(This is the continuation of an argument regarding Mr. Stolyarov's now widely known essay, “An Objectivist Condemnation of Abortion." The beginnings of the debate can be found here.)
MR. MANFRED F. SCHIEDER:
Vienna, August 17, 2004
Dear Mr. Stolyarov:
Thank you for your message of August 13, 2004, to which I submit my reply below. Finding my article “Ayn Rand, I and the Universe” engaging inevitably satisfies my vanity.
On Ayn Rand’s writings: Just for the record I have to mention that we also have to take into consideration the arguments with which Mrs. Rand built up her conclusions. Hence, the total of pages involved with the subject is 64, as follows:
a) “Censorship”: 21 pages
b) “On living death”: 18 pages
c) “A Suggestion”: 2 pages
d) “A last Survey”: 3 pages
e) Letter to John E. Marshall: ½ page
f) “The Age of Mediocrity”: 10 pages
g) “The Sanction of the Victim”: 8 and 1/2 pages
which now makes 1.82% of the total.
Still, I don’t think that these percentages are of any consequence in what refers to the earnestness of the matter involved since what is under discussion is not the amount of writing but the issue itself. In my earlier message I only mentioned the articles involved not on a “weight basis” but to show the importance the matter has in what refers to the practical applications of the filosofy of Objectivism.
There are other subjects within Objectivism which can truly be considered a matter of taste, like using the cigarette as a symbol for the “Galt Movement” (I was a chain smoker for over 30 years ago and, thus, understand why smokers like what they do, with Barbara Branden, who was also a smoker, presenting a strong case against smoking in her Webpage), or a theme that, in my opinion, was a personal pet of Ayn Rand, such as her dislike for a woman to become president of a nation. There are many examples of female presidents, some of them being as bad as men while others leaving a much better record than any male presidents have up to now.
Abortion is not a marginal comment (a “Randbemerkung” if you allow the German language joke since in German “Rand” means “margin”) in Objectivism, but a direct practical application of its basics. It is one of those essentials which we cannot leave aside or change for then we would precisely start altering the basic premises. As a matter of fact it corresponds directly to the fact that evolution “transferred” its workings to us when it developed the evolutionary line that led to the rational human being. I wrote about this in chapter 5 of “Ayn Rand, I and the Universe”.
Hence, we will have to deal again with the subject.
To start with:
“Continuum Theory”/”Futuristic certainty”:
With reference to this I must remind you that the future is never certain. It can be reduced to a joke which contains a deep truth: “The problem with predictions is the fact that they deal with the future… which can’t be forecasted.”
Future foretelling, which includes “futuristic certainty” , is a fallacy which has been proved as such and beyond all doubt by the Austrian School of Economics, particularly Ludwig von Mises. Unfortunately as this may be, even capitalistically minded people fall into the trap and, of course, so do all kind of collectivists (Communists, Socialists, Fascists, Nazis, Democrats, Christians, etc.). They all think that we can “foresee” future developments, needs and requirements. Nowadays the computer freaks adhere to this irrational notion, irrational because they all forget that we are living in a Heisenbergian universe where the “Uncertainty Principle” rules supreme (I refer to this in chapter 6 of my writing “Ayn Rand, I and the Universe”). The fallacy persists and is, thus, the basis of the unreasonable 4 and 5 and 10-year plans which central planners love so much as well as all the useless budget elaboration of private enterprises and official “institutions”. At the end of the year all come out differently from what was expected (in a job I once held as a salesman, the upper echelons considered that the coming year would result in a 10% reduction of sales. By then I had developed a certain idea – we don’t need to go into details here – and the year ended with a 60% increase!).
Not to speak of today’s communication market where fabulous sales are forecasted and the closure of the company comes in its stead sometime during the year… because a competitor had a new invention that superseded everything up to then existing in the branch. Do you know that the president – THE president – of IBM forecasted not too many decades ago that there would only be 5 or perhaps 6 enormous computers world over… all this at the time when Steve Wozniak and Stephen Jobs were developing the “Apple”?
Hence, “Continuum Theories” and so forth cannot be considered as a serious endeavour, though they surely look like it… if we close our eyes about their being a fallacy. Even what looks like a certainty, such as the end result of a pregnancy running its course cannot be considered to be certain as there are all kind of variables involved that make it, per Heisenberg’s rules, uncertain, such as the body rejecting the fetus (a problem for many women who do their very best to become pregnant), an illness of the carrier, and so forth…
So it is not necessary to enter into this matter again and, thus, I will only reply to a question related with actual and potential: Can there be other states that are neither actual nor potential? If so, please let me know what these other states could be since actual and potential are direct opposites with “not actual” and “not potential” as mere negations of the theme, and “probabilities” and “suppositions” belonging to the “potential” end of the spectrum. Once I know the other states you mean, I am quite willing to specifically come back to this matter. Basically the “question” can be reduced to Shakespeare’s “To be (actual) or not to be (potential)”. Please let me remind you in this context Ayn Rand’s position on it: “I have referred to actual and potential in any number of ways in any number of articles… even if I didn’t write on this subject directly…” (Excerpts from the Epistemology Workshops, page 285 – Appendix to “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology”).
As a related example: Nature cannot decide what to do with a patch of land. It operates automatically. It can either drench the land or dry it up until it erodes. Not so with the human being. He decides whether to leave it as it is or, else, weed it out and/or plough and cultivate it for his own purpose. Does this involve a potential? It does so indeed but, here again, only for a human being since it involves our brain’s capacity to reason on what could happen. If it happens or not is either our very personal decision or, else, natural factors or human ones (“Greenies” could come along and declare the land a swamp to be environmentally “protected”) which lay out of our control. In chapter 6 (“The logically resulting type of society”) of “Ayn Rand, I and the Universe” you will read my statement that we live in a “Heisenbergian universe” and what is meant by it. But, still, while we act in accordance with our own, personal decisions, we never act in a potential world since this cannot exist. Along every step of the route towards a goal we act in the actual world, a purposeful action (being) a conscious action caused by the agent’s desire for some anticipated consequence of his action (Harry Binswanger: Chapter 3 of “The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts”). We NEVER act in a potential world, even if we would like to sometimes, for the structure of the universe itself makes it impossible.
In relation to what you mentioned in the “Continuum Theory”: “Foreseeing the rise of temperature… and having the option of leaping out of the tube… this should be undertaken immediately”, doesn’t this also apply to the pregnant woman who wants to abort? She too wants to avoid the impending doom lying ahead in her future. Has the one facing the possibility of being scalded a higher right than the pregnant woman? Is it less moral? Why? Life and death are involved in both cases.
Fetus: The human fetus is such, even when we allow for the early ontogenetic part of the embryo’s development (where a fast evolutionary repetition could be taken into account), since it develops starting from the human chromosomes supplied by the two human parents involved but to consider it a human fetus is a different matter, as you will see below.
This is out of the question. What is of significance is the personal decision of the already fully developed individual (I prefer this way of wording it since “living” can be applied also to the fetus) of what to do with what he owns. In the specific case involved the fetus is the private property of an individual just as a book or any other product acquired would be (vegetables, for example, which are also living organisms). The difference relates specifically to what carrying out the pregnancy will mean to the mother and the child at a later stage of the development. In other words, while any other organism cannot decide on what to do with a fetus resulting from its seed, be they of vegetable or animal characteristic, humans can and this involves directly the ethical part of the matter, which Ayn Rand deduced from reality and clearly explained in relation to all parts of the filosofy of Objectivism. Rand wrote in “A last survey” (I will repeat part of what I already mentioned in my earlier message:
“Not every wrong idea is an indication of a fundamental philosophical evil in a
person’s convictions; the anti-abortion stand is such an indication. There is no room for an error of knowledge in this issue and no venal excuse: the anti—abortion stand is horrifying because it is non-venal — because no one has anything to gain from it and, therefore, its motive is pure ill will toward mankind.
Never mind the vicious nonsense of claiming that an embryo has a “right to life.” A piece of protoplasm has no rights — and no life in the human sense of the term. One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual, is vicious; to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former, is unspeakable.
One method of destroying a concept is by diluting its meaning. Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn, i.e. the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living: the right of young people to set the course of their own lives. The task of raising a child is a tremendous, lifelong responsibility, which no one should undertake unwittingly or unwillingly. Procreation is not a duty: human beings are not stock—farm animals. For conscientious persons, an unwanted pregnancy is a disaster; to oppose its termination is to advocate sacrifice, not for the sake of anyone’s benefit, but for the sake of misery qua misery, for the sake of forbidding happiness and fulfilment to living human beings.
A man who takes it upon himself to prescribe how others should dispose of their own lives — and who seeks to condemn them by law, i.e., force, to the drudgery of an unchosen, lifelong servitude (which, more often than not, is beyond their economic means or capacity) — such a man has no right to pose as a defender of rights. A man with so little concern or respect for the rights of the individual cannot and will not be a champion of freedom or of capitalism. (For a full discussion of the issue of birth control, see my article “Of Living Death.”)
Hence, the decision to abort is a decision (and a very urgent one at that, due to the short time involved to apply it) made by the actually existing living human being in relation with a fetus that is only a future existing human being.
Of course we can stop the mother-to-be from undergoing abortion but in this case we are proceeding in a manner with which I and Ayn Rand, as mentioned in above paragraphs, have dealt with already in my earlier messages: To avoid abortion we must apply a prohibition and this means that we must apply force on an actually existing human being. By doing so we have left the path of Objectivism and entered dictatorship. For obvious reasons you have avoided this part of the debate but this is precisely THE main point, the crux of it. Your statement that it is possible to enforce anti-abortion laws in a manner that concerns only the enforcer and the pertinent parties presents this clearly. Evidently only the enforcer and the pertinent parties are involved in a particular case, but as the obligation originates from a law (what else could it make compulsive?) it is the WHOLE population that is involved. Since it can only be enforced by force, the whole matter places it outside an Objectivistic context. This cannot be done innocently for an Objectivist society does not allow, due to its essence, un-Objectivist rules. This immediately places an Objectivists anti-abortionist proposal into a predicament: If he wants to avoid abortion he will have to apply force but this immediately situates him in the field of those who favour dictatorship and this, of course, is anathema for Objectivism.
Further on, you mention that “conception… will result on the inevitable development of a rational creature absent intervention.” The qualification “rational” is, as shown before, out of place until proven that the fetus shows no impairment (such as the Down syndrome would be). Here in Austria doctors, against request, must inform the mother-to-be if she is developing a normal fetus. I have personal proofs of mothers who specifically instruct their doctors to proceed with abortion should anything wrong be noticed during examination (ultrasonic checking, etc.). What I have just stated refers equally to “volitional consciousness”. The fetus may have only the form of a human being but this is still very far for reaching the conclusion that it will have also the main characteristic of a human being: the rational faculty.
To state “it is only a matter of time before the entity that is the fetus will be capable (of) functioning on its own accord”. If it is a human fetus we would expect it to function then as a human entity. Unfortunately as this may be, it is not necessarily so. Quite apart from dysfunctional handicaps we must take into consideration human babies that, for any reason whatsoever, were left in the jungle and found many years later, when they had reached already the state of a youngster. Against the romantic Tarzan story they were found to behave as wild animals and it took always a long time to return them to civilization. Here we must also remember Rand’s indication that at birth the mind is a blank page. This continues to be true in spite of the fact that doctors and scientists have in the meantime found that there are some reactions of the fetus when outside stimulus (noises, etc.) impinge on it. In addition, doctors in the German speaking area consider that a pregnant woman is in a state of emergency (“Ausnahmezustand”: from: Medizin und Gesundheit, 2004 by Dr. med. Eberhard J. Wormer and Prof. Dr.med. Johann A. Bauer, Lingen Editions).
In what refers to your question on the “form of the fetus consciousness” you must take into consideration that a fetus is a parasite and that this condition continues during his state as a baby and even later on, when it is already a child. We, as grown up rational human beings, slowly turn the newborn into an independent, thinking being through a process – I mentioned this in an earlier message – which Nathaniel Branden carefully explained in “The Objectivist Newsletter”. As an afterthought and considering the present socialized type of societies in which we live we could even say that many remain being parasites, even volitional parasites, for the rest of their life J.
To summarize: An embryo is not yet a person, far from an independent one. Hence, it depends on its parents, specifically on its mother-to-be. The parents, again specifically the mother-to-be, decide the convenience or inconvenience of carrying on the pregnancy. To compare an abortion with the retaliatory use of force against a criminal misses the point by a long range. A criminal has consciousness, he can think of what he will do, an embryo has no consciousness yet, it is a dependent being. Here the not yet existing “consciousness” of the embryo is involved, but not the considerations on the offspring’s future chances as assessed by the parents (particularly the mother).
Pregnancy does not only happen due to any “reckless” intercourse (unfortunately and as inconvenient this may be in certain situations, our glands function beyond our conscious control, as even dear Ayn Rand had to experience). Though anti-conceptive methods are a much better way to proceed they are not perfect yet and, thus, allow for a large margin of unwanted surprises. Again: what then? Prohibit abortion? Deliver the child to foster parents (the child is already born now and the thought of giving away the child, to not mention the whole heart wrecking adoption procedure, will mean a heavy psychological burden for the parents/mother. A recommended procedure would be to undergo a vasectomy/hysterectomy after having had the quantity of children one has planned for but, again, this must be accomplished by education and not by force and, besides, there is always the moment when our glands play wild.
As an Objectivist I cannot defend for a pro-abortion stand as this has force in store. Under such a condition, I for one would have none of it and leave an ideology behind which is less human than the present abortion laws existing, for example, in Germany and Austria for that matter. Objectivism promotes independence for the rational human being! The world as it is now is already far from being an ideal place where humans can live, but if Objectivism also adds its portion of force against already born and out-of-the-womb existing living human beings which have made a mistake that can be resolved in a civilized manner, is really crossing the last barrier. Ayn Rand NEVER had this in mind, from what I learned from her writings. Hence, for all the reasons given, I continue to stay with an abortion allowing Objectivism where each individual takes his own, personal, independent decisions within the context of a free, non-dictatorial society.
The plan to abolish taxation and render the government fundable by voluntary contributions is an as far away goal as the Administration of the Means of Defence of the Rights of the Individual that I propose in my already mentioned writing. Of course they are a goal all Objectivists can wish for but they are still really very much in the future. And even then, in the case you present, what will happen with those who do not contribute?
In what refers to your statement that “if the fetus is indeed a human being” I have answered this already. It is, after the first stages, to be considered a human being but by no means a born human being. Also this is decisive. Objectivist rules apply only to born rational human beings, and Nathaniel Branden, mentioned earlier, wrote at length about it in an article which in the whole context of this debate, should be read by everybody. In the article referred to it becomes VERY clear how much Objectivist parents care about their offspring! The existence of those already born but having bodily or mental impediments must not be taken into account in this relation since they are the result of the personal decision of their parents or, at least, their mother, who expect to obtain happiness from them or, else, their birth was favourably decided because their existence, in spite of the impairments of any kind that they suffer, means a lesser sorrow for their parents or, at least, for their mother, than their death would have meant.
“Unwanted children…” is, of course a tautology which I meant to short cut what lays behind (mistreatment, under nourishment, lack of love, etc.) but I will endeavour to be more specific next time to avoid short-cuts for what they stand for.
For the issue of abortion under debate and going far beyond this matter since it pertains to the life and happiness of those born and living on Earth, I will proceed now to make a general statement which carries its own value beyond the content of the present personal message and to which I fully adhere:
“There are those who claim for the “rights” of unborn protoplasm that is not wanted by the carrier and whose removal, as long as it means no physical danger for the mother-to-be, will represent an avoidance of much anguish, poverty, misery, impairment, mental suffering, distress, hardship, discomfort, pain and hunger.
“Those who go out for the “rights” of unwanted embryos either consciously or not, have in mind the application of power on others involved with the inherent consequence of harming knowingly or unknowingly their fellow citizen. These people, who are religiously minded of whatever creed and colour they may be, haven’t the slightest scruple and understanding for those born and alive. On the contrary, they see no contradiction and have no hesitation in blessing weapons and all kind of instruments of destruction; they find nothing wrong in persecuting, torturing and despotically ruling and killing others as long as this can help them to obtain their frightening goals of dominion. They believe that neither the resulting impairments nor the death of thousands, nay million upon millions of human beings can be a barrier to establish their reigns of terror, submission, destruction, conquest and the establishment of slavery in the pursuit of their “sacred” empires of “pure races”, “pure ideology”, “holy beliefs” and other such absurd political goals.
“I see nothing honourable in defending those yet unborn and unwanted while the overwhelming majority of the world’s population dedicates every available effort to hate and destroy each other for the worst possible goals. I feel no sympathy for those who rip their clothes in the quest of their truly unholy purposes. Objectivists do not stand for the life of mere brutes but for the overabundant existence of the rational human being.
“My mind goes out for those who want to live for themselves without interfering with the peaceful lives and efforts of others, whatever their race or colour may be, those who seek personal freedom and as much personal accomplishment, peace and enjoyment, contentedness, felicity, health and prosperity they may obtain for themselves and their loved ones through trade and business but never by means of extortion, obligation nor any kind of pressure of any kind and type whatsoever.
“My heart beats for my own life and the lives of those others who bring happiness for me and for those to whom my own existence can mean happiness, friendship and gratification.
“Objectivists stand for a life of happiness and wellbeing and the abolition of pain, hardship, affliction and suffering that can be obtained by human efforts and deeds
“I, as a declared Objectivist, stand for the here and now, in full knowledge that there are no “esoterical spheres” and beyonds. I do not side with those whose purpose is to turn life on Earth into an unbearable sorrow for those born and existing. I do not stand with those hypocrites who lie when they declare that they themselves do not want to spread grief and sadness and what they call Hell on Earth for there is neither Hell nor Heaven. There is for all of us the chance to build a society for born and existing rational human beings where each individual can accomplish his own deeds, realize his own goals and build his own fruitful happiness through productive labour and commercial exchange.
“I stand against charlatans and liars, impostors and swindlers and all those pretenders who feign to oppose parasitism and living from their fellow citizen’s efforts. I stand at daggers drawn against the compulsion of having to live for others - what is called altruism – and against all kinds of existence which forbids man to live for himself and which humiliates, degrades and subjects the human being to the rule of others.
“Let this be a rule: Those who make every effort to lead a productive, fruitful, peaceful, individual life take precedence over all those not yet born and those unborn who are unwanted and let the born, individual human beings have the offsprings they desire and for whom they know that they can provide support and love to enable them to reach their own state of individual existence in freedom and peace.
I remain, with best regards,
Manfred F. Schieder
MR. G. STOLYAROV II
Chicago, August 18, 2004
Dear Mr. Schieder:
I now proceed to address your arguments from August 17 concerning the abortion debate.
On Rand’s writings: You presented the following analysis of page numbers related to the subject of abortion in Rand’s written work:
a) “Censorship”: 21 pages
b) “On living death”: 18 pages
c) “A Suggestion”: 2 pages
d) “A last Survey”: 3 pages
e) Letter to John E. Marshall: ½ page
f) “The Age of Mediocrity”: 10 pages
g) “The Sanction of the Victim”: 8 and 1/2 pages
In “Censorship: Local and Express,” however, Rand devotes only a single paragraf to mention the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, as a tangent to her actual discussion, which concerned the Supreme Court’s pornografy rulings. This was, in effect, meant to say that, while she agreed with the Court’s stance on abortion, she disagreed with its stance on pornografy. As a matter of fact, she only mentioned abortion in two sentences of that essay, or about 1/8 of a page.
“Of Living Death” primarily addressed the Papal encyclical which opposed the use of contraception. The article correspondingly focuses on contraception to a far greater degree than abortion, and the difference between the two is immense. Contraception is a form of birth control prior to the conception of the fetus, and thus, in my judgment, perfectly legitimate, as no futuristic certainty of the development of a particular human being with a particular genome is involved. (By the way, I agree with Rand that no individual is obliged to have children, thus, we do not diverge there.) In the article, Rand makes numerous references to “quack abortionists” that should, desirably, be avoided by young people who should rather use contraception if they do not wish to have children. Rand’s only mention of abortion as a right in the essay is in the form of seven paragrafs, roughly the size of one page.
In “The Sanction of the Victim” I do not find a single mention of the words “abortion,” or “fetus.” (Please correct me if I am mistaken.) There is a brief critique of the Reagan administration, where Rand uttered dire forecasts which did not come to pass during Reagan’s Presidency. (I happen to think Rand was terribly mistaken with regard to her evaluation of Reagan, so I will state here that there is perhaps half a page in this essay with which I disagree.)
I will grant your evaluation of “A Suggestion,” “A last Survey,” and the Letter to John Marshall. As for “The Age of Mediocrity,” I have yet to read that article, as it is not available, to my knowledge, in any of the book-length compendia of Rand’s articles published since her death. We will leave the status of this writing open to future investigation, and thus state that Rand’s stance on abortion actually amounts to anywhere from 6.625 pages to 16.625 pages, or from 0.19% to 0.48% of her writings. This is still an extremely small amount compared to her major themes and writings!
You wrote: Abortion is not a marginal comment (a “Randbemerkung” if you allow the German language joke since in German “Rand” means “margin”) in Objectivism, but a direct practical application of its basics.
I respond: In fact, the only way you can state that the “basics” are involved is if you consider the potential/actual dichotomy to be among those “basics.” Persons with the same understanding of rights, the non-initiation of force, and all other aspects of the Objectivist ethics and politics will disagree on the abortion issue if they disagree on the metafysical status of the fetus (is it potential, actual, or futuristic certainty?) This is the question that must be answered, and it is, in fact, the only question that matters in the essence of this debate, as all other implications of either position follow from the way in which one chooses to answer it.
On Futuristic Certainty:
You wrote: “With reference to this I must remind you that the future is never certain. It can be reduced to a joke which contains a deep truth: “The problem with predictions is the fact that they deal with the future… which can’t be forecasted.”
Future foretelling, which includes “futuristic certainty” , is a fallacy which has been proved as such and beyond all doubt by the Austrian School of Economics, particularly Ludwig von Mises. Unfortunately as this may be, even capitalistically minded people fall into the trap and, of course, so do all kind of collectivists (Communists, Socialists, Fascists, Nazis, Democrats, Christians, etc.). They all think that we can “foresee” future developments, needs and requirements. Nowadays the computer freaks adhere to this irrational notion, irrational because they all forget that we are living in a Heisenbergian universe where the “Uncertainty Principle” rules supreme (I refer to this in chapter 6 of my writing “Ayn Rand, I and the Universe”).”
I respond: My reasoning for including such a long excerpt of yours it to point out that I consider these arguments critical to the debate. I do believe that the future can be judged to be certain in certain cases and provided that certain circumstances hold. This is because, to the Heisenbergian Universe, I offer the alternative of the Newtonian Universe:
- The Newtonian Universe contains two distinct fenomena: mechanistic processes and volition. Mechanistic processes are all those which do not pertain to the function, direction, and influence of the human consciousness, presuming, of course, that man is the only entity capable of volition. Volition is the faculty of self-directedness, which is able to actualize one of many alternatives, and has more than one alternative open to it.
- The Austrian school was correct in its refutation of collectivist economic models which consider processes based on human choice and volition to be predetermined and foreseeable. In fact, they are not; they can only be roughly anticipated knowing the unique personality traits and decision-making histories of the involved individuals. This is because volitional entities always have many alternatives open to them. Mechanistic processes, on the other hand, do not. They have only one alternative which they can follow, as determined by their present states and the forces acting upon them, which, unless they are forces exerted by human beings and rooted in volition, are determined and foreseeable.
- Even in human organisms, there are certain mechanistic processes that can proceed without the control of human volition. The human heart beats automatically, and so it food automatically processed by the digestive system. The human mind cannot change the direction of these processes voluntarily, in the manner that it can alter the position of one’s limbs or initiate speech. It is true that, given the proper technology, human volition can interfere with, modify, and/or improve these processes. But the precondition for such technological modification is knowing what would happen if such modification were not made! If the human heart were genetically predetermined to expire after a certain amount of beats, for example, technological intervention could delay this fact; this would be the intention of the intervention. If it were not known what would occur (i.e. if the heart could spontaneously choose to continue beating despite fysical laws to the contrary), then it would also not be known whether the technological intervention would be helpful. But the fact that it would indeed be helpful in such a situation is a matter of common sense (general, ubiquitous observation), thus, we must recognize that the contrary proposition is true.
- The act of intercourse is volitional; human beings choose to initiate it. However, what follows, the progressive development from embryo to fetus to born individual, is automatic and mechanistic; the woman’s body is genetically pre-programmed to function in a certain way and provide the fetus with certain nutrients to support its similarly pre-programmed growth under these circumstances. Thus, futuristic certainty of this development can in fact be cited, even if the possibility of accident or miscarriage exists. “Futuristic certainty” of a given outcome can exist in a given general context; we can state, for example, that, given only mechanistic factors A and B, outcome C will result. Though some unforeseen factor D may enter the situation, it is wrong to take it into account before it does so (as we do not even know if factor D exists!), and to claim that there can be no certainty whatsoever as a result of it. Thus, we can state that given the general situation of pregnancy, a rational, conscious, individual human being will result. The fact that miscarriages, accidents, and deformities can at times enter the situation does not render the fact that pregnancy in itself leads to a human being any less true or uncertain.
- Let there be no misinterpretation here: the threat of accident ought to be guarded against, and certain non-harmful prevention measures could be taken, if available, but for the precise purpose of controlling the outcome by introducing no new and potentially deleterious factors into the situation.
- Whether or not a given futuristic certainty is desirable depends on the values at stake. In the “human stew in a tub” scenario, the only futuristically certain outcome of keeping the same initial factors is death. Thus, the initial factors ought to be altered or disrupted. On the other hand, in the pregnancy scenario, the only futuristically certain outcome (given the initial factor of pregnancy), is rational life. Pregnancy is an essential guarantee that a genetic code which contains in itself the form of human rationality, will be actualized into an entity capable of wielding this form, and thus possess rights. Accordingly, it is the right of this entity to have such a life developed for itself, and not to be deprived of it in the process.
You wrote: Can there be other states that are neither actual nor potential? If so, please let me know what these other states could be since actual and potential are direct opposites with “not actual” and “not potential” as mere negations of the theme, and “probabilities” and “suppositions” belonging to the “potential” end of the spectrum. Once I know the other states you mean, I am quite willing to specifically come back to this matter.
I respond: Of course there can be other states! I can list a few of them here, though I make no guarantee of the list’s exhaustivity.
The impossible: That which has never happened and can never happen. (The existence of God, for example)
The formerly possible: That which could happen in the past, but cannot happen in the future (The spontaneous formation of complex molecules on Earth, for example, as the Earth no longer has a reducing atmosfere).
The formerly existing: That which has been an actuality (not a mere possibility) in the past, but is an actuality no longer (The existence of dinosaurs, for example)
The potential (or futuristically uncertain): That which has not yet happened, and can take place in one of many alternative ways. (This is a state applicable only to volition. For example, I could wear a red shirt or a blue shirt tomorrow, or I could choose some other color of shirt. Inanimate matter cannot follow one of many paths.)
The futuristically certain: That which has not yet happened, but will definitely take place in the future given certain present conditions (and absent volitional intervention). (This subsumes anything regarding the changes and processes exerted by inanimate matter, non-volitionally-conscious organisms, and the involuntary functions of the human body).
The actual: That which exists in the present moment (My computer, for example).
In layman’s terms, the six states can be referred to as:
- Cannot be
- Could have been
- Could be
- Will be
Please note that “potential” or “futuristic uncertainty” is in a certain regard the opposite of “futuristic certainty” or “mechanistic determinacy,” to use another term.
These are in fact some very interesting insights that will contribute greatly to my planned treatise on cosmology.
You wrote: In other words, while any other organism cannot decide on what to do with a fetus resulting from its seed, be they of vegetable or animal characteristic, humans can and this involves directly the ethical part of the matter, which Ayn Rand deduced from reality and clearly explained in relation to all parts of the filosofy of Objectivism.
I respond: Humans can also decide whether or not to initiate force toward other adult human beings. This does not mean that any decision they make will automatically be right. Thus, the sheer ability to decide does not guarantee a given decision’s desirability. You claim the fetus to be “private property,” and compare it to a carrot, but this is a mistake, since, for a carrot, volition is impossible, while for a fetus, it is futuristically certain. Please also note that it is not making good decisions that qualifies an individual for having rights, but the ability to make decisions per se, even if that individual chooses to life as a mindless conformist, surrendering his freedom of choice to the rule of others (as people often do without any state coercion whatsoever). Even the most severely mentally deprived individuals can make some sorts of decisions that animals are inherently barred from making. Thus, they are all qualified for rights.
Let us, moreover, postulate the existence of a severely handicapped individual whose mental processes function, but function very slowly. As a matter of fact, he can only make a volitional decision every nine months. We know that, in nine months, he will make some sort of decision, but, until then, he cannot. Does this justify anyone having the right to kill him? Of course not! Yet a fetus is far less mentally disadvantaged than such an individual. Not only do we know that it will make some decision in nine months, but also that it will continuously keep making decisions afterward!
The general rule is this: rights pertain to all human beings, regardless of experience, intelligence, or particular skills/capacities. The very ability to make decisions at some point on the temporal spectrum qualifies one for rights during the entirety of one’s life. (This is, by the way, why I think it is illegitimate to terminate the lives of comatose individuals, even if they are permanently comatose. The fact that they once had the ability to make decisions, and that they are still alive, qualifies these individuals for a right to life.)
You claim that children have not reached their full rational capacity and are dependent on their parents. You make the same argument regarding the fetus. Does this, then, give parents the right to kill any child who is still dependent on them? (By the way, I did address this issue in my article as well. As far as “dependency” is concerned, the line that those in support of legal abortions draw at birth is absolutely arbitrary, and the legality of abortion could lead to a slippery slope of killing or abandoning already born children.)
Moreover, I disagree with your designation of fetuses and children as “parasites.” A parasite is an entity that thrives at the detriment of its host. However, no fysical harm is dealt to a mother during a normal pregnancy, and a child’s support costs pay for the values which the child brings to his parents (which, if the parents choose to keep the child, are more valuable than the money they spend on him. If this is not the case, then the parents would and should adopt out the child). Thus, using the terms of biology, the relationship should best be described as “mutualistic.” Please note that this designation is independent of subjective “psychological damage,” which can never be used as the basis for law or objective classification. (Otherwise, Person A can claim the right to kill Person B by citing the harm that B brings to A’s subjective psychological state by the sheer fact of his superior performance or ideological divergence.)
You wrote: Pregnancy does not only happen due to any “reckless” intercourse (unfortunately and as inconvenient this may be in certain situations, our glands function beyond our conscious control, as even dear Ayn Rand had to experience). Though anti-conceptive methods are a much better way to proceed they are not perfect yet and, thus, allow for a large margin of unwanted surprises.
I respond: First of all, even if it can be shown that, in certain situations, individuals cannot control certain fysical/chemical processes within their glands and their general bodies, interacting with (born) others on the basis of these processes is always volitional, no matter what interactions are involved. Since intercourse always involves two people, an individual, upon experiencing the aforementioned processes, can merely abstain from interacting with another person on the basis of these processes. There is always a way to abstain from fysical intercourse, and, despite chemical interactions suggesting one course of action or the other, it is the human mind that has the ultimate control over the final decision.
With regard to contraception, so long as it is imperfect, the couple that has intercourse should recognize that there still exists a slight risk of pregnancy. By still having intercourse under these conditions, they should concede the possibility of this risk, and their responsibility for the consequences that result (i.e. the creation of another human being). This could be compared to the decision of a skilled player at Monopoly; he could enter the game, trusting his superior judgment, but there will always be the risk that the dice rolls will not favor him. To play, he will need to accept the risk, and if bets of money are involved in the game, be willing to give up some money if he loses.
Having intercourse is a choice. It should be made as an informed choice, and the results of such a decision should not be used to punish anyone except those who made it.
You wrote: Evidently only the enforcer and the pertinent parties are involved in a particular case, but as the obligation originates from a law (what else could it make compulsive?) it is the WHOLE population that is involved. Since it can only be enforced by force, the whole matter places it outside an Objectivistic context. This cannot be done innocently for an Objectivist society does not allow, due to its essence, un-Objectivist rules.
I respond: There is nothing un-Objectivistic about any law that punishes the initiation of force. And to punish such offenses, only the use of retaliatory force suffices. Once again, whether or not such laws are justified depends only on whether or not abortion can be considered an initiation of force (which depends on whether or not the fetus can be considered a human being). Once again, this is not the crux of the debate, but rather, the answer to this issue follows consistently from either answer to the fundamental question of whether the fetus is human. If it is, laws to punish aborting women are required. If it is not, then no such laws should exist.
You wrote: The plan to abolish taxation and render the government fundable by voluntary contributions is an as far away goal as the Administration of the Means of Defence of the Rights of the Individual that I propose in my already mentioned writing. Of course they are a goal all Objectivists can wish for but they are still really very much in the future. And even then, in the case you present, what will happen with those who do not contribute?
I respond: First of all, according to my reasoning, it is not relevant whether a government free of compulsory taxation exists prior to the abolition of abortion. What matters is that both aims are desirable. There are thus four possible situations:
1) Involuntary taxation and legal abortion (the present).
2) Voluntary taxation and legal abortion.
3) Involuntary taxation and illegal abortion.
4) Voluntary taxation and illegal abortion.
I, of course, consider situation 4 to be the most desirable. But situations 2 and 3 are still an improvement over the status quo, which is wrong on both issues (Better to be wrong on only one issue than on both!). Thus, any law regarding voluntary taxation and the illegalization of abortion is still desirable, even if it does not establish an optimal government by its very existence. It is still a step in the right direction.
As for those who do not contribute to a voluntarily funded government, I also plan to address this in a future essay. My plan essentially involves an “Investmentocracy”-type voting structure, in which the government allocates votes like shares in a corporation, in proportion to those who invest in it. Thus, the people who have contributed the most to the government will have the greatest say over the selection of its officials and certain policy decisions. Those who do not contribute may either have no right to vote, or have only one vote, the “basic vote” that does not depend on contributions to the government. (Others who contribute would, however, be able to purchase thousands of votes, so as to easily overrule the non-contributing individual!) This is, of course, a side issue to our current debate, but still an interesting one. Once again, I consider enforcement to play a very small role in this debate, as, if we concede the fetus’s humanity, the issue of enforcement will be a structural/logistical, not a moral one.
In retrospect, one of our key disagreements is one of the type of universe we inhabit. A Heisenbergian Universe admits no certainty whatsoever, whereas a Newtonian Universe admits certainty in all cases except volitional human decisions. To resolve this difference may require more than the rather elementary exposition I had made in this response; it may need to wait for my treatise on cosmology. But still, please feel free to argue against what parts of my model I had presented. In response, I may produce an even more comprehensive exposition.
G. Stolyarov II
Editor-in-Chief, The Rational Argumentator
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