Reading Time: 2 minutes By University of Toronto Students for Life [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Reading Time: 2 minutes

You hear this often, indeed on a recent thread, that abortion is the murder or death of innocent human life.

However, I *am* aware of laws against destroying innocent human life.

This prompts obvious questions about what human life entails and what innocent can mean. Let’s tackle innocent really rather succinctly. As one commenter stated:

Is it capable of being guilty?

At the pertinent time, it is neither innocent, nor guilty. It might have some potential to be both, by considering future hypotheticals, but at the time in question it cannot be innocent and it cannot be guilty. Just like it cannot be a Democrat or a Christian or good-looking or sensible.

That was easy.

As for it being human life, here are those sticky semantic arguments, that, as commenter Geoff Benson will know, will get me invoking the Sorties Paradox and conceptual nominalism again (the notion that abstract ideas don’t “exist” other than inside our minds).

Human and human life are terms whose definitions are whatever we agree them to be. They have no ontic reality, and exist as labels applied to properties, all of which is done in our minds.

I don’t look at an egg in my fridge and say “Oh look, that’s a chicken.” I say it is a chicken egg (or indeed, “chicken’s egg”). In this way, and embryo is not a human (being or life), it is a human embryo or blastocyst. Or, the embryo of a homo sapiens sapiens, as agreed by consensus. ven then, there is no ontic reality to species labels, as I have expressed elsewhere.

This is the problem with language. We forget it is a conceptual construction to describe the world. It is the pen that draws our map of reality, but it is not the terrain of reality itself. And sometimes, it fails to do or be what we want it to do or be.

The labels “human being” and “personhood” are hotly contested as to what properties of existence can be applied to them. At some unspecified and potentially unspecifiable point (such that we may perpetually disagree) an embryo turns into a baby and a baby takes on properties of being a human being, and of being a person. Because there is no clearly definable point at which this happens, we humans have conceptual meltdowns. We don’t like fuzzy logic and murky boundaries. They cause arguments. The abortion debate is a result of this. We look at a fully grown and functioning human, and project those properties and rights 9themseves conceptual edifices built on top of conceptual and shifting sands) onto every single developmental stage of that person/human/organism.

So “murdering unborn, innocent human lives violates the rights of the unborn” is a cluster grenade of exploding, and eventually disintegrating, conceptual ideas.


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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...