He did it again last night. So it is right, fitting, proper, and conducive unto clarity of thought that I re-post the following entry from 16 November 2012.
The other night Bill O'Reilly said that a fetus is a potential human life. Not so! A fetus is an actual human life.
Consider a third-trimester human fetus, alive and well, developing in the normal way in the mother. It is potentially many things: a neonate, a two-year-old, a speaker of some language, an adolescent, an adult, a corpse. And let's be clear that a potential X is not an X. A potential oak tree is not an oak tree. A potential neonate is not a neonate. A potential speaker of Turkish is not a Turkish speaker. 'Potential' in these constructions functions as an alienans adjective. But an acorn, though only potentially an oak tree, is an actual acorn, not a potential acorn. And its potentialities are actually possessed by it, not potentially possessed by it. And the same goes for the acorn's properties: it actually instantiates them.
The typical human fetus is an actual, living, human biological individual that actually possesses various potentialities. So if you accept that there is a general, albeit not exceptionless, prohibition against the taking of innocent human life, then you need to explain why you think a third-trimester fetus does not fall under this prohibition. You need to find a morally relevant difference -- not just any old difference, but a difference that makes a moral difference -- between the fetus and any born human individual.
Bill O'Reilly is not the brightest bulb on the marquee. And like too many conservatives, he has an anti-intellectual tendency. If I ran these simple ideas past him, he night well dismiss them with his standard Joe Sixpack "That's just theory" line. And that's unfortunate. Still, it's good to have this pugnacious Irishman on our side. Night after night, he displays great civil courage, speaking truth to power. It is de rigueur among leftists to despise him. A feather in his cap!
Companion post: Why are Conservatives Inarticulate?