Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Abortion and politics

Let us assume, as is in fact the case, that fetuses are persons, and abortion is immoral and should be illegal. Let us imagine two politicians, Smith and Kowalska, running for high state or federal office. Kowalski believes:

  1. fetuses are persons, and hence abortion is immoral, but
  2. abortion should be legal.
Smith, on the other hand, believes:
  1. fetuses are not persons, and abortion is permissible, and
  2. abortion should be legal.
Insofar as these beliefs go, Kowalska is closer to the truth: she is right about (1) but wrong about (2), while Smith is wrong about (3) and wrong about (4). But observe that Kowalska is committed to a further claim which follows from (1) and (2) (and the uncontroversial additional assumption that is almost universally granted that if fetuses are persons, they are innocent persons who are killed with abortion):
  1. There are some innocent persons killing whom should be legal.

Thus, even though Smith's views on abortion are more false, she is not thereby committed to the abhorrent view (5). But Kowalska's truer, but more conflicted, views lead to (5). Therefore, pro-lifers have reason to vote for Smith over Kowalska. Indeed, Kowalska either believes (5) or she is not smart enough to draw the inference to (5) from (1) and (2). The belief in (5) is arguably sufficient to disqualify one from high public office, while the inability to see that (5) follows from (1) and (2) (together with uncontroversial assumptions) suggests that one lacks the intellectual skills needed for high public office. Of course it is possible that Smith is also disqualified, and so are all the other candidates. If so, then one has a hard choice.


Justin Capes said...

You say that perhaps Smith is also disqualified. Are you tempted to think that, as far as this issue is concerned, Smith is more qualified than Kowalska, given the latter's explicit (or, if she's not too bright, implicit) committment to (5)? If so I'd be interested to know why. It seems to me that if either are disqualified, both are. Could the content of Kowalska's (true) belief about abortion affect qualification when both her and Smith believe (wrongly) that one and the same procedure should be legal?

Anonymous said...

The correct interpretation is that Kowalska doesn't really believe that fetuses are persons, in any real sense of "person". In fact, it's pretty obvious that no one in America believes that. If there were infanticide hospitals, where 3 month old babies were being put to sleep on a regular basis, and it were legally sanctioned, there would be thousands of people risking their lives every day to shut down the facility. This is not what we see in America or elsewhere. Therefore it is obvious that people don't actually believe that fetuses are persons like babies are.

(See Hume, of course.)

Enigman said...

And there may be some innocent persons, the killing of whom is, or should be, legal. Firstly, there is the so-called collateral damage that we used to hear so much about. Sometimes it is pretty deliberate, as when the bombing of a city is ordered (quite legally sometimes).

And secondly there are the mercy killings of innocent people, which may be wrong, but it is hardly obvious that those who believe that some mercy killings are justified (indeed, that not so acting would sometimes be wrong) should be disqualified from public office, is it?

Mike Almeida said...

There are some innocent persons killing whom should be legal.

Small point. (5) does not follow from (1) and (2). (1) and (2) do not entail that there exist any innocent people at all (both naturally read as having universal quantifiers), a fortiori they do not entail that there are innocent people who should be legally killable.
There is one substantive worry I have. The politician who feels that abortion is wrong might feel that his position is nonetheless controversial. He might think that other well-intentioned, reasonable and decent people have come to the opposite conclusion. So, (5) seems to me not clearly to represent his commitments. He is committed to something like (5').

5'. We should not legally prohibit the killing of beings whose moral (and legal) right to life lots of very reasonable people can and do disagree about.

(5') covers not only the case of innocent fetuses, but also other innocent, intelligent, sentient primates, innocent dogs, cats and so on. There's lots of disagreement as well among well-intentioned, decent and intelligent people about the moral standing of these sentient beings.

Alexander R Pruss said...

People may believe something is the killing of an innocent person, but if the person is sufficiently different from them (tribally, racially, by age, by sex, etc.) and if one's society allows discrimination against this group, the strength of opposition may be weaker. And lots of people do protest outside clinics on a regular basis. Mostly peacefully--there are good reasons for civil rights protests, like those against abortion, to be nonviolent.

I think someone who thinks intentionally killing non-consenting persons should be legal may be disqualified--this most certainly includes bombing cities with the intention of killing civilians. While it is wrong to kill consenting people, there it is less of a matter of protection of rights.

Well, I think there is something foundational in a state about the duty to protect the rights of innocents persons. But there can be relatively difficult questions, which are less basic in a sense, about who is in fact a person. I think all human beings are, but I can see how some pro-choice folks in the thrall of philosophical mistakes can say otherwise.

Alexander R Pruss said...

One problem with 5' is that depending changing scientific claims, there can be times when many reasonable people hold racist views.

Mike Almeida said...

One problem with 5' is that depending changing scientific claims, there can be times when many reasonable people hold racist views

I agree that (5') allows for egregious errors among well-intentioned people in search of the right position. But so do more dogmatic approaches, for or against certain positions; I'd say all the more so dogmatic approaches.