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Does the status of an orphaned mentally handicapped human differ from that of a nonhuman animal with similar cognitive ability? If so, what is the justification? If not, what are the implications?

In terms of the IMPLICATIONS: If it is acceptable to use an animal in medical research (or for other less important endeavors), is it also acceptable to use a mentally handicapped individual of equal or lesser cognitive ability in medical research (or for other less important endeavors)?

asked Jul 21 '12 at 22:58

orb85750's gravatar image

orb85750
100211

edited Jul 22 '12 at 08:56

I do feel that the implications of my question are important, so I just now added the 2nd paragraph for emphasis. Thanks.

(Jul 22 '12 at 09:00) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

Rand is pretty clear in not assigning any responsibility for care of the mentally handicapped. She only says, "If YOU want to help them, we will not stop you."

Q&A around 10:00+

http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=reg_ar_mediocrity

I only wish she squarely answered a question about their rights (or lack thereof). Any thoughts??

(Jul 25 '12 at 23:45) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

A philosophical system is made up of principles that need to be applied consistently. Otherwise, you don't really have a philosophical system; you have a hodgepodge. Having human DNA is not a philosophical principle, so you need to apply whatever 'requirements for rights' exists to all beings consistently -- that includes the average human, the higher primates, and the also the severely mentally handicapped human.

(Jul 27 '12 at 13:36) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

In this thread:

http://objectivistanswers.com/questions/7035/do-any-non-human-animals-use-concepts

an Objectivist has acknowledged the high level thinking by some animals (even in a fully natural setting), yet he asserts that Objectivism does not assign partial rights for such abilities; an animal would have to understand and respect individual rights in order to have such rights. This same line of reasoning must be applied equally to severely mentally handicapped humans.

(Jul 27 '12 at 13:43) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

I still think we need to understand why a newborn human baby has a right to life, while non-human animals (and unborn fetuses) do not. A mentally deficient human, especially an adult who is able to breathe, walk, eat, and maybe even talk (etc.) on his own, is very likely to have greater mental capacity than a newborn baby. The full philosophical development from man's nature to the concept of rights is considerably more complex than merely stating a simple criterion, apart from its full developmental context, and then looking to see if it might apply to animals other than man as well as to man. (And I certainly grant at least the right to life, and typically most other rights, as well, to mentally deficient humans, according to the level of normal cognitive capacity the individual possesses and may potentially be able to develop more fully in the future.)

Also, any claim that some non-human animals engage in "high level thinking" is clearly contrary to Ayn Rand's explicitly stated view that animals other than man cannot reach the conceptual level of cognition.

(Jul 27 '12 at 15:54) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Babies and children mature into fully rational adults. They are not relevant here.

I am referring to a severely mentally handicapped human (let him be an adult) who has no hope of developing into a fully rational being, just as a chimp has no hope of developing into a fully rational being (understanding and respecting rights).

(I again want to make clear that this is a philosophical question for Objectivism and it does not mean that I personally think that the mentally handicapped shouldn't have rights!)

(Jul 27 '12 at 18:44) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

I think you've been asked this before, but do you have an example in mind? I really can't come up with an example where Objectivism would dictate that a human ought to be treated with the same "status" as a non-human animal.

If you don't personally think that the mentally handicapped shouldn't have rights, then maybe we'd get further by examining why you believe that. I suspect your misunderstanding of Objectivism goes much deeper than politics. You might be better off learning Objectivist epistemology first.

(Jul 29 '12 at 13:02) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I did read most of (but not all) Rand's book on epistemology about 10 years ago. My personal belief regarding the severely mentally handicapped (so severe that they can not reason as well as some high level primates) is that they should be protected in some way from intentional harm or exploitation. But I do not see how that follows from the principles of Objectivism. To my knowledge, no recognized Objectivist (or any Objectivist) has has ever solved this problem, despite having 50+ years to do so. I had contacted ARI many years ago a number of times to no avail.

(Jul 31 '12 at 12:54) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

How did you arrive at your belief regarding the severely mentally handicapped?

I know you believe it, but what principles are you basing it on?

As for the unresolved problem, I still don't see what it is. My opinion is that "Ideas for Life" resolved the outstanding problems. There are no humans with the same cognitive faculties as non-humans.

A newborn infant is a physically independent potential adult. No animal meets, or ever has met, that description. Perhaps some still-living humans do not currently meet that description, but they did at one point.

No? Show me the counterexample.

(Aug 01 '12 at 09:44) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Basically, I'm not sure what you're suggesting here. A baby is born. His parents take him home and assume guardianship. At this point, according to Objectivism, his parents have a responsibility to take care of him until he reaches adulthood. Right? Or do you think Objectivism has a problem with this?

Fast forward 10 years. Doctors assess the child, and determine that the child has no hope of ever rationally communicating with other humans. Are you claiming that Objectivism dictates that this relieves the parents of their parental responsibilities?

(Aug 01 '12 at 09:56) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I have given several scientific references regarding high-level reasoning in animals, all of which you dismiss, apparently due to a religious devotion you have to the idea that all reasoning is only possible in the human domain. Profoundly mentally handicapped humans (rare: the bottom 1-2%) often have difficulty with any basic communication or personal care -- let alone performing at all on any of the computer-based tests on which many monkeys have been quite successful.

(Aug 01 '12 at 13:48) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

But the "marginal humans" vs. primates argument is not new -- it is not our argument -- it is one that has existed and has been known to be a problem for many philosophers (not just Objectivists) for many decades.

(Aug 01 '12 at 13:53) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

First of all, you have ignored everything I said above. Your response is a non-sequitur.

Secondly, I do not have a religious devotion to the idea that all reasoning is only possible in the human domain.

Third, I still do not understand the "problem". "Marginal humans" are treated differently from non-human primates because they are different. They are not the same. And I don't just mean they look different. Their brains work in a fundamentally different way. This is true notwithstanding the fact that they may score equivalently on some tests. They will score differently on others.

(Aug 01 '12 at 13:56) anthony anthony's gravatar image

A newborn infant human has the right to life. I do not believe that Objectivism dictates that we take that right away just because we determine that the person is profoundly mentally handicapped.

I also do not believe that Objectivism dictates that we give the right to a non-human animal, just because that non-human animal scores well on a computer-based test.

(Aug 01 '12 at 14:01) anthony anthony's gravatar image

If identifying the difference between humans and non-human animals is a problem which has existed for many decades, then it is a problem which Ayn Rand solved.

Humans cannot live without the use of higher-level reasoning. Non-human animals can, and do.

"Man has no automatic code of survival. His particular distinction from all other living species is the necessity to act in the face of alternatives by means of volitional choice. He has no automatic knowledge of what is good for him or evil, what values his life depends on, what course of action it requires...."

(Aug 01 '12 at 14:16) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I don't think that I need to offer further references, though there are dozens more that you can find via Google. Anyway, I said that you dismissed all the evidence that I provided -- at least is seems so -- since one of the studies concerned the methods of learning being the same in humans and monkeys.

(Aug 01 '12 at 14:20) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

References for what? Evidence of what?

Are you claiming that a broken human brain is identical to a working monkey brain? Do you have references, or evidence, of that?

(Aug 01 '12 at 14:24) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I ignored your comments on babies and children, because, as I had already stated, both end up as fully rational human beings. In my view they really aren't relevant to the marginal humans vs. primates debate.

In addition, I already gave you my personal views that all mentally handicapped individuals should be protected from harm and exploitation. That view does not come from Objectivism. It's not at all clear where Objectivism stands on these issues. I have yet to hear an official and principled argument from the ARI, Atlas Society, etc.

(Aug 01 '12 at 14:27) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

"I ignored your comments on babies and children, because, as I had already stated, both end up as fully rational human beings."

But that's not true. Every mentally handicapped human was once a baby.

"I already gave you my personal views that all mentally handicapped individuals should be protected from harm and exploitation."

You stated it. You haven't stated your reasoning for that view, though. I suspect it's just intrinsicism/rationalism.

(Aug 01 '12 at 14:29) anthony anthony's gravatar image

It's the subject of a life principle, which is not related to the degree of reasoning ability.

(Aug 01 '12 at 14:45) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

"Regan's position is Kantian (though Kant himself did not apply it to non-humans), namely that all subjects-of-a life possess intrinsic value and must be treated as ends-in-themselves, never as a means to an end."

"Regan points out that we routinely ascribe inherent value, and thus the right to be treated with respect, to humans who are not rational, including infants and the severely mentally impaired."

So, yeah, intrinsicism and rationalism.

(Aug 01 '12 at 16:08) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Reading http://www.webster.edu/~corbetre/philosophy/animals/regan-text.html the rationalism is even more blatant:

"And yet it seems reasonably certain that were we to torture a young child or a retarded elder, we would be doing something that wronged him or her, not something that would be wrong if (and only if) other humans with a sense of justice were upset. And since this is true in the case of these humans, we cannot rationally deny the same in the case of animals."

(Aug 01 '12 at 16:23) anthony anthony's gravatar image

There is no Kantian anything in the definition of a subject of a life, which refers to a complex subjective world which is important to the individual of which that experiential world belongs. It is the existence of this experiential world that prevents me from condoning forcible harm to any such individual. It's really that simple. (I'm certainly not taking on the full philosophy of Tom Regan here with all its baggage, even if he was the one that coined the subject of a life term--I guess he was, but I think it's a good term. I suppose we could instead use experiential individual.)

(Aug 01 '12 at 20:34) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image
showing 2 of 23 show all

A genetically human "creature" will always have at least a slightly different status than a non-human animal. We eat animals. We don't eat humans, no matter how mentally deficient they may be (although we may occasionally need to kill them if they attack us and leave us no choice, but a human attack that powerful generally requires a high degree of human-level mental capacity in the attacker). As the Editor's Preface to The Ayn Rand Lexicon mentions (humorously), Objectivism does "not advocate eating babies for breakfast."

Beyond that, the degree to which a not-fully-rational being would have the same individual rights as normal adult humans depends on the degree to which the individual's rational faculty is normal. Children do not have the same range of rights as adults, for example, until the child grows and develops to the point where he needs such freedom of action and can function rationally and productively, with full respect for the rights of others as well as their respect for his rights. Humans, of course, begin life as helpless babies totally dependent on others to care for them.

Update: The Context of Rights

As the questioner notes in a comment, the 2nd paragraph of the question was added subsequently to my original answer. I actually wasn't entirely certain from the 1st paragraph whether the questioner was asking about an alleged "right" to depend on others for support (which would make the others victims of altruism unless they chose to accept the responsibility, as in the case of parental responsibility for a child) -- or merely a "right to life" (at minimum) that others may not violate. The 2nd paragraph makes the "right to life" intent more clear.

Apparently the question boils down to why a human has a right to life while an animal does not, even if the human allegedly has less cognitive capacity than a non-human animal (which I find hard to envision unless the human is nearly brain dead and very possibly not even conscious any longer). The question evidently also assumes that it has somehow been determined that the "handicapped" human will never improve, which again moves the issue significantly away from reality.

It is important to remember the "paradigm case" first and foremost, i.e., why it is that normal humans have a right to life and, as adults, all the other rights that are corollaries of the right to life. If the right to life itself is in question, then it is also important to understand why even a newborn human infant has a right to life, while an unborn fetus and an animal do not. Normal human adults have individual rights because they need freedom of action in relation to potentially forcible interference from others (i.e., "freedom of action in a social context"). Man survives by productiveness and trade guided by reason. The freedom to act in that manner is essential for man's survival -- freedom from forcible interference by others. And the others, as normal humans, also need to survive in the same manner, with the same protection of their individual rights and the same respect for the rights of everyone else.

Once the paradigm case is understood fully, I submit that the application to children (of any age, even newborns) becomes far more clear. Every normal adult owes his existence to the fact that he was allowed to grow and develop from birth to adulthood, and to the protection of his right to life throughout that developmental process. (If anyone wants to discuss unborn human fetuses, I'm sure there is already another thread on this website for that, or else we can create one.)

What is distinctive about man in general, compared to other animals, is man's conceptual faculty and the mode of survival that depends on it. Non-human animals do not have any comparable conceptual factuly and certainly do not depend on concepts of any kind for their survival. They lack the most basic differentiating quality, a conceptual capacity, that separates humans from other animals. (If anyone wants to discuss science fiction scenarios, we can do it in a different thread. The context of the present thread is reality, not a realm that is imagined and unreal.)

With the foregoing context to serve as a backdrop, we can address the issue of a defective human. There are many possibilities, however: to what degree is the individual conscious at all? Is he conscious on a conceptual level, or perhaps in only a very limited degree? (Which would still be more than any non-human animal can achieve, and no animals species other than man relies on concepts for survival.) Above all, how did the defective human get that way, i.e., where did he come from, how did he begin, how did he grow (if he's not still a baby), who took care of him as a child, was he put up for adoption, etc.? Someone must have been responsible for that person while he was a child, on the premise that the child might grow into a reasonably functional adult eventually -- or at least be accorded the benefit of reasonable doubt as to his future potential. I can readily understand that the utterly dreadful stories of atrocious behavior I've heard from parents about children who suffer from severe ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) could lead a parent to want to be rid of the burden long before the child reaches an adult age (such as through adoption or institutionalization), but such a human still deserves the benefit of reasonable doubt (i.e., hope) as to his future potential (just as every rational parent his high hopes for normal children).

As for a comatose, brain-dead human, there comes a point where it is reasonable to disconnect the patient's life support and allow him to live or die on his own, giving him every possible opportunity to regain consciousness and begin to breathe and eat on his own power, and so on -- or die. And after death, it has also become acceptable practice (to my knowledge) for the patient's legal guardian(s) to authorize the use of his organs to save other human lives, unless the patient had the opportunity to grant such permission himself (if he was ever conscious) and did not do so. Again, one must look at the total context, especially how the patient came to be in his present state -- at what age, for how long, under what circumstances, etc.

In real life, to my knowledge, it would be an extreme rarity for a conscious human to be so cognitively impaired as to have no conceptual capacity at all, with his consciousness confined entirely to the sensory-perceptual level. Such a human would not be able to survive for long in the wild, like other animals, without all the other attributes that non-human animals have (like claws, fur, keener senses than man has, brains "wired" to connect sensory stimuli with physical actions automatically, and so on). I've never actually heard of such a thing myself, an animal that looks human but functions somehow without any trace of human intelligence. If it's real, let's cite an actual case and take a closer look at the precise details of it.

Update: More Context for Rights

From a comment:

I don't think I have the tie from conceptual to rights straight.

The chain from metaphysics to politics is, indeed, long and complex. For a more in-depth Objectivist explanation of it, refer to the topic of "Individual Rights" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. Historically, it took roughly two millennia for man to progress from Aristotle's identification of man as the rational animal, to the Enlightenment idea of the rights of an Englishman and "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." I attempted to summarize the connection briefly in my answer, and John's answer summarizes it, as well. The statement, "man has a right" to do such and such, means that it would be morally wrong (or evil) for others to try to stop him forcibly from doing whatever he has a right to do. The Lexicon topic begins: "A 'right' is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context." This has two aspects: (a) man needs such freedom in order to live, and (b) man's life is the only objective standard of value (and of morality) for man. Further elaboration on both topics -- reason as man's basic means of survival, and man's life as the standard of value for man -- can be found in the Lexicon and in the complete reference sources from which the Lexicon excerpts are taken.

Another aspect of "reason is man's basic means of survival" is that man produces the values that his life requires. He does not find them ready-made in nature; he has to work to shape natural resources into a form that man can utilize; and man relies on concepts to identify what is possible and how to achieve it. This is different from the method of survival of non-human animals.

Also, from the same comment:

I have heard claims that some animals do have some conceptual abilities....

My understanding is that these claims equate perceptual associations with concepts, and do not comprehend the full nature of concepts. Remember that Ayn Rand's theory of concepts is still new and revolutionary in the history of philosophy and science. Conventional observers don't necessarily know anything about it, and too often end up mired in a swamp of confusions and errors as a result.

Another commenter seems to dispute this point about concepts. If so, I would like to see some specific references. Examples offered by others in the past have tended to confirm the confusion between perceptual association and concepts. There should be little doubt that many animals have far keener sensory-perceptual capacities than man, and may well perform better than human infants in certain kinds of tests. The key point about man, however, is his conceptual faculty, not merely whether he can outperform animals or not in various cognitive tasks. No non-human animal can begin to match the conceptual feats that a normal human adult (or even an older human child) can perform easily.

Update: Question needs more context

In the comments, the questioner makes it clear that he is still not satisfied with the answers that have been provided. Unfortunately, I find that I, for one, am unable to offer any further insights without more context of what the questioner is referring to. The best description I have seen so far is the following:

I am referring to a severely mentally handicapped human (let him be an adult) who has no hope of developing into a fully rational being, just as a chimp has no hope of developing into a fully rational being (understanding and respecting rights).

The problem apparently is that the expression, "severely mentally handicapped human," is simply too vague to discuss in greater depth than I and others already have. If it is meant to refer to a "genetically human creature" who is effectively "brain dead" on the conceptual level, I already covered that case in the answer and updates that I have posted. One of the very first points expressed in my original answer is that "the degree to which a not-fully-rational being would have the same individual rights as normal adult humans depends on the degree to which the individual's rational faculty is normal." Unless there are some new details that the questioner would like to offer, such as whether or not the impaired individual has any conceptual capacity at all, I am unable to visualize or project what the questioner's expression could mean in sufficient detail to add anything further to the previous analyses. I have cited the general principle that would apply (as far as I can discern from the context described by the questioner so far).

Update: What "Problem"?

In a new comment, the questioner describes his viewpoint as a "problem" for Objectivism:

My personal belief regarding the severely mentally handicapped (so severe that they can not reason as well as some high level primates) is that they should be protected in some way from intentional harm or exploitation. But I do not see how that follows from the principles of Objectivism. To my knowledge, no recognized Objectivist (or any Objectivist) has has ever solved this problem, despite having 50+ years to do so. I had contacted ARI many years ago a number of times to no avail.

As I've explained before, I do not see any major "problem" with concluding that mentally impaired humans, to whatever degree of impairment they suffer from, nevertheless retain at least the right to life, and as many of the corollary rights as their specific capacities allow. But remember also that rights do not impose an unchosen obligation on others. A mentally impaired human who cannot take care of himself would need to rely on the voluntary charity of others. (Objectivism does not oppose charity. Refer to the topic of "Charity" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon for further explanation.)

I suspect that the overwhelming majority of mentally impaired humans nevertheless demonstrate, by their characteristic behavior patterns if not by more direct intellectual communication, that they are more like normal humans than subhuman animals. There is a well established principle in philosophy, upheld by Objectivism, known as the "onus of proof." By that principle, as I understand it, one must grant a mentally impaired human every reasonable benefit of doubt as to the extent of his mental capacity. If he simply cannot function at all in peace with other humans, then others are certainly entitled, as a matter of their self-defense, to restrain him. This is true in regard to criminals of normal human intelligence as well as "severely mentally impaired" humans.

Objectivism also very strongly disputes any claim that subhuman animals can "think" or "reason" or grasp and use concepts. The switch from perceptual-level cognition to the beginnings of the conceptual level is something that only man has demonstrated the capacity to perform. If actual experiments and tests on animals seem to show a higher level of cognitive efficacy in subhuman animals than previously realized, major questions still remain as to exactly what those observations actually indicate about animal cognition and its full capabilities for the survival of subhuman animals. There really should be no controversy about the claim that animals can survive more effectively by animal means, in correspondingly conducive habitats, than humans can. It is in the nature of those animals to be able to do that, entirely through sense-perception and anatomical features, just as it is in the nature of man to survive by means of concepts.

answered Jul 22 '12 at 01:24

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
467718

edited Aug 01 '12 at 01:47

Ideas- can you refer to the second paragraph of orb85750's question? What is the specific basis for the "different status" ? Too what degree should we value this "different status" you mention ? If someone is mentally handicapped at a very severe level, what is their "status" ?

(Jul 22 '12 at 09:48) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

Thanks for the update. This is a great answer. After reading it, I have to say that the premise of the original question is faulty: There is no living human with a "similar cognitive ability" to that of a non-human - at least not until we get into the borderline cases of death, and even then I don't think we can be absolutely sure of the person's cognitive ability until we take out the tubes and unhook the machines and give them a chance to assert their right to live.

(Jul 23 '12 at 08:25) anthony anthony's gravatar image

What is confusing is when we try to compare the "cognitive ability" of a human and an animal in the first place. I think there is a tendency to treat the conceptual ability of humans as a very high level of perceptual ability, but it is not this at all. The two are fundamentally different. A human, with a small amount of conceptual ability, does not have a "similar cognitive ability" to a non-human with a high amount of perceptual ability.

(Jul 23 '12 at 08:28) anthony anthony's gravatar image

With that said, I'd definitely like to hear from someone about those specific cases. You have convinced me that I was looking at this completely wrong, and that the question, as phrased, is based on a faulty hypothetical.

However, I don't think I have the tie from conceputal to rights straight. Maybe this is a place for a different question, but I don't know what it is.

Also, I have heard claims that some animals do have some conceptual abilities, and I have neither the knowledge to reject nor deny these claims.

(Jul 23 '12 at 08:32) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Ideas, I like your improved answer. What's clear here is that there's no "razor" which automatically gives us a proper judgment of unusual cases. Principles exist to deal with the "paradigm case", and the more a case diverges from this, the more our judgment is necessary to evaluate the differences and their impact on the result.

(Jul 23 '12 at 10:59) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

For your own edification, I strongly suggest that you read up on what science has shown us over the last 50 years concerning the cognitive abilities of cetaceans and nonhuman primates. In Rand's defense, so much less was known several decades ago when Objectivism was being formulated. Today, there is no excuse for such ignorance.

(Jul 23 '12 at 18:05) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

There have been countless studies comparing cognitive abilities of various animals (and animals to humans -- in the case of some primates, who have performed better than young children on some tests). Are you seriously claiming otherwise?

I personally do not claim that dolphins are going to understand and respect your rights, but neither will many mentally handicapped or severely brain damaged humans. If unwanted by anyone, should you let them die? Would it be acceptable to use them in medical experiments while still alive? I really don't think that question has been answered.

(Jul 23 '12 at 18:13) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

I'm not sure who your question was directed at, but my comment was that the mentally handicapped do not have "similar cognitive ability" to animals. They may perform similarly on some tests of cognitive ability, but surely they perform drastically differently on other tests of cognitive ability.

(Jul 23 '12 at 18:35) anthony anthony's gravatar image

As for the hypothetical situation of a person who is "unwanted by anyone", I really can't wrap my head around how, short of me having taken some action to voluntarily take on responsibility for that person, it would fall on me to choose if the person lives or dies.

There certainly are a lot of children dying in third world countries right now, that you, and me, and all of us, don't save the life of. And those children are wanted by someone. Is "don't save the life of" equivalent to "let die"?

(Jul 23 '12 at 18:51) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Sorry, just to clarify about the "let them die?" phrase, it was meant only in this context of a human with no hope of ever reaching the threshold for understanding and respecting others' rights. If that threshold cannot be met, it would seem to me that such a person would not have rights. (If incorrect, please explain.) One could either let them die (assuming that would ultimately happen without external care -- I suppose it is not certain) OR use them to some advantage, as in some type of important medical research. If they don't have rights, I don't see how the latter can be prohibited?

(Jul 23 '12 at 19:04) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

A question on Ideas for Life's latest UPDATE: "A 'right' is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context." This has two aspects: (a) man needs such freedom in order to live [...] QUESTION: Is 'man' clearly defined anywhere by Rand? And doesn't he need sufficient cognitive ability to live his life of freedom through reason -- and therefore to have the right to do so?

(Jul 23 '12 at 23:36) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

"Another commenter seems to dispute this point about concepts. If so, I would like to see some specific references."

I would too. orb85750 has alluded to "what science has shown us over the last 50 years concerning the cognitive abilities of cetaceans and nonhuman primates". I'm neither a professional philosopher nor a professional scientists, and simply don't have the time and expertise to review the last 50 years of research on this point.

I thought there was another question on this site about it, but I can't find it, so I'm going to start a new one.

(Jul 24 '12 at 08:23) anthony anthony's gravatar image

The three paragraphs beginning with "With the foregoing context to serve as a backdrop, we can address the issue of a defective human" are pretty effective at quelling concerns regarding the essential issue of this question.

The answer seems to be: "Let's take defective humans on a case-by-case basis."

Then in the paragraph about comatose, brain-dead humans, the legal guardian is mentioned.

[continued]

(Jul 24 '12 at 09:23) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

The legal guardian has great latitude in deciding the fate of the brain-dead. Where the brain-dead person is unable to offer consent, the guardian takes his place. It's much like being a parent, except a parent doesn't have as much latitude.

A parent cannot say "take my child's kidneys, while he is still living, and let him die," while a legal guardian of the brain-dead might be allowed to decide such.

Note, the rights of the brain-dead do not disappear. They transfer to a legal guardian. Even so, the guardian is not all-powerful over the one he must care for.

(Jul 24 '12 at 09:31) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Given this, perhaps the original question can be re-framed: what is the moral basis of restrictions on the legal guardian's behavior toward the brain-dead person, given said person has no rational potential?

(Jul 24 '12 at 09:34) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

I think we've gotten pretty far away from Objectivism when we start talking about rights for dead people.

(Jul 24 '12 at 09:39) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I regret that the essential question of whether severely mentally handicapped humans have rights is being evaded here. (I also regret that I framed the question using animals as a comparison, and I recognize that it has muddled the issue.) It seems to me that the primary issue is whether one needs sufficient cognitive ability to live his life by reason in order to have rights. If so, many (but not all) mentally handicapped humans do not have rights, according to Objectivism. Is this what is meant by the "case-by-case basis" comment above by John?

(Jul 24 '12 at 09:52) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

"the degree to which a not-fully-rational being would have the same individual rights as normal adult humans depends on the degree to which the individual's rational faculty is normal"

That sounds like an answer to me.

It raises the interesting question of whether or not it can be applied to non-human animals. Essentially, whether non-human animals are "not-fully-rational", or in a category altogether different. As far as I can tell Objectivism holds the latter.

But we've learned a lot in the decades since Rand died, and I certainly think that is something worth re-examining.

(Jul 24 '12 at 10:00) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Anthony's [re]statement may contradict the Objectivist principle that the degree of one's rights is not dependent on his cognitive ability? But I would assume that some threshold for living a free life using reason is a prerequisite for rights? Is it stated anywhere by Rand that it is acceptable to assign only certain rights to man according to his cognitive function?

(Jul 24 '12 at 12:51) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

http://arc-tv.com/egalitarianism-and-inflation/ Egalitarianism and Inflation Q&A beginning circa 01:20 "Do the rights of a child differ from the rights of an adult?"

(Jul 24 '12 at 20:10) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Thanks Anthony. Rand states that a child obviously must be supported by his parents while waiting until he becomes a fully rational man. Is his right to life during this period predicated on the fact that he will become a rational man? That is the crucial question here IMO.

(Jul 24 '12 at 20:36) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

Speaking for myself, and not necessarily Objectivism, I'd say absolutely not. First of all, we don't know whether or not a particular child will become a rational man. Secondly, children already do possess some level of rationality.

But as I said, I am speaking for myself. I am not aware of any contradiction between what I've said and Objectivism, but as far as I know you are asking questions which Ayn Rand did not directly address.

(Jul 24 '12 at 21:01) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Regarding Ideas for Life's update, it appears that Objectivists are willing to assign partial rights for some adult humans, although John (also an Objectivist) indicated that partial rights are not assigned. (...continued below...)

(Jul 29 '12 at 12:23) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

There are today some humans that are so severely mentally handicapped that they do not have the rational faculty exhibited by some chimps (specifically to understand that grabbing a longer branch versus a shorter branch to get something out of the water will work). If a mentally handicapped human cannot meet even this threshold, then I assume that such a human would not have any rights, just as the chimp has no rights.

(Jul 29 '12 at 12:23) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

Computers can perform arithmetic better than humans. Does that mean they should have rights?

You're taking the results of one extremely narrow test (*), likely misinterpreting them (by using the terms "rational faculty" and "understand"), and using it as the gauge for whether or not humans ought to have rights, in your strawman version of Objectivism.

(*) Actually, so far as I can tell, you're hypothesizing the results...

(Jul 29 '12 at 12:39) anthony anthony's gravatar image

First, for the record, I am an individualist, capitalist, atheist, and reason is my absolute. Hence, Objectivism is very appealing to me. I am critical of some aspects of it, and I do recognize that Rand was not infallible. (No human being is infallible.) I am not constructing a strawman Objectivism.

(Jul 29 '12 at 13:13) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

The higher animals exhibit reasoning abilities in both the natural world and in artificial laboratory settings. I suggest that you learn a great deal more about primates and cetaceans before dismissing them.

(Jul 29 '12 at 13:18) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

I think it's also important to recognize what rights Objectivism says that a person in such a state, who has always been in such a state, has.

So far as I can tell, Objectivism says that they have the right to a guardian, if someone voluntarily takes on that role, and if no one is willing to take on that role, then (so far as I can tell) Objectivism says that they have a right to be left alone, to die, which will likely occur from dehydration in about a week or two (see Terri Schiavo).

If I'm mischaracterizing Objectivism above, please let me know.

(Jul 29 '12 at 13:24) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Objectivism needs to address the question objectively, with equal consideration for all beings based on their rational faculties. It is obvious that in the USA and much of the world, the severely mentally handicapped have rights and guardians. But it is not at all obvious how that would follow from the principles of Objectivism.

(Jul 29 '12 at 13:32) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

I'm not dismissing primates and cetaceans. But if you want me to support locking up or otherwise using force against humans for supposedly violating the rights of primates and cetaceans, then the burden of proof is on you to show that primates and cetaceans have rights. As of now, I haven't been convinced.

As for your assertion that you are a capitalist, I find that unlikely.

(Jul 29 '12 at 13:55) anthony anthony's gravatar image

As for your comment about "the USA and much of the world", first of all I have to quibble with your use of the phrase "have rights". Rights are principles. They aren't given, they are recognized.

Now, with that said, I think it is undeniable that many of the so-called rights claimed in the USA and much of the world do not follow from the principles of Objectivism.

So, once again, I think you need to be more specific.

(Jul 29 '12 at 14:17) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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"A 'right' is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context." -- Ayn Rand.

Rights, as such, morally defend and protect certain human actions taken among other people. Actions such as moving about, seeking what life requires, keeping property, and pursuing one's own happiness are protected by rights.

Actions such as physically harming others, or tying them up or locking them in closets, are not. In fact, these actions are forbidden by rights -- the rights of the victim.

The question is, how does mental capacity affect rights? Do we lose our rights if we lose our mental capacity?

Note that rights, as such, do not concern mental capacity. They concern behavior among other people. It's not how smart or stupid someone is which determines if he has the rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.

What is essential is whether a person is able and willing to respect the rights of others. A person who fails to respect others' rights will, by rights, be rapidly curtailed -- they will be taken out of the social context.

Of course, prison, or a mental hospital, is a new kind of social context, but it's a very lopsided one, where the inmates or inpatients don't have the freedom to move about, keep property, or pursue their happiness.

Concerning the case of the mentally deficient, rather than criminals, then, why is it that, in a mental hospital, we don't deny the inpatient's right to life, in the same way that we deny a chicken a right to life whenever we slaughter one? If a person's brain is no more functional than a chicken's, why is it that we eat, or experiment on, the chicken, and not the person?

I think it is because, qua human, when trying to be moral, we respect others' rights whenever we can afford to.

Whenever we curtail someone's freedom, it's because we have to to protect ourselves and other innocents. If locking someone up is a sufficient means of protecting innocents from dangerous behavior, there's no moral justification for going "the extra mile" and killing them, or cutting them up for science experiments.

Perhaps its an issue of holding out hope that the mentally deficient might be cured some day. But more importantly, it's simply that the mentally deficient don't deserve to be harmed or exploited that way.

A skeptical person might now ask: "Ok, so why, then, do we kill chickens? They are arguably more harmless than people can be." The answer is that, in general, chickens are more valuable as food than as free-roaming agents. The same is not true of people. People, on the whole, are much, much more valuable to us if we leave them free, than if we kill them and eat them.

Cannibalism is wrong simply because it is a senseless waste of a human life.

answered Jul 22 '12 at 11:45

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦
1002956310

edited Jul 22 '12 at 11:57

1

I'm not sure that you have answered the question. What logically prevents one from using a severely mentally handicapped human in important medical research? Or what prohibits one from killing him to harvest his healthy organs for transplant into a rational human being in dire need of such an organ?

Your comment that the mentally deficient don't deserve to be harmed or exploited in such a way -- can't that same statement be made of any animal with similar cognitive ability?

(Jul 22 '12 at 11:58) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

"What logically prevents one from using a severely mentally handicapped human in important medical research? Or what prohibits one from killing him to harvest his healthy organs for transplant into a rational human being in dire need of such an organ?"

Our commitment to justice, and to consent. Regarding other people, we only do such things to them with their consent. Where someone cannot give consent, we do not invade their body.

The principles of individual rights forbid us.

(Jul 22 '12 at 12:10) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

If the question then becomes "Why don't we abandon moral principles when it is practical?" that's for a separate entry on this website altogether. (Hint: it's not practical.)

(Jul 22 '12 at 12:11) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Regarding whether chickens "deserve" to be eaten, "deserve" is a concept which regards justice. Justice regards objectivity in the treatment of other men: e.g. If they act nicely, you don't treat them badly.

I could say that "justice" doesn't apply to animals, but I won't. I'll just say that objective treatment of animals recognizes what they are most valuable for. Often, this is food. Sometimes it is for science experiments.

(Jul 22 '12 at 12:15) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

So the severely mentally handicapped have individual rights, while animals of the same cognitive ability do not? Is that what you are saying? Can you provide some logical justification of why all humans, even those without the capacity for reason, have rights?

(Jul 22 '12 at 12:41) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

"Justice regards objectivity in the treatment of other men: e.g. If they act nicely, you don't treat them badly."

And what is the definition of "men" in this context?

"I'll just say that objective treatment of animals recognizes what they are most valuable for. Often, this is food. Sometimes it is for science experiments."

Organ harvesting is valuable use of brain-dead humans. I get a strong emotional reaction suggesting to me that it is not a legitimate use of severely mentally handicapped individuals, though. Is this emotion reasonable?

(Jul 22 '12 at 13:03) anthony anthony's gravatar image

The issue here is not emotion, but epistemology. Is a mentally handicapped man still a man? Do men have rights? Yes, and yes.

There is value in the simplicity of this answer, and that we don't make special exceptions for people who are handicapped.

Consider a world where mental capacity were the basis of rights. Who would administer the test of mental capacity? What if someone were on the edge?

Rights are human rights, and not smart person rights, for a reason: because humanity is something which can easily be identified.

(Jul 22 '12 at 14:29) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Imagine if people considered the mentally handicapped to be rightsless. Abuse of the mentally handicapped would skyrocket.

The moral principle is that no one owns you, even if you are mentally disabled. Because you are a man.

(Jul 22 '12 at 14:32) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Is an infant a man? Is a fetus a man? Is a brain-dead man a man? Who administers the test? Is a non-human animal a man? Is a man in a persistent vegetative state a man? Who administers the test?

You don't seem to have answered the question. What is, in this context, a man?

I'm not even sure what you mean by "a mentally handicapped man". Is a mentally handicapped child, a mentally handicapped man?

This is a world where mental capacity is the basis of rights. A child who does not develop sufficiently normally will never acquire the rights of an adult. A judge administers the test.

(Jul 22 '12 at 14:37) anthony anthony's gravatar image

"So the severely mentally handicapped have individual rights, while animals of the same cognitive ability do not? Is that what you are saying?"

Yes.

Men, qua men, have individual rights.

Killing the useless for survival reasons is something animals do, not humans, because animals cannot recognize rights. They live by force, not by reason.

Reason forbids us harming another man, unless he threatens us. And even if he does, reason forbids causing him undue harm.

We don't say: "He can't think. Free (organs) for all!"

(Jul 22 '12 at 14:46) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

We don't say: "He can't think. Free (organs) for all!"

That's exactly what we do. See "The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers — How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death."

(Jul 22 '12 at 15:03) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Anthony, bludgeoning me with questions isn't helpful. That's not a way to communicate.

In this context: An infant is a man. A fetus is not a man. A brain-dead man is a man. A mentally handicapped child is a man.

No test is required. It's perceptually obvious to any honest person.

An individual's mental capacity is not the basis of his rights. The mental capacity of the species as such is.

(Jul 22 '12 at 15:17) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

A brain-dead man is a man, in the context of having individual rights? And this is perceptually obvious?

(Jul 22 '12 at 15:38) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Even a corpse is obviously a man, until you discover he's a dead man.

(Jul 22 '12 at 15:42) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Maybe someone else can explain, because I have no idea what you're talking about.

(Jul 22 '12 at 15:50) anthony anthony's gravatar image

The idea that we should assign rights to every human, simply because of his DNA and his perceived membership in the species, and irrespective of any capacity to reason, is closer to religion and "racism" (or in this case, "speciesism") than it is to logic and reason.

(Jul 22 '12 at 16:31) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

"A brain-dead man is a man, in the context of having individual rights? And this is perceptually obvious?"

You have the context wrong, because you are implying that I'm implying that a brain-dead man obviously has individual rights. I'm not saying that. I'm saying he's obviously a man.

A brain dead man is a obviously a man, period.

Whether lacking mental ability makes his rights go away is not obvious, such has to be argued, one way or the other.

I argue that men who have not given up their rights, through commission, still have them. I might not be arguing well, but that's my position.

(Jul 22 '12 at 23:19) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

orb, be careful about blanket indictments of "speciesism", as if it is as immoral and as irrational as racism.

Racism concerns a man's human ancestry, in the context of judging a man according to what his ancestors did, or their supposed stereotypical characteristics. Racism is a form of irrational prejudice.

What you call "speciesism" is actually the rational division of the animal kingdom into species, based on observable differences regarding how those species live.

Yes, "race" is morally irrelevant. But "species" is not. Killing a chicken is not as immoral as killing a man.

(Jul 22 '12 at 23:25) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Do not misunderstand my point: I was using "speciesism" in the context of equivalent cognitive ability, in which case the species should be irrelevant if the judgment is made based on cognitive ability. Yes, in that context, it would be a prejudice very similar to racism.

(Jul 23 '12 at 19:13) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image
showing 2 of 19 show all

We live in a society of human beings. Such societies have rules (laws). In reading the Constitution which is the authority for all such laws, you will not find any exceptions to guaranteed rights based on lack of intelligence or other capacity. Even the Declaration of Independence which was our statement that we would no longer be subjected to the whims of English laws stated "All men are created equal with certain inalienable rights..." While one might debate the morality of these concepts, the fact is that they are foundations of our society.

answered Jul 27 '12 at 17:11

ethwc's gravatar image

ethwc ♦
19417

The Constitution is a nice document, but it certainly is not synonymous with Objectivism -- or with any philosophical system, for that matter. To be clear, I am asking about rights of the severely mentally handicapped within the Objectivist framework, not within the American framework.

(Jul 27 '12 at 18:37) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

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Asked: Jul 21 '12 at 22:58

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Last updated: Aug 01 '12 at 20:34