What is the moral difference between abortion and infanticide?



Many people accept abortion on the grounds that foetuses aren't persons, and that personhood is what defines the right to life. I've always been intrigued about what defines personhood; obviously attributes like consciousness (or the ability to suffer) and personal identity seem to play a role.

Some would say you can abort a foetus because it has no sense of personal identity, it can feel no pain and its death will have a net positive effect. But could you not make this argument for a toddler?

A toddler has hardly any rational faculties, it certainly has no developed sense of identity, and if you had a method of killing it painlessly, what would be wrong with that (say, if the toddler was draining an already financially struggling and drug addicted single mother)? Obviously the thought of this seems reprehensible, but where is the philosophical line here?


Posted 2019-12-17T15:59:33.193

Reputation: 925

Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

– Geoffrey Thomas – 2019-12-21T10:13:09.937

1This is a straw-man: You at least need to try reading Judith Jarvis Thompson and accept that the primary feminist argument for abortion rights does not rest on the idea that fetuses are not people. Even if the fetus is a person, if another person were connected to you without your permission, you would not owe it to them to let them remain attached. If the mother and the child are equally persons, the child's attachment becomes an assault, and the mother would be entitled to defend herself. The fact that separating herself from the child kills the child does not remove her right to do so. – hide_in_plain_sight – 2020-01-19T22:18:01.640



A toddler can (with a minimal amount of assistance) continue living and developing on its own. Setting aside that you underestimate the cognitive capacities of infants, an infant is a fully formed and biologically functional entity. A fetus is not; it cannot breathe, consume food, or perform any of the necessary biological functions for survival outside the womb. At the end of the first trimester — the normal Western upper limit for abortion — a fetus is roughly 1.5 inches long, and has a partially developed brain that is far smaller than that of the average chicken (you know, those birds we slaughter by the tens of billions every year).

Put a newborn on the ground and walk away, and it will survive perfectly well (for a while at least) until someone comes and finds it. Put a fetus on the ground and walk away, and it will cease to function before you've taken ten steps.

Let's be frank. The notion of 'personhood' in the abortion debate has distinctly different meanings on the Right and the Left. On the Left, personhood is a secular moral argument about the rights and privileges of individuals within society; on the Right, personhood generally means that an individual 'has a soul.' It is not at all clear that non-viable fetuses have the rights and privileges of individuals within a society, since they are neither individuals nor properly within society until after they are born. It is fairly well established, in fact, that even young children do not share all of the rights and privileges of personhood, since they are considered incompetent; most of children's rights and privileges defer to their parents or guardians. And as far as having a soul goes, every cultural group I know of — including Christianity prior to fundamentalist revisionism — placed the entry of the soul into the child at the point where the fetus 'quickens', which occurs roughly at the end of the first trimester. Fundamentalists have tried to push back the entry of the soul to the moment of conception in a kind of mishmash of biological pseudoscience, but if we dismiss that then there are absolutely no 'personhood' considerations to address.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not fond of the practice of abortion; in my view it should be a procedure of last resort. But it is a necessary option to preserve the 'personhood' of women in a world that has a long history of treating women as chattel. If you ask me to pit the actual personhood of a woman against the potential and speculative personhood of a fetus, I will come down on the side of the 'actual' every time.

Ted Wrigley

Posted 2019-12-17T15:59:33.193

Reputation: 9 139


Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

– Geoffrey Thomas – 2019-12-18T17:33:49.950

8Can you provide sources for your claim that: "Put a newborn on the ground and walk away, and it will survive perfectly well (for a while at least) until someone comes and finds it. Put a fetus on the ground and walk away, and it will cease to function before you've taken ten steps." – gota – 2019-12-18T17:58:46.477

22Which do you need a source for: the idea that a newborn can survive for a decent amount of time unattended, or the idea that a non-viable fetus cannot? That is the definition of 'viable' as laid out by the medical community. – Ted Wrigley – 2019-12-18T18:08:26.717

2"potential and speculative personhood of a fetus": A fetus' personhood is just as potential (in the Aristotelean sense) as its mother's. As to the "speculativity" of that personhood, speculation exists in your understanding/perception, not in the personhood itself. – user96931 – 2019-12-18T22:13:15.527

1@user96931 however, the mother has a higher potential than the foetus in the electrical sense. – barbecue – 2019-12-18T22:54:28.657

13@user96931 - We can (and do) debate the personhood of a fetus. We cannot debate the personhood of a woman. They are not equivalent in the Aristotelian sense or any other. And even if they were equivalent, then all we've done is created a case of competing/conflicting rights, Do you believe that one person can oblige another person to be a full-time, unpaid, legally bound servant? – Ted Wrigley – 2019-12-18T23:48:02.557

5The two sides of this argument are talking about completely different things and have completely different goals, even though they're both talking about abortion. Everyone needs to do as much research as possible on the opposing view to have a respectable and responsible discussion. The discussions usually go south because few people recognize that the two sides are talking about fundamentally different things. – Nelson – 2019-12-19T01:13:21.440

6@TedWrigley: "Do you believe that one person can oblige another person to be a full-time, unpaid, legally bound servant?" Do you believe that one person can kill another: a defenseless child? – user96931 – 2019-12-19T02:35:05.353

15@user96931 — People kill people every day, including defenseless children. How may defenseless children do you think the US has killed with drone strikes in the middle east? How many defenseless children have been put at risk because their parents refuse to vaccinate them? There are numerous examples in which people are legally and morally justified in killing others. In fact, the attempt to enslave someone would generally be considered sufficient grounds for the use of lethal force. Now, are you going to continue avoiding my question? – Ted Wrigley – 2019-12-19T02:41:42.847

4I do agree that killing may be justified. However a) The child poses no threat to the mother b) Therefore, on what grounds may he be killed? Why not just let him be born, and put him into adoption? – user96931 – 2019-12-19T02:43:19.087

18@user96931 — Arab children blown up by drone strikes pose no threat to anyone, either, so on what grounds are they killed? And really, by what right do you get to dictate that a woman must spend 9 months in pregnancy, with consequent restrictions, limitations, health risks, agonies, and loss of income? Are you going to pay for the woman to take time off work, pay for her doctor's care and hospital stays, and pay for her child to be raised in foster care or a state home if no adoptive parents can be found? And you still haven't answered my question; that tells me you don't have an answer. – Ted Wrigley – 2019-12-19T03:08:40.467

7@user96931 A fetus is not defenceless, rather its existence is entirely contingent on the mother. On the level of the organism the mother can accept the fetus through signaling in the uterus and nurture the fetus and grow connective tissue to support it. If the mother rejects the fetus through decision making in the brain, she can withdraw support and induce miscarriage. Your argument suggests it can only go in one direction. Rather the defenceless is the mother, who is restricted under your authority from regulating the inner workings of her body merely by living near your presence. – Cell – 2019-12-19T04:01:46.897

Your last sentence only properly applies when the pregnancy is life-threatening (in which case there's a direct life-for-life tradeoff), which is not the case with the vast majority of abortions. – dan04 – 2019-12-19T04:39:12.777

5@dan — Not in the least. A woman who believes that her life will be irremediably damaged has a right to act. Let's consider an alternate: say a 40 year old man found a way to force a woman to wait on him hand and foot for decades, such that she had to sacrifice every aspect of her own life, and pay for his feeding, housing, and other necessities by herself. He could sit in a chair watching television while she was compelled to cater to his every need and desire. If she killed him, how do you think a court would rule? – Ted Wrigley – 2019-12-19T04:56:40.240

2@TedWrigley "We can (and do) debate the personhood of blacks. We cannot debate the personhood of a white. They are not equivalent in the Aristotelian sense or any other." 50% of people believing something doesn't make it 50% true. – Omegastick – 2019-12-19T06:03:22.977

@TedWrigley Are you going to pay for the woman to take time off work, pay for her doctor's care and hospital stays, and pay for her child to be raised in foster care or a state home if no adoptive parents can be found? Yes, this is what taxes are for. – Omegastick – 2019-12-19T06:06:56.203

2But it is a necessary option to preserve the 'personhood' of women in a world that has a long history of treating women as chattel Past grievances, actual or perceived, are not an excuse for current mistreatment. We cannot pit one form of personhood and another and justify this from a historical context, or we end up with whatever conclusion we want, based on the context of the historical period. It has to be Personhood and Potential Personhood. Let's leave chattel, history, and other considerations for other topics where they are more relevant. – rath – 2019-12-19T11:31:31.227

6@Omegastick — I'm not sure what your first point is about, though it may be interesting if you tease it out more. Your second point flies in the face of typical Rightist politics, which has always sought to force children to remain in their parent's care, and has typically tried to deny funding to any sort of social safety net. – Ted Wrigley – 2019-12-19T14:14:40.853

7@rath — History is the root of present-day culture, and thus present-day culture carries the stain of the oppressions of history. If you are willing and able to guarantee that the personhood of women is respected in full, then we can set aside historical trends. If you are not, then we can reasonably presume that you are willing to throw the personhood of women under the bus, and treat them once again as chattel slaves to husbands and children. – Ted Wrigley – 2019-12-19T14:22:08.873

2I am pro-life and know many pro-life people. I have never heard a pro-life person say that abortion is wrong because the fetus "has a soul." Do you have a citation for people who have used this as an actual argument? – ribs2spare – 2019-12-19T16:04:35.083

10@ribs2spare — Again, I'm not sure what you're complaining about. The pro-life movement is (and always has been) closely associated with Christian conservatism. The only other major component of the movement came from masculinists, who believe that that the proper place of women is to bear children and tend house. But even masculinism is deeply steeped in Christian traditionalism. The pro-life movement cannot escape its Christian roots, and so it cannot escape the relationship between personhood and ensoulment. It isn't my fault if you guys don't think through your own beliefs... – Ted Wrigley – 2019-12-19T16:47:28.510

5@TedWrigley this is just bad information. The pro-life argument is about whether abortion kills a person or not. There may be some Christians who add window dressing, but that's not the crux of the argument. Very few pro-lifers are masculinists; the movement is led by and supported more by women than by men. It's frightening how little people know about the pro-life side. – ribs2spare – 2019-12-19T16:50:22.977

2Just because society currently finds something socially acceptable doesn't make it right, especially to the victim if there's one involved. Chickens are sentient, they feel pain and experience complex emotions, their killing is not kind and totally unecessary. You're also wrongly conflating brain size with intelligence. I am pro-choice but I found that argument unsettling. – Max – 2019-12-20T08:42:19.380

2@TedWrigley "Which do you need a source for: the idea that a newborn can survive for a decent amount of time unattended, or the idea that a non-viable fetus cannot?" I would say "both", personally - there's evidence that fetuses can survive for quite some time outside the womb with proper medical attention (the limiting factor currently is the fragility of their skin, IIRC), while an infant, left alone, is liable to die if not soon cared for. What is the difference between them, when the level of care required to keep them alive is on a continuum? – nick012000 – 2019-12-20T09:27:56.580

2@Max — apologies, this is an unsettling discussion in the best of cases. I agree that something isn't 'right' merely because it's socially accepted, but that sword cuts both ways. We cannot scream about the injustice to one group in order to force an injustice on another. We humans are willing to destroy each other by the millions when we think it's expedient — we are not shy about killing the innocent over pride of place — but people on the right refuse to accept that any need is sufficient when a woman is involved. That's an injustice too. – Ted Wrigley – 2019-12-20T14:13:39.817

2@nick012000 — The definition of 'viable' is that the fetus reaches a stage where it can survive without the protection and nurturance of the womb. With enough scientific effort we could, I suppose, create an artificial womb, but that doesn't make the fetus viable since it still requires that protection and nurturance. Infants do not (normally) need medical support. – Ted Wrigley – 2019-12-20T14:23:17.780

I think that's a misuse of scientific terminology. "Viability" means the ability to live post parturition i.e. after birth. Extracting a fetus from the uterus and placing it on the ground to show it doesn't survive long is not the correct usage of "viability". It's like me bringing you 100 m below the ocean and saying "see you're not viable." Same thing with that top comment claiming a fetus is a parasite. – Cell – 2019-12-20T15:10:26.070

2@Cell — Well, that's the legal standard in the US. Maybe it's a bad word, but consider: If I was required to spend the bulk of my life 100m down in the ocean, I would not be viable. I could probably do it with sufficient technology (just as someone with no immune system can survive living in a plastic bubble), but... Just keep in mind what you're suggesting: that a woman who wants an abortion because (perhaps) she cannot afford a child, cannot have an abortion because incredibly expensive procedures might make her fetus 'viable.' not sure that logic flies... – Ted Wrigley – 2019-12-20T16:17:26.207

I'm not "suggesting" any of that. What I'm saying is that several of your statements are not true. Particularly: "That is the definition of 'viable' as laid out by the medical community." and "The definition of 'viable' is that the fetus reaches a stage where it can survive without the protection and nurturance of the womb." I don't know what "legal standard" refers to, but using "viable" 5 times incorrectly and saying "maybe it's a bad word" is putting it lightly. – Cell – 2019-12-20T16:41:59.807


See: https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=11556. In the future, please check your sources.

– Ted Wrigley – 2019-12-20T18:51:54.800

1Several issues here: (1.) "medicinenet.com" is not an appropriate source. (2.) Did you read the word "premature" on your website? That means post birth. (3.) If you search a real reference such as 'The definition of human viability: a historical perspective' Pignotti 2009, the definition by MEDLINE is "the potential of a foetus to survive outside the uterus after birth, natural or induced". Now you are being disingenuous here, because you talk about first trimester fetuses, but no one induces a pregnancy at the first trimester unless its to abort. That makes your argument largely circular. – Cell – 2019-12-20T19:48:29.427

@Cell — I'm not being disingenuous, I'm just trying to suss out what you're arguing against. You don't like the word 'viability,' and don't want to accept the standard understanding of the term. Great, but how does that have any impact on what I said? There is a reasonable line to be drawn between an entity that can survive and thrive on its own and one that cannot survive without significant medical intervention (if at all). Nothing you say is going to blur that line out of existence, though we could (clearly) debate exactly where it should be drawn. So what's your point? – Ted Wrigley – 2019-12-20T21:55:12.263

Oh please. Don't act like I'm nitpicking. There are two other comments in this chain asking for sources regarding your claims on viability of a fetus and that's not including the ones removed by the moderator. And each time you claim with authority on what the "medical community" has to think, but never providing sources. You are being disingenuous. If you can't understand that your "standard definition" of viability implies birth, but a 1.5 inch fetus that your answer is based on doesn't get born at that time. Then all my points will go over your head – Cell – 2019-12-20T22:39:52.217

@Cell — If you are seriously concerned about this point, you are free to find a reliable source that satisfies you and present it here, with appropriate commentary. I honestly believe you are quibbling over nothing, for reasons that I do not know, and I'm not inclined to waste my time over what strikes me as a case of the vapors. Make an argument; don't just complain. I'll respond to a credible argument if you make one, but I'm not going to make it for you. – Ted Wrigley – 2019-12-20T22:51:59.183

2Your whole answer is basically "let's take a fetus out at a time it's not meant to be out, show it dies and that's justification for killing it." The same logic can be applied to support killing premature babies that need immediate medical attention after birth or babies with abnormal genetic conditions. Nor does it explain why it can't have more time to develop. – Cell – 2019-12-20T22:52:16.947

You had the same "you're quibbling over nothing" one liner with that other poster that pointed a weakness in your answer. And if your time is so valuable why do you keep following up to a three day old answer on SE? Over the course of the day to boot. – Cell – 2019-12-20T22:54:38.240

1@Cell — I'm not concerned about the time; I'm concerned about the waste. Don't criticize me for being responsible and trying to follow up on these comments, which I do not need to do. And no, that's not my whole answer. My whole answer is that there is nothing special about a fetus that we should protect its rights over and above the rights of the woman carrying it. A fully developed infant has some intrinsic rights because it is independently able to survive, and the mother is off the hook if she chooses to be; a non-viable fetus cannot make such a claim. – Ted Wrigley – 2019-12-20T23:20:40.590

@Cell — And sorry, I don't care how many people are quibbling if they cannot make a single argument between them. I see no reason why I should be concerned about your point, since it doesn't seem to impact what I said. It's up to you to make me see the point. If you can't, or won't... {shrug} – Ted Wrigley – 2019-12-20T23:26:01.413

1"A fully developed infant has some intrinsic rights because it is independently able to survive" Premature babies in general are not able to survive independently and there are many kinds of genetic dispositions that require intensive intervention to keep some babies alive much like a fetus at various stages. Yet they are protected. It's easy to display that smug arrogance about people not making a single argument when you literally read past things that contradict your viewpoint and now I have to repeat myself regarding premature babies. – Cell – 2019-12-20T23:33:19.353

1Parents have the right to turn to expensive medical interventions to save an otherwise non-viable child, if they so choose. Nobody is stopping them. They also have the right not to turn to such interventions, in which case their child will die. where's the contradiction? At any rate, this discussion has gone on too long. If you want to make your own argument, please write your own answer. – Ted Wrigley – 2019-12-20T23:51:25.763

Premature babies generally require medical attention in case of complications or else they can die, but are still viable. And parents cannot take them home or let them die. Just like a 1.5 inch fetus dies if not cared for properly, but can be viable if left to grow in the womb longer. Yet unlike with premature babies the woman is given the chance to let the fetus die. – Cell – 2019-12-21T00:30:08.160

Let us continue this discussion in chat.

– Ted Wrigley – 2019-12-21T00:50:15.557


There's no one answer to your question, because this is a live debate, and different thinkers have very different moral intuitions about it. Traditional Catholic theology represents perhaps the position most to the end of one extreme, that the fetus should be treated as a full person (regardless of its actual ontological status) from the very moment of conception.

At the other end of the spectrum, utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer is perhaps the visible figure who has most fully embraced your exact line of reasoning with all its uncomfortable ramifications --in his point of view, a young child, an intelligent animal, and a mentally disabled adult should all be viewed as essentially equivalent based on their intellectual capacities and respective abilities to live a rich life. He would argue that if it is justified to kill any one of those, it would be justified to kill any of the others given the necessary equivalences --in other words, that the mere fact of personhood (in terms of biological membership in the human species) doesn't invoke any special protections or privileges. This is also the basis of his arguments in favor of animal rights.

Chris Sunami supports Monica

Posted 2019-12-17T15:59:33.193

Reputation: 23 641


From there "The modern magisterium has carefully avoided confusing "human being" with "human person", and avoids the conclusion that every embryonic human being is a person, which would raise the question of "ensoulment" and immoral destiny". So no, the Catholic Church doesn't hold the idea that the fetus has full personhood

– None – 2019-12-18T09:38:54.850

@baudsp As I said above, this is uncited. See the responses in the other thread. – probably_someone – 2019-12-18T13:49:31.710

@baudsp While I'm not a Catholic, the links you yourself provided do in fact support my statement. I have updated my own links to cite a more canonical and primary source --please note that it comes from the Vatican. However, I have also edited to specify "traditional" Catholic theology as opposed to the modern theology you cite, and to clarify that the fetus is treated "as" a person which apparently does not necessitate it actually being a person. – Chris Sunami supports Monica – 2019-12-18T14:20:33.980

1@ChrisSunami I was referring to the fact that the Wikipedia quote that bandusp keeps bringing up has no relevant citation attached. A citation for the statement as it appears on Wikipedia is definitely needed, and I'm in the process of bringing this up on the talk page of the relevant article. – probably_someone – 2019-12-18T14:41:03.873

@ChrisSunami with Singer's line of thinking, if someone were to have an amputation, would they be worth less than people with four functioning limbs? – MCMastery – 2019-12-18T15:49:16.963

@probably_someone I'm sorry, I misread you. I have deleted my comment. – Chris Sunami supports Monica – 2019-12-19T01:19:19.950

4@MCMastery I'm no expert on Singer, but I believe he has been at least criticized on the grounds that his commitments would entail something along those lines (that people's lives are less valuable if they are disabled). – Chris Sunami supports Monica – 2019-12-19T01:21:20.680

1@MCMastery "Less valuable" != "without value". To take your example to the extreme: A quadruple amputee would be significantly less capable than a person with full use of all their limbs. In a wide variety of contexts, that would make the latter more valuable than the former. It would not then follow that our quadriplegic would be of no value to society. – eclipz905 – 2019-12-20T21:51:02.033

@eclipz905 sorry; I didn't mean "worthless", I meant "worth less" – MCMastery – 2019-12-21T07:13:43.570


First, a toddler is a child in the technical sense approximately between 12-36 months year old. If you're looking for a counter argument to your specific wording:

Some would say you can abort a foetus because it has no sense of personal identity, it can feel no pain and its death will have a net positive effect. But could you not make this argument for a toddler?

Then it's important to point out that while strictly speaking, one can make claims that a fetus until the third trimester doesn't feel pain based on it's development, but that one might not be make the same claim can for toddlers. Anecdotally, a toddler is capable of intentionality to the point that it can offer propositions such as "Daddy, my knee hurts". A fetus can do no such thing, and therefore the informal argument immediately suffers from weakness in it's premises undermining it's overall cogency.

Another riposte to the argument is the presumption that toddlers have "hardly any rational faculties" or that they possess "no sense of identity". I'm on my third toddler, and anecdotely, by 3 children develop the ability not only to reason superficially, but do so with acumen often exposing the hypocrisy of words relative to the motivations of adults. This is such a common phenomenon, there's a phrase in English for it. "From the mouths of babes!" As for identity, I can only proffer that children's notion of identity begins before becoming verbal. In developmental psychology, the number cited for self-awareness in a psychological fashion happens months out of the womb. From Child Development: An Introduction, page 545:

Age in months: 0-3 Interest in social objects; emergence of self-other distinction
Age in months: 3-8 Consolidation of self-other distinction, recognition of self through contengency
Age in months: 8-12 Emergence of self-permanence and self categories; recognition of self through contingency and onset of feature recognition.

I would say that these three counterattacks on premises are enough to make the argument barely cogent and expose the argument as merely prima facie.

One might try to recover the thesis with some form of solipsism which presumes that fetuses and toddlers aren't people with minds which would be extreme, or one could create doubt as to the seriousnes of whether suffering of fetuses and toddlers is meaningful if one questions the nature of their minds along lines of attack in problem of other minds.

One can also attack the enthymeme in the loose sense, by attacking the implied premise that all toddlers deserve to live and be pain free. Certainly in-group and out-group thinking could lay the ground for two different moralities, one for the in-group and the other for the out-group, hence SOME toddlers should be euthanized and SOME should not on criteria other than you mention.

In my estimation, another place of the argument might be strengthened is by arguing that the goodness that comes from the death of the infant outweighs other concerns. Will the death of the infant save a thousand others, or perhaps the entire species? Will the death of the infant lead to a cure for cancer? As undesirable as it is in contemporaneous times, the practice that it is moral to sacrifice one's children for God or gods goes back a long way is woven into the Judeo-Christian religion itself.


Posted 2019-12-17T15:59:33.193

Reputation: 5 708

4I felt like "toddler" was the wrong word - maybe a bad translation or spoken by someone that's never been around one for any length of time. A toddler has hardly any rational faculties, it certainly has no developed sense of identity doesn't make sense to anyone that's ever cared for one. – JPhi1618 – 2019-12-18T16:08:36.457

My great-grandfather was able to articulate accurate memories to family members from when he was under six months old that no one had told him. He even remembers forming judgments about others around him while still an infant. There is no compelling evidence that they categorically cannot perceive or remember or form judgments going further back in time, even to the womb. – pygosceles – 2019-12-19T00:08:21.387

2The claim about child sacrifice is extremely inaccurate. At all points the Bible forbids human sacrifice. God asked Abraham in order to test him, but prevented the act. Those practicing or entertaining or supporting it are built on a foundation that is antithetical to Christianity. Abraham's example and God's test and intervention for him by no means constitute a "practice that it is moral to sacrifice one's children". The claim is simply false. – pygosceles – 2019-12-19T00:11:34.547

1@pygosceles How would you expect to get compelling evidence that a person can perceive or remember or form judgments in the womb? Under hypnosis, some people claim to remember past lives, are you suggesting something like that? Also, – Andy – 2019-12-19T03:03:12.643


@pygosceles Note the story of Abraham was a lesson to discourage child sacrifice precisely because the practice happened in ancient times. The whole role of God sacrificing his son Jesus was in the same vein. Christianity indeed helped bring an end to child sacrfice, precisely because child sacrifice was considered moral by many cultures before the spread of Christianity. Hence, since Christianity tackles the issue of child sacrifice, it IS woven into the Judeo-Christian myths. https://www.christianpost.com/news/why-would-god-sacrifice-his-only-son.html

– J D – 2019-12-19T13:55:38.860


@pygosceles I suspect your grandfather may have been unintentionally confabulating. Human memories are notoriously unreliable evidence.

– J D – 2019-12-19T13:58:19.947

@JD No, his relatives who heard it all confirmed the accuracy of the memory, and right down to details which were very precise and which they themselves had not consciously recalled until they were retold by him, but which were able to be verified as accurate. All agreed that no one had ever described much less told him the details of this prior event. – pygosceles – 2019-12-19T18:52:15.010

@Andy It is simply an illustration of the fact that an arbitrary judgment of perception or consciousness or identity on the basis of age is inherently flawed. A similar pattern applies to brain-dead patients and the practice of declaring brain death as legal death. Numerous "brain-dead" patients have revived and lived with a considerable degree of brain function. The brain apparently has a very low-power state during which it engages in repairs before resuming daily function. The fallacy I interpose to prevent is the presumption that something we do not presently see does not exist. – pygosceles – 2019-12-19T18:55:56.260

1@pygosceles It sounds like you are entirely convinced; there are certainly benefits to believing in your loved ones. – J D – 2019-12-20T13:25:55.990


To answer the question in the title, the matter of abortion revolves around two aspects: the killing of a developing human and the capacity to which a pregnant woman has bodily autonomy. So a moral decision on abortion must consider the dilemma of bodily autonomy and feticide. On the other hand infanticide involves only the killing of an infant. So, the moral dilemma is more straight forward.

Regarding the topic in your post, I think personhood can be simplified down to "individuality" in the sense of how we see two human beings as unique based on their behaviour, personality, and other cognitive functions. With respect to that definition, fetuses in the early stages could be considered by some as indistinguishable from one another like a zygote or a blastocyst, whereas infants--despite having limited cognition, demonstrate unique attributes in terms of their likes, dislikes, what they allow, disallow, personality, how they react to different stimuli etc. making them "persons".

I think this fine line is similar to how some people in Western culture will run into a burning building to save their dog, but are ok with raise young cattle for slaughter. This is likely because they see their dog as a unique creature with respect to other dogs, but all cows are just "cows" thus making it easier to sacrifice a cow for meat.


Posted 2019-12-17T15:59:33.193

Reputation: 1 103

Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

– Geoffrey Thomas – 2019-12-21T10:14:42.880


I'll offer an emphatic answer by Philip K. Dick. Wikipedia claims without corroboration that it is a response to the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade.

In his chilling story "The Pre-Persons"1 Dick illustrates his opinion that there is no ethical difference between aborting fetuses and killing children. A critic noted:

But even wry smiles fade with "The Pre-Persons" and its futuristic comment on abortion laws. The title hints at the core question: when does a human organism attain true identity? Hyperbole dramatizes the issue as Dick's future society names age twelve as the time when a human being acquires soul and thus is rendered inviolate.

In the story, all children up to the age of twelve live under the constant threat of being "aborted" by their parents; occasionally a truck roams the neighborhood and one of their playmates is gone.

1 I'm not sure about the copyright situation (the story is 45 years old and still available in anthologies), but there are a few PDFs online if you look for it.

Peter - Reinstate Monica

Posted 2019-12-17T15:59:33.193

Reputation: 617

+1 for reference to PKD. – puppetsock – 2019-12-18T20:41:08.677

It seems that your answer to the question in the title is “there is none”, but you haven’t made this explicit. Could you please do so for the benefit of the reader? – Konrad Rudolph – 2019-12-20T15:23:48.453

1@KonradRudolph Is "Dick illustrates his opinion that there is no ethical difference between aborting fetuses and killing children" not explicit enough? – Peter - Reinstate Monica – 2019-12-20T17:12:02.683

@Peter-ReinstateMonica Just clarifying that you are indeed proffering his view as an answer, rather than, say, noting it here for its patent absurdity, since the scenario is clearly not how Roe v Wade actually played out and is thus clearly strawmanning. – Konrad Rudolph – 2019-12-20T18:36:17.650


There's some great philosophy written on this topic (see Thomson). Suffice to say, even if you assume that a fetus is a child, a pregnant person still has the right to terminate the pregnancy. The difference is in how the two bodies relate to each other, and the mechanics of how support is provided.

Put simply:

No one can force you to donate blood. However, donating blood saves lives; if you choose not to donate blood, are you guilty of murder? No, of course not.

Similarly, a woman has the right to cease donating blood to a fetus. That has the consequence of ending the pregnancy. If the fetus is not viable without that blood (and other resources) then the result is an abortion.

For an infant, it's no longer a matter of donating blood; the infant is not literally living off of the parent's body. The parent can choose to give up responsibility for the child and put it up for adoption without resulting in the death of the child. Neglect of a child, while maintaining responsibility for it (that is, not putting up for adoption), is a crime (because it is not fulfilling a responsibility that has been accepted).

Basically, the 'death' of the fetus is not the purpose of enforcing the right to bodily autonomy, but can be a result (depending on viability); infanticide, however, implies specific (malicious) intent.

Elliot Schrock

Posted 2019-12-17T15:59:33.193

Reputation: 174

7But abortions are rarely about "ceasing to donate blood to the fetus". They involve taking drugs to deliberately induce miscarriage, introducing invasive instruments into the womb to mutilate the fetus and extract it from the womb, or as simple as deliberate force induced trauma to kill the fetus. I don't see how it's anything but the right to enforce bodily autonomy. – Cell – 2019-12-18T16:19:42.177

5It's unclear how you jump from citing Thomson's (justly famous) article to the unequivocal claim, "A pregnant person still has the right to terminate the pregnancy." Thomson is hardly the last word on the issue, and while you may certainly defend her arguments, or claim that you are convinced by them, it's misleading to present them as uncontroversial. – brianpck – 2019-12-18T17:18:55.037

Mmm, what I was trying to say with that @Cell was that the decision to enforce the right comes first, and the consequences follow. No one is out here terminating their pregnancy just for the sake of doing so – it's a result of a desire to enforce their bodily autonomy. Apologies for the confusion, I think I phrased that part poorly. – Elliot Schrock – 2019-12-18T17:24:52.333

@brianpck I suspect no one here believes the topic to be uncontroversial :) But yes, you are absolutely correct, I'm certainly glossing over the nuances and point/counter-points with the issue. I wanted to give a succinct, clear answer to the question, while also giving OP an entry point into the literature if they wanted to go deeper. I think Thomson is a good starting point, and OP can go from there should they desire (there's def enough criticism on both sides), but I didn't want to over answer, if you will. But I'd be delighted to read (and upvote!) an answer you wrote with more nuance! – Elliot Schrock – 2019-12-18T17:45:37.637

1Global substitute "blood" with "money" making the appropriate changes in the rest of the statement. Why does "bodily autonomy" not allow me to decline to the responsibility to support people through my taxes? – puppetsock – 2019-12-18T20:32:15.933

2@puppetsockreinstateMonica this is not a well formed argument, but it doesn't seem appropriate to conflate taking of one's body with taking of one's property. Your property is not your self. – Mr.Mindor – 2019-12-18T20:39:57.930

1@Mr.Mindor My self is not my property? – puppetsock – 2019-12-18T20:42:46.717

I smell the "conversation too long for comments" hammer. Oh well. – puppetsock – 2019-12-18T20:43:17.703

5@puppetsockreinstateMonica you can! You have the right to not pay taxes to America, you just can't also benefit from American society; that is, you'll have to renounce your citizenship and move to another country (which you have the right to do). Taxes are the price we (as a society through our right to vote) have placed on citizenship, but that doesn't take away your right to not participate – you just can't have your cake and eat it too. – Elliot Schrock – 2019-12-18T21:02:22.873

3A voluntary blood donor in general did not beget the life he is contemplating doing a good deed for. Proximity and responsibility defeat the argument that a person is as obligated to give blood to those with whom he has had no prior contact as a mother is to nourish her own offspring. The blood donor analogy also does not seem well supported on another level: The fetus manufactures his or her own blood in a circulatory system that is physically isolated from the mother's. A primary purpose of the placenta is to exchange oxygen and nutrients from the mother to child, not blood itself. – pygosceles – 2019-12-18T22:21:22.460

2@pygosceles embedded in your comment is the assumption that procreation is voluntary and intentional. this is not always the case, particularly in the population of those contemplating abortion. – Dancrumb – 2019-12-19T17:27:31.420

1@Dancrumb Statistically, procreation was voluntary and intentional for the overwhelming majority of those engaging in abortion; see ka101's excellent answer that accounts for this by limiting the argument to elective abortions. Rape and incest are in fact relatively rare and it would be crass to lump those into the same category as intentional procreation. Responsibility is self-evidently contingent upon conscious choice. Therefore I invoke the principle that responsibility is very different between cases of conscious choice and actions entirely beyond one's own control. – pygosceles – 2019-12-19T18:47:42.470

2"Statistically" demands evidence. If you're arguing stats, you need to reference them. Also, "procreation" means conception. The act of intercourse does not imply that conception is an intended outcome. I did not even mention rape or incest. Birth control is not infallible and even the most concerted of efforts to avoid conception can fail. – Dancrumb – 2019-12-19T19:42:49.103

Here is the flaw in your argument: the responsibility has been placed upon the mother to take care of the child. If someone leaves a baby on your doorstep, and you notice it, you have a responsibility to preserve the life of that baby. Even if it's totally unfair the hand of cards that life has dealt you, that is the circumstance you're in and that life is your responsibility unless and until you can hand it off to someone else. You wouldn't slit the baby's throat (or worse, chop it up into tiny little bits) and then declare that it was never your responsibility, would you? – Andrew – 2019-12-20T19:55:59.970

Also, in the vast majority of cases, the mother and father voluntarily had sex, and that baby's life is their responsibility. Calling it not a living human being because it's a fetus and not yet a "baby" doesn't magically eradicate said responsibility. – Andrew – 2019-12-20T19:57:04.873

@ElliotSchrock, you can move to another country, but IRS will still raid your bank account if you can’t figure out how to take it with you. Unless you renounce your citizenship, which is only effective if you fill out forms, prove you owe no taxes, pay an “exit fee,” and no longer obtain income from a US source. – WGroleau – 2019-12-20T22:27:08.103


where is the philosophical line here?

There is no such line post-conception. Human life is initiated at conception, and only disease, injury, natural and innate responses to inviability can terminate the life from progressing and growing in utero. Voluntarily invoking such termination constitutes elective abortion. The fact that the child is dependent on his or her mother (and father) until he or she has reached many facets of developmental maturity does not lessen his or her identity nor the impact of terminating that life.

We would be well-served by asking the question, "What would happen to this child if nature took its course?" Nature includes natural family relations and responsibilities. Interventions that improve the likelihood and quality of life for mother and child are commendable. Interventions that do the opposite for either one are damnable. We declare ourselves to be morally inferior to brute beasts if we destroy our offspring. This is what life is: It is offspring. It grows, it matures, it has some opportunity to thrive within its sphere. Interruption or cessation of that process is rightly called taking a life.

It is incumbent upon all who have feeling hearts and a still-active conscience to share the means of living with their nearest of kin so that no lack of stupid paper money or any other material object or metaphysical desire ever devolves into a pretended justification of murder. Extended family should be relied upon when immediate relatives are absent or cannot provide the needed support. We are all related, we are all connected, and justification and nobility follow the conscious and courageous choice to save a life from the jaws of despair or neglect.

Having sexual relations causes the male and female involved to enter into a non-negotiable contract under immutable and eternal law to care and provide for the offspring that arise or that could arise from such activity. Mortal life begins at conception through the means appointed. Once initiated, nothing can stop the inexorable growth and progress of life but disease or death. Intentionally terminating viable human life resulting from even partially consensual sex whether in or out of the womb is and ought to be a crime against humanity and to be prosecuted as such.

Until people take responsibility for their sexual acts through the societal contract of marriage and family formation, they will increasingly be impelled towards murder and bloodlust in a vain attempt to erase the natural consequences of their actions.


Posted 2019-12-17T15:59:33.193

Reputation: 258

Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

– Geoffrey Thomas – 2019-12-21T10:15:11.407


This remains a subjective debate and it is impossible to draw a clear line, due to the paradox of the heap (also known as the sorites paradox)

If a heap of sand is reduced by a single grain at a time, at what exact point does it cease to be considered a heap?

Similarly, if it is not morally acceptable to kill a toddler, is it acceptable to kill it when it was one second younger? One hour younger? If it is not morally acceptable to kill a newborn, is it acceptable to kill the baby one second before being born? Two seconds? Ten?

Wherever you draw the line where a fetus younger than that is acceptable to be killed and a fetus older than that is not, you inevitably bounce into the problem of two fetuses, one slightly older and one slightly younger, where the two are completely indistinguishable yet one would be morally totally acceptable to be killed, while the other not.

Therefore this question cannot have a clear and precise line, and especially not a line which can unanimously be drawn.


Posted 2019-12-17T15:59:33.193

Reputation: 272

2In society there are many instances where discrete qualities are applied to humans for legal reasons. For example in some places you must be 21 years old to buy alcohol and being a day older or younger doesn't matter. People are pronounced dead based on qualities like lack of consciousness and brain activity and it doesn't matter if you were alive a second ago. Why is it that this becomes an "impossible" task for fetuses if some "personhood" criteria (as mentioned in the question) is applied and not in the other instances? – Cell – 2019-12-19T13:24:33.807

2@Cell : that's true, in a legal sense, but this question was asking about morals and philosophical implications. And the existence of this dilemma does affect how people feel about the topic, legal definitions notwithstanding. – vsz – 2019-12-19T14:05:18.667

The existence of well-established Boolean boundaries (e.g., conception) limits the applicability of the model of granularity reduction. The heap paradox does serve to highlight the absurdity of killing based on age or perceived maturity, but it cannot overcome or even model the well-defined boundary that is egg fertilization, where it has no applicability. Augmenting this answer with an acknowledgement of well-defined boundary conditions could transform it into a very good and solid argument that covers these bases well. – pygosceles – 2019-12-19T18:28:33.067

3This line of reasoning goes back before conception. It must not be morally acceptable to throw out an egg and a sperm in two separate test tubes, that someone was going to mix in another test tube tomorrow! – user253751 – 2019-12-19T19:22:19.417

3@user253751 : that's not a really convincing argument. According to your example, "no sand at all" is to be considered a heap of sand, because someone later might bring some sand. The comparison with the sand heap was that a single grain of sand is not a heap, and a single cell is not a human. The dilemma is where to draw the line. – vsz – 2019-12-20T19:18:57.383

1In other words, what pygosceles is saying is that there is a Boolean here: conceived or not. That's where life truly begins, and that's why we say any fetus killed is murder. There is no heap argument here (except to disprove that a fetus at a particular age is alive or not alive; though some opt for heartbeat or brain activity etc.). Many try to argue that it is once the baby is born that they are alive, but there is literally no difference inside or outside except for a feeding tube and the location. – Andrew – 2019-12-20T19:49:36.563

@Andrew : yes, for those who believe that a fertilized egg is a full human being with a soul, this is not an issue. However, for those who believe that an x week old fetus is not a human because the brain is not yet sufficiently developed, it can be a dilemma. – vsz – 2019-12-20T19:55:07.470

@vsz Well that's easy to address: we are all more than our bodies. Things like our conscience, free will, the order of the universe, intelligent design, understanding that there is more than just what we tangibly observe, etc. all point to this. Also if this is not the case then we should stop having "made-up" laws and just live by nature: might makes right, natural selection, take what you want, etc. Whoever is strongest and smartest and best will thrive anyways, there's no right and wrong anymore because we're all just science and nothing more. Any attempt to argue otherwise is BS. – Andrew – 2019-12-20T20:14:24.440

1If a sperm and egg, the moment prior to conception is "no sand" than what is no sperm and no egg? – Cell – 2019-12-21T02:45:46.813

@Andrew Born or not is also a boolean; so is heartbeat or not; so is neural tube closure or not; so is soul or not (hypothetically). Why choose conception as the particular boolean you are interested it? – user253751 – 2019-12-22T01:20:56.883

1@user253751 Because at that point in time is when the process begins of a human being's formation. Before sex, and before contraception, there is no natural process of a human being forming. Once the sperm enters the egg, unless one takes a bunch of metal tools and crushes the fetus into pieces, there is going to be what everyone considers to be a human being coming out of the womb. Therefore, it is at this point in time that they are a living, human being. – Andrew – 2019-12-22T01:25:08.583

If you say that there is nothing wrong with crushing them into pieces then I say that you say there is nothing wrong with crushing any human being into pieces. – Andrew – 2019-12-22T01:26:24.047

@Andrew right, so it boils down to: Andrew believes that this Boolean condition happens to align with the correct minimum heap size, so Andrew states that the heapiness is objectively related to this Boolean condition, instead of the size of the heap, and therefore Andrew claims there can be no ambiguity, because it is a Boolean condition. – user253751 – 2019-12-22T01:27:12.317

@user253751 Nope. It boils down to: either a human being is forming in the womb, or they're not. – Andrew – 2019-12-22T01:27:52.897

Make sure you're educated on what an abortion actually constitutes, by the way: https://www.abortionprocedures.com Also there are plenty of undercover videos of what Planned Parenthood does that will open your eyes as to the value of what's inside the womb.

– Andrew – 2019-12-22T01:28:33.703

@Andrew Well, formingness is not a Boolean state but a gradient. – user253751 – 2019-12-22T16:37:10.813

@user253751 Exactly why it's a stupid argument. – Andrew – 2019-12-22T23:11:08.380


While a great number of arguments have been advanced in an attempt to justify elective abortion (we'll lay aside the rape/incest/danger to the health of the mother cases for now since those are a minority and a somewhat distinct can of worms), none of them are particularly convincing. Many examples exist of human beings that cannot feel pain, possess no true sense of self-awareness, cannot survive on their own, etc. that any reasonable, sane person would not feel comfortable judging as "not a person" or unentitled to live. I can empathize with the typical arguments related to women's rights, but those cannot hold in the case of voluntary sexual activity in light of the above arguments.

I'm afraid that in a sense, abortion is the (American) Left's equivalent of climate change denial; inconvenient facts are distorted and rationalized away in an attempt to justify current behaviors.

(Update based on comments) Nor is the fact that many governing bodies condone and/or promote the practice of abortion proof of its moral rectitude/acceptability. Governing bodies throughout history (including those of first-world countries in recent history) have promoted many practices that we now denounce as wrong - Japanese internment during WWII, pogroms, the excesses of the McCarthy era, the execution of political opponents, etc, so governmental support cannot be taken as proof of moral rightness, regardless of whether or not those decisionmakers are genuinely convinced of the rightness of their decisions.


Posted 2019-12-17T15:59:33.193

Reputation: 51

9-1. "none of them are particularly convincing." They are convincing enough that many first world countries allow abortions. And euthanasia is a counter example to the examples you listed. People DO feel comfortable pulling the plug on hospitalized family members that have a terrible quality of life or are in a permanent coma etc. regardless of your opinion. – Cell – 2019-12-18T19:12:49.860

2Many first world countries are also taking essentially no effective action against climate change. Does that make it right? "Everyone else is doing it" is not necessarily a valid argument regarding the rightness/wrongness of something. To your second point, pulling the plug on someone with a terrible quality of life is different from ending a perfectly viable life. My point in saying those things was to point out that those conditions do not necessarily render a being "not a person" or "not entitled to life," arguments made to justify elective abortion. – ka101 – 2019-12-18T19:31:22.113

(Updated post to clarify.) – ka101 – 2019-12-18T19:38:29.313

7@ka101 Cell does not appear to be saying first world countries allowing it makes it right. They are countering that the justifications you do not find particularly convincing ARE convincing to many first world governing bodies. – Uueerdo – 2019-12-18T19:54:00.977

1@Uueerdo That's exactly what I'm saying. – Cell – 2019-12-18T20:17:49.377

@Cell Except that "government bodies hold them up as justification" is very different from "government bodies find them convincing." If you can point at a government leader who does not constantly lie his ass off, you won't get tired doing it because there are not many of them. It's what they do. – puppetsock – 2019-12-18T20:40:25.300

2I'm not necessarily disagreeing that those bodies haven't found those arguments convincing, rather than their approval doesn't necessarily bestow moral correctness upon the practice. Various governing bodies throughout history have been convinced of the rightness of and condoned a variety of practices that we now hold up as wrong - the Inquisition, Japanese internment during WWII, etc. All sanctioned by governing bodies, all wrong. Therefore, the approval of a court, legislature, executive, or any other authority does not convey moral rightness upon a practice. – ka101 – 2019-12-18T20:42:36.137

5@ka101 no one was claiming government approval conveys rightness. – Uueerdo – 2019-12-18T21:28:28.463

2This is a very good answer and it is factually correct and relies on sound reasoning. Extremely helpful points have been raised about the existence of clearly sentient human beings who do not possess various of the criteria frequently applied in an attempt to rule out fetuses as a form of human life. I don't agree with the comments about "convincing" not qualifying as a form of justification. A Congressman only needs to be convinced of a thing to vote for it. – pygosceles – 2019-12-18T22:03:22.950

i also find the answer far more convincing than the objections raised by @Cell. and i am pretty far left of center. (like i am a Bernie supporter.) – robert bristow-johnson – 2019-12-19T23:54:35.727


In the grand scheme of things, disallowing abortion would be similar to forced kidney transplants to relatives,. If your relative is sick and can only survive with your kidney, is society morally obliged to take yours? Or is that tyrannical, by itself, even with justification? So, the question of the morality of having an abortion and the morality of disallowing abortion can be separate, and can both be wrong or right by their own merits.

Stian Yttervik

Posted 2019-12-17T15:59:33.193

Reputation: 125

2I think the more apt comparison would be, at what point during the procedure to transplant a kidney to somebody else can you change your mind? – puppetsock – 2019-12-18T20:37:25.017

2You did not beget your non-offspring relatives. The principle of responsibility applies: Those responsible for the action are those who are to be held responsible for its outcomes, including, centrally, progeny. This is a deliberate choice. – pygosceles – 2019-12-18T23:53:02.067

7@pygosceles Your claim that every pregnancy, without exception, is a deliberate act of will is self-evidently false. – barbecue – 2019-12-19T00:41:49.280

2@barbecue that is a rare exception, and the responsibility principle still applies without exception: people are not responsible for what they did not choose to do. They are responsible for what they do choose to do. My statement clearly applies to all consensual activities. – pygosceles – 2019-12-19T05:24:16.233

@pygosceles you miss the main point. I am stating that the morality of having an abortion, and the morality of denying someone a medical procedure are two different things. The latter is tyranny, no matter the former. – Stian Yttervik – 2019-12-19T07:02:42.980

4@pygosceles No. Your comment did NOT clearly apply to all consensual activities. If it had, I would not have made the comment I did. I also question the morality of holding people responsible for things they are incapable of understanding, but that's a separate discussion. – barbecue – 2019-12-19T14:30:28.147

2@barbecue Your refusal to take the principle of responsibility for what it is and in the appropriate context is not my wrongdoing. Comments are of necessity brief. Those who consciously engage in an action are responsible for its outcomes--hence the urgent necessity to educate people. I highly doubt that even one adult in a million could be found who sincerely does not know that sexual activity can beget life. Clearly defining responsibility for the overwhelming majority is not a disservice. – pygosceles – 2019-12-19T18:08:56.663

2@StianYttervik I don't disagree with the conclusion that choosing abortion or choosing to disallow abortion can have some distinct lines of reasoning and merit or lack of merit. However, I would work on the premise that disallowing abortion is akin to forcing kidney transplants--the two situations are vastly different, due in part to the principle of responsibility I have outlined here. Someone else's need for a kidney is (hopefully) not due to a conscious choice on your part. Pregnancy typically is due to conscious personal choice.We are not liable for others' choices, but we are for our own. – pygosceles – 2019-12-19T18:15:42.817

@pygosceles everything can be linked to a conscious choice. I decided to step into the street and got ran over by a car. Nobody is a victim of any other circumstances than the total sum of their choices. – Stian Yttervik – 2019-12-20T00:19:46.347

1@pygosceles my point is, that irrespective the reason, for society to take the sovereignty over someone's body in order to assist a third party is tyranny. What value does life have, unborn or not, if it is not free from tyranny? The whole argument is self defeating – Stian Yttervik – 2019-12-20T00:25:42.500

@pygosceles your refusal to understand what I'm actually saying is not my wrongdoing. You made an unqualified generalization, I called you on it, you backtracked, and that's all there is to it. – barbecue – 2019-12-20T15:52:18.887

@barbecue I said, "the principle of responsibility applies: Those responsible for the action are those to be held responsible for its outcomes, including, centrally, progeny. This is a deliberate choice". "This" refers to "Those responsible for the action". I thought that was clear. Those not conscious of the action nor deliberately participating in it are not responsible for it. Please read my comments here and on other answers. The claim that I said that all sexual activity and conception are consensual does not hold, not even from the beginning. I did not backtrack. Use reasonable context. – pygosceles – 2019-12-20T18:38:13.143

@StianYttervik I am not sure what you mean. Clearly it is not tyrannical to hold people accountable for their conscious actions. Civilized society necessarily consists in protecting the rights of so-called "third-parties" from infringement by any other party--first, second or third. – pygosceles – 2019-12-20T18:39:52.763

@pygosceles people are accountable for their actions, I do not claim otherwise? But to whom and for why and to what end? To remove their mandate to medical assistance on behalf of another person - even if that person is unborn, is not in accordance with principles of humanity. I am not saying abortion is 'right' just that to deny it is worse. – Stian Yttervik – 2019-12-20T19:06:30.527

@StianYttervik We are each responsible towards those whose lives we affect by our actions. Dispute resolution is a relevant field. Who will provide an attorney for the rights of the unborn? If there is no recourse for mediation to protect rights, we accept anarchy. If people do not want to accept the responsibility of pregnancy, they should not commit the sole act that results in pregnancy. If contraceptives fail, that is a risk they already consciously chose to accept and are accountable for it. No one else is nor can nor should be made accountable for it. – pygosceles – 2019-12-20T19:11:01.840

@StianYttervik "...irrespective the reason, for society to take the sovereignty over someone's body in order to assist a third party is tyranny." What the heck?! That's a totally absurd claim! What about arresting criminals? Jail? Self-defense? Killing mass shooters? Impounding cars and foreclosing houses in which they drive and live? There are all kinds of wholly justified and necessary instances of "taking over the sovereignty of someone" in order to assist a third party that are by no means tyrannical. – Andrew – 2019-12-20T20:05:03.757

@pygosceles You are dodging my point. Did you or did you not make this statement? " The principle of responsibility applies: Those responsible for the action are those who are to be held responsible for its outcomes, including, centrally, progeny." Yes, you did. That is the comment I responded to. You backtracked when you said "My statement clearly applies to all consensual activities" and I correctly pointed out that that was NOT true, and it was NOT clear. That's all I'm saying. I don't care what viewpoint you're espousing, your use of language was sloppy, and I pointed that out. End. – barbecue – 2019-12-21T01:20:10.443

@barbecue I already quoted that earlier statement verbatim to break it down for you. I am not dodging anything. You are being very dense by taking the term "responsibility" to include things over which one has no power, which is not a reasonable interpretation, especially given the context. "Those responsible for the action" does not within reason apply to those who did not initiate or decide on that action. This is evident from the actual meanings of the words I used. I should not be having to explain this. – pygosceles – 2019-12-22T07:22:00.487


We are trying to present a difference between two persons to kill one of them. That's totally normal. We kill people in war, we kill on the road, we kill people with pollution. We tolerate the deaths. Because these deaths are for a greater goal: Security, Freedom, Wealth.

We don't tolerate murder. As opposed to the above, a murder is killing for the personal benefit of the single murderer.

You are allowed to kill, when you belong to a tolerated group. e.g. Army, Cardriver, Energyprovider ...

We have a pretty weird morality when we talk about killing. This could be solved. Imagine two worlds:

a) Killing is totally legal. At best every human behaves in a form that there will be no reason for the other human to kill him. A world of eremites?

b) Killing is not tolerated in any case That would mean that the reasons for killing must be nullified. Eg we have to provide enough social workers, that conflicts would be solved early enough. We should share our wealth that there is no reason for other countries to attack us. We should provide technical barriers that cars can't kill ...

To solve the problem of abortion, we should not try make difference between different stages of fetal development. We either declare it as legal. Because we cannot make the difference between a child in a first world country or a child in Kabul. Both would be killed by a person.

Or ...

We declare all life as precious. Than we should begin to give mothers a chance to raise the kid in without loosing income, social status or freedom. This would afford a massive investion in healthcare, psychological assists, jobs ... And we have to get rid of all weapons, armies, ...

Tell me the difference between a child killed on the road, a child killed by a bomb, a child starved from hunger and a child killed in a womb.

No, don't tell me, tell it the desperate mother. Tell her from face to face. In private, when you are empathic enough to listen to her sorrows.

I couldn't tell her.

Joachim Weiß

Posted 2019-12-17T15:59:33.193

Reputation: 117

Welcome to SE Philosophy! Thanks for your contribution. Please take a quick moment to take the tour or find help. You can perform searches here or seek additional clarification at the meta site.

– J D – 2019-12-19T14:42:12.367

1So it's a black or white decision? Either it's always okay to end a life, or it's never okay? – user253751 – 2019-12-19T19:23:20.147

wasn't a terribly bad answer until this claim: "To solve the problem of abortion, we should not try make difference between different stages of fetal development.". or are you differentiating between the states of being a fetus and being an embryo? like is this consistent with your position?: To solve the problem of abortion, we should not try make difference between different stages of development of fetii, which have gestated for 9 weeks or more. – robert bristow-johnson – 2019-12-20T00:02:12.307

1Yes, it is a black white decision - dead or alive. @robert from a scientific point of view I agree with you. However if talking to the hardliners even contraceptives are murder. But it hides the real problem. We first have to be consistant in how we treat life, and than make a decision on the definition of the start. – Joachim Weiß – 2019-12-20T06:42:44.100

1@JoachimWeiß Do you believe it is okay to poison ants or swat flies? How about washing hands? – user253751 – 2019-12-20T10:54:52.227

@user253751 how are non-human deaths relevant to a discussion of human deaths? – barbecue – 2019-12-20T15:54:58.297

1@barbecue Well, he said that either all killing is fine, or all killing is bad. Maybe I can prove that he doesn't believe the second one. – user253751 – 2019-12-20T15:59:02.993

@user253751 his comments were made within the specific context of human life, not all life. You expanded the frame of reference to include all organisms, which is not what he was talking about. Changing the frame of reference changes the argument. – barbecue – 2019-12-20T16:14:03.887

2@barbecue How can I tell that he is only talking about human life? And is there a reason why this argument should discriminate between human and non-human life? Why don't we ask Joachim himself? – user253751 – 2019-12-20T16:21:44.213

Perhaps I couldn't make my point clear. We are living in a society where human life hasn't much value. Death by traffic, guns, war, poor medical condition, drugs ... We are now pointing on young women and telling them that they should respect life. While the society doesn't respect life at all. My point is, that we first have to come to a decision wether we respect all life or not. And then we can define wether we grant human life, animal live or even microbe live ;-) – Joachim Weiß – 2019-12-20T16:27:03.703

@user253751 he is free to respond or not as he sees fit. The reason I could tell he was talking about human life in particular is that he specifically said so earlier in his first paragraph. He specified people, not animals, not organisms. That established the frame of reference for his answer. It's possible that he may have suddenly changed the frame of reference without mentioning it, but it doesn't really make sense to do so, and would invalidate many of his points if he did so. – barbecue – 2019-12-20T16:27:43.237

1@barbecue If you argue that killing humans is wrong but killing non-humans is okay, then you need a reason for this. Especially when you have an answer, arguing that if killing certain humans is wrong but killing other humans is okay, then you need a reason for it. – user253751 – 2019-12-20T16:39:01.037

Wow what a whacky set of beliefs you have! Okay so, no, we do not tolerate killing because of "tolerated groups" like the army etc. If the army goes around killing innocent civilians (and people are aware of this), you better believe they're going to get punished. It's not about "groups", it's about why a person is killed. The "difference between a child killed on the road, a child killed by a bomb, a child starved from hunger[,] and a child killed in a womb" is what that child has done. Did the child pick up a gun and start shooting people senselessly, or are they innocent? – Andrew – 2019-12-20T20:09:43.547

So Andrew, you decide it? That army gets punished for killing civilians would rule out all bombs. What has a child starving of hunger done? I don't want to question your ruling.But if you have measurement of any type it will be questionable because there is no base for it. Is the live of a child per se worthless and its value ist decided by where it lives (e.g. Pakistan, near a terrorist or a flat in London) or do we value the lives of all children equal. It would not save all lives at once, but it would imply that everything would be done to save them. What is the base of your opinion? – Joachim Weiß – 2019-12-20T20:53:46.363

@user253751 where on earth do you get the idea that I'm arguing anything at all about whether or not killing is ok? Certainly you did not get that from any comment I made. You seem to be under the mistaken impression that because I commented on your comment, I must agree with the answer. I didn't say killing is OK, or not OK, for people or animals. The point I made, which is absolutely correct, is that by expanding the discussion from talking about humans only to talking about all living things significantly changes the frame of reference. I seriously hope you are not claiming otherwise... – barbecue – 2019-12-21T01:11:28.267

@barbecue I am commenting on the answer by asking for a reason why the answer should be restricted to humans, when the same line of reasoning naturally applies to non-humans as well. Answer: "Bob is blind because he has red hair." Me: "But Charlie has red hair and he's not blind." You: "Your argument makes no sense, user253751! The scope of the answer was restricted to Bob!" – user253751 – 2019-12-22T01:18:07.323

@user253751 If you wanted to make a more accurate analogy, it would be something like this... OP: "Red-headed people have fiery tempers!" You: "Wrong, my irish setter has red hair and does not have a fiery temper." ME: "The original question was about red-haired people, dogs were not included." YOU: Your argument makes no sense, the same line of reasoning applies to animals too." – barbecue – 2019-12-22T01:27:53.543

Yes, the REASONING is the same, but REASONING is not at issue, the premises are what is in question. The premise: Killing humans is wrong. Your separate premise: Anything that applies to humans also applies to animals. I reject your premise. If I accepteded it, then I would agree that your reasoning leads to the correct conclusion, but since I don't. the validity of your logic is irrelevant, because validity says nothing about truth values. – barbecue – 2019-12-22T01:29:23.913

Actually, it's: Answer: "There is no moral difference between X group and Y group, because there is no moral difference between any two groups in XY." Me: "But why restrict yourself to XY? Group Z has a moral difference - how come all subgroups of XY are the same, but not all subgroups of XYZ." You: "Your argument makes no sense, the answer was restricted to group XY." – user253751 – 2019-12-22T16:35:34.903


It's hard to argue scientifically that a child's sense of identity and ability to feel pain is 'turned on' at the very moment of birth. Or at any other point. The boundary between abortion and infanticide is an artificial legal and moral construct. And, as we know, some legal and/or moral systems place the cut-off point some time before birth, even as far back as the moment of conception.

As far as I know, none place it AFTER birth. 'My parents wanted to have me aborted. But they were told it was too late, I'd started school' is a joke.

So the answer to the question - as is stated IN the question - can only be that the moral difference is wherever a community chooses to put it. Few moral issues are absolute. Though communities often like to claim that THEIRS are, even when circumstance makes otherwise plainly evident! :-)

Laurence Payne

Posted 2019-12-17T15:59:33.193

Reputation: 109

Thanks for your answer. Within what moral framework do you claim that few moral issues are absolute? – pygosceles – 2019-12-20T19:18:08.190


A way to lower the emotional aspects this question evokes and yet maintain the logical aspects would be not to talk about toddlers but kittens. So, what is the logical difference between: to kill a kitten for no reason versus to kill a cat fetus for no reason?

To answer this question, I list the differences and similarities between and a cat fetus and a kitten

Differences between cat fetus and kitten: (location) The kitten is outside the mother the fetus is inside the mother (age) The kitten is older than the fetus (size) Fetus is small kitten is bigger (abilities) Kitten can do more things than the fetus

Similarities between cat fetus and kitten: (uniqueness) The fetus and the kitten are unique; they are not biologically part of the mother (basic needs) To stay alive and grow the fetus and the kitten only need food and shelter (keeping alive) For the fetus the mother provides food and shelter automatically; feeding and protecting a kitten is also an automatic instinctive act of the mother (state of being) The fetus and kitten are alive (completeness) Kitten and fetus are genetically complete (state of development) Kitten and fetus do not yet have all the attributes of an adult cat (potential) In time kitten and fetus can reach same level of development (biological branch) Fetus and kitten are cats

The similarities between cat fetuses and kittens are greater than their differences. The differences only refer to location, age, size and abilities; thus, in essence, they are trivial. These differences are also present between kittens and adult cats. Therefore, if it is against the law to kill kittens for no reason it should also be against the law kill cat fetuses for no reason.

Eduardo Flores

Posted 2019-12-17T15:59:33.193

Reputation: 1

This completely glosses over the crucial difference between an embryo and a fetus, while most abortion laws do only allow for abortion of embryos (with some notable exceptions for special cases). Thus, the comparison kind of misses the point around which the discussions turn. If you did the same thing for an embryo, you'd realise that embryos are not biologically independent. And, more importantly, just stating that a fetus is alive (human fetuses are biologically unable to survive, ie. self-sustain, before the 20th-ish week, even with ideal support) seems unsubstantiated. – Philip Klöcking – 2020-01-19T16:36:47.777


Now I had to register an account here as well as I feel most answers are lacking in tackling step one of answering the question. The question is for a moral difference. A perception of right and wrong. Most here seem to grasp the complexity of the question and the effort it entails to actually form a moral standpoint about this. I have no proof, but believe that most with an opinion has not put enough effort into the question to come up with a view of their own, but rather adopted a view. In such cases I would argue that it is not a moral standpoint, but a religious or political one. (No, I did not put this last in only to generate comments to my answer.)

To look at it from each individuals view point is of course not a viable option here, but some possible examples might serve to indicate the scope of the question and why it should most definitely be broken down into smaller components (unless a specific individuals moral compass is sought).

First you have the definition of life. A fetus, like a toddler is a life and therefore it is wrong to take a life by having an abortion. Moral priority is on all life is sacred coupled with a definition of a fetus as a separate living organism. This argument is fundamentally a fanatical approach that many people seem to reference but none live up to. We all take life by living and it is an inescapable fact. What is meant is usually that it is a human individual and as such must not be killed. Here is where the whole debate enters a territory of what is an individual and morality then becomes a question of how to define something as complex as a person which is then simplified by most to be manageable.

Another consideration is area of responsibility. A fetus is a part of an individual, like the cecum. While the toddler has been separated and has its own place in society. To debate morals from this perspective then becomes a matter of drawing the line between an individuals rights and obligations.

With only the two highly simplified examples above we also get the further complexities of two sides arguing the morals of abortion from these two perspectives and thus mixing up the topics. One side arguing against abortion from a all life matters perspective while another is arguing for abortion from an area of responsibility perspective. Not only does that require a stance within the individual areas, but also a stance of which moral area takes precedence.

So these are two different ways of seeing the moral differences, there are others like importance placed on quality of life and the obligations of society to care for the children if abortion is allowed/not allowed.

The question itself was not very interesting to me as I found it exceedingly biased, but I found that the answers did not sufficiently enough challenge the fundamentals which is why I tried to add a pinch of my thoughts (though this format does not lend itself well to deep philosophical reasoning from what I see here). What I did find to be an intriguing aspect of this massive question is the fact that to me, the presence of abortion means that you can put higher demands on the care of the toddler. Infanticide is not really something I consider to be a serious issue, but if it was, then it would be more immoral because of the option of abortion. Now there is a moral difference to consider.


Posted 2019-12-17T15:59:33.193

Reputation: 1

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