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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


11 thoughts on “

  1. Here’s a thought experiment I found thought provoking (and troubling), and I’d like to see how you’d address it.

    Let’s say you are crossing a crosswalk, when you turn to your left, and a car is careening toward you. The next thing you know, you’re waking up in a hospital room.

    The doctors tell you that a man you saw crossing in the opposite direction is sitting next to you in a hospital bed. In fact, you are linked together through a network of devices and tubes. “I’m sorry,” says the doctor, “but this man’s extraordinarily unique physiology, and your equally rare match to same, requires that we keep you connected in this way for at least 7 months, or he will surely die.”

    There’s various questions here. One of which is, are you under a moral obligation to stay connected to this man? I’d err on the side of “yes.” But the other is, ought the state mandate a legal obligation to stay connected? The state is interested in his right to life, but at the same time, it seems rather wanton of government to MANDATE that I cannot choose anything other than this involuntary, inconvenient tether. Furthermore, my life is at risk, though nominally; there is a 0.01% chance I will die from staying attached.

    What do you make of the questions raised in this thought experiment? (Spoiler: Many people I’ve asked this believe that you should be mandated to stay connected, but that the state should pay and provide for every convenience during your hardship… which is very interesting, because they don’t have the same passion about an analogous provision.)

    Posted by Stan | February 17, 2013, 4:44 AM
    • First, I would argue that you are actually not obligated to stay connected to this other man. You have no obligations to this other person. [Edit- I misspoke here. What I mean is that you are not obligated to use your body to keep him alive. That is a supererogatory good. We of course do have obligations to this other man, like to not murder him, etc.]

      Second, there’s a gigantic disanalogy in this analogy (the thought experiment itself is known as “violinist” argument). Namely, how is getting hooked up to a random stranger in any way the same as a mother’s relationship to the child insider her womb? In order for this thought experiment to work, the pro-choice advocate has to say that a mother’s situation regarding her children is no different from my situation if I were hooked up to a random stranger against my will. Really? That seems to me to be patently absurd.

      Third, when you take my first and second points in conjunction, the experiment really falls apart. The pro-choice advocate using this argument must literally argue that a mother’s duty to her children is no different from my duty to a random stranger. Yet we all know–and I mean really know–that this is false. If a mother leaves her child on the side of the street in LA and then drives home to Chicago, you know what we do? We charge her with criminal neglect. Why? Because parents have obligations to their children.

      So overall I think this thought experiment is simply absurd. It plays with our emotions without actually making an analogy. The only way it works is if we undermine all responsibility parents have for their children.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | February 17, 2013, 1:10 PM
    • ^Ditto to what JW said. The 6th article on the list also addresses this thought experiment. Here’s the link:

      Posted by Matt | February 17, 2013, 1:47 PM
  2. Matt, the article you provided seemed like an array of arguments from lack of imagination. When the thought experiment can be trivially modified to handle a complaint, then it is not a functionally cogent complaint.


    >First, the violinist is artificially attached to the woman. A mother’s unborn baby, however, is not surgically connected, nor was it ever “attached” to her. Instead, the baby is being produced by the mother’s own body by the natural process of reproduction.

    Let’s say the baby was the result of rape, which is functionally artificial. Or the product of artificial insemination. Or, better yet, an artificial insemination process done without her consent. Does the fact that it’s cellular tubes rather than plastic tubes connecting her to the being constitute such a powerful “artificial/natural” dichotomy such that moral obligation “springs forth”?

    >In the violinist illustration, the woman might be justified withholding life-giving treatment from the musician under these circumstances. Abortion, though, is not merely withholding treatment. It is actively taking another human being’s life through poisoning or dismemberment.

    So, imagine that there is an abortifacient pill that withholds nutrients from the baby until it dies.

    >What if the mother woke up from an accident to find herself surgically connected to her own child?

    What if it was just SOME child that she didn’t know? Would she be free of any obligation to keep that child alive? What if she then was told that this was, in fact, her child, that she had adopted out a few years earlier? Would she suddenly have a moral obligation? Would the moral obligation have been there the whole time?

    I’ve been in countless of these debates with people who think there is nothing morally intense about abortion, who think it’s wrong but shouldn’t be restricted in any way, who think it should be restricted but not criminalized, etc. And I simply haven’t found a good way to address that thought experiment without:

    1) Running into dead ends when the thought experiment is trivially modified to handle a complaint.

    2) Special pleading; “there is a special obligation.”

    3) Arbitrary, nonfunctional line-drawing with regard to natural vs. artifical.

    4) Admitting that there is a moral obligation to keep the violinist alive (and the question of legal obligation follows thereafter).

    As you might have gathered, I’ve come to believe that the first 3 are not sufficient, leaving me to bite the bullet on #4.

    Posted by Stan | February 17, 2013, 3:28 PM
    • I think it is hardly special pleading to say a mother has obligations to her children. It seems prima facie obvious.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | February 18, 2013, 12:17 AM
      • It’s special pleading to say that a mother has SPECIAL obligations to her children that make them FUNDAMENTALLY distinct from obligations to fellow persons. An obligation to your child certainly has an obligation to a unique degree of significance (i.e., few others are as important), but not a fundamentally different significance (i.e., it does not mean that other humans are unimportant such that you can disconnect from them for “freedom reasons” and escape fault-free).

        Let’s not misstate the letter and spirit of my previous post. I clearly think that we have obligations to preserve the lives of fellow humans. The issue is clearly not, “Is Stan questioning the obligation of the mother to her child?” Rather, the “specialness” of a “mother-child” obligation constitutes special pleading when you say, “Disconnect when you please” in the case of the violinist and yet “You are absolutely forbidden to disconnect” in the case of the pregnant mother. In other words, it is not at all obvious that the following claim is false: “It is morally abhorrent to disconnect in the case of the violinist and morally worse to disconnect in the case of the mother.”

        Posted by Stan | February 18, 2013, 4:15 AM
      • Okay, I’m going to ask one more time: Are you saying that a mother has no more obligation to her own child than she does to other children?

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | February 18, 2013, 5:32 PM
  3. I don’t know why you’re asking me a question to which I already explicitly gave my answer: “An obligation to your child certainly has … a unique degree of significance.” You can ask as many times as you want!

    I’m finding it hard not to simply repeat what I said in my previous post. A mother certainly as more of an obligation to her own child than to other children. But this “more of an obligation” is a matter of degree, not some fundamental thing that makes her blame-free when she elects to disconnect from, and thus cause to die, the child-violinist to which she is not mother.

    Posted by Stan | February 19, 2013, 4:19 AM
    • I don’t think the mother would be blame free for disconnecting from someone else, but I do think that she has a greater obligation to her child, which I think is the major problem with the thought experiment.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | February 20, 2013, 10:47 AM
      • So you DO agree that she has some kind of moral obligation to stay connected to someone else (otherwise she would have no blameworthiness for disconnecting). If we can agree on that, then we can get to my difficulty.

        Imagine, for a decision, the prospective intensity of moral blameworthiness on a simple scale:

        1) Non-intense.
        2) Intense, but not significant enough to justify force of government to stop or prevent, or significant enough only to justify government suggestions, information campaigns, and peripheral help.
        3) Intense enough to justify force of government to stop or prevent completely.

        If all abortion is firmly #3, it is not obvious that violinist-disconnection is firmly #2. That’s because though the mother has a special obligation to her child, she nonetheless has SOME obligation to other children as well (e.g., we’d consider a person negligent if they stood there silent while a fast-moving vehicle approached a child playing in the street). And since the difference is a matter of degree rather than functionally fundamental, line-drawing is required. One must arbitrarily say, “A mother’s special obligation to her child trumps freedom in the case of abortion, but in the case of the violinist, the obligation is below the X-line, such that her freedom trumps her obligation to keep others alive.”

        And, certainly, we MUST draw that arbitrary line on all sorts of life-and-death issues world-wide. It would be simply impractical to say that obligations to keep other humans alive trumps all freedom. But the violinist example is so proximal and cut-and-dry, I have a really hard time saying it isn’t #3 alongside abortion, if I’m going to be consistent.

        Posted by Stan | February 20, 2013, 11:10 AM
      • I admit that I think that the question is very complicated in regards to a perfect stranger. I think we may blame someone for disconnecting, but I’m not at all convinced that there would be real culpability there.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | February 21, 2013, 5:16 PM

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