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Abortion and Moral Context: Human Beings in a Moral Community

MACKINTOSH, ELIZABETH,KAREN (2015) Abortion and Moral Context: Human Beings in a Moral Community. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



In this dissertation, I urge that ethical discussions of abortion remain dissatisfying in large part because they conduct the debate in terms of the contested concept of the ‘person.’ Building on the reflections of MacIntyre, I will argue that the loss of ethical context to which he refers has also meant that we have come to view ‘persons’ and human beings as individual, independent units, abstracted from their relations with others. Philosophers have sought to analyse and elevate the concept of ‘person’; competing conceptions of personhood have pursued the specific individual qualities that grounds a being's claim to having a morally significant life. This predilection of the personhood literature has often severely limited the abortion dialogue and prevented richer and varied understandings of our layered nature from emerging. I contend that the deadlock, to which Ruth Macklin refers, within the personhood dialogue means that we need to broaden our moral vocabulary and give a much more central place to the notion of the socialised human being. Rather than place personhood at the heart of the debate, I would suggest we should emphasise our relationships and our membership in an already-existing moral context and community, and that we should reflect far more fully on these settings. Rather than considering what kinds of entities qualify as ‘persons,’ we should instead consider the notion of the human being existing in a moral community and thereby situated in a wide and complex web of relationships. I argue that an ethic of care, coupled with a phenomenological approach, will provide the most fruitful framework when responding to ethical issues generated by the abortion dialogue. Taking account of our nature as socialised beings, in relationship with other beings is, I shall try to show, key to understanding our moral existence in general and to grasping the intricacies of the moral debate over abortion in particular. Membership within a social network or moral community is fundamentally a moral issue where certain experiences and conditions can threaten what really matters.

When providing us with accounts of the moral community, philosophers have often put forward very particular qualifications for membership. To underscore the need to explore further accounts of moral communities I consider the work of cultural and philosophical anthropology where we find that observations relating to the distinctly human life remain pertinent for our current ethical climate. Philosophical anthropology reveals just how complex the idea of moral community is and hints at the broader moral vocabulary I believe is required. I argue that it is crucial that we understand the ethical consequences of choosing to see someone as being either a member or not a member of the moral community and as Eva Feder Kittay argues, there are a range of morally repugnant current moral exclusions. I believe this discussion has considerable bearing on the abortion debate, and I provide two specific examples of the marginalisations that a moral community can create: recent empirical studies into abortion stigma and Judith Butler’s considerations on vulnerability and female sexuality. We need to address these exclusions and consider the ways we define the moral agent, and consider how we make assumptions about which human lives have value. With an ever-expanding and complex ‘moral community’ under review I would argue that recognizing ourselves as human beings, participants in a moral community, must be our starting point. It is from this platform that we can then refuse to enact exclusions and try to live out Butler’s call to make a concern for all human lives a real and valid ethical concern.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Abortion, Personhood, Human Beings, Relationships, Phenomenology, Care Ethics.
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Philosophy, Department of
Thesis Date:2015
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:11 May 2015 10:58

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