Saturday, November 21, 2009

An Inductive Argument Against Abortion

1. We observe that a value in something usually does not change as a result of a person's disposition toward it.

It is difficult to gauge the initial plausibility of this first premise. There are certainly moral relativists, nihilists, and perspectivists who will question or altogether deny this claim, all with different reasons and degrees. The moral objectivist, however, will likely be persuaded that (1) is true. Consider the value of oxygen. Even assuming that a person is distraught, or deluded, and wishes to no longer inhale the oxygen that keeps him or her alive, this doesn't at all imply that the oxygen no longer has value. In fact, most of us would say this person needs help.

2. If the loss of something brings about mourning, that thing has value.

I would wager that all of us know what this is like. Whether we have lost a loved one, a thing we hold dear for sentimental reasons, or whatever it may be, we're only sad about it because the thing that has been lost has value.

3. The unexpected termination of a pregnancy results in mourning.

Consider an expecting mother's disposition toward her unborn baby. If she wishes to have the child, a miscarriage would be considered tragic. This, however, leaves us with the following conclusion:

4. Therefore, pregnancy has value.

If it is tragic for a woman to have a miscarriage, is it not also tragic whenever the pregnancy is terminated by an abortion? After all, the only difference is a person's (or persons') disposition toward the pregnancy. The value of a desired pregnancy doesn't change simply because of a change in attitude.

The moral relativist may well chime in by suggesting that a thing only has value for the person who gives value to it. What is interesting about this, though, is that the same does not apply to other things we regularly give value to: oxygen, food, clothing, education, health, and happiness. Why make abortion the exception?


  1. 1. "We observe that a value in something usually does not change as a result of a person's disposition toward it."

    It'll be best if you could venture more about what you mean by "value" itself. I'd personally say that the changeability of a value depends on whether the value is intrinsic or instrumental.

    Consider the value of oxygen. Does it have an intrinsic value? Does oxygen have a value “in itself,” or “for its own sake,” or “as such,” or “in its own right?

    Do you like oxygen? Yes. Why? Because it enables us to live. Why do you think living is good? Well, it enables us to be conscious. Why do you think consciousness is good? Well, it just is. At some point we say a thing is good just "by itself, for its own sake." - having an intrinsic value.

    So, oxygen has an instrumental value. Does it has an intrinsic value?

    I'd argue that an instrumental value of a property changes from person to person, depends on the ability of that property to channel into more basic "intrinsic value" eventually.

    Radio has an instrumental value to hear music. Music has an instrumental value to bring happiness to the listener. Happiness has an intrinsic value.

    I'd also argue that the instrumental value of a radio varies, even among moral objectivists, depending on how much they love music, and eventually depending on how much music brings them happiness. (and that variation depends exactly on a person disposition towards it). After all, there is not any "morality" in a piece of radio. So there is no connection between moral objectivism/relativism with instrumental value.

    So, I'd conclude that you are talking about an "intrinsic value" for premise one.

    2. "If the loss of something brings about mourning, that thing has value."

    Yes, of course. Again, instrumental, intrinsic or both?

    3. The unexpected termination of a pregnancy results in mourning.

    Consider this. A woman is pregnant. She is surprised by the fact she is. She neither wants to abort the pregnancy, nor she finds herself joyous in her finding. Will you accept that a person can have different emotion while finding out that she is pregnant? It might be happiness, surprise, sadness, anger.

    But she carries on. Suddenly, through an unexpected series of event, there happens to be a miscarriage. Will she mourn? I don't know. But this again only proves that pregnancy carries a certain instrumental value - towards happiness, etc.

    4. "Therefore, pregnancy has value."

    Of course.

    But again consider a radio. For example, I lost my radio. There can be a case where I don't mind losing the radio simply because its instrumental value diminishes. Is wrong that I don't mind losing it? No.

    So, I think the inductive argument above is good only in proving pregnancy has an instrumental value - just like my radio has an instrumental value.

    I could not equate the meaning of "value" in premise 1 (has to be intrinsic) to those of premise 2, 3 (instrumental by definition).

    Question is : Does pregnancy have an intrinsic value? Will you equate pregnancy or the first few weeks of it with life? I tend to argue that life itself has an intrinsic value. Life, in it own self is good. What about pregnancy?

  2. Hi elindudut,

    A quick search for a definition of "life" yields: "capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death."

    This matches what we know about even the embryonic stage of human development, so wouldn't this give a pregnancy intrinsic value?