RIGHTS, RESTITUTION, AND RISK: Essays in Moral Theory by Judith Jarvis Thomson


Email this review


Thomson is a professor at MIT who has written the classic defense of abortion (1971). This collection of her papers on various moral topics begins with that essay, and here, as in the other articles, she focuses on the idea of rights: how do we determine who has the right to do something or not? In the abortion case, she argues that the pregnant woman is forced into a situation where she must choose whether or not to sustain a life inside her when doing so infringes on her rights in a number of ways, i.e., the right to life does not imply the right to use someone else's body. This is moral philosophy, but the emphasis is on what rights someone has in the face of other people's needs or rights. This is carried throughout the essays. For example, ""The Trolley Problem"" considers whether it is right for a trolley driver to divert the train from a track on which it will kill five people onto one where it will kill one person. He may, she argues, turn it. But what of a surgeon who can save five lives by transplanting organs removed from a single individual who will then die? Other essays consider preferential hiring, the right to privacy, and governmental control over people's behavior. Throughout, Jarvis' style of constructing examples to flush out moral points gives the reader a good taste of this kind of moral philosophy. The lay person may find the rigor of the analysis tough going. But it is an excellent reference book for working on the problem it raises, and it gives a taste of analytic moral philosophy at its most developed level.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press