Journal Club: Killing, Letting Die and the Morality of Abortion

‘The Philosopher’s Eye’ Journal Club will be bringing you top articles for discussion on a regular basis, selected from the prestigious Wiley-Blackwell Philosophy journals. The article will be made free to access for all, and engagement and commentary is encouraged.

This month’s free article is Killing, Letting Die and the Morality of Abortion by Anton Tupa, and was one of the Journal of Applied Philosophy’s most read articles from 2010.

Image: Bill Davenport (2007)
Killing, Letting Die and the Morality of Abortion

ANTON TUPA

abstract David Boonin, in his A Defense of Abortion, argues that abortions that involve killing the foetus are morally permissible, even if granting for the sake of argument that the foetus has a right to life. His primary argument is an argument by analogy to a ‘trolley case’. I offer two lines of counterargument to his argument by analogy. First, I argue that Boonin’s analogy between his trolley case and a normal unwanted pregnancy does not hold. I revise his trolley case in light of my objections. Second, I argue that Boonin’s arguments for the permissibility of killing, when applied to this revised trolley case — and by extension, typical unwanted pregnancies — do not succeed in justifying killing.

Journal of Applied Philosophy

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Can philosophy be dangerous?

Philosophy at its most benign is the search for clarity (although many would contest that assertion, I’m sure). Philosophy at its most proactive is a method of attempting to convince readers that a certain walk of life is right or wrong (and again, I concede, this is quite debatable). However can philosophy ever be dangerous? Certainly political philosophies, whether from the right or left, can be dangerous as anyone who has lived under an oppressive political regime would be able to testify.

But what of other forms of philosophy, such as moral philosophy? Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844 – 1900), love him or loath him (I for one am not a huge fan), is often cited as one of the great modern philosophers, credited with such concepts as the will to power, the death of god, master-slave morality and his often cited and more often misinterpreted concept of the Übermensch. Along with his title as one of the great modern philosophers I believe he can be gifted the title of one of the Continue reading “Can philosophy be dangerous?”

War is Reason Free From Passion

When we imagine robotic combatants, we naturally expect that they will be modelled on ourselves. Ancient Crete, for example, had the bronze, xenophobic robot Talos, who indiscriminately hurled missiles towards all foreign ships. Talos had autonomy, the power to reason (however dimly), and the power to determine his own behaviour. But most importantly, behind the face of Talos was a single agent, an agent modelled after a human subject.

But as the Economist reports, BAE systems, in conjunction with several UK universities, has put forward a vastly different intelligence model for our future robotic warriors. Eschewing full-fledged autonomy, the individual combatants are designed to pool information about the environment, potential targets, and available resources, and then arrive globally on a course of action; individual robots may also ‘bid’ to avail themselves of resources, but the allocation of resources Continue reading “War is Reason Free From Passion”

Christmas and Philosophy

Christmas - Philosophy for Everyone: Better Than a Lump of CoalWe recently caught up with Scott C. Lowe, professor and chair in the Philosophy Department at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, and editor of Christmas – Philosophy for Everyone: Better Than a Lump of Coal. He is also the author of “Ebenezer Scrooge – Man of Principle” which appeared in Think magazine in 2009. His philosophical interests are in political and legal philosophy. He hopes his students think of him as the reformed Scrooge at the end of the story, not the hard hearted Scrooge who meets the ghost of Jacob Marley.

PE: Why did you decide to edit a book on Christmas and philosophy?

SCL: It started with an article I published on Ebenezer Scrooge. He’s a great example of the role of character in morality which is a hot debate in ethics these days. From there it struck me that there are a lot of interesting questions about Christmas that philosophers might have something to say about. Continue reading “Christmas and Philosophy”

Have you told a lie today? Tell me about it!

No, I do not want to hear anyone’s confession. It is only that since I read yesterday’s article in the Independent about the science of lying, researched by Robert Feldman, Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts, I do very much think about how much I have lied and how much those I am talking to have lied in the last 24 hours. If this question is bizarre for most people, it is even more so for a philosopher. We are interested in the TRUTH, not in how the truth is bended to fit our or anyone’s purpose. The article claims however that the latter is what we are doing constantly. Continue reading “Have you told a lie today? Tell me about it!”

Philosophy and LOST

Now that LOST has officially ended after six seasons, the question being asked is “was this a ‘long con?'”  Those of us who have been there since the beginning and stayed until the end are likely to have mixed feelings following this week’s finale, though the fact that there remain unanswered questions cannot be too much of a surprise.  Lost is well known for its elaborate and suggestive use of Eastern and Western mythologies, and for characters named after philosophers from the obvious (Bentham, Hume Locke, Rousseau) to the cleverly concealed (Bakunin, Burke, Godwin, C. S. Lewis) and the downright obscure (De Groot, Baba Ram Dass).  In addition, many scientific theories – including quantum mechanics, time travel, atomic energy and electromagnetism – all play an central part in the plot of the show alongside more fundamental philosophical questions about truth, identity, memory and morality.

Given the range and complexity of the ideas that make an appearance, and compounded by the temporal dislocation which serves as the show’s leitmotif, it’s no wonder that casual viewers started to feel increasingly ‘lost’ with a show  which finally ran to more than 90 hours. But it is undoubtedly the complexity and openness to interpretation which is woven into the narrative structure of the show that makes it such a flexible forum for exploring philosophical themes in a pop culture context. Continue reading “Philosophy and LOST”

Jews and Obligations of Partiality to Israel

One of today’s foremost debates in moral philosophy is whether there are obligations of partiality to people, groups, and causes that occupy special places in our lives. The subtext to a recent NY Times article describing the diversity of opinions among Jews regarding Israel illustrates a particular strain of questions in these debates: whether members of certain groups owe unconditional and uncritical support to their groups. Continue reading “Jews and Obligations of Partiality to Israel”