October 19, 2009

Oklahoma and abortion - some fittingly harsh reflections

Russell Blackford is a guest blogger for Sentient Developments.


The Oklahoma legislature has passed a draconian statute that provides for personal details about women who obtain abortions to be placed online at a public website. To be fair, the information does not include actual names; nonetheless, it is in such detail that many women could be identified and harassed. What's more, even if no harassment eventuates, a woman's privacy is violated cruelly if she is required to provide such details as these:

answers to 34 questions including their age, marital status and education levels, as well as the number of previous pregnancies and abortions. Women are required to reveal their relationship with the father, the reason for the abortion and the area where the abortion was performed.

Much can be said about this despicable and cruel law, all of it in tones of fitting outrage. Over at Metamagician and the Hellfire Club, I concentrated on an important technical aspect. This is that outright criminalisation of a practice is not the only means that the state can use in its efforts to suppress the practice. There are many ways that political power can be used to attack our liberties.



In current social circumstances prevailing in Western societies, the criminal law uses punishments that can include the infliction of a range of harms, such as loss of liberty or property, while also expressing public resentment, indignation, reprobation, and disapproval (Joel Feinberg has written well on this). But much the same infliction of harm and officially-sanctioned stigma could be accomplished by means that do not involve criminalisation of an activity or even the criminal justice system as we know it.

Although civil laws do not categorise those who breach them as criminals, they, too, can be used to attach a stigma to actions and to individuals, and even to destroy reputations and careers. In fact, the state can select many hostile and repressive means to achieve its aims. These include propaganda campaigns that stigmatise certain categories of people and officially-tolerated discrimination against people of whom it disapproves, such as by denying certain categories of people access to government employment. The state requires good justification before it calls upon its power to suppress any form of conduct by any of these means.

The Oklahoma law is clearly intended to intimidate and stigmatise women who have abortions, in an attempt to deter the practice. This is no more acceptable than outright criminalisation of abortion. The legislature's action merits our contempt, and the law concerned should be struck down as unconstitutional for exactly the same reason as apply to an outright ban on abortions - it intrudes into an area of life that should be governed by personal privacy and individual choice.

Beyond this point, however, lies a further issue about the motivation for such laws ... and how are they best fought in the long term. It's not coincidental that laws such as this, which presuppose that pregnant women should have little control over their own bodies, tend to be enacted in jurisdictions where theistic religion is strong. We can insist that religious reasoning should have no authority in matters of law, but in societies where deference to religion is taken for granted that claim is likely to fall on deaf ears. It can be difficult convincing a hard-line Catholic bishop or a Protestant fundamentalist that political force should be used only in ways that are neutral between peaceful worldviews. Why accept that idea if you see your own worldview as representing the comprehensive truth about the world, morality, and the organisation of society? In societies where religion goes unchallenged, secular principles such as separation of church have no traction.

For that reason, I've increasingly, over the past few years, come to the view that there's now some urgency in challenging the truth claims, epistemic authority, and moral wisdom of theistic religion - meeting its pretensions head-on. This urgency wouldn't exist if the various leaders, churches, and sects agreed, without equivocation, to a wall of separation between themselves and the state. But that's not so likely, since many of them can find reasons, by their own lights, to resist any sort of strict secularism.

John Rawls imagined that adherents to most religions and other comprehensive worldviews could find reasons - from within their own teachings and traditions - to reach an overlapping political consensus. In Rawlsian theory, they can all find their own reasons to support a kind of secularism in which the state would not impose any comprehensive worldview; rather, it would provide a regulatory and economic framework within which people with many views of the world or "theories of the good" could live in harmony. But many of the comprehensive religious worldviews do not lend themselves to this. It's not natural for them to find reasons in their traditional teachings to embrace Rawlsian political liberalism. The more apocalyptic churches and sects do not seek social harmony with adherents of other views of the good; instead, they imagine a future time when their own viewpoint will prevail, perhaps with divine assistance.

Even the more mainstream religious groups may be sceptical about any sharp distinction between individual salvation and the exercise of political power. They may be suspicious about social pluralism, if this includes, as it must, views deeply opposed to their own - such as the view that abortion is morally acceptable, or the more radical view that it is not even (morally speaking) a big deal.

In short, I continue to advocate secular principles, including a strong separation of church (or mosque) and state. But it is not enough to stop with advocating these principles when so many people do not accept the premises on which they are based, such as the right to freedom of belief, the unvoidable permanence of social pluralism, or the need to obtain public peace by some reticence in struggling to impose private views of morality. We should go further than arguing for secularism, I think, and openly criticise worldviews that lead to travesties such as the Oklahoma abortion laws.


This may involve asking pointed questions such as whether the God who hates abortion even exists. That's okay. In a free society, we have every right to question views that we disagree with, so long as we don't attempt to suppress them by state power. In the case of abortion, you can believe it's a sin, and you can subscribe to a religion that supports your belief. But the cure for abortions is not to suppress them by the cruel use of state power. If you're against abortions, don't have one. Don't try to stop those who disagree.

If you do, don't be surprised if you are challenged on where you got your beliefs from, and whether they are well-evidenced. Maybe your religious tradition is riddled with error, and maybe your God doesn't exist. We're entitled to ask for the evidence and draw our own conclusions if it's not forthcoming.

Russell Blackford's home blog is Metamagician and the Hellfire Club. He is editor-in-chief of The Journal of Evolution and Technology and co-editor, with Udo Schuklenk, of 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009).

31 comments:

South Park Republican said...

"This is no more acceptable than outright criminalisation of abortion."

You state that like a fact, when surely you are aware that many people would disagree with you. Those who are pro-life are opposed to abortion not because their God says it's wrong, but because they believe that fetuses and embryos are children. Ultimately that is what the abortion depate is about; are embryos people? Are they sapient? No. Will they become sapient? Yes. There is no instant when we become sapient; it is a long process that takes many years, making any threshold of personhood completely arbitrary. How long does it take from the moment of conception for a child to become self-aware? A few years at most, a meaningless amount of time on a cosmic scale. If they can become sapient, shouldn't they have the right to do so just as every child has the right to go to school so that they can learn how to function as the adults they will become? I would like to point out here that there is a difference from "will become sapient" to "could become sapient". In theory I could be cloned from any one of my cells, but none of my cells will grow into a person as they are now. Once an egg is fertilized however, it is in the process of becoming a person. Is it wrong to kill future people? If I were to hide a bomb downtown in a major city, and set it to go off in a couple hundred years so that no one who will be killed by it currently exists now (unless of course certain transhumanist predictions come true) have I done something wrong? I think the nature of Time is even relevant in the abortion debate, since we don't really know what Time is. Does the future exist already? Does the past still exist? If the present is a completely relative point of view, than doesn't that make devalueing the lives of future people a form of prejudice? If the lives of future people are irrelevant, than why are we so concerned about Global Warming, if not for our descendants who have yet to be conceived.

I know I haven't swayed you, nor will anything you say sway me. I know that I'm pro-life because I 'feel' it is wrong, and I worked out the reasoning later. I feel that fetuses should count as people, and you feel otherwise. Perhaps because you are a militant atheist you assume the position simply to be contrary to the "faith-sufferers" you abhor,at least subconsciously. I would like to point out that there are atheists who are pro-life, and suggest that you at least goggle that and take a look.

The abortion debate is not about religion. Always remember that those who are pro-life are so because they believe that the unborn are people, and so are of course oppose to killing them, which I'm sure they hope their God believes too.

Oh and George, this has nothing to do with Transhumanism or futurism, and really has no business on this blog.

South Park Republican said...

"In the case of abortion, you can believe it's a sin, and you can subscribe to a religion that supports your belief. But the cure for abortions is not to suppress them by the cruel use of state power. If you're against abortions, don't have one. Don't try to stop those who disagree."

How does that make any sense to you? People that are against abortion believe that it's murder, so why wouldn't they try to reduce it's occurence? You believe that killing a four year old is wrong,or at least I hope so. Some people just believe it's wrong a few years earlier.

George said...

@SouthParkRepublican: What makes you think that my blog is only about transhumanism and futurism? And how did you reach the conclusion that this discussion, which is about reproductive autonomy, is divorced from transhumanist discourse?

critter said...

You believe fetuses are children.

I don't.

At what point does my body become chattel?

Frakkin crotch police.

fallingupthesky said...

It used to be that children weren't people until they reached their third birthday. Of course that was because very young children had the nasty habit of getting the plague and dropping dead. And if they were peasants, faced additional hazards like wandering into the streets and being run over by an oxcart, being kidnapped and raised as a slave, or being butchered by bandits or invading soldiers who would then proceed to use their mothers as a rape-toy. Not to mention that infants which were born with deformities or health problems were often killed, making it effectively a fourth or fifth trimester abortion. So there wasn't much point in investing too much in someone, materially or emotionally, who had less than 40% chance of surviving to the point where you would get to know them in any meaningful sense.

The idea of infants being people didn't exist in most societies (and that includes most Christian ones) until a few hundred years ago. And the idea of a fetus being a person seems to be a fairly modern development.

Simon said...
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Simon said...

I agree SPP is not a religious issue. I think it rather an identity issue in two different ways. It is a cultural identity issue with the overwhelming majority always parroting whatever the side they most identify with say.

Secondly it is an Ontological question & IMO the reasoning behind the Liberal view of it is seriously flawed.

BTW I'm a Contrarian Liberal Atheist anti -general– abortionist.

Liberals then look at conservative's other issues like homosexuality & contraception and rightly see the hand of religion. But then make the mistake of thinking iit is 100% the same for abortion.

George I'd be interested to find out when you would think an A.I. would get moral rights? When it is finished being constructed, or when it is turned on?

The work I've been doing also point out from a Teleological POV the capacity need only be latent for a machine to classified as a type of thing with that capacity. Basically that goes for any machine that can transform its structure to activate that latent capacity.

Homo Sapiens are persons by definition via this route.

Simon said...
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Simon said...
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Simon said...

I wish one could edit posts on the fly.
Anyway hope to eventually get around to publish. But I don't think things would change even when people are informed about their mistake, it will probably take artificial wombs and certain types of latent capacity A.I.'s and 100% contraception-via the male tube plug- before the Paradigm shift can occur

fallingupthesky said...

As for my personal take on the issue (as opposed to the historical take I posted earlier) it's something like this. It is generally accepted in modern times that all humans are persons. It wasn't always that way - very young children, slaves, and sometimes women were not persons, at least not in the legal sense. So the question becomes, is a fetus a human?

Simply possessing human DNA is not enough to qualify as human. Otherwise, sperm, eggs, and bacteria which stole a bit of human DNA would be persons, which is clearly ridiculous.

Possessing a full set of DNA is not enough either. Otherwise, every cell in one's body would be an individual person. Being made of cells possessing a full set of DNA... my liver would like a credit card in its own name.

A blastocyst, the first stage of fetal development, is just a ball of cells which is objectively less complex and functional than a piece of liver, and more often or not they die before moving on to the next stage. Aside from the potential of someday becoming a baby, which I which I will get to in a moment, and unprovable religious arguments about souls, there's no good reason to deny "emergency contraception", which is basically chemically-induced blastocyst abortion.

Are later stages of fetal development human? Probably not until near the very end. Until the fetus reaches the point where it can survive outside the mother, it is not capable of functioning as a human. Would you consider a half-finished computer which can't do anything useful (except maybe act as an oversized paperweight) to be a computer?

How about the fact that at some point a fetus will have an extremely limited ability to think, learn, and feel before it becomes fully functional? A full-grown cow is probably better at that, but we grind them up for hamburgers all day long. Aside from, again, arguments about souls, that doesn't seem sufficient either.

So the one remaining issue becomes, since it's very difficult to consider a fetus to be fully human from any logical standpoint, should it nevertheless be considered so on the grounds that it can potentially be fully human? This, unfortunately, seems to come down entirely to opinion. When dealing with others, sometimes we take their potential into account (if someone seems to be talented in music, some people will encourage them to study and make a career of it) and sometimes we only act on what has already occurred (we don't normally throw someone in jail for a crime they might some day commit). On some subjects peoples' opinions will vary considerably on how important the potential is compared to the actual. And this is one of them.

So unless someone can come up with a relatively clear, objective reason why it should be one way or the other that most people can easily understand and agree with (and if there were any, we would not be having this debate still), at this point basically "If you think abortion is wrong, then don't have one" is probably the only really useful answer.

Simon said...

Pt 1
"As for my personal take on the issue (as opposed to the historical take I posted earlier) i...... So the question becomes, is a fetus a human?"

No that isn’t the even Liberal philosophers like Peter Singer and David Boonin won’t deny it is human. The question is, is it a human person?

"Simply possessing human DNA is not enough to qualify as human. Otherwise, sperm, eggs, and bacteria which stole a bit of human DNA would be persons, which is clearly ridiculous.... So yes genetics by itself isn’t enough & no constituent parts don’t count neither are a Homo Sapiens.

A blastocyst, the first stage of fetal development, is just a ball of cells which is objectively less complex and functional than a piece of liver, and more often or not they die before moving on to the next stage."



A blastocyst is no more or less than stage early of a development of a individual Homo Sapiens. In itself it is incredibly complex and a monumental feat of natural engineering, that easily surpasses anything humanity can currently achieve. Show me a piece of liver that will, once given the right nutrients etc self organise into a more developed Homo Sapiens and you might have appoint.


"Are later stages of fetal development human? Probably not until near the very end. Until the fetus reaches the point where it can survive outside the mother, it is not capable of functioning as a human."

An early foetus, a late term foetus and a neonate or all dependent fundamentally on care givers. The fact one is external while the other two are internal doesn’t change that.

Simon said...

Pt 2
"Would you consider a half-finished computer which can't do anything useful (except maybe act as an oversized paperweight) to be a computer?"

An interesting point. Unlike a half-finished computer a foetus is already functioning and doing what it is supposed to do, self-maintain and self-organise into a larger version of itself. Rather for your analogy to work you have a really basic complete functioning computer which then you sup-up to increase its capacity. It’s still the same computer none the less.


"How about the fact that at some point a fetus will have an extremely limited ability to think, learn, and feel before it becomes fully functional? A full-grown cow is probably better at that, but we grind them up for hamburgers all day long. Aside from, again, arguments about souls, that doesn't seem sufficient either."

As I’ve pointed out again and again to others, I’m quite aware of how rights are constructed around desires, and only persons have the sophisticated desire to continue to exist, thus its right to life. Yes, a foetus doesn’t have this desire but nor does a baby.

Now you might use the common counter that well we can pass it onto another caregiver, sure but there are animals with the same or higher levels of cognitive or sentient development and we don’t do it for them. Which seems to indicate a level of ‘optionality’ and if this is the case that you have a choice not to do it for other animals you should in principle have the option to deny doing it for a baby. That is if you believe just favouring members of your species is ok and not speciest. But you are then still open to the charge of arbitrariness.

"So unless someone can come up with a relatively clear, objective reason why it should be one way or the other that most people can easily understand and agree with (and if there were any, we would not be having this debate still), at this point basically "If you think abortion is wrong, then don't have one" is probably the only really useful answer."

My work entails by definition that it is enough to have the capacity latency of personhood to be considered a person; & this has nothing to do with a soul. Which BTW I don’t think exists anyway.
At the moment I’m trying to get a supervisor to oversee the thesis but as this is outside the usual channels so it is a slow process.

fallingupthesky said...

Show me a blastocyst that can do all of the many complex things that a piece of liver can do. And while a fetus can do something, that thing does not appear to include functioning as a person in any meaningful sense.

The rest of that might as well be gibberish. While it obviously means something, I lack the necessary assumptions and/or context to make sense of it.

Simon said...

That's the problem while I covered the basics at uni I had to research a lot of the rest myself. Unless you are prepared to do the same it is very difficult to get ones head around the underlying arguments and concepts in the debate.

How about this?

If you in fact had a completed A.I. computer. When do you give it equal personhood rights?

1.When it completed but switched off?

It is afterall designed to function as a artifical person and is complete and in a sense already itself.

None the less one could argue untill it boots up the capacity is still latent.

2.When like other conventional computers it is switched on and is in the process of booting up? But is yet to functional in its full capacity sense.

3.Or when after it has boooted up and is now fully functiong as a A.I. with all the sophisticated procesing capabilities that make one a person?

critter said...

As usual, the fetus rights folks are male.

Simon said...

An ethical argument if valid, is valid regardless as to the gender of the one putting forward the argument.

If you knew anything about logic or reasoning you would know that.

Apart from the fact there females using similar arguments even Fem Pro-Lifers. Oh btw the orginal Fem's where Pro-Life as well.

Lastly I'm not techincally Pro-life more like a secular Jainist.

Simon said...

"This argument falls apart as soon as you realize that the Guttmacher Institute,

http://www.guttmacher.org/media/presskits/2005/06/28/abortionoverview.html

a prominent abortion advocacy organization, has gathered similar data, and made it publicly available, for years! A ridiculous double standard is at work here. When a pro-abortion organization collects information about women who have abortions, it is doing a public service to improve women's health. When a neutral party like the state of Oklahoma collects the same information-- and it's arguably in a position to do so more accurately-- it's a horrible invasion of privacy that can only serve to scare women to death."

From a secular female Pro-Lifers site secularprolife.org

Any comment George?

biogeek said...

Those who claim abortion rights had "nothing to do with transhumanism" seem to confuse transhumanism with shallow techno-enthusiasm.

1.) Since transhumanists are pro-science, they do not believe that embryos are "ensouled" at conception.

2.) Transhumanism dismisses a genetic/taxonomic definition of personhood, and embraces a cognitive definition of personhood. That's how I, as a transhumanist, can believe that you would not morally debase yourself inevitably by leaving the human species.

For instance, consider if someone introduced an artificial "longevity chromosome" into her germ-line, so that she could live longer but only have fertile offspring with someone sharing a similar alteration. Starting from transhumanist assumptions, this would not affect her citizenship, and be a good thing for her, IF she found the net effect on longevity and fertility desirable.

Conversely, if I believed that moral self-worth were tied to membership in the human species, as most anti-abortionists do, then I could only view her choice as akin to suicide. For this reason, coherent transhumanists consider the "human set of chromosomes" of a fetus or embryo as morally irrelevant.

3.) Transhumanism is a philosophy affirming individual rights. When political rulers are telling women to squeeze out more cannonfodder to send after enemy X, it is no good reason to limit bodily autonomy. Nor is economic growth, public finances, social mores, et cetera. The right to privacy ought to trump the will of presidents, dictators, and majorities.

Taken together, this shows that transhumanism implies support for abortion rights. Transhumanist principles rebuff the major arguments heard in favor of mandatory pregnancy.

Simon said...
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Simon said...
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Simon said...

1. Since I don’t believe in a soul at all no argument there.

2. If not genetic/taxonomic what about Teleologically? Maybe you could also enlighten me about the Actualisation vs Capacity question that Michael Tooley raises: when does one become a person? With the capacity or the actualisation. But even this is lacking as we are quite prepared to classify teleologically, machines that only have the capacity as latent or who have not actualised that capacity, as that type/classification of machine. I would have though technophiles would have picked up on this.

3. I really wish people would start to do the basics of critical thinking and as well as argue for their side, also argue against it.

An anti abortionist -in most but not all cases– is in fact more in with upholding individual rights and the Pro-Choice stance. One after all if one kidnaps another entity with rights one cannot use property rights to then kick it out in a blizzard and have it die. & in principle even liberal philosophers acknowledge if the foetus is a party of equal moral consideration since it can be argue it has been placed in a situation of dependence it is owed compensation and the only compensation worth anything to the foetus is the continued habitation of the woman’s body. If someone can prove a foetus is a person definitionally the even RvW acknowledges this would change the ball game substantially.

Also as many people would be quite happy to see a parent have to give up a organ if they actually caused harm through abuse negligence etc to a non person baby, causing that baby to need an organ transplant from that parent, or to force -in principle– a woman to breast feed and care for baby, if there were no other care giver available.

Then your third point falls flat as the same underlying principle of parents caring for their offspring when no other option is available applies. Not to forget Pro-Choice is quite prepared to force a woman to use her body as a incubator for an unwanted late term abortion even when the late term still hasn’t reached personhood status.

Which shows -as combined with the fact that the legislation attacked by George is the exactly the same done in the name of Pro-choice,- that many of the attacks of Pro-Choice are hypocritical knee jerk rhetoric posturing.

But since I’m not technically Pro-Life I can equally attack them as well for their own posturing.

biogeek said...

Simon,

> If not genetic/taxonomic what about Teleologically?

quoting wikipedia:

“In bioethics, teleology is used to describe the utilitarian view that an action's ethics is determined by its good or bad consequences.”

This sentence needs a few additional assumptions to be of use:

Rights protect an entity’s interest to be free from unprovoked harm and coercion.
A rights violation is a particularly bad consequence.

Since embryos are devoid of mind, they have no interests. What doesn’t exist can’t be safeguarded, or pitted against a woman’s right to choose when to play warming drawer. The situation poses no serious dilemma.

Here, some philosophers invoke a zygote’s “developmental potential”. I’m not impressed. For one thing, the causal buck doesn’t stop at fertilization. If a fertilized egg equals an infant, then so does a docking sperm-egg pair with still-separate nuclei. It goes on and on, right back to a wispy cloud of hydrogen floating through space, which may someday be processed through nuclear, chemical, and evolutionary action into a sentient being. All things are in the way of becoming, and it is the privilege of moral agents to shape their form.

So we have a big delineation problem here, and it only gets worse when taking futurist thought into account. The gravel and dirt at our feet, even a planet’s iron core is made of potential mind, as it could all be turned into artificial brain structures given sufficiently advanced technology. Picture a Dyson sphere or something like that.

And more importantly, the potentiality argument draws an otherwise sensible idea beyond its reasonable bounds. Yes, good parents want to help their children realize their potentials to the fullest. To neglect this responsibility is to invite poverty, sadness, failure, and greater dependency on others. Who would consciously inflict that on their child? Elective abortion, however, occurs when the fetal brain is not yet in working order: no suffering, no harming of life goals. The desire to foster one's offspring's potential for the benefit of the child has no negative implication for reproductive rights. In fact, free and informed access to birth control has been a boon to families and society.

> …machines that only have the capacity as latent or who have not actualised that capacity…

I tend to think that I would be strongly obliged to respect a sentient android’s will to exist beginning with the first time they became conscious. A neural matrix disposed to self-adaptation but never once activated is more an expression of the AI engineer’s self than of an AI’s self, it seems. This is debatable, of course. It’s also quite beside the point.

The fetal cortex until at least 23 weeks’ gestational age is more like an android brain at a sub-assembly stage, to keep up the analogy, as opposed to an unconscious mind that would be ready to wake up without further wiring work.

> Then your third point falls flat…

My third point doesn’t fail when taken in conjunction with the second.

Simon said...

Biogeek,

>> If not genetic/taxonomic what about Teleologically?

>quoting wikipedia:

“In bioethics, teleology is used to describe the utilitarian view that an action's ethics is determined by its good or bad consequences.”

This sentence needs a few additional assumptions to be of use:

Rights protect an entity’s interest to be free from unprovoked harm and coercion.
A rights violation is a particularly bad consequence.

Since embryos are devoid of mind, they have no interests. What doesn’t exist can’t be safeguarded, or pitted against a woman’s right to choose when to play warming drawer. The situation poses no serious dilemma."



I’m aware of this formulation of rights/desires and have found it intuitively partly lacking, given that this prima facie mean a baby doesn’t have any more ‘rights’ than any other sentient non person animals. Which entails if were aren’t to be speciest we could treat them like other non person animals. Also considering a recovering coma patient is also devoid of mind which would mean no rights either.


“Here, some philosophers invoke a zygote’s “developmental potential”. I’m not impressed.”

I agree that the Potentiality argument is a bad one and that Peter Singer’s Potentiality Fallacy seems water tight. But you cannot have it both ways, and using these two principles means a baby or a coma victim have no right to life. In fact some coma patients aren’t even sentient at all, so wouldn’t even have the consideration a sentient animal would.

Also other philosophers talk about interests and wellbeing in light of stakes in something or other, or in other words abstract relations. So any living think can be said to have a stake in continuing to live and one could imagine that is what could be argued to actually base a baby, infant or coma patients rights even if they don’t actually desire a continued existence.

BTW if not having but going to have something doesn’t give a foetus rights, a thing that has something but lost it shouldn’t either.

So we can in principle base rights on abstract interests as well as desired interests. Otherwise a baby, an infant, a coma patient or severe dementia patient loose their rights.

Simon said...

Biogeek

>> …machines that only have the capacity as latent or who have not actualised that capacity…

>I tend to think that I would be strongly obliged to respect a sentient android’s will to exist beginning with the first time they became conscious. “

Why? As you well aware sentience doesn’t give a right to life, it only grants a desire not to suffer. Since you have already said as much, how can sentience/consciousness grant a right to existence for an A.I?


>A neural matrix disposed to self-adaptation but never once activated is more an expression of the AI engineer’s self than of an AI’s self, it seems. This is debatable, of course. It’s also quite beside the point.

I don’t see any reason to tie that A.I. early self with the engineers in any way at all, but regardless, one could still equate that with only sentience so the point is moot.



>The fetal cortex until at least 23 weeks’ gestational age is more like an android brain at a sub-assembly stage, to keep up the analogy, as opposed to an unconscious mind that would be ready to wake up without further wiring work.

As I’ve already posted “Unlike a half-finished computer a foetus is already functioning and doing what it is supposed to do, self-maintain and self-organise into a larger version of itself.” It is already a self-directed self-maintaining unit so even if parts are still being self assembled so rather it is already a complete unit adding additional features/capacities. That’s what makes it a completely ontologically different type of thing as opposed to something that is assembled by outside entities.




>> Then your third point falls flat…

>My third point doesn’t fail when taken in conjunction with the second.

I don’t see how it does. An infant and baby aren’t persons but many would force the parents to care for them in situations where there aren’t any other caregivers. You’ve provided no reason why one should.
Since one can class an early foetus, a late foetus, baby and early infant as non persons things, and if only persons have the sophisticate desires and through it right to exist, unless you want to be an arbitrary speciest, you have to give me another morally relevant, non arbitrary reason why ALL these non person things shouldn’t be treated the same.

biogeek said...

Simon,

if a coma patient can recover, then he’s currently devoid of consciousness, but not of the capacity to regain his conscious self. Synaptic patterns are still embodying the contents of his mind as a legacy of his unique, autonomous way through life. The patient’s preferences significantly persist, as much as yours remain during sleep.

If, OTOH, the coma was irreversible, as would be the case when the cerebral cortex had dissolved with the brain stem remaining intact, then the person would be effectively dead, because what encoded their personality and memory would have been irretrievably lost. I can live with that conclusion. Or die by it. If I wasted away into the kind of coma that Terri Schiavo was in (remember?), I wouldn’t want my bodily husk to be kept on the tubes, either, since there would be no chance, however theoretical, of being neurobiologically reconstructed to a significant degree.

A non-anencephalic baby is arguably close enough to cognitive personhood for us to exert precaution, even when testing can’t yet confirm it to be self-aware. The same concern would arise with nonhuman sapients; with chimp babies too. Their brains develop further than those of puppies and kittens, so the risk of error in inferring their mental traits runs higher. Plus, birth is the most obvious marker of attaining full basic rights we have. No one has ever observed a fertilization event in its natural fallopian environment, but every simpleton can see that a baby has been born. And of course, plenty of other considerations apply that can’t be extended to abortion, such as the absence of direct bodily dependence, or the bad effect that legal infanticide could have on societal treatment of young children.

Singer is not the Personhood Pope. One can weight the pros and cons of the status of neonates differently than he does and arrive at a different conclusion without being inconsistent.

> Since you have already said as much, how can sentience/consciousness grant a right to existence for an A.I?

I intended no such claim by the wording “sentient android’s will to exist”. Androids are humanlike synthetic organisms, so I made a tacit assumption that an advanced android would also exhibit sapience rather than emulating a mouse. Furthermore, it’s hard to imagine a “will to exist” lacking the “will to continue existing”, which would match an understanding of cognitive personhood as “able to anticipate oneself in the future”.

> Unlike a half-finished computer a foetus is already functioning and doing what it is supposed to do, self-maintain and self-organise into a larger version of itself.

- this smacks of a loaded phrasing. Supposed by whom? Nature in its totality has no intents and purposes, only physical values and equations.

- an artifact is supposed to be built if that’s what a maker has in mind. A conceptus is supposed to grow into a child if the parents want it so. If not, then not.

- if fetuses were truly self-assembling, we could already grow them in barrels. The motherly organism plays a bigger role than that.

- distinguishing a system by its self-assembling nature here has nowhere to go but a blunter version of the potentiality argument, which we both turned down.

Simon said...

Biogeek
>if a coma patient can recover, then he’s currently devoid of consciousness, but not of the capacity to regain his conscious self. .......as much as yours remain during sleep.



A capacity to self repair isn’t a capacity for personhood even if it leads to that capacity. That much is clear. & nor are memories or even individual modules of personality sufficient; either you can or cannot function as a person, which even if asleep you can as the physical capacity is still there. A capacity of personhood isn’t after all the isolated individual capacities that contribute to personhood. & Even if you want to argue that memory binds personal identity we would have still have recovering coma patients with total amnesia missing out and at the same time you are weakening the link between capacity and moral value.





>A non-anencephalic baby is arguably close enough to cognitive personhood……..such as the absence of direct bodily dependence, or the bad effect that legal infanticide could have on societal treatment of young children.


Sorry, close enough isn’t reason enough if you are actually basing right to life value on a particular criterion. Either it has it or it doesn’t. & since sophisticated desires for continued existence come quite late around 18mnths with self awareness –& could be in fact argued much later for a understanding and desire for life- there is no fear or error for neonates.

& no birth isn’t the most obvious dividing line if you are basing your right to life on desire for continued existence, which is why very few even Liberal/progressive philosophers have a bar of it or viability. They understand once you go down this route, birth or viability are morally irrelevant. It is what you are or what you can do that counts.

& yes shock horror, being consistent would mean negative consequences for unwanted non person children, but it is totally morally disingenuous and hypocritical for anyone to argue one moral system but then wish special dispensation to ignore those rules when it is pointed out their system actually entails things they don’t want.


>Singer is not the Personhood Pope. One can weight the pros and cons of the status of neonates differently than he does and arrive at a different conclusion without being inconsistent.

Never said he was but his work is relevant to the debate. & yes and no sure you can use other reasoning than Singers, but no if you are using sophisticated personhood desires to base right to life on and don’t allow infanticide you are inevitably either inconsistent or arbitrary. In fact I read an article from one Liberal thinking, allowing infanticide is the natural progression of things as they aren’t persons after all, and many of the very same justifications for abortion can impact on a mother or couple after birth.

Simon said...

Biogeek

>> Since you have already said as much, how can sentience/consciousness grant a right to existence for an A.I?

>I intended no such claim by the wording “sentient android’s will to exist”. Androids are humanlike synthetic organisms, so I made a tacit assumption that an advanced android would also exhibit sapience rather than emulating a mouse.

Sorry then that wasn’t clear as at least some definitions of android only state humanlike appearance and does not entail sophisticated self awareness


& if you argue that an A.I. android isn’t worthy of a right to life until it functions as a person even if complete, then by rights, a infant in a recovering coma but has just crossed over- while repairing- while in a coma to full personhood capacity, but has yet to be conscious, technically hasn’t functioned as a person yet, so its life support could be turned off with no moral repercussions.






• >>Unlike a half-finished computer a foetus is already functioning and doing what it is supposed to do, self-maintain and self-organise into a larger version of itself.



>>- this smacks of a loaded phrasing. Supposed by whom? Nature in its totality has no intents and purposes, only physical values and equations.


While there is debate about teleology in nature the design whether synthetic or biological have certain functional goals and if they can be described as having that functional or goal that description is used. If that wasn’t the case, much if not all biology and engineering would be nonsensical.

- an artifact is supposed to be built if that’s what a maker has in mind. A conceptus is supposed to grow into a child if the parents want it so. If not, then not.

Fine then bring on infanticide and at least be consistent.

- if fetuses were truly self-assembling, we could already grow them in barrels. The motherly organism plays a bigger role than that.


I think not, just different types of self assembly assisted – put in or provided with the building blocks- or totally independent. At the moment you have engineers having ‘simple’ modular self assembling robots where they provide the robot with nearby parts to self assemble its larger configuration. If you want to argue that it isn’t a self assembler go argue your case with the guys building and naming their creation self assemblers.

-distinguishing a system by its self-assembling nature here has nowhere to go but a blunter version of the potentiality argument, which we both turned down.

Not if you aren’t prepared to question the teleological nature of dual capacity machines. An amphibious car is an amphibious car even if it needs to alter itself to function in the water thus making its water capacity latent, or has never ever in fact been in water. If a machine is a self-assembling car it has two important defining capacities self-assembly and being a car. To self assemble is by definition to already be itself, so a self assembling car is already a functionally complete type of car even if in its early stages it cannot be driven.

biogeek said...

Thanks for your input, Simon; I think there’s little to add to my previous answers.

Given that liberal society is based in respect for each other’s volition, resultant obligations don’t vanish when a mind goes out of service temporarily. A comatose person that can be restored, and has wanted to be, should be restored, since their desire of self-preservation is implied to extend indefinitely into the future. To argue otherwise, you have to believe that a fictional “Star Trek” crew would have no strong obligation to rematerialize a peaceful traveler’s pattern they found mislaid somewhere in a transporter’s memory bank on a deserted ship. That seems quite wrong; one’s basic rights should apply to whenever one’s vital interests can be secured by those rights. It’s reasonable to distinguish between non-recoverable and recoverable minds with prior interests.

As for newborns, the Manichean “either person or not person” has its proper place in lawmaking, but the underlying ethical principles will display gray (and tinted?) areas, if they are anywhere near realistic. Birth falls into a gray area pertaining to the interpretation of human development under cognitive-volitional criteria. That makes birth a rationally defensible choice for the onset of legal personhood. The baby’s faculties don’t have to be highly “sophisticated” to meet those criteria. A flicker of self-awareness and time-awareness may suffice to have implicit self-related desires for at least the immediate future.

And finally, your views on teleology strike me as muddled and irrelevant. You can talk about function in evolved biology, but this function emerges from mechanistic molecular interactions and non-directed evolution, neither of which has goals nor does it offer the slightest hint of planning and foresight. Natural teleology amounts to a philosophical mind game with as much support from physical reality as karmic reincarnation and prayed-up miracles. Equivocation between purposeful design and the natural emergence of human biology isn’t going to help your case.

Simon said...

Funny how rules and reasoning are important when arguing against a opposing position but become "Manichean" when it doesn't suit. But that doesn’t surprise me, another win for Dunning Kruger.

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