+1(978)310-4246 credencewriters@gmail.com

Due August 11 at 11:00 PM
Starts Jul 9, 2020 12:00 AM
Make sure you read the Paper Assignment PDF document in its
entirely. Basically – here’s what you have to do for the paper:
1) Choose one of the abortion articles to write your paper about
(there are three: Warren, Marquis, and Thomson).
2) Spend the first half of the paper explaining the argument of the
article. Be thorough and clear.
3) Spend the second half of the paper criticizing the argument of
the article. Here you have to think hard about what, in your view,
is wrong with the author’s argument, and articulate it in your
paper as clearly as possible. Think about the concepts about
arguments learned in logic, like validity and soundness, and how
they apply to the argument you chose.
CITING: This is not a research paper. The only article you need be
concerned with is the article you choose to write about. When you
are explaining the argument, you should cite the article as you
summarize and paraphrase, and you should include a direct quote
here and there as you see fit. You can cite the article simply using
the author’s name and page number in parentheses. For example,
here’s what this could look like in an actual:
Warren argues that there are two different senses to the word,
‘human’: the moral sense, and the genetic sense. The moral sense is
the sense in which someone is a “full-fledged member of the moral
community,” and the genetic sense is the sense in which someone
is a member of the human species (Warren, 11).
You use the links to the articles in D2L when listing the article(s) in
your works cited page.
I have TurnItIn activated in the D2L dropbox. TurnItIn generates
what’s called a “similarity report”. (I have it set up so that you can
see it once you upload your paper.) Basically, it checks for
plagiarism. Sometimes what it turns up is innocent, and I always
take a close look to make sure. The important thing to me is that
*the ideas in your paper are your own*. The most egregious form
of plagiarism is when someone takes someone else’s original
thought and passes it off as his or her own. For example: finding
some criticism of an author’s argument on Wikipedia, and then
copying and pasting that material into your paper and trying to
pass it off as if it were your ideas, is very egregious plagiarism. The
consequences of such plagiarism is a 0 on the assignment. Do not
take this risk.
If you have any other questions, do not hesitate to ask me.
Cheers, and good luck!
PHIL 1301 PAPER ASSIGNMENT Summer 2, 2022
I. Paper Topics (page 1)
II. Writing a Philosophy Paper, “do”s and “don’t”s (pages 2-4)
III. How You’ll Be Graded (pages 5-7, grade rubric included)
• Length: Appx. 1200 words (appx 4 pages, double spaced)
• Due Date: THURSDAY AUGUST 11 TH , by 11:00pm
• Upload your paper to Assignments in D2L.
• PAPER MUST BE .doc OR .docx FILES!
I. Paper Topic
The topic is abortion. This is a paper in which you explain and attempt
the refute
the argument of one of the authors we have read. Here are the basic
things you
must do for the paper:
1) Choose one of the abortion articles to write your paper about (there
are three:
Warren, Marquis, and Thomson).
2) Spend the first half of the paper explaining the argument of the
article. Be
thorough and clear.
3) Spend the second half of the paper criticizing the article. Here you
have to
think hard about what, in your view, is wrong with the author’s
argument, and
articulate it in your paper as clearly as possible.
*NOTE: This is not a research paper. You need not deal with any
readings other
than the course readings that are relevant to your topic. The purpose
of this paper is
for you to show that you understand and can critically engage with
ideas, not for
you to look up and report on what others have said about the ideas.
That said, if you
think additional sources will help you make your argument, feel free to
use them.
*If you do not want to write about abortion and want to construct your
own paper
topic, you may, but you must check it with me first – by no later than
Thursday July
28th .
II. Writing a Philosophy Paper:
above, a
philosophy paper is a reasoned defense of a thesis. Your thesis
statement is a
statement of the main claim that your paper will seek to establish.
Your opening
paragraph should contain your thesis statement, and the rest of the
paper should
be spent establishing that thesis with whatever argument you intend to
Avoid general, historical, or flowery introductions. Don’t use phrases
like “Since
the dawn of history, philosophers have been arguing about…” The first
of your essay should be short and to the point. It should indicate the
topic of your
paper and clearly state what you are going to show in your paper. For
Don Marquis argues that abortion is wrong because it deprives the
fetus of
a valuable future. I shall argue that Marquis’ position is inadequate
because it rests on a false theory about what makes killing wrong.
This is how introductory paragraphs should look. They should be short
sweet, and they should indicate what you are going to do in your
paper. It’s fine
to use the first person. This is a paper in which you will be giving
reasons in
defense of your position.
2. AVOID LENGTHY QUOTATIONS. Inexperienced writers rely too
heavily on
quotations and paraphrases. Direct quotation is best restricted to
those cases
where it is essential to establish another writer’s exact selection of
words. Even
paraphrasing should be kept to a minimum. After all, it is your paper. It
is your
thoughts that your instructor is concerned with. Keep that in mind,
when your essay topic requires you to critically assess someone
else’s views.
3. NO FENCE SITTING. Do not present a number of positions in your
paper and
then end by saying that you are not qualified to settle the matter. In
particular, do
not close by saying that philosophers have been divided over this
issue for as long
as humans have been keeping record and you cannot be expected to
resolve the
dispute in a few short pages. Your instructor knows that. But you can
be expected
to take a clear stand based on an evaluation of the argument(s)
presented. Go out
on a limb. If you have argued well, it will support you.
4. AVOID CUTENESS. Good philosophical writing usually has an air
of simple
dignity about it. Your topic is no joke. No writers whose views you
have been
asked to read are idiots. (If you think they are, then you have not
them.) Name calling is inappropriate and could never substitute for
argumentation anyway.
5. DEFEND YOUR VIEW. When arguing against other positions, it is
important to
realize that you cannot show that your opponents are mistaken just by
that their overall conclusions are false. Nor will it do simply to claim
that at least
one of their premises is false. You must demonstrate these sorts of
things, and in a
fashion that does not presuppose that your position is correct. Assume
that your
reader is constantly asking such questions as “Why should I accept
that?” If you
presuppose that he or she is at least mildly skeptical of most of your
claims, you
are more likely to succeed in writing a paper that argues for a position.
Most first
attempts at writing philosophy essays fall down on this point.
Substantiate your
claims whenever there is reason to think that your critics would not
grant them.
6. ORGANIZE CAREFULLY. Before you start to write, make an
outline of how
you want to argue. There should be a logical progression of ideas one that will
be easy for the reader to follow. If your paper is well organized, the
reader will be
led along in what seems a natural way. If you jump about in your
essay, the reader
will balk. It will take a real effort to follow you, and he or she may feel it
worthwhile. It is a good idea to let your outline simmer for a few days
before you
write your first draft. Does it still seem to flow smoothly when you
come back to
it? If not, the best prose in the world will not be enough to make it
7. USE THE RIGHT WORDS. Once you have determined your
outline, you must
select the exact words that will convey your meaning to the reader. A
dictionary is
almost essential here. Do not settle for a word that (you think) comes
close to
capturing the sense you have in mind. Notice that “infer” does not
mean “imply”;
“disinterested” does not mean “uninterested”; and “reference” does
not mean
either “illusion” or “allusion.” Make certain that you can use “its” and
correctly. Notice that certain words such as “therefore,” “hence,”
“since,” and
“follows from” are strong logical connectives. When you use such
you are asserting that certain tight logical relations hold between the
claims in
question. You had better be right. Finally, check the spelling of any
word you are
not sure of. There is no excuse for “existance” appearing in any
8. GIVE CREDIT – DON’T PLAGIARIZE. When quoting or
paraphrasing, always
give some citation. Indicate your indebtedness, whether it is for
specific words,
general ideas, or a particular line of argument. To use another writer’s
ideas, or arguments as if they were your own is to plagiarize.
Plagiarism is against
the rules of academic institutions and is dishonest.
9. ANTICIPATE OBJECTIONS. If your position is worth arguing for,
there are
going to be reasons which have led some people to reject it. Such
reasons will
amount to criticisms of your stand. A good way to demonstrate the
strength of
your position is to consider one or two of the best of these objections
and show
how they can be overcome. This amounts to rejecting the grounds for
your case, and is analogous to stealing your enemies’ ammunition
before they
have a chance to fire it at you. The trick here is to anticipate the kinds
objections that your critics would actually raise against you if you did
not disarm
them first. The other challenge is to come to grips with the criticisms
you have
cited. You must argue that these criticisms miss the mark as far as
your case is
concerned, or that they are in some sense ill-conceived despite their
plausibility. It
takes considerable practice and exposure to philosophical writing to
develop this
engaging style of argumentation, but it is worth it.
10. EDIT BOLDLY. I have never met a person whose first draft of a
paper could not
be improved significantly by rewriting. The secret to good writing is
rewriting often. Of course it will not do just to reproduce the same thing again.
Better drafts
are almost always shorter drafts – not because ideas have been left
out, but
because words have been cut out as ideas have been clarified. Every
word that is
not needed only clutters. Clear sentences do not just happen. They
are the result of
tough-minded editing.
There is much more that could be said about clear writing. (I have not
stopped to talk
about grammatical and stylistic points, for instance.) Some final words
should be added
about proofreading. Do it. Again. After that, have someone else read
your paper. Is this
person able to understand you completely? Can he or she read your
entire paper through
without getting stuck on a single sentence? If not, go back and smooth
it out. In
general terms, do not be content simply to get your paper out of your
hands. Take pride in
it. Clear writing reflects clear thinking; and that, after all, is what you
are really trying to
III. How you’ll be graded:
You’ll be graded on three basic criteria:
1. How well do you understand the issues you’re writing about?
2. How good are the arguments you offer?
3. Is your writing clear and well-organized?
OPINION. You will of course tell me what you think about some
philosophical issue in
this paper. But it is not what you think that matters. Rather, what
matters is why you
think what you think. Another way of stating this: it is not your opinion
that matters.
Rather, what matters are the reasons you give in support of your
opinion. I do not
judge your paper by whether I agree with its conclusion. Rather, I
judge your paper
by whether you do a good job arguing for your conclusion. More
specifically, I’ll be
asking myself questions like these:
o Do you clearly state what you’re trying to accomplish in your paper?
Is it
obvious to the reader what your main thesis is?
o Do you offer supporting arguments for the claims you make? Is it
to the reader what these arguments are?
o Is the structure of your paper clear? For instance, is it clear what
parts of
your paper are expository, and what parts are your own positive
o Is your prose simple, easy to read, and easy to understand?
o Do you illustrate your claims with good examples? Do you explain
central notions? Do you say exactly what you mean?
o Do you present other philosophers’ views accurately and
Here is a rubric that explains how I will weight the above questions
and calculate
your grade:
Evaluation Excellent/Good Average Weak
High (A) Low (B) (C) High (D) Low
Thesis 5 4 3 2 1
Is the thesis stated clearly in the
paper? Does the thesis organize the
structure of the paper?
A: Thesis is stated clearly and placed in
the right place; paper is well-organized,
utilizing the thesis to do so.
B: Thesis is stated but could be clearer,
perhaps not placed in the right place;
paper is organized but could use slight
Thesis is stated, but is
not very clear and is
not placed properly;
paper could be
organized better.
Thesis is either missing
or extremely unclear;
paper is disorganized.
Presentation 25 20 18 16 14
Presentation of the thought of a
philosopher: Is it accurate?
Complete? Clear, well-organized,
and easy to understand? Is all the
information included relevant?
A: The thought of the philosopher is
presented accurately, clearly, and is
easy to understand. All relevant
information is included.
B: The thought of the philosopher is
presented accurately, but is somewhat
unclear and not entirely easy to
understand. Some relevant information
may be missing.
The thought of the
philosopher is
presented, but there
may be minor
inaccuracies and issues
with clarity. Some
important information
is missing.
The thought of the
philosopher is either
missing or presented in
an inaccurate,
incomplete, unclear, or
Analysis 50 40 35 30 25
The student’s analysis: Are
responses relevant to the topic? Do
you offer an argument for the main
claim you make? Is it obvious to
the reader what that argument is?
Do you illustrate your claims with
good examples? Do you explain
your central notions? Do you say
exactly what you mean? Do you
consider at least one objection to
your own view?
A: The student’s response is relevant,
the paper contains a good argument and
it is obvious to the reader what that
argument is. The paper uses good
examples to illustrate its claims when
needed, central notions are explained
very clearly, and the paper considers
and provides good responses to
B: The student’s response is relevant to
the topic. The paper contains an
argument, but the argument may be
lacking in strength. The examples used
to illustrate claims could be stronger,
and some central notions could be
explained with greater clarity.
Objections are either not considered or
not properly answered.
The student’s response
is relevant, but there
are issues with clarity
and support that are
more than minor. The
student may merely
assert his position
without defending it
with reason and
The student’s response
is either not included,
or it demonstrates
significant problems
with clarity, support,
organization, or
Writing 20 16 14 12 10
Is this a perfected piece of formal
writing? Is the paper clear and easy
to understand? Is the paper wellorganized, flowing clearly and
A: The paper is clear, concise, wellorganized, easy to understand, correctly
uses and cites sources when
appropriate, and is free of grammatical
and spelling errors.
B: The paper is clear and easy to
understand, but may contain some
grammatical errors that detract from the
quality of the writing.
The paper is clear and
organized for the most
part, but contains far
too many grammatical
The paper may be
unclear, illogical,
disorganized, difficult
to understand, and
contains far too many
grammatical errors.
TOTAL SCORE: _______ ( OUT OF 100)
Mary Anne Warren: On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion
On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion
Mary Anne Warren
from Biomedical Ethics. 4th ed. T.A. Mappes and D. DeGrazia, eds.
New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc. 1996, pp. 434-440. [notes not
The question which we must answer in order to produce a
satisfactory solution to the problem of the moral status of abortion
is this: How are we to define the moral community, the set of
beings with full and equal moral rights, such that we can decide
whether a human fetus is a member of this community or not?
What sort of entity, exactly, has the inalienable rights to life, liberty,
and the pursuit of happiness? Jefferson attributed these rights to all
men, and it may or may not be fair to suggest that he intended to
attribute them only to men. Perhaps he ought to have attributed
them to all human beings. If so, then we arrive, first, at [John]
Noonan’s problem of defining what makes a being human, and,
second, at the equally vital question which Noonan does not
consider, namely, What reason is there for identifying the moral
community with the set of all human beings, in whatever way we
have chosen to define that term?
One reason why this vital second question is so frequently
overlooked in the debate over the moral status of abortion is that
the term `human’ has two distinct, but not often distinguished,
senses. This fact results in a slide of meaning, which serves to
conceal the fallaciousness of the traditional argument that since (1)
it is wrong to kill innocent human beings, and (2) fetuses are
innocent human beings, then (3) it is wrong to kill fetuses. For if
`human’ is used in the same sense in both (1) and (2) then,
whichever of the two senses is meant, one of these premises is
question-begging. And if it is used in two different senses then of
course the conclusion doesn’t follow.
Thus, (1) is a self-evident moral truth,’ and avoids begging the
question about abortion, only if `human being’ is used to mean
something like `a full-fledged member of the moral community.’ (It
may or may not also be meant to refer exclusively to members of
the species Homo sapiens.) We may call this the moral sense of
`human.’ It is not to be confused with what we call the genetic
sense, i.e., the sense in which any member of the species is a
human being, and no member of any other species could be. If (1)
is acceptable only if the moral sense is intended, (2) is
non-question-begging only if what is intended is the genetic sense.
In “Deciding Who is Human,” Noonan argues for the classification of
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fetuses with human beings by pointing to the presence of the full
genetic code, and the potential capacity for rational thought.’ It is
clear that what he needs to show, for his version of the traditional
argument to be valid, is that fetuses are human in the moral sense,
the sense in which it is analytically true that all human beings have
full moral rights. But, in the absence of any argument showing that
whatever is genetically human is also morally human, and he gives
none, nothing more than genetic humanity can be demonstrated by
the presence of the human genetic code. And, as we will see, the
potential capacity for rational thought can at most show that an
entity has the potential for becoming human in the moral sense.
Can it be established that genetic humanity is sufficient for moral
humanity? I think that there are very good reasons for not defining
the moral community in this way. I Would like to suggest an
alternative way of defining the moral community, which I will argue
for only to the extent of explaining why it is, or should be,
self-evident. The suggestion is simply that the moral community
consists of all and only people, rather than all and only human
beings,’ and probably the best way of demonstrating its
self-evidence is by considering the concept of personhood, to see
what sorts of entity are and are not persons, and what the decision
that a being is or is not a person implies about its moral rights.
What characteristics entitle an entity to be considered a person?
This is obviously not the place to attempt a complete analysis of the
concept of personhood, but we do not need such a fully adequate
analysis just to determine whether and why a fetus is or isn’t a
person. All we need is a rough and approximate list of the most
basic criteria of personhood, and some idea of which, or how many,
of these an entity must satisfy in order to properly be considered a
In searching for such criteria, it is useful to look beyond the set of
people with whom we are acquainted, and ask how we would decide
whether a totally alien being was a person or not. (For we have no
right to assume that genetic humanity is necessary for
personhood.) Image a space traveler who lands on an unknown
planet and encounters a race of beings utterly unlike any he has
ever seen or heard of. If he wants to be sure of behaving morally
toward these beings, he has to somehow decide whether they are
people, and hence have full moral rights, or whether they are the
sort of thing which he need not feel guilty about treating as, for
example, a source of food.
How should he go about making this decision? If he has some
anthropological background, he might look for such things as
religion, art, and the manufacturing of tools, weapons, or shelters,
since these factors have been used to distinguish our human from
our prehuman ancestors, in what seems to be closer to the moral
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than the genetic sense of `human.’ And no doubt he would be right
to consider the presence of such factors as good evidence that the
alien beings were people, and morally human. It would, however,
be overly anthropocentric of him to take the absence of these things
as adequate evidence that they were not, since we can imagine
people who have progressed beyond, or evolved without ever
developing, these cultural characteristics.
I suggest that the traits which are most central to the concept of
personhood, or humanity in the moral sense, are, very roughly, the
1. Consciousness (of objects and events external and/or internal
to the being), and in particular the capacity to feel pain;
2. Reasoning (the developed capacity to solve new and relatively
complex problems);
3. Self-motivated activity (activity which is relatively
independent of either genetic or direct external control);
4. The capacity to communicate, by whatever means, messages
of an indefinite variety of types, that is, not just with an
indefinite number of possible contents, but on indefinitely
many possible topics;
5. The presence of self-concepts, and self-awareness, either
individual or racial, or both.
Admittedly, there are apt to be a great many problems involved in
formulating precise definitions of these criteria, let alone in
developing universally valid behavioral criteria for deciding when
they apply. But I will assume that both we and our explorer know
approximately what (1)-(5) mean, and that he is also able to
determine whether or not they apply. How, then, should he use his
findings to decide whether or not the alien beings are people? We
needn’t suppose that an entity must have all of these attributes to
be properly considered a person; (1) and (2) alone may well be
sufficient for personhood, and quite probably (1)-(3) are sufficient.
Neither do we need to insist that any one of these criteria is
necessary for personhood, although once again (1) and (2) look like
fairly good candidates for necessary conditions, as does (3), if
`activity’ is construed so as to include the activity of reasoning.
All we need to claim, to demonstrate that a fetus is not a person, is
that any being which satisfies none of (1)-(5) is certainly not a
person. I consider this claim to be so obvious that I think anyone
who denied it, and claimed that a being which satisfied none of
(1)-(5) was a person all the same, would thereby demonstrate that
he had no notion at all of what a person is-perhaps because he had
confused the concept of a person with that of genetic humanity. If
the opponents of abortion were to deny the appropriateness of
these five criteria, I do not know what further arguments would
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convince them. We would probably have to admit that our
conceptual schemes were indeed irreconcilably different, and that
our dispute could not be settled objectively.
I do not expect this to happen, however, since I think that the
concept of a person is one which is very nearly universal (to
people), and that it is common to both proabortionists and
antiabortionists, even though neither group has fully realized the
relevance of this concept to the resolution of their dispute.
Furthermore, I think that on reflection even the antiabortionists
ought to agree not only that (1)-(5) are central to the concept of
personhood, but also that it is a part of this concept that all and
only people have full moral rights. The concept of a person is in part
a moral concept; once we have admitted that x is a person we have
recognized, even if we have not agreed to respect, x’s right to be
treated as a member of the moral community. It is true that the
claim that x is a human being is more commonly voiced as part of
an appeal to treat x decently than is the claim that x is a person,
but this is either because `human being’ is here used in the sense
which implies personhood, or because the genetic and moral sense
of `human’ have been confused.
Now if (1)-(5) are indeed the primary criteria of personhood, then it
is clear that genetic humanity is neither necessary nor sufficient for
establishing that an entity is a person. Some human beings are not
people, and there may well be people who are not human beings. A
man or woman whose consciousness has been permanently
obliterated but who remains alive is a human being which is no
longer a person; defective human beings, with no appreciable
mental capacity, are not and presumably never will be people; and
a fetus is a human being which is not yet a person, and which
therefore cannot coherently be said to have full moral rights.
Citizens of the next century should be prepared to recognize highly
advanced, self-aware robots or computers, should such be
developed, and intelligent inhabitants of other worlds, should such
be found, as people in the fullest sense, and to respect their moral
rights. But to ascribe full moral rights to an entity which is not a
person is as absurd as to ascribe moral obligations and
responsibilities to such an entity.
Two problems arise in the application of these suggestions for the
definition of the moral community to the determination of the
precise moral status of a human fetus. Given that the paradigm
example of a person is a normal adult human being, then (1) How
like this paradigm, in particular how far advanced since conception,
does a human being need to be before it begins to have a right to
life by virtue, not of being fully a person as of yet, but of being like
a person? and (2) To what extent, if any, does the fact that a fetus
has the potential for becoming a person endow it with some of the
same rights? Each of these questions requires some comment.
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In answering the first question, we need not attempt a detailed
consideration of the moral rights of organisms which are not
developed enough, aware enough, intelligent enough, etc., to be
considered people, but which resemble people in some respects. It
does seem reasonable to suggest that the more like a person, in the
relevant respects, a being is, the stronger is the case for regarding
it as having a right to life, and indeed the stronger its right to life is.
Thus we ought to take seriously the suggestion that, insofar as “the
human individual develops biologically in a continuous fashion …
the rights of a human person might develop in the same way.” But
we must keep in mind that the attributes which are relevant in
determining whether or not an entity is enough like a person to be
regarded as having some of the same moral rights are no different
from those which are relevant to determining whether or not it is
fully a person-i.e., are no different from (1)-(5)and that being
genetically human, or having recognizable human facial and other
physical features, or detectable brain activity, or the capacity to
survive outside the uterus, are simply not among these relevant
Thus it is clear that even though a seven- or eight-month fetus has
features which make it apt to arouse in us almost the same
powerful protective instinct as is commonly aroused by a small
infant, nevertheless it is not significantly more personlike than is a
very small embryo. It is somewhat more personlike; it can
apparently feel and respond to pain, and it may even have a
rudimentary form of consciousness, insofar as its brain is quite
active. Nevertheless, it seems safe to say that it is not fully
conscious, in the way that an infant of a few months is, and that it
cannot reason, or communicate messages of indefinitely many
sorts, does not engage in self-motivated activity, and has no
self-awareness. Thus, in the relevant respects, a fetus, even a fully
developed one, is considerably less personlike than is the average
mature mammal, indeed the average fish. And I think that a
rational person must conclude that if the right to life of a fetus is to
be based upon its resemblance to a person, then it cannot be said
to have any more right to life than, let us say, a newborn guppy
(which also seems to be capable of feeling pain), and that a right of
that magnitude could never override a woman’s right to obtain an
abortion, at any stage of her pregnancy.
There may, of course, be other arguments in favor of placing legal
limits upon the stage of pregnancy in which an abortion may be
performed. Given the relative safety of the new techniques of
artificially inducing labor during the third trimester, the danger to
the woman’s life or health is no longer such an argument. Neither is
the fact that people tend to respond to the thought of abortion in
the later stages of pregnancy with emotional repulsion, since mere
emotional responses cannot take the place of moral reasoning in
determining what ought to be permitted. Nor, finally, is the
frequently heard argument that legalizing abortion, especially late in
the pregnancy, may erode the level of respect for human life,
leading, perhaps, to an increase in unjustified euthanasia and other
crimes. For this threat, if it is a threat, can be better met by
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educating people to the kinds of moral distinctions which we are
making here than by limiting access to abortion (which limitation
may, in its disregard for the rights of women, be just as damaging
to the level of respect for human rights).
Thus, since the fact that even a fully developed fetus is not
personlike enough to have any significant right to life on the basis
of its personlikeness shows that no legal restrictions upon the stage
of pregnancy in which an abortion may be performed can be
justified on the grounds that we should protect the rights of the
older fetus; and since there is no other apparent justification for
such restrictions, we may conclude that they are entirely
unjustified. Whether or not it would be indecent (whatever that
means) for a woman in her seventh month to obtain an abortion
just to avoid having to postpone a trip to Europe, it would not, in
itself, be immoral, and therefore it ought to be permitted.
We have seen that a fetus does not resemble a person in any way
which can support the claim that it has even some of the same
rights. But what about its potential, the fact that if nurtured and
allowed to develop naturally it will very probably become a person?
Doesn’t that alone give it at least some right to life? It is hard to
deny that the fact that an entity is a potential person is a strong
prima facie reason for not destroying it; but we need not conclude
from this that a potential person has a right to life, by virtue of that
potential. It may be that our feeling that it is better, other things
being equal, not to destroy a potential person is better explained by
the fact that potential people are still (felt to be) an invaluable
resource, not to be lightly squandered. Surely, if every speck of
dust were a potential person, we would be much less apt to
conclude that every potential person has a right to become actual.
Still, we do not need to insist that a potential person has no right to
life whatever. There may well be something immoral, and not just
imprudent, about wantonly destroying potential people, when doing
so isn’t necessary to protect anyone’s rights. But even if a potential
person does have some prima facie right to life, such a right could
not possibly outweigh the right of a woman to obtain an abortion,
since the rights of any actual person invariably outweigh those of
any potential person, whenever the two conflict. Since this may not
be immediately obvious in the case of a human fetus, let us look at
another case.
Suppose that our space explorer falls into the hands of an alien
culture, whose scientists decide to create a few hundred thousand
or more human beings, by breaking his body into its component
cells, and using these to create fully developed human beings, with,
of course, his genetic code. We may imagine that each of these
newly created men will have all of the original man’s abilities, skills,
knowledge, and so on, and also have an individual self-concept, in
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short that each of them will be a bona fide (though hardly unique)
person. Imagine that the whole project will take only seconds, and
that its chances of success are extremely high, and that our
explorer knows all of this, and also knows that these people will be
treated fairly. I maintain that in such a situation he would have
every right to escape if he could, and thus to deprive all of these
potential people of their potential lives; for his right to life
outweighs all of theirs together, in spite of the fact that they are all
genetically human, all innocent, and all have a very high probability
of becoming people very soon, if only he refrains from acting.
Indeed, I think he would have a right to escape even if it were not
his life which the alien scientists planned to take, but only a year of
his freedom, or, indeed, only a day. Nor would he be obligated to
stay if he had gotten captured (thus bringing all these peoplepotentials into existence) because of his own carelessness, or even
if he had done so deliberately, knowing the consequences.
Regardless of how he got captured, he is not morally obligated to
remain in captivity for any period of time for the sake of permitting
any number of potential people to come into actuality, so great is
the margin by which one actual person’s right to liberty outweighs
whatever right to life even a hundred thousand potential people
have. And it seems reasonable to conclude that the rights of a
woman will outweigh by a similar margin whatever right to life a
fetus may have by virtue of its potential personhood.
Thus, neither a fetus’s resemblance to a person, nor its potential for
becoming a person provides any basis whatever for the claim that it
has any significant right to life. Consequently, a woman’s right to
protect her health, happiness, freedom, and even her life,’ by
terminating an unwanted pregnancy, will always override whatever
right to life it may be appropriate to ascribe to a fetus, even a fully
developed one. And thus, in the absence of any overwhelming social
need for every possible child, the laws which restrict the right to
obtain an abortion, or limit the period of pregnancy during which an
abortion may be performed, are a wholly unjustified violation of a
woman’s most basic moral and constitutional rights .
One of the most troubling objections to the argument presented in
this article is that it may appear to justify not only abortion but
infanticide as well. A newborn infant is not a great deal more
personlike than a ninemonth fetus, and thus it might seem that if
late-term abortion is sometimes justified, then infanticide must also
be sometimes justified. Yet most people consider that infanticide is
a form of murder, and thus never justified.
While it is important to appreciate the emotional force of this
objection, its logical force is far less than it may seem at first
glance. There are many reasons why infanticide is much more
difficult to justify than abortion, even though if my argument is
correct neither constitutes the killing of a person. In this country,
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and in this period of history, the deliberate killing of viable
newborns is virtually never justified. This is in part because
neonates are so very close to being persons that to kill them
requires a very strong moral justification as does the killing of
dolphins, whales, chimpanzees, and other highly personlike
creatures. It is certainly wrong to kill such beings just for the sake
of convenience, or financial profit, or “sport.”
Another reason why infanticide is usually wrong, in our society, is
that if the newborn’s parents do not want it, or are unable to care
for it, there are (in most cases) people who are able and eager to
adopt it and to provide a good home for it. Many people wait years
for the opportunity to adopt a child, and some are unable to do so
even though there is every reason to believe that they would be
good parents. The needless destruction of a viable infant inevitably
deprives some person or persons of a source of great pleasure and
satisfaction, perhaps severely impoverishing their lives.
Furthermore, even if an infant is considered to be adoptable (e.g.,
because of some extremely severe mental or physical handicap) it is
still wrong in most cases to kill it. For most of us value the lives of
infants, and would prefer to pay taxes to support orphanages and
state institutions for the handicapped rather than to allow unwanted
infants to be killed. So long as most people feel this way, and so
long as our society can afford to provide care for infants which are
unwanted or which have special needs that preclude home care, it is
wrong to destroy any infant which has a chance of living a
reasonably satisfactory life.
If these arguments show that infanticide is wrong, at least in this
society, then why don’t they also show that late-term abortion is
wrong? After all, third trimester fetuses are also highly personlike,
and many people value them and would much prefer that they be
preserved; even at some cost to themselves. As a potential source
of pleasure to some family, a viable fetus is just as valuable as a
viable infant. But there is an obvious and crucial difference between
the two cases: once the infant is born, its continued life cannot
(except, perhaps, in very exceptional cases) pose any serious threat
to the woman’s life or health, since she is free to put it up for
adoption, or, where this is impossible, to place it in a statesupported institution. While she might prefer that it die, rather than
being raised by others, it is not clear that such a preference would
constitute a right on her part. True, she may suffer greatly from the
knowledge that her child will be thrown into the lottery of the
adoption system, and that she will be unable to ensure its
well-being, or even to know whether it is healthy, happy, doing well
in school, etc.: for the law generally does not permit natural parents
to remain in contact with their children, once they are adopted by
another family. But there are surely better ways of dealing with
these problems than by permitting infanticide in such cases. (It
might help, for instance, if the natural parents of adopted children
could at least receive some information about their progress,
without necessarily being informed of the identity of the adopting
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In contrast, a pregnant woman’s right to protect her own life and
health clearly outweighs other people’s desire that the fetus be
preserved-just as, when a person’s life or limb is threatened by
some wild animal, and when the threat cannot be removed without
killing the animal, the person’s right to self-protection outweighs the
desires of those who would prefer that the animal not be harmed.
Thus, while the moment of birth may not mark any sharp
discontinuity in the degree to which an infant possesses a right to
life, it does mark the end of the mother’s absolute right to
determine its fate. Indeed, if and when a late-term abortion could
be safely performed without killing the fetus, she would have no
absolute right to insist on its death (e.g., if others wish to adopt it
or pay for its care), for the same reason that she does not have a
right to insist that a viable infant be killed.
It remains true that according to my argument neither abortion nor
the killing of neonates is properly considered a form of murder.
Perhaps it is understandable that the law should classify infanticide
as murder or homicide, since there is no other existing legal
category which adequately or conveniently expresses the force of
our society’s disapproval of this action. But the moral distinction
remains, and it has several important consequences.
In the first place, it implies that when an infant is born into a
society which-unlike ours-is so impoverished that it simply cannot
care for it adequately without endangering the survival of existing
persons, killing it or allowing it to die is not necessarily wrongprovided that there is no other society which is willing and able to
provide such care. Most human societies, from those at the hunting
and gathering stage of economic development to the highly civilized
Greeks and Romans, have permitted the practice of infanticide
under such unfortunate circumstances, and I would argue that it
shows a serious lack of understanding to condemn them as morally
backward for this reason alone.
In the second place, the argument implies that when an infant is
born with such severe physical anomalies that its life would
predictably be a very short and/or very miserable one, even with
the most heroic of medical treatment, and where its parents do not
choose to bear the often crushing emotional, financial and other
burdens attendant upon the artificial prolongation of such a tragic
life, it is not morally wrong to cease or withhold treatment, thus
allowing the infant a painless death. It is wrong (and sometimes a
form of murder) to practice involuntary euthanasia on persons,
since they have the right to decide for themselves whether or not
they wish to continue to live. But terminally ill neonates cannot
make this decision for themselves, and thus it is incumbent upon
responsible persons to make the decision for them, as best they
can. The mistaken belief that infanticide is always tantamount to
murder is responsible for a great deal of unnecessary suffering, not
just on the part of infants which are made to endure needlessly
prolonged and painful deaths, but also on the part of parents,
nurses, and other involved persons, who must watch infants
suffering needlessly, helpless to end that suffering in the most
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humane way.
I am well aware that these conclusions, however modest and
reasonable they may seem to some people, strike other people as
morally monstrous, and that some people might even prefer to
abandon their previous support for women’s right to abortion rather
than accept a theory which leads to such conclusions about
infanticide. But all that these facts show is that abortion is not an
isolated moral issue; to fully understand the moral status of
abortion we may have to reconsider other moral issues as well,
issues not just about infanticide and euthanasia, but also about the
moral rights of women and of nonhuman animals. It is a
philosopher’s task to criticize mistaken beliefs which stand in the
way of moral understanding, even when-perhaps especially
when-those beliefs are popular and widespread. The belief that
moral strictures against killing should apply equally to all genetically
human entities, and only to genetically human entities, is such an
error. The overcoming of this error will undoubtedly require long
and often painful struggle; but it must be done.
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