Philosophy & Public Affairs conclusion: that the status of the fetus-that issue over which so much ink has been spilt-is, according to virtue theory, simply not relevant to the rightness or wrongness of abortion (within, that is, a secular moral- ity). Or rather, since that is clearly too radicala conclusion, it is in a sense relevant, but only in the sense that the familiar biologicalfacts are rele- vant. By "the familiar biological facts" I mean the facts that most human societies are and have been familiarwith-that, standardly (but not in- variably), pregnancy occurs as the result of sexual intercourse, that it lasts about nine months, during which time the fetus grows and devel- ops, that standardly it terminates in the birth of a living baby, and that this is how we all come to be. It might be thought that this distinction-between the familiar biolog- ical facts and the status of the fetus-is a distinction without a differ- ence. But this is not so. To attach relevance to the status of the fetus, in the sense in which virtue theoryclaims it is not relevant,is to be gripped by the conviction that we must go beyond the familiar biological facts, deriving some sort of conclusion from them, such as that the fetus has rights, or is not a person, or something similar. It is also to believe that this exhausts the relevance of the familiar biological facts, that all they are relevant to is the status of the fetus and whether or not it is the sort of thing that may or may not be killed. These convictions, I suspect, are rooted in the desire to solve the prob- lem of abortion by getting it to fall under some general rule such as "You ought not to kill anything with the right to life but may kill anything else." But they have resulted in what should surely strike any nonphilos- opher as a most bizarre aspect of nearly all the current philosophical lit- erature on abortion, namely, that, far from treating abortion as a unique moral problem, markedly unlike any other, nearly everything written on the status of the fetus and its bearing on the abortion issue would be consistent with the human reproductive facts' (to say nothing of family life) being totally different from what they are. Imagine that you are an alien extraterrestrial anthropologist who does not know that the human race is roughly 50 percent female and 50 percent male, or that our only (natural) form of reproduction involves heterosexual intercourse, vivipa- and which can, albeit with difficulty, be reconciled with the idea that moral knowledge can be acquired by anyone who really wants it would be a major task. This content downloaded from 18.104.22.168 on Thu, 29 Aug 2013 15:50:08 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
237 Virtue Theoryand Abortion rous birth, and the female's (and only the female's) being pregnant for nine months, or that females are capable of childbearing from late child- hood to late middle age, or that childbearing is painful, dangerous, and emotionally charged-do you think you would pick up these facts from the hundreds of articles written on the status of the fetus? I am quite
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