Ethics: November 2005 Archives

Those who opposed invading Iraq in 2003 have often been accused of not being patriotic. I think it's a slimy complaint. Some of them surely are not patriotic. Some have demonstrated by their actions and statements that they prefer al Qaeda to succeed if that's what it takes for Bush to fail. I'm convinced that such a view is much more mainstream than some people think. But many people opposed the war because they considered it immoral and didn't want their country doing immoral things. That's patriotism. This is all old news, though. Why am I talking about it now?

Well, it occurred to me recently that this is the same general phenomenon that I've also talked about a number of times on this blog with respect to accusations of anti-semitism in the gospels (and in Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ). I've elsewhere argued that the gospels are Jewish works engaging in self-criticism of their own culture, much as the Hebrew prophets were. Jesus was particularly hard on his own people, but that didn't make him anti-semitic, and it doesn't make the recordings of his life and sayings in the gospels anti-semitic. They do indeed record harsh statements against the Jewish leaders, and John even directs these statements to what he calls the Jews (which careful scholars realize amounts to exactly the same thing). What was funny to me was realizing that those who are so inflamed at those who claim anti-war demonstrators to be undemocratic might well be exactly the same people accusing the gospels or Mel Gibson's use of them (which amounted pretty much to direct quotes of them) as being anti-semitic. It's the same error in reasoning in both cases. (Incidentally, it occurred to me after writing this post that this probably also applies to those who say someone is self-hating for criticizing the behavior of a contingent of their own ethnic or racial group, e.g. Bill Cosby.)

If you can be patriotic while engaging in self-criticism of your own culture, then it isn't anti-semitic to engage in self-criticism of your own culture if you're Jewish. But that's exactly what the gospels do when making the sorts of claims about the Jews of the time that the Jewish Anti-Defamation League and a few more liberal contemporary gospel scholars declare to be anti-semitic. People on the left make this sort of blunder as easily as people on the right do.

Trackback Ethics

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I've encountered a strange trackback dilemma. It's standard blogging convention that you don't send trackbacks to a blog post unless you link to that blog post. See this post on the history of trackback for an explanation of its original purpose, and see Outside the Beltway, The Moderate Voice, and Eternal Recurrence for standard accounts of what not to do and why. Most bloggers who pay attention will delete any trackback that doesn't give any reference to their post but is merely sent to garner attention without repaying the compliment. I deleted a trackback within the last week that fit this description exactly. Someone wanted to draw attention to his blog, so he was sending trackbacks to any posts about the subject he was writing about without discussing anything on those blogs and without linking to it. I resolved to write a post about the ethics of trackback so I could point to an encapsulation of the issues really easily. Then the post I intended took a turn for the more complicated.

In the last few days I've received trackbacks on these two posts. The posts they point to do link to the posts in question, and they describe the posts here as related blog posts. The only problem is that they're clearly not related in any important way. One is a book review of a novel, and it points to a book review Abednego wrote here of something completely unrelated. One is about dating Jewish men, and it points to a post of mine about the dating of the when the Edomite nation existed.

I'm of two minds on this. It seems like a genuine abuse of trackback and deserving of deletion, but the posts in question do link here. So what does standard blogging convention have to say about such a situation? My impression is that it wouldn't be wrong to delete these trackbacks and to institute a policy of deleting all such trackbacks, but I'd like to hear from others before I do so. Ideally you will give arguments for your view. A stronger view is even possible. One might think I have a moral obligation to delete these trackbacks if leaving them up endorses the immoral flouting of standard blog conventions. So, any thoughts?

I have a few questions. I'm not going to argue for anything in this post. I just want to get a sense of what people think about a philosophical issue that's been bugging me a lot lately. I'm trying to think through the relationship between rights and obligations. In particular, do the two go hand in hand, or are there times when you have one but not the other? Some philosophers take them to be two sides of the same coin. If I have a right, that means people have an obligation toward me (e.g. if I have a right not to be killed, then you have an obligation not to kill me). If I have an obligation, then you have a corresponding right (e.g. if I have an obligation to keep a promise to you, then you have a right to my keeping that promise).

Does this sound right? Or are there cases when someone might have an obligation to someone without that person having rights to what is owed? I've come across two examples in philosophical literature recently. One was a claim by Judith Jarvis Thomson that when a brother is given a box of chocolates he has a moral obligation to share them with his brother, but his brother has no right to any of the chocolates, since they were given to his brother and not to him. The second was in an animal rights discussion by Carl Cohen. He thinks we have obligations to animals, but they're not the sort of creatures who have rights. Another example (this time mine) might be owing someone respect in a way that they have no right to expect it. Can I have such an obligation to do something the person has no right to expect? In general, can I have an obligation to someone who has no right to the thing I owe them?

Todd Zywicki points to a study that concludes that mandatory waiting periods for abortion reduce suicide rates after unplanned pregnancies. I haven't looked at the study itself, but some of the comments on Todd's post seem to me to be unjustifiably critical. In particular, they claim that a libertarian view of the purpose of law wouldn't allow the kind of paternalism that such laws are based on. I think this is completely wrong.

The libertarian argument fails for a number of reasons (including that libertarianism is wrong), but the most notable is that this isn't paternalism in the ordinary sense. Paternalism is usually thought of as government interference in people's decision-making process when someone has legitimately consented to a practice that the government is rejecting as legitimate consent for no reason other than that they consider such consent irrational. Requiring motorcycle helmets would be such a paternalistic law. We don't, however, consider it paternalistic to restrict a four-year-old from doing things that it takes an adult understanding to consent to. By the same reasoning, we don't consider someone to have consented to sex if under the influence of a mind-altering drug. Waiting period laws are a simple step further in the same direction. Someone who has just found out she is pregnant will not be thinking as rationally as someone forced to wait 24 hours before making an irrevocable decision. For the same reason that euthanasia advocates insist that some time be taken before considering someone to have consented rationally to being killed, those who favor waiting periods for abortion think rational consent requires taking some time before having an abortion. This seems not only eminently reasonable to me but perfectly consistent with a libertarian view of the purpose of law.

Pseudo-Polymath has started a series on one of the most important Christian works of all time, Augustine's City of God. The second post on suicide is also up, and the third one seems to be taking its time. I have a few thoughts on the second post. Most of what he says is exactly right, and it's worth reading on your own. There's a lot there that would take too long to try to encapsulate briefly.

There are some interesting things in Augustine's discussion of suicide that Mark didn't get into. The first one isn't central to Augustine's argument and probably would be politically incorrect to say now, but I find it fascinating. In arguing that women who have been raped are not morally responsible for being raped, Augustine is way ahead of his time. Greek and Roman culture considered such a thing shameful, not to the rapist but to the victim. Augustine says that such a view is nonsense. Christian women realized this, and when Rome was sacked the Christian women responded very differently than others did to being raped. They didn't see themselves as having been shamed. This is part of Augustine's overall apologetic for Christianity over paganism, that Christianity has a view on this issue that is thoroughly at odds with the pagan view, and the Christian one easily comes out on top.

At the same time, one thing he says sounds really insensitive. As he's explaining why it's not immoral to be raped, he has a little aside about the one possible (though perhaps he would admit very unlikely) exception to when someone might do something morally wrong in being raped. If it turned out the person enjoyed it, he thinks it would be wrong. That strikes most modern readers as being really odd, and it sounds as if he doesn't understand anything about rape. How could someone enjoy being raped?

In preparing for my discussion of euthanasia next week, I was reading through a summary of Dan Brock's positions on the matter. Brock is widely considered one of the foremost medical ethicists among philosophers. After explaining why self-determination is a good thing, he argues that one of the things that it's good to have self-determination about is our own death. There are important factors in self-determination that are served if we have control over our own death. I'll grant that having some control over some things to do with our death serves the value of self-determination in some important ways. But then he summarizes his discussion with the following statement:

If self-determination is a fundamental value, then the great variability among people on this question makes it especially important that individuals control the manner, circumstances, and timing of their dying and death.

Maybe I've been reading the Stoics too much, but this just sounds irrational. Someone who wants to die soon and figures out how to kill themselved in the way they want at the time they want can usually do a very good job of fulfilling this especially important goal, but most people would like to live fairly long lives if possible. Some might not want to live under certain conditions, which is his point, but how can someone who wants to keep living place this sort of control over your death as such an especially high level and then want to keep living? If it's that important, we should just kill ourselves and be done with it. Wouldn't it be better to live in such a way that if we die we would consider our life to have been what we would want it to have been in the time alotted to us? Putting such high value in something we can't control unless we choose to die soon just seems fruitless. The Stoics were right about at least this. It's setting yourself up for valuing something especially high that chances are you simply won't achieve. But if that's so, then I just can't understand choosing to value it at such a level.

Roundup

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At Real Clear Theology, you can find excerpts of D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo's section on the New Perspective on Paul in their new edition of An Introduction to the New Testament, a book I would wholeheartedly recommend. [Hat tip: Rebecca]

Tyler Williams looks at witches in the Bible and traces out the origin of our modern conception of a witch. The first comment (the only one so far) is priceless.

Ed Feser at Right Reason takes apart Simon Blackburn's critique of Elizabeth Anscombe's natural law theory. [Hat tip: Philosophers' Carnival XXI] Standout quote:

Blackburn appears to be the sort of philosopher who, as an undergraduate, read a few excerpts from Anselm and Aquinas in some textbook, along with the standard potted “refutations��? deriving from Hume and Kant, and never looked back – assuming ever since that no one could seriously believe that the existence of God could be demonstrated philosophically. He shows no awareness of the extent to which many of these standard objections are based on caricatures or oversimplifications of the traditional theistic arguments, nor any appreciation of the work done in defense of them by contemporary philosophers of religion like Plantinga and Swinburne, much less by analytical Thomists like John Haldane, whose work is most relevant to the matters presently at issue.

I'm not quite sure what to make of this. It doesn't seem good for those who have insisted that Bush really wanted a war no matter what.

Senators Lindsey Graham (SC) and Mike DeWine (OH) were among the seven Republicans in the Gang of 14 who conspired to prevent Democrats from filibustering President Bush's judicial nominees and Republicans from using what's been called the nuclear option to remove the ability to filibuster judicial nominees. Since there are 55 Republicans, and 50 (+ Vice President Cheney's tie-breaking vote) would be needed to change the filibuster rule, only 6 Republicans were needed for the Gang of 14. They had 7. They now have at most 5, at least with respect to Samuel Alito's nomination for the Supreme Court. Graham and DeWine have indicated that they would not allow a filibuster on this nomination. It remains to be seen if the 44 Democrats (plus independent Senator Jim Jeffords of VT) would have enough votes to filibuster to begin with. The Gang of 14 again needs 6 votes to oppose the filibuster. As far as I know, not one of them has indicated anything on how they will approach Alito's nomination.

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