Sherif Girgis Exhorts Pro-Lifers to Eschew Straw-Men

Sherif Girgis has written a thorough response in Public Discourse to the viral “Philosophy Time” video in which James Franco and Elizabeth Harman discus the ethics of early abortion.  In the piece, “In Defense of Elizabeth Harman: Taking Pro-Choice Philosophers Seriously,” Girgis argues that rather than ridiculing Harman’s argument, pro-lifers should seek to thoroughly understand her position and its shortcomings.

Girgis writes:

Though ad hominem argument tempts us all, some strands of progressivism have made a habit of denouncing opponents as fools, bigots, or both—in debates over abortion, religious liberty, the nature of marriage, gender dysphoria, healthcare policy, the appropriate response to climate change, and much more. As an advocate of the conjugal view of marriage, I know firsthand the value of intellectual diversity, having seen the anti-intellectual effects of name-calling and reflexive charges of stupidity and degeneracy. I know how debilitating they are to healthy academic inquiry, and how corrosive they are to our political debates. Pro-lifers should take pains to avoid complicity in this ugly dismantling of the foundations of intellectual exchange and coexistence.

In this case, doing so is also illuminating. Though Harman’s view has struck many casual observers on the Left and Right as impossible to believe, its most basic mistake is one common to all views that would depersonalize the unborn. By giving her view the strongest presentation and defense, I can show its link to more popular theories on which unborn lives don’t matter—and show why they fail.

Throughout the rest of the piece, Girgis explains Harman’s position and concludes by making a case for why her argument is incorrect.  While the essay is a worthwhile read in itself, it is also an illustration of thoughtful and charitable debate.

People who engage with others on such difficult issues should find encouragement in Girgis’s essay to uphold commitments to charity and honesty.  We should also be reminded that a thorough and fair understanding of contrary arguments, even those that seem self-evidently wrong, is crucial to advancing the truth in a winsome way.

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Mark McQuain
Mark McQuain
4 years ago

Thank you for this and your link to Girgis’ article.

I’m not sure I agree with the third defense of Harman’s position, that is defending the accusation of magical backward thinking. The defense example given, of marrying someone who then dies a week later labels the marriage “tragic” as a result of the death, seems to label all marriages as tragic to some degree (since one spouse usually dies before the other) which perhaps wanes with time. I’m not sure the marriage is tragic; the premature death perhaps.

It still seems (to me) that Harman’s position is circular: The abortion (and only the abortion) causes the lack of future consciousness which is the necessary requirement to justify the act of abortion as morally safe.

I certainly agree that our reasoned defense(s) should be civil, rational, and where possible, winsome.