The Myth of the Right to Life - Part I

Written by Sam Vaknin

I. The Right to Life

Generations of malleable Israeli children are brought up onrepparttar story ofrepparttar 122354 misnamed Jewish settlement Tel-Hai ("Mount of Life"), Israel's Alamo. There, amongrepparttar 122355 picturesque valleys ofrepparttar 122356 Galilee, a one-armed hero named Joseph Trumpeldor is said to have died, eight decades ago, from an Arab stray bullet, mumbling: "It is good to die for our country." Judaism is dubbed "A Teaching of Life" - but it would seem thatrepparttar 122357 sanctity of life can and does take a back seat to some overriding values.

The right to life - at least of human beings - is a rarely questioned fundamental moral principle. In Western cultures, it is assumed to be inalienable and indivisible (i.e., monolithic). Yet, it is neither. Even if we acceptrepparttar 122358 axiomatic - and therefore arbitrary - source of this right, we are still faced with intractable dilemmas. All said,repparttar 122359 right to life may be nothing more than a cultural construct, dependent on social mores, historical contexts, and exegetic systems.

Rights - whether moral or legal - impose obligations or duties on third parties towardsrepparttar 122360 right-holder. One has a right AGAINST other people and thus can prescribe to them certain obligatory behaviours and proscribe certain acts or omissions. Rights and duties are two sides ofrepparttar 122361 same Janus-like ethical coin.

This duality confuses people. They often erroneously identify rights with their attendant duties or obligations, withrepparttar 122362 morally decent, or even withrepparttar 122363 morally permissible. One's rights inform other people how they MUST behave towards one - not how they SHOULD or OUGHT to act morally. Moral behaviour is not dependent onrepparttar 122364 existence of a right. Obligations are.

To complicate matters further, many apparently simple and straightforward rights are amalgams of more basic moral or legal principles. To treat such rights as unities is to mistreat them.

Takerepparttar 122365 right to life. It is a compendium of no less than eight distinct rights:repparttar 122366 right to be brought to life,repparttar 122367 right to be born,repparttar 122368 right to have one's life maintained,repparttar 122369 right not to be killed,repparttar 122370 right to have one's life saved,repparttar 122371 right to save one's life (wrongly reduced torepparttar 122372 right to self-defence),repparttar 122373 right to terminate one's life, andrepparttar 122374 right to have one's life terminated.

None of these rights is self-evident, or unambiguous, or universal, or immutable, or automatically applicable. It is safe to say, therefore, that these rights are not primary as hitherto believed - but derivative.

The Right to be Brought to Life

In most moral systems - including all major religions and Western legal methodologies - it is life that gives rise to rights. The dead have rights only because ofrepparttar 122375 existence ofrepparttar 122376 living. Where there is no life - there are no rights. Stones have no rights (though many animists would find this statement abhorrent).

Hencerepparttar 122377 vitriolic debate about cloning which involves denuding an unfertilized egg of its nucleus. Is there life in an egg or a sperm cell?

That something exists, does not necessarily imply that it harbors life. Sand exists and it is inanimate. But what about things that exist and haverepparttar 122378 potential to develop life? No one disputesrepparttar 122379 existence of eggs and sperms - or their capacity to grow alive.

On Being Human

Written by Sam Vaknin

Are we human because of unique traits and attributes not shared with either animal or machine? The definition of "human" is circular: we are human by virtue ofrepparttar properties that make us human (i.e., distinct from animal and machine). It is a definition by negation: that which separates us from animal and machine is our "human-ness".

We are human because we are not animal, nor machine. But such thinking has been rendered progressively less tenable byrepparttar 122353 advent of evolutionary and neo-evolutionary theories which postulate a continuum in nature between animals and Man.

Our uniqueness is partly quantitative and partly qualitative. Many animals are capable of cognitively manipulating symbols and using tools. Few are as adept at it as we are. These are easily quantifiable differences - two of many.

Qualitative differences are a lot more difficult to substantiate. Inrepparttar 122354 absence of privileged access torepparttar 122355 animal mind, we cannot and don't know if animals feel guilt, for instance. Do animals love? Do they have a concept of sin? What about object permanence, meaning, reasoning, self-awareness, critical thinking? Individuality? Emotions? Empathy? Is artificial intelligence (AI) an oxymoron? A machine that passesrepparttar 122356 Turing Test may well be described as "human". But is it really? And if it is not - why isn't it?

Literature is full of stories of monsters - Frankenstein,repparttar 122357 Golem - and androids or anthropoids. Their behaviour is more "humane" thanrepparttar 122358 humans around them. This, perhaps, is what really sets humans apart: their behavioural unpredictability. It is yielded byrepparttar 122359 interaction between Mankind's underlying immutable genetically-determined nature - and Man's kaleidoscopically changing environments.

The Constructivists even claim that Human Nature is a mere cultural artefact. Sociobiologists, onrepparttar 122360 other hand, are determinists. They believe that human nature - beingrepparttar 122361 inevitable and inexorable outcome of our bestial ancestry - cannot berepparttar 122362 subject of moral judgment.

An improved Turing Test would look for baffling and erratic patterns of misbehaviour to identify humans. Pico della Mirandola wrote in "Oration onrepparttar 122363 Dignity of Man" that Man was born without a form and can mould and transform - actually, create - himself at will. Existence precedes essence, saidrepparttar 122364 Existentialists centuries later.

The one defining human characteristic may be our awareness of our mortality. The automatically triggered, "fight or flight", battle for survival is common to all living things (and to appropriately programmed machines). Not sorepparttar 122365 catalytic effects of imminent death. These are uniquely human. The appreciation ofrepparttar 122366 fleeting translates into aesthetics,repparttar 122367 uniqueness of our ephemeral life breeds morality, andrepparttar 122368 scarcity of time gives rise to ambition and creativity.

In an infinite life, everything materializes at one time or another, sorepparttar 122369 concept of choice is spurious. The realization of our finiteness forces us to choose among alternatives. This act of selection is predicated uponrepparttar 122370 existence of "free will". Animals and machines are thought to be devoid of choice, slaves to their genetic or human programming.

Yet, all these answers torepparttar 122371 question: "What does it mean to be human" - are lacking.

The set of attributes we designate as human is subject to profound alteration. Drugs, neuroscience, introspection, and experience all cause irreversible changes in these traits and characteristics. The accumulation of these changes can lead, in principle, torepparttar 122372 emergence of new properties, or torepparttar 122373 abolition of old ones.

Animals and machines are not supposed to possess free will or exercise it. What, then, about fusions of machines and humans (bionics)? At which point does a human turn into a machine? And why should we assume that free will ceases to exist at that - rather arbitrary - point?

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