Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Pro-Fetal Ownership Argument

On occasion, I re-post articles which I previously have published. I call these “My Case Against God classics.” The following is just such a piece. This essay, titled “The Pro-Fetal Ownership Argument,” originally ran when this blog just was taking off. Its provocative nature attracted droves of new readers. I hope my current readership enjoys revisiting it. Some minor edits have been made.



Lately, there has been much talk in the blogosphere regarding abortion. Specifically, people have been explicating their reasons for being pro-abortion or anti-abortion. I happen to be Pro-Fetal Ownership. That is, I believe the female owns the fetus, until the precise moment of live birth. Believing such, I oppose any and all abortion restrictions: “term” limits, parental consent, parental notification, mandatory counseling, age limits, etc. In my view, abortion restrictions infringe on an individual’s bodily sovereignty, and thus are entirely unacceptable. With this post, I briefly will explore my reasoning, and break down my argument, in order to show its soundness.

Here is my argument, briefly stated:



Premise One: Autonomous individuals own their bodies, and everything that is growing within their bodies.

Premise Two: Fetuses grow within the bodies of autonomous females.

Conclusion One: Autonomous females own their fetuses.

Premise Three: Autonomous individuals may destroy that which they own.

Premise Four: Autonomous females own their fetuses.

Conclusion Two: Autonomous females may destroy their fetuses.



As far as I can tell, the only part of that argument that possibly could be contested would be the first premise. However, I am certain of its correctness. Clearly, individuals own their hearts, lungs and kidneys, as well as any tumors growing within their bodies. Indeed, I cannot think of a single thing that would be growing within an individual’s body that said individual would not own. Before moving on, I want to gut a Red Herring that is easy to anticipate. People do not own that which is in their bodies, only that which is growing in their bodies. So, no, one does not own a dentist’s fingers while he is performing his work.

Going back to tumors, I think they represent the perfect analogy to fetuses. First, both tumors and fetuses are living, growing masses of cells. A little human will grow up to be a big human; a little tumor will grow up to be a big tumor. Second, many tumors can exist without posing real harm to the individual; tumors can be either benign or malignant. Therefore, one may not say tumors and fetuses are different because tumors will kill you but fetuses will not. That is just misrepresenting reality, in a transparent and blatant way [Not to mention the fact that many females still die in childbirth, particularly outside the Western world.]

The main objection voiced to my tumor/fetus analogy is that fetuses are human, while tumors are not. While I understand this objection, I cannot take it seriously. Evolution teaches us that there is a singular Tree of Life. Every living thing is on that Tree, representing a branch or a branch from a branch [from a branch]. Given the fact that all living things are on the same Tree of Life, I find it impossible to say that one living thing has more intrinsic value than another living thing. Sure, subjectively, humans have more value than frogs to me because I happen to be human. But that is a subjective, rather than objective, judgment, based upon my inherent speciocentricity. I do not argue that all species of life are equal—that would be antithetical to Natural Selection itself. I argue only that no species of life is more intrinsically valuable than any other. Such would be impossible, since we are all on the same Tree. So, rather than building my argument upon subjective speciocentricity, I choose to build my argument upon the objective equality (of intrinsic value) of all species of life. And so, my fetus/tumor analogy is appropriate.

If one owns one’s hypothetical tumor, one also owns one’s hypothetical fetus.

Now, I will anticipate a few counterarguments and concisely respond.

Some will ask, “Why does the female’s ownership of the fetus end upon live birth? Why doesn’t it continue?” Perhaps the ownership continues and perhaps it does not. In my view, the ownership ends upon live birth. However, I suppose, an argument could be formulated in which the female continues to own her baby. But, that is irrelevant to my argument. My argument deals only with the nine months in which the fetus is growing within the female’s body. Indeed, the second premise specifically references the fetus growing within the female. Therefore, if the fetus is no longer in the female, then my argument is inapplicable. Notice, I never argued that individuals own that which ever has grown within their bodies, only that which currently is growing.

A similar Red Herring is that this argument endorses slavery, as it endorses ownership of humans. Look at my argument—an argument dealing specifically with an entity growing within the body of an individual—and try to find its application to slavery. The quick answer: There is no such application.

Some also will object to the premise that individuals may destroy that which they own. Often, anti-abortion folks deliberately will misinterpret that statement, alleging I said individuals may do anything they want with that which they own. For example, using that twisted logic, one would be allowed to kill a neighbor with one’s hammer, by virtue of the fact that the individual owns the hammer. However, that clearly is not what I said. I asserted that individuals may destroy their property, not do whatever they want with it. Thus, rather than killing a neighbor with one’s hammer, I am granting permission for the individual to kill the hammer itself.

I see this as the strongest, yet the simplest, defense of the pro-abortion view. All the things that blur the issue—humanity, personhood, etc.—are rendered irrelevant. This is purely a property-rights argument, which does not attempt to flail about in the morality morass.

41 Comments:

Blogger DavidGX said...

I agree 100%. Really great post.

10:26 PM EST  
Blogger Nathan said...

left leaning, eh? looks like textbook Rothbard to me

12:47 AM EST  
Blogger Patrick said...

The problem here is that you dismiss "personhood, humanity" backhandedly.

I reject your implicit premise that all species are intrinsically of the same value. If a dog was growing in my (hypothetical) wife or myself, I would not hesitate to have it removed. I would say that, objectively, we are intrinsically worth more than frogs, or cats, or whatever else.

Why? They are not rational creatures, for one.

I don't know if I see your distinction between equality and intrinsic worth.

Another thing: fetuses are totipotent, while tumors are not. Totipotency is the capacity to form an entire organism: essentially, a big tumor is not analogous to a big human, even though they may both be clumps of cells.

Let me know what you think.
My Regards,
Patrick

2:10 AM EST  
Blogger Mr. Ed said...

I would have to agree more along the lines of Patrick on this one. Ownership until birth? A pretty arbitrary line drawn in the sand. What about siamese twins, unseparable; do they each own each other?

Remember the scene in "Total Recall" with the mini-sage growing out of the other guy? So the big guy owns the little guy? Fiction, yes, but instructive.

How about assembing the best scientific minds and nailing down exactly when brain function begins and then saying "bunch of cells before, human after". In the end, I think something like that is the only hope we have of resolving the abortion-fetal tissue-embryonic stem cell brouhaha.

Yours is an interesting argument, but it wouldn't stand up in court, I think.

4:13 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At the point of conception is when life began for you. This was the start of your existence. Your own personal big bang. Three weeks after conception heart started to beat. First brain waves recorded at six weeks after conception. Seen sucking thumb at seven weeks after conception.

If only people would choose to use an effective contraceptive,

They wouldn't have to make another choice........

http://www.sexual-health-resource.org/hormonal_birth_control.htm

ausblog

5:23 AM EST  
Blogger SUZANNE said...

Human fetuses are not members of another species. They are homo sapiens like anyone else, if you apply the laws of biology: two humans who reproduce can only produce a member of the same species. If there is no intrinsic value to human beings, then why not extend that belief to born human beings?


A similar Red Herring is that this argument endorses slavery, as it endorses ownership of humans. Look at my argument—an argument dealing specifically with an entity growing within the body of an individual—and try to find its application to slavery.

When a human owns another human, that's slavery. Whether one can or chooses to make a slave do something, that is not the point. The born baby of a slave is still a slave, even if that baby could not be forced to do anything.

Even in societies where slavery existed, there were often laws against killing slaves. In the Old Testament, it was prohibited to kill slaves.

Even pets can't be arbitrarily killed. You can't just shoot your pet willy-nilly- not in Canada, anyway.

It's ridiculous to treat the fetus like some abstract entity when millions of women fawn over their unborn children as family members. To call a fetus a "mass of cells" is sophistry. It's like calling born people a "mass of cells". It hides the reality of what (and who!) the fetus really is.

Whatever reasoning one uses to justify abortion, the result is a dead human being. Killing is immoral unless it's for self-defense-- and no, killing because one wants to pursue an education, or because one simply does not want children at this time is not "self-defense".

5:58 AM EST  
Blogger aus blog said...

I think I love you Suzanne.....

7:00 AM EST  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

The world's population has doubled in the last 30 years. That means that since I have been alive, it has at least doubled.

Someone out there isn't taking their sexual responsibilities seriously and it isn't me.

9:33 AM EST  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

I might add that if a man wants his "seed" to be considered a long term investment, he should sort this out before he shoots it out.

9:35 AM EST  
Blogger Tommy said...

There is the crux of the abortion debate. At what point, if any, does the right of the fetus supersede the right of the pregnant woman to decide whether or not to terminate the pregnancy? On what basis does the product of the union of the sperm cell and the egg acquire rights that society is honor bound to respect?

I support abortion rights because I see abortion for some pregnant women and girls who are not in a position to carry a pregnancy to term and become mothers as the best of a limited choice of bad options.

That being the case, because an abortion is a surgically invasive procedure, ideally we should like to see fewer abortions. That leads to what should be the common ground between abortion supporters and opponents, reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies.

Of course, the rub there is that abortion supporters also support sex education and access to contraception, whereas abortion opponents, especially those who are motivated by their religion, are only interested in preaching sexual abstinence until marriage.

The problem with the latter viewpoint is that ignores that we are not always going to be abstinent. Girls who are ignorant of basic facts about sex are more likely to be gullible when confronted by charming or coercive males and have unprotected sex which can result in pregnancy and/or a sexually transmitted infection.

As I was reading in Scientific American on the train to work this morning, teens who take the virginity pledge are somewhat less likely to have sex, but are more likely to have unprotected sex, so that the rate of STD's is about the same.

America is sort of schizo about sex. We live in a predominantly Christian country where sex is considered sinful (at least outside of marriage) but simultaneously sex is seen as a right of passage for teens, which results in the fact that we are afraid to talk honestly about sex, and some parents even blanche at seeing words like vagina or scrotum being spoken or shown in public. We live in a culture saturated with sexual imagery but a lack of honest and informative discussion about sex itself.

Abortion is a symptom of this problem. If you want to see fewer abortions, then this problem must be addressed.

1:12 PM EST  
Blogger Jonathan Blake said...

Here's another supporting vote for Patrick's and Suzanne's comments.

I would also take issue with your third premise: "Individuals may destroy that which they own." Ownership is not an on-off proposition. For example, in the US, we do not allow landowners to deforest their land indiscriminately. We justify this restriction by the interest we have in preserving forests for the common good. Ownership rights are trumped in this case by our need to preserve vegetation.

I would say that we also have a common interest in seeing that abortion is a rarely used option. We all have an interest in maintaining a healthy cultural respect for life (human life especially).

Your first premise is also weak under the current culture. Try openly selling a kidney to the highest bidder to see what I mean. I don't know that I agree with our distaste for the practice, but I wanted to point out some other objections that could be raised against your argument.

1:47 PM EST  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

I reject your implicit premise that all species are intrinsically of the same value. If a dog was growing in my (hypothetical) wife or myself, I would not hesitate to have it removed. I would say that, objectively, we are intrinsically worth more than frogs, or cats, or whatever else.

Why? They are not rational creatures, for one.


I think this is your speciocentricity talking. You are assigning value to a trait (rationality) that your species happens to have. I think this is a wholly subjective judgment. After all, other species have unique traits too:

A snail can sleep for three years.

Hummingbirds are the only animal that can also fly backwards.

The only two animals capable of seeing behind themselves without turning their heads are the rabbit and the parrot.

Dolphins sleep with one eye open.

A giraffe can clean its ears with its 21-inch tongue.

Ants don't sleep.

Why aren't they "value-adding" traits on the order of rationality?

Human fetuses are not members of another species. They are homo sapiens like anyone else, if you apply the laws of biology: two humans who reproduce can only produce a member of the same species. If there is no intrinsic value to human beings, then why not extend that belief to born human beings?

Because my argument does not apply to born babies, since born babies do not reside in another person's body.

But yes, on an intrinsic worth level, I think humans are equal to frogs are equal to cats are equal to parrots. There is but ONE Tree of Life, and we're just another species residing on it.

7:11 PM EST  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

I also want to make one point clear: This is NOT a legal argument, but rather a philosophical one. This isn't meant to be applicable in a court of law, since the lawbooks hardly are bastions of reasonableness. This argument speaks to intrinsic rights with respect to private property.

7:13 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

awesomely insightful blog. favourited. :)

3:03 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But legal arguments start with ethical philosophy, what is right and what is wrong. To hide behind the banner of philosophy is being disingenuous at best.


This isn't meant to be applicable in a court of law, since the lawbooks hardly are bastions of reasonableness


They aren't exactly roiling with unreason either. Let's give them their due. I think a quote from Dirty Harry is in order: "I hate the system as much as anyone, but I'll stick by it until something better comes along."

One consequence of your sytem would be the odd discontinuity that right before the obstetrician yanked jr out of the birth canal he would have the rights of a turnip and right after, the full rights of a human. Really, that should raise a few red flags.

3:45 AM EST  
Anonymous pgc1981 said...

Tommy,

"Of course, the rub there is that abortion supporters also support sex education and access to contraception, whereas abortion opponents, especially those who are motivated by their religion, are only interested in preaching sexual abstinence until marriage."

I have no problem with sex education classes and teaching the youth proper education like that. The fact is people are going to do what they want and if they are going to have lots of sex teaching them safe sex is good. I don't see anything wrong with teaching your children abstinence and that should be the parents choice to do so and no others. But definatly more sex education is needed.

"America is sort of schizo about sex. We live in a predominantly Christian country where sex is considered sinful (at least outside of marriage) but simultaneously sex is seen as a right of passage for teens, which results in the fact that we are afraid to talk honestly about sex, and some parents even blanche at seeing words like vagina or scrotum being spoken or shown in public. We live in a culture saturated with sexual imagery but a lack of honest and informative discussion about sex itself."

Yes your right and I would like to see the culture change. Take a look at what is happening to Britney Spears right now. The media industry sold her as this great sex symbol pop star and at the age of what 24 or 25 she is having a complete meltdown and the media is plastering it all over the tv. It's kinda sad. There is nothing wrong with Christians holding their views on sex if that's what they want to teach their children that's their choice. I think it has to be done in an open and positive manner.

"Abortion is a symptom of this problem. If you want to see fewer abortions, then this problem must be addressed."

Good point here, I kinda like Rudy Gulianni's approach to this subject. I heard him talk about this on Hannity & Colmes a few weeks back. He said he hates abortion and wishes the subject didn't exist, however he supports the womans right to choose. When he was mayor he said he lowered abortion by 50% in NYC. He started working with adoption agencies and gave the woman good options or choices to make other than abortion. I think he said some counseling was done before the abortion as well to let them know the kind of consequences abortion have. Now I don't support pro-choice but I do like his approach on this subject and that is to give good options and try to convince the women that choices other than abortion are better. His results were good so you must have done something right.

11:41 AM EST  
Blogger Jonathan Blake said...

"I also want to make one point clear: This is NOT a legal argument, but rather a philosophical one. This isn't meant to be applicable in a court of law, since the lawbooks hardly are bastions of reasonableness. This argument speaks to intrinsic rights with respect to private property."

I suppose this may be somewhat in response to my comment. Let me concur that I don't really care about current law only insofar as it is an example of reasonable thought.

I think it is perfectly reasonable that private property rights are limited when the community has a compelling interest in that property.

Another example from the legal tradition is the concept of an attractive nuisance. A landowner's right to do anything he or she pleases with that property is limited by the responsibility to avoid creating dangerous situations which would be attractive to small children who lack understanding and judgment. Their property rights are tempered by a responsibility to protect the weak among us.

I believe both of these examples are good, reasonable analogies for the situation of the mother and the fetus. They stand on their own merit, not depending on their legal status.

1:24 PM EST  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Thanks for the replies!

As a libertarian and an individualist, I have less sympathy for the community interest arguments. I don't think my individual rights should be curtailed in the name of community comfort. If, for example, there is a 200-year-old tree on my property, and I want to cut it down, I have every natural right to do so. It doesn't matter if every single neighbor on the whole block objects; my property rights cannot be curtailed in the name of their preferences.

To me, "One may destroy that which one owns" is pretty much immutable.

Going back to the legal side of the coin, I definitely think American justice is lacking in rationality. Private adult drug use should be permitted. Prostitution should be permitted. Death matches between consenting adults should be permitted. In short, all forms of consensual adult behavior should be permitted, so long as such behavior does not unreasonably infringe on other people.

I own my body, and may do what I like with it, so long as I harm no other autonomous individual. Any law which refuses to recognize that natural right is, in my view, totally irrational. Abortion, whether on day one or month nine, is simply the exercise of property rights.

9:21 PM EST  
Anonymous pgc1981 said...

Jolly,

It's no wonder you don't like Bill O'Rielly. I think he would label you a social progressive and that's probably why you don't like him.

Some things must get voted on by the people. That's the beauty of a democracy. Some of the things you support will hopefully never see the light of day because they are topics that should be voted on and not left to the law makers to pass.

Oh yeah thanks for comparing unborn babies to tumors, that really sealed the deal.

11:04 PM EST  
Blogger Jonathan Blake said...

I'm also very libertarian, but I'm not (as you can tell) big on absolute property rights. From where does a landowner derive his rights? What reason can you offer that land ownership is a natural right?

Land ownership seems like a social contract between the landowner and all of her neighbors. The landowner has title to the land and neighbors agree to grant her limited monopoly over the use and product of the land. I guess you could almost label me a Geolibertarian, almost.

Anyway, a person's ownership over his own body is a much more natural, absolute right than the rights of landownership. However, it too has its limits. It is too easy for my taste to say that a fetus is part of a woman's body, more like an invited guest.

Where we draw the line is subjective, of course, but so is almost every other rule of morality.

11:43 PM EST  
Blogger Tommy said...

Jolly, where I take issue with you on this is that as much as one wants to trumpet the right to do what one wants to do with his or her body or property, we do not live in a vacuum. Behavior has consequences not only for the individual who engages in the behavior, but for society as well.

I was once a libertarian like you, but over time I have drifted towards a more communitarian outlook. Maybe it comes from being a parent and having to care for my mom. While I still ardently believe in individual liberty, I also believe it is incumbent for us to be connected and to care about the society in which we live.

1:52 AM EST  
Blogger Jonathan Blake said...

Tommy, I see it this way: the government should be very libertarian focusing mostly on defending individual liberties, but we as private individuals should be very communitarian, focusing on the common welfare. Let's limit the violence behind all government actions to those situations where violence is justified. (e.g. do we really want the gestapo enforcing marriage?)

12:30 PM EST  
Blogger pgc1981 said...

Tommy,

well said, well said. You have brought up a good point

1:06 PM EST  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Believe me when I say that I recognize there must be some limits placed on individual liberty. For example, an individual cannot bring physical harm to his neighbors in the name of exercising his liberties. However, there is a big difference between an individual harming society and an individual harming himself. In a free society, individuals must be given the freedom to do themselves grievous bodily harm. That includes unsafe sex with prostitutes, private adult drug abuse, sanctioned death matches between consenting adults, etc. The government may not protect me from myself, and may not enact regulations "for my own good."

An individual who is not free to be self-destructive is not free at all.

So, yes, I support laws banning drunk driving, banning public drug abuse, and other such things which have a clear effect on the community at large. However, I definitely fail to see how, as an example, a man snorting coke in his basement inherently harms society at large in a substantial way. The same goes for a martial arts contest to the death between two adults. As long as both consent, it really isn't anybody else's concern, least of all the government. Let them fight, and the winner shall survive.

Clearly, I represent the individualist fringe. I have a "live and let live" attitude, and generally am one to mind my own business--not interjecting myself into other people's affairs for any reason. Though I live in a community, I act as a sovereign individual. And, I respect other people as sovereign individuals--sparing them my judgment and my interference.

7:22 PM EST  
Blogger Scot said...

This is a no-win situation that victimizes both the unborn and the mother. If you choose the rights of the pregnant over the rights of the unborn, you're considered pro-murder. If you choose the rights of the unborn over those of the pregnant, you're labeled as either an agent of religion or against personal freedoms. I find that discourse over the issue of abortion to be of minimal reward, but since that's why we're here, I'll throw my hat into the ring.

Regardless of how people may feel about the issue of abortion, the decision to undergo the procedure should be taken *very* seriously. In abortion, there is a loss of life. No arguement can deny that when all is said and done, there's a dead...thing, sitting in a jar or on a steel tablet.

Since I feel both stances to be in error, I choose to err on the side of the woman's right to choose. I do so on two main points:

1) What someone else does with their body (drugs, tattoos, babies), is not my concern. If it was, I'd have wanted to have my say on his/her actions, in this case sex, BEFORE they followed through with them.

2) I feel that a woman that has gone through the trials and tribulations of simply living in the world we've created for ourselves has garnered her a greater right to have her wishes respected. It's not easy, living. There are difficult, often traumatic, happenstances that occur in the course of growing up. If surmounting these challenges doesn't count for a stronger control over one's own life then I think the system we've designed is highly flawed.

8:40 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some call it murder, I'd call it self defense. Any attempt to regulate, puts the not-yet-baby in the position of having rights which usurp those of the mother, meaning involuntary servitude; slavery. I don't think the not-yet-baby has those intrinsict rights; they can only be legislated, whereas the mother already has full rights, instrinsically.

In terms of doing the least harm possible, the mother is the only one who should be making the choice of whether terminate or not.

10:08 PM EST  
Anonymous pgc1981 said...

Jolly,

What happens when that adult who snorts coke in his basement goes out and gets behind the wheel of a car? Let’s face reality here, almost all illegal drugs are extremely addictive and people extremely dependent on them. I would say marijuana in most cases is the only non-addictive illegal drug (not being laced that is). So with that said, someone who does cocaine or heroine or methamphetamines are going to become addicted to them and unless they stay indoors 24-7 it’s going to be very difficult from preventing them from doing something stupid in public that could harm others. Fact is people don’t think coherently while on drugs.

Even if the government legalized drugs, which is extremely, extremely unlikely, how do you plan to control the situation? Who determines when law is being broken and when it’s not? Because you know minors will get their hands on the drugs, people won’t limit to their house only, drug dealers will be on the streets even more and so on and so on. We are much better off with drugs being illegal

10:53 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is an even better argument:

"Since you believe abortion is murder, do you support the death penalty for women who have abortions or life in prison?"

They have to pick one or the other or their argument falls on its face.

11:53 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Premise One: Individuals own their bodies, and everything that is growing within their bodies."

A few questions:
1) What is your definition of "ownership"?
2) When did you either make or pay for your body to qualify for a more traditional view of ownership?
3) Most things that I own I can change at whim. When last did you swap out your body or change it dramatically to improve your total satisfaction of ownership?
4) When last did you decide to extend your date of death by an arbitrary amount (since I presume your definition of "ownership" will also include a degree of control)?

Your premise is wrong. Our bodies are not our own - they are owned by God (not only did He make them, but he also paid for them in full). When you stop thinking that you are God, you may have a better chance at finding the strait and narrow. Until then, you are wandering down a road that is leading to the pit of hell.

1:36 PM EST  
Blogger Jonathan Blake said...

Mothers who have engaged in consensual sex have already exercised their individual rights and have trapped another individual (the fetus) in a bad situation. This should predispose us to err on the side of the innocent party (the fetus) unless it poses a severe threat to the woman's health or is itself determined to be inviable due to birth defects.

1:38 PM EST  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Your premise is wrong. Our bodies are not our own - they are owned by God (not only did He make them, but he also paid for them in full). When you stop thinking that you are God, you may have a better chance at finding the strait and narrow. Until then, you are wandering down a road that is leading to the pit of hell.

To which God character do you refer? I'm really curious...

Zeus?

Mithras?

Enlil?

Anu?

Nintu?

Maybe Yahweh?

I might consider Mithraism if it will spare me Hell.

7:54 PM EST  
Anonymous Brad said...

Much earlier, Suzanne said:


Whatever reasoning one uses to justify abortion, the result is a dead human being. Killing is immoral unless it's for self-defense-- and no, killing because one wants to pursue an education, or because one simply does not want children at this time is not "self-defense".


I would expect that anyone with that attitude would be strongly against war, and the war in Iraq in particular (since the Iraqis did the USA no harm).

But somehow I suspect Suzanne is pro-war.

11:16 AM EST  
Blogger Jonathan Blake said...

"The One who's questions you have avoided because your wisdom is worldly and futile. Answer my questions then I'll answer yours."

This reminds me of a joke told to me by a Jewish man: Two old Jewish men are talking. The first asks "Why do Jews always answer a question with a question?" His friend responds "Why not?"

I know that I shouldn't feed the trolls, but I can't resist:

"2) When did you either make or pay for your body to qualify for a more traditional view of ownership?"

So are you advocating that we not exercise sovereignty over our own bodies? You could certainly say that in a very material way, I made my children's bodies. I even paid for them through hospital and grocery bills. Do I therefore own their bodies? Are my children my slaves?

Actually, come to think of it, I pay for my own grocery and hospital bills these days. Keeping up this increasingly decrepit body isn't cheap.

Perhaps you meant that we should give over control to God, since I assume you're suggesting that God made us and therefore he owns us. If he is sovereign over our bodies, then we must ask a couple questions: Who is God and what exactly does he want for my body?

This leads us back to jolly nihilist's question. We learn about many gods throughout history. They all want different things. Which god is the owner of my body? Which one is my master? How do I know for certain that by following the iron age tribal god of the Israelites that I am not actually offending the true owner of my body, Baal, Vishnu, Mother Earth,...? There have been so many gods, that my chances of picking the right one are infinitesimal. Chances are, we're all going to hell because the real god was worshiped millenia ago (or will be millenia in the future).

Once we settle which god we're talking about, make sure to give me his address. Since he owns it, he'll be receiving a bill for the maintenance on this body that I've been paying for all this time.

5:12 PM EST  
Blogger makemesmile said...

Hi,
I’m not a philosopher, and have little training in logic outside everyday experience. It is what you said about tumors that is prompting me to write

”Going back to tumors, I think they represent the perfect analogy to fetuses.”

This reminded me of a story that I read some time ago. Allow me to summarize. John, the hero is thrown into prison by a giant and tormented by a jailor who can see no difference between things, in this example, milk from a female cow and her waste. “Our relations to the cow are not delicate - as you can easily see if can imagine eating any of her other secretions.” John realizes what is being said and accuses the jailor of talking nonsense, “You are trying to pretend that unlike things are alike. You are trying to make us think that milk is the same sort of thing as sweat or dung.” I say the analogy of milk to dung makes as much sense as comparing little humans to little tumors. Maybe reason on a white horse will come riding in this case as well.

3:40 PM EST  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

The basis of the analogy is simple enough:

Both tumors and fetuses are clumps of living cells, growing within the body of an autonomous individual.

12:56 AM EST  
Blogger Jonathan Blake said...

Both tumors and fetuses are clumps of living cells, growing within the body of an autonomous individual.

And the similarities end there. :)

2:19 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Premise One: Individuals own their bodies, and everything that is growing within their bodies. ... Indeed, I cannot think of a single thing that would be growing within an individual’s body that said individual would not own.

Think harder.

You may own your body, but that does not say you own everything that grows within it, given that it might be a foreign entity placed into it and may not be part of your body (the main dispute, really). Do you own the bacteria growing inside you, or a parasite? I say no since it is genetically unique, and not part of your body.

So, is the fetus part "your" body? Technically, it is the combination of both the male and female body, and a genetically separate organism that is using your body as a host (a parasite, if you must). The more suited analogy is Judith Thompson's involving the unconscious violinist.

Premise Three: Individuals may destroy that which they own.

No. Say I own a nuclear reactor. May I simply destroy it? I must dispose of it in a manner that conforms to regulations or laws put in place. Same goes with most things you own. There is also a question of ethics involved. Say you "own" the cure to cancer. Is it ethical for you to destroy it?

2 of 3 premises in dispute make for a lousy argument. There are much better arguments for abortion. This isn't even close.

Abortion is a horribly complicated issue. For one "blogger" to come out thinking he solved it is somewhat arrogant.

7:54 PM EDT  
Blogger Ray said...

I don't disagree with your conclusion, but your argument has a serious logical flaw:

"Premise One: Individuals own their bodies, and everything that is growing within their bodies."

Additional Premise: The fetus is an individual (this is indisputably true at some point... though there might be an argument over exactly where that point lies).

Therefore, by premise one, the fetus owns itself and everything growing within its body.

Unless you accept that this implies shared ownership, this is a contradiction, making your argument sematically null.

And if you accept shared ownership, the argument is not so simple.

I'm afraid it falls back to an ethical argument after all... property rights can't fix this one.

7:54 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dumb. your argument says that the difference between a life that should be protected and a sack of cells that can be tossed away could be as little as 1 second (ie the 1 second before birth).

just dumb. wish your mom aborted you at the last second.

and what's with all this autonomous stuff, trying to sound more scientific ? pathetic

6:17 PM EDT  
Blogger Conor said...

I love this. Brilliant!

What about the classic constitution argument—humans are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness—? My first guess is that, well, fetuses aren't natural born American citizens entitled to protections of American law?

7:55 PM EST  
Blogger Peter said...

A fetus is a prenatal human being, genetically independent from its mother, and genetically identical to its postnatal form, but dependent on her for life's basic needs - food and shelter - which do not change after birth. These needs are common among all human beings and are not grounds for negating the rights of the unborn. The fetus is where it should be, doing what it should do, and living like any other human being as a result of a woman's "choice" to exercise her reproductive right. It is no different from a human being outside of the womb in its essential human characteristics. Therefore, the fetus, who is a human being, can not be considered property since postnatal people are not considered property either.

If this is your best argument, than you are still the genetic property of your mother - outside of her womb - and she retains the right to end her commitment to ownership of you by killing you whenever she wants. Is this honestly what you want?

If you want to make human rights your focus, you must fully acknowledge ALL human rights, including those of the unborn.

By your logic, a woman's reproductive system is also her property. Don't you think, then, that reproductive responsibility is a part of reproductive ownership?

5:52 AM EDT  

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