Friday, October 31, 2008

Lucky embryo!

We discussed Marquis' future like ours argument Monday and Wednesday this week and I've been trying to think of ways of explaining why someone might be sceptical of the idea that the fetus has a future like ours. I've posted on this before and noted that in trying to get away from having to assume that the fetus is a person, it looks like someone could reject the idea that the fetus has a future like ours as follows:
(1) You don't share your future with anything that isn't you.
(2) You have always been a person.
(3) The fetus is not itself a person.
(C) You don't share your future with any fetus.

The problem is that there are a fair number of folks who simply deny (2) and say that you were once a fetus. You weren't just a fetus, mind you, you were also a fetus that didn't have a mind. What to say then?

Let's try something different. Suppose there are two embryos in the lab in an IVF clinic. One would be implanted first and if all went as planned, the second embryo wouldn't be needed and would be discarded. A coin is flipped and the coin determines which embryo is implanted first. I confess that it doesn't make much sense to me to say that the embryo that wins the toss is "lucky" in any sense, not even if the first embryo is the only one that develops into an infant. If it's not good for the embryo to become an infant, then it seems that there's a perfectly good sense in which it's not correct to say that the fetus has a future like ours--whereas it is good for us to live out our futures, the same cannot be said for the fetus. Our living out our futures can be a benefit to us and our losing out on them can be bad luck, the same, it seems, cannot be said for the embryo.


Justin said...

I think as a matter of terminology, switching between fetus and embryo is really bad. So far as I can introspect what I think of when confronted with the words, an embryo is a tiny blob, perhaps just after conception, while a fetus is a little creature. It might have tiny underdeveloped arms, and eyes that are just sorta dots on its head, or it might be eight months into the process, where it looks mostly like a baby, but more wrinkly or something. Anyway, there's lots of room for the terminology to impact people's judgments. I, for one, have no trouble saying that I was me slightly before I was born, but get vertiginous at the thought that I was once a little embryo (and that's as close as I'll get to delivering intuitions today).

Leo Iacono said...

I would put the point somewhat differently. I'd say an embryo does have a future like ours, but I'd deny that depriving the embryo of that future wrongs it, because an embryo is not the sort of thing that can be wronged (or benefited, as your two embryo case makes clear).

Clayton said...


I think that the context is important here. You might be right that there are differences between the fetus and embryo, but the features that distinguish them seem not to play an important role in Marquis' argument. There's a perfectly good sense in which both have a future like ours if either does.


How's New Orleans treating you?

I guess I'm saying that it's because the embryo cannot be benefited or harmed that we cannot say that the fetus 'has' a future like ours, because if the fetus had a FLO and had it in the way we do, it seems the fetus could potentially be a benefactor/victim. But, whereas our attaining our futures can be good for us, I don't think this is true for embryos.

Sorry, I'm falling asleep. I can't promise that the last bit makes any sense.