So I was having an online discussion with my younger brother a little more than a week ago about abortion. Being a devout and pro-life Catholic he held the opinion that life starts at conception, that it a fertilized egg is human and should be treated as human because it is a unique life different than the host parent. I have also been reading bio-ethics and many different places on the debate and they all seem to revolve around trying to justify scientifically what I can best describe as trying to answer the question, "when is an embryo tantamount to a human being?"
Of course, that one question gave way to the larger question, "What makes us human?" Where do we define the limits of humanity? Is it strictly in a biological sense as in form, shape, and structure? Is it in potential in the case of infants? Is it in behavior; could someone act in a way that they are no longer considered, if even for a moment, a human? Is it in ability whether physical or mental? Is humanity a transitive property; in other words, is it a label that can be taken away or does it last regardless once it has been gained? Are their varying degrees of humanity where a person could be considered "more human" than someone else?
I am very curious to hear all of your thoughts and ideas!
If an oppressed people were considering forming a rebel army in order redress their grievances, but it might cause some harm to innocent people among the oppressors, I assume you would agree that, as humans, many innocent people on both sides might suffer (even if we may not be sure). If so, wouldn't it make sense not to form the army and start a war of liberation, just to give those people the benefit of the doubt and spare them the resultant suffering?
And what if we knew for sure?
This whole line of reasoning will result in all kinds of absurdities.
This absurdity is your comparison. It is common sense that if we suspect, but do not know, our actions inflict suffering, then the ethical thing to do is to decist.
You are mixing apples and oranges again.
I agree most people don't think about it too much. I do think it's okay to inflict pain on non-suffering beings. I would not include the pain + time = suffering equation. I am defining suffering as "experiencing mental anguish", which is a psychological pain. It's my own hypothesis, and I'm not saying I'm an expert, but I think it is fairly sound.
You or I, in the situations you've described, would experience mental anguish related to the pain and its duration, there's no doubt. I just think it's unlikely that most other animals are mentally capable of that. They have brains and exhibit complex behaviors in reaction to their environments, but I don't think they have complex psychology. I do not think their behaviors are examples of mental anguish. I'm tempted to think that a dog left alone with separation anxiety might get close...but then again, if I left my dogs to live with my parents for a month they'd be perfectly happy without me, so I'm just not convinced they have that sophisticated of minds.
The babies/senile/mentally impaired question is the interesting one. Recall that I don't have a problem with early-term abortion for the same reason I don't have an issue eating meat. It's not a being capable of suffering. This might sound callous, but this applies equally to the severely senile or severely mentally impaired; they probably can't suffer true mental anguish either. However, the senile and mentally impaired are enmeshed in the web of human culture, as are babies. It's would be cruel and evil to hurt their loved ones, and to offend everyone else's human sensibilities, by inflicting pain or death on them. These are not minor considerations. There are very real and very powerful social reasons that it's wrong to torture disabled or immature humans. I also think that this applies to people's pets for the same reasons (but to a lesser extent, commensurate with society's valuing of such beings; you'd rather I killed your dog than your child, for example). So humans (and their beloved pets) do get special status, but only because of social bonds, not because of the anguish issue. If people who think like you do continue to expand society's valuation of non-humans, then eventually they'll be afforded the same special status, and I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with that. In the past there weren't any cruelty laws or SPCA, and now there are. So, more power to you, keep it up. Similarly, a lot of Christians are expanding society's valuation of unborn babies, and more power to them. I tend to think both groups are driven by other motives, by ideology more than logic, but that's just life.
No ideology. I prepared to debate evidence with you. Likewise, I won't accuse you of carrying on with the Christian ideology of believing we have dominion over other animals, that we are not really animals but in some way special.
First. The dog example. Some on, there is so much evidence that dogs feel anguish I hardly need to dig out evidence do I. Leave some dogs alone for a few hours and they go nuts and exhibit destructive and other unwelcome behaviour. If you contest this, I will find the evidence for what mist people know to be true from simple observation.
Evolution tells us we developed pain and fear to survive. It is unparsimonious to see such a distinction between us and the other animals. We are in a continuum, no sharp divides.
Explain the basis on which you argue that it is ethical to inflict pain, suffering and death on another being when it is unnecessary. Try doing it so it doesn't sound like the Christian idea of man being created special. Are you really saying that the defining factor is species? If so, how is this not arbitrary just like skin color or sex have similarly been used in an arbitrary way to discriminate.
I really look forward to hearing your logical arguments.
@Rachel - here's the thing I'm finding, and it's a little scary. Atheists are stereotyped by thiests, something upon which I think we'd all agree - if we're atheists, by association, we must believe in and stand for - and then the list begins.
The scary part, is that I'm discovering that at least many, if not most of the atheists I've met tend to make the same stereotyping error, and if one of us decides that we don't agree with one or more of the items on that stereotyped list - which as acknowledged free thinkers, we should certainly be allowed, if not expected to do - then members of the atheist community are as capable of ostracizing us as is the most ardent, right-wing theist. And that's REALLY scary!
What makes creatures like us, more alike than different?
Several years ago I went to a cultural/feminist awareness lecture. At the end of the lecture, the prof. asked everyone in the room to stand in their order of skin color. This was a group of 50 people, none of us had the same skin color, even folks from similar countries of origin! The prof. did not ask us to stand in the order of our height, but I expect the same/similar result would show up.
I managed a rental for students early 90's. One of our tenants was from Tunisa and of dark skin color. He called me a white devil on afternoon because I was not muslim. It was mid summer I normally go native during warm weather. I held my left arm to his and remarked, 'look I am nearly as dark as you are!'
Humans can vary along a great number of measures, but what makes us most like each other and not like a cat, or another primate?
If we in the future, start changing our outward body and underlying structure, to even biochemistry, will we still be 'human' or will that divergence begin the process of becoming 'unhuman'?
The fact that we can't breed with any other species and produce fertile offspring.
But we could do so with Neanderthals back when they existed. There are still traces of Neanderthal DNA in a minority of Europeans. Such evidence would qualify them as human beings by that definition even though we don't consider them to be. Then there is the question of people who are infertile or have malformed reproductive organs. They can't produce offspring at all, but are still human. There must be some form of reasoning that accounts for all exceptions otherwise the only conclusion that I can come to is that any definition is strictly arbitrary.
I think to argue that life begins at birth is just plain stupid and cannot be supported with facts, but only through "an attempted proof by redefinition." You see, it's a notion invented by feminists in the 1960's wanting to argue against the "abortion is murder" theory. I'd rather just tell people to get their nose out of women's vaginas. (I apologize in advance for any imagery that expression might call to mind.)
What makes us human? DNA of course!
"What makes us human? DNA of course!"
I'd agree with you except that at some point our DNA converges back in history to a point where we no longer consider ourselves to be human and will in the future diverge to a similar point, but every child is the same species as the parents who gave birth to it. Where can that line be drawn in the history of our lineage and in the future of it to distinguish what is human if such a line can be drawn at all? What differences in genetic structure would make a human not a human? A change in a few important combinations, a straight-forward, simple percentage, a combination of the two, or something else altogether?