Creative Destruction

Here’s a question for abortion absolutists:

A woman wishes to write a book about abortion. In order to give her work perspective and authenticity, she decides to become pregnant in order to experience an abortion herself. Being of independent means, she will pay all of the medical expenses.

Is there anything morally wrong with what she plans to do? If so, why?

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31 Comments

  1. JK says

    Just my 2¢.

    As we’re all in this ‘multi-culti-touchy-feely-thang’ these days anyway, I suggest she consider a twofer.

    Do a genital mutilation first. A West African “expert practitioner” should be easily located and, she’ll save money skipping the anesthesia. From what I understand, probably even moreso foregoing the charges for Betadine and other sorts of that kinda stuff.

    Has more the ring of authenticity like everbody these days considers the rage.

    Posted May 30, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink
  2. Jacques says

    I’m not sure I understand the point of the question (for absolutists). One reason for thinking abortion is wrong is that it almost certainly deprives an entity of a valuable-future-like-ours. So what this woman is doing is comparable to murder and wrong in that respect. It’s also wrong in some ways that typical abortions are not: she deliberately sets out to put herself in a position where she will deprive an entity of a valuable future, rather than ending up in that situation through some (arguably) less culpable intention. Also, her reason for deliberately putting herself in that position may indicate a callous and superficial character. That seems straightforward enough, at least to an absolutist. What am I missing?

    Posted May 30, 2016 at 12:36 pm | Permalink
  3. JK says

    Overlooked something, sorry.

    Make it a threefer. And gets me outta maybe gettin’ accused of being racist … or something.

    Let the would-be author also pay for a first-class ticket to say oh Rotherham, that’d accomplish maybe both the mutilation and remove the possibility of the sperm donor being squishy.

    Posted May 30, 2016 at 12:48 pm | Permalink
  4. It depends on what the meaning of “morally” is, in this era of moral relativism.

    Posted May 30, 2016 at 12:49 pm | Permalink
  5. Rick says

    If anything is morally wrong, then what she plans to do is certainly morally wrong.

    I don’t know if I qualify as an abortion absolutist. But I do believe that there is no relevant distinction to be made between a born child and one in the womb. The former’s value is infinite and so is the latter. Both are unique in the cosmos, from their souls to their conscious beings to their DNA; they are absolutely distrinct from their mother from conception. To say nothing of their innocence.

    Posted May 30, 2016 at 3:26 pm | Permalink
  6. “If anything is morally wrong, then what she plans to do is …”

    I happen to agree with you up through the second “is” in your assertion. But there is no certainty in this universe, except for death and taxes. Moreover, “morality” is not part of natural law. It is an abstract creation of humanity and, of course, opinions about its specifics vary.

    Posted May 30, 2016 at 5:55 pm | Permalink
  7. Tim says

    Right and wrong, as BigHenry pointed out, are human concepts not part of natural law. As a society we currently draw a brightline distinction between an unborn and a born child. Is that distinction arbitrary? Of course, but so is every manmade law — for example, in Roman times parents throughout the child’s life had the ability to end the child’s life. Birth versus unbirth is the clearest line one can draw when it comes to abortion, other than the Roman perspective.

    We also draw a less brightline distinction between first trimester abortion and later stage abortion. Late stage abortion is heavily frowned upon and illegal in many states except for health of the mother.

    Current law does not look at the motivation of the mother in seeking the abortion. Your hypo is a slippery slope which involves, fundamentally, inquiring into the woman’s abortion motivation. Are you suggesting that society inquire into the motives of the woman seeking an abortion? How do you propose to enforce and fund such a law, and what arbitrary distinctions would you make between what is a “good” abortion and what is a “bad” one?

    Let the woman abort way for any reason she chooses. The world is overpopulated enough without you white knights coming to the aid of fetal tissue.

    Posted May 30, 2016 at 7:15 pm | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Tim, the question is a simple one, and makes no reference to the law.

    Posted May 30, 2016 at 9:32 pm | Permalink
  9. Malcolm says

    Jacques,

    I apologize — my wording was vague. By “absolutist” I meant those who claim an absolute and uncomplicated right to abortion.

    Posted May 30, 2016 at 9:34 pm | Permalink
  10. Tim says

    Malcolm, I took issue with your wording of “morally wrong”. But if you are going to hold to that wording, then, while what she wants to do is macabre and deviant, it is not morally “wrong”.

    Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:01 pm | Permalink
  11. Malcolm says

    Tim,

    That’s a careful distinction. To be clear: do I understand you correctly to be saying that it is not morally wrong because there is no victim?

    Your choice of “macabre” is interesting to me. Can you elaborate on that?

    Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:08 pm | Permalink
  12. Tim says

    Abortion to gain insight into the nature of abortion is macabre because it’s a disgusting procedure (I’ve seen videos of it). The fetus is clearly alive, although unable to sustain itself. I would consider researchers doing laboratory testing of animals involving cutting them up also as macabre.

    With respect to morally “wrong”, that phraseology implies a negative judgment that is specific to our culture and time. As mentioned above, in Rome parents could kill their children even after the child had been born. Would you argue that stance was “morally wrong”? What good does that distinction do you? Wouldn’t a cost benefit analysis of a certain procedure be a better approach without getting into morality?

    Setting this aside, yes, I would argue that there is no victim in abortions, especially during the first trimester of pregnancy and possibly later. What makes it OK to kill animals (for food consumption, hunting or otherwise), but not to kill a human? If the answer is human cognition and reason, neither exist in a week old fetus — do they exist in an 8 month fetus? The answer is unclear.

    Posted May 30, 2016 at 11:49 pm | Permalink
  13. “With respect to morally “wrong”, that phraseology implies a negative judgment that is specific to our culture and time.”

    Tim,

    Even if the phrase I have boldened were the case, and I am not sure that it is, there would still be no normative morality that could authoritatively mediate such an argument. The Talmud of Judaism is close to being the ultimate authority for Jewish morality and ethics, though Talmudic scholars have been disputing various provisions in the Talmud for centuries.

    I am not finding fault in your opinion of what is right or wrong. I am just saying it is still just an opinion with which some people (though not me) may disagree. The laws of nature in this universe offer no guidance for morality. Morality is a construct of the human mind; it is not a universal given.

    Posted May 31, 2016 at 4:01 am | Permalink
  14. Rick says

    The world is overpopulated as it is.

    Is it better to care about the world?

    And I’m hardly a white night (I think this was a good thing once) for stating a rather very basic, completely scientific observation; what is the difference between a living child in the womb and a living child or man or woman outside of the womb? — morality and labels (which you assign to the former) aside.

    You assume I like the conclusion here. I’m not free from its consequences.

    Posted May 31, 2016 at 8:38 am | Permalink
  15. Malcolm says

    Tim,

    The fetus is clearly alive…

    It is also clearly human (i.e., it is a member of our species, the offspring of two humans, with a human genome, etc.), and there can hardly be any sense of the word “innocent” that would not apply to it. So, on terms that I think you will agree with, what the woman proposes to do is to end an innocent human life.

    I would argue that there is no victim in abortions…

    …while what she wants to do is macabre and deviant, it is not morally “wrong”.

    Two questions, then:

    1) How does the taking of an innocent human life not have a victim?

    2) Just to be clear: if taking an innocent human life is not morally wrong, it seems you are not saying that some things are morally wrong and others aren’t, but rather that the very concept of “morally wrong” is not a useful one (or at least, not one that you consider important). Is this about right?

    Just to get my own cards on the table here, I have argued repeatedly in these pages against the existence of objective moral truth, and I do believe that an abortion-rights absolutist can consistently maintain that there is nothing morally wrong with conceiving a child only in order to abort it. But I think that to take such a position entails some far-reaching commitments, and the question this post asks is intended only to provoke an examination of those commitments.

    Posted May 31, 2016 at 11:51 am | Permalink
  16. In re-reading this thread, I realized that I had confused who said what to whom, for which I apologize.

    I would suggest that, for clarity, when you are quoting something that another commenter said in a preceding comment, you place that sentence or phrase in quotation marks. Enclosing the quoted remark in an HTML B-Quote Tag helps even more.

    Posted May 31, 2016 at 12:41 pm | Permalink
  17. Whitewall says

    The woman in question would have to have a cavalier view of human life to go through with her plans. The human fetus is killed and she writes her experiences and conclusion. When killing innocent life becomes easy, society will move on to other forms of killing which can include inconvenient life or no longer useful, just costly life. The slipperiest of slopes.

    Ones wonders if the killing of the fetus will be the one and only killing? An abortion can be a thing which kills over and over in the mind of the woman.

    Within the morality of a given culture, a zoo keeper knew he had a responsibility to use a high power rifle to shoot and kill a rare gorilla that was innocently minding its own business. A small child that carelessly falls into its habitat is not guilty of anything. The gorilla was rare and the child is one of millions. The gorilla was killed to save the boy.

    Posted May 31, 2016 at 1:41 pm | Permalink
  18. Rick says

    A gorilla cannot be innocent, because it is not possible for it to be guilty. Therefore, a gorilla cannot murder, for example, but he can kill, for any reason, including no reason. Such is an animal.
    Only a human can be innocent or guilty.

    Posted May 31, 2016 at 1:52 pm | Permalink
  19. Hoberman says

    Isn’t morality already an internalized cost-benefit analysis?

    Take away the sacred and the transcendent, and anything is permitted.

    Posted May 31, 2016 at 2:09 pm | Permalink
  20. Rick says

    “But there is no certainty in this universe, except for death and taxes.”

    That is an absolute statement.

    (BigHenry, sorry for not using quote marks earlier.)

    Posted May 31, 2016 at 3:19 pm | Permalink
  21. “Just to get my own cards on the table here, I have argued repeatedly in these pages against the existence of objective moral truth…”

    That’s interesting to me — do you have some older posts you’d recommend that discuss these issues? As a Catholic that follows Thomistic moral philosophy, I obviously think this position is crazy.

    Posted May 31, 2016 at 5:05 pm | Permalink
  22. Malcolm says

    Hi Jeffrey,

    Most recently, I had a long chat about that with commenter Jacques in the comment-thread to this post.

    But I’ve touched on this question many times elsewhere; here’s a Google search-result page that points to some old posts.

    I should dig around and organize these posts under their own tag.

    Posted May 31, 2016 at 6:41 pm | Permalink
  23. Tim says

    Thanks for your reasoned response, Malcolm. Your questions do make me look inward to better articulate my beliefs, which I appreciate.

    1) How does the taking of an innocent human life not have a victim?

    As mentioned above, one could argue that what separates humans from animals (which we eat and exploit in myriad ways) is cognition and reason. A fetus, especially a first trimester fetus, does not have cognition nor reason, just the future POTENTIAL for cognition and reason. As such, it could be classified as a “potential human” with separate rights from a “human”.

    2) Just to be clear: if taking an innocent human life is not morally wrong, it seems you are not saying that some things are morally wrong and others aren’t, but rather that the very concept of “morally wrong” is not a useful one (or at least, not one that you consider important). Is this about right?

    Yes, you articulated this well. The concept of “morally wrong” tends to put a cost benefit analysis out of bounds of discussion — after all, if something is “wrong”, it shouldn’t be done, period. Whereas if instead of saying something is “morally wrong”, you instead point to the negative effects of such a policy — one of which could be, as Whitewall said, a slippery slope into killing invalids, old people, etc – then it doesn’t put the discussion itself out of bounds, but turns the discussion into a debate whether a policy is worthwhile or not.

    After all, is stretching the earth’s population past the point of sustainability not “morally wrong”? How would you otherwise compare two “moral wrongs” without doing a cost benefit analysis of both? As such, as morality is inherently subjective and relative, I’d prefer to leave the moral judgments out of the discussion.

    Posted May 31, 2016 at 9:23 pm | Permalink
  24. Depends on the stage of the abortion, I suppose

    Posted May 31, 2016 at 9:54 pm | Permalink
  25. Malcolm says

    Tim,

    As mentioned above, one could argue that what separates humans from animals (which we eat and exploit in myriad ways) is cognition and reason. A fetus, especially a first trimester fetus, does not have cognition nor reason, just the future POTENTIAL for cognition and reason. As such, it could be classified as a “potential human” with separate rights from a “human”.

    One cogent response to this potential-vs-actual argument is to keep in view that we are talking about an actually existing and already individuated human life, at a particular period of its development, rather than the mere potential of such a life coming into being. (After all, you said yourself that the fetus is “clearly alive”.) The question then is on what basis this unborn human’s life might be eligible for protection against someone who wishes to kill it; obviously it cannot defend itself. You’ve chosen cognition and reason as the touchstone.

    Given that the normal course of human development is a process that naturally realizes the potential for the criteria you choose, the pre-rational state at which we find the life in question is what it is only in virtue of the moment we have selected to examine it. To put that another way, the argument from potential relies on a special application of philosophical “presentism”. If the criterion of rationality only applies, though, at those times in a human life when we are actually capable of rational cognition, then what about those times when we are otherwise rendered incapable? If I am anesthetized into unconsciousness, am I fair game for murder? The only reason I can see why I wouldn’t be, on this view, is because I can reasonably be expected, in the normal course of things, to be capable of rational cognition in the future. But the same is also true of our unborn fetus.

    You also wrote:

    The concept of “morally wrong” tends to put a cost benefit analysis out of bounds of discussion — after all, if something is “wrong”, it shouldn’t be done, period.

    This is true: our moral intuition — our conscience — does sometimes prevent us from considering some things that someone wholly amoral (a psychopath, say) might decide solely on the basis of a dispassionate cost-benefit analysis. Another way of putting that, though, would be to say that each of us does make a cost-benefit analysis in every case, but that morality adds a new kind of cost to certain actions: a psychological cost (and, due to the great extent to which moral intuitions are shared in organic human societies, a social cost as well). If this effect is, as it appears to seem to you, just dead weight and a useless encumbrance, then we should expect such a cognitive feature to be grossly maladaptive, and an evolutionary dead end. What we do find, however, is quite the opposite: morality and conscience are human universals, with powerful or even paramount influence on the operation of every human society — to the extent that people who lack this natural moral sense are considered mentally ill and extremely dangerous.

    How would you account for this?

    Posted May 31, 2016 at 10:57 pm | Permalink
  26. Tim says

    Malcolm, with respect to your first question, one could argue that once a “potential human” begins using cognition and reason, whenever that point is, they are “human” and are afforded the rights and benefits thereafter. Reaching that milestone could be considered enough. Such a position avoids enormous problems associated with affording “human” status to those actively practicing rational cognition in any particular moment.

    With respect to your second point, you’re right that that there is some degree of morality which crosses all cultures and societies – to take care of born children, to show respect for one’s elders, to not steal, to not lie, among many other things which are basic necessities for a society to function. I think it’s a good rule of thumb that if certain human behavior crosses all or almost all cultures, there is something universal in it and one could make an argument about such behavior being “morally right” or “morally wrong”.

    Abortion, on the other hand, has had widely different interpretations depending on the specific culture. A good example is China’s take on abortion today – they treat it almost like going to the dentist! (Okay, not quite, but they’re much, much more cavalier about it than Western cultures). Because societal interpretations of abortion vary so much by culture, I think one must really step back and really ask oneself whether it should be labeled as malum in se.

    This would also cover other areas that society considers as “morally wrong”. Slavery was not considered a moral evil until the Civil War, although it’s still practiced in many parts of the world and was practiced throughout human history. Jim Crow wasn’t considered a moral evil until sometime after the 1960s. And now we’re reaching a point where to not believe in gay marriage or transexual rights is “morally wrong”. But none of these are anywhere close to universal beliefs, so I’m leery of labeling any of them as “morally wrong” unworthy of discussion.

    If we’re trying to get at the truth of things, unless the behavior being discussed is truly universal in nature, I think it’s best to stick to cost benefit analysis.

    Posted June 1, 2016 at 1:59 am | Permalink
  27. Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal was a cost benefit analysis.

    Posted June 1, 2016 at 3:08 am | Permalink
  28. Malcolm says

    Tim,

    Malcolm, with respect to your first question, one could argue that once a “potential human” begins using cognition and reason, whenever that point is, they are “human” and are afforded the rights and benefits thereafter. Reaching that milestone could be considered enough. Such a position avoids enormous problems associated with affording “human” status to those actively practicing rational cognition in any particular moment.

    One could argue this, but to do so rejects the transtemporal continuity of the individual.

    The philosopher William Vallicella has written extensively, and I think persuasively, about this. (See his collection of related posts here.) In one of his posts, he identifies two principles of identity and temporal endurance:

    PIP [the Potentiality Identity Principle]: Necessarily, if x is a potential F, and there is a y such that y realizes, whether partially or fully, x’s potentiality to be an F, then x = y.

    Note that PIP does not imply that there is a y that realizes x’s potential. Potentialities, after all, may go unrealized similarly as dispositions may go unmanifested. A seed’s potential will go unrealized if the seed is destroyed, or if the seed is not planted, or if it is improperly planted, or if it is properly planted but left unwatered, etc. What PIP states is that if anything does realize x’s potentiality to be an F, then that thing is transtemporally numerically identical to x. So if there is an oak tree that realizes acorn A’s potentiality to be an oak tree, then A is identical over time to that oak tree. This implies that when the acorn becomes an oak tree, it still exists, but is an oak tree rather than an acorn. The idea is that numerically one and the same individual passes through a series of developmental stages. In the case of a human being these would include zygote, embryo, fetus, infant, child, adolescent, and adult.

    Not so with the hunk of bronze. It is not identical to the statue that is made out of it. Statue and hunk of bronze cannot be identical since they differ in their persistence conditions. The hunk of bronze can, while the statue cannot, survive being melted down and recast in some other form.

    Consider the Pauline verse at 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” This implies that numerically one and the same man, Paul of Tarsus, was first a child and later became an adult: it is not as if there was a numerically different entity, Paul-the-child, who passed out of existence when Paul-the-adult came into existence.

    So not only is potentiality (in the strong Aristotelian sense here in play) governed by PIP, it is also governed by what I will call the Potentiality Endurantism Principle:

    PEP. Necessarily, if x is a potential F, and there is a y such that y realizes, whether partially or fully, x’s potentiality to be an F, then x (= y) is wholly present at every time at which x (= y) exists.

    PEP rules out a temporal parts ontology according to which a spatiotemporal particular persists in virtue of having different temporal parts at different times.

    I understand the intuitive traction that the mere-potential argument offers for the defense of abortion, but I think Dr. Vallicella’s analysis is clarifying and compelling, and I urge you to look over the collection of posts I linked to above.

    You wrote:

    With respect to your second point, you’re right that that there is some degree of morality which crosses all cultures and societies – to take care of born children, to show respect for one’s elders, to not steal, to not lie, among many other things which are basic necessities for a society to function. I think it’s a good rule of thumb that if certain human behavior crosses all or almost all cultures, there is something universal in it and one could make an argument about such behavior being “morally right” or “morally wrong”.

    I think I must clarify my own position here: as I’ve said above, I do not believe in the existence of of ontologically objective moral facts. For that reason, I will only go so far as to say that when we see moral universals, there is good reason to suspect they are deeply adaptive, which is to say that they contain some wisdom about human flourishing that we casually discard, or second-guess, at our existential peril.

    That does not mean, however, that moral intuitions that are not universal across all populations and cultures are negligible either; just as human populations vary, so might their particular moral adaptations.

    You continued:

    Abortion, on the other hand, has had widely different interpretations depending on the specific culture. A good example is China’s take on abortion today – they treat it almost like going to the dentist! (Okay, not quite, but they’re much, much more cavalier about it than Western cultures). Because societal interpretations of abortion vary so much by culture, I think one must really step back and really ask oneself whether it should be labeled as malum in se.

    This is a fair point, and given my own denial of objective moral facts — in other words, that I reject the idea that anything, in a strictly ontological sense, is malum in se — I have to agree. There is simply no higher arbiter to which we can appeal.

    In such cases, then, we must fall back on our own conscience (and keep in mind that the choice as to whether we are obligated to listen to conscience at all, or ignore it in favor of some putatively dispassionate “cost-benefit analysis”, is itself a question of conscience).

    Posted June 1, 2016 at 12:03 pm | Permalink
  29. Whitewall says

    Here we go…
    http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/family-of-boy-who-fell-into-gorilla-exhibit-asks-for-zoo-donations-in-animal%E2%80%99s-memory/ar-BBtKjGS?li=BBnb7Kz

    Posted June 1, 2016 at 1:22 pm | Permalink
  30. Jacques says

    Butting in here, if I may… The key point in my view is that the fertilized egg already has (actually not potentially) a very valuable future (or almost certainly does). Is it not wrong to deprive it of its future unless there is some very weighty reason for doing so? This argument sidesteps all worries about actual personhood, cognition, etc. (The argument is Don Marquis’.)

    Posted June 2, 2016 at 11:02 am | Permalink
  31. CanSpeccy says

    Some very smart people here, so this comment will likely seem naive in the extreme. But don’t we need to know more before we make a judgement. I mean, is this woman black, white or karkhi? Is she an illegal immigrant, native born or what? What’s her IQ (quite low it would seem)?

    These are surely the kinds of questions that many ordinary folk would have at the back of their mind in making a judgement, although in this PC age they probably wouldn’t admit it. And I would agree with them. All the discussion of potential seems to ignore the question of potential for what, and upon whose interest, and how, does that potential impact.

    Further, I would suggest that the whole population question (i.e., abortion, birth control, sex “education,” immigration, sanctity of marriage, polygamy) needs to be re-examined in a Darwinian context. Darwinian processes, after all, surely explain why man is a moral animal, so evolutionary theory surely explains why we have the morality we have. It probably also explains the morality we ought to have if we are to have much chance of continuing to exist in an age of WMD’s. Or considering the survival of particular racial groups, Darwinian theory presumably tells us what should be our moral judgments about things such as border control, immigration, deportation, etc.

    Posted June 9, 2016 at 2:20 pm | Permalink