Saturday, January 23, 2021

Nobis versus van der Breggen, Round 8 (?)

This is the 8th installment of exchanges between Nathan Nobis and Hendrick van der Breggen on abortion. His post provides the backstory; here's another brief response:

Professor van der Breggen, 

Thank you for your response

In very brief reply, let me respond to three things.

1. Analogies

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.
If the violinist case is an analogy, then these other cases from Thomson are also analogies.

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.

3. Risk

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.

Thank you!