Abortion: How to Invert Intuitions in Ethics Lecture Notes from the 114th Diogenesis Lecture on 2022/7/10 • Read time 9min Usually for lectures I try to give a detailed but concise overview of the history or standard positions for some topic and then give my personal view at the end as a means to guide unfamiliar people through foreign concepts, but since everyone here is already very familiar with what abortion is and ostensibly has strong views one way or another, instead I will just be guiding views on non-standard positions around this topic. Where most people are concerned about the ethics of abortion, I will try to skim the meta-ethics of abortion in this lecture. This lecture will very much be one of inverting intuitions, so I hope for both our sake's you actually did the required reading this time. I'm going to open this with three arguments you've never heard for and against abortion to show the weird angles of attack that ethics can take, then we'll go over JJT's paper's pros and cons, as well as some other famous philosophical arguments around abortion if we have time, and I'll end with my personal view so you guys will have as much attack surface to exploit for the sake of discussion and debate. So here's 3 arguments you've never heard regarding abortion: 1. In the year that I was born, with similar numbers for all the years surrounding that one, in America, there were 4 million live births. That same year, again with similar numbers for all the surrounding years, there were 1.5 million abortions. That's 1.5 out of 5.5 total, or exactly 27% of fetus' were aborted. A quarter of my generation got wiped out, we're turning into a ghost town. If America got invaded and a quarter of its population died, that would be the bloodiest war in history. Imagine if you were tasked with vaporizing one in every four of your good friends. A forth of your friends blink out of existence. You never got to meet them, they never existed. Your life would now be measurably 25% less shared; 25% less interesting in a sense. Abortion took the lives of people who would have most certainly been our friends. So this isn't something indirectly happening to other people 'out there' in the world, this is something that's being done to you. Abortion kills your friends. 2. Conversely, if you read the supplemental material linked for the lecture, you would have seen that abortion causally correlates with 90% of the reduction in violent crime. This means that making abortion legal stops unwanted kids from being born, and as they found in that same study, being unwanted as a child is the primary reason that people turn to crime. Mothers are really good at knowing whether they are ready to raise a kid or not. If you let them decide, they will decide to reduce violent crime, ironically saving lives. 3. Planned Parenthood was founded by a woman who was an advocated for the KKK and thought that by putting abortion clinics in under-served neighborhoods she could depopulate blacks in America. And she was right, abortion disproportionately affects the black community. You've probably heard that bit before, but the unique part of this argument is not that the institution of abortion is inherently racist because it's inherently anti-black, no, it's that the institution of abortion is inherently racist because it's inherently anti-black friends. That's right, returning to the first argument, the institution of abortion is targeting my future potential black friends, and while we understand that saying, "I'm not racist, I have a black friend," is not a good defense against being racist, saying, "I'm not racist, I have no black friends," is an even worse defense. So unless you don't want anyone to have black friends, you should be pro-life. Otherwise, not only are you pathologically racist, but you're forcing everyone else to be too. Moving to the JJT paper On Abortion, I want to say that JJT is one of the clearest and subtlest writers I have seen in all of philosophy and is easily what I would set as a gold standard in modernity. Reading her papers is very much like reading good literature, she has an incredibly concise argumentation style and find her incredibly convincing even though, ironically, I agree with nothing she says. JJT opens by saying a fetus is no more a human than an acorn is an oak tree, and the sentiment is reasonable but there is a mereological and nomological difference - that the acorn has no promise of becoming that oak tree, whereas a fetus will become a person as long as you don't kill it - and that if all acorns became oak trees then the only thing that would stop them is an external or environmental force. So there is a marked distinction in the process by which the entities develop, namely that acorns don't have the same potency of development that fetus' do. But none of that matters because JJT grants that fetus' are human persons anyways. She then argues that it's still ethically permissible to abort human persons given the scenarios she lays out in the paper, and since that's more interesting than killing non-human non-persons, we'll move on to that. Again, it's assumed you actually did the reading for this lecture so I'm not going to explain the violinist argument, but if you have questions about it, feel free to ask now. Otherwise, I'm just going to talk about how JJT's violinist argument is even more right than JJT realized and why that's a problem. Given that the violinist argument is true, we could extend its conclusion to that of an entire society. Just as you are not ethically required to allow yourself to be abducted and stay in the hospital to support a stranger who fell ill for reasons disconnected from your existence, we could say certain demographics of society are not ethically required to allow themselves to be materially abducted and stay materially tethered to support another demographic that fell ill for reasons disconnected from the existence of the first. The problem here is that JJT's argument allows us to justify letting entire continents starve to death because we wanted to get our nails done. And in fact this is somewhat analogous to how wealthy countries have treated very poor countries historically. Abortion then is a somewhat privileged, first-world concept, so we might be able to make the case that abortion is a classist, bourgeoisie paradigm. It's very important to understand that this is not a flippant argument being made, and that JJT's violinist argument is initially set up as an anologue to rape - that if you were forced into a situation against your will or capacity for choice, it would be ethically permissible to abort the state of affairs you found yourself in. I claim this is the exact same predicament the nations of the globe find themselves in and further that the rest of JJT's violinist arguments, even outside the case of rape, are trivially extended, in the same way, as an analogue to broader society's treatment of weaker minority groups (and recursively we find fetus' are indeed a weaker minority group in society). So let's discuss/debate, who has questions/comments? To end this lecture on inverting intuitions, I'll leave you with this: The ancient Stoics thought that if your life had peaked in happiness, and you knew you were never going to be as happy again, you ought to kill yourself since your time was done being served. Similarly, if you knew your life was going to be a completely shitty one, you don't have to live through it; it would be honorable to press the give-up button and die early. On the other hand, the classical Hedonists thought that there was a distinction between kinds of pleasure, between mental and bodily pleasures, a sentiment that John Stuart Mills (a proponent of Utilitarianism) affirms, claiming that mental pleasure is of inherently higher value than bodily pleasure. Mills famously states that, "it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question." Mills used this to argue that our only ultimate end is happiness, but ironically I believe this sentiment runs counter to most utilitarian ideation that prioritizes happiness/pleasure/utility, as from that quote it follows that it is better to live a bad life, to live and suffer, than to not live at all (a sentiment propounded by many Existentialists). It is with this framing that I believe we have a strong case against abortion - that a human life guaranteed to be bad doesn't make the life less valuable than a pigs life guaranteed to be good. It ought not be the choice of others for the determination of one's own living viability. If the government came down and said, "You know what? I'm just not ready to care for all of you, I haven't been responsible enough, financially or otherwise, to support a 380-million-member family, and so I'm going to kill the fetal cities," you would be rightly upset at your subsequent genocide. "My body, my choice. Not the government's." Has a different ring here. For my actual personal view, I don't have a dog in the fight. I just wish both sides were consistent and they're not. For example, if your concern is whether or not the fetus has rights, then either it is a potential person and has rights as a potential person, or it doesn't. If potential people don't have rights, only actual people, then infanticide is totally justifiable because humans don't get personhood until they're around seven years old. But you don't see the pro-choice people making a case for infanticide despite it directly following from their standard positions. On the other side, if potential people do have the same rights as actual people, then a fetus whose existence results in the death of the mother is legally culpable for involuntary manslaughter and should be tried in juvenile court. But you don't see the pro-life people making a case for fetal courts despite it directly following from their standard positions. Do you see? Both sides of the political spectrum are functionally retarded and instead of listening to the ideology of the masses, you should rise above and study actual ethics instead. For additional materials we referenced in this lecture, see: The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of the Double Effect by Phillipa Foot