Dawson has taken the de-bait!

Dawson has taken the de-bait! He writes:

While I'm not certain I have the requisite skills to engage Will, (not to mention that I have several papers on film theory and lit. crit. to write in the next two weeks), I accept the challenge with the following caveat: Abortion=killing a viable human being. The argument would then be, “Is cloning abortion?”. If we don't agree on that posit, we'll have to back up and debate the 'abortion is murder' posit before we discuss cloning. I will ask Will to formulate the argument, and will accept his challenge.

Dawson clearly has the required skills of engagement. But can he triumph?! Perhaps all that training in film theory and lit crit will develop fearsome skills of brilliant obfuscation.

First it isn't obvious what cloning per se has to do with abortion. If we are speaking of cloning for the purposes of creating stem cells, then I see it. But if we're speaking of me cloning myself for the narcissisitic enjoyment of raising mini-Will, then abortion is completely irrelevant. But let's see where this goes.

I accept Dawson's caveat with a caveat. Abortion is sometimes killing a viable human being. I accept that all embryos are in some sense human beings (having human DNA). I do not accept that all embryos are viable in the sense that they could survive outside the womb. But if by 'viable' all that is meant is 'could one day become independent,' then fine.

Next, not all killing is murder. Murder is wrongful killing. Now, persons are the category of beings that have full moral standing (that are subject to being wronged), but not all human beings are persons. Namely, clusters of 2,4,8,16,32, …, n (choose your n) human cells are not persons, thus are not subject to being wronged, and therefore cannot be wrongfully killed.

Pre-emptive argument: Objection: But embryos are potential persons. Yes, and so they potentially have moral standing. And I am a potential airline pilot, but I am not therefore licensed to fly large aircraft. (Five year-olds are potential voters, but they are not allowed to vote, etc.) The difference between potentiality and actuality makes all the difference. To say that something is a potential x is to admit that it is not x.

As to the “Is cloning abortion?” question (assuming we're talking about cloning for stem cell harvesting) the answer is definitionally “no.” Abortion is termination of pregnancy. There is no pregnancy involved in cloning embryos for stem cells.

In any case, we certainly won't be aborting mini-Will! The wee lad shall get nothing but the most vigilant prenatal attention from his amply-wombed, Mozart-listening, dietician surrogate mother. So what's the problem?

In response to my plea

In response to my plea for better anti-cloning arguments, John Weidner of Random Jottings offers this:

I don't have a strong opinion on cloning people, but I can think of more arguments than your three that might be advanced against it.
4. Slippery Slope: Let 'em do this and talking dogs are right around the corner
5. Slavery: There are some people who are pliant and obediant by nature; and we all could use good domestic help.
6. Tyranny: Stalin finds “New Soviet Man;” makes 200 million copies.
7. Evolution: We are presumably still evolving, and cloning would interfere with that.

All right! Let's take these in turn.

4. It's not clear how this relates to cloning exactly. I suppose the idea is that cloning will lead to genetic manipulation, which will lead to talking dogs. But then we need an argument against talking dogs.

5. Slavery is a problem. However, pliant and obedient does not a slave make. Human clones, being human, would have the full complement of human rights. If pliant and obedient folks were mass cloned (a rather fanciful prospect), they would be treated with no less regard than natural-born pliant and obedient folks. You'd still have to pay them. If they were pliant, obediant and extremely smart, you'd probably have to pay them a lot.

6. Cloning, at this point, involves gestation in a real live woman's womb. So 200 million copies of anything is rather unlikely (that would be every woman and girl in the U.S. simultaneously pregnant.) However, there is a fascinating question here. If the New Soviet Man were developed (if even a possibility) what then would be the objection to communism for these folks? The main ethical problem of communism is that it is contrary and destructive to human nature as it is presently constituted. If human nature was different (this is about genetic manipulation now, not cloning), then the right political arrangement for humans would be different. (You'd still have economic calculation problems for communism, but that's a different issue.) The right way to live is relative to what kind of thing you are.

7. This assumes that evolution is a morally good thing, but it isn't. It's morally neutral. It's just something that happens, like the shifting of tectonic plate. And massive cloning wouldn't interfere anyway. It would just tend to replace natural selection with artificial selection (the process by which we get beagles from wolves.)

All of the objections are extremely fantastic; none is a plausible possibility given cloning. And even then, none approaches a compelling objection. The issues of genetic manipulation implicit in 5 and 6 are vexing and fascinating, but they are not problems for cloning.

Keep the objections coming!!!

John Weidner brings it again!

John Weidner brings it again! He writes:

Okay, It seems like you are rejecting all arguments based on future developements. (Seems a bit extreme, most legal or moral prohibitions are somewhat like that. One dose of heroin won't hurt you at all. )

SO. just Wilk and mini-wilk. Hmmm.

1. Not good for Wilk morally and spiritually. The essence of being a parent is a sort of sacrifice of health, wealth and probably sanity (You think I'm kiddin', wait until YOU have 3 kids !!) in favor of future generations. By trying to preserve the you of here-and-now, you are rejecting an important human responsibility, to your spiritual detriment. (You probably have some argument why “morally and spiritually” don't really exist, but that's what gives philosophers a bad name.
Lke Dr Johnson, “I refute it thus!” Oooch, ouch, I think I broke my toe.)

2. Not good psychologically for mini-wilk. Part of the process of growth for chiildren is rebelling against parents, and rejecting their ideas to try one's own. Poor mini–you the “parent” will know his thought processes like they are your own, and he will never quite be his own person.

I'm certainly not rejecting all arguments based on future developments. I remain unmoved, however, by arguments based on extremely improbable future developments.

As to the Will/mini-Will arguments….

1. I don't really understand the argument (probably because I have yet to sire a brood.) Anyway, my intention in cloning myself is not self-preservation. I wish to conduct a fascinating experiment. I'd love to see just how much being me has to do with having my genes, and how much has to do with the totally unrepeatable particulars of my history and experience. And I promise to love mini-Will for his own sake. I certainly do not discount the moral and spiritual. No need to hurt your toe! Morality is about doing what you have to do to have a nice life, and I want a nice life! Spirituality has to do with the needs of a complex human consciousness. I like to tend to these needs through the satisfactions of art, love and intellection. (Religion and mysticism leave me spiritually cold, though.) I think raising mini-Will could be a spiritual experience.

2. Individuation is certainly key to maturation. But will I really know so much about mini-Will's internal world? From day one, he will inhabit a radically different developmental environment from mine, and so he will develop in response to a very different set of experiences. In the right circumstances, a Hitler clone could grow up to be a rabbi! In any case, the “too similar psychologically” argument could go either way. Perhaps I will be able to empathize with mini-Will in an unusually close way, and be able to offer him a kind of understanding and support that most parents can never manage with the aliens that are their children.

Thanks, John, for your thoughtful replies.