Don Marquis and Michael Tooley

Don Marquis (left) and Michael Tooley (right) on abortion and personhood.

According to Tooley, abortion is morally permissible: a fetus is not a person, so it cannot have a right to continued existence. To support his view, he defends a neo-Lockean account of personhood grounded in psychological continuity. Against Tooley, Marquis defends an animalistic view of personhood, and argues that most instances of abortion are wrong for the same reason that killing you or me would be wrong: an abortion deprives a fetus of a future of value.

Related works

by Marquis:
Abortion and the Beginning and End of Human Life” (2006)
A Defense of the Potential Future of Value Theory” (2002)
Why Abortion is Immoral” (1989)

by Tooley:
Abortion: Three Perspectives (2009)
Abortion and Infanticide” (1972)

See also:

Christopher Kaczor, The Ethics of Abortion (2010)
David Boonin, A Defense of Abortion (2002)
Baird and Rosenbaum (eds.), The Ethics of Abortion (2001)
Frances Kamm, Creation and Abortion (1992)
Alastair Norcross, “Killing, Abortion, and Contraception: A Reply to Marquis” (1990)
Judith Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion” (1971)


Filed under Applied Ethics, Reproductive Rights, Value Theory

2 Responses to Don Marquis and Michael Tooley

  1. Wes McMichael

    I thought Dr. Marquis’ thought experiment about the 8 year old boy was interesting. If I understand it correctly, he imagines that an 8 year old has some kind of terminal disease for which the only cure erases the Lockean person as defined by Dr. Tooley. The intuition is that we wouldn’t think the parents are guilty of murdering the boy, which seems to be what we would expect if Dr. Tooley’s view is correct.

    It certainly seems true that we wouldn’t think the parents guilty of murder, but perhaps are intuitions are clouded by the specifics (or lack thereof).

    Allow me to make one adjustment to the thought-experiment: Instead of simply wiping out the boys Lockean person (i.e. his memories, desires, etc.), the cure actually replaces them with different memories, desires, etc. (i.e. it replaces it with another Lockean person). Imagine that this takes place immediately.

    Now, let’s ignore the confusion of the child being taken home by people claiming to be his parents, but of whom he has no memories. Imagine, though, that the mother says to the boy, “Okay, tomorrow is piano camp; let’s get you packed up!” To this, the boy replies, “I don’t want to go to piano camp; I hate the piano; I want to go to football camp.” The mother says, “Look, you promised you’d go to piano camp. I have a video of it. Here, watch.” The boy watches and then replies, “But that wasn’t me.” The mother, a student of Dr. Marquis’, says, “That’s not true son. You are your biological organism, and, clearly, your biological organism said this.” The boy acknowledges that the image on the video is his biological organism, but still insists that it was not him.

    I have a strong intuition that what the boy says is true and what the mother says is false. I take it that Dr. Marquis must be committed to saying that what the boy says is false and what the mother says is true.

    If the boy is right, though, we can, rightfully, ask, “What became of the boy in the video?” If the boy in the video is not the boy watching the video, then we can only conclude that the boy in the video has ceased to exist. A new boy now possesses the biological organism once possessed by the original boy. So, maybe our intuition about what the parents did was off (i.e. if we believed they were not guilty of murdering the boy before).

    Does anyone else share this intuition?

  2. Sarah Eade

    I share your intuition, Wes. The old person is gone and a new person arises. But I think there is an intuition that makes us think that the parents did not simply murder their old son as they opt for the new son in order to eradicate some physical problem(s). I think the causal and biological connection between the two boys is important in this. So the new boy still has the same DNA and many of the same body parts, presumably. In addition, he will now find himself in a very similar environment with the same parents, etc. So this is more akin to cloning a person than simply killing a person and creating a (wholly) new one. What will likely happen to the new boy is that he will do and say the same kinds of things the old one did. This makes me feel like the parents are somewhat less than killers because they are not simply (selfishly) trading up- a lame boy for a fresh new one (this would make it seem like they valued their old boy’s personality less than a healthy son and make me feel like they are selfishly ending the one life in order to get a healthy son out of it). Rather, they are perhaps betting on getting something like a better, happier version of their old son back. This may be why intuitions are somewhat split with a move like this. We don’t quite want to call them killers as we would a person who, say, kills her husband in order to get a new one. However, we certainly do not want to say that someone who has none of the same memories and intentions as someone else is the same person except maybe in name. So I think this thought experiment plays on a tough situation you might imagine parents in so that we feel tugged in the direction of identity through organism.