Would a theoretical decision maker subscribing to the following principles decide against human abortion?



I'd like to ask a purely logical question (with no regards to personal "opinion" or religion) about the interpretation of science on the matter of abortion in the situation of a decision being made purely based on the philosophical concept of intelligent life being valuable. Hopefully I can relay this question in a manner strictly proper for this site.

In a situation where the "decision maker" (whether that be a human or a judicial system) strictly subscribes to the following principles:

  • human life is valuable, worthy of protection

  • one human life is not more valuable than another

  • decisions should be made based on applicable science

  • science tell us "A human fetus is both alive and human"

Must the decision maker decide that human abortion is wrong, based on the subscribed principles? Are there arguments that would alter this decision, with these principles strictly involved in the decision making?


Posted 2015-07-10T12:59:55.200

Reputation: 69

"A human fetus is both alive and human" – J.Todd – 2015-07-10T13:04:06.857

2It is worth noting that most of the disagreement about the abortion issue arises from different meanings of "human" in the different premises. On the face of it, each premise seems reasonable, but it's because we use different context to interpret each premise. If you insist that all uses of "human" be in exactly the same sense, the premises are highly controversial themselves. Roughly, the distinction is between "this entity is alive, and is Homo sapiens" and "this entity is a person". – Rex Kerr – 2015-07-10T18:03:56.220

2<x> is clearly human. <x> is clearly alive. Is it wrong to kill it? <x> = red & white blood cells, routinely killed by labs working on blood samples. – Loren Pechtel – 2015-07-11T00:50:17.620

@Loren Are you comparing killing human beings to killing red and white blood cells? – J.Todd – 2015-07-11T01:45:29.207

3There is a subtle difference between "is alive and is human" and "is a human life". Your arm is, independently of the rest of your body (though not for long if made independent of your body) alive and human. – Random832 – 2015-07-11T02:53:03.490

1@MediaWebDev I'm addressing the argument--it applies just as much to red and white blood cells. – Loren Pechtel – 2015-07-11T03:49:11.897

3I believe many (most?) legal systems do not subscribe to your second principle. – Conrad Turner – 2015-07-11T05:43:12.220

@ConradTurner Could you elaborate on that? – 11684 – 2015-07-11T12:43:29.280

2@11684 Look at the compensation (not the punitive damages) awarded by courts for death. Also compare attitudes to deaths of civilians in war zones when they are your nationals compared to others... – Conrad Turner – 2015-07-11T14:18:48.007

@ConradTurner Thank you. Food for thought. – 11684 – 2015-07-11T14:20:53.927



All personal opinions aside:

Accepting these principles as given would argue fairly unambiguously against abortion in most situations. However, they do not necessitate a blanket judgment of "abortion is wrong," given that they do not offer guidance for the situation where more than one life is at stake. The most likely and familiar case is where the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother, but other scenarios could be created as well.

The outlined scenario also leaves the door open for the possibility that other values --quality of life, for example --could override these values. You would need to make it more clear that protection of human life is a prime or overriding value to preclude this.

Chris Sunami supports Monica

Posted 2015-07-10T12:59:55.200

Reputation: 23 641


With regard to this assertion:

science tell us "A human fetus is both alive and human"

While the above true, it does not necessary follow that a fetus is a human life.

There are other entities that are both alive and human that are not human lives. For example, my thumb is alive, and it is human. But it in and of itself does not constitute what we call a human life. It's a thumb.

To conflate "alive and human" and "human life" is to engage in equivocation, which is one of many logical fallacies.

Ergo the decision maker must not necessarily decide that abortion is wrong given these principles, since the key logical underpinning that would drive that conclusion is in fact fallacious.

John Wu

Posted 2015-07-10T12:59:55.200

Reputation: 159

3Your thumb is not alive. You are alive and your thumb participates in your life. A fetus is a distinct life in a way a thumb is not. This is mere science. – virmaior – 2015-07-11T00:42:02.273

1Blood cells clearly are alive. Sperm is clearly alive. Eggs are clearly alive. All are human. – Loren Pechtel – 2015-07-11T00:51:08.100

1@LorenPechtel that was a very poorly considered thought. Come ON. They are human in the sense that they are human components but we are talking about human in the noun form, human(s) - noun. not human <insert body component here> - adjective A human sperm is not a human, that's clearly completely different. – J.Todd – 2015-07-11T02:29:31.933

As a sheer matter of science, it's fair to say fetuses, toddlers, children, adolescents, adults, (human) sperm, and (human) egg are all distinct forms of human life in a way that fetal toes, toddler hair, children's arms, adolescent's armpits, adult blood cells, sperm cell filaments, and egg cell coronas are not. We can further distinguish diploid and haploid varieties of these types of human life and indicate the survival conditions and lifespans of each. – virmaior – 2015-07-11T03:38:30.360

2@MediaWebDev You are making the logical fallacy he's pointing out here. – Loren Pechtel – 2015-07-11T03:47:37.220

3With all due respect, "X participates in life" is word salad without any scientific meaning, and of no relevance to the original post. The point the OP will need to prove is that the phrase "is both alive and human" is equivalent to "is a human life," or that the meaning of the phrase "alive and human" is equivalent to the intended meaning of the word "life" in the sentence "human life is valuable." OP is welcome to edit the original post and add either of these as an another bullet item. Until then, I stand by my answer. My thumb, while valuable, is not as valuable as a human life. – John Wu – 2015-07-11T04:45:16.093

@virmaior I'd guess that a fetus becomes distinct life. It isn't distinct life until after it's born, or at least until it's capable of living independent of its mother. – ChrisW – 2015-07-11T09:13:01.107

@ChrisW we need to distinguish between being able to live separately and being a distinct life. It is a distinct life. It cannot live separately from its mother. You're conflating the two here. My finger nail just participates in my life; it cannot ever have an independent life. A fetus has its own life; it just cannot yet live independently. – virmaior – 2015-07-11T09:16:13.650

"Participates in X's life" is no mere word salad but rather an expression of how this works. Leaves participate in the single life of a tree. They are not ever capable of living by themselves and part of a single integrated metabolic process. Fetuses have their own integrated metabolic process. This is very basic science. – virmaior – 2015-07-11T09:17:51.207

@virmaior we need to distinguish No we don't. For any sufficiently young fetus, IMO "has its own life" is a fabrication, a mental projection by the observer (i.e. you), and not evident. Its metabolic processes are not yet distinct but are still "integrated" with its mothers'. If you want to apply Catholic doctrine IMO you'd do better trying to do that using "Soul" than using "integrated metabolic process". – ChrisW – 2015-07-11T09:44:52.313

Er, I'm not catholic. And er, it's pure science that it has its own life (http://brooksidepress.org/ob_newborn_care_1/lessons/lesson-02-embryology-and-fetal-development/2-02-principles-of-fertilization-conception/ ; https://embryology.med.unsw.edu.au/embryology/index.php/Blastocyst_Development). You'd do better letting go of your "fabrications, projections by the observer (i.e. you)." A life is an integrated metabolic process. If you'd like to make a scientific claim with sources, I'd be glad to hear it.

– virmaior – 2015-07-11T09:49:17.177

@virmaior That question on biology.SE asked whether it's "alive" and "human", and didn't ask whether the life is "distinct". IMO statements like "it has its own life" imply self-hood, imply a possessor (who has) and a property (which is had), which we conventionally attribute to other human beings in our society. The BBC's When is the foetus 'alive'? says that "viable" (iow independent) is sometimes part of the definition, or "gradualist".

– ChrisW – 2015-07-11T11:37:44.020

1I think the word you are searching for is "organism." A thumb is alive but is not an organism; a human life is both alive and is an organism. The question is whether a fetus is both human and a living organism. As such it would have to be able to respond to external stimuli and have the ability to regulate its own metabolism. Maybe you should ask that question on biology.stackexchange.com. – John Wu – 2015-07-11T13:43:47.770

I don't think I'm searching for a word... I think I'm denying that it makes sense to compare a fetus to a thumb, which is the claim you made. Viable is not the same as being alive... I'm not sure why you'd confuse the two concepts. Foetuses do respond to external stimuli and regulate their own metabolism, that's what it means to be an organism... See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK9968/ .

– virmaior – 2015-07-11T19:53:44.517

1No, I claimed the opposite, that a thumb and fetus are obviously different, yet the OP categorizes both of them together because of a broad definition of "alive." That ambiguity is the nut of the equivocation fallacy that you are unable to see. As for your tree/leaf analogy, when a leaf turns brown, we say "the leaf has died," not "the leaf has stopped participating in the life of the tree." That would be absurd. I hope you don't actually talk that way. – John Wu – 2015-07-11T20:30:55.780

You are more than welcome to edit your answer to make it clearer but as worded, you don't make the point you imagine you're making. Yes, the world "alive" can have many meanings and what we mean when we say a thumb is alive is different than what we mean when we say a fetus is alive (though I question your grasp of biology since you don't seem to know fetuses are self-regulating organisms and alive in a way closer to "a squirrel is alive" than "my thumb is alive"). And I take it your point is to say it's being alive doesn't mean it deserves protection -- but then you're the one equivocating. – virmaior – 2015-07-13T04:29:16.253

In terms of "talking that way," I would speak in the same imprecise way as anyone to say "oh, the leaf is dead." But then if pressed as to what it means for the leaf to die, I would say the leaf lived as part of a tree and never had its own separable life (for almost all plants species), i.e. it participated in the life of the tree. The easier expression is in the same category as "the sun went down" in terms of scientific accuracy. – virmaior – 2015-07-13T04:30:45.153


Premise 1 doesn't protect against other interests being more valuable than that of human life (and it's structure seems to imply that a utilitarian type of approach is warranted). Thus, without further elaboration, accepting these premises does not commit one to a decision that abortion is universally wrong.


Posted 2015-07-10T12:59:55.200

Reputation: 4 599


You wrote,

a decision being made purely based on the philosophical concept of intelligent life being valuable

I guess therefore that the premise of your question is an implied syllogism, i.e.:

  1. Intelligent life is valuable.
  2. Human life is intelligent.
  3. Therefore Human life is valuable.

If so, that seems to me to contradict the following subsequent statement in the argument:

  • science tell us "A human fetus is both alive and human"

    Perhaps a human fetus isn't "intelligent life" (at least not until later in life – for example in early life I think that the brain exists but hasn't been hooked up yet, and therefore it must fail most definitions of "intelligent" I could think of).

    I say "contradict" because, if you're saying that "a human being is valuable because it's intelligent", then given that a (sufficiently young) fetus is not "intelligent", you might then have to grant that a fetus is not human (if being "intelligent" is a necessary attribute of being human).

Or, if you kept the "a fetus is a human" definition, then the argument might break at this statement:

  • one human life is not more valuable than another

    If one human is intelligent (because it's a living adult) and another is not (because it's a young fetus which hasn't yet developed a nervous system), and if human life is valuable because it's intelligent, therefore one would be more valuable than another.

I suspect that there's a problem caused by using an adjective as a noun. The word "human" can be used as an adjective or a noun. It can be used as an adjective, e.g.:

  • Human being
  • Human fetus
  • Human fingernail
  • Human gamete

These take the same adjective but are not the same "things". Your adding the noun "life" in your statements lets you say, "A and B are both human life, C and D are not human life", which lets you equate A and B. But notwithstanding your equation they're still not the same thing.

I suspect that "a fetus is a human being" implies some type of reification.

Statements like "all human lives are equal valuable and equally protected" is only more-or-less true, and in limited/specific circumstances. For example people are naturally inclined to protect their family and friends more than they protect strangers and enemies. And for example the national law (in many though not all countries) is more inclined to protect post-birth independent human life more than pre-birth non-independent human life.


Posted 2015-07-10T12:59:55.200

Reputation: 611

@virmaior Thanks for your comments. I edited my answer: is it clearer now? – ChrisW – 2015-07-11T10:38:53.890

Yes, this makes it much clearer as to where you think the problems are. – virmaior – 2015-07-11T10:40:43.507


Even leaving semantics out of this question, the way you have "built" the question, leaves only one possible answer. Yes, a decision maker that subscribes to the stipulated principles, would decide against human abortion, (which is not really a decision, since there is no choice)!


Posted 2015-07-10T12:59:55.200

Reputation: 1 686