Posted 13 February 2012 - 12:35 PM
The easiest quote is still the current quote. Her stance, from the letter “A” in “The Ayn Rand Lexicon”:
An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn).
If the above is sufficient, stop there. I will try to reconcile all her stances below, with an old letter of mine.
Using the above definition, here are the definitions from Merriam Webster Online, of her words, EMBRYO, RIGHTS, AND LIFE /LIVING. I will zero in on the sub-meaning Ayn Rand used from her definition of Abortion:
b : an animal in the early stages of growth and differentiation . . . especially the developing human individual from the time of implantation to the end of the eighth week after conception
RIGHTS, or more exactly, HUMAN RIGHTS
as freedom from unlawful imprisonment, torture, and execution) regarded as belonging fundamentally to all persons
1 a : having life
b : a principle or force that is considered to underlie the distinctive quality of animate beings
c : an organismic state characterized by capacity for metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction
Now I will begin my critical, contextual analysis.
“An embryo has no rights.”
Rand’s definition is correct in that sentence and she is correct in the next sentence that states, “Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being.” It is true using the definition of embryo, as up the eighth week after conception. When she uses the phrase “only to an actual being” she must logically mean a *person*, since normal human embryos naturally become persons. There is an actual human being in the mother from conception onwards, at a particular stage of development. However, that being may not YET be a *person*, which I will explain.
Rand next writes that, “A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born.”
Again from Merriam Webster, Rand is using the sub-meaning of Human Rights, as “freedom from unlawful imprisonment, torture, and execution as belonging fundamentally to all persons”. Ayn Rand is wrong if it can be shown that a *person* exists before birth.
Rand’s next phrase is: “The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn).”
Rand is correct. “The living take precedence over the not-yet-living.” However, a living baby is never the “not-yet-living.” It is alive by definition. And Rand is only partially correct when she says, “or the unborn,” if it can be proven that a human always exists after conception within the mother and that a *PERSON* exists after a certain stage of development. Birth, or any change in location, is not the cause of the change from non rights bearing human to rights bearing *person*.
I will NOT parse her words any further at this point. My readers have the tools and perspective to do that. Ayn Rand continues in The Ayn Rand Lexicon:
Abortion is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?
“Who can conceivably have the right to dictate,” Ayn Rand asks? I won’t dictate but I can assert the truth that I am contextually upholding individual human rights. As the reader parses that statement, consider the logical reminder that while A is A, AB is not A, unless entity B is subtracted from the equation.
Ayn Rand had no public questions about when a *person* exists or other technicalities. She never officially changed her position of when humans possess *rights* which she claimed was immediately after birth. Nor did she ever officially change her stance on the *absolute* right of a woman to have an abortion at any time during her pregnancy. Ayn Rand did classify humans in the womb by age, as in “up to two months,” which is the definition of *embryo*, and she mentions that she is not considering in her formulation a baby living in its last trimester.
As an Objectivist, I am NOT comfortable with the moral (and now legal issue) of *abortion* in the last trimester. Rand showed some evolution in contextual thinking based upon the medical science available at that time, but as I said, she never revised her official position.
In "The Comprachicos," Rand said around 1970:
At birth, a child's mind is tabula rasa; he has the potential of awareness -- the mechanism of a human consciousness -- but no content. Speaking metaphorically, he has a camera with an extremely sensitive unexposed film (his conscious mind), and an extremely complex computer waiting to be programmed (his subconscious). Both are blank. He knows nothing of the external world.
Science advanced in the late 1970’s and we now know that the Baby is not a blank slate. When a baby is inside its mother's womb, the baby is already in the world. The womb is not a sensory‑deprivation tank. Light and sound enter. The Baby’s neurons are firing after the 24th to 28th week of gestation.
In The Secret Life of the Unborn Child, Thomas Verney, M.D., writes
. . . . from the sixth month of intrauterine life (and sometimes even earlier) the unborn child is a feeling, experiencing, remembering being who responds to and is deeply influenced by his environment.
One case study mentioned in the book cites this example:
A woman plays a cello piece often during her pregnancy; in later life her child knows the score of that piece by heart before he ever plays it.
In other words if you hum a bit of the melody, the child who frequently experienced that music in the womb can hum the rest of the bar of music FROM MEMORY.
Canadian Objectivist Ellen Moore who once taught courses through the Nathaniel Branden Institute, continued teaching Objectivism into the 1990’s, and who agreed with the official Objectivist stance wrote:
. . . . The thing is, it never occurred to me that knowledgeable Objectivists took literally the idea of "tabula rasa". It is a metaphor, and at the very least an inaccurate simile. The mind is not a "slate", and I know of no evidence that the neurons in the newborn brain are "blank". There is much misunderstanding in taking such a literal approach, and I do not think Objectivism is at fault for causing it. You know, "using common sense" is a good place to start. Identification of the structure and content in the neurons of the newborn brain is a topic for scientific research . . . . I do not think that Rand went beyond the claim of scientific information available as it was in her lifetime.
Many scientists and obstetricians like Representative Ron Paul agree that after the Baby is conscious, or even before that instant, it is in no way a blank slate and that the issue of when a Baby in the womb is a *person* is settled. This issue is also being addressed by philosophers, Doctor’s colleges, ethics committees and the Courts. What cases should do they consider? Here are some examples.
A caesarian section or induced labor is one way to think of delivering a living Baby that mimics a non - lethal abortion procedure. The Baby is born before the end of its gestation period but has the brain wave patterns of a freely born baby and is viable outside the mother’s womb.
The baby, in this case, is universally considered to have “the rights of a person.”
Should an aborted, viable baby have “the rights of a person?” Medical Ethicists and an overwhelming number of obstetricians say, yes. Birth is also the deciding factor according to the official Objectivist stance, so the official Objectivist stance is, yes.
The baby, in this second case, is considered to have “the rights of a person,” except by some potential mothers, their sympathizers, and some abortion doctors. As an Independent Objectivist venturing forward with this thinking, I maintain that this is a moral and legal ethics issue different from a religious point of view that asserts a person is created upon conception. And I agree with Official Objectivism, that the aborted but living Baby should have rights.
Ayn Rand’s official definition of a woman’s right to an abortion is a side issue of her concept *Man’s Rights*. This side issue was born of the radical sixties and before that, the rise of Feminism, and horror stories of women who had “illegal” back alley abortions. Two biographers “have some evidence” that Ayn Rand had an abortion. This information came from a relative of Miss Rand’s who lives in the United States.
She was friends with Rose Wilder Lane, daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder who wrote the beloved "Little House on the Prairie" children's books, Isabel Paterson, author of “The God of the Machine,” and Edith Efron, author of “The Feminine Mystique. They were all feminists.
Abortion is a unique political and medical issue from that time, because The Christian Religion had banished this medical procedure from polite, legal society, and criminalized the woman and the doctor who performed the abortion. That was a horrible injustice. History can provide a backdrop to what was written and thought at that time. Am I saying this as an excuse or alibi for Ayn Rand’s thinking? No. She arrived at her conclusions using reason. I maintain that on this side issue of abortion, Ayn Rand was at the forefront of progressive reasoning. Roe v Wade was enacted in 1973.
Separation from a place does not change a potential to an actual, nor does remaining in a place change the nature of a being. Rand’s concept of “not-yet-living (or the unborn)” is in error. It is not scientifically valid. A LIVING human being, whatever its stage of development, is living inside the mother, even if it is unborn.
Do Ayn Rand’s statements somehow change the imputation of rights? Is there a change in a child before and after birth, based on the fact that it is beholden upon its mother for life itself? And does this transformation occur because of the thoughts and words that Ayn Rand wrote? No. That would be a logical fallacy. Let us use simple logic.
Let us term “A” stand for the mother and “B” for the baby before brain wave activity similar to that of an adult, commences and B+ as a baby after brain wave activity similar to an adults, commences.
A is A. B is B.AB is not A, unless B is subtracted from the equation.
BA is not B, unless A is subtracted from the equation.
B (residing within the being of A at one day of existence) is still B since location does not change its nature.
B (residing within A, yet viable outside the mother) is B.
B (at the spark of consciousness becomes) B+. It was B but now has the addition of consciousness changing its potential to an actuality.
B+ (residing within A just before birth) is B+
Therefore, B+ (residing outside of A) is B+
It is not Non B nor does it revert back to B.
A baby is always a baby. An unthinking baby has the potential of being a thinking baby. After the development of consciousness a thinking baby is always a thinking baby. So when should rights be conferred? After it becomes separate from its mother’s body? Ayn Rand says “Yes.” I say, “No.” Its nature does not change at birth. How one views a baby as rights bearing (or not) does not change its nature.
Based upon its nature it is always a human being, but before the ignition of that special spark of consciousness, it is still a human, and deserving of all the consideration we give a human, but the human embryo is still not yet a *person*. Neither conception or birth are relevant to the granting of rights.
It’s nature changes it to a *person* when it begins thinking like a person, and not when it is no longer needy and inside the womb. Both a BORN baby and an older child are separate from their mother but still needy. Neediness does not affect the imputation of rights to a thinking child outside the womb, nor should it affect the imputation of rights inside the womb.
This argument is the law in several states and will undoubtedly make it to the Supreme Court making it the law of the land. Roe v. Wade will not be overturned, nor should it be overturned. The battle should be to keep Roe v. Wade as law but with one huge modification. I will let you think about that one modification As disagreeable as you may or may not be, think about it. Discover the right answer through reason not recitation of a forty year old definition. Discover it via a healthy psycho-epistemology. THAT is the Objectivist way.
If an Objectivist says, there is an exact time which is implied by definition of "human being", and that is when a baby is born that is scientifically incorrect. A fetus is not a potential human being. It is a human being.
We may be at odds over terminology and a wrinkle in Randian philosophy. Let us clear up one point. When the sperm and egg unite what is *created* is a human being - at that stage of development. A day later it is a one day old human being. There is a continuity of existence from that first unification of human sperm and egg. It never ceases to be a human being, biologically, until death and then it is still a dead human being.
My terminology, which I maintain is more scientific than Rand’s, is that a normal human while it exists in the womb, is always a *potential person,* no matter its state of development. I think that is what we are discussing. When is a baby a *person*? When is a human, a person possessing rights? I see a modification in Ayn Rand’s stance as contextual knowledge was gained during her lifetime modifying the instant that *potential* becomes *rights bearing*.
I have looked and looked for the source of one of my semi quotes but I cannot find it, I must have gotten it from correspondence from another Objectivist. I will repeat it from memory. Briefly, the story goes that a “mature Ayn Rand” was kind of ambushed and asked some quick questions by a big fan, (it may have been Doris Gordon from “Libertarians for Life.” Imagine sitting outside her apartment hour after hour waiting for Ayn Rand to emerge!)
One of the questions asked was does a baby one minute before birth have the rights of a person? And Ayn Rand said yes. The second question was what if a mother who is aborting her baby, and during the procedure, the baby happens to be delivered alive and viable. Does the aborting mother have a right to a dead baby? And Ayn Rand is reported to have said No she does not have that right. I won’t dignify this with quotes but I think it could be true. Regardless of its veracity, if you look at the Lexicon you will see an evolution of thought in Ayn Rand.
Should an aborted baby excised before the end of its gestation period but that has the brain wave patterns of a freely born baby, and is viable outside the mother’s womb have “the rights of a person?” Yes, this is true and this is part of Objectivism.
Should a delivering / aborting doctor have the right to kill the baby? According to the official Objectivist stance of the imputation of rights upon birth, NO. yet some Objectivists say that is NOT the official Objectivist stance.
To reiterate, I maintain that the moment a baby becomes conscious is the moment that it becomes a person. From that first moment onward, sensations and perceptions in and out of the womb are experienced, memories are stored, and a unique BRAIN is in existence within its mother.
THIS NEW PERSON HAS AN IDENTITY THAT WILL REMAIN THE SAME THROUGHOUT ITS LIFE. It’s rights are modified at birth. Its rights that were secondary to its mothers because it was dependent upon her for its existence, now change to equal to the mothers. This normal baby is thinking as evidenced by the brain wave patterns alpha, delta and theta that are also found in thinking adults.
A good measure of Aristotle’s and Rand’s law of identity is that they are based on the facts of reality as we observe them. After consciousness a fetus becomes a *person*. There are things in the universe that a person in the womb cannot know because it is not yet aware of them. For millennia humans did not know about the dark side of the moon. That does not affect my argument. Omniscience is not required of a *person*. Conceptual thinking is not required for a human child to be granted rights.
I agree that a mother’s rights ALWAYS trump the unborn baby’s rights but at some point there is a person on board, and an abortion at that point, without JUST CAUSE would be similar to an airline pilot jettisoning a stowaway.
The official Objectivist stance is over forty years old and many Objectivists maintain that Ayn Rand is dead and so her Philosophy will stay as it is, and not be extended.
I UNDERSTAND THIS POINT, but I must also logically disagree on a technicality. Why has ARI issued a book on induction as an advancement of Objectivism, Ayn Rand’s philosophy? When OPAR was issued some complained that Doctor Peikoff had changed Rand’s thinking, YET, OPAR still stands as Her Philosophy.
This position of official vs unofficial Objectivism is a minor quibble and not what I wish to discuss. I am NOT suggesting big “O” Objectivism as written by Ayn Rand should be edited. I have heard the arguments about calling modern day contextual Objectivism, little o’ism, or Independent objectivism, etc., to reflect the facts as we NOW know them to be. That is the philosophy I am trying to change, not what Rand wrote. As more facts are gathered, those can change, though not the axioms.
To suggest that a change can occur within a part of Objectivism is not absurd. I am not saying we change the writings of Ayn Rand. CHANGE NOTHING that she wrote.
I do not want any modern guardian of the Politically Correct to change her fictional or essay writings, editing out smoking, or something else deemed not quite right by today’s standards. Someone, if not Mr Binswanger, editor of “The Ayn Rand Lexicon, will someday create an Objectivist Lexicon based on the Philosophy of Ayn Rand which will modify its stance on abortion and other issues. It will occur. Life marches on. Science marches on. Philosophy marches on. More knowledge is acquired at an ever accelerating rate. Rand is our heritage. She demanded that we think for ourselves.
Accept that a thinking baby inside the womb is a person, because it is. At this point, the situation between the mother and her thinking baby is analogous to the dilemma of Siamese twins when one will die, if they are not separated. If one must be sacrificed, then so be it. However, if the baby can be delivered alive, then that is the objective thing to do.
In conclusion, in the contexts of Ayn Rand’s life at various times, her positions on abortion were *justified* though they were not *true belief* which is what we also call a *fact*. To this day pro-abortion proponents will argue that Consciousness in a baby that has gestated for 28 week is not a valid prerequisite for the imputation of rights; it must be born. I maintain that the moment a baby becomes conscious is the moment that it becomes a person. From that first moment onward, sensations and perceptions in and out of the womb are experienced, memories are stored, and a unique BRAIN is in existence inside its mother.
THIS NEW PERSON HAS AN IDENTITY THAT WILL REMAIN THE SAME THROUGHOUT ITS LIFE. A study of personal identity is not mysterious if you are talking about yourself. And it is still child’s play if we are talking about someone else. To be a bit silly let me posit a case of uncertain identity: “Mom? Is that you? Well, Mom, I can ‘t be sure. What is the password?”
How do we know a person’s identity persists? And how do we re-identify ourselves in the morning after awakening, or another person if we have not seen them since last month? Human beings have the least trouble re-identifying themselves or someone else, yet once again, pro-abortion rights group say there is no rights bearing entity present until after birth.
If it looks like a baby human, and it thinks like a baby human, it is a baby human. If it can be demonstrated that many of the modes of thinking are present at the age of 28 weeks of gestation, that are also present in a mature, conceptually thinking adult, then it obviously is a human person at a younger age.
To reiterate: fMRI’s show that a conscious fetus, sleeps, dreams and can redirect its attention. The fact of personal identity is primary: it is self-evident to you that you exist. You are conscious. You remember. Outside of Science Fiction, personal identity in yourself or others can be demonstrated, through brain wave patterns and physical presence.
Sound is present in the womb and the baby pays attention to the sounds it hears, and remembers them. When my daughter Sarah was born a tray was dropped by a nurse, over to baby Sarah’s left. She instantly turned her head left to look at the source of the sound. The nurse assured me that was normal unless a baby was lethargic from ant-pain shots given to the Mother.
The persistence of consciousness from its inception onwards, is self-evident. It exists at some point and does not cease to exist until death (which could also be complete and irreversible mental loss, though the body lives on.) A conscious baby in the womb is the same conscious baby out of the womb, and it will grow into the same conscious adult: this embodies the Law of Identity.
If we could only speak to Ayn Rand today. What would she change in her philosophy? Would she agree with me? It would be wondrous if Ayn Rand revisited all of her works and within her PRESENT context make her writings *justified* and *true*.
I will say, “Roger Bissell’s theory on the attributes of a human in the womb is true. Good work, Roger!”
Semper cogitans fidele,
Semper cogitans fidele,