Friday, November 7, 2014

A disconnect between lay and philosophical pro-choicers

Without having done any scientific survey, I get the impression that philosophical pro-choicers tend to agree with philosophical pro-lifers on positive answers to the questions:

  1. Does a fetus have basically the same intrinsic moral standing as a normal newborn baby?
  2. Does the life of members of the human biological species begins at or around conception?
(In some cases, (1) will need to be qualified to: "fetus with brain states", and then the following discussion will need to be restricted to somewhat later abortions.) Of course, the pro-choice and pro-life philosophers disagree on the implications of these positive answers. Thus, pro-choice philosophers who give a positive answer to (1) will either say that killing a normal newborn is permissible or that it is wrong for reasons other than its intrinsic moral standing (e.g., the hurt to adults in our society). And pro-choice philosophers working on abortion tend to distinguish between us and members of our biological species, holding that we are constituted by and not identical with members of our biological species.

I also suspect, again without any scientific survey, that lay pro-choicers by and large answer (1) and (2) with "no". Moreover, I suspect that many of them think that (1) and (2) are crucial disputed questions in the discussion of abortion. In fact, it may be that quite a number of them think that abortion is permissible because the answers to (1) and (2) are negative and even accept the conditional:

  1. If the answers to (1) and (2) are positive, then abortion is at least typically impermissible.
If so, then the position of lay pro-choicers is apt to be unstable. It is predicated at least in part on negative answers to (1) and (2), whereas the relevant experts—philosophers working on abortion, whether pro-choice or pro-life—tend to agree that the answers are positive.

Like I said, these are just anecdotal impressions. It would be valuable to have research on both lay and philosophical pro-choicers to see if these impressions are correct or not. Suppose it turns out that my anecdotal impressions turn out to be correct. Then the disconnect between lay and philosophical pro-choicers suggests that even if the philosophical debate is at a stalemate, there are ways for the social debate to move.


Jared said...

Being not as familiar with the philosophical debate, could you give any particular references, works, or articles for the statement, "the relevant experts—philosophers working on abortion, whether pro-choice or pro-life—tend to agree that the answers are positive"?

Heath White said...

I have the same anecdotal impressions.

It seems to me that the stable positions in the abortion controversy are (1) all human life should be protected, from conception, (2) all [human?] life possessing some level of consciousness, reason, social integration, or other “personhood” characteristic should be protected, from the onset of that characteristic. In case such a characteristic comes in degrees, there might be degrees of wrongness in taking such a life. The second criterion will typically give you quite late protections and the event of birth will have no significance whatsoever.

The standard lay pro-choice position, from what I can anecdotally tell, occupies neither of these positions. In fairness, pro-life positions that make exceptions for rape and incest, for example, have the same problem.

Alexander R Pruss said...

A classic example of th philosophical prochoice position is Warren:

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Here are some three articles to consieder:

I think it would be quite hypocritical to grant personhood to an animal and still remain pro-choice. I wonder how many animal rights/anti-hunting activists are pro-choice? If it is wrong to kill a fish, then why would it be OK to terminate the life of a being at the same level of neurological development and awareness?

Here is an area to start looking. This link is just a beginning:

I'm trying to pull my thoughts together here. Not easy to do while trying to strike while the iron is hot. I think our deepest problem is that we have a basic clash over what it means to be human. It is the de-Christianized secular view that claims to be "scientific" when it is actually "scientism" where humans are animals just like other species formed by a biological evolutionary process and in no way more special than chimpanzees, horses, cats, dogs, pigs etc. vs the Christian view that we are made in the image and likeness of God and therefore have an inherent dignity and therefore are persons.

There has been a movement to grant personhood to higher primates such as chimpanzees. Now here is the issue. Can chimpanzees be held legally accountable for their actions as a human person would be? If Travis the chimp wasn't shot after he mauled Charla Nash, could he stand trial and be sent to prison? Would Travis even be able to make a connection between the mauling as an assault leading to arrest, leading to trial, leading to prison? Most likely not. The reason I use Travis as an example is because he was raised to live like a human person. We can also argue that some adult humans would not make a connection between violent acts and legal consequences either, but legally we consider them persons.

I strongly suggest that those who follow the "scientism" view that we are just another biological species are doing so in order to feel more comfortable when trespassing against moral constraints.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

I'm continuing my line of thought. I think another difference between pro-lifers and the pro-choice people also lies in how sex itself is to be understood. Its definition and purpose. I will use the term dominant view because there will be individuals in both camps who hold different views. On the pro-life side the dominant view is that sex is something sacred, holy, uniting a man and a woman to become co-creators with God in creating another person who is in the image and likeness of God; and who therefore will have an inherent dignity in being a person. Hence abortion is abhorrent and murder for it murders a person in the image and likeness of God.

On the pro-choice side, while sex has a role in procreation, it is viewed primarily as a biological urge, a biological need no different from that of cats and dogs (although animals spayed and neutered before the onset of puberty seem to get on just fine). It is also viewed as a recreational activity. God is generally absent from all of this. The creation of a new human is more of a byproduct, and not necessarily the intent. The new human is seen more as a byproduct and not as another being in the image and likeness of God. This point of view lends itself more readily to the acceptance of abortion.

It would be wrong to say that all atheists and agnostics are pro-abortion. There are pro-life atheists and agnostics. The secular arguments against abortion is that abortion kills the future. That a society which engages in abortion is committing slow suicide. Other arguments are drawn that if we are for equal rights of all people especially the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness then abortion denies those rights to people who are still in the womb. Another arguments that pro-life atheists use is that "life is all there is and all that matters, and abortion destroys the life of an innocent human being." Here is there link:

And here you have it from one of the foremost atheists Christopher Hitchens: