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Violinist Analogy in Thomson’s “A Defense of Abortion”


The practice of abortions is one of the most debatable issues on the social agenda. Even though this discussion has been one of the earliest in the feministic narrative, the public opinion on it stays ambiguous. According to the Pew Research Center studies, during the last 25 years, about 40% of the United States population believes that abortions should be illegal (2019). The debates around the practice were raised intensively by second-wave feminism, and a brilliant example is demonstrated by Judith Jarvis Thomson. Her essay in “A Defense of Abortion” provides a poll of arguments against the opponents of abortions (1971). Among her reasons, there is an analogy with a famous violist instead of a fetus (Thomson, 1971). In this essay, I shall argue that Thomson’s analogy is extremely convincing; however, it would also be fair to claim that this portrayal is not comprehensive in some logical aspects.

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Summary of Judith Jarvis Thomson’s Argument

To begin with, it is vital to present Thomson’s argument in brief. The author starts with an indication of the problems she does not address in the context of the violinist thought experiment (Thomson, 1971). For instance, she claims to agree with the idea of a fetus being a human before birth (Thomson, 1971). Thomson points out: those questions are not under discussion in the argument she presents later (1971). So her analogy is the following: the author describes a situation where the main character finds themselves back to back with a famous but unconscious violinist (Thomson, 1971). The person is told they cannot unplug the celebrity for nine months because it would kill the violinist (Thomson, 1971). Thomson adds another condition: the main character cannot leave their bed for nine months (1971). She carries on by posing the question of whether ethically it makes any difference to extend this oppressive period for longer: for nine years or one’s entire life (Thomson, 1971). Having been kidnapped and put into this situation, individuals find themselves in an extraordinary and obviously unfair situation. Thomson compares it to a woman that does not have a choice about keeping a baby.

Judith Jarvis Thomson’s Analogy Evaluation

Speaking of the logical qualities of the essay, the comparison does seem convincing. Thomson manages to effectively communicate her point with a clear and valid metaphor, as the circumstances of one becoming tied up with a violist are comparable to an unwanted pregnancy. What is specifically curious about her analogy is that the author is not afraid to make her metaphor grotesque. For instance, claiming that it does not make any difference whether a person is made to stay in bed for nine months or nine years or their whole life, the author appears to be right (Thomson, 1971). In other words, as there are no limitations on the quantity or duration of an unfair, even violent action – it stays unfair and violent.

However, the point of the story when the imaginary person is kidnapped probably requires more explanation. This plot eliminates any responsibility from the female actors, while Thomson expands the problem not only on the rape victims (1971). The argument of a child being conceived without a woman’s agreement is indeed strong, but it could make a reader think that this is the problem. Meanwhile, the issue lies in the realm of one’s right to own their body and make the related decisions, no matter what leads to a pregnancy: consensual or non-consensual sex. Simultaneously, Thomson could provide some counterarguments against these considerations about the logical system explained in the essay. She could point out that such an extreme situation is created to demonstrate the anti-abortion movement’s ridiculousness and the actual harm it does to women. Moreover, such cases – when a rape victim cannot abort her baby – still occur, and they were undoubtedly present when Thomson’s piece was published.


To conclude, the problem of abortion has been an attribute of the public discussion of the contemporary history of humankind. Second-wave feminism was one of the drivers that pushed the narrative. Nevertheless, public opinion on the issue has not been changing throughout the last 25 years, and a significant part of the American population believes that abortions have to be illegal. In her essay written in the early 1970s, Thomson defends the female right to an abortion. One of her arguments is presented in the form of an analogy, the logic of which was proved to be valid in this text (Thomson, 1971). The author does not appeal to emotions inappropriately and demonstrates an excellent thought experiment. She suggests that her readers imagine a situation when there are back-to-back tied up with a famous but unconscious violist. His life depends on the imaginary character’s actions: they need to stay in bed for nine months – precisely the time of a human pregnancy. This example demonstrates what kind of a burden women are obliged to deal with in case they live in a society that prohibits abortions.


Barnet, S., Bedau, H., & O’Hara, J. (2016). Critical thinking, reading, and writing: A brief guide to argument. Bedford.

Pew Research Center. (2019). Public opinion on abortion. Web.

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Thomson, J. (1971). A defense of abortion. Philosophy and public affairs, 1(1).

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