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Post 20

Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 5:19pmSanction this postReply
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Hi Bill,

I see you are determined to drag me into this thing. Oh well.

I am asking you this not because you are an Objectivist, but because you are an astute observer of them.
 
I don't know about that, but I do understand Rand's version of Objectivism. My answers will be based on that understanding.

You answered my question with: "No. They are free to put it out for adoption."  To me that would suggest the parents are ensuring the care of their child.

That is your subjective evaluation of "what that means." I said it, and what it means to me is, the parents are unloading the burden of caring for the child. It has nothing to do with moral obligation. The parents may prefer to see the child is cared for, because most people would, but they are not obligated to want that.

(We've discussed elsewhere the fact that the question of abortion, except in extreme circumstances, only ever comes up because people have already made a host of bad decisions; an unwanted pregnancy is usually just one more unexpected unplanned emergency in a disintegrated life.)

A human being only has chosen obligations resulting from agreements between himself and other human beings. A human being owes no obligation to anyone or anything they have not made an agreement with. No living being has a claim on the life of another human being, no matter how extreme their circumstances.

(The exception would be that a victim of a crime does have a claim against the life and property of the perpetrator of that crime.)

Now, the Objectivist argument about abortion does not rest on the fact they do not regard the fetus a human being, but on the fact, whether it is a human being or not, it does not have a claim on another's life. I am sorry this seems hard, and I know it does, but the moment a single exception to a moral principle is allowed, the prinicple might as well be thrown out.

So I have a question for you. Where does the presumed "obligation," of a parent to care for a child come from? What is the principle that makes them obligated? Please do not say it is because their act caused the child to be. I have a friend who reminds her child, whenever that child tries to play the "you owe" me card, "You're right, I brought you into this world, and I can take you out."

Most parents care for their children because they love them, enjoy them, and consider the cost of having and raising them worth the reward, as you and I do. It is almost impossible for us to imagine how any parent might feel differently, but some obviously do. Explain why those parents who despise their children and resent their very existence, as intruders and freeloaders in their lives, are obligated to care for those children, or to have them in the first place.

The real problem is, the "obligation" idea does not work anyway. For those parents who don't desire and choose to care for their children themselves, forcing some obligation on them is not going to make them decent parents. If anything, they will just resent their children more. And what is a child to think if it learns every moment of time and every dime spent on the child's welfare was given grudgingly and only out of a sense of unearned obligation.

I've tried to take the lighter side of this, because it is such an emotionally charged issue. Just the thought of a child suffering causes me anguish. But my anguish does not justify the abrogation of a moral principle. The argument against abortion is frequently couched in the language of rights. The "right to life," is usually mentioned.

Rights only pertain to action. The right to life means you have a right to do whatever you must to sustain your own life. You do not have a right to life at someone esle's expense. You do not have a right to be kept alive by someone else if you cannot keep yourself alive. It makes no difference if that condition is the way you end up, or the way you start out.

That, I think, is the Objectivist view.

Regi




Post 21

Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 5:40pmSanction this postReply
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Phil,

I am sorry, I just noticed your post squeezed in between mine and Bill's.

If you mean by "self-sustaining," able to live independently of the mother, you are of course right. That is not what I meant by self-sustaining. I was referring to the general Objectivist definition of life as a self-sustaining process. The fetus is a distinct organism from the moment of implantation; as a living organism it exhibits that self-sustained process which is its life. It cannot sustain itself independently of the mother, of course; she supplies it oxygen, and nourishment, and eliminates its waste, but fetus must process those things itself, that is, it will only survive if its own living process sustains itself. The mother cannot keep it alive if that process ceases or, "malfunctions."

I would say the transformation is the gradual development until the point where the fetus can survive outside the mother's body (5 months).
 
I have a question about what you mean here. Fetuses have been kept alive outside the mother's body younger than that, and, hypothetically, they should be able to be kept alive from any age. Just because they can live outside the mother's body does not mean they are independent. If they are in an incubator and are not breathing, eating and drinking on their own, they are no more independent than they were while in the mother's womb.

That is why I make the point they must be breathing on their own to be considered, "born." But I may be misunderstaning your point, and would like to know that.

You raise hard questions.

Regi




Post 22

Friday, August 20, 2004 - 7:03amSanction this postReply
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Hi, Regi.

>>I see you are determined to drag me into this thing.<<

Sorry about that, but who else to go to when I want a straight answer? ;)

Seriously, it was a straight answer I was after.  My purpose was not to argue about the morality of abortion, but rather find out if Objectivism does indeed support its political position on abortion with a foundation consistent with its ethic of self-interest.  You and Robert provided me with refreshingly honest opinions that don't evade the plain facts about who is a human being.

I certainly do not think your belief makes you an orge.  (I must admit I was initially a bit surprised by your remarks about your personal feelings, but then you are correct that the issue is so charged with emotion and irrationality, so sometimes such softening comments are necessary to get the message through.)  Your belief may appear harsh, but I do understand how you see greater good flowing from that belief if everyone adhered to it.

I wanted the information you gave and appreciate it.  It doesn't change my mind, but once again you've shined a new light on an old subject for me.  That's always welcome.

Regards,
Bill

[Edit:  Small clarification.  When I wrote that I was surprised by your remarks about your personal feelings, I surprised that you made the remarks, not your personal feelings.]

(Edited by Citizen Rat on 8/20, 9:05am)




Post 23

Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 8:51amSanction this postReply
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As I was reading thru this thread I was struck civility of discussion.  Despite the divergent views expressed, the conversation has not devolved into the vitriolic rhetoric commonly associated with debates on abortion.  I hope you don't mind then that I add my voice to the cacophony of views expressed here. 

On the topic of Parental Responsibility

Way back in post 20 Reginald Firehammer said:

A human being only has chosen obligations resulting from agreements between himself and other human beings. A human being owes no obligation to anyone or anything they have not made an agreement with. No living being has a claim on the life of another human being, no matter how extreme their circumstances.
(The exception would be that a victim of a crime does have a claim against the life and property of the perpetrator of that crime.)

This is interesting.  That a human being can make no claim on the life of another human being is, of course, a core tenet in Objectivist thought.  And as noted in your exception there are situations where the actions of one person, insofar as they negatively impact the life and well being of another person, can incur a liability or responsibility. Rephrasing this slightly; if the actions of person "A" leave person "B" in a situation where person "B" is left helpless and unable to support or defend themselves, then person "A" has become liable for person "B"'s condition.  We then extend that argument to the question of Parental Responsibility:  as a direct result of the actions of the parents the child (the nascent human being) is left helpless and unable to fend for itself, the parents are therefore responsible for the condition of the child.

This argument is not necessarily against right of a woman to have an abortion.  However, I am very reluctant concerning late term abortions.  I will follow Ayn Rand's own words/argument "A piece of protoplasm has no rights-and no life in the human sense of the term. One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual, is vicious; to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former, is unspeakable." ("A Last Survey," The Ayn Rand Letter, IV, 2, 3).  There was an excellent exchange here...  http://www.solohq.com/Forum/PollDiscussions/0067.shtml#17.  Post 19 in this exchange in particular where Pamela Hewitt-Reid says, "Morally and legally then, a foetus is part of a womans' body and her total responsibility - therefor hers to choose to dispose off, until such time as it can be considered a separate entity which owns itself" also seems to sum things up very clearly and eloquently. 

Now, just because a parent has a moral responsibility to care for their children doesn't mean that this is, or has to be the only reason a parent cares for their children. 

Reginald Firehammer also said in post 20:

Most parents care for their children because they love them, enjoy them, and consider the cost of having and raising them worth the reward, as you and I do. It is almost impossible for us to imagine how any parent might feel differently, but some obviously do. Explain why those parents who despise their children and resent their very existence, as intruders and freeloaders in their lives, are obligated to care for those children, or to have them in the first place.
The real problem is, the "obligation" idea does not work anyway. For those parents who don't desire and choose to care for their children themselves, forcing some obligation on them is not going to make them decent parents. If anything, they will just resent their children more. And what is a child to think if it learns every moment of time and every dime spent on the child's welfare was given grudgingly and only out of a sense of unearned obligation.
I think we need to be careful that we don't create a false dichotomy here.  The state where a parent has a moral responsibility to care for their children and the state where they genuinely love the children and want to care for them are by no means exclusive.  In the best circumstances parents should want to care for their children.  However in cases where they do not, for instance in the case of absentee fathers (i.e. deadbeat dads), the fathers ought to at least help pay for the care and upbringing of the child (this obviously applies to absentee mothers as well).  In other cases where neither parent wants to care for the children then they can place them up for adoption though they ought to make every reasonable effort to see that the children are placed in a healthy environment.

I am encouraged by general level of discourse on these forums and eagerly look forward to any response to the thoughts I have left here.

pax





Post 24

Sunday, August 22, 2004 - 3:27pmSanction this postReply
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In post 19 Citizen Rat said:

I see the "official" Objectivist resolution of this conflict by simply defining a human being so as to exclude the unborn as an evasion.  This evasion informs me that most Objectivists may be a little squeamish about the hard logic of self-interest, as forthrightly propounded by Robert, when it comes to abortion.  If they are squeamish about it, perhaps that is because they believe something immoral occurs in an abortion.  If so, why not say so?

I'm not so sure the "official" Objectivist stance is as intellectually dishonest as you make it out to be.  I think there is some equivocation occurring with the terms 'human' in the phrases 'human life' and 'human being'.  To say that a newly fertilized egg is human, or a human life, is not equivalent to saying it is a human being.  It is human in the sense that it is related to or characteristic of a human as in the term 'human finger'...  we're not talking about an anthropomorphic finger walking around, but rather a finger that belongs to a human.  In the same sense the 'human' life of the newly fertilized egg does not equate to a human being.

In post number 4 Citizen Rat said:

An unassembled car is not analogous to a human embryo.  An unassembled car is a group of components, if properly brought together, will become car.  Upon assembly is when a car begins.  So an unassembled car is akin to an unmated sperm and egg, the “unassembled” components of a new human being.  Upon conception is when a new human life is actualized. 
I sort of agree here but I really hate this whole car analogy thing.  A better way to think of the newly fertilized egg is that it is very much like a cake batter.  In the cake batter all of the ingredients are there but it is not yet a cake.  It is the same way with the newly fertilized egg - all the ingredients are there but it is not yet a human being.  Just as the cake batter requires time in the oven to become a cake...  so too the unmade stuff that is a newly fertilized egg needs time in its mother's womb to become a human being.  At what point in the gestation process does the human being appear?  That is a difficult question... much like at what point in the baking process does the cake batter actually become cake.  I would say that the embryo becomes a person somewhere early in the second trimester.  (Kinda puts the term 'bun in the oven' in reference to a pregnant woman in a whole new perspective;-)

BTW, the view that a person comes into being (or becomes ensouled) somewhere between conception and birth is not new and is not something invented by Objectivists.  Aristotle held that the embryos acquired a 'human' soul somewhere between two and three months after conception.  Similar views are held by Islamic jurists and Thomas Aquinas (thought I don't believe Aquinas actually endorsed abortion). 

pax




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Post 25

Monday, August 23, 2004 - 10:21amSanction this postReply
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Hi, Abby.

>>I'm not so sure the "official" Objectivist stance is as intellectually dishonest as you make it out to be.  I think there is some equivocation occurring with the terms 'human' in the phrases 'human life' and 'human being'.<<

True.

>>To say that a newly fertilized egg is human, or a human life, is not equivalent to saying it is a human being.  It is human in the sense that it is related to or characteristic of a human as in the term 'human finger'...  we're not talking about an anthropomorphic finger walking around, but rather a finger that belongs to a human.  In the same sense the 'human' life of the newly fertilized egg does not equate to a human being.<<

Granted.  One can speak of a zygote as human as opposed to being an oak or a walrus without meaning that it is a human being.  However, denying that a human zygote is a human being means identifying a discontinuity in the life of that organism, which does not exist in the life of any other species of organism.  Even in instances in which an organism undergoes an extreme transformation during its life, a tadpole is still a frog and a caterpillar a butterfly.  It is the same being.

>>I sort of agree here but I really hate this whole car analogy thing.<<

You're right that the car analogy is a weak one.  I had the similar reservations, but I didn't bother to get into it, because I didn't expect a serious response from the analogy's author.

>>A better way to think of the newly fertilized egg is that it is very much like a cake batter.  ...  At what point in the gestation process does the human being appear?  That is a difficult question... much like at what point in the baking process does the cake batter actually become cake.  I would say that the embryo becomes a person somewhere early in the second trimester.  (Kinda puts the term 'bun in the oven' in reference to a pregnant woman in a whole new perspective;-)<<

Well, I'm not so sure about this.  One reason why we call one thing batter and another thing cake is because they are in fact two different things, though related by an identifiable transformation in which heat changes the liquid batter into a solid cake.

The thing about the continuum of zygote, embryo, fetus, newborn, infant, child, adolescent, adult, and elderhood of a human organism is that they are all the same thing, just different phases of the same life.  An organism does not exist without its life, and no life exists that it not embodied by an organism.  A cake or batter or anything in between has no such thing as life, a process driving the development of an indivisable entity.  Mixing batter does not create a life which will then turn the batter into a cake if allowed to develop without interference.  Moreover, we can divide the batter, because it is not an organism, in any manner we wish during the baking process, and it will still become a cake.  Do the same to a human organism, and you'll kill it.

I know I'm stating the obvious, Abby, but I do so to emphasize what I regard as essential:  Life.  Your life as an adult is the same life you had a zygote.  The organism you are now is the same one upon your conception.  Therefore, you have been a human being your entire life.

>>BTW, the view that a person comes into being (or becomes ensouled) somewhere between conception and birth is not new and is not something invented by Objectivists.  Aristotle held that the embryos acquired a 'human' soul somewhere between two and three months after conception.  Similar views are held by Islamic jurists and Thomas Aquinas (thought I don't believe Aquinas actually endorsed abortion).<<

True, but the identification of quickening by the ancients as the moment of ensoulment was a consequence of their ignorance regarding embryology.

Regards,
Bill




Post 26

Monday, August 23, 2004 - 3:12pmSanction this postReply
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Bill, 

I know I'm stating the obvious, Abby, but I do so to emphasize what I regard as essential:  Life.  Your life as an adult is the same life you had a zygote.  The organism you are now is the same one upon your conception.  Therefore, you have been a human being your entire life.

If we define life as “DNA” or “genetic material,” or even “possessing an immortal soul” (all definitions I disagree with, but for the sake of argument, let’s run with it), then your comment stands.

 

(Note, that if we were to redefine “life,” then Objectivists would have to redefine “the right to life.” It would become “the right to remain self-sustaining and self-generating.” And since a zygote/embryo was never self-sustaining/self-generating, it can’t be deprived of that right.)

 

The fact that it’s the same organism is not essential at all; it does not entitle it to the same rights. You should not have the same rights as a child as you do when you’re an adult (same life.) You should not have the same rights as a freshly convicted violent criminal as you did when you were an innocent man. Rights are contextual.




Post 27

Tuesday, August 24, 2004 - 5:34amSanction this postReply
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Hi, Glenn.

>>The fact that it’s the same organism is not essential at all; it does not entitle it to the same rights. You should not have the same rights as a child as you do when you’re an adult (same life.) You should not have the same rights as a freshly convicted violent criminal as you did when you were an innocent man. Rights are contextual.<<

Absolutely.  I certainly wouldn't argue that a fetus should have the right to vote.

The first question regarding the unborn is whether each human being has the sine non qua of rights, the right to his life.  If so, it does not necessarily follow from that the right to your life means a right to have that life supported by others.  So the second question would is whether parents are obliged to care for the human beings they create.

Regards,
Bill




Post 28

Monday, January 31, 2005 - 7:26pmSanction this postReply
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I wish to note, as it was brought up during my brief visit to The Autonomist (more on that another time) my post number 16 in this thread. At the time I was arguing with G. Stolyarov regarding abortion. I was quite irate at his anti-abortion stance and how it denied a woman the right to her body. Unfortunately my anger got the best of me and I called him evil. In hindsight I regret this remark and feel I should have chosen something more fitting the nature of our debate. With all the evil in the world today and those who gleefully support it, I find that this term should be reserved for those who truly are. I beleive it was the wonderful Ms Branden who noted the bad tendancy to call one another evil. I agreed with Mr Stolyarov on many of his posts, and though I disagreed with him on more, I stepped over a line in this case and regret and appologise for it. It was wrong and a bad call on my part.


Ethan




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