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handout1 - Philosophy 4: Introduction to Ethics Handout #1...

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Philosophy 4: Introduction to Ethics October 1, 2007 Handout #1 Prof. Aaron Zimmerman J. J. Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion.” 1. Thomson’s Position: Is it ever permissible for a woman to abort her pregnancy? Thomson argues that abortion is at least sometimes morally permissible. She claims that when rape results in pregnancy, abortion certainly is permissible, and that there are several other cases in which abortion is permissible as well. 2. Arguments against Abortion A. One main line of argument against the permissibility of abortion begins with the claim that fetuses are people. Argument A : (1) A fetus is a person. (2) People have an inalienable right to life: it is never moral to kill a person. (3) To abort a fetus is to kill it. Therefore, (4) Abortion is never moral. B. Those who argue that abortion is permissible often claim that their opponents hold inconsistent views. It is hypocritical, some say, to argue that abortion is never permissible, while also allowing that capital punishment sometimes is permissible. This criticism would be warranted if the reason a defender of capital punishment had for believing in the impermissibility of abortion were captured by argument A. Why? Because premise (2) entails that capital punishment is impermissible. But is (2) true? Question : A counter-example is an example that shows that an argument or claim is false. If you say “If something is an A, then it must be a B,” and I describe an A that isn’t a B, I’ve presented a counter- example to your claim. Can you describe a counter-example to premise (2)? Can you describe a case in which someone is justified in killing a person? C. The anti-abortion position can be made consistent with the pro-capital punishment position by dropping Argument A in favor of another: Argument B : (1) A fetus is a person. (2) People have a right to life, but it isn’t inalienable. That is, there are circumstances in which one can relinquish one’s right to life. (3) A person can only relinquish her right to life by willfully and intentionally harming another person or attempting to inflict such harm. It is only if a person has willfully and intentionally harmed another (or attempted to do so) that it is morally permissible to kill that person. (4) Fetuses are incapable of willfully and intentionally harming others (or attempting to do so). Therefore, (5) Every fetus retains its right to life; it is never moral to kill a fetus. (6) To abort a fetus is to kill it. Therefore, (7) Abortion is never permissible. 3. The Typical Response Typically, those who think that abortion is sometimes permissible counter Argument B by arguing against premise (1). If fetuses aren’t people, then we can allow that people have a right to life without allowing that fetuses have a right to life. The interesting thing about Thomson, though, is that she grants
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2 premise (1) for the sake of argument. That is she grants that fetuses are people and endeavors to show that even if fetuses are people, abortion may still be permissible in certain circumstances
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handout1 - Philosophy 4: Introduction to Ethics Handout #1...

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