Discussion Questions on Mary Anne Warren, "On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion"

1. What does Warren take Thomson's violinist analogy to show? Why does she think it is faulty? How does she modify it? Does the modification still show that abortion ought to be morally permissible?

2. Warren states the "traditional" anti-abortion argument (A) as follows:

  • 1. It is wrong to kill innocent human beings
  • 2. Fetuses are innocent human beings,
  • 3. It is wrong to kill fetuses

and she maintains this argument is "fallacious." Presumably this means that the argument looks valid, but in fact is not valid.

a. How can she say this? Isn't it obvious that argument A is valid?

b. She maintains that "human being" is being used in two senses. What are those two senses?

c. Distinguishing those two senses, state two valid arguments that can be made for the conclusion that it is wrong to kill fetuses.

d. Why won't either of these arguments serve in place of argument A?

3. What is the point of the thought experiment involving a space traveller trying to decide whether to treat some race of aliens as "persons" or not? What does it mean to maintain that an alien is (or is not) a person? How would it matter?

4. Warren takes it as obvious that a being that satisfied none of her five criteria would not count as a person. Why? Do you agree? Can you think of examples of human beings other than fetuses or embryos who would not count as persons according to this necessary condition? Does it follow from X is not a person that it is morally permissible to kill X.

5. Why, in Warren's view is it irrelevant whether a fetus is genetically human, whether it has recognizably human facial and other physical features, whether it has detectable brain activity, or whether it is viable?

6. Warren maintains that non-human mammals and even some fish are more similar to persons than are even developed fetuses. Do you agree? How would you go about showing that she is wrong? Does it follow from her view that it is worse to kill an adult mouse than even a developed fetus? Does it follow from her view that it is worse to kill a mouse than a human infant?

7. Warren asks us to consider the following thought experiment. Aliens are going to kill one of us or merely imprison one of us in order to generate hundreds of thousands of clones who will be well treated and who will live good lives. Is it morally permissible for the person who is going to be killed or imprisoned to escape? She thinks that the answer is an obvious yes. This is the main premise in what she takes to be an argument for the conclusion that "one actual person's right to liberty [or life] outweights wahtever right to life even a hundred thousand potential people have." Do you accept her premise? How exactly should this argument be formulated? When you formulate it as a valid argument, what other premises does it require? Are those premises true?