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M.A. Philosophy (May 2009)
Department of Philosophy


Up to what point of fetal development, if any, and for what reason, if any, is abortion morally acceptable? These are the questions that are being answered since time immemorial up to the present moment that involve the legal and moral status of the unborn and the morality of abortion. These started the long debate on abortion. There are three major views in the abortion debate, namely; the conservative view, the moderate view, and the liberal view. To limit the discussion, the writer decided to focus on the debate between the conservative and the moderate.

One of the greatest advocates of the conservative views, and often cited as reference by other conservatives, is St. Thomas Aquinas. In his discussion about the Human Nature in the Summa Theologica, he maintains the moral and legal status of the unborn from the moment of conception and the immorality of abortion. However, in one of the recent books about human nature, entitled Thomas Aquinas on Human Nature which was written by Robert Pasnau, Pasnau made a claim that St. Thomas Aquinas supports the late ensoulment theory and thus morally allows abortion up to the mid-gestation period at most. Pasnau represents the moderate view on abortion. Does St. Thomas Aquinas really support the late ensoulment theory? Or, Pasnau only made a mistake in making a liberal interpretation of the Thomistic writings on human nature?

To answer these questions, the writer, in chapter one, presents an overview regarding the empirical entity of a human being, with much focus on the germinal, embryonic and fetal development. Moreover, abortion and some topics surrounding it like the different processes of abortion, its legality and the debate about it are also being presented.

Chapter two focuses on the other component of a human being which is the spiritual soul. The writer presents the importance of the spiritual soul to the composite human being, as the life principle, the form, and the act of the body. A great importance is also being given to the discussion about the process of ensoulment, how it happens, when it happens, and why it happens.

Chapter three presents the abortion debate between the moderate Pasnau and the conservatives Haldane and Lee. As stated earlier, Pasnau made a very controversial claim that St. Thomas Aquinas, through his writings about human nature, supports the late ensoulment theory which may open the ground for the possibility of up-to-mid-gestation abortion being seen as something moral. Haldane and Lee think otherwise. For them, Pasnau made a mistake in taking a liberal interpretation on Thomistic writings about human nature. To interpret the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas in a correct and valid way, they need to adhere to the strict reading of such work. There is no reason, for Haldane and Lee, to doubt the consistency of Aquinas’ stand on the legal and moral status of the unborn that a human being is present from the moment of conception which consequently upholds the immorality of abortion.

In conclusion, the writer presents his reasons, based from earlier discussions in three chapters, why he thinks Pasnau made a grave mistake in his claim about the Thomistic writings on human nature. One of the said mistakes is the very mistake of those who advocate the late ensoulment theory. They focused more on the importance of the empirical entity of a human being rather on the spiritual entity which is by far more important for it is the life principle, the form, and the act of the human body.

The intention of the writer in doing this thesis paper entitled “The Aristotelian-Thomistic Conception of the Soul in Relation to Human Ensoulment in the Abortion Debate” is to strengthen the conservative view regarding human ensoulment and to refute the questionable claim of Pasnau.