I’m not a big fan of James Franco’s work, other than Freaks and Geeks and the first 20 minutes of Pineapple Express. But I’ve always kind of admired his eclectic interests. He doesn’t let Hollywood tell him what “movie stars” should and shouldn’t do, and he gets himself into all sorts of weird, esoteric stuff. He’s a dilettante, but at least he actually seems to care about the things he dabbles in. His latest venture is a YouTube series called Philosophy Time, where he sits around with academics and kinda-sorta debates various topics for a few minutes. In one recent episode, he jumped right in and stomped on that third rail: abortion.
Here he is discussing it with Elizabeth Harman, a philosophy prof at Princeton. See what you think of her argument for why abortion isn’t immoral:
“I defend the view that there is nothing morally bad about early abortion. So, a lot of people think, ‘Well, it’s permissible to have an abortion, but something bad happens when the fetus dies.’ And I think if a fetus hasn’t ever been conscious, it hasn’t ever had any experiences, and we aborted it at that stage, actually nothing morally bad happens… So, James, when you were an early fetus, and Eliot, when you were an early fetus, all of us I think we already did have moral status then. But we had moral status in virtue of our futures… But some early fetuses will die in early pregnancy due to abortion or miscarriage. And in my view that is 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.”
“Can’t you only judge that in hindsight?”
I don’t mean to tell the professor her business, but when James Franco derails your argument in about 5 seconds…
In sum, Harman’s argument is that killing a baby isn’t immoral because… you’re killing it. You’re not wrong to kill someone (or as she’d prefer, something) without a future. The future that you’re taking away from it.
Like the guy who murders his parents, then pleads for mercy because he’s an orphan.
I’m not sure why this argument doesn’t extend to any human life. If I walk up to you right now and murder you, is it really immoral? If you only have “moral status” because you have a future, that status ends the moment I take away that future.
If you want to argue that you’re human because of your consciousness and your experiences, well… what if your experiences suck? What if your consciousness is dumb? What if I don’t think you serve any purpose? Why is it immoral to do something about it?
That whole worldview doesn’t sound right to me. I guess that’s why this lady teaches at Princeton and I’m just a silly blogger.
Wouldn’t it be more honest for abortion enthusiasts to admit that they’re just selfish? That they don’t want to deal with raising a kid, and they’d rather not think too hard about what that means for the kid? Just own it. “I care about human life right up to the point where it starts to inconvenience me. Sorry not sorry.”
Boom. No philosophy required. No need to embarrass yourself in front of James Franco.
(Hat tip: Andrew Kugle)