Friday, May 31, 2024

An argument in pictures and symbols

Drawings: Adobe stock; Photos: elephant and human


estejpg said...

But couldn't we say a few things in response:

1. The predicate "organism" is a "substance sortal" rather than a "phase sortal." It is impossible, then, for the very same entity to transition from being a non-organism to being an organism. Therefore, when a human organism comes into existence, that entity is numerically distinct from the zygote or embryo that temporally preceded it. The zygote or early embryo ceases to exist before a human organism comes into existence (similar to how an amoeba ceases to exist when it splits into two).

2. Same as (1) up until the last sentence. The zygote or early embryo later co-exists with a human organism. Perhaps it becomes a proper part of that organism.

3. This rejects an assumption common to (1) and (2). Strictly speaking, there are no zygotes or early embryos (so long as we understand these to be individual things rather than pluralities of things). At best, expressions like "the zygote" or "the embryo" are disguised plural terms for designating some cells taken together, not for some further thing. At worst, expressions like "the zygote" or "the embryo" do not refer to anything; we just make-believe that these expressions refer to something for the sake of convenience.

In other words, there is no entity to which a zygote or embryo is identical that is distinct from each of the cells with which "it" is associated: ¬∃x ((x = the zygote) & (x ≠ first cell) & (x ≠ second cell) & (x ≠ nth cell)). When a human organism later comes into existence, these cells come to compose a new (distinct) entity, the human organism, which has those cells as proper parts. But prior to that, there is no organism (or "non-organism zygote" or whatever) distinct from the pregnant person that has these cells as proper parts.

SMatthewStolte said...

I would be interested in your reflections about arguments in pictures and symbols in general. It would be natural for philosophers to try to translate what you have presented into an argument in words. Would something be lost in the process? Do picture-arguments sometimes do a better job activating our intuitions than word-arguments? Also: from the perspective of the translator, picture arguments look like they are ambiguous, since they don’t fully determine which words are needed to translate. But might there be advantages to this seeming ambiguity, advantages for the sake of truth-finding? Does the impulse to translate into words risk neglecting key aspects of human cognition? And so on.

Ben Stowell said...

The pro choicer can respond "Yes, human fetuses are human. I even accept that personal identity holds such that I was once a fetus. But killing humans is sometimes justified, even when they are innocent."

It seems many folks on the anti abortion side (I do not accuse Pruss of this) think that once you establish that fetuses are humans or persons then the debate is over. But that's not remotely true.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think there is a big divide between the ordinary lay pro-choicer and the philosopher pro-choicer. The ordinary lay pro-choicer tends to think there is a big mystery "where human life begins" but is confident that it doesn't begin in the first trimester. The philosopher, on the other hand, tends to think that the life of human organisms starts at conception or implantation, but distinguishes persons from humans in one of two ways: either being a person is a phase sortal that some but not all human organisms have, or there is co-location for normal adult humans so that there is a person and a human organism in the same place but the two are numerically distinct (and the person comes into existence later). Another related difference is that, I suspect, the typical philosophical pro-choicer tends to think that personhood begins around a year _after_ birth, but almost no ordinary lay pro-choicer thinks that.