exhibit personhood characteristics than Koko --but there is no evidence of any hominin doing that until H. Sapiens began the Late Stone Age --and of course even today the existence of feral children proves that there is no inevitability-of-personhood. That's how thoroughly "potential" can fail to be fulfilled.

The fundamental flaw with your argument is that you are trying to link "environment" with "human nature". The Fact is, human nature is what it is, full of potential, regardless of the environment. And that nature does not include inevitability-of-personhood, period --any more than it inevitably includes the kind of hands possessed by Tori Allen.

There is nothing that you can say that makes personhood an inevitable part of only human nature.

Here's part of #10 from the list at (prepend only the http):

(part one)
A. Traits of personhood are defined.
B. Some humans are observed to exhibit those traits.
C. It is now claimed that personhood is a species-wide characteristic, on the basis of that evidence. If NO humans exhibited traits of personhood, then humans cannot be claimed to possess that characteristic.
D. All humans must now be declared persons, since that characteristic has been claimed to exist species-wide.

(part two)
A. Traits of serial killers are defined.
B. Some humans are observed to exhibit those traits.
C. It is now claimed that being serial killers is a species-wide characteristic, on the basis of that evidence. If NO humans exhibited traits of serial killers, then humans cannot be claimed to possess that characteristic.
D. All humans must now be declared serial killers, since that characteristic has been claimed to exist species-wide.

Can you now start to understand how badly flawed is your argument?

ignorance_is_curable said...

As far as I'm concerned, you have only two options: Admit your arguments are nonsensical/worthless, or make feeble excuses about why you won't keep spouting worthless nonsense.

ignorance_is_curable said...

I do not call people stupid. Read more carefully what I write! I talk about "exhibiting Stupid Prejudice", or "telling Stupid Lies" --anyone can do such things, no matter how smart they are.

Here is a specific example: The world right now has roughly 2 or 3 million children die every year of starvation. Abortion opponents want even more mouths-to-feed to be born, instead of working to prevent those starvation deaths. How is a policy that wants more hungry mouths to exist, while not doing anything to ensure they can be fed, different from Utterly Stupid?

So, one might hope that by pointing out the stupidity of various anti-abortion arguments/policies, people would choose to stop exhibiting those particular stupidities....

GEIxBattleRifle said...

I know that you don't typically reply back to me partly because I'm pro choice and agree completely with what you say.
If you're correct, (which I believe you are about the distinction between ability and functioning) the coma cases would definitely not be comparable to the unborn human and pro choicers can safely draw a line anywhere after birth and still be ok. The pro lifers then would lose their ''episodic problem'' as they call it and the case falls apart shortly after that.

William Cable said...

'Can you now start to understand how badly flawed is your argument?'

What you call potential, I call inherent nature. A sperm and and egg are potentially half of a human each, because on their own they amount to nothing. Combined as a zygote they have the ability to develop all the qualities of personhood, and what is more important the nature of those qualities in that individual, personality etc, are largely determined by genetics, meaning that it is a specific individual. The fact that it is an inherent part of the human doesn't change, and the fact that it is a part of the human animal is what makes that human a person. If you put a human in in a an environment without oxygen, they will die, yet it would be ludicrous to say that being a living creature is not an inherent part of human nature. That is what constitutes personhod from the prolife position and is the only position consistent with common sense human behaviour. The reason we regard feral children as a tragedy is because they have been denied their right to have their personhood fully actualised. To go back to the comatose patient battlefield. Imagine someone who suffered some brain damage whilst in a coma, suppressing their ability to demonstrate full personhood. If they receive coaching and therapy they will return to normal, if they don't get it within a certain time the loss will become permanent. Are they persons?

Also, presumably if you were drawing up the legal code you would say that deliberately killing a feral child deserves a less harsh penalty than killing a non feral child?

William Cable said...

I've done some back reading and have your pathetic hiding behind the law to get out of allowing feral children to be killed, so don't talk to me about feeble excuses

GEIxBattleRifle said...

Ok William Cable
SInce cats, dogs and many ordinary animals are non persons in your view should I assume that you want me to kill them for whatever reason?
Just because a entity lacks the right to life does not mean now it is a automatic death sentience.

ignorance_is_curable said...

Well, it happens that I answered your question without referencing existing Law. Satisfied? Meanwhile, It Does Not Matter To The Overall Abortion Debate. How can I get you to stop talking about killing post-natal humans, when Abortion Only Concerns Pre-Natal Humans?

ignorance_is_curable said...

As long as this blog site continues to post nonsense in the Overall Abortion Debate, I will be able to point out the nonsense.

GEIxBattleRifle said...

''How can I get you to stop talking about killing post-natal humans, when Abortion Only Concerns Pre-Natal Humans?''

I don't think he will stop talking about killing post-natal humans. It has to do with the fact that most humans early in life are ''conditioned'' thinking that killing a human is ''wrong.'' So, they try to link the newborn human to a unborn human and will attempt to argue there is ''no difference'' between the two. The argument that I linked you before on your website was about the ''SLED" acronym they would use to fool the gullible and convert them to pro life on the spot. But, when you think about it, it doesn't work. I was impressed you handle it quite well. Most pro lifers think that is quite a ''powerful'' argument. It only works if you want to completely ignore the various mental abilities gained along the way.

GEIxBattleRifle said...

Don't get calm yet. Once when I get good at debating abortion like IIC here you will have to worry about IICv2. (Southern accent.)

ignorance_is_curable said...

Thank you. For anyone wondering abut the reference, see #97 (more specifically, the 97.2 subsection) of the web page at

William Cable said...

No the point I was making is that by IIC's logic killing a feral child should get a lesser punishment, plus there would be no bar to have a feral child put down, the way you would put down a pet.

William Cable said...

Well you basically dodged the comatose argument again, not surprising. As for potential actual, let me ask yourself, imagine the remote control for a tv were dropped in the rainforest. It is no longer in an environment where it's inherent abilities as a remote can be actualised, and it's wires etc may corrode. It may be used by a native as a hammer or some other kind of tool. When you saw it though you would still recognise it as a remote, would you not?

Glad you've admitted that hunting feral children would be acceptable, and that your happy with that kind of world.

GEIxBattleRifle said...

Do you have a problem with that?

ignorance_is_curable said...

Your remote-control analogy has a flaw, in that you are only talking about one thing, not two. A human can be badly damaged and still be recognized as a human, just like a remote control. Personhood isn't necessarily so obvious (not if scientists are still studying all the ways in which persons can be distinguished from ordinary animals).

In other words, an apparently undamaged human can still fail to qualify as a person (e.g., feral child), so "human" and "person" are not automatically synonymous with each other. That's the main reason why your analogy doesn't work.

There is another thing about your analogy that is problematic. If you remove the batteries from a remote control, and never replace them, in what manner can the device still qualify as a "remote control"? Its Actuality Is That It Cannot Be Distinguished From A Static Piece Of Art, so long as it lacks the crucial factor of batteries.

Now, if we started with a known person, because of prior exhibition of acquired personhood characteristics, it is possible for some Change (equivalent to having the batteries removed) to cause that entity to become undistinguishable from some variety of non-person. A known example of such a possible Change is called "brain death". A lesser-known example is the "Persistent Vegetative State", but this can be difficult to correctly diagnose, because it greatly resembles an ordinary coma.

Without such a fundamental Change, however, the person remains a person, even if in a coma.

Now, regarding the last thing that you wrote, it appears you didn't pay attention to what I wrote. I did not outright-say that hunting/killing feral children would be acceptable to me, although I certainly did specify something about hunting/capturing them.

Nevertheless, you still are ignoring the Big Picture. Consider the human persons involved in rampages at places like Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech and Columbine, with the list growing as you go back and examine enough different times and places? The fact that law-enforcement officers were willing to shoot back, to kill persons, should be relevant when talking about hunting humans that are not persons! Especially if those human animals prove to be dangerous! What would you say about tranquilizing them and then putting them into a zoo?

William Cable said...

In that case your response was far too flippant and I would say indicative of your unguarded feelings. The point I'm asking is will the the penalty for deliberately killing a feral child be lower than a non feral child? You said also that if they're still in the window of opportunity it would make sense to train them up, but under your logic we would have no obligation to. Indeed under your logic I fail to see what would be wrong with breeding humans specifically to be raised in such away that they don't achieve personhood, but are instead conditioned as animals to be our obedient slaves. Would you be ok with that? With the remote, the batteries maybe didn't make my point, imagine the batteries are still in it but because it is in the rainforest it is used as a tool rather than a remote, just as a feral child has developed a more animalistic nature than a personal one. The remote is still inherently a remote though, even though it cannot now fulfil that function, just as the feral child is still a person. And finally you have no way of knowing that in the future psycological or surgical techniques might not be developed to allow the feral child to fully actualise their inherent nature, so you cannot say they are incapable of being people, just incapable at the moment.

GEIxBattleRifle said...

Your welcome. Also to, here is proof that more and more are now noticing the difference between ''human'' and ''person.''

William Cable said...

Don't you?

GEIxBattleRifle said...

Well, I would've if I was like 5 years of age. Now in high school, I see now that the conditioning done to me was nothing more but brainwashing. It took me a bit to unbrainwash myself and figured out that just because a entity is a member of the species homo sapien does not automatically mean now it is ''wrong'' to kill it.

William Cable said...

You think valuing all human life is brainwashing? Interesting. How would you feel about breeding humans and raising them so that they specifically don't attain personhood but rather remain in an animal like state, to be trained as servants?

GEIxBattleRifle said...

Sure I wouldn't have a problem with that.
We do that with some other ordinary animals as well like dolphins so I can see it being applied to humans to a certain extent as well. It's to remain consistent.
Not all humans need to become persons only some will need to.

William Cable said...

Ok then. Would you be happy for your child to be one of the slave class?

William Cable said...

Right well you didged the questions about killing again, typical. It is indeed fully a remote but it cannot operate as such without the correct environment. A human is fully a person, but cannot operate as such without the correct environment. I do not want to have a human farm, I was holding out hope that you might have enough humanity to see what an horrific idea that is. If potential can never be the same thing as actuality then we have to come back to the coma point. It is irrelevant if they were a person before they went into the coma the point is they are not operating as one in the coma and have only the potential to regain that personhood, by your logic.

I know I'm not going to convince you IIC, but I can say with complete confidence that I never want to live in a world run by you, the thought horrifies me.

GEIxBattleRifle said...

As long as it is ok with my girlfriend which I have one at the moment than it would be fine by me since she is the one pregnant with the human. It would be interesting for me though to observe how a feral child acts in the world.
I don't know why you would ask me a personal question like that William Cable.
Don't think you can dig up my emotions and make me all fuzzy inside.

Defamate said...

Homeschooling fundies already breed children to act as their personal property/slaves. Sometimes they even beat their property to death as in the case of Lydia schatz.

ignorance_is_curable said...

A human is fully a person, but cannot operate as such without the correct environment.
FALSE. A human is only a mere animal organism until it acquires the Objective Generic traits of persons, in the appropriate environment. On an assembly line, the remote is not a remote until its assembly is completed and batteries added. At any single point prior to completion, the best it can be called is "a static work of Art" as indicated in an earlier message here.

The Fact remains, that a Potentiality is not equal to an Actuality.

If potential can never be the same thing as actuality then we have to come back to the coma point.

It is irrelevant if they were a person before they went into the coma
FALSE. Once acquired/possessed, personhood continues to exist throughout any ordinary coma.

the point is they are not operating as one in the coma
That is the irrelevant thing. The ability to use an ability is not as important as the ability that might or might not get used.

As an analogy, let's consider a time, perhaps a thousand years ago, when the usual way to decide whether or not someone had died was to note that breathing had stopped. (They didn't switch to heartbeat-stopping as an indicator until much more recently.) So, in those days, all you had to do, to pretend you were dead, was hold your breath.

By your "coma criteria", the lack of exhibiting a function means that the function doesn't exist. Therefore, in that past time, if you encountered someone you didn't know was holding his breath, you would pronounce him to be dead. And, after he decides to start breathing again, you get to look as foolish as your "coma criteria".

Moving forward to the era in which heartbeats were tied to life, your would think that if you encountered someone whose heart had stopped beating, then that person was dead. Nevertheless, you can still be revealed as foolish. Our "victim" might have a trusty partner helping him fool you (prepend only the http):
--and at least one person could have fooled you all by himself, and (the next linked page isn't clear about it) might even have been able to fool a modern brain-wave test for death (prepend only the http):

and have only the potential to regain that personhood, by your logic.

NOPE. My logic is that the Objective Generic abilities associated with personhood continue to exist throughout a coma; they simply are not being used. Just like a pen-knife in your pocket isn't being used, but still exists.

Meanwhile, the unborn human has not acquired personhood; that animal only has potential to acquire it, and so is fundamentally different from a person who happens to be in a coma.

William Cable said...

But the point is a foetus possesses the attributes just as much as a comatose person, they just need to be activated from the outside, just as a remote needs to be activated to work on a television.

ignorance_is_curable said...

But the point is a foetus possesses the attributes just as much as a comatose person,
FALSE. The point is, the more you don't tell the Truth about the actual attributes of unborn humans, the less you can be distinguished from someone telling Stupid Lies.

they just need to be activated from the outside, just as a remote needs to be activated to work on a television.
NICE TRY BUT NO CIGAR. Partly because you are talking about "potential", not the "actuality", and partly because a comatose person doesn't always need stimulus from the outside, to wake up. Remember that when a boxer "knocks out" another boxer, the most common result could be called "a short coma". Sometimes a longer coma happens, though, or even death (prepend only http):

And there is another way in which your comparsion breaks, of an unborn human to a remote. The unborn human is a pure "stimulus response machine"; it is practically guaranteed to always react the same way to a given stimulus, just like any other ordinary animal organism. At this stage the comparison to a remote is apt, because the remote is also just a pure stimulus response machine.

Later on, as the brain develops more capabilities and Free Will is acquired along the way toward full personhood, the human can no longer be guaranteed to respond the same way to a given stimulus.

Meanwhile, the remote is always a pure stimulus/response machine, and so your analogy breaks.

Furthermore, there is another way to analogize the remote. It represents the ability to affect a television (or other device) from a distance, just like a pen-knife represents the ability to cut something. The unborn human, however, doesn't represent any ability in particular, because its future potential is about being a Free-Willed user of abilities. At the present time, all during its stay inside a womb, it is just a mere animal organism, useless for anything other than carrying genes that its parents passed on to it.

Guest said...


Clinton said...

Like Em, I am a Christian pro-lifer (Protestant), so I do take exception to your sweeping generalization, as well. I disagree with atheists on many things, but I don't dismiss them just because they are atheists. I do expect, though, on any topic, not just the abortion topic, that someone should support their arguments and be willing to consider the possibility they may be wrong, just as I am willing to consider that possibility. And I know many Christians who are like me. The problem is that Christianity is a religion for sinners, but it's a religion for people who see their sin and recognize their need for a Savior. Are there hypocrtical Christians? You bet. Are there people who misuse Christianity for their own selfish gains? Of course. But a religion (or any position, really) should be judged by the tenets of the religion, not by how badly people who claim that religion misuse it.

Clinton said...

What makes humans valuable is their inherent nature as rational agents, which is a nature that animals do not share with us. That doesn't mean that animals don't have souls; many Christians believe that they do. But it's our own human exceptionalism that grounds our obligations not to mistreat animals. If your view is that humans are no different than animals, then we have no moral obligations toward each other (as animals have no moral obligations to anything), and things like murder, rape, and theft would be permissible for us. The fact that they're not, and we are expected to behave morally, shows that we are exceptional, and it's this exceptionalism that grounds any obligations we have toward animals.

VasuMurti said...

What you call "human exceptionalism" or our ability to function as free moral agents, does not apply to all humans, like the mentally handicapped, whose mental capacities are comparable to animals.That being said:

"I am the very opposite of an anthropomorphizer," wrote Brigid Brophy. "I don’t hold animals superior or even equal to humans. The whole case for behaving decently towards animals rests on the fact that we are the superior species. We are the species uniquely capable of rationality, imagination and moral choice, and that is precisely why we are under obligation to respect the rights of other creatures."

The key words here are NOT "moral choice" but rather "under obligation." Recognizing the rights of another class of beings limits our freedoms and our choices and requires a change in our personal lifestyle.

You no longer have the choice to own slaves, lynch blacks, commit domestic violence, nor commit hate crimes against LGBTs, etc. If animals have rights, your freedoms to commit crimes against animals are similarly limited.

Jay Smith said...

Clinton can't see the forest for the trees, but there is no Right to Life. There is life, and death, and that middle zone between the two. That's all.