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Bakkot comments on Welcome to Less Wrong! (2012) - Less Wrong

25 Post author: orthonormal 26 December 2011 10:57PM

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Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 07:55:21AM *  20 points [-]

Greets, all!

I'm a walking stereotype of a LessWrong reader:

I'm a second-year undergraduate student at a decent public university, double majoring in math and computer science and compensating for the relatively unchallenging material even at the graduate level by taking 2-3x the typical workload; this is allowed by my specific college, which is a fantastic program I'd strongly recommend to high school students who happen to be reading this. (I'll happily go in to more depth if for anyone even slightly interested.)

I'm white, male, atheist, libertarian. I intend to sign up for cryonics once I have a job, because I am having tons of fun and want to continue to do so.

I've been reading LessWrong for three or so years, and have by now read all of the sequences and nearly all of the miscellaneous posts, as well as the most highly-rated discussion threads. I've also read and loved MoR. I could not, at this point, tell you how I found either of them.

I read this site, and study rationality, because I want to win.

I hold almost no views which would be notably controversial with the mainstream here, except perhaps these, presented with the hope of inspiring discussion:

  • Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.
  • Discrimination against youths aged 13 and above out to be viewed, in a reasonable society, in the same light as racism. Reason: broadly, discrimination based on group membership should be frowned upon if the variance within a group dominates the variance between groups. In such cases group membership is a bad predictor and is thus very unfair to individuals. Given this, and on the assumption that variance within the group of 13- to 21-year-olds dominates the variance between the groups of 13- to 21-year-olds and over-21's, we ought not to discriminate against youths.

(edit: formatting)

ETA: This is the first LW discussion I've participated in, so I hope you'll forgive my using this space to ask about the conventions of the community broadly. If you look below, a lot of my comments are getting voted down. For statements of opinion, this I understand, at least if the convention is "vote down things you disagree with" as opposed to "vote down things which don't contribute to the discussion". But why are my questions voted down? This one, in particular:

I'm curious now, though. What do you think defines an agent as a person, for the moral calculus? How is it that ten-month-old babies meet this definition? Do, say, pigs also meet this definition?

which as I type this is at -1.

Please interpret this as an honest question about community standards, not an implicit rebuke or anything like that.

Comment author: drethelin 01 January 2012 08:32:58PM 8 points [-]

I broadly agree that babies aren't people, but I still think infanticide should be illegal, simply because killing begets insensitivity to killing. I know this has the sound of a slippery slope argument, but there is evidence that desire for sadism in most people is low, and increases as they commit sadistic acts, and that people feel similarly about murder.

From The Better Angels of Our Nature: "Serial killers too carry out their first murder with trepidation, distaste, and in its wake, disappointment: the experience had not been as arousing as it had been in their imaginations. But as time passes and their appetite is rewhetted, they find the next on easier and more gratifying, and then they escalate the cruelty to feed what turns into an addiction."

Similarly, cathartic violence against non-person objects (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catharsis#Therapeutic_uses) can lead to further aggression in personal interactions.

I don't think we want to encourage or allow killing of anything anywhere near as close to people as babies. The psychological effects on people who kill their own children and on a society that views the killing of babies as good are too potentially terrible. Without actual data, I can say I would never want to live in a society that valued people as little as Sparta did.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 09:32:58AM *  4 points [-]

Can't this same be said of last trimester abortions?

In any case much like we find pictures or videos of abortion distasteful, I'm sure future baby-killing society would still find videos of baby killings distasteful. We could legislate infanticide needs to be done by professionals away from the eyes of parents and other onlookers to avoid psychological damage. Also forbid media depicting it except for educational purposes.

Comment author: Multiheaded 02 January 2012 10:35:07AM 0 points [-]

We could legislate infanticide needs to be done by professionals away from the eyes of parents and other onlookers to avoid psychological damage.

For legal reasons, there'd just have to be a clear procedure where parents would take or refuse the decision, probably after being informed of the baby's overall condition and potential in the presence of a witness. I can't imagine how it could be realistically practiced without one. Such a procedure could ironically wind up more psychologically damaging than, say, simply distracting one's parental instinct with something like intoxication and personally abandoning/suffocating/poisoning the baby.

Also forbid media depicting it except for educational purposes.

Potential for tension and cognitive dissonance. Few things in our culture are censored this way, not even executions and torture. Would feel unusually hypocritical.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 10:41:14AM *  6 points [-]

For legal reasons, there'd just have to be a clear procedure where parents would take or refuse the decision, probably after being informed of the baby's overall condition and potential in the presence of a witness. I can't imagine how it could be realistically practiced without one.

Humans are pretty ok with making cold decisions in the abstract that they could never carry out themselves due to physical revulsion and/or emotional trauma.

The number of people that would sign a death order is greater than the number of people that would kill someone else personally.

Potential for tension and cognitive dissonance. Few things in our culture are censored this way, not even executions and torture.

Does society feel conflicted bothered that child pornography is censored? We can even extend existing child pornography laws with a few good judicial decisions to cover this.

Would feel unusually hypocritical.

Read more Robin Hanson.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 January 2012 10:54:54AM 1 point [-]

Does society feel conflicted bothered that child pornography is censored? We can even extend existing child pornography laws with a few good judicial decisions to cover this.

Good point. If they aren't even people...

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 11:01:40AM 2 points [-]

In my own country pornography involving animals is illegal. It shows no signs of being legalized soon. And I live in a pretty liberal central European first world country.

Comment author: Multiheaded 02 January 2012 11:29:25AM 0 points [-]

I live in Russia and here the legal status of all pornography is murky but no law de facto prosecutes anything but production and distribution of child porn, and simple possession of child porn is not illegal. There's nothing about animals, violence, or such.

Comment author: Multiheaded 02 January 2012 10:46:36AM *  1 point [-]

The number of people that would sign a death order is greater than the number of people that would kill someone else personally.

Much greater? I think that people signing death orders for criminals could generally execute those criminals themselves if forced to choose between that and the criminal staying alive.

Does society feel conflicted bothered that child pornography is censored?

4chan could be an argument that it's beginning to feel so :) Society just hasn't thought it through yet.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 09:27:36PM 8 points [-]

This is definitely the strongest argument I've been able to come up with for making infanticide illegal.

Unfortunately, there's a second slippery slope to watch out for: outlawing things which have the potential to lead to things which are illegal is a dangerous position for a government to take. The children of single mothers are a lot more likely to grow up criminal - should it be illegal to raise a child in a family without two parent figures? Working in retail makes you much more likely to commit violent crimes against the people you work with - should it be illegal to work in a retail job?

Certainly I don't think so, and I doubt you or other reasonable people do either. These things are certainly much less likely to lead to future crimes than infanticide is, but it's a difference of quantity, not quality. The problem is that I don't trust the government enough to make "doing this increases the likelihood that you'll commit a crime in the future" a sufficiently good reason to make something illegal.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 02 January 2012 01:32:32AM *  4 points [-]

I don't think we want to encourage or allow killing of anything anywhere near as close to people as babies.

By what criterion do you consider babies sufficiently "close to people" that this is an issue, but not late term fetuses or adult animals? Specific example, an adult bonobo seems to share more of the morally relevant characteristics of adult humans than a newborn baby but are not afforded the same legal protection.

Comment author: drethelin 02 January 2012 04:18:00AM 2 points [-]

I don't think killing bonobos should be particularly legal.

As far as fetuses, since my worry is psychological, I don't think there's a significant risk of desensitization to killing people since the action of going under surgery or taking plan b is so vastly removed from the act of murder.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 09:37:14AM *  4 points [-]

What if only surgeons are licensed for infanticide on request, which must be done in privacy away from parent's eyes?

That way desensitisation isn't worse than with surgeons or doctors who preform abortion, especially if aesthetics or poison is used. Before anyone raises the Hippocratic oath as an objection, let me give them a stern look and ask them to consider the context of the debate and figure out on their own why it isn't applicable.

Comment author: drethelin 02 January 2012 07:16:12PM 0 points [-]

I would probably be ok with this, though I don't see particularly strong incentives to put effort in to legalize it.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 09:44:39PM 2 points [-]

(Separated from my other reply because it's a sparate point.)

Personally, I strongly doubt the incidence of infanticide-inspired sadism would be sufficiently higher in a culture in which infanticide were legal to justify keeping it illegal in this culture.

And I don't want to live in a society which views the killing of babies as good, or which values people less. I just don't want it to be illegal. I don't want to live in a society which encourages suicide, either, but I do think it ought to be legal.

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 09:07:34PM *  0 points [-]

Thanks a lot. I fully support your line of thinking, all of your points and your conclusion.

Comment author: Alejandro1 01 January 2012 09:48:50PM 21 points [-]

Several people have alreadt given good answers to your position on infanticide, but they haven't mentioned what is in my opinion the crucial concept involved here: Schelling points.

We are all agreed that is is wrong to kill people (meaning, fully conscious and intelligent beings). We agree that adult humans beings are people (perhaps excluding those in irreversible coma). The law needs to draw a bright line separating those beings which are people, and hence cannot be killed, from those who are not. Given the importance of the "non-killing" rule to a functioning society. this line needs to be clear and intuitive to all. Any line based on some level of brain development does not satisfy this criterion.

There are only two Schelling points, that is obvious, intuitive places to draw the line: conception and birth. Many people support the first one, and the strongest argument for the anti-abortion position is that conception is in fact in many ways a better Schelling point than birth, since being born does not affect the intrinsic nature of the infant. However, among people without a metaphysical commitment to fetus personhood, most agree that the burdens that prohibition of abortion place on pregnant women are enough to outweigh these considerations, and make birth the chosen Schelling point.

There is no other Schelling point at a later date (your ten-month rule seems arbitrary to me), and a rule against baby infanticide does not place so strong burdens on mothers (giving for adoption is always an option). So there is no good reason to change the law in the direction you propose. Doing it would undermine the strengh of the universal agreement that "people cannot be killed", since the line separating people from non-people would be obscure and arbitrarily drawn.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 10:06:02PM 10 points [-]

A good argument, but there's (at least) two little things I object to and a major flaw:

  • First:

This only holds in a society where people aren't sufficiently intelligent for "is obviously not a person" not to work as the criterion. We probably live in such a society, but I hope we don't forever.

  • Second:

Any line based on some level of brain development does not satisfy this criterion.

This was the reason age was chosen, rather than neurological development. Because I'm arguing only that parents should be able to kill their own children, I'm pretty sure this law wouldn't give rise to any confusion.

  • A final objection:

Your whole argument is significantly weakened by the fact that there are other extremely important rules which don't have obvious Schelling points, like "don't have sex with people who can't give informed consent". I don't think that drawing some reasonable line in the sand (say, age 17) has, as you say, undermined the strength of the universal agreement that "we shouldn't have sex with people who can't give informed consent", despite the line separating people able to give informed consent and people not able to give informed consent being absolutely obscure and arbitrarily drawn.

Comment author: Emile 02 January 2012 12:25:53AM 6 points [-]

But there is no universal agreement on the "age of informed consent", it varies from country to country! And yes, the fact that the limit is arbitrary does undermine its strength; there are often scenarios of "reasonable" sex (in that most people don't consider it as wrong) that would be consider statutory rape or whatnot if the law was taken at the letter.

(Also, heck, 10 months is a pretty crappy limit, why not 8 months five days and 42 minutes? 12 months would be much cleaner)

Comment author: Bakkot 02 January 2012 01:43:56AM 4 points [-]

But isn't birth - or first menstruation, or what have you - a much cleaner line? Shouldn't we be going by those, instead? No? Of course we shouldn't; sometimes the obvious choices for where to draw a line are so off from what would be reasonable that we're forced to be arbitrary.

Isn't 20 years a much cleaner line than 17, for age of consent and drinking age? Why not go with those? You have to pick something.

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 January 2012 12:53:26AM 5 points [-]

This only holds in a society where people aren't sufficiently intelligent for "is obviously not a person" not to work as the criterion. We probably live in such a society, but I hope we don't forever.

People disagree about obviousness of such things. For some people, a fetus is obviously a person too. For others, even a mentally deficient adult might not qualify as being obviously a person. Unlike you, I don't expect these disagreements to disappear anytime soon, and they are the reason that the law works better with bright Schelling point lines, if such exist.

This was the reason age was chosen, rather than neurological development.

Age is non-ambiguous, but not non-arbitrary.

Re your final objection, I agree that there are cases such as sexual consent where there are no clear Schelling points, and we need arbitrary lines. This does not mean that it is not best to use Schelling points whenever they exist. In the case of sexual consent, the arbitrariness of the line does have some unfortunate effects: for example, since the lines are drawn differently in different jurisdictions, people who move accross jurisdictions and are not epecially well informed might commit a felony without being aware. There are also problems with people not being aware of their partner's age, etc.

Such problems are not too big and in any case unavoidable, but consider the following counterfactual: if all teenagers underwent a significant and highly visible discrete biological event at exactly age 16, it would make sense (and be an improvement over current law) to have an universal law using this event as trigger for the age of consent, even if the event had no connection to sexual and mental development and these were continuous. The event would be a Schelling point, such as birth is for personhood.

Comment author: Bakkot 02 January 2012 02:08:03AM 9 points [-]

People disagree about obviousness of such things. For some people, a fetus is obviously a person too. For others, even a mentally deficient adult might not qualify as being obviously a person. Unlike you, I don't expect these disagreements to disappear anytime soon, and they are the reason that the law works better with bright Schelling point lines, if such exist.

I don't expect them to disappear any time soon, certainly. The point is taken, but I'm not entirely convinced that birth is sufficiently close to reasonable that we should use it.

As it happens, there is a discrete biological event that happens to women, which even pertains (in a way) to sex. Namely, first menstruation. It's not highly visible, but it's certainly a lot less arbitrary than just picking age 16, which how a lot of places do it. So why use age 16 instead of menstruation, at least for women? I'd argue that the reason is that this point is so far off from what's reasonable that we shouldn't be using it. (We could suppose, counterfactually, that menstruation happened to both men and women and was extremely visible for the rest of their lives, but still happened around age 12 or 13. This would still be an unreasonable point to use. This would also be unreasonable if it were too far in the other direction - age 22 or 23, say.)

And by a similar token, I'd argue that birth is so far off from what's reasonable for personhood that we shouldn't be using it either.

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 January 2012 02:50:38AM *  4 points [-]

This is a very good response, that allows us to make our disagreement more precise. I agree that choosing menstruation, or its hypothetical unisex counterpart, is unreasonable because it is too early. I disagree that birth is too early in the same way. Pretty much everyone in our society agrees that 12-year olds cannot meaningfully consent to sex (especially with adults), whereas many believe 6-month old children to be people -- in fact, many believe fetuses to be people! You might say that they are obviously wrong, but the "obviously" is suspicious when so many disagree with you, at the very least for Aumann reasons.

To put it in another way: What makes you so certain that birth is so far off from what is reasonable as a line for personhood, when you are willing to draw your line at 10 months? That is much closer to birth than 17 is to 12 years old.

Also, I think your analogy needs a bit of amending: the relevant question is, if there was a visible unisex menstruation happening at 17 years old, and an established tradition of taking that as the age of consent, why on earth would a society change the law to make it 16 years and 2 months instead?

Comment author: Bakkot 02 January 2012 03:00:34AM *  5 points [-]

You might say that they are obviously wrong, but the "obviously" is suspicious when so many disagree with you, at the very least for Aumann reasons.

While true, I suspect most or all of those people would have a hard time giving a good definition of "person" to an AI in such a way that the definition included babies, adults, and thinking aliens, but not pigs or bonobos. So yes, the claim I am implicitly making with this (or any other) controversial opinion is that I think almost everyone is wrong about this specific topic.

That is much closer to birth than 17 is to 12 years old

Only if you think development happens linearly. From my knowledge of biology - which is extremely suspect, so do correct me if I'm wrong - the changes between 0 months after birth and 10 months after birth are vastly larger than the changes between 12 years after birth and 17 years after birth.

if there was a visible unisex menstruation happening at 17 years old, and an established tradition of taking that as the age of consent, why on earth would a society change the law to make it 16 years and 2 months instead?

Of course our selection of analogies is reflective of our positions. From my point of view, the most relevant analogy would be a visible unisex menstruation happening at 30 years old*, and an established tradition of taking that as the age of consent, and I'm arguing that no, it should really be 16.

*(This is based on the assumption that you go through about as many developmental changes between ages 16 and 30 as you do between 0 months and 10 months, which - again from my extremely suspect recollection of biology - is roughly correct.)

(edit:formatting)

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 January 2012 03:35:35AM 6 points [-]

While true, I suspect most or all of those people would have a hard time giving a good definition of "person" to an AI in such a way that the definition included babies, adults, and thinking aliens, but not pigs or bonobos. So yes, the claim I am implicitly making with this (or any other) controversial opinion is that I think almost everyone is wrong about this specific topic.

One rough effort at such definition would be: "any post-birth member of a species whose adult members are intelligent and conscious", where "birth" can be replaced by an analogous Schelling point in the development in an alien species, or by an arbitrary chosen line at a similar stage of development, if no such Schelling point exists.

You might say that this definition is an arbtrary kludge that does not "carve Nature at the joints". My reply would be that ethics is adapted for humans, and does not need to carve Nature at intrinsic joints but at the places that humans find relevant.

Your point about different rates of development is well taken, however. I am also not an expert in this topic, so we'll have to let it rest for the moment.

Comment author: Bakkot 02 January 2012 03:46:55AM 2 points [-]

One rough effort at such definition would be: "any post-birth member of a species whose adult members are intelligent and conscious", where "birth" can be replaced by an analogous Schelling point in the development in an alien species, or by an arbitrary chosen line at a similar stage of development, if no such Schelling point exists.

Problem: There's no particular reason to expect speciation to be as widespread or as clear-cut as it is in the case of Earth and humans in particular. Certainly not for machine intelligences.

It might so happen that there could be software written for the computer I'm typing this on which could give it intelligence and consciousness. (Unlikely, but not out of the realm of possibility.) Should this machine be considered a person?

The reason I'm being so nit-picky is that what I consider the natural definition (namely, "an agent capable of intelligence and consciousness", or something like that) doesn't have this problem at all. I think it's a problem your definition has only because you were forced to deviate from the natural definition to include something that doesn't really seem like it belongs in that group - namely, newborns.

Comment author: prase 02 January 2012 02:20:14PM 1 point [-]

Pretty much everyone in our society agrees that 12-year olds cannot meaningfully consent to sex (especially with adults)

As a data point for your statistics, I think that a 12-year old can meaningfully consent to sex. When it comes to issues of pregnancy and having children, the consequences are greater and I don't think such yound people can consent to this, but fortunately sex and children can be kept separate today with only weak side effects.

Comment author: Strange7 05 June 2012 02:05:07AM 0 points [-]

I think that a 12-year old from a society with sensible policies would be able to give meaningful consent, but for some reason an enormous amount of work has been put into keeping American 12-year olds dangerously ignorant. That needs to be fixed first.

Comment author: Oligopsony 02 January 2012 03:30:23AM *  8 points [-]

I do think there are some advantages to setting the cutoff point just slightly later than birth, even if by just a few hours:
*evaluations of whether a person should come into existence can rest on surer information when the infant is out of the womb
* non-maternal reproductive autonomy - under the current legal personhood cutoff, I can count this as an acceptable loss, as I consider maternal bodily autonomy and the interests of the child to be more important, but with infanticide all three can be reconciled
* psychologically, parents (especially fathers) might feel more buy-in to their status, even if almost none actually end up choosing otherwise, and if infant non-personhood catches on culturally infant deaths very close to births might cause less grief among parents

(All this assumes that late-term abortions are a morally acceptable choice to make in their own right, of course, rather than something which must be legally tolerated to preserve maternal bodily autonomy.)

Comment author: Strange7 05 June 2012 01:54:53AM 0 points [-]

Perhaps the detachment of the umbilical cord would be a suitably symbolic point?

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 01:44:07AM *  3 points [-]

Mild updating of my original position due to this conversation:

I still don't have many moral qualms about allowing parents to kill children, but realize that actually legalizing it in our current society would lead to some unintended consequences, due to considerations such as the Schelling point, and killing infants as a gateway to further sociopathic behaviours.

Part of my difficulty is that some humans, such as infants, have less blicket than animals. If its ok to kill animals, then there's no reason to say it's not ok to kill blicket-less humans. Then I realize that even though it's legal to kill animals, it's still something I can't do for anything except certain bugs. Even spiders I let be, or take outside.

So maybe a wiser way to reconcile these would be to say that since infants have less blicket than animals, and we don't kill infants, that we also shouldn't kill animals. It's what I live by anyway, and seems to cause less disturbance than saying that since infants have less blicket than animals and we kill animals, that it's ok to kill infants.

Comment author: Zetetic 02 January 2012 07:56:11AM 6 points [-]

If its ok to kill animals, then there's no reason to say it's not ok to kill blicket-less humans.

I just want to point out this alternative position: Healthy (mentally and otherwise) babies can gain sufficient mental acuity/self-awareness to outstrip animals in their normal trajectory - i.e. babies become people after a while.

Although I don't wholeheartedly agree with this position, it seems consistent. The stance that such a position would imply is that babies with severe medical conditions (debilitating birth defects, congenital diseases etc.) could be killed with parental consent, and fetuses likely to develop birth defects can be aborted, but healthy fetuses cannot be aborted, and healthy babies cannot be killed. I bring this up in particular because of your other post about the family with the severely disabled 6-year-old.

I think it becomes a little more complicated when we're talking about situations in which we have the ability to impart self-awareness that was previously not there. On the practical level I certainly wouldn't want to force a family to either face endless debt from an expensive procedure or a lifetime of grief from a child that can't function in day to day tasks. It also brings up the question of whether to make animals self-aware, which is... kind of interesting but probably starting to drift off topic.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 January 2012 01:59:35AM 8 points [-]

Part of my difficulty is that some humans, such as infants, have less blicket than animals. If its ok to kill animals, then there's no reason to say it's not ok to kill blicket-less humans. Then I realize that even though it's legal to kill animals, it's still something I can't do for anything except certain bugs. Even spiders I let be, or take outside.

Don't worry, there would probably be a baby killing service if it were legal. Just like we have other people to kill animals for us.

Comment author: FAWS 02 January 2012 02:04:16AM 2 points [-]

Are you aware that in many countries it's illegal to kill animals without good reason, and that wanting to get rid of a pet does not qualify?

Comment author: Bakkot 02 January 2012 02:31:44AM 1 point [-]

I still don't have many moral qualms about allowing parents to kill children, but realize that actually legalizing it in our current society would lead to some unintended consequences, due to considerations such as the Schelling point, and killing infants as a gateway to further sociopathic behaviours.

Yeah, that's roughly my stance also.

So maybe a wiser way to reconcile these would be to say that since infants have less blicket than animals, and we don't kill infants, that we also shouldn't kill animals.

I was really hoping someone would come to this conclusion :). I don't agree with it, but it does seem the obvious consistent alternative to my position. Unfortunately, at least if you want to understand your moral position so well that you could build an FAI, you're still not entirely out of the woods - you have to describe a criterion for "ok to destroy" vs "not okay to destroy", ideally one that generalizes to machines and aliens. And "has sufficient amount of blicket" is still probably the best you can do. Certainly it's the best I can do.

Comment author: MileyCyrus 01 January 2012 08:32:00AM 5 points [-]

Why is sadism worse than indifference? Are we punishing people for their mental states?

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 08:33:43AM 1 point [-]

We're punishing people for their motives, which seems like a reasonable thing to do.

Comment author: Solvent 01 January 2012 08:35:18AM *  3 points [-]

Why does that seem like a reasonable thing to do? Isn't that just an incentive to lie about motives?

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 08:40:49AM 3 points [-]

Of course it's an incentive to lie about motives, but some inferences can be made.

I'm sure this discussion has been had on LW before, but there's a few reasons motives are important in considering what should be punished. In particular:

  • We accept as given that infanticide is something broadly to be discouraged. So we should only be accepting sufficiently good excuses.

  • Allowing sadists to kill their babies creates incentive to produce babies for the sole purpose of killing them, which is a behavior which is long-run going to be very damaging to society.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 09:46:40AM 5 points [-]

Allowing sadists to kill their babies creates incentive to produce babies for the sole purpose of killing them, which is a behavior which is long-run going to be very damaging to society.

Its illegal to torture an animal. Why wouldn't it be illegal to torture a baby while killing him? If a sadist can get jollies out of killing with painless poison his children and keeps making them for that purpose, I can't really see how this harms wider society if he pays for the pills and children himself.

Comment author: Multiheaded 02 January 2012 09:57:53AM 1 point [-]

If a sadist can get jollies out of killing with painless poison his children and keeps making them for that purpose, I can't really see how this harms wider society if he pays for the pills and children himself.

Please rethink this. E.g. are you at all confident that this sadist wouldn't slip and go on to adults after their 10th child? Wouldn't you, personally, force people who practice this to wear some mandatory identification in public, so you don't have to wonder about every creepy-looking stranger? Don't you just have an intuition about the myriad ways that giving sadists such rights could undermine society?

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 10:01:28AM *  5 points [-]

E.g. are you at all confident that this sadist wouldn't slip and go on to adults after their 10th child?

Fine make it illegal for this to be done except by experts.

Wouldn't you, personally, force people who practice this to wear some mandatory identification in public, so you don't have to wonder about every creepy-looking stranger?

No, why?

Don't you just have an intuition about the myriad ways that giving sadists such rights could undermine society?

We already give sadists lots of rights to psychologically and physical abuse people when this is done with consent or when we don't feel like being morally consistent or when there is some societal benefit to be had.

Comment author: Multiheaded 02 January 2012 10:17:55AM 0 points [-]

Wouldn't you, personally, force people who practice this to wear some mandatory identification in public, so you don't have to wonder about every creepy-looking stranger? - No, why?

For your own safety, in every regard that such people could threaten it.

We already give sadists lots of rights to psychologically and physical abuse people when this is done with consent or when we don't feel like being morally consistent or when there is some societal benefit to be had.

Well, I've always thought that it's enormously and horribly wrong of us.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 10:31:37AM *  3 points [-]

For your own safety, in every regard that such people could threaten it.

I don't think society considers that a valid reason for discrimination.

Also please remember surgeons can do nasty things to me without flinching if they wanted to, people do also occasionally have such fears since we even invoke this trope in horror movies.

Well, I've always thought that it's enormously and horribly wrong of us.

I generally agree.

But on the other hand I think we should give our revealed preference some weight as well, remember we are godshatter, maybe we should just accept that perhaps we don't care as much about other people's suffering as we'd like to believe or say we do.

Comment author: Solvent 01 January 2012 08:49:40AM 1 point [-]

I don't understand your reasoning for either of those dot points.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 09:02:07AM 5 points [-]

Let me try again, then.

  • We want to discourage infanticide. Say you kill your baby because, say, you unexpectedly found yourself unable to support it but were familiar with the foster care system and didn't want any more people to go through that than necessary. That's unfortunate, but that's an excuse we can accept. By accepting this excuse we've basically committed to accepting all excuses which are equally good. But there's no way for you to exploit this commitment for your own benefit, and so we're OK making this commitment. The same could not be said to a commitment to accepting sadism as a reason to kill your children.

  • This point is less important. The idea is that a woman repeatedly getting pregnant and then killing the child is putting a lot of strain on society, both in terms of resources and in terms of comfort. We allow a lot of privileges for pregnant women and new mothers, with the expectation that they're trying to bring new people into society, something we encourage. If you're killing your kid out of sadism, you're not doing this, and society will have to adjust how all pregnant women are treated.

Comment author: soreff 01 January 2012 03:16:47PM *  4 points [-]

The idea is that a woman repeatedly getting pregnant and then killing the child is putting a lot of strain on society, both in terms of resources and in terms of comfort. We allow a lot of privileges for pregnant women and new mothers, with the expectation that they're trying to bring new people into society, something we encourage.

I'd think that that the bulk of the resource cost of a newborn is the physiological cost (and medical risks) the mother endured during pregnancy. The general societal cost seems small in comparison.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 01 January 2012 03:21:29PM 1 point [-]

Sure, that seems true. Note that Bakkot didn't say that the costs to everyone else outweighed the costs to the mother, merely that the costs to everyone else were also substantial.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 09:50:58AM *  2 points [-]

This point is less important. The idea is that a woman repeatedly getting pregnant and then killing the child is putting a lot of strain on society, both in terms of resources and in terms of comfort. We allow a lot of privileges for pregnant women and new mothers, with the expectation that they're trying to bring new people into society, something we encourage. If you're killing your kid out of sadism, you're not doing this, and society will have to adjust how all pregnant women are treated.

We already treat accidental pregnant women basically the same as those who planned their pregnancy. Clearly we should distinguish and discriminate between them rather than lump them into the "pregnant woman" category (I take a lighter tone in some of my other posts here to provoke thought, but I'm dead serious about this).

Also many people are way to stuck in their 21st century Eurocentric frame of mind to comprehend the personhood argument for infanticide properly. Let me help:

This point is less important. The idea is that a woman repeatedly getting pregnant and then aborting the child is putting a lot of strain on society, both in terms of resources and in terms of comfort. We allow a lot of privileges for pregnant women and new mothers, with the expectation that they're trying to bring new people into society, something we encourage. If you're killing your fetus out of sadism, you're not doing this, and society will have to adjust how all pregnant women are treated.

Comment author: occlude 01 January 2012 11:12:51AM *  22 points [-]

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.

I would recommend against expressing this opinion in your OKCupid profile.

Comment author: Multiheaded 02 January 2012 01:16:58PM *  3 points [-]

(Let's collect academic opinions here)

The utilitarian bioethicist Peter Singer claims that it's pretty much OK to kill a disabled newborn, but states that killing normal infants who are impossible for their parents to raise doesn't follow from that, and, while not being as bad as murdering an adult, is hardly justifiable. Note that he doesn't quite consider any wider social repercussions.

http://www.princeton.edu/~psinger/faq.html

Comment author: Bakkot 02 January 2012 07:22:19PM *  7 points [-]

Singer's position is worth quoting at length (emphasis mine):

I use the term "person" to refer to a being who is capable of anticipating the future, of having wants and desires for the future. As I have said in answer to the previous question, I think that it is generally a greater wrong to kill such a being than it is to kill a being that has no sense of existing over time. Newborn human babies have no sense of their own existence over time. So killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living. That doesn’t mean that it is not almost always a terrible thing to do. It is, but that is because most infants are loved and cherished by their parents, and to kill an infant is usually to do a great wrong to its parents. Sometimes, perhaps because the baby has a serious disability, parents think it better that their newborn infant should die. Many doctors will accept their wishes, to the extent of not giving the baby life-supporting medical treatment. That will often ensure that the baby dies. My view is different from this, only to the extent that if a decision is taken, by the parents and doctors, that it is better that a baby should die, I believe it should be possible to carry out that decision, not only by withholding or withdrawing life-support – which can lead to the baby dying slowly from dehydration or from an infection - but also by taking active steps to end the baby’s life swiftly and humanely.

Most parents, fortunately, love their children and would be horrified by the idea of killing it. And that’s a good thing, of course. We want to encourage parents to care for their children, and help them to do so. Moreover, although a normal newborn baby has no sense of the future, and therefore is not a person, that does not mean that it is all right to kill such a baby. It only means that the wrong done to the infant is not as great as the wrong that would be done to a person who was killed. But in our society there are many couples who would be very happy to love and care for that child. Hence even if the parents do not want their own child, it would be wrong to kill it.

Singer's position seems to be pretty much exactly mine with one important exception. He thinks that the reason infanticide in general is wrong is because killing someone else's baby is a great wrong to the parent. This I fully agree with and is why I have repeatedly specified that you should only be able to kill your own child. He further thinks that killing any animal is wrong if it could have a happy life if you chose not to kill it, and for this reason he thinks killing infants is wrong. This second position I disagree with, but I suspect almost anyone here who is not a vegetarian also disagrees. daenerys seems to have come to much the same conclusion as Singer.

ETA: I'm having trouble finding philosophers apart from Singer and Tooley who have written on this topic at all, and both seem to have come to roughly the same conclusions that I did. This is kind of unfortunate, because I'm definitely interested in what the other side is - but as things stand, the most strong arguments against infanticide I've seen have already been presented in this thread and have to do with practical concerns, like the risk of increasing sadistic behaviors and the importance of using Schelling points where practical.

ETA2: Here's another paper, which directly addresses Tooley. I can temporarily post it somewhere if people don't have access to JSTOR. The gist of the argument is that Tooley needs to make a consequentialist argument, not just a moral one. The conclusion of the authors is that they don't think such an argument would be hard to make but that Tooley definitely failed to make it. (Incidentally, as far as I can tell and as Multiheaded points out, Singer also fails to spend much consideration on the full societal consequences of legalized infanticide.)

Comment author: Vaniver 02 January 2012 07:57:46PM 2 points [-]

I'm having trouble finding philosophers apart from Singer and Tooley who have written on this topic at all, and both seem to have come to roughly the same conclusions that I did.

Consider Heinlein:

All societies are based on rules to protect pregnant women and young children. All else is surplusage, excrescence, adornment, luxury, or folly, which can — and must — be dumped in emergency to preserve this prime function. As racial survival is the only universal morality, no other basic is possible. Attempts to formulate a "perfect society" on any foundation other than "Women and children first!" is not only witless, it is automatically genocidal. Nevertheless, starry-eyed idealists (all of them male) have tried endlessly — and no doubt will keep on trying.

Comment author: Bakkot 02 January 2012 08:18:28PM 2 points [-]

Good find.

Heinlein and I differ philosophical in a lot of very important ways. For one, the idea of basing morality on "racial survival" terrifies me. (For another, my moral reasoning hasn't lead me to conclude that having a threesome with my 11-year-old genetically modified gender-bent clones would be a fine and dandy thing to do.)

Comment author: Multiheaded 04 January 2012 03:28:23PM 0 points [-]

For one, the idea of basing morality on "racial survival" terrifies me

Eh heh heh. So you can be terrified by some kinds of utilitarian reasoning. Well, this one does terrify me too, but in the context of this conversation I'm tempted to cite my people's saying: "What's fine for a Russian would kill a German."

Comment author: Bakkot 04 January 2012 07:37:20PM 1 point [-]

So you can be terrified by some kinds of utilitarian reasoning.

Of course I can. If your core utility function is optimizing something other than mine, it's going to be scary. Mine is optimizing for something that looks roughly like fun, which I imagine is in accordance with almost all of LW. What's yours optimizing for?

Comment author: Multiheaded 04 January 2012 10:16:31PM *  0 points [-]

It feels pretty complex, and I just self-report as undecided on some preferences, but, although a part of my function seems to be optimizing for LW-"fun" too, another, smaller part is a preference for "Niceness with a capital N", or "the world feeling wholesome".

I'm not good enough at introspection and self-expression to describe this value of "Niceness", but it seems to resonate with some Christian ideals and images ("love your enemies"), the complex, indirect ethical teachings seen in classical literature (e.g. Akutagawa or Dostoevsky; I love and admire both), and even, on an aesthetic level, the modern otaku culture's concept of "moe" (see this great analysis on how that last one, although looking like a mere pop culture craze to outsiders, can tie in into a larger sensibility).

So, there's an ever-present "minority group" in my largely LW-normal values cluster. I can't quite label it with something like "conservative" or "romantic", but I recognize it when I feel it.

...shit, I feel like some kind of ethical hipster now, lol.

Tl;dr: there might be some kind of "Niceness" (permitting "fun" that's not directly fun) a level or so above "fun" for me, just as there is some kind of "fun" above pleasure for most people (permitting "pleasure" that's not directly pleasant). If people don't wirehead so they can have "fun" and not just pleasure, I'm totally able not to optimize for "fun" so I can have "Niceness" and not just "fun".

Comment author: EE43026F 01 March 2012 01:27:12PM 3 points [-]

More infanticide advocacy here :

Recently, Francesca Minerva published in the Journal of Medical Ethics arguing the case that :

"what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled."

Random press coverage complete with indignant comments

Actual paper, pdf, freely available

Comment author: [deleted] 02 March 2012 01:43:55PM *  0 points [-]

"what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled."

In many (most?) countries abortion is normally only allowed in the first few months of pregnancy. (Also, I can't imagine why anyone would want to carry a pregnancy nine months, give birth to a child and then kill it rather than just aborting as soon as possible, anyway.)

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 March 2012 04:57:40PM 0 points [-]

Can you imagine how the experiences of childbirth and being the primary caregiver for a newborn might alter someone's desires with respect to bearing and raising a child?

Comment author: [deleted] 02 March 2012 07:42:53PM *  0 points [-]

As for bearing, once the child is born that's a sunk cost; as for “being the primary caregiver for a newborn”... Wait. So we're not talking about killing a child straight after birth but after a while? (A week? A month? A year?)

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 March 2012 07:53:23PM *  1 point [-]

I can't see why that makes a difference in the context of my question, so feel free to choose whichever interpretation you prefer.

For my part, it seems entirely plausible to me that a person's understanding of what it means to be the primary caregiver for a child will change between time T1, when they are pregnant with that child, and time T2, when the child has been born... just as it seems plausible that a person's understanding of what a three-week stay in the Caribbean will be like will change between time T1, when they are at home looking at brochures, and time T2, when their airplane is touching down. That sort of thing happens to people all the time. So it doesn't seem at all odd to me that they might want one thing at T1 and a different thing at T2, which was the behavior you were expressing incredulity about. That seems even more true the more time passes... say, at time T3, when they've been raising the child for a month.

Incidentally, I certainly agree with you that bearing the child is a sunk cost once the child is born. If you're suggesting that, therefore, parents can't change their desires with respect to bearing the child once it's born, I conclude that our models of humans are vastly different. If, alternatively, you're suggesting that it's an error for parents to change their desires with respect to bearing the child once it's born, you may well be right, but in that case I have to conclude "I can't imagine why" was meant rhetorically.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 March 2012 08:32:46PM 0 points [-]

If, alternatively, you're suggesting that it's an error for parents to change their desires with respect to bearing the child once it's born, you may well be right, but in that case I have to conclude "I can't imagine why" was meant rhetorically.

More like I was assuming too much stuff in the implicit antecedent of the conditional whose consequent is “would want”, but yeah, what I meant is that it's an error for parents to change their desires with respect to bearing the child once it's born.

Comment author: Multiheaded 02 March 2012 01:17:27PM 0 points [-]

Hmm. Maybe you could've picked out a more respectable source of "press coverage" than the goddamn Daily Mail.

Comment author: TimS 01 January 2012 08:02:54PM *  3 points [-]

On infanticide, is this a reasonable summary of your position:

Adult humans have a moral quality (let's call it "blicket") that most animals lack. One major consequence of blicket is that morally acceptable killings require much more significant justifications when the victim is a blicket-creature ("I killed him in self-defense") than when the victim is not a blicket-creature ("Cows are delicious, and I was hungry"). Empirically, cows don't have blicket and never will without some extraordinary intervention. Six-month old babies lack blicket, but are likely to develop it during ordinary maturation.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 08:12:13PM 1 point [-]

is this a reasonable summary of your position

Yup. Although it's not binary, of course; fetuses/babies do not go from non-blicket-creatures to blicket-creatures in a single instant.

Comment author: TimS 01 January 2012 08:36:23PM 3 points [-]

Ok. I agree with you on the empirical assertions (I actually suspect that 10-month-olds also lack blicket). But my moral theory gives significant weight to blicket-potential (because blicket is that awesome), while your system does not appear to do so. Why not?


You mentioned to someone that the current system of being forced to provide for a child or place the child in foster care is suboptimal. I assume a substantial part of that position is that foster care is terrible (i.e. unlikely to produce high-functioning adults).

I agree that one solution to this problem is to end the parental obligation (i.e. allow infanticide). This solution has the benefit of being very inexpensive. But why do you think that solution is better than the alternative solution of fixing foster care (and low quality child-rearing practice generally) so that it is likely to produce high-quality adults?

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 08:57:20PM 2 points [-]

But my moral theory gives significant weight to blicket-potential (because blicket is that awesome), while your system does not appear to do so. Why not?

Mine does, just, I suspect, less than yours. It's a tricky issue. I think this will help establish where our positions are in relation to each others':

Do you think abortion should be legal? If so, up until what point, and why?


But why do you think that solution is better than the alternative solution of fixing foster care (and low quality child-rearing practice generally) so that it is likely to produce high-quality adults?

That would be preferable. Ideally we'd do both, so that people would have as little incentive as possible to kill their newborns. But we should still keep infanticide lega, for unforeseen circumstances.

If you go too far in the direction of weighting blicket-potential, you start obliging people to try to have as many babies as possible - outlawing contraception, say, because it reduces the potential for more blicket. That, I think, is bad. This extends to outlawing infanticide being bad - they're not the same, obviously, but they're definitely on the same scale.

Comment author: TimS 01 January 2012 09:17:06PM 1 point [-]

I agree there is a scale about how much weight to give blicket-potential. But I support a meta-norm about constructing a morality that the morality should add up to normal, absent compelling justification.

That is, if a proposed moral system says that some common practice is deeply wrong, or some common prohibition has relatively few negative consequences if permitted, that's a reason to doubt the moral construction unless a compelling case can be made. It's not impossible, but a moral theory that says we've all doing it wrong should not be expected either.

The fact that my calibration of my blicket-potential sensitivity mostly adds up to normal is evidence to me that the model is a fairly accurate description of the morality people say they are applying.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 09:34:06PM 3 points [-]

Oh, I'd agree in general. But keep in mind these are beliefs I've specifically presented as things which most people disagree with - that is, these are the specific things I've thought about and concluded that, yes, other people's moral systems are wrong/inconsistent. This is particularly reasonable in light of the fact that making infanticide illegal is something which appears to be a very Judeo-Christian affection, rather than a moral universalism.

Comment author: TimS 02 January 2012 12:48:56AM 1 point [-]

making infanticide illegal is something which appears to be a very Judeo-Christian affection, rather than a moral universalism.

This is a historical claim that requires a bit more evidence in support. I don't doubt that infanticide has a rich historical pedigree. But I don't think infanticide was ever justified on a "human autonomy" basis, which seems to be your justification. For example, the relatively recent dynamic of Chinese sex-selection infanticide has not been based on any concept of personal autonomy, as far as I can tell.

In general, I suspect that most cultures that tolerated infanticide were much lower on the human-autonomy scale than our current civilization (i.e. valued individual human life less than we do).

Comment author: gwern 02 January 2012 12:54:38AM 2 points [-]

I did some reading on the ancients and infanticide, and the picture is murky - the Christians were not responsible for making infanticide illegal, that seems to have preceded them, but they claimed the laws were honored mostly in the breach, so whether you give any credit to them depends on your theories of causality, large-scale trends, and whether the Christians made any meaningful difference to the actual infanticide rate.

Comment author: Bakkot 02 January 2012 01:59:08AM 1 point [-]

But I don't think infanticide was ever justified on a "human autonomy" basis

It's difficult to make conclusions about this, because most historical cultures made fairly little effort to support their conventions at all. However, it's certainly been my impression that a lot more cultures were OK with casual infanticide than casual murder. This suggests strongly to me that the view of newborns as people is not universal.

In general, I suspect that most cultures that tolerated infanticide were much lower on the human-autonomy scale than our current civilization (i.e. valued individual human life less than we do).

Probably, but I'd be surprised if most of that effect were to do with anything beyond the fact that infanticide was more common historically than it is today and respect for individual human life is higher today that it was historically. That's certainly not a very strong argument that infanticide being morally wrong is indeed basically a moral universalism.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 January 2012 02:01:55AM 2 points [-]

It's difficult to make conclusions about this, because most historical cultures made fairly little effort to support their conventions at all. However, it's certainly been my impression that a lot more cultures were OK with casual infanticide than casual murder. This suggests strongly to me that the view of newborns as people is not universal.

Cultures are often fine with killing wives and children too, if they get too far out of line. They are yours after all.

Comment author: TimS 02 January 2012 04:03:12AM 1 point [-]

Sigh. How did the post-modern moral nihilist become the defender of moral universalism? My argument is more that infanticide fits extremely poorly within the cluster of values that we've currently adopted.

most historical cultures made fairly little effort to support their conventions at all.

I am highly skeptical that this is true.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2012 08:46:26PM *  1 point [-]

But my moral theory gives significant weight to blicket-potential (because blicket is that awesome), while your system does not appear to do so. Why not?

If you say you don't want to kill an infant because of its potential for blicket, then you would also have to apply that logic to abortion and birth control, and come to the conclusion that these are just as wrong as killing infants, since they both destroy blicket-potential.

Fetus- does not have blicket, has potential for blicket - killing it is legal abortion

Infant- does not have blicket (you agreed with this), has potential for blicket - killing it is illegal murder

Does not compute. One or the other outcomes needs to be changes, and I'm sure not going to support the illegalization of birth control.

Note: I apologize if this is getting too close to politics, but it is a significant part of the killing babies debate, and not mentioning it just to avoid mentioning a political issue would not give accurate reasons.

Comment author: TimS 01 January 2012 08:55:46PM 3 points [-]

At a certain level, all morality is about balancing the demands of conflicting blicket-supported desires. So the balance comes out different at different stages. Yes, the difference between stages is quite arbitrary (and worse: obviously historically contingent).

In short, I wish I had a better answer for you than I am comfortable with arbitrary distinctions (why is the speed limit 55 mph rather than 56?). From an outsider perspective, I'm sure it looks like I've been mind-killed by some version of "The enemy of my enemy (politically active religious conservatives) is my friend."

Comment author: Strange7 05 June 2012 04:18:42AM 0 points [-]

(why is the speed limit 55 mph rather than 56?)

Somebody did some math about reaction times, kinetic energy from impacts, and fuel economy. That turned out to be a good place to draw the line. For practical purposes, people can drive 60 in a 55 zone under routine circumstances and not get in trouble.

Comment author: Alejandro1 05 June 2012 04:24:35AM *  1 point [-]

Actually...

The 55 mph speed limit was a vain attempt by the Federal government to reduce gasoline consumption; initially passed in the 1974 Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act the law was relaxed in 1987 and finally repealed in 1995 allowing states to choose their speed limits. Highways and cars are safer today than in the 1970s and on many highways speed limits were increased to 65 mph. Higher speed limits are often safer because what is worse than speed is variable speed, some people driving fast and some driving slow. When the speed limit is set too low you get lots of people who safely break the law and a few law-abiders who make the roads more dangerous.

Unfortunately vestiges of the 55mph limit remain, in part because police like the 55mph limit which lets them write tickets at will whenever they need an increase in revenues.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 05 June 2012 02:07:57PM 0 points [-]

So, Alejandro's response is correct, but all of this seems rather tangential to the question you quote. The reason the speed limit is 55 rather than 56 or 54 is because we have a cultural preference for multiples of 5... which is also why all the other speed limits I see posted are multiples of 5. Seeing a speed limit sign that read "33" or something would cause me to do a potentially life-threatening double-take.

Comment author: othercriteria 05 June 2012 02:21:20PM 0 points [-]

They're unusual but they do happen. The "19 MPH" one happens to be from the campus of my alma mater.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 05 June 2012 02:24:35PM 0 points [-]

Huh. Some of these I can understand, but I'm really curious about the 19mph one... is there a story behind that? (If I had to guess I'd say it relates to some more global 20mph limit.)

Comment author: nshepperd 02 January 2012 01:41:47PM 1 point [-]

One day in the future, if we somehow survive the existential threats that await us and a Still More Glorious Dawn does, in fact, dawn, one day we might have machines akin to 3D printers that allow us to construct, atom-by-atom, anything we desire so long has we know its composition and structure.

Suppose I take one of these machines and program it to build me a human, then leave when it's half done. Does the construction chamber have blicket-potential?

Comment author: TimS 02 January 2012 04:08:56PM *  1 point [-]

Sure. Unborn babies have blicket-potential. Heck, the only reason I don't say that unconceived babies have blicket potential is that I'm not sure that the statement is coherent.

Blicket and blicket-potential are markers that special moral considerations apply. They don't control the moral decision without any reference to context.

Comment author: Emile 01 January 2012 12:43:09PM 9 points [-]

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.

Arbitrary limits like "ten months" don't make for good rules - especially when there's a natural limit that's much more prominent: childbirth.

What exactly counts as "people" is a matter of convention; it's best to settle on edges that are as crisp as possible, to minimize potential disagreement and conflict.

Also "any reason other than sadism", eh? Like "the dog was hungry" would be okay?

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 01:20:57PM *  2 points [-]

EDIT: in the ensuing discussion, we came to an agreement that the psychopathy argument is only true of our present society, and, while strengthening our reasons to keep infanticide illegal right now, wouldn't apply to someplace without a strong revulsion to infanticide in the first place. I've updated my stance and switched to other arguments against infanticide-in-general.

Comment author: Emile 01 January 2012 05:22:00PM 1 point [-]

I'm sorry, I just can't parse your sentence, especially "anyone who seriously doesn't understand why punishing all parents able to kill their infant is an incredibly good idea". I suspect you chained too many clauses together and ended up saying the opposite of what you meant.

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 05:24:29PM 0 points [-]

Followed up with a clarification here.

Comment author: Solvent 01 January 2012 08:07:15AM 2 points [-]

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.

You're not the first one to argue this on LW. I'll find you the link in a second. Why can't sadists kill their babies? Why ten months, precisely? More importantly, why can't we kill babies?

Why do you particularly bring up the "discrimination against youth" thing?

But yeah, welcome to LW and all that.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 January 2012 08:16:16AM 6 points [-]

Why can't sadists kill their babies?

If anything it would seem more appropriate to prevent sadists from torturing their babies (including before and during the murder).

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 08:32:04AM 4 points [-]

No, it's an opinion I've seen around, certainly, but it's definitely not "mainstream".

Sadists can't kill their children (or rather, you can't kill your children out of sadism) for the same reason they can't torture pigs: "human deriving pleasure from bacon" is held to trump "pig desire to continue to live", but that still trumps "human deriving pleasure from causing pain"; and it indicates there's something wrong with you.

The ten month line is arbitrary, but picked because you would have a very hard time making a reasonable case that a baby younger than that is already a person.

I'm not sure what you mean by "why can't we kill babies". Why is it illegal in the real world? I'm sure you can write out as good an answer to that as I.

The bit about discrimination against youths is because I was having a conversation about it a few days ago, prompted by an aside in a a short story I was reading. It's not a common belief, and one I've seen only rarely espoused on LW. The story is "The Right Book", specifically, the line being

He was reminded of all those terrible little signs that said "No more than two school kids in the shop at any one time." Fancy that -- imagine if it said "No more than two women in the shop" or "No more than two Asians in the shop" -- kids were the last group you could treat like second class citizens without being called a bigot.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 January 2012 08:07:29AM *  6 points [-]

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.

They're just p-zombies pretending to be people. They only get their soul at 10 months and thereafter are able to detect qualia.

I would vote against this law. I'd vote with guns if necessary. Reason: I like babies. Tiny humans are cute and haven't even done anything to deserve death yet (or indicate that they aren't valuable instances of human). I'd prefer you went around murdering adults (adults being the group with the economic, physical and political power to organize defense.)

Comment author: Solvent 02 January 2012 03:16:20AM 5 points [-]

What do you think of abortion?

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 09:53:43AM *  9 points [-]

Once we get artificial uteri I think it should be illegal except in cases of rape, but it should be legal to renounce all responsibility for it and put it up for adoption or let the other biological parent finance the babies coming to term. This has the neat and desirable effect of equalizing the position of the biological father and the biological mother.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 09:59:15AM *  2 points [-]

uterus's

Uteri?

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 10:00:25AM 3 points [-]

Not a native speaker. And uterus is a surprisingly sparingly used word.

Uterus. Uterus. Uterus.

Thanks for the correction! :)

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 10:01:55AM *  7 points [-]

Any time ;)

Just remember that if it ends with -us, it probably pluralizes to -i. That's only for latin-based words. Greek-based words, like octopus, can either be pluralized to octopuses or octopodes (pronounced Ahk-top-o-dees). And sometimes you have a new or technical latin-based word like "virus" which just pluralizes to "viruses." It's perfectly fine to pluralize uterus to uteruses, too, since it's so uncommon. English is a bitch.

[Edited to give a longer explanation]

Comment author: gwern 02 January 2012 04:06:42AM 5 points [-]

I have to say, http://lesswrong.com/lw/47k/an_abortion_dialogue/ seems relevant to this entire comment tree.

Comment author: TimS 02 January 2012 04:09:02AM 1 point [-]

Your link (in the Discussion post) is broken.

Comment author: gwern 02 January 2012 04:33:41AM 0 points [-]

! I didn't realize I'd broke all the old .html links - turned out that when I thought I was removing the gzip encoding, I also removed the Apache rewrite rules. I've fixed that and also pointed the Discussion at the most current URL, just in case.

Comment author: Solvent 02 January 2012 04:22:50AM 0 points [-]
Comment author: wedrifid 02 January 2012 07:23:17AM *  1 point [-]

Better late than never?

(From the looks of gwern's link I'm more interested in homophones.)

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 08:21:45AM *  9 points [-]

If they're p-zombies, they're doing a terrible job of it. Extremely young children are lacking basically all of the traits I'd want a "person" to have.

Tiny kittens are also cute and haven't even done anything to death yet. But if you accidentally lock one in a car and it suffocates, that's merely unfortunate, and should probably not be a crime. The same is true for infants and all other non-person life. If you kill a kitten for some reason other than sadism, well, it's unfortunate that you felt that was necessary, but again, they're not people.

Would you really prefer it to be illegal to murder adults than to murder ten-month-old children? Ten-month-old children can be replaced in a mere twenty months. It takes forty one years to make a new forty-year-old.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 January 2012 10:04:13AM *  1 point [-]

Tiny kittens are also cute and haven't even done anything to death yet. But if you accidentally lock one in a car and it suffocates, that's merely unfortunate, and should probably not be a crime. The same is true for infants and all other non-person life. If you kill a kitten for some reason other than sadism, well, it's unfortunate that you felt that was necessary, but again, they're not people.

Yeah, I get it, you don't consider babies people and I do. So pretty much we just throw down (ie. trying to reason each other into having the same values as ourselves would be pointless). You vote for baby killing, I vote against it. If there is a war of annihilation and I'm forced to choose sides between the baby killers and the non-baby killers and they seem evenly matched then I choose the non-baby killers side and go kill all the baby killers. If I somehow have the option to exclude all consideration of your preferences from the optimisation function of an FAI then I take it. Just a plain ol' conflict of terminal values.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 07:03:42PM 6 points [-]

I'm curious now, though. What do you think defines an agent as a person, for the moral calculus? How is it that ten-month-old babies meet this definition? Do, say, pigs also meet this definition?

Comment author: wedrifid 01 January 2012 07:52:41PM 1 point [-]

Do, say, pigs also meet this definition?

If babies were made of bacon then I'd have to rerun the moral calculus all over again! ;)

Comment author: TheOtherDave 01 January 2012 08:04:08PM 4 points [-]

Well, they are made of eggs. Actual eggs and counterfactual bacon are an important part of this nutritious breakfast.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 January 2012 10:17:53AM *  0 points [-]

Oh, and to clarify the extent of my disagreement: When I say "You vote for baby killing, I vote against it" that assumes I don't live in some backwards country without compulsory voting. If voting is optional then I'm staying home. Other people killing babies is not my problem - because I don't have the power to stop a mob of humans from killing babies and I'm not interested in making the token gesture.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 January 2012 10:03:16AM *  1 point [-]

Extremely young children are lacking basically all of the traits I'd want a "person" to have.

Most adults don't have traits I'd want a "person" to have. At least with babies there is a chance they'll turn out as worthwhile people.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 11:34:04AM 3 points [-]

Most adults don't have traits I'd want a "person" to have. At least with babies there is a chance they'll turn out as worthwhile people.

Adults have a small chance of acquiring those traits too. Due to selection effects adults that don't have traits have a much lower probability than a fresh new baby of turning out this way.

In a few decades genetic technology and better psychology and sociology may let us make decent probabilistic predictions about how they will turn out as adults. Are you ok with babies with very low probabilities of getting such traits being killed?

Comment author: wedrifid 02 January 2012 01:56:18PM *  4 points [-]

Adults have a small chance of acquiring those traits too. Due to selection effects adults that don't have traits have a much lower probability than a fresh new baby of turning out this way.

As well as, of course, as having far less malleable minds that have yet to crystallize the habits their upbringing gives them.

Are you ok with babies with very low probabilities of getting such traits being killed?

Far less averse, particularly in an environment where negative externalities cannot be easily prevented. Mind you I would still oppose legalization of killing people (whether babies or adults) just because they are Jerks. Not because of the value of the Jerks themselves (which is offset by their effects on others) but because it isn't just Jerks that would be killed. I don't want other people to have the right to choose who lives and who dies and I'm willing to waive that right myself by way of cooperation in order to see it happen.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 11:35:55AM *  1 point [-]

I'm not sure why this is getting down voted. "Person" is basically LW speak for "particular kind of machine that has value to me in of itself". I don't see any good reason why I personally should value all people equally. I can see some instrumental value in living in a society that makes rules that operate on this principle.

But generally I do not love my enemies and neighbours like myself. I'm sorry, I guess that's not very Christian of me. ;)

Comment author: wedrifid 01 January 2012 08:46:42AM *  1 point [-]

Would you really prefer it to be legal to murder adults than to murder ten-month-old children?

Yes. The explanation given was significant.

Ten-month-old children can be replaced in a mere twenty months. It takes forty one years to make a new forty-year-old.

It takes a 110 years to make a 110 year old . In most cases I'd prefer to keep a 30 year old than either of them. More to the point I don't intrinsically value creating more humans. The replacement cost of a dead human isn't anything to do with the moral aversion I have to murder.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 09:09:07AM 6 points [-]

Yes. The explanation given was significant.

I read your explanation. I'm just somewhat incredulous that this could be your actual belief. Roosters are a lot better prepared to defend themselves than, say, pigs. Is this a good reason to prefer it to be legal to kill roosters than pigs? Not in light of the fact that pigs are vastly more intelligent, capable of abstract reasoning and personality, etc.

The replacement cost of a dead human isn't anything to do with the moral aversion I have to murder.

The moral aversion I have to murder is twofold, roughly: harm to a person, and harm to society. Babies aren't people by any measure I can see, so the first doesn't apply. The second is where replacement cost comes in.

Comment author: Estarlio 01 January 2012 01:16:39PM 1 point [-]

Babies aren't people by any measure I can see

Do you really think it's wise to have a precedent that allows agents of Type X to go around killing off all of the !X group ? Doesn't bode well if people end up with a really sharp intelligence gradient.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 07:01:39PM *  8 points [-]

We already have a bunch of those precedents, depending on how you look at it. You're more than free to go around killing ants. No one is going to care. You can even, depending on zoning laws, raise pigs and then slaughter them for their meat. The reason that this is just not a problem in the eyes of the law is that pigs aren't people.

If you look at it another way, we have exactly one precedent: It's generally morally OK to kill members of the !X group if and only if that group consists of agents which are not people.

ETA: I hate that I have to say this, but can people respond instead of just downvoting? I'm honestly curious as to why this particular post is controversial - or have I missed something?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 January 2012 05:02:02AM 6 points [-]

I haven't seen anyone respond to your request for feedback about votes, so let me do so, despite not being one of the downvoters.

By my lights, at least, your posts have been fine. Obviously, I can't speak for the site as a whole... then again, neither can anyone else.

Basically, it's complicated, because the site isn't homogenous. Expressing conventionally "bad" moral views will usually earn some downvotes from people who don't want such views expressed; expressing them clearly and coherently and engaging thoughtfully with the responses will usually net you upvotes.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 January 2012 07:34:24AM *  4 points [-]

ETA: I hate that I have to say this, but can people respond instead of just downvoting? I'm honestly curious as to why this particular post is controversial - or have I missed something?

I haven't downvoted, for what it is worth. Sure, you may be an evil baby killing advocate but it's not like l care!

Comment author: Solvent 02 January 2012 07:44:33AM 4 points [-]

but it's not I care!

I think you accidentally a word.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 06:56:10PM 1 point [-]

ETA: I hate that I have to say this, but can people respond instead of just downvoting? I'm honestly curious as to why this particular post is controversial - or have I missed something?

I often "claim" my downvotes (aka I will post "downvoted" and then give reason.) However, I know that when I do this, I will be downvoted myself. So that is probably one big deterrent to others doing the same.

For one thing, the person you are downvoting will generally retaliate by downvoting you (or so it seems to me, since I tend to get an instant -1 on downvoting comments), and people who disagree with your reason for downvoting will also downvote you.

Also, many people on this site are just a-holes. Sorry.

Comment author: Nornagest 02 January 2012 10:13:55PM 6 points [-]

If I downvote with comment, it's usually for a fairly specific problem, and usually one that I expect can be addressed if it's pointed out; some very clear logical problem that I can throw a link at, for example, or an isolated offensive statement. I may also comment if the post is problematic for a complicated reason that the poster can't reasonably be expected to figure out, or if its problems are clearly due to ignorance.

Otherwise it's fairly rare for me to do so; I see downvotes as signaling that I don't want to read similar posts, and replying to such a post is likely to generate more posts I don't want to read. This goes double if I think the poster is actually trolling rather than just exhibiting some bias or patch of ignorance. Basically it's a cost-benefit analysis regarding further conversation; if continuing to reply would generate more heat than light, better to just downvote silently and drive on.

It's uncommon for me to receive retaliatory downvotes when I do comment, though.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 January 2012 09:08:12PM 6 points [-]

I often "claim" my downvotes (aka I will post "downvoted" and then give reason.) However, I know that when I do this, I will be downvoted myself. So that is probably one big deterrent to others doing the same.

On the other hand if people agree with your reasons they often upvote it (especially back up towards zero if it dropped negative).

For one thing, the person you are downvoting will generally retaliate by downvoting you (or so it seems to me, since I tend to get an instant -1 on downvoting comments)

I certainly hope so. I would expect that they disagree with your reasons for downvoting or else they would have not made their comment. It would take a particularly insightful explanation for your vote for them to believe that you influencing others toward thinking their contribution is negative is itself a valuable contribution.

Also, many people on this site are just a-holes. Sorry.

*arch*

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 09:17:54PM 5 points [-]

For one thing, the person you are downvoting will generally retaliate by downvoting you (or so it seems to me, since I tend to get an instant -1 on downvoting comments)

I certainly hope so. I would expect that they disagree with your reasons for downvoting or else they would have not made their comment. It would take a particularly insightful explanation for your vote for them to believe that you influencing others toward thinking their contribution is negative is itself a valuable contribution.

Do you think that's a good thing, or just a likely outcome?

Downvoting explanations of downvotes seems like a really bad idea, regardless how you feel about the downvote. It strongly incentives people to not explain themselves, not open themselves up for debates, but just vote and then remove themselves from the discussion.

I don't see how downvoting explanations and more explicit behavior is helpful for rational discourse in any way.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 January 2012 09:19:04PM 1 point [-]

I might well consider an explanation of a downvote on a comment of mine to be a valuable contribution, even if I continue to disagree with the thinking behind it. Actually, that's not uncommon.

Comment author: MixedNuts 02 January 2012 09:49:10PM 10 points [-]

Common reasons I downvote with no comment: I think the mistake is obvious to most readers (or already mentioned) and there's little to be gained from teaching the author. I think there's little insight and much noise - length, unpleasant style, politically disagreeable implications that would be tedious to pick apart (especially in tone rather than content). I judge that jerkishness is impairing comprehension; cutting out the courtesies and using strong words may be defensible, but using insults where explanations would do isn't.

On the "just a-holes" note (yes, I thought "Is this about me?"): It might be that your threshold for acceptable niceness is unusually high. We have traditions of bluntness and flaw-hunting (mostly from hackers, who correctly consider niceness noise when discussing bugs in X), so we ended up rather mean on average, and very tolerant of meanness. People who want LW to be nicer usually do it by being especially nice, not by especially punishing meanness. I notice you're on my list of people I should be exceptionally nice to, but not on my list of exceptionally nice people, which is a bad thing if you love Postel's law. (Which, by Postel's law, nobody but me has to.) The only LessWronger I think is an asshole is wedrifid, and I think this is one of his good traits.

Comment author: Prismattic 02 January 2012 10:25:10PM 2 points [-]

We have traditions of bluntness and flaw-hunting (mostly from hackers, who correctly consider niceness noise when discussing bugs in X), so we ended up rather mean on average, and very tolerant of meanness.

I think there is a difference between choosing bluntness where niceness would tend to obscure the truth, and choosing between two forms of expression which are equally illuminating but not equally nice. I don't know about anyone else, but I'm using "a-hole" here to mean "One who routinely chooses the less nice variant in the latter situation."

(This is not a specific reference to you; your comment just happened to provide a good anchor for it.)

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 10:10:43PM *  3 points [-]

The only LessWronger I think is an asshole is wedrifid, and I think this is one of his good traits.

If he's an asshole, then "asshole" needs a new subdefinition. I love that guy.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 10:07:04PM *  1 point [-]

I notice you're on my list of people I should be exceptionally nice to, but not on my list of exceptionally nice people,

Would you mind discussing this with me, because I find it disturbing that I come off as having double-standards, and am interested to know more about where that impression comes from. I personally feel that I do not expect better behaviour from others than I practice, but would like to know (and update my behaviour) if I am wrong about this.

I admit to lowering my level of "niceness" on LW, because I can't seem to function when I am nice and no one else is. However MY level of being "not nice" means that I don't spend a lot of time finding ways to word things in the most inoffensive manner. I don't feel like I am exceptionally rude, and am concerned if I give off that impression.

I also feel like I keep my "punishing meanness" levels to a pretty high standard too: I only "punish" (by downvoting or calling out) what I consider to be extremely rude behavior (ie "I wish you were dead" or "X is crap.") that is nowhere near the level of "meanness" that I feel like my posts ever get near.

Comment author: Prismattic 02 January 2012 08:32:54PM 4 points [-]

Also, many people on this site are just a-holes. Sorry.

I think it's more that there are a few a-holes, but they are very prolific (well, that and the same bias that causes us to notice how many red lights we get stopped at but not how many green lights we speed through also focuses our attention on the worst posting behavior).

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 January 2012 09:22:00PM 3 points [-]

Interesting. Who are the prolific "a-holes"?

Comment author: Multiheaded 03 January 2012 05:47:40PM 2 points [-]

We had a couple of fair-sized threads on infanticide before. I suggest that everyone who hasn't seen them yet skims through before posting further arguments.

http://lesswrong.com/lw/2l/closet_survey_1/1ou

http://lesswrong.com/lw/1ww/undiscriminating_skepticism/1rmf

Also: http://lesswrong.com/lw/35h/why_abortion_looks_more_okay_to_us_than_killing/

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 02 January 2012 10:14:03AM 2 points [-]

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth.

What benefit, other than satisfaction of sadism, do you see in infanticide of one's own children that wouldn't be satisfied by merely giving them up for adoption?

Comment author: juliawise 02 January 2012 07:59:17PM *  4 points [-]

Look at the youngest children in any adoption photolisting. The kids you usually see there are either part of a sibling group, or very disabled. (Example). There are children born with severe disabilities who are given up by their birth parents and are never adopted. (Example) The government pays foster parents to care for them. That's up to $2,000 per month for care, plus all medical expenses.

Meanwhile, other kids are dying for lack of cheap mosquito nets. This use of money does not seem right to me.

Comment author: Multiheaded 02 January 2012 09:19:42PM *  2 points [-]

At national level and above, the argument about "use of money" just plain fails. If you're looking for expenses to cut so that the money could be redirected for glaring needs like mosquito nets, foster care can't realistically appear on the cut list next to nuclear submarines and spaceflight.

Comment author: juliawise 02 January 2012 10:47:36PM *  1 point [-]

True. I'd be happy to see those things cut as well. Though foster care is funded at a state level, I believe.

Comment author: Bakkot 02 January 2012 07:08:12PM 4 points [-]

I and others have mentioned some elsewhere in this thread, but more broadly I don't think things should be illegal just because we can't think of a good reason for people to be doing them.

Comment author: Multiheaded 04 January 2012 03:35:52PM 0 points [-]

I don't think things should be illegal just because we can't think of a good reason for people to be doing them

This rule has to be examined very very closely. While it sounds good, it spawns so many strawmen against libertarianism and such, we ought to try and unscrew that applause light of "liberty" from there. Liberty is an applause light to me, too (a reflected one from freedom-in-general), and a fine value it is, but still we'd better clinically examine anything that allows us to sidestep our intuitions so much.

[fucking politics, watch out] *(note that I'm a socialist and rather opposed to libertarianism as well, but I'm very willing to examine and consider its ups and downs)

Comment author: TheOtherDave 04 January 2012 04:09:05PM 6 points [-]

Well, OK, let's examine it then.

We have some activity.
We see no particular reason to prevent people from doing that activity.
We see no good reason for people to do that activity.
We have a proposed law that makes that activity illegal.
Do I endorse that law?

The only case I can think of where I'd say yes is if the law also performs some other function, the benefit of which outweighs the inefficiencies associated with preventing this activity, and for some reason separating those two functions is more expensive than just preventing the activity. (This sort of thing happens in the real world all the time.)

Can you think of other cases?

I agree with you, by the way, that liberty-as-applause-light is a distraction from thinking clearly about these sorts of questions. Perhaps efficiency is as well, but if so it's one I have much more trouble reasoning past... I neither love that law nor hate it, but it is taking up energy I could use for something else.

Comment author: Strange7 05 June 2012 01:52:22AM 0 points [-]

Proposed law, or preexisting law?

As pointed out here, tribal traditions tend to have been adopted and maintained for some good reason or other, even if people can't properly explain what that reason is, and that goes double for the traditions that are inconvenient or silly-sounding.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 05 June 2012 03:45:03AM 0 points [-]

Pace Chesterton, I don't see that much difference, especially when the context changes significantly from decade to decade. If there's a pre-existing law preventing the activity, I will probably devote significantly more effort to looking for a good reason to prevent that activity than for a proposed law, but not an infinite amount of effort; at some point either I find such a reason or I don't endorse the law.

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 03:40:59PM *  2 points [-]

(edit)

I have the feeling that I've got to state the following belief in plain text:

Regardless of whether "babies are people" (and yeah, I guess I wouldn't call them that on most relevant criteria), any parent who proves able to kill their child while not faced with an unbearable alternative cost (a hundred strangers for an altruistic utilitarian, eternal and justified damnation for a deeply brainwashed believer) is damn near guaranteed to have their brain wired in a manner unacceptable to modern society.

Such wiring so strongly correlates with harmful, unsympathetic psychopaths that, if faced with a binary choice to murder any would-be childkillers on sight or ignore them, we should not waver in exterminating them. Of course, a better solution is a blanket application of unbounded social stigma as a first line deterrent and individual treatment of every one case, whether with an attempt at readjustment, isolation or execution.

Comment author: soreff 01 January 2012 03:59:45PM *  15 points [-]

harmful, unsympathetic psychopaths

There is another, quite different, situation where it happens: Highly stressed mothers of newborns.

The answer to this couldn’t be more clear: humans are very different from macaques. We’re much worse. The anxiety caused by human inequality is unlike anything observed in the natural world. In order to emphasize this point, Robert Sapolsky put all kidding aside and was uncharacteristically grim when describing the affects of human poverty on the incidence of stress-related disease.

"When humans invented poverty," Sapolsky wrote, “they came up with a way of subjugating the low-ranking like nothing ever before seen in the primate world.”

This is clearly seen in studies looking at human inequality and the rates of maternal infanticide. The World Health Organization Report on Violence and Health reported a strong association between global inequality and child abuse, with the largest incidence in communities with “high levels of unemployment and concentrated poverty.” Another international study published by the American Journal of Psychiatry analyzed infanticide data from 17 countries and found an unmistakable “pattern of powerlessness, poverty, and alienation in the lives of the women studied.”

The United States currently leads the developed world with the highest maternal infanticide rate (an average of 8 deaths for every 100,000 live births, more than twice the rate of Canada). In a systematic analysis of maternal infanticide in the U.S., DeAnn Gauthier and colleagues at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette concluded that this dubious honor falls on us because “extreme poverty amid extreme wealth is conducive to stress-related violence.” Consequently, the highest levels of maternal infanticide were found, not in the poorest states, but in those with the greatest disparity between wealth and poverty (such as Colorado, Oklahoma, and New York with rates 3 to 5 times the national average). According to these researchers, inequality is literally killing our kids.

Comment author: juliawise 01 January 2012 04:16:48PM 13 points [-]

Infanticide has been considered a normal practice in a lot of cultures. The Greeks and Romans, for example, don't seem to have been run down by psychopaths.

I don't think we have a good way to know about the later harmful actions of people who kill their infants. Either we find them out and lock them up, in which case their life is no longer really representative of the population, or we don't know about what they've done.

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 04:51:52PM *  3 points [-]

I've managed to overlook the most important (and fairly obvious) thing, though!

If the idea of "childkilling=bad" is weakly or not at all ingrained in a culture, it's easy to override both one's innate and cultural barriers to kill your child, so most normally wired people would be capable of it => the majority of childkillers are normal people.

If it's ingrained as strongly as in the West today, there would be few people capable of overriding such a strong cultural barrier, => the majority of childkillers left would be the ones who get no barriers in the first place, i.e. largely harmful, unsympathetic psychopaths. The other ones would have an abnormally strong will to override barriers and self-modify, which can easily make them just as dangerous.

Comment author: juliawise 01 January 2012 05:33:44PM *  10 points [-]

Okay, got it. I agree that in a culture that condemns infanticide, people who do it anyway are likely to be quite different from the people who don't. But Bakkot's claim was that our culture should allow it, which should not be expected to increase the number of psychopaths.

I'm also not sure that unbounded social stigma is an effective way to deter people who essentially don't care about other people. We don't really know of good ways to change psychopathy.

(edited for clarity)

Comment author: soreff 01 January 2012 05:06:01PM *  2 points [-]

The other ones would have an abnormally strong will to override barriers and self-modify, which can easily make them just as dangerous.

You are overlooking the extreme situations some people are forced into. Looking at the act as being primarily a function of a person's internal state state can be a poor approximation. As nearly as I can tell, if an arbitrarily selected person in the West were put in a situation as dire as these infanticidal mothers had been forced into, they would quite probably do the same thing.

Note that the geographical variation in infanticide rates is more plausibly consistent with external factors driving the rates than internal factors. The populations of the USA and Canada are not hugely different, yet there is a 2X difference in the rates between them (as I quoted from the article that I cited before). I strongly doubt that the proportion of psychopaths and extreme self-modifiers differs so strongly between the two nations - but the US has been shredding its social safety nets for years.

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 05:21:50PM *  2 points [-]

This is easy enough to check. Do most poor, fairly desperate people whose situation is sufficiently alike that of our hypothetical normal childkiller, in fact, kill their children?

(No, I can't quite define "sufficiently alike" right off the bat. Wouldn't mind working it out together.)

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 04:32:43PM *  1 point [-]

The Greeks and Romans, for example, don't seem to have been run down by psychopaths.

With genocide of any foreigners and mass torture for entertainment also having been considered perfectly acceptable, the Roman culture in the flesh would certainly feel alien enough to us that an utilitarian, altruistic time traveler could likely be predicted to attempt to sway it, with virtually any means justifying the end for them.*

I know I would, and I know that I'm not an unusual decision maker for the LW community.

*(cue obvious SF story idea with the time traveler ending up as Jesus)

Comment author: juliawise 01 January 2012 04:47:43PM 6 points [-]

But these seem to have been larger cultural phenomena, not the unchecked actions of a few psychopaths. Psychopathy affects around 1% of the population, and I doubt so few people could have swayed the entire culture if the rest of them had no interest in killing people.

Comment author: Strange7 05 June 2012 04:28:09AM 1 point [-]

One percent of the modern population. How much historical data is there?

Comment author: juliawise 05 June 2012 07:26:30PM 0 points [-]

You're right that we don't have data on the incidence of psychopathy in ancient Rome, and our data its current incidence is pretty sketchy. (Unlike most mental illnesses, psychopathy is more a problem for other people than the person who has it, so psychopaths have no reason to get treatment. Not that we really have any treatment if they did.)

But there seem to be both genetic and social components (e.g. being abused as a child), so probably those same genetic opportunities got triggered in some people throughout history. Possibly at different rates than here and now.

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 04:53:47PM 0 points [-]

See my reply's second comment.

Comment author: Strange7 05 June 2012 04:24:57AM 0 points [-]

The Greeks and Romans, for example, don't seem to have been run down by psychopaths.

Not sure I'd agree, there. Rome had institutionalized blood sports, and mass rioting when the entertainment was interrupted.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 01 January 2012 04:10:56PM 3 points [-]

I suspect a lot of the people who would agree with this sentiment would change their minds in the face of a sufficiently compelling argument that there exists some scenario under which they would be able to kill their child.

Comment author: juliawise 01 January 2012 04:21:19PM 10 points [-]

I've worked with parents of very disabled children, and it's not an easy life. For mothers especially, it becomes your career. I can imagine a lot of parents might consider infanticide if they knew that was going to be their life.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2012 08:35:55PM *  12 points [-]

Ditto, as someone who works in disability care and child care (including infant care), I support the baby-killing scenario.

I worked for a family that had a severely mentally and physically disabled 6-year old. She was at infant-level cognition, practically blind, and had very little control over her body. There was almost nothing going on mentally, but she was very volatile about sounds/music/surroundings. You could tell if she was happy or sad by whether she was laughing or crying, and she cried a LOT.

Trying to get her to STOP crying was extremely difficult, because there was no communication, and she never wanted the SAME things. However it was also very important to get her calm QUICKLY because if she cried too long she would have a "meltdown", be near inconsolable, throw up, and then you'd have to vent her stomach.

Her parents were the best at reading her. They trained people by pretty much putting you in a room with her, until you developed an ineffable intuitive ability to keep her happy. When I moved to a different city, it took them about 3-4 months to find a replacement for me who wouldn't quit by the second day. I was driving back to my old city once a week to work for them during that time.

Her existence had a terrible effect on her family. They had to hire around the clock care. As in, amazingly patient care-givers that were hard to find, to cover about 100 hours a week. I would get stressed covering 2 shifts a week, and I don't know how her parents were managing to cope.

This child was a drain on society and on everyone around her. Because of her parents' religious values, they wouldn't kill her even if it were legal. But their lives would have been dramatically improved if it were otherwise.

Also, I agree that infants have less or equal personhood than many animals. The way I handle the discrepancy is by being a vegetarian. But since most people aren't vegetarians, they don't really have a strong supporting reason to be against legalized infanticide.

Comment author: Vaniver 02 January 2012 12:06:36AM 4 points [-]

So, my position is that the necessary standard to justify ending a 10 month old's life is only a bit lower than that of ending a 18 year old's life, and is only a bit higher than the necessary standard to justify ending a fetus's life. I'm patient. But what that statement often obscures is that I'm willing to let people meet that standard. I would support ending the individual you described at ages of 6 years, 60 years, 6 months, or 6 months after conception.

But the acknowledgement that not every life should be continued is very different from a "return policy" sort of infanticide which Bakkot is justifying by saying "well, they're not people yet." Sometimes it's best to kill people, too, and so personhood isn't the true issue.

Comment author: Strange7 05 June 2012 05:35:14AM 1 point [-]

Would you approve of a man killing a child which his wife recently gave birth to, without the mother's permission, on the grounds that he does not believe himself to be the child's father? That's certainly not sadism.

Or, if genetic testing has been done and the child's biological father is known, would you say it should be legal for the father to kill the child... say, because he disagrees with the married couple's religious beliefs and wants to deny them an easy recruit?

Comment author: Bakkot 06 June 2012 03:35:00AM 0 points [-]

No and no. Easily solved by requiring both parents to consent and/or by not defining "parent" to mean "progenitor".

Both seem rather tangential, in any case.

Comment author: Strange7 06 June 2012 03:46:35AM 1 point [-]

How would you define "parent," then? It's not a tangent, it's an important edge case. I'm trying to understand exactly where our views on the issue differ.

For what it's worth, I agree with you unreservedly on the age discrimination thing. In fact, I think it's the root of a lot of the current economic problems: a majority of the population is essentially being warehoused during their formative years, and then expected to magically transform into functional, productive adults afterward.

Comment author: Bakkot 06 June 2012 04:27:31AM 0 points [-]

Probably we'd be better served by me explaining why think it's a tangent: The issues related to who has the right to kill the baby have to do with harm done to people other than the baby. The core point I was trying to make was that killing a baby isn't inherently wrong in the way that killing an adult is because the baby isn't a person.

Certainly there are issues to be sorted out, in the same way there are issues to be sorted out related to who has the right to kill a pet dog. But if babies were people these wouldn't be important, relatively speaking: killing babies would be wrong for the same reason killing adults is wrong. As such I think they're tangential: unrelated to the question of "is it wrong to kill babies for the reason that babies are people?".

That said: The legal definition is probably adequate; barring that, perhaps we might say the parents are the people to whom responsibility for raising the baby would fall.

Comment author: orthonormal 04 January 2012 01:21:56AM 1 point [-]

Ah, I was wondering how the welcome thread got to more than 500 comments so quickly!

Comment author: [deleted] 03 January 2012 07:53:56PM *  1 point [-]

In other posts in this thread I've discussed infanticide, and proposed ways to reduce parental grief in cultures that would adopt it (I didn't say it should be adopted btw). But only now did I remember that the practice of infanticide where others preform the killing (something I proposed down thread as an implementation that would reduce psychological stress) reminded me of the practice of killing "mingi" (cursed) children in Ethiopia. Many of the individuals exposed to outside culture would prefer to adopt it or at least find ways to not kill the children while still severing them from the parents.

While obviously CNN as always has a progressive-Eurocentric-mind-projection-fallacy spin in its reporting and the tribes in question may be just adopting preferences of higher status tribes and groups rather than because not practising it seems so much better than practising it. I do think this is weak evidence that people prefer to live in societies that don't practice infanticide. Also reading some of the accounts has caused me (rightfully or not) to increase the estimated psychological suffering of parents. But consider that this wasn't a choice in most cases, it isn't that large either. I shouldn't be surprised, humans are built to live in a world where life is cheap after all.

I have no doubt that the practice of mingi historically did indeed help the tribe, taken as a whole traditions do tend to be adaptive in the environment in which they where established, but now that their (social) envrionment has changed, the practice seems to be falling out of favour.

Comment author: Multiheaded 04 January 2012 03:25:00PM 0 points [-]

I do think this is weak evidence that people prefer to live in societies that don't practice infanticide.

Thanks for updating.

Comment author: occlude 01 January 2012 09:02:39PM 1 point [-]

Please let me know if I've missed a discussion of this point; it seems important, but I haven't seen it answered.

What is the particular and demonstrable quality of personhood that defines this okay to kill/not okay to kill threshold? In short, what is blicket?

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 09:10:12PM 3 points [-]

It's not precisely a threshold because it's not binary. The quality is "personhood". Defining personhood is obviously an incredibly difficult thing to do, so I've been avoiding doing so in this thread. However, any reasonable definition I can come up with does not include very young infants. If you think that newborns are people, I'd be interested in hearing why - but I haven't come up with a sufficiently good wording for what I think personhood is to have a debate about it.

Comment author: occlude 01 January 2012 09:55:29PM 4 points [-]

I won't argue that newborns are people, because I have the same problem defining person that you seem to have. But until I can come up with a cogent reduction distilling person to some quality or combination of qualities that actually exist -- some state of a region of the universe -- then it seems prudent to err on the side of caution.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 10:09:13PM *  3 points [-]

Agreed, but ten months seems to be erring pretty hard on the side of caution to me - dolphins seem far more like people than ten month old babies, but I don't think killing a dolphin should be treated as the same crime as killing a (eta adult) human.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 01 January 2012 09:25:04PM 3 points [-]

Well, one relatively simple question that might help clarify some things: do I remain a person when I'm asleep?

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 09:36:09PM 2 points [-]

Yes - even while sleeping, your brain contains all the structure and information necessary for personhood, as is easily empirically demonstrated by waking you up.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 01 January 2012 09:43:52PM 3 points [-]

Cool. Would I still be a person while in a coma that I will naturally come out of in five years but not before? (I recognize that no observer could know that this was the case, I'm just asking whether in fact I would be, if it were. Put another way: after I woke up, would we conclude that I'd been a person all along?)

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 09:53:41PM 3 points [-]

Obviously this is a difficult question. I'd say you're very nearly a person while in a coma, because with very minor modifications to your brain you could have returned to being a person.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 01 January 2012 09:56:28PM 0 points [-]

OK, cool... that clarifies matters. Thanks.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2012 08:33:37PM 1 point [-]

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.

Why not permit the killing of babies not your own, for the same reason?

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 08:39:09PM 7 points [-]

I just made this point deep in one of the other subthreads, actually. The reason is that killing someone else's child does significant harm to them. It's the roughly same reason you should be able to tear down your house but not someone else's, but orders of magnitude more major (assuming that most people are orders of magnitude more attached to their newborns than to their houses).

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2012 08:51:04PM 2 points [-]

It causes me a certain level of distress when a baby is harmed or killed, even if it is of no relation to me. Many people (perhaps almost all people) experience a similar amount of distress. Is it your point of view that the aggregate amount of harm caused in this way is not large enough to justify the prohibition on killing babies?

Perhaps what you mean to argue with the house analogy is not that the parent is harmed, but that his property rights have been violated.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 09:04:55PM 6 points [-]

It causes me a certain level of distress when a baby is harmed or killed, even if it is of no relation to me. Many people (perhaps almost all people) experience a similar amount of distress. Is it your point of view that the aggregate amount of harm caused in this way is not large enough to justify the prohibition on killing babies?

Yes. Similarly for abortion.

Perhaps what you mean to argue with the house analogy is not that the parent is harmed, but that his property rights have been violated.

Well... the violation of his property rights is the harm.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 January 2012 09:09:46PM 3 points [-]

Are those property rights transferable? Would you permit a market in infants?

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 09:23:15AM *  8 points [-]

Sure, adoption markets basically already exist, why not make them legal?

Not only are wealthier people better candidates on average because they can provide for the material needs much better and will on average have a more suitable psychological profile (we can impose legal screening of adopters too, so they need to match other current criteria before they can legally buy on the adoption market if you feel uncomfortable with "anyone can buy"). It also provides incentives for people with desirable traits to breed, far more than just subsidising them having kids of their own.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 09:13:09PM 6 points [-]

I think I may not have gotten the point I was trying to make across - I don't think all harm is of the form "violation of property rights", I think the reason "property rights" are a thing we care about is because their violation is harmful.

Would you permit a market in infants?

An interesting question, but not one I've thought about. If what I've said above is tells you what you want to know, I'm not going to try discussing this here. Otherwise I will.

Comment author: gwern 01 January 2012 11:50:47PM *  4 points [-]

One of the standard topics in economic approaches to the law is to discuss the massive market failures caused by not permitting markets in infants; see for example, Landes and Richard Posner's "The Economics of the Baby Shortage". I thought their analysis pretty convincing.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 09:20:46AM 5 points [-]

It causes me a certain level of distress when a baby is harmed or killed, even if it is of no relation to me. Many people (perhaps almost all people) experience a similar amount of distress.

Don't worry, in the right culture and society this distress would be pretty minor.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 09:24:28AM *  3 points [-]

The more interesting question is what to do when parents disagree about infanticide and the complications that come about from custody.

Also adoption contracts would probably need to have a "don't kill my baby that I've given up clause" lest some people wouldn't want to give up children for adoption.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 09:17:38AM *  0 points [-]

Because its illegal to kill other people's pets or destroy their property? Duh.

Actually selling your baby on the adoption market should probably be legal too.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 January 2012 10:02:30AM *  3 points [-]

I would vote this up if not for the retract... accept my pseodo-vote.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 10:25:30AM 2 points [-]

Feel free to up vote other comments in this thread where I say basically the same thing.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 02 January 2012 10:13:01AM 1 point [-]

Because its illegal to kill other people's pets or destroy their property? Duh.

So, premeditated killing of someone else's child should be criminal damage rather than murder?

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 10:23:13AM *  2 points [-]

Maybe.

Maybe we could just keep it murder, I don't know. There is no law (heh) we have to be consistent about this. In many places across the world killing a pregnant women is tried as a double murder (I think this includes some US states).

Comment author: wedrifid 02 January 2012 10:26:50AM *  3 points [-]

So, premeditated killing of someone else's child should be criminal damage rather than murder?

What monetary value does the child have, for the purpose of calculating damages I wonder? We should do early testing to see how much status the parents were likely to gain via the impressiveness of their possession in the future. Facial symmetry, genetic indicators...

Comment author: Strange7 05 June 2012 02:12:18AM 0 points [-]

Testing would be a lot of work and potential corruption for comparatively little gain in nailing down the sig figs. The EPA is already willing to put an approximate dollar value on the life of a random citizen shortened by pollution (for cost-benefit purposes when evaluating proposed cleanup plans), so I'd say just estimate the average or typical value and use that as the standard, preferably showing your work well enough to allow adjustments over time or judicial discretion in unusual cases.

Comment author: Multiheaded 02 January 2012 09:21:32AM *  0 points [-]

Actually selling your baby on the adoption market should probably be legal too.

I weakly agree, if only for the reason that it sounds better than foster care and could well curb infanticide. On the other hand, in countries that have a problem with slavery it could weaken any injunction against slave trade, by the same argument as the one I support against infanticide. Or it could harm the sacredness of the child-parent bond in general. Well, on the whole it seems just about worth it to me, and no part of it even feels creepy or alarmingly counterintuitive.

Comment author: Strange7 05 June 2012 02:25:08AM 1 point [-]

The slave trade thing might be prevented by specifically forbidding the quick or anonymous sale of children. Have the current and prospective parents jump through some hoops, get interviewed by a social worker, etc. and the whole thing thoroughly documented. Find an equilibrium that keeps the nonmonetary transaction costs high enough that low-level slave traders won't think it's worth the trouble to 'go legit,' and the paper trail thick enough that corrupt aristocrats won't want to take the risk of public humiliation, without actually making it more difficult for the beleaguered biological parents than raising an unwanted child themselves.

Comment author: wedrifid 05 June 2012 02:35:14AM 1 point [-]

The ultimate slavery counter: red tape!

Comment author: Strange7 05 June 2012 03:13:46AM 1 point [-]

Working from the assumption that slave-traders are in it for the money? Yeah. Slavery stops happening when it becomes more cost-effective to pay the workers directly, than to pay guards to coerce them.

The main use of slave labor is agriculture, because it's easy to have a large group within a single overseer's line of sight, and output is easy to measure. Child labor has historically succeeded there because of the low skill requirement, and because an individual child's lower productivity was matched by lower housing and food costs. If a child costs more to acquire than an adult - specifically if that difference in up-front costs outweighs the net present value of that slim productivity-per-upkeep-cost advantage - anyone who keeps using children for unpaid ag labor will simply be driven out of the market by competitors willing to do the math.

The app people worry about is sex. Police and prosecuting attorneys (in the US, at least) are already willing to resort to extremely dubious tactics to score a pedophile conviction; this would give them a legitimate audit trail to follow. Someone seeking to purchase a child for such purposes would not dare attract so much official attention... unless they were suicidally stupid, which is the sort of problem that solves itself.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 09:42:51AM *  0 points [-]

Ah the rapid response prevented me from deleting my post (I wanted to do so because the points have been raised elsewhere and I didn't want to bloat the debate, not because I didn't think the post was relevant).

Comment author: Vaniver 01 January 2012 10:16:18AM *  0 points [-]

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.

What's your discount rate?

(That is, if I offered you $100 now, or $X a year from now, what is the lowest value of X that would make you choose the latter option?)

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 06:36:21PM *  1 point [-]

Assuming I have a good expectation that you're equally likely to deliver in each scenario, my discount rate is about 1.3, I think. (That is, $X = $130.) (Edit: On consideration, it's closer to 2.0 in light of the fact that I expect to have significantly more money next year than this year (for whatever value of "this year" we're using), so the marginal utility of each dollar goes down, etc. It would be 1.3 or so if I expected to have the same amount of money next year as this year; 1.3 is the more relevant value.)

I'm guessing I know what point you're trying to make here, but let me go ahead and say that most of the reason murder in general ought to be illegal is because you're killing a person. Babies probably will be people, but they're not yet; you're not doing harm to a person by infanticide any more than you are by using contraception.

Comment author: Vaniver 01 January 2012 10:12:07PM 1 point [-]

I would love to loan you money at 20% interest. Send me a private message if you're interested.

but they're not yet;

When playing chess, how many moves ahead do you look?

you're not doing harm to a person by infanticide any more than you are by using contraception.

A man produces about 47 billion sperm a year; a woman releases 13 eggs a year; a couple that tries to become pregnant over the course of a year will have a 75% chance of live birth pregnancy if the female is 30. So each feasible sperm-egg combination over the course of a year has about a trillionth chance of making it to a live birth. *

As soon as conception happens, then you've got a zygote which is very likely to make it to live birth. And once it makes it to live birth, it's very likely to make it to adulthood. So there seems to be a very bright line at conception. (Contraceptives prevent conception; condoms by preventing sperm from entering, the pill by preventing ovulation, and so on.)

(I should note that I think there are sound reasons to treat a risk that will end one out of a trillion people chosen at random as less of a concern than a risk that is certain to end a certain person, and that this line of reasoning depends heavily on this premise, but it would take too long to go into those reasons here. I can in another comment if you're interested.)

*Noting that 'potential resulting individual DNAs' are individually much less likely than just sperm-egg combinations.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 10:21:42PM 3 points [-]

When playing chess, how many moves ahead do you look?

One or two, but for me deciding which move to make is practically instinct, less lookahead. Also I'm not entirely sure how this is relevant.

As soon as conception happens, then you've got a zygote which is very likely to make it to live birth. And once it makes it to live birth, it's very likely to make it to adulthood.

We seem to be arguing from different axioms. For me, it seems that if you're confident that having more people in the world is a net positive, then as a necessary conclusion the moral thing to do is to try to have as many children as possible. If you're not sure of this, I don't undersand how you can conclude it's a moral wrong to destroy something which is not yet a person but merely has the potential to become one. For what reason is this latter situation immoral?

Comment author: MixedNuts 02 January 2012 11:37:25AM 2 points [-]

As soon as conception happens, then you've got a zygote which is very likely to make it to live birth.

From the NIH:

It is estimated that up to half of all fertilized eggs die and are lost (aborted) spontaneously, usually before the woman knows she is pregnant. Among those women who know they are pregnant, the miscarriage rate is about 15-20%. Most miscarriages occur during the first 7 weeks of pregnancy. The rate of miscarriage drops after the baby's heart beat is detected.

So your bright line should be heartbeat, or at least zygote implantation. This does not significantly affect your conclusions.