Kant S Ethical Theory Essays On Abortion

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Immanuel Kant is a famous philosopher who lived in the eighteenth century.  One of Kant’s most lasting contributions to philosophy was in the field of ethics.  He believed that moral laws could be derived from reason, and that all immoral behavior was, therefore, unreasonable or irrational.

Kant argued for the idea of the categorical imperative, a law of morality that all humans have a duty to obey.  His first formulation of this categorical imperative is the following: “Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”  Kant believed that all moral duties could be deduced from this categorical imperative.

What does this categorical imperative mean?  In essence, if you want to decide whether an act is morally good, then you should be able to will that everyone else would act in the same way.  In other words, the act must be universalizable.

What about abortion?  Kant would say to the woman who wants to have an abortion: “Can you will that every other woman would have an abortion when she is pregnant?”  If the woman says “yes,” then abortion is moral.  If she says “no,” then abortion cannot be moral.

It seems to me that a woman who wanted to have an abortion could not will that every other woman also have an abortion when she is pregnant.  Why?  Because in one generation the human race would go extinct and nobody could have an abortion.  To will that all women have abortions would mean that no women could have an abortion after the current generation died off.  By Kant’s reasoning, this makes abortion irrational and, therefore,  immoral.

Again, according to Kant, abortion would be immoral because it would be irrational to will that every pregnant woman have an abortion.  The act of every pregnant woman aborting the fetus inside her would, ultimately, end abortion, which is completely irrational.

You may not agree with Kant’s categorical imperative, but it does give us an interesting perspective on the issue of abortion.  Fundamentally, those who support a woman’s choice to have an abortion can only support some women choosing abortion, not all.  Presumably and ironically, if all women decided to have abortions, the pro-choice movement would have to become pro-life.

categorical imperativeethicsImmanuel Kant

Abortion: Bentham Vs. Kant Essay


Mike McMenamy

Professor Brown

PH 107 Ethics

December 2, 2009

Abortion: Bentham vs. Kant

Abortion is defined as the removal of an embryo or fetus from the uterus in order to end a pregnancy. Surrounding this practice is passionate debate and heated controversy as to whether a mother has the right to take away the life of a potentially viable human being. Those for abortion take the stance of Pro-Choice; as they believe that the matter falls into the hands of the mother and thus is entirely her decision, or choice. Those against abortion are collectively known as being Pro-Life, because abortion takes away the life of the fetus. To argue each position I will look at the ideas and theories of Jeremy Bentham and Immanuel Kant and make conclusions for each philosopher.

Bentham was a utilitarian, his idea of the greatest good for the greatest number of people and his Hedonistic Calculus theory will be used to determine his position on the issue of abortion. Bentham used his Hedonistic Calculus theory to

McMenamy 2

determine which pleasures are greater and ought to be pursued over others. This theory is divided into seven different features of pleasure, intensity, duration, certainty or uncertainty, propinquity or remoteness, fecundity, purity, and extent. To properly apply Bentham's ideas to abortion we must look at each situation separately, in some scenarios abortion may be permissible and others may not be. For example, if a woman had become pregnant as a result of rape and having the baby would only bring more pain to the mother, her family, and even the baby, therefore abortion would be justifiable because it prevents pain. Bentham would not come to a specific conclusion on the morality of abortion as a whole, but rather multiple conclusions for...

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