Accessible version | Skip to content | Change your text size

Table of contents

Previous pageNext page

Using your own words

Click on the highlighted text to see the comments.

As mentioned, your summarising of a philosophical argument should be mainly in your own words. Is this the case with the summary of Judith Jarvis Thomson's argument?

  1. Scan quickly Thomson's original text.
  2. Study the student's summary again

Has the student done a good job of using his own words in the summary?

Check your answers

Extract from A defence of abortion: J. Thomson

Now let me ask you to imagine this. You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidney can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, 'Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you - we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him...

Sample summary from student essay

In her argument, Judith Jarvis Thomson concentrates on the issue of the right of a woman, in a situation of unwanted pregnancy, to decide what happens to her body. She believes that choosing abortion, or the death of the foetus, is justifiable. In arguing for this position, she begins by conceding that the foetus is a person from the moment of conception, and uses the analogy of an unconscious violinist. Imagine waking up in a hospital - Thomson suggests - to find yourself plugged into another person. The Society of Music Lovers kidnapped you after discovering that you are the only medically compatible person available to save their best violinist. They connected his circulatory system to your kidneys to extract poison form his system, and if you unplug him he will die.

The point of Thomson's example is to show that if you voluntarily find yourself in a position where someone's survival depends on your continuing to support them for an extended period, you are not morally obliged to continue unless you implicitly or explicitly agree. In relation to pregnancy, she likens this idea to being pregnant through coercion or even failed contraception. If the pregnancy was not actively sought or wanted, the mother should be under no obligation to continue because, although she may not accept that the foetus is a person like the violinist, its right to life should not be at the expense of the rights of an unwilling 'body donor'. In attempting to explain the similarities of a situation of dependence, Thomson aims to establish that a person's right to life is not necessarily strong enough to override someone's right over their own body.

Yes, the student does a good job of using his own words. Notice for example how the following words in the original text have been summarised in the student's essay below:

Extract from A defence of abortion: J. Thomson

Now let me ask you to imagine this. You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidney can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, 'Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you - we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. ...

Student essay (EXTRACT)

In arguing for this position, Thomson begins by conceding that the foetus is a person from the moment of conception, and uses the analogy of an unconscious violinist. Imagine waking up in a hospital - Thomson suggests - to find yourself plugged into another person. The Society of Music Lovers kidnapped you after discovering that you are the only medically compatible person available to save their best violinist. They connected his circulatory system to your kidneys to extract poison from his system, and if you unplug him he will die.

The point of Thomson's example is to show that...

word outputDownload a printable version of this page (.doc)
Problems? Questions? Comments? Please provide us feedback.