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[ACC] When During Fetal Development Does Abortion Become Morally Wrong?

[This is an entry to the 2019 Adversarial Collaboration Contest by BlockOfNihilism and Icerun]

Note: For simplicity, we have constrained our analysis of data about pregnancy and motherhood to the United States. We note that these data are largely dependent on the state of the medical and social support systems that are available in a particular region.

Introduction: Review of abortion and pregnancy data in the United States

We agreed that it was important to first reach an understanding about the general facts of abortion, pregnancy and motherhood in the US prior to making ethical assertions. To understand abortion rates and distributions, we reviewed data obtained by the CDC’s Abortion Surveillance System (1). The Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS), Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System (PMSS) and National Vital Statistics datasets were used to evaluate the medical hazards imposed by pregnancy (2, 3, 4). Finally, we examined a number of studies performed on the Turnaway Study cohort, maintained by UCSF, to investigate the economic effects of denying wanted abortions to women (5, 6, 7, 13).

Abortion rates by trimester and maternal age: Using data collected by the CDC, 638,169 abortions were performed in the United States in 2015. Data was received from 49/52 reporting areas, suggesting that these rates are likely close to the population rates. This was equivalent to 188 abortions per 1000 live births, a 24% decline from 2006. Of these, approximately 65% were performed prior to 8 weeks of development, and 91% before 13 weeks of development. An additional 7.6% were performed at between 14-20 weeks. Approximately 90% of abortions were performed on women older than 19, and adolescent women between the ages of 18-19 accounted for 67% of the abortions in women under 19. By race, non-Hispanic black women were most likely to undergo an abortion (25 per 1000 women), while non-Hispanic white women were least likely (6.7 per 1000). This translates to a rate of 390 abortions per 1,000 live births in non-Hispanic black women and 111 per 1,000 live births in non-Hispanic white women. (1) These data show that most abortions are undertaken prior to the end of the first trimester, that most women choosing an abortion are adults, and that non-Hispanic black women are disproportionately more likely to choose an abortion.

Mortality and morbidity associated with abortion and pregnancy: On average, there were 0.62 fatalities per 100,000 legal abortions between 2008-2014 (six reported fatalities in 2014). For comparison, in 2015 there were 17.2 pregnancy-related fatalities per 100,000 live births in 2014. These data suggest that an abortion is generally safer than attempting to carry a child to term. Also, it is important to consider the racial disparities within these data. For example, African-American women were three times as likely to die as a result of pregnancy than non-Hispanic white women (42.8 vs 13 per 100,000 live births). The reasons for these disparities are unclear. (3)

Pregnant women are also at risk for severe morbidity associated with pregnancy and delivery, with approximately 50,000 women experiencing at least one severe complication in 2014. This translated to a rate of ~140/10,000 deliveries. Approximately 1.2% of live births resulted in severe maternal complications. Women can also experience significant psychological morbidity after pregnancy, as 1 out of 9 women who deliver a live fetus develop postpartum depression. We were unable to find CDC data for morbidity resulting from abortion procedures; however, one publication reported approximately 2% of abortions result in a medical complication. As this data did not discriminate between minor and severe complications, it would be reasonable to assume that abortions result in a lower overall severe complication rate than pregnancy. We will make the further assumption (based on educated guessing) that late-term abortions are more risky than early-term abortions. (2)

From these data, we conclude that pregnancy and delivery pose a significant risk to the mother’s health. These risks are greatest for African-American and Native American women. By comparison, abortion appears to pose much lower risks of death, and probably much lower risks of morbidity. Consequently, mothers undergo unique and substantial hazards which are imposed by pregnancy. 

Comparison of pregnancy-associated risks and other common risk factors: It is difficult to compare the risks of pregnancy with other factors due to the disparate means of measuring those risks (per live birth, vs per person). However, a naive interpretation of the available data suggests that, while pregnancy is relatively unlikely to lead to severe consequences, it compares in risk to other common activities. For example, the mortality rate associated with motor vehicle accidents is 12.1 per 100,000 people. This is similar to the risk of death per 100,000 live births for women in the US (16.7). (8)

An alternative approach is to examine how pregnancy, childbirth and post-pregnancy changes affect overall mortality. According to the National Vital Statistics Reports (Volume 68, 2016), pregnancy and childbirth was the 6th leading cause of death for women(all races and ethnicities) aged 20-24 and 25-29, accounting for 652 deaths in the two groups combined. Pregnancy and childbirth was the 10th leading cause of death for women between the ages of 15-19 (28 deaths). These data indicate that pregnancy is a leading cause of death in women of child-bearing age. (4)

Socioeconomic costs of unwanted pregnancy: The socioeconomic effects of abortion denial have been studied extensively on the Turnaway Study cohort at the University of California-San Francisco. One study on this cohort found that mothers who were denied a wanted abortion due to gestational age experienced a significantly higher likelihood of being unemployed, in poverty and using public assistance programs like WIC. (6) Another study based on this cohort found that already-born children of a mother denied an abortion were significantly more likely to live in poverty and fail to meet developmental milestones.(5) Mothers who were denied abortions were also less likely to have and meet aspirational goals.(7) These data indicate that women who received wanted abortions experience significantly less socioeconomic strain than women who are denied an abortion.

Adoption vs abortion: Adoption is commonly suggested as an alternative to abortion. Adoption does eliminate the direct socioeconomic burdens of parenthood. However, adoption is rarely considered as an alternative to abortion. For example, in the U.S., there were approximately 18,000 adoptions compared with nearly 1 million abortions. A recent article in The Atlantic did an excellent job of summarizing potential reasons for the discrepancy. Adoption obviously does not alleviate the physical burdens and hazards of pregnancy. Additionally, several studies have suggested that women do not choose adoption due to worry about their perception of the emotional effect of giving away a child. Pro-adoption groups also suggest that both pro- and anti-abortion advocates fail to emphasize or properly counsel women on considering adoption as an alternative to abortion. (9)

Who are the stakeholders in the abortion question? The mother, the father, the fetus, and society at large. The mother’s unique interests are her safety and health, the development of a unique bond with a new human life, and the economic, emotional and physical burdens of motherhood. The father, if held responsible, shares the economic and emotional burdens of parenthood. The fetus, once it has developed the fundamental features of a human being, has at least a theoretical interest in preserving its life. Society at large has an interest in justice and preserving the rights of its members, if only out of self-interest for the individuals within that society. At some point in time, a fetus becomes considered a member of that society, with the same rights as all other individuals. Consequently, the point of conflict arises when a mother (or both parents) desires to terminate a pregnancy prior to delivery.

The question: At what point during development does abortion become a moral wrong? 

Starting positions: At conception (icerun), At fetal viability/minimal neurological activity (BlockofNihilism)

icerun’s Position: A Future Like Ours: Conception

Many arguments for and against abortion pick out a characteristic of the fetus – its size, level of consciousness, ability to feel pain, etc. – and go on to argue why this characteristic, or lack of one, gives the fetus a right to life. Unfortunately, these characteristics tend to have accidental byproducts – they may give the right to life to sheep or remove it from infants. The Future Like Ours arguments begin by determining what best accounts for the wrongness of killing people like you and me (who people on both sides of the abortion debate agree it is wrong to kill). And then use this standard to determine if it is wrong to kill a fetus (who it is contested whether it is wrong to kill).

A Future Like Ours
In Why Abortion is Immoral, Marquis argues killing someone like you or me is prima facie wrong because the deceased is robbed of a valued future like ours. (10) Killing most directly and significantly harms the one who is killed.

The harm to the deceased is the loss of her valued future. Her future would have included all of the experiences, relationships, and works that were valuable for their own sake or means to something valuable. She loses not only those parts of the future she valued in the moment but also those experiences, relationships, and works that she would have come to value as she grew older or is not currently aware of as she grew older: a 16 year old may not value parts of his future whether that be a career, family, or woodwork but if the teenager had been allowed to develop may have come to value these parts of his future.

In summary, it is wrong to kill somebody like you or me because it robs them of a future like ours. The value of a fetus’ future is its current experience, relationships, and works that the fetus values now and those experiences, relationships, and works that the fetus would come to value. A typical fetus cannot currently value it’s experiences, relationships, and works but as the fetus develops it will come to have the same experiences, relationships, and works that we do. Therefore, a fetus has a future like ours. By this definition, it is wrong to kill a fetus from the point of conception (for the record, Marquis does not claim it is wrong to kill a fetus from the point of conception; however, this seems to be the implication).

Intuitions: The future like ours argument works off common assumptions by pro and antiabortion proponents. In doing so it both avoids assuming an ought from an is and creates common ground. The account of the wrongness of killing humans must fit within these intuitions: it must account for why it is wrong to kill typical adult humans, infants, and those who are suicidal but it is not wrong to kill typical sperm, eggs, and some animals. However our intuitions differ on whether it is wrong to kill a typical single cell zygote. Intuitively we both believe it is not wrong to kill a typical zygote, however BlockofNihilism believes this strongly and I believe this weakly. Many anti-abortion advocates have the opposite intuiition.

For BlockofNihilism, this future like ours argument violates his strong intuition that it is not seriously wrong to kill a zygote and this argument fails. For myself, it violates a weak intuition and while on it’s own is not enough to completely overcome the intuition, it holds the strongest sway and influence over my view on abortion as it offends the least intuitions and is more coherent than most other arguments.

BlockofNihilism’s Position: Conscious Perception and Viability

Abortion is morally acceptable until the fetus develops the structures required for perception of external stimuli, with exceptions for preserving the life and health of the mother. Abortion is acceptable because a fetus does not experience conscious suffering “like ours” and simultaneously imposes a significant physical, mental and economic burden on the mother. As the minimum requirements for conscious perception are actually met after fetal viability, I suggest we fall back on viability as a compromise ethical barrier to abortion.

When does the fetus develop “conscious” perception? By conscious perception, we mean perception which a human person would recognize as their own. Obviously, this question in general pushes the limits of our ability of description. As perception is an (obviously) complex topic, I will use the perception of physical pain as an example of the requirements for conscious perception. Pain, too, is a complex psychological concept that arises at the intersection of physical sensation with emotional constructs. At the minimum empirical level, certain neurological structures are necessary, but not sufficient, for the perception of pain. Thus, until these structures are present and active, perception (as we understand it) cannot occur. (10)

To experience pain, afferent nerves must synapse with spinothalamic nerves projecting to the thalamus, which then connect to thalamocortical neurons projecting to the cortex (the region of conscious experience). Thus, all three components (peripheral pain sensor, thalamic project, and functioning cortex) must all be active for the perception of pain. Based upon multiple studies, nociceptive neurons develop around 19 weeks, thalamic afferents reach the cortex at 20-24 weeks, and somatosensory activity provoked by thalamic activity is detectable around 28-29 weeks. Several behavioral studies have found that at 29-30 weeks of development, fetal facial movements in response to pain are like adults. However, these results have been contradicted by other studies, and these findings may represent non-voluntary and unconscious responses to stimuli rather than the conscious perception of pain. (10)

In any event, a fetus does not have the required neurological structures for what we would recognize as the conscious experience of pain until at least 29 weeks of development, three weeks into the third trimester. (10) Prior to full integration of the various components of the nervous system, and the development of an active cortical system, the pain experience of a fetus would likely be akin to that of a comatose individual- no conscious experience at all.

As other types of experience require these same structures to be active, we can conclude that a fetus does not have the minimum capacity for conscious experience until approximately 29 weeks of development. Thus, when considering an abortion prior to this stage of development, we are balancing (1) the harms posed to the mother, a conscious agent, against (2) an entity that does not “experience” anything. To me, this suggests that abortion is permissible at this point.

The fetus is truly viable at ~27 weeks: With intensive care, a preterm neonate can survive at as early as 24 weeks of gestation. However, survival rates at this point are approximately 50%. Also, these severely preterm neonates are at a significantly increased risk of a variety of both short- and long-term complications. By 27 to 28 weeks, the fetus can be delivered and survive in most cases without major interventions. So, true fetal viability and the development of the fundamentals for conscious experience are roughly concurrent, with viability likely being reached prior to conscious experience.

Potential harms and viability: Viability means that the fetus no longer requires the mother’s body to survive. Within the womb, the fetus imposes both a significant immediate burden as well as the potential for significant harms. Once safely delivered, these harms are no longer present. While the mother is still on the hook for the economic and emotional burdens of motherhood, her life is no longer at risk. Also, while adoption is a possibility after birth, it is obviously not an option prior to delivery. Consequently, viability represents a special moment in the development of a fetus- it can live without posing a significant hazard to the mother’s physical well-being. While we could not find solid evidence (likely due to the very low number of late-term abortions performed), my educated guess is that an abortion at this late stage is approximately as dangerous as performing a natural delivery or C-section. Consequently, at viability, it is reasonable to treat the fetus as having full human rights and intercede to protect its life.

icerun’s rebuttal to BlockofNihilism:

Viability: The only difference between a viable fetus and an infant is location, which is not a moral distinction (except in cases of direct harm to the mother) therefore a viable fetus is seen as having the same right to life as an infant. The chain would seem to continue. The primary distinction between a viable fetus and nonviable fetus is that a nonviable fetus survival depends solely on one person (the mother) whereas a viable fetus survival can depend on others. This does not appear to be a moral distinction either and so the viability argument appears to be very closely related to the argument that the fetus gains the right to life at birth or when it becomes an infant. Therefore, a viable fetus would have the same right to life of a newborn however without further reasoning, it seems likely a fetus gains the right to life earlier.

Experience: BlockofNihilism argues that since a fetus before 29 weeks is not capable of conscious experience it is not capable of suffering and therefore it is not wrong to abort. However, there are times when adult humans are not conscious and are even unable to achieve consciousness in the case of temporarily comatose humans. Because they are not conscious they are not capable of suffering. This argument seems to allow for the killing of sleeping and temporarily comatose humans as long as they do not suffer, feel pain, or realize what is happening in the moment.

Further, an adult would likely not recognize the consciousness of a fetus as its own. It is unlikely that a fetus or infant has a sense of self and they seem to operate at a significantly lower level of self-awareness. Though we do not have a good understanding of the level of consciousness a fetus holds, a dog appears to operate at a higher stage of consciousness than a fetus though this is very speculative.

For these reasons, the experience of suffering is not what makes it wrong to kill a fetus or human.

BlockofNihilism’s Rebuttal of the Future Like Ours Account:

Consciousness-based and FLV-based arguments arrive at the same place: For me, any ethical argument that places the interests of a non-conscious entity incapable of experience above the interests of a conscious agent capable of both rational decision-making and of suffering is intuitively absurd. Prior to the development of the basics for neurological experience, the fetus represents the potential for a future life of value or the potential to be a conscious agent. In either case, I do not believe that the potential outweighs the present!

I understand how the future life-of-value (FLV) argument can seem to apply to a fetus: We imagine the entity that will come from the fetus, imagine its potential for an FLV, and extrapolate rights from there. However, a fetus represents the potential for having a life of value and cannot be said to currently possess that future in the way implied by Marquis. I believe the intuitive appeal of the future life-of-value argument arises from our experience and knowledge of what a “future” constitutes. However, fetuses prior to their development of the basic neurological structures required for experience cannot have or value their “future.” 

My interpretation is informed by Boonin’s famous critique of Marquis’ “future of value” argument. (11) According to Boonin, the intuitive value of the future can be found in the dispositional ideal present value of a future. A dispositional value or belief is one that is held by someone but not consciously on the mind. An ideal value or desire is one that would be held if one had full information about the situation. The dispositional ideal desire formulation is more parsimonious as it does not invoke potential desires but only present ones. Thus, the wrongness of killing someone like you or me is the taking of a future like ours they dispositionally, ideally, and presently value. Upon developing the neurological structures necessary for experience, a fetus can begin to (at least unconsciously) desire food, close touch, and parent’s voice. The necessary neurological structures for these desires, and for meeting the minimum requirement for having an FLV, is near or at the point of viability.

Consciousness-based accounts do not allow for murdering sleeping people! There is a clear distinction between an entity that has had the experience of consciousness (a sleeping or temporarily comatose individual) and an entity that has never been conscious. A sleeping person still has her memories, desires and agency encoded within her brain; the fact that she is temporarily unaware of those attributes does not mean they do not exist! Conversely, a fetus prior to its developing consciousness has no memories, desires or agency. It cannot be said to be a person yet. My argument is simple- prior to having the minimum requirements for consciousness there is absolutely no chance whatsoever that a fetus can experience any harm like we (persons) do.

Once these structures are developed and active, it becomes far more difficult to determine “when” a fetus or infant reaches consciousness. At this point, I become squeamish with the prospect of destroying something that potentially does have a conscious experience (including a “future of value” concept) like ours. The moral calculus changes: Instead of balancing a person’s interest (mother) vs a nonperson’s interests (fetus), we now have a person vs (maybe a person?). This is where, to be safe and prevent potential harms, we can draw a clear ethical line.

Preventing abortion prior to viability will cause significant harms: As previously discussed, substantial scientific evidence suggests that preventing wanted abortions will lead to harm. First, there would be a significant increase in morbidity and mortality associated with pregnancy. This increase would disproportionately impact economically disadvantaged and minority women. Second, women denied wanted abortions are significantly more likely to suffer socially, economically and psychologically. Perhaps most importantly, women (or both parents) are denied agency and denied the ability to make the ethical decision for themselves according to their unique circumstances and beliefs. 

Location, location, location! Viability represents the best point for ethical compromise: Terminating a fetus after it is capable of living “on its own” is equivalent to infanticide. In the special case of a fetus, location does have moral significance. The fetus, living within and dependent upon the mother’s body, poses immediate and potential costs and hazards to the mother. By contrast, once delivery has taken place the fetus/neonate no longer poses these threats. While the mother still has the significant economic and social burdens of motherhood, these burdens are unlikely to lead to immediate physical harm. And for the mother unable to cope with these burdens, adoption or surrendering the care of the infant to the state is an option once delivery of a viable neonate has taken place.

Icerun’s Defense of the Future Like Ours Account

Capacity of a fetus to have a future: The fetus does not have a potential future nor is the fetus’ future simply a concept in its brain. The future of a fetus are those unrealized experiences the fetus will have if its development is not impeded. Likewise, a 20-year-old will be a 25-year-old with experiences, relationships, and works if it’s development is not impeded. Sometimes a human’s development is impeded by natural causes in which case we mourn their loss of a future or by conscious decisions in which case we mourn and try to provide restitution as best possible.

In fact, one’s future is most certainly not in or dependent on the brain. A 4-year-old does not have a good understanding of what it is like to be a 60 year old yet being a 60 year old is still a part of his future. If the 4-year-old is killed, it has lost not only on the relationships it understands as a 4-year-old but also a future that includes a career or children or what it would have found valuable and meaningful as an adult.

Boonin’s present future account fails: Marquis and Boonin account for the value of the parts of our future that we do not know yet (ex: our future in 20 years) in different ways. Marquis includes both our present valuation of the future and our future valuation of the future while Boonin argues for a present ideal desire of the future. However, to have an ideal desire, one must first have an actual desire (if an actual desire is not required, then one could say the zygote or trees have ideal desires).

Though the fetus can be said to have desires, these desires are unconscious. A conscious desire is willed and chosen to a certain extent whereas an unconscious desire is simply the body doing what the body does; a personification which is often helpful but, in this case, not relevant. The unconscious desire for warmth is simply the brain releasing chemicals based on external states. Similarly, the zygote will begin to multiply based on external states, stem cells will divide into different cells based on external states, the heart begins beating based on external states. The heart beating or zygote splitting apart seem to fulfill the requirement of some unconscious desire. The fact that it is the brain responding to outside stimuli is not morally relevant – the fetus does not appear to be aware of a desire for warmth just as it is not aware of the heart’s desire to pump blood. If conscious desires are necessary then newborns and possibly older infants likely do not have a right to life as they do not appear to have conscious desires or a sense of self. In this case though it is more parsimonious, it fails because it does not grant infants a right to life.

Conclusions

icerun’s conclusion: The point where the fetus gains the right to life is rightly contested and debated as I do not believe there are any completely coherent and consistent arguments that define the point of development where the fetus gains the right to life.

The latest possible point where abortion may be permissible appears to be viability where the sole difference between an infant and a fetus is the location (one inside the womb and dependent on a specific person and the other outside the womb that could be cared for by others). However, abortion may be impermissible at an earlier point and the point of viability does not appear to have a moral significance that makes the fetus seriously wrong to kill.

At the end though, I have not come to a solid position at what point it becomes wrong to kill a typical fetus. And it is important to note, have failed to provide a coherent argument. In making my decision on abortion three items weigh heaviest:

First, in cases of consensual sex (excluding rape), parents hold a strong positive obligation to provide and protect a child once it gains the right to life. This obligation comes from the fact that children have a right to life, require support to survive, and that the parents engaged in activities that are known to create humans. Second, the future like ours argument points to the fetus gaining a right to life at conception and though this goes against my intuitions, it comes the closest to providing a coherent and consistent argument. It is a model to understand why it is seriously wrong to kill humans and thus points to an earlier rather than later point in the fetus’ development. My choice of this argument is likely biased by various intuitions that I hold and others would not doubt come to focus on other flawed arguments based on their own intuitions. Third, there are situations where bearing a child brings significant issues and problems for either the mother or fetus where abortion apears the best option.

A mesh of all three in light of it being uncertain when the right to life begins for a fetus perhaps leads to the stance that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare that investigates abortion on a cases by case basis that attempts to balance the weightiness of aborting a fetus with practical costs and difficulties that are imposed on parents.

BlockofNihilism’s conclusion: If my ethical standard were to be adopted and used to change current practice in the US, it would allow for a few more elective early third-trimester abortions than are currently performed. However, it would have little to no effect on the current situation, as most abortions are performed well before viability. I believe that communicating our knowledge about the fetus pre-viability, including its lack of internal conscious experience, would significantly reduce the potential for psychological harms to women who choose abortions. In contrast, if abortion after conception was prevented, there would be several negative consequences. There would be a significant increase in pregnancy-related morbidity and mortality that would disproportionately affect minority and socioeconomically distressed women. The likely uptick in illegal abortions would increase the likelihood of unsafe abortions, further increasing the risk of morbidity and mortality. Finally, the denial of wanted abortions imposes pronounced social and economic strains on new mothers and their families. These consequences are, obviously, of significant moral concern.

I remain convinced that abortion is acceptable prior to fetal viability. I believe that the intuitive appeal of the FLV argument is, as suggested by Boonin, not applicable to a fetus prior to developing the fundamental requirements for neurological experience. Even if we decided that the FLV argument pertained to fetuses, the fact that abortion pre-viability cannot cause conscious harm outweighs any potential for FLV that could result from a fetus carried to term. I believe (like Aesop) that a bird in the hand (the mother’s rights, interests and potential for harm) far outweighs a bird in the bush (the non-conscious potential person represented by a fetus).

Shared conclusion: Abortion is never a happy choice. Regardless of our ethical position on the abortion question, we agree that new people are of tremendous value! Improvements in the delivery and efficacy of birth control options, increases in social support systems for mothers and parents, reducing pregnancy-associated morbidity and mortality and increasing access to alternative options like adoption are all essential factors in reducing the number of abortions and any potential harms that arise from them. By focusing on these issues rather than on preventing abortions directly through legal or ethical edicts, we can make having a child a more reasonable and safe option than at present.

Works cited:
1. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/data_stats/abortion.htm
2. https://www.cdc.gov/prams/index.htm
3. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternal-mortality/pregnancy-mortality-surveillance-system.htm
4. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr68/nvsr68_06-508.pdf
5. Foster DG, Raifman S, Gipson JD, Rocca CH, Biggs MA. Effects of Carrying an Unwanted Pregnancy to Term on Women’s Existing Children. February 2019. The Journal of Pediatrics, 205:183-189.e1.
6. Foster DG, Biggs MA, Ralph L, Gerdts C, Roberts SCM, Glymour MA. Socioeconomic Outcomes of Women Who Receive and Women Who Are Denied Wanted Abortions in the United States. January 2018. American Journal of Public Health, 108(3):407-413
7. Upadhyay UD, Biggs MA, Foster DG. The effect of abortion on having and achieving aspirational one-year plans. November 2015. BMC Women’s Health, 15:102. (Request pdf)
8. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/accidental-injury.htm
9. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/05/why-more-women-dont-choose-adoption/589759/
10. Marquis, Don. “Why Abortion Is Immoral.” The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 86, no. 4, 1989, pp. 183–202. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2026961.
11. Lee SJ, Ralston HJP, Drey EA, Partridge JC, Rosen MA. Fetal Pain: A Systematic Multidisciplinary Review of the Evidence. JAMA. 2005;294(8):947–954. doi:https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.294.8.947
12. Boonin, D. (2002). A Defense of Abortion (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Public Policy). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511610172
13. https://www.ansirh.org/research/turnaway-study

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237 Responses to [ACC] When During Fetal Development Does Abortion Become Morally Wrong?

  1. scottdomianus says:

    WHEN DURING FETAL DEVELOPMENT DOES ABORTION BECOME MORALLY WRONG? – Its the wrong question. It’s either “right” or “wrong”, functional or not, depending on the goal of the society you can’t try to justify a half measure, thats not an answer, that’s just a failure to contented with the issue:

    Pro Life vs. Pro Choice

    The reason the religious Right is pro life is not because they value individual life but because they value what brings life which are the cultural norms that don’t treat sex as a pleasure but as a function for our survival so individuality can exist.

    The reason the atheist Left is pro choice is not because they don’t care about individuals, on the contrary, they care too much about the individual existence of individuals upsetting the balance of rewarding good decisions with poor ones by solving poor decisions with abortions.

    This is the sad reality of incentive structures and it only proves how infantile our species is when we’re presented with the obvious truth that having blind faith in tradition will always eventually be questioned by a species that learns and doing the opposite of tradition is not a solution to a stable society that needs to get what it deserves in order to learn from its mistakes to breed a culture that is perpetually exemplary. An individual can learn but it’s a very different thing to help a species learn together.

    In Conclusion: What’s the goal? If it’s survival then cultural norms are the social arrangements that determine our genetics a thousand years into the future, so you can’t reward promiscuity with the individual right to ignore the burden an individual decision imposes on the normative nature of society because it destabilizes the hierarchical order of humanity, that is unless the goal is hierarchical destabilization to begin with. If that’s the goal lets debate it. Do we want individual rights or do we want collective security? Should the conscious awakening of our species be seen as a responsibility or an opportunity to explore our sexuality? The question we should be debating is what should the goal of our species be and I’d love to hear somebody argue the counter view to our survival. Good luck selling that to the polity.

  2. brownbat says:

    I took Marquis’s course on the ethics of abortion. I was impressed with how much of his voice was captured by icerun.

    Of all the arguments we studied on both sides, there were always slopes that have to be walled off. Anti-abortionists risk insisting every sperm has a right to life, and pro-choice proponents risk unintentionally advocating for a right to kill toddlers. There are various strategies on both sides, and Marquis employs one to stop at implantation for FLV.

    He once confessed though that his theory cleanly implies that blastocysts have a right to life, which was contrary to his strong intuitions, since blastocysts have, as he would put it, “fewer cells than the brain of a fly.” I think he just learned to live with that implication, but I considered it an interesting problem.

    Marquis expressed strong concerns with the viability demarcation that aren’t reflected above, but I’m not sure if they’re in the lit either. The moment of viability changes based on technology, but it seems really weird for external technological progress to impact the rights of a fetus. Also, viability is a problematic concept, since it implies anything could “survive on its own.” Everything needs a certain environment to survive. You are not viable in the Sahara for a week, or in space for a minute. Newborns aren’t viable without adults to attend to their needs. I suspect viability leads you to sensible results, but the underlying method does trouble me.

    After the course, I left convinced that: we generally all have powerful intuitions that blastocysts lack the right to life after studying how they work, and we generally all have powerful intuitions that -1 day old fetuses (fetuses that will be born tomorrow) have a very strong right to life. The middle territory strikes me as an unforgiving sorites paradox. In a sorites paradox, a good strategy is to just draw arbitrary lines and stick with them, so that made me fairly sympathetic to trimesters, where we get much more cautious over time, and we don’t bother relying on a strict theory for the demarcations, we just admit up front they are the best approximations we can manage.

    Judith Jarvis Thompson’s arguments also really stuck with me, they deserve a treatment in any discussion, as Friedman notes above. Most common responses to her are just ad lapidem, and I’m not sure I have a better one. She comprehensively layers multiple hypos to cover a wide series of possible objections, even though most people just focus on one or two of her most famous hypos, so she’s hard to cover comprehensively. She had a dramatic impact on the lit though, so is worth deep consideration.

    Good essay. Would have liked to see a little more from both sides on research that exposed you to arguments you hadn’t yet considered, but I think this was carefully and constructively done on a difficult topic.

  3. hnau says:

    This was an interesting and helpful though not very satisfying attempt to untangle a difficult issue. My review of the calorie-restriction collaboration described that question as “Easy Mode” in that the ethical framework was relatively uncontroversial compared to the medical / sociological data. This the opposite situation, “Hard Mode”: the relevant data are mostly understood but you can’t really come at the problem without working out ethical principles.

    Icerun does a great job of identifying the crux of the issue: supposing a framework that assigns value to “typical” human lives, what rule assigns such value to the unborn in a way that least conflicts with our moral intuitions? I don’t think either collaborator’s theory does a great job on this point. The “Future Like Ours” account runs into trouble trying to provide a principled distinction between the process of development by which an embryo can “expect” to be a grown human and other processes which might lead to the existence of an additional human but that we don’t intuitively consider worth the same moral protection. The consciousness account runs into trouble trying to distinguish fetal and infant consciousness from other forms of consciousness that, again, we don’t intuitively consider worth the same moral protection.

    The missing voices here are, on the one hand, the deontologist / virtue ethics voice that sees a human life as a source of moral duty rather than merely moral value, and on the other hand the bite-the-bullet utilitarian voice that accepts some version of the consciousness / pain / experience account with all its unpleasant implications. Both collaborators are relatively middle-of-the-road, which makes it all the more striking that they couldn’t or wouldn’t arrive at a shared write-up of this central point. (They try to paper it over with an introduction and conclusion that provide informative, uncontroversial, and largely irrelevant context.)

    The write-up is clear and engaging, and the points raised are good, but the adversarial collaboration doesn’t really succeed at (IMO) its primary purpose: establishing a shared framework and base of knowledge that both sides can accept and use to clarify their disagreement. In the end this reduces, for me, to a “debate piece” that doesn’t go very far toward illuminating the issue. On the other hand, it represents more progress than one might’ve expected on a question this difficult.

    I rate this collaboration as a 6/10 (no particular scale or judgment implied; this is just for my own reference). As always, many thanks to the authors for putting in the work to create this.

  4. fluffykitten55 says:

    On the ‘future like ours’ account, the argument should hold with equal force against any decision not to procreate, as that decision also leads to a ‘life like ours’ not existing, when it could have via some other choice. I find this compelling, but it is balanced by the consideration that our planet/society has finite carrying capacity, and so it is is not clear that adding more ‘people like us’ is a good thing. And then in that case, a rejection of hyper pro-natalism also makes abortion totally permissible, in the same way that ceaselessly trying to have more children is made permissible.

    The other argument to be made is the replacement argument – suppose a couple plan to have 3 children, but at some time the mother falls pregnant in a way that is inopportune. She has an abortion, but then later conceives in order to reach the 3 children target. In this case the abortion did not reduce the number of happy people existing, all that happened is that the timing changed, in a way that in expectation raised the welfare of everyone.

  5. MugaSofer says:

    I found this informative and interesting. Still, I was disappointed that it wasn’t more comprehensive.

    Other avenues of inquiry that would have been good:

    – Other ethical systems/frameworks.
    Scientific evidence re: what point a fetus might be considered conscious. [Apologies, this is technically mentioned, but I missed it because it’s very brief and buried in an otherwise opinion-focused section.]
    – Why do people have abortions? (Beyond noting why some people choose abortion over adoption.)
    – What about abortion for eugenic, disability prevention, population reduction, or sex-selection purposes?
    – Uncertainty: about the correct ethical system, the point consciousness develops.
    – The contraception objection to the FLO view. Speaking as someone who largely shares this view, I think this is the strongest objection I’ve heard.
    – Viability is not a point, but a continuum from 0%-100% chance of survival (with 100% never reached.) Shouldn’t this have … any implication whatsoever, if you consider viability morally important?
    – Is consciousness a binary or a continuum? Is personhood? You state your positions on these but no evidence.

  6. fion says:

    Did both collaborators come into this with the assumption that humans have some kind of mystical “right to life”? Because that seems like a claim that needs examined.

    • Frederic Mari says:

      Agreed.

      We kill people we find inconvenient (already-born and fully conscientious ones) on a very regular basis. It seems hypocritical to be so squeamish about foetuses.

    • cuke says:

      Yes, I wondered this, as well as whether it was being taken as a given that bringing a new person into the world is a “good,” moral or otherwise, and if so, based on what do we make that assumption?

  7. Frederic Mari says:

    FWIW, I don’t think the initial question can be answered. Foetal development is just too… progressive. There’s no bright line where abortion is morally wrong on one side and morally permissible on the other.

    Viability is a practical line and we can find it comforting and that’s fine but, as icerun argues, it’s not exactly a water tight moral argument.

    So why am I still in favor of letting women and their doctor decide on whether to have an abortion or not? Practicalities. Abortion is no fun and no woman does it for shit and giggles. Having a kid is similarly an immensely costly endeavour in all aspects (mentally as well as financially and practically). Therefore, I’m happy to rely on their good judgement as to whether they’re fit to be mothers.

    If the purpose of living in society is the greater good of its existing population rather than some moralistic mind game like the Repugnant Conclusion, letting women freely choose motherhood is the only possible answer.

  8. JPNunez says:

    I appreciate icerun saying that he cannot reach a consistent position.

  9. Hummingbird says:

    I am very surprised that this was published, as it violates the first four ‘rules’ of the contest., which are all of the rules that are related to how the adversarial collaboration is to be structured.

    Aside: While their investigations seem to have a good deal of background research on statistics, virtually none of these statistics come into play when making decisions about the question that is the title of the essay. The remainder of the essay is a display of each writer’s individual values and intuitions.

    • eric23 says:

      Aside: While their investigations seem to have a good deal of background research on statistics, virtually none of these statistics come into play when making decisions about the question that is the title of the essay. The remainder of the essay is a display of each writer’s individual values and intuitions.

      I agree, and I think a similar criticism applies to nearly all the collaborations posted so far. They gave me the feeling of being an English teacher who needed to tell students that their essays, despite some strong parts, needed major revision in order to have a coherent structure as opposed to wandering from place to place. This is a problem that academic papers in nearly any field except critical theory are consistently free of (granted, they have already gone through peer review, and I guess we commenters are the peer review).

    • Mark V Anderson says:

      There have been complaints about all the ACCs that they didn’t follow the rules. But I have found all 6 of the essays valuable in providing information and so would have hated for any of them to be excluded. And in fact I plan to vote for the best one based on which provided the most important information, and not be at all concerned with the rules Scott wrote.

      In reading the rules, it does appear that Scott is asking for strict adherence to the rules. But I would rather these rules be more advisory than mandatory. More like the maxim of no military plan surviving contact with the enemy. I think each group should go into their collaboration using Scott’s rules, but feel free to change those rules in the course of research and collaboration if the facts are better laid out in a different manner. I think Scott’s rules are far too confining for most controversies if held to strictly.

    • sty_silver says:

      From a consequentialist point, not publishing seems like a bad idea. It probably won’t win.

  10. jhertzlinger says:

    One way to think about this is to use fuzzy logic. You can think of the mother and child as two different beings with a fuzzy boundary in space–time. If you cannot believe that an embryo 1 second after conception is not a separate human being but an infant 23 million seconds later is a separate human being then maybe the embryo could be considered 1/23,000,000 part of a human.

    In that case, it would clearly be inexcusable to destroy over 23,000,000 one-second embryos. (I came up with this argument during the embryonic stem-cell controversy.) Similarly, aborting three three-month fetuses could be outlawed.

  11. Mark V Anderson says:

    This was a great contribution. It is by far the best debate on abortion that I’ve ever seen. That is not a high bar to jump, but I may vote for this one as the best just because it improves the debate so much more than the others did. Although I liked all five of the others also.

    I have always considered myself Pro-Life because my thinking is that abortion should not take place after about two months of gestation, because the fetus is essentially a human by then (not really precise I know, but it’s the best I can do right now). So I was really pleased to see the datum that 2/3 of abortion happened in the first 8 weeks. But when I looked up footnote 1 for this, I do not see this fact. Am I blind? Is this there somewhere, or maybe this isn’t a real fact?

    I think the concept that abortion is okay until the fetus is conscious at maybe 20-29 weeks is a non-starter. I have read what I find to be persuasive arguments that humans aren’t conscious until they learn to talk. Certainly infants don’t seem to have separate internal and external lives, which I think is a good definition of consciousness. I think if you consider pre-consciousness as a reason to accept non-humanness, then you are accepting of infanticide.

    On the other hand, that the brain is not really functional until 20-29 weeks may greatly change my own beliefs about abortion. I need to study footnote 10 to see if I agree that this means the fetus doesn’t have a brain until then. I don’t think that consciousness is what makes us human, but I do think a brain is required for humanity.

    Edit: Okay, another problem with footnotes. Footnote 10 is definitely not about fetal brain development, even though the write-up makes it appear so. Are the footnotes in this ACC messed up?

    • eric23 says:

      I think the concept that abortion is okay until the fetus is conscious at maybe 20-29 weeks is a non-starter. I have read what I find to be persuasive arguments that humans aren’t conscious until they learn to talk. Certainly infants don’t seem to have separate internal and external lives, which I think is a good definition of consciousness.

      What are the implications of this approach for animal suffering?

  12. encharitimone says:

    In assessing abortion as a legal question, and to a lesser extent as a moral one, what are the available schelling points? It seems like there’s a shortage of assessable schelling points between conception and birth, and that seems to cause problems.

  13. Peter Gerdes says:

    I would have liked to see consideration of a pure utilitarian argument instead of just vague rights like notions that people retrofit into moral discussions to ensure they get a comfortable answer.

    What if we take seriously the idea that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with ending a life and that the reason killing etc is wrong is a result of the extra psychological suffering (grief, anger etc) inflicted on the living as well as fear (and loss of productive happy years after society has already made a large investment).

    For obvious psychological reasons killing children after birth would still end up being something the law should bar. But at what point does that start to apply in utero?

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      I think that it’s fundamentally wrong to end the life of someone who prefers continuing to live, or prefers other things that require their continued living, or would prefer continued life if they had full knowledge of their situation and future (see above discussion on suicide prevention vs. allowance). Ceritas paribas, it would be wrong to kill someone who doesn’t want to die even if no one else would care about their death.

  14. qwerteaparty says:

    A missing element for me: difference in treatment between unconsensual insemination, major health risks to the mother etc. Why unviable stillborns are still mourned.

    Have I taken on responsibility for the care of this person? If not I can withhold care/support. I think this is the right framing – not active harm, but removal of support – and mostly universal.

    This recognises that all think it is regrettable, but many have intuitions informed by context that make it permissible. Only if i enter into the relationship knowingly and can set reasonable conditions around it.

    In the case of rape, or major health issues, or unexpected conditions the mother has absolute say, given these conditions were disclosed or otherwise to other parties involved.

    Recklessly relying on abortion as a contraceptive method is also clearly bad and explained by the above approach.

  15. salvorhardin says:

    I’m surprised to see no mention in this otherwise quite thorough and well-considered ACC of Judith Jarvis Thomson’s argument that bodily autonomy overrides basically all objections to abortion even if the fetus is a person. In particular, if accepted, it would seem to pretty easily override the “future like ours” argument.

    • At a slight tangent, when I read the book that contained Judith Jarvis Thompson’s famous violinist essay, what struck me was that her moral intuitions were very close to mine, but she was unwilling to follow them out to conclusions that clashed with the orthodoxy of the academic circles she moved in.

      • thevoiceofthevoid says:

        What conclusions do you think she was unwilling to follow her intuitions to?

        • Basically libertarian ones.

          If you can’t justify keeping me attached to the violinist when his life depends on it, how do you justify drafting me for the army (she might be against that) or jury duty? How do you justify taxing me to help poor people?

          My impression was that she had libertarian moral intuitions, was in an environment where strong libertarian conclusions were not within the range of acceptable views, and had used her considerable intelligence to find ways of not reaching them.

          It reminded me of a much earlier experience. An academic who later became prominent had written a book that started from liberal (old sense) assumptions. The book hadn’t yet been published, but I was attending a talk he was giving on it. At some point he said that the argument appeared to imply some very unliberal (new sense) conclusions, rejecting anti-discrimination law or something similar, but … and offered reasons why it didn’t which I found entirely unpersuasive.

          • Surfraider31 says:

            JJT Isn’t a libertarian trying to dress up her views against orthodoxy, she has entire books written about the nature of rights and duties and to what extent we can demand things of others and what they can demand of us. Taking bodily autonomy to be more important than someone’s right to the means necessary to sustain their life doesn’t commit you to saying that personal liberty is paramount over all other values, like libertarians typically think. My hunch is she would say that you can’t be dragged kicking and screaming into jury duty or the army sure, but you can be fined or denied certain civic benefits as a consequence – there’s differences between moral rights/duties and political rights/duties.

          • I was judging her on the basis of one book she wrote, that I read a long time ago.

          • Incandenza says:

            An academic with strong social libertarian views and left-leaning or socialistic economic views would… hardly be unusual. Nor would it necessarily be inconsistent, but that’s a whole other discussion.

      • Protagoras says:

        I personally am sympathetic to a lot of libertarian positions, on the basis of being broadly consequentialist and being impressed with arguments along the lines of those in Mill’s On Liberty. But, being a consequentialist, for me it is always a matter of weighing the effects of this vs. the effects of that, and not a matter of absolute rules; under various circumstances, other considerations can override those which favor libertarian conclusions. On the basis of that (as well as our likely disagreements about some of the effects of some policies and the value of some consequences) I am considerably less libertarian than you. I don’t believe JJT is consequentialist (or at least not as consequentialist as I am), but I think you should consider that like me she may also fail to draw some libertarian conclusions because she has conflicting principles at work, rather than due to a cowardly embrace of orthodoxy.

        • But, being a consequentialist, for me it is always a matter of weighing the effects of this vs. the effects of that, and not a matter of absolute rules; under various circumstances, other considerations can override those which favor libertarian conclusions.

          Surely true from a consequentialist standpoint.

          But you may want to think about whether the libertarian rules for limiting government action may be the least bad alternative, given that if government is free to overrule them, there may be no way of limiting it to overruling them only when it is desirable. The political equivalent of rule utilitarianism over act utilitarianism.

          To take one pretty current example, Congress passed a law a while back letting the president impose trade restrictions if national security is at stake. That makes sense if you imagine a situation where an enemy is arming against us, or even at war with us, and wants to import some militarily valuable good from us.

          But as it turns out, that gave Trump a blank check to impose tariffs on anyone he wanted.

          I wouldn’t put my interpretation of her position as “cowardly embrace of orthodoxy,” any more than I would describe Aristotle’s approval of slavery in those terms. People are limited by their intellectual environment. If everyone around you believes something is obviously false, concluding that it’s true is hard.

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      I read that essay, and rather than convincing me of her position it further convinced me that abortion becomes a very difficult moral question if you believe a fetus is a person with a right to life. My reaction to the violinist hypothetical is not an unequivocal “of course you have the right to unplug him!” as I think she expects. Instead, I have conflicting intuitions about the problem, and I’m not sure whether I would condemn someone unplugging the violinist, nor whether I would unplug him from myself.

    • Clutzy says:

      JJT’s violinist argument is morally weak because it isn’t close to the abortion case. That she builds it the way she does is evidence of her moral blindness, not that she should be engaged with seriously.

      If JJT was a serious person, her violinist story would go like this: Imagine you are driving your car, and there is a person standing at the corner of 1st and Washington. You decide that that person needs to die, so you ram right into them. The next day you wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with said pedestrian. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, caused by your ramming, and only you can provide the blood he needs for the next 9 months until his kidneys heal.

      • eric23 says:

        I think an accidental rather than intentional ramming would be a better comparison. The conclusion is probably the same though.

        • Protagoras says:

          I wouldn’t think the outcome would be the same for the accidental case, and I think Clutzy is clearly importing some of their own attitudes about sex. Which JJT is presumably also doing, but this would only be an example of “moral blindness” on JJT’s part if Clutzy’s view is right and JJT’s is wrong. Clutzy seems to me to be the one who is being unserious in throwing around such unsupported rhetoric.

          • Clutzy says:

            What? The issue is she acts as if it is a random act, becoming pregnant. That is why it is an unserious analogy.

        • It seems to me that the relevant case would be either intentional ramming, if the pregnancy was intended but the woman later changed her mind, or accidental ramming where the accident was due to negligence on the part of driver. That wouldn’t cover the case of rape, or pregnancy due to a contraceptive failure that the woman could not have reasonably anticipated, but I would think it would cover most cases, given the widespread availability of contraception.

          • Clutzy says:

            There are of course a myriad of scenarios, but I would argue that for most scenarios, it is akin to the intentional ramming, or sometimes to a person driving drunk and over the speed limit in a crowded area (extreme recklessness).

            The number of times a prudent person engaging in otherwise safe activities, and temporarily falls below a standard of care, therefore resulting in pregnancy is vanishingly low (as are the scenarios of impregnation by rape). Talking about these things is like debating whether we should end medicare for people over 100.

  16. Surfraider31 says:

    Philosopher here, I appreciate the spirit of ACC, but it really seems like this could have been improved greatly by just asking anyone who has ever taught on the ethics of abortion, or by reading one of the many books summarising the debate eg ‘Abortion Rights For and Against’ by Greasley and Kaczor.

    Some objections to Marquis and FLV:
    First, some common intuitions. If I inject a cat with a Turn-Into-Human drug that only begins working in 6 hours, but inject it with another Neutralize-Previous-Drug drug before the first drug begins working, I’ve definitely deprived the cat of a Future Like Ours, but it hardly seems like I’ve done something equivalent to murder.

    Second, Marquis needs some principled argument for why a zygote has FLV, but a sperm and egg doesn’t. Some people have commented already on ‘if left alone’ or ‘by itself’ but neither of these seems like morally relevant conditions. His argument is that a zygote is a Being but a (sperm + egg) is not. This leads right away into some shaky metaphysics, which we can’t hope to cover here, but basically it’s hard to argue for why this arrangement of things is morally relevant, given we also need to connect the zygote to the future being, which seem almost as physically, psychologically, and metaphysically distinct from each other as the zygote does from the (sperm + egg) (Norcross, Vogelstein)

    Third, there’s the totipotency problem. Zygotes don’t have one future of value, they have many – if you split a two-cell zygote, they can continue on developing, and you can repeat this. If we then fail to split a zygote, it seems like we’ve deprived potentially infinite number of Futures of Value (minus one), which seems absurd. (Singer)

    Fourth, Marquis equivocates on what it means to ‘have’ a future. Suppose you are currently in first place in a race. You currently have a future in which you win, if all else remains the same. If I then overtake you, I have deprived you of this future, but I haven’t done anything wrong. In contrast, if I sabotage your tyres before the race (and I’m not competing) and thereby deprive you of this future, this seems wrong. So deprivation of a future is only bad if you already some right to that future, and it seems like if we’re going to talk about what gives a being a right to a FLV, consciousness and desires and the like are going to be pretty good candidates. (Sinnott-Armstrong)

    There are some replies to these points from Marquis but they seem to create more problems than they solve.

    Additionally, as some people have already noted, it seems that even if we establish that a fetus has rights, it remains to be established that this right outweighs the rights of the mother to bodily autonomy. The most famous paper on this topic (Thomson) argues they do not.

    The authors find some interesting statistics relevant to utilitarian calculations on the topic, but most of them seem kind of irrelevant. If a fetus is the kind of being to be included in the calculation (and we’ve settled worries about the non-identity problem) the decrease in happiness that the mother and society experience will not be greater than the amount of happiness that the fetus will experience over their life time (unless their life is rather close to not being a life worth living, which is pretty unlikely given US standards of living, even amongst the poor). If a fetus is not the kind of being included in our calculation (because no cognitive capacities, or dispositional desires) then it’s permissible.

    One plausible answer for how utilitarians can be in favour of abortion even if we ought to include the fetus’s happiness (or lack thereof) in our calculations is if you take a very long view, since providing access to abortion leads more women to have children later when they’re more able to, which in turn makes those children less likely to have abortions themselves. I haven’t done the calculations but it seems plausible that permitting abortion could over the long term lead to less abortions overall.

    Iceman’s take on ‘unconscious desires’ is a bit hard to follow but unconvincing, as I read it it seems to entail that completely anencephalic fetus’s have desires despite lacking any brain or FLV at all.

    • NoRandomWalk says:

      That was wonderful. Thank you!

    • Johnny4 says:

      Sure, there are endless objections and replies. Claiming that the replies create more problems than they solve is, as I’m sure you would admit, a controversial take. Just to address the first two objections: no, the cat doesn’t have a future like ours. If you change a cat into a person the cat ceases to exist, it’s what Aristotle would call “substantial change”. A cat, as a biological fact, is incapable of having a future like ours.

      As for the second objection: as I’ve argued upthread, the zygote that became me was a living thing–plausibly a human organism–with my DNA. That’s a pretty good prima facie reason to think the zygote had a future like mine–indeed, that it had my future. That’s not true of the (relevant) sperm, nor the egg, nor the pair of them. (The sperm and the ovum individually were alive, but they’re definitely weren’t human organisms and they didn’t have my DNA.)

      Of course there are responses to these replies etc.–the replies aren’t decisive. But then, the objections weren’t decisive either. The FLV is a pretty good argument.

      “If a fetus is the kind of being to be included in the calculation (and we’ve settled worries about the non-identity problem) the decrease in happiness that the mother and society experience will not be greater than the amount of happiness that the fetus will experience over their life time (unless their life is rather close to not being a life worth living, which is pretty unlikely given US standards of living, even amongst the poor).”

      I don’t follow this reasoning. “Future people” count in consequentialist calculations (else consequentialism would say to use up all our resources now and not to worry about future generations). So what you’ve explained is the (very strong imo) case for why consequentialism says that most abortions are wrong–not because “fetuses count” but because the mature humans they would develop into uncontroversially do.

      “I haven’t done the calculations but it seems plausible that permitting abortion could over the long term lead to less abortions overall.”

      From a consequentialist perspective the real question is whether it leads to more life overall. Either way, it seems pretty doubtful that permitting abortions leads to more life, or less abortion, overall.

      • phi says:

        I don’t get what you mean when you say that the sperm and the egg didn’t have your DNA: Each one of them had half of your DNA, which means that between them, they had a copy of the exact same DNA that you do. (plus or minus a few mutations)

        I also don’t get why DNA is important here at all. If zygotes made substantial modifications to their DNA before developing further, would it be alright to abort them before those modifications were made?

        • Johnny4 says:

          We’re asking when something came into existence that had a future like ours. Without loss of generality, we can ask when something came into existence that had my future, and then generalize. I’m claiming that it’s pretty plausible and non-arbitrary to think that if there’s a living thing, with my DNA, that grows into me, then that thing had my future. Since a zygote once satisfied those conditions, it’s plausible to think that a zygote once had my future. The objection is that we’re then forced to say that the sperm and ovum that formed that zygote had my future as well. But the sperm and ovum don’t satisfy those conditions. You’re saying that if we “take them together” then they sorta satisfy those conditions. But “taking them together” doesn’t count: if there’s not actually a thing that satisfies those conditions before fertilization, then there’s not actually an objection.

          I hope that makes sense of why I’m talking about DNA. If I went back in time 15 years and wanted to find something with your future, DNA testing would be a good (if impractical) way to go. That’s obviously a contingent fact, but it’s still true.

          • Surfraider31 says:

            Johnny, the point wasn’t ‘there are objections’ but ‘there are substantive objection which anyone who is trying to use these arguments as a resource in the spirit of the ACC should really be aware of’.

            Voice’s replies are pretty on point already – DNA seems irrelevant to personal identity, futures like ours, or right to life. If you’re saying that a zygote and you are the same person in virtue of your DNA, and so your valuable experiences now are part of the zygote’s future, thereby giving it a right, you’re saying that had the DNA changed (but nothing else) between those two times (e.g. at age 10) the zygote no longer had a future continuous with that being, even if everything else (e.g. thoughts beliefs memories) stayed the same between the 9 year old and 11 year old stages of that being.

            I can’t do a back and forth on this, but if you really want to understand this topic and why your replies to Voice aren’t the best, you should read up and get a basic understanding on the debate over personal identity which Voice was basically summarising – understand the difference between the physical continuity theory and the psychological continuity theory, and also on vagueness and sorites series, which you were implicitly appealing to when you replied about making minor changes in the past history not changing the present person. Essentially, small changes don’t make a difference, you’re right, but you can’t then just do this again and again to show that numerous small changes don’t make a difference – at some point we have to say that you really are a different person (otherwise we can pull the same move to show that bald people are not bald, by taking one hair at a time and saying ‘but surely that doesn’t make a difference, so he’s not bald yet).

            Yes, future people count in consequentialist calculations, but there is a difference between future people and *potential people*. Future people are people who will exist, we need to take their interests into account. Potential people might exist depending on our actions, but the mere possibility of their existing probably doesn’t give us a duty to create them. Most versions of consequentialism do not require us to make the most amount of life overall, unless you accept some controversial premises regarding the non-identity problem and repugnant conclusion, which most people don’t, and which I bracketed.

          • Johnny4 says:

            Hi Surfraider31. I’m really struggling to understand how DNA could be irrelevant to personal identity, as I’ve expressed elsewhere. I believe that you and I are human animals–animals of the species Homo sapiens. I don’t think that’s a super weird or controversial view. (Yes, it is controversial amongst professional philosophers. But this isn’t a professional philosophy blog, is it? I mean, it’s controversial amongst philosophers whether time flows, but that doesn’t mean I can’t assume time flows when arguing on SSC.)

            If it’s true that I’m a human organism, the question of when something first had my future is the question of when a certain human organism came into existence. DNA is certainly relevant to that. Since I’m not in fact a clone or a twin or anything like that, the odds are astronomically high that I am the only human organism with my DNA. Hence, looking back to when a human organism with my DNA came into existence is highly relevant to the question of when something with my future came into existence.

            It sounds like maybe you reject my starting point, that I’m a human organism. Fair enough. But that doesn’t make me confused. That just means we disagree. I think I’m a human organism largely because I’m a committed physicalist, and so need to find some physical object to identify myself with. The human organism that’s sitting in this chair typing seems like a pretty good candidate. Do you think I’m identical to a physical thing? If so, what one? This is a serious question and even if you ignore the rest of this I would like to hear a reply.

            I don’t follow your vagueness argument at all. No, we don’t have to say that enough small differences in personality make for a difference in persons. Certainly nothing in the vagueness literature entails that. I mean, if you and I are human animals then changes in our personalities are no more likely to change our identities than changes in the number of hairs on our head. Maybe you were just assuming the psychological continuity view. Fine, but even there the point of continuity is that lots of small changes in personality don’t lead to a change in person, since there’s still a continuous chain. Maybe you have some other view. But I’m not saying that there’s no view incompatible with what I’m arguing here. Obviously, if you and I are immaterial souls that are attached to bodies at quickening, the arguments I’ve been giving all fail. I just happen to think that that’s false, and am assuming that a significant majority of the readers of this blog agree with me. I was also assuming that a significant majority of the readers of this blog would say that they were, literally, members of the human species. If I’m wrong about that, though, I’ve made a mistaken prediction, not a philosophical mistake.

            I’m sorry, but I think you’re just wrong about consequentialism and future people vs potential people. You seem to be saying that the only potential people we need to account for are the ones that actually will exist. I’ve never seen anyone defend that claim, could you give a reference? It would certainly have very…odd implications. Standard forms of consequentialism say that the right thing to do is to maximize the overall net value in the world. You distinction is completely irrelevant to views like that. What version of consequentialism were you thinking of?

          • Surfraider31 says:

            I can’t quite follow your reasoning I’m sorry. Yes, I am human, but I am many things – the son of some parents, a certain arrangement of atoms, and importantly, a thing with particular experiences, memories, hopes, desires. Why are you focusing on the first particular fact/description? Why is *this* fact morally relevant, given there seems to be lots of cases where my being a physical entity doesn’t seem to really account for the moral rights I have, or what makes things wrong? If someone makes me permanently comatose, I’ve basically been killed (at least, I suffer all the wrongs that come with being murdered), regardless of any changes (or lack thereof) to my physical being. If someone later comes and kills my physical being, I’d still be a lot more angry at the first person than the second, suggesting that saying we’re human organisms and trying to understand ethics through this fact misses something very morally important.

            Here, to put it another way, I can run your argument back at you using other terms and it’s equally effective: “I believe that you and I are [beings with certain psychological experiences and capacities]. I don’t think that’s a super weird or controversial view. If it’s true that I’m a [being with certain psychological experiences and capacities], the question of when something first had my future is the question of when a certain [beings with certain psychological experiences and capacities] came into existence. [Certain psychological experiences and capacities, such as those that come on board when a fetus achieves consciousness] is certainly relevant to that. Since I’m not in fact a [Being with deluded memories or experiences, or those copied from another being], the odds are astronomically high that I am the only human [being with my certain psychological experiences and capacities]. Hence, looking back to when a [being with my certain psychological experiences and capacities, perhaps using some machine that can look at memories] came into existence is highly relevant to the question of when something with my future came into existence.

            If you want to say ‘but the zygote has the matter that will lead to the conscious fetus, so that’s when it *first* came into existence’ well I can make the same claim about the sperm and egg, and the matter that makes them up. If you then say ‘but the zygote is the first time that there is a ‘being’ to speak of’, then we’re back to the metaphysics question (But again, here it seems like the DNA isn’t actually doing the work, it’s your view about physical continuity and mereology) and we’re also back at the question why this particular arrangement matters morally (I deprive the fetus of a future, but I see no reason why the fetus has any entitlement to that future, or why it’s bad for *the fetus* to not have that future, given the fetus has no mental life or awareness of what it’s losing out – it just seems to be a clump of cells. If the fetus is born and grows into an adult and has rich experiences, we don’t think ‘man it was good for the fetus to have those experiences’ – we say ‘man it was good for Dave (who does exist) to be born and have those experiences’ and while we can say he would have been worse off not having been born, we can’t say that it was bad for Steve (who doesn’t exist) to have been aborted at 2 weeks).

            The ‘standard’ form of consequentialism leads to a well-known thing called ‘the repugnant conclusion’, and the name should be some clue as to how well it’s endorsed by most philosophers. I misspoke when I said most forms of consequentialism, I meant most consequentialists, we arrive there with many forms of the theory but not many think that’s the right result. Effective altruists generally aren’t in favour of policies producing a higher population. It’s fine if you think that it in fact isn’t repugnant, but that’s the sort of thing which shouldn’t be taken as reasonable in a debate on abortion, since it commits you to saying that abortion is impermissible because almost every decision to not get people pregnant that doesn’t produce worse consequences overall is going to be impermissible. Not only that, but failing to get someone pregnant, and getting pregnant and then having an abortion, are going to be *equally* wrong, since both decisions fail to bring someone into existence and maximise consequences to a similar degree (setting aside distress of abortion etc.) These usually aren’t the kinds of commitments that can be taken as reasonable in a public forum where abortion being wrong is an open question, even if we’re assuming consequentialism, since the answer will have very little to do with abortion specifically. Hope that all made sense.

          • Johnny4 says:

            @Surfraider31
            Sorry for being unclear, I’ve made things a lot harder than necessary. I believe that I am identical with a certain human animal–a certain human being. Call the human animal sitting in my chair typing now “Ani”. I believe that Johnny4 = Ani. So if Ani didn’t exist, I wouldn’t either, and if Ani exists, so do I, since Ani and I are one and the same thing.

            That isn’t true for “thing with my actual experiences”. Since I could have had different experiences, I could exist without there being a thing with my actual experiences. And while it’s unlikely, a thing could exist and have my actual experiences and not be me.

            I agree that the mirror-image of my argument you gave is more or less equally as good as the one I gave, modulo the truth/plausibility of the starting point. Like I said above, identifying myself with the thing that has the experiences I actually have doesn’t seem very plausible to me, since obviously (so I say at least) I could have had different experiences.

            I’m not saying that the repugnant conclusion isn’t repugnant; I’m not sure why you would say that. I understand that most philosophers find the conclusion repugnant, that’s why it’s an objection to consequentialism. But I’m not sure why we’re talking about the repugnant conclusion. I certainly don’t need anything as strong as the repugnant conclusion to argue that most/typical abortions will be wrong under standard forms of consequentialism. The repugnant conclusion involves lives that are barely worth living, that’s an important part of what makes it repugnant. In most/typical abortions, the life of the person that would exist if not for the abortion would produce a lot of value–it wouldn’t be barely worth living. (If most lives didn’t produce a lot of value, consequentialists would have to say that it was often ok to kill for relatively minor reasons.) Hence, not aborting would have to produce a lot of disvalue for abortion to be ok on a consequentialist framework. What does a “lot” mean? Well, it’s fairly standard to claim that the value of a year of human life is $50K. Let’s assume, very favorably to you, that the value of a whole human life is $200-$400K, and let’s assume (again favorably to you) that the lives of people that might be aborted are all at the low end: $200K. Now we can ask: how many pregnant women who get abortions would be willing to deliver the baby for $200K. Since the answer (I believe) is “much more than half”, it follows (if money is even vaguely tracking value) that most abortions are wrong–net reductions in overall value compared with not aborting–according to consequentialism.

          • cuke says:

            If there’s a moral philosopher on here who can help clarify how dollars get used in consequentialist moral reasoning, I would love to hear more about that.

            Johnny4, I find your calculation confusing, and am seeking clarification.

            If we said an unborn fetus has X value (is that actuarial, lifetime net income, economic productivity, what?), how do we turn that into handing that same money to a woman carrying X fetus? It also costs a quarter of a million dollars (in the U.S.) to raise a child to majority age — how does that get factored in? How do we calculate the opportunity cost to a woman over her life span for carrying an unwanted child to term and/or the risks to her of carrying a child to term even if she doesn’t raise it? How do we include the fact that some of these fetuses will grow into humans who are a net cost to society just in terms of dollars because they wind up being incarcerated or disabled, nevermind that they may also cause other forms of non-economic harm?

            Even if we did use a dollar figure to weigh outcomes in a consequentialist frame, I’m not sure we can conclude anything from the fact that some women would opt to carry a fetus to term if she were handed $200k to do so. That some people can be bribed to do things they otherwise don’t want to do seems a separate kind of moral reasoning from whether or not the productive value contributed by a theoretical person outweighs the costs to an actual person — ie, I don’t think we can take the woman’s choice in the moment to take the bribe as a fair representation of the cost to her or to society overall.

          • Johnny4 says:

            @cuke

            I don’t think there’s “a way” dollars get used in consequentialist reasoning. I was just assuming that price was at least vaguely tracking value. On a many consequentialist views that seems plausible: price vaguely tracks what people value, which basically just is what is valuable according to preference consequentialism. But on other plausible forms of consequentialism it should at least roughly track value.

            As far as the calculation goes, the relevant question (assuming consequentialism) is whether there will be more overall net value in the world if the pregnancy is carried to term or an abortion is procured. My argument was basically:

            1) The typical human life is of great value–typically, carrying a pregnancy to term generates great value.
            2) Typically, (i.e., if it isn’t a substantial threat to the mother’s health etc.) the disvalue generated by caring a pregnancy to term is (much) less than the value generated by it.
            3) So, in typical cases, abortion generates negative net value.
            4) So, according to consequentialism, abortion is wrong in typical cases.

            Since the disvalue of carrying a pregnancy to term largely accrues to the mother, I was thinking that I could support (2) with the following reasoning: if a pregnant woman would be willing to carry the pregnancy to term for $X, and the lifetime value of the person would be >>$X, then the disvalue of carrying the pregnancy to term is likely less than the value of carrying it to term. To be clear, I myself don’t think money tracks value particularly well, but I just need it to track value relatively well on common forms of consequentialism for the argument to work. The core argument doesn’t have anything to do with money though.

            Note that if the lives of incarcerated people where generating overall net negative value, consequentialism would say that they should all be killed. I bring that up just to point out the consequences of thinking that there are (many) people whose lives generated net negative value. My argument assumes that that isn’t typically the case, even in cases where abortion is being considered.

          • Surfraider31 says:

            @cuke they don’t really use dollars, they’ll sometimes use hedons or utils (more for simplicitly to make a conceptual point than to make actual assessments about certain cases) and DALYs, but usually leave the DALY calculations to to economists and then just quote them.

            Johnny, you didn’t address any of my points, and I think you’re still not quite understanding me. There are *lots* of ways of identifying you, why are you focusing on this particular fact of any others? How is this particular fact morally relevant? You say that you would have been the same person had you had slightly different experiences, but you also would have been the same person had you had a slightly different arrangement of atoms, or been born at a slightly different time, or had different nutrition. Again, your claims work just as well for the other side e.g. “A thing could exist and have your actual body and not be you” (think about classic mind-body swaps in sci-fi). You seem to think you’re identifying ‘you’ as one thing, as what you ‘really’ are i.e. a human organism, but that’s not what you’re actually doing. You’re actually identifying yourself *under certain description*, and offering no basis for that description as opposed to any other. I am proposing another description, and some basis for it. Saying ‘I don’t find it convincing’ isn’t convincing – you need to deal with the kinds of cases I pointed to which strongly point in favour of the ‘being with certain psychological capacities and experiences’ description i.e. the fact that when our psychological experience ends, a lot of us think that we as moral beings who have moral rights and whose life is valuable, also ends. If you want to say ‘I favour this description because we are physical beings and there must have been a physical starting point’ then again, we’re back to the metaphysics question, like I pointed to in the last message.

            We’re talking about TRC because you’re saying that the fetus needs to get included in the consequentialist calculation because doing so *will* produce overall utility. But this is a fact that is true of every single *potential* being. If what grounds including the fetus in our calculations (as opposed to only existing and future –though not potential- people) is that this produces more utility overall, you are necessarily committed to TRC. I agree the fetus will have a life worth living, and that overall not having the abortion will produce more utility. This is not the point. This point here is not simply about ‘will having the fetus produce more or less utility overall for the whole world’ (I agree it will, but this also leads to TRC). The point is ‘is this being the kind of thing that we need to include in our calculations?’. If your answer is just ‘yes because that will produce more utility’ you are necessarily committed to TRC (AND the claim that not getting someone pregnant, and having an abortion, are both equally morally wrong). Saying ‘that worry doesn’t apply because a fetus’ life is not barely worth living, it’s pretty good’ – also misses the point, we’re not saying TRC worries apply to any particular fetus. Saying ‘we don’t have to worry about TRC because that’s a different case’ also won’t work, then you’re just drawing an arbitrary line somewhere above ‘barely worth living’ and saying ‘I’m fine with the logic of TRC up to this point, and then I’m not’. TRC isn’t just an objection to consequentialism, consequentialists have tried to argue that their theory only applies to existing and future people because they recognise that it is a problem, and that it seems much more plausible that we only have to maximise utility for beings who are included in the moral calculus, and that only existing and future beings are included in the moral calculus, while potential beings are not.

          • Johnny4 says:

            @Surfraider31

            Johnny, you didn’t address any of my points, and I think you’re still not quite understanding me.

            I didn’t address any of your points?? Wow, epic fail on my part. It might be tedious, but I’ll try to respond point-by-point here.

            There are *lots* of ways of identifying you, why are you focusing on this particular fact of any others?

            I’m not fundamentally taking about ways of identifying me, I’m talking about what I am. If I’m a human organism, however, looking at DNA is super helpful for identifying me.

            How is this particular fact [about what we are] morally relevant?

            Well, facts about what we are seem pretty morally relevant to the abortion question. If what I am is a soul that is only attached to a body at quickening, then there’s a prima facie case that abortion is ok before quickening. If what I am is an animal that comes into existence at conception, Marquis’s argument is a pretty good prima facie reason to think that abortion is wrong from conception on. If I only came into existence when consciousness arose, etc.

            You say that you would have been the same person had you had slightly different experiences, but you also would have been the same person had you had a slightly different arrangement of atoms, or been born at a slightly different time, or had different nutrition.

            Yes, so what? The same human animal would have existed in those different circumstances. I mean, if you disagree with that feel free to give an argument, but that’s a very standard view.

            Again, your claims work just as well for the other side e.g. “A thing could exist and have your actual body and not be you” (think about classic mind-body swaps in sci-fi).

            Uh, no, since I’m a physicalist I don’t think sci-fi “mind-body” swaps are possible. Your mind is just your brain, and so you can’t swap two people’s minds while leaving their bodies intact. I know some people disagree with this, but the possibility of mind-body swaps is certainly less certain than the possibility of my having different experiences.

            You seem to think you’re identifying ‘you’ as one thing, as what you ‘really’ are i.e. a human organism, but that’s not what you’re actually doing.

            Um, no, I know what I am doing and I am doing what I say. You are failing to understand a basic position in the philosophy of personal identity. If what I’m saying here doesn’t help then maybe read the SEP article for more.

            You’re actually identifying yourself *under certain description*, and offering no basis for that description as opposed to any other.

            If you’re unfamiliar with the literature, the SEP article linked above gives a decent account of the basis for the position I’m defending.

            Saying ‘I don’t find it convincing’ isn’t convincing – you need to deal with the kinds of cases I pointed to which strongly point in favour of the ‘being with certain psychological capacities and experiences’ description i.e. the fact that when our psychological experience ends, a lot of us think that we as moral beings who have moral rights and whose life is valuable, also ends.

            What do you mean I “need to deal with” those cases? Like, there’s a whole literature on this stuff. Those cases have been dealt with. Obviously, they haven’t been dealt with to the satisfaction of everyone, but that’s not a realistic standard, is it? Again, my view is a common view with lots of able defenders, motivated independently of the abortion debate: it’s not just some weird idea I came up with as a way to defend Marquis.

            If you want to say ‘I favour this description because we are physical beings and there must have been a physical starting point’ then again, we’re back to the metaphysics question, like I pointed to in the last message.

            Yes, the question of what we are is a metaphysics question. Since Marquis’s whole argument is about the futures of things, it really matters what things are and when something began to have, e.g., my future. That’s why I’m talking about it.

            We’re talking about TRC because you’re saying that the fetus needs to get included in the consequentialist calculation because doing so *will* produce overall utility. But this is a fact that is true of every single *potential* being.

            Well, that’s true of every potential being with a life worth living.

            If what grounds including the fetus in our calculations (as opposed to only existing and future –though not potential- people) is that this produces more utility overall, you are necessarily committed to TRC.

            Uh, no. See here for a discussion of different ways to avoid TRC.

            I agree the fetus will have a life worth living, and that overall not having the abortion will produce more utility. This is not the point.

            If you are a utilitarian, this is most definitely the point. Utilitarianism is the view that the right action is the one that produces the most utility.

            This point here is not simply about ‘will having the fetus produce more or less utility overall for the whole world’ (I agree it will, but this also leads to TRC).

            Again, for utilitarians and other standard consequentialists, this is precisely the point. Maybe all those theories are false because they lead to TRC. Maybe! I’m not a consequentialist. I’m just pointing out what follows from consequentialism vis-a-vis abortion.

            The point is ‘is this being the kind of thing that we need to include in our calculations?’. If your answer is just ‘yes because that will produce more utility’ you are necessarily committed to TRC (AND the claim that not getting someone pregnant, and having an abortion, are both equally morally wrong).

            Again, no: see the other ways of getting out of TRC at the link above.

            Saying ‘that worry doesn’t apply because a fetus’ life is not barely worth living, it’s pretty good’ – also misses the point, we’re not saying TRC worries apply to any particular fetus.

            I don’t know how I could be missing the point here. For example, on “Critical Level” responses to TRC, again discussed at the SEP article linked above, this would make all the difference.

            Saying ‘we don’t have to worry about TRC because that’s a different case’ also won’t work, then you’re just drawing an arbitrary line somewhere above ‘barely worth living’ and saying ‘I’m fine with the logic of TRC up to this point, and then I’m not’.

            I’m not sure what you’re saying here, but I tentatively think that what I said above is also a response to this.

            TRC isn’t just an objection to consequentialism, consequentialists have tried to argue that their theory only applies to existing and future people because they recognise that it is a problem, and that it seems much more plausible that we only have to maximise utility for beings who are included in the moral calculus, and that only existing and future beings are included in the moral calculus, while potential beings are not.

            Maybe some consequentialists have tried to argue this, but it certainly isn’t the generally received view. And even given this you’d have to say that an actually existing sprawling “repugnant” population was more valuable than an actually existing but relatively small “normal” population of people with high welfare, so you’re not really avoiding TRC.

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          Agree with phi that DNA isn’t really important. My (hypothetical) identical twin is not me; it’s the connections and electrical patterns in my brain that matter (if my current understanding of neuroscience is correct).

          • Johnny4 says:

            Could phi or voice say what they mean by ‘DNA isn’t really important’? I assume you’re not confused by why we do DNA testing in criminal cases, right? Yes, sameness of DNA doesn’t prove identity of organism, but for human beings, currently, it is very strong Bayesian evidence.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @Johnny4
            DNA is obviously medically and biologically important and a very good indicator of my identity. I don’t think it’s important because it doesn’t determine my identity. The immune cells in my saliva or the skin cells that rub off onto my clothing have my DNA, but I wouldn’t say they are me–at most, I’d say they used to be a part of me. As I mentioned, an identical twin of mine would also not be me. So, [has my DNA] =/=> [is me].

            For a more hypothetical example: let’s imagine someone’s concocted a CRISPR treatment that changes the blood type, hair color, and eye color of an adult human by editing the DNA of every cell in their body. (IDK how biologically plausible this is, but it’s fairly realistic by the standards of philosophical hypotheticals.) If someone injected me with a syringe full of this, it would change my DNA and have drastic visible effects on me to boot. However, assuming it left my neurons intact, I would still be myself, just with new DNA. So, [is me] =/=> [has my DNA].

            I agree that DNA is very strong Bayesian evidence of identity, but for these reasons I don’t think it’s a part of my identity the same way the pattern of neural connections in my cortex is. I think it’s in some ways analogous to my fingerprints; someone with my fingerprints is almost certainly me; but you could change that with a skin graft and the identity would stay with the brain, not the fingertips.

            To make an even stronger point: I think 2009::me was a different person from who I currently am in a number of important ways (and we share much more than DNA!). Even more so for 5-year-old me, who I think I could reasonably call “a person in the process of developing into me”. And even more so for 2-year-old me, who I can distance myself from to the level of “a mini-person who would eventually develop into me”. (Of course, since pretending that identity is consistent over time is really convenient conversationally, I’ll never actually refer to him like that and I’ll just say “when I was 2 I got stung by a bee”.)

            The fertilized zygote seems to have more in common with the macrophage in my saliva than it does with my 2- or 5-year old self. It’s a single cell with my DNA that couldn’t have survived outside of a human body. Various important biochemical processes going on, but nothing that had any sort of consciousness.

            Yes, my DNA did doubtlessly play a role in determining what kind of person I became. (For one obvious way, it set my sex.) But I still say that it partially determined who I am–it was not me. Likewise the personality of my sister played off mine and effected an important part of my identity, but no one would argue that that makes her and me the same person.

          • Johnny4 says:

            @thevoiceofthevoid
            “I agree that DNA is very strong Bayesian evidence of identity, but for these reasons I don’t think it’s a part of my identity the same way the pattern of neural connections in my cortex is.”

            But if your past had been slightly different, you would have had a slightly different pattern of neural connections in your cortex. You would still have existed though!

            “To make an even stronger point: I think 2009::me was a different person from who I currently am in a number of important ways (and we share much more than DNA!). Even more so for 5-year-old me, who I think I could reasonably call “a person in the process of developing into me”.”

            We have to be careful about what we mean by “different person”. 2009 you was different than you, and a person, so there’s a sense in which 2009 you was a different person. But you existed in 2009 (so I say at least), and the person you were identical to was 2009 you, naturally enough. 2009 you had your future, since 2009 you was you. That’s the sense of ‘different person’ that matters here, no?

            “The fertilized zygote seems to have more in common with the macrophage in my saliva…It’s a single cell with my DNA that couldn’t have survived outside of a human body. Various important biochemical processes going on, but nothing that had any sort of consciousness.”

            I’d been trying to avoid having to argue about what counts as an actual (human) organism, but I guess it’s unavoidable at this point. I agree that one of your cells isn’t you, for a variety of reasons but including that one of your cells isn’t a human organism. I myself think that fertilization is when a new human organism comes into existence, but even if that’s wrong one comes into existence very quickly. Whenever the organism that you are came into existence is when something that was “the same person as” you (in the relevant sense) came into existence, at least given the assumption that you are a human organism (as assumption I’ve been making!). If you don’t like saying “same person as” we could just say “same thing as”: e.g., it was you. It’s unclear whether newborn babies are “persons” (depends on what we mean by ‘person’), but you were once a newborn baby: the organism that you are was once quite immature, what we would call a newborn baby. But that newborn baby was an even more immature human organism 8 months prior. Hence, I say, there was a zygote that was you, and hence that had your future.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @Johnny4
            I should be more precise. I think “me vs. not me” is more of a spectrum than a binary question. The core thing that constitutes me is the information that makes up my consciousness, which is currently embodied as the network of synapses between the neurons of my brain, the patterns of electrochemical activity throughout that network, and the concentrations of various psychoactive hormones affecting that activity. All of those change over time, some quite drastically, and thus I change over time. If we were strict about the definition of identity ad absurdum, we could say that I am a different person now from when I started typing this sentence. (Heraclitus was on to something–there’s an important sense in which you can’t step in the same river twice.) However, there’s clearly continuity over time, so I’m perfectly comfortable saying that the person I was 5 minutes ago was me, and the person I will be in 5 minutes is also me. Just not quite as much me as the person I am now. As you point out, if my past had been slightly different, I would have a slightly different pattern of neural connections in my cortex, and therefore be a slightly different person, but still one recognizable as myself. As the differences get larger and farther back, the resulting hypothetical person becomes less and less recognizable as “me”.

            So what of the person I was a year ago? Five? Ten? There’s clear continuity of identity, so in one sense they are me. But there’s been enough gradual change in my personality and accumulated experiences that in another sense they’re different people. Obviously not as different as someone who didn’t grow up to be me; 5-year-old me certainly has more claim to being thevoiceofthevoid than anyone else alive at that time. But if he were teleported to the present day, even if his body were magically aged without changing his mind, no one would have any trouble distinguishing between me and the 5-year-old who would grow up to become me. Identity, like most concepts, is a spectrum; hence my constant “in a sense” hedging.

            There’s a more definitive distinction I can make, between me and my body. Me is my mind; the consciousness that’s currently instantiated in my brain but could hypothetically be, e.g., emulated by a computer.* My body is the biological organism that implements and houses my mind. Of course, I often refer to my body as me and parts of my body as parts of me. But if I’m being rigorous about it, my heart is different from me in a more fundamental way than 5-year-old me is different from me. A hypothetical that pumps that intuition for me: Say that in the future brain emulation is developed, but the process is destructive and halts all electrical activity in the subject’s brain in the process of recording it for an accurate simulation. Let’s say that this procedure were performed on me, but for some odd reason, my body was left hooked up to life support in a vegetative state afterwards. I would look out of the camera of my new robot body at my old human body and think, “wow looking at my not-quite-dead body is really unsettling.” But it’s clear that the me doing the thinking is the mind now inside the robot, not the brain-dead organism lying on the operating table.

            So, what does this all say about the fertilized zygote (or the early embryo/fetus)? Well, since the zygote had no brain and thus no possibility of having a mind, I say it was not me, but it was the beginning of my body. The embryo/fetus couldn’t possibly have been conscious (and thus been me) before electrical activity in its proto-brain began (which doesn’t occur until about 6 weeks), and probably not for a good while after that, since the early activity appears to be random and meaningless. I’m not sure when exactly a fetus develops a mind, but a glance over some Google results** suggests that it’s definitely not before 6 weeks and almost certainly not before 15-20 weeks. I disagree with the paper you link, since they focus far too much on characteristics that (they admit!) describe a climate-controlled spaceship just as well as a human, and not nearly enough on neural development (which seems to me to be the primary determinant of sentience and thus personhood). They also in my opinion commit a bit of a streetlight fallacy by looking for a bright line between non-human and human, while it’s entirely possible that the transition is gradual.

            In conclusion, I think that personhood and thus a reasonable “future life value” begins with consciousness/sentience, which I am 99% confident develops between 6 weeks post-conception and 2 years post-birth; and 90% confident develops between 15 weeks post-conception and 1 day after birth.

            tl;dr: Identity is a spectrum and is in constant flux; my mind is me, my body is not necessarily me; fetuses probably become people by my definition some time around 20-30 weeks.

            *This may or may not be technically feasible within our universe, but if it is then I would say an accurate computer simulation of my brain (and possibly psychoactive hormones) is me.

            **Wikipedia and NYT articles and an interview with a pro-life neuroscientist (who obviously comes to different conclusions)

          • Johnny4 says:

            @thevoiceofthevoid
            Thanks for your detailed response. I think it’s pretty clear where we differ now: I think we’re human organisms, and you don’t. It doesn’t look like you think we’re physical things at all, right? You’re not saying that we’re identical to “our” brains, or anything. There’s no physical thing at all you would say was you, right? I mean, you say “my mind is me, my body is not necessarily me”.

            Anyhow, yeah, I was assuming that you and I were physical things. (In fact, I was assuming that you and I were Homo sapiens.) The arguments I was giving aren’t too relevant if we aren’t.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @Johnny4
            Haha, when you put it like that I sound a bit bonkers, don’t I? 🙂

            I think I might have to reconsider my body/mind distinction, since your paraphrase of my points sound pretty obviously ridiculous to me, but is a decently fair summary of what I wrote. The distinction between my brain and my mind is largely philosophical and not terribly relevant to the topic at hand, since for all practical intents and purposes they are one and the same, so I’ll stick with “brain” and won’t split hairs on that.

            Thesis: If a mad scientist scientist transplanted my brain into a different body, or uploaded a scan of it into a computer, then I would wake up in the new body or the computer and still be me (assuming that my understanding that personality and memory are stored in the brain is correct). Therefore my brain and/or the information it embodies is me, and my body is not me.

            Antithesis: I talk, feel, and act as if my hands, eyes, etc. are a part of me, not merely tools grafted onto a container that holds me. They seem fundamentally linked to me in a way that e.g. the laptop I’m typing on doesn’t–no great surprise, since they are literally connected to me: physically through my tendons and informationally through my nerves. Thus, my body is me, just as much as my brain.

            Synthesis: My body is me; I am a physical human in the world. However, not all parts of my body are equally important. My eyes, hands, heart, fingernails are all part of me. If they were removed or altered (the latter frequently are), it would change my appearance and capabilities, but I would remain fundamentally the same person. My brain, however, is the part of me that determines my identity. If my brain were destroyed or altered, it would kill me or change me into a fundamentally different person. If it were accurately copied with high fidelity, I’m pretty sure the copy would then also be me.

            In short: I am my brain, and whatever body it’s a part of. So I am indeed a homo sapiens, and will continue to be one for the foreseeable future.

            Under this framework, I think my arguments re: past and future selves still hold, as do my arguments regarding unborn children. Since my brain is the part of me that determines my identity, the fetus that would become me could not have been me before it developed a functioning brain.

          • Johnny4 says:

            @thevoiceofthevoid
            Sorry for the delay replying; was traveling yesterday and am now sort of swamped with family holiday stuff. Anyhow, thanks for the good-humored and thoughtful response! As your view gets more refined, I’m losing leverage (which is the point of refining it, of course!), but I guess I would say the following:

            If you and I really are (identical with) human animals, then I think it’d be pretty hard to argue that we didn’t come into existence when the human animals we are came into existence. Not impossible, but I think you’d have to accept some sort of non-standard logic of identity.

            If, however, you and I are (identical with) “our” brains, then (if we don’t have a funky logic) we came into existence when our brains did, which is significantly later–but not that late!–than when “our” organisms did. I think the sources you linked suggested that our brains start forming within 6 weeks, which be a very short window for abortions before there was something with our future.

            But if you and I are (identical with) the information housed in our brain, I think things start going sideways. While information might not be non-physical in an objectionable sense, I do think it’s non-physical. And information can’t really “do” anything–things can contain information and things can do things with information, but the information itself is just sort of a state of a thing.

            So let’s say that we’re things in certain information states–e.g., that anything that was in the same information state as my brain would be me. But then, since information can be copied, you could make more of us–not copies of us, but more mes and more yous–by copying the information states of our brains. But then we have a contradiction (one thing cannot become two things) unless we start monkeying with logic again.

            The funny thing is that while the psychological continuity view of personal identity is very popular, it really only makes sense (if you think we’re physical things and don’t monkey with logic) if you also accept “four-dimensionalism”, according to which every four-dimensional region of space-time (or at least every occupied region) is a thing, and the problem of saying what we are reduces to the problem of saying which 4D “worm” (since things are generally much more stretched out in time than they are in space) we are. If you have that view, saying that I am the worm that is psychologically continuous (going backwards and forwards) with me now is a pretty good answer. But since that worm won’t generally correspond to any ordinary thing (it would correspond closest, in ordinary circumstances, to my brain, but not perfectly), then if you don’t accept the 4D view it’s unlikely that there will be any (“ordinary”) thing you can identify human persons with. Since I’m skeptical of the 4D view, “human animal” seems like the best answer I can give to the question, “What are we?”. The things you’ve said would seem to fit pretty well with the 4D view though. We could talk about what I take to be the major problems with that view, but that’s probably better left for another day–not least because I’m not sure I’ll be able to return to this thread for another day or two!

      • zzzzort says:

        Saying that a cat turning into a human is a substantial change, but a single cell turning into a human is an accidental change is quite the philosophical hot take (which is to say it very much violates my intuition).

        • Johnny4 says:

          @zzzzort
          I’m not sure why you’re saying that’s a philosophical hot take. Don’t we know, through some combination of science and philosophy, that a cat can’t change into a human? Do you disagree? On what theory of what humans (or cats!) are could a cat turn into a human?

          Similarly, I think it’s basically a biological fact that human fertilized eggs are maximally immature humans, so there’s no mystery about how one could “turn into” one. But it doesn’t matter, even if fertilized eggs aren’t humans, you get humans very quickly. If there’s only a thing with a future like ours after 16 days, the arguments in OP aren’t significantly affected.

    • cuke says:

      Very well said, thanks.

  17. Cato says:

    I registered with WordPress just so I could leave a comment on how surprised I am that no one has commented on the Kabbalistic significance of the debaters’ names being “icerun” and “BlockofNihilism.”

  18. AlexanderTheGrand says:

    Two points that I didn’t see in the comments section yet:

    First is, the thought experiment of a woman who only wants one kid. She becomes pregnant at 19, and says “I could either raise this child, which would derail my life and be unhappy for both of us, or I could wait until I’m stable and married, and have one child then.” Children are a huge drain on resources, it’s very reasonable to aim for a certain number. In this sense, that abortion isn’t removing a life from the world as much as delaying it’s entrance.

    Second is, I generally view the value of life as the total of the value placed on a being’s life by itself plus the value placed by others. We as conscious beings don’t exist in a vacuum, but rather a society. A hypothetical parent dying isn’t only a universal negaitve because their future value disappears, but because of the sadness and hardship placed on their children. Ditto for a friend, or any member of a community. In this sense, if all of the relevant actors won’t be harmed mentally by abortion, the only loss of life-value is to the fetus itself. This isn’t an argument that abortion is purely fine, but rather a response to FLV’s desire to “find a moral system that condemns murder but not masturbation (paraphrased)”.

  19. Anon. says:

    A debate is not an adversarial collaboration.

  20. zzzzort says:

    I’ve generally thought that the cutoff for abortion should be viability, for reasons more or less in line with BlockofNihilism’s. However, in the long run this is an untenable stance. The technology for supporting neonates is improving all the time, and eventually artificial wombs will move viability back all the way to conception. The emotional cost of adoption will presumably be much less if done at the zygote stage, but there will still be a human with half of the mother’s DNA walking around and potentially wanting to contact her. Does anyone else in the moral-at-viability camp have an intuition on this?

  21. tohron says:

    One other potential argument that wasn’t really mentioned is the value in having a clear definition of what has a right to life, a definition that isn’t subject to arbitrary revision. This was indirectly referenced in the description of how society is a stakeholder in the abortion decision, but the significance wasn’t really expanded upon. I feel that if society doesn’t find a clear line to draw over what has a right to life, that leaves the way open for unscrupulous people to take advantage of the ambiguity. BlockOfNihilism’s position does at least set a few criteria, though I’m not sure it’s enough.

  22. yildo says:

    This is an argument between two pro-lifers. Was it that hard to find someone to argue that abortion is morally right until the cutting of the umbilical cord?

    The fetus is an organ of the bearer’s body until the cord is cut, and the bearer has the right to be rid of it just as they have the right to be rid of an appendix, a wisdom tooth, or a gall bladder.

    • Johnny4 says:

      I think the reason nobody defended that view is because it is factually incorrect: the fetus is not, in fact, an organ of the bearer’s body. Look it up!

      A similar view would be that it’s ok to kill things that are organically connected to you. That view is morally incorrect: it is (usually) wrong for one Siamese twin to kill the other.

      Another similar view would be that it’s ok to kill things that are inside you. That view is morally incorrect: if you or I were accidentally ingested by a much larger person, and it would still (usually) be wrong for the larger person to kill us.

      • Incandenza says:

        One of the classic essays on the ethics of abortion argues that it is, in fact, okay to kill things that are organically connected to you. It’s a thought experiment imagining you were connected by blood tubes or something to a world-renowned violinist (so, you know, they’re obviously the kind of person we’d want to keep around, all else being equal [eyeroll]). They have some sort of kidney defect and will die if you disconnect the tubes, though they will improve and be healthy again in 9 months’ time. Are you obligated to keep yourself hooked up to the violinist? You are not, the argument concludes. It may be an admirable thing to make that sacrifice, but on basic principles of liberty you do not have that obligation.

        I have genuinely mixed feelings about this argument, but it is at least enough to show that is it not obvious that it is “morally incorrect” to claim that it’s okay to kill things that are organically connected to you.

        By the way, this gets at my main issue with this collaboration – it sure seems to be trying to reinvent the wheel. Like, there is an enormous literature on the ethics of abortion, and it seems like the spirit of the exercise is to mutually explore whatever resources are out there that could be applied to the question under debate. Since the question in this case is an ethical one, the relevant resources are the ethical literature. But the authors scarcely even glance in that direction, citing only a couple sources. The inevitable result is that they end up saying a bunch of stuff that’s already been said but in a way that’s not informed by the history of the debate. Suppose they had put specific canonical arguments up for consideration, including notable counterarguments, etc.? That might have been a more productive approach.

        • Johnny4 says:

          JJT doesn’t argue that it’s morally permissible to kill the violinist–indeed she argues that it isn’t–she just says that it’s ok to disconnect from the violinist knowing that he will die. That’s partly why I said “kill” instead of yildo’s “be rid of”. If abortions were just evicting the fetus, hoping that it would live (or at least not hoping that it wouldn’t), then JJT’s violinist case would be more relevant. But it’s pretty clear that almost all abortions involve intentionally killing the fetus, no?

          Anyhow, I’m not saying that it’s obviously morally incorrect (that was sort of tongue in cheek) to say it’s ok to kill things organically connected to you, just that it is, in fact, incorrect. And I think the Siamese twin case shows that. Do you disagree?

          • Incandenza says:

            I don’t really see the distinction you’re making in the violinist case; the violinist would in fact die, just as the fetus (in most cases) presumably would.

            The siamese twin case seems disanalogous to me. It’s wrong for someone to kill their siamese twin because it’s wrong to kill a person. To apply that example to abortion begs the question, since the personhood of the fetus is just what’s at issue.

            As for the general principle that it’s wrong to kill something organically connected to you: what if the famous violinist case, but instead of the violinist it’s a hamster? Obviously not the same moral issue. Again it seems like what you’re really saying is that it’s wrong to kill a person in cases where they depend on your body for survival, but the personhood of a fetus is the very thing in question.

          • Johnny4 says:

            @Incandenza
            It’s not a distinction I’m making, it’s a distinction JJT makes. Her article, recall, grants that the fetus has a right to life. She’s arguing that a right to life isn’t a right to life support, and so it’s ok to “disconnect from” or “evict” the fetus (know thing that it will die), even if it would be wrong to kill it. She’s basically making a distinction between failing to save and killing.

            With regard to the Siamese twin case, note that I’m just objecting to the principle “it’s (always) ok to kill things that are organically connected to you”. I wasn’t arguing that this applied in the case of abortion, just that there’s not some plausible or true moral principle that says that killing the fetus is ok regardless of the fetus’s moral status.

            I agree with what you say about the hamster. But that makes my point, or at least the point I want to be making: we have to determine whether the fetus has a right to life (like a Siamese twin) or not (like a hamster) to determine the morality of killing it; the fact that it is organically connected to someone doesn’t settle things by itself.

    • Rivfader says:

      I agree fully with Johnny4’s comment (I’m pro-choice but mainly for reasons like those discussed in the post). The conditions that make an object belong to you do not also make a person belong to you.

    • Clutzy says:

      I would expect that, yes, it would be very difficult to find a person to argue an extreme pro-choice position that would also be willing to engage in an AC and would be capable of bringing something to bear. 29 Weeks as a starting cutoff is already far beyond the point of pregnancy where the vast majority of expecting parents (both men and women) would be emotionally devastated by a miscarriage. Particularly if it was caused by something like a car accident. Indeed, many divorces have been caused by such things as each partner can no longer live with a peaceable mind after the incident.

  23. Alex M says:

    Great ACC of a very emotionally charged topic. My compliments to the presenters!

    Personally, I view laws as an extension of State power, so any discussion of abortion is really a discussion about where we draw the line for citizenship. One interesting point that I feel merits discussion is the right of men to have “financial abortions.” After all, the obligation to financially care for a child for 18 years is much more significant than the burden of carrying a fetus for 9 months.

    Some would say that raising a child is a contractual agreement between the parents, which both parties must be aligned upon before any pregnancy can commence. If either party chooses not to be part of that contract, then they ought to have the right not to participate either financially or emotionally.

    Unfortunately, it seems very unlikely that the women’s rights movement will give up the disproportionate power that women have to force men to be parents against their will, because political organizations are inherently selfish and tend to be reluctant to give up perks enjoyed by their own constituency in the name of equality for everyone – unless threats and political arm-twisting are leveraged against them. From a game-theory perspective, this leads to a logical but somewhat counter-intuitive conclusion: the fact that if you are a progressive man who supports abortion rights for men and women equally, then your best strategy may actually be to vote AGAINST a woman’s right to abortion until women’s rights organizations support your own right to a financial abortion. This would indirectly force women’s organizations to support men’s abortion rights simply in order to gain the political quorum needed to pass legislation to legalize abortion for themselves. I call this the “hostage-taking” strategy, because effectively men would be taking women’s rights hostage until those women agree to do the right thing and grant men equal legal rights also. A dirty tactic, but a highly effective one.

    • NoRandomWalk says:

      Darn it. I was gonna write a post disagreeing and then while fact checking it found out, among other things, that a woman can’t legally absolve a man of child support obligations prior to the child’s conception, nor agree to not have the child.

      You have persuaded me that the current regime is discriminatory in a way that I find objectionable (but, being a fairly selfish individual in a monogamous relationship with someone I trust completely don’t care that much about, either).

      • Alex M says:

        You know, I really appreciate your honesty here. Considering that you could have stayed silent and nobody else would have known you disagreed other than you, it takes a very enlightened lack of ego to admit to having held an incorrect viewpoint when nobody could have ever called you out on it. That’s really rare nowadays.

    • cuke says:

      I haven’t looked at this issue in a long time, so I may be missing updates about how various legal systems handle this. But speaking as a feminist, I have always found it odd/unfair that potential fathers may have no control over whether a potential mother keeps a child but then can be legally saddled with financial responsibility for that child for the next 18 years.

      Also as a feminist, I strongly value consent, and it seems to me there’s not adequate consent if the potential father has not also consented to provide for a child. Because I also value bodily autonomy, I get why the person carrying the pregnancy should not be forced to terminate a pregnancy unwanted by the father, but then also his support shouldn’t be legally required. It seems like society could create a pretty straightforward “non-consent” document for a potential father to relinquish parental rights and responsibilities and for a mother to consent to accepting those rights and responsibilities knowing that the father is declining to.

      I would be interested in hearing other perspectives on this.

      The damsel-in-distress version of this story has always rubbed me the wrong way — i.e. because a woman gets pregnant the man needs to “do right by her” regardless of what his needs or preferences are. But it does seem there needs to be some explicit conversation and agreement about roles and responsibilities, which would be a good thing in any case for two people who are about to be potentially responsible for a dependent for the next 18 years (minimum).

      • Aapje says:

        You need to keep in mind that feminism was so successful, but also was shaped, by appealing to the damsel-in-distress element of traditional gender roles. MRAs are on the opposite side of this and they get roughly zero legal and cultural consideration. Appealing to feminists to give up their most powerful weapon seems rather hopeless, like asking a hostage taker to let the hostage go, when they know that is the only thing keeping the police from attacking them.

        Ironically, the existence of such strong damsel-in-distress enculturation in men, is what allows feminism to keep claiming oppression by men, which almost no men are willing to push back against or in many cases even recognize the inequalities that harm men to the benefit of women.

        But it does seem there needs to be some explicit conversation and agreement about roles and responsibilities, which would be a good thing in any case for two people who are about to be potentially responsible for a dependent for the next 18 years (minimum).

        Damsel-in-distress is the doctrine of the state, as well as the doctrine of Western culture, so this conversation is not between equals. One side can defect from their agreed upon role and responsibilities at any time and get to legally force the other to comply, who cannot appeal to the law, nor use socially shaming.

        The only option is to appeal to women to not abuse their power too much and in particular, to use quid-pro-quo. For example, in relationships men have (just like women) some power to grant or withhold benefits of the relationship. Of course, when the relationship ends, this power largely ends as well, causing many women to wield the full force of the state against the man, shocking many men with how unfairly they are treated.

        • Andaro says:

          “The only option is to appeal to women to not abuse their power too much and in particular, to use quid-pro-quo.”

          I don’t know. Contraception has worked well for me too.

          • Aapje says:

            The pill is the most common contraceptive used in long term relationships, which means that the woman has the power to unilaterally decide to have kids, which seems a relatively accepted form of deception among women and in society in general (judging by how it is discussed).

            Once the woman is pregnant, the man is at the mercy of the woman.

            Of course, for short term relationships condoms are most commonly (also) used, which gives the man the power to remove it (although this is more obvious than the woman not taking the pill), as Julian Assange was supposedly wont to do. This seems to not be as accepted among men and society as the aforementioned not taking of the pill.

            In any case, if pregnancy results from the latter situation, the deceived party has the power to end it & thereby avoid the consequences, but not in the former situation.

          • Andaro says:

            Yes, all good points. Obviously, lying about contraception and similar tactics are hostile behaviors I personally would never tolerate without revenge (if detectable). You could also opt for a vasectomy if you’re super sure you never want kids. (I don’t have long-term relationships, so condoms were sufficient.)

        • cuke says:

          Just clarifying here that my intent was to support what Alex M was saying — which is that it’s worth talking about whether men can have “financial abortions.” My intention in saying I’m a feminist saying this is to say that consent and bodily autonomy are important values in the feminism I know, and that would centrally include men’s consent. And then implicitly that the “damsel in distress” view of women is not consistent with my experience of feminism.

          I don’t want to get into another conversation here about what you and I see feminism as being. I think we know from multiple past conversations that we have very different experiences of feminism.

          My intent was to say that in this conversation about the morality of abortion that men’s consent or lack thereof seems highly relevant to me in addition to the question of women’s bodily autonomy and that I’d like to hear more people’s thoughts on how the question of men’s consent fits in here.

          • Aapje says:

            Financial abortions are legally a non-starter due to precedent regarding parental responsibilities that parents have for children, as well as being in violation of human rights law. Allowing them would also necessitate ending college tuition obligations. So the financial repercussions would be huge and the UN are misandrist, so they will get angry over human rights violations that benefit men.

            A much more viable change, that would merely require applying the rules for parental responsibilities consistently and to not make an exception to human rights, would be to make shared custody the default. This was repeatedly opposed by NOW, the largest feminist organization in the US, based in large part on the false implied claim that men abuse children more often than women.

            I’m not arguing that your bubble of feminist friends are misandrist. I’m perfectly willing to believe that they are extremely egalitarian, consistent, etc.

            However, I’d like you to recognize that your bubble of friends are not a significant force in the power structure of the US. It’s objectively recognizable that:
            – There are some large feminists organizations
            – They themselves believe and outsiders believe, that they lobby effectively
            – They advocate certain policies
            – Those policies are not the ones that you are defending here

            Earlier you said that there “needs to be some explicit conversation and agreement about roles and responsibilities.” My claim is that this cannot happen as part of the feminist power structure, because it will not allow a fair debate.

  24. Etoile says:

    This is my favorite one so far! A very controversial issue, an honest take, with the opinions written out.

    One gap I would have liked to see addressed is a survey of the bad behaviors or hypocrisies both the pro-life and pro-choice sides engage in, and a discussion of how those could be rectified in an appropriate compromise.

    An example for each side of the aisle:

    -A common comment against pro-life people is that they “stop caring about the fetus once it’s born” — i.e., they don’t take seriously the negative financial, social, etc. consequences for the unwanted children and their mothers. Is this a valid claim? Do pro-life people engage in meaningful activism to foster adoption, adopt themselves, support programs that help all mothers and children, that sort of thing?
    -An accusation of pro-choice people I’ve heard (don’t know how common it is though) is that they purposefully insist on clinical terminology like “fetus” and “pregnancy termination” to obscure just how horrible a procedure abortion is; and why they are against graphic descriptions of what abortion entails.

    Edited to add:
    Also, is this argument just about whether abortion should be LEGAL, or if it should be financed by the state?

    • A common comment against pro-life people is that they “stop caring about the fetus once it’s born” — i.e., they don’t take seriously the negative financial, social, etc. consequences for the unwanted children and their mothers. Is this a valid claim? Do pro-life people engage in meaningful activism to foster adoption, adopt themselves, support programs that help all mothers and children, that sort of thing?

      I’m pro-choice, but the argument assumes that if abortion is banned, that something ought to be done to compensate the women who couldn’t get them and are inconvenienced as a result. If you view abortion as a moral evil akin to slavery, compensation might be considered for tactical reasons but won’t be viewed as a moral imperative. You also assume that there is a shortage of people who want to adopt infants(in reality there is a large surplus), and that “activism” in this area would make the situation better rather than worse.(Look up the cost of an adoption if you don’t see why I am cool toward “activists” here.)

    • blacktrance says:

      A common comment against pro-life people is that they “stop caring about the fetus once it’s born” – i.e., they don’t take seriously the negative financial, social, etc. consequences for the unwanted children and their mothers. Is this a valid claim?

      The pro-life position is that abortion is murder, so the apples-to-apples comparison is to attitudes towards normal murders. And opposition to murder doesn’t imply supporting would-be victims at your own (or taxpayer) expense.

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      I think pictures or descriptions of horrible-looking abortion procedures would not change my mind one way or the other. If a fetus is a morally relevant person, then abortion in most cases is murder and gruesome descriptions or pictures of the act won’t do anything more to convince me of that. If a fetus is not a morally relevant person, then my reactions to the depiction would be a misfiring of my moral sensibilities similar to my reaction when I stumble upon videos of weird people abusing toy dolls or whatever.

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      In response to your ETA: I think acceptable ranges of positions on either of those issues follow pretty straightforwardly from your opinion on whether abortion is generally analogous to contraception or generally analogous to infanticide.* For people who believe the formar, abortion should obviously be legal and whether it should be financed by the state is a budgeting issue. For those who believe the latter, it should probably be illegal in most cases (unless you think bans would be ineffective and cause more harm), and you almost certainly don’t want your taxes going to fund it.

      *I like this distinction, despite it presuming that you think contraception is obviously morally fine and infanticide is obviously horrible. This comment section has reminded me that I can’t take that for granted. Substitute “abstinence” and “murder” if necessary.

  25. Thecommexokid says:

    I feel like this one doesn’t really follow the rules of the contest

    You will write the essay as a united front. Please don’t write “Alice says this study proves guns save lives, but Bob says it’s wrong and this other study proves guns are bad.”

  26. Randy M says:

    I thought this was another well done collaboration, a little more on the debate side than the others but perhaps that’s largely due to the fact that the question leans heavily into ethics and philosophy.
    A few nits to pick, though.

    An alternative approach is to examine how pregnancy, childbirth and post-pregnancy changes affect overall mortality. According to the National Vital Statistics Reports (Volume 68, 2016), pregnancy and childbirth was the 6th leading cause of death for women(all races and ethnicities) aged 20-24 and 25-29, accounting for 652 deaths in the two groups combined. Pregnancy and childbirth was the 10th leading cause of death for women between the ages of 15-19 (28 deaths). These data indicate that pregnancy is a leading cause of death in women of child-bearing age. (4)

    But that’s 652 out of, what, 20 million? Happily, women of child-bearing age don’t die all that often.

    One study on this cohort found that mothers who were denied a wanted abortion due to gestational age experienced a significantly higher likelihood of being unemployed

    Women who postpone the abortion until the legal time has past do not seem like an identical group to those that are observant and conscientious enough to get it done on time.

    For example, in the U.S., there were approximately 18,000 adoptions compared with nearly 1 million abortions. A recent article in The Atlantic did an excellent job of summarizing potential reasons for the discrepancy. Adoption obviously does not alleviate the physical burdens and hazards of pregnancy. Additionally, several studies have suggested that women do not choose adoption due to worry about their perception of the emotional effect of giving away a child.

    I don’t doubt this as a reason, but it’s a pretty foreign mindset to me.

    Perhaps most importantly, women (or both parents) are denied agency and denied the ability to make the ethical decision for themselves according to their unique circumstances and beliefs.

    Is this really most important? Because it seems like it would have far reaching impact on our laws and regulations if a desire to allow agency was greater than a desire to achieve particular ends. I assume the author is a libertarian and opposes vice taxes and other forms of restrictions for all but the most certain harms to others?

    • NoRandomWalk says:

      Additionally, several studies have suggested that women do not choose adoption due to worry about their perception of the emotional effect of giving away a child.

      I’ve actually seen a lot of stuff on this. It makes complete sense to me and I find the literature persuasive. Having a kid will rewire you to love it in a big way (for obvious genetic/hormonal reasons). Terminating the progression of this transformation early is much more convenient.

    • zzzzort says:

      OK, the 652 number is complicated. The raw numbers are per 100,000 as is common for epidemiology stuff. But the authors seem to have added the numbers for two cohorts together. So 652 per 200,000 people (though that’s probably slightly weighted towards the older cohort). But the raw numbers are for both sexes, so (again approximately), 652 per 100,000 women.

  27. NoRandomWalk says:

    Is there an existing FAQ for why rationalists (or anyone, really) like reasoning from first principles, rather than backwards from isolated moral convictions?
    I.e., one could say
    A) I believe in general abstract notions like ‘happiness good/suffering bad’ or ‘freedom good/violation consent bad’ and see where that takes you, reconsidering the repugnancy of any resulting conclusions.
    or
    B) I’m a bit confused about what I believe, but I know that X (killing this very specific person in these very specific circumstances) seems right, doing Y is maybe iffy but I don’t care, and Z is wrong no matter how many ‘logical arguments’ you make in favor, so well let’s see what’s the most coherent story we can tell that preserves X, Y, Z.

    Is there a well justified consensus for why A) is better than B), or is it based on an empirical claim that preferences arrived at through path A) are more reflectively stable or something?

    • Dacyn says:

      It depends on how unfamiliar the situation being analyzed is. Our intuitions evolved in a certain context and we should be careful about applying them outside of that context. However, they don’t have no role in theoretical reasoning: a good test of a theory is how well it conforms to intuitions in the scenarios where we think intuition is valid. It also sometimes happens that learning about a theory may change your intuitions to be more in accord with the theory.

    • sty_silver says:

      I think the answer is most likely no – as in, such a FAQ doesn’t exist.

    • notpeerreviewed says:

      While I’m certain I’m oversimplifying the concept, I think “reflective equilibrium” refers to the idea that one should go back and forth between the two levels of analysis, making adjustments and smoothing out inconsistencies.

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      Agree with notpeerreviewed; the “rationalist consensus” (to the extent that there is one) seems to be that you should start with B, trying to reach consistent principles, then use A to apply them. When you reach a repugnant-seeming conclusion, consider whether to modify your principles to prevent it (B), or accept it and try to change your intuition (A), or some combination of both. The overarching A-like principle is “my moral preferences should be consistent, since if they contradict I will act irrationally and shoot myself in the foot,” but I think the general process is more B-like. You can get a very consistent moral system by axiomatically deriving all principles from “Happiness good, suffering bad!” but it will wildy diverge from your actual preferences and you won’t follow it (and shouldn’t!).

      To the extent that “rationality” = “belief in Eliezer Yudkowsky as the rightful caliph”, his metaethics sequence should answer your question pretty thoroughly.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Posting days later, but I have a possible answer not covered above: rationalism might in some cases be a reaction to reasoning that was backwards from isolated moral convictions that rationalists found distasteful. My interactions with (tbh, fellow) rationalists gives me the impression that they’re here because of irritation with bad arguments.

      Rationalism might be a reasoning about how reasoning ought to work better, itself reached by going backward from an isolated distaste of prior reasoning!

  28. Aapje says:

    For example, African-American women were three times as likely to die as a result of pregnancy than non-Hispanic white women (42.8 vs 13 per 100,000 live births).

    Are African-American women also much more likely to die from abortion complications? I suspect so, given that:
    – black women tend to have worse healthcare and more often no health insurance
    – black people have a worse socioeconomic background on average, which is correlated with worse outcomes
    – Kermit Gosnell seemed to have (very) disproportionately treated black (and Hispanic) women

    The current write up suggests that abortions might save black women’s lives in particular, but favoring abortions for that reason seems little different from favoring sterilization of low-socioeconomic groups to reduce bad outcomes. Most people seem to agree that the answer to kids of certain groups doing worse is to improve the outcomes for those kids, not to prevent them from being born. Similarly, if black women die more often from pregnancy, is the solution not to get them better healthcare/health outcomes, rather than abortions?

    What I’m missing from the ACC is a recognition that some and potentially many abortions are done to not have a child at that moment and thus don’t necessarily reduce the number of pregnancies that the woman will allow to run its course. A very common reason for an abortion seems to be that the mother is not ready for children at that moment.

    Presumably, these abortions often can’t be counted as a reduction in risk for the woman, because she will get pregnant later at a more opportune time, which the woman wouldn’t have done without the abortion. Note that in modern times, what is considered an opportune time is often during declining fertility, when there is an increased chance of complications.

    So the health impact of abortions that are done to time shift motherhood, is presumably: risks of abortion – (odds of not actually getting pregnant again later) * risks of pregnancy + (odds of getting pregnant again later) * additional risks of a late pregnancy.

    • sclmlw says:

      That’s a great point. I think the pro-choice side would argue that if a woman has an unwanted/unexpected pregnancy and chooses to have the child before she is ready (or is inhibited from choosing not to have the child) that the demands of newborn single motherhood will push her into a lower SES because she’ll be unable to overcome her new circumstances. If you’re poor, malnourished, and have no neonatal healthcare you need to build that up instead of having a child first. It’s harder to be flexible in building up your earning potential with a baby in tow.

      The studies they cite don’t support this conclusion. Instead, it looks like there’s a pre-existing difference between women who are on their game enough to know they should get an abortion before the gestational time-limit, and women who aren’t. The women turned away were disproportionately high-school dropouts, and black and Latina women. The study started with a population that was already skewed toward their results, so we can’t say the intervention matters so much as the selection criteria. That whole section should not be labelled as “SES costs of unwanted pregnancy” as the arrow of causation doesn’t appear to be pointing the right direction, but instead should be “Abortion gestational time limits affect women differently by SES”, since women of lower SES seem to wait longer in gestation to seek an abortion in the first place.

      If abortion is capable of improving SES, why doesn’t that bear out at a population level? This is a weaker challenge to the hypothesis, since there are going to be many other factors determining SES. We shouldn’t expect availability of abortion to cure all poverty ills. Still, conservatives like to throw out the mantra that the “three things you need to do to stay out of poverty are: 1.) graduate high school, B.) get a job, and Last.) get married before you have kids”. Given the prominence conservatives give to that last point, I wonder that the impact of abortion availability hasn’t had a more pronounced effect on SES. Maybe it’s because, as you suggest, an abortion doesn’t keep you from getting pregnant again a second time before you’re ready? I don’t think I know the population-level statistics on this discussion well enough to understand the dynamics at play here.

      If we have a goal to improve the lot of the poor, does it make sense to focus on broadening abortion availability to achieve that end? Does the evidence support this as a well-targeted approach? The data presented in the ACC submission are not strong, and based on what they cited here I would not look to abortion availability as in any way a good method to address poverty. Is there better evidence out there?

      • Aapje says:

        Still, conservatives like to throw out the mantra that the “three things you need to do to stay out of poverty are: 1.) graduate high school, B.) get a job, and Last.) get married before you have kids”.

        Actually, for women that is the progressive conservative mantra. The conservative conservative mantra for women is to remain a virgin until marriage, marry a good provider young and have children young.

        If abortion is capable of improving SES, why doesn’t that bear out at a population level?

        AFAIK, the data shows that low-SES women have children younger. I think that the causal mechanism is:
        1. Poor women have poor earning potential, even if they don’t have a child (they tend to lack IQ, wealth to buy opportunity, connections, role models, etc).
        2. Many of these women recognize sooner or later that they can’t follow the middle class path and instead, just choose to have a child, benefiting from welfare (which typically is more generous for single mothers).

        Ironically, it’s probably increased egalitarianism that cut off the conservative conservative option for low-SES women. It used to be fairly common for men to see low-SES women as an option. Now with 2-earner households being the norm, the job competition that traditionally mostly just used to exist for men, extended to women.

        If this is correct, then abortion is not going to help or harm most of these women, since their earning potential, as well as opportunity to move up through marriage, is low.

  29. alwhite says:

    I feel like the questions that are tackling moral or ethical issues are avoiding a lot of work in ethics itself. For example, this question would probably be clearer if it were “Is abortion consistent with utilitarianism?” A clear and established ethics that can be addressed. This approach does cut out a lot of people from the discussion though, because all those people have different ethical systems than utilitarianism. Therefore, we need a view of how different ethical systems interact with each other and how to agree on what is important between those systems.

  30. DinoNerd says:

    This is a very fraught topic, but FWIW, I reacted badly to the title – probably because I’m reading it in terms of moral absolutes. I.e. the tired old tradeoff between the life of the mother and the life of the child. Without even reading the collaboration, I’d answer “if the alternative is the mother’s death, it’s never morally wrong” – i.e. wrong question; it’s not entirely about a stage of fetal development. If the baby in that example is viable using affordable technology, it would be a good thing to do keep it alive and rear it. It also might be impossible or unwise for the parents to do so – e.g. the case where affordability is marginal, and survival unlikely.

    With a moral system that recognizes trade-offs, this woudn’t be an issue, since the developmental stage of the potential infant is clearly a relevant question. But net.arguments generally don’t recognize tradeoffs ;-(

    • thevoiceofthevoid says:

      I doubt either collaborator disagrees with you about abortion to save the life of the mother being morally permissible, nor claims that the question is entirely about stage of development. I’m under the impression that the main question they were debating (and thus a more technically correct title for the piece) would be “When during fetal development does the fetus become something/someone whose murder would be a large moral negative, enough to outweigh the suffering of a typical pregnant woman who seeks an abortion?”

  31. thinkingfor10minutes says:

    I really like that this collaboration has a strong focus on moral aspect of the abortion, unlike the collaboration on circumcision. As a side note, does “future like ours” argument apply to other situations? Does circumcision rob an infant of a little bit of “future like ours”? Does overly strict parenting robs a child of a bit of “future like ours”, where the child becomes a well-paid doctor instead of a successful but underpaid artist?

    Where do supporters of FLO draw the line?

    • TracingWoodgrains says:

      There’s no clear line, just a lot of gradients. The core message of considering the argument is that future considerations, not only present ones, matter a great deal. Suicide is another clear-cut example where the FLO argument rears its head: I consider it unethical outside of cases of terminal illness and extreme old age because you are killing future-you, not just present-you. Situations less severe than killing have proportionally less moral weight, but the examples you raise are both certainly arguable along those lines.

      • Andaro says:

        The whole point of suicide is prevent a future you from existing who doesn’t want to exist.

        • NoRandomWalk says:

          The claim is that present you wants future you to not exist, but future you might want to exist, and now wont.

          • Andaro says:

            Or future you might not want to exist, and now will, because you forced the issue on a person who didn’t consent.

          • NoRandomWalk says:

            Yes, exactly!
            I agree that there is a potential downside in both cases neither of which is the bigger concern in all cases.

            That’s why the discussion is about in which cases preferences to commit suicide are stable, or have lower weight.
            @TracingWoodgrains if you knew it as logical certainty a healthy person would for the rest of their long, healthy life continue to want to commit suicide would you object to them doing so?

          • TracingWoodgrains says:

            Nope. It’s the lack of logical certainty alone that creates the dilemma, given credence by the frequency of people who report changing their mind after suicide attempts.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @Andaro

            The large number of previously-suicidal people who are no longer suicidal suggests that future you is significantly more likely to want to exist.

  32. Jaskologist says:

    Up until this morning, I considered the silence about abortion to be a major indictment of the general Rationalist community’s moral reasoning. A thousand units of caring for chickens, but none for humans! I was wrong and will need to reevaluate.

    • aristides says:

      I think abortion is an underexamined Part of EA and rationalism for two reasons. First, it makes for uncomfortable bedfellows. The most prevalent Pro life advocates are very religious, and there is an understandable discomfort between the two. A rationalist working for a pro life non profit would be a great asset, but they would likely have some difficulties getting along with their coworkers and would alienate some of their closest rationalist friends at the same time.

      Second, EAs that have the intuition that abortion is murder, of which I include myself, Also have the intuition that x-risks are the absolute worst thing that could ever happen. FLV lost because of an extinction is of major importance. Abortion kills 42 million fetuses a year, but that is a drop in the bucket compared to how many lives would never get to live if an extinction level event occurs. I’ve considered many times working with a pro life nonprofit, but even if I could prevent a 100 abortions, if my current roll has a 0.00000001% chance of preventing an extinction level pandemic, it’s much more important.

    • NoRandomWalk says:

      Abortion is in practice a partisan issue. You might also ask why rationalists dont spend a lot of time debating politics under the guise of ‘is mindkiller, which is why only we the de biased people can be trusted with power haha!’.

      I for one appreciate that they’ve avoided this particular failure mode, even at the tradeoff of some issues being potentially under addressed.

      • sty_silver says:

        The common wisdom wrt politics is also that personal intervention is low impact, so it doesn’t really hurt to avoid the topic.

      • MugaSofer says:

        Arguably vegetarianism/animal rights are also partisan – they’re enormously more popular with the left than with the right.

        [EDIT: I say this as a pro-life vegetarian.]

    • sty_silver says:

      I’m not sure if I’m representative, but I find the question “When During Fetal Development Does Abortion Become Morally Wrong?” to be almost entirely meaningless. It obviously doesn’t have an answer because fetal development isn’t the only relevant factor. I think you basically need to tolerate a non-consequentialist approach to think that it is possible, even in principle, to answer this question.

      And EAs probably tend to be consequentialists.

      • Johnny4 says:

        Sure, the question is badly worded from a consequentialist perspective, but if some standard form of consequentialism is correct the answer is: usually from conception. I mean, consequentialists are plausibly stuck with the Repugnant Conclusion! But even setting that aside, the value of a human life is typically much greater than the disvalue of an unwanted pregnancy, and so maximizing value requires keeping the pregnancy (in typical cases). Consequentialism is a demanding theory!

        • thevoiceofthevoid says:

          “Consequentialism” is broad enough that you can easily have a variety that escapes the Repugnant Conclusion; for example, preference utilitarianism. People who don’t yet exist don’t have preferences you need to account for, so the creation of new people is by default morally neutral (positive if existing people want new people to exist; negative if existing people don’t want more people to exist) according to preference utilitarian consequentialism.

          • Johnny4 says:

            I agree that in principle there are versions of Consequentialism that escape the Repugnant Conclusion, but not popular ones like preference utilitarianism! Do you have someone in mind that defends that claim? Typical/popular forms of consequentialism don’t say “maximize value V for currently existing beings in class C”, they say “maximize value V”. If what has value is the satisfaction of preferences, then consequentialism says to maximize the satisfaction of preferences, which in typical cases will counsel against abortion (since typical lives contribute positively to overall preference satisfaction), but/and for similar reasons will lead to the repugnant conclusion.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @Johnny4
            I don’t remember exactly whose writing I read on the topic, but I personally flirt with it sometimes so I’m willing to defend it. The formulation I saw went something along the lines of: Minimize the distance of the current state of the world from the state derived from an average of every currently-existing person’s preferred world-state (with each subcomponent weighted by strength of preference).
            Hmmm, just thought of a couple ways this can fail horribly. Namely if a huge number of aliens show up with a strong preference for the violent torture of inferior species. Or if (to get around my first band-aid of limiting “people” to “humans”) they shoot mind-lasers that turn half the population into murder-sadists. Can I patch that out by only accounting for what people want now? Or what humans-with-intact-minds want? I think I’m probably on the road to just redeveloping something like Yudkowsky’s CEV.

          • Johnny4 says:

            @thevoiceofthevoid
            Well, I don’t think there are good patches for such problems–that’s why I’m not a consequentialist!–but there are two species of problems worth keeping separate I think. There are problems that arise for basically all plausible forms of consequentialism, and then there are problems that arise if you only “count” value generated for currently existing things. Your alien example is of the first kind, I think: relevantly similar to forced organ donation cases. Such problems have been widely discussed but there’s not much room for a solution, other than pointing out that such cases are fairly rare and that it might be hard to distinguish such cases from other cases that seem ok (e.g., mandatory vaccination regimes that are guaranteed to save 12% of people but will kill 2%).

            Restricting who “counts” to currently existing beings generates all sorts of new problems though: basically, that would mean that we should completely discount the effects our actions will have on future generations, which is pretty counterintuitive, and out of step with the general “vibe” of most consequentialists/consequentialist reasoning.

        • sty_silver says:

          I don’t think that’s true at all. What thevoiceofthevoid said is one reason, but we can even suppose classical hedonic utilitarianism. The first thing you ignore is that the mother could have a different child instead, which would then immedaitely be a net-benefit if the cihld is better off. Even if she doesn’t have another chid instead, it’s totally unclear whether a new child is a net benefit to society – it’s both unclear whether it would be good for the child, and good for everyone else. If it was, there would be a similarly strong case that everyone not currently having a child should get on with having one.

          If the mother is an EA, then the resources spent to raise a child are probably allocated suboptimally – but you said “typical cases”, so I guess we can ignore that one.

          • Johnny4 says:

            @sty_silver
            Well, that’s why I said “usually” and “typically”. Usually, someone who procures an abortion doesn’t just then have another child instead.

            And while I grant that some human lives are a net negative when it comes to overall value, most human lives are a significant positive. (If that wasn’t true, utilitarianism would say that murder was ok!) I think it’s pretty generally accepted that typical forms of consequentialism plausibly entail that we should get on with having kids, this (in extreme form) is what the whole literature on the repugnant conclusion is about.

  33. caryatis says:

    I would have liked to see a true “pro-choice” perspective (yes, I hate that term too), in other words a person who is believes there is no moral problem with abortion, period. I wonder if future adversarial collaborators would consider a three-person collaboration for cases like this (and the vegetarianism piece too) where the two initial collaborators are, so to speak, black and grey, rather than black and white.

    • NoRandomWalk says:

      Can you elaborate more on why you think a ‘pro-choice’ person might be pro choice?

      I might be actually pro choice, mostly because I think continuity of identity is the only thing that really makes *you,* you. Because of that, I don’t really value an existing life more than a hypothetical one until it becomes predictive of its future life.

      Unfortunately, this means I am okay (in theory, maybe, haven’t thought through the implications) with early childhood infanticide, if allowing for it did not affect the long term population rate (at which point one could make a utilitarian argument, but it doesn’t seem relevant since almost no one who cares about abortion cares about if it affects long term population rate from what I’ve seen). Who I will be when I die (just before which I would object to being killed!) is a completely different person from who I was after birth. Maybe around age 4, if you squint, you could identify some meaningful similarities. But my personality was changed by the environment in meaningful ways not predetermined by genes drastically by age 12 or so, at which point *me* became more or less consistent.

      But I suspect if I was doing the collaboration, almost no one would find the perspective relevant.

      I suspect you want to see a collab with someone ‘more pro choice, but still recognizable as typical person’; but I guess I don’t know that many people who are as pro choice as you define pro choice? For example, in america I would guess 96%+ of people would, having thought about it, object to abortion after viability/later trimester, and 99%+ would the literal moment before birth.

      • caryatis says:

        >I suspect you want to see a collab with someone ‘more pro choice, but still recognizable as typical person’; but I guess I don’t know that many people who are as pro choice as you define pro choice? For example, in america I would guess 96%+ of people would, having thought about it, object to abortion after viability/later trimester, and 99%+ would the literal moment before birth.

        You don’t need to guess about this. There’s a lot of polling data out there. This survey link text suggests 13% of Americans think third-trimester abortion should generally be legal. (Edit: more than half support third-trimester abortion in cases of rape.) I don’t know, but I suspect some portion of those would continue to think it should be legal in the ninth month. (Third trimester is easier to ask about than viability because people have different definitions of viability).

        Your perspective is interesting, but I would have liked to see some representation of the more mainstream pro-choice perspective: that unwanted childbirth is so very bad for women as to outweigh any rights the potential human might have. Some people justify this by rejecting the idea that future humans have moral worth.

        The collaborators here discussed some harms to women from unwanted childbirth (mortality, postpartum depression), but I don’t think they covered the full spectrum.

        • NoRandomWalk says:

          Thanks for clarifying, that makes sense!

        • Johnny4 says:

          I don’t think unwanted childbirth, in general, could be so bad as to outweigh any rights or value that a fetus might have. I mean, most human lives are worth vastly more than $20K. I am willing to bet that a huge number of people who get abortions would have been willing to deliver the baby for $20K. Don’t you think that’s right? And of course, the real value of a human life is much higher.

      • mercutio says:

        I was coming to say something very similar to you!

        I think infanticide is potentially tragic for the family, and sad for people hoping to adopt (because at the point that there’s a viable infant, there’s very little cost to dropping the kid off at a fire station), but I don’t think it’s intrinsically immoral.

        Supporting newborns has a very high cost to families, emotionally and physically, and even after birth I don’t consider a newborn human sufficiently advanced as a being that they have rights that are meaningful in comparison to fully conscious adults.

        I’m perfectly comfortable with making infanticide illegal as a Schelling point, but not because the death of an infant is much more consequential than the death of a fetus. Both are sad, neither should be common, and in a wealthy society, the former (infanticide) should be avoidable without meaningful cost to the mother.

        But people’s moral intuition distinguishing infants and fetuses just seems foreign to me (and I say this as a happy father).

        This is all leaving aside the much more important bodily autonomy arguments for abortion, which I believe in overwhelmingly strongly. Humans should have the right to extinguish any and all parasites attached to their body, regardless of the level of consciousness of those parasites, or whether some other human might have wished for that particular parasite to grow into a new being.

        • gallowstree says:

          I did a ctrl-F for “autonomy” and the only hits were in the comments. I understand that the focus of this debate was on fetal development, but it’s somewhat surprising to me that the authors didn’t explicitly acknowledge the overwhelming moral force of bodily autonomy against which any claims about the fetus must compete (although I did appreciate them highlighting the risks of pregnancy and child birth). To my mind, you need an incredibly strong ethical conclusion to bend someone else’s body to your wishes. By icerun’s own admission, the “conception” position does not meet that standard.

    • DocKaon says:

      I’m pro-choice because every other option results in clearly results greater human suffering. A legal enforcement methodology similar to how we currently enforce laws in democratic societies is completely ineffective against abortion. There are too many ways to do it, the state has no knowledge of when women are pregnant and it’s not universally condemned resulting in too many people willing to help conduct abortions. Therefore all outlawing abortion does is move abortions from under medical supervision to underground resulting in increased death and suffering for women and approximately the same number of abortions. Unless you begin monitoring women’s pregnancy state and then dramatically curtail their freedoms once they become pregnant you won’t significantly impact abortion rates. This is effectively requiring a police state for women between 12 and 50.

      It doesn’t matter what moral value you give to abortion as long as you ascribe some value to women’s lives and freedoms, pro-choice is the only viable stance.

      • Etoile says:

        “Ascribe some value to women’s lives and freedoms –> abortion is the only viable (get it?) stance” is hyperbolic, I’d say. Nobody believes in full, consequence-free existence for anyone, men or women, and I don’t think that’s what you’re advocating. Many of our choices at Time T_0 limit and direct our actions at time T_1, and that’s nature – can’t be avoided.
        So to take the argument at face value, let’s say a woman a wanted child, who was born and just cries for three months non-stop – a MAJOR hamper on her life and freedom, I can tell you. Should she be allowed to 1) kill that baby? 2) starve it? 3) give it away without providing for its future? Is society obligated to let her make this choice consequence-free, cost-free, and as convenient as possible (because giving away a child is not actually an easy decision).
        I think most people would say “no”, but I think caryatis above wanted to hear from someone who did believe this – or who thought that a basically full child (say, two days before labor begins) should still be abortable in-utero, and that’s okay. Do you think that’s okay?
        It’s a hard question, because in general, a lot of our “social contract” theories break down when kids are factored in.

        Edited: typo

      • Therefore all outlawing abortion does is move abortions from under medical supervision to underground resulting in increased death and suffering for women and approximately the same number of abortions.

        My general assumption is that if you make something harder to do, people are less likely to do it. Would you also say that the various hospital regulations and hoops women have to go through in red states to get them have no effect on abortion numbers? Because the pro-choice side is generally arguing that they do.

  34. NoRandomWalk says:

    I might have an unusual perspective, curious if others share it.

    It’s not obvious to me that there is a bright line anywhere, including at birth.
    I care about my present because I am me. I care about living to 82 vs 81, more than I value the same of a friend, to the extent that I expect to not be a completely different person at age 81 from who I am now.

    Also, “The future of a fetus are those unrealized experiences the fetus will have if its development is not impeded.” is doing a lot of work here. Setting aside how much ‘effort’ it takes to make sure a kid doesn’t die for 5 (or 13) years, under this framework, because that fetus hasn’t developed an identity yet it wouldn’t matter if that particular fetus developed an identity, or any other.

    And so I would have been curious to see some discussion as to the extent to which access to abortion does/does not affect the long term population size.

    I recognize my perspective is weird. Partly this is because age 3 me was a bit of a tyrant and completely different from who I am now (present me wouldn’t value the life of age 3 me nearly as much as I value my life now, and I consider age 3 me a lot less me than age 81 me will probably be). And also, to the extent genes determine my personality/intelligence/etc i.e. how close I am to me, assuming my mom has 2 kids 1 aborted (happens to be the case), was in likelihood mostly determined by what sperm/egg got randomly selected, than on whether *I* was lucky enough to have come form the non-aborted historical line.

    • Dacyn says:

      I am a little confused, do you value things that have identities continuing to have identities, or do identities allow you to evaluate whether you like something enough to want it to continue? If the first then your views sound pretty standard, but if the second then it sounds like you are saying you would be OK with killing a bunch of random people you didn’t know, if this caused there to be more people later (and didn’t cause too bad knock-on effects).

      • NoRandomWalk says:

        @Dacyn
        I’m saying that I personally value living in a world where I can continue to have the same identity.
        I would be genuinely indifferent between someone giving *my body* a pill that would randomly assign me a different personality, and someone killing me but also creating another person.

        This is relevant because, analogously, I feel that the ‘relevant moral threshold point’ is related to when a person develops a somewhat stable identity; which I think is long after birth.

        • Dacyn says:

          So, you are saying that you think the reason it is wrong to kill a stranger and replace them with two other people is that the stranger probably won’t want it because they value their own continuity of identity? And that although you personally don’t care about the stranger’s continuity of identity, you find it important to protect their right to it?

          Again, I think this is not that weird, though maybe the way you frame it is a little weird.

          • NoRandomWalk says:

            It leads me to a weird conclusion that others don’t share/find repugnant; so either I’m not explaining myself correctly or it is indeed weird, no?

            Umm, more precisely I think how bad it is to kill one stranger and create another is a function of how long/strongly they would maintain the same identity in the alternative where they didn’t die.

          • Dacyn says:

            Sure, that seems like a reasonable addendum.

            I should clarify, when I say “not that weird” I mean I have met several people whose beliefs seem fairly similar to yours. I don’t mean that not a lot of people disagree with you; they do. (For example I disagree with you.) But that’s true of basically any ethical system you could have.

  35. caryatis says:

    Was either of the collaborators female?

    • Dacyn says:

      Uh, is this relevant? Women may experience stronger emotions about this issue but it’s not clear they necessarily know more about it. (Maybe I am misunderstanding your intent with this question, but I am annoyed by “Men shouldn’t talk about abortion by themselves” memes.)

      If one collaborator is a woman, the other should be a fetus 😛 (Or someone who survived an abortion, for a more realistic example.)

  36. Andaro says:

    I don’t think it’s morally wrong to kill suicidal people (with their consent). Killing infants is emotionally unpleasant and the parents usually are against it, and we usually don’t have good reasons to kill infants. That’s enough not to go around killing random infants most of the time, but I don’t think it’s intrinsically wrong either (if we had good reasons and the parents consented, I would have no big problem living in a society that kills infants).

    As for future potential, Ttar is right that this proves too much; the logical conclusion would probably be a maximization imperative for some tiling solution in aggregate consequentialism (hedonium or some derivative, depending on exact formalization of value). It’s clear that we have little reasons to want that.

    The self-interested argument that we don’t want to normalize murder because it would increase our own probability to be murdered is the most solid, but there’s really no reason why we should extend it to any entity that either can’t or won’t reciprocate; and we don’t need to extend it to entities who have no preference for continued existence (unconscious people usually have one before they become unconscious, so we can work with their last known preference, or plausibly assumed preference, even if they don’t currently have one). This obviously allows abortion.

    • mercutio says:

      Infanticide supports of the world unite!

      In all seriousness, I too do not consider infanticide in societies that don’t have highly developed and humane no fault adoption mechanisms particularly problematic. My problem with infanticide in India and China is about sex selection at a macro scale.

      So arguments that start from “well, obviously infanticide is abhorrent, let’s triangulate” usually leave me wanting to expand the Overton window.

    • inhibition-stabilized says:

      I don’t think it’s morally wrong to kill suicidal people (with their consent).

      The problem I see with this is that true consent is hard to come by when people are suicidal. Many if not most people who commit suicide experience depression or other psychiatric disorders; substance abuse is also a major risk factor. In addition, most people who attempt suicide end up regretting it. Getting consent for suicide only makes sense if we assume people are more or less rational and always in control of their own minds, which is not at all the case.

      If we could be fairly certain that someone who wanted euthanasia was not experiencing psychiatric illness, under extreme duress, etc. then (if I were, for some reason, in a position to make this kind of judgement) I would be inclined to allow euthanasia. But almost all cases of suicide are not like this at all.

      (Edited to fix the second link)

      • Andaro says:

        Endless rationalizations. Consent matters unless you don’t want it to matter. We will of course reciprocate and use it against you too: Your consent won’t matter if we don’t want it to matter.

        • inhibition-stabilized says:

          Consent matters exactly insofar as it is actually consent. Animals are generally viewed as unable to give consent, while humans generally are. Somewhere between animals and humans we go from “organism incapable of giving consent” to “organism capable of giving consent.” Likewise, people being subjected to torture are generally viewed as unable to give consent, while people not under duress generally are. Given my (admittedly limited) understanding of the literature on suicide and psychiatric disorders, it seems reasonable to draw the line the way I did.

          Your consent won’t matter if we don’t want it to matter.

          Sure, let’s make this personal: If you became aware that I was considering suicide and you had good reason to believe that I was experiencing severe depression, substance abuse, or otherwise not in my right mind, then yes, I hope you would completely ignore my desire to die and take steps to prevent me from committing suicide.

          I’m not trying to take consent lightly, but in cases where human life is on the line we have to be much more careful that consent is genuine.

          • Andaro says:

            If you don’t trust your future self on the matter, how bout you sign a pre-commitment contract with the government instead of forcing the rest of us who explicitly reject such coercion for our person? Seriously, this shouldn’t even be a discussion. You’re not going to pay my rent for the rest of my life, let alone actually compensate me for the expected disutility, so maybe let me decide whether the tradeoff is worth it or not.

          • NoRandomWalk says:

            @inhibition
            Similar to how we have DNR’s, if someone signed expressly a letter that said ‘if in future I plan to commit suicide for reasons that society thinks confound consent, don’t stop me’ would you be fine with society respecting such an earlier (unconfounded) expression of consent?

          • inhibition-stabilized says:

            If such a system were remotely feasible to implement, I think I would support it, under the conditions that (a) there’s some effort made to verify that someone signing such a letter was not already depressed, etc. and (b) you have to explicitly ask not to be stopped, rather than the other way around as Andaro suggested. Given the evidence from psychology our baseline should be that people attempting suicide are not in their right minds.

          • Andaro says:

            Reminds me of a joke: “Of course suicide is a sign of mental illness – just look at their suicide rate!”

            Suicidal thoughts themselves are enough to get you diagnosed as depressed. And since we all know depressed people can’t give informed consent to anything, that also means they don’t need rights. How convenient.

          • Desertopa says:

            @Andaro,

            Pre-commitment contracts with the government aren’t a service the government actually offers though, or shows any sign of planning to offer in the future. Contracts require a party willing to act as enforcer to the contract, and the government doesn’t make itself available as an enforcer for any and all types of contracts.

          • Andaro says:

            Desertopia, just make it opt-out then. You sign, wait 6 months, then you have suicide rights.

          • Dacyn says:

            If someone has stable preferences for a long enough time e.g. a year, I think they should be respected regardless of whether society thinks they are “in their right mind” or not. Depressive episodes generally last less than a year so that should not be an issue.

            I don’t think that this system requires too much overhead, as you don’t actually have to psychologically evaluate anyone.

          • Desertopa says:

            @Andaro,

            Who makes the contract opt-out? That doesn’t get around the issue that the government doesn’t have any interest in being party to these contracts as an enforcer.

          • Andaro says:

            You’re basically saying, the government has no interest in people having rights, therefore we should just accept that we don’t have rights.

            The only reason we don’t have suicide rights is because government uses systematic physical force to make sure we don’t have this right.

          • Desertopa says:

            The government doesn’t have a universal interest in enforcing every hypothetical contract.

            If suicide were made legal, it wouldn’t mean that the government would be willing to enforce pre-commitment contracts regarding suicide; it already doesn’t enforce other types of personal pre-commitment contracts.

            I agree that their situations where suicide may be rationally appropriate, but this isn’t a situation with a simple fix according to existing legal structures.

          • thevoiceofthevoid says:

            @Andaro

            The only reason we don’t have suicide rights is because government uses systematic physical force to make sure we don’t have this right.

            ???
            If you’re living in a developed nation, suicide is not illegal. I presume you’re upset about involuntary psychiatric commitment, which I agree is a very thorny issue. Our host makes some arguments here that I found persuasive for why suicidal people should be discouraged or prevented from commiting suicide.

          • Andaro says:

            @Desertopia

            “The government doesn’t have a universal interest in enforcing every hypothetical contract.”

            Why are you moving the goalposts so ridiculously? I never claimed it does.

            “If suicide were made legal, it wouldn’t mean that the government would be willing to enforce pre-commitment contracts regarding suicide”

            I’d be perfectly happy to just allow it for all who want it. But since the default is coercion, at least government should distinguish between those who want to opt out of the coercive regime and those who don’t. Since you’re worried about temporary depression, I called that “pre-commitment” because you’re making a statement about what choices your future self should have. Of course, I’m not the one arguing that these choices should be reduced at all. You’re the ones who want paternalism, so it’s your responsibility to implement a way so that it doesn’t impact the rest of us. Why should your lack of trust in your own ability to make choices impact my liberty to make choices? This is your problem, not mine. You make it mine by using coercion and then rationalizing why there should be no exceptions. The only way to opt out of the coercive regime is to move to Switzerland, which is luckily not illegal, but still a pathetic embarrassment for the countries whose citizens move to Switzerland just to have basic self-determination rights.

            @thevoiceofthevoid

            Involuntary commitment of competent suicidal people is an obvious human rights violation that should be illegal; also there’s criminal penalties in many countries for assisting a suicide, while “assistance” often just means writing a prescription for deadly substances that you can’t legally get without a prescription. There’s also substances which are further legally restricted, like pentobarbital, which are optimal for use in suicide. Of course, all these restrictions should only be for those who believe suicide is a sin or who have actually agreed to the paternalism, not forced on those who reject it.

          • The only reason we don’t have suicide rights is because government uses systematic physical force to make sure we don’t have this right.

            For most people, the government doesn’t have the power to enforce a law against suicide, even if such a law exists, although it can engage in forms of post-mortem punishment, such as not letting heirs inherit or burying the body in unsanctified ground.

          • Andaro says:

            David, you’re a smart man but in this case it would have been smarter if you’d read the comment just above yours. Suicide rights aren’t about punishing dead people, they’re also about availability of good methods, which governments restrict, and about the legal practice of involuntary confinement of suicidal people.

  37. Zephalinda says:

    I was surprised to see this topic as an adversarial collaboration. It doesn’t work particularly well, and tbh I would question whether any morality/ethics-focused topics work well with this framework.

    I thought this contest was designed to produce “More Than You Wanted To Know”-style deep dives into the research literature, showing how two people who disagree about contentious points of fact can use effortful inquiry to clarify the issue according to our current best evidence. This process could work OK for a fact-based subpart of a big ethical question (“At what point in gestation can fetuses feel pain?”). It just barely works for questions that have a utilitarian framework already baked into the language of the topic, so the remainder of the post can focus on the facts (“Does eating animals cause net harm?”). But resolving an open moral question like “Is it immoral to kill [organism]?” is a question of choice of premises, not of empirical data. So instead of a fun effortpost where everybody learns something, you get basically a barroom debate sprinkled with a little superficial research (CDC.gov, really?) that imho does not match the spirit of the competition.

    • Wency says:

      I strongly agree.

      I can only see two ways to make these sorts of morality collaborations work:

      (1) The collaborators happen to agree entirely in their moral premises. This doesn’t work super-well with SSC — even among utilitarians, the seemingly-dominant group here, there’s too much difference in premises. It would probably work best within a religious community.

      (2) Their moral conclusions, while based on different premises, happen to hinge on largely the same points of fact. The second case is why “net harms” topics might sort of work, so long as the “harms” being discussed are broadly relevant.

    • Dacyn says:

      Agreed. I think this is why there was so much back-and-forth despite the fact that an adversarial collaboration should be about writing down common conclusions.

    • Etoile says:

      Disagree. As I sort of pointed out below, I would have liked to see a more detailed exploration of tactics, hypocrisies, and misdeeds the actual pro-life and pro-choice movements engage in, and discussion of actual policies and side controversies (bans on partial birth abortions, requiring trans-vaginal ultrasounds before abortions, the Planned Parenthood stuff); but there’s only so much scope that two people can cover in a limited amount of time.
      I think that this sort of clear statement of positions and disagreements is precisely the thing for a very controversial issue.
      In fact, I think they appropriately chose the title to define and bound the SPECIFIC sub-question on Abortion that they were addressing, because there are many more.

      • Wency says:

        I don’t see how this was a collaboration. It wasn’t even anything like a survey of moral arguments for or against. Just an abortion debate between the authors’ two idiosyncratic, poorly-defined moral systems.

        If they had focused on policy, or actual effects of abortion, this could have been productive. I feel like you could have a very interesting collaboration just on the question, “Does/did legalized abortion reduce crime?”, as the Freakonomics guys posited some time ago. Or perhaps, “What are the effects of criminalizing abortion?”

        But if they want to talk ethics, they at least need to define their moral framework.
        “When does abortion become morally wrong, per Kant’s categorical imperative?” Or Thomism, Millian utilitarianism, DCT, natural law, whatever.

        If they can’t agree to Kant’s categorical imperative, then the collaboration becomes “What are the merits of Kant’s categorical imperative?” Which sounds like a bad idea to me, but still slightly better than what we got.

      • thevoiceofthevoid says:

        I don’t think an investigation of “tactics, hypocrisies, and misdeeds the actual pro-life and pro-choice movements engage in” would shed any light on the morality of abortion itself. People can use immoral tactics to argue for a morally correct position, and people can kindly and respectfully argue for immoral positions. Learning that pro-choice activists spend their spare time kicking puppies or that pro-life activists park in handicapped spaces tells you nothing about about whether abortion is actually acceptable or abhorrent. If everyone who supported one side was a proud puppy-kicker it might make you question their arguments, but I think there are enough not-obviously-evil people on both sides to take both positions seriously.

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      +1

    • brownbat says:

      I think you’re right that the philosophical / ethical questions need to be treated more carefully to avoid bar debates, but I’m slightly more optimistic, I think this could still work with slightly clearer goalposts.

      E.g., the goal on these topics should be to produce something that would read like an entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy — dispassionately review and summarize all the leading academic arguments out there, rather than just picking one that appeals to you.

  38. Prokopton says:

    First comment, here we go.

    Many arguments for and against abortion pick out a characteristic of the fetus – its size, level of consciousness, ability to feel pain, etc. – and go on to argue why this characteristic, or lack of one, gives the fetus a right to life. Unfortunately, these characteristics tend to have accidental byproducts – they may give the right to life to sheep or remove it from infants.

    I find the links between veganism, euthanasia and abortion debates interesting, they are all about delineating what beings you are allowed to kill. I find most arguments to be pretty boring though, since they seem to “work backwards”, being more about finding an explanation that matches the way this is done in the arguers cultural context, rather than actually trying to work from first principles. Rejecting arguments based on them having “accidental byproducts” is a good example of motivated reasoning.

    I find Peter Singers’ “Practical Ethics” to be an interesting analysis, the basic idea presented in the book is:

    1. “Human” is a term we use to name a cluster in thingspace.
    2. If we go by a preference utilitarian ethical framework, belonging to that cluster is an arbitrary/ weak reason for rights.
    3. Instead we define two new clusters: 1: beings that feel pain. 2: beings that has preferences for their own future states.
    4. In most cases it’s morally wrong to harm any lifeform that can sense pain, including infants, rabbits and similar.
    5. It’s morally neutral to euthanise a being in cluster 1 if you do it painlessly.
    6. It’s morally right to euthanise a being in cluster 1 if their projected pleasure/pain ratio is too far skewed to pain.
    7. Killing a sleeping cluster 2 individual is morally wrong, if you violate previously held preferences for ther future state.
    8. It’s morally right to euthanise a cluster 2 individual if they have a preference for dying.

    It being morally neutral to kill infants harmlessly seems horrible from my cultural context, but I’m well aware that it has been precticed in a lot of places. I guess the fact that it turns morally wrong if doing so is agains the preferences of parents/relatives would make it de facto moraly wrong in pretty much all contexts.

    • Desertopa says:

      Although it’s kind of a socially charged direction to take the discussion, my first thought on reading the “accidental byproducts” argument was “that kind of reasoning a couple centuries ago might just as easily have rejected an argument for the implication that it implies a right to freedom for slaves.” Besides which, many people only manage not to be horrified by what goes on in the meat industry by scrupulously not paying attention to it, which doesn’t say a lot for the idea that people’s moral intuitions ought to be coherent with their acceptance of it.

    • sclmlw says:

      I agree that most arguments work backward from intuitions rather than forward from first principles. We might ask why that is. I’m not a neuroscientist, but my understanding of current theory is that concepts are generalized by the brain by collecting examples and extrapolating into vague ideas. The way the brain does not seem to work is by defining specific first principles and working from there.

      For example, the concept of a ‘bird’ includes ostriches, penguins, eagles, and sparrows; but not bats, moths, and airplanes. We can define a bird after the fact, but intuitions guide our mental models as we see new examples of the conceptual set and exclude examples that don’t match the set. Scott has talked about this categorization concept in previous SSC posts.

      What’s interesting to me is that when we tried to program computers to identify something like a bird or a dog by working from first principles we had little success at high-fidelity image recognition. However when we trained them using large sets of images that included in-set and out-of-set examples to work from they developed much better image recognition.

      What we have in the abortion debate seems to be a difference of categorization of ‘a person’, which produces dramatic differences in moral imperatives. If a fetus is not ‘a person’, then giving it value in the face of human struggles and suffering is morally repugnant. However, if a fetus is ‘a person’ then actively killing to avoid the aforementioned struggles and suffering is often morally repugnant.

      Therefore, this is fundamentally a categorization problem, masquerading as a first principles problem. Both sides attempt to figure out whether the rules the opposition applies define out-of-set life either too-broadly or too-narrowly. But it’s moot because the principles aren’t how the set was defined in the first place.

    • Incandenza says:

      Referring to humans as “clusters in thingspace” is the sort of thing that makes me feel that analytic philosophy is just one enormous dead end in intellectual history. It’s like, “let’s presuppose a totally naive understanding of the subject-object dichotomy, never mention that we’re doing so, express it in the crudest terms possible, and this is philosophy.”

  39. Bucky says:

    This was a super tricky subject so congrats on getting anywhere at all with it!

    I think focusing just on future life-of-value privileges the hypothesis (which, as others have discussed, has its own problems). I can think of alternative reasons why “don’t kill” is a fairly universal maxim (the victim has a strong preference for life, for the good of society, the golden rule, the victim’s rights) which could result in different conclusions r.e. abortion. Not all of the arguments would be equally good but it seems a shame that we only got a part of the picture.

    • sclmlw says:

      I think the proposal was overly broad, given the breadth of the argument they had to cover.

      I find the victim’s preference for life argument to also produce confusing moral conclusions. What of people who – at the moment the decision to terminate an adult’s life – don’t actually want to live for whatever reason (i.e. suicidal people, heavily addicted people, people experiencing intense unwanted life-changing events like witnessing infidelity, etc.)? Is it morally permissible to end their lives at that point? It also seems to morally permit all suicide. I read “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier”, and there are plenty of points in that book where you could use FLO arguments to say it was morally justified to kill many of the children in the book whose lives don’t seem to have value for anything like a FLO (or even a past like ours). Yet the author’s preference is to stop making kids into soldiers and to grant compassion and aid to children in those situations so they can escape and actually have a FLO.

      In other words, it seems like they have lives worth preserving. The intuitions of the authors clearly differ in where they feel life is worth preserving, and their arguments both appear to be reasoning backward from those intuitions, rather than forward from first principles.

      • thevoiceofthevoid says:

        What of people who – at the moment the decision to terminate an adult’s life – don’t actually want to live for whatever reason?

        I’d argue that considering their ideal preferences is important. (“An ideal value or desire is one that would be held if one had full information about the situation.”) I suspect that many suicidal people would not wish to die if they knew and truly believed that they would overcome their depression within six months. See Scott’s IN DEFENSE OF PSYCH TREATMENT FOR ATTEMPTED SUICIDE; I agree with his arguments and defer to his expertise and research.

        The intuitions of the authors clearly differ in where they feel life is worth preserving, and their arguments both appear to be reasoning backward from those intuitions, rather than forward from first principles.

        When you’re doing moral reasoning, you have to reason backwards from intuitions to figure out what your first principles should be. Humans start out with a hodgepodge of situational and often-inconsistent moral intuitions, and trying to resolve them into a consistent moral philosophy is a difficult but important pursuit.

  40. Nicholas says:

    This was an interesting read, thanks to the participants!

    I am confused, however, about the way FLO is being applied: if a future like ours is morally controlling, I do not understand why it only holds sway after conception. I could apply the same logic to argue against ‘spilling seed on the ground’. Or worse, to argue for compulsory conception ala handmaids tale. If you can conceive and choose not to, how is that morally distinct from conceiving then choosing not to? Something else besides a lost potential future must change at conception for this line of reasoning to work.

    • gkai says:

      Precisely, that’s the fundamental problem of FLO. It was designed to avoid having to consider somewhat arbitrary lines like consciousness, viability (which will be subject to adjustements from advances in neuroscience, premature birth care and artificial wombs). But it introduce a new line: conception (sperm/egg fusion? fertilized egg implatation?) which is itself arbitrary, goes against intuition (how many couples feel distress (or even unhappiness) for early natural abortion compared to failed fertilisation? It’s even almost impossible to tell the two case appart, even under medical monitoring!), and suffer from natural extensions like “each fertility cycles not resulting in pregnancy is morally wrong!”).
      IMHO such a question can not really answered without defining a somewhat arbitrary line, and conception feels like more shaky and dangerous than viability. Viability is poorer than conception for one thing: it will probably move more with technical advances in medecine….But this is not a problem imho, the really big change will be artificial womb development, and it comes with his own moral consideration that will completely change mother/father/society responsabilities weight anyway…

      • skaladom says:

        Sounds like the philosophical equivalent to searching for the keys under the lamppost because that’s where the light is 😉

      • Johnny4 says:

        There is a discussion of this above, but fertilization is not an arbitrary line. A new living thing, with your DNA, came into existence at “your” fertilization. It’s not arbitrary at all to think that that thing had a future like yours. After all, that thing never died, and apparently grew into you. That is, it’s very plausible that the human organism you are came into existence at “your” conception. Prior to that, nothing exists that can plausibly be identified with you. Nothing had your DNA prior to then, for example.

    • sclmlw says:

      There was an odd omission in the article (possibly because the data are difficult to find? I admit I haven’t looked) as to the rate of ‘PPD’ in women who have aborted or miscarried. My wife had an early miscarriage with her first pregnancy and she developed some depression as a result. As in, she really mourned the loss of the fetus in a way people who haven’t undergone the experience don’t seem to understand (myself included). I’m pretty sure she still has residual emotions about the event.

      As a general PSA, a lot of women have symptoms of PPD. To the extent this also carries over to women who miscarry and women who’ve aborted, it’s better for those around them to know about what they’re likely going through than for society as a whole to be unaware of it.

      As to the Egg/Sperm argument, my understanding is that this is usually refuted by saying that an egg and a sperm are distinct entities prior to conception. Their future at that point is not like ours and therefore we have no ethical reason to preserve them. Of course, I’ve always thought this argument draws the line in the wrong place. I remember reading in my anatomy book back as an undergrad that more than 50% of conceptions don’t implant, for whatever reason. If we don’t feel any moral need to protect life post-conception, but pre-implantation, shouldn’t that inform our moral priors?

    • TracingWoodgrains says:

      I’m a strong proponent of the FLO argument. In my eyes, it holds sway precisely to the extent the being in question is likely to have a future like ours. So it applies very strongly in the case of late-term unborn children and babies, somewhat more weakly shortly after conception, and almost not at all for any given sperm or ovum. Conception is a key point because until then there’s no specific being that has potential for a future, only the potential for a future being. But it’s a gradient the whole way up.

      It and related arguments do serve to imply that on balance, there is moral worth and perhaps some degree of obligation in having and raising children, and I’m accordingly rather pro-natalist. But the principle only holds strongly when there’s a high likelihood of a specific being having a future like ours.

      • Dacyn says:

        But the extent to which it is likely to have a future depends on our decisions, making our decision procedure self-referential. You need some notion of “default course of events” in order to make sense of this kind of thing.

        • TracingWoodgrains says:

          In any instance, the default state is the path of least resistance and fewest active decisions.

          The default state of any two random strangers is “no sexual contact with each other, no likelihood of creating any new living being.”

          The default state of a living child is “keep living as long as someone is able to provide food, water, and ideally shelter”.

          There are different default states of everything in between, from girlfriend/boyfriend to an engaged couple to a married couple, a couple not actively seeking kids to one seeking kids, so forth, and some of them are arguable. For example: I would say the default state of a fetus is generally “develop over the course of 9 months into a baby, then be born”.

          • Dacyn says:

            Can’t abortion be the path of least resistance though, e.g. if people are pressuring you to get one? I guess maybe it is relevant how common this is.

  41. tentor says:

    A very well-written discussion, a diagram or two could have perfected the very informative introduction.

    One aspect that I have missed, though, which is very important to me at least, is the rights of mother to decide over her own body. Just as we consider it morally wrong to force people to donate blood (do we?), even if it is to save someone’s live, even if it would be the only moral decision to help them.

    So, for me, the even more important follow-up question is: Even if we all agree that having an abortion at a certain point in time was immoral, would it be moral to prevent a woman from having an abortion?

    • Nicholas says:

      I agree this is the most salient question for policy.

    • skaladom says:

      Agree, this discussion seemed to contemplate only oddly impersonal arguments. The basic facts about when a fetus develops basic consciousness, pain perception, and becomes viable, are good to know, but the whole issue of the mother’s rights over her body just got ignored. As far as I can tell the core of the argument about abortion is specifically about the rights of the mother vs of the fetus, with a secondary spot for what the father might prefer. Father and society at large got mentioned in the article but not actually discussed.

      I find it quite strange how discussions of ethics seem to veer in the direction of trying to find some simple general principle from which all answers will hopefully flow. It’s clear enough that it never works like this — the ultimate arbiter is always the thinker’s intuitions, and no simple general principle has so far been able to match common human moral intuition. I wonder why people keep trying with this failed approach.

      Shoot out to Jonathan Haidt’s work on actually studying human moral intuitions as they happen, and trying to figure out how they work and what their innate structure is. When you think of morality as a sense that we are born with, and gets shaped and refined by culture and individual circumstances, things get much clearer… which doesn’t mean that you magically come to answers that everyone will agree with!

      • inhibition-stabilized says:

        I think the drive to find a general principle behind ethics is understandable, if perhaps misguided. We’d like to believe that the moral intuitions we hold so strongly are rational; can be derived from some overarching, intuitively obvious principle; and most of all, are in some way non-arbitrary.

        But ultimately we’d like to know how we should act, not just how we typically do act (although Haidt’s work sounds interesting; I’ll have to check it out). Given that we are not superintelligences and cannot see at a glance all moral implications of a principle, I think it makes sense to have some sort of interaction between first principles and intuitions about the conclusions of those principles. (I was going to cite Rawls here but according to Wikipedia this is apparently a misinterpretation of his ideas. I’ll have to look into this further.) But equally we cannot rely entirely on our intuitions, since they are, after all, fairly arbitrary: the fact that we evolved a certain way has little bearing on whether we should actually behave that way.

        • Incandenza says:

          When you say “We’d like to believe that the moral intuitions we hold so strongly are rational; can be derived from some overarching, intuitively obvious principle,” you’re presuming the very approach that feminist ethics has tended to criticize – ethical theory as universalizing, abstract, and rationalist.

          Personally, I’d like to understand ethics in terms of caring relationships, the cultivation of virtue, and attentiveness to the particularity of situations. And this means abandoning the possibility of a unifying and overarching abstract ethical theory – which was always a mirage in the first place.

      • notpeerreviewed says:

        I find it quite strange how discussions of ethics seem to veer in the direction of trying to find some simple general principle from which all answers will hopefully flow. It’s clear enough that it never works like this — the ultimate arbiter is always the thinker’s intuitions, and no simple general principle has so far been able to match common human moral intuition. I wonder why people keep trying with this failed approach.

        Ethical monism is baked pretty heavily into the recent history of Western philosophy, to the point where some people act like utilitarianism and Kantian deontology are the only two ethical systems out there.

        Haidt’s theory fits more into the tradition of ethical pluralism, although it’s a positive theory rather than a normative one.

    • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

      Arguing that we do not force people to donate blood and therefore should not force women to give birth, misses a very important distinction: I have not caused a random person to be in need for donated blood (or money or other resources), therefore I am not obligated to help them. Parents, by engaging in consensual intercourse, are however both responsible for the existence of the life, and in virtually all cases aware of the possible consequences of having intercourse.

      And this is hardly a principle that only applies outside of child-rearing, we apply it to parents *all* the time: In general, a person is not forced to financially support a child raised by a single parent, but if they are one of the parents of the baby, society (rightly in my opinion) requires financial support. If we allow women the right to their own body, why do we not allow (usually) men their right to their financial resources?

      Independent of the sex of the parent, we also require parents to take care of the baby once it is born (otherwise it’s criminal child neglect). What is the philosophical difference between right to your own body and right to your own time?

      If you do not consider the fetus to be a human person, fine, but I do not see how a woman’s right to her own body should make a difference here.

      Caveats: This argument of course only applies to cases of consensual sex. Also, I assume that most cases of unwanted abortions will be due to people not using birth control at all or incorrectly. Cases like manufacturing errors in condoms are more ambivalent, since it is harder to attribute full responsibility to the parents.

      • Andaro says:

        Child support obligations really only make sense if you see a child’s creation as a great moral wrong and the payment as a – perhaps only partial – compensation for that wrong. Or at least as a compensation for the de facto slavery that children are forced to live in by adults (they have no self-determination rights).

        • NoRandomWalk says:

          If you think social stability/morality is important, and part of creating a just world is realizing a situation where people who can’t support themselves are responsibly cared for, you could notice that it is politically easier to convince parents to support their own kids rather than other people’s kids, and justify child support on that basis. I’m strongly pronatalist, but still support child support.

          • Andaro says:

            “If you think social stability/morality is important”

            I don’t know what that means.

            “part of creating a just world is realizing a situation where people who can’t support themselves are responsible cared for”

            But child support obligations are only just if you think parents have wronged their children by creating them. Or at least wronged them by bringing them into our coercive political system.

            “you could notice that it is politically easier to convince parents to support their own kids rather than other people’s kids, and justify child support on that basis”

            Or the people who want children to be taken care of, could take care of the children. Children could also be allowed to earn their own money, have suicide rights, live with other people of their choice etc. But those are banned.

          • NoRandomWalk says:

            Okay, let me try again.
            Consider the case of a woman that gets pregnant during course of consensual intercourse in which father knows pregnancy is possible, chooses to have the baby. Since we are talking about child support laws, we can assume also that whether or not father wanted the child to be born, he doesn’t want to provide the resources to raise it.

            Given that the child is going to be born, even if its life will be much better than non-existence whether or not it has two parents (or two parents resources equivalents), it will still benefit from resources of the father more than the father would. Ditto re. other people’s resources.

            As a political matter, it is much easier to convince/coerce the father to provide those resources, than some other 3rd party. As a practical matter, it creates a functional limit. With child support laws, you can have a limit amount of children without imposing a big burden on society. Without them, all bets are off.

            Does the above make sense (at least as a matter of being internally consistent)?

          • Andaro says:

            I don’t understand why you assume it’s easier to coerce/convince the father to pay child support for a baby he never wanted, than other people who also didn’t want the baby. I understand the father had more of a choice in the matter (since he could have chosen not to engage in the sex), but that seems to be a completely different argument. Your logic is coherent if you think fewer births are better and child support obligations create a negative incentive, or if you think most people have this bias and so alternatives aren’t politically tractable.

          • NoRandomWalk says:

            I don’t understand why you assume it’s easier to coerce/convince the father to pay child support for a baby he never wanted, than other people who also didn’t want the baby. I understand the father had more of a choice in the matter (since he could have chosen not to engage in the sex), but that seems to be a completely different argument.

            I think the 2nd part is the explanation in part for the belief in the 1st part.
            I don’t know how to coherently justify it, it just seems obvious to me from interacting with society/politics that people agree that there is an obligation to take care of the less fortunate, especially children, and that the closer that child is to you (genetically, culturally, etc.) the stronger the obligation/more reasonable it is to impose legally. A libertarian might think ‘taxation is theft’ but because of the social consensus that it isn’t, and that everyone must pitch in for creation of ‘public’ goods it’s a lot easier to enforce taxation and maintain low violence society than if everyone who thought they had a better use for other people’s money tried to take it by force without going through established ‘democratic-adjacent’ channels first. Similarly, because of the social consensus that you are responsible for taking care of your children, it seems obvious to me that if your starting principle is that ‘someone should take care of children’ it makes sense to support child support laws. Similarly, there is the social consensus that you are responsible for the consequences of your choices. Assuming kids need to be taken care of (most people don’t think that the obligation towards children stops at making sure their lives are better than non-existence and therefore their consent wasn’t violated by bringing them into existence), then having kids creates the consequence of someone needing to take care of it. Most people conclude therefore that parents should be obligated to take care of their kids.

            Re. your other point I don’t know if fewer births are better or worse. The world is complicated and I’m not god emperor. But I do think that if a kid exists, someone should take care of it.

        • Dacyn says:

          There’s lots of things that aren’t morally wrong, and yet doing them imposes obligations on yourself. Making promises, for example. In fact there is an analogy here, since it can be argued that making a child is only not morally wrong if you also implicitly promise to support it.

    • keaswaran says:

      I thought this was an important point not considered in the “mere location” objection. It seems to me that we do think that sometimes location makes a morally significant distinction. Sure, it’s not permissible to accidentally kill a person with your car in the middle of the freeway, but it is much less wrong than to accidentally kill a person with your car in their bedroom. And if you make it a trolley-problem type case, then even intentionally killing a person with your car in the middle of the freeway is much more easily justified than intentionally killing a person with your car in their bedroom.

      It seems to me that the victim being located inside a person really does make a very significant moral difference to the permissibility of that person or another person victimizing them.

      • Dacyn says:

        I am having trouble imagining killing someone with a car in a bedroom… but anyway: yes, but there is also a moral distinction between someone trespassing in your bedroom and someone just having always been in your bedroom. You can’t really argue that they “shouldn’t be there” because they have nowhere else to go.

      • Johnny4 says:

        I’m not sure location is making a different to moral rights or status or anything in those cases. If I just needlessly and intentionally ran someone over on the freeway, and you did the same in someone’s bedroom, those would be equally wrong, no? I mean, I agree with you that when one person is inside another there’s a balancing act in terms of rights that doesn’t occur when two people are just totally separate. But being in close proximity with someone else does the same thing. Location doesn’t affect one’s rights, although it does affect how your rights need to be balanced against those around you.

    • Rivfader says:

      we consider it morally wrong to force people to donate blood (do we?)

      The reason I don’t support mandatory blood donation is that, as far as I know, we have enough blood donors under the current system, and if we don’t then there are other options I would consider first. If none of that worked and the shortage was severe then mandatory donation would be a must.
      [edit] I removed a pointed hypothetical question since this isn’t a CW thread.

  42. Ttar says:

    Doesn’t the FLV perspective also condemn birth control, and abstinence for that matter? Think of all the future value of life you’ve erased by not having the maximum number of children you could have! Poor folks do smile, so there’s not really a great argument from responsibility to the child’s quality of life as long as we still have enough food in society. The FLV argument is flirting with the Repugnant Conclusion (and not packing any birth control).

    • caryatis says:

      I’d like to see the authors respond to this. If the zygote has a right to life based on future possibilities, why not the ovum or sperm cell?

      • aristides says:

        Not the author, but I agree with all of icerun’s statements. Personally, I bite the Repugnant Conclusion’s bullet, and live that way. This has two provisos, first consent is important. I’ve only used birth control when my partner wanted. If your partner does not want to have procreative sex, then your options are abstinence or non procreative sex, and it’s not clear that the morality of either differ.

        Second, just because it’s what I believe is moral, does not mean it makes sense for our country’s policies to enforce it. While my preferred policy for abortions would be more strict than NY and more lenient than Alabama, I wouldn’t even consider restricting birth control. Subsidies for birth control are a hard question, since does birth control fudge against more children or more abortions? My instinct says abortion, so I’m ok subsidizing it, but it’d be nice to have data.

        • caryatis says:

          > Personally, I bite the Repugnant Conclusion’s bullet, and live that way.

          Um, so you have as many children as possible, with the constraint of needing to find a partner willing to have procreative sex?

          • Desertopa says:

            For someone who takes the conclusion seriously, there’s no reason to settle for a partner. You could have sex with as many partners as you can find who won’t take necessary steps to avoid the sex being procreative. Demographically, it’s probably easier to have very large numbers of kids that way than finding a single dedicated partner who’s in the Quiverfull movement or something.

          • Andaro says:

            For someone who takes the conclusion seriously, shouldn’t you be working on the utilitronium shockwave instead of having babies?

          • caryatis says:

            @Desertopa

            Yeah, but how many people truly take the conclusion seriously enough to avoid birth control while having sex with multiple partners? For a man, the child support would be ruinous. I suspect that, of the very few people who actually live this way, almost all are either Quiverfull or otherwise monogamously partnered types, or else people who are almost entirely abstinent.

          • aristides says:

            @caryatis my other constraints are other moral considerations. I’m Christian, and though I did not follow all it’s tenants to a T, I have only had PIV with one woman who is now my wife. At this point the ethical obligation of not cheating overrides having sex with a bunch of random partners for more children. My wife and I are not using contraception currently, and I have no plans to start, but my wife will probably start once she had enough children, somewhere in the 3 to 5 range, with some luck.

          • Desertopa says:

            @Caryatis,

            there are actually quite a lot of men who live this way, although I’m not sure if there are any who’re operating according to a deliberate stance on the ethics of reproduction.

            As far as child support goes, when you have upwards of a dozen children with several different partners, and not very much money, most of those partners are likely not to see pressing for child support as particularly fruitful.

        • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

          Subsidies for birth control are a hard question, since does birth control fudge against more children or more abortions?

          But if you’re saying that the main reason to oppose abortion is FLV then why does it matter if birth control reduces abortions? Shouldn’t you condemn them equally?

      • sclmlw says:

        I think the better argument against FLV is the one presented, namely that FLV assumes a moral parity between people who had and (possibly temporarily) lost conscious thought and those who never had it to begin with.

        The response I usually hear to the argument that gametes should be respected as having FLV is to easily shoot it down by saying that without intervention the FLV of nearly every ovum and sperm cell is the same as that of skin cells. Therefore since in most circumstances we don’t feel the need to fertilize every egg a woman produces in her lifetime, it’s not a major ethical leap to assume prevention of fertilization of any specific egg is a moral wrong.

      • sidereal says:

        Doesn’t that go in the opposite direction too? If a zygote doesn’t have a right to life, why does a (slightly more complicated) clump of cells? Isn’t birth then also an arbitrary line to draw – what’s really wrong with infanticide after all?

      • bara says:

        A zygote, if unimpeded, will develop, be born, and grow. (Modulo biology, failed implantation, etc.)

        An ovum or sperm cell will not.

        Without taking a position on the rest of the argument, that should be enough of a difference to draw a line between abortion and birth control.

        • brownbat says:

          That was indeed Marquis’s canonical response to this question.

          I knew him. I tried to argue that “unimpeded” implies a distinction that doesn’t naturally exist. The fetus needs to be supplied with the right environment filled with nutrients and warmth, the sperm cell needs to be supplied the right environment, ie, an egg. Neither one can simply be launched into the vacuum of space and survive.

          He was never persuaded by this.

          (I think a similar attack can be levied against ‘viability’ as a meaningful demarcation, but that’s another discussion.)

      • Johnny4 says:

        Well, the zygote plausibly *has* a future like ours–there was once a zygote that was a living thing with your DNA. Since that zygote didn’t die, it plausibly grew into you. That is, that thing, that was a zygote, it still alive as an adult human being. That’s why it has a “future like ours”.

        A sperm cell doesn’t have a future like ours. There was nothing that was a sperm cell and that is now an adult human being. Likewise with the ovum. I mean, you could try to argue that you were once an ovum, but that’s prima facie vastly less plausible than that you were once a zygote.

    • blacktrance says:

      Presumably not, because if the fetus never exists to begin with, there is no one for whom the absence of a future life is a deprivation.

      • Dacyn says:

        Right. But “one for whom” implies personhood, which seems to be begging the question.

        • Johnny4 says:

          Works just as well if we say “thing for which”. As I said above, I was never a sperm or an ovum, but I was (plausibly) once a zygote. That’s the sense in which zygotes (plausibly) have a future like ours.

          • Dacyn says:

            Depends on what you mean by “just as well”, I think it is rhetorically less effective.

            Anyway, if the zygote is not a person then it cannot relate to its future in the ways that people relate to their futures, which may change the moral calculus regarding “depriving it of a future like ours”.

          • Johnny4 says:

            Fair enough, but the argument is in terms of *having* a future like ours, not expecting or wanting one or anything like that. But you may be right that our intuitions about the wrongness of depriving something of a future like ours are biased by our own expectations and desires concerning our own futures.

    • Purplehermann says:

      I think a distinction could be made between a fetus currently on its way to a future and a zygote which would need proactive intervention to give it one.
      Similar to the difference between not saving a life and killling someone.
      When you combine the discounting for future vs present and active vs passive, the inconvenience to yourself and others created by going this route should outweigh the obligations.
      That said, having a few children and raising them in a good home might be morally required by this line of thought.

  43. Peter Shenkin says:

    “These data show that … black women are disproportionately more likely to choose an abortion.”

    It would be good to know how the number of abortions per 1000 live births differs across ethnicities. The above remark appears to be based purely on numbers of abortions.

    But either way, thank you for using “data” as a plural noun…. 🙂

    • Bucky says:

      The sentence before that is:

      This translates to a rate of 390 abortions per 1,000 live births in non-Hispanic black women and 111 per 1,000 live births in non-Hispanic white women.

    • J.D. Sockinger says:

      In most cases, I use “data” as a singular noun, for the same reason that pretty much everyone considers “opera” and “agenda” to be singular. Also, “datum point” just sounds weird.