Thursday, October 21, 2010

And To Continue

...on the theme in my previous post.

This is precisely why FLG doesn't believe those concerned about global warming are actually focused on the long-term. They value things that exist today in nature greater than future human beings. In the same way liberals value the freedom of the mother over the rights of the fetus. The present human being is more valuable than the future human being. So, if you mesh this altogether, and take it to the extreme, then it is worse to cut down a tree than to have an abortion. The tree exists; the fetus is only a potential human being. And if you are talking about preventing the existence of human beings far off in the future via less drastic means, .i.e. prior to conception, then it's a no-brainer. Cutting down the tree is way worse.


By the by, FLG is pro-choice and he doesn't fully believe the argument presented above, but there is some real truth to it.


The Ancient said...

I think I'll have another ten thousand trees cleared out in the country. There's a mountain vista this current human being would like to enjoy, from time to time.

Particularly in the evening, when the Quack of Minerva takes flight.

Andrew Stevens said...

FLG - I mention this only because we appear to have similar meta-ethics. (I.e. you appear to be one of the only other people I have met who is both a moral realist and, in your case probably, an atheist.) The pro-life argument that convinced me is Don Marquis's "futures like ours." I believe all its premises are sound moral intuitions and it explains what we value about human beings. (I.e. why we believe that euthanizing a person in a coma who will never wake up is probably a mercy while killing a person who is asleep is an injustice, why we are more aggrieved over the death of a child than over the death of an old man, etc.)

The most serious problem with the argument is that it doesn't accord with our emotions (e.g. my wife had a miscarriage before my daughter was born, but I do not in any way behave as if this were a great tragedy whereas the "futures like ours" thesis indicates that it is). I am generally inclined to dismiss emotions as being a fairly inaccurate guide to morality (as distinct from strong intellectual moral intuitions), but I do regard it as something of a problem for the argument.

I'm not sold on your environmentalist argument, though. Many of the global warming folks are much more concerned about how it will affect future human beings, not polar bears right now.

FLG said...


I'll definitely find Don Marquis's "futures like ours."

"I'm not sold on your environmentalist argument, though. Many of the global warming folks are much more concerned about how it will affect future human beings, not polar bears right now "

If so, then the foregoing of future economic growth be more of an issue, no? Jim Manzi makes a good case that future human beings will be worse off under the proposed policies of those most concerned about global warming.

Andrew Stevens said...

I think the people who are serious about global warming are a pretty diverse bunch. Some of them clearly fit your analysis, some of them are simply using the issue to get the things they already wanted (more government control of the economy), and some of them are genuinely concerned about how the future environment will affect future humanity. These latter probably aren't familiar with Manzi's argument or don't believe it's accurate. (I.e. if you believe that global warming will cause human extinction, then any amount of economic dislocation is worth avoiding it.)

For Marquis, see this link if you have access.

The Ancient said...

Andrew --

1) my wife had a miscarriage before my daughter was born, but I do not in any way behave as if this were a great tragedy. The same sequence occurred in my own marriage, and I still think of it every day, after many, many years, and I still grieve. I don't think my Catholicism has anything at all to do with it.

2) I agree that emotions aren't a guide to morality. But that doesn't mean they're not in play. Perhaps they're signage, or even Jersey walls, at least for most people. Whatever they are, it's hard to believe that emotions are irrelevant to morality as it is lived.

FLF & AS --

How does Marquis's FLO argument cope with economic and social disparity? Or does it not matter?

Andrew Stevens said...

The Ancient--

1) Obviously, you're probably more emotional than I am. (Almost everybody is.) But I'd bet your Catholicism has a lot to do with it. You'd been conditioned from a young age to accept a fetus as a human being whereas most people aren't. If I'm right, that would tend to refute the emotional argument against Marquis though. If our emotions are predicated only on what our society deems as moral, then they are even less reliable a guide.

2) Personally, I believe emotions and empathy are probably an evolutionary vestige - holdovers from before humans evolved a moral sense. Some of them were meant to get humans to act in ways that we now think of as moral and others weren't. I think emotions generally make people act immorally more often than they help people act morally, but that's just my sense and I have no data to lean on there.

How does it cope with economic and social disparity? I'm afraid I don't understand the question. I suspect the answer is that it doesn't deal with that, but I can't know for sure unless I understand what you're asking.

The Ancient said...

Andrew --

1) I became a Catholic in my mid-thirties, many decades ago. Before that, I was "a pacifist atheist" (or whatever passes for the opposite of "a militant atheist.") It took me a long, long time -- even after my conversion -- to come around to nearly all of the Church's teachings. (Catholics are allowed to privately dissent from any number of non-essential teachings if they keep their mouths shut. I myself am particularly ill-disposed to teachings manufactured in the 19th century by elderly Italians with mother issues.) In any event, I do not have a particularly emotional approach to my faith. (I think I mentioned once before that I don't have a "mystical" turn of mind.)

2) What I was trying to say was that emotions, for most people, function as reminders of who they really are. (Which is why a little Bavarian bossy boots could react to bad news by stomping his foot and shouting "Paris Must Be Burned!") Who they really are isn't their emotions (hopefully). But their emotions do seem to serve as reminders of what they actually believe.

3) On the question of social/economic disparity, I was simply wondering whether a family in Uganda considering the abortion of a child would be comparing its possible future with its siblings, with other Ugandans, or -- say -- with rich French children growing up on the south of France. How does the "future like ours" argument against abortion deal with the profound disparity in possible futures?

Andrew Stevens said...

The Ancient--

1) Teach me to assume. I must confess then that I find your reaction to the miscarriage a bit odd. I'm not judging your reaction at all (as I said in my previous comment, I think it should be viewed as a great tragedy), but I do think it's unusual. I can go months without ever thinking of the miscarriage and I think my reaction is much more typical.

I am familiar with the distinction between dogmas, canon law, and theolegoumena, though I'm sure you're more knowledgeable on the subject. Aren't all moral issues canon law and not dogma? E.g. a Catholic doesn't even have to agree with the Church's teaching on murder; he just has to obey it. (Whereas he does have to believe in the miracle of transubstantiation or he's not a Catholic.)

I easily believe that your faith is primarily intellectual and not mystical. Scholastic Catholicism is one of the few religious faiths which has ever tempted me since it's one of the few which appeals to my desire for intellectual rigor. Those medieval theologians were absolutely brilliant. It's a great pity for philosophy that they were so hung up on theology (as it's a great pity that 19th century philosophy was so hung up on idealism and 20th century philosophy so hung up on the analysis of language)

2) I likely agree, but I'm now in a realm where my introspections are likely not at all typical so I'm not sure I have anything worthwhile to contribute.

3) To the best of my knowledge and recollection, Marquis himself doesn't attempt to address all the lines between a future of value and a future not of value, leaving that as an exercise to others. My own take is if the child's entire life would be so bad that we would consider killing the child a mercy, then it would be appropriate to abort. I think there are very, very few cases and certainly not whole countries where I would judge this to be true. "Futures like ours" simply talks about the ability to experience valuable human activities - love, parenthood, etc., the sorts of things which humans have been experiencing for thousands of years, even in abject poverty. I would say that one could in good conscience abort a fetus which would, for example, be born without a brain, since such a child could not possibly have any valuable experiences, but I would not consider aborting a fetus simply because it had Down's Syndrome or some other disability. People with Down's Syndrome are quite capable of having futures like ours and I would definitely say the same about a child in Uganda. Perhaps that child will grow up to transform Uganda and make it as rich as France.

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