Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Abortion and Rationality

Philosophers have proposed, and studies have suggested, that people form opinions based on their emotions first, and after the opinion is formed they find a way to rationalize it.

Emotion ---> Opinion! ---> Rationalization

We may like to believe we first carefully think about the logic behind ideas, then form our opinions, and then let our emotions follow the conviction of our rational minds. And maybe some people do that, or at least do it better than others.

Thoughts ---> Opinion! ---> Emotions

Or maybe the emotions do come first, but some people are better at separating out the emotions and forming opinions without them. I'm sure it varies from person to person.

Emotion (set aside) ---> Thoughts ---> Opinion!

Overall, though, I suspect most of us have emotions first, thoughts after. Think about the times you've debated someone about politics or religion or anything else and their counterarguments have been nonsensical. If their thoughts make no sense, why are they so convinced of their perspective? Because it's not their thoughts that guide them. It's their emotions.

The abortion debate is no exception. None at all. I expect people form their opinions based on feelings even more often when an issue is more morally complex. Complexity makes it harder to think it through. And abortion--despite what some  insist--is morally complex.

Perhaps this is part of the reason one side talks much more about abortion in cases of rape, even though those situations account for less than 1% of abortions. Perhaps its the reason the other side uses photos of late-term abortions or late-term fetal development, even though over 90% of abortions are performed in the first trimester. People gravitate toward the extremes, where the morality gets a little less complex, the emotion a little more raw.

I suspect it's also true that opinions formed based on emotion are harder to change than opinions formed based on thought. Perhaps this explains why American views on the morality of abortion haven't varied that much in so long?

[Re-posted at Secular Pro-Life.]

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