First a programming note: Actor James Franco is now starring in a series on YouTube called “Philosophy Time.” The series, despite the content of the clip from one of the episodes that follows, is not fictional and the opinions expressed in it are not scripted.
Franco’s interlocutor in the clip below is not an actor. In fact, she is a college professor by trade. Her name is Elizabeth Harman, and she teaches philosophy at Princeton.
The subject of the conversation is abortion. Listen and learn (or, if you prefer, read the transcript, which runs below the video):
Elizabeth Harman: In some of my work I defend a liberal position about early abortion. I defend the view that there is nothing morally bad about early abortion. So, a lot of people think, “Well it’s permissible to have an abortion, but something bad happens when the fetus dies.” And I think if a fetus hasn’t ever been conscious, it hasn’t ever had any experiences, and we aborted it at that stage actually nothing morally bad happens. And this view might seem unattractive because it might seem that it dictates a cold attitude towards all early fetuses.
But, what I think is actually among early fetuses there are two very different kinds of beings. So, James, when you were an early fetus, and Eliot, when you were an early fetus, all of us, I think, we already did have moral status then. But we had moral status in virtue of our futures. And future of fact that we were beginning stages of persons. But some early fetuses will die in early pregnancy due to abortion or miscarriage. And in my view, that is a very different kind of entity. That’s something that doesn’t have a future as a person and it doesn’t have moral status. …
James Franco: Can’t you only judge that in hindsight?
To summarize, Prof. Harman thinks it’s acceptable to abort a fetus so long as it lacks “moral status.” Among the fetuses who don’t have moral status are those who are aborted(!) and those who are stillborn.
Among the fetuses historically who have had “moral status” are Franco and herself. And how, according to Harman, did these two individuals acquire their moral status? By dint of having a future — in her case as a faculty member at a prestigious Ivy League University, in his as a man who would make buckets of money entertaining the masses through motion pictures.
By this line of reasoning, if it can be called that, Adolf Hitler had “moral status.” We can deduce them from the facts he was not aborted or stillborn and had a “future.” And what a future it turned out to be!
As for Harman, Princeton must be so proud.