Philosophy: February 2005 Archives

This is my fourth post in a series on the morality of slavery. In my previous post, I began responding to an argument that if slavery admits of the degrees I said it did in my first post then so will murder, rape, and genocide. The argument is intended to undermine my view by showing that it leads to the ridiculous conclusion that murder, rape, and genocide happen all the time and aren't really wrong when they do except in the extreme cases that we usually call murder, rape and genocide. I don't think my argument regarding slavery leads to that conclusion. The previous post simply makes the claim that moral absolutism about these moral categories is not completely uncontroversial to begin with. That doesn't really deal with the question about degrees of being in one of these categories, so I have to take up that question now.

For each of these moral categories, here are the possibilities:

(1) It's not like what I'm saying about slavery and doesn't admit of degrees.
(2) It admits of degrees but not in the same way that I'm saying slavery does.
(3) It is like slavery in its admitting of degrees.

The Morality of Slavery

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I didn't expect my posts on slavery to turn into a real series, but it's turning out to be one, so I figured I'd put together a post collecting the links to all of them in one spot. This post simply summarizes the posts I've written in this series, and I'll be adding to it with each new post.

I wanted to address one argument that I've seen cropping up in a few of the comments on my posts so far in the slavery series and comments at Clayton Littlejohn's first contentless post and then in Clayton's own second post that contained a real argument. That argument is this. If slavery admits of degrees and is thus not intrinsically wrong at the lower extremes, then the same would apply to murder, rape, and genocide. My response to this will take two posts. In this one, I'm arguing for one thesis as a start to looking at my more specific addressing of the claim in question. That one thesis is this. Moral Absolutism About Murder, Rape, and Genocide is at least going to be controversial, once you consider some extreme cases, and in that will it will be similar to torture, another moral category that many people are absolutists about.

The argument against my position is this. If slavery isn't always wrong for the reasons I've given, then that will lead to allowing murder, rape, and genocide as not always wrong. But of course those things are always morally wrong, so my view on slavery must be incorrect. I'm not dealing with the more general question yet in this post. My point here is the basic one that it's not uncontroversial to claim an absolutist view on any of these moral categories, so I'm going to present some reasons some people might think these actions might be ok in certain extreme circumstances.

Questions About Lying

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I'm still working on some replies to comments on the slavery stuff, both here and at other sites. It's going to take more work than I could do in the couple hours since we got back from the city. I don't have much energy for any post today, but I do have some questions that came up as I was preparing for teaching about lying tomorrow night. I'm curious to see what people think about these.

1. Is it lying to say something you believe to be false, to say it in order to deceive, but to be wrong about it. In other words, if you attempt to lie, but the thing you say turns out to be true, was it a lie? Can you lie by saying something that's true but that you mistakenly believe to be false?

2. Are actors lying when they perform. They're deliberately saying false things. Two views seem possible to me. One is that it's not a lie if people would be expected not to believe you. But then the perpetual liar isn't really a liar, right? The other view is that it's a lie but not a morally wrong lie. It's only wrong to lie if the people you're lying to aren't in on the lie, and here they're included in it by knowing it's all a fiction and by consenting to the lies. It's still a fiction, and therefore a lie, but it's a morally legitimate lie. I suspect most people don't like this idea, but it seems quite possible to me.

3. How does consent affect lying? In particular, I'm wondering if hypothetical consent makes a difference. Most people seem to think it's ok to lie to someone to get them to a surprise party while keeping it a surprise. Some will insist that they can do so without stating anything false, and thus it's not technically a lie if you just leave out all the information, but you can deceive someone quite well by stringing together a bunch of truths in the right way, and that seems just as immoral as lying is in cases when lying is unquestionably wrong. So the deceit here, if it's ok, should be ok whether the statements are technically lies or are just deceitful truths. What I'm wondering is why it's ok and if it has something to do with consent. If people would reasonably consent to being lied to in such cases, is that what makes most people think it's ok to lie for such purposes? Is that really a justification of lying in such cases?

This is my second post in dialogue with Back of the Envelope's two posts on slavery and Christianity. The first argued that slavery is a matter of degree from absolute autonomy to being under someone's complete control. No one is ever at either extreme, though some have been closer to the extreme on the higher-slavery end of the spectrum. We're all slaves to one degree or another, to our employers and our government if to no one else. This post is now going to consider what the Bible says about slavery. [update: I've continued in this series enough to collect the links to each post all in one post]

Back of the Envelope has been blogging about Christianity and slavery. Part 1 sets up the series by asking what it is that makes slavery wrong without giving any answers yet. Part 2 looks at Christianity and slavery with respect to the biblical passages and some of the ensuing history of the church on this issue. I don't know if he plans any more or if this was all he intended to do, but he's already said enough to spur me on to record some of my thoughts. I agree with much of what he's said, but I take a more radical view. I don't think there's anything in principle wrong with slavery. In this post I'll explain why I think that, which will basically amount to explaining what I think slavery is. In my next post, I expect to look at what the biblical passages regarding slavery have to say and what I think the Christian's attitude toward slavery should be. [Update: this has turned into a series]

This is the 9th part of an ongoing series that I've been letting lie dormant for a few months. The series starts here. The links to all the other parts are in the inaugural post. I've been working through the arguments in favor of affirmative action before turning to the arguments against such policies. In this post, I'm considering the argument that gave the name 'affirmative action' to the policy. According to this argument, affirmative action gives approval, support, etc. to those who are too often not given it, and that provides a moral justification for affirmative action.

In the light of Terri Schiavo's upcoming judicially-imposed starvation, I wanted to record some of my thoughts on euthanasia and related issues. Before looking at the issues, it's important first to get some terminology out of the way. Euthanasia (from the Greek for good death) can be either active or passive, voluntary or involuntary. Active euthanasia is usually defined in terms of whether the person doing the killing actively does something to initiate the death, whereas passive euthanasia involves no such action but merely allowing someone to die. Euthanasia is voluntary when the person being killed has consented to being killed, and involuntary euthanasia is against such consent. Some people will classify cases with no consent either way as non-voluntary (but not involuntary).

This is part IV in a series on meta-ethics begun here. See that post for more details. So far I've looked at a simplistic version of subjectivism, one that thinks ethical statements are about our own attitudes but are still the sort of statement that can be true or false. That view is hard to square with how we use moral language. A more sophisticated subjectivist view simply denies that our moral statements are the sort of thing that can be true or false. They don't have any cognitive content. The view is thus called non-cognitivism.

The most basic version of non-cognitivism is emotivism. As with any form of non-cognitivism, it says moral statements aren't really statements at all. There aren't really moral truths, but moral statements aren't false either. They're not the sort of thing that can be true or false in the same way that it isn't true or false that chocolate ice cream is better than black raspberry. Some people prefer one or the other and thus have different attitudes, but there's no truth or falsity of either one.

Jonathan Ichikawa has been complaining (actually starting with this post) that some on the right are talking about the high percentage of abortions among black women as genocide. He's not disputing any of the facts they cite. He just thinks it's too much to call it genocide, particularly given that the people who are making the decisions to kill their fetuses are themselves black. I'm not sure that self-originated genocide is impossible. Why couldn't a race commit genocide against themselves? Even so, I think a number of other factors make abortion less the matter of choice that pro-choicers want it to be a more in the direction of coercion. Most of the post that follows develops from a comment I left on his post.

My list of things to blog about has gotten too long and contains a number of things that are too old for me to want to bother with extended comments, so here are some of them that I'm giving up on, along with some more recent ones that I've decided not to comment on but thought were worth a link.

This is my seventh post for Joe Carter's collaborative project Jesus the Logician (which would better be described as Jesus' Reasoning).

During the week Jesus spent in Jerusalem before his crucifixion, he spent much of his time in the temple disputing with various groups of religious leaders. Much of what we have recorded in the gospels from those discussions is with the Pharisees and scribes. We have only one recorded discussion with the Sadducees, though it appears in all three of the synoptic gospels (Mark 12:18-27, Matthew 22:23-34, and Luke 20:27-40).

Jesus the Logician Deadline

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Today is the tentative deadline Joe Carter gave for submissions for his collaborative project Jesus the Logician, which would better be described as (Jesus' Reasoning). I have no idea if Joe intends to stick with this as a deadline, but it might be a good idea to finish up any submissions you want to do if you still want to contribute to this (or if you want to contribute any more posts; I have at least one more I'm working on right now on Jesus' interactions with the Sadducees as recorded in Mark 12:18-27, Matthew 22:23-33, and Luke 20:27-40, and I hope to do yet another beyond that if I have time). The list of current entries so far is here.

Update: Joe's tentativeness of the deadline apparently was completely serious. He isn't closing it off just yet. He wants some more entries first, so let's get cracking. Now I have to figure out what I'm going to do for my eighth.

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