Tuesday, November 06, 2007

More of the Same

Alas! I'm still not done with the abortion issue. While I'm pondering some of the pivotal issues (direct/indirect killing; universal human rights/partial temporary rights; the "space traveller" thought experiment) here's something from Ramesh Ponnuru on Thomson:
The philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson has famously argued that even if human fetuses are persons with rights (as she is willing to concede they are from a fairly early point in development), those rights do not entail an obligation on the part of pregnant women to continue nourishing them. But as I note in the book, this defense is false to the nature of abortion. Perhaps it would work if abortion were a mere eviction from the womb. But the death of the fetus is in nearly every real case the goal of an abortion, and it is always the means to whatever its goal is.

As for the "Not all humans are persons" line of arguing, he says:
Neil Sinhababu...takes the view that not all human organisms are persons with rights, that there are human non-persons—a view I consider both wrong and dangerous. He believes that I am placing too much importance on the humanity of the human fetus. If the right to life attaches to any organism that happens to belong to the human species, he asks, then what would happen if we met intelligent extraterrestrial life? “To ground moral status in biological humanity is to shrug at the enslavement of hobbits, the slaughter of kittens, and the destruction of all life beyond earth.” Nice line—but no. From the premise that all human beings have a right to life it does not follow that all non-human beings lack it. Humanity is a sufficient condition for having the right to life, but not a necessary one. I even mention, in a footnote, that an alien could have the right to life. The key question would be whether those aliens have a rational nature, as humans do. Indeed, my premises would allow for more protection of those aliens than Sinhababu’s theory would. He believes that human beings and other types of beings have value to the extent that they have the immediately exercisable capacity to perform mental functions. That would leave immature or handicapped aliens, hobbits, and humans without protection.

Ponnuru's conclusion is hopeful:
In 1970 and for many years thereafter, advocates of legal abortion portrayed themselves as the party of cool, dispassionate reason. Their opponents were the prisoners of superstition and emotion. Pro-abortionists back then tried—not, I think, well—to argue either that fetuses were not “alive” or “human” or that their killing could be justified philosophically.
Today, they tend with few exceptions either to refuse to engage the argument at all or to retreat behind their feelings and other non-rational defenses. There are, of course, very smart people on the other side of the debate. But I think The Party of Death and the reaction to it demonstrate something else that has changed in the last four decades: The intellectual high ground is now ours.

Read the whole thing (if you can stand pdf).

Thanks to Kevin Miller at HM&S.

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