Saturday, April 25, 2020

"If abortion is not wrong, then it's OK to kill sleeping or comatose people??!"


Hello Dr. Nobis, 
 
I was alerted to the existence of your book "Thinking Critically About Abortion" via the Crusade Against Ignorance YouTube channel. When I found out that the book is free online, I instantly set out to read it, and I am very thankful that I did. 

Prior to this book, I would have considered myself strongly pro-life but now I realize the topic is much more complex than I previously imagined. For that I am very grateful. Since we are in a collective pursuit of truth, it does us no good to characterize opposing beliefs incorrectly. 
 
After finishing the book, I still have a question about the abortion debate: 
Many pro-life activists frequently resort to a reductio ad absurdum argument to address the consciousness standard similar to the one laid out in your book. For instance, one might say "if it is the case that it is not unethical to kill an unconscious fetus, would it be morally acceptable to kill other humans who lack consciousness (e.g. someone in a coma)?" 
What is your reaction to these popular reductio arguments?

Thanks in advance! 

Here is my response.

Thanks for reading and for your kind words! 

In too quick reply, while pre-conscious fetuses and unconscious people (sleepers, individuals in comas who eventually wake-up from those comas, etc.) both are not conscious, the latter have been conscious and, when they awake, there will be a psychological connection to that past consciousness: there will be memories to the past, and the beliefs, knowledge and relations from the past will extend into that present and future. 

That is relevant to concerns about harm and personhood, at least. To harm someone is to make them worse off compared to how they were. If a sleeping person or someone in a temporary coma were killed, that would make them worse off compared to how they were. 

What's key is that they were: they existed as a conscious being and so any and all of their desires, plans, expectations, hopes, and connections are thwarted if they are killed, which is bad for them (and usually others too). 

Beings that have never been conscious don't have any of that and so things cannot go worse for them, since there really is no "them" yet, since there is no person who experiences anything, and so there's no person that things could take a turn for the worse for. This was discussed in the section "5.2.2 Early fetuses aren’t conscious & feeling: personhood and harm," if you'd like to review that also.

So that's my quick response to the question. I want to observe that I have seen this objection or argument before, and from people who really should know better because they teach philosophy courses and know two of the rules from Philosophy 101: 

Consider objections: present and respond to objections to your views. 

Don't "strawperson" anyone: present views in their strongest form possible, especially when you might disagree with those views: don't "strawman" or "straw person" views. (The person who emailed me rightly characterized this goal this way: characterize opposing beliefs correctly.) 

So, to seriously argue that "If abortion is not wrong, then it's OK to kill sleeping people" or that "If abortion were not wrong because fetuses are not conscious, then it would also be OK to kill sleeping people and people in comas" is to violate these rules.

This fails to consider and engage obvious and well-known responses to this sort of claim, such as the above. (Of course, there's more to say about the above too, but it's not like nobody has thought about, "Wow, is it really true that arguments in support of abortion are also arguments in support of killing people who take naps??" and so this is some sort of new-found refutation of any thoughtful arguments in defense of abortion).

And it fails to consider whether the strongest version of this argument would be subject to this sort of objection anyway: e.g., compare these arguments:

(A) "early abortions aren't wrong because fetuses aren't conscious now

 versus

(B) "early abortions aren't wrong because fetuses aren't conscious now and have never been conscious." 

 So (A) here is what's considered is a "straw person", not the best or better version of the argument, which is (B).

So to seriously present this sort of argument, in the manner I have seen it presented, is intellectually and morally irresponsible: it's simply just sophistry and a dishonest attempt to persuade using bad arguments. And that's always bad, I hope everyone would agree and urge doing better. Let's do it!

Update: in light of some discussion of this post, I want to add these cases and questions for further discussion:

Imagine there's a sperm and an egg that, when united, a full-grown, pretty typical human person (or even a baby) would immediately "emerge" from the fusion. (Be imaginative, this type of thing is seen on TV quite often!). Questions: would it be wrong to not unite that sperm and egg? Is anyone obligated to unite this sperm and egg? Who, if anyone, is harmed if the egg and sperm are not brought together? What do answers here suggest for early abortions or the "moral status" of embryos and early fetuses?

Imagine there's a normal kitten which, if given an injection, would immediately transform into a cat who has the mental life (understanding, intelligence, knowledge, communication abilities, etc.) of a full-grown, fairly typical human person. (Again, be imaginative, this type of thing is seen on TV quite often!). Questions: would it be wrong to not give the kitten the injection? Is anyone obligated to give the injection? What do answers here suggest, if anything, for early abortions or the "moral status" of embryos and early fetuses? 

Imagine a baby is born who is totally unconscious and has never been conscious: no feelings or awareness at all. An easy procedure could be done, however, so that baby becomes conscious like a typical baby is. Questions: would it be wrong to not give that injection? Is anyone obligated to give the injection? Who, if anyone, is harmed if the injection is not given? What do answers here suggest for early abortions or the "moral status" of embryos and early fetuses, and the issue of abortion more generally? (Note: of course, parents, of course, generally want babies who are conscious, so that might impact the questions; and we might try to answer the questions as if this wasn't a concern.) 

See also this brief response to this type of question:

“If it’s morally acceptable to kill a fetus, why can’t we kill sleeping people?”

This argument is superficially appealing, but the comparison doesn’t hold up. A sleeping person has desires and interests just like we do, and therefore they can be harmed when those desires and interests are thwarted. Of course, when you are asleep, you aren’t consciously holding any desires in your attention. But this is also true of most of your desires even when you are awake. If you love your children, you don’t stop loving them the moment you focus your attention on something else, like a football game. Likewise, you may not be thinking, as you read this “I don’t want to be killed” or “I value my car.” Yet it would still be wrong to kill you or steal your car. 

Philosophically, these long term desires are known as dispositional desires. You have dispositional desires even when you aren’t consciously focused on them, including when you are unconscious or asleep. Those dispositional desires only go away when you die or when your brain is irrevocably destroyed. But for you or any other entity to have dispositional desires, you must first have some initial first person conscious experience. A being that has never experienced desire of any kind can’t have long term desires. 

Feel free to email or message any other questions!

40 comments:

  1. "all of their desires, plans, expectations, hopes and connections are thwarted if they are killed, which is bad for them"

    Well wait, aren't you conflating "WOULD be bad for them IF they were aware of the thwarting, WHILE aware of it" with "is bad for them"?

    You seem to expect readers to find the badness of thwarting without awareness of it intuitively obvious, but it is not intuitively obvious to me. I don't at all find thwarting/frustrating per se to be what's wrong with killing. I invite you to read:

    blog.secularprolife.org/2016/01/what-babies-dont-know-cant-hurt-them.html

    https://blog.secularprolife.org/2018/02/whats-wrong-with-killing.html/

    As we wrote at the first link, "Moral intuitions are resistant to logic, of course; if this is someone's intuition, pure and simple, then it will be hard to argue them out of it. But the inconsistency that this view involves is staggering. What is being said here is that an organism’s CARING ABOUt about its future life is important, but the FUTURE LIFE ITSELF that the organism cares about is not important."

    You might then raise another objection, "there really is no 'them' yet, since there is no person who experiences anything," but psychological-personhood arguments don't register with me intuitively either. May I ask, has that identity theory ever been popular unrelated to the abortion debate?

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    1. Thanks for your comments. Unfortunately I have to respond only quickly at the moment. I'll come back later about this.

      Your last question is easiest. There's a topic called "personal identity" that is about how we stay the same individual over time, despite the many changes that occur to us.

      One of the most influential theories here is that our identity results from our psychology (and not our body, and not our "soul"). This theory comes from John Locke. A related, perhaps complementary theory sees our identity as very much related to our brain, insofar as our brains are responsible for our psychologies.

      These views see our identity over time, our being the same person over time, as a matter of there being psychological connections and overlaps over time. This sort of view is very popular and common, and so we--like many others--apply it here.

      There are all sorts our sources on this view (1000 Word Philosophy, Stanford Encyclopedia, "Crashcourse" philosophy on Youtube). Here are some cases that can help motivate it:

      https://www.nathannobis.com/2020/09/personal-identity.html

      About the first part, there is the question of why death is bad for the one who dies. The standard answer is the "deprivation account"--that death is bad because it deprives the individual of future goods that they would have experienced. Do you know Don Marquis's main paper on abortion? He appeals to something like this, claiming that abortion deprives a fetus of its valuable future experiences, etc.

      But a standard objection to this is that if there's no psychological connection *at all* to from the fetus to that possible future, that future is not yet *the fetus's future*: there is no individual such that the possible future belongs to that individual.

      This is decidedly *not* related to, in any way, a *false* claim that "what you don't know can't hurt you." It's closer to the semi-incoherent "if there's no 'you', then nothing can be 'yours'" or, better, "If there's no 'you', then nothing can belong to that non-existent individual we are imagining as 'you'.

      And I don't think the tone of "Moral intuitions are resistant to logic" fits the topics here, since there really aren't moral intuitions here: it's just thinking about what follows for this issue from various theories of personal identity, from various explanations for why death is typically bad and why killing is typically wrong, what harm is, and more.

      I hope that helps. If you want more references on any of this, let me know.

      The "ethics and personal identity" entry on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy might help with this.

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  2. So I think it's possible without sophistry or dishonesty to compare your two arguments –

    "early abortions aren't wrong because fetuses aren't conscious now"

    versus

    "early abortions aren't wrong because fetuses aren't conscious now and have never been conscious"

    – and say, If someone was conscious in the past, so what? My moral intuitions don't tell me that that is relevant.

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    1. Thanks again. About "My moral intuitions don't tell me that that is relevant," again, I don't think this is a matter of moral intuitions. It's a consequence of thinking about what we are, in our essence, and then coming to--for a variety of reasons--thinking that we are *our minds, our consciousness *, and then seeing what follows for this topic from that.

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    2. PART A

      Thanks for taking some significant bits of your time to post your four replies. I have gone quickly over all of them and have several replies I would like to make, but I would like to start with just the first question that came to my mind while reading, and stay with it until we resolve it before moving on. (Even if the eventual resolution is just "Let's abandon this and move on to the next point.")

      I may be missing something, but FOR THE FRAMEWORK THAT I USE, it appears to me that everything you have written in this first post of yours mixes up "identity" with "psychological sense of identity." Now it may be that since I don't have much formal background in Western philosophy, unknown to me many Western philosophers may in fact use "identity" to mean "psychological sense of identity" (that is, they too do what within my framework is mixing them up). But I think you will easily be able to understand my framework or terminology and work within it temporarily for the exercise.

      1. In my framework and terminology, "identity" is a word that OUTSIDE observers can apply (they may or may not find it appropriate to apply it, but they can apply it without any logical inconsistency) to mean a kind of sameness across time of any arguably-individual entity – any human being or animal or inanimate object.

      2. "Identity" can mean "one's own INSIDE psychological sense of being the same individual as some past or future entity."

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    3. PART B

      I think those are the only two broad uses of "identity" that we need to work with (and that I have said should not get mixed up). An outside observer, such as you, may decide it inappropriate to apply "identity" to any arguably-individual entity that lacks the inside psychological sense in 2, but still you will be doing so using that sense in 2 to operate within sense 1. I am simply distinguishing between outside observation and inner experience.

      Taking Locke as an example –

      "One of the most influential theories here is that our identity results from our psychology (and not our body, and not our 'soul'). This theory comes from John Locke"

      – it would be a tautology to say "Our own psychological sense of identity results from our psychology," so he must have used "identity" there as in 1, while asserting that the word would be inappropriate to apply to any arguably-individual entity that lacks the inside psychological sense in 2 (though he could have applied it to such an individual without any LOGICAL inconsistency).

      Our context is social policy on abortion, and our discussion is between two people who agree that "there's no psychological connection *at all* [from] the fetus to that possible future." But social policy will continuously be developed people like us who, vis-a-vis fetuses, are outside observers. The fact, which you seem to be pointing out here and with which I agree, that the fetus has no psychological activity at all, does not mean that you or I or some of the various congresspeople or Supreme Court justices involved in formulating social policy cannot say, without any logical inconsistency, "Dr. Nobis shares an identity with the zygote he once was," or for that matter, that I cannot say, "This keyboard that I'm touching is the same keyboard that I touched yesterday. It has maintained a continuous identity." (You might object that that is not a STANDARD use of the word or even a USEFUL use, but I think you will have understood how I am using the word and agree that I can use it that way without any illogic.

      So the fact that in terms of INNER experience "there's no psychological connection *at all* to from the fetus to that possible future" would not at all prevent us as OUTSIDE OBSERVERS from seeing a connection. I don't see how that would necessarily follow. Do you agree?

      I'll stop there for now and hope for your reply. Our discussion might get particularly interesting when we get to moral intuitions, so I hope we do get there, but I would like to start focusing on this question alone.

      Yours,
      Acyutananda
      http://www.NoTerminationWithoutRepresentation.org
      Facebook: No Termination without Representation
      Twitter: @NoTerminationWR

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    4. Have you seen the movie "Freaky Friday" or any other films where there's a "person swap" where one person "goes into another person's body" so to speak? Those are about the topic of personal identity: it's how an individual remains the same individual over time.

      The topic is not really like "what makes for your identity? Is it your smile? Is it your love of sports? etc."

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    5. Sorry to be quick, but have you watched any videos on the topic of personal identity? The issue is typically thought to very much *not* what outsiders think about someone or something (although that can be relevant, although indirectly).

      https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=personal+identity

      E.g., suppose someone dies (but nobody knows that) and outsiders look and think that that someone is just lying there with their eyes closed for a few hours, no big deal. To outsiders, it might look like that person is still there, just resting. But, at least on many views, something important has happened to that person.

      Locke had a famous case where a prince does something bad and deserves punishment, and a cobbler or the cobbler's mind (who did nothing wrong) winds up in the prince's body, and the prince winds up in the cobbler's body. Outsiders wouldn't tell this, but who should be punished? Intuitively, the person who is now in the cobbler's body. So, again, outsider's perspectives aren't what at core issue here.

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    6. About "Dr. Nobis shares an identity with the zygote he once was," yes, it's true that we, or our bodies, are * physically continuous * with fetuses. And our bodies are often physically continuous with corpses too! And some of our bodies wind up being physically continuous with living bodies with "dead" brains, etc. That's not personal identity though. At least not on most views, although here is an exception:

      https://1000wordphilosophy.com/2021/03/11/are-we-animals-animalism-and-personal-identity/

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    7. Thanks. I probably could have been clearer by focusing more on this:

      "abortion deprives a fetus of its valuable future experiences, etc.

      "But a standard objection to this is that if there's no psychological connection *at all* to from the fetus to that possible future, that future is not yet *the fetus's future*: there is no individual such that the possible future belongs to that individual."

      "if there's no psychological connection *at all* to from the fetus to that possible future, that future is not yet *the fetus's future*" – couldn't this be paraphrased –

      "if the fetus cannot internally conceive at all of possible valuable future experiences, then outside observers are forced to conclude that the fetus has no such future experiences"

      – and does that necessarily follow?

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    8. By the way, while working on that post of a minute ago, clicking Preview simply caused the text I had entered to disappear, nothing more. I tried refreshing the page, but the issue persisted.

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    9. About "if the fetus cannot internally conceive at all of possible valuable future experiences, then outside observers are forced to conclude that the fetus has no such future experiences" that seems to overcomplicate things and just add in words that aren't needed:

      "if the fetus cannot . . conceive at all of possible valuable future experiences [since it can't conceive of anything], then . . the fetus [itself, literally] has no such future experiences": for those future experiences to be someone's, there has to be a someone that they belong to, and a non- and preconscious being can't be that.

      I don't know if you want to read more on this, but the SEP article on personal identity and ethics would be good, Jeff McMahan is good, and really any standard review of objections to Marquis will work.

      These will help too:

      Personal Identity by Chad Vance
      https://1000wordphilosophy.com/2014/02/10/personal-identity/

      Origin Essentialism: What Could Have Been Different About You? by Chad Vance

      https://1000wordphilosophy.com/2014/04/28/origin-essentialism/

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    10. Sorry, Blogger is a not a great platform in some ways. As always, save your work somewhere else!

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    11. "for those future experiences to be someone's, there has to be a someone that they belong to, and a non- and preconscious being can't be that."

      If I understand correctly, you mean "a non-conscious and preconscious being can't be that."

      So a non-conscious and preconscious being can't be a someone that valuable future experiences belong to. But what does that follow from? You think it follows, and one of the most influential theories says it follows, but how? At this point, I have no problem saying that a non-conscious and preconscious being CAN be a someone that valuable future experiences belong to.

      You have referred me to four sources, suggesting that the answer to my "how?" will be found in one or more of them. But if you yourself cannot presently say anything more in defense of "a non-conscious and preconscious being can't be a someone that valuable future experiences belong to," please confirm that, and if it's okay with you, I'll move on to another point. It's getting late where I am, but I'll get back to this in the morning my time.

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    12. So, have you looked at any of the sources I have encouraged you to look at?

      I *could* try to reexplain things but, honestly, issues about personal identity are complicated, which is why I am pointing you to other sources, rather than my reinventing the wheel here.

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    13. So, have you looked at any of the sources I have encouraged you to look at?"

      No, not yet. Oh, you did, earlier, link to one of your own pages. I have just looked quickly at that, and will read it all in the morning. But I have seen identity thought experiments which, though they created valid doubts about conventional views of identity, led to consequences such as "We cannot punish Mr. X for something he did an hour ago because he's no longer the same person."

      "I *could* try to reexplain things"

      Do you mean that you have already explained things adequately in this discussion? If so, I can re-read. Or do you mean that you could re-explain what the other sources explain?
      "

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    14. No plausible or widely accepted views here will have this type of implication: "We cannot punish Mr. X for something he did an hour ago because he's no longer the same person."

      Sorry, but I think I'm getting to the point where I am just repeating myself. Again, there are many sources on the topic of personal identify, psychological theories, and then how they might relate to topics in Bioethics, like abortion. I have given you some suggestions and looking at them would be more productive and time-efficient than my explaining them here. So I hope you check them out!

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    15. "have you looked at any of the sources I have encouraged you to look at? . . . there are many sources on the topic of personal identify. . . . I have given you some suggestions and looking at them would be more productive and time-efficient than my explaining them here. So I hope you check them out!"

      As I had written, "one of your own pages. . . . will read it all in the morning." Have now read your whole "Personal Identity" page.

      First, in relation to your latest reply to me –

      "No plausible or widely accepted views here will have this type of implication: 'We cannot punish Mr. X for something he did an hour ago because he's no longer the same person'"

      – something from that "Personal Identity" page:

      "you were once 5 years old: that 5 year old was you. (That assumption can be challenged, however)."

      If for "me" it's the first hour of my 6th birthday, wouldn't challenging it imply that I shouldn't be scolded for something I did an hour ago?

      And if I successfully reject the theory, though it's interesting, as a useful theory in the real world because it has led to what intuitively seems to me an absurd consequence, then the theory stands invalidated and, just as it need not influence me in evaluating "you were once 5 years old: that 5 year old was you," it need not influence me either in evaluating "you were once an embryo: that embryo was you."

      You may object that unlike a 5-year-old, an embryo has no identity at all because it can't imagine its future. But we are both outside observers, neither of us is the embryo who can't imagine its future, and I am not bound by your criterion, which is (tell me if I'm being unfair to it) "If an embryo can't imagine its future, then I personally can't imagine it either, so I don't credit it with identity."

      At the outset I had said in effect, "I would like to take just one question at a time and stay with it until we resolve it before moving on. (Even if the eventual resolution is just 'Let's abandon this and move on to the next point.')" But the above issue may not require much discussion, so I'll bring up here one more issue from that page of yours:

      "6.5. When do you begin? When your body begins (or the body you will "inhabit" begins)? Or when your mind begins?"

      Once my DNA is basically formed. I wouldn't have any value without a mind or the potential for a mind, but my DNA, which is part of my physical body (to answer your question directly), will almost entirely determine the traits of my mind at least before birth, so once my DNA is basically formed I do have the potential for a mind.

      I see the observation in that last sentence as pointing to a key weakness in psychological personhood, about which a bit more could be said than I will say now. Mind is physical matter, to many of us, and there's a straight line between the physical matter of the DNA part of my body and the physical matter of my mind at any stage, so what's the big deal about mind as opposed to body?

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    16. Hi, I'm sorry but I am just not able to review the topic of personal identity here with you here and now.

      This is a new, excellent and very inexpensive introduction to philosophy book that provides a great introduction to the topic though:

      https://www.amazon.com/Knowledge-Reality-Value-Mostly-Philosophy/dp/B091F5QTDS/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=michael+huemer&qid=1621285473&sr=8-3#customerReviews

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    17. Okay. I assume that book consists of or includes ideas that represent your views. If your "That assumption [about the 5-year-old] can be challenged" was on the introductory level or higher, and a doubt about it arose in me, I wonder how many such doubts an introduction will really be able to allay, not to mention questions that I still have about the history of identity philosophy, but I guess there's only one way to find out.

      How about a topic of epistemology, moral intuitions? You seem to be capable of defending your boundaries, so there's no harm in my asking my first question about moral intuitions:

      "And I don't think the tone of "Moral intuitions are resistant to logic" fits the topics here, since there really aren't moral intuitions here: it's just thinking about what follows for this issue from various theories of personal identity . . ."

      1. "the tone [doesn't] fit . . . since . . ." But does what you say after "since" have anything to do with tone, or what would you like to say about tone?

      2. "there really aren't moral intuitions here": Kelsey Hazzard's and my mention of "Moral intuitions" which you quote here refers to our reference to the "belief [that killing] frustrat[ing] a desire to live is the main reason that killing is wrong" ( https://blog.secularprolife.org/2016/01/what-babies-dont-know-cant-hurt-them.html )

      But you say, "there really aren't moral intuitions here." The belief that killing frustrating a desire to live is the main reason that killing is wrong is not a moral intuition?

      If we were ever to talk about moral intuitions, we would have to agree on a definition of them.

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    18. That book gives a good overview of the topic of personal identity. So will the SEP entry.

      The book also likely discusses intuitions, since the author has a book called "Ethical Intuitionism."

      The theory that killing is wrong because it thwarts desires is not an intuition, since it's a theory: it's not an intuitive, immediately held judgement about a case. The theory will be arrived at by reviewing the options to explain the phenomena and then picked on the basis of thinking that it has virtues that the other explanations do not. Intuitions are not like that.

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    19. PART B

      The post of mine that caused you to recommend a book, and then SEP as well, contained two responses to your own "Identity" page. You referred me to the book and to SEP, apparently thinking there was some flaw in my responses that showed a need for those sources. (Please confirm – when I raise some point and you refer me to a source, does that mean that you found some flaw in my point and that you think the source can correct it?) So I went first to SEP, expecting that it would correct me on 1) my contention that your "you were once 5 years old. . . . That assumption can be challenged" had the implication "We cannot punish Mr. X for something he did an hour ago . . .," and 2) my point about DNA.

      There was a lot in Dr. Shoemaker's article that I didn't grasp and didn't necessarily expect to on the first reading, and I will definitely want to spend some time with it, thanks again for recommending it. But I'm quite sure the article says nothing at all that illuminates my point about DNA.

      Regarding my contention that your statement "you were once 5 years old. . . . That assumption can be challenged" has the implication "We cannot punish Mr. X for something he did an hour ago . . .," doesn't that statement of yours mean that you want us seriously to consider the possibility that Mr. X may not share identity with even a psychologically-developed earlied Mr. X? And if two people have different identities, surely you can't punish one for the deeds of the other.

      In the article, it seems that right from the start Locke confirmed that, saying that only those who remember their past actions – a necessary ingredient of shared identity – are accountable for them. In fact a central theme of the article is:

      "There is widespread agreement that identity is at least a necessary condition for accountability."

      Also:

      " As Reid puts it, “Identity . . . is the foundation of all rights and obligations, and of accountableness"

      "According to this view, then, some past action is my own (for purposes of accountability) just in case the person who performed the action is uniquely psychologically continuous with me"

      "Recall that both Reid and Butler objected to Locke's account of personal identity, in part, because they thought it had absurdly revisionary implications for our practices of moral responsibility."

      So did you send me to that article to confirm my contention, even though you had written, "No plausible or widely accepted views here will have this type of implication" – or am I missing something?

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    20. PART C

      Regarding the history of Western identity philosophy, by the way, when I wrote, "I know there are arguments about 'psychological personhood' and about continuity, but I don’t find them to be philosophically serious, and they seem to be ad hoc theories designed only to justify abortion," which you have criticized ("you just don't know much about these topics as you seem to think you do"), I intended "I know there are arguments" to make it clear that I was claiming only an awareness of them, not to know much about them. So when I wrote "I don’t find them to be philosophically serious," what I wanted to say was "From what little I know about them, I don’t find them to be philosophically serious." In fact as of that time I had seen only second-hand representations of them. Someone in the comments below that article pushed back at the time, and I asked him for more information, but now the SPL comments section is messed up and that conversation is gone.

      It's clear to me now that the arguments are not new and are serious undertakings. But I reserve the right to wonder in any individual case whether the person is serious not only in the sense of constructing a careful argument, but also in the sense of his moral intuitions really matching his fascinating but rather ethereal theories – lacking which I don't think they point to moral truth, as I said above.

      A problem with your "the prince should be punished" is that if the original prince had, let's say, had chronic bad-tasting gas in his system, causing him to be extremely irritable, at the same time as his lofty social status and immunity had gone to his head, with the result that one day he threw a tantrum, grabbed his royal staff and killed someone with a blow, well, now that he is in the cobbler's body with a great digestion and a humbling social status, you CANNOT say he shares a continuous identity with the prince. Even though the physical brain remains the same, it now receives different kinds of communication than before from its body and environment, and will function differently. There would be no point in punishing the more exemplary person that now exists. Let's suppose also that the mind in the cobbler's body is affected by much less testerone.

      Once an unborn child does develop whatever qualifies as a mind, many of the traits of that mind will have been uniquely determined by biological features that had already been there for some time. For this reason, as well as the DNA reason it derives from, you can't say the individual is now a brand-new individual.

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    21. Hi, I'm sorry but I am having a really hard time following these comments.

      First, my main suggestion is that you learn more about the topic of personal identity. This is just because you wrote a lot of things that suggest you just don't know what the topic is and what the main responses to the topic are, or the main theories of personal identity.

      Again, almost nobody is doing to think that "I'm a different person from what I was 5 minutes ago" is going to work to, say, get someone off the hook for some crime.

      In saying psychological theories of personhood began with Locke, that doesn't mean they have ended with Locke, since they have developed: e.g., Derek Parfit was a very important thinker who developed the views more; Jeff McMahan is another.

      Yes, a zygote, infant, adult, someone in a coma, and corpse might have the same DNA, but that doesn't mean that the person here was identical to the zygote, comatose individual or the corpse.

      About intuitions, I suppose you can call almost whatever you want an intuition or claim that some belief is supported by intuition: it doesn't really matter that much since we can always ask for support for intuitions, observe contrary intuitions, etc. So it doesn't really matter a whole lot although, again, the more theoretical the claim, the less intuitive it will be. ("Killing people is usually wrong" is more intuitive than "Killing people is usually wrong more because it thwarts their desires, and less because their family will miss them" is less intuitive.

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    22. Oh, and I also want to suggest that you not speculate about people's motives, since that is nearly always unproductive.

      So, e.g., speculating that someone would accept some theory of personal identity BECAUSE it might support some view on abortion they want to hold is, well, absurd because, well, how would anyone have any good evidence for that, especially if they don't know the person, have no real clue what their thought process is, and, honestly, know very little about the topics of personal identity and how they might relate to the topic of abortion (as well as how they don't relate)?

      Again, attempting to guess at people's motivations in these ways are not productive. I assume that you would find people guessing at your motivations to be not helpful, since you would find that they are just inaccurate in their guesses, and are attempting to guess about things about your thought processes that they know little about. Given that, don't do that about other people: nobody should.

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    23. Thanks very much for your replies. I appreciate your taking the time for them – time and, given your view of me, a lot of patience.

      First let me mention that while you wrote a paragraph that seems to respond to some of a post of mine that focused on moral intuitions and their definition, and the definition of "theory," that post, headed "PART A," does not appear to me on this page. Do you find it missing also?

      Should I post it again?

      The funny thing is that in my mail, I received an acknowledgment that that post had been published, but never received any such acknowledgment for my "PART B" or "PART C;" yet here on your page, "PART B" and "PART C" are visible to me, but not "PART A."

      I'm a little tied up now, but would like to write a little more later in response to your latest three posts. I think I can be brief on that occasion, but think that a couple of misunderstandings can be cleared up.

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    24. Hi, I think Part A is here, above. If not, please repost.

      Unfortunately I do need to moderate these because so much spam gets posted and I need to weed that out.

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    25. PART A again. And your –

      "it doesn't really matter..."

      – prompts me to ask: did you go to the link I suggested and read a little?

      PART A

      I have now read the SEP's "Personal Identity & Ethics" – thanks for recommending it – and hopefully now have a better idea of the Western academic terminology for some things I have been writing about, and of the history of Western identity philosophy. I will add something about this in a minute, but first:

      "The theory that killing is wrong because it thwarts desires is not an intuition, since it's a theory"

      ? A theory is a statement whose truth we don't directly apprehend, that explains or attempts to explain some phenomenon we often do directly apprehend. If you directly apprehend that a particular killing is wrong but don't really know why you feel that way (so that that direct apprehension is the phenomenon that needs to be explained), and you posit intellectually, "Because it thwarted the victim's desires," then yes, it would be correct to call it a theory. But when we wrote, "some such [abortion] advocates. . . . have argued that what’s wrong with killing is that it frustrates a desire, on the part of the victim, to live," we were talking about advocates who DO directly apprehend that frustrating/thwarting desires without good reason is wrong. They have a gut feeling of the wrongness of it, they have "an intuitive, [sudden]ly held judgement about" the wrongness of it.

      But maybe to them that is not the only thing wrong with killing. So they feel:

      "ONE thing wrong with killing is that it frustrates a desire, on the part of the victim, to live"

      "something LESS wrong with killing is that it upsets the victim's loved ones"

      "something STILL LESS wrong with killing is that it upsets the victim's boss"

      So their feeling that frustrating a desire to live is the MAIN reason that killing is wrong (what we had called a moral intuition was, "'frustrates a desire to live'. . . . is the main reason that killing is wrong") is itself a moral intuition, an intuitive, suddenly held judgment about the wrongness of it.

      Would you agree with that?

      And would you agree with me that Jonathan Haidt's definition of "moral intuition" is an acceptable one? –

      “the sudden appearance in consciousness of a moral judgment, including an affective valence (good-bad, like-dislike), without any conscious awareness of having gone through steps of searching, weighing evidence, or inferring a conclusion.”

      I would agree with your "immediately" if you mean unmediated by words or any necessary thought process, but not if you mean that the realization of rightness or wrongness must hit you in a split second. You might just feel numb at first about something violent you have witnessed, then the moral intuition about it creeps up on you or slowly overwhelms you.

      And if one arrives at a moral principle, known to be correct, that "frustrating/thwarting desires without good reason is wrong" can the knowledge of its correctness be arrived at just by "reviewing the options to explain the phenomena and then picked on the basis of thinking that it has virtues that the other explanations do not" – without a moral intuition that it is correct?

      I don't think its correctness can be validated without a moral intuition. And I say this knowing that other people may have incompatible moral intuitions and believe that theirs are correct, of course. But we wouldn't even know what "wrong" means without having a "sudden appearance in consciousness" about it, "without any conscious awareness of having gone through steps of searching, weighing evidence, or inferring a conclusion.” We wouldn't know that right and wrong exist. For my argument in support of this, I invite you to visit http://www.noterminationwithoutrepresentation.org/moral-intuition-logic-and-the-abortion-debate/ and go to Appendix B.

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    26. Hi, in saying that "it doesn't matter" I only mean to say that intuitions are not some kind of infallible evidence. But we build up generalizations from intuitions, yet we can also revise our judgments about those intuitions in light of the principles we develop. This is known as "reflective equilibrium":

      https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-epistemology/

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    27. "my main suggestion is that you learn more about the topic of personal identity. . . . you wrote a lot of things that suggest you just don't know what the topic is and what the main responses to the topic are, or the main theories of personal identity."

      I have started re-reading "Personal Identity and Ethics," and will buy the book you recommended. I'm reading as much as I have time for, and have learned some things from you also.

      The biggest question for me is whether I am onto some truth. That is the big picture. If I am, I definitely want to be able to express it in proper "Western main responses"-ese. So when I read your "a lot of things that suggest you just don't know," I was hoping for some specifics. What Shoemaker had said about –

      2.1 The Psychological View
      2.2 The Biological View

      – hadn't seemed to me really different from my existing understandings of those things. But in the post of yours I just quoted from, you gave three specifics of my ignorance related even to those views. (Then you said something about intuition.) Your three specifics related to those identity views were:

      "nobody is going to think"
      "that doesn't mean they have ended with Locke"
      "the same DNA, but that doesn't mean"

      "Again, almost nobody is [g]oing to think that 'I'm a different person from what I was 5 minutes ago' is going to work to, say, get someone off the hook for some crime."

      I confess I'm not quite getting my mistake here. Suppose we do challenge the assumption "you were once 5 years old: that 5 year old was you," and decide that in fact the opposite is the case. Suppose also that a 5-year-old is considered responsible for his actions and that there is no statute of limitations on something he did (so that a court of law, considering both the same person, would find "you" guilty).

      Would you say, "almost nobody is going to think that that set of facts is going to get him off the hook"?

      Shoemaker wrote, "There is widespread agreement that identity is at least a necessary condition for accountability."

      "In saying psychological theories of personhood began with Locke, that doesn't mean they have ended with Locke"

      Did I appear to think they have ended with Locke? Specifics of how I gave that impression would help.

      "Yes, a zygote, infant, adult, someone in a coma, and corpse might have the same DNA, but that doesn't mean that the person here was identical to the zygote, comatose individual or the corpse."

      The argument that all individual entities with the same DNA are identical was not my argument at all when I referred to DNA.

      Those are the specific examples you offered, in that post, of "a lot of things that suggest you just don't know . . . the main theories of personal identity."

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    28. "I suppose you can call almost whatever you want an intuition"

      Do you mean that my calling "'frustrates a desire to live'. . . . is the main reason that killing is wrong" a moral intuition was sloppy? It seems to me that the problem here is not that I don't understand what a moral intuition is, and therefore am recklessly bandying the term about. It seems that you and I define the term almost the same. The problem lies not in anyone's misusing the term, but in how we perceive those who say, "'frustrates a desire to live'. . . . is the main reason that killing is wrong" (quoting from "What Babies Don't Know . . ."), which I called a moral intuition. As I perceive those abortion advocates, "'frustrates . . . wrong" is their "intuitive, immediately held judgement." As you apparently see them, they do intuit that "Killing people is usually wrong," but have to use theory to arrive at "Killing people is usually wrong more because it thwarts their desires . . ."

      My main point here is to ask whether it's really fair to characterize my use of "moral intuition" in "What Babies Don't Know . . ." as "calling almost whatever you want an intuition," if that's what you're doing. But as regards whose perception is correct (a different question), for what it's worth:

      It seems to me that those advocates do, without theory, intuit unjustifiably frustrating a desire for anything, including a desire to live, as wrong. So if they don't intuit that depriving someone who is killed of their future is equally wrong or wronger, wouldn't they automatically intuit frustrating a desire to live as "the main reason that killing is wrong"?

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    29. "I assume that you would find people guessing at your motivations to be not helpful, since you would find that they are just inaccurate in their guesses, and are attempting to guess about things about your thought processes that they know little about."

      On the contrary, I think people would be wise to probe into my motivations with an open mind.

      I know the cliche is "We have to deal with the argument/reasoning, not the person making the argument," and on one level that is true, and we should be clear ourselves and make it clear to others what level we're operating on – whether I'm operating on the argument/reasoning level or on the probing level – but sometimes being probed (part of which can involve guesses) has caused me to examine my reasons for writing something or for the way I wrote it, ultimately with good effects, including benefits for the people I talk with.

      Moreover, people in a discussion will inevitably start forming preconceptions based on the first thing the other person says (though reminding oneself to keep an open mind can minimize this), and when people put their guesses about me in writing, they expose them, which won't happen if they don't say anything. Pro-choicers often hold preconceptions about me learned from Planned Parenthood or Rewire, and it's good if they let me know which preconceptions they have, particularly if they honestly want to check them out.

      Though it's not philosophy – it's psychology – people's motivations badly need probing. We're trying to deal with arguments/reasoning, but I think it's pretty well established that (I'll quote J. Haidt, since he uses the very word "motivate"), "REASONING is very very heavily motivated . . . we're not very good at objective, carefully-balanced reasoning . . ." I once wrote an article for Life Matters Journal, "The Psychological Morass of the Abortion Issue." It was not at all sophisticated, slightly half-baked, but I wanted pro-lifers to be thinking precisely about what unstated motivations motivated them themselves, and motivated the pro-choicers they would be debating with. Though it was unsophisticated, I was hoping that approach would be picked up by somebody more knowledgeable and with more time.

      Whenever guesses are correct, it will occasionally have a very beneficial effect, won't it? The thing is to make it clear to others what level we're operating on, and to be polite, and to make it clear that one is only guessing.

      For instance, if I say to you, "You have probably heard many pro-lifers argue that all individual entities with the same DNA are identical. So with all due respect, is it possible that when you saw me bringing up DNA, you jumped to the conclusion that I was making that argument?" I don't think saying that could do any harm, and if my guess was correct, you could learn something from it.

      I think in the effort to attain more consensus in human society about matters of moral philosophy, not to mention the effort to find truth, meditation and psychotherapy will prove to win more success than erudition and better training in logic, though those things are very important. No factor can be left out of the mix. But I expect the pro-life cause to prevail once more and more people are meditating more and more seriously.

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    30. "Hi, in saying that 'it doesn't matter' I only mean to say that intuitions are not some kind of infallible evidence."

      First of all, your "It doesn't matter since . . ." is a backup argument you will need once you have included "living" (in your corpse-fetus comparison) where it belongs. The problem I seemed to find with your corpse-fetus comparison was that it dodged the need to use any backup argument. It had the potential to convince even people who would not buy your backup argument, because in it the fact that a fetus is alive and bursting with potential – if it can only stay way from people with white coats and lethal weapons for a few months – while a corpse is dead and has no potential to be otherwise, remained hidden.

      "not some kind of infallible evidence."

      About the fact that moral intuitions can be incorrect, we're in complete agreement, which is good. As I said at the end of Part A, "I don't think its correctness can be validated without a moral intuition. And I say this knowing that other people may have incompatible moral intuitions and believe that theirs are correct, of course."

      But I went on to say, "But we wouldn't even know what 'wrong' means without having a 'sudden appearance in consciousness' about it, 'without any conscious awareness of having gone through steps of searching, weighing evidence, or inferring a conclusion.' We wouldn't know that right and wrong exist." Would you agree with that?

      Thanks very much for the link to "Moral Epistemology". I had started reading their "Reflective Equilibrium" article, but "Moral Epistemology" looks like a better place for me to start.

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    31. "Hi, in saying that 'it doesn't matter' I only mean to say that intuitions are not some kind of infallible evidence."

      First of all, your "It doesn't matter since . . ." is a backup argument you will need once you have included "living" (in your corpse-fetus comparison) where it belongs. The problem I seemed to find with your corpse-fetus comparison was that it dodged the need to use any backup argument. It had the potential to convince even people who would not buy your backup argument, because in it the fact that a fetus is alive and bursting with potential – if it can only stay way from people with white coats and lethal weapons for a few months – while a corpse is dead and has no potential to be otherwise, remained hidden.

      "not some kind of infallible evidence."

      About the fact that moral intuitions can be incorrect, we're in complete agreement, which is good. As I said at the end of Part A, ". . . knowing that other people may have incompatible moral intuitions and believe that theirs are correct, of course."

      But I went on to say, "But we wouldn't even know what 'wrong' means without having a 'sudden appearance in consciousness' about it, 'without any conscious awareness of having gone through steps of searching, weighing evidence, or inferring a conclusion.' We wouldn't know that right and wrong exist." Would you agree with that? I added, "For my argument in support of this, I invite you to visit . . ."


      Thanks very much for the link to "Moral Epistemology". I had started reading their "Reflective Equilibrium" article, but "Moral Epistemology" looks like a better place for me to start.

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    32. I wrote: "We're trying to deal with arguments/reasoning, but . . . 'REASONING is very very heavily motivated . . .'"

      In other words, in a debate, the most perfect possible reasoning and a consensus thereon is the Holy Grail. But reasoning is motivated by a host of psychological foibles. We have known since Freud (confused though he may have been on specifics) that most of the human psyche is below the surface, yet there are possibilities of illuminating it. So it becomes artificial to keep psychological probing rigidly at arm's length, or for philosophers to go through their lives without ever focusing on psychological depths. What should never be suggested is that one's psychological probing is scoring points on the philosophical level, but there is a place for it and likely the most important place.

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  3. https://blog.secularprolife.org/2018/02/whats-wrong-with-killing.html

    So a final comment about the other article about the wrongness of killing. The final line says this:

    "(I know there are arguments about “psychological personhood” and about continuity, but I don’t find them to be philosophically serious, and they seem to be ad hoc theories designed only to justify abortion.)"

    Unfortunately, this line has you admitting that you just don't know much about these topics as you seem to think you do. Claiming that one of them main, if not the main, broad theory of personal identity is not "philosophically serious," and revealing that you don't know the motivations for this type of view, and falsely suggesting that these types of views are developed to try to justify abortion all, well, just not good.

    If you are going to successfully critique anything, and develop arguments for contrary views, you need to understand the options well. Here are some sources to help with that:

    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/locke-personal-identity/

    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/identity-personal/

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  4. And from the main book text:

    https://www.abortionarguments.com/p/full-text.html#better


    5.1.5 Abortion prevents fetuses from experiencing their valuable futures

    The argument against abortion that is likely most-discussed by philosophers comes from philosopher Don Marquis.[14] He argues that it is wrong to kill us, typical adults and children, because it deprives us from experiencing our (expected to be) valuable futures, which is a great loss to us. He argues that since fetuses also have valuable futures (“futures like ours” he calls them), they are also wrong to kill. His argument has much to recommend it, but there are reasons to doubt it as well.

    First, fetuses don’t seem to have futures like our futures, since—as they are pre-conscious—they are entirely psychologically disconnected from any future experiences: there is no (even broken) chain of experiences from the fetus to that future person’s experiences. Babies are, at least, aware of the current moment, which leads to the next moment; children and adults think about and plan for their futures, but fetuses cannot do these things, being completely unconscious and without a mind.

    Second, this fact might even mean that the early fetus doesn’t literally have a future: if your future couldn’t include you being a merely physical, non-conscious object (e.g., you couldn’t be a corpse: if there’s a corpse, you are gone), then non-conscious physical objects, like a fetus, couldn’t literally be a future person.[15] If this is correct, early fetuses don’t even have futures, much less futures like ours. Something would have a future, like ours, only when there is someone there to be psychologically connected to that future: that someone arrives later in pregnancy, after when most abortions occur.

    A third objection is more abstract and depends on the “metaphysics” of objects. It begins with the observation that there are single objects with parts with space between them. Indeed almost every object is like this, if you could look close enough: it’s not just single dinette sets, since there is literally some space between the parts of most physical objects. From this, it follows that there seem to be single objects such as an-egg-and-the-sperm-that-would-fertilize-it. And these would also seem to have a future of value, given how Marquis describes this concept. (It should be made clear that sperm and eggs alone do not have futures of value, and Marquis does not claim they do: this is not the objection here). The problem is that contraception, even by abstinence, prevents that thing’s future of value from materializing, and so seems to be wrong when we use Marquis’s reasoning. Since contraception is not wrong, but his general premise suggests that it is, it seems that preventing something from experiencing its valuable future isn’t always wrong and so Marquis’s argument appears to be unsound.[16]

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    Replies
    1. "if your future couldn’t include you being a merely physical, non-conscious object (e.g., you couldn’t be a corpse: if there’s a corpse, you are gone), then non-conscious physical objects, like a fetus, couldn’t literally be a future person."

      Here you have left the term and the concept "living" out of your argument, but if we remember it, then you're in the position of arguing:

      "If the future of a living entity couldn’t include that entity being a merely physical, non-conscious object, then a living entity couldn’t literally be a future living entity that displays some differences."

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    2. It doesn't matter since, on psychological views, being biologically alive is not essential to one's personal identity. That something is biologically alive doesn't necessarily mean there is "someone" there: that can be seen in end of life permanent coma / PVS cases and in embryos and early fetuses, prior to consciousness. E.g.,

      https://www.abortionarguments.com/2021/02/would-around-70-of-people-deny-that.html

      https://www.abortionarguments.com/2020/04/when-does-life-begin-and-are-fetuses.html

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    3. Hmm. According to my email, the following was approved and had appeared on this page, but it's not here, so now I'm sending it again:

      I wrote: "We're trying to deal with arguments/reasoning, but . . . 'REASONING is very very heavily motivated . . .'"

      In other words, in a debate, the most perfect possible reasoning, and a consensus thereon, is the Holy Grail. But reasoning is motivated by a host of psychological foibles. We have known since Freud (confused though he may have been on specifics) that most of the human psyche is below the surface, yet there are possibilities of illuminating it. So it becomes artificial to keep psychological probing rigidly at arm's length, or for philosophers to go through their lives without ever focusing on psychological depths. What should never be suggested is that one's psychological probing is scoring points on the philosophical level, but there is a place for it and likely the most important place.

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