Squaring the Culture




"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

06/02/2009 (6:13 pm)

Abortion: Do We Really Believe? (Updated)

This is going to be long, but it’s important.

Rambo Scenarios

Recently a friend sent me what he called a dilemma for advocates favoring limited or no abortions. It was a hypothetical, designed to illustrate that advocates like me do not actually believe that the gestating human offspring in the womb is truly a human being, based on the way we might react if somebody was killing 2-year-olds. I dismissed the hypothetical as ridiculous, and the argument as meaningless.

And then, suddenly, it was current. Late-term abortionist Dr. George Tiller was murdered over the weekend by a lawless activist. Suddenly, the hypothetical my friend sent me started appearing elsewhere.

It was, for example, in Damon Linker’s question, here, at the New Republic:

But I have a question: If abortion truly is what the pro-life movement says it is — if it is the infliction of deadly violence against an innocent and defenseless human being — then doesn’t morality demand that pro-lifers act in any way they can to stop this violence? I mean, if I believed that a guy working in an office down the street was murdering innocent and defenseless human beings every day, and the governing authorities repeatedly refused to intervene on behalf of the victims, I might feel compelled to do something about it, perhaps even something unreasonable and irresponsible. Wouldn’t you?

This is the radicalizing logic of pro-life rhetoric. Which brings me to my question for pro-lifers: Who is the better, truer member of your movement? The man who murdered serial “baby killer” George Tiller? Or Robert George and other (comparative) moderates, who reject the use of violence to save the innocent?

Compelled? No. Tempted, certainly. It comes up from time to time. But none of us feel compelled.

What’s missing from his hypothetical “murdering defenseless humans” and “authorities refusing to intervene” is this: what they’re doing is perfectly legal, and authorities will intervene, with force, if we try to stop them. We’d not only forfeit our own lives and good fortune, but we’d discredit the entire movement — and we’d fail to stop abortions. So we’re very, very careful about what and how we advocate.

Then there’s this take from Slate.com’s William Saletan, which is a bit more pointed about what they’re trying to accomplish:

So is Roeder (Tiller’s murderer) getting support from the nation’s leading pro-life groups? Not a bit. They have roundly denounced the murder…

I applaud these statements. They affirm the value of life and nonviolence, two principles that should unite us. But they don’t square with what these organizations purport to espouse: a strict moral equation between the unborn and the born. If a doctor in Kansas were butchering hundreds of old or disabled people, and legal authorities failed to intervene, I doubt most members of the National Right to Life Committee would stand by waiting for “educational and legislative activities” to stop him. Somebody would use force.

The reason these pro-life groups have held their fire, both rhetorically and literally, is that they don’t really equate fetuses with old or disabled people.

There’s the motive, right there. They want us to stop arguing that gestating offspring are in the same category with disabled or old people. It’s “shut up” again, isn’t it?

And notice how he leaves out the same crucial factor that Linker left out: he says “butchering disabled people” and “legal authorities failed to intervene,” but he completely omits “the law is on their side” and “if you try to stop them by using violence, they’re going to send in the SWAT team and take you down.

Is he so completely sure that in this case, “somebody would use force?” Really? Surely the SWAT Team changes the equation somewhat, no?

In fact, somebody did use force this time, and it’s hurting us badly. Folks like Ezra Klein and Mary Mapes are using it to advocate stronger legislation protecting abortionists, and harsh legal reprisals against peaceful groups.

So, I want to discuss the hypothetical my friend sent me, which I’ll call the Shotgun Hypothetical, and why it’s wrong. Here we go:

People in the right to life camp face a pretty serious conundrum, which is illustrated by the following hypothetical. Suppose someone told you that inside a particular building, adults were grabbing two-year olds, one at a time, and killing them. Suppose further that when you asked the person, “did you call the police?” the person replied “it turns out that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned all of the laws nationwide prohibiting the killing of anyone two-years old or less – what the adults are doing is perfectly legal.” Suppose that the person then picks up two shotguns, throws one to you and says, “I don’t care what the law says, I’m gonna put a stop to this. I’ll give them a chance to stop without shooting, but I’ll shoot if I have to. Are you with me?”

There’s absolutely no doubt that I’d be with him. It would be cowardly of me not to take decisive action, even if it required violence, to put a stop to the slaughter. And if anyone criticized me, which is almost unimaginable, it wouldn’t faze me in the least. Nor should it. In fact, I’d deserve severe criticism if I failed or refused to act and allowed the killing to continue. And if I had to shoot to get them to stop, so be it.

Agree?

Of course you do!

…if the moral insight and the logic of its application are sound in the case of two-year olds, and you add the additional premise that fetal life at all stages shares the exact same moral status as a two year old – which is precisely what pro-lifers say they believe – then …

There’s that certainty again about what we’d do in the hypothetical. This guy astutely includes “what they’re doing is perfectly legal,” but leaves out SWAT. He counterbalances “legal” with a very strong emotional force, though, using 2-year-olds. And he doesn’t leave the decision to us, but makes it for us. “There is absolutely no doubt that I’d be with him… Agree? Of course you do!

Pardon my vulgarity, but… bullshit.

I mean, perhaps this fellow is one of those ex-mil types with weapons and SERE training, who would know how to live off the grid for the several years it would take for the manhunt to die down, like Gene Hackman’s character Brill in Enemy of the State. But that’s what it would take, and you’d only stop this one instance, not the millions going on all over the nation. The hypothetical is simply inaccurate, and the conclusion about how the ordinary person would respond, overblown. It’s Rambo movie heroism, not real life.

What we need to understand is that these folks are engaging in casuistry in an attempt to get us to back off of the claim that gestating human offspring are entitled to full rights. They’re not being careful to make clear and accurate hypotheticals; they’re omitting the crucial differentiators, either deliberately or by unthinking bias. As I said just this morning, if my argument required me to pretend that gestating offspring were not really part of the human life cycle, as theirs does, I might be tempted to a little casuistry myself.

A Real World Scenario

A more cogent hypothetical, and one much more meaningful to the current debate, is the Underground Railroad, the organized efforts in America to help slaves escape the pre-Civil-War South. There were laws against assisting fugitive slaves in all the slave states and several of the free ones, and a federal law as well, called the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Anyone caught assisting a runaway slave could be fined a huge amount and jailed for months. The issue in that instance was much like the instance here: a class of human life being treated as less than human, and not worthy of full rights. The law was on the side of the dehumanizers. And nobody behaved as today’s abortion advocates insist we must behave if we truly believe what we believe; nobody shot slave owners, even though many of them murdered their slaves, raped them, and abused them horribly. Nobody except John Brown, and he was hanged.

Megan McArdle picked up the similarity of that event a few days ago, in an article that everybody ought to read, entitled “The War on the War on Abortion.” Here’s what she said:

Imagine a future in which the moral consensus has changed, and our grandchildren regard abortion the way we regard slavery. Who will the hero of history be: Tiller, or his murderer? At the very least, they’ll be conflicted, the way we are about John Brown.

In fact, the Underground Railroad instance explains very clearly why we’re reticent to respond violently. The American Civil War lasted 5 years and cost more than 600,000 lives, not counting civilian casualties, and repercussions are still being felt almost 150 years later. It’s true that the War Between the States was not fought directly to free the slaves — it was fought to preserve the Union, in fact — but that does not mitigate the cost. This course is not to be embarked on lightly, or without being preceded by full-throated effort at change through peaceful, legal means.

The Human Norm

But the Underground Railroad and the fact that the Civil War was not fought to free the slaves both illustrate a crucial factor of this particular debate that both sides would rather we not consider; namely, how ordinary people normally respond when a group of human beings are deprived of their full human rights. The truth about it is not what we would like to think of ourselves.

History is actually replete with examples of groups being deprived of their human rights, and the ordinary response of most human beings is… nothing. In recent memory, nations are still reeling from the shame of having ignored a massive genocide in Rwanda, where the world stood by and did virtually nothing while angry Hutu mobs hacked hundreds of thousands of Tutsis to bits with machetes. Only a few decades back, the world failed to rise up and protect the Jews, who were slaughtered by the millions during Germany’s war of acquisition. And for every US citizen who participated in the Underground Railroad, there were hundreds who tut-tutted the plight of the black slaves — and then returned to their lives as usual, having done nothing at all. There were people on the continent who regarded slavery as an abomination from the first day a European ship made land in Massachusetts, but slavery lasted another 200 years here before it was abolished.

In these instances, and numerous others like them, was it the judgment of history that because people did not rise up, they did not truly believe the humans in question were fully human? Perhaps so, but how does that excuse it? The Shotgun Hypothetical may have the correct take; perhaps we are cowards, and the point of the argument is to explain to us that more action really is required. In all of the examples in the last paragraph, the difficult task was to convince enough people that they had a stake in the matter, so more of them would interrupt their ordinary lives — enough of them to make a difference.

And isn’t that the mortal sin of our generation? That too many of us are too enamored of our own comfort to look up and address the needs of others? That we can be moved to pamper and protect ourselves, but cannot be moved by human suffering?

It’s particularly difficult when the suffering object cannot be heard or seen, and goes by Latin terms reserved for clinical settings, like “fetus.” We all know 2-year-olds, and we think they’re cute; but none of us has ever seen a fetus, except in a clinical picture or a sonogram, and those look only vaguely human. They seem so alien. It’s like how we feel about The Elephant Man; if it doesn’t look human, can it really be human? This is an emotion, not an inference, but it’s real.

We need to be convinced that a central moral principle is at stake before we can be moved to action — which is what the opponents of abortion have been trying to do. Ours is the central task of any movement aiming at enfranchising some dehumanized group. We do believe they are fully human; our most crucial task is to convince everyone that they are.

Ultimately, the question regarding the fetus is not “Is it really alive?” In their hearts, everybody knows perfectly well that it is. The question is not “Is it human?” Again, in their hearts, everybody knows that it is. Rather, the central question is “What does it have to do with me?”

What we’ve discovered is that if it has any impact on limiting sexual activity we’d very much like to engage in, we’ll sacrifice our own humanity and that of 50 million others to indulge ourselves. We should all be deeply ashamed, every one of us. God will surely punish this…

He will punish all of us, even those who objected, because we did not object enough. Even those of us who understand the need for general sexual restraint face the same problem as when considering the starvation of people who live on other continents. Dispassionately, we don’t doubt they’re human, and we don’t doubt they’re suffering; but they and their world are so alien that we think “What does it have to do with me?” And we say, “What a shame, somebody ought to do something.” But we can’t be moved to action ourselves.

The folks I mentioned at the top are asking for a bad reason, but they’re asking a good question: why don’t we take more action? The correct answer may be “because we’re not human enough ourselves.” But the proper response to this knowledge is not to dehumanize even more human infants; it’s to take more of the right actions to save their lives.


UPDATE, 6/3: The Return of Scipio, a devoutly Catholic blog, linked here from an article that argues the moral justification for killing abortionists in starker terms than I do, and with less acknowledgment of the devastating impact of abandoning the rule of law. Still, his are thoughts worth thinking. The best of them is this one:

A man might shake his fist at God, demanding to know why He had not sent to earth those who might cure AIDS or cancer. God could answer with aplomb, “I did send these people, but you aborted them.” How would the man then respond?

Thanks for the link, Scip.

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47 Comments »

June 2, 2009 @ 8:25 pm #

Phil,

If you’re going to quote my blog entries and then call my example “bullshit,” you owe me the courtesy of giveing your readers a response.

For the record, the “shot gun bravado” in my blog entry was for dramatic effect. You are absolutely correct. If something you oppossed as morally horrific was perfectly legal and those who disagreed with you had the force of the state backing them up, it is reasonable not to act as Tiller’s killer acted.

But your critique misses the point of these arguments. The point is that the “moral equivalence premise” implies that people who kill abortion providers act rightly in doing so. If the moral equivalence premise is correct, those who kill abortion providers are protecting innocent human beings from slaughter.

In fact, what you’ve made clear is that those who kill abortion providers are acting heroically – they’re sacrificing their health and good fortune to protect the innocent. Nothing could be more honorable or noble than that, right?

The power of these examples resides in the fact that most people who oppose abortion do not believe that people who kill abortion providers are acting heroically, or even appropriately. That fact casts doubt on whether they truly believe in the moral equivalence premise.

And while its correct to say that having the force of the state on the other side obviates one’s moral duty to act, nothing is stopping anyone from praising their actions as “heroic.”

If you do that, if you praise their actions as “heroic,” then I’ll concede that you really do believe in the moral equivalence premise. But those who refuse to praise the killers owe us an explanation as to why they refuse, given the homage they pay to the moral equivalence premise.

Joe H.

June 3, 2009 @ 12:36 am #

In fact, what you’ve made clear is that those who kill abortion providers are acting heroically – they’re sacrificing their health and good fortune to protect the innocent. Nothing could be more honorable or noble than that, right?

The power of these examples resides in the fact that most people who oppose abortion do not believe that people who kill abortion providers are acting heroically, or even appropriately. That fact casts doubt on whether they truly believe in the moral equivalence premise.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother writing. I actually addressed this at great length in the essay itself.

Recall the quote from Megan McArdle: even if later on we all agree that gestating offspring are fully human, as we now agree that blacks are fully human, we will always feel conflicted about killers like Roeder, as we now feel conflicted about John Brown.

And the reason we’ll feel conflicted is, yes, the cause is just — but insurrection is horrific, and the Civil War was even more horrific. Nobody sane wishes for such a thing to happen, but acting violently to protect the unborn leads to precisely that result. The rule of law protects us all. That’s why it’s appropriate to hold violence as the most extreme last resort.

And then I added that long section discussing how we humans are prone to regard the suffering of distant others with indifference — and admitted that we suffer from that indifference.

Thus, the fact that we feel this way casts no doubt whatsoever on whether we believe the moral equivalence premise, just as the fact that Americans felt that way during the Civil War — Brown was never unambiguously admired, and lots of northerners opposed the war — cast no doubt on their sincerity about blacks. There are plenty of valid positions between “I support legal abortion” and “I think it’s heroic to shoot abortion providers,” and you’re deliberately pretending they don’t exist.

Furthermore, neither our sincerity nor our insincerity has any relevance to the question of whether gestating offspring actually ought to be granted full rights, just as the reticence of northerners to fight to free the slaves had no relevance to the question of whether the slaves ought to have been freed; to say that they do have relevance is to commit an ad hominem fallacy.

By the way, Joe, I agree that I owe you the right to reply; I actually wrote to Jim and asked him to extend you the invitation. Apparently you move more quickly than he.

June 3, 2009 @ 1:12 am #

Phil, it is not clear that the majority of abortion opponents “feel conflicted” in the same way that you do. You’re position is that it is morally justifiable to kill an abortion provider, but there are also good reasons to obey the law – and this generates moral tension.

Most people in the pro-life camp do not agree with you that it is morally justifiable to kill an abortion provider. That’s the point. You can’t rationally claim to support the moral equivalence premise and, at the same time, morally condemn those who resort to violence to defend fetal life.

To your credit, your position is logically consistent. The moral equivalency premise entails that it is morally permissible to kill abortion providers, and you accept that conclusion. The conflict you feel arises from other (prudential) considerations regarding the rule of law. You don’t reject the implications of the moral equivalency premise. I admire that.

But most people, including most anti-abortion activists, sincerely reject the implications of the moral equivalency premise. And their rejection of these moral conclusions casts doubt on their belief in that premise.

Joe H.

June 3, 2009 @ 1:36 am #

Are you saying we should advocate the killing of thousands to save millions? I’m pretty sure the ends do not always justify the means. Besides, in reality Scott Roeder’s actions have set the Pro-life movement back. Why should we praise that as heroic?

In the end all this arguement does is prove Pro-Life inconsistencies (which I would deny exist) and does not address the real question this all stems from. “What is it?” Until this is answered, the above discussion is meaningless.

I’ll agree to abortions the moment you can prove that a human is not human from conception. And if it’s not human, what is it (it certainly can’t be nothing)?

June 3, 2009 @ 1:57 am #

In fact, what you’ve made clear is that those who kill abortion providers are acting heroically – they’re sacrificing their health and good fortune to protect the innocent. Nothing could be more honorable or noble than that, right?

Why can’t they be a murderer killing a muderer?

This discussion reminds me of the tv show “Dexter.” For anyone unfamiliar, Dexter (the character) is a serial killer that kills other serial killers. “Dexter lives by his own strict moral code — he only kills murderers who can’t otherwise be brought to justice.” Well, OK. Is Dexter a murderer or a hero?

June 3, 2009 @ 3:34 am #

Nick,

Why should Scott Roeder’s actions set the pro-life movement back? His actions are perfectly consistent with the moral equivalency premise – that an eight minute old, eight day old, eight week-old, and eight month old fetus all share the exact same moral status as an eight year old child. Pro-lifers who believe in the moral equivalency premise have nothing to be ashamed of regarding the actions of Scott Roeder. If you believe what they say they believe, he’s a hero.

If Scott had killed someone that he knew was going to kill an eight year old boy(and there was no less violent way to stop the killing) would we condemn him?

The answer is clearly “no.” We might worry about the rule of law and the effects of administering private justice (as Phil does). But we would, at a minimum, sympathize with Scott. After all, he prevented an innocent eight year old from being killed.

But if the moral equivalency premise holds, we should feel no different about Scott’s violence if it were performed in defense of the eight minute old embryo.

The fact that we do feel differently is telling. It implies that the moral equivalency premise is problematic.

That’s all I’m saying.

Joe H.

June 3, 2009 @ 7:44 am #

But most people, including most anti-abortion activists, sincerely reject the implications of the moral equivalency premise. And their rejection of these moral conclusions casts doubt on their belief in that premise.

Speaking completely candidly (I may regret this,) I suspect that a lot more people accept the implications of the moral equivalency premise internally than will admit it publicly. I think the near-universal, reflexive rejection is the result of media control by pro-abortion advocates in America. If the anti-abortion movement gave even a small hint of approval to the sort of behavior we saw over the weekend, the poll numbers would shift in the direction of legal abortion by about 30% overnight, and harsh laws banning even the presence of objectors from within 100 yards of abortion clinics would spring up all over the land.

It’s a bit difficult to know what people really think in an environment where shaming and mob rule play a large role. Sadly, America has become such a place.

June 3, 2009 @ 8:09 am #

But if the moral equivalency premise holds, we should feel no different about Scott’s violence if it were performed in defense of the eight minute old embryo.

The fact that we do feel differently is telling.

Our feelings convey information about our emotions. Emotion is meaningful, but not usually compelling in a logical argument.

Joe, surely you understand how one’s logic can produce a different conclusion than one’s emotions, don’t you? I can conclude that an 8-minute-old embryo is life, and be completely logical, but the foreignness of life in the womb is so great that my emotions don’t engage the thought. This creates tension in the person, but is not in any way logically improper.

Besides, if you want to engage emotions as a basis for drawing conclusions about your logic, you’re on dangerous ground, because, as every advocate of abortion admits, nobody likes abortion. That’s why they engage in this linguistic and logical atrocity of calling themselves “pro-choice” (you’ll notice I never use either side’s marketing slogan in this discussion.) If our emotions are telling, and we all hate abortions, why, exactly, are abortion’s advocates arguing for legal abortions? Why not just ban them outright? Isn’t advocating abortion at all, inconsistent in precisely the same manner as refraining from killing abortionists, and for the same reason?

Why should Scott Roeder’s actions set the pro-life movement back?

This is beneath you, Joe. You understand the media culture as well as I do. What sets a movement back is not the logical inconsistency of some stance, but perceptions on the part of the voting and money-donating public beyond the edges of the movement. No political group in America can afford to ignore media image. In fact, as Hezbollah and al Qaeda have discovered along with the Pentagon, no army in the world can afford to ignore it, either, so even if we do consider Roeder a hero (he’s not — he’s a violent loon and a felon, which is not to say that I don’t see the social gain of Dr. Tiller not performing any more late-term abortions) it makes sense to sanitize our public image. See my previous comment for more thoughts along the same line.

June 3, 2009 @ 10:20 am #

Thanks Phil. The “hated abortions” inconsistency was where I was going next. Again, all these prove is that both sides have inconsistencies and don’t address the main problem of abortion.

This whole moral equivalency arguement is really just a rabit trail to take the discussion from where it really belongs.

June 3, 2009 @ 10:50 am #

You’re welcome.

What the “hated abortions” inconsistency demonstrates is that emotions don’t rule logic. The key to understanding the alleged inconsistency between assigning humanity to gestating human offspring and the way we feel about walking, talking, breathing humans is that the difference is emotional rather than logical. We don’t feel the same emotion about gestating kids because we don’t see them, talk with them, or play with them. They’re not cute. That doesn’t make them less human, but it does make them feel less human. It’s an emotion, not a reason. That’s not a reason to stop insisting on their rights, though; it’s a reason to do it louder and more often.

I agree with you about this alleged inconsistency being a “rabbit trail,” or in philosophers’ nomenclature for logical fallacies, a red herring. The entire defense of abortion is, in my humble opinion, a vast, cultural rationalization, an excuse to engage in profligate sex without having to face the most obvious consequences (that’s excepting the early radical feminists, who insisted on abortion because it enforced their radical independence from males). Simply insisting that the gestating offspring is obviously both human and life really upsets abortion advocates, because it touches them right where they’re rationalizing. That’s why they want so badly for us to shut up about it.

June 3, 2009 @ 1:59 pm #

You might have seen this already, but here is a really good defense of why anti-abortion does not equate to killing abortion providers.

http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2009/05/killing-abortionists-is-wrong-period.html

I can only dream of articulating as well as you or they do.

June 3, 2009 @ 4:15 pm #

Greg Koukl at STR.org is hard to top — that guy’s thinking is just so crisp, all the time — but I actually think my position is stronger than his.

June 3, 2009 @ 5:14 pm #

Here are some things that should be considered. Have any of you watched “The Silent Scream” an actual ultra-sound of an abortion of a 12 week fetus. Watch and judge for yourselves.

June 3, 2009 @ 5:20 pm #

ABORTION: The Silent Scream Part 1 2 3 4 5 COMPLETE VERSION Pro-Funny home videos are a click away

June 3, 2009 @ 6:23 pm #

Phil et al,

At the risk of overstaying my welcome, you’ve never really responded to my critique of your “Human beings” argument.

To wit, no one denies that fetuses are “human.” But the term “human” is ambiguous with respect to main disagreement between proponents and opponents of legal abortion.

That disagreement, you’ll recall, is about whether all things “human” have the same moral status. People who support legally available abortions say “no.” They argue that, prior to the point at which a developing fetus becomes a “someone,” an abortion does not harm anyone (since no one yet exists). They further argue that early term fetuses (embryos, zygotes, etc.) cannot reasonably be thought of as “someones.”

You disagree with this view, but I still don’t know what your grounds for disagreeing are. You’ve indicated that you think it appropriate to think of embryos as “someones,” but you’ve never explained why? It is, after all, a highly counter intuitive position to take, given what it implies. For example, with regards to frozen embryos that will never be implanted, is discarding them mass murder?

Most people think not. And if they don’t think discarding frozen embryos is murder, then they can’t truly believe that they are discarding “someones.” This logic seems unavoidable.

I’m eager to hear why you think its appropriate to think of embryos as “someones.”

At any rate, because the central disagreement between proponents and opponents of abortion concerns whether or not all human beings have the same moral status, calling an embryo a “human being” doesn’t meet the challege. You need to make an an argument demonstrating that all human entities share the same moral status. You cannot assume this premise, because that is the premise that is in dispute.

Joe H.

June 3, 2009 @ 7:01 pm #

Oh, I forgot one thing.

I’m fully aware that Roeder’s act creates an image problem for the pro-life movement. In saying that it shouldn’t, I meant that abortion proponents have a logically consistant argument to make on Roeder’s behalf(particularly in the case of Dr. Tiller, who reportedly performed abortions on viable fetuses). They can argue that Roeder acted to protect innocent human persons.

You’ll no doubt respond that the “protecting innocent persons” argument won’t work as a P.R. strategy. And I agree. It won’t work. But that raises the question of why it won’t work?

Most abortion opponents will opt for the “people want the rule of law” explanation. However, I suspect the real reason the argument won’t work is that, in most cases of abortion, people have doubts about the moral equivalancy premise.

By the way, when I said that Roeder’s actions shouldn’t pose a P.R. problem for the pro-life movement, I was counting on everyone recognizing that they did pose a P.R. problem even though they shouldn’t. Its an argument style that points to an internal contradiction – which hopefully gives rise to reflection.

Joe H.

June 3, 2009 @ 7:36 pm #

I can tell you why I can’t praise Roeder as a hero, first of all, I don’t feel he was thinking rationally and/or reasonably. The fact is, whether Tiller is alive or dead, women will still make decisions to have abortions. Now, Tiller’s family is suffering loss and has been victimized, something that will follow … Read Morethem the rest of their lives. . . and Roeder’s family suffers loss and humiliation. His actions can also bring on brutal victimization of his family, following them the rest of their lives as well.

You realize the fault doesn’t lie in the doctor’s hands? It lie’s in the hands of the one’s that make the choice. With or without doctor’s help, women will still find a way to end their [problem] pregnancies, endangering their own lives also. History has a way of repeating itself.

So the real question here is, because it’s a reality, what should we, as a nation, stand on morally? How far along should a woman be before it’s considered “morally and lawfully” inhumane?

I am Pro-life. . .but we are fighting a circular war, a war in which no one will win. I see this as the only alternative, or we can simply go back to wire hangers and alley-way abortion clinics.

June 3, 2009 @ 11:44 pm #

But the term “human” is ambiguous with respect to main disagreement between proponents and opponents of legal abortion.

How is the term “human” ambiguous? Something either is or is not. It can’t get any less ambiguous than that. The ambiguouty is in the place opponents and proponents place the line between is and is not.

That disagreement, you’ll recall, is about whether all things “human” have the same moral status. People who support legally available abortions say “no.”

So not all humans have equal moral status? Who decides which humans do and which do not? What are the criteria? Can I make up my own?

To wit, no one denies that fetuses are “human.”

They argue that, prior to the point at which a developing fetus becomes a “someone,” an abortion does not harm anyone (since no one yet exists). They further argue that early term fetuses (embryos, zygotes, etc.) cannot reasonably be thought of as “someones.”

OK, are they human or not? I’m not sure what to make of this.

For example, with regards to frozen embryos that will never be implanted, is discarding them mass murder?

Strictly speaking, yeah. The problem is that at the frozen fetus stage there is little emotional connection because as Phil already pointed out, they are not cute, they don’t quite look completely human, they are miniture versions of the elephant man.

At any rate, because the central disagreement between proponents and opponents of abortion concerns whether or not all human beings have the same moral status, calling an embryo a “human being” doesn’t meet the challege. You need to make an an argument demonstrating that all human entities share the same moral status. You cannot assume this premise, because that is the premise that is in dispute.

Joe, you must follow your own rules. You just finihed telling us why they are not human beings which acording to you is not what this is about. So I must ask, what exactly is the arguement about? Is it about the humanity of a fetus/zygote/clump of cells/etc. or is it about differing moral standards for humanity?

June 4, 2009 @ 2:59 am #

Nick,

The term “human” is ambiguous because there are different aspects or ways in which an entity can be “human.” A statue can be “human” if it embodies the human form (this is definitely true of a human corpse). The cells on your body are “human” cells – they are genetically human. An individual who is brain dead but being kept alive by machines is still biologically human. There are functional aspects of being human – as a human, I have self awareness, reason, senses, imagination, opposable thumbs and can use a bit of language. There are moral and social aspects of being human (“for someone to act as Roeder did is inhuman” and “he eats his meals like an animal). There is even an intellectual aspect (think about all the disciplines that fall within the category “humanities”- what these disciplines share in common is that they are all uniquely human activities – they are the activities that elevate and enrich our existences.

So, it is not true that a thing either is, or is not, “human.” A thing can be human in one sense, but not in another sense. The trick is do identify those aspects of our humanity that give rise to our moral status as rights bearers, and then to see if a thing we’re assigning moral status to is human in the required sense.

People who support abortion rights argue that although an embryo is genetically human, and an early term fetus is genetically and biologically human, neither of these entities are human in the sense that anchors our moral worth. That is because it is not our genetic or biological processes that give rise to our moral worth. It is our existence as self-aware, rational, emotional, relational, imagining, and volitional creatures – these are the things that distinguish us from the .
animals. These are the qualities that make us children of God.

The pro-choicers may be wrong, but they have a plausible argument.

The fault in the moral equivalency premise is that it fails to distinguish the different ways in which a thing can be “human.” To argue that a thing either is or is not human, and then argue that all human beings have the same moral status, is to embody this fundamental error in both of your premises.

As to your belief that discarding frozen embryos is mass murder, well, okay. But murder requires a victim. Someone has to be killed. And to most people, there is no someone that loses their life when embryos are discarded.

As to your challenge, I have never denied that fetuses are human. They are. What I’ve argued is that embryos and early term fetuses are not human in the sense of being a “someone” – which would give them the status of a rights bearer. I’ve argued that it is not sufficient for an abortion opponent claim that an embryo is human – they must also show that embryos and early term fetuses are human in the relevant (moral status generating) sense.

I hope this doesn’t make anyone mad. I don’t make this argument because I want to excuse abortions. I think abortions, on the whole, are morally profane. But I think the proponents of legal abortions are correct when they say that early abortions are not murder.
Joe H.

June 4, 2009 @ 11:43 am #

The problem here is that on all other subjects, the same individuals who insist on debating the meaning of “human,” insist that law must be completely secular and free from religious influence. I’m willing to bet that a fair survey of abortion’s advocates would discover that a vast majority will state without hesitation that laws must be secular.

If we’re going to apply the standard of naturalism that these people insist on, we are forced to use the biologist’s definition of “human” and “life.” Those are unequivocal; from the moment a human sperm cell penetrates a human egg and forms a blastocyst, biologists will agree that the result is a living organism of the species “homo sapiens.” It is both human, and a living being.

As my article from a few days ago pointed out (and Joe never bothered to address) any further analysis requires an importation from some philosophical system that assigns meaning by way of debatable criteria. If laws are required to be secular, this is unacceptable; we must apply criteria that are generally acceptable in a secular fashion, not the particulars of any individual’s personal philosophy. That forces us to use scientific criteria, which are, as I pointed out, quite clear.

So, Joe, it is you that has utterly failed to respond in this matter. You may discuss various possible approaches to assess meaning in human life forms, but all of them require a resort to debatable philosophical criteria of the very sort that abortion’s advocates insist cannot be applied in this debate. If you insist that this is the only appropriate way to settle the question, you open the door to expressions of religious faith as a means of settling the question as well, as these are statements of the same category as the philosophical statements you’re using to assign meaning.

It happens that I think religious faith is by far the best source of information regarding why humanness is meaningful. Historically, philosophers have utterly failed to produce a cogent theory of the meaning of human life, and have settled uneasily into admission that there seems to be meaning, but there exists no convincing way to explain it. To rely on the fumbling ruminations of philosophers thus guarantees a result for which no cogent basis exists. Historically, also, it is only Christianity in the West that has produced sufficient respect for humankind to produce a notion such as “human rights,” abolish slavery, establish equal rights and self-determination as desirable goals, and so forth. So, I’m all in favor of using Christian theology and sentiments to inform our laws concerning abortion, as they have been used to inform our laws on all other topics; and I’m quite certain that there exists not a single shred of valid Constitutional opposition to this, the ill-informed opinions of anti-religious bigots notwithstanding (see James Buckley’s speech on the matter here.)

However, if I’m expected to keep my religion to myself, I insist that you keep your debatable philosophy to yourself, and rely instead on the secular interpretation that even US courts have insisted be used in modern discussions. Those are clear in making all portions of the human life cycle equally human, and equally life.

June 4, 2009 @ 12:01 pm #

People who support abortion rights argue that although an embryo is genetically human, and an early term fetus is genetically and biologically human, neither of these entities are human in the sense that anchors our moral worth.

This implies that said supporters of abortion rights actually have articulated a philosophy that establishes the source of moral worth generally. They have not; and since they have not, they cannot have produced an assessment that has any meaning.

And no, simply discussing this or that facet of human ability will not suffice to meet the requirement. If they do not have a general philosophy that establishes where morality and human worth come from, they have no basis for applying anything to particular cases.

June 4, 2009 @ 1:02 pm #

Watching the progress of this debate has been fascinating and, has made me a firm believer in the superiority of a written debate rather than a verbal debate. In writing one is forced to organize their thoughts, there are no interruptions, there is no need for a moderator, and there is a clear audit trail. Also, you cannot be shouted down and bullying is kept to a minimum.

As for the subject of this debate, there are aspects of this debate that I’ve never thought of before, and not just from you Phil but from several other of the commentators as well. I would like to give my thanks to everyone who took the time to seriously think and write about this issue.

As for me, many years ago I saw pictures of what an abortion really was, and there was no way I could tell myself that what was in those pictures were not baby parts. I’ve never changed my mind since then.

June 4, 2009 @ 5:52 pm #

Phil,

Several things come to mind. But before I go on, let me thank you for not becoming angry with me. As some of your readers know, I have, in the past, frustrated Phil to the point of exacerbation. From his perspective, my arguments are disingenuous and wrongheaded.. From my perspective, Phil has either misunderstood my arguments or unfairly assigned me bad motives. This is a difficult subject to discuss, and Phil has been very charitable. So I appreciate the gesture.

I also agree with Dale. Written debates are for more productive.

With that said, the moral philosophy that underlies the notion that “rational nature exists as an end in itself” is the modern version of Deontology articulated by Immanuel Kant. Kant laid out this theory in his (short) book titled “Critique of the Metaphysics of Morals.” Kant was (IMO) attempting to anchor Christian Morality within a metaphysic that did not appeal to the authority of God. He explains why human beings (rational creatures) have inherent worth (or dignity) and how this generates what he called “the categorical imperative.” Saying that there is one categorical imperative is misleading, because there are several formulations of it. The best known formulation is (and this a paraphrase from my distant memory – I’m in my office right now) “Always act so as to treat rational nature, yourself as well as all others, as an end in itself, never as a mere means.

The idea that “rational nature exists as an end in itself” is roughly equivalent to “each person is a bearer of dignity and therefore, must be treated by others as an end (i.e., with respect) not as a means merely. We can treat each other as means (we have to), but we can never act so as to reduce each other to a “mere means.” We can never act so as to reduce bearers of dignity to the status of an object.

In practice, it largely mirrors the Christian maxim “love you neighbor as yourself” which Kant discusses at some length.

One of two main historical rival theories is “consequentialism” (which breaks down into sub theories like egoism and utilitarianism.). The basic difference is that Deontology is concerned with the character of an act (as this reflects on human dignity), whereas consequentialism judges acts based on their likely anticipated outcomes. A Deontologist objects to prostitution because it objectifies and degrades the provider of sexual “services.” A consequentialist objects to the harm

Of course, I can’t do a dissertation on Kant’s moral theory in the reply section of your blog, but that’s the basic idea. It is an idea that informs a great deal of American law and public policy. In theory, the basic idea of Kant’s theory is not controversial. Its application is problematic.

Additionally, the idea that we should not appeal to religious authority as the basis for law/ public policy seems sound. That’s because a law or policy can either be justified by an appeal to neutral and universally recognized grounds (such as public necessity, social utility, respect for human dignity, etc.) or it cannot be so justified. If a policy can be justified on such grounds, it is justified. The fact that it may or may not coincide with religious teaching is irrelevant. But if a policy cannot be justified on such grounds, imposing or premising a law or policy on religious teaching is a form a religious tyranny.

This means that religious premises for public policy are either irrelevant to tyrannical. Either way they fail and should not be offered.

Joe H.

June 4, 2009 @ 6:16 pm #

Oh, I forgot something again.

There is a big difference between settling disputes based appeals to conceptual and evidentiary grounds and settling them by appealing to religious authority.

Concepts can be explored, critiqued, unpacked, and even improved. I hope I demonstrated this in my discussion of the concept “human.” Logic and evidence can be examined. For these reasons, concensus built on a foundation of rational inquiry(however slowly and error prone the process may be)are more reliable. Reason is faulty, but it is self corrrecting and opersuasive to most in the long run.

Religious teaching, for the most part, cannot be challenged. You either accept it or reject it. If its right (and I’ll admit that much of it is) you’re okay. But if its wrong, you’re stuck with the error. Concensus built on religious teaching is often stable, but it is often wrong and, worse, extremely difficult to correct.

Joe

June 5, 2009 @ 2:59 am #

Come now, Joe, I thought you were a Christian yourself. The notion that an appeal to religious reasoning either cannot be “universally recognized grounds” for policy, or cannot be “explored, critiqued, unpacked, and even improved,” is the sort of ignorance I would expect from an anti-religious bigot who had never so much as opened the cover page on a work of theology, let alone a bible.

I recall that in one of our first exchanges, I invited you to read chapter 17 of de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, in which he explains how religious faith was so ubiquitous in America, and so practical, that citizens could not even think about “liberty” without couching it as Christianity. In that setting, religious arguments are “universally recognized grounds” for policy.

Even in modern America, something like 70% of the people regard themselves as “Christian” in some sense — and if we’re talking about the content of their moral reasoning, it really should be more like 95%. Even the atheists here rely on Christian reasoning for morality (atheism is, imho, a parasite religion that absorbs the moral reasoning of the surrounding culture, as it has no rational basis for moral behavior of its own). If it were not the case that “it’s the Christian thing to do” were still a powerful reason here, you and Jim would not be so actively touting how progressives can be Christian to us right-wingers, and the Democratic party would not be so eager to use religious language in their public statements.

Besides, the means by which the minority is protected, here in the US, is not by excluding the religious opinions of the majority, and never has been. It’s by separating and balancing competing political interests — multiple parties, multiple branches of government, multiple state and local governments, and so forth — and by the rule of law, with all citizens equal before the law. So, no, a majority opinion arising from religious reasoning is not “tyranny.” Whoever wins while using the process honestly, holds legitimate influence in the process, without regard to how they reason; if I can win a majority of seats in the legislature by advocating casting lots at Stonehenge during the vernal equinox, casting lots gets influence, and ought to. I’ve written on this topic at length at this blog.

As to the notion that religious reasoning cannot be explored or improved like any other sort of reasoning, the entire history of theology puts the lie to that rubbish. I’m shocked that you said it. Logic and evidence can be and are examined in theology, just as they are in any philosophical discussion. The only way religious reasoning differs from philosophical reasoning is in epistemology, the understanding of where meaningful information can be found.

Seriously, Joe — do you read American history at all? Are you familiar with the writings of the revolutionary period? Did you read the Buckley speech I linked to? What your argument does is posit Kant’s secular philosophy as the required, official religion of the United States, and excludes all other religious reasoning. That result is so vastly foreign to the reasoning of our founders that I can’t imagine you’ve ever even read their works.

Then again, I would imagine that supporters of the neo-Marxist in the White House that’s ripping the Constitution into tiny squares to use as toilet paper just now, might not be so completely comfortable with the writings of our founders. To a person who believes that making policy while thinking like a Christian constitutes tyranny, but that the executive branch of the national government taking over entire industries and regulating every tiny use of carbon-based fuel in the economy does not, I have very little to say. The concept of “tyranny” evidenced in that combination of notions lies so far from the meaning of that word that I can’t accuse the person who holds such a view guilty of using reason at all, let alone knowledge of the English language.

June 5, 2009 @ 11:12 am #

Excuse me…don’t mean to interrupt your conversation, but this might be an interesting case to watch. The implications are intriguing, although I am completely unfamiliar with Arizona law and certainly something in the state law might be a factor.

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,525142,00.html

June 5, 2009 @ 11:23 am #

It seems to me that our first duty as Christians is to be witnesses for Christ through direct ministry, and through how we live our daily lives. We are not called upon to end evil, we can’t, we are called to be witnesses. I’m not sorry that an evil man is dead and I’m not sorry that the one who shot him will go to prison for a number of years, if not the rest of his life; the shooter was not doing the work of our Lord Jesus, he was acting for himself.

Phil, in regards to your last post I have a question:

If you are going to make the Bible a living document then why can’t our constitution be a living document? Both, at the end of the day, purport to be the final argument. If the word of God is not written in stone then surely no man made document can be. It seems that that was all Joseph was saying. He was assuming that the word of God IS written in stone when is said ” Religious teaching, for the most part, cannot be challenged.” I’m not buying into Joe’s argument, I’m just trying to give him his due. Dale…

June 5, 2009 @ 1:34 pm #

If we’re critiquing religious premises or arguments, we’re not relying on their authority. We’re relying on our judgment. That’s fine with me.

I don’t object to people believing things as a matter of faith. I certainly believe things that I cannot rationally justify. But I do object to public policy being created based on premises that cannot be defended except by appeals to religious authority. As I said in my previous post, such grounds (as justifications for policy or law) are either irrelevant or illiberal.

I think we should be highly suspicious of premises advanced by religion, any religion, that cannot be defended successfully except by saying “thus sayeth the Lord.” I’m not saying that all such propositions are false. I’m just saying that we have no testable reason for believing that they are true. That, in itself, is a good reason for declining to appeal to them when forming public policy, apart from any concern about sectarian authoritarianism (which does worry me).

But if we have good (independent) reasons for thinking that the religious teachings have gotten things right, then we’re relying on those reasons, not on the sacred texts. I have no objections to that.

Joe H.

June 5, 2009 @ 2:11 pm #

Joe, I feel like we are starting to go around and around in circles yet I would like to point out, one more time, something I believe Phil said; “if the ultimate authority in any public discussion cannot be anything higher than mea himself there is no good reason we can’t do whatever we like as long as it makes us happy.” Phil didn’t really say this but I’m sure it’s what he meant. I won’t comment anymore because I’m not sure that I would have anything useful to beyond this point. I will however continue to read, if there are anymore postings. Sincerely, Dale…

June 5, 2009 @ 6:42 pm #

If you are going to make the Bible a living document then why can’t our constitution be a living document? Both, at the end of the day, purport to be the final argument. If the word of God is not written in stone then surely no man made document can be. It seems that that was all Joseph was saying. He was assuming that the word of God IS written in stone when is said ” Religious teaching, for the most part, cannot be challenged.” I’m not buying into Joe’s argument, I’m just trying to give him his due.

The Bible and the Constitution are two very different things, and they serve very different purposes.

The Bible serves as revelation of the living God. Our relationship with God is just that, a relationship. God does not change, but we do. Our understanding of God changes as we mature, and the Church’s understanding of God also changes as it matures. The living progress of the Church is shepherded by the Holy Spirit, and by leaders of the Church.

If you don’t think so, you should review church history for a while. A number of theological understandings have changed over the last 2 millennia. Many of the major doctrines of the faith were hammered out over centuries of dispute, and the Church’s take on many social issues have changed as well. Take slavery, for example; the notion of man having inherent worth as a creation of God was introduced by Paul, but articulated by Augustine as a church doctrine sometime around the 4th century, and had its fruition in the abolition of slavery by the Dominicans in the 12th century. The rest of the Church caught up in the 18th and 19th century. Today, we reject slavery as a horrid dismissal of the inherent dignity of man, but the Church did not always have that understanding. We’ve grown. The teachings of the apostles have not changed and are still authoritative, neither has God changed; but our understanding of both has changed over the years.

I should also note that technically, the scripture is not law, though I know plenty of Evangelicals treat it like it is. Seventy percent of the Bible is in the narrative voice — stories, histories, etc. — and a lot of the rest is poetry. The fact that the believer is not bound by law is one of the major themes of Paul’s letters. so the application of the scripture as though it were legislation, as a lot of Protestant believers do, is really unsound. We’re not supposed to be treating the words of the Apostles like legislation, we’re supposed to let them instruct us, and we’re to become their disciples — relationship rather than legalism.

The Constitution, on the other hand, is deliberately not a relationship; it’s written law, written with the purpose of restraining government, because ours is SELF-government. There’s no god directing, it’s up to us. The Constitution has a means of amendment, but that means is deliberately difficult to execute. The idea is that the liberties of free people are not safe when the government may exercise power at its whim; consequently, ours was to be a government of laws (which are fixed) and not of men. All of us are to be equal before the law. So long as the court regards the law as uppermost, and so long as everybody is responsible before the law in exactly the same manner, free people are not subject to political whim.

What judicial liberals want is the ability to make social changes that are not actually written in the Constitution; they want a Constitutional blessing on their own agenda. I’m not going to say no churchmen have ever attempted such a thing with the scriptures — it happens all the time, in fact — but God is active in protecting His Church, and sends correctives when needed. There’s no Constitution-god watching out for the health of American law; James Madison In Heaven does not send The Ghost of Due Process Past to terrify errant judges into applying the law faithfully. That’s why we can tolerate a certain amount of change in theological tradition, but not so much in legal interpretation.

June 5, 2009 @ 8:16 pm #

It turns out that I am going to post one more time. Thank you Phil for your response. I understand and agree with your arguments. However, I feel like a mooch, you do all the hard work of learning all this, and then I get it for free. And so again, I really do thank you, I’ve learned so much from your responses to me.

(Author notes: Thank you. It is my very great pleasure to do it.)

June 5, 2009 @ 8:50 pm #

On behalf of all the other silent readers, I’d like to put a thank you in here too. I’ve watched this thread with interest. And I find Phil’s last point contrasting the Constitution and the Bible to be very informative.

June 5, 2009 @ 10:18 pm #

For anyone interested, I started an analysis of the idea of a living constitution at the lik below.

http://moreunsolicitedthoughts.blogspot.com/2009/04/lets-do-some-philosophy-boys-and-grls.html

I got sidetracked and have yet to get back to it, but the distinction between the connotation and denotation of a concept, and the fact that the conotation of a concept (which is its essense) can remain stable while the denotation of a concept can change dramatically over time(as human circumstances change and/or we learn more about the world) is the metaphysic underlying the “evolving standards of decency” approach to “liberal” jurisprudence.

It is not a radical idea that concepts like “due process” or “equal protection” have remained stable at their essenses, while the dennotation of these concepts has changed dramatically over time. The same thing is true of the concept “healthy diet.”

If I were administering a trust, and a condition of the distribution was that the beneficiary “eat a healthy diet,” it would be foolish of me to interpret the provision by reference to what the settlor of the trust thought was a healthy diet 100 years ago. That would defeat the settlor’s purpose, since it would require the beneficiary to eat what we now know to be an unhealthy diet.

Similarly, when applying the constitution, it would be foolish of us to look back to what the founders thought was the dennotation of these concepts and ignore our moral insights over the last 200 years.

I do agree that we should look to the founder’s understanding of the connotation of these terms. “Due process” and “equal protection” are moral ideas whose essences are remarkably stable. But the denoation of these concepts (what they require when the are applied in judicial decision making) have changed for the better, since we have learned a great deal in the last 200 years.

Joe H.

Joe H

June 7, 2009 @ 5:35 pm #

Phil -

There’s an awful lot of text here to digest, between the post and the comments, so please pardon me if I’ve missed something in my comment here…

I don’t believe the argument that Joe and now others is putting forward is “nonsense” at all. However, as I’ve discussed with you, the violence option is not the only one. What of non-violent resistance, where ardent anti-abortion people place themselves between the doctor and the fetus?

While this may mean arrest for some, surely the cause of the unborn, if they are rights-bearers to the equivalent of the born, is more of a motivating factor to people than even the civil rights movement was to the non-violent resistors back then?

June 8, 2009 @ 8:47 am #

Darkhorse, etc.,

This started out short, but just kept growing. Here you go.

It seems to me that:

The reasoning Joe and you have presented above would imply that only those who participated in the non-violent civil rights movement (and possibly those who resorted to violence as well) were the only ones during the 60s who actually believed that racism against blacks was evil.

Such reasoning would also bring into question what people really believed when there was no protest or violence at all in earlier years.

Furthermore, as pointed out by Phil earlier, this line of reasoning has no relevance or light to shed on the more fundamental question of whether or not the racism against blacks was immoral in objective reality, or even to what degree it might be wrong.

And one last thing, on a somewhat religious note:

Would you also criticize Jesus for his not having the ‘appropriate’, consistent response to immoral, sinful and evil behaviors? After all, he completely failed to stone the adulterous woman. He invited greedy tax collectors to follow him in his ministry. His life was substituted for that of a convicted murderer who simply walked free. And in the end Jesus’ climatic dealing with all the world’s sin and evil is not a violent revolt nor even a sit-in protest– it is essentially the doing of nothing as he breathes his last and dies on a cross. Would all of this demand you to conclude that Jesus did not really take sin seriously enough?

Your line of reasoning proves way too much. Seems to me it’s even exposed as nonsense when simply carried beyond the subject of abortion. Trying to embarrass opponents of abortion for their not resorting to violence, or at least to radical non-violent protest, while ignoring the ramifications for countless other confrontations with evil, is unfair thinking at best. I can’t imagine you or anyone seriously bringing this argument to the table of civil rights or the proper remembrance of Christ.

I will admit, personally, I am uncomfortable with the term ‘murder’. But not for lack of conviction on my part that abortion is an evil deserving of hellfire. (I am uncomfortable with the terms ‘sin’ and ‘hell’ as well, BTW.) I think the uncomfortable feelings are more a reflection of my being too close to the matter. “Murder” is usually the proverbial subject one can safely view from a distance. It’s always other people who commit it or suffer from it; it’s always on the other side of the TV screen. Etc.. Calling abortion ‘murder’ brings the violations of that subject right into my life and those around me. And that’s as it should be. I believe the cry of “murder” is more to the heart of the real abortion debate than other matters which are mere nipping at the edges . . . or total distractions altogether.

God’s peace to you in Christ,
as you ponder this terrible subject further.

June 8, 2009 @ 9:23 am #

darkhorse –

You are incorrect about the public response to non-violent abortion opposition. What you suggest is the actual tactics of Operation Rescue. What’s their public reputation like, in your estimation?

I rest my case.

June 8, 2009 @ 9:33 am #

Also, this:

I don’t believe the argument that Joe and now others is putting forward is “nonsense” at all.

It is nonsense. But worse than that, it turns out that advocates of legal abortion exhibit the same inconsistency between their emotions and the position they advocate.

Joe tries to claim that our position, that abortion is murder, is inconsistent with our emotional response to the death of a human fetus prior to birth. He further suggests that if one’s emotional response differs from one’s conclusions, it’s the conclusion that should give way, and the emotion that should win the day. If one’s emotional response to things is actually to determine one’s logical assessment of those things, then advocates of legal abortion should all stop advocating legal abortion, and start advocating outlawing abortions — because every one of them admits that nobody likes abortion, and every one of them claims to wish there would be no abortions. They should, at Joe’s insistence, stop advocating what they claim to believe and start advocating what they genuinely believe, the position that their emotions tell them is correct. Or so Joe would suggest, if he was being consistent.

The claim that our logical assessment should give way to our emotional response is a negation of the process of logic. Joe should be ashamed of it, and so should you. If human fetuses are fully human in reason, they should be so even if our emotions don’t say so. In this manner, they are like black slaves, German Jews, or Tutsi tribesmen: just because we don’t care enough, does not mean they’re not really just as human as we are.

I’ve now repeated this analysis three times in your hearing, and have not heard it rebutted even once.

June 8, 2009 @ 11:17 am #

Phil,

What I argued is that one’s emotional response to early term fetal life(or lack thereof) is indicative of what one believe about its status.

Several people have tried to dissassociate these two phenomena, but they are interrelated. The reason I don’t feel anger at the idea of discarding an embryo is because I don’t think an embryo is a somone. If I heard that someone killed an eight year old in cold blood, I’d feel anger despite the fact that I’d never had any interaction with the child.

The difference in my respone is not merely a product of my lack of imagination regarding the embryo. Its a product of an underlying belief about the different status of the two entities.

Joe H.

June 8, 2009 @ 12:42 pm #

What I argued is that one’s emotional response to early term fetal life(or lack thereof) is indicative of what one believe about its status… The reason I don’t feel anger at the idea of discarding an embryo is because I don’t think an embryo is a somone.

1) And what support did you supply to buttress that assertion? Prove, if you can, that the difference you point to in our responses is a difference in belief system rather than a difference in emotional attachment predicated simply on sentiment, or a failure in imagination. In fact, I think it would be impossible to say anything definitive at all about the the cause of that difference without some pretty sophisticated psychological evaluation, and your attempt to assert a positive cause without support of any kind is simply empty; as I said to Jim in email, you haven’t even constructed an argument here.

However, it’s apparent that you understand the difference to arise at least in part from emotional attachments (which is not what you claimed, but is what I claimed) because your hypothetical evoked our feelings about 2-year-olds, and your comment here, 8-year-olds; if you weren’t reaching for our emotions, you might have used adults instead, perhaps disabled ones, as Saletan did in the article I quoted.

2) You still haven’t explained why you’re not similarly calling for advocates of legal abortion to drop their advocacy altogether, based on nothing more than what they believe about the fetus’ status. Hell, Joe, there are millions of people out there who go so far as to say that they would never get an abortion themselves because of how they feel about it; are they not facing the same conundrum you’ve produced here? Shouldn’t they be honest and say they consider abortion murder? And shouldn’t you be arguing thus about them?

If what anybody truly believes about this topic is to have any impact at all, abortion should be banned immediately, because everybody, and I do mean everybody, knows that abortion is wrong.

3) What does it matter what the advocates of banning abortions “truly” believe? Whether we’re talking about politics or philosophy, the question is absolutely irrelevant; in politics, all you can claim is some ulterior motive, and in logic, you’re committing an ad hominem fallacy, asserting that the “true beliefs” of your opponents have some bearing on the soundness of the argument they’ve made. Either way, you’ve not relieved yourself of the intellectual obligation of rebutting the claim in question, namely, that there exists no sound basis on which one can deny “person” status to an organism that is provably both living and human, and is obviously an active part of the normal human life cycle, that does not result in absurdities. Either the argument is sound, or it’s not. What do “true beliefs” have to do with anything?

June 8, 2009 @ 3:08 pm #

“I rest my case.”

Oh, I’m sorry Phil. I was beginning to hope that there was real dialog going on here. How did you get from “I’ll think about that” last week, regarding non-violent opposition, to back into “Those who oppose me spout nonsense.”?

Joe very clearly is not saying that those who believe in the moral equivalence of the early fetus and the viable one (and the born baby) should go kill abortion doctors because it is the heroic thing to do.

To me, he is saying that all you need to do is ADMIT that it is heroic to lay your life on the line to rescue innocent, full human beings. Of COURSE not everyone has it in them to do the heroic thing.

But regardless of the “Rule of Law”, and how great of an effort it is for the Catholic Church and other conservatives to try and get abortion outlawed, the fact is, TODAY, thousands and thousands of full human rights-bearers will be slaughtered.

I realize you MUST call this argument nonsense if you’re going to rescue your “it’s all so simple” place of beginning. Your point that people are not taking action because of lack of imagination, etc. is a POSSIBILITY.

But it’s pure hubris to treat it as the ONLY possibility simply because you need it to be true to rescue your point. Why are you so afraid to say, “It’s possible” to Joe’s point about lack of action on the part of anti-abortionists?

June 8, 2009 @ 4:46 pm #

Phil Said:
And what support did you supply to buttress that assertion? Prove, if you can, that the difference you point to in our responses is a difference in belief system rather than a difference in emotional attachment predicated simply on sentiment, or a failure in imagination. In fact, I think it would be impossible to say anything definitive at all about the cause of that difference without some pretty sophisticated psychological evaluation, and your attempt to assert a positive cause without support of any kind is simply empty; as I said to Jim in email, you haven’t even constructed an argument here.

My Response:
True, I haven’t constructed an argument on this point. Neither have you. (You have asserted your premise as an explanation for the difference in feeling, as have I, but neither of us has argued for our premises). I’m no social psychologist, so I have to admit that it’s at least possible that the difference in feelings is a product of our lack of sentiment or imagination.

However, when we ask ourselves “what is the most plausible explanation for our feeling differently about eight hour olds and eight year olds: (1) our inability to bond with embryos or to imagine them as ordinary and fully human subjects (which they are, on your view) or (2) that we don’t really think they are fully human subjects (my view), (2) provides the more plausible explanation. That is because there is no someone present in the eight minute old entity, as there is in the case of the eight-year old.

Phil Said:

2) You still haven’t explained why you’re not similarly calling for advocates of legal abortion to drop their advocacy altogether, based on nothing more than what they believe about the fetus’ status. Hell, Joe, there are millions of people out there who go so far as to say that they would never get an abortion themselves because of how they feel about it; are they not facing the same conundrum you’ve produced here? Shouldn’t they be honest and say they consider abortion murder? And shouldn’t you be arguing thus about them?

My Response:

You’re absolutely right. I should be “arguing thus about them.” I have already done so. See:

http://moreunsolicitedthoughts.blogspot.com/2009/05/conundrums-for-pro-choicers.html

Phil Said
If what anybody truly believes about this topic is to have any impact at all, abortion should be banned immediately, because everybody, and I do mean everybody, knows that abortion is wrong.

My Reply:

The assertion that “everyone knows that abortion is wrong” is no more convincing than a opponent’s assertion that “everyone knows that abortion is morally permissible.” Both are unprovable assertions that go against significant evidence (e.g., what people say about their moral beliefs regarding abortion). Your declaration is really evidence of your degree of certainty on this issue.

But more importantly, even if you are right that everyone knows that abortion is wrong, it does not follow that it should be made illegal. I agree that abortion should be outlawed if and when it becomes murder. But abortion in the early stages of fetal life might be wrong for reasons other than it being murder (hint: “the sanctity of human life). The whole point of the argument I have made is not that abortion is morally unproblematic. It’s that early term abortions are not murder (or, at least, there is a reasonable case to be made that they are not murder- “no someone, no victim, no harm”

Phil Said:
Either way, you’ve not relieved yourself of the intellectual obligation of rebutting the claim in question, namely, that there exists no sound basis on which one can deny “person” status to an organism that is provably both living and human, and is obviously an active part of the normal human life cycle, that does not result in absurdities.

My Reply:

No “someone,” no victim, no harm? Being genetically or biologically human is not the same thing as being a human “someone,” a rights bearer, a bearer of dignity (an end in itself)?

What more do you want? You can ignore these arguments. But its not fair to say that I haven’t supplied them.

But to turn this around, what argument have you supplied to show that the moral equivalency premise is defensible? Granted, you’ve bit the necessary bullets regarding the implications of the moral equivalency premise, but you have not, as far as I can tell, offered any positive defense of that premise except repeatedly asserting that “everyone knows that it is true.”
Well, I don’t know that it is true. Convince me!

Again, thanks for not getting angry with me.

Joe H.

June 8, 2009 @ 6:23 pm #

darkhorse –

I’m tired of being told what a vicious, uncommunicative fellow I am, and of how I really don’t understand the argument and if I just hear it again with slightly different words, this time I’ll get it and admit I was wrong. I’m also tired of having my perfectly sound argument ignored. So you get the last word, and this conversation is over.

June 8, 2009 @ 6:31 pm #

I absolutely could not resist posting again, so here goes…..

Descates said “I think therefore I am”. He was trying to back up to a solid starting point from which he could build a philosophical basis for life, starting only from what he absolutely knew to be true. The problem was that although “I think therefore I am” is a true statement, in and of its self it does not produce anything useful. There is nowhere to go after that. What I’m trying to get at is, to the degree that any truth can be known beyond “I think”, Phil has proven his argument. To continue to say “prove it” equates to a child continually asking “why”. Maybe Descate should have said I feel therefore I think.

June 8, 2009 @ 6:53 pm #

Phil may have proven that the moral equivalancy premise is sound. I just don’t know and/or remember what he said in its defense. I know that he once argued that the logic of the term “human being” proves the moral equivalancy premise. If you still accept that argument after what I’ve said critiquing it (that the term “human being” is ambiguous and question begging with regard to what’s being disputed), well, I don’t know what else to say.

Perhaps you and/or Phil can recapitulate the main points Phil offered in support of the moral equivalancy premise?

Joe H.

Oh yeah, if you think Descartes’ maxim did not generate anything useful, read Meditations 3-6.

June 8, 2009 @ 7:03 pm #

Joe –

True, I haven’t constructed an argument on this point. Neither have you

Ah, but your conundrum was the starting point of this post, and of this entire discussion. If there’s no argument, then there’s no intellectual force to the conundrum, and we can all move on.

I should be “arguing thus about them.” I have already done so.

Why, yes, you have. I actually already read that. Silly of me to have forgotten. A tip of the hat: you are whole.

The assertion that “everyone knows that abortion is wrong” is no more convincing than a opponent’s assertion that “everyone knows that abortion is morally permissible.”

No? Well, in terms of systematic logic, you are absolutely correct; one assertion is just like another. In terms of human psychology and rhetoric, though, my statement has the existential advantage of being true. The same morality is written on every human heart, even on those who choose to deny it. I just say it, and let the truth do its work. Call me sneaky. Or irritating. Whichever.

Either way, you’ve not relieved yourself of the intellectual obligation of rebutting the claim in question, namely, that there exists no sound basis on which one can deny “person” status to an organism that is provably both living and human, and is obviously an active part of the normal human life cycle, that does not result in absurdities.

My Reply:

No “someone,” no victim, no harm? Being genetically or biologically human is not the same thing as being a human “someone,” a rights bearer, a bearer of dignity (an end in itself)?

I actually didn’t say that you had no argument about human dignity, I said your conundrum had not relieved you of the burden to argue. Since this post, and the succeeding thread, are about your conundrum, that’s really all I meant to say. I’m basically repeating here what I said at the top of this reply: the conundrum itself has no force, so we can safely ignore it and move on.

The question, “whence rights for the human person?”, I will leave to another post on another occasion. Don’t take it personally, I just don’t have the time or energy to devote to it at this moment. I neglected the blog for almost an entire week to address the current question, and I’ve got stuff to do.

Thanks for a decent conversation.

June 8, 2009 @ 7:10 pm #

On a more personal note, I think 45 comments sets a new record for Plumb Bob Blog. Forty-six, including this comment.

June 9, 2009 @ 9:40 am #

Phil-

Thanks at least for changing your reply to remove the charges of name-calling.

As usual, my impatience came from simple unwillingness to give ground that the other side had anything useful to say. You would give me grace by forgiving my tone.

I’ll sit back and listen now…even if it’s just on future posts.

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