Normative Judgements and Dividing Experiential from Propositional Knowledge: ‘No Uterus, No Opinion’ Re-Visited

The following is a very commonly used phrase (in outline):

(1) If you yourself have not experienced E (some event), then you are not entitled to give your opinion O.

I have always had an intuition that (1) is designed either as a derogatory comment, or a conversation stopper. It seems that there is a suppressed premise—to use Simon Blackburn’s term—lingering in (1). Let’s try to add it in:

(1*) If you yourself have not experienced E, then you are not entitled to give your opinion O since experiential knowledge of E cannot be had in any other way.

This is rather abstract. Let me give an example (inspired by recent events). If a pro-choice advocate (man or woman) says that a man ought not to hold any opinion about the pro-life/choice debate because one is a man, there is at least three (fatal) problems with this, philosophically speaking. Let me identify them. First, it is not clear that experiential knowledge excludes propositional knowledge. Suppose that you meet someone, your mother, for instance. And suppose that you meet her through meeting her; that is, you have experienced what it is like to meet your own mother. This is one way of knowing something, namely, one’s mother. But, suppose that I have not met my mother (for whatever reason i.e., private or closed adoption). If I am in this predicament, I can be told that I have a mother. For instance, I could learn that ‘your biological mother is not the mother who raised you.’ This would be sufficient for knowing your mother propositionally. Sure, they’re not the same thing, but they are two ways of knowing the same thing nonetheless—one through a proposition, the other through experience. So, when the pro-choicer suggests that a man should not make any claims about what a woman ought to do with their unborn child, if we have propositional knowledge of the situation they are in, that seems to be good enough a reason for having an opinion. But suppose I am wrong: What if there is a knowledge peculiar to the woman, which cannot be had even propositionally by the man? While I am very skeptical of this type of knowledge (what would it consist in?), let me suppose that this is true, and that there is a ‘special knowledge.’ There is an even more fatal problem with (1*). There is a difference between the argument, and the person giving the argument (as philosopher W.L. Craig nicely notes in many places). The person I am is independent of any argument I give; if I am a Catholic, my argument holds whether myself, the Pope, the local convenience store owner or the librarian nearest to me holds it. There is no truth-indicative relationship between the person who gives an argument, and the argument itself (I suppose this does not apply to God, though i.e., if He gives an argument, in virtue of being God, He will be correct). Back to the example, though: If I say for instance:

(2) Science tells us with great plausibility and precision that human life begins at conception

this has nothing to do with me—rather, it has to do with the deliverances of science. The attempt to conflate together the person and the argument is not only antithetical to truth, but actually commits—and this is the third reason why (1*) does not work—the fallacy of an ad hominem. Why would it do this? This is so inasmuch as one tries to falsify the claim of a person by attacking their character i.e., not possessing certain body parts (a uterus, for example), one is merely attacking a person and not the argument. So we have here three reasons why we should reject (1*): (i) there are many ways of knowing not limited to experiential knowledge, (ii) even if (i) is false, we still face the problem of conflating the person with an argument and they are, in fact, separate and (iii) we have good grounds for thinking that the conflation of the person with an argument commits the fallacy of ad hominem. But, let me (for the sake of argument), suggest that I am wrong about all of this, and that I have mis-interpreted the claim altogether. Consider it once more:

(1*) If you yourself have not experienced E, then you are not entitled to give your opinion O since experiential knowledge of E cannot be had in any other way.

Maybe instead of treating this as a logical proposition, I have instead missed that it was a normative moral judgment. For perhaps (1*) prescribes an action which ought to be taken i.e., not giving an opinion on E (some event) iff (if and only if) one has not experienced it. There are still manifold problems. Let me list two. First, we should think of normative moral judgements as prescribing a form of action towards another person or oneself. So, when we say ‘rape is a moral wrong’, we mean that (i) rape is wrong and (ii) we have a duty not to do it (or even let it happen socio-culturally). Why is this relevant? (1*) suggests that we should limit what we judge to what we have ourselves experienced; however, if I have not experienced E, why is it not morally permissible to give an opinion O? Loaded within (1*) is a technical presumption which I want to make explicit. The technical presumption is that we have an opinion to share, and not a claim about reality. In effect, (1*) can become a sort of mask for subjectivism in many cases: “Truth is relative to persons and so your opinion should not be given since I have my opinions, and you have yours.” (Of course, this is a self contradiction i.e., it is absolutely true that you should not give your subjective opinions). Interestingly though (1*) I think is often a statement of a self-contradictory subjectivism. But let me (again) suppose I am wrong.

(1*) suffers an even more devastating problem, namely, we can run counter-examples. There are many people who have not smoked crack cocaine before, but who think that human beings should not do it. There are people who are not effected by rape (directly or indirectly) but who advocate for a culture where rape is unthinkable. There are even people who advocate for religious freedom, even if they themselves are not religious. These are examples where a person has not experienced the thing in question, but where we think one should not have their opinion restricted. So, a philosophical question is looming: Why is the cases in which we say ‘if you are not P, then you cannot say O’ selective, in that we say them in some contexts but not in others? I have two answers. First, it seems likely that it is because we already agree in many cases of the wrongness of the action. For instance, we are all agreed (minus some apathetic persons) that smoking crack cocaine is bad i.e., it ruins the body, relationships, right conduct towards one’s own body, et cetera. So, when one advocates for not using them, we do not (as a sociological fact) say ‘you shouldn’t give your opinion unless you yourself have experienced it.’ Secondly, and more importantly, the desire to not allow people to give their opinions because of qualities which they may or may not have is just a projection of emotion. It is not ‘nice’ (whatever that means) at times to have someone give their opinion on something they themselves have not experienced. This I think is an important point. Let me make it relevant to the pro-life/choice debate.

Men will not experience pregnancy. They will not experience rape. They will not even experience delivering a rapists’ child. These things are correct; however, does this mean we should ignore questions of right and wrong, good and bad, because one will not experience the thing in question? While I think men ought to have the sincerest sympathy and love for all women who are in any of the aforementioned situations, I think we should rightfully separate the person from the argument, the goodness or badness from the action from the person who speaks of it. So the claim that ‘no uterus, no opinion’, ‘men should not have any say over what a woman does with her body’ or even ‘you will not have to experience motherhood, pregnancy, or in the worst case rape, so you aren’t allowed to give an opinion’, is in the long run not merely logically fallacious, but is just an emotional rejection of the truth, namely, the truth that all human beings are entitled to give their insights, despite what qualities or features they may or may not have. (1*) might have an even more awful consequence: If we accept (1*), men should not give their opinion on the badness of rape itself since the man will not experience it (as a woman)—this conclusion is not merely morally problematic and shows how the use of (1*) is often inconsistently used, it is a reductio ad absurdum!

Philosophical Methodology: Thoughts on Meta-Philosophical Holism

Consider the following premise*:

(1) Philosophy ought to consider the deliverances of science i.e., physics.

This is a normative judgement on how philosophical methodology ought to proceed. It is a normative judgement, since it aims to prescribe how philosophy ought to proceed as a discipline. But, (1) can be reconstrued into a subjunctive conditional:

(1*) If philosophy’s goal is reality, philosophy must consult the deliverances of science.

The virtue of (1*) is that it takes philosophy’s consultation of science as a logical implication of the definition of philosophy. Why should philosophy consult science? Because if it did not consult science, it would be cease to be philosophy one is doing. I prefer (1*). Objection: Why think that science must be consulted for every problem? It does not; however, a philosophy being done independent of science seems to be weakened since human beings are multi-facet creatures, within a multi-faceted reality. Perhaps we can even weaken the claim here: Philosophy’s object (reality), since multi-faceted, is best done when it takes all the human data into consideration to “not leave anything out” (Pieper). Objection: We would then not be able to solve anything since we don’t have all the information about a single thing at a given time. I think to this I would suggest that it does not have to be perfect knowledge we are after; rather, we merely have to remember that without consulting other disciplines, we run the risk of missing important information. Objection: For instance, neuroscience does not study memory; it hasn’t even located where memory is in the brain. Sure. This doesn’t imply much though. Just because in one case it doesn’t give us much fruitful information for our philosophy of mind i.e., studying memories or beliefs as neurophysiological structures, doesn’t mean in other places it either does not or will not in principle. Consider the following. Science has a lot to say about localizability and whether the world is local or non-local. John Bell’s experiments shows us plausibly that the world is non-local. What follows from this (if correct)? It means that when we do philosophy and talk about concepts like simultaneity i.e., God’s bringing the universe into being simultaneously with the universe’s coming into being, science has a lot to say here. Take a non-theological example. Zeno’s paradoxes suggested that things were in principle infinitely (potentially infinite, that is (WLC)) divisible; however—as van Inwagen notes—high-energy physics tells us that there is actually a point at which further divisibility stops. Maybe we could have gotten there without science—maybe not. This is not to reject philosophy nor science; rather, it suggests a holistic approach, one which does not reject science nor thinks of it as its bedrock—it suggests that reality as a whole should be taken into consideration. Maybe you disagree that philosophy’s object is reality—but if it is not that, I’m not sure what one is doing (pseudo-philosophy?).

Postscript

What about this objection: In philosophy, philosophers of mind are often divided by tradition. For instance, phenomenological and existential philosophy looks at the mind from an introspective approach; whereas analysis philosophy of mind focuses on what we mean by key terms i.e., sensations, perceptions, memories, thoughts, desires et cetera. It is not even clear that they are talking about the same thing. This seems correct; however, as I have been told elsewhere, there is often two ways of looking at the same thing (anonymous name). So, perhaps a belief is something one affirms or doesn’t affirm introspectively, is what phenomenologists call an introspective assent or dissent, is something which has content (as analytic philosophers i.e., Plantinga, are apt to point out), and which has a neurophysiological structure in the brain. This is a consistent picture, it seems to me. Are we talking about the same thing? Maybe, maybe not. Are there many ways of looking at the same thing? Probably yes. But of course the domain of the universal quantifier here is restricted over which objects this principle applies to. Objection: Let’s suppose that we are not talking about the same thing. Why does one discipline need to consult the others? Sure, psychology does not have to consult philosophy; but the problem is that philosophy does have to consult psychology (and yes, cognitive science and artificial intelligence). This does not mean that psychology and cognitive science will or does have anything fruitful to say, but philosophy regardless should consider the information found there. Last thought: If—as St. Aquinas, Pieper, Plato, Aristotle—thought that the most important quality or feature of the philosopher is the spirit of wonder, why would the philosopher not open herself to the world as a whole? I think this view is best called meta-philosophical holism (with its greatest defender being Josef Pieper, whom I will defend in another post).

*This post is largely based on a discussion had with a few people yesterday; all the ideas here are not ‘necessarily’ original to me ex. many of the objections, examples, et cetera. (I will keep the names anonymous).

 

 

Top Five Favourite Quotes?

Recently, my sister asked me for my top favorite quotes. While this was painfully difficult, I think I have five which I think paradigmatic to my thinking (or at any rate to what I take to be most important in philosophy). Here they are! (References available upon request!)

“[It is] always one thing which makes for happiness:…the capacity to feel ‘unhistorically’”

-Friedrich Nietzsche

“This is the basis for the joy of love…; we feel that our existence is justified.”

-Jean-Paul Sartre

“Love alone makes it possible for contemplation to satiate the human heart with the experience of supreme happiness.”

-Josef Pieper

“The hidden life of love is in the most inward depths, unfathomable and still has an unfathomable relationship to the whole of existence.”

-SØren Kierkegaard

“The least insight that one can obtain into sublime things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge of lower things.”

-St. Thomas Aquinas

“Philosophical Thinking”: What does that mean?

For most of my philosophical studies, I have been told the following: “Philosophy allows you to think better.” (This, and other variants of it). I had never understood what this meant, I think, until today. Philosophers, for those reading who aren’t necessarily sure, work not merely on concepts, words and ideas, but arguments. Arguments are premises (statements) which, when used properly with logical rules, bring about a certain conclusion. I had never put the idea of ‘think better’ and ‘arguments’ together before—until today, as I was (and currently am) cleaning out my coffee maker—there is no causal link between the two (it is just when it happened).

Here is what I thought. Take a good or bad argument—the one I will present will be a good one:

  1. If the universe began to exist, then it has a transcendent cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a transcendent cause. [1]

There are many ways in which this can be dealt with, especially from a philosophical standpoint. Let me lay out the two basic ways. (1) Deny the soundness (the truth of one or more of the premises), or (2) deny the logical inference from premises to conclusion (this is denying validity). How would we deny premises or the logic used? The latter is very often not even attempted. For those of you do not know the logical structure, it is thus (where the variables represent statements or propositions):

  1. If P, Q.
  2. P.
  3. Q.

This inference—modus ponens—is very often not challenged (for we can provide a truth-table proving that it is a valid method of inference) [2]. What about the first method? How could we show one or more of the premises to be false? Let’s try premise 2.

  1. The universe began to exist.

Here are some ways we could deal with it—if we wanted to falsify it:

  • Provide contrary evidence for the claim.
  • Show how the scientific evidence is at best inconclusive.
  • Show that the philosophical arguments do not work i.e., accepting Hilbert’s Hotel as non-absurd.
  • Deny its logical possibility i.e., 4-D Ontology/B-Series of Time (this would make temporal becoming an illusion of human consciousness).
  • Show how we have equi-good reasons on both sides i.e., Kantian Antinomy—and so no reason to affirm one over the over on evidential grounds.
  • Combine it with some other principle/premise which would make it inconsistent i.e., naturalism (at least a consistent naturalism which says that space-time reality is all there is—if the naturalist wants to deny this, she must also accept coming into being out of nothing (which is a hopeless philosophical principle).
  • Show how its not possible for there to be evidence for or against the claim i.e., this is implausible, but for instance if there was a temporal stage in the universe that prevented any detection of evidence for/against the beginning i.e., if the Red-Shift or Expansion evidence was not accessible to our spatio-temporal location.

While I think these methods of dealing with (2) are hopeless (in terms of the truth of (2)), these are just some ways in which we could deal with (2) reasonably.

In this sense, philosophy just is, as Plantinga suggested, thinking hard about things.

[1] For more information on the argument, and for a defense of it, visit reasonablefaith.org.

[2] images.png

http://www.cogsci.rpi.edu/~heuveb/teaching/CriticalWisdom/Deduction.htm (Accessed January 2017).

Deductive Closure Principle, Souls and W.L. Craig

I am thoroughly interested in the Deductive Closure Principle (DCP). I have written on this from time to time, and am worried that much of philosophy is misguided because of it. Here is the principle formally: If S (some finite cognizer) believes P (some proposition), if P->Q (P entails some other proposition Q), then S knows P. Now, much has to be said about the entailment relation here—especially when it’s a matter of debate if Q really follows from P. Supposing, though, that we have really solid philosophical foundations for thinking that Q does necessarily (or logically, to be more humble) follow from P. In this case, says the DCP, whatever follows from P, if S knows P, S also knows. William Lane Craig [1] has used this notion without explicit reference which I think worth re-printing. To summarize (with added premises and my own paraphrase):

  1. If the Bible teaches that the soul exists (P), then (->) the soul exists (Q).
  2. (1) is true iff the Bible is true.
  3. The Bible is true. (His metaphysical system: natural theological arguments (in conjunction with reformed epistemology i.e., properly basic belief in God).
  4. If S is said to know Q in virtue of knowing P (since P->Q), the DCP must be correct.
  5. The DCP holds. (Variation in the strength of entailment is being put away here since it is almost undeniable that the Bible teaches that human beings have souls).
  6. Therefore, if the Bible is true, the soul exists. (1)-(5).
  7. The Bible is true (1).
  8. Therefore, the soul exists. (1)-(7).

While W.L. Craig acknowledges that there are independent philosophical grounds for affirming that the soul exists, the DCP is a way in which the extra work might be avoided? The two objections lurking are the following: (1) Wouldn’t this make the—if it happened—the discovery of there being “no soul” a strict refutation of Christianity? And (2) Isn’t this form of reasoning ad hoc since it simply rules out anything that any other view or system or account posits? Let me respond: (1*) At best, this would either suggest (i) that the entailment relation has to be given up i.e., go with Peter van Inwagen and think that Christianity and materialism are consistent or (ii) think that the Bible is not infallible nor, if one wants to preserve the legitimacy of the Bible, that the Bible has to be infallible if it is to be considered God’s word. At any rate, some give and take might be inevitable—but I suspect that this won’t be a problem since (i) the entailment relation is really strong here, (ii) the grounds for affirming the Bible are also very strong and (iii) all contemporary materialist accounts of human beings miserably fail. (2*) Sure, maybe it is ad hoc. But just because x is ad hoc does not make x false. Let us suppose that theism is true. Any postulated entity on theism that theism does not imply (nor is consistent with) can be rejected reasonably i.e., a possible world in which God does not exist (God necessarily exists in all possible worlds). So, this might “appear ad hoc”; however, even if it is—which is not clear—it does not falsify the claim in question.

So, there is something to be said here. At any rate, this is all I have to say.

[1] “Why should we believe we have a soul?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xu4jRSoLUk: Accessed Jan. 11/17.

Pro-Life Talk Lecture Notes

Preface

The following are the notes used for a presentation I gave for the Pro-Life Club at Western (Lifeline); roughly speaking, the topic was the foundations of bioethics construed philosophically. Since I have been working on many papers (and so the posts are inevitably less), I think it would be fruitful–and good for some reflection–to post the lecture notes since they are, to be sure, almost like an essay.

Theism, Atheism and Peter Singer: Exploring the Foundations of Bioethics Philosophically

Rashad Rehman

Lecture Notes

Structure of the talk:

Introduction

Let’s begin.

Nietzsche: “Every philosophy is a foreground philosophy—that is a hermit’s judgement: “There is something arbitrary in his stopping here to look back and look around, in his not digging deeper here but laying his spade aside; there is also something suspicious about it.” Every philosophy also conceals a philosophy; every opinion is also a hideout, every word also a mask.”

Again and again we encounter this: “I am pro-women’s rights and so I am pro-choice and that is that.” “The unborn is a blob of valueless cells and that is that.” “I hate pro-lifers, they are ignorant, wrong and uneducated.”

Pieper (and Aristotle) quote: Science (knowledge (Scientia), not “hard sciences”) is most free when it is broken free from practicality and when its aim is understanding. So, much of this talk is not ‘apologetic’, but philosophical and more “groundwork-like”. So here we might agree with Immanuel Kant: “For the convenience of a principle in use and its apparent adequacy do not constitute a secure proof of its correctness.” (pg. 194). My goal of the presentation is not to make everyone expert philosophers, as if I myself am even close to something like that, but rather to be aware of what is going on in contemporary philosophy and realizing its relevance to so many problems we encounter. So rather than saying “how am I going to win an argument with what I have learned?” I think what one can take is more of an appreciation of the complexity of some of the topics and their relevance in some areas which one might have thought irrelevant.

  • Introduce some philosophical dimensions of the debate.
  • Peter Singer and some of his arguments.
  • What can we learn from this presentation?

Consider some philosophical dimensions of the abortion debate (which will appear foggy at first, but will I hope become clearer eventually).

i.e.,

-Logic (axioms/presuppositions & deductive closure principle). If S knows P, and P->Q, S knows Q. What do we assume as pro-lifers? Some sort of intrinsic moral worth, I imagine. There are trivial examples of this. i.e., If I know that coffee will keep me awake while I read, and reading the material for a class will ensure my getting a good grade, I reason thus: I know P, and P->Q, therefore, Q. (This is just an example—we use it more rigorously though in mathematics and logic).

 

-Truth: Two things to say here.

Denial of truth (relativism): (i) self-contradictory and (ii) even Nietzsche thought there was objective truth: “Something might be true while being harmful and dangerous in the highest degree.” (BGE 1886, Part II, Sec. 39, pg. 239).

-Love: Kierkegaard: “wherever love is, there is something infinitely profound.” (Works of Love). Indeed, because “God is love.” (John 4:8), and so when we look at the unborn, we can say the familiar German phrase Grus Dich (umlaut over the ‘u’ and large S). (trans. Greetings God—you see God in the other, even at the unborn phase). I think often we have that intuition, that even though it is a moral debate, it springs for a love of the unborn.

-Philosophy of Mind: Functionalism def. “The mind is certain functions of a complex system: a brain or a brain plus other systems.” (Stainton’s def.). (Robert Stainton’s recent book and two counter-replies ex. Swinburne, Moreland and Alvin Plantinga). Are human’s merely mechanistic beings? Highly unlikely: intentional states of consciousness, consciousness itself, basic properties about myself i.e., possibly disembodiable, aesthetic/moral intuitions/experiences, desire for real—not merely survival increasing—love, et cetera, all call towards some other aspect of ourselves. (As a funny example: A brain state cannot be true or false (incoherent), but a thought can be). More philosophically put, a correct model of human persons must make reference to all the facts—not just some (which is what most functionalists want to do). Even atheistic philosopher Thomas Nagel has written an entire book on this denouncing the attempt by atheists to champion this view. He thinks consciousness, value and cognition are all evidence that the standard “materialist picture” of human beings must be given up. Let me make one more remark: On functionalism, what a ‘person’ is comes after some functions of some sorts. But that implies that there can be degrees of ‘personhood.’ (If this is rejected, it becomes fundamentally arbitrary at what point a ‘person’ arises). So are there degrees? Presumably not. Think about it. What does it mean to have 1/3 of a person? If you say “1/3 of the brain”, let me give two quick wonderful examples why this is wrong: Judi losing half her brain (hemispherectomy)—is she 50% of a person? More remarkably: Dandy Walker’s syndrome is a syndrome where some people are born with 10% of their brain (you basically only have the outer sheath of the brain and fluid inside). They function 75-80% normally. Are they 10% persons? To my mind, that is an incoherent concept. More appropriately we are persons who gain and lose functions over time.

(Tie all of these to the abortion debate after explained one by one).

It isn’t necessary to know all of these debates and get caught up in them, but just to be aware that they happen. And realize that often questions we ask require a more sophisticated response than we often sometimes want.

Consider the following theses Singer advocates:

  • Species membership is not relevant for moral consideration.
  • Pre-born are human but not persons (and so abortion is morally justified) since they do not have a moral status.
  • The moral question of abortion should be based on a utilitarian calculation which compares the preferences of a woman against the preferences of the fetus, and since the fetus does not have any serious interests, abortion is morally justified. The consequence of this perspective? Infanticide.

Okay let’s be more careful and analytical here. (And here we can be super-duper critical against these views).

Let’s consider (i): Is species membership relevant for moral consideration?

Well, lets be careful. What is the claim, really? Is it saying “the relationship between a species and its moral properties is contingent”, that is, could have been otherwise, then I think we would agree (maybe in another world there are humans who do not have moral properties because, maybe, God decided to endow another creature(s) with intrinsic moral worth, consciousness, aesthetic capacities and freedom of the will and who bear His image, etc). But the question is not about other possible worlds, but the actual (real) world. In the actual world, is “being human” constitutive of being able to be “morally considered”? In my view, yes. In Singer’s view, no. Why? On Singer’s view, we are just animals. (Use Moreland’s “Grand Story”/ Lennox’s question he posed in their debate). Why does he think this? Because he is an atheist. (But this is not an “insult”). It just simply is the case that on atheism, “evolution in the only game in town.” (Plantinga). There simply is no other mechanism to explain why human beings are here (although I once talked to someone who legitimately thought aliens were the reason). On evolutionary theory, selecting one species to be “morally superior” over another because one “prefers” that one, is guilty of speciesism. This view can be thought of in the following way (Draw a set of species and select one with an ‘x’ and show how it is an arbitrary assignment). But Singer imagines that selecting ‘human’ is arbitrary and as if we just pick ourselves because we happen to be human. Taken this way, Singer commits a logical fallacy called the genetic fallacy. (Explain why). What is my conclusion? In the actual world, it thus depends on whether or not God exists that human beings have intrinsic moral worth. If there is no God, intrinsic moral worth does not appear. If there is a God, then it does. (This is WLC’s thesis). This might be crappy for apologetics (since a “God debate” might take lightyears), but it is helpful for more thorough, philosophical discussions. (And, for those of you who are Christian, there are plenty of wonderful resources aimed at a “lay level” which can allow you to be, as St.Paul says, ready to give a reason for the hope that is within you.

Let’s move to (ii): Are the unborn persons? If they are, do they have intrinsic moral worth?

Again, my view is that being a “person” on atheism, like being conscious, rational and free, for instance, are all irrelevant to being a moral agent or having intrinsic moral worth. But, on what grounds can the former assertion be made, that the unborn human beings are “persons”? What does it mean to be a person? The Greek for “person” is prosopon, and a prosopon was a mask that an Ancient Greek actor would wear in the theatre and that mask itself was called a “prosopon”. Perhaps Singer imagines something similar: the “prosopon” (personhood) is something that comes after, it is, if you will allow some philosophical jargon, derivative, and not primitive. But so what? Why think that personhood is derivative notwithstanding its interesting history? Well, if you equate “personhood” with some properties like “rationality and self-consciousness” (as Singer wants to do), then obviously it’s a tautology (explain this) why unborn humans are not ‘persons.’ Hmm. Something is up here. Let us ask Singer a couple questions: (1) So, if rationality and self-consciousness are properties constitutive of personhood, what do you mean by ‘rationality’ and ‘self-consciousness’? At any rate, some degree of rationality is needed for self-consciousness and so I think we can just say ‘self-consciousness’ for simplicities sake. (And if anyone worries about leaving ‘rationality’ out by the end, I will add it in and respond to it at the end). I have two responses. First comes from the probability calculus and recent work done on consciousness, and the second comes from Singer’s haunting presupposition of atheism (interestingly enough, I think of Dr. Jekyll here who has these sort of two sides to him, one hidden and haunted, the other completely normal—maybe Singer is being haunted by his other side, atheism?). Let me say something about the first response I would like to make (which is kind of funny). J.P Moreland has argued that the existence of consciousness is more probable on theism than atheism. (And I have defended him here and actually have a paper published on this believe it or not). If he is right, self-consciousness (which is sometimes called pre-reflexive consciousness) is more probable on theism than atheism. Interesting, remember the DCP? If S knows P, and P->Q, S knows Q. If S knows that consciousness is more probable on theism, and theism implies personhood not being based on self-consciousness, then P knows that self-consciousness is not constitutive of personhood. So, basically, if one denies consciousness (or intentional states of consciousness) then they can avoid this objection (Rosenberg). If not, any appeal to consciousness implies theism and theism falsifies their objection. (yay!). So, what is the point? If the unborn are persons, on atheism, it makes no moral difference and, despite this problem, any appeal to ‘self-consciousness’ falls into a more lethal problem, namely, the problem of their view falsifying itself. So, what is a person? On theism, it is something like being made in the image and likeness of God.

Let’s move on to the last part: (iii) Should the moral question of abortion be based on a utilitarian calculation which compares the preferences of a woman against the preferences of the fetus, and since the fetus does not have any serious interests, abortion is morally justified. Is the consequence of this perspective infanticide? (The latter question I think can be answered yes, but let’s answer the first now).

Let’s break this up. What does one mean by ‘utilitarian calculation’? Well, presumably this refers to the method of cost/benefit analysis on the normative ethical theory utilitarianism of weighing actions and their respective consequences. Why accept this? Here is a simple counter-example (and it is true, sadly): If raping a mother in front of her husband and father, and thereafter cutting her child’s head off and throwing it on her lap somehow made society flourish in all respects, should you do it? On utilitarianism, if you can prove the calculation with some degree of probability, not only is it morally permissible, but it is morally required (since the whole of society will be impacted incredibly well—in this horrible thought experiment). So I think we can reject utilitarianism “happily ever after.” BUT, for the sake of argument, lets give Singer this part and move on to his secondary part with respect to ‘interests’. Does it follow that ‘interests’ are indicative of what is and isn’t morally justified? Is it only when I have interests that I am subject to being treated as a moral agent? Not only is this arbitrary, but this is age-old 20th century French existentialism re-iterated again with the old ‘you are what you make of yourself’ and ‘your projects determine the meaning of life.’ I share distress here: Has Singer not read the devastating criticism of existentialism by Alvin Plantinga and Jacques Maritain? But wait, let’s remember: The only meaning, purpose or source of morality has to be atheistic for Singer: What such bases are there? There simply aren’t any—and so we construct them as we go along in the world and make “subjective illusions”—one thinks of Plato’s cave here. (WLC). (Clearly, this is implausible). ‘Interests’ are simply irrelevant in being a moral agent, and for discerning moral actions.

Well, we have looked at some philosophical remarks on the whole debate in general and thereafter three theses that arise out of Singer’s work. What should we conclude?

Let me briefly give some suggestions:

(1) Bioethical stances have presuppositions which are often assumed

(2) Pro-life apologetics done on a practical level needs secular arguments. While philosophical arguments (so dear to me and many others) are important, the missing element of practicality is lethal to those who are engaging with lay or secular folk who need to be mentally and spiritually stirred—not put to sleep with arguments.

(3) Pro-life apologetics done on a (more) philosophical level needs good analytic philosophy to be clear about our terms, arguments and systems through which we build our case for the unborn. (4) Given the strong philosophical foundations of the pro-life position, the goal should be to know the strongest arguments on the opposing side of the debate, and use the tools analytic philosophers have given us i.e., conceptual clarity, coherence, to advance rigorous attacks against those positions.

I will end with a quote by C.S Lewis: “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” (pg. 34, Fern-Seed and Elephants).

Thank you.

Pro-Life, Pro-Choice and “Freedom of Speech”

The pro-life community, in its efforts to protect the lives of the unborn, attempt to give a case—both intellectually and visually—for the immorality of abortion. I have come across, though, an interesting article critiquing Western University students’ pro-life endeavors to save the lives of the unborn through “post carding.” I think that many things can be learned from this article; however, I think the article is (i) not correct in many of its premises and (ii) at any rate begs the question in favor of a pro-choice stance. Thus, in this small post, I will re-print the entire article (it is relatively small) [1], and share why I think it is, philosophically, mistaken. My method, then, will be taking each paragraph and critiquing its crucial premises and showing why they fail under thorough scrutiny.

“Freedom of speech. It’s a fundamental freedom as per section two of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But in a case where one person’s free speech impacts another person’s right to security in their own homes, where does a distinction get made? In a world where there are currently about 40-50 million abortions a year, it’s easy to see why pro-life supporters — those who are opposed to abortion and believes in a right for an unborn fetus to be carried to term — feel so passionate about changing that number.”

So far so good. Freedom of speech is a great good (whether or not the “law” says it is) and the pro-life attempt to end abortion, if justified, is obviously a warranted pursuit (it is stopping, literally, a genocide).

“Let’s get this straight: it is okay to have an opinion. It is okay to also voice that opinion, especially on a topic that has been subject to heavily controversial debates and discussions.

What is not okay, however, is hanging signs with graphic illustrations of aborted fetuses on student’s doors.”

Here I think that there is confusion. Consider the following: Suppose that in Nazi Germany during World War 2, the Germans in your neighborhood did not realize the injustice of the extermination and horrendous treatment of Jewish persons. Suppose that in all your efforts, nothing came of it and the hearts of the Nazi’s remained patriotic and stern in their pursuit to create a full-blown German race. Is it appropriate to show the Germans, visually, what their lack of care and moral judgement causes? I think so. Thus, if the pro-life message is true, the two cases are one and the same (asides minor, peculiar differences). It might be not to your liking (and the pro-lifer is certainly disgusted with the graphic images too), but it is a method by which the truth can be revealed about the immorality of abortion.

“The signs, which state, “Consider, though: will abortion make a poor woman rich? Will it unrape a rape victim? Will it turn a woman’s frog of a boyfriend into a prince?,” do not help facilitate a productive and healthy discussion about the benefits of pro-life. They instead turn the conversation, and in their attempts to create a new and ‘creative’ argument to the pro-life side, end up being flat out offensive.”

There are four comments to make. First, just because it does not “facilitate a productive and healthy discussion about the benefits of pro-life”, does not falsify the pro-life claim, any more than a healthy conversation about dieting will make you better off (even though through the content of the situation you might be able to make a change). The function of the post carding is to get people to think, and not live in ignorance of, the mass murder of the unborn. Second, post carding is not an argument (that is incoherent)—it is a method. If a Jehovah’s Witness advocate left a letter in my mail, I would not respond “wow, what a well-thought out argument” or “I disagree with your argument.” Clearly, the Jehovah’s Witness just wants me to remember that they were there (to inspire thought, perhaps). Thirdly, just because something is “flat out offensive”, does not falsify the pro-life message. Consider the following example. Suppose you had cancer, and in refusing to receive treatment, the doctor tells you that you are terminally ill and must, of necessity, get treatment. Of course this might be unlikable, perhaps even the doctor was rude in his or her way of expressing it, but that does not do anything to suggest that “therefore, you do not have cancer.” (As you can see, this is an invalid inference). Forth, consider something also interesting and peculiar about this paragraph–there is no argument, at all, against what was written on the pamphlet (which, to my mind, is alarming for the pro-choice perspective).

“They emphasize the helplessness of a woman as to why she should just submit to her circumstances, thereby taking away the idea that she should even have the right to choose.”

The pro-life argument is not “a woman is helpless, therefore she should not have an abortion.” (If that was the argument, no wonder one thinks the pro-life case to be intellectually inferior!). Rather, the correct interpretation is that once we realize the humanity, personhood and independent nature of the unborn in the womb, the circumstances surrounding pregnancy do not change the situation, horrendous and wrongful they may be—slaughtering the unborn in the womb is immoral.

“The issue here isn’t the cause. Many pro-lifers manage to make their point without being condescending. What these pamphlets seem to do is discredit a woman’s ability to make choices for herself. They fail to recognize that choosing to get an abortion can be one of the hardest decisions a woman can make. It’s a decision that comes with heavy thought and consideration, and to simplify this choice into a few simple and belittling sentences suggests that this group of pro-lifers come from a place of ignorance.”

This is staunchly begging the question in favor of a pro-choice standpoint. Consider it this way. If pro-lifers are right, there is a genocide occurring in Canada. If the pro-choice side is correct, Canada facilitates what is helpful to women who do not want their children. Now, realize this paragraph’s understanding of the issue: The pro-life message is “condescending”, “simpli[stic]”, “[using] belittling sentences” and “ignoran[t]”; even if these were all true—and I reject this—how does that falsify what is going on in Canada? If the pro-lifers are right, a genocide is occurring and while it may be hard to think about and difficult to come to agreement upon—the facts don’t change. One more comment though. Notice the following sentence carefully: “What these pamphlets seem to do is discredit a woman’s ability to make choices for herself.”  A parallel argument is the following: “What these pamphlets, of, say, drunk driving, seem to do is discredit a drunk driver’s ability to drink and drive.” You might be in favor of autonomy, but autonomy does not involve being able to absolutely anything you want (unless you are willing to say that for the sake of autonomy, rape is not immoral (which is absurd)). I see no good argument here at all.

“The recent campaign in the student neighbourhoods also fails to recognize that oftentimes women suffer trauma and are in need of support and counselling after making this decision. For women who have made this choice, seeing pamphlets like these can cause them to think retrospectively in a way that can trigger the same trauma — especially those who may have had abortions due to sexual assault, since it’s one of the key points that they attack.”

Consider the following example: If these post cards were pictures of drunk drivers and a horrendous vision of a daughter, looking at a destroyed car with her mother and father inside of it ripped to pieces, all because of a drunk driver, how would many people have responded? They might suggest it is graphic, but worth it posting; they might agree with it completely because of how severe the consequences are and how important it is to stop the issue, et cetera. Flip to the post cards that the pro-lifers gave. This response is begging the question in favor of pro-choice; if the unborn is not a human being, then it follows that the post carding is plainly wrong (since a woman should have the choice); however, if he pro-lifers are correct, then they are doing exactly what the hypothetical drunk driving post carder is doing—raising awareness and provoking action.

“Perhaps the worst thing to me in all of this is that they had the audacity to trespass into people’s safe spaces, their homes, and leave these pamphlets behind. These pamphlets are not for getting your lawn mowed or garbage picked up. This is a pamphlet with extremely graphic imagery and an extremely controversial viewpoint.”

Two comments. First, to save millions of unborn children, I do not see why leaving the post cards is wrongful. This presupposes that many values are not hierarchical (when this is false). Let me put it this way: What is more important, having no one (including the mailman) on your property at all times, or protecting the lives of unborn children? I would assume the latter, and it is only when she makes the shift to “extremely graphic imagery and an extremely controversial viewpoint” that I think she is fully mistaken. One cannot falsify a message because of its effects; even if controversial, this does nothing to prevent justified efforts to help the unborn in their need.

“At the end of the day, free speech should not invade the safe spaces of others. Free speech does not give the right for hate speech. And although we cannot help that some views are more ignorant than others, freedom of speech becomes an issue when it begins to harm the safety and mental health of other individuals.”

Since I have responded to the first part, let me continue to the next. The message of pro-lifers is not hate speech. Pro-lifers are loving the unborn, and in doing so they devote their time, effort and money to do so. If one interprets saving the lives of millions through provoking thought i.e., leaving graphic images to display the reality and immorality of abortion, the pro-life message is one of concern and love. Concern, for those who turn away from the matter and have cold hearts towards the unborn children; love, because the unborn in the womb is a human person, intrinsically valuable and deserving of basic human rights. Even if the “mental health of other individuals” is compromised (and there are no facts or statistics cited here), it does nothing to show that the pro-life endeavor to save the lives of the unborn is without justification. As William Wilberforce puts it, “Let it not be said that I was silent when they needed me.” In sum, I think the pro-life message is on its way nicely; if the goal of the post cards was provoking thought at this fundamentally important issue, it is surely working.

[1] Jenny Jay, “Free speech is not a valid excuse for targeted, graphic pamphlets” http://www.westerngazette.ca/opinion/free-speech-is-not-a-valid-excuse-for-targeted-graphic/article_53e574f0-7b5d-11e6-958a-bfbf29965c5f.html: Accessed September 23rd, 2016.