And apologies in advance for the controversial subject…
Two Melbourne philosophy professors recently caused an uproar when they said that it wasn’t any MORE wrong to kill newborn babies than to kill foetuses in the womb, and that sometimes, it might actually be the right thing to do. Logically, they argued, what’s the difference?
Ok I know some people think it’s wrong to kill babies OR foetuses (and some of these people think it’s alright to kill adults if they break the wrong law, live in the wrong country or perform the wrong medical procedures).
I’m not weighing in on this. Really. It’s a minefield. See below.
But professional ethicists usually miss the point. Ethics isn’t about rationality. Ethics is about how we feel. We have evolved to feel bad about things that don’t help us survive, and good about things that do. We don’t like killing babies, because as a slow-breeding species, we don’t have babies to spare (unlike, say, rats, who eat theirs at times). On the other hand infanticide is more common in times when fertile adults have to choose whether to starve to death together with their newborns or live to breed another day – ancient Greece, for example, or biblical Palestine.
Many of us don’t feel the same about something we can’t see (a baby in the womb, pigs in an abattoir, global warming, the Congo, god) as we do about something we CAN see (a just-born baby, a poster of a foetus that looks just like a baby, god?).
How we FEEL is the crux of the matter. Yes I’ve had an abortion (one). I cried. If I had my time over I’d have been a damn sight more careful with contraception and casual hookups. No I’d never kill my baby (not even now I know he’s going to vote for the right wing party in the next elections).
I’m kind of hoping the more ‘civilised’ we get, the more we extend our feelings of empathy – from our family, to our community, to our country, to other countries, to our species, to other species. What we don’t want to do is discount those feelings in the name of rationality.
The way we feel about things will change from time to time and place to place, but please don’t give us those long diatribes saying we should make up our minds based solely on what’s ‘rational’. In some ways, our feelings are more rational than reason.
I’m going to christen this The Week of the Insane Rant. Anyone want to join in?