The standard pro-life argument against the legalization of abortion is based on the premise that fetuses are persons, combined with the widely held view that it should be illegal to kill persons. Since abortions kill fetuses, it follows that abortions should be illegal. Roughly speaking, the standard pro-life argument can be given in syllogistic form as follows: (1) Fetuses are persons. (2) It should be illegal to kill a person. (3) Abortion kills a fetus. (4) [from 1 and 2] Therefore, it should be illegal to kill a fetus. (5) [from 3 and 4] Therefore, abortion should be illegal. I think a good argument can be given to show that premise 2 is false in the case of abortion. By “good” argument, I mean an argument based on principles that cohere with our shared considered intuitions better than principles supporting any pro-life conclusion. More specifically, I believe that premise 2 can be shown to be false from intuitions that even most pro-lifers hold.
Why I’m not a utilitarian
Utilitarianism, like most consequentialist moral theories, can be broken down into two broad components: (1) a theory of goodness, and (2) a theory of how the goodness of the outcome of an act relates to that act’s rightness. Utilitarianism says that (1) goodness is constituted by the total summation of the pleasure over pain of all sentient creatures where each creature is given equal consideration, and (2) an act is right if and only if the actual consequences of that act have more goodness than any other alternative. Further, I believe that a theory of goodness can be broken down into two subcomponents: (1a) a theory of individual goodness, and (1b) a theory of how the goodness of individuals relates to the collective goodness (e.g. using some sort of aggregation function). Utilitarianism says that (1a) individual goodness is constituted by the total amount of pleasure and pain for that individual, and (1b) the collective goodness is simply the total summation of every sentient creature’s individual goodness. In this post, I will criticize each of these three components of utilitarianism. These criticisms, I believe, provide sufficient reason to reject utilitarianism.
Why consequentialism should be rejected
Following the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP), consequentialism is a moral theory that states that the moral rightness of an act depends only on the goodness of certain consequences associated with the act. In other words, once we know about the goodness of certain consequences associated with an act, we have all the information necessary to determine the moral rightness of the act. I believe that consequentialists are incorrect to state that facts about the “right” depend only on facts about the “good”. While the goodness of consequences is certainly relevant to determining the rightness of an action, I will argue in this post that there are additional features that can be relevant other than the goodness of any consequences associated with the action.