Sunday, July 29, 2007

Work snippets 2

From the forthcoming revised companion website content for Solomon, Introducing Philosophy, 9th edition, Oxford University Press:
One of the most important basic rights is the presumed right to own private property. John Locke listed three basic rights that would become the main ingredients of both the American Declaration of Independence and a political philosophy called liberalism: “life, liberty, and the right to own private property.” For Locke, private property is the bulwark of freedom and the basis of other human rights. One’s own body is private property in the most basic sense; no one else has the authority to violate it or use it without permission. But then Locke adds that the right to own property that one has helped cultivate with his or her body is also basic to freedom and human dignity.
"One's own body is private property ... no one else has the authority to violate it or use it without permission."

I’m surprised I haven’t seen abortion pro-choice arguments that speak in these terms, in terms of the right to own private property and, ultimately, to own that which you cultivate. The argument tends to focus, instead, on other rights, such as the right to privacy. Are they connected? I suppose that they are.

I can well imagine some extreme conservatives arguing that to “cultivate” a woman’s body is to plant seed in it and bring that seed to fruition. But I think in the modern world where our babies are not ensuring our survival in the same sense as they once were, we ought to be able to recognize a woman’s body may cultivate other things – a woman may cultivate ideas, arts, sciences, knowledge, creations with her hands and her mind, rather than purely with her womb. But really it comes down to who we consider “real citizens” in our world. If each citizen has the right to own and cultivate property, and if one’s own body is considered “private property,” and if a woman is a citizen... then no matter who may plant the seed, a woman's body is her property to choose to do with as she wishes.

The ONLY problem worth discussion is the relative value to the society versus the value to the individual, where we withdraw individual rights for the greater good. I must consider these actions as viable, since there are many individual rights - such as the right to gun-ownership - that I do not embrace, in favor of concerns for the health of a wider society. Is there value to the wider society in denying a woman's right to her most private property, such that this value is greater than the value to the individual, or, in fact, greater than the value of the individual?

Fundamentalists are, I suppose, arguing for what they perceive is the greater good. The trouble is that they seem unable to prove, outside purely religious justifications ("God said so"), that denying women the right to decide what happens with their own bodies is "for the greater good." My suspicion is that the society they desire to protect is a society in which women are subservient. Women cannot be truly subservient if they own their own private property and cannot be forced to use it to their masters’ benefit. So if the "greater good" is a society in which women "know their place" and the value of individual freedom stops at the nursery door... then abortion cannot be allowed.

If, on the other hand, we actually believe in and intend to protect freedom and equality, the answer must be otherwise.

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