Google games » « Scary evil Christians Dewar or dude? Oh, no: it’s a whole illustrated series of complicated moral dilemmas. Can you figure out what to do? All right, I lied. They aren’t complicated at all…unless you’re insane. (via Ezra) Share this:PrintEmailShare on TumblrTweet Google games » « Scary evil Christians
Cyde Weys says
Haha! Great comic! I remember I first heard this hypothetical question from that guy who calls in to rightwingnuts and pisses them off. Except his version only had a few blastocysts in a petri dish, not hundreds in a freezer.
Hey, isn’t that a Picasso hanging on the back wall?
Ronald Brak says
Yes, these moral dilemmas are insane. Doesn’t the author realize that if it were profitable to rescue the child or the blastocysts the free market would have already saved them?
Hey, isn’t that a Picasso hanging on the back wall?
Yes, the other other religion, free market capitalism. ;-)
I first heard this one as the 10,000 embryos and a researcher in the on-fire clinic. I have a feeling that the implication was supposed to be that the researcher has been doing things that are “wrong” so leaving them to die is “justifiable” to some people? I’d be kinda sad about leaving the embryos because I imagine that some of them belonged to couples who had a very, very hard time getting any viable embryos and there’s a lot of emotional investment in the whole thing, but I sure as hell would never regret pulling the researcher/child out – just sorry for the potential parents that they’re going to have to go through it all again and in some cases who knows if they’re going to be able to get another viable embryo? They’ll just have to deal.
When embryo-worshippers try to appear secular, their professed reasons for doing away with bodily autonomy and freedom of research often boil down to the mantra that a zygote is a “genetically unique human being”. Their argument essentially takes the form of “cats are felines, so they’re our rightful masters”.
The political success of this non-sequitur depends on its ability to manipulate the emotional meaning of the word “human” to the trickster’s advantage, letting some listeners forget that the kind of ‘humanity’ to be inferred from a string of base pairs is at best taxonomic in nature.
A more valid reasoning about the margins of personhood would, in some way or other, take into account that choices about what we ought to do and want to be done are made by actual minds, and exist only in the content of these minds. It’s my subjective experience that allows me to prefer some outcomes over others, which is what moral conflicts are all about.
It follows that for a physical property to logically connect to the moral status of an organism, it needs to be shown to allow for mind-states relating to a sense of good and bad. That which lacks the nerve wiring to have any likes or dislikes, or an idea of what it means to be nice to each other, can neither be hurt nor hurt others in an ethical sense of the word (mowing the lawn is rarely seen as heinous phytoslaughter and man-eating sharks are rarely put on trial).
Put another way, the simplest prerequisite for being a moral stakeholder, for personal self-worth (and hence, basic rights) is that an organism does at all have a capacity for conscious thought, feeling and perception. If it doesn’t, then no actions of a conscious agent will make a difference to it, and hence the conscious agent doesn’t face a dilemma of rights.
As PZ explained in a previous post, the time when a first flicker of consciousness might arise in a fetal brain begins at 23-25 weeks. There is a gray area possibly extending some months above this broad dividing line where one can have a rational, evidence-based disagreement on whether the developing human is a person. “Erring on the side of caution” and all that. However, the clamor for “fetal rights” in the first half of pregnancy can be trashed without doing injustice to anyone. It’s a load of projection into the nonexistent, much like but not nearly as cute as a little child bringing a broken doll to the doctor.
Kudos to the cartoonist for showcasing the absurdity. Now let’s see the Cardinals riot…
This contradicts your earlier assertion that the choices we make about what we ought to do exist only in the context of our own minds. That kind of postmodernist solipsism plays right into the hands of the devout, who implicitly believe that the universe is defined by human beliefs, and controlling those beliefs is the key to controlling the universe.
Keith Douglas says
The scary thing is that those cartoons are damn close to how a lot of papers in ethics and related fields get written. (Unfortunately, I don’t have any good solutions on how such should be written either …)
no contradiction. By stating that personal choices exist only in the mind, I meant to say that insentient beings don’t make choices. Like nature didn’t ‘choose’ to evolve complex brains. End of story.
No matter what we think about someone’s values and perceptions, his consciousness is observable and testable, if only indirectly. This is not a postmodernist position, and neither is it solipsism. My argument implies that every neural architecture meeting certain criteria, no matter what set of chromosomes it developed from, may cause consciousness (see here for a closer look at some minimal properties of that architecture: http://striz.org/docs/tononi-consciousness-theory.pdf). Solipsism would be to claim that only the observer’s mind exists.