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Arguing About Interests

  • Christopher Miles Coope
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Abstract

As we have seen in Part Three, philosophers can be extraordinarily divided when it comes to deciding what sort of creature (entity, thing, stage of a thing) has a good of its own. And in particular, when the distinctly peculiar question arises whether anything can be in, or against, the interests of a foetus even those who speak for ‘choice’ have differing views. We shall now leave aside our survey of opinion, and consider directly what the truth might be. We shall be largely concerned, in the next few chapters, with the sceptical arguments about foetal interests presented by Ronald Dworkin and with the similar arguments by Bonnie Steinbock. It would seem fair to take these writers as representative.

Keywords

Human Individual Unborn Child Moral Significance Human Good Consciousness Condition 
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  1. 3.
    See the article ‘Interests’ in Lawrence C. Becker and Charlotte B. Becker, Encyclopedia of Ethics, 2nd edn, New York: Routledge, 2001. Since I have earlier been critical of L. W. Sumner I should in fairness report that he writes well here: The notion of interest is dangerously ambiguous: on the one hand my interests are the same as my concerns (what I am interested in), while on the other my interest (or self-interest) is the same as my welfare.’ The word is ‘a slippery item in our lexicon’. Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996, p. 36.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    James S. Fishkin, The Dialogue of Justice, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    This seemed to be a considered opinion, for it occurs both in Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform, and again in a passage quoted from this work in Considerations on Representative Government. See J. S. Mill, Collected Works, Vol. XIX, Essays on Politics and Society, ed. J. M. Robson, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977, pp. 333 and 494, italics in text. We should note that on Mill’s account we will be furthering a man’s interests by giving money to some cause which he favours, say the preservation of the elm tree, even if this does nothing to advance his welfare.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Don Marquis, ‘Life, Death, and Dworkin’ (review of Life’s Dominion), Philosophy and Social Criticism, 1996.Google Scholar
  5. 12.
    Replying to James Q. Wilson, Commonweal, March 1994, p. 2.Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    Bonnie Steinbock, ‘Why Most Abortions Are Not Wrong’, in Rem B. Edwards and E. Edwards Bittar, eds, Advances in Bioethks, Vol. 5, Stamford, Conn.: JAI Press, 1999, p. 263. Bonnie Steinbock is answering a criticism put by Don Marquis in the same volume, ‘Why Most Abortions Are Wrong’. Compare Professor Stein-bock earlier (Life Before Birth: The Moral and Legal Status of Embryos and Foetuses, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992, p. 12), where she also talks about ‘compounding’.Google Scholar
  7. See also L. W. Sumner: ‘It is in virtue of being sentient that creatures have interests, which are compounded either out of their desires or out of the experiences they find agreeable (or both)’ (Abortion and Moral Theory, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981, p. 142).Google Scholar
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    Clifford Grobstein, Science and the Unborn, New York: Basic Books, 1988, p. 56.Google Scholar
  9. 17.
    Grobstein, Science and the Unborn, New York: Basic Books, 1988, p. 56. We might usefully note that Professor Grobstein seems to have no difficulty with the idea that an embryo or foetus has interests. ‘Once pregnancy is established [by implantation] the intimacy of the association is such that the interest of neither party can be served without significant consequence to the other’ (p. 87). See also p. 111 (foetal interests to be weighed when there is a possibility of operating on them), and p. 121 (‘Here the anticipated community of interest among physician, pregnant woman, foetus, and state seems to fall hopelessly apart.’).Google Scholar
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    Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, trans. Bernard Wall, London: Collins, 1959, p. 56. The phrase ‘the within of things’ forms the title of the chapter.Google Scholar
  12. (I owe this reference to Anthony Kenny, The Legacy of Wittgenstein, Oxford: Blackwell, 1984, pp. 109–10.)Google Scholar
  13. 21.
    J. B. S. Haldane, The Inequality of Man, London: Chatto, 1932, p. 113. We should note that Haldane and Huxley were considerable scientists, being largely responsible for ‘the modern synthesis’ which forms the basis of modern evolutionary theory.Google Scholar
  14. 22.
    ‘Panpsychism’, reprinted in Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979, p. 195. Note the admission ‘since we know so little’. Come clean, now. Do we know anything at all about it? Do we even have a clear question? Don’t we need a larger slice of humble pie?Google Scholar
  15. Compare Colin McGinn: ‘There exists some lawlike process by which matter generates experience, but the nature of this process is completely closed to us’, The Character of Mind, 2nd edn., New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, italics added.Google Scholar
  16. 23.
    David Chalmers, The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory, New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, first quotation p. 294, second quotation p. 293. Professor Chalmers is rather sceptical as to consciousness in rocks: ‘I would not quite say that a rock has experiences, or that a rock is conscious, in the way I might loosely say that a thermostat has experiences … It might be better to say that a rock contains systems that are conscious: presumably there are many such subsystems, none of whose experiences count canonically as the rock’s.’ Pp. 297–8, italics in original.Google Scholar
  17. 26.
    C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, London: Geoffrey Bles, 1940, pp. 119–21. This possibility, if it is a possibility, rather well illustrates how the word ‘sentient’, used so freely in ethics circles, is a tricky concept. He says that the distinction between ‘sentience’ and ‘consciousness’ has ‘great authority’ but does not give any references. If it is a modern insight that there are different kinds of ‘consciousness’ then Lewis, I suspect, deserves some credit as a pioneer.Google Scholar
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    Peter Carruthers, The Animais Issue, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992, p. 171. Professor Carruthers has since written extensively on this topic.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 28.
    Colin Allen, ‘Animal Consciousness’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2004, sec. 3.2.Google Scholar
  20. 29.
    Peter Unger, Identity Consciousness and Value, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 146. This has naturally set me wondering whether my wife has ever been conscious all the years I have known her, but this remark, reflecting a purely personal worry, has really no place in this book.Google Scholar
  21. 31.
    Three such philosophers are mentioned in the article ‘Consciousness’ by Ned Block, in Samuel Guttenplan, ed., A Companion to the Philosophy of Mind, Oxford: Blackwell, 1994. They include Daniel Dennett, one of the best known writers in consciousness studies. Of course, if several philosophers say that consciousness ‘does not exist’ they might each mean something different — for the sense of what is said is not evident on its face. David Chalmers finds it necessary to inform his reader that he makes an assumption throughout his book on consciousness: namely that consciousness exists (p. xii).Google Scholar
  22. 32.
    The quotation and the comparison come from Colin McGinn, The Character of Mind, 2nd edn., New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 41.Google Scholar
  23. 34.
    G. E. Moore, ‘The Refutation of Idealism’, Philosophical Studies, London: Routledge, 1922, p. 25.Google Scholar
  24. 35.
    ‘So long as consciousness is not analysed to the point of being analysed away, there will remain a mystery in the supposed transaction from neural to mental process. The extrusion of “consciousness” as one of the fundamentals of psychology was largely begun by William James, and has been carried further by his successors, with great profit for the unification of science’ (Review of Psychology of the Normal and Subnormal by Henry Herbert Goddard, Collected Papers of Bertrand Russell, Vol. 15, London: Routledge, 2000, p. 123).Google Scholar
  25. 37.
    Ned Block, Owen Flanegan and Güven Güzeldere, eds, The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997, preface.Google Scholar
  26. 45.
    Anthony Kenny, The Metaphysics of Mind, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989, p. 20.Google Scholar
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    The structure of Anthony Kenny’s book was in fact modelled on that of The Concept of Mind, London: Hutchinson, 1949, see pp. vi-vii.Google Scholar
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    Rickie Solinger, The Abortionist: A Woman Against the Law, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994, p. 45. This is surely a misleading description even of what would count as an early abortion at the hands of such a ‘provider’.Google Scholar
  30. 54.
    R. G. Frey, Interests and Rights, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980, p. 34.Google Scholar
  31. 55.
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  32. 59.
    Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Mary Gregor, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 101, italics added. We should not think that this attitude to the very young reflected something especially sublime in Kant’s outlook. It is, rather, something quite ordinary. Kant was not what anyone would call an egalitarian. He had views about race, for example, which would everywhere be regarded as racist these days. 60 Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, p. 178, italics added.Google Scholar
  33. See also Sumner’s ‘Moderate Views of Abortion’: ‘In order to have a welfare … a creature must be a subject who is capable of having … a point of view’, (in Rem. B. Edwards, ed., New Essays on Abortion and Bioethics: Advances in Bioethics, Vol. 2, Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press, 1997, p. 208, italics added). See also this fragment from Bernard Williams: ‘even if we lay aside the difficulties — which are obvious enough — of making sense in the first place of the idea of a thing’s having interests if it cannot have experiences’ (‘Must a Concern for the Environment be Centred on Human Beings?’, in Making Sense of Humanity and Other Philosophical Papers, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, p. 237). The sense given to ‘cannot’ here makes all the difference.Google Scholar
  34. 62.
    The environmentalist Paul W. Taylor puts the case for talking about interests in relation to plants rather clearly, saying for example: ‘we can act in a being’s interest … without its being interested in what we are doing to it in the sense of wanting or not wanting us to do it’, etc. (‘The Ethics of Respect for Nature’, Environmental Ethics, 1986, reprinted in James Sterba, ed., Morality in Practice, 4th edn, Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1993, see p. 489.Google Scholar
  35. 64.
    Joel Feinberg, ‘The Rights of Animals and Unborn Generations’, reprinted in Rights, Justice, and the Bounds of Liberty, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980, p. 165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 65.
    G. H. von Wright, The Varieties of Goodness, London: Routledge, 1963, pp. 50–1.Google Scholar
  37. 67.
    H. J. McCloskey, ‘Moral Rights and Animals’ Inquiry, 1979, p. 33.Google Scholar
  38. 68.
    See Michael Tooley, Abortion and Infanticide, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983, p. 117. Again, L. W. Sumner writes: ‘Talk of protecting the interests or welfare of plants … seems contrived and strained’ (Abortion and Moral Theory, p. 136, fn 10). But this has to do with our lack of concern for them, save as items of property. Tree huggers would not find such language strained at all.Google Scholar
  39. 69.
    James Griffin, Weil-Being, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986, p. 37.Google Scholar
  40. 70.
    This appears to be Joel Feinberg’s view (see Harm to Others, New York: Oxford University Press, 1984, p. 32).Google Scholar
  41. 72.
    Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd edn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 57.Google Scholar
  42. 75.
    Peter Singer, ‘Animals’, in Dale Jamieson, ed., Companion to Environmental Ethics, Oxford: Blackwell, 2001, p, 420.Google Scholar
  43. 76.
    L. W. Sumner, review of Robin Attfield’s The Ethics of Environmental Concern, in Environmental Ethics, 1986, p. 81.Google Scholar
  44. 78.
    Gary Varner, In Nature’s Interest?, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 77, italics added.Google Scholar
  45. 82.
    Jan Narveson, ‘Children and Rights’, in his Respecting Persons in Theory and Practice: Essays in Moral and Political Philosophy, Lanham, Md: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002, p. 267, italics added. It is sometimes not clear whether a writer is talking biology or talking morality — is denying the existence of interests, or is denying that certain interests are ‘morally significant’. In discussing what can be said about someone referred to in a book under review as a ‘human vegetable,’ Peter Singer talks of ‘a being that is not even conscious, and thus has no interests at all that need to be protected’ (‘Animal Liberation at 30’, New York Review of Books, 15 May 2003, italics added). This can clearly be taken in two ways: ‘… has no interests at all, and hence none which need protecting’ and ‘… has no interests at all of the sort which need protecting’ (presumably from some supposed moral point of view). These are quite different falsehoods.Google Scholar
  46. 84.
    Bonnie Steinbock, ‘Mother-Foetus Conflict’, in Helga Kuhse and Peter Singer, eds, A Companion to Bioethics, Oxford: Blackwell, 1988, p. 136.Google Scholar
  47. 89.
    I am here responding to the title of an article by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, ‘You Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had: A Reply to Marquis on Abortion,’ Philosophical Studies, 1997. I should perhaps note that I am not involved in the present chapter with a supposed ‘moral’ sense of loss, discussed in this article, in which one only misses-out ‘in the morally relevant sense’ when the missing item is something one has a claim to. As I suggested in the last chapter, it is good to avoid ethical contamination. A resourceful and healthy thief who is run over by a bus will miss out on a good deal of enjoyable acquisition.Google Scholar
  48. 94.
    The importance of protecting an individual from loss which it cannot comprehend is stressed by Warren Quinn in his article ‘Abortion: Identity and Loss’ in Philosophy and Public Affairs, 1984, now reprinted in the collection of his papers, Morality and Action, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Quinn talks about ‘the loss of the very thing that for ourselves we hold most important in the world’ (1994, p. 50).Google Scholar
  49. 95.
    Ronald Dworkin, ‘Comment on Narveson: In Defense of Equality,’ Social Philosophy and Policy, 1983, p. 26.Google Scholar
  50. 98.
    John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972, pp. 249–50. We understand what is good for a child without our knowing what it cares about for we have a notion of (what Professor Rawls calls) ‘primary goods’, mentioned here. If we cannot go by the child’s own wishes ‘we act as we would act for ourselves from the standpoint of the original position’ (p. 249).Google Scholar
  51. 100.
    Dale Jamieson, ed., Singer and His Critics, Oxford: Blackwell, 1999, p. 310. Here Peter Singer is reporting the view of his critic Frances Kamm. He adds ‘But that is also a claim that I accept.’ What Professor Singer finds difficult to explain he says (Animal Liberation, p. 229) is ‘why the loss to the animal killed is not, from an impartial point of view, made good by the creation of a new animal which will lead an equally pleasant life’. He adds ‘The proposition that the creation of one being would somehow compensate for the death of another does have an air of peculiarity.’ He is right to see a peculiarity in it. After all, who would be compensated? No doubt it would be called cosmic compensation.Google Scholar
  52. 102.
    Larry S. Temkin, Inequality, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, p. 226.Google Scholar
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    James Rachels, Can Ethics Provide Answers?, Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997, p. 77. See also p. 229, above.Google Scholar
  54. 106.
    Janet Radcliffe Richards, The Sceptical Feminist: A Philosophical Enquiry, London: 1982, p. 215. Dr Richards admits that other people might also suppose other things ‘important’, such as preserving human life, and it is not clear that she thinks that there is any truth in the matter. People just have ‘their principles’. Some people might even think that ‘life is more important than freedom or the absence of suffering’ (p. 217). As we noted at the outset (p. 17) and will bear repeating: It is very misleading to suggest that intelligent opposition to abortion stems from the none-too-intelligible thought that ‘life is important’, or that ‘life is more important than freedom’, etc.Google Scholar
  55. 108.
    Jeff McMahan, ‘Killing and Equality’, Utilitas, 1995, p. 3.Google Scholar
  56. See also Jeff McMahan, The Ethics of Killing, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, and the discussion of this book in my ‘Death Sentences,’ Philosophy, forthcoming.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. 110.
    Kathleen V. Wilkes writes: ‘If a baby or foetus is normal then, at minimum, it is potentially a person’ (Real People: Personal Identity Without Thought Experiments, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988, p. 49, italics in text. Leaving aside the well known troubles surrounding the word ‘person’ as introduced by philosophers, would we here need the cautionary ‘if’ and the reference to normality? It would depend upon how the ‘can’ buried in the word potentially is taken. (We should note that Kathleen Wilkes later argues that the problem whether an infant or foetus ‘is now a person’ is ‘not a genuine one’. ‘We can say more or less what we like.’ p. 56)Google Scholar
  58. 111.
    See for example, Theodore Sider, ‘All the World’s a Stage’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 1996, and Katherine Hawley, How Things Persist, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001. For a somewhat similar, though contrasting view, see Galen Strawson, who thinks or conjectures that we are made up of a succession of short-lasting, though not instantaneous, ‘selves’, ‘like pearls on a string’ (‘The Self’, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 1997, <www.imprint.co.uk/strawson.html>, p. 16.) Someone who simply thinks that we are ‘made up of’ stages, and is also prepared to say that what has a good is the whole, will presumably be quite happy with the thought that what has a good is an organism, not a stage of an organism. The truth about ‘temporal parts’ might be just as it is with anatomical parts: a leg or an eye has a good, if we are to talk this way at all about such things, via the good of the whole organism. It is hard to know what it would make sense to say about a momentary being. Could it be angry, for example? More significant for us, could it have a good? Even if we persist into the future, as our folk-belief has it, could our interests be momentary? Helga Kuhse and Peter Singer are instructively inclined to talk about ‘momentary’ interests.Google Scholar
  59. (Helga Kuhse and Peter Singer, ‘Should All Seriously Disabled Infants Live?’ in Peter Singer, Unsanctifying Human Life, Helga Kuhse ed., Oxford: Blackwell, 2002, p. 241 and p. 242. See also Michael Tooley’s Abortion and Infanticide with its remarks about ‘non-momentary interests’.) Kuhse and Singer are thinking of newborn babies and their interest in not being hurt. How could we understand this use of ‘momentary’? Are we to say that it is only in the interest of this baby to avoid pain at the moment at which it is being hurt? Or that on being hurt it suddenly becomes in the interest of this baby not to be hurt? Hardly. Suppose, in order to give this language the best chance of sense, we imagine that the baby has some physiological condition which renders it sensitive to pain only at moment t. Can we say here at least that its interest in not being hurt is something momentary? Even this would seem unnatural. We all have an interest in not being hurt even when fortunately we cannot be hurt, just as we continue to have an interest in not being shot when we are out of gunshot range.Google Scholar
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    Peter Unger ‘Why there are no people’, Midwest Studies in Philosophy 1979, and Living High and Letting Die, New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.Google Scholar
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    R. M. Hare, Essays on Bioethics, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993, p. 90.Google Scholar
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    Candice De Puy and Dana Dovitch: The Healing Choice: Your Guide to Emotional Recovery after Abortion, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997, p. 16.Google Scholar
  63. 119.
    That a butterfly might be regarded as a distinct organism from the earlier caterpillar is taken seriously by Jack Wilson in his Biological Individuality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. The common notion of an organism does not give a clear account of the transition between a caterpillar and a butterfly … The butterfly is genetically identical with the caterpillar but it is the result of a distinct developmental process fed by the larval body. I am not sure that the commonsense notion of an individual can give us a clear answer as to whether we have one life or two here’ (pp. 7–8).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. 120.
    Peter Geach, God and the Soul, London: Routledge, 1969, pp. 22–4.Google Scholar
  65. 126.
    A man is sold a house with defective foundations, and wants a remedy. ‘At what point does the plaintiff suffer loss? Is it when he pays more for the house than it is truly worth? Or when the foundations begin to cause cracks in the structure of the house? Is it, alternatively, when he has the house valued by a surveyor, perhaps many years later when he wishes to sell it, only to find that it is worth a fraction of what he assumed? These questions, which are of the utmost importance to all the parties concerned and their insurers, continue to receive an uncertain answer from the courts’. (Simon Deakin, Angus Johnstone, and Basil Markesinis, Markesinis and Deakin’s Tort Law, Fifth edn, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003, p. 83.)Google Scholar
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    Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Vol. 11, ed. Grethe Peterson, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1990, p. 43.Google Scholar
  67. 131.
    Such remarks in Williams Obstetrics have frequently been noted in the abortion debate. The version above is as quoted by the pro-choice Barbara Katz Rothman (The Tentative Pregnancy, London 1988, p. 29). A different version is quoted, from the preface to the 1980 edition, by the lapsed pro-choicer Bernard Nathan-son in the propaganda film The Silent Scream: ‘Happily we have entered an era in which the foetus can be rightfully considered and treated as our second patient. Who would have dreamt — even a few years ago — that we could serve the foetus as a physician.’ The current (21st) edition of Williams Obstetrics, 2001, says: ‘An important direct result of this [obstetrical] research is that the status of the foetus has been elevated to that of a patient who, in large measure, can be given the same meticulous care that obstetricians provide for the pregnant woman’ (p. 130).Google Scholar

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