Dismantling the Bodily-Rights Argument without Using the Responsibility Argument

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Clinton Wilcox of Life Training Institute was kind enough to read the semi-final draft of this post and provide a brief but insightful critique. This does not mean that he necessarily endorses any of the final contents. However, I wish to take this opportunity to thank him.

 

The strongest argument for abortion rights is usually considered to be the bodily-rights argument. Perhaps the most effective variation of it that I have seen appeared in a (negative) comment under Kristine Kruszelnicki’s March 11, 2014 guest post on the Friendly Atheist blog:

They [both mother and unborn child] are entitled to their own bodily rights. So exactly how does a fetus have the right to co-opt another person’s body without consent?

Let’s say for example medical science has progressed to the point of being able to transplant a fetus into another human being. In an accident a pregnant woman is injured to the point of immanent [sic] death, does that fetus have the *right* to be implanted into the next viable candidate without consent?

The commenter was arguing, in other words, “A woman who is a candidate to be made pregnant in that futuristic way would have a right to refuse to let her body be so used – everyone would agree. Therefore, why should a woman who has become pregnant in a more usual way not also have a right to refuse to continue the pregnancy?”

In the context of the abortion debate (and, significantly, in hardly any other context), the term “bodily rights” comes up often. Synonyms still more commonly used are “bodily integrity” and “bodily autonomy,” but I will say “rights” because it is rights that have practical consequences. If anything can help determine the practical outcome “Woman goes through with abortion,” it is a right, not an abstract “integrity” or “autonomy.”

The above fetus-implantation version or any version of the bodily-rights argument could be rebutted by pointing out that most pregnant women voluntarily engaged in a sex act that caused the pregnancy in the first place, and therefore have a responsibility for the child (the “responsibility argument”); but this rebuttal does not work in cases of rape, and is not convincing to some people in any situation – for reasons which I need not discuss here but will refer to in an appendix. Thus the argument remains logically strong. But is it logic alone that makes an argument strong or weak? I would like to approach this from the perspective that an argument is an instrument for changing some of another person’s brain circuitry, and the ideas that correlate with that circuitry, to resemble part of one’s own circuitry and ideas, and that some value-related circuitry and ideas are better for us as individuals and as a species than others. I will contend that though logical demonstrations (such as the above thought experiment) and their rebuttals have an important place in the debate about bodily rights, there is no clear logical resolution to the debate one way or the other; that in seemingly logical demonstrations there are psychological factors at play apart from factors which are purely logical, and that those factors sway us from our normal intuitions; and that those factors can be neutralized by understanding them and by other techniques.

I would like to see people question where their convictions come from, because I think that the more they examine where they come from, the more they will move toward better convictions.

I would like to proceed according to the following outline:

1. Morality and moral principles, including our moral principles about when morality should be backed by legislation and when it should not, derive ultimately from intuition.

2. The intuitions of many people, particularly of most pro-lifers, say that the unborn children of pregnant women should be legally protected against abortion in some (not all) situations.

3. The intuitions of most pro-choicers differ from ours in the first place and say that the unborn children of pregnant women should not be afforded any legal protection.

4. There are some people who are, in terms of moral intuitions, “on the fence,” undecided.

5. Some people’s moral intuitions are better than those of others; in this particular area of moral investigation, the intuitions of pro-lifers are better. (Keep reading!)

I think that just as “there is no clear logical resolution to the (overall) debate one way or the other,” the correctness or incorrectness of any moral intuition cannot be logically proved, but that logic can nudge us toward correct moral intuitions, that is, help us find the correct moral intuitions within us. Under this point 5 below I will include a long section analyzing logically the concept of bodily rights. It is designed to nudge us toward more correct moral intuitions about the importance of bodily rights.

6. Though the intuitions of most pro-lifers say that unborn children should in many cases be legally protected against abortion, the intuitions of many pro-lifers also agree with pro-choicers (as do the intuitions of many undecideds) that a woman who is not pregnant (as in the above thought experiment) should not be legally subject to the forcible implantation in her of a child she did not conceive, even to save the child’s life. (And our intuitions also usually say that a violinist to whom we are hooked up should not be given legal protection from unhooking; and our intuitions also agree with various other pro-choice thought experiments designed to reject, in certain situations, legislative enforcement of a broad right to life.)

7. Human logical powers are limited, and therefore a particular situation, situation A, may seem parallel to another situation, situation B, in all the important morally-relevant ways that the human mind can think of, without the two situations necessarily being morally equivalent.

8a. The situation depicted by a thought experiment always includes some imagery of greater or lesser vividness, and some emotional content. If to our logical minds (momentarily or over a longer term) some outrageous situation, A, depicted by a pro-choice thought experiment, does seem parallel to situation B – a legal prohibition on abortion in a normal pregnancy – then the imagery and emotions of situation A get temporarily transferred to situation B. Let’s call this a process of “outrage transfer.” (Below I will touch on the search for an understanding of how events such as outrage transfer might actually work neurologically.)

b. Moreover, if we are subject to an over-fascination with logic, which many people are, then our consciences/intuitions will work with wrong information (the belief that logic can completely prove or disprove the moral equivalence of two situations) and may tell us that if there seem to be strong parallels between the situation of a pro-choice thought experiment that militates against legal protection of some living being, and the situation of pregnancy, then we should discard legal protection of the unborn in pregnancy – in spite of our earlier intuition supporting such legal protection.

8a and 8b are what I had earlier called “psychological factors at play apart from factors which are purely logical.” I had said that those psychological factors “sway us from our normal intuitions” and I had gone on to say, “those factors can be neutralized by understanding them and by other techniques”:

9a. The effects of outrage transfer will fade over time. Moreover, the outrage transfer of a pro-choice thought experiment can be offset or more than offset by pro-life thought experiments such as those involving the separation of conjoined twins, or the “Cabin in the Blizzard” thought experiment of Stephen Wagner et. al. (It can be “more than offset” if only because our minds are impressionable and are always most strongly affected by the imagery and emotional triggers that stimulated them most recently.)

b. Though human logical powers are not sufficient to tell us conclusively about the moral equivalence or otherwise of two situations (as mentioned in 7 above), they are sufficient to convince us of said insufficiency, and thereby to free us from an over-fascination with logic and restore our original trust in our intuition that the unborn deserve legal protection.

 

Someone will say that I am discarding logic and that moreover I am saying that a pro-life position can only be defended by discarding logic. But that is not what I am doing. We should always apply logic to the fullest extent possible, and there are good logical rebuttals to the forcible-implantation and other pro-choice thought experiments, and I will discuss them in brief; but we should not think that logic, even on a base of intuition, can give us final answers to all moral questions, specifically the question of whether a right to life overrides bodily rights in the case of pregnancy.

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Only a Potential Person?

 

Secular Pro-Life has published an article of mine under their paid blogging program.

 

You may leave a reply, if you wish, without giving your name or email address. If you do give your email address, it will not be published. Back up your work as you type, in case of accidents.

Some future posts:

Life Panels

Evolution, and the Humanizing and Uplifting Effect on Society of a Commitment to the Unborn

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

Unborn Child-Protection Legislation, the Moral Health of Society, and the Role of the American Democratic Party

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes Too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World

Planned Parenthood: An Unmentioned Ethical Issue

In the wake of the Center for Medical Progress’s first two sting videos against Planned Parenthood, pro-lifers have focused mostly on the barbarism of crushing and crunching, and on the fact that the very utility of fetal liver, hearts, lungs and heads for medical research proves the humanity of the unborn. Ross Douthat, for example, wrote in the New York Times: It’s a very specific disgust . . . a fetus’s humanity . . .

Though those points are well-taken, it seems that many of the public are inured to barbarism; and regarding the humanity of the unborn, pro-choicers have some answers that, if not quite convincing, are very strong.

However, there’s an ethical issue here in addition to the humanity of the unborn per se:

Even if the killing of a human is sometimes justifiable because of some valid need to get rid of that unborn human, we have now learned that in addition to that “benefit,” someone is getting a further benefit from the killing besides. Someone benefits from the organs of the unborn, whether Planned Parenthood makes a profit or not.

That benefit to someone inevitably becomes an additional incentive to kill, whether that incentive is small or big.

P.S.: To try for a broader perspective, though, perhaps no one said it better than a fooball player, Ben Watson of the New Orleans Saints:

As horrific as it is, the issue isn’t really the sale of human parts. It’s the legal practice that allows this to even be a possibility. Killing children and simply discarding the leftovers is not any more acceptable than profiting off of them.‪

© 2015

 

You may leave a reply, if you wish, without giving your name or email address. If you do give your email address, it will not be published. Back up your work as you type, in case of accidents.

Some future posts:

Life Panels

Evolution, and the Humanizing and Uplifting Effect on Society of a Commitment to the Unborn

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

Unborn Child-Protection Legislation, the Moral Health of Society, and the Role of the American Democratic Party

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World

What Did Cecile Richards Apologize For?

Deborah Nucatola, a high-level Planned Parenthood official, was caught in an undercover video discussing how they crush unborn children in one way during a normal abortion, but crush them in a different way when they have to fill an order for certain organs — livers, hearts, lungs or intact heads. Meanwhile, she eats lunch and sips wine. After the abortion, Planned Parenthood ships the orders to research companies or the middlemen thereof, receiving compensation in order to break even or possibly “do a little better than break even.”

Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, quickly apologized for Nucatola’s tone. To the public, what had been upsetting about the tone was the lack of compassion for unborn children. But what exactly, according to Richards, was wrong with the tone?

Richards said:

Our top priority is the compassionate care that we provide. In the video . . . one of our staff members speaks in a way that does not reflect that compassion. This is unacceptable, and I personally apologize for the staff member’s tone and statements.

The strange thing about this is that Planned Parenthood’s compassionate care, even as advertising, means compassionate care for the woman only. Little of what Nucatola said (except implicitly, perhaps, what she said about altering abortion procedures for the sake of better specimens, which is not a question of tone) reflects lack of compassion for the woman. Americans were shocked by the lack of compassion for the child, not any lack of compassion for the woman, and Richards knew that.

Richards seems to have been trying to mollify that outrage about the child. And yet she could not say, “one of our staff members speaks in a way that does not reflect compassion for the child,” because that is not how they frame abortion. She may have considered saying “one of our staff members speaks in a way that does not reflect compassion for the clump of tissue,” but understood how that was problematic. So she said –

Our top priority is the compassionate care that we provide [to women]. In the video . . . one of our staff members speaks in a way that does not reflect . . . compassion [for the unborn child, she wants the public to understand, so that they will feel mollified -- but she leaves "child" unspoken so she can't be held to account for admitting that there is a child]. This is unacceptable . . .

– apparently hoping that the short attention span of her listeners would not allow them to notice the segue.

© 2015

 

You may leave a reply, if you wish, without giving your name or email address. If you do give your email address, it will not be published. Back up your work as you type, in case of accidents.

Some future posts:

Life Panels

Evolution, and the Humanizing and Uplifting Effect on Society of a Commitment to the Unborn

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

Unborn Child-Protection Legislation, the Moral Health of Society, and the Role of the American Democratic Party

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World

The Ghost in the Garbage Can

 

There’s a dumpster near my place
That smells bad
But it’s shorter to the 7-11.

When it’s dark
Misting a little
I hear a voice.

“I was small.
I was out of sight.
And I wasn’t very smart.”

It’s always the same.

“I was small – like our earth from a space probe.
Invisible – like your hopes when you’re deep asleep.
Not smart – so what can I say?

“I wish – well –
If I had of been big
Like Serena Williams.
They wouldn’t have messed
With Serena Williams.”

It was fading.

“If I’d had some money…”

I rubbed the mist on my face
To come to my senses.
I always hear that voice in the garbage can.
That choice in the garbage can.

Acyutananda
28 April 2015

 

© 2015

Abortion as Problem-Solving through Might Makes Right

 

Secular Pro-Life has published an article of mine under their paid blogging program.

 

You may leave a reply, if you wish, without giving your name or email address. If you do give your email address, it will not be published. Back up your work as you type, in case of accidents.

Some future posts:

Life Panels

Evolution, and the Humanizing and Uplifting Effect on Society of a Commitment to the Unborn

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

Unborn Child-Protection Legislation, the Moral Health of Society, and the Role of the American Democratic Party

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes Too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World

No Termination without Representation in This Place

According to Secular Pro-Life’s latest blog post,

A measure recently passed in Alabama provides representation to preborn babies in judicial bypass proceedings. Judicial bypass is a procedure, mandated by the Supreme Court, which allows a teenager to petition a judge for permission to have an abortion without the knowledge of her parents. The proceeding is a matter of life or death for the preborn child, making the need for representation obvious. . . . Those who are the least capable of defending themselves are, practically by definition, those who are most deserving of legal representation. The abortion lobby may not like it, but we must continue to speak for the voiceless.

I think the SPL author means that whenever a termination is sought, the need for representation of the unborn is no less obvious than when it is sought through judicial bypass in particular. If that’s what she means, I couldn’t agree more.

This is the first time I have been aware that in any US state, a few of the unborn actually are allowed representation before termination. Now I’m trying to find out whether any of the unborn have ever won their case, and if so, by what standards the judge spared their lives. The measure was “recently passed.”

© 2015

 

You may leave a reply, if you wish, without giving your name or email address. If you do give your email address, it will not be published. Back up your work as you type, in case of accidents.

Some future posts:

Life Panels

Evolution, and the Humanizing and Uplifting Effect on Society of a Commitment to the Unborn

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

Unborn Child-Protection Legislation, the Moral Health of Society, and the Role of the American Democratic Party

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World

A Stopgap Response to Robin Marty’s Coverage of the March for Life

I may expand on this later.

Robin Marty, a pro-choice activist, has covered the recent March for Life here.

The article surprised pro-lifers with its relative fairness. Though not neglecting to make a couple of criticisms of it, Kelsey Hazzard of Secular Pro-Life wrote, “But on the whole it was a much fairer piece than we would have gotten from any other pro-choice writer.” I don’t doubt that this is true.

However, let’s look at an important theme of the article. At one point Marty quotes Jill Stanek as saying, “Well, of course we want to get into the mainstream,” and Stanek’s son-in-law Andy Moore as saying, “We’d be more than happy to keep separate.” But there’s something strange about this. For one thing, Marty doesn’t quote Moore as using the word “mainstream.” Is Marty sure that he was referring to the mainstream — and not meaning, for example, “We’d be more than happy to keep separate from pro-choicers”? There is a difference between a dislike of socializing with some people, and being out of the mainstream. Wouldn’t a reluctance to be in the mainstream mean that one does not even want one’s policy views to prevail?

And regarding what Stanek said, well, with most Americans favoring some abortion restrictions, aren’t pro-lifers in the mainstream, which would also place their leadership in the mainstream? I wonder if Stanek said “mainstream media” rather than “mainstream.”

Stanek has tweeted regarding this, “I don’t remember what I said or the exact context of the sentence that came b4.”

If I understand correctly, by “sentence that came b4″ Stanek is referring to Marty’s: “I had told [Stanek] that the part that stuck out to me most was this idea of an alternative culture that could stand as a complete counterpart to the world the rest of us interacted in, creating its own reality that anti-abortion and especially Christian conservative true believers could exist in, untouched.”

The main interpretive theme of the article, running alongside its fascinating factual coverage of the March, seems to be that pro-life activists are younger and more numerous and more well-intentioned, and even more joyous, than Marty expected, but that nevertheless they are out of touch with reality.

A willingness to take a fresh look is unusual in public discourse, and praiseworthy. But what about the concept that pro-life activists are out of the mainstream and that some of them don’t even want to be in it?

A serious minority party or movement is usually said to be “the opposition,” but not out of the mainstream. Activists for any cause are always in a minority, but if the cause itself is popular, do we say that the activists are out of the mainstream? Those who actually marched for civil rights in Washington in 1963 were in a small minority in the US, but were they in a “bubble”?

Marty tries to support her “bubble” idea by noting that “The ‘us versus the rest of the world’ theme was consistent through the panels I attended.” But surely that is a fairly common denominator of all struggles against oppression, and pro-lifers feel that their unborn sisters and brothers are oppressed.

So the best way to make sense of the idea that pro-life activists are out of the mainstream (and that some of them don’t even want to be in it) is to infer that to Marty, their being out of the mainstream does not reflect on their numbers or their seriousness about changing policy, but rather is synonymous with their “creating [their] own reality” where their ideas will not be threatened.

And what is the real reality that, to Marty, pro-life activists are out of touch with? It is that an unborn child is a “life,” whereas its mother is a “person”: I will never, ever believe that the rights of a life developing in the womb outweigh the rights of the person carrying it, or that she has an obligation once pregnant to provide society with a live, full-term infant regardless of her own emotional or medical needs. (Which also seems to echo the occasionally-heard conspiracy theory that pro-lifers are motivated by a desire to increase population.)

The “reality” that an unborn child is not a person is of course almost the main crux of the abortion issue and is normally admitted by both sides to be highly subjective. In another post, I looked at it this way:

In thinking of the unborn, some people tend to perceive a still picture, an organism frozen in time, while some tend to perceive a process. If you kill a small clump of cells lacking, perhaps, even a beating heart, is it correct to say that you are killing an organism whose life presently has little value, or to say that you are depriving it of the complete human life which has started as a process? In fact, both statements are correct. Obviously the perception of a process is a more complete perception. If one does perceive a process, then one will also intuit that the unborn is a full-fledged member of human society, and will call it a person. But there is no way to prove logically that the process model is more valid morally than the frozen-in-time model as a basis for deciding the fate of the organism. . . . I would call the “process” perception of the unborn holistic, and would call the frozen-in-time perception reductive or mechanistic; but scientifically, neither is incorrect . . .

For some comments by pro-lifers on Marty’s article, see Secular Pro-Life’s Facebook status of February 1 at 9:24pm.

By the way, here is the one photo that to me best captures the big array of feelings that drive the March for Life.

 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens could change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has!” (Margaret Mead)

 

© 2015

 

You may leave a reply, if you wish, without giving your name or email address. If you do give your email address, it will not be published. Back up your work as you type, in case of accidents.

Some future posts:

Life Panels

Evolution, and the Humanizing and Uplifting Effect on Society of a Commitment to the Unborn

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

Unborn Child-Protection Legislation, the Moral Health of Society, and the Role of the American Democratic Party

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World

Moral Intuition, Logic, and the Abortion Debate

 

Courtesy of Life Matters Journal. This essay was published, with illustrations, in Volume 4, Issue 1 — June 2015.

 

I would like to thank Jake Earl, who created the “John” thought experiment. The probing questions of various people, but most definitively of Earl, helped me to better think things through.

 

Moral principles must be based on pre-logical moral intuitions and laws should be based on those moral principles. (Of course to say that “laws should be based on those moral principles” is not to say that every moral principle should automatically be enacted into a law.)

Though everyone I have talked to agrees that moral principles must be based on pre-logical moral intuitions, I have heard an intelligent person or two contend that the correctness of such moral intuitions can still be logically proved or disproved — as if moral inquiries were a hard science like math. More importantly, many people who would not explicitly make this contention nevertheless present their arguments about moral issues as if this were the case. So while some philosopher probably demonstrated centuries ago the impossibility of logically proving the correctness of moral intuitions, the relationship of logic and intuition still deserves to be examined. And I think the insights gained in the process of examining it might change how we converse, including how we converse about abortion.

First of all, for moral principles to be based on moral intuitions really means that moral principles are the verbalized form of moral intuitions. Therefore correct moral principles will follow from correct moral intuitions. And if the correctness of a moral intuition could be logically proved, then it would be possible to construct a correct moral principle through logic alone, with no recourse to intuition — since the process of constructing would be the same as the process of proving.

To say that it would be possible to construct a correct moral principle through logic alone, but at the same time to agree that moral intuitions (of which moral principles are the verbalized forms) are pre-logical — as everyone seems to agree — would be contradictory. Nevertheless, as mentioned, some people do present their arguments about moral issues as if the correctness of a moral intuition could be logically proved (that is, as if it would be possible to construct a correct moral principle through logic alone). So let’s continue to address that contention.

“The correctness of a moral intuition can be logically proved” and “a correct moral principle can be constructed through logic alone” seem to me like two different formulations of the same thing. But in case there’s any doubt, as I continue I’ll address the one I’ve actually heard, the former.

Is there such a thing as a correct moral intuition, and if so, can its correctness be logically proved or disproved? Though I am arguing no to the second question, I will argue yes to the first.

Moral Intuitions and Moral Principles

As an example of a moral principle — a generalized moral principle, but basically a sound one, I feel — let’s use “Thou shalt not kill.” I would say that that principle did not come from God, but rather is based on a pre-logical and pre-verbal human revulsion at most killing of the innocent. A pre-logical and pre-verbal sense of right or wrong is how I would define a moral intuition. Psychology professor Paul Bloom, author of the recent book Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil, said in an interview that while some moral ideals “are the product of culture and society” and “not in the genes,” “there also exist hardwired moral universals – moral principles that we all possess. And even those aspects of morality . . . that vary across cultures are ultimately grounded in these moral foundations.” Even if Bloom overestimates the role of the genes in the “hardwired” moral senses, and underestimates the role of culture in those moral senses, and overestimates how universal those moral senses are across cultures, it would be safe to say that most of us do have senses of right or wrong that come out of our unconscious in ways we cannot understand. I am calling those senses moral intuitions.
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Bodily Rights – the Concept

Clinton Wilcox of Life Training Institute was kind enough to read the semi-final draft of this post and provide a brief but insightful critique. This does not mean that he necessarily endorses any of the final contents. However, I wish to take this opportunity to thank him.

 

This post is an excerpt from my previous post, “Dismantling the Bodily-Rights Argument without Using the Responsibility Argument.” It is about two-fifths the length.

The strongest argument for abortion rights is usually considered to be the bodily-rights argument. Perhaps the most effective variation of it that I have seen appeared in a (negative) comment under Kristine Kruszelnicki’s March 11, 2014 guest post on the Friendly Atheist blog:

They [both mother and unborn child] are entitled to their own bodily rights. So exactly how does a fetus have the right to co-opt another person’s body without consent?

Let’s say for example medical science has progressed to the point of being able to transplant a fetus into another human being. In an accident a pregnant woman is injured to the point of immanent [sic] death, does that fetus have the *right* to be implanted into the next viable candidate without consent?

The commenter was arguing, in other words, “A woman who is a candidate to be made pregnant in that futuristic way would have a right to refuse to let her body be so used – everyone would agree. Therefore, why should a woman who has become pregnant in a more usual way not also have a right to refuse to continue the pregnancy?”

In the context of the abortion debate (and, significantly, in hardly any other context), the term “bodily rights” comes up often. Synonyms still more commonly used are “bodily integrity” and “bodily autonomy,” but I will say “rights” because it is rights that have practical consequences. If anything can help determine the practical outcome “Woman goes through with abortion,” it is a right, not an abstract “integrity” or “autonomy.”

Bodily-rights arguments can be studied from different angles, of which, I think, the angle of psychological and neurological analysis is an important one; I have focused on that angle in “Dismantling the Bodily-Rights Argument without Using the Responsibility Argument.” But here let us see what use we can make of logic as such in considering them. Logic as such can be applied first by looking at specific analogies and disanalogies per se, and secondly by analyzing bodily rights as an abstract concept.
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