Without going into detail here (you can access the entire article at: "How Babies Think"), I'd like to summarize a few of the discoveries that behavioral psychologists have previously "never thought possible."
First, let's remember that Dr. Singer, in his book Practical Ethics, defends the parallel notions that newborn infants should not be considered persons until 30 days after birth and that, disabled newborns can be ethically killed on the spot by the doctor who delivers them. With that in mind, consider some of what the SciAm article reports:
- Babies can detect statistical patterns of musical tones and visual scenes, and also more abstract grammatical patterns
- Babies can understand the relation between a statistical sample and a population
- Babies are not completely egocentric -- they can take the perspective of another person
- Infants understand fundamental physical relations such as movement trajectories, gravity and containment
- Infants are born knowing much of what adults know about how objects and people behave
"Newborns already understand that people are special ..."If only Peter Singer could re-connect with this innate knowledge that seems to have eluded him.
I have always appreciated Peter Singer for showing us the actual ends to which his naturalistic worldview leads -- speciesism, the moral neutrality of bestiality, justification for infanticide etc. Describing his views to people shocks them into considering not only the horrific conclusions to which his worldview leads, but that it may actually be wrong. But it turns out that the main premise on which he bases his justification for infanticide -- that infants are not sentient and therefore not "persons" -- is false. Newborns actually are sentient after all. They are so sentient in fact, they understand that other people are "special" to a greater degree than Peter Singer does.
Let me be clear. The findings reported in this Scientific American article have no bearing on the case we make at the Life Training Institute. Our claim is that human beings at all stages of development are valuable simply in virtue of the kind of thing they are -- for their intrinsic value. What these newborns can do (their instrumental value) is irrelevant. I just find it satisfying to see that, even by Peter Singer's own dubious standards, his case collapses in light of the scientific evidence.
There is more to this report -- like what the author attributes these findings to -- but I'll save that for the next post.