[extropy-chat] Moral Relativism and Intellectual Poverty

Rafal Smigrodzki rafal.smigrodzki at gmail.com
Sat May 14 02:06:31 UTC 2005

On 5/13/05, John-C-Wright at sff.net <John-C-Wright at sff.net> wrote:
> So far, three people have taken me to task for using the term "slay the child"
> in reference to a hypothetical question about an abortion being sought by a
> fourteen-year-old. My language has been called emotive and dishonest.
> I humbly beg to differ. The language was precise and unemotional. Any emotion
> involved was because of the subject matter, not because of the language used to
> depict it.
> When an organism reproduces a second organism, the first is the parent of the
> second: the second organism, with no violence done to the ordinary meaning of
> the word, is properly called a "child." I did not call it an "embryo" or a
> "fetus" for the simple reason that the hypothetical did not, originally, specify
> a stage of development for the child. It could have been the morning after or
> nine months after. The word "child" is broad enough to cover all those cases.
### But, John, you know very well that the words "child of" may only
be applied to a very small subset of organisms produced by other
organisms. We do not call a bacterium a child, we do not call a cell
line established from a tumor its child, or the child of the tumor's
owner, and the unemotional and rational among us will not call an
embryo a child, until it acquires the characteristics of a child,
which always include a certain, dependent on circumstances, higher or
lesser degree of similarity to its (multicellular) parent. That is,
whenever you are not talking about computer programs which spawn child
processes all the time.


> The hypothetical was concerned, not with disposing of a mass of dead tissues,
> but with taking a living organism and rendering it not-living, that is to say,
> dead. The word "slay" meaning to render a living organism non-living is
> perfectly clear and unambiguous.

### And again here there is nothing precise and unemotional about your
wording - "to slay" doesn't mean "render non-living", but only a small
subset of such renderings, most frequently the ones the speaker is
outraged at. Otherwise other terms are used, such as "terminate",
"fry" (esp. potatoes), "excise" (esp. warts) or "abort" (esp. growing
masses of cells in the womb).

In both cases you are taking relatively precise terms and using them
very broadly in ways absolutely incompatible with their common

> Of course, the point of adopting the language of euphemism is to halt the
> analysis. It is not done to make things clear, but to shut questions out of
> consideration. But if we shut the question out of consideration, then there is
> no point in raising the hypothetical.

### Changing the language to strident advocacy where blase is in order
is a rhetorical manipulation intended to halt analysis. After all,
what honest person would analyze the merits of infanticide?

> The hypothetical was not whether "Sue" wished to remove a meaningless mass of
> cells, an abscessed tooth or an unsightly wart. The moral question was whether
> she wished to stop of life process (slay) an organism that stands to her in the
> relation of reproductive cause and effect (child).

### No, the question in the abortion debate is about aborting a fetus.
Not slaying, and not a child.


> If this so-called clump of cells were not an entity to whom she has a particular
> duty and obligation, such as a mother's obligation to love and care for her
> child, and if that duty were not, as in this case, calling upon her to make
> severe and painful sacrifices, such as founding a family at a tender age, and
> foreswearing her other ambitions, then there would be no moral question involved
> in the hypothetical.

### Obviously, no person has any prima facie duty towards any
non-sentient clumps of cells, no matter what the genetic relationship.
> No serious thought or debate can take place in the world where mere emotion is
> sovereign.

### Indeed. Only emotion can bring a human to give serious thought to
a clump of brainless cells.


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