Saturday, April 22, 2006

I get letters...

A few days ago, I received an email from a My Case Against God reader named Austin Wilson. In his note, he took issue with my stance that abortion is an absolute right, which should be wholly unrestricted. Since I found his comments interesting, I decided to publicly respond right here. He requested that, if I publish his letter, I do so in its entirety. I will do just that, although I will respond paragraph by paragraph in the interest in immediacy. I’ve made no changes at all to the text of his letter.

I just happened upon your blog recently and I must say that I am very pleasantly surprised. You seem both well informed and capable of coherently expressing an opinion with supporting evidence. I am always happy to find out that such people live and the US. Its what keeps me from being absolutely certain that this nation (or humanity for that matter) is going down the tubes.

Not much to refute here! :)

Enough introduction, I am writing you concerning your post on Tuesday. I agreed with all of your plans save one. The unrestricted abortion clause. Do you really think it would be appropriate for a woman to abort a fetus at eight months and 15 days? What about if she were going into labor, would be all right for to abort the fetus right up until the umbilical cord is cut?

I’m not sure if he read my Pro-Fetal Ownership Argument, but it’s certainly relevant here. The argument basically states that females own their fetuses until such time as the fetus is born. The word “born” does have some leeway built into it, since it’s not exactly precise. So, to answer the first question: Yes, I think it would be appropriate for a woman to abort a fetus at eight months and 15 days. If she were going into labor, I would say abortion is appropriate (whether medically feasible or not) until such time as the fetus completes emergence from the vagina. Once the emergence is complete, I would say the fetus has been born, thus ending the ownership.

If this is the case then you have missed the point of the argument. On television the debate is framed between religious individuals thinking about god and souls versus liberal individuals not wanting women to be subjugated by unfair laws. But all of that is inconsequential; the real question is what defines a human (and vicariously what rights does that being have)? In the process of life we start out as a zygote; a single cell that is in no way mistakable for a human being. At some point we develop into what we know to be human, a creature not only of a certain form but also possessing a degree of sentience that we feel is unique to us.

In my view, one of the best features of the Pro-Fetal Ownership Argument is that it applies equally to frogs, fetuses and encyclopedias. With this argument, the fetus is the private property of the female by virtue of the fact that it’s growing within the female’s body. Thus, in the argument, humanity is wholly irrelevant, as is sentience, the ability to feel pain and bodily form. Additionally, I reject the notion that humans are intrinsically more valuable than other forms of life. To assert that humans are more valuable, one must assume that our characteristics are “value-adding” characteristics. For example, humans often cite their sentience as a value-adding characteristic. But, where is the hard evidence that sentience is value adding, while, for example, the ability never to sleep (ants) is not value adding?

This is the problem I have with the abortion debate; at some point between zygote and man there is the creature between that cannot be categorized as one or the other. At what point in this gray area can we pluck out that which is human and that which isn’t? When does abortion stop being about killing a few parasitic cells and start being about killing a baby?

Once again, I think you are getting wrapped up in the fallacious notion that humans are special, and thus worthy of unique protection. I’m not sure if you read it, but I think my post “Well, Aren’t We *Special* is relevant here. I truly believe that, since all species are on the same exact Tree of Life, all species have equal intrinsic value. Our speciocentricity makes us believe our characteristics are value adding, while dismissing the unique characteristics of other species.

All of this is dependant on what you define as a human being. If a human is defined as having a soul, then prove if or when a soul exists. If sensation of pain is what defines a human, then don’t abort after the development of the nervous system. If you go by what looks like a human then you have a very subjective argument that can never be settled. If you define a human by a certain degree of intelligence and memory capacity, then you would have no problem ending the life of many mentally handicapped adults. Even babies that are several months old don’t match the above description of a human, could you conceivably end their life too?

You bring up all the relevant questions about “humanity,” a concept that is about as hard to pin down as “spirituality” or “morality.” That’s why, in my Pro-Fetal Ownership Argument, I throw out humanity and throw out morality as irrelevant. I believe abortion is a property-rights issue. In my view, that which grows within the body of a female is that female’s private property, until such time as it stops growing within the body of the female. What precisely is growing inside isn’t particularly relevant; as I said, my argument applies equally to frogs, fetuses and encyclopedias, as long as they are growing within someone’s body.

I don’t really care about human life. But for those that do care, or at least pretend to, the above are some very important questions to consider. You can be as cut and dry with your views on abortion as you want to be, but unless you can seriously and adequately answer these questions to yourself, then your entire argument is faith based. To have opinions that ignore evidence or that have none to support themselves are opinions that are not grounded in reality. Unfortunately ungrounded opinions are what make up the vast majority of the abortion debate.

One thing that I think is very important to clarify at this point is this: Abortion, objectively speaking, isn’t acceptable or not acceptable. Indeed, nothing is objectively moral or objectively immoral. I analogize the idea this way:

Morality is like the weather and movies. To me, 90 degrees and no precipitation is “pleasant” weather. To another individual, 30 degrees with a light dusting of snow is “pleasant” weather. To me, Brokeback Mountain is a four-star movie. To another individual, Brokeback Mountain is a one-star movie. No weather is objectively “pleasant”; it’s all in the eye of the beholder. No movie is objectively “good”; again, it’s all in the eye of the beholder. In exactly the same way, no act is objectively moral or objectively immoral. “Morality” is only coherent when placed in the context of “to me.” When things are placed in the context of “to me,” they are taken out of the realm of objectivity and placed into the realm of opinion. Thus, the Pro-Fetal Ownership Argument is just my way of methodically mapping out the method by which I reached my opinion (as well as a demonstration of the inescapability of my conclusion when you accept my premises).

When speaking about abortion, the only stance one can have is an opinion-based stance. I’ve been battling Paul Manata about that, since he has the fallacious idea that abortion is either objectively OK or objectively not OK. He refuses to accept that it's just a matter of opinion.

I thank for your time in reading this e-mail, and I hope that it gave you some thinking material, or at the very least made you angry enough to try and prove me wrong. In either case if you feel like posting this on your blog then please only post it in its entirety.

Thanks for reading, and for taking the time to write.


By the way, on a tangentially related note, there is a compelling discussion going on over at Kill the Afterlife about whether morality is objective or relative. Of course, I'm defending the relativist viewpoint. Be sure to check it out, since I think, during the next few days, the discussion will progress in interesting directions.

15 Comments:

Blogger Delta said...

Personally I've never been very entertained with the objective vs. relative morality debates. To be even somewhat interested I would have be given some sort of vague idea about how morality could even possibly be objective. But I've never been given that. And I generally question the motives for someone who has the desire to make their personal beliefs objective truths that should be accepted by everyone else.

8:59 PM EDT  
Blogger TheJollyNihilist said...

Delta,

I suppose I find the conversations interesting because I agree with Aaron and Francois about 95% of the time. But when it comes to morality discussions, we're totally opposite.

In Aaron's Kill the Afterlife post about objective morality, he makes a couple of key (unsupported) assumptions, in my view:

1. The assumption that individuals own themselves [I agree with this from an opinion standpoint, but don't believe it's an actual fact]. I have yet to see hard evidence that individuals own themselves, like the hard evidence I have that I own my computer.

2. The assumption that morality has some relationship with individual value fulfillment. I don't think Aaron has adequately proven, with hard evidence, that morality revolves around individual value fulfillment rather than, for example, communal value fulfillment. I don't think "morality" is any more coherent a concept than "spirituality" or "supernatural."

I also share your concern about pretending opinions are facts, which must be accepted by all. That's why I call myself a relativist: I have my opinion...you have your opinion...who is to say which opinion is right? The only things I accept as factual are supported by substantial hard evidence. That being the case, I accept nothing as self-evident, and believe no factual statements can be made about that which is intangible, such as "morality," whatever that term means.

2:53 PM EDT  
Blogger Delta said...

Yeah, I've read your comments on both AK's blog and the "Radical Libertarian" and agree with your statements wholeheartedly. I've been really impressed with the clarity with which you've been arguing your position as well as keeping a calm head when the personal attacks rear their head.

Sometimes when I'm having a discussion I might argue things from the point of view of things being "better" in whatever I'm arguing for, or I might argue that people have certain "rights" that they "deserve" as human beings. In a strict sense, my arguments don't intend to prove anything objective because no one has to accept my definitions of better, that humans have rights, or that anyone deserves anything. But luckily enough, many people have similiar feelings on what rights a human should have and what's "fair" and "good" in this world, and that makes debate and discussions constructive. But again, just because everyone is willing to agree on something doesn't mean it's true. Truth isn't democratic.

2:08 AM EDT  
Blogger KA said...

FTM:
Yeah I'm w/Delta. I've been having a few natters w/BF at protheism.blogspot (he thinks we're both barbarians, I'm just a shade less, ain't that sweet?;)), but these cats just bore me to tears w/this 'objective morality' that's unprovable, besides a long, drawn out retreat behind scholarship (whose scholarship, you ask? Why, theirs, of course!) & the ascription of 'intrinisic value'.

After a while, I kinda start nodding off, or get confused over who said what when, to whom, context, all that good stuff.

The fact of the matter is as Delta put it: "And I generally question the motives for someone who has the desire to make their personal beliefs objective truths that should be accepted by everyone else."

I've pretty much come to the conclusion they're all a bunch of C.S Lewis wannabes, looking for that 'killer' talking point that will get their names in the xtian Hall of Fame.

Anyways, I enjoy your blog, & appreciate the link. Keep up the good work.

RA

3:07 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just one comment. Considering the entirely practical facts that remain unaltered by peoples opinion.
Abortion after,I think, about 16weeks (could even be 12 weeks - so 3 or 4 months) is done by inducing labour. This would mean that an 'abortion' at 38 weeks, 8months 15 days, (mentioned in the letter) would result in the birth of a healthy full term baby (term being 38-42 weeks).

8:04 PM EDT  
Blogger TheJollyNihilist said...

Yeah, I've read your comments on both AK's blog and the "Radical Libertarian" and agree with your statements wholeheartedly. I've been really impressed with the clarity with which you've been arguing your position as well as keeping a calm head when the personal attacks rear their head.

Thanks for the kind words. I think a lot of people oppose moral relativism on principle because it denies that anything is objectively right or wrong. For many, that's a distasteful stance. But, sometimes truth is distasteful. We shouldn't accept an untruth like objective morality just because it's more comforting than relativism. The whole "it's more comforting" argument has been used to justify theism for ages!

Sometimes when I'm having a discussion I might argue things from the point of view of things being "better" in whatever I'm arguing for, or I might argue that people have certain "rights" that they "deserve" as human beings. In a strict sense, my arguments don't intend to prove anything objective because no one has to accept my definitions of better, that humans have rights, or that anyone deserves anything. But luckily enough, many people have similiar feelings on what rights a human should have and what's "fair" and "good" in this world, and that makes debate and discussions constructive. But again, just because everyone is willing to agree on something doesn't mean it's true. Truth isn't democratic.

Excellent point. 50 million people can, indeed, be dead wrong. I make moral arguments all the time, usually based upon the principle of self-ownership. However, I make those arguments as OPINION arguments. For, my moral code is all my opinion, and my notion of self-ownership is also strictly my opinion. As I wrote on Aaron Kinney's blog - there is absolutely no hard evidence to indicate that I own myself. Without hard evidence, the notion, factually speaking, is doubtful.

FTM:
Yeah I'm w/Delta. I've been having a few natters w/BF at protheism.blogspot (he thinks we're both barbarians, I'm just a shade less, ain't that sweet?;)), but these cats just bore me to tears w/this 'objective morality' that's unprovable, besides a long, drawn out retreat behind scholarship (whose scholarship, you ask? Why, theirs, of course!) & the ascription of 'intrinisic value'.

After a while, I kinda start nodding off, or get confused over who said what when, to whom, context, all that good stuff.


I'm happy to accept the idea that morality is objective. All I demand is hard evidence demonstrating that a single definition of morality is correct. Maybe it's about individual value fulfillment. Maybe it's about communal value fulfillment. Maybe it's about protecting the environment. All are plausible, all have absolutely no hard evidence supporting them.

On the whole, I'm pretty much a nihilist.

The fact of the matter is as Delta put it: "And I generally question the motives for someone who has the desire to make their personal beliefs objective truths that should be accepted by everyone else."

To me, people talking about correct moral codes sound remarkably similiar to those who speak about correct religions (as opposed to all the other incorrect ones).

Anyways, I enjoy your blog, & appreciate the link. Keep up the good work.

Thank you!

9:24 PM EDT  
Blogger TheJollyNihilist said...

Just one comment. Considering the entirely practical facts that remain unaltered by peoples opinion.
Abortion after,I think, about 16weeks (could even be 12 weeks - so 3 or 4 months) is done by inducing labour. This would mean that an 'abortion' at 38 weeks, 8months 15 days, (mentioned in the letter) would result in the birth of a healthy full term baby (term being 38-42 weeks).


That, indeed, might be true. However, as long as the abortion is performed while the fetus is still growing inside the mother's body, the fetus would still be considered the mother's property, to do with what she wants. Only upon natural birth does the fetus become autonomous, and no longer the mother's property.

9:29 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So you think that when a baby is born by induced labour it is not a person?

4:13 AM EDT  
Blogger TheJollyNihilist said...

So you think that when a baby is born by induced labour it is not a person?

Personhood/humanity is irrelevant. The mother owns the fetus by virtue of the fact that the fetus is growing within the mother's womb. That being the case, the fetus' humanity is wholly irrelevant.

So, the fetus might be considered a person at 8 months or might be considered a person at 1 month - that still doesn't suspend a female's absolute, unrestricted right to abort.

The baby becomes autonomous (that is, not property) only upon live birth. Prior to live birth, the fetus still belongs to the mother as property. That's why, to me, abortion at 1 month or 8.5 months is essentially the same.

9:40 PM EDT  
Anonymous bernarda said...

Even in christianity there is not a general agreement about when a "person" comes into existence. There are basically three interpretations: creationism, traducianism, and pre-existence.

8:50 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

late abortion = induced labour

Foetuses aborted at 22 weeks are born and then left to stop breathing. (babies have survived as premature as this)
If they are outside of their mother and breathing do they by your arguement have autonomy or not?

6:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope the last post is clearer than my other.

I did not mean to get into a discussion about personhood its just that medico-legally a baby does not have autonomy.

6:34 PM EDT  
Blogger TheJollyNihilist said...

late abortion = induced labour

Foetuses aborted at 22 weeks are born and then left to stop breathing. (babies have survived as premature as this)
If they are outside of their mother and breathing do they by your arguement have autonomy or not?


There are several late-term abortion procedures. I endorse any late-term abortion procedure in which the baby is killed prior to completely emerging from the woman’s vagina. I oppose any late-term abortion procedure in which the baby is killed after completely emerging from the woman’s vagina. I’m OK with partial-birth abortion because, to the best of my knowledge, the brain is sucked out of the baby’s skull while the head is still in the woman’s body. If the brain were sucked out after the baby had completely emerged, I would oppose the procedure.

Hope that's more clear.

6:40 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes it is much clearer now. Your argument confused me a bit as you disagree with the practice of leaving the baby to die and so seemed to have a few similarities with the viability argument (a foetus is viable when it is capable of surviving outside of the womb) this is where the 24 weeks limit (in UK law) comes from however science and technology have developed since the introduction of the law so that viability is now 22 weeks. Many people argue that foetuses have the right to have there health protected from the point of viability and that the law should be changed in accordance with advances in science.

I now see that although you think that although you think that abortion should be legal until term you think that practices should be changed so that something is done to kill the foetus before it is born.

I understand, I don't agree but I understand.

8:25 AM EDT  
Blogger TheJollyNihilist said...

Yes it is much clearer now. Your argument confused me a bit as you disagree with the practice of leaving the baby to die and so seemed to have a few similarities with the viability argument (a foetus is viable when it is capable of surviving outside of the womb) this is where the 24 weeks limit (in UK law) comes from however science and technology have developed since the introduction of the law so that viability is now 22 weeks. Many people argue that foetuses have the right to have there health protected from the point of viability and that the law should be changed in accordance with advances in science.

I now see that although you think that although you think that abortion should be legal until term you think that practices should be changed so that something is done to kill the foetus before it is born.

I understand, I don't agree but I understand.


Right.

I consider "birth" to be full emergence from the mother's body. Prior to full emergence from the mother's body, I would say the fetus is the mother's property. Following full emergence from the mother's body, the baby is autonomous and worthy of basic protection. Therefore, for an abortion to be OK, the fetus must be killed while still within the mother, at least partially.

11:36 PM EDT  

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