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

This House believes that abortion is morally permissible.

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Post Voting Period
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after 3 votes the winner is...
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/25/2013 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 7,767 times Debate No: 35073
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (127)
Votes (3)




This is in case UnitedAndy wishes to debate this resolution for the Jury debating tournament. The resolution is as it stands. The resolution itself is:

This House believes that abortion is morally permissible.

I'll wait for my opponent to accept. Thank you.


Official DDO tournament 3 (Jury Voting)


First I want to thank Airmax and Devilsadvocate for setting up this tournament. Given the number of false starts we’ve had, I should thank them both for their patience as well and I hope it is worth the wait. I also want to thank Stephen Hawkins as well for agreeing to this debate last minute. It’s great to debate a fellow Brit, especially such a well-established member on such an important topic.

As this round is primarily for acceptance, I’ll quickly introduce some brief definitions and then allow Pro to make his opening case.


Abortion - the medical process of ending a pregnancy so it does not result in the birth of a baby.

Morally permissible - ethically acceptable.

Obviously, these definitions are somewhat minimal, largely because I don't foresee or expect any issue over semantics. I’ve tried to be as broad and unassuming as possible, particularly with regards to morality.


PC - Pro-Choice

PL - Pro-Life

To avoid equivocation over stages of development in pregnancy, I'll also use the term "unborn" as an all-encompassing label.


With this, I'll invite Pro to make his case and wish him the best of luck.


Debate Round No. 1


Thank you for this debate, and I hope to get straight stuck into this. However, I just want to highlight this issue and make clear the scope of the debate.

Currently according to IPAS, unsafe abortion kills 200 women a day[1]. This is a tragedy, and if banning abortion doesn’t reduce the abortion rate but instead increases the rate of unsafe abortions, then making it illegal is immoral, clearly; I am sure my opponent will agree with me on this issue. However, this debate isn't about whether abortion ought to be illegal or not, but whether it is immoral. Moreover, the debate is not about whether the medical procedure of abortion in some of its forms are wrong, or about public awareness of the issue. Of course, this is severely important in public policy, and still an existent issue: according to Charlottle Byrne, “they just throw the baby in the bin”[2]. However, this is not what the debate is about. It is about the ethical side of the debate.

Secondly, I want to narrow the scope of the debate even more. Consider the case of Rosa. “25,000 people in Spain have asked the RCC to excommunicate them. Their move is in support of a Nicaraguan couple who were thrown out of the Church for allowing their [9 year old] daughter to have an abortion after she was raped.”[3] I think we both agree that abortion in this situation can be justified. Not only was it rape of someone so young, but also giving birth at such a age usually led to death. However, we must focus on abortion in general being morally permissible.

The vast majority of abortions, a procedure to end the potential life of a child, come through the use of the morning after pill. Somewhere between 20% and 40% of younger women have used the morning after pill[4]. So this is the form I will focus on for my opening argument in favour of the choice to abortion.

Consider the following.

Dorothy, 14, and her mother Rachel are among the first clients to arrive. She is nervous and embarrassed, waiting to be told off for getting pregnant at such a young age. Bare-faced and wearing an Alice band and simple T-shirt and jogging bottoms, she looks painfully young. [Her GP] gave her the number of a youth sexual-health service near her home in North London which, in turn, referred her here. At her first consultation a week ago, the nurse spoke to her alone to make sure that she was not acting under duress and genuinely wanted to end the pregnancy. That is a statutory duty. The first of two drugs was administered then, and today Dorothy will receive the second. That will begin the medical abortion once she gets home.[5]

Is this wrong? I believe that the debate revolves around a single point: is a fetus a morally valuable person? If so, abortion is murdering another and is morally wrong. If not, then abortion is perfectly permissible. So, I shall analyse are standards for whether a fetus is a morally valuable person. I’ll establish my own case for what makes a morally valuable person, then move to the potential argument.

So, what makes something a person? The most obvious starting point is “a human”. This is what many people would say and have said. However, this is of course not true. For consider an alien species coming to earth with the same, if not more, developed code of society, culture, ethics and philosophy than us. They are conscious, rational, people. These creatures of course gain the right to life, and we’d have to extend our “human rights” to “personhood rights”. Therefore, being a person is more than just being “human”.

What does this entail? Well, if you’ve accepted what I have stated, then it is one of the characteristics of “developed code[s]”, or “conscious” or “rational”. Or, and this is my preferred answer, some combination of the three. Mary Anne Warren comes up with five character traits which I think adequately gives across what makes a person, which I shall mildly plagiarise to help my case:

  1. Consciousness ... and in particular the capacity to feel pain;
  2. Reasoning;
  3. Self-motivated activity;
  4. The capacity to communicate, ... on indefinitely many possible topics;
  5. The presence of self-concepts, and self-awareness, either individual or racial, or both.[6]

Why these valuable traits, one may ask? They together are what makes one a person, and a person is inherently valuable. A foetus lacks the capacity to reason, to be conscious, to communicate, to be autonomous or self-awareness. Therefore, it cannot possibly be classified as a person with the rights of a person.

However, surely one can argue that while it does not have the actuality of personhood, it can the potentiality of personhood, and that is what is important?

I shall cover lightly this issue here, while putting more emphasis on this later in the debate. However, if we agree that personhood comes from having these qualities, then the debate becomes: does the potential to be a person make you as valuable as being a person?

I have a few problems here with this argument. The first is that abortion does not necessarily deprive the world of a rational and self-conscious being. Considering a large share of abortions are done with the reasoning “I’m not ready yet”, we ought to take into account how many are simply delaying. Suppose a woman has planned to join a charity as a volunteer in Syria helping construct emergency housing. She has no children at present, and firmly intends to have one next year after helping those in Syria. If abortion is wrong only because it deprives the world of a future person, then abortion in this case is not wrong, but merely a delay of a life, and for the reason of helping many more people. In circumstances where the abortion is merely inconveniently timed rather than a child is not wanted at all, abortion is not wrong.

Moreover, the idea that depriving the world of a potential child leads us to condemn practices like contraception – both artificial condoms and natural techniques like abstinence. In fact, if the world is overpopulated, as many would argue, then abortion is no worse than other means of preventing potential people being born.

Finally, IVF is a huge problem for advocates of what I’ll call the potential argument. The science of IVF is a wonder that has allowed us to understand how life develops from a sperm and egg. It also has let us understand the probabilities behind it. So what is the probability of a potential life developing? “The probability of a child resulting from a given embryo is 10%, and the probability of a child resulting from an egg that has been placed in a fluid to which sperm has been added is 8%”[7] We learn firstly that the potential of an IVF produced embryo is only 10%! This intrinsically poses huge questions to whether the embryo is equally valuable to the human life. When we consider that with natural births “if pregnancy is diagnosed…within 14 days of fertilisation the probability of birth is 25 to 30%”[8], are we to say natural children are 3 times more valuable? However, we also must conclude that the value of the embryo, with 10% development chance, is almost as valuable as a sperm-and-egg, with 8%. “So if the embryo is a potential person, why are not the egg-and-sperm, considered jointly, also a potential person?”[9]

With that I conclude and pass over to my opponent. Thank you.

[6] On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion Mary Anne Warren

[7] Peter Singer, Practical Ethics 2nd ed. P159

[8] Ibid, p161

[9] Ibid, p159




In this round, I want to offer 2 arguments against the permissibility of abortion. In doing so, I hope to respond to much of Pro’s opening post in the process.

I agree with Pro that what’s relevant is not the politics but the morality of abortion in this debate. I also completely accept the permissibility of abortion in certain, extreme circumstances. I’d actually go further and disassociate myself from much of the politics of the Pro-Life movement. Abortion may be a contentious moral issue, but providing easily accessible healthcare to women, for example, shouldn’t be controversial in the least.

Anyway, I want to begin by addressing a confusion Pro has between emergency (or indeed any) contraception and abortion. Life begins at fertilisation, or so I shall argue. As such, disrupting or artificially preventing this process is decidedly not the same as terminating a pregnancy. As such, our focus should primarily be on typical abortion cases and methods.

Now on to my case.

Argument from Personhood (1)

Pro admits that if I can establish the unborn are persons, abortion is morally wrong.

To do this, it is first necessary to establish that the unborn are human beings.

There are 2 reasons to believe this. First, fertilisation results in the formation of a genetically distinct and whole organism, encompassing genetic (human) information from both parents (zygote) (2). Second, as Patrick Lee points out, this organism “is fully programmed actively to develop himself or herself to the mature stage of a human being”, and will do so, if unharmed (3).

As such, not only can we establish the existence of a new human being inside the mother, but we can trace our own beginning back to this non-arbitrary stopping point.

This point is relatively uncontroversial, as ultra-liberal moral philosopher Peter Singer explains,

“… there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being.”(4)

The dispute, rather, surrounds the distinction between a human being and a human person, as Pro says.

Pro offers a performance view of persons - only those with the requisite cognitive characteristics (Consciousness, Reasoning, Autonomy, Communication, Self-Awareness) should be considered persons and thus be granted the right to life.

I want to offer 3 criticisms of this view.

Slippery slope - Assuming Pro holds that animals aren’t persons, his restrictive performance criteria would have to exclude infants and people with low IQs. As such, both infanticide and the killing of the disabled would be morally permissible on his view as neither would be persons with a right to life. Indeed, Singer (whom Pro cites) admits as much,

“we can see that the grounds for not killing persons do not apply to newborn infants.”(5)

Undermined human equality - If personhood (and by extension, rights) have their foundation in intellectual capacities , then those with diminished capacities would be lesser persons. Indeed, rights would differ as much as the capacities themselves.

Episodic problem - Functioning mental capacity can be lost temporary, through sleep or injury, for example. Yet to believe personhood can be turned on and off like a light switch, or that it would be permissible to kill a temporary comatose patient seems absurd, but this is what a performance approach entails.

As such, Pro’s conception of personhood is inherently, irredeemably flawed.

The substance view (6)

On this view, every human being is endowed with inherent moral worth given their essential nature as a de facto rational agent. On such a view, the type of being is what grants personhood, and all human beings (including the unborn) share the quality of having a disposition as a moral agent, regardless of performance.

This account is justified by its superior practical application. It suffers none of the problems identified above. It also demarcates the moral significance between humans and animals. Pro’s counter-argument also proves my point. His cultured aliens would be persons due to the type of creature they are - de facto rational agents. Humanity is a sufficient, but not a necessary condition of personhood.

As such, the substance view should preferred. Since this entails the personhood of the unborn, abortion is morally impermissible.

Future-Like-Ours argument (FLO) (7)

This argument starts by asking what makes killing wrong. I submit we’d all agree on some account empathetic to the victim. But in what way?

One plausible account pretty close to Pro’s reasoning would focus on our higher functioning capacities as persons and appeal to our desires. Killing thwarts our most fundamental desire (the desire to live) in the most egregious way possible. This accords well with our moral horror of killing. It also covers most adults (as they have this desire) and (arguably) even infants (who have the implicit desire to live) and it excludes the unborn.

The problem would be that such an account would also exclude temporary comatose patients or a broken hearted, suicidal teen (who desires death). Not only that but if Pro’s cultured aliens managed to operate without desires, this account would exclude them as well.

Alternatively, killing is wrong because it deprives a person of a potentially valuable future - a FLO. This position easily accounts for killing in most cases. It also resolves the coma patient and the suicidal teen - both of whom possess a potentially valuable future. Even the alien persons would be protected in this scenario as a being with this valuable property (FLO).

The FLO account would also include the unborn. As Pro-Choice philosopher David Boonin notes,

“The FLO argument appeals to an actual property that the fetus already has, the property of having a valuable personal future. This is an actual property it shares with us, not a potential it has to acquire a property which we already actually possess.”

As such, the FLO,

“cannot be defeated by pointing to the objection that undermines the more common potentiality argument.” (8)

Pro’s 3 criticisms of potentiality are therefore totally irrelevant to my case. I’m not arguing the unborn are potential persons, but persons (or at least beings) with a potentially valuable future. A future like ours.


I want to close with the words of moral philosopher Rosalind Hursthouse, who perfectly captures the profound nature of the issue:

"to think of abortion as nothing but the killing of something that does not matter . . . is to do something callous and light-minded" (9)


1. Kaczor, Christopher, The Ethics of Abortion, 2011, P91-97.
4. Peter Singer, quoted in Kaczor, 2011, P7.
5. Singer, Peter, Practical ethics, 2nd ed, 1993, P171
8. Boonin, David, A Defense of Abortion, 2003, P62
9. Hursthouse, Rosalind, "Virtue theory and Abortion", in Virtue Ethics, 1997, P230
Debate Round No. 2


In order to address my opponent’s arguments, I’ll split them into the major reactions: the criticisms of my case, the substance view, and the potentiality argument which my opponent has dubbed the FLO. The fact that I still refer to it as the potentiality argument highlights my major objection to it. However, if only to build interest, I’ll address this point last.

Infanticide is one of the most common objections to these views of abortion: Anne Warren has had to address it, J.J.Thompson has had to address it, and of course Singer has had to. Singer himself, universally acknowledged as one of the most important bioethicists of our time, cannot teach in Germany any more due to the attacks done on him and the lectures he has hosted by his opponents. The opponents, however, are not “pro-lifers”, but instead the disabled community, who attack his position. The most evident point about the pseudo-scholarly attacks on his position, however, is the misrepresentation of his case. To quote him: “I was advocating euthanasia not for anyone like himself [those who are in wheelchairs or with mild autism, for example] … my views cannot be a threat to anyone who is capable of wanting to go on living, or even of understanding that his or her life might be threatened.”[1]

With this in mind, the slippery slope argument clearly becomes one of misrepresentation. For example, low IQ does not in any way justify the claim that individuals are not people. The claim about “children” is in fact a complete misrepresentation. To add the context to the quote, the paragraph goes:

“In thinking about this matter we should put aside feelings based on the small, helpless, and – sometimes – cute appearance of human infants. To think that the lives of infants are of special value because infants are small and cute is on a par with thinking that a baby seal, with its soft white fur coat and large round eyes deserves greater protection than a gorilla, who lacks these qualities”[2]. To claim this says it is acceptable to kill all newborn infants is a complete misrepresentation, which only can come from a misrepresentation of his position by those wishing to slight him, of which there are many, or – worse – a purposeful malice. However, I wholly believe the former reason is much more likely.

Inequality also comes from a similar problem. One cannot be “less of a person”: one either is, or one is not. I concede there is a ‘grey area’ – there is much ethical debate about the limits of euthanasia. However, the life of that which has no characteristic of personhood – namely a fetus – is clearly not relevant.

And finally, the episodic problem again does not exist when we realise that one is still has characteristics (2), (3), (4) and (5) when asleep, and (2), (4) and (5) when in a coma, of Warren’s code. One either asleep or in a coma still has values (1) and (3) of mine. As Warren points out, our language constrains us somewhat in discussing this issue, but ‘consciousness’ can be replaced with ‘sentience’[3]. Sentience excludes sleep, and therefore grants us all characteristics of personhood, though as Warren states, the characteristics are “very rough”. However, the importance is that “All we need to claim, to demonstrate that a fetus is not a person, is that any being which satisfies none of (1)-(5) is certainly not a person.”[4]

Now, the substance argument can be quickly dismissed as it begs the question: “What makes one of any particular species?” There is no justification for the argument, which allows to simply claim anything regarding a “type”. There’s no reason why all human beings must share a disposition to being a moral agent – in fact, my argument states that many genetic humans (embryos) are not moral agents. To claim genetics is all that matters is to leave one wide open to the claim of speciesism: “Membership of a species is no more relevant in these circumstances than membership of a race or sex.”[5] The mindless collectivism reminds us “we ought to treat people as individuals”[6], not their group. Furthermore, we have no reason why “type”, being genetic, seems to not extend to spermatozoa. In fact, as taxonomy is “entirely vague and arbitrary”[7], we might as well include apes and others: they share our genetic type very strongly. A banana shares 50-55% of its genes with humans[8] – how strict are we going to be? I push this ad absurdium to highlight the speciesist nature of this approach. The only valid form of this case is that anything of the kind of being a person is valuable, which includes most, but not all, humans. Which includes developed, but not undeveloped, humans. Which includes the born, but not the unborn.

And finally with regards to the potentiality argument. Again, I refer to it as the potentiality argument. Why? Because in reality there is no difference between it and the potentiality argument itself, except the shifting of the goalposts. What I claim, among others, is that it is not “having a valuable personal future”[9], but is that we “have a valuable personal present”. It simply replaces the word potential with future, and I have to replace actual with present. Boonin, I believe, puts forth the same point: “it argue[s] that the fetus has the same right to life that we have because it has the potential to have a property that we already actually have.”[10] {Emphasis added}

So again, I shall reiterate my criticisms. The first (the delaying problem) points out that an abortion does not deny “a potentially valuable future”, but merely delays it. If a delay is seen as immoral, we need justification, as there is more benefit to both parties if a birth is delayed. Secondly, denying a potentially valuable future by use of contraception, or even abstinence, is still immoral. And finally, IVF leads us to conclude that the risks of natural abortion are too high, and it is immoral to have natural insemination over artificial insemination, three times over!

To conclude, I shall reiterate the words of pro-life advocate John Noonan: “life itself is a matter of probabilities…if a spermatozoon is destroyed, one destroys a being which had a chance of far less than 1 in 200 million of developing into a reasoning being, possessed of the genetic code, a heart and other organs, and capable of pain.”[11] Actuality of life from spermatozoon is negligible at best, yet its potential is an entire human life. A sperm-and-egg’s potential is one-in-ten to developing into a human being, yet its potential is of course a human being. And yet IVF tells us even this is too little of the story: “Up to about 14 days after fertilisation, we cannot even tell if the embryo is going to be one or two [or more, theoretically an infinite number of] individuals”[12]. So any theory which claims the life of a fertilised egg is worth more than a human person needs to be rejected instinctively. My opponent’s ethical theory should be held to the same standard, and dismissed on the same ground. Regarding the boring issue of technicality, namely sources, whilst I do not hold it against my opponent as it was entirely accidental I am sure, he has misrepresented a source and thereby strawanned (again mistakenly) Singer’s position, and as such I feel this ought to be kept in account. However, regarding the issue of the debate itself, I wish to reiterate Hursthouse’s sentiments: she and I are in agreement that abortion is something not to be taken lightly. However, it is a perfectly morally permissible action, and ought to be accepted as just. Thank you.

[1] Peter Singer, Pracitcal Ethics p345

[2] Ibid, p170-1

[3] Mary Anne Warren, Moral Status, p51

[4] Mary Anne Warren, On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion

[5] Peter Singer, Practical Ethics p76

[6] Ibid, p75

[7] Charles Darwin, On The Origin, p48

[9] Boonin, David, A Defense of Abortion p62

[10] Ibid, p62

[11] The Morality of Abortion: Legal and Historical Perspectives, John Noonan p56-7

[12] Peter Singer, Practical Ethics p137




In this last round, I will show that by any impartial measure, abortion is morally impermissible. To do this, I’ll return to the 2 main issues in this debate.

Argument from Personhood

Readers will remember that Pro and I present differing personhood accounts.

Pro’s conception limits personhood to those who perform various cognitive actions. I offered 3 criticisms of this view.

Slippery Slope - Here I argued that an exclusive performance-based criteria will inevitably exclude some humans, like infants and the disabled.

Pro denies the slippery slope on the basis that I allegedly misrepresent Singer to make my case.

Pro’s criticism fails for 2 reasons.

Irrelevant - my target here is Pro’s conception of personhood, not Peter Singer. Indeed, Singer agrees with me that the performance view entails the permissibility of infanticide, because infants don’t exhibit these characteristics sufficiently (see below). Singer’s defence of infanticide is just the logical consequence of Pro’s view and a powerful reductio against it.

Pro then asks why those with prohibitively low IQs are also at risk.

Simple, because they have highly defective cognitive performance, less so than animals (non-persons).

Wrong - As for the charge of misrepresenting Singer, his views here are notorious,

“My comparison between abortion and infanticide was prompted by the objection that the position I have taken on abortion also justifies infanticide. I have admitted this charge - without regarding the admission as fatal to my position” (1)

While neither Singer nor Pro advocate infanticide, this is only because they are living inconsistently with their own ethical judgement.

Undermining human equality - Here I argued that as Pro is basing rights on intellectual capacities, these rights should differ according to these capacities.

Pro denies this, claiming either that personhood is an all or nothing affair.

Remember, Pro’s conception of personhood is based on qualitative factors, like reasoning. If Pro holds that it is necessary to merely possess these characteristics in any form, then many animals (e.g. pigs) would have to be considered as persons, morally equivalent to humans. Even insects possess some of sentience in a less developed form. Are they persons? This is clearly absurd.

Alternatively, if rights are reserved for beings with high cognitive performance, this leads to undermining equality. Humans differ greatly on the spectrum of Warren’s 5 criteria. Grounding equal human rights from unequal cognitive performance is absurd.

The only way out of this bind to reject Pro’s conception of personhood.

Episodic problem - Here I showed that the performance view leads to personhood disappearing episodically (e.g. sleep or temporary coma).

Pro attacks this saying claiming both that such cases still exhibit some of Warren’s criteria and that using sentience dissolves this problem.

This brings me to the Goldilocks problem. In order to deal with hard cases, Pro has to continually readjusting the bar on each of the criteria. In response to my coma patient example, Pro holds that exhibiting a semblance of self-motivated activity is enough. If this is this the threshold Pro holds, consider this:

“Self-initiated activity is already present at 8-10 weeks when human beings in utero begin to suck their thumbs and move about”. (2)

This leads to the real problem of Pro’s approach. Both he and Warren contrive an account with the sole purpose of excluding the unborn. This self-serving conception still even can’t cover the disabled and the temporarily comatose while excluding the unborn, as Warren herself admits (3).

As such, we have a plethora of reasons to reject the performance account.

The substance view

I initially gave 2 arguments to think that the unborn were human beings. Pro didn’t respond to either of these, so I’ll take it we both agree that the unborn are human beings.

I also defended the substance view of persons - that every human being is endowed with inherent moral worth given their essential nature as a de facto rational agent. This view holds that all human beings, including the unborn, are persons.

Pro charges that I beg the question by not justifying this view.

As I said in R2 however, justification comes from its superior practical application, it:

1. Avoids the slippery slope, equality and episodic problems
2. Demarcates the moral significance between humans and animals.
3. Solves all the difficult cases - infants, the disabled and Pro’s alien example.

Whatever one thinks of this case, it’s hardly question-begging.

Contrast this with Pro. He gave no justification of Warren’s criteria at all, beyond identifying them. The only hint of justification he mustered was his cultured alien example, which he immediately dropped.

He then claims the substance view is arbitrary and leads to specieism.

His examples attack straw-man.

I explicitly said in R2,

“Humanity is a sufficient, but not a necessary condition of personhood.”

Humans are endowed with their personhood as de facto rational agents. Given I agreed that Pro’s cultured aliens would be persons for the same reason, I’m astounded by Pro’s claim. Pro’s examples of bananas and sperm fail because they aren’t de facto rational agents.

As such, the substance view of persons by far the most plausible account. Given this entails the unborn are persons, abortion is morally impermissible. Resolution negated.


Here I argued against the permissibility of abortion on the FLO account of killing.

Pro responds that it’s not our future, but our present value that accounts for the wrongness of killing.

This is when Pro really goes off the rails.

I already anticipated this in my last round, using examples of a temporary coma patient and a suicidal teenager. Neither have a valuable present. As such, Pro can’t account for why killing them is wrong, unlike my FLO approach. On this basis, we should accept the FLO account, which entails the impermissibility of abortion.

As for Pro’s insistence to straw-man my argument as one from potentiality, if Boonin’s point wasn’t clear enough, let me try again with with originator Don Marquis :

“This argument does not rely on the invalid inference that, since it is wrong to kill persons, it is wrong to kill potential persons also. The category that is morally central to this analysis is the category of having a valuable future like ours; it is not the category of personhood.” (4)

Pro’s 3 criticisms are thus completely irrelevant. Take his sperm example. Does killing sperm deprives a being of a FLO? No, obviously not. It can only become something which would have a FLO (zygote). Potential FLOs (like potential presidents) don’t have the same rights.

Think about it this way, every person was once an embryo. As such, that you exist (and are currently actualising an embryo's FLO) proves embryos have a FLO. By contrast, it doesn’t make sense to say, “I was once a sperm”. Sperm are haploid, humans are diploid. The organism that grew to become adult you exists after only fertilisation. As such, Pro’s straw-man blatantly commits the fallacy of composition here.


Given the strength of these 2 arguments and the weakness of Pro's case, if abortion is to be defended, it must be done so on other grounds.


1. Singer, Peter, Practical Ethics, P173
2, 3. Kaczor, Christopher, The Ethics of Abortion, P54

Debate Round No. 3
127 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by zmikecuber 3 years ago
Unitedandy sounds so much like an Aristotelian/Thomist in his substance argument... just sayin', lol.
Posted by zmikecuber 3 years ago
This is such a good debate, guys.
Posted by unitedandy 3 years ago

As for your Malthusian example, you've essentially conceded my point. Even if I were to grant your point that abortion may be the "lesser evil", the fact is, it's seriously morally wrong (or "evil" to use your phrase).

Second, be consistent and bite the bullet. Genocide could be used just as effectively for the same purpose. Your position here could just as easily justify infanticide, enforced euthanasia, forced sterilisation or pretty much anything else. I want to be clear that your view here has nothing to do with you being pro-choice. If being for legalised abortion committed people to this kind of moral absurdity, this debate wouldn't even be happening.
Posted by unitedandy 3 years ago
Just to be clear, I asked why temp. coma patients have moral worth, in your view. You pointed out they still have language and other things they can't use. I asked why these things are morally relevant and you agree they aren't. Okay then. I'm at a loss as you would bring it up, if your intention was to drop it. And for the last time, I DID NOT say comatose patients lose their reasoning abilities indefinitely. That they have lost it temporarily is pretty obvious. So, if you want to argue comatose patients can communicate or reason, go ahead, but quit with the straw-man.

As for your dismissal of the performance view, what are we discussing it for then? If we both agree that personhood can't be defined by functions like reasoning, self-awareness and so on, you have to come up with a decent alternative. I've already defended the substance view.

Then you tackle the problems I outlined by essentially avoiding them. Why is it morally relevant that a person had these abilities if they don't have them now? The last time I asked, you brought up language, which you've now dropped. Before that, you brought up speech, which you've dropped as well.

On Bob, you can't escape the thought experiment by saying we don't know. It's a fictional example. The whole point of thought experiments is that we can control each variable. I'll state it again:

Let's say we DO KNOW FOR CERTAIN that 20 year old Bob will experience the exact same level of sentience as a foetus. We also know for certain this is temporary, that he will make a full recovery and that he will wake up in 9 months, say.

Is he a person in his comatose state? Is he a person afterwords? Is it morally permissible to kill him?
Posted by GEIxBattleRifle 3 years ago
' Saying that abortion could avert such a catastrophe is completely irrelevant.'

No it actually is not irrelevant. If 98 to 99% of the population would die out because some like yourself fail to see too much of a good thing can always be a bad thing. I would rather kill off the 50 million human fetuses a year then to see like 5 to 6 billion actual people die out. So I would commit the 'lesser' evil here.

Indeed, there a whole bunch of things which may be beneficial for the "greater good" that are morally appalling.'

There is a time and place for morality and sometimes morality can get the rest of us killed off as in the case of abortion opponents like yourself who want to go on the moral high ground even though your position could/well end in a catastrophe if you were to get your own way with things. And if applied to a R-Strategist species from outer space would not end well.

Like I said, 'Since it is Mathematically Impossible for unlimited growth to be compatible with finite resources, there most definitely is a hard limit to growth, even if nobody knows exactly where that limit is. Logically, therefore, the more abortions that are done, the more it can reduce the rate-of-increase of the overall population and the longer it will take to hit that hard limit.'
Posted by GEIxBattleRifle 3 years ago
'Language just isn't morally relevant. If the aliens you talked about earlier communicated without language or didn't communicate at all but could still feel pain, reason and so on, would it be morally acceptable to kill them? Of course not.'

I agree that language won't be morally relevant. I was just using that to make a point earlier. That just because someone is not using something as a moment is not a good reason to tell me that the something is now gone.

'Abilities being immediately used might not be relevant to you or to me, but for the performance view, I see no reason to ascribe personhood to someone who fails to meet the criteria. '

Like I stated, I don't care for the performance view

'The fact that they will eventually have these capabilities would be the same as the foetus.'

The fetus doesn't have those capabilities to begin while someone sleeping or in a coma obviously does.

'The fact fact that they had these abilities would make personhood apply to the dead'

Those who are dead have LOST these abilities so personhood doesn't need to apply to the dead.

'Suppose Bob is in a temporary coma. For the sake of argument, let's say we know that for a period of time, Bob has no pain awareness, no communication, and so on. In other words, we have an adult with the same cognitive capability in every way as a foetus. We also know that in a month, Bob will make a full recovery.'

Bob's brain is already up to the point where rationality, autonomy, theory of mind (for example) can exist while a fetuses brain is not up to that point yet so your comparison is a fail.

'Is he a person in this comatose state? Can we kill Bob while he is in this state? Is he a person when he wakes up?'

We actually don't know from the items I listed above if he is still a person or not which is why you need to wait for the coma to end to check it out. So you can't kill Bob and he would still be a person if he is not profoundly mentally retarded upon
Posted by unitedandy 3 years ago
Just on the Malthusian example, I find your point here extraordinary.

Saying that abortion could avert such a catastrophe is completely irrelevant. Committing genocide against fully formed sentient aliens would be just as effective in averting this. Things like infanticide or China's one child policy would also be similarly justified by your reckoning. Indeed, there a whole bunch of things which may be beneficial for the "greater good" that are morally appalling. Murdering people for their organs would be one example.
Posted by unitedandy 3 years ago

Language just isn't morally relevant. If the aliens you talked about earlier communicated without language or didn't communicate at all but could still feel pain, reason and so on, would it be morally acceptable to kill them? Of course not.

Abilities being immediately used might not be relevant to you or to me, but for the performance view, I see no reason to ascribe personhood to someone who fails to meet the criteria. The fact that they will eventually have these capabilities would be the same as the foetus. The fact fact that they had these abilities would make personhood apply to the dead. And I see no value in having in some way in the present if they can't act on them in the present or the near present due to temporary cognitive damage.

On my second point here, I'm giving a thought experiment:

Suppose Bob is in a temporary coma. For the sake of argument, let's say we know that for a period of time, Bob has no pain awareness, no communication, and so on. In other words, we have an adult with the same cognitive capability in every way as a foetus. We also know that in a month, Bob will make a full recovery.

Is he a person in this comatose state? Can we kill Bob while he is in this state? Is he a person when he wakes up?
Posted by GEIxBattleRifle 3 years ago
'As for your admission that you're defining person solely to exclude the unborn, your definition would therefore be completely contrived for ideological purposes. Any philosopher (including any pro-choice thinker) would have to reject it as ad hoc.'

The point is, is that a fetuses brain is not developed enough to allow stuff (this is for an example) like rationality and autonomy to exist that is why they would be non persons. Those asleep or in a coma have brains developed enough to allow rationality and autonomy to exist. And only if there brain is severely damaged up to the point where rationality and autonomy is actually permanently destroyed then it would be morally ok to end their lifes IF that is what there family wants.

'As for your alien example, assuming a similar process to fertillisation, these trillions of beings would indeed be persons. The only difficulty here for opponents of abortion would be practical (distributing resources, etc). Even if this difficulty is relevant, 1) personhood obviously can't be contingent on such considerations 2) the same problem could be raised for you guys. What if these aliens gave birth to trillions of fully formed sentient beings? Obviously, they'd be persons, yet you'd have exactly the same practical difficulties, in terms of resources.'

The point is, Abortion can help to stave off a Malthusian Catastrophe especially those that are members of a R-Strategy species. The faster that the total population grows, the faster it will reach a "hard limit" regarding the world"s finite supply of resources, needed to sustain that population. Since it is Mathematically Impossible for unlimited growth to be compatible with finite resources, there most definitely is a hard limit to growth, even if nobody knows exactly where that limit is. Logically, therefore, the more abortions that are done, the more it can reduce the rate-of-increase of the overall population and the longer it will take to hit that hard limit
Posted by GEIxBattleRifle 3 years ago
'Why is the fact a coma patient has used speech (or anything else) morally relevant? It can't perform now.'

Those in coma most of the time have not lost their language. Your still putting too much stress on using your language. A fetus lacks language in the first place while those in coma/sleep have not the vast majority of the time. Even you should know this.

'You want to say that having these abilities (whether they can be actualised or not) is relevant while excluding both the unborn and the brain-dead. Why??? As for someone in a coma having or not the ability of speech, first the indication seems for all the world that they can't do these things.'

Abilities have nothing to do with using them at the moment. For example someone sleeping still retains the ability to ride a bike now just because he isn't riding a bike at the moment does not mean now he lost the ability. Those in coma have not lost their language most of the time. While a fetus utterly lacks language in the first place. And those brain dead have lost language. How hard is it for you to see this?

'Second, even if you were right, what about a case where a temporary coma patient lost all these things for the months they were in a coma. Would it be morally permissible to kill someone in such a state?'

Again how do you check to see if someone has lost something? You can check to see the damage in the brain If there is any but you don't know how bad the damage itself is until they wake up. If they wake up profoundly mentally retarded that tells your their rationality, autonomy, theory of mind is gone. If someone comes out of the coma not profoundly mentally retarded then they still are ok.

'Would they be a non-person and then a person when they wake up? You'd still have the same problem, at least conceptually.'

If they wake up and don't have none of what I said then they're a non person.
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by F-16_Fighting_Falcon 3 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: RFD in comments.
Vote Placed by YYW 3 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: PRO begins with an extraneous introduction, and by his fourth pgph. offers an example. PRO refutes a 5 condition conception of personhood Warren, who frames the issue according to potentiality. Refuting an opposing argument was not the strongest way for PRO to begin. And yet, CON, equally strangely accepts "the permissibility of abortion in certain, extreme circumstances." Neither side was especially sure of where they stood. CON then defines personhood as an embryo, which he calls a "non-arbitrary stopping point" and refutes problems with PROs conception of personhood. PRO in the following round distinguishes abortion from infanticide and addresses CON's "slippery slope" rebuttals while returning to an initial distinction he made between a fetus and a person and reiterates his initial criticisms of the potentiality argument. CON advances the -rather weak- argument that PROs use of "qualitative factors" to define personhood undermines human equality.
Vote Placed by bladerunner060 3 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: RFD in comments.