Midterm Examination Answers

General Directions: Read the directions carefully before you begin writing. Although your first responsibility is to answer precisely the question that is asked, you should be sure to make references to points in lecture and especially in the readings where they are relevant. You should spend about 20 minutes on part I, 20 minutes on part II, and 30 minutes on part III.

Part I: Logic (20 minutes, 32 points, 4 points each)

State whether each of the following claims is correct or incorrect. When claims are incorrect, give a counterexample or explain why the claim is incorrect. When claims are correct, explain why they are correct. Write your answers directly on this page.

One point for giving the right answer, and full credit (4 points) if one gives a clear counterexample or a sensible justification for the answer that has no flaws. Wrong answers could garner as many as three points, but in most cases it will be difficult to give an intelligent argument for the wrong conclusion. Many wrong answers will get zero points. Many right answers will get the full four points, but there will be various specific mistakes in explanations or counterexamples and many right answers will get fewer than four points.

1. An argument is invalid if its premises are false.

Incorrect. example: All teachers have beards. D.H. is a teacher. thus D.H. has a beard.

2. A rationally persuasive argument must be sound.

Incorrect. An argument with false premises can be rationally persuasive. Think about arguments based on misleading data

3. An argument is unsound if its premises are debatable.

Incorrect. What matters is whether the premises are all true. Consider the arguments:
A. 1. Plants and animals evolved. therefore 2. Plants and animals evolved.
B 1. Plants and animals did not evolve. therefore 2. Plants and animals did not evolve.
One of these arguments must be sound.

4. If the conclusion of an argument follows logically from its premises, and you believe its premises, then the argument is sound.

Incorrect. Believing doesn't make it so. If somebody argues 1. D.H. will give everybody an A, therefore 2. D.H. will give everybody an A and believes the premise, then they will believe the conclusion, but believing doesn't necessarily make it so, and the conclusion can be false all the same. And if the conclusion is false the argument cannot be sound.

5. A sound argument cannot have a false conclusion.

true. Since the conclusion follows logically from the premises and the premises are all true, it is not logically possible for the conclusion to be false.

6. Some arguments are partly sound and partly unsound.

Incorrect. Soundness does not come in degrees. Either the conclusion follows or it does not. Either the premises are all true, or one of them is false. (Those who gave the wrong answer might still get most of the points-depending on what they say.)

7. If an argument is valid, then it must be rationally persuasive.

Incorrect. Abortion is impermissible. Therefore abortion is impermissible.

8. An argument is false if its conclusion does not follow from its premises.

Incorrect. A category mistake. Arguments cannot be true or false, because they are sets of sentences. Arguments can be valid or invalid, sound or unsound. Their premises and conclusions can be true or false.

Part II: Short answer questions (20 minutes, 30 points, 10 points each) Answer three of the following questions briefly in a paragraph. Write your answers in your blue book, please.

1. Give four different kinds of counterexamples to the principle: "The provisions of all contracts ought to be legally enforceable." (What I mean by a different "kind" of counterexample is that each of the counterexamples you give should suggest a different condition that needs to be satisfied before the provisions of a contract can be legally enforceable.)

Here are the possible kinds:
  • coercion (not voluntarily signed)
  • one of the parties not competent (a child, mentally or emotionally handicapped)
  • contract calls for an illegal action
  • contract calls for an action that is not illegal but that ought to be illegal
  • enforcement of the contract would violate an inalienable right
  • contract frustrates a state purpose (such as placement of children in best home)

2. Explain why the New Jersey Supreme Court overruled Judge Sorkow and concluded that the surrogate motherhood contract signed by William Stern and Mary Beth Whitehead was not binding. How might one question its argument? What is the relationship between its argument and the argument against surrogate motherhood that I gave in lecture?

In the view of the NJ Supreme Court, surrogate motherhood contracts involve the exchange of money for rearing rights and are thus inconsistent with New Jersey laws banning "baby-selling" (paid adoptions). This is different from the point I made in lecture, but closely related, because the NJ Supreme Court agrees that protection of families and obligations to children take priority. My grounds for arguing that the contracts should not be binding was not that they call on the parties to carry out actions that are or ought to be illegal. My argument was instead is that certain state responsibilities take precedence and cannot be preempted by individual agreements. The state has a responsibility to make sure that children of divided parents are reared in the best home, and the determination of what is the best home cannot be made on the basis of contracts.

3. Quite apart from one's views on abortion, why should one question the claim, "A living thing has a right to life if and only if it belongs to the species homo sapiens"? Give a relatively uncontroversial possible counterexample and make clear whether this counterexample would refute the necessary or the sufficient condition stated by this sentence. Explain why this sentence would be unsatisfactory as an account of what living things have a right to life, even if it were true.

The most important part of this question is the recognition that one needs some account of what it is about members of our species that endows them with a right to life. To say that something has a right to life if and only if that thing is a human being without providing any account of why it is that humans have a right to life is morally arbitrary, like saying that only Americans have the right to own property. Once one picks out the properties in virtue of which something has a right to life, it is unlikely that all and only humans will qualify as possessors of a right to life. The easiest counterexample is aliens who share our intellectual and moral capacities. This is a counterexample to the necessity of being a homo sapien in order to have a right to life, not to the sufficiency. A human scab or cancer cell is a possible counterexample to the sufficient condition, but it is questionable whether such cells count as members of the species (as opposed to constituents of members)

4. Explain the significance of Judith Thomson's violinist example. How can it have any relevance to the case of a pregnant woman who has not been raped?

A good answer must, of course, explain the example, and it should make clear why it appears to be analogous only to the case of a woman who is raped, since the person hooked up to the violinist was hooked up without consenting. The story seems to have some power, because almost everybody agrees that it is permissible to disconnect oneself from the violinist--at least if the alternative is a long period in bed--and that this is permissible even if the violinist will die. Once one realizes that Thomson has provided a counterexample to the general principle that the right to life always takes priority over the right to control one's own life, to move around freely, to control what is done with one's body, etc., then one realizes that Thomson has pointed to a big gap int the standard right to life argument. Against Thomson one can argue, however, that there is a big difference between intentionally killing and disconnecting oneself from the violinist, which seems more a matter of refusing to sustain. The contrast been disconnecting oneself from the violinist and shooting him, seems very significant in this regard.

Part III (38 points, 30 minutes) Write an essay in answer to one of the following questions.

1. Many people, including apparently Judge Sorkow, believe that genetic relationships translate into rearing rights. So in the case where the surrogate has no genetic connection to the child she is carrying, many people feel that it is obvious that she should have no rearing rights, and even in a case like that involving Baby-M, the father's rights appear to be already secured, independent of any contract. But it is not obvious that genes are of this much moral significance or that they should be of great legal significance. Think about the case of a couple who has purchased sperm from a sperm bank. Should the genetic father have any rights? What about an infertile woman who, in order to have a child, has had a fertilized egg implanted. Should the rights of the genetic mother and father take precedence if the genetic mother and father choose to assert them?

Your task in this essay is to address the general question of whether genetic relationships are relevant to the attitude the government should take toward the voluntary agreements individuals may make to assign rearing rights in complicated cases such as these. What principles should govern state policy toward alternative reproductive arrangements? How should genetics be relevant? Be sure to draw on specific ideas in the readings and lectures in grappling with this question.

This question was the most difficult question to grade, because it is open-ended and invites fresh thinking from the students. Much of their grade depended on students' recognizing how the different possibilities bear on one another and on the fact that unless alternative reproductive methods are banned, a great deal depends on the intentions of the parties and the arrangements they make with one another. Genes seem to have a much less important role, and it is arguable that genes are weighted heavily because of our concern to permit people the opportunity to procreate and because of the convenience in settling custody matters of relying on genetic relations.
One thing that distinguished good essays from poor ones was the ability to make use of relevant discussions in the readings. A good deal also depended simply on how well you argued and how well you seemed to understand what is at stake -- for example, whether essays showed understanding that the issue is what the law ought to be, not what the law is.

2. In a recent case, the English courts ruled that a set of Siamese twins, who will die within the next few months if they are not separated, must be separated, even though in the separation one of the twins (who lacks many organs as well as typical cognitive capacities) will die. The other twin has a good prospect of a full human life if the twins are separated. Some people, including the parents, believe that the separation is immoral. Explain how the principles that are relevant to the abortion controversy that have been discussed in the readings and lectures are relevant to this

Siamese-twin case and how their application to the Siamese-twin case reinforces or challenges positions concerning abortion. Does consistency force those who oppose the separation to be pro-life and those who support the separation to be pro-choice? Be sure to comment on the relevance of Marquis' and Brody's views.

By the way, I heard on the radio this morning that the operation was scheduled to take place today, Monday, 11/6. Clearly this question raises the issue of who has a right to life, of intention, and of killing versus letting die. Does the weaker twin, who has no chance at moral agency, have a right to life at all? What is the relevance of the fact that they will both die soon if not separated? What is the significance of the difference between separating them and thus (perhaps?) actively killing the weaker twin, as opposed to merely permitting both to die. (But does separating them actively kill the weaker twin or merely prevent her from continuing to make use of the organs of the stronger twin-reminiscences of the violinist case?) Does separating them constitute intentional killing, which Brody would forbid, or does it constitute acting on behalf of the stronger twin's interests and merely refusing to sustain the weaker twin. Would the weaker twin's death be merely a side effect of our action to save the stronger twin, or would it be what we intend?

Notice that Marquis' view does not imply that it is impermissible to separate the twins, because we are not depriving the weaker twin of a human future of value. The connection with abortion depends on the reasoning in both cases. If one has the view, that many of those who are strongly pro-life have, that merely being a living member of our species confers all the rights you and I have, then of course the separation would seem impermissible. But it's hard to accept, particularly if (unlike the case of newborns), one imagines the stronger twin as capable of acting for himself. How is this different from the case of someone who wants a tumor removed? Why isn't the weaker twin just a parasite?