Definitions are important; various specialties have specialized jargon with specific definitions specifically to ensure accurate communications among members of those specialties.
So, here is something about the phrase “human being”, which abortion opponents seem to enjoy using everywhere (even though too much of a good thing is
always a bad thing!).
So, with respect to the Overall Abortion Debate, let us consider a foundational flaw in the document posted at “The Public Discourse” site, March 23, 2011 (hereinafter referred to as “the PD document”).
We begin with this phrase: “… some argue that not all human beings are persons.” This qualifies as a “loaded” phrase, analogous to a “loaded question”. To see why, we need to think about two things, “human”, and “human being”. Both of them can be nouns, referencing a member of the species Homo Sapiens. Why do we have two different-yet-so-similar ways of referencing that entity? Is there possibly a subtle difference in their meanings?
To investigate that possibility, suppose we picked a member of some other species, perhaps Sphaerodactylus ariasae, less formally known as “gecko” –and tried using it in the quoted phrase above, “… some argue that not all gecko beings are persons.” We may now take note of the fact that while we might use “gecko” in a casual conversation, nobody ever uses “gecko being”.
Similar, we could try some other species (without digging up their formal scientific names), and deduce a pattern: We use “rabbit” and “frog” and “spider” and “worm” in many casual conversations, but we never use “rabbit being” or “frog being” or “spider being” or “worm being”. This implies that there is something special about “human being”, that makes it different from “human”.
If we sought other places where the word “being” is at least semi-casually used similarly to “human being”, we actually can find a few: “intelligent being”, “extraterrestrial being”, and “alien being”. We may now conclude that “being” is getting used, casually, as a synonym for “person”. So, if we go back to and change just one word in the original quoted phrase, the “loaded” thing about it becomes obvious: “… some argue that not all human persons are persons.”
The trap of a “loaded question” involves a detrimental assumption that is built into the question. The only “answer” to such a question is to expose the detrimental assumption. So, suppose we modified that original quoted phrase again: “… some argue that not all humans are persons.” If such an argument can be made, at least it wouldn’t start out by accepting a detrimental assumption!
In a Debate, semantics need to be agreed-upon. In this particular case, agreement could be difficult. Most dictionaries, after all, tend to equate “human” and “human being” as if they were always exactly the same thing. On the other hand, if you investigated the details of how dictionaries are assembled, you would discover that they do not create/define words, they only record how words are used in the population. (The bigger the dictionary, the smaller the population might be associated with a particular word-usage.) And as a result, word-definitions tend to mutate as the centuries go by (though this is less common now that dictionaries exist to add stability to a language).
If it was possible to argue that not all humans are persons, then we would need to make a semantic distinction between “human”, sometimes a non-person, and “human being”, always a person. The preceding paragraph implies it could be difficult for obtain concensus on that. Is there an argument which might sway the consensus?
Perhaps. Consider again “intelligent being” and “extraterrestrial being” and “alien being”. If these are also considered to be persons, then what exactly do they and human beings have in common, which Objectively and Generically and Universally distinguishes them from ordinary-animal non-persons like geckos and rabbits and frogs and spiders and worms? It should be obvious that whatever all possible types of persons do have in common, human DNA is not involved.
Logically, if something other than human DNA is associated with “personhood”, then it should theoretically be very possible for some rare humans to fail to have the Objective/Generic/Universal whatever-it-is that actually distinguishes persons from ordinary animals. In turn that would mean we need a descriptor like “human” to be able to reference a rare human non-person, even while “human being” continues to always reference a human person.
More, it means that while conducting the Overall Abortion Debate, it has to be recognized that merely calling a human a “human being” doesn’t automatically prove that the human possesses the Objective/Generic/Universal characteristics that can distinguish persons from ordinary animals. Nevertheless, over and over again one side of the Debate “loads” statements with “human being”, while the other side seldom tries to point out the detrimental assumption.
No longer! At least not in this message. Here every single human is just a human, and nothing more than that, until proven to qualify as a person, by possessing those Objective Generic Universal characteristics, whatever they are.
The preceding now takes us pretty straight to one of the other things in the PD document, “… some argue that until certain characteristics necessary for personhood are present, we do not have a person …” We are literally forced to consider that argument to be valid for as long as it is possible for non-human persons to exist somewhere in the Universe. How else might future star-farers distinguish some extraterrestrial alien animal from an extraterrestrial alien person, when we have absolutely no prior knowledge about that organism or its world?
We may now examine what is claimed to be a flaw in the preceding, and we can start by observing a now-obvious flaw in the claim: “… the central philosophical challenge is to identify non-arbitrary criteria for personhood that manage to include all those human beings that are undoubtedly persons and exclude only those that might plausibly fail to be persons.” –while the statement is “loaded” with “human beings”, that is not so important as what we end up with by rephrasing it relevant to the previous paragraph: “… the central philosophical challenge is to identify non-arbitrary criteria for personhood that manage to include all possible person-class organisms, and exclude all ordinary animal organisms.”
Logically, any human that fails to qualify as a person would have to be classed as an ordinary animal organism. So, what might qualify as a non-arbitrary set of characteristics for Objectively, Generically, and Universally distinguishing persons from animals? Here is a proposed partial list:
1. Persons are self-aware.
2. Persons have Free Will.
3. Persons are able to understand the concept of “the future”.
4. Persons are able to creatively manipulate abstractions.
5. Persons are able to mentally place themselves into the situations of other entities.
6. Persons are individuals who transcend their organic individuality in conscious social participation. (Sir Julian Huxley)
It is possible that the list is incomplete, just as it is possible that the list is already more-than-complete (it might contain something unnecessary). And since we persons involved in the Overall Abortion Debate are able to mentally place ourselves into the situations of other entities, suppose we considered the “alien perspective” on what might be a qualifying characteristic. Let’s take a paragraph to explore the bizarre….
There are a lot of “cases” in which various humans claim to have been abducted by aliens, and two common things seem to run through most of those “cases”. There is a claim that the aliens are telepathic. And there is the claim that the humans were examined much like we might examine ordinary animals. So, if the claims are truthful, what of the possibility that the alien definition of “person” requires the presence of telepathy as a crucial characteristic? Practically all humans would fail to qualify, and our cities are nothing more than fancy anthills, to them!
Back to Earth, and our current lack of complete information about the subject of personhood –we have to do the best we can with what we know. It should be noted that the above list is a list of “abilities”. It also should be noted that there is a significant distinction between “having an ability” and “using an ability”. For example, if you have a small folding pen-knife, you can use its ability to cut something, or you can fold it and put it in your pocket and do something else. You do not lose possession of the knife just because you don’t happen to be using its ability to cut something.
Similarly, once an entity exhibits the abilities associated with personhood, that entity does not lose possession of those abilities just because they stop getting used when the entity decides to take a nap. Which brings us almost to the end of this message, because now we can ask a Relevant Question, “When do humans exhibit the Objective/Generic/Universal abilities associated with personhood?”
While we are not able to test humans in the womb, we are certainly able to test them shortly after birth, and they always fail to exhibit any of the Objective/Generic/Universal abilities associated with personhood. Logically, with respect to the Overall Abortion Debate, all less-developed humans still in the womb can only qualify as mere animal organisms. It doesn’t matter at all if post-natal humans also qualify only as mere animals, because abortion is not done to any post-natal humans. Abortion is only done to pre-natal human animals, not human beings.
Source : http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2014/01/spectrum-argument-for-abortion-revisited/1645