In this weekend's Le Devoir, there is a book review dealing with the issue of the Ancient World's attitude towards the embryo. (Citation below).
Georges Leroux, the author of the article, starts out by saying that the ancient world hardly ever stopped to wonder about the morality of abortion. I find this a little dubious considering passages on abortion one can find in the Church Fathers. It also sounds like he's trying to say that the ancients had it right, although there were many things we consider immoral today that the Ancients took for granted.
I find it interesting that this article links the history of the status of the embryo with the abortion issue. Because any real progressive begins with the premise that the status of the unborn has little to do with the abortion debate. The fact that the fetus is inside the woman's body means that the woman gets to decide whether he stays or is expelled.
So, in the progressive view, it's all fine and good to examine the status of the embryo in past socities, it has no bearing on the abortion debate.
This is interesting that this very un-progressive linkage between unborn and abortion is presented in Le Devoir, arguably Quebec's most left-wing newspaper.
Leroux goes on to say that the ancient world had many theories about the genesis of individual human life. Many theories are distinguished by a kind of gradualism, that an embryo is only a potential human being, not an "actual" human being.
The Stoics, who were materialists, believed that the unborn's "psychic existence" began at birth, when the first breath marked natural life.
A treatise written by Porphyry but attributed to Galen, Ad Gaurum, is essentially Stoic, with one major difference: at birth the body received an immortal and transcendant soul. This was an important belief because astrology, which was widely practiced, rested on the beginning of one's existence.
Leroux goes on to say that rabbinical literature was ambivalent about the beginnings of human life. Christians accept elements of both Aristotleian and Platonic visions of the soul, and their doctrine of the afterlife makes it necessary to raise the issue of abortion-- I imagine becaue one wants to know where the soul of an aborted baby goes.
Islam shows a medical interest in the issue of embryologie, but the author doesn't seem to think abortion was an important subject.
Modern embryologie says Leroux, was a leap forward, but the conception of the embryo was never dissociated from the metaphysical presuppositions of the ancient world. Even though Hippcrates proscribed abortion, the study of the embryo was done completely outside of the context of abortion. In other words, the embryo was studied for his own sake.
Since Christianity is the religion which is most sensitive to the notion of the soul, and it accepts no gradualism, this makes its position on the unborn the most radical [I agree!] In comparison, the "pro-choices" perspectives are based on non-metaphysical concepts.
The conflict, according to Leroux, seems irreconcilable.
Essentially, I concur. There's no middle ground on this.
I believe that more history of the unborn should be researched and written about by pro-lifers. This is how the unborn will develop an identity. We have to develop a way to speak intelligently and in a sophisticated manner about the unborn child, and not just repeat what is written in pro-life tracts and embryology textbooks. There has to be more to the unborn child than the fact that he exists and is human.
HISTOIRE DES DOCTRINES DE L'ANTIQUITÉ CLASSIQUE, VOL. XXXVIII
L'embryon. Formation et animation. Antiquité grecque et latine. Traditions hébraïque, chrétienne et islamique.
Luc BRISSON, Marie-Hélène CONGOURDEAU et Jean-Luc SOLÈRE (sous la direction de)
Librairie philosophique J. Vrin.
Paris, 2008, 290 pages