Is Tooley Playing with Words? – A Challenge for PY111 Students
Many thanks to everyone who contributed to today’s class - I thinnk Tooley’s paper is a provocative piece and so makes for a good discussion. Those of you who gave Tooly a rough ride in class had some interesting ideas that are well worth pursuing…you might be on to something…
Next week is a reading week (in the philosophy department only) so on the back of today’s class here’s something to get your teeth into.
Is Tooley Playing with Words? The Dubious “Capability” Defence
Summary of the problem:
(1) Tooley argues against the potentiality thesis ( i.e. against the idea that as a ‘potential’ person the fetus has a right to life)
(2) Given that the right to life for Tooley rests on personhood, and that personhood amounts to having a conception of oneself as a continuing existing subject, Tooly faces a problem: what about people who are temporarily unconscious?
(3) In order to hold on to the idea that individuals in that condition still have personhood in the way in which he describes it – and therefore a right to life – Tooley invokes his “capability defence”.
(4)The worry is that ‘capability’ sounds very much like ‘potentiality’ and if the former protects the person in the coma, why doesn’t the latter protect the fetus?
(5) Behind this worry is the suspicion that Tooley is just playing with words and that ‘capability’ and ‘potentiality’ are basically doing the same work – he’s just shuffled the same deck of cards.
(6) If (5) is right, then there are problems for either (1) or (3)
The Challenge for PY111 Students
(a) One of the skills of doing philosophy is close textual reading. So the first thing to ask yourself is: Have I (Steve) given a fair summary of Tooley’s position? I may have intentionally simplified his position or missed out crucial aspects of the argument not only to bolster the case (you will be surprised how often this happens in academic debates) but to see if you are really reading.
(b) If you think there is a problem for Tooley, then lay out the charge in all its devastating detail (or as I heard someone once say – “release the hounds!”. Actually I don’t recommend going in for a vicious mauling – not very charitable – but certainly make him uncomfortable)
(c) Can anyone come to Tooley’s defence or vindicate his position and thereby put an end to this unjust presentation of his position?
See Tooly ‘Abortion and Infanticide’. Its on the CMR (pp 44-49 are where the crux of the issue lies)
Enjoy reading week – Steve
Filed under: Abortion, Applied Ethics, Ethics, Philosophy, Uncategorized | 1 Comment