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Chimeras, Part 2

Posted on March 4, 2017 at 3:25 PM Comments comments (1)

Chimeras, Part 2

This past week I had opportunity to read scores of undergrad essays on the assigned theme, “According to Aristotle’s Four Causes, the Human Being is _____.” When you’re a Professor of Philosophy, it’s what you do.

      Aristotle’s Material Cause, or his answer to the question, “What is the human kind of being made up of?” is the foundation for my second reflection on chimeras.

      “A chimera is an individual composed of cells with different embryonic origins”, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Last week, in Chimeras, Part 1, I explained that, prior to other considerations, we ought to take great care in adopting or regularizing this newfangled “genetic Lego building” to produce embryos made up of animal genetic material plus human genetic material because of what chimera-building will do to us as a society, even apart from the status of the embryos produced. With reference to Plutarch’s “On the Eating of Flesh” and Heidegger’s caution about the power of technological thinking to enframe our human being, I argued that the very undertaking and support of chimera research would affect our notions of morality and scientific research for the worse.

      In Chimeras, Part 2 I will explain that chimera research entails a fallacy of ignorance. This is because chimeras as human-animal hybrid embryos are by definition human beings. The ignorance at issue is the widespread ignorance regarding what makes a human being a human being.

     Establishing who is human ontologically. The recognition of which individuals count as human beings – the term person is usually used to highlight the moral status at issue here, as in “Who counts as a person, that is, an individual with full human rights?” – is not doable within the scientific method. Personhood or one’s humanity is not a percentage calculation, as Kevin LeRoy has recently suggested. Personhood is a digital, on/off, either-or determination. The humanity of the human being is not only a matter (!) of our material make-up either.

      As educated persons (think here of Aristotle’s formal cause!) who are familiar with Aristotle’s four minimum intellectual requirements for knowing what a thing is, percentages of matter or even confining our thinking to the matter that makes up a kind of thing is not even a decent answer to the so-called material cause, which poses the cross-examination question, “What components is this kind of being made of?” For example, a plant is made up of matter plus life, an animal is made up of matter plus life, plus sentient consciousness and the human being is made up of matter plus life plus sentient consciousness plus self-reflective consciousness. Here’s a chart for this ontological (or, kind-of-being) analysis.

[?]

Human being = m + x + y + z

Animal = m + x + y

Plant = m + x

Rock = m

Let m be matter, x be life, y be consciousness, and z be capacity to self-reflect.

Then, we can also say that z is logos, as in Aristotle’s definition of the human being as zoon logon echon (ζῷον λόγοv ἔχων) in his Politics, Book 1.

Levels of Being or ONTOLOGY

P-Property Listing, or establishing who is human arbitrarily. I can imagine a chimera researcher objecting that this m+x+y+z ontological scheme is not a scientific view of things. In response, I would agree wholeheartedly. Next, I would point out that he is guilty of begging the question, which means that he is assuming a natural science worldview and taking the scientific method as the be-all, end-all of knowledge and thinking – all without explaining why we should agree with his dogmatic presuppositions. BTW, his logical misstep is only compounded by claiming that every scientist in the world would say the same thing. In this form, it is both question-begging and an appeal to the masses.

The real problem, though, is that our 20th- and now 21st-century ignorance of what we are as human beings leaves researchers and policy-makers and authors free to define who counts as a person or a human being with full human rights in a totally arbitrary and self-serving manner. Here is how I explain what I call “P-Property Listing” in regard to abortion:

1. Abortion, if and when it is defended by reasoning, is defended on arbitrary grounds.

2. The arbitrary logic of abortion is exhibited in Philip K. Dick’s 1974 short story, “The Pre-Persons.”

He said stammeringly, “I — saw — the abortion — truck.” “And you thought it was for you?” Mutely, he nodded.

“Listen, Walter,” Cynthia Best said, kneeling down and taking hold of his trembling hands, “I promise, your dad and I both promise, you’ll never be sent to the County Facility. Anyhow you’re too old. They only take children up to twelve.”

“But Jeff Vogel –”

“His parents got him in just before the new law went into effect. They couldn’t take him now, legally. They couldn’t take you now. Look — you have a soul; the law says a twelve-year-old boy has a soul. So he can’t go to the County Facility. See? You’re safe. Whenever you see the abortion truck, it’s for someone else, not you. Never for you. Is that clear? It’s come for another younger child who doesn’t have a soul yet, a pre-person.”

Staring down, not meeting his mother’s gaze, he said, “I don’t feel like I got a soul; I feel like I always did.”

“It’s a legal matter,” his mother said briskly. “Strictly according to age. And you’re past the age.”

-- Philip K. Dick, “The Pre-Persons” (1974)

3. PKD’s “The Pre-Persons” brings to light what I call “The P-Property Listing” or P-PL approach to bioethics.

NEW COMMANDMENTS:

1. Recognize that the worth of human life varies [190] Factors affecting worth:

a. Consciousness

b. Capacity for physical, social and mental interaction with other beings

c. Having conscious preferences for continued life

d. Having enjoyable experiences

e. Others’ attitude towards your life (family members, etc.)

f. Finite medical resources [192]

[…]

3. Respect a person’s desire to live or die [197] Killing a person against her or his will is a much more serious wrong than killing a being that is not a person.

4. Bring children into the world only if they are wanted [200]

-- Peter Singer, Rethinking Life and Death at http://homepages.umflint.edu/~simoncu/115/115fall02/singer.htm

4. The underlying logic of P-PL is that who counts as a human being or as a person is conducted as (nothing more than) a cultural judgment.

5. That is, P-PL is Protagorean, postmodern and arbitrary.

6. In other words, P-PL is a cultural judgment such as that made by the Nazis at Dachau.

7. The alternative to the P-PL arbitrary sorting of human beings and persons is Aristotelian ontology as augmented by the biblical and Messianic response to the question, “What is Man?” (see Psalm 8 and Hebrews 2.)

8. Some may object that this is a religious or biblical anthropology view of the human being.

9. My first reply is that Aristotle is not a religious or biblical authority.

10. My second reply is that the Aristotelian ontology that is augmented by the biblical view is our traditional Western culture’s understanding of the human being.

I swear […] that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant: […]

I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art. […]

—Translation from the Greek by Ludwig Edelstein. From The Hippocratic Oath: Text, Translation, and Interpretation, by Ludwig Edelstein. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1943.

11. My third reply is that the biblical understanding of the infinite worth of the human being by virtue of universal creation and universal justification addresses what Jürgen Habermas has identified as the need for religion to be readmitted to the public discussion in the face of post-secularism.

12. Thus, the arbitrary P-Property Listing by which some human beings are denied their human rights as persons ought to be replaced by the ontological understanding that all human beings are persons, ontologically and biblically, by virtue of their species membership.

13. For example, human beings who are not yet born (nor those of a certain age or mental acuity) should not be denied their human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness on the basis of arbitrary, Dachau-istic P-PL reasoning.

Conclusion, so far. The virtue of the ontological understanding of the human being is that it is non-reductive and intelligible. Science does what it does by reductive thinking, that is, by reducing complex existing things to smaller, presumably more basic understandings. The problem with this in regard to the human being is that science reduces our understanding of what it means to be human way, way too far. The natural science anthropology is not a view of the human being in the first place; only a detailed consideration of the aspects of human being that are assessable by the scientific method.

For example, we are made of matter, but it is reductivistic (and not reflective of reality as it is) to say, “Human beings are nothing but matter”. We are more than matter. That is to say, we are body-and-mind or body-and-soul entities. If the reality of what the human being is does not fit within the scientific method, so much the worse for the scientific method. If the natural sciences cannot comprehend human nature, so much the worse for the natural sciences.

Beyond the scientific hubris of scientists and others who presuppose and then insist that an individual embryo that is a human-animal hybrid can be understood in nothing-but matter terms, there is this endemic problem of P-Property Listing. This was done at Dachau; it is unconscionable to do such sorting after the Nuremberg trials and the Nuremberg Code. White lab coats are, as we need to realize in our brave old world, are no guarantee of ethical and moral research projects, least of all when human beings are or may be implicated in the research.

So, why ought we to regard animal-human hybrid embryos as human beings and persons with full human rights? First, we ought to ‘serious-up” the conversation and the reality of what this line of research is doing. There is very, very little evidence that those doing or supporting chimera production and research possess any understanding of what the human being is, beyond the arbitrary and Dachau-istic reasoning of a P-Property sorting that has passed as bioethical reasoning since 1973.

Second, each animal-human chimera has ontological claim to personhood and full human rights by virtue of his or her species membership. Have a look at Aristotle’s Four Causes and consider the so-called efficient cause: As my philosophy undergrads wrote in their essays on this cause, “A human being is a human type of being be-cause he or she comes from human beings”. This is why Aristotle and Natural Law raise the HUGE ethical challenge to our easy-breezy practices: “How, if at all, can you justify the different treatment of members of the same species?”

So, the essay assignment for these researchers and for us all in these latter days is this: “If a human being is the type of being that comes from human beings, just as an acorn is the kind or being that comes from oak trees, then a chimera is …”


RESOURCES

DOXOLOGY: The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Counsel, is reachable at http://www.doxology.us/.

Chimeras. See the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Human/Non-Human Chimeras”, at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/chimeras/.

Original Article on Chimeras. Kevin LeRoy’s Federalist article on chimeras is at http://thefederalist.com/2017/02/21/human-animal-hybrids-scientists-make-human-beast/.

The Human Kind of Being, defined essentially. See the primary texts and diagrams, as well as the podcast interview with my friend and DOXOLOGY colleague, Pastor Bryan Wulfmueller, under the Columns tab and as one of my Ten Master Metaphors, 2. Aristotle’s Cross-Examination of Natures at www.whatdoesthismean.org.