Answers to Fall, 1999 Midterm Examination

General directions: Be sure to read the instructions on the examination carefully and to think carefully about the questions before writing.

Part 1: Logic (20 points)Decide whether each of the following is possible. If it is possible, then give an example. If it is not possible, explain why not.

possible impossible 1. A valid argument with a false premise.


1. All philosophy professors are male.
2. Dan Hausman is a philosophy professor.
3. Dan Hausman is male.

possible impossible 2. A sound argument with a false conclusion.

impossible--Since a valid argument is sound, its conclusion follows from its premises--that is, if its premises were true, its conclusion would have to be true. Since in addition the premises of a sound argument are true, the conclusion of a sound argument must be true, too.

possible impossible 3. A true argument.

Impossible. Only a sentence or statement or proposition is true or false, and an argument is not a sentence. It is a set of sentences. Arguments are to be appraised in terms of their validity and soundness, not in terms of their truth or falsity. The premises and conclusions of arguments are true or false. Arguments are not true or false.

possible impossible 4. An unsound argument with a true conclusion.

possible--see the example in #1. Here's another example:

1. (premise) Some roses are red.
2. (conclusion) The University of Wisconsin is near Lake Mendota.

possible impossible 5. A sound argument that is not rationally persuasive.


1. (premise) The earth is not flat.
2. (conclusion) The earth is not flat.

This argument (address to a member of the flat-earth society) would not be rationally persuasive, but it is sound.

Part II (30 points; 6 points each): Answer five of the following questions briefly in your blue book.

1. Judge Sorkow in the Baby-M found that the contract that William Stern and Mary Beth Whitehead signed was a legally enforceable (binding) document. Yet he did not take that contract as determining who would have custody of Baby-M. Why not?

He did not take the contract as determining custory, because he accepted the responsibility of the state to make sure Baby-M went to the best home. He phrased the issue in terms of determining the proper remedy for breach of contract. So if he had determined that Mary Beth Whitehead would have provided the best home, he would have placed Baby-M with her and have judged that Mary Beth Whitehead owed William Stern damages for breach of contract. (If you have trouble making sense of this, you are not alone!)

2. Explain what an inalienable right is and give the best argument that you can for or against the claim that a woman has an inalienable right to at least joint custody of her newborn.

An inalienable right is a right that cannot be waived or surrendered, though it can be forfeited. Consider, for example, the right to move around freely. The strongest argument in favor would rely on an analogy with the inalienability of rights to parts of one's own body. The strongest argument against would point out that we permit alienability in adoption agreements.

3. Is there any inconsistency in maintaining that prostitution ought to be illegal, while commercial surrogacy ought to be legal? What would be the basis for a moral distinction between the two arrangements?

If the grounds for making prostitution illegal are, for example, the prevention of disease, then there is no inconsistency, while if the grounds are the protection of women from a certain sort of degradation, then they might apply equally against surrogate motherhood. Obviously many other things could be said.

4. The New Jersey Supreme court concluded that paid surrogacy arrangements like those involving Baby M were illegal in New Jersey. Why? How does their legal finding bear on the moral question of whether paid surrogacy arrangements ought to be legal?

They found the arrangements illegal, because they involved the sale of rearing rights. (Note that this is what "baby-selling" means here.) If rearing rights ought not to be sold, then the moral relevance of the decision is evident, but one can question whether rearing rights ought to be saleable, and some people, including Richard Posner, who is currently a federal judge, have argued that we ought to permit a market in infants.

5. In one sense of "relative," it is obviously true and uncontroversial that moral claims are relative, while in another sense of "relative," it is highly controversial to claim that moral claims are relative. What are these two senses of "relative"?

Moral claims are obviously relative in the sense that their correctness depends on what the facts are. Without specifying the facts, there is no clear moral question to be answered. Whether yelling fire in a crowded theatre is permissible depends, among other things, on whether there is a fire.

It is controversial (and I would maintain obviously false) to maintain that moral claims are relative in the sense that whether they are true or false depends on the individual making them or the society in which the claim is made. The view that whatever people believe is right is right ("for them") would mean that there could be no moral disagreement or argument. The view that whatever is accepted in a society is right for that society would imply that minorities are always automatically wrong. It also means that whether a moral claim is right or wrong depends on how one draws the boundaries of societies. Since 70% of Americans believe that abortion ought to be legal, this view apparently implies that abortion ought to be legal in the U.S. (though one might maintain that it takes more than 70% agreement). Since 95% of residents of some small towns think that abortion out to be illegal, this would would imply that abortion ought not to be legal there. But these conclusions conflict.

6. What is wrong with the claim that one ought not to believe that one's moral views are correct and the views of those who disagree incorrect, because it is intolerant to do so?

In assuming that one ought not to be intolerant, one is taking for granted the correctness of at least one moral view--that one not ought to be intolerant. Tolerance is not skepticism or relativism. It is an important value (though surely not the most important value), and taking it seriously means believing that it is a value everybody ought to accept.

7. What is the point of Thomson's hypothetical case of the unconscious violinist?

Her case is intended as a counterexample to the claim that the right to life always trumps the right to control what is happening with one's body.

8. Explain why Brody believes that abortion after the first few weeks of pregnancy is morally impermissible even if the woman will die if the abortion is not performed.

Brody believes this, because he believes that intentionally killing an innocent person who is not making an attempt on one's own life is absolutely impermissible. Since Brody draws a sharp distinction between intentionally killing an innocent person -- which is absolutely impermissible -- and refusing to sustain an innocent person -- which, depending on the circumstances, might also be wrong, but which is not absolutely prohibited -- he must maintain that abortion is killing rather than merely refusing to sustain. Otherwise, he could not maintain that a woman facing death could not have an abortion, merely on the grounds that the fetus is an innocent person who is making no attempt on the mother's life.

Part III (50 points). The vast majority of pregnancies end in spontaneous miscarriages very early in pregnancy. In a large percentage of these cases the embryo or fetus was failing to develop properly. Suppose some drug were discovered that interfered with the mechanism that causes spontaneous miscarriage in cases where the embryo or fetus was not developing normally, so that instead of miscarrying women were able to carry the pregnancy to term, although the fetuses all died at birth. (1) Would the invention of such a drug be a good thing? (2) Should women have a right to refuse to take this drug?

Write an essay that addresses these questions. In your essay, be sure to explain how the positions defended by Marquis, Thomson, and Brody bear on these questions. Also be sure in your discussion to address the question of whether those who hold that newly fertilized eggs have a right to life must conclude that such a drug would be a good thing and that women should not have the right to refuse to take it.

In assessing your essays Mehmet and I will be concerned not only with your grasp of the readings and lectures, but also with your ability to think through these questions and argue logically and carefully.

The way I intended this question -- though we will without prejudice read your responses in the light of the way you read the question -- is that the drug merely delays the inevitable. It does not in any way harm any fetus; it merely blocks the mechanism whereby women miscarry when embryos are developing abnormally. The malformed fetuses die at birth, because they are malformed and incapable of living on their own.

There was a great deal to be said, and nobody could have said everything. Here are some of the things you might have said:

Marquis is not committed to seeing this drug as a good thing or to requiring women to take it, since he could reasonably maintain that intrauterine life does not contain the things of value that make the loss of our futures so bad.

Thomson has little to say about whether such a drug would be a good thing, but she would argue strongly that women have the right to refuse to take it.

Brody need not believe that the drug is a good thing, because he doesn't think that embryos early in pregnancy have a right to life, and he would not be committed to requiring women to take the drug, because not taking the drug is merely refusing to assist, not intentional killing.

Those who maintain that fertilized eggs have a right to life are not logically required to conclude that such a drug would be a good thing, but if the reason why they believe that fertilized eggs have a right to life is that biologically human existence in any form whatever is precious, then they should think that this drug is an incredibly wonderful thing. It would provide millions of human beings with additional months of life. Nevertheless, those who maintain that fertilized eggs have a right to life could maintain that women could refuse to take the drug on the grounds that refusing to sustain is not a violation of the right to life, since the right to life does not require that others carry out limitless sacrifices to preserve one's life. This would, however, be an uncomfortable line of argument, since it would invite the question of why abortion via inducing labor is not equally a matter of merely refusing to sustain.