Ethical Implications: Dualism vs. Materialism; Suffering

doctoro
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Ethical Implications: Dualism vs. Materialism; Suffering

I wonder if anyone here spends much time thinking about ethics. We certainly need an ethical theory if we are to provide a convincing case to theists. Of course, it only takes logical inconsistency to disprove religion, but I find that proving there is "nothing to lose" with atheism is helpful in most cases.

There are 3 major points that I will discuss that relate to ethics, that being Dualism vs. Materialism, suffering as a guide in ethical theory, and abortion.

First, I will lead with abortion. I have been recently thinking about what I find to be a major paradox on the abortion issue. I am pro-choice, FYI. The paradox is as follows: It is deemed okay to abort a fetus up to a certain point in gestation - because we believe a fetus is not an actual human. BUT; when a drunk driver or murderer kills a pregnant mother in the first trimester he is often brought up for charges killing TWO people instead of one? This seems inconsistent. Either the fetus is a person or it isn't. You can't just give a life sentence for killing a mother's fetus (if she is unwilling) if it is okay for the mother to kill the fetus herself. Is our ethical determination based on the mother's choice? I don't think so.

I like Michael Shermer's take on the issue, as outlined in "The Science of Good and Evil." He says that animals have different numerical values that can determine the ethical nature of killing an animal. So, for an insect, there is no real remorse for killing one. Lets say on a scale of 0-10, 10 being extremely bad and evil; killing an insect is a 0. It doesn't even register on the scale. BUT, how about killing a frog? 10,000 frogs? A dolphin? A chimp? A cat or dog? Killing any of these animals can be quantified for ethical "wrongness." SO; Shermer makes the argument that a fetus is not a 100% person. Killing a fetus in the first trimester CANNOT be equated to killing a live 2 year old child. Just as it is frowned upon but permissible to kill a chimp without going to jail. So if anything, abortion is probably not a great thing to do, but it still doesn't warrant legal punishment.

So now I will state that I think that SUFFERING is the ethical theory at work here. We look at the case of a murderer killing a fetus that the mother is unwilling to part with -- and the mother suffers extreme emotional anguish. Alternatively, some women would experience anguish going through a pregnancy to term if they were unable to get abortions. So I think that our determination is based on the suffering of the mother, not the "life of the child."

---

Next, I think it is VERY important to bring up dualism vs. materialism. For those who don't know what it means, let me explain it simply. Dualism = belief that people have souls. Materialism = belief that humans are matter without souls; thoughts and mental activities depend on physical structures in the brain.

I think the fact that theists and atheists differ on this issue is crucial to the abortion debate. I often hear quibbling about the inherent "humanness" of a fetus during certain stages of pregnangcy, but I don't think this is as important as we think.

The reason is that if you belief in souls - and you believe that souls are "born" at conception, then this argument would trump ANYTHING the pro-choicer has to say. BUT; as a pro-choice advocate, I don't believe in human souls. The reason is simple, and can be illustrated by posing a few to the dualist. How does the soul interact with the brain? And where does the soul go or what is the soul doing in someone who has severe brain damage? Is it waiting in dormancy until death to return to heave as the person before the brain damage? Thus, I'm an "emergent" materialist in that I think mental properties, thoughts, and "the mind" arise from physical structures in the brain. Just as a computer program requires the substrate of a computer to function; humans require the substrate of the physical body to function. Claiming that computers have souls is preposterous, so why is it not preposterous to claim humans have souls? Computers carry out complex functions and create outputs that do not seem "physical," but rest assured, some carefully used electricity in the computer is causing everything to happen that we can detect.

Thus, the theist argues against abortion on the basis that the "soul" starts at conception and killing a human "soul" is murder.

I think no self-respecting scientist or philosopher can hold dualism to be true considering all we know about the human brain and the advances in philosophy. Do you even know any prominent dualist philosophers or scientists?

If we have no souls, abortion isn't such a big deal other than our "ickiness factor" that arises when one aborts a fetus at the developmental point when it "seems" to be human-like.

Even so, can a fetus suffer? It's a difficult dilemma. Considering babies don't really have much in the way of senses or memory, one could wonder if babies truly suffer either. We know babies can suffer when we hear them cry.

I don't know how one would determine what gestational point in time it was "murder" to commit an abortion. But there must be some period of time in which the fetus takes on more humanlike characteristics.

Hope this sparks some interesting conversation.


Yellow_Number_Five
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I honestly don't think it

I honestly don't think it has all that much to do with materialism vs. dualism - at least it shouldn't.

 Very few rational, sane people think it is morally justifiable to terminate a living person under most circumstances. The difference between the two abortion camps is that one side sees a lump of cells as a person and the other does not. This is a physiological and psychological question more so than it is a moral or religious one, at least in my mind.

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Ahem...As a mother of two,

Ahem...As a mother of two, my experience of carrying a fetus, I would have to say that it is more of an emotional issue.  If I needed to abort for any number of reasons, I would have almost no emotional ties deterring me from carrying out this endeavor.  But if I were planning on birthing the baby, and miscarriaged (perhaps due to the drunken driver, for instance) I would be very upset to say the least.  When a woman is pregnant, she needs to start the process of caring for the fetus if she wants a healthy/happy baby.  I used to listen to soothing music and read to my belly.  I would talk to my belly.  I've heard that the fetus at some stage (probably around the 2nd trimester learns the voices that they hear.  I am pro-choice.  But I am also pro-life, which does not mean anti-abortion.  I am for the medical establishments that perform this potentianally risky operation if done at home with a wire hanger.  Simple.  I am for a woman having the right to do whatever she wants with her own body in the safe environment of a hospital with knowledgable surgeons.  Now that said, I am a materialist.  I don't believe in souls or a life-force that makes us all one, as I've heard a lot around here.  (Life-force encompasses all living things).  I have met people that say they are atheists but believe in this life-force idea. So anyway, I just wanted to clarify a different view on the abortion and whether or not a fetus is a person issue.  


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I come from another ethical

I come from another ethical point of view... one which I am guessing is among the least popular positions a person can hold. I'm actually pro-abortion, which goes beyond pro-choice.

Just to clarify, within America, I believe that women ought to have control over their own bodies, so I'm basically pro-choice, but follow this logic a bit. As an atheist, I believe humans have pretty much the same intrinsic value as other animals. Unfortunately for the other animals, our intelligence has allowed us to really screw up our natural mortality rate (especially infant mortality) and has led to a population explosion. Our sheer numbers have led to ecological catastrophe in many parts of the world, and we have caused the extinction of numerous plant and animal species. Much of the world's water is unsafe, and our consumption habits have altered the climate to such a degree that global warming is screwing up ecosystems.

If we respect the lives of the other inhabitants of earth, the only ethical thing to do is to control our population. Since asking people to abstain from sex is not a real option, the only real alternative is aggressive birth control, including abortion. Look at it this way. If everyone on the planet who has not reproduced as of today were to go out tomorrow and get sterilized, we'd still have a population problem in fifty years.

If I were emperor of the world, I'd probably institute some kind of population control program that would piss everybody off, so it's good that I'll never be emperor.

I'm not saying all of this to try to convince anyone of the rightness of my position. I think it's probably harder than convincing someone that there's no god. My purpose is simply to show that there are other starting points for a discussion of ethics. I think religion has tainted ethics to the point where it's hard to even conceive of an ethical discussion that doesn't presume some level of transcendence of the human species.

 

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I have to say I find your

I have to say I find your arguments compelling, Hamby.  Is it more ethical to preserve the lives and quality of life for humans already in existence, or ones that do NOT exist?  I choose the former.

1.  As Sam Harris argues in his two books, the FIRST thing we need to do is vigorously promote CONTRACEPTION so that abortion is not needed in the first place.  The trouble in Africa is lack of contraception based on abstinence preaching by missionaries.  This leads to AIDS AND overpopulation.  The women can't care for their children because they are poor, they keep on having them, and we have a massive malnutrition problem over there.  I think we should help all malnourished babies regardless.  But we should still prevent these babies from being born in the first place with contraception (not necessarily abortion.)

2.  Now you should consider that China already has a one-child policy that results in many abortions, and unfortunately, a massive imbalance in the number of men to women.  Apparently because men take care of their elders in Chinese society.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-child_policy

3.  In the book "Freakonomics," the authors make a strong case for the fact that AFTER Roe vs. Wade and the legalization of abortion, 15 years later, there was a staggering drop in violent juvenile crime.  They argue that BEYOND mere correlation, abortion was the CAUSE of the drop.  One might argue that this is an unintended positive side effect of abortion legalization.

4.  In Europe, Muslim immigrants have a higher fertility rate, especially in France.  It is predicted that in 20 years or so, Muslims will become the majority because native French people have a much lower fertility rate.  One might also say that Hispanics have a higher fertility rate, and although they might not become a majority in America, they are already much larger in comparison to African Americans.  I'm actually somewhat of a Libertarian and welcome Hispanics/Mexicans with open arms.  I think we should spend less on a boondoggle fence to keep them out and more money on INS agency personnel in Washington to speed up legal immigration processes.  The thing is, political demographics may change substantially according to fertility rates.  I don't know what the answer is here, but it's something to think about. 

5.  Who are we kidding?  At some point in time, our world is going to be fucked by overpopulation.  It is GOING to happen.  In a class in college, my professor showed us a 5 minute video showing the exponential growth of human population.  A group of 100,000 or so people was marked with a white dot.  0 min 0 sec was prehistoric times, and 5 minutes was present time.  Of course, no white dots at 0 min, 0 sec.  Amazingly, the last 10-15 seconds were booming with activity, and the world turned white in almost an instant.  We are all fucked.

I forget what the sustainable population level in the world is, but I know it's not more than double what we have now.  And considering exponential growth, the doubling is going to happen probably in our lifetimes (i'm 27).

Point is, RADICAL and seemingly harsh anti-overpopulation policies like what is in China are going to be implemented worldwide.  Moreover, our resources are going to be in really bad shape, considering that the US uses 20% of the world's energy but far less of a percent of the world's population.  If China uses our amount of energy per capita following their economic rebirth, then what?  Yes, again, we're all fucked.

Pretending that the world is going to end is not going to fix anything.  Jesus is not going to save the day.  We have to get together and figure out how we're going to solve these problems without the delusion of religion.

 BTW, I want to see the new movie, "Children of Men," but it's not in my city yet.  Looks like a sci-fi scenario based on infertility of the human population.  Sort of a REVERSE of this issue.  Underpopulation as opposed to overpopulation.  I can't wait to see it and discuss the scenario (even if the movie sucks).


Hambydammit
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Thanks.  I find that many

Thanks.  I find that many people agree with my arguments until I tell them that I know a doctor who will sterilize them for next to nothing, and I can get them an appointment in a week.  Then suddenly, I'm a very, very bad man.

 2.  Now you should consider that China already has a one-child policy that results in many abortions, and unfortunately, a massive imbalance in the number of men to women.  Apparently because men take care of their elders in Chinese society.

I would only point out that a poorly conceived population control program is not a very good argument against a well planned one.  I'm sure with some work, China could figure out a way to balance the population.  Cultural norms are the only thing getting in the way.

Any pop. control program is going to necessarily infringe on the "reproductive rights" of individuals.  Maybe you don't get to have the son you always wanted.  Again, the idea of "carrying on the family name" gets in the way.

 3.  In the book "Freakonomics," the authors make a strong case for the fact that AFTER Roe vs. Wade and the legalization of abortion, 15 years later, there was a staggering drop in violent juvenile crime.  They argue that BEYOND mere correlation, abortion was the CAUSE of the drop.  One might argue that this is an unintended positive side effect of abortion legalization.

You don't have to work hard to get me on your side with this one.  I'd suggest there are many more benefits to abortion.  How many parents do you know who are secretly (or not so secretly) bitter about having kids too early, or having kids with someone they didn't love?  Kids pick up on this, and it leads to depression pretty easily.  How many nasty things can we attribute to widespread depression?

By the way, I do agree that contraception is step one.  However, if we agree that humans are animals, we need to step back and take a hard look at the rest of the animal kingdom.  Many, many animals practice population control.  If a lower class ape goes and knocks up the wrong female, the baby gets beaten to death and becomes dinner for the alpha male.  Dolphins practice infanticide.  Hornets kill the offspring of any female except the queen.  Ants have a very similar system.

Which is the better solution?  Infanticide for pop. control, or abortion?  I think it's much more humane to end a pregnancy.

 

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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I would suggest that

I would suggest that establishing an ethical standpoint would be far more trouble than it's worth, and automatically decrease the number of those who would join the discussion as a point of principle. Ethics should be primarily for an individual. As part of a group, they can often overshadow the intended message the group espoused before they got into ethics.

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I'm confused by your post,

I'm confused by your post, vastet, as ethics are, by definition, the description of human interactions.  That very fact means that a lone individual can't have a meaningful internal discourse about ethics.  I can't be ethical unless there's someone (or you could say some being, to be more precise) for me to be ethical towards.

If people happen to live in large groups, isn't it important that there be some agreed upon morality for the group?  Yes, there will be individual ideas that differ from the group, but both discussions are perfectly relevant, no?

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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Vastet
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Hambydammit wrote:I'm

Hambydammit wrote:

I'm confused by your post, vastet, as ethics are, by definition, the description of human interactions.  That very fact means that a lone individual can't have a meaningful internal discourse about ethics.  I can't be ethical unless there's someone (or you could say some being, to be more precise) for me to be ethical towards.

If people happen to live in large groups, isn't it important that there be some agreed upon morality for the group?  Yes, there will be individual ideas that differ from the group, but both discussions are perfectly relevant, no?

I think you misunderstood me. I was referring to establishing an ethical code within the RRS itself. If a group says that it's against murder, that would have little to no effect on those outside it, save support. But if it also says that it is pro or anti-choice, then you will divide all the prospective members into for and against, cutting up to 50% of them. The bigger the ethical code, the more people you will alienate, and the fewer the overall message will be recieved by. It's best to keep the ethics personal(save those accepted almost universally), and use the site for the message to get to as many as possible.

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I think your argument

I think your argument demonstrates a major problem we have within a legal system, not within an ethical system.  I am Canadian, and I'm not a legal expert, but I do not think in Canada, a drunk driver would be charged with the murder of two people if the driver killed a pregnant woman carrying a fetus in the first trimester.

To charge someone in this case with 2 murders is patently ridiculous.  The less-than-three month old fetus would not survive if delivered at the time of the mother's death - it isn't a viable human being.  What if the woman had only become pregnant a couple of weeks prior to her untimely death?  Clearly this is a legal issue that begs resolution - which is different from examining the potential of creating a code of ethics, or a recommended ethical position.

From an ethical perspective, I am pro-choice, but would probably choose another option rather than terminating a pregnancy for which I was responsible (given the choice - as a male, I'm also not convinced my opinion counts for a whole lot, since its not my body that is going to bear the child).

Its a personal ethical decision, and its not 'right' or 'wrong' any more than anyone else's position is 'right' or 'wrong'.

What I would suggest, if we are proposing some form of atheistic ethical 'code' would be a rational position that is recommended - but is not structured in the form of a 'law'.  Example:  I would propose that a rational approach to dealing with the abortion question is to allow individuals to make their own choice in the matter.  The recommended position is that people make responsible sexual / reproductive choices.  If someone fails to make that responsible decision, then they have to cope as individuals with the consequences - which means they may have a kid to raise, they may choose to deliver the child and adopt it out, or they may choose to terminate.  Each choice has implications - the individual needs to figure it out - and quick.


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I gotcha, vastet.  I did

I gotcha, vastet.  I did misunderstand.

I tried to be very clear in my first post that I don't expect anyone to particularly agree with me.  It just so happened that I was able to be a devil's advocate with a position I actually hold.

I was just using a viable ethical position to demonstrate ethical relativism.  That's all.

 

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As it happens, I hadn't read

As it happens, I hadn't read any of the posts save the first one when I made my original post. Lol.

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