Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tribute to Moloch: Viragos and Violinists, Part 2

WE HAVE SEEN HOW JUDITH JARVIS THOMSON'S thought experiment of being caught by the Society of Music Lovers and forced to act as a human dialysis machine against one's will is an analogy that suffers deep differences from any pregnancy. The differences between the two scenarios--one real, one thought up--are so vast as to make the thought experiment worthless from the get go. But foregoing that problem--which is fatal to Thomson's argument--we can also look at the thought experiment itself and see that it does not even morally justify the intentional killing of the fetus. We may identify two clear moral disequivalencies between Thomson's thought experiment and a pregnancy. The first relates to legitimate self-defense. The second relates to the difference between direct killing and indirect killing.

Supposing one finds oneself tied to the violinist, what may the unjustly tied person do? Certainly, confronted with the injustice of having been kidnapped, assaulted, and forced into involuntary servitude justifies the use of some force in self-defense of one's rights. The question then becomes: what sort of response or force is legitimate or justified? It would seem that under the circumstances it is rather obvious that one could unplug oneself from the violinist. Of course, it is this hunch that Thomson recruits to analogize in the abortion situation. But an abortion is not analogous to unplugging oneself from the violinist. An abortion is analogous to shooting the violinist in the head: intentionally killing the violinist. It is far from apparent that one has the legitimate right to self-defense that would allow one to murder the famed violinist who, after all, is innocent of the plight one finds oneself in, since he is apparently the beneficiary of a crazed, fanatical group of music lovers and has not cooperated in the felonious activity that resulted in being used as a human dialysis machine. Even if he had tacitly or directly cooperated in the scheme, it is dubious that one is morally justified in shooting the violinist in the head. That, of course, is to commit a wrong to oust oneself from being wronged. Therefore, it would seem that Thomson's own highly-unlikely scenario does not justify abortion, but would argue against the direct, intentional killing that is involved in such practice. The moral dubiousness of directly killing the violinist becomes even less justifiable if one finds oneself in the situation, not as a result of another's wrong, but as a result of neglect or carelessness or even as a result of voluntary assumption. So even if the situation where one is the victim of unjust aggression, the response must be proportionate. In abortion the fetus is absolutely innocent of any unjust aggression against the mother, so it would justify even less force against the fetus. "[I]t is wrong to kill someone in order to escape physical inconvenience, whether that inconvenience lasts for a day or nine months." Oderberg, 26.

In fact, as Oderberg points out, what is involved in Thomson's situation and what is being justified in Thomson's scenario is a sort of "sublimated punishment," or perhaps better transferred punishment. "[W]hat is being advocated . . . is not self defence at all but a kind of sublimated punishment of a third party [the violinist=fetus] for an offence someone else has committed." It is, of course, morally offensive that an innocent party ought to be punished for the wrongful acts of another. And the intentional killing of that innocent party would be an entirely disproportionate response to the situation.

So Oderberg concludes:

Thomson's violinist case, then, rests upon an intuition that is eminently contestable. It is not at all obvious that your plight, being plugged into the violinist, allows you to kill him.

Oderberg, 27.

So the intentional killing of the violinist would be a disproportionate response to being hooked up to him, but does that mean one may not unplug oneself from the violinist even though one can foresee that it would probably result in his death? Using the principle of double effect to analyze the situation, Oderberg thinks not. While uplugging oneself from the violinist is itself a morally unobjectionable act, and though one may intend to unplug oneself, not as a means to kill the violinist but to remove oneself from the unjust physical imposition, there must be a proportionality between the good caused by the morally unobjectionable act and the indirect evil caused by the morally unobjectionable act. It is here that, in Oderberg's view, the analysis would fail. "Hence, you are not permitted to disconnect the tube, unpleasant through the prospect of your confinement must be--and this is really just an explanation of why your self-defensive acts must always be proportionate; in other words, the bad effects of your acts must always be proportionate to the good you are seeking to defend." Oderberg, 28.

It is, in summary, Oderberg's conclusion that Thomson "has not shown that a right to abortion can be grounded in a woman's right over her own body." Oderberg, 31. Indeed, rightfully analyzed, it would seem that Thomson's example (even ignoring the disanalogies of the thought experiment: see Tribute to Moloch: Viragos and Violinists, Part 1) does not justify abortion in the extreme case of rape, much less in those far-more-frequent situations where the woman's pregnancy is the result of her own negligence or where something far less than bodily integrity is at stake, and the good that is sought arises from desiring to extricate oneself from inconvenience, financial hardship, difficulties with the father, and so forth.

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