Abortion and the Failure to Conceive
Feldman (Fred)
Source: Feldman - Confrontations with the Reaper, Chapter 12
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract1

  1. In Chapter 12, I discuss applications of my view to a thorny and pressing practical difficulty. I defend a view about the morality of abortion2.
  2. In connection with the discussion of abortion3, I try to show how one's view about murder and abortion4 may come into conflict with one's view about the morality of failure to conceive. My own view, I argue, does not run into this difficulty.

Three Examples [193]
Justicized Act Utilitarianism and the Problem of Abortion14 [200]
The "Right to Life" [205]

Differences between Feldman’s "desert" view and the view that claims the fetus24 has a right to life:
  1. Desert admits of degrees, whereas you either have a right or you don’t
    • [BUT: is that true? Certainly the capacity to deserve anything is just as "on/off" as any right. Rocks don’t have it, people do. Now, what we deserve is a different matter, but even then, I could say "I deserve an education" in exactly the same way that "I have a right to an education". If I only deserve an education K through 12, well then, you could say I only have a right to that much.]
  2. For the RTL view, you need to establish when a being becomes a rights-bearer (because it’s an on/off thing), but desert can gradually increase from the moment one begins to exist.
    • [BUT: does the desert view really avoid this issue? Isn’t there an identical issue of "when does one start to deserve something?" If we say "the minute you start existing", well, we can say the same thing for RTL – the question remains "existing as what?" but that’s true for desert too]
  3. RTLers have to answer the question "what justifies the claim that an individual has a right?", whereas the desert view uses a concept of desert that is familiar from our thoughts about justice.
    • [BUT: even if we have intuitions about justice, it is by no means clear that these apply unproblematically to life. I can have clear intuitions about who deserves what slice of cake, but I’m not sure I have intuitions about what fetus25 deserves how much life.]
  4. Sometimes the RTL is regarded as absolute, overriding everything. Desert, however, can be weighed against other interests.
  5. Those who are prepared to say that different rights can conflict lack a general theory whereby we can rank importance of rights. However, JAU is a general theory within which it is easy to make comparisons of desert according to values of outcomes.
    • [BUT: again, is the situation any different? If the fetus26 has a right to life and the mother has a right to control her body, then you have conflicting rights. But the same is true if one deserves her life and the other deserves her freedom. Who deserves it more? That isn’t settled by anything Feldman has said.]

Advantages of This View [207]
  1. Part of a general moral theory (not ad hoc and applicable only to abortion)27
  2. When abortion28 is wrong it is wrong for the same reasons as killing a child, when it is wrong: "the act is wrong because it makes the world worse"
  3. Failing to conceive is not wrong on this view
  4. Avoids the use of the "obscure and controversial concepts" of person and right to life. ("I should perhaps acknowledge that the concept of desert is slightly slippery."[208 – damn right!])
  5. Abortions29 are not "morally homogenous" – some are right, some are wrong, and to differing degrees of each.
  6. Provides a "coherent framework for further discussion" in part because it avoids debates over personhood and right to life.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Footnote 5:

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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