Philosophy: December 2004 Archives

As part of his ongoing series on Charles Dickens and Christmas, Mark Roberts has an excellent post on why we should celebrate New Years despite the suffering in parts of Asia. His arguments are fairly straightforward. As I see it, there are two arguments along these lines. One is that it's wrong to celebrate when people are suffering (or perhaps when you're aware of suffering). The other is that it's wrong to use your resources for your own benefit when others who are suffering could benefit from them in more basic ways. Mark spends most of his time on the first argument, but I've seen the other argument offered a lot in the last few days. Both arguments ignore some extremely important things, though there's at least something to both of them.

At Prosthesis: If there's no Santa Claus, we seem presented with two options. Either the universe assembled all the presents everyone wanted by random chance, or one intelligent mind is behind it all.

If we realize the fallacy involved here, then we know the most reasonable view is that many intelligent designers who coordinate their efforts are responsible for this, and not one of them has any superhuman or magical methods in achieving the goal. If we then apply the same response to ID arguments about human life on earth, we'll conclude that a whole slew of intelligent minds were involved in creating life on earth. The alien origins story will then seem much more plausible. Maybe that was the point, since Prosthesis' post started off with The X-Files. It may not have been Prosthesis' point, but it might have been the point of the team of intelligent designers behind Prosthesis' actions.

For those who are interested in ethical theory but don't regularly read OrangePhilosophy, I've posted my thoughts on act-based vs. rule-based ethical theories. My conclusion is that the distinction doesn't help with what it's supposed to help with.

In my Ignorance and Democracy post and in Pseudo-Polymath's responses here and here, it's come to my attention that I need to make clear my views on rights and responsibilities and how they relate to God. Most of this comes right out of the comments on Pseudo-Polymath's second post. He's been saying that because I have a responsibility to raise my children well I must therefore have a right to raise them in the way I choose. I initially responded that I don't have a right to raise them however I want, because I have an obligation to do it well. He seems to have clarified his position to say that he doesn't have a right to raise them however he wants, but he has a right to raise them in a godly way. I'm not quite sure if this is what he means, but that's what he seems to me to be saying. My response is just that it sounds funny to say that I have a right to love my neighbor or to pay my debts. I have a responsibility and obligation to do those things. A right is usually something I'm owed by others, derived from my own status and not theirs.

I think many people see rights as fundamental and responsibilities as derivative. I have a right to life, and therefore the government has a responsibility to protect me. I think the biblical view is the reverse, at least with many things we in the United States will end up calling rights. I think I have philosophical reasons for this, too, but I don't have the time today with all the grading I have to finish by Monday to give those reasons. I more just want to state what my view is to make sure we're not talking past each other.

Ethics of Torture

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A while back, Joe Carter wrote about the vile practice of hazing, i.e. torturing one's own soldiers for the sake of combat readiness. One thing he wants to say is that this doesn't just violate principles deontological ethicists will emphasize (though it does). It also goes against a very different strain of ethical thought, virtue ethics. For those unfamiliar with ethical theory (or lack thereof, in the case of the latter view), deontological views focus on duty, moral obligation, and commands, which sounds very military. Virtue ethics focuses not so much on the action to be done and the obligation to do it but on the character of the person and the character traits worthy of developing as part of what a good person should be like. Joe says this sort of thing is a good example of what sorts of character traits a military formed on the basis of concerns of justice should not seek to inclulcate in their recruits, since it shapes their character negatively by providing bad role models from the outset. I agree. This set me off toward thinking about a number of other issues related to torture and ethical theory.

What Joe didn't say that I think should be added is that torture of any sort might have similar features, and officers and NCOs ordering torture may well fall short in the same sort of way, not by condoning it through modeling it but by explicitly telling someone to do it. Which is worse? Living it so others may see it and do likewise, or actually telling someone to do it (in a military context in which orders are to be followed)? I wonder if some of the commenters were suggesting this. Unfortunately, almost all the commenters who mentioned torture in general made some fallacious step in moral reasoning or simply weren't addressing the question at hand.

Antony Flew Update

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The former atheist philosopher who has lost his atheism is now talking about it. ABC news has covered it, and you can see it from the horse's mouth here in an interview in a forthcoming issue of Philosophia Christi. I haven't read it yet. I'm waiting for my hard copy to come in the mail, and I haven't had the time to do much online reading, which is good because I still have a long list of things to blog about, some from well over a week ago.

Joe Carter and Donald Sensing have been discussing this also, along with many others. I mention these two because they're higher profile and because both had commenters citing this 2001 quote from him as if it shows this all to be bunk. I'm not sure how a 2001 quote from him that he's still an atheist shows that his own words in 2004 that he isn't to be bunk.

Update: There's more at GetReligion as well.

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