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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"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.

So are you sticking to the point of view that feeling prolonged pain is not suffering if you do not anticipate the future. Where did you get that from. Pain and suffering can be interchangeable but suffering can have just a mental element. Forget your doctor. Both humans and other animals can both feel pain and suffer.
Kris I've forgotten why we even started the discussion. I understand the distinction but don't agree with Unseen. Suffering need not entail contemplating the future. Sometimes not knowing the future, being incapable because of youth or mental incapacity, can increase suffering. Sometimes being able to contemplate a future and realising an end to pain will come eases suffering. Unseen is being too narrow in my view.

@John Major

Suffering need not entail contemplating the future.

Oh, yes, suffering involves incorporating the temporal element. What you are doing is using the term "suffering" when the right term for what you mean is "enduring."

Think about it this way. Suppose I feel a sudden pain that comes and goes in an instant. Suppose as well that it's extreme pain. But it lasts only .001 of a second. Am I suffering? No.

Now extend that pain over time, and I'm enduring the pain. Suffering comes in when I have to figure out how this pain is going to fit into my life. I don't think animals do that. They don't suffer. They may endure pain over time, but I wouldn't call that suffering.

An example, perhaps.

Humans are uniquely capable of imagining future despair and suffering, based on knowledge or speculation about their future. It's even probable that we humans didn't have a well developed sense of our own future or fear of suffering, because 1) life used to be about surviving from one day to the next, and 2) we didn't have experience with abstract contemplation, self reflection, much less conversations about what's possible in the future.

I have a friend who unfortunately worries constantly about spectacular events that might hurt her, like 911, volcanoes, earthquakes, diseases... you name it. And she's almost 70 years old, twice as old as an average human life span was back before the days of science, medicine, and somewhat predictable futures.

We don't have to split hairs about the definition of "suffering" in order to understand that we humans have the ability to suffer more than other animals, even when there's little for us to worry about. We humans can suffer just from the fear of future suffering, realistic or imagined.

We even fabricated the concept of Hell.

@Unseen: Exactly, thanks for that. I would highlight the words "contemplative" and "considering". These activities are psychological evaluations of the pain and its duration, not just the feeling of the pain itself.

@Stutz.  So you can feel pain over a long period of time, days, weeks, months and not suffer? Doesn't make sense to me. Woudl you accept that the inability to understand the pain can make the mental impact worse - case in point babies or young children who you would desperately like to explain what is happening to them but can't beacuse they lack understanding. Something I've experienced as I'm sure most parents have.


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