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J Med Ethics 39:302 doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-101202
  • The argument

Response to: Is the pro-choice position for infanticide ‘madness’?

  1. Robert P George
  1. Correspondence to Professor Robert P George, Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School and McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08540, USA; rgeorge{at}Princeton.edu
  • Received 30 November 2012
  • Accepted 5 December 2012

As Charles Camosy observes, he and I agree more than we disagree. He believes with no less conviction than I do that deliberately killing infant children is profoundly morally wrong and a grave violation of human rights.1 So where do we disagree?

I think that killing infant children, or promoting the moral permissibility of doing so, is moral madness, and that we should say so, rather than treating infanticide as just one more legitimate, albeit in the end morally mistaken view. We owe this to potential victims of the potential mainstreaming of support for infanticide.

Professor Camosy suggests that my view, or its public expression, is uncharitable towards advocates of infanticide and ‘at variance with a Christian approach’. I am confident that it is not. If, however, he is right, and Christian faith forbids us from regarding the killing of babies simply because their parents don't want them, as moral madness, or forbids us from stating that conviction, that would, to me, count as a point against Christian faith—a faith that purports to be fully in harmony with reason.

One of the tragic features of the human condition is that it is possible for good people—reasonable people of goodwill—to approve of things that are monstrously evil. That was true of slavery. As Camosy points out, I believe it is less understandable today how people can be blind to the injustice of killing newborn babies. Yet I do not deny that there is something to his point that the predominance of expressive individualist ideology in our culture, and its proclamation and glamorisation by cultural and intellectual elites, helps to explain why some people—though still, thankfully, a tiny minority—have lost the sense that killing newborns for no other reason than that their parents would prefer them to be dead is monstrous. Still, it is monstrous. It is moral madness.

Does that mean we should refuse to engage people who support infanticide, or that we should discriminate against them in academic hiring and promotion? No. Otherwise admirable people of exceptional intellectual gifts can, just like the rest of us, make mistakes, even the serious mistake of defending a practice that is monstrous. By the same token, of course, I or anyone else can be mistaken about what is and is not monstrous. All of us, therefore, have an interest in hearing the reasons and arguments advanced by people who disagree with us, even when they are defending practices (such as slavery or infanticide) we regard as heinous.i

Footnotes

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • i Professor Camosy assumes that I would discriminate in academic hiring against someone making a contemporary defense of chattel slavery, however brilliantly, given that our social order no longer obscures its great evil. Actually, I would not. Indeed, I have supported the appointment of people who believe that there is no such thing as moral right and wrong, and that therefore nothing, including slavery, is truly wrong, however much people today happen to dislike it. I believe that respect for academic freedom, at least in the context of colleges and universities that do not publicly proclaim their affiliation with a particular religious or other comprehensive view, forbids viewpoint discrimination. What matters as far as scholarship is concerned in hiring and promotion in these institutions is its quality. Whether a person defends or opposes abortion, infanticide, slavery or what have you, should not be taken into account. What matters is how well he or she makes the intellectual case for his or her position.

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