Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Lost opportunities

I'm reposting two comments I left on this post:

The commenter I replied to instantly retreated in response to my comments. 

steve hays says:
July 22, 2015 at 12:40 pm
i) It’s true that even if the baby were not a person, killing it could still be wrong. The example of the dog makes that point.

That said, Philmonomer’s argument turns on the assumption that personhood is a necessary presupposition of according the baby all the same protections as an adult. He doesn’t defend that assumption. Let’s consider some problems with that assumption:

Does personhood range along the same continuum as intelligence? Are there degrees of personhood, matching degrees of reason?

If so, does that mean a universal genius like Da Vinci is more of a person than Philmonomer? Is Da Vinci entitled to fuller protections than Philmonomer?

ii) What about an adult who begins to lose their mind due to dementia or brain cancer? It’s in the early stages. They haven’t lost their mind. But their cognitive faculties are now diminished. And they’ve become more forgetful. Does that makes them less of a person? If they were killed by a mugger or houseburglar, would that be less than murder?

iii) Does someone cease to be a person when they are anesthetized or put in a medical coma?

iv) Philmonomer seems to view the baby as a potential person. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that’s true. There’s more than one kind of potentiality.

For instance, dating and engagement are both behaviors which carry the potential for marriage. As a rule, there’s nothing wrong with not becoming engaged. However, there are situations in which breaking off an engagement is wrong. That can be very harmful. Even though engagement is merely a potential marriage, it can be emotionally destructive to break off an engagement without due cause, in a way that’s not the case if the couple was never engaged in the first place.

So we need to distinguish between at least two kinds of potentiality:

a) A hypothetical or counterfactual that never got started

b) The initiation of a trend or process that will eventuate unless it’s disrupted

These are not morally equivalent. Once something is underway, it can be wrong to halt it. Depends on what we’re talking about.

To take another illustration, suppose a young athlete is counting on a sports scholarship to pay for college. If he’s cheated out of that, he was wronged–even though at this stage it was just a potential outcome. Robbing people of future opportunities can sometimes be gravely wrong, even if those were just potential futures.

v) There are parents who grieve over a miscarriage. They grieve a lost future, both for themselves and their child.

Same thing with parents who grieve the death of a child who dies from leukemia or cystic fibrosis. They lament what will never happen.

There are different kinds of deprivations. There’s losing what you had, then there’s losing what might have been. A missed opportunity can be as great a deprivation as losing something you actually had.

Suppose your heart is set on wedding a particular woman, but she’s killed by a drunk driver. You lost a potential lifetime of happiness.

vi) Let’s go back to the personhood argument. Philmonomer doesn’t explain why he denies personhood to unborn babies. Perhaps his unspoken argument is that the brain produces the mind. Personhood is dependent on brain development. That presumes physicalism.

But suppose dualism is true. Suppose the mind is grounded in the soul. The soul uses the brain. The brain is like a receiver.

The soul has some innate character traits. Some innate tacit knowledge. In addition, the soul acquires knowledge through experience.

Its ability to learn or express itself is dependent on the condition of the receiver. It can do more with a more developed receiver. A damaged receiver will impair its ability to express itself.

Should we risk murdering a person based on a physicalist theory of mind? What if that’s mistaken?

vii) Philmonomer refers to “a woman’s right to her own bodily autonomy.” But in context, we’re not talking about women in general, but a mother in particular.A pregnant woman is a mother. It’s not like a relationship between two perfect strangers. Rather, family members have social obligations.

viii) Moreover, we have duties to perfect strangers. If a child falls into a river, do I not have an obligation to dive in and attempt to rescue the child, even if it’s not my own child, and I risk drowning in the process?

steve hays says:
July 22, 2015 at 1:24 pm
There’s also the question of how you ground women’s rights or abortion rights. If women are just animals, if women are simply the byproduct of naturalistic evolution, then what makes a women entitled to bodily autonomy?

How is a fleeting and fortuitous organization of matter a property-bearer of rights? According to naturalism, women come into existence and pass over of existence all the time–like all other temporary organisms. There’s a 100% turnover rate. Every human being is essentially replaceable and interchangeable in the cosmic junkyard.

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