About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Okay, let’s talk about abortion

Judith Thomson
by Massimo Pigliucci

PZ Myers is not exactly known for the timidity of his statements (or for the mildness of his tone when he disagrees with someone, even a fellow atheist). On August 1st he posted a brief statement on his blog, presumably as a commentary on the recent Republican-led charade concerning a proposed ban on all abortions after 20 weeks in Washington, DC . (The ban was voted favorably by a majority in the House, but since Republicans themselves invoked a ⅔ majority rule, it didn’t pass. Considering that they knew this would happen, one has to deduce that the whole thing is a naked example of how bent on scoring political points they really are rather than getting anything done. But I digress.)

PZ’s statement, in its entirety reads thus: “We can make all the philosophical and scientific arguments that anyone might want, but ultimately what it all reduces to is a simple question: do women have autonomous control of their bodies or not? Even if I thought embryos were conscious, aware beings writing poetry in the womb (I don’t, and they’re not), I’d have to bow out of any say in the decision the woman bearing responsibility has to make.”

As it turns out, PZ could (should?) have helped himself to philosophy to make his point, rather than putting out a simple summary of his opinion, as respectable as the latter may be. Indeed, the most widely reprinted paper in contemporary philosophy is “A Defense of Abortion,” by Judith Jarvis Thomson, originally published in 1971, and still widely discussed in moral philosophy. It would have provided PZ with an impressive arsenal of arguments to back his, um, hunch?

Thomson’s paper is based on a series of provocative thought experiments, a standard tool of philosophical (and scientific) investigation. One of them is remarkably similar to the situation envisaged by PZ, but significantly more conducive to reflection. Thomson famously imagined a woman who wakes up one day to find a famous violinist attached to her body. It turns out that she had been kidnapped by the Society of Music Lovers, who couldn’t think of any other way to save the violinist, whose kidneys are rapidly failing. The violinist will need nine months in this state to recover, after which the two could part ways. Does the woman have a moral obligation to keep the violinist connected to her body?

No, she does not, argues Thomson, because the violinist’s right to life does not override the woman’s right to her body. It may be nice of the woman if she let the violinist use her body, but she has no obligation to do so. The basic concept, in analogy with a fetus, is that abortion does not violate the fetus' (or the violinist's) right to life (which they do have, according to Thomson), but rather denies them access to a particular resource (the woman’s body), which takes moral precedence.

Of course, there are critical responses to Thomson’s various thought experiments, beginning with the violinist one. Clearly, the situation is disanalogous with that of most pregnancies (except, say, with cases of rape), because the woman typically chooses to have intercourse voluntarily (this is the “tacit consent” objection) and therefore is responsible for the fetus’ wellbeing (the “responsibility” objection).

Thomson anticipated some of these counter-arguments, introducing a second thought experiment, concerning imaginary “people-seeds.” Consider a scenario in which seeds that can germinate into people drift in the air. You know this, but do not want any of them to take root in your apartment. So you take all necessary precautions, like installing mesh screens in front of your windows. But accidents happen, and one of your screens turns out to have a small opening, through which a people-seed comes in and takes root. Are you therefore obliged to keep him in your house and feed him? No, says Thomson, precisely because you took all reasonable precautions to avoid that outcome, just like a woman who has voluntary intercourse and uses appropriate contraceptives, may nevertheless face the possibility of an accidental pregnancy.

Thomson defends a very limited understanding of legal (though not necessarily moral) responsibility even with respect to other adults. Another of her thought experiments involves a situation in which she is dying and only the cool touch of Henry Fonda’s hand (hey, this was in the ‘70s!) could cure her. Should we require Fonda to fly all the way from the West coast to save her? No, though it would be mighty kind of him to do so. Indeed, Thomson claims that there ought to be no legal requirements place on Fonda even if he happened to cross the hall of the hospital in which she lay dying, though in that case his refusal to intervene would be morally horrific.

There is a point pertinent to abortion too in the Henry Fonda thought experiment, and that is that a woman — according to Thomson — should not be barred from undergoing the procedure even if her reason for having the abortion is as trivial as not missing a scheduled vacation, and the pregnancy is in its eighth month. Again, Thomson does say that such a woman would engage in a morally repellent conduct, but there is a difference between morality and law, as she explicitly remarks when she says that the United States has no “good samaritan” laws on the books — i.e., no laws that punish omitting to help others under certain circumstances. (I checked, and the US does, at least now, have a number of such laws, as do pretty much all other Western countries. Interestingly, however: “Laws in North America mainly shield from liability those who choose to help in a situation they did not cause; laws in much of Europe and other countries criminalize failure to help in such a situation.”)

There are a number of other objections and counter-objections to Thomson’s paper that have been proposed in the philosophical literature. For instance, the violinist thought experiment may not be a good analogy with abortion because it concerns a stranger, not one’s own offspring. At least from the point of view of virtue ethics, there is a difference there. The “natural-artificial” objection says that the violinist situation is artificial, while pregnancy is natural. The obvious counter to that is that it commits the naturalistic fallacy. The “different burdens” objection states that the burden of supporting the violinist is much bigger than that of carrying out a pregnancy, which means that it is (more?) morally acceptable to unplug the violinist than to abort the fetus. And then there is famous utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer — advocate of animal welfare and of infanticide (in the case of severely disabled babies in excruciating pain and with a short expected life span) who actually bites Thomson’s bullet and says that the woman has a moral duty to stick with the violinist for the whole nine months, because by utilitarian calculus the total {happiness - pain} equation will be more positive in that case than if the violinist is left to die.

The point that I hope has become clear throughout this brief tour into Thomson’s famous paper is that — contra PZ — one does need arguments and/or evidence for any rational position, no matter how “obvious” such position may seem at first glance. Otherwise one takes himself de facto out of the community of reason. In this instance, a bit more philosophical reading would have done PZ a world of good. Moreover, the debate is far from simple and obvious, as shown by the number of thoughtful papers written in response or support of Thomson’s ideas. Most of these papers have been written by professional moral philosophers, not fundamentalist cranks. And many of the objections come from authors who are also pro-choice, just like Thomson, PZ and myself. We should always remember the words of that quintessential skeptic, H.L. Menken: “For every problem there is a solution which is simple, clean and wrong.” We just need to reflect on it to make sure we are less likely to be wrong.


  1. I really need to read Thomson's, A Defense of Abortion. Those thought-experiments are interesting but seem very, very weak and silly to me. A child depends on her mother in the womb differently than would a violinist in this example, would she not? Why does a right to life not override a right to one's own body? I think most people would recognize that the kind thing to do (and the act which would be considered moral) would be for the woman to allow the violinist to live attached to the her body despite the discomfort which may follow from it. I suppose the only way around this would be to deny that we have any moral obligations to others. But if we're willing to go that far, why couldn't we flip it around and ask, "If we have no moral duties, of what wrongdoing is the violinist guilty?". Idk, just my two cents.

    1. philo,

      well, you may want to read her full paper, the sketch of the thoughts experiments I gave is necessarily limited. Also, keep in mind that most thought experiment sound silly (even some of those used in science: can you imagine Einstein riding a light wave and looking at another wave nearby?), but they are meant to draw out the analogies and disanalogies with the cases under discussion, to see where we really think the problem lies or doesn't.

      For instance, you say that the difference between the violinist's situation and a fetus may invalidate the thought experiment, but Thomson would ask you why are those differences morally significant?

      As for the balance between right to life and right to one's own body, good question, I don't really have an easy answer. But I'm sure PZ does...

    2. Massimo what do you think of Boonin's Toxic waste analogy?

    3. Simon,

      > the People Seed argument is hardly analogous we aren’t unthinking spawning corals. <

      Actually, that's why the analogy works. A fertilized zygote, and even a fetus up to a certain point, is really not that different from a spawning coral... The point is that a mishap with a contraceptive, despite one's best intensions, does not morally oblige one to carry the pregnancy to term.

      As for Boonin's argument, I assume you are referring to his discussion of a hypothetical case of toxic waste in his book Should Race Matter? But I'm not sure I get the analogy with the discussion at hand, could you elaborate?

    4. Massimo, I was thinking more along the lines of species that purposely take care of their young as opposed to those who abandon.You might counter this is purely instinct or biology but I would then ask what is the reason many people think a parent is morally responsible for postpartum non person offspring?

      Often people might answer that these immature humans have moral value and since the parents created these lives they are responsible for their care. In other words they created the existential dependency.

      I would again ask do you think this applies to the babies created in the machine when all available precautions were taken?

    5. Massimo Boonin argued that even though we place a great importance on bodily autonomy, in principle we could owe bodily compensation -in some cases- for harms that cause existential dependency. The tenant caused the existential dependency and the only compensation applicable is his organ. But IMO in the end he could argue this because he thinks a foetus isn't harmed by termination so abortion would still be an option.

      It has been a few years since our correspondence but he also argues the woman doesn't cause the dependency rather it is biology. But that to me is like saying if i kidnap someone and i don't feed them and they die, biology caused the death not me.

    6. BTW in the People Seeds analogy, aren't the seeds essentially strangers so just as we aren't obliged to care for others we aren't here as well? So again I hardly see this as analogous.

      Make the owners of the house the parents of the seeds.
      Or try the same argument with a dozen of their infant offspring crawling around outside and one gets in. Are you going to say she has no moral responsibility for these offspring because its unreasonable to hold her accountable when the precautions she took weren't 100% secure?

    7. Massimo A quick thought experiment based on the Twilight Zone Button Button episode.

      If you could get $1000 by pushing a button but there's a chance -similar to pregnancy- that a preemie baby would die, would you push it?

      Of course not.

      What if the you push the button and there is a chance -similar the violinist- a late term preemie would appear inside yourself and would be sustained by your body.

      Are you now going to say yes its morally permissible to do this?

      Would that change if the preemie baby didn't exist but would be created in my stem cell machine?

      Can you now use bodily autonomy justifications to take the preemie babies life?

      Ok now off to bed

  2. PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, & Lawrence Krauss have an embarrassing habit of seeing themselves above philosophical discourse whilst all too frequently participating in (often poor) philosophical reasoning.

  3. "Otherwise one takes himself de facto out of the community of reason."

    Which is PZ's right. He can make irrational political decisions based on hunches if he wishes. And the political is what is missing from your discussion. The issue is what laws should we adopt to regulate abortion. Are you saying that everyone should only use rational arguments to persuade other people to adopt their position? Besides being impossible and unwise, it doesn't work. If you haven't figured out by now that rational discourse is not going to solve the abortion debate, then you really are the caricature of a pie-in-the-sky philosopher.

    Another political angle, it seems the seminal paper deals with what should the woman do - what is the most moral decision. However, the issue is whether PZ should have a say in that decision. He says no on the simple grounds of avoiding coercion. Do you have a rational philosophical discourse that would object to that position?

    1. Mark,

      I submit that snarky comments about pie-in-the-sky philosophers do not advance rational discourse, though they may be good emotionally.

      To the substantive parts of your comment: yes, PZ (or anyone else) has the right to say whatever he wants, for whatever reason, with or without advancing arguments. But when he does so on a blog allegedly devoted to science and reason he undermines his own credibility.

      Yes, the issue is partially legal, but I am not a legal scholar, I am a philosopher, hence the scope of my comments. Moreover, surely our legal discourse ought to be informed by our ethical positions, yes?

      Finally, I understand perfectly well that abortion is a topic fraught with emotional responses, I have been personally close enough to one such situation to have it witnessed firsthand. Still, unless we want to revert to a relativistic "it has to be this way because I feel that way" in our society, we need to inject reason into the debate as much as possible. Even the most fundamentalist Christian will attempt to give you "scientific" or "ethical" reasons for his position, and certainly legislators will.

    2. I don't agree PZ is undermining his credibility. He's expressing his personal political view. That should be able to be separated from his scientific and rationality views. Indeed, this political view should be able to be separated from his other political views, e.g. gay rights.

      Legal as in laws that are passed by legislatures, i.e. politics. Which is obviously informed by ethics, but reasonable people can differ on a tough ethical question, right? Philosophy may hone your arguments, that's great. But politics gets the final word. (well, the courts do, but you know what I mean)

      Your last two sentences are the crux of our differences. We can't revert to a relativistic personal opinion because one individual doesn't get to decide the matter. One person's opinion is just that, one person's opinion. Put all the opinions together: the rational, irrational, bat sh*t crazy, and philosophical, and you get the result. Saying we need to inject reason into the debate is a goal - and one that I share - in order to get your preferred outcome. Other people get to ignore your goals or actively oppose them.

      I guess I should say that these comments apply to immediate concerns, and the abortion debate will probably remain in the immediate political moment for a long time. In the medium (before we die) and the long run (after), it is possible for reason to influence the background conditions where political battles take place. In fact, I think you would agree that reason in public debate has increased in the West since the Enlightenment. That's good. But your last point seems to me to be trying to get an "is" from an "ought," if that makes any sense to you.

    3. Mark,

      we don't really seem to disagree much, but my last comment was not an instance of the naturalistic fallacy, I hope. All I meant is that our ethical opinions should be informed by the best science. If someone thinks, for instance, that abortion is permissible only before the point at which fetuses begin to feel pain, that person better take into consideration what neurobiology tells us about that matter. But neurobiology does not determine the ethical position itself, obviously.

    4. The traditional common law approach is to define a "life in being" as one that is capable of living separated from the mother. The definition will differ in different places and might change over time, but the above is fairly scientific and pragmatic, and not particularly spiritual or abstract. In law, you can't even compel someone to perform personal services (only damages, you can't force anyone) and I don't see any future in compelling a woman to continue to bear a child until it can be delivered in some way alive. The debate is cornered by the reasoning underlying those realities, rather than personal emotional attachment to a point of view.

    5. I meant the reverse of the naturalistic fallacy, like I said, if that makes sense. No, we're not far apart. Still worth discussing of course. How's your study of economics coming?

    6. Mark,

      I'm not sure what a reverse naturalistic fallacy would be, or how I committed it. Could you elaborate?

    7. You seem to be saying that things are as they ought to be:

      "Still, unless we want to revert to a relativistic "it has to be this way because I feel that way" in our society, we need to inject reason into the debate as much as possible. Even the most fundamentalist Christian will attempt to give you "scientific" or "ethical" reasons for his position, and certainly legislators will."

      I take that as "reason ought to be a large part of public policy debates and it actually is." I tried to hedge this idea earlier, and if you deny that has any bearing on your argument, then so be it.

    8. Mark,

      I'm not sure I get your point. I made that comment to highlight the fact that, contra PZ, one does need reasons to defend his positions on abortion, and that even legislators who otherwise have no trouble sanctimoniously appealing to god understand that. What exactly am I denying?

    9. One doesn't need rational reasons to justify one's political positions. And rational reasons rarely persuade opponents to change their mind (with the caveat of polling to professional politicians). I fully support PZ's right to hold whatever position he wants for whatever reason. And not just support in the freedom of conscience sense, but I wouldn't criticize him for making judgments that are based in emotions.

      I'm influenced in this position by the research that shows we are emotional decision makers, with rational justifications made after the fact. This doesn't mean I am fatalistic about political persuasion, but that appeals have to have an emotional grounding. The evangelical legislator is concocting a rational excuse so it doesn't appear he is blatantly appealing to religious authority: that is still not kosher in politics (outside the bible belt). Criticizing his rational reasons won't do a damn bit of good. He'll just create another rational excuse to fall back on if the going gets tough. His decision has been made emotionally. Unless arguments address that level, they will always fail.

      I guess I'm talking about a political philosophy (if I may use that term) that George Lakoff talks about. As I'm a liberal, Hard Leftist variety, Lakoff suggests grounding arguments in the nurturing ethos. I recently heard James Croft talk about Robert Ingersoll and the founder of Ethical Culture Society - Adler. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwjQADjsyvE (I think he mentions Haidt as well - I agree with you I'm not a fan)Check it out.

    10. Mark,

      > I fully support PZ's right to hold whatever position he wants for whatever reason. <

      This has nothing whatsoever to do with talk of "rights," which are too often thrown around even when nobody is challenging them. I am not questioning PZ's right to say whate he wants for whatever reason or even no reason at all. I am questioning whether someone who presents himself as a defender of science and rationality shouldn't be more careful about providing reasons for his opinions. That's all.

    11. I disagree. PZ shouldn't have to be more careful than he was about this political opinion.

      Uh oh: Dawkins calls PZ a "moral philosopher" rdfrs.com/foundation_articles/2012/8/8/it-s-what-moral-philosophers-do

  4. A related point, raised in the video on PZ Myers site is that wome has the absoute right of their body. The question is, does this right always trump every other right? If we agree that at some point the fetus is alive and at least close to be a human being, does he or she have any rights? Is there really a difference between a baby that was just born to one that is due to be born tomorrow?

    And another issue, not usually mentioned in these discussions is the role of the father. Do they have any say in what the women should do? Most people will agree that if a woman decides to give birth to a baby despite the dad objecting it, he should still give her child support, but what about the opposite? why is it that most will not accept that if he wants a baby and the woman wants to abort him/her, she has the absolute control on that decision?

    1. You forget that it's not legal to abort one day before birth (typical anti-choice straw argument). 99% of abortions occur before 12 weeks' gestation.

      The bottom line is that the woman quite literally risks her health and even life in pregnancy. No random man should be able to force a woman to risk her life for his pleasure, any more than a woman should force a man to risk his life.

  5. Presumably other species such as cows, who are not held to have any right to life (only a right to be protected, in a few circumstances, from actual cruelty)cannot hope to enjoy any rights at all over their own (?) bodies - hence the totally legal process of impregnating them every year to produce a surplus (they're essentially by-products for dairy farmers) offspring who also has no right to life, of course. And so the long day wears on....

  6. Why is that liberals get to use a presupposition of property rights when it suits them but get to throw it out as well?
    Thomsons ideas and thought experiments completely rest on the idea of property rights (ie. we own our bodies). Yet I have no doubt she would throw the idea of self ownership out the minute taxation or any other subject came up.

  7. You "own" your own body because nobody else can operate its functions. But I can operate the functions of your property quite well, and without the cooperative protection of your community, can come over there and remove you from the premises.

    1. Couldn't have said it better myself...

    2. Roy & M,
      So if I can protect my property without assistance from the "community" does it now become mine?
      Seems to me that saying the reason for self ownership of my body is because it is my brain that is wired to my functional parts is a bit absurd.
      By this definition, if I got an artificial heart than ran off a computer chip, it would now be communal property?

      I am curious why abortion is not defined as murder. Her argument rests on property rights. This argument comes from Walter Blocks "evacuation" argument. (which I do not agree with). I believe Blocks paper on evacuation rights superceeds her paper. Which basically saya we do not have a right to murder a fetus, but because it's her body, she has a right to her property and can make anyone leave her property. This is actually originally a libertarian argument (one I do not happen to agree with). It would be no different than saying we can evacuate a child from our home because we own the home.
      I am curious which paper came out first (will look it up) because they have the same thought experiments.

    3. "So if I can protect my property without assistance from the "community" does it now become mine?"
      Sure, but so far no humans that are in any way supported by society have been able to protect their property or themselves without that very support.

    4. BTW Roy,
      By your own definition, I do indeed own my labor because only i can make my labor, but once I exchange that labor for property, because only the community can protect my property, it now becomes theirs (or everyone's). This is absurd.

      It amazes me how one can borrow presuppositions when it is convienent for a subject like abortion, but then get to leave those suppositions when convienent as well.
      At least be consistent.
      My reasoning for not being pro choice is due to the non aggression axiom, which doesn't superceeds property rights, but you don't get to invite a life into your property with the intent that you will remove them into death.

    5. It's absurd that you should think that the exchange of your labor for property automatically protected that property from the unkindness of acquisitive strangers.

    6. No one is saying that my property is automatically protected from unkindly strangers. There are plenty of ways I can protect my property without communal efforts. I can buy security, insurance, etc..
      By your definition I must have it stolen by the very people that supposedly protect it. Once it is property, it's no longer mine, because others protect it. So I must forfeit my right to my property so I can not have it stolen. It's an obvious oxymoron. Everyone owns my property because everyone protects it from theft. So it's not really mine, but somehow that is community protecting mine?
      I don't mean to hijack thus thread for property rights over abortion, but her very argument is based from property rights. It's just one of many miles of the liberals inconsistent arguments.

    7. Jim, do you really not see a sense in which your body belongs to your mind in some sense more than any other piece of property? I'll have to go back and read what she wrote, but I think it is perfectly possible to invoke a right to control your body, without automatically extending that to all other potential property you could maintain the legal fiction of "owning."

    8. By "my definition" that you pretended was mine? By my definition, your property is yours to use, but there's no place in the civilized world where you own it in perpetuity without the necessity of paying one way or another for protection of your right to use it. Absolute ownership of anything is a myth.

    9. Bubba,
      I'm perfectly fine with ownership of our bodies, I just do apply it onward to labor, exchange and property. I have yet to see an explaination of why this is not perfectly logical. It's always illogical fallacies like Roy's.

      Just because someone pays for protectionp does not mean it is the protection that gave me the "right" to own it. In fact it would logically be the other way around.
      Absolute property is a myth? That may be the reality because the entire world lives under a state, but that does not make it logically right or moral that theft is inherent in most or all societies.

    10. @Jim,
      "Just because someone pays for protectionp does not mean it is the protection that gave me the "right" to own it. In fact it would logically be the other way around."
      So if you didn't pay for protection, you'd have no right to own the property? That's also logical by inference, since logic us not simply deductive. Protection covers all the services that living in a society grants the so-called property owner, especially when others in that society may well own nothing because they have no means to pay. Which (unless you're on a desert island) is the society you've chosen to have property in that you somehow believe is absolutely your paid up right to have. And yet you've never been able explain where that right comes from, if not from the cooperative agreements with your fellow men that those very rights you've paid them for are limited.

  8. It seems to me that the central question is, when do any of us have the right to kill our children? The subquestion being, when do our children actually become our children? And the next subquestion being, etc., etc., etc.

    1. Roy, it is illegal to kill children. Fetuses are not children; they might (key MIGHT) one day BECOME children, but they are no more children than cherry blossoms are pies.

    2. At what point does the fetus become a child? Is there really a moral difference between a 39-week fetus and a newborn? How does my son, who was born at 32 weeks, fit into your story?

    3. Actually in China, under the one child policies, late term abortions were sometimes forced on women who otherwise had refused to have one. So the question of when a fetus becomes a child is not a settled one, regardless of what cb79 seems to think makes them equivalent to pies.
      But then again he/she would approve of the Chinese killing of the late term fetus as legal.

    4. Roy rather the basic question is when if ever, do we have a right to kill our offspring when we have chosen actions that directly caused their existence?

      If we are morally responsible for their general welfare after birth -because we created these existentially dependent offspring- why should the fact that we effectively caused that dependency by 'placing' the entity inside another being with bodily autonomy justify killing that being?

    5. I suspect we always have that option when, for example, to let a seriously and painfully deformed fetus/child live for religious principles would be cruelty in the service of an evil God.

      And the second part of your question makes no sense.

    6. It is generally accepted that parents are responsible for the welfare of their children when they exist outside the body, so why should that change when its inside the body?

      If you are responsible for your postpartum offspring because of reasons of existential dependency, why should that be different before birth?

      The violinist analogy only applies to rape & IMO the People Seed analogy is disanalogous.

    7. That gets back to the initial question as to when, according to your laws and cultures, they are considered to have actually become viable children.

      And your responsibilities after birth will always depend on what you did and were responsible for before that birth.

    8. Roy, you can't argue the topic on its own merits. So, what you're saying in the China argument is that it is (I'll type in caps so you can grasp it) WRONG FOR OTHER PEOPLE TO FORCE THEIR DECISIONS ON A WOMAN'S BODY. You can grasp that, so why are you eager to force women to continue a pregnancy against their will?

    9. Must be because I ate too much cherry blossom pie.

    10. If it cannot be delivered alive, it is not yet a person (a single living entity).

  9. Roy, I have foolishly tried to discuss that point concerning late-term abortions. I've studied the brain and the philosophy of mind for a few years, and so I tend to think that the fetus may gain some measure of social consideration (consideration other than by its mother) before cutting the cord.

    This seems to be a case where even discussing the issue with any detachment means that you have given the opposition too much credit and you will lose. And I'm not even the opposition.

    1. You do realize that late-term abortion is only done when the life or health of the woman is at stake, or when the fetus is so badly damaged that a live birth is highly unlikely. You can't be one of the naive gullible fools who think women wake up 9 months into the pregnancy and think, "Hmm...should I get a manicure or an abortion?"

  10. Curious that no one has injected the issue of when a zygote/embryo/fetus becomes a "person." As I recall (it's been years) Thompson's article explicitly ASSUMES (for purposes of argument) that it is a person from conception; but of course that's very debatable, as she well knew. Her main point was, even IF the developing "conceptus" is a person from the very beginning, the pregnant woman's right to her body takes precedence over other considerations.

    My own view is that "personhood" develops over the course of pregnancy, and abortion becomes a morally more serious choice as pregnancy advances - but overall, Thompson is right about the woman's right to decisions about her body. She may make a bad decision, but that's her right, and nobody else's business.

    1. If a new born isn't technically a person I fail to see how this stands up at all.

    2. Simon,
      By what definition is a fetus not a person?
      Does it become human at birth.
      The reason she assumes that conception is the moment a human being is formed is because there can be no logical definitions as to when the cells become human. It is a developmental continueation from 2 cells to man or womanhood. There is no magic moment when sentience arises. There is no magic moment when fetus changes to child. It is human from the moment of conception.
      Otherwise you hold the burden of an logical definition to explain when human life begins other than conception. This debate has been around long enough where I think we can agree there is none.
      I think the only logical way to approach "when does one become human" is to use conception.
      This is an event that one can logically say human life begins.
      Destroying a human life intentionally by definition should be murder. Unless it is self defense or other. This way one can logically argue abortion is moral if the mothers health is at steak. But using the property rights argument that she uses doesn't really hold weight. By this logic, a mother should be able to remove her child from her home, even if it means certain death.
      Her argument is not that a mother can murder her fetus. It is that a mother has the right to her body and can evacuate a fetus. It just do happens this means certain death. This is the crux of her argument. It is one of property, not trying to decern when life begins.

    3. Jim I do think a feotus is a person and one need not have a active capacity to be classified as such. I justify this on telenomical and self assembly grounds. Having said that IMO we aren't ontologically speaking persons.

      Also I've never thought much of the accounts that rely on arbitrary relational valuing. Or that a nearly completed sculpture maybe be nearer to completion and thus gain more value. But if moral value is being so strongly based on being a person and their desires for future existence then being close to being a person just doesn't count.

      its 3.30am and time for bed

  11. I asked, "when do our children actually become our children?" And if the society decides that children shall not be arbitrarily killed by anyone, then a woman in that society will not have been granted that society's "right" to kill the child in her womb. And if that society decides that the zygote/embryo/fetus is a child, then she kills it at her own risk, but not by any social right to do so. (And all rights are social rights, no? - unless you claim some universally given rights that the rest of us don't grant you.)

    1. Roy it sounds like you believe a 64-cell ball of undifferentiated cells is equal to an actual human being. Or are you just furious that women are seen as actual human beings and not just incubators on legs?

  12. Massimo the People Seed argument is hardly analogous we aren’t unthinking spawning corals. Say someone had a super version of Tooley’s machine in the garage to create stems cells from their sperm and eggs, the fail-safe’s aren’t 100% so unless you watch it 24/7 next morning you have babies in the machine. You take all the necessary precautions, check the machine but still go to bed hoping your precautions are enough, but as fate has it you end up with non person offspring in the machine that now needs care.

    Are you telling me the people seed analogy argues you have no duty of care/responsibility for these offspring?

    As the Post Birth Abortion paper points out in general, even with the violinist and people seed analogies you get into a can of worms using personhood and bodily autonomy to justify abortions.

    One could certainly use arguments based on David Boonin’s toxic waste analogy but at least from my POV even then unless you then grant a general case for bodily compensation in law, it isn’t a slam dunk for Pro-Life

    1. Clarification while the post birth abortion papers is dealing with infanticide it does in a wider context question the validity of the usual abortion justifications if you still maintain infanticide for similar reasons is still wrong.

  13. massimo since you are such a star wanker

    search "rationally speaking" on ytube

    also "julia galef"

  14. I've never found the bodily autonomy argument to be the best defense of abortion.

    A much better defense is to make the point that early stage abortions are not situations in which any conscious being exists, and thus nobody could suffer. Absent the possibility of suffering, there doesn't seem to be any particularly good reason to regard an early abortion as any more morally controversial than getting your tonsils removed. As far as late stage abortions, even then the argument can be made that the fetus lacks moral value, or at least has substantially less than an adult person.

    Finally, there are utility considerations for the net effect of prohibitions and allowances for abortion. Even if on an individual basis, each abortion involved some suffering for a fetus that outweighed the suffering the mother would have as a direct result of not getting the abortion, if women were, on a societal level, thwarted in obtaining abortions society itself could be worse overall.

    Lastly, even if I were going to make a bodily autonomy argument, I wouldn't appeal to it as some sort of right, or otherwise appeal to any sort of deontological thinking, I'd just argue that granting robust legal rights to bodily autonomy serves as a very good heuristic in general, even if it led to some less than desirable instances. Though, this is really just another way of phrasing my last point.

    I regard consequentialist thinking on the matter as a far better way to defend abortion, and while these easy appeals to our intuitions and notions of rights accord well with some of our initial moral sentiments, they don't seem to me to hold up to scrutiny. One reason, at least, to think that consequentialism is on more solid footing can be based on what you might call the "Future Neuroscience Argument":

    Suppose in the future we have a sufficiently advanced understanding of the brain and of consciousness that we are about as certain as we are of anything in science that from the moment of conception, an embryo is fully capable of the entire suite of human emotions and that any damage inflicted on it resulted in the same suffering that would be inflicted on you if someone were aborting you as an adult.

    IF this were the case, there should be good reason to respond the destruction of an embryo with the same emotional reaction we'd have to an act of infanticide: absolute repugnance. Whatever intuitions behind the conclusions to Thomson's thought experiments should either also apply to infanticide, or be challenged as inconsistent.

    Consciousness matters here, and I suspect some of what underwrites intuitions in favor of abortion is the lack of emotional salience discussion of destroying embryos or fetuses has. It just doesn't strike us in the same way "killing a baby" does. To some extent, this is probably for good reason: I'm very doubtful embryos suffer the way a baby is more likely to. Fetuses I'm a little less sure of. But like Singer, I think it's even possible that the sort of conscious experiences which we'd regard, on reflection, as being especially morally valuable might not even exist for infants, and that even infanticide may be morally acceptable. The point is, my attitude on abortion is contingent upon consciousness and suffering, and to the extent that people don't take these factors into consideration, and think property rights, autonomy, and rights-based conceptions that ignore suffering or children as rights-holders with relevant claims against mothers, there is something deeply deficient in their ethical views.

    1. Lance you could hardly say the "I was never a fetus' argument -& related issues- aren't without their problems either. Even Singer admits a coma victim with complete amnesia would have a weak 'right' to life.

      Not to forget by many accounts a baby isn't a person either and one could argue as long as it is killed humanely issues of suffering don't arise. So why should just bare consciousness or sentience matter for human non person animals and not others?

    2. Simon, can you elaborate on the first points you make, regarding the "I was never a fetus" argument and Singer's attitude about amnesics? I'd likely only be for the sorts of 'rights' that aren't actually backed by genuine deontological considerations, but are just something like rules/heuristics that society is better off for adopting. In other words, I don't think an amnesic has an actual "right" to anything, because I reject "rights" talk as having the sort of substance many people appeal to in their intuitions - as some sort of universal moral truths, or some such rubbish. If denying people a "right"

      Regarding the second question, again, it really does matter to me whether an infant, or any human whose brain is sufficiently different from the norm for adults like you and I that there is a significant possibility, pending future clarification on the question of cosnciousness, is actually conscious or not. It's not out of the question to me that an infant just doesn't have the type of consciousness that I would assign any, or as much, moral value to. Like Singer, I'm not necessarily absolutely against any and all forms of infanticide.

      Depending on what you mean by "bare" consciousness/sentience, it may not really matter to me much, and I'd argue that perhaps it shouldn't to others, either. I don't privilege humans over nonhumans, and I'm currently inclined to think an adult chimpanzee should be accorded more moral consideration than fetuses.

    3. Lance I took your post more along the lines that ontologically no one is there to suffer -which some philosophers make as there are no chains of psychological connectivity so no individual person there to kill- but looking at it again you probably mean there just isn't any suffering???

      Singer focusing his accounts on interests, needs current or previous interests to sustain a grounds for continued life; but a coma victim with complete amnesia doesn't have these, so he has in fact bitten the bullet and grant in this case, such an individual has weak grounds for continued life. Not to forget he doesn't use 'rights' either.

      Lance I'm arguing mainly for consistent application of the moral rules used by the main camps in the debate so if you don't strictly use personhood justifications of course this doesn't apply to you.

      I would then be interested to know what ontological stance you take and what rules/heuristics derived from this to ground societal moral order and existential concerns?

      If suffering seems to be your main concern babies can be humanely terminated and one could argue as long as the culture go along with it there would be no secondary suffering from outsiders making it in general ok.

    4. @simon, "If suffering seems to be your main concern babies can be humanely terminated and one could argue as long as the culture go along with it there would be no secondary suffering from outsiders making it in general ok."
      There is always one person that may never forget the suffering of the loss, and that's the mother. She's lost a part of her own potential future, and if emotionally and instinctively normal, won't easily forget it. This applies to some fathers as well. It's a burden to the more intelligent of any of us.

    5. @ Roy what is 'normal'? Morally sincere and intelligent people did things many now think are obviously wrong. That's the thing about socialization and presentism combined with personal and cultural biases you can never really know you you are under one as well.

      We think our fathers fools, so wise we grow. Our wiser sons, no doubt will think us so. ~Alexander Pope

      Historically: We think our ancestors fools, so wise we grow. Our wiser descendants, no doubt will think us so. Me

    6. What is normal, as I indicated, are the instincts most mothers have in common, regardless of their cultures. And that is is to protect their unborn children, who to them, and again instinctively, are children from conception.
      And all our cultures are adjuncts to our instincts as "human" animals. Making mistakes is a necessity for evolving. But protecting our potential heirs is a greater necessity. At least for the females who for all intents and purposes make the children from themselves.

    7. Someone will now counter that it's mainly the mothers that choose to have those abortions, so how does that fit with normal. It doesn't, since life in our modern societies can get very far from the instinctively normal.

    8. Simon, I think you interpreted me correctly; I'm still not sure I'm understanding where you are wanting to take that first point though. Ethically speaking, I care only about happiness/suffering, and insofar as consciousness is a prerequisite for the capacity for either, is ethically relevant to that extent.

      I see no moral problem in terms of suffering inflicted on an embryo/fetus if it isn't capable of experiencing pain. What we do about people who are comatose, not currently unconscious, etc. all involve more complex ethical considerations but it's easy enough to say that a world in which you were permitted, legally, to murder people while they were under anesthetic would be a pretty terrible place, while a world in which women can get abortions isn't a bad place to be - in terms of the net impact these policies have on happiness and suffering.

      Personhood isn't a justification for me by itself. If there were conscious people who couldn't be happy or suffer, I wouldn't accord them any moral status. I'm not sure that's what you mean though. You may be asking me questions that assume foreknowledge I don't possess, so if you can be a little clearer on what you're asking it would help me to respond.

      Regarding your last paragraph, yes, I could be persuaded that pain-minimizing infanticide, even of conscious babies, could be morally justified in circumstances where the net effect on society wasn't worse (that is, if it didn't bother anyone, if the babies really were painlessly terminated, and if this actually made society better). I can even imagine a scenario where this is the case:

      Suppose there is a society where birth control is not available. They have limited resources, and can only sustain a population of 10,000 people. Every time excessive quantities of children are born, they have methods for painlessly killing the excess amount, so as to preserve the long term capacity for the society to flourish. Everyone in the society accepts this and does not find it morally or emotionally troublesome.

      Under these circumstances, it appears that not killing the babies would lead to resource strain that would cause harm, while killing them does not. So, not only would I not condemn the killing of infanticide here, I'd endorse it as a highly moral policy.

      Regarding that recent Rationally Speaking podcast, I suppose I have a penchant for "shock tactics", or views consistent with them, in light of this, but I see nothing obviously objectionable about my own view, and would be interested in the take others had on it.

    9. This comment has been removed by the author.

    10. Lance many people will claim in advance that such and such a change in social and moral law will be bad, but they often fail to appreciate socialization and that we often like the utility of such changes.

      Votes for women, mixed marriages, abortion or in vitro fertilisation all had claims that it would destroy or damage society but it didn't happen. Given the underlying justifications, the utility and the ability of society to adjust and benefit from such a change I see no reason why this couldn't be normalized in a similar way. I do remember one article where a Pro-Choice journalist thought it was the next logical step.

      In fact in a over populated and resource constrained world It could quite easily become the norm, but on the other hand from what I've seen the demographic changes the worlds getting more religious and conservative so I expect the reverse to happen.

      Again all I'm after is consistency which I think you have; I'm disappointed Massimo didn't clarify the problem he had with infanticide I just don't see consistency relying on personhood but then denying infanticide.

    11. Simon, you may be right that people could adjust, but I doubt it would work very well in this particular instance. The social changes that eventually took hold in our legal system and which moved from small, progressive circles to become the norm didn't appear out of the sky, nor were they able to be pushed through in controversial times without a substantial sector of the public supporting them. Black equality in 1850 would be unthinkable. Women's equality in 1750, likewise.

      In order to get, say, people in the US to be accepting of infanticide would require enormous paradigm shifts that we're not even close to achieving, and the impact of implementing policies that permitted such actions now would, I suspect, backfire in terrific ways. There isn't anywhere near that much public support for some of the notions Singer endorses as there were for black rights in the 1960's.

      Where I do see possibility for something like this shift, which I think is currently in the works, is in concern for animal welfare. There, I think, laws being foisted on a significant sector of dissenters might have a chance of sticking.

    12. I am much more strongly opposed to infanticide, just as I am to bush meat, and for the same reasons.

    13. Lance I think you are right in this instance from my POV it is the majority Liberal mindset -& I'm strongly left leaning-that has veered into a moral dead end due to identity politics and flawed ontology.

      I think history will look back at this as an example that Liberals' are human after all and have their own strong biases.

      Even if it comes down to two camps, innocent human life vs bodily autonomy, that prioritize differently, I don't see the moderate position favoring either, rather again, unless bodily compensation is granted as a viable legal option Pro-Choice would still get their abortions but they for non rape cases they would be treated as child destruction situations.

    14. The most compelling objection I face is very high uncertainty about which conscious states matter morally, and which organisms in varying developmental stages possess or don't possess morally relevant conscious faculties.

      Even if I were 99% sure fetuses/infants didn't have morally relevant conscious faculties (I'm not this sure at all, though), that 1% uncertainty leaves me very nervous about any policies that presumed it to be the case. You could face the nightmare scenario of getting society on board with infanticide only to discover you'd been inflicting massive amounts of suffering on a whole lot of people.

      Until issues in consciousness and ethics are more fully worked out, uncertainty about which things morally matter should lead to a very hefty dose of caution.

      That being said, I do not, in fact, endorse most forms of infanticide; the kind I currently do endorse is for premature or terminally ill babies that doctors decide to withdraw care to - I think it is more humane to euthanize a baby than to let it die slowly from lack of care. I've had people recoil in shock from even this pronouncement, when it seems to me they're advocating prolonged suffering for babies and I'm advocating mercy. I'm not inclined to view their notions as anything other than confused intuitions against killing amped up by the kneejerk repugnance at the notion that there are plausible instances in which killing a baby might be the morally best thing to do.

    15. But Lance ever notice that when the line is drawn in the sand it is by people who are already comfortable with who it excludes?

  15. Peter Singer doesn't think infanticide is altogether wrong, does he?

    1. No, but from what I've read he largely relies on the preferences of the parents not wanting to kill the child. Problem is other parents and cultures could have these preferences and Singer would have no way to object.

  16. I don't mean to be tendentious, but why is the debate exclusively about human females' right to own their own bodies? What about other mammals? After all they (we)'re all defined by their feeding behaviour towards their offspring.

  17. We haven't given other species full moral consideration yet, so that's not even an issue yet.

  18. Simon,

    > I was thinking more along the lines of species that purposely take care of their young as opposed to those who abandon.You might counter this is purely instinct or biology but I would then ask what is the reason many people think a parent is morally responsible for postpartum non person offspring? <

    Again, I'm not sure what you are getting at here. Parents have moral responsibilities toward their children (born and unborn) because they are their offspring. Animals do not have a similar moral responsibility because they are incapable of moral reflection. If you don't have that capability, then all you have is instinct. Humans, of course, have both.

    > Boonin argued that even though we place a great importance on bodily autonomy, in principle we could owe bodily compensation -in some cases- for harms that cause existential dependency. The tenant caused the existential dependency and the only compensation applicable is his organ. <

    I disagree, I think body autonomy is pretty much paramount, or we pretty soon start looking at an ugly world no different from the Babylonian principle of an eye for an eye.

    > he also argues the woman doesn't cause the dependency rather it is biology. <

    That seems a category mistake. Rather, the woman causes the dependency *through* biology.

    1. Massimo,
      >Parents have moral responsibilities toward their children (born and unborn) because they are their offspring.

      Is terminating the life of an prenatal offspring you don't want taking responsibility for it; or giving it the same consideration as the postpartum?

      As the Post Birth Abortion paper points out if you use similar justifications as with the prentals you have a hard time objecting to infanticide

      >I disagree, I think body autonomy is pretty much paramount, or we pretty soon start looking at an ugly world no different from the Babylonian principle of an eye for an eye.

      I can accept that stance, after all we don't legally or culturally accept bodily compensation, so unless we changed that your point stands. Nonetheless one could then have grounds for holding the woman accountable along the lines of child destruction laws.

      Lastly sorry to push you on it but could you give me your stance on the super stem cell machine counter to the People Seed analogy?

  19. I'm trying to organise some thought here for myself around the moral resonsibility that humans have for the reproductive processes over which they have assumed control for their own exploitative purposes - a tendency which has been in evidence towards the females of their (our) own species until quite recently. The late term foetuses harvested from the slaughterhouse floor for their byproducts (yes, they are) seem to receive zero concern - is this because no nonhuman has a right to life; because no new-born dependent is fully alive; because no nonhuman has rights over their own bodies, or what?

    1. I think simply no right to life. We have trouble getting other species with personhood capacities let alone others.

      Anyway off to bed

    2. Cavall, you have clearly been drinking the wingnut kool-aid if you believe fetuses are aborted late-term so their "byproducts" can be harvested. What "byproducts are these, exactly? You make a lot of scary-sounding statements, but then don't back them up with facts (because you have none, most likely).

  20. Just in case anyone's interested: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fetal_bovine_serum

  21. Simon,

    > What if the you push the button and there is a chance -similar the violinist- a late term preemie would appear inside yourself and would be sustained by your body. Are you now going to say yes its morally permissible to do this? <

    No, I don't think this would be ethical because in both cases you are gaining money from killing an individual. But I fail to see how these cases are relevant to Thomson's discussion, which is framed very differently.

    > Is terminating the life of an prenatal offspring you don't want taking responsibility for it; or giving it the same consideration as the postpartum? <

    I'm not sure I get the question. One doesn't take responsibility by killing one's offspring, obviously. But, again, that isn't the question. The issue is whether the right to life of the fetus (which Thomson acknowledges at the beginning) overrides the mother's right to control her body. Thomson argues that it doesn't, under all circumstances.

    > sorry to push you on it but could you give me your stance on the super stem cell machine counter to the People Seed analogy? <

    I find the stem cell machine analogy a bit deficient. Why not get four people to watch it in turn? At any rate, Thomson would still say that you don't have a moral duty to care for things that happened accidentally if you had taken reasonable steps to avoid it. The word "reasonable" here is crucial.

  22. Massimo
    >No, I don't think this would be ethical because in both cases you are gaining money from killing an individual. But I fail to see how these cases are relevant to Thomson's discussion, which is framed very differently.

    Does a temporary spurt of endorphins/pleasure through sex make it any better? If you think it is wrong to kill an individual for money how can it be any better when it is for sex? Also if bodily autonomy is such an important factor overriding an individual moral worth, what does it mater if it is money or just sex? Framed your way it seems to be your body your right.

    The button button works as it addresses peoples intuitions about the justifications used in abortion namely bodily autonomy and personhood. I used money but hey we can also use someone's fantasy sex partner. (I have an expanded version)

    If someone wont push the button when dealing terminating a individual with equal moral value, how can you then justify doing when you effectively place them in your body? It similar to a kidnapper justifying they had to kill the victim because they threatened his life and he had a right to self defense to do that.

    He took all the precautions, tied the victim up drugged them but they still got free. He shouldn't held account when he took precautions?

    1. So, you believe those horrible sluts should be PUNISHED for having the effrontery to have sex, is that it? Even though 99% of all abortions happen when the fetus is just an undifferentiated clump of cells, even if the woman got pregnant through rape or incest, even if the woman took every precaution to avoid getting pregnant, all you are capable of seeing is an EVUL SLUT WHORE who deserves your condemnation.

      Gee, I wonder how you feel about cancer patients.

    2. Straw man, try again.

      I allow abortions for rape and I'm very much Pro-Sex. Have as much sex as you want but require the man to get the 100% proof male contraceptive.

      But as a self assembling life form we are ontologically the same individual even when at a single cell stage.

      Not forgetting neonates aren't persons either so I suppose you are just punishing those 'sluts' who want post birth abortions.

  23. Massimo

    > One doesn't take responsibility by killing one's offspring, obviously.

    But that is what you are doing and saying.

    >But, again, that isn't the question. The issue is whether the right to life of the fetus (which Thomson acknowledges at the beginning) overrides the mother's right to control her body. Thomson argues that it doesn't, under all circumstances.

    Lets put it this way the right to life regarding self defense is pretty damn high in the scheme of things, yet we don't allow a kidnapper to use that defense to avoid negative consequences -even if he takes precautions- for his actions. Now one could grant in some respect the kidnapper would be justified in defending himself if the victim tries to kill him to escape but he would then be held responsible for initiating the situation. So again sure allow the abortion but then hold the mother accountable.

    1. You're making a false analogy in comparing a woman who's pregnant with a kidnapper. It's entirely possible to get pregnant even though every precaution was taken. Additionally, it's entirely possible to have a completely wanted pregnancy that goes horribly, terribly wrong and risks the woman's very life. You'd like to punish women for that? Says a lot about you.

      Interesting in your world only the woman is accountable, never the man. I guess you believe women get themselves pregnant?

    2. Exactly similar no but similar enough when considering the ramifications of creating a entity with moral value and placing it in existential dependency and taking an existing moral entity and placing it in existential dependency.

      Again I allow some abortions depending on the situation and whether that aligns with already accepted and morally consistent societal moral precepts. So if the pregnancy was wanted and it then got complications just as I wouldn't object. Just as if a woman was drowning with her child and decided to let it drown to save her own life.

      Lastly I'm very much for accountability if she is held accountable so would he and he would go to jail as an accessory to child destruction.

    3. It's a bit vacant to say so as I am not female, but I find it quite repugnant to think that someone would purport to control what is a part of my body, at least until it can be safely removed.

    4. Society does place limits with what we do and place in our bodies. & You don't have 100% control of what you do with your organs. Even Boonin' grants bodily compensation in principle aligns with accepted moral precepts.

    5. I'm not suggesting 100% control, just control. Let me put it this way, I have more control over my body than society does, and that would be sufficient for a woman to control their foetus. There is no way to intercede that integrity except by draconian measures. Morality would not permit it, so I'm not sure what precepts you would apply to justify that extreme intrusion.

  24. Massimo
    >I find the stem cell machine analogy a bit deficient. Why not get four people to watch it in turn? At any rate, Thomson would still say that you don't have a moral duty to care for things that happened accidentally if you had taken reasonable steps to avoid it. The word
    "reasonable" here is crucial.

    With due respect that is hardly charitable, could I attack the People Seed analogy by just saying they should make the house airtight and that's that?

    Considering we don't accept in many situations 'reasonable precautions' as justifications for avoiding negative consequences when we harm or make existentially dependent other equal moral beings, why should we here?

    Again OK unless society changes culturally -and views are changing in the US towards Pro_life- as to what could be 'culturally reasonable' I would still argue even if you don't owe bodily compensation there are strong reasons to treat this as a child destruction case on moral and legal precedents.

  25. Simon,

    I'm beginning to lose track of what the point of this discussion is. My original post aimed at presenting Thomson's ideas to show that - contra PZ - nothing is simple when it comes to abortion. Her people-seed thought experiment had, like all thought experiments, a specific and narrow point. If you stretch it beyond that point then things obviously break down. Specifically, the seed people are seeds when they come through the broken screen, just like a pregnancy starts with a zygote. We have no moral responsibility whatsoever to seeds or zygotes, because they are not persons. Now, if accidental pregnancies did result in a fully formed adult, sentient, conscious human being, then yes, I'm afraid we'd have to get into the business of being much, much more careful with contraceptive and sexual activity. Fortunately, they don't.

  26. Massimo simply putting it in the wider context of relevant factors that creates problems for the stance. Something the recent Post Birth Abortion paper highlights even for postpartum non person humans. If you strictly adhere to the personhood justification you face the problems raised in that paper.

    All I'm asking -& BTW I'm not Pro-Life- is consistency with already accepted moral precepts. & with all due respect, if for you personhood is such a crucial factor allow infanticide. Even Singer would have a hard time denying that preference if the parents or culture preferred it.

    Obviously yes abortion is problematic and yes we are getting away from the original point, but Thompson's ideas have never been the slam dunk arguments for non rape cases, that abortions supporters think they are.

    Maybe all males of reproductive age should be required to have 100% proof male contraceptive which have now been developed. If there is doubt wouldn't that be a better option?

    1. Simon,

      we don't live in a world of 100% certainties, and all things considered I really don't see a serious argument against early abortion if the parents do not want or are not ready for the eventual child. The personhood argument is good enough for me, and yes I am aware of the implications Singer draws from. About that: for one thing, in cases of extremely short expected life span accompanied by extremely high pain, he may be correct. Second, I am not a utilitarian, so utilitarian arguments have less force on me than they may have on others.

    2. It's impossible to control what another person does with their own body, as felt by them alone, if the new growth cannot yet be born alive. After then, you can say, hey don't do that, we can safely remove it alive. When they have that option, they might fairly be given some criminal responsibility.

    3. Paul unless bodily compensation becomes a general principle under the law I don't see think Pro-life can argue for forced 'occupation' and rather the best they can seek is criminal responsibility along the lines of child destruction laws.

    4. Criminal responsibility prior to sufficient growth for delivery, to sanction them during or after the abortion itself? If during, presumably by commitment to an institution for monitoring for self-harm, and if after, by whatever means.

      There's an interesting tension between the Pro-Life obligation to preserve life and the inability to control someone, so it may need to be like an asylum to satify their standards (or punishment afterwards otherwise).

      Personally it makes me dry retch to think of the asylum, and punishment is only marginally better, but I grant you that in a draconian society many means of control are possible. It won't happen in my lifetime.

  27. Massimo,

    just as a parting clarification; regarding personhood what are your thoughts on the Post Birth Abortion paper? If you are happy with relying on personhood, what would you say to a parent or another culture that also uses personhood but allows infanticide?

    1. I have problems with post birth "abortion," except in the kind of extreme cases depicted by Singer.

      I would tell that parent that there is something inherently wrong in his culture...

    2. But why? If personhood grounds moral value because of sophisticated future based desires for existence or something along those lines, these humans don't have them. Not to mention the vast utility benefit if we used them in a similar ways to stem cells, as long as they are treated humanely. Personally I don't see how Boonin's account works; we get consciousness and then existential desire potentiality matters but doesn't matter for early non conscious prenatals.Nor could you really claim a 'Life Like Ours' there is no chain of psychological connectivity.

  28. The ideas here seem to come down to foetus right to life v woman's right to control. What concerns me more than controlling the mother during or sanctioning her after abortion, is that possibility that a foetus can be a person. It may not be a person until it can live separated from its mother, but not only because it is necessary to be a single entity to be a person (although it might be necessary under common law) but because a foetus only feels its mother.

    Its mother is its entire world (give or take exposure to music and so on). Its not a thing with which the world has any familiarity and visa versa, as it is entirely enclosed away from the world. It grows apart from the mother daily, until it is apart from the mother and a part of the world. It may be more of a person daily until it becomes a person, but to the world it is an unknown and inaccessible object until delivered.

    I suppose society can make claims to support the potential of a foetus to become a person to which the world has claims by participation once it is delivered in the world. But it may be presumptuous for society to impose itself upon a thing with which it only has a potential relationship. The foetus would have no moral identity in society except as a fiction and in reliance on the continuation of a process where the foetus may leach off a mother if unwanted.

  29. Paul tell that to women who mourn a miscarriage not to mention one wonders why have child destruction laws at all.

  30. (1) Mourning a miscarriage? That's irrelevant as I am only talking about leaches, but of course mothers should mourn if the child has miscarried. Is this some kind of primitive empathy quiz like in Bladerunner? (2) Why have child destruction laws? Obviously because if a child can be delivered alive, the mother has an obligation to do that, otherwise she can abort. Very obvious Q & A to bring this otherwise interesting thread to a close.

  31. No simply stating the obvious point that one not need be a separate biological entity for a human to form a deep emotional relationship.

    Secondly given the lack of personhood capacities in late term fetuses, one can argue it is this deep and personal relationship that grounds the woman wanting the birth to continue. But on the other hand for those women who want late term or post birth 'abortions' these would equally be potential relationships.

    Anyway identity based on biological separateness and viability have obvious shortcomings, which your leech illustrates.

    Interesting point though that child destruction is only for late terms; I suppose its tough luck if the same happens to a woman that equally wants a baby but this happens early in the pregnancy.


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