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Life Arts    H4'ed 3/22/12

Jonathan Haidt on the Righteous Mind, and the Catholic Anti-Abortion Crusade (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) March 21, 2012: In my lifetime, the debate about legalized abortion has raged. The Supreme Court of the United States legalized abortion in the 1973 decision known as Roe v. Wade. But the debate about legalized abortion rages to this day -- more than three decades after the Supreme Court decision.


Now, for the purposes of focusing the present essay, I am going to focus on the debate about legalized abortion in the first trimester. My own position is that legalized abortion in the first trimester is morally acceptable. Abortion in the second trimester and the third are separate issues that should be discussed in separate essays.


Recently Jonathan Haidt's new book THE RIGHTEOUS MIND: WHY GOOD PEOPLE ARE DIVIDED BY POLITICS AND RELIGION was published. (Haidt is pronounced "height.")


Long ago, I had come to the conclusion that both opponents of legalized abortion in the first trimester and supporters of legalized abortion in the first trimester could be characterized as being righteous about their respective positions. To put it mildly, both the opponents and the supporters of legalized abortion in the first trimester think that they are right: They each understand their position to be right and the opposing position to be wrong.


At first blush, the title of Haidt's book makes it sound like it will contain important information that I might be able to use if I want to argue against the opponents of legalized abortion in the first semester. So I'd better check what Haidt has to say.


Now, Haidt says, "Beware of anyone who insists that there is one true morality for all people, times, and places" (pages 316).


But this is exactly and precisely what the Catholic tradition of so-called "natural law" moral theory regarding sexual morality claims. I am here categorizing the church's opposition to legalized abortion in the first trimester as part of the church's sexual-morality claims. (Disclosure: I come from a Roman Catholic background. For a number of years in my life, I was a seminarian in the Jesuit order, so I have studied Roman Catholic moral theory.)


But nowhere in his book does Haidt give any indication of understanding, or even knowing about, the centuries-old Catholic tradition of "natural law" moral theory. So has Haidt actually studied this tradition of thought, or not? If he has not, then he is making a sweeping generalization about something that he has not studied seriously. But if he has studied this tradition of thought, then shouldn't he provide some evidence that he has studied it before he dismisses it in such a sweeping way?


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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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