The Case for Life – Part II

THE VALUE OF LIFE
Personhood

Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft
writes:

[T]he essential pro-life argument is as follows. The major premise is: “Thou shalt not kill”—i.e., all deliberate killing of innocent human beings is forbidden. The minor premise is that abortion is the deliberate killing of innocent human beings. The conclusion is that abortion is wrong.

There are two significantly different pro-choice answers to this argument. The more radical, or “hard” pro-choice position denies the major premise; the less radical, or “soft” pro-choice position denies the minor. “Hard pro-choice” denies the sanctity or inviolability of all humans; “soft pro-choice” denies the humanity of the fetus.

Part I was in response to “soft pro-choicers.” The following is intended for “hard pro-choicers.”

Incredibly, we
are told that being alive is insufficient to justify protecting unborn humans from deliberate killing, because personhood develops by degrees. Their theory says the unborn are partial humans at different stages of development, so their moral worth increases gradually. This is also described as weighing two conflicting sets of interests, or claims to rights.

There are glaring problems with this theory, however. The ideas of which gradations of development merit what treatment & protection proposed by pro-choicers always have an unmistakable quality of arbitrariness to them. As Kreeft writes, “It looks very suspiciously like the category [of human non-persons] was invented to justify the killing, for its only members are the humans we happen to be now killing and want to keep killing and want to justify killing.” The various qualities preborn humans lack, supposedly making them less worthy of protection, all fluctuate not only in the womb, but well after our births as well. For example:

Consciousness: We are not conscious when we sleep, suffer a severe concussion, or are in a coma. Do we cease to be persons under these conditions?

Pain: Anesthesia and painkilling drugs take away our capacity to feel pain temporarily, as do severe injuries to our nervous system. Is killing us more permissible if our murders will be painless?

Viability: Just as all of us required natural life support—umbilical cords to nourish us and wombs to protect us—in our earliest stages of growth, many need artificial life support—pacemakers, iron lungs, oxygen tanks, dialysis machines, feeding tubes, etc., to say nothing of various life-saving drugs—in their later stages. Are people who aren’t “viable” without such aid less deserving of protection against homicide?

We would never dream of applying such standards to born children or adults (
well, most of us wouldn’t); why should we take them as persuasive guides to treatment of the preborn? Furthermore, we know that, even after we’re born, we still are not completely developed. Kreeft points out, “If it is more permissible to kill a fetus than to kill an infant because the fetus is less of a person, then it is for exactly the same reason more permissible to kill a seven-year-old, who has not yet developed his reproductive system or many of his educational and communications skills, than to kill a 27-year-old.”

(And again, those who defend abortion this way, if they are intellectually honest, have no choice but to acknowledge that at least some abortions, and many motives for abortion, are indefensible by their own standards, because
all these qualities develop well before birth.)
Women’s Autonomy over “Their Own Bodies”

It is also claimed that, because an unborn baby is inside of and dependent upon a pregnant woman, the mother is the dominant party in the relationship has a basic right to dispose of her child. First, this argument ignores the fact that unborn humans are individual, separate human beings. That they are connected to their mothers does not change this—a fetus’ unique genetic identity is his/her own, not the mother’s; a fetus’ developing bodily systems are his/her own, not the mother’s; etc. To say abortion is about control over “women’s own bodies” is simply a falsehood (a falsehood which Kreeft lightheartedly demonstrated as follows: “if the fetus is a part of the mother, then the parts of the fetus must be parts of the mother. But in that case, every pregnant woman has four eyes and four feet, and half of all pregnant women have penises!”).

Second, why does a fetus remain in his/her mother’s body for nine months? The umbilical cord supplies the fetus with oxygen and nutrients. He/she remains inside Mom’s body for protection from the outside world while developing. The means of delivery may be different, but the needs themselves do not differ from the basic needs of any person: food, air & protection from the elements. Obviously, these differences between pre-birth & post-birth are too small to constitute differences in moral worth.

Third, babies cannot seriously be said to be “imposing” themselves upon their mother because no human being asks to be conceived in the first place. Coming into existence is completely beyond his/her control. Doesn’t the act of creating a new human life come with any obligations to that life? To say it does not carries an unmistakable air of narcissism.

Furthermore, no responsible observer could pass judgment on the proper treatment of human beings without seriously considering the thing which makes all the difference in the world between a worthless collection of molecules and an individual of incalculable worth: the soul. If humans are endowed with souls, then their unique moral worth is tied to them, not to any particular trait or ability. Secular pro-choicers will try again to play the religion-in-politics card, or mock the very idea of considering the soul. The religion angle is addressed in Part I, and the fact that belief in the soul has a long, rich and thoughtful history, combined with its centrality to the issue of human moral worth, demands that we take the possibility seriously. And nobody but the most fanatical atheist could conclude there’s zero chance of the soul’s existence, so basic moral responsibility demands that we err on the side of caution—life—in such a serious matter.

The folly of soft pro-choice is very easy to demonstrate objectively, since it is based on nothing more than ignorance and/or lies. Hard pro-choice is a different animal—it doesn’t claim to accept the same starting premise (that deliberately killing innocent humans is wrong). Unlike pro-lifers, who place moral worth in what something is (a human being), hard pro-choicers place moral worth in what something can do and what qualities it possesses. I must confess that I find their utilitarian philosophy on life so bizarrely alien and incompatible with mine that I can’t even begin to imagine the mind which could adopt such callous & repugnant beliefs. Because of that, I’m somewhat at a loss to dissect it further myself. Fortunately, others have done so far better than I ever could. Everybody with a sincere desire to find the humane, just, and intellectually-honest answer to the issue of abortion really ought to read Peter Kreeft’s two painstaking essays
“Human Personhood Begins at Conception” and “The Apple Argument against Abortion”, as well as Ramesh Ponnuru’s aforementioned book The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life. Also, thanks to G-Man’s spirited challenges, the comments section explores the issue in further depth, too.

Lastly, we’ll return to the matter of doubt. Even if one is ultimately unconvinced by the case & evidence for life, any rational & objective pro-choicer who examines it should at least be able to recognize the possibility, however slight, that pro-lifers are right. So,
as President Ronald Reagan said:

[A]nyone who doesn’t feel sure whether we are talking about a second human life should clearly give life the benefit of the doubt. If you don’t know whether a body is alive or dead, you would never bury it. I think this consideration itself should be enough for all of us to insist on protecting the unborn.
With that in mind, here’s a challenge to all pro-choicers: just how certain are you that you are right and we are wrong? Concerning uncertainty, there are two obvious moral principles. First, while people can take risks for themselves based on personally weighing the evidence & choosing what they feel comfortable with, they are most certainly not entitled to take risks with other people’s possible lives or well-being. Second, the amount of caution & restraint one must exercise is dependent upon the consequences of being wrong. Taking a chance on a brand of TV you’re not familiar with is one thing. Taking a chance on the fate of over a million humans annually is quite another. Consider the following two scenarios:
First, let’s say pro-lifers are ultimately wrong, but win the Culture War.
That means about 1 million additional births annually. Hardships will be attached to each, of course, but most of those new lives will also enrich the future in ways too numerous to mention. In addition, no abortions would mean no dangerous consequences of abortion.
Embryo-involving methods of research have been banned, maybe leading to a delay in medical advancements, but (despite liberal lies) adult stem cell research would still be vigorously supported. Plus, drawing a line in the sand at embryo experimentation would also be likely protect ethical lines which many pro-choicers would agree shouldn’t be crossed, such as giving birth to children for the sole purpose of harvesting their organs.
Second, let’s say pro-choicers are ultimately wrong, but win the Culture War.
That means over 45 million murders have taken place since Roe v. Wade, with society’s blessing, and the death toll will keep rising by a million every year. Every victim is utterly innocent & defenseless.
Every. Last. One.
The physical & psychological side-effects of abortion will continue to plague women. Embryonic stem-cell research may lead to medical breakthroughs, but an addiction to human life will have been created within the scientific world, potentially opening the door to speciously-rationalized horrors we can’t yet fathom.
It’s obvious that the consequences of pro-lifers being wrong are nowhere near as dire as the consequences of pro-choicers being wrong, and it’s clear that pro-life victory is far more likely to make the world a better place. That alone should be enough to determine what the ethically-responsible position is.
These are risks the pro-life community isn’t willing to take. Are you?
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26 thoughts on “The Case for Life – Part II

  1. You’ve done a better job than most at laying down this sort of perspective. Just so you know, I believe that human beings have a right to life – not intrinsic, but very compelling anyway.The first sort of distinction I want to make is to pose the question of ‘what is the difference between an early-stage embryo and somebody who’s died?’ Well, there are some obvious ones… of course, at that point the person isn’t developing anymore, and from your theological perspective the body ceases to matter, but the precise same genetic template remains.The Bible may state when the ‘soul’ leaves a body, but it doesn’t point out when it enters – beside the ‘before I formed you, I knew you’ verse, which is really quite obvious as an all-knowing God who is unrestrained by time would, of course, know everybody before they were born. But if we’re going back to science, upon which our nation’s decisions on the matter should be based, I don’t think ‘potential for development’ is a real criteria for preserving life.So where’s the cutoff point? Technically, something is dead if it does not perform vital organic functions. Medically, when a person is unable to perform those functions without extensive assistance, few people have much of an issue taking them off life support – I’m referring to brain-dead people here too. I think the number who object to euthanasia would be even slighter if another healthy, fully functioning human’s life or well-being were on the line.From what I understand – and I may be mistaken – a fetus is wholly reliant in its vital functions upon its host.I guess the point of what I’m saying is that I’d like to distinguish between a set of genetic human matter, and a human *being.* To me, that distinction is based upon the most defining trait of mankind: values.By values I mean attitudes about states of affairs. A human being is not intrinsically valuable – nothing is. Value is in the eye of the valuer, so to speak. Humans place value on states of affairs, such as that in which they are alive, experiencing pleasure, not-experiencing pain, etc. As long as a human maintains these values (and they do, even when in a coma), it is of moral consequence what we do to them.A fetus does not have these values before the twentieth week of pregnancy, at which time it is able to experience pain. It seems to me that ‘being;’ personhood, is not just genetic makeup (the example of dead people) or the performance of vital functions (which a fetus can’t do on its own), but personhood exists in the values held by something that can think and feel.So which is more valuable, the right to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness? Generally the last requires the second, and the second the first, it’s true, but does that make any more valuable than another? None of those rights are based on intrinsic value – there’s no such thing. Each one is conditional, also. You can void your right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness in one fel swoop by becoming a criminal. What if, by exercising your right to life, you threaten the life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness of another? Seems to me that such a situation voids that right, as well.I guess to sum up this rather long post, when something that places no value on, or cares in the slightest about, life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness imposes itself on something that does, and deprives that human of its right to happiness, freedom or life itself, where’s the real question about what to do?

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  2. I should add that my viewpoints, while far from unique (you’ll be able to trace the source of my sort of perspective to Alonzo Fyfe at http://www.atheistethicist.blogspot.com), are probably quite uncommon among pro-abortionists.Your arguments might be impervious to attack from people with other viewpoints; all I know is that a right to abortion is essential in this country. How people get to that conclusion is irrelevant.

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  3. “[W]hat is the difference between an early-stage embryo and somebody who’s died?”First, the former is, by definition, not dead. My belief is that the possession of actual human life (I don’t hold the “potential” to become life as sacred; indeed, I made a point of stressing that in the beginning of Part I) sufficiently constitutes entitlement to one particular right: the right not to be deliberately killed.Second, I can’t emphasize enough how vital it is to factor the soul into all this, and to me, disqualifying it on religious grounds just doesn’t cut it (I blogged more about church-state separation here: http://coulternation.townhall.com/g/0980e9ae-5e77-427a-874e-9a315f79b9f6. I understand what you’ve said about evolving legal interpretation, but I’ll save that for Part IV).“Medically, when a person is unable to perform those functions without extensive assistance, few people have much of an issue taking them off life support..”The two aren’t parallel situations. Ending life support allows an impending natural death to take place. It’s not the same as interrupting a life which would continue just fine, absent the deliberate act of abortion.“From what I understand – and I may be mistaken – a fetus is wholly reliant in its vital functions upon its host.”The numerous vital functions take shape at different points (details available at the “Human Fetal Development” link under my “Fighting for Life” sidebar), but a fetus depends on his/her mother primarily for nutrients (which we too need from external sources) and blood via umbilical cord, and the protection offered by the mother’s body (needs we still have after birth; they’re just met differently).(An aside: the host/woman’s autonomy issue is a glaring omission on my part, which I intend to add to the body of Part II.)“A human being is not intrinsically valuable – nothing is. Value is in the eye of the valuer, so to speak…there’s no such thing [as intrinsic value].”This is what I was talking about when I wrote of the alien incompatibility between our philosophical starting points. I honestly can’t fathom this statement, and with all due respect, I don’t want to. All I can say would be two points: 1.) If “Value is in the eye of the valuer,” if value is an entirely subjective affair, then why should anybody be able to make judgments on anything? 2.) For what it’s worth, I think it’s important to note that this idea runs contrary to the heritage—nay, the very concept—of our country, the whole point of which has always been that mere man can’t take away our rights because those rights ARE intrinsic, because they come from something higher. We chip away from this conviction at our own peril.“So which is more valuable, the right to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness? Generally the last requires the second, and the second the first, it’s true, but does that make any more valuable than another?”Usually this need not be an either/or matter. Indeed, I would say they’re symbiotic. When they come into conflict and we’re forced to elevate one over another, we consider numerous factors other than their individual merits. In fact, life’s centrality to exercising the other rights is precisely why I call it the First Right. In stressing this one, society affirms the value of all three. “Each one is conditional, also. You can void your right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness in one fel swoop by becoming a criminal. What if, by exercising your right to life, you threaten the life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness of another?”This is where we get into territory that I’ve intended for Part III—how we apply the principles of Parts I & II to public policy. I apologize for the slow pace of updates. Ironically, this week my spare time is largely preoccupied with a pro-life booth at a local fair. Thanks for your patience.

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  4. 1. What makes something alive:I’m not so concerned with the definitions here. I want to know what distinguishes between a living person and something not-living, but composed of human organic matter, in your book. Physically, that is, not spiritually.Furthermore, as I think I pointed out, a verse saying ‘I knew you while you were in the womb’ doesn’t exactly state when the soul is conceived. Are there any other verses which are more specific?2. Euthanasia:I don’t buy your ‘a life that would come to an end naturally’ argument. You stabbing me in the heart “allows an impending natural death to take place” – just on a shorter time scale. Place a man in a maze, at the end of which is a trapdoor into a sealed room that fills with water, and you’ve simply allowed an impending natural death to take place. Removing an unborn fetus from the womb, likewise, is allowing an impending natural death to take place. You’re just pulling the plug on that particular form of life support. I still believe the cases are pretty parallel… do you still disagree?3. Intrinsic value:Let me begin by asking you to describe what intrinsic value would look like. How, also, would we as humans obtain this sort of value? Christians like parading the idea of a ‘higher source,’ but really all you’re talking about is another being… albeit one more powerful, knowledgeable and good.Is is that property from whence we get our value? Is is because we’re ‘given’ it by something more powerful, knowledgeable and good? Because, to be honest, there are plenty of humans out there that match such a description with regards to me.Do we obtain this value because we’re created by something else? If that’s the case, do we obtain a special value when our parents ‘make’ us for a purpose? Furthermore, in the case that palm trees and rodents were also created by the same power, what property gives us intrinsic value, and not them?Ah, it must be the soul! Well if it were, then what properties of the soul make it eligible for intrinsic value? We’re left again with the same questions above.To me, that seems incredibly arbitrary. In fact, if a powerful alien race were to conquer the globe, and were to set up facilities where they determined which sperm would meet which egg, and otherwise control each person’s genetic makeup, would such a race be the source of some ‘intrinsic value’ instead?It makes more sense, I think, to see that value exists in desire fulfillment. A desire is an attitude about a state of affairs, which is to be brought about as an ends or as a means to ends. For example, we place value on money either because it provides a means to ends that we desire, or because we value it as an end itself – which doesn’t give it intrinsic value (existing in the properties of the money) but in the value we place on it as an end-goal.To say that a human has that sort of value (essentially your argument) as equivalent to a sort of currency, is, I guess, odd. To me, a human doesn’t have value as an end or as a means to an end, but each human has values, and those may not arbitrarily be violated. Notice the difference?So in answer to (1), somebody can make judgments because values can be evaluated based on their tendency to be good or bad. We can evaluate other objective entities the same way – a glass is ‘good’ in that it fulfills the desire to fill the glass and quench my thirst. A broken glass is not good.Likewise, a desire (an objective entity) to bring about or avoid a state of affairs can be evaluated as to how well it tends to fulfill other desires. A desire to pursue truth is a good desire, as it fulfills my other desires (for instance, if I know the truth that my water bottle is waterproof, then when I go hiking my desire to drink is more reliably fulfilled).I believe morality concerns discerning which desires tend to fulfill the desires other people have. A desire to be honest, empathetic, patient… such are good desires. Like a broken glass, though, desires to harm, to deceive, to exhibit prejudice… these are bad.In response to (2), you have to remember that value is something akin to worth. What sort of worth exists intrinsically? Wouldn’t it be the case, in your worldview, that you have value because God loves you? Otherwise, you’re implying that some sort of value can be built into an object that makes it the case that everything *must* value it. Even God and Satan must both value you – they have no choice. If we have intrinsic value, would this conversation even be necessary? If value exists in humans intrinsically, then their value is not simply subjective and used as a means to and end for other people. Yet, we know that this is exactly how some people view others. That disproves that humans have intrinsic value, doesn’t it? If humans possess “any quality desirable as a means or as an end in itself,” then everybody must recognize it. They don’t.Anyway, I like what the Founding Fathers said, because whether or not they were right about intrinsic rights, they founded our nation on the idea that humans should be treated as priceless and equal – a view that I completely support, regardless of what brings you to that conclusion.Well, thank you for your responses so far. Don’t feel that I’m pressuring you to write faster – quality, not quantity!However, I’d be interested in your thoughts on my final question from the previous post:“…when something that places no value on, nor cares in the slightest about, life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness imposes itself on something that does, and deprives that human of its right to happiness, freedom or life itself, where’s the real question about what to do?”

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  5. “…what distinguishes between a living person and something not-living, but composed of human organic matter….” Whether or not growth or development is occurring. Whether or not the person is brain-dead. Whether or not something has the inherent capacity for morality (the capacity itself matters to me, not simply the inability or unwillingness to exercise that capacity).Re: Bible verses on the soul—the original verse actually says we’re known “before” we’re formed in the womb, not “while”—a pretty strong indication that our soul is right there from our physical beginning onward, and is not tied to any one ability or trait. Re: removing life support—I do think the (MUCH) shorter time scale makes the cases somewhat different (and I’m surprised you don’t, since you’ve been arguing the degrees side of the issue), and I’ll go into more detail on what cases in which life support can be removed in Part III (eventually!); meanwhile I think this will make my position clearer: I see a significant ethical difference between ending a life because no more can be done for the patient, and ending a life because it interferes with our self-interest in some way.Re: intrinsic value—you answered your question for me by mentioning the soul, but before I get to that, I have to take issue with your characterization of God. The concept is not simply that He’s got “more” of our good qualities; it’s that in Him, those qualities are infallible. “Another being” which is simply “more” knowledgeable and good than we are can still be wrong; an infallible one can’t.”…what properties of the soul make it eligible for intrinsic value?” Simple: our soul blesses us with the ability to feel love, duty, joy, sorrow, remorse, empathy, commitment; to go beyond instinct and into imagination. To me, these uniquely-human* gifts suggest that the soul is something very special indeed, and deserves enormous respect, as well as caution & restraint when the prospect of meddling with it arises.*Yes, I’m aware of scientific reports observing similar traits in animals, to which I have two thoughts: 1.) all these seem to be mere shadows of what mankind has, and 2.) I can certainly see those reports leading somebody to advocate less killing (incidentally, a pro-life activist I recently met told me there’s actually a fair amount of overlap between the pro-life and animal-rights communities), but it’s beyond me to understand why they would be employed in favor of more killing. ”To me, that seems incredibly arbitrary.” As does increasing/decreasing one’s personhood on the basis of how many traits they have to me. “…if a powerful alien race were to conquer the globe, and were to set up facilities where they determined which sperm would meet which egg, and otherwise control each person’s genetic makeup, would such a race be the source of some ‘intrinsic value’ instead?”Not at all. Such aliens would be tinkering with what has already been created. The scenario isn’t remotely comparable to divine creation. Plus, the aliens aren’t the ones imbuing their resulting humans with any morals or values. Those are a result of the already-existing ingredients (sperm & egg) which make a human.Sorry, but I honestly don’t see how my argument amounts (no pun intended) to currency. Perhaps my above comments cast it in a different light?“…a human doesn’t have value as an end or as a means to an end, but each human has values, and those may not arbitrarily be violated.” So if our worth is tied to the values we have, does somebody who lacks most of the values we would consider noble, but does not act destructively upon that lack, have less moral worth, and is he therefore entitled to fewer rights? What about someone who doesn’t even value his own life? The odds of him taking his own life are pretty good, but may we take it from him?”What sort of worth exists intrinsically?” The “uniquely-human gifts” from the soul I mentioned above.“Wouldn’t it be the case, in your worldview, that you have value because God loves you?” That’s one reason. Another is that, as a human, I’ve been blessed with those aforementioned gifts. ”Otherwise, you’re implying that some sort of value can be built into an object that makes it the case that everything *must* value it.” I don’t expect everyone to personally value the sanctity of all life, but considering what’s at stake—life and death—I’d like to see them at least respect it. Nobody is obligated to value the freedoms we guarantee in the Bill of Rights, but we all have to respect them.That not everybody recognizes intrinsic value disproves its existence? Only to the extent that our inability to recognize a whole range of things—say, me not recognizing your position, or me not grasping quantum physics—disproves them (I know scientific concepts are in a different category than moral values, and can’t be proved similarly. That’s not my point. My point is premises should be proved/disproved based on criteria other than the fact that humans, who are certainly fallible, fail to recognize or accept them).”…the idea that humans should be treated as priceless and equal – a view that I completely support…” Amen! But this is exactly my point—the idea of a general right to kill certain groups of humans treats them as neither priceless nor equal. The other conclusion I draw from their conclusion is that moral worth isn’t for us to decide at all—that we should only tread this perilous ground in relatively-rare circumstances when we have no alternative, and even then with as much restraint as possible. That’s a slope we’ve slipped much too far down, in my view (For the record, there can be cases for life-taking in certain circumstances that I would concede are ethically defensible, but in making them I don’t see any need to base them on the idea that the person being killed is less than a full person).“…when something that places no value on, nor cares in the slightest about, life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness imposes itself on something that does, and deprives that human of its right to happiness, freedom or life itself, where’s the real question about what to do?”First, I have to go back to my sleep/coma analogy. Except for when we dream, our desires, values and thoughts are effectively nonexistent during our unconscious time. What’s the difference? Early in development the means to experience consciousness may not be there, but the effect is the same, and we are there. If 19-year-old Calvin were aware of his surroundings while unconscious, he certainly would place value on, and care a great deal about, his life liberty & pursuit of happiness. The same holds true for fetal Calvin.Second, I object to characterization of a baby as “imposing” him/herself upon his/her mother. Most pregnancies, even if unintentional, are the result of action which the participants know full well might create a child, and NO baby asks to be conceived in the first place. No baby is responsible for the hardships of pregnancy—the sexual participants are, and even in cases of rape/incest, the culpability lies with the attacker, not the child.Nor is a baby some sort of unnatural, foreign entity. He/she is a natural result of essential human activity, using the biological mechanics of pregnancy for their natural purpose.

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  6. Let’s see if I can keep this concise at all… <>Life <>Ok… whether or not growth or development is occurring is an interesting criteria for life, especially as the hair and fingernails continue to grow after death, last time I checked. Other than that, I’m not sure if you can say that an elderly person nearing the end of his/her life is actually developing…Brain function is not seen in fetuses until quite a ways into the pregnancy, if I’m not mistaken.What exactly is the ‘inherent capacity for morality?’ <>Euthanasia etc <> I look forward to seeing what a shorter time scale does to an argument about allowing a natural life to come to an end in Part III. If you would, though, please clarify what sort of ‘degrees’ side of the issue you claim I’ve been arguing.“I see a significant ethical difference between ending a life because no more can be done for the patient, and ending a life because it interferes with our self-interest in some way.”_Well, that just brings up the issue of values again, which I’ll get back to later. The value involved in ending a life is only relevant, I hold, because the person whose life is being ended actually valued life. An unborn fetus does not. <>Intrinsic value <>Hmm… so if a human is unable to feel any one of the experiences of love, duty, joy, sorrow, remorse, empathy or commitment, it is of less value?Besides, does that make the soul intrinsically valuable (for its own properties)? Or do those attributes makes a soul valuable because of what it ‘blesses’ people with?—– <>Value as a concept <>We should probably discuss the idea of value more. Value is something akin to worth. If you have a photo album of that summer family trip, or those memories of hanging out with friends, they have value to you. It’s not intrinsic value – the memories and photos only have worth insofar as they fulfill your desire to relish those memories or whatever.Now imagine intrinsic value. You’re imagining something which has that sort of value by merit of its very properties. Even if nothing else exists – nothing at all – it still has worth. It’s like your photo album is something which everybody views just as you do.That’s not how human beings are seen. You said yourself, “I don’t expect everyone to personally value the sanctity of all life,” but personal value is the sort of thing you attach to that photo album. Intrinsic value means that something has value, so no mentally sound person can deny it. If the album had intrinsic worth, everyone would view it as having the same value <>you<> see it having. Not everybody views human souls like that – I see the idea of intrinsic value as a ridiculous concept. It’s not even something that makes sense, and we have no evidence for believing such a thing exists.“Nobody is obligated to value the freedoms we guarantee in the Bill of Rights, but we all have to respect them.”_Well they’re not exactly intrinsic rights, are they.You said that our inability to recognize intrinsic value disproves its existence no more than out inability to grasp quantum physics disproves its truth. The big missing idea which you alluded to is that <>value is something which depends on our recognition of it<>. Would you value that photo album if you didn’t know you valued it? I doubt it. That places it in such a vastly different category that the comparison doesn’t even merit further conversation.“So if our worth is tied to the values we have…”_I may not have made this clear, but I don’t believe we have worth – in the sense that the photo album has worth. Worth is just wrapped up in arbitrary concepts which I see no justification for. Think of the Biblical treatment of women. Verses seem to indicate that rape was impermissible in Hebrew culture because women were seen as having worth in their value as a possession which could be traded away for a boon – so if a man raped a woman, he had to pay her father some pieces of silver.So don’t take me wrong when I say that I don’t believe humans to have any such ‘worth.’ I still believe that humans value states of affairs, and that we cannot ethically violate them without strong justification.<>Rights<>“Does somebody who lacks most of the values we would consider noble… have less moral worth, and is he therefore entitled to fewer rights?”_Again, a person’s ‘worth’ doesn’t mandate how we treat them. Rights refer to the ability a person has to act without deserving physical re-action (including legislation) imposed upon him. Our freedom to speech, then, means that we are ethically able to express ourselves without deserving physical re-action (unless, again, strong justification presents itself – such as incitement to violence).Whether or not a person has values is irrelevant to whether or not he has rights.“What about someone who doesn’t even value his own life? May we take it from him?”_First of all, it’s important to recognize that people who feel that way are occasionally (if not often) not mentally stable. If, however, we can be presented with a person who demonstrates that he actually doesn’t value life and wants to die, then we can take that life – physician assisted suicide is a case in point. I actually asked that question myself when I first started getting into this value theory 🙂“Except for when we dream, our desires, values and thoughts are effectively nonexistent during our unconscious time.”_This is an excellent question, and bravo for thinking of it. It gave me something to mull over for a couple of days.Here’s a very simple idea: we don’t actively think about what we desire at all times. For instance, I’m not consciously thinking as I write this that I desire the state of affairs where “I am in pain” is not true – but I still possess that value.A person who is asleep has the same values she does while awake. She just doesn’t actively think of them. An unborn fetus <>has no values and has never had any<>. Is that a sufficient difference to answer your question?…It’s still a very good question.

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  7. I’m going to split this up into two responses. First, some replies to a few points of interest: “…hair and fingernails continue to grow after death…I’m not sure if you can say that an elderly person nearing the end of his/her life is actually developing…” My point was that the final, irreversible cessation of these things is the central point at which can be certain we are dealing with a corpse and not with a person.”Brain function is not seen in fetuses until quite a ways into the pregnancy, if I’m not mistaken.” Actually, you are—brainwaves can be measured at the 9th week after conception.http://baby2see.com/development/week9.htmlThe “inherent capacity for morality” means that you can know & practice morality because you are a human. If you were any other species, you couldn’t. That’s why I think the special-ness lies with the state of belonging to the human race.“…please clarify what sort of ‘degrees’ side of the issue you claim I’ve been arguing.” The idea that human value is not all-or-nothing (my philosophy) but that different things—brain activity, pain, desires—add up gradually to make something we should respect (granting partial personhood at partial development), which I explained in the body. I first read your argument as basically endorsing that view. Do these things still factor in, or are human desires the only and/or dominant aspect to it?”…if a human is unable to feel any one of the experiences of love, duty, joy, sorrow, remorse, empathy or commitment, it is of less value?” That’s not what I’m trying to get at here. These things are noteworthy because they’re signs that suggest we are unique, that there is something more to us than the sum of our physical parts—in short, that we have souls.And what is a soul, exactly? Is it a central ingredient within man (a bit of God, or “spark of the divine,” as they say) that enables reason, emotion, morality & imagination, (thus differentiating Homo sapien from every other organism on Earth in an enormous way)? Or is the soul alone man’s true form, and is the physical human being merely a shell we occupy? Since it’s an intangible entity, we won’t be sure of its true nature during our time on Earth, but either way, it’s a big deal.Speaking of ridiculous concepts, this idea that intrinsic value cannot be real because there’s not universal recognition of it is the single most bizarre thing I’ve heard in recent memory (to say nothing of the “vastly different categor[ies]” between photo albums—inanimate objects—and people). I assume you’d agree that the human race is quite the fallible bunch, so why should it make any difference whether or not people fail to recognize it? This idea seems totally baseless to me.”I don’t believe we have worth…” I’m using “worth” interchangeably with “the respect owed to something” and/or “the obligation not to violate somebody’s rights.” Rereading the line as: “So if our right not to be killed is tied to the values we have…” should clarify things.My next response (which isn’t done yet) will focus on two larger themes I want to elaborate on…stay tuned.

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  8. Now for those two broader themes:1.) Problems with the Desire EthicI have some thoughts about this desire ethic you’ve put forth, which I’ve developed after reading the elaboration of it here: https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=271584555902655315&postID=6418791570692608811&isPopup=trueAnd here:http://www.alonzofyfe.com/article_du.shtml For the most part, it works as a practical guide to moral behavior…but its logic only seems to be internal. In other words, it offers a generally smooth ride once aboard, but I can’t find any reason why I should board in the first place. You hold “tendencies to fulfill [good] desires” as good, but in your explanation I can’t find a starting point—a reason why I should care whether or not anyone’s desires but my own are fulfilled anyway. I don’t see why I should value the fulfillment of another’s desires—“value is in the eye of the valuer,” after all—so what happens when the valuer doesn’t, well…value?You can say “I don’t want pain,” “molestation hurts kids,” and such ‘till you’re blue in the face…but every single one of those can be answered with “So what? Why should I care?” And I can’t find a core answer to that anywhere in your desire ethic, aside from “Because it is” and “Because those are the rules” (or, to use a direct quote: “Says this theory.”). If you can show me where I’ve missed it, be my guest.Now, if my only goal was finding something that would keep society relatively orderly, then you’re case is at least stronger, if still lacking. But that isn’t my only goal. My other goal is truth. It’s not enough for me to know it has a generally productive effect; I need to know if there’s real meaning behind it, and is therefore morally right. I need to know whether or not human desires matter, and why they matter.If we expand our scope beyond desire utilitarianism, we can find a starting point: empathy, our basic tendency to reflect upon our own conditions, put ourselves in another’s shoes, and wish that our good conditions extend to others. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”Granted, it’s true that empathy is instinctive and emotional, rather than logical. But that actually strengthens my belief that reason, though necessary, cannot alone lead us to morality. This is a point Dennis Prager expounded upon in Part 3 of a 20+ series of columns on the case for Judeo-Christian values, available here:http://www.townhall.com/columnists/DennisPrager/2005 It is also true that empathy can be that entry point for desire utilitarianism, as well as Judeo-Christian values. And here we come to perhaps the biggest test between the two. That truth, that underlying meaning I’m searching for can either be the soul, or it can be firing neurons. The former would reinforce my conviction that empathy is valid and binding; the latter would indicate to me that my empathy is either a mere societal construct or a psychological quirk no more binding than the average phobia, which I might as well cast off for my own benefit. It’s preposterous to think I should care in the slightest about firing neurons that don’t affect me. Doing so would, more often than not, “have a tendency to thwart my desires,” after all.By contrast, the former’s power is that it elevates humans beyond atomic interaction, chemical reactions, cellular divisions, and biological functions that, when all is said & done, aren’t all that different than the rest of the lesser organisms and even inanimate objects that fill the universe, and make the duty to love thy neighbor as thyself non-negotiable—not subject to the petty greed, fickle desires, or enormous rationalization humanity is so often capable of.And that’s why I find secular ethics such as desire utilitarianism so very lacking. It has nothing to do with an apprehension to new ideas, feeling threatened, or anything of the sort.2.) The Problem of Uncertainty”…we don’t actively think about what we desire at all times…A person who is asleep has the same values she does while awake. She just doesn’t actively think of them.” I agree with this 100%. But naturally, I part company here: “An unborn fetus has no values and has never had any.”To this I have a question which may seem odd, but think about it: How do you know? How do you know we don’t have some basic human desires—to live, to love, to grow, to experience the world around us—hard-wired into us from the beginning, but they’re lying dormant, waiting for the physical faculties necessary to be aware of and fulfill those desires to develop?From this I want to return to an idea I mentioned twice in the body, and hasn’t come up since: ambiguity. Just how certain are you that desire utilitarianism is right and Judeo-Christianity is wrong? Atheists always insist they’ve no obligation to prove God doesn’t exist (since they aren’t the ones positing an affirmative)—an admission of at least some uncertainty about these matters.Concerning uncertainty, there are two obvious moral principles. First, while people can take risks for themselves based on personally weighing the evidence & choosing what they feel comfortable with, they are most certainly NOT entitled to take risks with other people’s possible lives or well-being.Second, the amount of caution & restraint one must exercise is dependent upon the consequences of being wrong. Taking a chance on a brand of TV you’re not familiar with is one thing. Taking a chance on the fate of over a million unborn humans annually is quite another.Consider these two scenarios:First, let’s say pro-lifers are ultimately wrong, but win the Culture War. That means about 1 million additional births annually. Hardships will be attached to each, of course, but it’s also likely that most of those new lives will enrich the future in ways too numerous to mention. Embryo-involving methods of research have been banned, maybe leading to a delay in medical advancements, but (despite Sam Harris’ lies) adult stem cell research would still be vigorously supported. Plus, drawing a line in the sand at embryo experimentation would also probably protect ethical lines which the secular would agree shouldn’t be crossed.Second, let’s say pro-choicers are ultimately wrong, but win the Culture War. That means over 45 million murders have taken place since Roe v. Wade, with society’s blessing, and the body count will keep rising by a million every year. Every victim is utterly innocent & defenseless.Every. Last. One.Embryonic stem-cell research may lead to medical breakthroughs, but an addiction to human life has been created within the scientific world, potentially opening the door to speciously-rationalized horrors we can’t yet fathom.It’s indisputable that the consequences of pro-lifers being wrong are nowhere near as dire as the consequences of pro-choicers being wrong. That alone should be enough to make it crystal-clear what the ethically-responsible position is.These are risks I’m not willing to take. Are you?

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  9. “I don’t see why I should value the fulfillment of another’s desires—“value is in the eye of the valuer,” after all—so what happens when the valuer doesn’t, well…value?”This same question could be asked of any moral theory. Why, for example should I care what God thinks?A non-caring person can reject any moral system.I can think of no better definition of harm than “thwarting desires.” If you do not care about thwarting the desires of others, then you do not care about harming others. The fact that you cannot be convinced to care is not the fault nor a valid criticism of desire utilitarianism.

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  10. You are correct that a non-caring person can reject any moral system. Thing is, though, in the secular ones there’s no objective basis to call such people “wrong.”Destructive, yes. Counter-productive, yes. Contrary to desire utilitarianism, yes.But not wrong. In a secular world, wrong is reduced to the status of a subjective & emotional concept.On the other hand, if there really is a God who reigns supreme, then moral decisions are objectively right or wrong.

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  11. Calvin —The fact that one is inflicting harm (thwarting desires) is reason enough to deem it wrong and take action against it or to impose rulses against harmful behavior. This has the advantage of being tied directly to cause and effect. These actions cause these harms (or have to potential to), so we (society) will deem them wrong.I’m not arguing that every action that inflicts harm is bad — it’s a bit more complicated than that. But for now, my point is that it makes sense to judge the rightness or wrongness of behavior upon the effects (or potential effects) that it has.I fail to see how the existance of a supreme God makes his decrees objectively right. I for one would not automatically accept God’s ideas of right or wrong unless they were in fact based upon such cause and effect considerations.

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  12. Enough for you & me to deem it wrong. Enough for society to deem it wrong. But do you you hold “wrong” to be an objective truth that is so regardless of what others say? And if so, what is your logical basis for doing so?Furthermore, let’s say we do accept that the term “wrong” applies to certain conduct. The question remains: “Fine, then I’m wrong. But if it works for me, why not do the ‘wrong’ thing to the extent that I can get away with it?”If the Judeo-Christian God is real, then of course His judgment is objectively right, because His nature is not simply “good” or “better,” but “infallible.”

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  13. Calvin —“But do you you hold “wrong” to be an objective truth that is so regardless of what others say?”The existence of desires, that they can be thwarted, and that this is harmful are all objective truths. That causing harm is bad is axiomaitic. I can’t imagine upon what basis one could ever claim that a thing is wrong if that thing has absolutely no possiblity of ever causing any harm.The above is all plenty good enough to give society reason to intervene with rules, laws, etc. to prevent harms.“Fine, then I’m wrong. But if it works for me, why not do the ‘wrong’ thing to the extent that I can get away with it?”Any individual can think along these lines under any moral system. Again, there will always be immoral people, no matter how we define morality. A better question is “Is there reason for society to deem action X wrong and to take measures to minimize X?”“If the Judeo-Christian God is real, then of course His judgment is objectively right, because His nature is not simply ‘good’ or ‘better,’ but ‘infallible.’ “Sounds to me like you’re trying to get me to buy this:“1. The Judeo-Christian God is morally good and infallible.2. The Judeo-Christian God exists.3. His (moral) judgement is correct.”Well that all sounds fine, but in reality it boils down to nothing. You’ve defined God as good without explaining what good is. If God announces to world tommorow that from now on, all babies born of Tuesdays and Thursdays should be boiled and force-fed to their parents, we apparently have to accept this as morally good because you’re definition gives us no way to really know what good is apart from whatever God’s nature and judgement happens to be.The claim that God is morally infallible doesn’t mean much if “good” is merely God’s nature. It effectively means God perfectly follows his own nature.

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  14. “The existence of desires, that they can be thwarted, and that this is harmful are all objective truths.”But those are nothing more than statements describing that certain things happen. Where is the logical basis for the idea that an obligation to do something about desires/harm follows from observing desires/harm?“That causing harm is bad is axiomatic.” In other words, it’s true because it is. Reaaal logical!”Any individual can think along these lines under any moral system. Again, there will always be immoral people, no matter how we define morality.”Agreed, but you still haven’t answered the question.”You’ve defined God as good without explaining what good is.”Actually, I’ve defined God as being infallible, which means that with His infinite knowledge and flawless judgment, his capacity to determine good dwarfs ours.“If God announces to world tommorow that from now on, all babies born of Tuesdays and Thursdays should be boiled and force-fed to their parents, we apparently have to accept this as morally good because you’re definition gives us no way to really know what good is apart from whatever God’s nature and judgement happens to be.”Where do you get this stuff? From Sham Harris? No offense, but bizarre hypotheticals with no basis in reality are pretty sophomoric. Such a decree would be utterly incompatible with the Judeo-Christian conception of God, so I fail to see the relevance (oh, and in your list of 3 things, I didn’t try to get you to buy #2).“The claim that God is morally infallible doesn’t mean much if ‘good’ is merely God’s nature. It effectively means God perfectly follows his own nature.”Hmm, considering that you take descriptive terms such as “harmful,” “destructive,” & “desire-thwarting” and from them make the leap to calling them “bad,” your sole justification being “that causing harm is bad is axiomatic,” it seems to me you don’t exactly have the standing to raise this particular objection…

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  15. Calvin —Me: “The existence of desires, that they can be thwarted, and that this is harmful are all objective truths.”Calvin: “But those are nothing more than statements describing that certain things happen.”Of course. I’m providing some underlying objective truths. I’m glad to see that you agree that they are true.“Where is the logical basis for the idea that an obligation to do something about desires/harm follows from observing desires/harm?”I grant that I am making an assumption here, and it is that harm is bad, and minimizing harms is good. However, it’s a reasonable assumption, and there is no avoiding making reasonable assumptions. I’d like to hear a defense of the idea that maximizing harms is compatible with being moral, or that one should not consider harm in considering morality. I doubt you’re going to tell me that there are no assumptions made in God-based morality.“Actually, I’ve defined God as being infallible, which means that with His infinite knowledge and flawless judgment, his capacity to determine good dwarfs ours.”This is a very interesting statement. I don’t know if you intend it, but you imply that there is a “good” that is apart from God, but he’s just so smart and knowledgable that he can understand it perfectly. We humans are not smart enough to get it, so we have to rely on God to tell us what is good and what isn’t.Do you intend to say that “good” exists apart from God?“No offense, but bizarre hypotheticals with no basis in reality are pretty sophomoric. Such a decree would be utterly incompatible with the Judeo-Christian conception of God, so I fail to see the relevance”It is not sophomoric to consider hypotheticals, even ones that can’t happen.The example I provided (which I made up on the spot) is a logical implication of the idea that “God is good” — that goodness is determined by whatever God’s nature is.If you reject that God would be so evil as to issue a command that all babies born on Tues. and Thurs. be force fed to their parents, then you are rejecting the notion that God’s nature is the very definition of goodness. You are making a moral evaluation that this would be bad for God to do. But there is no moral evaluating to be done. It can’t be done. The only thing that can be done is to discover what God’s nature is and to call that good — no matter what.That is the very problem with this definition of “good” — it is completely and utterly divorced from cause and effect. It does not matter in the least if God’s decree harms people. That is not a consideration at all. Completely irrelevent. The only thing that matters is that it came from God. Period.You objection that the above decree is incompatible with the Judeo-Christian concept of God is irrelevent and would only prove, assuming God did issue such a decree, that the Judeo-Christian view was mistaken. Under this theory of “good”, there is no way for you to evaluate God’s nature.If you don’t want to accept that God could issue such a decree, then you must accept that “good” is independent of God. Perhaps God happens to be good, but he does not what good is.

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  16. Calvin —Oops, missing word in that last sentence. It should read:“Perhaps God happens to be good, but he does not determine what good is.” A better sentence would have been:“…his nature does not define what good is.”

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  17. “I grant that I am making an assumption here, and it is that harm is bad, and minimizing harms is good…I doubt you’re going to tell me that there are no assumptions made in God-based morality.”I don’t deny that at all—in fact, I’m thrilled to see this admission made.“I’d like to hear a defense of the idea that maximizing harms is compatible with being moral, or that one should not consider harm in considering morality.”Unless we’re both comfortable making assumptions & everyone agrees with those assumptions, this defense wouldn’t need to be made in the first place, since there’s no reason one should accept “moral” as a good or necessary goal, to the extent one can get away with it.”Do you intend to say that ‘good’ exists apart from God?”I intend to say that good and God are symbiotic. The God of Abraham is the author of good and has designed us with an innate receptivity to that good. When one has both an open mind and the real facts, examining either one should lead to the other. Thus, if God truly were to issue a decree like your example, it would have some sort of reason which would lead to the greater good. Since Tuesday/Thursday baby cannibalism is preposterous and arbitrary, it’s safe to assume it would serve no greater good, so He wouldn’t do so.Regardless of which came first, the conclusion would be the same: that God’s conception of good would be superior to man’s. So I want to know the following:Hypothetically, if you knew there was an all-knowing being with intellect & character far beyond any human, someone capable of knowing exactly what unforeseen-by-human consequences would happen from any given action, would you consider His decrees binding?

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  18. Calvin —Thanks for continuing on.<>“I don’t deny that [God-based morality makes assumptions]at all—in fact, I’m thrilled to see this admission made [that I made assumptions].<>Good, good. I’m glad to see this. Assumptions are necessary.Of course, that doesn’t mean that all assumptions are equal — not by a long shot. Some assumptions are utterly unfounded and ridiculous, and some assumptions are so reasonable that only a fool would reject them.Me: <>“I’d like to hear a defense… that one should not consider harm in considering morality.”<>Calvin:“Unless we’re both comfortable making assumptions & everyone agrees with those assumptions, this defense wouldn’t need to be made in the first place, since there’s no reason one should accept ‘moral’ as a good or necessary goal, to the extent one can get away with it.”I maintain that we should agree that consideration of harm is a necessary element of morality, and indeed, that minimizing harms is good while promoting harms is bad. This is an example of a good assumption.Alonzo, at Atheist Ethicist, has a very good definition of harm: thwarting desires.Everyone seeks to fulfill their desires, and seeks to avoid the thwarting of desires.Even an uncaring jerk, if he is also rational, can see that a world in which everyone seeks to promote the desire fulfillment of others is a better world for him to live in than a world where people don’t care about fulfilling the desires of others, or worse, actively seek to thwart them. His own desires are less likely to be fulfilled in the second world.Now he could promote the idea that others should act to fulfill desires, while he secretly disregards doing so when it suits him. But again, if he is rational, he will see that he is not special and enjoys no special right to do this while it is not allowed for others. Now, being a jerk, he may well do so anyway, but he will not be able to provide a rational justification for his actions.<>“The God of Abraham is the author of good…”<> Okay, here you seem to indeed claim that Good = God’s Nature. Good comes directly from God’s nature, and does not exist apart from it. If so, there is no way to ever judge anything God does evil, even the nasty scenario I laid out. But then you say this:<>“if God truly were to issue a decree like your example, it would have some sort of reason which would lead to the greater good. Since Tuesday/Thursday baby cannibalism is preposterous and arbitrary, it’s safe to assume it would serve no greater good, so He wouldn’t do so.”<>Now you’ve introduced some standards of measuring good that God must adhere to in order for us to say that he is good. His actions must not be preposterous. How is that determined? What constitutes a morally preposterous deed? If God did indeed issue the, as you nicely put it, “Tuesday/Thursday baby cannibalism” decree, would you say “hey, that’s morally preposterous”? I hope you would, and if you did you’d be using some standard (which you haven’t explained) apart from Good = God’s Nature. How does this square with “God is the author of good”? As the author, he decides what is good and that’s all there is to it. Whatever he declares to be good is,<> by definition<>, good.God apparently must also not be arbitrary, and his actions must serve a greater good. What can these things possibly mean if Good = God’s Nature? What is “the greater good” and why must God seek it in order to be truly good?<>Hypothetically, if you knew there was an all-knowing being with intellect & character far beyond any human, someone capable of knowing exactly what unforeseen-by-human consequences would happen from any given action, would you consider His decrees binding?<>I will answer this in a moment, but first, are you suggesting that God is this superior being? Notice that your question pretty clearly implies that cause and effect does matter after all. The consequences of our actions matter in determining the morality of our actions. This is my position exactly.Now my answer to your question. As a practical matter, I might indeed consider his decrees binding, but only if I trusted that he always sought to minimize harm. However this still assumes that good does not actually come from this being, only that he can better recognize it than I. Good still has nothing to do with him per se, but with minimizing harms and promoting the fulfillment of desires. The moment this being stopped caring about that is the moment I would declare that his decrees are not binding. And, being such an intelligent being, I would fully expect him to explain <>why and how<> his decrees are in keeping with this standard of good.Thanks again for the discussion. I know you are about to become busy with school.

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  19. Calvin —Sorry to add to my already lengthy reply above.But quickly, to clarify my answer to your question: I would hold this being’s decree to be binding <>contigent<> on his ability to explain them.Note this is different than saying “I’ll believe a math professor’s assertions about some math problem only if he can explain it to me in a way that makes sense.” I don’t believe morality is <>that<> complex. It should be explainable.

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  20. ”Even an uncaring jerk, if he is also rational, can see that a world in which everyone seeks to promote the desire fulfillment of others is a better world for him to live…”True, but this shouldn’t be called morality, since his sole, overriding concern is Numero Uno. I’d call it “benign manipulation.””Now he could promote the idea that others should act to fulfill desires, while he secretly disregards doing so when it suits him. But again, if he is rational, he will see that he is not special and enjoys no special right to do this while it is not allowed for others.”No special right would be needed, since he’s not obligated to assume “rights” are anything more than a societal construct, either.“Now, being a jerk, he may well do so anyway, but he will not be able to provide a rational justification for his actions.”He doesn’t need to. After all, atheists are fond of saying the burden of proof lies only with the side positing an affirmative.”His actions must not be preposterous. How is that determined? What constitutes a morally preposterous deed?”No, I was referring to how INTELLECTUALLY preposterous it would be. I can’t think of a single, even slightly coherent purpose Tuesday/Thursday baby cannibalism might have.If God were to hypothetically demand this of us, I would first make absolutely sure it was indeed God—not some elaborate hoax, not some demonic influence, not me going insane. If I somehow managed to authenticate this, I would then search for some possible good that could come out of it. Since the likelihood of this is virtually zero, I would either have new doubts about this being God, or conclude that this God was not what the Judeo-Christian world knew him to be, at which point life itself would seem to be a joke, since truth the highest truth of life would be a madman who does whatever he pleases, and has been lying to us up ‘till that point. Lastly, if a legitimate greater good could somehow be verified, something that would truly outweigh the horror and could be done no other way, I suppose I would force myself to comply then and only then.However, since the whole scenario is ridiculous, and completely foreign to Judeo-Christianity, I don’t think I’ll be losing sleep over it anytime soon. ”…you’d be using some standard (which you haven’t explained) apart from Good = God’s Nature.” I’d be using the standard implanted in the human conscience. I believe the near-universal ideas of “good” we hold to—kindness, justice, love, hope, respect, character, honesty, etc.—resonate with us because we were designed that way.”How does this square with “God is the author of good”? As the author, he decides what is good and that’s all there is to it. Whatever he declares to be good is, by definition, good.”That’s because you’re forgetting His nature is also reasonable. You may disagree with the Biblical designation of some specific things as good or bad, but whatever else may be said of those judgments, I don’t think many people would consider them random.”…are you suggesting that God is this superior being?”I happen to believe He is, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves; “Is there a superior being?” and “What form does it take?” are two separate questions. “Notice that your question pretty clearly implies that cause and effect does matter after all.”I don’t object to the general cause-effect rationale at all. What I’m challenging is the idea that such a philosophy can be binding & absolute without an authority higher than flawed, fallible man.“However this still assumes that good does not actually come from this being, only that he can better recognize it than I. Good still has nothing to do with him per se, but with minimizing harms and promoting the fulfillment of desires.”I think what I told G-Man about empathy above addresses this:If we expand our scope beyond desire utilitarianism, we can find a logical starting point for morality: empathy, our basic tendency to reflect upon our own conditions, put ourselves in another’s shoes, and wish that our good conditions extend to others. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”Granted, it’s true that empathy is instinctive and emotional, rather than logical. But that actually strengthens my belief that reason, though necessary, cannot alone lead us to morality. This is a point Dennis Prager expounded upon in Part 3 of a 20+ series of columns on the case for Judeo-Christian values, available above.It is also true that empathy can be that entry point for desire utilitarianism, as well as Judeo-Christian values. And here we come to perhaps the biggest test between the two. That truth, that underlying meaning I’m searching for can either be the soul, or it can be firing neurons. The former would reinforce my conviction that empathy is valid and binding; the latter would indicate to me that my empathy is either a mere societal construct or a psychological quirk no more binding than the average phobia, which I might as well cast off for my own benefit. It’s preposterous to think I should care in the slightest about firing neurons that don’t affect me. Doing so would, more often than not, “have a tendency to thwart my desires,” after all.By contrast, the former’s power is that it elevates humans beyond atomic interaction, chemical reactions, cellular divisions, and biological functions that, when all is said & done, aren’t all that different than the rest of the lesser organisms and even inanimate objects that fill the universe, and make the duty to love thy neighbor as thyself non-negotiable—not subject to the petty greed, fickle desires, or enormous rationalization humanity is so often capable of.“I would fully expect him to explain why and how his decrees are in keeping with this standard of good.”No objections here—as Jefferson said, “Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.”

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  21. Calvin —If I’m not mistaken, we agree on much here. I’m sure you’ll tell me if I’m misinterpreting you, but you seem to be saying:1. Cause and effect considerations <>are<> important when considering morality.2. Harm matters. 3. Even God must live up to certain standards to be considered good.If I’ve gotten the above right, then the primary thing we seem to disagree about is that you believe having a soul somehow validates our empathy, while lacking one leaves us with only our physical brains, and that somehow invalidates empathy.I don’t understand the problem with the mind being a product of the physical brain. Would you really call a mother’s love for her children meaningless if you learned that that love originated in her brain? Would it be okay for me to torture children in front of their mothers? Afterall, the empathy and love they have for them would be, according to you, meaningless.In particular, I don’t understand this:“<>It’s preposterous to think I should care in the slightest about firing neurons that don’t affect me.<>“If it is indeed true that the mind is the product of the brain, then firing neurons not only affect you, they <>are<> you. If this were so, would you really call your entire mind — every thought and emotion you’ve ever had — a meaningless psychological quirk?I guess I need a little clarification about what you are claiming. For instance, what is the soul and what does it do? What does the brain do?As you point out, humans are imperfect and subject to greed, phobias etc. If the soul is the source of our minds, then it is the source of these things as well. How is that better than a brain? Or, perhaps you believe the brain is responsible for those negative things, while the soul is the source of our “good” impulses such as love and empathy. Or, is the brain the source of reason, while the soul is the source of emotions? If so, what about negative emotions? Or, is the brain the source of reason and negative emotions, while the soul is the source of positive emotions?Some clarification on these matters would be helpful.Humans have a much greater capacity for reason, abstract thought, and complex emotions than animals. One can observe these things and say that we are in some sense elevated above the animals. But one could make this claim directly from merely comparing humans with other animals. I don’t see that the fact that humans and animals both have brains changes the argument that we are in fact “elevated.” There’s no need to resort to some intangible soul to explain it.Consider the gap in these areas between humans and chimpanzees, then consider the gap between chimpanzees and say, trout. It would appear that humans and chimps are considerably closer in these abilities than are chimps and trout. In fact, chimps compare pretty well to two year old humans (I say a TV program once that showed several experiments with children and chimps. Adult chimps were actually better than two year olds at abstract thought).Yet, you would apparently assert that differences in brains accounts for the wide gap between chimps and trout, yet insist that the relatively smaller gap between humans and chimps cannot possibly be due to differences in brains (unless you believe that chimps have souls too). Nice quote from Jefferson by the way.

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  22. We do agree on all this, though I’d make a slight clarification: “God must live up to certain standards to be considered good,” but we believe this to be so because He gave us those standards.It seems this post is starting to go in circles. I’ll try to clarify things, but if you haven’t seen the detour into this link, I’d like for you to take a look at it:http://thelockeronline.blogspot.com/2007/08/why-be-nice.htmlA couple more clarifications, then I’ll answer your central question:“If it is indeed true that the mind is the product of the brain, then firing neurons not only affect you, they are you.”No, I said I would have no obligation to care about OTHER’s firing neurons. My firing neurons are me; yours aren’t.“would you really call your entire mind — every thought and emotion you’ve ever had — a meaningless psychological quirk?”No, I’m specifically referring to compassion as a “meaningless psychological quirk.”Clarification for the other points can be found throughout my debate with G-Man.OK. My central objection is the same one I’ve been making all along: if we have a spiritual, life-enabling soul, then it was given to us by God. Since we are given our souls and our lives by God and God alone, they are not ours to denigrate or take away from others.My concern here is, what moral system makes people most accountable? If embraced, which idea – Judeo-Christian soul respect or secular desire utilitarianism – would leave somebody with less wiggle room to reject their moral obligations?The answer, I think, is self-evident.

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  23. Calvin —Sorry for the sluggish response. I’m not always able to do this daily.Thanks for pointing me to the G-man debate; I may post there too.“<>OK. My central objection is the same one I’ve been making all along: if we have a spiritual, life-enabling soul, then it was given to us by God. Since we are given our souls and our lives by God and God alone, they are not ours to denigrate or take away from others.<>“1. What is a soul and what does it do? 2. It seems that you are saying “yes, harms matter — but only because we have a soul.”Surely if I could somehow prove beyond all doubt that our brains explain everything and that we have no souls, you would not suddenly stop caring about the suffering of others. Or would you?Harms matter directly because of the pain and suffering they cause. This is not contingent on some deeper understaning of the source of our minds.3. How is it objectively true that if God gave us our souls, we are obligated to respect life? I see not one bit less wiggle room here than under a naturalistic scenario.“I don’t care if you have a soul or merely a brain. It benefits me to kill you, so I will.”

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  24. “What is a soul and what does it do?” Above I wrote: “And what is a soul, exactly? Is it a central ingredient within man (a bit of God, or “spark of the divine,” as they say) that enables reason, emotion, morality & imagination, (thus differentiating Homo sapien from every other organism on Earth in an enormous way)? Or is the soul alone man’s true form, and is the physical human being merely a shell we occupy? Since it’s an intangible entity, we won’t be sure of its true nature during our time on Earth, but either way, it’s a big deal.”For our purposes, the important things are twofold: 1.) that the soul/life/humanity is real & is the same thing regardless of physical condition or development, and 2.) It is valued by a higher power, to which we are accountable.You’re correct that if my beliefs were to change, I “would not suddenly stop caring about the suffering of others,” but that’s because I would presumably be bound by the emotional & psychological cues from my conscience and compassion, not a logical conclusion that I was obligated to do so.“How is it objectively true that if God gave us our souls, we are obligated to respect life?”Because He takes an active interest in us, and has given us the incredible gift of life for a purpose. And God is most certainly not indifferent to the choice between respect and murder.“I see not one bit less wiggle room here than under a naturalistic scenario.”Really? You don’t think the prospect (if true) of One with an infallible ability to judge right & wrong and the absolute power to reward & punish accordingly just miiiight be a tad more concerning than the prospect (if true) of a world without?I find that astounding.

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