Presenting opposing viewpoints on one of the most contentious and polarizing issues in the United States in a single volume might seem like challenge enough, but the new book “Civil Dialogue on Abortion,” co-authored by Dr. Jack Mulder Jr. of the Hope College philosophy faculty, aspires to do more by also providing a positive model for handling disagreement.
Mulder co-wrote the book, which was published earlier this month by Routledge, with Dr. Bertha Alvarez Manninen of the Arizona State University philosophy faculty. Writing from opposite sides in the debate — Mulder is pro-life and Manninen is pro-choice — the authors open with individual chapters explaining their viewpoints and why they hold them; each next presents a chapter in response to the other; and then together they explore points of convergence and divergence.
“It is the kind of book that I would hope that folks who are engaging deeply with the issue would be interested to consult, because it doesn’t just stop with the problem of abortion,” said Mulder, who is an associate professor of philosophy and department chair. “It tries to create a fuller picture of why people disagree and what they might disagree about. She points out complexities that she thinks I’m overlooking, and I point out complexities that I think she’s overlooking.”
Both Mulder and Manninen were committed to explaining in a reasoned way, and to listening and responding respectfully to what the other had to say — an approach that they hope to encourage whatever the topic. “In our age of information overload and partisan spin that threatens to undo the facts themselves, there is simply no substitute for earnest dialogue and, indeed, friendship across ideological lines,” they write in the introduction.
“Violence, lewd or rude conduct, and name-calling are not productive ways to participate in a deliberative democracy,” the two authors write. “Whether what we need more of is respect for women and their rights (which we surely do) or we need more respect for the unborn, or both (which is both our views), disrespectful treatment of adults with whom we disagree is hardly the most effective way to any of these goals.”
Reviewer Dr. Christopher Tollefsen of the University of South Carolina philosophy praised the approach, particularly given the current cultural moment. “With civil dialogue on any controversial issue an increasing rarity, ‘Civil Dialogue on Abortion’ could not be more timely,” he said. “Manninen and Mulder offer an honest and scholarly look at the reasons behind their pro-choice and pro-life views and disagreements, and give a hopeful but realistic account of where they find common ground. I can think of few better ways for students to learn the intellectual map of the abortion debate while being presented with a model for how that debate should be carried out.”
Mulder and Manninen have been friends for 17 years, since their graduate school days at Purdue University, and have remained so despite having differing views on the highly divisive topic of abortion. Through the years they’ve each written scholarly articles on abortion, and Manninen’s book “Pro-Life, Pro-Choice: Shared Values in the Abortion Debate” was published in 2014. In something of a precursor to “Civil Dialogue on Abortion,” they discussed the topic in 2014 in an hour-long segment on Philosophy TV.
Softcover copies of “Civil Dialogue on Abortion” are available for $39.99 through the college’s Hope-Geneva Bookstore in the DeWitt Center. The book, also available in hardcover for $150, may also be purchased directly through the publisher and from other sellers.