The Apple Argument Against Abortion

This essay first appeared in the December 2000 issue of Crisis Magazine.

 

I doubt there are many readers of this magazine who are pro-choice. Why, then, do I write an argument against abortion for its readers? Why preach to the choir?

Preaching to the choir is a legitimate enterprise. Scripture calls it “edification,”or “building up.” It is what priests, ministers, rabbis, and mullahs try to do once every week. We all need to clean and improve our apologetic weapons periodically; and this argument is the most effective one I know for actual use in dialogue with intelligent pro-choicers.

I will be as up-front as possible. I will try to prove the simple, common-sensical reasonableness of the pro-life case by a sort of Socratic logic. My conclusion is that Roe v. Wade must be overturned, and my fundamental reason for this is not only because of what abortion is but because we all know what abortion is.

This is obviously a controversial conclusion, and initially unacceptable to all pro-choicers. So, my starting point must be noncontroversial. It is this: We know what an apple is. I will try to persuade you that if we know what an apple is, Roe v. Wade must be overthrown, and that if you want to defend Roe, you will probably want to deny that we know what an apple is.

 

1) We Know What an Apple Is

Our first principle should be as undeniable as possible, for arguments usually go back to their first principles. If we find our first premise to be a stone wall that cannot be knocked down when we back up against it, our argument will be strong. Tradition states and common sense dictates our premise that we know what an apple is. Almost no one doubted this, until quite recently. Even now, only philosophers, scholars, “experts,” media mavens, professors, journalists, and mind-molders dare to claim that we do not know what an apple is.

 

2) We Really Know What an Apple Really Is

From the premise that “we know what an apple is,” I move to a second principle that is only an explication of the meaning of the first: that we really know what an apple really is. If this is denied, our first principle is refuted. It becomes, “We know, but not really, what an apple is, but not really.” Step 2 says only, “Let us not ‘nuance’ Step 1 out of existence!”

 

3) We Really Know What Some Things Really Are

From Step 2, I deduce the third principle, also as an immediate logical corollary, that we really know what some things (other things than apples) really are. This follows if we only add the minor premise that an apple is another thing. This third principle, of course, is the repudiation of skepticism. The secret has been out since Socrates that skepticism is logically self-contradictory. To say “I do not know” is to say “I know I do not know.”Socrates’s wisdom was not skepticism. He was not the only man in the world who knew that he did not know. He had knowledge; he did not claim to have wisdom. He knew he was not wise. That is a wholly different affair and is not self-contradictory. All forms of skepticism are logically self-contradictory, nuance as we will.

All talk about rights, about right and wrong, about justice, presupposes this principle that we really know what some things really are. We cannot argue about anything at all–anything real, as distinct from arguing about arguing, and about words, and attitudes– unless we accept this principle. We can talk about feelings without it, but we cannot talk about justice. We can have a reign of feelings– or a reign of terror– without it, but we cannot have a reign of law.

 

4) We Know What Human Beings Are

Our fourth principle is that we know what we are. If we know what an apple is, surely we know what a human being is. For we aren’t apples; we don’t live as apples, we don’t feel what apples feel (if anything). We don’t experience the existence or growth or life of apples, yet we know what apples are. A fortiori, we know what we are, for we have “inside information,” privileged information, more and better information.

We obviously do not have total, or even adequate, knowledge of ourselves, or of apples, or (if we listen to Aquinas) of even a flea. There is obviously more mystery in a human than in an apple, but there is also more knowledge. I repeat this point because I know it is often not understood: To claim that “we know what we are” is not to claim that we know all that we are, or even that we know adequately or completely or with full understanding anything at all of what we are. We are a living mystery, but we also know much of this mystery. Knowledge and mystery are no more incompatible than eating and hungering for more.

 

5) We Have Human Rights Because We Are Human

The fifth principle is the indispensable, common-sensical basis for human rights: We have human rights because we are human beings. We have not yet said what human beings are (e.g., do we have souls?), or what human rights are (e.g., do we have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” ?), only the simple point that we have whatever human rights we have because we are whatever it is that makes us human. This certainly sounds innocent enough, but it implies a general principle. Let’s call that our sixth principle.

 

6) Morality Is Based on Metaphysics

Metaphysics means simply philosophizing about reality. The sixth principle means that rights depend on reality, and our knowledge of rights depends on our knowledge of reality.

By this point in our argument, some are probably feeling impatient. These impatient ones are commonsensical people, uncorrupted by the chattering classes. They will say, “Of course. We know all this. Get on with it. Get to the controversial stuff.” Ah, but I suspect we began with the controversial stuff. For not all are impatient; others are uneasy. “Too simplistic,””not nuanced,””a complex issue”– do these phrases leap to mind as shields to protect you from the spear that you know is coming at the end of the argument?

The principle that morality depends on metaphysics means that rights depend on reality, or what is right depends on what is. Even if you say you are skeptical of metaphysics, we all do use the principle in moral or legal arguments. For instance, in the current debate about “animal rights,”some of us think that animals do have rights and some of us think they don’t, but we all agree that if they do have rights, they have animal rights, not human rights or plant rights, because they are animals, not humans or plants. For instance, a dog doesn’t have the right to vote, as humans do, because dogs are not rational, as humans are. But a dog probably does have a right not to be tortured. Why? Because of what a dog is, and because we really know a little bit about what a dog really is: We really know that a dog feels pain and a tree doesn’t. Dogs have feelings, unlike trees, and dogs don’t have reason, like humans; that’s why it’s wrong to break a limb off a dog but it’s not wrong to break a limb off a tree, and that’s also why dogs don’t have the right to vote but humans do.

 

7) Moral Arguments Presuppose Metaphysical Principles

The main reason people deny that morality must (or even can) be based on metaphysics is that they say we don’t really know what reality is, we only have opinions. They point out, correctly, that we are less agreed about morality than science or everyday practical facts. We don’t differ about whether the sun is a planet or whether we need to eat to live, but we do differ about things like abortion, capital punishment, and animal rights.

But the very fact that we argue about it– a fact the skeptic points to as a reason for skepticism– is a refutation of skepticism. We don’t argue about how we feel, about subjective things. You never hear an argument like this: “I feel great.””No, I feel terrible.” For instance, both pro-lifers and pro-choicers usually agree that it’s wrong to kill innocent persons against their will and it’s not wrong to kill parts of persons, like cancer cells. And both the proponents and opponents of capital punishment usually agree that human life is of great value; that’s why the proponent wants to protect the life of the innocent by executing murderers and why the opponent wants to protect the life even of the murderer. They radically disagree about how to apply the principle that human life is valuable, but they both assume and appeal to that same principle.

 

8 ) Might Making Right

All these examples so far are controversial. How to apply moral principles to these issues is controversial. What is not controversial, I hope, is the principle itself that human rights are possessed by human beings because of what they are, because of their being–and not because some other human beings have the power to enforce their will. That would be, literally, “might makes right.”Instead of putting might into the hands of right, that would be pinning the label of “right”on the face of might: justifying force instead of fortifying justice. But that is the only alternative, no matter what the political power structure, no matter who or how many hold the power, whether a single tyrant, or an aristocracy, or a majority of the freely voting public, or the vague sentiment of what Rousseau called “the general will.” The political form does not change the principle. A constitutional monarchy, in which the king and the people are subject to the same law, is a rule of law, not of power; a lawless democracy, in which the will of the majority is unchecked, is a rule of power, not of law.

 

9) Either All Have Rights or Only Some Have Rights

The reason all human beings have human rights is that all human beings are human. Only two philosophies of human rights are logically possible. Either all human beings have rights, or only some human beings have rights. There is no third possibility. But the reason for believing either one of these two possibilities is even more important than which one you believe.

Suppose you believe that all human beings have rights. Do you believe that all human beings have rights because they are human beings? Do you dare to do metaphysics? Are human rights “inalienable” because they are inherent in human nature, in the human essence, in the human being, in what humans, in fact, are? Or do you believe that all human beings have rights because some human beings say so– because some human wills have declared that all human beings have rights? If it’s the first reason, you are secure against tyranny and usurpation of rights. If it’s the second reason, you are not. For human nature doesn’t change, but human wills do. The same human wills that say today that all humans have rights may well say tomorrow that only some have rights.

 

10) Why Abortion Is Wrong

Some people want to be killed. I won’t address the morality of voluntary euthanasia here. But clearly, involuntary euthanasia is wrong; clearly, there is a difference between imposing power on another and freely making a contract with another. The contract may still be a bad one, a contract to do a wrong thing, and the mere fact that the parties to the contract entered it freely does not automatically justify doing the thing they contract to do. But harming or killing another against his will, not by free contract, is clearly wrong; if that isn’t wrong, what is?

But that’s what abortion is. Mother Teresa argued, simply, “If abortion is not wrong, nothing is wrong.”The fetus doesn’t want to be killed; it seeks to escape. Did you dare to watch The Silent Scream? Did the media dare to allow it to be shown?” No, they will censor nothing except the most common operation in America.

 

11) The Argument From the Nonexistence of Nonpersons

Are persons a subclass of humans, or are humans a subclass of persons? The issue of distinguishing humans and persons comes up only for two reasons: the possibility that there are nonhuman persons, like extraterrestrials, elves, angels, gods, God, or the Persons of the Trinity, or the possibility that there are some nonpersonal humans, unpersons, humans without rights.

Traditional common sense and morality say all humans are persons and have rights. Modern moral relativism says that only some humans are persons, for only those who are given rights by others (i.e., those in power) have rights. Thus, if we have power, we can “depersonalize”any group we want: blacks, slaves, Jews, political enemies, liberals, fundamentalists– or unborn babies.

A common way to state this philosophy is the claim that membership in a biological species confers no rights. I have heard it argued that we do not treat any other species in the traditional way– that is, we do not assign equal rights to all mice. Some we kill (those that get into our houses and prove to be pests); others we take good care of and preserve (those that we find useful in laboratory experiments or those we adopt as pets); still others we simply ignore (mice in the wild). The argument concludes that therefore, it is only sentiment or tradition (the two are often confused, as if nothing rational could be passed down by tradition) that assigns rights to all members of our own species.

 

12) Three Pro-Life Premises and Three Pro-Choice Alternatives

We have been assuming three premises, and they are the three fundamental assumptions of the pro-life argument. Any one of them can be denied. To be pro-choice, you must deny at least one of them, because taken together they logically entail the pro-life conclusion. But there are three different kinds of pro-choice positions, depending on which of the three pro-life premises is denied.

The first premise is scientific, the second is moral, and the third is legal. The scientific premise is that the life of the individual member of every animal species begins at conception. (This truism was taught by all biology textbooks before Roe and by none after Roe, yet Roe did not discover or appeal to any new scientific discoveries.) In other words, all humans are human, whether embryonic, fetal, infantile, young, mature, old, or dying.

The moral premise is that all humans have the right to life because all humans are human. It is a deduction from the most obvious of all moral rules, the Golden Rule, or justice, or equality. If you would not be killed, do not kill. It’s just not just, not fair. All humans have the human essence and, therefore, are essentially equal. The legal premise is that the law must protect the most basic human rights. If all humans are human, and if all humans have a right to life, and if the law must protect human rights, then the law must protect the right to life of all humans.

If all three premises are true, the pro-life conclusion follows. From the pro-life point of view, there are only three reasons for being pro-choice: scientific ignorance– appalling ignorance of a scientific fact so basic that nearly everyone in the world knows it; moral ignorance– appalling ignorance of the most basic of all moral rules; or legal ignorance– appalling ignorance of one of the most basic of all the functions of law. But there are significant differences among these different kinds of ignorance.

Scientific ignorance, if it is not ignoring, or deliberate denial or dishonesty, is perhaps pitiable but not morally blameworthy. You don’t have to be wicked to be stupid. If you believe an unborn baby is only “potential life”or a “group of cells,”then you do not believe you are killing a human being when you abort and might have no qualms of conscience about it. (But why, then, do most mothers who abort feel such terrible pangs of conscience, often for a lifetime?)

Most pro-choice arguments, during the first two decades after Roe disputed the scientific premise of the pro-life argument. It might be that this was almost always dishonest rather than honest ignorance, but perhaps not, and at least it didn’t directly deny the essential second premise, the moral principle. But pro-choice arguments today increasingly do.

Perhaps pro-choicers perceive that they have no choice but to do this, for they have no other recourse if they are to argue at all. Scientific facts are just too clear to deny, and it makes no legal sense to deny the legal principle, for if the law is not supposed to defend the right to life, what is it supposed to do? So they have to deny the moral principle that leads to the pro-life conclusion. This, I suspect, is a vast and major sea change. The camel has gotten not just his nose, but his torso under the tent. I think most people refuse to think or argue about abortion because they see that the only way to remain pro-choice is to abort their reason first. Or, since many pro-choicers insist that abortion is about sex, not about babies, the only way to justify their scorn of virginity is a scorn of intellectual virginity. The only way to justify their loss of moral innocence is to lose their intellectual innocence.

If the above paragraph offends you, I challenge you to calmly and honestly ask your own conscience and reason whether, where, and why it is false.

 

13) The Argument from Skepticism

The most likely response to this will be the charge of dogmatism. How dare I pontificate with infallible certainty, and call all who disagree either mentally or morally challenged! All right, here is an argument even for the metaphysical skeptic, who would not even agree with my very first and simplest premise, that we really do know what some things really are, such as what an apple is. (It’s only after you are pinned against the wall and have to justify something like abortion that you become a skeptic and deny such a self-evident principle.)

Roe used such skepticism to justify a pro-choice position. Since we don’t know when human life begins, the argument went, we cannot impose restrictions. (Why it is more restrictive to give life than to take it, I cannot figure out.) So here is my refutation of Roe on its own premises, its skeptical premises: Suppose that not a single principle of this essay is true, beginning with the first one. Suppose that we do not even know what an apple is. Even then abortion is unjustifiable.

Let’s assume not a dogmatic skepticism (which is self-contradictory) but a skeptical skepticism. Let us also assume that we do not know whether a fetus is a person or not. In objective fact, of course, either it is or it isn’t (unless the Court has revoked the Law of Noncontradiction while we were on vacation), but in our subjective minds, we may not know what the fetus is in objective fact. We do know, however, that either it is or isn’t by formal logic alone.

A second thing we know by formal logic alone is that either we do or do not know what a fetus is. Either there is “out there,” in objective fact, independent of our minds, a human life, or there is not; and either there is knowledge in our minds of this objective fact, or there is not.

So, there are four possibilities:

  • The fetus is a person, and we know that;
  • The fetus is a person, but we don’t know that;
  • The fetus isn’t a person, but we don’t know that; or
  • The fetus isn’t a person, and we know that.

What is abortion in each of these four cases?

In Case 1, where the fetus is a person and you know that, abortion is murder. First-degree murder, in fact. You deliberately kill an innocent human being.

In Case 2, where the fetus is a person and you don’t know that, abortion is manslaughter. It’s like driving over a man-shaped overcoat in the street at night or shooting toxic chemicals into a building that you’re not sure is fully evacuated. You’re not sure there is a person there, but you’re not sure there isn’t either, and it just so happens that there is a person there, and you kill him. You cannot plead ignorance. True, you didn’t know there was a person there, but you didn’t know there wasn’t either, so your act was literally the height of irresponsibility. This is the act Roe allowed.

In Case 3, the fetus isn’t a person, but you don’t know that. So abortion is just as irresponsible as it is in the previous case. You ran over the overcoat or fumigated the building without knowing that there were no persons there. You were lucky; there weren’t. But you didn’t care; you didn’t take care; you were just as irresponsible. You cannot legally be charged with manslaughter, since no man was slaughtered, but you can and should be charged with criminal negligence.

Only in Case 4 is abortion a reasonable, permissible, and responsible choice. But note: What makes Case 4 permissible is not merely the fact that the fetus is not a person but also your knowledge that it is not, your overcoming of skepticism. So skepticism counts not for abortion but against it. Only if you are not a skeptic, only if you are a dogmatist, only if you are certain that there is no person in the fetus, no man in the coat, or no person in the building, may you abort, drive, or fumigate. This undercuts even our weakest, least honest escape: to pretend that we don’t even know what an apple is, just so we have an excuse for pleading that we don’t know what an abortion is.

 

One Last Plea

I hope a reader can show me where I’ve gone astray in the sequence of 13 steps that constitute this argument. I honestly wish a pro-choicer would someday show me one argument that proved that fetuses are not persons. It would save me and other pro-lifers enormous grief, time, effort, worry, prayers, and money. But until that time, I will keep arguing, because it’s what I do as a philosopher. It is my weak and wimpy version of a mother’s shouting that something terrible is happening: Babies are being slaughtered. I will do this because, as Edmund Burke declared, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Peter Kreeft

By

Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and at the King's College (Empire State Building), in New York City. He is a regular contributor to several Christian publications, is in wide demand as a speaker at conferences, and is the author of over 63 books, including "Handbook of Christian Apologetics," "Christianity for Modern Pagans," and "Fundamentals of the Faith."

  • http://www.azoic.com/ Irenaeus of New York

    Great article.

    Numbers 8 and 9 made me think of that quote from Animal Farm…

    “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”

  • http://www.sicetnonderful.blogspot.com/ Scotty Ellis

    By a strange coincidence, I have been considering a similar pro-life argument. I wrote an article about it at http://www.sicetnonderful.blogspot.com/2012/01/purely-philosophical-argument-for-pro.html

    However, I have a few disagreements with your reasoning: first, I disagree with 4) We Know What Human Beings Are. Unless you can actually define a “human being” for me, I cannot know that we actually have a coherent account of what counts as a “human being.” And this is not easy to do while maintaining a pro-life position, because it has proven to be an as-of-yet insurmountable challenge to define a human being in a way that would not include certain sorts of tumors. There are tumors that begin as zygotes; as embryos; in short, as things you are, I assume, including as “human.” But this would logically mean that I must treat the chimeric cells inside a chimeric individual as a “human being” separate from its host. This clearly leads to absurdities! So, while it is comforting to believe we know what a human being is, we have no reason to believe we have this issue cinched.

    Secondly, related to the above reason, we may want to distinguish between “human organisms” (which, for whatever reason, might just include the aforementioned tumors) and “human persons.” This means that being a “human organism” in itself may not afford that being full human rights. This is precisely what many pro-choice advocates argue: the zygote, bereft of any faculties that would allow any sort of conscious experience, seems on this level difficult to differentiate from tumors and other human organisms that we may want to exclude from the category of “person.”

    Finally, in cases 2 and 3 you mentioned, the commonality is that we are uncertain of the personhood status of the fetus (and, indeed, we may be certain about the status of the fetus at one stage, but uncertain about the status at another stage). This, for the most part, would be reason to prohibit most abortions: however, in cases of moral uncertainty, moral certainties take precedence: for instance, if a woman’s life is in danger (a situation in which there is no moral uncertainty about the personhood of the mother) due to her pregnancy, the certainty of her personhood outweighs the uncertainty of the fetus’s status; other moral certainties should also be weighed against the uncertainty to determine exceptions to a general prohibition against abortion.

    Other than these cases, most of what you have written seems rational.

  • Brandy M Miller

    @Scotty: There are no tumors that begin as zygotes.
    What you might be referring to are instances of fetus in fetu in which one twin developed inside of the other. Tumors are cancerous growths which are genetically identical to the person from whom they are taken. Likewise, all of a person’s organs are genetically identical to all of the other organs in a person’s body. A zygote, being the fertilized egg of a woman, contains 1/2 of the dna of the male who fertilized the egg and 1/2 of her dna – thus it is a completely unique individual from its first moment of conception.

    Incidentally, identical twins are NOT genetically identical. There are subtle differences. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080215121214.htm

    • http://www.sicetnonderful.blogspot.com/ Scotty Ellis

      @Brandy

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydatidiform_mole

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gestational_trophoblastic_disease

      Reviewing these disorders, it is clear that fertilized eggs and zygotes do, in fact, occasionally become tumors. So, my objection stands validated.

      Furthermore, my point about both chimeras and other similar problems is not that all are cancers, but that if we believe all “human organisms” deserve the rights of personhood, these would be afforded personhood as well, which is absurd.

      • http://www.RosaryVictory.blogspot.com Mary De Voe

        Chimeras are not human beings. When two become one, a newly begotten human being comes into existence. When two sperm enter into an ovum, one fertilizes the egg and two become one. The second sperm becomes an invader and causes destruction. Please understand that the newly begotten renew and refine our human rights. These are our constitutional posterity, all future generations to come, our future.

        • http://www.sicetnonderful.blogspot.com/ Scotty Ellis

          Mary De Voe,

          How are you defining human person, in which “human person” means an entity which has human rights?

          Chimeras are human beings, or rather it would be better to say that some human beings are chimeras. These beings contain DNA from two fertilized eggs: that is, two conceptions took place. Both conceptions remain alive and also remain genetically distinct. However, you claim, “When two become one, a newly begotten human being comes into existence.” Do you mean to say that neither conception nor distinct DNA are factors in defining a unique human person?

  • Sarto

    Peter did good here, but maybe he is preaching to the choir. I think that such logically constructed powerful arguments are after the fact. A pro-choicer would be resisting and denying every single word and would likely end up unconvinced. And a pro-lifer, reading a pro-choice argument, would be doing the same.

    The real story is “story.” By that, I mean the story we live by, whose values direct the way we live our lives. I think you could take twenty values, like life…survival…wealth… belonging…freedom…respect for others…respect for our world…etc.. If you took twenty crucial values, you would discover that both pro-life and pro-choice embrace the same values. The difference is, the way they arrange those values. For me, life–especially human life, goes at the very top. But for a pro-choicer, it is freedom.

    If I had it to do all over again, I would go for that doctorate in moral theology. My dissertation would be an effort to illustrate how it is the arrangement of values–our story– that decides the choices we make, or don’t make. Rational arguments are subsequent to decision already made at a much deeper level.

  • Mark W.

    Scotty,

    Brandy is correct. There are no tumors that begin as embryos. Gestational trophoblastic disease are tumors arising from placental tissue; this is the layer of cells that surrounds the embryo. I am a physician, by the way.

    • http://www.sicetnonderful.blogspot.com/ Scotty Ellis

      I am sorry if I have misunderstood. I have been researching this subject, and was led to this by a friend of mine in med school right now:

      “The main types of gestational trophoblastic diseases are:

      “Hydatidiform mole (complete or partial)
      Invasive mole
      Choriocarcinoma
      Placental-site trophoblastic tumor

      “A partial hydatidiform mole develops when 2 sperm fertilize a normal egg. These tumors contain some fetal tissue, but this is often mixed in with the trophoblastic tissue.”

      Now, this fetus is not viable, for sure, but it is still a fetus, and its tissue is cancerous, no? Please correct me on this matter if I have misunderstood.

      However, even if I am incorrect about whether the fetus directly becomes a cancer, I do know that zygotes can merge – such as in chimeras – and this would still provide the necessary counterargument that I need that simply because something is a human organism does not mean it is necessarily a human person.

  • Jack

    The ‘controversial’ nature of the first several principles goes to the question of whether we can have unconditioned knowledge of what things are; that is, whether we have access to knowledge of ultimate existence. Plato, for example, argued that the world of sense perception was an imperfect reflection of a world of perfect, eternal forms. The purpose of philosophy, for Plato, was to contemplate the ultimate existence (or form) of things.

    However, if you ask an empiricist what an apple is, they’ll say:
    “It’s a fruit, by which I mean that it shares certain characteristics with oranges, bananas, etc. and that by habit we use the name ‘fruit’ to refer to all objects that share those characteristics. In describing the apple all I would do is list its sensible qualities (round, red, sweet).”

    If you’re a nominalist, you would argue that ‘red’ or ‘sweet’ do not refer to anything that ‘actually’ exists ‘out there’. Rather, we simply have sense experience, and this sense experience generates abstract ideas. Names refer to the abstract ideas, not to ultimate existence. Locke’s epistemology posited something called ‘substance’ as a placeholder for the unconditioned existence that the sensible qualities themselves refer to.

    When Professor Kreeft says we really know what an apple really is, I think he’s talking about an apples ‘essence’.
    If you believe there are essences and are an Aristotelian, you would revert to the question of what the purpose of an apple is (teleology).
    Professor Kreeft is dead on when he says that moral arguments rely on metaphysics. In Aristotle’s system, for example, the final purpose of human beings is happiness (understood as virtue), which rests on a metaphysical interpretation of what the essence of human nature is.

    • http://www.sicetnonderful.blogspot.com/ Scotty Ellis

      Yes, but essentialism or realism has problems of its own. For example, most realist metaphysics would have a difficult time explaining evolution: the slow changes of a species over time through numerous mutations that would result in unique beings over time not all sharing a common “essence.”

      And in this particular case, being a realist doesn’t help us solve the question, “is this zygote a human person,” since answering that question, nominalist or realist, requires us to define what we mean by “human person.”

  • Margot

    What happens when this fetus turns out gay?

    • Morrie

      All fetuses are gay (as in happy) to be alive. Their sex is either male of female. If they decide to have sexual intercourse after their reproductive organs develope, then it must be with someone of the opposite sex. Otherwise it is something else and not sexual intercourse.

    • http://www.RosaryVictory.blogspot.com Mary De Voe

      All human beings pass through same-sex atrraction at puberty. Some get hung-up and do not reach maturity. This is called arrested development.

      • Peggy

        It’s also called ignorance and hate speech. But that’s a recent development.

  • Peggy

    There are things that everyday people say are apples that other everyday people say are not apples. It’s not a disagreement limited to “only philosophers, scholars, experts, media mavens, professors, journalists, and mind-molders”. In fact, everyday people even disagree over who “we” are. This is something Mr. Kreeft glosses over in his gloss, as his “we” is limited to persons who agree with him. And we know not everyone does.

  • Peggy

    Mr. Kreeft wrote, “In Case 3, the fetus isn’t a person… You ran over the overcoat or fumigated the building… You were lucky; there weren’t. But you didn’t care; you didn’t take care; you were just as irresponsible… [Y]ou can and should be charged with criminal negligence.”

    That’s baloney. Were it true that “the fetus isn’t a person”, then regardless of whether we know this or not, there’s still no chance that it’s a person, for it would already be true that “the fetus isn’t a person”, and thus not an issue of “luck”.

    Likewise, whether it’s “the fetus isn’t a person” or “the mosquito isn’t a person”, it makes no sense to charge criminal negligence unless there was in fact a real danger to a real person, which isn’t the case when “the fetus isn’t a person”. Criminal negligence requires a failure to foresee and thus to allow an otherwise avoidable danger to manifest, which isn’t the case when in fact there is no avoidable danger to manifest as when “the fetus isn’t a person”. There is no failure, and there can be no failure, to foresee a harm that cannot manifest.

    Further, where there is in fact no danger but the actor doesn’t know that, such also does not necessitate “didn’t care, didn’t take care”. Even after seemingly extensive examination of the issue of abortion, many people continue to report that they still do not “know” if a “fetus” is a “person”, which is not surprising given that case 3 has as fact that the fetus is not a person.

    Moreover, in the case where in fact “the fetus is not a person” but everyone doesn’t know that to be true, it is arguable that to spend any effort whatsoever to investigate would be unreasonable, i.e. a waste of time, in the judgment of one already aware of that fact. Even in respect to “others” who might not be aware of that fact, the judge who is already aware of the fact might well hold that their investigations would also be a waste of time, that they may accept it without waste of time upon his authority (or as stated by law), and thus “know” that “the fetus is not a person”, which is case 4. People of different religions, countries, families, backgrounds, etc have apparently accepted different “authorities” on the subject.

    Finally, while Mr. Kreeft “pleas” for “one argument that proved that fetuses are not person” (thus indicating it’s not proven to him that fetuses are persons), other people have been asking for one argument that proved that each “person” cannot rightfully decide for him/herself.

    • http://www.RosaryVictory.blogspot.com Mary De Voe

      Peggy. The Supreme Court for the United States of America Roe v Wade 1)Acknowledged the personhood of the fetus by accepting the case. Justices do not try apples. 2) ought to have asked for discovery, which may not have been forthcoming or given the person in the womb the benefit of the doubt, reasonable doubt given in all life or death trials. Roe v. Wade was and is a great miscarriage of Justice. The human being is comprised of body and a rational immortal soul, (Apples do not reason) endowed with unalienable rights by our Creator. Reason is one, free will is two. How does anyone know that the fetus does not reason from the first moment of existence. The fetus’ sovereign personhood created and endowed constitutes our government, our nation. The perfect moral and legal innocence is the standard of Justice for our Judicial system; the compelling interest of the state in the newly begotten individual human being. and the first cell when two become one is growing to become whom he is called to be: “I AM”

      • Peggy

        Mary, you say “apples do not reason… How does anyone know that the fetus does not reason from the first moment of existence.” And someone else asks, “how does anyone know that apples do not reason from the first moment of existence?”

        You say “the first cell when two become one is growing to become whom he is called to be: ‘I AM’”. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
        blessed be the name of the LORD.

        • http://www.RosaryVictory.blogspot.com Mary De Voe

           Peggy 01/23/2012 2:52 am
          Mary, you say “apples do not reason… How does anyone know that the fetus does not reason from the first moment of existence.” And someone else asks, “how does anyone know that apples do not reason from the first moment of existence?”
          You say “the first cell when two become one is growing to become whom he is called to be: ‘I AM’”. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
          blessed be the name of the LORD.
          Peggy: The human being is comprised of body and rational soul. All unalienable rights are endowed when man’s immortal, rational soul is endowed by our Creator, when two become one. Our Creator gives one of His children His name “I AM”. The civil right to life is inscribed in our Declaration of Independence, one of our founding principles, which is the basis for our Constitutional protection for the human person. Apples have apple souls, and again, if apples reason they might learn to share better.
          “You say “the first cell when two become one is growing to become whom he is called to be: ‘I AM’”. “ form follows function. If the first human cell of the human being is not alive, abortion would not be necessary, now would it?.
          “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
          blessed be the name of the LORD.
          Roe v. Wade is not The LORD. Blessed be the name of the LORD. Amen
          Man is the glory of God, Woman is the glory of man.

      • http://www.sicetnonderful.blogspot.com/ Scotty Ellis

        //How does anyone know that the fetus does not reason from the first moment of existence.//

        A much better question is how could anyone believe that a fetus reasons from the first moment of existence. Our knowledge of the brain and its connections with the phenomena of consciousness (such as rational thought) is limited, but we do know that without the structures of the brain we have no reason to believe that those phenomena would exist. We know the effects upon conscious phenomena that occur when the brain is damaged. Without extra information it seems quite clear that a one-celled organism, or a multi-cell organism without any brain structures, would have no conscious phenomena, like thought.

        • http://www.RosaryVictory.blogspot.com Mary De Voe

           Scotty Ellis 01/23/2012 7:08 am
          //How does anyone know that the fetus does not reason from the first moment of existence.//
          //A much better question is how could anyone believe that a fetus reasons from the first moment of existence.//
          The power to reason is an attribute of the rational, immortal soul, complete when God creates it for the person and brings it into existence never ever to end. The human body grows to accommodate the rational soul, form follows function. The infant knows “I AM” and grows a brain. The infant speaks “I AM” and grows a mouth. The infant hears “I AM” and grows ears. The infant grows eyes to see “I AM” and touch “I AM”. Of all creation, only “I AM” is given our Creator’s name. and free will to love God. “I AM” grows a heart.

    • http://www.RosaryVictory.blogspot.com Mary De Voe

      How can you trust your knowledge when you are a fallible human being doing the same thing the Supreme Court did in Roe v. Wade?

      • Peggy

        Love believes all things. Love never fails.

  • http://www.sicetnonderful.blogspot.com/ Scotty Ellis

    I must disagree with you, Peggy. The point of the argument is that our uncertainty regarding the fetus’s status would itself be reason to act with moral caution regarding it. While you are true in noting that if it were the case that a human fetus were not a person, there would be no “luck” involved, from our subjective perspective (i.e., not knowing if it were a person or not) it would be morally equivalent to…say, crushing a box that someone told you had a baby in it, but which you never actually verified that claim. Even if there ended up not being a baby in the box, there is still something morally reprehensible about acting so callously in the case of such a moral uncertainty.

    Further, unless you can present to me a coherent definition of what counts as a “human person” with “human rights,” you are in as much uncertainty as the rest of us. Furthermore, presumption might not lie only on the hands of those “religious” folk who believe strongly that the fetus is a person: the “judge who is already aware of the fact” would need to present a coherent argument for why a fetus is not a person, which means presenting a coherent definition of what counts as a “human person” with “human rights.”

    Finally, we assumedly are in such a state of uncertainty, ergo we should act with moral caution until we achieve further certainty.

    • http://www.RosaryVictory.blogspot.com Mary De Voe

      Scotty Ellis: Firstly, the judge is the personification of Divine Justice. Why would anyone want human and fallible Justice? Fallible Justice is a contradiction. God is existence. All creation comes into existence because God wills it to. Creation is an act of God’s will. Procreation is when two become one, in begetting children, and God wills an immortal soul to come into existence. Sovereign personhood, free will, humanity are endowed. God cannot contradict Himself. Therefore, the human being is who he is forever. The “WHO” is the person. The human being can never be a “what”, but only a WHO.

  • Peggy

    Mr. Kreeft also wrote, “In Case 2, where the fetus is a person and you don’t know that, abortion is manslaughter… You cannot plead ignorance. True, you didn’t know there was a person there, but you didn’t know there wasn’t either, so your act was literally the height of irresponsibility.”

    First, (unless the manslaughter statute specifically covers the death of a fetus) manslaughter requires that a person was killed. If we do not know that a person was killed, we do not know that it’s manslaughter. Instead, we have reasonable doubt, and thus no conviction. No pleading of “ignorance” on the part of the accused would be required for this.

    Second, the case also does not establish that a reasonable person could/should have reasonably known that the fetus was a person, and in light of that, it’s not established that there was gross negligence. The prosecutor’s contention that it was “literally the height of irresponsibility” is unproven. A doctor’s not knowing that a particular fetus is a “person” is not necessarily willful or with extreme conscious disregard to human life.

    Third, even if the judge/jury knows that a person was killed, even if it’s established that a person was killed, ignorance on the part of the accused may be a defense to voluntary manslaughter (which requires an intentional killing). Similarly, if the accused did not understand the nature of the act, and/or could not distinguish between right and wrong (e.g. if the accused could not determine that the fetus was a person, whether or not other people could), he may have some makings for an insanity defense.

    • http://www.RosaryVictory.blogspot.com Mary De Voe

      Peggy, in law there is such a thing a “involuntary manslaughter”. This is wreckless abandon. The Declaration of Independence tells us that all men are created equal and endowed with life by our Creator and that “WE” hold these truths to be self-evident, therefore, you may not be able to claim ignorance of the law without forfeiting your citizenship, opting out of “WE”

      • Peggy

        Mary, I already know about involuntary manslaughter. That is why my post expressly said “voluntary” manslaughter instead of involuntary. Perhaps you missed that.

        I also note that you seem to have an affection for the Declaration of Independence, as if it were the Constitution. The “we” in the Declaration are the signers of the day. They are dead. People today disagree what they meant, as for example, though the Declaration says “all men are created equal”, the Constitution has slaves as “three fifths of all other Persons.” But whatever the deceased signers of the Declaration meant, the Declaration served its purpose of its day and is today generally considered not to be a legally binding document, except by some parties often called “Declarationists”. Perhaps you are one of them. Whether you are or not, different people interpret the Declaration differently in terms of the so-called right to choose to have an abortion. And there are many sources used in interpreting the Constitution. The Declaration is but one of many. There is no need for anyone to “forfeit their citizenship” over it. They won’t deport you over your ignorance of the law.

  • Peggy

    Scotty, “someone” can allege that X is a person (and there is always someone somewhere who may allege that anything and everything is a person), and the box holder can allege that it is not. Likewise, “someone” can allege that crushing X is “callous” and “morally reprehensible”, and the box holder can allege that it is not. Indeed, the box holder might allege that the accusation and disrespect of the box holder’s beliefs is what is “callous” and “morally reprehensible”. Opening the box does not “actually verify” whether X is a person or not. Indeed, in case 3, it is impossible to ever actually verify that X is a person.

    As to your claim that “unless you can present to me a coherent definition of what counts as a ‘human person’ with ‘human rights,’ you are in as much uncertainty as the rest of us”, I’m not bound by your alleged uncertainty, whether or not I (can) satisfy you. Likewise, your claim that “the judge would need to present…” sounds like it might be your need that you project outside yourself.

    You speak of your assumption that “we assumedly are in such a state of uncertainty, ergo we should act with moral caution until we achieve further certainty,” but that’s your assumption. Other people report moral certainty per their own conscience. I do not find it “callous” or “morally reprehensible” that a person obey the certain judgment of her conscience. And I’m not aware that they have any duty to justify or “present” a definition of a person or argument to satisfy you or me. After all, conscience is private. They might not even be able to verbalize such a definition or argument. That they do not or cannot verbalize it does not establish that they lack certainty, regardless of what you “assume”.

    • http://www.sicetnonderful.blogspot.com/ Scotty Ellis

      //As to your claim that “unless you can present to me a coherent definition of what counts as a ‘human person’ with ‘human rights,’ you are in as much uncertainty as the rest of us”, I’m not bound by your alleged uncertainty, whether or not I (can) satisfy you.//

      I assume you are bound by rationality, Peggy. If you have decided that you are unbound by rationality, please share this information with me and I will stop bothering discussing things with you.

      Now, if you are certain of the truth some claim, X, you must have some rational justification for that certainty; without any such rational justification, your claim may be a cherished belief but hardly needs to be accepted by anyone else as binding. Or, in other words, your argument cuts you as well: your private belief that a fetus is not a person is as irrelevant to the overall question as someone else’s private belief that a fetus is a person.

      Now that we all realize that we are on the same level, we can move forward: do you have some sort of rational justification for why a fetus should not be considered a person? If you do, please share it – any such rational argument would be binding on me and all other rational agents. If you do not, then we are back to uncertainty: that is, we have a number of people (including you) all with private beliefs about the matter, none of whom can justify their beliefs nor dismiss the beliefs of others. And, in such a case of moral uncertainty, when the potential damage is the taking of the life, moral caution is required.

      • Peggy

        Scotty, you wrote, “your argument cuts you as well: your private belief that a fetus is not a person…” The argument you speak of is yours, with yourself. I did not say that I or anyone has a “private belief that a fetus is not a person.” What I said was “Other people report moral certainty per their own conscience.” I don’t claim to know the judgment of their conscience, and I did not reduce it to a “private belief”, nor do I claim to know anyone else’s private belief, not even if they purport to share such a thing with me. Private is private.

        You wrote, “please share [some sort of rational justification for why a fetus should not be considered a person] – any such rational argument would be binding on me and all other rational agents. If you do not, then we are back to uncertainty…”. Everyday, purportedly rational agents disagree with one another as they purportedly share things some purport to be a “rational argument” or a contribution thereto, pro or con. They do not agree that “we are back to uncertainty”, that nobody “can justify their beliefs nor dismiss the beliefs of others”, or that “moral caution is required” depending on what (Scotty thinks) Peggy has, does or can do. Some say Scotty’s question is not really whether Peggy has it or can share it with Scotty, but whether Scotty can receive it. My answer is found in the silence between the words.

        • http://www.sicetnonderful.blogspot.com/ Scotty Ellis

          I think we are using the word “private” in a very different manner. By “private” I do not mean what cannot be shared; I mean that from the point of view of a group a “private” belief is held by one or more individuals who cannot justify the belief by means or standards common to the group (excepting the existence of outliers, as must be done practically).

          So, then, on a question that is presented to the group, we may have any number of people with private beliefs regarding the matter. However, until those beliefs are couched in terms and with some justification that is amenable to the group, those beliefs will remain private, no matter how certain they seem to those who hold them.

          Similarly, until the group has come to some sort of general consensus on the issue, itself backed with a commonly held justification, it will be the case that the question is uncertain. It must be pointed out that these are not scientific questions that can be answered by empirical data, no matter how much that data might be relevant to our discussion; thus the standards are the standards of reason and logic.

          Therefore, in such matters uncertainty reigns until a commonly acceptable justification is presented for an answer. This is the heart of the argument (as it is for all arguments).

          • Peggy

            Which group have you anointed as your authority to decide for you by “some sort of general consensus” what you will hold to be certain? Or are you still deciding on that. If you disagree with their purported consensus, do you reject it?

            • http://www.sicetnonderful.blogspot.com/ Scotty Ellis

              I assume we are all talking about abortion, which is an issue of interest to just about anyone? So, apparently my “group” here is simply humanity. Practically speaking, however, I’m just talking about those of us engaged in this current debate. I assume we are all committed to certain basic principles of rationality that allow us to have a conversation, and I believe that at this point we are as a group uncertain about the status of certain zygotes, etc., vis a vis personhood.

              //If you disagree with their purported consensus, do you reject it?//

              Theoretically, we would be able to reach consensus by developing some strong notion of what constitutes a human person, together with some form of justification for that notion. Granted that any and all such definitions are always provisional, I see no reason why I wouldn’t accept it. But I see no relevance this has to the issue at hand, Peggy; we are starting down a rabbit hole away from the question at hand: do we really know what a human person is, like Kreeft maintains in this article?

              • Peggy

                You say “we are as a group uncertain about the status of certain zygotes” and you attribute it to your “belief”. Are you alleging your belief is consensus? When did “we” decide on criteria for consensus? Or are you using “we” as just another pronoun for “you”. Who are “we”? How many are “we”?

                You say, “Practically speaking, I’m just talking about those of us engaged in this current debate.” Again, who is that? How many is that? If I post under five different names, do you count me as five or as one? If I post as a devil’s advocate, do you count me as agreeing or disagreeing?

                To answer your question, “do we really know what a human person is?”, perhaps you say no and Mr. Kreeft says yes. Does that mean you and Mr. Kreeft disagree? Or could it be that you and he are each answering the question in a different sense. He did remind, “To claim that ‘we know what we are’ is not to claim that we know all that we are, or even that we know adequately or completely or with full understanding anything at all of what we are.”

                Are you a human person? Are there levels of knowing the human person? Do you “really know” what/who you are?

                And if we were to “know adequately or completely or with full understanding anything at all of what we are” and so realize that abortion does not really kill a human person, what relevance would that have to the abortion question, if say, at another level of understanding abortion is seen as killing a human person?

                • http://www.sicetnonderful.blogspot.com/ Scotty Ellis

                  //You say “we are as a group uncertain about the status of certain zygotes” and you attribute it to your “belief”. Are you alleging your belief is consensus? When did “we” decide on criteria for consensus? Or are you using “we” as just another pronoun for “you”. Who are “we”? How many are “we”?

                  You say, “Practically speaking, I’m just talking about those of us engaged in this current debate.” Again, who is that? How many is that? If I post under five different names, do you count me as five or as one? If I post as a devil’s advocate, do you count me as agreeing or disagreeing?//

                  Thank you for this irrelevant rant. I take it as a sign of your growing disinterest or inability to engage in a discussion on the topic at hand.

                  //To answer your question, “do we really know what a human person is?”, perhaps you say no and Mr. Kreeft says yes. Does that mean you and Mr. Kreeft disagree?//

                  With this information it is perfectly logical to conclude that we disagree. That disagreement might be de dicto or de re, but there is a disagreement, and only through discussion can it be understood and overcome.

                  //And if we were to “know adequately or completely or with full understanding anything at all of what we are” and so realize that abortion does not really kill a human person, what relevance would that have to the abortion question, if say, at another level of understanding abortion is seen as killing a human person?//

                  If we had such knowledge, and had justification for it, then it would be perfectly valid to allow abortion. Those who wish to abstain because they are ignorant of this (willingly or not) may do so. There’s nothing wrong with abstaining from something that is merely morally allowed, rather than morally required.

                  Now, this is the last time I will comment on something as off topic as “how many people are in this debate.” If you are interested in putting forward a definition of human personhood, tally ho.

                  • Peggy

                    Thank you for your rant. You confirm my topic at hand, i.e. your growing disinterest or inability to engage in a discussion on the topic at hand.

                    On “putting forward a definition of human personhood”, I continue with you. Tallyho.

    • http://www.sicetnonderful.blogspot.com/ Scotty Ellis

      //After all, conscience is private.//

      This may or may not be the case, but regardless of this rationality is public, in the sense of shared and in the sense of forming a basis for consensus. As such, I would like to address you in terms of the rationality of your position: you either can justify it, which would be binding on me and everyone else rational, or you cannot, in which case we are back to public uncertainty.

  • Andrew J. Decker, III

    Professor Kreeft,

    This was an outstanding article. You have provided us with more rhetorical tools to advance the cause of life. Abortion is a monstrous evil, but truth will prevail. St. Peter exhorted us to be able to give an accounting for our faith in Jesus Christ. Those of us who understand the precious gift of life that the Lord has given us and how that life begins at conception must be ready to advance truth as effectivelyas possibly.

    Thanks!

  • Sarto

    I read Kreeft’s excellent article and then all the carefully reasoned arguments that follow, but still maintain they are almost beside the point. For most people, the decision has already been made at another level that is not exactly “reasoned out.”

    For example, In Kainz’ piece beginning this pro-life discussion, a pro-choicer says her piece. Along the way, she calls the unborn child a “parasite.” In the sentence I have just written, you instinctively sense two different ways of valuing the “fetus.” To me, within my story of life, it is a preborn child. To her, within her story, it is a parasite. My reaction is instinctive, not reasoned. And so it is with most of us. I don’t think any of Mr. Kreefts masterfully reasoned argument will make the slightest impact on the lady commenting on the Kainz piece. She is coming from a different set of values with a different view of reality.

    And so the real argument is about two different ways of telling the story of life and what makes it flourish.

    • http://www.sicetnonderful.blogspot.com/ Scotty Ellis

      //And so the real argument is about two different ways of telling the story of life and what makes it flourish.//

      It seems the root of the argument is really the inability of either side to give a coherent story of life and what makes it flourish. What is a human being that deserves human rights? Kreeft says (and I imagine this in a pleading tone) that we know what a human being is. Yet, where is the definition? What is a human being? Our uncertainty on this point is the heart of the entire discussion. You are correct that most of the comments are superfluous, because they fail to address this central issue. Instead, like you note, there is a tendency to simply affirm what is already held by private belief (whatever that happens to be).

  • TeaPot562

    Why has no one raised the issue of extrauterine pregnancy – where the fertilized ovum has either failed to leave a fallopian tube (“tubal pregnancy”) or somehow missed the uterus and wound up elsewhere in the abdomen? These events, not totally rare, do become life-threatening if not detected and promptly treated. The treatment may result in the death of the fetus; but morally considered “secondary effect”, as the death of the fetus was not intended.
    TeaPot562

  • Enyo

    How do you know absolutely when a human becomes a human? And, would you call a miscarriage a murder or manslaughter by the same principles that you listed?

    • Michael PS

      Well, obviously, “human” life begins at conception, although it may, all being well, be the life or lives of one or more persons, as in the case of monozygotic twins. From conception, it (or they) are human organisms.

      • http://www.sicetnonderful.blogspot.com/ Scotty Ellis

        @Michael PS,

        I think the question Enyo is asking is more along the lines of, “at what point does the organism have the rights associated with human persons?” This is more complicated than your answer “From conception.”

        For example, in the case of a chimera, two of these human organisms (which, by your definition, would each be human lives and assumedly would have the rights of personhood) merge into one individual; but the material from one of these remains separate, distinguishable, and genetically unique from the material of the other. Our definition of a person needs to be more subtle to avoid giving part of such a person’s body the right of an individual and the other part the rights of a separate individual, for what I hope are obvious reasons.

        • http://www.RosaryVictory.blogspot.com Mary De Voe

          I am sorry. I thought the word “chimera” referred to animal human monsters.

        • Michael PS

          My point is that we need not address the question of “personality” at all. Rather, we are dealing with the life of an organism or organisms that can only be classified as “human.” Talk about “personality,” which used to be expressed through the vexed question of “ensoulment” is, really, irrelevant.

          The CDF, in its 1987 Instruction, Donum Vitae, said, “The Magisterium has not expressly committed itself to an affirmation of a philosophical nature, but it constantly reaffirms the moral condemnation of any kind of procured abortion. This teaching has not been changed and is unchangeable”

          A faithful Catholic can not only doubt, but deny, that the zygote is a person, can deny that it has a soul – this all lies in the realm of theological and philosophical opinion. What the Church has always taught is that any interference with, or manipulation of, the life-giving process is gravely immoral.

          You may find the same teaching in Tertullian (160-200) who says in his Apologeticum 9:8 “With us, homicide being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even what is conceived in the womb..” [Nobis vero semel homicidio interdicto etiam conceptum utero] In this, Tertullian was bearing witness to the faith of the Church of his age. When he adds, by way of explanation, that “That is a human being which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed.” [Homo est et qui est futurus; etiam fructus omnis iam in semine est] he was offering what the CDF terms a “philosophical” justification, which stands or falls on its own merits, and, obviously, one that would not appeal to those who assert the “personality” of the foetus

          • http://www.sicetnonderful.blogspot.com/ Scotty Ellis

            While this is all well and good for a Catholic like myself, it has no argumentative force in the context of a broader community including non-believers. Without a philosophical argument proceeding entirely from natural reason, this belief can never escape being “private,” in the sense of being based on a personal commitment to the authority of the Church. How can we condemn the wider culture from procuring abortions if we cannot put forward philosophical grounds for this prohibition?

            Now, I want to believe that there are actually reasons for me to follow Church teachings. I have all but given up on contraception from this point of view: there seems to be no rational basis for the doctrine. But the prohibition of abortion does seem more rational, and a slight modification of Kreeft’s argument would work quite well to justify prohibiting most abortions, even to non-Christians.

            In this way, I hope you can see that human personhood is a very important concept, because in wider secular western society a person is protected by rights.

            • Michael PS

              I have suggested a principle, divorced from personhood, namely that the unjust taking of human life is wrong. Tetullian, too, suggests a reason, unconnected with personhood.

              Now, no doubt, there are reasons for the prohibition, but the CDF, wisely in my view, declines to specify what they are. Peronne notes that even a general council is not infallible “in the reasons by which they are led, or on which they rely, in making their definition.” (Præl. Theol. t. 2, p. 492.)

              • http://www.sicetnonderful.blogspot.com/ Scotty Ellis

                This suggestion merely does one of two things: it requires us to believe something ludicrous, or it is simply changing the terminology of the unknown.

                If I accept “the unjust taking of human life is wrong” to mean that killing a human organism is wrong, I will have to forbid things like treating cancer: cancer is a human organism, after all, with unique DNA. This is ludicrous; something being a human organism does not, on its own, mean that it is unjust to kill it.

                If I say, “Oh, I don’t mean cancer or similar human organisms – I mean people!” or some variant, then we are back to the uncertainty where I began: which human organisms is it unjust to kill?

                • Michael PS

                  But the zygote will be capable of one or more independent existences, whereas the tumour will not, which corresponds to Tertullian’s “That is a human being which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in its seed.” We can amend this to “going to be one or more,” without changing the thrust of the argument.

                  But this is by the by – The CDF’s refusal to advance an argument, however specious, that might subsequently be discredited shows the Church’s wisdom in enunciating what is really an absolute moral precept.

                  • Peggy

                    By “refusal”, are you referring to the words “The Magisterium has not expressly committed itself”?

                  • Peggy

                    Saying a zygote will be capable of independent existence is to some like saying a zygote will be capable of talking. When caterpillars fly. It takes a couple of years after conception before the baby is capable of talking, and by then, the baby is hardly a zygote.

                    “You have the fruit already in its seed” and “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” are both classics.

        • http://www.RosaryVictory.blogspot.com Mary De Voe

          Scotty: You want to know if two person’s souls can abide in one human body. NO. One soul, one body. If these bodies have separate DNA, then they have not become one body.

    • http://www.RosaryVictory.blogspot.com Mary De Voe

      Justice is predicated on intent.

  • Nancy D.

    Since it is true that nothing is added to or subtracted from the DNA of a human individual from the moment of conception, that individual, from the moment of conception, is wholly human. Just as a rose by any other name is still a rose, a human individual by any other name is still a human individual, which is one of the definitions of person.

  • Art ND’76

    Looking over this discussion, I see some wanting to justify laws against abortion based on non-religious (natural law) reasoning. Here I have been impressed by Fr. Robert Spitzer’s book “Ten Universal Principles” where he makes a case against abortion (among other topics) on several logical and ethical grounds that I think even an atheist could find convincing. The material is too long to get into thoroughly here in the combox, so I recommend reading the book if you are interested.

    • Peggy

      Here is one of his tidbits: “One of the key things in the case against abortion is interuterine photography. These are exceedingly good cameras. You are looking right at your baby. It’s hard to say this is not a human being.”

      I think that would depend on the stage of development, and the opinion of the observer. When looking at the embryonic stage, visions of tadpoles, sea horses, newts, fish, pigs and alien lifeforms abound. Side-to-side comparisons of human embryos with embryos a pig, rabbit, chicken or elephant are quite startling to many people. Many people would say that visually, the human baby develops through less than fully human stages, that it’s not initially distinctly human. Depending on which images one sees, it may lead some people to believe it’s not a person.

      • http://www.RosaryVictory.blogspot.com Mary De Voe

        Peggy,
        The human being’s soul, his sovereign personhood is always human, because the human being’s soul is not created by man, but by God.

  • http://www.RosaryVictory.blogspot.com Mary De Voe

     Peggy 01/23/2012 2:52 am
    Mary, you say “apples do not reason… How does anyone know that the fetus does not reason from the first moment of existence.” And someone else asks, “how does anyone know that apples do not reason from the first moment of existence?”
    You say “the first cell when two become one is growing to become whom he is called to be: ‘I AM’”. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
    blessed be the name of the LORD.
    Peggy: The human being is comprised of body and rational soul. All unalienable rights are endowed when man’s immortal, rational soul is endowed by our Creator, when two become one. Our Creator gives one of His children His name “I AM”. The civil right to life is inscribed in our Declaration of Independence, one of our founding principles, which is the basis for our Constitutional protection for the human person. Apples have apple souls, and again, if apples reason they might learn to share better.
    “You say “the first cell when two become one is growing to become whom he is called to be: ‘I AM’”. “ form follows function. If the first human cell of the human being is not alive, abortion would not be necessary, now would it?.
    “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
    blessed be the name of the LORD.
    Roe v. Wade is not The LORD. Blessed be the name of the LORD. Amen
    Man is the glory of God, Woman is the glory of man.

    • Peggy

      Mary, on what day of the pregnancy do you believe your “god” endows the alleged “soul”? Your Constitution doesn’t say. The Constitution does not enshrine your variety of religion. Someone else’s religion may say abortion is fine.

      And it’s not abortion or that some cells are alive that make a person. People remove cells all the time. I think you know that.

  • Pingback: The Sanctity of Life » Kate Eschbach

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