Liberal Eugenics

A little behind the power curve on this one, but...shorter Ross Douthat:

  1. Eugenicists support the use of abortion as a way of eliminating debilitating but non-life-threatening characteristics like Tay Sachs or Downs Syndrome from the human race.
  2. Some would-be parents choose to abort fetuses that have debilitating
    but non-life-threatening characteristics like Tay Sachs or Downs
    Syndrome.
  3. Liberals support the rights of parents to choose to abort fetuses that
    have debilitating but non-life-threatening characteristics like Tay
    Sachs or Downs Syndrome.
  4. Thus liberals are modern eugenicists.

Plenty of people have jumped all over Douthat for this argument. But I’ve yet to see anyone point out the real fundamental problem. Namely, that for all his pointing to famous people who say similar things, Douthat’s simple little argument manages to contain two fallacies in its four short steps.

First, notice that (1) deals with a claim about abortion’s usefulness as a way of perfecting the human race, whereas (2) and (3) deal with a claim about an individual parent’s decision about a specific child. To make parents' decisions about abortion (and hence also liberals’ support of those decisions) parallel the eugenicist, Douthat would need an additional premise, namely something like

2a. Parents who choose to abort fetuses that have debilitating but non-life-threatening characteristics like Tay Sachs or Downs Syndrome are really acting in such a way as to eliminate these debilitating characteristics from the human race.

And (3) would accordingly be altered as

3’. Liberals support parents who choose to abort fetuses that have debilitating but non-life-threatening characteristics like Tay Sachs or Downs Syndrome are really acting in such a way as to eliminate these debilitating characteristics from the human race.

The problem, of course, is that (2a) doesn’t in fact follow from (2). Indeed, it’s an instance of a composition fallacy. It’s the claim that because A has a particular view about one specific human being, then A holds that same view about the human race as a whole.

Though properly speaking, I suppose I should say that the fact that the amended argument relies on a composition fallacy is a problem, as there’s still another to go along with it. Douthat’s conclusion is, one presumes, supposed to follow from (1) and (3’). The problem? Well, the argument has the form

A believes X
B believes X
Therefore A is B

That, however, is what logicians like to call the fallacy of the undistributed middle.

So can we please stop complaining about whether or not Douthat has conflated liberals with old-style progressives and whatnot? Indeed, I think it should be a firm principle of blogging that any post that contains as many fallacies as it does inferences really ought to just wither away into unlinked and unremarked-upon obscurity.

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Wouldn't some of those

Wouldn't some of those children die a natural death if we didn't care for them after they were born.. isn't that what Darwin's natural selection is all about?

Response to Drive-by Anti-Darwinist

Every one of our children would die a natural death if we didn't care for them.  Even the perfectly health ones.   We're not salmon.  Doh! 

I'd explain what Darwin was "all about" but I don't think your end of the gene pool is deep enough to float his boat.  

Dude

Harsh

Anon

Hey, that guy Anonymous is always starting flame wars all over the internet.  I think he deserves it. ;)  Besides he was either suggesting we let babies starve or was implying that was Darwins moral position.  I don't think his pride will suffer much since he's hiding behind a pseudonym.

Maybe not

I checked the article that you link to and failed to find in that article a definition of eugenics, let alone one matching the definition which you supply. So from the way things look right now, you have yourself supplied that definition. You then applied that supplied definition to Douthat's argument and concluded that his argument contained fallacies. But your argument for that conclusion relies on the definition - which you, yourself, supplied.

What really matters, of course, is what part of eugenics is offensive to people. If people find nothing offensive in a variant of eugenics which discards the rationale of "eliminat[ing] these debilitating characteristics from the human race", then Douthat has indeed pulled a fast one. But if people still find the selective murder of humans with undesirable traits to be offensive - if this is, in fact what people find so offensive about eugenics (rather than the detail of the rationale) - then Douthat has not pulled a fast one.

If the latter is the case, then at best all you have against Douthat is the superficial argument that the word "eugenics" technically does not include the (to him and others) abhorrent practices which liberals support and which may in fact have in common with eugenics the very aspect of eugenics which is abhorrent. Such an argument then is mere word games. While it may be inconvenient for him not to have the word "eugenics" available for his use, he might very well find some substitutes which are not open to that particular objection.

The important question is, what really is the dark heart of eugenics? Douthat himself explicitly describes what seems to be his take on the dark heart of eugenics. Specifically, he mentions: "the elimination of the genetically unfit in the womb." That description is not as catchy as "eugenics", but it has the merit of not being open to the criticism you have made of his use of the word "eugenics", and if it is what he is really talking about, if this is the troubling common element that he sees between liberals and eugenicists, then your response has not refuted his point, because in that description he does not specify the rationale.

Constant, you know I have

Constant, you know I have the biggest mancrush on you.

Missing the Point

Constant,
Oops. Linked the wrong piece. It was a long set of exchanges, and the one I ended up linking wasn't the clearest. Try here for a somewhat clearer attempt to make the move to smear liberals with the eugenics label.
As to the rest, well, shorter Constant:

    1. People find abortion offensive because it involves "the selective murder of humans with undesirable traits."
    2. People find eugenics offensive because it involves "the selective murder of humans with undesirable traits."
    3. Therefore abortion really is eugenics.

God, I love irony.
Look, you can use an argument like that to show that abortion is bad. And you can use the same sort of argument to show that eugenics is bad. You can even make the argument that abortion and eugenics are bad for the same reason. But you can't use an argument like that to show that abortion and eugenics are the same thing. Or, at any rate, you can't do it sans fallacy.
Of course, there's a (slightly) more charitable reading. If you're willing to redefine the word "eugenics" to mean "stuff I dislike about abortion" then, as it turns out, liberals really will support eugenics. Shocker. Interestingly, one might well use this same method to show that Jabberwocky is a scathing critique of liberals.
Meanwhile, back in the world where language actually has a set meaning, the slide that Douthat (and you) want to make is either (as some have accused) a fairly transparent attempt to plant a new Republican talking point (liberals are eugenicists! like Hitler!), or it's a really abysmal argument. I thought the first explanation was a bit too conspiracy-theoryish. As we're talking Ross Douthat, the second didn't seem so terribly crazy. I'm considerably more surprised to find Constant criticizing by committing exactly the same fallacy.

Nope


1. People find abortion offensive because it involves "the selective murder of humans with undesirable traits."
2. People find eugenics offensive because it involves "the selective murder of humans with undesirable traits."
3. Therefore abortion really is eugenics.

No. I was explicit about that not being what I was saying

Of course, there's a (slightly) more charitable reading. If you're willing to redefine the word "eugenics" to mean "stuff I dislike about abortion" then, as it turns out, liberals really will support eugenics.

No. I was explicit about that also not being what I was saying. I specifically pointed it out when, for example, I allowed the possibility that he does "not [...] have the word "eugenics" available for his use."

I'm considerably more surprised to find Constant criticizing by committing exactly the same fallacy.

Since you have falsely interpreted my argument as making a statement that I made clear that I was not making, and since this false interpretation is the basis of your argument, then I have little choice, given the track record this establishes, but to discount your interpretation of Douthat.

Your new link, by the way, provides another definition of eugenics, one maybe subtly but nevertheless significantly distinct from the one that you yourself have offered. Specifically, the additional definition (written by Ezra Klein, whose side you are yourself taking) is:

efforts to direct or encourage breeding by high status, socially dominant individuals in order to select for their characteristics, and discourage breeding by low status individuals (criminals, the insane, blacks, etc) in order to wipe their characteristics from the gene pool.

In contrast, your supplied definition was:

the use of abortion as a way of eliminating debilitating but non-life-threatening characteristics like Tay Sachs or Downs Syndrome from the human race.

These are significantly different from each other. Each one has significant elements which the other lacks. Most importantly, one refers to "debilitating [...] chracteristics" while the other does not, and the other refers to "high status [and] low status" while the other does not.

Given that two distinct, non-identical definitions have been supplied for "eugenics", one by Ezra Klein and not contradicted by you, the other by yourself here, then it is hasty for you to claim that "language actually has a set meaning" which, by implication, matches the meaning that you have supplied. If, indeed, "eugenics" has a set meaning, and that meaning is the meaning that you supplied, then Ezra Klein has supplied a false meaning for the term "eugenics". But you have presented no reason to believe your meaning and to disbelieve Ezra Klein's meaning.

The meaning of eugenics, on the evidence that you have presented and linked to, appears to be many and mutable. If that is the case - and the evidence you have yourself offered and not contradicted suggests that it is the case - then your snark about "the world where language actually has a set meaning" which is by implication the meaning that you supplied, is false.

I do not myself take any position on the meaning of "eugenics". Nor am I currently taking any position on whether Douthat's position is ultimately right. I'm simply explaining a limitation of your response to Douthat.

 

Seriously?

But if people still find the selective murder of humans with undesirable traits to be offensive - if this is, in fact what people find so offensive about eugenics (rather than the detail of the rationale) - then Douthat has not pulled a fast one.

Exactly what part of this statement is not the (admittedly formalized) version I attributed to you? You are saying here that if people find A to be B and people find C to be B, then Douthat hasn't cheated by calling A the same as C. But that's an undistributed middle. And it's precisely what you're doing in that particular sentence.

In contrast, your supplied definition was:

the use of abortion as a way of eliminating debilitating but non-life-threatening characteristics like Tay Sachs or Downs Syndrome from the human race.

These are significantly different from each other. Each one has significant elements which the other lacks. Most importantly, one refers to "debilitating [...] chracteristics" while the other does not, and the other refers to "high status [and] low status" while the other does not.

It's going to be difficult to have this discussion if you're going to misread my argument this badly. My first premise is hardly a definition of eugenics. Indeed, if you'll read the whole quote again, you'll see that what I actually wrote was

Eugenicists support the use of abortion as a way of eliminating debilitating but non-life-threatening characteristics like Tay Sachs or Downs Syndrome from the human race.

I'm really not quite sure how you get "A is defined as B" from "A supports B." Were I to say

Jonathan supports the Hokies.

It would be absurd to assume that I'd offered a definition of Jonathan. So pretty much that entire little section is a gigantic non sequitur.

You're also (again) missing the fairly obvious point. Even if we quibble with what precisely eugenicists want, what they all agree on is that they want to eliminate certain things from the human race. And that's the part that makes abortion /= eugenics. They might be similar in lots of ways, but they aren't identical.

Oh, and by the way, I think that the whole point of the mini-controversy just was that Douthat does "not [...] have the word "eugenics" available for his use." If we're agreed on that point, then I fail to see why we're still arguing.

Misreading

I'm really not quite sure how you get "A is defined as B" from "A supports B." Were I to say


Jonathan supports the Hokies.


It would be absurd to assume that I'd offered a definition of Jonathan.

I may have misunderstood, but it is not an "absurd" reading. Consider that words are commonly defined by means of statements where the word to be defined is the subject and the definition is the predicate. It is absurd to take that as a definition of Jonathan only because we already understand the role of proper names. Jonathan is not defined as "someone who supports Hokies." But a eugenicist is defined in terms of what he advocates or supports, so if you say, "eugenicists advocate ..." or "eugenicists support ...", that could reasonably be taken for a definition.

Oh, and by the way, I think that the whole point of the mini-controversy just was that Douthat does "not [...] have the word "eugenics" available for his use." If we're agreed on that point, then I fail to see why we're still arguing.

We're not agreed on that point, I simply allowed for its possibility. My point was the question is not all that important.

You are saying here that if people find A to be B and people find C to be B, then Douthat hasn't cheated by calling A the same as C.

No, what I am saying is that if A is B, and if people have already rejected C because C is B, then Douthat has not cheated by reminding people of this history. That A should not be called C is in this case only a quibble, since whether or not A is C, A still contains the element of C that was rejected, namely, B.

 

Was Douthat even making that argument?

"I think it should be a firm principle of blogging that any post that contains as many fallacies as it does inferences really ought to just wither away into unlinked and unremarked-upon obscurity."

Don't wave red meat in front of dogs like that. Although I think this argument that support for abortion is tantamount to eugenics argument laughable I also think that you have committed quite a few fallacies yourself here. The major one is restating your opponent's argument in a way that doesn't logically match the original argument. You know, the straw man fallacy.

Hell, after reading Douthat's article I'm not even sure he made an argument about liberals directly. I glanced up at the title afterwards, "What Is Eugenics?", and think he chose it wisely. He seemed to be raising a question about how eugenics should be defined.

Personally I've got nothing against voluntary eugenics. It's forced eugenics that I find abhorrent. Likewise sex and forced sex.

Chose Your Can of Worms

It is alleged that it is OK to abort a fetus for the because the mom just doesn’t want to raise a normal, healthy probably productive, potentially happy baby. That is just her right.

It is wrong to abort a probably non- productive, chronically sick, expensive to care for, short lived, possibly miserable feeling baby that will compete for family or community resources unless supported by tax payer fund? Does that fetus merit the protection of disabled status entitling it to protection lest we practice eugenics?
Then you get onto the real slippery slope, -Why pretty soon we will be aborting fetuses that are genetically destined to be too short.
Well they are already aborting female fetuses in Oriental countries, so what next?
This gets into the real dilemma of reproductive tinkering and the question about societal limits to reproductive freedom. Is it unconditional and who decides? And it all started with a woman’s right to choice.

Consent to Abortion

Like the pirate issue this is an issue of consent. The woman isn't the only biological parent of the child. If she consented to the behavior that lead to the production of the child (and unless she had a prior arrangement to abort resulting pregnancies) then she has an obligation to carry it to term. Likewise, if she had an prior arrangement to abort said fetus then I feel she must live up to that agreement also, unless she can get her partner to change his mind.

Now like all contracts, if the contract would require one of the parties to endanger their health then it would be subject to violation to the extent needed to correct that issue.

Then it's only a matter to decide what the default social contract should be in particular cases where an explicit written contract has not been arranged. This however should be done with the explicit goal of maintaining a grouping of responsibility with the decision making power.

Therefore for single sex:

A)If the default is that with single couples the implicit contract is that the fetus can be aborted at the woman’s will then she should have responsibility for paying for the abortion or the raising the child depending on her decision and the male should not be held accountable.

B)If the the default with single couples is that the implicit contract is that the fetus must be aborted then unless both consent then it must be aborted. If both parties change their minds then they are both on the hook for maintaining the child. Of course both are on the hook to pay for the abortion should the woman get pregnant. I am being fair here to the man because he did not consent to be a sperm donor under this rule.

C)If the default with single couples is that the implicit contract is to have the child then both must be on the hook for raising the child, or should they both change their minds to pay for the abortion.

You can do the similar for married couples but I think the natural default rule is to have the child since that is the purpose of marriage.

Now any of this can be overridden by an explicit contract.

I'm not talking here about non-consensual sex. In that case the reverse should be true. A rapist should always be on the hook for full expenses (not just half expenses), and the entire decision should be in the hands of the female.

I don't think there is any way to prevent bad incentives that might cause a woman to charge rape in the case of consensual sex that results in pregnancy. However, the implicit rule should be picked with the mind to keep this bad incentive as low as possible. It seems to me that rule C) best meets this goal.

So what I end up with looks sort of like the traditional rules but with the ability of the couple (married or single) to unanimously choose abortion. [The traditional rule being that abortion was outlawed and the father was on the hook for supporting the child.]
One other change being that couples can contract freely with regards to sex so long as they arrange for one party to support the child. Of course, the contract can be violated by one party in which case the other party becomes responsible for the duties generated by the contract. In other words if the mother (or father) can't feed the child then the father is on the hook.

I also like the explicit assumption to be the child will be carried to term because it makes more explicit to the male that he might just be on the hook should the female decide to have the baby and then cannot afford to feed it.

It's not a default "social"

It's not a default "social" contract, it's just an implicit contract, a contract that is implied by the action of each partner. The content of such contract can be determined by a judge based on many factors such as the customs of each partner etc.

Yes, I miswrote that

Yes, I didn't mean "social contract" as normally used.    I meant to apply the word "social" to the custom not the contract itself.   Bad positioning and perhaps bad word choice.