Scientific Research & Self-Development Activism
So I arrived at some sort of ethical/philosophical conundrum whilst pondering different abortion arguments. Now, abortion is one of the few divisive political issues in which I can identify with both ideological camps; for quite some time now I've been undecided on the issue. The conundrum is somewhat abstract, so I will explain it by walking you through my thought process.
Delineation of the thought process on how I came to a conundrum:
Now, I don't think it appropriate to approach any social or political issue from a spiritual, religious, or otherwise intuitive point of view. Such mentalities are inherently subjective, and as such, are individual beliefs that can neither be proven nor ethically or lawfully imposed on anyone who does not share those opinions.
With that in mind, I approach the abortion issue only from a rational and/or biological perspective. As I see it, much of the two camps’ rational-based arguments simplify to:
Pro-Abortion: 1) A fetus has no consciousness/sentience and does not constitute life, and 2) an unwanted pregnancy imposes a physical oppression on the pregnant woman.
Anti-Abortion: 1) A fetus, while not currently sentient or constituting life, will eventually grow into a self-aware human if not destroyed. In other words, destroying a fetus is purposefully and deliberately preventing the development of consciousness, and might constitute a sort of “pre-emptive killing.” 2) Unfortunately to pregnant women, Protecting life > Protecting personal autonomy
While I personally see the rational solidities in both arguments, the most ethically precarious point would have to be the notion that the prevention of life is akin, in some fashion, to murder. Now here is where the conundrum unfolds.
To those of you who acknowledge the Pro-Abortion point of view, consider this analogy (sorry if I’m using analogy inappropriately lore). A newborn infant, in its state, has mental capacities akin to a very dumb animal. It has limited to no ability to form memory, has no sense of object permanence, and by all reasonable interpretation of developmental, neurological, and biological study data, has no higher level of self-awareness or sentience. Many fully grown animals, in fact, could stand good ground against a newborn infant in being superior intellectually and in sentience.
Discussion and implications:
Now, with the above in mind, would it be appropriate for infanticide to be considered a minor crime, akin to the killing of animals? Culturally, animal killing and eating is deemed completely ethical. If an infant, in its state, is less sentient than a cow, should it not be completely ethical to kill it with impunity as well? (as a conversation disclaimer, I am not aiming to start a discussion of the ethics of animal killing. Regardless of its objective ethicality, we live in a world where its practice is abundant and deemed ethical. Furthermore, I'm sure most of us are omnivorous, and thus, at least passively, find it ethical.)
For anyone who finds sense in Pro-Abortion ideology (myself included), I would expect the above analogy to be a huge conundrum. I cannot see a way of answering that question without some form of logical or ethical dissonance. If it is NOT ethical to kill a baby (which I do hope most of you will agree to), than why is it ethical to abort a fetus? In eating meat you have affirmed that such minor forms of life should not be protected by law. The only argument that I can see is that this infant will one day become a fully sentient and self-aware creature, which unfortunately for those favoring abortion, is the exact same logic used by Anti-abortionists.
I'm not sure if this term already exists in other contexts, but I deemed this idea "temporal isolation." It is the concept of viewing beings and objects in the state of what they are at that moment in time. I feel it to be logically dissonant to apply temporal isolation to a fetus, but not an infant.
What are your thoughts on this? I find myself stopping here. Intuitively/personally, I find fetuses to be balls of cells and think it somewhat absurd to give them life protection via law. Yet, I clearly cannot reconcile why I have the exact opposite viewpoint for infants: infants are dumb creatures without sentience that should undoubtedly have protection of life via law. So yeah, thoughts? Can you help me dig out of this philosophical pothole?
What if you feel that by all ethical means, babies should be considered lesser forms of life with laws reflecting that?—could we extend the idea of “temporal isolation” further? I’ve extended it to perhaps its breaking point in the notion of sleep. If a fully sentient adult human is in a dreamless/thoughtless sleep, would it be more ethically appropriate to kill it, via rationalization of “temporal isolation?”
…In somewhat of an unrelated post script, one argument to the Pro-Abortionists’ favor attacks #2 above of the Anti-Abortion camp, in saying that protecting life is NOT better than protecting autonomy. It’s a somewhat Jeffersonian concept that I can potentially and theoretically get behind. What good is a society where we are all enslaved in some way, even though everyone is guaranteed safety of their life? (But yeah, where do we draw the lines in this and how does pregnancy vs. “pre-emptive murder” hold up to other forms of oppression vs. “actual murder”?)
Interesting topic. You should read Peter Singer. I think he wrote some stuff about infanticide.
You explained why there is a conundrum when thinking about infanticide. There is no fundamental difference between the baby you described and other animals, so there are inconsistencies. Why should it be unethical to kill a baby if killing other sentient animals is considered as being ethical? You already extended the problem, but I want to extent it even further: why should it be unethical to kill a person if the person didn't feel any harm? A dead person doesn't bother about life anymore...
To find some clearness in the conundrum we have to think of what is most important. To me, minimizing suffering in all sentient beings is the central moral code. To use a quote, Jeremy Bentham once wrote: "The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer".
The ability to reason has nothing to do with the ability to suffer, so superior reasoning skills can't justify causing suffering to others. Causing sentient animals to suffer is then considered as being unethical if it isn't necessary - if it is evidable. The best imaginable world is a world without suffering and full of joy.
Going back to the problem, the conclusion is that whether killing a baby is unethical or not, depends on the social situation and whether or not the baby experiences harm during the killing. If no harm was made to the baby, it can still be considered as being unethical if the killing caused suffering in the social environment without it being necessary.
But what if people empathize with someone if they shouldn't, causing somebody else to suffer and die? For instance, a famous person gets in a uncoverable coma and majority of people really wants to keep him alive while his organs could be used to safe a person that nobody knows. To me it seems reasonable to treat every sentient being with respect, because they have the ability to feel the consequences of our actions. A being that is not sentient, doesn't "need" empathy; it won't feel the difference. Another conundrum emerges: to what extent do we have to account for irrational feelings of attachment?
This discussion about controlling somebody's life to the point of ending it reminds me of discussions about people who are in a coma, or ultimately about euthanasia. It all ends up about the notion of suffering and alterity. Can we possibly say that we understand somebody else's pain? I think it is impossible.
About abortion specifically, it is possible that a woman will understand the problem differently. I am pro-abortion and do not think it takes line upon line to state why. Actually, I was faced with the choice of abortion once in my life and I did not go along with it, not because of my rational thinking but of my feelings. I suddenly became aware of the power itself of a new life developping in me, and that totally invalidated all my previous thinking.
This might surprise you, yet I think it sums up a lot of choices and events in life. There is unpredictability too.
A last thought as conclusion: If you choose to reflect on your life and remember what were the decisive factors for your actions and evolution in life, what were these factors? And what was the impact of what did not depend on you?
Can we understand somebody else's pain?
Often I don't really understand my own pain. There is never a good reason why somebody should feel pain. Pain is just an adaptive trait that emerged during evolution. There is never a good reason to feel pain, but sometimes it is inevidable and difficult to control.
I do think it is possible to understand somebody else's pain to some extent. We can't "know" another person's state of mind at a certain painful moment, but we can expect that this person has a state of mind and feels pain. My experiences of pain correlate with certain behaviors. If other animals show these behaviors I can expect that they also share similar feelings. The more related they are to me, the more likely it shares similar experiences. A social network that would include individuals with biased "theory of minds" wouldn't last long, I suppose. We wouldn't understand eachother at all.
If you choose to reflect on your life and remember what were the decisive factors for your actions and evolution in life, what were these factors?
I would say my actions are manifestations of continuous feedbacks between emotional, social and cognitive information. I feel that I became less impulsive during my life. I feel more autonomous.
Okay, you need some impulsiveness to finally act, but the emotion that goes along with the choice to act might not be the most important factor to act in a certain way. It might be that the emotional factor still plays the most important role in making decisions and acting (difficult to quantify), but that wouldn't justify unethical behaviors. The only thing I would derive from that is that we should be aware that we are emotional beings.
I was surprised you said pain was an evolutionary trait, I'd suspected it had always been there, a signal to tell us when things go wrong or need 'fixing'.
There is compassion or sympathy with someone else's feelings, be they of pain, fear, love, joy, hatred, ... But my recent experiences about love leave me sceptic as to how much we really understand of each other's deep feelings.
I would surmise that, like our unique DNA make-up, our own personal world of feelings and by extension of thoughts is idiosyncratic, or once again one and only.
What allows us to bridge a gap between ourselves and our siblings or friends or other fellow individuals and to a very wide extent the whole of humanity, is that we have a need to share which overpowers us.
I, for one, have got a good sense of my ego, but even at my loneliest of times, I admit that I deeply need affection, sharing, finding similarities with others.
Who do I want to connect with? Who makes me vulnerable if I connect with them, etc.
That's where I am at the moment in my thinking....
I really appreciate this discussion and I've not forgotten Aya. Cheers to both of you!
I was surprised you said pain was an evolutionary trait, I'd suspected it had always been there, a signal to tell us when things go wrong or need 'fixing'.
If you define pain as "a signal to tell an individual when things go 'wrong'", than it has already been there for a long time. Many animals have nocireceptors to detect "harmful" stimuli. Plants & unicellular organisms can also have mechanisms to handle with harmful conditions. Of course, I was talking about conscious pain that probably arose gradually along with the emergence of consciousness during phylogeny. Very little is known about the evolution of consciousness.
My main point however was that nature isn't teleological and doesn't have reasons to "create" things. Pain can be a useful function - evolutionary speaking - and we can explain why it exists, but there is no higher "reason".
What are your thoughts on this? I find myself stopping here. Intuitively/personally, I find fetuses to be balls of cells and think it somewhat absurd to give them life protection via law. Yet, I clearly cannot reconcile why I have the exact opposite viewpoint for infants: infants are dumb creatures without sentience that should undoubtedly have protection of life via law.
To me, every sentient being deserves protection of life via law. It seems a bit strange to give rights to individuals (objects) that don't have any sentience. However, if people are somehow strongly attached to an unsentient creature, it is like another bunch of cells is incorporated within their consciousness. If someone "hurts" the bunch of cells, you will do harm to those who empathize with the cells. If there is no good reason to "hurt" or kill an unsentient creature, why should we?
I don't think fetuses are balls of cells Aya. I just can't think like that. It isn't even about humanity, but life. I suppose I find spirituality everywhere and don't think we can explain everything.
Now jumping from spirituality to law. Legal systems are made to protect people and give them a sense of duty too.
Infants are clearly sentient, aren't they not living Aya? What makes you think or feel they are not?
1) Akin to one of my statements in a reply to an earlier comment of yours, I think we must be very careful not to bring and subjectivity into this debate. I can understand your belief in spirituality and its potential effects on this argument, but you must understand that any sort of spirituality, by nature, is subjective and opinion. That does not mean it is wrong, but it does mean that it cannot ethically or justifiably be imposed on others via legislation. Thus, we should try to approach this issue as objectively and unspiritual as possible.
2) Perhaps I was using sentient innapropriately. I looked it up briefly and still do not have a firm grasp on its philosophical connotations. Regardless, my point still stands that even if they are sentient, how do they differ from any other animal that humans slaughter and eat? These animals are also living and can suffer (apparently suffering is the major quality of sentience via Wikipedia).
What you wrote about your experiences with pregnancy sounds beautiful, and I think I understand it (as much as a man who will never experience it could, lol). Indeed, I think that my personal opinion lies along your viewpoint with this issue.
I just bring up this topic because any laws addressing it must be constructed in an objective and rational way. There is no room for personal feelings, experiences, or bias in broad-based legislation.
What a great way to logically reduce this issue! That was fascinating and I think based on what was written here that there is a way out of this problem as described by you. When looking at a person you must ask yourself what makes "me" me. This answer is of course the brain, right? So how developed is the fetus brain should be our next question, can they feel pain and use other sensory nerves as well? Do they have a measurable brain wave? I think that if those answers are yes, then the moral high ground would undoubtedly be held by anti-abortionist lobbyists as far as politics go.
There's my two-cents; feel free to express any contending points :)_
Right. But isn't it a requisite of this argument that we must protect the right to life of every animal? Animals have brains, measurable brain waves, basic thoughts, and sensory/pain nerves. Wouldn't the act of eating meat render the user of this argument a hypocrite (albeit a socially acceptable one)?
The question is then why is it okay to eat meat and kill animals but not kill a fetus, or infant for that matter, if these simple nervous system metrics exist in both creatures? It seems to me that we cannot use this argument and continue, rationally or ethically, the process of killing or eating animals if other methods are available. Am i wrong here?
Indeed, the proposed argument would be inconsistent with behaviors of lots of people. But such inconsistencies don't matter for the validity of the ethical argument. You can't be 100% consistent in all the things you do, consciousness is always limited.
Okay, let's go back to the thought experiment where an animal and a human has the same level of consciousness. Why should this human need more protection? Well, I absolutely don't know how you could justify this. But of course there is an evolutionary explanation: selfish genes. Humans with less consciousness look more similar to normal humans and are also likely to share more experiences with other humans (f.e. birth). What if a mutant pig would look human? Would it get more protection? What if a mutant human would look like a pig? I think it all has to do with shared genes and (social) learning behavior, and those can't justify doing harm to other creatures.
What if a person was killed and nobody ever knew, would this be worse than a situation where a person was killed in front of the eyes of his family (assuming that they feel attached with this person)?
Realistically your first point is comparing the killing of a pre-developed human infant (human being key word there) vs the death of a fully developed/developed conscious systematic animal. While the majority of humanity will have different opinions on this but for me it would come down to a hierarchy of this planet and the worth we put on each level. Unfortunately for bessy and babe they are of lower worth in the greater sense to a unborn human simply because, they aren’t our kind and humans genuinely unlike any other species will always subconsciously protect their own kind rather than other species. (This of course quickly changes when we actually get to know the individuals of both species. However then that would be a entirely different conversation all together. )
Now this links into point two about worth of a being VS a potential being as different, the only way I could summarise this point in its most basic state would be comparing it to say modern world vs 3rd world. We are happy to get involved and protect something tangible and something that actually affect us day to day however something that could affect or might affect us in the future quickly becomes superfluous and get’s deemed being of less worth and therefore acceptable to deal with in a different way. (In the analogy of 1st VS 3rd world this being the west VS say issues that plague Africa. Yes it’s terrible but as it’s out of sight and out of mind then we don’t really put a huge emphasis on it in day to day life. I think.... I might actually make my first topic on this debate!)
Personally like you I can see points of both sides of this discussion:
I can see the benefits of abortion (Social, Psychological, Ethical and so forth) and understand in some ways why people are against it however less towards the latter. If I was to have to describe an official response to represent my opinions of what I believe abortion I guess it would be as follows:
I believe every woman should have the right to choose whether or not abortion is right for them and not let that decision be pre-determined for them due to social, ethical or external viewpoints. At the end of the day we need to keep in mind there are far more aspects then biological, mental, social and psychological tolls that come with both pregnancy and either way the result will change that individual for the rest of their life.
External Viewpoints + Social Validity / Ethical Responsibilities + Individual beliefs * Experience = which side you’ll fall on.
One point I’d like to touch on is when you said “A Fetus has no consciousness sentient or constituting life.”
I’ve always heard from mothers that there able to distinguish their baby in a room full of other infants by just hearing them cry. I don’t really know how this is possible but in some ways I think it could be because to some internal imprinting that is done on the child in the womb at a biological/subconscious level. I’m curious if there is a reverse imprint from a child to a mother before “intelligence” kicks in and if so does it start at a time period or is there from the very start of a growth (fetus included)
Also in regards to animals intelligence I’d say this:
Animals are usually driven by more primal intelligence and by that I mean senses, (smells, vision, sound, feeling) and therefore may seem “intelligent” due to actions they do due to understanding their senses however cognitive reason for the most part is mechanical rather than intelligence.
Just my 2 cents but it’ll be an age long debate and those quite frankly are always the best ;)