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Abortion and UniversalismResearch Paper

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Abortion: A Moral (and Universal) Dilemma

The ethics of abortion have been debated by many and the philosophies behind the debates are diverse. The Women's Movement advocated the legalization of abortion because it claimed that a woman should have the right to choose what to do with her own body. This was the basis of feminist theory. Opponents of feminist theory have asserted that the unborn child should have a right to live. This was the basis of focusing on "personhood" and when that state comes into being -- i.e., at what point the fetus inside the woman can be said to be a "person" and thus have rights. "Care ethics" evolved to address issues such as this one, which grew out of an attempt to reconcile gender issues and the progression of morality towards universalism.[footnoteRef:1] Ultimately, the abortion dilemma cannot be solved without addressing this question of universalism, which, as Richard Weaver has shown, is what actually divides the modern from the medieval and subjectivist philosophy from objectivism.[footnoteRef:2] If truth is universal and moral, then there can be a resolution to the abortion dilemma. If it is not, but is rather subjective and personal without any foundation in natural or supernatural law, then it is merely a matter of will -- of Nietzsche's "master and slave morality" ethics, if you will. Nietzschean morality, however, is the basis for all totalitarian regimes: it is Machiavellian; it is the essence of the doctrine that "might makes right." This essentially also serves as the credo of feminist theory, which rests on the assertion of the female will in a male-dominated society. It is about self-assertion. What then is the abortion dilemma really about? Truth, morality, or self-serving ideologies? [1: Maureen Sander-Staudt, "Care Ethics," Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 22 Apr 2015.] [2: Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences (IL: University of Chicago, 1984), 8.]

Because the topic of abortion has become politicized the ethics surrounding the issue are sometimes secondary to the politically correct way of approaching it. However, if one is going to discuss the ethics or morality of abortion, then one must set aside the politics of the issue and be as objective as possible. One must discuss what it means to be ethical, to be moral. This question is not a new one. It has existed for all time and many cultures have attempted to answer it. Because the ancient Greeks laid the foundation for Western philosophy, it is not unreasonable to start there to develop an idea of morality. It is also helpful, by way of contrast, to compare what these Greeks said to what a modern philosopher such as John Stuart Mill says on personal liberty and responsibility -- aka morality. If morality is the means by which one attains the good life, or the good, the true, and the beautiful, it is best to know just what is moral and what is not. Plato discusses this issue in Euthyphro J.S. Mill on the other hand teaches his conception of morality in his treatise On Liberty.

Plato, through the character of Socrates, teaches that the moral life can only be attained by dedicating oneself to the pursuit of the one, the good, and the true -- the universal transcendental values that, when possessed, made one pleasing to God. (Thus, one sees Socrates teaching his students that the way to happiness is to do the will of God, which he argues can be and must be objectively discernible). The Utilitarians under the direction of the philosopher John Stuart Mill, however, view morality in a much more subjective way. They say that is good which makes one happy and that is bad which makes one unhappy. Pain is the dictator of what is good and bad, so if it causes one pain, it cannot be good, and if it causes one happiness it must be good. Because such a rule is subjective (it is up to the individual person to decide rather than an external valuation to which all men can agree), it is very different in theory from Plato's conception of the moral or ethical life. Both, however, bear on the abortion dilemma, which ultimately comes down to the question of whether or not it is moral or ethical to have an abortion.

Mill himself wrote that his philosophy held actions to be "right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness,"[footnoteRef:3] which is a very similar argument to Plato's adversary in Euthyphro. Euthyphro imagines he is in the "right" when he prosecutes his father for wrongdoing. But Socrates asks Euthyphro what piety is (what is pleasing to the gods) and Euthyphro can only give a subjective answer -- piety is that which he is doing. Socrates then says, "So whatever Euthyphro does is good and therefore we should all imitate Euthyphro," and Euthyphro sees the absurdity of this logic and has to rethink his answer.[footnoteRef:4] But rather than admit that he may be wrong in prosecuting his father, he chooses to not face the question and rushes off, secure in his ignorance and subjectivity. Socrates meanwhile insists on an objective standard, a universal law that applies to everyone -- not one law for Euthyphro, one law for Socrates, with the individual determining what is right or wrong. Socrates says that in such cases the individual sets himself up as judge, when in reality the true judge is God for God alone is above everything and indeed the writer of the truth which is written in men's hearts. This sort of approach would certainly provide an answer to the abortion dilemma because it insists on arriving at an objective standard -- either abortion is moral or it is not. [3 J.S. Mill, On Liberty (UK: John W. Parker and Son, 1859), 13-14.] [4: Plato, Dialogues. [trans. B. Jowett] (UK: William Benton, 1952), 24.]

When Mill states that people should protect themselves "against the tendency of society to impose…its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them,"[footnoteRef:5] he is speaking precisely about this "subjective truth" that Euthyphro believes in: if everyone has his own truth, he is making a utility out of truth rather submitting his mind to truth. Euthyphro and the utilitarians want truth to submit to them. They want truth to conform to their own wills, rather than have to conform their wills to truth. For Plato it is the opposite: his teacher Socrates died because he refused to attempt to force truth to conform to his will. Better, he believed, to submit one's mind and will to the highest of all truths, which is God, and to die for that submission than to imagine that one is truthful and live "happily" even though that happiness is founded on self-deceit and will ultimately lead to a life which is not up to par with the one, the good, the true, and the beautiful. Failing to live according to those transcendental, universal truths -- which are defined for one and all -- and require objectivity to see them -- will in the end only lead to real unhappiness, according to Plato. [5: Mill, On Liberty, 13.]

This framework, when applied to the abortion dilemma, helps to clarify the issue, which is often clouded by arguments regarding "care ethics" or "feminist theory" or "bioethics" or "personhood." Each of these approaches takes one away from the question of universalism, which is the only question that has any real bearing on the dilemma -- because it seeks a definitive solution. The others do not deal directly with universalism but rather offer only alternative arguments to the plethora already in existence.

But the question of abortion does not need more arguments, but rather simpler ones. A penetrating look at the issue compels one to examine the essence of the individual more fully. What is man? The Cartesian binaries -- mind/matter, man/woman, culture/nature, self/other -- suggest that dualities exist in some mysterious way that individuals attempt to comprehend. Yet acting morally or ethically depends much on how one comprehends the nature of these binaries. The debate of nurture vs. nature, like the debate between multiculturalism and nationalism, or feminism vs. chauvinism, suggests that whether one should assert the "rights of man" or whether one should submit to the "rights of God" is based on these binaries.[footnoteRef:6] Understanding the Cartesian duality, therefore, can be helpful in answering the question because it addresses the role of the will in a world where deception and oppression are common. [6: Marcel Lefebvre, Religious Liberty Questioned (KC: Angelus Press, 1985), 4.]

Another approach to the dilemma may be to examine the nature of "liberty," which acts as a subjective support for many of the arguments relating to abortion.

Rousseau (claimed in The Social Contract that "man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains."[footnoteRef:7] Rousseau's concept of the "nature of man" is grounded in a sense of independence, of natural liberty, of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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