1.Is abortion morally defensible? Why or why not? Please take a position on this question and defend your position with rational argumentation. Please articulate your view on this question in response to the arguments provided by Don Marquis and Judith Jarvis Thomson. Whichever position you choose, please justify your position by utilizing at least one moral theory that you have learned about this semester (e.g., utilitarianism, Kantianism, virtue ethics, feminist ethics) to argue for your proposal.
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Final Exam Essay Questions
PH 102 – Ethics: Introduction to Moral Problems
The Final Exam emphasizes the later portion of the Contemporary Moral Problems section of our
PH 102 class, but may draw on any part of the course. The Final Exam will consist of two essay
questions, listed below. Please choose one of those questions and answer it to the best of your
ability, being sure to answer all parts of the question. An emphasis will be placed on your
proposal and defense of your own original thesis.
Washburn University designates a specific exam time for all classes. The Final Exam for PH 102 is
not an in-class final exam; it is to be completed on your own and submitted by the end of the
day on which the University has designated as our exam day. For Spring 2019, this means that
the deadline for our Final Exam is Thursday, May 9, at 11:59 PM.
There is no length requirement or limit for answering these questions, but longer answers will
usually be better than shorter answers. This is because shorter answers are likely to be vague,
lack attention to detail, or be incomplete or fail to demonstrate mastery of the course content in
some way. Each question should be answerable with about 700-1000 words.
Please submit your answers to those three questions in a Microsoft Word-format document
(.docx) to the D2L dropbox that has been set up for this purpose. PDF document submissions
are also acceptable. D2L dropboxes cannot read Apple Pages files. If you make the mistake of
submitting a Pages file, you will be asked to resubmit the document and a lateness penalty of
10% will be applied, on top of whatever grade you earn. Please format your essays according to
a standard citation style of your choice (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc., are all permissible).
Whenever you quote or refer to work that you did not originally create, you must do so
according to the rules of your selected citation style. Failure to do so may constitute plagiarism,
which will be dealt with according to Washburn University’s academic integrity policy.
To ensure that the grade you receive is based solely on the work you submit, do not write your
name anywhere in the document you submit. In place of your name, please use your Washburn
ID number instead.
How Your Exam Will Be Graded
Your answers to the questions will be evaluated according to how well you demonstrate your
understanding of course material that we studied during the most recent unit of PH 102: the
philosophers’ positions, the arguments they provide for their positions, and the fundamental
assumptions that they rely upon to support their arguments. You will be evaluated on the basis
of how well you complete the tasks of proposing an argumentative thesis of your own and
defend it rationally, in response to the authors you have read this semester. You will also be
evaluated on the basis of how well you are able to critically evaluate and engage with the views
we have studied, as well as respond critically to them. To receive full credit, every part of the
essay question must receive a clear answer.
Here are the possible essay questions for the Final Exam:
1. Is abortion morally defensible? Why or why not? Please take a position on this question
and defend your position with rational argumentation. Please articulate your view on this
question in response to the arguments provided by Don Marquis and Judith Jarvis
Thomson. Whichever position you choose, please justify your position by utilizing at least
one moral theory that you have learned about this semester (e.g., utilitarianism,
Kantianism, virtue ethics, feminist ethics) to argue for your proposal.
Notes of advice
Your answer to either of these exam questions should contain the following elements:
1. A clear and reasonably strong thesis. A thesis is a proposition that you wish to convince
your reader to agree with you about. Your thesis should be clearly stated and easy to
find, early in your essay question answer; your thesis should be strong enough to
support substantial argumentation in its defense and should be able to provoke
reasonable discussion; it should not be so weak that everyone already agrees with your
thesis at the outset of the presentation, nor so strong or implausible that people cannot
agree with it even after reasoned discussion.
2. An argument that supports your viewpoint. Don’t expect your reader to agree with you,
just because you tell them what you believe. Give them moral reasons to agree with you.
Provide your reader with a moral argument that supports your viewpoint. Use the moral
theories we learned about this semester to support your view.
3. Responses to objections. You do not have to address every single point an opposing
author makes, but you must address the parts of their arguments that are relevant to
yours. For example: if you take a pro-choice position, you should be prepared to respond
to Marquis’s argument that abortion is prima facie seriously morally wrong, and to try to
get your reader to agree with you instead of him.
If you choose question 2 above and would like some extra context on the differences between
speech laws in Australia and the United States, check out Season 3, Episode 3 of the philosophy
podcast Hi-Phi Nation, entitled “No Offense,” available online at https://hiphination.org/season3-episodes/s3-episode-3-no-offense-mar-2nd-2019/. (Contains ads; feel free to ignore those.)
A Defense of Abortion
Author(s): Judith Jarvis Thomson
Source: Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Autumn, 1971), pp. 47-66
Published by: Blackwell Publishing
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2265091
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A Defense of Abortion’
Most opposition to abortion relies on the premise that the fetus is a
human being, a person, from the moment of conception. The premise
is argued for, but, as I think, not well. Take, for example, the most
common argument. We are asked to notice that the development of
a human being from conception through birth into childhood is continuous; then it is said that to draw a line, to choose a point in this
development and say “before this point the thing is not a person, after
this point it is a person” is to make an arbitrary choice, a choice for
which in the nature of things no good reason can be given. It is concluded that the fetus is, or anyway that we had better say it is, a person from the moment of conception. But this conclusion does not follow. Similar things might be said about the development of an acorn
into an oak tree, and it does not follow that acorns are oak trees, or
that we had better say they are. Arguments of this form are sometimes
called “slippery slope arguments”-the phrase is perhaps self-explanatory-and it is dismaying that opponents of abortion rely on them so
heavily and uncritically.
I am inclined to agree, however, that the prospects for “drawing a
line” in the development of the fetus look dim. I am inclined to think
also that we shall probably have to agree that the fetus has already
become a human person well before birth. Indeed, it comes as a surprise when one first learns how early in its life it begins to acquire
human characteristics. By the tenth week, for example, it already has
i. I am very much indebted to James Thomson for discussion, criticism, and
many helpful suggestions.
Philosophy & Public Affairs
a face, arms and legs, fingers and toes; it has internal organs, and
brain activity is detectable.2 On the other hand, I think that the premise is false, that the fetus is not a person from the moment of conception. A newly fertilized ovum, a newly implanted clump of cells, is
no more a person than an acorn is an oak tree. But I shall not discuss
any of this. For it seems to me to be of great interest to ask what
happens if, for the sake of argument, we allow the premise. How, precisely, are we supposed to get from there to the conclusion that abortion is morally impermissible? Opponents of abortion commonly
spend most of their time establishing that the fetus is a person, and
hardly any time explaining the step from there to the impermissibility
of abortion. Perhaps they think the step too simple and obvious to
require much comment. Or perhaps instead they are simply being economical in argument. Many of those who defend abortion rely on the
premise that the fetus is not a person, but only a bit of tissue that
will become a person at birth; and why pay out more arguments than
you have to? Whatever the explanation, I suggest that the step they
take is neither easy nor obvious, that it calls for closer examination
than it is commonly given, and that when we do give it this closer
examination we shall feel inclined to reject it.
I propose, then, that we grant that the fetus is a person. from the
moment of conception. How does the argument go from here? Something like this, I take it. Every person has a right to life. So the fetus
has a right to life. No doubt the mother has a right to decide what
shall happen in and to her body; everyone would grant that. But surely
a person’s right to life is stronger and more stringent than the mother’s
right to decide what happens in and to her body, and so outweighs it.
So the fetus may not be killed; an abortion may not be performed.
It sounds plausible. But now let me ask you to imagine this. You
wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with
an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been
found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers
2. Daniel Callahan, Abortion: Law, Choice and Morality (New York, 1970),
p. 373. This book gives a fascinating survey of the available information on
abortion. The Jewish tradition is surveyed in David M. Feldman, Birth Control in
Jewish Law (New York, i968), Part 5, the Catholic tradition in John T. Noonan,
Jr., “An Almost Absolute Value in History,” in The Morality of Abortion, ed. John
T. Noonan, Jr. (Cambridge, Mass., 1970).
A Defense of Abortion
has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you
alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped
you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into
yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his
blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you,
“Look, we’re sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you-we
would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it,
and the violinist now is plugged into you. To unplug you would be to
kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then he will
have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from
you.” Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No
doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But
do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine
years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says,
“Tough luck, I agree, but you’ve now got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember
this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted
you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a
person’s right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in
and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him.” I
imagine you would regard this as outrageous, which suggests that
something really is wrong with that plausible-sounding argument I
mentioned a moment ago.
In this case, of course, you were kidnapped; you didn’t volunteer
for the operation that plugged the violinist into your kidneys. 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.
And in fact the people who oppose abortion on the ground I mentioned do not make this distinction, and hence do not make an exception in case of rape.
Philosophy & Public Affairs
Nor do they make an exception for a case in which the mother has
to spend the nine months of her pregnancy in bed. They would agree
that would be a great pity, and hard on the mother; but all the same,
all persons have a right to life, the fetus is a person, and so on. I suspect, in fact, that they would not make an exception for a case in
which, miraculously enough, the pregnancy went on for nine years,
or even the rest of the mother’s life.
Some won’t even make an exception for a case in which continuation of the pregnancy is likely to shorten the mother’s life; they regard
abortion as impermissible even to save the mother’s life. Such cases
are nowadays very rare, and many opponents of abortion do not accept
this extreme view. All the same, it is a good place to begin: a number
of points of interest come out in respect to it.
i. Let us call the view that abortion is impermissible even to save
the mother’s life “the extreme view.” I want to suggest first that it does
not issue from the argument I mentioned earlier without the addition
of some fairly powerful premises. Suppose a woman has become pregnant, and now learns that she has a cardiac condition such that she
will die if she carries the baby to term. What may be done for her?
The fetus, being a person, has a right to life, but as the mother is a
person too, so has she a right to life. Presumably they have an equal
right to life. How is it supposed to come out that an abortion may
not be performed? If mother and child have an equal right to life,
shouldn’t we perhaps flip a coin? Or should we add to the mother’s
right to life her right to decide what happens in and to her body,
which everybody seems to be ready to grant-the sum of her rights
now outweighing the fetus’ right to life?
The most familiar argument here is the following. We are told that
performing the abortion would be directly killing3 the child, whereas
doing nothing would not be killing the mother, but only letting her
die. Moreover, in killing the child, one would be killing an innocent
person, for the child has committed no crime, and is not aiming at
his mother’s death. And then there are a variety of ways in which this
3. The term “direct” in the arguments I refer to is a technical one. Roughly,
what is meant by “direct killing” is either killing as an end in itself, or killing
as a means to some end, for example, the end of saving someone else’s life. See
note 6, below, for an example of its use.
A Defense of Abortion
might be continued. (i) But as directly killing an innocent person is
always and absolutely impermissible, an abortion may not be performed. Or, (2) as directly killing an innocent person is murder, and
murder is always and absolutely impermissible, an abortion may not
be performed.4 Or, (3) as one’s duty to refrain from directly killing an
innocent person is more stringent than one’s duty to keep a person
from dying, an abortion may not be performed. Or, (4) if one’s only
options are,directly killing an innocent person or letting a person die,
one must prefer letting the person die, and thus an abortion may not
Some people seem to have thought that these are not further premises which must be added if the conclusion is to be reached, but that
they follow from the very fact that an innocent person has a right to
life.6 But this seems to me to be a mistake, and perhaps the simplest
way to show this is to bring out that while we must certainly grant
that innocent persons have a right to life, the theses in (i) through
(4) are all false. Take (2), for example. If directly killing an innocent person is murder, and thus is impermissible, then the mother’s
directly killing the innocent person inside her is murder, and thus is
4. Cf. Encyclical Letter of Pope Pius XI on Christian Marriage, St. Paul Editions (Boston, n.d.), p. 32: “however much we may pity the mother whose health
and even life is gravely imperiled in the performance of the duty allotted to her
by nature, nevertheless what could ever be a sufficient reason for excusing in any
way the direct murder of the innocent? This is precisely what we are dealing
with here.” Noonan (The Morality of Abortion, p. 43) reads this as follows:
“What cause can ever avail to excuse in any way the direct killing of the innocent? For it is a question of that.”
5. The thesis in (4) is in an interesting way weaker than those in (i), (2),
and (3): they rule out abortion even in cases in which both mother and child
will die if the abortion is not performed. By contrast, one who held the view
expressed in (4) could consistently say that one needn’t prefer letting two persons die to killing one.
6. Cf. the following passage from Pius XII, Address to the Italian Catholic
Society of Midwives: “The baby in the maternal breast has the right to life immediately from God.-Hence there is no man, no human authority, no science, no
medical, eugenic, social, economic or moral ‘indication’ which can establish or
grant a valid juridical ground for a direct deliberate disposition of an innocent
human life, that is a disposition which looks to its destruction either as an end
or as a means to another end perhaps in itself not illicit.-The baby, still not
born, is a man in the same degree and for the same reason as the mother”
(quoted in Noonan, The Morality of Abortion, p. 45).
Philosophy & Public Affairs
impermissible. But it cannot seriously be thought to be murder if the
mother performs an abortion on herself to save her life. It cannot
seriously be said that she must refrain, that she must sit passively by
and wait for her death. Let us look again at the case of you and the
violinist. There you are, in bed with the violinist, and the director of
the hospital says to you, “It’s all most distressing, and I deeply sympathize, but you see this is putting an additional strain on your kidneys, and you’ll be dead within the month. But you have to stay where
you are all the same. Because unplugging you would be directly killing an innocent violinist, and that’s murder, and that’s impermissible.” If anything in the world is true, it is that you do not commit
murder, you do not do what is impermissib …
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