As a philosophy professor who teaches logic and critical thinking – the study of good and bad arguments and forms of reasoning – I have been a keen observer of the arguments advanced for and against making abortion illegal or restricting. in another way abortion.
Obviously, this is vitally important at this point in history: the Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision this summer that could restrict or ban abortion in much of the United States.
The positions of both parties in this debate are well known: one party insists that abortion is murder; the other party denies it and often argues that abortion is necessary for women’s equality.
Unfortunately, both sides tend to have poor arguments to defend their points of view. See why this might help our society to better arguments, which might help social and political progress on the issue.
To see why many arguments here are bad, you have to go back to class for the basics of what an argument is. is. The classic example of an argument – a conclusion supported by a premise or premises – looks like this:
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
The connection between the premise and the conclusion here may seem obvious, but that’s because we are assuming, without saying so, this premise, which is central to the argument:
All men are mortal.
The addition of this unstated premise makes the argument what is called “logically valid”: it completes the reasoning. Adding premises like these, so that the full structure of an argument is stated, is the key to understanding why many abortion arguments are bad arguments.
First, the issue of abortion is often framed in terms of “life”: when does “life” begin? This is because most anti-abortion organizations have “for life” in their name.
But an essential activity of critical thinking is defining terms. So what do we mean by âlife? “
A clear answer is biological life: being involved in the biological processes that define life.
While there are technical controversies about when we should think biological life really begins, honestly, these disputes just don’t matter. We can admit, sincerely or for the sake of argument, that biological life begins at conception or soon after, and yet the argument is not valid. This is because this premise, essential to the argument, is false:
All biological life is bad (or generally bad) to kill.
Molds, plants, bacteria, fungi, cancer cells and many more are all “of life” – they are all biologically alive – but they are not wrong to kill them.
Here, an advocate of life is likely to say that what they mean is not simply “life” in a general and abstract sense, but specifically Human life.
But, again, what does âhumanâ mean?
Human cells and tissues – say, in a Petri dish – and a man’s sperm are biologically humans, but they are not wrong to kill. So only because something is biologically human doesn’t hurt to kill. So an argument like this is unfounded:
Fetuses (humans) are biologically human.
Anything biologically human is bad (or generally bad) to kill.
Therefore, abortion is bad or generally bad.
The first premise is certainly true; the second is definitely wrong.
Now a pro-life advocate will insist that what he Really nasty is that fetuses are, like us, biologically human organizations – we are not just “clusters of cells” – or Human being Where human people. Since we are all of these, and killing ourselves is generally wrong, so would killing fetuses – since there are no significant differences between us and human fetuses, they claim.
Ross Douthat supports this in his recent New York Times article, âThe Case Against Abortionâ. He observes that the differences in “reasoning ability or self-awareness” and “capacity for survival and autonomy” are not viable differences between us and fetuses, as many human beings born do not. , but are still people with fundamental rights.
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Critical thinking, however, requires considering all the relevant explanations, and Douthat overlooks the most obvious: born human beings – adults, children, babies and people with severe cognitive problems – are, unlike early embryos and fetuses, all conscious and sensitive beings with a perspective on the world that can get better and worse for them. That is why we are people who deserve the protections offered by the rights: personify something is to give it a mental life, and these facts about our mind are the basis of the main explanations of why we have human rights.
Thinking about what makes us have fundamental rights helps us see that there are indeed relevant differences between human beings born and fetuses, and it is therefore plausible to think of us as people with moral rights – while that embryos, and at least first trimester fetuses, are not.
The fetuses are however potential people, with potential rights. But are we still morally obligated – are women and girls obliged – to help anything and everyone to reach their potential? No.
Advocates of choice often focus on the need for abortion so that women and girls can seek their own potential and have an equal chance with men to pursue their goals and dreams in life. Pro-life advocates respond that if a woman wanted to kill her children so that she could “move on” in life, that would be a mistake.
That’s right, but anti-abortion advocates just don’t have a good argument that embryos and fetuses are really “children” or “babies” – categories of human beings with the right. to the life. Fetuses are alive and biologically human – no one should deny that (although some apparently do) – but, despite these similarities to us, they are not people with the right to life. And so abortion, at least early abortions, most abortions, are not murder.
Proponents of choice often observe that no one has any law to someone else’s body and conclude that the fetus is not entitled to the assistance of the woman and that the abortion is therefore justified. This idea, however, denies the fact that we can be morally obligated to help people, using our bodies, even though that person has no literal right to help.
While sometimes we really have to be Good Samaritans, many âpro-lifeâ advocates seem to deny this when they reject efforts to help people even in ways that reduce the number of abortions. But the good samaritan is helping Someone, helping a anybody, and therefore not relevant for most abortions: no one is obligated to help something that is not a person, and not even yet looking like a person, and the state should certainly not criminalize anyone who refuses to provide this kind of assistance.
We haven’t gone through all the arguments about abortion here, of course, but the most common and often heard arguments for making abortion illegal on the grounds that it is murder are clearly weak. However, abortion should be and remain legal, as it has been for almost 50 years. This is the logical answer.