Nothing To See Here

It’s late in the day, and it’s been a long, full day: up early this morning to drive our son back to college, then an evening memorial service here in Wellfleet for a truly remarkable woman — Ellen Rafel, our next-door neighbor here on Hiram Hill, who lost her fight with cancer this spring. So for tonight I want to direct readers to an ongoing discussion at The Maverick Philosopher on what is perhaps the most intractable social and political dilemma of them all: abortion.

This is a connected series of posts, each with a long and provocative comment thread. You can begin here; each post carries links to the others in the series. Among the commenters are our own readers and commenters Bob Koepp and Peter Lupu.

All agree that a zygote is a modest thing; the discussion has focused in large part on the issue of the degree to which potentiality ought to confer rights upon the conceptus that must be weighed against those of the mother.

This is an extraordinarily difficult topic, and in public dispute it quickly devolves into shouting and accusations of moral blindness or worse. It calls into court our deepest moral, and indeed, metaphysical assumption, most of which are entirely inadequate for the resolution of the problem. In this regard I was struck by two splendid remarks in particular; the first was from from Peter Lupu, who has also made welcome contributions to our own discussion of morality here at waka waka waka. In a comment to this post, Peter writes:

The question of abortion is a tangled, confusing, contentious, mangled issue. It is one of those philosophical vortexes in which many trends intermingle and eventually collide only to yield frustration and anger. Theory, practice, prudence, law, reality, potentiality, morality, religion, spiritualism, secularism, rights, social responsibility, emotions and much more all enter into the fray in a pristine form only to exist bruised and battered. Good arguments to some feel just wrong headed to others and attitudes that appear clearly compassionate in nature turn into mindless cruelty by a clever twist of logic. It seems nothing about abortion is what it seems. Why is that?

Why indeed? Read the rest of Peter’s remarks here.

Bill Vallicella reminds us that we cannot answer this, and related questions, without doing the necessary philosophical spadework. There is no “royal road” to ethics:

Part of the difficulty is that key notions such as potentiality lead into the depths of metaphysics where much is unsettled. There are people who scorn metaphysics but they want to discuss ethics. A foolish view. Ethics leads naturally and inevitably to metaphysics.

Indeed it does. I would go further and say that we cannot understand morality without understanding human nature, which in turn requires an understanding of our natural history.

At any rate, readers are encouraged to invest some time in reading this series of posts and comments. It is the conversation about abortion that the whole nation ought to be having, and a broad variety of views are represented.

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