The Instigator
Dookieman
Pro (for)
Winning
7 Points
The Contender
KeytarHero
Con (against)
Losing
0 Points

Thomson's Violinist Analogy for Abortion

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after 1 vote the winner is...
Dookieman
Voting Style: Open Point System: Select Winner
Started: 6/25/2015 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,849 times Debate No: 76956
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (25)
Votes (1)

 

Dookieman

Pro

First round is for acceptance

Full Topic:

Thomson's Violinist Analogy Shows That Abortion is Morally Permissible

Pro will argue that Thomson's analogy does show that abortion is morally permissible, while Con will argue that it does not.

Disclaimer: if my opponent raises an objection that tries to draw a disanalogy between the violinist case and the pregnancy case, I will probably tweak Thomson's original thought experiment to accommodate the disanalogy. I wanted to point that out, because I didn't want my opponent or the voters to accuse me of making a new argument that is different than Thomson's analogy.

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." [1]

Definitions

Abortion:
a medical procedure used to end a pregnancy and cause the death of the fetus.[2]

Morally Permissible:
“To say that an action of mine is morally permissible is to say that no one has a valid claim against my doing it, that doing it violates nobody's moral rights." [3]


Rule:
No critiques of the topic (e.g. moral skepticism or moral nihilism.)

[1] http://spot.colorado.edu...
[2] http://www.merriam-webster.com...
[3] ttps://ndpr.nd.edu...
KeytarHero

Con

I accept the debate challenge, and I thank Pro for establishing it. Since he is arguing Pro, Dookieman, of course, bears the burden of proving the resolution. I look forward to an interesting debate.
Debate Round No. 1
Dookieman

Pro

Thank you Con for accepting this debate.

Introduction
Today I will argue in defense of Judith Jarvis Thomson's violinist analogy, and show that it provides a sound moral justification for abortion choice. I would like to start off with the central argument against abortion that virtually all opponents of abortion make against this practice. Once I present this anti-abortion argument, I will put forth Thomson's thought experiment as a counter example to the claim made by opponents of abortion, and will attempt to show that even if the premises of the anti-abortion argument are true, the conclusion that abortion is morally impermissible does not follow. With that said, let me begin.

The Central Argument Against Abortion
P1) An innocent person has a right to life.
P2) A human fetus is an innocent person.
C1) Therefore the human fetus has a right to life.
P4) Abortion ends the life of the human fetus.
C2) Abortion is morally impermissible.

The Violinist Analogy
Thomson assumes for the sake of the argument that the fetus has the same right to life that you and I have, but claims that admitting this does not necessarily show that abortion is morally impermissible. This is because she makes a distinction between the right to life and the right to be kept alive by another person's body. Thomson claims that the right to life by itself does not mean one has the right to be kept alive by another person. In order to justify that claim, she provides the following thought experiment:

"You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. 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." [1]

Thomson thinks that most people would think you would be within your rights disconnect yourself from the violinist, and that you would not be violating his right to life by refusing to provide him life support. This thought experiment justifies Thomson's claim that the right to life by itself does not entail the right to be kept alive by another person. This is because if the right to life by itself did entail the right to be kept alive by making use of another's body, then the violinist would be entitled to use your body even if you didn't want him to. However, given the strong intuition that this analogy produces, that seems like a difficult claim to defend.

Conclusion
Not much else can be said about this argument. It appeals to our moral intuitions and seems very persuasive on the face of it. As such, until someone can provide good grounds for rejecting this argument, it looks like we are justified in accepting Thomson's argument.

Source:
http://spot.colorado.edu...;
KeytarHero

Con

Thank you to Pro for establishing this debate. The pro-life argument is a sound one, that if it is prima facie wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being, and abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being, then abortion is prima facie wrong. However, the violinist scenario Pro outlined in his opening argument presents a possible counterexample for how it can be morally acceptable to intentionally kill an innocent human being. Does this argument hold up under scrutiny? I would argue that it does not for at least three reasons.

Parental Obligation

One objection is that the violinist is a complete stranger, whereas a mother surely has responsibilities to her own child, such as to feed, clothe, and not harm the child. However, Thomson’s argument hinges on the fact that she believes a parent does not have special responsibilities to her own child. They are assumed, not naturally grounded. She writes, “Surely we do not have any ‘special responsibility’ for a person unless we have assumed it, explicitly or implicitly. If a set of parents do not try to prevent pregnancy, do not obtain an abortion, and then at the time of birth of the child do not put it out for adoption, but rather take it home with them, then they have assumed responsibility for it, they have given it rights, and they cannot now withdraw support from it at the cost of its life because they now find it difficult to go on providing for it.” [1]

The problem with this belief, though, is that it is intuitively ludicrous. Who among us believes that a parent has no more responsibility for their own child than for a complete stranger? If the neighbor kids raids your fridge, it’s stealing. If your own kid does it, it’s not. Suppose you find a baby has been left outside your door. If you close the door on the child to allow it to die by the elements, you have certainly done something wrong. Suppose you also find a note that says “this is your child.” Have you not done something worse, now, by abandoning the child to death?

Plus, there is no reason to assume that she cannot revoke her responsibility for the child after birth, since it is not grounded on anything (as it would be if she had a natural obligation to her child). Why not say if she allows the pregnancy to progress past the first trimester, she has now assumed responsibility for the child? To say nothing of the fact that having sex, she has implicitly given consent to the child’s presence there (more on that below). Additionally, pro-choice philosopher Michael Tooley rejects Thomson’s violinist argument specifically because you can conceive of a pregnant woman on a deserted island who isn’t able to abort, but gives birth to her child. What grounds her responsibility? Since she couldn’t abort before birth, what reason is there that she couldn’t now kill the child because she can’t care for him? [2]

Additionally, John T. Wilcox argues that the violinist scenario is rare and basically an impossible scenario, whereas pregnancy is natural and normal. Even though it is so unique as to be near impossible to create a good analogy to regard it, there is nothing so normal as pregnancy. It is how we all enter life as human beings. Because of this it is very plausible to regard them differently from an ethical point of view. He writes, “It is at least arguable, and many theoriests believe, that the moralities we have represent some ways of dealing with the realities and regularities of human life; and they may not fit well the irregularities or impossibilities.”

The Violinist Does Not Adequately Portray the Situation

Trent Horn has pointed out that philosopher Peter Unger has shown that thought experiments sometimes twist our moral intuitions based on the point of view in the experiment. Thomson’s analogy is from the perspective of the pregnant woman, but he and Tony George have constructed a thought experiment which argues from the point of view of the unborn child: “Imagine you wake up in a hospital and you’re connected to Thomson’s violinist. You decide, ‘you know what? It would be nice to stay plugged in but I’m going to unplug from this guy. I can’t stay here for nine months.’ So you unplug, you start to walk out of the hospital, and start to feel really nauseous and light-headed. The director of the hospital runs in and says, ‘oh my goodness! Plug back in or you’ll die! So you scramble into the bed and you plug into the guy. The director says this to you: ‘I’m terribly sorry, but last night you were kidnapped by the Society of Musical Pranksters, and these Pranksters, of which the violinst is a member, have a lot of fun together. But because they’re pranksters, every now and then they’ll end up plugged into an innocent person. And when that happens, it destroys the innocent person’s kidneys. But don’t worry, if you stay plugged in to the violinist in nine months your kidneys will heal, and then you can go on your way.’ And you pass out.

“The violinist wakes up. He looks over at you and says, “hey...he doesn’t have a right to use my body without my consent. I’m not going to let him use my kidneys without my permission.’ He unplugs frmo you, walks out of the hospital, and you die of kidney failure, and you’re thrown into the hospital incinerator. Now the question is: does the violinist in that case have the right to unplug from you?” As Trent points out, it seems trange to suggest that the violinist, who is a member of the SMP, has the right to unplug from you, since he’s the reason you’re in the predicament in the first place. He’s responsible for you needing that life support. Which brings us to...

Responsibility Objection

To put it simply, the woman willingly engages in an act, sexual intercourse, that is procreative in nature. Because she willingly engaged in that act, she is responsible for the child’s creation and for placing the child in a state of dependency upon her. She Is responsible for the child’s need, so she is responsible for meeting it.

To sum up, Thomson’s violinist fails to justify abortion for at least three reasons: parents have natural obligations to their offspring, it fails to correctly capture the situation of pregnancy, and she is responsible for the child’s existence and state of dependency.

[1] Judith Jarvis Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion”, The Abortion Controversy, ed. Frank Beckwith and Louis Pojman, pp. 128-129.
[2] Tooley expounded this to me in personal correspondence.
[3] John T. Wilcox, “Nature as Demonic in Thomson’s Defense of Abortion,” The Ethics of Abortion, 3rd Ed., ed. Robert M. Baird and Stuart E. Rosenbaum, p. 260.
[4] https://www.youtube.com...;(6:45)
Debate Round No. 2
Dookieman

Pro

The Stranger versus Offspring Objection
This objection to Thomson's argument tries to draw a dissimilarity between the violinist case and a pregnancy. To recap, the objection runs as follows. In Thomson's story the violinist is a stranger, whereas in the case of a pregnancy the woman is pregnant with her own biological child. Surely, the objection goes, we have special responsibilities to our children that we don't have to strangers.

However, I think we need to ask ourselves what we mean by "my child." There seem to be two different meanings of it. One thing it might mean is my child in the biological sense. That is, one is genetically related to that person. The other thing it might mean is my child in the custodial sense. Adoption is an example of this. So, given this distinction, the question is which of these two options actually grounds responsibility towards a child? Suppose we go with my opponent’s view, that being biologically related to the child is what grounds this responsibility. What are the implications of accepting this? There are two responses I have to this.

The first is that I could simply change the violinist thought experiment around to fit this objection. Let’s say you're about to unhook yourself, and a DNA test revels that the violinist is a biological offspring of yours that you never knew existed.

Suppose that many years ago you had contributed to a study in which people donated sperm and egg samples for fertility research, and without your knowledge and against your expressed wishes someone had stolen some of what you donated and created a zygote in vitro, which was then implanted into a woman, the result of which now lies in bed next to you. [1]

In this particular example, it seems like the opponent of abortion would have to hold that to unplug from the violinist would be morally impermissible. But this is counterintuitive. The fact that you share some DNA with this person, doesn't seem to make a huge moral difference.

The second thing is that there are some cases where a woman is NOT biologically related to the fetus. For example, a woman at a fertility clinic in Japan found out that an egg inserted into her uterus was not her own, nor was it fertilized by her husband's sperm. In this accidental case, it seems like Con would have no objections to this woman getting an abortion, since the fetus is not biologically her offspring. However, it looks inconsistent to claim that abortion is impermissible when there is a biological relationship, but permissible when there is no biological relationship.

Given these two considerations, it doesn't look like mere biological relatedness is what grounds responsibility towards a child. Now I will respond to a couple of examples that Con provided in support of the claim that being biologically related is what grounds parental responsibility.

To quote Con:

"If the neighbor kids raids your fridge, it’s stealing. If your own kid does it, it’s not."

Yes, you're right about that. But the reason it's not theft for your kid to take food from your fridge is because you have assumed guardianship over that child; whereas you did not do that for your neighbor’s child. That makes a morally relevant difference.

My opponent then quotes the Pro-choice philosopher Michael Tooley on one of the reasons he rejects this argument:

"Additionally, pro-choice philosopher Michael Tooley rejects Thomson’s violinist argument specifically because you can conceive of a pregnant woman on a deserted island who isn’t able to abort, but gives birth to her child. What grounds her responsibility? Since she couldn’t abort before birth, what reason is there that she couldn’t now kill the child because she can’t care for him?"

Once the child is born it's no longer in the situation that Thomson's argument appealed to. A fetus after viability or an infant at birth cannot be justly killed on her argument, because those would be like cases where the violinist has been healed. As such, I don't think this is a good objection to the violinist analogy.

The Weirdness Objection
John T. Wilcox claims that the violinist analogy is rare and basically impossible, whereas pregnancy is natural and normal. But the fact that the violinist analogy would be a rare situation is irrelevant. As long as the thought experiment or analogy is logically possible, it can serve as a good example to test whether an idea makes sense of not. The fact that something is natural and normal is also irrelevant. I get the feeling that Wilcox is implicitly making the appeal to nature fallacy here. Just because something is unnatural doesn't make it bad. Many of the things we do nowadays could be considered unnatural. Some examples of this would be driving a car, talking on the phone, debating people online ect.

The Responsibility Objection
This objection to Thomson's argument tries to draw a dissimilarity between the violinist case and a pregnancy. To recap, this objection runs as follows. In the violinist analogy you did no voluntary act that caused him to be in his needy state, but in a pregnancy that is the result of consensual sex, the woman did a voluntary act that caused the fetus to be needy. To help put this objection into a better perspective, Con gave a reverse version of Thomson's argument where the violinist causes the destruction of your kidneys.

Here I think we need to distinguish between being responsible for someone's neediness, and being responsible for the fact that they exist and as a result are needy. To help clarify these two different concepts of responsibility, I will give a thought experiment for each of them.

Let's consider the first concept of responsibility. That is, being responsible for someone's neediness. Suppose that in Thomson's story the reason why the violinist developed the kidney ailment is because you poisoned his food. If you poisoned his food, you're responsible for his neediness because if you had not done that act, he wouldn't be in this current situation of need.

Now let's consider the second concept of responsibility. That is, being responsible for the fact that they exist and as a result are needy. Here I will borrow a thought experiment originally used by the philosopher Harry Silverstein.

Imperfect Drug. You are the violinist‘s doctor. Seven years ago, you discovered that the violinist had contracted a rare disease which was on the verge of killing him. The only way to save his life that was available to you was to give him a drug which cures the disease but has one unfortunate side effect: five to ten years after ingestion, it causes the kidney ailment Thomson has described. Knowing that you alone would have the appropriate blood type to save the violinist were his kidneys to fail, you prescribed the drug and cured the disease. The violinist has now been struck by the kidney ailment. If you do not allow him the use of your kidneys for nine months, he will die. [3]

In this case you are responsible for the violinist's existence because, in giving him the drug, you voluntarily acted in a way which forseeably caused him to exist at this time. [4] But because you caused him to now exist, he is needy as a result. Why? Because if you had not given him the imperfect drug, he wouldn't exist at this time and therefore not be needy.

Now that I have explained these two concepts of responsibility, I can use a modified version of Thomson's analogy set up by the philosopher David Boonin that more accurately reflects a pregnancy that is the result of consensual sex.

Hedonist: You are a hedonist, who wishes to engage in a very pleasurable activity. The activity is such that if you engage in it, there will be gas released that will add some unconscious life to some already comatose violinist. As things now stand, the violinist has no more unconscious life ahead of him. But if the gas is released, and he does have a few extra months added as a result, it will then become possible for you to bring him out of his coma by giving him the use of your body for 9 months. There are certain devices that you can use during the pleasurable activity that lower the risk of gas emissions, but not entirely. However, you do not like the way such devices "makes you feel" when you do the pleasurable activity. So you do the pleasurable activity without the devices. As (a foreseeable but not intended) result, some gas escapes, causing some extra unconscious life to be added to the violinist, and now making it possible for you to bring him out of his coma if you remain plugged into him for 9 months. [5]

But in this Hedonist version of the violinist analogy, does the violinist have the right to use your body? No, he does not. You are responsible for the violinist’s existence, but you are not responsible for his neediness, given that he exist. You’re not responsible for his neediness because there was no way you could have engaged in the pleasurable activity without causing the violinist to exist at this time. But if that’s right, then this same line of reasoning applies to a pregnancy that is the result of voluntary sex. She is responsible for the existence of the fetus, but is not responsible for the neediness of the fetus, given that it exists.

Once this is realized we can see that the Hedonist example is more analogous to a pregnancy that is the result of voluntary sex than my opponent's reverse violinist with the pranksters. In the prankster version the violinist is responsible for your neediness because he destroyed your kidneys. In the Hedonist example you are responsible for the violinist's existence, but not for his neediness. The former generates an obligation because he harmed you. The latter does not generate an obligation because there was no harmed caused.

However, let's suppose my response to the responsibility objection is mistaken. What would the implications of this be? It would mean that Thomson's analogy shows that abortion, at least in the case of rape, can be justified.

Sources in comments
KeytarHero

Con

Once again, thanks to Pro for instigating this debate. Pro is obviously very well-read in the abortion literature, and it’s a pleasure to debate someone as knowledgeable as he is.

Parental obligation

Pro is right to make a distinction between two different types of parents: biological parents and custodial parents (one might call them “adoptive” parents). If a mother decides she can’t raise her child, she can adopt the child out, and the adopting parent thereby takes on all the responsibilities of caring for that child because she consented to doing so. However, the case of the biological mother is different because this is not something can be assented to. If a woman engages in intercourse and produces a child, she is a mother, whether or not she wanted to get pregnant. The child’s needs are what are at issue here. Since the child did not ask to be brought into existence, and can’t survive without the aid of another person, this biological connection to the mother grounds her obligations to help this child. If she does not want to care for the child or decides she cannot raise the child, she is not morally permitted to kill the child, anymore than a woman who gives birth is morally permitted to kill her infant for the same reason. She must adopt the child out so that the child can have his/her needs met by another person.

Pro has changed the thought experiment around, but in the case of your long-lost child being in the place of the violinist, isn’t it obvious that the moral implications have shifted? Much like my analogy of finding your own child abandoned on your doorstep, it seems that you are doing something much worse by denying your own child the use of your kidneys for nine months. In Thomson’s essay, she gives a similar analogy: If Thomson was in the hospital and all she needed was the touch of Henry Fonda’s hand, he would not be morally obligated to fly out to her to touch her with his hand. He would not even be obligated to do so if he was in the same room as her. [1] Contra Pro, this seems intuitively implausible. However, as John T. Wilcox points out, even if he did not have an obligation to heal Thomson with a touch of his hand, surely he would be a monster if the person he refused was Jane Fonda, his own wife. [2]

Regarding Pro’s appeal to someone stealing your genetic material and creating a child, it seems that, at least in the United States, the courts would seem sympathetic to my point of view, considering a case in which a man’s sperm was stolen from him and used to make a woman pregnant. Because the child’s needs are at stake, and because of his biological connection to the child, he was forced to provide child support. [3]

Pro’s second response to my argument, regarding the woman in Japan, shows that the biological connection is a sufficient condition to ground parental responsibility, not a necessary one. In the case of the woman in Japan, she becomes a “de facto guardian” of the child. The child has a fundamental right to life, and the woman, even though the child is not hers, now finds herself as the sole protector of the child. She becomes similar to Carl, from Up, who, in his house thousands of feet in the air, finds Russell on his front porch. He can’t push Russell off his house to his death, claiming that he has no obligation to Russell. He has an obligation to care for Russell because Russell is a child and Carl is the only one in the vicinity who can care for Russell. [4]

Pro argues that your child raiding your fridge is not stealing because you have assumed responsibility for this child. But Pro has not told us what grounds this obligation of responsibility? If it’s not biology, what is it? It doesn’t seem like it can be that she took the child home. Why is it a woman can’t take the child home but still decide she doesn’t want to raise it, and instead abuse the child or kill her? Why is it that simply keeping the pregnancy after the first trimester instead of taking the child home after birth doesn’t ground the responsibility? What is the alternative to biological connectedness?

Pro’s only response is that she can’t kill the child post-birth because it’s no longer in the situation that Thomson argued for. But remember that Thomson’s entire argument hinges on the fact that a mother has no natural obligation to her child (otherwise, bodily rights arguments don’t work to justify her right to kill the child). So it seems like this isn’t a good response to Tooley’s scenario, because Pro still hasn’t told us what does ground that obligation.

Pro has also misunderstood Wilcox’s argument. The argument is not an objection from weirdness, per se. He does talk about its weirdness. But the objection is not that it’s weird, the objection is that since the violinist scenario is basically an impossible situation, and pregnancy is a very common situation (in fact, how we all enter life), it is very plausible to argue that our obligations in pregnancy are different from our obligations to the violinist because an ethical framework represents a way to deal with the realities and regularities of human life, and may not fit well the irregularities or impossibilities. Since the violinist scenario is basically impossible and pregnancy the way we all enter life, it is very plausible that our obligations in the two situations are different. This also has nothing to do with an appeal to nature. It is, essentially, an appeal to ethical systems needing to give us an idea of how to handle real and common situations.

The Violinist Does Not Accurately Portray the Situation

Pro argues that his thought experiments more closely resemble pregnancy than Horn and George’s Reverse Violinist. I will argue below that they do not, so if my response succeeds, this argument is extended into the next round.

Responsibility Objection

Pro responds to this objection by drawing a distinction between being responsible for the fact one exists and the fact they are in a needy position. Before I respond to Pro’s thought experiments, I want to just point out that in no sense can someone argue a woman is responsible for the existence of the unborn child, but not responsible for the child being in the mother’s womb. This is a tack that Eileen McDonagh argued in a book she wrote, and Boonin also attempts to defend in A Defense of Abortion. McDonagh argued that while the man and woman create the child, it is the fetus, not the man/woman, who makes the woman pregnant. [5] The procreative act is the sex act: the sperm is transported from the man into the woman’s fallopian tube, where it merges with the ovum and creates a new human being. This human being is then transported down the woman’s fallopian tube by way of tiny hairs called cilia, and then is deposited inside her womb where the embryo implants. From start to finish, the woman and the man are responsible both for the child’s creation and for placing the child in a state of neediness in the womb.

So pregnancy could been seen like Pro’s analogy of poisoning. If you poison someone’s food, you are directly responsible for their situation of neediness, just like the man and woman are responsible for the child’s neediness by engaging in the procreative act of sex, since that act directly results in the child’s neediness.

Pro uses an analogy from an imperfect drug and an unconscious violinist. However, these analogies make a very important confusion that can be misleading. Frank Beckwith gives us two reasons why these analogies fail to undermine the responsibility of the woman:

1) the two cases are not symmetrical relative to increasing or decreasing human neediness. In the case of the violinist, you are decreasing his neediness due to administering the drug. In the case of pregnancy, the neediness of the child is intrinsically linked to the child’s creation, which are both actualized by engaging in an act that is ordered in such a way that its proper function is to create a child-with-neediness.

2) the two cases are not symmetrical relative to the actors’ responsibility for the neediness of the beings in question. In the case of pregnancy, the unborn child’s neediness is a direct result of the same act that brought the child into existence. In the violinist case, you are merely extending his life (not bringing him into existence) with the foreseeable but unintended consequence of his future neediness. [6]

The objection to the Hedonist response is similar: you are not responsible for the condition the violinist finds himself in, you are merely extending his life (and certainly not causing him pain or anguish, since he is unconscious).

So Pro’s assertion that these scenarios more accurately represent pregnancy is false. The act of sex is an act that jointly creates a child-with-neediness. These two features of the child (her existence and neediness) cannot be separated because both stem from the same act, sex. As such, the Reverse Violinist more closely resembles sex since the violinist is directly responsible for your needy condition.

Pro is correct that if Thomson’s argument succeeds, it could (only) justify abortion in the case of rape. Rape is a tragic crime, make no mistake. I don’t want to downplay the tragedy of the situation. But I have two responses to this: 1) Even if that is true, rape only accounts for less than 1% of all total abortions, [7] so it would only justify a very small percentage of abortions. Not abortion-on-demand as we currently have in the US. 2) In the case of rape, similar to the case from Japan I responded to earlier, a woman in the case of abortion would likewise become a de facto guardian. Responsibility is a sufficient, not a necessary, condition to ground the woman’s obligation not to abort.

Sources in comments.

Debate Round No. 3
Dookieman

Pro

The Stranger versus Offspring Objection
Con thinks that the moral implications change in the modified version of Thomson's analogy where the violinist turns out to be your biological offspring that you never knew existed. However, even if our feelings of this modified version were to change, that does not show that it would be morally impermissible for you to unplug. Indeed, from the looks of it, even Con himself doesn't claim that you would be violating the violinist's right to life if you decided to unplug in this modified version where he is biologically related to you. At best, he claims that unplugging from someone you are biologically related to is worse than unplugging from someone you have no relation to. That judgment may be true, but it does not show that you would be violating the violinist's right to life if you disconnected yourself from him.

In response to the woman in Japan, Con claims that being biologically related is a sufficient condition for responsibility towards someone, but not a necessary one. He then says that the woman becomes a protector of her fetus like Carl, from Up, who, in his house thousands of feet in the air, finds Russell on his front porch. He then says Carl can’t push Russell off his house to his death, claiming that he has no obligation to Russell. I have three responses to this.

Firstly, Con is now trying to ground responsibility towards a child without appealing biological relatedness. Instead, he is now claiming that what grounds responsibility towards a child is the fact that the adult is the only one that can protect them. But being a protector of someone has nothing to do with being biologically related to that person. Therefore I don't think this a good response to the case of the woman in Japan.

Secondly, Carl pushing Russell off the roof in no way resembles the violinist analogy. In Thomson's story, you are choosing not to go through the serious burden of letting someone use your body for nine months and are discontinuing life support that you don't have an obligation to provide. In the movie
Up Russell is not using Carl's body in the way that your body is being used in the violinist case. As such, the example fails to provide a justification for this protectionist view of responsibility towards a child.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, this response by Con leads to absurdities. This is because if we accept this protectionist view of obligations towards others, then that would lead to the conclusion that it would be morally impermissible for you to unplug from the violinist; even if he turned out NOT to be biologically related to you. The reason why is because in Thomson's thought experiment, you are the only one that can protect the violinist from certain death. If we were take my opponent’s view that the woman in Japan becomes a “de facto guardian” of the child, one can just as easily say that she becomes a de facto guardian of the violinist. In order to demonstrate what I've just said, let me quote Con's response to the woman in Japan, but replace the word "child" with "[violinist]". Observe:

"Pro’s second response to my argument, regarding the woman in Japan, shows that the biological connection is a sufficient condition to ground parental responsibility, not a necessary one. In the case of the woman in Japan, she becomes a “de facto guardian” of the [violinist]. The [violinist] has a fundamental right to life, and the woman, even though the [violinist] is not hers, now finds herself as the sole protector of the [violinist]. She becomes similar to Carl, from Up, who, in his house thousands of feet in the air, finds Russell on his front porch. He can’t push Russell off his house to his death, claiming that he has no obligation to Russell. He has an obligation to care for Russell because Russell is a [violinist] and Carl is the only one in the vicinity who can care for Russell."

So, if we believe that the woman in Japan can't abort her unrelated embryo, then you can't unplug from the unrelated violinist in Thomson's original story. After all, once you were hooked up to the violinist you became his “de facto guardian” and are the only one in the vicinity who can care for him. But surely the opponent of abortion will not hold the view that you would be violating the stranger violinist's right to life if you unplugged from him. Such a view is extremely counterintuitive and implausible.

Con claims that I have not provided grounds for what is the basis of a parent's responsibility in the case where your child takes food from your fridge. However, I already answered this question earlier in the debate. I claimed that what grounds a parent's responsibility towards their child is the fact that they have assumed guardianship over them. That's why it's not theft for your own child to take food from your fridge.

Con claims that I have not responded adequately to Michael Tooley's scenario, because I haven't said what grounds a woman's obligation not to kill her baby after birth. But again, I already explained why Thomson's argument doesn't justify infanticide. A fetus after viability or an infant at birth cannot be justly killed on her argument, because those would be like cases where the violinist has been healed. Moreover, Thomson's argument does not claim that there are no general positive duties to assist others. It requires only that whatever duty there is to assist, it is not so strong as to require you to remain plugged into the violinist for nine months. [1] So, Thomson's argument does not mean the woman on the deserted island would have no duty to assist her newborn.

Thomson did claim that if she was in the hospital and all that was needed to save her life was the touch of Henry Fonda’s hand, he would not be morally obligated to fly out and touch her. But a defender of her argument need not hold to a view of rights as strong as her own. One can believe in moral rights and duties and accept her violinist analogy, without believing that there is no duty to assist others at a small cost to yourself.

I conclude that the
Stranger versus Offspring Objection is unsuccessful, and that it fails to undermine Thomson's argument.

The Weirdness Objection
Con claims that I misunderstood the objection by Wilcox. The objection is not from weirdness, but from the fact that the violinist story is basically an impossible situation whereas pregnancy is normal. But again, the fact that the violinist analogy would be a rare situation is irrelevant. As long as the thought experiment or analogy is logically possible, it can serve as a good example to test whether an idea makes sense of not. Thought experiments and analogies are absolutely essential to philosophy and if one can simply dismiss them out of hand just because they are unlikely scenarios, then virtually all thought experiments that have ever been used in philosophy will have to be thrown out. Indeed, philosophy as a whole would probably be rendered meaningless. This is completely unacceptable. Con claims that Wilcox doesn’t make an appeal to nature in support of his objection, but rather appeals to ethical systems. But if an ethical system is to be considered satisfactory it must take into account both real and hypothetical situations. Therefore this doesn't mean that Thomson's analogy cannot be used to test the validity of claims made through a particular moral system.

I conclude that the objection made by Wilcox fails to discredit the violinist analogy.


The Responsibility Objection
At the start of his response to me, Con claims that in no sense can someone argue a woman is responsible for the existence of the unborn child, but not responsible for the child being in the mother’s womb. But I never argued that the woman is not responsible for the fetus being in the womb. Clearly, she is responsible for it being there. What I said was the woman is responsible for the fact that it exists, but she is not responsible for the neediness of the fetus.

Con claims that a woman who gets pregnant through consensual sex is like my analogy where you cause the violinist to develop a kidney ailment by poisoning his food. But this is false.

The case where the violinist develops a kidney ailment because you poisoned his food is different than a woman conceiving a fetus through consensual sex. The reason why is because in the former case, you poisoning the violinist, you cause him to be worse off than he was before. This is because prior to you poisoning his food, the violinist was healthy. So, because your voluntary act harmed him, you have an obligation to help.

Pregnancy through consensual sex is different, though. By conceiving a fetus the woman does not cause it to be worse off than it was before because, prior to her having sex, the fetus did not exist. If the woman made the fetus worse off by conceiving it, then it follows that the non-performance of that act must have left the fetus better off, or at least not worse off. [2] But this is impossible because if the woman had abstained from intercourse, the fetus would have never come into existence. But if the fetus was not made worse off, then the responsibility objection fails. This is because if the woman did not make the fetus worse off, then there is nothing to ground her obligation to assist it.

Con objected to this analogy by claiming that you are not actually responsible for the violinist's existence, but rather for his continued existence. However, Con overlooks that I claimed you are responsible for the fact that he NOW exist. Responsible for the fact that someone now exist is similar enough to being responsible for someone's existence that it can't make that much of a difference morally.

Again, let's suppose my response to this objection is mistaken. This would still justify abortion in the case of rape. So, even if I have only shown abortion to be permissible in rape cases, I will still have upheld the resolution given the full topic of the debate.


Sources in comments
KeytarHero

Con

Thanks once again to Pro for instituting this debate.

Parental Obligation

We need to make a quick distinction. By a right to life, I simply mean a right not to be killed unjustly. There is a distinction to be made between killing someone and letting them die. In the case of the violinist, you are letting him die from a previous illness. You are not violating his right to life by unplugging from him. So I do not speak in terms of violating his right to life. Since you are not violating his right to life, it is permissible to unplug. Since you are violating the unborn child’s right to life, it is not permissible to abort.

Also, I think I did show that you would be morally wrong if you were to unplug from your own offspring. Think back to the example from Henry and Jane Fonda. As Wilcox argues, surely Henry Fonda would be a monster if he allowed his own wife, Jane, to die without touching her. It seems to me that we have obligations to our offspring that we simply do not have to complete strangers.

Regarding Pro’s three responses to my Up example:

Pro thinks I’m now trying to argue apart from biological connectedness, but this is not true. I am arguing in lieu of biological protectedness. I think Pro is confusing necessary and sufficient conditions. A necessary condition is such that something must be there to obtain (e.g. Not being divisible by four is a necessary condition for being a prime number). A sufficient condition is something which, if it is present, is enough to make something obtain (e.g. being divisible by four is a sufficient condition for a number’s being even). So when I say that biological connected is a sufficient condition to ground obligation, I’m saying that it is enough to ground someone’s obligation, but even if it is not present, there may still be other reasons that we have obligations (so it doesn’t have to be there, but if it is, that is enough to ground it).

Pro asserts that Russell is not using Carl’s body, but in fact he is. It is now a burden on Carl to take care of Russell, to use his body to make Russell food, to protect him after they land until he can get Russell to safety, etc. It’s true that Russell is not inside Carl’s body as an unborn child, but why would Russell need to be inside Carl’s body for Carl to be able to justify killing him? Russell is just as much a full-fledged human being inside the womb as outside.


Pro asserts that my argument leads to absurdities, but I submit that Pro is simply making a fallacious appeal to consequences here. Why is it so absurd to think that you might have an obligation to remain plugged in to the violinist? I actually think you might have an obligation to remain plugged in, even though many people might not share my intuitions on this. Or you might not have an obligation based on other reasons. But I was not trying to argue in this debate that you should remain plugged in to the violinist, I was merely arguing that the violinist case does not ground a moral permissibility to abort a pregnancy. To reiterate, I do not think you are violating the violinist’s right to life by unplugging because you are not the active agent in his death; the kidney ailment is.


Pro did give the response that you have assumed guardianship over the child, but as I have argued previously, this is an arbitrary response. Why is it that she doesn’t assume guardianship if she allows the pregnancy to progress past the first trimester? Why is it that she can’t simply deny guardianship, but take the child home anyway and abuse or kill him/her (or the woman on the deserted island)? Pro has not given an answer for what grounds the fact that she has assumed guardianship over this child. (As I argued, by engaging in sex, which resulted in the child’s creation and state of dependency, she has tacitly assumed responsibility for the child.)

Pro does briefly respond to my use of Thomson’s Henry Fonda example, but he seems to have missed the point of it, since my point was that her obligation seems to be different to someone biologically related to her.

Pro continues to assert that Wilcox’s objection is one from weirdness, but again, this is false. It is not an argument from weirdness per se. In fact, Boonin responds to the weirdness objection as so: “Suppose, for example, that you had been asked your response to the following scenario: You are driving a car when the brakes suddenly fail, and you can either steer left and run over five people or right and run over one. There is nothing difficult to understand about this example, and your response to it is presumably quite clear. But now suppose that I add that this car you are driving is powered by a tiny nuclear reactor in the glove compartment. This makes the case fantastic, but there is no reason to suppose that this feature of the example could alter the clarity or significance of your reaction to it. And the same goes for the violinist example. The fact that the technology involved in making the violinist dependent on you is exotic rather than mundane is morally irrelevant.” [1] However, what Boonin overlooks is that adding the nuclear reactor to the car doesn’t affect our moral intuitions in the thought experiment one bit, since the technology used is irrelevant to the moral intuitions of the case (do you kill one person or five?). The fact that the violinist scenario is rare and impossible does affect our moral intuitions because the technology, itself, is being used as an analogy for pregnancy, which is common; in fact, the way all of us enter the world. Since our ethical framework must guide us in the regularities and realities of human life, appealing to an impossible science fiction scenario confuses, rather than elucidates, our intuitions.

I submit that the parental responsibility objection, including Wilcox’s argument, shows that the violinist analogy does not permit abortion.

The Violinist Does Not Accurately Portray the Situation

Again, if my argument below succeeds, then Horn’s and George’s Reverse Violinist does, in fact, show that Thomson’s violinist scenario is not analogous to pregnancy, and therefore fails to support abortion’s moral permissibility.

Responsibility Objection

I understand that Pro never argued that she is not responsible for the fetus being in the womb; that was merely meant as a precursor to arguing for her responsibility, since she is clearly also responsible for the child’s neediness, as well as his existence.

Pro responds to the poisoning analogy by saying that you are leaving the violinist worse off. However, I fail to see why this is relevant. First, if you conceive a child only with the intention of killing the child, is the child not worse off? You might be tempted to respond that you can’t compare non-existence with existence, but it seems that intuitively, you can harm someone by bringing them into existence. For example, if you tamper with an ovum that causes a child to be conceived without limbs, you have certainly harmed the child, even though the only alternative was non-existence. If you conceive a child only to kill him, then you are leaving him worse off as surely as if you had tampered with the ovum to produce a child with a debilitating fatal illness.

Second, the alternatives are not between non-existence and death. The alternatives are between leaving the unborn child alive (the mother caring for the child) or killing the child, and if you kill the child rather than caring for him, you have clearly harmed him by leaving him worse off (dead).

Pro says that being responsible for the fact that someone NOW exists is relevantly similar to being responsible for someone’s existence, but Pro overlooks the fact that the child’s neediness is tied to his coming into existence, so that since the woman is responsible for the child’s existence, she is also responsible for his neediness given that the two situations are linked.

Pro finally responds with the rape exception again. He did not respond to my answer in the last round, so I push it forward into this round. Rape only accounts for a very small percentage of abortions (roughly 1%), so it cannot be used to morally justify abortion on demand. Second, the de facto guardian argument applies in this situation, too, so that since a woman is in a situation in which a needy child requires her assistance, she is not morally permitted to end the child’s life. Pro did not respond to these two points, so they move forward.

I submit that the responsibility objection shows that the violinist scenario does not succeed in showing abortion to be morally permissible.

[1] David Boonin, A Defense of Abortion, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 143.
Debate Round No. 4
25 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Jedi4 1 year ago
Jedi4
dookie man, your name is literally sh1t man
Posted by Fkkize 1 year ago
Fkkize
Sorry, my bad. We can scrap that last sentence then.
Posted by KeytarHero 1 year ago
KeytarHero
Fkkize,

"In the end in case of rape abortion would be justified either way. Con does not dispute this."

I did dispute this.
Posted by Fkkize 1 year ago
Fkkize
RFD part2:

The Violinist Does Not Adequately Portray the Situation

This objection is a more sophisticated version of the last subobjection from the previous part. Not much can be said here as it blends in with the other two objections.

Part 3:

Responsibility Objection

Con presents an alternative prankster analogy to demonstrate why Thomson's analogy does not work (yes I'll list this here). Pro responds with an altered version himself. As stated above, these thought experiments heavily rely on intuitions and as such whose analogy is better is a rather subjective judgement. I personally agree with with Pro's alternative analogy, however there is no objective criteria to settle this and undoubtedly someone who already thinks of abortion as impermissible will be inclined to agree with Con.
In the end in case of rape abortion would be justified either way. Con does not dispute this.
Posted by Fkkize 1 year ago
Fkkize
RFD part 1:
Each part of my RFD is going to deal with one of the three major objections put forward by Con and Pro's responses.
Applied ethics relies more often than not on various intuitions. Hence if someone does not share said intuitions the argument falls apart. That said, let's get started.

Parental Obligation
This objection contains three parts, (1) the stranger vs. own child, (2) the island and the (3) normality subobjection.

1) As Con stated, one needs to first assume responsibility over someone, according to Thomson. However it is not clear why his fridge analogy presents a problem for this view, since the parents presumably never assumed responsibility for these neighbor kids. Just as Pro points out.
The door analogy unfortunately is an appeal to emotion and not very persuasive.
Pro argues that biology has little say in this issue and Con responds accordingly. However as Pro points out correctly, this does not invalidate the analogy. In fact the soundness of a basic right to life argument has been assumed, making his response seems rather compelling.

2) This subobjection concludes that Thomson's criteria are to vague and seemingly imply one can revoke one's responsibility. Pro responds by clarifying that this scenario falls no longer under the scope of the analogy. Con insists on it's arbitrariness, but ultimately I think Pro sufficiently explained why this is not the case.

3) The last subobjection seems rather misguided. Of course, pregnancies occur all the time, but the inference from "It happens on a regular basis" to "therefore everyone is familiar with the situation" seems dubious. Pregnancy (and birth, too) is one of the strangest and most adventurous things that can happen to a couple. Hence it seems no more strange than the violinist.
Pro, however, seems to talk past the point, being that the rarity of the circumstances might twist our judgement, making the analogy misleading. This point goes to Con
Posted by Geogeer 1 year ago
Geogeer
If I don't vote on this by friday morning remind me!
Posted by Dookieman 1 year ago
Dookieman
Moreover, let's not assume that my response to "The Responsibility Objection" is mistaken. In my own view, I did respond to it adequately. But that, of course, will be up for the voters to decide.
Posted by Dookieman 1 year ago
Dookieman
@KeytarHero

"but second, I also argued that a woman who was raped would fall under the de facto guardian, which would ground her obligation not to abort. Pro never responded to that argument"

Actually, I did respond to that argument. Look at my last post in round four.
Posted by KeytarHero 1 year ago
KeytarHero
"I actually thought it was strange that my opponent used "The Responsibility Objection" in his objections, because he thinks that abortion, even in the case of rape, is morally impermissible."

You didn't specify which abortions you'd be arguing for in your opening argument. The wording made it sound like you'd be arguing that abortion, in general, was morally permissible. The responsibility objection is a defeater for the violinist in all non-rape cases, but I have the de facto guardian response if rape is brought up. I was waiting for you to bring it up so I could respond to it, rather than trying to anticipate where you were going to go with the argument.
Posted by KeytarHero 1 year ago
KeytarHero
"This decision was made very easy when con said that Thomson's thought experiment could justify rape, but only for 1%, which is enough as again, we only need 1 instance where Thomson's experiment works. "

That wasn't a concession, that was showing that if it did, indeed, justify those abortions, it would only justify a very small minority (since, surely, there would be many people reading this debate who could benefit from my responses), but second, I also argued that a woman who was raped would fall under the de facto guardian, which would ground her obligation not to abort. Pro never responded to that argument, he just reiterated his rape argument without further supporting argumentation.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Fkkize 1 year ago
Fkkize
DookiemanKeytarHero
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: Comments. I'm leaving this here in case I won't make it before the time runs out.