The Instigator
Pro (for)
2 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
3 Points

Resolved: Abortion is morally impermissible

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/26/2017 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,221 times Debate No: 99341
Debate Rounds (4)
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I want to thank Con for agreeing to participate in this debate. He is an excellent advocate of the Pro-Choice position, so hopefully we can have a worthwhile exchange. In this first round, I will put forward an affirmative argument that abortion is impermissible.

Also, I want to make it clear that the debate resolution is whether abortion in general is morally impermissible (i.e. abortion in the case of normal pregnancies).


Abortion – the intentional termination of a pregnancy through surgical or other means

Morally permissible – ethically acceptable

The Future Like Ours (FLO) Argument

In arguing that abortion is morally impermissible, I will outline and defend the following version of the Future Like Ours (FLO) argument:

P1 – Any action that foreseeably deprives a being of its FLO is morally wrong, ceteris paribus
P2 – Abortion is an action that foreseeably deprives a being (the unborn) of its FLO
C – Abortion is morally wrong, ceteris paribus (1)

Before attempting to justify this argument, I will explain some key terms. First, a FLO is simply a future of value. That is,“all the experiences, activities, projects and enjoyments” that a being will or could come to experience. In short, it is all the potential goods of one's future. (2) However, merely having a future does not entail one has a FLO. Mosquitoes, for example, certainly have futures, but these are not experientially rich enough to be considered having moral weight - they do not have a future like ours (FLO). Whilst it may be difficult determining when futures become sufficiently valuable to accrue moral weight, we can leave such questions aside, so long as we accept that depriving a being of its FLO is what makes killing wrong (as I shall show in defending P1). (3)

Also, this argument contains a ceteris paribus (“all things being equal”) clause. There are rare circumstances where foreseeably depriving a being of their future by killing them is indeed permissible (e.g. just war). However, these do not impact the general principle that prohibits killing, precisely because things are not equal in such cases. As such, it will do Con no good to dispute P1 by pointing to exceptional cases where killing is permissible.

Defending P1

Perhaps the defining question of the abortion debate is this: what is it that makes killing generally wrong? (4) In order to answer this, we have to develop a general account of the wrongness of killing. P1 proposes the FLO account, which explains the wrongness of killing by identifying a specific wrong-making property found in all killings – namely, that they deprive each victim of a future of value (FLO).

An obvious objection at this point would be that there could be an alternative explanation of why killing is wrong which makes abortion permissible. As such, I will contrast FLO with a plausible Pro-Choice alternative - a simple desire account. On this view, killing is wrong because it thwarts our most fundamental desire – the desire to continue living, in the most egregious way. As such, this view would exclude the unborn from having the right to life, assuming that they lack these features.(5)

In what follows, I will attempt to justify the superiority of the FLO account against the desire alternative, showing that the FLO account is the best explanation for the wrongness of killing. Before doing so however, we must revisit some basic terminology, as this helps us see the enormity of Con's task in rejecting FLO.

Philosophers commonly distinguish between necessary and sufficient conditions. Necessary conditions for X are those that are required to obtain for any instantiation of X. By contrast, sufficient conditions are those which are enough to instantiate X. (6) P1 states that depriving a being of their FLO is sufficient to judge an action as morally wrong. In other words, I merely need to provide sufficient conditions for the wrongness of killing to eventually establish that abortion is indeed impermissible. By contrast, in order to successfully diffuse P1, Con's rival explanation must instantiate the necessary conditions for why killing is wrong. If a simple desire account, for example, merely provided sufficient conditions to explain why killing is wrong, Con's account could be compatible with the FLO account being correct (e.g. killing may be wrong because it thwarts our desires AND because it deprives a being of its FLO). (7) As such, Con's task here is much more difficult than mine.

To show that the FLO account is superior, I will focus on the following 4 cases:

i) a normal adult
ii) a brokenhearted, suicidal teenager
iii) a temporary comatose patient
iv) an infant (8)

Any prospective account for the wrongness of killing must explain why killing in each of these cases is impermissible. I will show that only by appealing to one's FLO can we have principled moral prohibitions in these cases. As such, rejecting the FLO account ultimately means we have to reject our basic moral intuitions, which is untenable.

Normal human adult

FLO account: Clearly, killing on this view would be wrong, as it deprives adults of their FLO.

Desire account: Likewise, the desire account easily mirrors our intuitions. Killing an adult would thwart their basic desire to live and must be regarded as impermissible.

So far, so good for each account.

Broken-hearted suicidal teenager

FLO account: As killing such a teen would deprive them of their future of value, it must be prohibited as impermissible, despite their momentary and fleeting despair in the immediate present.

Desire account: This is where the the desire account becomes problematic. A suicidal teen has an explicit desire to die. As such, killing them would not thwart any desires and so could not be judged as morally impermissible. Yet, this is clearly absurd. The suicidal impulse felt by a teen nursing a crush is held irrationally and superficially by a person at an emotionally vulnerable time in their lives. Moreover, these feelings are notoriously fleeting – lasting days or weeks in most cases. In short, the volatile nature of teen's desires, as well as their lack of perspective and maturity to make such important decisions, means that any account where the right to life is contingent upon desires leads to untenable moral consequences (i.e. making killing in such cases permissible). As such, we have to reject the desire account for the wrongness of killing.

Temporary comatose patient

FLO account: As such a person would have a FLO, killing them would be impermissible on this view. Indeed, this example becomes even more favourable to the FLO account. Consider coma patients in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS). Why is it we think it impermissible to kill those in a temporary coma, yet most of us think it justified to pull the plug on PVS patients? One cannot anchor the moral worth of these patients by referring to properties in the present or past, as such properties are identical between temporary and PVS patients. Yet, clearly our intuitions differ in these cases. Why? The reason we think it is permissible to end the life of PVS is precisely because killing does not deprive such persons of their future of value. (9) In other words, only FLO makes sense of this distinction.

Desire account: It seems hard to think why killing a temporary comatose patient would be wrong on this view. Such persons certainly seem to have no occurrent desires at all, so these would not be thwarted. In any case, any desire that they do have would seem to be no different than of the PVS coma patient, so this view must hold that temporary and PVS coma patients have the same right to life. As such, the desire account seems yet again to be wildly counter-intuitive.


FLO account: A typical infant will also clearly have a future of value, consisting of a lifetime of experiential goods and enjoyments. Killing newborns would undoubtedly deprive them of these goods, making infanticide impermissible on the FLO account.

Desire account: It's not clear that the desire account could prohibit infanticide. It's difficult to see how the desires of a newborn differ significantly from a well developed foetus, which seems like an important distinction for the Pro-Choicer. (10) Moreover, typical personhood accounts like that advanced by Singer regard newborns as not developed enough to be regarded as persons with desires to thwart. So, the permissibility of infanticide seems like a looming problem if we reject the FLO account.

In summary, the FLO approach is much more able to explain and preserve our deeply held moral intuitions in these cases. As such, P1 is strongly affirmed.

Defending P2

P2 makes two uncontroversial claims. First, that the unborn have a FLO. As Marquis comments,

“The future of a standard fetus includes a set of experiences, projects, activities, and which are identical with the futures of adult human beings and are identical with the futures of young children.” (11)

We can dispute whether a FLO has moral significance, but it seems undeniable that in normal pregnancies, the unborn possess a FLO, no less than any of the examples above.

Second, the practise of abortion foreseeably deprives the unborn of their FLO, by ending the pregnancy. Again, this is not remotely contentious, even for those who dispute the pro-life view.

There is much more that could be said of P2. However, given limited space and the anticipation that Con will broadly agree with it, I'll stop here. .


As we have seen, the best general explanation for the wrongness of killing (FLO) ultimately gives the conclusion that abortion is impermissible. Over to Con to prevent the affirmative case for the Pro-Choice position.


6 - The Philosopher's Toolkit, Julian Baggini and Peter Fosl, P174
8 – A Defense of Abortion, David Boonin, P57

All other references come from:



Thank you Unitedandy for this challenge to debate the morality of abortion. It’s great to debate somebody as intelligent and well-read on this topic as you. In this first round I will provide my own argument for abortion and in the next round will present some objections to the arguments put forth by Pro.

In this debate I will argue that abortion is generally morally permissible. My argument in defense of abortion will not rest on claims about the metaphysical or moral status of the fetus. I will grant, for the sake of argument, that the fetus has the same right to life you and I have. But deny that accepting this claim demonstrates that abortion is impermissible. With that said, let me begin.

Prenatal Moral Status
Most arguments against abortion focus on the right to life of the fetus inside the woman’s body. Opponents of abortion claim that the fetus is a valuable human being with a right to life, and that abortion unjustly kills them. Thus, the central argument against abortion can be formulated as follows:

P1) The human fetus has a right to life.
P2) If the human fetus has a right to life, then ending its life is morally impermissible.
P3) Abortion ends the life of the human fetus.
C) Abortion is morally impermissible.

If the fetus does in fact have a right to life, it would seem that abortion would clearly be very wrong indeed. However, I want to suggest that this belief is mistaken.

The Violinist Analogy
The argument I will present today comes from a philosopher by the name of Judith Thomson in her 1971 article entitled, “A Defense of Abortion.” In that article she puts forth an analogy in order to demonstrate how even if the fetus has a right to life, it doesn’t follow that this entitles the prenatal human to whatever is necessary to keep it alive. The analogy runs as follows:

“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.

The director of the hospital now tells you, "Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you--we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.” Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation?" [1]

The point of the analogy is to elicit the intuition that, even though the violinist has a right to life, this doesn’t mean you must go through a substantial burden in order to preserve his life. Other things being equal, Thomson claims we are not morally required to make large sacrifices of our bodily integrity in order to keep others alive. After presenting the analogy Thomson concludes that, just like it would be permissible to unplug oneself from the violinist, so it would also be permissible for a pregnant woman to remove the fetus from her body. It should be noted that virtually everybody, including those who oppose abortion, agree that it would be morally permissible to refuse to provide continued life support to the violinist. Therefore, if this argument is to be refuted, opponents of abortion must be able to point out a morally relevant difference between the violinist analogy on the one hand, and abortion on the other.

Admittedly, most people, including those philosophers who are pro-choice, think the violinist analogy is a bad argument. They think there are too many morally relevant differences between it and abortion for the analogy to be successful. I myself used to think the same thing. However, now I think the disanalogies that people try to point out are not genuinely morally relevant, or are morally relevant but do not apply to abortion in the way that critics have claimed. [2]

In this debate I’ve presented Thomson’s violinist analogy as a moral justification for a woman’s choice to have an abortion. Unless my friend Unitedandy can give good reasons for believing this analogy is bad, it is reasonable to believe the argument demonstrates that abortion is morally permissible.

Debate Round No. 1


Preliminary remarks

I want to thank Con for his excellent first round. In this round, I aim to focus exclusively on Con's affirmative case for the permissibility of abortion – the Bodily Rights Argument. Con's argument can be summarised as follows. Firstly, having the right to life does not entail the right to use another person's body to survive. Con then gives the standard violinist example to show that even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that the unborn are fully fledged persons with correspondingly robust rights, we still have a strong intuitive reason to think abortion is permissible.

Before analysing Con's argument, I want to stress some key points. Firstly, I completely accept the plausibility of intuition of unplugging in the violinist case. It seems to me that while it obviously be morally preferable if one were to stay hooked up to the violinist and save their life, such an action would plainly not be obligatory. Con correctly anticipates that my response will not be to challenge the original intuition, but to deny that pregnancy is closely analogous to the violinist case. If these two cases are not closely parallel, then the violinist intuition lends little support to the view that abortion is permissible.

Second,the Bodily Integrity Argument grants that the unborn are persons with the right to life, at least for the sake of argument. This means, as Con admits, that our debate does not rest “ on claims about the metaphysical or moral status of the fetus.” In other words, this debate will proceed from the assumption that the unborn's right to life is as strong as an adult like the violinist.

An evidential case against the Bodily Integrity Argument

In the course of evaluating Con's argument, I want to point out several morally relevant differences which are apparent between the violinist case and pregnancy. However, I want to make it as clear as I can that in pointing out these differences, I mean to adopt an evidential approach. It may be that no morally relevant difference between these cases destroys the argument in isolation. However, I will contend that each objection has some force in weakening the analogy between abortion and unplugging. In other words, even if no single objection presented below are completely fatal to the argument, each difference succeeds in markedly weakening the original intuition.

I should make it clear, I actually do think some of these objections, even in isolation, definitively undermine Con's argument (the responsibility objection, in particular). I only stress that these objections need not be evaluated as all or nothing, as moral deliberation, especially in contentious areas like abortion, is seldom so clear cut.

The Responsibility Objection (1)

Perhaps the most powerful defeater to the claim that Thomson's scenario is analogous to pregnancy is what is known as the responsibility objection. In Con's example, the Good Samaritan hooked up to the violinist bears no responsibility at all for the state of affairs she finds herself in. Her actions prior to this would in no way foreseeably lead to either (i) the sickly violinist's neediness or (ii) her own plight (that of sharing her kidneys with a complete stranger). Indeed, this is underscored by the fact she is forcibly kidnapped in Thomson's example. She is, essentially, a victim of a pretty egregious abduction and assault, leading us to the strong intuition we all have that she should be able to unplug from the violinist, despite the fact that doing so would ensure his death.

Of course, none of this applies in a typical pregnancy. Here, couples engage in the only natural act (sex) which can result in creating life. Moreover, they do so knowing that pregnancy is a foreseeable consequence of their actions. For whatever reason, they disregard this risk, essentially creating the circumstances which lead to the third party's neediness. Yet, we know that people are directly responsible for the foreseeable consequences of their actions. We can see this from the following analogy:

Suppose Drug Inc makes its money exclusively from sales of Pill A. It realises that it can increase profits by also selling Pill B. However, in order to do so, it has to use the same warehouses, staff, etc, to make this financially feasible. The problem is that this is a risky venture, as it foreseeably will lead to cross-contamination, where patients needing Pill A mistakenly get Pill B and vice versa. Moreover, the nature of the conditions of these patients means that anyone who gets the wrong treatment will suffer irreparable kidney damage, ending up like the sickly violinist (i.e. dead without intervention). Unfortunately, because of the actions of Drug Inc engaging in this risky behaviour, Jill gets the wrong medicine and suffers kidney failure as a result.

It seems just as strongly intuitive as the violinist intuition that Drug Inc is morally culpable here. Jill's plight could have been avoided by Drug Inc acting responsibly. Thus, they are morally culpable. Notice, even if Drug Inc had done their best to minimise this foreseeable risk, as their actions have needlessly created the risk that would cause accidents Jill's illness, the company would still be liable. Further, suppose Drug Inc can save Jill, it seems unequivocal that they are obligated to do so, even if it is at great personal cost to the company.

With pregnancy, the fact is the mother (along with her partner) is responsible for creating the needy person. In such a scenario, there ought to a spectacularly good reason to make it permissible for them to deal with this by effectively bringing about that person's death, given their culpability. The mere assertion of insisting bodily autonomy falls far, far short of a morally sufficient reason for an abortion.

The Exaggerated Burden objection (2)

This leads to a second disanalogy. One of the main motivations for why we assent to the intuition that unplugging from the violinist is morally permissible concerns the serious burden it would for anyone to undertake such an ordeal to save another. Being hooked up to another person would involve being hospitalised and bedridden in varying degrees of discomfort for the entire 9 months. Moreover, our lifestyle would be miserable, as this treatment would completely divorce us from our work, hobbies, family live and pretty much everything else.

Clearly, this differs significantly from the burdens typically experienced by pregnant women (which should not be underestimated by any means). Prospective mothers certainly do make sacrifices in pregnancy and in giving birth. However, the violinist analogy grossly exaggerates these burdens, to the point where the parallels between Thomson's example and pregnancy break down. None of the above applies to pregnancy, except in the most rare of circumstances. If Con's scenario reflected normal pregnancies, there can be little doubt it would be a much less common occurrence, with only moral exemplars willing to make such sacrifices to bring a child into the world. Given the chasm of difference between Con's scenario and a normal pregnancy, it seems we ought to be wholly sceptical that the violinist intuition is analogous to abortion.

The Competing Bodily Rights Objection (3)

This criticism is more limited in scope than the others, but powerfully conveys an important point about the reality of abortion, as practised in the real world. To return to the violinist case, if we hold that persons have robust bodily rights, it seems we have to consider not just those of the Good Samaritan, but of the violinist as well. As such, even supposing that it is permissible to cause violinist's death by severing the tubes connecting your body to his, for example, it would be a much more contentious claim if “unplugging” entails ripping his body apart, dismembering him and so forth. It should be undeniable to claim that the intuition to unplug from is wholly independent from the intuition that it could be permissible to destroy the violinist's body, if that were the only means to separate from the violinist. Indeed, from a strictly bodily rights standpoint, unplugging by disregarding the violinist's rights would simply be inconsistent. The violinist's body, by Con's own reasoning, ought to enjoy the same protective rights as those of the person he is connected to.

The importance of this objection is that most common methods of abortion are only analogous to destroying the violinist's body, not simply unplugging from it. As Jeff McMahan explains:

“The standard methods for performing abortions clearly involve the killing of the fetus: the fetus dies by being mangled or poisoned in the process of being removed from the uterus.” (4)

As such, if Con is consistent, he must hold that most methods of abortion are impermissible, even if his argument is sound.

The Stranger vs Offspring Objection

One last objection is that Con's argument ignores the difference between parental obligations and the minimal duties we have to strangers. Suppose, for example, we imagine that we are hooked up to our own child, rather than the violinist. Clearly, the intuition whether we can unplug changes, depending on our relationship to the patient. It is enough to say that the intuition that unplugging in this scenario would be much more contentious than Con's original case. Again, insofar as Con's argument neglects this very important factor, it is simply not applicable to abortion.


As we can see, there are numerous powerful reasons to reject the violinist case as analogous to abortion. As such, we have multiple reasons to reject the claim that abortion can be likened to unplugging. Thus, Con's analogy, if it is not be dismissed outright, must incorporate these dissimilarities.


1-3. Chris Kaczor, Ethics of Abortion, pp 145-76

4. Jeff McMahan, The Ethics of Killing, P378

5. David Boonin, A Defense of Abortion, P227



Thank you Pro for presenting very powerful objections to the violinist argument. I will respond to them in the next round. In this round I will present my own objections to your future-like-ours argument.

Personal Identity
With regards to premise 2 of the future-like-ours argument, Pro claims it is uncontroversial that the fetus has a future of value, and abortion denies it from being realized. However, is this true? Well, it’s not entirely clear that it is. Implicit in Pro’s argument is that the somatic or animalist view of personal identity is true. Pro gives no argument for why we should believe in this view, and so his future-like-ours argument makes an assumption that is not obviously correct contrary to his statement.

Let me explain what I’m talking about. Personal identity, as far as I understand it, is concerned with the question of what makes someone the same over time. So, how am I the same individual in the past, present, and future? The two popular views among philosophers that try to answer this question are the animalist view and the psychological view. The animalist view claims what makes us the same individual over time is the fact that we have the same body.

So, you are identical to your past, present, and future self if you have the same body. By same body I simply mean that you are the same biological organism over time. The animalist view of identity says that organism or animal reading this debate right now is you. If somebody asked you “what makes you the same individual through time?” A believer in the somatic view would reply “being in the same body makes me the same over time.”

The other popular view is the psychological account of identity. This view takes many different forms, but it can roughly be described as follows. The psychological view claims what makes us the same individual over time is the fact that we have the same consciousness or mind. By same consciousness or mind I mean we have the same *basic* memories, personality traits, beliefs, desires, and intentions. The psychological view of identity says that conscious mind reading this debate right now is you, and that your body or flesh and blood is not you.

You can think of your body as akin to a vehicle you drive around in. When we apply these views to the abortion issue, Unitedandy’s argument must accept the animalist view of identity as true. This is because under the psychological view of identity, the killing of a fetus prior to consciousness would not involve depriving it of a future of value. Although abortion uncontroversially kills a human organism, we, according to the psychological view, are not fundamentally or essentially organisms. Therefore, the killing of a pre-conscious fetus would not deprive it of its future of value.

Indeed, on this view, it has no such future. The conscious being that will later emerge, however, will be the individual that has such a future. Perhaps an example will help illustrate my point. Imagine a pro-lifer said to me “what if your mother aborted you when you were an embryo? You would have missed out on your future!”

If I believed in the psychological view of identity, then I would respond to this person as follows, “You’re mistaken, my friend. You see, I never was an embryo. I don’t think I existed until I became conscious at a late stage of pregnancy. Therefore, the destruction of the embryo would not have killed me, but merely prevented me from coming into existence.” The idea is that we are not identical to the fetal stages, since we had no consciousness or mind at that time.

However, under animalism, we would be identical to the fetal stages, since we are identical to our organism throughout the entirety of our existence. Therefore, the fetus would, under animalism, have a future of value since it will be identical to the adult human animal in the future. Now that I’ve briefly explained my understanding of personal identity, I want to give two objections to the animalist view of identity that my friend Unitedandy’s argument is predicated on.

The Brain Swap Analogy
Suppose my friend Unitedandy and I are driving around in my car. While driving we get into a terrible accident, and are quickly rushed to the hospital once paramedics arrive. Once in the operating room, the surgeons discover that my body has been completely destroyed, but my brain is still intact. By contrast, Unitedandy’s brain has been completely destroyed, but his body is still intact. The surgeons start operating and put my brain into Unitedandy’s body.

After the operation is complete, the patient who received it wakes up. We discover that he has the same body as Unitedandy, but the same memories and personality traits as Dookieman. The question is this. In this situation, who are we inclined to think survived? I think virtually everybody would agree that I am the one who lived.

Even defenders of the animalist approach to identity, such as Eric Olsen, shares the transplant intuition that everyone else has. [1] If that’s right, that suggest it makes more sense to believe that what makes us the same individual through time is not our body, but our mind.

Conjoined Twins
Philosopher Jeff McMahan has pointed out a real-life counter-example to animalism, that doesn’t rely on a science fiction case like the one just described. Professor McMahan observes that conjoined twins, such as Abigail and Brittany Hensel, are two persons that share one organism. If that’s right, then neither girl is identical with that organism. For they cannot both be identical with the organism, as that would imply that they were identical with each other, which they are not. [2] Under animalism, there would have to be only be one person here, since there is just one organism. But clearly this is not the case. How can animalism explain away this difficulty?

Electronic and Divine Persons
Unfortunately, animalism also doesn’t seem to provide an account of identity for beings that are not organisms. [3] This is a problem, since these are things that can exists, and might be deserving of a right to life, but would not be included since they have no identity over time under Unitedandy’s view.

We have seen Pro’s future-like-ours argument can only succeed if the animalist account of personal identity is true. Pro gave zero arguments for why we should believe in this view, and so he should in the next round. In addition, I have given three objections to this account of identity, which Pro must also respond to.

[1] Olsen, Eric. “The Human Animal: Personal Identity Without Psychology.” Page 44.
[2] McMahan, Jeff. “The Ethics of Killing: Problems at the Margins of Life.” Page 35.
[3] Don Marquis and Michael Tooley's discussion on "Philosophy TV" at 52:29:

Debate Round No. 2



I want to thank Con for his latest round. In this round, I'll focus exclusively on Con's response to my FLO argument for the impermissibility of abortion. Readers will remember, in my first round, I anticipated that Con would dispute P1 (the major premise of FLO) and so I gave extensive justification of the FLO account for the wrongness of killing. Surprisingly, Con tacitly concedes this by reserving all his criticism for P2, which stated the following:

Abortion is an action that foreseeably deprives a being (the unborn) of its FLO”

As such, if I can justify what I take to be a fairly accepted claim, we have strong reason to conclude that abortion is morally impermissible.

All Con's criticisms in his Round 2 stem from Psychological Continuity. In addressing Con's claims in this round, I will defend 3 basic contentions:

  1. Psychological Continuity, plausibly stated, is compatible with P2, thus Con's criticisms are irrelevant

  2. Con's 3 criticisms, at best, constitute a weak case against P2

  3. Even if Con's criticisms succeed in showing FLO to be unsound, the strong Continuity view as stated by Con leads the Pro-Choice position to moral absurdity

Con's denial of P2

Con attacks P2 indirectly, arguing that it assumes the animalist view of identity and proceeding to give 3 objections against animalism. Before I engage with Con's case, it seems to me that there's a huge danger here in collapsing our discussion of the issue of abortion into a meta-debate on personal identity. Indeed, Con spends most of his round explaining this terrain, rather than responding to P2, such is this danger. As such, I'm going to try and defend P2 without getting too bogged down in the philosophical dispute over identity (which would require another debate).

Contention 1

The Sufficiency Objection

Con asserts that the FLO advocate has to assume that the animalist view is correct, in order to justify P2. This seems to me to be false. All P2 has to deny is what I'll call the Strong Psychological Continuity Thesis (SPCT), which we can define as:

Psychological Continuity is necessary for identity over time

I'll show why this view is problematic in my next contention. Notice however, that if Psychological Continuity were merely sufficient for identity, this would be completely compatible with P2. One could adopt a pluralist or even a weakened Psychological Continuity view, for example. None of these would entail that we have to deny that a foetus is a human being. (1) If this option is viable, then Con's 3 indirect criticisms of P2 simply dissipate. Moreover, a sufficiency view would avoid the objections which plague Con's strong thesis that I detail below, as well as avoiding the potential problems of the animalist view. All this serves to show that P2 is, contrary to Con, modest in its assumptions, as I originally stated.

Contention 2

Arguments for SPCT

Even assuming an animalist position, I contend that we can easily dismiss two of Con's criticisms.

Conjoined Twins

Con argues that conjoined twins provide a real life defeater for the animalist view. Animalism holds that an organism is identical with its body, yet we have one body and two persons (Abigail and Brittany Hensel). As such, Con concludes this view must be false.

However, the Hensel example is easily compatible with the animalist view. Abigail and Brittany are two organisms fused together. They are just organisms who are not independent of one another (i.e. “conjoined”). While the twins are joined at the hip, each twin has their own heart, stomach, brainstem and spines. (2) As Liao notes, “they have partially distinct organs that are united.” (3) As such, Con's objection is simply misguided.

Electronic and Divine Persons

Con argues that animalism would exclude possible persons with a right to life if they do not have a physical body. As such, we ought to reject it.

This can be dismissed as simply a misreading of animalism. As the SEP states:

“(Animalism) is consistent with the existence of wholly inorganic people: gods or angels or conscious robots.”(4)

Indeed, many theists hold this kind of view, so it seems surprising Con would raise this criticism.

Brain Swap

Con's last argument is that if we transplant a brain into another's body, our intuition is to transfer personal identity to wherever the brain/mind ends up.

I agree with Con that this example favours the continuity thesis (I'm not convinced that it favours the strong interpretation, but I'll put that aside) . However, the problems of the Continuity Thesis more than even this advantage out. On the continuity thesis, for example, an organism with Multiple Personality Disorder could be 26 persons, yet it seems just strongly intuitive that a therapist does not become a serial killer by treating and ultimately eliminating these alter egos. (5) The intuitive strength of the Brain Swap criticism of animalism seems no greater than the Multiple Personality Objection against Continuity.

So, we're left with either a stand-off or at the very most, a weak evidential against P2, at least before I give a more full justification of it below. More likely though, it seems to me we're left with a motivation to find a pluralist view identity, which I outlined previously. Again, such a view would actually be compatible with P2.

Justification of P2

Was I a foetus?

Philosophers typically distinguish between human being and persons (where only the latter have moral value), to argue for abortion choice. I don't have any sympathy for this view, but it is defensible.

Con makes the much stronger (and consequently much less defensible) claim, denying that we were ever a foetus/embryo. Instead, he holds that we begin to exist “at a late stage in pregnancy”, in order to deny that the unborn have a FLO. This seems to be to be completely at odds with the scientific community, who hold that whatever value we place upon a foetus, it most certainly is a human being:

“Physicians, biologists and other scientists agree that conception marks the beginning of the life of a human being – a being that is alive and is a member of the human species.” (6)

This is scientifically incontestable. Fertilisation results in the formation of a distinct, living organism “whose cells work together in a coordinated effort of self-development” culminating, eventually, in a newborn. (7) Indeed, the fact that Con's view denies this obvious fact is one of the main objections to it in the philosophical literature. Moreover, denying that we are a foetus would lead to the vexing question of where does the foetus go when we come to be? As such, insofar as the SPCT contests P2, it is implausible.

Contention 3

Even if the SPCT somehow defeats the FLO argument, it saddles the Pro-Choicer with 2 moral objections against their view arguably even more powerful than original FLO.

The Permissibility of Foetal Harm

Con holds that a human does not exist (in the relevant sense) until “a late stage of pregnancy”. This is why, on his view, a foetus does not have a FLO. However, it stands to reason that if Con's view legitimises abortion because, prior to consciousness, there is no being to harm, it follows all sorts of things become permissible, until the later stages of pregnancy.

Take Jenny, a 4 month foetus. Imagine Jenny's mother knowingly ingested Thalidomide (which causes babies to be born absent limbs) or continued taking drugs just before Con's late stage of pregnancy, resulting in a drug-addicted baby.

Or take Penny, a 4 week old embryo. Suppose a sadistic IVF doctor maliciously manipulates Penny's DNA, ensuring that Penny's body is riddled with cancer when she is 5 years old.

On Con's view, it seems he cannot argue that these are morally grotesque. After all, if Jenny the foetus or Penny the Embryo do not “exist” when these actions occur, who is wronged? Neither Jenny nor Penny “exist” at that point, so how can they be harmed? Of course, on a normal bodily rights view (absent the SPCT), these problems are arguably escapable. But if we assert that abortion prior to consciousness harms no-one, how can we consistently prohibit these harms to the unborn? I fail to see how this can be done.

Con is caught in a dilemma: either these actions above are permissible (which is morally obscene) or consciousness is not a necessary condition for harm, which would diffuse his claim that the unborn do not have a FLO.


Con's view on its face looks as if it would at least arguably support infanticide in every case, given he cashes out plausibility in terms of higher mind states like “...beliefs, desires, and intentions.” In any case, it is very easy to give an example for which Con will be forced to hold, on the SPCT, that infanticide is morally permissible.

Suppose at the embryonic stage, Derek has easily treatable ailment X. Moreover, stipulate that a side effect of the treatment for X is that it completely blocks consciousness until 5 weeks after Derek is born.

It seems, on Con's view, that newborn Derek will not have a right to life and it would be permissible to kill him, even after birth. As Con holds consciousness as necessary for a being to exist, it seems there would be no being harmed if Derek were killed at 4 weeks after birth.

The problem is that embracing the permissiblility of infanticide is morally untenable (particularly if we're valuing intuitions in our moral deliberations). Thus, the Pro-Choice response to FLO may be even more deadly for this position than the original Pro-Life argument.


In short, we are rationally compelled to reject Con's response to FLO for 3 different kinds of reasons. Indeed, from a purely pragmatic point of view, the Pro-Choicer ought to reject Con's response to FLO.



2, 3 Liao, cited in Kaczor, P114

5 – Kaczor P115

6 – Alcorn, cited in Kaczor, P104

7 – Kaczor, P104-5



Thank you Pro for responding to my objections. I will now respond to yours.

An Evidential Case Against Bodily Rights?
Pro maintains that in presenting objections to the violinist analogy, he will adopt an evidential approach. According to him, this means that it might be the case that no objection in particular is enough to refute Thomson’s argument in isolation. However, when these objections are added together or combined with other objections, it is enough to undermine the argument. This way of responding to the violinist analogy is puzzling. If Pro admits that no single objection he presents is enough to destroy the argument, how can adding or combining these objections together make any difference?

For example, suppose I wanted to argue that nonhuman animals do not have moral status. Why? This is because they have four legs, feathers, and horns. You point out that not all nonhuman animals have four legs, feathers, or horns. Moreover, these characteristics are irrelevant to moral status anyway.

I agree with you, but then reason as follows. Although each of these characteristics *in isolation* do not establish that nonhuman animals lack moral status, taken together they provide a cogent argument. This is absurd. A bad argument is not strengthened by another bad argument. Therefore, if I can demonstrate that none of these objections individually is satisfactory, I will succeed in my defense of Thomson’s argument. I admire my friend Unitedandy’s novel attempt at trying to respond to the argument in this evidential way, however. It shows how willing he is to think outside the box and stand out from others.

The Negligence Objection
Pro’s first objection starts with the observation that there is a dissimilarity between the violinist analogy I gave and pregnancy. In the violinist case, you did not do any act that led to the violinist’s predicament. But in pregnancy, at least in typical cases, a woman had sex and created the fetus that now needs her body to go on living. After pointing out this difference, he gives an analogy which involves doing an act that destroys somebody’s kidneys in pursuit of a desired end, and argues that this analogy is more akin to pregnancy. So, the claim seems to be that when you cause another person to need your body for continued life, you become morally required to assist them.

Even if that means it will be a substantial cost to you. I call this the negligence objection, since it is always used in comparisons between cases of where somebody is harmed. Does this objection undermine the violinist argument? I’m inclined to think that it does not. In order to understand why this is so, we have to look at Pro’s analogy.

In his analogy, as far as I understand it, the drug company who gave Jill the bad drug put her in a worse condition than she was in before. This is why you now owe her assistance, because you have to compensate her for the harm you have caused. This strikes me as no different from the other sorts of cases (drunk driver hits a pedestrian, hunter accidentally shoots a child who now needs the hunter’s assistance) that critics of the violinist analogy have deployed. The difference between my friend Unitedandy’s case and these others, on the one hand, and the pregnancy case, on the other, is that while giving Jill a drug or accidentally shooting her or negligently hitting her with your car makes her worse off than she was before (or than she would have been had you not knocked, short or hit her), conceiving a child does not make her worse off than she was before (or than she would have been had you not conceived her). Therefore, the consideration that generates the obligation to assist in the drug, hunting and driving cases does not apply in the conception case.

And so the argument from the claim that you would owe assistance to Jill in the former cases to the conclusion that you would also owe such assistance in the latter case is unsuccessful.

The Exaggerated Burden Objection
Pro’s second dissimilarity objection attacks the violinist analogy by challenging the idea that carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term is as burdensome as being hooked up to the violinist. Pregnancy is surely a sacrifice, yes, but it doesn’t require you to remain bedridden for the entire 9 month period. I don’t think this objection is convincing, because carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term followed by labor and delivery is *roughly similar* to the burden involved in being hooked up to the violinist. Philosopher David Boonin in his book “A Defense of Abortion” has listed just some of the physical burdens that happen to pregnant women:

“Physical cost: You will almost certainly suffer at least some of the following common symptoms over the next nine months: fatigue, nausea, vomiting, frequent urination, excessive salivation, heartburn, indigestion, flatulence, bloating, constipation, headaches, faintness or dizziness, food aversions and cravings, varicose veins, cramps, body aches, hemorrhoids, bleeding gums, backache, skin blotching, swelling of ankles and feet, itchy abdomen, shortness of breath, difficulty sleeping, clumsiness, nosebleeds. In addition, you will certainly gain weight over nine months to the point where you will experience discomfort and difficulty moving; you will also have to endure the process of losing the weight afterwards or suffer long-term health consequences.

Also, you will find that you will be very restricted in the medications you will be permitted to take; if you suffer from allergies, for example, you may well find that you’ll have to live with the symptoms, as well as many of the symptoms already described. Finally, there will be a period of at least a few hours and quite possibly many more than this during which you will experience physical contractions about which nearly every other person who has undergone this procedure has said, “It was the most excruciating pain I have ever felt in my entire life.” There will then be a slow process of recuperation during which you will at the least be exhausted and sore, and may also have to recover from some minor incisions that are routinely done to facilitate the procedure.” [1]

I conclude that this objection does not destroy the violinist analogy.

The Competing Bodily Rights Objection
Pro’s third dissimilarity objection to the violinist analogy makes the observation that abortion is not similar to Thomson’s story. In the violinist situation, the way you bring about his death is by simply unplugging from him. However, abortion, at least in typical cases, is not at all like this. Rather than a gentle detachment, the fetus is completely destroyed by being ripped to pieces by a vacuum. Surely, it is permissible to unplug yourself from the violinist when you merely detach yourself from him, but it’s not permissible to cut up his body in order to free yourself from him.

If that’s right, the critic maintains, the violinist analogy cannot justify a pregnant woman removing the fetus from her body if it means destroying the fetus’ body. How should a defender of Thomson’s argument respond? I have two responses. First of all, I want to deny that most abortions are like this. Indeed, in my friend Unitedandy’s country of Scotland, medical abortions make up 81% of all abortions. [2]

Medical abortions involve taking pills and cause the pregnant woman to have a miscarriage. This method of abortion does not in any way destroy the body of the fetus, and is more analogous to unplugging from the violinist. Second, if you remembered correctly, the violinist in Thomson’s story is unconscious. If that’s right, then cutting up his body to free yourself will not cause him any pain. Given this fact, why would it be worse to destroy the violinist rather than unplug from him? So, at least prior to consciousness, it seems to me that the violinist analogy could also justify those forms of abortion that involve destruction of the fetus rather than extraction.

The Stranger versus Offspring Objection
Pro’s final criticism of the Thomson’s analogy points to a difference in the relationship between the violinist scenario and pregnancy. In the Thomson’s story, the violinist you’re hooked up to is a complete stranger. Surely we have no obligations to strangers. In the case of pregnancy, however, the woman is pregnant with her own biological offspring. Surely, the critic maintains, we have obligations to our children that we don’t owe to strangers.

It’s clear that in raising this objection Pro is referring to the biological sense of somebody's child to undercut Thomson’s analogy. I simply have one response. For one thing, why is merely being related to someone morally significant? What is the basis for this view?

Pro might reply that it’s just obvious, but it’s not clear to me that it is. Consider the following example. Suppose a man’s sperm is stolen from him, and it is used to create a child even though he has explicitly stated that he never wants kids. Suppose further this child grows up and ends up needing a very painful bone marrow transplant from a donor related to him. If we accept the claim that we have obligations to anybody that is our biological offspring, Pro would have to say the man in this scenario is morally required go through with the bone marrow donation. This is hard to believe.

Pro has presented four objections to Thomson’s violinist analogy to undermine her argument. At face value these objections seem very powerful, but ultimately they appear to be unsuccessful. But perhaps I’m mistaken about this. I don’t know! Let’s see what my friend Unitedandy thinks of my replies to his objections in the next round.

[1] Boonin, David. “A Defense of Abortion.” Page 239
[2] “Termination of Pregnancy Statistics.” Page 14

Debate Round No. 3



In my last round, I'll try to give an overview of the main areas of dispute, to show that the Pro-Life case in this debate has been the most plausible.

An evidential approach against bodily rights

My Original case

I began by arguing that my objections should be interpreted as providing a cumulative case against Con's violinist argument being parallel to pregnancy. So long as (1) each objection has some force in weakening the violinist intuition and (2) these objections weaken the violinist intuition to be less compelling than the Pro-Life arguments (FLO, Foetal Harm, Infanticide), we have strong evidence that abortion is impermissible.

Con's Criticism

Con holds that we must take an all or nothing approach to these objections, arguing “if I can demonstrate that none of these objections individually is satisfactory, I will succeed in my defense of Thomson's argument.”

My Response

Con's denial of an evidential method is implausible. Suppose we're in a murder trial. It will likely be that any piece of evidence (e.g. fingerprints on the murder weapon) in isolation does not prove guilt. Similarly, an eye-witness, on its own, does not prove guilt. Yet, we know the total evidence, if weighed cumulatively, would reasonably deliver a guilty verdict. If Con's standard is that each objection must be definitive in isolation to have any force at all against his argument, it sees we'd have to reject evidentialism wholesale. Thus, it seems Con's divide and conquer strategy is not a good epistemic rule of thumb and we should accept my cumulative approach.


The Responsibility Objection

My Original Case

I initially responded to Con's argument by pointing out an important disanalogy between pregnancy and the violinist example. In pregnancy, the woman's actions foreseeably cause (i) the sickly violinist's neediness and (ii) her plight (sharing her body with another), whereas in the violinist case, she is a victim and therefore in no way responsible for her predicament. I gave the Jill example in support of this objection.

Con's Criticism

Con argues that in my Jill example, Drug Inc is culpable because their actions make Jill worse off than she was before, whereas pregnancy does not make the child worse off than it would have been otherwise.

My Response

Bad Faith Objection: Readers will remember Con's statement in R1, that his argument:

will not rest on claims about the metaphysical or moral status of the fetus. I will grant, for the sake of argument, that the fetus has the same right to life you and I have.”

Bodily Rights arguers always do this and for good reason. If Con were to assume a foetus doesn't have the right to life, his case would be obviously question-begging. Alternatively, if Con were to argue this when running this argument (e.g. through a personhood argument), bodily rights become wholly redundant – a successful personhood case would have already established the permissibility of abortion.

Con makes the moral distinction between (i) needy persons and (ii) bringing into existence a person in need, replying to my Jill example. Suppose he's correct. Con is essentially saying that the foetus does not have the same moral weight as the violinist – he is disputing “the moral status of the fetus.” By doing so, Con reduces his own argument to either begging the question or a triviality, effectively destroying the Bodily Rights case.

Amending the analogy

However, suppose Con's distinction diffuses the Jill example. It seems obvious that a woman would still be morally culpable for the existence of a person in need, as seen by the following example:

Suppose we have a Pleasure Machine, where pressing the button creates a euphoric sensation. However, 1 in every 100 cases, this machine produces a newborn baby. Moreover, these newborns are born with a condition where they need the mother's body (her breast milk) for the first 9 months. Debbie, being fully informed of this, doesn't want a child. Yet Debbie chooses to forgo this risk to attain pleasure. She pushes the button and a baby pops out. (1)

Clearly, Debbie would be morally responsible for this child, even to the point where she lets the child use her body. If she lets it die by refusing it her body, she would be morally culpable. Why? Because Debbie is responsible for her plight and that of the child.

Moreover, 38% of all abortions are repeat abortions. (2) Surely, given the carelessness of couples acting so irresponsibly so often, our sympathies ought to shift to the innocent party. Thus, the Responsibility Objection completely diffuses the violinist intuition.

The Exaggerated Burdens Objection

My Original Case

Here, I argued that there is a huge difference between the burdens of pregnancy and those in the violinist case.

Con's Criticism

Con affirms that the burdens in each cases are “roughly similar”, listing some of the various physical burdens of pregnancy.

My Response

The strength of this objection completely depends whether these burdens are “roughly similar”. I will show this is demonstrably false.

First, consider Con's extensive list of pregnancy burdens. Many of these are of the straw-grabbing variety (e.g. food cravings) and are not significant enough to justify letting an innocent human being die.

Second, every burden Con mentions are intermittent, with most occurring sparingly or not at all (e.g. complications with allergies). By contrast, every serious burden in the violinist case ( isolation from daily activities, hospitalisation, discomfort, being bedridden and attached to another's body) would always obtain for the entire 9 months.

I simply ask readers: would you choose pregnancy burdens or being hooked up to the violinist, if you had to? If Con is right, there should be no clear choice. If I am correct, most people will agree that pregnancy is clearly less burdensome.

The Competing Bodily Rights Objection

My Original Case

Here, I argued that as Con grants the unborn are persons like the violinist, we must respect their bodily integrity. As most forms of abortion resemble destroying the violinist, rather than unplugging, we have a strong objection to these methods of abortion.

Con's Criticism

Con gives 2 replies. Firstly, that medical abortions, which make up most abortions, are analogous to unplugging. Second, even if we rip apart the violinist's body, he won't feel any pain, and the foetus arguably doesn't have the right to bodily integrity anyway, prior to consciousness. As such, these methods would be permissible.

My Response

Reply 1: I acknowledged that this doesn't apply to all abortion methods, so Con's criticism seems misplaced. He quotes the figure of medical abortions in Scotland (81%). Scotland seems to be outlier here, for whatever reason (England and Wales, as well as the USA's figure of medical abortions is significantly less than 60%) (3) (4). Almost all the rest of abortions are done using the methods I described. So, this is a much bigger problem than Con supposes. Second, even the if my criticism applied only to a fifth of abortions, this would still involve millions of cases.

Reply 2: It's just trivial to point out that bodily integrity can be violated without being conscious (e.g. coma patients). If Con means to say that the unborn don't have bodily rights absent consciousness, this is just another example of the Bad Faith Objection.

As for Con's statement that it would be permissible to rip another's body apart to unplug, (1) this intuition is much weaker than the original analogy (2) it's self-defeating. Con dispenses with his own principle (bodily rights) to deflect the force of this objection. Lastly, when we factor in that the Good Samaritan/couple are responsible for the situation, it's wildly counter-intuitive to say that they should be able to rip another's body apart to unplug.

Stranger vs Offspring Objection

My Original Case

The intuition that we can unplug and let our own child die is much weaker than than unplugging from a stranger, thus Con's argument again manufactures a disanalogy to wrongly inflate our intuitions in his favour.

Con's Criticism

Con argues that biological relatedness confers no special obligations on us, citing the example of a man's sperm being stolen and contending that we not not be morally required to stay plugged to an unwanted, long-lost child.

My Response

It's not just biological relatedness that I was alluding to. Parents are also de facto guardians of their children, entailing their duties to their child far outweighs the minimal duties to strangers. These can be given up in special circumstances (e.g. adoption) – but only when it's firmly in the interests of the child.

Indeed, one of the consequences of Con's position would be that if parents must volunteer to their duties, unwilling fathers could just “give up” their duty to pay child support. Clearly, this view must be wrong.

The importance of this is that parents have a special obligation to their children, which must entail a commitment not to irrevocably harm them. Clearly, abortion does so and so is seriously morally wrong.

FLO argument

Readers will remember I gave an extensive argument against abortion, based on the FLO account.

Con's response in R2 was to accept the main thrust of FLO, challenging the widely accepted P2. I gave 3 objections to why his Continuity criticism would not work:

1. The Sufficiency Objection (it's irrelevant)

2. Justification of P2 (it provides no real case against P2)

3. Moral Absurdities (it leads to the Foetal Harm and Infanticide Objections)

Thus, it seems the case against abortion remains formidable – much stronger than the violinist analogy.


Thus, on the balance of arguments, we have strong reason to affirm that abortion is morally impermissible.


1 - Scott Klusendorf, The Case for Life, P195

2, 3 - (page 5)

4 -



Thank you Pro for putting forth your last round of objections. In my last round, I will concede defeat on not having refuted Pro’s argument through my personal identity objections. However, this does not mean my case for abortion has failed. Indeed, Thomson’s violinist analogy shows that abortion can still be permissible even if the fetus has a right to life. Therefore, if I can give satisfactory responses to Pro’s criticisms in my last round, I will succeed in my defense of a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

An Evidential Approach Against Bodily Rights?
Pro claims that it is unreasonable of me to deny his evidential approach in attacking Thomson’s argument. He says my claim that each individual objection must succeed on its own in destroying her analogy is akin to saying that a single piece of evidence in a murder trial can be dismissed if it doesn’t prove guilt by itself. I don’t disagree with Pro’s analogy of a murder trial or using evidence in a cumulative way to arrive at a conclusion. However, I think Pro would agree that each individual evidence that is used in a cumulative case actually has to be good. Going back to the murder trial analogy, if the fingerprints on the murder weapon do not belong to the defendant, and the eye witness says she saw somebody else commit the crime, the prosecution’s case is not made more compelling if they continue to add on or combine more evidence that is also bad.

When this is applied to Thomson’s violinist analogy, I think the same line of reasoning follows. Namely, if each objection my friend Unitedandy raises against Thomson’s argument is bad, his case will not be made stronger by combining these objections together So, I’ll say it again. If I can demonstrate that none of these objections individually is satisfactory, I will succeed in my defense of Thomson’s analogy. Looking at this through the lens of the murder trial analogy, if I can show that each piece of evidence by the prosecution is bad, my client walks free.

Responsibility Objection
Pro claims I have argued somewhere in my pervious response to this objection that I basically said the fetus does not have the same moral weight as the violinist. This is not at all true. Why does he even think I did this? My response to the responsibility objection was simply that the reason for why you would owe assistance to Jill in the drug company case is because you put her in a worse condition than she was in before. However, when a woman conceives a fetus, that does not put the fetus in a worse condition than she was in before.

This is because, prior to the woman engaging in intercourse, the fetus didn’t exist at all. If I am mistaken about this, and the act of conceiving does make the fetus worse off, then I would agree the pregnant woman would owe assistance to the fetus in the same way you would with Jill. But, for the reason I already explained, this is implausible. How does this response dispute the moral status of the fetus?

Baby-Making Machine Analogy
Pro gives a different analogy than his Jill example to demonstrate how, even if the pregnant woman doesn’t make the fetus worse off, she should still be morally required to let the fetus use her body. Suppose a woman pushes a button that will give her great pleasure, but will have the result that a baby pops out and will only be able to survive if she breastfeeds it. Does the woman in this story have an obligation to let this child use her body by breastfeeding it? Yes, she does. Why?

This is because the cost or burden involved in breastfeeding are trivial compared to carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term or being hooked up to the violinist. In other words, Pro’s analogy is nothing like pregnancy, since breastfeeding a child is easy and being pregnant is not. If pregnancy was as trivial a burden as breastfeeding, then I don’t think Thomson’s argument could justify abortion. But, given the list I gave last round of the difficulties pregnant women go through, I think it’s clear that’s not the case.

Exaggerated Burdens
Pro claims that pregnancy is not roughly similar to the burdens involved in being hooked up to the violinist. He says many of the things mentioned on Boonin’s list of burdens in pregnancy are unimportant, and that the burdens involved in being hooked up to the violinist are continuous, whereas this is not the case with pregnancy. I don’t see how this refutes my claim that the burdens are, again, *roughly similar.* I already agree that they are not the same in every respect, and that there are some differences between the two situations. Both cases force the person providing life support to endure considerable cost to themselves, which, I think, is the only thing that is relevant.

Competing Bodily Rights
Here there seems to be an empirical dispute between Pro and I on whether medical abortions make up the majority of abortions done. The reason I pointed out the figures in Scotland is because that is where my friend Unitedandy lives, and he is the one who instigated this debate. I guess I presupposed we would be debating this issue on his home turf so to speak. However, medical abortions seem to be the most used method of abortion worldwide if we consider the countries in Europe. [1] Since medical abortion are more akin to unplugging from the violinist, it would seem that Thomson’s analogy justifies abortion in the vast majority of cases.

I will not attempt to defend my second criticism of this objection, since I believe Pro gave a good response to it and I don’t think my reply will be satisfactory. But for the record, I wasn’t claiming that the fetus has no right to bodily integrity prior to consciousness. I think I misunderstood his argument with the killing versus letting die objection, which led to my confusing response. That was my mistake.

Stranger versus Offspring
Pro claims that if we don’t consider biological relation to be important, then there is no way to explain the intuition people have that fathers owe child support to their children once they are born. However, I don’t think this is the case. In the case of child support, the father is simply asked to hand over some money. This is fundamentally different, in terms of burden, than letting someone live inside your body for 9 months with all the symptoms involved in pregnancy. Moreover, if that’s not convincing, I still think most people recognize that our right to be free of bodily intrusions is more significant than our right to be free of financial burdens.

Virtually everybody agrees, for example, that it can be okay to force people to pay significant taxes to build new roads but wrong to force people to build the roads, okay to have large fines for certain crimes but not okay to force people to give blood for certain crimes. I don’t have much to say about the basis for this distinction, but I do think most people would acknowledge that it makes a difference. So, in short, the difference between the child support case and pregnancy has to do with the degree to which there is a significant burden on bodily rather than financial autonomy. Since there is this morally relevant differnce between the two cases, a defender of Thomson's argument can consistently maintain that women choosing abortion is permissible, but men denying child support is not.

In this debate I have attempted to show that philosopher Judith Thomson’s violinist analogy shows that abortion is generally morally permissible. Whether I have succeeded in doing this I am far from certain. Nevertheless, this is the most enjoyable debate I have ever done! Thank you Unitedandy for allowing me to take part in this debate. I now feel like I have a better understanding of your point of view as well as my own.

[1] Medical abortions as a percentage of all abortions:

Debate Round No. 4
28 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by whiteflame 1 year ago
>Reported vote: Canada98// Mod action: Removed<

6 points to Con (Conduct, Arguments, Sources). Reasons for voting decision: Pro made better arguments and points and also cited from better sources. I give this debate to pro.

[*Reason for removal*] (1) The voter doesn"t explain conduct. (2) Arguments and sources are insufficiently explained. Merely restating the point allocation is not sufficient analysis.
Posted by unitedandy 1 year ago
On surgical abortions, my point is that bodily rights arguers have to be consistent. They ought to oppose every method of abortion that destroys the unborn. Period. This puts them in the position of, as you say, advocating the moral/legal permissibility of abortion generally, yet practically speaking, these people must oppose most abortions in the US. Boonin says that this is a position which virtually no-one holds, but I think people who run this argument simply must hold it. If this makes their position on abortion seem weird, implausible or whatever, that's just the price of running this argument. Thus, bodily rights arguments, even if successful, do not apply to almost all surgical abortions. Yet, how many Pro-Choicers do we see calling for the end of these practices?

Another important implication of this kind of view, as Kaczor notes, is that we could end up with artificial wombs, given technological progress. This could lead to extracting the unborn from unwilling mothers, letting them develop outside the mother. Thus, instead of killing the unborn, we'd relieve the woman of her burden, whilst keeping the unborn alive. This sounds like a pretty rare compromise - effectively giving each side exactly what they claim to want, assuming Pro-Choicers would be happy to forgo legalised abortion in favour of artificial wombs.

Anyway, that's my thoughts, lol.
Posted by unitedandy 1 year ago

The second assumption is that even a weakened version of this intuition is enough to outweigh an otherwise uncontested, seemingly sound FLO argument. As for you disputing the original intuition is mitigated to some degree, I think this is obviously implicit in your responses. When you claim for example that the burdens of pregnancy are roughly equivalent to the violinist, you are accepting that our intuition is the pregnancy case is slightly different. You responded that these differences are not enough to derail the argument. Whether this is true or not, it seems obvious we're talking about a slightly different (weaker) bodily rights intuition. The only question is whether this intuition is weaker to such a degree that we need to dispense with the violinist intuition.

Similarly, when you respond to the Responsibility Objection, you acknowledge this isn't a factor in the original case. Both of us then present competing views of responsibility. The fact though that the violinist intuition is now contingent upon your view of responsibility being right and mine being wrong makes it much more contestable. It's gone from a largely uncontestable intuition (even for Pro-Lifers) to one that I would actually deny outright. Same with biological/parental obligation. If your position is that these make NO difference, again this view seems controversial at best, wholly unlike the bulletproof intuition we began with. If these do make some degree of difference, the fundamental intuition of the bodily rights argument has to acknowledge this dissimilarity with pregnancy, thus weakening the parallels to it (to some degree).

Again, people might say, "You know what, if we incorporate all these changes, it's still more plausible than FLO". But (1) incorporating these changes means the violinist intuition has to be adjusted accordingly and (2) as I said, I don't get how the intuition, in its weaker form, outweighs an uncontested FLO argument.
Posted by unitedandy 1 year ago

On FLO - You say that you did in fact contest FLO as an argument against abortion. You're right.You did. The problem is you effectively withdrew this criticism:

"I will concede defeat on not having refuted Pro"s argument through my personal identity objections"

Indeed, if you were to keep the Continuity criticism to P2, I'd be quite happy for my position to stand or fall on the Fetal Harm/Infanticide objections.

At this point, I'm sure you'll argue that Thomson's argument was the response to FLO in some way. This means your position seems to be something like:

Even if FLO is compelling, we should still assent that abortion is permissible, owing to bodily rights

Notice this is what I said - FLO is not contested (at least directly). Further, it requires two assumptions. The first, as I said is that we should prefer the violinist intuition to what (in the context of the debate at least), looks like a sound argument against abortion (FLO). I guess I don't see a good reason to think if FLO AND Thomson's arguments seem equally compelling, we should immediately opt for bodily rights. Perhaps FLO just gives us a reason to doubt our intuition in the violinist case. Indeed, as I said, the only reason I can think of would be that RT is pro-choice himself, and so naturally inclines to that position, which is fair enough.
Posted by Dookieman 1 year ago

True, I did give criticisms or objections to Pro's FLO argument. But at no point in this debate did I give a positive argument for the claim that the fetus does not have a right to life. So I don't think my conduct at any time during this debate was inappropriate.
Posted by Dookieman 1 year ago
Also, I do think Rational Thinker could have given a more detailed response or at least included examples as to why he thought my responses were good enough to undermine your points.
Posted by Dookieman 1 year ago
"The problem I have is that in the debate, FLO is essentially uncontested."

The FLO argument may not have been contested as a satisfactory account of the wrongness of killing, but it was contested on the grounds that it demonstrates that abortion is impermissible.

"Moreover, the violinist intuition (however strong we might find it initially) is mitigated to some degree, again by Con's own admission."

At no point in the debate do I remember saying that the plausibility of the violinist analogy is mitigated to some degree. Indeed, I specifically argued against this in my responses to you.

"Most obviously, Con seems to accept (if I've read him right in R4) that surgical abortions would indeed be impermissible, which make up a significant portion of abortions generally."

This is true depending on the country one lives in. In the U.S. as far as I understand it, surgical abortions do make up the majority. But in Scotland, and other countries in Europe, medical abortions are the majority. Perhaps it should have been specified which country's practice of abortion we are debating over.
Posted by unitedandy 1 year ago
"I guess I just don't agree that the violinist argument is anywhere near compelling enough to warrant that kind of view"

It should say as the end, lol.
Posted by unitedandy 1 year ago

First off, cheers for your vote. Obviously I don't agree with the substance of it, but it's well considered and fair.

On the substance, the debate rests on what argument is more plausible in the debate, FLO or the volinist argument. Obviously, since you are Pro-Choice, all else being equal, you're much more likely to favour Con's argument. That's understandable and unavoidable (people will obviously find articulate versions of their own positions more appealing than rival views). So be it. I think it's very contentious what argument presents the best case for their respective positions, but let's just grant that, ceteris paribus, the violinist argument is more compelling than FLO.

The problem I have is that in the debate, FLO is essentially uncontested. That is, Con disputes P2, but then completely withdraws this criticism in R4 - conceding that his entire case against FLO is mistaken, rejecting his only criticism. So, on the Pro-Life side, we have a pretty powerful argument that, by Con's own admission, is completely unscathed.

Moreover, the violinist intuition (however strong we might find it initially) is mitigated to some degree, again by Con's own admission. Most obviously, Con seems to accept (if I've read him right in R4) that surgical abortions would indeed be impermissible, which make up a significant portion of abortions generally. Similarly, Con accepts that the violinist's burdens are different (even if similar to) pregnancy. My point is that even the most favourable construal of Con's argument would accept that the original intuition is weakened/changed from its formulation in R1.

All that being said RT, your claim amounts to something like:

The violinist intuition is so powerful that, even a (to some extent) weakened version of this intuition surpasses a compelling argument that goes completely uncontested (FLO).

I guess I just don't agree that the violinist argument is anywhere near compelling enough to warrant that kind o
Posted by Ragnar 1 year ago
The keep the legs together... That is not the worst argument on the topic, the worst on the topic is the if she gets pregnant it wasn't rape argument...
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Rational_Thinker9119 1 year ago
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Total points awarded:23 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro clearly had better sources (as Con cited Wikipedia twice, which as we know is shaky). Also, I initially thought Conduct should go to Pro as well as Con said he was granting that the fetus has the same right to life as us, but made arguments that went against this apparent concession. I decided against this as I should charitiably assume that was a mistake by Con. This debate was extremely hard to judge as both debaters were extremely skilled. I felt Unitedandy had a better structure to his rounds so they were easier to read, but that isn't one of the voter criterias so I must ignore it. I felt a lot of the arguments cancelled each other out and for me the debate rested on the strength of the violinist analogy. Pro did a good job of prima facie undermining the analogy, but I felt Con's responses showed that on second glance; the strength of the analogy remained. With that being said this debate wasn't easy to judge and it was in no way one sided.