Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Why Can't I? Part II [Jay]

In my previous post, I discussed the difference between the following two questions:

“Can I kill this?”
“Why can’t I kill this?”

I want to be clear why I am writing these posts. I think that some pro-choice arguments are incredibly clever and difficult to easily parse through. As much as I enjoy the challenge of rigorous intellectual discussion, I find the idea that one must be a scholar in philosophy to understand why you ought not to kill unborn children irritating. It is equally irritating to me when people try to discuss things in an accessible manner and they are lambasted for not writing a 2,000 page book that includes every nauseating detail on how we apprehend absolute moral truth and every counter argument from the sublime to the ridiculous. Sooner or later, even the most complex ideas must be expressed in accessible language, lest their practical applications be forever elusive.

All that to say, I know this illustration is basic. But we have a very basic disagreement that can become cleverly confusing. That confusion itself serves to build rancor and emotion.

Greg Koukl’s example is straightforward. A living thing is found, picked up, and brought forward for identification. The question from behind our back is asked, “Daddy, can I kill this?” I turn around and see my child holding a living thing that he ought not to kill. His question indicated correctly that he has not killed the living thing yet. I tell him, “No son, you cannot kill this.” He may have more questions, but the limit is understood before action. We can discuss the thing in his hands and we have time to explain why this living thing cannot be added to the list of things that he is allowed to kill.

The second example may go differently, the question comes, “Why can’t I kill this?” Perhaps we turn around to see a philosopher holding something living that he ought not to kill. As we explain why he cannot kill that living thing he counters, “We already started killing these things in the backyard.”

Aghast, we grow a bit more forceful in our argument that it is wrong to kill this living thing and the fact that he has already done so is beside the point. He counters again, “Yeah, but the doctor out there said that we ought to be allowed to kill these things all we want.” You explain that the person in question is mistaken. There have always been a large number of people that knew we ought not to kill these things including doctors. Even though some disagree we have more recent information that helps us to know more about that living thing than we used to. “Yeah? Let me see it.”

You leave the room and come back to find that he has killed the thing he was holding but now has another one in his hands. You freak out and ask him why he did that. “Why can’t I kill this? You haven’t given me a good argument.” As you try to explain that you have not been given a chance to do so, he kills the thing he is now holding, and turns around opens a sack and grabs another of these living things. You scream at him to stop doing that and he says again, “Why can’t I kill this? Your arguments seem religious to me. I am not very religious."

As you try to ascertain why you need to be religious to know that you should not be standing here killing these living things he kills another and produces yet another life out of his bag. You shriek for him to stop for a second and he says, “Why can’t I kill this? They are all over the place out there and quite frankly in the way. They cost us time and money that can be spent elsewhere.”

You try to help this person understand how some factors are more important to us as moral people than others, and that we have to find more productive means of dealing with problems than this. As you are talking he kills the one in his hands and reaches into his bag and produces another one. You scream at him to stop killing these things for one moment. “Why can’t I kill this? It is perfectly legal for me to do so. I have a legal right to do this.”

You are now screaming at him that legal rights do not absolve us of moral responsibilities, but the entire time you are trying to make the argument he kills 5 more of these living things. You are hysterical and ask him to stop while you are talking. “Why can’t I kill this? I have noticed that one group of people is dramatically more affected by these things being around. It only seems fair to me that we even the score.”

The bodies are piling up in the room and the man keeps killing these living things one after another. All the while he drones on and on about how these things aren’t really alive and he really isn’t killing anything and all of the areas you have failed to make a case to stop him. You want to answer but the ever-growing number of things this guy is killing distracts you. You finally and desperately scream at him, “Just stop killing these things!!”

He looks at you nonplussed and says rather indignantly, “You are too emotional. I cannot talk to people who are so emotionally driven in their arguments." All the while, the killing never ends.


  1. I really haven't seen any good pro-abortion arguments. They all seem to try and avoid talking about whether the unborn baby is alive by either not talking about it, or asking a question that has the built in assumption that the unborn baby isn't alive.

    Or they are and prove that the unborn baby isn't alive by disregarding scientific fact, or saying that a certain amount of development is needed to be considered alive.

    Have you seen any that aren't so intellectually soft?

  2. Jay - apt description of the devil you got there.

    Or perhaps, more appropriately, you've done a credible job of anthropomorphising the abortion industry.

    Your point - where "Can I kill this" pre-supposes moral forethought is contrasted with "Why can't I kill this" which lacks moral forethought, yet requires justification for adhering to such forethought, is well made (maybe too emotionally? ;-).

    However your analogy starts breaking down when it comes to the actual killing, because you've substituted an impersonal sack of "living things" in place of a fleshly mother and father, who are the demand side of the abortion industry. Your argument overlooks the real issue of who's forethought initiates the abortion. We shouldn't abstract away such initiators.

    Exposing and placing responsibility where it belongs (on both parents) silences the debate because it produces a far more accurate picture of the immoral soil abortion grows in.

    For instance, suppose the state acknowledges 1) the full humanity of the unborn and 2) the full pro-creative nature of the parents and 3) their full social responsibility to others. By leaving elective abortion legal but making the parents directly co-responsible for the abortion, the state recognizes their "joint reproductive rights". (Note: I'm stating this as a test case -it's not my actual moral position!) The biological father must be present, otherwise no "legal" abortion. Let the baby grow until it's large enough to insert a catheter with two syringes attached. One contains a poison, the other a sedative, but mother or father wouldn't know what their respective syringe contained. Then silently viewing a live ultrasound, both may press their syringes and see the results.

    The abortionist then would deliver the dead baby, and complete details of the baby's death are publically declared to show that the state has done it's part to meet both "procreative choice" and social responsibility.

    What if only one syringe is pressed?

    With the sedative only, the baby would sleep and paternity would proceed to normal birth. However, if only the poison were injected, both parents would get to witness the agonizing painful death of their child, and both would serve mandatory prison time for inflicting an inhumane death on their child.

    Like Solomon's call to cut the baby in half, by applying adherence to both procreative parties, the true nature of the immoral beast of procreative irresponsibility (and the sinful component) may be exposed.

    One time I dropped this into a very heated abortion debate and the silence that followed was amazing.


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