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August 27, 2005

Philosophical Conundrum

Our philosphical conundrum for today comes from Owen Barder. On the subject of abortion he makes this comment:

But we do not, in general, think that other people have a right to commandeer our bodies, even if their life depends on it.


Pregnancy is 9 months, the biblical life span is 70 years, so, in order to survive the foetus commandeers 1.07%  of the woman’s life span. From what I understand of Owen’s ideas, this is a bad thing.

Owen has been vocal in his insistence that it is moral (indeed, immoral not to) for the wealthy nations to spend 0.7% of their GDP on aid to poor countries. One of the definitions of GDP (with a little tinkering around the edges) is all incomes within that country.  So when people’s lives depend on it they do have a moral claim to 0.7% of everyone’s life. From what I understand of Owen’s ideas this is a good thing.

I never was any good at philosophy so I can’t tell you why 0.7% is a good thing and 1.07% is a bad thing. I’m as mystified as you are.

(BTW, Owen, smile.)

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yes I do believe you are allowed to own a woman's body...too bad the woman might not like it..

Posted by: e m butler | Aug 27, 2005 3:04:47 PM

Well I would say there is a fairly big difference beween taxing someone for part of their income and allowing a 6 pound object to grow inside you.

I don't accept that tax is "like" slave labour. As a good capitalist, you know that labour is only part of the mixture of things that make wealth. For example, you know that capital of some kind is generally needed. When someone contributes that capital to mix with your labour, you think it right and proper that the capitalist should get a return which is part of the value of what the labour (augmented with capital) produces.

I think of government as socially-provided capital. It provides various public goods, like enforcement of contracts, infrastructure such as roads, education and health for the workforce, a stable global environment and various other things that enable the worker to create value. Just as the capitalist should get a return for the contribution he or she makes, so government needs to be paid for the (very substantial) contribution that it makes to augmenting the value of labour.

By all means argue that government does too much (which it does) and that it does too many things badly (which it does). But if you accept that there are some things government should do, then taxation is no more a form of slavery than paying a share of the value produced by labour to capitalists is a form of slavery.

Tim adds: I have argued that as labour is paid some of the value added by capital it is labour that exploits capital.

So you didn’t see the last line?

Posted by: Owen Barder | Aug 27, 2005 4:35:04 PM

Anotyher angle on this:

If it is OK for a fetus to "comandeer" a woman's body (against her wished) because its life depends on it, is is also OK for someone to be forced to donate blood in order to save others' lives? How about a kidney?

(No I don't have an answer for it, it's just a question)

Posted by: Phil Hunt | Aug 27, 2005 5:19:34 PM

Many people play the lottery. They stake a pound on the 14 million to one chance that they might win the jackpot. Most lottery stakes lose, very few get the pleasure of a big win.

With sex, nearly everybody who plays gets the pleasure of doing so. But there's the chance that a pregnancy might be the result.

We insist that people are adult enough to decide for themselves whether or not to throw away a pound on a lottery ticket. We don't give them the right to their pound back if they don't win.

Sex is no different. Once you play the game, you have to take the possible consequences arising from having done so.

Consensual sex is in effect a pre-agreement with any possible child that may result.

Posted by: David B. Wildgoose | Aug 27, 2005 7:35:31 PM

Sex is no different.

As lovely as Faye Ripley may be, it *is* different. Honestly, it is.

Posted by: N.I.B. | Aug 28, 2005 2:02:07 AM