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November 21, 2007

Comments

JoAnna

Amen, Tim! I am excited to hear about this new development with adult stem cells.

Not to invoke Godwin's law, but by Dr. Tipton's logic, the Nazis were perfectly justified in conducting their horrific scientific experiments on Jewish people -- after all, why not, "just in case"?

What Dr. Tipton DIDN'T want to say is that embryonic stem cell research should be continued because, in the end, it will be more profitable for large corporations. After all, you can patent a treatment made from embryonic stem cells, but you can't do the same with a treatment using adult stem cells (since they come from the patients own body). Therefore, the megacorps, politicians, etc. want embryonic stem cell research to continue because there's a more potential to make money, not because there's more potential for cures and treatments.

Alan

Frankly, as much as the pro-ESCR crowd has misled with its use of language, the anti-ESCR crowd has failed to win the day by not basing their arguments solely in the realm that the "pro-science" crowd respects - science and evidence.

As with abortion, the argument can easily be made that there is no scientific basis for declaring an embryo less than human. Any such arguments are in the world of "faith" not science and empiricism. Drawing the line at any point post-conception between human and non-human is a value judgement - if you don't agree, show me a "humanity meter" please.

To use pro-ESCR style arguments, it is only a matter of time before we discover how to fully mature a fertilized, single cell embryo to "birth" outside of a mother's womb - ending ALL arguments against abortion. We need more research on how to do this. How dare people be anti-science and use their "faith" to arbitrarily define who is human and who isn't. Science will save the day ! ;-)

There is no magical line that someone suddenly becomes human - at least scientifically.
- other than conception. Any other point in the life of the child is only an arbitrary choice... given the right environment, it will develop fully.

This argument can be won solely using our opponents' claimed tools of logic, science, and empiricism to show their upside down view of the world.

Define the argument properly from the beginning - or have it defined for you!


Jason

Did you just post this because you were afraid I might leave if the global warming thread wound down? ;-).

I'm going to wait a few more days to tie up the loose ends there, but shockingly, I think we may disagree about this one too (and our disagreement may be slightly deeper, although I think related to many of the same issues as I'll try to make clear).

Perhaps your footnote is a reference to John Rawls' Political Liberalism? I should warn you that for my last birthday, I received a life-size cut-out of John Rawls which now stands in my kitchen. This one should be fun...

Jason

Did you just post this because you were afraid I might leave if the global warming thread wound down? ;-).

I'm going to wait a few more days to tie up the loose ends there, but shockingly, I think we may disagree about this one too (and our disagreement may be slightly deeper, although I think related to many of the same issues as I'll try to make clear).

Perhaps your footnote is a reference to John Rawls' Political Liberalism? I should warn you that for my last birthday, I received a life-size cut-out of John Rawls which now stands in my kitchen. This one should be fun...

Tim J.

"Perhaps your footnote is a reference to John Rawls' Political Liberalism?"

Sorry, I'm not familiar with him or it. But I look forward to your comments with great antici...

Tim J.

...pation.

Tim J.

Also, I must point out that it seems like Pluralism can be defined as "we allow all points of view except those we don;t allow".

Mary

In a pluralist society, people must be free to stop any given activity on the ground they don't like it. Otherwise, we are imposing our views on others.

A.Williams

"Why Not Embyonic Research?"

For Christians it should be an easy question to answer.
And now that we're in the Christmas season, it should be even easier, since Christmas is where the greatest proof of 'life at conception' can be found.

"And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? 35 And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."

"..And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren: 37 Because no word shall be impossible with God."

" ...And Mary rising up in those days, went into the hill country with haste into a city of Juda. 40 And she entered into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth. 41 And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: 42 And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy."

Now...in all of these passages, do they not clearly proclaim that life begins at conception??

Here we read that Mary went "in haste" to help her cousin Elizabeth with the final months of her pregnancy, and considering that Mary left so quickly, at the angels request, she could have been pregnant only a few days when she met with Elizabeth. Then, Elizabeth had this extraordinary experience of her baby 'leaping' in her womb at Marys greeting.She also addresses Mary as "the mother of my Lord",again...Mary only being pregnant a few days.

Considering this account of the MOTHER of JESUS...how can any Christian argue that life begins at a time OTHER THAN CONCEPTION? They would need to ignore entirely this Christmas account, which is something an atheist might do, but a Christian cannot.

StubbleSpark

Also, I must point out that it seems like Pluralism can be defined as "we allow all points of view except those we don;t allow".

This is the point, really. Most people who play the pluralism card do not understand the degree to which the religions of the world agree on things like ESCR, homosexual "marriage", etc. And because Christianity usually skews more liberal than these other major religions, a truly pluralistic society that set its moral compass according to a survey of the beliefs of its believers would skew more conservative than a purely Christian society.

Witness the revulsion of Hindus against the sale of condoms, the Muslim view towards proper attire for women (or rights for women in general), the Buddhist attitude towards food, or the Jewish attitude towards the Sabbath.

I for one prefer the Christian response of trying to convince people through reasoned arguments and appeals to justice, beauty and peace but if these pluralists really want to have their way, the discussion will should dissolve into simple warnings: "Don't do X because group Y will cane/kill/exile you."

Pluralistic? Indeed. These people need to get on their knees and thank Holy Mother Church for all the cherished freedoms Christian society and culture bring.

Scrappy

This way of thinking seems more individualistic than pluralistic (maybe it's the same thing).

The only philosophical principle to it seems to be "no one can tell me what I can or can't do, as long as I'm not hurting another person".

Of course, sometimes it's necessary to fudge the definition of "hurt" and "person" to make it work out the way they want.

Randolph Carter

What pluralists always fail to realise is that their doctrine of pluralism is a belief system in and of itself, one that is not compatible with all other belief systems and in fact is often openly hostile to many worldviews.

Pluralists like to talk about how "inclusive" and "tolerant" pluralism is; yet I've noticed that the extent to which pluralists are tolerant of one's beliefs tends to be directly proportional to the degree to which one's own beliefs coincide with those of the pluralist's.

In general, most of the pluralists I've known think that we must enforce a strict policy in society of "non-discrimination" against women. This they do not take to mean that women must be accorded the basic dignity that is the right of all humans (a proposition with which most would agree), but rather they take it to mean, in effect, that we can admit no difference between men and women, and that we must profess that men and women are in all dimensions equal, and interchangeable in all circumstances, there being no significant differences between the sexes.

Hence for the pluralist it is a moral imperative that we allow women to assume what have been traditionally male roles in society; the roles of police officer, soldier, public official, and priest. Yet if there is some group in society -- even a large group -- who happens to think that, for example the priesthood is a masculine affair, well, they don't have the right to make that view a matter of societal policy, because that view is not pluralistic.

Pluralists will preach on and on about how we must be accepting of every bizarre and unnatural sexual practice and deviation, from adultery, to sodomy, to who-knows-what. They feel that society must be made to tolerate such practises. Yet if a portion of society feels that such practices are ghastly and abominable, that they violate the intrinsic dignity of man and effect great evil in the world, even if that portion of society happens to be the greater majority of the population, the pluralist will still not hesitate to label such a view as being "intolerant" and "backwards" and whatever other stop-thought they like to plaster over ideas that disagree with their own.

The reason for such behaviours should be simple enough to divine. Pluralists have no problem with accepting certain belief systems, while rejecting others, because pluralism has its ideas of what does and does not constitute fairness and justice, just like any other belief system does. And, like any other belief system, its adherents generally think that its tenets should be implemented as public policies. The only difference between pluralism and your average philosophy, is that pluralism attempts to pass itself off as some kind of "neutral" belief-system, totally unbiased and impartial, which most pluralists seem to actually believe it is (a fact which I can only attribute to the complete and total philosophical ignorance on the part of the pluralists).

So, in general, pluralists are not respective of all belief systems, merely those that so happen to fall in accordance with their own. For those of us who do not subscribe to the tenants of the pluralist religion, we are generally to keep our mouth shut, and keep our creed to ourself, as it is composed of "just our private beliefs". But for the pluralists, why, their creed must be enshrined into law, the Wall of Separation be damned!

Pseudomodo

When in a debate and someone proposes pluralism or more specifically moral pluralism in an attempt to justify ANY moral practice, it is wise to yield the floor to you opponent so that he can spend YOUR debate time attempting to justify the crime of RAPE.

For MOST debaters this is a subject they would be more that happy enought to turn down - at which tiem you may reclaim the debate by pointing out that if they admit that there is ONE thing that people should NEVER do, then there could be OTHER thing that people should never do.

In most cases this will win a moral debate.

Elijah

To use pro-ESCR style arguments, it is only a matter of time before we discover how to fully mature a fertilized, single cell embryo to "birth" outside of a mother's womb - ending ALL arguments against abortion.

I'm curious about this because I think it would be against Church teaching to do. The Church is against in vitro fertilization and so, I think, would be against maturing an embryo outside the womb. I've been wondering about embryos that are already in existence though. What are the options with them?

Ed Pie

Does anyone in fact maintain the Church is wrong about valid matter in the one instance and right about it in the other?

There may be some way to justify "tot in the pot" gestation as some sort of radical premie-incubation care, but I don't think we have to worry about Catholic scientists and moral theologians speculating indefinitely. Despite our best efforts and most persuasive warnings, someone eventually is going to try it.

Some nights I pray I won't be around long enough to see people get some of these Pandora's boxes open.


Dr. Eric

If the religious pluralism argument is going to be used by these people then they should be fighting for the legalization of marijuana (Rastafarianism), polygamy (Mormonism), and non-embryonic human sacrifice (Satanism.)

We had a discussion on another Forum on which book would actually be our future; 1984 or Brave New World. Overwhelmingly, Brave New World was decided to be the winner, and that we were already well underway in our efforts to construct a brave new world.

Mary

Hence for the pluralist it is a moral imperative that we allow women to assume what have been traditionally male roles in society; the roles of police officer, soldier, public official, and priest.

Some of them think that women should not only be allowed but be compelled, if enough of them don't volunteer.

Mary

I'm curious about this because I think it would be against Church teaching to do. The Church is against in vitro fertilization and so, I think, would be against maturing an embryo outside the womb. I've been wondering about embryos that are already in existence though. What are the options with them?

As an advanced form of IVF, it would certainly be opposed.

As a means of preserving the child's life, well -- if there are legitimate reasons, yes, since in cases of ectopic pregnancy and the like it is morally permissible to remove a child who will die.

As a means of shedding your child as quickly as possible, -- errrgh.

I note that the child is listening as soon as it has ears. These incubators may need to be lugged around by the mother (or father or someone) and exposed to a normal round of life or they may suffere irreparable harm.

matt

Sadly the incubator will not solve the abortion issue for most pro-abortion types. They advocate the right to murder a child beyond viability even to the day of birth for "psychological" reasons. They posit that it would be more traumatic for the mother for a child to be permitted to live adopted rather than die with his head still in the birth canal.

God Bless,

Matt

BrianC

One word for the arguments presented here today by Mr Akin. Brilliant! I am so sick and tired of being told by people I am against scientific advancement. I am probably one of the few people in the world who helped his dad build a Timex Sinclair Computer, look it up on wikipedia! They has to be moral questioning of science, otherwise you get the horrendous experiments of the Nazis!!

Mary

Sadly the incubator will not solve the abortion issue for most pro-abortion types. They advocate the right to murder a child beyond viability even to the day of birth for "psychological" reasons.

Or past -- witness the way NOW fought the Born-Alive act.

Tim J.

"One word for the arguments presented here today by Mr Akin. Brilliant!"

Yes, great work, Jimmy!

Jason

Pluralism is an expansive topic but to get the bowl rolling:

No one who has thought seriously about the matter defends a view like, "The fact of pluralism implies that all *moral* objections to scientific research are illegitimate". This view is incoherent (as it is itself a moral claim) - still, this seems to be the view that almost all of the commenters on this thread are attacking! Instead, the view that I and others would defend is: "you must frame objections in the shared language of a democratic society and not in language exclusive to any particular religious tradition."

On this view, it would be unacceptable for a member of the senate to advocate for a piece of legislation on purely biblical grounds. The idea is not that moral objections to stem cell research are ruled out a priori. The idea is rather than these objections are ruled out if they can only be framed in religious language.

Many defenders of the view that "life begins at conception" attempt to frame their objections in secular language. I think Dr. Doerflinger is assuming that the attempts to frame these objections in secular language are unsuccessful, so these objections have no place in the public forum of a democratic society. Whether or not Dr. Doerflinger would agree with this (and I think he would), this is certainly my own view on the matter.


p.s. If you are interested in a philosophically rigorous statement of the principal I've articulated loosely above, see Political Liberalism by John Rawls

Jason
Pluralism is an expansive topic but to get the bowl rolling:

To get the *ball* rolling that is; I think it might be hard to get a *bowl* rolling, although I guess it would depend on the bowl...

Foxfier

Jason-- Somehow, I suspect that the motion a bowl makes will be a more accurate version than the fairly straight path of a ball rolling, on this topic....

This possibly makes sense because I haven't slept much....

Tim J.

"On this view, it would be unacceptable for a member of the senate to advocate for a piece of legislation on purely biblical grounds. The idea is not that moral objections to stem cell research are ruled out a priori. The idea is rather than these objections are ruled out if they can only be framed in religious language."

What if this democratic society is religious (say, Theistic) by a heavy majority? Why shouldn't this be reflected in the language of their laws? Why wouldn't that be expected? ...unless there exists a secular elite that actually steers the process away from real democracy and toward a secular oligarchy. Atheism as the new State Religion, with scientists as the High Priests.

Forget biblical language... to say "murder is wrong" is to make a religious statement, and 90+% of the planet will concur. So democracy and religion harmonize very nicely in this case.

To say "murder is not to be allowed, except when we say" is also a religious statement (though some don't care to admit it) because it rests on the completely dogmatic and mysterious assertion that all moral authority is vested entirely and exclusively in the collective human activity called democracy. Secular materialism is as much a religion as anything that may be practiced at the Little Church on the Corner on any Sunday.

If you want to be democratic and be *honest* about it, you will have to make room for religious language, because only through such language (You shall not murder) can the foundational beliefs of the democratic masses be articulated. Secular language is just too small, and is fit only to express the views of a minority of elites who feel they are the only ones who can be trusted to lead the unwashed and ignorant masses.

If you entertain the idea that laws and foundational documents must be written only in language that every single person can agree on, you are doomed to a life of bitter disappointment. It ain't gonna happen. By allowing religious language (not even any specific religion) we may at least hope for broad, if not total, agreement.

The foundation of human rights - according to the massive majority of human beings - rests on "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God". If this is not allowed to be expressed through the political process, then this process is not democracy, but something else.

Jason

Tim J.,

Rather than respond point by point to your post, I think it may be helpful if I do a bit more to motivate the principal I put forward.

During the 16th century, Europe was ravaged by the wars of religion. The reason for these wars was the precedence given to religious truth - both sides felt that death and destruction was a small price to pay for eternal salvation - the Catholics were doing the Protestants a favor by massacring them because at least this would help bring about a world where their children would not be raised Protestant and thus be eternally damned.

Following the Wars of Religion, Europe reached an temporary truce - both sides let temporal matters have priority for the moment; they did not abandon their conviction, they simply decided that as a practical matter religious toleration was more likely to produce a livable society than fighting until one side was extinguished. Gradually, this agreement deepened to become a moral principal: in the American constitution, it was recognized that the state should not establish any particular religious institution.

I realize that you believe that all morality is ultimately grounded in religion. This is not the same as saying that a moral defense of a principal is equivalent to a religious defense. There are many fundamental moral principals that are implicit in the idea of a democratic society and thus shared by everyone as democratic citizens - people should be free and equal and are entitled to certain fundamental rights. These are not necessarily limited to those currently enshrined in the constitution. The exact content of these principles is far from clear and arguing about their most compelling interpretation is what constitutes appropriate political argument in a democracy.

What constitutes illegitimate argument is to say: "Jesus says that life begins at conception. I have no secular reason to believe this, but I am a Christian so I must try to bring about a Christian world. Therefore, I will attempt to give this principal the force of law." A Muslim could equally well attempt to legislate the notion that women must weir veils - if Muslims were in the majority, this would still be undemocratic. Democracy is a normative idea that runs deeper than mere majoritarianism. The principal I have articulated would forbid Muslims from legislating veils as it would forbid Christians from legislating Biblical law. You can attempt to argue that the same moral principals that forbid slavery and forbid us from killing the handicapped also forbids us from destroying embryos - I think this argument fails, but it would certainly be a legitimate argument. What you cannot do is argue for this principal on exclusively religious grounds - i.e. on the grounds that it is contained in the Bible, the Koran or the Rig Vedas.

If you reject this principal (and I'm not sure you do), then you are not a Democrat but a Theocrat, and all those who support Democracy can do is attempt to marginalize and exclude you from the political process. Before you get all worked up about this - read the last sentence of the previous paragraph again - rejecting that sentence is the very definition of Theocracy.

padraighh

Democracy means rule by the people (or majority rule)

Theocracy means rule by God (usually by some priestly caste)

Or you can say that words mean exactly what you say they mean no more no less, but
then it is hard to have any meaningful discussion. Uh oh sorry I should not have said that thing about meaniful discussions.

Jason

Padraighh,

I think this discussion is actually more than a semantic one.

Presumably you would define democracy as something like majority rule. But when we say that something is "undemocratic" - we mean more than that it was not decided by the correct formal procedure. If a majority of people voted that black people should have no rights, this would still be undemocratic. To criticize it in this way is to say that it offends the ideas of freedom and equality which underly the normative appeal of a democratic society. A Democracy is a society whose legal system attempts to express the ideals of freedom and equality. A Theocracy is a society whose legal system attempts to express the ideals of a particular religion.

This is not a quibble about definitions, but a claim about what gives these ideas their normative force and about what people who live in these respective types of societies hope to achieve. Hence, the conclusion that someone who argues for a law on exclusively religious grounds (i.e. because it is contained in the Koran) is a Theocrat and not a Democrat.

Tim J.

"What you cannot do is argue for this principal on exclusively religious grounds - i.e. on the grounds that it is contained in the Bible, the Koran or the Rig Vedas."

"Jesus says that life begins at conception. I have no secular reason to believe this, but I am a Christian so I must try to bring about a Christian world. Therefore, I will attempt to give this principal the force of law."

Do you know anyone in the public sphere who is talking like this? I don't.

Are you under the impression that "religious" and "from Holy Writ" are synonymous terms? The most fundamental and universally recognized moral principles are based on Natural Law, not (what you perceive as) arbitrary pronouncements from one scripture or another. But we have been over that.

The Christian scriptures attest to and expound on moral principles, but they also make clear that these principles are imminent in creation - that they are knowable without any kind of special, verbal revelation. We would be equally guilty (say of murder or thievery) before God, even if we had never heard of the Ten Commandments. We KNOW these things are wrong. They are "written on the hearts of men".

I know you don't believe that, but it is a long way from saying "Ah know this is sinful because Ah got it straight from JAY-Zus-ahhh!".

Classic Christian thought on this is far more philosophically cohesive and subtle than you seem to realize.

"The principal I have articulated would forbid Muslims from legislating veils as it would forbid Christians from legislating Biblical law."

On what basis are you allowed to legislate clothing of any kind? It seems to me that it could only be "Morality = whatever we all agree it is at the moment", which - pardon me - does not inspire confidence.

Jason

To avoid confusion, let me highlight one of the statements I made above.

Contrast arguments 1) and 2) below.

1) The Bible says that life begins at conception. I have no secular reason to believe this, but I am a Christian so I must try to bring about a Christian world. Therefore, I will attempt to give this principal the force of law.

2) The same moral principals that forbid slavery and forbid us from killing the handicapped also forbids us from destroying embryos

My claim is that argument 2) is a perfectly legitimate argument (although I believe it is mistaken) - the key point is that it contains no appeal to religious authority. You may view the underlying moral principals as having an ultimately religious sanction. That is fine; what matters is that you are starting from common ground - slavery is wrong and killing the handicapped is unacceptable (these are "common ground" not in the sense that they are principals which literally every person accepts - although this may be true - but in the sense that they are implicit in our public political culture and anyone who questioned them would be regarded as not a serious participant in political discussion).

If instead, your only argument is 1), then you are failing to respect the idea of religious toleration. Suppose a Muslim wanted to legislate the idea that everyone must pray 5 times a day facing Mecca. If America were 51% Muslim, would this be acceptable? Of course not. To be a legitimate law in a democratic society, a principal must have some sanction other than an appeal to a particular religious authority.

Jason
Classic Christian thought on this is far more philosophically cohesive and subtle than you seem to realize.

I've never said otherwise (I've read Aquinas, Augustine, Plantinga, Beckwith, and many other Christian philosophers). The sophistication of the argument is not the point at issue. I don't care whether someone says, "Jesus told me this!" or if they say, "Years of reading Aquinas and pondering the nature of the Trinity has led me to produce this 500 page book arguing that the nature of God entails the view that life begins at conception". Both of these arguments are equally illegitimate and for exactly the same reason. Imagine someone who says, "Years of reading Al-Ghazali and interpreting the Koran have led me to produce a 500 page book arguing that the responsibilities of women as told to Muhammed require them to wear veils at all times." You needn't do much imagining since this is the view held by most people in Iran. This is why Iran is not a democracy despite the occasional pretense of elections.

You can believe such principles to be true and you can make them operative in your own life, but it is your responsibility as a citizen of a democracy not to try to give such views the force of law unless you have arguments like 1) in my above post which support the views.

Jason

Rather, arguments like 2) in my above post - arguments like 1) are of course illegitimate in my view.

Esau

...it is your responsibility as a citizen of a democracy not to try to give such views the force of law...


I think Zippy addressed such ramblings best in his 2 posts (excerpts featured below):

"In fact, let me just say one word about it: balderdash.

The normative force of any positive law, including the Constitution, depends on the natural law; and positive law loses all normative force when it attempts to contradict natural law. But that doesn't imply that the positive law - resting on the natural law upon which it depends - has no stable meaning. The "living constitution" concept represents an emanation out of the positivist frying pan into the penumbral postmodern fire. Both of them represent Nietzschean attempts to push the natural law outside the boundaries of the reality-which-has-consequences and replace that objective good with the will of the free and equal superman.

In my understanding, the Constitution as a legal document asserting positive law says a great deal less than most people think it says. But when a legal system is disconnected from the natural law something has to stand up and fill in all those gaps in the day-to-day messiness of human life and just governance. Thus the Constitution becomes the Great Oracle, there to answer every question which comes up. With apologies to the prophet Chesterton, a man who refuses to believe in the natural law doesn't believe in no law: he will believe in any law."


-- and --

"A commenter below expresses very well the putative "conundrum" that Catholic legal positivists pose for themselves:

Catholic teaching does not justify people arrogating authority they are not given by the laws of the land. Men like Scalia, Bork and Kmiec believe (quite coherently) that U.S. law does not give Supreme Court judges the authority to decide cases based on natural law. So these men, all serious Catholics, would be (in their minds) violating a teaching of the Church by deciding cases on the basis of their understanding (even if informed by Church teaching) of natural law. If the Church actually teaches that judges (or anyone else for that matter) should exercise authority beyond what’s granted them by the laws of the land, then the Church needs to be far more explicit about this.

Try to follow the twists and turns this argument takes. First, a positivist conception of "the laws of the land" is packaged up into the idea of what authority a judge possesses. No room is allowed for a judge's natural duty under the law - and authority under the law, since every duty carries with it authority - to decide particular cases justly. Building from this false positivist conception of the duty and authority of a judge, it is asserted that the judge doesn't have the authority to decide a particular case justly if his judgment runs contrary to some requirement of positive law as asserted by legislative fiat. Oddly, this entire conception of the judge's authority rests on a judicial philosophy which is not explicit in the positive law, and which runs contrary to the authoritative teaching of the Church (and the conclusion of right reason) that the positive law represents merely explicit juridical additions to the natural law, additions the authority of which rests on natural law. On its own terms this argument has no juridical authority, since it has itself not been explicitly asserted in the positive law. Asserting judicial positivism represents an arrogation of authority - authority to tell judges what they can and cannot do with respect to deciding particular cases justly - which the positive law has not itself granted. Finally it is insinuated, seemingly without irony, that a judge's failure to assent to legal positivism and (say) issue a ruling upholding a law which in a particular case would permit an abortion to proceed is - the failure to allow the abortion to proceed is - a violation of Church teaching.

It goes without saying, though I'll go ahead and say it, that this risable false dilemma which legal positivists pose for themselves is begging the question. Hint: if you aren't a legal positivist already, there is no dilemma."

Esau

That should have read:

I think Zippy indirectly addresses such ramblings best in his 2 posts (excerpts featured below):

Mary

"But when we say that something is "undemocratic" - we mean more than that it was not decided by the correct formal procedure. If a majority of people voted that black people should have no rights, this would still be undemocratic."

What you mean "we" white man?

People do say this. This is either because they are dishonestly using "democratic" as a synonym for "good" or because they are confused by the frequent use by the first group of people.

It would, in fact, be emminently democratic.

Fighting tooth and nail against such illegitimate uses of words for their positive connotations is a necessary part of keeping the language useful.

Randolph Carter

"You must frame objections in the shared language of a democratic society and not in language exclusive to any particular religious tradition."

And of course this precludes anything that we Catholics might have to say on any moral matters, while still allowing that everything and anything that Jason says be heard. Because, while you see that arguments stemming from Christian ideology belong to a "particular religious tradition", arguments stemming from Jason's ideology belong to "the shared language of a democratic society".

What a glorious scam you've got there, Jason! Define those ideological views that you don't like as "religious", and dismiss them, while defining your own ideological views as being part of "the shared language of a democratic society"! In this way the religion of the vast majority of Americans (Christianity) is not permitted to have any impact on law, while the religion of Jason (what I'm certain he would term "political liberalism", and what I term "degenerate idiocy") can be given full force of law!

Notice that here Jason has given no reason why we should agree with his principles. He does not tell us why we should "frame objections in the shared language of a democratic society", nor does he seriously argue for the point. He merely states it as a given, and then proceeds to act like it is fact, handed down to him from on high by some higher power, that we mere mortals must observe as strictest dogma. Nor does he gives any reason why we should agree with him, or would even want to agree with him. He merely comes in, and sets the parameters of the debate, so that his own, bizarre ideology is included within the umbrella of what is acceptable within a democratic society, but that others' ideologies are not.

Of course, it is not only secular principles that Jason thinks should be enshrined into law. I'm certain that if a majority of the population wanted to enshrine some secular belief system into law, such as say, Nazism, or Military Determinism, or the samurai warrior code, that Jason would oppose it, on the principle of it not being "democratic". Now, when Jason preaches "democracy", what he means here is not means government by majority rule (which is the actual definition of the term democracy). No, while he tries to make it look like he is promoting democracy, he changes the meaning of the term in the process of promoting it (a classic example of the leftist bait-and-switch tactic, the fallacy of equivocation). What Jason and his ilk want is not true democracy; what they want is a limited democracy governed over by their own principles, so that their own, "democratic" principles are enshrined into law. What Jason argues for is not truly democracy, but egalitarianism disguised as democracy.

To Jason, just as a world where all men can vote is more "democratic" than a world where few can vote; and just as a world where women can vote is more "democratic" than a world where only men can vote; than so too a world that observes no differences between men and women, where people are not allowed in the least to treat men any differently from women, must necessarily be more "democratic" than a world where men and women are treated differently. So too, a world that respects no religious tradition over another, must, to Jason, be more "democratic" than a world that respects a particular religious tradition over all others. What Jason perhaps fails to realise (or perhaps realises and does not wish other to realise) is that his own ideology is just as much a religion as the Christian ideology, or the Muslim ideology, or the Hindu ideology, or what have you.
Thus Jason, in arguing for his own religion to be enshrined into law, must naturally not call it a religion, because he has already stated that religions have no place being enshrined into law.

This is why he and his like can go about, preying upon the base fears, prejudices and bigotries of the people; beguile them with fears of an impending "theocracy", brought about by "religious fanatics", "fundamentalists" and the looming spectre of the "Religious Right"! Yet if government whose laws are based upon a particular religious traditions are "theocracies", then in fact the vast majority of all governments up until the present date are theocracies, and in fact continue to be theocracies (let us not forget that Jason would make a theocracy out of the United States as well, enshrining his own religion into law).

Now, no one advocates using the power of law to force people to observe the tenants of the Catholic faith, nor is anyone suggesting that we prohibit others from freely observing the tenants of their own faiths, or from campaigning to have laws passed in accordance with their own codes of religiously mandated justice. No one is saying we should compel anyone to attend Mass on Sundays; yet it is just such one argument that Jason uses as his example of a religious law that he does not wish to see put into practice (i.e. when he says "Suppose a Muslim wanted to legislate the idea that everyone must pray 5 times a day facing Mecca."). No one is arguing for that. What we are arguing for is the right for laws to be formulated in accordance with our principles, just as Jason argues that laws should be formulated in accordance with his own principles, and just as every human being in this country wants to see laws formulated in accordance with his own principles. But of course Jason will dismiss the principles of everyone else as being either "religious" or "undemocratic".

Many defenders of the view that "life begins at conception" attempt to frame their objections in secular language. I think Dr. Doerflinger is assuming that the attempts to frame these objections in secular language are unsuccessful, so these objections have no place in the public forum of a democratic society. Whether or not Dr. Doerflinger would agree with this (and I think he would), this is certainly my own view on the matter.

So of course it is possible to frame an objection to, say, indentured servitude in secular language. It is possible, of course, to frame an objection to walking up to someone an splitting his head open with a hatchet in secular language. It is possible to frame an objection to theft, tax fraud, and driving 50 miles and hour in a 20 mile an hours zone, in secular language, because of course Jason believes that such things are objectionable. But objection to the destruction of the living human organism, that dwells with in its mother's womb, cannot be framed in secular language, because Jason himself does not wish to see any such objection enshrined into law and, seeing as how Jason has already said that religious objections to practices cannot be enshrined into law, it is simply a matter of deeming any and all objections to the destruction of unborn human life as "religious", and leaving it at that. Never mind that there are, in fact, more than a few pro-life atheists, and liberals, and other that Jason would not define as "religious" (though I certainly would). Never mind, also, that Scripture actually says nothing about when life begins, and that the Catholic objection to the destruction of the unborn human organism stemmed from a rational realisation that such beings were just as human as the rest of us, that the baby in the womb is just as much a member of the human race as the baby outside the womb, and that all are deserving of equal protection under the law. Never mind all that. Jason's religion tells him that such objections have no place in a "democratic society", and now he is trying to force his blind faith on the rest of us, trying to say that our ideas should not be heard in the public square, and that his should be given preferences above all others. He argues against the rights of the unborn, and in favour of murder; this to him is "democratic". If so, then I would hate to be a democrat.

Felicity

the Catholic objection to the destruction of the unborn human organism stemmed from a rational realisation that such beings were just as human as the rest of us

In the other recent thread, Jason seemed to be proposing a requirement for a "minimal set of cognitive capacities... something like the cognitive capacities that a fetus develops in the 7th or 8th month of pregnancy" before the unborn is "entitled to the full ensemble of rights." I suspect some would say an embryo typically has such a "capacity" in potential form rather than presently expressed form.

Jason
People do say this. This is either because they are dishonestly using "democratic" as a synonym for "good" or because they are confused by the frequent use by the first group of people.

I think this is a critical confusion.

My whole point is that the word democratic can have a normative connotation which is not synonymous with good. I agree with you that the word democratic is sometimes used (as you are apparently using it) to be synonymous with majoritarianism. But this is not the definition that interests me. What interests me is the normative force of the claim "X is undemocratic" which means something quite different from either "X is bad" or "X is not the result of a formal election procedure which gives every person's vote equal weight".

We would not call a murder undemocratic, although we would call a caste society or a society with an aristocratic class with more rights than everyone else undemocratic. Why is this? What kinds of principles underlie the judgment that something is undemocratic? This is what I am getting at. These are the principles which are the proper subject of political debate in a democratic society. (more on this below)

Jason
In the other recent thread, Jason seemed to be proposing a requirement for a "minimal set of cognitive capacities... something like the cognitive capacities that a fetus develops in the 7th or 8th month of pregnancy" before the unborn is "entitled to the full ensemble of rights." I suspect some would say an embryo typically has such a "capacity" in potential form rather than presently expressed form.

Felicity, this is the kind of argument I think is legitimate given the principal I have outlined above (which incidentally shows the fallacy with Randolph's claim that I am simply assuming away any kind of argument that might lead to conclusions different from the ones I favor). I just happen to think this argument doesn't succeed (otherwise of course I would favor different conclusions!).

Would you care to elaborate on why potential capacity should be given the same moral consideration as actual capacity? It seems to me a graver wrong to destroy an oak tree than to step on an acorn - yet, according to your criterion, the two wrongs would seem to be equivalent. Why should we give potential capacity the same consideration as actual capacity? Or are you just suggesting that potential capacity should be given some consideration, but not the same consideration?

Felicity

It seems to me a graver wrong to destroy an oak tree than to step on an acorn

It seems to me that nature intended acorns to be made aplenty so that many acorns could be destroyed. Is the same true with human embryos?

It seems to me that when a tree gets old or diseased, we chop it down with little concern. Do you propose the same with aged and handicapped people?

Jason
And of course this precludes anything that we Catholics might have to say on any moral matters, while still allowing that everything and anything that Jason says be heard. Because, while you see that arguments stemming from Christian ideology belong to a "particular religious tradition", arguments stemming from Jason's ideology belong to "the shared language of a democratic society".

Randolph, I think the problem here is inattention to the details of my argument. Please give your argument for why stem cell research is wrong. My guess is that this argument will fall within the guidelines I have set as you seem to recognize towards the end of your post. If it does not, I will explain to you why not and defend that judgment in more detail. I only introduced those guidelines in the first place to contrast political liberalism with the absurd and incoherent view that Tim J. mentioned in his original post.

What I think has all the posters here riled up is not Doerflinger's appeal to political liberalism, but the fact that he assumed that all non-religious objections (which is quite an expansive set) must necessarily fail. This is a fair point, but if you think Doerflinger is wrong, then state your argument as for instance Felicity begins to do above.

No one is saying we should compel anyone to attend Mass on Sundays; yet it is just such one argument that Jason uses as his example of a religious law that he does not wish to see put into practice (i.e. when he says "Suppose a Muslim wanted to legislate the idea that everyone must pray 5 times a day facing Mecca."). No one is arguing for that.

This is precisely why my argument has force. I used this example *because* no one in the United States would argue for it. But many people in Iran would argue for it so this is far from a moot point.

My question for you is - why would no one in the US argue for it? What would be wrong if a Muslim wanted to legislate the idea that everyone must pray 5 times a day facing Mecca? Based on what principal would you reject this legislation? Because Christians are more numerous here than Muslims?

My argument is: you would reject this principal because it appeals to a particular religious dogma that other citizens in a democratic society could reject and still be equal citizens.

What alternative reason can you offer for rejecting this principal? Again, my guess is that you would ultimately agree with the principal I have articulated, you are just misunderstanding what I think this principal accomplishes. This principal does not imply that abortion or stem cell research is OK. It just circumscribes a broad range of arguments against these practices that would be considered legitimate. My guess is that any argument you would give would fall within this range of legitimate arguments. But we shall see.

But objection to the destruction of the living human organism, that dwells with in its mother's womb, cannot be framed in secular language, because Jason himself does not wish to see any such objection enshrined into law and, seeing as how Jason has already said that religious objections to practices cannot be enshrined into law, it is simply a matter of deeming any and all objections to the destruction of unborn human life as "religious", and leaving it at that.

I do believe this, but I did not stipulate it! Of course, many such objections are framed in secular language. I think for instance most of the arguments Francis Beckwith makes against abortion are framed in the appropriate language. I just think these objections are mistaken. I'm not asking you to take my word for it - tell me your argument for why you believe stem cell research is wrong, and I will tell you why I believe it is mistaken.

Nothing I have said above merits the conclusion that stem cell research is morally acceptable. I reach that conclusion based on the following line of reasoning: stem cell research produces enormous moral benefits at a small moral cost. I would say destroying embryos is approximately tantamount to killing fish. I know you disagree with me about the moral cost - instead of telling me how I just assume I'm correct (since this is true of anyone who believes anything), tell me your argument and I will respond to it.

Felicity

Why should we give potential capacity the same consideration as actual capacity?

With acorns, the actual capacity is an acorn with potential capacity to be a tree.

With human embryos, the actual capacity is said to be a person with potential capacity for a big brain, reproduction, to be an artist, statesman, scientist, etc. As such, a human embryo does not have potential to be a person. It already is a person.

Jason
It seems to me that nature intended acorns to be made aplenty so that many acorns could be destroyed. Is the same true with human embryos?

I'm not sure I understand your point here. Are you suggesting that if we continue to use embryos for stem cell research we will not have enough to replenish the population of humans? This seems to be a far-fetched (and irrelevant) point.

My point with the acorn analogy was just that potential capacity is not morally equivalent to actual capacity.

It seems to me that when a tree gets old or diseased, we chop it down with little concern. Do you propose the same with aged and handicapped people?

This highlights the fact that the above analogy is not precise as is true of any analogy. But it doesn't seem to counter my basic point: potential capacity is not in general given the same moral weight as actual capacity. As I understand it, this is the central claim in the argument you hinted at before. Perhaps you would care to clarify? I would reconstruct your argument as follows:

1) An embryo is potentially an adult human being
2) Potential capacities should be given the same moral weight as actual capacities
3) An embryo should be given the same moral weight as an actual human being

How would you modify this argument so it survives my acorn analogy? Your rejoinder suggests modifying 2) to read:

2') In humans, potential capacity should be given the same weight as actual capacity

But now 2' seems to assume the very point that needs to be argued for. What prevents me from simply rejecting 2'? What judgments of mine would rejecting 2' contradict?

Jason
With human embryos, the actual capacity is said to be a person with potential capacity for a big brain, reproduction, to be an artist, statesman, scientist, etc. As such, a human embryo does not have potential to be a person. It already is a person.

The key question here is whether it is morally wrong to destroy an embryo.

When you say an embryo is a person, what exactly do you mean? Do you mean that it is morally wrong to destroy an embryo? If so, you're just stipulating the point that needs to be argued for. Do you mean that an embryo has all the genetic material of a full grown adult and that if left to its own devices (with appropriate nutrition), it would grow into an adult? In that case I agree with you, but I don't see how that implies that it is worthy of the same moral consideration as an adult. Perhaps you mean something else; if so, please clarify.

Felicity

Are you suggesting that if we continue to use embryos for stem cell research we will not have enough to replenish the population of humans?

No. My point is that the acorn-human embryo analogy is flawed. We don't look to see how we treat acorns in order to decide how we treat humans. If you see people eating acorns, are you going to start eating people?

An embryo is potentially an adult human being

A human embryo is a person. It doesn't have potential to be a person. It has potential to be an adult, but personhood is not limited to adults.

Felicity

I don't see how that implies that it is worthy of the same moral consideration as an adult.

Adults can get less consideration than children, including the unborn.

Felicity

Do you mean that it is morally wrong to destroy an embryo?

Do you think it's moral to destroy a person?

Jason

Felicity, you have a very Melanie-esque style of response.

Do you think it's moral to destroy a person?

It depends how you define a person. If you define a person as: a being with the realized capacity to have hopes about the future, memories about the past, to speculate about "what if" scenarios, etc..., then it is morally wrong to destroy a person.

If you define a person as: a being with the potential capacity for all of these things, then no, it is not wrong to destroy a person.

Your argument just begs the question.

Memphis Aggie

Jason,

The question I have is why are you so quick to define a person strictly, in a narrow sense? Isn't there a much greater moral danger in a falsely strict definition of life than a falsely generous one?

mischief

My whole point is that the word democratic can have a normative connotation which is not synonymous with good.

You didn't make any point. You merely asserted that you can institute "democracy" while trampling on the rule of the people.

Try working with denotations, not "normative connotations" -- if there are such things as "normative connotations."

I agree with you that the word democratic is sometimes used (as you are apparently using it) to be synonymous with majoritarianism. But this is not the definition that interests me.

And what on earth does what interests you have to do with anything? No one cares if you don't like it that "democratic" means "majoritarian".

Mary

It seems to me a graver wrong to destroy an oak tree than to step on an acorn

It seems to me not to be wrong at all, assuming it's your property and your intentions are not malicious.

Mary

That's the difference between oaks and people.

Memphis Aggie

Mary is exactly right - there is no moral weight to cutting down trees or crushing acorns. The answer to the question "when does an acorn become a tree?" is unimportant. It's human life that's sacred. The answer matters, and getting it wrong is incredibly serious. What amazes me is the lack of concern for human life. Embryos are undeniably human and living, they may be callously dismissed as "non-persons", but where is the recognition of the unique value of humanity?

The Masked Chicken

This is a frustrating thread to read. I don't want to state an opinion, for now, I just want any and all to clarify certain words and concepts for me so that I can properly understand what everyone is saying.

I suspect that there are two, different, mutually exclusive metaphysical axiom systems being used here. How else can one person say that an embryo is useful for research and another say that it must not be used for research. These are mutually exclusive conclusions. One cannot apply proper reasoning starting from the same axioms and come to exactly opposite conclusions without there being a contradiction somewhere in the downstream axioms or definitions. Both axiom systems cannot be true. How, then, does one decide?

Let's try to expose the underbelly of the metaphysical and ontological assumptions and principles being used in these posts.

Here are some questions:

1. At what point does a collection of embryonic cells become human?

2. Is this state of being human a matter of fact or collective opinion?

2a. How does the existence of a soul refine question 2?

3. Are all humans entitled to equal justice?

4. Are the statements in holy books less worthy of consideration than the statements of a collection of living men?

5. Can holy books disagree in the same way and to the same extent as a collection of living men?

6. Should the less objectionable means exclude the simultaneous use of more objectionable means?

7. Is pragmatics the only basis for moral decision-making?

8. All humans need. Are the needs of an embryo different than that of a newborn?

9. Is killing an embryo equivalent to the murder of an innocent man?

10. Can a democracy arrive at truth without recourse to external metaphysical principles? Whose principles?

My purpose is only to try to help see what the foundational differences are, since there is no common consensus. This tread is skirting the edge of metaphysics without making the commitment. This topic can only be properly discussed at the level of deontic logic , but to do this properly, one must have recourse to the set of metaphysical axioms at work.

The Chicken

Jason

Chicken,

I think many of the questions you raise are important ones and I'll attempt to answer them later, but first I have a quibble about your framing.

Let's try to expose the underbelly of the metaphysical and ontological assumptions and principles being used in these posts.

I certainly agree with you to the extent that this is a call for clarity about what exactly we disagree about. More clarity is always a good thing.

In terms of attempting to resolve our disagreement, I think there are actually two ways to proceed here. One way is to work from the bottom up We start by attempting to determine what exactly moral judgments are, from there we arrive at criteria for assessing our moral judgments and finally we apply those criteria to specific cases. With this approach, we cannot resolve our judgments about specific cases without first resolving our disagreements about higher-order metaphysical principles.

A second way of approaching the problem is to work from the top down. This means testing candidate moral principles against specific cases. Are there particular moral judgments I want to make that I cannot make without accepting that it is wrong to destroy an embryo? For instance, perhaps there is no principle which would consistently allow me to judge that it is wrong to kill a handicapped adult but not wrong to destroy an embryo. We can also ask whether a candidate principle accords with our prima facie judgments in particular cases (prima facie here does not mean "gut feeling", but rather the judgment we would make in a particular case without regard to considerations of consistency with other cases). For instance, if you could save a baby or a tray of 100 embryos in a fire, which would you save? How about one baby vs. 100 babies? If a monkey developed the same cognitive capacities as a human, would it be entitled to the same rights as a human? How about if a human were so severely impaired that it had less cognitive capacity than a squirrel? Would it then be acceptable to kill that human? These are intuition pumps - thinking about these scenarios helps us to clarify which principles are reasonable from the top down by asking whether those principles give what seems intuitively to be the right answer in each case.

I actually think that the top down approach is more likely to be fruitful. The reason for this is simply that philosophizing about fundamental metaphysical assumptions is really hard. Persistent disagreement about the nature of moral judgments reflects the fact that no one has gotten things quite right yet - no philosopher has articulated a fully satisfactory account of morality (although this does not mean that some accounts are not more satisfactory than others). If we insist on grounding all of our judgments in a comprehensive account of what morality is, then our judgments will inevitably be based on flimsy foundations - we are much more confident about the judgment that slavery is unjust than we are about any general principle which implies that result (i.e. "It is wrong to use people as a means to an end")

That said, I don't want to overstate the point. Our disagreement may well extend to the level of "metaphysical axioms". We should try to locate the source of our disagreement as explicitly as possible. But once located, I think we may do better to evaluate the candidate principles against specific cases with which we are familiar rather than attempting to ground those principles in a comprehensive metaphysical framework - since if this were something that could be done convincingly and conclusively, there would be a greater level of consensus then we presently see among philosophers.

Memphis Aggie

Many of those propositions have been tried and they lead to Euthanasia and Eugenics. I suggest simply that if we are operating under doubt you steer toward the safest path. I propose that treating all life from conception to natural death constitutes the morally safest path. Under what conditions do you imagine that path would fail?

Tim J.

For the sake of argument, and from a completely materialist perspective, let's say we can't KNOW whether an embryo should be classed as a fully human being. Let's say it's a fuzzy area between science, metaphysics and semantics that no one discipline is adequate to answer.

In that case, isn't it illogical to presume that it ISN"T a human being without hard evidence to the contrary? As a culture we are in effect saying "Well, we don't KNOW for sure that it's a real, full fledged *official* human being, so it might be okay to do experiments on it or kill it.".

There is no logical reason to break in favor of presuming the embryo is not human, but there is plenty of political impetus to do so. It doesn't matter how many people might be helped... that is irrelevant to the question of whether or not we are committing murder when we kill a human embryo.

So, Jason, "...if a human were so severely impaired that it had less cognitive capacity than a squirrel... Would it then be acceptable to kill that human?".

Your top-down method of determining moral principles strikes me as highly suspect. "Here are the judgments we want to affirm, so let's construct a framework that gives us the results we like". Yike. How these initial "intuitive judgments" are different from gut feelings is not at all clear.

"...philosophizing about fundamental metaphysical assumptions is really hard."

Yes. Lots of things are hard.

Memphis Aggie

Hi Chicken,

I'll take a stab at your question list, if you don't mind. Although I suspect you can guess my answers and that Jason's would be more interesting.

1. At what point does a collection of embryonic cells become human?

Each egg is intrinsically human before fertilization but is not discernible as a separate human being from the until meiosis, the first step in fertilization where the embryo gets it's unique genetic code.

2. Is this state of being human a matter of fact or collective opinion?

The humanity of the embryo is a matter of fact in the sense that it is provably human and not mouse, or dog etc. However the collective opinion decides who is a full person in practice, with rights etc.

2a. How does the existence of a soul refine question 2? It informs the opinion only for the faithful and as an article of faith it can not be demonstrated so it is of little use in arguments with agnostics.

3. Are all humans entitled to equal justice? Sure one law for all is fundamental - although I find "equal justice" to be an odd phrase. Justice is individual not collective. My just reward or punishment is not equal to yours. Justice need not be modified. It must be applied equally but the outcome will vary.

4. Are the statements in holy books less worthy of consideration than the statements of a collection of living men?

If you're not of the faith I certainly can see why you might hold that opinion.

5. Can holy books disagree in the same way and to the same extent as a collection of living men?

Not if they really are holy. But if the Koran and the Bible disagree only faith can decide which to choose.

6. Should the less objectionable means exclude the simultaneous use of more objectionable means?

If one means to an end is less objectionable and as effective as the other then the more objectionable means should not be used. However in my view some means are beyond objectionable and beyond criminal, and are thus excluded no matter their purported ends.

7. Is pragmatics the only basis for moral decision-making?
Obviously this question is not for me as faith is a clear basis. Pragmatism can readily lead to an ethics of convenience. Pragmatism or any practical argument presupposes some agreed end. However systems of ethics (Aristotle for example) do define ends outside of simple practical considerations and try to fix absolute virtues.

8. All humans need. Are the needs of an embryo different than that of a newborn? Of course they differ, dramatically in fact. The key difference is the absolute dependence on the mother until ~7 months or "viability". Are they morally different? No they are both perfect in their innocence.

9. Is killing an embryo equivalent to the murder of an innocent man?
Certainly - how blameless can you get?

10. Can a democracy arrive at truth without recourse to external metaphysical principles?

Sure - by accident, but don't expect democracy to sustain it.
Whose principles? Those of the majority. If we were not a republic bounded by a constitution the majority (or mob) could do whatever it cared to.
That said our society is underpinned by Christian ethics whether we acknowledge them or not.


Memphis Aggie

Nice post Tim - that's a tack I've been trying.

Esau

A second way of approaching the problem is to work from the top down. This means testing candidate moral principles against specific cases. Are there particular moral judgments I want to make that I cannot make without accepting that it is wrong to destroy an embryo? For instance, perhaps there is no principle which would consistently allow me to judge that it is wrong to kill a handicapped adult but not wrong to destroy an embryo. We can also ask whether a candidate principle accords with our prima facie judgments in particular cases (prima facie here does not mean "gut feeling", but rather the judgment we would make in a particular case without regard to considerations of consistency with other cases). For instance, if you could save a baby or a tray of 100 embryos in a fire, which would you save? How about one baby vs. 100 babies? If a monkey developed the same cognitive capacities as a human, would it be entitled to the same rights as a human? How about if a human were so severely impaired that it had less cognitive capacity than a squirrel? Would it then be acceptable to kill that human? These are intuition pumps - thinking about these scenarios helps us to clarify which principles are reasonable from the top down by asking whether those principles give what seems intuitively to be the right answer in each case.


You have here the makings of this age's Hitler.

Such are attempts to rationalize even the most base actions to come to an amoral conclusion and destroy the very moral fabric of society.

As I have had experience in the lab dealing with animal embroyos and experimenting with such during my days in the university, I wonder if Jason would even allow our research staff to experiment on his current or future wife's/girlfriend's unborn child for the sake of biotechnological experimentation and the very advancement of Science and the 'Good' of humanity!

Mary

How else can one person say that an embryo is useful for research and another say that it must not be used for research. These are mutually exclusive conclusions.

What on earth makes you say that? Nothing prevents them being both true. People might find taking a short cut through your backyard useful; you can still say they must not use it.

Mary

I actually think that the top down approach is more likely to be fruitful.

A good question is: What is its fruit likely to be?

The reason for this is simply that philosophizing about fundamental metaphysical assumptions is really hard.

Life is really hard.

Persistent disagreement about the nature of moral judgments reflects the fact that no one has gotten things quite right yet -

Why? Persistent disagreement is as likely to follow from obstinate denial of reality in favor of what one wants.

In this arena, obstinate denial is particularly likely because the right answers are likely to strike at things people deeply desire.

Esau

Why? Persistent disagreement is as likely to follow from obstinate denial of reality in favor of what one wants.

Mary,

Very good point here -- it also addresses the ulterior motives of man that often times serves selfish desires.

What amazes me is how the question was phrased:

"Persistent disagreement about the nature of moral judgments reflects the fact that no one has gotten things quite right yet -"


That is, right according to who?

To the man who believes biotechnological experimentation to the point of subjecting the inferior members of society would triumphantly herald the greater advancement of Science and serve the overall 'good' of humanity; is this actually 'right'?

Memphis Aggie

" ... the right answers are likely to strike at things people deeply desire"

Nice phrase Mary!


I think it was Descartes who compared our minds to a village that grew up organically in a disorganized fashion. I often think that people do as they please and then construct the worldview that best supports their behavior.

Memphis Aggie

" ... the right answers are likely to strike at things people deeply desire"

Nice phrase Mary!


I think it was Descartes who compared our minds to a village that grew up organically in a disorganized fashion. I often think that people do as they please and then construct the worldview that best supports their behavior.

The Masked Chicken

Dear Jason,

You wrote:

"We can also ask whether a candidate principle accords with our prima facie judgments in particular cases (prima facie here does not mean "gut feeling", but rather the judgment we would make in a particular case without regard to considerations of consistency with other cases)."

If there is no attempt at consistency, then how can there be a unified system of morality? One is reduced to a case by case situation that must, in the end, result in arbitrary decisions. This is not how man uses his rational intellect. It is true in number theory that examination of a few specific cases may point the way to a more general theorem, but there are numerous counterexamples where this method does not work.

Besides, is not having and acting on a consistent moral outlook what we commonly call, integrity?

What it appears to me that you really want to do is try various moral principles and see how well they match up to how people actually react in situations calling for moral judgments. I suppose that this is an attempt to develop an empirically-based morality, but the method probably will be difficult to implement because all one will find is some distribution of moral beliefs. One may not assume, a priori that the mean defines the best morality - only the most popular.

For what it's worth, I am quite opposed to the use of embryonic stem cells, both on religious and scientific principles. In science, we change one variable at a time in experiments. We are targeting adult individuals for treatment. Why would we want to change all of the variables by going to what is arguably a more distant biological system (experimenting on arbitrary embryos) when science should start as near the individual adult as possible, if possible (and it is possible). I cannot see how using embryos can be defended on the grounds of any type of experimental methodology of which I know.

The Chicken

Esau

Memphis Aggie:

I often think that people do as they please and then construct the worldview that best supports their behavior.

This nicely describes the twisted perspective of Jason's 'top-down' approach.

Matthew Siekierski

Jason,
From whence comes your definition of "human person", and why do you limit something like the right to life based on a narrow definition?

Those who support abortion and ESCR had to try to shift their arguments. First, the baby wasn't really alive, then wasn't viable, now isn't really a "person". It's a lovely moving target, as science first was able to determine that the baby was indeed alive prior to the "quickening", then continued to improve viability (my daughter was 26 weeks 2 days gestation...she turned one on the 10th of this month), so now the goalpost is "personhood". Deny personhood, and one can deny anything.

The danger of using such a limited scope is that "person" can be redefined to exclude any group one desires, and thus any group can be denied basic human rights. Too young? You're not a person, you're a potential intelligence that happens to have human genetic code. Brain damaged beyond the capacity for rational discourse? You're a failed intelligence, a non-person in a human body. In a deep inexplicable coma? You're an unreachable intelligence, not worth the energy to keep your body alive until the coma ends. Suffering from Alzheimer's? You're a lost intelligence, a former person who hasn't been kind enough to realize that his life is over.

Those are the ones that could happen quickly. But how long until it gets preempted into using intelligence tests to determine "personhood" status? How long before someone's very humanity can be stripped from them, even after birth?

An embryo, even a blastocyst, is fully human and fully alive. My wife was not pregnant with a non-human that became human at birth, or at some randomly drawn line where brain function most likely will have reached some arbitrarily sufficient level.

My youngest daughter is 2 weeks old. She can't reason yet, she can't talk, she can't get food for herself. If we didn't take care of her, she'd die of starvation, sitting in her own feces. Is she a "person"?

The very argument of "personhood" is a load of hogwash. "Person" appears in the Constitution 22 times, the Bill of Rights 4 times. Most have to do with the age a person must attain before holding office. None talk about what a "person" is, or how one becomes a "person" to attain rights. Even when referencing voting rights, non-free men are referred to as "other Persons". On what basis do you make "personhood" the standard to determine recognition of our inalienable rights?

Felicity

Jason, you asked, "if you could save a baby or a tray of 100 embryos in a fire, which would you save?" Why did you choose "would" instead of "should"?

To Catholics, what does Catholic teaching say in regards to the morality of how one "should" choose in such a situation?

Jason

Chicken,

Just a quick reaction to a misunderstanding in your post (I'll reply in more detail to the substantive points later).

I certainly was not claiming that consistency in our moral judgments is not of the utmost importance! All I was saying is that when we evaluate principles against particular cases, we *temporarily* suspend considerations of consistency and ask what seems like the right thing to do in that case without invoking any general principal. Having done this, we then evaluate whether the principal in question seems to give the "right" answer in each particular case. The point was just that to avoid circularity, we want to render an initial judgment without appeal to broader principals - this is what I meant when I said we render a judgment without regard to consistency. The appeal to broader principals and the notion of consistency comes in when we check those principals against our initial judgment.

Ultimately, this procedure allows us to check whether a given principal gives a compelling answer in the cases where we are confident (i.e. slavery is wrong, murdering handicapped people is wrong, etc...), then we move on to borderline cases. Here consistency plays a central roll: if the principal in question gives the right answer in cases where we are confident, then we may decide to revise our judgments in cases where we are less sure to accord with that principal.

I don't take myself to be saying anything controversial here - I'm just describing the ordinary process of moral argument that everyone engages in every day. This is to be contrasted with the sorts of arguments that philosophers interested in the foundations of morality engage in. The potentially controversial claim I am making is that we can still conduct our ordinary moral discourse without having to resolve the questions that have plagued philosophers for centuries. There is no guarantee that this is true in all cases - sometimes, we may simply find that the answer inevitably hinges on our background philosophical judgments. But I am suggesting that in many cases of practical importance, we can get by using the methodology above without deciding whether Kant or Mill provides a more compelling foundation for moral judgments.

At any rate, rather than engage with my claim at this level of generality, it may be more useful to actually consider the substantive arguments above given for stem cell research - I hope to show through such consideration more specifically how we can address even persistent disagreements without having to settle foundational moral issues.

Memphis Aggie

"My youngest daughter is 2 weeks old. "

Congratulations Matthew! - my youngest son is now 8 weeks old. They are so precious at this age.

Esau

Jason, you asked, "if you could save a baby or a tray of 100 embryos in a fire, which would you save?" Why did you choose "would" instead of "should"?

To Catholics, what does Catholic teaching say in regards to the morality of how one "should" choose in such a situation?


Felicity,

If you could save your mother or father in a fire, which would you save?

If you could save your child or a parent in a fire, which would you save?


We could play all these either/or games all day.

Esau

The very argument of "personhood" is a load of hogwash. "Person" appears in the Constitution 22 times, the Bill of Rights 4 times. Most have to do with the age a person must attain before holding office. None talk about what a "person" is, or how one becomes a "person" to attain rights. Even when referencing voting rights, non-free men are referred to as "other Persons". On what basis do you make "personhood" the standard to determine recognition of our inalienable rights?


Matthew,

You forgot to bring up the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-212) which is US LAW that recognizes a "child in utero" as a legal victim!

Hence, Scott Peterson was found GUILTY of killing his wife AND her UNBORN child!

Felicity

Esau, you didn't answer the question, "what does Catholic teaching say in regards to the morality of how one "should" choose in such a situation?"

Felicity

US LAW that recognizes a "child in utero" as a legal victim!

Only if the child is injured or killed during the commission of certain listed federal crimes of violence. It also does not apply to crimes prosecuted by the individual states.

Memphis Aggie

US law is no guide to reality. It is just a reflection of the political power of different factions.

Esau

Esau, you didn't answer the question, "what does Catholic teaching say in regards to the morality of how one "should" choose in such a situation?"


Felicity,

What does Protestantism say about this?

Felicity

The law also does not use the word "person" to describe the "child in utero." The only use of the word "person" in that law is in reference to the offender, not the victim.

Felicity

What does Protestantism say about this?

You're still dodging the question Esau. This is a forum for discussion of Catholicism. If you're not up to it, that's ok.

Memphis Aggie

Felicity

I'll answer for myself that I'd likely grab the baby because that child's life is clearer to my senses and to my visceral understanding of life and, in the emotion of the moment, I'd choose the baby. That said I don't know how God sees it - and that's what matters.

By the way, 100 embryos in a "tray" are likely to be dead very quickly, fire or no fire, and the immediate guilt for their death would be on whoever placed them in such a precarious state (outside the womb) in the first place .

Mary

Given that if we had one child who was healthy and two children who were hooked up to machines that I couldn't move and which they die within hours without, I would save the healthy child -- I think the answer to this question doesn't prove quite what you think it proves. As I would not be able to save the embryos. They would need to be implanted, quickly, to save them.

When medical personnel arrive in a triage situation, the people they don't treat because they would require too much care in the situation are still human.

Memphis Aggie

Nicely framed Mary - you cleared it up for me

bill912

Mary, your logic--as usual--is impeccable.

Felicity

They would need to be implanted, quickly, to save them.

Not if "in a tray" means in a frozen or otherwise viably maintainable condition such that they could all be wheeled out to safety and maintained in that viable condition until implantation. In such case, they'd just need to be wheeled out and re-plugged into an electrical outlet within a few hours.

I'd likely grab the baby because that child's life is clearer to my senses and to my visceral understanding of life and, in the emotion of the moment

Yes, but my question was not what WOULD you do emotionally, but what does Catholic teaching say, if anything, in regard to what you SHOULD do if you were making a rational choice to save either the baby or 100 viable embryos?

Esau

Felicity,

Not if "in a tray" means in a frozen or otherwise viably maintainable condition such that they could all be wheeled out to safety and maintained in that viable condition until implantation. In such case, they'd just need to be wheeled out and re-plugged into an electrical outlet within a few hours.


I worked with embryos in the past.

What you have just revealed below betrays your ignorance on the matter.

Yes, but my question was not what WOULD you do emotionally, but what does Catholic teaching say, if anything, in regard to what you SHOULD do if you were making a rational choice to save either the baby or 100 viable embryos?


Yes, I personally look into my CATHOLIC RULEBOOK and check under Section 1010(b) "What to Do When You Can Only Save One Party in a Fire" and it tells me EXACTLY what to do in such a situation!


You see, our CATHOLIC RULEBOOK has EVERY CONCEIVABLE situation that man can think of and HOW we should BEHAVE and ACT each time!

O brother!

What a 'LOADED' question, if ever I saw one!

Perhaps you should engage in an actual study of Catholic Morality and then you just might be able to glean what Catholic Teaching is really all about!

Felicity

What you have just revealed below betrays your ignorance on the matter

What rubbish. The issue is not the technological details but the fact that human embryos can be viably maintained for extended periods of time and moved away from a building in an emergency and still remain viable for implantation.

You see, our CATHOLIC RULEBOOK has EVERY CONCEIVABLE situation that man can think of and HOW we should BEHAVE and ACT each time!

If the best you can do is to respond like a freak, that's the best you can do. You alone speak of a rulebook for every situation. I uosed the question in the general sense.

Perhaps you should engage in an actual study of Catholic Morality and then you just might be able to glean what Catholic Teaching is really all about!

It's not about arrogance.

Esau

Felicity,

Not if they're exposed to fire!

You are familiar with the basic concept of denaturation, aren't you, and the hazards of freeze/thaw events, I would assume, if you are indeed familiar?

labrialumn

Jason,
If your view were correct, then America was founded as a Theocracy. The Philadelphia Constitution forbade Congress to make laws regarding an establishment of religion in order to protect the State establishments of Christian denominations from federal interference. One of the causes of the American resistance to being reduced to sub-citizen status was the threat of the transplantation of Anglican bishops, undoing the establishments in the New England commonwealths.

This country was founded upon the political philosophy of Scots Presbyterianism. This is beyond rational, informed question. That political philosophy was substantially, but not completely, shared by other Protestants, and rejected by the Catholic Church at that time, though it is now taught by the Catholic Church.

Democracy means rule of the mob. Theocracy means rule by God. Ecclesiocracy is rule by the Church. America was founded as a federal republic.

Your threat to marginalize and disenfranchise the people who hold to the beliefs of the founders from which we got our freedom is very serious, arguably treason, were it to be acted upon.

We are endowed by our -Creator- with certain unalienable rights. But you reject that, and all who believe that it is so. You openly state that you would deprive us of our rights.

Jason, you appear to be engaged in special pleading, calling -your- religion 'democracy' and thereby attempting to silence all others. That is actually tyranny.

You are being very dishonest. Either you didn't read and understand those Christian philosophers, or you did, and are simply lying about the nature of a democratic society. . . knowingly.

Honest answers for honest questions.

Jason is dishonest.

Next topic?

Felicity

Not if they're exposed to fire!

The question was not in regard to embryos or a baby already fried by fire, but rather entities in need of rescue from such a fate.

You are familiar with the basic concept of denaturation, aren't you, and the hazards of freeze/thaw events, I would assume, if you are indeed familiar?

Indeed. The Snowflakes program reports "1,494 embryos have been thawed for transfer of which 814 were viable, therefore the overall thawing success rate of Snowflakes is 54%. However, the success rate for frozen embryo transfer varies by each clinic. The national average overal thaw success rate is 51%."

Here's also nice story of frozen embryos saved during Katrina and a family blessed by it:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1991154,00.html

David B.

On what basis do you make "personhood" the standard to determine recognition of our inalienable rights?

The Declaration of Independance, the foundation of our government, states that "all men are created equal." Notice the wording. Created equal, not born equal.

David B.

Yo,

I'm sure I posted a comment at about 12:30 or so (unless my browser shut down on me). Where did it go?

The Masked Chicken

Felicity,

To answer your question, according to Catholic moral theology, in a situation where two distinct evils exist and either acting or not acting will bring one about (as in the example, above), one is said to have a perplexed conscience and either of the two courses of action may be taken, according to the best judgment of the individual.

The Chicken

That's one view of Catholic moral theology.
Next...

Felicity

Does the teaching offer nothing in regard to whether it would be preferred to choose that only one die rather than one thousand?

Tim J.

Felicity -

In that circumstance, almost anyone would be operating without a lot of crucial information, like how many of the embryos would have a chance to survive, as many don't even survive the unfreezing process. Add to that the less-than-ideal circumstances and probably even fewer would live.

Rescuing either the baby or the embryos would be an intrinsically good act.

Now IF the person had the ability to see into the future and could KNOW that a certain number of embryos would survive, then it seems to me like just a matter of arithmetic, which is not a specially Catholic concept... is it?

I'm not sure what you're fishing for, here. There is no official Church document titled Highly Unlikely Hypotheticals.

matt

Felicity,

the problem you're having is that you expect Catholic teaching to define an answer for every hypothetical you chose to come up with.

I would suggest that the morality in the situation such as this is more in ones reason for chosing which path to take than the actual choice. As others have ably pointed out, nobody has the ability to predict the outcome of each of the 101 potential victims in the fire.

If one chose to save the born baby because you intentionally deny the teaching of the Church on the equal value of every human being and/or the humanity of the non-born babies then it is immoral. On the other hand, it is morally acceptable to choses to save the born baby because you believe that saving the embryo's may involve illicit practices, classed as an extraordinary measure not obliged by natural law and has very low chance for success. Also, the effort to save the embryos may result in their being held in a state of suspension indefinitely, perhaps to be killed in the name of science, etc. etc.

With regard to the snowflake babies, I'm torn on this. It seems to me that the most moral action would to allow those children a dignified death. I believe that maintaining them in a frozen state is immoral and an extraordinary measure, so it would be licit to allow them to thaw and pass away. I would suggest that baptism is possible and efficacious in this case.

What does your worldview/faith instruct you on this matter?

God Bless,

Matt

Esau

Felicity,

Look -- I tire of your Kobayashi Maru scenario.

As I lost my CATHOLIC RULEBOOK for every hypothetical scenario; allow me to reduce Catholic Teaching to the Utilitarian view you seem to invoke in your latest inquiry:

"Does the teaching offer nothing in regard to whether it would be preferred to choose that only one die rather than one thousand?"

Were I to invoke logic, however, logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one!

The Masked Chicken

To the unsigned poster at 8:06:31 pm,

Rudeness is not a Christian virtue. I realize that there are other moral schemes that might be used to parse the situation (such as probabilism, etc.). The concept of a perplexed conscience has an old and venerable pedigree and to my knowledge is still acceptable in most orthodox Catholic courses in moral theology.

I could discuss some of the other ideas, but I would prefer that you do it, since you seem to know so much about moral theology, except, perhaps, how not to commit an offense against Christian charity.

You owe me either an apology or proof that my comment aboce is no longer acceptable in moral theology. Vatican II did not rewrite everything, you know.

I try to be charitable in my posts, here. It is people like you who make me want to go back to lurking.

The Chicken

Esau

Masked Chicken,

I, for one, look forward to your comments.

Please disregard the anonymous cretan (or should I say Felicity? I may be wrong, but the time difference between Anon's post and hers makes Felicity highly suspect).

The comments to this entry are closed.

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