Re: I missed the memo.

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Heebie, on this one, I wouldn't worry about whatever norms may or may not be swirling around in other people's heads. Given that a society grants time to decide whether or not to carry an unborn child to term, I'd argue that there's a privilege riding alongside that, which is the privilege to decide in private.


Posted by: Charlie | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 11:58 AM
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I'm mostly just curious. It really never occured to me that this happened very often.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:00 PM
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It's always been my understanding that's what amniocentesis is FOR. It's not just there because it's nice to know.

I know people who chose not to have it, because they really didn't want to know, and worried about the choices they might have to make if the test was positive for Down's.

So yeah, I think it happens pretty often.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:05 PM
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I thought that people had abortions because of the mother's circumstances, the mother's health, or because the baby had such severe abnormalities that it would only live a year or two.

This is not an either-or. People sometimes have abortions because they feel that their circumstances and a child with Down Syndrome would be a terrible combination. I don't think it's fair to call it a dirty secret, either. But no, people mainly wait to tell because spontaneous miscarriages are incredibly common, and it's really a bummer to have to go on un-telling people.

Also, I'm reminded of the time when you were like, "Why is my acquaintance upset to discover that her baby is going to have a cleft palate. Who cares? It's totally fixable." and then everyone explained to you why it does, in fact, kind of suck.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:09 PM
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Uh, I think most folks often wait 3 or more months to tell folks their pregnant so they don't have to come right back and share with the world that they've miscarried. Yikes.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:09 PM
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And yes, THEY'RE. Yikes again.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:09 PM
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Is this the real, dirty secret as to why you're supposed to wait so long to tell people you're pregnant? So that you don't have to admit you aborted your defective fetus?

I thought it was because people didn't want to announce their pregnancy and then soon have to announce their miscarriage to the same people.


Posted by: CN | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:10 PM
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3 seems right in my experience.


Posted by: Idealist | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:11 PM
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Foxypwnd. (The best kind!)


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:12 PM
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Building on what oudemia said, miscarriages can be pretty devastating. And many people prefer not to try to unring the bell of having told colleagues and acquaintances good news. It's very awkward and even a bit sad when the administrative assistant in the department asks how the pregnancy is going and the answer is, "It isn't anymore". Also, heebie, "dirty secret"? Really?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:14 PM
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Multiply pwned. Oops.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:16 PM
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Also, I'm reminded of the time when you were like, "Why is my acquaintance upset to discover that her baby is going to have a cleft palate. Who cares? It's totally fixable." and then everyone explained to you why it does, in fact, kind of suck.

Everyone was like, "You'll understand when you're pregnant. You couldn't possibly understand now." And now I am. And I still don't.

And with the miscarriage thing, yes I know, you condescending twits. But miscarriage risk has largely ended by 8 weeks, when you can hear the heartbeat.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:19 PM
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I assume you use "dirty secret" to acknowledge that there is certainly some level of shame that a woman/parents are 'supposed' to associate with terminating based on non-life threatening abnormalities. Maybe there should be; not shame so much as uncomfortable self-analysis. I'm pretty sure there generally is. I'm sure people abort because of Down's. I didn't have amnio because I knew I would want to abort in the case of Down's and I wasn't loving how that made me feel about me. I'm sure I'm not alone in this.

But I think everyone else is right re: 3 mths and miscarriage.


Posted by: Sybil Vane | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:21 PM
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Do people really abort because they find out the baby has Down's Syndrome?

The stats I've seen say that upwards of 90% of pregnancies with a positive test for Downs are terminated.

And if you want to see what people really think about the subject, this thread is a good starting point.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:21 PM
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Because of two miscarriages, my mother had seven children.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:22 PM
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Yes, miscarriage risks go down at 8 weeks. We've not always been so precise in our knowledge of gestational ups and downs, and we split the pregnancy into trimesters. So keeping it private for the first trimester is the shorthand for keepng it private for the high miscarriage rate period. I'ts as much tradition as anything else.


Posted by: Sybil Vane | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:23 PM
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Let's clarify "dirty secret": I don't give a rat's ass why anyone aborts. I think there's tons of kids to go around and there's no moral obligation to conserve DNA. All I meant by "dirty secret" is that no one is broadcasting abortions-by-Down's as one of the many reasons people might choose to get an abortion.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:23 PM
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Such a difficult calculation.

I'd probably vote to abort. Unless it was a late in life, maybe last chance pregnancy.

For up to a year after a miscarriage, people were coming up and asking my ex about the baby. "Yea, I miscarried."


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:25 PM
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All I meant by "dirty secret" is that no one is broadcasting abortions-by-Down's as one of the many reasons people might choose to get an abortion.

You're not paying attention. How's that for condescending, twit?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:26 PM
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I don't give a rat's ass why anyone aborts

I take it you mean by way of passing judgment, but you don't think that creating a post about whether or not people abort because of Downs evidences a more than passing interest in the reasons people abort?


Posted by: Sybil Vane | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:26 PM
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I certainly would abort a Down's syndrome fetus. I do not have the time, money or other resources to devote myself to caring for a kid for the rest of my life. And odds are, the kid would STILL need care after I am dead and gone. And I wouldn't want to institutionalize it.

That's one of the reasons I've decided not to try to conceive now that I am well past 30. I don't want to risk conceiving one.


Posted by: HazelStone | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:26 PM
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you condescending twits

Oh, come on, Heebie. You're the one with all the "What? people actually DO this?" and "dirty secret" talk. I believe that you aren't faking your surprise, but this is pretty judgey, and indeed, even condescending.

And I don't think that the only argument people used in the cleft palate conversation was "You'll understand when you're pregnant," at all.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:27 PM
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I love my daughter, but geezus, it can be a pain sometimes having a non-verbal child. I spent the last week fighting with a care provider about an unexplained large bruise on her arm.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:29 PM
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Also, the public discussion around better and safer and earlier testing for trisomy 21 has as one of its largest issues the question about what this will mean for services available for people with Down Syndrome, as the population goes down: the universal assumption in the discussion is that accurate, early testing results in abortions.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:31 PM
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Of course, Berube is very good on this. The money graf:

In both the deontological and utilitarian traditions, I believe that prospective parents who say "having a 'tard, that's a bummer for life" or "if he can't grow up to have a shot at becoming the president, we don't want him" are technically known as "assholes." And forgive me, all you mullahs and moralists out there, if to this day I remain unpersuaded of the transcendent virtue of compelling such people to bear children with disabilities.

Not to say that you wanted to compel anyone, Heebie.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:31 PM
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That's one of the reasons I've decided not to try to conceive now that I am well past 30. I don't want to risk conceiving one.

This is extremely difficult stuff. And that's why it's so extraordinarily important to leave space for these decisions to remain private. The elephant in the room (and I assume the reason heebie's 'dirty secret' locution) is the fear that one is being selfish if one decides to abort, or even not to conceive in the first place, if there's a high chance of birth defects. But really: selfish? I'm not sure it's anyone else's place to judge that.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:31 PM
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I think the calculus goes like this: If I'm going to have two kids, would I rather have two healthy ones, or one healthy and one unhealthy one?

If you really, completely believe that there is absolutely no moral ambiguity to abortion, then it seems like, if nothing else, the first option is less work. Less work, same joy. Good.


Posted by: Anon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:32 PM
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Also, I hate having to life a healthy life so that I can outlive my daughter.

I want to eat funnel cakes and cheese steaks with extra mayo.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:33 PM
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The Down's risk is now evaluated not just when amniocentesis is performed, but in routine 11 week-ish ultrasounds via a nuchal measurement. Anecdotally, it is now often performed almost reflexively by ultrasound techs, even in cases where the woman either hasn't requested abnormality screening, or has specifically asked that it not be performed.

And really, asking for it not to be done seems rather tempting, when the result is hiking off to a specialist for what in Heebie's case is still a low absolute risk of even needing to think about raising a child with Down's. I know this isn't strictly true, but sometimes the aim of obstetrics as a profession seems to be re-categorising all pregnancies as something to be very very worried about. (I know that it's hardly the most medically safe thing to do, but it seems to be something where both doctors and society alternately panic you with tales of low risk events and then tell you how much better it will go if you just relax.)


Posted by: Pineapple | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:33 PM
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but you don't think that creating a post about whether or not people abort because of Downs evidences a more than passing interest in the reasons people abort?

I didn't care until everyone started telling us to abort if the fetus turns out to have Downs. I still don't give a fuck what other people actually decide to do. I was interested in soliciting other people's experience because I'm going to see the specialist on Tuesday and Jammies and I are trying to sort out our own unique perspective to apply to our special snowflake.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:34 PM
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it seems to be something where both doctors and society alternately panic you with tales of low risk events and then tell you how much better it will go if you just relax

This is indeed a winning combo. Hooray!


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:35 PM
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I didn't care until everyone started telling us to abort if the fetus turns out to have Downs.

This is where people with kids feel the need to grab those without kids by the shirt and say "YOU JUST DONT UNDERSTAND!!!!!!" because you really cannot until you do it.

It is difficult to say that in a educational way, not a assholish way. Please forgive me when I grab your shirt and look at you with crazy eyes, pleading for you to understand.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:38 PM
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Berube's book is excellen, by the way.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:41 PM
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Good luck Tuesday, heebie. I hope you find yourselves dilemma free.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:41 PM
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re: 25

Actually, Berube comes over like a prick, there.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:41 PM
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If you really, completely believe that there is absolutely no moral ambiguity to abortion, then it seems like, if nothing else, the first option is less work. Less work, same joy. Good.

Exactly, this is the conversation I'm more interested in having.

My thoughts go like so: as far as disorders go, I always put Down's Syndrome in the low maintenance category. You're changing diapers for three times as long, and the child maxes out at a first or second grade level, but that's about it. And you have to think about permanent care options for your child, which will certainly be a pain in the ass, but that is twenty years away at least.

I have no problem aborting for disorders. Sometimes I do so recreationally. I'm more curious about where people draw the line.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:41 PM
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re: 36

There's a shit load more involved in Down's syndrome. There are a lot of associated health problems beyond the mental handicap -- congenital heart disease, among others. Putting it in the 'low maintenance' category is a bit glib.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:47 PM
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When people talk abotu raising a Downs baby int he hyothetical they often focus, in my experience, on the labor. It's so much more work, or, as you are saying, it's not *that* much more work, all things considered. The thing that seems harder to talk about is how many of our ideas about parenting and its rewards are bound up in being part of a child's becoming an adult. It's horrifying self-involved, of course, as is much pf parenting, but I wonder if the potential foreclosure of that particular process, os it's most familiar iteration, is what hangs up a lot of people in a way that is harder to talk about. No one intelligent, if pressed, actually thinks they are raising another version of themselves but a lot of the gut emotion operates on that principle I think.


Posted by: Sybil Vane | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:49 PM
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35 is right. Sorry about that. It's my fault, not his; based on my excerpt alone, it seems as though he's portraying any parent who aborts with that caricature, and he's not:

in a more morally nebulous zone are those prospective parents who believe, as one woman puts it, that "having a 'tard, that's a bummer for life" or that if the baby "can't grow up to have a shot at becoming the president, we don't want him." Such beliefs are qualitatively different from the belief that a fetus can "acquire" mental retardation from contact with developmentally delayed adults, since they do not involve actual misstatements of fact; but they too are based heavily on misinformation and intellectual parochialism, and they make up a crucial part of the terrain any genetic counselor must traverse. And then, yet again, there's the question of how we should understand the administrative secretary who tells Rapp, "I don't think I really believe in chromosomes, I mean, I could see the pictures, but I can't believe everything is in the chromosomes."

As ignorant (or as spiritually obvious) as this last remark may sound, the funny thing is that as a description of amniocentesis it's actually quite right - and it points out the limits of the practical rigor and the hegemonic claims of this particular technoscientific practice. Amniocentesis will not detect autism, or cerebral palsy, or deafness; it will not protect newborns from polio, rubella, diabetes, or farm machinery. Of all the frailties to which human flesh is heir, amniocentesis can identify only Down syndrome - which "accounts for about 50 percent of the chromosome problems detected" - and a mere 800 "much rarer, arcane genetic disabilities." Amniocentesis, in other words, sees only a tiny fraction of what can go wrong between conception and death. Genes can code for disabilities, but not all disabilities are genetic; not everything is in the chromosomes, after all.

Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:49 PM
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38 is very astute.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:50 PM
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Parenting as raising a miniature (but corrected!) version of yourself: bah, of course.

Parenting as knowingly creating and raising a child you know will be handicapped by numerous challenges: that's the question. It's not about you.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:55 PM
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Well, changing diapers longer is not such a big deal. But there are also some health issues.

Also, it depends partly on your career path, finances, etc. I'm currently pre-tenure faculty, with two kids, 1 and 3. My wife takes care of the kids. She probably gets about 4-5 hours of sleep a night. I get about six.

Having a kid with Downs would put us in significantly worse situation, overall, since we are already at the edge of what I think we can manage.

On the other hand, if you are only going to raise one kid at a time, or are financially better off, it could be not a problem at all.

For what it's worth, we did the nuchal, but not the amnio, even though my wife is older, and therefore we were at risk. We decided it was not worth the miscarriage risk, and I think we felt that we would probably have it anyway.


Posted by: Anon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:55 PM
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I think 38 and 39 also circle around what I'm thinking, which is that there are no guarantees in life. It seems illogical to put such undue weight on this one that happens to be detectible. (I feel the same way about genetic testing. I've got a genetic mutation, and so what? So you're extra vigilant about taking care of yourself. All it means is that my genome happened to get studied early. Everyone's got risk factors.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:56 PM
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it's not about you.

In what conceivable way is the decision of whether to continue a pregnancy not about you? And, more compellingly for my own life, how, pray tell, does one go about making sure one's parenting decisions and one's hopes for one's child are not about one's self?


Posted by: Sybil Vane | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:57 PM
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No one intelligent, if pressed, actually thinks they are raising another version of themselves but a lot of the gut emotion operates on that principle I think.

It doesn't even have to be tied up in the idea of raising a mini-me. It's just a genuine joy to watch someone who helplessly drooled in your arms grow into this thoughtful adult, however much or little they ultimately resemble you.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:57 PM
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re: 39

I'm sure Berube is right that a lot of people's views are based on misinformation, or a lack of information, or on crude stereotypes. And some people just are kind of assholes.

But I don't doubt that some people making the difficult decision to not have a Down's child and doing so because they think that it would be an intolerable strain _on them_ are not wrong. And not being wrong doesn't make them assholes.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:58 PM
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Well, as far as the 3 months things go, I highly recommend not telling people for as long as possible. I told people at 11 weeks, thinking that I just had one week to go and then 2 days after I told anyone, I had spot bleeding and discovered that I had miscarried. So I had to untell everyone right away and it was really something I didn't need to do at that time.

This also gets into the "miscarriages aren't a secret; they don't need to be hidden," which I truly believe. Too many people act as if you should never tell anyone that you miscarried, but I was going through a lot and even though everyone at work was super-supportive, I didn't want to be hugged and prayed for and have to you know talk about it all the time. I just wanted for a while to pretend that life was normal. Instead, I also got to hear the gynecological history of many of my co-workers and relatives (the miscarriages they had had). It was a bad scene all around and everybody had the best of intentions. So my advice is wait to tell people until later.

Also, for people who know someone who has miscarried, my advice is to say, "I am sorry for your loss" and offer to be a shoulder to cry on or talk with them IF they want to and then leave it alone.


Posted by: Miranda | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 12:58 PM
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I also think 38 is very perceptive.

I don't think this is a zone to have choices imposed by the state, but I am judgmental. I do not admire those who choose to have a baby aborted because prenatal testing reveals Down syndrome, even though I wouldn't want to dictate that choice for anyone. My level of sympathy/understanding rises with other conditions, but at almost any level of disability I have a hard time feeling that a decision to abort for those reasons is admirable or desirable, even though it may be understandable.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:00 PM
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48: You know, I don't think anyone was suggesting it was heroic to about a Down's baby ("admirable or desirable"). Someone who makes that choice is most likely not doing so for shits and giggles and hardly needs some hierarchy of situations sufficiently sympathetic to be understandable.



Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:05 PM
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I think 38 and 39 also circle around what I'm thinking, which is that there are no guarantees in life.

Absolutely. If you can't cope with some possibility of raising a kid with a disability, you should get off the train long before you get tests for the very few disabilities that can be detected prenatally. At the same time, of course, just as coming up negative on those tests doesn't give you any guarantee against anything else going awry, a positive indicator doesn't either. It's not like: oh, well, now we know it's Down Syndrome, I'll take that over these more terrifying fatal congenital problems, or schizophrenia, or a sharp stick in the eye. Maybe you'll hit the jackpot!


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:06 PM
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The moral calculus is simplified if you take the position that abortion is required in all cases.


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:07 PM
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Do most spontaneous miscarriages happen earlier in the pregnancy?


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:07 PM
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Do most spontaneous miscarriages happen earlier in the pregnancy?

Yes.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:08 PM
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OK, answered by 8.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:09 PM
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And 53


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:09 PM
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Not only to do people abort, sometimes when a child is born with Downs and another potentially lethal, but totally fixable defect, the parents will choose not to fix the potentially lethal defect, thereby passively euthanizing the baby because it has downs.

Ronald Munson's medical ethics textbook *Intervention and Reflection* uses a fictionalized version of a case like this, based on a real case from the 70s. The case is also the second one summarized here.

The use of passive euthanasia on infants with downs syndrome also plays a role in James Rachels' famous argument for the equivalence of active and passive euthanasia.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:12 PM
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49 -- I agree with you. For me, the first principle is "god, that's a tough situation, and people should be entitled to make their own choices" (which I agree with absolutely). But there is a second thing at stake, which is that this is also a disability-rights issue that is serious and is worth emphasizing. When my wife was pregnant I felt that there was, if anything, a suggestion that you SHOULD use the testing to reach a decision on aborting a child with Down syndrome, and the fact that many studies indicate that the testing is often used in this way is significant.

There's a strain of argument that you see sometimes, even in this thread, that suggests that since abortion isn't that much of a problem, why not just drop the disabled kid and produce a "normal" one. Moreover, it's just accurate that SOME people make the choice to abort for reasons that are, in Berube's formulation, assholish, or that are willing to devalue certain human beings for reasons that are wrong. I don't think anyone can possibly understand what it's like to stand in any given parent's shoes in this situation, nor do I think the choice should be dictated to anyone by anyone. But that doesn't mean that there are unappealing values out there that can lead to a decision to abort, and that are worth combatting, at least for me.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:20 PM
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57: Okay, that's fair -- and you have a point that there's a fine line between accepting the decision to abort a disabled child and expecting that decision. I suppose this feeds back into the them above -- there are reasons it's good to keep these decisions private.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:25 PM
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I had a 20 week scan with each, but nothing else (actually I had a couple more scans with no.2 for random baseless reasons too). I wasn't going to have an amnio - firstly it sounded horrible, and secondly I didn't want that miscarriage risk - and we didn't have the other blood tests either: I wasn't going to have a termination, so it seemed pointless.

The thing with Downs is that there's such variation within it - you might have a kid who's relatively highly-achieving and healthy, or you might have one with serious heart problems and less ability. (I know one of each extreme - the 'good' one is a friend of the family, and the 'bad' one is a friend of his - and I think it would be very hard to decide to abort the possibility of a Ross, knowing that there's just as much likelihood of a James.)


Posted by: asilon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:27 PM
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I have not read all the comments yet. But, I teach this issue every year in my medical ethics class, and there are two common mistakes in reasoning that people make in thinking about this issue, that I'd like to point out pre-emptively on this thread.

Collapsing the decision to abort into either the decision to create a child with downs ex nihilo

If you think abortion is not only morally acceptable, but that the fetus has no moral status whatsoever, the choice become the choice whether to have, say, two normal children or two children one normal one with downs. Given the abstract choice between two such futures, who wouldn't choose the world with two normal children? But most people who are pro-choice acknowledge that the fetus has some moral status at least later in pregnancy. Abortion isn't a disembodies choice between two possible worlds

Collapsing the decision to abort into either the decision to create a child with downs ex nihilo to kill a person with downs who already exists.

If on the other hand, you think the fetus has the full moral status of a person, you will think that this is like murdering someone with Downs. But if you think the fetus has the full moral status of a person, almost any abortion is going to be immoral, and Down's syndrome isn't really making a difference here. But most pro life people don't really believe the fetus has the full moral status of a person. This is why they allow the rape exception, which really makes no sense if the fetus has the full moral status of a person.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:30 PM
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Hmm. I think intuitions like Robert's in 57 are things that I share, that most of us share, but not in the same extent. I think Robert's a bit sanctimonious* for applying that intuition to Down syndrome babies, but I feel the same way as Robert (or even more so) about parents who abort because the child's eye color will be brown instead of green or something. (I don't know how advanced genetic testing is, but I think it's incontrovertible that it's advancing to that point.) Or because their IQ is too low. What happens when we reach the point where we know pretty much everything that's possible to know from the genetic code? Where we can tell loads about what kind of person a baby will most likely grow up to be? I think that's the central question behind all of this, and it would be more interesting to talk about than than just the case with Down's syndrome, which is just one point on a continuum, after all.

* Not that it's my business, and I'd rather not make it a topic of discussion...


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:31 PM
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that this is also a disability-rights issue that is serious and is worth emphasizing....Moreover, it's just accurate that SOME people make the choice to abort for reasons that are, in Berube's formulation, assholish, or that are willing to devalue certain human beings for reasons that are wrong.

early-term fetuses are not human beings. So since no human being exists, disabled or otherwise, how is this a disability-rights issue? What human being is being devalued?

There's an argument that if abortion is an individual right vested in the parent, then parents should be able to abort the kid because it has red hair. If you're going to question people for aborting a fetus because it will be disabled, where do you stop? How is aborting a disabled fetus any worse than aborting a fetus because you just don't feel like taking care of a healthy infant right now?


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:32 PM
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62: Disability rights activitst Harriet McBride Johnson, in her essay about meeting Peter Singer, said, "He doesn't believe I should be killed. He just thinks I should have never been born" She didn't find the latter thought much nicer than the former. Her life and the lives of people like her were still being devalued.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:41 PM
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Aborting early term with Down's seems like the obvious choice to me. Maybe I'm a reincarnated Nazi or something.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:41 PM
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63: and in much the same way, anti-abortion activists think the decision to abort any fetal life devalues all human life. The logic is no different.

Unless of course Singer was talking about the state or society compelling abortion of the disabled, which is quite a different case.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:44 PM
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Another common mistake in reasoning about these situations is to slide from saying "No one should tell another person what to do in this situation" to thinking "This is an arbitrary decision. It is like a personal preference, only more painful. There is no moral reasoning to be done here." No one says the latter out loud, but that is how they act.

I think this is the same point Rob Halford makes in 57.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:45 PM
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63: I find that argument about on par with the pro-life argument "Well what if your mother had decided to abort?"


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:46 PM
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Ensuring that the only parents who have Downs Syndrome children to look after are the parents who have decided that they don't care if their baby has Downs Syndrome, is surely going to cut down on the number of Downs Syndrome children institutionalised because they were born to parents who couldn't or didn't want to care for them.

If my parents had had the option to abort when the doctor said "the fetus is a lesbian" I'd probably never have been born.

But if I'd never been born, I'd never have cared that I wasn't.


Posted by: Jesurgislac | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:46 PM
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63: and in much the same way, anti-abortion activists think the decision to abort any fetal life devalues all human life. The logic is no different.

Also, what if a woman with 12 children had used birth control? Which, oh, which of us would you send into oblivion?


Posted by: CN | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:47 PM
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What human being is being devalued?

Having initially gotten a bit snippy with Robert, let me attempt the devil's advocate here. It seems (particularly from Heebie's post(s) that there's a different moral weight put on the decision to abort a disabled child -- almost that it's the default assumption. When the reasoning is "I'd rather have a 'normal' child," that suggests that disabled children are less valuable that "normal" children.

Say Heebie and Jammie's baby has Downs. When they are loving this baby with all their being, comments from people previously encouraging them to abort have the potential to ring, well, just kind of yuck. Which isn't to suggest that there should be any condemnation of a decision to abort in such circumstances, but maybe there should be condemnation of encouragement to do so.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:47 PM
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I'm happy not to have faced the choice. Life and parenting are pretty difficult journeys as it is. I can also imagine that I would have felt differently about the issue depending on which pregnancy was implicated.

On waiting to tell, it's certainly a drag to untell people, especially older (but still very young) children. IME, no one really has much to offer, and so one can get through it alone -- I think its especially appropriate for a man to avoid discussions of his wife's gynecological history.

I suppose people thinking they're making a clever joke of some kind by remarking about the difference between sibling's ages might want to know that they're unintentionally stepping in it. But the conversation is no more interesting, from the partent's side, 15 or 20 years on. The wan smile is one of life's more useful skills.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:47 PM
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Another common mistake in reasoning about these situations is to slide from saying "No one should tell another person what to do in this situation" to thinking "This is an arbitrary decision. It is like a personal preference, only more painful. There is no moral reasoning to be done here." No one says the latter out loud, but that is how they act.

I don't see why this is a mistake. I'm not a big fan of moral reasoning, I think its sphere should be limited as much as possible. (Sorry, Rob, I realize you're a professional moral reasoner).


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:48 PM
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Di is right (70).


Posted by: Jesurgislac | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:48 PM
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How is aborting a disabled fetus any worse than aborting a fetus because you just don't feel like taking care of a healthy infant right now?

It's different because it is making a distinction between a potential abled and a potential disabled child. Aborting because you did not want a child, any child, is in fact a bit different.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:49 PM
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Hmmm, we're getting into the territory of the professional ethicists and I'm wandering well out of my depth. I'd be interested in hearing more from Helpy-Chalk. But my intuition is that there are good and bad reasons for abortion regardless of the fetus' status as a person, and that sometimes, perhaps often, abortions performed because of prenatal testis that reveals disability are abortions that are undertaken for bad reasons. Those bad reasons have to do with the bad reasons that we undervalue disabled persons in our society more generally, and overvalue acheivement and or selfishness.

That doesn't mean that anyone facing this decision should have their choices made for them, because it's a complicated and overwhelming personal choice.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:49 PM
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65, 67 and 69 seem to be making the first mistake I describe in 60. I swear the situations are not analogous. Abortion is not like the decision not to conceive. That's treating it too lightly.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:50 PM
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Re. 76: Why is it a "mistake" for others to view abortion differently from you?


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:54 PM
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72 Of course not all bioethicists believe that it is a mistake. Singer does not think it is a mistake at all. But he is again an outlier here, largely because he grants no credibility to moral intuitions. Most ethicists cling closer to people's actual practice. (It also helps us stay employed.)

Most people's intuitions leave the fetus somewhere between a person and a non-person, and this actually has little to do with their stated opinion on abortion, which has more to do with tribal identification. For this reason, terminating a fetus with a disability feels somewhere between choosing not to conceive and murder. The intuitions are muddled, and the job of the moral reasoner is to sort them out, but few people want to shred moral intuitions as radically as Singer.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:57 PM
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It's different, but what with the analogy ban having lapsed (or is it just a hiatus) I'll note that most of us are comfortable with the distinction in employment law that allows you to fire an employee for nearly any reason at all -- eye color, perhaps -- but not for race, creed, color, etc.

(OK, in DC personal appearance is a protected category. But I think this is pretty rare.)


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:57 PM
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OK, in DC personal appearance is a protected category.

Does protecting this category lead to a higher percentage of ugly people in DC than elsewhere?


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 1:59 PM
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I am very reluctant to talk about this kind of thing with the potential parents at all, or to judge them either way on this issue. It strikes me as a classic example of a tricky, difficult decision with no clear guidelines where other people should butt out.

Somewhat on topic, I recently ended up deciding, for what it's worth, that utilitarianism / consequentialism is really an administrative principle, or a mockup of an administrative principle, and not primarily an ethical principle. It's not non- or anti-ethical, but ethics is something additional and distinguishable; perhaps utilitarianism is a partial ethics.

I came to this conclusion from skimming Derek Parfit, who claims that ethics should be less personal and more universalistic and objective. It seemed to me that he was essentially claiming that people should make decisions in their own lives impersonally, as though they were the public administrators assigned the job of governing their own selves the way the governor of a province is assigned the task of governing a province. The personal aspect -- "What kind of person am I!", "Who are these people to me?" "How could I live with myself if I did / didn't do this?" -- seems pretty essentially ethical.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:00 PM
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Why is it a "mistake" for others to view abortion differently from you?

Well, in general, people who have opinions tend to think those are the correct opinions. People don't knowingly hold false opinions.

But more specifically, I'm not trying to voice my own opinion on abortion here. I'm trying to articulate the common batch of confused intuitions, with the hope that people who are speaking from just one intuitions will recognize the others.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:00 PM
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79: The owners of the small business I work for are paranoid about firing people for random (non-discriminatory) reasons. They sure don't act like they have the ability to fire people at will. Now, it may be that small business owners are unique because one lawsuit could easily send them under.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:01 PM
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So since no human being exists, disabled or otherwise, how is this a disability-rights issue? What human being is being devalued?

If nothing else, there are material implications for existing people with Down Syndrome: with less demand for institutional/social support to accommodate them, that support will become harder to find; they and their families will have fewer peers to share experiences with; when people with Down Syndrome are few and far between, other people will find it more pathological and weird; and so on.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:01 PM
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I'll note that most of us are comfortable with the distinction in employment law that allows you to fire an employee for nearly any reason at all -- eye color, perhaps -- but not for race, creed, color, etc.

Most of us are unaware of this distinction, not being lawyers.

I thought there was something called "just cause" that had to be invoked.


Posted by: CN | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:02 PM
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70: hey, if it's private, it's private. Loudly encouraging people to abort is just as rude as loudly telling them they're an asshole for aborting.

Abortion is not like the decision not to conceive. That's treating it too lightly.

so you say, but you don't say why. There's a good argument that aceding in the pro-life movement's desire to give extra moral weight to abortion, especially early-term abortion, is a major reason why abortion rights have lost so much ground in the U.S. over the past couple of decades. It's certainly a major reason why no-brainers like the morning-after pill are still hard to obtain here. Roe v. Wade was rooted in the right to privacy drawn from a contraception case, that connection makes sense to me.

It's different because it is making a distinction between a potential abled and a potential disabled child. Aborting because you did not want a child, any child, is in fact a bit different.

sure, it's different. But if choosing to abort someone devalues their category or class of human beings, then aborting because you don't want a kid, period devalues the entire class of human beings. Clearly many in the pro-life movement do believe this.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:02 PM
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I should probably mention that the reason I'm writing about this is that I also went through the process pretty recently with my wife, and we also picked up a definite undertone from the doctors and nurses that we wanted to sign up for as much testing as possible as early as possible, so that we could abort once we found out about the problems, and that this would be the totally natural, normal, and correct thing to do. Nothing explicit was said, of course, but that was the impression made. We both found that pretty creepy.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:04 PM
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Japanese apparently wait until the 5th month.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:06 PM
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so you say, but you don't say why.

Simply because the idea that the decision to abort is like the decision not to conceive doesn't fit the way most people actually behave when it comes to abortion, as revealed in opinion surveys, surveys of behavior, and personal experience talking to people about abortion. It doesn't fit, for instance, with Heebie's surprise that someone would abort a fetus with Downs.

Very few people experience abortion the way they experience getting a haircut or their appendix out. There are more emotions bound up in pregnancy than that.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:09 PM
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Regarding:

(1) If you think abortion is not only morally acceptable, but that the fetus has no moral status whatsoever, the choice become the choice whether to have, say, two normal children or two children one normal one with downs.

and

(2) Early-term fetuses are not human beings. So since no human being exists, disabled or otherwise, how is this a disability-rights issue? What human being is being devalued?

I think there is a point being elided from the perspective of those who would be on the other side of this argument. Whatever their moral status, fetuses are potential people. If you take the point of view of someone who thinks that the lives of persons with disabilities and those without them are of the same intrinsic value, then in saying something like (1) you would be de-valuing people with disabilities (You are saying, in effect, that a world with two non-disabled people is better than one with one disabled person and one non-disabled person). Again, this is independent of the morality abortion. You can think that abortion is morally neutral while thinking that aborting a fetus because, as a potential person, it would develop Downs is a morally problematic reason.


Posted by: ByronTheBulb | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:09 PM
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CN: yeah, if you live in Montana or the Virgin Islands. Otherwise, it makes a big damn difference if one has a union.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:10 PM
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Hmm. I think I'm not so much interested in this discussion as it stands, since my beliefs about the future include that we will be able to create intelligent beings with arbitrary characteristics, not subject to a process as constraining as reproduction. The ethics of creating conscious beings are woolly indeed, and the issues involved with plain old reproduction are a tiny subset. The fact that we don't know what to think about even that tiny subset (me included) doesn't bode well for the future.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:10 PM
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In a perfect world, we'd have community support networks enough to share childcare tasks for all children, differently abled as they are, and for all adults, differently abled as they are. We obviously don't have such a world, there's the rub, and indeed we've been heading toward increasing homogeneity for some time now.

I'm trying to withhold all sorts of remarks: that the homogenizing drive and effect are bad things, that we're nonetheless complicit in it, that on the other hand some look with skepticism on a diversity whose only conceivable form seems to be a sort of isolated tribalism, what has come to be derided in some circles as identity politics.

Mm.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:11 PM
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Simply because the idea that the decision to abort is like the decision not to conceive doesn't fit the way most people actually behave when it comes to abortion, as revealed in opinion surveys, surveys of behavior, and personal experience talking to people about abortion.

Why is it a mistake though, for someone else to think differently, in regards to their own personal situation?


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:11 PM
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It would probably be easier to discuss abortion in an American context if we didn't seem to be forced to choose between absolutely unfettered abortion on demand or no abortion ever. Like most rational people, I choose the first one, though I think that the principles by which people purport to justify it -- i.e., the notion that getting an abortion is like getting your tonsils out, etc. -- are impossible to actually hold on an intuitive level and are frankly chilling.

To be fair, I also think that it's impossible to believe in your gut that a fetus is morally equivalent to a post-born person and that if one indoctrinates oneself to that point, it seems that the only rational conclusion is to become an anti-abortion terrorist. By contrast, the pro-choice wrong reasoning doesn't seem to have any obvious practical consequences.


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:12 PM
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92 -- If you abort your super robot of the future just because one of its laser beams has a targeting problem, you are an evil person.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:12 PM
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Rob, sorry, you did "say why" in 78 and 82, which I hadn't seen when I posted 86. Good posts that help me understand your perspective, thanks. (But note that 65 and 67 do not analogize abortion to non-conception).


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:13 PM
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92: We can power our people factories with cold fusion! It will be perfect!


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:14 PM
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94, see the first paragraph of 95.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:15 PM
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You are saying, in effect, that a world with two non-disabled people is better than one with one disabled person and one non-disabled person.

I would have no problem saying that. Some people are better than other people. Regardless of whether one professes that belief (or professes to abhor it), I think pretty much everyone acts that way in at least a few circumstances. On the other hand, a functioning society requires that we not really talk about that sort of thing too much. Or else you get Nazis.

I think that getting people to admit that they do distinguish value between people is a prerequisite to making any progress in this particular discussion.

Hmm. Maybe this is why I'm leftist, but not so much liberal.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:16 PM
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If it were my decision I would abort a fetus with Down's. It seems like a better reason for abortion than most.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:20 PM
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If it were my decision I would abort a fetus likely to be a future Unfogged commenter.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:23 PM
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90

... (You are saying, in effect, that a world with two non-disabled people is better than one with one disabled person and one non-disabled person). ...

Most people believe this. Hence the concern about Thalidomide and other things that can cause birth defects.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:23 PM
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100/101 -- you've just departed from the creepy station, at least for this reader. The problem with the Nazis was that they talked about "that sort of thing" too much? Abortion for downs syndrome is a "better reason than most"? At least you're confirming that the disability rights work has a long, long way to go.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:24 PM
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76-to which one might well retort that it is you who are treating the decision to conceive far too lightly, and the decision to abort too gravely in moral terms (&, just insofar as your comments here are concerned, with insufficient attention on the effects and significance--practical, prudential, moral & otherwise-- for the woman whose body is at stake in carrying a pregnancy to term).
Also, 68 is right.


Posted by: anotherethicist | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:26 PM
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104: Well, no, I think the problem with the Nazis (and modern white supremacists) is something a little more coherent, but I don't think I'm up to articulating it.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:26 PM
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103 is pretty stupid, because it's not only wrong but makes exactly the same obvious mistake that Helpy-Chalk already pointed out for you above.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:26 PM
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And my point is that we need to articulate it to really make progress in this discussion.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:26 PM
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I am unable to see how 103 makes the same mistake as anything else in the thread. Also, I would be surprised if anyone thought "The problem with the Nazis was that they talked about "that sort of thing" too much?".


Posted by: CN | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:27 PM
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107: It's not clear to me that rob really justified that those are really mistakes.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:28 PM
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BTW, RFTS has made some good points.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:29 PM
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||

Minnesota beat Detroit 12-10 in what has been called the worst football game of the modern era. Halftime score was 3-2.

|>


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:29 PM
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109 -- The mistake is that it's wrong to conflate the choice of aborting a baby with downs syndrome with the ex nihilo choice of whether it's better that your baby have down syndrome or not, as Helpy-Chalk already explained above. Everyone would rather that their child not have birth defects. It doesn't follow that you should abort the ones that do.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:30 PM
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113 - But maybe it does. That's a legitimate topic for argument, not something that rob gets to rule out tout court.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:31 PM
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109: Well, if they didn't talk about that sort of thing then they wouldn't be bigots or eliminationists. Talking about human value differences is a necessary but not sufficient condition for bigotry. So what else is necessary?


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:31 PM
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you would be de-valuing people with disabilities (You are saying, in effect, that a world with two non-disabled people is better than one with one disabled person and one non-disabled person).

Likewise, the doctor who works toward a genetic therapy for Downs is implicitly saying that a world with two non-disabled people is better than a world with one disabled and one non-disabled person.

In any case, the parents who abort the Downs kid are not saying that a world without a Downs kid is better than a world with one. They're just saying that they themselves do not want to raise a Downs kid. In this sense, Parsimon's point in 93 is very relevant -- childraising tasks are not really communally shared. If they were, it would be more sensible to say that childbearing decisions should be.

The tendency to turn people into implicit world-legislators is one of the problems I have with promiscuous moral reasoning.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:32 PM
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I'm with nattarGcM ttaM in 3, 35 and 46.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:33 PM
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Subjective: what you think
Objective: what's actually real, regardless of what you think
Subjectively objective: what you think is actually real regardless of what you think
Objectively subjective: what you actually think, regardless of what you think

Rob's comments have moved in the realm of the objectively subjective, as have my limited interventions in his wake. We are both completely right, but structurally it's impossible for people who have talked themselves into thinking they believe things they actually don't to admit that we're right. That's okay -- that's take into account in advance and actually makes us more right.


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:33 PM
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118: That would be a lot more convincing, Adam, if you weren't a fictional character that I created for my commenting amusement.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:36 PM
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113, if one believes that having an abortion is like removing a hangnail and that conceiving again is easy, then I think it does follow. What I've not seen convincingly argued is that it is a "mistake" to believe that having an abortion is like removing a hangnail.

I could see arguments that it is morally wrong, ethically wrong, chilling, intuitively wrong, or that most people don't feel that way. To me, calling it a mistake implies an error in reasoning or logic, though, not morals or ethics. Perhaps Rob is just using the word "mistake" in a different sense from the way I'm interpreting it.


Posted by: Anon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:37 PM
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Helpy-chalk is just a big bully. I'm having an abortion just to show he can't push me around.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:38 PM
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It's not clear to me that rob really justified that those are really mistakes.

My sense is that rob has chiefly explained that he's after sorting through people's intuitions: according to which there is a distinct difference between the decision not to conceive and the decision to abort. i.e. decision-making about pregnancy is very different when one is not pregnant vs. when one is.

People's intuitions don't make much sense in the aggregate, however, which is how we get into these messes: contrary intuitions, and/or self-contradictory intuitions within the same person.

The proposition that there's a big difference between the decision not to conceive and the decision to abort pretty much fails if the reason not to conceive is the nearly certain knowledge that any child so conceived will suffer birth defects.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:39 PM
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A hangnail is part of your body. A fetus is a genetically distinct entity. The presumption should probably be in favor of them being different, with the burden of proof on the person who thinks they're the same.

The tendency to equate them probably stems from the sense that if you give even a little ground to something that looks like a pro-life argument, you're giving the whole thing away. Even if you think that you are being totally reasonable and unmotivated by cultural or political factors, I know you're not, because, in fact, I have better insight into your beliefs than you yourself do.


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:40 PM
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To me, calling it a mistake implies an error in reasoning or logic, though, not morals or ethics.

Yeah, I'm more of a realist about moral facts than that. Lets start with an example from Adrianne McAvoy.

1. "Skinning a baby alive for your sexual gratification is wrong."

Statement 1 is true. Doubting it is a mistake.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:40 PM
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117: Brits!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:41 PM
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117: me too. Hadn't read up there.

We are both completely right, but structurally it's impossible for people who have talked themselves into thinking they believe things they actually don't

history demonstrates that human beings can believe anything. One of the problems with examining "moral intutitions" is that it enshrines contemporary common sense as eternal verity. Which I'm sort of in favor of when I agree with contemporary common sense, but it's still a failure of imagination.

Also, on a personal level a major reason people see abortion as a very troubling and charged decision has to do with losing a potential future, which does not necessarily mean they view it as having *moral* weight, for themselves or anything else. Pro-lifers are very eager to bring moral weight into that particular species of personal difficulty.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:44 PM
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124: Well, insofar as I'm uncomfortable using moral intuition pumps related to sexuality (as I post almost no stock in people's intuitions about sexuality), I'd rather have as statement one, "Skinning a baby alive is wrong." Perhaps someone can make it more obscene without being sexual.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:45 PM
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114 -- I guess everything can be up for discussion. But the argument that JUST because birth defects are bad aborting kids with birth defects is good strikes me as extremely lame, unless you think that abortion is so unproblematic that it should be done for any reason at all (which, in practice, most people don't, including me) or that people with birth defects are so devoid of value that it's unproblematic to abort for that reason alone (which I think is pretty reprehensible, and similar to other forms of bigotry that are regularly denounced in this forum).


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:46 PM
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Talking about human value differences is a necessary but not sufficient condition for bigotry.

Seems sort of sufficient to me.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:47 PM
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I think one way to break out some of the same issues going on here is to think about the moral implications of sex-selection abortion: what is the wrong thing that someone is doing by aborting a fetus because they just don't want to have a daughter, or is it not wrong at all?

I'm pretty far over on the 'the fetus doesn't have moral standing before somewhere around the third trimester' bench; largely because I don't know what 'moral standing' is. Nothing other than fetuses seems to have the sort of moral standing under discussion. People have rights; animals have the capacity to suffer (that is, I don't feel bad about playing catch with non-stinging jellyfish, even if it harms them, because I don't believe they can perceive the injury); for someone who doesn't think fetuses have the full rights of a person, I can't find any other morally weighty category to put them in.

Which leaves me, in the sex selection case, thinking that the sex-selection abortion isn't wrongful. But it is indicative of beliefs and attitudes that seem likely to be associated with other actions that are wrong.

The Down syndrome case is more complicated and harder, but I think the sex-selection case addresses a useful subset of the issues.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:48 PM
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But the argument that JUST because birth defects are bad aborting kids with birth defects is good

Did someone make that argument?


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:48 PM
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Some industrial processes require skinning babies alive, pdf. Hence the qualifier.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:48 PM
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Skinning a baby alive if that's the only way to get a terrorist to talk who knows (and you know with 100% certainty that he knows this) where a ticking nuclear bomb is and how to defuse it, on the other hand, is morally imperative.


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:49 PM
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I'd rather have as statement one, "Skinning a baby alive is wrong."

You just need to put a poor reason in there to deal with deontologists who think that motivation is everything and consequentialists who are overly concerned with bizarre hypotheticals, like what if you had to torture one baby to keep the Earth from exploding.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:49 PM
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124: Well, I reject your moral intuition utterly, and if you think that makes me no different than someone who skins a baby alive for their own sexual gratification, then fuck you.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:49 PM
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I suspect the point of "for your sexual gratification" is to exclude the possibility of an even remotely plausible countervailing good. Contrast with, for example, skinning a baby alive to save the lives, physical well-being, and sanity of a hundred delightful and brilliant kindergardeners.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:50 PM
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"Pwnnnnned," she cried mournfully.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:51 PM
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134: Right, I sort of intuited that. How about "Skinning a baby alive and eating the flesh off of its bones because it's better than a box of chocolates is wrong."?


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:52 PM
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It was my second year in college and we were sitting at the "House Table" at the dining hall. Someone told a dead baby joke. The Resident Head, who was a sociology grad student, launched into a lengthy explication of the role of dead baby jokes in the development of individuality in young people. It was then that I learned that a sociologist can suck the life out of any conversation.


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:52 PM
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Walt Someguy's degree of investment in this discussion and his degree of prickliness -- frankly, they raise questions in my mind. Either he just scheduled an abortion and ingrown toenail surgery for the same day, or else he routinely skins babies alive for sexual gratification, or both.


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:53 PM
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Most people believe this. Hence the concern about Thalidomide and other things that can cause birth defects.

Hmm. Here's a person with Thalidomide-related birth defects.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:54 PM
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129: I wouldn't say so, unless one restricts any notion of value differences between humans to the difficult-to-nail-down notion of "intrinsic value" differences, the sort of touchy-feely way in which we all believe that existing human lives are fairly equal in value and all people deserve the right to vote. Believing in major differences between classes of people on this axis is almost certainly tantamount to bigotry.

But as for any sort of value comparison? I mean, some classes of people are intrinsically less likely to contribute in a meaningful way to the greater happiness of society through wealth or knowledge generation, but that has no effect on the equal "intrinsic value" of their already-existing lives. However, that is only relevant in the moral calculus if one considers an early-stage fetus to be an already-existing life even to the smallest extent. I don't.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:54 PM
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Do people really abort because they find out the baby has Down's Syndrome?

My mom told me a month ago that if she had discovered, while pregnant with me or my sister, that the child would have Down's, she would have had an abortion.

Anecdata!


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:54 PM
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Would aborting a baby just for sexual gratification be wrong?


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:55 PM
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If you're interested in this question, Helpy-chalk's "Good and Bad Reasons for Skinning Babies Alive" (Oxford U.P., 2007) is the best place to start, superceding Rorty's "My Intersubjective Community Skins Babies Alive Way Too Goddamn Much, If You Ask Me" (Executive Intelligence Review, 2006).


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:56 PM
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143: Yeah, my mom mentioned that to me as well at some point in my childhood, probably when explaining what an amniocentesis was or something (this was quite a while ago).


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:56 PM
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I'm going to ignore rob's attempt to make himself the arbiter of moral reasoning that I'm sure he imagines his job title has earned him.

I don't see why abortion is the key distinction. Is sex selection, or selection based on hair color, any less objectionable if it could be done at the time of conception?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:57 PM
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re 25, I don't think she's an asshole, either.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:57 PM
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I don't know for sure, obviously, but 130 strikes me as extremely unlikely to be true for LB.

LB's Coworker: Hey, I found at three months that I had a boy baby. Didn't want that boy baby. Wanted a girl. So I aborted that sucker!! Dropped him out of there like yesterday's news and am gonna keep going until I get myself a little she. Pretty sweet, huh?

I suspect that LB would think that the coworker was at least a bit morally off, and not just because the coworker's not a feminist. I sure would.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:57 PM
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I'm a bigoted asshole who devalues the disabled, dear.


Posted by: Your Mother | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:57 PM
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On the practical front, I'm a little surprised by Heebie's blitheness about raising a kid with Down Syndrome. Not that it settles anything morally, but in the best (plausible) case scenario, you're still in a situation where you're responsible for daily care and supervision for the rest of your or the child's life, whichever is shorter, and for insuring that someone else assumes the responsibility if the kid outlives you (Will is in this position with his daughter, and alluded to it above).

While anyone can find themselves in that position (I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, and be badly enough brain damaged that Buck had to care for me like that for the rest of his or my life), it's a lot more than most parents have to deal with, which is supervision and care for around twenty years, but not more than that on a daily level.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:58 PM
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The Resident Head, who was a sociology grad student, launched into a lengthy explication of the role of dead baby jokes in the development of individuality in young people. It was then that I learned that a sociologist can suck the life out of any conversation.

I would have been interested to hear his reasoning, actually.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:59 PM
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144 belongs on John's blog.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 2:59 PM
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Otto had the best goddamn dead baby joke cued up ready to go when that pedantic asshole started talking, and twenty years later he's still mad.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:01 PM
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149: Just as a heads up, telling me you doubt I believe the things I've just said I believe is the sort of thing that makes me want to hit you with a cinder block. I say this only because you may find it useful in other conversations, in case other people share my reactions.

Where, I think, what you said breaks down is in describing the attitude toward women that would lead to the selective abortion of a female fetus as merely "not a feminist". You can be 'not a feminist', and not necessarily do much of anything particularly wrong to show it. Having such strong beliefs about the lesser worth or status of women that you'd take action to insure that you didn't have a female child would, I think, be hard to carry off without doing other things that I would call wrong.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:06 PM
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130: Nothing other than fetuses seems to have the sort of moral standing under discussion

LB, I've seen you engage in this sort of reasoning before -- in another thread, maybe in connection with animal rights? the difference between the pain suffered by mammals and that suffered by, say, a jellyfish? -- essentially saying that you don't find a straightforward analogy to any other obvious category of beings, so you tend toward denying moral status altogether. Something like that.

And it seemed then as now that there's no particular reason one can't consider fetuses (in this case) to be in a category unto themselves. The view most often in play is the fuzzy one somewhere between having no moral status at all (a hangnail) and having full moral status. We can't really get rid of the moral issues involved here by dismissing the fuzzy realm.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:06 PM
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There are no really good dead baby jokes, or anyway very few. As far as I can tell they only serve to establish that the teller can be shocking and handle theoretically explosive concepts just like an adult, but once you think of them like that they're really just a sign of immaturity. Irony!


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:06 PM
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154: I can't wait till the end of the story when Otto returns to the college for a class reunion, sees the said pedant, and shouts out "Fuck you, Resident Head!"


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:08 PM
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151 - Well, it doesn't have to be hands on daily care after 18 or 20 or so if you don't want. Obviously, you're still going to have that parental responsibility for a long time, but there are lots of nice, small residential places for adults with a variety of learning disabilities. Here there are, anyway.

There's an awful lot of things I'd rather my children weren't. I'm not sure where I'd draw my own line, and I don't think it's right to encourage others to have the same line.


Posted by: asilon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:08 PM
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Which leaves me, in the sex selection case, thinking that the sex-selection abortion isn't wrongful. But it is indicative of beliefs and attitudes that seem likely to be associated with other actions that are wrong.

I agree completely. Also, since sex-selective abortion tends to go in one direction, not only is it indicative of those problematic societal and individual beliefs, but it also can produce drastic societal harm. Populations with massive male-skewed demographics tend to, well, be fucked up at some point or another. If people chose tod abort for sex-selection purposes in a more random aggregate pattern, societal effects would be minimal and I would see the decision at an individual level as almost utterly morally inconsequential.

To address Robert Halford in 149, any scenario in which someone posits excitement about abortions is slightly off-putting. Mostly because NO ONE IS EVER EXCITED ABOUT THEM. A story about how a coworker was really excited about taking antibiotics because it meant all those million of foreign lifeforms inside his or herself were dying would also be weird, because who the fuck gets excited about something so morally neutral?


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:08 PM
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When you're 14 they're funny, like elephant jokes and knock-knock jokes.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:09 PM
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I'm a little surprised by Heebie's blitheness about raising a kid with Down Syndrome.

Well, like I said elsewhere, I can't tell if I'm being terribly short-sighted or just coldly logical.

I will say, for all the people who are saying how these are early term abortions, it sure doesn't feel early whatsoever at this point. Keep in mind that the Down's test is performed at the 12th week (ideally), and then there's a week to get the results, a week to get to the next appointment to talk about options, and you're in your 2nd trimester already.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:10 PM
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Although Parsimon is right that it's certainly logically possible for fetuses to be their own moral category, I think I personally agree with LB in 130.

To take things a bit further, I think that pro-lifers have gotten a lot of mileage out of trying to convert peoples' personal anguish and difficulty over the abortion decision in their own lives into a societal claim that fetuses have moral weight.

(1) if I abort, I will be losing the chance to have this child and life may be profoundly different for me in ways that will trouble me in the future, and

(2) if I abort, I will have killed another living thing that had a right to exist

are two very different reasons for anguish in making a decision. We are frequently encouraged to slide over from imagining life in the possible future where the fetus has become a child to imagining the fetus as the already existing child. I'm sure this encouragement has succeeded for many people, but I don't necessarily think we should be buying into it.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:11 PM
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I think that if a test had shown that my son would have ended up a Republican I would have pulled the plug. No offense to our Republican brothers and sisters here.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:12 PM
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When you're 14 they're funny, like elephant jokes and knock-knock jokes.

As I've said elsewhere, I was an old man at 12.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:14 PM
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157: I think the RH was talking along those lines. Mostly the House became annoyed with him because we got tired of constantly being told why we were acting the way we were acting—and always in way too many words.

That and there was the time he referred to himself as "practically black." (At least in skin color terms, he was very white. I was told his reasoning behind his practical blackness was that he "lived on the south side" and was married to an African American woman.)

I moved out of housing the next year.


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:15 PM
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Oh, go ahead, Otto. Tell the joke.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:16 PM
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166: I think of myself as impractically black.

Right before he died, Norman Mailer said he wanted to be reincarnated as a black athlete. He said he would be willing to accept a disadvantaged childhood in exchange for this.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:17 PM
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I think that if a test had shown that my son would have ended up a Republican I would have pulled the plug.

Can they test for that? I would want to know if I was carrying Rosemary's baby.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:19 PM
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I would want to know if I was carrying Rosemary's baby.

Especially if Rosemary had yours.


Posted by: beamish | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:22 PM
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162: For my wife and I, seeing the heartbeat, in ease case, changed our perception of the pregnancy quite a lot. Making the decision to abort prior to that point would have been difficult; after that, it would have been nearly impossible.

That said, I'm still not sure what we would have done with the first kid if the Down's screen had come back positive. That pregnancy was very easy, fortunately -- until the birth that is -- so we faced very few ethical dilemmas. With the second, had the test been positive, we would have terminated the pregnancy. In that case, for a variety of reasons, we did have to talk about it. And in the end, we decided that the first kid would have ended up, after we're dead, with either a lot of responsibility he didn't sign on for, a lot of guilt, or both.

Plus, we're terrible people. And I, personally, hate the disabled. They get all the breaks -- better parking spaces, bigger stalls for a wider stance, etc. -- and that shit pisses me off.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:22 PM
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159: I haven't explored options here, because I haven't needed to, but my guess is that they're not as good in the US.

163: Yep, I think that's exactly right.

On the moral intuition front, I would argue that most pro-choice people don't actually have a consistent moral intuition like Rob describes. To get personal, everyone who's been around here for a year or more knows I had an abortion (anyone who's surprised, go google the archives, there's a post with the story). And I had it for not particularly morally weighty reasons -- I did not at that time want to raise a child. But I was a middle-class woman with a college degree and a family that would have been helpful; the life I would have had if I'd gone forward with the pregnancy isn't anything that it would be reasonable to describe as actual hardship.

Still, I've never had anyone pro-choice either tell me, or say of someone else in my situation, that my reasons weren't good enough. An accidental pregnancy at a time when you weren't planning on having a baby seems to be generally treated by pro-choice people as a slam-dunk good enough reason for an abortion. I can't reconcile that reaction, which if not universal is at least pretty widespread, with a genuine intuition that a fetus has 'moral standing', if 'moral standing' means much of anything at all.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:27 PM
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Still, I've never had anyone pro-choice either tell me, or say of someone else in my situation, that my reasons weren't good enough.

I have. They sternly told me they didn't approve of abortion for birth control. It was a weird conversation. First she tried to give me all these outs: "Oh, you were young." "No I wasn't." "Oh, you were scared." "No I wasn't," and finally she said pointedly, "I don't approve of abortion as a form of birth control," and I let it go.


Posted by: Ladybird Johnson | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:37 PM
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Fair enough -- I don't mean to say that no one believes in 'moral standing'. Just that there are at least a fair number of pro-choice people out there who behave as if they don't in contexts like yours or mine.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:40 PM
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"I don't approve of abortion as a form of birth control."

"Really? Damn, that gift card I was going to give you for your birthday probably wasn't a great idea then."


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:41 PM
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172: I can't reconcile that reaction, which if not universal is at least pretty widespread, with a genuine intuition that a fetus has 'moral standing', if 'moral standing' means much of anything at all.

I've been toying with this for the last little while. I've never particularly framed it before: I (the mother, hopefully in agreement with the father) grant, or do not grant, full moral status to you, the fetus. I do this at .. some point. When I decide not to abort you, basically. At that point, the question of your welfare takes on a weight equal to my own. But until I make that decision, it remains my right to decide for you, for you do not, until that time, enjoy full moral status.

Hm. This view of things is interesting to me: full moral status is not an objective state of affairs in the world, but is rather granted by one and one person only.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:41 PM
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To be clear, the position you're toying with is not mine. I think it's a matter of developmental stages -- infants yes, embryos no, early term fetuses no, late term fetuses unsure.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:44 PM
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A story about how a coworker was really excited about taking antibiotics because it meant all those million of foreign lifeforms inside his or herself were dying would also be weird

I was never excited about taking antibiotics before, but now that you put it this way it is kind of exciting. Fuck you bacteria.


Posted by: CJB | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:44 PM
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Reading from the bottom-up, I initially thought the yes or no question being answered in 177 was "is it okay to abort _____?" and thought, wow, LB's doing Peter Singer one better.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:46 PM
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That's an interesting thought, Parsimon. Instinctively, I'm put off by it -- there's something uncomfortable to me about one person, indeed me at a particular point, having the power/authority/standing to grant or deny full moral status. I'm trying to parse out whether my gut reaction is discomfort with any single person having that power, or with women having that power.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:47 PM
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People can be varying degrees of pro-choice. And indeed are. Many women who publicly identify as pro-life are in fact pro-choice. At least as far as they themselves, or their daughters, are concerned. See the famous collection of anecdata The Only Good Abortion Is My Abortion.

(Statistically, American Catholic women, who are presumably religiously more likely to be against contraception and against abortion, are fractionally more likely to have abortions than the rest of the population.)


Posted by: Jesurgislac | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:47 PM
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177: Yeah, sorry, I glued together a beginning reply to your 172, and something I'd half-written half an hour ago.

It simply goes toward the apparently still operative notion that we might work out (as a society, to our mutual satisfaction, roughly acknowledging most of our inconsistent intuitions?) whether fetuses do or do not have 'moral status' and if so, to what degree. The nifty solution I provide takes the matter out of the public sphere in a certain way. Neato, I think; and it matches my (at least) intuitions.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:50 PM
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178: Whole bacterial civilizations being destroyed! Oh, baby!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:51 PM
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Many women who publicly identify as pro-life are in fact pro-choice.

Indeed, I was just thinking about the "pro-life" friend who called to tell me about the email she just read about Obama's "outrageous" position on that Illinois bill. She pointedly prefaced her remarks by saying, "I mean, I would never want to tell any woman what to do or anything, but this is just crazy."


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:51 PM
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"Telling other people what to do" is unthinkable for most Americans. Or even "Telling people what they should do". ("Telling people what to do" tends to sound like a command that you would give to an employee, a servant, a child, or a prisoner, whereas "Telling people what they should do" is more clearly telling people what their moral obligation is.)

People of various sorts (including Christians and conservatives) will say "I'm not going to tell [X] what he or she should do", as though that were unthinkable.

This attitude is really very specifically confined to highly liberal-secular-individualistic societies. But in American many think that it's obviously correct and unarguable.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 3:58 PM
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"I'm not going to tell [X] what he or she should do", as though that were unthinkable.

Totally. This drives me nuts. Texans love to bury all sorts of (normal) judgementalism under layers and layers of politeness, and I always want to scream, "JUST SAY WHAT YOU'RE THINKING. CUT THE BULLSHIT."


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:05 PM
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180: there's something uncomfortable to me about one person, indeed me at a particular point, having the power/authority/standing to grant or deny full moral status.

Isn't that what a pro-choice position amounts to?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:05 PM
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186: And yet -- if they're peeved Texans drag people to their deaths behind their pickup trucks. Paradox!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:07 PM
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186: I don't want to tell you how to think, heebie, but not all Texans love to bury all sorts of (normal) judgementalism under layers and layers of politeness.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:07 PM
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Can't we all just wait for the amazing future when pdf23ds's Formal Morality Analyzer will tell us what is right and wrong, root out moral inconsistencies, and produce solutions acceptable to all, like Solomon of old?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:08 PM
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188: Was that in Texas? I thought it was somewhere in the northwest.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:09 PM
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See, you never grant anyone moral status. First there's no one, and then there's the status-granting, and then there's someone. There's nothing in between the no one and the someone.

But no backsies.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:09 PM
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189: OWWWWW I feel you judging me and it burns anyway.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:09 PM
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190: I think that's unfair.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:09 PM
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191: they didn't drag him that far.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:10 PM
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187: Nope. You can get to a pro-choice position by believing that the fetus doesn't have moral standing whatever the woman decides, until it reaches some developmental stage.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:10 PM
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191: I thought maybe East Texas? Beaumont maybe?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:11 PM
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194: but do you know it's unfair?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:11 PM
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198: I think so.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:12 PM
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"I think" is a pretty ingrained habit for me. Overall, probably a good thing.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:13 PM
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190, 194: I think it's light teasing. If it were meant seriously, of course it's unfair, you haven't proposed anything of the sort.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:14 PM
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194: I'm kidding. Sorry if I caused offense.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:16 PM
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155 -- LB, I was really trying to make Parsimon's point in 156, not to be an asshole. Sorry if I came across that way. And I didn't know your personal story. Since it's helpful to know where everyone comes from, a very similar situation to yours happened to my wife. Of course, that came up often when discussing having our own child, who wasn't planned.

In the Down syndrome question that's at issue here, I'm a little surprised more people aren't thinking about all of the prejudice, societal diapproval, etc., that are directed against the disabled. Obviously, it's very hard to raise a disabled child and no one sane would dispute that. On the other hand, the decision to not have a disabled child can rest on reasons that look very close to any other form of bigotry.

That's the Down-syndrome specific point. I also think that (although it's very, very hard to draw the line, which is why the state should get out of this and which is why no one should ever take a woman's right to choose away) there are situations in which abortion is and can be frivolous and done for wrong or thoughtless reasons. I don't find it particularly helpful or realistic to think about the act of abortion as "morally neutral" or "problem free" -- rather, as a morally difficult act that can be done for good or understandable reasons.

I do not think "I really, really, really am not ready to have a child" is a frivolous reason at all.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:16 PM
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Probably I was confusing that case with the Shepard case in Wyoming.

The pickup truck one was James Byrd, Jr., and that did happen in Texas.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:16 PM
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189: OWWWWW I feel you judging me and it burns anyway.

I felt like you had judgment about me.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:16 PM
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re; 196

Or you can take the line that it does have some level of moral standing but that in most cases that's trumped by two things, i) the moral standing of the woman [qua fully functioning adult human] and ii) the really bad pragmatic consequences that derive from anti-choice legislation.

The latter is pretty common, I think. I certainly know people who find the idea that they would have an abortion unthinkable but also think the social consequences of not letting anyone have one, are unthinkable.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:18 PM
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You can get to a pro-choice position by believing that the fetus doesn't have moral standing whatever the woman decides, until it reaches some developmental stage.

Good point. Parsimon's status-granting formulation actually meshes better with my intuitions -- but it also makes me decidedly much less comfortable.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:18 PM
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I know it wasn't serious, but I'm a bit sensitive to teasing along those lines considering the considerable genuine hostility held by some around here to my tranhumanist beliefs, so I'll hope you'll forgive me for being a little sensitive about that. I won't complain about all the kidding, but that one conflated some supposed sort of moral objectivity with my other beliefs, and I've never even hinted at being a moral objectivist--I think that position is really silly. I'm a relativist through and through.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:19 PM
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re: 208

There are non-silly forms of moral objectivism if you understand 'objective' in a non-silly way. We use the term objective in a variety of ways and some of them are perfectly compatible with an ethical theory that doesn't believe in some realm of natural moral facts, or queer non-natural moral properties.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:21 PM
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Actually, I take 207 back. I think my intuitions are a hybrid of the two descriptions. In other words, even a 6 week fetus has moral status if the mother has decided to keep it. At some later developmental stage (not sure when that is), the fetus has moral status whether or not the mother has made a choice.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:23 PM
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No, in the Northwest we play William Tell with hunting bows and shoot arrows into our friends' eye sockets. Or we head over the the Waterfront Tavern in Bellingham to keep an eye out for the next serial killer.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:23 PM
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I also think that (although it's very, very hard to draw the line, which is why the state should get out of this and which is why no one should ever take a woman's right to choose away) there are situations in which abortion is and can be frivolous and done for wrong or thoughtless reasons.... I do not think "I really, really, really am not ready to have a child" is a frivolous reason at all.

See, I don't follow you -- there may be an argument there, but it's not one I can get to without a lot of leading. Barring fantasy situations like "I wanted my baby to be a Capricorn, and I'm just going to keep on aborting until I get pregnant with a January due date," what sort of reason is more frivolous than "I don't want to have a baby now," said by someone like me for whom it wouldn't have been a serious hardship? Something like knowledge of Down syndrome seems to me to be much higher stakes than I was looking at; I can't see a plausible reason (barring sex selection) for abortion that's lower stakes than mine was.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:23 PM
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I think parsimon's position isn't quite right. On the one hand, what's she's talking about is definitely quite descriptive of the way many women approach their emotional attachment (and conceptions of their own moral obligation) to their unborn child. Similarly, a sculptor could attach a high value to a block of marble that she has especially high plans for. But I think this is a separate issue from the more general question of the moral status of a fetus.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:25 PM
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209: Well, I probably think even those are silly (i.e. very wrong), though perhaps a bit more defensible. But the one implied by essear's comment was pretty degenerate.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:26 PM
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The prevalence of serial killers in the Northwest is freaky. When I lived there, they caught 3 mass murderers who'd killed a hundred people between them.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:27 PM
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I'm with 213, which fits into my dislike of the slippery term 'moral status'. I think a six week old fetus has immense personal value to the parents if wanted, but I don't think that personal value to the parents should be confused with moral claims in its own right.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:27 PM
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196: You can get to a pro-choice position by believing that the fetus doesn't have moral standing whatever the woman decides, until it reaches some developmental stage.

True enough, if we're worried about it from a policy-making perspective (and alas, we have to be). Opens up that terrible chasm, though: if we decide as a society that a fetus has moral standing at some stage of development, the state develops at least an arguable right to intervene on behalf of the fetus.

But this rehearses what we all know. Perhaps it comes down to a question whether such moral questions should answered through statements of fact: the fetus does/does not have moral status ... Now! Therefore the mother may behave in the following ways. This is a problematic way of proceeding.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:28 PM
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In furtherance of ttaM in 206,
Is it too late to go back to the whole "Every child a wanted child" tagline for the pro-choice position? The negative consequences of legislating limits to abortion come in here, but so do the negative consequences of encouraging/shaming parents who feel unprepared to raise a child with sever developmental disabilities to bring them to term/raise them anyway.
Or what Berube wrote with less spitting.


Posted by: JPool | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:28 PM
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It's out culture, Walt. You don't understand.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:29 PM
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213: To me, the emotional attachment of the mother to the fetus and the moral status of the fetus are closely intertwined. Indeed, this is why making it a crime to kill a wanted fetus is reconcilable with legal abortion.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:30 PM
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re: 214

Really, you don't think there's any non-silly sense in which something can be objective?


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:30 PM
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Perhaps it comes down to a question whether such moral questions should answered through statements of fact: the fetus does/does not have moral status ... Now! Therefore the mother may behave in the following ways. This is a problematic way of proceeding.

It is the way we proceed in other moral questions. No one will stop you from putting a fishhook through a grasshopper to catch a fish with, even if you're just doing it for fun. People will stop you from putting a fishhook through a dog's nose for fun, though. And they'll draw that moral distinction on the basis of a factual claim.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:32 PM
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221: I don't think there's any non-silly sense in which morals can be objective. OTOH, my view of morality is quite close to a view that others have called objective, so it may boil down to a terminological dispute.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:33 PM
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There do seem to be quite a few.

This is a good civic nickname.


Posted by: CN | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:35 PM
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220: Stealing is a crime, but not because the possessions have moral status in their own right.

Alas, I'm not sure that, with moral questions, argument by analogy is avoidable.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:36 PM
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No one will stop you from putting a fishhook through a grasshopper to catch a fish with, even if you're just doing it for fun. People will stop you from putting a fishhook through a dog's nose for fun, though.

Yes.

And they'll draw that moral distinction on the basis of a factual claim.

Only moral philosophers.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:38 PM
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OWWWWW I feel you judging me and it burns anyway.

I'm not going to tell you how to feel, heebie, but BURN WITCH BUURN!!!1!!!


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:39 PM
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The only reason to have an amnio, for most women, is to diagnose Downs. The most common reason for a second trimester abortion is a diagnosis of Downs.

By the way, most women who are aborting a wanted pregnancy because the baby has a genetic defect are hoping to have another child. Thus most would choose an intact dilation and extraction as the abortion method because dismembering the baby before removing it increases the chance of damaging the uterus during the procedure. That's the method that may be prohibited by "partial birth abortion" laws.

The expression "a healthy baby" has somehow come to mean a fetus who has been diagnosed with normal chromosomes. I have heard families say of preterm babies on CPAP, "well at least the baby is healthy." I doubt they would call an adult on a ventilator healthy.

The rate of preterm birth in the US is about 12% now, and those babies are very likely to have lifetime physical and cognitive issues. Most NCCU nurses I work with will readily admit that if they were having contractions before about 28 weeks, they would head for the hills to avoid mandatory resuscitation in a hospital.


Posted by: Shamhat | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:39 PM
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||

The highest point in Prince Edward Island is a place called "Glen Valley".

|>


Posted by: CN | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:40 PM
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226: No, come on. I'm not arguing that morals are objective, largely because I'm not sure either of what I think or what's at stake. But the argument that grasshopper/fishhook is okay and dog/fishhook isn't rests on beliefs that dogs and grasshoppers have, as a matter of objective fact, differences that affect how they experience things.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:41 PM
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re; 223

Possibly. I've readsome of the philosophical literature on objectivity so I may be operating with a slightly different understanding of 'objective'.

We can think of objectivity as involving things like intersubjectivity, or agent-neutrality, or procedural fairness or agent-indepent natural facts, etc.etc. These don't all collapse into each other. I tend to think that we can come up with an 'objective' approach to morality if our account of objectivity isn't one that adverts to a world of natural/non-natural moral properties.

e.g. if we think what matters is that our moral theory not privilege any one point of view, or that it be capable of intersubjective assent, or be the result of a fair procedure, or whatever.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:42 PM
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230: I think you misunderstand me. I think for most people, the question doesn't even reach the point of conscious deliberation. No facts are involved, just intuitions.

I would characterize my own moral position as "intuitionist". I hesitate to do so, because I imagine that would just confuse and mislead the philosophers among us.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:44 PM
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230: Does it? My reaction to someone putting a fishhook through a dog's nose would be visceral and not at all analyzed in terms of the dog's cognitive capacities. It's an animal recognizably in pain. The facts at issue here turn out to nicely coincide with our moral intuitions, but if they didn't, it wouldn't change the instinctive reaction to seeing a dog in pain.

Now, I would say that basing morality entirely on visceral reactions is dangerous (cf. homophobia), but there is something important about these instincts that I'm not entirely comfortable with replacing by facts.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:45 PM
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I would characterize my own moral position as "intuitionist". I hesitate to do so, because I imagine that would just confuse and mislead the philosophers among us.

Well, it'd make them think of the other moral theories that have been labelled 'intuitionist', yeah.

Which is a view that involves objective moral facts.

Maybe you have some sort of non-cognitivist view in mind?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-cognitivism

[I imagine the Emerson bat signal is going up around now.]


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:47 PM
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232: But if you set up an experiment where people did have to think consciously about it, they'd make their decision on the basis of factual beliefs. Say, I tell a subject "A new species called the fnargle has just been discovered. May I morally stick a fishhook through it and use it as live bait?"

They're going to ask questions like "Is it an insect, or an invertebrate? Or is it a mammal or a bird? Does it seem to feel pain?" And they'll give you their moral intuition on the basis of the facts you give them.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:48 PM
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231: In case you have no clue what I'm talking about, most of the people I've seen touting "moral objectivity" (including the form essear made fun of) have in mind some sort of "universally compelling argument that all rational agents would agree upon" that puts morality at the level of math. I'm sure you'd agree that that's pretty silly.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:49 PM
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I think morality could perfectly well be considered at the same level as math, but probably for different reasons than the ones you're thinking of.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:51 PM
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re: 236

Well, 'puts morality at the level of math' probably is silly, but the 'something all rational agents would agree on' one is not. They aren't equivalent.

Quite quickly we are going to be into Ethical Theory 101 territory, though.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:51 PM
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235: Voight-Kampfs for everybody!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:52 PM
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About the recent lynching: James Byrd, Jr. was killed by being dragged behind a pickup truck in Jasper, TX. My father grew up halfway between Woodville and Jasper, and their annual vacation was the state fair in nearby Beaumont.


Posted by: Shamhat | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:52 PM
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And Tweety has a point in 237, too, if I read him correctly.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:52 PM
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234: OK, since you seem to be curious, I'll try to summarize my position (which may or may not be compatible with non-cognitivism, but I don't think so). I think moral statements are statements of fact about a single person's (or groups of people's) moral intuitions. They have no universally compelling normative force. It's all about agent's preferences and power struggles and cooperation and compromise. Maybe you'd call that relativism.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:52 PM
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237: In fact, I can't even imagine what sense you're thinking of.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:54 PM
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235: Also, what are you using it as bait for? In the world of biomedical science we are trained to see even monkeys as suitable tools for killing, intentionally infecting with disease, et cetera. So if you were using a dog as bait in a desperate attempt to trap one of the ten remaining Wild Bulgarian Bearcats, it could be justifiable.


Posted by: CN | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:54 PM
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212 -- LB, I don't know and can't really talk about your situation, although having read the blog I think it's extremely unlikely that ANY major life choice you made was "frivolous." But, to try and explain myself, let's take two common situations that may or may not match your own, but that are both based on people that I know in real life, not clean classroom hypotheticals, with details slightly changed:

a) Scenario 1: Pregnant at 18 based on a two-or-three night stand with someone who was clearly not a long-term prospect. College student in freshman year. Does not feel mature enough to raise baby alone in a remotely supportive environment, does not want to be a single mom, parents will look askance at raising baby alone.

b) Scenario 2: Married couple with one kid. Wife stays at home and is well off. Husband is professional. Accidental pregnancy. Couple chooses to abort because they want to space out their kids every 4 years and this kid has shown up 2 years early.

When I heard both stories, I felt that (a) was totally understandable, and (b) was questionable. Put simply, (b) seemed more "selfish" than (a), and to disregard the potential life of the child more.

Is this just idisosyncratic? Maybe. I don't think that it's possible, at least for me, to draw a line in the sand on what is or is not an appropriate set of motivations for the abortion. But I do think there's a continuum on which, at some point, lack of regard for the fetus/potential life can produce a result that feels, to me, like a completely inappropriate justification for an abortion. I believe a lot of people feel the same way.

Note that this does NOT mean that there may well have been other things going on with couple (b) that would have made the decision completely appropriate but that I don't know about. Note that I am not condemming (b). Note also that I am not, at all, proposing some kind of legal rule that would prevent abortion in situation (b).


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:54 PM
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244: the odd monkeys lucked out.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:55 PM
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'something all rational agents would agree on' one is not [silly]

I think it is.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:55 PM
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Crap. Meant to link to this.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:56 PM
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243: the sense where the roots of math (or mathematical concepts beyond a very basic level and mathematical reasoning, at least) are accurately described in this book.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 4:57 PM
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Oddly enough, there is a special this week: ten percent discount on abortions for anyone who says "Who wants to sex Mutumbo?".


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:00 PM
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228

... The most common reason for a second trimester abortion is a diagnosis of Downs.

Not according to wikipedia .


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:01 PM
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re: 247

Is not!

More seriously, I think the blog post you linked to isn't really what I have in mind at all.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:01 PM
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I think 245 makes sense, in that a decision to abort implies that a person cares about a fetus at most slightly less than the weight of all the countervailing concerns. So in situations where there are tons of countervailing concerns, the person might care a bunch about the fetus, or might not. But in situations with very few, you can infer that the person doesn't care very much, if at all, about the fetus. And if you think fetuses have moral status, then that's a sad fact about the world. If you don't, it isn't.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:02 PM
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I'll spare you ttaM. My current view is that the various theories of morality (non-cognitive, deontic, consequentialist, utilitarian, emotivist, relativist) are theories of more than one different thing, and that things overlap, and that we sometimes call all of them ethics.

I also think that we live in a substantially post-ethical society in which people are guided mostly by law, self-interest, prudence, convention, personal bonds, and gut feelings (the yuk factor).

But I'm not arguing or heaping ridicule!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:03 PM
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254: I'm sure that there are more than those I've listed.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:04 PM
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235: They're going to ask questions like "Is it an insect, or an invertebrate? Or is it a mammal or a bird? Does it seem to feel pain?" And they'll give you their moral intuition on the basis of the facts you give them.

No, they'll engage in moral reasoning based on the information they're given.

That's how we engage in moral reasoning. The information we gather may or may not have the status of facts. Sometimes -- often -- it's just reporting on how things seem(ed) to people, or to oneself. (Really: 'did it seem to be in pain?' Really? The answer to that question is a fact not about whether it was in pain, but only about whether it seemed, by some unspecified measure, to be.)

Moral reasoning really cannot be absorbed into the model of scientific reasoning.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:05 PM
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Jasper is in east texas, about 50 miles northeast of Houston. Not northeast texas, which is where I lived over a decade. I'm sure to most people it's not a huge difference. And honestly, I wouldn't be terribly surprised if something similar took place in northeast texas.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:05 PM
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I also think that we live in a substantially post-ethical society in which people are guided mostly by law, self-interest, prudence, convention, personal bonds, and gut feelings (the yuk factor).

Not like in the old days! Then they were guided by oxen.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:05 PM
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0x100 gets it exactly right.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:07 PM
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252: Well, I'd ask you what you mean then, but I hate to derail an abortion discussion. Ha!


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:08 PM
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252: Perhaps it would help if I clarified that when I say "rational" I don't necessarily mean "human"?


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:10 PM
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I think there are plenty of human (near) universals that aren't rational universals.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:13 PM
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245: See, that seems like a really weird place to draw a line for moral reasons, although I'd agree that plenty of people get uncomfortable in the same place. Woman (a), if she's an American in college, is going to end up living someplace with indoor plumbing and have sufficient food whether or not she has the baby. I can't think of another context where we'd let someone off the hook for doing something significantly immoral where the stakes are that low -- I wouldn't say it was perfectly all right to steal or cheat to avoid similar consequences.

If the moral stakes are low enough that there's nothing weird about about letting woman (a) off the hook, then judging woman (b) because she doesn't want another kid, whatever her reasons, seems like being an incredible busybody, Having a kid means twenty years or so of daily supervision and care, and lifelong responsibility depending on the circumstances. If abortion is a small enough moral deal that it's okay because it would wreck woman (a)'s life-plans, saying that it's not okay just because woman (b) doesn't want to do something that will affect every single day of the rest of her life appears to me to be a really strange level of hairsplitting.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:13 PM
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Whoops, after writing 263 I realize I'd misread 245, you really were proposing pretty much the "I want my baby to be a Capricorn" abortion. Still, even the spacing of your kids will affect every day for the rest of your lives -- I'd think someone like that was being silly, because they really can't know how it would work out on that level of detail, but given their level of belief that they know what would make a preferable life going forward, I can't read that as frivolous,.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:18 PM
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What's going on when you (read: me) feels that a decision is perfectly acceptable for someone else, but I personally couldn't do it? This is strange territory for me, and it makes me feel like I'm just not being sufficiently clear-headed.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:23 PM
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as an aside, balkinization has been having a reproductive rights conference


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:23 PM
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What's going on when you (read: me) feels that a decision is perfectly acceptable for someone else, but I personally couldn't do it? This is strange territory for me, and it makes me feel like I'm just not being sufficiently clear-headed

What is odd about that?

A choice is exactly that.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:25 PM
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267: Usually I like to outline the pros and cons for a decision, and then go with my gut instinct. Then I feel in sync with myself, but like I've still thought everything through. Here I don't feel like I've thought everything through, but rather that I'm at the mercy of my gut instinct.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:28 PM
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re: 254

I'm not sure I disagree with you -- that we use moral language in different ways, I mean, and that our ordinary moral talk is pluralistic in some ways.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:28 PM
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263 -- Perhaps I'm more comfortable thinking about moral decisions on a spectrum than you are. (I'm sure the professional ethicists here can tell me whether that's OK or not).

I do think that the difference between 245(a) and 245(b) has something to do with the level of regard for the seriousness of the decision and the value assigned to the potential life. Obviously, to me, abortion isn't like stealing -- if it were, it should simply be banned tout court. I do think, though, that it shows a certain disregard for human life, that can be trumped for some reasons but probably should not be for others. Some reasons seem life-affirming to me, others selfish.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:30 PM
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Damn.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:31 PM
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265: I can think of three possibilities:

(a) My position is a purely esthetic/squeamishness based one, and I recognize that. "I couldn't eat a bug, but if you can, hey, extra protein."

(b) I can imagine so many possible factual difference between your position and mine that I can't possibly assume they're morally similar -- in fact, I can't imagine knowing enough to be able to pass judgment on you at all.

(c) I think it's wrong for me to do it, and so I also think it's wrong for you to do it, but I'm not clearheaded enough to admit that I'm judging you.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:33 PM
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270: Robert Halford, you're entitled to your views about degrees of selfishness, as long as you keep them private with respect to people's decisions to terminate pregnancies. That's really all.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:36 PM
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Rob I think you should say whatever the hell you want.

Counterpoint!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:37 PM
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273 -- We're talking in the abstract here and are trying to work out some issues that are tough. I've been trying to be clear, and hope that I am clear, that I'm not calling for condemning or shaming anyone.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:39 PM
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As far as I can tell from lightly skimming this article, Lakoff and Nunyez aren't trying to put morality at the level of math, but rather vice versa. And in any case, it doesn't affect the universal validity of a formalist interpretation of mathematics.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:41 PM
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272:

Also (d) I don't have the guts to do what you're doing; I can't do it. But if it's right for you, it's right for you. (I can't quite decide if this is a combined variant on (a) and (b).)


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:42 PM
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270: On the thinking about moral distinctions on a spectrum front, don't worry about it, I'm probably the weirdo.

But on your specific thinking about abortion, you seem to be saying that while it's not as wrong as something really wrong like stealing, it's wrong enough that you'll think ill of someone for aborting if their reasons aren't life-affirming enough. And that seems, again, like being an incredible busybody.

There is no one, regardless of their economic comfort level, for whom having a child, or having a child at a particular time, is not a wildly high stakes event, in the simple sense that it's going to significantly affect the rest of your life. I can't follow the thought process that says "Despite the magnitude of the personal stakes, and despite the fact that I don't think abortion is wrong like the kinds of things we actually prohibit, I'm going to sit in judgment over what I know of your reasons for deciding to abort." If it's the kind of thing that's permissible for reasons like "it'd wreck my college education", surely "I don't want to take on a lifelong responsibility today" is a good enough reason under all circumstances.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:44 PM
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Do most of you really think that there's anything weird about "a decision is perfectly acceptable for someone else, but I personally couldn't do it"? I feel like I think this way about most things most of the time.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:45 PM
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Lakoff and Nunyez aren't trying to put morality at the level of math, but rather vice versa.

Well, really, they're arguing that they both exist on the same level. Which then implies that you could make a formalist interpretation of morality with exactly the same universal validity as a formalist interpretation of mathematics, given the right set of axioms.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:46 PM
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279: If you can't figure out what you mean by that in terms of my options above or something similar, I think it's fuzzyheaded and incoherent.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:47 PM
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275: Yes, I know, you're not being condemnatory. I'm saying that you seem to have personal views about regard for human life as embodied in an early-stage fetus, and of course you can say whatever you like about that, but realize that there are people here who have had abortions for what you might call not good enough reasons.

I don't need to discuss it any further, honestly.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:48 PM
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278: I'll reiterate my earlier comment that our thinking on these issues might be clarified by keeping in mind some more extreme cases. Would you think ill of someone for aborting a fetus with genes for brown eyes instead of green? I think Robert's hypothetical is a less extreme version of that.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:53 PM
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Further to 272, 277:

(e) I think your moral rights and obligations are significantly different from mine. (I can only think of this in the real world in terms of Orthodox Jews -- a Jew can think they're obliged to keep kosher, but genuinely and non-judgmentally think that a gentile eating a pork roast isn't doing anything wrong at all.)

(f) is a variation on (c): I think what you did would be wrong if I did it, and was wrong when you did it, but I have a strong principled or mannerly position that I should not communicate negative moral judgments about other people's actions.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:55 PM
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280: Eh, no. Because morality is still embodied in the specific structure of human brains, so the formalization would still only be valid for human brains. They're saying that neither math nor morality can be universalized.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:55 PM
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I'm sure it's been pointed out already, but in fact the potential Downs Syndrome health issues can vary widely, and you can't know how ahead of time.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:57 PM
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285: they can be formalized with the same universal validity, which is to say they can't be formalized with universal validity, except for human brains.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:58 PM
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283: The problem with thought experiments like that (I offered "I want my baby to be a Capricorn!") is that they're psychologically repugnant, which makes the moral element hard to separate out. I'd think someone who had an abortion over eye color was ridiculous to the point of being repugnant, but I don't think that's a moral intuition.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:58 PM
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I think aborting a fetus so you can eat it is kind of a marginal case.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:58 PM
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||

Apparently it's no longer J P Morgan that controls the world, but Mitsubishi

|>


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 5:59 PM
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290: free, delicious canned tuna for all!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:00 PM
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287: Right. So if by "universal morality" you mean "universal to humans" then I have no objection, which means that the Lakoff Nunyez book isn't relevant, whereas if it means "universal to rational agents", as it sometimes seems to when the subject comes up, then I think it's silly. Comity?


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:02 PM
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284: (f) ... I think what you did would be wrong if I did it, and was wrong when you did it, but I have a strong principled or mannerly position that I should not communicate negative moral judgments about other people's actions.

(f) is excellent.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:04 PM
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Also, having read maybe 1/3rd of the thread, I think that this issue is usually discussed from the wrong end. It's not an abortion issue at all, any more than the "is it okay for women in places like China to selectively abort female fetuses" is. In the latter case, it's an issue about sex and sexism; in the present case, it's about social attitudes towards mental disabilities.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:04 PM
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288: OK, point taken. How about someone who wants their kid to have a 130 IQ and they only have (an 80% probability of being within 10 points of) 110 based on their genes? I can certainly see that happening if the technology gets there. (I'm not sure how strongly IQ is hereditary, but I'm pretty sure it's over 50%.)


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:04 PM
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294: That's why I keep trying to shift the discussion.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:05 PM
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292: sure!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:05 PM
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I'm not sure how strongly IQ is hereditary, but I'm pretty sure it's over 50%.

Which does not necessarily mean it's over 50% genetic. Oh, look, there are worms in this can!


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:06 PM
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I think that the problem with the thought experiment equivalent thing is much the same as the problem with the ticking time bomb scenario.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:06 PM
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In some ways, 279 is probably the best response to 278, although I wrote it before reading your 278. I can understand why you and Parsimon think that I'm being a busybody, but I'm really not. (I'm not, damn it! Let me come into your living room and lecture you about all the ways I'm not a busybody). I do believe in absolute tolerance and charity for everyone who is faced with a decision about an abortion, one way or the other. The (b) example in 245 is based on a real life situation, and, in real life, I don't actually disapprove of the woman's choice, because I don't know all, or most of, the facts. This is why I am strongly pro-choice.

I do have, though, considerable sympathy for the idea that we under-value vulnerable human beings in our society for reasons that are overly self-centered. I do this, too. That includes the disabled. And it can, in some circumstances, include the unborn. My experience is also strongly shaped by the fact that my own child was not planned.

Full disclosure: somewhere lurking beneath these statements is my (liberal, tolerant, anti-capitalist, I swear) brand of Christianity. So maybe the lesson here is that no matter how liberal your parish is, if you go to church you're going to end up a hectoring pro-life busybody in the end.

Parsimon, I don't know you, am not in any way attacking you (or anyone here) personally or claiming to in any way be a better person than you.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:08 PM
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Well, insofar as the thought experiments represent things you expect to become a reality, they're not at all like the ticking time bomb scenario.

298: Yes, I thought of that right after I posted. It's just a hypothetical!


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:09 PM
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Further to 293: That is to say that some people do hold position (f) with regard to some actions, and it's lovely in comparison to outright condemnation, but one would prefer that they not take that position, and instead substitute something like, uh ... (a), actually (at 272).


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:10 PM
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I still don't have a good feeling on my stance, but I think it's probably (a), the squeamishness argument.

My fear is that it's actually (g) but otherwise we have to start over from scratch with a new pregnancy and that feels like back-tracking. This seems like the world's worst reason, like staying together with someone because break-ups are messy.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:11 PM
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294: Well, some, but not all. If we weren't talking about abortion, but of some pre-conception way of making sure that some disability didn't occur, and if the disability in question was something that left the kid normal in appearance and intellectual capacity, but in pain their whole life, you'd make sure that didn't happen regardless of the social attitudes to disability. Even in a world with no stigma attached to disability, I think people given a preconception method of insuring that their child didn't have Down Syndrome would almost universally do so.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:13 PM
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Lakoff would find this whole discussion very interesting, I wager, as people seem to be relying on very different semantic frames ([abortion of down syndrome baby] in the [abortion rights] frame vs. [abortion of down syndrome baby] in the [injustice towards the disabled] frame (approximately)).

It's like I'm doing my homework by killing time on unfogged!

Except not for the class I actually have homework due in!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:15 PM
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And yet Lakoff and Nunyez are completely wrong. So there's that.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:15 PM
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303 isn't totally fair. It's also because I really am not connecting with what people describe as the drawbacks.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:15 PM
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306: so says you! (I mean, and others, but still. Prove it, buddy! (Yeah, I know Lakoff and Nunez haven't proved anything, really, but I'm making the rules, here. (It's like four square, kind of.)))


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:18 PM
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300: So, I can put you down for a combination of (b), not judging because you couldn't possibly know all the facts, and (f), not going to give anyone a hard time about the judgments you make.

Nothing wrong with that, particularly given the 'not giving anyone a hard time about it'. I just personally find the distinction between reasons to have an abortion that don't trouble you and those that do bizarrely fine-grained; I can't myself empathize with, let alone agree with, drawing a line that distinguishes one reasonably comfortable woman who won't be impoverished or worse by single motherhood from another -- any moral distinction I can come up with falls well outside that range of reasons.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:20 PM
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307: heebie, there must be discussion boards where people with Down syndrome children talk about things. That might be in way too much of a 'panic, panic!' mode at this time; maybe groups via the hospital (ask your OB?) for parents possibly launching on exactly this situation? To discuss what to expect, and so on.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:21 PM
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I think people given a preconception method of insuring that their child didn't have Down Syndrome would almost universally do so.

Right, and most people abort DS pregnancies, I believe. But in a world where you could prevent Downs pre-conception, there would still be arguments to be made from the disability standpoint that doing so was offensive--which is the same argument I was trying to make in the "deafness is not a disability" thread, if you recall (and I still maintain that that's a mischaracterization of my position).

Re. the the pain issue: if I were pregnant and was told that the fetus would look and act normal but be in pain its whole life, I might very well abort on those grounds. Isn't the decision there based on one's attitudes about a life with constant pain, rather than about abortion?

Again, think of the sex selection thing: wouldn't you be as troubled by pre-conception selection for sex as you are about abortion on the same grounds?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:22 PM
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re: 307

I wonder if you are really picking up on how serious the health issues can be for some (but by no means all) Down's syndrome people? The health issues really are serious -- with dramatically shortened lives and lives featuring a fair bit of physical suffering requiring heart transplants in some cases, for example.

And also what bothers someone else might not bother you because of what you value? but bothers someone else because of what they value?

[None of this is an argument _for_ aborting Down's kids.]


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:25 PM
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heebie, there must be discussion boards where people with Down syndrome children talk about things.

Probably so. I may be misrepresenting this - I don't find this whole thing very upsetting, I'm just interested in kicking it around. And also I've got a dose of perspective about the low, low odds in my case, which is absent from all the hypotheticals swirling about.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:25 PM
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307: I suspect that it really boils down to whether or not one feels squeamish around people with Downs (or other disabilities). Which I hasten to add it's not surprising for people who haven't had a lot of experiences of people with x, y, or z disability to feel squeamish about it.

I am firmly convinced by Berube's argument that basically all discrimination issues can be viewed through a disability frame.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:26 PM
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312: The health issues do give me pause. I also remember hearing somewhere that Downs kids often get leukemia in their 40's and have shortened lifespans. It would be nice, if it turns out that we're actually in this situation, that maybe they could tell us how likely the heart defects are in our particular situation.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:28 PM
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It's times like this that I think that, if we met in real life, LB and I would become fast friends, despite all our differences on criminal justice issues.

And now, off to bed.


Posted by: NCProsecutor | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:28 PM
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311: But my point about the constant pain is that it's not about the stigma of being in constant pain, it's about the constant pain -- regardless of the societal attitude toward it, you still wouldn't want it for your kid. On the spectrum from "being female", which is only a problem because of societal attitudes, to "in constant pain", which is absolutely a problem regardless of societal attitudes, I think you could argue that Down Syndrome is some distance along to the line to "in constant pain" -- even in a world with no stigma, few people would choose it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:29 PM
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309 -- that's basically right, but I'm very skeptical about coming up with a set of legalistic rules to govern my thinking on the issue (I do that enough in the day job). I'm trying to think about what kinds of actions are generally more compatible with the kind of respect I'd like to see afforded all people.

What started this conversation was whether or not we think it's OK to abort a child with Down Syndrome simply because we become aware that the child has Down Syndrome. I wouldn't personally give anyone a hard time about making a decision to do so, but I do think the fact that so many women do choose to abort for this reason (based on some of the empirical evidence thrown out so far) says something troubling about where we are as a society.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:29 PM
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318

What started this conversation was whether or not we think it's OK to abort a child with Down Syndrome simply because we become aware that the child has Down Syndrome. I wouldn't personally give anyone a hard time about making a decision to do so, but I do think the fact that so many women do choose to abort for this reason (based on some of the empirical evidence thrown out so far) says something troubling about where we are as a society.

In other words you think it is wrong to abort a child with Down Syndrome?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:36 PM
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I think that 311 makes the same error that Helpy-Chalk identified much earlier. No one would choose, in the abstract, to give their kid Down Syndrome, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's right to abort the kid for the same reason.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:36 PM
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319 -- In every instance, no. For that reason alone, yes.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:37 PM
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285

... They're saying that neither math nor morality can be universalized.

Inasmuch as people argue less about math than morality I think math is more universal. I would expect this to remain true if we ever encounter intelligent aliens.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:39 PM
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I just read pdf's link, and I swear to god, "cognitive science" is the new Freudian psychology. I can't think of a single work of cognitive science I've ever read that didn't come with condescension for everyone who doesn't understand the insights of cognitive science. Since I've never actually seen an insight that cognitive science has provided, it strikes me as bravado.

The study of human psychology can tell us which parts of mathematics are interesting, but it can't tell us which parts are true. Mathematical truth has a precise meaning that no other notion of truth has, and in fact the attempt to bring the same level of precision to other notions of truth has been quite destructive.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:40 PM
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The study of human psychology can tell us which parts of mathematics are interesting, but it can't tell us which parts are true. Mathematical truth has a precise meaning that no other notion of truth has, and in fact the attempt to bring the same level of precision to other notions of truth has been quite destructive.

Y'know, you haven't actually read the book in question.

The conflation between mathematical truth and other kinds of truth is mostly mine, and might be specious.

All the book does, really, is identify several cognitive functions that have been identified in cognitive psychology research, and show that you can get from those functions to pretty much any mathematical idea you could name; it's a rejection of the idea that mathematics is revealing preëxisting universal truths, and instead casting at as a specific (and, if you want, special) subset of well-established cognitive functions.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:45 PM
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AFAIK, neither Sifu nor I actually agree with Lakoff et al.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:48 PM
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And god knows the last thing they're trying to do is convince people that applying mathematical precision to other realms is the right thing to do.

Now, you could argue that their basis for arguing that the cognitive abilities they identify as fundamental are, in fact, how we fundamentally think, and I'd kind of agree with you, since those judgments are based on a lot of top-down cognitive psychology research. But neither the wikipedia page nor my dumb ass in this thread really provide a fair summary of their argument.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:48 PM
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Oops. Sifu has already spoken for himself.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:48 PM
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Also also, you're casting a pretty fuckin' wide net; cognitive science per se is a quite generously defined field, and I'd wager there are plenty of people in Lakoff's department who don't agree with him, let alone in the larger world of cognitive science.

Shit, I'd wager dollars to donuts you were also thinking of Pinker when you made your comment above, and I can almost guarantee you Pinker and Lakoff agree on very little.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:50 PM
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327: you were pretty much right in 325, though, I just felt like babbling on about it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:51 PM
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311.2 Re. the the pain issue: if I were pregnant and was told that the fetus would look and act normal but be in pain its whole life, I might very well abort on those grounds. Isn't the decision there based on one's attitudes about a life with constant pain, rather than about abortion?

I haven't caught up since 311, but this, by the way, is what I was after with my "It's not about you [it's about the child]" remark way upthread.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:54 PM
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Yeah, cogsci is a pretty fucking huge field, and Lakoff is way over towards the philosophical end of it, as opposed to the more empirical end.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:56 PM
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Pinker is still on the philosophical side, but from what I hear, he actually quotes research. Point for Pinker.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:57 PM
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All the book does, really, is identify several cognitive functions that have been identified in cognitive psychology research, and show that you can get from those functions to pretty much any mathematical idea you could name; it's a rejection of the idea that mathematics is revealing preëxisting universal truths, and instead casting at as a specific (and, if you want, special) subset of well-established cognitive functions.

Hmm... why are the two mutually exclusive? I'm also a bit confused by the possibility of non-human mathematics (but then I would be, I guess). Can't we look at the relative motions of alpha, beta, and proxima centauri and verify that the area of an ellipse is πab there too?


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:57 PM
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OK, that might be slightly unfair to Lakoff. Considering I've never actually read either one.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:57 PM
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I was in fact thinking of Pinker. But based on the Wikipedia summary (which could be completely wrong), Pinker and Lakoff apparently agree that we need to knuckle under to the superior wisdom of cognitive scientists. Because our brains are full of these little modules, see, and only a trained cognitive scientist can be trusted to handle the modules, the same way you need to get an electrician to wire your house.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 6:59 PM
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I think an interesting idea might be that math as we know it is just the regions of formal systems that we can easily make sense of, being equipped with the right circuits to visualize them with.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:00 PM
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335: That attitude is by no means dominant in the field.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:02 PM
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333: look, I mean, read the book. To summarize what I half remember, the concepts of "ellipse", "area", "ratio", and whatever else you need originated in our ability to count, and group things, and other very simple cognitive operations. So of course it makes sense that the area of an ellipse is πab, because that's how our idea of the ellipse works. It's no accident that these ideas correspond to the natural world; they were developed in an attempt to explain that world. Anyhow, it's a subtle point that I'm not really doing justice to (and don't necessarily think is that useful), so I don't know why I'm here arguing this side of it.

No, water moccasin, they aren't mutually exclusive. I agree with you!

334: yeah, I mean, they both actually do research, as far as I know. They just come at language from very different traditions, neither of which is particularly well grounded in any kind of bottom-up model of what's happening in the brain. I generally find Lakoff better as far as avoiding the whole "we now know what is happening in the brain when you think about X" thing, which Pinker just loves doing.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:04 PM
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336 is true. There is a major theorem in a not-very-fashionable area of mathematics called medial groupoids that has a very short proof (40 lines) that was found by computer search. I think the reason is that medial groupoids don't lend themselves to intuition. (But we still know the theorem is true.)


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:04 PM
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335: yeah, no, from what I've read I'd say that's probably misunderstanding Lakoff somewhat. I'm with you on Pinker.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:04 PM
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339: but, you know, following the chain down to the people that made the computer, the formal logic necessary to even conceive of a general-purpose computing device was a human innovation.

But I think 336 is also something the book kind of tries to get at. Which, again, if I remember.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:07 PM
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337: That's good to know. I suppose it's a generic vice of those who write for a popular audience to oversell the research.

338: Stepping away from enough detail, very few people would deny that something like that is true. In specific detail, I'm skeptical Lakoff and Nunyez really know.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:11 PM
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Um, yeah, from what I've read 335 is misunderstanding Lakoff, but not Pinker. What Sifu said, that is. But based on not having read either of them for a while, so.

(How did we get to cog sci from ethics, by the way? I blame Sifu Tweety, I do!)


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:11 PM
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343: Parsimon, on these kinds of threads you make an anti-contribution. Your contribution consists of "your wrong", and then begging off from providing any supporting details. We're just shooting the shit here -- who cares if you remember the book exactly?


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:14 PM
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342.2: I don't think they really know. I don't think they even necessarily claim they really know. They're just putting forth a different ground (that of cognitive psychology) on which to base mathematical knowledge than formal, abstract logic. If it turns out that the cognitive-psychological models of cognition do have something to do with how the mind actually works (which is certainly a possibility), hey presto, we know something about how mathematics might work cognitively.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:15 PM
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Aborting Down syndrome fetuses is an injustice to people with the condition?

Countdown to someone arguing that wearing safety goggles is an injustice to the blind in 3...2...1...


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:17 PM
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344: Oh, Walt. This thread just turned to cognitive science. But yes, I'll off myself, for no, I'm not up to date on the material.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:20 PM
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345: Do they make the philosophical claims that the Wikipedia article attributes to them? Mathematicians clearly think of true results in a way distinct from the way they write down proofs of them; I don't think anyone would deny that. It's a perfectly legitimate question about the human brain of how that works, and I don't see any way in which the question is controversial. But that's not the question that the formal logical foundations of mathematics is meant to answer.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:21 PM
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To summarize what I half remember, the concepts of "ellipse", "area", "ratio", and whatever else you need originated in our ability to count, and group things, and other very simple cognitive operations.

Hmm. Our cognitive operations didn't spring fully formed from the head of Zeus. But yes, poorly informed arguing someone supporting a point that they don't really believe in is only so much fun.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:21 PM
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Aborting Down syndrome fetuses is an injustice to people with the condition? Countdown to someone arguing that wearing safety goggles is an injustice to the blind in 3...2...1...

Someone first said that in comment 24, seven hours ago, so I don't think anyone is going to follow it in the direction you've predicted.


Posted by: CN | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:23 PM
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348: which philosophical claims? That the idea of mathematics as a truth independent of people thinking about mathematics is fallacious? Sure.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:24 PM
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They're just putting forth a different ground (that of cognitive psychology) on which to base mathematical knowledge than formal, abstract logic.

Psychologists, eh? Frege would eat them for lunch.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:25 PM
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By "psychologists" of course I mean "subscribers to psychologism".


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:26 PM
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But, yeah, I should really stop this; I haven't read the book in a while, and wasn't sure which parts of it I agreed with even when I read it, and am doing it a disservice. But I do think the critique of mathematics and logical reasoning as sort of transcendent, platonic things is an interesting one.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:26 PM
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Someone first said that in comment 24, seven hours ago, so I don't think anyone is going to follow it in the direction you've predicted.

Ah, perhaps not.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:27 PM
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Yeah, well, we all know what happened to Frege's system.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:30 PM
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Frege vs. a barber! Only $40 this sunday on PPV!


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:31 PM
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356: Philosophers have gone back and fixed it. Why? Who knows how philosophers minds work? They're not like us.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:32 PM
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In fact, it was the very philosopher who destroyed it whose name is on its sucessor work. (Though what's the relationship between PM's set theory and ZF set theory?)


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:35 PM
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But I do think the critique of mathematics and logical reasoning as sort of transcendent, platonic things is an interesting one.

It is. Our intuitions are clearly limited and don't reflect reality in a bunch of ways, and there are also places where we run out of mathematical steam (quantum gravity?). One can certainly imagine a mathematics that overlaps but is not identical to ours.

Saying that counting originates from some simple cognitive process in the brain, and therefore the concept of "two" is socially constructed and dependent on humanity for meaning still seems flawed.

The argument about aborting Down's Syndrome fetuses seems like at extraordinarily dangerous minefield to pick through with little payoff on the other side. No thanks.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:38 PM
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and therefore the concept of "two" is socially constructed and dependent on humanity for meaning still seems flawed

Well, again, probably not an accurate reflection of the arguments in the book.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:40 PM
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361: I would say an accurate reflection of the book as presented by that wikipedia article, which seems to miss some nuance.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:43 PM
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359: No, I mean philosophers have literally revived Frege's system, as is.

PM is a type theory, rather than a set theory. Its expressiveness is strictly weaker than ZF (by a lot). It's pretty hard to make a really expressive type theory, though I think people have managed to make ones as expressive as ZF.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:45 PM
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364

363: Inconsistency and all? If not, how do they deal with Russell's paradox?

Looks like I'm now officially treading water.


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:52 PM
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365

Er, "out of my depth". close enough


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:53 PM
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364: No, they dropped the axiom that led to the inconsistency, and put in a weaker one that avoids the inconsistency and preserves as much of the system as possible. Details here. It's not practically all that important, now that we have ZFC.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:55 PM
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Yeah, well, we all know what happened to Frege's system.

When we have a proper Begriffsschift, the quoted sentence will be revealed to be nonsense.


Posted by: The Great Works of Frege | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 7:56 PM
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Ha! I've pwned Frege himself!


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 8:08 PM
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Oh, that's cool.

Of course, there are many possible formal foundations for math. The only interesting thing is figuring out what different ones are possible, and whether they're precisely equivalent to each other (they often are). But when it comes down to actually picking one to use for projects like my proof assistant, convenience is the main consideration.

It's interesting that sequent calculus is sometimes considered as being more fundamental than propositional calculus, and yet even Metamath, whose metalanguage is extremely simple, doesn't need sequent calculus, and can just start with propositional calculus.

</nerd>


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 8:25 PM
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Re. the the pain issue: if I were pregnant and was told that the fetus would look and act normal but be in pain its whole life, I might very well abort on those grounds. Isn't the decision there based on one's attitudes about a life with constant pain, rather than about abortion?

Not either-or. It's about both. I wouldn't kill an actual human being living in constant pain even if I felt constant pain was a terrible thing.

Also, the decision to abort a Down's syndrome kid can be purely based on feeling unable to provide the additional care necessary for that kid, not a feeling that Down's kids who get adequate care lead an inferior life or make less contribution to the world.

But I'll admit that I personally think dis-abilities are worse than full abilities. If I could eliminate or reduce the number of disabilities without harming any actually existent human being, I would do it. Because of my beliefs about abortion, aborting a fetus that would develop into a disabled human being strikes me as an example of reducing total disabilities without harming anyone. It's not impossible that if I had contact with more Down's kids my attitudes would change -- perhaps Downs is a syndrome that makes people happier or more loving but less physically healthy, who knows.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 10:23 PM
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I think Imre Lakatos's Proofs and Refutations might be an interesting read from the perspective of cognitive processes associated with math. Not his program at all, but I did like the "humanity" of his approach and it may (or may not—I suggest, you decide) be worth a look for someone interested in cogsci and math.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 10-12-08 10:32 PM
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Practically speaking, in a country where it's difficult to get health insurance if you're young, fit and with a well paying job, bringing a disabled child into the world is putting quite a burden on both yourselves and the child, so I could understand people chosing to abort, even if the romantic choice is to pretend it shouldn't matter.


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 10-13-08 12:43 AM
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I wouldn't kill an actual human being living in constant pain even if I felt constant pain was a terrible thing.

I wouldn't kill them without consulting them, but I'd be quite happy to help them die if that's what they wanted.

268 - Here I don't feel like I've thought everything through, but rather that I'm at the mercy of my gut instinct.

Welcome to parenthood heebie.


Posted by: asilon | Link to this comment | 10-13-08 3:15 AM
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Here I don't feel like I've thought everything through, but rather that I'm at the mercy of my gut instinct.

Asilon has it right: welcome to parenthood.

That wonderful place where you feel like the stakes are high and you don't know the correct answers.

(Although we probably get too much credit for the good things and the bad things that our children do.)


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 10-13-08 6:37 AM
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-- Here I don't feel like I've thought everything through, but rather that I'm at the mercy of my gut instinct.

-- Asilon has it right: welcome to parenthood.

This is why I'm reluctant to volunteer an opinion on these topics, even theoretically. It's a very difficult, stressful decision where I do not think that the right and wrong are clear-cut.

I don't generally accept the frequent liberal beliefs that "No one should ever tell anyone else what they should do" or "It's impossible to adequately understand anyone else's situation" or "It's always wrong to be judgmental", but this seems to be a particular case where these principles apply: it's a difficult painful choice with no clearcut right and wrong. (Someone who disagrees on the clearcut right and wrong would respond differently than I do to this case.)

I think that this is a "Hard cases make bad law" instance.

If someone I knew well was faced with this dilemma and seemed to want me to talk with them about it, I'd help them explore the various factors in a non-directive way. But that is not an approach I would generalize to every question.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-13-08 6:55 AM
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I'm basically with LB and Di on this thread so far. There are a couple of things that haven't been hashed over much that I think are significant factors. (1) abortion doesn't restore the status quo ante: Pregnancy is a big deal biologically, and it does have lasting effects. This argues against aborting. (2) Children impose costs on society as a whole, not just the parents. Over the life of the child the net social costs work out in favor of society if the child grow up into a productive adult. A severely developmentally disabled child is a net consumer of social goods, which if taken into consideration argues in favor of aborting.

I sincerely hope this discussion remains academic, but if it doesn't I'll support you no matter what you choose, heebie.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 10-13-08 7:52 AM
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I've read, though, that an early abortion stresses a woman's body less than normal childbirth.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-13-08 8:11 AM
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377 - I think that's true, but the situation I'm assuming is abort and get pregnant again, aiming for a non-Downs fetus the second time around. Either way there is one pregnancy going to completion.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 10-13-08 8:36 AM
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Somewhat off topic, but I think that the debilitating effect on women's bodies of pregnancy is exaggerated too. Oldtime women with very large families were often undernourished and, in addition to receiving only rudimentary medical care.Somewhat off topic, but I think that the debilitating effect on women's bodies of pregnancy is exaggerated too. Oldtime women with very large families were often undernourished and, in addition to receiving only rudimentary medical care.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 10-13-08 10:07 AM
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Ooo, is that a quine? Here, let me try:

((lambda (x)
(list x (list (quote quote) x)))
(quote
(lambda (x)
(list x (list (quote quote) x)))))


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-13-08 11:38 AM
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Here's a good one:

a='echo a=$c${a}$c > $$;echo b=$c${b}$c >> $$;echo c=$b${c}$b >> $$; echo $a >> $$;
chmod +x $$; ./$$'
b='"'
c="'"
echo a=$c${a}$c > $$;echo b=$c${b}$c >> $$; echo c=$b${c}$b >> $$;echo $a >> $$; chmod
+x $$; ./$$


Posted by: pdf23ds | Link to this comment | 10-13-08 11:43 AM
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There are no really good dead baby jokes, or anyway very few. As far as I can tell they only serve to establish that the teller can be shocking and handle theoretically explosive concepts just like an adult, but once you think of them like that they're really just a sign of immaturity. Irony!

ben, I love you for knowing how to use "irony" correctly.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 10-13-08 4:55 PM
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i'm going to come out as an asshole, and say not aborting a downs kid is quite bad. I don't put any moral weight to any fetus (and not a whole lot in recently born babies, although infanticide is mostly bad, because of virtue ethics reasons; sort of like people who get a thrill from burning ants with magnifying glasses, but 100x worse) and you're giving someone a disability for no reason other than your own squimishness.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 10-13-08 7:23 PM
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There is a case to be made that deliberately condemning somebody to an existence with a severe disability is morally wrong, but then again if you argue this way, any decision to concieve is a moral wrong, as you condemn someone to a life they have not asked for.


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 10-14-08 12:34 AM
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it's been ignored here that problems with creating someone with a severe disability go beyond parent and child. schools, natural resources, family, taxpayers... the severely disabled individual can put a strain on all of these things.

i'm not saying it's WRONG to give birth to a severely disabled child - but there is a reason that isn't well-described as bigotry for doctors and others to encourage parents to consider abortion.


Posted by: clay | Link to this comment | 10-14-08 2:20 PM
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