Warren, “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion”

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University of Toronto St. George
Brent Berry

ABORTION Warren, “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion” OUTLINE Points from Noonan Warren’s Criticism of the Noonan’s Argument for the Conservative View Warren’s Argument for the Liberal View 2 TWO DESIDERATA OF AN ABORTION STANDARD While arguing against various abortion standards, Noonan plausibly identifies two desirable features of a plausible abortion standard: (i) the standard should be objective (i.e., independent of the beliefs/attitudes of perceivers); (ii) the standard should be morally salient (i.e., prominent as a moral difference-maker). 3 THE NOONAN’S ARGUMENT FOR THE CONSERVATIVE VIEW 1. A fetus is a human being. 2. Human beings have moral rights, including the rights to life and liberty. 3. Hence, a fetus has rights. 4. A fetus’ right to life trumps the woman’s right to liberty. 5. Hence, abortion is not morally permissible. 4 WARREN’S PROJECT I. Literature survey: an examination of the state of the art II. Negative project: rejection of Noonan’s argument for the Conservative View on grounds of equivocation II. Positive project: argument for Liberal View on the ground that moral standing rests on personhood 5 AN ILLUSTRATION OF EQUIVOCATION Eminem is a cool cat. Cats meow. Therefore, Eminem meows. ‘cat’ is used in different senses in the two premises, so the conclusion does not follow from the premises. 6 NOONAN’S EQUIVOCATION “what [Noonan] 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” (66). 7 HUMAN BEING: MORAL v. GENETIC SENSES In biology, the SPECIFIC (or genetic) sense of ‘human being’ is the primary one: a being is human just in case it possesses human genetic code. In ethics, a MORAL sense of ‘human being’ is employed: human beings in the moral sense are beings with moral standing, beings who matter morally. Argument is required to show that if a being is genetically human, then it has moral standing. 8 WARREN’S CRITICISM OF NOONAN’S ARGUMENT 1. A fetus is a homo sapiens. 2. Beings-with-moral-standing have moral rights, including the rights to life and liberty. X-3. Hence, a fetus has rights. 4. A fetus’ right to life trumps the woman’s right to liberty. X-5. Hence, abortion is not morally permissible. 9 DISTINCTION BETWEEN HUMAN BEINGS AND PERSONS “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….the moral community consists of all and only people, rather than all and only human beings” (66). 10 HUMAN BEINGS & PERSONS A HUMAN BEING is, for Warren, a biological being, a member of the human species. A PERSON is, for Warren, a moral being, a member of the “moral community.” 11 IDENTIFYING PERSONS “it is useful to…ask how we would decide whether a totally alien being was a person or not….Imagine a space traveler who lands on an unknown planet and encounters a race of beings utterly unlike any he has seen or heard of. If he wants to be sure of behaving morally towards 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 example, a source of food” (67).out treating as, for Setting aside Warren’s excessive description of the scenario intelligible, then you likely accept Warren’s distinction and its upshot. 12 POSSIBLE COMPONENTS OF PERSONHOOD i. Consciousness ii. Reasoning iii. Self-motivated activity iv. Flexible communication skills v. Possession of self-concept Taken together, the characteristics amount to self-consciousness. 13 HUMAN BEINGS IN LOCKE “…Man…is nothing else but…an Animal of such a certain Form: Since I think I may be confident that, whoever should see a Creature of his own Shape and Make, though it had no more reason all its Life, than a Cat or a Parrot, would call him still a Man; or whoever should hear a Cat or a Parrot discourse, reason, and philosophize, would call or think it nothing but a Cat or a Parrot; and say, the one was a dull irrational Man, and the other a very intelligent rational Parrot” Essay concerning Human Understanding (2, 27, 8) 14 PERSONS IN LOCKE “…Person stands for…a thinking intelligent Being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider it self as it self, the same thinking thing in different times and places…” (2, 27, 9) “Person….is a Forensick Term appropriating Actions and their Merit; and so belongs only to intelligent Agents capable of a Law, and Happiness and Misery” (2, 27, 26) 15 WARREN’S ACCOUNT OF PERSONHOOD “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 necess
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