I was contemplating the ethics of abortion.

It seems like people expect that we have to make a definitive decision about at what age it becomes unethical to abort a fetus / young person. And yet, it seems obvious that there is probably no actually good intrinsic place to draw that line. You can make an argument like fetal viability (survival outside the womb), but this seems very ad hoc - not at all indispensable or unavoidable. We could easily consult with some other criterion to determine what the correct age is.

It seems like we need a different approach to questions like this. Instead of classifying real world phenomena as wrong or right, what if we had a type of formal ethics which could express how much more unethical something is than something else - a comparative or relativistic formal ethics. This would be like an affine space in mathematics, where points have relative distances between each other but no absolute value or magnitude.

Thus, if we accepted that the closer a fetus comes to certain traits like personhood, sentience, self-awareness, free will, or predestination for life, we could more accurately say that the ethical grade or score of an abortion (ceterus parabis - not considering other factors) varies continuously with the age of the fetus.

This could allow you to make something closer to utilitarian ethical calculations, where it may be possible to formally show how some model of a situation demonstrates it has a certain ethical value, but maybe not in terms of an absolute score, but as a function of whatever the supposed ethical value of various other ethical parameters / phenomena are.

Does that exist?

  • Where are in your ethical considerations interests and desires of a woman? (and probably even her family financial and social situations)
    – Groovy
    Mar 24 at 18:25

1 Answer 1


I don't wish to discourage you, but even if there were a reasonable parametrised model to associate some form of ethical score to options, people would continue to disagree about the weighting of the parameters. You will not get an ardent pro-lifer to agree with an ardent pro-abortion campaigner by attaching scores to options. These issues arise because people have different values and priorities, not because they lack a common method to quantify their differences.

  • It is possible, sometimes, that a good enough analysis of a moral issue can change someone's values and priorities.
    – causative
    Mar 24 at 16:12
  • @causative agreed. It's possible. Sometimes. Mar 24 at 16:48

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