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.


  1. Regarding Speciesism:

    Any system that values what humans do best (rational thought and so forth) is speciesist. So, the Future Like Ours argument is also speciesist.

    Why not value great size which would mean Elephants are persons? Or flight, meaning birds are persons? It's because that would leave humans out of the equation... and we're the ones who get to make the rules. Yep, speciesism.

    1. It's not, strictly speaking, speciesist, because if it could be established that animals have a "future like ours," or alien races, etc., then they count morally. So in that respect, it's not speciesist because it doesn't mean "a specifically human future." However, I disagree with the charge of speciesism, itself, so I don't find it a strength of the argument that it's *not* speciesist, since I don't think it's wrong to make a speciesist argument, that there's something inherently special about human beings that grants them unique value over and above animals. Why is racism and sexism wrong? It focuses on a surface difference that doesn't matter morally and ignores the one thing that *does*: we're all human beings, and being human matters in the moral equation.

  2. Depriving someone of their future is an interesting concept. Let us suppose that right after you were conceived, you were aborted. You'd have a right to be angry, because you wouldn't be here right now. But let us suppose that instead of killing you when you were a zygote, the split second before the sperm touched the egg, a doctor found a way to cause the egg to incinerate. Your future was just as effectively killed, and yet the Personhood argument gives you no recourse to claim a foul -- after all, it was only an egg the doctor killed. Right? So one second, the egg is completely worthless, but the next split second (after a sperm touches it), the fertilized egg is sacred, having equal value as a 10-year old child.

    1. The point you're missing (and the point some other critics miss when they try to argue from this point of view that contraception would be immoral) is that sperm and eggs don't have a "future like ours." The future of the sperm and the egg is to contribute genetic material to the new human organism and then die. So no, contraception is not immoral because they are two non-human entities that do not have a "future like ours."

    2. The motivation behind Marquis' view is that he's an organism. He happens to be a person now, but he wasn't always one. That's also why I'm pro-life. I find the idea that there was no 'me' until there was sufficiently sophisticated brain activity generated by my body to be completely ridiculous. So, if you kill me while I'm still a fetus, then you stole my future from me. If you prevent the gametes which formed me from joining and becoming an organism, then you didn't steal my future because I never existed. I'm an organism. You can make fun of the idea by saying that "the fertilized egg is sacred, having equal value as a 10-year old child," but I'm an atheist so 'sacred' doesn't enter into it. Moreover, from my perspective it's the personhood theory that's based on superstitious nonsense It's just a secular version of ensoulment with a nonmaterial spiritual entity replaced by a nonmaterial abstract entity. If more atheists could get over their dualism hangover they'd abandon the idea that THEY inhabit a meat suit and own the fact that they're the meat. Ergo, when someone says that a fetus is a mass of tissue, I say, that's what you and I both are.


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