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June 09, 2010

Comments


I'm not sure if Singer's form of utilitarianism can be fixed by making it 'total' but it doesn't seem like he's even managed to do that. Does it really take everything into account? Amy expects Singer's reasoning to horrify some. She's probably right and why wouldn't such horror count toward (against) the greater good? I would think total utilitarianism would counsel that I take into account not only my own horror but the horror of others.

On the other hand, we have a huge agricultural surplus. We need not all spend all our time getting food - to say nothing of shelter and other survival concerns. If we didn't have any surplus we'd be far less likely to feel this horror.

Another form of utilitarianism - one I find more interesting and promising - is desire utilitarianism. You can read/hear about it elsewhere, but I really like the linked podcast. Recent guest: Sean McDowell.

BTW, Singer also advocates that people donate large portions of their income to real charity. I don't have his tax returns but he claims that he practices what he preaches(or his website does).

RonH

Thanks for posting this. I am a haemophiliac whose parents were given the option to abort me due to the likelihood that I would have a severe case of the condition. As it turns out, on paper I have a very severe case of it (Less than 1% of Factor 9). My mother gave birth to me and I have since been showered in prayers of protection and I as a result, I am now 28 years old and have no disabilities as a result of the 'blood disease' which is quite often the situation with someone with the same test results. While I don't have the time to write my full testimony regarding this, just know that I am very thankful my parents didn't decide to make a ridiculous decision by aborting me.

From the cited post, Singer's paragraph on animal rights:

"The Goal of the Animal Liberation Movement

The aims of the movement can be summed up in one sentence: to end the present speciesist bias against taking seriously the interests of nonhuman animals. (4)"

Two problems with this particular argument: 1) Why should not anyone have a bias in favor of someone else who is genetically more similar to oneself? Even animals show this. We have rights at least as equal as those of animals and if they show bias, why shouldn't we? 2) We take seriously the interests of nonhuman animals already, to the extend that the interests of nonhuman animals are of importance to us, being part of the ecosystem. We also, to the extent of the payoff to us, cause nonhuman animals to take our interests seriously; that is, we teach animals to fear man.

I think this is one of the most important issues in need of addressing. Adequately addressing this, however, requires getting into the messy business of human dignity.

The traditional view (versions of which I am sympathetic with) maintains that, as a matter of fact, human animals have a significant kind of dignity that non-human animals (at least on earth) lack. Moreover, the moral difference between human and non-human animals is both morally significant and non-arbitrary (i.e., not vague). The following question inevitably arises:

What is it about humans that both explains their great moral dignity and distinguishes creatures with such moral dignity from creatures without such dignity in a non-arbitrary way?

Call this the Identification Problem, since we are trying to identify some feature of humans that both explains their moral dignity and provides a non-vague way of distinguishing creatures with moral dignity from those without moral dignity.

In order to appreciate the difficulty, imagine that God now miraculously created an individual differing slightly from humans, as well as an individual differing slightly from the first individual, etc. etc., until we actually had on our hands gradual continuity between human and ape-like creatures. God now gives you the task of discerning where in this continuous succession of creatures moral dignity arises and requires you to defend your answer.

Suppose someone chose walking on two legs to solve the Identification Problem. That clearly won’t due, since it fails to answer both parts of the Identification Problem. First, walking on two legs does not explain why humans have dignity, since walking on two legs is morally irrelevant. Second, walking on two legs is vague, since as we survey the gradual continuity of creatures from human to ape, we will find creatures that can walk on two legs, but only do so half of the time, creatures that to a limited extent can walk on two legs, and hardly ever do so, etc. In other words, walking on two legs does not permit us to make a rigid distinction between those with dignity and those without, since it is a somewhat vague feature.

What about rationality? I think that depends. If what you mean is practical rationality, the ability to engage in means-end reasoning, then I don’t know that this will due either. Monkeys, after all, seem to be capable of this to some degree, and so this feature doesn’t provide us with a rigid non-vague difference between humans and non-human animals. It also isn’t clear what is so morally significant about being able to engage in means-end practical reasoning.

Some might think I’ve made this all a bit too difficult, and that the answer is as clear as day: “The imago dei!” I don’t think it’s as easy as that, for at least one reason. Many have thought that it is our ability to be social and engage in rational activity that is picked out by the phrase “imago dei.” However, these abilities don’t clearly give us a way of solving the Identification Problem, since these abilities aren’t clearly non-vague. I’ve already raised one of the problems for rationality. As far as social interaction, this is clearly something we share with non-human animals and suffers from just as much vagueness as practical rational activity.

The theory of evolution has done a lot to make this problem acute, and ethicists are taking note of the problem. Some, like Singer, think that there is no good solution to the Identification Problem, and so reject the traditional view concerning human dignity. If we want to vindicate the traditional view, I think we should go to work solving the Identification Problem in a compelling persuasive way.


I get so sick and tired of self-important people thinking they are the final arbiters of the worth of one human life over another. I submit a hemophiliac could have a more fulfilling life than a billionaire that lives to be 100. This type of thing is so horrific yet we feel we are the good guys for trying to balance these things out. Like we are doing a favor for humanity. Look at me, I'm such a serious and noble person, It's my duty to make these types of judgments. Please.

So, Singer advocates charity? What a great thing. Geez Louise.

Malebranche:

I suppose that a necessary condition for the Identification Problem is that the creature can conceptualize the Identification Problem. Such as being able to identify something as yourself.

Johnnie,

I suppose that a necessary condition for the Identification Problem is that the creature can conceptualize the Identification Problem. Such as being able to identify something as yourself.

Then I suppose the severely mentally handicapped and infants aren't going to cut it.

Malebranche,

The "traditional view" does not need vindicating. Why do you think it does?


Scratch that, yes it does. Posted with wrong idea of "vindication".

Apologies.

KWM,

So you are sick and tired of certain people, you submit this and that. And you find certain things horrific (as Amy predicted). So?

I mention Singer's advocacy of charity just to counter any temptation to demonize him that might exist.

Johnnie,

Seems like "bias in favor of someone else who is genetically more similar to oneself" is a fair description of racism. Do you really mean to ask why we shouldn't show such bias?

RonH

Ron,

>>”So you are sick and tired of certain people, you submit this and that. And you find certain things horrific (as Amy predicted). So?”

Sick and tired is an understatement. And yes, I submit it is possible a hemophiliac could lead a more fulfilling life than a billionaire that lives to be 100. Yes, I find Singer’s ideas horrific.

Glad we’re clear.

What I see in this post is a poisoning the well, by applying the emotionally charged titles, followed by an argument from undesirable consequences. Lacking from the post is any analysis of the argument Singer makes and an explanation of where his argument fails. Such an explanation must be more than "I don't like the conclusion", to avoid the argument from undesirable consequences fallacy.

I don't always agree with Singer's conclusions. The reason is not that I don't like his conclusions, but that I disagree with his assumptions. Peter SInger is easy to criticize based on second and third hand reports. If you read him directly, and in context, he is much harder to criticize. He starts with certain assumptions and develops very well-reasoned arguments that lead to certain conclusions. So far, the only flaws I have found with his arguments has been a disagreement about assumptions. The fact that his conclusions are sometimes unpopular or even horrifying to some people doesn't mean he is using poor reasoning, and it doesn't necessarily mean he is wrong. You have to actually establish where you think he has gone wrong.

>>”I mention Singer's advocacy of charity just to counter any temptation to demonize him that might exist.”

As if his advocacy of charity means anything regarding his views. Your zeal and enthusiasm to defend Mr. Singer is noted, but his advocacy of charity is meaningless in this conversation.

Malebranche:

Mentally handicapped and infants may have the identification capability as an inborn trait. Infants may start out "thinking" that all objects have self-awareness. I remember as a small child holding an ice cube under a faucet and watching the ice cube melt in my hand and I felt an empathy for the ice cube. Was this empathy an inborn trait or was it something I picked up from cartoons with talking houses and stuff? Later we "learn" that not all things are self aware and maybe get to the point where infants and mentally handicapped don't cut it.

RonH:

Yes, I really mean to ask why we shouldn't show such bias.

I’d like to second Johnnie’s question to Ron.

Why shouldn’t we show bias?

"Your zeal and enthusiasm to defend Mr. Singer is noted,"

Noted, perhaps, but non-existent in fact. I opened by criticizing him.

Why shouldn't we show bias?

It matters to me whether life goes on. Maybe it even matters in some cosmic/ultimate sense - I don't know. But it matters to me. So I say we shouldn't show bias because I think it's a threat to life.

It's natural that my life and the lives of my family matter to me. That's how I'm made.

When I say 'family' I certainly mean my daughters, etc. But I realize (and this is natural too) that you are my family too and so is the rest of life on Earth.

RonH

Hi Eric,
You seem to be criticizing Amy but you are merely agreeing with her. Like you, she is pointing out that Singer's conclusions are the logical end of his assumptions. She is highlighting that fact, not arguing against his reasoning.
Not every post is a complete treatise in and of itself but often has a stated point which is apart from what you claim Amy has to establish.
In this case, she was highlighting the horrors of where such ideas are taking us, and pointing out that these ideas are not unique to Singer.
---

Hi Ron,
What if you think (and this is natural too) that showing racial bias is going to allow or even ensure that "life goes on"? Then, surely, showing bias is a good thing, right?

As Carter said to kick off his posts:

[Note: Yesterday Wesley Smith and Gene Fant wrote about the latest controversial remarks by ethicist Peter Singer. Because too few people are aware of how radical and influential Singer is in the field of ethics, I thought it would be worthwhile to shed some light on more of what he believes.]

Daron,

"You seem to be criticizing Amy but you are merely agreeing with her. Like you, she is pointing out that Singer's conclusions are the logical end of his assumptions."

But she's not saying why he is wrong. The implication is that she thinks he is wrong simply because she does not like his conclusions. If she wants to take issue with him, she should engage his actual argument. This would require discussing what assumptions he is making and why she thinks those assumptions are wrong.

I have come across several people making a point of how evil Peter Singer is, but they rarely do more than selectively quote him, out of context, often misrepresenting his position. It's assumed to be sufficient to say "he concludes X", in order to establish that he is wrong. I think if you are going to make a point of him being wrong, you need to explain why he is wrong.

Like Amy, I also did not say why I think he is wrong, but I'm not the one writing the blog post criticizing him. I merely mentioned my opinion to avoid the seemingly-inevitable charge that I am defending Singer because I think it's okay to experiment on brain damaged infants in order to develop new treatments for canine arthritis (or something along those lines).

Hi Eric,
Of course we both know (presume)?) that Amy thinks Singer is wrong. But she didn't say that or imply it.
She told us what he thinks and where this leads.
She doesn't have to demonstrate what she is not claiming. She doesn't say he is wrong and she doesn't even criticizing him.
She merely says, at the very end, that they are leading us toward horror. Singer himself says many times that certain things are horrific. But this is an emotional statement, not a statement about right and wrong or logic and reason. Surely she doesn't have to demonstrate why Singer is wrong to conclude as he does (when she has already said it is logical) to defend her statement of an emotional reaction to it?

The fact that you think this post is a criticism makes the real point. Singer's views are so self-evidently repugnant that to merely describe them appears as disapprobation. If your point is to make people aware of his beliefs and where they lead then this is enough. Not merely rhetorically, but morally and intellectually as well.

>>You have to actually establish where you think he has gone wrong.

As I said in the post, he went wrong as soon as he abandoned the idea of the sanctity of human life.

Beyond that, it's perfectly legitimate to appeal to the moral intuition we all have. We have the ability to directly apprehend good and evil (especially in extremes). Of course, it's possible to reason yourself away from accurate moral intuitions if you begin with false premises, but most people have not reached that point yet and can still recognize these things for what they are.

For more commentary, you can read the posts that were linked to or search out other arguments that were beyond the scope of this particular post.

I recently watched a movie documenting the death by forceful starvation of the 9 million Ukrainians by Communist Russia. Nowhere do I recall the film makers having to tell me why the Soviets were wrong to do this.

Daron,

I think it's a fair assumption (Amy can correct me if it is not) that this post is intended to imply some failing in utilitarian ethics. But there is not actual critique included, either in Amy's post or in the linked article. I don't think it's enough to simply say someone is wrong without explaining what errors they have made. If your view is that Amy is not saying that Singer is wrong, then there isn't any problem other than a completely pointless blog post (which is unobjectionable in itself). It would be a more interesting conversation if someone were providing a thoughtful critique of utilitarian ethics, which requires more than a few selective quotes of Peter Singer.

Before my earlier post, I had read the page directly linked to above,but not the article that had preceded it (The Mere Stupidity of Peter Singer ). Now that I have read part I, I have to say I'm surprised and disappointed that a typically classy organization like STR is endorsing this kind of thing. The article is one extended ad hominem, rather than a thoughtful and informative critique of Singer's ideas. The actual substantive content of the article is buried in so many insults and pot shots that it looses the impact that it could otherwise have. The legitimate points being made in the article could be summed up in one decent paragraph, but is diluted within a page of name-calling and mud-slinging.

By there very nature, discussions of ethics are touchy and susceptible to being derailed by emotional appeals. I think it is good to be extra careful to guard against this when trying to have an informative discussion on ethics. The level of discourse in this article (not in Amy's post, but in part I of the article she linked to) is counterproductive.

Amy,

"As I said in the post, he went wrong as soon as he abandoned the idea of the sanctity of human life."

Okay, that's fair. You did mention a point of disagreement on assumptions. mea culpa

Apparently, I am also susceptible to being distracted by the emotional content.


"For more commentary, you can read the posts that were linked to or search out other arguments that were beyond the scope of this particular post."

Yeah, I can do that (and have done that quite a bit), but I like talking to the people here also.

Amy,

Beyond that, it's perfectly legitimate to appeal to the moral intuition we all have.

I agree entirely with the view that moral intuition is a source of knowledge. If it weren’t, it would be difficult to see how any moral knowledge is possible in the first place. I have concerns, however, as to the adequacy of this as a defense or a response to critics of the traditional view.

I suspect that you would agree that the following pretty accurately captures the ‘sanctity of life’ position (or maybe you wouldn’t agree):

Sanctity of Life Doctrine: There is some feature F had by human animals in virtue of which they possess significant moral dignity & F is not a vague feature.

Just to be clear about what a vague feature is, I’m thinking that a feature is vague if there are not always precise conditions that determine whether or not an individual has the feature. Suppose I tell someone, “Stand roughly there.” Whether or not we can assert of the individual that they have succeeded in obeying this command is vague, since there are not precise conditions for whether or not the individual has obeyed the command. Suppose he stands exactly where I pointed. Then of course he has obeyed the command. But suppose he stands an inch to the left. Or maybe he stands a foot to the left. Or maybe two feet. There’s clearly not always precise conditions that determine whether or not the individual obeyed the command. But that just means that his obedience to the command is a vague feature. Other examples include the feature of being bald, being flat, being at the foot of a mountain, etc. These are vague predicates.

Presumably you want to deny that F is a vague feature. The reason I assume this is that if F were a vague feature, then it would be arbitrary on our behalf to stand before a gradual continuum of creatures from ape to human and say, “Here, this is where moral dignity and sanctity begins.” Presumably that kind of arbitrariness is a bad-making feature of a view.

Now, many will challenge you to identify F. They will demand that we tell them what F is. I think that is an entirely fair demand. We claim humans are special, so that is our burden to defend. At that point it does no good at all to simply report that we have an intuition that humans are special. They clearly do not have this intuition, or if they do have it they do not take it seriously. Moreover, they may think that the gradual continuity between species (which you must admit is at least possible, if by nothing other than a miracle by God) gives good reason to think that there is no F to be found. It seems to me that we must take up the burden and argue for our position, not merely report on the intuitions we find ourselves with.

Hi Eric,
You are missing the point, of course. You saw that this post was a critique of Singer, but you fail to see why. In fact, the post never said a word about him being wrong. It never said one word of criticism other than to say that the consequences that logically followed (as you affirm) are horrific (morally repugnant to the writer).
The post does not have to show why the consequences do not follow from the premises, as you first claimed, because the post affirms that they do. That is the point.
In a loose, but not very, example of reductio ad adsurdum, the post in fact falsifies those premises by pointing out the horrific consequences. You confirm the validity of this yourself by the fact that you took the post as a criticism when none was offered but to show the consequences. The consequences are self-evidently absurd, even to Singer's defenders. So much so that they have to go backward and say that this is not what he is saying, that he is taken out of context, etc. But these things are his claims and they are his claims even in context. If we want to examine his illogic when he speaks out of both sides of his mouth in denying his own consequences that is another case entirely.

Further, it is very interesting, and there is very much a point to this blog whether the post was saying that Singer is wrong or not. Showing what his concepts reduce to, demonstrating this to the moral reader, is a point in and of itself.

It would be a more interesting conversation if someone were providing a thoughtful critique of utilitarian ethics, which requires more than a few selective quotes of Peter Singer.
I don't think anybody asked you for a conversation, let alone an interesting one. You may feel like you'd like to talk about Singer in depth, and you can think what you like about the implied invitation of posting a Christian blog. But your charge was groundless.

The original article by Carter is not an ad hominem, by the way. The consequences of Singer's premises are stupid, as Carter explained, and the moral reader can see this when they are presented. You again refer to the purpose and productivity of discussing this matter but you did so illegitimately in your first salvo.

Malebranche,

>>”They clearly do not have this intuition, or if they do have it they do not take it seriously.”

I would say almost everyone has this intuition and that they take it very seriously. They may claim they don’t, but they don’t live that way.

Daron,

So you think the post was not intended as a criticism of Singer's position? I think I made a reasonable inference, but you seem to disagree.

"the post in fact falsifies those premises by pointing out the horrific consequences."
That's a logical fallacy. You can falsify premises by showing contradictory conclusions. You cannot falsify premises by showing undesirable conclusions. Surely, some undesirable conclusions are actually true.

The real point of disagreement with Singer is with his assumptions, so it is these that should be challenged. You can use undesirable conclusions to encourage people to more closely evaluate the assumptions, but you can't falsify the assumptions this way. If you disagree with Singer's assumptions, it would be good to explain why. Calling him stupid and equating him with Nazis doesn't accomplish this.

"I don't think anybody asked you for a conversation, let alone an interesting one."
Really? Have I upset you that much? As you go on to say, there is an implied invitation from the mere fact that the blog exists. This blog makes it especially easy to comment by not requiring any type of registration. Additionally, there are explicit (albeit general, and not specific to me) invitations during the radio show to participate in the blog discussion. No one from STR has given the slightest hint that I should not comment. If they did, then I would cease commenting immediately. If you do not want to converse with me, you can simply ignore me. There is no cause for rudeness.

It seems to me that the whole point of blogs with comments is to allow the poster to say something and then let other people evaluate it and discuss it further. Otherwise, the blog can simply disallow comments, or screen comments to only allow favorable responses.

Hi Eric,

So you think the post was not intended as a criticism of Singer's position? I think I made a reasonable inference, but you seem to disagree.
I do see it as a critique. I'm quite sure I've said that and I've said why. You are not seeing why it is a critique - and a valid one - which is not required to meet you charge.
That's a logical fallacy. You can falsify premises by showing contradictory conclusions.
No it's not and yes you can.
Surely, some undesirable conclusions are actually true.
Indeed they can be. But untrue conclusions can not be true.
. If you disagree with Singer's assumptions, it would be good to explain why. Calling him stupid and equating him with Nazis doesn't accomplish this.
You don't need to call them anything. All you have to do is what Carter did in the linked post and what this one did: expose them. And expose them as logically following from the premises.
Really? Have I upset you that much?
I'm not upset in the least. I am pointing out that you are trying to create requirements that the blog is not required to meet. You want a conversation that the blog has not brought up.
No one from STR has given the slightest hint that I should not comment.
Nor should they. I am pointing out that you are trying to have a conversation that they have not opened. And it is a conversation, though interesting, upon which this post does not depend.
If you do not want to converse with me, you can simply ignore me. There is no cause for rudeness.
There certainly is not. That's why I wasn't being rude.
It seems to me that the whole point of blogs with comments is to allow the poster to say something and then let other people evaluate it and discuss it further. Otherwise, the blog can simply disallow comments, or screen comments to only allow favorable responses.
That would seem to be implied, yes. I am pointing out that your initial claim was mistaken and the conversation you are trying to have is irrelevant to the conversation that the post did initiate.
I am pointing this out, however, to make a bigger point - not to show that you missed the boat. And that is that the blog has made its case by your very presumptions and reactions; you, in fact, see that to point out Singer's conclusions is to point out a moral wrong.

Eric,

You write as if Singer’s assumptions are so nuanced that they need to be carefully understood before one condemns the idea of killing infants. This strikes me as absurd. Like trying to get into the head of the Ku Klux Klan monster that believes lynching blacks is good for mankind. We know that lynching is horrific and we don’t need to read about the benefits of white purity before making that judgment.

Daron,

I'm afraid you're talking past me again. I think you are trying to make some meta-level point, but you aren't clearly articulating what that point is.

I have seen and heard enough criticisms of Peter Singer, and enough of various topics from STR, to put them together to interpret a particular blog post to have a certain point. There is very little reading between the lines required for this. The author of the post commented to correct me on an error, but did not say or imply that my interpretation of her intent is incorrect. The post is a criticism of the Utilitarian ethics of Peter Singer. You appear to be interpreting my (apparently accurate) assessment of the intent of the post to be making some other point. I am not understanding how you are making this connection.

Malebranche:

How about this as a better statement of the sanctity of life doctrine:

There is some feature F that makes me different from you and F is not a vague feature. Either you recognize that I have F or you do not. If you do not recognize that I have F, but you recognize in yourself something that makes you different from me, and it is not a vague feature, I either recognize it or I do not. We have four possible outcomes, two of which we mutually recognize that we are different and two where we do not. In the case where there is mutual recognition, there can either be a contract between us or there is not. If either side would rather use force than agree to a contract, the stronger force wins. If there is not mutual recognition, there cannot be a contract, and the stronger force wins.

We extend the analysis to all possible pairs of individuals. Then let the battle begin. The survivors will be either a standoff among users of force, or a group all of whom are linked to one another by contract, or an equilibrium where there is a standoff among users of force and a group whose members are linked to each other by contract.

Such a setup will select against vagueness, so I don't think vagueness is a problem.

KWM,

The KKK and lynching comments are the kind of thing I was referring to earlier when I said that ethics discussions are touchy enough without piling on this kind of emotional baggage. If our goal is to somehow find a rational and defensible position, then this kind of thing is counterproductive.

"You write as if Singer’s assumptions are so nuanced that they need to be carefully understood before one condemns the idea of killing infants."

The level of nuance is not the important thing. The fact that he has assumptions, and that this is the place to begin, is what I am saying. Pointing out that the logical consequences of those assumptions are unpleasant does not mean the assumptions are false. It's a logical fallacy to do so.

If A, then B. I don't like B, therefore Not A.

It is superficially similar to a valid argument, but it is not valid. "I don't like B" is not the same as "B is false".

If you identify assumptions you think are false, you can then begin to establish that they are, in fact, false. If you identify assumptions that he has incorrectly left out, then you can begin to establish that these assumptions are true* and that they are relevant to the argument he is making.

The goal of ethics is to determine what things are good or bad. It does not begin with lists of good and bad things and argue backwards to find what assumptions would generate our preconceived lists. It is possible that a things that seems good is not actually good, and ethics is the branch of philosophy that helps you identify these things. Criticizing an ethicist because of his conclusions is backwards - especially if you agree that his logic is valid.

(* or you can establish that they are axioms)

Malebranche:

I got so carried away in my post that I forgot to mention my most important point: that there can be more than one kind of F.

A species of space alien may be characterized by a feature that is not vague but is not F. They might not give importance to our F but they might want us to give importance to their G.

Daron,

You asked...

What if you think (and this is natural too) that showing racial bias is going to allow or even ensure that "life goes on"? Then, surely, showing bias is a good thing, right?

What I mean by 'life goes on' (so that it doesn't need to be put in quotes) is 'all life doesn't end'. If we have you have two choices:

1) show racial bias and life goes on
2) refrain from showing racial bias and all life ends

then yes, I choose #1.

How about you?
RonH

Eric,

>>”The KKK and lynching comments are the kind of thing I was referring to earlier when I said that ethics discussions are touchy enough without piling on this kind of emotional baggage. If our goal is to somehow find a rational and defensible position, then this kind of thing is counterproductive.”

That’s not why I brought up the comparison – to pile on emotional baggage. We are, after all, talking about the killing of infants. Besides, comparisons play a vital role in ethics. I brought it up to show the problem with your view and I stand by it.

It’s very convenient for you to blow off the comparison as “counterproductive”. You took a pass on telling me why my view, that lynching blacks is wrong, is premature if I haven't evaluated the assumptions of the KKK first.

Eric,

A clarifying question: How much KKK propaganda must one read before condemning the lynching of blacks?

KWM,

What view of mine are you intending to criticize with your KKK reference? Is it the view that we can rationally conclude that something is wrong, without presuming it to be wrong up front? Would you agree that opposition to lynchings is a rational conclusion, and not a position that must be accepted arbitrarily?

My view is that ethical positions are conclusions of logical arguments. They are not basic principles themselves. Is there something in your KKK reference that isn't covered by this?

Hi Eric,
You say your original comment was accurate, but your change of game plan demonstrates that it wasn't. But you have not acknowledged your errors.

What I see in this post is a poisoning the well, by applying the emotionally charged titles, followed by an argument from undesirable consequences. Lacking from the post is any analysis of the argument Singer makes and an explanation of where his argument fails.
No one said his argument fails. The post indicated that his argument was a success.
. He starts with certain assumptions and develops very well-reasoned arguments that lead to certain conclusions.
Same as above.
The fact that his conclusions are sometimes unpopular or even horrifying to some people doesn't mean he is using poor reasoning,
The post did not say his reasoning was poor. It said that when you start with a certain assumption you end up in a certain place.
and it doesn't necessarily mean he is wrong. You have to actually establish where you think he has gone wrong.

The post reflected on Singer's presumption and clarified his position:

Singer "abandons the doctrines about the sanctity of human life" (as he puts it) in favor of utilitarianism, and this is the logical result. When the sum total happiness of the collective (however that would be determined) rather than the dignity of the individual is all-important, what does it matter if some lesser sick or disabled people are killed here and there?
...
Human beings do not have value above other species simply because they are human; human value comes from characteristics like autonomy, self-consciousness, etc.; animals that currently have these properties have more value than human beings not currently expressing these properties; and more.

And sums up:
It's worth reading through the whole post to see the horror of where these ideas are leading us.

Nowhere does the post say his reasoning is wrong or argue foritis being wrong. It merely shows what he says.

As I said:

You seem to be criticizing Amy but you are merely agreeing with her. Like you, she is pointing out that Singer's conclusions are the logical end of his assumptions. She is highlighting that fact, not arguing against his reasoning.
Not every post is a complete treatise in and of itself but often has a stated point which is apart from what you claim Amy has to establish.
In this case, she was highlighting the horrors of where such ideas are taking us, and pointing out that these ideas are not unique to Singer.

Your next response was to defend your errant comment by saying Amy didn't say why he was wrong or show why he is wrong. But that wasn't the intent of the post. The intent was to show what his conclusions are and that they derived from his presumption. If you are going to presume (correctly) that the post was meant to show that Singer is wrong then you have to also presume that the reason was also given (his faulty premise). When you do so, you see the error of your comment.

BTW,
How do you know when an ethicist is wrong?

Since I think there really is right and wrong, then I think that statements of ethics can be right or wrong. Do you?

To take on an unnecessary burden, I will say that of course he is wrong. We can all see that. But the post did not and does not need to argue for that nor does it "have to actually establish where you think he has gone wrong. "
Everyone can see that he has gone wrong. Even you. You demonstrate this in your reading of his ideas as they are laid out and seeing that as an argument against them. They are so obviously wrong that merely stating them demonstrates their error and looks like a statement against them.
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Hi Ron,
Thanks for your answer.
So showing racial bias is a good thing (or just as good as not showing racial bias) when we apply your morality.
You then have answered your own question to Johnnie, which you posed as though his challenge to Singer's view was self-evidentl false:

Seems like "bias in favor of someone else who is genetically more similar to oneself" is a fair description of racism. Do you really mean to ask why we shouldn't show such bias?

Yes, he wanted to know how Singer could claim we shouldn't. When you challenged him he wanted to know how you could claim we shouldn't.
Your answer shows that on your worldview there is no reason we shouldn't show racial bias - all that is required for this to be a moral act is that one thinks that doing so will help or ensure that "'life goes on".

Daron,

That's not what I mean. Far from it.

RonH

Daron:

RonH has clearly said that he is anti-bias. Because he claims that his family extends to cover all life on Earth.

I think that there are two arguments against racism: 1) the races are different, but each race should respect the differences in the other, or 2) we are really all the same. RonH appears to follow the second argument. I also follow the second argument: the chief indicator of race, skin color, is determined by three genes on three chromosomes. There is no more difference between a black person and a white person than a black peppered moth and a white peppered moth. Cultural phobias get amplified by difference in skin color because a randomly selected person of other skin color than oneself is more likely to be of a different culture than a randomly selected person of the same skin color as oneself, but we can have ethnic strife among the same skin color as we see with the Croats, Serbs, and Kosovars.

Unlike RonH, I do not extend the concept of family to all life on Earth. So I am not anti-bias.

Johnnie,

Yes I'm with you on race.

While I see myself as related to all life on earth I don't see that as implying zero no bias between, say, humans and trees.

RonH

Daron,

"You say your original comment was accurate, but your change of game plan demonstrates that it wasn't. But you have not acknowledged your errors."

You may have missed my earlier comment, in response to Amy, where I did acknowledge my error. I had incorrectly charged that she had not indicated where he went wrong, when she had pointed out the assumption which she thinks he incorrectly dismisses. She did not establish the assumption, but I thought it was best at that point to acknowledge my overstatement and let the subject drop. If you care to pick it up, and establish that the assumption is true, or establish it as an axiom, that would be great.

"No one said his argument fails. The post indicated that his argument was a success."

I was using "argument" to include the assumptions and the logical progression from those assumptions to a conclusion. When used in this sense, agreeing that the argument is a success means agreeing with the conclusion. I think it is a fair inference that Amy does not agree with the conclusions, therefore she thinks the argument is not a success. "Argument" is sometimes used to only included the logic, and not the premises. This was not the sense in which I was using it, and I apologize for my lack of clarity.

"Nowhere does the post say his reasoning is wrong or argue foritis being wrong."
Again, it is a reasonable inference from the available information that post is implying that SInger is wrong. Do you mean that you think Amy is just pointing out Singer's views as being of idle interest? Isn't the most reasonable inference that she is implying something is wrong with what he is saying? I don't see this as being a main area of contention.
" If you are going to presume (correctly) that the post was meant to show that Singer is wrong then you have to also presume that the reason was also given (his faulty premise). When you do so, you see the error of your comment."
I think this confirms that you missed my post where I acknowledged this error. Check above again for my comment from June 09, 2010 at 12:05 PM. I had overstated the problem by saying she hadn't provided anything, when in fact she had. She doesn't explain why he is wrong and she is right, but I had implied that the omission was worse than it really was.
"How do you know when an ethicist is wrong?"
I evaluate their argument (including the premises) to see if there is an identifiable flaw somewhere. Certain conclusions can make one suspicious that there is a flaw, but they do not establish that there is a flaw. You still have to evaluate the argument to identify the flaw, unless there is some way you can demonstrate that the conclusion is necessarily false.
"I think that statements of ethics can be right or wrong. Do you?"
Yes, I think statements of ethics can be right or wrong.
"Everyone can see that he has gone wrong. Even you."
Wow, if even I can see it, he must be super wrong.

I don't just see that he is wrong because I don't like his conclusions. I have read some of his work, (the original, not selective quotes intended to make him look bad), and have found places where I disagree with him on premises.

"You demonstrate this in your reading of his ideas as they are laid out and seeing that as an argument against them."
Yet again, this is a misrepresentation of the situation. It is not as though I came upon these quotes in a contextual vacuum. STR has a mostly predictable viewpoint. I know who Peter Singer is, and I have heard commentary about him from different circles. When I see the name "Peter Singer" in a conservative Christian source, it's almost certain to be in an unfavorable light. I know that his views are at odds with the views of most conservative Christians, and I have every reason to expect that he will not be popular among the staff at STR.

Hi Eric,


You may have missed my earlier comment, in response to Amy, where I did acknowledge my error. I had incorrectly charged that she had not indicated where he went wrong, when she had pointed out the assumption which she thinks he incorrectly dismisses.
You are right. That comment came in after your comment to me, and while I was reading and responding to that. My apologies. You did, indeed, acknowledge that you were in error.

If you care to pick it up, and establish that the assumption is true, or establish it as an axiom, that would be great.
That might be fun, but it is not necessary. The point of the post is made: if you start where Singer starts you end up with his horrific conclusions.
I was using "argument" to include the assumptions and the logical progression from those assumptions to a conclusion. When used in this sense, agreeing that the argument is a success means agreeing with the conclusion.
I was confused, then. The post already stated that the horrific conclusion flowed logically from the premise:
Singer "abandons the doctrines about the sanctity of human life" (as he puts it) in favor of utilitarianism, and this is the logical result.
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I think it is a fair inference that Amy does not agree with the conclusions,
Me too. But she does not disagree because Singer used faulty reasoning.
therefore she thinks the argument is not a success.
In the sense you are using it now that would be true as well.
"Argument" is sometimes used to only included the logic, and not the premises. This was not the sense in which I was using it, and I apologize for my lack of clarity.
Accepted and understood. Since you were arguing for Singer's solid reasoning from premise to conclusion, while disputing his premises, I thought you were referring to his argumentation as his argument.
Again, it is a reasonable inference from the available information that post is implying that SInger is wrong. Do you mean that you think Amy is just pointing out Singer's views as being of idle interest?
As I reminded you in the previous comment, I have said many times that the post is based upon his being wrong and, I would presume, expects the reader to realize this as well - as soon as they see the logical consequence. You even quote me below saying that.
Isn't the most reasonable inference that she is implying something is wrong with what he is saying? I don't see this as being a main area of contention.
Nor do I, but you are missing the point. The post was saying that "if you start at point X you will arrive logically and point Y". The argument is not that Singer is wrong (anyone can see that he is and I think that it is presumed they will). You then want to argue about Singer's arguments when the post was exposing the results of starting with Singer's presumptions. Indeed, you yourself separated premises from the reasoning:
He starts with certain assumptions and develops very well-reasoned arguments that lead to certain conclusions. So far, the only flaws I have found with his arguments has been a disagreement about assumptions. The fact that his conclusions are sometimes unpopular or even horrifying to some people doesn't mean he is using poor reasoning, and it doesn't necessarily mean he is wrong.
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She doesn't explain why he is wrong and she is right, but I had implied that the omission was worse than it really was.
As I've been pointing out, there was no omission. You just want a different conversation.
"How do you know when an ethicist is wrong?"
I evaluate their argument (including the premises) to see if there is an identifiable flaw somewhere. Certain conclusions can make one suspicious that there is a flaw, but they do not establish that there is a flaw. You still have to evaluate the argument to identify the flaw, unless there is some way you can demonstrate that the conclusion is necessarily false.
I'm getting off the point, but how do you evaluate the premises? How do you know if a premise is true or false?
I don't just see that he is wrong because I don't like his conclusions.
This is the condescending statement (along with the charge of disingenuousness) that made me reply to you in the first place. He is not wrong because his conclusions are unpleasant and the post does not say nor imply this. The predicted death of our sun is unpleasant but that doesn't make the prediction wrong, and nobody would argue that it does. A diagnosis of cancer is unlikeable but could very well be right. We can see his conclusions are wrong because we know it is wrong, for instance, to kill children merely because they have hemophilia
"You demonstrate this in your reading of his ideas as they are laid out and seeing that as an argument against them."
Yet again, this is a misrepresentation of the situation. It is not as though I came upon these quotes in a contextual vacuum. STR has a mostly predictable viewpoint. I know who Peter Singer is, and I have heard commentary about him from different circles. When I see the name "Peter Singer" in a conservative Christian source, it's almost certain to be in an unfavorable light. I know that his views are at odds with the views of most conservative Christians, and I have every reason to expect that he will not be popular among the staff at STR.
Seeing his name in an unfavourable light still does not make the post an intended demonstration of how his reasoning was wrong or even how his conclusions are wrong. The post is was it is, disapproval and all; a statement of what the logical (unpleasant and horrific and unlikeable) conclusions are when you reason from Singer's premises and how these ideas are not uncommon. There is no requirement to show his reasoning, or even his premises, wrong to make this factual statement. And there is no reason that the post was omitting something necessary even if it would have made for more interesting conversation.

"Ethics is not an ideal system that is noble in theory but no good in practice. The reverse is closer to the truth: an ethical judgment that is no good in practice must suffer from a theoretical defect as well, for the whole point of ethical judgment is to guide practice."
Peter Singer

For an interesting discussion on his conclusions and assumptions:
http://books.google.ca/books?id=xHAGgWMHTbIC&printsec=frontcover&dq=critique+peter+singer&source=bl&ots=j9XgOfRe66&sig=krSw3DOuGQtGiGZxteiGmaT2EDA&hl=en&ei=ZcoRTLmzBI78NfnklL4L&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CEgQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q&f=false

Daron,

It seems now that the main problem you have with what I am saying is that I think it would be good for someone to explain why a particular argument fails, while you think it is sufficient to state your opinion that it fails. Is that accurate? Amy appears to be saying that Singer's position is wrong because he has dismissed the premise of "sanctity of human life" or "human dignity" (I am not completely sure these two things are intended to be synonymous). She doesn't explain why we should accept these premises, as she does, rather than reject them, as SInger does. Without doing this, she leaves open the possibility that someone reading the presentation will end up concluding that SInger is correct, despite the unpleasant consequences of his position.

If I want to convince someone that Singer is mistaken, then I will try to explain why I think he is mistaken in a way that will be most likely to hold up to careful consideration. If the flaw with an argument is an incorrectly rejected premise, then I want to establish that the premise should be accepted.

"He is not wrong because his conclusions are unpleasant and the post does not say nor imply this"
I disagree that the post does not imply this. This is the best explanation for adding emotionally charged titles such as, "On How Killing a Sick Child Can Lead to Happiness". The tactic being used is to make people uncomfortable with the conclusions and use that to convince them that his assumptions are false. It is an argument from undesirable consequences. While it may be effective in many cases in convincing people, it is not a sound argument. It is also a bad idea, long term, if you want to stop a trend towards this kind of thinking.

The post states,

"His ideas might sound horrifying to you, but they are more widespread than you might think. In fact, people have argued at various times in the comments on this blog for many of the foundational ideas that led Singer to his conclusions:..."

From this we can surmise that Amy would like her readers to reject these "foundational ideas that led Singer to his conclusion". However, the only reasons we are given for why we should reject Singer's foundational ideas are a list of unpleasant consequences of his position. Since we know that true premises may lead to unpleasant conclusions, establishing that his premises lead to unpleasant conclusions does nothing to establish that his premises are flawed.

It seems to me that when challenged for not sufficiently establishing your position, it is a better response to attempt to further establish the position than to criticize the person who points out that you didn't really establish your position. You can say, "Tough toenails if you don't like it, and who asked you anyways", but it's obvious that that doesn't do anything to further your argument. If you don't want to persuade people to your viewpoint, then that's fine. However, it is apparent that STR does want to sway people to it's viewpoint.

Daron,

"I'm getting off the point, but how do you evaluate the premises? How do you know if a premise is true or false?"

Ultimately, you should be able to trace the statements to first principles or axioms. In practice, if there is a disagreement about something, you only need to go back to a point where everyone agrees with the statements. Then you can build up an argument from there.

In the present discussion, the premise in question is "sanctity of human life". Because not everyone involved in the discussion is accepting that as true, it needs to be established based on more fundamental principles that are agreed upon, or it has to be established as axiomatic. That is, as something that cannot be denied. For example, the Law of Identity cannot be denied without being invoked in the denial. It is not necessary to show that it is true. It is sufficient to show that no one can coherently argue that it is not true.

I don't see that "sanctity of human life" is axiomatic, so it needs to be established as true based on some more fundamental principles.

I disagree with Peter Singer on some things even though I do not accept the "sanctity of human life" as a true premise. I think he fails to properly account for the principle of self-ownership, which is axiomatic. This is my fundamental disagreement with utilitarianism, as I understand it.

Hi Eric,

It seems now that the main problem you have with what I am saying is that I think it would be good for someone to explain why a particular argument fails, while you think it is sufficient to state your opinion that it fails. Is that accurate?

No, my problem is your ignoring the point of the post, construing your own point, and claiming the post had to have responded to your point to be effective. And your doing so with accusatory language questioning the motives of the poster when you were not (and are not) even reading for intent.

Amy appears to be saying that Singer's position is wrong because he has dismissed the premise of "sanctity of human life" or "human dignity" (I am not completely sure these two things are intended to be synonymous).
That's not intrinsic to her post.
She doesn't explain why we should accept these premises, as she does, rather than reject them, as SInger does. Without doing this, she leaves open the possibility that someone reading the presentation will end up concluding that SInger is correct, despite the unpleasant consequences of his position.
Bingo! I tried to come up with an analogy earlier to demonstrate this but none came easily to mind. This leaving open is obvious, but you have acted as though her intent were to argue against it. Now you see she wasn't. It is merely that Singer is so far off that demonstrating his position looks exactly like criticism. As you say, she has not done anything to show he is wrong. As I say, she has only shown that his premises, and thus, those of people who are inclined to think his premises normative, lead to certain (horrific) conclusions. You claim that because this blog can be expected to have a certain opinion about Singer (which it does) that you can presume on the post more than it said and assign it a burden it need not take on. But had the post listed, using my other example, the reasons that we think the universe will suffer a heat death and said this was horrific, you would not have concluded, as you continue to do here, that this was intended as an argument for why that conclusion is wrong.
If I want to convince someone that Singer is mistaken, then I will try to explain why I think he is mistaken in a way that will be most likely to hold up to careful consideration.
When the blog decides to convince anyone that Singer is wrong I am sure this will be the case. That wasn't the purpose this time.
I disagree that the post does not imply this.
You're allowed.
This is the best explanation for adding emotionally charged titles such as, "On How Killing a Sick Child Can Lead to Happiness".
No it's not. The best explanation is that it is an accurate summary of what he has to say on this point and that conclusion ought not be missed.
The tactic being used is to make people uncomfortable with the conclusions and use that to convince them that his assumptions are false.
The 'tactic' is to accurately and succinctly show what his argument results in.
It is an argument from undesirable consequences. While it may be effective in many cases in convincing people, it is not a sound argument. It is also a bad idea, long term, if you want to stop a trend towards this kind of thinking.
Perhaps if that is where the critique stands it is a bad idea. If people are so enamoured with the logic that led there or are so committed to the worldview that created the premises that they cannot see the inherent moral error in concluding that "killing a hemophiliac can be permissible to increase happiness" then more needs to be done. Books need to be written critiquing Singer from top to bottom. That has been done.
Since we know that true premises may lead to unpleasant conclusions, establishing that his premises lead to unpleasant conclusions does nothing to establish that his premises are flawed.
It is a warning that these ideas are widespread. Again, it is not that unpleasant consequences disprove premises, but that wrong conclusions can.
However, it is apparent that STR does want to sway people to it's viewpoint.
and sometimes they just point to facts and let those speak for themselves.

Thanks for your second response. I want to argue against it but don't know if that is fair or necessary. Thanks for responding to my question about whether or not moral premises can be true and how you can know this.
It doesn't look like you actually have a ground for your belief about right and wrong with your appeals here to consesus, but I think I'll ruminate on that a while.

Daron,

Okay, so now the two of us are arguing about what point Amy may or may not have had in writing this post. I've stated my case for the points I infer and why I infer them. You claim that this inference is incorrect. I suggest we leave it there unless Amy wishes to clarify for us whether or not she had any point beyond saying, "Hey, isn't this interesting".

"And your doing so with accusatory language questioning the motives of the poster when you were not (and are not) even reading for intent."
Where did I do this? Where did I use accusatory language questioning her motives? Are you saying I have done something inappropriate here?

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