Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Gary Should Read the Best on His Side Before Attacking Ours [Scott]

I'm tied up with a writing assignment (a book project), so I won't contribute much to this discussion with Gary. However, one thing struck me about his scattered replies to Bob Perry.

Put simply, Gary claims to be knowledgable of “the other side,” but he sure isn’t tuned in to his own side, at least on the abortion issue. Indeed, anyone who spends even an hour surveying the relevant literature knows that David Boonin’s A Defense of Abortion is the most sophisticated case against the pro-life position to date. Admittedly, I do not think Boonin succeeds, but one thing he doesn’t do is claim, as Gary does, that he’s not identical to the fetus he once was. Instead, Boonin would argue that although Gary is identical to the embryo he once was—meaning he is the same being now as he was then—it does not follow Gary had the same right to life then as he does now. Being human is nothing special, meaning Gary’s right to life is strictly accidental. He has it because of some acquired characteristic he has now (organized cortical function) that he lacked then. To make sure we get the point, Boonin includes this chilling passage:
On my desk in my office where most of this book was written and revised, there are several pictures of my son, Eli. In one, he is gleefully dancing on the sand along the Gulf of Mexico, the cool ocean breeze wreaking havoc with his wispy hair. In a second, he is tentatively seated in the grass in his grandparents’ backyard, still working to master the feat of sitting up on his own. In a third, he is only a few weeks old, clinging firmly to the arms that are holding him and still wearing the tiny hat for preserving body heat that he wore home from the hospital. Though all of the remarkable changes that these pictures preserve, he remains unmistakably the same little boy. In the top drawer of my desk, I keep another picture of Eli. This picture was taken…24 weeks before he was born. The sonogram image is murky, but it reveals clearly enough a small head titled back slightly, and an arm raised up and bent, with the hand pointing back toward the face and the thumb extended out toward the mouth. There is no doubt in my mind that this picture, too, shows the same little boy at a very early stage in his physical development. And there is no question that the position I defend in this book entails that it would have been morally permissible to end his life at this point. (Emphasis added.)
Again, I think Boonin’s case is flawed and I've written on that elsewhere (for example, how does he account for human equality if our value is based on accidental properties that may come and go within the course of our lifetimes?), but at least he avoids the elementary error of claiming he began as one kind of thing only to become something else as he matured.

If Gary has not even interacted with the best case on his side of the abortion issue, why should we think he's done his homework understanding ours? Indeed, the shallow claims he makes against our side (for example, confusing parts with wholes, as Bob points out) suggests he hasn't.

6 comments:

  1. Part 1 of 2 of GW2 to SK2

    GW2 refers to my (Gary Whittenberger’s) second response to Scott Klusendorf’s second response (SK2) in this discussion.

    SK2: I'm tied up with a writing assignment (a book project), so I won't contribute much to this discussion with Gary. However, one thing struck me about his scattered replies to Bob Perry.

    GW2: My replies are not scattered at all! They are presented in chronological order in reply to yours and Bob Perry’s comments.

    SK2: Put simply, Gary claims to be knowledgable of “the other side,” but he sure isn’t tuned in to his own side, at least on the abortion issue. Indeed, anyone who spends even an hour surveying the relevant literature knows that David Boonin’s A Defense of Abortion is the most sophisticated case against the pro-life position to date. Admittedly, I do not think Boonin succeeds, but one thing he doesn’t do is claim, as Gary does, that he’s not identical to the fetus he once was. Instead, Boonin would argue that although Gary is identical to the embryo he once was—meaning he is the same being now as he was then—it does not follow Gary had the same right to life then as he does now. Being human is nothing special, meaning Gary’s right to life is strictly accidental. He has it because of some acquired characteristic he has now (organized cortical function) that he lacked then. To make sure we get the point, Boonin includes this chilling passage:

    GW2: Neither of us can be aware of all the views of persons on our own side or on the other side. But thanks for you reference to David Boonin.

    GW2: I think you, Boonin, and I all agree on one point – we have been individual human organisms since a sperm from our fathers united with an egg from our mothers, and we have gone through stages of development. Our identities are the same, but we are not identical to our zygote forerunners. Does Boonin say or imply “being human is nothing special”? I didn’t say it.

    GW2: My right to life is not accidental! My right to life is assigned to me and others like me by a particular community. The community has decided not to assign a right to life to human organisms in their first six months of development. SK and BP believe that the community should change its decision and they apparently believe that the community should assign a right to life to human organisms when they are zygotes (one-celled)! But why? I don’t see any good evidence, reasons, or arguments for doing this. The burden of rational demonstration is on them since they propose to change the status quo.

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  2. Part 2 of 2 of GW2 to SK2

    GW2 refers to my (Gary Whittenberger’s) second response to Scott Klusendorf’s second response (SK2) in this discussion.

    Boonin quoted by SK: On my desk in my office where most of this book was written and revised, there are several pictures of my son, Eli. In one, he is gleefully dancing on the sand along the Gulf of Mexico, the cool ocean breeze wreaking havoc with his wispy hair. In a second, he is tentatively seated in the grass in his grandparents’ backyard, still working to master the feat of sitting up on his own. In a third, he is only a few weeks old, clinging firmly to the arms that are holding him and still wearing the tiny hat for preserving body heat that he wore home from the hospital. Though all of the remarkable changes that these pictures preserve, he remains unmistakably the same little boy. In the top drawer of my desk, I keep another picture of Eli. This picture was taken…24 weeks before he was born. The sonogram image is murky, but it reveals clearly enough a small head titled back slightly, and an arm raised up and bent, with the hand pointing back toward the face and the thumb extended out toward the mouth. There is no doubt in my mind that this picture, too, shows the same little boy at a very early stage in his physical development. And there is no question that the position I defend in this book entails that it would have been morally permissible to end his life at this point. (Emphasis added.)

    SK2: Again, I think Boonin’s case is flawed and I've written on that elsewhere (for example, how does he account for human equality if our value is based on accidental properties that may come and go within the course of our lifetimes?), but at least he avoids the elementary error of claiming he began as one kind of thing only to become something else as he matured.

    GW2: I agree almost entirely with Boonin’s description of his son and with his position on abortion, as stated in the excerpt.

    GW2: Just like the concept of “right to life,” the concept of “equality” is something assigned by a particular community. Obviously, no two human organisms are equal biologically and no single human organism is equal biologically at different stages of development. “Equality” as used here by SK is an ethical, political, and legal concept. Once rights are assigned to human organisms at a particular stage of development, then all organisms at that stage and after have these rights equally. By the way, sentience is not an “accidental property” and it has a beginning and an end in the human organism. Also, for a property to be “now temporarily offline” is not the same as the property “not yet having been online” or “now permanently offline.”

    SK2: If Gary has not even interacted with the best case on his side of the abortion issue, why should we think he's done his homework understanding ours? Indeed, the shallow claims he makes against our side (for example, confusing parts with wholes, as Bob points out) suggests he hasn't.

    GW2: It is not necessary that I interact with what you consider to be the best case on my side of the abortion issue in order to question, doubt, challenge, and criticize your position. You need to be prepared to take on all comers, not just the ones who, in your opinion, are adequately educated. My claims are not shallow; they are deep. And I do not confuse parts with wholes. Please deal directly with my questions about and criticisms of your positions. If you don’t have the time to do this right now because you are busy with other things, then please don’t try. Don’t try to get by “on the cheap” through a “hit and run” approach. It would be better for you to leave the discussion to your representative – BP.

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  3. I share what I take to be Gary Wittenberger’s judgement that, in an important sense, we were never zygotes. Scott is right that Boonin doesn’t make this claim, but there are philosophers, even Christian philosophers, who do. So this is no mere “elementary error”, although Scott’s seemingly self-contradictory way of stating the claim (that “he’s not identical to the fetus he once was,” or “he began as one kind of thing only to become something else”) would seem to make it so. I have found in Lynne Rudder Baker’s book Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View a helpful way of thinking about this issue.

    According to Baker, we are not identical to our bodies, we are constituted by them. Constitution is, as she says, as close to identity as you can get without being identity. Her favorite example is Michelangelo’s statue David. It is constituted by a particular piece of marble she calls Piece. We can see that these are not identical because they have different persistence conditions. Piece existed, embedded in a mountain, before David came to be. Baker explains that properties can be possessed either independently of constitution relations, or derivatively. We can say, for instance, that David was once part of a mountain, but this is only true derivatively, because David is constituted by Piece, and Piece was part of a mountain. But when this was true, the statue David did not yet exist. David was never identical to a part of a mountain because David is not identical to Piece.

    According to Baker, and consonant to my and (I suspect) Gary’s intuitions, we are persons essentially, which means we are psychological beings possessing first-person perspectives essentially. ‘Person’ is our ‘primary kind’, as it is for angels and intelligent aliens and androids, if any of these exist. It is what we most fundamentally are. We cannot cease to be persons without ceasing to exist, and we did not exist before we began to be persons. Our personhood is the bearer, so to speak, of our identity. But because we are constituted by human organisms, we are human persons. So it is true, in one sense (derivatively), that I was once a zygote, because the body that constitutes me began as a single cell. But at that time, I did not yet exist. I am not identical to that cell. A cell cannot be a person. To me, the very idea is preposterous, and should count, in any argument, as prima facie absurd.

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  4. Did you ever play the childhood game of hanging upside-down and looking at people’s faces until they suddenly became something bizarre, unlike human faces? We’re normally unaware of how we actively perceive human faces as faces instead of merely as lumpy shapes. This thing we do, seeing human bodies as human bodies, in the same way we perceive our own, is so powerful we can’t help ourselves. It is like reading a word without trying. We even see faces where they’re not.

    Newborn infants imitate facial expressions. This means that not only do they already see faces as faces, but they perceive their own faces (which they have never seen) as faces. Infants are born with mental maps (neocortical representations) of their bodies. This is a necessary condition for a human body to be inhabited by a person. When a substance dualist like Stuart Goetz says that when he enters most deeply into himself, “I find that as a soul I seem to occupy the space occupied by my physical body” (In Search of the Soul, 2nd ed., p.180), I believe he is describing what it is like to experience this relation between the mind/brain and the rest of the body, which converts an impersonal organism into an intentional object, namely, one's own body. This person/body relation is more like constitution than identity. (I’m not sure what Baker would say about this.)

    If I am right, Boonin succumbed to a powerful illusion. He saw in the sonogram “the same little boy,” but the boy was in the eye of the beholder. That organism was not yet an intentional object for itself, which means that it did not yet constitute anyone, let alone the person Boonin would later come to know as his son.

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  5. Here I (Gary Whittenberger) am responding to Jerry Lame’s comment of September 12, 2011 12:31 AM

    Jerry, I appreciate your clear exposition of that position. If “I” refers to me as an individual human organism, then I have existed through different stages, including the zygote stage. But, if “I” refers to me as an individual person, then I did not exist until my first-person perspective originated. I think that, based on a scientific understanding of human development, we can judge approximately when an individual human fetus gives rise to a person. If I am reading the research correctly, this would between 20 and 24 weeks of development.

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  6. Gary says: My right to life is not accidental! My right to life is assigned to me and others like me by a particular community. The community has decided not to assign a right to life to human organisms in their first six months of development. SK and BP believe that the community should change its decision and they apparently believe that the community should assign a right to life to human organisms when they are zygotes (one-celled)! But why? I don’t see any good evidence, reasons, or arguments for doing this. The burden of rational demonstration is on them since they propose to change the status quo.

    I respond: Using this rational, I believe you could effectively defend slavery (and argue AGAINST women's rights). At one point in American history, the community had decided not to give value people with black skin. Why did that change? Did the abolitionists supply rational demonstration on why dark-skinned humans should be given value by the community? And if so - what was it that made dark-skinned humans worthy of personhood (aka value, right to life)? You say that value is assigned by a community, then state that some evidence must be given to make the given subject worthy of the community's value. This implies that whatever the evidence is becomes the TRUE source of value. The same goes for the community-given equality. Furthermore, even if value is only given by the community, we do not need to convince you of intrinsic human value - we simply need to convince the majority. If the majority of our community accepts that fetuses should have value, by your own criteria you would have to accept their value as well.

    ReplyDelete

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