The pro-abortionist's argument


Criteria of personhood

The pro-abortionist arguments.

We've taken a look at the anti-abortionist's arguments. A pro-abortionist may have some difficulties with these arguments.

Criticism of the "future argument." The argument from the value of one's future has a key point. It is to show that in virtue of the fetus' and any adult's having similar kinds of futures, they fall into the same moral category. As such both have similar rights to futures, and thus abortion is wrong. The question to ask is, what sort of thing a fetus or fertilized egg is to have a future just like any adult's? If it can be show that a fetus has a future just like any possible combination of sperm and egg, then fetuses, adults and possible persons will share the same moral category, which will reduce the future argument to an absurdity. Consider the following argument.

Suppose that there are things called "souls." These souls inhabit a region or holding place waiting for a chance to be actualized on some world, usually the earth. They will inhabit the human bodies unique to them; that is, a particular soul is unique to the body that has a specific genetic structure. My soul, for example, is unique to my genetic structure. Had the particular sperm and egg unique to me not gotten together years ago, I would not be here. Someone else, to be sure, but not me. I, my soul, am certainly glad that the unique circumstance occurred which produced the body that it would inhabit. Otherwise, my soul would forever be left in the holding region inasmuch as the necessary conditions for my soul's getting to the earth would not have actualized -simply put, my parents would not have had sex at the time which would have produced the genetic body for my soul. Souls cannot inhabit just any old body that comes along; otherwise, either souls or bodies would have to be generic in nature, and it is clear that neither is.

Now consider the many possible bodies capable of being produced by the persons in the class, your friends, everyone in the world. There is a soul for each of these possible bodies. These souls are waiting and hoping that they will get a chance at being in the world, at having a life and a future just like all the other souls that received bodies. You can imagine the souls up in the holding region looking down on the earth, waiting for the right moment. As the moment comes closer, they would cry out, "Do it! Just do it! Give me a chance to be in the world and have a life with a future just like the others."

Suppose we can hear the agonized cries. Are we obligated to have sex with anyone and as many persons as possible? The future argument seems to respond in the affirmative; otherwise we would be denying these souls futures just like ours. We would be aborting their future on earth. But, that is absurd. We are not obligated to produce as many beings with futures just like ours because if we did not, then we would be committing some sort of robbery or murder. Fetuses, possible persons and adults are in a different moral category when it comes to futures. Possible persons and fetuses both have similar kinds of futures. But, if it is right to deny a possible person a future, then it is right to deny a potential person a future.

Criticism of the condition of personhood cannot be identified at any time in the history of a person. The argument has a key point. It is that it is impossible to determine at what particular point personhood begins in the life of a person. The argument concludes that since the burden of proof on killing is on those who wish to kill, if one cannot say with clarity that the fetus is not a person, then one cannot kill it. But, if it can be shown that even though a particular point in the early stages of life of a human being may not exhibit when that something is or is not a person, it is still possible to say that the fetus is not a person.

The history of a person argument involves a simple fallacy. It is to say that because there are small increments of change in the growth of a thing, there will be small differences between the beginning and end stages of the thing. Here's an example. Suppose I were doing a sketch. I added one line per day. There was no particular point at which anyone could say the sketch was finished. But, it does not follow that there is a marked difference between the sketch at one year and the sketch after the first two lines. Though the sketch is yet not finished after a year, it is remarkably different from the sketch with only two lines. Were someone to say that, "There is no difference because there is no point at which the addition of one more line turned the item into a sketch, and thengo on to say that any two lines that I draw are the equivalent of a year's worth of work," we would have to reply that they are simply mistaken. The first two lines were erased a number of times before they were determined to be just right. But, to erase the year sketch as if it were a mere two lines, is ridiculous.

Likewise, a fertilized egg, which has had two cellular divisions, is radically different from a year-old baby. Granted, we cannot tell when the baby really came to be a baby, but to say that the fertilized egg is a baby because we cannot tell what additional cells produced a baby is absurd.

But, let us turn to the pro-abortionist's arguments.

A philosopher Mary Ann Warren developed a widely used argument. The argument is straight to the point. The key to the argument is that, whatever conditions or traits of personhood we choose, a fetus meets none of them. Here's the argument.

To give a definition of a thing so that we may understand it, we need to give the necessary and sufficient conditions that explain the thing. For example, were I to ask you to tell me what a square is so that I may tell it apart from other figures, you would list the necessary conditions for a thing's being a square. They are: 1, there must be four sides; 2, the sides must be equal; and 3, the interior angles of the enclosed figure must be the same. Were I to omit one of these conditions, a square would not occur. A parallelogram has four equal sides, but the interior angles are not equal. A rectangle has four equal angles, but the sides are not equal. Only, the square has all of the conditions met. Knowing these conditions enables me to distinguish squares from things such as circles. (OK. I know what you are thinking; in spherical geometry there can be round-squares. So, let me specify that we a talking about plane geometry.)

Let's define "personhood." What are the necessary conditions for a thing's being a person? Well, Warren says that the conditions for personhood such as consciousness, self-identity, ability to communicate, and so on, may not be necessary. At least, it is not required for her argument that the conditions or traits of prsonhood be necessary. What Warren does is to say that it is clear that the fetus does not meet sufficiently any of the conditions for personhood, whatever they are. In other words, whatever traits or conditions are picked to define personhood, it is clear that a fetus does not have enough of these traits or have some of them sufficiently to be considered a person.

Just perform the necessary experiment. Is the fetus conscious? No. Certainly not moreso than a cat. Does the fetus have self-identity? No. Chimps can even use personal pronouns. Does the fetus communicate? No. But, birds do. And so on. No matter what trait is picked, some animal far excels the fetus in that trait, animals that we often slaughter and use for food and clothing. So, if the fetus meets none of the conditions for personhood sufficiently, then we can be reasonably sure that the fetus is not a person.

Someone may reply, "Wait, I'll admit that the fetus does not sufficiently meet the conditions for personhood, but it will. It is potentially a person, and that potentiality is sufficient to ensure a right to life."

The reply is that potentiality does not guarantee rights or traits of what the thing is potential to be. For example, I may consider myself to be potentially the President of the United States. In virtue of being potentially the President, does it follow that I have the rights of the President? Of course not. I cannot call out the Marines or take a trip in Airforce One. That I am potential something does not give the rights of the actual thing. You are potentially an A student in my class. Should I just go ahead and give you an A and exempt you from the tests? Bad question and example. But, the point is clear. Potentiality won't cut the mustard.

Since criticisms of the anti-abortionist's position were mentioned, it may be well to go after the pro-abortionist's argument.

Suppose that we assume that Warren's argument works; the fetus does not meet sufficiently any of the conditions for personhood. OK, but then, neither does a newborn infant. In fact, a six-month old infant doesn't meet the conditions nearly as well as a calf. Yet, we have calves a gourmet specialty. Warren's argument goes so far that we can start killing off anything that falls below the "sufficient" level. What about old persons, retarded persons, or you when you are in a drunken stupor? None of these examples seems to meet the conditions sufficiently. Can the rest of us bump you off should we no longer wish that you to be around? I don't think that we would consider that to be a healthy practice.

So, the pro-abortionist position has its problems, too.

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