How a Hylomorphic Metaphysics Constrains the Abortion Debate
Hershenov (David)
Source: National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly. 5:4, 2005, 751-764
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. Earl Conee considers four well-known but very different discussions of the metaphysics of abortion1 and concludes that in each case the metaphysical view does not “substantially advance the argument in favor of a particular moral conclusion.” He adds that where there is some apparent force in the metaphysical premise, rival metaphysics can be substituted with no loss in the strength of the reasoning. He concludes that all the work in the abortion2 debates is being done by non-metaphysical premises.
  2. Conee conjectures that not only are metaphysical principles irrelevant in the four philosophical accounts that he examines in his article, but this will be true of any alternative metaphysics that philosophers believe to have a bearing on the morality of abortion3. He writes: “Concerning the morality of abortion4, metaphysics is epistemically inert.” Since his target is the irrelevance of metaphysical arguments to abortion5 in general, we believe it is permissible to discuss metaphysical positions that he doesn’t address as well as those he does. We maintain that his discussion of ensoulment theories is rather tendentious. Certain claims he makes about Cartesian accounts cannot be extended to hylomorphic accounts. While only one of the authors of this article is a defender of a hylomorphic account of personal identity, we both believe, pace Conee, that the leading alternative metaphysical accounts cannot be substituted for a hylomorphic account without some loss of strength in the pro-life position. We claim this because the alternative accounts cannot as easily support the claim that the very early termination of a pregnancy6 is an abortion7 of an existing human being rather than metaphysically and morally equivalent to contraception. Conee overlooks the fact that while rival theories may both posit our origins at fertilization, it is less of a stretch of the resources of the one theory than the other. That means one theory offers more substantial support for a particular position than the other.
  3. We also claim that the arguments which Conee offers to show that abortion8 is not harmful even if ensoulment occurs at fertilization cannot be extended to the hylomorphic account. While a person conceived on the dualist model may thrive when his soul is unencumbered by the flesh, this is not true of a person on the hylomorphic account of the soul. Nor is it true on a hylomorphic view that abortion9 may just be delaying the soul’s obtaining embodiment and a human life. But even on a Cartesian conception, if ensoulment is a miracle, a divine intervention for a purpose, such a metaphysical-theological conception, pace Conee, constrains the morality of abortion10.


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