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Thread: Debate Proposal For Starlight: Infantcide

  1. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Catholicity View Post
    Dear Starlight: Since you have brought up and apparently believe in infanticide apparently through the age of three, and I obviously do not, I propose that you formally defend said belief. I will of course take the opposing side which is against infanticide. One twist. Instead of using religion or anti religion or propositions that involve whether or not God Exists or does not, we will use a secular debate which comes from biology and developmental psychology. You must use widely accepted resources from theories of development, anatomy and physiology. No wikipedia, no plagarism. If for example you use Erikson's theories of psychosocial stages you must credit him for the work, and give a link or book page.
    Did I miss something? Did Starlight actually say somewhere that he is in favor of infanticide up to the age of three? I highly doubt it.

  2. #12
    tWebber Starlight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Catholicity View Post
    Why is biology irrelevant when it comes to infanticide?
    Because from a moral standpoint I believe only two questions are relevant: Is the entity conscious? And, to what extent does the entity possess all the higher brain functions present in adult humans? Let me explain my general views on morality, and how they impact how I consider abortion...

    In my view of morality, morality is about the actions taken by beings who posses consciousness and higher mental capabilities towards other beings who posses consciousness and higher mental capabilities, and the extent to which those actions are intended as harmful or beneficial. Entities become morally relevant only when they first develop a consciousness, because only such beings posses the capacity to suffer or experience harm. I believe we have a moral duty to minimize harm to such beings. Thus killing or harming any animal, insect, human infant, etc is morally wrong, whereas doing the same to a plant or a rock is not wrong because those entities do not possess consciousness and cannot experience suffering.

    While science is still far from fully determining what constitutes "consciousness", I choose to assume for the purposes of this discussion that consciousness arises from or is connected to normal brain function, and that a being that is 'brain dead' lacks consciousness.

    A consequence of this view is that a developing embryo lacks moral relevance until it develops a brain and that brain beings to function. I hold no particular opinion about exactly when that begins to happen, nor do I overly care as I will discuss shortly, but I am informed by scientifically minded people that fetal EEG readings show normal brain function at about the 25 weeks stage, so I am happy with the idea that that might be about the point at which the fetus gains consciousness. I am not particularly interested in debating the biology of that or having any arguments over whether it occurs at some other number of weeks.

    So, just as I would regard killing a fly or a cow to be morally wrong actions since they constitute harm to conscious beings, so too would I regard the killing of a 30 week fetus. Just as I would regard turning a computer off, or chopping down a tree, as being acts of no moral relevance since they harm no conscious beings, so too would I regard the killing of a 1 week old fetus.

    Next important moral concept: I believe there are degrees of harm. Conscious beings can experience different levels of pain, suffering etc. More suffering is worse than less suffering. So when harm is done, more harm is morally worse than less harm. Rape is worse than stealing an apple, etc. Our society sets different penalties for different crimes accordingly.

    Next important moral concept: Human actions tend to have multiple consequences, and any action we take can simultaneously help one person and harm another. So it is possible that an action, eg stealing an apple to feed one's starving family, can involve intentional harms and intentional goods simultaneously. Such actions exist in a moral grey area since they contain components that are right and components that are wrong. We should generally try to do the least possible harm and the most possible good.

    As a result of these beliefs, I sometimes kill flies. Where possible I let them out the window, but if their buzzing is sufficiently annoying (a small harm) and their disease-spreading possibility (a small harm) is taken into account, then I feel justified, albeit bad about it due to the moral wrong of killing them, in killing the fly (a small harm). It's one of those moral grey areas where there's trade-offs and I make the call.

    Likewise with meat-eating. I eat meat, but I am unhappy about the moral wrong involved in the harm of killing the animals. I do go out of my way to ensure that I buy free-range eggs, to ensure insofar as I can that the animals are not being mistreated. I like to think the cows I eat generally have a happy life grazing in the fields that they wouldn't otherwise have had.

    I note that our society is generally prepared to kill flies for annoying us, and cows because we want to eat them, but not adult humans who annoy us. Next important moral concept: Harm done to a conscious being is more morally serious if the being has more sophisticated mental functions. An ant, we might assume, possess almost no higher mental functions, so treating it well is really not that morally important. A bird possesses a few higher mental functions, and so our laws regarding the treatment of birds, and punishments for treating them wrongly are stricter. Particularly intelligent animals, like dolphins, chimpanzees, dogs etc posses many higher mental functions, and so many legal systems around the world are beginning to extend increased protections to these sorts of animals, characterizing them as "non-human persons" meaning they are entitled to many of the same legal protections from harm that human people have. And at the top of the moral hierarchy are fully-developed humans, who posses the full suite of higher mental functions from language to logic to reasoning to memory etc.

    It follows that as the brain of the fetus/infant develops, it gradually ascends in moral status along the sliding scale from the level of "ant"/"fly" through "dog"/"dophin" up to "fully-developed human" as its brain develops. Thus, after the 25 week (or whatever) cut-off where brain activity begins and the fetus becomes morally relevant, the killing of it would be morally wrong in the same way that killing a fly would be morally wrong - a small harm. Such an act could be justified if it were done to prevent some other small harm, eg if it were annoying the mother. As its brain developed further over the weeks and months, killing it becomes more and more wrong, and increasingly good moral reasons would be needed to justify its death. (eg the discovery that it possessed a serious medical defect that would cause it to suffer throughout its life)

    An interesting feature of human biology, I am told, is that because humans walk upright, unlike most other mammals, the birth canal is narrower and as a result human babies get their heads squashed and squeezed during birth in a way other mammals don't. I am told this would cause serious brain damage to a fully developed brain, and that it appears that for this reason the vast majority of higher brain functions in humans begin their development after birth. Thus whereas most baby mammals are able to walk, forage, and generally act like members of their species from the very day of their birth due to brain development in the womb, human babies by contrast can initially do very very little.

    Regardless of the reasons for it, I understand that human babies do not exceed the IQ of animals until approximately the 2-3 year mark. A typical 2 year-old child has roughly the same level of intelligence as a dog. Most adults I have talked to, their earliest memories are from when they were about 3 years of age. This is approximately the time when children start to talk coherently. According to my friends who have studied psychology, about this age is where the infant's brain is completing the major process of development and wiring that began at birth, and now resembles an adult brain in all major respects and functions.

    Thus, at some point around the time of age 3 or so (again, I honestly barely care about the exact point, and if you were to tell me that new science revised that figure down to 1 or up to 4, I would shrug and say "okay"), the developing infant has reached the moral level of being a full human person, due to its now fully-developed mental functions. Thus any actions taken to harm it are fully as wrong as actions taken to harm an adult human, and any moral justification for harming it after this time would therefore need to be as compelling as would justify harming an adult human. eg voluntary euthanasia to prevent extreme pain and suffering or somesuch.

    It follows that my overall view on abortion/infanticide is as follows:
    - Under ~25 weeks or so, there is no brain function and thus no consciousness, thus the fetus does not have moral relevance, and thus any action can be freely taken to kill it. Such acts do not register on the scale of morality, because like chopping down a tree, they involve no harm to a entity possessing consciousness or higher mental functions.
    - After ~25 weeks or so, the fetus is apparently a conscious being, and therefore any action taken to kill it involves harm to a conscious being and is therefore a moral wrong. Such action would need to be morally justified by some other harm being prevented or good gained. While still close to 25 weeks, "because the mother wants to" is pretty much a good enough reason, just like killing a fly because its buzzing is annoying us is a good enough reason. However, as the fetus further develops its mental capabilities, the requirements for the moral justification of doing so likewise develops.
    - By 3 years or so, it is a conscious being with fully developed human mental capabilities, and the requirements for the moral justifications of harming it have maxed out at adult-human levels.

    As a result, I feel I can see why so many societies in history who practiced infanticide saw it as justified. If, for example, their community was facing a famine and there was not enough food to go around, it would be the action of least-harm to kill an infant rather than have one of the adults starve to death. And I am okay with the idea of our society having laws allowing for infanticide in cases where there is sufficient moral justification for it - such as what the Netherlands currently does in cases where parents and doctors agree to actively end the infant's life in cases where the child is born with extreme medical problems that would lead to extreme suffering.

    Anyway, I hope that answers your question of why I consider the details of the biology largely irrelevant. While the location of the first cut-off of "at what stage of development does consciousness begins?" is an interesting philosophical question, it turns out not to actually matter much since even after consciousness has begun the fetus is still ranking down around "fly" on the morality-scale due to its incredibly limited cognitive functions, and thus can still be harmed for almost any reason, so any argument over exactly when this occurs is largely irrelevant. Likewise at the other end of the development, since there is a moral continuum between near-developed-human and fully-developed-human brain functions, the infant does not suddenly go from "freely killable" to "totally unkillable, it would absolutely be murder" at any point along the post-birth development scale, so no amount of science is going to supply us with an exact point where its killing suddenly becomes impermissible.
    Last edited by Starlight; 06-16-2016 at 04:34 AM.

  3. #13
    tWebber Starlight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JimL View Post
    Did Starlight actually say somewhere that he is in favor of infanticide up to the age of three? I highly doubt it.
    I think that the killing of a fetus becomes wrong at about 25 weeks or so (but not very wrong, and so relatively easily morally justifiable if some other good is achieved through doing so), and gets progressively more and more wrong as time passes, and maxes out about the age of 3 where it is as wrong as the killing of an adult by that point. (See my above post for arduous detail)

    Quote Originally Posted by Sea of red View Post
    You need to give him some time to think the information that's been presented this week over.
    No, because we largely or completely seem to agree on the first third or so of my post above (that harm to conscious beings is a moral wrong, and thus that harming fetuses over ~25 weeks is a moral wrong), but I keep asking you about the premises in the later parts of it (whether you consider harms to humans worse than harms to animals and why, and whether you think different levels of brain-development provide a rationale for making moral distinctions) and you keep not answering it.

    The only way I can make sense of your position is that you hold to absolute right and wrong with no shades of grey allowed, think that a moral good can never justify a moral harm, and think that conscious animals are every bit as morally important as conscious humans. And that set of premises doesn't strike me as acceptable, not merely because I don't agree with any of them, but because it would seem to lead to absurd consequences... like being prosecuted for murder and getting life in prison for killing a fly. But when I've asked you about this (several times now) you haven't answered.

  4. #14
    tWebber Starlight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Carrikature View Post
    They're not relevant to all people. Certainly some do base their opinions on biology and psychology, but it's safe to say most don't possess that sort of knowledge. The lack doesn't stop them from having an opinion.
    Consider this conversation:

    A: "I believe murder is morally wrong."
    B: "Are you a neurosurgeon? What's your understanding of the details of the process of brain death?"
    A: "I have no clue, and it's irrelevant. I believe murder to be morally wrong for philosophical reasons. The details of the current science on brain death do not interest me."
    B: "What an ignorant person having opinions on a topic you know nothing about."
    A: ~rolls eyes at how much B is missing the point~

    A is pretty much me in this discussion. I'm saying the scientific details don't interest me and are beside the point as to why something is philosophically/morally right or wrong.
    Last edited by Starlight; 06-16-2016 at 04:20 AM.

  5. #15
    tWebber Carrikature's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Starlight View Post
    No, because we largely or completely seem to agree on the first third or so of my post above (that harm to conscious beings is a moral wrong, and thus that harming fetuses over ~25 weeks is a moral wrong), but I keep asking you about the premises in the later parts of it (whether you consider harms to humans worse than harms to animals and why, and whether you think different levels of brain-development provide a rationale for making moral distinctions) and you keep not answering it.

    The only way I can make sense of your position is that you hold to absolute right and wrong with no shades of grey allowed, think that a moral good can never justify a moral harm, and think that conscious animals are every bit as morally important as conscious humans. And that set of premises doesn't strike me as acceptable, not merely because I don't agree with any of them, but because it would seem to lead to absurd consequences... like being prosecuted for murder and getting life in prison for killing a fly. But when I've asked you about this (several times now) you haven't answered.
    We can pretty easily identify kind and seek to preserve all humans as being of the same kind. Brain development isn't a relevant factor.
    I'm not here anymore.

  6. #16
    tWebber Carrikature's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Starlight View Post
    Consider this conversation:

    A: "I believe murder is morally wrong."
    B: "Are you a neurosurgeon? What's your understanding of the details of the process of brain death?"
    A: "I have no clue, and it's irrelevant. I believe murder to be morally wrong for philosophical reasons. The details of the current science on brain death do not interest me."
    B: "What an ignorant person having opinions on a topic you know nothing about."
    A: ~rolls eyes at how much B is missing the point~

    A is me in this discussion.
    Right.
    I'm not here anymore.

  7. #17
    tWebber Starlight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Carrikature View Post
    We can pretty easily identify kind and seek to preserve all humans as being of the same kind. Brain development isn't a relevant factor.
    Consider if we were to encounter an alien space-fearing species in future. I would believe that to murder one of them would be as morally wrong as killing another human, since they were intelligent entities. Your reasoning would seem to lead down the path of "do to them whatever you like, they ain't human".
    Last edited by Starlight; 06-16-2016 at 04:58 AM.

  8. #18
    tWebber Starlight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Adrift View Post
    Are these things normal in modern day New Zealand?
    I am unable to find any survey results regarding what New Zealanders believe about abortion. It is not a topic that gets much, or even any, political or social discussion here. However it is my personal belief that if you asked people a survey question about to what extent they agreed with a statement like:
    "I think abortion should continue to be legal in New Zealand. I haven't thought much about, and/or have no strong opinion on, the maximum age of the fetus allowable for abortion purposes."
    then I suspect you would get a majority of the country agreeing with that statement. i.e. most people don't have a view other than that they're fine with the current law.

    Similarly if you quizzed people on a premise like:
    "I think that the more intelligent animal species should be granted more rights and protections than the less intelligent animal species."
    again, I believe you would get majority agreement.

    Once the premise is granted that the intelligence level of the animal affects what rights it has and how it should be treated, and once the premise that human abortion of the fetus is generally fine is granted, then the general conclusions of my view are pretty hard to logically avoid. Thus, a couple of my friends, both of whom are unusually thoughtful and philosophical guys, who have actually sat down and thought hard about the matter both independently reached the conclusion that infanticide could be morally justifiable, and they happened to mention it to me independently because they know I like philosophy and that I am always interested in hearing an interesting argument, and I ended up being convinced by their logic. Various international philosophers such as Peter Singer etc seem to agree.

    This gives me every reason to believe that a large number of other people in my country have likely also reached the same conclusion, or would do so were they to think through the same logic.
    Last edited by Starlight; 06-16-2016 at 05:00 AM.

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    tWebber Carrikature's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Starlight View Post
    Consider if we were to encounter an alien space-fearing species in future. I would believe that to murder one of them would be as morally wrong as killing another human, since they were intelligent entities. Your reasoning would seem to lead down the path of "do to them whatever you like, they ain't human".
    There's a lot more to it than that, but it's close enough for now. But so what? I've encountered exactly one coherent account for how non-human animals can factor into human morality, and I'm not yet convinced that it's actually coherent.
    I'm not here anymore.

  10. #20
    tWebber Starlight's Avatar
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    I think a crucial moral premise here on which people are holding differing opinions is how they justify treating animals morally differently to humans.

    Christianity supplies 3 main options for that premise:
    1) Because God says so - in Genesis, God puts mankind in charge of the animals on the earth.
    2) The Image of God - Humans are made in the "image of God" (whatever that is perceived to be) and so are different to the animals who aren't.
    3) An immortal soul - Humans live on after death, while animals don't. Hence the morality of actions toward them are different.

    Christians can endorse any or all of those as a moral justification for treating animals by a completely different standard to how they treat humans. Thus a conscious human fetus can be vastly more important to them than a dolphin, because the fetus is human and the dolphin isn't.

    Atheists don't have those options. The two main options seemingly available to atheists (and Christians too if they want them) are:
    A) In Group vs Out Group - Our moral obligations to beings who are similar to us are significantly greater than our moral obligations to beings that are different than us.
    B) Higher mental functions - Morality relates not merely to the very basic mental function of consciousness, but instead there is a continuum where additional higher brain functions being present imply greater moral personhood.

    Studies have shown that conservatives in general tend to quite like (A) and liberals in general tend to dislike it. It gives us an obvious reason to treat animals differently - they're not like us, and treat humans well because they're like us. But it equally means that people of other races and cultures who "aren't like us" can be treated badly, and people who live in other countries, who have other religious beliefs, or anyone in general who ain't like us, can be legitimately be treated worse than someone who is like us. Premise A, in other words, is the Donald Trump Premise. It lets us be racist and xenophobic, and even goes almost as far as mandating that we have to be those things in order to be moral.

    Liberals, as everyone may have observed, are not fans of the Donald Trump Premise. As a result, secular liberals basically have to opt for premise (B) (or come up with something I've never seen or thought of). And they generally do. Premise B is widely accepted, in some form or another. To given an example, The Thinker, who sometimes posts here, has an essay explaining his views of secular objective morality, and he explains his version of (B) as "since human beings have the greatest cognitive faculties concerning consciousness, emotion, reason, empathy and compassion that we are aware of, the greatest ethical considerations should be with the treatment of human beings. And from this, through scientific inquiry we can learn to the best of our ability [the level of mental function] in all other living things and categorize the ethical treatment of animals, fish and insects accordingly." Or, as he phrases it in another post "there is a very striking difference between someone who's lived and has been conscious and was able to contemplate life, have dreams, have thoughts of love and happiness, and someone who's never consciously experienced any of those things, at all, ever. It is a qualitative difference and it seems to me a very natural distinction." That's premise (B) again, phrased differently, with the importance of mental functions beyond mere consciousness being asserted to have moral relevance. (I'm not citing him as any particular authority, merely as an example of another secular liberal endorsing (B))

    A consequence of B is that as a human fetus matures, killing it becomes gradually more wrong over time.

    It is, I guess, possible to come up with some creatively constructed versions of B that gives a different result:
    (S) Additional brain functions in a species imply greater moral obligations to that species / greater moral personhood for that species.

    Premise (S) is a version of (B) where we've decided that it's not the individual being's mental capabilities that matter but instead arbitrarily applied those protections and obligations out to the entire species, just because. This would allow a person endorsing (S) to say "but you can't kill a fetus because it's a member of the human species!" Membership of a genetic species thus becomes really important, because they said it was.

    Another alternative that I've seen Joel using in this forum is:
    (T) A being is to be evaluated not only on the cognitive functions it currently has, but upon its capacity to naturally develop those in the future.

    Premise (T) is a version of (B) where time is ignored, and things that could and might happen in the future are essentially counted as morally relevant in the present. A fetus's potential to grow into a cognitively fully-functioning adult human is counted as a present reality for moral purposes.

    So secular liberals can make up versions of (B) that get them more towards a pro-life view, but those other versions of (B) I think are arbitrary and unjustifiable.
    Last edited by Starlight; 06-16-2016 at 08:16 AM.

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