Saturday, March 25, 2006

Morality & human dignity

At a recent news conference the Australian Prime Minister said, “We don’t like the number of abortions. We think it’s too high.” As a measure to tackle the problem, funding was announced for counselling services for pregnant women.

Feminist Leslie Cannold doesn’t like this policy. In an Age article, she argued that counselling should not be aimed at supporting women to continue their pregnancies, but should simply foster the goal of female autonomy. She wrote:

There is one key feature that attaches to all legitimate counselling: the commitment to fostering a woman's autonomy. At the heart of all ethical medical practice, you will find the key value of autonomy, the Greek root of which means "self-rule". Why? Because only people free to direct and govern their lives according to their own values are recognised by others as having what Australian philosopher Robert Young describes as "the dignity that moral agency bestows".

This view is, of course, the standard liberal one. It is the idea that we have dignity as humans because of a freedom to choose our actions according to our own individual will and reason. In other words, what really matters in terms of moral choices is self-rule or autonomy.

Note that all that liberals care about is that we are self-directed according to our own values. This, in their opinion, is sufficient to create a human dignity. My values could be anything at all, but as long as they are mine and I am free to enact them, I am fulfilling my moral status as a human.

This is not the traditional view. Traditionally, it was thought that humans had been granted a free will. This free will was an aspect of human distinctiveness, and even of human dignity. It was not, though, something which needed to be asserted as a moral aim in itself, as it was a fixed possession – something given to us which could not be rescinded.

The fulfilment of our moral nature as humans was not, therefore, simply the existence of free will. It was the use of this will to choose what was morally right and to do so even when our own worldly interests suffered as a consequence.

There is an interesting article in City Journal by Theordore Dalrymple on this very theme. The article is about the novel A Clockwork Orange, written by Anthony Burgess.

Burgess imagines in this novel a scenario in which humans actually lost free will – in which they could be conditioned by the state to act as the state desired. For Burgess, such a scenario would undermine the possibility of genuine virtue because,

A good man, in Burgess’s view, had to have the ability to do evil as well as good, an ability that he would voluntarily restrain, at whatever disadvantage to himself.

This view of morality is much closer to the traditional one than to the modern liberal version outlined by Leslie Cannold. It does not make self-rule the object of morality, but instead understands morality in terms of a capacity to choose rightly or wrongly (free will) but in which the moral aim is to discipline the self to act according to an objective good.


  1. Miss Cannold's view sounds lofty and demanding, since she wants us all to respect each other almost as gods.

    A way of stating her view without the empty rhetoric of autonomy, respect and moral agency is that the best life is the life in which we do whatever it is we feel like doing on whatever grounds happen to appeal to us, subject to the moral requirement of compliance with a system that makes that life equally available to everyone.

    Again, it's a view that makes sense for gods but no-one else. The basic question I suppose is whether we're really so convinced that we and other people are godlike for such a system to make sense. On what would such a conviction be based?

  2. What strikes me about Cannold's view is how little she thinks of the women who may need this service. She give the women no credit for rational thought. let me explain what I mean.
    A woman in Australia would have to be from another planet not to know that if she wants it, that she can procure an abortion .That is an easy solution to her "problem, on the other hand to continue the gestation requires a greater change in her life and a consideration of the value of the humanity of the unborn child ,something that the likes of Cannold are keen to ignore or devalue. I see no problem with counselling services that start from the premise that the life of an unborn child is precious and not something to be capriciously ended for mere convenience. after all if a woman is to be considered "autonomous" then she should be able to make a sound decision when reminded of the ethical and moral dimensions of the decision she is contemplating rather than just the practical ones of is it early enough to have an abortion.
    We have legal abortion in Australia, but it should be a rare last resort not the first port of call.

  3. "She gives the women no credit for rational thought."

    I don't believe feminists are capable of rational thought. I think 'emotion' & self-serving ideals are at the heart of their politics. As a result, I don't think leftist/feminists want counselling 'before' a decision (As Cannold has shown). They only welcome it after, so someone else can bail them out of their mistakes.

    We've infantised many adults via modern theory. Most of it is done through the avoidance of responsibility.

    -- "You're not violent - you're just misunderstood."

    -- "You're not a slut - You just sleep with a lot of guys"

    Making abortion a woman's 'right' - and therefore 'common' law - has trivialised exactly WHAT abortion means to a female.

    I find it abhorrent, that I (as a male) should have to point this out to women.

    Women are more than welcome to trivialise the most important gift they have been given. They are more than welcome to go through life living only for themselves. They are even welcome to continue to shape the world in ONLY female terms, excluding all else....

    Just don't expect any sympathy from men like me when you've finally come to the end of you're tether (usually when you realise you're are alone).

    It's synonymous to a criminal who, after spending much of their lives conciously engage in wrong behaviour, is caught and pleads "I'm so sorry, I'll never do it again" - simply because he's been caught.

    He's not sorry for what he did.
    He's sorry he has to face consequences.



  4. It's difficult in a short, newspaper article to put across your views comprehensively. May I suggest to the gentlemen here reading Leslie Cannold's work "The Abortion Myth - Feminism, Morality, and the Hard Choices Women Make". I think you'll find you're mistaken in your reading of her view. While you're at it see if you can get a copy of her book "What, No Baby? - Why women are losing the freedom to mother, and how they can get it back". She's not a hardline feminist, or feminazi, but is taking a look at issues relevant to women fully within the context of both their natural/biological and social/cultural lives.

  5. I've read:

    What, No Baby? - Why women are losing the freedom to mother, and how they can get it back

    It's similar to many books out there, like Virginia Haussegger's book: 'Wonder Woman, The myth of having it all" - where women will talk about the issues at hand, but conveniently traffic in the 'grey' areas, and consequently offer no real solutions. These books tend to be written in circles. They touch on subjects (and VERY often subjective 'personal' stories) and never work to a solution. There is always a lot of, "Perhaps woman need to ponder..." or, "I'm not what the answer is, but...". They tend to read like an extended Cosmo magazine where emotions & desires are at the forefront, while solutions are avoided.

    I am also aware that if these authors were to take a firm stance, then their female readership would render the book unsuccessful (commercially) - so they tend to be 'safe'.

    I contend that (overall)women have had their freedoms extending exponentially since the late 60's/early 70's - but the annoying factor (which is like an itch that they cannot scratch) is that they cannot change nature. Their nature.

    I've stated it many times before. The modern woman wants unbridled freedom, BUT without much responsibility. Or, as is the most fashionable today - get the government/law to bail you out of your bad choices.

    How can women get their 'freedom to mother' back?.... well, a start would be to stop going to the office & pretending to be a man at the expense of your family.

    (Watch the feminists bristle on that one.)