Saturday, 5 February 2011

Abortion and Animal Rights

Imagine that someone creates a computer algorithm that can evolve, and when left to evolve for a couple of months it becomes as intelligent and conscious as you.  In my opinion it then has as much right to existence as any human.

What if the algorithm were started again, on its way to creating a 2nd artificial life - would you have any moral qualms about erasing it after it had been running for one day?  I don't think anyone would.  

I think that the question of what a life-form could become in the future is irrelevant to the question of how it should be treated right now.  I see this as completely analogous to the question of abortion, however I recognise that most people wouldn't value a computer based life as equal to a human life.  That view is not logical, and is another example of people having an opinion hardwired in by evolution and then trying to find justification for it after they have committed to it.

If it is accepted that a life-form only has value [right now] if [right now] it has consciousness and sentience, then the abortion question is very simple.  Abortion is definitely fine up to the point that the foetus has these characteristics.  Current scientific evidence suggests that a foetus shows signs of a personality and emotions at about 6 weeks after conception.  There is then a grey area until the level of consciousness and intelligence reaches the same level as the highest life-form that you would kill because it is tasty – perhaps a pig (as intelligent as dogs by most tests!).  A baby's brain does not develop this level of awareness until it is about 2 years old.  

You may instinctively recoil in horror at this apparent suggestion that killing a baby isn't really that bad, but remember that it is simply impossible for a species to exist if it doesn't evolve a strong protective instinct towards its young – that doesn't mean the instinct is morally correct, only that it is an evolutionarily fit strategy.  What is the moral difference between killing a pig or a cow, and killing a baby or severely retarded human if you accept that there is no a-priori reason that a human life is worth more than any other (an instinctive, quasi-religious belief).


Anonymous said...

I don't value human life at any stage of its existence or intelligence.

I only value what it produces, not what it is capable of. Wasted potential is the reality for most.

Were I to have the choice between saving the life of someone I liked in a movie, or 300 orphans, I'd pick the actor. S/he at least had some impact on me. Children die every day for multitudes of reasons. I couldn't care less.

Children have not been raised the same ways across all cultures. The American Sioux tribes used to strangle their children after birth to teach them not to cry, and drown them to teach them how to swim.

The reason most young children are incapable dependents is because we enable them to in our modern society. Not because they can't be.

Abortion prevents unwanted pregnancy, and this world is over-populated, mostly with complete idiots. It's practical, if anything.

ResCogitans said...

but should it be legal to euthanise a baby under 2 years old? perhaps both parents lose their jobs or one dies or is diagnosed terminal... it may be the better option to snuff out that little life.
i don't think it will ever be socially acceptable - rationality and political will are often at odds.

as an interesting aside, i think it was in 'freakonomics' that i read the crime drop in NYC during mayor giuliani's term was probably due to the abortion laws changing about 14 years earlier - there was most likely a whole load of aborted hooligan and gangbangers that would otherwise have been starting their crime sprees when giuliani took over.

Anonymous said...

Hm, an interesting insight, on Guiliani's term. Could be, who knows?

It will never be socially acceptable, at least not in my term of life. Frankly I doubt any "normal" person would even consider that option.

Personally, I find intellect to be highly overrated. Do we measure the IQ and wisdom of bacteria? Viruses? Animals? Maybe animals such as primates, but a creature's disinterest or inability to properly communicate with us is highly delusional arrogance to be considered a lack of cognitive abilities.

ResCogitans said...

If it is accepted that a life-form only has value [right now] if [right now] it has consciousness and sentience, then the abortion question is very simple.
I didn't use intelligence as a criterion.

yeah i can't see it ever being socially acceptable...

Anonymous said...

Your not minding my child.

HavenNyx said...

I find what most people consider 'intellect' to be in question itself. While normal people might not consider aborting a developed life, a large portion of our 'intelligent' species has prejudices and biases that allow them to feel justified in treating certain groups of people as less than the animals that they would easily slaughter.

I think if the truly prejudiced were given the option they would wipe out any that they viewed as inferior (given they didn't actually have to look any of these people in the eye as they did it. I think cowardice would take over at that point).

Killing a baby is not acceptable in this country, but in countries like China were overpopulation is such a problem and there are restrictions on how many children a family can have, while also placing higher value on male children, it is not uncommon for first born female babies to be abandoned and ultimately killed. I'm not sure I'd call it moral, but the cultural values are different.

Keith said...

"I think that the question of what a life-form could become in the future is irrelevant to the question of how it should be treated right now."

This essentially destroys any reason to be a good parent. A good parent is in the business of treating her child right now in such a way as to bring about a certain future state in that child (such as good manners, dedication to hard work, etc.). Are you suggesting instead that parents treat their children with no regard for the future? If not, then why does your philosophy not apply in this case but apply in the case of abortion?

ResCogitans said...

sorry i didn't word that quite how i should have. i meant simply that the question of whether or not killing an entity is moral or not isn't dependent on its future potential. i.e. when i said 'treated' i meant in the context of the question of abortion posed in the post.

Clare said...

Is it independant of potential though? If someone was switching off a life support machine, or euthanising an animal, then they would estimate future potential first. All truly rational judgement depends upon estimating or 'guess-timating' future outcomes.

If I understand what you're saying then Keith's right, you're being inconsistent here. The value of any life is determined in perspective-neutral Darwinian terms by its *potential* to continue the line (or to contribute by inclusive fitness to continuing the line). And in humans parenting is essential to raise the offspring till they reproduce. In the functionalist sense, there's no reason to make a distinction between pregnancy and parenting.

ResCogitans said...

...The value of any life is determined in perspective-neutral Darwinian terms by its *potential* to continue the line...

when you write 'life' i think you are using it as a shorthand for a 'sentient intelligent entity that has rights'. i.e. you are talking about the future potential of already sentient intelligent life. i was talking about whether the potential of something that is simply a bunch of cells should be taken into consideration when determining whether abortion is right or not. that bunch of cells does not fall into your definition of 'life' as i have understood it.

there lies the distinction.