philosophy

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Debate Overview: Pro-Life Incrementalism vs. “Abolitionist Immediatism” – Gregg Cunningham vs. T. Russell Hunter

I do not take credit for this image and use it under fair use.

I do not take credit for this image and use it under fair use.

I’ve been looking forward to this one, folks. Here we have a debate between Gregg Cunningham and T. Russell Hunter on “Pro-Life Incrementalism vs. Abolitionist Immediatism.” T. Russell Hunter, a member of the group “Abolish Human Abortion,” argued for “Abolitionist Immediatism,” which is effectively the position that we must only work for the immediate ban of abortion. He issued a challenge to so-called “pro-life incrementalists”–those who would allow for “gradual” steps to legislate abortion (i.e. banning abortions for gender selection, etc.)–to debate the topic. Gregg Cunningham, Executive Director of the Center for Bioethical Reform, took up the challenge.

I took the time to watch and reflect on this lengthy debate. Here, I provide an overview of the debate with summaries of the statements made throughout [I do not summarize the Q+A session]. My next post on this debate will be a commentary on the debate itself and the arguments presented therein. Here, I will stick as closely as I can the arguments as they are presented. I will not offer analysis of the arguments in this post. In my next post on this debate, I will go over many of the arguments found herein and offer reflections on the debate.

I’d love to read your thoughts on the debate. You can watch the debate here.

Hunter Opening

The debate between incrementalism and immediatism is ancient. It is ultimately a debate between “God has said” and “Did God really say?” [He quotes this.] Immediatism is not suggesting that something happens overnight, but is rather the working towards immediate action. American abolitionists against slavery were immediatists–they believed that slaves ought to be instantly set free. These immediatist abolitionist saw any incremental solution to slavery as something that would prolong the institution of slavery and opposed it entirely. They saw slavery as a national sin and the nation needed to immediately repent of the institution of slavery.

After citing a few abolitionists, Hunter argues that Wilberforce was an immediatist, not a gradualist as many pro-life incrementalists have argued. Total abolition, according to Wilberforce, is the only acceptable solution to slavery. Any delay allowing slavery to continue for even an hour undermines the notion that slavery is sin. Martin Luther King Jr. was also an immediatist and argued for the immediate ending of segregation and racial injustice.

Ultimately, the call for the immediate repentance and the doctrine of immediatism is found in the biblical prophets (Isaiah 1:16-17 among others).

Cunningham Opening

We [at the Center for Bioethical Reform] are moral immediatists but strategic and tactical incrementalists. This is not because the desire is only for incremental legislation, but because strategically it works. Hunter’s position presupposes that the pro-life movement has the power to end abortion right now but chooses not to. Strategically, we should work to save every baby by passing every law that the courts and public will allow.

Hunter’s position includes a number of factually incorrect statements. The pro-life position is not losing the battle over abortion. The pro-life position is not eager to compromise, nor is it comfortable with the current status. Hunter’s approach suggests that he is the only one praying; but the pro-life movement prays, but also works to pass every law to save every baby possible in the here-and-now. Peer-reviewed study shows that legislation that restricts or regulates abortion are saving babies’ lives. Abortion rate is falling in states in which funding is cut off, parental or other requirements are in written law, and the like. We can save those babies these laws save en route to abolishing abortion.

Pro-life lawmakers have put their seats on the line to try to draft pro-life legislation, and they have lost their positions due to their own pro-life views. Yet they have been proven to be effective–these laws save lives. Again, Cunningham asserted that we may be absolutists morally, but strategically must be incrementalists because that saves lives now.

Sometimes we need to compromise on our laws in order to get them passed and save lives now. (He uses an example of the rape exception clause and his own use of the rape exception clause in order to prevent Planned Parenthood from defining the clause, thus saving lives by making it as narrow as possible.) Years later, the evidence showed that not one abortion had happened with a rape exception clause, and this saved babies lives immediately, despite Cunningham himself being against rape exceptions.

Hunter is mistaken on William Wilberforce, who was a moral absolutist, but a strategic incrementalist. Wilberforce started off fighting the slave trade rather than directly abolishing slavery, and this demonstrated that he was out to save lives and end as much slavery as he could. Legislation Wilberforce supported forced slave ships to be redesigned and worked to put laws through that restricted the ports slave ships could use, etc. He worked incrementally to restrict and slow down slavery through slave trade as much as possible.

Hunter Rebuttal

Wilberforce did not author the bills that attacked the slave trade. He only sometimes voted for them and “often ridiculed” them.

There is no talking about abortion without talking about it as a spiritual issue. “Secular people need to hear that abortion is sin also.” It is people’s hatred of God which leads them to abortion. To modify bills to get them passed by including compromises regarding restrictions is “writing an iniquitous decree to pervert justice.” Every child who is aborted is an image bearer of God and one of our neighbors.

Making an occasion for sin allows it to grow. Through incremental legislation, abortion is perpetuated. When bans are placed on things like partial birth abortion, it is an attack on method, not on abortion itself. Thus, inevitably abortion methods will change and the banned method will end, but abortions will continue. Whenever one method is ended, another method takes precedence and abortion continues. Partial birth abortions are morally equivalent to any earlier abortion, and when we work to make things like that illegal, abortion continues and people focus on things like partial birth abortion rather than abortion at large.

Cunningham Rebuttal

The inescapable conclusion of Hunter’s argument is that until we can outlaw abortion, we should be utterly indifferent to the slaughter of the babies that we can save now. Instead, we should be committed to saving every baby that we can now. While we move towards the goal of ending all abortion, we should not allow those babies we can save to die.

Wilberforce gave a speech to Parliament in which he advocated paying compensation to slave owners for their freed slaves weeks before his death. He did this because he didn’t have the votes to get abolition without compensation. This was a strategic move, not indicative of the moral absolute of ending slavery now.

Hunter’s argument that pro-life incrementalists imply that abortion is okay when they try to regulate abortion is absurd on its face. It is not as though by saving a baby because dismemberment laws were passed, someone is then advocating the position that abortion that is not dismemberment is suddenly okay. Incremental legislation saves and changes what it can when it can; it does not at all imply that the whole system is acceptable.

Hunter criticizes those who spend times fundraising, but the very images he uses that show abortions would have been impossible without fundraising and the professionals who take the photographs and obtain the images.

Cross Examination

[I do not type up every question and answer in these Cross-Exam portions.]

Cunningham: Hunter is critical of pro-life people working with secular people and the like in order to try to end abortion. If, hypothetically, your child falls into a swimming pool, would you quiz the paramedics about their worldview before letting them resuscitate your child?
Hunter: I would want them to resuscitate my child. That’s a straw man. When we fight evils, we do need to fight them on God’s terms. If we want the power of God on our side, we should not join hands with a “God-hating worldview” because secular worldviews are the very things that make abortions possible. Making strategies with people who adopt the worldview that allows for abortion perpetuates abortion.

Cunningham: I’m not the one who decides what the limits are on legal restraints for abortion. The public decides what the restraints are by what they will allow and vote for. Hunter’s position suggests that pro-life advocates have the power to end abortion now and choose not to do it. This is mistaken because attempts to end all abortion immediately continue to fail to be voted in.
Hunter: I would not put a bill forward to begin with.
Cunningham: Do you care about the lives of the babies?
Hunter: Yes.
Cunningham: Then why do you suggest we shouldn’t vote for legislation that saves these babies lives?
Hunter: Children are not increments.
Cunningham: We can do both.

Cunningham: Why can we not work to save babies through incremental legislation while working to end abortion entirely?
Hunter: You can do both as long as you don’t undermine the whole project. The rape exception is always brought up. People begin to believe that murdering children is okay if exceptions are in place.

Cunningham: Do you understand the difference between a moral immediatist (with strategic incrementalism) and pure incrementalism or compromise?
Hunter: Yes.
Cunningham: Why do you insist on conflating the two?
Hunter: Because if you undermine your own immediatism, you are what the word of God says someone who perverts justice.

Cunningham: Should we allow these babies to die rather than enact incremental legislation? [This is a key portion of the debate. See the transcript of this entire question and answer here.]
Hunter: Abortion is evil and it is one of the things that the powers and principalities of darkness endorse. If they can keep abortion going by deceiving people into becoming gradualists, then that will be allowed.
Cunningham: Let’s be both [incrementalists and immediatists]. Let’s be both.

Hunter: Is it that you don’t want to deal with immediatism, or do you just want to avoid the conversation about immediatism?
Cunningham: I’m determined to save that baby [through incremental legislation], and that’s an immediate kind of thing. We can be both immediatists and incrementalists. It is a false dilemma.
Hunter: Do you believe we have to fight abortion as abortion and sin?
Cunningham: We have to use clauses which the courts will allow because they strike down legislation that is complete ending of abortion.

Hunter: How do you do “both” [immediatism/incrementalism]?
Cunningham: The way people have continually done both. We can talk about abortion as sin and as a human rights violation, while working to end as much of it as we can. It does not have to be either/or. Hunter tends to be binary without justification.

Hunter: Do you think the church is doing enough to work against abortion and do you think that incremental bills encourage apathy?
Cunningham: The church is not doing enough and we are not educating our pastors enough to combat abortion.
Hunter: I see apathy tied into incremental legislation because when I ask pastors to help and go to abortion clinics and the like, I hear them cite their support of incremental legislation.
Cunningham: The reason for this is because the pastors are poorly trained.

Hunter: Do you think that people are more likely to oppose abortion if we convert them? Do you think it is a wise strategy to deal differently with secularists and Christians?
Cunningham: We don’t know who believes what. It is not either/or. We make sure both sets of people here both sets of argument, including getting the opportunity to share faith in Christ.
Hunter: I have e-mails from you saying you bring different displays to Christian schools and state schools. Do you think it is folly to try to call the nation to repent of abortion?
Cunningham: We should work to make every argument we can make to save the life of every baby whose life is imperiled, and this includes passing every law we can pass now to save every baby we can.

Hunter Closing

Isaiah 30 (reads). Pro-life incrementalists are like the Israelites running to Egypt instead of God. People, instead of trusting in the word of God and going into conflict with the people of the age, go and look at the laws to see what they can get within the current federal ruling. We must cut down the tree itself rather than the branches. Incrementalism is not in the Bible. It is not in the historical record. If you believe and trust in God, then you would be an immediatist.

Cunningham Closing

We don’t have to do either immediatism or incrementalism, we can do both. Hunter doesn’t find incrementalism in the Bible, but it is in the Bible: 1 Corinthians 3 shows that God reveals revelation incrementally. Mark 10 shows that the Law was incrementally revealed over time regarding divorce laws, which became much more restrictive over time, working with people over time. Regarding the temple tax, Jesus saw that he did not owe the temple tax, but he paid it anyway in order to compromise and pick the battles. It is possible to save babies incrementally and not do so to the exclusion of trying to save all the babies. Hunter’s position does not save babies now. The position does not allow for the love of Christ.

Conclusion

I will be offering analysis of this debate in a coming blog post. Please feel free to comment yourself on what you think of the debate and the arguments put forward therein here (and on the future post as well).

Links

Debate Between Gregg Cunningham and T. Russell Hunter– Scott Klusendorf, a major pro-life speaker and author, offers his reflections on this debate. He also has links to some other analyses.

Is it Wrong to pass incremental pro-life laws?– Here is a snip of the debate from the cross examination portion in which T. Russell Hunter is challenged on whether he would choose to save lives with incrementalism or let babies die for the sake of immediatism.

Debate: Pro-Life Incrementalism vs. Abolitionist Immediatism– a link to the debate.

The image used in this blog is not mine and I do not claim rights. I use it under fair use.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The “Dependency” Argument for Abortion: A Dilemma

PersonhoodSupremeCourtOne common argument for the pro-choice position is what I shall call the “dependency” argument for abortion. This argument suggests that because the unborn is dependent in a unique way upon the mother, abortion is permissible. For example, one might argue that because a fetus cannot survive without the direct use of the mother’s body, the unborn does not have a right to life. The status of dependency upon another being in such an intimate and unique fashion means that abortion is permissible, according to this argument.

One way to respond to this argument is to show that the dependency of the unborn upon the mother is not relevantly unique. For example, one may cite the dependency of a newborn upon his or her parents, of a person hooked up to an artificial heart or some other dependency-creating situation. However, here we will consider what I think is a more direct and intractable problem for the abortion advocate. Namely, that the dependency argument yields an inescapable dilemma for their position.

The Thought Experiment

Suppose we were able to create artificial wombs–something which doesn’t seem all that preposterous given that it’s being worked on right now–to which we were able to move the unborn at any point up to birth and allow to grow there. In this case, the growing being is not dependent upon its mother or even any woman or person. We may cut out the people doing maintenance on the artificial wombs by having some kind of automated maintenance system.

The Dilemma

Would it be permissible to terminate the unborn within the artificial womb?

If so, then the grounding for abortion on the notion that the unborn is in a relevantly dependent situation related to the mother cannot be correct. For in this case the unborn is not in that dependent situation, yet the pro-choice advocate still maintains a right to abort. If it is not permissible, then there must be some reason why it is not permissible to abort once the unborn is no longer within the mother, and this reason would have to be one that could, in a way that is not ad hoc, not apply to the unborn when inside the mother.

I think this is a serious dilemma for those who use the “dependency” argument in order to ground objections to abortion.

Answering the Dilemma

Perhaps one might try to answer the dilemma by embracing the second horn of the dilemma and suggesting that once the dependency situation is removed, then the right to abort is also removed. However, the same type of dependency which the unborn is in with the mother has simply been transferred to an artificial womb. Perhaps, however, one cannot be relevantly (morally) dependent upon a machine. But this is to effectively beg the question, for the very grounds of the pro-choice argument is that it is dependency which creates a state of permissive abortion. Perhaps they could modify their stance and say that it is actually dependency upon the mother alone. But here is where the danger of an “ad hoc” stance rears its ugly head, because the relevant criterion–dependency–is maintained while it is the location of the unborn which has shifted. If dependency is alleged to be enough to ground abortion rights, then smuggling in additional premises alongside dependency defeats the initial argument.

The point needs to be emphasized: I think this is the best route for the pro-choice advocate to try to go to avoid the conclusions of the dilemma, but if they do go down this route it raises even more questions for their position. First, if we suppose that dependency must be on a person to be morally relevant, than it undermines the notion of dependency as the reasoning for allowing abortion to begin with. For, in this case, it would be the person grounding the moral status, not the dependency. Second, to embrace this horn means that the pro-choice advocate is effectively granting that the unborn has some right to live, so long as it is not in this relevant state of dependency. This is a startling admission, and it must be emphasized that this means, frankly, that according to the pro-choice advocate a being with a right to live has that right suspended so long as a valid “dependency criterion” can be met. The implications of this would be enormous.

Moreover, if we grant that the second horn may be embraced by means of saying that if dependency is removed, then it follows that any possible way to remove the dependency situation, if such a way could become reality, makes abortion impermissible.

Free Wombs?

Now, suppose further there were a foundation that was willing and able to pay for anyone (anywhere and anytime) to move their unborn into an artificial womb rather than abort the fetus. For the sake of argument, we will assume this is a risk-free type of procedure, with relevant clinical test results, etc., etc. This strengthens the dilemma posed above because at this point, there is effectively no dependency upon mothers beyond conception. For, the moment a woman finds she is pregnant, she could phone this foundation and transfer the unborn to an artificial womb, relinquish any claim to parental rights, and be done. But if this were the case, then dependency would in a sense no longer exist. The unwanted pregnancy could immediately be ended without the termination of the fetus.

Once again, it seems that in this situation only the location of the unborn remains relevant, should the pro-choice advocate wish to maintain the right to abort. The mother could choose to end her pregnancy by transferring the unborn and all rights/knowledge of/etc. thereof elsewhere at any point.

I realize that some may object and say that having a surgical procedure is an inconvenience, no matter how safe, quick, successful, secret, etc. it might be. But at that point I must wonder where the line is drawn for abortion. After all, if the scenario envisioned above really did exist, and someone really did want to maintain the right to abort, what they would have to be saying is that something thought to be inconvenient alone is enough to abort. Setting aside the fact that abortion is also a procedure–and one with risks–at this point I think I would point out that the dependency argument has been shown to be mistaken, because the pro-choice advocate must now base his or her argument upon the “convenience” of the mother.

Conclusion

It appears to me that the only recourse the pro-choice advocate has with regard to the dependency argument is to argue that location really is a relevant criterion for allowing for abortion. But in that case, dependency ceases to be the factor which grounds the right to abort, and thus the dependency argument fails.

I’m fairly sure I’ve read a similar argument to the one I present here somewhere. However, I do not remember where I may have read it and regret to omit a reference to it here.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Pro-life– I have written a number of posts advocating the pro-life position. See, in particular, “From conception, a human” and “The issue at the heart of the abortion debate.”

The image is courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Another Pro-Choice Meme – Does it Succeed?

pro-choice-argument

Recently, I saw a few people on Facebook posting this image. It’s a bit hard to see on here so here’s a transcript (skip this if you already read it and go to the “Analyzing the Meme” section [I typed it as it is without correcting punctuation):

Women: I’m pregnant what should I do?
Pro life: keep the baby!
Women: okay! Can I have prenatal vitamins?
Pro life: what?
Women: can I have financial help for doctor appointments?
Pro life: ummm…..
Women: can I at least get paid maternity leave?
Pro life: ummm… Excuse me?
Women: the baby is here can I get financial help?
Pro life: I’m sorry do we know you?

Analyzing the Meme

The meme is clearly aimed at the notion that pro-life advocates are inconsistent. They claim to be “pro-life” but when it comes down to the details of life, they jump ship.

I am not speaking for all who are pro-life (that would be impossible), but I do think it is extremely important to be consistently pro-life. That is, an argument like this can show that a position like pro-life is inconsistent, and that does discredit the pro-life position. We need to be consistently pro-life if we are to consider ourselves pro-life at all. But–and this is a really big “but”–the meme completely misses the point.

Missing the Point

It should be clear, however, that the argument presented in this meme is a bit off target. The point is that the real question at issue is whether the unborn is a person.

Think about the meme this way:

Women: I have a toddler what should I do?
Pro life: keep the toddler!
Women: okay! Can I have health care?
Pro life: what?
Women: can I have financial help for doctor appointments?
Pro life: ummm…..
Women: can I at least get paid leave if he/she is sick?
Pro life: ummm… Excuse me?
Women: the toddler is here can I get financial help?
Pro life: I’m sorry do we know you?

What conclusion could be drawn from this? That women (or men) have the right to kill the toddler if they don’t receive those things? I should hope the answer is obvious: no, that does not follow at all. Whether one thinks the answers to the questions the women ask in this scenario should be affirmative or not, suppose it was no to all of them: does that mean we’d go ahead and green light the parents killing the toddler?*

Thus, the argument begs the question. No one should take seriously the notion that if someone can’t pay for supporting a human being they should kill him or her. The only way the argument makes any sense is if one has already assumed that the unborn is not a human being/person. And that is an issue that should be discussed more thoroughly. I have written numerous articles in defense of the pro-life position, so I won’t repeat my arguments here.

Conclusion

One of the comments on Facebook a user posted from the group that put up this image was “How true..
They are not pro life…they are pro birth…then wash their hands afterwards..”

I think this comment demonstrates how much of an emotional impact a meme like this can have. We as pro-life individuals need to be consistently pro-life, lest people reject our reasoning because they see us as “hypocrites.”

However, the ultimate point–the one at the heart of the debate–is whether the unborn is a person. And a meme like this does nothing to discredit the pro-life position whatsoever. It does not follow that if I can’t pay to support my son, I should be allowed to kill him. Neither does it follow that the interlocutor of the meme has demonstrated the pro-life position is mistaken.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Pro-life– I have written a number of posts advocating the pro-life position. Particularly relevant to the present discussion are “From conception, a human” and “The issue at the heart of the abortion debate.”

*This is an example of the “trot out the toddler” defense of the pro-life position. It was coined by (I believe) Scott Klusendorf.

I am not sure who was the original user that put the image  up, so I can’t cite it appropriately. I make no claim to owning the image and use it under fair use.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Mere Existentialism: A Primer” by Max Malikow

100_1270-2Max Malikow’s Mere Existentialism: A Primer is an excellent introduction to existential thought.

This brief work offers brief (less than 10 pages a piece) introductions to Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Karl Jaspers, Heidegger, Viktor Frankl, Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and Irvin Yalom. These are exactly what they should be for being a primer on existential thought and encourage further reading.

At the end of the book is a brief single-question summary of the thought of each of these major existential thinkers. These are thought-provoking and fairly accurate (at least for those with whom I was already familiar).

The benefit of a book like this is that it allows readers to dive in and learn about major aspects of existential thought without a major time commitment. It is best seen as a way to introduce these thinkers rather than as a comprehensive look at existentialism.

There are a few typos in the work, with perhaps the most noticeable being that Simone de Beauvoir is referred to as “Simon” in the table of contents and the chapter title (though it is correct elsewhere).

Mere Existentialism would best be used as a way to briefly look at existential thought, whether for one’s own edification or in a classroom. It is a good read for an afternoon, provided the reader wants to sit back and think of their own place in the universe for a while afterwards.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of the book from Theocentric Publishing. I was not obligated to provide any kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Source

Max Malikow, Mere Existentialism: A Primer (Chipley, FL: Theocentric Publishing Group, 2014).

The Image in this post was a picture I took in the Rocky Mountains and shall not be used without expressed consent. 

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “In Search of Moral Knowledge” by R. Scott Smith

ismk-smith

R. Scott Smith’s In Search of Moral Knowledge: Overcoming the Fact-Value Dichotomy is a systematic look at the possibility of moral knowledge in various metaethical systems, with an argument that a theistic, and specifically Christian, worldview is the most plausible way to ground the reality of morals.

Smith begins by providing overviews of various historical perspectives on ethics, including biblical, ancient (Plato and Aristotle), early (Augustine through Aquinas), and early modern (Reformation through the Enlightenment) systems. This survey is necessarily brief, but Smith provides enough information and background for readers to get an understanding of various ethical systems along with some difficulties related to each.

Next, the major options of naturalism, relativism, and postmodernism for ethics are examined in turn, with much critical interaction. For example, Smith argues that ethical relativism is deeply flawed in both method and content. He argues that relativism does not provide an adequate basis for moral knowledge, and it also undermines its own argument for ethical diversity and, by extension, relativism. Moreover, it fails to provide any way forward for how one is to live on such an ethical system and is thus confronted with the reality that it is unlivable. Ultimately, he concludes that “Ethical Relativism utterly fails as a moral theory and as a guide to one’s own moral life” (163).

For Naturalism, however, Smith contends the situation is even worse: “we cannot have knowledge of reality, period, based on naturalism’s ontology. Yet there are many things we do know. Therefore, naturalism is false and we should reject it not just for ethics, but in toto” (137). His argument for this thesis is, briefly, that naturalism has no basis for mental states–and therefore, for beliefs–and so we cannot have knowledge (see 147ff especially).

Various postmodern theses are also examined, including the highly influential views of Alasdair MacIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas. Ultimately, Smith argues that there are several issues with these ethical positions, and primary among them is the difficulty that without any facts which are un-interpreted, there is no way to have moral knowledge, dialogue, or grounding (see 264ff, esp. 265; 277-278).

Finally, the book ends with Smith’s proposal for grounding moral knowledge: namely, Christian theism. First, he notes that there is a “crisis of moral knowledge” which is that it seems we really do have moral knowledge, but no solid basis for this knowledge. However, to solve the difficulty, we may find another ethical stance which can support this fact of moral knowledge. For supporting this thesis, he both presents arguments for Christian theism and notes the paucity of rival positions.

One major strength of Smith’s work is that he doesn’t merely outline or only critique the ethical systems with which he interacts. Instead, each system is allowed to present its theses on its own terms before Smith turns to a critical assessment. This is particularly evident in his interactions with Alasdair MacIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas–each of whom has a dedicated chapter to their own systems and then a shared chapter of analysis and critique–but is the case in each instance of a system which he evaluates. This strength is increased when one considers the number of ethical systems Smith interacts with throughout the book. Although no work of this length (or any length, really) could be truly comprehensive, here is offered a broad enough variety of ethical theories that readers will be able to engage with those which are not mentioned.

There are tables scattered throughout the book which actually add quite a bit to the readability and argument. I commend Smith for a great use of these tools throughout the work.

I would have liked to see more development of the positive notion of exactly how Christian theism serves as the basis for moral knowledge. Smith does provide some clear insight into this, but it seems that after the significant development given to so many rival theories, the case for the Christian perspective could have gone deeper.

R. Scott Smith has accomplished an enormous achievement with In Search of Moral Knowledge both by providing an excellent survey and critique of relevant ethical systems and by coupling it with a positive case for a theistic–Christian–grounding for morality. The book can serve as an excellent text for a class on ethics, but may also be used by those interested in exposure to and critical insight into various ethical systems. Smith’s argument for Christian metaethics is compelling and strong, and his criticisms leveled against other systems–particularly naturalism and relativism–are crucial.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy by the publisher. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

R. Scott Smith, In Search of Moral Knowledge: Overcoming the Fact-Value Dichotomy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2014).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The Measure of a Man” – Star Trek: The Next Generation and Personhood

measure-manStar Trek: The Next Generation is my favorite television series. I’ve been rewatching it recently with my wife and I got to the episode called “The Measure of a Man” (check out my plot recap and review here). This episode brings up some issues I felt were pretty relevant for discussing here. We will explore only two major aspects of this episode: personhood and self-sacrifice. There will be SPOILERS for the episode in what follows.

Personhood

The episode centered around the question of whether Data could be property. Properly speaking, it seems the episode was centered around whether Data was to be considered a “person” in the legally relevant sense. The arguments brought up regarding this question were interesting, particularly for those of us interested in philosophy of mind.

Data’s conversation with Maddox, the scientist who wishes to disassemble him in order to build more of him, centers around phenomenal consciousness. Data argues that although he has no doubt Maddox could preserve the content of his memories by simply downloading the, erm, data from his brain, he thinks there is something more to these thoughts and memories than simple facts. There is a “feel” to thoughts which have a kind of aboutness that is ultimately beyond the facts and into the realm of experience.

Frankly, this is a stunningly complex argument to make for a television show. It reflects a kind of appeal to phenomenology: the content of thoughts and the “aboutness” or taste of them. Some philosophers of mind (and I would agree with them) argue that there is a real notion of this phenomenal aspect of thought which goes beyond the simple facts. Indeed, this very aspect of thoughts and feelings–the ability to have an “about” aspect to them–is the very criterion for consciousness which some philosophers appeal to. In context of the episode, if Data really has this “aboutness,” I would say it is indisputable that he would be a person (not to say that consciousness is required for personhood, but surely a self-aware, conscious being would by necessity a person be).

Ultimately, the episode climaxes in an argument over what is it that determines someone as human or a person, and Maddox summarizes the standard definitions well by appealing to self-awareness and consciousness–though again this is disputable: surely I am a person even when unconscious!–and the arguments center around this question. These are interesting and necessary questions and I think they get at the depth of the philosophical debate surrounding this issue.

Self-Sacrifice

Interestingly, this episode also clearly focuses on the concept of “self-sacrifice.” William Riker does not want to prosecute the case against Data, but he is forced to in order to save his friend. In one epic scene, he ends up flipping Data’s power switch off and as Data collapses he says “the strings are cut” referring to Pinocchio. The final scene shows Data finding Riker staring out into space, clearly pensive over his actions and hurt over his own seeming attack on his friend. Data, however, states that although Riker knew his actions would “wound” him, Riker still prosecuted the case because he knew the alternative would be, for Data, at least akin to if not literally death. Thus, Data says, Riker “saved me.”

This kind of self-sacrifice is found exactly at the heart of the Christian message. Christ was wounded for our transactions, and, as Riker does here, Jesus came knowing that such wounding would happen. These wounds were borne for our sake.

Conclusion

“The Measure of a Man” is one of those rare episodes of a serial TV show which forces viewers to take a step back and think–really think–on a topic. Whether you agree with the conclusions of the episode or not, it must be admitted it raises a number of interesting topics to explore. What do you think of this episode? What additional themes did you pick up in it? How do your favorite shows resonate with your worldview?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Star Trek: TNG Season 2, “The Measure of a Man” and “The Dauphin”– Check out my ongoing recaps and reviews of Star Trek: TNG episodes at my “other interests” site, Eclectic Theist. Here, I review this episode and the following one. More recaps may be viewed here or by searching on that site.

The photo in this episode was a screenshot capture of the episode. I claim no rights to it and use it under fair use.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Supreme Court Strikes Down Violation of Free Speech

Pro-Life_Demonstration_at_Supreme_CourtI don’t often write about politics, but today’s unanimous Supreme Court decision to strike down an MA law which restricted pro-life speech within 35 feet of an abortion clinic has me smiling. This was a clear violation of free speech and I frankly think it says something about the desperation of the pro-choice case-makers.

It seems that, at least in MA, the desperation got to the point where they realized if you can’t make your case from science or logic (links to posts arguing this), the next best thing would be to simply muzzle the opposition. Thankfully, in this case, justice was served and the blatant disregard for freedom of speech was overturned.

Let me reiterate, this was a unanimous decision. What does that say about the legal status of such an attempt? I’m not talking about objective morality, I’m speaking only of the law of the land. Why even attempt to keep such a law around?

Frankly, I think it really is a matter of the realization that when one’s case is so blatantly a house of cards, an illegal attempt to thwart free speech is the last rejoinder. Let’s be clear on this issue:

Free speech is not a matter of freedom for those with whom you agree–it’s a matter of, well, actually free speech. 

And yes, I think that applies to those who are pro-choice.

Let’s read your thoughts below (follow the comment policy–there are rules for your free speech here!).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Pro-Life– Check out my posts arguing for the pro-life position.

SDG.

Abortion Clinics, Pro-Life Activism, and “Abolish Human Abortion”

aha-posters18Recently, the Facebook group for the activist group known as “Abolish Human Abortion” shared a note to fellow pro-life activists providing critique and advice. Here, we’ll analyze that post to see how accurately it represents their opponents and what we can take away from how to argue the abortion issue.

I’ll link to the entire post (see above; see it also reproduced in the comments below) so that you can read it for yourself and see if I unfairly represented anything. I’ve also kept a copy of it on file to reproduce it in the comments. I welcome comments so long as they follow my comment policy.

Tone

First, I want to say that I do appreciate some of what AHA has done and continued to do. Many of their posters are helpful (such as the one featured in this post or in my post on Bonhoeffer’s view of abortion), and they provide some solid analysis of the abortion issue from a worldview perspective. No one reading this post should think that everything I think about AHA is negative. I have had positive interactions with AHA in the past and hope, as they do, that one day we can end abortion. I also favor the immediate end of abortion to gradually ending it. My contention is that gradual legislation is actually effective (this claim will be borne out below).

Second, note that any response to me should operate under a fairly similar tone. I have actively worked to end abortion through protest, prayer, writing, and other avenues. I hope that one day we can end abortion. Attacks on me as a person because I disagree with the method of another pro-life group should be seen for what they are: obfuscation.

Third, I will not respond to anything not in the comments here. I simply don’t have time to go actively seeking responses to my posts, so if you have something to say, write it here and please be brief.

Analysis

The  author of the note, T. Russell Hunter, begins with a claim: “When hospitals all across America start paying doctors to perform abortions within their walls, it will be the triumphs of pro-life legislation which drove them there.” This claim is that which Hunter contends to support. Let us analyze the rest of the note to see if this claim is borne out therein.

The first piece of allegedly supporting evidence is this: “Passing laws that temporarily shut down abortion clinics because they are not close enough to hospitals only strengthens the abortion industry…”

Think about that claim for a second. First, does it support the claim that hospitals “all across America” will start performing abortions? Second, does it provide any evidence whatsoever? Finally, let’s put this claim in perspective with some facts. Planned Parenthood has said, of the closure of several clinics in Texas [paraphrasing], “…the requirement could leave the state of 26 million people with as few as six abortion centers.” That same article notes how many abortion providers have failed to meet the new requirements put in place by laws in Texas. Think about that: if there are only 6 abortion centers in a state the size of Texas, do you think that the number of abortions will increase or decrease?

Another claim made by Hunter: “Abortion is not health care and we should not be fighting it by passing health-code rules and regulations.”

Given how much AHA likes to parallel ending abortion with the abolition movement, I think it is fitting to point to the way William Wilberforce–who effectively ended slavery in Great Britain–worked against slavery. For some time he tried to get votes passed to outright abolish slavery. Ultimately, however, abolition was assured when a bill was passed forbidding military aid to be provided to slave ships due to the war with France. The move was effectively a sleight of hand because several British ships operated under neutral flags, so the slave trade was crippled and slavery was abolished not long after that. You can see this story beautifully dramatized in the film Amazing Grace.

What does this bit of history tell us? It tells us that such means actually are effective. Thus, when a state like Texas passes new legislation to ensure the heath and safety of women who are at abortion clinics, and those new regulations cause a state with 26 million people to shut down abortion clinics, the pro-life cause does benefit.

Two claims of supporting evidence provided are: “4. Some ‘clinics’ will close, but those remaining will pick up the slack; 5. Shutting down clinics doesn’t halt abortion, it just makes people who choose to sacrifice their children drive further.”

I’d like to ask AHA to provide statistics to back up these claims. Rather than just throwing out speculation that women who choose abortion will just “drive further” (remember, Planned Parenthood is concerned a state like Texas [look at its size on the map!] will go down to just six clinics), back it up. Yet AHA expects us to believe through mere speculation that these women will “drive further.” I wonder what evidence they have to support that. Moreover, the evidence actually counters this claim. (From the article:) “Kansas is one state that is an example of how closing abortion clinics saves lives. Since 2001, every time an abortion clinic closed in Kansas, the number of abortions significantly dropped the following year.” That’s a fact. What has AHA provided to support their claim that closing clinics is not effective?

Unfortunately, the rest of the note essentially follows this same theme. There are a number of claims thrown out there with no evidence. Consider this tidbit: “Do you not see that the abortion industry only gets stronger as they build bigger and better clinics to meet your pro life standards. Do you not see that they (like you) just raise money from their so-called defeats? Have you not come to realized that no matter how many clinics you shut down, millions of babies are still being aborted every year. Do you not see that the devil himself would allow you to take a few pieces off the board so long as he constantly has you in check mate?”

Again, facts speak louder than empty leading questions. The number of clinics closed has not been offset by the number opened. The number is, in fact, down 74% since 1991. And, when clinics close, the number of abortions decreases.

Consequentialism or Pragmatism- Getting it Done?

The main problem with AHA’s reasoning is that they take an all-or-nothing mentality. You can observe that in the leading questions noted above. In particular, “Have you not come to realized [sic] that no matter how many clinics you shut down, millions of babies are still being aborted every year[?]” Yes, it is true that millions are being aborted. However, when pro-life legislation continues to reduce the number of those being aborted, that is cause to say that pro-life views are being furthered. I don’t know of any pro-life organization that’s saying “Hey, we got some clinics to close! Let’s stop working to end abortion!” That’s not how pro-life groups are approaching the issue. However, many of these groups are happy that when clinics close–as they are–the number of abortions decreases.

The fact that AHA is not happy about this says something, I think, about their own mentality when it comes to the issue. AHA demands only legislation which will immediately end abortion. They are seemingly unaware of how historically (as noted above with Wilberforce) working through other means can actually be more effective.

It is this seeming historical illiteracy (see also here) of AHA which worries me enough to make me want to respond to a note like the one I wrote on here. By failing to acknowledge the success of gradualism and, in fact, working against gradualist approaches, AHA is working against facts. Lives are being saved when abortion clinics closed. That’s something anyone who labels themselves “pro life” should celebrate.

Conclusion

AHA has not provided evidence to support the claims made in the note I analyzed. Moreover, several of the assertions made therein are actually contrary to observed facts. AHA seems to be either historically ignorant or willfully obfuscating the way in which abolition was brought about. Although I would also far prefer the immediate end of abortion, I think any who are pro-life should agree that when legislation closes abortion clinics–which lowers the number of abortions and therefore saves lives–it is cause for celebration rather than chastising those who worked to pass the legislation.

I reiterate that I know of no pro-life organization which is saying that the work is done once legislation which may close abortion clinics passes. The work will continue until we have brought an end to abortion. Groups like AHA should stop trying to muzzle those who have actively worked to save lives.

Finally, I admit I wrote this post with a heavy heart and only because I’m deeply concerned with the way that AHA has continued to aim criticism at pro-life individuals or groups which are actively saving lives. I was very excited when I learned about AHA over a year ago but have, unfortunately, felt burdened to caution others away from the group because of the way it continually fails to provide facts to support their attacks on other pro-life persons. We must learn from history and we should celebrate when lives are saved. I long to return to a point where I and AHA could stand together as we work side-by-side to end abortion. Unfortunately, as long as AHA fails to recognize that gradual steps actually do save lives, that day will not come.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

How Abolish Human Abortion Gets History Wrong– Here, a pro-life individual notes some of the historical errors in evaluating abolition and abortion AHA has put forth. It is worth seeing the response to some counter arguments made by AHA as well.

Abolish Human Abortion’s Revisionist History– Clinton Wilcox provides a more thorough analysis of the use of the term “abolition” and how abolitionists themselves actually worked incrementally to bring about the abolition of slavery.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote! – Does location determine personhood?

ea-kaczorEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Does location determine personhood?

I have been reading through The Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice by Christopher Kaczor. It is a philosophical defense of the pro-life position and the notion that the unborn is a human person. In his discussion of partial-birth abortion, Kaczor makes the following point:

In Sternberg v. Carhartlater reversed in Gonzalez v. Carhart, the United States Supreme Court affirmed a constitutional right to… partial-birth abortion, and with it affirmed the legality of the conventional pro-choice view that abortion ought to be legally permissible through all nine months of pregnancy, until the human being has been entirely removed from the mother’s body. The court gave no justification why moving the head of the child just a few inches marks the crucial distinction between non-personhood and personhood… (52, cited below)

Frankly, I think this is something that any pro-choice individual must deal with: what is it about the location of the unborn which conveys personhood or prevents the unborn from being a person? What is it, that is, which transforms the unborn from non-person to person as the unborn is birthed?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Check out my other posts on the debate over abortion.

Source

Christopher Kaczor, The Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice  (New York: Routledge, 2011).

Does the child have a choice?

Recently, I saw a very powerful ad discussing the dangers of secondhand smoking. Check it out:

I want to be clear on this: I think tobacco is a very horrible problem. My grandpa died of lung cancer even after not smoking for many years. The damage had been done. I know others who have also died from cancer and the correlation to smoking is high. I do not at all want to minimize the dangers of smoking and the enormous health problems it may cause.

However, this ad was extremely poignant to me because of its language. “The tobacco companies say that smoking is a choice… What choice does she have?”

Think about that for a moment. The power behind this ad is the fact that the word “choice” has been used dishonestly: it has been used to deceive people into thinking that something is a choice made in the abstract, with an effect that only applies to the person making the choice.

Who else uses this kind of rhetoric?

I’ll give you a hint: what group calls themselves pro-choice?

That’s right: people who are pro-choice tend to give the same message as the tobacco companies called out in this video. The reasoning is similar: Tell women that abortion is a choice. It is an intellectually dishonest way to hide the real issue: that abortion impacts more than just the woman. What about the unborn child inside of the woman? Do they have a choice? Obviously they do not. The difference between the unborn child and the one in this ad is that we can see one. It is a difference of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency. None of these should be used to make the unborn ontologically different from the crying baby in the car seat in the ad.

I do not think we need to co-opt every argument or discussion to talk about pro-life issues. In fact, I am generally hesitant to do so, because I think it may take away from the power of the pro-life message. However, I do think that this ad could just as easily be about abortion as it is about the dangers of secondhand smoke. The only difference is the location of the child outside the womb. Does the baby inside the womb have a choice?

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