Thomson’s Analogy Notes for September 11

Main points

We began with what the right to life gives one a right to have. The right not to be killed? No. The right to have third parties abstain from choosing between you and another innocent party? No again.

We then moved on to an objection to Thomson’s analogy. The violinist case involved kidnapping. Many pregnancies are the result of behavior that is more voluntary than that. Does that make a difference?

A few remarks

We aren’t finished, so I don’t want to pre-judge the results. But a few things seemed worth noting.

First, we’ve moved beyond the basic argument against abortion. If we’re considering a view that allows abortion in the case of rape but prohibits it otherwise, we must be talking about something other than the right to life.

To put the same point another way, we’re talking about facts about the mother rather than facts about the fetus. But the basic argument against abortion went from a fact about the fetus, that it’s a person, to a conclusion about its right to life. We’re looking at something very different here.

Second, I’m not sure there is going to be a clean resolution of this question. We hold people responsible for some, but not all, of the foreseeable consequences of their voluntary behavior. Sometimes, different people differ in what they say about the same action. In the criminal law, we do not accept “you’re responsible for the fact that your house was broken into because you didn’t lock the door.” Your insurance company will, presumably, take the opposite position.

The trick is to find a case that seems especially relevant to abortion. Would what Thomson calls “samaratinism” fit the bill?

This page was written by Michael Green for Problems of Philosophy, Philosophy 1, Fall 2006.
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