Analogies and Artifacts:
Can Embryonic Stem Cell Research be Morally Acceptable? (Part II)

Stem Cell Research — By on December 10, 2004 at 2:23 am

[Note: This is the second part in an examination of the moral implications of using altered nuclear transfer as as a moral means of attaining embryonic stem cells for research. Part one can be found here.]
In order to determine the moral status of the biological artifact (BA) produced by altered nuclear transfer, we need to find an analogically similar entity with a matching “fact pattern”. If the BA is found to resemble an entity with a recognized moral status (i.e, the human embryo) then it is should also be worthy of such recognition. But if the BA is more akin to non-living matter (i.e., malignant tissue growth), then we should find no moral objections to using it as a means of acquiring embryonic stem cells.
Because the BA is ‘



  • Nick

    Hi Joe,
    Interesting post. I do have some disagreements with your analysis, though:
    Because the BA is

  • Nick

    Hi Joe,
    Interesting post. I do have some disagreements with your analysis, though:
    Because the BA is

  • http://usr-bin-mom.com/ michelle

    I’m afraid I’m not at all a scientist. What I don’t quite understand is at what point are we mutating the cells? Is it before or after fertilization?

  • http://usr-bin-mom.com michelle

    I’m afraid I’m not at all a scientist. What I don’t quite understand is at what point are we mutating the cells? Is it before or after fertilization?

  • http://www.leanleft.com/ Kevin T. Keith

    In order to determine the moral status of the biological artifact (BA) produced by altered nuclear transfer, we need to find an analogically similar entity with a matching “fact pattern”.
    There’s nothing wrong with this as far as it goes, but recognize that we don’t “need to” conduct the argument this way. That is, analogical reasoning of this type is not the only way to conduct such arguments, nor, often, is it a very good way.
    A better way is simply to ask whether the thing in question meets a clear set of criteria for inclusion in whatever category we are concerned with. That is, the question is not whether it is “like” members of one category or another, but whether it does, in fact, actually pass a specified test for inclusion – in which case it should be included whether or not it is “like” anything else. It is not always easy to specify such criteria or arrive a agreement on them, but when it is possible it allows for much easier and less subjective assessments.
    Analogical reasoning is never compelling because an observer is always free to say “but it seems more like this other thing to me“. And, since real-world comparisons almost always reveal some ways in which a thing is “like” one possible alternative and some ways in which it is “like” another, such comparisons must always specify what terms of comparison are being used – which is no less controversial than trying to specify objective criteria for inclusion. (Is a giraffe more “like” a gerbil or a telephone pole? It’s more like a gerbil if the desired comparison is “living things,” but more like a telephone pole if the desired comparison is “tall things.”)
    This kind of argument just seems to me an extension of the typical conservative subjectivism – “well, it seems bad to me, so it’s bad as a universal moral rule.” Conservatives will never specify and defend a clear set of criteria defining personhood, but are quick to tell you that moral absolutes flow from how things “seem” to them. I think it underscores the inherent weakness of the argument.
    But unlike an embryo, the BA is not, at any stage of the process, a living being. Because of its altered genetic structure, it is incapable of becoming a human embryo.
    This is wrong twice over.
    Taking them in reverse order, the “embryo” question was settled in your previous post. “Embryo” simply means, in the commonly-accepted definitions, a developing organism between the first cell division and the “fetus” stage. Being an “embryo” has nothing to do with whether it is likely to survive or is even potentially viable. Anything undergoing the process of pre-birth development is (in its early stages) an embryo. It was conservatives who emphasized this definition during the stem cell debate. One of your other commenters even posted a long series of definitions making exactly this point, as an argument against one of your critics.
    As for “living being,” here you run up against the vagueness of using your preferred term “human being” to mean “moral person.” As has been stipulated many times in these discussions, a human embryo is indeed a “human being”; how then is this new form of embryo not one? How is it not even a “living being”? It’s clearly “living” – that’s the whole point. And it’s clearly a “being” (“being” just means “a thing that exists” [a thing that “be”s]). If you want to stretch the point to insist that it’s not a “living human being,” that’s just as obviously false – it’s clearly human, since it comes from a human egg cell and has human DNA (minus one gene, but that can’t matter – uncountably many human beings are born every day with one or more missing or defective genes). If this entity weren’t a “living being” there would be no way to even have this discussion.
    To put this in other terms, your statement that it’s not a “living being” can only be understood as a moral evaluation – not as a scientific observation. As a scientific point, it’s simply, and quite obviously, false. You apparently mean the term “being” to identify not just something that exists, but some category of moral entity – either a “person” or, as you later say, an “organism”. But this is not a fact you can observe – it’s a conclusion you must argue for.
    As for me, I’m glad to find you finally seeing the distinction between mere biological existence and moral personhood – you’re now just one step away from the truth. But we have to realize that no conclusion on this subject, one way or the other, is a question of directly observable fact only. Using terms like “living being,” “human being,” “organism” as if they have moral – not scientific – significance simply confuses the issues.
    Which brings us to: As the PCB chairman Leon Kass explains,

  • http://www.leanleft.com Kevin T. Keith

    In order to determine the moral status of the biological artifact (BA) produced by altered nuclear transfer, we need to find an analogically similar entity with a matching “fact pattern”.
    There’s nothing wrong with this as far as it goes, but recognize that we don’t “need to” conduct the argument this way. That is, analogical reasoning of this type is not the only way to conduct such arguments, nor, often, is it a very good way.
    A better way is simply to ask whether the thing in question meets a clear set of criteria for inclusion in whatever category we are concerned with. That is, the question is not whether it is “like” members of one category or another, but whether it does, in fact, actually pass a specified test for inclusion – in which case it should be included whether or not it is “like” anything else. It is not always easy to specify such criteria or arrive a agreement on them, but when it is possible it allows for much easier and less subjective assessments.
    Analogical reasoning is never compelling because an observer is always free to say “but it seems more like this other thing to me“. And, since real-world comparisons almost always reveal some ways in which a thing is “like” one possible alternative and some ways in which it is “like” another, such comparisons must always specify what terms of comparison are being used – which is no less controversial than trying to specify objective criteria for inclusion. (Is a giraffe more “like” a gerbil or a telephone pole? It’s more like a gerbil if the desired comparison is “living things,” but more like a telephone pole if the desired comparison is “tall things.”)
    This kind of argument just seems to me an extension of the typical conservative subjectivism – “well, it seems bad to me, so it’s bad as a universal moral rule.” Conservatives will never specify and defend a clear set of criteria defining personhood, but are quick to tell you that moral absolutes flow from how things “seem” to them. I think it underscores the inherent weakness of the argument.
    But unlike an embryo, the BA is not, at any stage of the process, a living being. Because of its altered genetic structure, it is incapable of becoming a human embryo.
    This is wrong twice over.
    Taking them in reverse order, the “embryo” question was settled in your previous post. “Embryo” simply means, in the commonly-accepted definitions, a developing organism between the first cell division and the “fetus” stage. Being an “embryo” has nothing to do with whether it is likely to survive or is even potentially viable. Anything undergoing the process of pre-birth development is (in its early stages) an embryo. It was conservatives who emphasized this definition during the stem cell debate. One of your other commenters even posted a long series of definitions making exactly this point, as an argument against one of your critics.
    As for “living being,” here you run up against the vagueness of using your preferred term “human being” to mean “moral person.” As has been stipulated many times in these discussions, a human embryo is indeed a “human being”; how then is this new form of embryo not one? How is it not even a “living being”? It’s clearly “living” – that’s the whole point. And it’s clearly a “being” (“being” just means “a thing that exists” [a thing that “be”s]). If you want to stretch the point to insist that it’s not a “living human being,” that’s just as obviously false – it’s clearly human, since it comes from a human egg cell and has human DNA (minus one gene, but that can’t matter – uncountably many human beings are born every day with one or more missing or defective genes). If this entity weren’t a “living being” there would be no way to even have this discussion.
    To put this in other terms, your statement that it’s not a “living being” can only be understood as a moral evaluation – not as a scientific observation. As a scientific point, it’s simply, and quite obviously, false. You apparently mean the term “being” to identify not just something that exists, but some category of moral entity – either a “person” or, as you later say, an “organism”. But this is not a fact you can observe – it’s a conclusion you must argue for.
    As for me, I’m glad to find you finally seeing the distinction between mere biological existence and moral personhood – you’re now just one step away from the truth. But we have to realize that no conclusion on this subject, one way or the other, is a question of directly observable fact only. Using terms like “living being,” “human being,” “organism” as if they have moral – not scientific – significance simply confuses the issues.
    Which brings us to: As the PCB chairman Leon Kass explains,

  • Larry Lord

    Kevin
    You are truly a saint for devoting your time and energy to follow the arguments down every possible wormhole. It always pains me to read reponses to your post that restate arguments you’ve already shown to be faulty or arguments that lead to conclusions that aren’t, um, “the right ones.”
    My advice to Christian conservatives would be to recognize (as they all do when pressed on it) that certain actions which lead directly to the termination of life of an organism(i.e., “killing”) are justified, even when that organism is a human.
    The issue can then be properly framed: under what circumstances? When does the immediately realized or potential good that results from ending the life of a human justify the killing? And how do we take into account (1) the consciousness, (2) quality and (3) “legal innocence” of the life that is being killed?

  • Larry Lord

    Kevin
    You are truly a saint for devoting your time and energy to follow the arguments down every possible wormhole. It always pains me to read reponses to your post that restate arguments you’ve already shown to be faulty or arguments that lead to conclusions that aren’t, um, “the right ones.”
    My advice to Christian conservatives would be to recognize (as they all do when pressed on it) that certain actions which lead directly to the termination of life of an organism(i.e., “killing”) are justified, even when that organism is a human.
    The issue can then be properly framed: under what circumstances? When does the immediately realized or potential good that results from ending the life of a human justify the killing? And how do we take into account (1) the consciousness, (2) quality and (3) “legal innocence” of the life that is being killed?

  • http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/ von

    Joe Carter
    Thanks for Part II, which I found as interesting as Part I. I do hope, however, that you’ll clarify the following two lines:
    But unlike an embryo, the BA is not, at any stage of the process, a living being. Because of its altered genetic structure, it is incapable of becoming a human embryo.
    By your definition, however, a “BA” is “a living being” — at least, as I understand it. A BA consists of living, growing human genetic material. Indeed, it contains the same material that makes up a human embryo. Its DNA is human; its form a human form (albeit at an early stage of development). Accordingly, to the extent that embryonic material is a living being, a BA is a living being.
    Indeed, the distinction that you draw between a BA and an embryo is not that one is a living being and one is not; rather, as the second sentence of the above-quoted passage indicates, you distinguish a BA from an embryo based upon their relative potentials. An embryo is a living being and a potential human, and thus deserving of protection; a BA is a living being but not a potential human, and thus not deserving of protection.
    It’s important to be clear in this debate what is the operative distinction between humanity and non-humanity. Thus, if you are relying on some distinction between BAs and embryos other than their relative potentials, please state it.
    One quick further note, as to this:
    The technique of IVF allows a medical technician to fertilize an ovum outside the body, creating an embryo that can then be implanted in the mother

  • http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/ von

    Joe Carter
    Thanks for Part II, which I found as interesting as Part I. I do hope, however, that you’ll clarify the following two lines:
    But unlike an embryo, the BA is not, at any stage of the process, a living being. Because of its altered genetic structure, it is incapable of becoming a human embryo.
    By your definition, however, a “BA” is “a living being” — at least, as I understand it. A BA consists of living, growing human genetic material. Indeed, it contains the same material that makes up a human embryo. Its DNA is human; its form a human form (albeit at an early stage of development). Accordingly, to the extent that embryonic material is a living being, a BA is a living being.
    Indeed, the distinction that you draw between a BA and an embryo is not that one is a living being and one is not; rather, as the second sentence of the above-quoted passage indicates, you distinguish a BA from an embryo based upon their relative potentials. An embryo is a living being and a potential human, and thus deserving of protection; a BA is a living being but not a potential human, and thus not deserving of protection.
    It’s important to be clear in this debate what is the operative distinction between humanity and non-humanity. Thus, if you are relying on some distinction between BAs and embryos other than their relative potentials, please state it.
    One quick further note, as to this:
    The technique of IVF allows a medical technician to fertilize an ovum outside the body, creating an embryo that can then be implanted in the mother

  • http://www.leanleft.com/ Kevin T. Keith

    Kevin
    You are truly a saint for devoting your time and energy to follow the arguments down every possible wormhole.
    Thanks, Larry. I’ve often been called sanctimonious, but never yet sanctified.
    Of course, if I had a girlfriend, a real job, or any other semblance of a life, this wouldn’t happen. Until then, I’ve got Joe.

  • http://www.leanleft.com Kevin T. Keith

    Kevin
    You are truly a saint for devoting your time and energy to follow the arguments down every possible wormhole.
    Thanks, Larry. I’ve often been called sanctimonious, but never yet sanctified.
    Of course, if I had a girlfriend, a real job, or any other semblance of a life, this wouldn’t happen. Until then, I’ve got Joe.

  • http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/ von

    To the extent that I merely repeat Keith’s points (I see some — though not complete — overlap), my apologies.

  • http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/ von

    To the extent that I merely repeat Keith’s points (I see some — though not complete — overlap), my apologies.

  • http://pseudopolymath.blogspot.com/ Mark O

    Kevin,
    Interesting comment. I would interject however, to your comments on analogic reasoning. Joe (and many others in the audience) regard the Torah and New Testament as their source of morals and ethics. Given that, I would argue that analogic reasoning is indeed the better way to go as Joe indicated. Aquinas (in the Summa) might have an approach more suited with your methods, but he died almost a 1000 years before the issues at hand came up and, for better or worse, his methods are not in vogue today.
    Your moral and ethical framework remain shrouded in secrecy, so you can say whatever you like about anything, including claim that your ethics are logical and completely consistent, which I doubt. How convenient for you, after it is far easier to cut down arguments than build them.

  • http://pseudopolymath.blogspot.com/ Mark O

    Kevin,
    Interesting comment. I would interject however, to your comments on analogic reasoning. Joe (and many others in the audience) regard the Torah and New Testament as their source of morals and ethics. Given that, I would argue that analogic reasoning is indeed the better way to go as Joe indicated. Aquinas (in the Summa) might have an approach more suited with your methods, but he died almost a 1000 years before the issues at hand came up and, for better or worse, his methods are not in vogue today.
    Your moral and ethical framework remain shrouded in secrecy, so you can say whatever you like about anything, including claim that your ethics are logical and completely consistent, which I doubt. How convenient for you, after it is far easier to cut down arguments than build them.

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/ Joe Carter

    Nick: This is the critical point, and I think it can only be accepted if one plays fast and loose with the definition of embryo.
    Before we get too deep into hashing out these points it would probably be a good idea to clarify a few definitions. For embryo, I am using the one presented by the NIH:

    In humans, the developing organism from the time of fertilization until the end of the eighth week of gestation, when it becomes known as a fetus.

    The reason I (so far) see no moral problem with ANT is because it initiates growth without the fertilization of the ovum.
    So, what is the moral difference between normal nuclear transfer and altered nuclear transfer?
    From my rather limited knowledge of the processes, I would say the difference is that one is the creation of an embryo that will later be destroyed and the other is the creation of a biological artifact, an entity that never becomes an embryo.
    To get ES cells, you need an embryo, defective or otherwise.
    While you might consider the difference nothing more than semantics, I find that without fertilization taking place, no embryo is created. We wouldn

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Joe Carter

    Nick: This is the critical point, and I think it can only be accepted if one plays fast and loose with the definition of embryo.
    Before we get too deep into hashing out these points it would probably be a good idea to clarify a few definitions. For embryo, I am using the one presented by the NIH:

    In humans, the developing organism from the time of fertilization until the end of the eighth week of gestation, when it becomes known as a fetus.

    The reason I (so far) see no moral problem with ANT is because it initiates growth without the fertilization of the ovum.
    So, what is the moral difference between normal nuclear transfer and altered nuclear transfer?
    From my rather limited knowledge of the processes, I would say the difference is that one is the creation of an embryo that will later be destroyed and the other is the creation of a biological artifact, an entity that never becomes an embryo.
    To get ES cells, you need an embryo, defective or otherwise.
    While you might consider the difference nothing more than semantics, I find that without fertilization taking place, no embryo is created. We wouldn

  • http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/ von

    While I abhor the destruction of embryos that takes place in actual practice, there is no inherent reason that IVF must result in

  • http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/ von

    While I abhor the destruction of embryos that takes place in actual practice, there is no inherent reason that IVF must result in

  • Nick

    Joe,
    Before we get too deep into hashing out these points it would probably be a good idea to clarify a few definitions. For embryo, I am using the one presented by the NIH:
    In humans, the developing organism from the time of fertilization until the end of the eighth week of gestation, when it becomes known as a fetus.
    But that definition is not terribly useful if we are talking about nuclear transfer, which never involves fertilization. Do you mean to say that Dolly the sheep was never an embryo? If you accept that nuclear transfer of normal nuclei can produce embryos like Dolly, then you can’t argue that the nuclear transfer using modified nuclei fails to produce embryos simply because there is no fertilization. The transfer of a diploid nucleus to an enucleated ovum substitutes for fertilization and, if all goes well, initiates embryonic development. The only difference between Dolly and the product of ANT is that the ANT embryo is doomed to die young.
    We wouldn

  • Nick

    Joe,
    Before we get too deep into hashing out these points it would probably be a good idea to clarify a few definitions. For embryo, I am using the one presented by the NIH:
    In humans, the developing organism from the time of fertilization until the end of the eighth week of gestation, when it becomes known as a fetus.
    But that definition is not terribly useful if we are talking about nuclear transfer, which never involves fertilization. Do you mean to say that Dolly the sheep was never an embryo? If you accept that nuclear transfer of normal nuclei can produce embryos like Dolly, then you can’t argue that the nuclear transfer using modified nuclei fails to produce embryos simply because there is no fertilization. The transfer of a diploid nucleus to an enucleated ovum substitutes for fertilization and, if all goes well, initiates embryonic development. The only difference between Dolly and the product of ANT is that the ANT embryo is doomed to die young.
    We wouldn

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com/ Joe Carter

    Nick,
    But that definition is not terribly useful if we are talking about nuclear transfer, which never involves fertilization.
    Perhaps I

  • http://www.evangelicaloutpost.com Joe Carter

    Nick,
    But that definition is not terribly useful if we are talking about nuclear transfer, which never involves fertilization.
    Perhaps I

  • http://pseudopolymath.blogspot.com/ Mark O

    Joe,
    I’m not up on the technical language. The gist of what your saying as I see it is as follows.
    My genetic material (for example) can be used and it can be pushed along a sequence of events which end up in developing ES cells for therapeutic use (perhaps for me) should not a priori wrong. What makes this issue sticky, is with a small alteration in those steps that same cluster of cells could be use to produce a clone, which you, I, and many others think is wrong. Is that it?
    Every day we get more proficient in manipulating the stuff of which we are made. It’s scary that so many scientists (especially in biology) are such tyros when it comes to ethics.
    With that little differnece is where Kevin’s confusion with respect to Mr Kass and the PCB arises. That is how just a little change alters the ethics of the situation. By noting that little change, the ethics of the situation changes for you, me, and Mr Kass. But Kevin has just decided that all embryos are just so much meat and washes his hands of the whole affair. Maybe someday he’ll notice the gaping barn door of possiblities he’s left himself open to with that decision. But on the other hand perhaps he’s completely ok with eugenics as long as its performed on embryos.

  • http://pseudopolymath.blogspot.com/ Mark O

    Joe,
    I’m not up on the technical language. The gist of what your saying as I see it is as follows.
    My genetic material (for example) can be used and it can be pushed along a sequence of events which end up in developing ES cells for therapeutic use (perhaps for me) should not a priori wrong. What makes this issue sticky, is with a small alteration in those steps that same cluster of cells could be use to produce a clone, which you, I, and many others think is wrong. Is that it?
    Every day we get more proficient in manipulating the stuff of which we are made. It’s scary that so many scientists (especially in biology) are such tyros when it comes to ethics.
    With that little differnece is where Kevin’s confusion with respect to Mr Kass and the PCB arises. That is how just a little change alters the ethics of the situation. By noting that little change, the ethics of the situation changes for you, me, and Mr Kass. But Kevin has just decided that all embryos are just so much meat and washes his hands of the whole affair. Maybe someday he’ll notice the gaping barn door of possiblities he’s left himself open to with that decision. But on the other hand perhaps he’s completely ok with eugenics as long as its performed on embryos.

  • http://www.writewingconspiracy.com/ J. Hagglund

    Mr. Carter, I sincerely thank you for the link.
    Unfortunately, I’m in a “regrouping” mode for the blog and can’t respond with any real substance, but I’ll at least add the following:
    1.) Ramesh was correct in his TCS article you linked in Part I: the “ick” factor really isn’t a good enough reason for opposing the idea. And upon reading your posts and other info, I may have to conclude that an “ick” is all I can hold against it, especially since I have no real comprehensive scientific savvy to speak of. I’m something of a curmuddgeon anyways, so I “ick” at an awful lot; I’d be in a lot of trouble if this was interpreted as principled and intelligent opposition! ;)
    2.) It’s also probably true that my “ick” is in the category of aesthetics rather than actual morality. I guess the nut of it to me is that, if we were to undertake this proposal, we would be doing it with the full knowledge that we’re manipulating genetics in order to sabotage the formation of an embryo. I’ll probably explore this more next week when I’m done “regrouping”, but for some reason that I’ve yet to cogently articulate, this makes my skin crawl.
    Anyways, thanks again. These posts in particular, and your blog in general, are both extremely superb and very much appreciated.

  • http://www.writewingconspiracy.com J. Hagglund

    Mr. Carter, I sincerely thank you for the link.
    Unfortunately, I’m in a “regrouping” mode for the blog and can’t respond with any real substance, but I’ll at least add the following:
    1.) Ramesh was correct in his TCS article you linked in Part I: the “ick” factor really isn’t a good enough reason for opposing the idea. And upon reading your posts and other info, I may have to conclude that an “ick” is all I can hold against it, especially since I have no real comprehensive scientific savvy to speak of. I’m something of a curmuddgeon anyways, so I “ick” at an awful lot; I’d be in a lot of trouble if this was interpreted as principled and intelligent opposition! ;)
    2.) It’s also probably true that my “ick” is in the category of aesthetics rather than actual morality. I guess the nut of it to me is that, if we were to undertake this proposal, we would be doing it with the full knowledge that we’re manipulating genetics in order to sabotage the formation of an embryo. I’ll probably explore this more next week when I’m done “regrouping”, but for some reason that I’ve yet to cogently articulate, this makes my skin crawl.
    Anyways, thanks again. These posts in particular, and your blog in general, are both extremely superb and very much appreciated.

  • Nick

    Perhaps I

  • Nick

    Perhaps I

  • Larry Lord

    Some bad news for fundies who subscribe to the worldview that capital punishment is mandated by God to maintain the “Culture of Life”: the death penalty as an institution in the US is starting to gasp its final breaths.
    http://www.cnn.com/2004/LAW/12/13/death.penalty/index.html
    As one who values human life, I’m glad to see this institution bite the bullet. Even Scott Peterson may “find Christ” eventually (which might make him a better person, just so long as doesn’t turn into a creationist wacko).

  • Larry Lord

    Some bad news for fundies who subscribe to the worldview that capital punishment is mandated by God to maintain the “Culture of Life”: the death penalty as an institution in the US is starting to gasp its final breaths.
    http://www.cnn.com/2004/LAW/12/13/death.penalty/index.html
    As one who values human life, I’m glad to see this institution bite the bullet. Even Scott Peterson may “find Christ” eventually (which might make him a better person, just so long as doesn’t turn into a creationist wacko).

  • William Tanksley

    Analogical reasoning is never compelling because an observer is always free to say “but it seems more like this other thing to me”.
    A good point, but there’s a certain class of analogical reasoning which does produce results that are generally useful: moral and legal reasoning. The guidelines for this reasoning have been developed over the entire life of the human race, and have, in spite of many difficulties, proven both useful and productive.
    This kind of argument just seems to me an extension of the typical conservative subjectivism – “well, it seems bad to me, so it’s bad as a universal moral rule.”
    This IS a typical conservative response, although I’ve usually seen it expressed in a more limited way. Suppose, though, that I tell you my belief: that I feel that ANT is questionable (I feel queasy about it), and therefore I believe that implementing it NOW, without ethical examination, is wrong? This is a conservative response by any definition; is it wrong?
    In my opinion, it is not only right, it’s necessary. Innovation isn’t always bad or good, but it’s always new; time is needed to explore the implications before widespread action is taken.
    Conservatives will never specify and defend a clear set of criteria defining personhood,
    Wow, what an absolute. Haven’t there been quite a few attempts at defining personhood? Isn’t the definition “every living human is a person” clear? It’s not complete, definitely, but it’s clear. It may even be inaccurate — ad argumentum, there may be humans who are not persons — but it’s still a clear definition.
    As more borderline cases are explored, this definition has been refined by clarifying what is meant by “living”; this is an ongoing ethical issue.
    but are quick to tell you that moral absolutes flow from how things “seem” to them.
    Has anyone ever /actually/ told you that? It seems like an inherent contradiction. I’m sure that you meant to say that some people act and speak /as though/ their feelings determine moral absolutes. I suspect that there’s a good cause for this behavior: I think most people believe that moral absolutes inform their feelings. If this is true, then a bad feeling is a somewhat reliable indicator that something is morally wrong. Examination and consideration is required to determine whether the feeling actually IS informed by a moral absolute, or whether it’s just a leftover feeling caused by improper inculation of a moral absolute.
    -Billy

  • William Tanksley

    Analogical reasoning is never compelling because an observer is always free to say “but it seems more like this other thing to me”.
    A good point, but there’s a certain class of analogical reasoning which does produce results that are generally useful: moral and legal reasoning. The guidelines for this reasoning have been developed over the entire life of the human race, and have, in spite of many difficulties, proven both useful and productive.
    This kind of argument just seems to me an extension of the typical conservative subjectivism – “well, it seems bad to me, so it’s bad as a universal moral rule.”
    This IS a typical conservative response, although I’ve usually seen it expressed in a more limited way. Suppose, though, that I tell you my belief: that I feel that ANT is questionable (I feel queasy about it), and therefore I believe that implementing it NOW, without ethical examination, is wrong? This is a conservative response by any definition; is it wrong?
    In my opinion, it is not only right, it’s necessary. Innovation isn’t always bad or good, but it’s always new; time is needed to explore the implications before widespread action is taken.
    Conservatives will never specify and defend a clear set of criteria defining personhood,
    Wow, what an absolute. Haven’t there been quite a few attempts at defining personhood? Isn’t the definition “every living human is a person” clear? It’s not complete, definitely, but it’s clear. It may even be inaccurate — ad argumentum, there may be humans who are not persons — but it’s still a clear definition.
    As more borderline cases are explored, this definition has been refined by clarifying what is meant by “living”; this is an ongoing ethical issue.
    but are quick to tell you that moral absolutes flow from how things “seem” to them.
    Has anyone ever /actually/ told you that? It seems like an inherent contradiction. I’m sure that you meant to say that some people act and speak /as though/ their feelings determine moral absolutes. I suspect that there’s a good cause for this behavior: I think most people believe that moral absolutes inform their feelings. If this is true, then a bad feeling is a somewhat reliable indicator that something is morally wrong. Examination and consideration is required to determine whether the feeling actually IS informed by a moral absolute, or whether it’s just a leftover feeling caused by improper inculation of a moral absolute.
    -Billy