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An Agnostic Condemnation of Abortion

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drs. Tudor Georgescu

In this article I will analyse the question if abortion has to be permitted or banned, from the viewpoint of someone who is an agnostic in respect to the question if a foetus is a human being.

If we are looking for answers to the question "Is a foetus a human being?", we could try to find the answer in: science, religion and moral philosophy.

In respect to religion, an agnostic does not know which religion is true, if any. Even for someone who believes in God but not in revealed religion, as in Deism or Pandeism, it is clear that religions are not to be trusted as reliable sources of moral truths.

Science is a beautiful tool for knowing facts, e.g. how the humans have evolved from animals, the boiling temperature of water or knowing which moral values which are popular in the Bible Belt states. But science has not the calling of telling us how to live our lives in respect to the moral choices we are making. Science can inform us which political alternatives are likely to bring the best results in respect to combatting crime, but it cannot tell us if we have to vote for Democrats, Republicans or Socialists. Drawing the natural conclusion, it follows that science cannot tell us if a foetus is a human being, since this is a moral status, namely that of belonging to the community of humans.

Moral philosophy has the great disadvantage common to all philosophy, namely that for every argument it could be devised a counter-argument. Therefore its conclusions are unsure and do not express moral truths, it just expresses moral opinions. Moral philosophy is unreliable since it admits no consensus, for any philosopher is free to devise arguments against any moral thesis. While in certain sciences, there are clearly domains of knowledge wherein a consensus has been forged, moral philosophy does not have a paradigm, does not have shared assumptions and it does not have methods valid for every moral philosopher.

As such, we are entitled to believe that the agnostic position in respect to this question has a firm ground, since neither religion, nor science, nor moral philosophy could reliably establish a moral truth in this matter.

Now, the question is: if we are agnostic in respect to the above question, should abortion be permitted or should it be banned? Since we are unsure if a foetus is a human being, one should proceed with maximal care, since if we later learn the true answer in respect to this question and if it would happen that the answer is affirmative, there is no way to redress the harm done by permitting abortions. The precautionary principle says that when we will really know if a foetus is a human being, it would be too late for redressing such harm. Therefore, from this agnostic viewpoint it follows that abortions should be banned, since we are not sure if they are either harmless or murder. In these matters, if we err, we should err on the safe side, namely by banning abortions.

An argument could be devised that my position is intellectually suicidal, since moral philosophy cannot reliably provide moral truths. My answer would be that this article is not a piece of moral philosophy, but an exercise into pragmatic politics or political philosophy, just as Kant could build his theory about noumena and phenomena after noticing the antinomies of metaphysics.

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