… [ … snip, Acknowledgements …] …
- This is not a book that I had ever anticipated writing. When my colleagues and I first introduced our program in "Contemporary Moral Issues" at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I was opposed to our including the question of abortion1 as part of the curriculum. It seemed to me that in fact there was no real issue of the kind — that the moral opposition to abortion2 one still encountered was based solely upon dubious theological claims. However, when abortion3 did become one of the topics treated in the course, I rapidly realized that I was wrong. Indeed, as I studied the subject it became clear to me, to my considerable surprise, that there was reason to doubt that abortion4 was ever morally justifiable. This book is an account of the considerations that led me to this new conclusion.
- It is, I am aware, not a popular conclusion, and I must make clear, as I undertake to explain it, that I comprehend and have due regard for the arguments that have led others to quite different conclusions, though to say that is obviously not to say that I think that they are right. I am particularly sensitive, too, to what are deeply felt convictions on the part of some women that access to abortion5 is a basic condition of their own liberation. As I have invested a considerable ideation in the development of my point of view, a portion of them have as well. What is more, a portion have displayed an extraordinary energy in advancing their views, particularly in the legislative area, as they have sought to overturn old statutes preventing abortion6 and, now, to prevent a legislative reversal of the change that they have been instrumental in bringing about. Many women have been keenly aware, simply because of their own sexual identities, what the social and personal penalties are of a lack of access to abortion7. It has even been suggested to male philosophers that they cannot express authentic judgments on the question of abortion8 because their sex disqualifies them from doing so. That is an assertion that I cannot accept, and I cannot accept it because I have seen no convincing evidence that our own humanity, male and female alike, is not a far more powerful integrative principle of understanding than such differences in the characteristics of that humanity. Besides, in the arguments that women have made, I have not seen any evidence of an intellectual or emotional awareness that seems alien to me.
- I regret the nature of some of the support, however inadvertently, a position like mine is bound to attract. But that consideration cannot still my argument. I would like to point out, however, that if all the moral tenderness that rises in some quarters so self-righteously against abortion9 had been turned in decades past to an alleviation of those conditions that have driven so many individuals to seek abortions10, I think we should find the crucial judgment we now must make much easier. Any individual or group that now only opposes abortion11 seems to me immediately suspect.
- Four observations.
- It is hard to talk about abortion12 without speaking philosophy, but the nature of that discourse may be of some surprise to those not used to it. It is replete with examples, often extraordinary, designed to clarify an argument by setting it in a situation so extreme or unexpected as to refresh our view of the argument or to lead to an irresistible conclusion. Indeed, the literature is filled with talking cats or chimps, movie stars with healing hands, Frankensteins, and other creatures of the kind. That is the way we seem to have to argue, and, as will be observed, I am not immune from this inclination.
- The second observation is that the language of philosophy can be so abstract that the lay reader may fall into the mistake of assuming that philosophers are having arguments for argument's sake. If ever that observation is correct, it is not so with reference to an issue as pressing as the one under discussion here — an issue that has, moreover, delicate ramifications in many other areas. The abstractness of the language of philosophy is due, instead, to the philosopher's desire to discuss such a pressing issue in a reasoned manner, without appeal to mere emotions.
- The third observation is that I do not recall a single paper that cannot be said to argue from basic moral assumptions or intuitions (the exposition of these, it will be noticed, is often preceded by the word "surely"). I do not disguise my own assumptions, but I should like it to be noted that in making them I am not indulging in some rite of mystery. I appeal rather often to the reader's moral intuitions because it seems to me that our moral intuitions are a significant part of the data against which our moral theories are tested. To say this, however, is not to say that our moral intuitions are always correct; indeed, there are occasions on which I will explicitly argue for retaining a particular theory at the cost of rejecting some of our moral intuitions. All that I am presupposing is that any moral theory that is in conflict with our moral intuitions should be rejected unless overwhelming reasons can be given for disregarding those intuitions.
- The final point is terminological. When, in this book, I use the phrase "human being," I mean "a member of the species Homo sapiens who has a right to life similar to the right to life had by you, me, and so on." My initial assumption that the fetus13 is a human being is an assumption about its rights, and not merely about the species to which it belongs. Although this terminological point is implicit throughout the book, I want to make it explicitly clear at the outset so as to avoid any possible misunderstanding.
- My book is divided into three parts.
- In Part I, I start with the assumption that the fetus14 becomes a human being at some point before birth and argue from that assumption that abortion15 is morally justifiable only in certain very rare circumstances and that there should be laws prohibiting abortions16.
- In Part II, I examine my initial assumption. I discover it to be correct, and in particular I conclude that the fetus17 becomes a human being during the second month after conception. Although this sequence may seem strange, I adopted it for the following reason: many adherents of the so-called permissive or liberal position about abortion18 maintain that abortions19 are morally permissible, or, at least, that there should be no laws prohibiting abortions20 even if the fetus21 is a human being. The attractiveness of this claim is clear; it enables its adherents to hold their permissive position without having to defend the questionable claim that the fetus22 does not become a human being until its birth (or, perhaps, until some time after that). It therefore seems to me essential to remove this possibility, to argue that the permissive position can only be based upon some claim about the status of the fetus23. This is what I try to do in Part I. Having done so, I turn, in Part II, to a consideration of that status.
- In Part III, I consider several less central but still extremely important issues. These include the rights of the fetus24 before it becomes a human being and the responsibilities of society to pregnant25 women, particularly those whose pregnancy26 is burdensome or physically or psychologically dangerous. I also discuss the Supreme Court's recent decisions on the constitutionality of abortion27 laws. Rather than dealing on a piecemeal basis with aspects of that decision throughout the book, I postpone consideration of it until Chapter 9. In that chapter, the decision is subjected to a careful analysis in light of the theoretical discussion in the main part of the book.
Also, photocopy in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 02 (B1: Ba - Be)".
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
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