Self awareness and consciousness; obviously entities have varying degrees of self awareness, particularly as demonstrated by a baby's development, does this mean they have varying degrees of consciousness?And as an add on to that, if they aren't fully conscious, where do their rights lie in terms of taking their lives ethically. And by babies I did mean children AFTER birth, not during pregnancy.
I would probably argue that consciousness is an innate, connected set of abilities. It is the possession of the ability to react to one's sensorium. Whether we can react in a complex way to our senses in combination or whether we react based on a single input, we can be said to be conscious of our environment. By this definition, consciousness and environmental awareness are synonymous.
Self-awareness goes a step further than that. It an effect of a conscious entity being able to create a recognisable and even malleable environment out of their own physiognomy, psychology, past, present and future. Self-awareness in humans comes mainly from the power of hypothesis. We have evolved the ability to hypothesise the topology of our environments, behaviour of our enemies and friends, and the outcomes of events resulting from these elements. Past a certain level of complexity, we were able to turn these abilities inwards. We looked at ourselves and started analysing our own motivations, likes, dislikes, mistakes et cetera.
It must be stressed that this is still an indirect process. Humans still have to examine themselves on evidence, rather than having access to some kind of source code. Some of us are better at this examination than others. Truly, self-awareness differs between adult individuals. Whilst pretty much anyone will recognise themselves in a mirror, how many are comfortable when presented with a description of their psychology? The majority are more likely to see their own reflection of their selves as the most accurate, despite obvious bias.
The process of development towards self-awareness is instinctive, as language is, but just as with language, we develop shorthand rules for our internal conceptualisation. By this logic, babies learn self-awareness as they do language. They are born with a potential for greater self-awareness than all other animals (as far as we know) but at birth they are a dependent little monkey with no great introspective abilities.
They are, however, entirely conscious of the world around them. The problem with treating consciousness as a basis for individual right to life is that that would instantly rule out the entire meat business.
Problematically, the other major alternative is that we must give utmost right to life to anything, such as a human or a dolphin, which can achieve self-awareness. I say problematically as this logic rules out abortion, but that is a vastly complicated topic for another post.
To work this out without having to descend into endless mind-mending and the creation of a huge number of arbitrary get-out clauses, I will simply say this: Rights must follow common sense and when two sets of rights are in conflict, those which would preserve the greater good and human dignity must be respected.
I don't believe the right to life should be linked to self-awareness or consciousness, simply because this creates an unnecessarily rigid basis on which to base any law or code of ethics. Babies do not have increasing levels of right to life after their birth because this would be impossible to logically justify.
Our right to life is not based on our ability to think, or perceive, and it never must be. It is based on the needs of the many, and the avoidance of the chaos which would ensue if it did not exist. Born babies, as potentially autonomous members of the human race, share our right to life, whether they know it or not.