How to Defend an Anti-Trinitarian Theology– This post presents a challenge for those who would attempt to defend an Anti-Trinitarian theology from the Bible. It outlines the difficulties that face those who would take such a position. Well worth the read, trust me!
Biological Determinism and the “Oughtness” of Manhood– “If the eligibility criteria for church leadership includes possessing a Y chromosome, then we have already bought into the notion that our genes determine who we can and cannot be in the body of Christ.” If we are biologically determined, what follows from that?
The Danger of Teaching Kids to Be True to Themselves– If we teach kids to simply be true to themselves, what follows from it? Here are some potential pitfalls from the popular “be true to yourself” philosophy. Do you think that they are overstated, or not?
Bones of Contention: Ape, Human, or Fraud? Young Earth Creationists Respond to the Dinaledi Chamber Fossil Discovery– A survey of some of the popular Young Earth responses to the recent find of a possible homo fossil.
Humans and Persons– Here’s a post that challenges the hard division between humans and persons that some are trying to press for for the sake of certain moral commitments.
Star 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.
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.
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.
“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?
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.
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.
Every 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. Carhart, later 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?
Check out my other posts on the debate over abortion.
Christopher Kaczor, The Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice (New York: Routledge, 2011).
If the unborn is not a person, then abortion is morally permissible, and it doesn’t matter what you do with the unborn.
If the unborn is a person, then abortion is morally impermissible, and the unborn must be protected.
Note that these statements are conditional, marked by the word, “If.”
Why would I make these statements? Simply because I want to clarify the issue that is at the heart of the abortion debate. Namely, the status of the unborn.
Consider the following arguments in favor of the pro-choice position:
We shouldn’t bring unwanted fetuses into the world. It’s better to abort fetuses than force a woman to have an unwanted child.
If a mother can’t afford to have a child, she shouldn’t be forced to continue her pregnancy.
Women’s rights are at stake: it is a woman’s body we’re talking about!
Now, let’s contextualize them. Rather than debating the viability of these arguments, suppose we plug in the case in which we all agree there is a “person” involved. Suppose in place of the “unborn” or “fetus” we put “toddler” into the argument. In that case, the arguments would be:
We should kill unwanted toddlers. It’s better to kill them than to have them live in homes where they are unwanted.
If a woman can’t afford to feed her toddler, we should kill it.
Women’s rights are at stake! Think of the drain toddlers place upon their mothers!
These arguments are clearly absurd. Why? Because we all know that we can’t just go around killing children because their families don’t want them. We can’t kill toddlers because their families can’t afford to feed them. But that’s exactly the question these types of arguments beg: what is the unborn?
And so we return to the statements at the beginning of this post. Suppose the unborn is, in fact, just a cluster of cells, no different from a wart or growth. In that case, I would agree it is perfectly permissible to discard of the unborn whenever a woman desires.
But then, what if the unborn is, in fact, a “person”? What if the unborn is a baby after all? Well, in that case, it is certainly not permissible to discard of the baby.
The fact is, many arguments raised in favor of the pro-choice position are made from a position where one simply assumes that the fetus is no more than a clump of cells. But that’s exactly what the debate is supposed to be about! If the fetus is no more then a clump of cells, the debate is over. But if the fetus is indeed a person, then the arguments raised in favor of the pro-choice position are just as shoddy as those arguments with “toddler” substituted in for “unborn” or “fetus.”
Thus, arguments like this must always be contextualized. The heart of the abortion debate is the status of the unborn. Once that question is answered, the answer to the question: “Is abortion permissible?” becomes crystal clear.
Scott Klusendorf does a simply phenomenal job of centralizing this issue and pointing out how most of the issues which cloud the debate can simply be dropped in favor of debating the status of the unborn. The arguments presented here are based upon his tactic “trot out the toddler” which one can find in his book, The Case for Life or in his lectures in Ethics at the Edge of Life (found in the links here).
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) 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.