Sunday, 23 January 2011

Deadly thought experiments

At they have some fascinating thought experiments. One is about abortion and as you answer the questions about parallel issues of rights, you can feel yourself being drawn down a road that is not the one you might wish to travel.

Thus answering the questions honestly, I got a report that suggested that whilst I am morally opposed to abortion, I respect a woman's right to choose as I place a high value on personal autonomy.

To the site's credit, there is also a critical article suggesting reasons why the thought experiment might not be valid.

What I liked was that the site forded me to think hard about why I had answered the questions the way that I had, and why I disagreed with the final analysis.

In fact, I disagree with the final analysis for two reasons: one is that the parallel situations are not really parallel: they select some features of the moral arguments about abortion as salient and build a parallel around those, but seem to me to miss other important aspects.

The second is that the questions they ask are also limited: they ask about whether the 'other' in the example they create, has rights in relation to your body/wellbeing. What they do not ask is:

If you believe they have no rights, do you therefore believe that you have the right to kill them by (for example) saline poisoning, decapitation and crushing etc.

What I dislike about the thought experiments is that they are clearly constructed to lead in one direction, and that they may actually convince people that, for example, the position 'I believe abortion to be morally wrong, but believe women have the right to choose' is a laudable moral stance.

Thus the other question they don't ask is: 'if you approve of abortion, is it morally right to construct so-called experiments that are actually covert attempts to influence how people perceive this moral issue?'

I would be particularly concerned if the 'thought experiments' were taken for use in schools as a way to 'explore' the issues, as they are not neutral, tend in one direction, and require a level of sophistication (or Faith) to resist...

But if you are a clear thinker, able to resist the covert influence, I do recommend going and having a look, as they may well make you think more deeply; and I'll be interested in any comments.


Patricius said...

I just looked at the first question and it is obvious that the connected soccer player is presented as a parasite for the fact of whose presence one has no responsibility. The only reasonable parallel I can see with a pregnancy would be with one resulting from rape. In other words this thought experiment is based upon the idiotic assumption that human pregnancy is generally the parasitical invasion of a woman's body.

Ben Trovato said...

I'm not quite as dismissive of it as you are, Patricius. I agree that the parallel with pregnancy is poor, but I do think it an interesting moral question. When you say the footballer is a parasite for whom one has no responsibility, would that meant that you have the right to kill him?

To make the analogy closer to abortion (and I think this is the interesting bit), suppose in their scenario that the only way to disconnect this person was to poison or decapitate him, would one have that right?