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Dealing with Intrinsic Human Value

Prelude | Essence and Potentiality | Definitions | What is human? | Intrinsic Value of humanity | Of fetuses, infants, disabled, and others (Part a) Of fetuses, infants, disabled, and others (Part b) | Functionalism and Utilitarian ethics revisited | Conclusion

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What does it mean to be human? This question is far more difficult than people could imagine. Different cultures define “human” in different ways, depending on their views of the world. In parts of modern India, some people are not classified as human due to their lower caste. In ancient Rome, the head of a family could kill any child born into that family if he didn’t feel the child was worthwhile, because Romans did not believe children to be human. In more recent memories, the debate often raged over whether or not African slaves and their descendents were human (or as human as whites).

Thus, this question often elicits different answers with different responses. Is it possible to know what a human person is? I would advocate that it is quite possible.

The Essence of Humanity

The classic definition for “human person” is the ancient Greek understanding that a human is a “rational animal.” But what does this mean?

Rational –

To be rational means that we have the capability to engage in advanced thinking. Beasts, to an extent, have the capacity for a limited form of rational thinking, but only humans have the capability for advanced rational thinking. Our use of language, our creativity, our desire to discover, and so on. We are self-aware, so much that we often wonder what our purpose in life is. No animal wonders about his purpose or takes the time to be creative – there is food to be found and mating to be had. Humans, however, transcend such tendencies.

This is because we are non-instinctual beings. Though we can certainly rely on our instincts and though it is sometimes good, there are times where we will work against our instincts. For instance, a man who is married, but comes across an attractive woman might have the instinct to try to mate with her, but realizing he is married, he will make the choice to remain loyal to his wife. Though his instincts push him one way, his ability to rationally evaluate the situation causes him to go another. Were he nothing more than an animal, then he would have to act on his instincts.

Animal –

Man is also an animal. This is much easier to explain than being rational, as this is what links us to the beasts rather than separates us. To say that man is an animal distinguishes him from other forms of biological life and places him in a specific category.

All animals have physical bodies, as opposed to plants, trees, or rocks. We are not inanimate, nor do we stay in one spot. We are biological creatures with a body, that is, an animal.

Thus, man is a rational animal, something that has a physical body, but holds the ability for deep reason.

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Cross posted at The Christian Watershed.

It has been over a year since I put up my post, “If you end abortion, then…” dealing with common objections to ending abortion, mostly focused on the consequences of such an action.

In that year’s time, I have come across more objections to and arguments against the pro-life movement. On this post, I want to take the time to look at these arguments. Some are more complicated than others and will require a deeper response. Though lengthy, I believe reading the entire thing can help both the open-minded choice advocate and the pro-life advocate.

I am separating this into two different posts as well. The first one will deal with what I call “popular objections,” that is, objections that are commonly heard in the media. These are easy to swat down as there isn’t much substance. The second part will deal with the more scientific objections and deeper philosophical objections (e.g. what about when a fertilized egg splits and later comes back together?, are humans truly ever innocent?, a human has a right to kill whatever is dependent upon that human, etc). The first part will be more useful as these are the common objections. The second part, however, will be more enlightening for the rare occasion you run into a good argument for pro-choice.

1)   The only reason someone would support pro-life is that that person is against a woman having a right over her own body.

A common argument is that those who are against abortion are only against abortion because of their belief that women hold little to no rights over their own bodies. It is true that there are some pro-life advocates who also hold the belief that women are lesser than men (such as extreme Islamists or extreme fundamentalist Christians), but ultimately such views are unrelated to abortion. One can believe a women holds the full rights to her own body, but still believe that abortion is wrong.

Some pro-life advocates are against contraceptive use, but this goes both ways. Just as they are against it for women, they are likewise against it for men as well. Thus, those who are against contraceptive use seemingly have a different view over the liberties a human can take with his or her body. Regardless, the standard applied to women under such a view is likewise applied to men.

Finally, if pro-life advocates were against what women did with their bodies, why aren’t they out protesting women who get piercings, women who paint their toenails, women who get tattoos, and so on? It would seem that the one issue the pro-life crowd concerns itself when it comes to a woman’s body is what she does with her womb when there is a child inside of her.

This indicates that the issue isn’t about the right a woman holds over her body. It is more about if what is inside of her is human. The issue of  “women’s rights” is truly secondary to the issue of intrinsic value in humanity. Is what is in the womb human? If so, is that human life intrinsically valuable? Those two issues must be looked thoroughly. In fact, the only way we can move on to the issue of women’s rights, specifically a woman’s right over her own body, is if we can prove that either of the previous two questions can be answered in the negative. Then and only then does the abortion debate become an issue of women’s rights.

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