Sunday 24 January 2021

Why Honduran Sexist Lawmakers need Aristotle's Advice


So Honduras looks set to pass a bill which will make it impossible for abortion under any circumstances (including rape and incest) ever to be legalised. Honduras has a huge gap between male and female incomes and alarming levels of femicide, rape, sexual abuse and death in childbirth.

By raising to 75% the percentage of Congress votes required to modify the current (punitive) abortion law, the law if passed becomes immune to challenge in perpetuity. The first of two votes this week show that the bill may well pass. The man who made the proposal, Mario Pérez, praises it as a "constitutional lock" to prevent the abortion law ever being modified in future. Progressive members of the Opposition, like MP Doris Gutiérrez, are terrified.

Mario Pérez, Aspiring Timelord

Roman Catholics are historically supposed to be favourable to Aristotelian philosophy. I would like to draw Mr Pérez’s attention to Aristotle’s recommendation that written codes of law must eternally be open to revision “because it is impossible that the structure of the state can have been framed correctly for all time in relation to all its details”. Proposals to restructure laws and government can be “a common good” (Politics 2.1268b-69a).

Doris Gutiérrez MP

Just as medical science and athletics “and all other arts and powers” have advanced over the centuries, so the same holds good for government. The ancient laws were “too simple and barbarous, which allowed the Greeks to wear swords in the city, and to buy wives off each other”.

Aristotle cites as particularly ridiculous the ancient murder law of Cyme, which stipulated that if a person prosecuting another for murder could produce a certain number of witnesses to it from amongst his own relations, the accused was automatically condemned!

The conviction that unalterable laws were unhelpful goes in tandem with Aristotle’s argument in the Nicomachean Ethics  that all opinions must always be open to revision. Although steadfastness is essentially a virtue, there are times when it can be damaging to adhere too rigidly to fixed views. If you receive incontrovertible evidence that your opinion is wrong, then changing your mind, which some people might condemn as inconstancy, is worthy of high praise.

He cites the case of Neoptolemus in the Philoctetes of Sophocles. Neoptolemus had been persuaded by Odysseus to lie to the lame Philoctetes, but when he sees Philoctetes’ suffering and learns more information about his plight, he changes his mind and refuses to participate in the deception. He revises his opinion.

For this reason, I believe that if we could talk to Aristotle and present him with the relevant information, we could persuade him to revise his own atavistic opinions about women and slaves. But I would also like him to visit Mr Pérez in a dream to explain that he just might not be qualified to impose on Honduran women of eternity as well as those of today a law that is just “too simple and barbarous”.

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