It’s the claim that the opponent argues illogically when he hasn’t that’s the sneaky thing. People on all sides of every contentious issue do this, but the pro-choice movement seems—and I’ll admit I may be biased here—particularly keen on this way of trying to win an argument without arguing it.
Here’s an example. In an article titled “The Injustice of Destroying Embryonic Human Beings” (https://www.mercatornet.com/features/view/the-injustice-of-destroying-embryonic-human-beings/19145), the English bioethicist David Albert Jones points out that destroying a human embryo “is destroying a human being at the first stage of his or her life. I was once a baby and had you killed that baby you would have killed me and I would not have been here today.”
He argues that “there is at least a prima facie case for holding that a human embryo is an embryonic human being. If so, then destroying a human embryo is ending the life of a human being.” He doesn’t make the prima facie case in the article, but I assume it would run like this, only he would put it the philosopher’s language: That embryo turns into a fetus who turns into a born baby who grows up into a man or woman. It’s always the same thing, just in different stages. If the grown man is a human being, as we all agree he is, the embryo is a human being, because it’s him.
Rather Astonishing Nonsense (Supposedly)
But no, one of his commenters declares. His very long comment opens with “Rather astonishing nonsense, however philosophical (or theological) it may pretend to be.” Not just wrong, but nonsense, and only pretend philosophy. Okay. The swords are out.
The man then argues that
[t]he transition from “embryonic human being” to “human being” simpliciter, is, to say the least, a logical jump which has not been justified. The seed of an oak tree (an acorn) is an oak tree in embryo, but it is not an oak tree. Thus nothing logically commits us to calling a human embryo a human being. An embryonic something is not equivalent to the something of which it is an embryonic instantiation, and there is no obvious argument which will take us there.
He argues this only by analogy. An acorn is not an oak tree, not exactly, but if planted, it won’t produce a pine or a maple or a duck. It’ll produce an oak tree. The question is whether that makes the acorn an oak simpliciter. (Simpliciter is a legal term meaning in a simple way and without qualifications.) I would say it does, he would say it doesn’t.
That’s not a logical disagreement. He claims it is, but it’s not. He declares victory by declaring Jones illogical: “Thus nothing logically commits us to calling a human embryo a human being.” We don’t disagree about the logic of the argument. We disagree about a fact. What logic commits us to depends on what we believe.
In another comment he says: “I see no reason for holding that it is a human being, as such, though undoubtedly a developmental stage in what could in time become a human being.” That he doesn’t see it doesn’t make it illogical or a logical jump. He may be blind, as I think he is.
His Real Commitments
He goes on to make more substantial arguments, but they don’t work any better. In them he reveals his real commitments, though he keeps insisting he’s merely being logical. He’s a pro-choice ideologue.
For example, he argues that the embryo isn’t a human being because many embryos are lost to miscarriages and abortions. He treats his conclusion as obvious, as logical, but it doesn’t follow from the fact that a creature has his life ended before his birth. This man himself wouldn’t say that the 22-year-old who dies in a car accident wasn’t a human being because he didn’t live as long as the actuarial tables predicted. We need some other criterion for being a human being than avoiding premature death.
The question always comes back to what is that creature in the womb at any stage from blastocyst to fetus, but that’s the question these specious appeals to logic are intended to avoid. The pro-life Jones is supposedly writing nonsense and failing in logic. His commenter, in a classic pro-choice way, tries to rule out his argument before it can be made.
It turns out, as it always does, that the man who tries to win the argument by claiming that Jones writes illogically, imports into his supposedly objective claims some dubious beliefs. If he had been aborted, he says, “I would never have developed into a human being whose life mattered (to me).” Murder is only murder because it takes a person’s “life in terms of having values and goals.” He concludes:
To point at a photograph of an embryo and say, “This was you before you were born,” only has a reference because there is a “you” there of which this is now true. The embryo is not sufficiently developed—is not yet a human being—to whom the reference “you” is applicable.
So to be a human being you have to have unique characteristics, and be conscious of them, and think your life matters. You have to be “sufficiently developed.” Jones and I would deny this, and offer a different definition of human being. Our conclusions about the right of the unborn to live would follow quite logically from that definition.
I suspect the popularity among pro-choicers of this claim that the pro-lifers fail in logic comes from a simple fact: They don’t want people thinking about that creature in the womb. That’s when their argument is weakest, because the commonsense answer most people give is that that creature is a human being. The embryonic me was the same creature as the me watching the Giants beat the Cowboys. Some portion of those will then insist that he has the right to live. You can’t kill me, don’t kill the embryonic me.
How much easier for the pro-choicer not to argue but simply to declare that we’re talking nonsense and making claims with no logical value. Anything to keep people from looking at the unborn and seeing a child.