Utilitarianism and Kantianism applied to abortion.

Discussion in 'Religion and Ethics' started by Noesis, Nov 16, 2009.

  1. Noesis
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    I am taking an Honors Philosophy course in Ethics. Half of the students in my class are not doing very well; and they decided to start a study group. I am doing perfectly fine in the class myself; however, someone requested that I be present. I have a long midday break and I was curious to see what others had to say about the subjects, because I think exchanging ideas and brainstorming never hurt anybody. Nonetheless, we didn’t get much studying done, as the entire thing consisted of children bickering about how dumb they thought the course was.
    Thus, I thought I might have some better luck at an actual discussion here.

    The discussion topic was abortion, and how we might evaluate it from a Utilitarian and a Kantian approach.

    The best I can come up with off the top of my head is that the Kantian need for duty would call for a mother to protect her child at all costs, in addition to the duty to uphold the sanctity of human life. As far as Utilitarianism goes, If you are aiming for the greatest amount of happiness, than you don’t want a child to be born into a life that will be full of suffering; and ultimately if the procedure is done early enough, than the child has not yet developed a capacity to feel pain, while meanwhile the mother is very much alive, and might very well suffer as a result of having the child.


    (This is not a trick question. Yes, I am well aware of the debate regarding if the theories ever actually solve anything, and how nothing can ever really be settled or resolved. Yet, that is not the point of the query)

    What does everyone think? and can they come up with any decent pro-choice arguments for both theories?
     
  2. Diuretic
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    The discussion topic was abortion, and how we might evaluate it from a Utilitarian and a Kantian approach.


    I'll give it a shot.

    It's essentially a compound question. Can abortion be said to be moral? Can abortion be said to be moral with reference to Kant's philosophy. Can abortion be said to be moral according to classical utilitarianism (or any other form of utilitarianism you prefer to discuss. The next part for both of these is, “if so, why?” and “if not, why not?'

    You've got two views here – one is deontological, the other consequentialist. Maybe those frameworks are what you have to explore.

    Kant's moral philosophy is deontological. Now what does that mean? It's essentially about the motive for an act isn't it? Duty is a motive, as you've pointed out.

    Duty, according to Kant is what exactly? Is it a duty to obey the law? Is it a duty to be moral? But what does it mean to be moral? Hmmm, I'm not too productive there.

    Kant says obey the law. But assuming abortion is legal then obeying the law becomes moot doesn't it? I mean the law facilitates abortion so perhaps duty isn't useful here.

    Okay what about motive for action? What would Kant say about the reasoning that an individual has for deciding if an abortion is warranted? Do you think there would be circumstances where motive would determine the morality of an act of abortion?


    The consquentialist position looks at, as you know, the consequences of an act to determine its morality. But that can be very tricky because consequences can be so varied and operating on different timelines that it can be confusing.

    Let's say the consequentialist says that the foetus should be aborted because......well why?

    Can you think of any circumstances where the foetus should be aborted?

    Now, can you also think of the longer term consequences?

    Let me give you an example.

    A young woman has been impregnated by her boyfriend who disappears when he finds she is pregnant. She is going to be a single mother if she gives birth. She will be in dire economic circumstances if she gives birth.

    Should she abort to avoid those circumstances?

    But what about some years later when she regrets having aborted a viable foetus? And let's say she suffers so much guilt over it that she develops major depression and commits suicide?

    Do those consequences make the decision not moral? I know that's stretching a long bow but it does indicate what I'm trying to get at regarding consequentialism. It's more complex than it looks.

    Just a final point.

    What does everyone think? and can they come up with any decent pro-choice arguments for both theories?

    Are you required to take this position or is it open to you to evaluate the concept of abortion from the two moral standpoints mentioned?

    I ask because if you have a set position of abortion being moral (which is your position if you are looking for "decent pro-choice arguments") then you're going to have to hammer both those approaches - Kant's deontology and utilitarianism's consequentialism - into the shapes you want.

    If you have been forced to take the pro-choice position and then been instructed to see if it is supported by Kant or the utilitarians then fine, but if you have been given the option of evaluating the moral nature of abortion without having a predetermined position that requires post-facto justification then you're better off keeping an open mind, applying both constructs and see where you end up.
     

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