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Sunday, July 05, 2015

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Thanks a lot, Bill, for this meticulous reply to my first question!

So far I agree with everything except PUP, which I doubt. You seem to be suggesting that if not-PUP, then potentialities are subjective, matters of ascription. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) But why should we say so? An F might have the potentiality to become a G, another F might not have the potentiality to become a G, and at the same time both of those states might be objective. Analogically, a swan is white, another swan is black -- or, a swan embryo has the potentiality to become white, another swan embryo has instead the potentiality to become black -- and at the same time all this holds objectively, regardless of our mental and linguistic performances.

Now you might say the swans have different genetics and so are, on a specific level, of different kinds. As you put it, they are not "all alike". But then we need to adjust PUP, because so far it does not say when and in which sense two items count as of the same kind F. In other words, PUP does not say that and in which sense they must be all alike.

Wow, you agree with everything except PUP?

PUP assumes the uniformity of nature. If a certain piece of metal is disposed to expand when heated, then every other piece of mental that is just like it is also disposed to expand when heated. If a pumpkin seed has the inherent nisus to become a pumpkin plant in the right conditions, then the same holds for every (normal) pumpkin seed.

The same goes for normal (non-defective) human embryos.

If one swan embryo has the potentiality to become a white swan and another a black swan, then there are two different potentialities in play. What PUP requires is that if a swan embryo has the potentiality to become a white swan, then every other swan embryo just like it has the same potentiality.

But what does 'just like it' mean? The same with respect to all 'categorical' properites? The same wrt all categorical and dispositional properties? But then vacuity threatens.

There are very difficult questions here. One is whether there are irreducible dispositions. Or are all dispositions grounded in categorical properties?

So I agree that PUP is not adequate as it stands.

Yes, so far I agree with everything except PUP, which I doubt and also don't know how to adjust.

I suggest to suspend belief about PUP and drop it from your partial but helpful definition of potentiality: "The notion of (strong) potentiality that figures in the Potentiality Principle and the Potentiality Argument is governed by PUP, PIP, PEP, and PAP at the very least."

Let's keep just PIP, PEP, and PAP and see whether we can decide, at least tentatively, the next issue even without assuming PUP. The issue is this:

Do all human beings have the potentiality of logical thinking, free decisions, or higher emotions? Even non-normal, defective ones like anancephalic adults, children and embryos? Why exactly should we prefer to claim that they do but are prevented from actualizing it? Why not take instead their condition as evidence that some human beings don't in fact have the said potentiality?

Maybe it's because the latter position is less simple or for some other reason less less probable a hypothesis than the former one -- judged by the criteria of non-deductive reasoning. Just a hint we might try to ponder.

Bill,

PIP, as formulated,features instances that violates the Exclusionary Principle of the Actual/potential pair; i.e., that no x can have simultaneously the properties of being both an actual and a potential F, which you stated early in the above post.

Thus, assuming Leibniz's principle that if x=y, then they share all their properties, let B be an oak tree that grew from an acorn A. Then according to PIP, A=B, for all the antecedent conditions stated in PIP are satisfied by the pair A and B. Hence, according to PIP, A and B share all their properties. But, since A is potentially an oak tree and B is an actual oak tree, B is both a potential oak tree and an actual oak tree, contrary to the Exclusionary Principle (and A is a potential as well as an actual oak tree).

Incidentally, Vlastimil V may find it useful to read some of the discussions we had way back when on these subjects.

Vlastimil,

It is hard to see how an anencephalic fetus has the potentiality to think logically, etc., but is such that its potentiality is prevented from being realized. I would say that it lacks the potentiality.

And then there are the Down's Syndrome cases and so on.

The Potentiality Argument against abortion fails in these cases, does it not? So the PA needs to be supplemented with other arguments.

I take a stab at such supplementation here: http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2010/12/abortion-the-potentiality-principle-and-cases-it-doesnt-cover.html

PIP: Necessarily, if x is a potential F, and there is a y such that y realizes, whether partially or fully, x's potentiality to be an F, then x = y.

Peter has us consider acorn a that later becomes oak tree b. Acorn a is a potential oak tree, and b realizes a's potentiality to be an oak tree. According to PIP, a = b.

But doesn't this violate the Indiscernibility of Identicals according to which, necessarily, for any x, y, if x, y share all properties, then x = y? For a has the property P1 of being a potential but not actual oak tree while b has the property P2 of being an actual but not potential oak tree. (Nothing at a time can be both a potential F and an actual F: potentiality, unlike possibility, excludes actuality.)

I say there is no violation of the InId principle -- don't call it Leibnizian: Leibniz is known for its converse IdIn -- for when the oak tree is present, b HAD P1 (past tense) and has P2 (present tense) and before the oak tree grew a HAS P1 (present tense) and WILL HAVE P2 (future tense).

Thus there is no time at which a = b has both properties.

Vlastimil: Tell me whether you follow this reasoning. In a sense all I am doing is unpacking further baggage that comes along with the Aristotelian notion of potentiality.

Bill,

-- I do follow your reply to Peter.

-- But I don't know why you are saying that "it is hard to see how an anencephalic fetus has the potentiality to think logically, etc., but is such that its potentiality is prevented from being realized."

A car does not fire up. Suppose this is just because a few of its cabels in the engine are misplaced. The car does not have a _ready_ potentiality to fire up, but it seems to have an _in principle_ potentiality.

Analogically, an embryo is not growing eyes. Suppose this is just because a few of its genes are misordered. But if somebody ordered them in a certain way, it would grow an eye or two. The embryo does not have a ready potentiality to grow eyes and see, but it still might have an in principle potentiality to do so. Yes, people have known for a century or so how to place the cables but still don't know how to put in order the genes. But why shoud this be relevant from the ontological POW?

Similarly with human embryos who do not grow brains. They still may have an in principle potentiality to grow them and think logically etc.

-- In fact, all the Aristotelian bioethicists that I know are saying that even anencephalic human embryos are rational animals -- which means that they have an in principle potentiality to perform the acts of rationality like logical thinking etc. (and hence that they are actual persons, not only potential persons). Cf., e.g., Oderberg, Real Essentialism (2007), 161-162:

"... an anencephalic or severely brain-damaged child ... is still ... a rational animal ... even though it lacks some of the properties associated with the human essence. We have, on the one hand, enough knowledge of what damage and deformity are in human beings and, on the other hand, enough knowledge of human anatomy and physiology, to know that although a severely brain-damaged child does not have the _use_ of reason, still it has rationality precisely because it is human [and, according to Oderberg, to be human = to be a rational animal]. To put the point in hylemorphic terms, possession of the actuating principle by which a being is human (mutatis mutandis for other kinds of substance) does not entail that every potentiality associated with this principle must itself either be, or be capable of, actuation. (Consider people who are drunk, drugged, asleep, very young, very old, etc.) Nor does it entail that there is a standard of ‘perfect instantiation’ –- a standard distinct from, and beyond, _normal_, _typical_ or _paradigmatic_ instantiation –- whereby anything failing to meet the standard of perfection associated with a substantial form thereby fails to have the form. If instead rationality, which is the specific difference of the human species, were a mere property or cluster of properties, then we could no longer even say what the human species was, or whether the brain-damaged child was a member of a _new_ species or of no species at all. But we do know what humans are, and that such a child does not belong to a new species."

Oderberg is saying here, inter alia, that even anencephalic human embryos have an in principle potentiality to think logically etc. because they are humans beings and because human beings, defined by him as rational animals, have the potentiality.

Of course that definition of human beings is problematic, although Oderberg tries to defend it (unpersuasively, IMO). And if the definition is taken against Oderberg's intention as a stipulative and not as a real one, it leaves problematic the claim that anencephalic human embryos are human beings in the stipulative sense.

-- On p. 161 Oderberg also seems to suggest that since the brain will be missing in the anencephalic human embryo due to some (genetic) _interference_ or _defect_, the embryo still has the in principle potentiality to grow the brain, think logically etc. If on the other hand the brain wasn't missing due to a defect (like certain swans in Australia lack whiteness by default, not due to any defect), then the potentiality would be missing.

But also this, of course, needs further defence. Why defects should only interfere with -- and not rob of completely -- in principle potentialities?

-- Finally, in his Moral Theory (2000), 183, Oderberg says: "it is a fundamental principle of classification, adhered to throughout the ages right down to our own, that kinds of living things are defined by the properties of their paradigmatic, normal members, whether on not _every_ member of the kind has those properties."

A property in Oderberg's usage is a feature that obtains or will obtain by virtue of the essence of the thing unless something interferes (damages the thing). So according to the traditional classification principle, the anencephalic human embryo has the property (and right now the interfered in principle potentiality) of logical thinking etc. because paradigmatic, normal human beings have that property.

But why accept the traditional classification principle?

Thanks for that rich response, Vlastimil. I'll have to think about it and get back to you later today. But at least now I see what you mean by 'in principle' potentiality. I suppose you would say that when I was a baby I had the 'in principle' potentiality or power to run ten miles, but not the 'ready' power to do so. Is that the distinction?

Yes, Bill, it is. Another similar distinction is common in analytic metaphysics. I mean the distinction between first- and higher-order capacities. I have a first-order (or, ready) capacity to run. I have it since I have a higher-order (or, in principle) capacity to run: this latter enabled me to acquire the former. There's a slight difference between the two distinctions because of the principle that potentiality excludes actuality. While I keep the higher-order capacity to run even during my having the first-order one, I am not in the state of potentiality, be it ready/firt-order or in principle/higher-oder, so long as I do or have what it is a potentiality for. So, as long as I am in the state of the ready/first-order potentiality to run, I am not in the state of the in principle/higher-order potentiality to be in the state of the ready/first-order potentiality to run. And as long as I run, I am not in the state of the ready/first-order potentiality to run.

Bill,

In my comment/argument against PIP above I did not use the Principle you call "Indiscernibility of Identicals"; i.e., in your words, "necessarily, for any x, y, if x, y share all properties, then x = y."

(Incidentally, this principle is usually called the Identity of Indiscernibles; but no matter).

I used its converse: i.e., necessarily, for (x,y): if x=y, then x and y share all their properties.

Thus, take A to be an acorn, B an oak tree that developed from the said acorn. Then according to PIP, A=B. But then by the principle I just cited above, not the one you used, A and B must share all their properties. Hence, A has the property of being a potential oak tree; therefore, so does B. But since B is an actual oak tree, B features both properties: i.e., 'being an actual oak tree' as well as 'being a potential oak tree'. (The same goes for A, although in reverse). But this result is in violation of the Exclusionary Principle which says that: necessarily, it is not the case that there exists an x such that x is potentially an F and x is actually an F.

That was my argument above.

Peter,

The heat must be getting to me. (I keep the thermostat at 80 but my study is much hotter because of its exposure.) I can't believe I confused the Id of In and the In of Id -- especially since I have written about this many times.

But, despite this blunder of mine, I still think i am right.

The exclusionary principle is that if x is a potential F at time t, then x is not an actual F at t, and if x is an actual F at t, then x is not a potential F at t. Thus actuality and potentiality are mutually exclusive -- at a time. But a man who is actually drunk on Saturday night can be potentially drunk on Sunday morning and actually drunk again on Sunday night.

Here again is PIP:

PIP: Necessarily, if x is a potential F, and there is a y such that y realizes, whether partially or fully, x's potentiality to be an F, then x = y.

So an acorn, which is potentially an oak tree at time t, and much later at time t* has developed into an oak tree, is transtemporally the same, numerically the same, as that acorn.

PIP and the exclusionary principle are logically compatible.

V,

Are you saying that there are two distinct distinction-pairs, in principle versus ready, and first-order versus second-order? If that is what you are saying, then I don't follow you.

>>Oderberg is saying here, inter alia, that even anencephalic human embryos have an in principle potentiality to think logically etc. because they are humans beings and because human beings, defined by him as rational animals, have the potentiality.<<

This strikes me as deeply confused. Surely, if a human fetus is born without a brain, then it, that very individual, has no potentiality to think, speak, etc. The fact that the fetus is human and not bovine or canine surely does not confer upon it the potentiality in question even though normal specimens of the human species do have the potentiality in question.

It strikes me as obfuscatory to say that the brainless human fetus has the potentiality in question 'in principle.'

I am tempted to call 'in principle' a weasel phrase pending an exact specification of its meaning.

My view, so far, is that the Potentiality Argument simply fails when it comes to human fetuses born without brains, and that the Pot. Arg. needs supplementation with other arguments.

Bill,

-- I am rather saing that the usage of the term 'potentiality' is governed by the principle that potentiality excludes actuality. Not so usage of the term 'capacity'. When one says that something has a potentiality to be or become such and such, one is implying that it is not yet such and such. But when one says that something has a capacity to be or become such and such, one need not imply that. E.g., during the times I have the potentiality to run, I am not running. But I may be running during the times I have the capacity to run.

-- You claim it is "obfuscatory to say that the brainless human fetus has the potentiality in question 'in principle.'"

Why, exactly? Let me repeat myself:

A car does not fire up just because a few of its cabels in the engine are misplaced. The car does not have a ready potentiality to fire up, but it has an in principle potentiality to fire up. Analogically, an anencephalic human embryo is not growing a brain just because a few of its genes are misordered. But if somebody (God, an alien, a future genetic engineer) put them in order, it would grow it. The embryo does not have a ready potentiality to grow a brain and think logically, but it still has an in principle potentiality to do so.

What is obfuscatory about this?

Vlastimil,

You make a good point. The exercise of a capacity does not alter its status as a capacity. The same goes for powers and abilities.

Suppose the battery cables in a car have been disconnected. You want to say that the car does not have a ready potentiality to start, but it does not have an in principle potentiality to start. I am inclined to say that it, that very car, has no potentiality to start. For that very car, just as it is, cannot start (in the usual way as opposed to the rolling, pop-the-clutch start). And because it cannot start, it has no potentality to start.

Necessarily, every potentiality qua potentiality is possibly such that it is actualized. A potentiality that cannot be actualized is no potentiality.

Suppose the car has no battery at all. You will probably say that it has an in principle potentiality to start: one can install the proper battery and connect it. Suppose the car has no battery and no starter motor. You will probably say the same thing. Suppose the car has no battery, no starter motor, no fuel injectors, no spark plugs . . . will you still say that has an in principle potentiality to start because all those parts can be installed and properly connected?

What if the car lacks all of the above, and also lacks an engine block, engine mounts, ignition switch? At this point it is surely absurd to say that the car, while it has no ready potentiality to start, has an in principle potentiality to start.

There is also a problem about artifact identity. Is my car minus its engine = my car? If you say my car minus its engine has the in principle potentiality to start because an engine can be installed in it such that the car + engine has the ready potentiality to start, then you are no longer speaking of numerically the same car. The car without the engine is not numerically the same as the car with the engine.

Now a human fetus is not an artifact, but similar problems arise. I would say that a human fetus born without a brain does not have the potentiality to think, speak, etc.

So I suggest that talk of 'in principle potentialities' further muddies waters that are already somewhat muddy.

Why not just say that the Pot Arg against abortion simply fails in cases like that of the anencephalic fetus?

Bill,

Yes, there's a line, I don't where exactly, beyond which the car would be missing too many things for having an in principle potentiality to start. But merely having few cables misplaced would not seem that far -- _if_ there were no identity problems for artifacts, which you fairly raise. I grant these problems do arise. But if, perhaps per impossible, they didn't, that car would intuitively have an in principle potentiality to start. This is enough to make the idea of in principle potentiality intelligible.

Moreover, we may also make that idea intelligible by means of non-artifacts. So long as I'm soused I have no ready potentiality to speak a foreign language. But I am still keeping my in principle potentiality to speak a foreign language, am I not?

Now what about having genes misplaced which leads to never growing a brain? Is that too far for having an in principle potentiality to grow a brain and think logically etc.? I don't know (hence I don't know that we really should just say that the Pot Arg against abortion fails in cases like that of the anencephalic human embryo). Oderberg says it isn't. And he gives several reasons, cited above. To me, something like the last one seems as the most promising: "it is a fundamental principle of classification, adhered to throughout the ages right down to our own, that kinds of living things are defined by the properties of their paradigmatic, normal members, whether on not _every_ member of the kind has those properties." (Oderberg, Moral Theory, 2000, 183) This includes also properties in the category of in principle potentialities.

Perhaps we could defend something like the traditional principle of classification inductively: Many human embryos E1, ..., En have an in principle potentiality to grow a brain and then think logically etc. (Here, E1, ..., EN are paradigmatic, normal human embryos.) So, all human embryos are that in principle potentiality, including anencephalic human embryos.

An obvious objection would be that one must have no significant counterevidence against an inductive conclusion, and that anencephaly is precisely such counterevidence. I guess the reply of Aristotelians like Oderberg would be, no it isn't. For in principle potentialities may be hindered or interfered with by damage without being made non-existent. Just like my in principle potentiality to speak a foreign language isn't eliminated by my drunkenness. Is this a bad or good reply?

Bill,

Thank you for this excellent post, it is a true gem.

Just a simple and quick question; You state: "The point extends to potentialities: it is an elementary confusion to think of unrealized or unmanifested or unactualized potentialities as unactualized possibilia or mere possibilities." Is it safe to assume that you perfectly equate 'realization', 'actualize' and 'manifest' i.t.o. meaning? It is my understanding that these terms are equivalent in meaning (for the purposes of this post). If this is not the case can you elaborate why you consider these terms different in meaning.

Thanks in advance and thanks again for a brilliant post and philosophy blog.

- Philip

Hi again Bill,

Just a follow up on the post I just made; I see you state "We can express that by saying that the manifestation of the disposition remains an unactualized possibility"; this seems to imply from your side that there is a difference between 'actualize' and 'manifest', yet I do not think it is intentional (i.e. I believe your usage of manifest and actualize is that these terms share the same meaning). In other words: 'unactualized possibility' is merely a tautology and by adding 'unactualized' to possibility you are not saying anything new about possibility (as opposed to for example saying unactualized potentiality where you are in fact saying something novel by adding the 'unactualized'). So basically possibility is by definition unactualized.

This interpretation is to defend my perception of you using actualize, manifest and realize as synonyms (i.e. having the same meaning).

Your feedback is again appreciated, thank you.

- Philip

Philip,

Thank you for the comments and the kind words.

The posts on this blog are rough and exploratory and first-draftish and the terminology is fluid and sometimes sloppy. Plus I don't have a complete theory and the topic itself is extremely difficult.

Just think of all the words swarming around this topic: potency, potential, potentiality, nisus, tendency, capacity, power, disposition, predisposition, propensity, ability, aptness.

Consider a wine glass. It is disposed to shatter if suitably struck. I think that the disposition to shatter is really present in the glass whether or not it is ever struck, and thus whether or not the disposition is ever -- manifested, made manifest, revealed, realized, actualized. The reason I use these different terms is to convey to a reader who is probably just an interested layman and not a professional philosopher what I am driving at.

>> So basically possibility is by definition unactualized.<<

No. Possibilities are either actual or unactual. Only mere possibilities are unactual. For example, the possibility that I be blogging now is actual whereas the possibility that I be running now is unactual.

Vlastimil,

I am still not convinced. You quote Oderberg:

>>"it is a fundamental principle of classification, adhered to throughout the ages right down to our own, that kinds of living things are defined by the properties of their paradigmatic, normal members, whether on not _every_ member of the kind has those properties." (Oderberg, Moral Theory, 2000, 183) This includes also properties in the category of in principle potentialities.<<

Suppose that in the third trimester it is established that a human fetus will be born without a brain. It seems to me that in a case like this the Pot Arg does not show that abortion is morally wrong. This is because the fetus in question does NOT have the active potentiality to develop into an individual who thinks, has emotions, etc. Surely the fact that normal members of the kind have it does not show that this particular defective member has it.

After all, the potentiality of a given individual is grounded in that very individual, not in the kind.

If Oderberg is saying that the brainless fetus has the potentiality 'in principle' in virtue of normal members having it in fact, then I say this makes little or no sense. What do the real potentialities of the normal members have to do with the nonexistent potentiality of the defective member?

I don't have the power to run a 4-minute mile and I never did. But some humans have this power. Will you say that I have the power in question 'in principle'? Why talk in this obfuscatory way?

Hi Bill,

Thank you for your reply. Could you then explain to me what the difference is between unactualized potentiality versus unactualized possibility? Take for example the shattering of the wine glass: its disposition to shatter is its potential to shatter correct? The potentiality/disposition to shatter can be unactualized (not shattered) or actualized (shattered). How then does possibility (both actualized and unactualized) fit into this example and how does it exactly differ from actualized and unactualized potentiality?

Your feedback is again greatly appreciated thank you.

- Philip

>>Take for example the shattering of the wine glass: its disposition to shatter is its potential to shatter correct? <<

Correct.

>>The potentiality/disposition to shatter can be unactualized (not shattered) or actualized (shattered).<<

Correct, so long as you understand that it is not the potentiality that shatters or does not shatter, but the glass.

>>How then does possibility (both actualized and unactualized) fit into this example and how does it exactly differ from actualized and unactualized potentiality?<<

Suppose the glass never breaks. Still it is possible that it break. That possibility is a mere possibility, one that is never actualized. One could agree with this while denying that there are dispositions/potentialities. An empiricist might insist that only what can be empirically detected is real, that unmanifested dispositions cannot be empirically detected; hence that there are no unmanifested dispositions.

So the mere possibility that a glass break cannot be identified with the dispoisition that the glass break.

Bill,

Sorry for the delay.

-- You say the anencephalic human fetus "does NOT have the active potentiality to develop into an individual who thinks, has emotions, etc."

It does not have the ready potentiality. But why do you insist it does not have the in principle one?

-- You say, the fact that normal members of the kind have the potentiality (ready or in principle?) does not show that the fetus has it. "After all, the potentiality of a given individual is grounded in that very individual, not in the kind."

But I am not saying that the in principle potentiality of the fetus is metaphysically grounded in the kind. I am merely suggesting that it is epistemically, inductively indicated via normal members of the kind. This option has not been refuted, IMO. If it is true, then I guess the potentiality is grounded in, or a part of, the essence of the fetus.

-- Yes, I bite your last bullet. So far I see nothing obfuscatory in saying that you have the in principle power to run a 4-minute mile.

-- You might find interesting these excerpts from two messages Oderberg emailed to me last week:

"What you refer to as ‘in principle potentiality’ is, strictly, Aristotelian ‘second potentiality/first actuality' ..."

"If an anencephalic baby is not human, what species does it belong to? It must belong to some species or other. I’m not aware of any ‘sub-human’ species of hominid yet identified by anthropologists. What, exactly, would its essential definition be? I find the hypothesis preposterous."

"The alternative is that the anencephalic is indeed a human being. Humans are essentially rational animals. The definition, as with all real definitions, is grounded in the normal members of the kind. Genetically hornless rhinoceroses, stripeless tigers (I mean quasi-albinos, not panthers), etc. - it doesn’t matter what the specific example is, but you see the point. Why is anencephaly something special?"

"Because, the objection goes, rationality is a function of the brain: no brain, no rationality. But you should also then say that since being a mammal is (partly a function of the lactational capacity), genetically teatless cows are not mammals. Ridiculous, no?"

"Obviously there comes a point where a being born of a human is so ‘monstrous’, to use the old-fashioned C17th terminology, i.e. so evidently lacking in the human form, that it would be implausible to classify it as human (albeit a proper burial would still be required as a morally prudent practice). But lacking a brain is not even close to that sort of scenario."

Plus Oderberg's addition on real definitions via normal members of the kind:

"Defining by the normal one means working out what normality is for the species in question, i.e. what the form is and entails for the well-functioning member of the kind. One we have that fixed, we can work out which members are non-normal but nevertheless still possess the real form that the normal ones possess. The non-normal ones are in some way defective or damaged, etc. And we can account for that too in perfectly acceptable ways."

"Note: real definition by means of the normal member does not mean that all members of the kind must themselves be normal. Defining by the normal members merely fixes what the form is, because you have to look at overall morphology to work that out. Once you work that out, the rest follows."

>>Yes, I bite your last bullet. So far I see nothing obfuscatory in saying that you have the in principle power to run a 4-minute mile.<<

This is where we disagree.

Okay, Bill. We may leave that particular disagreement between you and me at that.

Anything wrong with the remarks Oderberg emailed to me?

Vlastimil,

Thanks for sending along Oderberg's comments.

>>"If an anencephalic baby is not human, what species does it belong to? It must belong to some species or other. I’m not aware of any ‘sub-human’ species of hominid yet identified by anthropologists. What, exactly, would its essential definition be? I find the hypothesis preposterous."<<

Who would say that such a baby is not human? Surely it is biologically human, not bovine or lupine, or . . . The issue is not whether such a baby is biologically human, but whether it has the potential to develop into a descriptive person.

>>"Because, the objection goes, rationality is a function of the brain: no brain, no rationality. But you should also then say that since being a mammal is (partly a function of the lactational capacity), genetically teatless cows are not mammals. Ridiculous, no?"<<

I don't know what Oderberg is driving at here.

Mammals lactate and humans speak. But mammal fetuses do not lactate, and human fetuses do not speak. Human fetuses have the potentiality to develop into speakers and mammals fetuses have the potentiality to develop into milk-producers. Or at least the normal ones do.

A bovine neonate without teats does not have the potentiality to produce milk just as a human neonate without a brain does not have the potentiality to produce thoughts. So the cases are parallel. Just as the Potentiality Arg against abortion fails for brainless human fetuses, the Pot Arg (if there were one) against aborting bovine fetuses would fail for bovine fetuses lacking the potentiality to produce milk.

It may be that what Oderberg is doing is grounding the right to life of a human fetus in its membership in the human biological kind. But then potentiality doesn't come into the picture at all, or at least doesn't have any load-bearing role to play.

Bill,

Here's my try at what Oderberg is suggesting:

1. What a material thing is (i.e., its real definition) is indicated by what its overall morphology should be.
2. Whatever this morphology involves, if the thing does not have it, it has an in principle potentiality (i.e., a second potentiality) for it.
3. What the overall morphology of a material thing should be amounts to the overall morphology of normal members of the thing's kind.
4. The overall morphology of normal human beings involves the (upper) brain.
So,
5. The anencephalic human being has an in principle potentiality for the brain.

Perhaps we may simplify:

1'. If a thing does not have a feature it should have, then it has an in principle potentiality (i.e., second potentiality) for it.
2'. The anencephalic human being does not have the (upper) brain, but it should.
Hence (5) again.

(2) makes no sense to me. Suppose a fetus is stillborn. Then it lacks life. So it has a potentiality for life? Sorry, but that's nonsense.

'In principle potentiality' is a meaningless phrase, like 'relative truth.'

Bill,

-- Stillborn fetus is no fetus. It's a corpse. Like the corpse of the dead Vlastimil is no Vlastimil anymore. This might solve your objection to (2).

-- You keep repeating that 'in principle potentiality' is a meaningless phrase. I don't know why. A chief tradition pondering potentiality is Aristotelian. This tradition certainly has a place for in principle potentiality, under the name of ‘second potentiality/first actuality' (as Oderberg notes in the above excerpt from his email message).

Let me repeat two examples by which I tried to convey the notion of such potentiality. Firstly, the car example. There's a line, I don't where exactly, beyond which the car would be missing too many things for having an in principle potentiality to start. But merely having few cables misplaced would not seem that far -- _if_ there were no identity problems for artifacts. Yes, these problems in fact do arise. But if, perhaps per impossible, they didn't, a car with few misplaced cables yet otherwise in order would intuitively have an in principle potentiality to start. This is enough to make the notion of in principle potentiality intelligible. Secondly the drunk example. This makes the notion intelligible by means of non-artifacts. So long as I'm soused I have no ready potentiality to speak a foreign language. But I am still keeping my in principle potentiality to speak a foreign language, am I not?

V,

It is clear that you have the ability to speak English when you are asleep, drunk, under an anaesthetic, and even when in a temporary coma (but may no such fate ever befall you). We can speak of this ability as a power, a capacity, an active potentiality.

You can call that an in principle potentiality of you like. Suppose your neighbor does not speak English, but is teachable. Does he too have an in principle potentiality to speak English?

But I don't see that there is a potentiality to speak English in any reasonable sense in a baby that is born without as brain. The fact that normal babies are born with brains is irrelevant.

Bill,

-- Let us disagree here, for the time being. This disagreement concerns the second question (do all human beings have the potentiality to think logically, choose freely, and have higher emotions?) within the bunch of those I asked you two weeks ago. The first one inquired, what is potentiality? To this you gave your partial but fine answer in this blog post. We agree that potentiality is governed by PIP, PEP, and PAP.

-- Prof Oderberg answered briefly and via email also the remaining questions of mine. His answers are reasonable, would you agree?

My third question was this: Is it true that _no_ brute animals have the potentiality to think logically, etc.? Not even those few chimps that allegedly learned hundreds of signs?

To this Oderberg said: "There is no evidence _whatsoever_ of any ‘higher mammal’ or any other creature having rationality. If anyone has the evidence, let them produce it." (More in his Applied Ethics, 2000, ch. 3)

The fourth question: Even if no brute animals have the potentiality, isn't it still possible for at least some of them to gain it -- say by divine intervention?

Oderberg: "By miracle? I don’t know, I’d need to think about it, since not even God can do the impossible. But suppose He could miraculously make a chimpanzee talk (while remaining a chimpanzee, which is highly debatable; see my 2013 paper on superhuman species). Clearly that kind of potentiality applies to anything. If God can make a talking chimp, He can make a talking stone. So are stones therefore rational because of this universal, highly restricted kind of potentiality? This makes a total nonsense of taxonomy."

The fifth and last question: If it is possible for some animals to gain the potentiality to think logically etc., why not say that also the possibility (not just the potentiality) confers a right to life to brute animals?

Oderberg: "Because if so, this mere possibility of being endowed by miracle with rationality does not entail present rights, otherwise all sorts of absurdities follow."

I'm unclear on the difference between the following statements:

1. 'X' has the potential to do 'y'.
2. 'X' has, in principle, the potential to do 'y'.

The term 'in principle' strikes me as odd; its addition to *1* does not seem to add anything to *1*. An oft-used example would be that of a lending institution agreeing that, in principle, they would be willing to make a loan and, in fact, I have, as a lender, made that type of agreement. I was happy to, though in actuality it was an empty statement, expressing at most a willingness to consider making a loan contingent upon certain conditions being met. I could have more clearly stated it thus: "If all of the conditions I set forth are met to my satisfaction, I will make the loan." "In principle" was no more than a bare acknowledgment of the most general possibility.
I would not, however, have made even that bare acknowledgement if I knew there was NO possibility, for whatever reason, of my lending at that time to that individual. No possibility, thus no potential, even 'in principle'.
$.02

I agree with Oderberg's responses.

The response to #4 is essentially the same as something I said or implied above.

Now please look at my latest post and tell me why the tack I take in it won't satisfy you.

David,

'In principle' gains meaning when contrasted with 'ready'. So long as I'm soused I have no ready potentiality to speak a foreign language. But I am still keeping my in principle potentiality to speak a foreign language. Right know I don't how to spell the distinction out in general terms, but there should be a way.

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