Value, utility and autonomy : a moral-critical analysis of utilitarian positions on the value of prenatal life

De Roubaix, J. A. M. (John Addey Malcolm) (2005-04)

Thesis (PhD)--University of Stellenbosch, 2005.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Problem statement For utilitarians, human beings have intrinsic moral significance based on only two acquired characteristics: sentience, or the ability to suffer, and psychological personhood. Sentience is the entrance-requirement for moral significance, but does not justify a "right to life" claim; at most a "right" not to suffer. Personhood, described as some sort of self-conscious awareness with a concept of the future, may justify a "right to life" claim. However, since personhood is absent in prenatal beings, and only develops some time after birth, the implication is that such beings have little moral significance and may, for instance, be killed "at will". The moral problem that I address in this dissertation is to investigate, assess and evaluate the utilitarian position on the moral status or value of prenatal life. Methodology and results I firstly, on the basis of an extensive literature study, make a detailed analysis of the utilitarian position with reference to a number of themes that I have identified in their argument. This is followed by a critical philosophical evaluation of the utilitarian position, based on six particular arguments: • Utilitarianism is philosophically incoherent. It over-simplifies the moral argument in claiming that consequences are all that matter morally. Its underlying moral theory is at odds with moral claims contained in contemporary notions of human rights and individual justice. It ignores the moral significance of special obligations to special groups. • Utilitarianism potentially has unacceptable consequences. It IS inherently discriminatory and may lead to legitimate "slippery slope" fears. • Utilitarianism clashes with our fundamental moral intuitions on the value of prenatal life. These intuitions are cherished in most world religions. • Contrary to the utilitarian position, speciesism is inevitable to the human condition, especially argued from a position of existential phenomenology. Self- constitution, simultaneous constitution of the world as we know it, and the very possibility of morality are possible only within a particular notion of speciesism. • The potentiality of pre-persons to develop into persons cannot be as convincingly ignored as is done by the utilitarian. • There is a basic and underlying need and intuition to protect vulnerable human beings, of which pre-persons are exemplars. These notions clash with utilitarian theory. As an alternative, I introduce, set out and evaluate a two-phased position on the moral significance of pre-personal human life, a position of respectfulness of prenatal and pre-personal human life based upon its humanity, potentiality and separation-viability. This leads, firstly, to the conclusion of a graded, sliding scale conception of human prepersonal moral significance in line with the level of development and with the actuation of potentiality. Secondly, it leads to the conclusion that the advent of separationsurvivability (viability) is a morally significant cut-off point beyond which the human fetus may "normally" have a justifiable right to the continuation of its life. In as far as the application of my argument is concerned, I develop a "moderate" position with reference to the abortion debate. Whilst I recognize that all human prenatal beings of which it can be argued that they have a reasonable chance to develop their intrinsic potentiality, i.e., to become full-fledged persons, should have the opportunity to do so, I also recognize that neither this position, nor the complexities of life make it possible to hold "absolute" positions on the justifiability of abortion. I explore this extremely problematic notion in the text. That having been said, the advent of separation-survivability may imply a "moral cut-off point", beyond which termination is only rarely justified. I argue that I find no moral hindrance to wellmotivated research on human pre-embryos and stem cells.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Probleemstelling Utilitariste huldig sterk omlynde standpunte oor die waarde van lewe. Hulle redeneer dat menslike (inderwaarheid, alle lewende) wesens slegs op grond van twee eienskappe intrinsieke morele waarde kan verwerf: sentiëntisme, d.i. die vermoë om lyding te ervaar, en persoonstatus. Sentiëntisme is 'n bepalende vereiste vir morele status, maar regverdig nie 'n "reg op lewe"-aanspraak nie. Persoonsyn, verstaan as 'n vorm van selfbewustheid tesame met 'n bewuste belang by die voortsetting van eie bestaan, mag wel so 'n aanspraak regverdig. Voorgeboortelike (en "voorpersoonlike") wesens is egter nie persone nie; hulle word eers (aansienlik) ná geboorte volwaardige persone. Die implikasie is dat sulke wesens weinig morele status het, en byvoorbeeld, na willekeur gedood mag word. Die morele probleem wat ek in hierdie dissertasie aanspreek is om die utilitaristiese beskouing ten opsigte van die morale status of waarde van voorgeboortelike lewe krities-filosofies te ondersoek en te evalueer. Metodologie en gevolgtrekkings Eerstens maak ek na aanleiding van 'n gedetaileerde literatuurstudie 'n in-diepte analise van van die utilitaristiese posisie aan die hand van 'n aantal temas wat ek in hul argument geïdentifiseer het. Daarna volg 'n krities-filosofiese evaluasie van die utilitaristiese posisie, aan die hand van ses argumente: • Utilitarisme is filosofies onsamehangend. Dit oorvereenvoudig die morele argument deur voor te gee dat gevolge al is wat moreel saakmaak. Die onderliggende utilitaristiese teorie bots met die morele eise vervat in kontemporêre sienings van menseregte en geregtigheid. Dit negeer die morele belangrikheid van spesiale verpligtinge teenoor spesiale belangegroepe. • Utilitarisme het potensieelonaanvaarbare gevolge. Dit IS inherent diskriminerend en kan lei tot onkeerbare glybaan ("slippery slope")-argumente. Utilitarisme bots met ons fundamentele morele intuïsies betreffende die waarde van voorgeboortelike lewe. Hierdie intuïsies word onder meer ondersteun deur die meeste hoofstroom godsdienste. • Spesiësisme is, in kontras met die utilitaristiese beskouing, onafwendbaar vir ons selfverstaan as mense, soos aangetoon kan word met 'n beroep op die eksistensiële fenomenologie. Self-konstituering, gelyktydige konstituering van die wêreld van die mens, en selfs die moontlikheid van moraliteit is slegs moontlik vanuit' n bepaalde spesiësistiese beskouing. • Die potensialiteit van "pre-persone" om tot volwaardige persone te ontwikkel kan nie, soos die utilitaris doen, sonder meer geïgnoreer word nie. • Daar is 'n basiese en onderliggende morele eis om swak en weerlose menslike wesens te beskerm. Hierdie idees bots lynreg met utilitaristiese teorie. As 'n alternatief tot die utilitaristiese beskouing, ontwikkel ek 'n twee-fase posisie betreffende die morele waarde van voorgeboortelike menslike lewe. Ek noem hierdie posisie agting vir voorgeboortelike en voor-persoonlike menslike lewe gebaseer op die menslikheid, potensialiteit en oorleefbaarheid van prenatale mense. Dit lei, eerstens, tot die gevolgtrekking van 'n gegradeerde glyskaal konsepsie van voor-persoonlike menslike morele waarde, min of meer parallel aan die vlak van ontwikkeling en die ontwikkeling van potensialiteit. Tweedens lei dit tot die gevolgtrekking dat die ontwikkeling van lewensvatbaarheid 'n moreel-beduidende afsnypunt is waarna die menslike fetus "normaalweg" aanspraak kan maak op 'n reg dat sy lewe voortgesit moet word. In soverre dit die toepassing van my argument betref, ontwikkel ek 'n "gematigde" posisie vis-á-vis aborsie. Ek redeneer dat alle menslike voorgeboortelike wesens wat 'n redelike kans het dat hul intrinsieke potensialiteit verder sal ontwikkel, die geleentheid daartoe gegun behoort te word. Ek aanvaar ook dat nog hierdie beskouing, nog die kompleksiteit van die menslike bestaan "absolute" posisies moreel regverdig. Die problematiek en inherente spanning tussen hierdie oënskynlik-opponerende posisies word in die teks bespreek. Nogtans beskou ek die ontwikkeling van lewensvatbaarheid as 'n moreel insiggewende afsnypunt waarna terminasie net in buitengewone omstandighede moreel regverdigbaar is.

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