Schieder v. Stolyarov: An Abortion Debate
(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. Round 2 of the debate is accessible here.)
MR. MANFRED F. SCHIEDER:
Vienna, August 26, 2004
Dear Mr. Stolyarov:
In reply to your message of August 18, 2004 I comment:
Your mail mentions again the article “Censorship” and the 1/8 page reference to abortion. On this subject I must insist that we have to count the whole article wherever Rand touches the subject of abortion, precisely because, as said in an earlier message, the whole line of thought is involved. Mr. Miguel Fishman, an acquaintance in Buenos Aires, Argentina (which I mention in “Ayn Rand, I and the Universe”) once remarked that Objectivism, being the perfect filosofy, is the equivalent to a set of mathematical theorems which, starting from the axiom “Existence exists” winds its way up through interconnected theorems, each one being the stepping stone for the next one, none contradicting any other nor the whole contradicting itself or presenting gaps or loose threads on its way. Objectivism must, thus, be accepted in its totality or, else, rejected in full, a rejection revealing that the structure of Objectivism hasn’t been understood. Hence, the mention of “abortion” in relation with a politically framed question in “The Sanction of the Victim” is justified though I grant that it may be left, in benefit of the wider issue involved and for the remaining parts of this writing, unconsidered.
Further on, since Rand’s writings on this subject form, in concurrence with all her works, a perfect total; the articles I mentioned are basically a short-cut summary. We would really have to take into consideration the whole set of Objectivist ideas for every issue under consideration. But I will leave this as it is for the time being.
This should suffice to clear the issue but Rand added an additional spice to the whole: the vehemence with which she presented her deductions, the fire behind everything she wrote and said. She really meant it!
It is this rational fire we also notice in “The Age of Mediocrity”, a talk given at The Ford Hall Forum, Boston, on April 26, 1981 (contained in “The Objectivist Forum”, which is available as a bound volume of all the issues published) where she states:
“Observe that a proper, philosophically valid definition of man as ‘a rational animal,’ would not permit anyone to ascribe the status of ‘person’ to a few human cells and would not serve the militant mystic’s purpose.
… (Here comes a paragraph which I will mention later, in relation to a directly related but, for my own sequence of writing, separate part of this message)
“The question of abortion involves much more than the termination of a pregnancy: it is a question of the entire life of the parents. As I have said before, parenthood is an enormous responsibility; it is an impossible responsibility for young people who are ambitious and struggling, but poor; particularly if they are intelligent and conscientious enough not to abandon their child on a doorstep nor to surrender it to adoption. For such young people, pregnancy is a death sentence: parenthood would force them to give up their future, and condemn them to a life of hopeless drudgery, of slavery to a child’s physical and financial needs. The situation of an unwed mother, abandoned by her lover, is even worse.
“I cannot quite imagine the state of mind of a person who would wish to condemn a fellow human being to such a horror. I cannot project the degree of hatred required to make those women run around in crusades against abortion. Hatred is what they certainly project, not love for the embryos, which is a piece of nonsense no one could experience, but hatred, a virulent hatred for an unnamed object. Judging by the degree of those women’s intensity, I would say that it is an issue of self-esteem and that their fear is metaphysical. Their hatred is directed against human beings as such, against the mind, against reason, against ambition, against success, against love, against any value that brings happiness to human life. In compliance with the dishonesty that dominates today’s intellectual field, they call themselves ‘pro-life’.”
By what right does anyone claim the power to dispose of the lives of others and to dictate their personal choices? The only alleged justification for it is the theory of collectivism, which claims that man is the property of the state or of the tribe. So an anti-abortion stand would be consistent if advocated by a leftist politician.”
From the above you will see the correctness of her overwhelming arguments… whether you accept them or not. The issue of abortion in the Objectivist thought cannot, thus, be treated as a marginal issue. It is an integral part of the practical applications of Objectivism. It is one of its touchstones, another one being force. In this issue both relate directly and determine whether one is an Objectivist or not. The intention to prohibit abortion, i.e. to establish anti-abortion by law, is the yardstick that shows a man’s true self. Siding with anti-abortion is to participate with both religions and dictators. Hitler reinforced the imprisonment punishment against abortion (which had been established in Germany in 1871 by Paragraph 218) by establishing the death penalty on abortion. In Russia abortion was prohibited and, of course, punished, during the Stalin era. Anti-abortionists really find themselves in splendid company!
Though you declare yourself as an atheist, the fact that you favor the prohibition of abortion sides you with Christian and further altruist-collectivist opinions. This is a contradiction in itself for while atheism is a rational position anything related with religion is not. Once such a position has been taken the necessity for compulsion and force follows automatically and, as from there on leads to further measures of force to be applied to any other issue of any other subject matter that the promoter of anti-abortion wishes. From the very start your insistence with measures of violence to implant a prohibition on abortion goes directly against the social axiom of Objectivism. It relates to those who want to rule over their fellow citizen, those who Thomas Sowell calls, rather critically, the “Anointed”.
By this time of the debate it is sufficiently clear that force always relates to a born (see the special notice at the end of this writing) human being against another born human being. Rand is specific about it. The Objectivist social axiom applies only to human beings who are in actual possession of rationality. Where this is not the case (fetuses come in here and, of course, irrational animals) there cannot be any consideration of morality. In “Ayn Rand on Emergencies”, a radio interview given by Ayn Rand in the early 1960s at Columbia University, she stated: “…the use, the initiation of force among men is morally improper and indefensible. Once the element of force is introduced, the element of morality is out (My emphasis). There is no question of right in such a case.”
I suggest you to read again “Atlas Shrugged”, particularly Part 3, Chapter 7, where John Galt states: “Do not open your mouth to tell me that your mind has convinced you of your right to force my mind. Force and mind are opposites; morality ends where a gun begins. When you declare that men are irrational animals and propose to treat them as such, you define thereby your own character and can no longer claim the sanction of reason—as no advocate of contradictions can claim it. There can be no 'right' to destroy the source of rights, the only means of judging right and wrong: the mind.
"To force a man to drop his own mind and to accept your will as a substitute, with a gun in place of a syllogism, with terror in place of proof, and death as the final argument—is to attempt to exist in defiance of reality. Reality demands of man that he acts for his own rational interest; your gun demands of him that he acts against it. Reality threatens man with death if he does not act on his rational judgment: you threaten him with death if he does. You place him into a world where the price of his life is the surrender of all the virtues required by life—and death by a process of gradual destruction is all that you and your system will achieve, when death is made to be the ruling power, the winning argument in a society of men.
"Be it a highwayman who confronts a traveler with the ultimatum: 'Your money or your life,' or a politician who confronts a country with the ultimatum: 'Your children's education or your life,' the meaning of that ultimatum is: 'Your mind or your life'—and neither is possible to man without the other.
"If there are degrees of evil, it is hard to say who is the more contemptible: the brute who assumes the right to force the mind of others or the moral degenerate who grants to others the right to force his mind. That is the moral absolute one does not leave open to debate. I do not grant the terms of reason to men who propose to deprive me of reason. I do not enter discussions with neighbors who think they can forbid me to think. I do not place my moral sanction upon a murderer's wish to kill me. When a man attempts to deal with me by force, I answer him—by force.”
As an excuse you make the application of laws (force and we have just seen what Rand says about this) against abortion dependant on whether the fetus is human or not. I have already cleared this when it comes to the DNA strings (a string of DNA is NOT a born human bein) but there is more to come and it corresponds clearly with Rand’s deductions from reality. I could present now a very personal example but I reduce it to considering a very actual and daily occurrence: something is growing within your body. It is, of course, composed of living human cells, it doesn’t harm you and, for the time being, it is fully benign (no, it is NOT a fetus but, nevertheless, it is also HUMAN for it belongs to your body). However, it contains a VERY certain danger to your own life and to your future. It was humanly generated and, in due course, it will grow to a full set of human cells, just as a fetus does. Just as a fetus, which for the present time does not yet represents a danger for the parents, it will mean a death sentence for the carrier as a “futuristic certainty”, to use your own words. It will mean a stranglehold on your capacity to eat and your capacity to breath and, at the same time or even earlier than that or shortly thereafter, it will become a killing metastasis, spreading its tentacles just as the unwanted fetus will spread its tentacles into the future of the pregnant mother and the couple involved.
Since you defend the standpoint that these cells (which are HUMAN, let’s not forget it!) are NOT to be aborted (i.e. cut by a surgeon) as they are very healthily growing, you are condemning the carrier to death… even if there is no immediate danger involved.
How would you proceed under these circumstances? Abort the cells? But this goes basically against your anti-abortion stand. As a matter of fact and very coldly considered, every anti-abortion stand goes against any chirurgical intervention!
Now I will add the paragraph I left out when mentioning what Ayn Rand said in “The Age of Mediocrity”:
“If any of you are confused or taken in by the argument that the cells of an embryo are living human cells, remember that so are all the cells of your body, including the cells of your skin, your tonsils, or your ruptured appendix – and that cutting them is murder, according to the notions of that proposed law (Rand referred to an anti-abortion law Reagan wanted to push through legislation while he was president – My note). Remember that a potentiality is not the equivalent of an actuality – and that a human being’s life begins at birth (My emphasis).
Since we are now involved with actuality and potentiality, when you mentioned that there are “other states” apart from actual and potential (which are opposites) I wondered what states could there be that are to be considered separately from both the actual and the potential. Fortunately your last message confirmed that opposites are still opposites and do not involve contradictions. The “other states” you named are not such but merely a capricious (and unnecessary) “subdivision” of the “potential” end of the opposition. Following this “subdivision” leads to nothing sensible, so I do not need to enter this subject again.
You stated that “Humans can also decide whether or not to initiate force toward other adult human beings” and go on then to say that a fetus is “far less mentally disadvantaged”, etc.
I have stated already the Objectivist dictum on where life begins (it begins at birth) and, thus, cannot make any connection between this and where you start to speak of “adult human beings”. Just for the record let me point out that the rational faculty starts to work a long stretch after birth and involves learning and the slow transference of responsibility from the parents to their offspring(s). I already mentioned Nathaniel Branden’s fine article on the subject and I think it to be high time for you to read it again. Besides, by the time the “adult human being” resorts to the initiation of force he has already left the area where he can be considered a “rational adult human being” (see Rand).
Your question of whether parents have a right to kill any child that is still dependent of them comes to prove that you have not considered what Objectivism has stated at all times on the initiation of force against born human beings. All the Objectivist writings clearly state the Objectivists opposition to start ANY act of violence against a born human being and this could even be extended to include “psychological violence”. I mentioned already in an earlier message that the parent’s right to decide to carry though their life an offspring that has a very, very low if any capacity to reason (as an example, among others, those having the Down’s syndrome). Here, however, I, for one, would clearly insist that the parents take up, prior to the birth of heir handicapped offspring (nowadays this can be determined a long way before birth), an insurance policy that covers the attention of the poor creature after the death of its parents, so that the required care and expenses do no fall onto the rest of the population. Personal decisions also involve NOT harming other born human beings. I think that what I have said so far on the subject is sufficiently clear by now! I don’t think that we need to return to this subject any more.
A separate consideration: Could there be a system that, while responding to the Objectivist dictum that forbids the use of compulsion and force to establish anti-abortion laws, could still supply a solution to those who favor anti-abortion? There is such a system indeed. It requires fantasy to establish it but then, private Capitalism is THE basis for such endeavors. Suppose that you and whoever favors anti-abortion where to establish a private foundation (no official intervention nor any money supplied by any official source since such money comes from ALL taxpayers, and of course no laws establishing taxes for the purpose involved and described under this paragraph) which dedicates its activities to verbally convince a pregnant mother not to abort and then takes up all the expenses involved in maintaining and educating the born human being until it is capable to sustain itself (age 21 or so) or, if it is dysfunctional, until its death. No, the mother would NOT have to pay for any sustenance of the unwanted creature for all her life, unless she voluntarily (!!) agrees to it and NO COMPULSION of any kind is involved. The Foundation would also have to provide good education and not provide scarce support (at the level of permanent hunger and deprivation) as it happens nowadays with many charity organizations, and also take care, as already said, of handicapped creatures up to the time when they die.
Should you now contend that I am a little bit naïve and not take into consideration additional problems that will come up (such as foreign women entering the country to take advantage of the Foundation’s services to get rid of their problem, an increase in population, ever increasing expenses for the Foundation, etc., etc.) I will point out that this is precisely the “acid test” that will prove that those who favor anti-abortion mean it and do not merely hold hypocritical “heart rendering” positions. (You will see a little bit further on, that Capitalism has not only an unending wealth of such solutions in store but also indicators of how far the proponents will go with their purposes). And, of course, no hate propaganda against pro-abortion nor attacks on abortion clinics. Under the here described consideration both positions have equal rights, a civil way of behaviour.
Not even in what refers to euthanasia would any Objectivist decide for another person. Personally I favor euthanasia, specifically personally decided euthanasia even where it doesn’t involve terminal illnesses, since this doesn’t involve any harm to third parties and, at the same time, sides with personal decision taking.
In what refers to terminal illness, permanent coma, total oblivion and incapacity due to accident or any type of illness which requires a totally mechanical sustenance of life as such I am also and again personally in favor of a humanely administered death, here again based on a personal decision set up in writing by the regrettable victim while still rationally responsible for his acts. I stress that this is MY personal view of the matter and that each separate case should be left to the free and personal decision of each individual. Please notice that I am strictly against any enforced euthanasia as it has been practiced during Nazism in Germany and any other dictatorship in any other part of the world. You do not need to enter this subject for it involves my PERSONAL considerations based, again, on PERSONAL experiences and the unbearable suffering related with any human being that has lost all personal faculties, including the deeply human characteristic of reason and the related personal decision taking. I do not consider that mechanical life as such – I repeat: mechanical life as such! – is the highest good and fully side with Ayn Rand when she comes to speak of suicide as the last escape from an unbearable situation (imprisonment by a dictatorship, for example and further such cases).
Universe: Your statement that you favor a Newtonian universe with mechanistic processes and volition corresponds precisely, though with another name, to a Heisenbergian universe as you can see from “Ayn Rand, I and the Universe”. The difference resides only in the stern fact of reality that “futuristic certainties”, etc. and other such fortune telling is not included for it does not correspond to reality.
Abolishment of taxation, etc.: Your plan to establish an Investmentocracy is an Aristocracy by another name. It involves the certainty that those who have the greatest amount of money are those who get the greatest amount of votes. This, in turn, involves the fact that, more often than not, it is those belonging to all kind of Mafias, Cosa Nostras and sundry criminality who own the largest amount of money (Karlheinz Deschner, a German writer whose political views I don’t share but who has a wealth of information on religion, even stated that “The Church is the greatest Mafia of all”).
Have you noticed that I avoid speaking of “Government” and opt to speak of “Administration” instead? This is so because (Webster) “a government is the exercise of authority over a state, district, organization, institution, etc.; direction; control; rule; management” while “Administration” is “the act of administering; management; specifically the management of governmental or institutional affairs.” This is so because, as an objectivist, I reject the initiation of all types of force to establish any rules whatsoever. Such rules must always be established by personally accepting them on a voluntary basis. This is, thus, also the reason why I propose – see “Ayn Rand, I and the Universe” – an administration carried out by associations or an association of insurance companies who would have under their command the Armed and Police Forces, as well as the administration of Justice. The difference is all embracing. As an example: the obligation to use security belts in cars – an issue that was debated for at least a decade in the United States – can be easily established through commercial proceedings to be carried out by Insurance companies. They would at all times be subject to the personal decision of each individual. Remember here that many experts consider that carrying a security belt while driving is a danger in itself. Some insurance companies would cater to individuals not wanting to carry a belt, others to those favoring it, still other companies would even lure the insurance takers by offering discounts if they were to accept a security belt or, else, it they wouldn’t. The variety of possibilities would be enormous… and it would trigger the businesses’ fantasy all over. This same procedure can be applied to every human act… without involving the slightest compulsion or force.
Is this one of those capricious, complicated ways in which Capitalism handles things? It is for sure one of those varied tactics which cater to personal decision taking with many possible alternatives that Capitalism has in store as the correct frame for a voluntary, peaceful, productive and not compulsive society. Since the insurance companies would include also the Armed and Police Forces and the administration of Justice, they would also be in charge of persecuting born human beings who have harmed born human beings and, in the case of willful murder, apply the death penalty I described in my article… after due process by law.
Well, that’s it; my case has been clearly stated. Once more, as an Objectivist I reject the initiation of every and any act of force and compulsion and stay with the free, peaceful, personal decision of all born individual human beings who will be only limited by the social axiom which Ayn Rand described so well in the course of deducing her Filosofy of Objectivism from reality.
With best regards,
Manfred F. Schieder
P.S.: In what refers to your mail on the eventual publication of my article “Ayn Rand, I and the Universe” I still have to make up my mind on what would be the best to do. For the time being, please consider it as unavailable for the general readership of your Webpage.
SPECIAL NOTICE: Semantically we don’t need to specify born human being since (Webster Encyclopedia) being refers to a “conscious, mortal existence”. There is no consciousness neither in the embryo (the young of a viviparous animal, esp. of a mammal in the early stages of development within the womb; in man being up to the early part of the third month) nor in the fetus (the young of an animal in the womb or egg, esp. in the later stages of development when the body structures are in the recognizable form of its kind; in man being from the latter part of the third month until birth).
MR. G. STOLYAROV II:
Chicago, August 31, 2004.
Dear Mr. Schieder:
In continuation of our debate, I offer the following arguments:
You wrote: On this subject I must insist that we have to count the whole article wherever Rand touches the subject of abortion, precisely because, as said in an earlier message, the whole line of thought is involved.
I respond: In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand referred, not only in one paragraf, but several times, to the joys of smoking and its symbolic significance as the “fire in man’s mind.” Does this mean that the entirety of Atlas Shrugged, or even whole chapters thereof, should be interpreted as a fundamental filosofical endorsement of smoking? Knowing your past history on this subject and your present recognition of smoking’s harms, I am sure that you will disagree with such a claim. However, the form of the argument that this claim follows is precisely the same as the form of the claim that, if Ayn Rand mentioned abortion in a single paragraf, the entire article must be taken as an endorsement of abortion.
The ultimate implication of this line of argument would result in the treatment of the entirety of Rand’s texts, and of her every little quirk and periferal judgment, as sacred scripture. If a tangential word on any subject implies automatically that this subject is supported in a fundamental manner by Rand’s filosofy, it is hard to find anything that one following this criterion could non-arbitrarily differ with Rand on and not be labeled un-Objectivist by the sheer fact of this difference. (By what standard is the defense of smoking mutable and the defense of abortion immutable by Objectivist guidelines, given that both subjects have been addressed in a similar amount of actual text).
There can be no such blanket judgment in a rational filosofy that categorizes every view held by its founder as mandatory. Rather, an Objectivist must adhere to the fundamentals of Randian thought (of which the potential-actual dichotomy is not among) and evaluate each issue on its own merits, according to those principles, taking heed of the context and content of what Rand wrote. As David Kelley wrote, “When Ayn Rand urged us to check our premises, she never exempted her own.” I also repeat an earlier citation of mine from Truth and Toleration:
“Suppose an Objectivist philosopher disagrees with Ayn Rand on some particular point. This does not necessarily mean that he rejects her view on all the other principles to which the point in question is logically related. It may well be that he takes the position he does because he regards it as the true implication of those principles.”
I think it was Rand, not I, who made the logical error of improperly relating the Supreme Court’s abortion decision (which she approved of) to its pornografy decisions (which she disapproved of) in Censorship. My stance expresses consistent disapproval of both Supreme Court decisions, for the same reason, that they authorize violations of individual rights, either by the state, the community, or other private persons who initiate force. My definition of the individual rights of the fetus, once again, is based on my metafysical rejection of the potential-actual dichotomy.
You quoted Rand as writing: As I have said before, parenthood is an enormous responsibility; it is an impossible responsibility for young people who are ambitious and struggling, but poor; particularly if they are intelligent and conscientious enough not to abandon their child on a doorstep nor to surrender it to adoption.
I respond: How is it “intelligent and conscientious” to retain custody of a child one does not want, especially when numerous adoption alternatives exist. Rand’s defense of couples who would rather terminate the child than get rid of it peacefully through adoption is incomprehensible. What is so conscientious about not adopting out a child who is expected to experience poor living standards in one’s own household?
Parenthood is a vast responsibility, not to be taken lightly, especially by those who consider themselves unprepared. But there are numerous other ways to avoid it. Abstinence guarantees the absence of parenthood responsibilities 100%. Contraception is the next barrier, if one chooses not to abstain, but it has a certain risk factor attached, which the parties involved must consciously consider before deciding what course of action to take and being ready to accept the natural consequences of such action. If accidental conception still occurs, then adopting out the child gives the parents a certain guarantee that they will not be burdened with the child’s upbringing. So there are three steps that such individuals can take; if any one of them happens to fail, another will succeed. Nowhere is terminating the fetus absolutely necessary.
You quoted Rand as writing: Hatred is what they certainly project, not love for the embryos, which is a piece of nonsense no one could experience, but hatred, a virulent hatred for an unnamed object. Judging by the degree of those women’s intensity, I would say that it is an issue of self-esteem and that their fear is metaphysical. Their hatred is directed against human beings as such, against the mind, against reason, against ambition, against success, against love, against any value that brings happiness to human life. In compliance with the dishonesty that dominates today’s intellectual field, they call themselves ‘pro-life’.
I respond: In essence, all this says, in particularly vehement terms, that “The anti-abortionists hate something. What do they hate? Oh, it must be reason, humanity, etc.!” This is tantamount to what Rand herself referred to as psychologizing, the ability to claim “magical insight” into what one’s opponents are truly thinking and how evil they must be because of what one thinks they could be thinking. The fact is, the above passage contains not a single piece of actual evidence to substantiate such accusations; it contains no quotes from anti-abortion activists, no in-depth filosofical analysis of their actual position, and not even the recognition that, if someone views an entity as a human being, his perception of that entity will differ markedly from the perception of someone who views that entity as a mere collection of cells. The anti-abortionists think the same about what is due to humans; they only disagree on what the limits of the definition of “human” are. This is no reason to assign, in a false and bigoted manner, these psychologizing labels to them. Frankly, however I respect Rand’s filosofical insights, I consider her smear tactics and accusations here to be disgraceful.
You wrote: The intention to prohibit abortion, i.e. to establish anti-abortion by law, is the yardstick that shows a man’s true self. Siding with anti-abortion is to participate with both religions and dictators. Hitler reinforced the imprisonment punishment against abortion (which had been established in Germany in 1871 by Paragraph 218) by establishing the death penalty on abortion. In Russia abortion was prohibited and, of course, punished, during the Stalin era. Anti-abortionists really find themselves in splendid company!
I respond: By the same token, I can argue that siding with the proponents of “abortion rights” places one in the company of hippies, feminists, eugenicists, and others who wish to cleanse society of “undesirable elements” and “undesirable responsibilities.” Do you see the error of arguing that “Because A agrees with B on X, A must automatically support B’s stances on everything and even anything else?”
The same fallacy that you have made above is responsible for some of the religionists’ claims that atheists would automatically find themselves in the company of the atheistic dictatorship of the Soviet Union, and that anyone who is an atheist shows his true self as being inclined toward the mass murder that occurred there.
Let us throw away this empty and warrantless psychologizing by association and rather argue the particular merits of each side’s case, rather than “who happens to agree with whom on what.”
You wrote: From the very start your insistence with measures of violence to implant a prohibition on abortion goes directly against the social axiom of Objectivism. It relates to those who want to rule over their fellow citizen, those who Thomas Sowell calls, rather critically, the “Anointed”.
I respond: My only insistence is on a slightly different criterion for what constitutes initiation of force. Once again, any government action that responds to initiation of force is retaliatory and thereby justified. This is not a ploy to “rule over” other people, or whatever other motives psychologizing may attribute to it, but rather an attempt to determine what really constitutes initiation of force and why. The social “axiom” of Objectivism (which is not really an axiom, since it is derived from the nature of man, rather than being a primary in itself), implies two things, however: 1) what is force, must be retaliated against and 2) what is not force, must not be retaliated against. The question: “What is force?” derives its answer from the nature of man himself. I hope we agree on this. But if we do, we find ourselves needing to ask, “What is the nature of man?” and, given this nature, which entities can be considered to exhibit that nature? This is where we differ.
You write: [A] string of DNA is NOT a born human bein[g]…
I respond: You for some reason draw the line at birth when addressing the question of whether or not a human being has rights. However, other than employ tautologies such as “A string of DNA is not a born human being,” and “I have stated already the Objectivist dictum on where life begins (it begins at birth) and, thus, cannot make any connection between this and where you start to speak of ‘adult human beings,’” you have never stated specifically why birth is the defining criterion of rights acquisition.
It is clear that fetuses in the latter stages of pregnancy are able to move autonomously within the womb. It is also clear that they are already beginning to develop elements of volition and personality; some fetuses are calmer than others; others tend to kick and move about with great frequency. These are choices that the individual fetus must make, with what rudiments of consciousness it has already developed. The fetus within the womb is not a numb, lifeless, immobile entity! Thus, to see birth as the criterion for humanity is entirely arbitrary.
Then, we ask ourselves, when does a fetus obtain actual volitional consciousness? Medical science may mention to us the particular stage of pregnancy where this occurs, but the fact remains that we cannot yet pinpoint the precise instant. Because the development of the fetus is so intricate and unique in each individual case, some fetuses may develop volitional consciousness earlier than others; still, we cannot designate a particular instant in which this acquisition occurs. Thus, in order to prevent the termination of an innocent and autonomously choosing human being, we must set the timeframe for rights acquisition even earlier.
My interpretation of rights-possessing entities is even broader than implied by the above chain of reasoning, of course, but the latter was employed merely to show that selecting the state of being born as a necessary criterion for the possession of rights is entirely arbitrary and unsubstantiated by reality, Rand’s similarly arbitrary, unscientific, and unsubstantiated arguments to the contrary notwithstanding. (Simply because an intelligent person, or even an ingenious person such as Rand makes a very cursory claim, does not make the claim automatically true, especially if there is no evidence to support it.)
Moreover, I am by no means implying that a human being cannot terminate any cells that have DNA and are proliferating as a matter of futuristic certainty. Futuristic certainty of proliferation per se is not the defining criterion for the possession of rights; tumors do not have any rights, because a tumor will never obtain any degree of autonomous, volitional consciousness of its own. The ability to make choices, any choices, is necessary for a rights-bearing entity, and we may say of a fetus that, if allowed to be born or even to progress to the latter stages of pregnancy, it will certainly make some autonomous choices within a given timeframe. We cannot say this of a malignant tumor or any other cellular deformity that afflicts the human organism. Thus, your comparison of one to the other is a false analogy.
Moreover, it is essential here to make the distinction between volition (making choices) and rationality (making the proper choices). An entity need not make the proper choices to possess rights. An individual has the right to smoke, or to listen to rap music, or engage in any other fysically or morally debasing act so long as he harms no other rights-bearing entity in the process. It is the very ability to choose right from wrong that necessitates the possession of rights by the individual who chooses. Rights do not guarantee that a man will act rationally, but they are necessary for him to do so. Rights are a precursor to rationality, not the other way around.
You wrote: Since we are now involved with actuality and potentiality, when you mentioned that there are “other states” apart from actual and potential (which are opposites) I wondered what states could there be that are to be considered separately from both the actual and the potential. Fortunately your last message confirmed that opposites are still opposites and do not involve contradictions. The “other states” you named are not such but merely a capricious (and unnecessary) “subdivision” of the “potential” end of the opposition. Following this “subdivision” leads to nothing sensible, so I do not need to enter this subject again.
I respond: I will not consent to bypassing this absolutely essential subject so hastily! First of all, how is it that past existence can be considered a “potential”? How is it that the spontaneous formation of life in a reducing atmosfere, which can never happen today or in the future, be deemed “potential,” when “potential” implies that the event could happen in the future? How is it that an impossibility, such as the existence of God, could be considered a “potential,” when God cannot exist, while a potential could exist? To claim that these things are all “potential” because they happen not to exist at the present instant, is the capricious standpoint, indeed.
I here present my list of four states distinct from “potential” and “actual” once again, and challenge you to state how you think each of these four is a “potential.”
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 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).
In layman’s terms, the states can be referred to as:
- Cannot be
- Could have been
- Will be
The actual (Is): That which exists in the present moment (My computer, for example).
The potential (or futuristically uncertain) (Could be): 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.)
To claim that the former four categories are all potential and cannot be distinguished is to state that Was = Will Be and that Cannot Be= Could Be. That is, it is a clear admission that A is not equal to A.
On free market solutions to abortion: As far as this issue is concerned, I am not, in the real world, opposed to the establishment of such private foundations as you propose, especially if the passage of a law to ban abortion is not a present political possibility. I am also not opposed to the efforts of private individuals to persuade women not to abort. If I ever decide to raise a child, I will likely undertake such a course of action myself, and, rather than conceiving a new one, will seek to save a child that would otherwise have been destroyed by abortion. To me, whatever reduces the number of abortions performed is a positive development, because it will allow fewer rights to be violated. Even a law cannot automatically prevent all cases of abortion, especially on the “black market.” But if a combination of legal and private forces enters the battle against abortion, the sum of their efforts would be more efficient than any one of them acting alone. For me, the key question in the political debate is, “Which method will prevent the greatest number of abortions?” If you can convince me that the free market will function in the most effective way, in the absence of a law against abortion, to reduce the number of abortions to a greater extent than would have been accomplished with the law’s presence, then you will be able to dissuade me from advocating legal prohibitions of abortion.
You wrote regarding Investmentocracy: This, in turn, involves the fact that, more often than not, it is those belonging to all kind of Mafias, Cosa Nostras and sundry criminality who own the largest amount of money…
I respond: The Objectivist view of money is ultimately that of a representation of one’s values and productive effort. If this is true, then, though some criminals may get away with robbing others and expropriating their values, a government which respects private property will increasingly suppress these criminals’ activities in favor of the endeavors of those who earn their wealth through voluntary trade. This is why a capitalistic society with adequate safeguards for private property does not result in mob rule.
Now let us further assume that those who have earned their money (i.e. the capitalists) have a compelling interest in preserving it, and thus are willing to invest substantial amounts of it into precisely those mechanisms of government that protect their property against the would-be mafias and private crime syndicates. By being assured greater influence in the government by means of their investment, capitalists will be able to direct the government toward courses of action best compatible with their self-interests, i.e., the protection of their property and the expropriation of nobody’s property. Since any property owner will be able to freely buy shares (the government might be obliged to issue a share to anyone who can pay a certain predefined amount of gold for it, for example), the end result will be the control of government by a broad range of capitalists, who will each wish to protect their property, but will be unable to violate the property rights of other investors into the government. (Of course, there should also be Constitutional amendments against property rights violations.)
As for your plan regarding an Administration undertaken by insurance companies, I find several weaknesses in it, as I addressed in “A Review of Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Democracy: The God That Failed:”
“By what standard are insurance companies to determine punishment for offenders and the nature of crime per se? What is to happen if different insurance companies disagree with respect to this, or if the perceived offender recognizes the jurisdiction of no insurance company? Moreover, though most businesses are honest and productive, some are led by inept and incompetent administrations. What if an insurance company were to default on its contractual promise to protect a customer? What recourse would a single customer have against a vast multinational corporation that commits fraud? (Any such just recourse would inevitably require some means of the customer’s compensation.)”
In this sense, I agree with Rand that a government which holds the monopoly on the use of retaliatory force, except in emergencies, is the proper institution. Rand did not extensively address the specific mechanisms of such a government, but I offer further ideas on this topic in “The Fundamentals of Laissez-Faire Meritocracy” and “Post-Veto Authority.” But, in this debate, my contention of key relevance is that retaliatory force does not constitute “initiation of force,” and thus may be justifiably wielded by a government enforcement agency. I also contend that such a government can exist in perfect compatibility with individual liberty, so long as it is severely restrained in its capacities and so long as its legitimate provinces for intervention are clearly defined and the definition is held to be inviolate.
As for the euthanasia debate, let us leave this a matter to be discussed separately from this debate, as it deserves to be addressed on its own merits.
By the way, I have begun to write my treatise on cosmology, and, as of today, have completed 22 pages of it. I expect several months to pass before it is finalized, because, as of my present estimation, I have scarcely finished a fifth of it.
G. Stolyarov II
G. Stolyarov II is an actuary, science fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, Le Quebecois Libre, Rebirth of Reason, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Senior Writer for The Liberal Institute, former weekly columnist for GrasstopsUSA.com, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. Mr. Stolyarov’s blog, The Progress of Liberty, offers a combination of commentary, multimedia presentations, educational materials, and suggestions for effective activism in favor of individual freedom. Mr. Stolyarov also publishes his articles on Helium.com and Associated Content to assist the spread of rational ideas. He holds the highest Clout Level (10) possible on Associated Content. Mr. Stolyarov has also written a science fiction novel, Eden against the Colossus, a non-fiction treatise, A Rational Cosmology, and a play, Implied Consent. You can watch his YouTube Videos. Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Statement of Policy.
Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.