The false hypothesis of the abortion debate

The usual abortion dialectic, agreed to by both sides, is that the product of conception is either a person or not, and if it is a person, one cannot destroy it; but if it is not, they can.  The second half of the disjunction is pretty clearly false- another man’s property is a clear case of something that is not a person, yet which we are not free to destroy. Even if we stipulate that some zygote is only a potential person, such a being is wholly understood in relation to the actual person who will arise, and so our actions with respect to it must be informed by its relation to the good of the person who will arise.

If the zygote is not a person, how are we to understand it? So far as it is relevant to this debate, it is either a part of another, or the property of another. Now anyone who imagines that the zygote is a part of its mother neither understands what “part” or “conception” mean, and while there is a real sense in which the zygote is the property of its parents, they can only be said to own it in the sense of owning it in trust- the way parents might oversee money (or a kingdom) that is to be given to a child when he comes of age.  The zygote’s whole nature- genetic code, sex difference, life, growth, etc- is a nature ordered to being given to another, like money held in trust.


  1. September 26, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Did you delete my comment?

  2. a thomist said,

    September 26, 2008 at 12:03 pm


  3. Geoffrey said,

    September 27, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    Very good point!

    I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to go off-topic. I recently bought a book on Thomism called “A Christian Philosophy,” and it’s some pretty heavy stuff! Would you mind answering a few of my questions about substance, matter, and form?


  4. a thomist said,

    September 27, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    I’ll write a post on those three. There are a few preliminary remarks that need to be said in any discussion of those words before any particular questions.

  5. September 28, 2008 at 9:32 am


    Is that the full title? Who wrote it?

    I’m finding Herbert McCabe’s book On Aquinas to be useful; it’s the transcription of a set of introductory lectures more or less on Aquinas, and he’s good (so far) at explaining things in everyday language. For example, he spends a lot of time on why a human being is a “natural unit” (that is, a substance) and a car is an “artificial unit” (that is, a thing composed of many substances). He tends to avoid the standard terminology, giving just enough of a linkage that if you’re reading Thomas or something else about Thomas you can relate his terms to the standard terms.

    I gather from the introduction to the book that McCabe’s thought derived from both Thomas and Wittgenstein; whether this is a good thing or not is beyond me at present.

  6. samuel axel said,

    December 7, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    I just wanted anyone’s opinion on if I was in the wrong here, and what any of you guys would have done in this situation. So my wife is quite liberal and I’m more on the conservative side, and she’s about 3 months pregnant. She can’t work right now, so I’ve been forced to support her as of late. The thing is that about a week ago she started asking me if she could borrow $400, and being pretty secretive about the reason why. I soon found out that $400 was the average cost of a back alley abortion, which is ridiculous considering that she knows how vehemently pro-life I am. After refusing to give her the money and the countless hours of arguing that ensued, I ended up making a comment about how if she wanted to do something liberal with $400, she should take advantage of Obummer’s “satellite internet recovery act,” so that “instead of murdering our kid, he can have satellite internet at a smashing price!” (I linked it so you can actually see it’s about $400 in taxpayer money that our President chose to waste on this crap, aren’t I so funny hah). The messed up part is that she went and told her dad, who happens to be just as liberal as her, and who also happens to own the house that we’re renting. To make a long story short, my tenancy has been “suspended” from his house (I’m now staying at my buddy’s place until this thing blows over) and he gave her the money to get the abortion. I haven’t talked to her in almost a week, so it’s pretty safe to say that she has already gone through with it. So my question is, do you think I was being inappropriate for mocking my wife and father in law’s political ideologies, or do you think I’m being unfairly persecuted because of my relative conservatism, and the Obummer joke I made has little to nothing to do with this? I’m thinking the latter.

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