Philosophy Weekend: Libertarianism, Pacifism and Abortion

I love a good cross-blog debate. Last weekend I responded briefly to Bill “Maverick” Vallicella’s question as to how a pacifist can support abortion rights. Vallicella has now responded back (and, as usual, has done so intelligently), and I see that I’ll have to work a lot harder this weekend, because he’s pointed out several ways I’ll have to improve my argument to stand up to his response. I’m going to give it my best shot.

In fact, anybody who plans to write about the debate over legal abortion ought to prepare to work hard, because this has got to be one of the most difficult, most vexing and most emotionally potent issues in the air today. I have often wondered if there is any chance for pro-choicers and pro-lifers to settle on a common ground, to co-exist in peace. The current legal status quo favors my position, the pro-choice position (thanks to Roe vs. Wade), but pro-choicers cannot feel secure about the future of the Supreme Court’s stance on Roe vs. Wade, and the anger and intensity on both sides has harmed the overall chances for moderate political agreements in America in general. To hope for any possible universal settlement of this controversy, given the current state of the debate, would appear highly quixotic. This is indeed a problem for philosophers to try to solve, because nobody else is going to be able to solve it.

I’m going to boldface each of the important points that Vallicella makes, and respond to each one. For helpful background, it would probably be best to read my post from last weekend and Bill’s response before reading today’s installment. What follows is my attempt to truly understand and fairly represent both sides of this debate, and to reach for any kind of principled answers that may cut across the well-dug trenches. Here goes:

“How can the killing of an innocent person be justified, whether or not a person is a pacifist?”

I won’t try to justify the killing of a fetus, nor will I waste time haggling over whether or not a fetus is a person. Instead I’ll ask: can the law actually prevent abortions from taking place? This question is rarely asked as part of the pro-choice/pro-life debate, but I think it’s the most central question of all. I am sure that the law cannot prevent abortions from taking place. It’s well known that abortions took place often in America before Roe vs. Wade guaranteed their legality. If Roe vs. Wade were overturned, some states in the United States would outlaw abortion, and some would not. Therefore, the overturning of Roe vs. Wade would only succeed in making legal abortions harder and more expensive to obtain, but would not significantly prevent them. If, in an extreme (and, to me, horrifying) hypothetical case, a pro-life Congress ever passed a national pro-life law and President Rick Santorum signed it into law, the result would be the creation of an underground railroad for women seeking abortion (as well as a tragic decrease in medical and safety standards for the operation). There is no hypothetical situation anyone can propose, short of the most totalitarian of governments imaginable, in which a law banning abortions would result in a significant decrease in the number of abortions that would take place.

(Would overturning Roe vs. Wade cut the number of abortions in half? I don’t think it would, though others may claim it would cut the number by more than half. If so, I’d like to ask what other initiatives might cut the number of abortions in the United States by half, without violating a woman’s right to choose.)

Given that it is not within the government’s power to prevent large numbers of women from having abortions, I do not think it makes sense to ask whether the killing of a fetus can be justified in the context of the debate over legalization. It is a question every person should consider, especially if they face an unwanted pregnancy. But there are many activities that cannot be morally justified that are legal — even many activities that involve life and death.

The government is not actually the arbiter of morality in our lives. It is able to act effectively as a stand-in for a moral arbiter with regard to crimes that can be successfully prevented by law enforcement. It is certainly not able to act as a moral arbiter with regard to crimes that can’t be prevented by law enforcement.

Do I personally think the killing of a fetus can be morally justified? I don’t know. It’s a tough question. I think the best practical answer is to avoid being involved in an unwanted pregnancy (this is, after all, fairly easy to do) so as to never have to face this difficult question. Beyond that, I don’t know how to answer the question myself, and I’m sure that no government has any business trying to legislate an answer to this question, since nobody can reasonably believe that the resulting legislation would be effective.

“Can a libertarian want the government to outlaw abortion?”

I obviously slipped up in directing this question towards Bill Vallicella, who now clarifies that “I am not a libertarian” and even asks “How could anyone think that I was?” This was clearly my mistake. I have been reading Bill’s blog for about a year, and thought I was beginning to detect a pattern in his conservative philosophy that seemed to point towards libertarianism. I now realize that he has stated flatly in previous blog posts that he is a conservative and not a libertarian. I will be more careful about fact-checking my assumptions in the future.

Still, Bill’s original question as to how a pacifist can support abortion was not directed specifically at me, and my question as to how a libertarian can support laws against abortion does not need to be specifically directed at Bill. Fortunately, he goes ahead in his response and tries to provide a libertarian response to my objection.

“Both libertarians and conservatives champion the rights of individuals. Among these rights are the right to life. It is perfectly consistent for a libertarian to extend these rights to the unborn.”

I wrote in the comments following my original post that it is an oxymoron for a libertarian to support government laws against abortion, and in fact I had Ron Paul specifically in mind when I wrote this. Vallicella sees the same thing, and writes: “Asher says that a libertarian cannot fail to be pro-choice. That is plainly false, as witness the case of Ron Paul.”

It’s good to have Ron Paul’s name to kick around as we discuss this, and I’ve just reread the first chapter in Paul’s book Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom, which explains his position.

First, I’m pleased to report that in this chapter Ron Paul notes the same fact I emphasize above. He writes:

If we are ever to have fewer abortions, society must change again. The law will not accomplish that.

And, a few paragraphs later:

Legislation that I have proposed would limit federal court jurisdiction of abortion. Legislation of this sort would probably allow state prohibility of abortion on demand as well as in all trimesters. It will not stop all abortions. Only a truly moral society can do that.

And, yet again:

Ending nationally legalized abortions by federal court order is neither a practical answer to the problem nor a constitutionally sound argument.

Much of Ron Paul’s chapter “Abortion” chapter brings up various non-legal aspects of the abortion question: what it’s like for a medical doctor to participate in an abortion; whether or not the Hippocratic oath prohibits abortion (and whether or not medical schools should endorse the Hippocratic oath); how trends in abortion acceptance have been reflected in American society. Much of the chapter defends his nuanced position on the legalization of abortion against those pro-lifers who are more fervent about the legal question of abortion than he is.

It’s clear that Ron Paul feels very strongly that abortion is immoral. But he may be closer to agreeing than to disagreeing with my primary argument that no libertarian can reasonably advocate outlawing abortion. Ron Paul is a libertarian, and Ron Paul is passionately anti-abortion. But it also seems to be the case (though, upon rereading the chapter, the conclusion is murky) that he is not anti-choice qua libertarian.

A friend who read my post last weekend has also pointed me to a website called Libertarians For Life. This organization explains its basic argument, but they do not address anywhere, as far as I can find on this website, the problem that government laws against abortion cannot be enforced. The fact that an organization exists to defend a position that is oxymoronic does not prove that the position is not oxymoronic.

“Asher thinks that laws against abortion “intrude into private life.” He doesn’t seem to understand that some such intrusions are legitimate.”

Sure I do. I never said that I am against all intrusions into private life. In my original post, I wrote that I do not think a libertarian can countenance this specific intrusion into private life, especially given that little tangible benefit would result in exchange for the intrusion. Other specific governmental intrusions into private life may be legitimate for a wide variety of possible reasons.

“I notice that Asher doesn’t given any arguments in favor of his position”

I will now. Here it is:

1. No libertarian can reasonably advocate the government passing a law that can’t be enforced. To do so only empowers the government to arbitrarily and inconsistently prosecute citizens.

2. A law against abortion cannot be enforced. Abortions are too easy to obtain for this to be possible. There were many abortions in America before they were legal, and pro-choice advocates would ensure that abortions remain as safe and inexpensive as possible if it were to be outlawed again.

3. Therefore, no libertarian can reasonably advocate the government passing a law against abortion.

Back to pacifism: “Much depends on how one defines ‘pacifist.’ Asher does not provide a definition, and without a precise definition a discussion like this won’t get very far.”

I love it that Bill Vallicella is inviting me to define one of my favorite words, but I will spare my readers and save this for another blog post. For now, I will only briefly say that I define pacifism as a practical way of living that emphasizes cooperation, compromise and the assumption of human goodness, and I will point to Mohandas Gandhi as the premier example of a modern pacifist. It happens that Mahatma Gandhi was vehemently opposed to abortion (though I find it hard to imagine that he saw government control to be an effective deterrent). This may support the Maverick Philosopher’s conjecture that a pacifist will tend to be against abortion on principle, though it says nothing about whether or not abortion should be made illegal.

18 Responses

  1. Hi Levi,
    Again, this is a

    Hi Levi,
    Again, this is a good discussion about an important issue. However, I just can’t buy your argument: the fact that you introduce political categories like Libertarian and Pacifist just beclouds the issue. Unfortunately, I think, this issue will not progress beyond the vitriol until folks debate the issue using the language and terms that are common to all members of the discussion. Your own eccentric definitions don’t help. E.g. I note you go far beyond “peacable’ to include “cooperative and compromising’ in the definition of “Pacifict”: are pacifists really willing to compromise or cooperate, say, on violence? Your eccentric definition is already stacking the deck. But more importantly, why invoke these terms at all?

    As others have said, It comes down to whether one is willing to regard the fetus as a human life, with rights independent of the mother’s rights –or not. You can’t hide from this decision behind arguments about the unenforceability of laws. Of course, laws, by themselves, have no power to influence anything. The statutes merely express, as clearly as possible, what a society will countenance as legitimate and respectable, thereby providing the public acknowledgment and justification for sanctions civil or criminal. I think your approach confuses this homely fact.
    It seems to me the distraction is here:
    “the problem that government laws against abortion cannot be enforced. The fact that an organization exists to defend a position that is oxymoronic does not prove that the position is not oxymoronic.”
    Levi you have not made the case that this position is oxymoronic! Is it oxymoronic to outlaw rape, though rapes do and will occur in defiance of the law?
    You say “A law against abortion cannot be enforced,”
    Why not? –because some will break it? So . . . what? Levi, your first premise undercuts all laws, since all laws can and probably will be broken. Shall we give up all laws? On the other hand, there is the evidence that laws can be and always are enforced, commensurate with the will of the authorities entrusted to do so –not with the public will. (Witness the disconnect between public outrage over the lack of authorized boarder security and government inaction!) Moreover, a law expresses publicly a moral consensus. A law against abortion-on-demand may not curb all abortions – and maybe it shouldn’t – but it will express the overwhelming sentiment across this country that abortion-on-demand is immoral and outrageous, and has the additional justification and meaning that the dissenting public majority will not wear the blood on their hands. You cannot escape this, by arguing numbers.

    Your claim that the law will be ineffective at reducing the rate of abortions is quite beside any significant point. First, it is an empirical claim which is highly doubtful. The abortion rate soured to some 3 million a year in the aftermath of legalization. I think no one in their right mind will believe that this all time high was just a refection of what was already going on in the underground. Laws do have effects on behavior. The legalization made immorality convenient and socially respectable –like slavery in its day. Period.
    Second, whether the rate would drop significantly after a change of law is dependent on many things, most importantly the justification offered for the law. Contrary to your assumption – again a dubious empirical claim – that Roe vs Wade is supported by a majority, there is the overwhelming empirical evidence to the contrary! Given these facts, to say as you do, “Given that it is not within the government’s power to prevent large numbers of women from having abortions” seems deliberately contentious.

    Merely saying a law is unenforceable does not make it so. Merely saying the “right” to kill children is broadly supported, does not make it so. Asking about consistencies is interesting only until we realize what the consistencies are about. Is it belonging to a popular group? or doing the right thing?

    Isn’t it at all revealing (or troubling) to you that this issue is couched in terms of political consistencies? (Is this really “Libertarian?” Can that really be called “Pacifist?”) I’m afraid what it reveals is not a moral agony, but a social one: namely, How will my peers respond if I disagree with the party policy?
    Your contention that a large swathe of humanity will simply disagree is beside the point. (A large swathe of humanity disagreed with President Lincoln when he freed the slaves – accounted people as people, not as someone else’s property – but it became law and ideas changed.) Was this ‘totalitarianism?’ Was it an instance of ‘government arbitrarily prosecuting citizens?’
    I think there is no doubt that undoing the outrage of Roe vs Wade will be tempestuous. That is regrettable, as was the decision itself. But it will be made less so only if and when people stop clouding the issue with tendentious definitions and face the fact that the issue is a moral one. Indeed, only when people who believe, as you apparently do, that there is ‘something’ wrong with abortion-on-demand, and try to face what that is! If a fetus is not a life with rights of its own, then there is no issue. Period. Objecting to abortion is then equivalent to objecting to paring one’s fingernails. But if there is more to it, then say what it is and then decide where government may, or may not intrude.
    Isn’t the point rather to find a moral position and then declare a political stand? Why go about it in this (bassackwards) fashion? Are you suggesting, that all moral positions are really just rationalizations of social positioning or group membership; all after the fact, and judged as more or less consistent or even elegant?

    I find that hard to believe!

  2. Excellent questions and
    Excellent questions and objections, Kevin. I don’t want to write an entirely new article in the comments section here, so I’m going to respond to your points as briefly as I can, but I will also keep your points in mind in the future when I write about this topic. It’s very helpful for me to hear this feedback, because I do feel very strongly about the points I am trying to make here, and I want to know where I am not expressing myself clearly.

    First, there are very few laws that are unenforceable. You ask about rape — well, of course, laws against rape are enforceable. When a rape is reported to law enforcement, there is a living victim able to give testimony. There is physical evidence — injuries, DNA — that can be photographed or sampled for use by prosecution. There are many things that stand in the way of justice when a person is raped, but people go to jail constantly for rape, and we have reason to feel confident that those who commit the crime most blatantly or viciously are most likely to go to jail.

    In the hypothetical case that our government intended to prosecute people for having or giving abortions, none of the above would be true. Most importantly, there would be no living victim able to give testimony. Physical evidence would be contained within the space of a medical office, where it would be handled by trained professionals. I’m trying to imagine how the government prosecution would occur in this case. Most likely, prosecutors would have to target individual abortionists for selective prosecution. Only a fraction of all practitioners could be prosecuted. The odds of going to jail for giving or having an abortion would be like the odds of winning the lottery.

    Kevin, I think you hit the nail on the head when you say that people believe there is something wrong with abortion-on-demand. This is different from thinking there is something wrong with abortion. In other words, it’s not the fact that abortions take place that outrages some people, but rather the fact that they’re legal in our society, and that it makes our society feel immoral and degraded. I sometimes wonder if the real agenda of fervent pro-life politicians like Rick Santorum isn’t to stop abortions from taking place, but rather to drive them into the black market, to make them take place where they won’t be seen.

    I am really disgusted by the hypocrisy of this approach to the abortion controversy, and that’s my main point in this article. I know many pro-lifers are honestly concerned about preventing abortions from taking place, but I think many other pro-lifers are actually more concerned about living in societies that project the false image of being abortion-free. The tipoff is the fact that these pro-lifers focus on whether or not abortion is legal, rather than whether or not a pregnant mother in difficult circumstances has a wide range of support options possible to either raise her child or give the child up for adoption.

    This is a very difficult topic. Naturally, Kevin, there are many avenues to this discussion, and I don’t think we can try to cover them all here. In terms of polls for Roe vs. Wade, I just checked Wikipedia and the polls do seem to support the status quo, though the results often seem to hover around 50-50.

    I’m using abstractions like pacifism and libertarianism in this discussion because it was Bill Vallicella’s question about pacifism and abortion that gave me the original impetus to write about this topic, and because I’ve been puzzling for a while over how a libertarian like Ron Paul can wish the government to pass an unenforceable law. (It turns out, when you look more closely at Paul’s writings on abortion, that he himself acknowledges that legalization is not a satisfactory solution to the problem of abortion, that it’s a moral rather than a legal problem. This seems to me far more honest than the Rick Santorum “sweep it under the rug” attitude.)

    Finally, you are probably correct that my definition of pacifism is eccentric, in that I personally define pacifism not by its adherence to absolute ideals but by a tendency to cooperate and compromise. Yes, this is intentional on my part. Like my opinion about the legalization of abortion, my opinion about the meaning of pacifism is very much grounded in the question of what is actually possible in the real world. I’ve never put much stock in absolutes. A person may think that pacifism involves some kind of 100% rejection of violence. In my opinion, once they start trying to actually live as a pacifist, they’ll find it’s more about compromise and cooperation than about 100% adherence to any ideal.

    All my political beliefs are strongly grounded in what is possible — indeed, this is why I feel so strongly that a “principled” legal ruling against abortion would be a disaster, when the abolition of abortion in everyday American life is not a realistic possibility.

  3. … how can a pacifist
    … how can a pacifist support abortion rights? that was the question?

    well, how can all these “pro-life” folks support endless state-sponsored mass murder? or politicians who promote and/or enable ruinous corporate greed while we’re at it?

    hyperbole, contrived parallels and mismatched questions don’t get us very far …

  4. recently i learned this
    recently i learned this factoid–correct or not–that most americans are anti-abortion. i think this was on Law & Order, the TV drama.

    too bad more attention is´not paid to straightening out wall street. the rich will continue to pay for abortions somewhere and the poor will be stuck having unwanted babies that grow up to be un happy adults and a problem for society.

    this is not really any thing with your issue and is a tautology but i am sick of hearing the kooks yammer about this non-issue when the real big issue, the future of the american economy and system is at stake.

  5. I strongly agree with much of
    I strongly agree with much of what Kevin MacLellan says. For the most part, he thinks like I do: You can’t let something remain legal simply because you think it’s unenforceable. You have to face the real issue: Is it morally right or wrong? Levi, I know that if you truly believe something is wrong, like for example, the U.S. military’s entry into Iraq, you will fight tooth & nail against it.

    I’ve said what I believe in previous posts, but I may have been a bit rude at one point, and for that I apologize. I somehow feel moved to express my opinion again: Taking a life is not always murder. The word “murder” is a legal term. We have other terms as well. Some of these include first degree murder, manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, self defense, act of war, execution by lethal injection, and abortion. Abortion is abortion. It is not manslaughter or self-defense or second degree murder or an act of war; it is abortion. I doubt that my wife and I would ever choose it, but we believe that until the baby is born, it is a part of the mother’s body, and the mother has the right to terminate the pregnancy. To me, this is more concrete than all those political categories.

  6. And this raises another
    And this raises another question. If abortion were again made illegal, what would the penalty be? Prison? How long? Same for everyone? How could it not be? What was the penalty in the past?

  7. Bill, it is absolutely true
    Bill, it is absolutely true that if I think something is wrong I will fight against it.

    However, I would not fight against it by trying to pass a law against it if I did not believe that passing a law would be effective. For instance, I am a pacifist and I am against war. But I don’t waste time trying to persuade governments to pass laws against war, since this wouldn’t actually stop wars from taking place. Likewise, if I were trying to prevent abortions from taking place, I wouldn’t waste my time trying to pass laws against abortions, since this wouldn’t actually stop abortions from taking place. When I fight for a cause, I try to achieve actual results.

  8. Hi Levi,
    Thanks for the

    Hi Levi,

    Thanks for the lengthy response. I think I do better understand your position now, and I can work with the eccentricity of the definitions with less skepticism and more insight into the big picture of which they are a part.

    I think you and I are on the very same page in our view of the current state of affairs regarding “the abortion debate”. In fact, I have copied this whole section to illustrate the points of convergence: I agree “that it is one of the most difficult, most vexing and most emotionally potent issues in the air today. I have often wondered if there is any chance for pro-choicers and pro-lifers to settle on a common ground, to co-exist in peace. The current legal status . . . and the anger and intensity on both sides has harmed the overall chances for moderate political agreements in America in general. To hope for any possible universal settlement of this controversy, given the current state of the debate, would appear highly quixotic.”

    Perhaps a common ground for further discussion is possible: if pro-lifers will agree that simply making abortion (note the lack of circumstantial discrimination) illegal will not solve the moral problem: they will still happen – sometimes of necessity – and we as a society will still be stained by that guilt. But then pro-choicers will also have to confess that legalization will also not solve the moral problem. This mutual disarmament of futile absolutist strategies may be a beginning.

    Interesting that you note Ron Paul’s position that “legalization is not a satisfactory solution to the problem of abortion.” N.B. the word “legalization”: if more “pro-choicers” would acknowledge that legalization does not end the issue, we may find the common ground we are looking for! (By “we” I mean serious and honest thinkers, like you and me, who want to move the discussion forward toward consensus.) Just as ‘santorum-ites’ want to legally “sweep the issue under the rug” (tentatively, I’ll take your word for this!), so also do pro-choicers say Roe vs Wade ends all discussion. They (both sides) are equally intransigent and equally wrong!

    I will demur, however, regarding your last sentence (“This is indeed a problem for philosophers to try to solve, because nobody else is going to be able to solve it”). I believe we have to solve it as a nation, through honest debate, cooperation and compromise. Philosophy will not save us that hard work involved, any more than legislation did or can.

    Even if a metaphysical proposition could be proposed regarding the nature of human life and its relation to rights as a person, or a citizen, it could never be validated in a courtroom. Someone can and will always be free to dissent (on metaphysical grounds, of course). There is still, I believe, a practical and a moral approach. We can agree that where there is doubt, we should err on the side of life. i.e. we don’t need to agree on the metaphysics; only on the plausibility of the arguments and the resulting possibility.) This is life-affirming, and the alternative is decidedly not! For the record, I believe a similar argument can – and should – be made regarding abolition of the death-penalty!

    Does this mean I would outlaw all abortions. No. Contrary to received opinion (read: the myth – LIE – of absolutist oppression), this has never been the case in American law. Abortion would go back to being a medical decision made between doctors and patients (the whole family being here fairly, proportionately and discriminatingly considered). It would cease to be a merely legal life-style option. It would again belong to the class of actions we judge primarily morally, not legally. (N.B. First a moral position; only then a policy position!)

    Yes! The morality of such a choice depends so much on circumstance: so do all our choices. We cannot pretend that this is a special case, though we have to acknowledge that it is a difficult one. Whether we as a society make doing the right thing possible, and more – accessible, respectable, and viable – is a judgment on us all, as a society, that we must take seriously. But to say this is too hard or too much to ask – from either side of the debate – is quite literally, to throw the baby out with the bath water.

    We must move beyond the vitriol (“murderers!”) and the obfuscations (‘There is no support for poor, single mothers’, ‘a poor child is better off dead’. etc) Maybe then we can find a position less offensive than the current morass.

    There is hope, Levi. I must believe that!


  9. mr. maclellan: what are you
    mr. maclellan: what are you trying to say? not sure where to begin with this…

    —” …. if pro-lifers will agree that simply making abortion (note the lack of circumstantial discrimination) illegal will not solve the moral problem: they will still happen – sometimes of necessity – and we as a society will still be stained by that guilt.”

    but you presuppose a “moral problem” as the underlying premise– as a given. which it is not.

    — “But then pro-choicers will also have to confess that legalization will also not solve the moral problem.”

    why not? see above. is this an intellectually honest position? i think not— more like a maneuver, one that the “pro-life” side perennially engages in— constructing its own “morality” strawman as a self-justification to impose its own view and will on society at large on the matter– in essence an attempt to legislate morality on a phenomenon that is not even close to a matter of public consensus, nor will it ever be.

    — “Abortion would go back to being a medical decision made between doctors and patients…”

    like it is now.

    “It would cease to be a merely legal life-style option. It would again belong to the class of actions we judge primarily morally, not legally.”

    yeah? and who is anointed to make such moral judgments? you? and those who agree with you?

  10. Well, mnaz, even though I
    Well, mnaz, even though I don’t think I agree with Kevin McLellan on specific issues, I will stand up for what he’s trying to express here. Look at it this way: 999 out of 1000 public discussions about abortion law end up with two sides yelling at each other and no common ground. The fact that we’ve been able to discuss the topic for two days here without somebody calling somebody else a Nazi (yet — there’s still time) is amazing. I think Kevin is doing the same thing I’m doing in my original post — reaching for any glimmer of shared ideology or common ground in the public discussion of abortion. What’s wrong with that?

  11. nothing wrong with it per se,
    nothing wrong with it per se, levi. i agree, civilized discussion is preferable to the alternative.

    however, it’s hard to for me to see that much real progress will ever be made on this issue as long as one side forever frames the discussion as: “abortion is inherently immoral because we say it is, so therefore how can you pro-choicers justify your support for keeping this ‘immoral activity’ legal?”

  12. And I see what mnaz is trying
    And I see what mnaz is trying to say.

    People who believe abortion is immoral should try to pursuade individuals to not choose it, rather than making it illegal.

    A good analogy (though not perfect) is cigarettes. Some people think smoking cigarettes is morally wrong. Others don’t. There is an organization called TRUTH that uses the media to campaign against tobacco use. They want to change the hearts and minds of individuals, something that no law can do.

  13. “This is indeed a problem for
    “This is indeed a problem for philosophers to try to solve, because nobody else is going to be able to solve it.”

    This is a striking assertion and I think this type of thinking cuts to the core of how philosophy can be a practical study, as a way for clarifying positions and mitigating the allure of an intuitive, “commonsensical” attitude towards a position.

    It seems very unlikely that we will be able to change individuals’ assumptions on the morality of abortion. The great thing about philosophy (in this situation) is that you can take the underlying assumptions of both sides as valid and then, through rigorous discussion and thought experiments, arrive at policy measures which will satisfy the logic for both sides’ argument.

    Extremists or purists will never be happy, because they have a utopic vision of the world that they feel is achievable. So there’s that…

    Philosophy is also a safeguard against populism and moral arguments extracted from religious laws. The idea that something is “good” or “right” just because the majority is in accordance with that view or that adhere’s to the laws of one’s religion…well, those are pretty seductive viewpoints.
    The idea of the “majority” is so ingrained in the democratic process, as is the idea of a “good Christian.” If you are going to be arguing up against a populist or religious based view, you better have a good arsenal at your disposal.

  14. i just don’t care for the
    i just don’t care for the rambling obfuscation in mr. maclellan’s reasoning, similar to what i’ve seen in so many other discussions on this sort of topic.

    to say that an issue should be “judged morally, not legally” does not logically imply that the practice in question should be illegal— quite the opposite.

    if something is to not be judged legally, then it should not be declared illegal.

  15. Roe vs Wade was probably one
    Roe vs Wade was probably one of the finest calls of SCOTUS in the 70’2, if not the 20th Century. Why? If the U.S. truly is a Nation of separation of State and Religion, then to gove women/people the right to abort without a morality call (i.e. a religious viewpoint) is a call for freedom for woman to decide what they want to do with their body. It is one of the worst calls in the world for me to hear men stand up and make laws against women to do what they what in their lives… an affront to American freedom, is it not?

    Here we are 38 years later with the same people bitching about “killing fetuses” and morality based upon… what? well over 2,000 years of a Christian/Hebrew philosophical system to this day has not satisfactorily answered the basic question at hand: should a woman abort a fetus that she feels she is unable to give birth to at that chosen time? For the billionth time (or more), has this Christian/Jewish God at any time in history thrown thunderbolts from His Heaven and destroyed the women who aborted? If anyone reading has any proof of this event happening please post this phenomenon on this thread. I, for one, would be eager to read it.

    Life is an amazing and wondrous thing. There is no way that we simple-minded and egotistical hu’mans can ever destroy Life in all it’s abundance no matter whether we abort our unborn or not. Despite what our religions preach and have done so for thousands of years, WE are not anything special to anyone other than ourselves. Hu’manity if the youngest lifeform to inhabit this planet and has a long, long way to catch up with understanding the natural world that has survived for billions of years. We really do need to grow up and behave in a manner that equals that of Nature… either than or we will end up in archeological records of some future life form curious as to what kind of life we lived and why we didn’t survive as a species. That’s the way of God, thank you.

  16. … and ‘thank you’, Bill. I
    … and ‘thank you’, Bill. I must apologize for my misspellings in that commentary. I trust you made your way thru them.

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