Lockean Ignorance and Thinking of the Ethics of Abortion

There are three causes of ignorance for Locke which he identifies in IV, III, XX of the Essay. Locke identifies ‘ignorance’ with “the dark side” of our knowledge, which is “infinitely larger than our knowledge” (IV, III, XX). The causes of ignorance are as follows: (i) Want of ideas, (ii) want of a discoverable connexion between the ideas we have and (iii) want of tracing and examining our ideas. Regarding (i), Locke writes that “how much these few and narrow inlets [i.e., lack quantitatively of ideas we have] are disproportionate to the vast whole extent of all beings” (IV, III, XXIII). Part of our cognitive situation, says Locke, is the inability to plunder the quantity of ideas which are to be had, though which we cannot fathom to attain. For example, in wondering whether abortion is ever morally permissible, one might consult the virtually endless list of ethical theories. Either one can find a plausible theory which matches our moral experience, or one can suggest that the moral disagreement is constitutive of a reason to deny the meaningfulness of the question (or be skeptical to an answer at all). However, how do we move from a quantity of ideas to skepticism? We do not do this in the realm of ethical theory generally (nor in daily life). For example, suppose one asks: Is there something wrong with a psychopathic maniac who brings an automatic weapon into an elementary school and takes the lives of children and teachers? Of course, our answer is yes. However, there are theories in which this may have been utility-conducive (utilitarianism), appropriate given the right consequences (consequentialism) or perhaps even a meaningless question altogether (moral anti-realism). However, the sheer amount of theories does not diminish the wrongfulness of the action and our knowing that it is wrong. If we are consistent, the same applies to the moral status of the preborn i.e., sheer amounts of theories do not make the question “too difficult to answer” nor “meaningless.” Second, (ii) states that there is a de facto skepticism regarding the connection between many of the ideas of experience. Locke says: “How any thought should produce a motion in body is as remote from the nature of our ideas, as how any body should produce any thought in the mind” (IV, III, XVIII). To take the former as exemplary, we know that thoughts produce motions in our bodies i.e., anxious thoughts cause the heart rate to increase, though we have no idea as to the mechanical ‘how’—the connection—between the two.[1] However, Locke’s second form of ignorance can be extrapolated into thinking about our moral intuitions regarding abortion. For example, one might think that a preborn human being is a collection of cells (or unicellular, if zygotic) and therefore unworthy of a moral status; however, in seeing a post-abortive operation, one might be convinced that there is something wrong with destroying the life of the preborn. It is this lack of putting beliefs together which results in ignorance (and also cognitive dissonance). Finally, (iii) claims that we are often ignorant not in virtue of the uncertainty of the object of inquiry nor in virtue of our cognitive capacities; rather, we are ignorant “for want of application in acquiring, examining, and by due ways comparing those ideas.” (IV, III, XXX). For example, if the preborn are—as we have good reason to believe—living, growing human beings, and we also accept that all human beings have human rights (including the right to life), it follows that abortion is a human rights violation. It is only in our ignorance that we do not put the two beliefs together, and consistently accept the conclusion.

[1] Although unlike Locke—and much of the Western philosophical tradition—I do not see a problem with thought/body (soul/body) interaction. See Rashad Rehman “Disintegrating Particles, Non-Local Causation and Category Mistakes: What do Conservation Laws have to do with Dualism?” Conatus Journal of Philosophy (accepted for the 3rd volume, 2018).


Upcoming Papers and Speaking

If anyone has looked at this blog recently, you will have noticed that I have done significantly less writing. There is a reason for this. I have been publishing papers and speaking. Here is a preview of the papers that will be coming out as well as of upcoming speaking engagements.

“Ethics, Homelessness and the Artes Liberales/ Artes Serviles Distinction” in The Ethics of Homelessness (book chapter, forthcoming December 2018-January 2019)

“Disintegrating Particles, Non-Local Causation and Category Mistakes: What do Conservation Laws have to do with Dualism?” Conatus Journal of Philosophy (University of Athens) (forthcoming).

“Love as a Divine Gift in Pieper and Kierkegaard: A Phenomenological Analysis” Midwest Journal of Undergraduate Research (undergraduate thesis, forthcoming)

“A Refutation of Relativizing Simultaneity: Tooley’s Quantum Physical Defense of Absolute Simultaneity” Meteorite: The University of Michigan’s Undergraduate Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)

“On the Boarder of Concrete Experience: Mythic and Literary Experience in C.S Lewis” Sophia: The University of Victoria’s Undergraduate Journal of Philosophy (forthcoming)


“Josef Pieper’s Defense of the Geisteswissenschaften” in Philosophy of Peace (book chapter, submitted)

“Josef Pieper on σχολή and Contemplative εὐδαιμονία in Aristotle” (Aporia, submitted)


“On the Boarder of Concrete Experience: Mythic and Literary Experience in C.S Lewis” Sophia Conference (video will be posed soon).

Upcoming Speaking:

“Josef Pieper’s Defense of the Geisteswissenschaften” Kings Undergraduate Research Conference April 8th, 2018 and Western Student Research Conference March, 24th 2018.

God and The Rose

If time permitted it, I would spend much more time over the subject of “God and The Rose.” Now, one may wonder why this of all things should capture my attention and interest. Well, the answer is quite simple: It seems that throughout literature—and by this I simply mean throughout literature, poetry and philosophy—the image of the rose is pertinent to explaining something fundamental to human existence—though I should say more broadly of flowers, garlands, lilies, roses. As I have already written, I am currently busy with commitments I cannot put aside at the moment. Thus, in writing this, I must be brief. Consider references I have in mind:

“The primeval man in offering the first garland to his maiden thereby transcended the brute.”
Kakuzo, Okakura in The Book of Tea (1906)

“Who scatters all the spring’s most fragrant flowers/ Wherever his beloved goes?”
J. W. V. Goethe, Faust (1790)

“…anybody can get absorbed in the contemplation of a rose or human face and thus touch the mystery of creation…”
Josef Pieper, Only the Lover Sings (1988)

“But flowers distill’d, though they with winter meet,/ Leese but their show, their substance still lives sweet.”
Shakespeare, Sonnet V

“…[examples of our deepest desire] are only the scent of a flower we have not found…”
C.S Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”

“…that green plants spring forth, that the forest grows into beauty, has its nuptials—and does so in order to bring you joy…”
Soren Kierkegaard, The Lilies of the Field and the Bird of the Air (1849)

“…it is remarkable how the plant world in particular invites one to aesthetic contemplation…”
Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (1859)

“As little flowers shut small and bowed beneath/ the frost of night, when the sun brightens them,/ rise open-petaled on their stems upright,/ So did my weary courage surge again,/ and such sweet boldness rushed into my heart…”
Dante, Inferno, Canto II

These are only some of the references I have found from a quick glance into books laying around my desk—one of which, ironically, is The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi. The series of quotes I have outlined is far—perhaps infinitely far—from exhaustive. For now, I would only like to conjecture that these quotes contemplate—whether implicitly or explicitly—a question from Josef Pieper’s Leisure (1952): “What happens when we look at a rose?” Perhaps the answer can be put first negatively. Consider the restless St. Augustine, in whose monumental Confessions said of his heart that it did not find peace “in pleasant woodlands.” The woodlands and flowers did not satisfy his heart. Could it be—if I may ask interrogatively and daringly—that he was not looking hard enough, or letting what the rose had to offer show itself? Perhaps Peter Kreeft, in his Making Choices, asked the right question, which also simultaneously answered Pieper’s question by posing another question: “When is the last time you noticed the face of God in a flower?” Does this explain why Jesus Christ Himself used the image of the “lily” in teaching us? “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” (Matthew 6: 28-29, RSV) If one is not convinced Kreeft and Pieper’s questions are pointing in the right direction, I am interested to know on what grounds we can explain the one place in which God was taken away, replaced and ultimately destroyed which is also, perhaps not coincidentally, the same place in which “children were made to scream at the right of a rose”—in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

On Obscure Language in Philosophy

Let’s look at the claim together: Obscure philosophical writing is not attempting profundity, and conglomerating “obscurity” and “profundity” is synonymous with not really “thinking” in the philosophically rigorous sense. I am thoroughly unconvinced that this is the case; in fact, I know that this is not the case. My favorite example is Martin Heidegger. While I regard Heidegger as a worthwhile philosopher to study, I do not learn very much from him. This is not to say that I do not value him as a philosopher or find myself somehow “intellectually superior”; instead, I regard his work to be obscure to the point of not being readable. While it may be that I am not “intellectually up to snuff”—to quote A. Plantinga—it is also possible that by being unreadable, Heidegger has put his aim away from truth altogether. Does real “thinking” mean we work through what is unreadable? Perhaps, and I do attempt to do this often. However, there is a far more rigorous and philosophically formidable method of conveying insights about the world—simple writing. Simplicity is a mark of truth; simplicity implies that one has looked at the matter and reported what one has found. It is philosophers like Pieper, Nagel and Lewis who have a perceptiveness and attentiveness to the matter which gives them the “seal of credibility”, as Pieper put it. Perhaps my suspicions are deeper rooted than they seem. For it is even Nietzsche—whom I quite admire and enjoy reading—that adopts language which allows him to become significantly less trustworthy as a philosopher. While many might point out that Nietzsche’s use of contradiction throughout his work has its specific purposes, there is a far simpler explanation for this—Nietzsche made contradictions because he is not cloaking his ideas in clear writing. But, maybe I don’t get it because I’m not fluent German, French, Latin and Greek, have mastered philology and philosophy, and so I need to bow down to his brilliance? Not to put it too crudely, I think I know a contradiction when I see one. Perhaps Heidegger and Nietzsche had insights only they can access in their brilliance—perhaps they are not clear on the matter themselves and resort to obscurity, really masked profundity. But there are more examples. Why are there two dominant views on Kant’s transcendental idealism? Plato’s usage of mythos/logos? Perhaps these philosophers weren’t necessarily aiming at profundity—as I think Heidegger and Nietzsche often are—but because their writing suggests that they themselves were not clear on their own position, and resorted to obscure language. To be anecdotal, I also find that those who spend their time away from conceptually clear philosophers end up becoming closer to sophists than philosophers. Many fellow undergraduates—and professors, quite honestly—become entrenched into obscure, “profound” philosophers and they end up giving up the notion that reality can be known at all. It is as though building grand metaphysical systems completely discontinuous with how the world really is, is a ground for rejecting the knowability of the world—and from what logical rule does that follow? I also think there is another, implicit danger in obscure writing. It is precisely the fluffy, vague sort of philosophy which leads one into thinking philosophy itself is not truth-oriented. I find most critiques of classical philosophy, like attacks on first-order logic, essentialism and theism of any sort, are often based on unclear notions grounded in further unclear foundations. I remember having been asked to provide one reason to be an essentialist, and I was rather perplexed. While I myself cannot argue at a formidable level for this thesis in a way, for example, David Oderberg in his “Real Essentialism” has, it is genuinely dissatisfying to see his work go unnoticed because of, to put it honestly, ignorance. I am often told also that arguments for God’s existence do not hold anymore–yet none of them reference the “Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology.” I remember also having a conversation on what the Latin causa sui meant, and the claim was that it refers to God’s bringing Himself into being (whereas I believe it refers to God’s being the source of all existence). I pointed out that “God bringing Himself into being” was a self-contradiction—for God would have to exist prior to His own existence to bring Himself into existence, and that is a contradiction. But, apparently this was not problematic and we had to be open to this possibility. Well, because everything follows from a contradiction, so I suppose philosophy is internally destroyed when profundity takes precedence over truth. But, as is too often the case, I hope my view is not straw-manned. I am not saying there are not truths beyond what simple language conveys; nor am I saying that philosophers who aim at profundity in their obscurity have nothing to offer, I am simply positing the notion that genuine, philosophical “thinking” does not mean engaging with, or performing ourselves, sophism. 

Andrzej Andrew Gieralt’s “The Two Wills of the Lustful Man”

Printed here is Andrew’s “The Two Wills of the Lustful Man”, a wonderful reflection on the place of love and lust in the human condition. I have re-printed it here with permission. If you struggle with pornography usage, lust or any other sexual sin, this is something you need to read, re-read, and re-read again.


The Two Wills of the Lustful Man

Andrzej Andrew Gieralt

You’d probably think you’d never betray the woman you love. This is even easier to believe before you meet her. You might say, “I’ll always be faithful, especially because I’ve had to try so hard to win her heart”. You know how much of a treasure she is, so of course you wouldn’t hurt her in this way. Now, my blogs tend to be really harsh and I know this, and I tend to have fun with it, but this time, there’s nothing to make light of. This is bloody tragic, but it’s true – it’s not as hard to betray as you think and, sorry, but you’ve already done it.

What do I mean when I say ‘the two wills’? Well, I’d imagine you know already because you must have felt the exact sentiment countless times. You are built for love and you know it. You want to be the man that God made you to be and you want to give yourself up for the woman you love, whether that is your girlfriend to whom you will propose, your wife, or someone you don’t know yet. Whatever the case, you love her. You understand that concept. Part of you is driven to perform such incomprehensible feats that you never would have done if you hadn’t loved her. You expect that you’d easily skip a big job interview if you had only that one chance to see her. You even want to give things that you love doing up for her; you want to make those sacrifices for her. All of these things are that which the first will entails.

The second will, however, is the exact opposite. St Paul talks about this and posits it very clearly when he says “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing,” (Romans 7:19). Men are drawn so terrifyingly easily towards lust. In this secondary will, this evil will which you hate, you are drawn far away from her, and far away from God. I’m not sure why it happens, but I’m sure there are all sorts of scientific reasons why man, who is so in love with a woman that he’d literally and without hesitation die for her, explicitly and knowingly chooses to look lustfully at another. He watches her degrade herself and in total honesty he enjoys it. Perhaps the more he degrades herself, the more he praises her. All the while, she pretends to love him, to smile at him, to look him in the eye, but she truly, deeply, despises him for looking at her and wanting her and taking and giving nothing in return. This is the same man who would die for his wife in an instant.

The worst part is, during the whole ordeal, there are two parallel thought processes that occur. Hence the two wills. There is the rational mind that tells the man “You know you hate this, and you know you’ll be miserable because of it, and you know you have real love for a woman in your life, so just stop.” All the while, there is the primitive mind, the thoughts that urge him forward, that remind him how attractive the images he craves are and how, in some twisted and false way of which he is fully aware, they are good. Thus, he is convinced and unconvinced simultaneously.

Therefore, in doing so, we betray not only the woman we love, but also ourselves. I would also go so far as to say that we betray all women, because our inferior will wants them to do these things for our pleasure. Any of them. It doesn’t matter who, as long as she’s in front of our eyes, doing the things our beloved would never do because she actually cares about her soul. Not to say that the woman on the screen does not; she may be deeply troubled, as is often the case, but she is not the kind of woman we would fall in love with in reality. We fell in love with the woman we did because she is virtuous. She would never do anything like that. We love that she respects herself, and we respect her all the more for it. And yet, we also falsely love the exact opposite behavior. The level of treason is so deep and terrifying.

This is exactly the sort of behavior Jordan Peterson is talking about when he says human beings are capable of far more evil than they think. No one believes they are capable of betraying the woman they love, the woman they’d die for, the one who is the embodiment of transcendent beauty, a window into the divine artistic mind, and yet they do this so often. Precisely the one who doesn’t know who he will love in this way, the one who doesn’t yet realize how difficult it is to follow through on the mandate of “I’ll die for you,” but ‘knows’ he’d do it, is the one most prone to betraying her most frequently. He might think “Maybe I’ll never really meet her,” or “Who am I, that I should be allowed to love such an amazing woman?” So he resorts to the only thing he can find satisfaction for – not his true will, his superior rational will, but is primitive will. He is not fulfilled, as John Paul II points out, and he will only create a deeper void in himself that he will never be able to fill.

I wish I had a solution to the problem I just outlined. Other than prayer and fasting, little practical tips like limiting one’s computer access to public places, and accountability, I can think of nothing. But such is our fallen nature – we will never be able to get rid of the secondary contradictory will within us, no matter what we do. Temptation will always be there. It’s not a wonder at all that Augustine lamented his past. Perhaps in contrast to Augustine, I believe that we can always reject the act every time. We are ultimately always in control. That, I think, makes it far worse when we fail, but also far better when we succeed. It can’t be said that we can do it without God, though, but I do think He gives us the tools we need to choose the good every time over the bad.

This should be our standard. To choose the good every time. I don’t know how to do it. Let me tell you right now – I need to go to Confession. So you do, probably. Let me ask, how long has it been? Oh, wonderful, you lasted three days. Or a week. But then you did it again. Are you proud of those few days? You should be, considering how bloody strong that secondary will is. But you also shouldn’t be. You betrayed her again. Why would you do that? Let me be clear: I am not talking to “you”, but to you, myself, and everyone else. I’m struggling to figure myself out here, and hope this may help you as well.

To end on a somewhat less utterly tragic note, we ought to know that God is always willing to forgive us if we are repentant. Never forget that when you follow your secondary will, you are, with full awareness, rejecting the good that God gives, and you know that you have access to His mercy. It is reprehensible to take it for granted like that, and I wish I could coherently state how much I hate doing that. That’s why this concept of the two wills is so important – they’re both there, simultaneously. The one telling you what you’re doing is wrong wants you to stop, but the inferior will only submits to a point, still holding you far tighter than the superior will, saying “It is wrong, so I will repent, but not yet.” We echo Augustine: “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.

So let this be an apology to any woman who might be reading this. Collectively, we have betrayed you, and we will most certainly continue, but know at the very least that we absolutely hate doing it and want to tear our brains out once our lucidity returns and our inferior will is put under control. That will never excuse it, though. We are at your mercy and at God’s, and beg your forgiveness. It is for you that we struggle at all rather than simply give in and forget our guilt and choose to live in failure which can so easily consume us. And so I beg you to pray for the man that you love, because he will die for you, truly.

What is Wrong with Pornography? A Review of Matt Fradd’s “The Porn Myth” (2017)

This is a PowerPoint presentation which I am delivering to the Newman club at Western University. It is a review and overview of Matt Fradd’s “The Porn Myth” (2017), a recent defense against the usage of pornography based on its damaging effects i.e., psychologically, neurologically and biologically. It is a non-religious defense which concurs with the Catholic Church’s teaching on human sexuality and the dignity of the human person. Enjoy! A Review of Fradd’s Book

Introduction to Christian Apologetics PDF

I am very happy to have had the privilege of speaking to the Newman Catholic club on the subject of ‘Christian Apologetics.’ It was a very fun and engaging night, and so here are the notes for those of you who would like to master the material, ask questions about its content and even suggest corrections (if there are any please don’t be shy to let me know!).


Introduction to Apologetics