Monday, October 29, 2007


of the fetus is sometimes an arguing point for those seeking to justify early abortions (that is, before viability). Here by viability I mean "capable of living outside the uterus. Used of a fetus or newborn", which is a standard dictionary definition. But the data is changing with technological advances, and, occasionally, it might be fudged.

If Only They Could Get Married, If Only They Would Let Women...

be teachers?

"And no one - not the schools, not the courts, not the...: "'And no one - not the schools, not the courts, not the state or federal governments - has found a surefire way to keep molesting teachers out of classrooms.'
The answer is obvious: let teachers marry and let women be teachers."

(Via Catholic and Enjoying It!.)

The Moral Community

First I'll directly cite Carl Olsen's citation of Beckwith's book that occurs in the following article:

Therefore, a law prohibiting abortion would unjustly impose one's morality upon another only if the act of abortion is good, morally benign, or does not unjustly limit the free agency of another. That is to say, if the unborn entity is fully human, forbidding abortions would be perfectly just, because nearly every abortion would be an unjust act that unjustly limits, or more accurately, does not permit to be actualized, the free agency of another. Consequently, the issue is not whether the pro-life position is a moral perspective that may be forced on others who do not agree with it, but rather, the issue is who and what counts as "an other," a person, a full-fledged member of the human community. (pp 118-9)

Now the article itself:

Dr. Beckwith on defining "pro-life": "

In a post yesterday, I had a quote from Dr. Francis Beckwith's Defending Life: A Legal and Moral Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge, 2007), which is a very thorough apologia against abortion rights and for the pro-life position. Today's edition of the Waco Tribune-Herald has an op-ed by Dr. Beckwith, titled 'Let us define 'pro-life' for you.' He writes:

What then is the pro-life
position? It is the view that the membership of the human community
includes prenatal human beings, even if excluding them would benefit
those who are more powerful than the prenatal and who believe that the
prenatal’s destruction is in their interest.

It is the view that human beings have intrinsic dignity by nature
that is not a consequence of their size, level of development,
environment or dependency.'

Young writes: ‘Surely someone devoted to preventing abortions would be just as devoted to preventing pregnancy.’

Pro-lifers, to be sure, would like to see fewer abortions. But it is
not because we find abortion unattractive or repugnant, as if judging
its wrongness were merely a matter of like or dislike.

Rather, the reason why we would like to see fewer abortions is
because the unborn are full members of the human community and ought to
be respected as such.

Once a human being comes into existence, the parents have an
obligation to care for this vulnerable and defenseless family member.
These parents may call on the rest of us to help and provide to them
both material and spiritual resources, as many pro-life groups and
individuals indeed do.

Read the entire piece.


(Via Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog.)

This is the substance of the disagreement between the pro- and anti-abortion positions: are there (genetic) human beings who are not moral human beings ("persons")? The first side enthusiastically answers: Yes! Their opponents deny that this distinction is valid or helpful.

So now we are considering Warren's Space Traveller thought experiment, which she thinks justifies identifying persons outside of simple biological humanity. There are, of course, some arguments for rejecting this analysis. But for now the need is to understand how analogical arguments work and how to critique them.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Gird Up Your Loins

It's time for some serious reading:

Why the Bewilderment? Benedict XVI on Natural Law: "

Why the Bewilderment? Benedict XVI on Natural Law | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | October 27, 2007


On October 5, in the Hall of the Popes in the Vatican,
Benedict XVI
addressed a brief lecture
to the members of the International
Theological Commission. He began by remarking on the recent document of that
commission relating to the question of the salvation of un-baptized infants, of
which by any calculation, including the aborted ones, there are many. I will
not go into that question here though the pope did give the principles on which
any solution must be based: 1) 'The universal saving will of God, 2) the
universality of the one mediation of Christ, 3) the primacy of divine grace,
and 4) the sacramental nature of the Church' (L'Osservatore Romano, October 17, 2007). This solution recalls the
document Dominus Jesus that Pope
Ratzinger authored while he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith. Modern theology is full of those who would save everyone but without
the mediation of Christ, grace, or sacraments. Such theories, however well
intentioned, are not Christian in origin.

Read the entire article...


(Via Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

My Bad

I attributed the initial Moral Philosophy post to Jimmy Akin. It is on his blog, but it's by a guest blogger SDG. So here's Part Two:

Materialism and the moral argument – Part 2: "

SDG here (not Jimmy) with more on materialism and the moral argument (continued from Part 1).

Suppose you see me bullying a weaker party, and you confront me, saying: 'Stop that, you louse!'

'Louse?' I reply. 'Louse? A small, wingless insect of the order Anoplura? I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about, friend. No no, I'm familiar with the slang usage, of course, but you're quite mistaken, I assure you. I don't feel lousy at all! Never better. You may be thinking of the sorry specimen here at the receiving end of my bullying, who has surely had better days.'

And, indeed, if by 'like a louse' you were only describing how you would feel if you bullied the weak, then your calling me a louse would seem to be a case of sheer projection, as much as my saying 'Stop making yourself nauseous, you fool!' when in fact you love haggis (or whatever).

On the other hand, if at this point you continue to maintain that, whatever my emotional state, there is some meaningful sense in which I am a louse, or that in some sense my lousiness is not contingent upon my own feelings or yours, then we will have to seek further for what exactly it is that we mean by 'lousiness' beyond one or another person's bio-electrical-chemical responses.

You might make a stab at reasoning with me: 'But look here,' you say, 'of course you wouldn't want to be bullied yourself, would you? Why should you treat someone else in a way that you yourself wouldn't want to be treated?'

But I reply, 'Why, obviously, being bullied makes me feel bad, but bullying others makes me feel good. You aren't making any sense at all. Surely you aren't suggesting some sort of quantifiable correlation between bullying or not bullying others and a higher or lower incidence of being bullied or not bullied oneself? I know people say things like 'What goes around comes around,' but don't let's kid ourselves. What correlates with being bullied is weakness; what correlates with not being bullied is strength. I, fortunate that I am, happen to rank in the upper percentiles of the strong — not strong enough to escape all bullying, perhaps, but strong enough to be the bully more often than not. So. There you have it.'

If I were in a tolerant mood, I might even be willing, for the sake of discussion, to allow that if it were possible somehow to make a deal with the universe such that abstention from bullying would entitle one to exemption from being bullied, under those terms I might possibly (reluctantly) be willing to forgo the pleasures of bullying others in order to secure for myself a lifetime of freedom from being bullied. No such terms being possible, though, that would seem to be the end of that discussion.

Where can we go from here?

I should perhaps point out that nothing I have thus far said tends toward some sort of live-and-let-live moral relativism in which bullies should be allowed to bully and we should not stop them, because different strokes for different folks. Different strokes for different folks perhaps, but that would seem to include the preferences of those who like to stop bullies as well as those who like to bully.

So far, for all I can tell, it would seem that all impulses and desires are in principle equally actionable, in proportion to their strength and in inverse relationship to any counter-impulses or countervailing considerations; and so if we like stopping bullies, bully for us.

We are even, it seems to me, free to hate and despise bullies if we wish (or to forgive them, whichever floats our boat). Let's not have any nonsense about loving the sinner and hating the sin (I mean, unless that's your thing). We can even choose to label them (or their actions) 'evil' from our point of view, just as I may call haggis 'disgusting' because that's how I feel about it, irrespective of how you feel.

Having said that, it seems to me helpful to have a vocabulary to describe areas such as long division and history and quantum physics in which different people's answers can be weighed against one another and some found wanting in relation to others, not according to the personal preferences of the judges, but by some more meaningful standard that applies to everyone and everything being judged.

'True or false' might be a start, helpfully supplemented by subtler terms like 'more nearly true' and 'more clearly false,' 'better or worse,' 'more accurate,' or 'more adequate,' or less, etc. Thus, your quotient is right; hers is wrong; how any of us happens to feel about it is irrelevant. Some estimates of the death toll of the Holocaust are better than others, and some are wholly inadequate and even reprehensible. The advocates of various proposals may (or may not) be equally sincere, but the question is not about that.

I hasten to add that dealing with facts doesn't mean that we can necessarily say with certitude, or even at all, what all the facts are, or that there is no room for honest disagreement and different points of view. What exactly happened to Jimmy Hoffa? Is string theory 'not even wrong,' as Peter Woit has argued? Those may be questions we aren't prepared to answer definitively here and now. The point is, whatever the answers are, they don't hinge on your feelings or mine.

Back to lousiness. Is there anything to be said for 'Stop that, you louse!' as anything other than a sheer projection of one person's bio-electrical-chemical aversion-responses on another?

You might take a stab at it by appealing to something like the good of the social order. What's wrong with bullying, you may say, is not that it offends your feelings, but that it harms another person and thus the greater good. That is why society labels me a louse if I bully, not just because of the feelings of any one person.

Now, as a matter of fact the defense of bullying semi-facetiously advanced above isn't especially the kind of thing that an actual bully in a real-world situation would be likely to say, at least as phrased. Here, however, is something that is very much the sort of thing that bullies, when confronted, often say in their own defense:

'We were only playing.'

Bracket for a moment the level of transparent dishonesty of this defense, all but confessed in the very sheepishness or glibness of the tone. Even the bully doesn't really believe he will get away with suggesting that we are all friends here enjoying ourselves in a mutually agreeable and pleasant fashion.

Put that aside just a moment, and consider whether there isn't actually at least a partial but significant level of truth in the bully's defense.

Let me preface these comments with a borrowed line from The Problem of Pain: Let no one say of me 'He jests at scars who never felt a wound.' I am the last person in the world to make light of bullying. In childhood I was not only consistently the bullied rather than the bully, I was at the very bottom of the bullying hierarchy, the bullied of the bullied, and for years the oppression I faced was regular and merciless. The morning walk to school in those years was for me full of dread over the coming confrontations, praying, praying to be spared that day.

For all that, I was never badly hurt, and seldom hurt at all. I know some victims of bullying are, but I think my experience is far more typical. The bullies were out to aggrandize their own egos at my expense, but not to do me any real harm. There was real malice in it, but the goal was to enjoy my fear and their sense of power. The claim that they were 'only playing,' while odious, is actually more nearly true than it might initially seem.

What's more, as intense as my fear was, I can't see that it has inflicted any lasting harm on any measurable level. Having been bullied seems not to have affected my long-term prospects for happiness and success.

For some years in school, I may have been among the least happy in my class; today, well, I just might be the happiest person I know. I'm well-educated, I have a good job and rewarding occupations, I'm blissfully married to a domestic and maternal goddess, and — perhaps most importantly from a materialist–naturalist perspective — we have five beautiful and intelligent children who have excellent prospects of success in life as productive members of society.

By nearly any Darwinian measure, I think it's safe to say I've been rather successful. My experience of bullying was intensely unpleasant while it lasted, but I can't see that society's interests or even my long-term good were ever particularly at stake.

That's not to say I don't think bullying a great evil. I do. I just don't think it's rooted in whatever measurable phenomena, if any, may be adduced under any such rubric as 'the greater good of society.' I think the evil of bullying is rooted in the dignity of the human person, which as I conceive it is bound up in a whole trans-materialistic understanding of human nature and the meaning of life and so on.

That is to say, I regard the dignity of the human person as the sort of subject that transcends individual feelings or preferences, much like long division and the exact circumstances of Jimmy Hoffa's death. Different people may have different interpretations of the evidence; some understandings will be closer to the truth, and some are further, even if no human authority can definitively settle which answers are the closest. But we are talking about something real, not about personal feelings yours or mine.

Continued in Part 3



Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Living in a Tiny House

We got the beginning lecture on the (infamous) violinist of Judith Thomson. We are being taught to recognize and evaluate arguments by analogy. She uses three, actually, in that article: the violinist, the rapidly growing baby in the tiny house, and the person-seed problem. There's no problem with her imagination


One of the fascinating and intellectually challenging aspects of her most famous analogy is that it ignores the possibility that philosophically-rigourous pro-lifers (the "extreme view") might agree that you could disconnect yourself from the violinist and be morally justified.

In our first reading, Noonan alludes to the Catholic position on abortion, which Thomson indirectly identifies as the extreme form (by citing two popes and Noonan while discussing it). The idea of abortion to save the life of the mother (the object of Thomson's "rapidly growing baby" analogy) has long been accepted in Catholic thinking (precluding here from what, exactly, is theology versus philosophy). In traditionally Catholic countries, with the strictest laws on abortion, saving the life of the mother was (is?) permitted. The philosophical and theological insight, however, is that directly killing the baby/child/fetus is always wrong.

Which brings us the principle of double effect: a form of moral reasoning that deals with seeming dilemmas, like ectopic pregnancy, cancer of the uterus, or, for the more imaginative, the trolley problem. We have already discussed in class the idea that a single action may have multiple motivations--a potential problem for Kantians. It is also true that a single action can have multiple effects.

The principle says that if an action, by itself, is good in it's intent and form (some actions are, in and of themselves, immoral; such as directly killing an innocent human being), but it has an undesired, but inevitable, bad effect, that action can be moral. The prime example would be removing an ectopic fetus to save the life of the mother (as distinct from directly killing, then removing it). The death of the child is inevitable, but undesired. Saving the life of the mother is a good. Therefore, so the reasoning goes, this operation is morally justifiable.

Even a slight modification of the Rapidly Growing Child analogy makes it acceptable to almost all pro-lifers: removing the child, knowing that it will die inevitably, to save the mother's life. It's curious that this is the only one of Thomson's analogies that actually speaks plainly of killing. The other two are more antiseptic: disconnecting the violinist and removing the "person plant". Could it be that Thomson, in 1971, wanted to justify as many abortions as possible, but felt it necessary to disguise, somewhat, what actually happens in almost all abortions?

Lies, Damned Lies, and...

Statistics. here is a gander at the abortion numbers put out by the Guttmacher Institute:

Planned Barrenhood does violence to the unborn and to the truth...: "

...about the worldwide statistics regarding abortion. Marcel of 'Aggie Catholics' examines some of the numbers recently produced by the Guttmacher Institute, a research wing of Planned Parenthood, and finds that they don't add up.


(Via Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog.)

Monday, October 22, 2007


Just to be fair and balanced, here is an opposing opinion about the diversity of languages and the loss thereof:

War as We Babble On: "

In the 'The exodus from the Tower of Babel,' Marco Visscher writes in Ode magazine that it's probably a good thing for world peace that 50 percent of the world's 7,000 languages are threatened with distinction. Contrary to the alarm sounded by the National Geographic Society and the Living Tongues Institute, Visscher's brief commentary suggests that, 'just as extinction of several European currencies ultimately yielded economic and practical advantages, the same applies--to an extent--to the extinction of languages.'

Parents in Lausitz, on the border of Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic, would rather teach their kids German than traditional Sorbic simply because German will help them' get on in the world. A forgotten language should be seen as signalling rather than causing the loss of cultural identity.

Language was conceived so people could understand one another. In a world in which people are increasingly connected and work in close co-operation, it is only logical that the need for local languages would fade.

More to the point, less confusion in our Tower of Babel is conducive to world peace. How different might things be if Israelis and Palestinians could--literally--understand each other?

Well, just ask the Catholic and Protestants in Northern Ireland. What's the optimum number of languages we need to go extinct? 6,999?


(Via Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments.)

Jimmy Akin and Moral Philosophy

How appropriate that one of my favourite apologists is taking time to discuss the underlying principles of Moral Philosophy:

Materialism and the moral argument - Part 1: "

SDG here (not Jimmy — but you already knew that, didn't you?) with the first in a series of posts on materialism and the moral argument, adapted from a semi-restricted discussion in another forum.

This post, and those to follow, were originally occasioned by a discussion around what has been called the 'New Atheism,' i.e., the militantly anti-religious, naturalist‑materialist polemics of the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.

Discussion around this issue has focused on a number of interrelated subjects, including arguments regarding design, miracles, revelation, theodicy, and morality.

Here is how one Christian board member put the moral argument to a self-proclaimed 'bright' (a loopy self-designation intended, like the hijacking of 'gay' by homosexuals, to co-opt a positive term to replace negative terms like 'atheist'):

If the final answer is really 42 and survival is really of the fittest, then what does it matter if the strong take what they want from the weak? The feelings of the weak are irrelevant because the weak are irrelevant. If I am having a slow day and I fancy a spot of raping and pillaging before supper, where's the harm? After all, when I read the morning news or look back over human history, raping and pillaging would seem to be perfectly normal human pastimes. Everybody is at it. Sometimes even whole nations!

To this, our 'bright' (who calls himself Archie) responded:

I'm sorry, but I grow weary of this kind of argument. If your morality is based on your religion, what stops you from copulating with your daughters (like Lot)? What stops you from stoning people to death with stones, for gathering firewood on the Sabbath? Why don't you make a pact with your god that if you win your next war, you'll sacrifice the first living thing that comes out of your house, even your daughter (like Jephthah)? Why don't you gag your women before they go into church (following the apostle Paul)?

The real truth is that religion and morality are two totally different things, and there are a great many examples of people who adhered to one and not the other. If you like, I am strong, and the thing that stops me bullying weaker people is that I'd feel like a louse afterwards. I will not indulge in that kind of behaviour. Simple.

Now, deep breath, everyone.

Rather than get sidetracked by the transparently silly exegetical aburdities, I decided to take this post as a springboard for some prolonged discussion of the moral argument. What follows is the first post from this series; in the days to come I will follow up with subsequent posts.

First, let me point out that the burden of the moral argument for non-materialists is not that atheists must be bad or even amoral people, or that they have no basis of knowing right from wrong.

Theists generally and Christians particularly do not believe that morality is something that we come to know solely through divine revelation — though we do believe revelation may help clarify, supplement and correct what valid but imperfect moral insights we have.

(While I'm at it, I might also clarify that I don't believe that morality is essentially connected, even for theists, with belief in judgment, life after death, heaven or hell. What matters to me as a theist is above all that God is, and who he is — not how he may reward or punish me. In principle, I think I would still feel that way even if I believed that death were the end. More on this some other time, perhaps.)

At any rate, the point is not 'Unless you read it in the Bible (or unless you hear directly from God in some way, shape or form), how do you know right from wrong?' On the contrary, the Bible itself says that the moral law is written on the human heart (Rom 2), and no theory of biblical authority is required to hold a more or less converging opinion on this particular point.

Archie: You say, 'If you like, I am strong, and the thing that stops me bullying weaker people is that I'd feel like a louse afterwards.'

Fair enough. I can accept that, as far as it goes — at least, insofar as I prescind from whatever epistemic or ontological claims may or may not lie behind the phrase 'like a louse.'

To bracket a caveat or two, this is of course not literally what you mean; I doubt if any substantial connection could be maintained between whatever feelings you might have and any of the small, wingless insects of the order Anoplura.

In slang usage, according to the dictionary, 'louse' can mean something like 'contemptible person, esp. an unethical one' — an affective definition that doesn't help us out with clarifying the actual denotative value, if any, of the judgments underlying these classifications.

To some, in fact, it may seem as if what you are saying essentially boils down to 'I will not act in what I consider to be a contemptible fashion because that would make me feel like a contemptible person' — which would seem to be a rather circular and tautological way of putting things.

What does seem clear at any rate is that 'like a louse' feelings represent an undesirable state of affairs, an unpleasant experience contrary to a general sense of well-being. On its face, that is a perfectly respectable factor to take into consideration for deciding between or among possible courses of action. Unpleasant feelings are, well, unpleasant, and all things being equal, we would prefer to avoid them, thank you very much.

But of course all things are not always equal. A given level of unpleasantness by itself is not always enough to deter us from a particular course of action; and that too is entirely reasonable.

Potential causes of experiences of unpleasantness are many and greatly divergent. Some represent harmful behaviors, such as cutting oneself with razor blades. Others do not, such as eating some food that you personally find revolting.

Sometimes incentives to do a thing are substantial enough warrant facing up to even very formidable unpleasantness without compunction or misgiving, such as going to the dentist for necessary dental surgery. Other times, the unpleasantness even of contemplating a given course of action is so appalling that such action would be simply out of the question, such as being sexually intimate with a person whom one finds physically and personally repulsive.

When it comes to the unpleasantness of 'like a louse' feelings (or guilt, or other potentially morally charged affective responses), in many cases it's easy to see that such responses may be far from random or irrational, as far as they go. There is often a perfectly empirical dimension to old moralistic observations about virtue being its own reward and vice is its own punishment. Even on an entirely materialistic worldview, certain behaviors will tend to correlate with greater happiness, and others with greater unhappiness.

For example, heavy alcohol abuse might make you happy for a few hours at a stretch, but in the long run it is going to cause you more unhappiness than not — and not just because you may feel 'like a louse' afterward (although that may be one factor).

The virtue of moderation commends itself, at least to an extent, to the materialist and the supernaturalist alike, and for many of the same reasons. When Hitchens tries to explain morality by saying 'We evolved it,' it may reasonably be felt that there is at least partial justification for something like what he is saying.

Even when 'like a louse' feelings happen to be associated with an activity for which we can find no rational basis for such feelings, it may still be reasonable to choose to avoid irrational but unpleasant feelings in the absence of sufficient motivation in the opposite direction.

Suppose a boy is brought up in strict Fundamentalism and taught to believe that card-playing is evil. Later in life, throwing off this belief (whether by coming to a more balanced faith or by abandoning faith altogether), he finds that he quite enjoys cards while the game is in play — but afterwards, despite himself, he can't help feeling down. Intellectually he knows that cards aren't evil and there is no reason to feel that way, but he can't shake the irrational 'like a louse' feelings that his upbringing has instilled in him in connection with them.

All things being equal, he might reasonably decide that the fun of playing cards is not worth the irrational depression that follows (though he might also decide otherwise, given a sufficiently strong social motivation, or perhaps a determined intention to root out the emotional consequences of his upbringing).

All to say, the unpleasantness of 'like a louse' feelings can be a reasonable rationale for forgoing even a potentially appealing course of action. So far so good; but how far it goes is as yet an open question.

Archie, you say that bullying the weak correlates for you with 'like a louse' feelings, and thus you will not do it. Fine. I also gather that you find that following what has been called the Golden Rule makes you feel good about yourself, and on one level surely that is justification enough for doing as you would be done by.

And that's fine for you. Of course, what causes one person undesirable feelings may affect another person quite differently, just as a particular dish (haggis, say) may thoroughly nauseate one person while sending another into paroxysms of gastronomic delight. I might be grossed out to see you enjoying a meal that would turn my stomach, but my unquiet gorge has no particular relevance to you or your enjoyment.

Whatever else unpleasant feelings may be, or mean, or tell us, on one level they may surely be regarded as a sort of bio-electrical-chemical reaction in our brains triggering an aversive response. Indeed, on a materialist perspective I'm not sure how else they might be regarded.

Thus, while you might experience negative feelings of sorrow and disapproval to see me bullying a weaker party, what relevance, if any, your bio-electrical-chemical aversion-response has on me or the very different bio-electrical-chemical response in my brain remains to be seen.

To be continued...



Sunday, October 21, 2007


for those of you who need more love (and less science) on a Sunday morning. Here's something that speaks volumes about the state of romantic love in our culture.

With thanks to the wife's cousin who sent this on.

Sunday Morning Reading

for science geeks, that is:

13 things that do not make sense: "The placebo effect, dark energy, the Kuiper Cliff, and more.  Full article at New Scientist.

(Via New Advent World Watch.)

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Famous Violinist

is the subject of our second reading in Abortion. Originally written in 1971, before the infamous Roe v. Wade decision, it argues against the pro-life position where it is supposed to be strongest: that is, it grants, for the sake of argument, that the conceived being is fully human, a person, fully possessed of the human rights belonging to us all. Thomson then proceeds to show, by means of a now famous thought experiment, that abortion is still a morally right action in some circumstances.

My initial reaction to it, years ago, was that it's artificial. It has little or no relation to the actual circumstances of most abortion decisions.

First off, a mother is proposing to kill her offspring (the literal translation of the Latin fetus) before birth, not a complete stranger. Wikipedia calls this the "Stranger versus offspring objection".

Second, disconnecting the stranger is not a reasonable parallel for what happens in most abortions. (Wiki's "Killing versus letting die" objection.) To make the parallel more realistic (warning: don't click on this if you're at all squeamish), it would involve a third party using a chainsaw and systematically dismembering the offending virtuoso. Or killing the violinist by immersing him in some kind of acid, then removing his carcass. And we don't want to even try to draw a parallel with so-called partial birth abortion...

There are other interesting critiques of Thomson's argument. What interests me is the implication by one philosopher that she abandoned it around 1995 to use another, disputed, argument.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

What Do Linguists Do?

My youngest is slogging through a particularly difficult term as she nears her degree in Linguistics, so this post was of special interest to me:

Saving Lost Languages: "This is a story—a creation myth from the Tofa:
In the very beginning there were no people, there was nothing at all.
There was only the first duck, she was flying along.
Having settled down for the night, the duck laid an egg.
Then, her egg broke.
The liquid of her egg poured out and formed a lake.
And the egg [...]"

(Via FIRST THINGS: On the Square.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


is a mild change of pace. Chesterton was battling (intellectually) with eugenicists in the early Twentieth Century. The discoveries in Germany in the aftermath of the Second World War drove the movement into social disrepute. They're back and they're getting more and more plain about their ambitions for the "new and improved" human race.

WILL Darwinists get back into the eugenics business?: "So ... now, James Watson, who has declared that (Darwinian) evolution is both a law and a fact, has since proclaimed,

... black people were less intelligent than white people and the idea that 'equal powers of reason' were shared across racial groups was a delusion.

And this hard on the heels of Richard Dawkins* spilling on about the 'fantastic success' of the 'Jewish lobby.'

Some people wonder what is happening. Bill was wondering whether Darwinists would get back into the eugenics business big time. Having watched H.L. Mencken-style Social Darwinism morph into sociobiology and then get rebranded as evolutionary psychology, I have some idea what's driving the trend: power

Once people gain the right to simply ban opposing ideas, they can afford to be more up front about what they really think.

By the way, in case anyone wonders about whether evolutionary psychology is simply rebranded sociobiology, well, Dawkins apparently said that himself, as I noted in By Design or by Chance?.

What we sometimes miss is the underlying reason why Darwinists behave this way. If you believe that human beings have minds that are made in the image of - or are a local image of - a divine mind or cosmic law, then the reason why racism is wrong is obvious: Race relates to externals, not eternals. Yes, some people will believe that and still be racists. But here's the difference: to the extent that theists are racists, they are wrong. I don't mean politically incorrect or contrary to the pieties of liberalism. I mean wrong about the very nature of our universe.

They are wrong even though some qualities are distributed unevenly across ethnic groups. Body type, for example, plays a key role in determining the competitive sports in which one might excel professionally, and we get our body type mostly from our forebears. But none of that speaks to the value of a human being, only to how he might best use his time.

But what if you are, as most committed Darwinists are, a materialist? Then a human being is simply a meat puppet. At that point, distinctions that would be discounted in the light of eternity actually determine a person's value. Or else he has no value, in which case ...

Of course, decent people won't just accept that. No, instead, they pass dozens or thousands of political correctness rules against taking the inevitable consequences of Darwinism and materialism seriously. And they flirt with thwarting their self-imposed rules. Or else they concoct grand, improbable schemes like this one and this one, to dispense with nature altogether. But that is all they can do, and in the long run, it leads to absurdities.

Legitimized racism is an inevitable consequence of materialism, and I expect the Darwinists know that as well as anyone else. I suppose at this point their social policy arm (liberalism, in its current form) had better start drafting a whole bunch more daft political correctness rules. It's either that or eugenics.

*Note: I think what upset people about Dawkins's comments is the assumption that there is something unusual about a successful Jewish lobby in Washington. There had better be a successful Jewish lobby in Washington, let me tell you. Any interest group that doesn't have a successful lobby in Washington is a non-starter. Canadians have one of the best lobbies in Washington. Why not bash us then, and give the Jews a rest? Because, for whatever reason, many people don't hate us and they do hate Jews, whom they commonly do not even bother to distinguish from the Israelis."

(Via Post-Darwinist.)

Parsing Abortion Statistics and the Law

Pushing statistics about illegal activities already seems to breach common sense. Where does one register one's illegal activities? And grossly distorted statistics have been a weapon in the war between abortion and unborn life. When statistics about illegal activities are produced to prove that abortions should be legalized, my internal bull*** detector is going off full-tilt.

Parsing Abortion Statistics and the Law: "The report made headlines across the globe, but even those generally sympathetic to its conclusions acknowledged the difficulties in performing a study like this. And the conclusions, as a result, seem to rest on very shaky foundations.
The subject is the new global study on abortion just published by the World Health Organization (WHO) and [...]"

(Via FIRST THINGS: On the Square.)

St. Ignatius of Antioch

is the first to describe the Church as Catholic and his writings are some of the earliest we have, outside of the canon of Scripture itself.

St. Ignatius of Antioch and the Early Church: "

St. Ignatius of Antioch and the Early Church | Kenneth D. Whitehead | From
One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic:
The Early Church Was The Catholic Church

Sometime around the year 107 A.D., a short, sharp persecution of the
Church of Christ resulted in the
arrest of the bishop of Antioch in
Syria. His name was Ignatius. According to one of the harsh penal
practices of the Roman Empire of the day, the good bishop was condemned
to be delivered up to wild beasts in the arena in the capital city. The
insatiable public appetite for bloody spectacles meant a chronically
short supply of victims; prisoners were thus sent off to Rome to help
fill the need.

So the second bishop of Antioch was sent to Rome as a

condemned prisoner. According to Church historian Eusebius (ca. 260-ca. 340), Ignatius had been bishop in Antioch
for nearly forty years at the time of his arrest. This means
that he had been bishop there while some of the original
apostles were almost certainly still alive and preaching.

St. Ignatius of Antioch was conducted first by land from
Syria across Asia Minor (modern Turkey). He was escorted
by a detachment of Roman soldiers. In a letter he sent ahead
to the Church of Christ in Rome, this bishop described his
ardent wish to imitate the passion of Christ through his own
coming martyrdom in the Roman Colosseum.

Continue reading...


(Via Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog.)


is a topic I don't usually like to read or talk about much anymore. I have been active in the Pro-Life movement and retain my membership in the local chapter. Why I'm less than enthusiastic for the continuing controversy is a topic for another day. But my Philosophy course is now dealing with this from a number of philosophers' perspectives, so I'm once again wading into the arguments for and against.

So, contrary to my reading and writing habits, I'll be tapping into this debate for a little while, at least.

What greets the uninformed observer first, I think, is the bewildering range of reasons and rationalizations on both "sides" of the issue. Where these reasons intersect to make reasoned discussion possible is, or should be, the stuff of our studies. Jonah Goldberg provides an interesting, if philosophically unsatisfying, justification for being "pro-life".

Jonah Explains WHY He's Pro-Life: "It seems to me that more of this kind of article from Jonah Goldberg is what is needed from those of us who are pro-life. Jonah does not get on a high horse and give us a lecture. He explains his thinking on the matter, admits (and in the end, even embraces) his doubts, and--in general--gives us a very clear and very human accounting of his position. Without working at being persuasive, he persuades. What I like most about it is that his points are fresh and down-to-earth. It is time for a fresh and down-to-earth discussion about abortion. The reason so many people shut their ears when the subject of abortion comes up is because the rhetoric is so over-heated on both sides. There are so many who claim to know more than they know and they are so venomous about it. Regular folks rightly cringe (and if it's talk radio, they change the dial) when the subject comes up. But I suspect they might have a different reaction to Jonah's piece.

Another thing to keep in mind is that--with the exception of the partial birth debate--the leading arguments were formulated and crystallized in the 70s and 80s (and perhaps on into the early 90s). Of course, that doesn't make the salient points any less correct--but it does mean that they are unfamiliar to a large segment of the voting public. Now is a good time to re-cast them and Jonah sets what I think is exactly the right tone. (Link to this Entry. Comments. Add Your Comments.)"

(Via No Left Turns.)

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Philosopher and the Pro-Lifer

If Mark is right, this might not bode well for the next three weeks. We'll be spending five sessions considering different philosophers takes on abortion. It's almost a certitude that none of them will exhibit abhorrence. So, how do rational, self-interested people (the type of the modern philosopher) deal with primitive reactions like Mark's? Maybe I should forgo wearing a Choose Life t-shirt to class...

Cinema Relativiste It's not possible to be fair and balanced...: "Cinema Relativiste

It's not possible to be fair and balanced about abortion. That's because abortion is simply and solely evil. The attempt to be 'fair and balanced' will mean that, on the one hand, you will show what abortion actually is (and turn people's stomaches, filling even many pro-choice people with grave doubts about the hideous thing they are supporting). Then, on the other hand, to compensate for the horrors you have just shown the viewer, you will go off and find a few extremists and crazies and try to pretend that they stand for all prolifers.

If you are skilled at numbing your conscience, you will then feign agnosticism about the whole thing. If not, your screaming conscience will shout until it is heard and you will admit that the fringe 'prolife' crazies who shoot abortionists are a tiny minority representing only themselves, while every abortion supporter in the world is, in exact truth, fighting to make sure that the horrors you just witnessed in that operating room will be repeated millions upon millions of times.

There only two possible responses to abortion: abhorrence or deeper and more complex corruption of conscience. There is no 'fair and balanced' view of it. None."

(Via Catholic and Enjoying It!.)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Do selfish genes explain why you want to hear about your great grandfolks?

This post caught my eye, in part, because I was ruminating earlier today on how we identify family. For me my biological father is a matter of remote interest. When I talk about my father to people, it's my step-father I'm referring to. My brother and sisters are, technically, half-siblings. But, having been raised with them, and having thought of us all as family, the simpler titles are the more natural. So, I, too, agree with the anthropologists on this point: family is a social, more than a genetic, construct. Though, I hasten to add, it's still natural either way.

Do selfish genes explain why you want to hear about your great grandfolks?: "An anthropologist offers a critical look at the claims of evolutionary psychology that your selfish genes cause you to care more about your relatives than about other people (because your kin have more of the same genes). Evaluating Harvard cognitive scientist Steve Pinker’s attempt in 'Strangled by Roots' to account for the current American craze for genealogy by evolution, poster Rex notes that human groups do not even have fixed ideas of who their kin are:

The overall plot of 'Strangled By Roots' will be familiar to any one familiar with evolutionary psychology: a New Field Of Research has been opened up that sheds Scientific Light on a previously untheorized and salaciously quirky bit of human life. The Social Scientists, of course, with their Social Science Models, have got it wrong, but luckily New Experiments have revealed the hidden evolutionary basis of said quirky behavior.

Unfortunately—alas!—however adaptive this behavior once was, it no longer suits the rigors of modern life and is currently the source of many social woes.

This time around its kinship. In the article Pinker claims that 'for all its fascination, kinship is a surprisingly neglected topic in the behavioral sciences.' While 'many social scientists have gone so far as to claim that kinship is a social construction with no relation to biology' others disagree. 'Genetics and evolutionary theory,' Pinker says, 'predict that the biology of kinship should have biased our thoughts and emotions about relatives in several ways'—for instance, that we like to share resources with them (this helps perpetuate their genes, including the genes we share with them).

[ ... ]

Pinker’s argument sounds plausible at first—especially if you don't know anything about the centuries-old literature on kinship or lack in-depth knowledge of the cultural complexity of ours species. In Pinker's case the problem is mostly naivete. ... Pinker's failure to review the literature on the topic can be blamed on many things, but our failure to write it is not one of them.

[ ... ]

But let me get to the main point: there are two main problems with Pinker's argument. First, there is that we have no evidence of what social organization was like deep in our evolutionary past. Of course we can imagine what they might have been like, but speculation is not science—especially for someone sufficiently serious about intellectual rigor that they feel the need to conduct experiments to prove the obvious fact that people who are raised together feel related. So his claim that feelings of kinship were once nontrivially adaptive in the evolutionary past but no longer are is in fact based on speculation. There is nothing wrong with speculation—indeed, it is all we have to go on with in some cases—but this point needs to be flagged.

The second problem is with Pinker's claim that kinship is currently no longer adaptive. The problem here is that Pinker, as philosophers say, 'proves too much'. For, as he himself shows and anthropology has already demonstrated, folk theories of relatedness and accurate biogenetic reckoning are so loosely coupled as to be only tenuously connected. In fact they are so tenuously connected that one wonder why he thinks they are or should be connected at all, except for his assumption (based on speculation) that they must have been in the past. Let's take a closer look.

Well, I won’t spoil any more of it for you; it's a great and instructive read, showing that different groups of people have very different ideas about how you should know who your kin are. And the fact that so many of these ideas are not based on degree of biological relatedness at all should be enough to sink the selfish gene theory.

Incidentally, the current North American craze for genealogy most likely relates not to remote human evolution but to (1) the fact that much more information is available, plus (2) the fact that the population is aging. Older people tend to be more interested in that kind of thing, and (3) After four or five generations, non-aboriginal North Americans are becoming more comfortable with the past their ancestors escaped. They can afford psychologically to find out more about it. They may even feel flattered or morally justified to learn of circumstances that were once a source of shame. Such is the veil that time draws over suffering ....

Now let me make two things clear here: I am not claiming that our evolutionary heritage has nothing to do with the way we view things. Indeed, it is quite easy to show the opposite. Humans, (unlike chimpanzees), are predominately right-handed. The fact that so many languages use 'right' to mean good or clever (righteous, dexterous) and 'left' to mean bad or awkward (gauche, sinister) is surely related. Similarly, 'up' is generally a fortunate direction and 'down' an unfortunate one - surely that relates to the fact that an upright stance is normal for humans.

So far, so obvious. But what happens when we seek to go beyond that? The key problems I see with evolutionary psychology, as generally practiced by - for example - Steve Pinker, are,

1. Speculation. As Rex notes, evo psycho explanations for human behaviour are usually speculation based on what we suppose life was like hundreds of thousands of years ago. And the practices for which we DO have documentation vary so widely that it is hard to place much confidence in the speculation.

2. Cherrypicking. Can anyone explain to me why, if selfish genes govern our behavior, so many men have had children with slave women and then treated those children with indifference, while doting on their legitimate offspring - irrespective of fitness? Oh yes, I am sure one speculation or other can be pulled out of a hat to rescue the selfish gene. But it would be more economical to assume that fatherhood is, in large part, a social idea and is not necessarily driven by a genetic imperative governed by natural selection.

3. Suspicious last-minute rescues. One theory has it that men play the field because their selfish genes want them to have as many children as possible in order to get themselves spread around. When I point out the obvious - that men who play the field usually do NOT want a whole pack of kids following them around - the reply is, 'Well, that's modern. We’re in charge of evolution now. But back in the old days, ... ' In other words, the times for which we do have information don't count, only the times for which we don't.

Of course, I am out of sympathy with the whole evolutionary psychology project because the underlying message is that people are not motivated by their culture but by their genes. I am on the side of the anthropologists (culture) on that one because I think the latter have more and better evidence. In other words, being human does not give us a specific culture (selected by our genes in order to spread themselves, in the evolutionary psychologist's view). It gives us the capacity to form a culture. Cultures may or may not contribute to survival or spreading genes. If they don't, they won't be around long, but we need not suppose that therefore the successful cultures were selected by anyone or anything for that express purpose. That's an attribution error.

In a longish section of The Spiritual Brain, Mario Beauregard and I look at these questions in relation to religion, and argue that the same thing applies there."

(Via Mindful Hack.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mom’s House

The wife and I visited there this year (on the Grand Farewell Tour). It's history is actually fairly recent, in terms of years. It was discovered, based on a vision of Blessed Ann Catherine Emmerich, in the late Nineteenth Century. Who can say whether or not it's really Mary's House? But the pilgrims flow through it, day after day. Do they really care about the history? Or is it the idea of praying in Mary's House that's important to them?

Mom’s House: "

Turkish Daily News takes us to the ‘House of Mary’ in Ephesus.


(Via New Advent World Watch.)

Natural Law

There's an on-going discussion of Natural Law over at Mirror of Justice:

Natural Law: "

My friend Kenneth Slattery, C.M., a Vincentian at St. John's University in New York, offers these thoughts on the exchange between Robert Araujo and Rob Vischer (see here, here and here):

'God has a plan for all creation and, of course, the human person fits into that plan.' God's plan for us is natural law, which is imbedded in our nature and discoverable in our nature.' The intellect does the discovering: it discerns what we are and, therefore, how we ought to act.' Natural law governs all human conduct and that includes activity in the political arena.' Pope Benedict wisely reminds us that natural law must underlie life in a democracy; natural law must govern all political activity.' Indeed, it is also noted that not all natural law truths are equally knowable.' Murder is clearly a grave moral evil.' No one can miss that.' On the other hand, a person may be invincibly ignorant of the fact that contraceptive intercourse is immoral.' Certainly, it is the task of the Church and philosophy to elucidate remote conclusions of the natural law.'


(Via Mirror of Justice.)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Sexiest Women in the World

This post refers tangentially to Maureen O'Hara. Now there's a sexy woman. Can any of the current crop keep up with her and still keep their clothes on?

It's a Bad Bad Bad Bad World: "

' '' Mr. Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, believes that the world is a bad job.' So bad is it, that people who still believe in an objective and ultimate Goodness must be brought to heel by the power of the state and by something called 'education.'' So ugly is it, that people who still believe in an objective and ultimate Beauty must recant.' Then, when the whole 'unscientific' question of goodness or beauty is out of the way, all may indulge themselves in deeds that are neither good nor bad nor beautiful nor ugly.' And that would be a good and beautiful thing.

' '' Mr. Dawkins' principal reasons for believing that the world is a bad job can be expressed simply enough: animals eat other animals, and people die.' That these things are not news to peasant Christians seems not to occur to him.' If I live in Monday and have to die on Tuesday, that fact alone seems sufficient to pronounce the world bad.' One might as well ask whether, though I should have to die on Tuesday, my getting to live on Monday is not sufficient to pronounce the world good.' I rather like my Monday, and I suspect Mr. Dawkins likes his, too.' But people die: therefore it is absurd to hope in a God who promises a conquest of death.' He might as logically have argued, people live: therefore it is natural to hope in a God who promises life, and that in abundance.

' '' Such people as Mr. Dawkins pretend to be terribly sensitive to the bad -- but I wish they were more sensitive.' A man who gapes at pornography is not therefore sensitive to sex; he is probably well on his way to making himself insensible to it.' If Maureen O'Hara were to walk into his living room, in ordinary dress, such a man might hardly raise an eyebrow.' His pulse would keep on at its dead rate.' He would not notice her sex, speaking through the lilt in the voice, the slenderness of her arms, her teasing manners, her light step, her attention-commanding womanhood.' If Mr. Dawkins really believed that the world was a bad job, rather than just being angry with those who don't agree with him, he might eventually get around to wondering whether that badness included the part of the world known as Mr. Dawkins.' That is, he might conclude that he himself is a bad job.' Then he might do as Job did, and curse the world -- not God -- from his knees.' I'll take seriously someone who says the world is bad -- if he says it from that posture.

' '' The same kind of insensibility is to be found in Christopher Hitchens, who used to say that Mother Teresa was a selfish woman.' She only fed and cleaned and nursed the untouchables of Calcutta because it brought her pleasure to do so.' Now that it turns out that she suffered worse than her patients did, he says that she was brought to despair because she supposed that God might not exist.' Here Hitchens sets himself up as a skeptic, when really he is insensible to doubt.' It never occurs to him that Mother Teresa might have suffered, not because she feared that God might not exist, but because she was certain that Mr. Christopher Hitchens did.' I'm not being facetious here.' Hitchens is only playing at skepticism -- he draws a nice protective fence around himself.' If he were really a doubter, he might come round, as Chesterton says, to doubting himself.' He might have wondered whether his existence were the cause that someone else should doubt the existence of a benevolent God.' Had he done that, he might have understood a little bit about Mother Teresa.

' '' They remind me of my college days, when it was the fashion to hole up in a room with some buddies, listen to music to be miserable by, indulge in some depressive substance, and talk for hours on the rottenness of life.' For the refutation of which, the best remedy is not an argument but an open window, a kick, and a laugh.


(Via Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments.)

Even the Skeptics are Warming Up

Bjorn Lomborg is notorious in Environmentalist circles as a skeptic about Global Warming. But He seems to have warmed up to the Global Warming thesis, while insisting that economically sound solutions should be supported.

Thanks to Kevin Miller at Heart, Mind & Strength.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Natural Law and Biology

So here's another take on a modern attempt to defend Natural Law:

A Gnostic Heideggerian Existentialist Agrees (in a Limited Way) with Darwinian Larry: "Arnhart is certainly right that, for St. Thomas Aquinas, natural law has a biological foundation. He's also right that the Finnis attempt to defend Thomistic natural law without nature is implausible. I do think MacIntyre unrealistically narrows the gap between us and the dolphins as 'dependent rational animals.' There's a huge difference between our eros or love and dolphin and chimp eros (which is only loosely called eros). We're both much more independent and much more deeply dependent than our fellow creatures. Let me add that the distinctively Thomistic position is particularly difficult to defend these days. Here's one reason why: For both Locke and Darwin, reason or words are just tools. For Locke, they're for the preservation of the free individual, and for Darwin the preservation of the species. For St. Thomas, they're for a lot more than that. (Link to this Entry. Comments. Add Your Comments.)"

(Via No Left Turns.)

Speaking of Whole Persons

It occurs to me that the theology of Dominic Crossan may also suffer from a kind of dualism. The Resurrection of Jesus is understood in classical Christianity as the re-union of Body and Soul, and, therefore, the un-doing of death. Death's significance, unlike in platonic philosophy, where the body is the prison of the soul, is it's breaking of our natural unity; it's breaking of us.

All of this was inspired by this article.

Scientists Don't Need No Stinking Philosophy

It seems we're on a roll, and not a very good one, at that:

I’m Creating Artificial Life . . .: "

I read an article earlier today about a scientist, Craig Venter, who believes that the artificial chromosome he has created from lab chemicals will be able to take over a donor bacterium cell in order to replicate and metabolize. While the construction of an artificial 381 gene, 580K base pair chromosome has not been done before, I wonder why this announcement comes prior to verifying that this chromosome will in fact work as he plans.

While it appears to me that at this point the concerns here are more over safety than morality, what does cause me pause is the attitude he seems to display in the comments attributed to him. Venter told the reporter that this is:

‘a very important philosophical step in the history of our species. We are going from reading our genetic code to the ability to write it. That gives us the hypothetical ability to do things never contemplated before’.

The phrase ‘philosophical step in the history of our species’ seems quite misplaced for a scientist. What does he mean by this? At most here, as I understand it, is that if he is successful he may coax a cell of one bacterium species to replicate according to the genome of an artificially assembled chromosome that was based upon another bacterium’s genetic sequence which had been pared down to the minimum they think necessary to support life. I suppose that this could mean that he thinks that this project in some way brings man more to the level of creation ex nihilo? If this is what he is getting at, it seems that he ought to keep his day job or go back and take some classical philosophy.

The final quotation is just as vexing. He states:

‘We are not afraid to take on things that are important just because they stimulate thinking,’ he said. ‘We are dealing in big ideas. We are trying to create a new value system for life. When dealing at this scale, you can’t expect everybody to be happy.’

Well, again, it seems that his purpose is not so much for improving life and healing disease, but in dealing with’big issues’ and ‘trying to create new value systems for life.’ Perhaps this might be the reason for his early announcement. A failure might dampen or even put the breaks on his ability to deal with big issues and create new value systems. For that he needs media attention. If his primary interest for the sake of the science and medicine, the artificial chromosome construction would probably be sufficient even if he cannot get the last phase to work.

I dunno. This sounds to me more like the ‘science’ of Richard Dawkins than Louis Pasteur. That is, the abuse of science to promote an ideology. I don’t want to say megalomaniacal ideology but does this not smell like an attempt to wangle an apparently significant biotechnical achievement into a bully pulpit for promoting what seems to be a Nietzschean world view in which Venter is the ubermensch? I wouldn’t mind being wrong here.



Notre Dame 20, UCLA 6

Between this and the Canucks winning one, I have something to be grateful for.

Notre Dame 20, UCLA 6: "Goodbye, monkey (on back)! The offense isn't brilliant, but the defense has been and is good enough that if they're given any chance at all, the games can be a fight. Hopefully this will give 'us' the confidence we need to be competent the rest of the way. We'll need it, as next week the (hated, loathed, abhorrent) Boston College team comes to town."

(Via The Chess Mind.)

Speaking of Bioethics

Which is the main area we will explore in our Moral Philosophy course, here is an article by Professor May on Theology and Bioethics. So, does this mean that you need a theological perspective in order to fully understand Natural Law?

Well, it seems that philosophical anthropology precedes, in some sense, moral philosophy. We must first know who and what we are before we can determine what, if anything, is right and wrong for us. And a basic question must be answered. If you break my arm, are you hurting my body or are you hurting me?

Many modern philosophers apparently have, consciously or otherwise, a dualistic understanding of humanity. For them we are divided into two categories: human beings (all of us) and human persons (the conscious, possibly rational, component of the population). Only the latter have value of some sort. For them, before rational consciousness we are things. And our bodies, which pre-existed us, in effect, are our instruments, over which we have dominion: "It's my body and I'll do what I like with it".

The opposing view, reflected, perhaps first, in Jewish Scriptural anthropology, is that we are a unity. Our corporeal existence is us. We are our bodies. And when you write abstruse, verbose posts early on a Sunday morning, you're not just hurting my head; you're hurting me. So there.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Moral Controversies: Pure Philosophy?

Once we get past the Mid-Term next Wednesday, which will test our knowledge of four significant moral philosophies (sans Natural Law), we will then move on to specific controversies. Abortion and Euthanasia loom large on the horizon until December.

Since, in philosophy, religious reasons would be deemed irrelevant, secular reason will have to be the chosen ground. That makes sense when you look at the class, never mind the larger world of philosophy. A great variety of ethnic backgrounds are evident. The idea of a single religious tradition uniting this motley crew seems unlikely.

So a good start might be looking at the variety of secular viewpoints that support the pro-life position. First, an interview with an atheist; a link to the Atheist and Agnostic Pro-Life League website; then Feminists for Life; and, finally, Libertarians for Life.

Libertarians, Atheists, and Feminists, oh my!

Trial Marriage or Living in Sin?

Many years ago, in a previous millennium, I was making meaningless small-talk with a friend. She had lived with her boyfriend for several years before they married. So I said something conventional, like, "That way you two got to know each other even better before you got married and that's a good thing, right?"

She surprised me by a glum, yet angry, response, "I never knew him. When we got married he became a different person". They ultimately divorced and she took their child with her.

With that in mind, have a read of the review of some data from the scientific data about cohabitation, with and without marriage. With the easy divorce laws and social toleration of "living together" we have started a vast social experiment, the ghastly results of which are bearing down on us fast.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Natural (Moral) Law

Our textbook has a selection from Thomas Aquinas, which isn't part of our reading. And the manuscript, again unassigned, somewhat dismissively calls it Command Law theory. And that phrase is the only reference the professor has made to Natural Law theory at all. The manuscript seems to be arguing that Natural Law theory can be ignored because only Catholics believe it. Is that a philosophically rigourous argument?

Pope on Natural Moral Law (Vatican Info. Service): "POPE UNDERLINES IMPORTANCE OF NATURAL MORAL LAW

VATICAN CITY, OCT 5, 2007 (VIS) - This morning the Pope received members of the International Theological Commission, who have just completed their annual plenary meeting, held in the Vatican from October 1 to 5 under the presidency of Cardinal William Joseph Levada.

In his remarks to them, the Holy Father recalled the recent publication of a commission document on the subject of 'the hope of salvation for children who die without receiving Baptism,' and expressed the wish that it may 'continue to be a useful point of reference for pastors of the Church and for theologians,' as well as providing 'assistance and consolation for the faithful who have suffered the sudden death of a child before receiving' the Sacrament.

Turning to focus on 'natural moral law,' a question being examined by the commission, Benedict XVI indicated that the doctrine on natural law 'achieves two essential aims: on the one hand, it makes it clear that the ethical content of Christian faith is not an imposition dictated from outside man's conscience, but a norm that has its basis in human nature itself; and on the other hand, by starting from the basis of natural law - which of itself is accessible to all rational creatures - it lays the foundations for dialogue with all men and women of good will, and with civil society more generally.'

The Pope then highlighted the fact that nowadays 'the original evidence for the foundations of human beings and of their ethical behavior has been lost, and the doctrine of natural moral law clashes with other concepts which run directly contrary to it. All this has enormous consequences on civil and social order.'

What dominates today, he continued, 'is a positivist conception of law' according to which 'humanity, or society, or in effect the majority of citizens, become the ultimate source for civil legislation. The problem that arises is not, then, the search for good but the search for power, or rather the balance of power. At the root of this tendency is ethical relativism, in which some people even see one of the principal conditions for democracy because, they feel, relativism guarantees tolerance and mutual respect. ... But if this were true, the majority at any given moment would become the ultimate source for law, and history shows with great clarity that majorities can make mistakes.'

'When,' the Holy Father proceeded, 'the fundamental essentials are at stake: human dignity, human life, the institution of the family and the equity of the social order (in other words the fundamental rights of man), no law made by men and women can subvert the norm written by the Creator in man's heart without society itself being dramatically struck ... at its very core. Thus natural law is a true guarantee for everyone to live freely and with respect for their dignity, protected from all ideological manipulation and from all arbitrary abuses of the powerful. No one can disregard this appeal.

'If,' he added, 'by reason of a tragic clouding of the collective conscience, skepticism and ethical relativism managed to annul the fundamental principles of natural moral law, the very democratic order itself would be profoundly undermined at its foundations. Against such clouding - which is a crisis for human, even more than for Christian, civilization - the consciences of all men and women of good will must be mobilized, both lay people and followers of religions other than Christianity, so that together they may make an effective commitment to creating ... the conditions necessary for a full awareness of the inalienable value of natural moral law.'

Benedict XVI concluded by stressing that 'the advance of individuals and of society along the path of true progress' depends upon respect for natural moral law, 'in conformity with right reason, which is participation in the eternal Reason of God.'



(Via Catholic Analysis.)

Judge not, Lest Someone's Feeling Be Hurt

Our pastor invited me to join the Generations of Faith program he was starting up last year or the year before. I initially said yes, grateful to have a chance to contribute to parish life. Then I looked up their website. When I couldn't find any reference to the Catechism, I decided this was more of the feel-good, judge-not, know-nothing school of modern catechesis. (Can you tell I don't approve?) Is this the sort of thing that Rich is writing about below?

The parish is the content: "The catechetical establishment around these parts is a big fan of 'whole community catechesis.' You'll see it promoted in archdiocesan publications, advertised in bulletins, and practiced by DREs and RCIA directors. Whole community pioneer Bill Huebsch is a frequent leader of local workshops, and the October 'Clergy Communications' (scroll down to page 5) indicates he's back in town -- Dayton to be precise -- on October 25. In an essay that begins with a hilarious excerpt from Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, Ignatius Press author and critic Donna Steichen explains what whole community catechesis is and why you should avoid it:

Jul 2004 (CWR) - In Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh’s haunting novel about Catholic aristocrats in 1930s England, Rex Mottram, Julia Flyte’s crass, spiritually tone-deaf fiancĂ©, seeks to become a Catholic in order to gain acceptance in her world. Rex neither knows nor cares anything about eternal truth. He means to listen without judgment and agree to everything, just to win the approval he wants, swiftly.

After a few meetings with Rex, Father Mowbray, a priest famed ‘for his triumphs with obdurate catechumens,’ expresses concern to Lady Marchmain, Julia’s devout mother.

‘I shall be dead long before Rex is a Catholic,’ he said…. ‘The trouble with modern education is you never know how ignorant people are.…these young people have such an intelligent, knowledgeable surface, and then the crust suddenly breaks and you look down into depths of confusion you didn’t know existed. Take yesterday.

‘He’d learned large bits of the catechism by heart, and the Lord’s Prayer, and the Hail Mary. Then I asked him as usual if there was anything troubling him, and he looked at me in a crafty way and said, ‘Look, Father, I don’t think you’re being straight with me. I want to join your Church, but you’re holding too much back.’

‘I asked what he meant, and he said, ‘I’ve had a long talk with a Catholic—a very pious, well-educated one— and I’ve learned a thing or two. For instance, that you have to sleep with your feet pointing East because that’s the direction of heaven, and if you die in the night you can walk there. Now I’ll sleep with my feet pointing any way that suits Julia, but d’you expect a grown man to believe about walking to heaven? And what about the Pope who made one of his horses a cardinal? And what about the box you keep in the church porch, and if you put in a pound note with someone’s name on it, they get sent to hell? I don’t say there mayn’t be a good reason for all this,’ he said, ‘but you ought to tell me about it and not let me find out for myself.’’

‘What a chump! Oh, Mummy, what a glorious chump!’ shouts Cordelia, Julia’s impish little sister. ‘Oh, Mummy, who could have dreamed he’d swallow it? I told him such a lot besides. About the sacred monkeys in the Vatican—all kinds of things!’

The kind of religious education practiced by Cordelia Flyte is now called ‘faith-sharing,’ ‘faith formation,’ or ‘adult faith-formation.’ Its style, familiar to veterans of RCIA or Renew I and II programs, is also the heart of ‘whole community catechesis.’ It may well be the wave of the catechetical future.

‘Faith sharing’ means gathering the relevant community in jolly social groupings and encouraging them to tell each other what they believe. No one is permitted to object to another’s belief, or to tell anyone else what he ought to believe; that would be 'proselytizing,' which is oppressive. By contrast, simply talking of one’s ‘faith journey’ is liberating. However uninformed one’s opinion might be, participants are assured that it serves ‘to further the reign of God.’

(Via Ten Reasons.)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Christopher Derrick (1921-2007) Requiescat in pace

I have a couple of his books; sorry to hear of his passing...

Christopher Derrick (1921-2007) Requiescat in pace: "

I just received news that Christopher Derrick died yesterday. Derrick was an exceptional writer and thinker who wrote a number of books, several of them published by Ignatius Press, including Church Authority and Intellectual Freedom (1981), C.S. Lewis and the Church of Rome: A study in proto-ecumenism (1981), Sex and Sacredness: A Catholic Homage to Venus (1982), That Strange Divine Sea: Reflections on Being a Catholic (1983), Too Many People: A Problem in Values (1985), Words and the Word: Notes on Our Catholic Vocabulary (1987), and
Escape from Scepticism: Liberal Education As If Truth Mattered
(2001).' The short bio on the jacket of the latter work states:

Christopher Derrick was born in England in 1921 and educated by the Benedictine monks of Douai Abbey in Berkshire, then at Magdalen College, Oxford, under the tutorship of C.S. Lewis. Mr. Derrick served as an' R.A.F. pilot during World War II. He was on the administrative staff of the University of London from 1953 to 1965 and has served as literary advisor to major British publishing houses. His is the author of countless articles and books.

Here is a bibliography of Derrick's books. I'm not sure how complete it is.
'The Desacralization of Venus,' an essay by Derrick that appeared in the September 12, 1981 issue of America.
• A brief 1965 piece by Derrick on C.S. Lewis.
• A lengthy quote from Derrick's Escape from Scepticism.
• A recent article from the Thomas Aquinas College site that quotes Derrick, whose book Escape from Scepticism was inspired by his visits to TAC.
• A review in This Rock (Dec. 1990) of Derrick's That Strange Divine Sea.


(Via Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog.)

The robe

The wife and I saw this when we visited Assisi two years ago.

The robe: "To appreciate one of the most beloved of Catholic saints, it helps to look at his robe.

In the basement of a basilica in the Italian village of Assisi, you will find it: a patchwork of brown cloth and thread, stretched on a board, preserved under glass. It is startling to see. This is the original Franciscan habit: the brown tunic that Francis of Assisi wore—and wore and wore and wore. In the age of disposable juice boxes, fast food and seasonal shifts in fashion and taste, it’s sobering to realize what one simple man had in his wardrobe.

Francis’s tunic was clearly ripped and repaired, many times over, its stitches and seams repeatedly re-sewn. It’s a rough, inelegant, hodgepodge of dark fabrics— an ironic and defiant testament from a man whose father was a wealthy fabric trader.

‘Preach the Gospel,’ Francis famously said. ‘Use words if necessary.’ The words of his particular gospel can be seen, and heard, in that simple robe. They speak volumes. They speak of sacrifice, poverty and thrift. They speak of a man who followed the advice of Christ, taking nothing for the journey but only what he needed. (It’s not unrealistic to think that Jesus Himself may have lived His days with just one piece of clothing to His name.) The words of this gospel, woven in thread, speak of a different time and place. How often did he spend his nights, wrapped in that robe, shivering against the cold? How many days did he walk the Umbrian hills in the hot sun, in that brown tunic? How many mornings did he awaken in that scrap of clothing, and re-bandage the wounds from his bleeding hands? Was he wearing this robe when he received the stigmata? Is this the clothing he removed in the last hours of his life, so he could leave the world the way he entered it, naked?

Today, October 4th, we celebrate the memorial of St. Francis of Assisi. We remember a simple man who preached to birds, praised the sun as his ‘brother,’ and lived a life of joyous poverty. He lived just 44 years, yet managed to leave an indelible mark on our faith and on our planet with, almost literally, nothing. If any life proves that ‘less is more,’ it is the life of this holy man from Assisi. And if any thing proves that adage, it is the simple habit that Francis wore, a plain tunic that continues to remind us how much we have, and how much we can surrender—for God, and for others.

That robe of St. Francis may not be the most fashionable garment. But as Francis reminded us, some things—charity, love, compassion, joy—never go out of fashion."

(Via New Advent World Watch.)