[5.4.3.] Three Lessons from the Violinist Analogy.
Over the course of the article, Thomson draws three lessons from this story:
1. The right to life is not the right to use someone else’s body to stay alive (“...having a right to life does not guarantee having either a right to be given the use of or a right to be allowed continued use of another person’s body—even if one needs it for life itself.” RTD 95). Because the violinist is a person, he has a right to life. But this does not imply that he has a right to use your body in order to stay alive. If he did have a right to use your body in order to stay alive, then that right might outweigh your right to determine what happens to your body. But having a right to life does not imply having a right to use someone else’s body to stay alive—so that right does not necessarily trump your right to determine what happens in your body.
She further illustrates this point with the Henry Fonda thought-experiment:
If I am sick unto death, and the only thing that will save my life is the touch of Henry Fonda’s cool hand on my fevered brow, then all the same, I have no right to be given the touch of Henry Fonda’s cool hand on my fevered brow. It might be frightfully nice of him to fly in from the West Coast to provide it. It would be less nice, though no doubt well meant, if my friends flew out to the West Coast and carried Henry Fonda back with them. But I have no right at all against anybody that he should do this for me. (RTD 94)
If the violinist required, not nine months of your time, but only a single hour, he still would not have a right to use your body, and so you would not be violating his rights by disconnecting. Thomson concedes that in this situation, it might be immoral in some other way for you to disconnect. You might be “self-centered, callous, indecent” if you refuse to stay connected for an hour; but you would not be behaving unjustly.
Applied to abortion, the lesson is this: even if the fetus has a right to life, this does not automatically give it the right to use your body to stay alive.
2. The right to life is not the right not to be killed; it is the right not to be killed unjustly. (RTD 95)
Suppose that you have to spend nine years in bed in order to save the life of the violinist. According to Thomson, if you disconnect from him, you are killing him, but you are not killing him unjustly. This is true despite the fact that he has a right to life, just like any other person.
Applied to abortion, the lesson is this: the pro-lifer needs to do more than show that the fetus has a right to life. The pro-lifer needs to show more than that, because from the fact that a fetus has a right to life it does not follow that it has a right not to be killed—it only follows that it has a right not to be killed unjustly. The critic of abortion needs to go beyond this to show that abortion is unjust killing.
3. While you would be doing something above and beyond the call of moral duty if you were to stay attached to the violinist, you are not doing anything wrong by detaching yourself.
In other words, staying attached to the violinist would be supererogatory, not obligatory.
[184.108.40.206.] Interlude: Moral Categories.
There five moral categories into which a given action can be sorted
a. immoral (df.): not permitted by morality; morally bad; in performing the action, you are doing something morally wrong.
b. morally permissible (df.): permitted by morality; in performing the action, you are not doing anything immoral. There are three sub-categories of morally permissible action: obligatory, morally neutral, and supererogatory:
c. obligatory (df.): required by morality; if you don’t do it, then you’ve done something immoral
d. morally neutral (df.): neither morally good nor morally bad; no moral value whatsoever
e. supererogatory (df.): going beyond what morality requires in order to do something especially good; you are not obligated to do it, so failing to do it would not be immoral; but if you do it, you’ve done something morally good and deserve praise.
[5.4.4.] The Violinist Story as an Analogy for Rape.
Thomson intends the violinist analogy to show that abortion is morally permissible in the case of pregnancy-by-rape.
But this alone does not show that the majority of abortions are morally permissible, since the majority of abortions do not result from rape.
So it seems like, even if a pro-life person is convinced by the Violinist Analogy that abortion is permissible in the case of rape, he could still maintain that it is otherwise immoral.
However, Thomson offers a challenge to those who say (a) in general, abortion is wrong because a fetus is a person with a right to life and (b) abortion in the case of rape is morally permissible:
Can those who oppose abortion on the ground I mentioned make an exception for a pregnancy due to rape? Certainly. They can say that persons have a right to life only if they didn’t come into existence because of rape; or they can say that all persons have a right to life, but that some have less of a right to life than others, in particular, that those who came into existence because of rape have less. But these statements have a rather unpleasant sound. Surely the question of whether you have a right to life at all, or how much of it you have, shouldn’t turn on the question of whether or not you are the product of a rape. (RTD 90)
In summary, Thompson’s challenge is this:
· If fetuses are persons with a right to life, then fetuses created by way of rape are persons with a right to life.
· If you say that the central reason that abortion is immoral is that a fetus is a person with a right to life, then you cannot also that that abortion is permissible in the case of rape.
But Thomson believes that abortion is morally permissible in the case of rape, so she thinks that it must be permissible in other cases, too.
The lecture notes on Thomson will conclude next time…
Stopping point for Thursday October 3. For next time, read EMP ch.7 (“The Utilitarian Approach”) and then RTD ch.3 (“Utilitarianism” by John Stuart Mill), and study today’s lecture notes. (As always, you could have a pop quiz on either or both.)
This page last updated 10/3/2013.
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