High School philosophy course
Teacher: Markus Rehbach
To introduce students to some of the most important concepts, methods, approaches, and tools of philosophy, via a consideration of some of the most important philosophers, and philosophical ‘schools of thought’, from around 1000 B.C.E to current times.
The course will refer to the following philosophers as starting points to considering the most important philosophical questions that can be raised. Students should learn to analyse arguments i.e deconstruct or ‘undo’ them into their constituent arguments and assumptions, both explicit and implicit. They should then be in a position to construct their own coherent, internally consistent, compelling arguments. I will seek to promote an atomosphere of co-operative, collaborative interrogation, rather than a competitive arena for competing positions.
Where appropriate, contemporary issues will be addressed, first by considering their emergence in the history of philosophy, and how they were addressed by previous philosophers, and then by applying all the concepts, tools, questions, and models we have learnt to form our our judgements and construct compelling arguments.
Sensitive issues will be introduced carefully, and where the response is not productive, these issues will be ‘passed-over’ in favour of issues where the response suggests the potential for productive discussion. However the fundamental questions, concepts, and tools will be introduced at some level, through the consideration of the arguments of philosophers who have been selected based on their high profile, their representativeness of particular positions in philosophy, the useful (for the purposes of considering ethical questions) concepts and tools they developed, and their instrumental value in terms of provoking students to productive consideration, or for introducing important concepts.
The aim is to empower students to interrogate their own reality and form sound arguments. Students will learn how to avoid being ‘tricked’ by specious sophistry, and how to begin questioning their inherited beliefs and social systems. They will develop their analytical skills, their holistic reasoning skills, their communication skills, their skills of collaboration and co-operation, their listening skills, and their presentation skills. I hope to convey to them the importance of compassion and empathy in the face of the limits of reason. I hope to encourage them to take personal responsibility for their actions. I hope to inform them so that they may be in a position to give informed consent, and participate actively and productively in the democratic process.
Apart from the brief introduction to some major figures in the history of Philosophy, and some of the most important philosophical arguments, I will present the students with a range of appropriately graded scenarios for them to engage with, to develop their awareness of some of the most important issues in ethics, and to develop their skills in interrogating the issues and the arguments that have been applied to them. They will have a chance to find their own solutions to ethical problems, and their own positions with regard to ethical dilemmas, based on informed, balanced, reasoned, considered, logically developed, coherent, internally consistent, and transparent, arguments.
In some cases the issues will be introduced via considering the works of selected philosophers, and in other cases the scenario containing the ethical questions will be introduced first, students will have a chance to respond, and then to consider the responses made by the selected philosophers.
The approach will be flexible, to optimalise the productivity of the lesson, to respond to spontaneously raised issues, and to accomodate the emotional maturity, willingness to engage, and general tone of the particular class. Nothing will be forced. All the aims are to be pursued by multiple means, to ensure that the most valueable insights are gained, and whatever interest and motivation there is to learn will be most productively employed and directed.
Some of the most important concepts and topics to be taught, discussed, and considered will include: the reductio absurdum, the thin edge of the wedge, the slippery slope, the principle of indivisibility, externalities, implicit Vs explicit assumptions, suspending judgement, teleology, epistemology, ontology, rationing of healthcare, war, scientific method, definitions, reproductive ethics, pandora’s box, cost-benefit calculus, justice, meaning, informed consent, hegemony, bias, denial, projection, selectivity, specious sophistry, dogma, logic, forms of government, interest referents, freedom, determinism, forms of violence, fairness, dissidence, abortion, vegetarianism, capitalism, free trade, free markets, regulations, positive Vs negative rights, social contract, obligations, opportunity costs, optimalisation, enlightened self-interest, ends and means, critical reasoning, transparency, coherency, internal consistency, self-fulfilling prophecy, nature and nurture, eugenics and genetic justice, social justice, economic justice, dialectic, socratic method, syllogism, karma, opportunism, dogma, utilitarianism, intentions, consequences, bounded rationality, invisible hand, values, knowldedge, evolution and natural selection, conflict resolution, animal rights, euthenasia, and so on.
Each concept, topic, or theme will be presented in a form that is as intuitive and concrete as possible. The ambition in terms of understanding the subtleties of the concept will be appropriate to the level of the students. The same questions and topics can be used for many consequtive years, applying greater intellectual rigour and more demanding reasoning skills each time it is taught at a higher level. Some concepts will not be introduced until later years, however in principle the general ideas will be introduced in simple language, using simple, real-life examples and so on.
The first ‘moral philosopher’?
According to Oxford University, Zarathushtra (around 1000 B.C.E, in Persia, i.e modern day Iran) can be considered to be the father of Ethics, or ‘Moral Philosophy’. His ’Zoastrianism’ is considered to be the earliest rational system of thought, or ‘Philosophy’. Zoastrianism is the philosophy of ‘Mazda-Yasna’ or ‘worship of wisdom’. Note todays word ‘philosophy’ comes from the greek, and means ‘love of wisdom’. Zarathushtra was the first to distinguish between good and evil, making his the father of ‘dualism’ per se. Zoastrianism is considered one of the first mono-theistic religions. It is a philosophy defined by three principles: ‘Humata’ or ‘good-thoughts; ‘Hukhata’ or ‘good words’; and ‘Hvarshatra’ or ‘good deeds’.
The Ancient Greeks
Heraclitus (535-475 B.C.E) is said to be the first person in the history of western civilisation to put forward a robust philosophical system. Some famous quotes from Heraclitus include: „Panta Rei”- All is flux (change); „No man can cross the same river twice”; „The universe has not been made, but has always been”; „Every animal is driven to pasture with a blow”(re: paternalism); „All is one”; „Time is a child playing dice”; „I am as I am not”; „The good and the bad are identical”; „We both step and do not step in the same rivers. We are and we are not”.
Heraclitus, argued that stability is an illusion. He argued that all harmony is the product of opposing tensions. He defined conflict as good as it produced change. For this reason he thought war was also good. He believed that everything originated out of what he called the „Logos”. He developed the concept of ‘becoming’, in which the apparent opposites of being and non-being are actually fundamentally inter-related and not opposites. The Tao philosophy is similar to this in terms of ‘the unity of opposites’.
Socrates (470-399 B.C.E) defined virtues as means to ends, rather than as ends in themselves. As such he was ‘utilitarian’, in that the virtues had utility or value in that they were ‘instrumental’ in producing superior or desirable outcomes for the individual and society, in his words: „happiness” or „eudamonia”. His questions revolved around themes like „what is the good life”, and „how should we live”. Note that once you use the word „should” or „ought”, you are posing ‘ethical’ questions. As such Socrates was a ‘Moral Philosopher’. He considered that the highest aim of moral thought and conduct was „eudamonia”, i.e human well-being, and achieving ‘the good life’.
Socrates developed what we today call the „Socratic method” . The intention of the method is to make implicit contradictions within arguments explicit. He would engage anyone he met in a ‘dialogue’. The Socratic method involves asking someone to put forward a proposition or argument. The interlocutor (originally Socrates) would then ask questions intended to lead the person to develop their own argument in its logical direction, until the person eventually contradicted themselves, by coming to a conclusion which contradicted their own proposition. They would then be compelled to withdraw their proposition as a canditate for truth.
He claimed, perhaps disingenously, that he himself was not wise, that in fact his only wisdom consisted of realising how little he himself ‘knew’. This has become a catchphrase of philosophers, who define wisdom as the recognition of their own ignorance, i.e „The more I learn the less I know”.
He was famous in Athens for stopping anyone he might come across and engage with them in conversation about their beliefs. Socrates never told anyone they were wrong, he merely lead them, through logical discourse, to find the faults in their own arguments and to therefore question their own beliefs. This did not make him popular among those closed-minded people who did not like being ‘tricked’ into admitting that their own beliefs were questionable or their arguments unsound.
Socrates trial and death: Socrates’s was charged with, among other things, corrupting the youth of Athens, and being an Atheist. However he himself, in his ‘affadavit’ (a term he coined and which would be familiar to any lawyer today), recognised that the reason for his trial was that, by challenging, and puting in question the beliefs and arguments of many of the most prominent citizens of Athens, he was defined by them as a threat, a nuisance, an inconvenience. He insisted, at his trial, however, that he would not relent in his pursuit of wisdom, and in challenging the beliefs of his contemporaries. He would continue to be the …”stinging fly”… „all day long I will not cease to settle here and there and everywhere, …(like a stinging fly on a lazy horse)…rousing, persuading, and reproving every one of you”.
At the actual trial, the verdicts as follows: 280 guilty ; 221 innocent. Note that in Athens at the time direct democrocracy was in place, in which the leading, free, male citizens of Athens voted directly on all matters.
He was then asked, according to the custom and laws of Athens at the time, to suggest what his punishment should be.
He stated that, as a benefactor of Athens, he should get free meals in the Prytaneum, an honour usually reserved for famous athletes and prominent citizens.
This angered the jurors so much that 360 of his ‘peers’, i.e therefore including many of those who had originally found him ‘innocent’ of the actual charges, voted for the death penalty.
Later in the history of Athens Aristotle would be charged with similar offences i.e impiety. He would leave Athens, stating : „I will not allow the Athenians to sin twice against philosophy”.
In more modern terms, Socrates was charged with the equivalent of ‘sedition’ or ‘heresy’ i.e challenging the established ‘dogma’ or ‘hegemonic’ system. In the thousands of years that followed Socrates’ death, the same sort of ritualistic destruction of anyone who challenges the vested interests of the priveledged and powerful, or the beliefs of their contemporaries, has continued. In spite of this philosophers everywhere continue the legacy of Socrates by challenging first themselves, and then other people, to interrogate their beliefs and arguments, and then discard beliefs and arguments that are not compelling. This is perhaps the noblest aim of philosophy. Philosophy may never be able to deliver absolute „Truth”, but it can de-construct and then discard non-compelling, more often than not counter-productive or even dangerous beliefs and arguments.
One of Socrate’s students went on to become one of the most famous of all Western Philosophers, Plato.
Plato “wide, broad-shouldered” (c.427 – c.347 B.C.E), whose real name is believed to have been Aristocles, considered the virtues to be ends in themselves. („Virtue is it’s own reward”!) He added to Socrate’s questions the following: „How can we know how we ought to live?”. Plato considered moral training and contemplation should be employed in seeking what he called the „Divine Life”. He argued that humans could only achieve well-being by training themselves to ‘abnegate’ their pleasure seeking bodies. (You will see a statue of Plato along with the other saints at the Vatican. The Catholic church has adopted Plato’s ‘abnegation’ position!) . He argued that the communal life demanded that individuals sub-ordinate their individual wishes to the needs and well-being of the community as a whole. The term „Platonic love”, meaning ‘brotherly love’, was considered by Plato to be the link between the ‘self-regarding’ virtues, those meant to produce well-being for the individual, and the ‘other-regarding’ virtues, those intended to produce collective wellbeing.
Many students will be happy with Plato’s belief that the spoken word was superior to the written word. He believed that students should speak, and not write.
One of Plato’s students went on to become another of Western thought’s most prominent figures, Aristotle.
For Aristotle (384 – 322 B.C.E),happiness was the only end in itself, and all other objectives were merely means towards this end. In other words happiness was, ultimately, the sole motivation for any action. This would make happiness the ultimate criteria for all action. The question, „will this action lead to my happiness?”, would then be the ultimate ‘ethical’ or ‘moral’ question. Aristotle provides the answer to this question in the form of his virtues. Aristotle did not equate happiness with pleasure. It is noteworthy that Plato’s successor at his “Academy”, Speusippus’, defined all pleasure as bad. In contrast to this, Eudoxus defined all pleasure as good.
In his treatise (mostly compiled from the lecture notes of his students at the Lyceum) known as ‘Nichomachean Ethics’ or ‘Ta Ethika’, he argues that happiness requires both living according to his ‘virtues’ and luck. His virtues include the following: Pride appropriate to what is your due (contrast this to the Christian virtue of ‘modesty’ or ‘humility’!); courage; correct dealing with money and power i.e moderation in giving and recieving; gentleness; agreeableness; truthfulness; wit; and justice. He advocates moderation in all things i.e avoiding extremes. This brings to mind the inscription at the Temple to the Oracle of Delphi: „In all things moderation” or „Nothing to excess”. This has come to be known as ‘The Golden Mean’. He advocates maintaining composure at all times, and responding differently to different people and different situations as appropriate to the particular person or situation.
He clarifies his ‘virtues’ by showing how each virtue is a ‘golden mean’ that lies between two excesses, which he calles ‘vices’. As such the virtue ‘courage’ lies between foolhardiness (too much) and cowardice (too little); the virtue ‘satisfaction’ lies between the excesses of gluttony, and starvation; the virtue of ‘sexual gratification’ lies between the excesses of nymphomania and abstinence; the virtue of ‘justice’ lies between the excesses of compensating victims and punishing perpetrators too much and compensating or punishing them too little; and the virtue of wisdom lies between the excesses of ignorance, and that he considers to have been demonstrated by Socrates, i.e, overzealousness in seeking truth.
Aristotle defines the ‘crowning virtue’ as ‘magnanimity’. The magnanimous person accepts honors as appropriate and fitting, but only from persons of honor. It is inappropriate to accept honor from someone who themselves has no honor.
Aristotle has many arguments concerning ‘Justice’. Justice is the only ‘other-directed’ virtue, the only one that takes the other, rather than the self, as its referent. Justice is ‘indivisable’ in that injustice is bad at all times. He distinguishes between ‘overreaching’ and ‘vice’. For Aristotle it is not just the consequences of an act, but the intention or motivation behind the act. It would be unjust to commit adultery for profit, either for money, to secure a profitable position, which would be ‘vice’, but it is forgiveable if done out of passion, which would be an ‘over-reaching’.
He argues for strengthening each of these virtues through exercising them.
Aristotle defines ‘evil’ as vice, incontinence, and brutality. By incontinence Aristotle means ‘unmeasured acts’, i.e spontaneously giving into impulse or desire without rational consideration of and for the consequences, e.g a hot temper, or lust. Such actions are considered as less evil than what he terms ‘profligancy’, by which he means defining excess (the definition of vice) pleasure as good, and seeking to indulge in excesses through deliberation and planning. As such, spontaneously allowing yourself to be seduced to engage in acts of sexual lust would be less evil than planning and contriving to arrange an orgy.
In terms of ‘legal’ justice, Aristotle argues that „whatever is unfair is lawless, but not everything lawless is unfair”, and, further, that not all legal acts are just, and not all illegal acts are unjust. For this reason he distinguishes between ‘particular’ justice irrespective of the law, and ‘general’ justice which is consistent with the law. His ‘particular’ justice would cover situations that were not illegal according to law, but which were the result of ‘over-reaching’ e.g unfair trading or usury profits resulting from greed.
Aristotle argues that people should not be punished if they were ignorant of the facts of the situation i.e committed the acts unintentionally or out of ignorance AND they express regret i.e are sorry. However he argues that we should not forgive anyone for being ignorant of what is ‘fitting’ i.e appropriate in principle.
While Aristotle believed that unequals should recieve an unequal distribution of goods and services i.e wealth, thereby defining his ‘distributive justice’ as what we today would call ‘vertical equity’, he believed that what he called ‘rectificory justice’ should be defined by ‘horizontal equity’, i.e justice would be ‘blind’ when awarding ‘damages’ or ‘compensation’ to victims, treating all participants as equal.
Aristotle laid the foundations for the Empirical Scientific Method (favouring induction over deduction), and ‘dialectics’ (constructing a synthesis from contradictory arguments) that would emerge around 2000 years later. He coined the phrase “ The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.
As a teacher, Artistotle was known for walking around the gardens of his school as he lectured his students. Aristotle grounded his school in 335BC in a gymnasium which was originally a sanctuary for ‘Lycian’ Apollo, an Ancient Greek god. For this reason it became known as the „Lyceum”.
Aristotle fled Athens in 322 B.C.E after being charged with ‘impiety’, stating : „I will not allow the Athenians to sin twice against philosophy”, meaning he did not want to suffer the same fate as Socrates. This was an expression of his virtue ‘courage’. It would have been foolhardy to stay. It was ‘appropriate’ to avoid a confrontation in which he could expect little justice.
Aristotle defined politics as ethics on a higher scale.
Aristotle was teleological in arguing that “form follows function” in the world of nature.
Here is a Syllogism. Syllogism means inference or conclusion. All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore Socrates is mortal. Decide if the following is true or not: Some A are B. Some B are C. Therefore some A are C.
Of course some B might be C, but they may not be, therefore we can’t say for sure i.e that they in fact are. The B’s that are C’s might not be the same B’s that are A’s. We have to try to imagine all the possible variations.
Lucretius ( around 100 B.C.E), the philosopher and poet, felt compassion for the plight of a humanity, including himself, that is generally unhappy, ignorant, and longing for something better than the world they see around them. He believed that personal responsibility in confronting this reality consisted of speaking and living individual truth. He was an ‘atomist’, believing the world to be composed of atoms, rather than the creation of some god.
Lucretius, like his fellow Epicurantists face the existentialist dilemma of taking responsibility for themselves and their own happiness in an indifferent world, with an urges and passions which ultimately can’t provide lasting happiness, and more often provoke conflict and produce suffering. They do so with compassion for the suffering of all of humanity, and the realisation that finding and speaking the truth is their only means of addressing these dilemmas, as their are no gods to help them.
He argues that the average person is driven to maximise pleasure and to minimise pain. Lucretius wanted to free humanity from a fear of the gods, and the fear of death. He views all things as temporal, including the current domination of humanity of this earth. He sees religion is an attempt by ignorant people to try to understand and explain where they came from, why good things sometimes occur, and as a form of insurance against bad luck. If he can share his knowledge about the true nature of the universe, they would no longer need the gods to explain anything, nor fear them or death.
In his epic poem “De Rerum Natura” – ‘On the nature of things’, he praises his hero Epicurus (341-270 B.C.E) as the first to dare challenge religion, which is personified as a monster that attacks men from the sky, and tries to destroy truth, but which is overcome by the truth embodied in Epicurus’ knowledge about the true nature of reality. He criticises the notion that the world appears to be made for man, by some benevolent god, by pointing out …”so great the faults it stands encumbered with”. Note that Epicurantism was repressed by Constantine after his adoption of the Christian cult as the official and only state religion.
Epicurus stated “The man who best knows how to meet external threats makes into one family all the creatures he can; and those he can not, he at any rate does not treat as aliens; and where he finds even this impossible, he avoids all dealings, and, so far as is advantageous, excludes them from his life”.
Epicurus opposed the teleologists, who claimed that everything was designed to serve some function or purpose. He stated “Nothing in the body is made in order that we may use it. What happens to exist is the cause of its use”. In other words, for example, we don’t have eyes to see with, we can see because we have eyes.
Atomism has a long tradition in Philosophy. According to Atomism everything in the world is made up of some fundamental property or atoms, which combine to form every other object in the world. In this sense the objects are ‘epiphenomenal’ and only the atoms are enduring. If Atomists define the objects as not really existing, then they miss the point that things exist, but only temporarily. Just because I know I will die soon, doesn’t mean I don’t exist now. We can only live in the moment, so for that moment that we can experience, things are real.
Today we use the word Atom for a unit made up of protons, electrons, and therefore ultimately ‘quarks’, but the term ‘atom’ in philosophy refers to the smallest, indivisible unit, whether it be ‘quarks’ or whatever smaller units quarks may turn out to be composed of. In this sense it is truer to say that everything is ‘eternal’, as the smallest units always were, and always will be. They are merely arranged differently at different times. Generation and corruption of living things merely represents a rearrangement of the eternal ‘atom’. This is consistent with the ancient Indian Hindu doctrine of eternalism or ‘ Sassata-Vada’. This recognition of the fundamental nature of reality was anticipated by the Atomists over a millennium before it could be demonstrated empirically!
In Jaina and Vaisesika (Indian-Hindu) atomism, which dates from the 6th to 1st Century B.C.E, atoms first combine in pairs and then group into trios of pairs, which are the smallest visible units of matter. According to modern atomic theory pairs or triplets of ‘quarks’ combine to produce the universe as we know it.
Asharite atomism, an Islamic school of Atomism represented by the Arab philosopher al-Ghazali (1058-1111 C.E), posited that atoms are the only perpetual, material things in the universe. They even posited an absence of any law of cause and effect!
This is another example of how the pre-Greek and Greek philosophers and their ‘mind experiments’ (which Einstein was so famous for) managed to anticipate many of modern sciences most important discoveries and theories. The reason that it took so long for these ideas to find a ‘revival’ or ‘renaissance’ is that they were at odds with the religious orthodoxy of their times. The history of philosophy is the history of the persecution of scientists and philosophers by the established religions of their day. Aristotelian ‘physics’ was consistent with Church Dogma, and therefore took on a hegemonic position. For this reason Atomism virtually disappeared from the intellectual world from the 3rd to the 16th Century, when it re-emerged in a new era of scientific enquiry, the so-called ‘re-birth’ or ‘renaissance’.
It wasn’t until 1808 that Dalton was in a position to summarise the empirical evidence of the experimental work of his time as follows (and thereby validate the ancient philosopher’s arguments!): “Chemical analysis and synthesis go no farther than to the separation of particles one from another, and their reunion. No new creation or destruction of matter is within the reach of chemical agency. All the changes we can produce, consist in separating particles that are in a state of cohesion or combination, and joining those that were previously at a distance”.
The Jaina philosophy defines the world as existing of atoms and souls. Atoms combine deterministically to produce elements and so on. Subtle ‘Karmic matter’ is seen to accumulate in souls, as a physical property. Good and bad Karma accumulate in your ‘soul’ according to good and bad acts you commit.
Confucus (551-470 B.C.E China) emphasised personal and governmental morality, rather than any religious dogma. He was perhaps the first philosopher to advocate ‘meritocracy’. He argued that personal ability should be the sole criteria for selection for government appointments or posts, rather than wealth, status, or family connections (what we would today call ‘nepotism’).
Macchiavelli (1469-1527) is well known for his book “The Prince”, in which he wrote that famous maxim “The end justifies the means” .
Hobbes (1588-1679) is perhaps most famous for his work “Leviathan”, in which he argues that the natural state of humanity is “the war of all against all”. In his opinion humans are egotistical, greedy and selfish, but recognise that they are all vulnerable to attack from each other, no matter how strong, clever, talented, intelligent and so on they are as individuals. So they cede their individual rights, motivated purely by self-interest, to a strong monarch in return for protection and a more functional society. He refers to this voluntary submission to the state as a “Social Contract”. Hobbes believes that humans are born without morals, and need a strong state to provide a framework for the operation of society. Hobbes favoured an absolute monarchy as the optimal form of government. (the teacher as monarch? Do you cede your rights in return for an education and interesting lessons? N.b that we ‘inherit’ the ‘social contract’, which means we haven’t entered into it freely. Did you enter into any ‘class-contracts’ freely? Or are you co-erced by your parents and the state?)
Locke(1632-1704), on the other hand, believes humans to be innately rational and good and that moral values are widely spread amongst the population. Locke argues that people should be free to chose their own government, and to rebel against their government where appropriate. Some claim that this is a ‘question begging’ i.e begs the question: if humans are so rational, good natured, and moral, why do they need a government at all? (so why do we need class rules, if everyone is going to do the right thing by each other anyway?)
Proudhon (1712-1778) appears to answer this ‘question begging’. Proudhon advocates a social contract between individuals (what we would today call ‘peer-to-peer’), operating under a general consensus on the principle of ‘non-agression’ or ‘non-coercion’, with no surrender of any sovereignty to any state. This is the anarchist ideal. (This would require the constant negotiation of every new interaction. Can you imagine negotiating road rules with every individual driver? Or class rules with every new teacher and every other student?)
David Hume (1711-1776) is another philosopher to have been charged with ‘heresy’, however it was successfully argued that, as an atheist, he was outside the jurisdiction of the church. About 15 years earlier an 18 year old college student (Thomas Aikenhead) had been hanged for openly saying that he thought Christianity was nonsense. Hume laid (often anonymously under pseudonyms) the foundations for all secular thinking regarding the history of religion. Kant credited him with waking him up from his “dogmatic slumbers”.
Hume argued against the existence of a continuous ‘self’. He argued that all reason is essentially emotional. Arguing that all human acts are determined, he argued that the focus on behaviour management should be the provision of incentives to encourage socially desirable actions, and disincentives to deter socially undesirable actions, rather than on punishment for its own sake. (consider consequences for poor behaviour in class, and rewards for good behaviour)
In his “Theory of moral sentiments”, Hume argues that communication is dependant on the existence of sympathy between the agent and the listener, i.e the interlocutors. No Public relations or marketing professional would doubt the importance of such sympathy in getting their message across to their target audience! (do you listen more attentively to teachers that you personally like?)
Hume demonstrated that an assumption, a ‘deduction’ (namely that things will behave in the future as they did in the past) is implicit in all ‘inductive’ reasoning, so as such science could never claim to be purely inductive. He demonstrated that ‘cause-effect’ beliefs are purely psychological. All we can observe is precedent states and antecedent states. We observe and interaction, and then the outcome. We do not know what happened. We may be able to predict the outcomes of future interactions from past experience, but we cannot claim to ‘know’ what will happen, nor can we make claims about cause and effect, as we don’t know what happened. We can merely observe and report correlations between things.
Hume anticipated Darwin’s theory of negative selection with arguments such as the following: …”where it looks like object X has feature f in order to secure some outcome O, is better explained by a filtering process (Darwin’s ‘negative selection’)…object X wouldn’t be around if it didn’t possess feature F, and outcome O is only interesting to us as a human projection of goals onto nature.”
Sadly, however, he was quite racist! He compared any civilised or creative behaviour that a Negro might display as being little more than ‘parroting’ the white men around him.
Adam Smith(1723-1790) Moral Philosopher and Political Economist, was a friend of David Hume, and a deist . Deists believe that god exists, did create the world, but doesn’t intervene in it. Deists reject all ‘revealed’ religions, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Deists argue that god can only be ‘known’ through the faculty of reason.
Smith is best know for his work “The wealth of nations” in which he advocates ‘laissez-faire’ free market economics, and stresses the importance of labour over land, and the positive potential arising from the ‘division of labour’. This work lead to the development of classical economics.
He argues that when an individual is free to pursue their self-interests, they are motivated to employ their skills and efforts to their greatest good, which results in greater production, and therefore an increase in ‘the wealth of nations’, and the general welfare. In this way “Self-love (is) led by an ‘invisible hand’ to promote an end not intended”. By pursuing their own private interests, individuals promote the interests of society in general, without any intervention by the state.
In classical economics the ‘invisible hand’ refers to the way in which supply and demand interact to determine an optimal price, without any need for government intervention i.e. the markets can regulate themselves.
It is interesting to note that Smith, as a child, had been kidnapped by Gypsies, but rescued by his Uncle.
Kant (1724-1804) argued that…”a good will…treats (people) as ends in themselves” . Kant refers to “the moral law within me”. He claimed that there was only one moral obligation, what he called the ‘Categorical Imperitive” , to act with the intent that your particular action or behaviour be adopted by everyone, everywhere. Your behaviour is good if you believe it should serve as the universal law. This basically means to behave as if you are a role model, and want everyone to behave the same way. It means you cannot claim that any particular instance is particular and exception-al. You have to behave on principle, rather than opportunistically or as convenience dictates.
Consider the maxim: “I will lie for personal benefit”. Kant’s imperitive is to ask yourself: “If everyone lies, will I benefit?”. It is a form of enlightened self-interest, in which people ultimately behave ‘as if’ they are moral, or as Kant wrote, “as if god exists”. It is similar to Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’. In both instances enlightened egoists will behave ‘as if’ they are motivated by some moral code.
Kant stated …”The ideals of the New Testament have gone out of life”, so we have no right to call ourselves “Christian”. He believed most religious affiliation to be empty show, devoid of authentic belief. He argued that religion should be about the individual, and decried, like Nietzsche, the ‘herd mentality’ of state religion. Kant believed that …”the thing to do is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die”.
Kant believed that philosophy involves self-critical activity, or critical reflection. He believed that direct democracy was a form of despotism.
Bentham (1748-1832) argued for individual and economic freedom, the separation of the church from the state, freedom of expression, animal rights (arguing that the criteria for rights should be the ability to suffer, not the ability to reason, e.g a grown dog has more capability to reason than a human baby), an end to slavery, and end to the use of physical punishment (including for children), the right to divorce, free trade, freedom of usury, the public acceptance of homosexuality, inheritance taxes, pensions, health insurance, and improved access to higher education for the poor and atheists (in his time Cambridge and Oxford were closed to anyone who wasn’t both well-to-do, and a member of the established church).
The phrase “the greatest good for the greatest number”(Hutcheson), is often falsely attributed to him, however he was a utilitarian. He argued that pleasure and pain should be our guides in deciding what is good and ethical. He developed a ‘hedonic’ or ‘felecific’ or ‘utility’ calculus, to be used in calculating the benefits in terms of the certainty, magnitude, and durability of the potential pleasure deriving from an act, and the costs, in terms of the consequences. This is to be multiplied by the number of people deriving the benefit and suffering the costs.
Criticisms that Bentham would condone the sort of scenario presented in “Those who walk away from Omelas” are unwarranted. The general principles of Bentham’s philosophy exclude the sacrifice of the few for the benefit of the many.
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) was the first British Parliamentarian to call for female suffrage, i.e the right for women to vote. He claimed that female suffrage was essential for the progress of humanity. Mill argued for the employment of “The Harm Principle”, according to which people may do as they please, as long as they harm no-one else. Under such a principle self-harm is acceptable. He argued for free speech, but against the right to ‘whip up an angry mob to do harm’.
Mill rejected censorship and paternalism. He was against progressive taxation which he argued penalised the hard working and frugal.
Mill argued that the more entrenched and accepted a belief is, the more important that it be publicly challenged, even if arguments against it have to be constructed (i.e Devil’s advocate). He argued that opposing opinions and beliefs should be encouraged, as there is potential truth in all arguments, and being forced to defend your position can reaffirm sound arguments, and remind people of why they believe or hold a particular position. He argued for continued public challenging of beliefs and ideas in open discourse.
Kierkegaard (1813-1855) is considered the first modern ( the Ancient Greek Epicurantists were the original existentialists) ‘Existentialist’. Existentialism is a focus on individual experience, meaning, and values. It considers how people divert themselves from the meaninglessness of life. It considers the futility, hopelessness, and absurdity of life. The individual inherits a world that gives it a context and meaning, but the meaning of the actors life is personal, as is their responsibility. Existentialism gives us the famous statement that we are “condemned to be free”, and the term “existential angst”. Angst is a German term similar to the English ‘fear’, but more complex.
Kierkegaard believed in god, but not in the established church. He argued that , by definition, faith requires doubt. He wrote many different books under different names. He said this was in order to produce ‘fragmentation’, to allow the reader, to focus on the individual, sometimes contradictory ideas, and to gain insights, rather than seek a coherent system. He said he was rebelling against philosophers like Kant and Hegel who had attempted to build coherent, all encompassing systems.
Wittgenstein (1889-1951) a ‘Philosopher of language’, argued that the role of the philosopher is to clear up confusion, to …”show the fly the way out of the fly bottle”…rather than craft philosophical theses that were merely ”language gone on holiday”. He argued that many confusing philosophical theses are pure confusion, arising from using language for a task it was not up to. He argued that many of the problems posed by philosophers, such as that of ‘free will’, were in fact pseudo-problems arising from the philosopher’s misuse of language. Wittgenstein once remarked…”he who understands me, finally recognises (my propositions) as senseless…”
It is interesting to note that three of his four brothers, and several of his friends, all committed suicide.
Bertrand Russel (1872-1970) is perhaps most widely known for his “A history of Western Philosophy”(1945). Russel made how we use language a central part of philosophy. He sought clarity of expression and precision in arguments through the use of exact language and in breaking down philosophical propositions, i.e arguments, into their simplest components. He suffered for his principles, which included social justice and peace. He was dismissed from his teaching position on the faculty of Trinity College Cambridge, and later imprisoned for six months, due to his pacifist activities.
Russel rejected a holistic approach, what he called ‘an idealist doctrine of internal relations which holds that in order to know any particular thing we must know all of its relationships’. He claimed that such a position made space, time, science, and numbers, unintelligible.
Russel’s hero was David Hume. He agreed with Hume that reason should be sub-ordinate to ethical matters. Russel insists that ethics lies outside of the field of philosophy altogether. Russel developed Hume’s arguments about the purely psychological nature of ‘cause and effect’ beliefs.
He considered religion, under which he included communism, nazism, and Catholicism, and any other dogmatic idealism, to be responsible for a great deal of human misery. He believed that religion produced a net negative impact on humanity i.e more harm than good.
Ghandi (1869-1948) developed the idea of resistance through non-violent civil disobedience, non-co-operation, and hunger strikes. He ‘fought’ for an end to the Caste system and the plight of the ‘untouchables’, for women’s liberation and female suffrage, for vegetarianism, and for an end to the British colonial rule of India. He was a committed pacifist, but stated that pacifism should not be the hideout for cowards, as a pacifist should bravely allow themselves to be killed as a form of resistance. He rejected all forms of dogma (apart from pacifism!) but found inspiration in the ‘Bhagavad Gita’. He stated “An eye for an eye makes the world blind”. He gave up sex at the age of 36, and adopted a very simple lifestyle and dress. He was assassinated. He never won the Nobel Peace Prize, while two politicians who had previously been the heads of terrorist organisations, Nelson Mandela and Menachim Begin, did.
Rawls (1921-2002) defined justice as fairness. He argued that each individual should have a claim to a fully adequate basic scheme of resources and liberties, and defined social and economic inequality as legitimate or justified only if it inequality benefitted the least advantaged members of society., and equal opportunity is guaranteed.
He proposed a ‘veil of ignorance’ as a solution to the problem of vested interests produce in decision making. Under this ‘veil of ignorance’, people would make decisions which were fair for all, as they couldn’t make decisions that sought to promote any narrow vested interests, as they were ‘ignorant’ about which vested interest group they belonged to. The only way they could rationally ensure their own interests, well-being, opportunities, and happiness, would be by ensuring that the interests, well-being, opportunities, and happiness everyone were ensured.
Christianity as a recycling of earlier pagan traditions and myths
The Gospel’s are full of inconsistencies and contradictions regarding the birth, life, death, and resurrection of their main character, Jesus.
If you take the Bible literally, you must accept that a virgin, Mary, after a 10 year long pregnancy, gave birth to a boy, both around 4 C.E (according to Matthew during reign of King Herod), and 2 C.E (according to Luke Jesus was 30 in the 15th year of Tiberius’ reign). If John the Baptist and Jesus were conceived 6 months apart as Luke claims, during the reign of Herod, and Jesus was also born at the time of the census of Quirinius, then Mary was pregnant with Jesus for 10 years. As for his death, Mathew and Mark have claim he was crucified, while Paul and Peter claim he was ‘hanged on a tree’(Galatians 3:13, Acts 5:30, 10:39). The earliest versions of Marks’s gospel end with the discovery of his empty tomb. The story in which Jesus appears to his apostles was only added later, as was the last chapter of John’s gospel, in which Jesus appears after his ‘resurrection’. The story of Jesus’ ascension in Luke’s gospel is a mere postscript not found in some manuscripts. Jesus predicts the ‘second coming’ will occur during the life of some of his contemporaries. Unless they are now over 2000 years old this prediction is unlikely to be validated!
We could go on and on about the inconsistencies and contradictions of the Bible. We could also point out the nature of the long ‘editing’ and ‘re-writing’ process that occured to the gospel manuscripts over time. These would be enough for most skeptics to reject the Bible as ‘revealed’ truth.
However there is much more compelling and revealing evidence to consider, when evaluating the nature of the Bible, and the purposes of its writers and those who promote it as ‘revealed truth’, as a document to base your beliefs and ethics on.
There is nothing new in the story of Jesus. It is easy to identify the parallels between the stories of Jesus contained in the gospels, and the earlier ‘god-men’ myths that were the basis of earlier, so-called ‘Pagan’ religions. There is no need to stretch the imagination to suspect that the stories in the Bible are mere continuations of earlier traditions, customs, myths, and religious belief.
Historians use the term ‘Osiris-Dionysus’ , to collectively refer to what can be considered the pre-cursors of Jesus. These include Osiris, Dionysus, Orpheus, Bacchus, Mithras, Aion, Adonis, and Attis. Around the Meditteranean sea each nation or tribe had it’s own local version of ‘Osiris-Dionysus’. Under the ‘Hellenic sphere of influence’ they adapted the most popular myths to their own local gods.
The term ‘Mystery religion’ describes a set of myths with an inner and outer set of believers or adherents. The mass of the community take the myths surrounding their gods to be literal truths, whereas the smaller group of ‘initiates’ understand the allegorical, metaphoric, symbolic, conceptual nature of the myths. This ‘inner circle’ or enlightened few, understand, on a personal level, the deeper moral philosophical meanings embedded in the myths, and do not take them literally. The Dogma is a simplification of complex systems of moral philosophical reasoning. It attracts the masses, and provides them with an ethical framework with supporting motivational myths.
Ultimately the many myths and religions were united, often by force, by the Emperor Justinian , in order to avoid political conflict, under the new cult of Christianity. Jesus was ascribed all the important characteristics shared by the previous god-men of the region. This made the transition from local gods to the one State Church easier. The earlier myths were adapted to the Jewish tradition, with elements of Greek Philosophy, including that of Plato, to form a new religion combining the most attractive and instrumental myths of the ‘Pagan’ gods.
The new ‘composite’ myth was adopted by Emperor Constantine as the official state religion for the Roman Empire, as a political tool, to ‘unify’ and stabilise his empire, so it is no surprise that the ‘dogmatists’ gained ascendancy within the new Church’s power structure, and imposed their literalist dogma upon the rest of the ‘clergy’. This dogma and power structure demanded rigid conformity and obedience to a church and state hierarchy. Anyone who challenged a literalist, dogmatic interpretation of the myths was defined as a ‘heretic’. This included the ‘Gnostic Christians’ and ‘Aryan Christians’. These ‘heretical’ forms of christianity, and others that followed, were suppressed by the Central Church in Rome, often through ‘progroms’ in which any ‘heretic’ who would not recant and ‘return to the fold’ was systematically tortured and then murdered.
To claim a ‘deeper’, ‘personal’ understanding of the myths was defined as ‘heresy’. The power elites within the church insisted on monopolising control over the meanings of the myths, and denying everyone else a personal interpretation of the deeper meanings. This gave them the ultimate power, and the privileges and wealth that go with it. Anyone who challenged a literalist or dogmatic interpretation of the myths contained in the Bible and the Gospel challenged this power structure, and these privileges. For this reason anyone who did so was coerced, through the threat of death, and fates worse than death i.e torture, to ‘recant’. If you didn’t you would be tortured to death, and be condemned to an eternity of hell-fire.
All forms of ‘dogmatic’ religion have employed the same means to silence anyone from challenging their dogma, and the power this brings their elites. These dogmatic religions are often secular, such as the Bolsheviks and the Nazi’s. They all adopt the same power structures and ‘thought control’ to prevent anyone from effectively questioning their dogma, and challenging the legitimacy of their power and priveledges.
Over the centuries the means for coercing and punishing ‘dissidents’ has become a little more sophisticated. Anyone who would not publicly subscribe to the Church’s dogmatic, literalist interpretation of the gospels was forced by more subtle forms of violence to ‘recant’. They were denied access to government positions, and even the right to a university education. As late as the 19th Century Cambridge and Oxford University denied admittance to anyone who was not a member of the established church. Many prominent philosophers and scientists have suffered brutal persecution at the hands of the established churches, and the secular religions.
Let us briefly consider some of the parallels between earlier god-men myths, and the Gospel’s description of the conception, birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
A 4000 year old tablet now in the British Museum, depicts the ‘passion’ of Baal or Bel of Phoenicia / Babylon depicts a story similar to that of Jesus’ ‘passion’. Baal is taken prisoner and tormented and mocked by a rabble. He is led away to a mount with two other prisoners. After his crucifixion he disappears to a tomb, where weeping women seek him out. Resurrected, he appears to his followers after a stone is rolled away from the tomb.
A 3rd Century ( though this date has been disputed) amulet shows a crucified figure whom most people would readily identify as Jesus, with the Greek words ‘Orpheus-Bacchus’ (a pseudonym for ‘Osiris-Dionysus’. The earliest known representations of the crucified Jesus date from the 5th Century.
Further convergences between the stories of Jesus and the reconstructed ‘Osiris-Dionysian’ myths have been documented by Freke and Gandy in “The Jesus Mysteries”. All of these ‘Pagan’ myths were circulating around the Hellenic sphere of influence from around the 7th to 4th Centuries B.C.E, i.e before the purported birth of Jesus. They include the following:
Osiris-dionysus is ‘god made flesh’, ‘the saviour’, and ‘the son of god.’ His father is God, and his mother a mortal virgin. His birth is prophesized by a star. He is visited by the Magi. He is portrayed as a quiet man with long hair. He is born in a cave or humble cowshed on December 25 or January 6 before three shepherds. He offers his followers the chance to be born again by being baptised. He turns wine into water at a marriage ceremony. He rides triumphantly into town while the people wave palm leaves to honor him. He dies around the time of the Vernal Equinox, around March 21, i.e. Easter, as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, either hung on a tree or crucified. His corpse is anointed with myrrh. On the third day he rises from the dead and ascends to heaven. His followers await his return as the judge during the ‘last days’. His death and resurrection are celebrated by a ritual meal of bread and wine, symbolising his body and blood. He is surrounded by 12 disciples.
Further, Pagan sages attack hypocrites, stand up to tyranny, and willingly go to their death, predicting they will rise again in 3 days. They heal the sick, exorcise demons, calm the waters, and works other wonders, but are not recognised in their home town.
Freud (1856–1939) founder of the psychoanalytic school of psychology, and best known for his studies of sexual desire, repression, and the unconscious mind, re-constructs or posits a posited ‘proto-typical religious cult’ as follows: Originally primal man lives in small family units consisting of one man and several women. His sons grow up to be jealous of their father’s sexual monopolisation of the women of the tribal unit. They plot together to murder him, and eat his flesh in order to ‘absorb’ his power. Afterwards, out of guilt for their actions, they deify their dead father and worship him.
I say ‘purported’ birth of Jesus, as I have never seen any compelling evidence that the Jesus described in the Gospels every existed. Christians often misleadingly refer to the Jewish historian Joseph Josephus as ‘evidence’. However the authenticity of the ‘Testimonium Flavium’ contained in some copies of his “Antiquities of the Jews” , all of which have come to us through ‘Christian’ sources, has been disputed since the 17th Century. (Before then you would simply have been murdered for challenging any of the Church’s dogma, so no-one was likely to dispute anything the Church said!).
Like many ancient texts, the oldest surviving copies are Greek manuscripts dating from the 9th Century, which have come down to us through the hands of the Church. However the Christian author Origen, writing around the year 240 C.E makes no reference to a “Testimonium Flavium” when referring to his copy of “Antiquities of the Jews”. The only reference Origen makes to Jesus in reference to Joseph Josephus’ writing was a later reference to Jesus as the brother of James. Therefore many historians doubt that the original, unadulterated version of “Antiquities of the Jews” contained the “Testimonium Flavium”, speculating that Christian authorities may have added, between 240 C.E and 324 C.E the “Testimonium Flavium” to suit their own purposes. The first reference to the “Testimonium Flavium” is made by Eusubius in about 324 C.E, who quotes it in its current form. However Origen, almost a century earlier clearly states that Joseph Josephus…”says nothing of the wonderful deeds that our Lord did”.
The fact that he also wrote that Josephus … “was not believing in Jesus as the Christ”…has been teleologically twisted to imply that Josephus must have made some comment referring to Jesus as NOT being ‘the Christ’, thereby implying Josephus wrote about Jesus in this context. This argument is similar to implying that when I say I am an atheist I am claiming god doesn’t exist and therefore I must be implying that while god does exist, I don’t believe in him!
In classical philosophy, dialectic is an exchange of proposition (theses) and counter-propositions (antitheses) resulting in a synthesis of the opposing assertions, or at least a qualitative transformation in the direction of the dialogue. It is one of the three original liberal arts or trivium (the other members are rhetoric and grammar) in Western culture. In ancient and medieval times, both rhetoric and dialectic were understood to aim at being persuasive (through dialogue). The aim of the dialectical method, often known as dialectic or dialectics, is to try to resolve the disagreement through rational discussion. One way — the Socratic method — is to show that a given hypothesis (with other admissions) leads to a contradiction; thus, forcing the withdrawal of the hypothesis as a candidate for truth. Another way of trying to resolve a disagreement is by denying some presupposition of the contending thesis and antithesis; thereby moving to a third (syn)thesis.
In Plato’s dialogues and other Socratic dialogues, Socrates typically argues by cross-examining someone’s claims in order to draw out a contradiction among them. For example, in the Euthyphro, Socrates asks Euthyphro to provide a definition of piety. Euthyphro replies that the pious is that which is loved by the gods. But, Socrates also has Euthyphro agreeing that the gods are quarrelsome and their quarrels, like human quarrels, concern objects of love or hatred. Therefore, Socrates reasons, at least one thing exists which certain gods love but other gods hate. Again, Euthyphro agrees. Socrates concludes that if Euthyphro’s definition of piety is acceptable, then there must exist at least one thing which is both pious and impious (as it is both loved and hated by the gods) — which, Euthyphro admits, is absurd. Thus, Euthyphro is brought to a realization by this dialectical method that his definition of piety cannot be correct.
The dynamic element in Buddhism, its dialectical side, is shown by its view of reality as something eternally changing and impermanent.
Hegel’s dialectic, which he usually presented in a threefold manner, was vulgarized by Heinrich Moritz Chalybäus as comprising three dialectical stages of development: a thesis, giving rise to its reaction, an antithesis which contradicts or negates the thesis, and the tension between the two being resolved by means of a synthesis. Hegel rarely used these terms himself: this model is not Hegelian but Fichtean.
As in the Socratic dialectic, Hegel claimed to proceed by making implicit contradictions explicit
Marx himself never referred to “historical materialism.”
In Dialectics of Nature, Engels states, “Probably the same gentlemen who up to now have decried the transformation of quantity into quality as mysticism and incomprehensible transcendentalism will now declare that it is indeed something quite self-evident, trivial, and commonplace, which they have long employed, and so they have been taught nothing new.
Some issues, arguments, and positions
Or as MHR would put it: reasoning and reasonsing
Animal rights and animal welfare
The main concept of the animal rights position is that animals are ends in themselves, rather than means to human ends, and should not be exploited to suit our human ends.
The position called ‘animal welfare’ seeks to reduce animal suffering, but does not seek to eliminate the exploitation of animals to serve human interests.
In the 6th century BCE, Pythagoras, a philosopher and mathematician, urged respect for animals because he believed in the transmigration of souls.
Aristotle, writing in the 4th century BCE, argued that animals ranked far below humans in the Great Chain of Being, or scala naturae, because of their alleged irrationality, and that as a result animals had no interests of their own, and existed only for human benefit. Note that Aristotle was and is a favorite of the Catholic Church.
In the 17th century, the French philosopher René Descartes argued that animals had no souls, and therefore did not think or feel pain, meaning that no ill-treatment of them was wrong.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued, in the preface of his Discourse on Inequality (1754),…” as animals are sensitive beings…they too ought to participate in natural right, and that man is subject to some sort of duties toward them,” specifically “one [has] the right not to be uselessly mistreated by the other.”
Contemporaneous with Rousseau was the Scottish writer John Oswald, who died in 1793. In ‘The Cry of Nature or an Appeal to Mercy and Justice on Behalf of the Persecuted Animals’, Oswald argued that man is naturally equipped with feelings of mercy and compassion. If each man had to witness the death of the animals he ate, he argued, a vegetarian diet would be far more common. The division of labor, however, allows modern man to eat flesh without experiencing what Oswald called the prompting of man’s natural sensitivities, while the brutalization of modern man made him inured to these sensitivities.
Later in the 18th century, one of the founders of modern utilitarianism, the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, argued that animal pain is as real and as morally relevant as human pain, and that “[t]he day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been witholden from them but by the hand of tyranny.” Bentham argued that the ability to suffer, not the ability to reason, must be the benchmark of how we treat other beings. If the ability to reason were the criterion, many human beings, including babies and disabled people, would also have to be treated as though they were things, famously writing that: a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as more conversable animal, than an infant of a day or a week or even a month old. The question is not, Can they reason?, nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being? The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes …
In the 19th century, Arthur Schopenhauer argued that animals have the same essence as humans, despite lacking the faculty of reason. Although he considered vegetarianism to be only supererogatory, he argued for consideration to be given to animals in morality, and he opposed vivisection. His critique of Kantian ethics contains a lengthy and often furious polemic against the exclusion of animals in his moral system, which contained the famous line: “Cursed be any morality that does not see the essential unity in all eyes that see the sun.”
The world’s first animal welfare organization, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, was founded in Britain in 1824. English social reformer Henry Salt, formed the Humanitarian League in 1891 with the objective of banning hunting as a sport.
Richard D. Ryder coined the phrase “speciesism” in 1970 to describe the assignment of value to the interests of beings on the basis of their membership of a particular species.
Animal Liberation, the book often referred to as the “bible” of the animal rights movement, was published in 1975.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the movement was joined by a wide variety of academic and professional groups, including theologians, lawyers, physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, veterinarians, pathologists, and former vivisectionists.
The main ethical issues surrounding abortion
The rights of the woman compared to rights of the fetus.
Some would argue that a woman should have the right to control her own body. Therefore, she would be under no moral obligation to carry a fetus to term, and then deliver the baby.
Judith Jarvis Thomson, in her 1971 paper ‘A Defense of Abortion’, argued that the pregnant woman is under no moral compulsion to support a fetus against her desire, using an analogy in which the reader is asked to imagine awakening to find that they are being used as a living dialysis machine for someone who has suffered renal failure. Jarvis Thomson argues that the right to consent outweighs the right to life in both cases.
However how valid is the analogy? Many would argue that in the case of the dialysis patient, the woman has no responsibility for the patients situation, whereas, by consenting to sexual relations, and failing to take adequate contraceptive measures, the woman has implicitly accepted responsibility for the possibility of conception.
Question of personhood
Establishing the point in time when a zygote/embryo/fetus becomes a “person” is open to debate since the definition of “personhood” is not universally agreed upon.
Peter Singer argued that something can only be a person if it is self-aware and has temporal awareness. Singer assumes the fetus is not self-aware. Further, Singer concluded that infanticide would be permissible until the 3rd month after birth, because, at that point, self-awareness has still not been acquired.
However, for many like Jeremy Bentham, “The question is not can they reason nor can they talk, but can they suffer?” Some consider abortion might be considered acceptable if performed within the period in which the fetus is incapable of experiencing pain, theorized (note: there is no scientific confirmation of this assumption) to be around the 23rd week of gestation.
Some religious people will argue that the fetus is not a person until it has been ‘ensouled’. Interestingly, Saint Thomas Aquinas placed the entrance of the soul into the body at 42 days into pregnancy for a male fetus and 90 days for a female. Some will therefore argue that until the fetus has a soul, it is not a person.
Paul Ramsey and Charles Curran asserted that abortion, before 14th day of pregnancy, was acceptable, because after this point the division of the zygote through the process of monozygotic twinning becomes impossible. Curran also suggested that the developing embryo should not be considered a person until its chance of survival to live birth was greater than one half. Current research suggests that fertilised embryos naturally fail to implant some 30% to 60% of the time. Of those that do implant, about 25% are miscarried in the first two to three weeks after pregnancy can be detected. However lots of people die young, and ultimately everyone dies, so the arguments appear more or less arbitrary.
In 1988, the Anglican Archbishop of York, John Habgood, argued that personhood begins with cellular differentiation.
The teaching of the Catholic Church holds that a human being’s life begins at fertilization, and therefore abortion is always wrong. Because there are
Biblical verses that can be interpreted to suggest that personhood begins at fertilization, this belief is generally held by other orthodox Abrahamic religions as well.
However, a reverse argument could be made, in which factors that would reduce the future quality of life for the fetus to what might be defined as an insufferable degree could also be seen as violation of the sanctity of life.
If the pregnant woman’s life is at risk, then, arguably, abortion could be viewed as the lesser of two evils. The Principle of Double Effect could thus be applied, as the intent of the abortion would be to preserve the life of the woman, and the death of the fetus would be a secondary consequence of this attempt.
The Catholic Church accepts the Principle of Double Effect when the death of the fetus is a secondary effect of treating the mother. For example, chemotherapy for cancer treatment may cause a miscarriage, and surgical removal of an ectopic pregnancy results in the death of the embryo. However, direct abortion with a side effect beneficial to the mother violates the Principle of Double Effect — so abortion prior to chemotherapy, or Methotrexate for ectopic pregnancy, are not acceptable.
For some people the ‘day after pill’ Mifepristone, is considered to be a form of abortion, as it is taken after conception occurs.
Euthanasia (from Greek: eu, “good”; thanatos, “death”) is the practice of allowing or helping a person end their own life in as dignified and painless a manner as technically possible.
Euthanasia occurs with the fully-informed request of a decisionally-competent adult patient. An individual can give their prior informed consent via clear instructions, a ‘euthanasia directive’, that can be acted upon by a surrogate or ‘proxy’, in the event that they cannot themselves voice their wishes , such as in the event of incapacitation or coma.
Friedrich Nietzsche, in The Twilight of the Idols, writes, “To die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly. . . From love of life, one should desire a different death: free, conscious, without accident, without ambush.
This should not be confused with death after treatment is stopped on the instructions of the patient himself, either directly or through a do not resuscitate (DNR) order. Enforcing a DNR order has never been considered, legally speaking, as euthanasia. Terminal sedation is a combination of medically inducing a deep sleep and stopping other treatment, with the exception of medication for symptom control (such as analgesia). Under current law and medical practice it is considered a form of palliative care.
Patients of sound mind have always had a right to refuse treatment. However patients have been denied the right to refuse psychiatric treatment. This is a question of ‘informed consent’ and of cultural definitions of ‘rationality’..
Animal euthanasia is commonly referred to by the euphemism “put to sleep”. Many people suffering chronic conditions have complained that our society shows more mercy towards animals than to humans in this regard. Many people desire the option of euthanasia but are denied access by the governments claiming to be ‘protecting’ them from themselves.
MHR: we must constantly remind mystifiers and obstrucifiers in this debate that euthenasia and mercy killing must be done at the request of the patient, or with the patients prior informed consent and expression of the desire for euthenasia under particular circumstances. Anything else is murder i.e the term ‘involuntary euthenasia’ is ‘language gone on holiday’. Those opposed to Euthenasia constantly try to confuse the debate, for their own purposes, rather than to produce clarity, transparency and promote informed, reasonable discussion.
In Nazi Germany the term euthanasia was misused to describe state sanctioned murder. For this reason, in German speaking countries, the currently accepted term for euthanasia is the older “Sterbehilfe” (literally “helping to die”).
Philosophical arguments and positions
William Godwin showed his extreme optimism by stating that suicide was almost always a mistake, as more pleasure is to be gained by living. As he was a utilitarian, who saw moral judgements as based on the pleasure and pain they produced, he thus thought suicide to be immoral.
Immanuel Kant, considered by many to be the father of deontologism, argues against suicide in Fundamental Principles of The Metaphysic of Morals. In accordance with the second formulation of his categorical imperative, Kant states that “He who contemplates suicide should ask himself whether his action can be consistent with the idea of humanity as an end in itself.” Kant then argues that if the person chooses to commit suicide that he/she is using themselves as a mean to satisfy him/herself. But a person can not be used “merely as means, but must in all his actions be always considered as an end in himself.” Therefore, it would be unethical to commit suicide to satisfy oneself.
The French existentialist philosopher Camus saw the goal of existentialism in establishing whether suicide was necessary in a world without God. For Camus, suicide was the rejection of freedom. He thought that fleeing from the absurdity of reality into illusions, religion or death was not the way out. Instead of fleeing the absurd meaninglessness of life, we should embrace life passionately. Fellow existentialist Sartre described the position of Meursault the protagonist of Camus’ L’Entranger, who is condemned to death in the following way: “The absurd man will not commit suicide; he wants to live, without relinquishing any of his certainty, without a future, without hope, without illusions […] and without resignation either. He stares at death with passionate attention and this fascination liberates him. He experiences the ‘divine irresponsibility’ of the condemned man”.
Hobbes and Locke, reject the right of individuals to take their own life. Hobbes claims in his Leviathan the natural law forbids every man “to do, that which is destructive of his life, or take away the means of preserving the same”. Breaking this natural law is irrational and immoral. Hobbes also states that it is intuitively rational for men to want felicity and to fear death most. The writer Dorothy Parker, who attempted suicide several times, wrote a famous blackly comic poem contemplating and ultimately rejecting suicide, entitled “Résumé”.
Arguments for suicide
There are arguments in favor of allowing an individual to choose between life and suicide. This view sees suicide as a valid option. This line rejects the thought that suicide is always or usually irrational, but is instead a solution to real problems; a line of last resort that can legitimately be taken when the alternative is considered worse. No being should be made to suffer unnecessarily, and suicide provides an escape from suffering. Idealism
Some thinkers have had positive or at least neutral views on suicide. Some pessimist philosophers, such as Goethe and Schopenhauer, view suicide as the greatest comfort in life.
Herodotus wrote: “When life is so burdensome, death has become for man a sought after refuge”. Schopenahuer affirmed: “They tell us that suicide is the greatest piece of cowardice… that suicide is wrong; when it is quite obvious that there is nothing in the world to which every man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person”.
Arthur Schopenhauer ,in his main work – The World as Will and Representation – constantly uses the act in its examples. He denied that suicide was immoral and saw it as one’s right to take their life.
In the late 18th century, Goethe’s Die Leiden des jungen Werthers, (“The Sorrows of Young Werther”), the romantic story of a young man who kills himself because his love proves unattainable, was reputed to have caused a wave of suicides in Germany.
Liberalism asserts that a person’s life belongs only to him or her, and no other person has the right to force their own ideals that life must be lived. Rather, only the individual involved can make such decision, and whatever decision he or she does make, should be respected. Philosopher and psychiatrist Thomas Szasz goes further, arguing that suicide is the most basic right of all. If freedom is self-ownership, ownership over one’s own life and body, then the right to end that life is the most basic of all. If others can force you to live, you do not own yourself and belong to them. Jean Améry, in his book On Suicide: a Discourse on Voluntary Death (originally published in German in 1976), provides a moving insight into the suicidal mind. He argues forcefully and almost romantically that suicide represents the ultimate freedom of humanity, attempting to justify the act with phrases such as “we only arrive at ourselves in a freely chosen death”, lamenting the “ridiculously everyday life and its alienation”. He killed himself in 1978. Philosophical thinking in the 19th and 20th century has led, in some cases, beyond thinking in terms of pro-choice, to the point that suicide is no longer a last resort, or even something that one must justify, but something that one must justify not doing. Many forms of Existentialist thinking essentially begin with the premise that life is objectively meaningless and proceeds to the question of why one should “not just kill his or her self?”. It then proceeds to answer this by suggesting the individual has the power to give personal meaning.
Neutral and Situational stands
Utilitarianism can be used as a justification or an argument against suicide. Although the death of a depressed person negates his or her sadness, the person’s family and friends may grieve. The Church of Euthanasia says that people should kill themselves in order to reduce mankind’s stress on the environment.
Nihilist thinkers reject this emphasis on the power of the individual to create meaning and acknowledge that all things are equally meaningless, including suicide.
Legislation and national political movements
Euthanasia was legalized in Australia’s Northern Territory, by the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995. However the law was voided by an amendment by the Commonwealth to the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978. Only three people were legally euthanised under the Act.
Although it is a crime in most Australian states to assist in euthanasia, prosecutions have been rare. In 2002, relatives and friends who provided moral support to an elderly woman who committed suicide were extensively investigated by police, but no charges were laid. The Commonwealth government subsequently tried to hinder euthanasia with the passage of the Criminal Code Amendment (Suicide Related Materials Offences) Bill 2004. In Tasmania in 2005 a nurse was convicted of assisting in the death of her elderly mother and father who were both suffering from illnesses. She was sentenced two and a half year jail but the judge later suspended the conviction because he believed the community did not want the woman put behind bars. This sparked debate about decriminalising euthanasia.
The Belgian parliament legalized euthanasia in late September 2002. Proponents of euthanasia state that prior to the law, several thousand illegal acts of euthanasia were carried out in Belgium each year. According to proponents, the legislation incorporated a complicated process, which has been criticized as an attempt to establish a bureaucracy of death.
In the Netherlands the Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act took effect on April 1, 2002. It legalizes euthanasia and physician assistance in dying in certain circumstances.
The law recognized a practice that had been tolerated for some 20 years. From the time that euthanasia first came to be widely practiced in the Netherlands, it was formally subject to review by boards of doctors in each hospital. The law essentially codified what had already become tolerated practice and unofficial law by judgments in the courts.
The law permits euthanasia and physician assisted dying when each of the following conditions is fulfilled:
the patient’s suffering is unbearable with no prospect of improvement
the patient’s request for euthanasia must be voluntary and persist over time (the request can not be granted when under the influence of others, psychological illness or drugs)
the patient must be fully aware of his/her condition, prospects and options
there must be consultation with at least one other independent doctor who needs to confirm the conditions mentioned above
the death must be carried out in a medically appropriate fashion by the doctor or patient, in which case the doctor must be present.
the patient is at least 12 years old (patients between 12 and 16 years of age require the consent of their parents)
Finally, the legislation offers an explicit recognition of the validity of a written declaration of will of the patient regarding euthanasia (a “euthanasia directive”). Such declarations can be used when a patient is in a coma or otherwise unable to state whether they want euthanasia or not.
The legislation has wide support among the socially libertarian Dutch, who have one of the world’s highest life expectancies. There is however persistent opposition, mainly organized by the churches.
Euthanasia remains a criminal offense in cases not meeting the law’s specific conditions, with the exception of several situations that are not subject to the restrictions of the law at all, because they are considered normal medical practice:
stopping or not starting a medically useless (futile) treatment
stopping or not starting a treatment at the patient’s request
speeding up death as a side-effect of treatment necessary for alleviating serious suffering
Euthanasia of children under the age of 12 remains technically illegal, however Dr. Eduard Verhagen has documented several cases and, together with colleagues and prosecutors, has developed a protocol to be followed in those cases. Prosecutors will refrain from pressing charges if this Groningen protocol is followed.
In 1992 a proposal was made known as Drion’s Pill. This fictional drug would be a set of 2 pills. The first pill could be taken without any harm, the second pill would have to be taken a couple of days later (and only then would work). This would give the patient the time to think things over. The drug was never developed, the proposal however indirectly started up the discussion of euthanasia in Netherlands.
In 2003, in the Netherlands, 1626 cases were officially reported of euthanasia in the sense of a physician assisting the death (1.2% of all deaths). Usually the sedative sodium thiopental is intravenously administered to induce a coma. Once it is certain that the patient is in a deep coma, typically after some minutes, a muscle relaxant is administered to stop the breathing and cause death.
Officially reported were also 148 cases of physician assisted dying (0.14% of all deaths), usually by drinking a strong (10g) barbiturate potion. The doctor is required to be present for two reasons: to make sure the potion is not taken by a different person, by accident (or, theoretically, for “unauthorized” suicide or perhaps even murder) to monitor the process and be available to apply the combined procedure mentioned below, if necessary.
In two cases the doctor was reprimanded for not being present while the patient drank the potion. They said they had not realized that this was required.
Forty-one cases were reported to combine the two procedures: usually in these cases the patient drinks the potion, but this does not cause death. After a few hours, or earlier in the case of vomiting, the muscle relaxant is administered to cause death. By far, most reported cases concerned cancer patients. Also, in most cases the procedure was applied at home.
Oregon:voters in 1994 passed and subsequently reaffirmed in 1997 the “Death with Dignity” law. The law required that all individuals requesting euthanasia be: 18 years of age or older, unless consent is given by a parent for children under the age of 18, a resident of Oregon, informed consent must be given; the patient must be mentally capable of making the consent, diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months and is not basing his or her decision to die on depression or another mental disorder, and verified by two physicians, as well as by two witnesses.
Patients are prescribed a concentrated barbiturate solution, which is typically 9 grams of Pentobarbital. The time from ingestion to unconsciousness ranged from 1 to 20 minutes with 4 minutes being the average. Death occurred between 5 minutes to 48 hours afterwards, with the average time being 20 minutes. There have been few complications (3 out of 171) where regurgitation did occur, but a sufficient dose of barbiturates was retained to be effective.
Since 1998, 171 Oregonians have used the “Death with Dignity” law. The physician is not required by law to be present when the patient ingests the barbiturate but sometimes the physician opts to be present.
Euthanasia can be accomplished either through an oral, intravenous, or intramuscular administration of drugs. In individuals who are incapable of swallowing lethal doses of medication, an intravenous route is preferred. The following is a Dutch protocol for parenteral (intravenous) administration to obtain euthanasia:
In the last 20 years, some states in the United States of America have faced voter ballot initiatives and “legislation bills” attempting to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide. Some examples include: Washington voters saw Ballot Initiative 119 in 1991, California placed Proposition 161 on the ballot in 1992, and Michigan included Proposal B in their ballot in 1998. Public opinion concerning this issue has become increasingly important because widespread support could very well facilitate the legalization of these policies in other states, such as in Oregon.
While many people are aware of the ongoing debates concerning the issue of euthanasia and assisted suicide, it has been unclear where the public opinion stands in the United States. A recent Gallup Poll survey did show that 75% of Americans supported euthanasia. Further research, however, has shown that there are significant differences in levels of support for euthanasia across distinct social groups. Results of large scale social surveys in the U.S indicated that respondents who did not affiliate with a religion were found to support euthanasia more than those who did.
Religious positions on Euthenasia
In Theravada Buddhism, a monk can be expelled for praising the advantages of death, even if they simply describe the miseries of life or the bliss of the after-life in a way that might inspire a person to commit suicide or pine away to death. In caring for the terminally ill, one is forbidden to treat a patient so as to bring on death faster than would occur if the disease were allowed to run its natural course.
In Hinduism, death has been referred to both as the ultimate truth and as one of the stages in human life. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna urges Arjuna to fulfill his destiny or Karma, and not to worry about consequences as death levels all. In Hindu mythology, some humans were given the right to choose the time of their deaths. This was awarded to only the most pure in heart, suggesting that Hinduism does not disapprove of euthanasia.
Arguments against suicide
One popular argument is that many of the reasons for committing suicide, such as depression, emotional pain or economic hardship, are transitory and treatable through therapy and lifestyle changes. A common adage in the discourse surrounding suicide prevention sums up this view: Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Ken Baldwin, a depressed 28 year-old who attempted suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, recalls his first thoughts after he jumped: “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped”.
However, the argument against this is that while emotional pain may seem transitory to most people, and in many cases it is, in many other cases it may be extremely difficult or even impossible to resolve, even through counseling or lifestyle change, depending on the severity of the case and the persons ability to cope with their pain. Examples of this are incurable disease or severe, lifelong mental illness.
It is important to note that the liberal view above is not associated with classical liberalism; John Stuart Mill, for instance, argued in his influential essay On Liberty that since the sine qua non of liberty is the power of the individual to make choices; any choice that one might make that would deprive him or her of the ability to make further choices should be prevented. Thus, for Mill, selling oneself into slavery or killing oneself should be prevented, in order to avoid precluding the ability to make further choices..
Etymologically, vivisection refers to the dissection of, or any cutting or surgery upon, a living animal. More generally, it is used to describe any invasive experiment upon living animals, or any live animal testing.
Modern codes of practice like those issued by the U.S. National Institute of Health or the British Home Office require that any invasive procedure on laboratory animals must be performed under deep surgical anaesthesia. These codes are legally binding for most organisations involved in vivisection in the western world (see, for example the U.K. Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986).
Welfare laws and accepted codes of conduct specify that the procedures carried out on laboratory animals should not be painful to them, BUT legislation does allow for anaesthetic not to be used if it will confound the results of an experiment. In other words the law does NOT guarantee that animals will not suffer during experiments.
Opponents to vivisection point to undercover investigations showing how animals suffer.
Since the 19th century controversy regarding vivisection has centered on two issues: how useful or necessary it is for science and human interests, and the ethical issue about whether it is right or wrong to use animals for furthering human interests (or, occasionally, for furthering the interests of other animals).
One position is that the interests of human beings come first, and that it is fully justified to experiment on animals, provided care is taken to eliminate or minimise suffering, if by doing so we may advance human interests. Indeed, in some interpretations of Christian and Kantist doctrines, animal interests are often seen as carrying no weight at all by themselves:
St.Thomas Aquinas argues, that “If a man’s affection be one of reason, it matters not how man behaves to animals, because God has subjected all things to man’s power (…).” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, first part of second part, question 102) “But if man’s affection be one of passion, then it is moved also in regard to other animals: for since the passion of pity is caused by the afflictions of others; and since it happens that even irrational animals are sensible to pain, it is possible for the affection of pity to arise in a man with regard to the sufferings of animals. [The Lord…] wished them to practice pity even with regard to dumb animals, and forbade them to do certain things savoring of cruelty to animals.”
Those who empathise with the suffering of animals are often appalled by speciest, teleological, anthropocentric, and seemingly ignorant and unenlightened arguments such as those of Kant that …”so far as animals are concerned, we have no direct duties. Animals are not self-conscious and are there merely as means to an end. That end is man “(Immanuel Kant, Lectures on ethics, New York: Harper and Row, 1963, p.239)
The antispeciesist position challenges that point of view, regarding it as a manifestation of speciesism, a form of arbitrary discrimination similar to racism or sexism: “I argue that there can be no reason – except the selfish desire to preserve the privileges of the exploiting group – for refusing to extend the basic principle of equality of consideration to members of other species.” (Peter Singer, Animal Liberation, Preface to the 1975 edition)
Peter Singer, whose 1975 Animal Liberation popularized the term “speciesism” claims to be a utilitarian, and consequently calls for equal weighing of the interests of all individuals; for instance, performing toxicology experiments on mice would be justifiable if and only if the expected benefits would equally justify inflicting the same level of pain on human beings.
This would imply the abolition of the vast majority of current forms of vivisection, though not necessarily of all animal experimentation, depending on the comparative issue of how useful such experiments are. Other antispeciesists, following the animal rights approach, believe that utilitarian analysis is weak; and that all animals, or at least those who are subjects of a life, cannot be used as ends for means, whatever benefit we may expect to reap (Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights).
Vivisection has long been practiced on human beings. Herophilos, the “father of anatomy” and founder of the first medical school in Alexandria, was described by the church leader Tertullian as having vivisected at least 600 live prisoners. In recent times, the wartime programs of Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele and the Japanese military (Unit 731 and Dr. Fukujiro Ishiyama at Kyushu Imperial University Hospital) conducted human vivisections on concentration camp prisoners in their respective countries during WWII. In response to these atrocities, the medical profession internationally adopted the Nuremberg Code as a code of ethics. This code of ethics does not completely prohibit vivisection on humans.
Human volunteers can consent to be subjects for invasive experiments which may involve, for example, the taking of tissue samples (biopsies), or other procedures which require surgery on the volunteer. These procedures must be approved by ethical review, and carried out in an approved manner that minimizes pain and long term health risks to the subject. Despite this, the term is generally recognized as pejorative: one would never refer to life-saving surgery, for example, as “vivisection.” The use of the term vivisection when referring to procedures performed on humans almost always implies a lack of consent, as it does when it is practiced on non-humans.
Yin and yang
The Taijitu is traditional symbol representing the forces of Yin and Yang . The mostly white portion, being brighter, is yang and the mostly dark portion, being dim, is yin. Each, however, contains the seed of its opposite. Yin and yang are equally important, unlike the typical dualism of good and evil.
The concepts of yin and yang originate in ancient Chinese philosophy and metaphysics, which describes two primal opposing but complementary forces found in all things in the universe. Yin, is sad, the darker element, is passive, dark, feminine, downward-seeking, and corresponds to the night; Yang, is happy, the brighter element, is active, light, masculine, upward-seeking and corresponds to the day; yin is often symbolized by water, while yang is symbolized by fire.
Everything can be described as both yin and yang.
1. Yin and yang are opposites: Everything has its opposite, although this is never absolute, only relative. No one thing is completely yin or completely yang. Each contains the seed of its opposite.
2. Yin and yang are interdependent: One cannot exist without the other. For example, day cannot exist without night. Light cannot exist without darkness.
3. Yin and yang can be further subdivided into yin and yang: Any yin or yang aspect can be further subdivided into yin and yang. For example, temperature can be seen as either hot or cold. However, hot can be further divided into warm or burning; cold into cool or icy. Within each spectrum, there is a smaller spectrum; every beginning is a moment in time, and has a beginning and end, just as every hour has a beginning and end.
Yin and yang consume and support each other: Yin and yang are usually held in balance as one increases, the other decreases. However, imbalances can occur. There are four possible imbalances: Excess yin, excess yang, yin deficiency, and yang deficiency. They can again be seen as a pair: by excess of yin there is a yang deficiency and vice versa. The imbalance is also a relative factor: the excess of yang “forces” yin to be more “concentrated”.
Yin and yang can transform into one another: At a particular stage, yin can transform into yang and vice versa. For example, night changes into day; warmth cools; life changes to death. However this transformation is relative too. Night and day coexist on Earth at the same time when shown from space.
Part of yin is in yang and part of yang is in yin: The dots in each serve:
1. as a reminder that there are always traces of one in the other. For example, there is always light within the dark (e.g., the stars at night); these qualities are never completely one or the other.
2. as a reminder that absolute extreme side transforms instantly into the opposite, or that the labels yin and yang are conditioned by an observer’s point of view. For example, the hardest stone is easiest to break. This can show that absolute discrimination between the two is artificial.
The pair probably goes back to ancient agrarian religion; it exists in Confucianism, and it is prominent in Taoism. Though the words yin and yang only appear once in the Tao Te Ching, the book is laden with examples and clarifications of the concept of mutual arising. The concept is a fundamental principle of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Yin and yang are descriptions of complementary opposites rather than absolutes.
Any yin/yang dichotomy can be seen as its opposite when viewed from another perspective. The categorisation is seen as one of convenience. Most forces in nature can be seen as having yin and yang states, and the two are usually in movement rather than held in absolute stasis.
The symbol can also be written as 69, with unicode U+262F.
It is also possible to look at yin and yang with respect to the flow of time. Noon, is full yang, sunset is yang turning to yin; midnight is full yin and sunrise is yin turning to yang. This flow of time can also be expressed in seasonal changes and directions. South and Summer are full yang; West and Autumn are yang turning to yin; North and Winter are full yin, and East and Spring are yin turning over to yang.
Yin and yang can also be seen as a process of transformation which describes the changes between the phases of a cycle. For example, cold water (yin) can be boiled and eventually turn into steam (yang). One possible derivation for the Tajitu symbol is as a sort of calendar. Ancient
Chinese scholars would place an 8 foot pole in the ground and measure the position of the shadow at different points in the year. The top of the symbol shows the summer solstice, where the shadow is shortest, and the bottom winter, where the shadow is longest. The positions of the two dots mark the solstices, the point of the year at which yin begins to give way to yang and vice versa.
, The Logo from the Second International Congress of Eugenics, 1921 proudly stated that “Eugenics is the self-direction of human evolution”, depicting it as a tree which unites a variety of different fields. From its inception, eugenics (derived from the Greek “well born” or “good breeding”) was supported by prominent thinkers, including Plato, Alexander Graham Bell, George Bernard Shaw, and Winston Churchill.
Eugenics was an academic discipline at many colleges and universities. Its scientific reputation tumbled in the 1930s, a time when Ernst Rüdin began incorporating eugenic rhetoric into the racial policies of Nazi Germany.
During the postwar period both the public and the scientific community largely and mostly falsely, associated eugenics with Nazi abuses, which included enforced “racial hygiene” and extermination, although a variety of regional and national governments maintained eugenic programs until the 1970s.
Meanings of eugenics
The most disputed aspect of eugenics has been the definition what is a beneficial characteristic and what is a defect.
The advanced development of genetics led to a scientific consensus that the division of the human species into unequal races is unjustifiable. Emirical studies demonstrate that the genetic differences withing the same putative ‘race’, are greater than those existing between different putative races.
Eugenics has also been concerned with the elimination of hereditary diseases such as haemophilia and Huntington’s disease. However, there are several problems with labeling certain factors as “genetic defects”:
In many cases, there is no scientific consensus on what a “genetic defect” is. It is often argued that this is more a matter of social or individual choice.
What appears to be a “genetic defect” in one context or environment may not be so in another. This can be the case for genes with a heterozygote advantage, such as sickle cell anemia or Tay-Sachs disease, which in their heterozygote form may offer an advantage against, respectively, malaria and tuberculosis.
Many of the conditions early eugenicists identified as inheritable (pellagra is one such example) are currently considered to be at least partially, if not wholly, attributed to environmental conditions.
Eugenic policies have been conceptually divided into two categories: positive eugenics, which encourage a designated “most fit” to reproduce more often, and negative eugenics, which discourage or prevent a designated “less fit” from reproducing. Negative eugenics need not be coercive. A state might offer financial rewards to certain people who submit to sterilization, although some critics might reply that this incentive along with social pressure could be perceived as coercion. Positive eugenics can also be coercive. Abortion by “fit” women was illegal in Nazi Germany.
During the twentieth century, many countries enacted various eugenics policies and programs, including:
Promoting differential birth rates
Segregation (both racial segregation as well as segregation of the mentally ill from the normal)
Selective breeding was suggested at least as far back as Plato, who believed human reproduction should be controlled by government. He recorded these views in The Republic. “The best men must have intercourse with the best women as frequently as possible, and the opposite is true of the very inferior.” Plato proposed that the process be concealed from the public via a form of lottery.
Other ancient examples include the polis of Sparta’s purported practice of leaving all babies outside the cities walls for a length of time. The survivors were considered stronger, while many “weaker” babies perished.
During the 1860s and 1870s Sir Francis Galton, after reading Darwin’s Origin of Species, Galton noticed an interpretation of Darwin’s work whereby the mechanisms of natural selection were potentially thwarted by human civilization. He reasoned that, since many human societies sought to protect the underprivileged and weak, those societies were at odds with the natural selection responsible for extinction of the weakest. Only by changing these social policies, Galton thought, could society be saved from a “reversion towards mediocrity,” a phrase that he first coined in statistics, and which later changed to the now common, “regression towards the mean.”
According to Galton, society already encouraged dysgenic conditions, claiming that the less intelligent were out-reproducing the more intelligent. Galton did not propose any selection methods: rather, he hoped that a solution would be found if social mores changed in a way that encouraged people to see the importance of breeding.
Galton first used the word eugenic in his 1883 ‘Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development’.
Eugenics and the state, 1890s-1945
One of the earliest modern advocates of eugenic ideas (before they were labeled as such) was Alexander Graham Bell. In 1881 Bell investigated the rate of deafness on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. From this he concluded that deafness was hereditary in nature and recommended a marriage prohibition against the deaf (“Memoir upon the formation of a deaf variety of the human Race”) even though he was married to a deaf woman. Like many other early eugenicists he proposed controlling immigration for the purpose of eugenics and warned that boarding schools for the deaf could possibly be considered as breeding places of a deaf human race.
Many legal methods of eugenics practiced in the U.S included state laws against miscegenation and prohibitions of interracial marriage between members of other races. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned those state laws in 1967 and declared anti-miscegenation laws as unconstitutional.
A Nazi poster from 1936 showed the flags of other countries with compulsory sterilization legislation, boldly proclaiming :”We do not stand alone”:.
Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler was infamous for programs which attempted to maintain a “pure” German race through a series of programs which ran under the banner of “racial hygiene.”
During the 1930s and 1940s the Nazi regime forcibly sterilized hundreds of thousands of people whom they viewed as mentally and physically “unfit”, an estimated 400,000 between 1934 and 1937.
The scale of the Nazi program prompted American eugenics advocates to seek an expansion of their program, with one complaining that ‘the Germans are beating us at our own game.” The Nazis went further however, killing tens of thousands of the institutionalized disabled through compulsory “euthanasia” programs.
Nazi propaganda for their compulsory ‘euthanasia’ program showed pictures of ‘disabled’ people, stating: “This person suffering from hereditary defects costs the community 60,000 Reichsmark during his lifetime. Fellow German, that is your money, too.” The strong use of the rhetoric of eugenics throughout the Nazi regime created an indelible cultural association between eugenics and the Third Reich in the postwar years.
The second largest eugenics movement was in the United States. Beginning with Connecticut in 1896 many states enacted marriage laws with eugenic criteria, prohibiting anyone who was “epileptic, imbecile or feeble-minded” from marrying.
William Graham Sumner, a founder of the American Sociological Society, now called the American Sociological Association, maintained that if the government did not meddle with the social policy of laissez faire, a class of genius would rise to the top of the system of social stratification, followed by a class of talent. Most of the rest of society would fit into the class of mediocrity. Those who were considered to be defective (mentally retarded, handicapped, etc.) had a negative effect on social progress by draining off necessary resources. They should be left on their own to sink or swim. But, those in the class of delinquent (criminals, deviants, etc.) should be eliminated from society. “Folkways,” 1907.
In 1924, the Immigration Act of 1924 was passed, with eugenicists for the first time playing a central role in the Congressional debate as expert advisers on the threat of “inferior stock” from Eastern and Southern Europe. This reduced the number of immigrants from abroad to fifteen percent from previous years, to control the number of “unfit” individuals entering the country. The new Act strengthened existing laws prohibiting race mixing in an attempt to maintain the gene pool. Eugenic considerations also lay behind the adoption of incest laws in much of the USA and were used to justify many anti-miscegenation laws.
Some states sterilized “imbeciles” for much of the 20th century. The US Supreme Court ruled in the 1927 Buck v. Bell case that the state of Virginia could sterilize those they thought unfit. The most significant era of eugenic sterilization was between 1907 and 1963 when over 64,000 individuals were forcibly sterilized under eugenic legislation in the United States. A favorable report on the results of sterilization in California, by far the state with the most sterilizations, was published in book form by the biologist Paul Popenoe and was widely cited by the Nazi government as evidence that wide-reaching sterilization programs were feasible and humane. When Nazi administrators went on trial for war crimes in Nuremberg after World War II they justified the mass-sterilizations (over 450,000 in less than a decade) by citing the United States as their inspiration.
Almost all non-Catholic western nations adopted some eugenics legislation. In July 1933 Germany passed a law allowing for the involuntary sterilization of “hereditary and incurable drunkards, sexual criminals, lunatics, and those suffering from an incurable disease which would be passed on to their offspring…”
Canada carried out thousands of forced sterilizations, and these lasted into the 1970s.
Sweden forcibly sterilized 62,000 “unfits” (primarily the mentally ill, especially in the later decades, but also ethnic or racial minorities early on) as part of a eugenics program over a forty-year period. While the intent was initially to reduce mental illness and disease as part of the early modern social engineering programs, and thus supported by the government, ethnic and racial elements were inevitably blended in, as these were erroneously connected to mental and physical health by leading scientists of the time. While many Swedes disliked the program, politicians generally supported it; the ruling left supported it more as a means of promoting social health, while amongst the right it was more about racial protectionism. The Swedish government has subsequently paid damages to those involved.
Besides the large scale program in the United States, other nations included Australia, the UK, Norway, France, Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Iceland, and Switzerland, with programs to sterilize people the government declared to be mentally deficient. Singapore practiced a limited form of “positive” eugenics that involved encouraging marriage between college graduates in the hope they would produce better children.
During the early twentieth century Canada and the United States passed immigration laws creating a hierarchy of nationalities, rating them from the most desirable Anglo-Saxon and Nordic peoples to the Chinese and Japanese immigrants who were almost completely banned from entering the country.
Some who disagree with the idea of eugenics in general contend that eugenics legislation still had benefits. Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood of America) found it a useful tool to urge the legalization of contraception. In its time, eugenics was seen by many as scientific and progressive.
Stigmatization of eugenics in the post-Nazi years
After the experience of Nazi Germany many ideas about “racial hygiene” and “unfit” members of society were publicly renounced by politicians and members of the scientific community. In reaction to Nazi abuses, eugenics became almost universally reviled in many of the nations where it had once been popular (however some eugenics programs, including sterilization, continued quietly for decades). Many pre-war eugenicists engaged in what they later labeled “crypto-eugenics,” purposefully taking their eugenic beliefs “underground” and becoming respected anthropologists, biologists and geneticists in the post-war world
High school and college textbooks from the 1920s through the 40s often had chapters touting the scientific progress to be had from applying eugenic principles to the population. Many early scientific journals devoted to heredity in general were run by eugenicists and featured eugenics articles alongside studies of heredity in non-human organisms. After eugenics fell out of scientific favor, most references to eugenics were removed from textbooks and subsequent editions of relevant journals
Despite the changed post-war attitude towards eugenics in the US and some European countries, a few nations, notably Canada and Sweden, maintained large-scale eugenics programs, including forced sterilization of mentally handicapped individuals, as well as other practices, until the 1970s. In the United States, sterilizations capped off in the 1960s, though the eugenics movement had largely lost most popular and political support by the end of the 1930s.
Modern eugenics and genetic engineering
Beginning in the 1980s the history and concept of eugenics were widely discussed as knowledge about genetics advanced significantly. Endeavors such as the Human Genome Project made the effective modification of the human species seem possible again (as did Darwin’s initial theory of evolution in the 1860s, along with the rediscovery of Mendel’s laws in the early 20th century). The difference at the beginning of the 21st century was the guarded attitude towards eugenics, which had become a watchword to be feared rather than embraced.
Only a few scientific researchers (such as the controversial psychologist Richard Lynn) have openly called for eugenic policies using modern technology but they represent a minority opinion in current scientific and cultural circles. One attempted implementation of a form of eugenics was a “genius sperm bank” (1980-1999) created by Robert Klark Graham, from which nearly 230 children were conceived (the best known donor was Nobel Prize winner William Shockley). In the USA and Europe though, these attempts have frequently been criticized as in the same spirit of classist and racist forms of eugenics of the 1930s. Results, in any case, have been spotty at best.
Only a few governments in the world had anything resembling eugenic programs today. In 1994 China passed the “Maternal and Infant Health Care Law” which included mandatory pre-marital screenings for “genetic diseases of a serious nature” and “relevant mental disease.” Those who were diagnosed with such diseases were required either to not marry, agree to “long term contraceptive measures” or to submit to sterilization.
A similar screening policy (including pre-natal screening and abortion) intended to reduce the incidence of thalassemia exists on both sides of the island of Cyprus. Since the program’s implementation in the 1970s, it has reduced the ratio of children born with the hereditary blood disease from 1 out of every 158 births to almost zero. Dor Yeshorim, a program which seeks to reduce the incidence of Tay-Sachs disease among certain Jewish communities, is another screening program which has drawn comparisons with eugenics. In Israel, at the expense of the state, the general public is advised to carry out genetic tests to diagnose the disease before the birth of a baby. If an unborn baby is diagnosed with Tay-Sachs the pregnancy may be terminated, subject to consent. Most other Ashkenazi Jewish communities also run screening programmes due to the higher incidence of the disease. In some Jewish communities, the ancient custom of matchmaking (shidduch) is still practised, and in order to attempt to prevent the tragedy of infant death which always results from being homozygous for Tay-Sachs, associations such as the strongly observant Dor Yeshorim (which was founded by a rabbi who lost four children to the condition in order to prevent others suffering the same tragedy) test young couples to check whether they carry a risk of passing on this disease or certain other fatal conditions. If both the young man and young woman are Tay-Sachs carriers, it is common for the match to be broken off. Judaism, like numerous other religions, discourages abortion unless there is a risk to the mother, in which case her needs take precedence. It should also be noted that, since all those with the condition will die in infancy, these programs aim to prevent these tragedies rather than directly eradicate the gene, which is a co-incidental by-product.
In modern bioethics literature, the history of eugenics presents many moral and ethical questions. Commentators have suggested the new “eugenics” will come from reproductive technologies that will allow parents to create so-called “designer babies” (what the biologist Lee M. Silver prominently called “reprogenetics.”) It has been argued that this “non-coercive” form of biological “improvement” will be predominantly motivated by individual competitiveness and the desire to create “the best opportunities” for children, rather than an urge to improve the species as a whole, which characterized the early twentieth century forms of eugenics. Because of this non-coercive nature, lack of involvement by the state and a difference in goals, some commentators have questioned whether such activities are eugenics or something else all together.
Some disability activists argue that, although their impairments may cause them pain or discomfort, what really disables them as members of society is a socio-cultural system that does not recognise their right to genuinely equal treatment. They express skepticism that any form of eugenics could be to the benefit of the disabled considering their treatment by historical eugenic campaigns.
Distinguished geneticists including Nobel Prize winners John Sulston (“I don’t think one ought to bring a clearly disabled child into the world”)and Watson (“Once you have a way in which you can improve our children, no one can stop it.”) support genetic screening. Which ideas should be described as “eugenic” are still controversial in both public and scholarly spheres.
Behavioral traits often identified as potential targets for modification through human genetic engineering include intelligence, depression, schizophrenia, alcoholism, sexual behavior (and orientation) and criminality.
Most recently in the United Kingdom a court case, the Crown v. James Edward Whittaker-Williams, arguably set a precedent of banning sexual contact between people with “learning difficulties.” The accused, a man suffering learning disabilities was jailed for kissing and hugging a woman with learning disabilities. This was done under the 2003 Sexual Offences Act which redefines kissing and cuddling as sexual and states that those with learning difficulties are unable to give consent regardless of whether or not the act involved coercion. Opponents of the act have attacked it as bringing in eugenics through the backdoor under the guise of a requirement of “consent.”
Diseases vs. traits
Eugenic measures against many diseases are already being undertaken in societies around the world. The effects of diseases are essentially wholly negative, and societies everywhere seek to reduce their impact by various means, some of which are eugenic in all but name. Behavioural traits, such as a predisposition to taking risks, have positive as well as negative effects, and are not generally targeted at present anywhere.
Eugenic policies could also lead to loss of genetic diversity, in which case a culturally accepted improvement of the gene pool may, but would not necessarily, result in biological disaster due to increased vulnerability to disease, reduced ability to adapt to environmental change and other factors both known and unknown. This kind of argument from the precautionary principle is itself widely criticized. A long-term eugenics plan is likely to lead to a scenario similar to this because the elimination of traits deemed undesireable would reduce genetic diversity by definition.
To the contrary some studies have shown that dysgenic trends lead to a decrease of genetic diversity, a development that in theory could be countered by a eugenic program.
The possible elimination of the autism genotype is a significant political issue in the autism rights movement which claims autism is a form of neurodiversity. Many advocates of Down Syndrome rights also consider Down Syndrome (Trisomy-21) a form of neurodiversity though males with Down syndrome are generally infertile.
Heterozygous recessive traits In some instances, efforts to eradicate certain single-gene mutations would be nearly impossible.
Counter-arguments One website on logic has used the statement “Eugenics must be wrong because it was associated with the Nazis” as a typical example of the association fallacy. The stigmatization of eugenics because of its association, on the other hand, has not at all slowed the application of medical technologies that decrease the incidence of birth defects, or to slow the search for their causes.
Eugenics in popular culture
Eugenics is a recurrent theme in science fiction (often dystopian) – the novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley explores the theme in depth, as does the more recent (and up-to-date on the science) movie Gattaca, whose plot turns around genetic testing. Boris Vian (under the pseudonym Vernon Sullivan) takes a more light-hearted approach in his novel Et on tuera tous les affreux (“And we’ll kill all the ugly ones”).
Tragedy of the (unregulated) commons
The ‘tragedy of the commons’ is a parable meant to demonstrate how free access and unrestricted demand for a finite resource ultimately dooms the resource through over-exploitation.
The paradigm, analogy, or metaphor used is that of the use by individuals of communally owned land for the grazing of animals owned privately by those individuals.
The herders are assumed to wish to maximise their yield, and so will increase their herd size whenever possible. The utility of each additional animal has both a positive and negative component: ·
Positive : the herder receives all of the proceeds from each additional animal ·
Negative : the pasture is slightly degraded by each additional animal
The gain is always greater to an individual than the distributed cost is. The overgrazing cost here is an example of an externality. (Another example: when you misbehave in class you may enjoy yourselves, but you are imposing a negative externality, a cost, on those who want to learn. Alternatively when you make a joke you provide a positive externality for those around you, by amusing them and making them laugh!)
The individual herder gains all of the advantage, but the disadvantage is shared between all herders using the pasture. Consequently, for an individual herder weighing up these utilities, the rational course of action is to add an extra animal. And another, and another. However, since all herders reach the same conclusion, overgrazing and degradation of the pasture is its long-term fate
“Therein is the tragedy. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons..
Hardin thought that this conclusion challenged Adam Smith’s famous observation that individuals intending only their own gain act, as if led by an invisible hand, in a way that tends to promote the public interest, however, in Smith’s model private ownership is assumed, in which case the owner of a resource has an incentive to preserve it in a way that unregulated communal owners are not. In a free market economy the Tragedy of the Commons is applicable only to resources which are not suitable for or capable of private ownership, such as the atmosphere and the ocean.
As such, it illustrates how “invisible hand” (laissez-faire) approaches to resource problems need not always provide the expected optimal solution. In Hardin’s hypothetical commons, the action of self-interested individuals cannot promote the public good.
The essay also addresses potential management solutions to commons problems including: privatization; polluter pays; regulation. Hardin argues against the reliance on conscience as a means of policing commons, suggesting that this favours selfish individuals over those more far-sighted.
In the context of avoiding over-exploitation of commons, Hardin concludes by restating Hegel’s maxim (which was actually written by Engels), “Freedom is the recognition of necessity”. He suggests that “freedom”, if interpreted narrowly as simply the freedom to do as one pleases, completes the tragedy of the commons. By recognising resources as commons in the first place, and by recognising that, as such, they require management, Hardin believes that “we can preserve and nurture other and more precious freedoms”.
Hardin made it very clear that usage of public property could be controlled in a number of different ways to stop or limit over-usage. His advocacy of clearly defined property rights has frequently been misread as an argument for privatization, or private property, per se.
When considering the metaphor, we should remember that actual historical commons were not public land and most were not open to the access of all. Historically, most English commons were reserved for their own commoners (meaning members of that parish), whose use was restricted in various ways according to local custom. In response to overgrazing, for example, a common would be “stinted”, that is, a limit would be put on the number of animals each commoner was allowed to graze. Historians agree that there is no evidence that commonland use was itself unsustainable.
Modern solutions to the ‘tragedy’
Articulating solutions to the tragedy of the commons is one of the main problems of political philosophy. Many such solutions involve enforcement of conservation measures by an authority, which may be an outside agency or selected by the resource users themselves, who agree to cooperate to conserve the resource. Another frequently-proposed solution is to convert each common into private property, giving the owner of each an incentive to enforce its sustainability.
In Hardin’s essay, he proposed that the solution to the problem of overpopulation must be based on “mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon” and result in “relinquishing the freedom to breed.” Hardin discussed this topic further in a 1979 book, Managing the Commons, co-written with John A. Baden . He framed this prescription in terms of needing to restrict the “reproductive right” in order to safeguard all other rights. Only one large country has adopted this policy, the People’s Republic of China. In the essay, Hardin had rejected education as an effective means of stemming population growth. Since that time, it has been shown that increased educational and economic opportunities for women correlates well with reduced birthrates in most countries, as does economic growth in general. Indeed, governments of some developed countries (e.g. Japan) are now concerned with raising rather than lowering the birthrate.
Application to evolutionary biology
The “tragedy of the commons” has been applied to theories of social evolution, where it was widely held that altruism could not have evolved because the ‘tragedy of the commons’ would always favour selfish individuals; whose genes for selfish behaviour would therefore come to predominate.
One ‘commons’ students may not have considered is that of the teacher’s voice, energy, and motivation. If each student treats the teacher as being their private resource, they will exhaust the teacher quickly.
Slippery slopes, boiling frogs, straw men, etc
Invoking the metaphorical “slippery slope” means arguing that one action will initiate a chain of events that will lead to a (generally undesirable) event later. The argument is sometimes referred to as the thin end of the wedge or the camel’s nose.
Many civil libertarians argue that even minor increases in government authority, by making them seem less noteworthy, make future increases in that authority more likely: what would once have seemed a huge power grab, the argument goes, now becomes seen as just another incremental increase, and thus appears more palatable (this is also an example of the “boiling frog” allegory).
Eugene Volokh’s Mechanisms of the Slippery Slope (PDF version) analyzes various types of such slippage. Volokh uses the example “gun registration may lead to gun confiscation” to describe six types of slippage:
1. Cost-lowering: Once all gun-owners have registered their firearms, the government will know exactly from whom to confiscate them.
2. Legal rule combination: Previously the government might need to search every house to confiscate guns, and such a search would violate the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. Registration would eliminate that problem.
3. Attitude altering: People may begin to think of gun ownership as a privilege rather than a right, and thus regard gun confiscation less seriously.
4. Small change tolerance: People may ignore gun registration because it constitutes just a small change, but when combined with other small changes, it could lead to the equivalent of confiscation.
5. Political power: The hassle of registration may reduce the number of gun owners, and thus the political power of the gun-ownership bloc.
6. Political momentum: Once the government has passed this gun law it becomes easier to pass other gun laws, including laws like confiscation.
The slippery slope claim requires independent justification to connect the inevitability of B to an occurrence of A. Otherwise the slippery slope scheme merely serves as a device of sophistry.
Often proponents of a “slippery slope” contention propose a long series of intermediate events as the mechanism of connection leading from A to B.
The “camel’s nose” provides one example of this: once a camel has managed to place its nose within a tent, the rest of the camel will inevitably follow. In this sense the slippery slope resembles the genetic fallacy, but in reverse.
As an example of how an appealing slippery slope argument can be unsound, suppose that whenever a tree falls down, it has a 95% chance of knocking over another tree. We might conclude that soon a great many trees would fall, but this is not the case. There is a 5% chance that no more trees will fall, a 4.75% chance that exactly one more tree will fall, and so on. There is a 92.3% chance that 50 or fewer additional trees will fall. On average, another 14 trees will fall. In the absence of some momentum factor that makes later trees more likely to fall than earlier ones, this “domino effect” always terminates.
Arguers also often link the slippery slope fallacy to the straw man fallacy in order to attack the initial position:
1. A has occurred (or will or might occur); therefore
2. B will inevitably happen. (slippery slope)
3. B is wrong; therefore
4. A is wrong. (straw man)
This form of argument often provides evaluative judgments on social change: once an exception is made to some rule, nothing will hold back further, more egregious exceptions to that rule.
Note that these arguments may indeed have validity, but they require some independent justification of the connection between their terms: otherwise the argument (as a logical tool) remains fallacious.
The “slippery slope” approach may also relate to the conjunction fallacy: with a long string of steps leading to an undesirable conclusion, the chance of all the steps actually occurring is actually less than the chance of any one of the individual steps occurring alone.
Momentum or frictional analogies
In the momentum analogy, the occurrence of event A will initiate a process which will lead inevitably to occurrence of event B. The process may involve causal relationships between intermediate events, but in any case the slippery slope schema depends for its soundness on the validity of some analogue for the physical principle of momentum. This may take the form of a domino theory or contagion formulation. The domino theory principle may indeed explain why a chain of dominos collapses, but an independent argument is necessary to explain why a similar principle would hold in other circumstances.
An analogy similar to the momentum analogy is based on friction. In physics, there is always more frictional force against a nonmoving object (static friction) than against an already moving object (kinetic friction). Arguments that use this analogy assume that people’s habits or inhibitions act in the same way. If a particular rule A is considered inviolable, some force akin to static friction is regarded as maintaining the status quo, preventing movement in the direction of abrogating A. If, on the other hand, an exception is made to A, the countervailing resistive force is akin to the weaker kinetic frictional force. Validity of this analogy requires an argument showing that the initial changes actually make further change in the direction of abrogating A easier.
The boiling frog story states that a frog can be boiled alive if the water is heated slowly enough—it is said that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will never jump out. Nearly everyone agrees that the lesson is valuable, but its biological basis is questionable. The phrase was first coined by Roger Ford, columnist for Modern Railways magazine.
Bait and switch
A bait and switch is a form of fraud in which the fraudster lures in customers by advertising a good at an unprofitably low price, then reveals to potential customers that the advertised good is not available but that a substitute good is. The goal of the bait-and-switch is to convince some buyers to purchase the substitute good as a means of avoiding disappointment over not getting the bait, or as a way to recover sunk costs expended to try to obtain the bait.
The sunk cost fallacy is also sometimes known as the “Concorde Effect”, referring to the fact that the British and French government continued to fund the joint development of Concorde even after it became apparent that there was no longer an economic case for the aircraft. The project was regarded privately by the British government as a “commercial disaster” which should never have been started, and was almost cancelled, but political and legal issues ultimately made it impossible for either government to pull out.
By deliberately using the tactic of incurring sunk costs beyond the point of no return, economic actors may get ventures going that otherwise would not have. In his autobiography, film director Elia Kazan explains how he repeatedly used the tactic of sunk costs to get his films started: “My tactic was one familiar to directors …: to get the work rolling, involve actors contractually, build sets, collect props and costumes, expose negative, and so get the studio in deep. Once money in some significant amount had been spent, it would be difficult for [the studio head] to do anything except scream and holler. If he suspended a film that had been shooting for a few weeks, he’d be in for an irretrievable loss, not only of money but of ‘face.’ The thing to do was get the film going” (pp. 412-13). The same tactic has been used for the construction of bridges, tunnels, and other infrastructure. Very few partially built bridges exist, because once construction has started sunk costs are too high to revert the decision and stop again. The sunk cost tactic often causes cost overrun.
A straw man argument is a logical fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “set up a straw man” or “set up a straw-man argument” is to create a position that is easy to refute, then attribute that position to the opponent. A straw-man argument can be a successful rhetorical technique (that is, it may succeed in persuading people) but it is in fact misleading, because the opponent’s actual argument has not been refuted.
A straw man “argument” is a bogus, distorted or deliberately flawed interpretation of an otherwise valid position that has been altered so it can be more easily attacked, delegitimized and disassembled (hence the straw man metaphor) before the eyes and ears of an otherwise impartial audience unfamiliar with the facts and history of an issue or case.
Its name is derived from the use of straw men in combat training where a scarecrow is made in the image of the enemy with the single intent of attacking it .
A ‘straw man’ can be set up using the following tactics:
1. Present a misrepresentation of the opponent’s position, refute it, and pretend that the opponent’s actual position has been refuted.
2. Present someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, refute that person’s arguments, and pretend that every upholder of that position, and thus the position itself, has been defeated.
3. Invent a fictitious persona with actions or beliefs that are criticized, and pretend that the person represents a group of whom the speaker is critical.
The straw-man technique is also used as a form of media manipulation.
Deliberately misrepresenting a case:
Person A: I don’t think children should run into the busy streets.
Person B: I think that it would be foolish to lock up children all day with no fresh air.
By insinuating that Person A’s argument is far more draconian than it is, Person B has side-stepped the issue.
The trick is to surprise people. They can be surprised that things they accept as normal and natural today were once considered outrageous, revolutionary, or ‘heretical’. They can be surprised by the conclusions that they come to being other than what they would have anticipated from the outset. They can be surprised by the logical consequences and potential ramifications of the positions they have taken, and which seem harmless enough. They can be surprised by the facts which may be anti-intuitive, apparently paradoxical, or simple unexpected. They can be surprised when they discover that assumptions they took for granted are in fact highly problematic. They can be surprised by the ‘implicit’ assumptions that apparently ‘inductive’ arguments are riddled with. They can be surprised by the holist interactions of what at first appear to be unrelated arguments or things. They can be surprised to find that apparently sound arguments are made up of unsound assumptions, which, when made transparent, reveal the argument to be ridiculous.
Some A are B, and some B are C. Does it therefore follow that some A are C ? (It doesn’t)
Who is it
They were born to a virgin mother, in a manger, visited by 3 wise men, performed miracles, was crucified, was ressurrected 3 days later during Easter, and is our guarantor or everlasting life? (Mithras, Dionysis, Osiris etc )
Told his people that they were the master race, and had the historical destiny as such, and the right to commit genocide, rape, and invade other countries? (No, not Hitler, Moses)
Rationale for the following scenarios
The following scenarios are designed to highlight to students that the basis of their arguments are usually emotional. The main referent of their decisions is usually themselves and those they care about. It is interesting to see how people justify different decisions on what are, in principle, the same situations. All that has changed is the distribution of costs and benefits, or an awareness (Vs ignorance) of the costs and benefits. The aim is to encourage informed, enlightened self-interest to produce sound ethical decision in which the interests of everything that can suffer or benefit as a result of the decison are taken as referents.
Your leaders claim that the gods are angry with your people, and the only way to appease them to to offer a human sacrifice, to ensure the next harvest, and success in the next war. They are going to sacrifice one of the temple virgins. How do you react?
This time they are going to chose people at random, from amongst the slaves and poor. You belong to a middle class family. How do you react?
This time they are going to chose someone at random. It could be you, it could be your mother, it could be your best friend. How do you react?
This time they are going to sacrifice your younger sister. How do you react?
This time they are going to sacrifice you. How do you react?
Socio -Economic Justice
You are rich. Design the sort of taxation and social welfare system that you think is fair.
You are poor. Design the taxation and welfare system you think would be fair.
You expect you or your children will become rich. Design the taxation and welfare system you think would be fair.
You have inherited no talents, abilities, wealth, social status, good looks, or good health. Design a social welfare system.
Doctors have told a couple that they have a 60% chance of having a child with terrible deformities and little prospect of a good life. Should they have their own children?
Change the percentages to 2%, 10%, etc etc and see where people ‘draw the line’.
You are the unborn child. What would you want?
You will be asked to pay to support that family if the child is deformed etc. How does that affect your decision.
There are 10,000 couples in the same situation. You are being asked to determine a principle or law that would apply to all of them. Statistically your decision will affect hundreds of children. Further, it is a social welfare state, so you will be forced to pay to support the families and children for life. Alternatively, it is a free market economy, and there is no social welfare state. How does the basis of your argument change.
Vegetarianism and animal rights
A referendum is being held concerning your right to eat meat, chicken, battery-hen eggs, and so on. How do you vote? What is the basis of your vote?
Your neighbour loves the taste of puppy and kitten. He says it is the best thing you’ll ever taste. In fact the breed he prefers eating is the same breed as you own, and adore. He raises them in cages, and slaughters them once they are a few months old. This is when they taste best. What is your reaction? What is the basis of your reaction?
Scientists reveal that Pigs are in fact more intelligent than dogs. Does your response to growing them to eat change?
You are convinced that after you die, you may come back as any animal on the planet, which means you may come back as a pig, chicken, or a cow. Does this change your attitude to intensive animal farming?
There will be a referendum concerning whether or not animals should be used for the testing of cosmetics, and for scientific research. How would you vote and why?
You inherit shares in a company that makes excellent profits from the testing of cosmetics on animals, and medical research using animals. Does your vote in the referendum change?
You are a solidier. Your commanding officer orders you to shoot an unarmed civilian who has not taken part in any military actions. What do you do?
Everyone in your military unit is shooting unarmed civilians, including the senior officers. What do you do?
A moral dilemma exists where the decision in favour of one person is at the expense of another. There are no right or wrong answers. The point is to consider how students come to a decision. Ideally students will become more aware of how and why they make decisions, whether rationally, emotionally, what prejudices they harbour, what assumptions they make, and so on. They will then become more self-aware. In the case of moral dilemmas reason is challenged as much as compassion and empathy. The key problem is whose interests to take as a referent, and how to weigh up the interests of each side where a conflict of interests exists. On what basis can one person’s interests be considered to be more worthy of promotion and protection than another persons? How do you ultimately decide? This is a question of personal responsibility where there are not fixed laws, rules, or guides to help you decide. One of the greatest challenges is for people to be honest with themselves about how they come to their decisions. Most people tend to rationalise emotionally driven decisions after the fact, to justify how they behaved. They tend to act according to short-term, unenlightened, narrow, uninformed self-interest. It is easier to act in ways that are inconvenient, even involving a personal, if only short-term cost, and to justify this sacrifice, when a person has solid convictions based on principles, about their personal values, about their personal ethics. Otherwise it is too easy to fall into the trap of opportunistic, un-principled behaviour, and ultimately a lack of any sustaining values.
You are a small political party. You hold the balance of power in the Senate. A bill is being voted on that would ban all forms of tobacco advertising, and ban smoking in all public places. Their is also an election coming up, and you have no money for a political campaign. The tobacco lobby offer you a very large, legal, contribution to your political campaign. Do you take the money? Do you change your vote? What if there was another bill that you considered very important to you, perhaps one regarding animal rights, or some other cause you have been fighting for for your whole life. It has taken years to get the bill to this stage and it is unlikely that it will ever be put forward again if it fails to be passed this time. Other senators promise to support your bill, if you vote against the anti-tobacco advertising bill. What do you do? How do you feel? What considerations will sway you either way? How will you decide i.e what criteria will you use.
Triage and the rationing of health care services. You are the leader of a rapid response emergency team. You arrive on the scene of an accident. There are three severely wounded people. Based on your training you estimate the following. The 67 year old man will die if not treated immediately. The 23 year old, pregnant mother may die if not treated immediately. You cannot make a more precise diagnosis at this time. A 35 year old, blind, crippled man has an injury that, although not immediately life threatening, will result in his death if not treated soon. You calculate that once you begin helping one of the patients, it will be at least 10 minutes before you can help the others, in which time the others may be dead.
How do you decide who to treat first? What criteria do you use? How do you feel? Are your criteria rational or emotional? What considerations sway you either way. How did you ultimately decide?
The health care budget must be cut. An inquiry into the costs of medical treatment indicate that 30% of the current health-care budget is being spent on treating very old people, most of whom will die within two years of their treatment. At the same time there is no money to treat babies and small children, or for the emergency trauma service that deals with accidents and so on. What do you think is the right thing to do? Other people recommend cutting back on the treatment of the aged and dieing, limiting treatment to palliative care, in order to properly fund the childrens clinics and emergency service. In fact a bill is being passed. First scenario: the bill has little support. Do you support it, and try to get others to vote for it? Second scenario: you hold the balance of power. Your vote will decide if the bill gets passed or not. What do you decide? Why?
Doctors refuse to treat ‘lifestyle’ illnesses which they consider self-inflicted, as they have too many patients to treat and not enough resources. Are they right in doing so? Your mother is a heavy smoker, and the Doctors refuse to treat her lung cancer. Are they right?
Your mother is a devout Muslim, but you want to bring up your children as Atheists. You know it will hurt her feelings. What do you decide to do? Your mother is dieing. On her deathbed she says she won’t be able to relax until you promise to raise your children as Muslims, according to the strict Sharia laws. Do you promise? Do you keep your promise?
The government say that they need the right to tap anyones phone without a judges consent, to fight terrorism. Should they have that right? There have been a number of terrorist attacks overseas, and a number of terrorist alerts in your country, but no actual attacks. Do you give your consent to phone tapping? Why? Why not?
The insurance want the right to compel prospective clients to undergo gene testing, on the basis of which they will then determine your insurance premiums. In some instances they will decline to provide the prospective client with insurance cover. Should they have this right? Why? Why not?
The government are introducing new laws aimed at what they call ‘genetic justice’. Under this law all people who wish to become parents must undergo gene testing. The tests will screen for all manner of inherited diseases. On the basis of these tests some people will be allowed to have their own children, and others will not be allowed. What do you think? What diseases should be considered? They are talking about only serious diseases at the moment. Do you support their plans? Now they are talking about introducing compulsory I.Q tests. They don’t say why. Are you suspicious? Now they say that they will make it a criminal offense for any couple with an average IQ of less than 100 to reproduce. What do you think? Now they are planning to raise the bar to 110. What do you think. Now they are planning to introduce compulsory personality testing, and what they are calling an ‘aesthetic scale’, which seems to be some measure of how good looking the potential mother and father are. What do you think? Whose interests are you taking as the referent?
A young couple have just started their careers, and find the news that the wife is pregnant to come at an inconvenient time. The couple are healthy and have a good standard of living. Should she be allowed to have an abortion? On the second day (i.e the day after pill)? In the first week? In the first month? In the second month? In the 6th month? There is a waiting list of healthy and wealthy couples all waiting to adopt a child. Does this change your decision? Doctors say the woman has a 5% of dieing as a result of complications of the childbirth. Does that change your decision? The doctors say there is a 50-50 chance of her surviving. What now? It is now the 7th month of pregnancy. Doctors say the baby is perfectly healthy, but that there is a 60% chance that the mother will die during the delivery? What should be done? Now the Doctors say that if the woman delivers she will certainly die. She is young, pretty, intelligent, talented and has a promising life ahead of her. The baby has a mild form of deformity and brain damage, but would survive the birth. What do you decide? Why?
You somehow become aware that the man who moved into the house next to the primary school is a convicted paedophile. (OR do you know for sure? ) If you don’t tell the parents at the school, maybe their children could be the next victim. If you do, it is likely that the man will be driven out of his house by the parents. What do you do? He actually seems like a nice guy, and you begin to like him. What do you do? He seems like a nasty piece of work, and you despise him on your first encounter. Does this make a difference? The government want to pass a bill making it mandatory for child sex offenders to post their names, addresses, and crimes on a web site designed to inform the public. Would you support such a bill? Why/ not?
The police have captured a woman believed to be a member of a terrorist group that are threatening to blow up a train. They are convinced that she knows about the plan. She won’t say anything. Is it right to torture her, to get the information that would save hundreds of lives? Neither you nor anyone you care about ever catches a train. Does this change your position? You and your wife, and your children spend hours travelling on the train each day. Does this change your position? She admits she knows all the details about the planned explosion, which she happily claims will kill over 200 people. Does that change your decision? Why? What criteria do you use? What principles might you compromise? What might be the long term implications of your decision i.e to legalise torture under particular circumstances? You find out that a policeman, on his own initiative, torture the woman, and got the information he needed, and foiled the terrorist plot which would have killed over 200 people. Should the police officer be punished? What criteria are you using in deciding. What are the possible ramifications if the officer is not charged and punished?
You are a devout Catholic. Your daughter is being questioned by the inquisition. The priest says that if your daughter does not confess to her sins, she will spend an eternity suffering in the fires of hell. Do you let him torture your daughter, to save her soul?
You are convinced that a particular woman has the solution to all of mankind’s problems, if only they will listen. You know that they will listen if she can convince them that the solutions she has were ‘revealed’ to her by an angel sent from god. Her other followers are telling people that they have witnessed several miracles that she has performed, and actually saw the angel talking to her. You know they are lieing, as you have been with her for the last 2 years and never saw anything strange. You talk to them about this. They say that the are lieing with good intentions, in order that people will listen to her, and give her political power to do the things she and they are certain will solve all of humanities problems. You also believe her ideas could make the world a much better place. Do you go along with them? What are the possible long term ramifications of your decision, either way?
Your political leader tells you that a particular dictator in another country is building nuclear weapons, and poses a serious and immediate threat to national security. In fact the dictator was once your country’s ally, and has never shown any intention of threatening it. Your leader wants to invade that country and overthrow the dictator in a ‘pre-emptive strike’, in ‘self-defence’. Do you go along with his plans? Do you join the army? You don’t know anyone in your own defence forces, and there is no talk of conscription, so there is at present no risk that you or anyone you care about will be sent to fight. What do you decide. Your leader is talking of introducing conscription, and two of your friends have already signed up to join the army. Does this change your decision? How and why?
A new person has joined your class or work team. They do a good job, is ambitious, competent, and a good worker. However the rest of your work team or class don’t like him. You yourself feel threatened by them. They are ambitious, confident, are disciplined and take care of their appearance They have corrected even you a few times, when you made some mistakes. However there is nothing you could genuinely criticise them for. The rest of the class or workteam have decided they don’t want the new person around any more, and are making life hard for them. They are spreading lies about the new person’s work performance, personal habits, and making life hard for them. Because of these ‘mobbing’ behaviours, the new persons work and health are suffering. The boss notices, and after talking to everyone else, decides that the new person is making too many mistakes, and seems to be showing signs of some form of mental illness. No-one likes them, and their performance has deteriorated since they started, so they have decided to fire the new person. You know the reasons for the new persons problems. Do you go along with the rest of the team, or do you report the ‘mobbing’ incidences? The new person has gone to the union and Industrial Relations Commission complaining of workplace victimisation. They have asked you to support their claims that they have been victimised, mobbed, and unfairly dismissed. You agree with all their complaints. Do you appear as a witness at the hearings? Do you support their attempts to gain natural justice? Why?
Texas: In 1999, Texas passed the Texas Futile Care Law. Under the law, in some situations, Texas hospitals and physicians have the right to withdraw life support on a patient whom they declare terminally ill. On March 15, 2005, six month old infant Sun Hudson was the first person to die under the law. In December 2005, doctors removed Tirhas Habtegiris, a young woman and legal immigrant from Africa, from life support against her family’s wishes.
What responsibilities do we have?
What are the limits of personal responsibility? What ‘moral’ obligations do we have? Do we have any obligation to ‘enlighten’ others? To try to persuade others? To impose our beliefs on others: re: paternalism? To exclude those who don’t comply with our compelling arguments? To impose trade and political sanctions on them? To torture them to ‘save their souls’? To whom does our personal responsibility end? Our family and friends? Our community? Our species? Life as we know it? The universe? How far can we justify going in enlightening others?
Given the limits of knowledge, reason, and logic, in which direction shall we ‘tip the scales’ i.e ‘to be on the safe side’? Compassion? Empathy? Narrow short-term self-interest?
©Copyright 2006 Markus Heinrich Rehbach All Rights Reserved