"To Be or Not To Be"
Here is a rough draft I just finished of a philosophical article responding to the arguments, in particular, of Peter Singer and Mary Anne Warren supporting abortion.

A few notes:

- There are certainly more important reasons to oppose abortion - such as the existence of the soul - but ones that are beyond the boundaries of modern philosophy. I believe that, even if God is completely eliminated from the mind of modern man, the natural law still binds our reasoning.

- The most common objection to my claim is that, given my distinction, there is no difference between the potentiality of a developing fetus and that of a sperm approaching the egg moments before conception. What these people don't know is their objection is perfectly legitimate; I oppose contraception from the natural law for the same reason as I have opposed abortion in this article. Of course, these philosophers would expect me to support contraception from the natural law.

- My argument explaining the morally significant distinctions between humans and animals expounds upon another qualifier of "person" that Singer does not acknowledge. It was beyond the scope of this article to make this distinction. Without it, however, Singer's conditions for personhood could, potentially, place animals on an equal moral plane with humans; indeed, he does just that. I have already written a smaller article in response to it, but that was beyond the scope of this work.

- Citations are included at the end, including one endnote.

For those philosophers out there on FE: Since it is only a rough draft, your thoughts, constructive criticisms, and comments on likeable points would be greatly appreciated.

(Note: If you have never read Singer, you might not understand my complicated approach. If you have read Singer, you would find that his conclusions are usually valid from his premises. Usually people who disagree with him just attack his breed of philosophy, preference utilitarianism, but I have tried accept his view only insomuch as to use it as a common ground upon which to engage in discussion.)

P.S. If you find any spelling errors, let me know.

“To Be or Not to Be”

          Abortion, one of the most hotly-debated issues of the 20th century, refers to the “termination of a pregnancy by the removal or expulsion from the uterus of a fetus or embryo, resulting in or caused by its death”  (specifically, a member of the species, Homo sapiens). The ethical issue of abortion has raised important emotional, psychological, biological, sociological, legal, and philosophical questions. As section 1 of this paper illustrates, a superficial consideration of this ethical issue appears to yield a conclusion supporting the morality of abortion. However, as section 2 will demonstrate, a more thorough analysis of this popular philosophical question exposes, what appears to be, a small oversight by many contemporary philosphers such as Peter Singer and Mary Anne Warren, yet one with serious moral significances. Consequently, as we will find in section 3, the objections raised in section 2 sufficiently refute the notion that it is morally permissible to terminate the life of the unborn.

Section I

          In the section titled The Fetus as Potential Life of Peter Singer’s book, Practical Ethics, Singer reviews a popular argument against abortion. This argument goes something like this:

     First premise: It is wrong to kill a potential human being.
     Second premise: A human fetus is a potential human being.
     Conclusion: Therefore it is wrong to kill a human fetus.

After refuting a few standard claims made by proponents of this model, Singer then examines the argument a little more seriously. He seems to accept second premise, but disagrees with the first. If the first can be defended, however, he acknowledges that the conclusion logically follows. Ergo, Singer begins by considering the soundness of the first premise: It is wrong to kill a potential human being. He then counters the assertion by arguing that, to claim a potential X has the same value as an X, or has all the rights of an X, is insufficient to conclude that, since ‘A is a potential X’, then ‘A has the rights of an X’. Bearing in mind that potentiality is not actuality, Singer argues that, unless there can be shown a moral significance in potentiality, these fetuses cannot have claims to moral rights.

          Singer then goes on to state on p. 155, “Is there any other significance in the fact that the fetus is a potential person? If there is I have no idea what it could be.” It is in this step that we find and exploit Singer’s error – an oversight present in his own admitted ignorance of the nature of potentiality.

Section II

          In order to understand the full moral implications afforded by potentiality, we must understand its complete nature. If we intend to understand its complete nature, we must first acknowledge the distinction between two different kinds of potentiality. The first kind is that potential which denotes existence in possibility – capable of development into actuality – only by means of an external force. By this I mean that the potential is static and non-moving. It can only be actualized through an application of external accelerants. For the purposes of clarity, I shall refer to this type as subjective potentiality.

          As an example, let us consider a nation which is governed by the hypothetical political system of a ‘democratic empire’. Say, for instance, that every member of the nation has the potential to be elected to the throne by means of votes from other citizens. In this system, there is no immediate expectation of imperial rights or authority by any of these citizens once the emperor is dead because each of them is as equally capable of being elected to the throne as the others, and none of them is an heir to the throne. If a certain citizen desired to increase his chances of becoming emperor, he would have to accept the influence of outside agents that would make him more likely to be chosen by the demos. In his present state, however, he has no guarantee of the position when the emperor dies because the appointment is effected by the desires of the people. In this way, he has no more right to the throne than anyone else. Indeed, no one has any intrinsic “right” to the throne at all.

         The second kind of potentiality is that which denotes existence in possibility – capable of development into actuality – by means of inevitable inheritance. By this I mean that it is a latent capacity which will become manifest in time unless inhibited by an external force. For the sake of clarity, I will refer to this application as objective potentiality. 

          It is expedient to use an example for this case as well. Let us consider this potentiality within a monarchy whereby an heir to the throne of the king awaits the inevitable consequence of time, a consequence which will yield his inheritance of the crown. By means of his heredity and genetic connection to the monarch, there is an imminent expectation, anticipation, and presupposition that the prince will be the heir to the throne of the kingdom ipso facto when his father dies and, moreover, that he will acquire the rights most proper to that office. Of course, as prince, he is not the king and only maintains the potential for this authority. But this potential is such that he will inevitably inherit the rights afforded him by his bloodline unless an outside agent intervenes.

          We see this second nature of potentiality evidenced all the way to the micro-level of science. When molecular biologists speak of genetics, they do not say that genomes don’t carry genetic instructions because their phenotypes have not yet been expressed. Instead, they say that a genome is a set of characteristics pending manifestation. If allowed to develop according to their natural design, a gene will express the genetic code it carries in the form of the observable, physiological characteristics of the host. This will occur inevitably unless frustrated by some external inhibition. However, this is only significant insomuch as the genomes are presently in existence. There is no expectation that a phenotype would exist by nature of its own propensity to manifest itself without first relying on the preliminary existence of its genotype. Applying this to our fetus, we can say that these rights are more than just a subjective potential; they are dormant rights that are inherited by the very nature of the fetus’s existence.

          Having now qualified the nature of potentiality, and having clarified it by analogy, we shall now turn our focus to a more concrete distinction – that between, what Singer calls, members of the species Homo sapiens and persons. On p. 85, Singer describes the biological membership of the species as “…determined scientifically by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in the cells of living organisms.” On p. 87, he distinguishes this membership from persons, which he describes as “rational and self-conscious being[ s ].” It is possible that there are other considerations that would further qualify personhood, but for the subject at hand, I will consider only Singer’s distinctions. If being a member of the species Homo sapiens is a necessary condition of being a person, and if to be a person is sufficient for receiving moral rights, then there must be at least one more condition in addition to the first which is necessary for the acquisition of these rights. 

          In order to determine what other condition this might be, we must first apply the afore-mentioned analogous cases of the citizens and the prince to the distinctions drawn between members of the species Homo sapiens and persons. Let us consider first the implications of the potentiality of existence as it relates to subjective potential. The citizens, in this case, are representative of a purely random and spontaneous existence whereby potential beings, through means of election, could at any moment acquire complete moral rights within an instant. This, of course, cannot be true because no fetus has been known to instantaneously transcend potential existence into a fully-developed self-conscious and rational reality. Moreover, this cannot be true because we know, as a matter of fact, that all beings come into existence via a gradual, incremental process of developmental progress.

          Instead, then, we must draw our attention to the other species of potentiality: objective potential.  The prince, in this case, is representative of the species Homo sapiens; the king is representative of persons. So, if by mere birthright the prince is entitled to the acquisition of those rights (authority), then the capacity for those rights is always there by means of privilege alone. In this way, we might say the prince lays claim to, by merit of his bloodline, the latent rights which simply await manifestation on the throne.

        The actualization of this potential can only be effected by two necessary conditions: 1) the prince is not killed; 2) the present king will inevitably experience death. The first condition requires that no external force interferes with the prince’s intrinsic propensity to the rights he is to acquire. This means that the prince will obtain the rights of the throne unless someone or something endeavors to stop him. Yes, the prince must do all those things necessary to maintain his own physical well-being, but provided that by his own actions he secures the continuity of his life, some external force must interfere in order to take this well-being from him. Suppose that even if the prince did not take of himself physically such that he might perish before acquiring the throne, every day that the prince lives brings him closer to the end for which he is biologically predisposed. Assuming that there is no reason to believe the reign of the prince as king will bring about some great moral evil upon the land, we should allow him the inheritance of the rights to which his very bloodline is genetically predisposed. The second condition requires that the role of time in the reign of the king is uninhibited such that the natural effects of change over time will inevitably bring about the end of one reign and the beginning of the next. In this condition, there exist no moral factors which would require us to take into account whether the king’s death will actually take place eventually at some point in time because, unless the king is immortal, he will inevitably experience death. These last two conditions together are sufficient to constitute the second condition necessary for the prince’s inheritance of the crown:  positive change over time.*  For conciseness, I shall refer to this change as progress. As it is concerns the human fetus, this progress must be related to its growth and development.   

          We are now able to consider the dual-nature of potentiality in light of a developing person. Assuming that both biological parents are members of the species Homo sapiens, then their offspring are also biologically members of the same species. According to Singer, to be a person, and, subsequently, to claim moral rights, it is necessary that a being be a member of the species Homo sapiens and possess, at least, the capacities for self-consciousness and rationality. Because no being spontaneously comes into existence, least of all manifesting its fullest capacity as a member of the species to which it belongs, no being could have the capacity for self-consciousness and rationality without first having, as the fetus, the opportunity for uninhibited developmental progress. Hence, to posses the capacity for self-consciousness and rationality, a being must be allowed uninhibited developmental progress. Significantly, uninhibited developmental progress is necessary for the capacity for self-consciousness and rationality. For clarity’s sake, I will refer to this constituent as the “condition of developmental progress”.
          To be a person, it is first necessary that a being be a member of the species Homo sapiens and possess the condition for developmental progress. It seems intuitively wrong to justify an action by first removing a condition that would make that action immoral (so as to make it moral), but let us consider a hypothetical situation in which this intentional inhibition might be applied. Suppose, for instance, that a woman is involved in a serious car accident which places her in a state of comatose. This woman remains in this state for a significant period of time and there seems no possibility that she was emerge from her unconscious state. Brain scans indicate that, if she were to awake, she would have no memory of her past; she would start completely “anew” so to speak. Power of attorney has been given to her husband who does not wish to perpetuate his wife’s current state because he has another love interest, but as he is determining to end her life, the brain scans begin to reveal an increased activity of her brain. Her condition begins to steadily improve and recent test results prove that, provided her progress is uninhibited, she will inevitably regain consciousness. The husband knows that if he permits her the necessary condition of progress, she will inevitably regain the rights of her personhood. But, because he places his rights as an existing person over the rights of a ‘potential’ person, and, because he knows that killing her will prevent any opportunity of her acquiring the moral rights associated with the manifestation of this potentiality, he justifies the denial of developmental progress to his wife, thereby killing her.

          Based the above analogy, it would seem that we should not remove the necessary condition of developmental progress from any objective potential person because it requires that we first remove a condition that is essential for the acquisition of its personhood. In this way, we do something immoral in order to justify doing something moral. The wrongness of that reasoning might not always be immediately apparent, but in this context, the justification of an immoral action has significant moral consequences. So, as it relates to both the analogy presented above the case of abortion, to remove the condition of developmental progress is to remove a condition necessary for the being to inherit moral rights. Since, to perform an abortion is to remove the condition of developmental progress, killing a fetus removes the condition of developmental progress. It follows, then, that to kill a fetus is to deny it the moral rights afforded by its membership of the species Homo sapiens and its developmental progress. Therefore, to kill a fetus is immoral.

Section III

          So far, this analysis has treated of the lack of diligence on the part of those who would posit that potentiality can not suffice for the inheritance of moral rights. Some authors, namely Mary Anne Warren, have objected to this refutation by suggesting extreme, hypothetical circumstances that would, presumably, reduce this analysis to absolute meaninglessness. One such objection considers the moral implications of a space explorer captured by aliens whose scientists endeavor to use the cells of his body to spawn a great number of human clones. Warren objects that the explorer would be permitted to escape rather than submit himself to the whims of the alien culture that endeavors to bring into existence a significant number of human clones from the cells of his body. What Warren does not address, however, is the dual-nature of potentiality and its moral significance. As previously demonstrated, the fact of the matter remains that a potential person with no biological expectation of personhood can’t possibly lay claim to any rights that are merited by those who already possess this biological propensity. Furthermore, her analogy overlooks the role that the aliens play in this situation. The potentiality of the human clones’ existence can only be actualized by the application of some external force, the absence of which would yield no reasonable expectation of existence. The aliens would have to perform some preliminary action in order to initiate one of the necessary conditions of personhood: developmental progress. Understanding these distinctions, it would seem impossible to accept Warren’s application of her analogy to the abortion issue.

          Conclusively, in light of the above analysis, personhood, its necessary conditions, and the moral rights afforded to them seem to play a much larger role in the rights of objective potential beings than Singer and Warren would have us believe. Significantly, it seems apparent that we should not justify the killing of a potential person on the grounds that a removal of personhood’s necessary conditions elicits an automatic forfeiture of that potential person’s moral rights, therefore providing us with the peace of mind to kill fetuses as we please.

*Negative change over time would be failure to meet one or both of the conditions necessary for progress.

1. Hamlet, Act III, Scene I, Shakespeare

2. Gynaecology for Lawyers, Trevor Dutt, Margaret P. Matthews


Messages In This Thread
"To Be or Not To Be" - by INPEFESS - 05-13-2010, 09:10 PM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by Lagrange - 05-15-2010, 10:01 AM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by Vetus Ordo - 05-15-2010, 01:11 PM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by INPEFESS - 05-16-2010, 12:42 AM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by Lagrange - 05-16-2010, 03:59 AM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by INPEFESS - 05-16-2010, 10:06 PM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by INPEFESS - 05-16-2010, 10:20 PM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by INPEFESS - 05-16-2010, 10:47 PM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by Lagrange - 05-17-2010, 01:38 AM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by INPEFESS - 05-17-2010, 09:01 AM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by INPEFESS - 05-17-2010, 05:09 PM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by Lagrange - 05-18-2010, 08:34 AM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by INPEFESS - 05-20-2010, 10:46 AM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by Lagrange - 05-23-2010, 03:45 AM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by INPEFESS - 05-23-2010, 01:36 PM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by INPEFESS - 05-23-2010, 01:37 PM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by Lagrange - 05-23-2010, 10:19 PM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by INPEFESS - 05-24-2010, 08:31 AM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by INPEFESS - 05-24-2010, 08:03 PM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by INPEFESS - 05-27-2010, 04:08 PM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by Historian - 05-27-2010, 05:21 PM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by INPEFESS - 05-27-2010, 05:41 PM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by INPEFESS - 05-27-2010, 05:46 PM
Re: "To Be or Not To Be" - by INPEFESS - 05-27-2010, 05:51 PM

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