Euphemism of the Year: Post-Birth Abortions

In response to Julian Savulescu’s defense of the publication of this short paper on infanticide.

Let me grant – controversially – that there are bad “arguments” on the world wide web. Did you really need to highlight those arguments in defending the publication of this piece? It seems like rather a bit of a strawman. Surely there are better arguments against the publication of the article (some are in this very discussion thread). Why respond to the garbage?

Frankly, there’s a bit of hyperbole here as well: “More than ever, proper academic discussion and freedom are under threat…”

Really? “More than ever…”? Come now, Mr. Savulescu. Surely you know history better than this. The web has transformed dissent-with-a-bullet into dissent-with-a-fallacy. At least I know a red herring made of straw will never kill me.

I would argue that you are wrong to claim the paper is original, which is the real reason that it should not have been published. Singer expressly considers maternal/family interests in “Practical Ethics — Taking Life: Human,” and he certainly was not the first utilitarian to do so.

There’s certainly nothing novel about the rest of the paper. If reminding us that infanticide is happening overseas is a reason to publish the paper, then it would seem that the journal’s audience has become the uninformed layperson – how standards have fallen! Did you really write that, Savulescu? I’m shocked that a writer as original as you would stoop to such a shabby argument in defense of such a cursory piece. Maybe the shift from author to editor…? No, no, I must not go there.

The paper’s provocative. It sparked interest in the journal. As a serious piece, however, it’s just way too short and undeveloped. I am an unpublished academic philosopher, so I have little to hang my hat on as far as denying anyone else their moment in print. However, I would confidently maintain that this is just not substantial enough to be worthy of publication. Less than three pages as an argument in favor of infanticide? No argument by the authors for their take on personhood, but instead merely a “We take ‘person’ to mean…” comment? “We take…”?! That’s a lazy device.

There’s more: No defense of using the concept of a person to adjudicate the abortion debate? No attempt to draw a non-arbitrary line between those non-persons who are merely sleeping and those who are in PVS states or are otherwise incompetent? The inexcusable use of the undergraduate’s favorite phrase “…many humans are not considered…” as a way to deflect responsibility for crafting an argument of one’s own?

The argument at the end of the “potential persons” section did interest me, however: its conclusion is to argue that while there is no obligation to preserve the life of this particular individual since it is not a person and we must therefore privilege the actual lives extant persons, there is an obligation to think about the totally non-existent lives of future generations because such people “will exist” (emphasis on “will”). So, this living thing in front of me exists, but not as a person. It can die because it’s not a person. But this future person that doesn’t exist can’t be harmed/killed because it will exist as a person (no, wait — I think it already exists as a future person). So as long as the newborn in front of me was one of the future persons that I thought about nine months ago before getting pregnant, then it can’t be harmed since it was going to exist as a person when I thought of it. Now, since this article has forced me to think about all future persons (whoever they may be), I can’t justify harming/killing any of them, since I would be killing persons. Therefore people not reading this article can kill any newborn (and maybe any sleeping philosophers), but those of us who have read it are doomed to preserve the lives of all future generations — after all, they’ll be persons. It makes perfect sense.

Now, is this engagement reasoned enough to pass peer review at JME?


Filed under: Philosophy, Politics, , , , ,

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