1. If you do know that here is one hand, we'll grant you all the rest.
When one says that such and such a proposition can't be proved, of course that does not mean that it can't be derived from other propositions; any proposition can be derived from other ones. But they may be no more certain than it is itself….
2. From its seeming to me - or to everyone - to be so, it doesn't follow that it is so. What we can ask is whether it can make sense to doubt it. Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty
What is a "person" and how is it relevant to people's positions on abortion? Is there something more sinister that the personhood question covers up? Over the years I’ve written papers on possible persons, and published a book on the Person Concept and developed a Paradigm Case Formulation (PCF) that offers a reasonable set of characteristics that should provide agreement that, when apparently present, we are observing a person. Paradigm Case Formulations are employed when ordinary definitions can’t establish general agreement. A PCF attempts to offer a set of characteristics, a sort of “if there was ever a case of X, this is clearly an example of what we treat as X”.
The PCF of Person involves an individual, in our case a human, able to engage in deliberate action in a dramaturgical pattern. A person is an individual that can cognizantly make choices from the perspectives of what the individual values as significant. This concept rests on a set of inter-dependent concepts that include the individual person, intentional action, verbal behavior, culture, and world.
When we observe all that, there should be no reason to doubt a person is present. Here is where it gets interesting and problematic. We can remove or add characteristics to the formulation. This allows for a gradualist approach to the moral/ethical status of the not yet born. With each addition or deletion, we may find ourselves agreeing or disagreeing that our re-formulation is still what we mean by a person. But at least we can see where we agree or disagree. My brother who just sent and described photos from his trip to the Amazon is no doubt a person. But what about his two-week-old granddaughter? She doesn’t speak yet, although I am quite sure she will very soon. And what about when she was a fetus, an embryo, a blastocyst, a zygote, or an egg and sperm? When did she become a person or achieve the status where her potential as one of us matters? We tend to disagree about this.
Our disagreements follow from where we conceptually draw the line on what collection of attributes need to be present, and empirically, whether those characteristics are present. We can doubt the need for the “full” PCF, and we can doubt the empirical presence of the characteristics that fall within our conceptualization.
The PCF formulation of a person is neutral regarding where we place our doubt. It can be a starting point for talking about non-human persons, as well as potential, nascent, and former persons. Actual, potential, nascent, and former persons are the relevant cases for debating the ethics and morality of abortion.
In informing abortion legislation and the courts, who is primarily concerned with the personhood question: Theocrats with their commitments to souls? The informed gradualist worried about fetal anguish and viability? Other than pregnant women and their physicians, who is worried about the morality, ethics, and well-being of pregnancy?
I think it is unfortunate the theocrats have any say in this, but given their world view, some of them are acting in good faith. But hiding behind the authentic theocrats are a large constituency that controls the politics, legislation, and judgment: a voting bloc of the aggrieved, mostly men, who don’t care about theology but are preoccupied with the control of women.
Ask yourself who is celebrating the fall of Roe v. Wade. For the sake of argument, take theology and the morality of the destruction of a potential person out. Who is left celebrating? What drives glee in controlling a woman's sexuality: men insecure about theirs. I have no doubt there are men with no authentic interest in 14th Century doctrine, men darkly governed by fears of sexual inadequacy, who are gladdened. You don't need to be Freudian to know this. The theocratic court has provided them compensatory relief when it should have provided them silence.
My friend and colleague Joe Jeffrey summed it up this way:
Who is interested in using the power of the State to restrict women's choices about the potential person in their bodies?
1. Theocrats, who claim the right to impose their religious doctrine (a doctrine that is in fact that of the minority of the country) on everyone.
2. Moralists with a radical claim that "all life is sacred", a disguised religious doctrine masquerading as a moral claim, one with no justification, a bare philosophical claim to the moral high ground with nothing behind it but the feeling of the believers.
3. A voting bloc of the aggrieved, mostly men, who don’t care about theology but are preoccupied with the control of women.