Sunday, January 24, 2021
Saturday, January 23, 2021
In very brief reply, let me respond to three things.
First, is the violinist case an “analogy” to pregnancy? Is “unplugging” from the violinist analogous to abortion? Are plausible judgments about the violinist case “analogous” to what would be plausible judgments about abortion?
It depends on what is meant by an analogy.
Some people think of analogies this way: this is like that, so what’s true of this is true of that.
Another view of analogies is this: an initial case is used to develop and justify a general principle, which we can then apply to other cases.
The classic example of analogy is Paley’s watch: “The world is 'like' a watch.”
But is the world “like” a watch? In some ways, it is, in other ways, it’s not. So which ways are relevant to drawing any conclusions? Put this way, we aren’t told.
Here’s where the second approach to analogies comes in. We use the case of the watch to develop and justify this principle:
If a complex object has parts that are working together for a purpose (that is, it is a "teleological system"), then it’s probably designed.We can then take that principle and apply it to the world to conclude that it’s probably designed too. This all works much better than the simple “the world is like a watch, so . . .” approach which, again, doesn’t tell us which ways are relevant and what conclusions we might draw.
Back to abortion and Thomson’s cases:
- Pregnancy is “like” the violinist case, and unlike it.
- Abortion is “like” unplugging from the violinist, and unlike it.
- Abortion is “like” your favorite celebrity not touching your head to save your life, and unlike that.
- Fetuses are “like” “people seeds,” and unlike people seeds.
But where do we go with these analogies? What do we make of the “likenesses” here?
Many people react that we go nowhere, since pregnancy and abortion are just not “like” these cases! They respond, “These are bad analogies”!
Well, maybe they are, if you misunderstand how to think about analogies or how they work.
On the other hand, these are useful case to develop and confirm the insight that the right to life is not the right to everything someone needs to live, even if that requires the use of someone else’s body.
And that’s what’s important here.
2. The Substance View
van der Breggen appeals to a view that’s often called “The Substance View.” Rather than making a list of critics of this type of view, I’d encourage readers to read Don Marquis’s review of a book that appeals to the substance view. Marquis is, at least among professional philosophers, the most well-known and influential philosophical critic of abortion. Also, search PhilPapers and Google Scholar for the topic.
Finally, about arguments from risk, Robert Bass has an interesting and important chapter where he applies this approach to argue that, in most circumstances, it’s wrong to raise and kill animals to eat them, since there's a good chance they have the right to life or are otherwise seriously wrong to kill. Professor Bass is a very careful thinker and I encourage readers to check out his development of this type of argument from risk and its applications to another issue, which might reveal insights that can be applied back to this topic.
If anyone would like a more detailed response to anything in particular, please let me know.
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
Sometimes people don't say what they really mean: they can, and should, use better words to express what they are thinking. Sometimes this is because the topic is complicated; sometimes this is because people lack experience in productively engaging the topic. How to better respond when this happens can be seen through the controversial topic of abortion.
For example, people sometimes make and deny these claims when discussing abortion:
- if something is "life", then it's wrong to kill;
- if something is "alive", then it's wrong to kill;
- if something is "living", then it's wrong to kill.
You are being uncharitable! This isn't what people mean by "life," "alive," and "living"!
- "human life begins at conception";
- "fetuses are human";
- "each fetus is a human";
- "fetuses are human beings".
- "human life begins at conception": that depends on what is meant by "human life": when does human life end? Thinking about when life can end can help us understand when it begins.
- "fetuses are human": fetuses are surely biologically human, but a blob of random human cells wouldn't be wrong to kill. So what's meant by "human"?
- "each fetus is a human"; what's "a human"?
- "fetuses are human beings". what's a "human being"? There are different answers, with different suggested implications for abortion.
Friday, January 15, 2021
If people argue passionately for a position on a controversial issue, they really should "know what they are talking about," so to speak, even if they aren't an expert. (If they don't have this understanding, they might approach the issue as if they are member of a cult). To check to see if someone, including you, understands some of the main ethical arguments about abortion, this quiz below could be useful. There are many arguments below. The quiz is this:
- For each premise of each argument, first explain why someone might think that the premise is true and then why someone would think it is false: what would their reasons be for both?
- For each premise, then explain whether it really is true or false; also explain what misunderstanding or lack of understanding might lead someone to mistakenly think the premise is true (when it is false) or false (when it is really true).
Here's the quiz, covering some arguments against abortion:Abortion is typically (or prima facie) wrong because:
- Fetuses are alive: “life” begins at conception. All living things are typically wrong to kill. (What do you mean by “life”?)
- Fetuses are biologically alive: biological “life” begins at conception. All biologically living things are typically wrong to kill.
- Fetuses are human. All things that are human are wrong to kill. (What do you mean by “human”?)
- Fetuses are biologically human. All things that are biologically human are wrong to kill.
- Fetuses are “cognitively human”: they can think, feel and reason in “human” ways. All things that are cognitively human can think, feel and reason in “human” ways are prima facie or typically wrong to kill.
- Fetuses are biologically human organisms. All biologically human organisms are prima facie or typically wrong to kill.
- Fetuses are persons. (What are “persons?) All persons are prima facie wrong to kill.
- Fetuses have valuable futures. If something has a valuable future, then it’s prima facie wrong to kill it and prevent it from experiencing that valuable future.
- Fetuses have the right to life. The right to life includes the right to someone else’s body, if you need that body to live.
- Abortions cause pain and suffering in the fetus. All actions that cause unwanted pain and suffering are typically wrong.
Friday, January 1, 2021
I thank Professor van der Breggen for his response to my brief review of his book, which is itself partially a response to our book. So this response here is a response to a response which is a response.
you are sick, about to die, but you will be healed if your favorite celebrity touches your fevered brow.
pregnancy (in non-rape cases) is like freely giving your kidney (which you can live without) to another person (a vulnerable, dependent person whom you’ve created) so the other person can live, whereas abortion is like tearing out from that person the kidney you’ve donated to him/her—and thereby kills that other person—because you’ve changed your mind about your previously-freely-made decision to donate it.
So persons indeed do have a moral right to what was someone else's kidney, if they need that kidney to live AND if one has already, in a fully-informed manner, engaged in freely giving/ donating one’s kidney to the person in question (and the donation isn’t a physical threat to the life of the donor). Ditto for fetuses—which we and Thomson concede are persons—and the biological systems gifted/donated to them also freely and in a fully-informed manner.
one cannot “undo” or “reverse” the fact of reproduction or pregnancy. That is, one cannot return to the previous state in which reproduction and pregnancy did not occur
If you consent to something, then you consent to accepting that something's not likely causal consequences, especially if you know what those consequences may be and choose to go ahead anyway, and so you must accept them because you can no longer address those consequences, meaning you can no longer do something to make it such that those consequences hadn't occurred.
the state of being of the fetus is more like a non-permanent coma or non-permanent vegetative state: the fetus will awaken/ gain consciousness—if we don’t kill him/ her.