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A Man of Vision: Daniel Callahan on the Nasty Problem and the Noxious Brew
This essay, published shortly before the 2020 U.S. presidential election (mired in controversy over a potential judicial appointment to the Supreme Court), celebrates Daniel Callahan’s prescient book Abortion: Law, Choice and Morality. Nothing could be timelier. Callahan’s central question was the “moral and social” struggle requisite for coherent policies and laws regulating abortion. He rejected “one-value” positions and strove to develop an expansive middle ground. He decried emotion untutored by reason, crude polemics, and bludgeoning: his recipe for a “noxious brew.” Callahan’s way of thinking preceded the development of a critical health humanities, the advent of moral foundations theory in psychology, and the philosophical concept of a moral imagination. Each of these inheres in his rigorous approach to the abortion problem. His honesty and humility led to a sea change in his position on abortion. Fifty years later, much can still be learned from Callahan’s arguments—about abortion and other bioethics issues—most importantly, in how we address wider social issues in these polarized times.