August 20, 2003

On Responsibility

Bill Whittle has produced yet another excellent essay, this time on the topic of personal Responsibility. It's a good essay; you should go read it. Pardon me if I don't wait, as it's looooooong. Then read the comments. If you don't read both the essay and the comments, you might as well skip the rest of this post.

One significant thread involved whether being Pro-Choice or Pro-Life were "responsible positions". Lost of the related comments seemed to me to be somewhat beside the point, being mostly thoughtful restatements of the individuals' positions on abortion, rather than saying much about personal responsibility per se. I think it's because the writers were so supportive of personal responsibility being a Good Thing (as it is) that they forgot that there are other values. A responsible act need not necessarily be a good act.

For example: consider four women who find that they are pregnant. All are single, and none can really afford to take care of a child. One immediately chooses to have an abortion, and does so. The second dithers for four or five months, and then has an abortion at the last minute. The third is opposed to abortion, and so has the child; but she gets no pre-natal care, and when the baby arrives she neglects it. The fourth is also opposed to abortion, but gets pre-natal care, has the baby, and finds some way to take care of it (or puts it up for adoption).

Responsibility involves accepting the consequences of your actions, and dealing with them. Clearly, the first and the fourth women acted responsibly; the second and third do not. So one can act responsibly or irresponsibly whether one chooses to have an abortion or not.

Posted by Will Duquette at August 20, 2003 05:09 PM

Deb said:

I am not so sure I agree. It seems to me there are four irresponsible women, not to mention the 4 men involved, since unwanted pregnancies can be prevented simply and inexpensively. If you act responsibly in the first place, you have no consequences to deal with.

Will Duquette said:

OK, I'll grant you that there was likely some irresponsibility involved in getting pregnant to begin with--though I've said nothing to indicate how any of these women got to be in the position I describe. They could all be war-widows, for example.

Given that they are in an unpleasant situation as the result of their own actions, though, how do they handle it? Responsibly, or irresponsibly? I'm not talking about whether I approve or disapprove of their actions, but simply about whether they face the consequences of their actions head on. I'd argue that numbers 1 and 4 do this, and that numbers 2 and 3 do not.

Deb said:

Whew, I'm glad you didnt toss the rape issue in there--war widows are much less likely to further muddy the water.!

I think I will agree with you with one slight change in the wording. Woman 1 is acting responsibly only towards herself. We are talking about "personal" responsibility. So I will not talk about her responsibility towards the fetus she aborts and, assuming she is a war widow, towards the other members of her family and the family of the guy who got her pregnant. Pregnancy never happens in a vacuum therefore I posit that while having an abortion may be the responsible thing to do for ones self, it is not a responsible action in the larger context of the family. Ask the neglected child as an adult if abortion would have been a better choice for it's mother...

Abortion is usually not an issue I willingly argue pro or con since I firmly believe that it is a fix for a completely preventable situation.

Will Duquette said:

Deb, it depends on your values. I prefer the fourth woman's values to the first woman's--I'm just pointing out that you can value personal responsibility and be a responsible adult and still not be a moral paragon in the eyes of other people who also value personal responsibility.

(For the most part I agree with you.)