The Quantum Thomist

Musings about quantum physics, classical philosophy, and the connection between the two.
Love and Love aren't the same thing.


Do we have the Right to Choose to Kill?
Last modified on Tue May 29 23:27:41 2018


Like last time, I apologise that my post on empiricism is taking so long to prepare. You will understand why once I finish it (if anyone is able to finish reading it). In the meantime, another short, topical post.

Anyone reading these posts will know that I have a dim view of most of modern Western culture, which seems to me to be to be trying to undo 1700 years of cultural and moral progress as rapidly as it can. There is a lot going on that makes me upset, disappointed, or just bewildered at how intelligent people can make such obvious mistakes (and I'll come to a few of those in this post). But there is one topic in the news again which just leaves me angry. Really angry. I am discussing the enabling of a crime against humanity by 66% of the population of Ireland, and the jubilation at that great evil by many of our political leaders, who thereby make themselves complicit in it. Now the guns of the depraved are targetting Northern Ireland, the last bastion of sanity left in Western Europe.

You would have probably gathered that I feel particularly strongly about this issue.

But what disappoints me most of all is the way that the case for moral sense just doesn't seem to be presented in the main media outlets. I know that our children are being indoctrinated in immorality as I write. That's not to say that there is nobody put forward to challenge the pro-murder point of view; but that for the most part they are not able to present the full case. So I often wonder how I would fare should the BBC (for example) call upon me as their token social conservative. To be fair, probably not very well (since it isn't easy to present a case to an audience which disagree with your fundamental principles in a two minute timeslot when you are constantly heckled and interrupted; and I am particularly bad at oral presentations even in the best of circumstances). But I like to imagine.

Abortion Activist: Of course we should act to enforce the law in Northern Ireland. This is more important than democracy or the desires of the people. It is a matter of fundamental women's rights. Fundamental human rights.
Presenter: Thank you. Now I have with me Dr Nigel Cundy, who is in favour of Northern Ireland retaining its laws. So you think that this is a matter for the devolved government, when it eventually returns, to sort out.
Me: No, I agree that this is a fundamental matter of morality. Which is why not only should the law in Northern Ireland be maintained, but the Irish law should be expanded to cover the rest of the united kingdom.
Presenter: That's a rather controversial position.
Me: Why is my position controversial? I have no doubt that in the future people will look back to the current abortion industry with the same abhorrence that we look back on the slave trade of the seventeenth century.
Presenter: You are comparing those who fight for women's rights with those who denied rights to the slaves?
Me: The analogy is quite appropriate. Both groups proceed by saying that a section of humanity are not really human, and therefore lacked the usual protections. It made no difference whether they lived or died. Both groups did or do their killing out of sight, in the dark. Both groups profited from their trades, and were supported by parliament and the academic elite. Both groups came up with numerous justifications for their deeds, which seemed reasonable to their proponents but fall apart on close examination. Of course there are differences between the two, but the similarities are striking. I stand by my comparison. After all, I'm not the one advocating mass murder, so why are my views the ones on trail?
Presenter: I think that many will be offended when you call people murderers just for standing up for women's rights.
Me: Murder is defined as an intentional and wilful act to terminate an innocent human life, except as a last resort in defence. An abortion is an intentional and wilful act to terminate the life of an innocent human being, and in the context we are discussing it isn't a last resort and it isn't in defence. What exactly is your problem?
Presenter: Well, it is not as though the foetus is really alive. I mean that it is just a cluster of cells at that time.
Me: Life is usually defined in terms of the natural tendency towards cell division, growth, absorption of nutrients, metabolism, and preserving the integrity of the cell. From the moment of conception, a human being has the tendency towards cell division, growth, absorption of nutrients, metabolism, and preserving the integrity of the cell. In what way isn't it alive?
Presenter: Well, I meant that it is not really a human life
Me: Then what is it? A duck billed platypus perhaps? Or a tadpole? Or an alien from the planet Zarg maybe?
Presenter: You're being facetious. What I mean is that it isn't fully human. It is a foetus.
Me: We know that people gradually change as they grow. So what remains the same that makes the child and adult the same individual? Ultimately, it boils down to continuity of existence and the genetic code. That genetic code and continuity were both in place since the moment of conception. He is the same individual as the man. If you are human now, then you were also human when you were just a few hours or days old. Species are ultimately determined by connected regions in the genetic landscape. Genetically the person we are discussing is a human being; as much as you or I are. Just a human in an early stage of development, just as the child is a human in a slightly later stage of development. Any line you draw in our development and say after this it is human and before some sub human thing is going to be completely arbitrary. The only scientifically reasonable place to start is at conception, when the two halves of the genes are merged together to form a new individual.
Presenter: Except it might not be an individual, might it. It could twin.
Me: So instead of killing one person, you are now advocating killing two. That doesn't help your case.
Presenter: But it is not a human person, is it? It can't think. It doesn't have memory. It isn't rational.
Me: The definition of a person …
Presenter: Not again.
Me: Yes again. Because unless we can first agree on our definitions, we can never make any rational enquiry. The definition of a person is an individual element of a rational substance. Well, the rational substance is humanity, and the child is, we have agreed, an individual element of it. So it is a person.
Presenter: Well here I don't agree on the definition. What do you mean by a rational substance?
Me: Here we need to step back a bit, and look at things a bit more generally. We observe that things change. People grow. I mean, you were once a child, but now you are a man. You have changed, and yet you are the same individual. So the definition of what you are has to incorporate both the child and the adult, and everything in between. The technical name for each of those steps is potentia, but since I am a physicist rather than a philosopher, I prefer to call them states. The form (as I define it, this is a little non-traditional) is the set of all the stable or meta-stable states, mapped out by possible continuous changes. The form in itself is just an abstract construction; something is needed to make it substantial, as it were, and that something is matter. So substance is the union between form and matter. We can have forms of species as well as individuals; so we have the form of humanity, which covers every possible human being; and the substance of humanity, which is what is shared by every existing human being. Are you with me so far?
Presenter: No.
Me: Excellent, so I'll continue. One of the things we can in principle do with forms is calculate the properties of a being. This is already done to a certain extent in physics, where we can calculate the emission spectrum of a gaseous molecule, or the compressibility or electrical conductivity of a solid. It is an exciting time in physics, when now at last we have access to the fundamental mathematical structure of form, even though most physicists don't realise that is what they are looking at. Now, when we take humanity as a whole, we see that one of its attributes is rationality; the tendency towards thought, or the creation of ideas. Thus humanity is not only a substance but a rational substance. Indeed, the traditional definition of a human being is we are rational animals. Once we have that framework in place, then to say a person is an individual element of a rational substance is pretty much the only workable definition we have. We all agree that people are individuals, and we all agree that people are of a rational substance. So what's your problem.
Presenter: But the foetus isn't capable of thought at the time of the abortion.
Me: Yes, but rationality shouldn't be thought of a capability, but as a tendency. I should explain what I mean by tendency. A tendency is a natural predisposition towards a certain state. We don't just remain static, in the same state, but move from one state to another, but those movements aren't random, but ultimately progress in a particular direction. Ultimately, for physical beings, that direction arises from the second law of thermodynamics, but we don't need to know the physics to understand the principle. We have to express these defining attributes in terms of tendencies inherent in the form rather than capabilities, because tendencies are always explicitly present in the form, while capabilities might be absent. For example, one of the defining tendencies of an animal substance is the tendency towards self-locomotion. Now a disabled person is not capable of unaided self-locomotion. Does that mean that they are not an animal, and thus not human? No, of course not. Because the tendency towards self-locomotion can still be deduced from the form, the genetic code of humanity as it were, even if it is in practice blocked by whatever injury or disease led to the disability. But if we defined beings in terms of their capabilities, you would have to say that the disabled person was not fully human. Do you really want to say that?
Presenter: No, of course not.
Me: Similarly with rationality. People in a coma or unconscious don't at that moment have the capacity for rational thought. Does that mean that at that moment they aren't a person, so we are permitted to kill them? We are free to kill people, but only if we beat or drug them unconscious first?
Presenter: People will wake up from a coma.
Me: And the foetus will develop into an adult. No, we can't define rationality in terms of present capability, but we need something else. If we can't use capability, that just leaves the natural tendencies. So the foetus remains rational because it has the tendency towards rational thought, even though the capability isn't yet realised because of its immaturity. Thus it is and remains a person. So even if you dispute my definition of murder, and say that murder is the termination of a human person rather than a human life, it doesn't help you. So somebody advocating for abortion has to argue that that in certain circumstances murder is acceptable. They have to do the hard work of asking themselves why murder is morally unacceptable, and show that this case is an exception to the rule. Let's not pretend otherwise, or try to hide the language behind euphemisms. You support the legal enabling of mass murder in certain circumstances. I oppose it. So what evidence do you have to back up your extraordinary claim?
Presenter: I don't support mass murder. It is not really a human life. It is a sub human. A potential human. It's part of the mother.
Me: At that stage of its development it is in a symbiotic relationship with the mother. But symbionts aren't parts. We are distinguished in part as individuals by our genetics. And the child is genetically different from the mother. What it seems to me that you are doing is arbitrarily declaring a portion of humanity as sub-human, and fishing around for any excuse to allow you to do so. You are not proceeding from the science to a conclusion; you are trying to justify a conclusion, and to hell with the science if it gets in your way. We have seen people doing the same thing throughout history. So why should I be any less disgusted with you than I am with those who said that certain races or religions were inferior humans and thus not worthy of full protection, just because you draw the line on the basis of age rather than race, religion or sex?
Presenter: Being a person implies a certain degree of independence. The foetus is not independent. Therefore it is not a person.
Me: You are making a logical fallacy there, confusing two different senses of the word independence. I agree that the foetus is dependent on the mother, in the sense that he or she needs the mother for its nutrition and protection. In that sense it is not independent. However, when you bring up the issue of personality, the word independent means that they are different individuals. That's true for the foetus. So in the sense that is relevant for the rest of your argument, the foetus is an independent life. And thus your objection fails.
Presenter: Regardless of your language games, you still haven't addressed the main point. A woman still has the right to do what she wants with her own body. You can't deny that.
Me: Let's leave aside the fact that even if true it doesn't justify murder, since it's not, or not only, the woman's body. If that right really exists, then it stops where her body ends and her child's begins. But you have just made an extraordinarily bold claim. Do you have any evidence for it? Can you argue for it objectively from first principles? Why should I accept that a woman has the right to do what she will with her body when it is evident to me that there is no such right.
Presenter: Are you saying that you have the right to control her?
Me: No. I am saying that nobody has that right. I don't have the moral right to do what I will with my body. In fact, I have never understood what the rational basis is for saying that we have any human rights, at least as the term is used since the enlightenment. It is not obvious to me that we have human rights. In fact, it is obvious to me that we don't. None of us. Not me, not you, not the lawyers at the European court who have made a living from perpetuating the myth; not the woman at the abortion clinic. It is just a fiction, and not a very convincing one at that.
Presenter: It is fundamental to modern society and international law. Let's just stick with the right in question. Her right to do what she will with her body comes from her self-ownership of her body.
Me: Well, now you have replaced one extraordinary claim with two. Firstly, she doesn't self-own her body. She is her body. Self-ownership would imply some Cartesian dualistic total separation between mind and body, so her mind and body were two different things entirely, and that is so fraught with problems, both scientific and philosophical, that I don't think that anyone accepts it any more. Mind and body are united together, as one substance. You can't separate them and say one part owns the other. Neither can you say that you own yourself, since owning and being owned are necessarily two different things. So she doesn't own the body. She is the body. Secondly, ownership doesn't grant you the moral liberty to use the owned object as you will. The reason we have property is so that we can use it according to its function, to help us to achieve some end. Good use of something respects its function. To use something in such a way that hinders its proper use towards that ends, or which mocks those ends, is an evil. Some uses of an object are good, and others evil. For example, I can use a kitchen knife either to chop up vegetables or to chop up my cat (if I owned a cat, which I don't). Just because I can do something with it doesn't mean that I ought to do that. It is the same with our bodies. Not everything we do to our bodies is good; some things are damaging to our health. We discourage smoking, and eating unhealthily, because they are damaging to our bodies. We don't have the moral right to mistreat ourselves; we have the moral responsibility to do what is good for our bodies, and others. And you have yet to convince me that murdering a foetus is good for it. Or good for the mother, for that matter.
Presenter: We have the right to choose. It is her life; she will be the one who has to take on the burden of raising the child. She should have say on whether or not to do it.
Me: Raising a child is just a burden? Yes, it is difficult, but it is also a great joy, and one of our primary natural tendencies as living organisms ourselves is to bear and raise children. Do we have the right to choose? The moral question is which choices are good and which choices are evil. You cannot say that we have a right to choose, as though the act of choosing itself makes the decision good. We both know that people often decide to do evil things. The question is not what the choices are, but if one particular choice is good. And if not, whether that action is sufficiently evil that it should not only be declared immoral but also made illegal. And you haven't yet made the case that this exemption should be made to the law against murder.
Presenter: Well, you haven't yet made the case that the exemption shouldn't be made.
Me: We'll come to that. I am confident that I can make such a case based on objective moral values. But first let's finish hearing your side. So far, you have just raised an argument from human rights, and I have questioned that an argument from human rights just reduces to an argument from human authority; whichever authority drew up the convention you are referring to. Arguments from any authority except God are well known to be invalid. Did they come to the decision from a prior standard? In that case it is no longer an argument from authority, unless you want an infinite regress of authorities. Or did they decide on it arbitrarily? In which case the ruling is of no value whatsoever. They could just as easily have said the opposite. And the only reason God is exempt from this argument is because God built the moral standard alongside His creation of us; the objective standard is based on premises established by God as He laid down the principles of rational animals such as ourselves. It is built into human nature, and human nature is designed by God. So God designed the objective standard while designing us; so appealing to that standard doesn't bypass God. But obviously that exception doesn't apply to anyone else. And what other basis can we have from saying that we have human rights? Your argument from self-ownership was first (to my knowledge) raised by Locke, and we have already seen that that is flawed. The other intellectual basis in the Western modern philosophical tradition comes from Hobbes' idea of a social contact, and again that also fairly trivially fails. I've never signed onto a social contract outlining my rights and duties, and I don't think you have either. Of course, there were also antecedents in classical philosophy. But most people today reject that philosophy anyway, and that conception of it leads in a different direction to what is accepted in modern society. It would not, as a very pertinent example, grant a woman the right to choose to do what she will with her own body. So the modern obsession with human rights has never seemed to me to have any sound intellectual basis. People ran with an idea from the likes of Hobbes or Locke, or the continental philosophers, and just kept the idea of human rights even as they rightly rejected the foundation the idea was built on. Today, the notion just seems to be something that people pick up from the culture and accept uncritically, without ever stopping to think about it. I have thought about it, and I have come to reject it, and I think that you should too. So you can't just assert that a woman has the right to choose. You have to prove it, from objective principles which we can all agree on. And I don't think that you can.
Presenter: If you don't have human rights, then you don't have the right to free speech. So you can only argue against human rights by making use of your human rights.
Me: I accept that I have freedom of speech, just not the right to free speech.
Presenter: Does that even make sense?
Me: I can speak freely because nobody has the right to stop me, unless I sign away that right in a mutually agreed contract. As I said, I don't believe in human rights. In fact, I believe in a complete lack of human rights. Neither you, nor the prime minister, nor any government or judge has any right or authority to compel me to silence or too speech. Their only authority arises from their natural purpose of ensuring that private contracts are maintained and fairly drawn up, private property is respected, moral living encouraged and the family protected, that we don't go beyond our lack of rights over others, to ensure that the essential economic, educational and health infrastructure is provided, to protect the citizens from external and internal armies, and ensure that justice is done to criminals. There are a few more purposes for which government is established in society, and I probably forgot some, but they are the most important ones. The people that make up the government have the responsibility to fulfil those purposes as well as they can; just as a teacher has the responsibility to teach as well as she can according to the natural purposes of teaching; or a software developer to program as well as he can according to the natural purposes of that job. Being in government is just one of many roles necessary for the smooth running of society. Like all jobs, it is defined by its natural purposes, and to be done well needs to respect those purposes. But the rights of the government are no bigger than the rights of the people who make up that government, and they can't invent rights for themselves, such as the right to prevent my speech, out of thin air. Or the right to draw up and confer a list of human rights out of thin air. That's just an abuse of their position.
Presenter: Ok, we will put that aside for now. You are changing the subject.
Me: I do that. Everything is interlinked. It is easy to run off into digressions.
Presenter: So you still haven't really answered the case that you are denying women their right to choose.
Me: What I have suggested is that there are two competing moral visions. In one, women -- not just women but men as well -- have the right to choose what to do with their bodies. In the other, we have the moral responsibility to do what is good for our bodies. Both of these are set up as general principles. Yet they contradict each other in certain circumstances. So they can't both be valid. We have to select one or the other, or neither of them. The moral responsibility is grounded directly in the basic principles of ethics. The right is just plucked out of thin air. So we have to go with the responsibility. Nobody has the right to choose. We have the responsibility to do good, both for ourselves and others, including our not yet born children.
Presenter: Could it not be a moral responsibility but a legal right? In that case there need not be a contradiction.
Me: That's a good question, but I haven't yet covered the background I need to answer it. I'll come back to it later.
Presenter: What about women who are pregnant through incest, or rape? What about children who have severe disabilities? Isn't it an unfair burden on them to allow the pregnancy to come to term?
Me: Well, firstly, that's a red herring. There is already an exemption to the law against abortion for when the life of the mother, or a twin, is endangered by the pregnancy. And that's OK; its not murder, since it falls within the exception concerning defence. If you were arguing that we should add additional exemptions to the abortion law in the case of rape, for example, then I could see the point of your question. But you are not. You are saying that some women forced to bring children from rape to term are discomforted by the constant reminder of their ordeal, therefore all women should be allowed to murder their offspring below a certain age on the flimsiest excuse. That "therefore" just doesn't follow.
Presenter: I think discomforted is a rather weak word to use.
Me: Fine, I accept that. It is horrific what rape victims have to go through. You don't have to argue with me about that; I am just as horrified by it as you are. The difference between us is not that I don't appreciate the suffering of the rape victims, but that you don't appreciate the full horror of murder. You can outline in however much detail you like about the suffering of the rape victims, and I would agree with you, because I already know it. That makes it difficult. But I know something which you don't appreciate, which is the even greater horror of killing the child. In this case, we have to choose between two evils. That's never easy, but sometimes we have to do it. To you, it is a silent crime because you don't see the pain. But I do. Don't forget that evil is not a thing in itself, but the absence, or privation to use the technical term, of some good. That good could be related to our health; maybe some part of our body isn't working as it should. Or it could refer to the lack of one of our intellectual goods. Or any of our other goods. Anyway, to murder someone is the worst evil that you can do. Every evil deprives somebody of some good; and the damage done to a woman through rape more than most. But to murder someone is to deprive them of every possible good; not only every good which the person does have, but every good they could have. It is the worst possible act of evil. There is nothing which can stack up against that. You can't murder an innocent third party just to cover over the crimes of someone else, and that is what you are proposing. There is no justice in that. I hate having to say this, but the woman's suffering is less of an evil than the abortion would be, so that is the path we have to take.
Presenter: Would you care to explain that to the woman in question?
Me: That would be emotionally difficult. But ethics is ultimately a matter of logic, balancing one evil against another, and we shouldn't let emotions stop us from doing what is right.
Presenter: Well, what about if the child is severely disabled?
Me: Again, I understand the issue. Raising any child is difficult, but a child with severe disabilities much harder. To watch your child growing up with all that suffering, knowing that there is nothing you can do about it, it must hurt you a lot, as well as the child. It's not what the couple signed up for when they had intercourse. But again, we have to ask what is the worst evil. Nothing stacks up against murder. To abort a disabled child because they are disabled is to announce to the world that people with that disability are not worthy of life. That their life doesn't mean anything. That it wasn't worth having. Now go to someone with Down's syndrome, or autism, or whatever ailment you are thinking of, and say that. Or go to their families. You can't, not if you have any scrap of decency in you. So yes, when there is a child disabled from birth, from before birth, we should help the parents, since they didn't sign up for that. We should give them whatever financial or practical help they need. But we can't just callously murder the child; that does no-one any good.
Presenter: But what if the family can't afford to raise the child? Won't they just be condemning it to a life of poverty and misery?
Me: Well, certainly poverty isn't a good thing. And society has the responsibility to help alleviate child poverty, and that's something we haven't been very good at. As far as I can see, most of the government attempts to alleviate the issue have made the matter worse. Neither party understands the issue; they just put in measures because they think they must do something, without checking whether that something is actually going to be effective. We should encourage marriage. Train people so they can stay together and support each other. Ensure that everyone earns enough to raise a family, perhaps through increasing child support or by allowing stay at home parents to share their full personal allowance with their spouses. And we should reduce the unnecessary financial burdens which aren't someone else's wage, such as reducing rents and house prices to make living in places like London affordable. It won't be easy, though. The poor will always be with us, unfortunately. But that's not relevant to the question in hand. You can't justify one moral evil by saying that it might avoid some problem in the future, especially when you still have time to overcome that problem by other means. Consequentialist ethics is a fast track to nowhere, and has been soundly disproved. For example, modern physics is indeterminate. The same cause can have different effects. This means that we can have two identical people in an identical situation and who make identical choices, and the consequences of those actions could be different. If you judge the ethical value of an action by its consequences, you would arbitrarily have to pick one of those people as good and the other as evil. The example I usually use is an extension of the Schroedinger's cat thought experiment. You have a diseased cat, and a box with two vials, one containing a cure and the other a toxin. Each vial is opened by a radioactive trigger, and the first atom to decay opens the vial and forces the other one shut. You put the cat in the box. If the cure was triggered first, then the act was good. If the toxin was triggered first, then it was evil. But you can have different people put the cat in the box, and get different results. So if the ethical worth of the act is judged by the consequences, then some people will be arbitrarily picked out as good and others as evil. That's surely unjust. So one of the premises must be wrong, and the only one which can be wrong is that the goodness of an action is judged by the consequences of that action. You can't justify a present evil by appealing to a possible future good. You do good now, and good then. You need to judge each act on its own merits, and do your best to alleviate anything that ensues as well as you can when the time comes.
Presenter: But if you outlaw abortion, people will still get abortions, just through unsafe back alley clinics.
Me: That's like saying if you outlaw rape, then people will still commit rape, just do it without using condoms. You wouldn't accept that argument, so why should I accept yours? You can't avoid passing a law because you are afraid that people will break it. All you can do is ensure that the laws you pass are morally sound, and to educate people to follow them.
Presenter: You said earlier that you don't believe in human rights. So what right do you have to impose your morality on everyone else?
Me: I object to the way that you phrase that question. There is no such thing as my morality. There is just moral behaviour, objective and universal. Your question is just like asking what right have I to impose the law of gravity on everyone else, just because I happen to like it. The question is nonsensical.
Presenter: But aren't you just committing the naturalistic fallacy here? We know that morality isn't objective. We each find our own way as best we can.
Me: What do you mean by the naturalistic fallacy?
Presenter: It's the idea that you can't objectively define moral goodness. You can only think of it subjectively.
Me: The term naturalistic fallacy was coined by the philosopher G.E. Moore, in an influential paper from the early twentieth century. I forget which year it was published, but I can look it up if you want it.
Presenter: That's not necessary.
Me: Anyway, his argument in brief was that moral philosophers before him were defining goodness in two different ways, and confusing the two senses. For example, for applied ethics, we should define goodness as that which we ought to aim to be. That's the definition that is needed as the basis of any practical applications. But it's not much use to us if we want to know what goodness is, in terms of something we can point to. So people were also equating goodness with other things, such as happiness, or pleasure, or the avoidance of pain and so on. What Moore claimed was that his predecessors as ethical philosophers jumped from one definition to the other without any logical reason to do so. He also claimed it was not possible to have some practical definition of goodness which we could point to and which we could confirm as being what we ought to aim at being. There would always be that jump in the definitions. That jump is obviously a logical fallacy, and Moore called it the naturalistic fallacy.
Presenter: That's what I said, isn't it. So it pretty much proves that you are trying to impose your ethics on women.
Me: No less than those women are trying to impose their ethics on their not-yet-born children. What is interesting is how Moore went about trying to prove his claim. He basically went over every philosophical ethical model that he could think of, and showed that it committed the naturalistic fallacy. So he didn't offer a general proof that it is not possible to have an objective ethical theory. Much of his paper was in fact pretty good. To my mind, he destroyed pretty much every post-enlightenment ethical work before his time, except possibly that of Kant, and of course Nietzsche's anti-ethics. And Kant fails for other reasons. Moral relativism, which grew up in response to Moore's ideas, is also a dead end, and self-contradictory. The claim that there are no objective moral rules but only subjective ones is treated as an objective moral principle. It would both say that my belief in objective moral rules is both true for me and false in general. But if it is true for me then it must by nature be true in general. It can't be both true and false. Thus moral relativism is a nonsense. And we don't live by those principles anyway. Moral relativists are usually the first to impose their beliefs on others who they accuse of offending them. But, getting back to the topic, Moore neglected the most influential moral philosopher in the Western tradition. Among the classical philosophers, he discussed Plato's metaphysics, but neglected Aristotle's.
Presenter: But Aristotle's philosophy and moral theory has been largely debunked, hasn't it?
Me: I wouldn't say so. It has been largely misunderstood. The accounts of it I have read in the general philosophical texts, except those written by the contemporary Aristotleans, have largely missed the main point. Moore probably thought that he addressed Aristotle when he discussed happiness. But happiness is a poor translation of what Aristotle meant, and the modern word rather misleading. But let's try a different approach. Do you think that Moore made a good argument? Yes or no.
Presenter: That's for the philosophers to judge, not me.
Me: Yes or no.
Presenter: Well, since I brought the subject up, yes.
Me: So what do you mean by a good argument? You must have defined the term if you think Moore's thesis is good; yet if Moore's thesis is good you can't define it in a way that is useful. But if Moore's argument isn't good, then why should we pay any attention to it? So ultimately, the naturalistic fallacy argument is self-contradictory. There must be an exception.
Presenter: The argument is good for me.
Me: It is claimed to be a general principle. So it is either good for everyone or good for no-one. Which puts us back where we started.
Presenter: But isn't there a difference between moral goodness and the sense used in saying that an an argument is good.
Me: Well let's consider what we mean when we describe something as good. We mean that it is fit for purpose. So, for example, the purpose of most academic papers is to present some previously unknown truth and persuade people of its truth. That's ultimately what science or philosophy are about. So a good paper is one that succeeds in both those goals. Or we can think about a good teacher, or a good sportsman, or a good radio presenter, or a good apple. In each case, we use the word good to mean fit for purpose.
Presenter: But that doesn't apply to moral goodness, does it?
Me: The next thing we need to ask is whether this definition fits in with the sense of a goodness as what something ought to be. The point is in each case, the object is defined by the purpose. So I'm saying that a good teacher is one that teaches. If you desire a teacher to not be good, then you desire for them to teach badly, or not at all. In other words, you desire for the teacher to not be a teacher. That's almost a contradiction; the only reason it's not a contradiction is that the teacher is only a teacher accidentally rather than essentially. They could be a software developer, or an astronaut. But, if we set aside that quibble -- say that there is some purpose or something which plays the same role that is essential to humanity -- we find that it is irrational to do anything except to desire for goodness as I have defined it. So this sense of goodness escapes Moore's naturalistic fallacy.
Presenter: But a teacher could not be a teacher. It's not a contradiction, so you haven't yet shown anything.
Me: Now recall what I said earlier about living beings being defined by certain tendencies; animal beings being defined in terms of other tendencies; rational beings by further tendencies. Not capabilities, but tendencies. Now these tendencies also define something similar to purposes; I call them natural purposes, but there isn't really a word in modern English that describes the concept. We automatically associate a purpose with an intellectual purpose, and what I'm thinking of is something different; something inherent in the definition of the being. Now to seek to block one of those tendencies is to implicitly desire that the being lacks it. You want, at that moment, the being to be something that lacks the natural tendency. But the tendency defines what something is. In other words, you desire that it is what it isn't. A contradiction and wholly irrational. Thus we ought to desire that things develop into a potentia or state where they these natural tendencies flower into natural capabilities. And thus we have a definition of goodness which we can both point to and use. Obviously, people develop this further into lists of virtues and vices. It can be proved from this beginning that charity, hope, faith, humility, justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude and so on are virtues, and that pride, anger, lust, envy, sloth, greed, gluttony and so on are vices. Any good man has those virtues as part of their character. Any evil man will exhibit some of the vices. This work was done by the medieval philosophers. But that goes beyond what I need in this discussion.
Presenter: So are you coming to a point?
Me: Two points, in fact. Lets start with the act of murder. By killing someone, you are frustrating every single one of their natural purposes. There is no good left at all; it is the most evil thing you can do. There is a hierarchy between vegetable life, to animal life, to rational animals. To kill a carrot plant to prevent a rabbit from starving is OK. To kill an animal for no purpose at all, or for an necessary end such as to take their fur for us to wear when we don't need it, is not. But we are at the top of the chain, because killing us not only frustrates the vegetative and animal ends, but also the intellectual ends. This is the fundamental argument as to why murder is immoral. This is the intellectual basis of that fact we all accept, and Moore and Hume showed that it is pretty much the only possible basis it could have, since it is the only known way to evade their argumentation (if you exclude divine commands). But this argument makes no mention of age. So it doesn't matter whether the person you kill is a forty year old man, or was conceived an hour ago. In fact, in many ways killing the youngest of us is worse, because they still have all their possibilities ahead of them. Both the forty year old and the zygote possess the natural ends of humanity. You are still frustrating those ends. So what you are doing in taking a life, any life, is an act of the greatest evil.
Presenter: I am not sure that I agree with your claims there, but I think I see where you are coming from.
Me: Then there is the case of the mother. Among our natural ends is the tendency towards reproduction. This is one of the defining tendencies of any living being, so it obviously includes ourselves. Because we are rational animals, the parents are not only responsible for the physical emergence of the child, but also its intellectual development. The child is conceived, it's healthy, it is there in the womb. That's not only good for the child, it is a good for the mother, because it helps her achieve her natural ends. And the father as well. And then the abortion clinic comes along, and cuts it off. It's not only a crime against the child, but against the mother as well. It's ironic. We anti-abortion people are derided as being anti-women, but in reality we are the ones who care for her good, and the abortionists who perpetuate an evil against her. We are only anti-women if you accept the presumptions of the abortion advocates. But we don't accept those presumptions, and I have been trying to argue that nobody should. The anti-abortion activists outside the clinics are there to express their love for the women. If they didn't love, they wouldn't care and they wouldn't be there. They are the pro-women people, and those in the clinics tempting the women into evil, and their supporters in the parliaments and media and in those marches on the streets are, whatever they may think of themselves, the ones who truly hate women and femininity. Of course, the crime against the child is greater still, but even so. And as I said, this ethical theory is built on objective principles. You might not accept it, and that's partly because I can't present it fully in a short discussion like this, and I'm not the best qualified person to do so in any case, but if so, that's not a problem with the theory, it is a problem with you. To deny it is as irrational as denying the law of gravity. To legislate against it is a mark of moral insanity.
Presenter: But doesn't the woman have the right to decide for herself what is good for her? Shouldn't we let her make that decision?
Me: In some things, yes. But not everything. People make mistakes. Not everyone is an expert on moral philosophy. And we also have weaknesses; even when we know what we ought to do, we often find ourselves doing the opposite. In this case, the point is that it's not just about the woman. Yes, it is good for the woman to bear the child, but maybe she mistakenly thinks otherwise. But we don't give people the right to decide to harm others. In this case, abortion is about harming the child. It is not a decision for her to make, because it is not just about her. We have the obligation to help the weak, and do all we can to prevent her from killing it. We all accept that after the child is born. Why is it so difficult to accept that the same principle applies before birth?
Presenter: But what about the other goods of a woman? If she has the baby, she might need to give up on her career or social life. Yet both of those are other goods. Either way, there is going to be an evil, so why shouldn't the abortion be the lesser evil? Especially if she can have another child to make up for it later.
Me: While a career is good, and a social life good, they are only secondary goods. They are accidental ends, not essential ends. So, for example, if a nurse needs to give up on her nursing to be a mother, then she is giving up on one good to take on another. But being a mother is more important than being a nurse (even though nursing is one of the most important jobs in society), because the purposes that define nursing are ones we create, while the purposes that define motherhood are built into what it means to be a woman. It is the greatest and most important job that anyone can do. Why should we encourage people to turn it down for lesser things?
Presenter: But all this just addresses the moral issue about whether abortions are good. What about the legal issue? That's what matters most. Should we use the law to force your view to deny other people who might not accept your opinion their choice?
Me:

As I said, everything is judged against its purpose. I listed some purposes of the government above. Among them, the government is obliged to prevent people from denying others of their goods by force. To assert rights over others which they don't have, as it were. It is there to protect the weak in society. And who are the weakest and most in need of protection than the not-yet-born people? So one would expect that the government should legislate to protect them.

Now, not everything that is immoral should be illegal. But the law ought to reflect ethical reality. It should not compel people to do things that are immoral, nor prevent people from pursuing their and other people's goods. For example, if you do something immoral against yourself; damaging your own property for example, then that shouldn't be illegal. The government exists to regulate affairs between people, but for the most part not one's own private doings. Equally, there are some things, such as lying, that everyone does, so if we made that illegal then everyone would be arrested. But it is generally agreed that the most serious moral offences should also be made illegal. And if any moral offence should be illegal, then it should be the worst of them, which is murder. So the government should pass laws against mothers murdering their children. And it doesn't matter whether those children are outside the womb or within it.

And this is why there shouldn't be a legal right to do what you will with your body, or a legal right to choose. In either case, you will be passing legislation that, in some circumstances, contradicts ethical mandates. Encourages people into gross immorality. Prevents people from fulfilling their moral obligations. Every law restricts choice. The law against rape restricts people from choosing to commit rape. The law against arson restricts people from choosing to burn down buildings. You can't protest against a law because it denies choice. That's what all laws do, even the ones you agree with. The question is which choices are good, and which choices are sufficiently evil that they should not only be crimes against moral sense but crimes against the law. And I am of no doubt that abortion, except in the most extreme circumstances, belongs in the second category. Therefore abortion is not only a moral crime, it also ought to be a legal crime. And that is why we should not only support the Northern Irish in their stand, but roll back the abominable laws which were passed some fifty years ago to the shame of the rest of the United Kingdom.

Well, anyway, as I said that's all not going to happen. I won't be given the opportunity to say all that I want to say; not in a two minute interview, anyway. But it is what I would like to say. At least even if I can't say it, at least I can get it off my chest and relieve some of my burden by writing it.



The empiricist philosophy against Quantum Physics


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