Do we all know what an apple is?

Good information is the oxygen that enables good decision-making.

–Star Parker, president, Center for Urban Renewal and Education

I honestly wish a pro-choicer would someday show me one argument that proved that fetuses are not persons.

–Peter Kreeft, professor, Boston College

While the purpose of this blog is not to engage in politics, I am, after all, unabashedly anti-abortion (as I would have been anti-slavery 150 years ago), and this is the last time I will post before Monday, and the question of who is entitled to the rights of a citizen is, after all, antecedent to what those rights ought to be, and this is, after all, the best thing I read today:

[After an argument against abortion, based on the premise that we all know what an apple is…]

So here is my refutation of Roe [v. Wade] on its own premises, its skeptical premises: Suppose that not a single principle of this essay is true, beginning with the first one. Suppose that we do not even know what an apple is. Even then abortion is unjustifiable.

Let’s assume not a dogmatic skepticism (which is self-contradictory) [because, as Kreeft had argued earlier, that a skeptic who says “I cannot know anything, e.g., what an apple is,” is being dogmatic by saying that he knows that he cannot know anything. This is the same thing Lucretius—the atheist Epicurean and a philosophical father of materialism—had already said 2,000 years ago in De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) vv. 4.469–470:

Denique nil sciri siquis putat, id quoque nescitan sciri possit, quoniam nil scire fatetur.

In the end, then, if someone thinks nothing is known, he doesn’t even know this, whether it can be known, since he professes to know nothing.]

but a skeptical skepticism. Let us also assume that we do not know whether a fetus is a person or not. In objective fact, of course, either it is or it isn’t (unless the Court has revoked the Law of Noncontradiction while we were on vacation), but in our subjective minds, we may not know what the fetus is in objective fact. We do know, however, that either it is or isn’t by formal logic alone.

A second thing we know by formal logic alone is that either we do or do not know what a fetus is. Either there is “out there,” in objective fact, independent of our minds, a human life, or there is not; and either there is knowledge in our minds of this objective fact, or there is not.

So, there are four possibilities:

  • The fetus is a person, and we know that;
  • The fetus is a person, but we don’t know that;
  • The fetus isn’t a person, but we don’t know that; or
  • The fetus isn’t a person, and we know that.

What is abortion in each of these four cases?

In Case 1, where the fetus is a person and you know that, abortion is murder. First-degree murder, in fact. You deliberately kill an innocent human being.

In Case 2, where the fetus is a person and you don’t know that, abortion is manslaughter. It’s like driving over a man-shaped overcoat in the street at night or shooting toxic chemicals into a building that you’re not sure is fully evacuated. You’re not sure there is a person there, but you’re not sure there isn’t either, and it just so happens that there is a person there, and you kill him. You cannot plead ignorance. True, you didn’t know there was a person there, but you didn’t know there wasn’t either, so your act was literally the height of irresponsibility. This is the act Roe allowed.

In Case 3, the fetus isn’t a person, but you don’t know that. So abortion is just as irresponsible as it is in the previous case. You ran over the overcoat or fumigated the building without knowing that there were no persons there. You were lucky; there weren’t. But you didn’t care; you didn’t take care; you were just as irresponsible. You cannot legally be charged with manslaughter, since no man was slaughtered, but you can and should be charged with criminal negligence.

Only in Case 4 is abortion a reasonable, permissible, and responsible choice. But note: What makes Case 4 permissible is not merely the fact that the fetus is not a person but also your knowledge that it is not, your overcoming of skepticism. So skepticism counts not for abortion but against it. Only if you are not a skeptic, only if you are a dogmatist, only if you are certain that there is no person in the fetus, no man in the coat, or no person in the building, may you abort, drive, or fumigate. This undercuts even our weakest, least honest escape: to pretend that we don’t even know what an apple is, just so we have an excuse for pleading that we don’t know what an abortion is.

One Last Plea

I hope a reader can show me where I’ve gone astray in the sequence of 13 steps that constitute this argument. I honestly wish a pro-choicer would someday show me one argument that proved that fetuses are not persons. It would save me and other pro-lifers enormous grief, time, effort, worry, prayers, and money. But until that time, I will keep arguing, because it’s what I do as a philosopher. It is my weak and wimpy version of a mother’s shouting that something terrible is happening: Babies are being slaughtered. I will do this because, as Edmund Burke declared, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”



From the Chicago Sun-Times’s article on the decision handed down today, that a Federal Court will not be permitted to block a new Texas law requiring abortion clinics to give fetal ultrasounds and let women hear their baby’s heartbeat before deciding to abort:

According to Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is challenging the Texas law, “If this decision stands, it opens the floodgates for other states to insert themselves in an inappropriate way between doctors and women seeking medical care.”

What can you possibly conclude from a movement that labels itself “pro-choice” and opposes ensuring that women who make a decision as serious and grave as abortion have as much vital information as possible before making that choice?


What’ll it be, then, dear reader? Rejection of the data to preserve the ideology, in Uncle Tom’s nice warm Cabin? Or the courage of a Lincoln or a Martin Luther King, Jr.?

Back to antiquarianism next week.


About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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