Someone involved in a Facebook debate about abortion referred positively to this paper by Peter Millican.
There are so many things wrong with it that it would take a lot more time than I want to spend to discuss them all. Such as, for example, the central position of the paper that the abortion of developed fetuses that look human (Millican does not specify at what age this applies) can be reasonably opposed on the grounds that more intrinsically valuable humans have a particular set of feelings of protection toward them. (By the way, given that the majority of induced abortions occur after the fetus "looks human," I await with bated breath Peter Millican's appearance at the Right to Life March or with a sign outside of an abortion clinic. Well, maybe not. But I digress.) Then there is the shocking statement (p. 19) that an older child should be "accorded more respect" than a newborn infant, which, as is par for the course in a philosophical paper, Millican makes on the fly and implies represents the most ordinary moral common sense.
What I want to focus on here is a remarkably silly comment on p. 8, where Millican says that "by the Conservative's reasoning," sperm and ova "seem also to be 'human beings'."
Now, my question is: Why do people say stupid things like that? When I took apart this article, which retailed similar scientific obscurantism, I showed that the author was promoting a feminist agenda which led to a desire to make the female gamete more important than the sperm cell. But Millican spouts equal opportunity nonsense. He says that both the egg and the sperm should be considered human beings on the basis of the anti-abortion conservative's principles. What is this "reasoning" of the anti-abortionist to which Millican refers? I've now read and re-read, and the nearest thing I can find to an argument to this effect is the following weak sauce:
It may be possible for the Conservative to convince the Liberal that the fetus is a human being, for it is apparently a living being and is certainly of the species Homo sapiens rather than any other...
So apparently the idea is that the anti-abortion conservative believes and argues that any living being, by which Millican must mean not a living organism but any living entity of any kind which has human DNA, is a human being. But this is false. Pro-lifers are not arguing that every cell in the human body is a human being, and they patiently answer this foolish representation of their position again and again by pointing out that at conception a new individual organism of the species homo sapiens comes into existence. Millican's phrase "living being" is fatally ambiguous and, insofar as it is meant to represent an overly broad application of the phrase "human being" on the part of pro-lifers, is a blatant straw man.
Millican's implication seems to be that it is the anti-abortion conservative who is scientifically misguided. But actually, since the anti-abortionist argues that a new member of the species homo sapiens comes into existence at conception, and since this is biologically true, it looks like it must be the pro-choicer who is confused when he implies otherwise or implies that the pro-lifer ought to think otherwise. In other words, it's not the drawing of a line at conception that is scientifically confused but rather the attempt to erase or blur that line.
On p. 7 Millican implies that it would be plausible to argue that an early embryo is part of its mother's body, which is also biological baloney. And on p. 21 he says that "arguably" it is the case that gametes (!) have the potential to develop as do zygotes and fetuses into more (from his perspective) morally significant beings. But this is, again, scientific nonsense.
So here's my question: Millican is a smart guy, and presumably a lot of people who say similar things are smart people. So are they just literally scientifically ignorant? Do they literally not know that a new individual human organism comes into existence when an egg is fertilized? Or do they sorta kinda know it but work to confuse themselves about it because they don't have warm feelings toward early human embryos? Or are they really just being totally deceptive, as I think the Hampikian, the author of the earlier article, was being?
And how can one tell the difference?
Finally, if a person is to some extent suppressing or confusing himself about information that he already has on this subject, is it likely that hammering home the fact that, no, an unfertilized egg is not, and is not even like, a human being, that a new human being in the sense of an individual human organism really does come into existence at conception, and that these are not subjective evaluations but ordinary biological facts, will make a difference?