Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Guns are not like other objects. They aren't even like each other.

Guns are not like other objects. They aren’t even like each other.

 

If you don’t occasionally check out THE STONE, you should. Who would’ve thought that a major newspaper would have a philosophy column online. At any rate, since the shooting at Newtown, Connecticut they have been posting lots of super interesting posts about the gun debate. Here is an awesome one which helps to clarify the rights versus goods argument I made in my previous post, and this by a real philosopher.

 

The Weapons Continuum

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(Part 1: The Non-Evidential Discussion)

             I find myself writing a draft off this post every few months. Every time there is a horrific shooting, often worse than the one before, my mind races and my fingers search for a keyboard. If Facebook and Twitter are any indication, then most of you do the same. I usually soak in what ever I can of popular opinion and the arguments from social media to get a sense of where people are in the discussion. I check news sources too, (no, not TV news) to get a feel for the particular narrative that always seems to take on new characteristics and new language after each shooting. On every occasion I feverishly hash out a draft, and for some reason it never seems to make it to my wall. There are too many digressions. There are too many distractions. Every argument smashes into the rear end of the next without getting resolved. So now it is about a week since the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and I wonder if I can flesh this out. Oh, and it isn’t too soon. There is no such thing.

Friendly Argument about Guns

Friendly Argument about Guns

             I decided the best way to tackle the issue of gun control is to split it up in parts. The first part will consist of the non-evidential arguments for gun control. Most people immediately refer to what ever statistics or anecdotes that they can muster when arguing for or against gun ownership, as they absolutely should! However, statistics, examples, and stories are easy to be skeptical about and often refute one another without legitimate sources and research involved. Keyboard crusaders are all but credible authorities, myself included. In the social-media arena, it is enough to post a quickmeme with an eye catching graphic or phrase for the tidal wave of comments ensue. My first post won’t do any of that. Instead I’d like to focus on what most people agree is an irreducible, irreconcilable, source for debate and conflict. That topic is Rights.

        There is a constant back drop of rights talk that requires a little elucidation. What does it mean to have the “right to bear arms?” What does it mean to have the right to anything? This is a word we use fairly loosely in conversation but it is never really brought to the forefront of an argument and explained. Can rights change? Are they strictly bound to a specific text or do documents like the Constitution just reflect some basic societal intuition? In talking about gun control, it seems like the most common deflection immediately goes into rights talk and what had started off as a wonky back-and-forth between friends peters off to a stalemate. Without delving into the historical context of the Constitution and talking about what the founding fathers meant/thought/believed about the 2nd amendment (that would be an evidential argument), let’s actually talk about rights.

2nd

        The idea of people having a certain right may have erupted around sometime in the early 1700s. It wasn’t until the old European monarchies started to crumble that people started to gain a real sense of individualism. Suddenly the majority of people weren’t just uneducated slaves. A great secular awakening and philosophical writings churned a feudal European serfdom into an era that would soon be called the Enlightenment. A reverence for science and knowledge grew and this was also reflected in the new science of political theory. Up until that point, with perhaps the exceptions of Aristotle and Thomas Hobbes, political concepts were not based on community or individuals. Instead, things like divine right theory and hereditary totalitarianism were the norm.

       It wasn’t until the late 17th century that John Locke developed social contract theory wherein the individual has a direct relationship with the state. This empowers the citizenry in a society to be able to participate and affect the governing body. While versions of democracy had made appearances in different forms up until this point, it wasn’t until Locke wrote his two treatises of government that individual’s rights started to make their appearances. At this point also, political pamphlets were readily available and literature was starting to become the 17th century equivalent of the internet. Literacy was at an all time high, especially in the United States which had the highest rate of literate citizens in the world. So when Locke wrote about individuals in a state of nature are entitled to “Life, Health, Liberty, and Property” (property has a different meaning here than it does today), it resonated with a population with a new sense of individualistic value. Nearly a hundred years later, our founding fathers and namely Thomas Jefferson included the phrase, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” in the Declaration of Independence, which was directly influenced by John Locke. At this point in history, another major thinker that revolutionized the concept of inherent rights was emerging. Philosopher Immanuel Kant lays the groundwork for what would become the major moral dichotomy of our time.

        While rights were becoming a meme worthy of replication in a society like America, the going moral philosophy was utilitarianism. Jeremy Bentham and later on John Stewart Mill (another philosopher that influenced our Constitution) developed a view wherein moral acts were contingent on their utility to society. It is easy to see how this view would become popular in the nationalistic sense. Things were morally good if they benefited the greatest amount of people to the greatest extent that it could. This is as altruistic as anything could be. It is of course, not without its short comings. While intuitively beneficial, it does seem to demand a lot of people to be self sacrificing and unselfish to one degree or another. In a world where individualism was taking over, utilitarianism may ask people to do things for the greater good that seemed undesirable. A good example is the ol’ train track scenario in moral philosophy. So there was a need to leverage strict utilitarianism with whatever it is that leads us to ascribe special privilege to individuals.

        So when Immanuel Kant, produced his Critiques of Pure Reason he stood at odds with Utilitarianism with his own philosophy, Deontology. Kant’s arguments can get lengthy and convoluted but in the shortest terms possible Deontology says: 1) People have a duty to do good, 2) Good is only good if it is a good in and of itself, and that it can apply universally to all people, it cannot be related to a want or desire 3) People are an end in and of themselves. It’s because people are rational beings and they are able to distinguish between treating people with dignity and as a reason to do good and not merely as a means to a desirable end. So we have a duty to do good things, regardless of their benefit to people. For Kant, lying is never good because it treats people as a means to an end and serves to undermine their dignity—even if a lie were to save the planet from destruction!

        Instead of using these terms, we’ll use more accurate terms for the gun debate and call them it the Good (utilitarianism) vs. the Right (deontology). Almost every moral debate that I can think of is framed within these two ideological sides and documents like the Constitution itself carefully balances between them. When someone embraces one side, they are sacrificing the advantages of the other. When a right overlaps with what we consider to be a greater good, then we don’t really have any controversy. A good example could be something like voting rights for women, or equal education opportunities for people, or religious freedoms. These are by and large uncontroversial, whereas at one time in the past they may have needed some debate. To say that we have the right to be treated equally serves the benefit of the society and treats people as ends in themselves. Dignity is assigned to everyone equally in this instance.

        When we start approaching the right to own guns, things get a little hazy. Is the right to own guns a way to treat people as dignified ends? We in the Unites States take it for granted that any extension of freedom is a moral good. Freedoms in almost every other context seem to be uncontroversial and beneficial as opposed to a lack thereof. However once freedoms for individuals start to breach the well being of other individuals, we begin to see structures for which law must create a workable boundary. We are not free to murder. We are not free to drive drunk. We aren’t even free to plagiarize the ideas of others, or libel against them. So, why all the hoopla over guns?

        Once the gun debate is reduced to the idea of rights, the only response is to combat it with notions of the good. If you have ever participated in friendly arguments at bars or on social media, you may have already noticed. In order to establish a right, there must be a correlation with the good in order to justify it. Once you ask someone who believes in a right why they believe in that right, the response must come in the form of how it benefits society (unless you’re arguing with a philosopher and there’s a good chance it’ll happen anyway). If you ask someone why it is important that we have the right to bear arms, people will cite the 2nd amendment. We know that rights precede the Constitution, so we can ask why it was considered a right in the first place (by the way, the Bill of Rights was very nearly not even included in the Constitution). So the answer must come in the form of, “because it is better than to not have the right.” The response is, “why?” That’s where all the crazy answers start to come out because not enough critical thought it put into the answer. People start invoking Hitler’s gun policy on Jews, or that crime will increase, or that the right is God given, etc. All of which are evidential arguments that require data to support. Rarely, if ever, are arguments from these grounds substantial or coherent. Frustration ensues.

Right vs. Good

Right vs. Good

 

        That isn’t to entirely dismiss the claim that maybe we do have a morally defensible right to guns. We still have to wonder, at what cost? We know that roughly 10,000 to 30,000 deaths occur each year from shootings. Without going any further into the statistics, we can see that no other right affects the potential ending of human life so directly. There are of course evidential reasons (that I will get to in future posts) that can factor into why the number is what it is, but this will only distract from the fact that the prevalence of guns, lead to the existence of gun deaths. It could be argued, and indeed it has, that guns don’t cause guns deaths–people do. While on the face, this could be seen as true, but that doesn’t absolve the usage of guns altogether. Clearly guns are present at the scene of a crime where a shooting occurs. Even if it’s in a small degree, guns carry at least some responsibility for the deaths that occur from the bullets that were in them. Secondly, the argument that our culture in America has a special relationship with guns unlike any other country seems to be untrue even on its face. It is possible to delve into the historicity of firearms and combat in at least 100 countries that would negate this theory from “specialness.” Nevertheless, I’ll assume that this is true. It then seems funny that the immediate defense of many gun advocates, most notably the NRA, is that our culture of violence is to blame for gun deaths vis a vis video games, movies, the media and comics. It is blaringly evident that gun culture must carry its negative aspects into the definition along with what ever goods may be found in it. To blame gun culture for deaths but use it as a reason for the a right to have a gun, well it seems silly.

        The question must be asked: How many gun deaths is the right to own guns worth? The right for freedom of slaves (amongst other things) was worth a civil war with hundreds of thousands of deaths. Is the right to own guns worth 30,000 deaths? 100,000? 1,000,000 per year? Of course it is possible to hedge what the right to bare arms means and currently I’m not advocating banning guns altogether, but I am offering the question up hypothetically. What amount of deaths per year would make it considerable to pro-gun advocates to submit that maybe banning guns unilaterally is a necessary action? Let’s say the number is a mere 100,000. The follow up questions must inquire as to why that number is significant? If 99,999 deaths occur in one year, then it isn’t worth considering? The goal would be to find a common ground with some reason for there being a non-arbitrary number. For defenders of the right, the number is infinite. There may not be a sufficient correlation between guns and gun deaths, or the right supercedes any consequences, or libertarian freedom is the highest value, but sufficient reason must be given to defend these positions. As for defenders of the good: the number is 1. The right to own guns for these group is directly related to death and it represents a verifiable evil that must be suppressed. Extreme positions on either side are impractical. Seeing as how the law is based on normative intuitions; that the general feelings of the citizens are reflected in law then it seems likely that people in the frame work of this argument would most likely want to keep the number as low as possible while still maintaining the right.

        There are a number of prescriptions as to how to balance this argument. The point is that for the right, the only thing worth preserving is the right itself. For the good, it is people’s lives that are paramount and this reflects a more sensible attitude toward a very real state of affairs in relation to gun deaths. If the number of gun deaths per year fluctuated wildly, then the argument might take on a different tone. It would be possible to differentiate between bad years and good years and discovering the causal relationships between the two to work toward a compromise between the good and the right would be a matter of working toward the better years. The fact of the matter is that the number of gun deaths remains on a steady rise and so does the general consensus about stricter gun laws. In my opinion, by defending the right to own a gun we are obscuring what it means to treat people with dignity in the Kantian sense. Human dignity has been surpassed by ideology and a sort of religious belief in adherence to rights. We accept rights with the costs that come with it, but the 2nd amendment might straddle the fence as to how much we are actually willing to pay in a modern, peaceful society.

        If the right for one individual to protect themselves (a speculation at best), is worth the deaths of some 10,000 people nation wide, then how can we say that this does not exemplify our worship of the mere thought of security versus actual safety. The defense of this statement inexorably leads us into the evidential arguments which will be submitted in the coming weeks. I hope to receive some feedback for this post along with counter arguments. I have given a really basic account of rights and utilitarianism in order to keep it friendly to everyone so if the best a comment can do is critique my portrayal of Kant or the Constitution then save it unless you’re really trying to assert something worth talking about. Remember, the core argument is Right versus Good. It doesn’t matter which side that you tend to fall on, but there is a resolution that must be accepted between both. Imagine yourself as the single decider in the matter. The fate of the country rested on you. How would you decide the law of guns and why? How would you explain yourself to the people that went against you?

For about a month now the culture wars have become the new epicenter for political controversy. The media for the time being have shied away from Jobs and Deficit talk to shit-kick social conservatism and the rights of religion, and briefly took time to mention things like gas prices to keep the public’s blood at a simmer for President Obama. There is nothing like election season for those who want to sound the alarms for social issues and this has been an Indian summer. With the Republican race drawing to a close, and the candidates, having exhausted what little they have to offer on economic policy, turned to topics of social conservatism in education. Rick Santorum has been calling Obama a snob for wanting everyone to be able to go to college or trade schools. This type of anti-intellectual sentiment is fuel for the conservative fire, and in particular the red states that have the lowest student competency rates. Reproductive rights have been making the headlines. The discussion on invasive trans-vaginal sonograms for women choosing abortion, have created uproar in the states implementing that policy into law. And now, the new topic is about contraception.

Most of us under the age of 35 have received some level of sex-ed in school. I can almost vaguely remember through the fog of teenage indifference, some elderly health teacher demonstrating how to put a condom on using props. And while perhaps the message itself may have been lost on the students in class, the conversation was there and it was not taboo for teens and pre-teens to discuss the parameters of sexual relationships. It was in this generation that adults stopped being willfully ignorant of teenage sexuality and started to address the problem with education and forwardness at home. Parents were being encouraged to have the talk with their teens and pre-teens regarding the responsibility that sex requires to be practiced safely. “I don’t care what you do, just use a condom,” my dad told me when I was 12 or 13, “If you need me to, I’ll buy them for you.”

So here is how the story goes: Under Obama’s healthcare reform employers are mandated to offer contraception to their employees. This includes religious organizations. I’m sure you can see the issue already if you haven’t heard about or read about it by now. Conservative organizations and companies that often employ secular workers, such as schools, have reserved the right to withhold the coverage for contraceptives in all their forms because it conflicts with their religious values. They also claim that not paying the insurance companies for contraceptive coverage lowers their premiums, ultimately saving them some pence on the pound. The evidence for this is inconclusive and speculative, and there are lots of conflicting reports as to whether or not this claim is accurate in the numbers. Regardless, the main defense for the conservatives was the economic basis for having to offer coverage for contraception, and by comparison, little was focused on the moral issue. Well there is a reason for that.

I think most people are familiar with what church doctrine has to say about contraception. While the bible doesn’t mention anything about latex condoms, some historians believe there were tonics and other rituals practiced as means to have sex without conceiving that predate the beginning of the Common Era. It wasn’t until 1968 when Pope Paul VI wrote the Encyclical Letter entitled Humanae Vitae where the magisterium of the church officially condemned the use of birth control. It says, “We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children.” So it follows that Catholics cannot use birth control as it goes against God’s law. Related to this is an interesting statistic that’s been making its rounds both in public discourse and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi used it on the senate floor: 98% of American Christian Women have used contraception. Some media outlets have taken the liberty of making the number 99% in the wake of that numbers new significance. The study that produced this number has come under some fire because it is so overwhelmingly one-sided making many people skeptical. The most accurate way to word the findings is, “Data shows that 98 percent of sexually experienced women of child-bearing age and who identify themselves as Catholic have used a method of contraception other than natural family planning at some point in their lives,” according to a spokesperson for the study itself. Regardless, even if the number was around 50%, that still is a substantial amount of women who have used contraception at least once, and that goes against the Catholic Church. This can mean one of two things. The first is that a super majority of women and presumably men think they know better about their belief system than the authorities on the topic, i.e. the Pope. Or, that the actual rules set by their faith are less important than the professions and image of upholding their belief system. Everyone becomes a type of apologist because they can rationalize their excuses for not being a slave to their faith and using practical means to ensure a safe and healthy lifestyle.

So senate republicans tried to repeal President Obama’s ruling on contraception coverage. After having held a hearing comprising of almost all religious men, they decided it was necessary to reverse the mandate on moral grounds, but argue it in terms of economics and the right to offer what ever coverage they saw necessary. Besides, if a secular person wants to work in a catholic school, shouldn’t the just accept the conditions? Well perhaps, but why shouldn’t the organizations just offer the coverage and leave the devices of contraception usage and sin up to the employee. The devout wouldn’t be using them anyway presumably. And then the argument went to its logical end when it was brought up that any form of payment could possibly lead to the purchasing of contraception, for which the religious organizations would be facilitating anyway. In the end, the real dispute became about allowing religious organizations to have more immunity (or amnesty) from the common laws of men. The repeal was defeated 51 to 48 in the senate with party lines intact. Only one republican voted against the reversal, the departing Olympia Snowe of Maine.

One woman was allowed to testify for the case to uphold the mandate. Her name is Sandra Fluke. The woman of whom Rush Limbaugh undeservedly stole 15 minutes of fame from by calling her a slut and a prostitute, referring to his fact that the taxpayers would be paying for her to have sex. Her testimony is attached here, it explains pretty thoroughly the importance of equal coverage for everyone with regards to contraceptives and why it has become a need.

I think we do have a right to casual sex now. Maybe it’s not so clean cut as that sounds, but we, in practice, exercise this freedom rather vigorously. This is independent of whether or not you repent for it afterwards. For the prudish organizations of our culture to claim the right of exemption on the premise of divinity has long outlasted its nuance. What is worse is when they seek immunity so they can limit the freedoms of their loyalists or at the very least, their workers. For the first time in this century, and the second time in American history, sexual freedom is a form of rebellion. This time, we reserve the right to be able to do it safely.

I’d like to jump right into this post without another long introduction. If you’re reading this, I suggest you read my previous post for a bit of a prologue on the topic of abortion as I mean to address it here. What I will say is that women’s reproductive rights are under a new wave of conservative attack. An all too common decorum held by many of our peers is to allow these cards to fall as they may, and let the hands of this game be played by the professionals. This is exactly why I remain motivated to write this blog. The professionals we allow to draw up the parameters of our law are, in principle, supposed to be representing our interests, not defining them for us. When we defer to authority, we are relinquishing our right to have opinions of our own. So when the state governments of Virginia, and Oklahoma, and Nebraska, get together to set a precedent in combating women’s suffrage, it is only up to general consensus to respond vehemently. The topic of abortion, at the very least, needs to be discussed on a philosophical level so that we know what we mean when we say women have the right to choose, or that it is murder. Those who have the most tenable argument are the ones that should resonate with us and have the most influence, not those who argue loudest or wield the most money and power.

I didn’t want to mention religion again. Really, I didn’t. However religious leaders are maintaining their perennial position on the autonomy of women’s bodies which is that they have the final say in their care and treatment. With regards to the new universal healthcare laws that Obama put into place, it is my understanding that he put religious organizations underneath the umbrella of its coverage. What this means is, that any organization, including religious ones, must offer coverage for contraception and birth control to their employees, regardless of whether or not that employee is religious or secular. If you’re a janitor in a Catholic School, or a Special Needs Teacher, your health insurance will not cover birth control. What is being expressed here is that only religious practices are allowed to change the laws as they see fit, and it is in this blogger’s opinion that they haven’t provided any grounds for which to deserve this extremely special privilege. This is the panel that made lobbied against the President’s directive:

All those women in the back just got to watch.

. Not a single woman testified against the motion. Surprised?

Lastly, I’d like to again reiterate the arguments presented here and in my previous post are not my own. They are retold, to the best of my ability, from an undergrad course in Bioethics. Most, if not all the credit is due to my awesome professor of philosophy, whose name is absent for the time being. My goal of presenting both the views of the previous post and this one is to open up the minds of people with regards to the discussion on abortion, beyond what we are told by our parents, religious leaders, and community.

*          *          *

Position 2:

The (Secular) Moral Impermissibility of Abortion – Marquis’ Argument from Potentiality

Most people tend to use the argument from potentiality without even knowing it. They think about what the baby could turn into. They think of it after it is born, relate it to how adorable (most) other babies tend to be, and start to feel all warm and squishy inside thinking about holding them and playing with them. There are many endearing and absolutely beautiful things about babies that when we think of abortion, we can see it as nothing more than the horrible act of robbing something from humanity. Is this true? Will this work in a philosophical argument?

Let us not fall into a trap here. I mentioned this in the last post: We are not supposing that a fetus could be the next Beethoven, or Picasso, or Albert Einstein. This is not a logical argument. Opponents could easily say that you’re aborting the next Charles Manson, Pol Pot, or Adolf Hitler. I think most people would justify the abortions of the latter three. A billboard in Harlem caused an uproar when it used this argument alluding to Obama.  Not only is this racist, in that it preyed on the hopes of minority parents for their children to become whatever they would want with limitless possibilities, but also it also doesn’t use a sound argument philosophically, which really just means it’s nothing more than obnoxious and insulting.

What Marquis (pronounced Mar-kwis) wants to do is give fetuses and adult human beings a symmetrical characteristic that is wrong to take away. In the last post we talked about moral standings and the right to life, which will carry over here.

What makes premature death a misfortune? We’re talking about adults for now. When a 19 year old girl dies, and when a 91 year old woman dies, what is the difference? Is there one? Marquis says what encompasses the sense of loss we all share for those who die is their loss of a future of value. When a person lives to old age, and then dies, we don’t consider it premature because they’ve lived a fuller extent of their potential than say a child in grade school. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a younger person would have done more with their lives, but that they had the potential to.

Smith, a grade school student at the Socrates School for a Better Tomorrow, values the goods his consciousness brings. He appreciates being able to think, and reason, and the ability to make moral decisions and consider a future in which he could contribute to the world by using these tools. Smith enjoys painting. Rainy days inspire him. He hopes to fall in love, and to continue to enjoy his friendships. Unfortunately, his life was cut short by a drunk driver. His death represents a loss to Smith, of the greatest magnitude. If he were only in a coma, he’d still have the potential to come out of it and enact all those goods of consciousness. He’d have the potential to paint again on a rainy day.

For Marquis, this trait of potentiality carries over to human fetuses. They have the potential to have a future like ours, with all the goods of consciousness we will have the potential of having when we become standard adult human beings. This potentiality grants the fetus a Moral Right to Life, on par with those of standard adult human beings. Even if that baby were slated to live the most horrible conditions, and suffer for the longest possible amount of time, it still has the potential to take advantage of all the goods of conscious both you and I enjoy. It is just as wrong, according to Marquis’ reasoning, to kill a human fetus as it is to kill a standard adult human being because you are robbing it of the greatest magnitude potentiality.

To restate it in philosophical terms:

P1: Standard adult human beings have the potential for goods of consciousness (i.e. the experiences of love, rationality, art, et al.).

P2: The worst possible moral crime is to take away the potential for the goods of consciousness (i.e. murder).

C1: It is wrong to kill standard adult human beings.

P3: Fetuses have the potential to become standard adult human beings, which experience the goods of consciousness.

P4: Abortion takes away the potential to experience the goods of consciousness.

C2: Abortion is the moral equivalent to murder.

There are objections of course to this argument. I’ll state only the two that make the most sense to me, and one of them is by Tooley and was one of the last things I mentioned in my last blog post.

Objection 1: The Contraception Objection

For me, this seems the most logical. We can simply ask, “At what point does something attain potentiality?” To which, Marquis presumably replies with conception. Though we have no reason to believe that only at conception, something is given the potentiality of having a future like ours and thusly a serious right to life. What about the ovum? What about each of the millions of sperm residing in the nether regions of some of my readers loins right now? If you are not both copulating, and reading this at the same time, you are committing at least one horrendous moral crime on par with murder! Every time a male masturbates, and robs the potentiality for those sperm to become standard adult human beings with goods of consciousness, he is committing genocide under Marquis’ reasoning. He might defend this point by saying that conjoined (egg/sperm) can be identified as a zygote, and thusly is something we can point at and say it has a right to life. He might also say that the set of [1,000,000 sperm cells + 1 egg] is not something you can point to ostensibly and identify as an entity with that potential. Well, if we just gave that set of [1,000,000 sperm cells + 1 egg] a name, like Snagglefritz, then it has overcome identity theory, and now has contained within its definition a potential for all the goods of consciousness.

Object 2: Tooley’s Principle of Moral Symmetry

While this argument doesn’t necessarily take something away from the argument of potentiality, it does offer the other side of reasoning to the difference between intentionality and actuality. Under the Moral Symmetry Principle, choosing not do something is equally moral a initiating it, and then stopping it before it reaches its end.

A thought experiment:

If you have a pet, dog or cat, which ever you prefer, and you have a strong bond with that animal, you might sometimes wonder what it is thinking and feeling. Imagine you could inject that animal with a special serum that would give it all the experiences, consciousness, and goods therein of being human. It would basically be a dog/cat with all the mental and emotional traits of being human. The serum takes 14 days to work. During those 14 days there is nothing noticeable happening to that cat. You inject it, and then on the 14th day, suddenly it’s for all our purposes, a human being. Once you inject it, (and arguably before hand) with the serum, that cat attains potentiality. It is then, under Marquis’ reasoning the moral equivalent of murdering a human being if you give that cat an anti-serum on the 13th day, or the 2nd day. There’s something to be said about that seeming out of touch with our ideals for morality. Tooley argues this for a fetus as well. If you remember from my last post, a fetus has not attained all the wherewithal to own a serious moral right to life, and therefore is still in the cat/dog’s 2 week period where it is still okay to reverse the process.

I have one last piece of logic to offer which strikes me as the ultimate challenge to anyone who maintains the belief that a human fetus “dying” and  a person dying are moral equivalents. Approximately 12,000 to 20,000 people die of HIV/AIDS here in the United States yearly. There is a significant effort put forth, involving man hours and dollar amounts, to combat this plague. The same goes for several other diseases and disorders which plague humanity. According to some statisticians, approximately 6,000,000 fetuses are spontaneously aborted, that is miscarried, every year. We do not see this as a great human plague. While I’m sure religious acolytes chalk this up to God’s will, what ever that means, that should still be seen as the greatest continuous loss of life and our greatest moral responsibility. If just the United States were to endure something that is equivalent to the holocaust every year, why don’t we react with greater fervor? So maybe, from the anti-abortion point of view, Mother Theresa didn’t seem so off base when she said that “the greatest destroyer of peace on Earth is abortion” in her acceptance of the Nobel Prize. However, when we consider the injustice being perpetrated on the undeserving, we think of oppressed people, starving people, impoverished people, suffering people, not fetuses. To place the esteem of full moral status on an unborn human fetus, morally requires you to become an extremist or suffer the fate of cognitive dissonance.

Well this concludes the abortion topic for the time being. There’s actually lots more to discuss of course, like Judith Jarvis Thomson’s argument that even if a baby has a serious moral right to life, it doesn’t mean we can’t abort it on other grounds. For now I think I’ve exhausted everyone’s focus on the single topic and might perhaps return to it at a later time. I hope everyone found this 2 part series to be insightful. Keep the comments coming, and I’ll respond to them as much as I can. Respond to each other too, but remember to stay respectful.

Thanks for participating in the poll. Please do so before reading the rest of the post! I will reveal results by next week, and for the follow up post, ask another related question.

Before we begin the arguments for and against the moral permissibility of abortion, I’d like to talk a little bit about why it’s important to discuss this philosophically. At the social level, when we have arguments about things as controversial as abortion, we rely on intuitions. Some things just feel intuitively wrong, and to let others do those things, feel just as wrong. It feels wrong to murder, and it feels wrong that other people commit murder. These intuitive mores stem from our traditional values taught to us by our guardians and communities. Allowing room for abortion in our society has opened a can of worms for a few decades, and I’d like to peer a little further into what we call intuitions so that we can actually defend our arguments beyond, “It’s just wrong!” or “Well, why not?” Recently, the political debate has shifted back to the culture wars of years past. Legislative action has been taken fore and against rights to birth control access, gay marriage, and abortion. In some states now, it is mandatory for a woman to see a sonogram before they choose abortion. This is purposefully done to elicit an emotional response. What we are going to talk about is the nature of that emotional response and whether or not it’s founded in reason; whether or not it’s rational for this deliberately provocative law to be enforced. However, this debate will take place pre-politics. In other words, things are not morally right or wrong based on what the law says, or what politicians or theologians say. For example, it is morally wrong to cheat on your spouse, but not illegal. It is also considered amoral to take drugs recreationally, but it is highly illegal. Legislation is based on the communal knowledge of moral topics, not the other way around, and so the more we understand about what it is we feel is right and wrong, the more accurate the legislation will be to our liking (let’s hope). The point is to motivate a deeper understanding of why we hold our own beliefs and moral standards. Why is abortion morally wrong? Why is murder wrong? Are they the same thing? What about in the cases of rape, incest, or mother’s at risk of dying due to the pregnancy?

Still a polarizing topic.

We will also be holding this discussion outside the realm of religion. While the anti-abortion position is most commonly held by religious conservatives, the actual religions themselves offer little insight into the arguments. At their core, what ever reasoning can be interpreted from the religious texts can be contained within the philosophical arguments anyway. Besides, pointing to a centuries old book which condones many things we now consider immoral (i.e. slavery, rape, polygamy, betrothal, torture. Just to name a few), and saying that it is an authority on abortion is a little asinine. It is clear to anyone who takes a moment to look that our morals do not arise from theodicy. Philosophically speaking, if there was a god that pronounced, “Abortion is immoral,” it doesn’t necessarily follow that we must agree with that particular god either. As many people in the world know, justice does not always come from the powerful. Souls too, are a dubious thing. There are too many questions we’d first have to answer about souls, which we are helpless to answer no matter what religious or new age book we’ve read (and no, they do not weigh 21 grams). Where beliefs are subject to questioning in terms of morality, religion often claims to hold the ultimate position, though its reasoning is as intellectually unsatisfactory as, “It just is,” or “Because I said so.”

There is one last thing before we get into the first of two (or more) opposing arguments I’ll present here. Most, if not all, the material presented here is as accurate as I can portray it from a textbook and class lessons in Bioethics. Many of these explanations are direct from a professor who deserves most of the credit for being informative and artfully nonpartisan. On top of sharing this topic with everyone, it will serve to be my own study guide and I only make this point to express that there are other versions of these arguments out there, and perhaps better ones to be made. These are not necessarily my own philosophical views on the moral permissibility of abortion. Again this is only an exercise in learning about how to analyze our own beliefs.

 

Position 1:

Tooley’s Argument for the Permissibility of Abortion

Most social conservatives would say that killing a human fetus (for the time being we will use the term fetus to umbrella all stages of the unborn, never mind zygote or embryo) is morally comparable to killing an adult person. It is murder. It might be possible that someone, out there in the conservative world, believes that aborting a fetus would be the same as killing a lizard and that it is still morally wrong, but I have yet to hear any one propose that argument. So for now we will assume that all anti-abortionists hold that killing a fetus is the moral equivalent to killing an adult person. Again, it is murder.

Michael Tooley, a philosopher, would describe this using the term Moral Status (or Moral Standing). Essentially anti-abortionists imbue a human fetus with the same moral status as a standard adult human being. Already some of you might be trying to figure out whether you feel this is true. Well, let us consider this: What moral status does a rock have? Presumably, none. Why not? For something to have moral status, it needs to be the type of thing toward which moral agents (you and I) have moral obligations. If we break a rock, or drop it into a lake, we do not hold a funeral or a candle light vigil for its loss. It’s just a rock, right? A rock is not something to which we have moral obligations. Well, what about a chicken? What about a chimpanzee or a dolphin? Somewhere in your mind there is a scale of things to which are ascribed with different levels of moral standing. An animal generally tends to have a higher moral status than a desk or chair, or even plants and insects. We tend to grant the highest level of moral status to standard adult human beings. When I say standard adult human beings I mean the kinds of beings that can think in terms of moral principles and regulate behavior accordingly. You may not be a standard adult human being if you are in a persistent vegetative state, like what people refer to as being brain dead or in a coma. This is not to say that a person in a persistent vegetative state has the moral status of a rock, but it does imply that generally speaking, and all other things being equal, that person does not have the same moral standing as a standard adult human being. To reinforce this concept: If you were in a burning building with the opportunity to save one person, a) someone who is in a state of brain death or b) the attractive model down the hall, you’d probably choose the latter.

What gives a standard adult human being moral status? Is it fingers and toes? or hair? and two eyes, a spine? Not really. These are mere physical attributes. Remember, when I said, “standard adult human beings [are] the kinds of beings that can think in terms of moral principles and regulate behavior accordingly.” This means that we must have a few mental properties in order to do these things. Properties of standard adult human beings insofar that they are moral agents are things like sentience, self awareness, the ability to suffer, etc. It also follows that because we are self aware; we understand what the self is. Some animals show signs of being able to understand themselves. Certain types of monkeys can recognize themselves in a mirror, and not try to grab the monkey behind it or throw shit at the copy-cat reflection. This is a sign of self awareness. Other animals express the desire to not die. This is crucial. While we do not think a lizard has a concept of self, we do notice when we threaten its life, it will resist death. This means it has some kind of concept of self, to which it wishes (to some degree) to continue being in existence. This grants it, at least a smidgen of moral status, beyond something like a blade of grass, which we mercilessly mow down and slice at.

Ok, so now that we have a cursory understanding about what moral status means, we can move onto what Tooley means when beings have a serious right to life. A human being can be many things. In a genetic sense, it is anything with the code we classify as Homo sapien. If we remove the brain from a person, but keep the body alive with machines, is it still living? Well, yes, perhaps in the same way a car with the engine on would be. Is it a human being? Only genetically. Is it a person? Tooley would say no. He would explain that if X is a person, then X has a serious moral right to life. A serious moral right to life is equivalent to having full moral standing. A serious right to life takes full moral standing a little further by saying, “if X is a subject of experiences and other mental states and X is capable of desiring continued existence, and if X desires to continue to exist as such an entity, then others (us) are under a prima facie obligation not to prevent it from doing so.” Sounds complicated, I know. Essentially what it means is that if something doesn’t want to die, and it is fully aware of itself and that it wants to keep it that way, we are generally obligated to not fuck with them. All else being equal, we are in a sort of moral contract to not kill X. In order to want to continue to exist, a being must have a sense of self, the capability to desire, and the understanding to some degree of existence and non-existence.

Tooley argues that a human fetus is not yet a person, though it is a human and a member of the Homo Sapien race. It does not have a serious moral right to life in the same way adults do because it is not self aware amongst other traits that determine high moral standing. One might think that this is up for debate, but it is generally accepted that humans do no attain self awareness even after birth. Fetuses are also incapable of desire in the way a standard adult human being is capable of desire. So to desire to continue to exist is completely out of the realm of what a fetus can do. This ultimately means that a fetus does not have full moral standing. Aborting a fetus, to Tooley in this way, is not the same as killing an adult human being.

Anyone well versed in the arts of argumentation will also be able anticipate the counter arguments used against them. Michael Tooley defends against 6 alternative points and we will do it in the form I copied from the blackboard.

“It is seriously wrong to kill and organism…”

1)      …that belongs to the species Homo sapiens.

  1. Tooley already defended this point regarding special cases in which certain Homo sapiens are not granted full moral status. But, what if being a member of the classification Homo sapiens means something special? Tooley would call this speciesism. In the same way that saying to be White is more virtuous than being Chinese is racist; to say that being human is more virtuous than being a whale is arbitrary and unfounded.

2)      …that belongs to the species Homo sapiens and has achieved human form.

  1. Again, permanently comatose humans or humans where the brain is  removed completely, still is a human but does not have a serious right to live in the same way a standard adult person would.

3)      …that belongs to the species Homo sapiens and is capable of spontaneous movement.

  1. Well what about sufferers from ALS (Lou Gherig’s disease), or other forms of paralyzation? Their mental faculties are unperturbed. They are still capable of full moral status.

4)      …that belongs to the species Homo sapiens and is capable of existence outside the womb.

  1. What about conjoined twins, where one is completely dependent on the other to live? Or in more extreme cases, where one is parasitic to the other, and one life must be sacrificed to save the other. Gruesome perhaps, though still a necessary side of the argument.

5)      …that belongs to the species Homo sapiens and is no longer in the womb.

  1. Uh, we’re talking about abortion still right?

6)      …that has the potential to become one of us.

  1. This is the most potent counter argument to Tooley. It is the argument from potentiality, of which we will discuss when we move onto the next philosopher. A common argument used by anti-abortionists is that you’re robbing the potential life of something that will eventually become a person. That is not to say that you’re killing the next Leonardo Da Vinci or as some anti-abortion bill boards claimed over a year ago, the next President, because it could also be said that you’re killing the next Adolf Hitler or Pol Pot or Charles Manson. This is called conjecture, and using slippery slope arguments are not permitted. Never the less, to deprive a potential person of personhood strikes many people as intuitively wrong. I think this lies at the core of many mainstream beliefs for anti-abortion position holders. Tooley responds to the people who argue for potentiality, which I’m going to hold off for now.

Up to this point we have read about a seemingly reasonable argument for the moral permissibility of abortion as supported by a one Michael Tooley. The response comes from another philosopher whose entire argument addresses the 6th objection listed above. Before I continue onward with the second part of this topic, I’d like to hear from you readers. Abortion is a polarizing topic. If you’re against the argument, sound off! If you think this sounds reasonable, explain why. Are fetuses people? If you think they are and have something not addressed by the above argument, then please contribute! If this philosopher changed the way you thought about abortion, be sure to include everything you can about that. If I get enough comments I’ll continue with this topic.