What is Wrong with Abortion?

Leonardo's FetusIs it immoral to deliberately end the life of a fetus? This is a philosophical question that tackles the ethics of abortion. This philosophical question demands philosophical answer(s). Before I attempt to answer this question, another basic question that is behind this question must also be answered; what exactly makes it immoral to kill one of us on most occasions? From such explorations I presented three philosophical arguments explaining why I believe abortion, on most occasions, is immoral.

This short essay presented three brief explanations on what makes killing one of us wrong. Those explanations, I will argue, are equally applicable to the killing of fetuses. In this essay I assumed that my readers agree that killing of a suicidal teenager or a revisable comatose patient is wrong. Thus, though a suicidal teenager may currently have no strong desire to live, or a revisable comatose patient may at a certain period be totally unconscious of both her inner self and her outside surroundings, it is immoral to deliberately and unjustifiably end their lives.

An adequate explanation for what exactly makes it immoral to kill one of us, thus, must cover the killing of those who currently have no strong desire to live and also those who are temporary unconscious. The following three explanations cover such cases. Continue reading

Examining Plato’s Euthyphro Dialogue

Socrates Death I

Standing in the porch of the King Archon are two friends Socrates and Euthyphro.  Prosecuted by Meletus for corrupting the minds of Meletus’ young friends, Socrates came to defend himself from these charges.  Euthyphro, on the other hand, came to prosecute his own father for murder (Plat. Euthyph. 2a-4a¹).

Although his father and family were angry with him for this, Euthyphro, contrary to his family, judged his act as τὸ ὅσιον (pious, or holy), a righteous thing to do. His family, according to Euthyphro, did know little about the divine law in regard to piety and impiety (4e). Since Socrates was under a similar charge of impiousness, namely corrupting the minds of Meletus’ young friends, this was a perfect moment for him to learn from the well-learned Athenian Euthyphro the nature of piety and impiety (5a-d). What is piety and what is impiety?

Plato’s Euthyphro explores the nature of piety and impiety. This series of articles aimed to examine the Euthyphro and Socrates dialogue, focusing on Euthyphro 9d-llb, which is often misunderstood as a dilemma. I argued that Socrates does not present a dilemma but a disjunction. On behalf of Euthyphro, I showed that Socrates’ argument is invalid. I also examined the so-called “Euthyphro dilemma” showing that (a) it does not spring forth from Plato’s dialogue and (b) none of its conclusions drawn follows.

Euthyphro Under Fire & The Nature of τὸ ὅσιον

“[P]ious is to do what I am doing now,” answered Euthyphro, “to prosecute the wrongdoer, be it about murder or temple robbery or anything else, whether the wrongdoer is your father or your mother or anyone else; not to prosecute is impious.” (5d-e) Though Euthyphro’s particular act is supposedly an example of pious and impious, it does not explain what pious and impious are. Socrates thus correctly remind Euthyphro that he was not asking for examples but the definition of pious and impious (6d-e).

“Well then, what is dear to the gods is pious, what is not is impious” (7a) answered Euthyphro.  This was what Socrates was asking for. Euthyphro second attempt is indeed a definition. The problem is, according to Socrates, there could be an act X that is pious to one god and impious to another.  Example, Euthyphro’s prosecuting his own father could be pious to Zeus but impious to Cronus and Uranus pointed Socrates (7b-9b). Thus X could be, in that definition, absurdly pious and impious.

Avoiding this contradiction, Socrates assisted Euthyphro to revise his definition (9c-d) to “what all the gods love is pious and, on the other hand, what they all hate is impious”(9e). Euthyphro definition of pious is thus:

Necessary: for every x, x is pious iff x is loved by all gods.

Next article in this series examined whether Socrates’ challenge is a dilemma or a disjunction.


¹With a minor substitution of holy/unholy with piety/impiety, and holiness with pious, I followed Plato. Euthyphro in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 12 translated by Harold N. Fowler. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921

Mackie’s Error Theory

screen-capture-1“There are no objective values.”  So starts the first chapter of J.L. Mackie’s book, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, where he argues that there are no objective, universally prescriptive moral facts.

His view is a cognitivist view, which means that our moral judgments express believes that have truth-value, but it is not an example of moral realism.  Mackie argued that all of our moral judgments and beliefs are false.  This is why it is called “Error Theory.”  How does he argue for this position?

His argument combines a conceptual claim about our moral judgments and an ontological claim about the existence of moral facts.

1) Conceptual claim: Our moral concepts are concepts of universally prescriptive, categorical facts in the world.

2) Ontological claim: There are no such facts in the world.

Since there is nothing in the world that corresponds to our beliefs about moral facts, our moral beliefs and claims are all false.  That is why Mackie’s view is called Error Theory, because we are literally in error.

Mackie argues for (1) by showing that many philosophers in the Western tradition have defended objective moral values.  While acknowledging that many thinkers are moral subjectivists he says “the main tradition of European moral philosophy includes the contrary claim, that there are objective values of just the sort I have denied,” (p. 30).  He cites philosophers like Plato, Kant, Sidgwick, Aristotle, Samuel Clarke, Hutcheson, Richard Price, and says Hume noticed the prevalence of the objectivist tradition as well.  He also argues that the objectivist tradition has a firm basis in ordinary thought.  When many people ask if a certain action is wrong, they are not asking what they feel about the action or what benefit they think it will give them, they are asking if the action itself is wrong.  Mackie also claims that existentialism and its influence on people shows that people tend to objectify their concerns.  People who cease to believe that objective moral facts or values exist tend to begin believing that nothing matters at all; that life has no purpose.  This suggests that those people were objectifying their moral judgments so that they were something external to them, not just aspects of their own ideas, thoughts, and desires (p. 34).

Mackie argues for (2) in a few different ways, but the argument I will focus on here is the argument from queerness.

If there were objective values, then they would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe.  Correspondingly, if we were aware of them, it would have to be by some special faculty or moral perception or intuition, utterly different from our ordinary ways of knowing everything else. (p. 38)

In order to argue that moral facts do not exist, Mackie combines a metaphysical argument with an epistemological argument.  The metaphysical argument is that moral facts would be very “queer” properties unlike any other kinds of properties we know.  Moral facts are the kinds of things that have a demand for an action built into them.  They are prescriptive facts telling us how we ought to act.  The facts that we are all acquainted with, however, are prescriptively inert.  The facts or properties that we are all familiar with, physical properties, do not have demands for certain actions built into them.  They do not tell us how things ought to be, they just tell us how things are.  They are descriptive rather than prescriptive. These physical properties, which are descriptive properties that tell us how things are, are the kinds of properties that we are very well acquainted with and they are explicable on naturalism.  Moral properties, which are prescriptive properties that tell us how things ought to be, are strange and not easily explainable on naturalism, since the moral properties themselves would not be natural.

The epistemological argument is that we would need a special faculty that was able to detect these moral properties.  We have different faculties for detecting things in the world, and these faculties are how we gain knowledge about the world.  For example, our eyes pick up light and allow us to see, our noses detect scents in the air and allow us to smell, our ears detect the vibrations in the air and allow us to hear sound.  Through these different faculties we detect different things in the world and learn about them.  But what kind of faculty would we need to have in order to detect non-physical, universally prescriptive moral facts?  It is not clear what on earth this faculty could be or how we can gain knowledge of moral facts through it.  So Mackie concludes from this that we have good reason to reject the actual existence of moral facts.

To sum up, Mackie claims that our moral concepts are concepts of universally prescriptive facts, but these facts do not exist in the world, so our moral concepts are literally false.  He argues against their existence by showing that such facts would be metaphysically “queer” on naturalism and it is not clear how we would even know their existence.

I think Mackie’s moral theory is likely to be true if naturalism is true.  If someone is a naturalist, he would have to deny moral facts because they are not the kinds of things that would be natural.  If someone thinks that moral facts do exist, then he has reason to reject naturalism.


(1) Mackie, J. L. Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. Middelessex: Penguin, 1990. Print.

(2) Miller, Alexander. An Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2003. Print.

About Guest Contributor

KyleKyle Hendricks is a blogger of  Into the Harvest, a blog that reflects his thoughts on Philosophy of Religion and Theology.

Kyle is an awesomely gifted and careful Christian thinker. He graduated from The University of Missouri-Columbia with a B.A. in philosophy and is doing his M.A. program in philosophy at Biola University. Kyle works part-time for Stand to Reason.

Classical Utilitarianism: Ends Defined Morality

John Mill

Stephen King’s novels, which were turned into a movie The Green Mile, captured a story of a seven-foot, very quite, calm and achluophobia black American death-rowed inmate John Coffey at Cold Mountain Penitentiary, awaiting his execution for alleged rape and murder of two white little girls. As the story unfolds, the death-row supervisor Paul Edgecom discovered that John was innocent but could not do much to stop his execution.

Was the execution of John moral right action? Does the eudaimonistic desirability of an action that maximizes people’s happiness make an act right? Is it true that an act is right if it produces the greatest sum of satisfactions to a great number of people? This article concisely introduced and evaluated Mill’s classical utilitarianism.

“All action is for the sake of some end, and rules of action,” argued John Stuart Mill in Utilitarianism, “it seems natural to suppose, must take their whole character and colour from the end to which they are subservient.”(Mill 2003, 182) Paul, according to Mill’s, has to take into account the whole states of affairs into consideration. John’s execution is done for the sake of some end and rules action. So far so good for Paul. Assuming that he already took into consideration the rules of action, does some end also determine the value of executing John?

Yes, would be Mill’s answer according to his understanding of utilitarianism. In What Utilitarianism Is, Mill’s apologia of utilitarianism, he argued what he deemed to be in accordance with utilitarian opinion:

[T]he end of human action, is necessarily also the standard of morality; which may accordingly be defined, the rules and precepts for human conduct, by the observance of which an existence such as has been described might be, to the greatest extent possible, secured to all mankind; and not to them only, but, so far as the nature of things admits, to the whole sentient creation.(2003, 190)

Utility, the Greatest Happiness Principle, states that an action is neither right nor wrong by itself, but right if it tend to promote happiness (pleasure and the absence of pain) and wrong if it tend to produce unhappiness (pain and the privation of pleasure) (2003, 186) to a great number of people.

If the execution of John did increase the sum total of happiness to a great number of people, then it was morally right. Since Paul knew John’s execution increased the sum total of happiness to a great number of people, he would be led by Mill’s utilitarianism to conclude that it was morally right to execute an innocent man.

Mill’s utilitarianism does not locate the moral value of an act in the act but the psychological end result of great number of people involved.

Mill, John Stuart (2003) Utilitarianism and On Libert. Edited by Mary Warnock . 2nd ed. Blackwell Publishing.

Abortion: It Is Her Body, It Is Her Choice?

LittleoneIs it true that a woman’s body is her own business, and should not be a political issue? Should a woman be granted right to decide whatever happens in and to her body?

This blog post explored the Bodily Autonomy Argument offered for abortion. Whether you are for or against abortion, it is my intention to persuade you that this argument is a failure by offering three just-so-stories counterexamples, to show how unconvincing it is to any reasonable and morally unblind person.

I used a narrow definition of abortion in the post, viz., a deliberate act of removing a developing embryo or fetus (Latin: “little one”), without justified reason1 from the womb in a period before it is capable of independent survival.

The argument from woman autonomy commonly unfold as follows:

1. A woman has the right to decide what she can and can’t do in and to her body.
2. The fetus exists in a woman’s body.
3. A woman has the right to decide whether the fetus remains in her body.
4. Therefore a pregnant woman has the right to abort the fetus.

Most of critiques found in literature gunned against this argument tend to show that a fetus is not an extension of the woman’s body. Christopher Hitchens, for example, contended:

As a materialist, I think it has been demonstrated that an embryo is a separate body and entity, and not merely (as some really did used to argue) a growth on or in the female body. There used to be feminists who would say that it was more like an appendix or even—this was seriously maintained—a tumor. That nonsense seems to have stopped (Hitchens 2009, 378)

But let assume that a fetus is part of the woman’s body. Would it follow that a pregnant woman ought to have a right to choose what happen in and to her body? Is true that: “Abortion is a personal choice because you are talking about what a woman does with her body.”(Jordan 1992:8-9)? Consider these three counterexamples:

Special Case 1: Chopping the Fetus

Jane decided to chop off the legs of the fetus, at week 7 but still she wants to keep it. Since she has the right to choose what happen in and to her body, Dr. John, with help of modern technology, performed the operation and chop Jane’s fetus legs off. In week 10, Jane decided to chop the hands of the fetus off and John performed what is reasoned to be Jane’s personal choice and right. In her final trimester, Jane asked John to perform prostaglandin.

Special Case 2: Poison the Fetus

Linda discovered that she was pregnant. Since she has the right to choose what happen in and to her body, Linda chose to continue living her ordinary lifestyle of smoking marijuana and consuming alcohol, knowing that she does increase the probability of her fetus having fetal alcohol syndrome. It is after all her private and personal own business. She decide what happen in her body. After 9 months Linda gave birth to an intellectual disabled baby with facial, fingers, arms and legs defects.

Special Case 3: Feed No Child

Rose gave birth in a desert where she and a newly little one (fetus) are the only survivors of a plan crash. It is only by drinking breast’s milk the little one can survive. Since Rose believe that she has the right to choose what happen to her body, she chose not to feed it. She chose to preserve her energy and nutrients needed for her own body. Two days later the little one died from hunger.

In these three special cases counterexamples, knowing that there is no morally sane woman who would even dare think of doing what my hypothetical Jane, Linda and Rose did, the argument used to justify their actions is the same. Jane, Linda and Rose contended that it was their own bodies and they have the right to choose for themselves what was to be done in and to their bodies.

As spectators, are our moral sentiments toward Jane, Linda and Rose’s actions of approval and praise? I deem that only morally blind person would find my hypothetical ladies’ actions praiseworthy and ought to be approved on the ground that it was their own private business, since they have the right to decide whatever happens in and to their bodies.

If that is the case, these counterexamples show that it is not true that a woman’s body is her own business, and should not be a political issue. From these three just-so-stories counterexamples I concluded that the Bodily Autonomy argument for abortion is a failure since if true, then absurdly Jane, Linda and Rose’s actions would be morally justified.


Jordan, Barbara (1992) “New Democratic Order?” World Magazine, November 7th. 8-9.

Hitchens, Christopher (2009), God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything Hachette Book Group. Kindle Edition.

[1] I grant therapeutic abortion, abortion done to save the mother’s life, as a justified reasons

You Better Run Prof. Richard Dawkins

A popular new atheist, Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, refused to stand trial, to debate  defending the truthfulness of his own book at Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre on Tuesday 26th October, with one of the best and leading Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig.

Richard Dawkins

Prof. Dawkins maintained his head in the rabbit hole, saying :

“I have no intention of assisting Craig in his relentless drive for self-promotion”

Is this true? Craig has debated with the best thinkers including late Antony Flew, Daniel Dennet, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Lewis Wolpert, A.C. Grayling, Bart Ehrman, Paul Kurtz, Walter Sinnott Armstrong, Victor Stegner, Lawrence Krauss, among the few. How then is Dawkins thinking Craig is driven for self-promotion?

I think the reason behind Prof. Dawkins’s refusal to debate with Craig, is the truth of  Sam Harris’ saying in his opening speech , 7th April 2011 “Is the Foundation of Morality Natural or Supernatural? or Does Good Come from God?” debate with William Lane Craig:

[William Lane Craig is]“the one Christian apologist who seems to have put the fear of God into many of my fellow atheists”

The Telegraph headline, by Tim Ross, reads Richard Dawkins accused of cowardice for refusing to debate existence of God: Ross, Telegraph’s religious affairs editor writes:

William Lane Craig

Some of Prof Dawkins’s contemporaries are not impressed. Dr Daniel Came, a philosophy lecturer and fellow atheist, from Worcester College, Oxford, wrote to him urging him to reconsider his refusal to debate the existence of God with Prof Craig.

In a letter to Prof Dawkins, Dr Came said: “The absence of a debate with the foremost apologist for Christian theism is a glaring omission on your CV and is of course apt to be interpreted as cowardice on your part.

“I notice that, by contrast, you are happy to discuss theological matters with television and radio presenters and other intellectual heavyweights like Pastor Ted Haggard of the National Association of Evangelicals and Pastor Keenan Roberts of the Colorado Hell House.”

Is Richard Dawkins ,one of Sam Harris’ fellow atheists who Craig seems to have put the fear of God into? I wonder, I wonder.

The Drunkard’s Logic

One of the world short, classical and philosophical children and adult book worth reading and rereading is Antoine De Sain Exupéry’s The Little Prince(1943).

Little Prince sets off on a journey across planets encountering different characters with attributes of which we can identify ourselves with(“we adults”). The absolute monarch: “power”, the conceited individual: “fame”, the drunkard: “lost”, and the businessman: “money”.

In Chapter 12, Little Prince meets the drunkard. Enjoy the Drunkard’s Logic 🙂

The Little Prince(1943)

The next planet was inhabited by a tippler. This was a very short visit, but it plunged the little prince into deep dejection.

“What are you doing there?” he said to the tippler, whom he found settled down in silence before a collection of empty bottles and also a collection of full bottles.
“I am drinking,” replied the tippler, with a lugubrious air.
“Why are you drinking?” demanded the little prince.
“So that I may forget,” replied the tippler.
“Forget what?” inquired the little prince, who already was sorry for him.
“Forget that I am ashamed,” the tippler confessed, hanging his head.
“Ashamed of what?” insisted the little prince, who wanted to help him.
“Ashamed of drinking!” The tipler brought his speech to an end, and shut himself up in an impregnable silence.
And the little prince went away, puzzled.
“The grown-ups are certainly very, very odd,” he said to himself, as he continued on his journey.