Philosophers for Repealing the 8th

More than 50 professional philosophers in or from Ireland have signed the following statement on the upcoming referendum on abortion

The Casino at Marino, an historic meeting place for philosophers in Ireland

The upcoming referendum asks us to decide whether the unborn should have constitutional rights. Many good arguments have been put forward in support of the idea that women and girls in Ireland should not be forced to travel abroad or face the threat of a 14 year prison sentence if they find themselves unable to carry a pregnancy to term. What has not been discussed much is whether a 12-week old foetus is a person entitled to constitutional protection. What makes this particularly problematic is that the issue hinges on a complex philosophical question that has no straightforward answer, namely ‘What is a person and when does a person begin?’

We can all agree that there are clear cases where a person does exist: nobody doubts that a seven year-old is a person. There are also cases where we can all accept that a person does not exist: neither a human sperm nor an unfertilized egg is a person. Some claim that a fertilized egg is a person. We think this is totally implausible: while it contains DNA that could belong to a person, the same DNA is also contained in the egg and sperm that combined to form that fertilized egg in the first place; it has merely been moved into a single cell. A fertilized egg has no feelings, no character, nothing that we value in each other as persons.

For most of European history, in fact, a person was not thought to come into being as soon as a fertilized egg was present. Influential figures like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas held that a foetus is not a person until it begins to move, which they took to be 40–80 days after conception. This is not a very plausible criterion for personhood either, since early movements are generated simply by muscle twitches that can occur even in muscle fibres detached from a body. A more plausible condition on personhood is sentience — the ability to have experiences including pain. But experiencing pain depends on brain functions that do not develop until at least the 20th week of pregnancy.

We grant that the question ‘when does a person begin’ is complex. But because the constitution is the backbone for all law in the state, it should be confined to highly plausible restrictions on the law that more or less everyone can agree with. The 8th amendment is not a legitimate addition to the constitution, because it binds the entire community to a highly controversial position on a complex question that could never find widespread agreement, with very serious effects for the health of many of the state’s residents. Our view is that the amendment should be repealed.”

Signed:

Dr. Robbie Arrell, School of Philosophy, Wuhan University, China

Prof. John Baker, School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice, University College Dublin

Prof. John Barry, School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics, Queen’s University Belfast

Dr. Keith Begley, Department of Philosophy, Trinity College Dublin

Dr. Keith Breen, School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics, Queen’s University Belfast

Prof. Liam Kofi Bright, Philosophy, Logic, and Scientific Method, London School of Economics

Dr. Brian Carey, Dept. of Politics & Public Administration, University of Limerick

Dr. Sorcha Uí Chonnachtaigh, Lecturer in Law and Ethics, Keele University

Dr. Aisling Crean, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford

Dr. John Danaher, School of Law, NUI Galway

Dr. Oisín Deery, Department of Philosophy, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

Prof. Cian Dorr, Department of Philosophy, New York University

Dr. Graham Finlay, School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin

Dr. Tim Fernando, Department of Philosophy, Trinity College Dublin

Dr. Lisa Foran, Philosophy, Newcastle University

Dr Brian Garvey, Dept of Politics, Philosophy and Religion, Lancaster University

Dr. Paul Giladi, Teaching and Research Fellow in Philosophy, University College Dublin

Dr. Shane Glackin, Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology, University of Exeter

Prof. Emeritus Attracta Ingram, School of Philosophy, University College Dublin

Dr. James Jardine, School of Philosophy, University College Dublin

Prof. Richard Kearney, Department of Philosophy, Boston College

Dr. Adam Loughnane, Department of Philosophy, University College Cork

Prof. James Mahon, Department of Philosophy, City University of New York

Dr. Neil Mc Donnell, Department of Philosophy, School of Humanities, University of Glasgow

Dr. John McGuire, School of Philosophy, University College Dublin

Dr. Marie Moran, School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice, University College Dublin

Dr. Clare Moriarty, King’s College London, UK

Dr. Susan P. Murphy, Trinity College Dublin

Dr. Cara Nine, Department of Philosophy, University College Cork

Prof. Samir Okasha, Department of Philosophy, University of Bristol

Prof. Felix Ó Murchadha, Discipline of Philosophy, NUI Galway

Dr. Cathal Ó Madagáin, École Normale Supérieure, Paris

Dr. Mahon O’Brien, Department of Philosophy, University of Sussex

Dr. Lilian O’Brien, Department of Philosophy, University College Cork

Dr. Xiao Ouyang, Department of Philosophy, University College Cork

Dr. Adina Preda, Dept. of Politics & Public Administration, University of Limerick

Prof. Don Ross, Department of Philosophy, University College Cork

Dr. Alessandro Salice, Department of Philosophy, University College Cork

Dr. Markus Schlosser, School of Philosophy, University College Dublin.

Dr. Andrew Shorten, Department of Politics & Public Administration, University of Limerick

Dr. Damien Storey, Department of Philosophy, Trinity College Dublin.

Dr. Nick Tosh, Philosophy, School of Humanities, NUI Galway

Dr. Elmar Unnsteinsson, School of Philosophy, University College Dublin

Dr. Joel Walmsley, Department of Philosophy, University College Cork

Dr. Alexa Zellentin, School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin

Dr. Lilian Alweiss, Department of Philosophy, Trinity College Dublin

Dr. Heike Felzman, Philosophy, School of Humanities, NUI Galway

Prof. Maeve Cooke, School of Philosophy, University College Dublin

Prof. Jim O’Shea, School of Philosophy, University College Dublin

Dr. Elizabeth Hannon, London School of Economics and Political Science

Dr. Darragh Byrne, Department of Philosophy, University of Birmingham

Dr. Conor McHugh, Department of Philosophy, University of Southampton

Dr. Qinghua Zhu, School of Philosophy, University College Dublin

Dr. Oliver Feeney, Philosophy, School of Humanities, NUI Galway

Dr Patrick O’Connor, School of Arts and Humanities, Nottingham Trent University.