7
   

Utilitarianism and Kantianism applied to abortion.

 
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 18 Nov, 2009 11:42 am
@Thomas,
(The last quote is from pages 191-192.)
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 18 Nov, 2009 12:09 pm
@joefromchicago,
joefromchicago wrote:
On the other hand, I can't see how "more preference = more happiness = more good/utility."

U-oh. I just read a little further, and noticed that Singer justifies the distinction in ways that I haven't yet addressed. I guess I'll just go back to reading the whole book and get back to you after that.
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Wed 18 Nov, 2009 12:48 pm
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:
With these preliminaries out of the way, here is Singer's position on abortion: "My suggestion, then, is that we accord the life of a fetus no greater value than the life of a non-human animal at a similar level of rationality, self-consciousness, awareness, capacity to feel, etc. Since no fetus is a person, no fetus has the same claim to life as a person." (page 151) Note that this is not quite as drastic as it sounds: In the preceding chapters, Singer spends several dozens of pages arguing for a radical upgrade in non-human animals' claim to life.

It looks like Singer has the same problem that I identified before: his argument ultimately depends on whether a fetus is a person or not. That's a pretty big problem, in my opinion.
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 18 Nov, 2009 05:52 pm
@joefromchicago,
Why?
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 09:16 am
@Thomas,
Because the question of the fetus's personhood is irresolvable.
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 09:17 am
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:

joefromchicago wrote:
On the other hand, I can't see how "more preference = more happiness = more good/utility."

U-oh. I just read a little further, and noticed that Singer justifies the distinction in ways that I haven't yet addressed. I guess I'll just go back to reading the whole book and get back to you after that.

As long as you're at it, there are a number of other books that I'd like you to read for me.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 09:39 am
@joefromchicago,
Irresolvable? What part of "self-awareness and rationality" don't you understand?
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 10:07 am
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:

Irresolvable? What part of "self-awareness and rationality" don't you understand?

That's just one person's definition of "personhood." It's not logically ineluctable, and so there's nothing to say that Singer's definition is correct or that anyone else should accept it. One might just as easily say that "personhood" is anything that starts out as a zygote and ends up (or potentially could end up) as a human. Just because Singer's use of the term may be internally consistent doesn't mean he's right.
dyslexia
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 10:42 am
@joefromchicago,
Quote:
doesn't mean he's right
man that opens up another can of worms.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 10:42 am
@joefromchicago,
joefromchicago wrote:
That's just one person's definition of "personhood." It's not logically ineluctable, and so there's nothing to say that Singer's definition is correct or that anyone else should accept it.

Singer's arguments don't depend on anyone's definition of what's a "person" though. They only depend on rationality and self-awareness. "Person" is just a convenient word he uses to wrap up these two concepts in. He justifies his usage by pointing out that it's consistent with at least one definition of "person" in the Oxford dictionary, and that philosophical usage in this sense has a history going back at least to John Locke. That makes "person" a sensible wrapper for the concepts that Singer's arguments depend on.

But, to repeat, it's just a wrapper to enhance readability. You could delete every occurrence of the word "person" from Practical Ethics and replace it with the term "entity possessing rationality and self-awareness". Every argument in the book would remain the same. I'm certain Singer would give you his philosophical blessing for this revision. He might, however, carry a grudge against you on behalf of his stressed-out readers. He would also mourn all the extra trees that would die for your wordiness. None of this changes that to his philosophical argument, the definition of the word "person" is irrelevant.
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 11:43 am
@Thomas,
I have no quarrel with any of that. But as I said, just because Singer is internally consistent with his definition and usage of the term doesn't mean he's right. Now, if the debate were solely devoted to whether Singer has a valid argument or not, then I don't have any problem accepting his definition, at least for the sake of the discussion. But then the abortion debate is not normally limited to the tidy parameters of Singerian philosophy.
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 11:57 am
@joefromchicago,
joefromchicago wrote:
I have no quarrel with any of that. But as I said, just because Singer is internally consistent with his definition and usage of the term doesn't mean he's right.

I have no quarrel with any of that. But as I said, it doesn't matter if Singer is right in his usage of the word "person". For the sake of the argument, let's suppose he's wrong. So what? Just strike the word "person"from the book and find some other word by which to call "an entity with self-awareness and rationality". The substitution doesn't affect Singer's arguments at all.
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 01:30 pm
@Thomas,
We're talking past each other.

When I said that any argument that relies on the personhood of the fetus will be problematic I was not quarreling with Singer's use of the word "person." And it's not that I think Singer's argument would be internally inconsistent or invalid because of that reliance (I don't know enough about Singer's philosophy to offer an opinion on that). Rather, it's that, referring back to the original post, I think anyone using such an argument will, sooner or later, come to the point where the two sides arrive at an irresolvable impasse: i.e. at their dueling definitions of "personhood." For it is at that point that Singer cannot say "my definition is the only correct one." And, I hasten to add, neither can any of his opponents who rely on their definitions of "person" to oppose abortion.

The only type of abortion argument that, to my mind, has any compelling force is one that considers the fetus's personhood to be irrelevant.
DrewDad
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 01:46 pm
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:
Singer's arguments don't depend on anyone's definition of what's a "person" though. They only depend on rationality and self-awareness.

Sure they do. You're defining a person as someone who is rational and self-aware.

And how are you measuring self-awareness, anyhow? Caterpillars could be self aware, they just can't talk to tell us.
cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 01:49 pm
@joefromchicago,
It's my humble opinion that "personhood" doesn't exist until they are out of the womb alive.
0 Replies
 
DrewDad
 
  2  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 02:10 pm
@joefromchicago,
joefromchicago wrote:
The only type of abortion argument that, to my mind, has any compelling force is one that considers the fetus's personhood to be irrelevant.

Yes, I've come to that conclusion as well.

Personally, I'm a fan of the "worlds greatest violinist" argument.

Imagine that the worlds greatest violinist (or Mother Theresa, or Barack Obama, or G.W. Bush, whomever your favorite celebrity is) were suddenly surgically attached to your mother (sister, daughter, cousin), and disconnection means the death of the violinist.

Does she have to right to break the link if she wishes?
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 02:44 pm
@joefromchicago,
joefromchicago wrote:
We're talking past each other.

Yes we are -- because you're not listening.

joefromchicago wrote:
Rather, it's that, referring back to the original post, I think anyone using such an argument will, sooner or later, come to the point where the two sides arrive at an irresolvable impasse: i.e. at their dueling definitions of "personhood."

How can dueling definitions of "personhood" lead to an irresolvable impasse if "personhood" is irrelevant to one side's argument?
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 02:53 pm
@DrewDad,
DrewDad wrote:
And how are you measuring self-awareness, anyhow?

Well, at the very least, we know that self-awareness depends on a working nervous system. We can measure when an embryo's nervous system starts to transmit impulses.Having measured that, we can conclude that it isn't self-aware before this point, and that it's ethically safe to abort it.

To my knowledge, the nervous system begins operation around week 10. Therefore, we can conclude that stem cell research is fine, that abortions before week 10 are fine, and that abortions after week 10 could be problematic -- at least as far as this test is concerned.

Although this type of reasoning may not settle all questions about abortion, it does settle quite a few of them.
DrewDad
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 02:55 pm
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:
Well, at the very least, we know that self-awareness depends on a working nervous system.

Do we?
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 03:04 pm
@DrewDad,
Yes.
 

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