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January 29, 2009

Kaveny on the use of analogy in the abortion debate

Notre Dame law and theology prof Cathy Kaveny responds to our series of posts on abortion and the Holocaust, particularly to the question of whether "progressives" have a better analogy to offer:

I agree with you on the analogy to the Holocaust.  Here's what I did in a Commonweal column on the topic; I think the slavery analogy falls for obvious reasons (e.g., the unborn aren't persons, but they're not chattel property either).

The reason I think the abortion debate is so hard is that no one analogy works very well.  (Pro-choicers highlight Thomson's argument, which talks about the duty to provide life support in terms of an unconscious violinist).  In general, all the analogies conceal as much as they reveal.  That's why I avoid them, or use them cumulatively.  (An old, but interesting article on the topic is Lisa Cahill's "Abortion and the Argument by Analogy," HORIZONS 1982 (if memory serves)).

Moreover, I don't think slavery and the Holocaust are being used precisely as analogies in most pro-life discussion--i.e., as points of factual comparison to illuminate moral reflection in the manner of the common law.  I think they are being used as part of a rhetoric of prophetic denunciation.  And, as you know, in my view, that's the basic divide: I don't think that there is any way for the "casuists" on this to convince the prophets of their good faith.  The rhetoric of "fire and strength," to invoke Matthew Arnold, doesn't have much use for the rhetoric of "sweetness and light."  So I don't think there's much point in, casuists trying to convince (most) prophets of their good faith.  That's why I think they need to and start their own, constructive projects.

Posted by Rob Vischer on January 29, 2009 at 10:17 PM | Permalink

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