Abortion and Infanticide - Potentiality Principle

Topics: Morality, Human, Religion Pages: 5 (1929 words) Published: September 20, 2006
Michael Tooley's article, "Abortion and Infanticide" raised some points about the morality of abortion. He discussed the conservatives' ethical objection against abortion which states that fetuses and infants have a right to life. The conservatives believe that early abortion is immoral. In his article, he made a case against the conservative position on abortion. His case boils down to two claims: (i) We should accept that early abortion is immoral only if we accept the "potentiality principle". (ii) We should not accept this "potentiality principle".

In this essay, I will first discuss Tooley's arguments for these claims. After discussing the arguments, I will attempt to show that claim (i) is reasonable but claim (ii) is not. I will then propose a better argument for (ii) to strengthen Tooley's claims. To conclude, I will describe a typical objection to my argument and explain why this objection is invalid. Tooley's Argument for Claim (i)

Tooley's argument for claim (i) stems from the conservative's assertion that adult humans possess a property which endows any organism possessing this property a serious right to life. From this claim, the conservative argues that any organism that has a potential to possess this property in the course of its development should also have a serious right to life. For simplicity, I shall call this argument the "potentiality principle". Tooley explained that this principle is very critical to the conservatives' argument because it allows them to defend their position without explicitly determining what properties a thing must possess to have a right to life. It is enough to define that adult human beings have this property and clearly they have a right to live. Therefore by the potentiality principle, it follows that the zygote of a human being must also have a right to life (Tooley, 1972). The potentiality principle is also very important according to Tooley because it not only provides support for the conservative's position but also invalidates the conservative's position if the principle is proven to be unacceptable. To show this, Tooley made a comparison between humans and apes. He said that the reason why an adult human has a right to live but an infant ape doesn't is because the "former possesses certain psychological properties which the latter lacks" (Tooley, 1972 pg. 56). He also argued that both a human and an ape zygote do not possess these properties so therefore the only main moral difference between them is that the human zygote has the potential to possess these properties unlike the ape zygote. Thus, if the potentiality principle is deemed unacceptable, there would be no significant difference between human fetuses and ape zygotes. This implies that killing human fetuses is as morally proper as killing ape zygotes. Tooley then concluded that abortion is only immoral if the potentiality principle is sound. This proves claim (i) (Tooley, 1972). Tooley's Argument for Claim (ii)

To prove claim (ii), Tooley attacked the potentiality principle. He first described a general situation in which there exists an action A which initiates process C and action B which stops process C. He then claimed that there is no moral difference between intentionally doing action B and intentionally refraining from performing action A as long as the motivation is identical for both. He called this the "moral symmetry principle". As a disclaimer, Tooley said that for the purposes of his argument, he would limit his discussion to cases where action B should require minimal effort to do. He stated this limitation to avoid confusion when dealing with scenarios when action B requires much more effort and sacrifice than not doing action A. For example, he made an analogy with action B and saving a person who is dying and action A and refraining from killing someone. In this case, one might say that one might not be morally obliged to do B but must clearly refrain from doing A. Tooley felt that...

References: Tooley, M. 1972. Philosophy and Public Affairs. Vol. 2, No 1. Princeton University Press.
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