Wednesday, July 22, 2020

In-vitro fertilization and artificial intelligence

Catholics believe that:

  1. The only permissible method of human reproduction is marital intercourse.

Supposing we accept (1), we are led to this interesting question:

  1. Is it permissible for humans to produce non-human persons by means other than marital intercourse?

It seems to me that a positive answer to (2) would fit poorly with (1). First of all, it would be very strange if we could, say, clone Homo neanderthalensis, or produce them by IVF, but not so for Homo sapiens. But perhaps “human” in (1) and (2) is understood broadly enough to include Neanderthals. It still seems that a positive answer to (2) would be implausible given (1). Imagine that there were a separate evolutionary development starting with some ape and leading to an intelligent hominid definitely different from humans, but rather humanlike in behavior. It would be odd to say that we may clone them but can’t clone us.

This suggests to me that if we accept (1), we should probably answer (2) in the negative. Moreover, the best explanation of (1) leads to a negative answer to (2). For the best explanation of (1) is that human beings are something sacred, and sacred things should not be produced without fairly specific divine permission. It is plausible that we have such permission in the case human marital coital reproduction, but we have no evidence of such permission elsewhere. But all persons are sacred (that’s one of the great lessons of personalism). So, absent evidence of specific divine permission, we should assume that it is wrong for us to produce non-human persons by means other than marital intercourse. Moreover, it is dubious that we have been given permission to produce non-human persons by means of marital intercourse. So, we should just assume that:

  1. It is wrong for us to produce non-human persons.

Moreover, if this is wrong, it’s probably pretty seriously wrong. So we also shouldn’t take significant risks of producing non-human persons. This means that unless we are pretty confident that a computer whose behavior was person-like still wouldn’t be a person, we ought to draw a line in our AI research and stop short of the production of computers with person-like behavior.

Do we have grounds for such confidence? I don’t know that we do. Even if dualism is true and even if the souls of persons are directly created by God, maybe God has a general policy of creating a soul whenever matter is arranged in a way that makes it capable of supporting person-like behavior.

But perhaps is reasonable to think that such a divine policy would only extend to living things?


Christopher Michael said...

(1) plus the true view that all material persons are humans entails a negative answer to (2).

Martin Cooke said...

I suppose that there is some evidence for God having a general policy of creating a soul whenever matter is arranged in a way that makes it capable of supporting person-like behavior in the way that we are allowed to reproduce outside of marriage. But is there really any evidence that AI research is going anywhere near such a capability, beyond the claims of the fans of such research? Computers are only ever running mathematical models of rather superficial aspects of human intelligence.

Analogously, could the spinning of a prayer-wheel ever amount to a real prayer? Where is the evidence for that?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think there is good reason to doubt that necessarily all material persons are human. The nature of a thing grounds what is normal for it. But for us, it's normal to have two legs and two arms, while for intelligent squid eight arms is normal. It is implausible to suppose that our nature encodes what is normal for infinitely many possible biological species.
And if all material persons are human, then 1 is false, or at least not known to be true. For we don't know that there aren't any asexually reproducing material persons.

SMatthewStolte said...

Why not say, (1) is only a specification of

(G1) The only permissible method of human reproduction is the method fitting for human nature.

So the general principle would be,

(G) The only permissible method for producing a person is the method fitting for the nature of that person.

Alexander R Pruss said...

That's an interesting alternative.

Christopher Michael said...

I don't see why our rational nature would have to encode infinitely many biological norms for the infinitely many different biological species of persons there could be. It would simply have to encode the norm that material persons should fulfill all their biological ends, whatever those may be.

But yeah, that would then require us to abstract (1) to a more general principle as Matthew does above.

There is also reason, however, to be suspicious of the jump from the premise that humans may reproduce only in accordance with their nature to the conclusion that humans should produce persons of other natures only in accordance with those natures, because the norms concerning reproduction apply to us in virtue of our possession of the relevant nature, not in virtue of the offspring's possession of the relevant nature. We are bound to obey the norms of our nature, not the norms of the natures of other things. It is bad for cows to be slaughtered for meat, but we may still do it because we aren't bound by the cow norms.

Alexander R Pruss said...

But what specifies our biological ends, if it's not our form? It seems that if our form is not what specifies our biological ends, then our account of biological ends will be no better than the materialist's.

Martin Cooke said...

Are some non-human animals people? I wonder because gorillas can use language, for example, and dogs can perform selfless acts. If so, then Matthew's formulation would seem to be better than the one involving marriage.

With Matthew's formulation there would be no problem with AI research, because that would presumably be fitting. There might otherwise be a problem because plants count as living beings and so presumably a computer that was physically capable of supporting a soul might count as a living being.

T M said...

Dr. Alexander Pruss,

I have a question and would be really grateful if you could answer.

Transhumanism thinks that technologies can be developed to eliminate ageing, enable immortality, and enhance human abilities. And 'AI Takeover' says that humans will be replaced by artificial intelligence.

What is your philosophical /logical critique of these ideologies?

Thanks a lot in advance.

P.S. Any thougts from the others in the blog are welcome :)