Article

Abortion

Michael Tooley

in Philosophy

ISBN: 9780195396577
Published online May 2013 | | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0107
Abortion

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Questions concerning the moral and appropriate legal status of abortion are among the most important issues in applied ethics, and answering those questions involves addressing some intellectually very difficult issues. First, many alternatives exist concerning what nonpotential properties suffice to give something moral status. These include (a) having the capacity for thought, (b) having the capacity for rational thought, (c) possessing self-consciousness, (d) being a continuing subject of mental states, (e) being a subject of nonmomentary interests, (f) being an agent, (g) being a moral agent, (h) having consciousness, (i) having both consciousness and desires, and (j) being able to use a language. Deciding which of these, or other alternatives, correctly identifies nonpotential properties sufficient to give one moral status is not at all an easy matter. Second, another crucial and very challenging issue is this. Suppose that property P gives an entity moral status. If something will, in the normal course of development, acquire property P, does that entity then have moral status by virtue of that potentiality? This question, which appears to be crucial for determining the moral status of abortion, is presently the object of serious philosophical disagreement. Finally, given certain answers to the preceding two questions, the moral status of abortion may depend upon answers to questions in areas outside of ethics. Suppose, for example, that something begins to have moral status only when it acquires a capacity for thought. Then the question is when developing members of our species first acquire that capacity. Answering that question, however, depends upon answering philosophical and scientific questions about the nature of human minds, because it may be crucial whether, as some philosophers believe, substance dualism is right, and the human mind is an immaterial entity, or whether, on the contrary, either property dualism or physicalism is correct. If substance dualism is right, then determining when a human first acquires the capacity for thought may depend upon philosophical or religious arguments, whereas if either property dualism or physicalism is correct, the answer will depend instead upon the outcome of demanding scientific investigations in neurophysiology and psychology.

Article.  36782 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art ; Epistemology ; Feminist Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy ; Metaphysics ; Moral Philosophy ; Non-Western Philosophy ; Philosophy of Language ; Philosophy of Law ; Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic ; Philosophy of Mind ; Philosophy of Religion ; Philosophy of Science ; Social and Political Philosophy

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