William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Humanae Vitae & The Synod: Theories And Predictions

Selfish genes theory does not predict these.

This originally ran 14 May 2014, but since this weekend is Number Six’s big show, I thought it well to have another look. The title is New & Improved! See the Update at the bottom.

Old predictions

Theories are useful to explain and to predict. Any theory can explain, but only true or likely true theories can skillfully predict.

For instance, Uncle Bob explains that your car won’t start because of Gremlins. His theory, which he drags out on all State occasions, does explain. But it is, as I hope is obvious, a theory which is useless to make predictions.

Two obvious examples. If you say the sun will peek above the horizon at 6:32:17 AM because gravitational theory says it will, and the sun does its duty, your theory has something going for it, especially if the theory makes lots of accurate predictions. And if you say, and say each year for two decades, that the planet’s global average temperature will soar to “unprecedented” heights, yet the temperature misbehaves and stays put, you’re theory is likely false.

Now how about these predictions, made in 1968, on what would happen were contraception to be embraced (which, of course, it has been). This embracement will:

  1. “[O]pen wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards”. Nailed it.
  2. Especially in the young, “[A] man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman”. Nailed it.
  3. He will “reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires”. Hooked-up nailed it.
  4. He will “no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.” Nailed it.
  5. “Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty?” Oh my, oh my, is that one nailed.
  6. “Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective?” None, that’s who: another hit.
  7. “Should [the government] regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone.” HHS mandate, anybody? Nailed it again.
  8. “It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.” Smack! Pow! Wow! Capital-N ailed it.

Who is this guy, this prescient sage, who, drawing from some theory, foretold the world of 2014 so accurately? Well, his name was Paul, and as he came from a long line of Pauls in the same Institution to which he was appointed Leader, he called himself Number 6. One thing we know, given his batting average, we should accord the theory which created these predictions pretty high weight.

Right?

Number 6’s theory also explains the popularity of divorce, out-of-wedlock births, and the rise in the belief of individuals’ “unlimited dominion” over “his specifically sexual faculties.” Number 6 didn’t actually specify these as predictions, though, taking them “as read.”

History

Now the most fascinating thing about these predictions is how they came to be made. What happened was this. Number 6’s predecessor called on a Commission of experts, who met and deliberated from 1963 to 1966 (Number 6 boosted Commission membership halfway through), giving a report to Number 6 two years before he made his predictions. Nobody was in any rush.

The Commission was loaded with sober academics and had the support of a good portion of the leadership of Number 6’s Institution. Word leaked out, as word always leaks out, about the Commission’s efforts and opinions, and this excited popular and media support. The Commission, not wanting to be on the wrong side of history, favored contraception. After all, this was a different world than that world which came before this world: or something.

After several years of glowing expectations, most expected Number 6 to endorse the Commission’s report. He did not.

Boy!, did tempers flare. To say the free-for-all crowd were displeased is a massive understatement. Number 6 and his Institution were ridiculed in the press and in academia and, indeed, by some leaders in Number 6’s Institution. One academic member of the Commission called Number 6’s predictions “that horrible document.” A prominent leader in Number 6’s Institution publicly charged Number 6 with “an anti-collegial act”. Ouch.

That fellow was far from alone. Many other leaders and groups of leaders castigated Number 6 openly. These dissidents went so far as to tell the common folk to ignore Number 6 and do what they please. And they did. And where they did do as they pleased, it was found that the Institution lost members.

Of course, it is not often remembered, perhaps willfully, that Number 6’s theory made stunningly accurate predictions, whereas his enemies’ theories made inaccurate ones.

The reason for that digression is important because again Number 6’s Institution will meet to discuss matters pertaining to human sexuality and the family. The meeting will go for at least two years. Experts will be confided in. Reports will be written.

As before, the press and a sizable chunk of leadership is on the side of liberalization; they particularly favor giving the nod to divorce but also to so-called same-sex marriage and perhaps even abortion. The world has changed, these people say, and therefore the Institution must also change—to become something that is not the Institution.

The Institution’s new leader Francis is being groomed by the liberalizers as the man with the plan, as somebody who is willing to set aside the old truths for new ones. These new dissidents are in the habit of parsing every public word of Francis’s to find in them support for their new truths. So adept are they at this that almost before Francis is done speaking, a news item or blog post is up saying, “Change we can believe in is coming!”

New predictions

My guess, working within Number 6’s theory, is whichever leader is in charge after the family synod is over will support tradition. The ban on contraception will be upheld. Marriage will be, as it can only be, declared to be between one man and one woman. Sodomy will still be a sin. Divorce will still be forbidden and not supported in the Institution’s activities. Abortion, if mentioned, will still be condemned.

The howling which will greet the announcement that there cannot be new truths, but only Truth, will be wondrous to behold, especially since, as before, liberalizers expect the vote to go with them. New dissidents will arise who, again as before, will tell people to ignore official proclamations and do what they want.

What will happen to rebellious families is obvious: more of what Number 6 said, a decrease in interest in marriage, increased state control over all things sexual, recognition that children belong to the state and not “parents”, and because of the dissolution of the family, an increase in support of euthanasia.

And people, even seeing the accuracy of these predictions, will still largely disbelieve the theory.

Update 14 May. It’s coincidence day at WMBriggs.com: Are Our Relationships Threatening The State?

Update 18 October 2014. Not that I want to brag, but it looks like the Truth Theory is still holding strong. But what a week!

The question is whether, after the conclusion of next year’s synod, Pope Francis will emulate his brother Number 6, or will he seek more worldly pastures?

I predict the former, in the following sense. I say Tradition holds, whether Pope Francis wants it to or not. It won’t matter what he or what anybody else wants, sin will still be sin. Doctrine will remain unchanged. Now, how will this Great Continuance happen? I have no idea. But I am reminded of the tale of Arius, a bishop who led one of the Church’s earliest heresies, a man whose power of convincing other Church fathers waxed and waned, but which never deserted him, and who, on his way to a final crucial meeting where he might have convinced others of his fallacy, had this happen to him:

It was then Saturday, and Arius was expecting to assemble with the church on the day following: but divine retribution overtook his daring criminalities. For going out of the imperial palace, attended by a crowd of Eusebian partisans like guards, he paraded proudly through the midst of the city, attracting the notice of all the people. As he approached the place called Constantine’s Forum, where the column of porphyry is erected, a terror arising from the remorse of conscience seized Arius, and with the terror a violent relaxation of the bowels: he therefore enquired whether there was a convenient place near, and being directed to the back of Constantine’s Forum, he hastened thither. Soon after a faintness came over him, and together with the evacuations his bowels protruded, followed by a copious hemorrhage, and the descent of the smaller intestines: moreover portions of his spleen and liver were brought off in the effusion of blood, so that he almost immediately died. The scene of this catastrophe still is shown at Constantinople, as I have said, behind the shambles in the colonnade: and by persons going by pointing the finger at the place, there is a perpetual remembrance preserved of this extraordinary kind of death.

The answer thus comes via Peter Kreeft, who is fond of quoting a Southern Baptist minister who managed to sum up the lessons of the Bible in four words. “I’m God. You’re not.”

64 Comments

  1. ““Should [the government] regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone.” HHS mandate, anybody? Nailed it again.”

    Nope, this one missed. The HHS mandate is that everyone pay for it, but there is no mandate to actually use it.

  2. Briggs

    May 5, 2014 at 8:30 am

    MattS,

    A distinction without a difference, surely? If we interpret this prediction to mean the State mandate all use contraception all the time, there would soon no longer be a State.

  3. I am not a number!

  4. MattS it only a matter of time, before use is mandated. Mandating us to pay for it was only another step on the road to serfdom.

  5. I couldn’t find any reference to a theory in the linked document. Unless it was, “If you tell people they can then they will”. And that leaves unsolved the mystery of why people want to be Catholics but don’t want to obey the Pope.

  6. Your prediction is under-determined.

    Here is a more specific prediction:

    ====
    We already know that among Cardinals there has been sharp criticism to Cardinal Kasper’s impious, sacrilegious proposals to open ways to allow public adulterers and concubines to receive Communion, as if this were useful to anything else than sending them (the concubines) to hell more safely. But this was only the opinion of a bunch of Cardinals. The Synod in October will see a massive participation of bishops, and you can be sure there will be no shortage of Western European ones – I mean not only from the German-speaking area – ready and willing to sow their satanical confusion.

    Of course, the bishops of other continents will fiercely oppose the proposal; but you see, the beauty of the “pastoral” approach is that one can always say he is adapting to particular cases, and regional specifics.

    “You can keep your ban on communion for adulterers, my dear African Bishops” – the German ones will say – “but by us a more nuanced, truly pastoral approach is needed”. This way – and with the massive support of the Bishop of Rome, who thinks so much of Kasper – it will be fairly easy to overcome resistance. “Hey, the doctrine isn’t changing”, will they say to their colleagues, “there’s no need to be overly excited. We are merely doing our job as caring shepherds”.

    ====

    The context:

    The Pope walked to the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall to start off day two of the ‘Extraordinary Consistory.’ The Pope opened the session by offering some words of encouragement for [the aforementioned] Cardinal Walter Kasper, who led the main discussion on the family on Thursday morning.

    POPE FRANCIS
    “Yesterday, before falling asleep, though not to fall asleep, I read, or re-read, Cardinal Kasper’s remarks. I would like to thank him, because I found a deep theology, and serene thoughts in theology. It is nice to read serene theology. It did me well and I had an idea, and excuse me if I embarrass Your Eminence, but the idea is: this is called doing theology while kneeling. Thank you. Thank you.”

    ====
    Yep, Pope Francis thinks very well of Cardinal Kaspar’s remarks.

    This second link also anticipates the predicted ‘solution’ given above (it’s in favor of it, whereas the previous writer’s prediction was made in sadness). The next sentences in this second link are:

    “Cardinals are precisely reflecting over these remarks. The focus is to find a balance between loyalty to the Gospel and the doctrine of mercy, when it comes to thorny issues, like Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.”

    ‘Loyalty to the Gospel’ versus ‘mercy’. A ‘balance’ needs to be struck.

    A little something for everybody.

  7. Brandon Gates

    May 5, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Briggs: hopefully this means you have recovered from your illness?

    I am not happy with atheists or liberals this morning so I’m not inclined to carry their water by defending their past or present idiocy. What follows is me speaking strictly for myself.

    I value personal freedom. The core values of our Constitution revolve around this concept. The government does not get to dictate to us what we do with our own bodies, or how we share our bodies with other consenting adults. By the same token, the government does not get to force us to get married. If we choose to marry it does not get to force us to have 2.2 children or lose our marriage license. If we choose to marry, it does not get to force us to stay married. The government does not get to choose the gender of our spouse based on our own gender.

    As tempting as it sounds to sterilize all boys when they reach puberty and reconnect their bits when they get married, I would not, ever not support it. We should all be free to use our reproductive capabilities at the time of our choosing, in whatever marital context we wish.

    As horrible and nasty as killing an unborn child is, the government does not get to tell a pregnant woman that she cannot do it. She has sole ownership of her body and is the only person who can and should make decisions about what she is carrying inside it.

    A woman does not get to kill a child after it has been born. It is no longer in her body and at that point the child’s status at as a human life is then secured.

    The government does not get to kill children whether they are in the womb or outside of it.

    The government does not get to dictate morality. The word sin does not belong in the code of law. The proper word is “ethics”. The government’s function is to mediate disputes between ideologically opposed factions when one faction is trying to enforce their definition of morality on another.

    The appropriate function of law is allow a person to seek redress for wrongs committed against their person or property by another. Such laws provide a measure of deterring those who would otherwise prey upon their weaker fellows and deprive them of their person, property, or would do harm to either were no such mechanism in place.

    A person’s fears of what rights the government may take from them in the future are theirs to have. They can and should express them loudly and publicly so that others may hear them. However, fears of future government intrusion says nothing about the ethical merits, or lack thereof, of current government policy. Fears of future events only speak to the fear itself.

    I have heard your fears. Do you hear mine?

  8. Briggs,

    “A distinction without a difference, surely?

    Surely not.

    “If we interpret this prediction to mean the State mandate all use contraception all the time, there would soon no longer be a State.”

    This is true. However, I think it irrational to interpret “imposing their use” any other way. There are many misanthropes, particularly among the CAGW alarmists and other assorted eco-nuts that would love to see humanity go extinct and many of them are politically influential, so I wouldn’t consider this beyond the realm of possibility but it hasn’t happened yet.

  9. Mark Luhman,

    Quite true, but mandating actual use hasn’t happened yet. At best, #7 is still outstanding.

  10. Briggs and readers, how about a poll for most prescient document of the last hundred years? I’d vote two-way tie between Humanae Vitae and the Moynihan Report.

  11. Briggs

    May 5, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    All,

    Apropos and coincidental: The Church Cannot Change Her Doctrine on Marriage and Divorce. Concerns for the Upcoming Synod. The video at the bottom starting at 6 secs is instructive.

    MattS,

    On the econuts: you might be right.

  12. Mark Luhman wrote, “MattS it only a matter of time, before use is mandated. Mandating us to pay for it was only another step on the road to serfdom.”

    Paul Ehrlich says the same about the population bomb.
    Ehrlich has argued that humanity has simply deferred the moment of disaster …
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_R._Ehrlich

  13. Briggs wrote, “2.Especially in the young, ‘[A] man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman'”

    And a woman, that due a man? Was that predicted? Did it happen?

    3.He will “reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires”.

    What about her own desires? Any prediction there?

    Are there no benefits?
    Globally, as of 2009, approximately 60% of those who are married and able to have children use birth control.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contraception#Prevalence

    http://www.schooltube.com/video/7e13116b078f1b661e7d/Hans-Roslings-200-Countries-200-Years-4-Minutes-The-Joy-of-Stats-BBC-Four

    Was there a prediction of the fall in population growth rates and the resultant increase in living standards and freedom for women to make economic and intellectual contributions to us all?

  14. In the 1960s, the Church faced increasing pressure regarding the use of contraceptive means with the marketing of the anovulant pill. In response, Vatican Council II stated in Gaudium et Spes, “In questions of birth regulation, the sons and daughters of the Church, faithful to these principles, are forbidden to use methods disapproved of by the teaching authority of the Church in its interpretation of the divine law (No.51).

    [ … ]
    Interestingly, Pope Paul VI prophesied grave consequences from contraception: increased marital infidelity and a lowering of moral standards; increased lack of respect for women, including seeing a woman as a sex object and as an instrument to satisfy sexual pleasures rather than seeing her as a partner in marriage; and the danger of empowering public authorities to regulate the lives of others. Thirty years later, these warnings have become realities: Statistics show the rapid increase of divorce, from a rate of 25 percent in 1965 to 50 percent in 1975 during the first five years of marriage. By the year 2000, 50 percent of American teenagers will have lived a significant part of their lives without a father figure. Moreover, Dr. Robert Michaels of Stanford University found a direct, positive correlation between the growing rate of divorce and the rate of contraception. (Interestingly, couples who use Natural Family Planning have a much lower divorce rate: 0.6 percent according to the Couple to Couple League, and 2-5 percent according to research conducted by California State University.)

    http://catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0664.html

    Isn’t this just a correlation/causation fallacy?

  15. Brandon Gates

    May 5, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    MattS: ” … mandating actual use hasn’t happened yet. At best, #7 is still outstanding.”

    I have seen it argued elsewhere by those who oppose socialized medicine, which Obamacare is not, that they do not want to subsidize others’ contraceptive use. This argument takes two basic forms:

    1) I should not have to pay for that which I don’t myself use.
    2) I have a moral opposition to all contraceptive use therefore forcing me to pay for it is forcing me to violate my moral principles.

    Both are compelling arguments and warrant discussion. My contribution is in terms of general principles.

    A society that guarantees personal freedom is obligated to bear the burden of cost associated with those freedoms.

    The obligation of all citizens enjoying the benefits afforded them by society as a whole is to not cause unecessary cost to others through carelessness, fraud or other forms of abuse.

    The personal benefit of paying for one’s own protection comes at the cost of paying for accidental, intentional and negligent harms done to others.

    The personal benefit of paying for something that one morally opposes is protection from the moral impositions of others.

    Since no two people or groups share the exact same code of morality, free society necessitates government intervention. The practice of weighing moral issues is ethics. The only allowable standard of ethics in a free society is the prevention of one individual or group from impeding the freedom of another.

    The duty of government is to codify ethics into law with the aim of maximizing the personal liberties of all. The duty of those who benefit from that service is to pay for it.

    Those who are not willing to bear the costs of their own freedom, or seek to restrict the freedom of others only risk their own personal freedom by so doing. They also burden the whole of society with the associated costs of government mediation and intervention.

    Finally, Franklin said it best: “They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

  16. @MattS

    Regardless about whether or not the HHS mandate is an example of 7, it is true that many Governments have offered monetary incentives and pressure to use contraception.

    And let us not forget China and their one child policy, which is a clear example of 7.

  17. Ye Olde Statisician

    May 5, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    She has sole ownership of her body and is the only person who can and should make decisions about what she is carrying inside it.

    So her right to her body extends to someone else’s body, provided only that that someone is utterly dependent upon her for her life?

    http://www.salon.com/2013/01/23/so_what_if_abortion_ends_life/
    So

  18. Briggs

    May 5, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    Timotheos,

    Thanks. I stupidly forgot to mention China’s programmatic and mandatory killings and contraceptive use.

  19. Timotheos,

    Monetary incentives to use X is not imposing the use of X.

    Technically even China isn’t a strong example of 7. China’s on child policy placed a limit on the number of children a couple could have, but did not mandate the use of contraceptives. Even if one considers abortion of form of contraceptive abstinence is still a viable alternative.

  20. The original Mr. X

    May 5, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    Brandon:

    “If we choose to marry, it does not get to force us to stay married. The government does not get to choose the gender of our spouse based on our own gender.”

    On the other hand, if there’s going to be any legal recognition of marriage, there’s going to have to be some sort of legal definition. Otherwise you’d just end up with a ridiculous, unworkable mess, which would do no-one any favours.

    “As horrible and nasty as killing an unborn child is, the government does not get to tell a pregnant woman that she cannot do it. She has sole ownership of her body and is the only person who can and should make decisions about what she is carrying inside it.

    A woman does not get to kill a child after it has been born. It is no longer in her body and at that point the child’s status at as a human life is then secured.”

    So what do you mean by “securing” a child’s status as a human life? Do you mean that before birth it’s not a human, but then becomes one; or that it’s a human both before and after, but it’s OK to kill it beforehand?

    “The government does not get to dictate morality. The word sin does not belong in the code of law. The proper word is “ethics”. The government’s function is to mediate disputes between ideologically opposed factions when one faction is trying to enforce their definition of morality on another.”

    By definition, arbitrating a dispute between ideologically opposed factions is going to involve forcing your definition of morality on at least one of them. To take a fairly obvious example, if there’s a dispute over whether people should be allowed to own slaves, the government would either have to say that they should — in which case the slaves would have to accept their masters’ pro-slavery morality being forced on them — or to say that they shouldn’t — in which case, of course, the slave-owners would themselves be having their morality imposed on.

    Also, I don’t see how you can lay down what the government ought or ought not to do without getting into moral issues pretty quickly. Denying this usually just leads to incoherent, because unexamined, political views.

    “The appropriate function of law is allow a person to seek redress for wrongs committed against their person or property by another. Such laws provide a measure of deterring those who would otherwise prey upon their weaker fellows and deprive them of their person, property, or would do harm to either were no such mechanism in place.”

    Of course, what exactly counts as a “wrong” is a moral question…

    “A person’s fears of what rights the government may take from them in the future are theirs to have. They can and should express them loudly and publicly so that others may hear them. However, fears of future government intrusion says nothing about the ethical merits, or lack thereof, of current government policy. Fears of future events only speak to the fear itself.”

    Maybe not the ethical merits of whichever particular policy you’re talking about, but it certainly is unwise to give governments powers which have the potential to be abused, even if the current government doesn’t intend to use them this way.

    “I have heard your fears. Do you hear mine?”

    By all means, but let’s not try to set up any false equivalence here. The major push in modern society is for the left to impose its morality on everybody else, not for the right to do so. Now, sure, I don’t doubt you could find right-wingers who do want to do this, but I also think that these people are less influential than their leftist counterparts, and that they are anyway less likely to actually succeed, at least for the foreseeable future.

  21. Brandon Gates

    May 5, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    YOS: “So her right to her body extends to someone else’s body, provided only that that someone is utterly dependent upon her for her life?”

    No, provided that the child is still inside her body. Her right to reproduce, or not, is her sole right to determine.

    Since all newborn infants will die if not cared for, and indeed most humans are not capable of self-support for several years after birth, a society that respects life must support all live born children if their natural parents cannot.

    That societal responsibility to life does not, cannot, supercede a woman’s decision to carry a child to full term or not according to the dictates of her own conscience.

    I read the Salon article. It is far more at odds with my position than not.

  22. Brandon Gates

    May 5, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    The original Mr. X:

    AFAIK, marriage is defined by state laws. They vary by whether SSMs are allowed, but they’re universially defined as between two people. My overall impression is that this is not an unworkable mess.

    “So what do you mean by ‘securing’ a child’s status as a human life?”

    I did not construct that statement well. Once a child is live-born, supporting its life is society’s responsiblity to protect its life, and if necessary support it if its parents or relatives cannot.

    It’s human in the womb or out. The woman’s right over her own body and reproductive decisions is hers, and hers alone. That right superceeds the duty of the State to protect life.

    Without government mediation and its powers to enforce binding resolutions, private persons or small groups would be left to their own resources to do the same. Stronger individuals or groups would naturally tend to force their will on weaker ones.

    What government ought or ought not do in a free society is subject to the wishes of its members. Naturally moral issues enter into the discussion. Government is interested in ethics, which is the practice of evaluating moral issues and attempting to find resolve disputes with the least impact on individual freedoms possible.

    “Of course, what exactly counts as a ‘wrong’ is a moral question…”

    Yes, and what any two people consider wrong or right are often quite different. Hence the need for mediation and resolution if two differing parties cannot resolve them with independent negotiation.

    Abuse of government power is a significant issue. That is why the US government has built-in checks and balances between the various branches of government at all levels. It’s why we hold elections for our legislative and executive representatives. It’s why any citizen can appeal to the government for redress of grievences via lawsuits, and publicly critcize it in public without fear of inprisonment.

    If you have a better alternative to this than “fend for yourself”, please describe it.

    “By all means, but let’s not try to set up any false equivalence here. The major push in modern society is for the left to impose its morality on everybody else, not for the right to do so. Now, sure, I don’t doubt you could find right-wingers who do want to do this, but I also think that these people are less influential than their leftist counterparts, and that they are anyway less likely to actually succeed, at least for the foreseeable future.”

    What I am writing today are my views on the subject of this particular article, and mine alone. Today, I choose to focus on that subject alone. On a different day and different topic I may be willing to engage in discussions about the left-right political schism.

    My fears are real, Briggs fears are real. He and I should be able to discuss those fears as rational adults without resorting to false-equivalences. I feel that I have made a good faith effort to do so.

  23. Brandon Gates

    May 5, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    Errata:

    I did not construct that statement well … twice.

    “Once a child is live-born, it is society’s responsiblity to protect its life, and if necessary support it if its parents or relatives cannot.”

  24. Brandon Gates

    May 5, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    Katie: “Does anyone remember the USSR?”

    Yes, which is why I so highly value the much freer society we enjoy here in the United States.

  25. Briggs

    May 5, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    Brandon,

    Would you say the USA is becoming more or less USSR-like with each passing year? Be honest, now.

  26. Brandon Gates

    May 5, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    Briggs: Yes, I see a trend toward certain ideologies.

  27. Ye Olde Statisician

    May 5, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    AFAIK, marriage is defined by state laws.

    Marriage is defined by nature. Couples were getting married long before there were states. In the West, the requirement for State licensing got rolling only in the mid-1800s. Prior to that, laws addressed only provisions for inheritance, joint property, debts and crimes, etc. See the Code of Khamurapi for details.

    what any two people consider wrong or right are often quite different.

    The notion that right and wrong might not be a matter of personal convenience and opinion is enough to cause Late Modern jaws to drop.

  28. Brandon Gates

    May 5, 2014 at 8:50 pm

    YOS: “Marriage is defined by nature.”

    So many have said, and I don’t have a problem with that position. I see it differently, and in fact, I look at the very history of marriage you describe as evidence of my own view.

    There are laws on the books licensing marriage. It is a practice encouraged by the government for the benefit of society and therefore the state. Humans, not nature, wrote those statutes.

    (Yes, the state is interested in its own preservation. Bit of a sideline with important implications, but I don’t want to get sidetracked.)

    “The notion that right and wrong might not be a matter of personal convenience and opinion is enough to cause Late Modern jaws to drop.”

    That may be so, but I didn’t say anything about “personal convenience”. The fact that you and I disagree on things is evidence enough that we have different opinions about right, wrong, Good and Evil. It is self-evident that this is the case. And it is *very* inconvenient when those differences clash between individuals and groups.

    Always a pleasure, sir.

  29. The original Mr. X

    May 6, 2014 at 2:51 am

    Brandon:

    “AFAIK, marriage is defined by state laws. They vary by whether SSMs are allowed, but they’re universially defined as between two people. My overall impression is that this is not an unworkable mess.”

    So why is “marriage is defined as being between two people” fine, but “marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman” not?

    “It’s human in the womb or out. The woman’s right over her own body and reproductive decisions is hers, and hers alone. That right superceeds the duty of the State to protect life.”

    Why?

    “What government ought or ought not do in a free society is subject to the wishes of its members”

    What if (a majority of) its members wish the government to force their morality onto others?

    “My fears are real, Briggs fears are real. He and I should be able to discuss those fears as rational adults without resorting to false-equivalences.”

    Sure, but when you bring your fears up on a thread about Briggs’ fears, you’re implicitly saying that your fears are just as well-grounded and worthy of being taken seriously as his are.

    ***

    “There are laws on the books licensing marriage. It is a practice encouraged by the government for the benefit of society and therefore the state. Humans, not nature, wrote those statutes.”

    Governments also have laws detailing what you are and aren’t allowed to serve as food. Does this make eating a human institution?

  30. Brandon Gates

    May 6, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    Mr. X: “So why is ‘marriage is defined as being between two people’ fine, but ‘marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman’ not?”

    Oh, I have so often in the past made a similar argument. I argued for polygamy as a counter to those who oppose gender-blind monogamous marriage. I was a far more antagonistic soul back then.

    Polygamy as most practiced has taken the form of polygyny that specifically prohibits polyandry. See Briggs for why that doesn’t work.

    Polyamory is a position I’m presently disposed to support, but only after a lot of thinking and research. And only if polyamorists bring it to the table. Which they’re not, and I don’t expect it to happen any time soon — they don’t seem interested in doing so.

    Me: “It’s human in the womb or out. The woman’s right over her own body and reproductive decisions is hers, and hers alone. That right superceeds the duty of the State to protect life.”

    Mr. X: Why?

    That’s the hardest question I’ve ever asked myself about killing children in the womb. I appreciate you asking it of me again.

    The first part of the answer is something that’s implied in my original statement just above. The foundation of a free society is the the self sovereignty of its citizens above all other considerations. The state and its citizens have interests in each other. The state has ultimate authority over disputes between two or more citizens or groups. The individual has ultimate authority over themselves when neither the state or others’ interests are at stake.

    Within that context, the state has an interest in preserving the life of its citizens, else it would cease to exist itself. An individual member of society has a self-interest in preserving their own life.

    Cribbing from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    Murder is a crime defined by law in compatiblity with these principles. Nobody except maybe some murderers have a problem with homicide and manslaughter statutes because we think of our right to life as inviolate. Our happiness would be difficult to achieve if we constantly worried about someone killing us out of passion or because they want our own property for themselves.

    Killing a child in the womb feels very wrong to us because it feels like we must then also forfeit our own right to live. And a darker, more sinister, deeply visceral fear: those who would kill innocent children see me as similarly worthless and therefore expendable. Our unalienable right is therefore alienable. Subject to immediate termination without due process and bereft of malice. Naught but a surgical procedure and thence into the medical waste bin.

    Killing an unborn child must, always must, be the the absolute the final decision of the mother who is carrying it. She must be allowed to take her own child’s life, but only so long as it is still in the womb.

    I felt like such a monster when I reached that awful conclusion for myself. And then a glorious truth emerged: In order to take a life, I must look at myself squarely in the eyes and face the terrible truth of what I am doing. That is the only way that I can appreciate the gravity of my decision. That is the best, really the only way, to make sure I am making a properly compassionate, empathetic, dutiful decision for myself and my child. By taking such due care, I as a prospective mother give due consideration and gratitude to the free society which has given me the sole responsibility, and duty, to decide to kill my, our, everyone’s human child.

    Those who dismiss an unborn child as “just a fetus” and “not human” are setting themselves to make a poor decision for all involved. A decision of convenience that threatens our very own mortality. Our anger and ire at such an argument are correct and justified.

    But we must not let our moral outrage prejudice any individual woman who kills her unborn baby. We cannot know her mind, her circumstances, her terrible horrible sorrow for her own decision. And it is hers and hers alone. It is always best to assume that her motives are considered and pure, and give her an outpouring of support, love and compassion. In her darkest hour, the last thing to call her is a monster and a murderer. She almost assuredly feels that she has killed herself and sold her soul.

    “What if (a majority of) its members wish the government to force their morality onto others?”

    I’ve covered that implicitly previously, happy to revisit it more explicitly.

    A state formed by citizens in the form of a free society must necessarily be able to sue the state for grievances they feel it has imposed upon them. In other words, as a citizen, if I feel the state is forcing me to do something I morally oppose, I have the right to appeal to the state to remove its imposition. In essense, to question the government’s ethics, and by extension the ethics of society as a whole, and even the morality of my fellow citizens.

    The question then becomes: Does the state’s ostensibly ethical decision constitute a violation of my personal freedom to act according to my own moral values? Are my fellow citizens forcing to do something I otherwise wouldn’t were I left to the dictates of my own conscience and system of values?

    A citizen committed to the principles of a free society is also bound to consider the converse questions: Does what I am asking for the government to redress impede other of my fellow citizens from enjoying the same freedoms I am trying to secure for myself?

    I’ve provided a basic framework for how a government weighs these considerations when intervening and arbitrating a dispute between persons and groups locked in these kinds of moral conflicts. Pick any one of them that is personal and close to you, and run through that framework step by step, asking what it is you want, what it is your opposition wants. Ask if and how your disagreement is impeding anyones and everyones free exercise of conscience and way of life.

    “Sure, but when you bring your fears up on a thread about Briggs’ fears, you’re implicitly saying that your fears are just as well-grounded and worthy of being taken seriously as his are.”

    Yes. In a free society that is the default assumption. I take Briggs’ fears very seriously. His beliefs are surely as passionate as my own. His sense of right and wrong is surely just as principled and real to him as mine are to me. I have heard his fears. I say to him, “I understand your fears, I have heard them.” It should be implicit in that statement that I respect them and find them worthy of consideration out of respect for his status as fellow human and fellow citizen. It should be intuitively obvious that the reason that I care for Briggs’ rights and beliefs is because I care so very much about my own. Yet, I myself question whether he feels the same care and concern for my personhood as he does. That is why I ask if he hears me.

    It upsets me that our intuitve empathy for others is being washed over by a tidal wave of mutual fear and loathing. By doing so we come to fear and loathe both ourselves and others. I’m tired of being so upset by that reality. It’s intrusive. It alienates all of our *desires* — not rights — live freely and to pursue happiness.

    The equivalence saw as potentially false is not. It cannot ever be false in a fee society. To even suggest it might be anything but a true equivalence is the beginning of the undoing of all you hold important to yourself, and your duty to yourself and fellow citizens.

    “Governments also have laws detailing what you are and aren’t allowed to serve as food. Does this make eating a human institution?”

    I will not answer that question in this thread unless you’re specifically asking about eating other people. Otherwise it is not worthy of mention within the context of facing a mother’s decision to kill her own unborn baby.

    Happy to discuss it anon, in a different thread.

  31. Brandon Gates

    May 6, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    *Otherwise*, happy to discuss it anon, in a different thread.

  32. Someone ought to make Number 6 a Saint!

  33. Briggs

    October 18, 2014 at 9:31 am

    All,

    Somehow this seems the right place for this:

    Transgender Woman Can’t Be Diversity Officer Because She’s a White Man Now

    Timothy Boatwright was born a girl, and checked off the “female” box when applying to the Massachusetts all-women’s school, according to an article in the New York Times. But when he got there, he introduced himself as a “masculine-of-center genderqueer” person named “Timothy” (the name he picked for himself) and asked them to use male pronouns when referring to him.

    And, by all accounts, Boatwright felt welcome on campus — until the day he announced that he wanted to run for the school’s office of multicultural affairs coordinator, whose job is to promote a “culture of diversity” on campus.

    But some students thought that allowing Boatwright to have the position would just perpetuate patriarchy.

    As Iowahawk said when he tweeted this, Satire is Dead.

  34. O dear, another false dilemma USA or USSR. The happiest children in the world live in the nordic countries and the Netherlands.

  35. Briggs

    October 18, 2014 at 10:32 am

    Hans,

    As to that, don’t forget what YOS pointed us to:

    Morbid happiness
    http://www.davidwarrenonline.com/2014/09/15/morbid-happiness/

    But, anyway, earthbound happiness is not the ultimate measure.

  36. Enjoying how the comments from May bear out the premise of the article. The predictions were entirely correct. The fact that people who like to write tomes about why they agree with the way things have turned out does not have any bearing on the fact that the predictions have all come to pass and that our society, whatever one personally likes or dislikes about these changes, is worse off in terms of family instability, child health and welfare, poverty, health problems, educational problems, etc.

    Self-righteously proclaiming that a woman has the “right” to kill her own child as long as it hasn’t been born yet does not change the fact that 54 million of such children have been killed, millions of women have lined up to have them killed, and an entire industry has been established to kill them. People can pretend this is liberating and positive, or that it’s regrettable but necessary, but that doesn’t change what it is — the murder of millions in the name of the “right” to have sex with no consequences. What happened in China is just a variation on this — it was not in the name of sex for all but in the name of equality for all.

  37. Aha, a “no true happiness” fallacy

  38. Aha, a “no true happiness” fallacy

    This is a pseudo-fallacy. If we can quibble about what properly constitutes as an example of the ‘No Scotsmen’ fallacy than the ‘fallacy’ is self-defeating.

  39. Sander van der Wal

    October 18, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    @Gail Finke

    Before abortion laws, some women were trying to kill their unborn infants too. Too often the procedure resulted in a dead women and a dead child.

    Contraceptives in the form of condoms prevented a lot of those deaths, as the women did not become pregnant, and that was a long time before the pill was introduced in the late sixties.

  40. As horrible and nasty as killing an unborn child is, the government does not get to tell a pregnant woman that she cannot do it. She has sole ownership of her body and is the only person who can and should make decisions about what she is carrying inside it.

    A woman does not get to kill a child after it has been born. It is no longer in her body and at that point the child’s status at as a human life is then secured.

    The government does not get to kill children whether they are in the womb or outside of it.

    Firstly, why doesn’t the unborn child enjoy the same right of ownership such that the mother (or anyone else) is denied the right of its destruction? The fact that she simply carries it doesn’t appear to trump such a right given the consequences are categorically dissimilar. Secondly, it’s not at all clear why or how the mere fact that she carries the unborn child affects its status as human being. Thirdly, given this, the statement against the government begs this question.

    Once a child is live-born, it is society’s responsiblity to protect its life, and if necessary support it if its parents or relatives cannot.

    Why is it society’s but not parents? It’s clear that the latter are directly responsible for bringing the child, and not ‘society’, into existence so it isn’t at all clear why the responsibility is the society’s and not the parents, morally speaking. It appears to me you’re equivocating here by using “cannot” when you clearly mean “will not”.

  41. dover_beach,

    Good questions all.

    Firstly, why doesn’t the unborn child enjoy the same right of ownership such that the mother (or anyone else) is denied the right of its destruction?

    Self-ownership implies self-awareness, which children in the womb prior to about 21 weeks are not reasonably capable of. 25 weeks is the threshold of viability. Elective abortions after that point are something I don’t personally approve of, but would not wish to block.

    The fact that she simply carries it doesn’t appear to trump such a right given the consequences are categorically dissimilar.

    I assume you consider that the “being” part of human begins at conception thus abortion = murder. I think that’s a logically consistent argument, and the rest of your arguments do follow from that. I simply have a different opinion, that being begins when self-awareness does. If I thought children in the womb were soverign to themselves, I’d not be making these arguments. As it is, I hold that a woman is soverign to herself, and as such she is the final arbiter of whether or not she wishes to carry her child to full term.

    That doesn’t mean that I don’t think expectant mothers should make a decision to kill her unborn child unilaterally in all (or even most) circumstances. At the very least, the father’s wishes carry some weight, as do to a lesser extent immediate family. But I consider those personal moral decisions left to the expectant mother which should not be subject to demands of legislation.

    Why is it society’s but not parents?

    I realize I didn’t make it explicitly clear that after birth, both the parents and society are responsible for protecting the life of a child. What I did not cover at all when this article was first posted is that when expectant mothers (and fathers, grandparents, etc.) wish the unborn child to be carried to term and born alive, that society does have a duty to protect that child’s life. So a drunk driver who slams into a pregnant mother’s car causing the death of the child but not the mother is guilty of at least manslaughter in my mind. I’m dismayed that many pro-choice advocates are uncomfortable having such laws on the books.

  42. The original Mr. X

    October 18, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    Brandon:

    Self-ownership implies self-awareness,

    (a) Why?

    (b) Does that mean that when I fall asleep I cease to be a self-owner?

  43. The original Mr. X

    October 18, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    ^ Whoops, no idea why the cited part is in all caps. Don’t worry, Brandon, I wasn’t trying to shout at you. :p

  44. On another note, I made the mistake of going to Wikipedia to read the article on Arius, hopefully to find more about his colorful demise.

    1 Now I remember why I stopped editing Wikipedia.

    2 Amazing how many fanboys Arius apparently has. Amazing verbiage in that article. I don’t mean that as a compliment.

  45. Brandon, I think your biology/psychology is faulty:
    “Self-ownership implies self-awareness, which children in the womb prior to about 21 weeks are not reasonably capable of. 25 weeks is the threshold of viability. Elective abortions after that point are something I don’t personally approve of, but would not wish to block”
    Actually self-awareness doesn’t really being until about one or two years and matures thereafter; see “Five Levels of Self-Awareness as they unfold early in life”
    http://psychology.emory.edu/cognition/rochat/Five%20levels%20.pdf

    We had a grandson who was born prematurely at 20 weeks, and after great intensive natal care has survived.

    Moreover, why the license to kill inside the womb? The potential to develop as valuable human being–a Beethoven or an Einstein is there just after conception, as much as at one year. If you want to be consistent, advocate killing of unwanted humans at any age, if they are inconvenient for a family or society.

  46. Is Brandon the new Luis. So many words making non-sense

  47. Mr. X,

    Self-ownership implies self-awareness,

    (a) Why?

    (b) Does that mean that when I fall asleep I cease to be a self-owner?

    (a) To me it’s definitional. I should have said “entails” not “implies”.

    (b) No. Being capable of self-awareness is the key to this argument. A sleeping human who is otherwise capable of cognizant, willful self-awareness upon waking is a being, a person by my definition.

    There are many wrinkles which create moral conundra. The Terri Schiavo case has some applicable parallels; the limitations of medical science to determine brain function being a biggie. What about a case when a pregnant woman does not want to carry to term, but the father or immediate family of either potential future parent have already developed an emotional attachment to the unborn child and wish to see it born?

    When I say it’s the woman’s ultimate choice, it’s my desire to avoid the kind of legal battles that occurred in the Schiavo case. I think the law should be specific on who the tiebreaker is, and that person should be the one who is pregnant. That’s an argument for legal expedience and clarity. Morally, I think most cases call for a pregnant woman considering an abortion to consult with at least the father if not their respective families. Much further away from those immediate relationships gets into “this is our concern and decision, not anyone else” territory by my view of things.

    Similar argument applies to pregnancies I’d personally not want to see through (if I were the father) such as genetic disorders or birth defects. If Mom wants to carry to term, as Dad it’s not just incumbent on me to honor that decision but also my duty to support it as well as the child if it is born viable. Hence I’d never support a law demanding mandatory abortion for children diagnosed with Down Syndrome in utero even though I personally think that’s the better decision.

    PS: No worries about the ALL CAPS. It must have been the HTML tag you used — when I pasted your reply into my text editor they went away automagically.

  48. error: grandson born prematurely at 5 1/2 months, not 20 weeks.

  49. Bob,

    Actually self-awareness doesn’t really being until about one or two years and matures thereafter; see “Five Levels of Self-Awareness as they unfold early in life”

    Indeed, I’ve read similar papers. I place more stock in developmental neurobiology, and those researchers generally conclude that prior to 21 weeks, cognitive function is non-existent. After that, it’s a more open question.

    We had a grandson who was born prematurely at [5 1/2 months], and after great intensive natal care has survived.

    At that stage of development about 50% survive. I have no problem supporting that sort of intensive care to save the life of a child.

    Moreover, why the license to kill inside the womb?

    I don’t know how many different ways I can answer the same question than I already have.

    If you want to be consistent, advocate killing of unwanted humans at any age, if they are inconvenient for a family or society.

    I’m consistent with the main premise of my own argument: conscious self-aware will to live trumps “inconvenience”. I get it that my point of view is inconsistent with yours and that you don’t trust my slope to not be slippery. Not much I can do about that.

  50. Having perused this thread, I thought I’d add my two cents on a few salient points.

    Self-Ownership: a tragically confused notion arising from Cartesian dualism that falsely views the “self” as a separate entity “inhabiting” a body. Common idioms aside, no one “has” a body, any more than a spherical shape “has” a baseball. Your *self* forms an identity with your body analogous to a ball’s identity with a sphere. Thus, you don’t “own” your body; you *are* your body. Seen in this light, calling the human soul/body synthesis “ownership” is downright demeaning.

    Freedom: not an absolute good, and absolutizing it begets manifold errors. In fact, and in practice, freedom per se is morally neutral. The hypothetical agency which grants me a license to own a T-Rex isn’t doing me any favors because a freedom’s value is wholly dependent upon the good it grants access to.
    I.e. to be valid, freedom must be *for* something. Therefore, “how do we maximize freedom?” is the wrong question. “How do we maximize the good?” is prior and primary.

    Personhood dependent upon the exercise of some faculty: didn’t Briggs do an excellent series on Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles–or did I dream it? Ah. There it is. http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?cat=32
    The power of self-awareness is derived from human nature; not t’other way round. A power can exist in two states: potency and act. The humble acorn contains all the might of the oak tree. But note that, even if it’s not being exercised, the faculty still exists. This means that unborn babies, patients in persistent vegetative states, and yes, people who are asleep, all possess the power of self-awareness. It’s there, just in potency; not in act.

    So, what is good? In the moral sphere, “good” refers to deliberate acts which treat ourselves and others in accord with our nature. Evil acts are those which deliberately violate human nature. The right to life is derived from human nature, thus “being killed” violates that nature, in which all humans, by definition, participate. Human fetuses and humans in vegetative states are, by definition, human. It is therefore, in every time and place, evil to choose their deaths as the moral object of one’s actions.

    And what most folks these days don’t get is that it’s never permissible to knowingly and deliberately perform an inherently evil act. Appeals to personal freedom don’t come close to justifying evil acts, because even essential goods can’t justify doing evil, and freedoms are conditional goods at best. (Even when leaders of nations say that they’re going to war for the sake of freedom, they’re really fighting for the goods that freedom brings.)

  51. The same year of the Encyclical (1968), “The Population Bomb,” best-selling book by Stanford University Professor Paul R. Ehrlich and his wife, Anne Ehrlich, came out. Full of “science” and “statistics”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Population_Bomb

    Practically all predictions wrong.

    But freedom is freedom is freedom. Somehow it always seems to end up as murder for convenience. Whether it’s for the pre-born or the senior Kaputsters… death is the answer.

  52. What Brigg’s post and comments have neglected to mention is that contraception and abortion have led to demographic decline–population increase is not sufficient to replace deaths in Russia, France, other European countries, and Japan. 2 births per couple is the minimum to replace aging population, and in these countries it’s way below that except for–guess what ethnic and religious group. So, contraception and abortion are probably a principal factor in dooming Western civilization… See any of Mark Steyn’s article on demographic decline, e.g.
    http://www.ocregister.com/articles/people-332895-women-percent.html

  53. Sander van der Wal

    October 19, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    @Brian Niemeier

    The problem with the potency-act defence is that all a man’s sperm cells, and all a woman’s eggs, are also potential human beings. Each sperm-egg combination is in potential a human being. Yet I hear nobody arguing that all the eggs of a woman must be fertilized and raised to be a human. And even if somebody would argue that case, what about all the sperm cells for which there is no egg to fertilize?

  54. @sander van der waal
    I don’t think your argument holds water. the eggs by themselves and the sperm by themselves are not a particular human being and do not have the capacity to be a human being until united in a fertilized egg. the fertilized egg is where the potential is. You can apply your analysis to fundamental particles and see where the fallacy lies.

  55. The original Mr. X

    October 19, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    Brandon:

    “(a) To me it’s definitional. I should have said “entails” not “implies”.”

    Well why should I accept your definition then?

    “(b) No. Being capable of self-awareness is the key to this argument. A sleeping human who is otherwise capable of cognizant, willful self-awareness upon waking is a being, a person by my definition.”

    What reason is there for that being the case, which won’t also apply to an unborn baby?

    Sander:

    “The problem with the potency-act defence is that all a man’s sperm cells, and all a woman’s eggs, are also potential human beings.”

    A foetus isn’t a potential human being; it’s a human being that hasn’t actualised its potential yet.

  56. Mr. X,

    Well why should I accept your definition then?

    To repeat: I am not advocating for compulsory abortion, and I am further willing as a member of society to support others who would choose to carry a pregnancy to full term in circumstances I personally would not. That leaves you and yours to make your own decisions; no acceptance of my definitions asked, nor required.

    What reason is there for that being the case, which won’t also apply to an unborn baby?

    It’s abundantly clear to me that a just-fertilized egg is not capable of cognition. At 42 weeks, an elective abortion may as well be infanticide. In my view, elective abortions are most defensible within the first trimester, and indeed about 90% of all abortions in the US are performed prior to 13 weeks gestational age.

  57. Brian,

    Freedom: not an absolute good, and absolutizing it begets manifold errors. In fact, and in practice, freedom per se is morally neutral.

    The concept of absolute good begets manifold conflicts in large societies. Your point about freedom being morally neutral, which I agree with, also speaks to moral conflics which obviously arise in practice. Hence my previous statements along the lines of: Government is interested in ethics, which is the practice of evaluating moral issues and attempting to find resolve disputes with the least impact on individual freedoms possible. That is the concept of liberty, which I think of as collectively bounded freedoms.

    So, what is good?

    Good is what we define it to be, as is evil. My definitions are:

    1) Evil is violating the will of another.

    2) Good is treating others how one wishes to be treated.

    Appeals to personal freedom don’t come close to justifying evil acts, because even essential goods can’t justify doing evil, and freedoms are conditional goods at best.

    I very much like and agree with that argument in principle.

    Even when leaders of nations say that they’re going to war for the sake of freedom, they’re really fighting for the goods that freedom brings.

    Some amusing plays on the different senses of the word “goods” underscore your above argument that a moral good really is conditional. Or as I tend to think of it, both subjective and circumstantial.

  58. The original Mr. X

    October 20, 2014 at 10:16 am

    Brandon:

    “That leaves you and yours to make your own decisions; no acceptance of my definitions asked, nor required.”

    That’s nice of you, but here’s the thing: I don’t think the decision to murder an innocent child is something that should just be left for everyone to make their own decisions about. It’s wrong, obviously so, and absolutely ought to be banned.

    “It’s abundantly clear to me that a just-fertilized egg is not capable of cognition.”

    Neither is somebody in a dreamless sleep, but apparently they’re still human?

    “Good is what we define it to be, as is evil.”

    So essentially then good and evil don’t exist. That’s nice to know.

  59. The original Mr. X

    October 20, 2014 at 10:18 am

    Oh, and also–

    “1) Evil is violating the will of another.”

    What if someone’s will has become corrupted, though; is it still evil to violate it then? If, say, a drug addict wants you to give him more drugs, would it really be evil to make him enter rehab instead?

  60. Mr. X,

    I don’t think the decision to murder an innocent child is something that should just be left for everyone to make their own decisions about. It’s wrong, obviously so, and absolutely ought to be banned.

    I understand your position, I just don’t agree with it. It’s not realistic to expect any two members of society to agree with each other on moral issues, much less several hundred million.

    Neither is somebody in a dreamless sleep, but apparently they’re still human?

    That’s a conflation of state of consciousness and capabability of consciousness. Throw a bucket of ice water on a fully brain-functional human being in a dreamless sleep and they will most likely rapidly change state from sleep to wakefulness. After a brief period of shock and/or confusion, they will likely exhibit an intense emotional response. Do the same to a recently fertilized human egg, and no such thing will happen.

    So essentially then good and evil don’t exist.

    Well no, good and evil are not concrete entities, but concepts we mostly use to qualify our actions. Conceptulization entails definition.

    What if someone’s will has become corrupted, though; is it still evil to violate it then?

    Who, or what, defines “corruption” in your scenario? A question I’m often asked is, “If someone wants to kill you against your wishes, is it evil for you to violate their will by preventing them from doing it?” Enter a third principle:

    3) One’s first moral duty is to oneself.

    Is the reason the other guy is trying to kill me because I entered his home brandishing a weapon so as to acquire his property for myself without first obtaining his permission?

    If, say, a drug addict wants you to give him more drugs, would it really be evil to make him enter rehab instead?

    That raises the general question of moral duty to other humans, which is highly conditional on the given circumstances. By (3) above, the first thing I want to know here is the closeness of my relationship to the addict. Is (s)he a parent, sibling, spouse, child, close friend or perfect stranger? Myself? Is it morally wrong for me to do something I don’t want to do?

    I can’t give you one comprehensive answer. The most general thing I can say is that I think it’s better to persuade others to do things than it is to compel, demand or force or demand a certain action of them. In practice, rehab therapy tends to be more effective if the patient defines self-good as non-addiction, and seeks out third-party help under their own volition.

  61. The original Mr. X

    October 21, 2014 at 11:54 am

    Brandon:

    “I understand your position, I just don’t agree with it. It’s not realistic to expect any two members of society to agree with each other on moral issues, much less several hundred million.”

    Are we then to let the existence of a few anarchists who believe that private property is illegitimate deter us from passing laws against theft?

    “That’s a conflation of state of consciousness and capabability of consciousness. Throw a bucket of ice water on a fully brain-functional human being in a dreamless sleep and they will most likely rapidly change state from sleep to wakefulness. After a brief period of shock and/or confusion, they will likely exhibit an intense emotional response. Do the same to a recently fertilized human egg, and no such thing will happen.”

    So what you’re saying, then, is that a sleeping person has an unactualised potential for consciousness?

    “Well no, good and evil are not concrete entities, but concepts we mostly use to qualify our actions. Conceptulization entails definition.”

    Either our concepts refer to something external to us or they don’t. If they do, then they aren’t just “what we define them to be”, since they have an existence independent of our definitions and against which our definitions can (at least in principle) be checked for accuracy. If they don’t, then in what meaningful sense do they exist?

  62. Mr. X,

    Are we then to let the existence of a few anarchists who believe that private property is illegitimate deter us from passing laws against theft?

    Only if we were are all apathetic about material goods being taken against our will. But then we’d all be anarchists so in theory there’d be no problem.

    So what you’re saying, then, is that a sleeping person has an unactualised potential for consciousness?

    The unactualized potential argument for a developing human in the womb has some merit and I think it’s compelling up to a point. Where it breaks down for me is extending that to human germ cells — they have unactualized potential to create a conscious human being.

    Either our concepts refer to something external to us or they don’t.

    If those are my only two choices, I say that they don’t. Does the number 4 exist concretely? Can you touch it? Did God create the number 4, or does it something which exists externally even to Him?

    If they don’t, then in what meaningful sense do they exist?

    I think you’ve answered your own question with the use of the word “meaning”.

  63. The original Mr. X

    October 22, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    “The unactualized potential argument for a developing human in the womb has some merit and I think it’s compelling up to a point. Where it breaks down for me is extending that to human germ cells — they have unactualized potential to create a conscious human being.”

    I’m sorry, I don’t quite see what you’re getting at here. I’m afraid you’ll have to explain the analogy a bit for me.

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