Showing posts with label intrinsic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label intrinsic. Show all posts

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Philosophical Approach to Abortion

The goal is to arrive at a position wherein one either must accept abortion as wrong or accept that their own murder is right.  Or, that abortion is equivalently wrong to murder.

(1) Human life is intrinsically valuable.
  • Within this premise is the concept of invaluable/priceless as in it cannot be measured, counted, or quantified by any utilitarian means.  By intrinsic, I'm saying it's not about what someone has done, or will do that makes one valuable, simply that life is valuable because it's life.  One cannot exchange life for money nor anything else for that matter.
  • The only reason to end a life relates to (2) that is if one uses force to deny someone else their right to life (that is if someone murders someone) their right to life is invalid, that is capital punishment.  Also, the idea of war was mentioned in a comment (on Facebook).  How could war be justified if all life is valuable?  That's just it, war is only valid/justified to stop one person from killing another person/oneself.  That is self-defense or defense of the innocent.  If one can go to war for any other reason, then any killing is justifiable.
  • In regards to the current state of affairs in the US, I can't speak for the government nor against the government, I obey the orders of those appointed over me.  It's not my place to make a comment otherwise.
(2) One's own rights only extend to one's own being.
  • That is, one's rights end where they infringe on someone else's rights.  I have the right to say what I want to say, but when what I say actually hurts another person my right to free speech ends.  (Edit: I did some further research on this.  There is some precedence for hate speech being censored, but by-and-large hate speech has still been defended and won in high courts.  Perhaps a better analogy or example is needed here, I will work on it.)
(3) The potentiality of life should be treated with the same value as the end resultant life could be.

(4) Even at early stages of development (weeks 1-9) it is medically discernible that the group of cells comprising an embryo is going to develop into a human fetus.

(5) A fetus becomes alive while still in the womb, that is by the typical definition of human life, discernible brain waves. Approximately in the 20th to 36th weeks of pregnancy, as currently measured, not that it doesn't occur earlier, just earliest measurable.

Given the above:

(6) Abortion is wrong, equivalent to manslaughter or murder.

Some background arguments:

For (1), If one rejects this premise than one's own life is invaluable.  If one makes a case for non-intrinsic value, then what is human life's value based on?

For (2), This is a loophole of sorts.  IF a thieving murderer breaks into your house and threatens you with death, you have every right to self-defense and are perfectly justified in killing that person in self-defense.  The same could be said of a pregnancy, if the presence of a fetus in a woman's womb is killing her, with a physician's assistance making that determination she would be justified in killing the fetus.  This is a common critique for pro-lifers because many take the stance that it's never justifiable to kill the fetus.  I can only make that exception and even so, if the mother determines that it's worth the risk to her own life to provide life for the fetus that's her choice.

For (3), Take this endangered frog, the Panamanian Golden Frog

Picture Credit The Guardian
And we had some of these eggs
Picture Credit Flickr
That we know, with as much certainty as anyone can have, that they're going to hatch into these tadpoles:

How would we treat those eggs and or tadpoles?  Would we just throw them away?  Now, one might say, "they're just frogs," but remember we're talking about the same level of potentiality in the first week(s) of pregnancy as these eggs.  The parallel is clear, even the very beginnings of the potentiality to be a human life should be treated as valuable as full-grown human life.  (I personally think it's more valuable, because it has more potential than a grown human mathematically, it has more life to live and it hasn't already made choices which guide itself.)

For (4), Just as in (3) the eggs/tadpoles are almost certainly going to grow into a living thriving fetus, then baby, then child, then adult.  (I realize I left off certain developmental levels, but the argument still stands, if life is precious and the potential for life is also precious then it is clear at all levels it's precious.)

For (5), Why is there a double-standard among abortion advocates that a fetus isn't alive until it's removed from the womb, but a person is alive until they have no readable brain activities?  There's an even more telling double-standard when one considers just what we call alive?  We refer to viruses and other single-celled organisms as alive, why do we call a fetus a "mass of cells"?  I know the reason, but just wanted to point out the double-standard.

For (6), This should be clear.  I know there are many counter-arguments, I'll try to cover some of them.

(1) Some answers to the question of the value of a human life try to make it scientific, or some other rationalization.  But, no matter at whatever level one deny the value of human life, one opens the argument up to mutability/relativism.  Under relativism, one can rationalize pretty much anything including one's own murder.

(2) Some claim that the "mass of cells" is a part of the woman's body and liken it to a cancerous growth or something like that.  The answer is in (4) even at the earliest stages of development the "growth" is distinct from the mother.  Both in DNA structure and general cell structure itself.

(3/4) Some just deny (3) flat out, but I think my treatment of the concept is fair, we're as certain as anyone can be that this "mass of cells" is going to develop into a human, therefore it should be treated as such.

(5) Again I hear this double-standard from pro-abortionists.  One slippery slope this quickly leads to: If a fetus isn't alive until it's removed from it's mother, what happens as technology improves?  This will lead to earlier and earlier outside-the-womb viability, does that mean our treatment of such should change?  That defeats the purpose of developing an ethical standard.  Also, if that line is moveable, then why stop at outside-the-womb viability?  It could easily lead to out-and-out infanticide then on to euthanasia and then to genetic cleansing.

(6) There might be more objections but none that I haven't at least somewhat dealt with.

In order to waylay some reactions...  I am NOT being misogynistic.  The fact that I'm a man and cannot experience this has no bearing on the arguments I've raised.  I'm NOT seeking to "take away a woman's choice" or seeking to control a woman's body or choice, at least no more than any other social convention, do mass murderers have the right to choose to buy weapons?  Remember a person's rights end when they interfere with another's rights, and this isn't an issue about a woman's right to control her own healthcare, it's about the rights of a fetus.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Discovering the Philosopher in You: Part 14: The Meaning of Life: What Gives Human Life Value?

As we move on from the discussion of the reasonableness of the existence of God.  We come, finally, to the summation of this lecture series, The Meaning of Life.  To me this is really what philosophy should be all about, trying to find meaning in life and it's appropriate that Prof McGinn saves it for last.  (Note: throughout this entry and the lecture I'll be using the ideas of meaning and value interchangeably, Prof McGinn used the terminology that way.  I understand that there can be a subtle difference but for my purposes I'll use them as the same meaning.)

There are two separate categories in the search for meaning in life, one says that meaning is only gotten from an external source, that is God.  Meaning in life cannot be found in doing or in gaining anything.  In this view, if there is no god then there is no meaning to life.  In opposition to this idea Prof McGinn tries to push the argument into an infinite regression.  If meaning can only be gotten from an outside source, then who/what gives god meaning, another god?  Obviously, that leads to infinite regression because the next question is obviously who gave that second god meaning?  (I was about to type a response but I'll save it for later.)  The argument might be that there is an internal source of meaning that god has, and the answer that Prof McGinn offers is that mankind also has internal sources of meaning in life so that there's no need for a deity to confer upon us meaning.  On the internal sources for meaning in life there are three different ideas: hedonism, virtue, and philosophic pursuit.

Hedonism is quite simple, pursue that which makes oneself happy.  Food, drink, sex, nice stuff, knowledge, money, etc. though there seems to be different levels of desires.  Like the base/natural desires of food, drink, sex etc. as compared to the higher desires knowledge, understanding, etc.  The hedonist sees meaning in these types of things.  One has meaning in life if one gains things and does or is able to do whatever one wants all the time.  Prof McGinn points out, and I'm sure you also see that this is an incredibly selfish view.  It cannot by itself provide for a meaningful life because there's something missing.  This kind of view leads to an evil life bent on only seeking one's own desires and has no problem squashing anyone that gets in the way.

Which then leads to the life of virtue.  This idea says that the meaning of life is in virtuous actions.  It's no doubt that virtue is a good thing, that's an obvious tautology.  But, is the meaning for life found in merely being virtuous?  This view is a pendulum swing on the complete opposite side from hedonism.  the meaning of life is in serving everyone else and putting down oneself.  This seems like a decent way to find meaning but also ends up oddly empty because if you spend your whole life seeking to serve others you'll never enjoy life yourself.

While those first two ways to seek meaning in life are obvious to many people, this last one is less familiar except to those that have studied philosophy.  It comes from Plato, that the highest meaning in life is the pursuit of and love of knowledge, and that the highest pursuit of knowledge is philosophy.  This type of meaning is found in seeking and loving knowledge.  Those this too has its problems, because it seeks meaning at the abandonment of living life.  This kind of meaning in life doesn't look at life itself just at the pursuit of knowledge.

Prof McGinn's answer to the problems of each aspect is that one must have a balance in life of the three pursuits.  One should pursue pleasure but not at the expense of knowledge and virtue.  One should pursue virtue but not at the expense of the other two.  And, when the different pursuits are in conflict there is no wrong answer.  Everyone, has meaning this way.  Some are more virtuous than others, some more hedonistic, and some more philosophical, but everyone has meaning.

By way of rebuttal I'd like to point out a few things...  First, making the other side fall into infinite regress is not a valid argument.  He's misrepresenting the external source of value as only contingent on the existence of an outside source for meaning.  Meaning that is imbued upon creation is a natural side effect of being made by a loving creator.  It doesn't require the creator per se, it's just a side effect.  Just as God is the source of all creation, He's the source of all meaning otherwise meaning if you try to give yourself meaning it's hollow worthless meaning.  No matter how much a man insists he's important doesn't make it so.  True meaning can only come from the outside.  Parents give children some of their meaning but even without parents a child has meaning.

Secondly, all these examples cannot be universally applicable.  Here's a few examples:

For hedonism, what about the person born into poverty or born as a refugee?  That person, most likely, will never be able to enjoy any level of hedonistic pleasures.  Is that person no longer valuable?  With extrinsic value, yes he or she is still just as valuable as anyone else.

Take virtue, (this is the easiest one to deal with) in a humanist mindset there is no immutable standard for morality or virtue, so the goalposts are always moving.  Does that mean that different people are valuable at different times?  Also, how virtuous is virtuous?  Is Mother Teresa or Ghandi the only ones that measure up?  Is everyone else worthless?  Where's the line?  The rules are constantly subject to change and so is the line of who is virtuous enough to have meaning.

Now, philosophy.  This is the most difficult one to answer but it's still subjective.  Take the child born into a small primitive tribe in Papua New Guinea or someplace like that.  That child will probably never have the chance to study philosophy or science or any other learning outside that little tribe.  Does he or she have meaning?  Arguably not, at least according to these standards.

I think I know how Prof McGinn would answer these questions though, so I'll give his presumed answer and then respond to that as well.  I assume he would answer with some kind of reference to balance in life.  Like the child born into poverty, as long as he/she did his/her best to enjoy the pleasures available that's meaning, and if meaning found in a balance between all of these pursuits, perhaps that child could find meaning in life by doing his or her best on the other sources of meaning.  To the question of virtue he'd probably respond similarly, that as long as one does one's best in whatever situation they're in they'll find meaning in life.  Same with the pursuit of philosophy, as long as you do your best with what you have you'll live a meaningful life.

To which I'd respond, then Adolf Hitler lived a full meaningful life.  He did what he thought was right and he did it to the best of his ability.  So much so that he led his country in a victorious conquest of most of Europe and through his allies a large portion of the world in general.  He led the extermination of weaker people that didn't deserve to live (at least in his view).  He was also well read and his book is still read by many to this day.  So, by all accounts he lived a meaningful life.  Basically, by these arguments everyone lives meaningful lives.  Again, without an immutable standard of morality there's no such thing as a virtuous person.  And, nothing can give itself meaning without being completely selfish.  These anthropocentric sources of meaning and virtue ring hollow and even the most powerful rich and seemingly most meaningful lives are reduced to nought at the end.  As Alexander the Great's final orders clearly showed, even one of the most powerful, wise, hedonistic (after the higher pleasures), wealthy, and philosophical rulers of the world ended his life empty and meaningless.