Sources & Extracts
|Review this excerpt and then go back to the page you were on.|
The following excerpt is taken from Michael Tooley's article "Abortion
and Infanticide." The quotation here is a very condensed
version of his argument. For the complete argument, read one of
his articles. He writes as follows:
The claim I wish to defend is this: An organism possesses a serious right to life only if it possesses the concept of a self as a continuing subject of experiences and other mental states, and believes that it is itself such a continuing entity.
. . . .The simplified version of my argument is this. To ascribe a right to an individual is to assert something about the prima facie obligations of other individuals to act, or to refrain from acting, in certain ways. However, the obligations in question are conditional ones, being dependent upon the existence of certain desires of the individual to whom the right is ascribed.
[Tooley then offers the following analysis of the meaning of a right to life.] 'A has a right to continue to exist as a subject of experiences and other mental states' is roughly synonymous with the statement 'A is a subject of experiences and other mental states, A is capable of desiring to continue to exist as a subject of experiences and other mental states, and if A does desire to continue to exist as such an entity, then others are under a prima facie obligation not to prevent him from doing so.'
[He then asks what must be the case if something is to desire to be such an entity.] The basic point here is that the desires a thing can have are limited by the concepts it possesses. . . . Applying this to the present case results in the conclusion that an entity cannot be the sort of thing that can desire that a subject of experiences and other mental states exist unless it possesses the concept of such a subject.
[He adds that in order for a being to have a desire to continue to exist as such an entity it must also understand itself to be such an entity. The fetus fails to meet this high standard for the possession of a right to life.]
Reference: From Michael Tooley's "Abortion and Infanticide." This article originally appeared in Philosophy & Public Affairs in the Fall of 1972. It is included in the anthologies edited by Cohen and Baird. Another of Tooley's articles is included in the Feinberg anthology. These excerpts are taken from The Rights and Wrongs of Abortion edited by Cohen, p. 59-62.