Parfit Pills Plus
September 27, 2008 — 11:12

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Uncategorized  Comments: 21

Thanks to comments from Adam, Christian, John and others, I offer this much improved version of Parfit Pills. Assume that the fetus F is identical to the child C or F is not identical to C. A slightly more complicated version of the argument would assume that F and C are two stages of the same 4-D being or they are not. Here is premise (1).
1. (F = C) v ~(F = C)
Let’s assume that the causal consequences of not taking the pills are that three fingers on the right hand of the fetus F become permanently detached (make it four fingers or the entire hand or arm, if nothing less would constitute a harm). Premise (2).
2. M’s failing to take the pill causes the fingers of F to become permanently detached.
Now either M’s actions harm F or they do not.
3. M harms F or M does not harm F.
4. M harms F (Assume)
5. F = C (Assume)
6. M harms C, from 4,5 Leibniz’s Law
So if M’s actions (which causally affect F) constitute a harm to F and F = C, then M harms C. But suppose M’s actions do not harm F.
7. M does not harm F (Assume)
If (5) is also true (viz., F = C) and if it is urged that M does harm C, then we have a violation of Leibniz’s law. If M harms C and C = F, then M harms F.
Finally, suppose that (5) is false. So, we are assuming (8),
8. ~(F = C) (Assume)
If (8) is true then (6) (viz., M harms C) is false. What the mother did caused F to lose his fingers. But F goes out of existence before the distinct being C comes into existence. The being that the mother’s actions affected no longer exists. So though it is true that the mother did cause F to lose his fingers, she did not cause C to lose his fingers. So the mother did not harm C.
Conclusion: The mother caused F to lose his fingers. If, in so doing, the mother harmed C, then she harmed F. In Parfit’s case the mother’s action causally affects F. If, in so doing, the mother harms C, then she harms F. If diminishing F’s future is a harm to F, then taking F’s life is a harm to F.


It might be argued that the mother could at least see to it that C keeps his three fingers. But this is also false. Suppose the mother takes the pill. In that case she causes F to retain the three fingers he would have lost. But, assuming ~(F = C), F goes out of existence before C comes into existence. So though it is true that the mother causes F to retain his fingers, she does not cause C to retain his fingers. C’s fingers were never in jeopardy.

Comments:
  • John Alexander

    Mike
    “If (5) is also true (viz., F = C) and if it is urged that M does harm C, then we have a violation of Leibniz’s law. If M harms C and C = F, then M harms F.”
    I am not so sure Leibniz’s law works here. If you are asserting that (F=C & C= F) = F & C having an identical set of properties then if F has the property of having four fingers and C has to the property of having three fingers then -(C=F & F=C). In that case M does not, and cannot, harm F by not taking the pill, she harms C (or F2, F3, etc to C1, C2, etc.)

    September 27, 2008 — 15:30
  • Mike Almeida

    Alex,
    I’m making a very uncontroversial claim. If F and C are the same being, then if C is harmed, then so is F. What we must assume to avoid this consequence is that F and C are different beings. But in that case, given the description of the problem, M causes F to lose three fingers, but she does not cause C to lose three fingers.
    It is true that C’s having all of his fingers depends counterfactually on what M does. But in this case the counterfactual dependence does not entail that M wrongs C in failing to act such that, had she so acted, C would have all of his fingers. She no more wrongs C than she wrongs any other being distinct from F in failing to act in a way that benefits them. There are lots of other children who, like C, are such that M could (but does not) act in a way that makes their lives better. But C is not harming these children in not so acting.

    September 27, 2008 — 16:41
  • John Alexander

    Mike
    “But F goes out of existence before the distinct being C comes into existence. The being that the mother’s actions affected no longer exists. So though it is true that the mother did cause F to lose his fingers, she did not cause C to lose his fingers. So the mother did not harm C. “
    I am not sure I understand your argument, let me see if I can construct another example. M does not feed F adequately causing F to be malnourished. F goes out of existence and a distinct being C comes into existence as a malnourished child. Even though M harmed F she has not harm C because C is distinct from F. This seems to be consistent with what you are arguing, but I do think that we would hold M responsible for C’s condition. The reason for this is that F and C are not distinct beings, but the same being experienced at different times. If F and C are distinct then F1 is distinct from F, F2 is distinct from F1, etc.
    “There are lots of other children who, like C, are such that M could (but does not) act in a way that makes their lives better. But C is not harming these children in not so acting.”
    First, did you mean ‘M is not harming….? If this is the case then M is not responsible for not feeding a hungry child, C1, even though she could improve the life of C1 by feeding her. According to your argument she is not harming C1 by not feeding it. Surely, this is wrong.
    “The mother caused F to lose his fingers. If, in so doing, the mother harmed C, then she harmed F. “
    The way this is worded you seem to be asserting that M harmed F because she harmed C, but how is this plausible? Consider that M has a healthy F at t1 and a healthy C at t2, but at t3 C is no longer healthy because M starved C. If I understand the argument correctly (and I admit I probably do not) them at t3 M harmed F at t1 or at t1, t2, and t3, we are dealing with three distinct beings that are casually unrelated. What am I not understanding?

    September 27, 2008 — 20:36
  • Mike Almeida

    The reason for this is that F and C are not distinct beings, but the same being experienced at different times.
    On the contrary, they are literally, numerically distinct beings, in the same way that you and I are numerically distinct beings. They are two, not one at different times.

    September 27, 2008 — 21:12
  • John Alexander

    I take it that being distinct beings means that they are not identical beings so that if P at t1 and P at t2 are distinct beings there is actually not one P, but a P1, a P2, etc. Let us imagine that P1 breaks his leg at t1 and that at t2 the leg has healed but evidence of the injury shows up on x-ray. At t3 P3 has an x-ray that shows that he had a broken leg. On your account P3 at is individually distinct from P3. How do you account for P3’s 1) broken leg and 2) his memory of his breaking his leg at t1? One account would be Russell’s five-minute paradox, but that will not work because the paradox works only if we think that P at t1 is not distinct from p at t3 even though Pat t1 did not exist and did not come into existence until t3 with memories/physicals evidence of breaking his leg at t1.
    It would also seem tht you cannot justify punishment on this account.

    September 27, 2008 — 23:01
  • Christian Lee

    Conclusion: The mother caused F to lose his fingers. If, in so doing, the mother harmed C, then she harmed F. In Parfit’s case the mother’s action causally affects F. If, in so doing, the mother harms C, then she harms F. If diminishing F’s future is a harm to F, then taking F’s life is a harm to F.
    I think your argument is sound. But I don’t think the conclusion cited above is justified by the soundness of the argument.
    For the mother could harm C by depriving C of a good (the use of his fingers). And since C is a person, C is the kind of thing that could be harmed by such a deprivation. Since F is not a person, it does not follow that F was harmed by depriving C of a good. F is not the kind of thing that can be harmed. In particular, the following claim does not follow:
    If, in so doing, the mother harmed C, then she harmed F.

    September 28, 2008 — 1:55
  • Mike Almeida

    For the mother could harm C by depriving C of a good (the use of his fingers). And since C is a person, C is the kind of thing that could be harmed by such a deprivation. Since F is not a person, it does not follow that F was harmed by depriving C of a good. F is not the kind of thing that can be harmed. In particular, the following claim does not follow:
    If, in so doing, the mother harmed C, then she harmed F.

    What follows, or not, depends on the suppositions we make.
    1. Suppose ~(F = C). In that case, if the mother fails to take the pill, she causes F to lose three fingers. She does not cause C to lose anything. C comes into existence never having had those three fingers. The most the mother could be accused of is not acting in a more beneficial way to C. She does not deprive C of anything. Acting in a way that fails to add benefits to a child does not constitute a harm.
    2. Suppose (F = C). In that case if the mother acts in a way that harms C, then she acts in a way that harms F. That has to be true, since F just is C. It’s the same person. So the conclusion does follow, unless you’re prepared to reject the indiscernability of identicals.

    September 28, 2008 — 10:38
  • Mike Almeida

    John,
    I’m not defending the claim that ~(F = C). The argument is intended to show that failing to take the pill harms C only if it harms F, under each assumption, (F = C) and ~(F = C). You might find the second supposition implausible. That’s fine with me; I’m not defending the suppositions. I’m rather trying to reach the same conclusion on each of the possible suppositions.

    September 28, 2008 — 10:42
  • John Alexander

    Mike
    I think I understand what you are trying to do. I think it is not possible to achieve your goal, or at least you have not been successful up to this point. If you are trying to present an argument that gets the same conclusion regardless of which assumption we make, (F = C) or – (F = C), it should matter if – (F = C) is plausible. If as you maintain that F and C are distinct as you and I are, then you need to explain away a paradox. Your argument rests upon the idea that what happens to F (lose of fingers) causally affects C (having less fingers then had not F lost fingers). However if F and C are like you and I, when you were an F and (if) your M did not take the pills this should result in me not having the number of fingers that F did not have as a result of M’s action. This would not happen and even as an assumption we would reject it. There is a relevant difference in understanding you and I as F’s and C’s and one person understood as an F at one time and a C at another time. In the 1st instance we have 2 people with two different narratives (although overlapping at certain points) and in the second we have one person with one narrative. I think we need to be committed to (F = C) to get the conclusion that if C is harmed by M then F was harmed by M. If you are suggesting that P = (F + C), and that accounts for our distinctness, this collapses into P = (F = C) in so far as we are arbitrarily separating out of one narrative into two sub-narratives of P into F states and C states. We do not have -(F = C) as a plausible assumption to understand how an action by M towards F can casually affect C.

    September 28, 2008 — 11:31
  • Mike Almeida

    If you are trying to present an argument that gets the same conclusion regardless of which assumption we make, (F = C) or – (F = C), it should matter if – (F = C) is plausible
    I certainly can’t see why. There is nothing in the logic of the argument that demands that these assumptions be plausible. Again, I’m not defending the assumptions.
    Your argument rests upon the idea that what happens to F (lose of fingers) causally affects C (having less fingers then had not F lost fingers
    No, I deny that what M does to F has any causal effect on C, unless we assume F = C.
    I think we need to be committed to (F = C) to get the conclusion that if C is harmed by M then F was harmed by M.
    Right, I say just this.
    The different possiblities–i.e. (F = C) v ~(F = C)–are designed not to beg any questions against those that believe on or the other disjunct. No matter which disjunct you believe, you are left with the same conclusion, namely, that M harms C only if M harms F.

    September 28, 2008 — 12:46
  • Christian Lee

    I’m assuming that F is not identical to C.
    Suppose ~(F = C). In that case, if the mother fails to take the pill, she causes F to lose three fingers. She does not cause C to lose anything. C comes into existence never having had those three fingers. The most the mother could be accused of is not acting in a more beneficial way to C. She does not deprive C of anything. Acting in a way that fails to add benefits to a child does not constitute a harm.
    I agree that she doesn’t cause C to lose three fingers. Above I said she deprived him of the use of three fingers. I also agree that deprivation does not consititue a harm (I was using harm loosely), since only causings of certain things to happen are harms. I’m suggesting that depriving someone of the use of their fingers wrongs them. It is the kind of thing for which the mother would be deserving of criticism. The point is that, assuming the mother would be deserving of criticism for wronging the child, it doesn’t follow that she would be deserving of criticism for the effects of her action or inaction on the fetus. At least, the argument above doesn’t establish such a connection.

    September 28, 2008 — 14:56
  • John Alexander

    Mike and Christian
    Could you explain what you mean by ’cause?’ I have a feeling I am using it differently. I would argue that P caused C’s death if C is a starving child (her condition is not the result of anything P did) and feeding her will save C’s life. I have a feeling that you are not using this way.

    September 28, 2008 — 17:46
  • Christian Lee

    That’s a huge question John. But I mean only to exclude refrainings and inactions and allowings from being causes. We can be responsible for such things as the death of the infamous child drowning in the pond, as we watch, not becaused we caused it, but becaused we allowed it. Responsibility thus covers the effects of our actions, and the outcomes of other things that are not our actions, but could be prevented by our actions. Why believe this? It’s controversial. It depends upon a theory of causation. I like the Tooley-Armstrong view, according to which only positive universals stand in the relevant nomic relations, and this view excludes causation by ommission. Moreover, accepting such things as inactions as causes multiplies causation beyond belief.
    At any rate, the point is that if harming is a causal concept, then the mother does not harm C (or F for that matter) by refraining from taking the pills. For inactions are not causes. She could still be responsible for the child’s inability to enjoy a five-fingered hand nonetheless. And this requires no talk of a fetus at all. It requires only talk about the mother’s allowing something bad to happen to C. I suggest she allows something bad to happen to her, and that makes her act wrong. And saying this requires saying nothing about a fetus. We could say this while consistently maintaining that a fetus is simply not the sort of thing that can be harmed, or the kind of thing that could have something bad happen to it.

    September 28, 2008 — 20:59
  • Mike Almeida

    Above I said she deprived him of the use of three fingers. I also agree that deprivation does not consititue a harm (I was using harm loosely), since only causings of certain things to happen are harms. I’m suggesting that depriving someone of the use of their fingers wrongs them.
    Christian,
    I don’t think this is a case of deprivation. Do I deprive a child C*, who is as unrelated to me as C is to M, by failing to pay for C*’s surgery? I don’t think I do. And that’s so even if C*’s surgery would replace his fingers. There’s a lot I could do which is such that some child would be greatly benefited if I do it and fail to be benefited if I don’t. Countless cases. Unless I’m depriving all sorts of children everyday, what M does is not a case of deprivation.

    September 29, 2008 — 7:25
  • John Alexander

    Mike and Christian
    It seems that the issue boils down, in part, to how we understand ’cause.’ I understand it differently then Christian. I would say that M is the cause of what happens to C, if something M does, or does not do, affects C. If M’s decision affects which outcome to C will occur, then, for me, that establishes the causal relationship. For me, refraining, not doings, and allowing are causal in so far as the outcome would have been different had not someone refrained, not acted, or allowed something to happen. If something (X) is part of the explanation for why something (Y) happened then that thing (X) is in a causal relationship to the thing (Y) that happens. I find it difficult to assign responsibility to M for something M is not part of the causal explanation of. In this instance M causes harm to C because she refrained from taking the pill when C was F. Had she taken the pills C would have been ‘normal.’ Her action is part of the causal explanation of what happened to C.

    September 29, 2008 — 8:40
  • Christian Lee

    Mike,
    Do I deprive a child C*, who is as unrelated to me as C is to M, by failing to pay for C*’s surgery? I don’t think I do.
    I don’t know what to say about such a case. I think that’s a good challenge. Maybe ‘deprive’ is the wrong word. I should say the mother allows something bad to happen to the child, (nevermind if it can also be described as refraining from benefitting) that she was in an especially good position to prevent. For this reason she wronged the child.

    September 29, 2008 — 9:54
  • Mike,
    I think the argument assumes that if M harms C, then M causes C to lose his fingers. But the opponent can dispute this. She can instead say that M harms C because M causes it to be the case that C never had the three fingers.
    If C is not F (and of course I do myself agree C=F), then as a causal result of what M did not do, C always lacked three fingers. That sure looks like harm.
    How does M cause C to lack three fingers? On the view where C is not F, she does it by causing a predecessor of C to lack three fingers.
    Consider the following analogue. Let’s suppose that it is harmful to be radioactive. A scientist makes an egg-sperm pair radioactive, just before another scientist, acting independently, makes the egg-sperm pair unite. An embryo will be produced, and eventually an adult. The adult is going to be radioactive (much less so than the egg-sperm pair, since the radioactivity has spread out). It is intuitively correct to say that the scientist has made the adult radioactive. But the scientist did not do so by acting on any entity identical with the adult. (I assume it is uncontroversial that the egg-sperm pair is not identical with the adult.)
    I think there is a way of salvaging your argument if one adds an essentiality of origins assumption according to which every event in the causal history of an entity’s coming into existence is essential to that the entity’s identity. For then we can say that in the case where C is not F, a numerically different child comes into existence in the world where M intervenes to prevent the loss of fingers from the child who comes into existence in the world where M does not intervene, since the intervention is in the causal history of C, if C is not F. If C is the child who comes into existence in this world, then C would not have been any better off had the M intervened, since then C would not have existed. Thus, C is not harmed, which is what you were trying to show.
    But the essentiality of origins assumption, although I think it is true, is controversial. Also controversial is the counterfactual characterization of harm. It is natural, for instance, to say with Aquinas that a child conceived in circumstances in which the child cannot have a proper upbringing is harmed by such a conception. And this is true even though the child wouldn’t have existed had she not been conceived at that time.

    September 29, 2008 — 10:02
  • Mike Almeida

    She can instead say that M harms C because M causes it to be the case that C never had the three fingers. If C is not F (and of course I do myself agree C=F), then as a causal result of what M did not do, C always lacked three fingers. That sure looks like harm.
    I’d deny that the relation is causal. What M does has causal consequences for F. It has no causal consequences for C. Here’s the analogy. Suppose it is true that C*, another child born in a different country, comes into being at exactly the same time C comes into being. C* comes into being lacking three fingers, as does C. I could have brought it about that C* did not lack three fingers by funding a fetal surgery for F*. I did not fund the surgery. But I did not cause C* to be born without three fingers. Why wouldn’t it be you, instead, that caused it?

    September 29, 2008 — 13:00
  • Mike Almeida

    There is also a reductio for the claim that M does not harm C. In time, we can have C, then C1, C2, C3, C4 and so on through time, all of whom can claim a harm from M. But clearly M did not harm all of these people in failing to take the pills. She harmed F. We could just as well claim that it was C that harmed these people, since C could have terminated his own life. Had he done so, there would have been none of these harms.

    September 29, 2008 — 13:06
  • It seems to me that the fact that you’re dealing with an omission rather than a commission plays a significant role in your account. For in the case of a commission, we do not count causes as you do. If I cause my child to have a genetic defect, by modifying the child’s genes, then I have also, indirectly, caused the genetic defect in my grandchild’s genes, and so on, assuming it is transmitted.

    September 29, 2008 — 19:25
  • Mike Almeida

    If I cause my child to have a genetic defect, by modifying the child’s genes, then I have also, indirectly, caused the genetic defect in my grandchild’s genes, and so on, assuming it is transmitted.
    Ordinarily, I’d agree. But on the assumption that F is not C, my alleged grandchild is not my grandchild at all. He is no more related to me than your grandchild. And what causally happens to F does not transmit to my alleged grandchild any more than it does to yours.
    While I agree that what happens to C depends counterfactually on what I do, I deny that it depends causally on what I do. I also think that what God believes depends counterfactually on what I do, but not causally on what I do. There’s lots of precedent for this distinction.

    September 29, 2008 — 19:48