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!

Tags: humanity

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Dear Folks:

What do you mean by a 'value'?

Is it economic value?

Emotional/spirtual value?

Environment impact value? What damage pro/con to the environment could 'it' make if it becomes absent or in excess?

My family has dogs, land, art, books, friends, threatened plants and animals, timber, etc. I love my wife, giving her a dollar value would be deeply insulting to her and to my compassion and love for her! I love our puppies, only sometimes do I wish they were not here! The puppies give us joy, companionship, exercise, and another good reason to get up in the morning! I think you get my drift...


"Value" means many different things. I was in a psychology of personality class where "personality" was defined as a "social stimulus value."

I would say a human is human when it has the ability to think. I dont think an embryo is a human being I think an embryo is in the stages of becoming a human being.  For instance lets say you want to make bread, you take flour, water, aromatics, salt, yeast and put it in a bowl. You pound it, knead it, let it rise, and then pound it down again. You put it in a bread it bread? No not has to cook. All the enzymes, glucose molecules, yeast bacterias that make bread bread have to fully come together. The outcome is bread. The outcome of nine-ten months is a new-born.So is a fetus a human being? No in my opinion from a scientific view point it is not.

I think back during the tie of our early stages of evolution being pregnant was viewed as a burden.  You couldnt run from predators, you couldnt contribute to hunting, you couldnt walk long distances and follow food, as a woman you were pretty much useless. And when the baby came if you didnt already miscarry or die in child birth you know had this thing that you didnt have before to focus all your attention on, you needed more food because of it, it wasnt able to do anything but cry which was a call to any predators lurking around for a snack. Now people spend thousand to get pregnant. The only thing that has changed is societies view. Abortion is wrong because we say it is, because having a child is looked at as a good thing, something that fulfills us as women. From the moment of conception people have this misconception that a fetus is a human being. It's sad when someone miscarries because we have already identified that fetus as a human being when in reality it can be replaced. If it came down to me dying or aborting my fetus I would abort in a second. There can never be another me but I can create with my hubby another fetus.

I know its a very touchy subject but thats only because society has made it that way.  Your brain is what makes you you. I think we react so harshly to abortion or the "murder" of a new born because we have already given them human perception,intelligent thought, reasoning, etc....When the stark reality is they dont have any of those things.

I agree it's a characteristic of humans to think, but suppose an amoeba could think? Thinking involves understanding and learning and we know that parrots and other birds, dolphins and whales, and even dogs and pigs can do that. Many animals can.

No, the ability to think isn't uniquely human and so it isn't definitive.

intelligent thought that leads to reason and language to express thought....sorry I should have been more detailed in my definition of thinking.

That's not limited to humans so it isn't definitive. I'm sure some of the animal rights people here will fill you in now that I've mentioned it.

@John Major

Isn't the struggle to survive evidence that life has value? I don't think it is true at all that only humans value life. It is unparsimonious to suppose only humans value life, on what possible factual basis could such a claim be made?

Well, I've never heard the term "parsimony" or any of its derivatives used apart from wealth or money, but let's assume it means something like "generous." When people attribute human thoughts and feelings to animals I often find it's enough to ask them to imagine the animal with a cartoon balloon over its head containing the thought, as when people say salmon swim upstream in order mate and lay eggs in the pool where they were born, imagine a salmon with a cartoon balloon over its head that says "I need to get back to the pool where I was born so I can have sex and lay some eggs."

No, we can't attribute human concepts to critters despite all of those Disney movies.'s_razor

@Unseen. Glad to help you fill in your knowledge gaps.

An animal's struggle for life requires no balloons. It is trying to survive. Survival is important to all species. Why think we are special? I am not arguing that other animals have the same thoughts!

You still haven't explained how a baby's life has value when it cannot attribute it to itself. Remember?

This may help too.

The parsimony principle is basic to all science and tells us to choose the simplest scientific explanation that fits the evidence. In terms of tree-building, that means that, all other things being equal, the best hypothesis is the one that requires the fewest evolutionary changes.

I am not sure whether this material would be part of a philosophy degree?
...and I would of course agree that a salmon does not think like a person thinks. This arbitrary distinction you've plucked out of the air does not provide an ethical basis to do as we chose to those that are different. How should we treat unfortunates in the world who lack the cognitive capacity of a dog, cow or pig? It is the capacity to suffer that deserves consideration, not intelligence, skin colour, sex or any other hook upon which the coat of discrimination can be hung.

@John Major

Isn't the struggle to survive evidence that life has value? I don't think it is true at all that only humans value life. It is unparsimonious to suppose only humans value life, on what possible factual basis could such a claim be made?

It's only evidence that the struggle to survive has been hard wired through natural selection. As we know, evolution progresses blindy and mechanicaly and without actual thought or intention. There is no actual Mother Nature.

To believe that animals value life requires that one believe they understand mortality. No, they don't really understand death. Our psychologists estimate that even human children don't grasp death conceptually with true understanding until about age 10.

@Unseen. Whatever drives the creature to try to survive, that which is being saved must be definition be valuable? I do not accept that all animals other than humans do not consciously avoid danger or death in the struggle to survive.

You often say that you do things because, "it is in your nature." how would you distinguish then between you and the other animals who follow their natures, without Mother Nature.

You still have not explained how a baby's life can have value other than that afforded it by others. You said the value of life comes from what we humans give it, how so babies? The senile, the insane. Do their lives have value?


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