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Utilitarianism and Kantianism applied to abortion.

 
 
joefromchicago
 
  2  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 03:17 pm
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:
How can dueling definitions of "personhood" lead to an irresolvable impasse if "personhood" is irrelevant to one side's argument?

Are you suggesting that Singer's argument doesn't rest on the definition of "person?" Because I'm pretty sure you're wrong. After all, you quoted him as saying: "Since no fetus is a person, no fetus has the same claim to life as a person." Now, whether Singer simply uses "person" as shorthand for "a rational entity with self-awareness" or not is largely irrelevant, since his main point is, I think, summed up in the following syllogism:

It is not wrong to kill a non-person
A fetus is not a person
Therefore, it is not wrong to kill a fetus.

Substituting "rational entity with self-awareness" for "person" in the foregoing syllogism doesn't change the conclusion, which is that it is not wrong to kill a fetus because it does not share the same status with most other entities that we commonly refer to as "persons." And to that, opponents of abortion would simply pose their own syllogism:

It is wrong to kill a person
A fetus is a person
Therefore, it is wrong to kill a fetus

In other words, it boils down to a dispute over definitions, which are almost always irresolvable.
DrewDad
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 03:44 pm
@Thomas,
Interesting biological bias you have there. I suspect that in the future, things that we "know" about self awareness may change dramatically.



And exactly how much neurological activity makes one "self-aware"?

Is an elephant self-aware? A horse? A dog? A mouse?

Perhaps we should label all of our steaks "soylent green" since cows might be "people".
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 04:14 pm
@joefromchicago,
joefromchicago wrote:
Are you suggesting that Singer's argument doesn't rest on the definition of "person?"

Yes I am.

joefromchicago wrote:
Now, whether Singer simply uses "person" as shorthand for "a rational entity with self-awareness" or not is largely irrelevant,

I disagree. See below.

joefromchicago wrote:
his main point is, I think, summed up in the following syllogism:

It is not wrong to kill a non-person
A fetus is not a person
Therefore, it is not wrong to kill a fetus.

For the sake of the argument, I'll agree so far. ("For the sake of the argument", because Singer is at least ambivalent about killing animals for food -- including animals who can't be said to possess self-awareness or rationality. But let's ignore this for now.)

joefromchicago wrote:
Substituting "rational entity with self-awareness" for "person" in the foregoing syllogism doesn't change the conclusion, which is that it is not wrong to kill a fetus because it does not share the same status with most other entities that we commonly refer to as "persons."

I disagree. Let's perform the substitution and see what happens: After the substitution, Singer's syllogism becomes:

  • It is not wrong to kill a being unless it possesses rationality and self-awareness.
  • A fetus does not possess rationality or self-awareness
  • Therefore it is not wrong to kill a fetus.


To a pro-lifer who accepts Singer's word usage, the syllogism becomes:

  • It is wrong to kill a being that does possess rationality and self-awareness.
  • An embryo possesses rationality, or self-awareness, or both.
  • Therefore, it is wrong to kill an embryo.


Finally, to a pro-lifer who rejects Singer's word usage, the syllogism becomes:

  • It is wrong to kill a person, by which I mean something different from what Singer does. What I mean by "person" is a being that possesses [feature set X]
  • An embryo possesses [X]
  • Therefore, it's wrong to kill an embryo.

Hence, to a pro-lifer who accepts Singer's usage of the word "person", the disagreement revolves about features of the embryo that can, at least in significant part, be tested for empirically.

And the pro-lifer who rejects Singer's usage of the word "person", their disagreement would revolve about three things:

  1. empirical disagreements about the subset between [X] and "rationality and self-awareness" and [X],
  2. any subset of [X] that is not contained in "rationality and self-awareness", and their disagreement about its relevance, and
  3. any subset of "rationality and self-awareness" that isn't contained in [X], and their disagreement on whether it's relevant

Either way, there need not be any talk about lofty persons of "personhood". Only about concrete features that the disagreeing parties consider relevant.
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 04:28 pm
@DrewDad,
DrewDad wrote:
I suspect that in the future, things that we "know" about self awareness may change dramatically.

Quite possible. And if that happens, our concept of right and wrong will change with that knowledge. At least mine will.

DrewDad wrote:
And exactly how much neurological activity makes one "self-aware"?

I don't know. All I know is that the absence of neurological activity makes one non-self-aware.

DrewDad wrote:
Is an elephant self-aware? A horse? A dog? A mouse?

I'm not sure. All I can say is that questions like these have made me raise serious ethical questions about my own habits as a carnivore.

DrewDad wrote:
Perhaps we should label all of our steaks "soylent green" since cows might be "people".

I'm unfamiliar with the term "soylent green". But if it involves that we stop eating cows, then yes -- perhaps we should do that. Alternatively, if it involves that we reconsider our self-righteous prejudices against cannibals, perhaps we should do that, too.
DrewDad
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 04:48 pm
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:
I'm unfamiliar with the term "soylent green".

Whoa.

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

Quote:
Soylent Green is a 1973 science fiction movie depicting a dystopian future in which overpopulation leads to depleted resources, which in turn leads to widespread unemployment and poverty. Real fruit, vegetables and meat are rare, expensive commodities, and much of the population survives on processed food rations, including "soylent green" wafers.

It's famous for the line, "Soylent Green is people!"
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 05:41 pm
@DrewDad,
Is it famous for anything else?

I guess what I'm asking is, would you recommend watching this movie?
DrewDad
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 05:44 pm
@Thomas,
Well, I like SF flicks, so I'm biased.

Reviews here: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/soylent_green/

Makes a great double feature with Forbidden Planet.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/forbidden_planet/
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 05:52 pm
@DrewDad,
Well, I'm going through phases in my own esteem of Science Fiction, but you've got my attention. So in your opinion, how does Soylent Green measure up to other Science Fiction movies? On a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is Plan 9 from Outer Space and 10 is ... whatever you consider the best Science Fiction movie you know -- Matrix I perhaps? -- how would you rate Soylent Green?
DrewDad
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 06:52 pm
@Thomas,
My ratings of SF flicks tend to be polarized; I either like it or I don't.

Maybe a seven? I haven't seen it in a long, long time.
0 Replies
 
DrewDad
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 06:54 pm
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:
if it involves that we reconsider our self-righteous prejudices against cannibals, perhaps we should do that, too.

My aversion to cannibalism is more practical: cannibalism tends to make one sickly.
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 06:57 pm
@DrewDad,
Good enough. I just bought it on Amazon.
DrewDad
 
  1  
Reply Thu 19 Nov, 2009 07:07 pm
@Thomas,
Now, Forbidden Planet I'd give an 8.5.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 10:12 am
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:
Hence, to a pro-lifer who accepts Singer's usage of the word "person", the disagreement revolves about features of the embryo that can, at least in significant part, be tested for empirically.

I imagine that such a pro-lifer would be a figmentary being, much like a leprechaun or a unicorn.

Thomas wrote:
And the pro-lifer who rejects Singer's usage of the word "person", their disagreement would revolve about three things:

  1. empirical disagreements about the subset between [X] and "rationality and self-awareness" and [X],
  2. any subset of [X] that is not contained in "rationality and self-awareness", and their disagreement about its relevance, and
  3. any subset of "rationality and self-awareness" that isn't contained in [X], and their disagreement on whether it's relevant

Either way, there need not be any talk about lofty persons of "personhood". Only about concrete features that the disagreeing parties consider relevant.

Actually, those are all definitional disagreements, since fundamentally they are all disagreements about whether fetuses are included within the category of things that one is not allowed to kill. If the parties want to frame that as a dispute over whether that category should be called "rational beings who possess self-awareness" or "persons" is just a matter of semantics. Singer evidently uses the term "person," and says quite clearly that fetuses are not persons. I will, therefore, take Singer at his word on this one.
cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 11:01 am
@joefromchicago,
I don't see pro-lifers caring about such detail of personhood in a fetus; they only care about intruding into women's lives they don't even know or care about. They don't even care about the baby after its born.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 11:42 am
@joefromchicago,
joefromchicago wrote:
If the parties want to frame that as a dispute over whether that category should be called "rational beings who possess self-awareness" or "persons" is just a matter of semantics.

Not if different people mean different things by the word "person" -- which is the problem I think you were talking about.

For exmple, suppose that to Singer, "persons" are "rational beings possessing self-awareness", and that he thinks it's ethically safe to kill non-rational beings without self-awareness. Further suppose that to Ratzinger, "persons" are "beings created in the image of God" -- rational or not, self-aware or not-- and that he thinks that beings created in the image of God should not be killed.

This wouldn't be disagreement about semantics anymore. The two would actually disagree about the reality behind the words, and could ignore the semantics of the word "person". As long as each side means something specific by the word "person", they can talk about those specifics and never use the word "person" again. Singer, at least, has a specific-enough definition to make that workable. I'm rather skeptical on whether Ratzinger has it to, but that's okay. He's not the issue in this thread.
cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 11:10 pm
@Thomas,
I do not believe the definition of a fetus as a person (or personhood) has anything to do with abortion. They are two separate subjects with very little (if any) relationship.
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Fri 20 Nov, 2009 11:37 pm
@cicerone imposter,
The definition doesn't. The features implied by the definition do.
cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 Nov, 2009 09:58 am
@Thomas,
It may, but the majority of abortions are performed for other reasons. Trying to argue about the definition for the purpose of abortion is primarily based on religious' beliefs that are too conflicting to arrive at on a logical basis if one wishes to use the bible as its primary source for those beliefs.

Ever try to convince a christian about evolution?
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 Nov, 2009 10:05 am
@cicerone imposter,
cicerone imposter wrote:
It may, but the majority of abortions are performed for other reasons.

Maybe so, but that wasn't the question of this thread. The question of this thread was how Utilitarianism and Kantianism apply to abortion. So I replied to the part about Utilitarianism. I am under no obligation to speak to the reasons why most women abort their pregnancies.
cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 Nov, 2009 10:12 am
@Thomas,
Kantianism is about "morality," but abortion is performed for other reasons in the majority of cases.

Here's a graph that shows the rates of abortion in different countries. It tells us (*me, anywhos) that morality is not one of the priorities.

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v97/imposter222/isb_0599_fd1.gif

In the US, I have read someplace that one-third of our women have abortions. How many of those do you think considered "morality" as a reason for not having an abortion? I believe most have abortions based on a) affordability, b) career, c) too many children, d) too young, and e) rape.

Morality is a nice topic for discussion, but that's an issue each individual considers whether one performs their duty in the military service or how one acts in society. Most understand right and wrong from their own perspective.

Many good people become thieves given the opportunity (and environment). Whether they can live with their guilt is a personal thing.

In many big cities around the world, they warn you about pick-pockets because they are jobless with minimal opportunity to find work. Many women/girls become prostitutes to be able to have shelter and food. This is repeated in all human history.
 

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