Criticallyevaluate Thomson’s violinist analogy.Thompson’sviolinist analogy is a very popular argument in the debate for thepermissibility of abortion and is therefore heavily deliberated. To criticallyevaluate the analogy, I will focus on its technical craft and then explore thereasoning provided within it. First, I will explore the purpose of an analogyin arguments and their effectiveness in conveying Thomson’s standpoint on abortion. Then, I will analyse argumentative tools such as thought experiments andslippery slope arguments for their credibility in Thomson’s analogy.
Finally, usingWiland and other assessments of the analogy, I will consider potential flawswithin the argument. Thus, strengthening my thesis for this essay, saying thatThomson’s violinist analogy holds up as a strong argument in its reasoning andstyle, but falls slightly short in being a perfect analogy. The unconscious violinistanalogy is as follows : You wake up and find yourself in bed with a famous unconsciousviolinist. He has a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers hasfound that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have thereforekidnapped you and plugged the violinist’s circulatory system into yours, sothat your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood. It is only fornine months1.The analogy aims to represent the situation of abortion for the mother, withthe unconscious violinist being the innocent foetus being made to use her bodyto survive.
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Through this, the strengths and flaws of the argument arise. Ananalogy is an effective tool of taking a premise, like ‘abortion is permissible’,that has been clouded with many arguments and provide an alternative, clearerperspective. As Wiland states “the whole point of using analogies in moralphilosophy is to get us past our self-interest, inertia, lack of empathy, lackof imagination and defensiveness. Analogies do this by getting us to look atseemingly all-too-familiar moral problems in a new light.”2 The reader can approach aproblem by thinking they are tackling something completely new, and proceed to solveit differently.
Hence being able to see the parallel between this conclusion andthe one of the original problem of abortion. Consequently, either helping solidifytheir preconceived stance, or influencing their current deliberation, e.g.unplugging the violinist is/is not permissible but abortion is still not.
Onemust also be able to empathise with an analogy in order for it to besuccessful. Thompson “uses the second person pronoun: you are attached to the famous violinist.”3 This technique has a largeimpact in dismissing any supplementary arguments such as battle of the sexesand arguments alike that aren’t directly about abortion itself. Through theviolinist analogy, every person can decide their stance from the same startingposition. Theproblem with creating parallels between situation is the risk of having aslippery slope argument.
“The key question in any slippery slope appeal iswhether the two situations are truly similar in a morally relevant way.”4 Within the analogy, thiscan be considered as, “if the first is morally acceptable (unplugging theviolinist), and if the second (having an abortion) is similar to the first in arelevant way, then the second should be acceptable also.”5 Many state that theanalogy is not morally relevant to the situation of abortion. For example; theviolinist is artificially attached to the woman. However he foetus is attachedto the mother in the most natural form without any intervention.6 Therefore, one is notbound by the same moral obligations that would influence their decision in thecase of the violinist like they would with a baby. Whilethis is a valid counterargument and shows that Thomson’s analogy may not drawdirect parallels with the situation of abortion, we must consider that it is aform of thought experiment.
This means that its purpose is not to directlyreplicate the situation of abortion, while that’s the purpose of an analogy,but to provoke purposeful thought from the reader. In moral philosophy, athought experiment triggers awareness of conflicts between judgements and thusprompt further search for principals that do more substantive work.7 Therefore, the analogy servesa slightly different purpose as part of the thought experiment than itsstandard intention. Thomsonherself never asserts her stance upon the reader, but allows them room to prompttheir own considerations, many of which she covers as the essay progresses.
Thevalidity and soundness of her arguments are credible to the analogy as it is a centricreference for most of her arguments. Thought he analogy may not be completelysound, its premises lead to a conclusion of two apt choices, providing it withat least some validity on its own. Oneof the debated parallels between the analogy and abortion is moralresponsibility. Eric Wiland states that since one is not responsible for the violinistbeing attached to them, they can detach themselves. However if one holds some responsibility,then they cannot.8This is to say that because the mother chose to have sex, she “bears some moralresponsibility for the pregnancy in all cases except rape.
And so doesn’t havea right to abort the child because it is a product of chance and notmisconduct.”9However, considering logically, one cannot be expected to entirely avoid an act,or be held morally responsible for its result since, they were responsible in theirmethods of prevention, for the fear of those methods failing and resulting in acertain outcome that already had the smallest probability of occurring. Perhapssome causal responsibility could be placed but is not enough to warrant thedenial of the right of abortion. As Boonin stated, there is a differencebetween “a person’s (a) voluntarily bringing about a state of affairsS and (b) voluntarily doing an action A foreseeing that this may leadto a state of affairs S.”10 Similarly,the argument of ‘killing and letting die’ also holds up some debate. Wilandexplains that “a woman who gets somebody to perform an abortion is gettingsomebody to kill someone.
“11 There stands a fine linebetween what is regarded as killing and letting die. Letting die is when one willnot die solely as a direct result of your actions (unplugging the violinist)but from external factors of their own (the kidney ailment). However killing iswhen your actions are directly the sole cause for one’s death.
As Koukl states “Amore accurate parallel with abortion would be to crush the violinist or cut himinto pieces before unplugging him.”12Theargument made is discredited by Thomson’s explanation on ones rights in thissituation by saying the best way to define the line is to state that killing isunjust but letting die is not, making the latter permissible.. Thomson arguesthrough her analogy that the violinist has no right against you that you shouldgive him continued use of your kidneys. Nobody has any such right unless you havegiven it; and nobody has the right against you that you’ll provide this right.For if you do allow them the right, it is a kindness on your part, not a duethey can claim.13Therefore, the argument of killing and letting die can be dismissed since theother person has no right to hold you to any moral obligations, “if you refuse, you are self-centred andcallous, indecent in fact, but not unjust.
“14 Ican sustain my thesis and position that the violinist analogy is a strong toolto use in Thomson’s argument on the permissibility of abortion. As an analogy,it has some flaws if used as a standalone tool, however, substantial evidenceshows that Thomson has applied a combination of clever techniques, persistentreasoning and a coherent argumentative structure in producing her argument, allthe while keeping the unconscious violinist analogy as the foal point. Theweaknesses highlighted in her argument are not substantial enough to discredit theanalogy; it still elicits a thought provoking response from the reader and doesnot hinder the effective reasoning provided towards Thomson’s perspective inthe argument of abortion. 1 Thomson, JudithJarvis. “A Defense of Abortion.” Philosophy & PublicAffairs 1, no.
1 (1971): pg. 48-492Wiland, Eric. “Unconscious Violinists and the Use of Analogies in MoralArgument.
” Journal of Medical Ethics 26, no. 6 (2000) pg. 4683Philosophyexperiments.com. (n.d.
). On Judith Jarvis Thomson’s ‘A Defenceof Abortion’. online 4Koukl, G. (2013). Unstringing the Violinist. Blog Stand to Reason.
5Koukl, G. (2013)6Koukl, G. (2013) 7Harry. (2010). Thomson’s violinist: what is the point of thought experiments inmoral philosophy?. Blog Crooked Timber.8Wiland, pg. 4679 Warren, Mary Anne (1973) On the Moraland Legal Status of Abortion.
The Monist Vol 57, No. 1: pg.42-6110Booni-Vail, David (1997) A Defense of “A Defense of Abortion”: On theResponsibility Objection to Thomson’s Argument.
Ethics, Vol. 107, No. 2:pg. 28611Wiland, pg.46712Koukl, G.
(2013)13Thomson, JJ. Pg. 5514Thomson, JJ.