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Fred

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What is a human being?
« on: May 21, 2015, 12:08:36 am »
Answer: A human being is an entity that has a set of certain properties. 

That's not a full answer because it raises the question: what properties?

IMO, this is a fundamental question that separates pro-life and pro-choice positions.  Everyone agrees it's wrong to kill human beings, so the moral question regarding abortion is whether or not a fetus is a human being when it is aborted. 

For example, if human beings have the property possesses a mind, then a fetus doesn't qualify until it has a brain, and this is a position a pro-choice proponents can take.  Pro-life proponents would deny that human beings necessarily have a mind, so they would not include this in the set of properties of human being. 

It seems to me this is just a matter of opinion, because there is no final arbiter on what ought to be considered a human being.

I'm interested in hearing:
 
  • what you think are the properties of being a human
  • is there a rationally compelling reason why we should all accept your definition, or do you agree with me that it's opinion?
   
You may bring up theological properties (e.g. soul) if you like, but recognize that this won't carry any weight with atheists.
 
« Last Edit: May 21, 2015, 10:28:58 am by Fred »
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dwk

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Re: What is a human being?
« Reply #1 on: May 21, 2015, 12:09:36 am »
'What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?'

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Questions11

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Re: What is a human being?
« Reply #2 on: May 21, 2015, 12:43:16 am »
For a start, I think we'll need to separate out:

A) what is a human?
B) what is a person?
C) what kinds of beings have moral significance?
D) what kinds of beings have a strong right to life?

There are many possible points of view for each of these, and consensus is unlikely.

For me, A is biological and can be answered by specifying DNA and defining what life is, or can be answered theologically with reference to imago Dei.  C is living creatures, and D would be humans and persons.

B is the tricky one.  For me, there is more than one legitimate way to consider what a person is: a person has a certain degree of self-aware mentation and consciousness (formative personhood - FP); a person has a particular substance or essence which normally includes the capability to have or develop consciousness (substance or essential personhood - EP); a person is that which has relations with, and is recognised as a person by, other persons (relational personhood - RP); a person is that which has a future-like-ours (FLO); a person is that which has the self-ordered, natural and internal potential to develop self-awareness (potential personhood - PP).  There may well be others. 

Thus a conceptus would have EP, FLO and PP, may or may not have RP. And would also be a living human .  Children would gain FP at some much later stage, perhaps after infancy (depending again upon the specific criteria for mentation etc).

I think all of the various types of personhood capture something of what it is to be a living human person, but all the accounts are required to see what a person is fully.  Many of these accounts would generally be considered to afford the being a strong right to life.  I find this multi-view of personhood convincing because many accounts seem to leave a remainder of beings outside who we would intuitively want to include in.  It is FLO and EP that are most-inclusive, they are the strongest two definitions, but the others do seem to add a notable dimension.
« Last Edit: May 21, 2015, 12:47:15 am by Questions11 »

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Booger

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Re: What is a human being?
« Reply #3 on: May 21, 2015, 12:48:25 am »
"Human being" is a verb. A human being is the relating of a relation -- a synthesis of the Infinite and the finite, Eternal and temporal, Freedom and necessity -- relating to itself.

At least, that's my answer.
-- This user has been banned for abusing forum staff --

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HB

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Re: What is a human being?
« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2015, 12:49:18 am »
When a human sperm is completely inside a human egg is what I consider to be a human being.

Oh, and Jabba the Hutt.

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Brian_G

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Re: What is a human being?
« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2015, 08:00:01 am »

First, we need to understand that as human beings we are the sort of creatures that exist in time and gradually acquire the attributes due to our nature over many years.  Humans over the course of their life develop the ability to breath, crawl, walk, be potty trained, speak, reason, do algebra, etc.  So if you want to come up with some property P that humans prior to a certain age lack, you can certianly do so.  But using the absence of some property P as proof that someone isn't human prior to a certain age, seems to ignore the fact that part of being human is that we are creature that develop over time.  So a true human must be a being that has the ability to acquire those attributes, in a way that rocks and tree and other things do not.  As an analogy, water freezes at 0C.  If you have a liquid and it is really water it will freeze at that temperature.  That doesn't mean that it if it's not frozen right now it isn't water, for it's temperature may be greater then 0C.  Water has a certain potency for freezing at 0C that ethanol does not have, and it has that potency even when it's isn't actually frozen.  Similarly, a fetus as the ability to acquire certain attributes as it grows and develops, in a way that rocks and dead fetuses don't have.  It has these potencies even when it hasn't acquired all these attributes.  In fact, isn't this one of the reasons people choose abortion?  The fetus, as it develops, will continue to acquire attributes that will require a significant amount of care and resources from the mother both during the pregnancy and after.  If a fetus didn't have some built in ability as part of it's nature to acquire all these properties, it would be hard to see the motive for killing it. 

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Fred

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Re: What is a human being?
« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2015, 09:02:42 am »
I don't know if I'll have time to address everyone's comments today, but I'll do as much as I can.

For a start, I think we'll need to separate out:

A) what is a human?
B) what is a person?
C) what kinds of beings have moral significance?
D) what kinds of beings have a strong right to life?

There are many possible points of view for each of these, and consensus is unlikely.

For me, A is biological and can be answered by specifying DNA and defining what life is, or can be answered theologically with reference to imago Dei.  C is living creatures, and D would be humans and persons.
DNA isn’t as specific as you might think. There’s a range of DNA variations among humans, so some variability has to be allowed.  Let’s say you allow up to 5% variation – then you’ve just declared chimpanzees as human.  Where, in the 5% variation, do you draw the line – and even if you do, how is this not arbitrary?

With regard to theology – why not just declare humans to be those entities that have souls?  Regardless, while a theological definition will provide a guideline for yourself and those of similar theological views, it can carry no weight with atheists or even those with different theological views (many Christians DO, after all, get abortions).   And from the standpoint of U.S. law, you can’t expect to base a law on a theological view. 

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B is the tricky one.  For me, there is more than one legitimate way to consider what a person is: a person has a certain degree of self-aware mentation and consciousness (formative personhood - FP); a person has a particular substance or essence which normally includes the capability to have or develop consciousness (substance or essential personhood - EP); a person is that which has relations with, and is recognised as a person by, other persons (relational personhood - RP); a person is that which has a future-like-ours (FLO); a person is that which has the self-ordered, natural and internal potential to develop self-awareness (potential personhood - PP).  There may well be others. 
Most of this seems reasonable, but vague – and the disagreement pertains to specifics.  Some of what you say  could be an argument against zygotes being human persons: no self-awareness, no consciousness, not recognizably a person (if you met a zygote on the street, would you recognize it as human?) 

I’m not sure you’re using “essence” in the strict philosophical sense as necessary and sufficient properties, but I’ll just point out that under physicalism there is no such thing. 

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I think all of the various types of personhood capture something of what it is to be a living human person, but all the accounts are required to see what a person is fully.  Many of these accounts would generally be considered to afford the being a strong right to life.  I find this multi-view of personhood convincing because many accounts seem to leave a remainder of beings outside who we would intuitively want to include in.  It is FLO and EP that are most-inclusive, they are the strongest two definitions, but the others do seem to add a notable dimension.
Your definition of human person (i.e. the list of properties) has to be able to make it clear whether or not a zygote is a human person and it also needs to exclude things that are clearly not a human person (e.g. a sperm, ovum, liver cell, chimpanzee). But even if you can meet this challenge with your definition, why should an abortion-seeker accept it?  What if she considers the actual (not potential) presence of a conscious mind as a property of human persons?  It’s not enough to state your disagreement, you have to prove she is wrong.  If you can’t prove her wrong, then you simply have a difference of opinion.  Why doesn’t she have a right to her own opinion?
Fred

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Fred

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Re: What is a human being?
« Reply #7 on: May 21, 2015, 09:07:22 am »
When a human sperm is completely inside a human egg is what I consider to be a human being.
Thanks for your opinion on this – clearly it provides a good reason for you to never seek an abortion. But what compels an abortion seeker to accept your definition?
Fred

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Questions11

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Re: What is a human being?
« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2015, 09:17:10 am »
Fred:

DNA was just shorthand for obvious species differentiation.  Do you not think that there could be a biological way of distinguishing humans from other animals (even if it left borderline in proto-human cases)?

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With regard to theology – why not just declare humans to be those entities that have souls?

Because it's more theologically complex than that.

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And from the standpoint of U.S. law, you can’t expect to base a law on a theological view. 

I could if the country was a pro-xtian country.  I believe all states should be such.  Regardless, I am not trying to convince you by theological reasoning.  Rather, you should become a xtian first then be convinced by the combination of theological and philosophical reasoning.  And non-religious philosophical reasoning is sufficient to show that abortion is gravelly immoral.

 
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Most of this seems reasonable, but vague

It is all reasonable.  It is vague because it was summary of very complex positions presented on an internet forum.  Please avail yourself of the available literature (I've recommended 2 books on these abortion threads) to get into the substance more deeply.  I am not going to reproduce it here.

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Some of what you say  could be an argument against zygotes being human persons:

Of course.  I have not said otherwise, and indeed that's why (in part) I don't think FP or RP alone are adequate.

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it also needs to exclude things that are clearly not a human person (e.g. a sperm, ovum, liver cell, chimpanzee).

Well this goes back to my first differentiation.  I'm happy for non-human persons to also be classed as persons (though not humans) and be granted a strong RTL.  One need not be human to be a person.

Gametes are not, however, included within any of the types of personhood I listed (you need to read their descriptors quite carefully).

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I’m not sure you’re using “essence” in the strict philosophical sense as necessary and sufficient properties, but I’ll just point out that under physicalism there is no such thing.

Then so much the worst for physicalism.

 
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But even if you can meet this challenge with your definition, why should an abortion-seeker accept it?  What if she considers the actual (not potential) presence of a conscious mind as a property of human persons?


As I already said, if someone fails to include the more inclusive personhood accounts then they are faced with the position of having to deny personhood and the RTL to those who te majority typically wish to extend personhood too.  In other words they have to bite some other bullet apart from becoming pro-choice.

For example, if current mentation is the key criteria (which, of course, has to be argued for rather than assumed), then that leaves out sleepers.  If you want it to include potential for mentation (say after the sleeper awakes, or if you want the self of the sleeper to persist after waking) then you're moving into a situation where FL, PP and EP are doing all the moral work, not mentation.  This is true for every definition of personhood that attempts to remove the RTL from the conceptus.

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Why doesn’t she have a right to her own opinion?

Because morality dictates that we do not simply allow killers to follow their own opinion on the ethicality of killing morally significant beings.  Moral nihilists need not worry, but a moral realist such as myself has a duty to show killers that killing is wrong.

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Moot

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Re: What is a human being?
« Reply #9 on: May 21, 2015, 09:17:29 am »
or do you agree with me that it's opinion.

I don't agree that's it's just opinion. If we all agree that it's obvious that a fully functioning adult is a human person, and we all agree that a rock is not, there seema to be at least some criteria we can call objective. The fact that we can't agree on all the criteria doesn't make it just opinion. What we need are coherent reasons for what separates the fully functioning adult from the rock.

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Fred

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Re: What is a human being?
« Reply #10 on: May 21, 2015, 09:21:48 am »

First, we need to understand that as human beings we are the sort of creatures that exist in time and gradually acquire the attributes due to our nature over many years.  Humans over the course of their life develop the ability to breath, crawl, walk, be potty trained, speak, reason, do algebra, etc.  So if you want to come up with some property P that humans prior to a certain age lack, you can certianly do so.  But using the absence of some property P as proof that someone isn't human prior to a certain age, seems to ignore the fact that part of being human is that we are creature that develop over time.  So a true human must be a being that has the ability to acquire those attributes, in a way that rocks and tree and other things do not.  As an analogy, water freezes at 0C.  If you have a liquid and it is really water it will freeze at that temperature.  That doesn't mean that it if it's not frozen right now it isn't water, for it's temperature may be greater then 0C.  Water has a certain potency for freezing at 0C that ethanol does not have, and it has that potency even when it's isn't actually frozen.  Similarly, a fetus as the ability to acquire certain attributes as it grows and develops, in a way that rocks and dead fetuses don't have.  It has these potencies even when it hasn't acquired all these attributes.  In fact, isn't this one of the reasons people choose abortion?  The fetus, as it develops, will continue to acquire attributes that will require a significant amount of care and resources from the mother both during the pregnancy and after.  If a fetus didn't have some built in ability as part of it's nature to acquire all these properties, it would be hard to see the motive for killing it.
Consider a child born with genetic or developmental defects that prevents him from ever developing the ability to crawl, walk, be potty trained, speak, reason, do algebra, etc.  Is this not a human person?  Other primates can develop some of these abilities (potty trained, speak – through sign language, some levels of reasoning) – how do you exclude them from human-ness?

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But using the absence of some property P as proof that someone isn't human prior to a certain age, seems to ignore the fact that part of being human is that we are creature that develop over time. 
IMO,  a human person is something that emerges from the developmental process, as an oak tree emerges from an acorn. An oak tree has roots, a trunk, and branches; an acorn does not.  Having the potential to become an oak tree (or human person) does not imply it IS an oak tree (or human person).  But again – that’s just my opinion, and we can disagree.  What is your basis for denying me the right to my opinion about these things –(which is what you’re doing when you deny the right of a woman to choose)?
Fred

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Fred

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Re: What is a human being?
« Reply #11 on: May 21, 2015, 10:05:22 am »
Fred:

DNA was just shorthand for obvious species differentiation.  Do you not think that there could be a biological way of distinguishing humans from other animals (even if it left borderline in proto-human cases)?
I do believe one could establish parameters to distinguish the current species from each other, but that’s an accident of history.  Consider our evolutionary history – at what point can we say that the creatures were human?  The choice of how much DNA variation to allow is arbitrary.   
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And from the standpoint of U.S. law, you can’t expect to base a law on a theological view. 

I could if the country was a pro-xtian country.  I believe all states should be such.  Regardless, I am not trying to convince you by theological reasoning.  Rather, you should become a xtian first then be convinced by the combination of theological and philosophical reasoning.  And non-religious philosophical reasoning is sufficient to show that abortion is gravelly immoral.
“Pro-xtian” is an understatement, since this would be denying the right of individuals to exercise their own religious views.  Regarding “non-religious philosophical reasoning” – that’s actually the point of this thread.   Provide that reasoning – but I’m asking that it not be a a mere justification of why you believe it to be so, but why anyone (atheists included) should feel rationally compelled to accept it.  My position is that there is no such argument – it’s a matter of opinion and personal conscious, hence I’m pro-choice. 

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I’m not sure you’re using “essence” in the strict philosophical sense as necessary and sufficient properties, but I’ll just point out that under physicalism there is no such thing.

Then so much the worst for physicalism.
Then you should acknowledge that your definition of human can be rationally rejected by a physicalist.  That leaves it as a matter of opinion as to whether or not a zygote is a human person.  Those who think it is can refrain from having abortions. 
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But even if you can meet this challenge with your definition, why should an abortion-seeker accept it?  What if she considers the actual (not potential) presence of a conscious mind as a property of human persons?


As I already said, if someone fails to include the more inclusive personhood accounts then they are faced with the position of having to deny personhood and the RTL to those who te majority typically wish to extend personhood too.  In other words they have to bite some other bullet apart from becoming pro-choice.
Let’s test that: I believe that a human person is an entity that possesses a mind.  A zygote lacks a mind (under physicalism and some forms of dualism, it is impossible to have a mind in the absence of a brain).  What bullet am I biting? 

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For example, if current mentation is the key criteria (which, of course, has to be argued for rather than assumed), then that leaves out sleepers.
By “current mentation” you seem to mean mental activity.  But the mind exists even if there is no activity going on.  Under physicalism, the mind is equivalent to the central nervous system – primarily the brain. The brain doesn’t disappear when we’re asleep: the mind/brain is in some state or another. 
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Why doesn’t she have a right to her own opinion?

Because morality dictates that we do not simply allow killers to follow their own opinion on the ethicality of killing morally significant beings. 
I understand why you would want to prevent the killing of (what you regard as) human life, and I do not suggest you alter that view.  But you should recognize that one can rationally reject your view – and your view cannot be codified into law because it would violate the establishment clause of the 1st amendment.  I recommend doing everything you can to promote your views (feel free to “show killers that killing is wrong”)– but remain intellectually honest, polite, and sensitive.
Fred

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Fred

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Re: What is a human being?
« Reply #12 on: May 21, 2015, 10:08:51 am »
or do you agree with me that it's opinion.

I don't agree that's it's just opinion. If we all agree that it's obvious that a fully functioning adult is a human person, and we all agree that a rock is not, there seema to be at least some criteria we can call objective. The fact that we can't agree on all the criteria doesn't make it just opinion. What we need are coherent reasons for what separates the fully functioning adult from the rock.
A fully functioning adult has a mind; a rock does not.  Neither does a zygote. Is there something incoherent here?
Fred

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Moot

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Re: What is a human being?
« Reply #13 on: May 21, 2015, 10:17:13 am »
or do you agree with me that it's opinion.

I don't agree that's it's just opinion. If we all agree that it's obvious that a fully functioning adult is a human person, and we all agree that a rock is not, there seema to be at least some criteria we can call objective. The fact that we can't agree on all the criteria doesn't make it just opinion. What we need are coherent reasons for what separates the fully functioning adult from the rock.
A fully functioning adult has a mind; a rock does not.  Neither does a zygote. Is there something incoherent here?

Nothing incoherent at all. We can conclude that having a mind is one thing that separates persons from non-persons. That doesn't mean that everything that has a mind is a person, or that anything that doesn't have a mind isn't a person, but this is still progress that isn't based on just opinion.

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Fred

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Re: What is a human being?
« Reply #14 on: May 21, 2015, 10:25:18 am »
or do you agree with me that it's opinion.

I don't agree that's it's just opinion. If we all agree that it's obvious that a fully functioning adult is a human person, and we all agree that a rock is not, there seema to be at least some criteria we can call objective. The fact that we can't agree on all the criteria doesn't make it just opinion. What we need are coherent reasons for what separates the fully functioning adult from the rock.
A fully functioning adult has a mind; a rock does not.  Neither does a zygote. Is there something incoherent here?

Nothing incoherent at all. We can conclude that having a mind is one thing that separates persons from non-persons. That doesn't mean that everything that has a mind is a person, or that anything that doesn't have a mind isn't a person, but this is still progress that isn't based on just opinion.
I'll take it a step further: an entity that lacks a mind is not a human person. 

This is still coherent, but obviously there are differing opinions on this.
Fred