Saturday, July 17, 2010

Abortion Review

Is it wrong to kill embryos -- do they have (morally significant) interests that would be violated by their untimely death? I think that reflecting on spontaneous abortion strongly suggests that embryonic death is not an intrinsic bad (though it might be bad for the would-be parents, if they dearly wanted a child). The central challenge for the pro-lifer is to explain how it is that non-sentient embryos have greater moral status than other non-sentient entities like plants and bacteria. There are two basic strategies they can offer in response, but I think that both ultimately fail.

1. The Humanity argument: First, one might appeal to the idea that individuals inherit a baseline moral status just in virtue of the kind of being that they are -- in technical terms: what matters is the substance, and not just the phase, sortal. (So, for example, even the most severely cognitively disabled humans still have rights in virtue of being human.) But embryos are human individuals too -- that's a biological fact. So embryos have the basic rights / moral status that go along with this.

There are two things to note when charitably interpreting this argument. Firstly, it does not imply that any old human cells (e.g. fingernail clippings) have moral significance, as critics commonly assert. Moral status is here only attributed to whole organisms, and a human fingernail is not a human organism, or 'individual human life', the way that a human embryo is. Secondly, it isn't a purely biological notion of 'humanity' that we're working with, because non-conscious zombies would be biologically human organisms, yet few think that they matter morally in the way that conscious persons do. So the relevant 'kind' here should really be understood as something more like 'sentient, rational animal' (SRA). Then the argument runs as follows: SRAs matter morally; embryos are (merely an immature, underdeveloped phase of) SRAs; hence embryos matter morally.

The problem with this view is that it runs afoul of our 'end of life' moral intuitions. Irreversible loss of conscious surely marks the end of the person's existence (in any morally significant sense). But the human organism (SRA) might live on, on life support, while in a (permanently) non-sentient 'phase'. Does anyone really want to say that this permanently non-sentient body retains a 'right to life'?

2. The Deprivation / 'Future Like Ours' argument. Marquis gets around this problem by saying that what matters to the morality of killing is not one's general 'kind', but rather your individual future (that death would deprive you of). The brain-dead patient has no future to look forward to, which is why biological death does no further harm to them. But an embryo has a whole lifetime's worth of experiences that death would deprive it of. So embryonic death is a most grievous harm.

The problem with this argument is that there's no good reason to think that the embryo would be the subject of the future experiences anyhow. That is, it presupposes the (clearly false) bodily conception of personal identity. As I put the argument in a previous post:
If a mad scientist scanned my brain, disintegrated my body, and then wiped your brain and implanted all of my mental traits (memories, beliefs, values, personality, etc.) in its place, then it seems that I have gotten the better half of the deal. I have survived and you have not. Though your body is the one that lives on, it is our minds that matter, and it seems that your mind has been replaced by mine. In making this judgment, we implicitly judge that it is the content of a mind that matters -- the memories, beliefs, desires, and so forth -- not its "location" in a particular body, or even a particular brain.

Suppose this scenario goes ahead. I awake in your body and return to my old life (as best I can). Does this make any difference to you? Suppose you're told beforehand that after your mind is wiped and replaced with mine, I'll go on to live a happy life. Or maybe you're told that I'll be killed the next day. You might for altruistic reasons prefer the former news, but do you think that you are harmed if the latter outcome occurs instead? If not, this goes to show that preventing future pleasures from being experienced in your body is no harm to you, if you are not the one who will get to experience them.

Any kind of psychological view of personal identity (or what matters in survival) straightforwardly implies that mindless embryos do not "survive" in the morally relevant sense. So they never had any 'future like ours' of which they could be deprived. In other words: since they will not be the ones to experience the future life in any case, it is no harm to them if that possible future life is prevented by means of abortion.


  1. I have a few questions / thoughts for you:

    You note: "how it is that non-sentient embryos have greater moral status than other non-sentient entities like plants and bacteria."

    I suppose the question is, what do you mean by sentient, and why do you define it in such a way?

    Second, you say, "SRAs matter morally; embryos are (merely an immature, underdeveloped phase of) SRAs; hence embryos matter morally."

    That sounds like you're reading something into the argument - can you flesh out why you claim that this is what matters - that is, the importance of SRA?

    Third, you claim, "Irreversible loss of conscious surely marks the end of the person's existence (in any morally significant sense)."

    There are a significant number of people in comas who awaken after they have been termed "lost" in whatever language is used, and scientists (though they propose theories) have definitely not settled on a way either to determine who and who will not awaken, and to say why such people awaken. I suppose the question becomes another definitional problem: What marks the line between irreversible and reversible (and naturally / spontaneously reversing), what is the meaning of your use of "sentience," and why are you using "morally significant" as a marker - isn't that part of the definition towards which you are working?

    Finally, you note, "there's no good reason to think that the embryo would be the subject of the future experiences anyhow." There is no good reason to think that any human, at whatever stage of life, will have a positive or negative life experience at all. This does not lower their value as humans, but the consideration does (help) or ought to, prevent us from killing other people wantonly.

  2. As evidenced by the commenter above, I think most pro-lifers will gladly bite the bullet and claim a right to life for even the most hopeless of PVS cases. And they also won't buy any sort of reductive account of personal identity. Constructing a dialectically effective argument (if that's your goal) against pro-lifers is more challenging than you seem to think, given their usual metaphysics.

  3. Jawats - much of your comment doesn't make sense to me. For example, I'm not sure why you keep talking about "definitions" -- I'm not defining any new technical terms here, I'm using the word 'sentience' in its ordinary sense ('able to feel / experience').

    "There are a significant number of people in comas who awaken after they have been termed 'lost'..."

    You seem to be suffering from a confusion of metaphysics and epistemology. I'm not claiming that we can tell when people are dead or not. Instead, consider matters from a "God's eye perspective": I'm just saying that if, in fact, someone really is irreversibly unconscious then the person no longer exists (in any sense that matters), even though their human body is still alive. This shows that mere human life (in the absence of sentience) is not what fundamentally matters. That's compatible with thinking that we should often "play it safe", if we can't tell with sufficient confidence whether someone is sentient or not.

    "can you flesh out why you claim that this is what matters - that is, the importance of SRA?"

    Firstly, I personally don't claim this at all. This is my reconstruction of a pro-life argument. The pro-life argument is that an embryo inherits moral status from the kind of being that it is. And, as explained in the post, we need to move from 'biologically human' to 'SRA' in order to avoid the absurd conclusion that non-conscious zombies matter morally the way that conscious people do. Follow the links in my post for more background.

    "There is no good reason to think that any human, at whatever stage of life, will have a positive or negative life experience at all."

    I'm not sure what you have in mind here. Taken literally, what you have written is plainly false.

  4. Alexander - see my response to Jawats. Pro-lifers may make the empirical claim that PVS patients may yet recover consciousness. But that is no threat to my argument. I merely need them to agree that hypothetically, if someone were to irreversibly lose consciousness, then the person that we care about would be gone. Does anyone really want to deny that?

  5. What makes you think that any psychological criterion of personal identity would rule out all and only embryos for candidates for abortion? For instance, most babies up to the age of 4 years old don't form permanent memories ( So it's at least plausible that 4 years olds do not share the same memories, beliefs, values, personality, etc (this is your list of the attributes relevant to identity) as the person that they will become. So, would you bite the bullet and defend the permissibility of killing 4 year olds? If not, why not?

  6. I think the fact that sentience comes in degrees in a complicating factor. An embryo as it develops might have sentience like bacteria at the very beginning, but is on a continuous path toward the sentience of a newborn (this is why when abortion happens matters). The appropriate end-of-life comparison might be to people with various degrees of impairment short of total loss of sentience.

  7. Richard - You're correct that pro-lifers tend to bring up empirical points, but these arguments are completely redundant given their metaphysics, and probably arise either self-deceptively or deceptively in public discourse, in the same way in which libertarians are quite likely to deny or downplay anthropogenic climate change. See, e.g., an excellent article about fetal pain here:

    I'm pretty sure that reflective pro-lifers would indeed claim that it's wrong to take life support off any PVS patient, even with certainty about the irreversible nature of the damage. Empirical arguments that you see in much of folk pro-life literature are an elaborate smokescreen.

  8. Richard said (to Alexander): "I merely need them to agree that hypothetically, if someone were to irreversibly lose consciousness, then the person that we care about would be gone. Does anyone really want to deny that?"

    Isn't this a bit stronger than a pro-lifer would actually need here? All they would need, if they are running the humanity argument, is that the same human organism is there. And this still allows space for significant amounts of moral consideration -- indeed, although we tend not to enshrine in law any rights for human corpses, people do, in fact, tend to treat even human corpses as mattering morally in rights-like ways, so there's a lot of room for treating PVS patients as mattering morally in rights-like ways, even if one hesitates to ascribe rights in the most proper sense to them.

    But, in any case, I'm not sure the hypothetical actually gets the phenomenology of grieving right, for most people, anyway: as Masahiro Morioka and others have argued, for instance, people in practice don't tend to tie personhood to consciousness so completely as some schools of philosophy do; not only do people relate to PVS patients as persons, they even relate to corpses of loved ones as persons: they often don't regard the body as the whole person, but they aren't so dualist as to deny it all consideration as a person.

    In any case, whether for one or both of these reasons, Alexander is quite right, although talking about smokescreens is misleading, given how easy it is to find pro-lifers actually making the argument; there are plenty of pro-lifers who make the argument outright that, while the right in question doesn't require as much in such cases, PVS patients have a right to life regardless of irreversibility. This is because they hold either (1) because it is still human, it still has a basic right not to be deliberately killed; or (2) personhood is not tied to consciousness alone but at least partially to the body itself.

  9. Dan - I'm pretty sure I never claimed that "only embryos" cannot survive according to the psychological criterion. It's an empirical question what degree of psychological continuity is had by infants. I find it pretty plausible that newborns, at least, aren't harmed by death. On the other hand, I'm more confident that 4-year olds have started to develop their own personality, etc. (And note that 'memories' need not be 'permanent memories'...)

    Steve - I wouldn't expect that bacteria have any sentience at all! (Doesn't consciousness require a brain?)

    Alexander (and Brandon) - huh, okay, then I guess I should clarify that my dialectical aim is just to convince people who accept the basic premises of my argument here. (It strikes me as so thoroughly wrong-headed to deny them that I doubt I could say anything productive to such a person. But even if there are some hard-core nutters who are willing to bite those bullets, I'd expect that my starting premises here are more widely shared...)

  10. They might have "proto-sentience" or somesuch. But that's probably a conversation for a different thread.

  11. Richard,

    Surely the relevant fact (at least in dealing with Marquis' argument) is not whether 4 year olds have started to develop their own personality, memories, etc, but rather whether these features "survive" in the morally relevant sense. Because if not (for instance, if memories are forgotten and personalities change), and granting for the sake of argument a psychological theory of personal identity, 4 year olds - in just the same way as embryos - do not have any "future like ours"; the person they will become is not psychologically connected to them in the relevant way. So again, I can't see why your argument doesn't licence the killing of 4 year olds. (And I absolutely agree that psychological continuity is an empirical question - my only point is that it seems likely, as you apparently agree, that as a matter of fact this will begin once the child is outside of the womb. Thus, your argument would appear to licence at least the infanticide of very young children. Do you really believe that only "hard-core nutters" would balk at this conclusion? I hope not.)

  12. Richard,
    Do you think that there isn't a coherent way to make a hierarchy of moral status that places human embryos above plants?

    Also, I'm not clear on what you mean by "embryo". Are you trying to distinguish between an embryo and a fetus (at about 10 weeks), or do you mean embryo to be more inclusive?

    It makes sense to me that unborn humans have a moral status that grows as they develop. Maybe the justification for abortion has to be weighed against this moral status. For instance very early term abortions can be justified by convenience, but late-term abortions require threat of harm to the mother.

    I suppose I'm a little more convinced by the humanity argument, because I think that zombies and the brain dead do have some sort of moral status. I think we can allow terry schiavo to die by withdrawing life support, but not by setting her on fire. And suppose we knew a certain person was a zombie, could we morally kill them? Maybe to save a non-zombie, but it still seems wrong to me.

    I even have a feeling that it would be wrong to harm a non-human zombie, like an android with a silicon duplicate of a brain (supposing they would be zombies).

  13. Dan - psychological continuity may be secured by chains of psychological connectedness, so I really would be amazed if 4 year olds turned out not to stand in any interesting relation of psychological continuity with their future selves. And while it seems likely to me that newborns may not, in which case there would be nothing intrinsically wrong with infanticide, it at least isn't entirely clear, so it certainly makes sense to 'play it safe' in ordinary circumstances. (There are also significant emotional factors which play into how people respond to babies. It would be a scarily cold person who could actually bring themselves to kill a helpless infant. But there's a big gap between "It'd be wise to ban or discourage X in general" or even "Doing X is a sign of vicious character" and - the fundamentally philosophical question I'm concerned with here - "X is intrinsically wrong".

    Soluman - this distinction also seems relevant to your concerns. (See also my old posts here and here.) You'd have to be a bad person to frivolously mutilate a corpse, let alone a zombie, so it's good to feel squeamish about such things; but that doesn't in itself show that the act is wrong as a matter of principle. (And there might also be extrinsic reasons relevant in some of these cases, e.g. if the deceased had specific wishes for the disposal of their corpse, violating those wishes might constitute a form of posthumous harm to the person.)

  14. "In other words: since they will not be the ones to experience the future life in any case, it is no harm to them if that possible future life is prevented by means of abortion."

    "[T]he fundamentally philosophical question I'm concerned with here - 'X is intrinsically wrong'."

    If I accept that there is no harm to the embryo from a psychological view of personal identity (which I do), does it necessarily follow that the intentional annihilation of the future person which may have come to exist is not intrinsically wrong? Does the object of a wrong act have to be a person that is currently in existence? The fact that you repeatedly emphasize that there is no harm "to the embryo" suggests to me that you may have considered this already.

  15. Hi derKaiser,

    There are a few side-issues here that I wanted to dodge. On is that embryonic death might be bad for the would-be parents (at least in cases where they wanted to become parents -- this presumably isn't such an issue in ordinary abortion cases though). Another is that you might think it's a (minor) "wrong" to express disrespect for human bodies -- but here the fetus has the same kind of moral status as, say, a corpse. And this may be better understood not as a wrong action, but just as stemming from a bad character, as suggested in my previous comment.

    So those were the two main things I had in mind there. I don't think you can plausibly hold it to be wrong to intentionally prevent a future person from coming to exist, or else you would be just as committed to thinking that contraception and abstinence are wrong.

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  17. I'm jumping in a bit late, but why do you say this? -

    "The problem with this argument is that there's no good reason to think that the embryo would be the subject of the future experiences anyhow."

    Following Olson, it seems very plausible that I was once a fetus. That is at least not clearly false. Given transitivity of identity, that fetus is now subject to experiences.

    Your description of the mind-wipe case presupposes certain substantive views on identity. Once we get rid of this, I've not got any inclination to think that my preference for non-destruction of the post-wipe person is purely altruistic.

  18. Reiteration of the point of the thought experiment:
    The distinction is that, because an embryo is unconscious, it is not the being that will be subject to the possible future - insofar as a sentient being is the one in question when we consider the immorality of murder, as stated in the post.

    While to an extent the distinction may be tenable, if we consider it precisely in such terms as those of the thought-experiment of the post, it becomes problematic. E.g. based on its implication, when the body enters non-REM sleep above the first level, it is permissible to terminate the biological development of that body, since it is neither the body that may enter REM sleep - and thereby possibly dream - nor the one that will possibly awaken the next morning.

    That point considered only in itself as an appeal against such an act is invalid, and therefore ought to be bolstered - whether for a defence of or position contra abortion.

    We might argue against terminating such a body insofar as, while we might denote a life in terms of certain characteristics, such as sentience, sapience, consciousness, etc., that consciousness is realised by virtue of its potentiality in the body, insofar as its realisation/actualisation in this world is concerned. So while, for our purposes here, those aforementioned aspects might be considered sufficient to distinguish life, the thought experiment sets up a quasi-Cartesian duality, contra which it would be understood that we should not treat a conscious being as a separate being from that of the body.

    Side note: other perspectives on this may be worth consideration, e.g. Merleau-Ponty's about lived body.

    Therefore any act that limits the development of a body of this kind after generation may be considered limiting the being that is said to be alive - or is said will be alive according to the aforementioned criteria.

  19. If a mad scientist scanned my brain, disintegrated my body, and then wiped your brain and implanted all of my mental traits (memories, beliefs, values, personality, etc.) in its place, then it seems that I have gotten the better half of the deal. I have survived and you have not.

    This is plausible. My own intuitions about the matter are a mess. However, let us assume that you are the one who has survived (i.e. the personality bit) Let us also further suppose that whatever happened the transfer would have taken place with me only or not at all. i.e. if I happened to had died before the date of transfer you would be disintegrated. If I were to get a spinal injury you would be transferred into a paraplegic. If that were the case, then it would be desireable for your sake that your future body is preserved in good health. Similarly, it is certainly desireable for my own sake that I wasn't aborted. Similarly it is desireable for your sake that your body wasn't aborted in its foetal stage.

    What is problematic is the issue that the person for whose sake we are desire that there is no abortion does not exist yet. Yet, our intuitions about wills etc imply that we can be concerned about what is desireable for a person's sake even if the person is no longer in existence. For example, it is desireable for the dead conservationist's sake that the species he was concerned about not die out. Granted that an interest that reaches back from the future does not necessarily exist yet, and action taken now will actually cause the non-existence of said interest, but since the antecedent probability of an embryo surviving to birth is 40%, we can simply say that we only need show 40% as much concern for the embryo as we would for an existing person since the interest only has a 40% chance of existing.

  20. Gabriel - no doubt the sentence "I was once a fetus" is intuitively true, on one natural reading. (Likewise, "I will one day be cremated.") But it doesn't follow that the fetus (or corpse) is the subject of experiences (in any morally relevant sense), because there are many different senses of 'identity'. (I don't survive as a corpse, and the fetus does not survive as me, even though as a matter of semantics either may sometimes be included in the referent of 'I'.)

    I take brain transplant (and mind-swapping) cases to clearly show that the bodily sense of identity is not what matters in survival. When considering the mind-wipe case quoted in my post, most people conclude on reflection that it is the person with the disintegrated body ("me") who survives, and hence that it is no benefit to the other person ("you") to have their body persist when the future experiences no longer belong to them. This conclusion straightforwardly carries across to the fetus case. (I'm not 'presupposing' the personal identity claim -- it's meant to be the standard intuition one has in response to the case described. But it's true that if you don't share this initial intuition, or are willing to give it up, then my argument will lose its hold on you. That's just one of my premises; of course it's always open to one to reject a premise -- it's just a question of how plausible one finds it to do so.)

    Bosco - that doesn't follow at all. Even if a body is not currently sentient, it might be wrong to destroy it if you thereby prevent the re-awakening of a previously-existent person. The harm is not to the body; the harm is to the (merely temporarily absent) person.

    Murali - if the embryo is aborted, then it is 100% certain that there is no existing future person to be harmed by this. (In just the same way, it's desirable for one's sake that one's parents didn't use contraception; but if they had prevented conception, there would have been no future 'you' to be harmed by this. In sum: abortion is no more harmful than contraception.)

    For related discussion, see 'Obligations beyond the fetus'.

  21. The object that is asleep - yet not in a dream state and thereby unconscious - is not really the person in question, if we conclude that a mind-wipe implies that the body is irrelevant for the identity of a being such as a person. Because, according to the parameters of the thought experiment, the person does not exist at such a time as when they are in such a sleep state, it follows that termination of the body is rendered an extension of that period of non-existence indefinitely. Therefore, if one accepts the duality implied by the thought experiment, an imperative as regards the moral worth of that person's future presence is required.

  22. Richard - re 'presupposing', I just meant that in the second quoted paragraph you initially describe the case as one in which you awaken in my body, and then use intuitions about that case to support the idea that I'm not identical to the post awakening person. That seems question-begging to me.

    If you want to just assume a psychological approach, that's fine, but as you say, you'll not convince anyone who doesn't share it (which I don't, as I'm just agnostic about these issues). I think peoples' intuitions about these cases are very sensitive to how we describe them (see, e.g. Williams The Self and the Future), which is a reason to be careful about relying on them (even if everyone shared what you call the standard intuition concerning the case *as described*, which I'm not convinced they do).

    One idea I'm attracted to is that embryos are not people, and only people may be harmed by being deprived of a future like ours.

    Perhaps you agree with that, although for different reasons? - if you think anything which is a person at a time is a person at all times it exists, and one has a future like ours only if one has a future on which one is a person, then only people may have futures like ours, and so only people may be harmed by being deprived of them.

  23. [Murali writes in with the following comment...]

    "if the embryo is aborted, then it is 100% certain that there is no existing future person to be harmed by this."

    I think I specifically mentioned the antecedent probability. If we are to take the view of ourselves as causal beings seriously (as we should, since it is presupposed in the very conception of morality) then we cannot take the fact that we could cause the non-existence of a specific future being as a consideration into account when determining whether there is going to be a you whose welfare I should care about. The distinction worth mentioning here is that the future you is not a possible you, but and actual you. Since the question about whether or not there is someone whose welfare we should care about comes into play before we actually do the deed, it would be disingenuous to argue using probability of existing given that one of the available courses of action open has already been taken.

    We might even be able to make a distinction between abortion and contraception on the grounds that with contraception, the antecedent probability of any particular outcome is so small that the amount of concern we would show to it would be negligible. My view at least draws out the intuition that as the pregnancy progresses we generally should care more about the developing foetus. Early termmiscarriages which occur before a woman is even aware she is pregnant occur so often that it does not make sense to worry about embryos in that stage. Also, for a woman who generally tends to have late term (e.g third trimester) miscarriages (due to various health problems) the probability even in the second trimester of there being a future person may very well be close to 0. Aborting a foetus in her case would be similarly inconsequential (morally speaking).

  24. Gabriel - I "initially describe the case" in the first quoted paragraph, and in neutral terms. The more controversial terms used in the second paragraph are those that had been found (in the first paragraph) to be most appropriate.

    I agree with you that only persons can be harmed by death. But I think this requires explanation -- and the best explanation is that non-persons do not persist through time in the morally relevant sense (i.e. they have no future of which death might deprive them).

    Bosco - yes, there's a "moral imperative" to ensure the (pleasant) future existence of those who have already begun to exist in the past. That's my view. Death, i.e. the permanent cessation of existence, is typically a bad thing.

    Murali - on the contrary, good practical reasoning requires taking into account the ways that our choices influence the probabilities of outcomes.

    To illustrate: suppose I could press a button that would give me $100 guaranteed, but also has a 90% chance of destroying the world. Suppose I antecedently estimate that I'm equally likely to press the button or not. So, you reason, there's a fixed 45% antecedent probability of destroying the world, and my choice is to either push the button and get $100 or do nothing. You conclude: I may as well press the button! But that's clearly bad reasoning. The probabilities aren't fixed; they vary depending on the choice I make, so I need to assess these in a case-by-case fashion. In particular, if I refrain from pressing the button, there's no risk of destroying the world. Likewise, in the abortion case, if one gets an abortion there is no risk that there will be a future person whose future interests they are thwarting (given the assumptions of our present discussion).

    So, again, the choice is between: (a) harmlessly aborting, or (b) allowing a new person to come into existence. Either is generally permissible. It's a plain mistake to argue against the permissibility of the former on the grounds that we have to assign a fixed probability of there being a morally significant being whose future interests we have to take into account.

  25. Many points to take-up.
    As conservative philosophers point out there is a difference between harm and being aware of being harmed, as wellbeing can be grounded in interests not based on desires.

    As you already know Richard I don’t buy into identity transfer in the way you envisage, IMO you are creating copies and I really don’t give a damn what my copies do they’re aren’t me.
    I’d also raise the Thinking Animal problem again you never did reply to that.

    Parfit has a point but I only see it as a preference that only some people hold and isn’t in itself ontologically significant. True we do have practical concerns regarding cognitive normal functionality but IMO that in itself doesn’t invalidate your identity status. If for example you were perfectly cryogenically frozen but never unfrozen that is undoubtedly you, but I bet this sort of immortality wouldn’t interest you or anyone else.

    Not to forget that neonates and many infants aren’t persons either and that many of the reasons used to try to prohibit infanticide appear not more than ad hoc fallacies as far as I’m concerned. In this regard Tooley is on the money.

    BTW I’m not a Pro-Lifer and I’m an atheist.

  26. Regarding spontaneous abortion 3 points.
    1. To exist risks death.
    2. Many of these have something serioulsy wrong with them anyway.
    3. True in a sense they should be mourned but just because society doesn't at the moment do this isn't in itself a reason to not value 'healthy' lives.

  27. Sure, but that begs the question. An important point is that, in accord with the dualistic identity set up by the thought experiment, you aren't killing someone or causing someone death in that case, viz. because, as you've pointed out, nobody is there at the time in question - according to the given requisites that you've established as constitutive of defining a "person".

    In pseudo-formal iteration:
    1. x(morally imperative(x) iff alive(x))
    2. x(~conscious(x) then ~alive(x))
    3. x(sleeping(x) then ~conscious(x))

    Transitively speaking, the entailment is that x is not morally imperative.

    The conclusion from consciousness at a prior time is (at least) a non-sequitur. So the sleeping body and the embryo, at any rate, have the same moral weight, insofar as in 3 the terms "sleeping" and "embryo" are - for all intents/purposes - interchangeable.

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  29. Richard - ah, got it! So do you think you can ever be harmed by deprivation of pleasures to others? (if not, that's another argument for the conclusion, if so, e.g. with your children, then if those people may be implanted there will be possible cases in which you are harmed by someone depriving the person in your future body, which may or may not be a counter-example depending how the claim is interpreted).

    Re explanation of why only people can be harmed by deprivation, why can't I just help myself to the idea that personhood is (or, more broadly, so as to allow for harm to animals, some broader family of mental properties, some of which are constitutive of personhood are) necessary for harm? That would both explain why rocks can't be harmed, and children can, and those properties would plausibly figure in an account of what harm is.

    I don't agree with your linked post about only persons being harmed by death - I stop with the reasoning in §1, and end up agnostic about whether depriving an animal of a future is a harm.

    But an early stage fetus doesn't even have the mental properties that would plausibly make depriving an animal of a future a harm (if it is).

  30. Bill Hicks put it best when he said (and I'm botching his words) "Pro-lifers shouldn't block abortion clinics, they should block cemeteries! 'We're pro-life! You can't come in here!'"

    RIP Bill.


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