Is a fetus a human being?

Discussions relating to good and evil, right and wrong, values, virtues, duty, and natural rights

Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby Brandon Norgaard on Thu Apr 22, 2010 3:51 pm

Thanks for your post, Gnomon. At this point I don't think there is much benefit to continuing this discussion. Its been a pleasure. Maybe I'll be interested in starting this up again sometime in the future.
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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby gnomon on Thu Apr 22, 2010 6:05 pm

Brandon

I guess we have beat this dead fetus to death. :)

One last note : I just came across a good illustration for my "flex-ethic" theory. The May DISCOVER magazine has an article on the current state of robotics. In military applications robots are used extensively, but they are not yet allowed make life or death decisions. Current robots lack the moral intuition (conscience) to make such difficult choices.

However, if machines are ever to replace humans in close urban combat, they will require some kind of "ethical governor or "artificial conscience" to help decide when to shoot. So researchers are trying to "create an autonomous military robot software imbued with basic ethics". "The program then weighs numerically what soldiers in battle weigh qualitatively." Note the distinction between the absolute, mathematical Utilitarian rules, and relative, qualitative Moral guidelines, like the Golden Rule.

The key point here is that non-autonomous robots, hard-wired with fixed Rules of Engagement are not capable of making subtle moral judgments. Hence, I think that hard-wired, absolute moral rules---such as : "never kill a fetus"---might be necessary for amoral robots, but not for autonomous humans. Humans are capable of dealing with loosely-defined Qualia, but are not very good at making precise quantitative moral calculations.

Free Moral Agents are "forced" (by analogy with Existentialism) to make complex judgments without complete information, and without perfect moral laws. They are equipped with Rules of Thumb that are of no use for infinite values. Therefore, you should be offended if G*D saddled you with 10 commandments engraved in stone or silicon. That would mean S/he didn't trust you to evaluate unique situations as an autonomous moral agent. Instead, you would be programmed with a crude ethical governor, like a robot. :geek:
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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby Brandon Norgaard on Mon Apr 26, 2010 6:01 pm

gnomon wrote:Free Moral Agents are "forced" (by analogy with Existentialism) to make complex judgments without complete information, and without perfect moral laws. They are equipped with Rules of Thumb that are of no use for infinite values. Therefore, you should be offended if G*D saddled you with 10 commandments engraved in stone or silicon. That would mean S/he didn't trust you to evaluate unique situations as an autonomous moral agent. Instead, you would be programmed with a crude ethical governor, like a robot. :geek:

The article you referenced is interesting. That being said, I think there is a disconnect between our ideas of what it means to say something is morally right or wrong. It seems you think that if something is morally right or wrong that this would have to come from some divine commandment, so you feel that in order to assert your autonomy you like the idea that there is no single right thing to do in any given situation. Otherwise, you see this as a commandment by God to do something, which seems to strip away your freedom. Just as the more advanced robots you were mentioning have to make complex decisions where there really isn't a single correct answer, but a multitude of pros and cons for any possible choice, you see life as this way and you think that if there were actual moral rights and wrongs that your existence would be similar to that of the more simple robots that just calculate what to do and arrive at an answer.

There is a disconnect because I don't see the concept of moral rightness and wrongness this way. I see "morally right" as choices that are closest to the ideal where every soul achieves its preference. Every soul has a natural preference for life above all, and then to use their lives to achieve liberty and happiness. We are not commanded by God to act in a way that works towards this goal. We may choose to act more for our own benefit. Some actions simply are morally right in this sense because they are in concert with the preference of nature. No amount of rational calculation will tell someone to act in a way that is morally right, in the sense I am speaking of here. I don't think a robot could be a "crude ethical governor" based on the understanding of ethics/morality I have outlined here because there is no single "correct" answer. There are numerous ways that one can choose to act, and some are in concert with the preference of nature and some are not.

I don't know if the words "right" and "wrong" really can apply here. I will say, however, that the degree to which one acts in concert with the preference of nature or opposed to this earns them positive or negative karma. You can act however you want, you can act in a way that helps everyone or only helps you, but there might be consequences for screwing others and there might be long term benefits to helping others. This is how I see it.
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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby gnomon on Wed Apr 28, 2010 9:16 am

There is a disconnect because I don't see the concept of moral rightness and wrongness this way. I see "morally right" as choices that are closest to the ideal where every soul achieves its preference.

Again, I think we are both looking at the same thing, but from different directions. Your perspective seems to be seeing a perfect, Ideal Morality---as it is in heaven, so to speak. My viewpoint is a bit more pragmatic and realistic. For the last 10,000 years, thinkers have been trying to divine the will of God to set the rules for human morality. But since God has not seen fit to directly reveal He/r intentions, some "prophets" have deigned to put words in He/r mouth.

Based on that same absence of absolute heavenly specifications, I conclude that the divine plan was for humans to work-out their own adaptable Morality, relative to their evolving social contexts. In other words, our divine mission is to learn to live together, without divine supervision : to become free moral agents.

Here's a quote that sums up my pragmatic morality. In the 1968 paper, The Tragedy of the Commons, Garrett Hardin said, while our laws imply that morality is fixed, "the morality of an act is a function of the state of the system at the time it is performed". Now that doesn't sound like a religious concept at all. It's more like a scientific, Systems Theory approach to governing human interactions. Likewise, my personal moral code is based more on up-to-date scientific knowledge than on ancient philosophical or prophetic speculations.


PS---I'm still puzzled by your reference to your Soul in the third person. As far as I am concerned, my Soul is Me. Any "preferences" my soul might have are my preferences. But that's a topic for a different thread. :)
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