“I think therefore I am”: A Philosophical Take on Abortion

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May 2, 2019 by thewashingteenian

By M. K. Powell


The abortion controversy has a lot of sides and angles when it comes to the discourse on its ethical and moral concerns. I would like to disclose that this isn’t propaganda for either side of the issue. Rather, this is perhaps a new angle to approach it from: “I think therefore I am.”

“I think therefore I am,” although it’s more commonly associated with science fiction, emerged in the Enlightenment, condensing some hallmarks of the period. The Enlightenment was a philosophical movement (the principles of which America was founded on) that encouraged the spread of radical ideas and inventions. The movement primarily revolved around this thought: the only thing separating humans from animals was reason, which is the ability to look at a situation and solve it through critical thinking. Rene Descartes, a French Enlightenment philosopher and architect of the movement, had set out to prove why he was, and in the process came up with the quote “I think therefore I am.” The phrase itself means that if you are real, then you can think, therefore you are a human at least.

How does this apply to abortion? “I think therefore I am” is a bar for humanity. If you’re a living a person then you can think, therefore you are. A fetus, however, doesn’t think. Although fetuses develop the capacity to think, we don’t actually start to think until we’re born. According to the Scientific American article “When Does Consciousness arise in Human Babies?” even after we’re born, in the infant stage, we don’t really think so much as process what we see. We start forming independent thoughts later, but this stage we’re just recognizing  the things and actions in front of us and may attempt to mimic them. The question this imposes on the abortion controversy is: do you become a human before you think? I wouldn’t propose killing an infant, but as for abortion, which occurs at the fetal stage, is the argument for the fetus being “alive” valid if they truly aren’t?

Even though we don’t think critically at the infant stage, we’re still able to process what we see. According to the Enlightenment’s standards, at this stage we are living creatures, but fetuses are just as alive as an internal organ; a part of a human mother who can already think, therefore they are.

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