by Roger Resler
This is the first post under the new category: “Reviewing the Reviews” and, no, that’s not the title I wish the reviewers of my book Compelling Interest, would use – although for any potential reviewers who may be reading this, it does have a great ring to it, don’t you think? : )
Actually, the “Roger” is not even referring to me. It instead refers to a reviewer of my book who happens to share my first name – and is obviously a man of extraordinarily keen insight and good judgment. I can say this with confidence since Roger’s closing comment is that he gives the book 6 out of 5 stars. My kind of reviewer! Thanks Roger.
The purpose of this blog category, however, is not to give myself pats on the back (although that does make for a nice fringe benefit – at least when the reviews are positive) but to hopefully glean something of value from the insight of others and their responses to the book.
In that regard, Roger offers an analogy in his review that I think is excellent. In fact, I offer my own analogy in the book to a military general who is commissioned by his superiors to test a new bomb on what he believes to be an uninhabited island, but, instead blows up Tom Hanks and his volleyball friend, Wilson. (See chapter 11).
I think Roger’s analogy fits the abortion debate, and in particular, illustrates the fallacy of pro-choice reasoning even better. Here is how he puts it:
When does a person become a “person”. At birth? At conception? Somewhere in between? The pro-abortionist says we don’t know, so we can terminate the pregnancy at any time before birth.
This logic is atrocious. Lets take that same logic into another situation. Lets say I have an old building I need to demolish. I am not sure if there is any one in the building at the time. I send someone in to see if it is clear. They come back and tell me they were not sure. They saw a pot of stew cooking over a small fire and it looked like a homeless person had been there. I then go ahead and demolish the building, because the potential homeless person is not the same as a homeless person.
If I was not sure if there was someone in the building, why in the world would I destroy it anyway. If the abortionist is not sure if the fetus is human, why kill it?
Roger’s analogy captures the glaring fallacy of pro-choice “logic” extremely well. In fact, it might even work better than he realizes. Let me elaborate.
A very popular modern defense of abortion – and one that is claimed by very intelligent and articulate philosophers like David Boonin – suggests that even if a fetus is a person (or in Boonin’s case, a possessor of a “right to life”), the pregnant woman should still have the option to choose abortion since she has obviously not granted her unborn child permission to use her body for nine months. (In this case I can use the term “unborn child” uncontroversially because Boonin is conceding fetal personhood, or at least the fetus’s “right to life” for the sake of argument). Boonin argues that this consent by the woman to her unborn child is critical to the morality of abortion. Even if the unborn child has a right to life, Boonin argues that he or she does not have the right to use his or her mother’s body for nine months, unless the mother grants consent.
Roger’s analogy of a building owner who wants to demolish a building – let’s say because she wants to build a modern high-rise in its place – captures the essence of the “it’s my body, so it’s my right to choose” argument and it illustrates that even if we grant that the womb is the woman’s private domain, it does not follow that she should then have the moral freedom to kill her unborn child who is residing there without her formal consent. (Note: More can be said about whether or not the woman grants “consent” by engaging in intercourse. For this discussion, I am granting Boonin’s notion that she has not granted consent). Destroying a building is not acceptable when there is a human being inside it – even if you are the owner of the building and have not granted consent to the homeless person to occupy the space. Similarly, having an abortion, which will destroy the person in your womb, is also not morally acceptable.
In fact, actively destroying the building is immoral even if you’re not sure whether a homeless person is living inside. In Roger’s analogy, there are good reasons to conclude that a homeless person may indeed be located inside the building. Therefore it is immoral to proceed with the demolition until one is sure beyond any reasonable doubt that there is no homeless person inside the building.
In the case of abortion, we know for a fact that a living human is destroyed. The only question is whether or not a person is destroyed, and, just as in Roger’s analogy, there are good reasons to believe that abortion kills human persons. Of course there is disagreement over how to define the metaphysical concept of “person” but, as I point out in the book, this disagreement was innovated as an ad-hoc response to the desire for abortion. In other words, women wanted – and in many cases men wanted for women – the freedom to choose abortion. The debate over fetal personhood grew out of that desire.
But the very fact that people can rationally disagree on that, places the burden of proof on those who wish to destroy fetuses to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that they are definitely not killing human beings. Because that can’t be done, they say the decision should be left up to the pregnant woman, because, after all, it’s her body.
Roger’s analogy shows that notion to be fallacious. It is, as he puts it, atrocious logic because it begs the question. It moves from an assumption it is trying to prove. It is only morally acceptable to demolish the building if you already know there are no living humans inside it. But that is what you are attempting to prove in the first place. You don’t know that, and, to make matters worse, indications are good that there may indeed be a person inside. Destroying the building, is therefore morally unacceptable until you can prove you are not also going to be killing a person.
Similarly, moving ahead with abortion on request is morally unacceptable until the people who want the freedom to kill fetuses can show conclusively that they are not killing living human beings. Good luck with that.
Boonin’s logic is even more unacceptable because he’s conceding that we do know that a living human with a right to life is living inside the womb but he’s still attempting to argue for the moral acceptability of abortion. We can adapt the analogy a bit to accommodate Boonin’s reasoning. He suggests that nine months of pregnancy is a great burden to ask of a woman who has not granted consent to the fetus to occupy her womb in the first place.
So let’s say you are the building owner in Roger’s analogy and you want to demolish the building but the report comes back that there definitely is a homeless person inside – this is analogous to what Boonin grants. Furthermore, the homeless person has managed to get himself trapped in such a way that it will require nine months of careful operations in order to free the homeless person without killing or severely injuring him. Must you wait for nine months and go through the hassle of bringing in experts to perform the necessary operations in order to free the homeless person from the building you want to destroy? Must you go through this in spite of the fact that you never granted consent to the homeless person to occupy your building in the first place? Or can you simply destroy the building – and the homeless person as a consequence of his being in the wrong place at the wrong time – because of your right to make private decisions about your building?
Roger, if you ever read this review of your review, thank you for sharing this powerful analogy! It reveals key fallacies of pro-choice logic particularly well. (And thanks for the kind words!)