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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Unseen mentioned speciesism, which is highly advanced by Peter Singer. I would say that Singer has provided some interesting dialogue on the matter.

I think there are a lot of factors that go into a human that does not develop into a person, or a human who has lost personhood status, or a human who is not yet a person.

I would recommend reading the book Peter Singer Under Fire.

@Unseen. We agree! (I think) I'm of the opinion that it is pure and simple speciesism that prevails. Sure it's natural. But it's not ethical. No more ethical than racism or sexism. Just arbitrary differences to seize upon and promote self interest.

I know you don't agree with hardly anything I saw but I find it refreshing that you recognise the treatment of other animals for what it is. The rest - determinism, compassion etc etc is where we are unlikely to agree.

I like this position much more than having a discussion with someone who says we should eat meat because we,have sharp teeth, a history of doing so, top of the food chain blah blah.

@John Major

That is probably all we agree on, because speciesism aside, I see only two types of animals in the world: predators and prey, and while some creatures can sometimes fit both roles (e.g., a pig killing and eating a rabbit), each species, man included, is mostly one or the other, and man is rather obviously better fitted to the predator role.

@Unseen. We have a choice whether we chose to cause harm, pain and suffering. This comes back to a question of ethics and of compassion. You agree we are speciesist, I think this a concern and you do not.

You may think I'm misguided or confused. But I have made a sustained commitment to be ethical and made what was at the outset a difficult sacrifice. And I see my ethics as very respectful of evolution and atheism.

It seems to me that some take the blank canvass of atheism and build something positive while others see it as an opportunity for mental masturbation.

@John Major

My view on meat eating has nothing to do with religion or lack thereof. I just don't think that a predator stops to think about compassion. Vegetarianism/veganism are simply, in a word, unnatural. I ask again: if a lion were as bright as a human, would it be obligated to give up meat because wildebeests, buffalo, and zebras suffer while being killed? Stop thinking that somehow mankind isn't natural or should stand outside nature. Stop thinking that we are unique. That comes pretty close to claiming our creator made us special and gave us a special non-natural role.

Unseen, an appeal to nature doesn't justify anything because nature has no right to authority.

Nature got us here, and as Kris pointed out, you could argue everything we do is a product of nature because we are a part of it.

It may have got us here, but it has no authority over us to say what we should or should not do from this point.

@Kris Feenstra

The rate at which we consume dairy is also unnatural. Refined sugars and processed foods are also unnatural. Almost all cooking is unnatural.  Lots of things are unnatural. I'm not sure why that matters.

Granted, dairy, refined sugars, and processed foods are unnatural, but eating meat for an omnivore IS natural. If we went back to nature in a big way, eating meat would be a big part of it. That we do other unnatural things isn't much of an argument for being even more unnatural. As for cooking food, while that may be unnatural, that is a matter of self-preservation. We should eat less meat, but giving it up entirely is unnatural.

Lions are obligate carnivores.  Humans are not obligate carnivores. The two scenarios aren't equal.

Not necessarily. While it would seem lions can't manufacture artificial food due to not having hands, I'm sure some sort of Purina Lion Chow could be made by humans that the 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.

In this case, we are (exceptional). Most of us are not predators, which is to say we do not prey upon other animals. We farm them. Actually, as a non-farmer, I am more of a scavenger, really. We are not lions.

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

"The word 'natural' has a well established meaning of that which is not cultivated or contrived by humankind."

Kris That is true. I didn't know the definition made that distinction until you pointed it out.  Seems I misread the first half of your post too.

@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.

...an 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?

@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.

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