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brent comments on Disputing Definitions - Less Wrong

48 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 12 February 2008 12:15AM

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Comment author: brent 12 February 2008 01:23:13AM 4 points [-]

ech...

"Abortion is murder because it's evil to kill a poor defenseless baby."

I am so sick of arguing with people who's definition of the issue constitutes 99% of their argument, and who aren't willing to acknowledge that their definition needs consensus before their point is even meaningful let alone valid.

Like you say - most of the time an argument is completely settled once/if everyone agrees one the terms being used.

Comment author: DanielLC 08 July 2011 05:08:21AM 7 points [-]

I would say that if it is evil to kill a poor defenseless unborn baby, then murder should probably be defined to include abortion. The problem is when people say "It's evil to kill a poor defenseless baby because abortion is murder."

Comment author: po8crg 24 March 2012 01:56:31PM 14 points [-]

The problem is that it begs the question - using "unborn baby" defines it into the same ethical category as a born baby, different only in location. When you dig down enough, usually that's the point at dispute - is the thing growing in a womb entitled to rights in the manner of a (born) baby, or is it not so entitled.

There are some property-rights thinkers who do hold that it is the location that matters, i.e. the baby is trespassing on the mother's womb, and she's entitled to use deadly force to remove it, but that's not the usual argument.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 24 March 2012 02:25:07PM 4 points [-]

Upvoted entirely for using "begs the question" correctly.

But, to respond to the comment -- there is also the position that the extent to which we should act to prevent my life from ending depends significantly on the costs of sustaining my life and who bears those costs, and since the cost equation typically changes significantly for an 35-week-old fertilized egg and a 45-week-old fertilized egg, it's reasonable to reach different conclusions about what acts are justified in those two cases.

And one can adopt that position whether the 35-week-old fertilized egg is called an "unborn baby," a "fetus", a "uterine growth", a "upcoming blessed event", a "little leech," or whatever. (All of which are terms I've heard pregnant women use to describe their fertilized egg at various stages of gestation.

The same principle suggests that we don't treat a 45-week-old fertilized egg the same as a thousand-week-old fertilized egg.

But I agree with your implicit point that many thinkers on the subject, as well as many speakers on the subject who may or may not be doing much thinking at the time they speak, respond primarily to the connotations of those terms.

Comment author: snewmark 23 December 2016 05:45:34PM 0 points [-]

Upvoted entirely for using "begs the question" correctly.

Ha, did you really praise the proper use of an ancient expression in the midst of a definition debate?

(Sorry about posting this 4 years later, I just had to get that out.)