I concluded my previous post with a promise to examine my personal recognition that it is a mistake to characterize abortion as anything that overrides thinking of it as stopping a human life. I made the promise because I conjectured that making a moral mistake is thinking of a situation in some way which obscures what it truly is. Fulfilling the promise is part of developing a divine command moral theory. For I am assuming that making a moral mistake is not hearing the command of God and that hearing the command of God is recognizing a situation for what it truly is. So, I will be commited to holding that, on some occasions at least, recognizing the truth, even the truth of empirical claims, is more than an empirical fact. It is a command from God.
I can recall clearly the occasion on which I came to recognize that abortion is fundamentally the intentional stopping of a human life. About forty years ago, I was teaching an introductory course in moral philosophy at Ohio State. I remember the classroom: 143 University Hall. The course focused on moral problems. In the two weeks, six classes, on abortion, we worked through the pros and cons of abortion. We speculated about various theories on what made someone a person, when life began and, of course,brooded over Judith J. Thompson’s famous essay comparing pregnancy with being involuntarily hooked up to a world class violinist for nine months.
In the last two decades of the twentieth century, a professor, at a secular university, could be neutral about the morality of abortion. I sensed, though, that it would be considered inappropriate to profess that abortion was intrinsically immoral.
Furthermore, the resources of philosophy are inadequate for constructing a proof of abortion immorality. The way is always open to shifting to consequentialist moral reasoning. The shift to consequentialist moral reasoning is strongly supported by the numerous “trolley examples” whose main thrust is to show the moral irrelevance of an intention to directly take a human life. For trolley problems see Trolley Problems. Abortion needs to be understood as directly intending to stop a human life in order to condemn it.
After the first week, I realized that the purpose of any abortion is to stop a human life in the womb before it is delivered and becomes a bigger problem than it imposes in the womb. When I realized that all of the discussion was to justify direct killing, I became ashamed of what I was doing. I dropped the discussion of abortion and dealt with other moral issues. Going forward, I did not request teaching moral philosophy classes and took on a greater burden of teaching boring introductory logic classes.
What was it like to come to this realization? I want to call it hearing the command of God. But there was nothing spectacular: no intense sensations or feelings. Cetainly, no sense of a booming voice of God. I simply realized that I morally ought to accept the second premise for the following moral syllogism.
Directly taking a human life is wrong under all circumstances and for whatever purpose.
Abortion is directly taking a human life.
Hence, abortion is wrong under all circumstances and for whatever purpose.
My realization was that I ought no longer allow essentially unending philosophical pros and cons stop me from taking the above syllogism as a having the strength of a mathematical proof. All sorts of fascinating, but unresolvable, philosophic issues can be raised about the syllogisms. Some of the issues concern notions of the role of intentions, whether utilitarianism is the correct moral theory, issues about personhood, rights of woman, beginning of life, personal identity. For me, there was the realization that the moral permissibilty of abortion was not a philosophical question. I commanded myself to stop philosophizing and look at the facts. The fact I confronted is that abortion is directly stopping a human life.
Yes, the command was autonomous. I gave it to myself. But the presentation of the fact in response to which I commanded myself was given to me by the moral commander as the fundamental fact beneath all of the other ways of characterizing the pregnancy.
For me, a way of making a moral mistake is not to respond to the facts about which I am raising all sorts of philosophical problems. Philosophical analysis of a fact is not observing it and. most importantly, not believing it as the truth.