Thursday, August 23, 2012

Biology, "Legitimate" Rape, and the Morality of Abortion

As you've probably heard, the GOP has officially taken a strong stance against the moral permissibility of abortion.  The party's position is that a woman should not be able to abort a fetus, even if the fetus is the product of rape or incest. 

Representative Akin's comments have received quite a bit of attention recently.  In discussing pregnancy resulting from rape, he remarked: “It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”  

The majority of the controversy over Akin's comments revolve around: (a) biology and whether a raped woman is more or less likely to get pregnant than a woman that engages in "normal" intercourse; and (b) his use of the phrase 'legitimate'.  I don't think either of these is where oppenents should really direct their ire.

Regarding (a), it appears that Akin is incorrect about his biological claim.  A number of professional medical associations have disputed his remarks.  But, even if he's right, I don't see why this is relevant to the discussion.  Suppose that it is extremely unlikely that a woman becomes pregnant after rape.  Imagine that merely 1% of cases of rape result in pregnancy and the chances of getting pregnant from "normal" intercourse is significantly greater than this.  What's the argument that gets one from this (dubious) biological point to the conclusion that it is wrong for a woman to abort a fetus after being raped?  I don't see why the probabilities matter here.  

Regarding (b), I can certainly see why people think that Akin is implying that some (many?) cases of purported rape are not legitimate (where this is read:  actual cases of rape).  If this is Akin's position, there may be cause to be upset.  And we can have a very interesting discussion about what counts as rape and what exactly it is to give consent.  But, again, I don't see anything in what Akin says that has anything to do with whether women that have been raped and become pregnant ought to be allowed to have abortions.  And that's the issue at hand.  That's a major part of the official platform of the GOP.   A quick look at the GOP website and interviews with the major players in the Republican Party yields little by way of actual arguments for this controversial position. 

We need to engage in a debate about the issue and this requires wrestling with premises that are actually relevant.  Unfortunately, it seems the bulk of politicians (on both sides of the aisle) and members of the media (liberal and conservative alike) are guilty of failing to do this. This, I think, is deserving of our ire.  

Monday, August 13, 2012

Grad Conference Announcement

We invite graduate students to submit papers to the Sixth Annual Graduate
Conference in Philosophy co-hosted by Arché, Philosophical Research Centre
for Logic, Language, Metaphysics and Epistemology, and CSMN, Centre for the
Study of Mind in Nature. Papers should be no longer than 4,200 words, and
should include an abstract of no more than 200 words. Papers that make a
contribution to contemporary debates in philosophy and that focus on the
research interests of Arché and CSMN are particularly welcome.

Keynote speakers: John Hawthorne, Delia Graff Fara

Deadline for submissions: September 1st, 2012.

Notification of acceptance by 1st October.

The conference will be held November 17th/18th 2012 at the, University of Oslo, Norway.

talks will have a respondent from an Arche or CSMN faculty member.

Please visit the conference websight:

Friday, August 10, 2012

Conference for Grad Students

Virginia Tech is now accepting submissions for the 9th annual Virginia Tech Graduate Philosophy Conference. This year’s conference will be on Topics in Philosophy of Science and will be held on November 2-3, 2012. The keynote address will be given by Anjan Chakravartty (Notre Dame) and the faculty address will be given by Benjamin Jantzen (Virginia Tech). 

Submissions must be a maximum of 3500 words and suitable for a 25-minute presentation. Papers must be prepared for blind review and sent as PDF or DOC attachments with no identification of authors or affiliations. Please include a separate cover sheet with title, author name(s), 150-200 word abstract, institutional affiliation, e-mail address, and phone number. All submissions must be sent to by September 6, 2012

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Getting Settled

I'm now beginning to get settled into Madison and am having fun exploring the area.  My son, Samuel, is two-months-old and has been keeping me quite busy (and entertained).  So it will be another few weeks before I'm able to devote some attention to this blog.  Thanks for your patience!