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Archive for the ‘04. Ethics’ Category

Eluana Englaro, italianca de 38 de ani aflată în comă de aproape 17 ani, a decedat luni noapte, dar disputele politice privind dreptul unei persoane în suferinţă de a muri continuă” (aici)

Despre eutanasie s-a vorbit mult in ultimele doua decenii si inca se mai vorbeste. Fiecare caz dramatic este un bun subiect de presa, si un aducator sigur de vizitatori pe bloguri (nu in Romania, fireste). Ce se intimpla cu acest drept de a muri? Este el un drept? Pentru inceput, vreau sa elimin ceea ce eu consider o prostie cit casa, vehiculata de cei mai destepti oameni ai momentului in etica normativa. Ei fac o diferenta intre “killing” (a omori) si “letting die” (a nu face nimic pentru a salva viata unui om, a “lasa sa moara”). Diferenta consta in faptul ca primul principiu este activ (te implici, omori tu cu miinile tale), in timp ce al doilea este pasiv (tu nu faci nimic, omul oricum moare, asa ca tu doar lasi natura sa-si urmeze cursul). Consecinta distinctiei este urmatoarea: este moral inacceptabil sa ucizi, dar este moral perfect acceptabil sa lasi sa moara un om care, fara ajutorul tau, oricum va muri. Ei bine, discutia pe aceasta tema in (c)academie este extrem de lunga si complicata. Filosofii, ca intotdeauna, se agata de un argument sau de un cuvint – uneori si de desinenta unui cuvint 🙂 pentru a se ciondani intre ei. Nu este aici locul sau timpul pentru a intra in asemenea dezbateri. Vreau sa spun ca, din punctul meu de vedere, distinctia este stupida. Atita timp cit poti face ceva sa ajuti omul sa nu moara, dar nu o faci, tot “killing” este. Problema care se pune este daca acest “killing” e justificat moral. Pentru a anticipa putin lucrurile, la aceasta intrebare raspund afirmativ, dar sustin ca anumite conditii trebuie indeplinite.

Exista totusi argumente serioase pro si contra eutanasiei. Haideti sa le luam pe rind. Argumente pro:

(a) orice individ este proprietarul absolut al vietii si corpului sau. Oamenii aleg sa se sinucida sau sa fie eutanasiati. Statul nu are nici un drept sa se amestece in decizia lor

(b) orice individ are dreptul la pastrarea demnitatii persoanei. Atunci cind starea fizica sau psihica a individului aduce grave atingerii demnitatii sale, uneori moartea este alegerea corecta (doresc sa precizez ca, din motive personale, sint un sustinator puternic al acestui argument; am fost implicat intr-un asemenea caz – din care nu cred ca am iesit normal la cap – si cred ca nimeni nu ar trebui sa treaca prin momente asemanatoare) (vezi si filmul lui Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby)

(c) in cazurile in care, in pofida tuturor eforturilor medicale, rezultatul este oricum moartea pacientului, si in momentul in care pacientul sufera dureri ingrozitoare, eutanasia este permisa moral tocmai pentru a nu mai prelungi aceste dureri.

Argumente contra:

(i) nimeni nu este proprietarul vietii sale, ci viata a fost data de Dumnezeu – singurul care are dreptul sa o ia (varianta religioasa; exista si o varianta “laica” a acestui argument, care sustine simplu ca nu avem dreptul sa luam viata nimanui)

(ii) marea problema este ca in majoritatea cazurilor pacientii nu si-au exprimat inainte de accident dorinta privitor la eutanasie. Ce drept au rudele sau medicii sa decida in locul lor, mai ales ca, asa cum sustinatorii eutanasiei spun, omul este proprietarul absolut al vietii si corpului sau?

(iii) in cazurile de coma, au fost situatii cind pacientii s-au trezit dupa un numar de ani. De ce sa eliminam aceasta posibilitate in cazul altor pacienti?

(iv) daca vorbim despre demnitatea persoanei, atunci sint cazuri grave de afectiuni psihice care aduc atingere demnitatii. Daca acceptam eutanasia pentru cazuri privind mutilarea trupului, de ce sa nu o acceptam si in cazurile de fata? Cream astfel o panta alunecoasa (“slippery slope”) si nu stim unde sa tragem linie

(v) ca si in cazul precedent, cum putem hotari cind un om are dreptul sa moara? Cind sint durerile suportabile si cind nu? Si nu depinde asta de fiecare pacient in parte? Cine ar trebui sa hotarasca asta, medicii? Dar atunci cum ramine cu pacientul – proprietar absolut al vietii si corpului sau? Ar trebui sa decida pacientul? Dar asta ar transforma spitalele in clinici de ajutorare a sinucigasilor!

(vi) in tarile in care s-a legalizat eutanasia a aparut ceea ce putem numi “turismul eutanasiei”: oamenii vin in tarile respective pentru a muri, pentru ca in aceste tari e legal. Dar lucrul acesta a dezvoltat o adevarata afacere, ceea ce este absolut imoral.

Acestea sint argumentele pro si contra eutanasiei care imi vin acum in minte (daca stiti si altele, va rog sa imi amintiti). Consider ca argumentele pro sint puternice si de bun simt, dar eutanasia nu ar trebui legalizata pina cind nu avem raspunsuri cit-de-cit clare la argumentele contra. Se pot, de exemplu, deschide discutii cu liderii religiosi luminati, care pot reinterpreta Biblia in asa fel incit eutanasia unui bolnav incurabil sa fie un act de mila, cu voia lui Dumnezeu (doar nu se face nimic fara voia Lui, right?). Apoi, ar trebui ca intr-un moment al vietii (la majorat, de exemplu) indivizii sa fie intrebati daca ar accepta sa fie eutanasiati in asemenea cazuri (si daca, evident, sint de acord cu donarea organelor – dar asta e alt subiect). Ar trebui sa vedem cum facem cu posibilitatea ca oamenii sa se trezeasca din coma dupa un numar de ani – oricit de mica este aceasta posibilitate (vezi filmul lui Pedro Almodovar Hable con ella, de pilda). Iarasi, va trebui sa raspundem – si nu stiu nici un raspuns satisfacator deocamdata – de ce o anumita stare fizica aduce atingere demnitatii persoanei si deci e un caz ok pentru eutanasie, iar o anumita stare psihica nu aduce atingere demnitatii persoane, sau aduce atingere, dar nu e un caz ok pentru eutanasie. In general, anumite limite trebuie puse, si trebuie sa le gindim bine. Bioeticienii au un important cuvint de spus aici. Nu in ultimul rind, trebuie sa vedem cum putem lupta impotriva unor consecinte nedorite ale legalizarii eutanasiei, cum ar fi turismul eutanasic (in conditiile in care este naiv sa-ti imaginezi ca toate tarile vor legaliza eutanasia).

Dupa cum vedem, nu e usor sa discutam despre aceasta problema. A te declara simplist de acord cu eutanasia sau impotriva ei echivaleaza cu a nu spune nimic. Trebuie discutate multe chestiuni. Singura problema este ca trebuie sa o facem repede. Datorita avansului tehnicii medicale, tot mai multe persoane sint tinute in viata artificial, impotriva vointei lor si a rudelor. Cit timp discutam noi, asemenea persoane sufera ingrozitor.

[O lista cu filme despre eutanasie aici]

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Recently, I had a discussion here with a friend of mine. I held that it is perfectly coherent to publicly support basic equal rights for ethnic, racial, and sexual minorities, while still making privately jokes about their ways of life. My friend accused me of hypocrisy.

Now here’s a quote from Bhikhu Parekh:

“In most societies libel is an offense. Broadly speaking it consists in making public, untruthful damaging remarks about an individual that go beyond fair comment. Libel is an offense, not so much because it causes pain to, or offends the feelings of, the individual concerned, for the damaging and untruthful remarks made in private do not constitute libel, as because they lower him in the eyes of others, damage his social standing, and harm his reputation” (bold emphasis mine; italic emphasis in original).

[source: Bhikhu Parekh, “The Rushdie Affair: Research Agenda for Political Philosophy”, in: Will Kymlicka (ed.), The Rights of Minority Cultures, OUP, 1995, p. 314]

The legal distinction between private and public shows that there are things you can do in private, but not in public. So it is perfectly coherent to publicly support, say, the rights of gays, while still be able to have a good laugh when you hear, in private, a good joke about homosexuals. But is it also a moral thing to do both? I think so. A simple joke is something which is not serious: neither in its content, nor in its purpose. This is why a joke cannot be considered as “libel”: it does not intend harm (it does not intend to demean the social status of a gay person). We “just” joke (now we’re laughing at you as a gay, and then probably we’ll be laughing at me as a blonde). Of course, this is totally different from taking a stance in mass-media and saying that homosexuals are ill, disgusting, etc.

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(copyright Mark Cox; source)

I am not hypocrite. I do not hold that it is ok to kill pigs for food, but it is not ok to kill dogs or dolphins with the same aim. “Superior” flesh-eating animals (humans included) always kill in order to feed themselves. This is nature’s food chain. Moreover, what we eat is determined by nature in case of non-human animals, and by culture in case of humans. So probably an Indian is equally outraged by the thought that I eat cow, as I am outraged by the idea that Chinese people eat dogs.

The problem is not so much the fact that we kill for food – the problem is rather what we eat and how we treat those animals before eating them. I hold it is immoral to kill animals from endangered species for food; and it is immoral to treat animals with cruelty before or in the course of killing them. Moreover, to mistreat and kill animals just for fun (as toreros do in Spanish bullfighting) reveals (at least for me) something very ugly about human being as such.

But toreros are not the only mean exponents of human nature. There are also the inhabitants from the Faroe Islands. They kill every year hundreds of whales and dolphins, and they really seem to find a lot of fun in this show. Indeed, everything looks like a popular festival. What kind of festival? You can read the story and watch some pictures (don’t look if your heart is weak!) here. You can find out more about the history of whaling in the Faroe Islands here. And the proof that they also kill dolphins is to be found here.

Of course, they defend their practice by saying that this is their tradition. But tradition alone, tradition in itself can never be a good argument. The human being must adapt itself and change its habits, if these habits have disastrous physical and moral consequences. But probably I’m too naïve.

[By the way: aren’t whales and dolphins endangered species?]

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[Article written on December 3, 2007]

You can read the story (related by CNN) here. Do you remeber Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby”? Well… once again, about bioethics and euthanasia…

I only hope police will not arrest that old man. He suffered enough. Probably I would have done the same. What about you?

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[Article written on February 21, 2008]

UPDATE. George has also commented Iddo Landau’s talk and the reaction of gender fundamentalists here.

The first example of political correctness and gender stupidity (this is taken from a serious philosophical text):

“One way to flesh this idea out is to pretend that there is a superbeing, GOD, who can comprehend very complex patterns. SHE alone grasps in full the pattern in the way that moral matters connect with descriptive ones” (Frank Jackson, Philip Pettit, and Michael Smith, “Ethical Particularism and Patterns”, in B. Hooker and M. Little, Moral Particularism, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 90; capital letters are mine)

Two days ago I had another two examples of gender fundamentalism and gender hate. I attended two conferences at Central European University: the first was offered by the Gender Department, the second by the Department of Philosophy.

weiss.jpg Gail Weiss

The first talk was given by Gail Weiss (George Washington University) and its title was “Intertwined Identities: Challenges to Bodily Autonomy”. She discussed the problem of surgical separation of conjoint twins. She is against this separation, because she thinks it is based on: (a) “the dominant logic of identity” – that is, “one identity – one body”; (b) the idea that “conjoint life is not a worthy life”. As an argument in her favor, she says that in the majority of cases, adult conjoined twins refuse to undergo such an operation. The conclusion is that all these can show us an alternative theory of identity, which goes beyond the “dominant” one – that is, “one identity – one body”.

Now this idea strikes me as simply false. I propose the following counterfactual situation. Suppose that a physician tells the twins: “Look, because of the very advanced technology, we assure you 100 % that the operation is totally harmless to both of you; moreover, after the operation, you will live happily until the age of 99”. Now, my question is: what would the twins say? I am sure that they would like to undergo the operation. This shows that they refuse to be operated not because they have some strange philosophical notion of identity, something like “one identity – many bodies”, but because they fear that they would not survive the operation. In what concerns the fact that the separated life is worthier than the conjoint one, I really do not think that this is necessary or logically related to the social and cultural norms of our societies, as Gail Weiss sustains. If we set aside some perverse ideas, what is so worthy in being obliged to “shut down” yourself when your conjoined twin makes love with his wife??? I think the whole talk was a good example of empty words. I mean, if you want to present me just a nice story with metaphors, then it could be interesting. But if you present me this story with propositions like “Colourless green ideas sleep furiously” (Noam Chomski) as being a scientific truth, then you have to do much more than using metaphors. That is, metaphors like this: “intercorporeality as a basic condition of human existence that doesn’t undermine identity but makes it possible in the first place”. Some of us are not that stupid, Mrs. Gail Weiss!

landau.jpg Iddo Landau

The second talk was given by Iddo Landau (University of Haifa) and its title was „Should Marital Relations be Non-Hierarchical? Issues in Distributive Justice and Love”. Some of the members of the Gender Department came too. Basically, Iddo Landau wants to argue against the idea of the Marital Non-Hierarchy Standard (MNHS). He says that in every human associative venture there are hierarchical relations (“in almost all associations, including many financial, professional, educational and recreational ones, in almost all spheres of life”). Because of this, it is odd to claim that one such human association – that is, marriage – should be exempted from the rule. His idea is this: if I am married and I stay with my wife in her parents’ house, it is normal for her parents to have the last word in what concern, for example, their house. Here is a hierarchy in the family, based on the fact that we stay in your parents’ house. This does not run against justice and does not diminish family love. Again, if we are married and we have a child, and if you read a lot on child rearing it is absolutely normal for you to give me directions in what concerns this domain, and it is absolutely normal for me to listen to you. This is yet another type of family hierarchy, which is based on knowledge. But this does not run against being justice and does not diminish our love towards one another. In consequence, it is absolutely normal for hierarchies to exist in a family. So MNHS, which has a strong egalitarian claim, is false.

Unfortunately, after the talk, four representatives of the Gender Department (three “female” students, one “female” professor) demonstrated that they understood nothing from this talk. Very hysterical and very aggressive, they monopolized the discussion for more than one hour, attacking Iddo Landau. The only thing they understood from this conference was that the poor guy wanted to legitimate the hierarchical status of man over woman in a marriage, and that he does not recognize the importance of the academic literature written by “female” authors. The poor man really tried to explain what he was talking about – with the only result of a considerable increase in hostility and agressivity. That was very telling, in fact. Gender hate and fundamentalism is jointly nurtured by violence and stupidity. It is sad, because this is very detrimental to the receptivity of serious academic writers in gender studies as Martha Nussbaum, Susan Moller Okin, Uma Narayan, and many others.

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Robert Audi defines ethical intuitionism as “the view that we can have, in the light of appropriate reflection (my emphasis!) on the content of moral judgments and moral principles, intuitive (hence non-referential) justification for holding them”. He proposes a Kantian (!!!!!) version of ethical intuitionism and attacks the common conception of intuitionism (the infallibilist, immoderately rationalist, “special faculty” view) [see his article Intuitionism, Pluralism, and the Foundations of Ethics].

Now, according to Audi, there are 4 characteristics of intuitions:

a) noninferentiality / ungroundability (what is intuitively known cannot be (evidentially) grounded in premises)

b) firmness (an intuition must be a moderately firm cognition; a mere inclination to believe is not an intuition)

c) the comprehension requirement (intuitions must be formed in the light of an adequate understanding of their propositional objects; before one can apprehend even a self-evident moral truth, one must get precisely that true proposition before one’s mind)

d) relative pretheoreticality (intuitions are pretheoretical relative to the issue in question: they are neither evidentially dependent on theories nor themselves theoretical hypotheses) (this doesn’t entail that intuition has a complete independence of theory: an intuition may be defeated in the light of theoretical results incompatible with its truth, so this is a sort of a negative epistemic dependence of intuition on theory)

While (a) and (d) seem prima facie reasonable, how can we circumscribe the scope of (b) [a “moderately firm” cognition] and (c) [an “adequate” understanding of an intuition’s propositional object]? Audi says nothing about these problems.

But there is more. Audi asks himself: if noninferential and pretheoretical, to what extent intuitions represent rationality? He answers the question by making a distinction between conclusions of inference (judgments premised on propositions one has noted as evidence) and conclusions of reflection (judgments “which are more like a response to viewing a painting or seeing an expressive face than to propositionally represented information”). He strongly denies the possible critique that “conclusions of reflections” are still based on inference – but unconvincingly to me.

And here comes the strangest thing. He makes a distinction between 2 types of self-evident propositions: (a) immediately self-evident (those self-evident propositions that are readily understood by normal adults; they are obvious, and there are degrees of obviousness); (b) mediately self-evident (those self-evident propositions understood by normal adults only through reflection (my emphasis) on the sorts of case they concern). He thinks that moral principles for intuitionism are mediately self-evident, and further, that „once we appreciate that the kind of self-evidence to which intuitionism is committed is only mediate, we can allow that intuitive moral principles, even if they are self-evident, are knowable through premises as well as by reflection on their content”.

So my question is this: if this is true, then why do we need intuitionism? If we can know moral principles „through premises” (this would be a wonderful thing, because we could logically prove which moral principle is true and which is not), then why do we need intuitionism anymore?

It seems to me that, in this case, intuitionism is superfluous – just as God is superfluous if we claim that we can scientifically explain everything, but nevertheless God exists (see a very nice parable in Anthony Flew, Theology and Falsification).

Just an aside: I think ethical intuitionism CAN be defended – the best leading authors in this field are, in my opinion, Michael Huemer – you can download (on line and free of charge) a part of his book Ethical Intuitionism – and Pekka Vayrynen. The latter wrote the best defense of ethical intuitionism I ever read, in his article Some Good and Bad News for Ethical Intuitionism. I will try to post here soon a synopsis of this article.

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Probably the best defense of ethical intuitionism I’ve read is that of Pekka Väyrynen, in his article Some Good and Bad News for Ethical Intuitionism. Now here’s a synopsys of his ideas.

His intention is to defend ethical intuitionism (according to which some of our ethical knowledge is non-inferential) against an objection put forth by Nicholas Sturgeon. The thesis is this: irrespective of whether intuitionism takes non-inferential ethical knowledge to be a posteriori or a priori, intuitionism isn’t committed (as Sturgeon claims) to the existence of non-inferential knowledge in areas outside ethics in which its existence would be implausible (such as the past, the future, or the unobservable). These are the good news – but there is also bad news: even if ethical intuitionism is not committed to an implausible epistemology outside ethics, its versions (a priori and a posteriori ethical intuitionism) might be committed to an implausible epistemology within ethics.

I. So here it is, first, the standard argument for ethical intuitionism (a very clear and elegant one, in my opinion):

(S1) If we have any ethical knowledge, then that knowledge is either (a) non-inferential, or (b) based by reasonable inference on partly ethical premises, or (c) based by reasonable inference on entirely non-ethical premises

(S2) The Autonomy of Ethics: There is no reasonable inference (deductive or non-deductive) to any ethical conclusion from entirely non-ethical premises

(S3) Therefore, if we have any ethical knowledge, then that knowledge is either (a) non-inferential or (b) based by reasonable inference on at least partly ethical premises

(S4) Foundationalism: If we have any knowledge (e.g. ethical knowledge) that is inferential, then all such knowledge is ultimately based by reasonable inference on some knowledge that is non-inferential

(S5) Therefore, if we have any ethical knowledge, some of it is non-inferential

(S6) Ethical Non-Skepticism: We have some ethical knowledge

(S7) Therefore, some of our ethical knowledge is non-inferential

Since the above standard argument is valid, any critic of ethical intuitionism must reject S2 or S4

Note: foundationalism + autonomy of ethics ® a choice between intuitionism and skepticism [note that the argument can be generalized to any other topic, it is not specific to ethics]

II. Let’s see now Nicholas Sturgeon’s objection. He says that, given a certain plausible general rationale for the autonomy of ethics, intuitionism implies an implausible epistemology outside ethics, because of its commitment to foundationalism.

Sturgeon’s naturalistic “rationale” for the autonomy of ethics is this: our thought about the natural world is populated by areas that are autonomous with respect to the evidence we bring to bear on them [because assessment of evidence for theoretical conclusions are theory-dependent (the same explanation works for the autonomy of many areas of thought about the natural world]. Now the problem is that the naturalistic rationale for the autonomy of ethics comes with a high epistemological cost: it commits us to the autonomy of our thought about the past, the future and the unobservable; so the intuitionist must accept that we have non-inferential knowledge in these topics too. As a consequence, if ethical intuitionists accept the autonomy of ethics, then combining it with foundationalism commits them to an implausible overall epistemology. But to give up foundationalism is to give up ethical intuitionism.

III. Now take the following definitions:

a) a posteriori ethical intuitionism = the claim that if we have any non-inferential a posteriori knowledge, presumably some of it we have by perception.

b) a priori ethical intuitionism = the claim that some of our ethical knowledge must be non-inferential a priori knowledge.

Pekka Väyrynen shows that neither of the above versions of ethical intuitionism is committed to an implausible epistemology outside ethics. But they might be committed to an implausible epistemology within ethics. The arguments go like this:

a) in order to respond to the objection according to which all knowledge is inferential, a posteriori ethical intuitionism should hold that at least some experiences that correctly represent an ethical property as being instantiated are perceptions of that ethical property as being instantiated. Bu the problem is that establishing that we can perceive ethical properties as being instantiated is difficult. Still, if we could perceive ethical properties as being instantiated, then some ethical knowledge is non-inferential. If we can perceive ethical properties as being instantiated, it doesn’t follow that in the similar way perception gives us non-inferential knowledge about topics like the past, the future, or the unobservable. So the question remains whether the reply commits a posteriori intuitionism to an implausible epistemology within ethics. This depends crucially on whether we can perceive ethical properties as being instantiated.

b) a priori ethical intuitionism holds that a self-evident proposition is a truth any adequate understanding of which is such that (a) one has justification for believing the proposition in virtue of having that understanding of it and (b) if one believes the proposition on the basis of that understanding, then one knows it. Further, we can have non-inferential ethical knowledge on the basis of adequate understanding of certain propositions, without any further positive appeal to experience, even if experience, background beliefs, or inferences are capable of defeating our justification to believe those propositions. The only problem is whether there are self-evident ethical truths. If there are self-evident ethical truths, then one can accept both foundationalism and the autonomy of ethics without committing oneself to self-evident truths that could give us non-inferential knowledge in other areas. So the idea is that we need a reliable test for determining whether a proposition is self-evident. A priori intuitionists have yet to explain how an ethical proposition can be such that: a) an adequate understanding of it makes one to know that it is true but b) facts about its meaning or how that meaning is fixed don’t alone explain why its truth is knowable solely on the basis of an adequate understanding of it. So long as the existence of such synthetic self-evident ethical truths remain in doubt, our support for a priori intuitionism should be merely conditional.

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