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Is Abortion Morally Right or Wrong?
October 30, 2013 David Haines

Is Abortion Morally Right or Wrong?

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One of the most debated questions today is whether or not abortion is morally acceptable, and, if it is, until what stage in the development of the substance which is created by the fertilization of a human egg by a human sperm?[1] The argument that I will be advancing is based upon arguments and definitions that I have advanced in a blog series that I did on What it means to be a Human Person, parts 1-13,[2] as such it is purely philosophical.[3] The following argument seems to demonstrate that abortion, from the moment of fertilization onward, is pre-meditated murder, where Pre-meditated murder is defined as planning to kill a human-being, and following through on the plan, thereby successfully killing the human being; or, in other words, successfully killing a human being in a way that was planned prior to the action. Furthermore, if the argument is valid, and sound, then it is a morally objective fact that abortion from fertilization onwards is as morally depraved as premeditated murder, and this conclusion is based upon human nature. Aristotle defines humans as rational animals, seeing as I have defended this definition in the series mentioned above, I will presuppose it in this argument.

The Argument is as follows:

(1)   Any X is human if and only if X has a rational form.

(2)   X possesses a rational form if and only if X is either actually thinking rationally, or in potency to rational thought.

(3)   The substance created by human fertilization is in potency to rational thought.

(4)   Therefore, the substance created by human fertilization possesses a rational form.

(5)   Therefore, the substance created by human fertilization is human, by definition.

(6)   Pre-meditated murder is successfully killing a human being in a way that was planned prior to the action. (If X is killed according to a pre-established plan, and X is a human, then X is the victim of pre-meditated murder.)

(7)   The substance created by human fertilization is killed according to a pre-established plan when it is aborted.

(8)   Therefore, killing (aborting) the substance created by human fertilization is the moral equivalent of pre-meditated murder.

A consequence of this argument is that, if it is morally wrong to commit pre-meditated murder, then it is morally wrong to kill the substance created by human fertilization. Therefore, Abortion is pre-meditated murder.

For those who are interested I worked this argument out using predicate logic, and it seems to be valid.[4] (Perhaps a better logician than I would disagree. I would appreciate any comments on this point.) The soundness of this argument depends, of course, upon the truth of each of the premises.

Premise 1 is, essentially, the Aristotelian definition of human nature. I exposed, and attempted to defend this definition in blog series mentioned above, and, so, I will not take the time to defend it here.

Premise 2 follows upon premise 1. I use the terms actually and potency in the Aristotelian sense, where that which is in potency to A, does not actually possess, or is not actually in a state of, A; but, that which is in potency to A, due to its form or nature, and given a certain maturity and properly functioning organs, will possess, or be capable of being in a state of, A. So, for example, though an acorn is not yet a tree, it is in potency to be a tree. Though a child is not yet an adult, it is in potency to being an adult and in potency to all of the capacities that an adult has. In fact, a human person who is in a coma is also in potency to rational thought. The term actually, or, in other words, to be in act, refers to the fact that, if something is actually A, then it is in possession of, or is currently in a state of, A. So, the acorn is in potency to being a tree, but it is actually an acorn (a nut). A child is in potency to being an adult, but it is actually a child.  With these concepts in mind, premise 2 is simply stating that a being with a rational form is either actually in the act of reasoning (such as I am right now, and as the reader is as they read these words), or said being is not actually reasoning at the time being, though they are in potency to the act of reasoning, such as a person who is sleeping or is in a coma, or a one year old child who cannot yet reason, or the substance created by human fertilization.

Premise 3 is, perhaps, a point of friction; however, it follows upon premise 2, and it is based upon 2 facts. First of all, though the substance that is created by the fertilization of a human egg by a human sperm is not actually capable of reasoning, it is in potency to the act of reasoning. This is an empirical observation based upon the fact that, unless the substance which is the result of human fertilization dies prematurely, or has malfunctioning hardware, it inevitably is not only capable of reasoning, but will spend most of its waking hours involved in some form of reasoning. Secondly, based upon our definition of potency, if it is not actually reasoning, but will be able to reason, then it is in potency to rational thought. There may be a problem here: do we say that a thing is in potency to rationality because it has a rational form, or do we say that a thing has a rational form because it is actually in the process of reasoning, or is in potency to rational thought? This is an interesting question. For the time being, anyways, I am of the opinion that when we say that something has a rational form we are performing an act of classification. Therefore, though form precedes rationality in the substance itself (metaphysically), the observation of rationality (actually or only potentially) in a subject precedes the categorization (epistemologically). For Aristotle, the form is in the thing itself, and our classification of things into their various genus’s and species is an act of the intellect. Things are what they are due to their form; we know that they are what they are due to the intellect’s abstraction of the form from its observation of the thing. Therefore, the above problem is not really a problem; it simply brings up the distinction that we have just made. The answer to the dilemma above is “yes”.

As noted above, Premise 4 follows upon Premise 3 epistemologically. Though, we could, it seems, change the order of these two premises without greatly affecting the argument, if we wanted to put more emphasis upon the metaphysical nature of the substance in question than on our knowledge of its nature. Is the argument, therefore, circular? It does not seem to be circular; neither does it seem to beg the question. Rather, the first four premises seem to be the result of empirical observation.

Premise 5 is the conclusion of the first 4 premises, and if the first four premises are true, then Premise 5 would appear to follow necessarily. Now, as the following premises would appear to demonstrate, if premise 5 follows upon premises 1-4, then we are put into a nasty situation as regards abortion, at any stage of development from fertilization on.

Premise 6 is a simple definition of pre-meditated murder. Perhaps someone would want to add certain nuances; however, I believe that this definition gives an appropriate summary of what is generally viewed as pre-meditated murder. (Exceptions are simply that, exceptions. They do not remove the fact of the general observation.)

Premise 7 is assumed for the logical argument, but it is a fact of modern reality. Every day (and I am sorry if I under-estimate the number) thousands of abortions are carried out, around the world, at almost every stage of the development of the substance that is caused by human fertilization. Usually, killing after birth is seen as murder, and treated as such, however, doctors, patients, politicians, and activists, seem to be able to find reasons to rationalize killing the substance in question at any stage of its development. Therefore, premise 7 is not really up for debate here.

Premise 8 is simply the conclusion of premises 1-7. Logically it seems to follow, and if I have been successful, then this argument is not only logically valid, but it is also sound, and, therefore, the conclusion is also true.

I guess I will leave it up to the reader to decide what to do with this argument.

[1]I will be using, as much as possible, the term substance created by human fertilization to refer to the being that is the fusion of the sperm and the egg, rather than less morally neutral terms such as: human baby, human fetus, etc. This will not be satisfactory for those who are pro-life activists, who will probably say that I’m giving too much to the pro-choice activists. Please forgive me for this; if someone so desires, they may read baby, or human fetus into the text, it won’t change the effect of the argument. For the more philosophically minded, the term substance is indeed a highly debated term. I use this term in the Aristotelian sense in which it means, more or less, the actually existing thing or, a being that is endowed with a certain nature. I stay as far away as possible from the Lockian definition of substance as the substratum of a thing which is unknowable. When we see a human with brown hair, that is 6’6” walking down the street, we are immediately aware of its accidents, but this awareness is only possible if we are simultaneously aware of its substance, the being that has the accidents and that is endowed with a human nature.

(On my personal blog a reader contested the term substance as being a relic of the middle ages. I gave a response along the following lines: “First of all, substance and essence are philosophical terms of art that date back to the early Greek philosophers, and, most notably, to Aristotle. These terms have been used by some of the greatest philosophers from Aristotle to Heidegger (who died in 1976, and who was most certainly not a medieval philosopher or theologian). Furthermore, dismissing terms by claiming that they aren’t “modern” is not a counterargument and does not invalidate the argument. It is only a sign that you’re not willing to actually consider the argument itself. The reality is that in contemporary philosophy there is a growing interest in Aristotelian metaphysics, especially since Heidegger so notoriously reinterpreted all of Aristotle’s works in such an inspiring and debatable manner. Pick up any contemporary introductory textbook on metaphysics; you will find numerous comments on substances, essences, natures, etc. The deeper you go into metaphysical research the more these terms are used, even today! Secondly, if you don’t like my terms you need to tell me what is wrong with them, why they are inaccurate, and suggest some more useful terminology, rather than making rhetorical remarks about their antiquity. Such a remark does not defeat the argument, in fact, it does not even engage the argument. For Plato, and a number of ancient philosophers, the antiquity of a truth claim was cause for accepting the truth of it, not for rejecting it. I will assume that you understand the terms substance and essence, as well as what they mean for Aristotle. Therefore, if you prefer, why don’t you suggest better terms to use that would replace the notions that these terms represent. That is, unless you don’t think that there is anything that persists through change. The fact of the matter is that when we use the term in itself, we are picking out something about the thing in question that has been termed its essence, or nature, or form. Which points to something about the thing that persists through change. If there is nothing that persists through change, and you can prove this, then I will concede your point. If there is something that persists through change, then I will ask you what it is. My proposal is that the “that which persists through change of a sperm” is of a different nature of a “that which persists through change of a fertilized egg”. The prior has no potency to rationality unless there is a substantial change and it becomes a “that which persists through change of a fertilized egg”. My argument is that the “that which persists through change of a fertilized egg” is the same as the “that which persists through change” of a new born baby, of a 5 year old child, of a teenager, of an adult and of an elderly person. Perhaps this is not true, but you can’t just say, “that’s not true”, you need to prove why it is not true, otherwise you have not engaged the argument, you have just uttered an emotional negative response.”)


[2]For those who don’t have time to read my blog series (@philosopherdhaines.blogspot.com) on human nature, this argument is based upon an Aristotelian conception of human nature, and, as such, this is not a religious argument.


[3]I am not presupposing any religious claims.


[4]The Argument seems to work out as follows (Any comments would be appreciated):

  1. ∀x (Hx↔Rx)                                  A
  2. ∀x (Rx ↔(Tx v Px)                      A
  3. ∀x ((Kx & Hx) → Mx)                 A
  4. Pf                                                     PA
  5. Hf ↔ Rf                                          1∀O
  6. Rf ↔(Tf v Pf)                               2∀O
  7. (Tf v Pf) → Rf                              6↔O
  8. Tf                                                     PA
  9. Tf v Pf                                            4vI
  10. Rf                                                    7,9→O
  11. Tf→Rf                                            8-10vI
  12. Rf→Hf                                           5↔O
  13. Hf                                                   10,12→O
  14. Pf→Hf                                            4-13→I
  15. Kf                                                    PA
  16. (Kf & Hf)→Mf                              3∀O
  17. Kf & Hf                                          13, 15&I
  18. Mf                                                   16,17→O
  19. Kf→Mf                                           15-18→I


Domain Key :

Hx = x is a human

Rx = x possesses a Rational Form

Tx = x is actually thinking rationally

Px = x is in potency to rational thought

Kx = x is killed according to a plan

Mx = x is the victim of a pre-meditated murder

F = the substance created by human fertilization

Comment (1)

  1. todd.moody@gmail.com
    Todd 4 years ago

    Sorry, you do not have sufficient privileges to view this post.

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