Re: POL: Abortion-neutral

Tim Hruby (
Tue, 16 Mar 1999 17:15:25 -0500

At 2:52 PM -0600 3/16/99, Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:

> I do not believe that a particular position on abortion, for or against,
> should be part of the Extropian political principles. When does a cell
> mass stop being an embryo and start being a sentient being? This is a
> question of neurology and nothing else.

I agree with the basic point that the Principles shouldn't contain a position on abortion.

However, I think Eliezer is wrong in assuming (or purposefully framing) the abortion question around "sentience." Many people frame the question as one of "having a soul." Many others think the reasonable question is "potential for sentience/intelligence/humanity" (after all, a newborn human is much less sentient than my cat).

Simplifying the abortion debate to one of sentience and neurology is not very useful, IMO, particularly because it misses much of what the debate is about in the minds of those who deeply care about it. To most people, the morality of abortion is not about science. Just as most people do not view most questions about morality (and politics) to be about science. Some small subset view logic as an appropriate means of resolving questions about morality, and these logical moralist may or may not have a use for scientific data (some do, some don't).

Thinking that a moral and poltical debate can be resolved by an item of technical knowledge misses a great deal of the richness of human psychology.