The PHILOSOPHICAL Basis for Defending All Human Life

Have you ever wondered whether pro-life people who believe in the death penalty but oppose abortion are inconsistent; if outlawing abortion will lead to “pregnancy policing”; or why pro-life people are so insistent that a “fertilized egg” is a person?  Have you ever philosophically thought out your own position on abortion—whether you’re pro-life  or pro-choice?

If you are out there reading this article and you truly believe you are pro-choice, I have a challenge for you, should you choose to accept it.  Accepting this challenge is, of course, a matter of choice.  But if you think that abortion is sad or tragic; if you find yourself saying that it should be “safe, legal, and rare”; if you wish that abortion didn’t exist, but still view it as a woman’s choice, please take this challenge.

If you are pro-life, you simply MUST take this challenge to better understand and to be better able to argue the pro-life perspective.

Here goes:  Back in the 1990’s Professor Michael Pakaluk (Department of Philosophy, Clark University) created a list of nineteen questions for pro-choice people.  I challenge you to go read and answer them.  Can you?  And to really take part in this challenge, you can’t stop reading the questions if they annoy you.  You must read each one and truly think through your answer.  Are you certain that your pro-choice position is philosophically correct?

Professor Pakaluk also wrote a list of questions for pro-life people.  Since he is pro-life, he provided answers to these questions that I’m positive you would find fascinating.  Especially if you are interested in philosophy and believe that the pro-life philosophical position is weak, read what Professor Pakaluk has to say.

Here are a few tidbits:
Professor Pakaluk questions why “pro-choice” people don’t do something to stop the killing of babies that they do disagree with.  For instance, if you think abortion should be illegal after viability, what are you doing to stop it?  If you think forced abortion in China is wrong, how are you working to end it?

Do you do nothing because you do not wish to impose your views on others? But of course then I could ask of you why you ever act morally, since that will always require that you impose your views? When you act against racism, for example, you similarly impose your view on others who disagree. Is it that you are uncertain–you merely believe abortion is wrong after viability, but you have little confidence in your belief? I wonder whether you truly have little confidence in it–and, if you do, whether you are at all justified in having little confidence.

And I would note, furthermore, that this “lack of confidence” of yours, and this–shall we say–paralysis that you suffer, in not doing anything about what, on your account, is a gross violation of human rights, is itself a consequence of legalized abortion, of the abortion mentality, and constitutes an argument against legal abortion–because legal abortion has clearly numbed your moral sensibility, and that of others as well.

Many people debate whether a “fertilized egg” is a person or even a human being.  Professor Pakaluk aptly answers people’s arguments on this issue.  Here’s part of what he says:

In any case, the pro-life position is more accurately expressed as the view that a fertilized egg is a human being, and that that–namely, its sharing our nature–is what gives even a fertilized egg a moral significance and indeed a certain human dignity. If by “person” you mean simply a “human being,” then of course the fertilized egg is indeed a “person”–this is not ludicrous at all. If, however, by “person” you mean an actually thinking and self-aware being, then of course a fertilized egg is not a person. But then neither is a newborn baby a person in this sense. And it is clear that our rights and dignity do not depend upon our being “persons” in that sense.

But that a “fertilized egg” is “one of us”–is a part of the human community–needs to be approached from the first-person case. You yourself were once an unborn child, before that an embryo, and before that a fertilized egg. If something had been done to damage that “fertilized egg”, then something would have been done to damage you. For example, an alteration bringing about a birth defect would have brought about a birth defect in you.

Ok, are you brave enough to take the challenge?  Go here, and answer the questions.  Let me know what you discover.

  • guest

    Your link that is supposed to go to pro-life questions goes to the pro-choice questions.

    • LoveTheLeast8

      I thought the same thing but I think the link is right, you just have to scroll down about half the page and they start after the pro-choice questions.

      • Kristiburtonbrown

         Yes, that’s correct…you just have to scroll down.

  • Oedipa

    I like the series of articles, but wonder if you missed the opportunity to rely on some philosophers seen as touchstones, and not solely on the writings of an extremist homophobe. (Mr. Pakuluk has written some infamous screeds against gay adoption and against the children of gay couples gaining entry to parochial schools).

    No Locke? He defined the self as “that conscious thinking thing, (whatever substance, made up of whether spiritual, or material, simple, or compounded, it matters not) which is sensible, or conscious of pleasure and pain, capable of happiness or misery, and so is concerned for itself, as far as that consciousness extends”.

    A discussion of St. Thomas Aquinas might have proved useful, who thought deeply about the roles and interplay of “positive law” (legitimate, man-made laws) and “divine law” (from scripture).

    Or Rousseau, who strove his entire life to define the “Nature” in humans.

    • DavidM

      So you don’t like Pakaluk’s ‘infamous screeds’ about some other topic – so what? What about his arguments regarding abortion?

      Why think Locke is relevant?

      How might a discussion of Aquinas on law have proven useful?

      Or Rousseau on ‘Nature’?

      Forgive me if I’m being presumptuous, but you appear to be mainly interested in sticking your head in the sand and trying to get others to chase after red herrings.

      • Oedipa

        Sticking my head in the sand? For expecting an article on philosophy to employ more than one writer, an ethics professor who has a spotty record when it comes to contemporary political issues?

        Perhaps your upset that I didn’t chase Ms. Brown’s lure onto the Pakaluk website? (Actually, I did. Too ponderous by half).

        The philosophers I folded into my post are merely the ones that I thought Ms. Brown should have found interesting, and might have employed in her post. You should thank me for leaving out Descartes, Nietzsche, or Darwin, who I thought she’d find less interesting for reasons I’m sure you can divine.

        • DavidM

          You seem to be confused about the difference between presenting an argument and appealing to authority. Kristi was obviously doing the former and was obviously not intending to present any kind of comprehensive treatment of the subject. (Good grief – it’s a blog post! Did you somehow miss that?) So given that you present this kind of red herring nonsense while declining to provide any substantive argument of your own, yep, you sure do seem to be sticking your head in the sand.

          • Oedipa

            Is it that you really, really want everyone to discuss Mr. Pakuluk? I can see why you might be enamored with him, he’s built a veritable Rube Goldberg machine of abortion logic over there. But that’s an “appeal to authority”, too. Why isn’t that dismissed? Unless, of course, you only flex your doctrinaire impulses when it suits you.

            But look, Ms. Brown already declined the so-called “red herrings” rather graciously. She also knows I’ve criticized the writing around here when it verges on the sophomoric. This was not one of those times. I’m not sure why you can’t graciously accept that, too.

          • DavidM

            You really appear not to understand the first thing about critical thinking. I certainly don’t want to discuss Mr. Pakaluk. You are the one who did that and I corrected you for doing so. I certainly haven’t appealed to his authority. Please search the term ‘ad hominem’ and expend some real honest effort on trying to understand the ad hominem fallacy so that you can avoid it. Then try ‘straw man,’ then ‘appeal to authority.’ I’ve had the dubious pleasure of marking thousands of university exams on critical thinking, and I am well-qualified to say that you are not understanding these terms/using them correctly. There is absolutely no reason for me to graciously accept your continued fallacious reasoning. Your suggesting that I should clearly seems to be just another attempt to avoid facing the real issue.

    • MoonChild02

      For once, I agree with you. I think that a deeper philosophical discussion including the ideas of Pythagoras, St. Gregory of Nyssa, John Locke, the Founding Fathers, etc. might have made for a better philosophical argument and discussion. St. Thomas Aquinas, however, believed that abortion was not murder, but a sin against marriage, since it was taught in that day and age that they soul did not enter the body until quickening (when the mother can feel the baby move). It was believed at that time that the baby did not move until quickening, and that a soul could not inhabit an inert being. The same goes for another famous theologian and doctor of the Church, St. Augustine. How the Church went from saying that ensoulment happens at conception, to saying it happens at quickening, and then back to conception, I don’t know. All I know is that they seemed to like Aristotle’s teachings over those of Pythagoras, and, despite what was taught about ensoulment, the Church has always condemned abortion. The reasons for condemning abortion were, however, different when ensoulment was not believed to happen at conception, which is why those arguments would not pertain to today’s arguments for life.

      As for Professor Pakuluk, I had never even heard of him until today, so I don’t know any of his background. I’m not going to get into any argument on the subject of homosexuality. I know that the Church deals with it, not out of homophobia (any mistreatment of homosexuals is absolutely prohibited in the Catechism), but because of issues like religious liberty, morality, protection of the Sacraments, etc. However, since the subject is far from being my forte, and it is a very in-depth discussion, I have no wish to get into that argument here, and I generally avoid it like the plague. Theology, which I enjoy studying, may be a branch of philosophy, but
      that particular subject is not my strong suit, and is not something I
      enjoy debating. Although, I will say this: I don’t share Pakuluk’s view on parochial education of children of homosexual relationships, but rather the view of the parochial school that he mentioned in his column on the subject.

      • Kristiburtonbrown

        While I agree with you and Oedipa that there are several other…perhaps many other philosophers out there whose position can be analyzed, my goal here was to put forward what I believe is one of the best philosophical pro-life arguments–regardless of who said it or how many/few people I quote. I’m putting Professor Pakaluk forward because of the strength of his argument. I’d rather have a strong argument than to analyze all the philosophical positions out there, though that would be a worthwhile thing to do as well. Thanks, both of you, for the input.

      • DavidM

        I again disagree with you (for the reasons stated by Kristi and myself). :)

        On “Aquinas and Human Ensoulment,” John Haldane and Patrick Lee have a very nice paper by this name (criticizing Robert Pasnau and explaining very nicely the Thomistic position on embryology, how we have had to correct it, and what the implications have been for our moral analysis of abortion). It is available online.