Tuesday, May 27, 2003

New Socratic Dialogue Discovered!

Socrates debates someone who supports the legalization of abortion, named Bob. Warning: This is rated PG-13.

Bob: The issue of when a fetus becomes uniquely human is unknowable.
Soc: What do you mean by uniquely human?
Bob: Well, morally considerable. Worthy of respect of law.
Soc: Why do we respect humans? Could I just enslave them or harvest them to make Soylent Green?
Bob: Clearly not, most excellent Socrates.
Soc: Why not?
Bob: Because that would be wrong. It would be using a human as a mere tool.
Soc: So a human being isn't a tool? Would you say that a human is more like a work of art?
Bob: Exactly, Socrates. A human has value in and of itself, just like a painting.
Soc: No-one ever asks what a painting is good for, do they?
Bob: No. Humans are just good, not good-for-something.
Soc: Ok. Now, when we value tools, things that are good-for-something, there is always some feature that makes it valuable.
Bob: I see, like the sharpness of a knife or the speed of a computer.
Soc: Right. Now, if the thing lost the feature, what do we do?
Bob: We throw it in the trash!
Soc: Ok. Now, what are some features of humans?
Bob: Oh, intelligence, consciousness, emotion, love.
Soc: If you lost one of those features, would you still be worthy of respect?
Bob: Yes, of course I would. We don't respect humans because of what they can do, but because of what they are.
Soc: So you are worthy of respect, regardless of what you can do?
Bob: Yes.
Soc: Ok. When did you acquire this worth?
Bob: What do you mean?
Soc: At what point in your life did you acquire this dignity, this moral worth?
Bob: The law says when I was born.
Soc: How fortunate we are that the laws are so wise that they can determine such a thing! But, I wonder. Why do the laws say at birth?
Bob: Because the human leaves his mother's body at that time.
Soc: What? How strange! My mother the midwife always used to tell me that there wasn't any difference in the baby before birth or after birth.
Bob: Nevertheless, that's the law.
Soc: So, if a human is in the womb, it is expendable, but if it is outside, it is not?
Bob: Yes.
Soc: At last, we have solved the mystery of ages!
Bob: What do you mean?
Soc: We finally know what it is that makes a human so different, so glorious, so wonderful: it is this: "Passing through a human vagina." One suspects that we have treated any number of cucumbers and cigars quite badly.
Bob: Now you are making fun of me.
Soc: I'm sorry, most excellent Bob. I'm just trying to make a point in my own clumsy way. Do you remember what you said about humans and paintings?
Bob: Yes. A human is valued for what he is, not for what he can do.
Soc: But how could that be if we only begin to value a human who has done the act of passing through the birth-canal? Wouldn't it be the case that we value passing through a vagina more than life itself?
Bob: I hadn't thought of that, although there are many who would agree with that last statement.
Soc: One should think of such things before discoursing on public policy.
Bob: But isn't this a religious question?
Soc: Certainly, the gods care about such things. But the fact that the gods care doesn't require that truth be unknowable. Have we appealed to scripture at any point in this argument?
Bob: No.
Soc: So how is it a religious argument?
Bob: I guess it isn't.

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