Medical Ethics
Michael Green
Manuel Vargas
phone, office information

03 April. The Basic Argument Against Abortion
06 April. The Extreme View
08 April. The Voluntariness Objection
10 April. Samaritanism and objections
13 April. Warren's criticism, more voluntariness
15 April. Fetuses aren't persons?
20 April. Does Marquis have to say contraception is wrong?
22 April. Wrapping Up

Medical Ethics: 20 April. Nicole's point, one more time.

How I took Nicole's point

In Monday's class, I treated Nicole's point as a challenge.

I wanted to grant what Marquis said about (10) but deny what he said about (9).

Contraception blocks the existence of the being in (10) (the sperm and ovum together). Marquis said his argument does not commit him to saying that this is illegitmate and I agreed.

Contraception does prevent the beings in case (9) (the sperm and ovum separately) from having the valuable future that they would otherwise have. Marquis said his argument does not maintain that this is wrong either but I disagreed.

Nicole's point questioned whether the two cases were really distinct. After all, the beings in (9) do not really have a future for just the same reason that the being in (10) doesn't really exist: successful contraception would prevent the beings' future (9) or the being's existence (10).

Read all about it, if you like.

How Nicole meant Nicole's point

Nicole originally made her point for a different reason, however, and I just figured out how to express it this morning.

Nicole was making an objection against Marquis that went something like this.

(1) According to Marquis, depriving a being of a valuable future is morally wrong.

(2) If it were morally wrong to deprive a being of a valuable future, then it would be equally wrong to prevent a being from coming into existence.

(3) Contraception prevents beings from coming into existence.

(4) So, if Marquis were right about (1), contraception would be morally wrong.

(5) But contraception isn't morally wrong.

(6) So, it must not be morally wrong to deprive a being of a valuable future.

Hey, that's a good argument! How could I have missed it? Lesson: listening to others is hard and we all get tunnel vision when we're thinking about our own arguments.

Anyway, the crucial premise is (2). To make Nicole's objection work, one would have to force Marquis to admit that depriving a being of existence is morally equivalent to depriving a being that already exists of the future that it would otherwise have.

Be careful!

Suppose we did show that depriving a being of existence is morally equivalent to depriving a being that already exists of the future it would otherwise have.

Would this undercut the original argument? We've been assuming there's a large moral difference between contraception and killing: we've assumed that the former is morally acceptable and the latter isn't. The contraception objection is an attempt to force Marquis into denying this apparently obvious difference. If he has to deny that there is a difference, the thought goes, he must be wrong.

In arguing that Marquis is committed to saying that the two are morally equivalent, make sure you don't use examples that imply he's right about why killing is wrong. If you do that, you will step all over your conclusion: you're trying to show that the apparently absurd conclusion that contraception is wrong shows that he's wrong about why killing is wrong. If he's right about why killing is wrong, and killing and contraception are on the same moral footing, then we have to admit that contraception is wrong!

Of course, you might think that contraception is wrong. In that case, go ahead and gleefully argue that contraception and killing are equally wrong for the same reasons. The previous paragraph is advice those who want to make the contraception objection to Marquis's theory work.

Why am I bothering with this obvious seeming advice? Because even the pros can stumble. If you want to see one undercut his argument in just the way I've been warning you about, check out: Alastair Norcross, "Killing, Abortion, and Contraception: A Reply to Marquis" Journal of Philosophy 87 (1990), esp. pp. 271-277.

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This page was originally posted on 4/24/98; 2:00:02 PM and was last built on 4/24/98; 2:00:06 PM with BBEdit and Frontier 5 on a Macintosh running System 8.0.