Sunday, July 16, 2006

Obligations Beyond the Fetus

In "Obligations to the Fetus", KTK argues that it's okay to induce birth defects (e.g. by taking thalidomide), because fetuses don't have moral interests and thus cannot be harmed. The obvious problem with this argument is that he's forgetting about the future child who does have actual interests, and who certainly is harmed by antenatal negligence.

To diagnose KTK's central mistake: it looks like he is confusing temporal with modal absences, or non-presence with non-actuality. He writes:
[Causing a birth defect] is different from the case of a person who is maimed or otherwise subject to limitations in life after they have entered the moral realm - that person has actual interests that are thereby frustrated.

Granted, we might say that an aborted fetus is a "potential person" who is non-actual. (We might think of him as existing in possible worlds other than our own.) The fetus could have grown into that person, if brought to term. But given that it actually won't, the interests of this merely "potential person" need not be given moral weight. The person does not actually exist, and so has no actual interests.

But not all fetuses are like that. Some will be brought to term, and develop into actual persons: persons that exist in the actual world. There's an important difference between actually existing in the future, and merely possibly doing so. Actual persons have actual interests, even if they exist in the future, and we need to take those interests into account. Although it's permissible to refrain from bringing a merely potential person into existence, there is something morally bad about damaging actual (albeit future) interests. It is bad to harm an actual future person, i.e. make their life to go worse than it otherwise would have. Handicapping them as a fetus is obviously one such way to make their life go worse. So handicapping those fetuses that will grow into actual people is morally bad. KTK fails to realize of the handicapped actual future person that she too "has actual interests that are thereby frustrated."

It is obviously possible to act in ways that will make a future person's life go worse, even if they don't exist yet. It should also be clear that we can have moral obligations to refrain from such actions. (Our obligation to future generations is precisely why environmentalism is so morally pressing!) For a crude example, it would plainly be immoral to magically attach a time-bomb to a fetus, wait for it to develop into a person and then *BOOM*. Less crudely, you might use a very slow-acting poison. Either way, it's no defence to say, as KTK does, that the fetus has no interests and therefore you can do whatever you like to it. You have to think beyond the fetus, to the actual future person who is or will be* made worse off by your actions.
* = It's a tricky question exactly where we should temporally locate the harm. Is the future person harmed now, or does your present act cause a later harm? This may be a curious philosophical puzzle, but whenever it should be located, there's no question that the harm in question does (at some point or other) occur. So the metaphysical puzzle has no real ethical import, at least on the issues we're discussing here.

(Here's a trickier case: what if you handicap a fetus, which the distraught mother for that reason decides to abort? Given my theoretical commitments outlined above, I must say that you didn't harm the potential person who would have been born were it not for your interference. For as it happens, they are not an actual person; they do not actually exist in the future, and so they have no actual interests. Instead, the harm you do is solely to the mother: you deprived her of the child she wanted to bear. Alternatively, if the mother doesn't care either, but the future is made a worse place than it otherwise would have been -- perhaps she has a "replacement" child whose life goes not so well as the aborted child's would have -- then this could be a case of badness without harm.)

KTK supports his misguided conclusion with two similarly misguided arguments. First, he writes:
A life with [disabilities] is still better than nothing at all... So such an infant has suffered no harm, even if it is disappointing or frustrating that it could have had a better life.

Sure, it's better to be born than not. But of course that merely shows that birth is no harm. It's worse for a person to be fetally handicapped (or poisoned, or wrapped with explosives) than not, and that shows that fetal handicapping (or poisoning, etc.) is a harm.

Second bad argument:
We do not blame parents of children with accidentally-acquired birth defects, even when those parents deliberately choose not to abort that fetus. The choice to create birth defects and then bring the fetus to term is essentially the same act.

Um, no. The parents in the first case have no option to make their child healthy. The choice is exclusively between a disabled life or no life at all. The relevant act here is simply childbirth, and we've already seen that that is no harm. In the second case, by contrast, the parents also have the choice to refrain from handicapping their child, and allowing her to instead enjoy a healthy life. There are two very different actions they could take to prevent this. One would be an abortion, so that she (the potential person) never actually exists at all. That's fine. The other would be fetally handicapping the child so that she lives a less-healthy life. That's not so fine. The relevant act here is imposing a disability on an otherwise healthy person. There's a certain lack of discernment involved in claiming that childbirth and gratuitous handicapping are "essentially the same act." I don't mean to belabour the obvious, but we really should take care to distinguish the two.


  1. Richard, you seem to be arguing that IF a fetus is brought to term an born any action that intentionally causes a birth defect is immoral because the fetus is an actual person, with interests and is harmed. Yet if the fetus is aborted the potential person is somehow not harmed because they never existed. This strikes me as exceedingly contradictory.

    Suppose Mary is pregnant with fetus X and she has three options

    1. Take an action that causes a birth defect

    2. Abort the baby before taking that action

    3. Not take that action and carry the baby to full term.

    You say 1 is immoral because X will be born and become John with a birth defect and John is therefore harmed by Mary's action. But option 2 is not immoral because X never becomes John. But if John is harmed by an action that causes a birth defect is he not also harmed by an action that removes him from existence? After all, being born is better than not being born and through action 2 you are actively taking a step that prevents X from being born because with action 3 X would indeed become John. What is worse, causing a handicap or preventing John from ever existing? If being born is better than not being born an action that prevents X from becoming John would cause harm, namely John isn't born which leaves him worse off.

    You say
    "It is obviously possible to act in ways that will make a future person's life go worse, even if they don't exist yet. It should also be clear that we can have moral obligations to refrain from such actions."

    Isn't not having a life worse than having one? Indeed, depriving a John of a life is perhaps the worst harm you could possibly cause and by destroying fetus X you are in fact depriving John of having a life.

  2. No, what's contradictory is ascribing actual properties (say of being harmed) to a non-entity. Option 2 isn't bad for John because there is no John. He doesn't exist.

    It's unfortunate that talk of possibilia is so misleading in this respect. It's not as if there is some real entity (John) that has the property of "possibly, but not actually, existing". The whole point of non-existence is that there is no such entity. It doesn't exist! So it's not the case (as your comments presuppose) that John is an actual entity with the property of possibly existing. Rather, what's possible is that the world could have turned out in such a way that there was such an entity. But, as it happens, there ain't. So nothing is bad for "him", because there is no "him". "He" is not deprived of anything, any more than Santa Claus is "deprived" of the chance to deliver presents each Xmas by his unfortunate non-existence. (Poor guy.) Such talk is simply metaphysical confusion.

    When we say that "John exists in another possible world," we really mean that there is a possible world-story according to which "John exists" is true. But the story is mere fiction. (Sure, it could have been accurate -- the world could have turned out that way. But it didn't. End of story.) You shouldn't take it too literally.

  3. Metaphysics aside, the point may be more simply made by an ethical reductio. Consider all the "potential people" who are deprived of existence every moment a fertile couple fail to have (unprotected) sex or otherwise undergo conceptive procedures (e.g. IVF). If you take such "harms" seriously, that's an overwhelming lot of harm...

  4. Richard,

    Your argument that option 1 is immoral because of the negative effect it has on baby John relies on the assumption that baby John would exist with no birth defect although in reality there is no such baby John because John does in fact have a birth defect. You are accepting the possibility of John without a defect as in fact existing although once option one is exercised it doesn't exist.

    If you choose option 3 John will exist. It is your choice that is determining whether John exists as well as whether John with a defect or without a defect exists. All three are possibilities that are consequences of your choices. While John may never exist to be aware of the consequences of your choices your choice has the ultimate effect on him.

    Your argument in your second reply is very different because in the scenario we have been discussing fetus X will become John if you take no action. The decision you make is a proactive action that directly effects fetus X and whether or not that fetus will become John, defect John or nothing. In the case of the fertile couple using contraceptives, they are taking an action that prevents the formation of fetus X and the formation of a potential person. If the couple did nothing no person would be born so the protection essentially allows them to have sex without potentially reproducing and is equivalent to not having sex in terms of fetus X(when it works).

  5. Seems like it's simply be a lot simpler to recognize that fetuses exist and that it's wrong to hurt them. Look at how complicated you make it, when you try to maintain the non-existence of fetuses while maintaining the existence of a prenatally-harmed person at birth.

    When Abu Hayat ripped Ana Rosa Rodriguez's arm off, he ripped Ana Rosa's arm off. He didn't go into some sort of time warp and impose an injury on the Ana Rosa that would come into existence at her birth some hours later. What the hell was she when her arm was being ripped off? A theory? In which case, couldn't her mother have just theorized her arm back on?

  6. Oh -- and I've added you to my blog roundup.;

  7. GrannyGrump, we do need some explanation of how it's possible to harm people who do not exist yet. Why is it wrong to destroy the environment (or our society) if that will only affect people in future generations, whose parents haven't even been born yet? Isn't it wrong to create a deformed child even if this is done by damaging an ovum or a sperm before conception rather than by damaging a fetus during pregnancy? If you think that fetuses have moral worth than you can say that damaging a fetus is wrong for the same reason that damaging an adult person is wrong, and if you think that they don't have worth (as fetuses) then you can say that damaging a fetus is wrong for the same reason that these other cases are wrong. The fact that one of these kinds of wrongness is easier to explain doesn't really matter.

  8. Just to be clear: I am not denying the existence of fetuses! Of courses fetuses exist. You couldn't abort them otherwise. But we're assuming (for sake of this argument) that fetuses do not have interests. Rather, fetuses grow into people, and people have interests. An aborted fetus, however, does not grow into a person. Obviously. It could have done so, if not aborted, and we might speak loosely of this "potential person". But that "potential person" does not actually exist. And non-existent things don't have moral interests.

    So here are some claims:
    1) You can damage a fetus (say by ripping its arms off).
    2) But fetuses don't have interests. So you haven't harmed the fetus in a moral sense. (No more than you "harm" a chair by sawing its legs off. The damage has no moral significance.)
    3) Some fetuses develop into actual persons, who inherit the damage.
    4) Actual persons have interests, so the damage does harm them, and is hence morally bad.
    5) So, it can be morally bad to damage a fetus, if the fetus will grow into an actual person, even though the fetus itself lacks moral significance.
    6) However, no harm is done by damaging a fetus that will subsequently be aborted.

    Let me also echo Blar's remarks that this issue of inherited harms needs to be dealt with by everyone, even if you think fetuses are persons. Just repeat the case with "ovum" in place of "fetus", or whatever. (Clearly it'd be wrong to inject a slow-acting poison into an ovum, pre-conception, even though an ovum itself has no interests and cannot be "harmed" in the morally relevant sense. It is wrong because the damage is inherited by the eventual person, who does have interests.

    I hope that's all clearer now.

    (P.S. This is not the place to debate whether fetuses are persons. See, e.g., here instead. For *this* post, I'm simply interested in establishing that damage to non-persons can be morally bad if the damage in "inherited" by a future person. That is, I aim to refute KTK's position, and establish that pro-choicers should still hold that damaging fetuses can be wrong, even assuming that fetuses themselves don't matter.)

  9. I agree with your conclusion Richard, but think that your reasoning is unnecessarily complicated. If you'll forgive me, I'll basically copy-paste my argument on SS:

    An early term foetus has no interests, and I maintain that a late term foetus has some but fewer than a full person, which are overridden by the mother’s rights to dignity and autonomy. However, once she makes the choice to continue the pregnancy, I don’t see anything wrong with that imposing new moral constraints on her. This does not violate her autonomy as she still has the opt-out clause of abortion.

    So why should these obligations arise? Because the effect of the actions very much will be felt by a person, albeit later on. It is like kicking someone such that internal damage only causes pain and death a year on. The delay does not matter. A person quite foreseeably felt the effects, so it is wrong. The fact that in the birth defects case the ‘victim’ was not yet a person does not matter. The effects will harm a person, albeit with delayed action.

    The point is this: Autonomy requires that abortion be permitted. However, it does not require that a pregnant mother can have it both ways, keeping the foetus but harming it in a way which will continue long after it no longer has the same effect on her autonomy and dignity.

  10. Richard,

    What would you say about the case where the only two options are the death of the fetus or the fetus being born with birth defects? In other words, let's say that in order to save a fetus' life, some drug must be administered that would cause a birth defect of some sort. Your argument would seem to suggest that allowing the fetus to die is always the moral thing to, as it would cause no harm (as opposed to some harm).

    But let's say the harm is that the fetus never develops a thumb on it's left hand. All things being equal, this seems like a genuine harm (causing a possible future person to lose a thumb where he or she otherwise would have a thumb), and the mother (I'm assuming the mother is the decision maker in this case) would be morally required to allow the fetus to die rather than administer the drugs to allow the fetus to develop into a person without a thumb on his left hand. This seems downright wrong to me because it forces the mother to make a decision that 99.9% of people wouldn't choose (that's a made-up statistic, BTW). IOW, I think most people, if given the choice between being aborted and being born without a thumb on their left hand, would choose the latter. But your position doesn't allow the mother to even make that decision for the fetus - it morally forces her to choose death.

    It seems like you could get out of this if you could weigh harm to the possible future person against the good that is done to the possible future person. But this seems to not only undermine your argument but also undermine the moral permissibility of most abortions (I'm thinking of a Marquis "future like ours" type of argument here).

  11. "What would you say about the case where the only two options are the death of the fetus or the fetus being born with birth defects?"

    No problem. (I discuss this in the concluding paragraph of the post.) I'd say the birth doesn't harm the child at all. There is no alternative according to which they could have been better off. So there's no issue here. Like any normal case, abortion is permissible but not obligatory.

    (Though I have independent reasons for thinking that abortion might be the better choice here. But it isn't due to any harm to the child. See my linked post on "badness without harm".)

    Pejar -- that's cool, you've identified the same basic insight here. But I think the extra analysis I've provided helps to clarify exactly what is going on. So I deny that the complications are "unnecessary" :-)

  12. (Macht, I guess our difference here lies in whether one adopts a 'local' or 'global' understanding of harms. I very much prefer the latter, which falls neatly out of the counterfactual analysis. I hope it's clear why, on my view, taking the drug is not harmful. I also hope it's clear that none of this commits me to taking the interests of non-actual persons into account. But do let me know if my hopes are misguided!)

  13. IOW, I think most people, if given the choice between being aborted and being born without a thumb on their left hand, would choose the latter.

    What your or I would chose in this situation doesn't really matter, since we weren't aborted and became persons, whereas an aborted fetus is not a person and did not become one. Whatever the aborted fetus' possible desires might have been don't matter.

  14. Oops, Richard, I must have missed the last paragraph for some reason.

    I didn't use terms in the way that you've been using them so I should probably make a correction or two. Administering the drug that causes the fetus's life to be saved but thumb to be lost would be bad, using your terms, not harmful. So, yes, that is clear to me. But my argument still seems to hold, I think. The mother is still morally forced to abort and try again for a child with two thumbs since this would be better. But aborting a fetus just because it won't develop a thumb seems clearly wrong to me. Assuming the non-personhood of the fetus, this seems roughly the equivalent of doing something like killing, say, a bird just because it is missing a talon. Even if this isn't murder it still seems morally wrong. Or, if we went with a "future like ours" type of argument, this would be much worse than killing a bird.

  15. "The mother is still morally forced to abort and try again for a child with two thumbs since this would be better."

    Where did that "since" come from? It can be morally permissible to do what isn't best, so long as it's still "good enough".

  16. Pejar -- that's cool, you've identified the same basic insight here. But I think the extra analysis I've provided helps to clarify exactly what is going on. So I deny that the complications are "unnecessary" :-)

    Sorry, that came out rather harsh!

  17. I was saying something similar to what you said in your Badness without Harm post ("But it would have been better for the girl to have waited, and thus had a different child, one that would have a better life"). It would be better for the mother to abort and try again for a child with two thumbs.

    I think that if somebody has two options, one of which is a morally better option, that person must pick the morally better option. The only reason this wouldn't hold is if the better option wasn't able to be chosen for some reason (but then it really wouldn't be an "option"). So we are left with the same problem I mentioned above.

  18. I think that if somebody has two options, one of which is a morally better option, that person must pick the morally better option.

    I don't think this is quite right, because I think it depends on whether both options are morally good. If they are both morally good, it doesn't matter which is better; they both are (as it were) already OK'd.

    Of course much of the argument seems to assume that we can't harm non-persons. (This is inherited, I think, from the Parfit argument in the original post, which frames it that way.) But, while this isn't right, the argument, as Richard says, is that we are committed to saying that we can harm people fetally even if we assume that we can't harm a fetus. And that seems right; we can harm people by a sort of preemptive harming, setting things up before they exist so that they will be harmed when they do exist.

  19. If they are both morally good, it doesn't matter which is better; they both are (as it were) already OK'd.

    I agree, but if we have to choose between one option and a morally better option, shouldn't we pick the morally better one? Can you think of a situation where the morally worse one should be choosen?

    I agree that there can be a sort of preemptive harming to future people. I don't have a problem with that. Maybe I should reword my argument. Richard's argument seems to lead to the conclusion that killing the fetus is a better option than allowing it to be born with some defect. But for a lot of these defects, it intuitively seems like killing the fetus wouldn't be the better option. And I think you are correct, the problem lies in the assumption that non-persons can't be harmed. (Of course, one could reject these latter intuitions, too.)

  20. "I think... So we are left with the same problem"

    Generous of you to share... ;-) Seriously though, you seem to merely be rehashing the old "demandingness objection" to maximizing versions of consequentialism. (But I'm a satisficer.) This is nothing to do with the specific issue here though. E.g. Foregoing non-essential "luxuries" in order to donate more money to charity would be morally better, but it isn't obligatory.

    "shouldn't we pick the morally better one?"

    Depends what you mean by "should". It would be morally better. But it is not obligatory, or "morally forced". (The alternative choices are less good, but not impermissible.) There's no further question here once those two are settled.

    "it intuitively seems like killing the fetus wouldn't be the better option."

    That's a quite different argument from demandingness objections about the mother being "morally forced" to abort. More relevant, perhaps, but less forceful. I don't have any such intuition, for instance. So if there's nothing more to your objection than "I disagree!", I'm not sure what I can do besides shrug.

    "the problem lies in the assumption that non-persons can't be harmed"

    What do you say about the wooden statue case then? (That's really the core issue. If you agree with me on the wooden statues, but insist that fetuses - unlike statues - have intrinsic moral significance, then our disagreements lie beyond the scope of the present argument.)

    P.S. I agree that non-persons can be harmed, but only by pain. That shouldn't affect the present issue though.

  21. By "should" I mean the action one ought to take. I can't think of any reasons to choose the less moral course of action, if both actions are able to be performed.

    I don't think the wooden statue example is an apt analogy (as far as the choosing between aborting the fetus and letting it live with some defect). I don't think the analogy in 6) between killing something and not "vitalizing" something is a good one. The choice you have in the wooden statue analogy is between doing harm to a future person and doing nothing. There is no choice. A fetus is a living human animal, a wooden statue is a shaped piece of wood. You can't kill a wooden statue. I disagree with 2) - you can't damage a wooden statue in any moral sense (unless, perhaps, it is somebody's property). But I do agree that you can damage a fetus in a moral sense by ripping off its arms (just like you can damage a bird in a moral sense by ripping its wings off). But damaging a wooden statue seems to be the moral equivalent of cutting a piece of paper in two.

    This, actually, seems to be the main point of disagreement - you seem to think that killing a fetus is morally permissible for any reason (this is the conclusion I've come to based on your analogy between killing a fetus and doing nothing to a piece of wood - correct me if I'm wrong), I don't. Assuming non-personhood, I think there are some good reasons why it would be permissible to kill a fetus, but reasons like "the future person would only have one thumb" is not one of those good reasons.

  22. That sort of thing is discussed more in my post 'Abortive Virtues'. Perhaps we should in general show a certain respect or reverence for life, and so frown upon ending it for trivial reasons. But no harm is done to the non-person by killing them. Any possible badness to the action must come from elsewhere. (That's beyond the scope of the present post.)

  23. Richard,

    I am combining your post on Temporal Acrobatics with this one because I think my post leans towards the ideological side of things. I agree with your acrobatics but not the application.

    What if the priestess asked God to breathe life into Pinocchio but then someone destroys the statue before God actually does breathe life into it? Assume God had full intentions of breathing life into the statue and in fact was going to up to the point where it was destroyed. Is Pinocchio harmed?

    Suppose the devil slips a poison into God's breathe so when he in fact attempts to breathe life into the statue it crumbles instead of lives. Is Pinocchio harmed?

    Suppose the devil attempts to breathe death into the statue but God slips an anecdote into his breathe that causes the breathe to make Pinocchio live. Is Pinocchio benefited?

  24. Hi Will, in the first two cases no harm is done, because there is no such person as Pinocchio.

    I'm agnostic on the question of whether causing to exist (as in the last case) can be a benefit. At least Pinocchio actually exists in this case, so there is a subject for possible harms and benefits. But consider the principle of symmetry:

    (S): If E benefits X, then X would have been harmed by preventing E.

    If we accept S then we must deny that causing to exist can benefit. (Becausing preventing it would be no harm, as per the earlier answers.) Perhaps it's okay if we deny S, though?

  25. (On second thought, I think the most principled position here is to answer "no" for the third case too. To be benefited is for your life in this world to be better than your life in the alternative possible world. But if the alternative is one where you never exist, then you have no life in that world to compare. It's like asking whether you're paler or more tanned than you would be if you'd never existed. The question makes no sense.)

  26. Macht,

    "Should" seems to me to imply that what we should do is the only morally good thing to do, which doesn't apply in the case where we are choosing between two morally permissible options. So given the choice between morally permissible X and morally permissible Y (assuming there are no other morally permissible alternatives), it is not the case that you should do X, and it is not the case that you should do Y, but only the case that you should do either X or Y. And this seems to me to be true regardless of how much better X is than Y.


    I agree that it's not particularly relevant to this issue, but as a matter of curiosity, what would you say of cases where it seems we can harm non-sentients? For instance, I can harm the Mona Lisa by slashing it, or I can harm the cultural legacy of Romania by torching part of it. This doesn't appear to be figurative use of 'harm', and it does seem to make sense. (Although, of course, it could be derivative, in the sense that what's ultimately being harmed in such cases are the general interests of humanity, or what have you.)

  27. Brandon, I'm not sure. It might be that "harm" there is just being used synonymously with "damage", so doesn't imply any moral interests are involved. Or it might be figurative. (It does seem figurative to speak of paintings as having "interests"!) And insofar as such "harms" are morally significant at all, I think it must be derivative on their effect on humanity. But I'm afraid I don't have any further ideas to offer here. Did you have an alternative in mind? (Do you think non-sentients can have interests?)

  28. Richard, what do you mean by "interests?" It seems like animals should be said to have interests (e.g., they are interested in staying alive) but at the same I'm guessing you would say (most) animals are non-persons, so it seems like you would say that you can only damage animals, not harm them. Would you say that severely maiming a (non-person) animal harms it or damages it?

  29. Any sentient being -- even non-persons -- can be harmed by pain. But only persons have the sort of psychological continuity that makes ending their life a harm. (See my above comments and link.)

  30. Well, I wasn't really thinking of pain and I didn't say anything about ending their lives, so that doesn't really answer my questions. What do you mean by "intersts?" Let's say I'm a vet and I am able to cut off an animal's legs painlessly. Is that harm or damage?

  31. "Interests" are what constitute wellbeing. Or something like that. (It's hard to spell out such primitive notions.) You know, happiness, global desire satisfaction, all that.

    The damage is harmful insofar as it makes the animal's life go worse* (which for an animal I take to be merely a hedonistic matter, assuming they lack global desires). If the operation causes no more pain - or less happiness - than would otherwise have been experienced, then I would say it is merely damage and no harm at all.

    * = (Complications arise because I don't think non-persons have enduring (non-)personal identities. So if there is a harm here, it is technically suffered by a different - "later" - entity than the one that is damaged. But that probably isn't central to answering your question.)

    Is this radically different from how you understand "interests"? Feel free to sketch an alternative view...

  32. I probably wouldn't include happiness as part of the definition of interests. Global desire satisfaction might be closer. I have no idea how a non-person animal's interests should be thought of but it seems to me that we have to be able to answer the question "What is in the best interest of the animal?" I doubt this can be handled by global desire satisfaction since I also tend to think that animals don't have global desires. This might be similar to the family of a man in a persistant vegetative state without a living will asking "What would he have desired?" But this wouldn't be his desires, it would be the family's speculation about what he would desire if he could desire. Similarly, we might be able to talk about what an animal would desire if it could desire and in that sense we might be able to talk about an animal's interests.

  33. Richard,

    Complications arise because I don't think non-persons have enduring (non-)personal identities. So if there is a harm here, it is technically suffered by a different - "later" - entity than the one that is damaged

    I wondering if you could clarify for me what you're saying here. What do you mean by "enduring (non)personal identities?" Are you saying non-person animals (like say cats or dogs) don't have personalities or personality traits which endure throughout their lives? Are you saying my cat is a different kind of non-person entity from one minute/hour/day to the next?

    So if I knockout cat version 1.0 and cut his legs off and he (or is he now cat version 1.1?) wakes up - I didn't really do harm to cat version 1.0, I did harm to cat version 1.1?

    I hope you can clarify this because right now it sounds like a lot of jibberish.

  34. Macht, that's an interesting idea, I'll have to mull it over.

    JivinJ - I allow that cats might have enduring behavioural dispositions. They just don't have an enduring sense of self. There's physical persistence of course, but what matters for ethics is the mental being, or mind. So I'm suggesting that your cat is a different mental being from one moment to the next. If damaging the body of cat-mind 1.0 only hurts the later cat-mind 1.1, then - strictly speaking - only the latter is "harmed".

  35. Richard,
    If they are different mental beings then why do my cats retain certain distinct behaviors over time?

    For example, I've taught one of my cats to shake paws in order to get treats. How does he consistently remember to shake if he is a different mental being from one minute/hour/day/year to the next?

    I just don't see how this theory meshes with reality. To me the obvious solution is that my cats are beings who retain their mental state throughout their lives and their is some quality to them which allows them to do so.


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