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Humanities LibreTexts

8: Discussion Questions

  • Page ID
    35875
  • Better and worse thinking: a goal of this book is, among other things, to try to help improve the quality of discussion on the topic of abortion.

    1. What would it look like to think about abortion in better ways? What would it look like to think about abortion in worse ways? What are some examples of each? Who are some people (or arguments) you’ve encountered that represent “better” and “worse” thinking in the ways you’ve described? Where are you and your thinking on these concerns, and how might you improve, if you should?
    2. What knowledge, skills, and attitudes and anything else are apt to make someone a better thinker on this topic? What are apt to make someone a worse thinker about abortion? Can people gain these attitudes or skills? How?

    Knowing others’ views: abortion is a topic where people tend to not know or understand the views of people who they disagree with.

    1. Why are people often unfamiliar with what other people think about these topics and their reasons?
    2. If you have views on the topic of abortion, do you know what people with different views from you think and say about that topic? If you told them, “Here is what you think, and here are your reasons for thinking it” would they agree that you understand their view? (Try this, perhaps at home!). If your answer is “no,” is this a problem? Why or why not?

    Methods and techniques: the authors suggest that “critical thinking” involves carefully defining words, carefully and fully stating arguments, and thinking about what best explains things, such as some common moral beliefs, to be in a better position to decide whether we should accept some claim or not.

    1. Are these useful methods? If so, why?
    2. What other techniques or skills or perspectives are useful for critical thinking, especially about abortion?
    3. What can be done to encourage the use of these types of methods in thinking?

    Definitions: this essay begins by reviewing three definitions of abortion and argues that one definition is best, compared to the others.

    1. Which definition of abortion do you think is best? Why?
    2. Later, in the discussion of Judith Thomson and the right to life, the essay presents a fourth definition: is that a good or bad definition?
    3. Are there other definitions of abortion worth discussing? Are any other definitions good definitions? Are any bad? Why?

    Question-begging arguments: this type of arguments involve circular reasoning and assuming the conclusion that the person is trying to argue for. This type of argument is common on all “sides” of the issue, as well as other issues.

    1. Why are question-begging arguments so common? Why do people give them? Why don’t they realize that these arguments are poor?
    2. What are some other question-begging arguments given about abortion, beyond those discussed in this essay?
    3. How can question-begging arguments be avoided?

    “Everyday arguments”: this essay reviews many common arguments, given by many people, on the topic, on all sides, and argues that these aren’t good arguments.

    1. What are some other common arguments (ideally, not question-begging arguments) that often hear about abortion? Are they good or bad arguments? Why?
    2. If these arguments are indeed bad, why do people keep giving them? What can be done to help people realize this and “move on” to better arguments?

    Abortion and religion: people’s views on abortion are sometimes thought of as determined by their religious views.

    1. Is this true, meaning if you are of some religion, must you accept a certain view about abortion? Or does each major religion usually have some “internal” disagreements on this issue? How do members of these religions explain this disagreement? Are their explanations convincing?
    2. Are there any problems “linking” the topic of abortion with any particular religious perspectives, morally or legally?
    3. Are there any benefits in “linking” the topic of abortion with any religious perspectives, morally or legally?

    “Philosophers’ arguments”: this essay discusses the main arguments presented by philosophers on the issue. These are the typical arguments addressed in an Introduction to Ethics, Contemporary Moral Problems or even Introduction to Philosophy or Critical Thinking course.

    1. Which of the arguments that this essay reports that philosophers tend to focus on are familiar to you, and which are unfamiliar, if any?
    2. Are there any that you don’t think you really understand and have questions about?
    3. Which seem to be good arguments, and what seem to be bad arguments? Why?
    4. Are there any other arguments that you think are important but were overlooked? If so, are these arguments good or bad arguments? Why?

    “Persons” and “personhood”: many people assume that the question of whether fetuses are persons is the core moral and legal concern about abortion.

    1. If you asked other people what “persons” are, how would they probably answer? Are their answers good answers?
    2. What are the strengths to the proposal about what persons are, what the “essence” of personhood is, that is presented in this essay? What are the weaknesses, if any?
    3. This definition of persons is developed from clear cases of persons or beings that exhibit personhood. Suppose someone says they think embryos and early fetuses clearly are persons and so they will build that into their definition of personhood. Is there any problem with that claim and maneuver? That is, are there any difficulties or challenges in making that claim, if the goal is to determine what, in general, persons are? (Is this claim question-begging? Does this claim help explain why we are persons? Does it help us understand why personified beings exhibit personhood?)
    4. When, if ever, does someone’s “potential” give them rights to something?
    5. This is discussed below, but does being a person give you a right to another person’s body, or make it such they must help you, irrespective of the cost to themselves (and what costs are too high, if any?)? In short, how important is fetuses being persons, or not being persons, to the overall debate about abortion?

    “Essences” and “kinds”: some argue that us, say readers of this essay, and embryos and fetuses are the same “kind” of being, that we have the same “essence,” essential characteristics or “nature.” Your essence is what it is about you such that, if you “lost” it, you would cease to exist: if you have socks on now, this fact about you is not part of your essence, since you continue to exist even if you took your socks off!

    1. What is your essence? What qualities or characteristics make you you, and so if these were lost, you would no longer exist? How do you figure this out?
    2. What, if anything, is the essence of human fetuses? How can you tell? How many answers are there to the question, “What kind of beings are fetuses?”
    3. Do us and fetuses have the same essence? Are we the same kind of being? Are we also different kinds of beings? Which “kind” of being(s) determines how something or someone should be treated?
    4. If you were to die tomorrow, is there anything about “you” or your “essence” that remains? (possibly your reputation, legacy, in other people’s memories, etc.?) Is this the case for a fetus?

    The “right to life”: most people believe they have the right to life, or are otherwise wrong to kill (unless there is a very, very good reason to do so, like an exceptional circumstance that they hope to never be in!).

    1. If you asked people why they have the right to life, how would they probably answer? Are their answers good answers?
    2. What are the strengths to the proposal(s) about what the right to life is, and why we have it, are that are presented in this essay? What are the weaknesses, if any?
    3. When, if ever, would someone have a right to someone else's body? How could they come to have that right? Could someone legitimately give someone else that right? If so, how?

    Factual information: this essay provides some brief factual information about fetal development and when and why abortions occur.

    1. How would the authors’ arguments change if this information is wildly incorrect? For example, what if fetuses become conscious far, far earlier than current evidence suggests they do? What if most abortions happened far, far later than they do?
    2. What if all abortions were done very early in pregnancy, not just most of them? Would that change the nature of the debate in any ways?
    3. Suppose someone thought this information was incorrect and the sources unreliable: how could they try to demonstrate this? What are apt to be the most reliable and accurate sources on these factual matters? If sources disagree on these factual matters, how do we try to figure out which is correct?

    The law: abortion is both an ethical or moral issue, and a question about what laws we should have, what actions should be criminalized, and what we should allow as a society.

    1. Some wrong actions are, and should be, illegal. Other wrong actions are not illegal and should not be illegal. When, in general, should actions be illegal and criminalized? When, in general, should an action be legal?
    2. The authors argue that if later abortions were illegal, that could have bad effects for women who need later abortions for medical reasons. Do you agree? Why or why not? How likely is this potential problem? Do you see any way to make any abortions illegal without having this result?
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