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John Howard

What about the "queue of souls" theory, that we inhabit the next body that is ready for ensoulment, in whatever womb that happens to be in? That's the basis of human dignity and equality. The idea that I am equal to every other person, and could have been that person, in that person's shoes, with that person's mother and father and genes, but by chance I wound up in the body I wound up in.

I think the materialistic "we are our genes" idea is very detrimental and dangerous, and we should realize that we are our souls, and no different from anyone else's soul. Sure our bodies are different and our lives are different, but equality is based on the idea that our souls are identical and interchangeable.

So if your parents didn't conceive when they did, your soul would have just as happily entered some other body and you would be living in China or maybe Iceland or Mexico.

Paul Kelleher

Yes, that theory would be a rival to the leading theory in contemporary metaphysics. I don't find it plausible, but I certainly haven't argued that it's false either.

John Howard

...and that is why it is good to limit procreation to the most ethical circumstances and prohibit and discourage it in unethical circumstances. It sucks to be born into bad circumstances, it'd be much better for that body to not have been conceived, so that the soul can enter a body that will be born into pleasant circumstances. It's not like souls are pushing and shoving to make the queue move faster (so maybe the metaphor of a queue is a bad one, and maybe a "pool of souls" is better, or maybe they are created on demand, and don't exist prior to ensoulment at all)


Hmm, two issues I have:

"saved the specific sperm and egg that in fact created me and then joined them in 1981 instead of 1979, then, yes, that would have been me. " How does this take into account the trillion different accidents that go on to make you what you are (starting from the same gene makeup), so called 'nurture' part of the equation?

" He thinks it's wrong (or at least bad)** to deny individuals existence." Given that a family is constrained to have a certain limited number of offsprings, the point is that a delayed child may be better off than an early one. Why would this be misanthropic?

John Howard

Paul, it's a better theory, because it is necessary for human rights and dignity and liberty and freedom. The other theory is pure materialism, and leads to bondage and eugenics.

Paul Kelleher

Hi, KK:

1. The "nurture" elements you refer to do indeed make us who we are, but not in the same sense at issue here. What I'm referring to in the post is often called "numerical identity" by philosophers. Numerical identity is what makes it the case that I am me and not someone else. Since *I* could have been raised much differently, there is some sense in which I--the very same person--could have developed a much different personality than I have. Likewise, we can imagine two identical twins who are nurtured in identical ways so that they are "virtually the same person" in the sense of having the same personality with the same aspirations, etc. In this case we still need a way to explain why they are, in fact, *two* different individuals, despite all the similarities. The concept of numerical identity is the concept that helps us distinguish between them. (The twin case is not the best example for me to use here, however, since two different individuals might come from the same sperm/egg combination. This means that the account of numerical identity I give in the post needs further amending to address this issue.)

2. I agree with you that delaying would not be misanthropic. My post was trying to explain why it would not be. Bryan responds here (http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2011/11/identity_and_mi.html), but I do not understand his further clarification of what is and what is not "misanthropic."

Paul Kelleher


As you know, lots of people (including myself) believe that secular ethics is perfectly capable of justifying human rights.

Scott Winship

Spot on. Here's what I put in the comments to Bryan's post:
I'm misanthropic because I want to help people who didn't want to become parents avoid becoming so? That seems pro-natalist in the extreme. Do you really want to put the potential happiness of not-yet-created babies ahead of the happiness of actual might-become parents? If so, I hope you're doing all you can to respond to the silent screams of all those gametes contained within you and your wife!

Paul Kelleher

Hi Scott,

Based on Bryan's response here (http://t.co/hR7CjY5u) it's possible that he's misunderstood you and that I've misunderstood him. As I write in the comments of that second post, I don't quite understand his clarification. But it might be that the disagreements here are more apparent than real. I'm just not sure.

Paul Kelleher

Sorry, here's that link again: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2011/11/identity_and_mi.html

John Howard

I think the important thing missing in terms of justifying human rights that I am trying to add is not a religious or spiritual element, with angels and heaven and stuff, but the idea that we could have been someone else. That's the source of human rights I think, the belief that we are all equal underneath it all and just in different circumstances. I don't think that requires religion, I mean "souls" in a conceptual and ontological sense, as the source of consciousness and the life in a body.

I think human rights are put in jeopardy by a materialist view that the source of consciousness and life is the body itself, and grows out of the sperm and egg and is as different from another person's consciousness as their bodies are different bodies. It means that we couldn't be anyone but the body we are, and that leads to less empathy and more selfishness and self-righteousness, and people saying things like "you wouldn't exist if that sperm hadn't met that egg" which I think leads to justifying all sorts of horrible things like rape and sperm donation and genetic engineering and eugenics.

Although I can see that my view also is a kind of eugenics, in the sense that it says we should try to limit procreation to good circumstances so that souls enter bodies that will have good lives. But because it also offers a real reason to say that everyone is equal and has equal rights, it provides a counter force and clear limits to stop us going too far in how we improve the circumstances of future people.

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