Dada is the sun, Dada is the egg. Dada is the Police of the Police.

7/30/2005

Wingnut metaphysics

I ran across this remark at an anti-abortion/pro-criminalization blog, and I thought it brushed up against an important point (my emphasis):
Problem is, many GOP leaders act like they don’t have a worldview. Or maybe they do and simply can’t argue for it. (Have you seen Bill Frist’s lovely claim that he’s “pro-life” and believes “that life begins at conception,” but now supports killing embryos for research? Try squaring that gem with pro-life metaphysics.) Either way, true conservatives are not well served by a party that plays politics when it should be playing hardball at the idea level.
It's the part about the "pro-life metaphysics" that caught my attention. This underscores the little mentioned but important fact that the anti-abortion ideology really does rest upon the assumption of a very specific - and, incidentally, very specious - metaphysic.

The heart of the anti-abortion movement is a very simple argument:

1. Killing people is always wrong (and should be illegal)
2. A fetus is a person
3. Abortion kills a fetus
4. Therefore abortion kills a person
5. Therefore abortion is wrong (and should be illegal)

One problem with this argument is that (1) is not exactly true; obviously, it's not always wrong to kill people (justified war, possibly some instances of capital punishment, self-defense, etc.). Much more has to be said to establish that, even if a fetus is a person, killing it is the type of killing that is morally wrong. I still have yet to see a good rejoinder to Judith Jarvis Thomson's argument that even if we grant full personhood to the fetus, abortion is still morally acceptable.

(2) is the claim that is most often the subject of debate, even though it doesn't follow, if the fetus is a person, that abortion is wrong. But even the claim that a fetus is a person has never been adequately established. This is because, as the above remark indicates, it relies on a certain metaphysical view. Namely, anti-choicers tend to believe (a) that there exists a general ontological kind or type or category "person" and (b) that a fetus is a genuine token or instantiation of that kind/type not because it shares certain characteristics with the other members, but because of some (usually vaguely defined) metaphysical property. This is the only way to reasonably believe that this -

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- is a person, since it obviously demonstrates none of the typical characteristics associated with personhood. It can be a person only by possessing some inner essence of personhood.

Of course, they've given us no reason why we should accept this metaphysic; like most metaphysics, it is basically a mixture of nonsensical and unsupported claims. (I'm tempted to say that if you think that thing above is a person (or a "Microscopic-American"), you just don't understand what the word 'person' means.)

So what the anti-choice movement is trying to do is to impose the normative implications of their pet metaphysical theory (highly influenced by their pet religious ideology) on the rest of society, without giving us any reason to believe that their theory is, you know, true. It is as if I were to decide that teddy bears are actually conscious, highly emotional beings who hate to be left alone, and then trying to pass laws that would make it illegal to neglect your teddy bear. The only difference would be that this form of insanity would be utterly idiosyncratic, while the insanity of believing that a three-celled embryo is a 'person' is one that is shared by a significant segment of society, and endorsed by some of the world's most popular religious institutions, which garners it a level of perceived legitimacy that is wholly unearned.

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