Potential Holocaust
Any argument that defines the unborn as potential humans instead of actual humans will dehumanize humans outside the womb too.
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Does pro-choice rhetoric actually lead to monstrosities where we dehumanize people long after they emerged from the womb? You better believe it, and I’ll show you why in just a moment. Welcome to the Case for Life podcast. We’re glad you’re here. Please hit that like button and share these videos with friends on your social media feeds. That really does a couple of 2 things. By liking our page, you stay up to date on what we’re doing and you miss no content whatsoever. But by sharing the links to these videos, you help us equip others who might not have heard of us, Both are vitally important. I hope you’ll help us in that regard. You know, one of the most popular things you will hear when you engage people who support abortion is this claim. The unborn are potential humans or potential persons but not actual ones. Now what’s almost never done is an explanation of the full argument they’re trying to make. They kind of just assert this without actually arguing for it. I’m going to take a moment here and fill in the blanks and give you the actual argument. And then I want to show you why this claim that the unborn are only potential persons actually dehumanizes way more than just the unborn and leads to horrific consequences. Now before I go there, some of you that are critics might be thinking, uh-oh, here comes a slippery slope argument. No, what I’m showing is the logic of your view inevitably allows for some things that I think any person with a functioning conscience would find absolutely unacceptable, and yet your worldview leads to it. And I’ll show you why in just a moment. Here is the actual argument that people are putting forward. And I like to put arguments in a formal structure so that we can analyze them for validity and soundness. Here is the actual argument people are making. Premise one. The rights of actual persons override those of merely potential ones. That’s premise one. Premise 2. The unborn are potential persons, but not actual ones. The unborn, in other words, are merely potentially human and persons but they’re not actual persons. Conclusion, therefore the rights of actual persons override the rights of the unborn, including their right to live. That’s the formal structure of the argument, and I think that argument can be challenged. Let’s start with challenging premise 2 for soundness. The claim is the unborn are potential persons, but not actual ones. Now, no critic you talk to will cite Michael Tooley, but he’s really kind of the father of this line of argument. of the division between potential versus actual persons. And let’s review what Tooley basically argued. He argued that the unborn are potential humans. And thus, even if they are human, species membership doesn’t matter. What really matters is personhood. And personhood is driven by having immediately exercisable desires, which the unborn don’t have in virtue of their lack of cognitive development. So Tooley wants to help us understand why his distinction between potential and actual persons is relevant. That you can’t be a rational agent until you’re an actual person. And he gives an example of kitten serum. And we’ve talked about this before, but just to review, here’s his argument. Imagine that you had a serum available to you that were you to inject it into a kitten would transform the kitten from a non-rational agent to a rational agent. Tooley then asked 2 questions. Are you, number one, obligated to give the kitten the serum? And of course, I think most people would say no. Then Tooley asks a second question. If it’s not wrong to refrain from giving the kitten the rationality serum, what’s wrong with interrupting that process once it’s begun? In other words, he likens this to abortion, that like giving the kit and the serum and then interrupting the process, abortion and infanticide are justifiable interruptions of turning a potential rational agent into an actual one. Now that’s the sophisticated academic argument that Tooley puts forward that at the street level, people just butcher and just start throwing out terms like potential person, without even giving the reason for why anybody ought to think that way, Tooley at least makes an argument. Now, I’m not persuaded, Let’s take a look at where his argument fails at the academic level before we look at where it fails at the street level. At the academic level, There are a couple of fundamental mistakes Thule makes. Here’s the first one. He confuses passive potentiality with active potentiality. Let me define that difference. To say something is passively a rational agent means this. you must act on it externally, in this case by injecting the kitten with the serum in order for that transformation to happen. So the kitten in Thule’s example has a passive potentiality for being a rational agent, but not an active one. You’ve got to act on the kitten externally. But that’s not true of the embryo or fetus, and here’s why. The fetus and embryo and the newborn, since Tooley supports infanticide because newborns are not rational agents either. The reason why the newborn fetus and embryo are not mere passively potential persons, they’re actively persons, here’s why. because they don’t need to be acted on externally to be rational agents. It’s in their nature to be rational. You don’t have to change the nature of the unborn for them to be rational agents. the way you have to change the nature of the kitten for it to be a rational agent. And that distinction is something Tooley totally overlooks. But there’s a second thing that I think is wrong with his argument. Think about how we use language. If I say that children have potential sex organs, meaning that they are not yet functioning that way even though the hardware might be there That does not mean that their sexual organs are merely potential sexual organs. Rather, it just means they’re not yet functioning at their idealized state. They’re not fully functioning the way they’re designed and ordered to. But it doesn’t mean the organs themselves are mere potential sex organs. No, they’re actual sex organs that simply need time and maturity before they can function the way they were designed to function. And we can say the same thing about the embryo, fetus and newborn. They are not potential humans or potential persons. They’re actual persons already living They just are not functioning at the top of their game, so to speak. And that’s something, again, that Tooley overlooks and doesn’t account for. I think we could challenge them in other ways, like the idea, the whole idea that we can interrupt a process once it’s begun. That doesn’t seem morally correct to me. Imagine that I am helping you, to borrow an example from Kayser, I’m helping you move a grand piano up a flight of stairs. and I’ve consented to help you. And halfway up, I decide, you know what? I’m done with this. I don’t like this. It’s too heavy. and I leave you there straddling this piano while I go get some ice cream. I think most people would say that was wrong. You started a process, you are obliged to follow it through. So I think there’s a number of things we can point out about Tooley’s argument that are counterintuitive, that are problematic, but let’s move from the academic level where most people don’t go to the street level where they merely assert that the unborn are potential humans but not actual ones. What does that mean in terms of our implications for how we view humanity and how we value humans in the first place? And here is where I would argue that this distinction between actual and potential humans or actual and potential persons, however you want to phrase it here, is really devastating to the concept of human rights and human value across the board. not just with abortion and infanticide. It used to be that if you could show that a pro-abortion argument justifies infanticide the same way it justifies abortion, a significant number of people would recoil in horror In fact, most pro-abortion philosophers early on did their best to try to artificially argue that there was some magical line between a child in the womb and out of the womb that would justify saving the latter but not the former. But then along came guys like Peter Singer, Michael Tooley, people like Marianne Warren. Even Joseph Fletcher, who early on began to point out, wait a minute folks, the same arguments we’re using to justify abortion justify killing newborns. And more recently, we’ve seen examples of this from people like Giubilini and Minerva, who argued for afterbirth abortion. We’ve seen it in the admissions of people like Jeff McMahon who argue that, look, the arguments we’re making for abortion justify way more than killing the unborn. So the cat’s out of the bag. People now are admitting that these arguments do justify infanticide. But for some people, they’ve stopped recoiling at that. And now they’re like, well, so be it. Okay. If that’s what it takes to justify a right to an abortion, go ahead and kill the newborn. And they’re willing to bite the bullet. The problem is, Their arguments go way beyond justifying killing newborns. They also justify a bunch of horrific stuff we would feel is totally out of bounds, and I’ll give you some examples of this. By the way, an excellent article on this very subject was put forward by some colleagues of mine that we are gonna put in the show notes that you can access where they go through the implications morally and logically of dividing one class of human beings we call nonpersons over here, or merely potential persons, from another class over here that we call actual persons. And they do a fantastic job of pointing out that you end up justifying way more than abortion, way more than infanticide. For example, let’s look at the most problematic premise in the argument, the idea that the rights of actual persons override those of potential ones. Okay, let’s think about some of the implications of that. For example, suppose we have a situation where we have a two-year-old who is not yet self-aware and by the way, The latest research is suggesting that 2 year olds, even late toddlers, do not have a sense of themselves existing over time They don’t have a sense of themselves as substantial identities with aims and purposes. They do not see themselves as desiring their own lives at that point. There might be instinctual things that they exhibit like a desire for food, but in terms of a cognitive ability that defines a person, they fail the test. And this is not me saying this. This is literature we see in the peer-reviewed sources indicating that recognition tests for children do not display display positive recognition. The child does not recognize himself in a positive way meaning recognizing he’s distinct from something else until perhaps age 4. This is late-term stuff, so if it’s true that cognitive development, meaning recognizing yourself over time, and in different places to use Peter Singer’s definition of what a person is. valuing your existence. Well, it’s not just newborns that fail that test, so do toddlers. But it gets worse if it’s true that the rights of actual persons, of which the unborn toddlers, newborns, and fetuses are not, If it’s true that actual persons can override the rights of merely potential ones, What would be wrong in principle? And again, we’re not making a slippery slope argument here. We’re testing the principles of the argument. What would be wrong in principle of creating a child letting him grow to the point where he is just shy of having personhood traits that are immediately exercisable, killing that child and using his bodily organs for transplantation to those who are actual persons. But Jeff McMahon, a defender of abortion and infanticide goes even further. He says, really, once we start making this division, between those humans we can kill and those humans we can’t, it’s not just that it’s allowable to use children that way, it becomes obligatory. In fact he says his own argument, which justifies abortion and infanticide, not only allows for killing orphan newborns that are unwanted, it perhaps obliges us to, because the needs of actual persons always override the needs of merely potential ones. So suppose we’ve got someone who needs organs. And he cites a good example. In the UK, there are roughly 10000 people annually who don’t get organ transplants that need them because there’s a shortage of organs. Well, if it’s true that the rights of actual persons override those of merely potential ones, Aren’t we obliged to take care of actual persons even if we do so at the expense of merely potential ones? And McMahon says, I don’t like where my argument leads, but that is in fact where it leads. Again, he’s not making a slippery slope fallacy. He is simply pointing to the logical conclusion of his principles, and I commend him for doing that. But there are other things we might point out here that are problematic in this regard. And this is brought out in the article in a number of ways, how about using children before they are fully cognizant and rational agents for sexual exploitation. Suppose you could demonstrate that there was, using a utilitarian calculus, a group of men that would be helped if they could be sexually exploitive of children. However, in order to avoid harming a real person will harm potential ones, will allow potential persons to be used that way if it helps actual persons, even if they’re perverts. then what would be wrong with using children in that manner, to be sexually exploited before they are actual persons? Would they be harmed? No, because according to the argument, there’s no substantial identity there. In other words, there’s no you there. until you have these cognitive properties like seeing yourself existing over time, valuing your own existence, and things like that. These are just a few of the implications that follow from this argument that we can divide humans into a class of potential humans versus actual ones. And I think this reduces the argument for potentiality to the absurd. It reduces it to where no person with a functioning sense of a moral compass could go there. I think the pro-life view is far more persuasive. Each of us today is equal and valuable Not because of some function we can immediately exercise, but because we all have the same human nature. We are equal and valuable by nature, not function. This can account for human equality, This can account for valuing those who are not as mature as us, those who might lose functions, later regain them, or maybe not. This view protects those with Alzheimer’s who’ve lost their cognitive abilities. It protects the unborn who have yet to emerge with them. but it clearly says that you and I are identical to the embryos we once were, We’re the same being now, and if we’re valuable now, we were valuable then. The pro-life view can explain that. Views that artificially and arbitrarily divide human from person or potential person from actual one end up leading to horrific consequences. One more to think about that Dr. Roger and Dr. Miller point out in their excellent article. Again, we’ll put this in the show notes. What would be wrong with a doctor who surgically alters the brain of a developing fetus So it never has the cognitive properties that we have deemed necessary to be an actual person. And let’s say then at age 10 that child’s organs are needed for someone else. Would it be okay to kill that living human being because it doesn’t have the cognitive development it needs to be qualified as an actual person? And, of course, the only answer you can give if you buy into the potential argument is yes, it would be okay to kill that child. If you argue no, you’re essentially borrowing from the pro-life view because what you’d essentially be saying is no, That child was harmed back then when the surgery took place because by nature he’s the kind of being that shouldn’t be treated that way. Well, the minute you start arguing that the child was wronged, you’re claiming that that somehow what was done to him violated his flourishing as a particular kind of being. That’s arguing that humans are valuable by nature, not function. Therefore, you can’t even say no without borrowing from the pro-life worldview. that you say is defeated by this artificial distinction between actual persons and merely potential ones. Well, thanks for listening today. Really glad you joined us. Again, hit that like button and be sure to share this podcast with friends on your social media feed. I look forward to seeing you the next time we meet. Add Close