About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
The philosophy of contraception
The empirical evidence is rather controversial, as the evidence in favor of Bovens' claim is not definitive (though it is mounting). But what is interesting to me is how this is affecting th abortion debate. Let us assume for the sake of discussion that Bovens' empirical claim is correct. What follows? According to the British philosopher, this means that by engaging in natural contraception, pious couples are actually causing the same sort of outcome as “plan B” pills, and that it would therefore be preferable to use mechanical barriers to fertilization, which simply prevent the embryos from being formed in the first place.
Judie Brown, the president of the “pro-life” American Life League dismisses Bovens' argument, suggesting that even if there is an increased rate of spontaneous abortions late in the fertile period, this is natural, and therefore acceptable. It is astounding how some people can commit multiple logical fallacies in a single sentence. First off, equating what is natural with what is good is what philosophers since Hume have identified as the naturalistic fallacy. It simply doesn't follow, just think of poisonous mushrooms (very natural) and whether you'd like them added to your diet.
Second, Brown is glossing over the all-important detail that couples using the timing method are purposefully avoiding reproduction, so that any spontaneous abortion that their practice may be causing would not in fact happen under natural conditions at all – which, one would think, makes such couples morally responsible for said abortions (if one takes the pro-life stance, of course).
This debate has brought back to my mind a simple, and yet, unanswered to my satisfaction, question: why is it ok to have sex (obviously for pleasure, not reproductive, purposes) outside of a woman's fertility period, but not ok to do the same at any given time with the use of a condom (which has the added benefit of reducing the risk of sexually transmitted diseases)? I mean, the goal is the same: getting pleasure out of sex without it resulting into a pregnancy. Why does how one goes about it matter at all? The only answer I can fathom relies, again, on the naturalistic fallacy: engaging in sex away from ovulation time is natural, using a condom is not.
On top of which, such reasoning is flawed at two additional levels: to begin with, there is nothing “natural” about abstaining from sex during the female's fertile period. On the contrary, having sex for the sole purpose of procreation is exactly what any good mammal would do under natural conditions. Moreover, by the same token these people should stop driving and go back to walking whenever they want to go to another city or to the grocery store. After all, walking is a natural way of seeking food, driving is an evil invention of post-Biblical times...