The Instigator
RoyLatham
Pro (for)
Losing
18 Points
The Contender
Contradiction
Con (against)
Winning
24 Points

A Fetus is Not Morally Equivalent to a Mature Human

Do you like this debate?NoYes+19
Add this debate to Google Add this debate to Delicious Add this debate to FaceBook Add this debate to Digg  
Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 11 votes the winner is...
Contradiction
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/4/2011 Category: Society
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 10,599 times Debate No: 16769
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (53)
Votes (11)

 

RoyLatham

Pro

Thanks to my opponent for debating an important aspect of the abortion issue.

The Resolution

In a previous debate my opponent claimed:

"The unborn entity, from the moment of concept, is a full-fledged member of the human community" http://www.debate.org...

Due to forfeits by the other side in that debate, my opponent did not have an opportunity to defend his position. In this debate I will argue that there are differences between a fetus and a full-fledged member of the community that affect the morality of abortion, Con will defend his position that there are no such differences.

If Con is correct, then abortion should be illegal, because abortion is then proved morally equivalent to murder. However, if Con is wrong, it does not imply that any or all abortions should be legal. It may be that some or all abortions should be illegal for practical reasons, or that there are some circumstances where the weaker moral status of a fetus is still greater than other moral considerations. In other words, even though abortion is not murder, there might be other reasons in some circumstances to make it illegal. Perhaps benefits to society predominate to make abortion illegal; we are not debating that.

The present Supreme Court ruling is that the fetus is part of the mother before the end of the first trimester, and not part of the mother after that time. Accordingly, the legal status of the fetus changes. What we are debating here is that the status rightly remains the same from the moment of conception.

Definitions

Ordinary dictionary definitions are used for this debate, with context determining the appropriate choice from multiple definitions.

Acceptance

This round is for acceptance, clarification of the resolution, and definitions. If Con does not agree with my basic interpretation of the resolution, he is to negotiate changes in the comments before accepting. Arguments begin in R2.

My opponent has no obligation to use arguments made in the previous debate cited. He may argue any way he sees fit.

The challenge is reposted at the request of my opponent.


Contradiction

Con

I accept the terms. Good luck!
Debate Round No. 1
RoyLatham

Pro

I thank my opponent for the opportunity to debate one aspect of the abortion issue. Perhaps by focung narrowly, we can achieve clarity. We'll try.

More Definitions

At the moment of conception the fetus, as defined for his debate, is a single cell, called a zygote. For about five days thereafter it is a floating spherical mass of cells called a blastocyst that may eventually attach to the placenta to develop. http://www.nlm.nih.gov... My arguments will apply to these early stages of development in which the fetus has no nervous system, no brain, and no sense organs. It is incapable of thought, pain, sensation, or cognition.

"Moral equivalence" was not defined in the opening round. I think moral equivalence means, "properly considered to have equal rights and privileges."

1. Self-awareness is essential to moral equivalence.

Let's start with what seems like a foolish question. Is a rock morally equivalent to a fully developed human? Obviously not, but why not? It is not merely that the rock is not human. can imagine types of space aliens who, while not human, share human perceptions human ethics and would merit being said morally equivalent. A rock fails at the start: it is not self-aware, so it is not a "being" and cannot be morally equivalent to a mature human being.

The property of self-awareness has been long recognized as essential:

"This sense of self is critical to our status as persons. In fact, philosophers often use the terms self and person interchangeably: a capacity for self-awareness is necessary for full personhood. One has a sense of self if one is able to entertain first-person thoughts, and if one possesses first-person knowledge."
Handbook of self and identity (pp. 68-90). New York: Guilford Press, 2002. http://socrates.berkeley.edu...

The resolution does not distinguish between a live mature human and a dead mature human. The resolution doesn't need to specify because we all know that it would be ridiculous to suppose that a dead mature human was morally equivalent to a live one. Why is it ridiculous?The dead human has all the DNA and other attributes, but it unquestionably self awareness.

2. The life of the mother is more important than that of the fetus

There is controversy over how often abortions are necessary to save the life of the mother, but there are some circumstances when it is clearly necessary. For example, one case a mother having a weak heart would have certainly died in childbirth.
http://www.swimmingkangaroo.com...

In these cases, the life of the mother is universally placed above that of the fetus. This means that no one, or almost no one, considers the lives morally equivalent. So, does such universal agreement prove that they are not morally equivalent? It does, because while we cannot decide the shape of the earth by an opinion poll, morally reflects human nature. While there are many moral disagreements, we be assured that near-universal agreement on the immorality of things like murder and theft means those, at least, are features of natural law.


3. Early spontaneous abortions are universally ignored

About 60% of zygotes do not survive to term. "... up to half of all fertilized eggs die and are lost (aborted) spontaneously, usually before the woman knows she is pregnant. Among those women who know they are pregnant, the miscarriage rate is about 15-20%." http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov...

No one considers spontaneous abortion of zygotes or blastocysts as morally significant. Generally no one knows they happen, and no one thinks it important to find out. If mature humans are lost in, say, mountain climbing accidents or airline crashes in remote areas, serious attempts are made to find the remains so that they can be given funerals and honored according the tradition of their families. Yet, no heroic attempts are made using modern science to locate spontaneously aborted zygotes so they can be given proper funerals. There is no demand for microscopic caskets or burial plots. The reason is that they are not morally equivalent to mature humans, and that is universally recognized.


4. Perception and memory count in determining moral equivalence

Are all mature humans morally equivalent? Suppose some sci-fi scenario in which a choice must be made to either save the life of an active fully-functioning adult and an adult who has lost all memories and sensations. In theory, these attributes might be determined with a brain scan. If they are morally equivalent, then a coin flip would be a good method of choosing which to save. If they are morally equivalent, the random outcome of a coin flip avoids an bias in which to choose.

The rational choice, however, is to choose to save the person who is fully functioning as a person over the one who is not functioning. They are not equivalent. A zygote is the extreme case of a non-functionality. It has no memory or sensations. The lack of functionality is a reasonable basis for moral inequality.

Some religions place a very high value on certain trees. They may deem a sacred tree to be morally equivalent to a mature human. To deem is legalese meaning that something is acted upon as true, even though it isn't true. For example, a special decree might deem a foreigner to be a citizen eve though he is not. He would then be treated to the rights of citizenship even though he doesn't deserve them according to the ordinary rules of citizenship. Thus a religion may deem a tree morally equivalent to a human, but the lack of functionality of the tree compared to a human makes it unreasonable to so.

Similarly, a religion might deem a zygote morally equivalent to a mature human, but the lack of functionality means it is not equivalent in fact. Just as there might be good reasons to deem a foreigner to be a citizen, there might be good reasons to deem a zygote to be morally equivalent. For example, so deeming might increase respect for mature life or acting if it were true might help repopulate a country devastated by war. However, it is nonetheless not true in fact.

A fetus is not morally equivalent to a mature human.
Contradiction

Con

It's a pleasure to be debating Roy on this topic. Given his past record, I'm looking forward to a very fruitful debate.

Pro advances several arguments as to why the fetus is not morally equivalent to a mature human being. [1] In responding, I will both advance a positive case for my position and respond to the arguments offered.

1. Mental Criteria

A. Self-awareness?

Why isn't a rock morally equivalent to a fully developed human (Hereafter FDH)? According to Pro, it is because a rock is not self-aware. Unfortunately, this is not analogous to the fetus. Additionally, this analogy can be seen to backfire.

While the fetus cannot immediately exercise self-awareness, it has the inherent capacity as part of its nature to develop self-awareness. A rock, by contrast, does not have this inherent capacity. The analogy therefore breaks down.

Moreover, suppose I am asleep, under general anesthesia, or in a reversable coma, such that I cannot immediately exercise my ability to be self-aware. Am I no longer morally equivalent to a fellow FDH? Of course not, it would be immoral to kill me under any of these circumstances. But can the functionalist criteria appealed to be Pro justify this? It seems not, for as soon as I can no longer execise self-awareness, I am no longer morally equivalent to a FDH.

What Pro's rock analogy really proves is not that self-awareness is essential to moral equivalent, but that an inherent capacity for self-awareness is essential to moral equivalence. And it is precisely this capacity for self-awareness which the developing fetus has, even if it's not immediately exercisable. The latter is irrelevant to personhood. Indeed, this is affirmed by the very source Pro as support of his position!

"In fact, philosophers often use the terms self and person interchangeably: a capacity [Emphasis mine] for self-awareness is necessary for full personhood." [2]

Even worse is that self-awareness is a degreed property. If moral equivalence is determined by an aquired property, then "moral equivalence" and human rights comes in varying degrees. This means that those who are more able to exercise their self-awareness are more valuable than those who are less able. It's more plausible to argue that "Humans have value simply because they are human, not because of some acquired property they may gain or lose in their lifetime." [3]

Finally, if by "self-awareness" pro means an immediately exercisely capacity for self-awareness, then the fetus might as well be morally equivalent to some FDH humans who are in a vegetative state or permanent coma.

B. Perception and Memory?

Here, both Pro's sci-fi and tree analogy fails for the same reason. The reason we would save a fully functioning human over one who is not properly functioning is because the former has more utility and is more familiar to us -- not because he is less valuable. As an counter-analogy, the fact that a mother may choose to save her own children from a burning building as opposed to a group of orphans does not mean that the latter group are less valuable. She does this only because her own children are more familiar and attached to her -- not because they are more valuable.

The analogy is more of an exercise in our personal preferences than it is an accurate guide to moral equivalence. That being said, it's unclear as to how perception and memory count towards moral equivalence. Both are degreed properties and are thus vulnerable to some of the arguments offered in (A). Consider a blind, deaf, and mute adult with CIPA (Congenital Insensivity to Pain with Anhydrosis) who cannot perceive anything but who still has the capacity and is immediately exercising the capacity for self-awareness. Would this adult be morally equivalent to another FDH? Of course, perception has nothing to do with moral equivalence. Would those who have amnesia not be considered morally equivalent to another FDH? No. Memory is therefore irrelevant to moral equivalence.

2. Extrinsic Considerations

A. Life of the Mother?

The reason that the life of the mother takes primacy over the life of the fetus is because for the most part, the mother has a much higher chance of survival than does the fetus, and not because the fetus is not morally equivalent to a FDH. All things being equal, it is better to save one than let two die. With that in mind, it is better to save the one who has the higher chance of survival. Thus, the life of the mother takes primacy for prudential reasons, and not because the fetus is morally inferior.

B. Spontaneous Abortions?

It is unclear how this is relevant to moral equivalence. There is a high infant mortality rate in the third world, yet virtually nobody (Including those who aren't proactive about stopping it) would think that they are not morally equivalent to FDHs.

This seems to be more of an attack on the intellectual consistency of those in the pro-life camp than an argument against the unborn being persons. Moreover, this "confuses our obvious prima facie moral obligation not to commit homicide with the questionable moral obligation to itnerfere with natural death of a human person every instance. Clearly the former does not entail the latter." [4] As Norman Geisler points out, "Protecting life is a moral obligation, but resisting natural death is not necessarily a moral duty... There is no inconsistency between preserving natural life, opposing artificial abortion, and allowing natural death by spontaneous abortion." [5]

3. The Case for Moral Equivalence

Let's say we had a photo album which chronicled my life development. The person depicted in those photos is the same person that I am now. Of course, some things have changed over time (I'm taller, for example), but I am still fundamentally the same entity in those photos -- just at different stages of development.

Now, say we turn the pages back to my Kindergarten year. Is that me in those photos? Yes, it is me at a different stage of development. Now, suppose we turn all the way back to the first page. There, we see a sonogram image. Is that image of me? Yes. Like the other photos, it is simply me at a different stage of development. I remain the same individual throughout my development. Even the blastocyst which preceded the fetal stage was still me.

After all, my mother gave birth to me, not a body that later became me when it was able to immediately exercise the capacity for self-awareness. She is my mother, not the mother of the body that would later become me. Similarly, my father is the father of me, not the father of the body that would later become me. It would be absurd to deny that I once was a fetus.

However, if we assume a functionalist definition of personhood (Which, as we have seen, fails), then I came to be after my body came to be, since my body was not yet a person. But this is absurd. My mother was pregnant with me, not the body that would later become me. I was once a fetus and thus, if it is was wrong to kill me now, it was wrong to kill me then. [6] A fetus is therefore morally equivalent to a mature human.

_______

Notes

1. Actually, "fetus" is not the proper term here, since the fetal stage does not begin until the 8th week of development [Neil Campbell and Jane Reece, Biology 7th ed (Pearson: 2005) 979]. But since Pro is referring to the zygote/blastocyst stage, I will use fetus interchangeably with these terms.
2. Handbook of self and identity (pp. 68-90). New York: Guilford Press, 2002. http://socrates.berkeley.edu... cited by Pro.
3. Scott Klusendorf, "Advanced Pro-Life Apologetics" Biola University lecture notes
4. Francis Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge University Press: 2007) 76
5. Norman Geisler, Christian Ethics: Options and Issues (Baker: 1989) 153
6. Alexander Pruss, "I Was Once A Fetus: An Identity-Based Argument Against Abortion," http://www9.georgetown.edu...;
Debate Round No. 2
RoyLatham

Pro

The Resolution

My opponent is defending "The unborn entity, from the moment of concept, is a full-fledged member of the human community." What does it mean to be a "full-fledged member of the human community"? The resolution phrases it as "morally equivalent to a mature human." Using the definition of "moral equivalence," that becomes "properly considered to have equal rights and privileges of a mature human." Both "full-fledged" (fully developed : total, complete http://www.merriam-webster.com...) and "mature" mean "adult."

We know that those under eighteen do not have the all the rights and privileges of those over eighteen. Depending upon age, they have many fewer rights. Up to certain prescribed ages, young people have limited rights of free speech, cannot leave home, cannot marry, drive autos, serve in the military, serve on juries, and so forth. Children are largely controlled by their parents. Thus negating the resolution means that from the moment of conception to birth the fetus has all the rights and privileges of adults, then the right and privileges drop to a minimum, and then slowly rise until age eighteen. Con maintains this despite the total lack of self-awareness, cognition, sensory perception, or memory.

It defies common sense that right and privileges would take such a trajectory. After being born, rights and privileges grow in accordance with mental development. A zygote or blastocyst may have some rights, but that's not the subject of our debate. The debate is whether the zygote has all the rights and privileges of an adult.

1. Self-awareness is essential to moral equivalence.

Con asks if our rights and privileges ought to diminish when we fall asleep or otherwise lose self-awareness. Our privileges decrease dramatically. For example, driving, a privilege, while asleep or otherwise impaired is a crime. There are many laws that remove rights under conditions of diminished capacity.

Con argues more generally that what engenders moral equivalence is not self-awareness, but the potential for develping self-awareness in the future. In the quotation, the word capacity does not mean potential, it means ability. The definition of capacity that makes sense in the context is "the ability to understand or learn; aptitude; capability he has a great capacity for Greek." http://www.thefreedictionary.com...

The phrase "capacity for self-awareness" is commonly used to mean "the self-awareness ability." A Google search on the phrase produces many examples. For example, "Thus far, there is evidence that bottlenose dolphins, some apes, and elephants may have the capacity to be self-aware." http://en.wikipedia.org...; While there are many examples of use in that sense, I found none in the sense of potential that Con claims.

Personhood depends upon the ability of being self-aware. "Self-awareness in humans is an important developmental milestone. It is the point at which an individual, usually at about age 2, develops the ability to identify him/herself objectively." http://www.psychologytoday.com...

Con then moves to another definition of self-awareness, a philosophical one meaning something like "knowing one's place relative to the world." He then rejects the idea that self-awareness is subject to degree. We know that in fact rights vary with age, and privileges are subject to many measures, like licensing to do something after testing.

2. The life of the mother is more important than that of the fetus

Con argues that the life of the mother is saved over that of the fetus because the mother is more likely to survive, so it is a practical decision. In the example I gave, it was not true that the mother was more likely to survive than the fetus. Therefore Con's contention is false. Moreover, the argument is never made that in each case a medical decision must be made to decide the relative chances of survival, and that if the mother's odds were less, then the mother ought to die. It is virtually unanimous that the mother takes precedence. The fetus is always valued less.


3. Early spontaneous abortions are universally ignored

If zygotes are "morally equivalent" to adults, then the loss of zygotes should be mourned like the loss of adults. They are not. 60% of zygotes die, and no one cares. No one holds funerals for zygotes. They are morally nil.

Con claims that "resisting natural death is not necessarily a moral duty." Natural death occurs by natural disaster and disease. So Con is asserting that when it's possible there is no moral obligation to save adults from floods or cure them of fatal diseases. I don't agree, but that's a separate point from the moral equivalence of the death. Even if we don't know the victims of a flood or tornado, virtually everyone thinks that the "nature" deaths are regrettable and sad. But no one feels sad about dying zygotes. That's because zygotes are non-functioning and not persons, and no one considers them morally equivalent.

I agree with Con's suggestion that my argument implies persons in a vegetative state have fewer rights and privileges than persons who are fully functional. For example, since they cannot manage their own affairs, others must make decisions that they would ordinarily have a right to make for themselves.

4. Perception and memory count in determining moral equivalence

Con argues, "The reason we would save a fully functioning human over one who is not properly functioning is because the former has more utility and is more familiar to us -- not because he is less valuable." This makes no sense. If they are morally equivalent, but we logically save the one who has more utility, that means that utility is more important than morality. That would mean, for example, that abortion is justified by utility, or, in other words, convenience.

However, the assertion that utility takes precedence over moral equivalence is itself a moral judgement. If true, then zygotes are not morally equivalent, because they have less utility.

Con's Case for Moral Equivalence

Con argues that because a person develops continuously from zygote to adult, there must be moral equivalence throughout all stages of development. We know that the argument is invalid, because "moral equivalence" means "entitled to equal rights and privileges" and children have fewer rights and privileges than adults. Rights and privileges accrue according to "self-awareness" in the sense of maturity in knowledge of the world. As a totally-dependent zygote without any self-awareness, perception, knowledge, or memory a person is not the same person as he is as an adult in terms of moral equivalence.

Con relies upon continuity of the physical body to define what a person is. One reason that fails is because a person's rights vary with maturity and mental competence. However, I claim that what defines a person is really their memories. If memories could be transferred to a robot body that had a compatible brain function, then the person would be transferred. If a person loses all their memories, then the person ceases to be in any real sense. The concept is not novel; a theme in Eastern philosophy is "the purpose of life is to build memories."

Whatever happened before you had memories is not you.
Contradiction

Con

Thanks for the response. Readers are encouraged to check the footnotes for a deeper explanation of some points that I touch on.

Natural (Negative) Rights vs. Positive Rights

It is true as Pro argues, that depending on our age, the rights and privileges we have will vary (As evidenced by laws on motor vehicle operation, marriage, military service, etc...). However, to use this in a context which entails certain moral conclusions is sorely mistaken, as Pro engages in an equivocation between positive rights and natural rights.

Positive rights are those which are imposed upon society by the will of a soverign or state, whereas natural rights are those which we have innately. The former are non-moral and thus cannot be used in matters of determining moral equivalence, whereas the latter are distinctively moral. [1] Since the debate is over moral equivalence, it would be a mistake to use the former. Legal value is not identical to moral value. Pro's argument is therefore irrelevant in regards to moral equivalence.

Pro seems to be assuming legal positivism, a controversial jurisprudential view under which law and morality are the same thing. Instead of being presupposed, this must be defended in an argument. Under legal positivism, there would be no such thing as an unjust law, which strikes many as plainly absurd. We can name many examples of unjust laws, but if the law is the same thing as morality, then those who protest against so-called unjust laws would actually be acting immorally.

1. Mental Criteria

A. Self-awareness?

As pointed out in the preceding paragraph, Pro's argument here equivocates between natural rights and positive rights. Pro argues that our "privileges decrease dramatically" when asleep. This is an ambigious statement. Our legal rights (Those arbitrarily imposed on us by a state or soveriegn) may decrease, but our natural rights remain the same. Picture two people lying on a bed, one asleep and the other awake. Even though they may be of different legal value, they have the same moral value.

A "capacity" is commonly understood by philosophers to be "another term for a thing's potentiality." [2] Whether or not this potential is actual is completely irrelevant. As it thus standards, Pro's own source ends up backfiring and hurting his own position. Moreover, the term ability does not refer to the immediate exemplification of some trait, but to the inherent potential for a trait to be exercised. Nowhere is the term "ability" to be understood as the immediate exemplification of some property. [3] What is relevant to personhood is thus not the actual expression of self-awareness, but a potential for it. This is precisely why Pro's rock analogy breaks down, for rocks do not have such a capacity inherent in their nature

As it stands, Pro has not shown why self-awareness is equivalent to moral equivalence. He has simply reasserted it. Are we to believe that sleeping persons are morally inferior to awake persons? Pro's appeal to legal value fails, as it ends up equivocating between legal value and moral value. At any rate, this seems like a rather hard position to embrace, such that we should reject Pro's argument if it entails such counterintuitive conclusions.

B. Perception and Memory

Firstly, Pro has done nothing to object to the two counterexamples I raised. Let me therefore extend and repeat it here:

1. Consider a blind, deaf, and mute adult with CIPA (Congenital Insensivity to Pain with Anhydrosis) who cannot perceive anything but who still has the capacity and is immediately exercising the capacity for self-awareness. Would this adult be morally equivalent to another FDH? Of course. Perception has nothing to do with moral equivalence.

2. Would those who have amnesia not be considered morally equivalent to another FDH? No. Memory is therefore irrelevant to moral equivalence.

From this we see that perception and memory is neither a necessary or sufficient condition for personhood.

Pro's response seems to have misunderstood me. By "utility," I refer not to moral value, but to pragmatic value. All things being equal, a fully functioning human is just as valuable as one who is not as functioning. So morally speaking everything is equal, but since it is better to save one life than to let two die, we factor in other non-moral criteria into our decision. This is not to say that one life is more morally valuable than another. Utility does not take precedence over moral equivalence. We only consider non-moral reasons in decision-making when all the moral criteria are equally weighed.


2. Extrinsic Criteria

A. Life of the mother

Morally speaking, the fetus is equal in value to the mother. However, if faced in a situation such that we have to choose one or the other, we incorporate external non-moral factors into the decision-making process. This is not to say that non-moral factors take precedent over the moral factors, but that if we have to make a decision in which the two sides are equally weighed, we can incorporate other criteria. Consider the paradox of Burridan's donkey, in which a donkey is presented with two equally large bales of hay. If he deliberates forever, then he will die. The same principle applies in this instance. In the context of a medical decision though, it is better to save one than to let two die. A decision therefore has to be made. To tip the scales, we therefore introduce non-moral criteria to influence our decision-making. This has nothing to do with the moral value of the two subjects involved -- rather it has to do with the necessity of making a decision. Pro's argument here therefore fails.

B. Spontaneous abortions

Pro's argument here is rather dubious. Consider a parody argument: If poor African babies are "morally equivalent" to adults, then their deaths should be mourned like the loss of adults. They are not (The majority of people in the developed world would just shrug their shoulders). Very few hold funerals for African babies who die in poverty. Does it follow that they are morally nil? Of course not!

As I argued earlier, "There is a high infant mortality rate in the third world, yet virtually nobody (Including those who aren't proactive about stopping it) would think that they are not morally equivalent to FDHs." Or suppose a mother decides to rescue her own children over those of another parent. Would those children be less valuable? Hardly. Pro has not responded to this argument.

Regarding natural death, by "natural" I referred to death by natural causes -- not what corners refer to as "unnatural deaths" (Which may be by homicide, natural disaster, etc...). While it would be a good thing to prevent it, it is arguably not a duty. So there is no inconsistency when pro-lifers ignore the number of sponatneous abortions.

Pro simply chooses to bite the bullet in regards to those with vegetative states. This seems completely counterintuitive and strikes me as a sufficient reason in itself to reject Pro's argument. Could we also not extend his argument to its logical conclusions, such that the elderly (and especially those with Alzheimer's) are included?

The Case for Moral Equivalence

There isn't much to say here, as much of Pro's response to my argument has been dealt with in the above responses. Refer especially to my argument (Since I'm out of character space) that Pro equivocates between natural rights and positive rights.

I look forward to Pro's response.
________

Notes

1. Positive rights have to do with legal issues, which is distinct from moral issues.
2. Simon Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (OUP: 2005) 52. Note that Pro's source for his definition of capacity is the Wikipedia article on "self-awareness." However, the actual disambiguation page on "capacity" all understand the term (In its many uses) to refer to an ability to do X. See: http://en.wikipedia.org...;
3. See Pro's own source, none of the meanings of "ability" refers to the immediate exercisability of some trait. http://www.thefreedictionary.com...

Debate Round No. 3
RoyLatham

Pro

Con makes an abstract argument about differences between legal rights (positive rights) and natural rights (rights denied from the nature of mankind) but he never applies the distinction to my arguments of the debate. I claimed that children have fewer rights than adults. Suppose Mom and Pop tell Junior it's time to go to bed. Junior then holds tightly to his teddy bear and, being precocious five year old, proclaims: "Maybe you can get away with your fascism under the law, but it is my natural right to do as I wish. I have the natural right to sleep when I please, have an evening glass of gin, get married, and tell you people where to get off." Con never asserted that children have all the natural rights of mature adults, just that they might have natural rights different from legal rights. Laws can be wrong, so indeed natural rights might differ, but Con did identify any instance where I had gotten the assignment of natural rights incorrect.

The diminished natural rights of children follows from their dependence on adults, their diminished reasoning capacity, and their lack of remembered experience. Children have some rights, both natural and legal, but that they clearly do not have all the rights of adults. That's what our debate is about. Con agreed that moral equivalence meant equal rights and privileges.

I did not equivocate on the different between natural rights and legal rights, because for each case I presented the natural rights are the same as he moral rights. There may be other cases where they are different, but that's irrelevant. Con did not challenge a single one of my specific claims of diminished rights, so the argument stands. Children are denied rights and privileges, but they retain other rights. In fact, I think they have rights to be cared for that independent mature adults do not have. Having both lesser and greater rights means they are not equivalent. (If the resolution is accepted, Con would be free to argue that zygotes have a greater right to life because of an added moral obligation to care for them.)

1. Self-awareness is essential to moral equivalence.


Con repeats his unsubstantiated claim that philosophers agree that "self" is defined by the future potential for awareness, not by actually being aware. He claimed my source asserts that, but it does not. My source clear speaks only about "capacity for self-awareness" as present self-awareness of humans, as opposed to inanimate objects and animals that lack the capacity for immediate self-awareness. The source states:

"Although the self is a thorny metaphysical problem for philosophers, raising questions about mind and body, the homunculus, and whether teleporters can replicate subjective identity as well as material existence ..., cognitive psychology offers a simple answer to James' question: the self is a mental representation of oneself, including all that one knows about oneself." http://socrates.berkeley.edu...

If Con's claim is true that "self" refers to future ability, then there must be some philosopher who says that. Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" is clearly a reference to present self-awareness, not potential future self-awareness. I did a Google search and could not find any reference that took "capacity for self-awareness" to mean anything other than a present ability. In the face of this challenge to find support, Con did not offer a single case of self-awareness meaning a future capability. He found alternate dictionary definitions that allow that, but those definitions are not used in the context of self-awareness. My point stands.

2. The life of the mother is more important than that of the fetus

Virtually everyone agrees that the life of the mother is more valuable than that of an unborn fetus. Con now says that if a medical decision must be made, "To tip the scales, we therefore introduce non-moral criteria to influence our decision-making."
"Tipping scales" is only an appropriate analogy if there is balance, such that the risk to the mother's life is about the same as the risk to fetus. But even if it's clear that the risk to the life of the mother is greater than that to the life of the fetus, we always choose to try to save the mother. Everyone reasonable moral person knows that mother is more important than the fetus, and we would choose the mother if there was any reasonable chance of saving her.

The correct moral choice is to value the life of the mother more highly. The mother has loving relationships with her family, is self-aware, independent, and a mature member of society. It makes perfect sense to place a higher moral value on the mothers life.

3. Early spontaneous abortions are universally ignored

Con concedes that infants in poor countries with high infant mortality rates are not honored in funerals, and hence not considered morally equivalent. They are valued less. Pro then asks, "Does it follow that they are morally nil? Of course not!" Right, they are not morally nil. I never claimed they were. The debate is about whether they are morally equivalent, and the relevant population says they are not. They value mature adults more.

Con tries "Could we also not extend his argument to its logical conclusions, such that the elderly (and especially those with Alzheimer's) are included?" Yes, in fact sometimes in a disaster situation, a rescuer must decide whether to save a very old person rather than a younger person. Those who instruct rescue workers have counselled that the younger person is to be preferred.

Con continually implies that unless every person from zygote to maturity has exactly equal rights and privileges, then we must allow that some have no rights due at all. That's wrong. It means that moral decisions must be made carefully in each case. Con really does not escape the moral problem, he only pretends to. Should we sacrifice the mother if that guarantees the survival of the fetus, even if the mother is not guaranteed to be saved by sacrificing the fetus instead? The doctrine of moral equivalence demands that we must sacrifice the mother. That's clearly the wrong decision. But wait, there are practical considerations, and maybe it's not fair to appraise risks, and so forth. The moral decision is not really escaped, it is just danced around to find excuses that allow the correct moral decision to be made.



4. Perception and memory count in determining moral equivalence

Con asks if a person who has lost all capability for sensation but is self-aware is morally equivalent to a person who has full faculties. No, a person without sensory capability loses rights and privileges because the person is almost totally dependent on others. That person maintains many rights, but not all. For example, the hypothetical person retains the legal right to vote, but loses the moral right, because he is completely uniformed.


Con asks about a person with amnesia, who has lost all memory with no hope for a cure. The premise is that they have no current ability to form new memories. "All memories" means all the acquired skills of language, education, and so forth. Under those circumstances, the person has no identity and cannot interact with other humans, so they have fewer rights and privileges than fully functional humans. This is not to say that such people would have no moral value, but, say, if we had to choose between saving the life of such a gravely impaired person or a fully functional one, the moral decision would be to save the life of the functional one. That would be the correct decision even if there was great risk in attempting to save the functional person.

The resolution is affirmed.

............

Thanks to Con for a vigorous debate. I urge readers to judge the debate based upon what is presented directly and not accept Con's suggestion to complete a reading assignment to build his case. I urge readers to examine carefully the support of theoretical assertions by facts and examples throughout the debate.

Contradiction

Con

Despite Pro's response, he has not avoided the equivocation charge between positive (legal) rights and natural rights. Consider the example he raised in the initial paragraph: that children have fewer rights than adults. Now in one sense, this is true -- children do not have the right to drive cars, drink alcohol, smoke, etc... They don't have these rights because these "rights" are those which are artificially created by law. However, these are legal rights, not moral rights; moral rights are those that one has irrespective of what the law says -- this is what enables us to call a law unjust. Pro admits to this distinction. Thus, in order to demonstrate moral equivalence, Pro has to show that moral rights, and not legal rights, vary according to certain criteria.

Now Pro has a response to this. He presents a scenario in which a child objects to the authority of his parents, saying "I ahve the natural right to have a glass of gin, get married, etc..." Unfortunately, this just commits the same error. The right to "have a glass of gin" is not a natural right due to the fact that it isn't pre-political, whereas say the right to life is. The "right" to have a glass of gin or to drive an automobile is a positive right. So Pro's response ends up commiting the same error.

From this it is clear that though individuals may vary in regards to positive rights, this is irrelevant to moral equivalence (ME). Pro's examples ME therefore fail.

Now, in regards to the burden of proof which I share, Pro has shared me with failing to demonstrate that natural rights of the fetus and the adult are the same, he alleges that I have only raised the mere possibility. No, I did so in my opening argument in which I argued that since I was once a fetus, I had the same rights then as I did now. Now of course whether this argument is sound is another issue which I will touch on shortly, but suffice to say that I did argue for my side.

I. Mental Criteria

A. Self-awareness

Pro argues that I am defining "self" in terms of future ability. Not so. What counts as the "self" is another subject, but my use of "future ability" was used only to deliberate a necessary condition for being a person. The unborn count as persons by virtue of the fact that they have the inherent potential to develop self-awareness. The immediate exercising of self-awareness, as Pro argues, does not stand up to scrutiny as an adequate definition of what counts as a person, for this would imply that those who lie down to take a nap no longer count as persons. Now Pro is right that the law treats those who are impaired or unconscious with no or lesser penalties than if they were fully aware -- but to use this as a counterexample to moral equivalence is wrongheaded, for it once again confuses positive rights with natural rights.

The law regards these people as being different because they are not able to exercise moral judgement -- but to say that this also entails moral non-equivalence is to go beyond what the legal motivations tell us. Even though the law has varying degrees of responsibility, all persons are treated equal in moral value.

In fact, legal counterexamples can be found which allow us to more clearly understand this notion. Suppose that a homeless man takes some sleeping medication and falls into a deep slumber on a park bench. Now suppose that he is then shot and killed by a vandal. On Pro's account of rights, the vandal should not be charged with murder because the individual in question either wasn't a person or lacked significant mental function to be morally equivalent to an adult human. But clearly this is absurd -- it would have been just as wrong if the man was shot when he was fully conscious. This lines up with both what the law says and what our moral intuitions tell us.

B. Perception and memory

The above can be equally applied to Pro's perception and memory requirement. Pro argues that "a person without sensory capability loses rights and priviledges because the person is almost totally dependent on others."

Let's amend the above example. Suppose that an assailant rapes two people: one who is normal in all regards and another who has no ability to sense but maintains full mental awareness. Should we charge him with a lesser crime in the case of the latter person? No. Indeed, it is just as wrong to shoot and kill an educated college professor as it is to shoot and kill a severely retarded child. In the eyes of the law, they are the same -- all persons are of equal value even if their ability to function comes in varying degrees.

Interestingly, we see that therefore the legal examples employed by Pro can also be used in support of moral equivalence. Whereas the law regards positive rights as varying based on certain criteria, the law treats the natural rights of all human persons as the same. The murder of a severely retarded person is treated the same as the murder of a normal healthy person. So Pro's appeal to legal examples actually backfires!

Now, regarding the two specific examples I raised -- Pro simply bite the bullet! But is this really convincing? All else being equal, are we really to believe that it is less wrong to strangle a severely retarded child than it is to strangle a normal child? That the example is not between a child and an adult is irrelevant, since I'm focused on the general principle Pro advanced, which is that rights vary.

I suspect that our intuitions don't line up here. Pro's appeal to examples in which you can only save one appear to tip the scales toward his favor. A much clearer example would be the one that I just provided, in which all else is equal and moral decision making is not performed under durress. And in those cases, interestingly enough, our moral intuitions line up.

2. Extrinsic criteria

A. Life of the mother/spontaneous abortions

Since I want to save room for some final comments, I will condense my responses here.

Regarding the high infant mortality rate in third world countries -- I did not make a concession along the lines that they are not morally equivalent (Indeed, I don't even know how Pro inferred this). Now regarding the argument, Pro still has not responded to it. Are we to think that the infants who die in the third world are not morally equivalent to infants who die in developed countries simply because (a) more of them die and (b) they are not given the proper treatment usually associated with death? This strikes one as absurd, the answer is obviously no.

The use of extreme examples in which we must rescue one and let the other die (such as in the life of the mother) are dubious here. When one decides to rescue a young person over an elderly person, is he really saying that the elderly person is less valuable, or that though they have equal moral value, the younger person has a better chance physically of surviving. It's important that we analyze not just the act, but the motivations and intent behind it. One may act to save the younger person over the elderly, but this does NOT automatically imply that his reasons were that because the younger person is morally worth more. His reasons may be completely different, as is usually the case in these examples. The very fact that there are dilemmas like these is because most consider them to be of equal worth, and thus must look to other nonmoral criteria. But doing this does not imply that they are not of equal worth. Examples which involve the life of the mother thus do not assume that the fetus is less valuable.

Final comments

In responding to Roy, I have mixed in positive arguments for my own position due to space considerations. I gave several clear examples in which various humans were treated equally despite their varying mental criteria. Thus, if equal treatment is independent of mental function, then the fetus too should be treated on par with an FDH despite the fact that it lacks significant mental function.

Thanks to Roy for participating in this debate, I appreciate it.

I urge a strong vote for Pro.
Debate Round No. 4
53 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by whiteflame 1 year ago
whiteflame
*******************************************************************
>Reported vote: Dimmitri.C// Mod action: NOT Removed<

7 points to Con. Reasons for voting decision: Pro is far too ambiguous. Con successfully pointed out the absurdity of his convictions.

[*Reason for non-removal*] This vote is over 5 years past the end of its voting period. That sets it far past the 1 month statute of limitations on vote moderation.
************************************************************************
Posted by KthulhuHimself 1 year ago
KthulhuHimself
RFDs here are incredibly lacking; the instigator would have officially won if it weren't for the unexplained votes.
Posted by killynathan 4 years ago
killynathan
Hmmm, well if something is defined to be self-aware and therefore an equivalent of a human being if it has the ability "to develop self-awareness", then there are a decent amount of things, such as sperm, that should not be killed.
Posted by InVinoVeritas 5 years ago
InVinoVeritas
This is an awesome debate.
Posted by headphonegut 6 years ago
headphonegut
If you dont want me to change it this discussion is pointless and i dont mind slapping you in the face.
Posted by Contradiction 6 years ago
Contradiction
I never said that you should change it, I simply wanted to know why you gave *all* seven. If it were even six, I wouldn't have a problem with it. Giving all seven, however, seems to be a slap in the face.
Posted by headphonegut 6 years ago
headphonegut
I am both amused and annoyed at the fact that you think I should change my vote I am not going to discuss I nor am I going to consider changing it.

phantom if you believe I vote bombed feel free to counter you should also counter Dimmitri, nags, double r, Exnihilo are there rfd better than mine more fair less ambiguous?

Is the issue here about fairness or about the number of points given? Why are you threatened by me giving Roy 7 points
Posted by Cliff.Stamp 6 years ago
Cliff.Stamp
While I don't agree with hephongut vote, should not be pressured to change it. One of the reasons why people are reluctant to vote, especially new members is the willingness of other members to harass them about their votes. This is a site where people come to relax and have fun and engage in debate. If this reaction is common when someone votes then they will just stop voting because their vote is not agreed with.

Now I agree if headphongut voted and have all seven points to Roy and his RFD was "Contradiction is a jew" or something similar then that should be reported. But if he wants to give Roy 7 points because he felt that Roy dominated then he should be able to make that vote. I would argue that it is much more sensible to ask him what could have been done, what responses he would have liked to have seen to sway the vote. Engage in a dialogue which is not about vote pressure but argument enhancement.

Again, I don't agree with it, I voted the opposite way, but he should have the ability to vote without pressure to change it unless it is a clear TOS violation.
Posted by Contradiction 6 years ago
Contradiction
I read it, but giving all 7 seems way over the top.
Posted by phantom 6 years ago
phantom
Headphone your rfd explains nothing about sources, grammar, or conduct. That's a clear vote bomb. I also noticed before you had only had given argument points, then change it latter for some reason.
There is no way to justify your vote bomb.
11 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Vote Placed by Dimmitri.C 6 years ago
Dimmitri.C
RoyLathamContradictionTied
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Agreed with after the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Who had better conduct:-Vote Checkmark-1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:-Vote Checkmark-1 point
Made more convincing arguments:-Vote Checkmark-3 points
Used the most reliable sources:-Vote Checkmark-2 points
Total points awarded:07 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro is far too ambiguous. Con successfully pointed out the absurdity of his convictions.
Vote Placed by Xer 6 years ago
Xer
RoyLathamContradictionTied
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Agreed with after the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Who had better conduct:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:Vote Checkmark--3 points
Used the most reliable sources:--Vote Checkmark2 points
Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: Slight edge to Roy, but very close.
Vote Placed by TheFreeThinker 6 years ago
TheFreeThinker
RoyLathamContradictionTied
Agreed with before the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Agreed with after the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Who had better conduct:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:Vote Checkmark--3 points
Used the most reliable sources:--Vote Checkmark2 points
Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: This debate was a little shaky but well argued on both sides. It is really hard to make a judgment on several fronts. How do we apply the self-awarness argument to a fetus that is a few months old compared to a few cells that have started multiplying shortly after conception? What is a mature human? A grown up? A 1 day old baby? A 9 month old fetus? Interesting debate no question.
Vote Placed by ExNihilo 6 years ago
ExNihilo
RoyLathamContradictionTied
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Agreed with after the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Who had better conduct:Vote Checkmark--1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:-Vote Checkmark-3 points
Used the most reliable sources:-Vote Checkmark-2 points
Total points awarded:15 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro equivocated. I gave him a point because he remained consistent and bit the bullet. Con pointed out the futility of Pros absurd comparisons like spontaneous abortions. Boils down to self awareness, and I think Con wins this point handily.
Vote Placed by headphonegut 6 years ago
headphonegut
RoyLathamContradictionTied
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Agreed with after the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Who had better conduct:Vote Checkmark--1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:Vote Checkmark--1 point
Made more convincing arguments:Vote Checkmark--3 points
Used the most reliable sources:Vote Checkmark--2 points
Total points awarded:70 
Reasons for voting decision: While it was an interesting debate it seems as if both contenders failed in one way or another but I believe that Roy upheld his burden better had better points overall and better argumentation
Vote Placed by BruteApologia 6 years ago
BruteApologia
RoyLathamContradictionTied
Agreed with before the debate:-Vote Checkmark-0 points
Agreed with after the debate:-Vote Checkmark-0 points
Who had better conduct:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:-Vote Checkmark-3 points
Used the most reliable sources:-Vote Checkmark-2 points
Total points awarded:05 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro equivocated between political rights with moral rights and moral equivalence with utility. Self-awareness is a faulty criterion that forced Pro to bite the bullet. Con presented a compelling case that demonstrated that Pro's position led to the non-equality of humans because of their varying degrees of self-awareness, functionality, political rights etc. The potential for self-awareness by virtue of being a human is what demonstrated moral equivalence, not the effects.
Vote Placed by Double_R 6 years ago
Double_R
RoyLathamContradictionTied
Agreed with before the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Agreed with after the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Who had better conduct:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:Vote Checkmark--3 points
Used the most reliable sources:--Vote Checkmark2 points
Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: Good debate. I felt that Con made much stronger arguments throughout the debate but in the end Pros comparision of the fetus to the mother upheld the resolution.
Vote Placed by mecap 6 years ago
mecap
RoyLathamContradictionTied
Agreed with before the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Agreed with after the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Who had better conduct:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:--Vote Checkmark3 points
Used the most reliable sources:--Vote Checkmark2 points
Total points awarded:00 
Reasons for voting decision: Can't make up my mind as to who actually won...
Vote Placed by TheSkeptic 6 years ago
TheSkeptic
RoyLathamContradictionTied
Agreed with before the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Agreed with after the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Who had better conduct:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:--Vote Checkmark3 points
Used the most reliable sources:--Vote Checkmark2 points
Total points awarded:00 
Reasons for voting decision: Both sides are on one hand plagued by several messy, unsubstantiated points, and on the other hand reinforcing lucid arguments. Ultimately, I give this debate a tie. For example, Roy does a weak job of defending his conjecture about the mother's value over the fetus and battling the 'potentiality' argument. Contradiction provides a pointless and misguided explanation of rights concerning mental development. Not enough space to go over every point, but that should demonstrate my conclusion.
Vote Placed by Cliff.Stamp 6 years ago
Cliff.Stamp
RoyLathamContradictionTied
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Agreed with after the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Who had better conduct:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:Vote Checkmark--1 point
Made more convincing arguments:-Vote Checkmark-3 points
Used the most reliable sources:--Vote Checkmark2 points
Total points awarded:13 
Reasons for voting decision: This was fairly lopsided, Roy could could not handle the distinction of rights, and would not fully support his objections and agree with the extensions as to what they would imply as noted by Contradiction. Some of Roy's points are also just absurd as pointed out by Con as noted in the miscarriages, which almost reads as an attempt at satire. 3:1 Con who could have taken this with the BoP.