"Pro-Choice" is Not Deceptive

October 19, 2005 § 15 Comments

Michelle Arnold has an interesting post up entitled The Wordplay Of Abortion. This is an important topic, and my own view on it is a bit different from the usual one, or perhaps peels back an additional layer of the onion.

I think that a fundamental problem arises when our public discourse becomes dominated by talk of “rights”. Framing public morality in terms of rights at least connotes, and perhaps denotes, that a person can legitimately choose to have his rights enforced, or not. If I have a right to a particular piece of property I can choose whether or not to have trespassers expelled. If I have a right to life it at least connotes the idea that I (or my representative, if I am not competent) get to choose whether or not I live, and the manner in which I am willing to live.

But that underlying connotation of choice does not obtain as an objective moral matter. As a gedankenexperiment, even if (though this is not possible in reality) the baby herself did not want to live, that would not make it morally acceptable to abort her. And perhaps less intuitively, if I own a piece of property I am its steward, and it would be morally wrong for me to allow it to be overrun and ruined rather than tended in some way for the greater glory of God.

So I agree that language is a big part of the cultural problem and has to be addressed. But I think the rabbit hole goes deeper than most people realize.

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§ 15 Responses to "Pro-Choice" is Not Deceptive

  • William Luse says:

    Good point, Zippy. If life is a gift, then I have a duty towards it, not a right to it. But, of course, the secular inquisitors won’t accept the premise – that it is a gift. We’re not to talk about that.

  • Rob says:

    Zippy–To whom does the life of a condemned murderer belong?

  • c matt says:

    God, I would say.

  • zippy says:

    Yes, or “no one”, since the relation “belong” doesn’t obtain to a life, at least in human terms.

  • A Philosopher says:

    So you really find it to be contradictory, or at least pragmatically disfavoured, to say “You have the right to vote, and a moral obligation to exercise that right”?

  • zippy says:

    There are quite a number of issues packed into your question I think, AP, and I am not sure which ones you want addressed specifically. Apropos to our previous discussion, I do not think that the concept of a “right” is itself contradictory. It is the concept of “equal rights” that invokes a simultaneous requirement to discriminate and not-discriminate (which has both self-contradictory and superfluous modalities but no positively meaningful modality that I can discern). But a “right” <>does<> imply a connection to the will of the right-holder: if I have a right to a particular piece of property then what I <>choose<> to do is the <>morally good<> thing to be done. Thus a <>right to life<> at least connotes, and perhaps denotes, that what I <>choose<> for my life is <>what is good<> for my life simply in virtue of my having chosen it. And I don’t think that that implication is intended by those who most fervently fight for the so-called right to life.

  • zippy says:

    Oh, and as far as voting is concerned, I don’t vote and haven’t voted since Clinton vs. GHW Bush. I view voting primarily as a public ritual of the secular religion, a concrete action on the part of the citizen which signifies his assent to a morally proportionalist polity governed under the first principle of political equal freedom. Back when I did vote, entering the voting booth never had any substantive effect on any political outcome, but it had quite an effect on me personally. And when it comes to voting I think that is the primary question that one should ask: not the conceited vain question of what sort of impact he is having, since he is having virtually no impact at all; but rather what impact is participation in the ritual having on the actual voter himself.There are at least two negative impacts that voting has on each and every person who votes, irrespective of who they vote for, in the present conditions in our polity:1) Personal assent to the legitimacy of a morally proportionalist governance founded in the self-contradictory first principle of equal freedom; and2) Personal embrace of proportionalist and consequentialist actual moral choices.These negative effects are not necessarily entailed in every possible act of voting in every conceivable polity, but they are unquestionably the case for everyone who votes with regularity in our actual polity right now.Personally, I try to spend an hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament each election day.

  • A Philosopher says:

    My point was that your view that there’s a implied or implicated element of volitional control over rights seems contrary to the evidence. There’s just no tension in asserting that someone has a right and a duty to exercise that right.On the second issue, I already figured you for a likely anti-democrat. The attempt to influence the outcome of the election isn’t so implausible as you take it to be, if one believes in joint action. I agree that voting entails an acknowledgement (more or less) of the legitimacy of the state, but your arguments for the incoherence of equal rights really didn’t make any sense to me, so I can’t see any reason to withhold such acknowledgements. But it doesn’t follow that voting entails an endorsement of the actions of the state, assuming that’s what you had in mind in your point (2).

  • zippy says:

    <>My point was that your view that there’s a implied or implicated element of volitional control over rights seems contrary to the evidence. There’s just no tension in asserting that someone has a right and a duty to exercise that right.<>I can’t make any sense of that. One can’t have a duty to choose something without that which is chosen being volitional. A “right” (e.g. a property right) at least connotes that the right-holder is the one who legitimately makes a particular class of choices. The “right” is the rule by which we discriminate between he who gets to choose and he who does not. Rights-talk is inherently choice-centric.<>But it doesn’t follow that voting entails an endorsement of the actions of the state, assuming that’s what you had in mind in your point (2).<>No, it is the actual choice in the voting booth – say between an explicit pro-abortion platform and an explicit unjust-war platform – in which the regular voter makes proportionalist choices himself, thus conditioning himself to make proportionalist choices in other things as well.

  • A Philosopher says:

    But my example clearly contradicts your thesis regarding rights. That one has a right to vote does not entail, or even implicate, that one is free to determine whether to exercise that right. Again, there’s just no tension involved in asserting that one must exercise some right.Your view on voting seems to me to misconstrue the speech act performed in voting. When voting, I am not endorsing all the positions held by a candidate, but simply identifying that candidate as the best option for representation of my views. Of course, there may be cases in which the degree of misrepresentation is always so severe that I can’t make a reasonable choice. Perhaps you feel that’s always the case in the current political climate.Given your stated rationale, however, I assume you have no objection to voting on ballot measures?

  • zippy says:

    Using the vote as an example is particularly innopportune as a counter to the contention that rights implicate choice, it seems to me. Even if one stipulates an obligation to exercise the right to vote, a vote is still itself a choice. Of course one could concoct a theory of rights in which their exercise was not a choice and in which rights could not be waived; but since that would involve shifting the label “right” to mean something different from what it now means in fact, I would not take that as a criticism of the point of the present post.<>When voting, I am not endorsing all the positions held by a candidate, but simply identifying that candidate as the best option for representation of my views.<>You aren’t just <>identifying<> him and his explicit platform as most amenable to your views; you are <>choosing<> him and his explicit platform.<>I assume you have no objection to voting on ballot measures?<>Neither of my objections apply in a <>universal<> manner. There are conceivable circumstances in which an act of voting would not run afoul of either. Those circumstances obtain so little of the time in our present polity, though, that anyone who votes regularly will necessarily engage in the act outside of the phase space within which I believe it to be morally acceptable and prudentially wise. (Indeed there are conceivable circumstances in which one might have an moral obligation to vote, and in a certain way).

  • A Philosopher says:

    Well, of course the act of voting is a volitional act. But if the objection to rights-based talk rests on the fact that rights are directed at volitional acts, then it’s a rather silly objection. There’s not much point in having moral strictures governing that which is not volitional. (Thou shalt not fall upward, but only downward!). The important point is that one needn’t be free morally or legally to select whether to exercise a right.What makes you think that casting a vote amounts to choosing a candidate? That seems like an optional addition to the theory. It seems to me that conditions meeting your requirements will show up every time a ballot initiative is up for vote. What would be the problem with casting either a “yes” or a “no” vote on the ballot? Doesn’t it follow from the law of the excluded middle that one of the two votes must be morally correct?

  • zippy says:

    <>There’s not much point in having moral strictures governing that which is not volitional.<>Of course. What seems counterfactual to me is your contention that the possession of a right does not in general assign <>legitimacy<> (moral or legal) to the volition of the right-holder. (It is, of course, possible but irrelevant to construct a rights-theory where this is not the case by using the label differently.)<>What makes you think that casting a vote amounts to choosing a candidate?<>The fact that when I did so, that was what I was doing.<>Doesn’t it follow from the law of the excluded middle that one of the two votes must be morally correct? <>Not at all. Quite often the premeses of a question must themselves be rejected.

  • […] a) primary justification of authoritative acts.  When liberals suggest that they are pro choice they really mean it: the most “consistent” liberalism is an anarchism which forces itself on everyone. […]

  • […] and enforce what is substantively good, and adopts a philosophy of quantitatively maximizing choice independent of whether those choices are or are not substantively good.  In practice this takes […]

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