Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Responding to Philosophical Arguments Against the Pro-Life Position, Part III [Clinton Wilcox]

This is the third part in this five part series. For part one, go here. For part two, click here.

In blogger Brandon Christen's third part of his series, he responds to an argument from rights. The argument, as he outlines is, is that all human beings have right (such as the right to life), the unborn are human beings, therefore the unborn have rights (such as the right to life).

Christen begins by reiterating his position on personhood, but as I have argued previously (see part one), his position on personhood can be rejected because he is begging the question by dismissing the soul and he has not properly argued for why personhood is grounded in brain function. And in part two, I explained that appealing to the kind of things that are not persons (e.g. grass and rocks) is a false analogy because the unborn from fertilization and the kind of things that are persons. Grass and rocks will never be sentient, yet unborn human beings will be once they develop enough.

So his discussion about the kinds of things we grant rights to is also irrelevant. He is confusing two types of value: intrinsic (or inherent) value, and instrumental value. We only value things like grass and trees instrumentally: they are valuable only insofar as we value them for their beauty, shade, production of oxygen, etc. Conversely, humans are intrinsically valuable: they are valuable in themselves and don't derive their value from anything else.

So his entire discussion of rights is off-base, because he is comparing granting rights to rocks (which are not the kinds of things that engage in personal acts) with the unborn (which are the kinds of things that engage in personal acts). In fact, his discussion at the end regarding infanticide undermines his entire article, but I'll get there at the end.

Rights, properly understood, lay out the kinds of things that we should be legally allowed to do, and also the obligations that we also must abide by. There are two different kinds of rights: legal rights, which are rights bestowed on us by the government and come about as we mature. Examples of these are the right to drive and the right to vote (this will be important later in the article). There are also natural rights, which are rights that we have by virtue of being human beings (and don't come about by maturity). Examples of these are the right to life, the right to self-defense, the right to liberty, etc. As an aside, discussions of rights actually lead to an amusing dilemma for pro-choice people. So while a tourist does not have the right to vote in a country they are not a citizen of, they do have the right not to be killed in that country because of their natural right to life.

So his discussion about granting rocks rights is useless. It is true that rocks do not desire the right to assemble; the problem is that rocks never desire the right to assemble, so there is no point in granting it to them. I had no desire to go to church last night while I was asleep. It does not follow from that that I didn't have the right to go to church last night while I was asleep. The unborn are more like people in reversible comas than they are rocks (or even brain dead people) because they do not now but will have such a desire. Besides, infants have no desire for rights yet we grant them rights. If desires were a necessary condition for having rights, infants would have no rights.

His discussion of granting mice rights is equally as useless, for the same reasons I outlined in the previous paragraph. But now it seems like Christen's position is becoming more ad hoc. After all, mice clearly have desires; they have a desire for cheese, not to die, etc. It's true that these are merely instinctual desires, but why does that matter? Here's where Christen really runs into trouble. He is clearly defining infants out of the moral community by arguing that mice, since they do not have the abstract fear of death or future suffering that we do. Peter Singer would agree with his position, except that Singer is consistent and argues that infants are not part of the moral community.

I agree with Christen's discussion of what makes us unique over the animals. What I don't agree with is Christen pushing the unborn out of the moral community just because they can't do these things yet, and Christen has yet to give us any good reason for disqualifying the unborn.

In fact, Christen actually says that killing an embryo in its early weeks is equivalent to smashing a rock in terms of how much suffering it produces: none. But this is irrelevant to the question of moral worth. There are people like Gabby Gingras, who are born with a congenital inability to feel pain. So if you're talking about suffering from a physical standpoint, you would have to say it would be moral to kill Gabby Gingras since she would not suffer. If you mean from a psychological standpoint, you are equally in trouble because now you can justify killing someone in their sleep. They will not suffer psychologically if you kill them. Christen has no leg to stand on here.

At the end of this article, Christen involves a postscript that is even more ad hoc than we've already seen. I'll bring it down point by point:

"Note: Just so we are clear, I am not saying that nothing that cannot consciously enjoy rights should not have them."

He undermines his entire article/argument with this one line alone. How can you possibly defend infants having rights, despite not being able to consciously enjoy them, and not defend the unborn as having those same rights?

"I understand that toddlers cannot enjoy, in a sort of deeply, reflective way, the right to life. However, toddlers can experience pain and fear so it is still reasonable to extend the right to life to them."

Toddlers do not experience pain and fear in the same way that we do. At the toddler stage, you experience pain and fear in the same way that the mouse, in Christen's example above, does. So Christen should argue that it is wrong to torture toddlers but not to kill them, as per the same reasoning regarding his mouse.

"However, we still understand that toddlers do not have the right to vote and we do not mind since they do not yet have the ability to formulate cogent opinions on politics or even really care to vote at all."

And here's where my discussion on different types of rights come in to play. Of course toddlers cannot vote; but sixteen year olds can certainly care to vote and form cogent opinions, yet they must still wait until they're 18. So again, desiring rights is not a necessary condition for having them. The right to vote is a legal right, not a natural right, and is granted once sufficient maturity has been gained (and this is usually arbitrary, as some sixteen-year-olds may be perfectly mature enough to vote and some twenty-five-year-olds may not be). But the right to life is a natural right, which is granted to any human being, regardless of maturity, and was even granted to the unborn prior to 1973.

"This same principle would have us extend rights to other entities that, despite being unable to fully comprehend them, could nevertheless reasonably be said to benefit from them in a meaningful way."

Except for the unborn, he means. The unborn would reasonably benefit from having their right to life protected because they would be able to grow, mature, and flourish the same way that all human beings are meant to.

"This clarification does nothing to get anti-abortionists any closer to having reasonable grounds to extend the right to life to embryos, though, since an embryo lacks even the self-awareness necessary to reasonably consider caring if it lives or dies and thus does not have a meaningful benefit conferred to it if we go out of our way to keep it in existence."

This is just an ad hoc statement from Christen, meant to try and convince us to accept his reasoning despite the fact that it completely undermines his case. I've already explained how his reasoning fails, and there is no reason to re-hash it here.

So this is strike two, with two more articles to go. Christen has not given us any reason to reject these two pro-life arguments.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Responding to Philosophical Arguments Against the Pro-Life Position, Part II [Clinton Wilcox]

Blogger Brandon Christen is presenting a case that secular arguments for the pro-life position fail. This is the second part in this series of five, and you can find the first part here.

For Christen's second part of his series, he responds to what he calls the Argument from Future Deprivation. I am taken to understand that Marquis calls this argument the Future of Value (FoV) argument, so that's how I'll be referring to it. For more information on Marquis' argument, follow this link.

I said in the first part of this series that it's refreshing to find a blogger making a reasoned case against the pro-life position, instead of just resorting to name-calling and fear-mongering. However, he is off to a less than stellar start. In fact, I'm not even sure he properly understands Marquis' argument.

One preliminary point is that Christen takes issue with the fact that Marquis does not argue that murder is wrong in his paper; he merely assumes it, and is just attempting to showcase what it is about murder that is actually wrong. I find this not even to be worth considering and am only bringing it up because the author mentioned it. The topic of the paper was not strictly whether or not murder is wrong, but that abortion is wrong. Giving a full breakdown of the wrongness of murder would have been off topic, so it is not necessary. Additionally, why would he have to argue that murder is wrong? Shouldn't all sensible people believe that murder is wrong? Even so, this does give an account of why murder is wrong. In fact, in his first few paragraphs he does engage in a brief discussion of why murder is wrong, and then applies that to the unborn since the wrongness of murder also applies in the case of an embryo or fetus that is killed. So I fail to see the significance of raising this objection.

Christen does provide a roadmap to his article, which is helpful. His three main objections, none of which actually refute the argument, are as follows: 1) Fetuses are not entities "like you and me" (i.e. they are not persons like we are), therefore they do not have a "future like ours," 2) The loss of your future is not the worst loss you could suffer, and 3) this argument makes hedonism the default value assumption.

Let's take a look at his objections:

1) Fetuses are not entities "like you and me", therefore they do not have a "future like ours."

This point is simply irrelevant. Christen tries to force a personhood argument into the FoV argument, but this is not a personhood argument (despite his insistence to the contrary).

This is not an argument stating that if someone has a future "like mine," then we should not kill them. I am a musician, so in my future are performances, playing at weddings, playing for people's enjoyment, etc. This future is valuable to me. It does not mean it would be okay to kill someone who is an accountant and has pushing books in his future. We need to understand what Don Marquis meant by a "future of value": the loss of all of their future experiences, projects, enjoyments, etc. These are activities that are common to us all. The question of personhood is irrelevant because the mortal category here is not personhood but "having a valuable future." The fetus has a "future like ours", even if she is not presently "a person as I am."

Marquis has also stated that this argument has certain advantages because it avoids the charge of speciesism. He is not saying that humans are valuable because they are human, but that anything that has a similar future to the one all humans enjoy, whether alien races, animals, or anything else, should also be protected.

Christen goes on to say that he hopes no one denies that the fetus is a human biologically, which is good, though his definition of human being is lacking: "a clump of existence that exists as human 'stuff.'" This is just philosophical double-speak. The unborn are whole, individual organisms of the human species. All of us began life as a human zygote. It's true that "person" and "human" are not synonymous, as there are non-human persons (like God and angels, possibly extra-terrestrials, if they exist), but all humans are persons. As I explained in the introduction, Christen's argument that fetuses are not persons is question-begging because he assumes the soul doesn't exist; he doesn't argue for it. Additionally, he assumes personhood is tied into brain-functioning, but again, didn't argue for that, either. He is merely assuming it. Brain functioning is important; my memories, thoughts, emotions, etc., are important to who I am as a person, but it doesn't follow that it's all I am as a person.

His discussion of rocks, trees, plants, etc., just amounts to a false analogy. Being a person is not about the functioning you can perform now, it is about the kind of thing you are. Rocks, trees, etc., are not persons because they never can be persons. Human embryos and fetuses are persons because they are personal entities whose personal properties exist at the inherent level but will gain the present functioning in the future. Christen is just confusing matters by comparing a fetus (which is not now but will be sentient) to a rock (which will never be sentient). He may as well compare someone in a reversible coma or who is taking a nap to a rock. A fetus is more like a person who is asleep than a rock. The only difference is the person who is asleep once performed the functions we think of as personal functions, but this certainly isn't morally relevant in the question of whether or not we can kill you.

So Christen is merely confusing being a person with acting as a person. The fetus does not now have a sense of self, but neither did I last night while I was asleep.

Near the end of this section, Christen tries to shove a personhood argument into the FoV argument like a trapezoidal peg in a line-segmented hole. He argues that the kind of future we have is only one that sapient creatures have -- he says, "only things with some sort of personhood have experiences, and it is the ability to enjoy experience that gives the argument from future denial its weight." This is just a specious argument. Marquis states in his article that one of the reasons the FoV argument works is because it fits with our intuitions on the matter. We would see a child dying as a greater tragedy than an elderly person dying because the child had their whole life ahead of them, whereas the elderly person (presumably) lived a full life already. The loss of future experiences matters, and the ability to currently appreciate those experiences do not. A five year old child who is tragically killed is not able to appreciate the enjoyment of sex, falling in love, or traveling abroad, yet these would be real events in the future this child would have been robbed of. As such, a fetus does not now have to be able to appreciate these experiences in order to suffer a loss by being deprived of it.

2) The loss of one's future does not constitute the worst possible loss you can suffer.

This point is, again, irrelevant because whether or not this is the worst possible loss you can suffer, if this loss is morally relevant in the moral equation, then it doesn't matter whether or not it's the worst, only that it happens. I actually believe there are better arguments against abortion than this one, but I believe this is enough to justify the wrongness of abortion. This is a sufficient condition, not a necessary one, to ground the wrongness of killing you.

Christen even admits that Marquis (marginally) explains that this is not the case, but then goes on to dismiss it as it was only marginal. Apparently Christen believes Marquis was lying about this point. However, I did not get the impression from the article that Marquis was saying this is the worst possible loss you can suffer. If Christen did, fine. But again, it's irrelevant due to the reasons I outlined in the previous paragraph.

It is always tragic when a child will grow up in poverty, or in an abusive household, etc. But this objection does not refute the FoV. Appealing to cases of children in poverty does not negate the argument when it comes to children who will enjoy good futures. Also, we can't say for certain that a child won't enjoy his life when growing up in poverty because people have this stubborn habit of making the best of their situation. Granted, there are more severe cases of starvation overseas in Africa and other places, and that may prove a stronger counterexample to the FoV. Marquis may even concede this point (as he would concede that there are cases in which a future of value will not be had, and then it may be permissible to have the abortion, or it may be wrong for other reasons).

And one final point to this objection: the objection does not work to justify abortion because we simply can't know whether or not someone will enjoy their life if they're in a less than ideal situation. To say that we should abort children in poverty because they won't have a good life is nothing but elitism -- "someone couldn't possibly enjoy their life unless they have it as good as I do."

3) This argument assumes hedonism.

This is another irrelevant point. I believe that Peter Singer is wrong to be a utilitarian. I do not believe his views on abortion are wrong because he is a utilitarian. In fact, this is simply a classic case of the ad hominem fallacy. If you disagree with hedonism, that's fine. But if this argument assumes hedonism, that is not a refutation of the argument.

Second, I don't think this argument assumes hedonism at all. I don't know what ethical position Marquis takes, but this argument is not a hedonistic one. I am not a hedonist. I am a musician. I enjoy doing music and I would never want to stop. That doesn't make me a hedonist, and it does not make me a hedonist to say that playing music will bring me future enjoyment. Hedonism is the thought that pleasure is the primary or most important intrinsic good. I don't believe you can get that from Marquis' article.

So I really think that Christen is trying to make Marquis' argument more convoluted than it really is. The argument really just boils down to this:

1) Murder is wrong because you are robbing me of all my future experiences.
2) Abortion robs a fetus of all of its future experiences.
3) Therefore, abortion is wrong.

Marquis is not denying that there will be hardships in a person's life, or suffering. That's just a part of life. But it's still wrong to rob me of my future experiences.

Christen tries to draw hedonism out from Marquis' concession that someone near the end of life without a FoV may be justified in seeking to be euthanized, but Christen is reading something into it that is simply not there. I don't think Marquis would say that any elderly person who's bored with life is then morally justified in being euthanized. What he's really saying is that there may be cases in which a person is in such severe and constant pain that euthanizing that person may be the right thing to do since they do not have a valuable future ahead of them any longer.

So Christen has given three objections to the FoV argument, none of which succeed in refuting it:

1) Fetuses are not like you and me: this is irrelevant, because the value-giving property is "has a valuable future," not "is a person."

2) This is not the worst possible loss you can suffer: this is irrelevant, because all that needs to be shown is that it's enough to ground the wrongness of killing, even though there may be worse losses you can suffer.

3) This assumes hedonism: this objection just commits the ad hominem fallacy, and besides it's simply not true.

Next, I'll respond to his objections to the argument regarding rights.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Responding to Philosophical Arguments Against the Pro-Life Position [Clinton Wilcox]

Blogger Brandon Christen has written an introductory article, the first in a five-part series, responding to pro-life arguments. He is looking at the issue from an atheistic perspective. It's refreshing to find a pro-choice blogger who argues from logic and philosophy instead of the usual fare you get from sites like Salon or RH Reality Check. I would like to offer a response to his arguments and when he posts the other parts in his series, I will respond to those.

Christen begins his article by talking about the seeming stark divide among religious lines regarding the abortion issue -- that the religious are pro-life and atheists are pro-choice. But if you look deeper into this, you'll realize this isn't really the case. While it may be true that the religious are more likely to be pro-life and atheists are more likely to be pro-choice, there are certainly pro-choice religious people and pro-life atheists. In fact, as Bernard Nathanson talked about in his book Aborting America, abortion was initially disguised as a religious issue by the pro-choice lobby to help get abortion legalized in the United States. Abortion, itself, is inherently not a religious/non-religious issue, just like the slavery issue wasn't.

He also talks about the soul, but this is another misguided discussion. While it's true that if you're pro-life and religious, you will believe in a soul and that the soul is created at fertilization (unless you believe in the pre-existence of the soul), you don't have to believe in a soul to be pro-life. Atheists believe that murder of a fully grown adult is wrong even without having to believe in the existence of a soul. It's simply not necessary to take a stance on the existence of the soul to take a stance on the abortion issue.

Christen goes on to make the following point: "Under the banner of philosophical and scientific skeptical inquiry, this paradigm eschews the notion -- due to the utter lack of evidence for things like non-corporeal 'souls' -- that something as pure and simple as a soul is imputed to an embryo upon conception. This being the case, the only recourse for finding "personhood" is in looking at the physical brain. Decades of experience with neurological development and brain functioning (or brain damage) affecting character points heavily toward "personhood" being located in the brain, or at the least emergent from the overall process of the brain's computations."

There are a lot of assumptions going on here. It's simply false that there is no evidence for the soul. The fact that we are the same entity through all points in our life is evidence for the soul. There are other evidences but that is beyond the scope of this article. What Christen means is that there is no scientific evidence for the soul, but this should not concern us. Science is not the only method of gaining information about the universe. Science can only gather information about the physical aspects of the universe, so we should expect that science could not give us evidence for the soul (science also can't prove the existence of numbers, morality, or other abstract concepts). But scientific evidence is not the only kind of evidence there is.

Christen also assumes that the only recourse for finding personhood is in the brain, but there is no reason to accept this, either. He may argue that the brain is the best recourse, but why should we accept it as the only recourse? Additionally, how much of the brain must be developed before you can say someone is legitimately a person? Why can't we establish that being a human being is necessary for personhood, since being a human being also means that you will develop a human brain? After all, the brain develops from within the zygote because the zygote has the information stored in her DNA. So why isn't having human DNA the necessary aspect of personhood?

There may be decades of development in fields of science dealing with the brain that has helped us to understand how the brain affects personality, but Christen doesn't even attempt to connect how these developments show that personhood is actually located in the brain.

He then argues that the destruction of "a sufficiently uncomplicated bundle of neurological tissue" does not warrant the same ethical considerations as killing a full-blown adult because there is no person there. This is ultimately question-begging. He dismisses the concept of a soul out of hand without even engaging with any of the evidence for the soul (assuming there is none), he assumes, again without argument, that a soul is not necessary for personhood, and he doesn't even attempt to connect the dots as to how brain function is supposed to tie in to personhood. He just says that adults have psychological brain function, the unborn have none, so the unborn are not persons. But how does this follow, exactly?

Christen ends his article by briefly examining the four pro-life arguments he'll be engaging with in the next four parts of his series.

Argument One: Rights

The argument he's going to make here doesn't seem like it will relate to rights, per se, but as to the actual ontological nature of the unborn entity.

Argument Two: Ageism

This one seems pretty close to an argument that many pro-life advocates make. But again, it's another discussion about the ontological nature of the unborn child. If the unborn child from fertilization is a full-fledged human person, then to deny the unborn their rights would be ageism.

Argument Three: Denial of Future

I will be interested to see where Christen is going with the rebuttal here. This is an argument made by atheistic philosopher Don Marquis, which places the wrongness of killing someone in the fact that you are robbing them of their future of valuable experiences. He believes it has certain advantages because it is not an argument the relies on personhood or "speciesism."

Argument Four: Numerical Identity

This argument states that you are you through all points of your life, and since you were you in the womb, you had the same right to life you have now.

I will be looking forward to seeing Christen's future articles in the series, and will respond to them after they go live.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Book Review: Eli's Reach by Chad Judice [Clinton Wilcox]

Special thanks to Acadian House Publishing for the free book for review. Go here for my review of his first book, Waiting for Eli.

Eli's Reach continues where Waiting for Eli left off: after the birth of Eli, a child diagnosed with spina bifida in the womb. To be honest, while this book is a nice book that illustrates some of the trials that come with raising a child with spina bifida, it really feels more like an advertisement for Waiting for Eli than it does a sequel to it. It's still good for some updates on Eli, but at several points during the book he talks about people who "bought and enjoyed" his first book, Waiting for Eli.

His books have helped people in their faith and in the pro-life positon, and that's great. But don't expect an intellectually robust defense of the position in this book. For example, on page 81 we read about a struggle that a couple was having because their child was diagnosed with anencephaly. They told the doctor that they're just "living on faith," and when the doctor questioned the wisdom of their actions, they got angry and stormed out, rather than engaging the doctor. Yes, it's wrong to abort a child with anencephaly; but for those who disagree we have compelling reasons for this. We don't have to get angry when someone questions our views because we have good responses to them. The doctor told the couple that their child would not survive, and they responded that they were hoping for a miracle from God (one that never came, because the child still died shortly after childbirth, just as the doctor told them he/she would). We don't have to get offended when abortion is mentioned because we have compelling reasons for our position.

The book, itself, is not very well-written. It feels more like Judice is just reporting the facts, and doesn't really try to add any creativity to his writing. The few times that he does he relies on cliches to try and spice up his book.

So Eli's Reach really isn't a necessary book in the long run. If you read Waiting for Eli without reading this book, Eli's story will have served its purpose. In short, if you only read one of these two books, just read Waiting for Eli.