Related Ideas

Review these ideas and then go back to the main thread.


We will spend most of our time on persons and rights, but you should realize that a rights analysis is not the only way to approach moral problems. Historically, it is only in the last few hundred years that this approach has become so prominent. You should also realize that a rights analysis is more common in the United States than in some other countries. A society might, for example, emphasize some understanding of the common good rather than individual rights.

There are other powerful moral traditions. Moralists in the natural law tradition do not always use the language of individual rights. They define moral principles in other terms. They might say, for example, that it is always wrong to intentionally and directly kill an innocent person.

Natural law is an old tradition that is often brought to bear on the problems of abortion.


Another tradition called the 'utilitarian' tradition concentrates on maximizing the happiness or preferences of people (or perhaps people and animals). In the utilitarian tradition rights are sometimes important but always secondary. Utilitarian morality tries to maximize the good (however defined) and may derive certain rights from that goal. Rights are established because overall and in the long run they maximize something else. A utilitarian might ask whether it was best for a woman to have an abortion or whether it was best in the long run for a society to have a law restricting abortion.

Some Christian writers base their arguments on scriptural and theological grounds. If God made man and woman in his image, then these writers wish to know whether the embryo bears that image.


Reference: You might look at Josef Fuchs' Natural Law or John Finnis' Natural Law And Natural Rights for contemporary natural law theory. Fuchs' book is written from an explicitly Roman Catholic perspective.

These books are not specifically on the subject of abortion, but both authors discuss the issue briefly. Finnis wrote an article on abortion that appears in the anthology edited by Cohen and others. He was highly critical of Judith Thomson's views.

You can look at L. W. Sumner's work on abortion for a well developed utilitarian analysis. For one of the classic statements of the utilitarian view, read John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism. Mill briefly discusses the nature of rights and founds them on utility.

Clifford Bajema and Ronald Wennberg are both Christian writers who consider whether embryos and fetuses bear the image of God.