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 gnomon on Fri Apr 09, 2010 9:30 am

Now, it seems to me that you are objecting to the ethical rule that life should be sacred and that, when making moral decisions, we should first protect all life and then balance the other goals. You are arguing that there should be exceptions to this rule.

Yes and no. I am not objecting to the general rule that life is the ultimate moral consideration. But sanctity implies divine sanction, which implies that humans have no choice in the matter. The examples I gave, illustrate that we do in fact make such choices all the time. Are we sinning against G*D when we impose our human will upon a life : animal, insect, or human?

The Christian objection to Abortion can be summarized as : "humans have no right to play god by choosing when and how to end a life". But some Christians are willing to bend that absolute rule in the case of Capital Punishment. In the extreme, that sacro-sanctity is even conferred on squiggly little sperm, by decreeing that contraception is contra-gods-will. The same logic causes some Christians to deny that I have the right to choose when to end my own life.

So yes, I argue that morality must place a high value on all life. But that value is never infinite. It is subject to situational evaluation. The bottom line is that, if humans are not allowed to make fuzzy moral choices, they don't have freewill. If G*D intended for life to be untouchable, S/he wouldn't have given us the power and responsibility over life and death.

Morality is never black or white, that would be too easy. :)


PS---The opinion that only humans have souls, is still debatable. The validity of Descartes's rational conclusion has been challenged repeatedly by empirical scientific studies---with apes, for example.
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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby Brandon Norgaard on Fri Apr 09, 2010 7:53 pm

gnomon wrote:But sanctity implies divine sanction, which implies that humans have no choice in the matter.

gnomon wrote:The bottom line is that, if humans are not allowed to make fuzzy moral choices, they don't have freewill. If G*D intended for life to be untouchable, S/he wouldn't have given us the power and responsibility over life and death.

Well, I believe that one law of nature is that souls have immeasurable worth and are thus sacred. The body is not sacred since it is physical, but we should treat the body as if it were sacred since we can interact with other bodies but not directly to the souls that bodies are associated with.

We don't have a choice in the matter regarding the worth of the soul, just as we don't have a choice with regards to any other law of nature, but we do have a choice whether to respect the body's right to life. I don't believe that the purpose of free will is to make fuzzy moral choices, but for us to make ongoing choices for what degree we want to be selfish or altruistic. This element is present in all moral choices, and I have concluded that this is the only kind of choice that the soul makes. There are always other elements of moral choices, but all other elements can be understood as being purely physical and the choices we end up making are entirely determined by the laws of physics as manifested in the biology and psychology of our bodies and our brains. There is, as I said, and element that comes from the nonphysical soul, and this is the choice between selfishness and altruism. The action our bodies carry out is determined by the body and the soul. I apologize is this explanation is hard to follow. I have a more detailed explanation in my book, which includes a chart detailing moral choices and their consequences and what the body does and what the soul does.

gnomon wrote:The Christian objection to Abortion can be summarized as : "humans have no right to play god by choosing when and how to end a life". But some Christians are willing to bend that absolute rule in the case of Capital Punishment.

As you know, I'm not a Christian. My objection to abortion is that a fetus is a human being and it is just as morally wrong to terminate its life as it is to terminate the life of a newborn baby. At least most of the time. As I wrote in my last post, I have a reasonable exception for the life of the mother, but this rarely happens. With regards to capital punishment, I'm opposed to that as well, though this is off topic. I think I'll create a new topic for that when I get around to it though. Thanks for bringing that up.

gnomon wrote:So yes, I argue that morality must place a high value on all life. But that value is never infinite. It is subject to situational evaluation.

What is the value of human life then? How do we measure this? I'm sure it can be subject to situational evaluation, but don't you think that we can learn from these situations and form more detailed rules here? If there are exceptions you can think of, can you not formulate specific rules for these? Or do you think that judgments as to whether someone is killed will always have to come down to arbitrary whims?

gnomon wrote:PS---The opinion that only humans have souls, is still debatable. The validity of Descartes's rational conclusion has been challenged repeatedly by empirical scientific studies---with apes, for example.

I based my theory for what kinds of bodies have souls and which do not partially on Descartes own theory, but I made some important changes and extended the criteria significantly. I'm aware that this is debatable, and I have had recent debates on this subject. No arguments that I've come across so far have changed my mind. If you'd like to weigh in with this other debate, please read the postings in the threads I linked to and provide your own thoughts.
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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby gnomon on Sat Apr 10, 2010 12:45 pm

Brandon wrote:Well, I believe that one law of nature is that souls have immeasurable worth and are thus sacred.

How did you discover that sacred "law of nature"? Is it a scientific law, or a divine commandment, or a personal opinion?

Brandon wrote:I don't believe that the purpose of free will is to make fuzzy moral choices, but for us to make ongoing choices for what degree we want to be selfish or altruistic.

Are those not moral choices? Is the deciding factor between those options clear or fuzzy? Are you always absolutely altruistic? Or do you make degreed choices between the interests of self and other?

Brandon wrote:What is the value of human life then? How do we measure this? I'm sure it can be subject to situational evaluation, but don't you think that we can learn from these situations and form more detailed rules here?

Insurance companies put dollar values on human life using statistics and pragmatic considerations. In life or death situations, all humans make quick intuitive assessments of the relative value of my life versus the other life---"women and children first".

Human law-makers have learned from historical precedence and from scientific evidence how to evaluate the relative value of a fetus' life, based on the number of weeks after conception, among other considerations. Their abortion laws and guidelines are best guesses, not divine edicts. And the rules are just detailed enough to facilitate medical and moral decisions. But they are always subject to change, as we learn more about life, and as attitudes toward life change over time.

Brandon wrote:I based my theory for what kinds of bodies have souls and which do not partially on Descartes own theory, but I made some important changes and extended the criteria significantly.

All we know about souls is theoretical, since empirical evidence is hard to come by. Theories based on reasoning alone are only as good as their axioms---unproven assumptions. Most of our assumptions about souls are extrapolated from our cultural definitions of the term. Originally "soul" and "spirit" referred to the invisible animating energy (symbolized as breath) that we infer from the animal's ability to move itself and to feed, protect, and reproduce itself.

In that primary sense, every living thing has a soul. But Jewish and Christian theologians began to make a moral distinction between animals and man by postulating that God adds a little something extra to the human soul, miraculously producing a moral agent, with the implicit authority to rule over amoral animals, and to kill & eat them with impunity. Ironically, the same reasoning also justified life & death authority of owners over sub-human slaves.

My theory of the emergent Soul leaves no gaps for miraculous divine insertion of an enhanced soul. So I must derive my definition of a moral agent from some other evidence or assumption. Self-consciousness was proposed as the deciding factor only a few years ago. But then, scientists discovered that some of the more intelligent animals are also self-conscious. So the search for a clear, unambiguous horizon between human animals, and sub-human animals continues to recede before us.
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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby Brandon Norgaard on Sat Apr 10, 2010 7:12 pm

gnomon wrote:
Brandon wrote:Well, I believe that one law of nature is that souls have immeasurable worth and are thus sacred.

How did you discover that sacred "law of nature"? Is it a scientific law, or a divine commandment, or a personal opinion?

Well, this is certainly not a scientific law, since it involves the nonphysical and thus cannot be studied objectively. I do, however, believe that this law is a mind-independent fact. And you should by now know perfectly well that I do not believe in a personal God who delivers divine commandments. I did mention in an earlier post my reason for concluding that life, or rather living beings that have souls, are have immeasurable worth. From personal experience I can tell that our positive and negative experiences, which I call valence, are quantifiable. It is difficult to measure this quantity, but the degree of positivity or negativity of any soul's experience has a definite quantity and this is a mind-independent fact. From experience I also realize that I have a will and I naturally desire to carry out my will. I think that I can approximate the value of carrying out my will in terms of valence. So the affect that any potential action might have on my happiness or freedom can be quantified I would say. But since both valence and freedom can only be possible if there is a living being that has a soul, it does not make sense to try to quantify the value of life as some quantity in which either valence or freedom can be measured. Life with a spiritual dimension simply is on an entirely different level.

gnomon wrote:
Brandon wrote:I don't believe that the purpose of free will is to make fuzzy moral choices, but for us to make ongoing choices for what degree we want to be selfish or altruistic.

Are those not moral choices? Is the deciding factor between those options clear or fuzzy? Are you always absolutely altruistic? Or do you make degreed choices between the interests of self and other?

Well, I didn't mean to argue against your assertion that moral choices are often fuzzy. I was actually trying to explain my theory for how moral choices have a rhyme and reason. As I see it, they are essentially choices between selfishness and altruism, with a very large gray area in between where most of us operate, myself included. I suppose this part of my rebuttal didn't make much sense. :oops: But I am happy that I mentioned how I see moral choices having this kind of nature. Many people see moral choices, even within the context of free will, as being completely arbitrary and lacking any rhyme or reason. It is a common belief that one simply does as they want. I see most of our moral choices as being determined by physical laws and the only dimension that is non-deterministic is, as I have already said, the line between selfishness and altruism.

gnomon wrote:
Brandon wrote:What is the value of human life then? How do we measure this? I'm sure it can be subject to situational evaluation, but don't you think that we can learn from these situations and form more detailed rules here?

Insurance companies put dollar values on human life using statistics and pragmatic considerations. In life or death situations, all humans make quick intuitive assessments of the relative value of my life versus the other life---"women and children first".

I am aware that business operations often need to put a dollar value on human life, but what I am asking you is what you believe the actual value of human life to be, as a mind-independent fact? Is there such a value? If so, how do you figure this out? If this value is perhaps different for each person depending on the circumstances, then what are the rules for figuring this out?

I am not asking what the value of human life is within the context of some business operation, but what is the value of life in general? How to you figure out the value of human life independent of any specific real world application? I would think that if such rules do exist as mind-independent facts, that any real world applications would be much better informed with these in mind. And if such rules do not exist, then there isn't room for what you are saying here to be understood as factually true. You would in this case only be talking about what works towards some arbitrarily chosen goal, such as maximizing profit for an insurance company.

gnomon wrote:Human law-makers have learned from historical precedence and from scientific evidence how to evaluate the relative value of a fetus' life, based on the number of weeks after conception, among other considerations. Their abortion laws and guidelines are best guesses, not divine edicts. And the rules are just detailed enough to facilitate medical and moral decisions. But they are always subject to change, as we learn more about life, and as attitudes toward life change over time.

What I want to know is whether there is a true way of evaluating the worth of a fetus with respect to happiness and freedom. I don't believe that there can be. The lives of beings with a spiritual dimension can only be compared to other lives that also have a spiritual dimension. Any attempt to assign some arbitrary value to certain spiritual lives only derives from selfishness, as I see it. The most altruistic thing to do would be to find a way in which all lives can be preserved and then to find the right balance of happiness and freedom.

gnomon wrote:
Brandon wrote:I based my theory for what kinds of bodies have souls and which do not partially on Descartes own theory, but I made some important changes and extended the criteria significantly.

All we know about souls is theoretical, since empirical evidence is hard to come by. Theories based on reasoning alone are only as good as their axioms---unproven assumptions. Most of our assumptions about souls are extrapolated from our cultural definitions of the term. Originally "soul" and "spirit" referred to the invisible animating energy (symbolized as breath) that we infer from the animal's ability to move itself and to feed, protect, and reproduce itself.

Well, I subscribe to the theory of radical empiricism, whereby one's personal subjective experiences are seen as empirical. I wrote about this in a blog posting a few month ago. I am aware that this is a theory, but it is not based on reason alone. I don't think it is possible for any knowledge to come from reason alone, except for those that are purely logical. My conclusions about the nature of the soul are not extrapolated from cultural beliefs.

gnomon wrote:In that primary sense, every living thing has a soul. But Jewish and Christian theologians began to make a moral distinction between animals and man by postulating that God adds a little something extra to the human soul, miraculously producing a moral agent, with the implicit authority to rule over amoral animals, and to kill & eat them with impunity.

What you seem to be doing here is providing counterarguments based on the similarity of my conclusions to some in entirely different belief systems. As you know I am neither a Christian nor a Jew and I outlined my reasoning for believing as I do. Your method of argumentation here is fallacious. If my beliefs are wrong, then I'm sure it is possible to find flaws in my reasoning and point them out to me. It should be quite possible to do this without relying on any similarity to belief systems that I don't subscribe to.

I want to once again point out that I have provided my reasons for believing that only humans have souls in other areas of this website.

gnomon wrote:Ironically, the same reasoning also justified life & death authority of owners over sub-human slaves.

I'm sure that, over the course of history, there were many slave owning cultures that believed that their slaves did not have souls, but I cannot think of any Christian or Jewish culture that believed this. Within every slave owing Christian society that I can think of, the slave owners were concerned about saving the souls of the slaves. Sure, they pointed to some absurd Bible passages for justification for their dominion over the slaves, but they did make it a priority to teach the slaves Christianity and to make sure that they stamped out any perceived witchcraft among them. This is why modern African Americans are predominantly Christian after all. Their ancestors learned Christianity from their masters at the time when they were slaves.

gnomon wrote:My theory of the emergent Soul leaves no gaps for miraculous divine insertion of an enhanced soul. So I must derive my definition of a moral agent from some other evidence or assumption. Self-consciousness was proposed as the deciding factor only a few years ago. But then, scientists discovered that some of the more intelligent animals are also self-conscious. So the search for a clear, unambiguous horizon between human animals, and sub-human animals continues to recede before us.

I do not believe that there is any miracle responsible for human lives having souls. I believe that this is a natural, albeit nonphysical, process. I don't see self-consciousness as being the deciding factor that makes body-soul interaction possible. Once again, if you wish to provide a rebuttal to my beliefs, please read my postings on this subject and formulate your response to the points that I have made therein. Thanks.
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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby gnomon on Tue Apr 13, 2010 7:00 pm

Brandon wrote:Well, this is certainly not a scientific law, since it involves the nonphysical and thus cannot be studied objectively. I do, however, believe that this law is a mind-independent fact. And you should by now know perfectly well that I do not believe in a personal God who delivers divine commandments. I did mention in an earlier post my reason for concluding that life, or rather living beings that have souls, are have immeasurable worth. From personal experience I can tell that our positive and negative experiences, which I call valence, are quantifiable. It is difficult to measure this quantity, but the degree of positivity or negativity of any soul's experience has a definite quantity and this is a mind-independent fact. From experience I also realize that I have a will and I naturally desire to carry out my will. I think that I can approximate the value of carrying out my will in terms of valence. So the affect that any potential action might have on my happiness or freedom can be quantified I would say. But since both valence and freedom can only be possible if there is a living being that has a soul, it does not make sense to try to quantify the value of life as some quantity in which either valence or freedom can be measured. Life with a spiritual dimension simply is on an entirely different level.


I agree that my life is of immeasurable, unquantifiable worth---to me. But the question here is what my life is worth to you. Since you believe that both lives are equally, infinitely valuable, would you give your life for mine---even trade, one for one? (it’s a rhetorical question) How do you evaluate my life? Compared to what? If all lives have infinite value, then we have no rational basis for making moral choices. For practical concerns, we can either flip a coin, or reach some kind of collective, objective table of values through political processes.

I can agree in principle that a life with a “spiritual dimension” could be assigned a higher moral value. But how do we, in practice, make that assessment? Does a fetus have a spiritual dimension? While we’re at it, what is a “spiritual dimension”? Is it similar to the four dimensions of space/time? Typically it’s defined as the ability to “know” God in some mystical sense. If you take that literally, then I have no spiritual dimension (no soul?), because I know the deity only as a rational hypothesis. I have no “transpersonal”, or “self-transcendent”, or mystical experiences to draw upon.

[Regarding the evaluation of personal feelings in terms of positive or negative valence, It seems to me that the “hedonic tone” of subjective experiences is a good example of fuzzy quantification : relative values, better or worse, rather than absolute good & evil values.]


Brandon wrote:Well, I didn't mean to argue against your assertion that moral choices are often fuzzy. I was actually trying to explain my theory for how moral choices have a rhyme and reason. As I see it, they are essentially choices between selfishness and altruism, with a very large gray area in between where most of us operate, myself included. I suppose this part of my rebuttal didn't make much sense. :oops: But I am happy that I mentioned how I see moral choices having this kind of nature. Many people see moral choices, even within the context of free will, as being completely arbitrary and lacking any rhyme or reason. It is a common belief that one simply does as they want. I see most of our moral choices as being determined by physical laws and the only dimension that is non-deterministic is, as I have already said, the line between selfishness and altruism.


Some people believe that the only source of moral laws is direct, divine revelation. Lacking that scriptural authority, our human moral codes are considered to be arbitrary. But I don’t agree. Humanistic moral codes may not be perfect, but they are usually practical and reasonable---in context. Traditional moralities have evolved over eons of interpersonal experience into useful social tools. Unfortunately, for most of that learning time, they evolved within small isolated societies, adapted to a narrow range of social and natural environments. Hence, some of those old rules no longer function properly in global, multi-cultural civilizations. That’s why the world needs to wean away from ancient standards, and to develop a more up-to-date, and uniform, moral code, based on current conditions, and refined by scientific data and methods.

[Socialist governments tend to replace rigid religious moral laws with relative humanistic ethical rules. That may be why right-wingers find socialism to be morally repugnant. But scriptureless Deists don't have that first option. So RW'ers may also find them morally bankrupt.]


Brandon wrote:I am aware that business operations often need to put a dollar value on human life, but what I am asking you is what you believe the actual value of human life to be, as a mind-independent fact? Is there such a value? If so, how do you figure this out? If this value is perhaps different for each person depending on the circumstances, then what are the rules for figuring this out?

I am not asking what the value of human life is within the context of some business operation, but what is the value of life in general? How to you figure out the value of human life independent of any specific real world application? I would think that if such rules do exist as mind-independent facts, that any real world applications would be much better informed with these in mind. And if such rules do not exist, then there isn't room for what you are saying here to be understood as factually true. You would in this case only be talking about what works towards some arbitrarily chosen goal, such as maximizing profit for an insurance company.


I don’t know how to calculate the value of life-in-general. That evaluation would seem to require omniscience. Maybe we can ask G*D some day. Meanwhile, we can only work on a case-by-case basis, or use the statistical methods of science. We can assign an integral dollar value based on economic principles*, or we can infer a relative moral value based on social principles. But an infinite moral value is little better than a zero value for making hard moral choices in the real world. Don’t you agree?
* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Value_of_life


Brandon wrote:What I want to know is whether there is a true way of evaluating the worth of a fetus with respect to happiness and freedom. I don't believe that there can be. The lives of beings with a spiritual dimension can only be compared to other lives that also have a spiritual dimension. Any attempt to assign some arbitrary value to certain spiritual lives only derives from selfishness, as I see it. The most altruistic thing to do would be to find a way in which all lives can be preserved and then to find the right balance of happiness and freedom.


I agree that we have no way to evaluate the “happiness and freedom” of a fetus, except by projecting to the end of a hypothetical full life. So a fetus, unable to speak or decide for itself, is merely a potential moral agent. If a single person were to arrogate to himself the authority for deciding the future of that pre-moral entity, it would indeed be a selfish act. That’s why such decisions should be made in a public or judicial context, so no one person is forced or allowed to choose life or death for another. [analogy : a firing squad or a biblical stoning crowd shares responsibility among many people]


Brandon wrote:Well, I subscribe to the theory of radical empiricism, whereby one's personal subjective experiences are seen as empirical. I wrote about this in a blog posting a few month ago. I am aware that this is a theory, but it is not based on reason alone. I don't think it is possible for any knowledge to come from reason alone, except for those that are purely logical. My conclusions about the nature of the soul are not extrapolated from cultural beliefs.


IMHO, Radical empiricism seems to be counter-factual, unilaterally labeling a subjective experience as an objective observation. As I mentioned before, some meditators believe that their personal insights are potentially empirical. But until I achieve that universal sense of “one taste” for myself, it’s still a theory to me.


Brandon wrote:What you seem to be doing here is providing counterarguments based on the similarity of my conclusions to some in entirely different belief systems. As you know I am neither a Christian nor a Jew and I outlined my reasoning for believing as I do. Your method of argumentation here is fallacious. If my beliefs are wrong, then I'm sure it is possible to find flaws in my reasoning and point them out to me. It should be quite possible to do this without relying on any similarity to belief systems that I don't subscribe to.

I want to once again point out that I have provided my reasons for believing that only humans have souls in other areas of this website.


My reference to Christianity and Judaism was intended to give a historical, theological perspective on Descartes’ soulless animal argument, not to imply that you are beholden to those beliefs systems. Your reasoning may be flawless, but it seems to be essentially the same concept. How does your reasoning depart from Descartes’ argument? Setting aside any historical considerations, do you agree “that God adds a little something extra to the human soul, miraculously producing a moral agent, with the implicit authority to rule over amoral animals, and to kill & eat them with impunity”? It’s that extra step that is not necessary in my theory of the soul. Otherwise, we are in substantial agreement.


Brandon wrote:I'm sure that, over the course of history, there were many slave owning cultures that believed that their slaves did not have souls, but I cannot think of any Christian or Jewish culture that believed this. Within every slave owing Christian society that I can think of, the slave owners were concerned about saving the souls of the slaves. Sure, they pointed to some absurd Bible passages for justification for their dominion over the slaves, but they did make it a priority to teach the slaves Christianity and to make sure that they stamped out any perceived witchcraft among them. This is why modern African Americans are predominantly Christian after all. Their ancestors learned Christianity from their masters at the time when they were slaves.


The point of that oblique reference to slavery was to emphasize the slippery-slope of assuming, without evidence, that god dispenses divine soul upgrades, sans insignia, to demark the line between moral agents and moral subjects (i.e. those under the command of the ensouled elite). Slaves were typically considered to be subhuman, but not animals. Perhaps the “mark of Cain” in their dark skin had the effect of busting them, as a race, to a lower rank soul.


Brandon wrote:I do not believe that there is any miracle responsible for human lives having souls. I believe that this is a natural, albeit nonphysical, process. I don't see self-consciousness as being the deciding factor that makes body-soul interaction possible. Once again, if you wish to provide a rebuttal to my beliefs, please read my postings on this subject and formulate your response to the points that I have made therein. Thanks.


Your statement above is, again, in substantial agreement with my opinion. We are saying essentially the same thing in different words. Any real disparities are probably minor.

I have no interest in providing a rebuttal to your beliefs. I’m not inclined to engage in fruitless win/lose debates. Besides, my detailed knowledge of the technical philosophical arguments regarding these topics is superficial. All I’m trying to do in this dialogue is provide you/me with some alternative views, from which you/I may fine-tune your/my own beliefs, if you/I so desire. ;)
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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby gnomon on Wed Apr 14, 2010 7:28 pm

Brandon wrote:Well, I subscribe to the theory of radical empiricism, whereby one's personal subjective experiences are seen as empirical.

Apparently, part of our communication difficulty is our divergent interpretations of "Radical Empiricism". I have read the Wikipedia entry regarding William James' concept, but my understanding of it is still sketchy. As described in Wiki, the notion of, what I might call, "holistic empiricism" makes a lot of sense. And I might try to adapt that idea to support my emerging Enformity worldview.

But the statement quoted above makes it sound like RE means simply treating a subjective experience, counter-factually, as-if it was an objective observation. Which seems to be similar to the common Christian assertion that a personal, life-changing "religious experience" should be accepted, by others, as proof of the existence of God, or of an immortal soul. Yet heart-felt testimony only proves that the person has a strong opinion on the subject, leaving aside the question of truth.

Maybe it would help me if you would expand on your understanding of the theory of Radical Empiricism.
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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby Brandon Norgaard on Thu Apr 15, 2010 1:29 pm

gnomon wrote:IMHO, Radical empiricism seems to be counter-factual, unilaterally labeling a subjective experience as an objective observation.

This is incorrect. Radical empiricism does not label the subjective as objective. It says that subjective experiences are mind-independent facts, just as things that can be known objectively, such as matter, are mind-independent facts. This goes back to a discussion we had several weeks ago about ontology. I asked you what you thought the categories of being are. It sounds like you would like to put everything into one category: mental. I believe that matter is an ontological category. Each instance of matter exists independently of any ordinary mind. Now, your theory is that matter is dependent on the mind of God, and I'm not opposed to this idea, but even if this is the case, it is still in a separate category from anything that is dependent on ordinary minds, like qualia and valence. The specific instances of the subjective experiences that we have are entirely dependent on our own minds, but they are all in a common category of being. Not all common categories of being include things that can be known objectively, even though by rule all categories of being exist as mind-independent facts. I'm not quite sure, but it seems to me that you are thinking of "mind-independent fact" and "objective" as meaning the same thing. They don't. Radical empiricism does not label subjective experience as objective.

gnomon wrote:I agree that my life is of immeasurable, unquantifiable worth---to me. But the question here is what my life is worth to you.

To begin with, value is a nonphysical concept. You will never find intrinsic value in the physical universe no matter how hard you look. You may find things that have a certain value towards some arbitrarily chosen goal, but this value is not a mind-independent fact. Value does, however, exist mind-independently, but this can only be known subjectively. I have come to the conclusion that there is an element to human existence that is beyond the physical universe and that this thing has intrinsic value. What you seem to be implying is that there is no intrinsic value to human life. You seem to be implying that this is ultimately a personal value judgment. If this is the case, then your value judgments could never be mind-independent facts. If you believe this, then I must ask why you are making a case for your beliefs to me? If you don't even believe that they are true regardless of anyone's point of view, then does it make sense for me to accept your beliefs as true? No, it does not. Now, I don't mean to make too many assumptions here. Maybe you do believe that human life has some sort of intrinsic value. But I am not getting this from what you are saying.

gnomon wrote:Since you believe that both lives are equally, infinitely valuable, would you give your life for mine---even trade, one for one? (it’s a rhetorical question) How do you evaluate my life? Compared to what?

It rarely happens in real life where someone is forced to decide whether to trade their life for another. Most of the time, we can figure out a way in which everyone lives and then we can deal with how to best balance other things that we value. How do I evaluate your life? Compared to what? Well, what I am saying is that we all have things that we value, and there is an element to our personal value judgments that derive from mind-independent facts, and that life (that is life that has a spiritual dimension) should be qualitatively above all other things that we value. So compared to lots and lots of happiness, any human life is above this. I don't think that there is any amount of happiness that can measure up to human life.

gnomon wrote:If all lives have infinite value, then we have no rational basis for making moral choices. For practical concerns, we can either flip a coin, or reach some kind of collective, objective table of values through political processes.

I don't believe that making moral choices is a rational process. Rationality comes from the brain, which is physical. The spiritual dimension of human life does not appear to go through deliberations, at least I have no reason to believe that this is the case. I have concluded that the soul makes choices, but I don't think that this is rational. It is simply what the soul wishes to do, and this choice is manifested as an intention for the body to perform to action in the physical world. When I say that life has infinite value, I mean that, faced with a decision of some degree of happiness for choice A and human life for choice B, the choice that is most in concert with the laws of nature is always B. Nature has a preference for all souls to survive and for all souls to be happy and free. But since happiness and freedom are dependent on life, this must take precedent. So actions whose result is closest to the preference of nature are the best, but they are not the only actions that the soul may choose. As I said before, the soul can choose to be selfish or altruistic, and what is altruistic is in concert with the preference of nature, and what is selfish is counter to the preference of nature.

gnomon wrote:I can agree in principle that a life with a “spiritual dimension” could be assigned a higher moral value. But how do we, in practice, make that assessment? Does a fetus have a spiritual dimension? While we’re at it, what is a “spiritual dimension”? Is it similar to the four dimensions of space/time? Typically it’s defined as the ability to “know” God in some mystical sense. If you take that literally, then I have no spiritual dimension (no soul?), because I know the deity only as a rational hypothesis. I have no “transpersonal”, or “self-transcendent”, or mystical experiences to draw upon.

The best conclusion is that a fetus has a spiritual dimension because it is genetically distinct and of its constituent parts work together as a functional whole. And no, the "spiritual dimension" is just a figure of speech, not be taken literally.

gnomon wrote:I agree that we have no way to evaluate the “happiness and freedom” of a fetus, except by projecting to the end of a hypothetical full life. So a fetus, unable to speak or decide for itself, is merely a potential moral agent. If a single person were to arrogate to himself the authority for deciding the future of that pre-moral entity, it would indeed be a selfish act. That’s why such decisions should be made in a public or judicial context, so no one person is forced or allowed to choose life or death for another. [analogy : a firing squad or a biblical stoning crowd shares responsibility among many people]

A fetus is not a potential moral agent because it exists. If a man and a woman are talking about possibly having a baby, then this non-existent baby is a potential moral agent. If you do want to consider a fetus to not be an existing human on the ground that it cannot speak or decide for itself, then why not put newborn babies into this category as well? Where do you draw the line? I know that drawing the line at birth is convenient, but given what we know, the most reasonable conclusion is that the rights of a fetus need to be protected as well as those of newborn babies.

Thanks for your comments. This has been helpful for me to have to defend my views with this level of detail.
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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby gnomon on Mon Apr 19, 2010 12:21 pm

Brandon wrote:This is incorrect. Radical empiricism does not label the subjective as objective. It says that subjective experiences are mind-independent facts,

The specific instances of the subjective experiences that we have are entirely dependent on our own minds, but they are all in a common category of being.

I see that we are using the term “objectivity” in two different senses. So-called scientific “objectivity” is a hubristic attempt by humans to see things as god sees them, but Kantian “objectivity” refers to the actual god-view of the actual perfect thingness---the ideal Platonic “Form”. The Enformationism thesis attempts to make that same distinction. Yet it also concludes that humans do not actually have direct knowledge of Ding an Sich, or Noumena, or Forms. Instead, the hypothetical world of Platonic Forms is an imaginary construct of the human mind, equivalent to Dante’s description of the Kingdom of Heaven or Hell. Those essences exist only in the Mind of God, to which we have no unmediated access.

So our ideas of things are merely crude conceptions, representing their divine essence in mundane terms drawn from human experience. Hence, ordinary subjective feelings cannot be “mind-independent facts”, because our only access to them is via the human mind---which is an emergent function of the physical brain. I suspect that both Plato and Kant were guilty of “reism”, by equating their mental abstractions with divine objectivity. This is a very difficult subject to discuss, so I prefer to avoid talking as-if I know what G*D knows. In either case, scientific or Kantian, objectivity is only a theory.

The Mind of G*D is indeed a separate category from human minds in a particular sense : G*D (BEING) is the category of all categories (beings). But then Kant’s categories are also constructs of the human mind. Who knows how G*D compartmentalizes He/r holistic worldview?

Radical Empiricism may be another perfectly valid theory of Forms and Noumena and Qualia. But to think that humans can actually enter into G*D’s realm---what I call Ideality---to see what G*D sees and to feel what G*D feels, is a common fantasy of inebriates and truth-seekers. 8-)

What you seem to be implying is that there is no intrinsic value to human life.

Again, all I’m saying is that I have no way of knowing how G*D evaluates each human life in absolute, intrinsic terms. Any value that I may assign to a life is relative and extrinsic. I’m not denying Objective Truth. I’m only admitting that I don’t know what it is. If it makes you feel any better, I will agree with The Paineful Truth’s forum sig : “God is Truth”.

there is an element to our personal value judgments that derive from mind-independent facts

Unfortunately, my own personal value judgments are never derived from “mind-independent facts”. Instead, they are always derived from mind and brain-dependent memes. The whole point of Enformationism is that human ideas and memes are “spiritual” only in the sense that they are non-physical (i.e. meta-physical) forms of generic Information.

The spiritual dimension of human life does not appear to go through deliberations, at least I have no reason to believe that this is the case. I have concluded that the soul makes choices, but I don't think that this is rational.

So you think that the “spiritual dimension” is irrational, or non-rational, or intuitive? Again, my understanding of human intuition is that it is, in effect, automatic “reasoning” similar to the instincts of animals. There is nothing spiritual about it, except in the general sense that mental processes---as distinguished from brain processes---are metaphysical. Metaphysics---as intuited by Aristotle---is merely Information (data) processing, not a parallel realm of ghosts and spirits and souls.

The best conclusion is that a fetus has a spiritual dimension because it is genetically distinct and of its constituent parts work together as a functional whole. And no, the "spiritual dimension" is just a figure of speech, not be taken literally.

That definition of spiritual dimension---"because it is genetically distinct and of its constituent parts work together as a functional whole"---would also apply to a bacterium. Don’t you think God has to add something more, to ensoul the fetus? If so, what is the extra X-factor?

A fetus is not a potential moral agent because it exists.

Where do you draw the line?

The existence of the fetus is not in question. But, unless you want to include a lot of animals, a moral agent must be able to reciprocate in its moral judgments and acts. Hence, I would draw the line at the “age of accountability”. Before that, a child is a moral dependent, not a moral agent. We voluntarily include those dependents (animal & human) in the circle of moral concern for emotional reasons.

Thanks for your comments. This has been helpful for me to have to defend my views with this level of detail.

I am also enjoying this calm, rational exchange of ideas. Obviously, we both have an ax to grind---to strengthen and refine our emerging worldviews (so close, and yet so far apart). But we can politely take turns at the grinding wheel. :)
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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby Brandon Norgaard on Mon Apr 19, 2010 5:52 pm

gnomon wrote:I see that we are using the term “objectivity” in two different senses. So-called scientific “objectivity” is a hubristic attempt by humans to see things as god sees them, but Kantian “objectivity” refers to the actual god-view of the actual perfect thingness---the ideal Platonic “Form”.

Exactly. If you want to think of qualia as a form and matter as a form, then what I am saying is that I have been able to discern that the two are entirely distinct forms. Each instance of matter is mind-independent, but each instance of qualia is mind-dependent. But my best conclusion is that they are distinct types of things in God's eyes. I have come to this conclusion through introspection. Also, I have reasoned that there is another distinct substance: the soul. The soul (unchanging essence of the self), qualia, and matter are all distinct types of things, though qualia are dependent on the soul and are caused to exist through the observation of matter.

gnomon wrote:
What you seem to be implying is that there is no intrinsic value to human life.

Again, all I’m saying is that I have no way of knowing how G*D evaluates each human life in absolute, intrinsic terms. Any value that I may assign to a life is relative and extrinsic. I’m not denying Objective Truth. I’m only admitting that I don’t know what it is. If it makes you feel any better, I will agree with The Paineful Truth’s forum sig : “God is Truth”.

Well, from what you are saying here I don't think that your abortion stance is rooted in principle, but from just going by what is most convenient. I think we can know more about the value of human life than you are willing to accept, but I do acknowledge that to come to this realization it does take effort.

gnomon wrote:So you think that the “spiritual dimension” is irrational, or non-rational, or intuitive? Again, my understanding of human intuition is that it is, in effect, automatic “reasoning” similar to the instincts of animals. There is nothing spiritual about it, except in the general sense that mental processes---as distinguished from brain processes---are metaphysical. Metaphysics---as intuited by Aristotle---is merely Information (data) processing, not a parallel realm of ghosts and spirits and souls.

The soul's has options available to it, and has some understanding of the expected consequences, and acts how it wishes. I do not believe that this is a rational process. The soul simply makes a choice from among many possibilities. This choice is then manifested into the physical body and the body attempts to carry out this intended action. The body's actions are often rational, but the soul's actions are not. I don't know how else to explain it. I guess we all have a conception of what a person is and we tend to personify everything, including God sometimes. Well, I don't see any reason to personify the soul. It is a small part of what we think of as the whole being, but this does not mean that it is a mini-person. The brain is in the body, and what I call the soul is entirely separate from the body.

gnomon wrote:
The best conclusion is that a fetus has a spiritual dimension because it is genetically distinct and of its constituent parts work together as a functional whole. And no, the "spiritual dimension" is just a figure of speech, not be taken literally.

That definition of spiritual dimension---"because it is genetically distinct and of its constituent parts work together as a functional whole"---would also apply to a bacterium. Don’t you think God has to add something more, to ensoul the fetus? If so, what is the extra X-factor?

gnomon wrote:The existence of the fetus is not in question. But, unless you want to include a lot of animals, a moral agent must be able to reciprocate in its moral judgments and acts. Hence, I would draw the line at the “age of accountability”. Before that, a child is a moral dependent, not a moral agent. We voluntarily include those dependents (animal & human) in the circle of moral concern for emotional reasons.

When I said that the "spiritual dimension" should not be taken literally, I meant that it should not be thought of as a dimension like height or width are. But I still mean that there is a spiritual aspect of the self that is entirely distinct from the physical body.

Once again, you asked why I don't believe that animals or bacteria have souls. I don't want to get impatient or frustrated, but I'm going to have to ask why you haven't bothered to read my explanation in the other thread? I pointed this out multiple times. I have an argument, and it is written in that other thread. I know it wouldn't be all that hard to copy that argument here, but that is just not the way these online arguments work in principle. We should be able to discuss issues within the thread to which they belong. I don't think it makes sense to bring everything and the kitchen sink into this one thread here.

Here are the links again:
What kinds of beings have phenomenal consciousness? has some arguments, though
Do humans have souls? has more detailed arguments starting on page 2.
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Re: Is a fetus a human being?

Postby gnomon on Wed Apr 21, 2010 9:31 am

We continue to examine the fine distinctions between a Cartesian Dualist worldview, and the Enformationism Holist paradigm.

Brandon wrote:Exactly. If you want to think of qualia as a form and matter as a form, then what I am saying is that I have been able to discern that the two are entirely distinct forms. Each instance of matter is mind-independent, but each instance of qualia is mind-dependent. But my best conclusion is that they are distinct types of things in God's eyes. I have come to this conclusion through introspection. Also, I have reasoned that there is another distinct substance: the soul. The soul (unchanging essence of the self), qualia, and matter are all distinct types of things, though qualia are dependent on the soul and are caused to exist through the observation of matter.

Your introspection is much more powerful than mine, if you can see the world through “God’s eyes”. :)

My personal objectivity is limited to the scientific sense. So I can neither affirm nor deny your conclusions. From the Enformationism perspective, qualia and matter are different categories of being, but they are formed from the same “spiritual” substance : information. Hence the lines between categories are context dependent : gradual emergence versus sudden intervention.

A physical thing (automobile) and a meta-physical function (transportation) are separate categories of being, but in another context they both fall into the Noun category : two different kinds of "things". In my world, everything is connected to everything else. So there is a single, ultimate, holistic category, G*D, and a gazillion other arbitrary, particularistic categories.

Well, from what you are saying here I don't think that your abortion stance is rooted in principle, but from just going by what is most convenient. I think we can know more about the value of human life than you are willing to accept, but I do acknowledge that to come to this realization it does take effort.

My abortion stance is not rooted. It is free to adapt to different contexts. My evaluation of a fetus is based on a general principle : “thou shalt not kill”, which requires moral judgments and fine distinctions. I don’t have any divine commandment engraved in stone : “thou shalt not kill a fetus”. But then if the expressed will of God was that precise, my moral judgment would be limited to defining a fetus. Apparently, the designer of the Morality Game, didn't want to make it that easy. :)

The soul's has options available to it, and has some understanding of the expected consequences, and acts how it wishes. I do not believe that this is a rational process. The soul simply makes a choice from among many possibilities. This choice is then manifested into the physical body and the body attempts to carry out this intended action. The body's actions are often rational, but the soul's actions are not. I don't know how else to explain it. I guess we all have a conception of what a person is and we tend to personify everything, including God sometimes. Well, I don't see any reason to personify the soul. It is a small part of what we think of as the whole being, but this does not mean that it is a mini-person. The brain is in the body, and what I call the soul is entirely separate from the body.

From the Enformationism view, the soul has freewill, but only two options : yes/no, go/no-go, good/evil, right/wrong. From that binary logic gate we are able to act and adapt to all of the complexities of this world. Our non-deterministic decisions are limited to moral choices. Because it is the executive function of the Self, the Soul/Mind is morally responsible for what the body does. In that sense, the Soul is the person, the Soul is You, your Self. The brain is in the body, and the soul/mind emerges from the body as a holistic function of the body : the “whole-being”. No body, no Soul.

When I said that the "spiritual dimension" should not be taken literally, I meant that it should not be thought of as a dimension like height or width are. But I still mean that there is a spiritual aspect of the self that is entirely distinct from the physical body.

I questioned your definition of “spiritual dimension, because it seems to include entities that you exclude from the soul club. Can you define that distinct category in a way that draws a logical, non-arbitrary line between a living bacterium and a living fetus?
The original meaning of “soul” (breath) referred to the vital factor of living things in general. Later, the term was applied to a postulated immaterial mind or spirit, as the governing agency of a an animated being. My question regards that little extra something that promotes a Life to a Soul. In my view there is no such hard line, and no need for it. Instead, a soul emerges naturally from a life as the instructions recorded in DNA are materialized at higher levels of physical complexity.

Once again, you asked why I don't believe that animals or bacteria have souls. I don't want to get impatient or frustrated, but I'm going to have to ask why you haven't bothered to read my explanation in the other thread?

Actually, I didn’t ask “why you don’t believe that animals have souls”. The comment was about “moral agency”. My intention is not to frustrate you, but to elicit an answer, in context, that I can understand from my slightly different worldview. I’ll phrase it as a direct question : how do you define a moral agent? Equating agency with souls, won’t be helpful in this situation. My definition, as suggested above, is that a moral agent is an entity with the power to give and get moral judgments regarding right & wrong. According to that specification, animals and fetuses are “moral dependents” but not “moral agents”. They certainly suffer from some human/adult moral acts, but they are not capable of acting self-consciously with moral-valued behavior towards us.


Off-topic:
I did read your thread about Phenomenal Consciousness. But again, I don’t draw such hard, categorical distinctions between Phenomenal (qualia) and Access (physical) levels of consciousness. Our conceptual categories are somewhat arbitrary, and self-serving, not divinely revealed mandates. As I understand the mind/brain controversy, the former is built upon the latter. The neural substrates of consciousness are necessary, but not sufficient, for self-consciousness. No brain, no mind.

Someone can turn-on or off your consciousness with drugs, just like a computer. When your anesthetized body is lying on an operating table, where is your consciousness? OOBEs and NDEs imply that it is floating near the ceiling, fully conscious, and observing your body from an objective viewpoint. I’ve been there, so I understand the concept. But the memories of those experiences are recalled, if at all, in dreamlike feelings, rather than in conscious concepts. So I simply label them unconscious dreams rather than conscious experiences.

I have concluded that humans have souls as an extension of my conclusion that I have a soul

Since you can’t introspect the qualia of other minds/souls, I assume your conclusion that other people also have them is based on observation of their behavior, and not on scriptural authority. For the same reason, I conclude that some animals experience phenomenal consciousness, and that fetuses don’t. What leads you to conclude otherwise?

Any physical being that does not appear to understand details about the physical world and to communicate these details to other beings likely does not have a soul.

According to that definition, some whales, apes, and birds have souls.

This argument is VERY complex

Which is why I prefer to keep it simple, like Occam’s Razor.

Note: As I said before, our worldviews are in general agreement, with a Deistic conclusion. The sticky details that we disagree on are nit-picky philosophical distinctions that most people would find wonky. But these are just the things that I need to clarify in my own mind, before I can make a clear case for Enformationism, as compared to all previous worldviews and paradigms. I appreciate the opportunity to dialogue with you.

PS---Ironically, the holistic Enformationism worldview, includes, but is not limited to the Cartesian duality of Body and Soul.
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