The embryo, George and Tollefsen argue, is a whole being, possessing the integrated capability to go through all the phases of human development.
[This argument favours rather the opposite conclusion: since embryos have just the capability, they haven’t gotten through all the phases of human development, i.e., they are not completely human. A similar problem is recognised by the authors of the book, as we see below:]
An embryo has what it takes to be a free, rational, deliberating, and choosing being; it is naturally fitted to develop into a being who can be an “uncaused cause,” a genuinely free agent. Some will object, of course, that the embryo is only potentially human. The more precise version of this objection is that the embryo is human — not a fish or a member of some other species — but not yet a person. A person, in this view, is conscious enough to be a free chooser right now. Rights don’t belong to members of our species but to persons, beings free enough from natural determination to be able to exercise their rights. How could someone have rights if he doesn’t even know that he has them?
[Watch how this rights-and-free-agent talk entraps the authors:]
George and Tollefsen argue that the distinction between human being and person depends upon a contemporary philosophical prejudice that has no basis in reality. This “dualism” originated with Immanuel Kant, who held that free persons aren’t determined by inhuman or merely animal nature. Kant’s unempirical view is that there’s nothing natural about our freedom — and so there’s nothing natural about our rights, either. But contrary to Kant, we are, by our natures, the animals given the capabilities for personal freedom; we are, so to speak, hardwired as social animals, given the responsibility to live and act well in light of the truth. Human nature isn’t an oxymoron. The authors praise Kant, reasonably enough, for wanting to defend our absolute freedom, but they criticize him for being hopelessly vague about that freedom’s foundation. The attempt to detach the moral category “person” from the natural category “human being” produces arbitrary, rationally indefensible results. Kant’s dualistic way of thinking would deny personhood not only to, say, people with fairly advanced Alzheimer’s, but also to newborn babies, who are less self-aware than dogs.
[Here is the sophistry: “Kant is wrong because he denies our position”. No real argument is provided against Kant’s position. The authors claim that “we are, so to speak, hardwired as social animals, given the responsibility to live and act well in light of the truth”, but these are empty words, since living and acting ‘well’ in light of ‘the truth’ can have, had and do have many meanings in various epochs and societies, and despite our ‘hardwired’ freedom we have produced and still produce societies where freedom is not respected. However, especially if we see in freedom the foundation of humanity, then we can not deny Kant’s position, we are obliged to agree that an embryo is only potentially human, although not a ‘fish’! Human nature as a nature of freedom, means that human nature is not a datum, therefore, we possess it to the degree of our freedom, and if freedom is identified with rational choice, then of course babies, embryos and Alzheimer patients, as well as blind followers of political parties, of their passions, etc., are not human. The authors adopt the freedom-and-rights argument, and seem to base all their thinking in the position that to be human (= free and rights-deserving) suffice to be potentially human, which is absurd.]
George and Tollefsen are perfectly correct that the tradition of “natural law” is much more empirical than most of our scientists in contending that the natural capabilities given to members of our species alone — most of all, the capability to acquire and develop infinitely complex language — provide the real foundation of our dignity. Our natural gift of being able to break into the daylight of language or speech is at the core of all our personal qualities. This is why only human beings can be physicists, poets, patriots, political leaders, priests, preachers, and philosophers. Not only do so many of our scientists deny us our true dignity, but they also do it for no good reason. Our physicists, for example, can seemingly explain everything in the cosmos — everything, that is, but the strange, perverse, and genuinely wonderful behavior of the physicist.