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The aesthetics of abortion

Ampersand points to a couple posts (part 3 coming soon) by Jeremy of Refference about using aesthetic reasoning as a basis for resolving political disputes. The first post uses a parable about a man and woman discussing their opinions of TV and abortion to show that aesthetic agreement is easier to come by. In the second post, he moves on to show how aesthetics (which he says we all agree on at some basic level) can provide a basis for agreement:

Neither side, with the exception of a small minority, favors abortions. I know almost no-one who campaigns for more abortions. Considered aesthetically, and I mean this seriously, there is an aesthetic argument against abortion. Abortions are ugly. This argument doesn't carry the moral force of the arguments against abortion or for a woman's control of her person and her privacy, but it still might guide policy. In fact, it is able to guide policy precisely because it lacks that moral force. It merely is a judgement of taste, not of condemnation, or one which requires absolute action.

What if the left and the right were committed to attempting to reduce the number of abortions, not out of moral fervor, for their moral ends are surely different, but out of a shared aesthetic sensibility? The different set of criteria over policy might enable a shift in consensus that moves towards a shared goal, rather than morally opposed and intractable positions.

This sounds, at first, pretty good. In fact, I wrote an article for The Maroon-News arguing something very similar -- that both the pro-life and pro-choice forces could move forward if they cooperated in making it so that women wouldn't have any use for abortions in the first place rather than engaging in a war of attrition over whether those who do have a use for abortions should be able to get them. Naive? Probably. But it has the same general outlines as Jeremy's argument, with one exception: I didn't need to resort to the aesthetic realm. In my article, the intersection of political goals was enough without depending on agreement that abortion is ugly (whatever that even means). On top of that, Jeremy argued in his first post that the reason aesthetic agreements are more tractable is because aesthetic judgements are not considered to be as important, so we're willing to give ground (which seems more or less true, in that the most divisive aesthetic disagreements come about when the participants take their opinions very seriously). So why would anyone agree to set aside their moral principles in order to make a decision based upon what is billed as a more trivial standard?

The other problem is that agreement as to ends doesn't mean there's any agreement about means. I'm sure most people would agree that poverty is ugly, as well as morally and politically undesirable. But that doesn't change the fact that some of us believe that progressive taxation and social programs will eliminate poverty, while others believe that deregulation of business and old fashioned hard work will do the trick. And I doubt that we can come to any easy agreement about whether progressive taxation is "ugly" or not.


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