When engaging in culturally and ethically controversial topics like abortion, I have found that most people latch onto a specific idea and use it to counter every argument offered against their view.
For example, one in favor of abortion might be unwilling to question the “fact” that a woman has a right to her own body, (which means that a fetus has no such rights).On the other hand, one who is against abortion might be unwilling to go beyond the claim that abortion is simply murder.It may well be that abortion is murder, but the debate will not be won by simply asserting that such is the case.The reason for much of the confusion on the issue is our human tendency to accept or reject basic moral principles without adequate examination.Failure to conduct such an examination means that we improperly accept or reject principles that ultimately determine the direction of life.Laymen are not alone in holding unexamined and untested positions.Scholars do it particularly well.
Unfortunately, shoddy thinking abounds in scholarly literature on abortion.Rather than helping to clarify the matter, it appears that “scholarship” only muddies the water in too many cases.It is the purpose of this article to look in a critical fashion at a few contemporary attempts to express views on the abortion matter.My goal is to point out the inadequacies of these treatments as a sample of the kind of reasoning that is being used in our situation to defend the varying sides of this question.
My primary concern is to show that the most important questions are usually not seriously contemplated or expressed.Without such a clear presentation, it is possible for both ethicists and common people to go on holding positions without understanding the clear implications that follow from whatever position one chooses to adopt.Focus on “Persons”In an article entitled, “The Moral and Legal Status of Abortion,”1 Mary Anne Warren attempts to move beyond the stalemate in the debate over who is a “human.”The typical argument against abortion, she claims, begins with the universal truism of moral consideration that it is “wrong to kill innocent human beings.”The pro-life advocate then develops a simple syllogism based on this first major premise.
The second premise being, “Fetuses are innocent human beings.”These two premises together force the intellect to conclude that it is wrong to kill a fetus.Warren’s next move is not to deny the first premise.To the contrary, she allows that it is “a self-evident moral truth.”Her tactic in casting doubt on the conclusion is to allow premise one but to suggest that the second premise switches the meaning of the term “human being” and the syllogism is then a case of equivocation.If the terms change meaning, one can no longer have confidence in the conclusion drawn from their use.
She suggests that there are really two senses in which the term human is used.The first sense is with regard to those who are “full fledged members of the moral community.”2 This is, she claims, the moral sense of the term.The second is the mere genetic sense of the term.
If one is then simply saying that a fetus genetically moves towards becoming a human in the moral sense, then Warren has no particular problem.Her problem, however, is with regard to the applicability of the first premise to those who are only genetically human.Who are members of that “community” of humans to whom the premise, “It is wrong to kill innocent human beings,” applies?The question that then remains for Warren concerns how one will define this “moral community” for which the first premise of the argument has meaning and relevance.Her conclusion is simple and, she claims, “self-evident.”3 Only people belong to the moral community.In order to see the truth of this claim, we are then directed to a consideration of what a person actually is.A good starting point, she suggests, is that we consider what elements we might look for in an alien form of life as evidences of personhood.Five distinct criteria are listed.4(1) Consciousness of internal and external objects, especially the ability to feel pain.(2) Reasoning.Here she emphasizes the true sense of the term as she intends it to be understood:“the developed capacity to solve new and relatively complex problems.”(3) Self-motivated activity.(4) Capacity to.