Posts Tagged ‘instinct’

If you have not read part 1 already, I would highly recommend doing so.  This post will not make much sense otherwise.

That said, I’ll start by citing the reflection with which I said I would pick up:

If [a] lion injures or kills a human being, what guilt does it incur?

None.  It is a non-rational animal, without the necessary resources to make free-will judgements and decisions.  It is driven by in-built instinct and cannot be held responsible for its actions.

Now let’s reverse the situation.  If a human being exercises cruelty toward another human being, s/he incurs graver guilt than if s/he were to exercise cruelty toward an animal; but s/he incurs guilt in both cases.  In fact, to behave in this way does more harm to the acting subject than to the victim, because the nature of a rational being is such that it degrades itself by bending its will toward such actions.

I realize that this would be poo-pooed by many psychologists and philosophers of the last couple centuries.  What is more, I must acknowledge this attitude to be by no means limited to intellectual elites.  If it started with them, it has “trickled down” quite a bit.  This is probably why we, as a society, are so reluctant to affirm the inherent dignity of the human person as such — an affirmation that would require both opposition to abortion and the recognition that humans have greater dignity than animals.

With that dignity, after all, comes responsibilities that are decidedly inconvenient.  It is more convenient and more comfortable to reduce morality, and even choice itself, to animal instincts and determinism.  Under that rubric, dignity becomes synonymous with autonomy, or the ability to exercise personal freedom and choice independently of constraints — an ability that many people defend with the oft-repeated battle cry: “Just let me be who I am!”

And that, I suspect, explains why the one rule our society accepts is this: “Do what you want, just don’t hurt anybody.”  If you are hurting people, you are infringing on their autonomy, after all.  Traditional morality becomes a problem according to this new “unum necessarium,” as it undoubtedly poses a threat to autonomy as we understand it.

abortionOkay — assuming that this worldview is true, abortion becomes doubly “sacred.”  The attendant notion of the mother’s autonomy takes from the human person the responsibility of being a subject while also assigning priority of life and prerogative to those able to exercise autonomy — namely, those already outside the womb, and able to survive independently.

CecilThe preference we give to animals over human fetuses is also explained.  When it comes to autonomy, we see a difference in degree rather than in kind between man and beast.  Beasts, after all, act according to that very thing to which morality and choice have been reduced in human beings: Instinct.

A lion has the wide open savannah to traverse, and in which to do whatever instinct bids.  The buffalo has the wide open prairie, and is not naturally constrained by anything against acting according to its inner drives.  The trout in the stream, the buck in the forest, the whale in the ocean, the goat on the mountain slopes, and every other animal you can imagine is likewise able to exercise “autonomy.”

FetusNot so the fetus (human or otherwise).  The fetus cannot possibly survive apart from its “host,” from the maternal microcosm it inhabits; much less can it exercise autonomy as we understand it.

I say all this by way of mere observation.  In part 3, I’ll go into the moral implications of this worldview.  Hope you’ll stay with me!



  1. “RussianAbortionPoster”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RussianAbortionPoster.jpg#/media/File:RussianAbortionPoster.jpg
  2. “Cecil the lion at Hwange National Park (4516560206)” by Daughter#3 – Cecil. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cecil_the_lion_at_Hwange_National_Park_(4516560206).jpg#/media/File:Cecil_the_lion_at_Hwange_National_Park_(4516560206).jpg
  3. “3dultrasound 20 weeks” by Staecker – My baby, my picture.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:3dultrasound_20_weeks.jpg#/media/File:3dultrasound_20_weeks.jpg

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