Saturday, August 12, 2017

Kafkaesque feminism

According to Princeton philosophy prof. Elizabeth Harman:

But, what I think is actually among early fetuses there are two very different kinds of beings. So, James, when you were an early fetus, and Eliot, when you were an early fetus, all of us I think we already did have moral status then. But we had moral status in virtue of our futures. And future of fact that we were beginnings stages of persons. But some early fetuses will die in early pregnancy due to abortion or miscarriage. And in my view that is a very different kind of entity. That's something that doesn't have a future as a person and it doesn't have moral status.

There's nothing about its current state that would make it a member of the moral community. It's derivative of its future that it gets to have moral status. So it's really the future and endows moral status on it and if we allow it to have this future and then we're allowing it to be the kind of thing that now would have moral status so in aborting it I don't think you're depriving it of something that it independently has.

This is getting some buzz because a movie star was part of the video. Before commenting, a definition is in order:

"Moral community": Those within the scope of moral consideration. In traditional ethics, only human beings were held to have membership of the moral community. They are the only objects of moral concern because only human beings have reason and hence know what they are doing. Furthermore, only human beings can be in reciprocal relationships involving the recognition of oneself and others as being in a moral relationship. This implies that the moral community consists exclusively of moral agents. The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy.

I think normal folks say one thing that makes murder wrong is that it robs the victim of their future. By the same token, people usually regard dying young as tragic because the decedent had their whole life ahead of them. They had so much to live for, but their death was cut short. As a result, they miss out on all those opportunities. Lost opportunities they can never make up for. That's the presupposition which underlies phrases like "untimely death" and "premature death". From that perspective, Harman has it backwards.

Given her Kafkaesque logic, how does killing ever constitute murder? According to her circular reasoning, you can't wrong an individual by depriving them of their future, because their moral status or membership in the moral community is contingent on their having a future in the first place. So how does she distinguish murder from killing in general?

1 comment:

  1. She also refers to "early-term" abortion only, which seems to imply she doesn't hold these views on later-term abortions.

    If that's the case, this is also nonsensical. What difference does it make whether the "future" of the fetus is terminated at month one or month 6? Or month 12, for that matter? The experiences of an infant are limited in nature.

    Of course, ethicists like Peter Singer take these arguments to their logical conclusions and will insist that terminating the life of an infant is morally permissible.