Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Rawlsian anti-abortion argument

Here's a thought experiment. Put yourself behind a veil of ignorance. You don't know whether you will be put into a world in which abortion is prohibited, or not. You could pick a pro-life world, in which case you risk turning out to be the disadvantaged mother. You could pick a pro-choice world, in which case you could end up being the aborted fetus. Which do you pick?

I suppose if you think fetuses aren't persons, then there are no fetal positions in the original position, so this doesn't work on that assumption.

8 comments:

Clayton said...

According to my students (many of whom are pro-life), an embryo isn't "lucky" if it is selected by coin flip, implanted, and 'turned into' an infant. (Also, the embryo that is passed over and pitched out is not "unlucky".) Why does this matter? I think it's some evidence that there is some extent to which our intuitions tell us that no one would have wronged us had we not been brought into existence by continuing the processes that transform the embryo into an infant. And, I think this is some evidence for thinking that not knowing whether we'd end up never existing because of abortion or not, the purely self-interested parties would not take a ban on abortion as necessary for preserving the interests of embryos or early term fetuses. So, I don't see anything available to Rawls to condemn abortion.

Mike Almeida said...

For what it's worth, I gave a very similar argument here, http://peasoup.typepad.com/peasoup/2006/03/marginal_cases_.html. I don't think the argument depends at all on an embryo being lucky or unlucky. Nor does it depend on you being identical to your embryo (or you being a stage in the same continuant as the embryo). It does depend on your embryo being a precurser of you, which of course it is. Just as in the Rawlsian argument, it appeals to constrained, rational self-interest. It ought to be noted that similar argument have been offered for including sentient non-humans in the contract.

Blue Devil Knight said...

You got my first reaction in your last paragraph.

Clayton said...

Mike,
Here's the vague idea I have in mind. If we don't perceive it to be in the interests of the embryos to be developed into, say, a fetus, infant, child, or retiree, it's hard to see how the Rawlsian argument is supposed to go. The idea that an embryo can't 'get lucky' is supposed to be some evidence (perhaps weak, but how strong evidence could we hope to get?) for thinking that our perspective on the matter is pretty much Kamm's--the embryo has the potential to become a potential beneficiary, but it is not itself something that can be benefited or harmed.

Mike Almeida said...

Clayton,

I don't think it shows much about the Rawlsian argument that we do not think an embryo could be lucky. My main concern is methodological. It is painfully easy in moral debates ot take a radical position, so long as one has no genuine stake in the decision. It is easy to take the position that certain races are superior when you know what race you are; it is easy to take the position that wealth need not be evenly distributed when you know your economic status. It is not so easy when you don't know. It is not so easy to take the position that fetuses don't really count much morally, if you don't know whether you are one. When you don't know--let's speak frankly--it is hard as hell to say feel free to terminate them. I think a case could be made too when you don;t know which embryo is your precurser.

Ilíon said...

Mike Almeida: "... It is painfully easy in moral debates ot take a radical position, so long as one has no genuine stake in the decision. ... it is easy to take the position that wealth need not be evenly distributed when you know your economic status. ..."

So, dude? When are you going to stop being so "radical" and "evenly distribute" some of that wealth you amusingly imagine is yours to me?

Ilíon said...

Makers and Takers

Bert Power said...

Bumper Sticker: "Now that I'm born, I'm Pro-Choice"