The Wages of Sin

The following letter appeared in this morning’s Opelika-Auburn News. The passages in bold represent text present in my original letter but deleted from the published version. [Note added later: since the new format of this blog bolds everything indented, I’ve changed the bold to underlining.]

To the Editor:

Anita Bledsoe (Aug. 8th) argues that if we’re glad we’re alive, then we logically ought to oppose abortion, since we wouldn’t be alive if our mothers had chosen abortion.

Norman Rockwell's family tree - click for more detailBut this doesn’t follow. After all, if you go back far enough, most (maybe all) people alive today are also descendants of rape. That means that if no rapes had ever occurred, then most of the particular people who exist today would not have existed (since some of their ancestors would have formed mutually consensual, and so presumably different, genetic pairings from the ones that in the actual course of history resulted in us).

So does that commit us to approving rape? Of course not. Evaluating the present existence of something and evaluating the process by which it came about are two different things. Likewise, then, I can be glad of my own present existence and still think my mother would have been perfectly entitled to abort me – since the right to life does not include the right to exist in somebody else’s body.

Roderick T. Long

Incidentally, I said “most” and “maybe all” rather than simply “all” only to avoid having to explain “all,” but “all” is almost certainly correct. We don’t know what percentage of pregnancies among our earliest ancestors were the result of rape, but we don’t need to; even if it were a tiny figure, with each subsequent generation the “trait” of having been descended from rape would spread farther through the population.

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5 Responses to The Wages of Sin

  1. Matt R.L. August 17, 2008 at 12:13 pm #

    Is there anything better than a philosophy professor getting his hands on a bad argument?

    Incidentally, Dr. Long, do you respond anywhere (whether in assent or dissent) to Walter Block’s notion of an ‘evictionist libertarian theory of abortion’? If not, would you be so gracious as to give a quick take on it?

  2. Anon73 August 17, 2008 at 1:23 pm #

    I heard there was a book a while back that, while not explicitly advocating rape, argued that it was a natural and essential part of human evolution.

  3. Administrator August 17, 2008 at 8:29 pm #

    do you respond anywhere (whether in assent or dissent) to Walter Block’s notion of an ‘evictionist libertarian theory of abortion’

    I don’t think I’ve discussed it in print. Briefly, my view is broadly similar to his, but with the following crucial difference: I accept a principle of proportionality that says that the response to aggression must not be disproportionate to the moral seriousness of the aggression. So on my view there’s a disanalogy between eviction from an apartment and eviction from the womb: if the only way to evict your tenant from an apartment is to kill her, then on my view it’s not permissible, because killing is disproportionate to having an undesired squatter in one’s rental property; but having an unwanted “tenant” in your body is a much more personal invasion and so the use of deadly force in response is not disproportionate.

    I heard there was a book a while back that, while not explicitly advocating rape, argued that it was a natural and essential part of human evolution

    This is a common sociobiological thesis. Since I think sociobiology is a fusion of biology with bad philosophy (whether it’s a fusion of good biology with bad philosophy or bad biology with bad philosophy I don’t feel qualified to judge) I don’t think much of it.

  4. John Petrie August 19, 2008 at 12:09 am #


    I don’t think your brief response to Matt R.L. and Walter Block is rigorously correct. Aggression implies moral agency, a conscious, deciding, and intelligent mind. The fetus has made no decision, nor was anything resembling sentient. Therefore its tenancy in the womb is not aggression. It could be something else bad or harmful, but aggression it ain’t. A deadly response to some amoral threat, such as the reflexive attack of an animal, is justified, but neither animals nor fetuses can commit “aggression.” The fetus cannot do or choose to do anything other than what its mother and father have made it do (voluntarily or involuntarily). It is not a moral agent, so the charge of aggression cannot apply. At least, the way I think of the moral violation we call “aggression.”

    I don’t know what a better word is, maybe trespass, but that just seems like a term for a specific type of aggression, so I think any word you choose for “transgression against the woman’s body” implies conscious volition, which a fetus cannot have.

  5. Black Bloke August 19, 2008 at 3:29 am #


    I think Roderick covers this involuntary, or unconscious problem, with his hypnotism examples.

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