An argument for abortion

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Sackoftrout
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An argument for abortion

Post by Sackoftrout » June 4th, 2017, 12:03 pm

This is an argument which demonstrates that abortion should not be considered immoral and that anti-abortion views are largely the result of psychological biases.

Groundwork:

Moral considerations are applied to protect systems which contain the complete physical and/or informational machinery required to generate consciousness. These rights uphold the respect and dignity of autonomously guiding one’s own delicate phenomenological experience.

This pre-proposition is arrived at by the following logic:

Morality is concerned with the distinction between good and bad/right and wrong. These notions only have meaning within the context of phenomenology. Something is good or right when it is predicted to increase the net positive-negative experiences in the set of all conscious experiences (opposite is true for bad/wrong). Therefore morality, by definition, requires consciousness.

Protecting the conscious machinery rather than the consciousness itself is a necessity of humans having physical vessels and effectors. Also, this definition is necessary when considering protections for people while they are unconscious such as during sleep or coma.

The essential question:

Current knowledge of the requisite neural architecture for generating consciousness suggests it is extremely improbable that first trimester foetus’ are capable of consciousness. However, the system (foetal brain) is on a direct trajectory towards this end. Does this fact offer it the same protections as systems with complete conscious machinery?

Abortion thought experiment:

Say a computer exists which has the machinery required for consciousness contained within some software. When the program runs, a conscious agent sparks to life inside the machine and is able to interact and live within a virtual world. The computer is a black box to the outside world. Given the groundwork, one must presume that this conscious being has the same rights as any other conscious being and thus should be protected.

Now, say this computer program takes five minutes to load. The first sparks of consciousness begin at three minutes into loading. Would it be considered immoral to cancel the program two minutes into loading and delete the program? If not, why not? Surely this is equivalent to the foetus, as both are merely systems on a trajectory towards consciousness.

Analysis

First analysis (if the person believes it is not wrong to shut off the loading conscious program):

This thought experiment suggests that there is something about human foetal preconscious systems which pro-lifers favour to the artificial equivalent. I think this can be explained as follows:

1. An intuition of phenomenological experience is that sensation feels as if it is occurring from within the body.
2. The human psychological self is principally constructed via the body through feedback loops with receptor and effector data.
3. Both human mind and body have an intertwined trajectory that is essentially supportive.

The body is represented in the mind as part of the self, as this vessel is necessarily supportive of consciousness. However, the vessel is necessary but not sufficient for conscious experience; therefore, only vessels which contain conscious beings are afforded moral protections.

The vessel of a partially completed computer program does not inspire such feelings in us for the following reasons:

1. The complexity derived from capacitor and transistor interactions to generate consciousness seems less substantive than the physical construction of a foetal brain.
2. Foetal brain growth is a process which operates with clear cause-effect progression under the laws of physics. Conversely, the loading of a conscious entity may occur in batches of functionally disparate data.
3. Following on from the previous point, the digitalised loading of the being may be such that consciousness comes online all at once, drawing a clearer line in the sand between being and non-being.

Second analysis (if the person believes it is wrong to shut off the loading conscious program).

In this case the person must believe that a system’s trajectory towards consciousness is sufficient for moral protections.

Humans constantly curb the natural trajectory towards reproduction through cultural teachings, parental teachings, and direct contraceptive methods.

The propagation of human life is founded on the strength of the impulse for sex. Without deliberate intervention in this system, many more children would be born. Conversely you can say that rational human interference has prevented the natural trajectory towards consciousness for many systems.
The only way to remove such interference is to return to a state of entirely impulse driven human behaviour. In this scenario reproductive methods such as rape would be permissible, which infringes on the autonomy of currently living conscious systems.

There is an intuition that, because a foetus is physically instantiated with decided genetic material, it is different from the more ethereal systems just described. This is fallacious. The intuition is arrived at by observing that, usually, more indirect forms of causality have multitudinous outcomes with varying probabilities that are hard to predict. In this case, the strength of the sexual impulse almost guarantees the predicted outcome. Ultimately, only the relevant consequence is produced conscious systems, of which a solely impulse driven society would produce more of than anti-abortion laws (as abortion would not be possible in a solely impulse driven society).


Conclusion

The artificial consciousness thought experiment strips the question and issue of abortion itself to its essence without the baggage of psychological biases. It shows that differences between the foetal and artificial systems are based on intuitive judgements of what constitutes the self.

Therefore, abortion should be, at minimum, permissible up until the age when consciousness is possible. A conservative estimate of within the first trimester seems reasonable, as at this stage the foetus the neural architecture is almost certainly insufficient for conscious experience.

Just a concluding note: I am not experienced with philosphical arguements, so any pointers to improve this argument (as well as arguments against it) would be most welcome!
Thanks.

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Re: An argument for abortion

Post by Spiral Out » June 4th, 2017, 6:59 pm

You'll have to define specifically what 'consciousness' is in relation to your argument. I do have my own definition of consciousness that would agree with your argument, but I'm curious about what you think consciousness is. I'm pretty sure it's not as stringent as my own.
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Re: An argument for abortion

Post by Newme » October 21st, 2017, 10:06 am

You lost me when you equated a human life to a machine. People who attempt to morally justify killing a child (developing human) tend to engage in mental gymnasic logical fallacies. Ie: Emotional reasoning: If you WANT the child, then you refer to him/her as they are - LIFE with inherent value. If you DON’T want the child, you refer to him/her as “parasite” or part of machinery. How convenient to redefine the unethical act of murder to make you feel better.

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Re: An argument for abortion

Post by Scribbler60 » October 21st, 2017, 11:44 am

Personally, I think of this as less a philosophical problem than a legal one. Reason being - it's already been alluded to - is based on defining consciousness. Without a proper definition of consciousness, drawing conclusions is, at best, problematic.

If consciousness is defined as self-awareness, then, for example, cats cannot be defined as conscious because (AFAIK) they are not self-aware. But few rational or moral human beings would think it acceptable to go about willy-nilly killing cats.

No, it's a legal issue and one that, for our purposes in most of the modern western world, has already been decided: a government has no business being involved in the most private and difficult decisions between a woman, her partner (if he's involved) and the doctor.

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Re: An argument for abortion

Post by Chili » October 21st, 2017, 12:43 pm

The best way to find the weak points in strident defenses of abortion is to ask the person their feelings about infanticide, and when and why they are different from abortion - when the one black-and-white area becomes the other and why. If someone is 100% primitive in their approach, saying "the parents should have freedom to abort and also freedom to commit infanticide" then that's brave, and consistent. I guess you might pressure them how much of an infanticide grace period the parents should get.

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Re: An argument for abortion

Post by Albert Tatlock » October 21st, 2017, 12:48 pm

Newme wrote: How convenient to redefine the unethical act of murder to make you feel better.
Redefining abortion as murder to make him feel worse isn't very ethical either.

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Re: An argument for abortion

Post by Tsp1545 » November 4th, 2017, 5:20 pm

This reply is to this paragraph specifically and in view of the request from the author for input about his/her argument.

"..There is an intuition that, because a foetus is physically instantiated with decided genetic material, it is different from the more ethereal systems just described. This is fallacious. The intuition is arrived at by observing that, usually, more indirect forms of causality have multitudinous outcomes with varying probabilities that are hard to predict. In this case, the strength of the sexual impulse almost guarantees the predicted outcome. Ultimately, only the relevant consequence is produced conscious systems, of which a solely impulse driven society would produce more of than anti-abortion laws (as abortion would not be possible in a solely impulse driven society)..."

When making a cogent argument it seems counter-productive to make this statement, "This is fallacious." without showing how it fails.

Please explain how the last statement in this paragraph: ("...Ultimately, only the relevant consequence is produced conscious systems, of which a solely impulse driven society would produce more of than anti-abortion laws (as abortion would not be possible in a solely impulse driven society)..." proves the fallacy in the first statement i.e.:("..There is an intuition that, because a foetus is physically instantiated with decided genetic material, it is different from the more ethereal systems just described...")

I would like to understand this more clearly.

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Greta
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Re: An argument for abortion

Post by Greta » November 4th, 2017, 7:46 pm

Seven billion people on a planet groaning under the weight of their needs, and we agonise about some non conscious fishy thing in a first trimester? Eating intelligent herd mammals that form relationships with each other results in far more of a loss of sentience than first trimester abortion of a primal developing human with nothing but raw impulses.

Anyone who equates first trimester abortion with infanticide is not paying attention to actual reality, only ideology - not philosophy, but politics.

That's fine, if fighting over human rules of engagement with manipulative spin tactics is more interesting to you than considering the physical reality of a zygote or embryo now , ie. as a simple organism. If we project potential futures on everything then every egg or sperm unfertilised becomes a tragedy and every fertilisation is a little gift from God (or whatever) that must be preserved at all costs.

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Re: An argument for abortion

Post by Burning ghost » November 5th, 2017, 3:33 am

Greta wrote:Seven billion people on a planet groaning under the weight of their needs, and we agonise about some non conscious fishy thing in a first trimester? Eating intelligent herd mammals that form relationships with each other results in far more of a loss of sentience than first trimester abortion of a primal developing human with nothing but raw impulses.

Anyone who equates first trimester abortion with infanticide is not paying attention to actual reality, only ideology - not philosophy, but politics.

That's fine, if fighting over human rules of engagement with manipulative spin tactics is more interesting to you than considering the physical reality of a zygote or embryo now , ie. as a simple organism. If we project potential futures on everything then every egg or sperm unfertilised becomes a tragedy and every fertilisation is a little gift from God (or whatever) that must be preserved at all costs.
I would find it hard to agree with any of this conclusively. The brain starts to develop at around 6 weeks. By the end of the first trimester pretty much the entire anatomy is in place. If there is a case against abortion it would likely be a case of redefining the time period and 6 weeks would be much more acceptable to some people, but that does of course lead to a never ending regression. A constant reassessment of the situation is a damn good thing.

As for the comparison to other animals, I am not going to equate a human life with the life of a cow and say the cow has more value. The potential of consciousness is an important factor.

The population argument is a vapid one. Population will level out, most likely at around 9 billion or maybe 11 billion? Nature will take care of the rest.

I would be very curious as to how people would cope with this if there was a way in which the life could be removed and grown in a vat flooded with hormones produced synthetically from the mother host? Would this be more or less acceptable? Would women then simply forgo the whole pregnancy process? I have noticed that many women opt for a Caesarian more often. What are the effects here? There is a wealth of things to discuss about this topic, but sadly many of them are too scary for many to cope with thanks to current socio-political pressures.

Sackofrout -

I think this, and many other, situations are going to become more and more complex so the sooner we look at all th epossible factors as best we can today the easier things will be in the future (albeit with a certain amount of heartache and strain in the meantime.)

note: I also find the comparison of consciousness to computer programs expressed in the OP to be quite naïve. There is no evidence that a disembodied consciousness can exist and then such a flawed position is used to argue against itself
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Re: An argument for abortion

Post by Kathyd » November 7th, 2017, 10:01 pm

An argument for abortion which uses an analogy to compare a human being to a computer can only be made by someone who lacks conscience.

My main argument against abortion would be that it is an inherently unconscionable act. But what is the value of this argument if the other party has no conscience?

To me, your argument isn't sufficient because it either entirely dismisses, or does not take into account at all, the fact that the developing embryo is human and will eventually, given favorable conditions, form into a being like ourselves. And we are were once just like that embryo.

What would your position on abortion be if you were the embryo under discussion? We all know what it would be, and this particular fact is an important one to consider when considering the issue of abortion, much more important than the consideration of whether or not the embryo is conscious yet or not.

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Greta
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Re: An argument for abortion

Post by Greta » November 8th, 2017, 1:25 am

Burning ghost wrote:
Greta wrote:Seven billion people on a planet groaning under the weight of their needs, and we agonise about some non conscious fishy thing in a first trimester? Eating intelligent herd mammals that form relationships with each other results in far more of a loss of sentience than first trimester abortion of a primal developing human with nothing but raw impulses.

Anyone who equates first trimester abortion with infanticide is not paying attention to actual reality, only ideology - not philosophy, but politics.

That's fine, if fighting over human rules of engagement with manipulative spin tactics is more interesting to you than considering the physical reality of a zygote or embryo now , ie. as a simple organism. If we project potential futures on everything then every egg or sperm unfertilised becomes a tragedy and every fertilisation is a little gift from God (or whatever) that must be preserved at all costs.
I would find it hard to agree with any of this conclusively. The brain starts to develop at around 6 weeks. By the end of the first trimester pretty much the entire anatomy is in place. If there is a case against abortion it would likely be a case of redefining the time period and 6 weeks would be much more acceptable to some people, but that does of course lead to a never ending regression. A constant reassessment of the situation is a damn good thing.

As for the comparison to other animals, I am not going to equate a human life with the life of a cow and say the cow has more value. The potential of consciousness is an important factor.

The population argument is a vapid one. Population will level out, most likely at around 9 billion or maybe 11 billion? Nature will take care of the rest.
Very simple "brains starting to develop" are not valuable. Developed brains matter more, hence we value dogs over cockroaches - and the latter is about where the early term foetus is in terms of consciousness.

Potential for consciousness is, to use your word, a vapid argument, and also meaningless. What matters is now. Otherwise we'll start worrying about eggs and sperms - each with the potential to make human consciousness.

The population argument, on the other hand, is critical. We cannot save everyone. Do we place the welfare of foetuses above that of adults? That would be madness.

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Re: An argument for abortion

Post by Burning ghost » November 8th, 2017, 2:05 am

Greta -

I wouldn't even begin to compare spermatozoa with a developing and growing lifeform which is in a constant state of metamorphosis.

You may value dogs over cockroaches, I certainly do not. I would be persuaded to value cockroaches MUCH more than dogs in the ecosystem as it is NOW.

I don't think it is a "vapid argument" to consider potential unless we're merely talking about potential for increase in consciousness. If we were to compare a 90 year old to a new born, I am pretty sure the 90 year old would be willing die for the sake of the newly formed life. What I was trying to point out is that I can sympathise with the position of those opposed to abortions and merely stated that at the end of the first trimester the anatomy of the baby is pretty well established and that if you look at the form of the being at this point it is easy to have certain concerns. I would add to that that mere appearances can be very deceiving and that a lot of the issues voiced (at least those who are reasonable and not religiously dogmatic about the subject) may very well be guided by this.

To point out that the brain is considered essential to consciousness it would be fitting to consider a much more conservative position from people with opposing views. It is then for us together to constantly evaluate the situation and our understanding. It may even lead to us to, at some far flung future date, to see nothing wrong with aborting far beyond the first trimester.

The other obvious issue embedded within this is how we come to decide what criteria we're looking for in the first place. "Consciousness" seems to be a pretty will agreed upon theme, although this obviously contains its own problems.

The fact the issue remains one of contention is a good sign for me. Value to fellow humans is not something we should blindly agree upon ad n we're not merely dealing with an underdeveloped life, but a fully formed pregnant being too that is fully conscious and troubled by the moral obligations bestowed upon them by the biological circumstances they find themselves in.

The day we all agree about this is the day society collapses IMO.
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Re: An argument for abortion

Post by Chili » November 8th, 2017, 10:15 am

Kathyd wrote:An argument for abortion which uses an analogy to compare a human being to a computer can only be made by someone who lacks conscience.

My main argument against abortion would be that it is an inherently unconscionable act. But what is the value of this argument if the other party has no conscience?

To me, your argument isn't sufficient because it either entirely dismisses, or does not take into account at all, the fact that the developing embryo is human and will eventually, given favorable conditions, form into a being like ourselves. And we are were once just like that embryo.

What would your position on abortion be if you were the embryo under discussion? We all know what it would be, and this particular fact is an important one to consider when considering the issue of abortion, much more important than the consideration of whether or not the embryo is conscious yet or not.
The "eventually" discussion leads one a bit to 'every sperm is sacred' does it not? God / nature takes it in stride to simply do away with so many fertilized human eggs.

If you believe in souls, as many of the most fully dedicated pro-life persons do, when does the soul even enter into these disposable fertilized eggs?

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Re: An argument for abortion

Post by Kathyd » November 8th, 2017, 4:17 pm

Chili wrote:The "eventually" discussion leads one a bit to 'every sperm is sacred' does it not? God / nature takes it in stride to simply do away with so many fertilized human eggs.

If you believe in souls, as many of the most fully dedicated pro-life persons do, when does the soul even enter into these disposable fertilized eggs?
Most anti-abortionists consider human life to begin at conception. That's when the "soul" enters. Before that, we don't have a completely human entity. Only half. Conception is a, or rather is the, significant event for us. The soul enters as the result of the sexual activity of the father and mother. The energy comes from them.

And what "nature" or God does is none of our concern. Not everything "natural" is good, and sometimes it is not only our right, but our duty to fight against it. Just because it is natural to die and grow old does not mean that we should not struggle against it. In fact, I would even argue that that is basically what life is for us - a constant struggle against certain forces of nature until they finally overcome us. It's "natural" for a little child to just take what he wants from another child. The child is supposed to learn a better way, to overcome his basic natural desire to just take whatever he wants, from whoever he wants, whenever he wants. And we usually call this feat "becoming an adult", "being civilized", or "doing what's right".

The same applies to abortion. It might be nature's or God's will to "call someone home", but that is not something the surgeon is supposed to be concerned with.

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Re: An argument for abortion

Post by Greta » November 8th, 2017, 5:59 pm

Burning ghost wrote:Greta -

I wouldn't even begin to compare spermatozoa with a developing and growing lifeform which is in a constant state of metamorphosis.
That is because it is mostly the egg, with the sperm only acting to trigger processes. I would compare zgotes with eggs, certainly. They are very much closer to eggs than you or I are today.
Burning ghost wrote:You may value dogs over cockroaches, I certainly do not. I would be persuaded to value cockroaches MUCH more than dogs in the ecosystem as it is NOW.
That's just shifting to make a point about what dreadful things people and their minions are :)

However, you certainly would not value a cockroach's life over that of a possum or a magpie if pushed for a choice. Sentience matters. Capacity to feel matters. Capacity to form relationships and to love matter. However, a blob of fertilised protoplasm that may grow to be the seven-billion-and-whateverth human being does not matter much more than the eggs or sperms from which it was made; such things only matter if they matter to the parents or other relatives or friends. They don't matter because someone's religion or ideology says so.

Women produce millions of eggs, and men billions of sperm, and there's no reason why the recent fusion should make such a difference - the zygote and embryo will feel what the eggs and sperms felt - diddly squat - and with millions and billions of peers as backup. They are still, as I say, much more like the egg than the adult.
Burning ghost wrote:If we were to compare a 90 year old to a new born
Infants and late term foetuses are very different to the nerveless fishy things being touted by some as as more important than the mother's emotional and financial wellbeing.
Burning ghost wrote:To point out that the brain is considered essential to consciousness it would be fitting to consider a much more conservative position from people with opposing views. It is then for us together to constantly evaluate the situation and our understanding. It may even lead to us to, at some far flung future date, to see nothing wrong with aborting far beyond the first trimester.
Given that infanticide was the norm before civilisation to limit competition, it may return. However, to a fair extent there are instincts involved combined with civilising modernity - just as you will care more about a possum's welfare than that of a roach (yes?) - simply looking at a late term or new born can make it impossible for many, including me, to consider harm. The cuteness factor is overwhelming at that stage :)

Consider the mindset of soldiers and others who killed infants in the past. I am sure that neither of us could bear to look at a defenceless baby and then harm it. Yet these people had the kind of mindset that did not see the sweet innocence of young life, only the threat of future usurpers. I wonder if they overcame their instincts or if parental instincts have sharpened in modern people or certain cultures.
Burning ghost wrote:The other obvious issue embedded within this is how we come to decide what criteria we're looking for in the first place. "Consciousness" seems to be a pretty will agreed upon theme, although this obviously contains its own problems.
Consciousness is the best criteria if considering the morality of the situation. As noted earlier, there is a hierarchy of sentience or broad awareness in nature. No person is more concerned about the welfare of a roundworm or a slug as compared with mammals, birds, lizards, turtles and frogs. No one sane, anyway.

Our own development from zygote to infant follows the human evolutionary line. We may not know what it's like to be a bat but, whether we remember or not, we have experienced the kinds simple consciousness of our evolutionary forebears. Based on memory, I would say that "consciousness" (or its relative lack) at that stage is simply not valuable - very common in nature. Mindless reflexes.

So, if we don't use consciousness as a base, we can hardly speak of other criteria, like the sanctity of life, itself given humanity's continued enthusiastic termination of many more sophisticated minds than that of foetuses. Life is clearly neither sacred nor sacrosanct - and if it is, then the purported sacredness and sanctity of life has only ever made the must subtle mark on reality. The impression I get is life is everywhere and utterly expendable unless someone influential decides otherwise. It's not ideal, but what is?

We need to have a military. We need to provide a mercy killing option for the terminally agonised. We need to kill unwanted foetuses. We need to limit health and welfare budgets. We need to more rationally deal with incurable dangerous and corrupting criminals. Not everyone can be saved on spaceship Earth, so who is it to be? The attackers or the attacked? The dying person in pain or the true believer forcing them to endure for the sake of ideology? The unfeeling foetus or the adult mother?

Life itself is a wicked problem, and this is just one part of it.

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