All aboard!

I think Gene's piece is an excellent representation of the bare reasoning underlying the pro-life position. This analogy captures the moral dilemma well, in my opinion. Bob is not so sure. He writes in the comments:

I realize this was an LRC piece, and not a submission to the Journal of American Philosophy, but I still think you made this way too blunt.

First, the extreme libertarian position probably IS to have the legal right to kick the guy off your ship. I'm virtually certain that's what Walter Block (of non-Crash Landing posting privileges) would say.

Second, let's make the analogy closer. Suppose the person coming aboard was certain to go around ripping up the sails, or was so heavy that the ship couldn't get to the original destination. Or suppose the owner of the ship had just watched that early Nicole Kidman movie and was afraid the guy coming aboard was a nutjob.

There are plenty of scenarios where even intuitively, most people would think it OK for the ship owner to kick the person back into the ocean. So then the issue is, is Gene's ideal court going to get inside the person's head and second-guess those motives?

I.e. if you agree that if the owner truly feared for his/her life--maybe the person climbing aboard just had a weird look about him, or kept muttering stuff under his breath--then that makes refusal to bring him aboard OK, then I think you're stuck. Because then everyone can just claim that that was the motivation, and it would be hard in practice to prove otherwise.

If you're just trying to prove most cases of abortion are immoral, that's one thing. (I'm neither agreeing nor disagreeing.) But I don't think you've come close to proving that it would be illegal in a just world.
Firstly, I don't think Bob's invocation of the "extreme libertarian position" is relevant, unless he means by this the pure (and thus correct) moral position a consistent libertarian would hold. Libertarianism is about total respect for life and property, but it is not clear how a baby dropped by a stork onto Gene's ship has violated any property rights. It doesn't seem the Reason/Cato/Blockian position on this is a logical extension of a libertarian moral framework in any coherent sense.

Bob's next point is, I think, his most constructive. Bob's week Nicole Kidman-watching captain scenario aside (how do irrational fears factor into an objective moral assessment of abortion?), Gene's point that the new passenger cannot "compel you to go anywhere you were not going before" is not perfectly analogous to pregnancy. The handling of an unruly passenger whose presence may tear down sails is less clear than the originally framed situation. And of course a pregnancy might lead the mother to have to change the destination if, say, she intended on pursuing a modeling career but would have to "sail elsewhere" if she had the kid. Per Gene's original framing, a weak case for throwing the passenger off (using the "bugger off" clause) could be made if the very presence of the passenger changed the destination of the ship.

I think such points are ultimately an abuse of a metaphor that is much more subtle. The point is that if you have a human being, you have a reasonable obligation to protect him if he finds himself with no other place to go but your ship. Gene suggests that while you don't have to do whatever the passenger demands, you must at least make sure if you do let him off, you make sure he is safe. That's the essential point. Yes, a baby may "tear up sails", may necessarily rule out certain navigation routes, such as a modeling career in the short run, but a baby is only implicitly asking to live, and after all, it was not actually floating in the ocean, it was borne of the ship itself.

The "all aboard" shout was heard, and a baby heard it and got aboard. It's not that a man's ship sunk exactly, but a man was welcomed on board. The captain may not have intended the welcoming of the passenger, but it is not the passenger's fault he was so welcomed. There may be some inconveniences to the captain, but there must be every reasonable attempt to save the life and balance the danger to the ship and the gravity of the loss to the captain as a result of a possibly different course.

This is almost the same as the policy before Roe v Wade in many states, incidentally. Abortion was outlawed, but there were some special cases in which it was allowed, including when the mother's life was at risk.


  1. Dave from Orlando12:12 PM

    I am still not sure of the basic terms of the analogy. Is it a baby or a potential baby? Is the baby on the ship or three months away from being on the ship? If you assume away the basic legal and physical framework, then what good is the analogy?

  2. I don't know your personal situation, John, but I am surprised that Gene so flippantly refers to a pregnancy as an "inconvenience."

    To make the analogy more accurate, it's that you were in your ship heading down to the wharf 3 hours away, when all of a sudden a guy climbs aboard who has a disease that can only be treated at a port 9 months away. And unless you take him immediately, he will die.

    In addition to changing your plans for the next 9 months, this guy's illness is mildly contagious, and will make you vomit every morning for a while, and change your body irreparably.

    You can say morality and law demand that you do it, but it's not just an inconvenience. If you guys are really trying to convince people who don't already agree with you, I would recommend reading some of the more intelligent defenses of abortion.

    (BTW my own view: I'm not sure whether it's murder. It's certainly "less murder" than killing an infant, and "more murder" than refraining from reproduction. But since I'm a pacifist I don't think anybody should be locked up anyway. If you want to boycott people who have/perform abortions, OK go ahead; I won't boycott you in turn. But I probably wouldn't boycott them myself.)

  3. Oh and what are you talking about the "all aboard" was heard?! It's more like, "Jim come aboard" and then a baby crawled on too when nobody was looking, because the gangplank was left out.

    (Yes I have very little maritime experience; I don't even know the terminology to describe the picture in my head.)

    I don't object to the use of analogies but it doesn't seem that you are trying very hard to tailor it to the actual situations over which most people disagree.

  4. Anonymous9:32 AM

    Since Callahan's solution is in the imaginary scientific future, let us also imagine the potential human can be implanted in the impregnating man, and let him carry the spud to term.

  5. 'To make the analogy more accurate, it's that you were in your ship heading down to the wharf 3 hours away, when all of a sudden a guy climbs aboard who has a disease that can only be treated at a port 9 months away.'

    No, Bob, per the conditions I stipulated, port is only a week or two away and your body will hardly be changed at all.

    'You can say morality and law demand that you do it, but it's not just an inconvenience.'

    Bob, I explicitly stipulated that these issues would be gone, and that the baby could be removed but not killed almost as soon as pregnancy is detected! Then delivering the baby is 0% more onerous than aborting it! The question is, is there then *any* justification left for abortion?

    And yes, this is in the future, but not too far off -- the age of viablity is dropping very fast.

  6. Gene,

    I don't think you *did* stipulate that these issues would be gone. You spent all of your article on the analogy--where the guy kicking off the person is a murderer, not "a murderer in 15 years when technology advances"--and then in your final paragraph, you come back to the actual case of pregnant women:

    "Therefore, as I see it, the ethical way to end an unwanted pregnancy is to deliver the baby at the first moment it is likely to be viable, and place it up for adoption."

    You didn't say anything here about, "In 30 years, I'm saying the ethical way to..." You are here unequivocally saying that someone who gets an abortion is unethical. That's a defensible position, but don't deny that that's what you're implying. If a woman last week got an abortion because she didn't want to spend 2 months puking or lose her job, if she read your article she would rightfully conclude that you thought she was immoral.

    Back to your article:

    This may seem burdensome, but advances in medical technology are pushing that "first moment" back earlier and earlier, so that soon it will approach the initial detection of the pregnancy itself.

    OK this is like the 4th last sentence in your article, and the first point where you mention technology. But even here, you are simply trying to take the sting out of your ethical pronouncement; you're certainly not saying, "My view only holds once technology sufficiently advances so that only sadism remains as a motivation for abortion."

    It won’t be long before a foetus can quickly and easily be relocated in an artificial womb of some sort, or the womb of a willing mother. Once that happens, what excuse will there be for killing the child?

    Are you talking about for upper middle class American women? There are people in Africa without running water right now. Your technological solution to abortion is several decades away, at least.

    Maybe what's happened is that your article gave people the wrong idea of your claim, but your article clearly seemed to me to say a sober libertarian would have to conclude that abortion is murder, *right now*. Are you saying that or not?

  7. You're correct in that what I wrote did not come out the way I wanted it to. I'm going to write a follow-up.


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