Students and professors packed a Peck Hall classroom Friday to hear an acclaimed philosopher present his argument that abortion is immoral.
Philosophy honor society Phi Sigma Tau welcomed Don Marquis as their keynote speaker for their seventh annual Undergraduate Philosophy Conference. Philosophy students from across the country and Canada participated.
Phi Sigma Tau President Garner Perigo said the turnout for the keynote address was the largest in the history of the conference. Despite the popularity, Perigo said there were unusual obstacles to staging the event.
According to Perigo, the Student Government Finance Board showed more interest in the details of Phi Sigma Tau’s program than usual.
“I was pressed a little harder than other individuals soliciting funds at the same time and more than we have been in past years,” Perigo said.
Student Government Financial Officer Ryan Rosiak confirmed that there was some resistance to funding Marquis’ visit to campus.
“There were a couple of people on the board that didn’t agree with the topic. Some women didn’t like it,” Rosiak said. “Some of the members didn’t realize it was a philosophical debate, not a scientific debate.”
Despite the reservations of some Finance Board members, all members approved the funding request except Grace Figgers, who abstained from voting. The Student Senate approved the request without dissent.
Marquis found that reservations to discuss abortion are very common. His 1989 paper, “Why Abortion is Immoral,” has been republished 91 times, in several languages, yet Marquis is not often asked to speak on abortion.
“It is one of the most interesting topics to think really carefully and really hard about,” Marquis said. “Unfortunately, people only talk about it with people who agree with them.”
Marquis said the political discussions on abortion do not have much substance.
“People don’t discuss it very carefully. There are a lot of slogans. People don’t give reasons for their opinions. It’s a disaster on both sides,” Marquis said. “That is true of many issues, like health care and economic policy. These aren’t discussed in an intelligent way on either side.”
Sophomore child psychology major Aisha Dudley, of Peoria, grew up in a pro-choice environment and had not had much exposure to the other side of the argument. She came to the presentation to get a different perspective.
“Personally, I have been very conflicted about abortion,” Dudley said. “I wanted to hear someone else’s view.”
Marquis said his view is uncommon.
“I haven’t met many people who are atheists, don’t believe that all human life holds value and believe that abortion is immoral,” Marquis said.
Marquis clarified his views on the existence of a divine entity.
“I told someone earlier today that I am an atheist. I’m not quite an atheist,” Marquis said. “God may exist, for all I know, but we don’t know much about her properties if she does exist.”
The presentation began with what Marquis considers four invalid arguments commonly used to oppose abortion. Perhaps the most well-known of the rejected arguments is the innocent human life perspective, which is held by the Catholic Church.
Because he does not believe all innocent human life should be spared regardless of the circumstance, Marquis rejects the innocent human life argument. Marquis believes, for example, that euthanasia for those who are in severe and irrevocable pain is acceptable.
The future of value perspective, held by Marquis, states that what makes it wrong to kill all of us who have the right to life is that killing us deprives us of our futures of value.
“I’m giving an account of how killing harms a human being, and I’m saying that it also applies to the fetus,” Marquis said. “There are people who hold views like mine but don’t apply it to fetuses. I always thought that was kind of an arbitrary view.”
To shorten someone’s life is to deprive the person of pleasures they would have otherwise had. According to Marquis, this is the reason people consider shortening someone’s life to be a misfortune.
“Fetuses have futures of value. The fetus I once was had a future very much like mine,” Marquis said. “Of course, there are exceptions to the wrongness of killing adults. Exceptions are carved out with a lot of care. When you take the fetus serious, morally, things get complicated.”
Visiting philosophy professor Elizabeth Victor attended the presentation because she was familiar with Marquis’ work, but had some things she wanted him to clarify. Victor said it is possible to be pro-choice and have a nuanced position.
“In a society where there aren’t proper support structures, we should seriously talk about what kinds of special obligations come with pregnancy and when they come on the scene,” Victor said.
Marquis argued that a pregnant woman is a parent and, therefore, has a special responsibility that goes above her obligation to anyone else.
“If you object to that, think of your attitude toward deadbeat dads,” Marquis said. “We actually do think that people who are biological parents, whether they wanted to be parents or not, have obligations to the children of whom they are parents.”
An audience member asked Marquis to address the possibility that a pregnancy could diminish the mother’s future of value or that the mother’s future of value is more important than that of the fetus. Marquis said the presence of a fetus might prove inconvenient to the mother, just as the presence of others in our lives can be inconvenient.
“If you and I are applying for medical school and there are only two openings left, it would clearly be better for me if you were not here,” Marquis said. “But we don’t think that is a valid reason to have you bumped off.”
According to Marquis, questions about pregnancy resulting from rape are a way for people who are pro-abortion rights to establish that, in certain cases abortion might not be wrong. Therefore, in general, abortions are permissible.
“That is not the way to think about it. I don’t think the fact that there are hard cases shows that I’m wrong,” Marquis said. “Just as the fact that there are hard cases regarding killing adults doesn’t show that it’s all right to kill adults.”
Marquis said his position on abortion is not popular, even amongst others who oppose abortion.
“There is a very substantial literature of people trying to point out why I’m wrong,” Marquis said. “I am thankful for it because it causes me to think through my position and ensure it holds up to the argument.”