Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Beckwith #6: Metaphysics and Abortion Debate [SK]

Previous posts in this series:

#1 Overview of major themes
#2 The nature of moral reasoning
#3 What Roe said and did, part 1
#4 Roe, part 2
#5 Roe, part 3: Blackmun's viability errors

I'm away in Grand Rapids (speaking at four schools and a crisis pregnancy center banquet), so I'll get right to the point.

Chapter 3 of Defending Life may be the most important section of the book. (If you don't yet have a copy, the main argument can be found here.)

As Frank explains, the nature of the debate is such that all positions on abortion presuppose a metaphysical view of human value, and for this reason, the pro-choice position is not entitled to a privileged philosophical standing in our legal framework. At issue is not which view of abortion has metaphysical underpinnings and which does not, but which metaphysical view of human value is correct, pro-life or abortion-choice?

The pro-life view is that humans are intrinsically valuable in virtue of the kind of thing they are. True, they differ immensely with respect to talents, accomplishments, and degrees of development, but they are nonetheless equal because they all have the same human nature. Their right to life comes to be when they come to be (conception). The abortion-choice view is that humans have value (and hence, rights) not in virtue of the kind of thing they are, but only because of an acquired property such as self- consciousness or emotional awareness. Because the early fetus lacks the immediate capacity to exercise these properties, it is not a person with rights.

Notice the abortion-choicer is doing the abstract work of metaphysics. That is, he is using philosophical reflection to advance a disputed view of human persons--namely, that humans are valuable by function not nature. Hence, the abortion-choicer's attempt to disqualify the pro-life view from public policy based on its alleged metaphysical underpinnings works equally well to disqualify his own view. Why, then, is it okay for the abortion-choicer to legislate his own position on abortion but not okay for pro-lifers to legislate theirs?

Here's the question he ought to ponder: Which metaphysical worldview better explains human dignity and human equality? Is it the one that grounds human value in our common human nature or the one that grounds it in accidental traits that come and go within the course of one’s life-span? That’s the real issue at stake with abortion/ESCR.

1 comment:

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