CHRIS COOPER'S BLOG - infrequent forays into fun, freedom, fysics and filosophy...

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Blogosophical Investigations
Friday, May 17, 2002  

Just got waylaid by a virtual man with a clipboard. The Philosophers' Magazine is doing a poll, and I thought I'd tell 'em what they wanted to know. Anyone can do it. It has 10 simple questions, and like all polls, it requires you to choose from among a few knee-jerk responses, and no shilly-shallying with nuanced positions and reasoned qualifications.

For example: do you "Strongly Disagree, Tend to Disagree, Neither Disagree nor Agree, Tend to Agree or Strongly Agree" that "abortion of an eight-week old foetus is morally wrong"? I opted for Tend to Disagree; but I can't be as whole-hearted as the majority of my libertarian acquaintance.

I can't, for instance, go along with Dan Pink (April 26; linked to by Virginia Postrel) when he says " ... if people actually knew what an embryo was, this debate [about therapeutic cloning] would be over--and the anti-therapeutic cloning crowd would have to slither away. ... To place this clump of cells [a few days old] --non-sentient, nearly invisible, and never intended to become a human being--on the same (indeed, a higher) moral plane than actual human beings suffering from grave diseases just doesn't make sense."

But his opponents aren't lacking knowledge here: they don't believe the embryo is sentient, they don't regard its visibility as relevant, and it's the fact that it's never intended to become a human being that they find repugnant. The genetic identity of a potential human being has been determined by this stage. Those hostile to cloning for research are impressed not by what this little dot of matter now is, but by what it will become if nurtured rather than used as an object of experiment.

There's an enormous amount more to say on this - I just want to stick to the point now that Dan Pink is too sanguine in blaming opposition on ignorance. A great many ethical and political disagreements do rest on disagreement about the facts of the case, but the most intractable ones rest on differences of world-view for which there is no question of a rational resolution. When we've learned all we can about the physiology of fertilization and gestation, and argued out all the ethical principles and consequences and analogies we can, there are going to be irreconcilable and irresoluble differences between people over the moral status of the embryo (at any specified stage of development).

There is no such thing as a right answer here. That's not sitting on any fence: pointing to the existence of a hundred-foot high fence isn't the same thing as sitting on it.

So chew on that, objectivists. It means that in a free society, people are going to divide into communities of divergent moralities, and the anti-abortionist ones are just going to have to live alongside communities of people whom they regard as murderers. As they already have to do, of course - but they're not reconciled to the fact.

8:23 AM

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