Thursday, May 3, 2012

[PL 431] Bill Gates and the Violinist

Judith Jarvis Thomson's defense of abortion is based on the following analogy: you : violinist :: woman : fetus. I take it that the analogical argument is supposed to go like this:
  1. If you are kidnapped and attached to a sick violinist who needs to be plugged in to your circulatory system for nine months in order to survive, you have no moral obligation to remain attached to the violinist.
  2. In cases of unwanted pregnancy (e.g., as a result of rape or birth control malfunction), a woman has to carry an "unwanted" fetus for nine months.
  3. Therefore, in a case of unwanted pregnancy, a woman is not morally obligated to refrain from aborting an "unwanted" fetus.
The strength of this argument depends on the strength of the analogy between the violinist scenario and an unwanted pregnancy. Thomson seems to think that (most?) people would agree that you have no moral obligation to remain attached to the violinist, and so, by analogy, a woman has no moral obligation to carry an "unwanted" fetus for nine months. Of course, it would be admirable if you did help the sick violinist. But you are not morally obligated to do so.

Now, let's change the scenario a little bit. Suppose that it is Bill Gates who has been abducted by the Society of Music Lovers and plugged in to the violinist. The reasoning of the Society for Music Lovers is the following: Bill Gates is super-rich, so staying in bed attached to a violinist for nine months would not hurt him financially. If anyone can afford staying in bed for nine months, it's Bill Gates. Plus, he doesn't work anyway except doing charity work. So this would be a great opportunity for him to do a good deed.

Does Bill Gates have a moral obligation to remain attached to the violinist? 


  1. I believe that in this particular scenario Bill Gates has no moral obligation to remain attached to the violinist. Besides that fact that he has the time and can afford to, Gates is still in no way obligated to the violinist and should not be expected to take the time out to provide his services to others. Gates may choose to be attached to the man but this is entirely his choice.
    My opinion however changes when we are asked to compare this to a mother who is carrying an unwanted fetus. There are often times when women seek out to have abortions because they simply believe that they are unready, or that a child would be inconvenient. This is similar to Bill Gates because it seems as if both have the characteristics that would allow them to make a choice. This is however different because with the exception to rape I believe a woman has a moral obligation to her fetus whether is wanted or not.

  2. According to Thomson's defense of abortion, I believe that Bill Gates does not have a moral obligation to remain attached to the violinist. The fact that one has to stay in bed for nine months interferes with many other things than just financial problem. Of course, it would be a great opportunity for him to do something nice for others; still, it does not mean that he have to do it. One can be rich and still does not want her baby. I do not think that the argument here is whether someone has enough money or support to bear her baby or not. If a person does not want to abort her own child than even if she does not have enough support at the moment, she will find a way to keep her baby and provide for him or her as much as she can. Furthermore, there are many organizations in the world nowadays that will not be hesitate to help any woman or children in need.

  3. I do not think that Bill Gates has a moral obligation to remain attached to the violist. The scenarios (in my opinion) are exactly alike. Being that he is Bill Gates does not modify the initial and final outcome. Even though it is commendable for an individual to sustain the violists’ life, it does not mean that they are morally obligated to do so. This choice is mainly dependent on the set of values prescribed by the individual. My point reflects the original statement that if Bill Gates wanted to, he has all the right to go back to his life (whether it is to make more money or carry out charity work).

  4. No, he made no prior agreement so he shouldn't feel morally obligated. Just because he doesn't have to worry about things financially doesn't mean he doesn't have other legitimate obligations that he agreed to. He has children that need his care as well as other things that need to get done that may not necessarily be financially driven.

  5. I don't think Bill Gates has a moral obligation to remain attached for nine months to the violinist. Although he is super rich and can effortlessly take nine months to do this, he isn't obligated to. He may want to use those nine months for expanding his company. He may not want to give his blood. He doesn't have to do it. The music society can have their reasons, but they don't necessarily apply to Bill Gates. Gates also has a personal life. He wouldn't want to spend nine months away from friends and family. Even if it is admirable to help the sick violinist, Gates is still not morally obliged to do so. He has his own things to tend to, it's his life.

  6. Michelle PunsamieApril 13, 2013 at 2:36 PM

    It is my personal belief that nobody should feel morally obligated to stay attached to the violinist, including Bill Gates. My argument for this is that the violinist has already lived a full life. He or she has accomplished a great deal in his or her career and has already became a world-renowned violinist. To take away nine months from an unsuspecting stranger (in this case, Bill Gates) to save the life of the violinist is actually a morally wrong action on the part of the Music Lovers Society. And so, in this case, Bill Gates is absolutely not morally obligated to stay attached to the violinist, whether it be for nine minutes, nine hours, nine days, or nine months. The fact that Mr. Gates has money changes nothing.


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