Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Violinists For Choice

In response to Adam S.’s comment criticizing my analogy between forced intimate altruism and forced pregnancy:

I too find the violinist hypothetical case unhelpful, primarily because it is so strange and improbable that it fails to trigger powerful intuitions on my part that would help illuminate the issue of abortion. On the other hand, I do want to clarify that there is a world of difference between leaving a baby in a dumpster, on the one hand, and terminating a pregnancy, on the other. What I propose distinguishes pregnancy is not, as Adam S. implies, the fact that the fetus is dependent on the pregnant woman for its continuing survival (in the way that a baby is dependent on a caretaker). It is instead the fact that a fetus’s dependency consists of occupying a woman’s body in a highly intrusive, risky, often painful, and intimate way for an extended period of time. Perhaps it is difficult for some men to imagine the degree to which an unwanted pregnancy imposes on a woman, because so many pregnant women appear to go about their business as though nothing especially taxing is going on.


A woman who has already given birth to her baby and who does not want to take care of him or her anymore, however, may generally surrender the baby to someone else – either a friend or loved one, or in desperate circumstances, the local department of children and family services. As I have said before, if a woman could easily terminate her pregnancy without simultaneously killing the fetus, then the debate would come to center – quite properly – on the status of the fetus (the issue that drives Adam S.’s position on abortion). This is because turning over the dependent creature to an alternative caretaker would, by hypothesis, require so little of the mother. The same cannot be said to describe taking an unwanted pregnancy to term.

7 comments:

Derek said...

That seems like the right thing to say about the difference between abortion and infanticide.

In response to Adam's very reasonable point about the zygote and causation, Thomson does address that objection, she just does so later in the paper using different hypos. As I recall, they involve people falling into your house through windows you've left open, and various other imaginative examples. So the violinist hypo isn't supposed to be perfectly analogous to getting pregnant after having sex (although it works pretty well in the case of rape). She uses the example to establish a point about how exercising our right to bodily integrity could plausibly be thought to trump the utilitarian calculus, even in cases where we're dealing with full persons. She then follows up with other arguments to try to take care of any relevant disanalogies.

Sobek said...

"It is instead the fact that a fetus’s dependency consists of occupying a woman’s body in a highly intrusive, risky, often painful, and intimate way for an extended period of time."

I'm well aware that pregancy is very painful for my wife -- indeed, they tend to get worse for her as we go. But the implied suggestion that child-rearing is not also intrusive, intimate and painful is false. And for a much longer time period than any pregnancy.

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