Abortion and Virtue Ethics. Mathew Lu , University of St. Thomas, Minnesota Follow. My goal here is to consider what contemporary virtue ethics can say about the problem of abortion. I begin by outlining virtue ethics in comparison to the two other dominant approaches in normative ethics. I then consider what some important virtue ethicists have said about abortion, especially the work of Rosalind Hursthouse.

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We'd like to understand how you use our websites in order to improve them. Register your interest. The essay clarifies the roles that fetal ontology and moral status do in fact play in her abortion ethics.

To this end, it presents and then develops her fetal metaphysics of the potential and actual human being, which she merely adumbrates in her more extensive treatment of abortion ethics in her book Beginning Lives. The essay then evaluates her fetal ontology in light of relevant research on fetal neural and psychological development.

It concludes that her implied view that the late-stage fetus is an actual human being is defensible. The essay then turns to the analysis of late-stage abortions in her paper and argues that it is importantly incomplete. This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access. Rent this article via DeepDyve. See Hursthouse, , Ch. Beginning Lives has received some limited critical attention.

For instance, it was reviewed favourably by Christine Swanton, A comparatively recent article has dealt with her book in a minor way, i.

See Michael J. Wren , pp. Hursthouse , pp. Boonin concedes the narrowness of his focus on the former within the broader landscape of the latter mapped out by Hursthouse. She offers a more elaborate account of virtues in terms of dispositions likely to promote the flourishing of the individual and his or her social group in her more recent On Virtue Ethics, , pp.

Hursthouse , p. For Hursthouse, these relations give rise to various moral considerations. First, the result of a successful pregnancy is a new, irreplaceable human life with intrinsic value , pp. Secondly, the process of bearing a child is the intrinsically good creation of a human being , pp. Thirdly, bearing a child well manifests virtues, e. Moreover, if the woman fails to abort, she will bear the heavy responsibility of caring for the child or of transferring that responsibility to another.

In rejecting the traditional narrow focus and seeking a broader social, emotional, and moral contextualization of pregnancy, birth, and child-rearing, Hursthouse resembles feminist theorists. See, for example, Gatens-Robinson , pp. It would be more accurate to state she avoids the pitfall of taking fetal moral status to be the crux of the abortion debate. However, his unqualified assertion that fetal status is irrelevant for Hursthouse , p.

There Rovie clearly alludes to the significant moral value Hursthouse attributes to the fetus qua potential human being. Since Hursthouse accepts 1 , the vice of failing to respect, or appreciate the value of, fetal life is not injustice, but light-mindedness about human life , pp.

This claim that the pre-embryo is a potential human being is contentious and arguably wrong for two reasons. First, as Carson Strong argues, the pre-embryo divides and develops into the placenta, amnion, chlorion, and embryo-disk. Strong borrows the distinction between potential to produce and potential to become, whereby only the latter preserves identity, from Stephen Buckle , pp. Strong then concludes that the fertilized cell has the potential to produce an embryo and, hence, a self-conscious being , a placenta, etc.

Secondly, the lack of differentiation in the pre-primitive streak conceptus makes twinning possible Korein , p. The conceptus has the potential to produce one or more embryos. Failure to refine her claim is symptomatic of her method to apply a virtue framework without the aid of obscure biological facts or academic metaphysics with its insistence that a definite individual human must have bodily integrity and continuity as well as unity through time.

Note that the latter argument would be a non sequitur if not for her stipulation that any member of a species whose typical, mature individual members have the characteristic human psycho-social capacities has full moral status. Her equation of the moral status of an infant with that of a typical adult human is entailed by her unargued claim.

Glover, Causing Death and Saving Lives , p. Thomson, A Defense of Abortion , pp. However, depending on the circumstances, it might manifest a disinclination to grow up and take responsibility for another human being or a failure either to appreciate the opportunity for character-development parenthood affords or the value of family life Hursthouse , pp.

For example, according to the Department of Health in the U. According to the Centers for Disease Control in the U. The prospects for survival and escaping serious impairments have improved very little for extremely premature neonates since Hursthouse wrote her book in See note 2 above. Derbyshire himself rejects this view. He contends that pain requires cognition concept-application in addition to a noxious stimulus and the affective dimension.

As I argued pages 7—8 above, Hursthouse believes a commonsensical concept of the fetus as a would-be future or potential baby suffices. Prentice-Hall, Garden City, pp 3—51, 68—89, — Google Scholar. Boonin D A defense of abortion. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 5—7. Bower TGR Development in infancy, 2nd edn.

Freeman and Co, San Francisco, p Buckle S Arguing from potential. Bioethics — Centers for Disease Control, U. Department of Health, U. Derbyshire SWG Locating the beginnings of pain. Field T, Woodson R et al Discrimination and imitation of facial expressions by neonates. Science — Field T, Woodson R et al Discrimination and imitation of facial expressions by term and preterm neonates.

Infant Behav Dev — The Telford Press, Telford, p In: Leucanet J-P et al eds Fetal development: a psychobiological perspective. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, p , — Flower MJ Neuromaturation of the human fetus.

J Med Philos — South J Philos — Glover J Causing death and saving lives. Penguin Books, London, p Grobstein C Science and the unborn: choosing human futures.

Basic Books, New York, p Hacker-Wright J Moral status in virtue ethics. Philosophy — Hursthouse R Beginning lives. Basil Blackwell with the Open University, Oxford. Hursthouse R Virtue theory and abortion. Philos Public Aff — Hursthouse R On virtue ethics. Oxford University Press, Oxford, p 28, — Korein J Ontogenesis of the brain in the human organism. In: Edwards RB ed Advances in bioethics: vol. JAI, London, pp 14— Child Dev — Nuffield Council on Bioethics. Reiman J Abortion and the ways we value human life.

Rovie EM Abortion: approaches from virtue. Auslegung — Sherwin S Abortion through a feminist ethics lens. Dialogue — Strong C The moral status of preembryos, embryos, fetuses, and infants. Australas J Philos — Thomson JJ A defense of abortion. Philos Books — Tooley M Abortion and infanticide. Oxford University Press, Oxford. Wren M The standing is slippery.


Rosalind Hursthouse

Virtue ethics is currently one of three major approaches in normative ethics. It may, initially, be identified as the one that emphasizes the virtues, or moral character, in contrast to the approach that emphasizes duties or rules deontology or that emphasizes the consequences of actions consequentialism. Suppose it is obvious that someone in need should be helped. This is not to say that only virtue ethicists attend to virtues, any more than it is to say that only consequentialists attend to consequences or only deontologists to rules. Each of the above-mentioned approaches can make room for virtues, consequences, and rules. Indeed, any plausible normative ethical theory will have something to say about all three. What distinguishes virtue ethics from consequentialism or deontology is the centrality of virtue within the theory Watson ; Kawall


Virtue Theory and Abortion

The sort of ethical theory derived from Aristotle, variously described as virtue ethics, virtue-based ethics, or neo-Aristotelianism, is becoming better known, and is now quite widely recognized as at least a possible rival to deontological and utilitarian theories. With recognition has come criticism, of varying quality. In this article I shall discuss nine separate criticisms that I have frequently encountered, most of which seem to me to betray an inadequate grasp either of the structure of virtue theory or of what would be involved in thinking about a real moral issue in its terms. In the first half I aim particularly to secure an understanding that will reveal that many of these criticisms are simply misplaced, and to articulate what I take to be the major criticism of virtue theory. I reject this criticism, but do not claim that it is necessarily misplaced. In the second half I aim to deepen that understanding and highlight the issues raised by the criticisms by illustrating what the theory looks like when it is applied to a particular issue, in this case, abortion. This site needs JavaScript to work properly.

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