Pro Life Metaphysics

Matthew Lee Anderson at Mere Orthodoxy

The metaphysics of the matter–the matter of the fertilized egg, to be specific–have to be evaluated and our ethical reflection and public policy brought into line accordingly.  Even within a liberal democracy, where our differences of opinion apparently extend even to our own minds, we must resolve the question of who will be admitted.

I’m interested in this link between metaphysical status and moral obligation. Things are messier than what apparently is assumed. First, the metaphysical status of the new life is initially not directly known; we may assume that status of the fertilized egg understood generally, but we are blind as to status of any particular egg in the woman’s womb. And this blindness as to the actual state of the developing life continues into the early weeks of the pregnancy.

This it seems raises the second question, that of the nature of the moral obligation. When is it properly and consciously assumed by the woman, that is, when does she become a moral actor? Or more generally, can I have a moral obligation which I am fundamentally and physically unable to know about?

And in turn, this brings in the State and its coercive power. Obligation to the State (i.e. public policy) properly ought to flow from what can be seen, tested or validated. This is the principle of equity. If there exists a general class of “fertilized eggs” that ought to be protected, then how do we effect the State’s gaze, this the prerequisite for any action? The blindness as to the actual state of the pregnancy in the earliest days seems to bar State action apart from the most dystopian policy. (Indeed, in reductio absurdum if we follow the logic that metaphysics must determine policy, do we not end up with the State literally in the bedroom making sure that every act of sex be seen as creating legal obligation and so justifying intrusion?)

To summarize, it is not at all clear that metaphysical status generates the practical moral, let alone legal obligations.

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