Thursday, January 4, 2007

The Great Metaphysical Divide: A Preview [SK]

Nancy Pelosi is now in power and Democrats have promised to pass legislation (within 100 hours) funding destructive embryo research. Get ready for the predictable (and question-begging) soundbite: "We Democrats are pro-science and pro-cures while a religiously motivated element of the Republican minority is not."

Once you strip away all the overheated rhetoric, however, the debate over embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) is not a dispute between those who want cures and those who don't. Nor is it a clash between those who are pro-science and those that are not. Simply put, the divide is over metaphysical worldviews: One group thinks human beings have value simply because they are human while the other group thinks humans have value only because of some acquired (and accidental) property like self-awareness or sentience. There is no way to avoid the metaphysics involved in this dispute, though when it comes to public policy, many people--following the thinking of John Rawls--say we must. Indeed, even the claim that science should not be limited by abstract metaphysical claims is itself a metaphysical claim. So is the one which says prior metaphysical commitments should play no role in public policy.

So, which metaphysical worldview better explains human dignity? Is it the one that grounds human equality in our common human nature or the one that grounds our value in accidental traits that may come and go within the course of one's lifespan? That's the real issue at stake with ESCR.

I'll say more about this in follow-up posts I'm working on right now.

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