Hollywood actor James Franco is known for being… “eccentric.” Not the eccentric that means he gets arrested a lot, or that he’s often photo’d in bar fights, but the eccentric in that he’s a character with some quirks.
Franco is a lifelong learner with varied interests, proving to be a Renaissance man of the 21st Century.
One of his interests is philosophy, which is why he’s launched his latest project on YouTube, called Philosophy Time, it’s a series of short videos discussing various philosophical issues.
In an attempt to familiarize the general public with the oldest of the sciences, one unlikely duo—a Hollywood actor and a professor of philosophy, James Franco and Eliot Michaelson respectively—has launched a YouTube series called Philosophy Time…
Everyone wants to crack open his productivity secrets, because he has somehow found the time to earn an undergraduate degree in English from UCLA, graduate degrees from Columbia University, New York University and Brooklyn College, as well as a PhD in English (currently in the making) at Yale.
“I love school,” Franco says to People magazine. “I go to school because I love being around people who are interested in what I’m interested in and I’m having a great experience… I’m studying things that I love so it’s not like it’s a chore. School is a way to take my other pursuits like directing and writing seriously.”
In one episode of Philosophy Time Franco and his cohost, Eliot Michaelson (who is also a philosophy professor at King’s College in London), speak with Elizabeth Harman who is a philosophy professor at Princeton University about the morality of abortion and whether or not a early stage fetus has moral value.
Harman explains that there are two different kinds of fetus; one with a future and one without. Harman then goes on to explain that the fetus without a future is also without moral value, while the fetus with a future has moral value. Therefore, killing a fetus with no future and no moral status is a wholly amoral act – there is nothing wrong or right about it because the futureless fetus has no moral status.
(By the way – her argument here seems to focus on the “early fetus,” meaning that she might argue differently for later stage abortion.)
Do you see the problem? Jame Franco does.
Franco pushes Harman on her circular logic that basically gives the mother all of the power to decide whether or not the child, the separate individual, growing in her womb has moral status.
“If a woman decides to have an abortion with an early fetus, just that act or that intention negates the ‘moral status’ of that early fetus just because if she goes out and has an abortion, it’s pretty certain that it’s not going to become a person?” Franco asked.
It’s at this point that we really see Harman struggling to unwind her convoluted explanation of why someone has or does not have value, and we also see Franco wrestling with the incongruities by the ever changing expressions on his face (which are hilarious).
While Harman says several different times that the moral status of the fetus is not conveyed on the basis of whether or not it is aborted, her logic continually leads back to that exact point.
Right, so it might look like on my view abortion is permissible because you had the abortion but that abortion wouldn’t have been permissible if you didn’t have the abortion. That’s not quite the view, for I think two different reasons. So one reason is that, um, even you have moral status—and in my view back when you were in early fetus you had moral status—but it’s not that aborting you would have been wrong because if your mother had chosen to abort her pregnancy, then it wouldn’t have been the case that you would have had moral status because you would have died as an early fetus, so she would have been aborting something that didn’t have moral status.
So it’s not—my view isn’t that if you do abort, abortion is OK but if you don’t abort, abortion would have been wrong. But what it turns out is that it’s a contingent matter that you have moral status you actually have moral status but you might not have counted morally at all if you had been aborted. You would have existed but you just would have had this really very short existence in which you wouldn’t have mattered morally.
So moral status doesn’t depend on whether or not you are aborted, it depends on whether or not you have a future, which ultimately depends on whether or not your mother decides to have an abortion.
While Franco and Michaelson don’t push very hard against Harman’s inconsistencies, they are big enough to be seen from outer space. At one point the even put a graphic up over Harman’s explanation, as she uses the logical fallacy of circular reasoning in an attempt to defend her oh-so-tenuous position.
Whether or not they meant to do it this episode of Philosophy Time proved the bankruptcy of Harman’s moral position on abortion.