Confused About The Other PoV

Well I’ve come to a point where I’ve been far enough from the abortion debate, which the Philadelphia kerfuffle has brought back to the front burner, that I feel I can’t muster a coherent argument for abortion at all. So, what I’m going to try to do here is mention the two or three points/arguments that I know for that case and see if anyone out there can fill in the gaps or offer argument not mentioned that are stronger.

The primary argument for abortion comes from the “Famous violinist” … from wiki:

In A Defense of Abortion, Thomson grants for the sake of argument that the fetus has a right to life, but defends the permissibility of abortion by appeal to a thought experiment:

You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. [If he is unplugged from you now, he will die; but] in nine months he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.[4]

Thomson takes it that you may now permissibly unplug yourself from the violinist even though this will cause his death: the right to life, Thomson says, does not entail the right to use another person’s body, and so by unplugging the violinist you do not violate his right to life but merely deprive him of something—the use of your body—to which he has no right. “[I]f you do allow him to go on using your kidneys, this is a kindness on your part, and not something he can claim from you as his due.”[5]

For the same reason, Thomson says, abortion does not violate the fetus’s right to life but merely deprives the fetus of something—the use of the pregnant woman’s body—to which it has no right. Thus, it is not that by terminating her pregnancy a woman violates her moral obligations, but rather that a woman who carries the fetus to term is a ‘Good Samaritan‘ who goes beyond her obligations.

There are a number of crucial flaws to this argument. First being it wasn’t an anonymous secret society that sought you out making you pregnant … it was a voluntary act of yours. A better beginning might have been “there are a pool of available donors … the society has offered a reverse lottery … they pay you $100 bucks for each ticket you wish. Then there is a drawing. If you are selected then ” well, what then? Then we come to the other problem. Pregnancy is not equivalent to being bed-ridden for 6-9 months. Sorry. It’s just all that terrible, while I’m male I’ve seen it at somewhat close hand, my wife had two … delivered both by C-Sec. By aborting the fetus, you’ve violated your implicit contractual agreement to bear the child by participating (and taking the payoff) can on occasionally result in children. I suspect Ms Thomson was being intention in her selection of “violinist” instead of “popular rap star” or “future hall of fame basketball/baseball/football star”. Most of her audience despises classical music. She knew that. Children are a wonder. Don’t forget that part.

The second argument is that the fetus does not (unlike Thomson’s argument’s starting point) have a right to life. “It’s just a clump of cells” … which at various points which abortion supporters do not back away from, feel pain, react to sound, are viable if delivered (like the 7 of the victims mentioned in the Philly case … delivered and killed because that was the intent and they were mistakenly brought out alive). But the principle question here is at what point of development (if you take the premise that personhood depends on non-ontological aspects of the creature in question). But those who claim “this fetus” (or that one) isn’t a person yet are squishy about it. I’ve never seen the argument taken to the point of quality X is required, lacking that … the creature is a non-person. OK. So name a quality or set of qualities.  Ms Delsol in her essay/short-book “Unlearned Lessons” points that much of the mass killings of the 20th century depend on defining personhood by attribute (and noting that some human creatures lack particular attributes and therefore can or should be killed) and that an ontological assignment of personhood to all human creatures is a first defense against this mistake.

The final argument is that not supporting abortion is unfair. Men can walk away without responsibility from the sex act, but a woman who gets pregnant cannot. There are two problems with this. It is in fact, morally irresponsible, reprehensible, and wrong for a man to do so. That a woman finds it harder to be horrible in this situation is not a flaw but a feature. The second problem is that this position depends on an objection that women aren’t men. That’s like complaining that there is a problem because matter and anti-matter exist in different proportions or that magnetic monopoles are rarer than electric monopoles or that nature isn’t completely symmetric. The French have a saying, viva la difference. I fail to see the meat of this argument as well. Yes, men can’t get pregnant. So? Men also can’t nurse and form the same kind of relationship with their progeny as women.

10 Responses to Confused About The Other PoV

  1. The violinist argument can be refined to a sharper point. You have a rare blood type, a simple blood donation taking no more than 30 minutes of your time can save him with no ill health effects to you. Can you say no? Yes you can. There is no such thing as a ‘right to life’ when we are all mortal to begin with. You can talk about a right to not be killed but here the violinist isn’t being killed as much as he cannot live without an act on your part.

    the society has offered a reverse lottery … they pay you $100 bucks for each ticket you wish

    They can sue you, possibly, for breach of contract and get the $100 back but specific performance is not usually mandated in contracts. If I was given a $100 advance to star in a porn movie, I can be sued for backing out…sued for the $100 and maybe even the lost profits by the producer…but the court will not force me to act in it. Of course the lottery ticket or contract is a pretty strong type of agreement…but not strong enough to put the violinist out of danger. Needless to say you’re going to have to do better to establish, then, that simply opting to have sex creates some type of ‘de facto contract’ that’s even stronger.

    The second argument is that the fetus does not (unlike Thomson’s argument’s starting point) have a right to life. “It’s just a clump of cells” …

    Errrr at no point did anyone say the violinist was just a ‘clump of cells’. Suppose I hate him because he slept with my wife, that’s why I’m saying not to giving him the blood transfusion. Suppose he happens to live anyway without my donation, I have no right to kill him. My rights end with simply having a right to say no to saving him.

    Ms Delsol in her essay/short-book “Unlearned Lessons” points that much of the mass killings of the 20th century depend on defining personhood by attribute (and noting that some human creatures lack particular attributes and therefore can or should be killed) and that an ontological assignment of personhood to all human creatures is a first defense against this mistake.

    I remember a debate with someone who used an 18th century argument, he or she argued that the south did not consider blacks to be persons hence slavery, Jim Crow and all that bad stuff. So in the South back then it was a crime to teach a slave how to read. Think about that. Is it a crime to teach a cow to read (or try too)? No it’s not. If you could teach a cow to read, you’d be a great novelity hit. It wasn’t a crime to teach a slave to read because the South thought slaves were not persons. It was a crime because the South did think slaves were people and teaching them to read was a threat because that might empower them. Hitler, Stalin, Mao didn’t kill hundreds of thousands to millions of people because they confused persons with furniture. They did so because they perceived persons as threats to their ideological systems they were trying to impose.

    What you are talking about here is not a ‘defense’ against that ‘mistake’. Even if it was, it’s not sufficient. Should animals be considered persons? Furniture? Why not everything and anything? No that would make ‘personhood’ a worthless concept. One should consider persons as persons. Considering more or less would be wrong. But then that doesn’t produce any answers to the abortion debate.

    The final argument is that not supporting abortion is unfair. Men can walk away without responsibility from the sex act, but a woman who gets pregnant cannot.

    Actually I would stand that one on its head. It’s fair that women decide their own pregnancies because they are the ones with ‘skin in the game’. The way the world is set up is that you get here only through a women. Even in Christianity God himself entered the world through, and in some ways at the mercy of, a woman.* Just the way it is. Granted that doesn’t give a woman wondering if its moral or not for herself to choose abortion an answer but it does address the legal/political question.

    * Two exceptions I suppose is Adam who got here via dust and Eve who was the only woman born via a man. But then that requires a very literal reading of creation which you’ve indicated you’re not overly committed too. I suppose too if we ever get real human cloning, duplicating via transporters, or ‘artifical wombs’ this fact of life would be changed but let’s see if that ever comes about…I’m not betting on ever seeing it in my lifetime.

  2. Boonton,

    Errrr at no point did anyone say the violinist was just a ‘clump of cells’.

    That’s right. The Thomson argument agrees the fetus has a right to life. Many abortion supporters do not.

    They did so because they perceived persons as threats to their ideological systems they were trying to impose.

    And they justified it by saying their ideological, class, or racial differences meant they were not persons. Personhood was not ontological.

    Should animals be considered persons?

    Ontology. Animals are not in the category.

    You have a rare blood type, a simple blood donation taking no more than 30 minutes of your time can save him with no ill health effects to you. Can you say no? Yes you can.

    If (as supposed in the violinist point) you are the only one who can save him … it is not moral or ethical to say no. If this happened a lot it probably wouldn’t even be legal. Could you actually say no? I doubt it.

  3. And they justified it by saying their ideological, class, or racial differences meant they were not persons. Personhood was not ontological.

    You put a lot of faith in dictators feeling the need to maintain logical coherence in their public statements. Hence you seem to think that if you can somehow verbally trap a dictator into committing to not killing people, he won’t kill people. I think history shows most will simply pay lip service to whatever logic you’re trying to sell and then go ahead and kill people.

    I also think, though, if you examine their rhetoric more carefully you’ll see that they do see them as persons. Note, for example, how the Nazis justified their anti-Jewish policies. They charged that Jews had an alien culture, that they corrupted Aryan culture, they were nefarious and plotting etc. These are qualities that persons have. You may not care for your furniture, but you wouldn’t accuse it of ‘plotting’ against you.

    Another problem with this argument is you’re neglecting to look at the American assumption/assertion that all persons are equal. Slavery advocates, for example, didn’t so much reject the personhood of blacks as they rejected their equality. They argued for slavery on the grounds that it was actually better for both blacks and whites. The Nazis argued different races were ok provided blood lines were kept pure (they were ok with Japanese in Japan, but didn’t want Asians coming into Germany from there). If you could force a true Nazi or slavery supporter to confront your philosophical arguments, I suspect you’d not have a hard time getting them to accept personhood but they’d reject equality of treatment of persons.

    Ontology. Animals are not in the category.

    Doesn’t matter, you’re trying to say we should consider persons a very inclusive category to avoid abuse. But how inclusive and doesn’t calling non-persons persons cheapen the category? You end up stuck saying you should define only persons as persons. But that circular definition doesn’t help us if we’re trying to tell if a person starts at conception, at birth, or sometime in between.

    If (as supposed in the violinist point) you are the only one who can save him … it is not moral or ethical to say no. If this happened a lot it probably wouldn’t even be legal.

    So say there’s you and one other person who can save him, you can then say no? But there’s at least a 50-50 chance the other guy will also say no leaving him dead. Suppose there’s 3 people who can save him, now it’s a 1/3 chance all will say no. What if 1,000 people in the world could save him. Can you say no given a 1/1000 chance everyone else will also say no resulting in his death?

    Legally you’re fine with saying no and in terms of rights, he has no right to take your blood from you just because he needs it…anymore than I would have a right to drug you child and take their kidney if they were the only ‘match’ in the world for me.

  4. Boonton,

    Needless to say you’re going to have to do better to establish, then, that simply opting to have sex creates some type of ‘de facto contract’ that’s even stronger.

    The point is that this pregnancy didn’t occur out of the blue. You actually voluntarily participated in acts from which you benefited and this is a well known and expected (even if not by you) result of your voluntary act.

    More to the point … your objects are technical … and answer(ed/able). I’m not seeing how this strengthens your point. I disagree you have a moral right to refuse to give that transfusion if you are the only donor. I don’t even think you would refuse yourself.

    Part of the elephant in the room not being talked about is that pregnancy is much less a burden than raising the kid for the first ten years (or more).

    But what arguments am I missing. Are these three argument (or a subset of them) the reason *you* support abortion? If not, why do you support it?

  5. Boonton,

    They can sue you, possibly, for breach of contract and get the $100 back but specific performance is not usually mandated in contracts. If I was given a $100 advance to star in a porn movie, I can be sued for backing out…sued for the $100 and maybe even the lost profits by the producer…but the court will not force me to act in it. Of course the lottery ticket or contract is a pretty strong type of agreement…but not strong enough to put the violinist out of danger. Needless to say you’re going to have to do better to establish, then, that simply opting to have sex creates some type of ‘de facto contract’ that’s even stronger.

    That doesn’t give you moral right to breach. Of if you think it does … why do you think it does?

  6. That doesn’t give you moral right to breach.

    Which breaches upon a good question, who decides? I think we would agree you don’t have a moral right to flirt with other women since you’re married. Yet if you did and a cop arrested you, you would take offense. The cop has no authority to regulate your flirting. Likewise if I know you’re going to the bar to flirt, I have no right to slash your tires to prevent that from happening. Flirting may be a moral violation but it’s one you ‘own’. You will do it or you won’t do it and either way you own the moral consquences of your act, right or wrong.

    To say it is immoral for me to back out of the ‘reverse lottery ticket’ and refuse to give the blood is not the same thing as saying I should be arrested by a cop and prosecuted by a court for backing out.

    Before we do the boring discussion on the morality of the act (boring because it’s been done for like 40 years from now, rarely getting anywhere), I think a more important question is who is entitled to own the morality of the act. Since childbirth and pregnancy are unique to women and predate the state I would put forth that women themselves own the morality of the act. That’s NOT the same thing as saying whatever a woman does is therefore the moral thing.

  7. Boonton
    Is that it? Your argument isn’t about personhood or violinists … but “who” decides? Why then you should support infanticide, after all “who decides” should by your logic be just the caregiver. Do you? Why is that consistent?

    To say it is immoral for me to back out of the ‘reverse lottery ticket’ and refuse to give the blood

    You can be arrested for breach of contract if you refuse to comply. Right? You’ve accepted payment.

    That’s NOT the same thing as saying whatever a woman does is therefore the moral thing.

    OK. So? What exactly is your argument for abortion?

  8. Why then you should support infanticide, after all “who decides” should by your logic be just the caregiver. Do you? Why is that consistent?

    Using your violinist analogy, infanticide would not be like finding yourself connected to someone who needs your kidneys or blood, and simply demanding to be disconnected. It would be demanding to kill the violinist who you have no connection too (or the connection can be cut without harming the violinist).

    You can be arrested for breach of contract if you refuse to comply. Right? You’ve accepted payment

    No you can’t. Breach of contract is a civil matter, not a criminal one. Break your lease and your landlord can sue you for unpaid rent but he can’t have you arrested.

    OK. So? What exactly is your argument for abortion?

    Have you provided an argument against my take on who decides? YOu should because most pro-lifers aren’t simply trying to make a case that abortion is immoral, they are trying to make an active case that it should be illegal and those involved should face varying degrees of criminal punishment. Using marital fidelity as an analogy, there’s a huge difference between an organization dedicated to convincing people not to have affairs and one dedicated to making affairs illegal.

  9. Boonton,

    Break your lease and your landlord can sue you for unpaid rent but he can’t have you arrested.

    Wrong. If your breach contract, the civil court finds against you … and you still refuse to comply … it becomes criminal. Right?

    Using your violinist analogy …

    Why? Why use this … it’s got horrible flaws which you haven’t addressed. Before you get to do that, you have to address part where you have tacitly agreed (and taken payment for) the violinists permission and pregnancy isn’t 9 months confined to a bed … it’s far less onerous and the product is not a good, not a “violinist” producing a product which you probably despise (actually that’s a good personal question, do you like classical music?). For you, let’s pretend the violinist is someone you actually admire, say Mr Obama? Or one of his kids.

    Using marital fidelity as an analogy, there’s a huge difference between an organization dedicated to convincing people not to have affairs and one dedicated to making affairs illegal.

    Nobody dies as a result of infidelity (normally). The fetus is killed in an abortion.

    I’m trying to find out the actual reasons used by pro-abortion people. Is your argument that this is immoral but should be legal anyhow? That is the crux of it? Is that the why an economistically minded fellow like yourself can sit quietly alongside rhetoric like “safe, legal, rare” (note the “rare”) and at the time time making access cheaper (free?) and easier? How does an economist reconcile touting rare and at the same time lowering price/entry barriers? Seems to me “rare” is something you are not honestly saying in that case.

  10. Wrong. If your breach contract, the civil court finds against you … and you still refuse to comply … it becomes criminal. Right?

    No at most it becomes a judgement which the guy you owe money to can use to attach your pay or your bank account but ultimately you’re not going to jail because you owe someone money. Also ‘specific performance’ of a contract is not enforced by the courts. If you have a contract to star in a movie or sing on stage, the courts will not order you to ‘honor it’.

    Before you get to do that, you have to address part where you have tacitly agreed (and taken payment for) the violinists permission and pregnancy isn’t 9 months confined to a bed

    While the analogy has flaws (all do), it does seem to be correct in illustrating in order for the violinist to live, you either have to do something or at least permit your body to be used as a host of some sort. You asked why not infanticide, the answer would be pretty simple. An infant is already born so you are not required to do anything to keep it alive. Someone else can be found to care for it if needed. Since you are free to take yourself out of the picture how would it apply? That would be like asking suppose the violinist doesn’t need your blood or kidneys or whatever but you want to kill him. That’s a different case.

    Nobody dies as a result of infidelity (normally). The fetus is killed in an abortion.

    An astute student of history and literature as you are certainly knows affairs have sparked murders, and less dramatically they have probably sparked a few abortions too.

    But I think you’re botching this answer here. You’re saying that an organization that tries to convince people to not have affairs is oK but not one that tries to get affairs outlawed because affairs are less bad than abortion. But there’s plenty of things less bad than affairs that are illegal. For example, stealing a library book no one has taken out in the last ten years and isn’t very valuable is probably less bad than infidelity, yet the theft is a crime. So what accounts for the difference?

    The answer lies in the question “who owns the morality of the decision”. Gov’t owns the morality of theft and property protection in this case so it’s right to arrest you for a trivial theft. Gov’t doesn’t own the morality of your marriage so it’s wrong to try to arrest you for infidelity. We can say that infidelity is a major moral issue, but one that you own hence the guilt of infidelity accrues on your head even if you can’t be arrested for it.

    Is your underlying assumption here that gov’t owns all moral issues that may indirectly entail a death? Your kids may opt to study music rather than biology…that may someday cause my death because they might be the ones to cure the rare disease that will take me out decades from now. Because life may be at stake…actually what you say is my ‘right to life’ can gov’t override their educational and career choices?

    It seems to me that while gov’t is involved in many serious moral issues, you’re making an assumption that gov’t is *always* entwined in all *major* moral issues. That no moral issues can be entrusted only to the individual, unless they are relatively minor ones.

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