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Monday, July 20, 2015

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Hi Bill,

I think Matthew Lu may be using 'potential' and 'possible' a little differently than you are.

For the individual anencephalic, a display of rationality is not possible. But it is its potential for rationality, inherent in its human nature, that grounds our recognition of this condition as defective and makes the situation so tragic. The defective body simply doesn't allow the inherent potential for rationality to be realized.

So if we could, somehow, alleviate this condition, it would be a restorative work - making the natural, inherent rationality possible instead of merely potential. A brain would "fit right in", make sense in the context of the whole, and allow the whole to work in a way that it was clearly meant to.

This distinction may not help the pursuasiveness of the Potentiality Argument much (not without supplementation - as you noted) since it's not obvious why we should mind a "potential" in an individual that is, in practice, impossible to actualize. But that's my take of what the neo-scholastics are getting at. It's the A2 view.

Thanks for the comment, Archie.

You clearly understand the neo-Scholastic view, but my difficulty remains. If a manifestation of rationality is not possible for an particular anencephalic, then IT -- that very individual -- cannot be ascribed any potentiality for the manifestation of rationality.

If it is not possible (in other words, if it is impossible) for the particular anencephalic to display rationality, then I am really puzzled as to the effect of adding that it has the potential for rationality, whether we point to 'inherent' human nature or any other qualification.

"It is impossible for x to do y"
and at the same time,
"x has to potential to do y"?

Whatever a natural kind is, it itself does not have the potential to be rational. It can no more be rational than humanity in general can run.

Interesting objection. Consider the following definition of a natural kind. NK={x | P(x)}. Now ask, is NK a member of NK? Answer: NK cannot be a member of NK because this would instantiate Russell's Paradox. As currently defined, NK is not a well-formed set. When we use the Axiom of Comprehension to define sets, we must adopt the customary restriction that sets cannot be members of themselves.

Hi Dave,

That's exactly my point. It is built into the very concept of potentiality that if x has the potential to do y, then it is possible that x do y. And if x has the potential to suffer or undergo y, then it is possible that x suffer or undergo y. For example, if a Hershey bar has the potential to melt if left in a hot car, then it is possible both logically and nomologically that it melt if left in a hot car.

Bro Noah,

You are right that an Unrestricted Comprehension Axiom leads to Russell's Paradox.

But you seem to be suggesting that a natural kind could be identified with a set. Suppose someone proposed that the natural kind *human being* is identical to the set {x: x is a rational animal}. This won't work.

Sets have their elements essentially. This implies that sets cannot gain or lose elements. But the natural kind *human being* gains and loses members without prejudice to its identity as that very natural kind. Therefore a natural kind cannot be identified with a set.

Greetings Bill. Quick thoughts after Vigils.

I am assuming that the natural kind *human being* "gains and loses members" because human beings are born and die. As a Catholic, I would argue that God, who is omniscient, has always known the total membership of the set of this natural kind. I accept that non-theists will not find this argument persuasive.

I offer a somewhat hand-wavy analogy to the set of prime numbers. Euclid proved the set of primes is infinite but not algorithmically reducible. So we "discover" primes all the time, and the set seems to grow. But of course this is an illusion. Primes are primes, and mathematical realists accept that the complete, infinite set of primes as part of the architecture of the universe. A NK of *human being* could be similar.

Finally, the SEP notes of WVO Quine, "He holds (1969) that kinds are sets, so he does think that there are entities that are kinds, and to that extent he is a realist." So there is some precedent for the claim that natural kinds are sets.

Br. Noah

Good morning, Bro. Noah.

>>I am assuming that the natural kind *human being* "gains and loses members" because human beings are born and die.<<

Right.

>>As a Catholic, I would argue that God, who is omniscient, has always known the total membership of the set of this natural kind.<<

Yes, in the sense that God knows the membership of the set of all humans, past, present, and future. This assumes that future individuals are knowable. (Not obvious)

>>I accept that non-theists will not find this argument persuasive.<<

In these posts, I try to craft arguments that could persuade secularists. I maintain that there are arguments against abortion, same-sex 'marriage' and other Bad Things that require no theological assumptions.

Otherwise, a Catholic could just say: at conception, God creates a unique soul and 'implants' it in the zygote, a soul made in his image and likeness, and therefore aborting any human fetus is ruled out as murder by the Fifth Commandment.

>> Primes are primes, and mathematical realists accept that the complete, infinite set of primes as part of the architecture of the universe.<<

OK. A reasonable view to take.

>>A NK of *human being* could be similar.<<

I don't think so. For I also have a modal argument up my sleeve.

Suppose I grant you that there is a set S the elements of which are all the human beings that existed, exist, and will ever exist. Since human beings are contingent beings, the membership of the natural kind *human being* is contingent. That means that the kind could have had different members than it has even if we consider all individuals past, present, and future. But S could not have had different elements that it has. This is because sets have their elements essentially. Therefore, the natural kind cannot be identified with a set.

As for Quine, he takes many wrong turns. And if I may make a little pun, it is Aquinas, not Quine, who a Catholic should invoke.

Hello Bill! Now we have time for a few quick thoughts after Mass, and then I must drive a brother to various and sundry medical appointments.

We will have to discuss secularism and argumentation at some point. Aquinas himself was famously willing to take on all challengers, but even he uses Scripture as evidence in his arguments. My own view is that it is an error of rationalism to suppose that a systematically coherent view of the universe can be articulated from a position of atheism. Even in natural law, which Catholics hold is evident to the natural light of reason, we find a natural idea of God.

Now to your argument. On the one hand, humans are surely contingent beings, and need not necessarily have existed. On the other hand, contingency of any stripe cannot be a barrier to divine omniscience. I think your set S may erect such a barrier. I would argue that S is a set whose membership is contingent but whose designer knows perfectly this same membership. My construction of S is, I grant, necessarily compatibalist.

Another, rather reckless possibility might be fuzzy sets. We can define these sets using non-bivalent membership criteria. It would be interesting to speculate about the construction of NK={x|P(x)} as a fuzzy set. I am not remotely ready to attempt this right now. Even as I hypothesize about it, a orcish horde of objections appears on my mental horizon. But I think it could be interesting as an exercise.

For example, if a Hershey bar has the potential to melt if left in a hot car, then it is possible both logically and nomologically that it melt if left in a hot car.

But how is that any different from this:

If an anencephalic individual has the potential to enagage in rational thought if provided with the requisite conceptual content, then it is possible both logically and nomologically that he engage in rational thought if provided with the requisite conceptual content.

If (as neo-scholastics suppose) human beings are rational animals, doesn't that simply mean that they are both rational AND embodied? And if so, then the exercise of rationality can occur independently of any kind of embodiment (e.g. angels are rational spirits); in humans, it is simply that the body ordinarily provides the grist for the rational mill, so to speak. That is to say, a human being is essentially rational, but accidentally enbrained.

I mean, it seems obvious to me that there is a possible world in which an anencephalic individual is acted upon directly (and under lawlike conditions) by God, say, and provided with the conceptual content required for him actively to engage in rational thought.

There may of course be no possible world where an anencephalic individual is caused to receive conceptual content via the missing brain-matter, but so what? There is also no possible world in which I have my eyes closed and I receive visual stimulus via photons that are blocked by my eyelids; and I am nonetheless still "potentially" able to see.

Keep in mind that I am assuming an anencephalic individual whose humanity has been stipulated: it is also quite possible that in certain (some? most? extreme?) cases of anencephaly, no human being is actually present, but only a malformed body that is unanimated by a rational soul.

In the end, I have always understood rationality by the lights of the neo-scholastics as just a capacity to perform certain operations on conceptual data (where by "conceptual" I mean something like immaterial Aristotelian Forms); and an unexercised capacity is no less a capacity for all that. And isn't that all the work that "potential" needs to do in the instant case?

Bill, I probably should resist the impulse to get involved here (just because I have a lot of other irons in the fire elsewhere), but I'm trying to guess what your objection would be to a slight alteration of A2:

The anencephalic human fetus does have the potentiality to manifest rationality *in the sense that* it is a member of a species or natural kind the normal (non-defective) members of which do have the potentiality in question.

You will see where I have altered A2.

Now, I'm guessing that you will say that this is meaningless or senseless or something.

See, when you try to talk about A2, the interesting thing is that your example doesn't use a property that all normal members of the natural kind have. That is to say, you use running a 4-minute mile. But nobody argues that the ability to run a 4-minute mile is part of the essence of the natural kind "human being." I think you chose it just as a sort of reductio of the idea that I, as an individual, could have essential properties (or any properties) in virtue of what other individuals are able to do.

But I think this misses the point of something like A2. The point of something like A2 is that we can tell epistemologically what is of the essence of all members of the natural kind "human being" by noting what normal members, not undeveloped nor suffering privation, are able to do. (Or perhaps one can say, we can tell it by noting what all members _should_ eventually be able to do--a normative notion of natural-kindness.)

This means that a 4-minute mile example is irrelevant. It also means that we are not arguing that other members somehow metaphysically confer these essential properties upon the defective individual. Looking at the normal members is an epistemic move to figure out the underlying metaphysics.

So to say that the undeveloped or non-normal members have these properties "potentially" *just is* to say that those properties are of the essence of their natural kind, full stop. And the properties of the natural kind are discerned by figuring out what is normal for that natural kind, which is actually manifested (on-line, as it were) in the non-defective members.

Another way to look at it would be like this: Suppose that, in the afterlife, God gives the previously anencephalic infant an improved body so that he is able to think, run, talk, etc. It makes sense to say that this is the *same individual* of the *same kind* that died on earth without ever speaking or running. One can do this with undeveloped but otherwise normal individuals. Suppose that a normal baby dies without ever learning to talk. If we meet him in the afterlife with a developed body and able to talk, it makes sense to say that it is the same individual of the same natural kind. So we can say that these individuals in the afterlife have become "what they were meant to be," "what they should be," or something like that.

In contrast, if in the afterlife I find something that looks exactly like a rock that I used to pass on a walk every day (it has distinctive markings or something) but in the afterlife a voice comes out of it and I can carry on conversations with it, this is just a sort of weird, freak event. There is no sense in which this is a development of this same rock, of a rock kind, and just giving it in the afterlife what it was always "meant to have," taking away some tragic limitation (not being able to talk) that the rock had on earth.

It is in this sense that one can say that the disabled child has the potential to talk but the rock doesn't.

And that's really pretty much all there is to the sense of "potential" here. But it's pretty important.

Bill,

-- You say (like David), "If a manifestation of rationality is not possible for an particular anencephalic, then IT -- that very individual -- cannot be ascribed any potentiality for the manifestation of rationality."

In which sense are you using here the word 'possible'?

Anyway, take again my two analogies. At home Crusoe was taught to play violins but now he will never play them again because nobody taught him how to make some. But he still can be ascribed a potentiality to play them. Or Crusoe will never walk straight again because nobody taught him how to treat a broken leg. But he still can be ascribed a potentiality to walk straight again. He just needs a lath (though he doesn't know that).

-- To repeat myself, I don't think potentialities of normal human beings are irrelevant for potentialities of damaged human beings. The former indicate the latter. I proposed three reasons for this in my first comment to your post "Does the Potentiality Argument Prove Too Much?" None assumes A3.

-- And to repeat myself even more, I don't think you can plausibly supplement the Potentiality Argument the way you suggested in your post "Abortion and Infanticide". Not if you deny the in principle potentiality in anencephalic human beings. See my comments there.

Bro Noah writes,

>>We will have to discuss secularism and argumentation at some point. Aquinas himself was famously willing to take on all challengers, but even he uses Scripture as evidence in his arguments. My own view is that it is an error of rationalism to suppose that a systematically coherent view of the universe can be articulated from a position of atheism. Even in natural law, which Catholics hold is evident to the natural light of reason, we find a natural idea of God.<<

I agree with you that a coherent view of things cannot be articulated from a position of atheism.

But suppose I want to persuade someone of something. I won't make any headway with him whatsoever if I argue from premises he rejects.

Suppose I try to convince my atheist friend Peter that we need limited government because we know from the Bible that man is a fallen being. He may well come to agree with me that we need limited gov't, but not for that reason!

And I surely I won't budge him from his support for same-sex 'marriage' by insisting that trad. marriage was divinely instituted. Only secular arguments have a chance of working.

>>Now to your argument. On the one hand, humans are surely contingent beings, and need not necessarily have existed. On the other hand, contingency of any stripe cannot be a barrier to divine omniscience. I think your set S may erect such a barrier. I would argue that S is a set whose membership is contingent but whose designer knows perfectly this same membership. My construction of S is, I grant, necessarily compatibalist.<<

I don't think you understand my argument. It has noting to do with divine knowledge. Let me me take a simpler case. Suppose someone proposed that the property of being red = the set S of all red things, past, present, and future. Now anything red is physical, and anything physical is a contingent being. To simplify, suppose that there are just three red things, a, b, c. Then redness = {a, b, c}. That set has its members essentially. So that set could not have had any different members. But surely the property of being red could have had only two instances or exactly four; or, if it had three, they might have been a, b, and d, or d, e, and f, etc.

Therefore, the property cannot be identical with the set.

*Mutatis mutandis* for natural kinds.

I have noticed that people whose training is in mathematics have a tendency to see everything, or a lot, in terms of set theory. Thus some will say that Nothingness is the null set -- which is absurd, as you know. (For one thing, the null set exists as a ZF axiom states, while Nothingness precisely does not exist.) I say it is necessarily false to try to understand properties in a wholly extensional way in terms of sets.

Lydia,

"Looking at the normal members is an epistemic move to figure out the underlying metaphysics."

Yes indeed. And criteria exist to determine the second potentiality (or power, or capacity, or capability). Unlike sperm or eggs, there exist a set of conditions that allows zygotes to become adults swiftly, smoothly, reliably - in a word, naturally. A zygote of species S naturally becomes an adult S (given the right conditions); practically no conditions, barring a miracle or parthenogenesis, allow the spermata or ova of S to become adult Ss.

It seems however that analytical philosophers don't have much truck with second potentiality/capacity. I recall a sophistic objection to the potentiality argument against abortion from Jan Narveson: to call an embryo, say, a potential persons is just a fancy way to say it is not a person, as calling an acorn a 'potential oak trees' is just a fancy way to say it is not an oak tree. Do the good people here have a good reference for general criticism of physical potentialials, powers, capacities etc.?

Chris Kirk Speaks

Lydia,

Thanks for that comment of yours!

One discloure of mine. You say, "nobody argues that the ability to run a 4-minute mile is part of the essence of the natural kind 'human being.'" In fact, I implicitly did so, probably confusedly. This was when I bit Bill's bullet (in my comment to his post "What is Potentiality?") and said to him, "I see nothing obfuscatory in saying that you have the in principle power to run a 4-minute mile." I did mean that all humans have a power or potential to run that fast, even if it is _not_ tragic that they do not.

This was confused for later (in my comments to post "Does the Potentiality Argument Prove Too Much?") I implicitly and then even explicitly suggested to define in principle powers and potentialities like you did here: as those directed to outcomes that the thing (eventually) should have had (and so is tragically deprived not to have), or as those powers and potentialities blocked/suspended by some damage of it. And it would be odd to say that this is the case with Bill's never running a 4-minute mile.

Yet there’s a sense in which Bill could run so fast. Once he had a second-order power or potentiality for doing so. There was a time in which he was strong enough to develop deliberately, by training hard, the first-order and ready power or potentiality to run so fast.

Or, if Bill disagrees, there’s still another sense in which he could run so fast. God could bestow upon Bill the first-order and ready power or potentiality (to run so fast) by _improving_ Bill‘s power or potentiality to run at all, the lack of which would be tragic for Bill. This would make that bestowal different from a bestowal of the former potentiality upon, say, a doll. For it is not tragic for a doll to lack the latter.

Vlastimil,

That's interesting. I certainly agree that running a 4-minute mile is within the normal _range_ of human capacities. That is, it's not like running at the speed of light (as the character Dash is able to do in the superhero movie _The Incredibles_). But I'm not sure how important that point is given that it is, in fact, an enhancement of the threshold of minimal normal human capacity.

Kirk, I have definitely moved on this question of essences. I was much more nominalist several decades ago. I'm still a nominalist about rocks. :-) Im inclined to think there's no essence of "rock."

I should perhaps add that I think it is an error to say that any member of a normally rational species is merely potentially "a person" much less "a potential person." The whole separation between "human being" and "person" is part and parcel of a theory invented (as far as I know) to accommodate the intuition that "non-persons" are killable. Since BV has (rightly) the opposite moral intuition, it would be much simpler for him to ditch the distinction between humans and persons altogether and to say that any member of the human species is ipso facto a person, regardless of age, stage of development, or disability. That would not only be correct (IMO) but would also to a large degree obviate the need to discuss potentiality at all.

Lydia,

You say, "any member of the human species is ipso facto a person ... That ... would ... to a large degree obviate the need to discuss potentiality at all."

But what is a person? Isn't it something that has certain powers or potentialities? (To think rationally etc.)

John Doran writes:

>>For example, if a Hershey bar has the potential to melt if left in a hot car, then it is possible both logically and nomologically that it melt if left in a hot car.

But how is that any different from this:

If an anencephalic individual has the potential to enagage in rational thought if provided with the requisite conceptual content, then it is possible both logically and nomologically that he engage in rational thought if provided with the requisite conceptual content.<<

What do you mean by "requisite conceptual content"? Brain matter?

If , on the other hand, you are assuming that at conception God 'implants' a soul in the human zygote, then we don't need to talk about potentiality at all.

My (A2) above reads:

A2: The anencephalic human fetus does have the potentiality to manifest rationality because it is a member of a species or natural kind the normal (non-defective) members of which do have the potentiality in question.

Lydia in her thought-provoking comment proposes the following alteration of (A2):

A2* The anencephalic human fetus does have the potentiality to manifest rationality *in the sense that* it is a member of a species or natural kind the normal (non-defective) members of which do have the potentiality in question.

But (A2*) is ambiguous. On one reading it says that there are two senses of 'potentiality' in play, a stretched sense that applies to anencephalic individuals which will never in the normal course of events develop the capacity to reason, and a second sense that applies to normal individuals that will in the normal course of events develop the capacity to reason.

On the second reading, there is exactly one sense of 'potentiality' in play, the stretched sense.

Both readings are unacceptable. The first because it harbors an ambiguity, the second because it illicitly stretches the sense of 'potentiality' evacuating it of its normal, determinate sense. Because both readings are unacceptable, (A2*) is unacceptable.

>>So to say that the undeveloped or non-normal members have these properties "potentially" *just is* to say that those properties are of the essence of their natural kind, full stop.<<

First of all, undeveloped is not the same as non-normal. A neonate is certainly undeveloped in all sorts of ways, but that is not to say that the neonate is non-normal. It is precisely normal for neonates to be undeveloped with respect to all sorts of properties and capacities.

But the main problem is the arbitrary redefinition of 'potentiality' to mean those properties that are of the essence of their natural kind, full stop. That move divorces potentiality from the concrete individual that develops and situates it at the level of the natural kind that does not develop.

Don't forget that potentiality came into philosophy with Aristotle in an attempt to make sense of change in the sensible world, and in a way that avoids the extremes of Heraclitean flux and Parmenidean stasis. It is concrete individuals that change, not types or species or kinds, and so in its primary and proper sense potentiality is the potentiality of concrete individuals. For this reason, one cannot make the move that Lydia makes.

As for bringing God into the picture, that violates the self-imposed constraint governing this series of posts which is to find arguments against abortion that have some chance of persuading secularists. After all, they are ones needing persuading if we want to reduce the grave moral evil of abortion.

If one is preaching to the choir, that is quite OK, and one may freely invoke God, the soul, afterlife, etc. But then why bother with potentiality arguments? Just say something like this: God creates individual souls in his image and likeness by a purely spiritual process and associates them with human fetuses, all human fetuses, whether normal or defective, either at conception or shortly thereafter. If that is so, then every case of abortion falls under the Biblical prohibition, Thou Shalt Not Kill. Then one wouldn't have to torture the concept of potentiality to get it to fit the anencephalic and other similar cases.

Lydia said to Vlastimil:

>>Since BV has (rightly) the opposite moral intuition, it would be much simpler for him to ditch the distinction between humans and persons altogether and to say that any member of the human species is ipso facto a person, regardless of age, stage of development, or disability. That would not only be correct (IMO) but would also to a large degree obviate the need to discuss potentiality at all.<<

Actually, if I were speaking to 'ordinary' folks, those untouched by philosophy, I would just say: Look, you accept that there is a general prohibition against the killing of innocent human beings. Now human fetuses are human; they are not bovine or lupine or . . . And they are innocent. So if it is wrong to kill the innocent born it is wrong to kill the innocent unborn.

Unfortunately, one cannot simply 'ditch' the distinction between persons and humans. After all, there are or could be persons that are not human, and given this, we need to inquire whether there are or could be genetic humans that are not persons. So these distinctions have to be made even if, in the end, we decide that all and only humans are persons.

Bill, I think you misunderstand my use of the afterlife.

My use of the afterlife was meant as a thought experiment, not as a bit of dogma. I could use the same point to an atheist. Suppose that there were an afterlife and a God. What would it mean to speak of meeting, in such an afterlife, the same child who, on earth, had been severely disabled such that he was physically unable to speak and think? In contrast, what would it even mean to speak of meeting the "same rock" in the afterlife who could now speak? How does this contrast illuminate concepts such as essence and the type of thing that a human being is? Or potentiality, for that matter. If it would be meaningful and correct to say of a human in such an afterlife that he was given properties "proper to" him and simply made whole, healed, a tragedy rectified, but if it would not be meaningful to say the same of a rock, why can this truth not undergird the statement that the child *always was* such as, in his essence, to be a rational being?

Therefore, I think that you might find my afterlife thought experiments useful in the kind of endeavor you are engaging in here. They were not arguments from religious authority.

You state that we cannot separate the concepts of person and human because there could be non-human persons (aliens, for example, or some magically talking pig). But I think that is to conflate a necessary with a sufficient condition. It makes perfect sense to me at any rate to state that it is a *sufficient* condition to be a person that one belongs to a natural kind such that it is normal for members of that natural kind to have such-and-such properties. This would of course apply to rational alien species as well as to the human species.

It also leaves open the possibility of a magical transformation of some individual who appears initially to be part of a non-rational kind into a different kind of entity such that it is able to talk and reason, but in that case, epistemically, the burden of proof is on the other side. That is, it is legitimate epistemically to assume that an entity that appears to be of a non-rational natural kind is not a person until and unless one receives strong evidence that this is the wild exception. Such an individual would apparently be sui generis. That is, an exceptional, actually talking dog would not properly speaking be of the natural kind canis familiaris, since members of that natural kind cannot carry on conversations. He would be of a "talking dog" kind, perhaps (as far as we could tell) the only one of that kind.

To illustrate further that my allusion to the afterlife was not a religious argument, one can pretty easily just change it to a sci-fi thought experiment instead. Suppose that you and the anencephalic child travel to another planet with amazing technology that you do not fully understand. There, the alien doctors heal the child and give him a working brain, with his own DNA, and he grows up normally. On the space ship you also take along a particular rock. The aliens perform some action on the rock such that it suddenly has a mind and begins talking to you. In the case of the child, a tragedy has been rectified, the child has been healed and made whole in keeping with the kind of being he already was. The magic performed on the rock, on the other hand, made the rock into an entirely different type of being (a talking rock instead of an ordinary rock) and was in no sense a healing or "fixing" of a previously tragic situation.

Lydia,

-- You've suggested, like me and Oderberg, that we should consider what would be tragic or defective for the given thing to lack if we are trying to figure out its potential.

You've also said that that's pretty much all there is to the sense of 'potential' here. Do you take these two issues as one and the same? ('x has potential to be F' means to you, 'it is or would be tragic for x to never eventually become F') Or do you rather mean that one is strong evidence for the other?

-- In the following passage from The Ethics of Abortion (2011, 25) by Christopher Kaczor, it isn't clear how exactly the two issues are connected. On one reading, one is strong evidence for the other and so even severely disabled human beings probably have the potential for higher mental acts. On another, they don't but they still have a right to life since they are human beings (this is a reason Bill proposed, too, in his post "Abortion and Infanticide"). What do you think is the right reading o Kaczor?

Kaczor writes that

Jeff McMahan McMahan "offers a ... critique of the rational potentiality as a source of the value of a human being. He notes that congenitally severely disabled human beings do not in fact have the capacity for rationality. Such human beings may grow to adultsize, but they are never able to exercise rational capacities of any kind. The potential for rationality is not, therefore, present in all members of the human species, so the potential for rationality cannot justify the claim that all members of the human species have moral worth as persons. How might one respond?"

"The ethical realm concerns decisions that promote or thwart the flourishing of various kinds of beings. The importance of species membership is due to the way in which being a certain kind of being is related to distinctive ways of flourishing ... For example, if a human being cannot read at the age of ten, then that human being is not fully flourishing; whereas a cat can flourish qua cat without reading, and so even if per impossible we could teach a cat to read, we would be under no obligation to do so. Since flourishing is related to species, the natural kind of a being should inform how one treats the being ethically. Human mental handicaps are a painful lack of flourishing precisely because the distinctive form of flourishing of human beings involves the use of rationality. A mentally handicapped girl and a dog may be equally incapable of exercising distinctly autonomous reason and choice. However, this condition is a tragic disability for the girl but inconsequential for the dog. The dog can enjoy his species-specific form of canine flourishing; the girl cannot flourish in a distinctly human kind of way. For this reason, to make heroic efforts to help the girl develop towards human autonomy and choice by removing obstacles to her active self-development as a human being differs morally from similar efforts on behalf of the dog. The moral importance of species membership willbe explored at greater length in chapter five."

Vlastimil, I don't want to speak for Kaczor, but he _may_ be saying something similar to what I would say. What I would say is this: The notion of tragedy, and noting that the absence of x ability ability in a particular being is a tragedy, is strong evidence for some proposition like, "X ability is part of the intrinsic essence or nature of the kind of being that being P is."

Where I would be inclined to collapse concepts is between the concept of "intrinsic essence or nature" and the concept of "potentiality." That is to say, I think one can probably do all the relevant metaphysical work with the concept of intrinsic nature without invoking the term "potentiality," and since the second term seems to be a stumbling-block for some people (as it has been for BV in these threads), we could just do without it.

So, for example, we could say that the possession of human nature, and the fact that rationality is of the essence of human nature, is the source of the value of the human being. The human being thus has a rational nature or essence, even if that individual human does not possess right now the *physical* potential (because of some tragic physical disability) to develop rationality. To say that all human beings have a rational nature would be similar to saying that a human being is, by nature, one who walks (a walking type of being), even if a particular human being is missing both of his legs.

If Bill is right that Aristotle would not have recognized any notion of potentiality that did not apply to the physical abilities of the individual (so that, presumably, a dog with a congenital absence of legs would not have the "potential" to walk), then those who insist on holding to that allegedly Aristotelian notion of potentiality (tied to actual underlying physical structures) will be bothered by the use of "potentiality for rationality" to refer to the severely physically disabled child. Not being an Aristotelian myself or a specialist on Aristotle, I cannot say for sure what Aristotle's position would have been concerning potentiality, walking, and a congenitally legless dog or human, or the same mutatis mutandis for a human missing an upper cerebral cortex.

Be that as it may, it remains true that the dog is a member of a naturally walking species and that its inability to walk is an absence of species-proper flourishing and that the human is a member of a naturally rational species and that his inability to think is an absence of species-proper flourishing (aka, a tragedy). Whether we want to parse this out further in terms of "potentiality," it seems highly relevant to the ethical questions involved. It also unifies the case of the physically disabled child and the case of the physically undeveloped child without the need to call one of them a non-person (!) or the need to develop two separate principles to explain their value and the wrongness of killing them.

(I cannot resist adding, what was implicit in an earlier comment of mine, that it is a simple non sequitur to reason from "Some non-humans could be persons" to "Some humans could be non-persons." Bill said, "After all, there are or could be persons that are not human, and given this, we need to inquire whether there are or could be genetic humans that are not persons." Why do we need to inquire into that question? That seems to me like saying, "There are or could be parents who are not mothers. Given this, we need to inquire whether there are or could be mothers who are not parents.")

Lydia,

You say "a human being is, by nature, one who walks (a walking type of being), even if a particular human being is missing both of his legs."

That resembles Oderberg's notion of flow of a property from the nature/essence of the given thing (a notion explicated in his book Real Essentialism, 137, 156–159; and in his paper “Essence and Properties”, 98–110). The idea is that whatever flows from essence obtains solely by virtue of essence unless something interferes. For example, the essence of Socrates inevitably makes him bipedal, if nothing interferes. Hence if nothing interferes, so long as Socrates bears his essence he must be bipedal; yet an injury or a genetic disease could deprive him of two legs.

One difficulty with the term "interferes" is that it seems less helpful as applied to a defect that is genetic. This is because the term "interferes" seems to imply that there was a time t at which Socrates, with his bipedal nature, existed and that something happened at t+1 which "interfered" with his development of two legs. That of course could happen--e.g., if Socrates' mother took a drug that messed up the development of his legs in utero. But if Socrates' leglessness was congenital, then the language of "interference" seems a bit confusing, since there was no event during the course of Socrates' existence that caused the interference.

It may be that all we can say in that case is that we can tell that Socrates belongs to a natural kind that is bipedal. His not being bipedal qua individual is therefore a privation, though not one resulting from an event that happened during the course of his life. It is almost certainly, of course, the result of an event prior to his life, such as a mutation or other flaw in the formation of one of the gametes that contributed to his conception.

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