If you haven’t yet seen James Franco’s Philosophy Time video with Princeton Professor Elizabeth Harman, you need to watch it purely for the sake of watching Franco’s facial expressions. Check it out:
It’s pretty clear that Franco sees right through this ridiculous argument as well as any sane person would. But he politely allows her to clarify, which only solidifies that she is terrible at philosophy and at constructing a coherent argument.
Funny as this is, there’s something really distressing about it at the same time. This woman is a philosophy Professor at Princeton, she has college students on a weekly basis sitting in front of her and listening to what she says and believing what she says because she teaches at a prestigious school! These students will go out into the world armed with the belief that what they have been taught is true and right because they went to such a school! And what she is teaching, apparently, is a moral philosophy that will arm them to commit any number of horrific atrocities against their fellow humans. Ms. Harman’s argument is exactly the kind of argument that would allow the worst Neo-Nazi white supremacist to justify his actions – or the most callous abortionist to sleep at night.
Ms. Harman begins her argument with the claim that a fetus doesn’t have a moral standing because it doesn’t yet have experiences. Now, this is a very shaky argument, but it’s actually a better argument than where she ends up. It’s shaky because it doesn’t rest on anything quantifiable. What does it mean to “have experiences?” Does nerve sensation count? If so, you’ve eliminated the abortion option by the time you know you’re pregnant. But she doesn’t even defend this position. When Franco presses her on it, she ends up somewhere even more bizarre.
Here’s her final position, in a nutshell:
If someone else (in this case, the mother) chooses to give you moral standing, then you have moral standing. If that person had not chosen to give you moral standing, then you do not have it.
Okay, so let’s play that out for a moment…
Moral standing is not intrinsic, it is granted by someone else.
The “someone else” who determines my moral standing is whoever has most direct control or power over me (in the case of a fetus, the mother and/or doctor – hence the oft said, “It is a choice between a woman and her doctor”).
If I gain power or control over someone else, then I get to determine their moral standing.
If I don’t like a certain kind of person, I just need to control them.
Once I control them, I can do as I please to them.
With such a philosophy, a Neo-Nazi white supremacist can tell himself that the only thing he needs to do is be more powerful than the Black, or Hispanic, or Jew, and he’s justified. And if anyone tells him otherwise, he can simply point back to the same philosophical points Ms. Harman just used to defend the moral right of abortion. And while any of us would like to say, “No, that’s just not how it works!” the fact is that Ms. Harman is allowed to publicly present this kind of philosophy and still maintain her position at Princeton. And people are going out into the world armed with her philosophy.
See, here’s the thing – it doesn’t matter how many times you try to brush off or poo-pooh this assertion, the fact remains that every argument for abortion is an argument for racism, because every argument for abortion pits the value of one human life over against another. Just like racism.
I hate racism. And I hate abortion. More importantly, God hates racism, and God hates abortion, and for exactly the same reasons: they devalue a life he has created.
Now, I bring racism into this discussion because we just saw last weekend the ugliness of it on display in our country. Yet, the dust hadn’t even started to settle on that issue when news broke about Iceland’s national pride in their
elimination of down syndrome eugenics program, and yet we didn’t see a broad sweeping condemnation and cry for action. It is literally the same thing! The white supremacists are calling for the elimination of people they don’t desire, and the abortionists are calling for the elimination of people they don’t desire!
You can’t hold defense of abortion in one hand and opposition to racism in the other. Racism and abortion both spring from the same soil, which is the philosophy of selfishness that says “My life is worth more than another’s.” Until we as a society are willing to dig away that poisoned soil, we will continue to see both rising up.