Author’s Introduction1 (pp. 9-14)
- … there are certain questions which clearly have a large philosophical component, but on the answers to which matters of great practical moment turn. One such is the question when you or I first came into existence. Hardly a week goes by, these days, without some controversial issue in medical ethics erupting into the media. The central question frequently seems to be precisely that of when a human life begins, when a human being may be said to have come into existence. The abortion2 issue clearly hinges, in part, on this, as do the questions whether the 'morning after' pill is ethically acceptable, or whether it is morally permissible to throw away, freeze, or squash between glass plates for the purpose of microscopic observation, a live human embryo3. Whilst it is clearly a good thing that public attention be focused on these issues, one cannot help but be struck by how little is achieved in the ensuing controversy. Not only is the discussion invariably inconclusive, it does not even seem to achieve the more modest end of clarifying the issue. It is more in the nature of a periodic muddying of already murky waters.
- This essay is an attempt to prove to you that careful philosophical analysis is capable of shedding considerable light on a question such as this. I shall argue that there is a right answer to the question of when a human life begins, and that philosophical reflection can make a substantial contribution to revealing what that right answer is. This, I shall argue, is an area where philosophy can be of considerable practical value, even if that is not the main reason for doing philosophy.
- One source of confusion in this debate is the rather careless bandying4 about of three notions which ought to be kept distinct from each other. These are the concepts of
- a living human organism (in the rest of this paper I shall omit 'living' but it should be understood5),
- a human being, and
- a person.
- For the purposes of this paper,
- 'human organism' is to be understood in a biological sense: a human organism is simply a (complete) living organism of the species Homo sapiens.
- 'Person', on the other hand, is not a biological concept at all. A person is a being that is conscious, in the sense of having the capacity for conscious thought and experiences, but not only that: it must have the capacity for reflective consciousness and self-consciousness6. It must have, or at any rate have the ability to acquire, a concept of itself, as a being with a past and a future. Mere sentience is not enough to qualify a being as a person. But a person, in this sense, need not be human. Perhaps some non-human higher primates — chimpanzees for example — are persons in this sense; perhaps dolphins are. Probably there are persons, though not of course human persons, on planets of distant stars. Perhaps we shall one day be able to create persons artificially out of non-organic material (though it is not clear how we should know7 when we had done so; it is not behaviour that makes something a person, but rather the possession of an 'inner life' of the appropriate degree of richness and depth).
- I shall explain in a moment just how I intend to use the term 'human being'.
- First, however, I want to consider two fallacious, and indeed rather crude, arguments designed to show, respectively, that you and I came into existence at the moment of conception, and, on the contrary, that we came into existence much later than that, probably subsequent to birth. I have no idea whether either of these arguments has ever been put forward in the literature, at least in such a bald form; but that doesn't matter for my purposes.
Both arguments are unsound.
- The first argument runs: You and I are human organisms; a human organism comes into existence at the moment of conception; therefore, we came into existence at the moment of conception.
- The second argument runs: You and I are persons; but a foetus8 is not a person; indeed, it seems likely that several months have to elapse before the new-born baby acquires any capacity for reflective consciousness or self-consciousness9; therefore, it seems likely that we did not come into existence until some time after birth.
- The first is valid, but its premiss is false. You and I are not10 human organisms. Consider the human organism corresponding to some given human being11. If that human being were the very same thing as that organism, he would not only come into existence at the same time as the organism; he would also cease to exist at the same time as the organism ceased to exist. But hardly any reflective person believes this to be the case, at any rate invariably.
- Those who believe in the existence of an immortal soul do not believe this, because they believe that we continue to exist, even when the corresponding human organisms die, decay, and turn to dust.
- But those who do not believe in an immortal soul mostly do not believe either that the time at which a human being ceases to exist is necessarily the same as the time at which the corresponding organism dies. (I am assuming12 that a living human organism ceases to exist when it dies, so that a corpse13 is merely the remains of such an organism.) This is because most people are prepared to accept the concept of brain death14. That is to say, most people accept that certain sorts of brain damage would constitute the end of our (mortal) existence, even if they did not prevent the continuation of such lower brain functions as are necessary to maintain respiration, circulation, and so forth. Suitable destruction of higher brain centres, coupled with the maintenance of such lower functions, would in most people's eyes mean that the living human organism remained, even though we15 were no more. That16 view now enjoys the status of scientifically educated common sense17. I shall nevertheless attempt shortly18 to give a philosophical justification for it.
- The second argument fails for quite different reasons.
- Its premiss is true, but not in such a sense as to support the conclusion drawn. Or at least, it has not been shown that it is true in the required sense.
- Consider the following parody of the argument: I am a philosopher; but the individual bearing my name in 1954 was not a philosopher; therefore, I did not exist in 1954.
- The point is that 'philosopher' is what is known as a 'phase19 sortal20': one and the same individual can be a philosopher at one time yet not be a philosopher at another earlier or later time.
- There are, on the other hand, some things which an object is, if at all, for the entire period of its existence, things which it cannot become or cease to be; we may call these temporally essential attributes. The property of being a building is in this sense temporally essential. You can reduce a building to a pile of rubble; but then the building no longer exists. Likewise, the building did not itself exist when the bricks of which it was composed had not yet been assembled. To cease to be a building21 is, for a building, to cease to be.
- Is personhood a temporally essential attribute of you or me? Personhood, that is to say, as I stipulatively defined it above. If it were, the second of our two arguments would be valid. Could I cease to be a person without ceasing to be? It seems pretty clear to me that I could.
- I want you to engage in the following thought experiment22. Suppose that you knew that you were going to suffer from a terrible disease, which would slowly extinguish your mental capacity for reflective consciousness or self-consciousness23 — those attributes that mark us off from at any rate most lower animals. But imagine that this disease still left the organism capable of sentience: it would still be aware, still be capable of experiencing sounds, colours, pleasure and pain, and so forth. Only higher cognitive functions would have gone. Now suppose this being were to be subjected to the most excruciating pain24 imaginable for some extended period. If you knew that it was going to be you that suffered the disease, and that it would be the brain you now possess, albeit pathetically reduced in cognitive capacity, whose pain centres were going to be stimulated, what would your attitude be towards the pain? Would you consider that it was going to happen to you? Would you deem it rational to fear this pain in a self-interested way? Or would you think of it as something that was going to happen to someone or something that was not, after all, you? So that, at most, you would view the prospect of this pain as you would view the prospect of it happening to a dog, say, of whom you were fond.
- If you think, as I do, that it would be rational to fear this pain in a self-interested way, then you will be forced to conclude that being a person is not25 a temporally essential attribute but merely a phase sortal26. I could cease to be a person and yet still exist; and if so, then by the same token, it makes perfectly good sense to say that I did exist before I became a person, just as I existed before I became an adult, and existed before I became a philosopher.
- Some may disagree with this view. Some of you may think that it is not rational to fear the pain, in the example just given, as something that would be happening to you.
- All well and good: my point at the moment is just that it would not be absurd for someone to take the opposite view. If being a person is indeed a temporally essential attribute, that needs to be argued27 for; it is not obviously so, if indeed it is so at all.
- One further point; some philosophers might accept that 'person' is merely a phase sortal28, and that we existed, you and I, before we achieved personhood. Yet they might still insist that it is only when one becomes a person that one comes to have a serious right to life. If this human organism had been painlessly killed at birth then – a fortiori – I would have been killed, on this view. But, assuming that this did not violate anyone else's rights (for example, the mother's), that wouldn't have been a (seriously) wrong thing to do. That is a possible29 view. I shall have something to say about it later30. At the moment, however, I am concerned not with the ethical issues, but rather with a substantive non-ethical philosophical question — albeit one that is widely thought to have important ethical implications.
- The above discussion reveals that we need a term for whatever it is that you and I are essentially31, what we can neither become nor cease to be, without ceasing to exist. I use the term human being to fill this slot. Some might think conscious being a better term: on the grounds that one could perhaps turn into a frog32 without ceasing to exist, but would then hardly be a human being, or on the grounds that the souls of the departed, if such there be, have ceased to be human beings without ceasing to be, or that Pinocchio existed, as a conscious being, before he became human. On this view, 'human being' means a conscious being with a human body: and since in principle one could acquire or cease to possess a human body without ceasing to be, 'human being' is really just a phase33 sortal34. Perhaps35. But I shall ignore these niceties; there is a point beyond which pedantry36 ceases to be profitable.
- We have thus refined our question; it is the question 'When does a human being come into existence?' And we have seen this to be a different question from that of when a human organism comes into existence or when personhood is attained. How are we to set about answering this question? Well there is one thing that seems to me now quite obvious, something that should be obvious to anyone with a philosophical training, though I have never heard any philosopher say it; and indeed, it only occurred to me relatively recently. It is this; The question of when a human being comes into existence is really the same question as that of what constitutes the identity of a human being over time; the so-called problem of personal identity. And this is something about which philosophers, at least since Locke, have had a very great deal to say. Perhaps I'm exaggerating a little in saying that they're the same question. What I mean is this; If one was able to answer the familiar philosophical question; 'What is it that makes someone at one time the very same human being as someone at another time?', then one would be able also to answer the question 'What has to happen for a human being to have come into existence in the first place?' (What has to happen at or after conception, that is.) To answer the first question, one would have to stipulate37 some relationship that has to hold between human beings considered at two given times if they are to be the same human being. But if one knew that, one would be able to answer the second question as follows; Any given human being, a, considered at a time t, may be said to have come into existence at the earliest time t' at which there is an individual b that stands to a in the appropriate relationship. Briefly, if I know what relationship is constitutive of my identity through time, then I know that I came into existence at the38 moment when there first existed something that stands in that relationship to me now.
Notes (on pp. 15-3139)
- So, just what “relationship is constitutive of my identity through time”?
- Lockwood considers Locke’s40 account of PID, noting his term “man” for “human organism”, as distinct from “person”, but rejects it (as Reid did) as non-transitive. He considers ways of patching it up:-
- Firstly, he considers Parfit’s41 non-transitive relation of Survival42. He thinks this is more relevant to cases of fission.
- Secondly, the ancestral43 of Locke’s memory-relation.
- But he considers both to be failures on account of the case of total amnesia, as explained in the next bullet ...
- We get a second dose of the FGPT – exactly as in Williams.If I’m told that I’m going to be horribly tortured, being told that I’m going to have all my memories erased beforehand44 will be no comfort.
- He thinks that philosophers have mistakenly tried to define what (as he says) identity over time is for human beings, whereas he thinks there is a fact of the matter.
- He asks us to consider two TEs:-
- WBTs45: if you were suffering from a brain-tumour you’d not consider it recovery to be given someone else’s brain46, but a speedier death47. The brain-donor would have received a body-transplant48.
- Teletransportation49: In the case where your body is destroyed when scanned, this isn’t a quick form of travel but rather an unusual form of suicide50. The teletransported51 “you” is only qualitatively (rather than numerically) identical to you. He thinks this is true intuitively – fakes are fakes, copies are copies – but is proved to be duplication52 by the case53 where the scan does not destroy your body. He just dismisses the idea that here we have a case of fission as “desperately implausible54”.
- So, Locke’s psychological relation is neither necessary (total amnesia) nor sufficient (teletransportation)55 for PID56.
- What Lockwood concludes57 is that “a human being cannot be me unless he has my brain” – that very brain I was born with (or at least a crucial part58 of it), not a qualitatively indistinguishable59 one.
- Now (mid-p. 19 ff.), and in the rest of the paper, Lockwood makes various ethical deductions from this conclusion.
- Basically, cateris paribus, you can do what you like60 with the fetus61 prior to the development of a brain, as if I’m individuated by my brain, then a brainless fetus62 cannot be me, or anyone else. It is (by Lockwood’s definition) not a human being.
- Lockwood makes the strong claim that – while the early fetus63 has the potential to be a human being – this potential is “equally true” of the sperm and unfertilised ovum. He asks us to imagine the situation where a particular egg and cell are about to fertilise, but are prevented. This is an important64 claim, followed up with the further one that nothing changes morally or metaphysically from pre-conception until the brain has developed.
- Lockwood claims that (what he calls) the criterion of brain life has since the mid-1960s65 increasingly been taken to form the basis for deciding when the human being comes into existence, just as brain death66 marks the end.
- But he claims in a footnote that a certain understanding of brain death67 spoils that analogy with brain life.
- This is the claim made, inter alia by "Glover (Jonathan) - Causing Death and Saving Lives", which says that it’s the lack of a future capacity for higher mental function that signals the loss of moral status of the individual. But this spoils the analogy with the status of the early fetus68 for, while it presently has no capacity for higher mentation, it has the capacity normally to acquire it; and, so, on this account there should be no more justification for terminating the fetus69 than for removing support for someone in a temporary coma.
- Lockwood also objects to “brain-stem death” as the indicator of brain-death, as – for him – it’s not the cessation of the basic life-functions that signals the death of the human being (as distinct from the human animal)70 but the irrevocable cessation of higher mental function.
- There is a contingent relation between the death of the brain-stem and the death of the cortex, but presumably this might not be so, and if it were possible to maintain the body alive post brain-stem death with the higher mental functions fundamentally intact, then (for Lockwood, and probably for most people) the human individual would not be deemed to have died.
- Lockwood thinks that death of the brain-stem is chosen clinically over the (for him) more logical cortex as a diagnostic for the death of the latter isn’t so easily available – as people have been known to recover from fat EEGs when the brain-stem was still functional, whereas the reverse is never the case, albeit contingently so.
- Lockwood now addresses the objection that conceptual analysis reveals that what we mean when we talk of personal identity is not a reference to the brain, which might imply that our brains cannot be essential to our identity. Aristotle (presumably) had the same concept of personal identity as ourselves, yet (famously) thought of the brain as a blood-cooler. Many contemporaries think the human being (or at least the conscious being) survives the death of the body. On the other hand, while some philosophers think that materialism is a conceptual truth, they have never made a plausible case.
- Also, we have no difficulty understanding the science-fiction TEs involving body swapping71.
- So72, “… even materialistically-minded philosophers have, for the most part, resisted accounts of personal identity that make essential appeal to what is really just a matter of scientific theory.”
- Lockwood points out that the questions “what does X mean” and “what does X consist in” are entirely different, and knowing the answer to one doesn’t mean we know the answer to the other.
- He uses as an analogy Kripke’s example of “gold” in "Kripke (Saul) - Naming and Necessity: Lecture III", pp. 116-144; as also pointed out by Mackie in "Mackie (J.L.) - Problems from Locke" ("Mackie (J.L.) - Personal Identity", pp. 199-203); we are also referred to "Putnam (Hilary) - Meaning and Reference". What we mean by “gold” (heavy yellow metal, etc) is not the same as what gold consists in (element of atomic number 79, or whatever its underlying nature might have been found to be).
- The underlying nature of a substance73 explains (or promises to explain) why it has the manifest properties it does. It might even explain why something (in exceptional circumstances) without the manifest properties usually associated with that substance is in fact just that.
- The point of all this is that Lockwood (and those cited) make an analogy between the discovery of the real nature of gold with that of personal identity. Human beings are not defined in terms of the various psychological properties that are commonly associated with them. Rather, these properties are a manifestation of something underlying them. What this underlying substrate might be is left open by the meaning of the words associated with personal identity.
- So, it is a priori possible that what underlies the discernible properties of psychological continuity74 is an immaterial soul – though Lockwood thinks75 there’s “not the slightest reason” for believing so. Rather, Lockwood thinks the scientific evidence favours “continuity of physical organisation within some part or parts of a living human brain76…”.
- Lockwood has an important footnote (N18) on neural organisation as against function77. So, provided the structures are there, we have (according to Lockwood) a human being, even if (as may be the case for the early fetus)78 it’s in a coma or dreamless sleep79.
- Lockwood asks whether Karen Quinlan – Wikipedia: Karen Ann Quinlan – (was) dead. This would depend on whether the neural structures that are constitutive of her being a human being still existed. If they did, then she could (have been) woken up – even if the powers so to do were (then) unknown; otherwise she would (have been) dead80.
- So, Lockwood thinks all this confirms his earlier tentative conclusion that I live only as long as the relevant part of my brain remains intact, and come into existence when this does.
- Precisely when is a matter for scientific research. In a footnote (N19), Lockwood concludes that this indicates somewhere between 8 and 18 weeks. He repudiates the import of fetal thumb-sucking so beloved of the anti-abortion81 lobby.
- He doubts – even given the continued advance of science – whether there’s any fact of the matter to be discovered as to precisely when a human being comes into existence, as the concept82 “human being” is not completely precise. Thus, “human life” isn’t precise, either. Even so, the concept is not so vague that “anything goes”.
- Lockwood now proceeds to ethical83 matters. While we cannot derive an “ought” from an “is”, he thinks most people would find it wrong to kill an innocent human being84 – and he’d go further and ascribe wrongness to killing any sentient being, the degree of wrongness being proportional to the degree of sentience, cateris paribus.
- Lockwood thinks that it’s OK to do what we like with “pre-human” embryos85 provided – importantly – that we don’t let them develop into handicapped human beings.
- On the abortion86 debate, Lockwood agrees with Hare87 that there’s a limit to the degree of self-sacrifice that “can reasonably be demanded of someone in the name of duty”, and this will allow abortion88 of human beings where too much would be asked of the mother, and we’re referred to a “celebrated” article - "Thomson (Judith Jarvis) - A Defense of Abortion". Basically, he’s supportive of abortion89 “on demand” up to 1090 weeks, but with more stringent conditions thereafter. He thinks it’s “morally indefensible” to abort91 a healthy fetus92 that could be born alive.
- An alternative moral starting point: some philosophers – eg. "Tooley (Michael) - Abortion and Infanticide" and Singer93 (“Killing Humans and Killing Animals”) claim that only persons have a “serious right” to life – because they (only) have a strong desire to go on living, and have other desires for which life is a prerequisite. But even those who – strictly speaking – do not have a desire for continued living, might still have an interest in it. Lockwood’s example for distinguishing desire from interest is children’s education, which they might not want, but in which they have “an interest”, in that it would be contrary to their interests not to have one. So, a human being with the potential to become a person has a very strong interest in being allowed to develop into one.
- We end up with a scale – it’s worse to kill those with a preference than those merely with an interest, and in turn worse to kill these than those without. Those with an interest have more to lose – if only prospectively – but the mother has a present preference (one may assume) so can take precedence over a fetus94 that hasn’t.
- We have the strong intuition that the Inca practice of sacrificing adolescent girls is worse than the Greek practice of infanticide, yet many philosophers – including Singer, Tooley, Glover and Hare – have embraced the counter-intuitive conclusion that early infanticide is no worse than contraception, on the grounds that neither actually possesses the attributes that mark off human beings from the “lower” animals.
- There’s an allusion to “Leonard Arthur” and the legitimate killing95 of a Down’s syndrome infant – as compared with the “unconscionable” killing of a 16-year-old (“unless96 it enjoyed a level of consciousness no higher than that of a dog”).
- What about “potential” – which both “sperm+ovum” and the new-born have? It seems that if we count potential, then neither contraception nor infanticide are permissible, whereas if we don’t, neither are. In fact, only Tooley takes this extreme view, the others add utilitarian riders. Glover considers new-borns – like foetuses97 – to be “replaceable” – so that just as correct (he says) to replace a “defective” new-born with a fully-functioning baby you’d not otherwise have had as it is to delay conception to avoid a defective fetus98 being conceived.
- Lockwood hopes that his account provides a common-sense middle ground between these “all or nothing” extremes. There’s “potentiality and potentiality”. The new-born child and the late fetus99 have an interest in their potential to become a person coming to fruition. However, the sperm+ovum (says Lockwood) does not have the potential ever to be a person, because (says Lockwood) the sperm+ovum is not a human being (nor is the early fetus)100. At least the potential is only “oblique”. The reason for this (for Lockwood) is that persons are not identical to human organisms. Even a mature human organism does not have interests – only the human being does. We were never sperm+ovum, nor week-old embryos101.
- Lockwood insists that the key issue in whether an earlier being has an interest in the happiness of a later being is that it be “the very same being”. That, coupled with the claims that only beings with interests are the proper subjects of moral concern, and that human identity consists in the continuous existence of the same functioning brain, leads to the conclusion that early human embryos102 are not the proper subjects of moral concern.
- That was his take in October 1983, and he’s sticking to it. It allows experimentation on human embryos103 before they become (by Lockwood’s definition) human beings104, but what’s wrong with experimenting on them (for some time) after the point at which (for Lockwood) human life begins?
- Lockwood would impose 4 rules:-
- No deliberate rearing of embryos105 for experimentation (by-products are OK),
- The embryo106 is “not viable – there is no possibility of it surviving to term”,
- No suffering should be caused,
- No long or short term deleterious consequences for others.
- If these provisos107 are met, Lockwood thinks that residual objections would have to be based on whether experimenting would be against the interests of the embryo108 / fetus109.
- A consequentialist might find difficulty understanding the objections, if a human being’s interests are defined solely in terms of its quality of life (none) or satisfaction of its desires (none), but a Kantian would – rightly – think that the embryo110 was not being treated as “an end in itself”, as it has not given consent.
- Lockwood thinks the Kantian objection carries no weight. His objection rests on the (obscure) non-viability111 condition. If we’d be happy to experiment on a non-human embryo112 satisfying these conditions, then any objection to experimenting on a human embryo113 would be speciesist. That would be irrational, though there might be “thin end of the wedge” considerations.
- Finally, Lockwood considers the justification for his first proviso, glossed114 as “allowing the embryo115 to continue living until it becomes a human being with the deliberate intention of experimenting on it”. His objection is that death is a misfortune, and allowing an individual to come into existence and then killing it is to bring a misfortune upon it. And if it’s objected that the fetus116 had no prospect of a worthwhile life anyway, then that itself is a misfortune.
- The last sentence of the paper deserves quoting in full: “But if a human embryo117 once had the potential for worthwhile life, then it may be wrong to allow it to develop to the point at which there is a human being who, though no longer viable, could be regarded as having a strong retrospective interest in one’s not having allowed that opportunity for worthwhile life to slip away.” Just what is the experimenter supposed to have done or not done to make the fetus118 non-viable, or to allow to become so?
Photocopy filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 09 (L)".
Footnote 4: Lockwood’s intentions are to be applauded, but I’m not convinced that his definition of “human being” is coherent.
- First paragraph removed.
- Also, the paragraph numbering is mine, as is other structuring when not the author’s.
- This is not a formal Introduction; I’ve just cut it off at the bottom of p. 14.
Footnote 5: Aren’t organisms living by definition? When they die, they are “former” organisms, but are no longer organisms as they don’t perform the functions of an organism.
Footnote 7: This goes beyond the “Turing Test” (Wikipedia: Turing test), which is a test for intelligence (strictly “thinking”) rather than for conscious awareness.
Footnote 10: That’s animalism overthrown then! Naturally, the argument for this claim is itself unsound.
Footnote 12: I, and Olson, agree, though Feldman would not!
- Lockwood hasn’t yet explained what he means by this term.
- His definition appears later in the “Introduction”, but is still not very enlightening.
- The term “human being” is to stand for “what we are essentially”, but just what is this?
- Is this a correct view of brain death? It sounds like a PVS to me.
- The debate about brain death seems to vary as to what and when. “Switching off the ventilator” is a standard response, but this doesn’t work with those in a PVS, as the brain-stem is intact, though it does for those who are properly “brain dead”, in that the regulatory capacities of the brainstem are destroyed.
- ”Withdrawal of food and water” is a response to those wanting to (or whose guardians want them to) die – they are not deemed already dead.
- Animalists would not agree that “we” have ceased to exist when in a PVS (even though we might have lost all that mattered to us).
Footnote 17: Quoted by "Olson (Eric) - Psychology and Personal Identity", p. 12. Olson takes it that “the view” in the previous footnote is that “you” don’t survive if you fall into a PVS.
- Which view?
- That just stated in the previous sentence?
- That the human organism survives if the brain-stem but not the cerebrum survives, but that “we” don’t; or the further deduction …
- That “we” are not human organisms?
- Surely, “scientifically educated common sense” (without reflection on dubious TEs) would say that we are human organisms. This ought to be the default view.
Footnote 18: Good – watch out for this!
Footnote 19: The idea that human persons are phase sortals of human beings seems to have more of a track record than I had thought!
Footnote 21: Footnote 24: This is Bernard Williams’s FGPT (Click here for Note), as Lockwood acknowledges with a reference to "Williams (Bernard) - The Self and the Future".
Footnote 25: I agree with this argument.
Footnote 27: That we are essentially persons is – of course – argued for at length in "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View", etc.
Footnote 29: Maybe, but if your philosophy allows you to perform abominable acts (infanticide, considered as “not seriously wrong”) then you are in need of a reality check (like being locked up).
Footnote 30: Ensure this is indeed followed up.
Footnote 32: For Metamorphosis - Click here for Note. The idea that the very same individual could belong to different natural kinds at different stages of its existence is very doubtful.
- It’s not clear to me – beyond this stipulation – just what a ‘human being’ is in Lockwood’s usage, given that it’s not a ‘human organism’, and is not essentially a ‘person’.
- How does Lockwood’s usage compare with "Johnston (Mark) - Human Beings"?
Footnote 33: Well, isn’t this the case on Lockwood’s own account, with a “human being” being a phase sortal of a “human organism”?
Footnote 35: Is this similar to the Constitution View? Except, it’s not clear what I might be that is variously constituted, given that (according to Lockwood) I’m not essentially a person (as the holders of the CV claim).
Footnote 36: Why is this pedantry – we’re not just arguing over words.
Footnote 37: Surely, this relationship ought to be discovered, not “stipulated”.
Footnote 39: Notes on the Introduction (pp. 9-14) appear as Footnotes to the above Text.
- Is there necessarily any such moment? Looking ahead, just how much brain is sufficient for a “human being” to come into existence?
- Also, just as personhood can be a matter of degree (Click here for Note), might not “being a human being”, according to Lockwood?
Footnote 41: We are referred to "Parfit (Derek) - Personal Identity".
Footnote 43: Lockwood attributes this – as a suggestion rather than an endorsement – to Ayer in "Ayer (A.J.) - The Problem of Knowledge" and "Ayer (A.J.) - The Concept of a Person".
Footnote 44: Nor, I think, would having them erased afterwards so that I’d remember nothing of the period of torture.
- Lockwood doesn’t explain why this (admittedly common-sense) intuition should be accepted.
- He also doesn’t consider cerebrum transfers – or cases where (should this be possible) you receive just that part of another person’s brain that is responsible for the higher cognitive functions, but not that part responsible for basic sentience.
- Receiving just the regulatory part – again supposing this to be possible – which (we may suppose) has no cognitive function – would (presumably) be for Lockwood an “organ transfer”, while for an animalist it would (probably) be more difficult to describe what’s happened (presumably some sort of fusion).
- I’m not sure that “death” (a biological term) is correct. All that dies biologically are your brain (discarded) and the brain-donor’s body – your body carries on, regulated by a new brain.
- But (roughly-speaking, as we shall see) Lockwood considers you to be your brain, so you would have died by his lights; or at least ceased to exist.
Footnote 51: Footnote 53: See Parfit’s “branch-line” case.
- Lockwood attributes this sort of TE to "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons".
- He has a useful footnote disputing a claim made by Parfit on pp. 208-9 of R&P, that just as “artificial sight” that doesn’t involve real eyes – and so doesn’t have its normal cause – might be “just as good as” real sight, if it were not itself so to be, so psychological continuity – even without its normal cause – would be “just as good” as the “real thing”.
- However, I have long had the intuition – as no doubt has Lockwood – that there would be no “forward” continuity for the teletransportee.
- In the “travel” case, the lights simply go out, and come on again for someone else.
- In the “branch line” case (see a little later for an explanation), they never go out, and it’d be difficult to know how it would “feel” were they to come on after the journey – a second time for “you”, we were to suppose). Click here for Note.
- The essence of his point is to say that it’s OK to adopt an instrumentalist attitude to eyes, but not to brain structure – since (says Lockwood) our brains are constitutive of our identity, and psychological continuity is merely a manifestation of that fact.
Footnote 54: But he gives no reasons for this. It is intelligible given a 4D account of persistence.
Footnote 56: But he doesn’t go as far as Olson (and maybe other animalists) and declare psychology “irrelevant”.
Footnote 57: This seems a bit premature, but he provides some justification later.
Footnote 58: He doesn’t say which part, but it’s presumably enough to allow sentience, but not higher cognitive powers.
Footnote 59: Eg. one that has been teletransported.
- Lockwood has a footnote detailing the resistance to experimenting on early embryos, despite the potential benefits.
- He points out that for utilitarians the positive case is clear, in the situation where unwanted embryos would otherwise be discarded, but not for Kantians, who insist on using human beings as ends in themselves. They would need convincing that early embryos are not human beings.
- There’s much of interest here, but it’s not central to my concerns, which are primarily metaphysical.
Footnote 65: We are referred to his N20, which itself points out that (to his surprise) his “brain life” approach had been posited by various Catholic writers over the then past 20 years, though not always with the logical conclusion concerning early abortion.
- I need to revisit / check the genetic facts in this situation (eg. in "Hartl (Daniel L.) - Our Uncertain Heritage: Genetics & Human Diversity", or a later book), as it’s a case in philosophy where it’s important to get the empirical facts right.
- I think all the genetic shuffling has taken place during meiosis when the gametes were generated, so the genetic make-up of a human individual is set by selecting a particular sperm-egg combination.
- A particular individual is, however, not uniquely identified by this genetic blueprint because of the possibility of twinning.
- But, this aside, Lockwood is essentially right.
- I’m not quite sure what he means; presumably Locke’s prince / cobbler.
- But – and this is a standard objection to TEs – do we really understand, or if the TEs were properly specified, would we see they are impossible?
Footnote 73: Lockwood doesn’t use the term “substance”.
- Just what does he mean?
- In particular, what is “essential use”, and
- Why just a scientific theory? Shouldn’t our philosophy reflect – and be constrained by – the best science of our day?
Footnote 75: And I agree!
Footnote 76: And I agree with that, too. But what does this fact say about us? Are we, then, brains?
Footnote 77: By which he means functioning, rather than anything to do with functionalism.
- I still think that “death” is the wrong term, as the human animal would still be alive, at least if the brain-stem was relatively intact, as was the case with KQ.
- So, “no longer existed” – with reference to the “human being” – would be better.
- I suspect that the use of the term “death” in a psychological rather than biological context is to avoid moral and legal scruples with “killing” a living organism that most people (but not Lockwood) would consider to be a human being.
Footnote 83: As these aren’t central to my concerns, I’ve not followed up on every point in this part of the essay.
- I’d thought that Lockwood had thought that “what we are” was something to be discovered, not a matter for conceptual analysis.
- Consequently, this whole approach is less precise than animalism: when an animal comes into existence and passes away may be vague – in that these are processes rather than instantaneous events – but the description of the processes are open to the advancement of science.
Footnote 84: We need to watch out for what’s meant here, as Lockwood uses the term “human being” in his own sense, but our moral sensibilities are based on its common usage – though I suspect they are governed by “paradigm cases” rather than those on the margins.
Footnote 87: In "Hare (R.M.) - Moral Thinking - Its Levels, Method and Point".
Footnote 90: There’s a (mildly) interesting note to the effect that “10 weeks” is from the last menstruation, and since ovulation is mid-cycle, this equates to a fetal age of 8 weeks
- Who has now changed his mind – at Lockwood’s urging, our author claims.
- The PhilPapers abstract of this paper is: “It is one thing to say that the suffering of non-human animals ought to be considered equally with the like suffering of humans; quite another to decide how the wrongness of killing non-human animals compares with the wrongness of killing human beings. It is argued that while species makes no difference to the wrongness of killing, the possession of certain capacities, in particular the capacity to see oneself as a distinct entity with a future, does. It is claimed, however, that this is not the only factor to be taken into account: pleasant or happy life is in itself good. The application of these conclusions to killing animals for food is then considered, with some passing reflections on infanticide.”
Footnote 96: This is all rather scary.
- See Wikipedia: Leonard Arthur for the background.
- Presumably in 1983 (Lockwood tells us on p. 29 of his February 1985 Postscript that the paper was originally written in October 1983) the case from 1981 was still fairly topical, as no references are given.
- The Wikipedia article points out that the conclusion of the trial was that “nursing care only” – resulting in death – was OK, while intentional killing was still murder.
- All this shows the double-think of the doctrine of double effect (see Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Doctrine of Double Effect, etc.).
Footnote 107: Lots of comments could be made here, but (i) seems arbitrarily prescriptive, and (ii) and (iv) are vague.
- This just goes to show how tendentious the terminology is – no-one is comfortable experimenting on “human beings”, so we define away the scruple.
- Presumably the Nazis though that “strictly speaking” those they experimented on weren’t “human beings” either.
- But once you’ve gone so far as experimenting on those that everyone else thinks of as human beings, even if you don’t, it’s not so hard to convince yourself that it’s OK to experiment on those (communists, for instance) that don’t deserve to be classified as human beings, even though they are, strictly speaking.
- Not that Lockwood would go that far … would he?
Footnote 114: Well, nearly – these are my words, hopefully giving Lockwood’s sense.
- What is meant? Normally, “non-viable” just means “unable to survive independently outside the womb”.
- But this usage would allow experimentation – mutatis mutandis and ceteris paribus – on those on life support.
- Lockwood makes play on the “lack of possibility” of the non-viable fetus even having the potential to develop personal characteristics. So, maybe he means that the fetus, left to its own devices, would inevitably miscarry – but how could we know this?
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)