Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry and the Abortion Debate
Replying to Yglesias, Mr. Gobry writes. That anti-abortion arguments "have nothing to do with metaphysics." Rather, they depend on the purely and irrefutably scientific conclusion that "life begins at conception." He continues:
Now, science isn’t a moral guide. The fact that a fetus is a living human being doesn’t necessarily entail that it should receive legal protection. But again, resolving this issue requires no recourse to metaphysics.
It requires asking what are the criteria for qualifying as a person endowed with rights.O.k., here's the thing. Although there are a couple of ways to go here, basically what Mr. Gobry says entails that the crucial issue is in fact, a metaphysical one. Specifically, it's an issue about personhood. Nobody really thinks that every living human thing has rights--else we'd have to say that every human cell has rights, and that even someone with their brain destroyed has rights. Nobody thinks that. Being human and being alive are not sufficient for having rights. That prompts us to ask the question: what additional conditions must be met? One common way to put the question is, roughly: what makes something a person? (where a person is taken to be something that definitely does have rights.) And that is a metaphysical question.
At first blush, it seems to me and many others that the entire project of the Enlightenment and modern Western civilization is premised on the idea that every single human being has certain inalienable rights. That these rights are not earned through accomplishment or inherited from forebears but that they are, well, universal, received simply by virtue of being human, and that it is incumbent on any just, or at least liberal, government to protect the rights of all human beings under its writ, not just the most visible.
Oddly enough, knowing some philosophy helps when you are going to talk about philosophical issues.