Tuesday, March 13, 2007

On Abortion

The essential properties of a person are sentience, the capacity to feel pain and pleasure, sapience, the capacity for self-awareness, and individual personality.

Biological independence, the ability to function as a independent entity or "organism", and human genetics are the essential characteristic of a human organism: Brain-dead but still breathing bodies, for instance, are human organisms, although lacking sentience, sapience and personality they are not persons.

An embryo has only one of these essential characteristics and none of the essential properties of a person.

Morality is built on empathy: We do not wish another being to experience that which we would not wish to experience. Since we ourselves do not (typically) wish to experience pain and suffering, we do not wish another being to experience pain and suffering, hence we object to, for instance, cruelty even to animals.

There is simply no point of similarity on which we can feel empathy for an embryo: It cannot experience even pain and suffering, much less the awareness of mortality which is entailed by sapience. I cannot feel empathy for something that itself cannot feel, cannot think, cannot be in a mental sense. I have no more rational justification for empathy for an embryo than I would for an amputated finger.

No empathy, no moral status.

I have empathy for all sapient beings, human and non-human, and I disapprove of anyone who does not have empathy for all sapient beings, I strongly disapprove of anyone who does not have empathy for all sapient humans and I violently (to the extent of supporting coercion through lawful means, i.e. police, courts and prisons) of those who would cause suffering to any sapient being, that is pain against his, her or its will.

(I admit also to a degree of speciesism--all other things being equal, I have different empathic attitudes towards non sapient members of species typically sapient, especially my own species, then towards members of non-sapient species. Since this speciesism enhances moral status, I don't see it as problematic.)

Most importantly, I have empathy for a woman--a fully human, fully sapient being--who is pregnant against her will. If she does not wish to be pregnant, then pregnancy will by definition cause her suffering. When I balance that suffering against the physical impossibility of an embryo suffering, I can come to only one conclusion: I must not only permit abortion, but I have an active duty to ensure that any woman who wishes an abortion is able to receive one.


  1. Love it! The case for abortion in a hundred words or less. Brilliant.

  2. Morality is built on empathy

    Thank you!

  3. I am an atheist, and a 98 % pro-lifer.

    Largely pro-life due to my belief that life for "me" began at conception,
    that was the start of my existance,
    that was my own personal "big bang" (no pun intended).
    Three weeks after conception my heart started to beat.
    First brain waves were recorded at six weeks after conception.
    Seen sucking my thumb at seven weeks after conception.

    You see, although moments after conception I was no more than a clump of cells,
    that clump of cells was me,
    I might have had a lot of growing to do but that clump of cells was me just the same.
    I am glad I was left unhindered, to develope further,
    safe inside my mothers womb until I was born.

    Shouldn't they all be so lucky ?

    They are our equil, no more, no less.


  4. If only people would choose to use an effective birth control,(or two)

    They wouldn’t have to make another choice……..


    Cash payments for using birth control…………..


    I know their are a number of people who can’t use birth control for one reason or another.

    But is that true for all types of birth control,
    there are many different types to choose from,
    surely one to suite most every-one.

    I would suggest that the number of people that can’t use any of them at all would be very small

    but many use this as their reason.


  5. Bruce,

    If you have empathy for embryos then you do. I hope you understand the position of those of us who do not.

    I assume you're male, so you probably will not face the choice yourself.

    The question is: Are you willing to vote to coerce women to refrain from having abortions?

    I have no argument at all with improving access to contraception.

  6. Bruce and Larry demonstrate why I characterize abortion as a choice between a known evil and a possible (but admittedly greater if so) evil. I freely admit that I will be happy to revisit my decision to be pro-choice should objective evidence require it to be reconsidered.

    But I do agree on one thing, Bruce: Contraception, contraception, contraception! Be it condoms, pills, patches, or abstaining, contraception is key, people!

  7. B.B.....In responce to your question: (Are you willing to vote to coerce women to refrain from having abortions?)

    Yes....if that is what it will take to get people to be responsible and use birth control then yes would be my answer.

    Limited to about 2% for medical reasons and such.

    Oh and one more thing,if a Chemist cannot adequately fulfill his role and fill every script written by a doctor, then he should look for another job or employ someone who can.


  8. Larry,

    The properties which you list for moral status are properties possessed by most mammals. Cows, chickens, and most other animals which are consumed by human beings and live in factory farms qualify for personhood in the sense that you describe in your post. For that reason, you should be ethically committed to vegetarianism.

    Animals clear exhibit the capacity for what we intuitively recognise as pleasure and pain behavior: avoiding harmful stimuli, calling for assistance, and by limiting the use of injured limbs and body parts. On the neurological level, the mechanisms which cause pain behavior are the same across species ("Assessment of Pain in Animals", Animal Behavior 42 [1991]: p. 872 -- 89). Electrical activity in the somatosensory cortex of monkeys, dogs, and cats in response to stimulation is similar to that evoked in the human somatosensory cortex with the same stimuli. Since to the best of our understanding today, mental events are realized as physical events , animals experience pain. (Similar arguments demonstrate that animals experience pleasure.) So, many animals are sentient.

    Many non-human animals are also self-aware. At least, self-awareness is the ability to distinguish one's body from the rest environment, drawing a self-world boundary. To be sure, self-awareness is likely to develop in highly social animals because such animals need to be able to assess their own behavior and the behavior of other animals in relation to them.

    An experiment was done by Gallup in which primates who were anesthetized and painted with odorless markers on parts of their heads which they could not see. The primates were able to use mirrors to find the marks. That is, they saw their reflections as reflections of themselves. Primates who were not reared in social settings could not perform this task, even if they were familiar with mirrors. (See Rosemary Rodd's Biology, Ethics, and Animals.) Cows and chickens are, like primates, highly social animals which interact with each in complicated ways. Self-awareness is key to successful performance in social groups. Indeed, chickens naturally form "pecking orders" which determines their precedence over other chickens.

    Any one who has spent extensive time with and caring for chickens (such as myself) knows that, like dogs, they have personalities of their own. For instance, some chickens enjoy human companionship, or the companionship of other kinds of animals (like ducks). Others are more solitary and prefer to be off pecking. While a chicken may not have complex personalities like human beings, they still personalities in any reasonable interpretation of that word. Many animals have individual personalities.

    So, I mean to point out that many non-human animals, especially the highly developed social animals which are the victim of modern factory farming, are full persons in the sense you offer in your post. Animals possess moral status and make a moral claim on us; speciesism is incompatible with your views.

  9. Bruce,

    The fertilized egg which eventually grew into you could not be identified with you for a simple reason. Suppose that the fertilized egg really was you, and that it divided into two (so that identical twins would be formed.) Which twin would you be? Would you be both of them? Clearly, you could not literally be both twins because you both came from the same fertilized egg. Likewise, you couldn't end up as just one of them -- where would the asymmetry come from? Why would you end up as one rather than the other? It seems one should conclude that you came into existence some time later in the development of the fertilized egg.

    Similar arguments show that you could not have been identical to the developing embryo which eventually grew into you. We can imagine someone decided to clone you, and thus extracted cells from the core of the embryo (or better: divided it in half). Both embryos might have developed into full human beings -- but which one would you be if you were identical to the original, undivided embryo?

  10. Isn't it crazy that animals have more rights than a fetus.

  11. timmo...I have no twin...

    Did you know that some twins actually feel each others pain?


  12. Abortion numbers are far too high…

    Over 3,500 per day / Over 1.3 million per year in America alone.

    50% of that 1.3 million claimed failed birth control was to blame.

    A further 48% had failed to use any birth control at all.

    And 2% had medical reasons.

    That means a staggering 98% of unwanted pregnancies may have been avoided had an effective birth control been used.

    There are an estimated 34 million women in need of contraceptive services in America — those who are not sterilized, pregnant or trying to conceive.

    34 million…if the pill is 99% effective that means 1% of 34mill = 340,000 + 26,000 for the 2% = 366,000…………….

    366,000 abortions per year..Doesn’t that sound better than 1.3 million…
    And it could be even less, some of the implants are 99.9% effective….
    0.1% of 34mill = 34,000 + 26,000 for the 2% = 60,000………WOW……..

    1.3 million per year or 60,000 per year….


  13. Bruce,

    I think you missed the point of my arguments. It does not matter if you actually have a twin -- and I assume you have not been cloned! I was appealing to a counterfactual scenerio -- a hypothetical situation -- in order to illustrate that the view you expressed about being identical with a certain fertilized egg or developing embryo would break down in the scenario. But, if your view was in fact correct, it would not. This is the was philosophical arguments go: we imagine various hypothetical scenarios and see what is intuitively true about them. Does that clear up my point for you?

  14. timmo,

    It is not necessarily the case the animals needs experience pain in the way that humans do. I aknowledge the similarity of mammalian neurology across species, but that does not necessarily require that the experience of being a non-human mammal includes the same feelings humans possess.

    Consider one of those small yappy dogs that hollywood starlets seem so fond of. I have met one of those kinds of dogs and my experience with this dog was barred teeth and growling until the moment it was put in my lap when it immediately became sweet and began licking my chin. One might be tempted to say the dog was angry until it hit my lap, or maybe it was actually afraid and simply looked angry, or maybe it was neither angry nor afraid and simply assumed that this was the way it should behave without emotions being involved. I cannot say for certain which, if any, of these ideas are right.

    In an altogether different vein, some humans have a nerological impairment that entirely eliminates pain sensations. They can feel pressure and heat and sensations - but they do not experience pain as the acute, attention getting experience the rest of us experience pain as.

    I am not a vegetarian but it is not because I don't think animals can experience pain. It is, however, not beyond question that the human experience of pain is shared with other animals.

    Speaking of these other animals: Chickens can develop a pecking order without individual chickens being self-aware. A larger, stronger, or simply more aggressive chicken will always be able to dominate a weaker chicken - a sense of self is not really required. Social animals need not have a social experience that is as rich or as human as our experience in a social world.

    I may be the only other person on this blog to have experience raising and caring for chickens. And I am not so sure I would want to put too much weight on the colloquial usage of "personality" in context of indidual chicken personalities. Clearly there are personal traits that can distinguish one chicken from another and it makes perfect sense to talk of these things in familiar terms - but I can't help but pause at the notion that a chicken might be mischievious or have a sense of humor (not that I hold that against chickens - my mother-in-law doesn't have a sense of humor either).

  15. I couldn't kill a chicken,
    but I would kill a million chickens before I would kill a fetus.

    The value of the chicken just does not compare.


  16. Bruce,

    It's been my experience that the most effective way to encourage people to do something is to make it easier to do that something rather than make it harder to do the alternative.

    Once we make contraceptives universally available and dirt cheap, and provide universal sex education, I'd be happy to revisit the topic of discouraging abortion.

    The same goes to Timmo: I'm not at all blithely happy about eating animals: Were I to have the ability of easily feeding myself well without killing animals, I would reconsider the ethics of my diet.

    Many ethical decisions are weighted, not binary. Abortion entails weighing which is worse: imposing a pregnancy on an unwilling woman or killing an embryo; which is worse: killing animals or the non-trivially difficult task of maintaining a vegetarian diet.

  17. Bruce: Would you kill a million self-aware dolphins before killing an embryo? Would you destroy a whole forest, even a whole local ecosystem before killing an embryo?

    Would you coerce a fully human, fully sapient woman before killing an embryo?

    If people could transplant embryos to men, would you then have a coerced legal obligation to host an embryo in your turn?

  18. We were talking about chickens...don't you know..lol.

    But don't you think they are worth more than any animal....I sure do.

    (Would you coerce a fully human, fully sapient woman before killing an embryo?)....run that one by me again willis.

    Your last question...yes..if their was no other way...are they working on it..


  19. Bruce:

    One can't help but admire the consistency of your opinions.

  20. Thank you...


  21. In defense of Tim's post about animals, I think the Bum's argument that it's too hard to be vegetarian is a really lame rationalization. Vegetarian foods are everywhere these days, and getting better all the time, given recent trends in the food industry towards more and more demand for good vegetarian foods. Also, it's cheaper to eat a vegetarian diet. Becoming vegetarian may be difficult at first in the same way that any other conscious change in one's basic day to day life may be hard, but once you find a groups of new meals/foods/restaurants that you enjoy (and if you give yourself a chance, you will find them), it just becomes second nature to eat that way. I personally have been vegan for 5 years and have known scores of other vegetarians/vegans who have had that diet for many years. Given just a basic level of committment to it, it can be done relatively easy.

    Anyway, even if (counterfactually) the "difficulty" of eating veg were "non-trivial" as you claim, that would still be a lame rationalization. Considering that your choice to eat meat makes you responsible for the torture and gruesome killing of thousands of animals of the course of your life, I think that by comparison, the pseudo-hardship of simply finding something else to eat is miniscule. One could just as well argue that it's ok to round up neighborhood dogs and wild animals and burn them alive in a bonfire because other hobbies like reading or blogging just aren't as much fun.

    Finally, Kipp, though I can't necessarily prove that animals do feel pain the way humans do, I think that all that needs to be said to defend Tim's argument is that animals are sentient beings who experience some sort of pain which is important to them, ie, that they have experiential consciousness and have preferences regarding their internal states. Whether their pain is like ours is irrelevant, the point is that whatever they feel matters to them.

    Also, pegging animals' moral status on their ability to feel pain does not condemn us to denying the moral status of humans who cannot feel pain because those humans have sapience, which I would say is a sufficient (but by no means necessary!) condition for having moral worth.

  22. ej

    I think the Bum's argument that it's too hard to be vegetarian is a really lame rationalization.

    You're probably right. I'm lazy, I like to eat, and I don't really like animals in general. It's not the biggest issue on my plate (if you'll excuse the terrible pun).

  23. EJ:

    I don't necessarily question whether animals can experience pain - I think they clearly can. However, you slipped in a mention that "whatever they feel matters to them." I think we must be careful when using words that only have meaning in the context of human experience to apply to non-human animals. I'm not sure anything "matters" to a chicken or a cow. Chickens and cows will obviously avoid painful stimuli - but these experiences need not matter to them for that to be the case.

    And I might be more partial to your argument concerning vegetarianism if the natural world did not seem so comfortable with predation. I am uncertain why I should have a moral problem with carnivory in general and with human carnivory in particular simply because another creature must die and/or suffer in the process.

    Would you be okay with eating meat if we developed special breeds of cows, pigs, and chickens that lacked pain neurons? Your argument seems to be premised on the notion that we should respect the aversion to pain of all sentient creatures. Yet I get the feeling that you would still object to farming and eating the meat of these hypothetically pain-numbed animals.

    That leads me to suspect that pain-sensations are only part of the idea and that the issue is more about exploiting animals - using them to our own ends without regard to their welfare - when it comes to your principaled stand against carnivory. Yet vegetarians seem to be happy to kill and eat (that is, exploit) plants. But doesn't it seems remarkably neuro-centric to decide that organisms with sensory apparatus like ours are the ones to be concerned about and leave out all those similarly complicated organisms we call plants?

    Just because a snail or a rabbit can move around and look me in the eye doesn't mean it has some intrinsic moral value superior to that of celery or walnuts. All of these creatures have a life and purpose completely apart from humans and all might be sacrificed to fill a human's belly when hunger strikes him. The fact that snails and rabbits have a particular kind of specialized tissue (neurons) that celery and walnuts lack seems to be a rather arbitrary distinction.

  24. Kipp, I am unconvinced that terms like "matter to so-and-so" are only intelligible in the context of human experience, as you claim. Why would this be so? Certainly, animals don't use language to describe their internal states to themselves/others, but the idea of something mattering to an animal, in the basic, primitive sense that we (humans) all care about the sensations of pain/pleasure we feel on a basic, primitive level. The fact that animals feel certain sensations and apparently have preferences regarding them seems like a sufficient basis to say that, in at least some basic, primitive sense, these sensations matter to them.

    The reason we should be concerned with predation, specifically that by humans, is that, as humans, we have a moral choice when we decide to eat something. Are we going to add to the suffering and misery in the world, or are we going to be merciful and compassionate. The fact that another create has to live a lifetime suffering in a horrid factory farm and be slaughtered in ways that would make any decent person's skin crawl in order for humans to eat meat is a sound basis for avoiding such foods. As a general ethical rule, I would say that we ought to respect the rights of sentient beings not to be harmed or used merely as human instruments. But even if we don't accept that non-human animals have rights, we should at least agree that causing them to suffer, especially when we don't have to, is bad and immoral.

    I would disagree with your implied view that we should be ok with predation because the natural world is ok with it. First of all, the natural world is an abstraction, not an entity with intentions. The natural world is neither "comfortable" nor "uncomfortable" with predation any more than a falling rock "wants" to reach the ground or hydrogen atoms "enjoy" bonding with oxygen atoms. Second, unless you're prepared to defend a thoroughgoing natual law theory of ethics that supports human consumption of flesh, I don't see why I should really care whether flesh-eating is "natural" or not. Questions about natural design, to me, have always seemed obviously irrelevant to questions of what we morally ought to do.

    I would have absoltely no qualms about eating the flesh of an animal I was sure was completely non-sentient. My refusal to eat meat is simply a refusal to violate the rights of sentient beings. Any being who is not sentient has no rights.

    Is this "neurocentric?" Of course it is. But is neurocentricism necessarily an incorrect position to take? I don't want to get into a detailed ethical argument here, but I think we're on firm ground extending our empathy to those who can feel and not to those who cannot. Indeed, what would it even mean to have empathy (meaning feeling what someone else feels) with something who has no feelings, ie, a rock or a potato?

  25. ej,

    I am happy you are firm in your belief that any being who is not sentient has no rights. I must reflect however that it is convenient that the things you choose to eat happen to fall outside your moral status spectrum.

    Every flower you pick is seizing the existence of another creature that is not, in any sense, yours to take. You have arbitrarily decided you have the right to exploit plants by virtue of your nervous system - and that they have no rights worthy of your respect because they lack a nervous system. But the "rights" you speak of are simply your way of priviledging your desire to cling to this mortal coil - and that takes the sacrifice of something as a foodsource. I can't see any reason beyond status-seeking to priveledge the sacrifice of a rabbit or sardine above the sacrifice of head of broccoli. Neurocentrism is an neurocentrism does.

    And on a separate note, you seem to want to reduce all agriculture to cruel factory farms. Not every pig and chicken that makes it to the table suffered uselessly. But I get the feeling the suffering is not your real problem. You are a vegan - not a carnivore who chooses to eat only painlessly slaughtered meat - so I can only assume there are more edibility benchmarks at work here than just sentience.

    Would you have a problem eating a chicken than had lived a happy, open-range life and was then killed instantly and without pain?

  26. Gee you guys are getting pretty deep...here's my take in simple terms...I love meat, but if I had to hunt and kill to get it I definately would be a veg-n.
    For me it is more about not wanting to deny them of their right to live out their natural life.(they could enjoy life for years if I didn't kill them).

    I don't think about it when I go to the butcher because it is beyond dead and if I don't eat it someone else will.


  27. kipp,

    I was being a bit tricky when I slipped in talk of factory farms. There are many strands of argument which I can follow, but I think the main one is the argument that sentient (whether sapient or not) beings have rights not to be either caused to suffer (rights to bodily integrity) or to be killed, at least in normal circumstances (whether these rights can NEVER be infringed upon is a side issue when it comes to meat eating, I think). The argument in support of this is the marginal cases argument which, briefly, states that because (1) not all sentient humans are sapient (eg, babies and the severely mentally handicapped experience pain and pleasure but have no self-consciousness), (2) that such beings have (at least prima facie) rights not to be killed or otherwise used instrumentally, and (3) that the mere difference of species, that is, the possession of a certain type of chromosomes is not a sufficient basis for saying that one being has rights while another does not, then it must follow that animals who are similarly sentient but not sapient (and of course, those animals who are sentient AND sapient, if there are any) must have the same rights to be free from being killed or used instrumentally.

    To use a quote from the animal rights philosopher Tom Regan: "What could be the basis of our having more inherent value than animals? Their lack of reason, or autonomy, or intellect? Only if we are willing to make the same judgement in the case of humans who are similarly deficient." The idea is that animals, like humans (whether sapient or not) are subject of a life, again borrowing from Regan. They are preference-holders with a mental life, things that matter to them whether or not anyone else cares about it. My summary of his argument is rather rudimentary, and I encourage you to read the full article from which this quote is drawn if you're interested in learning more: http://www.tomregan-animalrights.com/regan_rites.html

    Anyway, this is a long-winded way of saying that no, I would not eat meat from "happy" chickens etc. Happy or not, their slaughter necessarily violates their rights, and their very classification as private property as a human is suspect, since to call x the property of y confers the right of y to do what he will with x.

    You are correct in saying that I am neurocentric, but I simply fail to see anything wrong with this. The marginal cases argument is based on a deep conviction/intuition that individuals who are subjects of interal lives are valuable, that their pleasures, pains, and very lives have worth and value. If your objection is that my ethical framework prohibits me from drop-kicking a baby or a dog but does not similarly prohibit me drop-kicking a rock or a potato, I would view that as no objection at all. Do you actually have some deep-seated empathy for cabbages and clumps of dirt that makes their treatment as instruments of humans and animals and rejection of their "rights" to certain kinds of treatment seem abominable to you?

  28. EJ,

    I am not exactly empathetic to potatoes... but then again I don't happen to be very similar to a potatoe either. Perhaps if I were more potatoe like I might actually feel an empathy toward them like I do toward a dog - but it isn't the potatoe's fault I am not a starch filled tuber and thus I don't set my moral claims upon that basis.

    Redwood trees, for instance, lack a nervous system and yet I cannot help but be awed by their existence. I don't see that I have anymore (or any less) right to use a redwood instrumentally than I have to use a chicken that way. Deciding that I won't feel guilty about killing the redwood for my own ends because it lacks rights (which I've chosen to withold from it) seems entirely arbitrary and self-serving.

    Being a vegan, I assume you don't eat escargot. A garden snail has on the order of maybe 100 neurons in its body. There are other mulluscs with even fewer neurons. You seem to have decided that the presense or absense of 10-20 of a particular type of cell is what makes the snail a morally significant agent and not the giant-kelp forest it inhabits.

    I generally take talk of rights to refer to moral systems that are not simply at the whim of human opinions (even if humans are the only things around that consider such things as "rights"). Killing a cabbage or cutting down an oaktree doesn't trouble you all that much, so you aren't guilty when you do it. Eating a chicken (even a painlessly prepared chicken) does trouble you and you would feel guilty if you did. You've decided to label this pattern of behavior not simply as "my preference for dinner" but "respecting the rights of chickens."

    You should consider the analogous question to the one you mentioned concerning animals: What could be the basis of us having more inherent value than plants. Plants, after all, can generate their own food without killing another organism to get it. That certainly seems a prima facia reason to priviledge their existence over animals who can only live by taking the life of something else on an ongoing basis.

    It's not that I have a problem with your choice of diet or that I feel an emotional connection to broccoli - it's that your moral system is based on just as self-serving a basis as the meat eater who doesn't sweat carnivory because he doesn't feel empathy toward chickens and cows.

    I don't believe I have a "right" to kill and eat anything else because I don't think I have a "right" to continued existence. I am simply unwilling to console myself to the reality of heterotrophy by setting up arbitary moral systems whose only actual function seems to be assigning a superior status to those people who choose to eat the same things I do.

  29. My ethics is not rooted in any self-serving beliefs, but in empathy, which often leads me to self-sacrifice. If I wanted to draw an arbitrary line in the sand that was self-serving, why wouldn't I just draw the line at species membership and say that only humans have rights, or even better, take up egoism as my ethical theory, arbitrarily saying that only I matter?

    Arguing that I don't eat animals because it makes me uncomfortable or guilty gets the argument backwards: I don't think it's wrong to eat meat because it makes me feel guilty, I feel guilty about eating it because I think it's wrong.

    Anyway, I agree with the general proposition put forth by the bum in the original post, that ethics is rooted in empathy--that is, our deep, considered intuitions about morality are a valid foundation for moral reasoning. The intuition that sentient/not sapient humans have rights, and the intuition that we ought not to withhold moral standing/protections from some individuals on the basis of arbitrary distinctions (eg eye color, or, as I argue, species membership), are very strong moral intuitions, and ones which, on reflection I think we can accept.

    Moreover, there is nothing inherently self-serving about these beliefs. The fact that, when taken to their logical conclusion, these intuitions leave you with the conclusion of the marginal cases argument made in my last reply does not mean that the premises of the argument (which form the basis of my ethical system) are themselves self-serving. Indeed, these propositions are universalized in form.

    Your argument that we are being arbitrary when we ascribe more value to ourselves or to animals than to plants rests on a rejection of the intuition that empathy/respect for others is correct. We cannot have empathy for plants because there is no feeling which we can feel with them. There is no individual, no being to care about.

  30. ej,

    As far as arbitrary standards for ethical worth are concerned, empathy is as good as any other - it remains, however, both arbitrary and self-serving because the bounds of your empathy are whatever they happen to be.

    Yet you claim more than a mere empathy with the pain experiences of animals as a reason not to eat them. Even if you had the option to eat painlessly killed chickens you would not because, as you said, you don't feel it's right to take the life of the chicken for your own ends.

    I am wholly unclear on why the chicken has a right to life and a redwood does not. It is apparently because, as far as your concerned, redwoods don't deserve a right to life because they have no nervous system. They are still alive, we can all agree - but because the kind of life is leads is not sufficiently like your own life, it has no right to unmolested existence and you feel no guilt in using it for your own ends.

    This is, I must reiterate, very convenient for you vegans. A world in which plants had neurons (even one?) would be a world in which your ethical veganism would compel you to slow starvation (or at least much more complicated food preparation). But luckily the Neural Standard for empathy allows you to dispense with these ethical considerations and enjoy that tofu burger sitting at a finely crafted mahogany table.

    I get the feeling people had empathy long before we knew what neurons were. I also get the feeling I could fool you into having empathy for a finely crafted automaton that looked and acted like a child (or a chicken) but lacked a neural system at all - it happens with fictional characters all the time actually.

    Just because I can feel empathy for Oliver Twist, does that mean this fictional character also has a right to life?


    ...reason or situation ..........................number................% of abortions

    not using contraception .........................4,957 .....................46.40
    forced to have relations ..........................~64 ......................0.6
    using contraception .............................5,726..................... 53.60
    contraceptive failed despite proper use ........~1,808..................... 16.9

    ....................................total ......10,683.....................100


  32. sorry that didn't work...just go:


  33. I give up with you. You write that my ethical belief system "remains, however, both arbitrary and self-serving because the bounds of your empathy are whatever they happen to be." This idea is frankly unintelligible. Under your conception, what would be a non-arbitrary basis for ethics? Actually, don't bother responding. I'm sick of your BS.

  34. ej-

    I'll bother responding:

    One's sense of empathy is not, as far I can tell, something one has arrived at via logical deduction or evidentiary persuasion. It is whatever it happens to be - for you, that means empathizing with chickens (for instance).

    People like Julia Butterfly Hill certainly seem to empathize with Redwood trees, for instance. (If they don't necessarily empathize with these things, they certainly do care deeply for their welfare.)

    Here we have a situation where your empathies and someone else's clash: You do not think the Redwood has a right to unmolested existence because you lack empathy for the Redwood. Julia Hill feels so strongly the opposite that she lived exposed in a redwood to protect it.

    You have raised the "neural standard" as the logical or practical basis for empathy. I'll lead with my chin here and assert that your empathies did not suddenly reorient upon your learning what a neuron was. That's why I call them arbitrary: they are whatever you notice when you experience or fail to experience empathy.

    I call them self-serving because your empathy standard allows you to dispense with having to really consider that your life costs the lives of other creatures - in your case plants, fungus, algae, etc.

    I would not say I have empathy for Redwood trees, or kelp, or mushrooms. But I do have an unshakeable intuition that they are no more mine to do with as I please than a snail or rabbit is. Thus, I balk at your assertion - or your assent to my formulation - that plants do not have a right to unmolested existence.

    I am neither a vegan nor do I avoid eating plants. I also am not guilt-ridden every night at the dinner table. I recognize that my existence is only at the cost of other forms of life. Perhaps if I were more consistent, I would be a naked Jainist sweeping my path.

    I guess I should make a substantive point rather than trade bombastic and vague moral assessments with you: If you do not recognize a right to unmolested existence in things without neurons, how do you properly ground an environmetnal and/or conservationist ethic when it comes to rare plant species (or anything without neurons?) How can you veto the plans of a neuron-having developer to build a condo on the last stand of a rare wildflower if there is no basis for claiming the wildflower deserves not to be destroyed?


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