Virtual Church of the contact | map
Blind Chihuahua

More to religion
than pleasing
your imaginary friend

January 23, 1999

For Publication

To the Editor of FIRST THINGS:

A number of readers of First Things have asked for more details about my exchange with Stanley Fish at the American Political Science Association convention ("While We’re At It," Public Square, February, 1999).

The meeting in which Professor Fish and I participated was concerned with whether moral truth can be attained by reason and whether deep differences of moral opinion can be resolved by rational argument. The chairman of the panel, Stephen Macedo, in summarizing Fish’s position, asserted that though Fish is a critic of liberal ideas about "public reason," he shares most liberal policy prescriptions, including the "pro-choice" position on abortion. After Macedo’s summary, I offered remarks which included criticism of Fish for writing (in First Things, February 1996) that "a pro-life advocate sees abortion as a sin against God who infuses life at the moment of conception; a pro-choice advocate sees abortion as a decision to be made in accordance with the best scientific opinion as to when the beginning of life … occurs." On the contrary, I contended, nothing would please pro-life advocates more than to have the issue of abortion resolved precisely in accordance with the best scientific evidence as to "when a new member of homo sapiens comes into existence as a self-integrating organism whose unity, distinctness, and identity remain intact as it develops without substantial change from its beginning through the various stages of its development and into adulthood."

In response, Fish said that Professor Macedo was simply mistaken: "I am not a supporter of abortion rights." Turning to my criticism, he graciously conceded the point, as Fr. Neuhaus reported in the Public Square. Fish agreed that, contrary to what he had supposed a few years ago, it is the pro-life side that appeals to the scientific evidence, while supporters of abortion have "shifted tactics" in light of the evidence and now go "elsewhere in search of rhetorical weaponry."

As subsequent discussion made clear, none of this means that Fish has abandoned his skepticism regarding the truth-attaining power of reason or his doubts about the capacity of rational argument to resolve deep moral disagreements. Indeed, he was quite critical of my assertion that there are many open-minded people who are prepared to settle (and in many cases have settled) their minds on abortion and similar issues precisely on the basis of a rational assessment of the evidence. He insisted that "there is no such thing as an open mind." I don’t think he’s right about that; but I’m trying to remain open minded about it.


Yours sincerely,

Robert P. George

Are we there yet?

In response to my request for a reasoned statement of pro-Life arguments to balance the generally pro-Choice arguments at VCBC, my former classmate, Robert P. George, generously provided material he had previously published elsewhere. This letter clarifies some critical points that are both philosophical and scientific. First Things is a conservative intellectual (mostly Catholic) magazine edited by Father Richard John Neuhaus, whose own column on current events is called "The Public Square." First Things contributors provide the intellectual underpinnings of the Christian Right's positions on a variety of political and social issues. - Scooper