Chad Perrin: SOB

22 June 2007

the ethical argument for infanticide

Filed under: Cognition,Liberty — apotheon @ 01:38

If Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is actually economically-motivated infanticide, this makes it seem likely to me (and others) that the decision to get an abortion is more similar to the decision to commit infanticide than you might want to think. On the other hand, abortion is obviously very much preferable to infanticide, at least when it occurs early enough in the pregnancy, so this strikes me as strong incentive to keep abortion legal and socially unstigmatized.

Ironically, this raises the question of how often unwilling Christian mothers’ children suffer SIDS at their mothers’ hands. In other words, I wonder how many “good” Christian mothers commit infanticide because abortion wasn’t an option.

There’s another possible implication of this, because the economics of survival as they’ve played out over millions of years of evolution of the species should always be considered, and this is definitely an evolutionary optimization. Let’s start with what I’ve generally said about abortion:

A logical, self-consistent system of ethics dictates that one must not initiate force against an ethically significant being that has not freely abdicated its rights. An ethically significant being, it seems, should be measured by its capacity for ethical reasoning — which indicates that abdication is dependent upon the exercise of ethical reasoning (or the refusal to exercise ethical reasoning, as the case may be). One of the requirements of a capacity for ethical reasoning is, of course, a capacity for abstract reasoning. So, the point at which an abortion becomes unethical may be the point at which a capacity for abstract reasoning exists in the fetus.

That’s where my thoughts on the subject rested, until I read about the economic realities of infanticide. It begins to occur to me that, even after birth, a child is not necessarily capable of ethical reasoning. Another requirement of ethical reasoning, in addition to a capacity for abstract reasoning, is recognition of context, which of course is related to an cognitive awareness of the existence of other ethically significant beings. This would, in fact, suggest that perhaps a human infant is not necessarily an ethically significant being.

That’s not to say that harm delivered to a living creature that is incapable of ethical reasoning with malicious intent is acceptable. Wanton cruelty is itself a problem, of course. What it really boils down to is that it becomes easier to justify harming some living thing if it is not as ethically significant as an adult human, assuming there is some defensive, survival-driven impulse that motivates that harm. This applies to killing animals for food and, possibly, killing a newborn if the deck is stacked against the primary caregivers’ survival by allowing the child to live.

In today’s world, however, social mechanisms exist for seeing to the survivability of our young even if the mother cannot care for them. Adoption agencies, for instance, provide an out for mothers who simply cannot rear a child under current circumstances. Such options must be taken into account when considering how to judge the actions of an infanticidal mother. So, too, must the possibility that the act of killing a newborn may not in and of itself be unethical.


A number of people who came to this site specifically to disagree with me on the subject of justification of abortion in my SOB entry the anti-pro-abortion argument may, if they see this, be surprised. It probably looks like I’m inconsistently advocating extremes at both ends of the spectrum. Such people will probably disagree with me in this case as well, and may describe their reactions as “horrified” or something to that effect. These people, should they read this and come to these conclusions, would likely have done so by failing to think things through very clearly, refusing to understand my actual points (and thus refusing to understand how they are not actually contradictory) because they want instead to believe that their own ideas are infallible in this case. It would be interesting to see whether any of this happens for the reasons I surmise.

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