Re: POL: Abortion-neutral Extropian Principles

Tim Hruby (
Wed, 17 Mar 1999 11:14:01 -0500

At 7:07 PM -0600 3/16/99, Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:

> Tim Hruby wrote:
> >
> > A question more closely related to Extropianism (at least the political
> > threads thereof) is the view of the Principles on whether the state should
> > be imposing a certain view of morality on individuals. But that question
> > is broader than and different from the issue of the _morality_ of abortion.
> Not at all! The point others have been trying to make is that outlawing
> abortion is legislating morality, irrespective of the *actual* morality,
> and thus against the Extropian Principles. My point is that there
> exists a plausible position stating that abortion is not "immoral", it
> is "violating the right to life of another sentient", and thus
> prohibited by the Extropian Principles.

(I'm assuming that Eliezer meant "moral" and not "immoral" for that statement to make logical sense)

Eliezer seems to be projecting thoughts and beliefs into what I said. Why, I don't know -- that's a soft question of human psychology, and I don't know Eliezer well enough to make an educated guess.

Eliezer , if you look back objectively at what I wrote, you'll see that we actually are in agreement, and that this is a point I (alongside your "others") have been making.

Extropianism is properly concerned with taking a stand on the legislation of morality -- I say that right in the snippet Eliezer quotes.

However, Extropianism does not answer the question of whether abortion is moral. On that we also agree. The no-first-coercion principle (assuming it is an accepted axiom of Extropianism, which a recent list debate called into question) doesn't get you there, because the real moral question is whether a fetus (or any other entity one might name) is deserving of the protection of that principle.

Where we disagree is on whether that question can be answered by empirical knowledge. Eliezer argued that it could be. I posited that it probably couldn't.

Finally, I stated that for pragmatic reasons, I didn't think it was worth it to embroil Extropianism as a whole in this issue, given my perception of the costs and benefits of taking a stand.

> Since no additional definition is provided to the fundamental questions
> of abortion by the Extropian axioms, and since the Extropians themselves
> are divided, it is erroneous to state that Extropians are for, or
> against, abortion - which is a statement I've seen, both on this list,
> and in articles about Extropians.

See, this is what we agree on. I don't know why Eliezer is projecting disagreement. I could theorize, but then I'd be projecting as well. All I disagree with is Eliezer's assumption that the moral question of whether an entity should be protected under principles of a "right to life" can be answered by reference to technical and empirical knowledge. If not sloppy thinking, it was sloppy writing, IMO, for Eliezer to have left out (or assumed an unsupported answer to) the important step of determining the value criteria.

> Is abortion controversial? Yes, but it's a controversy it well
> deserves! The stakes are either millions of innocent lives or the
> freedom of millions of innocent women. And, if the Extropian Principles
> had some bearing on it, we shouldn't hesitate to say so, just as we
> don't hesitate to make controversial statements about the utility of
> cryonics or intelligence enhancement. But they don't, and we shouldn't
> embroil Extropians qua Extropians in the conflict.

I also agree here. It is an important controversy, but that doesn't mean it is important to Extropianism. As Extropianism is currently defined.

Extropianism might one day attempt to rigorously answer the philosophical question of which beings deserve protection under the no-first-coercion principle. As Glen Finney points out, in a post on this thread, this question hasn't really been subject to much analytical rigor yet. For now, Extropians (and people in general) tend to answer this question on feel, on an analog rather than binary continuum (i.e., most of us would probably agree that parents have some moral right to coerce their children so as to better guide their development, but that that coercion does not extend to ending their existence), and pretty much tie their answer to memes of adult human personhood. It is therefore not surprising that reasonable Extropians currently come to different conclusions.

It probably would be valuable to Extropianism to rigorously develop philosophical answers to this question of which entities morally deserve protection from coercion. But it hasn't been done yet, and would probably be a costly undertaking, in terms of time and quality thought if nothing else. I do know (though not in an empirical sense :-) that it is not worth _my_ time. I've already re-learned why I have a rule (which I violated) not to post on anything abortion-related, given even rational people's (a category which I do place Eliezer in, given his past posts) tendency to assume they know what another thinks, rather than read what they wrote, when discussing the topic.

Absent such an effort and such answers (which despite Glen's invitation, I shall not undertake at this time), I agree with Eliezer that reasonable Extropians can differ on the question of whether abortion is moral. I just don't agree that the answer can reduced to a simple empirical question.