Metaphysics and Abortion
“The pro-life position has nothing to do with metaphysics.”
That’s Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry responding to this post by Matthew Yglesias in which Yglesias says that he doesn’t accept “the erroneous metaphysics of the anti-abortion movement.” I’m not sure what Yglesias means by the word “metaphysics,” but Gobry clearly takes him to mean religious beliefs, and sets out to frame the anti-abortion argument in non-religious terms:
Whether life begins at conception isn’t a matter of religious faith, it’s a scientific question, and the answer isn’t very hard. Of course, you can choose to disbelieve it, just like you can choose to not to believe that CO2 molecules redirect infrared variations.
Now, science isn’t a moral guide. The fact that a fetus is a living human being doesn’t necessarily entail that it should receive legal protection. But again, resolving this issue requires no recourse to metaphysics.
It requires asking what are the criteria for qualifying as a person endowed with rights.
At first blush, it seems to me and many others that the entire project of the Enlightenment and modern Western civilization is premised on the idea that every single human being has certain inalienable rights. That these rights are not earned through accomplishment or inherited from forebears but that they are, well, universal, received simply by virtue of being human, and that it is incumbent on any just, or at least liberal, government to protect the rights of all human beings under its writ, not just the most visible.
Thing is, what Gobry’s describing here is metaphysics (and ethics, of course). Asking from a philosophical standpoint what it means to be a human person is asking a metaphysical question. Because metaphysics studies being, philosophical inquiry into what it means to be human falls under metaphysics. Now it may be that Yglesias doesn’t accept certain religious beliefs about the nascent human life, and that’s why he rejects the arguments of pro-lifers; but it may also (or instead) be the case that Yglesias disagrees with the philosophical arguments that attribute personhood to the unborn human life.