This is How Not to Defend Abortion

I’m currently at work on1 a paper responding to Judy Thomson’s A Defense of Abortion. No doubt a lot of you are in the same position I was in until this week: you know about the famous violinist thought experiment, but you haven’t read the whole paper. The thought experiment itself has what I think are some pretty clear problems, but I went into the full work hoping that the main thesis could still be rescued from those.

Sadly, this just reads like a total mess to me. For one thing, the thing with the violinist is the most relevant thought experiment, and the way they pile on top of each other and the metaphors bleed and mix together makes me think of what would happen if Thomas Friedman had a PhD in analytic philosophy. But the biggest issue for me is this recurring confusion–and conflation–of what one has the right to do, and what it would be right for one to do. It gets sorted out a little at the end, but I can’t help but feel like Thomson sacrificed a lot of coherence and conceded way too much to the anti-abortion position in a basically noble but misguided attempt to contribute something new and interesting to the debate.

Not to rehash this old debate,2 but it’s papers like this that make me sort of understand where Dylan’s coming from on political philosophy. I disagree with him for the most part, but it’s certainly true that stuff like “A Defense of Abortion” provides neither enlightenment nor guidance. Thomson ends up at roughly the same prescriptive conclusion I do, but builds up to it using a series of premises and arguments that I find wholly unconvincing.

1Okay, so “blogging to put off getting to work on” would probably be more accurate.

2Translation: “To rehash this old debate…”

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