Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Is Philosophy Useless in the Pro-Life Argument? [Clinton Wilcox]

Last week, LiveActionNews published an article from Olivier Lindor called "Four Non-Religious Reasons to be Pro-Life". In that article, Lindor made the claim that science is all you need for the pro-life argument. Philosophy is (presumably) unreliable as a source of truth. Science is the only reliable source of truth, so science should be the standard we turn to when we make public policy. He gave three other arguments, but my purpose for this article is to specifically respond to Lindor's first argument from science. To be clear, I enjoy LiveActionNews. This is not a diatribe against them, but merely my intention to respond, as a pro-life educator, to an idea that I find detrimental to the pro-life argument and worldview, in general.

Lindor is right that there is a significant non-religious portion of the pro-life movement. He is also right that we do not have to specifically present a religious argument to justify the pro-life stance. However, he does not have to throw philosophy under the bus to do so.

Lindor asserts that while personhood is an abstract concept, life is not. But this is mistaken. Life, too, is an abstract concept. After all, you can't point to life anywhere and say "there it is; that is life". You can point to living things, that is, things that instantiate the property of "alive", but you can't point to life, itself, as you can point to a human being. Life, too, is an abstract concept. It just so happens that scientists have a list of criteria that make a living thing alive, and human beings, as scientists have discovered, fit the bill from fertilization.

Second, in saying that personhood is an abstract concept but life is not, and that there is undisputed science regarding when human life begins, Lindor seems to be saying that philosophy is unreliable in giving us truth. But why believe a thing like that? Take the abstract concept "triangularity". There is no dispute that a triangle is a polygon with three sides and three angles. While there is a debate about whether or not abstract objects exist in reality (I'm a realist when it comes to abstract objects), there is no debate that any polygon with three sides and three angles is a triangle. Similarly, just because personhood, like life, is an abstract concept doesn't mean there cannot be a consensus on what personhood is. Additionally, as I have just shown, life is an abstract concept and there is scientific consensus on when human life begins. Just because there is disagreement on what personhood actually is does not mean there is no right answer, just as the fact that there is disagreement over whether or not abortion is morally permissible means there is no right answer.

Finally, another major problem with this view is that it leads to extreme pacifism. If all that is necessary in the moral equation is that they are biologically human, then we cannot justify killing anyone, even in self-defense. How does Lindor get from "this entity is biologically human" to "we cannot kill this entity"? Science is descriptive, not prescriptive. Would Lindor oppose removing a brain-dead person with no hope of recovery from life support? He would have to, given his argument. You just can't derive a system of ethics from science. That requires philosophy.

So I definitely appreciate Lindor's wanting to take a stand against abortion, and I appreciate his desire to make a non-religious case against abortion. I would just suggest he not disregard philosophy in doing so.