[extropy-chat] Moral relativism

Damien Broderick thespike at satx.rr.com
Sat May 7 20:54:55 UTC 2005

Jef wrote:

>A moral relativist might say "Whether or not Sue should keep or abort the 
>baby depends upon the circumstances.

BM wrote:

>Meanwhile the sceptic would shrug his shoulders and the expressivist would 
>claim that what Frank meant to say was that he wants her to keep the baby 
>and what Sue meant to say is that she doesn't want the baby.

I see that people keep responding to the question by referring to "keeping 
the baby" versus killing it, disposing of it, adopting it out. I find this 
extraordinary. There was no baby in the original thought experiment. There 
was a (presumably only just) pregnant girl. The question of abortion in 
this instance has to do with whether or not to retain a small embryo with 
the potential to become a baby, and then a child, and then an adult, and 
then an old person. We might as well talk about the girl's quandary being 
whether or not to kill a wise old grandparent, because if she remains 
pregnant that's probably what the clump of cells in her uterus will 
eventually turn out to be. But it's not yet. And it's not a baby yet. 
Certain moralists will claim that it is because it has human DNA; or more 
probably, because it has a complete and fully developed nonmaterial soul 
embedded in it or associated with it or something. The first claim seems to 
me a grotesquely reductive misunderstanding of what it is to be a human 
person. The second might seem to deal with objective reality, but I know of 
no empirical yardstick for testing it.

Meanwhile, then, it seems to me saner to speak (as medical people do) of 
"the conceptus", or "the embryo", or "the foetus". The one thing we can be 
sure of is that Sue is not faced with the option of murdering a baby, or a 
bank teller with three children to support, even though both potentials 
might lie in the future light cone of the very unfinished organism growing 
inside her.

Damien Broderick

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list