Source: Benatar, David. Better Never to Have Been (2008 1 edn). p. 162 Middle.

  The pro-death view should be of interest even to those who do not accept it. One of its valuable features is that it offers a unique challenge to those pro-lifers who reject a legal right to abortion.⁴⁰ Whereas a legal pro-choice position does not require a pro-lifer to have an abortion—it allows a choice—a legal pro-life position does prevent a pro-choicer from having an abortion. Those who think that the law should embody the pro-life position might want to ask themselves what they would say about a lobby group that, contrary to my arguments in Chapter 4 but in accordance with pro-lifers’ commitment to the restriction of procreative freedom, recommended that the law become pro-death. A legal pro-death policy would require even pro-lifers to have abortions. Faced with this idea, legal pro-lifers might have a newfound interest in the value of choice.

 ⁴⁰ Lest it be thought that all pro-lifers, by definition, oppose a legal right to abortion, I should note that one can embrace the pro-life position as the correct moral position, but think that people should nonetheless have a legal right to choose. The distinction is between one’s personal moral views and what one thinks the law should say

If I'm correct, Benatar is foregrounding the deprivation of choice common to pro-life and pro-death: both outlooks forestall someone from choosing abortion and death.

But how'd this consequence (of the pro-death) sway pro-lifers? A pro-lifer would never accept some of the pro-death outlook's premises. Though a "legal pro-death policy would require even pro-lifers to have abortions," pro-lifers can reject the pro-death, while upholding their pro-lifer, outlook.

  • The basic pro-death stance is as much of a certain kind of Buddhist religious opinion as a pro-life stance is a certain kind of Christian one. It raises the basis of religious freedom from legal control in a different light. A realistic pro-death stance is perhaps the only way to be fair to both genders, and maintain the best interest of the child.
    – user9166
    May 19 '18 at 18:56
  • 3
    This argument applies to general homicide, not just abortion, and is obviously nonsense when you do so. Jan 28 '19 at 17:49
  • @kbelder This needs to be an answer. The argument falls apart under the tiniest amount of scrutiny.
    – Omegastick
    Jan 29 '19 at 1:57
  • @kbelder How does it? Well, I mean, how can pro-choice be extrapolated further than abortion?
    – rus9384
    Jan 29 '19 at 9:53
  • Benatar is trying to show that a anti-choice position is undesirable. One could argue however that he misconstrues the "legal" aspect of Pro-life as susceptible to a pro-death attitude in preference to Choice. While pro-lifers would assert a deference to Choice to avoid Death. - see also philosophy.stackexchange.com/q/56011/33787
    – christo183
    Jan 29 '19 at 11:49

This argument is created by analogy to a typical one for religious freedom. In a society with multiple religions, any given person might wish to impose his or her religion on everyone, but would fiercely oppose the imposition of anyone else's religion. So a good compromise is that no one can impose their religion on anyone else. Benatar's argument is similar. However, in order to make it work, he needs to invent a "pro-death" stance that favors mandatory abortions. Then, the compromise in the middle is choice.

I would judge this as illegitimate rhetoric. It appears as though he's being gracious in exaggerating the position he prefers, rather than the one he opposes. But in practice, the effect is to make the position he prefers look like a moderate compromise with the help of an imagined position (one that wouldn't draw any significant support in the real political climate of today). It's as though we were haggling over the price of a car. I want $10,000 for it. Benatar's starting offer is $9,000. Instead of offering $9,500, he says "You could easily end up with $0. So let's meet in the middle at $5,000."

More charitably, we could say he's trying to establish a baseline: We all believe in the importance of personal choice, and in not having others dictate our actions. That, in fact, is the moral principle underlying the pro-choice movement. However, that, in itself, isn't sufficient for this argument, since there are other personal choices (suicide, for example) that we typically do not allow people to freely make. If it isn't really a moral argument, it must be a practical argument. Yet, given that mandatory abortions would presumably be rejected by nearly all people who currently consider themselves pro-choice, it doesn't hold water from that point of view either.

  • Is there a rule in ethics somewhere that defines what you mean by "must be practical"? I think that in our courts, it occurs when the judge asks, "Well, what do you want?" ...and if a person's answer is incoherent or even more unjust than the status quo, the claim is thrown out. Jan 28 '19 at 23:48
  • @elliotsvensson - I meant it more in terms of "why are we saying this?" Is it a moral commitment? Not really. So then, is it a practical consideration (such as freedom of religion being a practical solution to religious pluralism)? Jan 29 '19 at 1:44
  • Upvote for car price analogy. Made me laugh.
    – rus9384
    Jan 29 '19 at 9:55

I would distill Benatar's argument this way:

1) Many pro-lifers wish the state to coerce individuals regarding the life and death of the unborn.

2) If the state may coerce life and death of the unborn, then the state may coerce death of the unborn.

3) Pro-lifers who would have the state to coerce life would object to the state's coercion of death.

4) Since pro-lifers would object to this coercion, they should object to all such coercion.

I think that Benatar's argument will be as successful as premise 2: if the state may coerce X, then it may coerce Y. But I think that a typical pro-lifer won't believe premise 2, believing instead that the state's duty to protect life comes from a higher authority than mere democracy; the state may not coerce Y if the higher authority does not permit it to do so.

  • Now I'm wondering: does a pro-lifer (or any person) who votes for a proposition or regulation, believing that the state's just powers derive from a higher power, act as a theocrat? Jan 28 '19 at 18:44
  • I think a typical pro-lifer will read this: "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it" and say, "the putative right to abortion is not by consent of the unborn; therefore I am justified in altering this legal situation." Jan 28 '19 at 18:47
  • For what's meant by "these ends" please refer to the 1776 Declaration of Independence, 2nd paragraph. archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript Jan 28 '19 at 18:49
  • So, you equated all pro-lifer with those who believe in higher force? Don't forget that some higher forces might be pro-death.
    – rus9384
    Jan 29 '19 at 9:57
  • @rus9384, I'm not making that assertion. I'm talking about a typical pro-lifer, not "pro-lifers" in general. Jan 29 '19 at 14:59

How can the pro-death outlook's deprivation of choice, help sway pro-lifers'?

It has no power to sway pro-lifers in a liberal society:

Benatar represents pro-life enforcement as a restriction of procreative freedom however this freedom defense argument (only valid in a somewhat liberal society) is much weaker than the pro-lifers view that the unborn's right to live has to be protected.....assuming of course that the unborn is considered an individual.

  • Yes, the last premise is very controversial. Why would be the one who exists only a few weeks be considered as valuable as the one who exists for many years? It's definitely true that much greater effort has been put in the [second] person than in the fetus. For a latter it's simply one or a few sexual intercourses during ovulation and... that's all.
    – rus9384
    Jan 29 '19 at 10:00
  • @rus9384 I fully agree, my statement on this other topic is here: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/42587/… Jan 29 '19 at 10:17

Government that advocates death would have to be met with the force of arms

From the point of view of those that oppose abortion, even current system with abortions on demand is repugnant. Killing is killing, murder is murder, and fetus (unborn child) didn't choose to die, so there is no talk about choice. Replacing current system with something even worse would not make current system less evil. It would only strengthen position and the resolve of those that consider government that makes such laws illegitimate.

History teaches us that radicalization by one side leads to radicalization by other side, more often then not. Therefore, instead of compromise, this situation would likely escalate and force those fence-sitting on this issue to decide on which side they are. This would be similar to historical question about abolition of slavery, where at the beginning majority of population didn't consider this to be so important. But as situation escalated almost everybody had to choose between two sides in civil war.

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