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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Do clones have souls?

Here's a long message-board thread about whether comic-book clones are real characters (the point is illustrated in the scan in the original post, featuring a clash between the demonic-looking superhero Nightcrawler and the mercenary supervillain Scalphunter - the information you need is that the latter is a 6th Day-style clone of his original self).

You probably won't have time to read the whole thread, but it may amuse you to dip into it. At various points, it gets down to some serious and not-so-serious debate on such issues as whether clones would have souls and whether comics are corrupting children by presenting more-or-less sympathetic characters who have come into existence through cloning - thus undermining the idea that reproductive cloning would be morally wrong.

Some of the comments are quite insightful, as with the remark that Frankenstein's monster was a sensitive and intelligent being who was corrupted only by the unenlightened treatment he received from prejudiced humans. Whatever Mary Shelley's intentions, Frankenstein's crime wasn't defying God or violating nature but bringing into the world a person who would inevitably be mistreated. That's the real issue we'd face with cloning, or so the commenter seems to be saying.

There's much humorous discussion of how clones are handled as characters, but also some people expressing what seems like real unease. The argument about corrupting young readers is interesting - but of course, young people are exposed to an enormous amount of propaganda that reinforces popular moral ideas, including the idea that cloning is wrong or yucky. Why shouldn't they also be exposed to some narratives that implicitly present an opposed viewpoint? If the current manufactured consensus (which I, for one, have not joined) about the evil of reproductive cloning depends on the socialisation of children into the "correct" view, how much respect should we give it?

Not very much at all, I argue. If we had a safe technology for reproduction via somatic cell nuclear transfer, I'd have only slight misgivings about using it. The slight misgivings would relate mainly to the prejudice that the resulting children might face. Much of the opposition to human reproductive cloning strikes me as simply irrational, and it's a pity that we've moved so swiftly and often mindlessly to a supposed consensus that it ought to be banned.

12 comments:

J. J. Ramsey said...

Is it awful of me that one of the first things that came to my mind was Weird Al Yankovic's "I Think I'm A Clone Now"?

Steve Zara said...

I had these sort of thoughts while watching the film Avatar. What was the ethical status of the Avatar bodies?

Romeo Vitelli said...

Aren't a clone and his/her progenitor basically identical twins (identical DNA and all)? I don't see anyone arguing that twins born the natural way only share one soul between them.

J. Random said...

My thinking is that if your moral stance against cloning can be underrmined simply by portrayng the clone humanely, then the problem isn't with the existence of the clone.

Russell Blackford said...

Absolutely, absolutely.

I think the notion of clones not having "souls" is nonsense, partly because I don't believe in souls in the requisite sense. And yes, if the problem is prejudice it's not really with the cloning.

I actually oppose laws against reproductive cloning, except perhaps as a temporary measure to prevent the use of an unsafe technology. Still, public policy can take into account that people are not always rational. It's an uncomfortable area, and in the end I'm against banning cloning on that basis, but there's still a consequentialist argument there, given that we can predict with confidence that clones will face at least some prejudice (maybe a lot, maybe not that much; it's hard to say).

Svlad Cjelli said...

The prejudice they would face was also used as the leading argument against homosexual couples adopting during the mid-'90s in Sweden.

Friend of Icelos said...

I think that's a different situation, Svlad. When we talk about same-sex couples adopting, we're talking about the rights of existing people. When we talk about human cloning, however, the clones in question don't actually exist yet, and given that it isn't certain whether a person should have the right to clone themselves, it also isn't certain whether anyone's rights are violated if the practice is prohibited.

March Hare said...

What about the morality of cloning simply as spare body parts?

Slightly OT, but if we can place a chemical that solely retards the growth of the brain then can we use that clone as we wish?

Glendon Mellow said...

The Spider-Man clone Ben Reilly had no soul, but the rest do, sure.

Svlad Cjelli said...

May be so, Friend of Icelos, but what I mean is that the extent of the problem turned out to be imaginary in that old case.

Friend of Icelos said...

True, Svlad, and it may be that human clones wouldn't actually experience much prejudice at all. (Personally, I'm suspicious of the motivation behind such arguments against same-sex adoption.) Luckily, this isn't a question that needs to be answered quickly.

spiral_shell said...

Do we have souls?
And I wonder if we did, could we just clone the soul? That way at least one might find its way to heaven or nirvana, or both...
To sprout divergent diasporic patterns of threads upon the loom of life - surely then one will ...weave a path upon the tapestry of fate into gods favor. To throw more dice in the game of life...