Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

A natural consequence of being mentally engaged all the time is, first, that it is easy for us to live with internal conflicts and contradictions with little cognitive dissonance. When confronted with a deficiency in our ethical code, it takes no real effort to ignore it. Imagine, for example, someone who believes that people who rely on government assistance are freeloaders, but then this same person cheats on her taxes in little ways. Her hypocrisy should cause her a pang of guilt, but guilt requires attention in order to grow into reflection and repentance. And the structure of our day and our bodily habits are so oriented toward the next thing that she soon finds herself onto some other concern. We are certainly still capable of reflection and meditation, but our default response to cognitive dissonance is to simply do something else. The rhythms and practices of our modern world militate against reflection. There are so many immediate incentives for going with the flow; meanwhile, the recognition that we are not living up to the moral standards we identify with is costly. It certainly requires time, but it may also require changes to our lifestyle or to our moral standards. When we think of cognitive dissonance as the problem, rather than a symptom of an incoherent belief system, there are a number of effective and less costly ways of fixing things by moving on.

So, a belief in the essential goodness of humanity can live quite comfortably alongside a racist suspicion that certain people are inherently more prone to criminality. We are not interested in sorting through the validity of our convictions. We are about the next thing.

A superficial but constant engagement with media also invites us to unreflectively adopt ethical and political positions, creating a hodgepodge worldview. From a film on the treatment of animals in amusement parks we develop a fleeting concern for animal rights. A documentary on modern farming practices makes us see shopping local and organic as a moral issue. A hashtag campaign draws our attention to the evils of human trafficking, perhaps even while we look at porn on another browser tab. Causes are as easy to pick up as they are to put down. Or, more accurately, we don’t put causes down so much as we forget them. Putting them down would require some intentional meditation on the validity of the cause. Instead, we simply move on to something else. Humans are tremendously gifted at hypocrisy and inconsistency, but a ubiquitous, powerful stream of information and interaction driven by technology enables these gifts to flourish. And that is precisely the problem.

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

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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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