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Pro-Life

Does the child have a choice?

Recently, I saw a very powerful ad discussing the dangers of secondhand smoking. Check it out:

I want to be clear on this: I think tobacco is a very horrible problem. My grandpa died of lung cancer even after not smoking for many years. The damage had been done. I know others who have also died from cancer and the correlation to smoking is high. I do not at all want to minimize the dangers of smoking and the enormous health problems it may cause.

However, this ad was extremely poignant to me because of its language. “The tobacco companies say that smoking is a choice… What choice does she have?”

Think about that for a moment. The power behind this ad is the fact that the word “choice” has been used dishonestly: it has been used to deceive people into thinking that something is a choice made in the abstract, with an effect that only applies to the person making the choice.

Who else uses this kind of rhetoric?

I’ll give you a hint: what group calls themselves pro-choice?

That’s right: people who are pro-choice tend to give the same message as the tobacco companies called out in this video. The reasoning is similar: Tell women that abortion is a choice. It is an intellectually dishonest way to hide the real issue: that abortion impacts more than just the woman. What about the unborn child inside of the woman? Do they have a choice? Obviously they do not. The difference between the unborn child and the one in this ad is that we can see one. It is a difference of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency. None of these should be used to make the unborn ontologically different from the crying baby in the car seat in the ad.

I do not think we need to co-opt every argument or discussion to talk about pro-life issues. In fact, I am generally hesitant to do so, because I think it may take away from the power of the pro-life message. However, I do think that this ad could just as easily be about abortion as it is about the dangers of secondhand smoke. The only difference is the location of the child outside the womb. Does the baby inside the womb have a choice?

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

36 thoughts on “Does the child have a choice?

  1. The reasoning is NOT similar. JW, you paint a false equivalency; there is a world of difference between a child and an embryo. Just because you grant full actualization (child) to a potentiality (embryo) doesn’t make it so (even though you pepper your language about the fetus with words you want to be equivalent to those who have reached a developmental stage where being physically separate from the mother is possible). Of course the embryo doesn’t have an equivalent choice because it’s only potentially a child. So, too, are the stem cells you scrape off your nose when you scratch it. Do they have an equivalent choice based on their potential to develop into and equivalent fully autonomous adult female human being who must incubate and submit her body to this embryo and then continue being responsible for its maturation?

    Turn it around; does the embryo give the woman a choice on how it will utilize her body to gestate and simply take whatever it requires? Is the embryo immoral for determining removing this choice for the woman and more than your stem cells are immoral for taking away your choice to develop them into children?

    Come on.

    Posted by tildeb | November 7, 2013, 2:22 PM
    • Your reasoning is that which I would call a false equivalency. I don’t really see much point in arguing with this though, because your comment seems to be quite dogmatic. For example, the notion that the cells scraped off my nose are actually analogous to the unborn is ludicrous. If I placed those cells in the same exact circumstance as the unborn, they would not develop into a baby. Therefore, they are not equivalent. Your argument fails rather miserably.

      Moreover, what possible reasoning are you using in the second paragraph? Are you suggesting that people make no choices when it comes to getting pregnant?

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 7, 2013, 2:41 PM
      • It’s not ludicrous if we are talking about potential. Of course there are different circumstances! Of course stem cells cannot duplicate a fertilized egg. But potentially they can. And this is my point: who are you to say when and where and how and why this potential is equivalent to actual when it comes to legal rights? In law, this border is crossed at birth. And for excellent reasons… because to assign legal rights to the unborn comes only at the direct loss of rights of the mother.

        Take some time and think about that second paragraph because it reveals the depth of confusion for those who are anti-choice.

        Posted by tildeb | November 7, 2013, 5:10 PM
    • I don’t want to be ‘that guy’ and jump in on something that J.W. could respond to, but I have to ask… Tildeb, what exactly makes the unborn a ‘potential’ child?
      When does ‘childhood’ begin?
      A developing human child (no matter what stage of development) is an independent organism. Completely different than the cells we scratch off our nose. Biologically speaking, the blastocyst, embryo, fetus and newborn are all human beings.
      Human beings have the fundamental right to life. If they don’t have that in virtue of being human, I don’t know how you can ground any other right that we have as human beings.

      The unborn human child has no ability to make choices, so your “… does the embryo give the woman a choice…?” is a category error; much like asking ‘what color is hope?’

      Posted by ElijiahT | November 7, 2013, 2:58 PM
  2. I’m curious to know why Tildeb thinks a child is fully actualized while an embryo is not. In Tildeb’s view, is an embryo disposable because it is nothing more than a potential child? If so, could we not also argue that children are nothing more than potential adults, and are therefore disposable, too?

    Posted by Jordan | November 7, 2013, 4:21 PM
      • Why not? Why do you think a human is disposable while in the womb and indesposable outside of the womb, Tildeb? I see you make frequent reference to “qualitative differences in legal rights”, but why is that convincing? There used to be “qualitative differences in legal rights” for white and black people, too, but did that therefore make slavery morally permissible? If you’re going to argue that unborn babies are disposable and have no rights, you’re going to have to do more than just cite the law. We’re interested in good arguments, here.

        Posted by Jordan | November 8, 2013, 7:45 AM
      • Jordan, you’re doing what most anti-choice advocates do: confuse law with morality. For example, the discriminatory laws against black people – just like women – were overturned in law not because of some new angle of morality but because the principle of autonomous individual rights had to be applied equally to all in order to be equal rights of autonomy. In the same way, rights based on individual autonomy can only be assigned to individuals capable of autonomy. This is why birth matters. This is when the one becomes two. But because childhood still requires a level of dependency (provided by anyone rather than solely the mother), so too are some of the rights of children circumscribed by law in a discriminatory way because of demonstrable lack of equivalency in capability… meaning, for example, legal age restrictions on a host of freedoms adults enjoy….. but not the basic rights shared by all (in the US, these rights are life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness – in the enlightenment sense).

        In the matter of rights of citizenship (illustrated above), the unborn are not persons because they are not autonomous individuals to which these rights apply. They require to be born to gain these rights.

        By switching language between legal and moral terms, you are muddying the waters. I may think it is immoral for you to argue the unborn deserve right and protections of citizenship, but this doesn’t affect the issue at hand. My outraged sense of morality simply acts to confuse me about what it is we are talking about and tries to change the subject. It’s outside of reasonable for me to advocate – and I certainly don’t have the right to utilize government and its ability to enforce punitive law – to constrain your rights on the basis of my misplaced morality. I can think poorly of you but it is irrational for me to then try to curtail your legal rights on this basis.

        Posted by tildeb | November 8, 2013, 7:14 PM
      • Tildeb, I’m aware that I’m arguing from moral rights. I happen to think the law should recognize people’s moral rights. What good is the law if it goes against morality?

        With that out of the way, you’ve made the following statements:

        1. Non-automomous beings have no right to life. (“rights based on individual autonomy can only be assigned to individuals capable of autonomy. This is why birth matters.’)

        2. Birthed children are non-autonomous beings. (“But because childhood still requires a level of dependency [provided by anyone rather than solely the mother], so too are some of the rights of children circumscribed by law in a discriminatory way because of demonstrable lack of equivalency in capability”.)

        Would you therefore argue that even birthed children should be subject to killing by their parents if the parents find child-care too cumbersome? If not, then which of the above two arguments is wrong? Because the conclusion follows logically from the premises you’ve put forth.

        Posted by Jordan | November 8, 2013, 9:51 PM
      • Jordan, I have no clue what a ‘moral right’ is. You seem to indicate that these kinds of rights are based on morality… whose morality is never clarified nor any reason given to elevate these morals to be superior. To assume there is such a moral law is a faith-based belief unsupported by the reality we share… a faith-based belief that if acted upon causes a direct assault on the principle that forms the basis for our mutual legal rights. In other words, such a belief replaces respect for the principle of autonomy (upon which the consent of the governed is based) with the principle of tyranny (upon which the submission of the governed is demanded).

        You then offer a false dichotomy; just because a child is dependent in some ways does not make them non-autonomous in legal terms any more that an adult with various dependencies makes them non-autonomous. In law, both are considered autonomous agents and both have freedoms curtailed by law that take these dependencies into consideration (ie the blind are not allowed to operate a motor vehicle). No, children are not subject to lawful killing by their parents because of various dependencies any more than you are subject to lawful killing because of your dependencies.

        Look, rather than try to find synonyms that will allow you to reduce the legal rights of others to suit your moral preferences, why not turn it around and think of what it might be like for others to reduce your legal rights in the name of some preference they hold to be morally superior on their say-so, and imagine what it might be like if the government acted against you to force you to submit to this second class status in the name of this morality. From this perspective, you may just begin to appreciate how reprehensible is this dedicated attempt.

        Posted by tildeb | November 8, 2013, 10:47 PM
      • Tildeb, I think we had might as well end the discussion here. If you don’t believe there is even such a thing as objective right and wrong to begin with, then there’s little point in arguing over whether abortion is right or wrong — on such a position, anything goes. I accept the objectivity of morality, and believe that taking an innocent human life is wrong. Full stop. My stance on abortion follows from that.

        Posted by Jordan | November 9, 2013, 9:41 AM
      • You define the terms to mean exactly what you wish to conclude. That’s why your position is not and cannot ever be reasonable; it is tyrannical and when enacted into law kills real people in real life that are fully human in the name of protecting the innocent. To these folk, your reasoning contains a very real and very dangerous error paid for not by you but by them in pain and suffering and death. There’s a significant disconnect between the reality of causal effect from the legalization of your faith-based opinion and the reality all of us share. That’s why your position is properly called ‘anti-choice’ and is threat to the very rights you assume you possess that then allows you to express them!

        Posted by tildeb | November 9, 2013, 7:53 PM
      • Tildeb, you should listen to yourself: In one breath, you say that there is no such thing as objective morality, and in another you say that killing people is “tyrannical”! Your argument is self-refuting. QED.

        Posted by Jordan | November 10, 2013, 8:51 PM
      • Jordan, can you point out where I say (apparently in one breath) “that there is no such thing as objective morality, and in another you say that killing people is “tyrannical”!”

        Because I’ve never said this, you cannot find where I have; you are responding to an argument I’ve never made and created in your mind with my name attached to it. You’ve misunderstood what I am calling tyrannical.

        Posted by tildeb | November 10, 2013, 10:37 PM
      • Sure, Tildeb. You’ve said:

        “To assume there is such a moral law is a faith-based belief unsupported by the reality we share…”

        “That’s why your position is not and cannot ever be reasonable; it is tyrannical and when enacted into law kills real people in real life that are fully human in the name of protecting the innocent.”

        Here, you both deny the existence of moral law, and decry the killing of “real people”. Other examples abound in your writing. Your position is completely self-contradictory and can’t be taken seriously.

        Posted by Jordan | November 11, 2013, 7:21 AM
      • I say the moral law you think exists cannot be found in reality; you say this translates into saying there is no such thing as objective morality. Can you spot the difference (look for the difference in nouns)? Apparently not.

        I say your position is tyrannical (reducing the legal autonomy of an autonomous person in the name of protecting the autonomy of a non-autonomous person); you say this means I decry the killing of real people. Can you spot the difference (again, look for the nouns)? Apparently not.

        It is on the basis of your comprehension that you rule my argument (against establishing legal sanctions that reduce the actual autonomy of some in the name of protecting the potential autonomy of the non-autonomous unborn) to be ‘self’-contradictory. You’ve selected the wrong ‘self’ here and you have done so on the basis of poor comprehension. But I’m glad we can agree that you should not take your mistaken comprehension seriously.

        Posted by tildeb | November 11, 2013, 10:01 AM
  3. Keep in mind that the analogy compares an embryo having no choice being aborted with a child having no choice in breathing second-hand smoke. This ananlogy fails, I say, because the embro and child are not equivalent. I claim JW is portraying the embryo’s potential of becoming a child with an actual child and that these two states are not synonymous. Because they are not synonymous, there is a qualitative difference in legal rights – and recognized in law – which is under sustained attack by those who are rationally incoherent. (I state this not to attack the character of those who are so befuddled but because it’s demonstrable as an rationally incoherent opinion.)

    The embryo simply does not have synonymous rights until it develops and is born (no matter how often improper terms referred after birth are substituted to describe that embryo before birth). Then – and only then – do we have equivalency in legal rights. Until then, the mother is the ONLY agency here that has autonomous legal rights. The anti-choice crowd wishes to change that… and this is where the reasoning goes off the rails of rationalality.

    Many people who are anti-choice want to flip this legal autonomy around and demand the mother’s autonomous rights become subordinate in law to the embryo’s. This is relativity run wild, where up means down and black means white, where the autonomous adult’s rights are sojourned while she is pregnant in favour of the potential child yet to develop who is awarded the autonomous rights sojourned! It makes no sense… if we use the same definitions about what constitutes the terms ‘choice’ and ‘rights’ and why autonomous individuals possess them. That’s why those who support fetal rights over and above the rights of the mother to abort if she so chooses are properly and accurately labelled anti-choice for that is what they are supporting… followed by all kinds of rationalizations for this flipped legal tyranny wrapped up with moral terminology as if what anyone other than the mother chooses is somehow of a higher stature in considerations of autonomous legal rights! It’s incoherent.

    Posted by tildeb | November 7, 2013, 5:05 PM
    • The argument from “potential” is incoherent. The primary difference is one of level of development, size, or location.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 8, 2013, 5:25 PM
      • Only in your mind. The primary difference when talking about legal rights is one of individual autonomy. For this to happen, birth and severance is required. The incoherence is a result of trying to use these terms of rights to inform your moral position to curtail the legal autonomy of others in the name of legal autonomy of the non-autonomous unborn. As I said, this is an incoherent argument.

        Posted by tildeb | November 8, 2013, 7:42 PM
  4. My first thought was: Hey JW, you want to make tobacco illegal?

    I accept the analogy, and it suggests that pro-Life people should also campaign for laws against tobacco use. And then alcohol too, of course, because fetal alcohol syndrome is also a terrible problem. Let’s go back to the days of prohibition. The basic principle is that the government should take charge of people’s morality, for their own good. Because the government knows better than individual people, right? The big old government is going to tell us right from wrong. Big Brother is watching you.

    Sure I’m taking it too far and I’m exaggerating and all. I’m blowing the roof off your argument so you get a different perspective on it.

    Posted by John Moore | November 7, 2013, 6:20 PM
    • The argument you presented is a red herring. Certainly one might argue that people who are pro-life might be inconsistent, but that doesn’t provide any sort of argument against the actual pro-life position. Moreover, the cases are not analogous. Simply drinking alcohol does not cause fetal alcohol syndrome; obviously one must be pregnant in order for alcohol to have an effect. Smoking might be a different argument, but again the most you could do is argue pro-life people are inconsistent, which does nothing to undermine the arguments for the position.

      Finally, you wrote “The basic principle is that the government should take charge of people’s morality, for their own good. Because the government knows better than individual people, right?”

      Absolutely not. I’m saying the government should take care of every individual’s rights, not just the rights of those who are capable of making choices to kill others. Your statement here begs the question by assuming the unborn has no rights. It is not “for their own good”; any restriction on abortion would be protection of the unborn. So your argument simply doesn’t apply.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 8, 2013, 5:24 PM
  5. “Until then, the mother is the ONLY agency here that has autonomous legal rights”

    “as if what anyone other than the mother chooses is somehow of a higher stature in considerations of autonomous legal rights! ”

    Tildeb, do you think mothers should have the right to abort children on the basis of gender or, if the technology becomes available, sexuality?

    As an aside, I challenge you to read the Grand Jury report from the Gosnell case. Read it, and see if you can maintain your callous dismissal of the unborn as a legal non-entity.

    http://www.phila.gov/districtattorney/pdfs/grandjurywomensmedical.pdf‎

    Posted by Cale B.T. | November 8, 2013, 12:49 AM
    • Yes, when speaking of rights. The moral argument is a red herring. What you presume is my callousness is a recognition of reality regardless of what I morally think about it; mothers have legal autonomy over their bodies. You don’t. I don;t. Only the mother… for whatever reasons she deems sufficient. It’s an abuse of the legal system to try to impose your morality or mine in the service of reducing another person’s legal autonomy in the name of promoting legal autonomy.

      Posted by tildeb | November 8, 2013, 7:45 PM
      • Well, at least you’re honest enough to realise where your position leads.

        Given that your position, commonly held among prochoicers, leads to being unwilling to protect an unborn female child’s right to not be ripped apart or poisoned on the basis of gender, can you see why a prolifer would see the constant attempts to paint *their* position as being “anti-woman” as a bad joke?

        Posted by Cale B.T. | November 10, 2013, 1:55 AM
      • It seems to me that you are using a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul argument here, that’s it’s okay to reduce the rights of one fully autonomous individual to advance the rights of a potential one. What you think about gender selection you may consider the moral high ground and one that you yourself might apply to yourself. That’s fine. What does not follow is that this moral high position does not translate into sufficient cause to reduce the autonomous rights of another. People make sex selection choices for all kinds of compelling reasons that you do not factor into your general position. These details inform the decisions autonomous people make and neither you nor I am in any position to take away the role these details play by imposing a general rule we consider of a higher virtue in moral fiber. That’s a faith position and not a legal one (thankfully). Because the details that inform personal choices of autonomy matter a very great deal (in the same way intentions of actions inform whether a crime has been committed), and ignoring them on the alter of faith may be pious but hardly compelling on this merit, it is true that the anti-choice supporters harm the legal autonomy of autonomous individuals – especially women – in the name of moral piety. Because moral piety is almost always patriarchal, it’s no surprise that its supporters regularly fail to appreciate just how misogynistic this piety is in practice. You support the loss of legal autonomy of women. By claiming you do so in the name of women shows just how skewed is the reasoning that leads you to this conclusion. Something is amiss and it begins by confusing morality with legal rights.

        Posted by tildeb | November 10, 2013, 5:06 PM
  6. You refer to this being a “a faith position and not a legal one” and that “offering up people’s rights on the altar of faith” is “pious but not compelling”.

    Firstly, this isn’t a position I hold uncritically, so it isn’t a “faith-based” position in that sense of the word.

    Secondly, this isn’t a position which I hold solely on the basis of a religious text or tradition, so it’s not “faith based” or “pious” in that sense. I’d still be pro-life if I weren’t a Christian.

    So, I don’t think your language of “moral piety” and “faith based positions” etc. accurately describes the conversation we’re having, or the thrust of J.W.’s OP.

    You also spoke of “reducing rights”. From my perspective at least, it’s not a question of “ignoring rights” in moral deliberation. because I actually don’t think that people *have* the right to abort on the basis of gender or sexuality. So, to my ears, the phraseology you used of “robbing Peter to pay Paul” essentially registers as white noise.

    Presumably, there would be analogous cases from your perspective.

    Take the example of a same-sex couple who sue a bakery that refused to bake their wedding cake. (I’m going out on a limb and presuming that you would disagree with the legality of the bakery’s act). If the baker started blurting out “But… but… you are reducing the right of people to deny their service to same-sex couples! The fact that you deny this right in your moral deliberation shows how skewed your moral compass is, as you piously sacrifice our autonomy as a business!!”

    Surely your answer at this point would be something along the lines of “Who mentioned religion? I don’t actually believe that such any such right exists. Please give an argument for this position.”

    But of course, this cuts both ways.

    Posted by Cale B.T. | November 12, 2013, 6:58 AM
    • CaleB.T., a faith-based belief or position does not have to be religious; it has to be based on a belief that is not informed by evidence adduced from reality and then arbitrated by it for determining confidence. The faith-based belief I was pointing out was the belief that there was a moral law when there is no evidence adduced from reality to reveal its existence. The litmus test is whether or not such a ‘law’ can be shown by evidence adduced from reality that it exists independent of those who believe it does. Because the moral law argument fails to produce this evidence, we can award it very low confidence. Maintaining the belief in spite of compelling evidence adduced from reality to the contrary then becomes a matter of faith. And this is what I pointed out.

      Specifically, the notion that a blastocyst is deserving of legal rights to that of any autonomous individual even at the expense of legal autonomy for the mother is driven by just such a unreasonable faith we find all too common in religion. That’s why I called this faith-based belief about a moral law to be maintained under the banner of the religious impetus to sell it as piousness-in-action.

      That you arrive at the same conclusion as those driven by this piety to be by what by what you call critical review shows us (well, me at least) something very much askew in your reasoning when you excuse the loss of individual autonomy in the name of improving individual autonomy. I suspect there is a faith-based element at play here and one that does not align with good critical reasoning.

      Most people are pro-life. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the legal right to choose to have an abortion. Those who would take away this right (usually in the name of some faith-based belief) are more accurately described as anti-choice rather than anti-life. I suspect most women who have had an abortion would fall under the category as people who are pro-life… but not so pro-life of a potential human as to the real and demanding concerns of an actual one. So the pro-life monikor is completely misplaced in this issue; when we’re talking about legal rights, we are not talking about being anti-life. That is a sales job bought by far too many people who do not exercise very good critical thinking skills.

      You are clearly anti-choice. That’s fine. I’m sure that you would choose always to gestate a fertilized human egg should you ever be pregnant even if your life depended on aborting it. You may choose that because you’re an autonomous individual under law and your rights to do so ensured by it. But you’re not happy exerting such decisions only over yourself; you feel (for reasons that I suspect are faith-based) that you should be able to suspend my equivalent right because you know better.

      Pardon me for disagreeing and making all this ‘white noise’.

      Posted by tildeb | November 12, 2013, 2:07 PM
      • “Most people are pro-life. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the legal right to choose to have an abortion. ”

        So essentially your argument is to beg the question against the pro-life position…

        I am particularly disturbed by your insistence on refusing to use self-designations. Rather than allowing the other to self-identify, you have chosen to use terms like “anti-choice.” Frankly, I find this to be proof of your utterly dogmatic belief. I’m not sure further conversation here is helpful. I’ve not seen any demonstration of your position beyond a continued assertion that autonomy is that which gives rights.

        One example might be found in this statement: “Specifically, the notion that a blastocyst is deserving of legal rights to that of any autonomous individual even at the expense of legal autonomy for the mother is driven by just such a unreasonable faith we find all too common in religion.”

        Again, this statement begs the question, because you have based your critique entirely upon your own definition of terms, rather than making an argument for your position.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 12, 2013, 6:35 PM
  7. “But you’re not happy exerting such decisions only over yourself; you feel (for reasons that I suspect are faith-based) that you should be able to suspend my equivalent right because you know better.”

    Again, this is just question begging: it’s not a “suspension of an equivalent right” if the right to abort on the basis of gender of sexuality doesn’t actually exist.

    Now, you wrote that it’s belief in morality which is “faith-based” and unsupported by reality. Here, I’ll say that I disagree and think a strong case can be made for the contrary.

    “whose morality is never clarified nor any reason given to elevate these morals to be superior.”

    I have to say that you are simply wrong. To say that, for example, ethicists in the natural law tradition, have never even attempted to clarify why their views ought to be adopted rather than others is false. You may not have personally encountered it but that doesn’t mean the literature isn’t out there. Keep on learning!

    “For example, the discriminatory laws against black people – just like women – were overturned in law not because of some new angle of morality but because the principle of autonomous individual rights had to be applied equally to all in order to be equal rights of autonomy. ”

    What, precisely, do you think statements like “People have a right to personal autonomy which extends to sex-selective abortion” or “On the basis of personal autonomy, black Americans shouldn’t be restricted from riding in the same train carriages as white Americans.” are, if not moral claims?

    So, as far as I can see, your attempt to drive a wedge between “morality” which isn’t acceptable for public discourse and lawmaking and “autonomy” which is, fails.

    On “confusing law and morality” I recommend the following article by the Catholic philosopher Ed Feser:

    http://www.ideasinactiontv.com/tcs_daily/2005/05/on-legislating-morality-the-anti-conservative-fallacy.html

    Posted by Cale B.T. | November 13, 2013, 12:03 AM
  8. Cale B.T.,

    It’s not begging the question because you do have the right to abort (for whatever reasons you deem best…including gender selection). So when I say equivalent rights, I am speaking of legal rights we already share… the right to have an abortion. So it is a suspension of equivalent rights to suggest you may have an abortion for these reasons and I cannot have an abortion for those reasons. You would introduce this suspension, so you are the one introduced inequality.

    The quote about whose clarifying morality we should use to establish what Jordan introduced as “moral rights” has been quote mined. I wrote,

    “Jordan, I have no clue what a ‘moral right’ is. You seem to indicate that these kinds of rights are based on morality… whose morality is never clarified nor any reason given to elevate these morals to be superior. To assume there is such a moral law is a faith-based belief unsupported by the reality we share… a faith-based belief that if acted upon causes a direct assault on the principle that forms the basis for our mutual legal rights.”

    The morality I speak of here is this supposed set that informs the faith-based position Jordan speaks of, asserting as he does that there really is a set of moral rights applicable to all that is independent of those who choose to believe in this set or that set. That’s why the WHO matters: who among us gets to determine which of these contrary and often conflictual sets is superior by evidence adduced from reality.

    Of course there are reams of tracts about morality and libraries of metaphysical and philosophical works arguing why this is superior to that (I lump theology under metaphysics). To assume as you do that I am singularly unaware of any of these is rather insulting without cause to suggest I should go out and learn about them first (especially from someone like Fesser). This point is an oh-so-typical ploy (exercised under the heading of ‘natural law’ all too often by devout catholics) to promote sophisticated theology to be the primo consideration in any area of human inquiry and activity… as if this theological ‘learning’ has a meaningful and informative role to play in determining acceptable moral considerations before legislating civil and criminal law. The effrontery and arrogance is breathtaking and its effects when put into practice pernicious. Yet by removing all religious input about ethics and morality, I have yet to encounter compelling evidence that we lose anything of Enlightenment value (such as equality, legal rights and freedoms, the dignity of personhood and have to give up a fair bit of it in exchange)… except our willingness to elevate faith-based positions in our inquiring minds that continues to fool us into thinking we know stuff we know nothing about (because faith-based positions are inherently flawed by methodology – and demonstrably so – to produce any knowledge value about anything anywhere anytime).

    You continue to exercise the mistaken notion that law (and the legal rights derived from it) is about your morality. It’s not. Your morality is about you and not to be imposed on me, anymore than my morality is to be imposed on you. Trying to use the law to accomplish this arrogant task is an abuse of it. Yes, my argument may fail to convince many – and it usually does when criticizing favoured faith-based beliefs – but don’t deduce that therefore the argument is wrong. Perhaps – and this is just a possibility, mind you – you don’t yet understand it. And this seems to be a fairly common way to break through the seductive power of imposing faith-based beliefs on others: try living under the positions advanced when you are the recipient to experience first hand just how pernicious and unfair and degrading such an invasion of (another person’s favoured) morality is to one’s exercise of equality rights and equivalent freedom. These disappear in the haze of ‘moral’ rights.

    Posted by tildeb | November 13, 2013, 12:05 PM
  9. “To assume as you do that I am singularly unaware of any of these is rather insulting”.

    I apologise. However, the reason I suggested that you read further is that you remarked *no* reasons are even given, and this is clearly false.

    This point is an oh-so-typical ploy… to promote sophisticated theology to be the primo consideration in any area of human inquiry and activity… as if this theological ‘learning’ has a meaningful and informative role to play in determining acceptable moral considerations before legislating civil and criminal law.

    Surely you would concede that statements like “1st trimester foetuses are actual, rather than potential human beings” or “actual human beings should be protected from being killed on the basis of gender” are in no way “faith-based” or (given that you seem to be a Jerry Coyne devotee…) ““sophisticated theology”, and that people from a wide variety of backgrounds could affirm these kinds of statements without compromising their religious freedoms. I have absolutely no qualms in living in a society where these statements and their negations are the locus of discussion. If we’re in the business of psychologising each other, I’ll say: remember to give yourself the intellectual permission to be a non-religious pro-lifer if the arguments are strong for that position. There are plenty out there.

    “You continue to exercise the mistaken notion that law (and the legal rights derived from it) is about your morality. It’s not. Your morality is about you and not to be imposed on me, anymore than my morality is to be imposed on you. “

    I’m still not seeing how you dismiss “morality” as subjective and tyrannical and not suitable for forming the basis of legislation, and then turn around and endorse “Enlightenment value[s] (such as equality, legal rights and freedoms, the dignity of personhood…”

    I’ll ask again (this isn’t a rhetorical question): what, precisely, do you think statements like “People have a right to personal autonomy which extends to sex-selective abortion” or “On the basis of personal autonomy, black Americans shouldn’t be restricted from riding in the same train carriages as white Americans.” are, if not moral claims?

    For sake of intellectual rigour, I hope you’ll read those links I gave. I’m happy to reciprocate if you’d like to recommend anything.

    Posted by Cale B.T. | November 13, 2013, 3:53 PM
    • A better definition of ‘sophisticated theology’ than a Dr No meme is: changing the unknowable into the language of the not worth knowing. This is how we get the Plantingas and Tillichs and Armstrongs and Haughts and Chopras of this world to gain employment and book sales with thesis phrases like the ‘ground of our being’, ‘the god behind the god’, the ‘reality beyond the reality’, the ‘ultimate consciousness’ and so on. These phrases are a dime a dozen but when push comes to shove ( to continue the liberal use of colloquialisms) they are unknowable gibberish yet used to represent some ‘deep’ notion labeled ‘sophisticated’ that supposedly informs a better understanding of theology. And this is the kind of sophistication commonly thrown up into the path of those who would dare criticize religious privilege and respected woo in the public domain… as if one cannot possibly criticize the pernicious effect of religious faith-based beliefs in action properly until one read reads a long list of such authors writing about the numinous and ineffable. For those of us who have given this ploy our time and effort, we realize just how empty of knowledge is the entire metaphysical category. And that’s why ‘sophisticated theology’ is held in such contempt by those not taken in by its bounty of inanities.

      I’m not dismissing morality as subjective and tyrannical; it’s a fascinating topic. I am dismissing trying to use the law to privilege one set over another without compelling evidence adduced from reality to demonstrate its net benefits to the public good. Clearly, assigning equivalent rights to the unborn means reducing those same rights to the born. The moral argument in its favour is incoherent because its the wrong set of values to use (pro-life versus an imaginary anti-life opponent). That’s why it doesn’t work. The right set of values to use are about legal rights (choice versus anti-choice) and this does work. We use the same values that establish shared rights in law to understand why granting rights to the unborn undermines the same rights of the born. And the boundary between them is crystal clear in law: birth. You and I and everyone else gains recognized rights in law upon birth (and it has everything to do with establishing the legal notion of what constitutes autonomy as an individual).

      So when you ask (again) how certain statements of rights can be anything but statements of moral claims, you are asking how these certain apples can be anything but oranges – morals versus rights (pro-life versus choice).

      (And I’ve read far too much of Fesser – specifically about his end of life position and criticism against supporters of dignity and choice in dying – to grant his reasoning anything other than my contempt for either his unwillingness or inability to understand why his thinking is based on errors.)

      Posted by tildeb | November 14, 2013, 10:24 AM
    • By the way, the same principle of arguing apples with apples holds true for legal rights of equality versus morality for issues like gender pay, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, military and other forms of public service, and so on. Unless there are compelling reasons adduced by evidence arbitrated by reality about demonstrable negative effect to the public good, moral arguments contain no legal sway to support various kinds of reasonable discrimination.

      Posted by tildeb | November 14, 2013, 10:50 AM
    • And because you mentioned Jerry Coyne, I thought I’d submit this link for those who still assert that science is a twin of religion in that both require faith. I’ll let Jerry’s short Slate article respond to this religious chestnut.

      Posted by tildeb | November 14, 2013, 12:59 PM
  10. “For those of us who have given this ploy our time and effort, we realize just how empty of knowledge is the entire metaphysical category. “

    My advice here would be to keep on reading and expending effort. I disagree that metaphysics is empty of knowledge.

    Furthermore, it’s trivially easy to show that folks like Coyne, Myers, Dennett and Dawkins really are ignorant on matters philosophical and theological in ways that pertain their arguments (that is to say, this isn’t just “theological hairsplitting). Coyne’s errors in that piece you linked to were as multitudinous and egregious as ever.

    “I am dismissing trying to use the law to privilege one set over another without compelling evidence adduced from reality to demonstrate its net benefits to the public good. “

    The evidence adduced from reality which I would proffer is that abortion takes the life of a human being. Sounds pretty compelling to me.

    “The moral argument in its favour is incoherent because its the wrong set of values to use (pro-life versus an imaginary anti-life opponent). That’s why it doesn’t work”

    I certainly wasn’t claiming that you are “anti-life” in the sense that, say, you personally think that unborn girls *ought* to be killed on the basis of gender, so this isn’t a good argument for why the question of the ontological status of the unborn should be barred from the lawmaking process.

    “I and everyone else gains recognized rights in law upon birth (and it has everything to do with establishing the legal notion of what constitutes autonomy as an individual).”

    But, if the unborn are actual rather than potential human beings, then the fact that they have a diminished degree of autonomy does not repeal their right to life.

    Your other reason that you put forward for why these arguments can’t be allowed is that they are “faith-based.” I think we’d need another thread to fully discuss the truth of these statements, but I’d really like to get a concession from you that, whether true or not, premises like “1st trimester foetuses are actual, rather than potential human beings” or “actual human beings should be protected from being killed on the basis of gender” are in no way “faith-based” and can be affirmed by people from a wide variety of backgrounds without compromising their religious freedoms.

    “And I’ve read far too much of Fesser – specifically about his end of life position and criticism against supporters of dignity and choice in dying”

    Be honest here: have you actually read any of Feser’s books or articles, or just snippets of them on Eric McDonald’s blog?

    Posted by Cale B.T. | November 15, 2013, 10:18 PM

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