A Rebuttal of the “Future Like Ours” Argument Against Abortion

One of the more popular pro-life arguments challenging the morality of abortion is the “Future Like Ours” argument, explained in this famous paper by Don Marquis. Don Marquis argues that the wrongness of killing lies in the way it deprives an entity of a future it will value.

Importantly, Marquis’ argument suggests that beings that have never experienced any kind of conscious awareness can nevertheless possess a “future of value”. Thus a zygote, despite lacking any thoughts or desires, may nevertheless possess the same or greater “future of value” that an eight-year-old child possesses. This is on the grounds that the zygote will, if allowed to develop, eventually become the type of being that does value and enjoy its life, just as the eight-year-old presently does. The deliberate killing of a zygote, therefore, involves the same or greater wrongness as the deliberate killing of the eight-year-old.

Don Marquis’ argument has some intuitive appeal. Unlike the “standard” pro-life argument, which simply claims that it’s always prima facie murder to kill a “biologically human organism”, Marquis’ argument can explain why euthanasia for the permanently comatose is not murder. The permanently comatose lack a future like ours, so it’s not a harm to kill them. Marquis’ argument can also be used to show why it is wrong to kill an intelligent alien, who may not be “biologically human” but who nevertheless possesses a “future of value”.

Despite this, I would like to propose a simple thought experiment with two scenarios to intuitively show how the future-like-ours argument fails to explain the wrongness of killing, and thus ultimately fails to show that abortion is immoral. This is not intended to show that a future-like-ours is necessarily irrelevant to examining the harms of killing, but to simply show that removing a future-like-ours from a being that has never experienced consciousness is not equivalent to murder.

Scenario One: A brilliant scientist has determined how to create perfectly human-like, silicon androids which will have the same experiences and consciousness as biological humans. She builds the android’s body, and she creates the silicon chip that will enable the android to become conscious and have human-like experiences. Having assembled the android, however, she begins to have existential doubt about the morality of her project. She therefore decides not to power on the silicon chip that would enable the android to become conscious and she disassembles it completely.

Scenario Two: The brilliant scientist goes through with the project and powers on the android. Once conscious, the android begins to interact with the world and develops desires to continue doing so. But then an anti-android activist unplugs the android’s power source and disassembles the android, permanently ending the android’s conscious existence.

It seems intuitively obvious that there is a moral difference between the actions of the scientist in scenario one and the actions of the activist in scenario two. In the first scenario, the scientist disassembles an object that, in Marquis’ terms, possesses a FOV but has never been a subject of experience. Disassembling it does not violate the desires or wants of any being. In the second, the activist also removes a FOV from the android, but more importantly, destroys an entity that exists as a subject of experience and desires to interact with the world. Only the second scenario seems credibly equivalent to murder.

Of course, a defender of Marquis’ argument may bite the bullet and argue that Scenario One also involves murder and a great harm. But one could then argue that if the unpowered silicon chip possesses a future of value, the silicon wafer used as the basis for that chip also holds possesses that future of value. If the scientist’s community decides to throw away a batch of silicon wafers, is that batch also being deprived a future of value, and in some sense being harmed? Each successive step backwards seems more and more intuitively implausible.

This is not to say that a FOV is always irrelevant to discussions of the ethics of killing. But it is simply to argue that a FOV, separate from an organism that is already dispositionally conscious, is not sufficient to warrant any sort of “right to life”.

Published by KS


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