Utilitarianism and Kantianism applied to abortion.

Utilitarianism and Kantianism applied to abortion.
Quiet Ramblings
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Posted Nov 15, 2009 - 11:45 PM:
Subject: Utilitarianism and Kantianism applied to abortion.
I am taking an Honors Philosophy course in Ethics. Half of the students in my class are not doing very well; and they decided to start a study group. I am doing perfectly fine in the class myself; however, someone requested that I be present. I have a long midday break and I was curious to see what others had to say about the subjects, because I think exchanging ideas and brainstorming never hurt anybody. Nonetheless, we didn’t get much studying done, as the entire thing consisted of children bickering about how dumb they thought the course was.
Thus, I thought I might have some better luck at an actual discussion here.

The discussion topic was abortion, and how we might evaluate it from a Utilitarian and a Kantian approach.

The best I can come up with off the top of my head is that the Kantian need for duty would call for a mother to protect her child at all costs, in addition to the duty to uphold the sanctity of human life. As far as Utilitarianism goes, If you are aiming for the greatest amount of happiness, than you don’t want a child to be born into a life that will be full of suffering; and ultimately if the procedure is done early enough, than the child has not yet developed a capacity to feel pain, while meanwhile the mother is very much alive, and might very well suffer as a result of having the child.


(This is not a trick question. Yes, I am well aware of the debate regarding if the theories ever actually solve anything, and how nothing can ever really be settled or resolved. Yet, that is not the point of the query)

What does everyone think? And can they come up with any decent pro-choice arguments for both theories?
Cuthbert
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Posted Nov 16, 2009 - 5:08 AM:

Members of the Kantian Kingdom of Ends are rational beings with free will. That doesn't include any fetus. So we don't owe them any duties and they have no rights, e.g. right to life.

You gave a pretty good pro-choice argument for the utiliarian side.

An anti-choice utilitarian view could be that two people with 40 quanta of happiness each is a better result than one person with 75. So even a relatively cheerless life for mother and child is better than one of those lives foregone for the sake of the other. The more babies, the more opportunities to increase happiness.
oriental67
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Posted Nov 16, 2009 - 5:19 AM:

For the Kantian route, you could argue that the mother is forced to give birth to a child. Thus, the mother is a means while the child is the end, thus breaking Kant's Categorical Imperative of never treating humanity as a mere means.
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Posted Nov 16, 2009 - 9:35 AM:

Cuthbert wrote:
An anti-choice utilitarian view could be that two people with 40 quanta of happiness each is a better result than one person with 75. So even a relatively cheerless life for mother and child is better than one of those lives foregone for the sake of the other. The more babies, the more opportunities to increase happiness.
But that version of utilitarianism would never be able to survive an encounter with Parfit's repugnant conclusion objections, so we'll have to embrace a version of utilitarianism that allows one person with a happiness rating of 75 hedons outweighs two people with 40 hedons each. Luckily, the basic formulation of utilitarianism -- which tells us that an action is right and good if it promotes the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people -- is really quite vague. Parfit's arguments show us that the utilitarian must say that what we are required to do is maximize average happiness first and total happiness second.
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Posted Nov 17, 2009 - 1:29 PM:

There are two conflicting Kantian duties:

1. Protect the life of the unborn regardless of its immature level of development. and regardless of the consequences for the mother. 2. Support the reproductive rights of the woman if she chooses to terminate her pregnancy.

In the case of utilitarian values we need to decide if the happiness of the post-born trumps the potential happiness of the unborn. Does the actual happiness of a living person exceed the non-existent but potential happiness of embryos?
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Posted Nov 18, 2009 - 7:06 AM:

jsidelko wrote:
There are two conflicting Kantian duties:

1. Protect the life of the unborn regardless of its immature level of development. and regardless of the consequences for the mother.
2. Support the reproductive rights of the woman if she chooses to terminate her pregnancy.
Given that a large part of the debate over abortion rests on the question of whether or not a conceptus is a person, how do you plan on establishing the first putative duty without begging the question? I am particularly interested in how you plan on getting around Cuthbert’s observation that only free, rational beings are members of Kant’s Kingdom of Ends.

jsidelko wrote:
In the case of utilitarian values we need to decide if the happiness of the post-born trumps the potential happiness of the unborn. Does the actual happiness of a living person exceed the non-existent but potential happiness of embryos?
A utilitarian is definitely going to have to compare worlds in which the conceptus develops into an actual person against those in which it is aborted. But given that humans are imperfect calculators, utilitarians must distinguish between what their theory obligates people to do and what they can reasonably ask of us. (Kantians have to do this as well, of course, as they must also accommodate the fact that humans are not perfect reasoners.) This may be enough to at least secure abortion rights in free societies.
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0 of 1 people found this post helpful
Posted Nov 18, 2009 - 12:39 PM:

Quiet Ramblings wrote:
I am taking an Honors Philosophy course in Ethics. Half of the students in my class are not doing very well; and they decided to start a study group. I am doing perfectly fine in the class myself; however, someone requested that I be present. I have a long midday break and I was curious to see what others had to say about the subjects, because I think exchanging ideas and brainstorming never hurt anybody. Nonetheless, we didn’t get much studying done, as the entire thing consisted of children bickering about how dumb they thought the course was.
Thus, I thought I might have some better luck at an actual discussion here.

The discussion topic was abortion, and how we might evaluate it from a Utilitarian and a Kantian approach.

The best I can come up with off the top of my head is that the Kantian need for duty would call for a mother to protect her child at all costs, in addition to the duty to uphold the sanctity of human life. As far as Utilitarianism goes, If you are aiming for the greatest amount of happiness, than you don’t want a child to be born into a life that will be full of suffering; and ultimately if the procedure is done early enough, than the child has not yet developed a capacity to feel pain, while meanwhile the mother is very much alive, and might very well suffer as a result of having the child.


(This is not a trick question. Yes, I am well aware of the debate regarding if the theories ever actually solve anything, and how nothing can ever really be settled or resolved. Yet, that is not the point of the query)

What does everyone think? And can they come up with any decent pro-choice arguments for both theories?


I would say that Deontology would make it an imperfect duty for the mother to have the child, since if you expanded it universally and created the maxim of all mothers having abortions, it would cause a contradiction in the will by literally making the human species extinct.

For the fellow who said that Kant's humanity formulation of the categorical imperative only applies to completely rational human beings, does he believe it excludes newborn infants who are obviously alive but not yet rational? Maybe Kant believes this, but if he does it is a rediculous belief.

I don't even know what utilitarianism says - you would need to have a knowledge of different future realities and how much happiness exists in either of them to make a judgement. And even if you knew that, it would still be a rediculous philosophy, appealing to man's most basic primal desires as being the basis for right and wrong.
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