I am always amazed by people who attempt to quantify evil in order to justify it. For those wondering what "quantify evil" means, I'm referring to people who argue for an otherwise immoral action on the basis that it is "the lesser of two evils."
Consider for a moment the moral dilemma: Regardless of reason, is it better to murder one person or ten?
I imagine that most people would say it's better to murder one. But now consider what that says. In fact, just look at the words: "better to murder." Now, I will grant you, murdering ten does more observable harm than murdering one -- but does that mean that it is somehow "more immoral" as well? Is the basis of moral judgment in the amount (or degree) of harm it causes? Is the person who murders only one person morally better than the person who murders ten?
I do not see how any reasonable person can claim so. At the end of the day, they are both murderers. They have both committed an evil, immoral act. So how does one go about addressing the moral dilemma?
Well, here is what most people don't seem to realize: It's a trick question. It cannot validly be answered. It is based on the fallacy of the false dilemma. And that's a particularly seductive fallacy to fall for in ethics, because it seems like it can be easily reasoned. But it can't. And in ethics, it can't because of the simple fact that evil cannot be quantified. If you are deciding between two immoral conclusions, regardless of which conclusion you choose, you will have still chosen immorally, and thus wrongfully. To say that one conclusion is better than the other is like saying it would be better to drink cyanide instead of arsenic. It is clearly absurd. At the end of the day, you're still dead from drinking poison.
What does this have to do with life and feminism, you're wondering? Well, I came across a particularly disturbing article this morning. In it, Antonia Senior sets up an interesting little trap. She starts with an open admission that a fetus is a life at conception. Quote:
Yes, abortion is killing. What seems increasingly clear to me is that, in the absence of an objective definition, a foetus is a life by any subjective measure. ... Any other conclusion is a convenient lie that we on the pro-choice side of the debate tell ourselves to make us feel better about the action of taking a life.
Wow. You rarely see that from an abortion supporter. How, then, could she possibly support abortion? Surprise, surprise -- by claiming that it is "the lesser of two evils." Well, what is the other "evil," you might be wondering. According to Senior, it is the separation of "women's rights from their right to fertility control." Quote: "The single biggest factor in women's liberation was our newly found ability to impose our will on our biology."
In other words, the threat to feminism is the other evil. Therefore, Senior is essentially suggesting that if we have to choose between "killing" and "a threat to feminism," that killing is the lesser of two evils. Quote: "The nearly 200,000 aborted babies in the UK each year are the lesser evil, no matter how you define life, or death, for that matter. If you are willing to die for a cause, you must be prepared to kill for it, too."
As an aside, I cannot help but wonder how far "prepared to kill" extends. If Senior is morally justifying abortion -- which she admits is murder and thus wrongful -- does that mean that it is also morally justified to kill, say, the father if he tries to impede the mother's having an abortion? Technically, that is interference with her "right to fertility control" as well. Should she be "prepared to kill" him, too? Or anyone else that gets in the way of her and her abortion?
Anyway, back to what I was saying. If you have not figured it out yet, Senior is obviously arguing from a fallacious false dilemma. And of course, how does she try to reconcile this fallacy? Like all those who do -- by playing in the "gray area." You know, most people do not realize that "gray area" thinking is essentially operating exclusively under the fallacy of false dilemma. It sets up paradigms which necessarily include something that is immoral/incorrect. Think about it. What is "gray?" It is a mixture of "white" and "black." We, of course, are substituting these terms for "good" and "evil." So "gray" is then a mixture of "good" and "evil." Right?
Well, think about that. Evil cannot be quantified, remember? So anything "gray" is necessarily evil. It is not going to balance out by being outweighed by "good." This one is easily illustrated by the notion of theft. The deprivation of another person's property without just compensation is theft. Theft is evil. The feeding and caring of your family, however, is good. So what happens when you commit theft to feed your family? Many would say that it is an ethical "gray area," or that because it is "more good" and "less evil," it has the net result of being morally justified -- but it is not. Whether or not we choose to hold him accountable, you are still a thief who has acted immorally. It is not gray. It is black and white.
What does that say, then, about Senior's "kill babies vs. be oppressed as women" dilemma? It says that we are being asked to justify immorality. That in an issue of "evil" vs. "evil," we should choose evil. We should not, and Senior is therefore wrong.
If you have not spotted it, the flaw in her argument is her notion that the right to an abortion is inextricably linked to women's rights. If you're trying to say that your rights require you to affirmatively commit murder knowing full well that it is immoral, then they cannot possibly stand up to reason. Continuing the earlier poison metaphor, if you try to say that your health requires that you take in lethal amounts of cyanide, how does that make sense? The answer is that it doesn't. The moral truth is that women's rights do not include a right to abortion. Taking away the right to abort would not constitute oppression or a deprivation of freedom, no more so than taking anyway anyone else's right to commit murder would. (Note: obviously, this hinges on whether Senior is correct that human life and all rights conferred begins at conception. But you can take that up with her. For purposes of both her and this article, it is being assumed.)
At the end of it all, it is a really shifty, manipulative argument -- and I suspect that it is targeted at the fact that both the United States and Western Europe are seeing rises in anti-abortion advocates (particularly among young women). Senior lures them in by apparently agreeing with their "it is a life, it is killing" stance, but sticks them with a fallacious false dilemma in order to make them choose between "murder" and "allow oppression." Does feminism really require murder? It's pretty absurd on its face, don't you think? But she was banking on us getting suckered in by the fallacy.
Don't fall for it. In fact, any time anyone comes to you trying to justify something in the name of the "lesser evil" -- call her on it. Point out that the dilemma is not necessarily the way they've set it up to be. Same with "gray area." If someone is trying to tell you that an issue is "gray," assume that he's trying to pull a fast one.
Because he is.