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As someone who believes that bacon should be one of the four food groups, I am certainly sympathetic to your argument , David. However, I think the case you made has the unfortunate unintended effect of undercutting a key argument against abortion.

The abortion debate often hinges on the question of whether a fetus is a person. But what if the key issue that should be considered isn’t necessarily personhood, but the morality of killing? What if the immorality of abortion can be established irrespective of the question of personhood?

Philosopher Donald Marquis makes such an argument by circumventing the question of personhood and examining the question of what makes killing wrong . This, according to Marquis, is the question that needs to be addressed from the start:

After all, if we merely believe, but do not understand, why killing adult human beings such as ourselves is wrong, how could we conceivably show that abortion is either immoral or permissible.

Marquis concludes that what makes killing inherently wrong is that it deprives a victim of all the “experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments that would otherwise have constituted ones future.” It is not the change in the biological state that makes killing wrong, says Marquis, but the loss of all experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments that would otherwise have constituted one’s future (hereafter we will refer to these as EAPE). We are killing not only the being but also its future self.

These EAPE are either intrinsically valuable or lead to something else that is valuable for its own sake. When a victim is killed, they are deprived not only of all that they value but all that they will value in the future. Therefore, what makes the prima facie killing of any adult human being wrong is this loss of future EAPE.

This has obvious implications for abortion. Marquis concludes that:


The future of a standard fetus includes a set of experiences, projects, activities, and such which are identical with the futures of adult human beings and are identical with the futures of young children. Since the reason that is sufficient to explain why it is wrong to kill human beings after the time of birth is a reason that also applies to fetuses, it follows that abortion is prima facie morally wrong.

Because Marquis defends the argument in detail, I won’t rehash the points he makes in response to objections. I recommend that anyone who finds fault with the conclusion read the paper in its entirety. Personally, I can’t imagine how the conclusion could be denied. Nevertheless, the power of rationalization is almost infinitely flexible so I’m sure some creative thinkers will attempt to find a loophole.

Because I believe that both life and personhood begin at fertilization, I consider it obvious that the killing of a human being at the embryonic stage of development is seriously immoral. But even if I were to agree with Cullin that the question of when life and personhood being are undecided, the conclusion that abortion is wrong would remain unchanged. There simply are no morally justifiable reasons for arbitrarily aborting a human being.

But does this same moral reasoning apply to the killing of animals? I believe the TLS reviewer intends something along that line when he writes:

Even if painlessly euthanized at that age, the brevity of its life precludes that life from having been a good one (at best, it was “promising”).

In response you asked, “since they have no real consciousness or memory, how can they know, much less care, that their life is shorter than it might have been?” You seem to believe that animals are not self-conscious (which I likely agree with, though it is a debatable proposition) and that the they have no memory (an even more debatable contention).

You make another claim that that, “Animals don’t live in time as man does, and therefore being deprived of time is not an injustice.” Because the same could be said for human embryos and fetuses (if not infants), I’m not sure we should fully rely on that premise for our conclusion.

The problem, as I see it, is that while Cullin’s argument is persuasive in prohibiting the killing of creatures that will have a “future self”, those of us who are sympathetic to human exceptionalism may need a firmer foundation to make the argument for killing and eating animals. For me, it is sufficient to rely on the argument from scripture: The Bible says that man is created in the image of God and that animals are given to us for food. In my opinion, that is a higher form of reasoning than appeals to pure reason. The fact that some people cannot understand or be persuaded by such thinking is akin to the fact that some six-year-old cannot understand the theory of special relativity: The fact that they are no capable of comprehension has no bearing on its truth.

While it is often necessary to use appeals to natural reasoning—if for no other reason than to persuade wholly secular thinkers—I do not believe it is necessary. Nor do I think that there are always parallel arguments for every argument that can be made from scripture. Indeed, it may be the case that there is no convincing arguments that can be made from pure reason for human exceptionalism. If so, then we are unlikely to persuade some people that killing animals for food is morally licit. That may be unfortunate outcome but it does have one positive benefit: It means there is more steak and bacon for the rest us.

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