Recently in Ethics Category

The Supreme court released a bunch of opinions yesterday. One of them isn't all that interesting to me, but a little exchange on a side point caught my attention. From the SCOTUSBlog writeup:

In a five-page concurrence, Justice Kennedy went out of his way to raise concern over the proliferation of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, bemoaning the extent to which "the conditions in which prisoners are kept simply has not been a matter of sufficient public inquiry or interest," even though "consideration of these issues is needed." Thus, he concluded, "[i]n a case that presented the issue, the judiciary may be required . . . to determine whether workable alternative systems for long-term confinement exist, and, if so, whether a correctional system should be required to adopt them." Justice Thomas responded in a rather curt, one-paragraph opinion, noting that "the accommodations in which Ayala is housed are a far sight more spacious than those in which his victims . . . now rest," and that "Ayala will soon have had as much or more time to enjoy those accommodations as his victims had time to enjoy this Earth."

I'm not interested in adjudicating that particular dispute, but I'm interested in (1) its very existence and (2) the particular reasoning used in each case. There's a correct moral principle behind each justice's point (just retribution for a heinous act and ensuring we don't ourselves do evil in how we treat those who do evil). It seems as if this might be a case where we can't satisfy either concern without going against the other concern, so we have to decide which principle we'll give more importance to. These two justices end up on opposite sides on that question.

I've long thought that whether something is terrorism is independent of the motivation. You can be a terrorist for financial gain, such as the villains in 1970s spy movies. You can be a terrorist because of political ideology, striking at those you view as your political opponents. You can be a terrorist for an environmental cause. You can be a terrorist to achieve goals in an otherwise legitimate war. You can be a terrorist seeking to achieve legitimate goals of justice. You can be a terrorist purely to get revenge. It isn't tied to religion or especially to any particular religion. It isn't tied to whether the goals are good. And it isn't tied to whether the ultimate target is bad. Terrorism to achieve an overthrow of an oppressive government is just as much terrorism a  kidnapping the kids of rich people to get a ransom, blowing up supermarkets to continue a long-standing conflict, or threatening to use bio-warfare on innocents if your fallen comrades don't get acknowledged by their government as heroes (as in The Rock).

I also don't see how it matters who the actor is. A legitimate government can engage in terrorism just as much as a group of dissidents can. The United States military can use terrorist tactics as easily as a militant revolutionary group. Individual people acting on their own, political organizations out of power, and criminal organizations are no more deserving of the term than governments who oppress their people through terrorism or governments who wage war on others through terrorism.

What is distinctive about terrorism is the use of violence or at least some kind of threat to produce fear in a third party, typically someone innocent of the conflict but at least someone who isn't the primary target. The ultimate enemy is someone else, and this person or these people who are receiving the threat or who are actually being harmed are innocents or relative innocents in comparison to the real conflict going on. It doesn't matter if you're threatening to poison the water supply if you don't get money from the government or if you're burning down homes in Long Island communities because a few manufacturing facilities there are polluting. It doesn't matter if you're flying planes into buildings because you see the majority of the people who work there as complicit in an evil system or blowing up entire cities with nuclear weapons to end a war. The real target is someone other than the immediate victim. It sends a message to someone else, and that's what makes it terrorism.

A lot of people in my Twitter feed are saying the church shooting last night is an act of terrorism and that hardly anyone is acknowledging it because the victims were black. If there is a message that this shooting was intended to spread, then I would say that it is terrorism. It's mainly people on the left who seem interested in pointing out this kind of case as terrorism. Most people wouldn't think of it that way, but it seems like it might be. I don't have a problem with that, provided that the perpetrator really did this so that a larger audience would come away with a certain message. That would indeed count as terrorism, I think.

At the same time, the very same people who are quick to call this terrorism were very hesitant to say anything negative about the Baltimore protestors engaging in terrorist acts. On the above analysis, it's pretty clear that it's terrorism to burn down a home for poor black retirees built by a black church, just to send a message about an unjust system of justice and law enforcement. This, of course, happened in Baltimore. The right called it rioting, and the left called it protesting, but it's terrorism. Those outraged about calling the church shooting terrorism are inconsistent if they don't think that was terrorism too. And the difference is that we knew the motives in that case, since it was part of the larger protesting/rioting phenomenon, which was a reaction to a particular incident we already knew much about (and certainly knew the protestors' view on), while in this one it's still a breaking story, and we need to be hesitant about making hasty judgments when we don't know all the facts. But I think it's clear that both sides of the political spectrum need to realize that there are certain kinds of terrorist acts that they're more inclined to recognize as terrorism and certain ones they're less inclined to recognize as terrorism, and it would be nice if we could be more consistent.

Some of the early reports about yesterday's report from the Vatican conference on family issues seem to me to betray a serious misunderstanding of Catholic teaching on these issues. In the NPR story I just linked, we see two views being put into contrast that I don't think any Catholic who understands the concepts involved would recognize as being in conflict. On the one hand, Catholics have long taught that homosexuality and same-sex sexual relationships are intrinsically disordered, and Catholics insist on the wrongness of any sexual relations outside marriage. On the other hand, this report speaks of Catholic communities "accepting and valuing their sexual orientation" and "positive aspects to a couple living together without being married". It all depends on the context and what is meant by these expressions, but I see no reason yet to take these in a way that contradicts anything in Catholic teaching.

The crucial element is the concept of intrinsic disordering. If something is intrinsically disordered, it means that the good in the relationship is put together wrongly in some way. It means either something is missing, or the parts are not working together the way they ought to. But the concept of intrinsic disordering requires there to be some good, since intrinsic disordering means something is less good, as opposed to some positive evil being introduced, which is impossible on an Augustinian conception of evil that serves as the basis of the notion of intrinsic disordering.

You can't have something intrinsically disordered that doesn't have some positive good. No positive good means no existence. Intrinsic disordering means a disordering of positive good. That means there is positive good. And that means this change in emphasis isn't a change in doctrine, if all it's saying is that there is some positive good in same-sex relationships and in unmarried couples living together (implying sexual relations).

In particular, you can think value all manner of things about a same-sex relationship: you can recognize the good in a couple's self-sacrifice for each other, the good in their parenting of any children they might have, the good in the degree to which they fulfill their desire for companionship, even some level of good in the sexual pleasure they provide each other. You can do that even if you think the relationship itself is immoral and if you think they're seeking the wrong object to fulfill sexual desires and the wrong ways of fulfilling their companionship needs. You couldn't think they are good in every respect, but you have to think there is some good there, or else there would  be nothing. That follows from the very notion of intrinsic disordering.

Similarly, the Catholic church holds that there are good things in opposite-sex sexual relationships between unmarried people. Catholic doctrine declares such relationships immoral. There is a difference in that they're not disordered in terms of the object of sexual desire (or at least in terms of the sex of the object of sexual desire). But there's plenty of intrinsic disordering of a different sort in those relationships (e.g. the marital status of the two people, which is an issue to do with the object of one's desire, just not about the person's sex). Most importantly, the person and relationship are placed on a higher level than God, because they refuse to honor God's command to marry before having sex. That is an intrinsic disordering, since it demonstrates one's desires are not well-ordered, which is what virtue is on an Augustinian view. Any sin is an intrinsic disordering, since it involves a disordering within one's desires. That assumes some good in the desiring and in the fulfillment. Otherwise there would be no desiring or fulfillment.

Compare the intrinsic disordering of a shoe fetish. What's disordered about that is that shoes are not an appropriate object of sexual desire. Homosexuality, by contrast, involves a desire for a human being. Human beings are the appropriate objects of human sexual desire in general, even if there is some intrinsic disordering when it involves same-sex desires. That means there's something good about same-sex desire that isn't present for the shoe fetish. It's not clear to me that the Catholic statement is doing anything more than acknowledging things like that. That's compatible with thinking same-sex relationships are intrinsically disordered to the point of being immoral. I think people who don't have a view like the Catholic view will be inclined to think that anyone who thinks homosexuality is intrinsically disordered must think it the height of all evil, with nothing redeemable or good about it, but that's simply not what the view holds. Many who hold the Catholic view might not see this, but there's a difference between how proponents of a view understand it and what the official view is, at least when you're talking about a view held by those who believe their views come from some authoritative source. (The No True Scotsman fallacy is simply not an issue when you have an authoritative person, text, or organization that determines what the official view is. There is a genuine Catholic position, and those who don't hold that view do not hold the Catholic view.)

There may be a different emphasis here, but it's not at odds with thinking the relationship is intrinsically disordered anymore than the idea that it's good to support our troops is at odds with being opposed to a particular conflict they've been fighting in. So don't believe anyone claiming that this is a change in Catholic doctrine. It's not a conflict or departure from the concept of intrinsic disordering. It in fact brings to the fore something that follows from the notion of intrinsic disordering. Perhaps that's something that those who believe homosexuality is intrinsically disordered should be emphasizing more. But it's not a new position. It even follows from the idea of intrinsic disordering. Anyone claiming the two are at odds simply doesn't understand what it means to be intrinsically disordered, or they couldn't think that.

I've several times now run across a new linguistic trend, mostly among a certain brand of academic. When writing about people we would normally call slaves, the new trend is to call them "enslaved people". I assume the reasoning here is because we don't want to define someone by their enslavement, as if it's an identity-forming feature of their existence, and we shouldn't let someone in one of the most oppressive situations be defined by something entirely outside their control that has demeaning connotations. In that way, it reflects some of the concerns of person-first language, which I've usually encountered in the context of disabilities. 

[See my critique of person-first language. It's a bit over-the-top, as most satire is. The sense you get from it about what my views must be is not quite what they are. I'm not completely opposed to person-first language, and I even think sometimes it's the best way to go in certain settings. I would say that with small children it's far better to speak that way, whereas with older children and adults it's best to help them understand the categories we in fact use while drawing attention to the ways we illegitimately think about those categories and ways we process them unconsciously and thus denigrate the people we're talking about without always being aware of it.]

But this is different. For one thing, this isn't person-first language. Person-first language would not speak of enslaved people. It would speak of people with enslavement or people encumbered by, trapped by, oppressed by, or otherwise affected by enslavement. Person-first language is so roundabout, awkward, and unworkable that even those tempted to apply it in this case have actually refused to go that far. They will avail themselves of adjectives rather than nouns and use the adjectives to modify the noun 'people' or 'person'. It's grammatically parallel to "deaf people" or "autistic people" rather than "people without hearing" or "people with autism". But it's certainly a step in the direction of person-first language when compared with calling people slaves. The only grammatical equivalent is to speak of the deaf with no noun or to talk about people with autism as autists. [I should note that that's a bad idea even if there weren't any other problems with the term, because people will just think you're from Brooklyn or the Bronx and talking about people with very creative abilities and outlets.]

But there are differences, and I think some of them matter morally. One is that ordinary language does allow for slaves, and "enslaved people" is awkward, whereas "autistic people" or "people with autism" are both common, while "autists" is not. Another is that it's generally accepted that calling someone an autist is unacceptable, and it's at least not generally unacceptable to call someone who is enslaved a slave. That's not the only issue, but that's a difference. For example, it was much worse to call people retarded once that became a standard insult for people without any cognitive disabilities than it was when it was the accepted term and had not yet been used as an insult. Whether it was a good term ever is something people can debate, but surely it's made worse once it becomes used as an insult. So the fact that a lot of people do oppose a way of speaking does count more against it, and the fact that many people approve of a way of speaking does mean there's less to count against it, whatever else is true.

Another difference is that one is a disability and the other is an imposed condition. Both are involuntary, at least in most cases of slavery. Slavery can be accepted voluntary, especially in cases of indentured servanthood, selling oneself into slavery to pay off a debt, or accepting slavery to avoid a death penalty (well, that's at least not completely involuntary, although it's not actually a range of choices that anyone would consider sufficient for the choice to be fully voluntary). But one is known, at least by most people today, to be something that is not central to who one is but rather imposed. No one today, at least no one I personally know, thinks that anyone who is a slave is the sort of person whose slavery is necessary because they couldn't otherwise function in life. No one thinks slaved naturally deserve slavery. No one thinks it's part of a slave's nature to be a slave.

This is not true with racial categorizations. As much as we might discover scientifically about how there isn't all that much difference between different racial groups, we do process racial categories with stigmatized stereotypes, and scientific studies for decades now have consistently shown that these stereotypes and stigmatized categories will affect how we treat people, at least in small ways that most of us don't pick up on (and especially in situations where we're tired or busy and have to make decisions quickly without thinking carefully about them). This isn't true of the category "slave" even if it is true of other contingent categories. If I find out someone is a slave, I'm not going to process that the way I do if I find out they receive welfare, are homeless, or grew up in a ghetto. Whether I want to or not, I will make assumptions about the person if I discover they're in one of those other categories, and I won't if I find out someone had kidnapped and enslaved them. We're distant enough from the 19th-century practice of slavery (and what does go on today is both under the radar and officially disapproved of) that we just don't respond that way anymore.

So one of the important reasons for avoiding linguistic constructions that serve to foster innatist, essentialist thinking (which really only matters with small children anyway, according to the most careful psychological studies) does not matter with slavery. That means any argument for preferring "enslaved people" to "slaves" must have to do with how people in those categories would perceive it, not how others will be influenced by speaking or hearing the construction. And I suspect the same debate that occurs with disability would crop up here. People who prefer "person with autism" are usually parents, teachers, and psychologists who want to encourage not defining someone by the disability and who want others to respect them as people, taking their interests and desires as important, assuming competence first before assuming incompetence, and other essential features of treating someone as a person. Yet one can do that while using the word "autistic" as an adjective.

The other side is usually from people who have the condition who have the communication skills to express their view on the matter. They in fact prefer to be called "autistic" as an adjective, just as the deaf community generally prefers to be called "deaf" and thinks person-first language is insulting. Why is that? Because they see their condition (which they don't always see merely as a disability, because it involves both impairments and increased abilities) as something very important to who they are. It shouldn't define them as if it's the only thing that matters, but it is part of how they've formed their identity, just as race is for anyone who isn't in the dominant majority racial group in their social location. White people in the U.S. don't see whiteness as part of their identity, because it's part of white privilege not to be affected by race is ways that make you constantly think about those categories. Most members of other racial groups in the U.S. do consider their race to inform their sense of their own identity in significant enough ways that they wouldn't want people not to think of them according to those categories, as the dishonest color-blind ideal (does anyone really think they can pretend not to see race?) would have it.

How should this affect calling people "slaves" vs. "enslaved people"? Well, not having the chance to interview a bunch of people in that category, I just have to guess, but my suspicion is that it's going to be like race and disability, at least in terms of how they think of their identity while enslaved. It's pretty all-defining of what their life is. I can't see how that wouldn't be identity-forming. It's certainly more easily removed than the other cases I've been discussing, and that's why we can speak of people as former slaves. But that linguistic option show that we can handle the contingency of the category while still availing ourselves of the ordinary way of speaking, and there is at least some moral argument for retaining the category rather than abandoning it, which gives me little reason to want to engage in a major effort to revise our language in a pretty large way.

Ethics and Disgust

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Thabiti Anyabwile has come under a lot of criticism from many quarters for his recent post on the gag reflex and Christian opposition to same-sex sexual acts, increasingly called "homosex" of late. [I'm still getting used to that word, because it still feels like an adjective to me (one without its proper ending), but it's a useful word compared with writing out something like "engaging in same-sex sexual activity, so I will use it.]

He has just posted a followup responding to some of the criticisms as well.

As I see it, there are several issues going on here, and I don't think all the participants in the conversation are keeping them straight. There are a number of ways his argument is being misrepresented (and then made fun of in pretty vile ways as a result), but there are also some genuine philosophical difficulties with some of the things he's saying, and I'm not entirely sure I agree with some of the key points. Even so, I think some of the things for which he's being unfairly made fun of by a lot of the opposition seemto me to be largely correct and even relatively obvious, things I'm not sure many people will really want to rid themselves of in their ethical theorizing if they were to think their views through more carefully. So maybe they should refrain from making fun of them, if I'm right about that. I want to work my way to that gradually, however, with a bit of a review of some of the key philosophical moves that have been made about the connection between morality and emotion.

1. Ethics and Emotion

I'm not interested first in the application to homosex, although I will say a few things about that later on. I'm primarily interested in the general strategy of ethical reasoning that involves paying heed to emotions like disgust. A good friend of mine complained on Twitter about the arguments found in the original post, arguing that if we allow disgust to guide our ethical judgments it would mean racists' disgust for racial interaction could generate moral principles against interracial marriage (or more particularly against interracial sex). If disgust shows us anything at all about genuine moral principles, the argument goes, then we have to follow our disgust whatever it leads us to loathe. And people can loathe all sorts of things, in ways that don't at all track genuine moral principles. So we shouldn't rely on our disgust to show us anything about morality.

I think this argument is a mistake. The fact that disgust can be directed against things that are not wrong does not show us that disgust isn't ever a guide to morality. All it shows us is that disgust can be fallible. It can sometimes be directed against things that are not morally wrong. But the same is true of emotionless reason. Emotionless reason presumably led Immanuel Kant to say that lying is always wrong. However, it also has presumably led other philosophers to say that lying, while usually wrong, is sometimes the morally right thing to do. If emotionless reason can generate both principles, then obviously it's fallible. But that doesn't mean it never helps us end up with correct moral principles. It just means it's fallible. It sometimes gets things wrong. We can't trust it 100%. But only a radical skeptic (or someone who grants the radical skeptic far too much, as Rene Descartes did) would claim that a source of information is worthless just because it's not 100% reliable. So I don't think we can rule out a connection between emotion and morality so quickly.

As it happens, recent work in feminist ethics has drawn a lot of attention to attempts to separate emotion from ethical reasoning that have led to a bias against ways of moral reasoning that have tended to be more paradigmatic of women than of men. This bias has had the effect of marginalizing women's ethical reasoning, to the detriment of our overall ethical reasoning. Alison Jaggar has argued that much of the history of ethical theory, which happens to have been done mostly by men, has either treated emotion as something completely isolated from ethical reasoning (as Kant did; emotion cannot be trusted, and the only way to get ethical understanding is to reason in a way that doesn't involve emotion) or as the foundation of all our ethics but a foundation that has no basis in any ethical truth (as David Hume did; there is no ethical truth, because ethics is pure emotion and not reasoned).

Thankfully, Jaggar is wrong about the history of philosophy. Sometimes it's because she misinterprets particular philosophers, such as her reading of the Stoics as being opposed to all emotion, which she can be forgiven for, because, well, they do actually say that. But philosophers are often bad reporters of their own views, and it turns out it's not feelings that the Stoics think we should rid ourselves of. It's bad reasoning, which is how they define emotion. There are plenty of feelings, according to the Stoics, that are perfectly fine to have as long as they're compatible with reasoning well. Certainly the Stoics emphasize reason and say they oppose emotion, but what they oppose isn't what we normally call emotion. The Stoic view on emotion is perfectly compatible with taking what most of us call emotions to be very important for ethics. In fact, having the right feelings, ones compatible with reason, is even crucial for the Stoics. They just won't call those feelings emotions.

Jaggar also seems to me to underemphasize the ways that historical philosophers even put a good deal of effort into organizing their ethical theories around emotions. Plato considered it extremely important for the best possible life that your emotions be engaged in appreciating goodness itself on an emotional level. Aristotle explained some of the most important virtues as simply having the tendency to respond to your circumstances with the right level of emotional response. Augustine's entire account of virtue makes it emotional: virtue is having well-ordered love, whereby you love the best things the most and the less-good things less fully. I myself think all three of them were largely right in these things. Ethics is very much tied up with emotion, and attempts to separate ethics from emotion the way Hume and Kant did are, to my thinking, disastrous.

But several questions remain. It's one thing to say that ethics involves having the right emotions. It's another to say that our emotions are, even sometimes, a good guide to the right ethical principles. We certainly can't just read our ethics off whatever emotions we happen to have. There are plenty of times when my emotional response isn't proportional to an offense that's committed, and I either overreact or underestimate a wrong that's taken place. Or I might not be properly placed to experience the good in something and not be as able to rejoice as I should at some good. There are lots of cases where our emotional judgments are a little off, and there are enough cases, such as with the racist example above, where they are drastically off. Indeed, a Christian who believes in the doctrine of the fall should be the first to recognize that, and that was even crucial for Augustine's ethical theory. Our emotions are often not directed in ways that remotely match up with what's truly good.

2. Ethics, Disgust, and Moral Reasoning

But that doesn't mean there's no role for disgust to play in helping us to see certain ethical truths. Jaggar's feminist treatment of this subject is a good example. She argues that women, having been oppressed for the entirety of recorded history by being told that their emotions are wrong when those emotions contradict how they're being treated, are nevertheless right to pay heed to those emotions, because those emotions are genuine clues to the reality that our socially-constructed narrative is otherwise blinding us to. A member of an oppressed group might have absorbed the narrative that they, as unintelligent slaves, have no rights and need the help of those who are guiding society along to make their decisions for them, but their emotions tell them that the views they've officially adopted on the level of conscious reason are somehow wrong. This can be so for any oppressed or marginalized group, not just women, but she picks out women as a group because women have been told (and less so in outright words in recent years but still conditioned by society in this direction) that they are emotional rather than reasoning beings, that their emotions are less trustworthy than the reasoning that's been identified as paradigmatic of men. I don't agree with everything Jaggar says along these lines, but there's quite a lot of it that strikes me as right about the history of how women are viewed and about some of the elements of how we (men and women today) are still conditioned to view each other and ourselves.

So if Jaggar is right, then there are at least some contexts in which emotions will be even a better guide to truth than the more emotionless reasoning that can easily be simply the reflex of our socially-conditioned environment, our lip service to the biases of our day. Now emotions can do that, too, as evidenced by racist disgust at interracial sex, for example. But all Jaggar is claiming is that sometimes emotions can be a better guide to moral truth than whatever process underlies what we're conditioned to call emotionless reason. And that seems to me to be absolutely right.

Even more, I think there are cases where we can show that our emotion adds something to moral reasoning that you simply cannot get from the emotionless reasoning. A friend of mine who works in aesthetics once gave a case that seems to me to indicate this pretty nicely. Suppose you're eating a kidney and a little bit disgusted at it. This is not moral disgust at all. You just ended up in a situation where you're expected to eat something that you don't like the taste of, and you find it a bit disgusting. But after you've been eating it for a few minutes, you discover that it's a human kidney. Suddenly your level of disgust goes way up. That's not from the taste of it, which didn't change, or from any emotionless reason, because emotionless reason has no emotion and thus by itself wouldn't increase your disgust. Rather, your level of disgust increases because of some moral principle lying behind the disgust, one that upon rational examination would easily stand up. Eating humans is morally worse than eating a kidney from some other animal. It should disgust us, and it does. We should feel greater disgust at eating humans, if we're morally healthy. That doesn't mean that it follows that eating humans is always wrong. It's compatible with this disgust that eating humans who died independently of our actions in a case of survival is morally allowable. Yet it does seem that there's a moral principle lying behind the disgust, one that very few people would question, and it's hard to argue that the disgust isn't a sign of that moral truth. The disgust signifies that truth. Its continuation from generation to generation helps maintain our resistance to cannibalism, and we should be glad for that.

(I should note that this example is a lot like C.S. Lewis' example of finding out that you're eating a deer that was a talking deer in The Silver Chair. The difference, there, however, is that those eating the deer didn't have disgust at all until they found out it was a talking deer. Here there's already disgust at eating the kidney, but it takes on a whole new level of disgust when you learn that it's a human kidney.)

Laurie Shrage is a well-respected philosopher who writes a lot about feminist issues. She wrote a piece for the NYT this week that seems to me to undermine one of the key feminist contentions found in many discussions of abortion. One of the major feminist arguments for abortion is that it gives to women something that men have always had because of biology. Men have been able to have as much sex as they want while taking no responsibility for any children they thereby produce, because women have to face the consequences by bearing the children, and men can simply leave. If we let men avoid the consequence of fatherhood, we should let women have as much consensual sex as they want and not have to be mothers if that happens to result.

What Shrage points out is that this is simply not so. In the United States, any man who tries to do what men in this argument are assumed to do will find it very difficult to avoid legal responsibility for the children he sires. Men don't have any way to avoid being legally responsible for their children the way women do, since they can't force someone to have an abortion. Assume that a couple engage in sex where each is equally responsible for the fact that they had sex and for any steps they took not to conceive. That may not always be so, but assume it is. If they do conceive, she can have an abortion, with or without his consent. What can he do to avoid fatherly responsibility? Pretty much nothing. And if she impregnates herself by obtaining a sperm sample from him against his will and then lies and says they had sex, he is still going to assume legal responsibility if she insists on pursuing that.

None of this requires denying that there are asymmetries in relations between men and women. It simply points out that n this respect women actually have easily available ways to avoid legal responsibility than men do. When you factor in adoption, I think the same thing occurs. She can choose to give birth and seek adoption. He can't. And there might be those who argue that this is right. Because of how women have been and still are treated differentially in ways that harm women, women should have more rights in this area.

But if Shrage is right that this differential is something we should not want for our society, I don't think it follows that we should give men an out the way we give women an out, which is what I think she's assuming. It might simply be that we should be more cautious at how easily we allow people not to take responsibility for their actions. Maybe we should assume more responsibility on both sides. Her argument strikes me as assuming a kind of absolute voluntarism about acquiring responsibilities. We can't be assumed to take on a responsibility unless we choose to. Our child support laws show that, as a society, we don't think that. And one can just as easily argue that we should rethink our abortion laws in light of that as you can seek to revise our child support laws to make them more fair. The absolute right to abortion assumed by many on the pro-choice side of the abortion dispute relies on Shrage's premise that we can't acquire responsibilities merely because of the situation we find ourselves in. And it seems to me that in many areas of life we do assume we can involuntarily assume responsibilities, such as

(a) when a child playing stickball accidentally breaks a window
(b) when a witness to a crime accrues the responsibility to report it and to testify in court because of it
(c) when someone who sees an assault take place and is in a position to do something about it takes on a moral responsibility to do what they can, taking into account that their right to their own safety might weaken that responsibility but surely wouldn't remove it altogether
(d) when someone leaves a child on my front porch, and I have some obligation to make sure it receives the care it needs
(e) [added a few hours after initial posting] when someone ends up with a child with severe disabilities that require the kind of care that few parents would have thought they were consenting to when choosing to become parents
(f) [also added a few hours after initial posting] when someone chooses to have a child in the usual case, not knowing remotely the kind of work and commitment is required in raising a child to adulthood, at least not with their first child

The absolute voluntarist view about acquiring responsibilities seems obviously wrong once you think about other kinds of cases. So why should we assume we should make men less responsible for the kids they conceive engaging in activity that they know can produce children? And why should the absolute right to abortion rest on such a premise when we don't hold to that premise any other time? There are other arguments for a right to abortion, but this seems to me to be one of the more common ones that I find among those familiar with the philosophical literature, going back to Judith Jarvis Thomson's famous 1971 paper. I think this is one of that paper's most important assumptions, and it amazes me that so many people accept the arguments of that paper without grappling with this highly controversial assumption.


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I've been thinking about the concept of tokenism and why we find it problematic, given that virtually everyone who complains about tokenism thinks there is some good in having representation by those who are underrepresented in a particular sphere. What makes the difference between the cases where we find it unproblematic to try to get people more represented and those where we consider it tokenism? A few considerations come to mind:

The most obvious cases of tokenism are when someone just wants to appear forward-thinking and progressive by selecting people of an underrepresented group without really being concerned at all about the underlying ethical issues. If a college's admissions literature and website are littered with pictures of non-white students when such students are only 1% of the college's population, we might cry foul and wonder why they think they can pretend the school is more diverse than it is just to make themselves look good.

We should be careful here, of course. An institution might not be doing this just to look good. They might be thinking that portraying the student body in such an inaccurate manner will help attract students in those very groups, and they might have good motivations for wanting such a change. But it still seems wrong in such a case, even though it's not merely to generate a false view of the school to garner a better reputation. The dishonesty in the portrayal seems like a kind of tokenism. We might select people out of underrepresented groups to make it look like our institution is better than it is, or we might do so for purer motives, namely to try to make it better than it is, but either way the dishonesty of portraying it that way seems to fall under our concept of tokenism.

So is it basically a kind of dishonesty that makes something a case of tokenism? I don't think it's as simply as that. Consider a TV show that has their one token black in a mainly white cast. That black character might display all the stereotypes of black characters, in which case it might be criticized for stereotyping. On the other hand, it might display no such stereotypes, in which case it might be accused of sanitizing the character to make them more white-friendly. You might then think the critics are unfair. You can't win, no matter what you do? Actually, I don't think that's the problem. I think the no-win situation is set up because you don't have enough black characters both (a) on TV in general and (b) on the show in question. Even having two black characters, one of each type, is better than having one token black who fits either mold. The solution seems to me to be to have a diversity of black characters, some of whom display some stereotypical characteristics but who nonetheless are real characters, some of whom display fewer stereotypical characteristics but who nonetheless are real characters. What saves the day for a show that might be accused of tokenism is to have a variety of real characters showing a diversity of real-life traits from real people. Portray them so that the audience cares about them. Portray real inner conflict, hard choices, and so on. Make your characters of color as interesting and developed as all the other characters, and have enough of them across the variety of TV shows that we create, and you're a lot less susceptible to be accused of tokenism.

What does that suggest about what tokenism is? It's not just plain honesty, because there's plenty of room in there for trying to have as many characters as you can that don't fit well with the actual percentages of which black people have which traits. You don't need to have your black characters have children out of wedlock at exactly the rate that happens among black people in real life. You don't need to have them like hip-hop at the same percentages. You don't need to have them attending college or being incarcerated at the same rates. You need some level of honesty there to the point where you're not ignoring realities in society too much, but you can steer stereotypes by having lots of counter-stereotypical characters, and of course a lot of what you can do will be affected by what kind of show it is. Game of Thrones won't have anyone listening to hip-hop or being incarcerated in American prisons. The core problem seems to be, rather, that tokenism doesn't care about the people or characters enough to do much more than trot them out for the appearance. A character on a superhero show who is a token black might be stereotypical or might not be, but we won't care about the character very much, because the person isn't fleshed out very much. Tokens in college promotional literature are there for the appearance, and in a sense so are the undeveloped characters who are there just to have representation.

Now how does this relate to the use of tokenism-language in the context of affirmative action? Some conservative critics of affirmative action see it as harmful to those it's intended to help, partly because it isn't concerned with their success in college but just wants to have diversity as an element of its student body. It isn't concerned with finding students who will be as prepared to succeed, because it's more interested in showing off its diverse composition. In that sense, it would be like the case of admissions literature. But this isn't the only way to conceive of affirmative action. Even with the diversity rationale, one can be engaged with affirmative action policies in order to promote diversity, where there's a further goal for that diversity, and that can be to promote further racial justice for the sake of those who would be benefited by their being such racial policies. That motivation strikes me as not tokenist, even though the actions would seem to have roughly the same outcome with either motivation. So tokenism is not just about consequences. It's about why you engage in the actions you engage in to begin with.

I can imagine a student group at a college, maybe a religious or political group, that wants to seek more diversity. They might undertake efforts to promote their group among groups that are not well represented in their group at present. They might change their methods or approach to be more culturally acceptable to such groups. They might change their focus to include things people in those groups would care about. Is this tokenism? It seems to me that the answer depends on why they're doing it. If they want the people they're targeting merely because they want it to be true that their group is more diverse, I think it is tokenism. If they want them to be present because they think they themselves will be enriched by the experience, and the newcomers will benefit as well, then it seems to me not to be tokenism.

The same goes for inclusion in an academic conference or in high governmental positions. If a president seriously would like cabinet or judicial nominees to come from underrepresented groups, as both the last two presidents have (at least at times) shown concern for, then the crucial question is why. Is it to make the party or the administration look good, or is it out of a genuine concern for having diversity in that sphere of government? If I tried to put a conference together, and someone pointed out that none of the invited speakers were women, I might try to remedy that. Am I remedying it because I committed a faux pas and am embarrassed, or am I doing it because I think we all benefit by having more women presenting at philosophy conferences and because I think we have a systematic implicit bias against thinking first of women when thinking of the movers and shakers in a discipline like philosophy? The former might be tokenism. The latter seems not to be. But the actions are exactly the same.

This is a first attempt to think through this carefully. A number of questions remain in my mind. Are there any examples of what seems like tokenism that doesn't fit the kind of thing I'm saying here? Are there any examples that don't seem like tokenism that do have some of the characteristics I've been trying to identify tokenism with? It may well be that there's more complexity to what we typically call tokenism, and it might be that I'll need to figure out what to do when there are disagreements over what counts as tokenism. There's also the possible complication of whether tokenism is always wrong. Are there cases that we would call tokenism where we wouldn't find it morally problematic, or is it a term like 'racism' or 'murder' where we'd only use the term if we thought there was something problematic going on?

Narrowly-Defined Religion

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Here's an interesting analysis by D.A. Carson of three recent cases of what he calls the intolerence of tolerance that happened after his book on the subject came out: the Chick fil-A ban issue, a case of a liberal seminary trying to discipline a very respected faculty member for including a theologically-traditional book on homosexuality in the curriculum, and the HHS contraception mandate.

I'm not sure I have anything interesting to say about the first two cases he discusses that hasn't already been said ad nauseam. But he says something very interesting about the third case he discusses, the HHS mandate.
If Carson is right in his analysis of the HSS mandate, the government is willing to allow a lot of exceptions to the HHS mandate that have nothing to do with religious opposition to contraception or drugs with unintended abortifacient effects. But they won't allow a religious exception to this mandate on either of those two grounds. And they're arguing not that there should be no freedom of religion as an exception to government mandates nor that the drugs in question do not have an abortifacient effect (as some do argue). Instead, they argue that we should take taking 'religion' narrowly to include things like public gatherings for worship but not to include things like views on ethics.

What strikes me as extremely interesting about that is that would raise some serious questions about a lot of fairly common practices of excluding religion or seeking to exclude religion from the public sphere. If religion has to do with corporate gatherings of worship but not individual beliefs, then a lone science teacher who wants to include some discussion of philosophical arguments about design in a science classroom is not engaging in religion. I would have thought that patently obvious, but courts seem not to agree. The interesting question here is whether the Obama Administration's view of religion with respect to the HHS mandate can be made consistent with that practice of excluding long-standing philosophical discussions from science classrooms on the ground that such philosophical discussions are religion. They are not, on any sane analysis. They are philosophy. But that should be so much clearer if other philosophical views such as ethical views are not religion. Metaphysics surely is not either. If it is, I'd like to see the argument why one and not the other should count as religion or why we should have different standards for what counts as religion in the two cases.

Another place religion is often excluded is in the contention among many on the left that it's immoral for voters to decide who they should vote for or which policies to prefer if their reasons are based on their religious views (or politicians to decide which policies to support based on their own or their constituents' views). The same inconsistency would apply if the government's position on HHS is correct. If someone opposes abortion for purely religious reasons (which I think is true of some but certainly not all and probably not most pro-lifers), then it's not religion according to this approach, and those who resist anyone's attempt to vote pro-life on such grounds as thoroughly immoral cannot do so consistently with claiming that Wheaton College's resistance to the HHS mandate is not religion. This isn't even two different branches of philosophy, as the above example of metaphysics and ethics is. Here we have two examples of not just ethical views but of the very same ethical view, so there's no arguing that one case is religion and the other not. We'd have to argue that different standards for what counts as religion should apply in the two different cases, and I have no idea how that argument would go.

So assuming Carson is right on how the government is pursuing these cases (and I admit to not looking into them as carefully as he has), those who want to do either of the things I've pointed to have a real problem on their hands if they also want to defend the enforcement of the HHS mandate in these cases in the way the government seems to be doing it. I'm not sure how a consistent approach to all these questions can end up agreeing with the Obama Administration on this case that these ethical beliefs are not religion while still opposing the two things I've identified as religion.

Interesting post at the Feminist Philosophers blog about Ann Romney's speech last night, where she recognizes systemic inequality between men and women, with women doing a lot more of the work on average than the men who share responsibilities with them. Is Ann Romney saying such structural and systemic inequality is just fine? I'm not so sure, and I'm repeating my comment on that post here. [Caveat: I didn't hear the speech or read the transcript of the whole thing, just what appears on that post.]

It's not clear to me that she's saying it's fine for women to have to work harder than men. I think she might just be saying that it's fine that life is isn't easy.

There's actually a little speech in the biblical book of I Peter that directs people in subordinate positions to do good to those over them, not because they deserve it or because anything unjust that they might do is legitimate, but because the more important goal is to win them over by good deeds. Feminism gets complicated when you're more concerned about the eternal salvation of those participating in oppressive structures than you are about the often-small ways that those structures manifest themselves on a day-to-day basis for those who happen to be affected by them in more minor ways.

It would mean, then, that you don't have to think those structures are perfectly all right to think that women should put up with them, because the putting-up with them is for a higher purpose. There's much of this kind of thinking in Augustine, who would accept any form of government for keeping order in this society, and how just it is isn't as important to him as going along with the laws Socrates-style but for the sake of winning over by good behavior those he sees as heading in the wrong direction spiritually. It allows him to think certain ways of ruling are intrinsically bad but are not worth resisting (and thus he has very mixed feelings about slavery, seeing something wrong with it and worth resisting on one level but also as an institution that Christians can work within to do a more important task of being a light to the darkness of the slaveowners. It's love for their enemy.

I don't how much of this approach would be manifest among Mormons, but I have to wonder if that's the kind of thinking that lies behind Ann Romney's speech. If I heard this kind of thing from an evangelical, it's how I'd take it, and evangelicals and Mormons are at least culturally very similar, even if they're worlds apart theologically.

The Los Angeles Times has an editorial up about the upcoming Supreme Court case that will revisit affirmative action. It argues several things, but one claim it makes strikes me as wrong. It points out that the Supreme Court has affirmed affirmative action as constitutional in a limited way, by saying:

1. Outright quotas, which reserve special spots for one group and only that group, violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
2. Less absolute ways of giving preference to under-represented groups pass constitutional muster, provided they have the right justification and are narrowly-tailored to meet that justification.
3. The right justification is the compelling state interest of increasing diversity, not reparations for past maltreatment, overcoming the persistent lingering effects of past maltreatment, or counterbalancing for any current discrimination.

This is right as far as it goes, but I think the editorial's way of framing what Justice O'Connor's framework allows and doesn't allow as justifications is not quite right, because it doesn't take into account one of the most important recent diversity arguments, which brings together diversity with some of the other considerations. Here is how the editorial separates the justifications:

One of the most persuasive arguments for some racial preferences is that the underrepresentation of African Americans in the ranks of the highest-achieving college applicants is inseparable from this country's legacy of racial discrimination. Far from offending the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection of the laws, such policies are consistent with that amendment's paramount objective of overcoming the effects of slavery.

The problem is that, beginning with the court's 1978 decision in the Bakke case from California, affirmative action has been based on a different rationale: that including students from different backgrounds enhances everyone's educational experience. That "diversity" justification, which looms large in the administration's brief, is valid as far as it goes. But it gives insufficient weight to the persistent racial disparities in income and education that continue to put minority applicants at a disadvantage.

The most significant development in the affirmative action discussion since the 2003 Supreme Court decisions is Elizabeth Anderson's work on integration, most supremely in her 2010 book The Imperative of Integration, which I consider a game-changer both in the moral debate about affirmative action and in how the legal issue of the diversity justification can fit together with the argument of the first paragraph I quoted above.

Anderson argues for a diversity justification that doesn't sound much like diversity simply enhancing the educational experience. What she argues is that increased interaction across racial lines is in fact the best way to overcome the effects of slavery, because the most entrenched structures that continue disparate racial effects stem from forces that are shown to diminish when there is more racial interaction, particularly at more intimate social levels, and one of the best ways to foster such increased social interaction is to get better representation at formative social institutions like schools, including dormitory housing assignments. Increased integration for the sake of better serving the educational purpose of these institutions is in fact what the Supreme Court's diversity justification allows for as a motive, and it doesn't limit itself to classroom experience. But Anderson argues that it is that very increased diversity and systematically more social interaction between races that will lead to the effects the first paragraph quoted above says should be the real justification for affirmative action.

So we can no longer say that these are separate issues. It's not that there are these separate justifications for affirmative action, and one justification is deemed by the Supreme Court to be unconstitutional, while the other, less-convincing, one is deemed constitutional. What Anderson has argued, rightly in my view, is that the one the Los Angeles Times editorial says is less convincing (but that the Supreme Court has endorsed) actually does meet the purposes of the first one that they find more convincing (but that the Supreme Court precludes). And it strikes me that this is the best and most convincing reason for wanting to increase diversity and promote higher levels of integration at the college and university level.

What strikes me as the most important countervailing argument is not the legal question of the 14th Amendment, as the Chief Justice and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito seem to think. The 14th Amendment was crafted by people who had no problem with interracial marriage bans, so an original-intent justification won't work to ban affirmative action. Perhaps an original public meaning argument would, but 14th-Amendment jurisprudence has long accepted at least some cases where other considerations trump equal protection. The standard it has to meet varies for different groups, but discrimination of various sorts can be morally and legally justified in certain settings, provided the right criteria are met. The question is whether the diversity rationale or some other rationale can be strong enough to justify giving some (but not absolute) preference for having a more integrated incoming class in a university or college.

But there's another question that gets much less attention, and that's how that integration or diversity gets achieved. The 1978 Supreme Court case ruled out absolute quotas, because they reserved spots for specific under-represented groups no matter what. So even if the only applicants were grossly underqualified and would fail out in one semester, they couldn't give those spots to others. That's been recognized by the Supreme Court since 1978 to be too far. The 2003 cases established another way that the methodology can go awry. The University of Michigan's undergraduate admission program assigned specific numerical values to different under-represented groups, and there was a certain percentage increase or decrease in the numerical value assigned to those candidates for admission because of their demographic. That's not as absolute as reserving spots for certain groups and never giving them to anyone else, but it was too absolute for Justices O'Connor and Breyer, who joined the more conservative contingent on that case (whereas they joined the more liberal contingent on the law school case that established the diversity rationale as constitutional). So both those methods went too far, according to enough votes on the Supreme Court to get it established as precedent.

What I wish would get more attention is another matter of what might go too far. Assuming it's perfectly fine to want to increase the number of representatives of an under-represented group, one way to go too far in bringing them in is to bring in people who will be unable to do the college-level work expected of them at an institute of higher learning. It was easy for me to see the disvalue in students unable to do college-level work when I tutored for the Syracuse University football team. Some of the team members I tutored needed some extra help but could do fine with that help. (One in particular was a stellar student.) But a few really had either very low ability or severe under-preparation and needed to be at a community college. There's a low enough retention rate on major athletic programs that admissions offices need to do a better job at resisting some of the candidates team coaches try to bring in.

Why can't the same true of affirmative action admissions? So even if race-consciousness is an important consideration in college admissions, many of the arguments against affirmative action would still have some moral force in leading admissions offices to be more careful in who they give a leg up to on their diversity justification. It seems too quota-like if they're just trying to achieve a certain percentage (which I'm sure they are -- the numbers bear that out, as Justice Thomas' dissent to the 2003 cases substantiated). Not being absolute makes it not an absolute quota. But not being absolute doesn't make it not a non-absolute quota. If they have a goal of a certain percentage, and they try to achieve it by bring in candidates who really aren't best served by being there, then they're morally failing, even if they have some wiggle room and aren't reserving an absolute number of spots for certain groups. It seems to me that this is what is in fact going on in most university and college affirmative action programs, and I don't think it serves the groups it's aiming to help. The populations who are under-prepared are not best served by bringing them to institutions they're not prepared for. They're best served by programs that help them before they get to college, as states where affirmative action has been outlawed have been able to do in order to do a back-door kind of affirmative action to get their quota goals met without allowing admissions to be race-conscious in any overt way.

Also, there's the issue of blindness to important diversity issues while focusing only on mere racial assignment. The important concern should be getting more integration with populations who really have barriers to integration. If you look at race and ignore other factors, then the children of immigrants and middle-class under-represented populations tend to get the benefit of those policies, when the most needy non-immigrant descendants of American slaves are not getting the help they need to achieve and get accepted to higher-learning institutions. Even when affirmative action helps the individuals it's intended to help, which I've already argued is not always the case, it's not usually helping those who most need it. Specifically targeting it to help them won't help them either. It's the other programs that help them earlier that really need the most effort. This is indeed something that even Justice Thomas, one of the strongest opponents of affirmative action on the Supreme Court, would be delighted to support. A key component of his resistance to affirmative action is recognizing how little it does to help the people who most need help and how much it might in fact harm some of them. There seems to me to be something right about that, and affirmative action simply isn't the answer to that problem.

So what would I conclude about all this? I do think an integrative purpose for some race-awareness in admissions can be perfectly fine and compatible with the equal protection concern of the 14th Amendment. I also think those who engage in such admissions policies need to be really careful that they're doing it in a way that achieves that goal well, and I suspect most of them do not. I also think what colleges and universities do with them once they arrive matters significantly, and it's important that they not foster so much of a tie among under-represented students that they form less-significant social ties with over-represented groups, as happened every single year at Brown University when I was there, because of a well-meaning program that happened before the bulk of other students arrived that allowed minority and international students to form social ties that lasted them their entire four-year Brown experience in ways that, for many, led them not to form as many ties with other groups. (This can happen in non-racial ways too. The evangelical Christian groups can lead evangelical students to do that.)

There was a legitimate purpose for such things. Consolidation and solidarity can provide those with similar experiences to unite over them and realize that they are not alone in their experiences. Community within an identity group can be a very good thing. Nonetheless, integration (particularly a kind of social integration that doesn't ignore difference but allows different people to recognize and understand their differences) is the best means to overcoming racial problems, and I think those who use the diversity justification for affirmative action have a moral obligation to ensure that they actually foster integration rather than fostering segregation once the under-represented students are there. That takes walking a fine line and being concerned about two things at once, things that seem hard to seek both together. You have to balance out various considerations. This is a more complex issue than either side usually presents it as. I'd like to see the Supreme Court recognize that when they revisit it this coming term, but I suspect we'll instead continue with two sides who each see only half the picture.

This morning I was listening to yesterday's segment of Tell Me More on NPR on whether same-sex marriage would legally require allowing multiple marriage. The correct answer, of course, depends on which arguments are used for same-sex marriage, because some of them do require allowing multiple marriage, and some of them don't. If you argue that people should be able to marry whoever they want, as long as it's consensual, then there seems to be nothing to rule out multiple partners at once. If you argue that it's a violation of gay people's rights to prevent them from marrying someone they have an orientation toward when straight people get to marry someone they have an orientation toward, that sort of argument doesn't easily translate to marrying more than one person at a time. You're trying to give equal rights to everyone, and the rights you give might restrict it to one partner per person.

Jonathan Rauch was one of the guests on that segment. His overall argument is that same-sex marriage doesn't threaten traditional marriage but adds to it, since it doesn't actually detract from anyone's traditional marriage. It doesn't subtract marriages but adds them, and we need more marriage, so same-sex marriage can only help. His argument isn't sensitive at all to the lines of thought involving natural purposes, as traditionally marriage has been thought of, so it doesn't touch some of the more common arguments against same-sex marriage. But his dismissal of that kind of argument isn't new. He's written much of the subject and standardly argues that way. Here's he's assuming there's no such argument without actually arguing against it, but I think he has spent time arguing against it elsewhere.

But here's an interesting argument that's new to me:

Remember, fundamentally what I tell people is when straights get the right to marry three people or their dog or a toaster, gay people should have that too. But until then, that's not what we're talking about. We just want to be able to marry someone instead of no one.

On one level, this argument is silly. There's no ban on gay people marrying anyone, and there's no ban on them marrying anyone that other people of their sex can marry. In that respect, they have the same rights as straight people of their sex in a location where there's no legally-recognized same-sex marriage. What they don't have is the rights that people of the opposite sex have, namely to marry someone of their sex. So you can't argue for same-sex marriage by saying that a gay man doesn't have the same right I have to marry a man. As a heterosexual man, I don't have that right either. A gay man has the same rights I do with respect to the class of people we can marry. (Well, technically, that's true only if he's married. If he's not, then he has a much larger group he can marry, since it's above zero. So, to be more careful, an unmarried gay man can marry anyone of the same class of people that an unmarried straight man can marry.)

But what Rauch really means is that a gay person can't marry anyone in the class of people they'd want to marry, while straight people can. He's arguing for that right for gay people too. Given that he wouldn't want to marry a woman, giving him that right doesn't help him with the actual goals he might have for himself in marriage, which would be to be married to a man.

This argument, interestingly, would not help with interracial-marriage bans. Rauch's resistance to multiple marriages from a same-sex marriage perspective is that only allowing some options is enough. It's not violating his rights if you prevent him from marrying dogs, toasters, and so on, as long as you're doing that with straight people too. By the same reasoning, though, it's not violating his rights to prevent him from marrying black people, as long as you're doing that with straight people too. He's allowed for the compatibility of same-sex marriage with opposing multiple marriage on one level, but you have to look at all the moral positions and arguments he endorses to see if his view really allows for it. You have to bring in other moral premises to see why interracial-marriage bans are wrong, for example, because his argument doesn't get you that far. The question is whether other arguments he'd agree with can supply the necessary resources to argue against interracial-marriage bans. But then there's also the possibility that moral arguments he gives for same-sex marriage would also provide resources to argue against banning multiple marriages.

So his argument here doesn't show that he can resist multiple marriage consistently. It shows that someone could support same-sex marriage and reject multiple marriage. Whether he could depends entirely on the arguments he uses for same-sex marriage, some of which do require recognizing multiple marriage and some of which don't. I do think quite a lot of them do, and many of those are presented by people who want to avoid legal recognition of multiple marriage. This issue will eventually reach the courts, and it's one that those who deal in the business of moral and legal arguments should think about more carefully.

People With Blackness

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I've discovered the need to adopt a new way of speaking about people who are recently-descended from Africans. We've learned in the last couple decades that we ought to emphasize someone's personhood above any other characteristic, and thus it's thoroughly immoral to use any adjective in front of 'person'. We need to use predicate nouns instead. We no longer have sad people, for example. We simply have people with sadness. We no longer have short people. We have people with shortness. We don't want to define people with sadness as if their sadness is more important than their personhood, so we have a moral obligation to put the noun form after the word 'person'. Grammar does always indicate metaphysics, after all.

One sphere of language in which this lesson has never been properly applied is in the area of race. Why are we still talking about black people, for instance? Do we really want to define people solely in terms of their race? Do we really want to signal that their blackness is so central to who they are that we're going to pretend that people with blackness aren't people? If we call them black people, then we are treating their blackness as if it's a greater part of our conception of people with blackness than their personhood is. People with person-firstness have instructed us that we should never put disability-related adjectives in front of a noun or pronoun referring to a person, because we don't want them identified with that condition. But we've also learned from the same people that having a disability is not negative, which means this policy is not because disabilities are bad. Therefore, we ought to apply it to other cases when something is not bad but might wrongly be taken by someone to be bad, just as we would apply it to things that are genuinely bad. If race is not to be a negative, then I am not a white person. I'm a person with whiteness. It does make it a little awkward to speak of people with Asianness or people with Australian-first-people-ness (i.e. what used to be called aboriginalness). But it's worth the awkwardness of expression to avoid any chance of identifying them with the racial or ethnic group whose membership they possess.

Even worse, it's especially pernicious to say that someone is black (or African-American or whatever racial term we might choose). After all, using predicate adjectives amounts to making identity statements rather than merely ascribing a property to someone the way we would have thought that adjectives in English, even predicate adjectives, do. It's much more preferable to say that someone has blackness than to say that she is black. People aren't anything except persons. I'm not philosophical. I have philosophicalness. Glenn Beck is not unfair to his political adversaries. He has unfairness to the people who have political adversariness with him. President Obama is not bad at speaking without a teleprompter. He has badness at speaking without a teleprompter. I shouldn't say that I am Christian. I'm a person who has Christianity. I shouldn't be identified with my faith. I should claim, rather, to possess the entirety of Christianity, as if it belongs to me. We need to avoid identifying people with any property ascribed to them other than personhood. It's much better to say that they possess the entirety of the thing that formerly we would have used to describe them.

For more explanation, please see here (except you can ignore the sections explaining how people with blindness and people with deafness have offendedness at the obviously-correct way to refer to them, and you certainly shouldn't read person-with-autism Jim Sinclair's reasons for disliking person-first language).

Russell Moore has a nice post about how, although there's generally a moral mandate upon Christians to adopt, there are plenty of people who ought not to be the ones to fulfill that mandate [ht: Justin Taylor]. In particular, certain kinds of issues tend to come up with adoptions that most people, because of the reasons they're interested in adopting are not well prepared for and do not have the commitment to see those problems through, which leaves kids twice orphaned in too many cases.

I think this is a nice example of what I've elsewhere called a secondary moral obligation, an obligation you incur because you fail at a prior moral obligation. You ought not to have the attitude toward children that you see them as fulfilling your needs, but if you do then it's immoral to adopt, even if it's generally a moral mandate to adopt when such immoral attitudes are not present (and they shouldn't be present) and when there aren't other extenuating circumstances making it a less good idea to adopt (whatever those might be, and I'm open to their being lots of them).

What Moore does not mention is that the same is true of having children naturally. If you have the attitude that children are to meet your needs, then you shouldn't have children, even if (and I know not all Christians agree on this) it's Christian teaching that we ought to seek to have children or at least be very open to it (as many believe it is; whether it is is irrelevant to my point here, but assume it is for the sake of argument). My suspicion is that many new parents who were seeking to have children were doing so for completely selfish reasons. It strikes me as a thoroughly immoral reason to want to have children, and it seems to me that it's just as immoral to go ahead and have children if your desire is for them to fulfill your needs. That's so even if there is a moral mandate upon Christians to seek to have children, as many Christians do believe.

What makes this a nice case of a secondary moral obligation is that you have two obligations that conflict, one of which only appears if you violate the other one. It's wrong to have this selfish kid-possessing attitude, and those who have it ought not to have children. But you ought to seek to have children (on the premise I've been assuming, at least for the sake of argument). There's no inconsistency in such a position, despite the initial surface-level appearance of two contrary obligations. You do have an obligation to seek to have children (at least certain people do, anyway, on this view), and you do have an obligation not to want children for the wrong reasons, but if you do have the wrong reasons for wanting children then you simply ought not to have children, even if that means failing in the first obligation. It's worse to seek to meet the first obligation but violate the second than it is to fail the first because you're meeting the second.

But it becomes a fairly messy question if children come along anyway unintentionally when someone has this attitude. The original obligation still remains in such a case, and you simply ought not to have this attitude, even though most people do before they have children. Once they appear, you ought not to rid yourself of them unless your situation is so bad that they'll have a much better home without you than with you (and this selfish desire isn't usually so bad as to generate that situation; other conditions need to be met for that). I would argue that someone with the selfish attitude toward children does conceive a child, they ought (barring other considerations) to raise that child and to remove that selfish attitude. But that's compatible with thinking they ought not to seek to have children until they can rid themselves of that attitude, especially when it comes to great expense as with adoption.

[cross-posted at Parableman]

Herman Cain on abortion

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Here are some things Herman Cain has said about abortion:

1. He's opposed to abortion in all circumstances, but it's not the government's role to make that decision.
2. The president has no authority to order people not to seek an abortion.
3. He would appoint judges who know the Constitution contains no right to abortion.
4. He would veto legislation funding Planned Parenthood.
5. In the case of rape, it comes down to a family & doctor choice. He's opposed to it morally but shouldn't tell the nation what to think, because the government shouldn't be making our decisions on social issues.
6. The government shouldn't make decisions on whether abortion should be legal.
7. People shouldn't be free to seek abortions. Abortion should not be legal. (This was said immediately after 6.)
8. He opposes abortion with exceptions.
9. He opposes abortion except when the mother's life is threatened.

Sources: Huffington Post, CNN, Wikipedia

When it comes to Herman Cain's view on abortion, we seem to have a choice among (a) the uncharitable dishonest-about-his-views interpretion, i.e. he's not consistently being honest about what he thinks (b) the uncharitable intelligence interpretation, i.e. he's holding a flatly inconsistent set of beliefs in a pretty explicit way, (c) the uncharitable dishonest flip-flopper interpretation, i.e. he's not being honest about some change of views (and one such change has to be within minutes, (d) the uncharitable misuse-of-language interpretation, i.e. he's perhaps saying someone, perhaps only some of the time, that everyone misunderstands because of a highly idiosyncratic use of terms, or (e) he's got such a nuanced set of views that I can't even figure out how to put it together, with all my training in doing so.

(e) is the most charitable, but I'm extremely skeptical that he's so finely-tuned in his language without one of the others being true. I tend to think (d) is the least uncharitable of the others. Perhaps he means "it's not the role of government" and "it's the person's choice" in odd ways. You can, after all, say the second while thinking certain options should be illegal. You just wouldn't say so in an abortion discussion without being radically misunderstood. You could, also, say the first while thinking it's the role of a legislature but not the role of the executive or legislature to countermand the wrongful decision of the courts, but again you'd be radically misunderstood. That's about as good as I can do to put this together, and if it takes something like that, I think he's politically finished. There's no way the general public is going to be willing to be that charitable. But that may well be what's going on.

So here's my proposal. I'm going to take Herman Cain to hold to the following positions, all of them compatible with all of the above statements if they might have pragmatically-odd by semantically-possible meanings, and I'm going to see if I (or a commenter) might find a statement by him that does not fit with this view. So here's the approach I have in mind:

So (1) means abortion is morally wrong in all cases, but it's not the federal legislative and executive's right to do anything on that issue anymore, given the Supreme Court's wrongful intervention on the issue. (2) means the president can't tell people what to think and has been removed from being able to have any direct influence on abortion law at least at the very general level of deciding when it is legal to have an abortion in cases when the Supreme Court takes it to be a fundamental right. (3) clearly states that the Supreme Court wrongly decided Roe v. Wade, despite several claims that he hasn't made such a statement from social conservatives, and his preference for judges who would seek to do what they could to reverse or roll back that decision. (4) signals his opposition to federal funding for abortion or for abortion providers, something a president can have some say in. (5) signals his moral opposition to abortion in rape cases but his willingness to think that (i) that's a case when the law should be less clear than he thinks morality is, (ii) he as president shouldn't dictate what Americans' views on such matters ought to be, even if he has a clear policy preference, or (iii) given the Supreme Court's dictates, it's no longer the president's position but is given to a woman and a doctor to decide, even if he would prefer that the Supreme Court hadn't done that and would undo that dictate. (6) If he means the legislative and executive branch of the federal government here, and he isn't giving his ideal preference but his understanding of the limited role the Supreme Court has given him as president, then it's consistent with his view in his immediate next statement. (7) Ideally abortion should be outlawed, even if it's not possible to do so right now on the level of the legislature and executive. (8) Abortion is almost always wrong. There are exceptions, and he's aware of at least one. (9) One of those exceptions is when the mother's life is threatened, and there may or may not be others (and from above rape is not one of them).

This does strike me as a consistent position, and it does mean taking some of his statements in odd ways, but that's clearly more charitable than taking him to be lying about what his views are, lying about some change in his views, or so confused on the issue that he can't put together meaningful back-to-back statements explaining coherent positions. He does have an Obama-like history of overstating things and having to take them back, but his clarifications don't usually have the character of stating a view he holds and then backing off to a view he doesn't hold, and they also don't usually have the character of being corrected but embarassed to admit it. They usually have the character of not realizing how he might be misinterpreted and then being more careful the second time. It's just that this would be a case where his attempts to be more careful are only partially successful.

So that's my proposal of what I think he most likely is thinking. I admit that there are a couple points where it's a little bit of a stretch, but I don't think the evidence justified being less charitable at this point, and I'm not going to support misrepresentation  even by accident, which is I think what's going on if people are legitimately convinced he's pro-choice if he really isn't. He's certainly got a problem stating his views, but I'm not sure the general-election opponent is any better at expressing his views.

I can't see why pro-life voters would want this man representing them on this issue, but a vote for a president isn't necessarily a vote for the ideal person to represent your cause. It's a vote for the candidate that you think is better than the others. In a primary, that means the person who can best balance (a) the ability to beat the other candidate and (b) the ability to be a decent enough president to be preferable to the other party's candidate. In a general election, it's almost always a choice between two candidates as to which one will be better than the other on the issues you think are most important. It may turn out that someone who isn't the best person to represent your views on an issue does satisfy these criteria. Whether that person for pro-life Republicans is Herman Cain is, at least, not yet settled by this issue, in my view (although there are other issues that might serve as possible obstacles, and I could see this issue turning into one, depending on further statements that I haven't seen or he hasn't yet made). It partly depends on other people, too, but I have a better sense of what they think, at least the ones with much chance of winning.

I've been trying to put Norman Geisler's normative theory on the map of positions I'm aware of, because I think he makes a genuine contribution to the field, and he's been pretty much on the sidelines in terms of ethical theory given that he's only published with Christian publishers for Christian audiences. He calls his view Graded Absolutism, which I think is a misleading term (and arguably a misapplication of the term, depending on how he means it).

Here are four views along a spectrum:

1. Consequentialism (Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, G.E. Moore) -- consequences are the only determinant of whether an act is right or wrong; genuinely moral principles never conflict, because there is only one -- to seek the best consequences [but much of the work is determined by what counts as the best consequences, with utilitarians focusing only on pleasure and pain and more comprehensive consequentialists including many other consequences)
2. Rossian deontology (W.D. Ross) -- several moral principles are relevant, and consequences play a role as one of them; different principles take precedence in different situations
3. graded absolutism (Norman Geisler) -- several moral principles are relevant, but not consequences; the same hierarchy of importance exists for these principles no matter the circumstances
4. Kantian deontology (Immanuel Kant) -- moral truths are absolute in the sense that they never have exceptions, no matter how serious the consequences are; moral principles never conflict

Consequentialism and Kantianism are absolute in the sense philosophers usually mean when they use the term about an ethical theory. Moral rules are absolute, and there is never any genuine conflict between them. There is at least one moral principle with no exceptions for consequentialists, because there is only one, and it never has exceptions. For Kant, there are several principles, but he thinks they will never conflict. Deontologists think either that there are more principles that matter than just consequences (as Ross thinks) or that consequences are entirely irrelevant (as Geisler and Kant think). Many deontologists find Kant's view implausible, because there are often cases where moral principles conflict. But they also want there to be moral principles besides just consequences. Ross and Geisler offer different views on what happens next.

According to Ross, there are sometimes several moral principles that play a role in a given case, and one of them will take precedence in each case. But it's not according to a pre-existing hierarchy. Sometimes the situation will make one principle more appropriate than another, but in a different situation the hierarchy is reversed. Perhaps the lying principle is more important than the principle of seeking the best consequences when not much is at stake in terms of consequences. It might make things a little better in the world if you tell a lie, but the principle against lying is more important when the difference in your self-interest and the interest of others is not much changed whether you lie or not. But in a case where hundreds of lives are at stake, the principle of not lying becomes less significant than the principle of promoting the good of others (which is a consequence). When I teach ethical theory, I teach consequentialism and Kant and then present Ross as a moderating position, taking aspects of each but rejecting other aspects of each. Geisler seems to have found a different moderating position along this spectrum, one that's closer to Kant in two respects than Ross's view is.

One Kantian element Geisler wants to retain that Ross rejects is in not counting consequences at all. There might be cases where lying is all right, according to Geisler, if a more important moral principle is at stake. But that principle won't be framed in terms of consequences, and how serious the consequences are plays no role in the moral status of the action. (On this point, I side clearly with Ross. Of course consequences can play a role in determining how good or bad an action is, even if they are not always decisive.)

Second, Ross thinks which principle is more important will vary from situation to situation. Geisler doesn't like that. He wants a rigid hierarchy that is the same in every case. The only thing that determines which moral principle applies is which ones are relevant, and then you go with the highest one in the list that's relevant. This is in fact why Geisler misleadingly calls his view absolutist and why he would not think Ross's views is absolutist. What is absolute is the structure of the moral hierarchy. That never has exceptions and doesn't vary from situation to situation. But only the very top moral principle is absolute, strictly speaking, because the others all allow for exceptions. So it's not absolutist about most moral principles, like Kant's view, just about the top one and about the relative positions of all the moral principles in the hierarchy. Most ethicists who speak of absolutism are thinking in terms of whether moral principles in general are absolute, and Geisler's view would say no to that. But if absolutism is the view that at least one moral principle is absolute, then Geisler would agree with that. The top moral principle in the hierarchy is absolute.

I want to distinguish both of these moderating positions from a number of views that they get confused with fairly easily. First, there's situational ethics. Situational ethics is itself often confused with relativism. Situational ethics in reality is a consequentialist position that takes love to be the only important consequence. It is not relativism, and neither is consequentialism in general or utilitarianism in particular, despite all these views sometimes being called relativism.

The views most commonly called moral relativism are meta-ethical views about the nature of moral language. They find ways to account for moral language without there being objective moral truths. Subjectivism says what's right is just whatever the individual person considers right. Cultural relativism says what's right is whatever your culture says is right. Emotivism says there are no truths or falsehoods about right and wrong, and attempts to say something is right or wrong are more like expressing your approval (they mean, roughly, things like "Hooray for helping people out!" and "Boo! Abortion!" but don't express any content that can be true or false). There are other variations, but what all these views have in common is that there is no truth or falsity of moral statements except, possibly, to express truths about the person making the statement or about that person's culture.

Sometimes an incoherent view common among college students is called relativism. This view is basically an inconsistent combination of one of the above meta-ethical views (usually subjectivism or cultural relativism or an inconsistent adoption of both) with the moral absolute that we ought not to criticize other people's moral views or other culture's moral views. I don't consider that a genuine view, just a confusion and an attempt to combine incompatible claims.

But the views I'm talking about here are very different from what's usually called relativism. They are not situational ethics, because they are not consequentialist, and situational ethics is a consequentialist theory involving love as the only important consequence. They are not meta-ethical relativism. The meta-ethical position they endorse is objectivism. The moral principles for Ross and Geisler are objectively true. It's just that sometimes one principle is more important than another (for Ross) or some principles are always more important than certain others (for Geisler).In both cases, the facts that determine which principles are relevant in a case are objective. For Geisler, the hierarchy of principles remains constant across situations. For Ross, it doesn't. But even for Ross there are objective facts about the situation that make certain principles more appropriate for that situation than other principles. Contrast the view that your psychological makeup, moral views, or cultural background is what determines which principles are important. These views are not relativism but genuinely objectivist moral theories.

In the online ethical theory course I'm teaching this summer, one of the students brought up the abortion question, which led to a discussion among the students, during which some of the usual points came up. I think I just realized more explicitly what's wrong with one common line of argument that I've seen on this topic.

It's often said that someone consents to parental responsibility by having sex. By engaging in behavior that has a risk of producing a new human life, one has agreed to care for that resulting child. A common response to this line of argument is that we don't apply the same line of thinking elsewhere. For example, we don't (or at least shouldn't) hold someone responsible for being raped just because she wears revealing clothing or because she leaves her house to walk to the house ten houses down, during which she risks someone dragging her off and raping her.

What I think I've just realized is that we're conflating two different kinds of responsibility. In the rape case, we're talking about whether someone ought to suffer the consequences of a small risk. The risk of getting raped while walking down the road is very small, and we don't usually say people deserve what happens to them merely because they were walking alone outside. But the abortion question isn't about whether suffering is deserved. It's about whether you have a moral obligation to do something about what results. Conception occurs. Now there's a tiny human organism that results from the behavior in question. So does someone have obligations that incur because of the small risk you took?

That's more analogous to whether I owe damages to someone if the baseball I hit goes through their window, which was a small risk but one I willingly took. Raising a child is a much more serious responsibility than paying a one-time monetary compensation for breaking a window, but the issue seems parallel in many ways (and the obligation might not be raising the child but might simply be going through with the pregnancy, which is quite a bit less at least). If it's not parallel in enough ways, it would be interesting to explore why. Francis Beckwith has pointed out that one indication why we might think we do consent to parental obligations merely from one sexual act is that we assume that very thing in our child-support laws. Should we also assume it in our abortion laws, or is there a morally relevant difference between the two situations (beyond the mere fact that we're talking about men in one case and women in the other)?

Update: An anonymous coward commenter has criticized this post in the comments of the Philosophers' Carnival that includes it. Maryann has closed comments, so I have to respond here.

1. The idea that this post contains any victim-blaming is ludicrous. I said nothing about any victim being blamed for any behavior that victimized the victim other than to say that people should not be blamed for what they're not responsible for. What I did say is that sometimes we incur an obligation when we are not to blame. How that amounts to claiming that you are to blame is beyond me.

2. There's some debate in the comments about whether I meant the baseball analogy to be an analogy with rape cases or an analogy with a case of consensual sex with no desire for children. I meant it as neither. In fact, it's not an analogy. It's an example illustrating that a general principle held by Thompson (which I discussed in point 1 just above) is in fact false. I had in mind only that principle when I gave the baseball case. I wasn't thinking it was an analogy for either case. It was simply given as a case demonstrating that we don't hold to such a principle unless we want to hold to it to avoid a conclusion we don't like about abortion. But what I say about the principle itself because of the baseball case does indeed apply to rape cases. That certainly doesn't mean I'm blaming any rape victims, though, because what I in fact said (as I said in point 1 above) is that any incurred responsibilities in such cases are despite not being blameworthy.

3. There's a claim that I held to certain conditionals and a response that I didn't include those conditionals and did a terrible job indicating that I meant them if I had meant them. Let me repeat my last two sentences: "Francis Beckwith has pointed out that one indication why we might think we do consent to parental obligations merely from one sexual act is that we assume that very thing in our child-support laws. Should we also assume it in our abortion laws, or is there a morally relevant difference between the two situations (beyond the mere fact that we're talking about men in one case and women in the other)?" That does entail, I think, the question: if we hold people responsible for something they're not to blame for in child-support situations, why shouldn't we do so in abortion situations?" And I don't think it's all that hard to get that out of my post if you actually read it.

Pro-choicers regularly accuse pro-lifers of favoring policies that increase abortions by (a) being one-issue voters who care only about laws restricting abortion (and politicians who will appoint, confirm, or be judges who will move things back in a direction that allows more of such restrictions), (b) actively opposing laws and policies that will decrease the number of abortions, or (c) promoting policies that will actually increase the number of unwanted pregnancies.

I'm sure there are people who are inconsistent in applying their pro-life principles by doing such things, but there are plenty of unfair ways to make such arguments, particularly when they ignore other beliefs held by many pro-life people that make their position fully consistent.

For example, contraception decreases the number of unwanted pregnancies, it is argued, and therefore pro-lifers who want to decrease the number of abortions ought to promote contraception. So the charge is that pro-lifers who oppose contraception are thus inconsistent.

It doesn't take much reflection to see that this argument is patently unfair to some pro-lifers. Consider the following proposal. Let's kill everyone on the planet. That would surely decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies. But no pro-lifer would advocate it, because it would be wrong to decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies by using such a method. Now no one is offering that proposal, but consider the proposal in question. The suggestion is that by promoting contraception we would decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies, and therefore we would decrease the number of abortions. You might think that this proposal is much better than simply killing everyone on the planet, which would also produce that same goal. In fact, it is. I'd be shocked to find anyone, pro-life or not, who wouldn't agree. But a proposal doesn't have to be as bad as killing everyone on the planet to be immoral, and at least one possible view would still consistently hold to pro-life views on abortion and anti-contraception views.

Some pro-lifers are simply opposed to contraception in principle. They think it's immoral. They surely don't think it's as immoral as wiping out all human life. But they do think it would be wrong to participate in it or promote it, and supporting policies that attempt to get more people to use contraception would indeed participate in and promote contraception. To such a person, it doesn't matter if they are opposing a policy that would decrease unwanted pregnancies. Decreasing unwanted pregnancies is a good thing, since it removes the occasion in which some people will do something immoral. But we shouldn't do something immoral ourselves in order to remove the situation where someone else will be tempted to do something immoral. So such a person is consistent with pro-life principles while opposing policies that promote contraception, and it's extremely unfair to such a person's actual views to accuse them of inconsistency before exploring what views they might have for resisting the promotion of contraception.

Similarly, if someone thinks it's immoral to promote economic policies that will put more people in better situations and thus remove some of the concerns that lead to abortions, then they should oppose those policies. Suppose the person is a pro-life economic libertarian of an extreme enough sort that they think welfare amounts to stealing, for example. They won't see the good consequences of welfare for those who are tempted to have abortions as good enough to overcome the wrongness of stealing from one group of people to help others. Preventing one bad situation that prevents a temptation for an immoral act is surely a good thing, but if it means adopting an economic policy that one considers immoral, it might eliminate that method, depending on what moral theory we're working with and how one sorts through potentially conflicting moral principles.

Now the argument is much better when directed against someone who doesn't see the policy in question as being intrinsically wrong but just sees it as a bad idea. Most economic conservatives don't oppose welfare programs at any level. Many pro-lifers don't oppose contraception as intrinsically wrong. In the first case, they have to weigh the bad consequences they expect from an economic policy they disagree with against the bad consequences they should expect if something isn't done to change the unwanted pregnancy rate. A lot more factors come into play here, such as which methods will be most effective at reducing unwanted pregnancies, which methods will have better consequences in other respects, how much energy the person is already putting into attempts that they don't see as having bad consequences, and how effective restrictive laws will be as compared with simply changing people's circumstances.

What about the contraceptive issue with those who don't see contraception as intrinsically wrong? A lot of pro-lifers who don't have a problem with contraception in principle will still be extremely hesitant about efforts to promote it among teenagers (or among the unmarried in general, depending on their views about sexual morality). One reason for this hesitation, I think, is that they see such promotion as endorsement of teenage sex (or unmarried sex), and they would see that as participating in something they shouldn't. Or it might be thought of in terms of promotion of something one wants not to promote. Then the wrongness of promoting something wrong or participating in something wrong might be decisive for someone, and we don't have an inconsistent position after all.

Then there might also be bad consequences to consider. I've seen claims that promoting contraception doesn't decrease unwanted pregnancies but actually decreases them. I've never looked at the details of studies on the subject, but I think the explanation for why this might be is that people who most (but not all) of the time use contraception are more likely to feel safer in avoiding contraception than without contraception-promotion, in which case they might have been more willing to abstain from sex than to engage in contracepted-sex most (but not all) of the time. Now it doesn't actually matter to my argument whether these claims are true. Perhaps this effect isn't very strong, and the effect of promoting contraception in preventing pregnancies is much stronger. What matters is that some people believe this claim to be true, and it's not totally unreasonable, even if a closer look at facts might disabuse someone of it (if in fact it's wrong, which I'm not taking a stand on one way or the other). That means they have a consistent position of why they think the effects of contraception-promotion do not actually decrease unwanted pregnancies, and thus they can consistently hold to pro-life principles and want to reduce unwanted pregnancies without wanting to promote contraception.

I recently listened to a Bloggingheads TV diavlog between Sarah Posner and Michael Dougherty, and along the way one of them (I believe Dougherty) mentioned an argument that I don't think I've ever heard before. Apparently some people have argued against promoting contraceptives because they think such efforts will lead to a bad consequence, not just in other areas, but one that has a direct impact on abortion. It may well be, as far as this argument goes, that promoting contraception will decrease the number of unexpected pregnancies, i.e. the number of pregnancies that were not wanted before they occurred. But emphasizing contraception might at the same time reinforce the sense that pregnancy is a bad thing worth avoiding. Of those unexpected pregnancies, such an increased sense of pregnancy as bad might increase the number of unexpected pregnancies been seen as unwanted. That might then increase the number of abortions resulting from unexpected pregnancies, even if the number of unexpected pregnancies goes down because of the contraception. You'd then have to see if it's possible to figure out which effect would be more significant, and my suspicion is that such a task would be very difficult, if not impossible, which might lead one toward caution about a policy that might have a good effect but might also have a bad effect. That would then contribute toward explaining the hesitation from some pro-lifers with respect to policies that promote contraception.

There are plenty of other things that might come to play here, but this should give enough sense that it doesn't automatically follow from pro-life convictions that one ought to favor policies promoting contraception or supporting economic policies that might have the effect of helping more women at risk for unwanted pregnancies to have more economically-viable situations where they'd be less tempted to have an abortion. Perhaps when all is said and done, the best pro-life policy is to oppose abortion and favor restricting it while also promoting contraception. Provided you don't think contraception is intrinsically immoral, that's going to depend on a number of other factors, including some empirical data that I'm not sure is readily available in an indisputable form. But it's not an automatic implication of pro-life principles, and how people settle those other issues will affect what they might consistently say about efforts to promote contraception. Similarly, it's certainly possible that pro-lifers ought to support some given effort to increase the quality of life of those who might be at risk for having an abortion. But whether they should consistently do so will depend quite a bit both on their other views and on empirical data that isn't easily available to most people and may, frankly, not even exist in any understandable form.

Loving v. Virginia

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I recently listened to the Supreme Court oral arguments in Loving v Virginia, the 1967 case that overturned anti-miscegenation laws. I took a lot of notes and wrote up my thoughts afterward, and here are some of the observations and reflections that resulted.

1. The Lovings' lawyer began by presenting the law they wanted declared unconstitutional, the reason the law was passed, and a little bit about its precursor laws, feeling no need at that point to present any criticism of any it, It was simply clear from his tone that he thought the reasons behind the law were thoroughly immoral. No justice questioned him on this, and it sure seemed to me that they tacitly agreed. I wasn't around at the time, but this seemed to me to be a good sign that by 1967 we'd moved far enough along already that everyone on the Supreme Court saw this law as despicable, morally speaking (which in itself doesn't settle the legal question, and thus they let the oral argument continue past this point).

2. When the Virginia attorney general got his turn, it didn't take long for him to refer to the Lovings' union as a marital relation. He never disputed that it was a marriage, just whether Virginia had authority to declare their marriage illegal. That's one clear difference between Loving v. Virginia and the same-sex marriage cases in the courts right now that we don't often see people drawing attention to. Those who favor laws banning interracial marriage were happy to use the word 'marriage' for those relations. They didn't think such a union wasn't a genuine marriage. They just thought such marriages should or at least could be banned without it violating anyone's constitutional rights. The issue of whether it would be a marriage simply didn't occur to them. It obviously was. On the other hand, that's precisely one of the key issues for same-sex unions. Whether they should count as marriages to begin with has been a crucial issue of controversy, and whether these laws therefore revise a longstanding definition of marriage, and whether a state can resist that, is therefore not an issue that came up under Loving v. Virginia. Those who say that Loving v. Virginia automatically settles such questions by the same reasoning have not recognized this. There are several ways that the arguments aren't parallel in every respect, and that's a noteworthy difference. If the arguments based on the parallel are going to prevail, then this difference ought to be shown to be legally unimportant.

3. Three lawyers argued on the Lovings' behalf. The third, William Marutani, on behalf of the Japanese American Citizens League, made an interesting vagueness point. He was arguing that it's impossible to determine whether someone is white by definition of Virginia law, according to which someone has to be purely white in having no non-white ancestors. The people we call white are of such mixed ethnic background in the melting pot of the United States (and in the European history among prior ancestors) that it's impossible to be sure with most people (at least the ones without good genealogical records) whether they are white according to the Virginia law. It's a good practical reason not to have such laws, even apart from the moral question. The opposing lawyer rightly pointed out that the Virginia statutes about those matters weren't being challenged, so by the rules of our legal system it's not really legally relevant unless someone challenged those statutes in the lower courts first. But I thought it was nice to see someone making that point as early as 1967. It's worth pointing out that he didn't make any mention of the even-more-mixed status of blacks, even at the time (but it's much stronger now, I'd wager), but that wouldn't have helped him except to challenge the definitions of terms used in the law according to how they're used in science or something like that, which is irrelevant to the law's constitutionality, since the law itself didn't make any difference for blacks according to how much black ancestry they had. All it took was a smidgeon.

4. The precise equal protection point is worth reflecting on. There was also a due process argument, but I don't pretend to understand how due process is supposed to work. I've never heard a due process argument that I've understood, for whatever reason. It's not that I understand what's being argued and disagree. I simply have no clue what's being argued with due process claims, and I've never gotten any clarity on that despite hearing lots of oral arguments, reading lots of opinions, and trying to wade through discussions in popular-level presentations. Due process rights, according to some (e.g. Justices Scalia and Thomas), is merely ensuring that the laws are followed and that no improper procedures are followed. I once agreed with this, but that makes it a vacuous claim to say that you can't pass laws that deprive someone of rights without due process of the law. You can't pass laws without ensuring that the law is really passed? Then I discovered that at the time the 14th Amendment was passed, there was much discussion of what's called substantive due process, which reads more into due process than the vacuous sort of view I've lost interest in defending. So when that part of the Constitution was framed, it may well have involved this notion of due process. Nonetheless, I can't make heads or tails of what due process is supposed to be on the substantive due process view or how one would argue that due process rights include some claimed right, other than reading one's own policy preferences into the notion, which I don't consider legitimate judicial practice.

But the equal protection claim is one I fully understand. Every person within a state's jurisdiction is guaranteed equal protection of its laws. If a law treats one person differently from another without a strong enough justification for doing so, then equal protection is violated. The Virginia attorney general conceded that there is no justification for his state's anti-miscegenation laws if all you had to go on were genetic and scientific issues. The only moral justification his state could have to pass such a law, in his view, is the harmful effects of interracial marriages on the children of such marriages and on the participants, and he concedes that these effects are because of the attitudes of the people of Virginia toward such unions and toward children of such unions. So it's a highly contingent claim, one that presumably (as far as he's argued) would not be present in a state without such attitudes.

That's another difference from the arguments of those who oppose same-sex marriage. Their arguments are not based on contingent factors about people's attitudes toward same-sex unions and people's attitudes toward children raised by those in same-sex unions (who are not possibly the product of those unions, to begin with, at least in the biological sense, although some might not exist but for those unions). Some of the arguments of those who oppose same-sex unions are based on statistical claims about marriage as traditionally conceived compared with same-sex unions when called marriages, and some of those (for all we know) might be contingent matters due to social circumstances. If no one opposed same-sex relations, these things might be different.

But not all the arguments are like that. Some have to do with the sociological conclusions of numerous studies showing that not only are two parents more valuable for the sake of the child than one but that having parents of both sexes tends to be better (other things being equal) for the children and having the child with biological parents (other things being equal) tends to be better for the child. So marriages as traditionally conceived will, apart from contingent matters like social attitudes, be better for the children, and thus there's a reason to encourage such unions by calling them marriages and not unions that don't have those features. Whatever the merits or demerits of such an argument are, it's a difference in the justifications used for preventing same-sex unions being called marriage and the justifications used for preventing marriages between those of different races, and that's rarely acknowledged in the arugments of those who think Loving v. Virginia's arguments apply exactly to the same-sex marriage cases. Those differences need to be dealt with for such arguments to go through.

5. I've long thought that the equal protection point itself isn't parallel, for reasons I explained here and here. I don't think I've changed my mind on that question since writing those posts, although I've realized that I need to look into some Supreme Court rulings in the 70s on equal protection and women to see if the sex-discrimination argument should work with the federal Constitution given current Supreme Court precedent. But I'm not going to get into the details of any of that here. This post is long enough already that I don't need to rehash what prior posts already covered or to predict what I might come to after listening to the arguments in those 1970s cases.

Secondary Moral Obligations

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There's a category of moral obligations that occur in funny circumstances. Given that you are doing a certain immoral thing, there are nevertheless obligations that you have. The pope has recently conceded (finally) that there are such obligations involving condom use. It's wrong to be a male prostitute, but it's "a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility" if the prostitute uses a condom. In other words, if you're going to be immoral, you do have the moral obligation of wearing a condom. You shouldn't be doing the initial immoral thing to begin with, but if you're going to do it you still have another obligation to be responsible and wear a condom, or else you fail at a further obligation.

The fullest quote I've seen is, "There may be justified individual cases, for example when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be ... a first bit of responsibility, to re-develop the understanding that not everything is permitted and that one may not do everything one wishes."

Perhaps we could call this sort of thing a secondary moral obligation, one you don't have unless you're doing something you have a moral obligation not to do.

Since some secondary moral obligations might be immoral themselves were it not for the primary moral obligation, there really is an interesting character to them. That's certainly how the pope's view in this case works. Condom use is normally immoral, according to his view. But given certain immoral actions, you then have a secondary moral obligation to perform that normally-immoral act of using a condom.

I want to say something about Andrew Sullivan's response, because I think Sullivan latches on to something important that most people haven't picked up, but he's also got it completely wrong in another respect. What Sullivan notices is that "Benedict has chosen a case where transmission of new life (barring a real miracle) is already impossible". It's not clear if he would say the same thing about a female prostitute, where conception might be possible. It's quite possible that this is why he chose this example. I'm not sure. Does the recognition of secondary moral obligations only occur when the stakes of the effects of risky sex are greater than the stakes of contraception, and the latter still appear in cases of heterosexual non-marital sex?

I suspect Sullivan is wrong about this, though, and the pope would still invoke what I'm calling a secondary moral obligation in cases where there's high risk of STDs with immoral sex of any sort, but Sullivan has given a possible distinction that might come into play. I credit him for spotting that possibility, but I'm wondering if he has any evidence other than the fact that he chose this example when he could have chosen another (which is no more than speculation, actually).

I have to criticize Sullivan's understanding of the larger issue. I don't think he gets the point being made. He describes this statement is taking one form of gay sex as being more moral than another. That strikes me as at least very misleading, if more moral means anything other than less immoral. When you say something is more moral, it sounds as if there's a continuum between things not moral and things most moral, and this is in between somewhere. That's not what Benedict said, though. What he said is that both are immoral, but one is moreso.

What he goes on to say next, however, does seem right to me. It does follow that moral considerations of this secondary sort would apply in gay sex. If gay sex is immoral, there are some instances that are less so than others. Anonymous gay sex is more immoral than gay sex in a committed partnership. Duh. But is such a position really anathema to the Roman Catholic Church? Is Benedict likely to say that there's no moral distinction between killing someone while robbing a bank in order to get away safely and taking sadistic delight in blowing up the entire bank with forty hostages as you go, even though none of their deaths were required for your escape?

I'd be pretty shocked if he thought such a thing. In fact, an alternate position by John Allen strikes me as more likely: "Pope Benedict XVI has signaled that in some limited cases, where the intent is to prevent the transmission of disease rather than to prevent pregnancy, the use of condoms might be morally justified." So the issue is intent, as is unsurprising. Pope Paul VI's statement on sexual morality allowed for some cases where an act that would normally be immoral might in certain contexts be justified given that the intent is not to prevent conception but to save a life. The case of a married couple with one spouse HIV-positive seems to be another, and I know of several instances of Catholic bishops and even a cardinal endorsing condom use in such a case (and the entire Phillipines conference of bishops even made a public statement to that effect).

So is Sullivan's conclusion that the pope is now opened up to a gray-scale of morality rather than black and white morality? Hardly. There's still a fact about what you ought to do and what you ought not to do. The gradations are not between right and wrong, where it's factually uncertain which things are which (or even worse that there are no facts about where the line lies). I've seen nothing to indicate anything other than a sharp line between right and wrong in Benedict's moral thinking. It's just that there are degrees in how wrong something can be. Out of the things that are simply wrong, some have a greater degree of wrongness to them than others. Using a condom to have gay sex in a committed same-sex legal marriage is, on the Catholic view, simply wrong, even if it's not as bad as having unprotected sex with a male prostitute in a one-time encounter.

Given what the pope's position is, it's interesting to see the headlines news outlets are giving to the pronouncement (and I'm just looking at what's on the top of the Google listings). Yahoo's is pretty good: Pope says some condom use 'first step' of morality. CBN seems to be using the same headline. ABC is also in this category, as is Catholic Herald.

Politics Daily, on the other hand, gets it entirely wrong: "Pope OKs Condoms in Some Cases, Such As Prostitutes Avoiding HIV". That doesn't get the point at all. It's not that he's OKing it for them. It's that he can see it as a movement from being thoroughly immoral to being a little less immoral, all the while insisting that they should be doing none of it to begin with. You have the same problem with the New York Times: Pope Says Condoms to Stop AIDS May Be Acceptable. NPR has the same problem with different language: Pope Says Condoms Can Be Used in Some Cases. Al Jazeera has an initial headline that's fine, but then they have a sub-headline that's as bad as any of these. First: Pope softens stand on condoms. Then the summary immediately below says he considers it acceptable in some cases. Others in this category include the New York Post, CNN, and the Huffington Post. The Daily Beast is perhaps the worst: Pope Partly Endorses Condoms.

FOX News is only a little better: Pope: Condom Use Can Be Justified in Some Cases. The reason I think that's a little better is because it's actually true, whereas the NYT and Politics Today headlines are simply false. The pope has not said that it's OK or acceptable to use condoms to stop AIDS, just that it's less immoral than engaging in such behavior without a condom. I think it's technically correct to say, however, that it can be justified in some cases, if the view is that you incur a moral obligation to use a condom in such circumstances by engaging in the immoral behavior. But it's pretty misleading. It suggests that this is all right, even if it doesn't go as far as the others in asserting that. MSNBC has a similar headline, with "OK" instead of "Justified". That strikes me as better than saying he OKs it or that it may be acceptable, but I think calling it justified is a little better.

[cross-posted at Evangel]

Update: The discussion at Evangel has brought up a couple things I wanted to mention here (but I recommend reading the comments there, which are much more full than anything I expect here).

1. Steve Hays provided a link to this story, which suggests both that this isn't really all that new in the thinking of the Catholic hierarchy but that it would be perceived as a change in policy by most in that hierarchy.

2. David Nickol quoted the section of Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae that I was remembering that allows for non-contraceptive intents behind actually-contraceptive measures, as long as there's no contraceptive intent. Here's what he quotes: "the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from--provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever." That confirms my sense of things that lay behind my response to Sullivan.

Update 2: Well, here we go. He didn't mean to include just male-male acts.

Update 3: Steve Hays sent me a link to another article confirming the information in U1 of the first update.

Peter Ludlow on Wikileaks

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Philosopher Peter Ludlow presents the motivation behind Wikileaks to show that ways to resist it won't work, because they assume things that aren't true about why people are doing this. It's basically absolutism about the availability of information. The principle is that if there's information, then we should all have access to it. It's not remotely about calling people toward being more accountable or trying to promote a particular political agenda (aside from the absolutism about freedom of information, anyway, which is a political agenda).

The argument reminds me an awful lot of the kind of mindset Michael Crichton was arguing against with Jurassic Park. It's absolutism about the dissemination of information, without regard to any moral principles about whether it's good to do so or even wrong to do so in particular cases. In that way, it's highly parallel to those who pursue scientific research merely because they can and regardless of any of the ethical objections to doing so.

Puzzling Reference to Sophists

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This is from Kwame Anthony Appiah's In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture, p.11:

...there are arguments in the works of the pre-Socratic Sophists to the effect that it is individual character and not skin color that determines a person's worth.

He has an endnote that deals entirely with the first half of this sentence, which was about Homer. He gives no source for this claim, and there's no other mention of anything remotely helpful in the context.

This is a little surprising to me, because the only Sophists I know of who we have any record of what they thought about ethics were Protagoras in his relativism and Antiphon in his egoistic nihilism. I wouldn't expect either to put forward such a view as a genuine moral truth, and the others we have any indication about (Gorgias, Thrasymachus, Callicles) seem to have been with Antiphon at least in terms of the basic view.

So does anyone know of any information that Appiah must be aware of that I'm not?

Matt Skene has a very thoughtful post on the intersection of issues related to rights and obligations and recent health care debates. I disagree with a number of Matt's assumptions. I think we do have positive obligations, and I do think they simply are there without our taking them on. I don't think rights determine obligations but the other way around. Perhaps most salient, I don't think we can distinguish between obligations and moral goodness. I think we simply have an obligation to do what's morally best (and yes, I know that that means that pretty much everyone on this planet is thoroughly immoral, but that's not exactly a new view; it's historic Christian doctrine).

But I think there's a lot worth thinking about in Matt's post. His general approach is libertarian. He starts with natural negative rights and argues for no positive rights. In other words, certain things are wrong to do to me, because I have a right for you not to do them, but I have no rights for you to do positively good things on my behalf, just for you not to do bad things to me. But such a view doesn't imply that there aren't moral reasons to do positive things on behalf of other people.

In particular, there are reasons why it might be the morally best thing to do to help those who are less fortunate to obtain good medical care. Matt doesn't think I have an obligation to alleviate the suffering of people I have no other connection with, but he does think it's morally good to do so. It's also self-interestedly good for me to develop the character traits that such acts help develop in me. He's open to, but not convinced by, the argument that it would be in our best interests to contract with one another to institute such obligations by common consent, as we do with building highways. It depends on whether we'd all be better off with it.

Matt suggests an interesting possibility, though. You can donate money to your utility company to offset the costs of low-income utility customers. Presumably this goes to heating assistance aid, which is given to recipients of food stamps once a year and paid directly to the utility company. I'm not sure how else the utility companies would know who counts as low-income. But if we did a similar thing with insurance companies, there might be enough money from those who, like progressives on this issue, think they have an obligation to pay for others' insurance and from some of those who, like Matt, think it's a morally good thing to do. Could that cover everything Medicaid and other public health insurance does? It's worth seeing how much it covers.

I tend to doubt it, since most people who think the government should tax us more to pay for benefits to low-income people are not inclined to give money when it's voluntary (consider our current president as a prime example), but maybe enough people who don't share such views will give the money voluntarily while resisting it when it's government-controlled (as, apparently, Dick Cheney does with a huge percentage of his income). But it's being done with utilities. Why not try it with health insurance and see where it goes? There might even be enough votes in Congress after the 2010 election.

A friend of mine who blogs under a pseudonym has an excellent post criticizing the way a lot of schools and similar child-focused organizations run their fundraisers.

I couldn't resist chiming in and saying that it's pretty evil for anyone to assume of any particular family that they can produce the person-hours to engage in this kind of fundraising and to have negative consequences for those who can't. For a family with limited financial resources, expecting them to come up with the money whether they raise it or not is downright evil, and families with particularly high time commitments simply cannot devote their very limited time-resources to helping their school or organization raise the money that they need to keep operating the way they do.

It becomes not just inconvenient but pretty much impossible in a family with five children, two of them autistic, one of them a newborn, and heavy time-commitments outside just ordinary ways of taking care of the children (say, involvement in a church, several activities throughout the week related to the disabilities of the children, the extra time necessary for dealing with behavior and safety issues raised by serious developmental delays, divided responsibilities between work and education for the sole wage-earner, both of which get sidelined much more frequently than in most families). If any organization our children were involved with were to engage in this kind of behavior, I would simply ignore them, and if they pushed they'd get an earful.

But, even in a family where the parents can sit down and relax even while their kids are home, where they don't have to assign one parent to monitor a very active and destructive seven-year-old for his entire waking existence on top of whatever else might need to go on, where after bedtime the parents can assume they can sit down and do something relaxing for a few hours before going to sleep, it seems to me to be contrary to the usual norms of social interaction in our society to think that you can expect a certain level of commitment from people for this sort of thing. It's one thing to ask parents to put in some time and effort asking some people they know to contribute. It's quite another to expect the huge time commitment that's required to ensure that every family gets a certain level of results. There are much more fruitful ways of raising money that don't involve roping in reluctant people, sometimes those who simply cannot devote their time or energy to anything of the sort. Why can't people use the same standards of moral decency that they apply to most of their interactions with other people when it comes to these things?


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