Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

A Human Person, Actually

Here’s my appreciation of Robby George’s powerful defense of the embryo as a being with rights.

Discussions - 8 Comments

A great little review, Peter, although it should have been titled, "Horton heard a Who, not a What."

In the last paragraph, you say, "If George and Tollefsen are at all convincing, then decisions concerning laws that protect the unborn should be up to our legislatures." Agreed, in that I fully agree that the moral uncertainty of the "not sure if it's a human (person) or not" stance more logically suggests restricting abortions and embryo destroying research than the granting of abortion rights (esp. by judicial mandate, but with this politically disturbing add-on: if George abd Tollefsen are not just "at all convincing," but are "quite convincing," as your reveiw really indicates they are, your Who-What philosophical quibble aside, then decisions concerning laws that protect the unborn shouldn't be up to the legislatures. Rather, they should be encased in the Constitution by amendment.

I agree with what you've said elsewhere that social conservatives should not seek to appoint judges who interpret the Constitution by way of the natural law that lies beyond it,(even if it really does so!) so that the 14th comes to be interpreted as protecting the right to life of the embryo, but it is only consistent to say that, given the unlikely possibility of winning an amendment-passing supermajority on this, we ultimately aim to get this into the Constitution.

The stuff on Kant really gets to the heart of the matter--the distinction between persoonhood and human being-ness is borne out of the project of reconciling radical autonomy and scientific determinism--i.e. the reduction of nature to an object of mastery and the dignity of our status as masters. But notice how the terms of the debate have muddled our view: left leaning materialists have a hard time denying that the embryo is a full human given their tendencies towards a bio-reductionism but conservatives also often struggle since they, contra reductionism, deny that fully present bio-architecture is what accounts for us being human in the first place. What we need is an account of the embryo that captures it as a stage of human development and its full humanity without ignoring the real phenomenological distinctions between embryos and fully formed humans.

Carl--reversing ROE opens the way for moral deliberation that might reach Robby's conclusion. That would produce either really tough laws or an amendment or both. I was trying to lead skeptical readers to see that--even if you agree w Ivan's last couple of sentences as very reasonable reservations to Robby's hyper-certainty [which would make killing embryos murder in the first degree]--Robby's case is powerful--that is, rational enough to do ROE in.
By the way, the journal didn't want explicit reference to the case in the review as too devisive and the last par. is a watered down and vague version of the original.

Right, Robby's argument strikes me as more than persuasive enough to do that...however, I do tend to think that the "hypercertainty" you refer to actually undercuts this reasonableness and turns a lot of folks off.

Very odd, methinks, of the good ship City Journal. I mean, if you're going to feature the likes of Lawler and George in your pages, have the decency to present them to your readers in their non-diluted/non-obscured version. I'm sure the readership that can handle T. Jacoby v. H. McDonald on immigration, or Malanga v. vouchers on education, can also handle the fact that something called Roe v. Wade exists, and that social conservatives would like to do more than simply overturn it if they convince their fellow citizens.

And Ivan, yes, hypercertainty on the questions of 1) abortion being first-degree murder, and 2)of the application of full human/constitutional rights to embryos,(not sure, BTW, if G and T do the latter) is problematic, but as far as the embryo's human status, well, count me in the hypercertainty camp. And count me as thankful that on such issues, some social conservatives are presenting the "science says" case. If anything, I think it is conservative timidity in stating that case that has been worse than conservative hypercertainty. That is, for those for whom the "uncertainty about what is" stance isn't likely to budge, we can use the argument I mention above, but the problem is that if the "science/logic says" arguments are seldom seriously and forcefully presented, many pro-choicers convince themselves that the uncertainty stance is the only reasonable and/or scientific one. And then you're in for being castigated as anti-science, or in academic circles, as a (gasp!) public reason abuser.

Or called a 'religious nut' or something similar even though you never use religion to back up your arguments.

The science/logic argument against abortion has been forcefully used, even in Congress, but it doesn't get much media play.

And I certainly agree there's a big inconsistency in the CITY JOURNAL wanting to highlight the embryo book but not take a clear stand against ROE. I guess, meaning guess, that it's a residue of big-tent Giulianism, which did reign supreme in those parts for a while.

Carl and Peter,

I agree that the science is on Robby's side and I'm with you on the issue of the human status of embryos. The limited, pragmatic point I was making is that even those who generally agree with those premises often take the "absolute right" hypercertainty, as Peter decribes it, to be a flight from reason that relies on religious sustantiation versus rational evidence.....and the hyperbolic legal inferences they then draw (which are in fact often unreasonable) are similarly counterproductive as well

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