Friday, February 22, 2008

Graded rights

merkur makes a good point about abortion.
I respond: Don't be so sure, man. Peter Singer is a famed bioethicist and he says it's OK to murder babies OUT of the womb up to a certain age.

But I agree 100% that this is the issue at hand. But if it's not an all-or-nothing affair, does the unborn baby develop certain rights at a certain age? At one month, more rights than at one week? At 8 months, more than at 7?

If so, why wouldn't that mean that an 80-year old fetus has more rights than a 79-year old one?

If not, when does the fetus have rights? Does it depend on something he DOES? A capability?

If so, why wouldn't that extend to 30-year old fetuses as well as unborn ones? The 4.0 honor student who is also an All-American linebacker at Wake Forest University has more rights than the 100-pound high school dropout? Or is there some other way of determining better capabilities, and thus, better rights? Who decides?
Yes, these are perhaps impossible questions to answer. But the anti-life side is the one advocating putting that whatever-it-is inside the mother to a horribly painful and unprovoked death. You'd think that the side willing to do that would have a pretty good reason.

37 comments:

------- Theo ------- said...

Excellent points Rho. To us, human life is a continuum. To them "humanity" is a stage one achieves and it is a state from which one can descend.

Pre-born, born but not cognitive, comatose, impaired, demented—it’s all the same for them, amounting to “not fully human” in enough of a sense that taking their lives not only does not constitute a wrong, but a right—as you described in you other article.

May God bless you and keep you.
Your bro,
--Theo

Matt said...

Rhology,

This post brings up a good point. However, I think a better question is: How can a naturalistic atheist assert that there are such things as rights? Rights are abstract principles - things for which a materialistic philosophy cannot allow. At best, a naturalist can say that a significant majority of people think or feel a certain way about something, and that this thinking or feeling is a de facto right. Or in other words, rights, in practice, are whatever allowances that people in power give to others, and rights, in principle, are the allowances that an individual person thinks that certain people should receive. However, in such a case, there is no ground for deciding whose allowances are authoritative and whose "rights" are right, and in the end, those in power decide what the "rights" are.

Thus, for the materialist, might is ultimate right, for there are no rights in absolute abstract principle, only in practice as those in power allow. I think it is no surprise, then, that some of the most murderous regimes in history have been atheistic, for if there are no basic human rights - no basic human value, then the right of those in power becomes the "moral" right, even if it is to kill, torture, and imprison millions upon millions of people. It is also no surprise that America, dominated all the more by a secular humanist philosophy, is disregarding the rights of the unborn, because they are the powerless, and pro-choice Americans, having been fortunate enough to make it out of the womb, have now made their own desires to be rid of unwanted children the moral "right", even if it entails the killing of millions upon millions of human beings. The only difference, in this respect, between Stalin and Mao, and those who support and have abortions, is the political situation and the kinds of people being killed. The basic principle of "right" from might is the same in both cases.

NAL said...

A fertilized egg should have the same rights as a living, breathing, cooing baby? Is that what you're advocating?

Just what are you advocating? You'd think that the side that is compelling a pregnancy on a woman would have a pretty good reason.

Tiber Jumper said...

Nal asks: A fertilized egg should have the same rights as a living, breathing, cooing baby? Is that what you're advocating?

I think that's what he is advocating if I can be so bold. I take care of the frail elderly as a geriatrician. When they are critically-ill on a ventilator, no longer able to breathe on their own, tube fed for nutrition, mute because of a cerbrovascular accident, do they have rights anymore? Should we just pull the plug on them? A society that judges the right to live based on their abilities is a society in ruin or on its way to ruin (Think Germany in 1930's)Jews, gypsys priests, homosexuals and the disabled were all denied their right to life because they didn't meet up to the standard of what the third Reich considered "a good quality of life." (they used Margaret Sanger's writings for their playbook, founder of Planned Parenthood and early proponent of contraception BTW)
Because we are all created in the image of God, life itself is a good. Not the quality of a life, or the size of a life. Dr. Seuss said it best when he said "A person is a person, no matter how small" Even a fertilized cell is a person just like you and me....just a bit smaller, created in the image of God.

Rhology said...

A fertilized egg should have the same rights as a living, breathing, cooing baby? Is that what you're advocating?

Yes. Why not?

NAL said...

So, the death of a fertilized egg should carry the same weight as the death of a living, breathing, cooing baby. The death of a fertilized egg, a miscarriage, should be investigated by the police to determine any possible criminal liability, just like with the death of any baby.

A pregnant woman who drinks should be treated the same as a mother who gives her child alcohol. A pregnant woman who smokes should be treated the same as a mother who gives her child cigarettes.

Rhology said...

Yes, except miscarriages do happen a high % of the time, so that wouldn't be the same, quite. Babies are known to be miscarried spontaneously as opposed to born babies which die much more infrequently due to SIDS and such. And I don't know about the ins and outs of investigation, but IF it were discovered that an abortion had taken place, then yes, it should be a charge of murder.
Are you ever going to stop asking questions and actually defend your position?

NAL said...

rhology:
... IF it were discovered that an abortion had taken place, then yes, it should be a charge of murder.

Are you saying that the mother should be charged with murder or accessory to murder? If a woman's actions contributed to the death of a fertilized egg, would that be man slaughter?

rhology:
Are you ever going to stop asking questions and actually defend your position?

Don't like questions? My position is that a fertilized egg should not be treated, legally, as a living, breathing, cooing baby. My questions defend that position.

Rhology said...

NAL,

Yes, someone who has an abortion should be charged with murder. Why? B/c they murdered someone. This is not that hard.

I like questions. I also think it's fun when the several that I've already asked aren't ignored. Get on it. The questions you're asking don't get to the heart of the issue. *IF* my position is correct, that a baby is a baby is a baby, then all the answers to your questions are obvious. Inquiring minds want to know if your position is correct.

Peace,
Rhology

NAL said...

I'm not sure there is a "correct" position. If one equates a fertilized egg, at least legally, with a living, breathing, cooing baby, then my questions are intended to point out some of the logical consequences of that position. The consequences of your position that I've raised are too draconian for me to support your position.

It's hard for me to equate a fertilized egg with a living, breathing, cooing baby, on any level. As the fetus develops the equating becomes easier. Just because you refer to a fertilized egg as a baby doesn't make your case, it makes your case look silly.

Does this lead to rights based on age? Sure. There are lots of rights that adults enjoy that children don't. But the consequences of your position cause me to support the lesser of two evils.

Rhology said...

The lesser of the 2? You mean murdering whatever-it-is in the womb? This isn't just about "rights", this is about what it's OK to kill.
But you're still avoiding my questions. I'll just have to let the readers judge who is answering questions and who is dodging. Unless you step up to the plate. There's still time.

Rhology said...

Let's look at it from a different angle.

NAL/anti-lifers - Is it permissible for me to decide that atheists are not worthy of legal protection and can therefore be killed without provocation, even if I can't prove that their existence is inconvenient to me? If not, please explain, but you have to answer WHY, not just repeat THAT it is not. What would be your reasoning?

NAL said...

WHY? Because atheists are human beings. I am generally opposed to killing human beings. A fertilized egg is not a human being no matter how many times you call it a "baby". Therefore, killing a fertilized egg is not the same thing as killing a human being, to me.

Killing a fertilized egg should be left to the discretion of the woman. Why? Because the alternative, that the state can compel the pregnancy through threat of force, over a fertilized egg, is too totalitarian for me accept.

Rhology said...

You're begging the question. Read the post again - that's the whole point.

If *you* get to define a person your way, then I will define it mine. Atheists are NOT people. They can be killed whenever I please.
Frame your response in the light of the POST, please. This is not rocket science.

merkur said...

First, I should point out that you don't really believe that abortion is murder. If you did, your position would be substantially different.

Second, abortion isn't murder, since murder is by definition "unlawful killing". Since abortion is lawful, it isn't murder. It is clearly something else disagreeable, but calling it "murder" doesn't make any case other than a a rhetorical one.

I know Peter Singer's position, although I don't subscribe to it myself. However I do agree with him that there are some seriously blurry lines regarding how we apply rights, lines that can't be resolved easily solely by religious texts.

"But if it's not an all-or-nothing affair, does the unborn baby develop certain rights at a certain age? At one month, more rights than at one week? At 8 months, more than at 7?"

Yes, and the law recognises this. For example, 8 month old children do not have the right to vote, or drive a car, or have sexual intercourse, or open a bank account. So clearly we already recognise that rights vary according to age.

"If so, why wouldn't that mean that an 80-year old fetus has more rights than a 79-year old one?"

A weak rhetorical device. By definition, there is no such thing as an 80-year-old fetus.

"If not, when does the fetus have rights? Does it depend on something he DOES? A capability?"

Personally, yes, I think it does depend on capability. This is why we recognise that people with severe learning difficulties or mental illness are not as liable for crimes that they commit as people with full mental capability. As I said, society already recognises this in both legal and social norms.

"The 4.0 honor student who is also an All-American linebacker at Wake Forest University has more rights than the 100-pound high school dropout? Or is there some other way of determining better capabilities, and thus, better rights? Who decides?"

This is where the discussion gets interesting, and where Singer has useful things to say. The short answer is that no - the capabilities you allude to here are not relevant for deciding people's right to life. However that's quite a long discussion about agency and consciousness and identity.

Who decides? Society decides.

"Yes, these are perhaps impossible questions to answer. But the anti-life side is the one advocating putting that whatever-it-is inside the mother to a horribly painful and unprovoked death."

They're difficult but not impossible. However the discussion isn't helped by antagonistic rhetorical statements like this.

merkur said...

Theo: "To us, human life is a continuum. To them "humanity" is a stage one achieves and it is a state from which one can descend."

I'm confused. It seems to me that "our" position is that human life is a continuum, and yours is the position that it's a stage that one achieves - at the moment that the sperm fertilises the egg, presumably. Personally I view human life (and indeed life in general) as a continuum).

Rhology said...

Hi merkur,

First, I should point out that you don't really believe that abortion is murder. If you did, your position would be substantially different.

Oh. OK. Thanks for clearing that up.
I must have missed sthg.

murder is by definition "unlawful killing".

[shrugs] That might be a decent point, but you wouldn't, then, argue that Hitler didn't murder Jews since the law supported him, would you?
Nah, didn't think so. A better definition would be unJUSTIFIABLE killing.

It is clearly something else disagreeable

Whoa whoa whoa, if it's not a baby, then it's an organ, and a small one at that! Nobody gets sad when their gall bladder is removed for health reasons. No one calls it "disagreeable" or says we should limit the procedure. Why is it disagreeable?

However I do agree with him that there are some seriously blurry lines regarding how we apply rights, lines that can't be resolved easily solely by religious texts.

What's your argument for that? The Bible teaches that human life begins at conception. And that murdering humans is wrong. That's pretty easy.
Just b/c some people don't accept it doesn't mean it doesn't answer the question.

For example, 8 month old children do not have the right to vote, or drive a car, or have sexual intercourse, or open a bank account. So clearly we already recognise that rights vary according to age.

OK, but is it more OK to murder an 8-month old than a 12-month old? That's what I'm really after here, since abortion KILLS that whatever-it-is.

By definition, there is no such thing as an 80-year-old fetus.

I am challenging the definitions, as should be obvious from the post. Geez, I'm wondering if you people even read it or if you just skipped to the comments.
Tell me WHY an 80 year old is not an 80 yr old fetus.


I think it does depend on capability.

I knew you'd say that.

This is why we recognise that people with severe learning difficulties or mental illness are not as liable for crimes that they commit as people with full mental capability.

Which has nothing to do with RIGHTS.
Or whether they can be killed for convenience' sake.

The short answer is that no - the capabilities you allude to here are not relevant for deciding people's right to life.

Why not?

Who decides? Society decides.

So the 3rd Reich was perfectly justified b/c society decided.
Pol Pot's Cambodia.
Aztec blood sacrifices.
Old Testament Hebrew eliminations of other societies, like Jericho and Ai. Right? Looks like we've got a winner!
Let's see how consistent you want to be.

And who decides what society is?
And where did you take a poll to determine what society thinks about whether rights are determined from capability vs ontology? I'd like to see that. Or are you just pulling stuff out of your butt?

However the discussion isn't helped by antagonistic rhetorical statements like this.

What?
"putting that whatever-it-is inside the mother to a horribly painful and unprovoked death"? What's wrong with it? Point it out to me, I must be a little dense today.


And yeah, I don't know what Theo meant either. Hopefully he'll clarify. Maybe he meant to emphasise the "human" part of "human life is a continuum", unlike you who do NOT have it on a continuum but rather on a sliding scale. The right not to be killed for no reason other than convenience or someone else's whim apparently starts where you want it to start and ends where you want it to end. You'd make a good dictator.

Peace,
Rhology

------- Theo ------- said...

What I mean by human life being a continuum is this:
That we as biological beings are uniquely human at all stages, even though these stages are experienced differently and even though different individuals might experience them differently.

Yes, there is a sense in which our human identity is related to our cognition. Homo sapiens: "thinking" man is a differentiator I believe utterly appropriate for our species. However, what is a hallmark of the species as a part of each "normal" individual's healthy function is not in actuality its essence. Were it so, there would be a threshold of humanity: a measurable cognitive event horizon, short of which lays brutality and beyond which lays humanity.

One might be able to accept such a model on philosophical terms, such that the psychopath or the damaged or undeveloped are less than human; however, the difficulty comes in determining the event horizon.

When I speak of us as recognizing the human condition is continuum it is to recognize that no event horizon can truly be defined, for upon analysis, each reveals itself to be arbitrary, whether it is the arbitrary physical boundary of the womb or the truly imperceptible line that separates human self awareness from brutality or even the less clear boundary between brutality and vegetative function.

To many it seems counter-intuitive to defend the interests of a human zygote, which we expect has no more cognitive self awareness or sensibility than a diatom and in and of itself is no more interested in anything than is a rock. I easily understand how why one looks at a mass of cells, regards it with no more care than one would a yeast infection and says, “This is not a human being." However, we are left with the question, what is it then? Whatever this “not a human being” is, I can tell you for sure something it is not: It is NOT something that if we leave it alone it will become a horse or a coffee table.

Once we recognize human life is a continuum we then must recognize that it is we, not the organism itself that forces a status change on it. It is not a matter of saying “This is human and this is not,” but recognizing that we are actually saying “This human is killable and this one is not.” If we get over that hurdle and start talking about what we are REALLY talking about: namely what sort of human is killable and under what conditions, then we might begin to get somewhere.

I submit this as your servant and as a servant of Christ,
--Theo

Rhology said...

Ah, Theo, that's what I thought you meant. :-) I agree 110%.

Especially with this:
no event horizon can truly be defined, for upon analysis, each reveals itself to be arbitrary

Absolutely!

And this:
It is not a matter of saying “This is human and this is not,” but recognizing that we are actually saying “This human is killable and this one is not.” If we get over that hurdle and start talking about what we are REALLY talking about: namely what sort of human is killable and under what conditions, then we might begin to get somewhere.

Perfect.
Thanks.

NAL said...

------- theo -------:
When I speak of us as recognizing the human condition is continuum it is to recognize that no event horizon can truly be defined ...


Yet you define it at the human zygote.

------- theo -------:
... for upon analysis, each reveals itself to be arbitrary ...


That includes your definition, too.

Rhology said...

I don't agree that mine is arbitrary. What's your argument for that?
Once the egg is fertilised, it has human DNA. It has human nature. That's a defining event. What's your alternative defining event?

NAL said...

rhology:
I don't agree that mine is arbitrary. What's your argument for that?


It's theo's argument. Theo said each was arbitrary, which you agreed with absolutely.

rhology:
Once the egg is fertilised, it has human DNA.


So does ever cell in a person's body. A human being is more than just DNA, in my opinion.

rhology:
What's your alternative defining event?


It's not at the zygote. It's easier to say what's not a defining event for me than what is. I guess that the three trimester points are a good compromise. Where third trimester abortions would only be allowed to save the mother's life or for severe genetic deformities. I do not feel comfortable with third trimester abortions being used as a birth control method.

However, if one were really interested in reducing the number of abortions, artificial contraception should be a priority.

------- Theo ------- said...

"... for upon analysis, each reveals itself to be arbitrary ...

That includes your definition, too.”


Yes, I believe I just said that.

Obviously, NAL, that is the point. When one "defines" any event horizon for “humanness” it must be by its very nature utterly arbitrary. One is as good as another: zygote, embryo, first sensibility, first cognition, earliest "viability," physical birth, self awareness, cosmic awareness, first abstraction, puberty, becoming a registered Democrat… making none definitive. If a human is to be called a "human being" at all and that “humanness” is the basis alone on whether or not it is killable, it is a human during its full continuum--or not at all. If we look to "humanness" alone as the justification, you win or lose your case on mere ontological grounds, which in my view is simply nonsense.

I suggest we dispense with the “A human is not a human being before it is born” argument as mere smoke and mirrors intended to dismiss the issue without real argument, and move on to the “We can kill a human being without compunction before it is born because ___________ ” argument.



Anyone who wants to actually discuss the issue rather than pontificate on either side must try to grasp the real reason(s) this form of life is a life that can be eradicated.

NAL, can you identify for us the qualities possessed by un-killable humans that the killable ones lack and vice versa? This would move things along well.


Respectfully submitted as your servant,
--Theo

NAL said...

theo:
“We can kill a human being without compunction before it is born because ___________ ” argument.


That question requires the determination of whether or not it is a human being or not. Why does it have to be "without compunction"? I already gave two examples of cases where I thought third trimester abortions would be ethical. I generally consider a third trimester fetus a human being, but there are rare exceptions.

NAL said...

theo:
NAL, can you identify for us the qualities possessed by un-killable humans that the killable ones lack and vice versa? This would move things along well.


If by that you mean can I provide qualities that separate what I consider a human being and what I consider is not a human being, then no. I can only give boundary conditions with a big gray area in between. That's the beauty of placing the definition at the zygote, no gray area.

------- Theo ------- said...

"That question requires the determination of whether or not it is a human being or not"

As far as I am concerned we have already established this question is mere ontological who-ha. Is it something other than Homo sapiens and an individual?

Regardless, you are free to disagree; yet, given that you have a "grey area" in which you yourself are unsure what is "human", why would you even think of advocating killing something that falls within it? This strikes me rather like firing weapons at objects that you believe might be humans, but not worrying about it because you can't see them clearly, still knowing that whenever one of them does get close enough for you to see clearly, it always turns out to be human.

Ever your servant,
--Theo

NAL said...

theo:
... why would you even think of advocating killing something that falls within it?


The human/non-human status in the gray area might depend on the circumstances of each individual case.

Just because I am unsure about the human/non-human status, I don't feel that I have the right to make that determination for someone else. Outside the gray area, on the human side, I do believe that society can have a say in the matter.

------- Theo ------- said...

NAL:

Thanks for answering.

Alas for anyone that you might be in a position to protect from another if you feel that you cannot decide for another whether his victim is human or not.

I wonder whether such was the feeling of those who were sure that African slaves were not sub-human but did not see the need to interfere with another person who is merely beating his chattel to death.

May your life never be held in the balance between someone who wishes you dead and another who believes you might be "alive" but is unwilling to project that judgment on your potential killer.

Your servant,
--Theo

G-man said...

Theo -
Nothing has intrinsic value. It just doesn't make sense; value is something we ascribe to things.

For instance, money might have value to you, but in another culture your money might be worthless (and on a deserted island it sure is). If humans had intrinsic value, it would be recognized by everybody - this is clearly not the case.

So I can't see anybody coming up with a coherent defense of the "humanness" of an entity determining its worth. Especially when corpses are basically physically identical to living humans.

What matters, I would argue, are values. Even while unconscious, fully human beings have values. Even while laughing and having a good time, our aversion to pain does not disappear.

A fetus, on the other hand, does not have any values until the 7th month of a pregnancy, at which point it can experience pain. At that point it has values, which cannot be seen as less important than the mother's. So at that point, I stand against abortion.

Matt -
Consider "good and evil" in relation to humanity as a whole. The pains and pleasures humans experience are as real as the brains that house the neurons that conduct the feelings.

In other words, the value we have toward things is absolutely a part of a materialistic philosophy. I look at "rights" as those actions humans should be able to perform without violent response - violence including physical violence as well as legislative violence.

Without my going into too much detail, it may already have occurred to you that a little scientific investigation is all it takes to derive "rights" in a non-arbitrary way, for a functioning society.

Tiber jumper -
I'd be interested in knowing what separates "life" from "not-life" in your perspective. What about a fertilized egg makes it life - and what makes it different from a corpse?

Nal -
Personally, I think arguments from impracticality only go so far. There may be many *inconveniences* to providing humanitarian aid in Darfur, but if the truth is that there is value in doing so, every effort should be made to provide it.

Similarly, if these theists can provide a coherent argument about some sort of *intrinsic value* of a fertilized egg, we'd probably be well advised to listen.

Merkur -
Your responses to Rho were just top notch :) My problem with the "society decides" thing is precisely that if the majority of our society had their say, abortion would be illegal - which would be wrong.

Furthermore, your message of "society decides" is only ethical in a society that has already decided that "what society decides" is ethical... because if society decides you're wrong, then you're wrong. Ick.

And finally, Rho.
As I wrote to Theo, I would argue that "intrinsic value" and "intrinsic rights" are ridiculous ideas. A dead person loses his rights because nothing is important to him - not even waking up. (A person in a coma does find this important).

A fertilized egg values nothing. When a fetus can feel pain, then values exist, and I believe values are essential to morality.

Here's a little insight into my side of the issue: I've referred to the corpse analogy a few times, so let me try one more.

If you stabbed a dead person, would you turn yourself in on a guilty conscience? If someone held a dead body under water, or put it in a gas chamber, or buried it - would you respond the same way as if it were your living child?

A dead body is not alive - you cannot kill it. You cannot hurt it. It makes no sense to say you're going to kill a dead person (except in those zombie movies). So when you talk about harming or "murdering" a fertilized egg, I raise my eyebrow in just the same way.

An atheist, on the other hand, is just as alive as any other person. Her values are no less important. She has values - unlike early stage fetuses, and unlike dead bodies.

There's a solution with no gray areas, no "human status" arguments, because intrinsic humanness is meaningless and valueless.

If any readers get this far... bravo. It's a fast-paced world full of distractions.

Matt said...

G-Man,

The pains and pleasures humans experience are as real as the brains that house the neurons that conduct the feelings.

No argument here, though the mind/brain issue could come up if this point were pursued further (in a mind-body dualist philosophy, feelings belong to minds, and neural impulses to brains).

In other words, the value we have toward things is absolutely a part of a materialistic philosophy

Yes, but in a materialistic philosophy, what you value is local to your own brain only. There is a concept of value to individuals only - no global concept of an objective "greater good". The only thing that could be considered a principle of "greater good" is something that the most powerful group of people values - simply for the fact that they value it, and can exert their will on the others, irrespective of what they value.

In other words, the value we have toward things is absolutely a part of a materialistic philosophy. I look at "rights" as those actions humans should be able to perform without violent response - violence including physical violence as well as legislative violence.

And

Without my going into too much detail, it may already have occurred to you that a little scientific investigation is all it takes to derive "rights" in a non-arbitrary way, for a functioning society.

Actually, this hadn't occurred to me. First of all, science deals with objective observations and conclusions, not subjective judgments. Whenever one goes from objective description to normative proscription, one moves out of the domain of science and into the domain of ethics. So no, one could observe all of the human behavior that one wants, but one will still have to assert some ethical principle in order to make a subjective statement about the observations.

Frankly, you can't say that "humans should be able to do A without violent response" without first asserting some ethical principle. You could say that "throughout history, humans have been met with violence for speaking against rulers and authorities" - this is an observation, or a generalization from historical observations. Now, is meeting dissent with violence something that is good, or bad? There are certainly people throughout the ages who have thought differently about the issue. Many kings, dictators, and other tyrants throughout the ages have valued being able to control their subjects, even to what they say, while many freedom-lovers throughout the years have valued the ability to speak freely without retribution, and many have paid dearly for it. Who is right? Both people value what is opposite of the other. How does science decide who has the rights here? Do the tyrants have the right to control speech, or do the people have the right to speak freely? Both could be said to equally value the opposite of what the other wants. Thus, one must either say that science cannot decide the issue, or assert some ethical principle to decide what the "rights" are - a principle such as "those in power have the right" or "the majority of people has the right" or "I like the freedom of speech, so the people have the right" and so on. Science cannot decide these principles, because they are outside of its domain.

Furthermore, the principle of rights as "what humans should be able to do without violent response" is itself an ethical, not a scientific, statement. A scientific statement would be rights are "what humans are observed to do, in general, without invoking violent response." There are two problems here. First, taking the first statement, determining the details of "should be able" requires subjective judgment and ethical principles applied to observations, not observations and objective judgement alone. Secondly, even if we are consistently scientific, and decided to adopt the scientific statement, that rights are "what humans are observed to do, in general, without invoking violent response", how do we justify this statement scientifically? What is to keep me from defining rights as "being able to do what I value"? Dictators throughout history have defined their rights this way - their rights to do whatever they want to their people, in order to gratify their own desires. Whose definition of "rights" is right? Once again, this is an ethical issue, and science cannot decide the matter. One might respond, and say that Hitler's definition of his "rights" differs from Thomas Jefferson's definition of "rights", and that Jefferson's is superior, because it has led to life, freedom, and prosperity for millions, whilst Hitler's definition led to the death of millions. But once again, where did we decide that the life and well-being of human beings has any bearing on what is "right" and "wrong"? After all, there are many biologists out there who want to kill us off - consider the case a couple of years ago when Eric Pianka proposed that it would be a good thing for an airborne strain of Ebola to kill 90% of the world population - he received a standing ovation from his fellow scientists! The good of individual people is clearly not in the interest of these people. Thus, even within the materialistic community, there are different definitions of what is "good", and this makes sense, because what is good is local to each individual brain - there are no global principles.

In the final analysis, the matter is reduced to the principle that observation and objective analysis cannot form a basis for subjective judgment - "is" cannot be converted to "ought" or "should" without some ethical principle, which is by definition beyond the domain of observation and objective analysis.

Furthermore, I would contest your claim that a scientific investigation can discover "rights" in a non-arbitrary way. As previously stated, the definition of "rights" requires an ethical principle. Furthermore, the decision about what to study, and what to consider in deciding what the rights are is an arbitrary decision, under materialism. No scientist can study everything - he has to decide what to study, and upon what to base his conclusions, out of a wide range of possibilities. Most scientists follow a principled approach in this regard, which is held by the majority of the scientists in a field as a good and proper methodological procedure. Yet, in a materialistic sense, the individual scientist follows a principled methodology because his own brain causes him to like it (or think it good). Furthermore, a group of scientists follow a methodology, because they are a group whose individual brains cause them to like it (or think it good). What could be more arbitrary, then a methodological procedure that is followed, ultimately because it is liked, or thought good, by a group of individuals, because their individual brains have a similar chemical process which causes them to think that it is good? Furthermore, what reason should non-scientists have to agree with the scientists? Apart from the possibility that there exist absolute principles, which good science follows, there is no reason, other than they value the decisions of the scientists in one way or another. Thus, in materialism, there can be no non-arbitrary scientific investigation, for the foundations of science, in a materialistic philosophy, are arbitrary, because they all follow from the decisions of individual men, based upon what they value or deem good. This is the very definition of what it means to be arbitrary! Now, one can say that scientists follow this principle or that principle, and thus science is not arbitrary, but apart from asserting that these principles are absolute (which would contradict materialism), it follows that scientists accept these principles, merely because they value accepting them (or see accepting them as good and proper by their own individual judgment), which is, once again, arbitrary.

Finally, if there are no non-arbitrary means of determining rights, then as I stated in my original post, right ultimately equates to might. Whatever group of people wield power, what they value becomes de facto right in, practice. However, we as Christians assert that there is a huge difference between de facto "rights" and de jure rights. We say that all men (including fetuses) are created equal, and endowed with unalienable rights, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (which had the semantic meaning of happiness through the moral life, and not hedonism, in the Founders' day), because they are created in the image of God. Materialism cannot make this, or any similar claim. In materialism, de facto right = de jure right, for there is no absolute principle to differentiate the two. Whatever group wields the power is the ground that imposes its values upon the rest of the people, as the set of "rights". There is no escaping this fact, since every materialistic notion of right ultimately reduces to individual value, local to individual brains, there can be no global, normative, principle of rights, that apply to all men.

Rhology said...

G-man,

Your appeals to values vs rights are telling. "Values" here seems to be a codeword for "what I think is good/bad", but of course by definition can say nothing for any other being than yourself. So, as we've so often observed in the past, the only authority for asking others to adopt the same view you could possible have is force.


(A person in a coma does find this important).

1) So what? They can't DO anything. And as NAL has been telling us, the value of one's life depends on capability.
2) You don't know if the unborn baby finds living important or not. But you are in favor of the legality of killing a life form of which you don't know their values or anything.
3) If intrinsic values are ridiculous, then I simply choose, autonomously, to devalue you. You are no longer a human, b/c I said so and b/c you yourself admitted you have no intrinsic value. I'm going to shove you in an oven now.


If you stabbed a dead person, would you turn yourself in on a guilty conscience?

Ludicrous; a dead person is dead. Surely you're not arguing an unborn baby is dead?

So when you talk about harming or "murdering" a fertilized egg, I raise my eyebrow in just the same way.

Why? They're totally disanaologous, b/c one is alive and one is dead. This isn't that hard.

She has values - unlike early stage fetuses, and unlike dead bodies.

So what? She has no intrinsic value, and I simply choose not to extend my values to cover valuing her life. Is that wrong?


Matt,

What? G-man confusing IS with OUGHT again? Say it ain't so!


Peace,
Rhology

------- Theo ------- said...

"Even while unconscious, fully human beings have values."

NAL:
A comatose person without self awareness has no "values" desires or interests--only his humanity and (possibly) a potential to experience more in this life should he recover to some degree. Your defense of a comatose person’s interests is based upon its potential-- knowing that there is a chance that he might again live up to your “standard” of acceptable "humanness," whatever that might be, having wide grey boundaries as it does. A human being before it is born has both potential and a very high likelihood of achieving even your non-standard standard of fitness for life and rights. Were I to accept even your limited criteria for disallowing life (and I do not) I would still be left defending pre-natal life.

Regarding intrinsic value, I’ve not directly tied any argument to that concept—we are nowhere near ready. Please also note that your mere assertion that nothing has intrinsic value is barely relevant to the conversation, as at this point we are discussing particular values, not necessarily intrinsic ones. A fact of human history, society and anthropological psychology is that humans in the vast majority place value on many common things, and those who do not hold the most basic values with the common, we deem sociopathic: inherently flawed in their ability to discern intrinsic value.

The questions as to the existence, extent and source(s) of intrinsic values (if any) are easily open for debate as are identifying human axioms (if any). That is a fantastic and wonderful discussion tied to the concept of "natural law." There is a sense in which any statement of “ought” can be traced back to this concept. It is no more or less inherent to life issue law than it is to traffic law. If your interest is in that area as well, I touch on it on my own blog in a series called "Splitting Atoms." I invite you to look it over.

I remain your humble servant,
--Theo

------- Theo ------- said...

All:
I'm sorry; the above should have been addressed to G-Man. I mistook his post as being from NAL. As such some of its content is misplaced, as G-Man did not claim a wide "grey area" of humanity / non-humanity as far as I know.

Human as ever,
--Theo

------- Theo ------- said...

"Furthermore, I would contest your claim that a scientific investigation can discover "rights" in a non-arbitrary way. As previously stated, the definition of "rights" requires an ethical principle."

B I N G O

Someone give Rho a cookie! The original assertion that a little bit of scientific work could derive non-arbitrary rights that allow society to function might at first blush seem plausible: one could stipulate all rights should be derived to achieve some particular goals that preserve as much as possible a sustainable state of society. From there one would empirically determine what “works” and what does not, and mandate rights based upon observation of the smoothest running society. This is essentially the "morality as a function of society" argument, engineered.

However, as Rho suggests, the decision to attempt stated goals including even the decision to conduct the experiment itself ultimately is ethically based: not empirically. After all, apart from ethics—apart from a seemingly arbitrary choice, a society based on anarchy is no less preferred than any based on any other magnitude of order. The moment a strict materialist begins talking about "rights" or uses the word "ought" he undermines his position.

Your servant,
--Theo

Matt said...

Theo,

I don't mean to be too critical, but you should read these posts a little more carefully. This is the second time you've wrongly attributed a quotation today.

From there one would empirically determine what “works” and what does not, and mandate rights based upon observation of the smoothest running society.

This also brings up another interesting point. Aside from the decision to base "rights" upon such an experiment being ultimately based upon an ethical decision, one must also define what it means for society to "run smoothly", or in other words, one must define an optimally-working or "well-working" society. But upon what grounds is this to be done? Once again, this comes down to individual preference and value, for what is normal to one man may be utter chaos and disorder to another. Once again, the criterion of an optimal society, or a "best" society cannot be determined by observation and objective analysis alone, but requires non-scientific criteria to decide. The data itself carries no subjective qualifications - these must be imposed by individuals, and are thus ultimately arbitrary under materialism.

Rhology said...

Someone give Matt a cookie! :-)

Theo said...

"I don't mean to be too critical, but you should read these posts a little more carefully. This is the second time you've wrongly attributed a quotation today."

Yikes, you're right Rho---oops.
I mean, Here's your cookie, Matt.