Thursday, October 25, 2007

Abortion Debates and Adam Smith

Gracchi’ on Westminsters Wisdom (25 Oct): ‘The Argument About Abortionhere:

Looking at the abortion debate, the most interesting thing about it is that it denotes I think the basis for most modern moral judgements. The basis for most people's morality it seems to me from this and other debates is concepts of empathy. In this sense Adam Smith was right - in that he predicted that the marketisation of society would lead to more empathetic understandings of morality. Whether you are a Christian pro-lifer or a feminist pro-choicer the basic vocabulary with which you talk about religion is exactly the same - its about the sympathy that a particular object should receive.

Phrasing it in terms of rights is a mere rhetorical choice. This also explains to me the presiding causes of our time- the way that pictures of African orphans or victims of the Tsunami can become cause celebre and evoke millions of charitable donations. One of the interesting things about abortion is that it is an issue where empathy can justifiably be evoked on both sides- both the mother and the embryo can be said to deserve our understanding- that makes it a difficult and controversial issue within an age where the dominant moral climate is partly an empathetic one.

Of course there are more principles involved within our moral climate- but I think the abortion debate reveals something very interesting about the way that we think about right and wrong. It reveals how important empathy is in our decision as to which way to go on an issue- that is the way that both sides make their arguments. And it also reveals the way that the language of rights, is in this case at least, more of a trump card than an actual argument.”

I found this appropriate reference to Adam Smith in the midst of what is often highly contentious debate about abortion.

Adam Smith was right - in that he predicted that the marketisation of society would lead to more empathetic understandings of morality.”

I absolutely forgive Gracchi’s awkward and inelegant Americanism of ‘marketisation’ – we know what he means (don’t we?).

Why can’t we have more of this kind of reference to Adam Smith which is spot on, absolutely what he intended and in line with his legacy?

For completion and without taking sides, I should mention that Adam Smith expressed his disgust several times about the human practice of 'infanticide' and the 'disposal' of aged members of a community in times of severe deprivation.


Blogger Gracchi said...

Thanks- sorry about the marketisation ugliness- there are extenuating circumstances- the flu. I'm really pleased though that you picked up that comment because I think Smith's reputation has been distorted over the years. He was obviously a great economist- but he was also a great moral philosopher.

7:48 am  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

I am always pleased to see correct presentations of Smith's views from the entire range of his output.

Interestingly, philosophers seem to find it possible to currectly present his moral philosophy than economists manage to present his political economy.

So, congratulations from Lost Legacy.

10:25 am  

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