Cyclopedia Of Philosophy
Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.
Editing and Design:
Lidija Rangelovska A Narcissus Publications Imprint, Skopje 2009 Not for Sale! Non-commercial edition.
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I. II. III. IV. V. VI. VII. VIII. IX. X. XI. XII. XIII. XIV. XV. XVI. XVII. XVIII. XIX. XX. XXI. A B C D E F G H I-J K L M N O P-Q R S T U-V-W X-Y-Z The Author
I. The Right to Life It is a fundamental principle of most moral theories that all human beings have a right to life. The existence of a right implies obligations or duties of third parties towards the right-holder. One has a right AGAINST other people. The fact that one possesses a certain right - prescribes to others certain obligatory behaviours and proscribes certain acts or omissions. This Janus-like nature of rights and duties as two sides of the same ethical coin - creates great confusion. People often and easily confuse rights and their attendant duties or obligations with the morally decent, or even with the morally permissible. What one MUST do as a result of another's right - should never be confused with one SHOULD or OUGHT to do morally (in the absence of a right). The right to life has eight distinct strains: IA. The right to be brought to life IB. The right to be born IC. The right to have one's life maintained ID. The right not to be killed IE. The right to have one's life saved
IF. The right to save one's life (erroneously limited to the right to self-defence) IG. The Right to terminate one's life IH. The right to have one's life terminated IA. The Right to be Brought to Life Only living people have rights. There is a debate whether an egg is a living person - but there can be no doubt that it exists. Its rights - whatever they are - derive from the fact that it exists and that it has the potential to develop life. The right to be brought to life (the right to become or to be) pertains to a yet non-alive entity and, therefore, is null and void. Had this right existed, it would have implied an obligation or duty to give life to the unborn and the not yet conceived. No such duty or obligation exist. IB. The Right to be Born The right to be born crystallizes at the moment of voluntary and intentional fertilization. If a woman knowingly engages in sexual intercourse for the explicit and express purpose of having a child - then the resulting fertilized egg has a right to mature and be born. Furthermore, the born child has all the rights a child has against his parents: food, shelter, emotional nourishment, education, and so on. It is debatable whether such rights of the fetus and, later, of the child, exist if the fertilization was either involuntary (rape) or unintentional ("accidental" pregnancies). It would seem that the fetus has a right to be kept alive outside the mother's womb, if possible. But it is not clear
whether it has a right to go on using the mother's body, or resources, or to burden her in any way in order to sustain its own life (see IC below). IC. The Right to have One's Life Maintained Does one have the right to maintain one's life and prolong them at other people's expense? Does one have the right to use other people's bodies, their property, their time, their resources and to deprive them of pleasure, comfort, material possessions, income, or any other thing? The answer is yes and no. No one has a right to sustain his or her life, maintain, or prolong them at another INDIVIDUAL's expense (no matter how minimal and insignificant the sacrifice required is). Still, if a contract has been signed - implicitly or explicitly - between the parties, then such a right may crystallize in the contract and create corresponding duties and obligations, moral, as well as legal. Example: No fetus has a right to sustain its life, maintain, or prolong them at his mother's expense (no matter how minimal and insignificant the sacrifice required of her is). Still, if she signed a contract with the fetus - by knowingly and willingly and intentionally conceiving it - such a right has crystallized and has created corresponding duties and obligations of the mother towards her fetus. On the other hand, everyone has a right to sustain his or her life, maintain, or prolong them at SOCIETY's expense (no matter how major and significant the resources
required are). Still, if a contract has been signed implicitly or explicitly - between the parties, then the abrogation of such a right may crystallize in the contract and create corresponding duties and obligations, moral, as well as legal. Example: Everyone has a right to sustain his or her life, maintain, or prolong them at society's expense. Public hospitals, state pension schemes, and police forces may be required to fulfill society's obligations - but fulfill them it must, no matter how major and significant the resources are. Still, if a person volunteered to join the army and a contract has been signed between the parties, then this right has been thus abrogated and the individual assumed certain duties and obligations, including the duty or obligation to give up his or her life to society. ID. The Right not to be Killed Every person has the right not to be killed unjustly. What constitutes "just killing" is a matter for an ethical calculus in the framework of a social contract. But does A's right not to be killed include the right against third parties that they refrain from enforcing the rights of other people against A? Does A's right not to be killed preclude the righting of wrongs committed by A against others - even if the righting of such wrongs means the killing of A? Not so. There is a moral obligation to right wrongs (to restore the rights of other people). If A maintains or prolongs his life ONLY by violating the rights of others
and these other people object to it - then A must be killed if that is the only way to right the wrong and re-assert their rights. IE. The Right to have One's Life Saved There is no such right as there is no corresponding moral obligation or duty to save a life. This "right" is a demonstration of the aforementioned muddle between the morally commendable, desirable and decent ("ought", "should") and the morally obligatory, the result of other people's rights ("must"). In some countries, the obligation to save life is legally codified. But while the law of the land may create a LEGAL right and corresponding LEGAL obligations - it does not always or necessarily create a moral or an ethical right and corresponding moral duties and obligations. IF. The Right to Save One's Own Life The right to self-defence is a subset of the more general and all-pervasive right to save one's own life. One has the right to take certain actions or avoid taking certain actions in order to save his or her own life. It is generally accepted that one has the right to kill a pursuer who knowingly and intentionally intends to take one's life. It is debatable, though, whether one has the right to kill an innocent person who unknowingly and unintentionally threatens to take one's life. IG. The Right to Terminate One's Life See "The Murder of Oneself".
IH. The Right to Have One's Life Terminated The right to euthanasia, to have one's life terminated at will, is restricted by numerous social, ethical, and legal rules, principles, and considerations. In a nutshell - in many countries in the West one is thought to has a right to have one's life terminated with the help of third parties if one is going to die shortly anyway and if one is going to be tormented and humiliated by great and debilitating agony for the rest of one's remaining life if not helped to die. Of course, for one's wish to be helped to die to be accommodated, one has to be in sound mind and to will one's death knowingly, intentionally, and forcefully. II. Issues in the Calculus of Rights IIA. The Hierarchy of Rights All human cultures have hierarchies of rights. These hierarchies reflect cultural mores and lores and there cannot, therefore, be a universal, or eternal hierarchy. In Western moral systems, the Right to Life supersedes all other rights (including the right to one's body, to comfort, to the avoidance of pain, to property, etc.). Yet, this hierarchical arrangement does not help us to resolve cases in which there is a clash of EQUAL rights (for instance, the conflicting rights to life of two people). One way to decide among equally potent claims is randomly (by flipping a coin, or casting dice). Alternatively, we could add and subtract rights in a somewhat macabre arithmetic. If a mother's life is endangered by the continued existence of a fetus and assuming both of them have a right to life we can decide
to kill the fetus by adding to the mother's right to life her right to her own body and thus outweighing the fetus' right to life. IIB. The Difference between Killing and Letting Die There is an assumed difference between killing (taking life) and letting die (not saving a life). This is supported by IE above. While there is a right not to be killed - there is no right to have one's own life saved. Thus, while there is an obligation not to kill - there is no obligation to save a life. IIC. Killing the Innocent Often the continued existence of an innocent person (IP) threatens to take the life of a victim (V). By "innocent" we mean "not guilty" - not responsible for killing V, not intending to kill V, and not knowing that V will be killed due to IP's actions or continued existence. It is simple to decide to kill IP to save V if IP is going to die anyway shortly, and the remaining life of V, if saved, will be much longer than the remaining life of IP, if not killed. All other variants require a calculus of hierarchically weighted rights. (See "Abortion and the Sanctity of Human Life" by Baruch A. Brody). One form of calculus is the utilitarian theory. It calls for the maximization of utility (life, happiness, pleasure). In other words, the life, happiness, or pleasure of the many outweigh the life, happiness, or pleasure of the few. It is morally permissible to kill IP if the lives of two or more people will be saved as a result and there is no other way to save their lives. Despite strong philosophical objections
to some of the premises of utilitarian theory - I agree with its practical prescriptions. In this context - the dilemma of killing the innocent - one can also call upon the right to self defence. Does V have a right to kill IP regardless of any moral calculus of rights? Probably not. One is rarely justified in taking another's life to save one's own. But such behaviour cannot be condemned. Here we have the flip side of the confusion understandable and perhaps inevitable behaviour (self defence) is mistaken for a MORAL RIGHT. That most V's would kill IP and that we would all sympathize with V and understand its behaviour does not mean that V had a RIGHT to kill IP. V may have had a right to kill IP - but this right is not automatic, nor is it all-encompassing. III. Abortion and the Social Contract The issue of abortion is emotionally loaded and this often makes for poor, not thoroughly thought out arguments. The questions: "Is abortion immoral" and "Is abortion a murder" are often confused. The pregnancy (and the resulting fetus) are discussed in terms normally reserved to natural catastrophes (force majeure). At times, the embryo is compared to cancer, a thief, or an invader: after all, they are both growths, clusters of cells. The difference, of course, is that no one contracts cancer willingly (except, to some extent, smokers -–but, then they gamble, not contract). When a woman engages in voluntary sex, does not use contraceptives and gets pregnant – one can say that she signed a contract with her fetus. A contract entails the demonstrated existence of a reasonably (and reasonable) free will. If the fulfillment of the obligations in a contract
between individuals could be life-threatening – it is fair and safe to assume that no rational free will was involved. No reasonable person would sign or enter such a contract with another person (though most people would sign such contracts with society). Judith Jarvis Thomson argued convincingly ("A Defence of Abortion") that pregnancies that are the result of forced sex (rape being a special case) or which are life threatening should or could, morally, be terminated. Using the transactional language: the contract was not entered to willingly or reasonably and, therefore, is null and void. Any actions which are intended to terminate it and to annul its consequences should be legally and morally permissible. The same goes for a contract which was entered into against the express will of one of the parties and despite all the reasonable measures that the unwilling party adopted to prevent it. If a mother uses contraceptives in a manner intended to prevent pregnancy, it is as good as saying: " I do not want to sign this contract, I am doing my reasonable best not to sign it, if it is signed – it is contrary to my express will". There is little legal (or moral) doubt that such a contract should be voided. Much more serious problems arise when we study the other party to these implicit agreements: the embryo. To start with, it lacks consciousness (in the sense that is needed for signing an enforceable and valid contract). Can a contract be valid even if one of the "signatories" lacks this sine qua non trait? In the absence of consciousness, there is little point in talking about free will (or rights which depend on sentience). So, is the contract not a
contract at all? Does it not reflect the intentions of the parties? The answer is in the negative. The contract between a mother and her fetus is derived from the larger Social Contract. Society – through its apparatuses – stands for the embryo the same way that it represents minors, the mentally retarded, and the insane. Society steps in – and has the recognized right and moral obligation to do so – whenever the powers of the parties to a contract (implicit or explicit) are not balanced. It protects small citizens from big monopolies, the physically weak from the thug, the tiny opposition from the mighty administration, the barely surviving radio station from the claws of the devouring state mechanism. It also has the right and obligation to intervene, intercede and represent the unconscious: this is why euthanasia is absolutely forbidden without the consent of the dying person. There is not much difference between the embryo and the comatose. A typical contract states the rights of the parties. It assumes the existence of parties which are "moral personhoods" or "morally significant persons" – in other words, persons who are holders of rights and can demand from us to respect these rights. Contracts explicitly elaborate some of these rights and leaves others unmentioned because of the presumed existence of the Social Contract. The typical contract assumes that there is a social contract which applies to the parties to the contract and which is universally known and, therefore, implicitly incorporated in every contract. Thus, an explicit contract can deal with the property rights of a certain person, while neglecting to mention that person's rights to
life, to free speech, to the enjoyment the fruits of his lawful property and, in general to a happy life. There is little debate that the Mother is a morally significant person and that she is a rights-holder. All born humans are and, more so, all adults above a certain age. But what about the unborn fetus? One approach is that the embryo has no rights until certain conditions are met and only upon their fulfillment is he transformed into a morally significant person ("moral agent"). Opinions differ as to what are the conditions. Rationality, or a morally meaningful and valued life are some of the oft cited criteria. The fallaciousness of this argument is easy to demonstrate: children are irrational – is this a licence to commit infanticide? A second approach says that a person has the right to life because it desires it. But then what about chronic depressives who wish to die – do we have the right to terminate their miserable lives? The good part of life (and, therefore, the differential and meaningful test) is in the experience itself – not in the desire to experience. Another variant says that a person has the right to life because once his life is terminated – his experiences cease. So, how should we judge the right to life of someone who constantly endures bad experiences (and, as a result, harbors a death wish)? Should he better be "terminated"? Having reviewed the above arguments and counterarguments, Don Marquis goes on (in "Why Abortion is
Immoral", 1989) to offer a sharper and more comprehensive criterion: terminating a life is morally wrong because a person has a future filled with value and meaning, similar to ours. But the whole debate is unnecessary. There is no conflict between the rights of the mother and those of her fetus because there is never a conflict between parties to an agreement. By signing an agreement, the mother gave up some of her rights and limited the others. This is normal practice in contracts: they represent compromises, the optimization (and not the maximization) of the parties' rights and wishes. The rights of the fetus are an inseparable part of the contract which the mother signed voluntarily and reasonably. They are derived from the mother's behaviour. Getting willingly pregnant (or assuming the risk of getting pregnant by not using contraceptives reasonably) – is the behaviour which validates and ratifies a contract between her and the fetus. Many contracts are by behaviour, rather than by a signed piece of paper. Numerous contracts are verbal or behavioural. These contracts, though implicit, are as binding as any of their written, more explicit, brethren. Legally (and morally) the situation is crystal clear: the mother signed some of her rights away in this contract. Even if she regrets it – she cannot claim her rights back by annulling the contract unilaterally. No contract can be annulled this way – the consent of both parties is required. Many times we realize that we have entered a bad contract, but there is nothing much that we can do about it. These are the rules of the game. Thus the two remaining questions: (a) can this specific contract (pregnancy) be annulled and, if so (b) in which circumstances – can be easily settled using modern