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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We should eat less meat, but giving it up entirely is unnatural.

Again, there is no particular value to what is natural here.  It should be sufficient simply to assess what a healthy diet for a human is.  That will certainly be affected by what is natural, but it is unnecessary to limit the scope of our thinking or practices to such a consideration. 

Not necessarily. While it would seem lions can't manufacture artificial food due to not having hands...

I don't know.  I think taurine is what they require.  Humans can synthesize taurine (without eating meat); lions cannot.  It's eat meat or die for them.  In your scenario, I would expect lions to give ethical consideration to the meat they do eat if they had the ability to do so, but that's not strictly a carnivore's dilemma.  Anyone who eats food should give such considerations when they can afford to do so.  It's just that with vegetarians they have to consider ecological impacts (which do also impact other animal species) rather than the screaming of murdered carrots.

All predators scavenge. Scavenging is a natural supplement to predation.

I am simply saying that we aren't other species.  There are all sorts of variations in food acquisition when it comes to animals.  When it comes to food, the behaviour of modern h. sapiens sapiens is demonstrably unique.

@Kris Feenstra

The word 'natural' has a well established meaning of that which is not cultivated or contrived by humankind.  I believe that is the applicable meaning in this conversation.  'Un/natural' is the most succinct way I know of expressing that concept.

That is a very species-ist way of defining the word. Another definition is "that which conforms to natural law." Defining nature by opposing it to man is not very defensible, it seems to me. opportunity for mental masturbation.

Class: a show of hands, please?

"lions could barter for in various ways to help them avoid pangs of conscience. By guarding property for example or being nannies for human children a la Peter Pan."

Unseen, what you are describing here is for something other than a lion. Lions haven't evolved the mental faculties for something like that, so it isn't a viable option.

Are you talking hypothetically about a lion which somehow evolved intelligence to the level where it can think and reason?

That is a valid and established meaning of the word.  It differentiates, for instance, land that has been groomed for farming versus land that has gown without human interference.  It is a practical term with plenty of practical application.  It relates to the way we refer to the wilderness as 'nature', but not manmade cities.

If you are not using in that sense, then John Kelly and I actually are on the same page.  Unless you believe in the supernatural, all things are subject to natural law including the entire scope of human activity.  I assure you that vegetarians do not defy physics, biology or chemistry.

@Unseen. I would hope the lion would go,through the exact same ethical consideration that I do. Not sure how that helps.

Relying on what is natural is a bit thin. How do you define 'natural' There are lots of things we avoid even though they could be called natural. Is it natural to keep alive badly handicapped offspring? We are all animals, but we are to an extent unique because we can reason. We have choices. We cannot justify our actions based on what our forbears did.

"Defining nature by opposing it to man is not very defensible, it seems to me."

I agree, the definition is speciesist, but it is used for the purpose of making an important distinction.

The problem is that OED doesn't really leave any wiggle room for changing it.  Due to the limitations of the English language sometimes it is necessary to change the definition of a word for the purpose of a discussion at hand.  I think we ought to just redefine the word for the purposes of this discussion in a non-speciesist manner.

The difference between pain and suffering is that suffering is contemplative and involves considering time. Here's what I mean, pain is immediate and is either there or not. Suffering goes beyond pain and considers it projected into the future. When you suffer, it includes the pain but also "Will this pain never end? How long must I endure this." People don't commit suicide over pain alone, but over the realization that the pain will be with them forever, or for an unendurable period of time.

Is feeling pain over time not to suffer?

Isn't that implicit in what I wrote?

You were not clear. From what you are sayong, you can suffer pain over a long period of time and not be suffering? PLease explain?

You kind of loaded the dice by using the word "suffering" twice. How about "You can experience pain over a long period of time and not be suffering." I recently had a procedure done which was painful, but the doctor gave me a drug that left me with no memory of pain, and I didn't suffer.


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