Dan Marquis contends that except in “rare cases,” abortion is immoral, and it is immoral, he further argues, because the fetus has a “FLO”—a “future like ours.”

Before arguing that abortion is wrong, Marquis first attempts to show what makes killing in general wrong. Killing is wrong, he concludes, because it deprives the person killed of a “future of value.”  Marquis writes: “The loss of one’s life deprives one of all the experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments that would otherwise have constituted one’s future.”

Marquis elaborates, explaining that when a person’s life is extinguished, that person is deprived of both what he values presently about his future, as well as what he would have valued later on in his life.

Since a fetus too has a future of value, a FLO, abortion is wrong for the same reason that killing anyone is wrong.

Marquis notes some virtues of his account.

First, it is silent with respect to questions concerning the relationship between such concepts as “human being” and “personhood,” as well as concomitant issues like “natural rights.” Instead, the FLO theory simply notes that a fetus is no different from any reasonably healthy adult in having a future of value. Thus, if it is wrong to kill the latter because of this consideration, it is no less wrong to kill the former because of it.

Secondly, Marquis’ FLO account accommodates several moral intuitions of ours.

  1. For starters, he believes that it does not imply that “active euthanasia” is always, or even generally, wrong: a person who is terminally ill or in pain will not suffer the loss of a future of value if his life is ended.
  2. The FLO theory leaves open the possibility that non-human species, whether mammalson Earth or extra-terrestrial entities, may have futures sufficiently similar to ours to make it just as immoral to kill them as it is immoral to kill us.
  3. On this account, it is just as wrong to kill infants and small children as it is wrong to kill adults.

Thirdly, Marquis insists that his approach does not rely upon illicit reasoning of the sort on display in the (all too common) argument that since killing persons is immoral, it must also be immoral to kill potential persons. The relevant moral category of the FLO theory is not personhood, but having a future of value.

Marquis’ position is attractive for its originality, as well as for its author’s desire to avoid the routine cluster of issues that tend to bog down the abortion debate. Yet originality is no substitute for truth.

And the truth is that Marquis’ position is not without its problems.

Marquis rightly recognizes that it is indeed invalid to reason from the wrongness of killing persons to the wrongness of killing “potential” persons. Presumably, what renders such reasoning illegitimate is not that the premise speaks to one type of being while the conclusion addresses a fundamentally different type of being. What renders the reasoning invalid is that it proceeds from what is allegedly true of one type of being—persons—to what is allegedly true of what practically amounts to a non-being: a “potential” person is a virtual no-thing.

But if this is Marquis’ reason for rejecting this argument, then hasn’t he just given a reason for rejecting his argument?

Here’s the point: the future is just as potential, just as much of a non-entity, as a so-called “potential person.” The future has not yet happened.  It is, quite literally, nothing.

There is a further problem: From the fact that a person values X, it does not follow that it would be immoral to deprive him of X. For example, Jones may value an affair with Smith’s wife, but this certainly doesn’t imply that it would be impermissible for Smith (or his wife) to deny Jones the affair.

Simply put, it is far from obvious that the wrongness of killing stems from depriving a person of a future that he values.

Closely related to this last consideration is a third problem. It can be argued that Marquis equivocates on the word “value.”  Though he speaks of a future of value, what he really means—and he says as much from time to time—is a future that one values. However, the difference between these two ways of speaking is not inconsiderable.

Whether or not this is his intention, the phrase, “a future of value,” suggests that the value in question is objective, i.e. transcends the preferences and desires of the person whose future it is.  In stark contrast, the word “value” in the phrase, a “future that I value,” is subjective: the future is valuable because, and maybe only because, I value it.

For as thought-provoking as Marquis’ FLO theory of the wrongness of abortion undoubtedly is, it nevertheless raises at least as many, if not more, of the same problems as those theories that it rivals.

 

 

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