Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Debating abortion

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting article on annual abortion debate at the University of California at Berkeley between Raymond Dennehy and Malcolm Potts.
"Dr. Dennehy and I are serious people who respect each other and have become friends over the years," Potts told the class as it met last fall. "We don't abuse each other. We don't try to spin data or philosophical interpretations in unreasonable ways."

Dennehy, 75, is a dapper professor of philosophy, bioethics and epistemology at the University of San Francisco.

He argues that abortion is almost certainly the killing of an innocent human being and that the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, which has led to about 1.3 million legal abortions a year, "has had the effect on democracy that an atomic bomb would have on any city."

Potts, also 75, is a rumpled, British-born embryologist and gynecologist who has worked to make the procedure available to women in developing countries.

He contends that it is scientifically impossible to determine when life begins, but concedes that "I would rather destroy a five-week embryo than a 15-week embryo, and I accept there is some stage in pregnancy that you have to say no."

It's amazing how many of these students need a class in basic logic.
Have you ever been raped or been pregnant?" a young woman demanded.

You could almost see Dennehy rolling his eyes.

"Suppose I said yes," he said, unable to keep a slight snippiness out of his voice. "What's your next move?"

"I was just curious how your opinion would have changed if you were in that situation."

"What has that got to do with the validity of my argument?"

Her gambit failed; now she was on the defensive: "It's just a question."

"There are only two issues in an argument, miss," Dennehy said. "The facts, and the conclusions you draw from the facts.

"When we teach logic, that common fallacy is one of the first things we teach: shifting the attention of the argument and the evidence to the person arguing. It's absolutely irrelevant."


  1. He should have said, "Why, yes. Before the surgery, my name was Rachel Dennehy. I had three crisis pregnancies who are now three wonderful married adults. You were saying?"

  2. I gotta disagree with you, JJ. When you're discussing inflicting harm which only one kind of person can suffer, it DOES matter whether you are a person of that kind or not.

    Wouldn't you agree that in a discussion of castration, men should receive a certain degree of deference? If a woman says she thinks castration isn't such a big deal, the answer "You, who cannot be castrated, lack the perspective necessary to opine on this question!" is a good answer. Similarly, in discussions of whether to force women to give birth against their wills, the women, who would have to endure the labor and delivery by government edict, should have the last word.

  3. OC,
    it DOES matter whether you are a person of that kind or not.

    Surprise, surprise. More unsupported assertions from OC. I think that seems to be one of your major problems in arguing. You seem to equate statements/arguments based on facts with unsupported assertions made by yourself or someone else.

    For example, there's a difference between your fictional woman saying "something isn't a big deal" which is an assertion, not an argument, and Dennehy making logical arguments.

    Actually, "You, who cannot be castrated, lack the perspective necessary to opine on this question!" is a horrible response. It's just another unpersuasive ad-hom assertion.

    A better response would be an attempt to make a logical argument for why castrating certain men is wrong.

  4. Love Dr. Dennehy. Took most of my philosophy classes from him at USF. Fun to watch as well.