John Harris Clarifies his Position on Infanticide

John Harris writes in response to Julian’s post:

I wish to clarify my position on infanticide to correct the impression that infanticide is something I defend or advocate.  There is a big difference between an analysis of the moral symmetry of some abortions and some cases of infanticide on the one hand,  and the defence of infanticide or indeed the advocacy of infanticide on the other.  I have always drawn a clear line between what I call “Green Papers” and “White Papers” in ethics.  Green papers are intellectual discussions of the issues, white papers are policy proposals.  I have never advocated or defended infanticide as a policy proposal.

I would not and do not advocate the legalization of infanticide on the basis of any alleged  ethical parity of infanticide with abortion.

  • Mtfclarke

    I am reassured by it being a Green Paper not a White Paper; I can leave it for an issue or two before the real criteria, which is 'are they too much like hard wok for me to bother about?' (infants I mean) gets extended to the really irksome ones, the elderly. At seventy-two I must declare an interest.

  • Your whole analysis is based on murdering babies.  What are you thinking??? When the human species starts thinking there is a case for killing its own offspring then can't the case be made for killing anyone that causes us hardship?  What makes one life valuable over another.  What makes one stage of life more valuable than another stage.  If you are a Godless society, then who gets to decide the value of a life or at what stage a life finally has some value?  People like you?  People like the scumbags that wrote this paper in the first place? Will we appoint a judge to decide?  Do you really think this is a path you want to go down?  If you check history you will find that this does not have a happy ending. 

  • Keith Tayler

    I am pleased that John Harris has distanced himself from the after-birth abortion proposal. Not sure the line between “Green Papers” and “White Papers” is as clear in his work as it could be. Speaking from within a different field of philosophy, Hume said ‘Philosophers may, if they please, extend their reasoning to the suppos’d state of nature; provided they allow it to be mere philosophical fiction, which never had, and never cou’d have any reality‘. Stating why some speculative ethics can never have any reality is often more interesting than the speculation itself. If we assume that the speculation is coherent and complete, we are left with the problem of why it could not be a policy proposal? Is the premise wrong? Is the description wrong? Is reason not doing the work we think it should? If not, why not? Is the issue resolvable? (Habermas doubts there is a consensus to be reached on abortion). If not, why not? – and so on and so forth. Drawing a line is not enough – Green Papers must be exposed as being unworkable if for no other reason than to stop others from publishing them as White Papers. This goes further than Hume’s ’mere philosophical fiction’, but ethics requires more because it is about the only branch of philosophy in which most people appear to be experts.

  • Human Being Fail.

    If you ever, in your lifetime, have to “clarify your position on infanticide,” then you have failed as a human.

  • So you're saying that, if Julian was mistaken in his use of John's claims, and John attempts to set the record straight, John's at fault?
    It's not often that I leap to John's defence, but on this occasion, the charge you're levelling against him seems rather unfair.

  • Jose R Goldim

    It’s important to remember John Harris' text, published in 1985, in
    JME, reviewing Michael Tooley’s book:


    “The problems of medical ethics are not simply problems for doctors or
    health care professionals or even for philosophers in their spare time. They
    are among the most vital and pressing issues that face us all both as individuals
    and as citizens. This is why they are too important to be left solely to doctors
    or even to health care professionals. And they are certainly too important to
    be left solely to philosphers. One of the important tasks a philosopher can
    perform, however, is to reveal the ways in which problems that present themselves
    within health care involve issues of general social importance and more
    importantly, require for their resolution a general moral and social perspective.”


    Simply change a name – after-birth abortion –  is not a contribution to an important debate.  This proposal only generates a confusion and a
    maniqueistic approach to the major issue in human life.

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  • Paul Reszel

    The key focus of the new push for after birth abortion is the notion of whether or not a child carries any value to the parents or the community at large,arguing that when a child’s life is “not worth living…death seems to be in the best interesr of the child.” Perhaps consideration should be given of a time period , say 1 year and then make the determination of whether the child’s life meets certain criteria before the death sentence is pronounced.  

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