“Who Sez?” The Place of God in Moral Philosophy

On Tuesday, Dennis Prager made a comment on his radio program that without dogma (specifically religious dogma) there can be no rational argument against selfishness and cruelty.

A young man called into the program, describing himself as a Libertarian and an agnostic, to say that you don’t need dogma to be moral.  “I never said that”, responded Prager.  He then asked the young man a simple question, “What would you say to a rich slave owner?”  The young man answered that it causes him intense discomfort to see other human beings suffering.  Prager responded that it doesn’t cause the slaver owner any discomfort.  Continue reading “Who Sez?” The Place of God in Moral Philosophy

Cause and Effect

A while ago, a good friend of mine who was struggling with agnosticism and came to me with a question about Christianity. Some people, he said, claimed that Christianity’s “morality” wasn’t truly moral because God used heaven and hell as a system of punishment and reward. True morality, the argument goes, requires nothing more than itself to serve as motivation. You do something because it is right, or you don’t do something because it is wrong. But God goes farther than that: sin, and go to hell; don’t sin, and go to heaven. Continue reading Cause and Effect

The End Of Abortion

Evangelical Christians have lost  gay marriage. 

This is my humble yet controversial opinion.  I could be wrong, I’m no prophet, but when the social conservatives are also the party of unyielding individualism and liberty, it’s very hard to make the rhetorical pivot to being against what appears to most people to be a matter of individuals exercising their  liberty.  Beside that, in my opinion, we are still losing the narrative debate.  Traditional marriage defenders have been, so far, pretty lousy at providing the alternative positive story of marriage in contradistinction to the “I just want the equal right to marry whomever I love” story that resonates with most people of good will.

Here’s the good news, we’re winning abortion.

The positive story has been on our side for a long time now, and it resonates powerfully.  The striking parallels between the abolition of abortion and the abolition of slavery are also persuasive.  When abortion becomes a human rights issue, as it is, both right-wing individualism and left-wing concern for social justice meet in common cause.  To oppose that cause is to take up a fool’s errand.

Moreover, when the proponents of abortion are forced to continuously admit that abortion itself  is “tragic” and “should be rare”, well, it’s easy to see a lost cause.  Can you imagine gay activists admitting in solemn tones, “We all know gay marriage is tragic, and should be a rare occurance, but gay people should still be free to choose in those extreme instances when it’s necessary”?

One thing that always puzzles me about the Left is how they mock and deride those who argue that the shifting sands of their own moral foundation will eventually eradicate all standards of right and wrong.  They cry “Oh, that’s just a slippery slope!”  This is one of those moves that Facebook Philosophers like to make.  Look up a list of logical fallacies and throw a few out in an argument so that you appear educated and skilled at critical thinking.  What puzzles me about this, though, is that when, lo and behold, the sands start shifting a little too fast for the current tastes of the Leftist elite, they profess shock and disbelief, yet no hint of an apology to that wise man or woman whom they had accused of peddling hysterical logical fallacies just a few moments earlier (in fact, they may simply lash out and deride him or her even more).

This is just what’s happened over at Slate, where William Saletan begins with this lament:

Just when you thought the religious right couldn’t get any crazier, with its personhood amendments and its attacks on contraception, here comes the academic left with an even crazier idea: after-birth abortion.

Here is a man who clearly hasn’t been paying attention.  The Pro-Life movement has been arguing for a long time now that there is no substantial difference between an infant and a fetus.  And Peter Singer has argued for infanticide for years.  I suspect Mr. Saletan is merely nervous, and his nervousness leads him to open the article by reminding everyone how crazy the other side is.  This is important, because Mr. Saletan provides no answers for those Pro-choicers who are repulsed by infanticide, he merely raises unsettling questions. 

His article is actually quite insightful.  He goes straight to the assumptions, so often taken for granted without argument, that underpin the whole Pro-choice position.  He calls each of these assumptions into question because they seem to lead logically to the acceptability of infanticide.  This can’t be, however, because Mr. Saletan realizes that infanticide is “crazy.”  Here are the assumptions:

1. The moral significance of fetal development is arbitrary.
2. Prior to personhood, human life has no moral claims on us.
3. Any burden on the woman outweighs the value of the child.
4. The value of life depends on choice.
5. Discovery of a serious defect is grounds for termination.

Without these assumptions, the Pro-choice position completely collapses.  Mr. Saletan’s challenge in this article is for Pro-choicers to confront the logic of the “after-birth abortion” position head-on and explain how any of these assumptions can remain intact for an unborn fetus and yet not apply to the newborn baby.  He concludes:

The challenge posed to Furedi and other pro-choice absolutists by “after-birth abortion” is this: How do they answer the argument, advanced by Giubilini and Minerva, that any maternal interest, such as the burden of raising a gravely defective newborn, trumps the value of that freshly delivered nonperson? What value does the newborn have? At what point did it acquire that value? And why should the law step in to protect that value against the judgment of a woman and her doctor?

Unbeknownst (I assume) to Mr. Saletan, who is after all a Pro-choicer himself, he has just articulated the presuppositional argument against abortion.  And it is telling that he makes no attempt to provide any response.  I believe that’s called a deafening silence. 

All Mr. Saletan can do is nervously proclaim that he just knows (and after all, doesn’t everybody?) that infanticide is “crazy”, and remind us that the other side is just as crazy, so whatever we do we certainly can’t join up with them.  I don’t blame him, really.  I’d be nervous too if I felt myself slipping down the side of a steep slope I was quite sure wasn’t there.

Image via Slate.

Video Games, Intelligence, and…Happiness?

I was going through my usual blogroll, which includes the ever useful and interesting site Lifehacker, when I came across this post. A defense of video games? Being a gamer myself, I couldn’t help but click through, to see what sorts of arguments were going to be put forward. Continue reading Video Games, Intelligence, and…Happiness?

In Defense of Moralism

If I told you I was an ornithologist, you could conclude that, like John James Audubon, I study birds. If I say I’m an economist then you would presume that, like Alan Greenspan, I study markets. But if I claim to be a moralist you would not presume that I study morality, but think that, like Gladys Kravitz, I’m simply an intolerant, prudish, busybody.
Such is the degraded state of language (and morality) that “moralist” has become a synonym for judgementalism rather than being defined as a “teacher or student of morals and moral problems.” Moralist has joined terms like liberal, fundamentalist, and Puritan in the lepers’ colony of language. While some people choose to live with these labels, most others avoid them in order to prevent being infected by their malignant connotations.
Before we discard the term, though, we should question why we would abandon such a useful word when there are so few suitable alternatives. Admittedly, moral philosophers also study morals and moral problems. But unless one has a PhD and an office in the Ivory Tower, calling oneself a philosopher is considered pretentious. The same holds true for almost every other subject worthy of study. To say a person is a theologian, bioethicist, or economist implies they are “professionals” with the necessary degrees and vocational credentials. Unless we consider morality a subject unsuitable for “amateurs”, why would we want to toss aside such a useful term as moralist?
The obvious answer is that the term has become weighted down with too much baggage. Before we can reclaim the term it is necessary to cut loose some of the predominant misconceptions about the label:

Continue reading In Defense of Moralism