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1 WHAT S WRONG WITH THE FUTURE OF VALUE ARGUMENT (1/8/2015) A. WHAT THE FUTURE OF VALUE ARGUMENT IS According to the future of value argument, what makes it wrong to kill those postnatal human beings we all believe it is wrong to kill is that killing them deprives them of their futures of value. 1 Fetuses have futures of value. Therefore, it is wrong to kill fetuses. Abortion kills fetuses. Therefore, abortion is morally wrong. What is a future of value? Consider, for example, a typical person who is 50 years old. There are data concerning the median life expectancy of 50 year olds. The vast majority of people over the age of 50 value, on balance, the experiences that will constitute the remainder of their lives. Talk of the future of value of a typical 50 year old is based on data concerning longevity and on what humans past the age of 50 actually do value. Considerations of this kind allow us to talk of the futures of value, not only of 50 year olds, but of the vast majority of human beings at different ages. Therefore, we can understand a future of value of a human being in the following way. An individual human being s future of value at some time consists of whatever would make a later stage of that same human being s life valuable to her at that future stage. This is based on our extensive knowledge of the nature of biological organisms of the species Homo sapiens 2. Sometimes a human is deprived of her future of value. She can be killed by another. She can commit suicide and deprive herself of a future of value. She can kill herself, not because of what she intends, but because she drove too fast or too carelessly. Cancer can deprive her of her future of value. We believe that (almost always) premature 1

2 death is a grave misfortune for the individual who dies. Of what does this grave misfortune consist? It consists of the loss of the valuable future life of the individual whose life is ended. We think it is wrong to cause another to suffer a grave misfortune. If killing a human being is wrong because it deprives her of a future of value, then because fetuses have futures of value, abortion is wrong. Indeed, you were once a fetus and the future of that fetus was exactly like your past and your post-natal future. Here s a slogan. Fetuses have futures like ours, (FLO s). This account of the wrongness of abortion consists of an account of what makes ending the life of a typical post-natal human wrong plus a trivial inference. Having a future of value is (almost) a necessary and sufficient condition for having the right to life. It is not always a sufficient condition because the wrong-making feature of depriving someone of a future of value may be overridden in exceptional circumstances. Think of killing in self-defense or killing in a just war or killing in cases in which capital punishment is justified (if ever). (It is important to notice that the future of value considerations in these hard cases are not cancelled, but are overridden by even more powerful moral considerations. Going to war or killing in self-defense or capital punishment should not be easy to justify.) It is not a fully necessary condition either. Although ending the lives of persons who no longer have, or never had, futures of value is in general justified, consent of the person who used to have a future of value may be morally relevant. The future of value account makes the totally uncontroversial assumption that my autonomy rights never are sufficient to justify killing you. The future of value account also makes the far more controversial assumption that Judy Thomson s famous defense of abortion is unsound. 3 2

3 B. WHAT S WRONG WITH THE FUTURE OF VALUE ARGUMENT The future of value argument is deeply flawed. The flaw can be discovered by analysis of the following passage from Why Abortion is Immoral. In the second place, the claim that the loss of one s future is the wrong-making feature of one s being killed entails the possibility that the futures of some actual nonhuman mammals on our own planet are sufficiently like ours that it is seriously wrong to kill them also. Whether some animals do have the same right to life as human beings depends on adding to the account of the wrongness of killing some additional account of just what it is about my future or the futures of other adult human beings which makes it wrong to kill us. No such additional account will be offered in this essay. 4 The history of the philosophical discussion of the ethics of abortion reveals the need for such a passage. The best traditional argument for abortion s wrongness is the following syllogism in Barbara. All innocent human beings have the right to life. All human fetuses are innocent human beings. Therefore, all human fetuses have the right to life. This syllogism is clearly valid. The second premise is, except for the trivial claim about innocence, an uncontroversial truth of biology. The first premise is a generally accepted moral truth. Therefore, this syllogism seems to give you all you need to prove that abortion is immoral. Certainly many pro-life writers think so 5. Peter Singer has shown that this proof is unsound. First, human being is just a biological category. We think that biological categories like race and sex are morally 3

4 irrelevant. This being the case, why is it obvious that the biological category of human being is morally significant? Second, Singer pointed out that we really don t believe that it is seriously wrong intentionally to end the lives of all innocent human beings. We don t really believe that it is wrong to end the lives of anencephalic babies or brain dead human beings or human beings in irreversible vegetative state. If we can make some exceptions to the major premise of the pro-life syllogism, why not make an exception for fetuses? Further argument is needed. Thus Singer offered two reasons why the traditional pro-life syllogism is not nearly as compelling as its proponents believe. 6 As a result of critiques like Singer s, philosophers who believe that the ethics of abortion depends on whether or not fetuses have the right to life have based the right to life on characteristics other than being human, such as being a person 7, or having the concept of self as a continuing subject of experience 8, or having the basic natural capacity for rational agency 9, or having a future of value 10 in order to avoid ultimate appeal to a merely biological category. As a result, all such accounts of the ethics of abortion must say something about the implications of the account for individuals other than humans. This is why the above quoted paragraph is important. The need for the future of value proponent to come to grips with the ethics of killing non-humans can be illuminated in another way. Consider, as an example of a non-human mammal, a squirrel. A squirrel enjoys chasing around with other squirrels and eating nuts. Can we infer that squirrels have futures of value? One can t deal with this question now by saying that squirrels don t have futures of value because they are not human. So does the future of value argument imply that it is wrong to kill squirrels? 4

5 After all their future lives will contain experiences they will value if they continue to live. Disaster looms. Can one be agnostic about this issue? Here s a strategy. One might say that squirrels either have futures of value sufficiently like ours to make killing squirrels wrong or they do not. If they do, then it will be wrong to kill both squirrels and (human) fetuses. If they don t, then because (human) fetuses have futures parts of which are exactly like ours if they are allowed to live, the FLO account entails it is wrong to kill them. Therefore, whatever you wish to say about squirrels, abortions of humans are wrong. Although tempting, this finesse is unsuccessful. Our present concern is not what the future of value argument implies concerning abortion, but with the acceptability of the future of value account itself. If the future of value view can be construed in such a way that it makes, not only killing human fetuses, but also killing squirrels wrong, then we have good reason to be skeptical of it. Look at this another way. Squirrels will enjoy their lives tomorrow if they are not killed today. Therefore, squirrels have futures of value. If having a future of value is what makes killing wrong, then it is wrong to kill squirrels. Surely (to say the least!) this implication counts against the acceptability of the future of value argument. The plausibility of any account of the wrongness of killing should rest, in large part, on its ability to deal with cases in which we all believe that killing clearly is wrong and cases in which we do not believe that it is. Some people believe that it is wrong to kill human beings just because they are human beings. Other people believe that it is wrong to kill (most) human beings because (most) human beings are persons. Whatever their other virtues (or lack of them) both of these accounts purport to explain the common 5

6 belief that post natal human beings have the right to life and squirrels do not. Although the future of value view is supposed to provide both the necessary and sufficient conditions (subject to some overriding exceptions) for the wrongness of killing, it actually does not. This looks like a good reason for rejecting the future of value view. Notice also that there are problems internal to the notion of a future like ours. Like is a vague predicate. In what respects must a future be like the future of a standard postnatal human being in order to count as a future like ours? As long as the discussion is limited to a discussion of (human!!) abortion ethics, such an answer does not appear to be necessary. We that is, those of us listening to this paper have the sorts of futures of value that make it wrong to kill us. The futures of the fetuses who were earlier stages of us contained everything that ours contain (and more). (I assume we are biological organisms!) If our futures are sufficiently valuable to make it wrong to kill us, then the futures of those fetuses also are sufficiently valuable to make it wrong to kill them. It is unnecessary, for the purposes of this argument, to specify the features a future must have so that it is a future like ours. Nevertheless, the squirrel issue arises again. Even if one grants that the arguments for the future of value view show that the kinds of futures of value possessed by human beings at any age are sufficient to make it wrong to kill them, why not say that squirrels have futures of value enough like ours such that it is wrong to kill them? Because the future of value view is supposed to provide (almost) a sufficient condition for the wrongness of killing there seems to be a problem with the future of value theory. The future of value argument suffers from even worse problems. Recall that the conclusion of the future of value argument is that depriving someone of a future of value 6

7 is what makes killing wrong. This claim was based on the fact that killing a human being greatly harms someone and causing a human being a great harm is what makes killing wrong. Notice however, that one can greatly harm one s flower garden by not watering it. It certainly does not follow that one has thereby wronged one s flower garden. Therefore, causing great harm to an individual does not imply that one has greatly wronged that individual. 11 The reason that it seems easy to make the inference from great harms to great wrongs is that, in the case of humans, that move seems permissible. Isn t it plainly wrong to harm another human being? The trouble with this inference is that what renders plausible the inference from harm to wrong is the category of human being. But if, as Singer s critique shows, the category of human is not, on its own, morally relevant, this inference is unsound. Therefore, a non-sequitur is buried deep in the heart of the future of value argument. The basic difficulty with the future of value argument can be seen from another perspective. The contraception objection has been a common objection to the future of value argument. This is the objection that if the future of value argument implies that abortion is immoral, then it also implies that contraception is immoral. But contraception is plainly not immoral. Therefore, there must be something wrong with the future of value argument. Notice that this objection is, basically, that the scope of the future of value argument is too broad to be credible. 12 The squirrel difficulty is a first cousin of the contraception objection. This objection is that if it is wrong to end the life of a human fetus because it has a future of value, then it is wrong to end the life of a squirrel because it has a future of value. It follows that the scope of the future of value argument is too broad to be credible. 7

8 Squirrel considerations show that the future of value argument makes too much killing wrong. Here is a blunt account of the difficulty. We want to have an account of what makes it wrong to kill us. If squirrels don t have the right to life, then having a future like ours or having a future of value is not sufficient to make killing wrong. But a central claim of the future of value argument is that having a future like ours and having a future of value is sufficient to make killing wrong. This is a blatant contradiction. It follows that the future of value analysis is not only false, but it is necessarily false. An analysis cannot get more deeply flawed than this. C. CAN THE FUTURE OF VALUE ARGUMENT BE REPAIRED? Can the future of value argument be repaired, or must it be cast to the flames? A candidate for help can be found in the writings of those who defend abortion choice. Here s a very popular pro-choice view. Personhood consists in the immediately exercisable capacity to exhibit at least some of the following: evidence of (sophisticated?) consciousness, reasoning skills, self-motivated activity, the capacity to communicate in a fairly sophisticated way and a concept of self as a continuing subject of experience. (Some defenders of choice may wish to make minor adjustments to this list of features.) The basis for our right to life is that we are persons and all other animals (except, perhaps, some primates) are not. It plainly does not follow that potential personhood of fetuses is a sufficient basis for their right to life. Therefore, ending a fetal life is morally permissible. 13 Many people have found this argument strategy very persuasive. 8

9 Why? I presume that s because most of us believe that the life of a person has far greater value than the life of someone who is not a person and that this judgment accounts for our view that killing post-natal human beings is wrong and killing nonhumans is not. 14 Does this popular belief entail the view that only persons (as defined in the previous paragraph) have the right to life? Actually it does not. Two views are compatible with that popular belief: (1) All and only persons have the right to life. (2) The life of a person is of such great value that the harm of someone being deprived of it is sufficient to make it wrong to end the life of that individual. Should we adopt (1) or (2)? Both views are based on the recognition that the life of a person has vastly more value than the life of a non-person. So why favor (1)? One might argue that being a person just means having a right to life. 15 The problem with this argument is that the equivocation on person is obvious. 16 One might argue (with Kant) that only persons have an autonomous will to live and that autonomy is the very foundation of morality. The problem with this argument is that it does not account for the right to life of young children or the suicidal. Such considerations suggest that our belief in the far greater value of persons supports (2). But (2) not only incorporates the view that the life of a person is of far greater value than the life of a non-person, but it is identical to the future of value view restricted to those future lives that are characterized as the lives of persons. Furthermore, it incorporates those considerations that led us to the future of value view in the first place: Persons facing premature death actually regard the loss of their personal future lives as their misfortunes. This understanding [unlike (1)] incorporates our view that a premature death is a great harm to one who dies. It can be 9

10 the foundation of an account of the wrongness of killing. We can call the view that emerges from these considerations the p-future of value view. This vindicates, not, strictly speaking, the future of value argument, but its first cousin. 1 Marquis D. Why Abortion is Immoral J Philos 1989; 86: Marquis D. Abortion and Human Nature J Med Ethics : Thomson J. A defense of abortion Phil and Pub Affairs, : I think this assumption can be defended, but that is another essay. 4 Marquis, op. cit Kaczor C. The Ethics of Abortion: Women s Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice, New York: Routledge, Singer, P. Practical Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) 3 rd. ed Ch. 4 and 6. 7 Warren, M. A. On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion, The Monist 57(1973) Tooley, M. Abortion and Infanticide Philosophy and Public Affairs 2(1972) Lee, P. and George, R. Body-Self Dualism in Contemporary Ethics and Politics Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Marquis, D. op. cit. 11 I thank Liz Harman and Melinda Roberts for pressing me concerning this. 12 Norcross A. Killing, Abortion and Contraception: A Reply to Marquis, Journal of Philosophy 97, no 5 (1990) is a nice account of this objection. Notice that a future of value is a potentiality. Sperm and UFO (unfertilized ovum) lack the nature to underwrite the appropriate potentiality. Therefore, the contraception objection is unsound. 13 Warren, M. A. op. cit. 14 Think of Mill s famous remark that It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. J. S. Mill Utilitarianism Indianapolis: Hackett, Sher ed Tooley, M. op. cit. p Tooley was not guilty of this equivocation. 10

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