Saturday, August 11, 2007

Some Links of Note

* Jender at Feminist Philosophers notes this column on protestors at an abortion clinic not having any answers to the question of what penalties should be given to women who have abortions if abortion is criminalized. While it's interesting, I'm inclined to think it overlooks an obvious feature of the dispute -- namely, that whereas pro-choice rhetoric tends to portray abortion as something women do, pro-life rhetoric tends to portray abortion as something doctors do. Given that it's common in pro-life discourse to talk about most women as being bullied or pressured into abortion -- whether by boyfriends, husbands, parents, or pro-choice groups -- I'm not sure why it would be surprising that they're vague about what penalties the women should get if abortion is criminalized. In your typical pro-life account they're not treated as the primary criminals, but at most as accomplices, and accomplices of ambiguous status, at that, since they are often, as a matter of fact, treated as partly the victims. What we really need to know is not just how they answered the question about penalties for women, but also how they would answer a question about penalties for the doctors performing the abortions. In any case, it's clear enough that the "logical" dichotomy the column proposes toward the end is a false one, and blatantly so, since it assumes that if abortion is a crime it must be primarily and inexcusably perpetrated by the women who receive abortions and that to the extent that women participate in it, if it is a crime their participation would require prison. Pro-choice thinkers won't help their case by pushing it too heavily, since none of these assumptions is well-motivated: one can hold that there are legitimate excuses that mitigate or wholly excuse; that women are not the primary perpetrators; that their participation in the act does not merit prison because of the type of participation it is; and so forth. There is plenty of room for controversy on all of these things.

For a different view, though, see Scott Lemieux's post on the matter. Lemieux's basic argument, as developed in the posts he links to there, seems to me to be based on the assumption that the system is not perverse -- that it is not set up so as to pressure women into this action, or to make it difficult for them to avoid it, so that they are not primarily responsible for obtaining them in a sense of responsibility relevant to punishable fault -- or else that, if it is perverse, this should be ignored in determining punishments. It also assumes, contrary to all serious progressive thinking, that recognizing systemic influences ipso facto involves treating people as passive agents (since it is only if the one is a ground of the other that it is relevant that the one has sometimes been used to excuse the other). This is a rather controversial set of assumptions, so it's not as cut and dry as Lemieux thinks it is. But it's worth pointing out his argument, since it raises some important points.

Given that this is a debate in which people like to wear blinders, I suppose I will have to point out explicitly that despite these rational problems in the argument that I don't really have a problem with the conclusion reached; I think that the criminalizing of abortion is a much more complicated project than most people think, and that there are currently no plans on the table that meet basic practical, moral, and legal standards.

[Jender has a thoughtful response. I do think the question of how consistent and well-founded one can be in treating the problem as (in great measure) systemic, which Jender raises toward the end, is a key one, and probably one of the most serious issues in the whole cultural dispute over abortion.]

[In the comments Macht notes Serrin Foster as an example of someone in the pro-life camp who makes an even stronger and more controversial argument than the more common one I summarized, namely, that abortion is often straightforwardly a tool of patriarchy whereby women are not given free choices but forced ones on patriarchal terms. That is, Foster regards it as often being a way whereby patriarchy can grant concessions to women (they can have educations, or careers, or futures) on the condition that women adapt themselves to the system and not vice versa (i.e., that their ability to bear children make no significant difference to the system).]

* Part of Tanasije Gjorgoski's excellent Philosophy Blogs Aggregator is a list of the blogs in the aggregator by their Technorati ranking. The Aggregator tracks about 150 philosophy blogs, and is certainly a good place to start when trying to find out what the philosoblogosphere is talking about at any given point. (As one might expect it's always many different things.)

* The Ochlophobist has a thoughtful post on tradition.

* I keep coming back to this on YouTube: Noel Coward, Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

* The Sci Fi Catholic looks at the ethical problems surrounding Dumbledore's death. Snape, I think, was right: Dumbledore did take too much for granted. That was Dumbledore's besetting fault, a crack that runs through everything we know about him, even his best qualities. I think it is a mistake, however, to characterize it as suicide.

* You can read the introduction and first chapter of James Hannam's upcoming book on the medieval foundations of modern science here.

* Today is the 321st anniversary of the birth of John Balguy (1686-1748). You can read Balguy's A Letter to a Deist online. This work is one of the classics of British moral thought in the eighteenth century.


* Miriam has a thought-provoking post on how "biopics about the life of the author inadvertently contribute to the death of the author."

* David Kaiser summarizes Raoul Berger's argument that executive privilege is a 'constitutional myth'. A key part of the argument -- that it follows from Congress's powers of impeachment that it has power of inquiry, i.e., that it may compel testimony and documents relevant to any and all impeachable offenses -- seems very plausible to me: a definitive reason to disallow executive privilege as a standard sort of privilege, and a good reason to disallow special cases. But it is interesting that the idea that there might be such an executive privilege goes back in one form or another to the Founding Fathers themselves, although not, it would seem, in any form they could make consistent with the broader principles of the Republic.

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