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Abortion

Do you think abortion is moral and/or should be legal and if so, under what circumstances precisely?

Lecture Five Abortion: 510-514 (intro); 543-545, 556-573
There are three separate articles in the readings for this week:
1) The Unspeakable Crime Of Abortion written by Pope John Paul II 2) Why Abortion Is Immoral written by Don Marquis 3) A Defense of Abortion written by Judith Jarvis Thomson
The titles of all of these articles already make clear for what basic position the author is arguing. However, your job is to figure out not only this, but also the specific thesis of each author as well as the arguments they make to support their positions. Please read along with the notes below as you do each individual reading and try to remember some of the lessons we discussed last week about learning how to read these kinds of articles. Keep your eyes open for counterarguments, etc. Trying to outline each article is a very useful way to ensure that you are thoroughly reading and understanding these articles.
1) The Unspeakable Crime Of Abortion written by Pope John Paul II
There are a couple of different arguments I want you to pay attention to here. First, one question often heard in relation to abortion is what is the ‘moral status’ of the fetus. What do I mean by ‘moral status’? Well, for example, cancer cells are living tissue. Yet, there is no debate as to whether we violate the cancer cells’ right to life when we kill it off – through radiation or physical removal. Or again, the potential of cloning gives us the possibility of turning every skin cell into a new living human being. But no one has ever seriously made the argument that removing or killing of skin cells is violating the moral rights of the potential person whom we could have created if we had cloned that skin cell. Our understanding of a fertilized ovum is a bit more complicated – many people do defend the moral rights of an embryo. However, our current policy – where we freeze or discard unused embryos after in vitro fertilization for example – seems to suggest that we do not yet give an embryo existing outside of the womb full moral rights. So, one question raised by abortion is what moral (and legal) rights should a fetus be given. Should they be seen as having the same moral status as a newborn infant? At what stage in development? And most importantly, why or why not? Abortion is such a complicated subject because it requires us to answer the very difficult question of what gives something moral worth. Why does the living cancer tissue not have moral worth on its own but a fetus might? If the answer is that cancer cells can never achieve consciousness but a fetus can then why is it that dolphins (who are at least as smart as 8 year old children) are seen as less morally valuable than human infants, who are surely less conscious than a dolphin? If it’s consciousness or awareness or intelligence that gives something moral worth than some animals should be seen as having more moral worth than human infants; mentally disabled people would have less moral rights than nondisabled people, maybe even smart people would be seen as more morally valuable than less intelligent people. Fetuses might not even have moral worth under this definition because they are not conscious or aware yet. But is this how we really think? Some people think it’s because the fetus is a human being that gives it moral worth but this begs the question why. What is it about human beings that make us so special that we have moral worth and must be treated in particular ways? Just the fact that we are human is not a very good reason for treating us differently from anything else because it doesn’t explain why we should be treated differently. So, the moral issues surrounding abortion often start with the ‘moral status’ of the fetus – whether the fetus is a “person” or not. As you can see, this raises a lot of difficult questions and yields very little answers. See if you can find what the Pope says about the moral status of the fetus and what arguments he uses to defend it. Does someone want to try to answer this question on the discussion board as part of a good discussion post? Next, notice that this article discusses the many people who are to blame for the practice of abortion. He traces blame not only through individual people but through society as a whole. Why do you think he is making these points? What underlying assumptions is the Pope making in these arguments? In other words, what should be our attitude about sex according to his claims? Under what circumstances, according to the Pope’s view in this article, is sex morally permissible? Do you think this is the attitude that all people in the U.S. have about sex? If not, what do you think will happen if our societal attitudes and messages about sex, parenthood, etc., don’t change but our laws regarding abortion do (making it illegal)? What do you think the Pope would say to the fact that in the U.S., the states that have the most restrictive abortion laws also have the least amount of money allocated to help infants, new mothers, etc.? Does someone want to try to answer these questions on the discussion board?
2) Why Abortion Is Immoral written by Don Marquis
Section I (556-558) discusses the fact that most arguments about abortion seem to revolve around the question of whether the fetus has moral worth or not as I discussed above. Look carefully at this section – the author explains both pro-choice and pro-life arguments about the ‘personhood’ of the fetus and the flaws involved in both of them. He wants to argue his position from another perspective. By the way, can anyone explain what Marquis might say to the Pope’s arguments about the moral status of the fetus? What counterargument might Marquis bring up against the Pope’s personhood claim? Anyone want to try? So what is this perspective? Section II answers this question. What does he claim is the basis for determining whether killing something is wrong? Do you understand this point? Look very carefully at p 558-559. He claims that his account has consequences for a variety of our current views. He mentions four main implications for the view he has set forth: 1) it may be wrong to kill other species that are not biologically human (smart aliens); 2) it may be wrong to kill some non-human animals on our own planet; 3) it may not be wrong to kill people who are severely and incurably ill; 4) it is wrong to kill human infants and children. Can someone explain his account, he calls it a future-like-ours, and how it relates to the morality of abortion? How does he come up with this criterion for determining that killing is wrong anyway? Can you also explain why this account supports the above 4 claims according to him? I’d like you to pay particular attention to #3 above. Is Marquis arguing that quality or quantity of life affects whether a being has value? In other words, if someone’s life is short and painful, then we do not harm them if we kill them? As he says, the value of the future is what makes killing wrong. Does anyone see potential problems with his argument here? Does someone want to try to explain what problem this might cause for his theory? Do you agree/disagree that this is a serious flaw in his argument; can it be fixed? Go ahead and skim through Sections III and IV. These arguments are much more technical. He is here attempting to respond to other accounts of why killing is wrong and he is arguing why they do not work as well as his account does (he is raising counterarguments and responding to them). Finally, he makes a few last arguments regarding the implications of his view in Sections V and VI. Do you think he has made a good argument about why birth control is ok but early term abortion is not? Do you think he really has avoided the problems of the typical debates about a fetuses moral worth as he claims in the last section?
3) A Defense of Abortion written by Judith Jarvis Thomson
This is a classic contemporary philosophy article for several reasons. First, Thomson employs a certain kind of argument strategy which may appear very strange to people the first time they experience it but which can work quite well. The primary basis of her argument here is an argument by analogy. Arguing through the use of an analogy works this way. If you can show that situation #1 is really the same as situation #2, then you can argue that our response to situation #1 should be the same as our response to situation #2. If we treat two things that are really the same as if they were different, we are open to the charge that we are being inconsistent (or unfair or unjust, etc). This is what Thomson tries to show in this argument. The second reason why this is such a well-known article on abortion is because Thomson attempts to move the debate beyond whether the fetus has full moral status or not. As we’ve seen, most of the abortion debates tend to focus on the fetus and its moral worth and moral rights; Thomson attempts to shift the focus to the pregnant woman and her moral and legal rights. How does she do this? She starts out her essay by saying that for her argument’s sake she will “pretend” that the fetus is a person from the moment of conception. So she starts by granting the full moral status of the fetus from the moment of conception. This is where most arguments end but this is where her argument begins. She says we need to examine what follows from that belief then. Analogy One – Famous violinist (p. 564-565): – Can someone try to explain the analogy of the famous violinist? How does she think this situation is comparable to abortion exactly? Is she arguing in this first section that all abortion should be morally permissible? What exactly is she arguing for here? Analogy Two – Smith and Jones coat (p. 566): -Can someone try to explain the analogy of the coat? How does she think this situation is comparable to abortion exactly? What exactly is she arguing for here? Analogy Three – Henry Fonda (567): Here is where Thomson explicitly explains her basic argument. She explains why even if the fetus is a person who has a right to life this still does not mean that abortion in all cases would be a violation of that right. It ties into her violinist analogy. Can someone try to explain this basic argument and give reasons why you think it is a good/weak argument? Analogy Four – the burglar and the people seeds (568-569): This argument, although not fully developed, is a beginning of the claim about why abortion may be morally permissible in many different kinds of situations. For example, she tries to argue that possibly even in a case where someone has sex voluntarily and uses birth control, it might be permissible to have an abortion. Do you see how she does this? Can someone try to explain this basic argument and give reasons why you think it is a good/weak argument? The last set of arguments (569-571) revolves around the distinctions she makes between someone having a moral obligation or right and someone having a legal obligation or right. Can someone try to explain this basic argument and give reasons why you think it is a good/weak argument?

 

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