The obvious, unmentioned problem

I spotted the tweet:

 

Which led to this story:

Considering the Humanity of Nonhumans
By James Gorman | Published: December 9, 2013 | A version of this news analysis appears in print on December 10, 2013, on page D1 of the New York edition with the headline: The Humanity of Nonhumans.

What is a person?

“Beings who recognize themselves as ‘I’s.’ Those are persons.” That was the view of Immanuel Kant, said Lori Gruen, a philosophy professor at Wesleyan University who thinks and writes often about nonhuman animals and the moral and philosophical issues involved in how we treat them.

She was responding to questions in an interview last week after advocates used a new legal strategy to have chimpanzees recognized as legal persons, with a right to liberty, albeit a liberty with considerable limits.

The Nonhuman Rights Project, an advocacy group led by Steven M. Wise, filed writs of habeas corpus in New York last week on behalf of four captive chimpanzees: Tommy, owned by a Gloversville couple; two at Stony Brook University; and one at the Primate Sanctuary in Niagara Falls. The lawsuits were dismissed, but Mr. Wise said he planned to appeal.

He believes that the historical use of habeas corpus lawsuits as a tool against human slavery offers a model for how to fight for legal rights for nonhumans.

There’s a lot more at the link. The story continues to note the efforts, and arguments, of some interested people, many of them scientists, to confer a form of legal personhood on animals deemed to have some particular aspects of behavior which would commonly be associated with a self-aware intelligence: tool use, self-recognition and the ability to plan for the future. But even though the article, at least in the web edition, has an illustration of three elephants, the article completely ignored the elephant in the room, that being the legal non-personhood of human beings prior to birth.

The New York Times has been quite liberal about publishing articles which advocate personhood for some non-humans, including, two months ago Dogs Are People Too.  But, when it comes to recognizing actual human beings who have yet to make their way through the birth canal, the Times is a bit more reticent.  In November of 201, the Times published an article by Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, telling readers about all of the problems with declaring an unborn child to be a legal person, giving us arguments against doing so based solely on the fact that an unborn child possesses unquestionably human DNA:

Accordingly, the case against the morality of all abortions, no matter how early, needs to appeal to features of the newborn that are present at every stage of development beyond the fertilization of the egg.  Here the only plausible feature seems to be having the DNA characteristic of the human species (the structure that, in the natural course of things, will lead to the newborn baby).

The problem, however, is that a fertilized egg itself has this DNA.  Therefore, if we grant that killing a fertilized egg is not murder, we must also agree that the mere fact that a fetus or embryo possesses human DNA does not show that killing it is murder.  It also seems to follows that at least some early-term abortions are not murder, since it’s hard to see any moral difference between a fertilized egg and, say, an embryo of two or three weeks.

A possible response is to claim that there is a person with full moral standing only once the fertilized egg has been implanted in the uterus (about five days after fertilization).  But why think that implantation confers personhood?  The only plausible reason seems to be that an implanted egg is on a natural path that will, if all goes well, lead to a full-term birth.  But the same is true of a fertilized egg.  So it’s hard to see that the potential to develop into a newborn morally differentiates a fertilized egg before and a fertilized egg after implantation.

The basic problem is that, once we give up the claim that a fertilized egg is a human person (has full moral standing), there is no plausible basis for claiming that all further stages of development are human persons.  The DNA criterion seems to be the only criterion of being human that applies at every stage from conception to birth.  If we agree that it does not apply at the earliest stages of gestation, there is no basis for claiming that every abortion is the killing of an innocent human person.

More (both above and below) in the original.  I find it odd, however, that a professor of philosophy at such a prestigious Catholic university would be pushing the edge examples to argue against the very Catholic position that live begins at conception.  Dr Gutting tries to push the difference between fertilization — the point the Church defines as conception — and implantation, a distinction the Church does not take, because he wishes to legitimize the use of the so-called “Plan B” contraceptives, the “morning after” pills which impede the implantation of a human embryo in the uterine wall. The Times is, of course, a strong supporter of abortion.

Your Editor finds it rather odd: our friends on the left are just so eager to protect the lives and health of animals, yet so willing to allow a living human being to be just thrown away if the wrong person — his mother — does not want him.

13 Comments

  1. Beings with tooooooo much time on their hands. Can’t proceed unless it’s controversial, otherwise, you’re stagnent and lack the narcissitist fawning by people like themselves.

  2. Your Editor finds it rather odd: our friends on the left are just so eager to protect the lives and health of animals, yet so willing to allow a living human being to be just thrown away if the wrong person — his mother — does not want him.

    Again, you expect moral consistency from a left winger? You might as well try teaching quantum physics to a dog.

  3. ” tool use, self-recognition and the ability to plan for the future.”

    Given those criteria, most of the liberal client class would fail to qualify as human: life incompetency, flight from consciousness, and feelings above reason.

  4. ” Eric
    Sunday, 15 December 2013 at 20:19

    If chimps are “People”, then why not squid or worms?”

    “Persons” as they define it, not people.

    This is a corner the left has painted itself into, and it’s the only move they can make to try and save interpersonal respect for their own lives.

    By reducing man to a thing among other things, they reduced their own life value to that of a thing. Therefore in order to construct a social framework wherein it might be said that it is “rationally” wrong for a campus jock to kill Margaret Mead for kicks – the only “wrong” being done otherwise being the violation of some culturally relative and always evolving social construct – it is essential that they redefine what is sacrosanct in non-human terms. And hope it flows back over them.

    The organisms of the left are well aware of this problem and of the logical inadequacy and internal incoherence of their ploy. But it’s the only gambit they’ve got, and they hope that you won’t then demand the syllogism that makes a respect for personhood or sentience per se morally obligatory.

    We’ve been through this argument before though, haven’t we.

  5. Yes DNW, we have been through this before and I for one has come to the conclusion the life of a leftist is no more or less important than that of a dung beetle. Frankly, I’d be happy if they all croaked at least then I wouldn’t have to listen to their incessant whining about everything from whether Santa is white to how wonderful a dead SA commie was.

  6. For some reason, Hoagie’s comments had been going into the spam queue. I just rescued five or six of them.

    Since we can somehow define legal personhood as whether somebody actually wants you to live, wouldn’t it be true that a homeless wino, out on the streets, with no family, wouldn’t really be a person, and therefore can simply be eliminated?

  7. “I find it odd, however, that a professor of philosophy at such a prestigious Catholic university would be pushing the edge examples to argue against the very Catholic position that live begins at conception.”

    Gutting, and the tedium of reading yet another probable political progressive’s exercise likely in equivocation and misdirection at the link, is a little too much for me at the moment. But, he might be attacking, or leveraging off, the line of argument used by Professor Robert George, among many others, in responding to the specific question as to whether the fetus is “human” or a human.

    The straightforward and biologically undeniable answer is “Yes, obviously.” The fetus is genetically human and nothing else, and will in the course of natural events develop as such, or die.

    The purpose of belaboring the obvious is to try and reintroduce, to force, some starting point clarity into discussions that have long been deliberately obfuscated through intentional terminological fuzziness.

    In Gutting’s case he seems to want to shift footing in order to try ask and answer a different question.

    Whereas George famously addressed the question, “is the fetus human?” by saying that it had to be based on its genetics, Gutting seems to wish to introduce a strawman argument which supposedly asserts that “What is genetically human, is therefore a person”, in order to rebut the strawman with the observation that an egg is genetically human, yet obviously not a person.

    Now Gutting may in fact not be doing that. But that is exactly the line of “argument” – rebutting what no one asserts – taken by Perry and numerous others.

    An egg of course, is not only not a person, but as a gamete is “only half of” [figure of speech] a somatic cell, being the product of meiosis. A fetus, is the combination of two products of meiotic division sexually recombining as a new and distinct individual.

    He, Perry, went so far as to analogize the human fetus to a tumor which – not being the result of meiosis and a sexual union into a new and distinct individual, but rather (generally) mitosis – is a patently absurd “analogy”.

    [In fact, if I have read my own brush-up link accurately, the gametes are themselves recombined in ways that differentiate them from the individual carrying them. "Meiosis also differs from mitosis in that it involves a process known as recombination, during which chromosomes exchange segments with one another. As a result, the gametes produced during meiosis are genetically unique."]

    Huh. HS biology was over 30 years ago …

    Now Perry, as a chemist, must have known all the basics before making his argument. Yet he made that stupid, and misleading, and scientifically groundless assertion of his anyway.

    Why do they, his type, do that, we wonder …

    In any event, I’ll follow the link when I am less weary. Maybe Gutting was making a different argument after all.

  8. Why do they, his type, do that, we wonder …

    The answer is simple: they’re evil.

    You’ve said it yourself – they are not “Our moral fellows”. They are alien creatures, human in appearance but demonic in substance. Look at our two (thankfully departed) Trolls. It soon became obvious that their governing passion was malice. They routinely engaged in lies and slander of the worst sort. At no point were they genuinely interested in fellowship with any conservative here, although Perry managed to fake it for a while until his true nature emerged.

    In short, they are our enemies, and conservatives would be fools to ever forget it.

  9. Since we can somehow define legal personhood as whether somebody actually wants you to live, wouldn’t it be true that a homeless wino, out on the streets, with no family, wouldn’t really be a person, and therefore can simply be eliminated?

    Of course. We already have the loathsome Peter Singer asserting that murdering infants is just fine. Whether this is part of a trend to further dehumanize people is hard to say, still, it says something that this scum has a prominent position in a prominent college and seems to be more admired than not.

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