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What do people say such things?

Someone involved in a Facebook debate about abortion referred positively to this paper by Peter Millican.

There are so many things wrong with it that it would take a lot more time than I want to spend to discuss them all. Such as, for example, the central position of the paper that the abortion of developed fetuses that look human (Millican does not specify at what age this applies) can be reasonably opposed on the grounds that more intrinsically valuable humans have a particular set of feelings of protection toward them. (By the way, given that the majority of induced abortions occur after the fetus "looks human," I await with bated breath Peter Millican's appearance at the Right to Life March or with a sign outside of an abortion clinic. Well, maybe not. But I digress.) Then there is the shocking statement (p. 19) that an older child should be "accorded more respect" than a newborn infant, which, as is par for the course in a philosophical paper, Millican makes on the fly and implies represents the most ordinary moral common sense.

What I want to focus on here is a remarkably silly comment on p. 8, where Millican says that "by the Conservative's reasoning," sperm and ova "seem also to be 'human beings'."

Now, my question is: Why do people say stupid things like that? When I took apart this article, which retailed similar scientific obscurantism, I showed that the author was promoting a feminist agenda which led to a desire to make the female gamete more important than the sperm cell. But Millican spouts equal opportunity nonsense. He says that both the egg and the sperm should be considered human beings on the basis of the anti-abortion conservative's principles. What is this "reasoning" of the anti-abortionist to which Millican refers? I've now read and re-read, and the nearest thing I can find to an argument to this effect is the following weak sauce:

It may be possible for the Conservative to convince the Liberal that the fetus is a human being, for it is apparently a living being and is certainly of the species Homo sapiens rather than any other...

So apparently the idea is that the anti-abortion conservative believes and argues that any living being, by which Millican must mean not a living organism but any living entity of any kind which has human DNA, is a human being. But this is false. Pro-lifers are not arguing that every cell in the human body is a human being, and they patiently answer this foolish representation of their position again and again by pointing out that at conception a new individual organism of the species homo sapiens comes into existence. Millican's phrase "living being" is fatally ambiguous and, insofar as it is meant to represent an overly broad application of the phrase "human being" on the part of pro-lifers, is a blatant straw man.

Millican's implication seems to be that it is the anti-abortion conservative who is scientifically misguided. But actually, since the anti-abortionist argues that a new member of the species homo sapiens comes into existence at conception, and since this is biologically true, it looks like it must be the pro-choicer who is confused when he implies otherwise or implies that the pro-lifer ought to think otherwise. In other words, it's not the drawing of a line at conception that is scientifically confused but rather the attempt to erase or blur that line.

On p. 7 Millican implies that it would be plausible to argue that an early embryo is part of its mother's body, which is also biological baloney. And on p. 21 he says that "arguably" it is the case that gametes (!) have the potential to develop as do zygotes and fetuses into more (from his perspective) morally significant beings. But this is, again, scientific nonsense.

So here's my question: Millican is a smart guy, and presumably a lot of people who say similar things are smart people. So are they just literally scientifically ignorant? Do they literally not know that a new individual human organism comes into existence when an egg is fertilized? Or do they sorta kinda know it but work to confuse themselves about it because they don't have warm feelings toward early human embryos? Or are they really just being totally deceptive, as I think the Hampikian, the author of the earlier article, was being?

And how can one tell the difference?

Finally, if a person is to some extent suppressing or confusing himself about information that he already has on this subject, is it likely that hammering home the fact that, no, an unfertilized egg is not, and is not even like, a human being, that a new human being in the sense of an individual human organism really does come into existence at conception, and that these are not subjective evaluations but ordinary biological facts, will make a difference?

Comments (50)

After skimming through the paper, I think the commonsense solution he outlines is based on a hybrid argument. The woman's body is initially treated as her own (feminist argument), except the longer she shares it with the developing fetus the less her moral claim to denying its use and the greater its intrinsic moral status as a person (liberal argument).

I've often wondered what the conservative position on zombies is. They've got human DNA, they are organisms - not parts of an organism, they are animated, they simply lack minds. Assuming their voodoo curse could be broken they could also be considered potential people.

If they are definitely individual members of the species homo sapiens who just have some kind of severe cognitive problem, then they shouldn't be killed except as necessary for self-defense against direct attack. Obviously if they're running around attacking other people and trying to kill them, they can legitimately be stopped.

But frankly, I find it about as helpful to talk about zombies as to say, "What if you had a totally different species that wasn't naturally sapient but had occasional members that were?" or other such utter science fiction scenarios.

The debate concerning abortion concerns individuals in the real world that undeniably are human beings with no ambiguity whatsoever. It is, to put it mildly, extremely implausible that one could have an entire group or race of beings that really were biologically just like human beings only never naturally developed cognitive abilities. Therefore inventing them, I believe, serves chiefly to darken counsel.

A human embryo is clearly not a human, just as an acorn is clearly not an oak tree. It is true that some human embryos will at a later time become humans, just as it is true that some acorns will at a later time become oak trees. Other human embryos will never become humans, just as other acorns will never become oak trees. Once these distinctions are properly made, it is clear that the claim "A human embryo is a human" is false, just as it is clear that the claim "An acorn is an oak tree" is false. To believe that these claims are true would be to mistake what something may possibly become in the future for what it presently is.

By contrast, the sentence "A human embryo is a human being" is ambiguous. If interpreted to mean that a human embryo belongs to the human species, the sentence is clearly true. If interpreted to mean that a human embryo is a human, the sentence is clearly false. A human embryo may possibly develop into a human, but before it develops into a human it is clearly not yet a human.

Again by analogy, the sentence "An acorn is an oak tree being" is ambiguous. If interpreted to mean that an acorn belongs to the oak tree species, the sentence is clearly true. If interpreted to mean that an acorn is an oak tree, the sentence is clearly false. An acorn may possibly develop into an oak tree, but before it develops into an oak tree it is clearly not yet an oak tree.

Anonymouse, you show your lack of knowledge of both human and oak embryology. A twofer. As a matter of fact, the seed of an oak tree, like the seeds of other plants, contains an embryo--that is, a young oak. The reason that we don't bother referring to the acorn as containing a young oak tree is simply because in human language we reserve the term "tree" for the entity that has those developed properties that we find useful in a tree--hardness, size, ability to be used for making planks or building a fire, etc. Biologically, however, there is in fact an embryonic oak in the seed. It is fine for us to use language in this way because there is no reason to value all oak trees at all ages and stages of development. In contrast, human beings are all intrinsically valuable; therefore, it is important for us to recognize when a very young human being is present.

The embryonic human being develops seamlessly by a natural process, directed by its own biological internal structure, into an older member of its species. That is all. The only reason the pro-aborts seek to obscure this fact is because it is useful for _their_ purposes, namely, devaluing the very young individual member of the species homo sapiens.

Lydia, you are right that in human language the noun phrase "[young] oak tree" is reserved for an entity that has developed properties, such as a stem. Similarly, the noun "cat" is reserved for an entity that has developed properties like whiskers and paws, and the noun "human" is reserved for an entity that has developed properties like eyes, ears, and bones. In human language, the sentences "An acorn is a [young] oak tree", "A cat embryo is a cat", and "A human embryo is a human" are therefore all false. After all, an acorn does not have a stem, a cat embryo does not have whiskers, and a human embryo does not have bones. So somebody who uses human language and says "A human embryo is a human" is speaking falsely.

The sentence "There is an embryonic oak tree contained in the seed" is true. By contrast, the sentence "There is a [young] oak tree contained in the seed" is ambiguous between a literal and a metaphorical reading. On its literal reading, the sentence is false because a [young] oak tree has a stem and takes up too much space to fit into the seed. On its metaphorical reading, the sentence "There is a [young] oak tree contained in the seed" simply means "The seed has the potential to develop into a [young] oak tree." On its metaphorical reading, the sentence "There is a [young] oak tree contained in the seed" is therefore true. But the sentence on its metaphorical reading merely expresses the uncontroversial fact that the seed has the potential to develop into a [young] oak tree.

Similarly, the sentence "There is an embryonic human contained in the embryo" is true. By contrast, the sentence "There is a human contained in the embryo" is ambiguous between a literal and a metaphorical reading. On its literal reading, the sentence is false because a human has bones and takes up too much space to fit into the human embryo. On its metaphorical reading, the sentence "There is a human contained in the embryo" simply means "The embryo has the potential to develop into a human." On its metaphorical reading, the sentence "There is a human contained in the embryo" is thus true. But the sentence then merely expresses the uncontroversial fact that a human embryo has the potential to develop into a human.

To sum up, the following sentences are literally false: "An acorn is an oak tree", "A human embryo is a human"; "An acorn contains an oak tree", "A human embryo contains a human." By contrast, the following sentences are literally true: "An acorn contains an embryonic oak tree", "A human embryo contains an embryonic human"; "An acorn has the potential to develop into an oak tree", "A human embryo has the potential to develop into a human." We can truthfully assert these latter sentences, but we must distinguish them from falsehoods like "An acorn is an oak tree" or "A human embryo is a human."

As you point out, we have much less reason to value acorns than we have to value oak trees. Acorns may potentially become oak trees, but they are not yet oak trees and do not yet have the properties that give oak trees their value. Since acorns are not oak trees and do not have the value-conferring properties of oak trees, it is alright to attach much lesser value to acorns than to oak trees.

Likewise, we have much less reason to value human embryos than we have to value humans. Human embryos may potentially develop into humans, but they are not yet humans and do not yet have the properties that give humans their value. Since human embryos are not humans and do not have the value-conferring properties of humans, it is alright to attach much lesser value to human embryos than to humans.

On its metaphorical reading, the sentence "There is a [young] oak tree contained in the seed" simply means "The seed has the potential to develop into a [young] oak tree."

Well, no, it isn't metaphoric. The oak embryo is a *real little baby plant*, right there, inside the acorn. This is literally true. Look it up. Nor does it "simply" mean that the seed has some vague potential to develop into what we would normally call an oak tree. What the statement means is that there is a *real little baby plant* inside the acorn and that this is an important part of the explanation of *why* what we would normally call an oak tree (meaning, a non-baby plant, a larger, older, more developed plant) would grow if the acorn were planted in the right soil.

In any event, humans don't have seeds, so the baby human isn't "contained in" the embryo, because there is no seed coat or anything of the kind around it as in the case of a plant seed. The embryo is the embryo. There is is. In the fallopian tube or in the womb.

Your verbal games at this point are merely wasting eye-time and bandwidth.

The essence of the thing is what it is. We should care about all individual members of the species homo sapiens, which is why it behooves us (unlike with trees) to speak very precisely about these things and to *pay the heck attention* when there's a live little baby member of the species hanging around somewhere.

The embryonic human being develops seamlessly by a natural process, directed by its own biological internal structure, into an older member of its species. That is all.

Not all, it develops with the material support of the woman's body. In some ways the feminist argument is more soundly based on Aristotle's four causes; namely that the woman is the efficient cause of the growth of the fetus and has a distinct and more advanced teleology of her own. The liberal argument relies upon the form disconnected from teleology, which strangely enough was Aristotle's own view of fetal development.

Furthermore, the strongest cases from the pro-choice side (aka the three exceptions) do involve self-defense with the harm coming directly from the fetus or indirectly from the father.

The essence of the thing is what it is.

As someone once complained in a despairing voice, "It is what it is." My reply, "It could be something else."

The statement that an acorn "contains a baby plant" is literally false. A baby plant is something that has started to grow out of the ground and has at least a short stem. It is too large to fit into an acorn. Of course, some acorns become baby plants. Most acorns, however, never develop into baby plants.

My "verbal games" were an attempt to sort through some of the falsehoods that you casually assert when discussing abortion. This is admittedly tedious, but I had some time on my hands. I expected that you would eventually tell me that I was wasting your time -- you have a habit of doing this when people press too hard on your arguments. I'll leave it at this, for bandwidth's sake.

Regarding the question of why apparently smart folks like Millican make scientifically obtuse statements, how about this explanation? Laziness.

A lot of grinding effort with the literatue and in the lab is required to gain even a nascent understanding how the natural world really works. That effort generally is not seen as creating much of a updraft for those who like to soar at philosophical altitude. So, the scientific facts get fudged. Laziness.

Oh, I don't know about that. You could, for example, just browse through some Lennaert Nilson photos of the beginning of human life or read this by Robert P. George,

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4857703

or some fairly brief sub-section of one of the many embryology textbooks quoted here:

http://liveactionnews.org/life-begins-at-conception-science-teaches/

Or you could have an intelligent parent give you a minimally scientifically informed lecture on the birds and the bees.

What I realize when I talk to some people is that at some level they *do know* the facts. Two of those I've been arguing with lately are medical students! But at some other level they don't want to talk like they know the facts, because phrases like "human being" make them uncomfortable metaphysically (due, presumably, to the aforesaid lack of spontaneous feelings of affection toward newly conceived zygotes), so they talk like there is more doubt about the bare facts than there really is. Insisting that "science has no good definition of an organism" is one tool in the toolbox, here.

Furthermore, the strongest cases from the pro-choice side (aka the three exceptions) do involve self-defense with the harm coming directly from the fetus or indirectly from the father.

Which, Step2, is why I was careful to talk about direct attack.

But come to think of it, Alphonsus, your comment may correctly diagnose Millican, specifically. He wasn't a medical student, I'm guessing. One does at points get the feeling that he wants to talk like he knows the relevant scientific information but may not actually. I instance here, in addition to the jaw-dropping examples given in the main post, his repeated use of the scientifically dubious term "pre-embryo" casually and repeatedly without, that I can find, bothering to define it, other than to refer to it (in a momentary spurt of what sounds suspiciously like extra-philosophical contempt) as a "microscopic blob" in his conclusion.

Lydia, your links do not represent what I had in mind when I wrote about the grinding effort with the literature. My mistake probably for not saying the primary literature.

You are quite correct in my experience that some folks do indeed know the facts, or at least intuit them correctly, and get queazy when the idea comes up that "something" which does not remotely look like them, or cannot remotely do the things they can, is yet still as human as they are. This most likely is due to philosophical indoctrination, but may also be due to lazy efforts at understanding the abstract qualities of living beings, that they may exist in many forms yet retain the same natural identity. The latter is easily corrected for the open-minded by pointing out that what all consider to be a human being comes in two forms - male and female.

Your two medical students either are playing games with you or were poorly educated as undergrads. Proof? Just hand them an object and ask them if it is an organism. They will get the answer correct every time even without a good scientific definition of what as organism is.

Step2, technically a "zombie" is not a living organism at all--they are the undead, like vampires, animated but not living. Recent zombie fiction and films have gone in the direction of ascribing their condition to a virus, but that's because all science fiction and horror have become infested with the same materialism that infests everything else (the most infamous example being George Lucas' decision to explain away the Force in his most recent Star Wars films as the action of a peculiar kind of microbe).

So if we're talking about zombies as they've been traditionally understood, they aren't living human organisms at all and present little in the way of a real moral conundrum. If we're talking about the more recent variety, then they're just human beings are are not only not dead, but are very sick and in need of some serious medicine, not much different than a dangerous schizophrenic.

And with that, I think we can safely call this thread closed. Once the zombie angle has been resolved, what else is there? :)

For Amymouse's tiresome sophistry to be coherent, we must suppose that there is a vital distinction between "member of the human species" and "human being." But biological science knows no such distinction. The relationship between "member of the human species" and "human being," according to the empirical science of biology, is one of perfect identity.

Once we leave science behind and enter the discipline of philosophy, such distinctions may well be introduced in meaningful ways. But that's no longer a question of science.

Sage, I'm going to risk re-opening that line of discussion because I've recently come to a new realization that yet a third type of zombie is now popular in discussions of abortion. (As far as I recall, they didn't used to be.) This is Chalmers' p-zombie. I don't know if that is what Step2 had in mind. A p-zombie was originally used as an argumentat *against* materialism, and is imagined to be a being that is biologically identical to a living human being and even behaviorally identical but that has no consciousness. The answer to the pro-abortion question using p-zombies is similar to what I already said to Step2: When p-zombies are used, as Chalmers was not intending to use them, as an argument for the legitimacy of abortion, the question appears to be whether undeniably living and undeniably human beings that lack consciousness are killable. The answer is that they are not. If I were to be in a bad accident tomorrow and be thrown into a coma, I also would lack consciousness, only I would be less interesting than a p-zombie, because I wouldn't behave just like I always do. Their ability to behave as if they are conscious can hardly make them _more_ killable; indeed it would remove all our ability to tell that they lack consciousness!

Part of the problem here it seems to me is the idea that x obvious case can't be obvious if I can think of some different, sci-fi case that doesn't obtain in the real world that seems on the face of it less obvious. In the case of p-zombies the ambiguity arises because we vaguely feel that they must really have a different essence from ourselves if they are never conscious. But since the core of the thought experiment is that they are biological human beings just like ourselves, we have no right to take it that they are fundamentally a different kind of being. Science fiction, of course, is like that. One can make up all kinds of things in which accident and essence come radically apart *all the time* while insisting that the being is fundamentally of the same type. In fact, one can do it in children's literature as well--talking animals, for example, or even whole races of talking animals that always beget other talking animals, while they are supposed to be otherwise "just like" bunny rabbits.

Using science fiction, one can play all kinds of games: For example, one can make up scenarios in which *no* one type of being appears to be naturally sentient qua species, in which sentience, rationality, language, etc., are naturally distributed randomly and appear regularly in, say, approximately 25% of the individual members of ten mammal species and society is carried out by the interactions of the 25% of sentient dogs, humans, horses, weasels, etc.

Then, presumably, if the pro-lifer isn't immediately sure whether in that case those species per se should be protectable, the pro-lifer is also supposed to have no right to say that unborn human infants, who are members of a species which is *undeniably* naturally rational, etc., should be protected.

In other words, if we lived in Chaos World where there were no natural kinds, what should we do? Oh, you don't know for sure? Then you have no good reason to hold this moral view regarding a natural kind in a world that is obviously not Chaos World!

I see the zombie arguments as part of that sort of sophistry. But it's a tempting type of sophistry for too many people.

Technically, people infected with some sort of zombie-symptom-inducing virus are not actually zombies. The most prominent example of this is 28 Days Later. You usually see zombies who can bite people and make them sick, whereby the bitee dies and becomes a zombie. This implies a virus or microbiological cause of some sort, though what animated the first zombies is left up to the imagination.

Step2 is referring to voodoo zombies though, people under a black magic spell of some kind. If such things existed, it would be wrong to wantonly kill them assuming the curse was reversible, but if they threatened you then killing them would be legit. The parallel with a fetus would be that the zombie isn't actually intending to threaten you, but is helplessly following commands or programming from the witch doctor. Similarly, a fetus doesn't intend to threaten anyone, but by its presence may do so anyway. This is why most people would allow abortion in the case of life-of-mother.

But rape is another issue, in which the fetus poses a threat to something like the mother's comfort for 9 months. At the end of that she can give it for adoption and that will be the end of it for her. So zombies don't help us there. With incest the case is weakest of all, because there is no threat of any kind; the incest was done willingly (otherwise there would be no need to call it out separately) and it would merely be an elective abortion.

I deny any analogy between "You're just existing, but your existence is posing a threat to someone" and "You're actively attacking someone, though we hold that attack to be morally mitigated by the fact that you're under the control of something outside of yourself."

Lydia's response is excellent, but this is why I dislike analogies for concrete issues.

We're NOT fighting zombies, or getting chained to violinists, or having people seeds floated into our houses (the last two are both Judith Jarvis Thomson). We're dealing with abortion-the killing of the fetus, a human child, in the mother's womb. Now is killing an innocent child wrong, or is it not?

So the child is there after a rape. Okay. It's still an innocent child. It's not the child's fault that he or she is there after rape. Is it wrong to kill the child?

There's no reason for analogy, because the question is unambiguous and can be understood perfectly without analogy. Resorting to these analogies is a way for pro-choicers to skirt around the real issue because the implications are so disturbingly clear.

The statement that an acorn "contains a baby plant" is literally false. A baby plant is something that has started to grow out of the ground and has at least a short stem. It is too large to fit into an acorn. Of course, some acorns become baby plants. Most acorns, however, never develop into baby plants.

There is a reason LYdia is dismissing this sort of argument-she already answered it originally! You're just playing word games. "Ha! It's NOT a baby plant! It's an acorn! A different word!"

It's the same species, which is EXACTLY the point that pro-lifers are making. This is just using confusing language so we can all act as if this is complicated, when it's really not.

MarcAnthony, in a whole lot of cases I'm positive you're right about what motivates people to conjure obscure and sometimes irrelevant hypotheticals. Still, an analogy can be important for establishing what is the principle at work in a pro-lifer's claims about human life. If we find that the principle is being inconsistently applied, then maybe its application to this particular real-world problem is more limited than the pro-lifer admits.

At least, that's how an intellectually honest pro-choicer would answer you. As for the acorn business, the comment you've excerpted is pretty much a text book case of begging the question.

Off topic: GATES OF VIENNA IS DOWN, I REPEAT, GATES OF VIENNA IS DOWN.

Post that killed them is here.">http://mypostingcareer.com/forums/topic/6633-gates-of-vienna-down-at-blogspot-after-contextualizing-holocaust/>here.

An infant is not a human being either; that's why we call them infants! They may potentially develop into human beings, but human beings simply take up more space than infants. Is this an uncharitable reading of the word games being played here?

An embryo is a human being in the very early stages of development. This human being will later be an infant, then a teenager and then eventually an adult.

Whatever, DM, I prefer that people not post blatantly OT things in my threads.

Still, an analogy can be important for establishing what is the principle at work in a pro-lifer's claims about human life. If we find that the principle is being inconsistently applied, then maybe its application to this particular real-world problem is more limited than the pro-lifer admits.

I understand what you mean. But then, when it's told how it actually is, who would answer the question, "Do you think an innocent child should be killed because it's in a mother's womb?" with a yes?

The only way to get around it is sophistry-it's a way to avoid the uncomfortable conclusions. Because THAT is reality. That's the question.

And then when you word it that way people get mad because you're using "loaded language". In other words, when worded correctly it's impossible to avoid the conclusion.

Also, I can even get behind a basic, clear analogy. But then, when your argument depends on analogy after analogy, each of them more convoluted than the last (Violinists! People seeds! Zombies!), that's when you lose me. I once saw somebody write an entire paper full of what must of been 20 or more thought experiments only to reveal at the end that he was really just arguing against the pro-life position!

When you need to go into that much detail to avoid looking at the real scenario I'm not going to buy it.

anonymouse, "embryo," like "infant," "adolescent," and "adult" are names for a human in different stages of development. An embryo is what you once were, as is true of me as well.

As for the "properties' that make one human, you have a misunderstanding of the nature of essential properties. What I suspect you mean is that adult human beings exercise certain powers that we associate with personhood, and embryos don't exercise those powers. That is certainly correct. But those are not essential properties. The essential properties are the capacities to exercise those powers, which human beings possess as long as they exist. This is why, for example, a one legged human being is still a two-legged creature. You never lose the essential property of two-leggedness even if you lose both legs! Just as a blind man is still a member of a species that sees, an embryo is still a member of a species that has a personal nature even though it is not presently exercising its personal powers.

An embryo--if it develops normally--simply becomes a mature version of what it already is, a being with a personal nature.

And then when you word it that way people get mad because you're using "loaded language". In other words, when worded correctly it's impossible to avoid the conclusion.

That is because when I imagine a child I envision a 2-8 year old. I don't even think of a newborn as falling under the category of child, only the category of baby or infant, much less a blastocyst which you are required to describe as a child. Would you call a newborn a pre-adolescent or even a pre-octogenarian? Of course not, it confuses the reality of their actual state of development.

Regarding the complaint about science fiction thought experiments, some (typically complex) real life situations are notoriously difficult to compare to other real life situations. Therefore philosophers and others make fictitious analogies to tease out important principles involved. Surely you would not dismiss the enormous amount of findings from the classic "runaway trolley" scenarios, even though its probability of ever happening in exactly that way is virtually zero.

I will state again as I have done in the past that I view the potentiality argument to be the strongest of the pro-life arguments, but it isn't a slam dunk by any means. It conveniently assumes the whole notion of personhood and minds, both of which I consider distinct and relevant factors.

I'm also not at all convinced that Millican is making the argument Lydia claims. Because his argument is taking the sperm and ova as a potential united pair and extending the potentiality argument one step further. It isn't patently illogical to ask why the potential for moral value is bright-lined at conception and doesn't extend backwards to gametes (although it could suggest that a later form of combined potentials has greater moral value than its previous form - i.e. the liberal argument). As Monty Python famously and harshly ridiculed, every sperm is sacred, so his argument has a limited connection to conservative beliefs even if it is overly exaggerated.

Because his argument is taking the sperm and ova as a potential united pair and extending the potentiality argument one step further. It isn't patently illogical to ask why the potential for moral value is bright-lined at conception and doesn't extend backwards to gametes

But it is patently and obviously false to claim that it is a natural extension of the claim that pro-lifer's making about what constitutes a human life. "One step further" is a phrase that would suggest a logical step further, consistent with what the pro-life position necessarily implies. But in this case means "extending" the pro-life argument by distorting it completely out of all recognition, such that it is clear he either does not understand the pro-life position or that he does not want his reader to understand it. As you well know and as Lydia makes clear (in this thread as elsewhere), conservatives have never claimed that anything with human DNA in it is a human person, so there is no reason whatever to describe Millican's stupid comparison as a mere "extension" of the argument.

If I define a nuclear bomb as a device having a certain set of complex components and properties existing in a unified state--fissile material, a certain kind of detonation chamber, etc., etc.--it is not an "extension" of my definition to claim that I must be saying a uranium mine, a refinement facility, and a pile of conventional explosives are the exact same as a nuclear bomb. To do so is not to "extend" my argument in some logically necessary way, and it isn't even to "exaggerate" my argument for the sake of illustrating a principle. To do so is completely to ignore what I have said and substitute an obviously irrational claim that I have never made, and to do so either in ignorance or in bad faith.

Mont Python may have harshly ridiculed positions that conservatives have never taken, and contributed to the widespread ignorance and confusion concerning the conservative case against abortion, but I'm not sure exactly what that's supposed to prove--certainly it doesn't show any "limited connection" between conservative beliefs and Millican's facially absurd rendition of them. I first heard the "every sperm is sacred" tune when I was about 11 years old, and instantly recognized it for the stupid and offensive distortion that it was. It's a shame that a lot of apparently smart people haven't advanced yet beyond the barbarically willful ignorance it represents.

Just for clarity's sake, the "potentiality" argument, if I understand what Step2 is talking about, does not claim that any bunch of materials which might "potentially" be a human being is a human being. It also does not state that anything containing the component parts of a living human being (like fragments of human DNA) is a living human being. It also doesn't state that a human embryo is "potentially" a human being and therefore sacred.

It states that an embryo is a human being, consequently having all the potentialities of a human being, and that it is a human being at a very early stage of development. It is not to claim that a laboratory containing ten pounds of each element contained in the human body is also a human being at an early stage of development, nor is it to claim that a patch of virgin forest is really just a log cabin just because it could "potentially" be sculpted into one by human action. I really can't accept that any minimally competent philosopher, whatever his stance on abortion, actually believes that the pro-life claim amounts to this sort of reductionist nonsense.

Sage is absolutely spot-on. And I would go to the length of saying that it would, in fact, be patently illogical for the conservative or anyone else to extend the same moral value to objects that contain materials out of which a human being might later be made. Hence, Step2, what you call Millican's argument _is_ patently illogical.

Notice the way that sperm and eggs are strangely exalted in such an argument (which we're then told is some sort of reductio the conservative has trouble avoiding) rather than, say, the potato a man ate a few weeks ago from which some atoms were taken and incorporated into a sperm cell. Of course I'm not denying that a sperm cell, as an intricate cell of the human body, jam-packed with information, with a particular telos to which it is eminently well-suited (which could of course be said of other cells in the human body as well), is a much more complex and interesting thing than a potato atom. However, from the perspective of some attempt to saddle the conservative with the position that the material "precursors" of an adult human being ought all to be valuable as well, the potato atoms are also precursors.

The term "reproductive precursors," which Millican uses on p. 21 in listing gametes along with embryos and singling them out from every other cell of the body, is a weasel phrase and a plain attempt to ignore the fact that gametes are *no more* biological human beings than a cell from one's nose, or one's nose itself, or the woman's uterus, or any other part of the parents. Moreover, a given pair of gametes becomes salient only because and insofar as it happens to combine (or some scientist attempts to combine it in a lab, nowadays) to make an embryo. Gametes don't exist in pair-groups as real ontological entities with an essence of their own!

Step2, you make one good point-I should probably switch child with human, not that it makes a difference.

If I define a nuclear bomb as a device having a certain set of complex components and properties existing in a unified state--fissile material, a certain kind of detonation chamber, etc., etc.--it is not an "extension" of my definition to claim that I must be saying a uranium mine, a refinement facility, and a pile of conventional explosives are the exact same as a nuclear bomb.

They don't have to be the exact same by definition, they have to have the same or very similar value. And really, the saber-rattling against Iran is based entirely on their potential for acquiring a nuclear bomb, so it apparently matters quite a lot to some people whether or not they have those things that can be combined into a nuclear weapon.

I first heard the "every sperm is sacred" tune when I was about 11 years old, and instantly recognied it for the stupid and offensive distortion that it was.

I grant it is offensive, but that is all. Any use of sperm that isn't intended (or in NFP terms "open") towards procreation is a grave and unnatural sin, but sperm doesn't have an exalted value because of its potential. This doesn't make any sense, why is its use so heavily restricted if it only has the value of a potato?

The points made by Lydia, Sage, MarcAnthony, and Francis all point to Ed Feser's oft-repeated thesis that the "what it is" that a thing constitutes and the "what it's for" teleology of the thing are connected.

We humans spend a lot of time and energy putting things into categories. Sometimes they are wholly arbitrary, (like the "class" of objects in this box), and sometimes partially arbitrary (like the category "octogenarians" which conveys information distinct from the mere fact of being 80 or over, although we might have constructed a category of "over 76-year olds" with equal validity). But underlying our constant practice of doing these, is the understanding that some categories are REAL in and of themselves, and when we name them we are not constructing the category but merely recognizing what is.

Natural living beings have natures that we recognize, and as a consequence of that perception we name the things themselves by names that belong to all that bear the same nature. Cats are cats and not dogs. (If our categories were WHOLLY arbitrary, then it would be nonsensical to even begin to imagine, for example, that lions and other great cats belong in any way to a super-category of "cats" alongside of the common domesticated house cat, but bears and wolves to not.) Cats are a different sort of thing than dogs or bears or oaks, and we SEE that. Our conceptions of them as different kinds of things is a mental state that is due to the things themselves being different kinds of things, which differences inform our minds.

The basic nature, the basic what-ness of a thing is not one of the aspects that is subject to "more" and "less", not in that individual thing. Just as a small slice of a view of the clear blue sky isn't less "blue" than a wide arc of it, so also neither is a full-grown cat more a "cat" than a kitten is. So, when we say a baby and a pre-adolescent and an octogenarian are all "human beings", we are basing that on a prior mental recognition of the WHATness of human-ness that does not admit of degree. That what-it-is-ness exists equally in all of them. So also does it exist equally in embryos. By and large most biologists don't have enough confidence in their basic common sense to state this obvious truth, given that it rests uneasily with the materialistic evolution they have drunk with the Koolaid. But non-biologists who can pick up the basic biological facts in any high school text book should have no trouble seeing the truth.

Alongside of the formative structure of the human being is the purpose or goal of the human form. That purpose is expressed variously, but clearly includes knowing truth, (and, especially, knowing abstract truth), and acting on that knowledge. A mature being that is human in ALL ways but is not capable of knowing abstract truth is a being whose physical form is obstructing the expression of its human nature. Either that or it's a being that isn't really human in all ways, is it? (Zombies either have something wrong with them, or they are not humans, because if they were human beings with fully operative bodies and souls they would be able to do the things humans do). Immature beings with human nature either WILL GROW to have mature human activities, or are obstructed from growing into that condition by something that departs from the norm of human nature. NATURE INTENDS THE FULLY OPERATIVE MATURE SPECIMEN. We don't see an embryo cat and think "that's a thing whose basic nature it is to be dependent on a placenta," so that when it stops being so dependent we think the "embryo cat" sort of thing has died and decomposed into a kitten. The fact that we recognize in the kitten the very same individual thing as the embryo means that it had ALSO the very same basic nature, "cat" as well when was still an embryo. Embryonic living beings already have their basic natures, full and entire. The expression of that nature unfolds in time through changing stages, but the fact that we recognize the stages as stages of the same individual being means that we already clearly know what nature, what KIND of thing it is already.

Tony, as I continue this argument in another venue, I'm having that very same problem. To the point that I'm beginning to think one interlocutor doesn't believe there is any _real_ entity that is a "human being" but only a kind of adventitious body-mind composite. As I often say, speaking as a Cartesian myself, sometimes the people on the other side of these issues start talking like a crazy caricature of Cartesianism. (As when people said that Terri Schiavo's soul had died and gone to heaven and left her body behind.)

Step2, come on. The theoretical connection between people's concern over Iran's possession of the components of a weapon of mass death on the one hand (which isn't really theoretical anyway, but practical), and conservatives' claim that an embryo represents a unique human person on the other, is extraordinarily weak to non-existent. It's a red herring. The point, clearly, is that nobody thinks a uranium mine is a nuclear bomb, nor is it the case that anybody who acknowledges a finished bomb for what it is guilty of some sort of inconsistency if he does not ascribe the same value to a uranium mine. You know all this, and are wasting everybody's time by pretending to resist it.

As for your second point, it's another distraction--you're just shouting squirrel at this point. The conservative case against abortion, and its recognition of the fact that a human embryo is a unique member of the human species, doesn't turn on the Catholic Church's teaching on autoeroticism or homosexuality, and neither one turns on whether a sperm cell has more value than a potato.

I'm afraid I brought up the potato. But only to make a specific point about a weaselly term like "precursors." In fact, I emphasized at the time the many advantages of a sperm cell over a potato atom.

Tony, competent biologists as competent scientists are in the business of what-it-is and how-it-works, along with why-it-works and how-it-arose. It is when the -ness is added on that the speaker loses them, for -ness-ness has never been discovered in nature.

If you say to a biologist, a cat is recognized as a cat because of its cat-ness, you will be asked what you mean by cat-ness. You may say, it means that it has the recognizable nature of all cats. The biologist will reply, then why not just call it a cat? Where's the -ness?

Too often in debates over life issues, science, philosophy (if you can call any of it that), politics, personal prejudices, and a raft of other purely subjective and often irrational points of views get intermingled, producing a kind of individual chimera constructed of objectivity and subjectivity for each person involved.

The science is very clear currently. An individual human begins at fertilization and does not change into anything else throughout its lifetime. Everything beyond that is a debate over the value or moral standing of human individuals according to their individual form or functioning, or to a status assigned to them from the outside like unwanted or surplus. The pro-life position in its purest simplicity is: the human individual has moral standing in all forms, conditions, and at all times. The non-pro-life position is: hold on a minute while I nuance that.

Any use of sperm that isn't intended (or in NFP terms "open") towards procreation is a grave and unnatural sin, but sperm doesn't have an exalted value because of its potential. This doesn't make any sense, why is its use so heavily restricted if it only has the value of a potato?

What a disgusting, wretched caricature of standard Christian teaching. That teaching doesn't speak of "using" sperm at all. It speaks of engaging in the conjugal act, an act with many components and aspects to it, for definite purposes based on the teleology of man (called to know and to love) and the consequent purposes of man's sexual capacity (designed to be an employed in an act of knowing and loving the spouse faithfully and permanently, along with the fruit of that unitive act). The Church doesn't ascribe high value to sperm, for goodness sake, except insofar as it pertains to the rightful place sperm has as a component of the complete act. I guess that some un-Christians cannot even imagine non-materialistic accounts of things. No wonder they are so bad at arguing against them.

The point, clearly, is that nobody thinks a uranium mine is a nuclear bomb, nor is it the case that anybody who acknowledges a finished bomb for what it is guilty of some sort of inconsistency if he does not ascribe the same value to a uranium mine.

The point of your example was that the precursors to a nuclear bomb do not have the same value as the finished bomb, i.e. when the complex finished product is completed it has a bright-line effect upon its value. My counterexample is that many people are treating the precursors as if they are as much of a threat as the finished product.

As for your second point, it's another distraction--you're just shouting squirrel at this point.

Lydia is the one who brought up this point in the OP! I'm asserting that some pro-lifers ascribe the gametes an exalted value based on the way they treat them. Oh wait, they only ascribe them their "rightful place as a component of the (sacred) complete act".

My counterexample is that many people are treating the precursors as if they are as much of a threat as the finished product.

Your counterexample has no relevance to the subject at hand, Step2 and you know it. How "people are treating" the precursors to a nuclear bomb--which they are doing for obvious practical reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the ontology of human embryos or of nuclear bombs--adds nothing to our understanding of the conservative position on human life whatsoever. I'm well and truly done responding to this idiocy.

Oh wait, they only ascribe them their "rightful place as a component of the (sacred) complete act"

So, you are suggesting that you would prefer to grant sperm a "wrongful place" instead? And why would you choose to insert your OWN "sacred" into my quote, when it is nothing I hinted at nor would have said myself. Sacred things are divine things or are things set apart for divine worship or prayer. Normal aspects of natural human acts of reproduction are not "sacred", they are esteemed precisely insofar as human reproduction is esteemed - a natural, basic good of humankind. Which you seem to despise.

So, there we have it: since Step2 implies that sex is not divine and leaves no room for it to be a natural good, apparently he thinks that sex is wrong and that sperm is a wrongful "black sacrament" carrying the evil symbolic weight of an unnatural a act with no rightful place in human behavior. Or something like that.

Or would you like to stop grotesquely mis-characterizing millenia-old Judeo-Christian teaching instead?

Turns out that grotesquely mischaracterizing Christian teaching is a whole lot easier that coming to grips with the liberal rejection of basic biological science in abortion policy and argument.

Occasionally one does see Catholic arguments against contraception mentioning something like "frustrating the telos of the sperm" or something like that. But, for what it's worth and speaking as a Protestant, I don't see that this argument commits the one making it to the proposition that every sperm is sacred or anything of the kind. It could be intended to imply that one should never deliberately frustrate the telos of any aspect of the human body or person--e.g., that one shouldn't mutilate some part of the body so it doesn't work, etc.

It could be intended to imply that one should never deliberately frustrate the telos of any aspect of the human body or person--e.g., that one shouldn't mutilate some part of the body so it doesn't work, etc.

From my understanding as a Catholic that is exactly what is meant by the terms.

And why would you choose to insert your OWN "sacred" into my quote, when it is nothing I hinted at nor would have said myself.

Because I've read your views on marriage before, including the marriage bed, and they can be summarized as reverent, i.e. sacred. Furthermore, literally the first phrase spoken to humanity by God in the Bible is "Be fruitful and multiply", so if you want to dismiss the first divine command as merely good advice that is your prerogative.

So, there we have it: since Step2 implies that sex is not divine and leaves no room for it to be a natural good, apparently he thinks that sex is wrong and that sperm is a wrongful "black sacrament" carrying the evil symbolic weight of an unnatural a act with no rightful place in human behavior.

Sure, let's roll with that.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keri

Yes, but one would note that this is from religion, not basic ethics based on the definition of a human being. Also I would note that I have seen no Jews on this thread bring up the sacredness of sperm, only the sacredness of a human being.

Or maybe it was stupid of me to have even bothered responding...

Because I've read your views on marriage before, including the marriage bed, and they can be summarized as reverent, i.e. sacred.

While this is probably true (I'll let Tony give the final affirmation or denial) the argument he made did not depend in any way on sex being sacred.

"Turns out that grotesquely mischaracterizing Christian teaching is a whole lot easier that (sic?) coming to grips with the liberal rejection of basic biological science in abortion policy and argument."

Which science (as well as various "philosophical" arguments), of course, is hardly dispositive in policy matters. Regardless of ones view on abortion, a person concerned with typical "liberal" concerns - fairness and social justice, opposition to torture and wars of choice, as well as maintaining a polity with a sound economy and functional democratic institutions doesn't really have much of a choice.

Paul, it seems you can't understand how one could fail to prioritize ending abortion over all other concerns. You might try to at least consider that some might place a higher priority on maintaining a prosperous and free nation in a world not defined by Schmittian distinctions.

I might also point that socially conservative policy solutions are based on a fundamental misrepresentation of the circumstances leading up to Roe, a naive over-valuation of the effects of legislation as moral signaling (see Prohibition, our War on Drugs, and abortion as actually enforced prior to Roe), as well as a desire to impose religious dogma on a secular nation.

This may help,

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2131505

We also need a firewall against atrocities like this,

"It was one of those "I told you so" moments you hope never to have. It's almost 30 years since pro-choice campaigners warned that the 1983 amendment to the Irish constitution guaranteeing "the right to life of the unborn" would put women's lives at risk. But we always hoped it wouldn't happen."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/16/savita-halappanavar-death-irish-abortion-debate

If that firewall gives some women the right to make a choice you all would rather she not make, well, give us a solution that eliminates the above.

And, we need not depend on botanical misunderstandings to resolve any issues here.

a naive over-valuation of the effects of legislation as moral signaling (see Prohibition, our War on Drugs, and abortion as actually enforced prior to Roe)

Blah, blah, the usual. Lots of women and children are kidnapped into sex trafficking in the developed world despite laws against such activities, but this hardly means we might just as well--either practically or as a matter of justice--make sex trafficking women and children legal.

As to the facts of the matter, I've pointed out repeatedly, but perhaps, Al, you didn't happen to read one of these comments, that I am here now because of a combination of the effectiveness of American laws against abortion pre-Roe and the nastiness of Mexican abortion clinics. My bio-mother, by her own account, "panicked" when she discovered she was pregnant with me and contemplated abortion, but she was put off by the "horror stories" brought back by her girlfriends who had gone over the border to Mexico, where the system of bribery was more efficient to undermine the anti-abortion laws. Hey, I wish no one ill in the abortion clinics of Mexico, but given that knowledge of what they were like saved my life, I can hardly wish that abortion in America had then been safe and legal.

I might also point that socially conservative policy solutions are based on a fundamental misrepresentation of the circumstances leading up to Roe, a naive over-valuation of the effects of legislation as moral signaling (see Prohibition, our War on Drugs, and abortion as actually enforced prior to Roe), as well as a desire to impose religious dogma on a secular nation.

Oh, do you mean those (turns out they were highly trumped up false statistics) of 1.2 million illegal abortions every year, and 5,000 to 10,000 deaths of mothers? Yes, I love those statistics, because apparently the legalization of abortion in America in 1973 saw the immediate drop of abortion from 1.2 million to 700,000!!! Who knew it would be so effective a deterrent? And Bernard Nathanson discredited the death estimates as well:

"In NARAL (the acronym for the then-National Association for the Reform of Abortion Laws) we generally emphasize the drama of the individual case, not the mass statistics, but when we spoke of the latter it was always 5,000 to 10,000 deaths each year'. I confess that I knew the figures were totally false...But in the `morality' of our revolution, it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics?"

Anyway, I would say that both religious sentiment and non-religious science-driven ethical perspective on the humanity of the fetus ought to be a lot more "dispositive" in "policy" matters than mere personal preferences and whims, in contrast to the idiotic argument Anthony Kennedy constructed in Planned Parenthood v Casey decision.

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