So what's human anyway?

In today’s letters to The Age, Dirk Baltzley, School of Philosophy and Bioethics (Monash University) counters the claims of Professor John Martin (Letters, 25/7) that, “if it is human, it is wrong to destroy it”, with a declaration that “human in the moral context means the kind of being, that is wrong to harm because it is self-conscious and desires to keep on living.”

Baltzley then decides, having defined human in this way, that “it is clearer to call such beings persons, to avoid confusion between moral standing and biological specieshood”.

This should give us some cause for concern for at least the following reasons:

1.     Graham Harvey believes even rocks and cars are “people” (see previous blog)
2.     Baltzley seems to work under the Alice in Wonderland misapprehension that a word can mean whatever he wants it to mean.
3.     That this applies even more if what we are discussing is the moral meaning of the word.

I have no argument re the fact that a foetus is not a self-conscious being.  Just so, Baltzley can have no argument that a foetus is — in any objective scientific sense — human.

I do not believe and I don’t think Professor Martin argued that it is wrong to destroy something that is human, just because it is human in its DNA.  In fact, something may be part of a human and still described as human, for instance, my toe nail clippings.  But to say that something is a human being is to say that it is, in its essence and in all its parts, and in its entirety, human.  And it is a false limitation upon the meaning of the word human to ascribe it simply to those kind of beings that are self-conscious and desire to keep on living.

By Baltzley’s definition, I would cease not only to be a person, but indeed to be a human being, should I at any point cease to be self-conscious or lose my desire to continue living.  Such a definition therefore is not only dangerous but patently absurd.  One assumes that when Baltzley identifies himself as being from the Monash University School of Philosophy and Bioethics, he means he is just enrolled in Philosophy 101.

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