The Instigator
Freeman
Con (against)
Losing
28 Points
The Contender
JoshBrahm
Pro (for)
Winning
62 Points

Abortion Is Prima Facie Morally Wrong

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/26/2011 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 17,648 times Debate No: 16095
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (72)
Votes (22)

 

Freeman

Con

Allow me to begin by saying how pleased I am to be debating Josh Brahm. I'm sure that many of you will never get to read a more powerful case for the pro-life position than the case you will read in the course of this debate. And I only hope that I can do as well while I proceed to defend the pro-choice position.

In this debate I'm going to argue that abortion is not morally reprehensible and should not be illegal, given the actual qualities that a human fetus possesses. Unlike a person, a fetus is not a self-conscious agent, and it is thus incapable of holding any desire to continue living. For this reason, a fetus cannot be said to possess a serious right to life. In short, there are simply no good reasons to think that a being can derive some sort of intrinsic moral value merely by being a member of a certain species. And when one properly looks at the qualities that could reasonably grant an entity a right to life, it is rational to conclude that a fetus does not possess this right.

C1: It is not always wrong to kill an innocent human being.

Despite what many deeply moral people may believe, there are very strong grounds to conclude that abortion is not prima facie morally wrong. Many different versions of anti-abortion arguments have been created; however, they all seem to be unified under the same key premises. More often than not, these arguments seek to demonstrate that it's prima facie wrong to kill any member of the human community. Thus, as the argument goes, abortion is wrong because it always kills a member of the human community.

If anti-abortion arguments are constructed in this way, strong objections can be raised against the notion that it's always wrong to kill a human being. For instance, a devastating counterexample can be brought against the notion that every human being has a serious right to life. As the philosopher Michael Tooley has indicated, an adult human with complete upper brain death does not possess a serious right to life; they are, for all relevant legal and moral purposes, already dead at that stage.[1] A brain-dead adult simply does not have a morally valuable life that it could possibly have a right to keep. Clearly, the notion that all human beings have a serious right to life is untrue.

In philosophy, it's very rare that you can get a knockdown argument against someone's position. But here I think we have one. The position of the pro-life advocate is made incoherent by virtue of the fact that brain-dead humans don't have a right to life. Some pro-life philosophers such as Jim Stone have tried to avoid this objection by saying that a fetus' potential to become a person is what's morally important in determining if it has a right to life.[2] As I will demonstrate later on, that escape route simply is not viable.

But the problems for the pro-life advocate don't end there. It is clearly possible to imagine that other species besides humans would qualify as people. In other words, the traditional views of most pro-life advocates are based on speciesism (i.e., an unjustifiable preference towards the members of one's own species). There is simply no reason to assume that membership in the species Homo sapiens is a necessary or sufficient component for personhood.[3] So, for example, members of a self conscious species of extra-terrestrial would certainly qualify as people, even though they aren't human. Because many pro-life advocates' views are too narrow in qualifying personhood, their views should be rejected.

C2: A fetus is not a person and thus cannot have a serious right to life.

A fetus may be a human in the biological sense (i.e., belonging to the species Homo sapiens), but it is not a person. In her book On The Moral and Legal Status of Abortion, the philosopher Mary Anne Warren details five psychological criteria for personhood. According to Warren, these qualities include consciousness and in particular sentience, the capacity to reason, self-motivated activity, the capacity to communicate messages, and lastly, the presence of self-concepts.[4] Since a fetus does not possess any of these qualities, it can rightfully not be considered a person with a serious right to life.

Bernard Gert, the Stone Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy at Dartmouth College, has explained how simply being alive does not have inherent value in itself. It is, rather, the ability to have a conscious experience of the world that is important.[5] As was demonstrated earlier, this moral principle can be recognized in the way humans rightfully differentiate between fully conscious adults and those that have experienced a permanent loss of consciousness in brain death. It is within this ethical purview that it is possible to recognize that a fetus does not have a serious right to life, since, like a brain dead adult, it does not possess a significant mental life with thoughts and desires. This is why murdering most grown adults is wrong, whereas killing a fetus is not.

C3: An entity's potentials cannot grant that entity rights.

A fetus' potential to acquire characteristics like rationality, autonomy and self-consciousness is not a sound basis for granting it a right to life. As the Princeton philosopher Peter Singer points out, this principle simply cannot be adopted as a rights criterion since contraception and abstinence could be equally condemned by its own standards.[6] The logical implications of the potentiality argument, then, provides good grounds for one to reject its conclusions.

Moreover, the potentiality argument isn't just undermined by its logical implications, but it is also completely unsupported by common sense. Rights are attained by having certain properties, not by the possibility of having certain properties sometime in the future. For instance, children do not have the same rights as adults because they have the potential to become adults. A child's ability to become an adult is not morally relevant in determining how that child is treated before he or she is actually an adult. For these reasons, the argument that rights can be determined purely on the basis of potentials is completely unsupported.

| Conclusion |

In summary, the human fetus is a biological member of the human species, but it does not possess the mental qualities that would grant it a serious right to life. In other words, the fetus is not a person. In light of this, then, abortion cannot be seriously wrong because the entity being destroyed in the process cannot reasonably have sufficiently strong interests or rights that could be violated. Accordingly, many of the arguments often raised in objection to abortion can rightfully be rejected as invalid. They either rely on false premises or principles that cannot survive sufficiently strong counterexamples. Indeed, many such arguments against abortion amount to little more than the tautological assertion that abortion is murder. But a slogan is no substitute for rational inquiry. Moral philosophy is based on reason, not dogmatism.

Sources:
1. Tooley, Michael. "Philosophy 1100: Introduction to Ethics: Abortion - Lecture 4."Spot.colorado.edu. Web. 14 Jan. 2011. http://spot.colorado.edu...

2. Stone, Jim. "Why Potentiality Matters". Canadian Journal of Philosophy 17:4 (1987). pp. 815-30.

3. Mappes, Thomas. DeGrazia, David. Biomedical Ethics. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc. 1996, pp. 434-440.

4. Warren, Mary Anne. The Moral and Legal Status of Abortion. 1973. On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion. Vol. 57. La Salle, Illinois: The Monist, 1973. pp. 97-105.

5. Gert, Bernard. Common Morality: Deciding What to Do. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. p. 30.

6. Singer, Peter. Practical Ethics. 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge, 1993. p. 182.
JoshBrahm

Pro

I’d like to thank Freeman for extending this opportunity to debate. I’ve read several of Freeman’s debates, and he is an excellent thinker. While I may not convince him in one debate to change his views on abortion, I do hope to communicate how strong the pro-life position actually is, when it’s properly communicated and understood. Sadly, it appears to me that most pro-life advocates on this website have communicated a weaker version of the actual pro-life position, leaving it open for easy refutation and dismissal. I hope to change that perception during this debate.

I’ll open by offering a syllogism for the pro-life position that I will defend during this debate. After making a case for my argument, I’ll take the remainder of my space to respond to some of Freeman’s arguments.

The Pro-Life Position:[1]
P1: The unborn entity, from the end of the fertilization process, is a full-fledged member of the human community.
P2: It is prima facie morally wrong to kill any member of that community.
P3: Every successful abortion kills an unborn entity, a full-fledged member of the human community.
C: Therefore, every successful abortion is prima facie morally wrong.

The majority of abortion advocates take issue with P1, pointing out a difference between the unborn and older humans, to show why we are justified to treat the fetus differently from older humans. Those four categories are:

  • Size
  • Level of Development
  • Environment (or location)
  • Degree of Dependency

I don't believe any of those four differences are morally relevant in the way pro-choice people need them to be. In other words, they don't disqualify you from personhood. Said a different way, I don’t think we should grant basic rights to some humans but not other humans based on what they can do functionally.

I offered brief illustrations refuting these four criteria in the opening round of my first debate,[2] but my opponent was apparently overwhelmed and not only forfeited the debate, but deleted his entire Debate.org account.[3]

For Freeman, consciousness is everything.
The unborn aren't conscious in the way that we are. Since consciousness is so valuable to us now, doesn't it follow that the unborn aren't fully human before they are conscious?

The pro-life view is not that humans become something new after they gain a certain level of consciousness. Our view is that humans are moral agents that have thenatural inherent capacity to perform basic functions, like think and talk. We don’t believe that you gain more rights once you acquire the present capacity to perform those functions.

The "right to life" is a categorical property. You either have it or you don’t. How can you have a categorical property if it’s tied to a property that comes in degrees, like consciousness? You can have more or less of that property.

My conclusion stands that the unborn is a full-fledged member of the human community, that ought not be discriminated against simply because she has yet to achieve her natural capacity for consciousness.

I'll now respond to some of Freeman's arguments.

"C1: It is not always wrong to kill an innocent human being." ~Freeman

I agree, and that’s why I say it is “prima facie” morally wrong to kill a human being. I believe that it is morally justified to pull the plug on a truly brain-dead adult. But the brain-dead adult is not comparable to a fetus, because the adult is dead, while the fetus is alive and developing at the natural pace for a human being. All she needs is a proper environment and adequate nutrition, and she will grow through her various stages.

“Clearly, the notion that all human beings have a serious right to life is untrue. ~Freeman [emphasis mine]

No, but all human beings have a prima facie right to life. I believe your case that the fetus does NOT have a right to live is faulty, because it depends on a present or past capacity for consciousness for personhood, and I will demonstrate during this debate that a person only needs a natural inherent capacity for consciousness.

"In philosophy, it's very rare that you can get a knockdown argument against someone's position. But here I think we have one. The position of the pro-life advocate is made incoherent by virtue of the fact that brain-dead humans don't have a right to life." ~Freeman

Yes, that strawman version of the pro-life position, which is admittedly espoused by many less-read pro-life advocates, is incoherent. But that is not my position. (I don't think Freeman is attempting to make a strawman fallacy here; I'm simply stating that the pro-life position I started with is much stronger than the one outlined by Freeman.)

So, for example, members of a self conscious species of extra-terrestrial would certainly qualify as people, even though they aren't human. Because many pro-life advocates' views are too narrow in qualifying personhood, their views should be rejected. ~Freeman

Freeman, do you know any pro-life advocates who would reject granting personhood to extra-terrestrials? At least one of the advocates you debated granted it. I would as well.

"In her book On The Moral and Legal Status of Abortion, the philosopher Mary Anne Warren details five psychological criteria for personhood. According to Warren, these qualities include consciousness and in particular sentience, the capacity to reason, self-motivated activity, the capacity to communicate messages, and lastly, the presence of self-concepts. Since a fetus does not possess any of these qualities, it can rightfully not be considered a person with a serious right to life." ~Freeman

I believe Mary Anne Warren’s criteria for personhood are demonstrably wrong. Based on Warren's five criteria, 6-month old infants as well as disabled adults are not persons. That is crucial, because if a 6-month old infant is only a member of the human species but is declared a non-person by our government, than there would be nothing stopping infanticide. Not just infanticide for anencephalic newborns - the killing of ANY infants until they fulfilled ALL five of Warren's criteria!

"A fetus' potential to acquire characteristics like rationality, autonomy and self-consciousness is not a sound basis for granting it a right to life. As the Princeton philosopher Peter Singer points out, this principle simply cannot be adopted as a rights criterion since contraception and abstinence could be equally condemned by its own standards." ~Freeman

Singer makes the biological mistake of confusing parts with wholes in that argument. Generally speaking, I think Singer makes very strong arguments. That's why this one is particularly disappointing to me. As Scott Klusendorf points out in his book, The Case for Life,[4]

"The difference in kind between each of our cells and a human embryo is clear: an individual cell's functions are subordinated to the survival of the larger organism of which it is merely a part. The human embryo, however, is already a whole human entity. True, it's an immature human, as is an infant, but it's a whole human organism nonetheless...It makes no sense to say that you were once a sperm or somatic cell. However, the facts of science make clear that you were once a human embryo."

Singer's argument that contraception or abstinence could be construed as murder is just a really bad biological argument.

Unless Freeman can demonstrate that a present or past consciousness is a necessary condition for personhood, his case fails. I look forward to the rest of our debate.



Sources:

1. Beckwith, Francis. Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2007. xii. Print. Note: I’ve edited P1. Beckwith uses the phrase “moment of conception,” and there is still debate about what precise moment during the 12-24 hour process of fertilization the life of a new organism begins.
2: http://www.debate.org...
3: http://www.debate.org...;
4: Klusendorf, Scott. The Case For Life. 1st ed. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2009. 38. Print.

Debate Round No. 1
Freeman

Con

I would like to thank Josh for that very well thought out opening round. In this round I will continue to defend the view that not all human beings are moral agents with a right to life. Later on, I will show, once more, why potentials are irrelevant in determining rights. With that in mind, let's look at some of the criticisms my opponent has brought against my arguments.

C1: It is not always wrong to kill an innocent human being.

If you will recall, I previously gave what I consider to be a knockdown argument against the view that all human beings have a serious right to life. In response, my opponent goes on to suggest that "[] the brain-dead adult is not comparable to a fetus, because the adult is dead, while the fetus is alive and developing at the natural pace for a human being." But in order for my opponent's accusation to be correct, he has to assume that neocortical death (i.e., brain death) is sufficient for the death of the human being. Not only do I think that this assertion is unsupported, I can think of at least two reasons why we should reject it.

Firstly, there aren't any good reasons to equate brain death with the death of the human being as a whole. Dr. Alan Shewmon, a neurologist at the UCLA medical center, explains:

"[M]ost integrative functions of the brain are actually not somatically integrating, and, conversely, most integrative functions of the body are not brain-mediated. With respect to organism-level vitality, the brain's role is more modulatory than constitutive, enhancing the quality and survival potential of a presupposedly living organism. Integrative unity of a complex organism is an inherently nonlocalizable, holistic feature involving the mutual interaction among all the parts, not a top-down coordination imposed by one part upon a passive multiplicity of other parts. Loss of somatic integrative unity is not a physiologically tenable rationale for equating BD with death of the organism as a whole."[1]

Secondly, Don Marquis, a pro-life philosopher from the University of Kansas, has pointed out that the neocortical definition of death is dependent upon the truth of mind essentialism.[2] In his book Human Identity and Bioethics, the philosopher David DeGrazia pulls no punches in his demolition of mind essentialism. According to DeGrazia, "The most devastating problem of mind essentialism [] is its apparent inability to explain plausibly the person-human organism relationship."[3] He then explains how the notion that the person or mind can be part of the organism leads to numerous problems. For example, it would entail that substance dualism is true, or that persons are simply sets of properties, or that each of us is merely a brain.

It is for both of these reasons that my counterexample objection to the second premise of my opponent's argument should stand. Of course, the same objection applies in the case of anencephalic fetuses. Moreover, I won't press my speciesism objection any further because my opponent concedes that extraterrestrials have a right to life.

C2: A fetus is not a person and thus cannot have a serious right to life.

In his previous round, Josh has misrepresented Warren's criteria for personhood. He claims that under her criteria for personhood a being cannot be considered a person unless it has all five of the psychological properties that she details. This claim is false. Warren grants that all five properties aren't necessary, and she even admits that the first two criteria may be satisfactory for personhood.[4] As I said in my opening round (and as Warren has argued),[4] since a fetus does not have any of the five psychological properties, there is no intellectual basis to consider it a person.

Nonetheless, Josh is correct in pointing out that Warren's views would justify infanticide in certain situations. While this response may be a strong emotional objection to the argument I presented, I don't think it is a very compelling rational one. I think we've seen that membership in a certain species cannot solely establish a right to life. So, my opponent's disavowal of infanticide must stand or fall with the rest of his arguments.

Josh also says that the right to life cannot reasonably be linked with consciousness. Well, I don't see any reason to suppose that this view of rights is true. Though it may seem counterintuitive, it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that a claim to rights could exist along a continuum while being tied to emergent properties like consciousness. The right to vote, after all, is something that you either have or you don't have. And it is clearly attained by being a certain age.

But even if I were to admit that this is a difficulty for my view, Josh's conception of rights has the exact same problems that he alleges my view has. It is clearly possible to imagine a spectrum of species with gradually diminishing natural capacities for consciousness all the way from humans down to amoebae.[5] At some point along this spectrum, people who agree with Josh will have to create an arbitrary cut off line where the natural capacity for consciousness is diminished to such a degree in an organism that it can no longer be adequate in granting the entity a right to life.

C3: An entity's potentials cannot grant that entity rights.

Notice that my opponent has only decided to attack one of the two arguments I have presented against the potentiality argument. He has presented no criticism of my argument that children do not have the same rights as adults because they have the potential to become adults. In this case, potentials clearly aren't relevant.

I previously stated that if potentials can establish a right to life, then we should equally condemn contraception and abstinence. My opponent claims this proposition is incorrect because a sperm is only a part of human. But this is irrelevant. Insofar as a sperm is placed around an ovum in the correct environment (i.e., a uterus) it has the passive potential to give rise to a being with self-consciousness. Thus, for my opponent's objection to be coherent, he must show why active potentials are morally significant, whereas passive potentials are not.[6]

But even if I were to grant that potentials could grant an entity a right to life, a more charitable interpretation of Josh's argument would still fail. Allow me to illustrate this point with a thought experiment by Marry Ann Warren.[4] Suppose that a person gets captured by a group of alien scientists intent on filling the world with thousands of people by extracting the captives DNA and using it to make clones. Imagine that all of these clones would become fully developed conscious persons if only the person being held captive refrains from acting. Even if our captive wound up in this situation by his own choice, it should be clear that he is not obliged to continue to participate in this experiment in order to create clones of himself. The rights of any potential person (e.g., a fetus) are outweighed so much by the rights of any actual person (e.g., a pregnant woman) that abortion would still not be wrong even if the potentiality argument were valid.

| Conclusion |

At this point, it should be clear that the second premise of my opponent's argument is false. Neither a brain-dead human nor a anencephalic fetus has a right to life. Moreover, Josh's assertion that brain death should be equated with the death of a biological organism is not supported by modern neuroscience or made tenable by realistic theories of personal identity. For these reasons, it is still the case that abortion is not prima facie morally wrong.

Sources:
1. http://tinyurl.com...

2. http://tinyurl.com...

3. DeGrazia, David. Human Identity and Bioethics. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 2005. p. 130.

4. http://tinyurl.com...

5. McMahan, Jeff. The Ethics of Killing. New York: Oxford University Press. 2002. pp. 213-18.

6. http://tinyurl.com...
JoshBrahm

Pro

Freeman begins by pointing out that my statement, “the brain-dead adult is not comparable to a fetus, because the adult is dead, while the fetus is alive and developing at the natural pace for a human being," is incorrect because death is the permanent loss of “mutual interaction among all the parts.”

Having researched more in the last few days about people in irreversible comas, I withdraw my statement that a “brain-dead adult is dead.” I now believe the concept of “brain death” to be a myth, because there is more to biological life than the ability of the brain to communicate to the rest of the body.

I believe someone in an irreversible coma does have the right to life, and the current rules about organ transplantation affirm that. We can’t take someone’s organs unless they’ve already consented to the procedure, or in some cases, the family does instead.

Irreversible Coma Guy is not remotely comparable to a fetus, except for an anencephalic one. While our brains help coordinate our bodily functions, the embryo does that without a brain during the first moths of life. What Irreversible Coma Guy doesn’t have anymore is precisely what the fetus does have: the ability to coordinate bodily functions without a brain. What Irreversible Coma Guy lost, the fetus has, and only loses when she is cut to pieces during an abortion.

For the sake of this debate, I will grant that abortion is permissible for the anencephalic fetus. There’s still a lot of debate about what’s actually going on biologically with anencephalic fetuses, and you’re talking about 1 out of 10,000 births.[1] Let’s debate about the other 9,999 perfectly healthy defenseless human beings in utero that are not remotely comparable to a guy in an irreversible coma.

I accidently miscommunicated Warren’s personhood criteria. Having now read Warren’s essay,[2] I understand she only believes you need to have 2-3 of the 5 qualities for personhood. However the point I was making, that under Warren’s criteria the killing of infants and disabled people is justified, still stands, as Freeman readily admits!

He only counters that this is primarily an “emotional argument.” I agree that it’s a moral intuition, but Freeman is wrong to think we should discount moral intuitions. Philosophers often act like the best way for us to think about an issue is to lock ourselves in a proverbial ivory tower, and remove all moral intuitions from our reasoning. But if Warren’s criteria does legitimize infanticide and the killing of disabled adults, and if we know we’re definitely against the killing of infants and disabled adults, than there’s probably something wrong with the personhood criteria we started with.

Granted, Peter Singer sticks to his argument no matter what the consequences are. In Singer’s case, his argument is coherent, but that doesn’t make it correct. Most people are rightfully repulsed by the idea of killing infants and disabled adults. Yes, part of that is moral intuition, but that doesn’t make us wrong. On the contrary, I think it’s what Leon Kass calls the “wisdom of repugnance.”[3]

Freeman will need to either concede the moral permissibility of killing infants and disabled adults, OR he will have to adjust his criteria for personhood. There is just no way around that.

Freeman creates a false dilemma when he states, “I think we've seen that membership in a certain species cannot solely establish a right to life.” The implication is that either:

A: Species membership establishes a right to life; or
B: Freeman is right, that consciousness establishes a right to life.

But my view is C, the substance view of persons: the right to life is a categorical property of creatures that belong to a rational moral kind of being.

Species membership is irrelevant, but if morality is a property of rational creatures, and if rational creatures maintain their identity through their entire existence, than those rational creatures maintain their right to life through their entire existence.

For example, an alien like Spock has the right to life, because he is a rational kind of being. When Spock was a fetus, inside his human mother, he maintained that right to life because he maintained his identity through his entire existence.

Freeman, I’m curious. What do you think of the concept of equal human rights? Should we do away with that “emotionally appealing” concept altogether?

“The right to vote, after all, is something that you either have or you don't have. And it is clearly attained by being a certain age.” ~Freeman

Yes, but the right to vote is connected to different factors: being a citizen; not being a felon and being at least 18 years old. The critical distinction is that the right to vote is a secondary right granted by government. In fact, the voting requirement used to be age 21, not 18. (That change occurred in the 26th amendment.[4]) Those rights can clearly be altered. But our common human nature is rightfully how we ground the way we should treat each other.

So Freeman’s argument actually makes my point. You either are an 18-year old citizen, or you’re not. Similarly, you either are a member of a rational kind, or you’re not.

“It is clearly possible to imagine a spectrum of species with gradually diminishing natural capacities for consciousness all the way from humans down to amoebae. At some point along this spectrum, people who agree with Josh will have to create an arbitrary cut off line where the natural capacity for consciousness is diminished to such a degree in an organism that it can no longer be adequate in granting the entity a right to life.” ~Freeman

Freeman is wrong. Based on the substance view of persons that I’ve argued for in this debate, the only logical point to grant a human being the right to life is at the beginning of her life. That’s not arbitrary at all. In contrast, requiring an intrinsically rational entity to be presently conscious BEFORE granting a right to life is completely arbitrary, which Freeman seems to admit here.

An amoeba is a single celled organism. It is not a member of the human community. It does not have the inherent natural capacity to function as a person. In contrast, a fetus has the intrinsic ability to develop into an adult human. Bodily cells like sperm and egg merely have the extrinsic potential to function as persons. (Some outside agent needs to act to make it happen.) All the fetus requires is a proper environment and adequate nutrition. (As does the rest of us.)

The difference between intrinsic ability and extrinsic potential is why Singer’s abstinence argument is rooted in bad biology.

Freeman quotes Warren’s space explorer analogy. In the case of the space explorer, you’re a person and it’s your right to life that is about to be violated. Your cells are not persons yet; they’re potential organisms. They’re not harmed by you escaping. As my colleague Trent Horn points out, “I don’t have the right to kill a man and woman to steal their sperm and egg to create 50 people.”

| Conclusion |

I have demonstrated that my opponents C1 conclusion does not represent my actual argument, and is actually a strawman. I’ve also shown that C2 and C3 are demonstrably false from a philosophical standpoint. Furthermore, my opponents C2 and C3 conclusions result in the justification of infanticide and eugenics, which runs contrary to the moral intuitions of virtually the entire human community.

In contrast, my argument that it is prima facie morally wrong to kill any full-fledged member of the human community stands strong.

Readers, you can either vote for my view that all humans are equally valuable because of what we have in common, our human nature, or you can pick Freeman’s view, that rights depend on how well you function. (Fair warning: you might not fare as well under Freeman’s view.)

Sources:

1: http://bit.ly...

2: http://bit.ly...

3: http://bit.ly...

4: http://bit.ly...

Debate Round No. 2
Freeman

Con

Let me say that it has been an absolute pleasure to debate Josh on the moral permissibility of abortion. I have no illusions that this debate will end once my opponent and I are done arguing. In this final round I hope to summarize and respond to all of the criticisms that have been put against my arguments. Additionally, I will also show once more why my opponent's main argument is not sound.

C1: It is not always wrong to kill an innocent human being.

In a rather desperate attempt to salvage his fallacious argument, my opponent has had to explicitly contradict himself in order to avoid my prior objections. If you will recall, he previously stated in round one that "it is morally justified to pull the plug on a truly brain-dead adult." He now maintains that "someone in an irreversible coma does have the right to life." According to the American Academy of Neurology, someone in an irreversible coma has, by definition, suffered brain death.[1] And brain death is most certainly not a "myth."

His response in defense of this new position is almost unbelievably weak. He says that people who are in irreversible comas have a right to life because they have a right to keep their organs. However, this is completely irrelevant. Having a right to keep your organs is not the same as having a moral right to keep on living. Given how counterintuitive it is to even remotely equate killing a brain-dead human with a conscious adult, I maintain that my objection still stands.

For the sake of argument, Josh grants that anencephalic fetuses don't have a right to life. It is simply not the case that all humans have the natural inherent capacity to become persons, as is demonstrated by the existence of anencephalic fetuses. He tries to recover from this admission by saying that these occur in only 1 out of 10,000 births. But his point here is simply irrelevant. My opponent's argument is making the universal statement that it's wrong to kill any member of the human community. A universal statement is negated by even 1 counterexample. It would therefore not be an exaggeration to say that Josh has negated his own argument.

Both of my counterexamples remain intact. But Josh can't hide behind the ambiguous meaning of "human community" in his argument. If by "human" Josh actually means a being with the natural capacity to potentially become conscious, then his argument still fails for all the reasons I give in my third contention.

C2: A fetus is not a person and thus cannot have a serious right to life.

Josh is trying to give the impression that Peter Singer supports killing adults with down syndrome or those with similar conditions. Indeed, he seems to suggest that Peter Singer and I support eugenics. These accusations are just completely unfounded scare tactics. They represent little more than slippery slope fallacies masquerading as rational arguments. Peter Singer has never argued for such positions.[2]

Adults who have never become self-conscious agents (e.g., those who grew into adulthood with only a brain stem) would not qualify as persons. Under Singer's views, killing them would be justifiable in certain situations. The impressions that Josh has given of Singer's views are misleading and fallacious.

My opponent tries to save his infanticide objection to my argument by saying that he is appealing to his moral intuitions. Well, I simply fail to see the strength of this objection. Lots of people, for example, seem to think that homosexuality is deeply wrong on the basis of moral intuitions. As the philosopher Michael Tooley points out, appeals to moral intuitions are only appropriate in the case of basic moral principles.[3] A specific claim about the wrongness of occasionally killing human infants is far from a basic moral principle. Moreover, my opponent's intuitions are further undermined by the lack of philosophical support for the view that potentials can determine rights.

In his previous round, Josh has continued to argue for the substance view of persons. But apart from giving assertions, he hasn't really made any arguments for this position. There are no good reasons to think that rights can't be attained by having emergent properties like consciousness. Indeed, the notion that rights can be attained by mere potentials leads to moral and logical absurdities, which I elaborate on in my third contention. On the other hand, refusing to grant a right to life to a being that has never been conscious is not at all arbitrary because those beings have never had a desire to continue living.

Moreover, Josh has either misrepresented or misunderstood the argument I gave in my second round about gradually diminishing natural capacities. If you will recall, my opponent argued that rights can't be linked with properties like consciousness because consciousness comes in degrees. But natural capacities also come in degrees as well. That's why I asked him to imagine a spectrum of species all the way from humans down to amoeba. This spectrum would be composed of a range of animals with gradually diminishing natural capacities. Therefore, even if I were to grant that Josh's groundless criticisms are valid, his own views of rights are no better off.

C3: An entity's potentials cannot grant that entity rights.

For a second time, my opponent has completely ignored one of my central arguments against the notion that rights can be determined by potentials. This should count as a concession because I wont be able to respond to any new argument he may want to bring up in the third round. As I've pointed out, the potentiality argument leads to logical absurdities. If potentials can grant rights, then children should have the same rights as adults. But surely this is false. Toddlers shouldn't be given the right to vote because they have the "natural inherent capacity" to become rational adults.

If you will recall, I've also argued that the potentiality argument entails the view that contraception and abstinence are wrong. My opponent tries to show why this argument is false by stating that one case involves active potentials, while the other involves passive potentials. But remember, in order for my opponent's objection to be coherent he has to demonstrate why active potentials are important, whereas passive potentials are not. I challenged my opponent to demonstrate this, and he has not done so.

Later on, Josh responds to Warren's space explorer analogy. According to him, "Your cells are not persons yet; they're potential organisms. They're not harmed by you escaping." But this is exactly the point that I've been making all along. A fetus is not a person either. A fetus is only a person if you accept Josh's faulty arguments for personhood. A fetus can't be harmed in the way that a person can be harmed because it is unconscious and has never had the desire to continue living. At most, its potentials can be destroyed. Because the rights of an actual person trump the rights of any potential person, the potentiality argument against abortion fails even if it's correct.

| Conclusion |

In the end, Josh's unsupported arguments are not a sufficient basis for removing the important value of reproductive choice from women. The second premise of his argument has been negated twice over. Brain-dead humans and anencephalic fetuses don't have a right to life. Even if Josh wants to excommunicate these humans from the "human community," his argument would still fail. Not only does the potentiality argument lead to logical absurdities, it still wouldn't show why abortion is wrong even if it was assumed to be true. By contrast, my second and third contentions are negated only insofar as unwarranted emotional arguments are capable of defeating rational arguments.

Thank you all very much.

Sources:
1. http://tinyurl.com...
2. http://tinyurl.com...
3. http://tinyurl.com...
JoshBrahm

Pro

Allow me to thank Freeman for being willing to debate such a contentious issue with me.

On “brain death,” it’s odd that Freeman brings this issue up in round one, then argues that brain dead humans are not actually dead in round two, and then when I agreed with him, he accuses me of contradiction because according to him brain dead people are… not dead? And I’m the one contradicting myself?

Freeman confuses my argument. I didn’t say people in irreversible comas have a right to life because they have a right to their organs. I argued they have a right to life, and the rules about when organs can be transplanted affirm that.

Simply the fact that we debate when to unplug a person in an irreversible coma shows that we don’t really think they are dead. (No one debates about unplugging someone who is actually dead.)

Given that healthy unborn children have almost nothing in common with someone in an irreversible coma, the entire discussion is moot. You can believe that Irreversible Coma Guy doesn’t have a right to life, and that will say nothing about the right to life of a healthy unborn child.

Freeman accuses me of negating my argument when it comes to anencephalic babies, because according to him, my argument was “it is wrong to kill any member of the human community.” But I never made that argument!

I’m sorry, Freeman, but the number of strawman fallacies you have made in this debate is making me begin to suspect that you’re doing it on purpose. I’ve maintained that it is prima facie wrong to kill a human being.” Of course there can be exceptions. (Self defense, just war, etc.) Perhaps Freeman has debated so many people who held to this weaker position that it’s ALWAYS wrong to kill humans, that he hasn’t been able to get off that track in this debate. Whatever the reason, failing to understand my actual position is just one of the reasons Freeman has failed this debate.

Freeman responds to my objection to infanticide by quoting Michael Tooley, who points out that “appeals to moral intuitions are only appropriate in the case of basic moral principles.” Freeman goes on to say, “a specific claim about the wrongness of occasionally killing human infants is far from a basic moral principle.”

Now read that last sentence again.

I ask you, what could be a MORE basic principle than the claim that it is wrong to kill infants?

In the oddest part of this entire debate, Freeman accuses me of ignoring one of his central arguments, that you attain the right to vote at a certain age. Yet, I thoroughly responded to that in round two. Perhaps if Freeman read my sides of the debate closer, he would not only avoid strawman fallacies, but also not miss entire paragraphs refuting his arguments.

For his sake, I’ll repeat what I said here:

Yes, but the right to vote is connected to different factors: being a citizen; not being a felon and being at least 18 years old. The critical distinction is that the right to vote is a secondary right granted by government. In fact, the voting requirement used to be age 21, not 18. (That change occurred in the 26th amendment.[1]) Those rights can clearly be altered. But our common human nature is rightfully how we ground the way we should treat each other.

So Freeman’s argument actually makes my point. You either are an 18-year old citizen, or you’re not. Similarly, you either are a member of a rational kind, or you’re not.

“A fetus can't be harmed in the way that a person can be harmed because it is unconscious and has never had the desire to continue living. At most, its potentials can be destroyed.” ~Freeman

This issue really is the crux of this debate, so I’ll take the remainder of my space to show why Freeman is wrong.

Imagine the delivery room of a hospital, where a baby has just been born. To the surprise of the parents, the baby is born in a coma. After a series of tests, the doctors conclude that the baby will be in a coma for 9 more months. She has never been conscious. May we kill her?

While a few philosophers would argue that there is nothing wrong with killing the baby girl, most of us would agree that she has a right to live. She is a living human being with the inherent natural capacity for consciousness.

Freeman is now stuck. If he argues that it would be wrong to kill the baby girl, than his entire argument for abortion rights collapses. To remain consistent, he would have to argue that “this newborn can't be harmed in the way that a person can be harmed because it is unconscious and has never had the desire to continue living. At most, its potentials can be destroyed.”

As Francis Beckwith points out, “the premise on which this argument is based is as controversial as the conclusion for which it is employed to support: having a human nature with intact basic capacities is not sufficient for one to have a right to life because one is not now exhibiting or engaging in functions or mental activities that result from these basic capacities even if one will most likely in the future exhibit and engage in these functions or mental activities that result from these basic capacities.”[2]

I’ll offer another illustration by my colleague Trent Horn. Imagine a beautiful celebrity is cloned using some discarded genetic material. The scientist creates 100 clones, and removes some important brain tissue early in their development, so that they’ll effectively be born as “brainless clones.”

Fast forward 18 years, and the cloner now has the most realistic sex dolls ever. He quickly is able to sell all 100 clones for a profit.

Here’s the question: have the clones been harmed? I believe they have been. An outside force removed their ability to become conscious, an attribute that all healthy human beings have the natural inherent capacity for from the beginning of life.

But according to Freeman, “there are no good reasons to think that rights can't be attained by having emergent properties like consciousness.” According to his view, the clones don’t necessarily have ANY rights, because they’re not conscious. Do with them what you want. They’re now nothing more than realistic sex dolls.

Freeman has defended Mary Anne Warren’s personhood criteria, which don’t only exclude anencephalic newborns from personhood, but all infants. Warren concedes this point in a postscript she wrote 9 years after the publication of her personhood criteria, and attempts to argue against infanticide because newborns are adoptable, and they “are so very close to being persons that to kill them requires a very strong moral justification.”[3] The entire postscript is laughably ad hoc. There’s no getting around it. The personhood criteria Freeman is attempting to defend justifies the killing of ALL infants.

I have demonstrated time and time again that my opponents C1 conclusion does not represent my actual argument, and is actually a strawman. (Yet, Freeman continues to use it, in a blatant disregard for my argument, because weaker versions of the pro-life position are easier to refute.)

I’ve also shown that C2 and C3 are demonstrably false from a philosophical standpoint. Furthermore, my opponents C2 and C3 conclusions result in the justification of killing at least some infants and disabled adults, which runs contrary to the moral intuitions of virtually the entire human community.

In contrast, my argument that it is prima facie morally wrong to kill any full-fledged member of the human community stands strong.

According to Freeman, my view that it is wrong to kill infants is “not a basic principle,” and that in at least some cases, infanticide is morally justifiable.

Philosophers call that a “counterintuitive notion.”

I think it’s totally crazy.

You probably do too.



Sources:

1: http://bit.ly...

2: Beckwith, Francis J. 'Defending Abortion Philosophically: A Review of David Boonin's A Defense of Abortion', Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 31:2, 177 – 203. Available here: http://bit.ly...

3: http://bit.ly...


Debate Round No. 3
72 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Cliff.Stamp 5 years ago
Cliff.Stamp
Passion I would argue.
Posted by JoshBrahm 5 years ago
JoshBrahm
That is curious. I wonder why that is.
Posted by Cliff.Stamp 5 years ago
Cliff.Stamp
Curiously, there are a lot of pro-choice advocates on DDO but they have not voted in this debate.
Posted by Kinesis 5 years ago
Kinesis
Fake RFD (I can't vote, dammit):

This was the best abortion debate I've read (a great deal of quality debates have and are happening on this site recently) so far. Though I personally found Josh's arguments unconvincing, his last round was so crushing in pointing out the mistakes Freeman had made in the course of the debate, that from an impartial point of view it's difficult to justify giving the debate the Freeman even though I though that had his arguments been argued differently (it's easy to say that with the benefit of hindsight) throughout the course of the debate, he would have won.

C1: Josh because Freeman strawmanned his position and appeared to forget the 'Prima Facie' in the resolution; he devoted a large portion of his argument in the end to an irrelevant point, and lost C1 because of it. Though Josh had to change position about brain death mid debate, it didn't really damage his position.

C2: A draw: although I thought Josh's appeal to moral intuition was weak, and he misunderstood the point about moral basic principles, on the other hand Freeman never explained the distinction and referencing a philosopher with a particular opinion doesn't really constitute an argument in any case.

C3: A draw. I thought C3 got into some convoluted areas that were annoyingly exacerbated by Josh resorting to a bunch of thought experiments at the end; in the end Freeman ignored Josh's response to his voting analogy and Josh never took up the challenge to justify the ethical difference between active and passive potentials (he probably could have, but his last round was devoted to attacking Warren and pumping intuitions).

Winner: Josh.
Posted by JoshBrahm 5 years ago
JoshBrahm
@r_smythe, I think you would benefit from reading this debate:
http://www.debate.org...
Posted by r_smythe 5 years ago
r_smythe
No pro-life argument could ever win because to do so would be to also admit that a "person" begins when an egg and sperm unite, an entity that is little more than an amoeba.
Posted by ExNihilo 5 years ago
ExNihilo
I think the personhood argument is morally abhorrent when you consider what it implies would be morally permissible under that worldview. As Josh pointed out, a severely mentally disabled human can be treated as a commodity, for sex, for organs, etc. But the example Josh gave is the real "knock down" argument in the debate: someone who alters a human who would otherwise develop normally in a way that would prevent it from being a "person", so that it can be treated as a commodity, would be well within his moral rights to do it!
Posted by Freeman 5 years ago
Freeman
"Murder should be illegal in all aspects!"

Indeed....

@ XimenBao

"Con could have made the vote easier by tying the ceded anencephalic fetus argument to the substance/potential debate instead of leaving it on its own, but that wasn't argued and I didn't vote on it."

What do you mean when you say that?
Posted by fuh-tang-tang_1141 5 years ago
fuh-tang-tang_1141
yes. Abortion is wrong.
Posted by Cliff.Stamp 5 years ago
Cliff.Stamp
Freeman, just to note again, this debate could have been very difficult to vote onbecause of the complexity and depth of the material, however your constant focus and clarity made it easy to vote.
22 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Vote Placed by Chuz-Life 1 year ago
Chuz-Life
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Reasons for voting decision: As a person who doesn't come at the abortion issue from a 'moralistic' point of view, I was interested to see where this debate would lead to. I prefer the terms 'just' and 'unjust' to the terms 'right' and 'wrong.' Con's repetitive use of the word 'serious' to differentiate between the rights of a prenatal human and the rights of say a healthy adult was a bit disturbing, given that we are all supposed to have 'equal' rights and all. Pro did an excellent job of proving that even a person in a coma is entitled to those protections. Arguments to Pro.
Vote Placed by vbaculum 4 years ago
vbaculum
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Reasons for voting decision: I didn't feel like Pro dealt sufficiently with Con's potentiality argument. Pro insisted that membership in a rational kind is sufficient for a right to life but this is a non-sequitur. Pro's arguments concerning moral intuition were appeals to emotions and ad populum. In his closing remarks Pro called counter intuitive notions "crazy" which is an argument from personal incredulity. Pro introduced new arguments in round 3 but this is a conduct violation as Con could not respond to them.
Vote Placed by SuburbiaSurvivor 4 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Stellar debate.
Vote Placed by 16kadams 5 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision:
Vote Placed by GMDebater 5 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: good debate. in the end, pro had the better arguments. con tried to confuse pro's arguments
Vote Placed by RoyLatham 5 years ago
RoyLatham
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Reasons for voting decision: No, it is not prima facis that a microscopic spherical cell mass is full fledged member of the mature human community. Consequently, the rights are subject to debate from the outset.
Vote Placed by KeytarHero 5 years ago
KeytarHero
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Reasons for voting decision: Excellent debate from both sides. I gave conduct points to Josh for being willing to admit how his argument about "brain-death" needed to be adjusted, and because Freeman believed he had a "knockout" argument without even hearing what Josh had to say. Otherwise, Josh's arguments were stronger and his contentions went largely unanswered due to strawman arguments from Con.
Vote Placed by medic0506 5 years ago
medic0506
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Reasons for voting decision: Good debate guys. Josh put forth a well balanced case, as usual, and was able to refute Freeman's case. Freeman did the best he could with what he has to work with, but I've yet to see an effective pro-abortion argument.
Vote Placed by XimenBao 5 years ago
XimenBao
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Reasons for voting decision: Pro's argument ended with emotional appeals about infanticide and sex clones that didn't have the argumentation to maintain a rebuttal against Con's potentiality argument over pro's substance view. Con could have made the vote easier by tying the ceded anencephalic fetus argument to the substance/potential debate instead of leaving it on its own, but that wasn't argued and I didn't vote on it.
Vote Placed by Amveller 5 years ago
Amveller
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Reasons for voting decision: Murder should be illegal in all aspects!