Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

Keller, discussing William Kingdon Clifford’s famous essay “The Ethics of Belief”, espousing exclusive rationality:

[F]ew of our convictions about truth can be proven scientifically. While we may be able to demonstrably prove to any rational person that substance X will boil at temperature Y at elevation Z, we cannot so prove what we believe about justice and human rights, or that people are all equal in dignity and worth, or what we think is good and evil human behavior. If we used the same standard of evidence on our other beliefs that many secular people use to reject belief in God, no one would be able to justify much of anything. The only things that would be “ethical” to believe in would be things that could be proven in a laboratory. Philosopher Peter van Inwagen points out that the Clifford essay is often assigned in religion classes today but never in classes on epistemology (which addresses how we know what we know). That is because, Van Inwagen says, there are almost no teachers of philosophy in the West who believe in Clifford’s view of reason anymore.

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical 

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(The following passage from C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man stands well on its own, but if you want a sobering application of it to the current US presidential campaign, read this piece by Alan Jacobs)

St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful. In theRepublic, the well-nurtured youth is one ‘who would see most clearly whatever was amiss in ill-made works of man or ill-grown works of nature, and with a just distaste would blame and hate the ugly even from his earliest years and would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so that he becomes a man of gentle heart. All this before he is of an age to reason; so that when Reason at length comes to him, then, bred as he has been, he will hold out his hands in welcome and recognize her because of the affinity he bears to her.’

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Ethics lesson gone wrong

It’s probably not a good idea to try ethical thought experiments with pre-kindergarten kids, but this kid gives a frank if unexpected answer to the famous ethics train problem.

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If a pregnant woman demands that a physician give her medication known to cause birth defects, is he required to provide it? Or suppose that same woman wants to continue her Accutane therapy for acne. Accutane is highly toxic to developing human fetuses, and the U.S. government actually insists that a woman of childbearing age use two forms of contraception if she is sexually active prior to using the medication. Indeed, before she fills the prescription, she must verify the type of contraception she is using. Yet no one questions this as an assault on her bodily autonomy.

“In each of the above examples,” writes Poupard, “the mother is seeking a medication that does not harm her, has a beneficial effect that she desires, and yet she has no recognized right to be given them” based on her alleged right to bodily autonomy. “The only reason these medications are denied to the pregnant mother who may be seeking them is the effect on her fetus.” Thus, while the mother’s claim to bodily autonomy is important, it is not absolute and does not supersede her obligation to the child.

— Klusendorf, Scott, The Case for Life

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[I]f men can’t speak on abortion, Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case legalizing abortion, was bad law. After all, nine men decided it. Abortion-choice advocates should also call for the dismissal of all male lawyers working for Planned Parenthood and the ACLU on abortion-related issues. Since abortion advocates are unwilling to do this, we can restate their argument as follows: “No man can speak on abortion unless he agrees with us.”

— Klusendorf, Scott, The Case for Life

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Am I responsible?

Suppose I’m an animal rights activist opposed to the sale of fur. If a deranged environmentalist firebombs a local clothing store, am I responsible?

Dr. Martin Luther King… used strong language to condemn the evil of racism during the 1960s. In response to his peaceful but confrontational tactics, racists unjustly blamed him for the violent unrest that sometimes followed his public demonstrations. Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago argued that if Dr. King would stop exposing racial injustice, black people would be less likely to riot. The mayor’s remarks, like those of Ms. Wilson, were an outrage. Are we to believe that a handful of rioters made Dr. King’s crusade for civil rights entirely unjust? In his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” King rebuts this dishonest attempt to change the subject:

In your statement you asserted that our actions, though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. . . . [I]t is immoral to urge an individual to withdraw his efforts to gain . . . basic constitutional rights because the quest precipitates violence. . . . Non-violent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such a creative tension that a community . . . is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to dramatize the issue so it can be no longer ignored.

— Scott Klusendorf, The Case for Life

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One of the most common responses to a critique of relativism is, “Whose values are right?”

In our experience, this may sound like a valid refutation of morality, but it’s not. Rather it’s a sophisticated dismissal of the issue. The inference is that since true absolutes may be difficult to distinguish, absolutes don’t exist.

This mixes two distinct questions about absolutes: the ontological question—Do moral absolutes exist?—and the epistemological question—How do we know what they are? These categories should be kept separate, however. Constructing a full classification of moral rules to live by is difficult, but foundational principles are obvious and only one is needed to prove the case against moral relativism.

Louis Pojman poses the question, “So who’s to judge what’s right or wrong?” and answers, “We are. We are to do so on the basis of the best reasoning we can bring forth and with sympathy and understanding.” He adds: “We can reason and perform thought experiments in order to make a case for one system over another. We may not be able to know with certainty that our moral beliefs are closer to the truth than those of another culture or those of others within our own culture, but we may be justified in believing that they are. If we can be closer to the truth regarding factual or scientific matters, why can’t we be closer to the truth on moral matter?”

— Beckwith, Francis J.; Koukl, Gregory, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air 

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