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For me the answer to the question of whether abortion is right or wrong depends

For me the answer to the question of whether abortion is right or wrong depends on the ontological status of the fetus. Is a fetus the kind of being that has a right to live or is it not? I don't know. How on earth can I know that? If I knew then I wouldn't be an agnostic on this issue. Most people, if I am not mistaken, take it for granted that a new born baby has the kind of being that gives it the right to live. So what reason is there to think that a young baby has the kind of being that gives it the right to live? What about an older baby or an adult...if we can stretch this question to its limits.

Your questions raise a host of difficult issues. What gives anything a right to life? In other words, what in general (if anything) about an individual makes it morally wrong for others to end its life? I've never seen a satisfying answer to that basic question. Does an individual's right to life inhere in the individual, or does it instead depend on the individual's relations to others? Prof. Manter referred to "all the relational complexities that being persons entails." If by "persons" she meant "beings with a right to life" and if by "entails" she meant some kind of logical implication (and it's possible she meant neither), then she's implying that a right to life doesn't inhere in the individual. I'm not sure I'd accept that consequence. Suppose you become a hermit and totally disconnect because you're tired of other people. If you had a right to life before you chose total isolation, then I'd say you still have it, and it would be at least presumptively wrong for any of us to kill you. Or suppose you're the last human being alive on earth. If you had a right to life before the rest of humanity died off, you still do, and it would be at least presumptively wrong for an intelligent alien to beam down and kill you.

I should note that some philosophers explicitly reject your assumption that the morality of abortion depends on the ontological status of the fetus. Most famous among them is Judith Jarvis Thomson (see "A Defense of Abortion," 1971). According to Thomson, even if fetuses have an undoubted right to life, abortion is still morally permissible in at least the great majority of cases.

Many pro-life advocates maintain that certain attendant may make abortion a

Many pro-life advocates maintain that certain attendant may make abortion a reasonable choice from the perspective of the pregnant woman. Such circumstances are not limited to life-and-death cases, or even concerns directly related to the health. For instance: if a pregnant teen claimed that she had to forego motherhood in order to attend college and go on to to achieve her life goals, many would think this understandable. Such justifications seem plausible to me. And yet it strikes me that we almost never find cases where a mother expresses serious regret at having had children. As far as I can tell, it's very rare for a mother to admit, "On balance, I wish that I had aborted my children." And this holds true almost no matter what the difficulties surrounding the mother's pregnancy may have been. Whether a child is born into poverty, or suffers a birth defect, or prevents the mother from pursuing a career, we hardly ever look back and say, "Yes, this one should have been aborted." That's not to say that...

I've heard this kind of reasoning before, and I think it's well worth thinking about. But I also think it is ultimately sophistical.

(Something seems to have been mangled in the beginning of the question. The first sentence seems ungrammatical, and I would have thought the views expressed were more likely to be those of pro-choice folks rather than pro-life folks. But this doesn't really affect the issues raised.)

Yes, once a child has been born, the life of that child has precisely the sort of value that any human life has, and any parent who raised such a child and refused to acknowledge the value of that child's life (I wish you'd never been born!) would be a monster. But suppose the mother has been raped by her priest and, for whatever reason, decides to have the child. That does not make the child's life any less valuable, and if the mother raises the child with love, I can only have the deepest respect for her. But should she then have no regret about the fact she was raped? Should she think: Oh, it's a great thing my priest raped me, since I got this child out of it? Of course not. She can lament the rape and love her child, and do both without thinking the child's life somehow makes up for the rape. It does not, in any way. To say it does is to excuse violence. (See this question for related thoughts.)

The fact that a woman who decides to have a child loves the child and recognizes the value of its life simply does not mean that she might not regret becoming pregnant when and how she did. I know a woman who feels exactly that way: who had children very young and whose life was unalterably changed by that fact. She does not love the children she has any less, but in some sense she wishes her life had gone differently, even though she does not wish her children had never existed. Her feelings are obviously very complicated, but surely her perspective is perfectly understandable.

I know a man who feels similarly. His wife blackmailed him into having a child with her. He loves that child. But he very much laments the circumstances under which the child was conceived and the consequences, for all their lives, of his now ex-wife's despicable behavior. And just as it would be wrong for him to excuse his ex-wife's behavior because it gave him the daughter he so loves, so it would be wrong for him to regret his daughter's very existence because of how she came into the world.

So I think there clearly are parents who feel deep regret about the circumstances under which they became parents. What makes things so difficult, both philosophically and personally, is how hard it can be to hold such regret apart from one's love for the child itself. But we can separate these things, in principle. Keeping them separate in practice, on the other hand, must be very hard. But we can (and should) be compassionate towards people who must live with such complicated feelings without endorsing the inference I once heard an adoptive parent make: The life of the child I now have is of great value, so it would have been wrong if her mother had had an abortion. For all we know, that mother was raped by her priest.

Even if we accept Judith Jarvis Thomson's distinction between "killing" and

Even if we accept Judith Jarvis Thomson's distinction between "killing" and "letting die", how can abortion be anything but horrifically unethical? Suppose I have daughter that I reluctantly take care of. I would never kill her, but I miss the disposable income and free time I had before her. Then one day I find out my daughter has rare disease and needs me to donate my kidney (or if you prefer, needs me to be tied to the machine described in violinist thought experiment). "Now's my chance!" I think. "If refuse to let her use my body, I can 'let her die' rather than 'kill' her. With my only child dead, I'll be free to live like a bachelor again. No more t-ball games for me!" Even if you grant that I have the right to let my daughter die, it still sounds like a selfish thing to do. In fact it's monstrous thing to do. Just like we can defend Fred Phelps's right to free speech while condemning the way exercises it, we can defend a woman a woman's right to bodily autonomy while condemning the way she...

I agree with everything Richard Heck says, but let me add more, recycling points I've made before in responding to other questions about abortion.

Consider the following "gradualist" view: As the humanzygote/embryo/foetus slowly develops, its death slowly becomes a more serious matter.At the very beginning, its death is of little consequence; as time goeson, its death is a matter it becomes appropriate to be gradually more concernedabout.

Now, note that this view seems to be the one that most of us in fact do take about the naturaldeath of human zygotes/embryos/foetuses. After all, very few of us areworried by the fact that a very high proportion of conceptions quite spontaneouslyabort: we don't campaign for medical research to reduce that rate (and opponents of abortion don't campaign for all women to take drugs to suppress natural early abortion). Compare: we do think it is a matter for moral concern that there arehigh levels of infant mortality in some countries, and campaign and give money to help reduce that rate. Again, very few of us are scandalized if a woman who finds she is pregnantby mistake in a test one week after conception is then pleased when shediscovers that the pregnancy has naturally terminated a few days later (and even has a drink with a girl friend to celebrate her escape). Compare: we would find it morally very inappropriate, in almost all circumstances, for a woman in comfortable circumstances to celebrate the death of an unwanted young baby.

Similarly for accidental death. Suppose a woman finds she is a weekpregnant, goes horse riding, falls badly at a jump, andas a result spontaneously aborts. That might be regrettable, but we wouldn't thinkshe'd done something terrible by going riding and running the risk. Compare: we would be morally disapproving of someone badly risking the life of new born by carrying it while going in for some potentially very dangerous activity.)

So: our very widely shared attitudes to the natural or accidentaldeath of the products of conception do suggest that we do in fact regard themas of relatively lowly moral status at the beginning of their lives,and of greater moral standing as time passes. We are gradualists in these cases. It would be quite consistentwith such a view to take a similar line about unnaturaldeaths. For example, it would be consistent to think thatusing the morning-after pill is of no moral significance, whilebringing about the death of an eight month foetus is getting on for asserious as killing a neonate, with a gradual increase in theseriousness of the killing in between.

Some, at any rate, of those of us who are pro (early) choice are moved by this sort of gradualist view. The line of thought in sum is: the killing of an early foetus has a moral weight commensurate with the moral significance of the natural or accidental death of an early foetus. And on a very widely shared view, that's not very much significance. From this point of view, early abortion is of not very much significance either. And abortion gradually gets a more significant matter as time goes on.

You might disagree. But then it seems that you either need to depart from a widely shared view about the moral significance of the natural or accidental miscarriage of the early products of conception. Or you need to have an argument for the view that while the natural death of a zygote a few days old is of little significance, the unnatural death is of major significance. Neither line is easy to argue. So it certainly isn't obvious that early abortion is "horrifically unethical".

We can agree though that killing a neonate is, in general, a very bad thing. So the remaining question is how to scale the cases in between. That's something that serious and thoughtful people can disagree about to some extent. Though note it is a disagreement about matters of degree.

Recently in my Philosophy class during a lecture on abortion the argument came

Recently in my Philosophy class during a lecture on abortion the argument came up that in one view stance abortion is not immoral if it is to save the life of the mother. This is was to be considered toward the end of the pregnancy as well. Why is it that the mother's life is more valuable than the unborn child? Often the early baby could be incubated and go on to live its life. Is the mother's life more valuable because she has grown into a moral entity? Contributes more to society? Should the baby be more valuable because its life is brand new, with infinite possibilities, and the mother has had some years to life, is already closer to old age and death than the baby anyway?

I don't think it is quite that easy to extract a baby from a mother and for it to survive as you suggest. Even if it were and if we were to regard the fetus as having the same rights to life as its mother, there are reasons to prioritize the life of the mother. She is already alive while we do not know if the fetus will make it to life outside the womb. We have the choice between keeping someone alive who is already alive or letting her die in order that she bear someone who might not live after all.

Many people do not think it is acceptable to abort a fetus even if this is done to save the mother's life since they see this as doing evil in order that good may result, a principle they reject. Anyone who holds that view cannot carry out the sort of thinking just produced here. If we are able to make a decision about who lives and who dies there is something to be said in favor of allowing someone to live who is already alive. It is not like redistributive taxation, where we take some money from the wealthy and give it to the poor, since taking life is all or nothing, and one wonders also at the psychological issues that would arise were a person to know that his or her birth had only been made possible by the deliberate killing of the mother.

In a recent response by Eddy Nahmias, he ended up talking about "the capacities

In a recent response by Eddy Nahmias, he ended up talking about "the capacities [which] are the grounds for personhood". That made me think about arguments on abortion. Some pro-life people argue that the important thing is not the capacities some being HAS, but those that it can COME TO HAVE in some specified way (e.g., a "natural" way, or a way that is grounded on that being's "essence"). And that, they say, is what makes every fetus a person, and what makes a temporarily unconscious human a person. Both have to undergo some CHANGE before they can display specifically human traits that are important for personhood. Now, I don't find this argument very persuasive, but I really do not have a good answer to it. Could you tell me what is the difference (if any) between a one week human fetus and an unconscious adult that makes the latter a person, but not the former?

These are really tough and fascinating questions, both about what capacities are and what persons are. I hope other panelists might add to what little I have to say. What I will say (briefly, and without checking to see what the relevant literature has to say) is that one way to understand capacities is this:

An object X has a capacity C to perform C-relevant functions or behaviors (C-stuff) if and only if X has a structural organization O such that, when X is in the appropriate circumstances, O allows X to do C-stuff.

For example, I have the capacity to multiply any two numbers 1-13 because some structure in my brain allows me to get the right answer when the circumstances arise (e.g., when I'm asked to multiply 8 x 9 and I am awake and paying attention, etc.).

Having a capacity to do C-stuff can be distinguished from having the potential to develop the capacity to do C-stuff. The potential might involve being in a position (both structurally and environmentally) to develop the relevant structural organization to have the capacity. I have the potential to learn Russian, but I do not yet have the capacity to speak Russian.

So, assuming that some complex organization in our brains is what gives us the capacities for self-awareness that I associated with personhood (in my earlier response you cite), we can see that most adult humans have these capacities and are hence persons, while no fetuses have these capacities and hence none are persons. Most fetuses have the potential to become persons (though about a quarter of fetuses end in miscarriages). Unconscious adults actually have the capacities for personhood because they have the structural organization in place; they just aren't in the appropriate circumstances for them to be exercised. Even while I'm asleep or under anesthesia I still possess the capacity (organization O) to do my multiplication tables. I just can't exercise those capacities. A fetus does not have the capacity to do multiplication tables, nor to does it have the capacity to reflect on mental states and consider its past and future, etc.

So, by my definition of persons, fetuses (though they are human beings) are not persons, while unconscious adults are (and dolphins and apes probably are). One can draw various ethical conclusions from this, and I won't do so here. But IF one thinks that being a person means that one deserves more moral consideration than having the potential to become a person, THEN (if one accepts my view) fetuses deserve less moral consideration than adults (and perhaps some animals).

For more on this issue, see here.

From an ethical perspective, what does potential count for? My motivation for

From an ethical perspective, what does potential count for? My motivation for this question stems directly from a discussion on abortion I once had. In general, it seems to me to be evident that the fetus is not yet a person, but it is a potential person, and it seems that potential might count for something. For example, if we consider the case of a child who has the potential to become a masterful musician, but deny him the ability to ever play music, it seems that a moral wrong has been done.

What does potential count for? I don't think there is a general answer here. One important variable concerns the relation between the potential time-slice person who never came to be and the entity whose development into that time-slice person was disturbed. When these two are closely related, then potential may count for a lot. When you prevent a very talented and highly trained athlete from traveling to the Olympics, then you deprive this person of her chance of a medal; and this seems quite serious because here the person prevented and the person who would have competed are very closely related (the same mature person a few days apart). But suppose the opportunity to compete in the Olympics was closed off much earlier by the parents who sent the first-grader to the chess club rather than to the gymnastics club, so that she becomes as chess lover rather than a gymnastics lover. While the world may have lost a great gymnast, this is not a substantial loss for her (because gymnastics never came to mean much to her). The distance is even greater in the case of an abortion. In this case, there is never even a subject there about whom we can ask whether the lost opportunity was a loss for her. To be sure, we can say that through the abortion the world has lost a person who might have realized this or that valuable potential. But then how serious is this? The world is near carrying capacity (if not beyond) and is losing a few quadrillion such potential persons every day, one for each pair of egg and sperm cells that we fail to make fuse.

There may be other things wrong with having an abortion. But I don't think there is good reason for believing that having an abortion is wrong because it prevents the realization of some potential.

Hello, what do you think of this argument? If a woman has an abortion, then

Hello, what do you think of this argument? If a woman has an abortion, then maybe a fetus is immorally killed. If this woman doesn't have an abortion, then a fetus is definitely not immorally killed. It is better to choose an option where a fetus is definitely not immorally killed, rather than an option where a fetus maybe is immorally killed. Therefore the woman should chose the option where the fetus is definitely not immorally killed. Therefore the woman should not have the abortion.

That's a clever argument. It looks like the form is valid. The problem is with premise 3 (it's better to choose option where fetus is definitely not immorally killed ...). Whether that premise is true seems to depend on whether there may be other reasons why the abortion may be justified that outweigh the possibility that the fetus is immorally killed, and of course, it's hard to assess the premise without more information about the likelihood that killing the fetus is actually immoral.

This structurally parallel argument should help illustrate the problem:

1. If a woman does not have an abortion, then maybe the fetus will grow up to do horribly immoral things.

2. If this woman does have an abortion, then the fetus will definitely not grow up to do horribly immoral things.

3. It is better to choose an option where the fetus is definitely not going to grow up to do horribly immoral things, rather than an option where the fetus may grow up to do horribly immoral things.

4. Therefore, the woman should choose the option where the fetus is definitely not going to grow up to do horribly immoral things (i.e., have an abortion).

Yikes, that sounds like an argument for universal abortion. So, it better be unsound! It seems that everything rests on the probabilities in premise 3 and the other moral considerations that need to be balanced against those probabilities. In your argument, we can't say much about that premise without knowing how probable it is that killing a fetus is immoral as well as the probabilities that there may be competing moral factors in play, such as the rights of the woman to make decisions about her own life.

Hope this leads to further thinking on this issue!

Is it paradoxical for the US government to render embryonic stem cell research

Is it paradoxical for the US government to render embryonic stem cell research illegal, in a country where abortion is legal??

The current debates about embryonic stem cell research concern whether federal funding should be spent upon it, not on whether such research is banned in the USA. Similarly, federal funding for abortion is more controversial than its legality.

Do Catholic hospitals have a right not to perform abortions?

Do Catholic hospitals have a right not to perform abortions?

Just a brief comment, which is that, even if one always does have a moral right not to do things one regards as morally objectionable, it does not follow that one has a legal or political right to do so, i.e., that one cannot legitimately face legal consequences for not doing so. It is fairly easy to come up with counter-examples by thinking of people whose moral views are themselves pretty objectionable. I don't know which issue the questioner probably had in mind, but both seem worth considering.

For what it is worth, I think similar such examples make Aquinas's view very doubtful. If one thinks a thing is morally abhorrent, say, when it is, in fact, morally obligatory, then it is not at all clear that one has a moral right not to do the thing. Indeed, it seems almost contradictory to say one does: One has a moral right not to do something that is morally obligatory? Presumably, the resolution of this "paradox" lies in distinguishing subjective from objective elements of this, as is now pretty common.

Does Peter Singer really advocate/defend infanticide under certain circumstances

Does Peter Singer really advocate/defend infanticide under certain circumstances? I recently read that he argues that parents should be able to abort mentally handicapped newborns or even to have a thirty day waiting period with which to decide whether or not they want to keep the child. Is this true and if so does this show a progression of the pro-choice stance on abortion extending beyond the womb?

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