Philosopher Norberto Bobbio Dies; Was Defender of Life

Italian Agnostic Argued Against Abortion

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ROME, JAN. 14, 2004 ( Political and cultural leaders mourned the death of Norberto Bobbio, an intellectual whose ethical sensitivity led one publication to label him an authoritative voice for Christian culture — despite his agnosticism.

Bobbio, who was hospitalized on Dec. 27 with a severe respiratory ailment, died last Friday in Turin. He was 94.

Vatican Radio, and the Holy See’s semiofficial newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, remembered him as «one of the most outstanding lay figures of the 20th century.»

For many years, Bobbio was professor of philosophy of law; political science; and philosophy of politics at Turin University. In 1984, Italian President Sandro Pertini appointed him senator for life.

Bobbio described himself as «a layman, not laical or anti-clerical.» In recent years, the review Civiltà Cattolica proposed the philosopher as an example of high ethical sensitivity and labeled him an authoritative spokesman of Christian culture, despite his professed agnosticism.

The Italian newspaper Avvenire recalled that on the eve of the referendum on abortion in Italy, the May 8, 1981, issue of the newspaper Corriere della Sera published an interview in which Bobbio explained his reasons for being pro-life.

Bobbio believed that abortion was a «very difficult» question. He called it the «classic problem in which we face a conflict of rights and duties; … above all, the fundamental right of the one conceived, that right to birth on which, in my opinion, one cannot compromise.»

«It is the same right in the name of which I am opposed to the death penalty,» Bobbio said. «One can speak of the legalization of abortion, but one cannot be morally indifferent in the face of abortion.»

He continued: «Stuart Mill says: ‘The individual is sovereign over himself, over his mind and over his body.’ Feminists now say: ‘My body is mine and I manage it.’ It would seem to be a perfect application of [Mill’s] principle. Instead, I say it would be aberrant to include abortion in this» line of reasoning.

«The individual is one: individual,» Bobbio added. «In the case of abortion there is ‘another’ in the woman’s body. The suicide disposes of his own life. With abortion, the life of another is disposed of.»

Asked if his comments might surprise the secular world, Bobbio replied: «I would like to ask what surprise there can be in the fact that a layman considers ‘You shall not kill’ as valid in an absolute sense, as a categorical imperative. And, on my part, I am surprised that laymen leave to believers the privilege and honor of affirming that one must not kill.»

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