In the comment-thread to our post about Duck Dynasty a few weeks back, the discussion turned to abortion rights. I wrote this:
Are the not-yet-born rights-bearing persons, deserving of moral consideration? One would think that in a morally consistent ethics this would be an attribute inhering in the unborn person — but apparently in many people’s opinion it depends merely upon the whim of the mother. From the perspective of the unborn, that’s a mighty precarious position to be in — and rather unfairly so, it seems to me.
It’s Schrödinger’s Kid.
Later on I added:
To leave that ontological determination up to the whim of the person doing the killing is a unique moral and philosophical ambiguity. If you were a developing fetus, would you want your fate to be in such a precarious position?
Given that we are all brought into the world this way, one could say this is the ultimate Rawlsian question.
In John Rawls’s theory of justice, the “original position” is the position, behind the “veil of ignorance”, of people not yet placed into the world, who have no idea into what circumstances they will be delivered. The idea is that the optimally just society would be one designed by those behind the veil, because without foreknowledge of the station they are about to occupy, they will be maximally impartial.
What better instantiates the “original position” than our situation in utero? One might find oneself in the belly of a pleasure-seeking, atheistic NYU sophomore (a precarious situation!), or that of a pious, married Catholic. Under our law, your very personhood — your existential status, your chance at moral consideration, and most important of all, your chance at ever getting past the original position — depends upon nothing intrinsic to yourself. Indeed, it depends upon no consistent principle whatsoever, but rather upon the caprice of the woman into whose womb you happen to have been deployed.
Before I go looking around online, I’ll ask the question here: how do Rawlsians address this issue?