Saturday, April 25, 2020

"If abortion is not wrong, then it's OK to kill sleeping people??!"

Hello Dr. Nobis, 
I was alerted to the existence of your book "Thinking Critically About Abortion" via the Crusade Against Ignorance YouTube channel. When I found out that the book is free online, I instantly set out to read it, and I am very thankful that I did. 

Prior to this book, I would have considered myself strongly pro-life but now I realize the topic is much more complex than I previously imagined. For that I am very grateful. Since we are in a collective pursuit of truth, it does us no good to characterize opposing beliefs incorrectly. 
After finishing the book, I still have a question about the abortion debate: 
Many pro-life activists frequently resort to a reductio ad absurdum argument to address the consciousness standard similar to the one laid out in your book. For instance, one might say "if it is the case that it is not unethical to kill an unconscious fetus, would it be morally acceptable to kill other humans who lack consciousness (e.g. someone in a coma)?" 
What is your reaction to these popular reductio arguments?

Thanks in advance! 

Here is my response. (Click on the post title to get to the response, below the fold).

"When does life begin?" and "Are fetuses human?": Two bad 'scientific' questions to ask about abortion

A U Chicago PhD student, Steven Andrew Jacobs, did a dissertation on the topic of abortion that involved asking biology professors about "when life begins."

A report on his research and experiences is here: "I Asked Thousands of Biologists When Life Begins. The Answer Wasn’t Popular."

He shares many angry and hostile responses to his question. He proposed three possible motivations for these reactions:
  • "Motivated Reasoning: Respondents experience cognitive dissonance when they recognize that their view of a fetus as a human [note: human ≠ life!] complicates their political convictions in regard to abortion policy.
  • Cultural Cognition: Respondents fear that public recognition of the scientific views they are expressing could lead to other people supporting abortion restrictions.
  • Identity-Protective Cognition: Respondents fear that expressing their views may serve to estrange them from pro-choice liberals, on whom they might rely for social, emotional, or financial support."
I think there's a far simpler way to explain these angry reactions:

He was asking a bad question!

Some might even call it a "dumb question," but since some say that there are no dumb questions, if asked sincerely, I won't say that.

The question a bad one for two reasons. Here I explain why. (Click on the post title to get to the rest of the post).

Public Philosophy on Abortion

Some public philosophy on abortion and related issues:

Bertha Alvarez Manninen and Jack Mulder Jr on Philosophy TV, September 10th, 2014

Marianne Le Nabat, "Is Abortion Candy? Abortion is not a vice and every attempt to legislate it is a failure," Public Seminar, November 30, 2016

Suki Finn, "Bun or bump? Does the mother contain the foetus or is it a part of her? On the metaphysics of pregnancy, and its ethical implications" Aeon, 27th July 2017

Bertha Alvarez Manninen, "Shared Values in the Abortion Debate," Philosophy Bakes Bread radio show, 2017

Laurie Shrage, "How to Talk About Abortion," NY Times, The Stone, March 19, 2018

Martin O'Reilly, "Should we repeal the Eighth Amendment?" 2018

Bertha Alvarez Manninen and Jack Mulder Jr., "The Philosophy of Conversation: We Owe It to Our Students to Teach Them How to Disagree," Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2019

Neera K. Badhwar and E. M. Dadlez, “The Inhumanity of the ‘Pro-Life’ Movement,” the What's Wrong? blog, May 2019

Daily Nous, "The Philosophy and Politics of Early Abortion in the U.S.," May 2019

Daily Nous, "Philosophers On the Ethics and Politics of Abortion," June 2019

Mike Austin, Ethics and Abortion: Two Opposing Arguments on the Morality of Abortion, June 2019.

Please let us know of additional resources!

And of course, there's this book and our related materials:

Thank-you notes!

Philipp Schulz has a blog post on "Practicing Academic Kindness in the Classroom" that offers the great suggestion of having students write "thank you" notes to authors of writings they read in class that the students appreciated: perhaps the reading changed their mind, helped them articulate a belief, presented an opposing view in an interesting light or anything else the student found valuable.

A philosophy professor friend of mine, or his TA, had students do this in their class and some students kindly wrote about how they appreciated my "Early and Later Abortions" and "Reply to Tollefsen" in Bob Fischer, ed., Ethics, Left and Right: The Moral Issues That Divide Us (Oxford University Press, 2019). (This chapter led to another chapter, which led to the Thinking Critically About Abortion book). 

It is, of course, very rewarding for me to know that someone read and enjoyed my writings and it helped them, they believe, think better about a complex and controversial issue. With permission and pride, I'm sharing their reactions below. (Click on the post title to get to the rest of the post).

Ethics Left and Right