Saturday, 19 January 2013

Getting Along

Charles Camosy is one of those people who likes to get along even with those for whom the price of getting along is capitulation to their point of view. One is reminded of the turkeys that voted for Xmas.
oxford podcast
Julian Savulescu his interlocuter has not bothered to acquaint himself to the slightest extent with any of the rebuttals from the pro-life side to the points he is making. It’s as if he did not wish to clutter his mind with rubbish that was best consigned to an epistemic lumber room.

I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it.
(Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Scarlet by A.C.Doyle

Thus Savulescu trots out the well worn point ‘if the killing of the unborn is such a scandal why is something not done about the vast numbers of miscarried unborn. Why are pro-life people not working harder to save these mites?’. A less polite form of that argument which is sometimes heard is ‘ if you think this is a holocaust why aren’t you down at the abortion clinic physically preventing abortions from taking place, by violence if necessary?’ The implication is that pro-life people are insincere hypocrites with a ‘war on women’ agenda or something like that.

A roomful of academics ought to be able to distinguish between a deliberate taking of life and and an involuntary loss of life which is difficult to predict and guard against. That does not seem to be the case however as I’ve read a similar ,argument from Peter Smith though slightly more elaborated:
logic matters

Here a type of gradualist argument is presented. We are offered the notion that because a very early miscarriage, an involuntary event, is not taken to be such a dreadful thing then the voluntary procuring of a miscarriage at the same stage is likewise not an awful thing that we should feel terribly guilty about. The focus is on the psychological relationship to the immature foetus. Why is there such a fuss in the one case and not in the other, Smith asks? That is just the point at, issue, what is voluntary is blameworthy and what is involuntary is not. It is that which builds the attitude we take and even in the case of the involuntary and accidental killing of a person we would be haunted by it but still not accuse ourselves.

My dialogue with Peter Smith went as follows:

michael says:
September 2, 2011 at 9:38 am
The ‘scourge’(of miscarriage) is interesting but not very alarming. Why? How can you be exercised by something you are not even aware of? Are women who might be pregnant supposed to go around ‘in tin shoes, sipping tepid milk’? Again how is this a challenge to Catholics who at least at the end of life assert that it is not morally required to use heroic means to keep alive the moribund. Having failed to hit the nail to begin with the author continues to hit it in the same place repeatedly.

Peter Smith says:
September 2, 2011 at 9:56 am

But of course the question is: once you are aware of the rate of natural embryo death, what — in consistency — should be your moral reaction?

michael says:
September 3, 2011 at 7:44 am

I would apply the principle of not using heroic means and not striving officiously to keep alive; to allow, in other words, nature’s quality control to take its course. I do not see that as a challenge to the pro-life/anti-abortion stance.

The comments on the whole are interesting and not unquestioningly supportive of the O.P.


elisa freschi said...

I see your point and I agree.
I had a similar email exchange with E. Di Nucci (author of various articles against the "double-effect" about abortion, see, e.g., here: He maintains that the fact that many embryos get lost anyway is a strong argument against pro-life movements and in a discussion we had he explained that one should not take into account the difference in number of losses, since —for the sake of the argument— they have to be considered irrelevant.

ombhurbhuva said...

Thanks for that link. I am always surprised by how ethicists will try to extract some moral principles out of total war which has no other end but the defeat of the enemy by any and all means that are vaguely justifiable. The wretched Israelis for instance claim that terrorists use the civilian populace as a shield but deny the populace cement which they could use to build shelters to go leaving at large only those up to no good and therefore fair game. By any definition they are killing the populace to punish the fighting men. By the way the HQ of the Israeli Defence Force is in downtown Tel Aviv.

The trolley problems are a deeply stupid philosophical fashion.

ombhurbhuva said...

Scanning the blog roll on your estimable blog I came across the Practical Ethics group to which Julian Savelescu contributes. He was complaining of Catholic hospitals that refuse to offer legal treatment that they consider to be gravely immoral.
There’s a charming simplicity to the totalitarian mind. No one seems to question whether these situations might not be set-ups designed to compromise and embarrass the management of these hospitals. Commenter Bob makes the point that I made re Julian “ but none of the Catholic ethicists I know or have read would defend the refusal to treat a person who does not adhere to official Catholic moral teachings; they would defend the refusal to perform procedures that themselves violate those teachings”. This is not a case of great minds, but average fair minds, thinking alike

Would an ethics work book help:

Situation: Two 9 year old boys opening their respective lunch boxes:
A: What have you got there?
B: Cream Cheese with chives and whole wheat poppadoms
A: Give it to me or I will take it off you.
B: Mummy made this for me.
T---- N-- F---.
(Fill in the blanks)

Yes I know, not directly applicable to Julian’s view, but you have to start somewhere.

elisa freschi said...

Dear Ombhurbhuva,
I was also surprised when I read that blogpost. It does not seem to report reliable info, insofar as a raped woman is in any case a victim and I cannot imagine a Catholic doctor refusing the treat her. At most, he might refuse to give her the "day after" pill. J.S. is brilliant but does not seem to really try to engage with his opponents. The result is an argument targeted against a straw-man.

My lack of English knowledge made me unable to understand the lunch box situation. Could you explain the similarity?

ombhurbhuva said...

Thank Elisa,
Your reaction would be shared by many.
My thinking is this. A philosopher who shows no interest in engaging with the counter positions of those he disagrees with is not doing philosophy but is like a child sticking his thumbs in his ears and waggling his fingers. Remedial education is required. My proposal is to acquaint him with the basic sense of justice that is developed at an early stage in life and which is expressed in the judgement of the school yard - that’s not fair. The sandwich scenario, children here bring their own lunches to school with them, is an example of how the basic principle of fair play is internalised.

There’s also a way that this principle can be extrapolated to meet the Catholic hospital situation. Centuries ago religious groups founded them long before the state provided any such facilities. In a manner of speaking ‘mother made them’ and to simply take away their ethos is like grabbing the other kids sandwich when you have one of your own. The donation of hundreds of years of selfless service must be recognised even if in the present day the state is the chief financial supporter.

The refusal of service less the morally objectionable element which is anyway widely available elsewhere may be explained by the suspicion on the part of the of the hospital authorities that this scenario was devised by activists to embarrass them. Living in the real world and not the one of thought experiments I consider this highly likely.