Category Archives: Philosophy

A Tale Of Two Cities

Considering it’s a “shall-issue” state, I’m thinking there’s going to be a lot less looting in Texas than there was in New Orleans. Assuming that both hurricanes are equally destructive, this provides an opportunity for a controlled social experiment.

A Head Scratcher

Mark Daniels has some good marriage advice, even for non-Christians (or even non-theists) like me. But I don’t get this:

Sex is great. God invented it, so that shouldn’t be a surprise. He only makes good things.

Really? So are (for instance) smallpox, sleeping sickness, mosquitos and tsetse flies, anthrax, Osama and Adolf Hitler good things? Or did someone else make them?

I mean, it’s a nice sentiment, but is it really a theologically (or logically at all) sound statement?

[Update at 11:30 AM EDT]

Some in comments are defining the problem away, by saying that we don’t really know what “good” is.

Sorry, but that doesn’t wash for someone who doesn’t necessarily believe in God, and particularly doesn’t believe in a God whose every action is good, by definition, which is what seems to be the point here. Once you define “good” in that way, the word really has no useful meaning at all for normal conversation (again, from the standpoint of someone who thinks logically, and likes words to have some kind of commonly-understood meaning, without which it’s impossible to communicate effectively).

Torture = good
Suffering = good
Death = good
Bad = good

Either these statements are all true, which renders the word “good” meaningless, or God isn’t the author of any of them, in which case, who is?

Can’t have it both ways.

[One more update]

I think that some people are missing my point here. I’ve often heard that we can’t know God’s purposes, but that all things have a purpose. Not believing that there is a God, or that everything has a purpose, I obviously don’t agree with that, but it’s a philosophically defensible and at least logically consistent position (though, I think, a trivial one, and one that does indeed rely on faith).

But that’s a different thing than saying that everything that God does is good by most peoples’ understanding of the meaning of that word. That just seems like junior Sunday-school stuff to me, for people unable to grasp deeper concepts, and to defend it by redefining “good” is to engage in sophistry, rather than theology.

Can You Rape A Dog?

Well, not you. Hopefully, few of my readers would be capable of doing that.

I mean, can a person, any person, rape a dog?

What I really mean is, is the word “rape” really applicable here? It just looks strange to me. Obviously, of course, it’s possible to forcibly penetrate a dog (well, not for me–I wouldn’t be able to get, or keep it up for such an act), but the word “rape” has connotations that don’t, or at least shouldn’t, apply. To me, the word rape means non-consensual penetration (of either gender), but can there be any other kind of penetration of an (non-human) animal? It seems like a category error to me.

How does a dog issue consent? I don’t have any personal experience, but I’m given to understand that this is not an uncommon activity on farms, and that the animals don’t always necessarily fight back or complain (and generally aren’t even injured), but that’s not the same thing as granting permission.

Now clearly, this was a brutal crime, but it seems to me that the crime is animal cruelty, not rape. The fact that the instrument of torture and injury was the young man’s male member doesn’t change that.

The Sin of Inaction

There is an interesting argument going on here about my article on Orion. I am cc’ing you the following:

I always thought the active-passive distinction in philosphy and law was a cop out. We are just as responsible for the millions who die from our inaction as we are for murder. If you are consciously not donating to a hunger fund with the understanding that the inevitable consequence is that an additional person will die of hunger, it is tantamount to first degree murder.

There is an active choice to be part of coal deaths. Every time we turn on a light switch, we actively increase the coal output that kills tens of thousands per year or more. So each flick is increasing the likelihood of death. It is therefore self-deception to suggest that moving in the direction of safety is a sinless course. It is just murder too common to prosecute.

So if we can all agree that we are a civilization of murderers, then we can get on to real questions like is it better to kill people with atmospheric nuclear explosions to colonize the solar system or kill each other through inaction.

Sticking with spending $15 billion/year on chemical rockets instead of half on nuclear rockets and half on defibrillators is killing hundreds of thousands.

I would give my life to colonize the planets. Our focus on saving every life is penny wise and pound foolish.

Do people avoid having children so that all their cells can die a natural death? Envision all humanity as cells of a greater organism, the global species. Envision that it is time to have a child species on another planet. Isn’t that worth the death of millions or hundreds of millions if new billions will spring into existence? I am asking for dozens possibly killed offset by savings thousands of others that would otherwise be killed.

I don’t expect to fundamentally change dinosaur thinking. “I will not kill anyone to save the species from the asteroid that has our species’ name on it.” But be aware of the systematic cost of the capricous risk aversion we impose in the name of morality.

The Abolition Of Nature?

Some of my recent reading material has caused me to return to the question (upon which I’ve pondered off and on for decades) of what it means to be human. Along those lines, I have to confess to being a little perplexed by a post at Powerline today, in which Scott Johnson writes:

One of the great projects of the Progressive movement is the abolition of nature as supplying the standard of human conduct — the kind of standard to which the Founders appealed in adverting to “the Laws of Nature” in the Declaration of Independence.

Now, certainly progressives are opposed to the very notion of human nature–no dispute about that–but whence comes the notion that nature per se should “supply the standard of human conduct”? I assume that Mr. Johnson considers himself a conservative, and so I wonder if he’s actually thought through the import of this statement.

If he really believes this, he’s indulging in the naturalistic fallacy. I’m not sure what he has in mind here, but if we were to use nature, even human nature, as a guide to conduct, then rape would be perfectly acceptable, since this is a natural human behavior. As would homosexuality, since there’s nothing particularly unnatural about that, either. It may not be useful in reproduction, but there’s little doubt that there are people born to be attracted exclusively to members of the same sex, and like it or not, such behavior has been observed in other species as well (some very closely related to us).

I wouldn’t claim to be a conservative, but I had thought that conservativism was about operating from higher principles (e.g., divine, or otherwise), and rising above our animal tendencies. I’d like to see a little expansion on this topic from him, because as barely stated, it doesn’t make much sense to me.

Extending Dictators’ Lives

Ed Morrissey says that the Iraqi government may be working out a deal to spare Saddam’s life in exchange for an end to the “insurgency.”

That’s fine by me. I think that it’s a much worse punishment for Saddam to live for many years and watch the nation that he thought of as his personal fiefdom go on (much more) happily without him and his sadism. Well, actually, like Eugene Volokh, I’d like to see him go through all of the torture and death that he dealt to so many, but one can only do that once, and he wouldn’t be able to sample all the variety that he was so eager to dispense. Which raises two questions.

First, as Ed points out:

As long as Saddam never sees the light of day again, he can die like Rudolf Hess — crazy, broken, and of old age.

Just so. But what does Saddam’s future hold, assuming that he survives his current medical woes? One of the most powerful objections to effective immortality that may result from advanced medical technology is that, as long as men (and women) are mortal, then so are tyrannies. Even if it’s impossible to overthrow a dictator, there is always the knowledge that he won’t live forever. Once life-extension treatments become available, it’s a given that the first to have them will be dictators, thus cutting off hope of ending their reigns of terror via natural causes.

In this case, now that the dictator is in prison, what are the ethics of medical care for him? He is receiving treatment for his chronic prostate infection. But suppose that our medical capabilities were more advanced, and affordable to all? Suppose that in fact we could restore him to full health, and indefinite youth, and that contra Ed’s desires, he didn’t die broken, of old age?

Should we? And if not, in a world in which no one else any longer had to suffer such infirmities, and the eventual death from them, how would withholding such treatment differ, ethically speaking, from a prolonged and painful (in the context of a new era of eternal youth) execution?

Moreover, suppose that we were in fact able to restore a human body to full health from the most major physical trauma? For instance, we could feed him into a shredder feet first, perhaps up to his very viscera, and then pull him out still alive and regrow the body. Or electrocute him with electrodes attached to various parts of his body (use your imagination here), and then resuscitate him to do it again. Or lop off ears, gouge out eyes, cut off tongue, gas him, rape him with various interesting objects–all the things that he cheerfully, joyfully did or had done to others, and then fix him up for indefinite repeat performances?

At some point, it takes on the flavor of the revenge of Greek mythology, like the fate of Prometheus, doomed to have his liver eaten every day to be regrown by night, or Sisyphus, condemned to forever roll the stone almost to the top of the hill only to have it fall down again.

In a world of potentially infinite good health, the problems of dictators, and of crime and punishment, will surely take on a whole new cast. It may be, in fact, that the future holds means of punishment and agony that the Spanish Inquisition couldn’t dream of.

Extending Dictators’ Lives

Ed Morrissey says that the Iraqi government may be working out a deal to spare Saddam’s life in exchange for an end to the “insurgency.”

That’s fine by me. I think that it’s a much worse punishment for Saddam to live for many years and watch the nation that he thought of as his personal fiefdom go on (much more) happily without him and his sadism. Well, actually, like Eugene Volokh, I’d like to see him go through all of the torture and death that he dealt to so many, but one can only do that once, and he wouldn’t be able to sample all the variety that he was so eager to dispense. Which raises two questions.

First, as Ed points out:

As long as Saddam never sees the light of day again, he can die like Rudolf Hess — crazy, broken, and of old age.

Just so. But what does Saddam’s future hold, assuming that he survives his current medical woes? One of the most powerful objections to effective immortality that may result from advanced medical technology is that, as long as men (and women) are mortal, then so are tyrannies. Even if it’s impossible to overthrow a dictator, there is always the knowledge that he won’t live forever. Once life-extension treatments become available, it’s a given that the first to have them will be dictators, thus cutting off hope of ending their reigns of terror via natural causes.

In this case, now that the dictator is in prison, what are the ethics of medical care for him? He is receiving treatment for his chronic prostate infection. But suppose that our medical capabilities were more advanced, and affordable to all? Suppose that in fact we could restore him to full health, and indefinite youth, and that contra Ed’s desires, he didn’t die broken, of old age?

Should we? And if not, in a world in which no one else any longer had to suffer such infirmities, and the eventual death from them, how would withholding such treatment differ, ethically speaking, from a prolonged and painful (in the context of a new era of eternal youth) execution?

Moreover, suppose that we were in fact able to restore a human body to full health from the most major physical trauma? For instance, we could feed him into a shredder feet first, perhaps up to his very viscera, and then pull him out still alive and regrow the body. Or electrocute him with electrodes attached to various parts of his body (use your imagination here), and then resuscitate him to do it again. Or lop off ears, gouge out eyes, cut off tongue, gas him, rape him with various interesting objects–all the things that he cheerfully, joyfully did or had done to others, and then fix him up for indefinite repeat performances?

At some point, it takes on the flavor of the revenge of Greek mythology, like the fate of Prometheus, doomed to have his liver eaten every day to be regrown by night, or Sisyphus, condemned to forever roll the stone almost to the top of the hill only to have it fall down again.

In a world of potentially infinite good health, the problems of dictators, and of crime and punishment, will surely take on a whole new cast. It may be, in fact, that the future holds means of punishment and agony that the Spanish Inquisition couldn’t dream of.

Extending Dictators’ Lives

Ed Morrissey says that the Iraqi government may be working out a deal to spare Saddam’s life in exchange for an end to the “insurgency.”

That’s fine by me. I think that it’s a much worse punishment for Saddam to live for many years and watch the nation that he thought of as his personal fiefdom go on (much more) happily without him and his sadism. Well, actually, like Eugene Volokh, I’d like to see him go through all of the torture and death that he dealt to so many, but one can only do that once, and he wouldn’t be able to sample all the variety that he was so eager to dispense. Which raises two questions.

First, as Ed points out:

As long as Saddam never sees the light of day again, he can die like Rudolf Hess — crazy, broken, and of old age.

Just so. But what does Saddam’s future hold, assuming that he survives his current medical woes? One of the most powerful objections to effective immortality that may result from advanced medical technology is that, as long as men (and women) are mortal, then so are tyrannies. Even if it’s impossible to overthrow a dictator, there is always the knowledge that he won’t live forever. Once life-extension treatments become available, it’s a given that the first to have them will be dictators, thus cutting off hope of ending their reigns of terror via natural causes.

In this case, now that the dictator is in prison, what are the ethics of medical care for him? He is receiving treatment for his chronic prostate infection. But suppose that our medical capabilities were more advanced, and affordable to all? Suppose that in fact we could restore him to full health, and indefinite youth, and that contra Ed’s desires, he didn’t die broken, of old age?

Should we? And if not, in a world in which no one else any longer had to suffer such infirmities, and the eventual death from them, how would withholding such treatment differ, ethically speaking, from a prolonged and painful (in the context of a new era of eternal youth) execution?

Moreover, suppose that we were in fact able to restore a human body to full health from the most major physical trauma? For instance, we could feed him into a shredder feet first, perhaps up to his very viscera, and then pull him out still alive and regrow the body. Or electrocute him with electrodes attached to various parts of his body (use your imagination here), and then resuscitate him to do it again. Or lop off ears, gouge out eyes, cut off tongue, gas him, rape him with various interesting objects–all the things that he cheerfully, joyfully did or had done to others, and then fix him up for indefinite repeat performances?

At some point, it takes on the flavor of the revenge of Greek mythology, like the fate of Prometheus, doomed to have his liver eaten every day to be regrown by night, or Sisyphus, condemned to forever roll the stone almost to the top of the hill only to have it fall down again.

In a world of potentially infinite good health, the problems of dictators, and of crime and punishment, will surely take on a whole new cast. It may be, in fact, that the future holds means of punishment and agony that the Spanish Inquisition couldn’t dream of.