Instigator / Pro

When should personhood be attributed?


The debate is finished. The distribution of the voting points and the winner are presented below.

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After 6 votes and with 26 points ahead, the winner is...

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Last updated date
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One week
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Two weeks
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Multiple criterions
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Contender / Con

*Burden of proof*
-PRO: Personhood *should* be attributed at conception
-CON: Personhood *should* be attributed at a time other than conception (e.g birth)

Personhood - "Perceived by law to possess unalienable rights (specifically the right to life)"
Conception - "The exact moment of the union of the homo sapien spermatazoon and ova, such that a zygote is formed"

1. One must comment on this debate if they wish to accept to ensure that all definitions, BoP etc. are stipulated. Failure to adhere will result in immediate forfeiture.
2. Failure to adhere to the debate format is considered poor conduct.
3. Forfeiture of any round without notice is also considered poor conduct.
4. Don't be afraid to negotiate rules, definitions or formatting before accepting the debate (but do not accept until they are stipulated!)
5. No kritiks

Round 1: Opening Arguments
Round 2: Rebuttals
Round 3: Rebuttals/Defence
Round 4: Rebuttals/Defence with summary (no new arguments and or new defence)

(I am more than willing to negotiate the format, if one were to propose a format with only four rounds)

*To note*
-Con must affirm a specific stage of development warranting the attribution of personhood (be it 6 weeks, birth etc.)

Round 1
*Con will be affirming that personhood ought to be ascribed at birth.*

== Aff ==

Thank you for accepting the debate! To begin, I will first highlight the inherent distinction between the Pro and Con position; what their commonalities are and what differentiates them.  I intend to show that both positions innately entail that biological humanity is an indubitable facet of personhood. Moreover, I will demonstrate that any position that entails the attribution of personhood at any other time than conception can be reduced to the same inconsistency conveyed through moral scepticism and value judgements. Furthermore, I will show that attribution of personhood at conception is the most congruous position in terms of general principles in law proceedings.  . 

Distinguishing Pro from Con
Before I can express my opening argument, the common ground between the two positions must be clarified.  Con’s position differs from mine, insofar as he asserts personhood ought to be ascribed after a finite period of time after conception (at birth).  Moreover, it is important to note that the resolution implies the possibility of two outcomes: either personhood is attributed at some time, or it is not attributed at all.  The latter would entail that neither I, nor Con would be able to fulfil our burdens of proof, thus to even have this debate we would have to agree that the former is true.  This is generally considered to be a truism by society as a whole anyway – without personhood being attributed no-one would have fundamental rights which would certainly lead to anarchy. 

This begs the question to what criteria should exist to validly define a person and brings me to the first and most crucial commonality between the two positions; no matter what stage of the developmental timeline is advocated -- be it conception, six weeks, birth, 65 years old etc. – all of them share the indubitable and irrefutable fact that the entity being attributed “personhood” is a “biological human”.   This is true, even at conception, as scientific consensus postulates that biological humanity begins at conception [1].

This might appear fairly obvious, but its relevance is clarified when it is illustrated in predicate form.  At this stage, we would have that all “people” (i.e those with unalienable rights) must be biologically human, by definition.
1.     ∀x(human(x) <=> person(x)).  Viz. “For all x, where x is a human, means that x is a person”.

Here is where the debate begins – I, as Pro, must advocate why this proposition is most prudent.  Con, on the other hand, must advocate that personhood is not only implied by biological humanity, but also by other predicates.  An example of this would be as such:

2.    ∀x( ((human(x) ^ conscious(x)) <=> person(x)).  Viz. “For all x, where x is a person and where x is conscious, means x is a person”

Via first order syntax, the distinction between our positions is clearly depicted.  It can be seen that not only does Con share the predicate of biological humanity, he is also burdened with the justification of multiplicity of predicates, be it consciousness, viability (whatever he chooses).  However, the predicate of biological humanity is true by definition (as personhood must be attributed). However, the same cannot be said about the additional predicates.  As such, Con is burdened with providing the additional justification to why more predicates (criteria) is needed to attribute personhood, but I argue that no matter what justification this is, it cannot be agreed upon and will lead to logical inconsistencies (similar to the problems conveyed in moral scepticism).  I argue that the only position exempt of these inconsistencies is the attribution of personhood at conception.

A1. Moral Scepticism and Value Judgement 
To reject the Pro position, that biological humanity is the sole implication of personhood, would be to state that either biological humanity does not implicate personhood at all, or biological humanity is not enough to implicate personhood.  The former is implausible if we are to value a functioning society – to reject this would entail that I can justly kill whomever I please.  This means we are left with the latter, i.e Con’s position.  The problem begins with the suggestion that a biological human is attributed personhood at a time other than conception.  This is because, there ought to be justification to why that human is now a person, but was not one at conception.  One can only do this by attributing value to something acquired later in development, or by attributing moral value to something acquired later in development.  If no value was gained, there would be no justification for assigning personhood at any other time but conception.  Thus, for the time of conception to have less value than birth would be to assume that either development as a whole, or something acquired throughout development. entails more qualitative and measurable value relative to that of the point of conception.  However, I argue that this position is unescapable from the issues associated with moral and value scepticism.  This is because, there is no agreeable measurement of value (moral or absolute) that can be argued for in this context.

Let’s examine ways of which we could attempt to ascribe moral and absolute value and compare them relative to different points of the developmental timeline.

I)                    Moral Value
Let’s compare a zygote, to a new-born baby.  Whom has greater moral value?  Prima facie one might argue that a bundle of cells has infinitesimal moral value relative to a fully developed baby – the feeble bundle of cells does not possess a heartbeat, consciousness, the ability to self-sustain or many of the other properties a baby has.  Admittedly, I would feel more morally reprehensible if anything detrimental were to happen to the baby than the zygote. However, attributing value in this way leads to a superabundance of inconsistencies and disagreement.  Firstly, whilst many concur with this view, a mother who has finally conceived a child after many years of effort would certainly contend that their unborn, underdeveloped bundle of cells is valuable. What if the unborn child were to be your own child, brother or sister, would they still not be valued – or be seen as less valuable to another fully born baby?  I would contend the mother would certainly value their unborn more than many live members of our community, so who’s view is correct?  Does consciousness, agency and self-sustainability outweigh the value one would place on the unborn, be it that they are a part of one’s family?  What is the absolute value of it?  How does one compare or measure the value of the different properties?  Who is to say that these properties are valuable at all?  To reiterate, let’s examine the two scenarios I just mentioned, labelled A and B:

A:  One values a baby as possessing more moral value because it possesses properties like consciousness, viability etc.
B: Another values a zygote as having more moral value, because that zygote is their own child, brother, sister (whomever they may be)
Who is correct? Do properties like consciousness entail more value than the intrinsic value a family member places on another?  How on earth would we compare them? These are the issues conveyed with moral scepticism.  Without an objective morality (which has yet to be observed in nature, outside of a religious notion) to commend what is morally valuable and what is not, such is open to speculation and scepticism .  Such a metric wouldn’t be a very suitable method for comparison.  For example, if we choose to see moral value in consciousness, it would alienate the comatose (whom many still value dearly) and render them without rights.  If we were to see moral value found in family, would alienate all those whom are not family.  Clearly, inconsistencies and unjustifiable differentiation are ubiquitous in assigning value this way.

If moral value cannot be agreed upon and leads to inconsistencies, then what about absolute value?

II)                  Absolute value
I am referring to “absolute value” as something separate to intrinsic notions of value; something like utilitarianism, an ethical theory that promotes actions that maximise happiness and well-being for the majority of the population.  The problem with this and the notion of consequentialism as a whole, occurs when we quantify value in terms of overall utility or benefit to society, as it too leads to many inconsistencies rendering it as a poor moral theory.

Firstly, it is absurd to ever act truly in a utilitarian fashion; every decision you make depends on the net utility or happiness generated – yet it is impossible to know the full extent of an action.  If the end goal is net utility for the majority, one could simply enslave a minority – even though the minority is very unhappy, the majority would benefit greatly from the free labour of the minority.  We reject slavery in modern society, so clearly utilitarianism isn’t an efficacious metric for assigning value.

Simply, one cannot attribute value without being able to measure – empirically -- a value reducible to something grounded in the physical world.  However, moral and value scepticism would posit that there exists no such grounding.  This means we are left with arbitrary notions of value e.g “currency”.  However, such a method is tremendously insipid; we cannot agree on how much each individual person is valued and we don’t have a system of exchangeability (i.e arbitrary currency for a service or good) for an arbitrary value such as this to have any viability or efficacy.

Con has a cumbersome burden here – he must first determine what properties have more qualitive value, how these values relate to each other and why at birth a baby possesses more absolute value than at conception.  I opine such an onus is impossible to fulfil.

One might wonder how my position is exempt of the aforementioned inconsistencies and issues…It doesn’t *objectively* avoid it, but to contend the criteria of biological humanity would entail that no biological human can have rights.  We accept as a society that we ought to have rights, therefore this criterion is axiomatic.  As such, we are grounding this as our empirical axiom, similar to the axiomatic horn of the Munchausen’s Trilemma.  This cannot be said for the other criteria as stated above, thus, we are left with the Pro position that unequivocally avoids the underlying issues of moral and value scepticism.  
A2. Legal Attribution
The context of this debate hones specifically to “legal” attribution of personhood, thus any substantial argument to propose “legal” attribution of something requires the examination of how this concurs with valid legal proceedings.  Following A1, that the Pro position is the option that provides the most consistency and certainty, I assert that attributing personhood at conception is far more compatible with general principles of jurisprudence and that attributing personhood at any other time imposes a greater level of ambiguity and uncertainty that ought to be avoided.

2.1 The Rule of Law
Without the Rule of Law, that is, “the principle whereby all members of a society are considered equally subject to publicly disclosed legal codes and processes” [2], society as we know it crumbles – e.g some people having the right to kill humans and others not – which is why the Rule of Law is a fundamental constitutional principle in modern democracies. Examining the Rule of Law, it is comprised of another two axiomatic principles: legal consistency and the principle of legal certainty[3][4].

2.1.2 The Principle of Legal Consistency
The importance of legal consistency is described as being “deeply rooted” in law and is a crucial facet of the Rule of Law:

“The rule of law requires that laws be applied equally, without unjustifiable differentiation.” [5]

Now referring back to the baseline commonality between Con and I -- that all people are human -- if there were to exist additional criteria to the attribution of personhood, it ought to be consistent and certain for it to be considered congruent with The Rule of Law. Unfortunately,  It has been demonstrated by A1 that additional criteria *inevitably leads to inconsistencies and disagreement* i.e unjustifiable differentiation!  There is no unjustifiable differentiation if personhood were to be assumed at conception, because it would apply to every biological human.

2.1.3 The Principle of Legal Certainty
This principle is best suggested and defined as such:

“The legal system needs to permit those subject to the law to regulate their conduct with certainty and to protect those subject to the law from arbitrary use of state power. Legal certainty represents a requirement that decisions be made according to legal rules, i.e. be lawful.”[3]

From this description, it is evident that personhood at conception ties seamlessly with the notion of legal certainty, as it is set in stone that unalienable rights and what they entail are to be applied to everyone at conception.  However, this cannot be said for any other position; if personhood is attributed due to arbitrary criteria, there is a possible outcome of tyrannical “use of state power”.  For example, if we are to accept that consciousness is a criterion of personhood, all of the comatose and those unconscious would temporarily lose their personhood.  Likewise, if it were derived from net utility, one who is arbitrarily deemed as “not useful”, again, would lose their personhood.  It is a risky game; delving into how people can lose their personhood due to “legal technicalities”.  As such, the position of personhood at conception is clearly the most attractive option.

I have demonstrated that personhood at conception is the only option that evades inconsistency and disagreement. To argue against this entails additional criteria to what should constitute a person.  However, said criteria can never be indubitable, leading to contradictions, inconsistencies both metaphysically and with valid principles in law. I have shown that assigning personhood at any other time but conception unjustifiably demarcates personhood and thus should be rejected in light of the Pro position.  The resolution is therefore affirmed.
Over to Con.


I have to skip this round. I will post my arguments and rebuttals in this round and waive the last round. 
Round 2
Thank you for your speedy reply. I am rushing here so please forgive me. I really hate this time of year.

I. Embryology 101

In order to better understand the resolution of this debate, it is important to have a little understanding of embryology. Pro is arguing that person-hood should start at the moment of conception and we shall soon see why that is absurd. When an egg and sperm combine, they form a zygote. While it is scientifically accurate to say that a new life has started (indeed, the zygote contains all the genetic information to make a baby), to call it a philosophical and legal person is incorrect. For the first few days after conception, the zygote travels down the fallopian tube and forms a ball of cells called a blastocyst, which is made up of inner groups of cells with an outer shell. The inner groups becomes the embryo and the embryo will develop to become a baby. The outer group of these cells create a protective membrane which nourishes and protects the embryo [1]. The brain and heart don't even start to form until at least week 6 [2] Since the group of zygotes and early stage of pregnancy has no brain or heart, the zygote does not have any form of consciousness. In fact, the fetus does not have any form of consciousness until at least the 24th or 28th week of pregnancy [3]. In fact, it is worth noting that the vast majority of zygotes die before becoming a fetus. Indeed, between 40-60 percent of zygotes are spontaneously aborted before the woman even knows she is pregnant [4].

II. Requirements for Personhood

P1: In order for an entity to be considered a legal person, it must have, at the very least, be conscious and self-aware
P2: The fetus does not have consciousness and self-awareness
C1: Therefore, the fetus cannot be considered a person.

P2 has already been proven in the debate introduction. P1 is fairly obvious. A person who is brain dead is no longer a legal or moral person so why should a fetus that cannot feel pain, has no heartbeat, and has no consciousness be considered a person?

I am out of time and am sorry. I wanted to get at least something up.

Round 3

Before I commence with my rebuttals there’s a few things that ought to be pointed out.   Firstly, Con hasn’t provided a rebuttal and secondly Con’s argument doesn’t affirm his stance that he propositioned (personhood at birth).  At this stage, I suggest that we just forget about the debate formatting and just try and provide as much substance as possible.

== Rebuttals ==

I.  Embryology 101

I am unsure what the relevance of this argument is.  Con begins by asserting “while it is scientifically accurate to say that a new life has started [at conception]… to call it a philosophical and legal person is incorrect but fails to really justify this or link anything directly to it.  This argument is merely a motley of what a ‘zygote’ and a ‘foetus’ do not possess (e.g heart beats, awareness etc.) and Con doesn’t evince personhood until his next argument.  As it stands, this is a red-herring as there is no correlation from this argument to the conclusion that a personhood ought not to be attributed at conception – a non-sequitur.

II.  Requirements for Personhood

Prima facie this argument fails to meet Con’s onus.  Con initially propositioned that he would be defending *personhood at birth*, yet his argument is contingent upon the sole criterion of “consciousness”.  Whilst advocating this criterion Con nullifies his own position by positing that consciousness is developed between the “24th or 28th week of pregnancy” [Cf. R1, I. Embryology 101].  Thus, Con’s syllogism would deductively ascribe personhood “between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy” not at birth.  Despite Con initially advocating for personhood at birth, since it wasn’t formally stated I suggest we should continue this debate as if Con were to be advocating for the attribution of personhood to be between “24th or 28th week of pregnancy”.

Con’s Syllogism
"P1: In order for an entity to be considered a legal person, it must have, at the very least, be conscious and self-aware
P2: The fetus does not have consciousness and self-awareness
C1: Therefore, the fetus cannot be considered a person"
I reject the first premise.  Before I examine its veracity it’s prudent to exemplify the linguistic proposition to a more objective, first-order predicate format:

-Let ‘P’ represent the predicate “person” and ‘C’ the predicate “consciousness” and ‘S’ the predicate “self-aware”.
-Let ‘b’ represent a singular term (a free variable) – the singular term in subject position is a name for an entity.
-Therefore, Pb can be read as “entity b is a person”
(1)   Pb => (Cb ^ Sb)                       [Universal Instantiation]
(2)   (∀x)(Px) => (∀x)(Cx ^ Sx)       [Universal Generalisation]

Here we have that for all x, where x is an entity, x is a person implies that x is conscious and self-aware. Now, to address why this premise ought to be rejected.

1.    Inadequate justification for predicate expressions
Con demarcates personhood with two specific criterions: consciousness and self-awareness, yet his justification of them is essentially left untold.  In fact, Con mentions many other properties in his opening case, especially in I. Embryology 101 and specifically talks about a foetus’ inability to feel pain or possess a heartbeat in his concluding statements, but doesn’t include them as criteria to fit personhood?  Con doesn’t link personhood to these predicates, nor does he attempt to explain why these predicates are even important or consistent.  If consciousness were an efficacious predicate, then why is it that we don’t assign personhood to animals? I will wait until the next round for Con to provide coherent explanation to why personhood is tied with this criteria.

2.    Irrational predicates
Accepting Con’s argument would be to strip many different members of our community of their inalienable rights.  For example, the comatose do not meet the criterion of consciousness, yet it does not follow that we are allowed to kill them [1].  Moreover, it could be argued that people with late onset Alzheimer’s have little brain capacity to think rationally [2].  By many standard’s these people would not be considered to meet the criterion of “self-awareness”, yet many have an inner nisus to value these people regardless.

As Con’s argument currently stands, a pelican would be considered a person over someone getting their wisdom teeth removed under general anaesthetic.
Over to Con.


Round 4
Pity seeing such a promising debate go to waste. 

Extend all arguments.

The end
Round 5
the end.