Sunday, March 8, 2009

Of Parsnip and Truth

The unthinkable has happened -- at least twice in recent days, a self-labeled conservative has written sensible, non-hysterical things about abortion. It has come in two posts by Bradlaugh, one Friday and the other today:

I think ... we have, as part of our mental equipment, a module that, for any other human being, computes a sort of “potential-for-accumulating-experience” quotient, and assigns the human being a value on that basis. This module likely only kicks in when confronted with an observable human being, though. Probably our brains just didn’t evolve to have valuation modules for embryos and fetuses, which we didn’t much encounter until recently. Following on from that, I’d guess that much of the salience of the abortion issue in modern life is driven by the good-quality medical imaging that’s become available in recent decades. I’d guess, in fact, that really good quality imaging of fetuses, if cheaply and widely available, would lead to public demands for earlier limits on legal abortion terms. The theocons can metaphysic all they want, but further policy/legal changes in this zone will likely be driven by things we can see and hear, and by the effects those things have on our emotions. Metaphysics butters no parsnips.
I agree completely. I think I speak for many or most "pro-choice" people when I say "pro-life" appeals founder on their basic failure to connect with any moral intuition. Shrieking "that's a baby in there!" at a woman five days pregnant just doesn't connect; and shrieking it louder, or alongside bomb threats, doesn't come across as any more convincing. And the deeper, more thoroughgoing, more nuanced arguments intended to boost the intuitive appeal have failed to close the gap.

All of this dovetails nicely with what emerged as a blogospherical theme of the last few days: the relationship between our most rigorous forms of truth-seeking and our natural (evolved) intuitions, inclinations, and other mental habits. The twain often do not meet.

Other manifestations of the theme:
  • More properly philosophical critiques of Alvin Plantinga's curious naturalism-defeats-itself nonsense I criticized a post or two ago, one on Rust Belt Philosophy and another on The Uncredible Hallq.
  • A Point of Inquiry podcast featuring neuroscientist David J. Linden, who has many apposite and interesting things to say about the "accidental" -- flawed, jerry-rigged, slapdash, duct-tape-and-bailing-wire -- nature of the human mind.
  • Last but not least, and also very apposite, a Philosophy Bites podcast featuring philosopher Julian Savulescu.

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