Wednesday, October 20, 2010
As MOJ readers probably know, Rob, Lisa, and I -- along with many others with whom readers will be familiar (Cathy Kaveny, John Finnis, etc.) participated in a lively and well attended recent conference at Princeton, "Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Fair Minded Words." The conference was the result of the hard work and vision of Prof. Charles Camosy (Fordham), and he shares some post-conference thoughts here and here.
A highlight of the conference, I think, was the panel discussion among John Finnis, Peter Singer, and Margaret Little regarding the "moral status of the fetus". Prof. Finnis has made available a version of his remarks here at Public Discourse. For me, this part of his piece stood out:
The thing about moral status is, if you believe in morality at all, that it is not a matter of choice or grant or convention, but of recognition. If you hear anyone talk about conferring or granting moral status, you know they are deeply confused about what morality and moral status are. The very idea of human rights and status is of someone who matters whether we like it or not, and even when no one is thinking about them; and matters, whether we like it or not, as at bottom an equal, because like us in nature as a substantial kind of being.
This mattering is the immediate basis for respect, including self-respect, and for guilt or remorse when one betrays another. It goes with the territory we call meaning, which transcends times and places, and forces us to speak about mind or spirit, and freedom of choice. If we are thinking alertly to the realities of the realm of sharable interiority, we know what it is to be a developed and conscious person: a being who finds himself or herself to have a rational nature, capacities that combine intelligibility with intelligence. A nature to be recognized and acknowledged, not conferred. . . .