“We’re all instantly repelled by that, of course,” Wise said. When he asked his students that question, they “get all tied up in knots and say things like ‘because she has a soul’ or ‘all life is sacred.’ I say: ‘I’m sorry, we’re not talking about any characteristics here. It’s that she has the form of a human being.’ Now I’m not saying that a court or legislature can’t say that just having a human form is in and of itself a sufficient condition for rights. I’m simply saying that it’s irrational. . . . Why is a human individual with no cognitive abilities whatsoever a legal person with rights, while cognitively complex beings such as Tommy [the chimpanzee], or a dolphin, or an orca are things with no rights at all?”The link goes to a NYT Magazine article by Charles Siebert titled "Should a Chimp Be Able to Sue Its Owner?" I'm sure the part I've excerpted will cause many readers to want to talk about abortion. The line — from law professor Steven Wise — "I’m not saying that a court or legislature can’t say that just having a human form is in and of itself a sufficient condition for rights" — seems to raise the topic without saying the word. It's a strangely twisted sentence, especially coming from a law professor who is highlighting the demands he makes on his students to think and speak precisely and clearly.
"I’m not saying that a court or legislature can’t say that just having a human form is in and of itself a sufficient condition for rights." There are 2 obvious negatives in that sentence and a few more fillips of semi-negation ("just," "in and of itself," and "sufficient"). The repetition of "to say" is also strange: I'm not saying that other people can't say. That's not the same as: I'm saying that other people can say. What is he saying?
He's almost not saying anything, but to almost not say anything in such a complicated way suggests an effort at avoiding saying something. What he's saying is not-saying. He's notsaying — and I intend to coin the verb notsaying — something about abortion. I suspect this is because he knows the abortion puzzle-piece fits here in the discourse and he needs to put up the "Here Be Dragons" sign.
For the record, the word "abortion" never appears in the article. And I would like to stress, as I have before, that opinions about abortion often rely on the unseen quality of what is destroyed. Wise's classroom discussion triggers the intense moral intuition the students have about the visible form of a baby, and I want to tie that to the strangely self-indulgent numbing of that intuition that occurs when the same form is unseen because it is unborn.