Saturday, November 22, 2008

The basic pro-life argument

Here is what I think is the essential pro-life argument.
1. Either we are persons, having the right to life from conception, or we acquire the right to life somewhere between conception and birth, or at birth.
2. If we acquire the right to life between conception and birth, the criteria by which we become persons is arbitrary. We end up picking a point where personhood commences without an adequate reason for placing the point there.
3. But the right to life is not to be decided arbitrarily. The beginning of personhood must occur at a principled, not an arbitrary point.
4.The only principled point at which personhood can begin is conception.
5. Therefore, humans in the fetal stage have a right to life from the moment of conception.
6. The right to life has priority over other rights, both our own and those of others.
7. Therefore, we have a right to life from conception that has priority over other rights (such as the right to privacy, or the right to do as one pleases with one's own body).
8. If we have a right to life from conception that has priority over other rights, then abortion, except in those cases where the mother's life is in danger, should be outlawed.
9. Therefore, abortion should be outlawed in all such cases.

6 comments:

Gordon Knight said...

"If we acquire the right to life between conception and birth, the criteria by which we become persons is arbitrary"

I don't see how this follows. It may be that being a person involves the possession of a certain property. If so, then the criteria for personhood is not arbitrary, its based on an objective fact about normal human development.

There might be epistemic problems determining precisely when such a property develops, but that does not make the criteria itself arbitrary.

Mike Almeida said...

2. If we acquire the right to life between conception and birth, the criteria by which we become persons is arbitrary. We end up picking a point where personhood commences without an adequate reason for placing the point there

The criteria are not arbitrary. The criteria are vague. This does not mean that there are no definite persons or that there are not definite non-persons. It means there are cases in which it is indeterminate whether something is a person. How is this an objection? It's like arguing that acorns must be oak trees because there is no determinate point at which one becomes the other.
The conclusion they should reach is that in every case in which it is indeterminate whether something is a person, we should err on the conservative side and treat it as a person. Of course, the same problems arises at higher orders of vagueness, since it could be indeterminate whether it is indeterminate that somethign is a person. But such worries can be resolved in similar ways, erring on the conservative side.

The Family said...

quoting Mike:

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The criteria are not arbitrary. The criteria are vague. This does not mean that there are no definite persons or that there are not definite non-persons. It means there are cases in which it is indeterminate whether something is a person.
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One valid viewpoint by such a criterion is that the embryo becomes human at the piont that it has a working neural net and circulation, which would be around day 45. Of course this is not exact, but one could easily say that this always occurs by, say, day 60. By such criteria, the "morningafter" contraceptive would be permitted, but the vast majority of abortions would be killing a human person.

One Brow said...

Victor, I don't think you can get pro-lifers to agree to number 6 as stated. If nothing else, the typical pro-lifer response to the violinist scenario indicates some sort of idea of personal responsibility or moral culpability must be involved for the embryo's right to life to have priority.

Sean Dalton said...

Life begins at conception. From conception, an embryo has unique human DNA, I don't understand how you could believe that a human is only a human after it passes through a woman's birth canal. What makes a human "human"? The embryo is a growing human being. Nothing else.

Anonymous said...

If a fetus is a person at conception then does that mean that a miscarriage should be considered involuntary manslaughter?