Sunday, July 10, 2022

Logic, Opinions, and Abortion


                                              (Riding The Badger across Lake Michigan)

Here, again, is the moral argument I have been making, for decades, against abortion.

It is morally wrong to kill an innocent, defenseless human being to solve another problem.  The conceptus/embryo/fetus is an innocent, defenseless human being. Therefore, it is morally wrong to kill a conceptus/embryo/fetus.

Put another way:

1, If something is a conceptus, then it is an innocent, defenseless human being.

2. If something is an innocent, defenseless human being, then it is morally wrong to kill it,

3. Therefore, if something is a conceptus, then it is morally wrong to kill it. .

(On premise 1, see Princeton's Dianne Irving here - "the human embryonic organism formed at fertilization is a whole human being, and therefore it is not just a "blob" or a "bunch of cells." This new human individual also has a mixture of both the mother's and the father's chromosomes, and therefore it is not just a "piece of the mother's tissues"."

A rejection of premise 2 implies that it is not morally wrong to kill innocent, defenseless human beings.)

Thus; reasoning according to the logical rule of inference called hypothetical syllogism, we have: :

1. If A, then B.

2. If B, then C

3. Thus, if A, then C. 

Like this:

1. If something is an apple, then it is a fruit.

2. If something is a fruit, then it is edible. 

3. Therefore, if something is an apple, then it is edible. 

Here is philosopher and jurisprudential scholar (Baylor University) Francis Beckwith's formulation of the argument.


1. The unborn entity, from the moment of conception, is a full-fledged member of the human community.

2. It is prima facie morally wrong to kill any member of that community.

3. Every successful abortion kills an unborn entity, a full-fledged member of the human community.

4. Therefore, every successful abortion is prima facie morally wrong.

By “full-fledged member of the human community” is meant that the conceptus is as much a bearer of rights as any human being whose rights-bearing status is uncontroversial, like you or me. As Beckwith says, “the unborn entity is entitled to all the rights to which free and equal persons are entitled by virtue of being free and equal persons.” “Full-fledged member of the human community” cannot mean something like “viability,” since then we have two problems:

1) the arbitrariness of deciding who’s a full-fledged member and who’s not; and
2) the odd philosophical idea that there is suddenly a “moment” (call it time ‘t’) when the conceptus/fetus/inborn child becomes a person, which means at time ‘t-minus-1 second’ it was not. “Abortion advocates argue that the unborn entity is not a person and hence not a subject of moral rights until some decisive moment in fetal or postnatal development.” (Beckwith, 130) Such a position is incoherent and fraught with philosophical problems.

“Virtually no one disputes – including leading defenders of abortion-choice – that every mature human being was once an adolescent, a child, an infant, a baby, a newborn, a fetus, and an embryo.” (131) But the abortion advocate argues that it is morally permissible to end a human being’s life at the embryo stage of human life. How is this possible? Beckwith says they argue that not all human beings are equally intrinsically valuable because some do not have the present capacity to exhibit certain properties or functions that would make them intrinsically valuable. (130) The judgment is made that the fetal self is not “intrinsically valuable.”

Beckwith holds to a “substance view of persons.” This means that a human being “is intrinsically valuable because of the sort of thing it is and the human being remains that sort of thing as long as it exists”. That is, an individual “maintains absolute identity through time while it grows, develops, and undergoes numerous changes”. To use another example, the term “universe” refers to one entity that goes through various stages. The universe at t + 1 second, though much smaller and far more inchoate then the universe now, was still at that time as much “the universe” as it is now. So, the term “universe does not suffer from vagueness. It is in precisely that sense that “person” does not suffer from vagueness as well.

Various functions and capacities, whether fully realized or utilized do not constitute a person. Thus a human being is never a potential person, but is always a person at different stages of development, whether potential properties and capacities are actualized or not.

To explain: a human being may never realize the ability to reason logically. It would then lack this ability. In contrast, a frog is not said to lack something if it can’t study logic, because by nature it is not the sort of being that can have the ability to do logic. But a human being who lacks the ability to think logically is still a human being because of her nature. A human being’s “lack” makes sense if and only if she is an actual human person. (E.g., a rock does not “lack” the ability to see.) Most pro-abortionists argue that personhood is not inherent or intrinsic, but based on certain capacities and functions, be it consciousness, sentience, self-awareness, the ability to reason, and so on.

Finally, one person critiqued my argument by saying it is "subjective, and just my opinion." This shows a misunderstanding of logic. Every statement issues a belief, an opinion. Of course, my premises are my opinions. But that is irrelevant to any logical argument. The issue in a logical argument is, are the premises true? The truth or falsity of a statement has nothing to do with the beliefs or opinions of the statement-maker. To think so is to commit a form of the subjectivist fallacy. 

Imagine this dialogue.

Doctor: You have a bacterial infection.

Patient: That's just your opinion.


Einstein: E=mc2.

Student: That's just your opinion.

Einstein: Yes, it is my opinion. Therefore...?

Being of someone's opinion does not make the truth or falsity of a statement "subjective." See especially Vaughn, The Power of Critical Thinking, his chapter on informal logical fallacies.