Abortion
Saturday, January 8, 2011 -- 4:00 PM
John Perry

We need to distinguish two questions in considering abortion:

  • Why is abortion morally objectionable, if it is?  Is it because we violate the rights of the fetus?  Or is it some other reason, like that it expresses a cavalier attitude towards human life?
  • if we interfere with a woman’s choice to have an abortion, have we wronged the woman?  Do we,  or does government, have the right to interfere with the exercise of that choice?

The answer to the first question only partly determines the answer to the second. If there’s nothing morally objectionable about abortion, there’s no legitimate reason to interfere with a woman's choice.  But just because there might be something objectionable, it doesn't follow that we have the right to interfere.

Here’s an analogy.   I think its wrong to drink yourself silly in your own home, in a way that undermines your potential as a human being and your ability to have relationships with other people.  But I don’t think the government or society has the right to prevent a person from doing these things, at least not in the privacy of his own home when he’s alone.

Still, if abortion is wrong because a fetus has a right to life, and in fact is the murder of a human being, it’s a much more serious wrong than drinking oneself into oblivion.  If that’s the answer to the first question, then doesn’t it determine the answer to the second --- that government and society have a right to prevent abortions?

Well, maybe not.  There’s a famous article by Judith Thomson.  She imagines a situation in which a gifted violinist, for reasons that are left obscure, has taken up residence in your abdomen, and needs to remain there for nine months before he can be safely extracted.  Wouldn’t you have the right to insist that he be removed forthwith, even if it meant his death? 

This leads to a second distinction.  I think there are two basic strategies for defending a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

The more straightforward strategy I’ll call the ``Tooley” strategy, after one of its clearest exponents, Michael Tooley.  It says basically that the right to life pertains to persons, and not every live human being is a person.  So, even if we grant --- which I must say seems to me undeniable --- that a human fetus is a live human being, it doesn’t follow that it’s a person, and it doesn’t follow that it has a right to life, and that killing it is a case of murder.

People who advocate this line argue that being a person involves various things that fetuses don't have --- at least in the early stages, perhaps self-consciousness and certain emotions.  And of course plenty of people think this strategy is wrongheaded --- perhaps because the issue is really when the fetus gets a soul, not when it acquires some intellectual capacities.

The other strategy is the Thomson strategy.  Even if a fetus is a person, even if killing it is homicide, it may be something a woman has right to do.  Homicide may be justified in self-defense, or in war, and perhaps it’s justified when a person has taken up residence inside you.

Well, now that we’ve clarified things, it should be a simple matter to figure out where the truth lies, and solve this issue once and for all. [joke]

 

Comments (18)


Guest

Saturday, January 8, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

MORAL DELEMMAE As shown by today's show, philos

MORAL DELEMMAE
As shown by today's show, philosophers are really the only people who enjoy discussing BOTH sides of moral issues; and as also pointed out, lay people couch their arguments in morality language, eventhough to a philosopher they have not truly considered the moral issues.
A destitute man sees a $100 bill drop out of a businessman's wallet. What are the moral imperatives here? Giving the money back, AND keeping it for survival are both morally defensible.
Maybe in conflicting morals situations, philosophers should be using their skills to quantify the moral content of the conflicting positions. When confronted with the "But Where Do You Draw The Line" argument, I always say, "when it becomes immoral NOT to draw a line, I will be happy to draw lines for you." I will be happy to draw the line about at what date does an embryo need protection. No problem.
Conservatism says "Things are great, let's just keep doing what we did to get here." Liberalism says "These are our goals, let's do what we need to get to them." Liberalism doesn't measure progress by "morality" or "scientific," it measures progress by "is it getting society closer to a goal." What abortion advocates should be saying, but can't, is that even if babies have to be killed, in their wombs, by their mothers, it is better than ...
Someday, the killing of babies, in the womb, by the mother, as birth control, will be seen as either barbaric, or logical and moral. You philosophers out there frame the future debate, free of today's din, just for fun.
Finally, SHOCKING (REALLY SHOCKING)that it wasn't even mentioned today, is that among the hugest of the philosophical issues in the abortion discussion, are the moral rights of the FATHER of the fetus!!!

Guest

Saturday, January 8, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

"Still, if abortion is wrong because a fetus has a

"Still, if abortion is wrong because a fetus has a right to life, and in fact is the murder of a human being, it?s a much more serious wrong than drinking oneself into oblivion. If that?s the answer to the first question, then doesn?t it determine the answer to the second --- that government and society have a right to prevent abortions?"
It is this portion of your blog that I would like to discuss.
If abortion is murder, then why isn't it the right of the government or society to prevent them? Governments and societies that already consider murder a legal offense ought to prevent abortions if they are indeed murder, if they wish to remain consistent. But if you don't think the government ought to regulate anything in the first place, then obviously you won't agree with this.
Personally, I think Thomson's approach is the weakest. Because a person is taking residence inside of you, you have the right to kill him? Just like you have the right to kill someone in self-defense? The two don't equate. A person threatening your life is choosing to do so, thus you must act against him for self preservation. But a fetus living in a woman is not choosing to do so; it does so as a result of its parents' actions. Thus it is not committing an act against its mother by growing and developing, whether she wants it there or not, and abortion cannot be considered "self-defense" or equated with such.
I agree with Tim that the moral rights of the father of the fetus ought to be discussed.

Guest

Monday, January 10, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

A two year old orphan wanders into your house, shi

A two year old orphan wanders into your house, shivering and cold. She comes up to your leg and clings to it, probably preferring it because it's warm.
"Get the hell off of me!" you say, but she stares up at you, uncomprehending or unwilling or some combination of both.
She gets so annoying that you feel like murdering her and just scraping her off, but you cannot. If it were an adult, you might understand these motives as assault, but you cannot ascribe the same motives to a child. You try to pry her little fingers off of your leg, but they are somehow stronger than you are. Irritated, you go to the doctor.
"You came here too late," he says. "This little girl's skin has fused to yours. Now, this happens. There will be a cycle in her skin growth in about six or so months when it will be a good time to pry her off. It will hurt a good bit and your leg might never be the same, but she'll come right off nonetheless."
The doctor pauses. "Or, we could puncture her skull, muddle her brains, and chop her body into tiny pieces and vacuum them off your leg."
You have a right to not want the kid on your leg, riding around on your shoulders, up your nose, or - much more realistically - in your uterus. But such is biology; that is sometimes where people end up (and yes, all human beings - entities, bodies, etc. - are people). By the logic of killing the violinist in your belly, wouldn't a conjoined twin have the right to murder his brother, chop him, up, scrape him off, and be free? Yet we find that morally repugnant, because the murdered conjoined twin did not entwine the two of them; it was an accident of biology, with which we must simply learn to live when the alternative is murder.

Guest

Monday, January 10, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

Govern Life? I won't vote again until there is

Govern Life?
I won't vote again until there is a ballot question that simply asks: Do you wish to be governed or free?
I will vote for freedom.
=

Guest

Monday, January 10, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

JB I'd love the chance to put to you that neither

JB I'd love the chance to put to you that neither side fully understand our ontological nature -apart from the fact that most if not all groups on both sides don't apply their resoning consistently- so there is little hope of both sides coming to an agreement; they don't even get the basics right.

Guest

Tuesday, January 11, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

Pro Freedom =

Pro Freedom
=

Guest

Tuesday, January 11, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

the first two questions needn't be distinguished -

the first two questions needn't be distinguished - they are not related.
the child is related to the mother's body and consciousness. in this way the mother is related to the child, and can understand the relation of the pregnancy and its relation to her. if the child is unconscious, and the mother determines to end the pregnancy - HAVING LEARNED OF THIS POSSIBILITY - the abortion would not disrupt the consciousness of the child and be the concern of the mother -. to end a pregnancy, or to have an abortion when the child is conscious is a disruption to the child and has overstepped the relation of the pregnancy as being solely the experience and conscious relation of the mother.

Guest

Tuesday, January 11, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

No twins have a equal right to life. Neither has h

No twins have a equal right to life. Neither has harmed the other. The flaw in the violinist analogy it only applied to rape. We actually have a moral precept that we are only morally responsible for stangers that we have harmed or made dependent. Since a woman -and man- put this entity in a state of dependency the only compensation that is of any worth is the continued use of the womans body.
We also have a precept that we don't have to risk our lives/body, health or take on any high costs to save anothers life. This is a supererogatory class of situations, but unlike consented sex this only applies to rape situations.

Guest

Tuesday, January 11, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

Did my comments about harm and dependency get thro

Did my comments about harm and dependency get through and weren't accepted or was there a form error?

Guest

Saturday, January 15, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

So a "potential life" due to rape or incest is les

So a "potential life" due to rape or incest is less valuable then?

Guest

Saturday, January 15, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

Roux: The way you automatically jump to chopping u

Roux: The way you automatically jump to chopping up the head of the little girl whose hands are fused to your legs is such a stretch that I'm surprised no one has called you out on it. Although in fairness, every example given in this thread just reeks of desperation.
Instead of clinging to all of these emotionally loaded examples involving conjoined twins, two year old orphans, etc., why not have an honest discussion about what's actually going on in the case of abortion? Or at the very least stick to examples where the "persons" involved are as undeveloped, unaware, and incapable of surviving on their own as a fetus would be?
Or, better yet: since you guys are in to philosophy, does anyone think there's some sort of continuum fallacy going on when people claim that a fetus is a person with rights? I've been wondering about that.

Guest

Sunday, January 16, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

The "Tooley" strategy is hopelessly ad hoc. Many v

The "Tooley" strategy is hopelessly ad hoc. Many valued members of society, such as infants, the insane, the bodily damaged, are not fully functional humans. The legal definition of personhood is drawn by intent to include infants but not fetuses.
That leaves the "Thompson" strategy, and it is clear that some forms of homicide besides abortion are indeed socially sanctioned. Perhaps with good reason, but ethical justification for self-defense or war isn't cut and dried.
Fighters and even human civilians on the other side of a war used to be non-persons, but we are a little more enlightened than that these days... you can only kill the latter by accident. Crawling up the slippery slope.

Guest

Sunday, January 16, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

Marshall: Did you notice how all of those valued m

Marshall: Did you notice how all of those valued members of society you just named -- infants, the insane, the bodily damaged -- don't depend on any specific human life support machine for survival?
I don't understand how people can so easily gloss over that utterly non-trivial fact. It's the entire crux of the abortion debate in my view.

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, January 17, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

Going back to Mr. Perry's original question, I thi

Going back to Mr. Perry's original question, I think we must decide whether abortion is morally objectionable. To many people of faith, it clearly is. To others, faith notwithstanding, it is also objectionable, so it seems that theological proscription is not necessarily the determining factor. I am not an advocate of the popular practice known as situational ethics, but, that said,I cannot condone the notion that a pregnancy resulting from rape ought to result in an unwanted child. Some commenters seemed to think that such a life remains sacred, regardless of the circumstances. I don't think so.
It appears that we cannot collectively decide how we feel about abortion. For much too long, we could not collectively decide how we felt about unlawful race and sex discrimination. When in doubt, legislate. When legislation is flouted or ignored, take it to court.
But,you say,there must be a better way! Find it, then. It should be worth at least one Nobel---maybe two.

Guest

Tuesday, January 18, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

"But,you say,there must be a better way! Find it,

"But,you say,there must be a better way! Find it, then. It should be worth at least one Nobel---maybe two."
The Way is truth.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Nobel Committee, and Fellow Earthlings,
I would like to first thank Mom and Dad for choosing not to abort me, then Michelangelo for pointing me toward the river, and Einstien and Descartes for showing me the simplification of a problem. And...
=

Guest

Sunday, January 23, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

Blaze 1st it isn't a potential life and it isn't a

Blaze 1st it isn't a potential life and it isn't about having less value. We just don't have positive bodily obligations to those we haven't harmed.
BTW no need for a Nobel Prize for just being consistent.

Guest

Saturday, January 29, 2011 -- 4:00 PM

The focus on the fetus in this debate ignores what

The focus on the fetus in this debate ignores what should be the most important right of a human: Loving, nurturing care until at least weaning. If mom and dad are not ready, willing, and able to provide same, what right does anybody have to tell mom she must have the baby anyway? The sire's genes be damned. If he is not ready to be a proper father, his opinion is worthless. This is not to say that without dad abortion should be done, mom may make the single mom choice if that appeals to her and to her alone. No one but the woman carrying the fetus should have any say in the matter.

Guest

Wednesday, May 25, 2011 -- 5:00 PM

There is no debate! This is not a question of mora

There is no debate! This is not a question of morals because there is no question. We all come into this life the same way, all of us formed in our mothers womb, lucky for us our mothers decided not to kill us in the womb, no, no, not abort, kill, you are literally destroying energy, in one of its most purest forms! Funny thing is its proven energy cannot be created or destroyed.. what happens to the engery that is aborted ? certainly the embryo is dead. but its engery.. where is it now?
ABORTION IS THE MOST UNNATURAL, INHUMANE ACT of any human being. because when a woman has life forming inside of her body any good womans first instinct is to protct and care for, keep any harm away from the baby.
Now a days its all about the girl who got pregnant, her feelings, her circumstances, no one thinks once about the child and maybe that embryo would like that chance to live!!(you think?). If its own mother won't defend it.. who will? No matter what stage of LIFE!! remember a zygote is a stage of LIFE!!!!!! conception has been completed! it is a life stage! You were once in that stage as well.
Stop being selfish! stop being ignorant! OPEN YOUR EYES!!!WAKE UP! Get a clue and acknowledge what is really going on here! that is mothers are killing there young in the most vunerable states of life, dosn't that make you sick...?

 
 

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