by Kelvey Vander Hart
How do you know that your arguments have become completely devoid of facts and logic? When people who normally wholeheartedly support you start to question your opinions.
James Franco is a popular actor, well known for his breakthrough role on the TV show Freaks and Geeks. He has started co-hosting a YouTube series titled “Philosophy Time” with Eliot Michaelson, a professor at the King’s College London. The two discuss questions having to do with philosophy and morality, and commonly welcome guests into the conversation.
In Episode 103, the two invited Professor Liz Harman (Princeton University) to discuss abortion in the early stages of pregnancy. Harman’s entire claim was that early abortion is not immoral because the “future endows moral status on it [the fetus].”
Among early fetuses, there are two very different kinds of beings. So, James, when you were an early fetus, and Eliot, when you were an early fetus, all of us — I think that we already did have moral status then. But we had moral status in virtue of our futures — in virtue of the fact that we were the beginning stages of persons. But some early fetuses will die early in pregnancy, either due to abortion or miscarriage, and in my view that’s a very different kind of entity. That’s something that doesn’t have a future as a person and it doesn’t have moral status.
As she spoke, it was evident that Franco and Michaelson didn’t necessarily agree with her. Franco specifically had a furrowed brow and a frown for the majority of the video.
Harman continued, saying:
So often we do know that if a woman is planning to get an abortion and we know that abortion is available to her, then we know that that fetus is gonna die…it’s not something with moral status on my view. [But] if we know that a woman is planning to continue her pregnancy, then we have good reason to think that her fetus is something with moral status, something with this future as a person.
Clearly confused as to the logic behind her argument, Michaelson asked, “Why do you think that what’s actually gonna happen to a fetus in the future is gonna make this big difference between having some moral status and not?” Franco echoed this question: “Can’t you only judge that in hindsight?”
Toward the end of the video, Harman tried to wrap things back up by stating:
My view isn’t that if you do abort, abortion is okay but if you don’t abort, abortion would have been wrong. But what it turns out is that it’s a contingent matter that you have moral status. You actually have moral status but you might not have counted morally at all. If you had been aborted, you would have existed, but you just would have had this very short existence in which you wouldn’t have mattered morally.
Not only was it obvious that Franco found her argument illogical, but YouTube commenters were also quick to call it out as such. Although her case was not logical or based on facts, Harman is not the first to twist the concept of personhood in support of abortion, and she certainly will not be the last.
Photo credit: Screenshot via YouTube