More on Ayn Rand on Abortion

In my immediately previous post, the “Ayn Rand, Trump and the Conservatives, and Abortion”* of January 2, 2017, I quoted a passage from Ayn Rand’s “Of Living Death,”** a reply to the papal encyclical, Humanae Vitae.*** The first of the passage’s two paragraph, the one occupying my attention in today’s post, reads as follows:

An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not yet living (or the unborn).

One aim of today’s post is that of spelling out explicitly the argument on behalf of the thesis that, as the first sentence puts it, an embryo has no rights. The second aim is that of beginning the assessment of that argument.

The spelling out of that argument explicitly will be but the rendering of, first, its conclusion in a “regimented” form, i.e., in the logically explicit form called for by the logic of the categorical syllogism. That will be followed by an explicit spelling out of the premises needed to reach that conclusion.

The conclusion of the argument, as rendered into the precise “regimented” form called for, is the universal negative categorical proposition, that

No embryos are beings having rights.

This proposition is strictly equivalent to the paragraph’s first sentence in that, if and only it is true, the other is true, and if and only it is false, the other is false; in brief, they say the same thing.

Turning now to the explicit spelling out of the premises needed to reach that conclusion, one of them can be found in the paragraph’s second sentence, “Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being.” We can observe that it is condensed version of the more explicit conjunction of two propositions

Rights do not pertain to a potential being and rights pertain only to an actual being.

Let’s isolate the second of the two conjuncts.

Rights pertain only to an actual being.

This is logically equivalent to

Only actual beings are beings having rights.

This is in turn equivalent to

All beings having rights are actual beings.

We now have an incomplete version of the argument the explicit spelling out of which is being sought. It looks like this:

All beings having rights are actual beings.
Therefore, no embryos are beings having rights.

We are still missing a premise. Given the given premise and the given conclusion, the remaining premise has to be, or be equivalent to, the universal negative categorical proposition that has the subject of the conclusion as its subject and the predicate of the other premise as its predicate. That proposition has to be, then, the proposition that

No embryos are actual beings.

We have then the categorical syllogism

All beings having rights are actual beings.
No embryos are actual beings.
Therefore, no embryos are beings having rights.

The first aim of today’s post, that of spelling out explicitly the argument on behalf of the thesis that an embryo has no rights, has been achieved. On, then, we pass to the second aim, that of beginning the assessment of that argument.

The argument is one in the form known to traditional logicians as Camestres. Arguments having this form are absolutely valid. That is, if their premises are (or were) true, their conclusions must (or would have to) be true. That is, again, their conclusions follow necessarily from their premises. If, then, in the case at hand, it is true both that all beings having rights are actual beings and that no embryos are actual beings, then it also has to be true that no embryos are beings having rights. And, furthermore, if both we accept the two premises as true and we are rational and intellectually honest, we are then bound to accept that the conclusion that no embryos are beings having rights is itself also true. And not just we, but all; we all, even non-Randian conservatives, would have to accept it as true.

So, valid it is, unequivocally so. But it is not, or at least not yet, evident that the argument is sound, that, that is, its two premises are both in fact true, for an argument is sound only if both it is valid and its premise is or all of its premises are true. And if it is not yet evident that the argument is sound, then it is not yet evident that the conclusion, that no embryos are beings having rights, is true.

Our inner logicians, including the inner logicians of even the most devoted of Rand’s devotees, have to recognize, accordingly, that both of the argument’s two premises themselves stand in need of arguments offered on their behalf. Though this is, strictly speaking, the case for both premises, it is more obviously so for the premise that

No embryos are actual beings.

I’ll let the argument on behalf of this proposition, however, be the subject of a subsequent post.

Until next time,

Richard

*https://afteraristotle.net/2017/01/05/more-on-ayn-rand-on-abortion/

**(http://en.liberpedia.org/Of_Living_Death)

***(http://w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae.html).

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About Rchard E. Hennessey

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