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englandism

'I view every human animal as a person.'

I view every sentient human animal as a person. It drills down to how we define sentience rather than a sum of human shaped components that would arguably would qualify the great apes as human animals.

A human animal is not necessarily a human being. The concept of being involves consciousness, sensory perception and a unique cocktail of rational and emotional intelligence. This ability to rationalise led to the evolution of the moral and ethical perspectives that enlighten our conscious, sentient, concepts of right and wrong.

To kill any human being, I believe, I judge, to be wrong. If I believed as informed by the empiricism of medical science that a 28 day old human animal was sentient, as defined, then I would oppose abortion. I do not. I believe that a female human being has the absolute, individual, right to decide.

Yes, as in all things, there should be checks and balances and this should also apply to medical research but I do not accept that a human animal's rights should be equated or allowed to transcend the rights of a human being.

Tony Makara

We live in a world of inverted values. A world in which the life of a murderer is seen as precious and he/she is consequently not executed and this stands in stark contrast with the life of an unborn child which is seen in legal terms as having no value and can be terminated for something as trivial as economic expediency.

The question of 'Life' perplexes. For example insects exist and run like programmed machines, but they don't have what we would call a life. However the same cannot be said of an animal like a dog, which athough operating on raw instict does appear to have an inquisitive nature, even personality, and exists on a far higher level than an insect and does have 'a life' of sorts.

I've always been uncomfortable with the concept of mercy killing. Such concepts find their birth in intellectual circles and end up in death at places like Hadamar.

Andrew Lilico

englandism@10:31

Is someone in a temporary vegetative state sentient? If so, in what does his/her sentience consist?

Simon Newman

Although you never state it, you appear to use "personhood" to mean "possessing full human rights", the question you're interested in is who gets full legal rights, and your answer is that embryos should have the same rights as born humans. Fair enough, but your terminology muddies the waters.

"How should we describe a human animal with an IQ of 50?"

You're probably thinking of people with severe organic mental retardation, but in fact plenty of completely normal, functional people have measured IQs around 50. It's a very dangerous 'ethnocentric' assumption that a low IQ score necessarily indicates organic mental retardation. The Khoi San of South Africa as a group have measured median IQ in the mid 50s, so about a quarter have measurable IQ of 50 or less, but they are as much normal people, and as functional, as any reader of this board.

TimC

Andrew, a thoroughly interesting and highly engaging article.

You may be interested by the Aristotelian ideas of potentiality and actuality. You actually drew upon it by asking if someone could be a potential person. The answer would be yes, an embryo is a potential person, depending on the definition of person. But that doesn't make them any less of a person at that point. The same applies to someone in PVS, they still have the potential to become (again in this case) an actual person, thus they are still a person.

This is all simplified but I believe it underlies your point.

Andrew Lilico

Simon,

I don't believe there are any "human rights".

On a proper methodology, IQ scores are normalised to 100, so someone scoring 50 would be many standard deviations below the norm. The measurement issue you point at is merely a weakness in assessment methodologies - it's a measurement issue, not a concept issue.

Most importantly, it doesn't affect my point, which is that if we make being sufficiently clever a criterion for personhood, then there is the possibility, in principle, of certain adult humans not qualifying - are we prepared to bite this bullet and say that they are not strictly speaking people? I'm not.

englandism

Hello Andrew

Is someone in a temporary vegetative state sentient? If so, in what does his/her sentience consist?

According to the Glasgow Coma Score a total of three would indicate minimal sentient activity in terms of Best Eye Response, Best Verbal Response and Best Motor Response. This may be temporary or it may be permanent and irreversible. To answer your question, in terms of 'being', then an embryo would score three and, therefore, purposeful sentience is absent.

This would lead to follow-on question about the contradiction implicit in the relative value of a 28 day old human animal compared to a coma victim. I would suggest that neither should be terminated unless there is a good reason to do so. It is defining 'good' that is the problem and probably where we differ.

Regards,
Robert

Tony Makara

This is such a thorny subject. How far does intellect to relate to consciousness and understanding? A few years ago I remember hearing a presenter reading out letter that a woman sent to radio Merseyside in which she said that her son, who had down's syndrome, was on the electoral register and that he regularly voted. So obviously that man obviously had some idea about who he favoured among political parties unlike many apathetical able-minded people who don't understand politics and don't care either. Concepts like the autistic savant show that we really don't understand what we mean by the mind, by consciousness or by intelligence.

Peter Franklin

A fascinating article, Andrew. I believe in the personhood of all 'human animals' -- but then I also believe in the existence of the human soul. If I didn't, I wonder on what basis I could consider a zygote to be a person -- as all that is scientifically observable is a single-celled organism, albeit one with a human genome. The only non-religious argument for recognising the personhood of human life in its earliest stages that I can think of is the impossibility of drawing a line at any other stage than the creation of a new human life.

Terry

I agree that ‘human’ is a zoological term and that an embryo is human in the same sense that an unborn foal is a horse.

However, when it comes to defining what is a person I do not think you can separate this from the general consensus of what is a person. A person is a person when others view it as a person. There is no hard and fast rule. It is not clear-cut or tidy; but what else is in life. It differs from society to society and it changes with medical knowledge. Often, it is an emotional not an intellectual decision. The general consensus at the moment in our country accepts experimentation on cadavers. This has not always been the case. The general consensus also accepts experimentation on embryos, in the case of medical research, but would not accept experimentation on those born but in a vegetative state.
I mention this as the consensus because that is the general view of the mass of people in this society. However, it does not mean everyone agrees, nor should they. However, one of the arts of the legislator is to ensure that the law reflects this consensus.

Even when you are accepted as a person, not all persons have the same rights. A minor has different rights from an adult. A citizen or one country has different rights from the citizen in another country. Andrew, I think this is what you mentioned in your first paragraph. I think you would be hard pushed to name a society where women or slaves were not regarded as people but they were people who had different rights from others and often many fewer rights

Simon Newman

Andrew Lilico:
"I don't believe there are any "human rights"."

I think you mean extra-legal moral rights - presumanbly you accept that there are legal rights commonly referred to as 'human rights', such as the right not to be killed.

"On a proper methodology, IQ scores are normalised to 100, so someone scoring 50 would be many standard deviations below the norm. The measurement issue you point at is merely a weakness in assessment methodologies - it's a measurement issue, not a concept issue."

Not really - IQ tests primarily measure certain forms of analytical intelligence. Where tests are normed so median UK IQ is 100, some population groups elsewhere in the world score much lower, such as the San bushmen I mentioned whose median score is in the mid 50s, 3 SDs below the UK median. This isn't a question of cultural bias as such, it's a question of what ability is being measured. See eg this by James Flynn on the 'Flynn effect' - rising scores in areas of mental ability common in industrialised society:

http://www.thepsychometricscentre.co.uk/publications/BeyondTheFlynnEffect.aspure

"Most importantly, it doesn't affect my point, which is that if we make being sufficiently clever a criterion for personhood, then there is the possibility, in principle, of certain adult humans not qualifying - are we prepared to bite this bullet and say that they are not strictly speaking people? I'm not."

I agree. I think 'humanity' and 'personhood' are closely linked concepts. I don't regard a newly fertilised embryo as a human person though, it's a potential human person. Frankly I don't think my 3 month old son is a fully human person yet either, though he's getting more personality each day. And it's perhaps noteworthy that he does not yet receive full legal protection as a person under English law, due to the law on maternal infanticide - mothers who kill their babies are treated more leniently than other murderers.

Andrew Lilico

Simon@2:32 & Terry@1:29

I didn't and don't propose, by suggesting that all human animals are persons, that therefore all should have the same legal rights. For example, I do not believe that six year old children should have the legal right to vote.

Terry> "I think you would be hard pushed to name a society where women or slaves were not regarded as people"

Aristotle was not of the view that it was clear that women had souls. Similarly, the cry of the anti-slavery movement - "All men are men" - was precisely that we should regard all humans as people, for the true personhood of African slaves was similarly doubted. In many societies Jews were not regarded as strictly "human" - i.e. strictly speaking people.

To those of you asking why I use the term "person": I use the terms "person" and "people" rather than "human" in this article mainly because asking the question "Are all human animals human" seems rather too close to a tautology or an exercise in syllogistic logic. But what I am trying to argue for is substantive, not merely formal.

englandism

'"Are all human animals human" seems rather too close to a tautology or an exercise in syllogistic logic. But what I am trying to argue for is substantive, not merely formal.'

Crikey, it's like being back in my tutor group. Is Socrates mortal? :) And you tried a Socratic contradiction on me too!

At The Grauniad we just hurl hand grenades about and swear but, clearly, you have to up your game if you want to play at ConservativeHome.

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