Culture, Ethics, Philosophy

Court Jesters & the Culture of Death: Exposing the Vacuous Thought Experiment of Paul Tomlinson

Court JestersIn this recent Salon article, Paul Rosenberg advances a thought experiment introduced by writer Paul Tomlinson, that both believe to be utterly devastating to the pro-life position. According to Rosenberg, not only does Tomlinson refute the pro-life position, he also exposes the entire movement for being made up of hypocritical liars motivated by a desire to “control women like slaves.” To the contrary of his claims, however, what is really exposed are the depths of murky obfuscation pro-abortion advocates will plunge themselves in order to advance the culture of death. Even a cursory examination of the thought experiment reveals how intellectually shallow and puerile it truly is.

To make claims as strong as this, Rosenberg must wield an argument that is not only original, but also creatively ingenious, given the fact that the philosophical dispute over what constitutes a human person has been raging for several decades with no end in sight. Unfortunately for Rosenberg, the argument he’s celebrating is neither original nor creative.

Here is the scenario posed by Tomlinson to those who are pro-life:

Would you save one 5-year old from a burning building or 1,000 embryos? That is it. This simple question supposedly puts the entire debate to rest and exposes the morally defective nature of those who argue that personhood begins at conception.

According to Tomlinson’s testimony and Rosenberg’s excitement, nobody has ever said that they would save the 1,000 embryos and leave the 5-year old to a brutally painful death. In Tomlinson’s view, this thought experiment, and the answers that follow, presses the point that nobody actually believes embryos are the same as “living” children. It follows from this, so it is claimed, that the pro-life movement is basically lying about their actual beliefs in order to gain political leverage against women and treat them like cattle.

But is this thought experiment as successful as Tomlinson suggests? Is this unoriginal rehash of the trolley dilemma typically presented to freshmen in a philosophy 101 course a knock down defeater to the pro-life position that life begins at conception?

No. Not even close.

The first problem with this thought experiment is that it does not even touch the philosophical issue of when personal identity comes into existence, what constitutes personhood, or what the necessary and sufficient conditions are to track personhood over time t-1 to time t-N. It fallaciously assumes that making a choice in this situation settles the issue of personhood when it fails to even consider it. Let’s say that a person does choose the embryos over the 5-year old child. Would it follow that this choice denies the personhood of the child? Neither choice presented in the dilemma even merits a serious examination of what constitutes personhood, but yet for some reason progressives are barking and clapping like seals at what this silly depiction even offers. The thought experiment is doing nothing other than participating in the long tradition of pro-abortion advocates begging the most important question regarding personhood.

Let’s alter Tomlinson’s scenario a bit. Let’s say that instead of a fertility clinic, you’re in a nursing home. The fire alarm goes off. You run for the exit. As you run down a hallway, you hear a child screaming from behind a door. You throw open the door and find a five-year-old child trapped under a fallen shelf, crying for help. At the same time, in the room across the hall, you spot ten elderly residents in wheelchairs. They’re already totally unconscious from lack of oxygen, but they could still be saved from their impending demise. The smoke is rising. You start to choke. You know you can save the elderly or the child, but not both before you succumb to smoke inhalation and die, saving no one.

The vast majority of people would likely choose to rescue the terrified, crying child in this case. It’s a pretty natural instinct. But does that mean that the unconscious, elderly people aren’t really fully human? Of course it doesn’t. It means that we have a natural inclination to come to the assistance of little children who are suffering and afraid.

If Tomlinson were honestly trying to determine whether we believed embryos are human, he’d be asking people whether they’d risk their own lives to rescue them from a fire. But he doesn’t do this, because pro-lifers would be much more likely to answer that question in the affirmative, which would make it a lot more difficult for him to accuse all of us of dishonesty and emotional manipulation.

It’s more than a bit ironic that Tomlinson can’t see that he in fact is the one who’s being dishonest. Among the numerous lies contained in his Salon interview is his statement is that “Nobody is pro-abortion. People are just pro-‘Hey maybe since I don’t have a vagina, I shouldn’t really have a whole lot of say in what people do with theirs.’”

The last time I checked, a vagina is something different than an embryo or a fetus. While it’s possible that Tomlinson simply needs a remedial biology class, I think it’s more likely that he’s engaging in pure sophistry. But what else would we expect from the pro-abortion crowd? If they were look at the issue in an honest and reasonable way, they’d be in danger of recognizing the gravity of the crimes they are committing against the unborn.

 

– Lucas G. Westman & Nicholas Kaminsky

 

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Culture, Ethics, Philosophy

Mises, Eugenics, & the Culture of Death

Mises, Eugenics, & The Culture of DeathOn page 668 of Human Action, Ludwig von Mises says,

“Those fighting birth control want to eliminate a device indispensable for the preservation of peaceful human cooperation and the social division of labor. Where the average standard of living is impaired by the excessive increase in population figures, irreconcilable conflicts of interests arise. Each individual is again a rival of all other individuals in the struggle for survival. The annihilation of rivals is the only means of increasing one’s own wellbeing. The philosophers and theologians who assert that birth control is contrary to the laws of God and Nature refuse to see things as they really are. Nature straitens the material means required for the improvement of human wellbeing and survival. As natural conditions are, man has only the choice between the pitiless war of each against each or social cooperation. But social cooperation is impossible if people give rein to the natural impulses of proliferation. In restricting procreation man adjusts himself to the natural conditions of his existence. The rationalization of the sexual passions is an indispensable condition of civilization and societal bonds. Its abandonment would in the long run not increase but decrease the numbers of those surviving, and would render life for everyone as poor and miserable as it was many thousands of years ago for our ancestors.”

A couple of quick thoughts in response to this passage:

  1. I wonder how many Catholics who are fully committed to championing the thought of Mises, and Rothbard for that matter, have analytically read what he has argued on behalf of concerning the moral order? The above paragraph basically calls for the first pillar of social eugenics as a necessary cultural condition for human survival and flourishing. Mises sounds more like Margaret Sanger than someone “thinking economically.”
  2. Have the numerous Catholics who are champions of Misesian Austrian economics ever thought of criticizing this passage or the principles that give rise to its promulgation?
  3. How can any Catholic embody an unshakable loyalty to an economist that has such strong anti-Catholic biases such as this? This is only one single passage; there are many others throughout the corpus of Mises’s writings where he attacks basic tenets of Catholic social doctrine.
  4. Finally, Mises entirely misses the point of those “philosophers and theologians” arguing against birth control. Regulating the procreative act in an unnatural way does not promote social cooperation and harmony; it is the first pillar of a culture of death and societal discord. It denies the teleological function of sex as procreative, pitting woman against their own natural biological functioning while simultaneously constructing a divisive wall between husband and wife within the union of sacramental marriage.

 

– Lucas G. Westman

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Ethics, Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Politics

The Catholic Church & Capital Punishment

The Catholic Church & Capital Punishment“Between 1796 and 1865, Giovanni Battista Bugatti executed 516 condemned criminals, more than four-fifths for murder. Some of them were hanged, some guillotined, and some decapitated with an ax. In the case of especially heinous crimes, the methods of execution were harsher. Some criminals had their heads crushed with a mallet, after which their throats were cut. Some were drawn and quartered.

Who is Bugatti? He was the official executioner of the Papal States, a devout Catholic who carried out his work as a loyal servant of the Holy Father. Indeed, the popes and the Church were active participants in the process of execution, which was highly ritualized and freighted with spiritual significance. On the morning of the execution the pope would say a special prayer for the condemned. A priest would hear Bugatti’s confession and administer Holy Communion to him in advance of the event. In the hours before the execution, a special order of monks would cater to the spiritual needs of the criminal, urging confession and repentance while there was still time and offering the sacraments. They would then lead him to the site of execution in solemn procession. Notices in local churches would request that the faithful pray for his soul. As the sentence was carried out, the monks would hold the crucifix up to the condemned, so that it would be the last thing he saw. Everything was done to ensure both that the criminal received his just deserts and that the salvation of his soul might be secured. When asked in 1868 to stay an execution, Blessed Pope Pius IX, though he certainly had legal power to do so, apparently thought he morally ought not to, replying, ‘I cannot and I do not want to.’”[1]


There are many in the Catholic Church today working to abolish capital punishment. Those participating in this progressive social justice campaign would most likely recoil at the above description of capital punishment being legislated by the Papal States. When confronted with these descriptions of historic realities the aforementioned social justice warriors in the Church would most likely react with banal modernist slogans while exuding emotional manifestations of their delicate sensibilities. Underneath the reactionary platitudes the typical claim being made against capital punishment is that it is intrinsically unjust, immoral, and undermines a culture of life.

This progressive modernist view of justice is in serious error. Unfortunately many Catholics are impressed with mantras coming from liberally compromised clergy rather than looking to the official teachings of Mother Church concerning the execution of justice against evil and violent criminals.

There is, however, a corrective remedy for this problematic position gaining momentum in the ranks of the Mystical Body of Christ.

I recently received my copy of Edward Feser and Joseph M. Bessette’s book, By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, and it is devastating to opponents of the death penalty. This book contains a systematic proclamation of the truth taught by the magisterial authority of the Church, as well as a complete refutation of the modernist position seeking to abolish capital punishment.

Feser is typical in his brilliant exposition of Thomistic natural law theory, and in my view, thoroughly dismantles the New Natural Law Theorist (NNLT) position, which currently argues that capital punishment is intrinsically immoral in every instance of its application. The NNLT movement is comprised of many prominent Catholic intellectuals, so it is important that Feser interacts with their arguments. Not every moral position articulated by NNLT advocates is problematic. Indeed, their stated positions on marriage, abortion, euthanasia, and many others are often exemplary. Ultimately, however, the philosophical foundations are where the problems initially arise, which lead to negative unintended consequences despite the good intentions of NNLT advocates. Feser makes this point clear and shows that without the proper philosophical foundation, that is, a perennially grounded metaphysics of the Aristotelian-Thomistic sort, NNLT collapses into itself and can no longer justify their extreme positions on the death penalty.

Traditional natural law theory and NNLT differ on key foundational issues,

“The NNLT differs from traditional natural law theory in several crucial respects. As we have seen, for the traditional natural law theorist, what is good for us is grounded in human nature, where ‘nature’ is understood in terms of the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics of formal and final causes. Given formal and final causality, ‘value’ is built into the very structure of the ‘facts,’ and there is no metaphysical space between them by which David Hume and his positivist followers might pry them apart. NNLT proponents, by contrast, tend to endorse the Humean fact-value dichotomy. Like Hume, they insist that an ‘ought’ cannot be derived from an ‘is.’ Thus, like Hume, they deny that morality can be grounded in a metaphysical analysis of human nature.”[2]

Referencing David Oderberg, Feser highlights another key difference,

“Traditional natural law theory is ‘world-centered’, whereas the NNLT is ‘agent-centered’. For the traditional natural law theorist, an agent knows the good by taking an objective, or ‘third-person’, view of himself. He asks what sorts of ends human beings have, given the kind of creatures they are, and thereby knows what is good for him qua human since he is one instance of that kind among others. According to the NNLT, the agent knows the good from the subjective, or ‘first-person’, point of view. Considering what reasons he has for acting this way or that, he asks what sorts of good are self-evidently desirable and for whose sake he might pursue other goods. That is by no means to say that his judgments are, according to NNLT, ‘subjective’ in the sense of being arbitrary or idiosyncratic. They are taken by the NNLT to reflect human practical reason as such, not merely the practical reason of this or that agent, and are thus in that sense ‘objective.’ But they are ‘subjective’ in the sense that it is from the agent’s introspection of his own practical reason in operation, rather than from mind-independent facts of a philosophically informed anthropology, that he finds a guide to action.”[3]

Finally, there are five main divergences between traditional natural law theory and NNLT (these are the words of the author, not my summary of the positioned differences),

  1. First, it is essentially an attempt to reformulate natural law without either nature or law and is therefore not really a ‘natural law’ theory at all. For since it denies that the good can be grounded in the natures of things in general or human nature in particular, there is nothing ‘natural’ about it; and since it denies that our obligation to pursue the good has anything essentially to do with conforming ourselves to the will of the divine lawgiver, its imperatives lack the character of true ‘law’. [4]
  2. Second, the endorsement of Hume’s fact-value dichotomy is a dangerously radical concession to the philosophical naturalism, positivism, and scientism that are fundamentally at odds not only with the systems of philosophy historically favored by the Church, but with Catholicism itself. This concession is also completely unnecessary, since the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysical foundations of traditional natural law theory’s account of the good are entirely defensible, and since the fact-value dichotomy has in contemporary philosophy been severely criticized, not only by writers sympathetic to the natural law tradition but by others as well.[5]
  3. Third, the approach to political philosophy taken by some NNLT writers also involves dangerous concessions to modern philosophy, owing more to the liberalism and individualism of Hobbes, Locke, and Kant than to the natural law political tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas.[6]
  4. Fourth, the NNLT account of intention is excessively subjectivist and has implications that are simply bizarre from the point of view of traditional Catholic moral theology. As the craniotomy example shows, what would historically have been regarded as an absolutely forbidden direct abortion becomes, on the NNLT, a kind of indirect abortion that is permissible in principle. Meanwhile, because any war appears obviously to involve intentional killing, the very idea of a just war becomes highly problematic. The problem can be dealt with only via implausible and convoluted reasoning to the effect that the deaths of enemy soldiers are not intended but rather a foreseen but unintended side effect of combat.[7]
  5. Fifth, the NNLT list of basic goods (which varies somewhat from writer to writer) is arbitrary and ad hoc, formulated precisely so as to guarantee that certain desired conclusions will be reached and certain undesirable conclusions will be ruled out. The NNLT’s eschewal of philosophical anthropology deprives it of a way of providing an objective criterion by which to determine which goods are really basic, and its appeal instead to the ‘self-evidence’ of some goods and not others seems merely dogmatic.[8]

Following this comparative analysis, Feser demonstrates that by NNLT’s own principles capital punishment does not necessarily need to be considered intrinsically immoral, that the NNLT approach to capital punishment is incoherent, and finally, that the NNLT position on capital punishment cannot be squared with official Catholic teaching.

As important as the philosophical treatment of capital punishment is, I contend that the essential issue needing to be settled is Scriptural authority. What does the Sacred Page have to say about capital punishment? Feser clearly demonstrates that the abolitionist position cannot be associated with Biblical authority. The most explicit endorsement of capital punishment is found in Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.” This is an explicit command in favor of the death penalty, and it is based on the moral implication that man is made in the image of God. In addition to this, the Mosaic Law identifies specific scenarios justifying capital punishment and God also utilizes the death penalty in some of the most significant events in the Old Testament. The Flood is an obvious instance, and the Egyptians dying while attempting to cross the Red Sea is another. And since I brought up the Exodus, I cannot overlook the slaying of 3,000 at the command of Moses for worshiping the golden calf.

Philosophically combatting errors of reason is vitally important, but even more important is to remind those who are in the Church where our ultimate authority can be found – Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium. If newly invented philosophical systems amount to revoking the authority of Scripture, then the philosophy is in error and must be corrected. As every major saint and doctor of the Church including St. Thomas has taught, revelation and theology guides and corrects human reason in the philosophical arena. Philosophy is the handmaiden to theology not its judge.

In my view, By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, systematically settles the debate. There is no way around the arguments being presented, and the only reaction against its necessarily corrective teaching is to remain in the state of modernistic incredulity.

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment, Feser & Bessette, Pg. 9, 10

[2] Ibid, Pg. 81

[3] Ibid, Pg. 81, 82

[4] Ibid, Pg. 86

[5] Ibid, Pg. 86

[6] Ibid, Pg. 86

[7] Ibid, Pg. 86, 87

[8] Ibid, Pg. 87

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Ethics, Philosophy, Saint Bonaventure

St. Bonaventure’s View of Natural Law

Saint Bonaventure“The eternal law is the ultimate rule or measure of all human activity. Augustine identifies the eternal law with God’s wisdom. He writes: ‘That law which is named supreme wisdom cannot be otherwise understood than as unchangeable and eternal.’ This identification of the eternal law with divine wisdom and thus with the divine mind has profound implications for Bonaventure. The moral order of things is not rooted in the arbitrary rules of mercurial dictator; rather, the moral order reflects God’s rational plan for the entire cosmos. The moral law flows from the divine intellect and thus God’s plan for the whole universe.

Bonaventure seems to recognize that ‘natural law’ can be used in different senses. Some use it to refer to that law that nature has taught to all animals and dictates how each operates and conducts its activity. In another sense, ‘natural law is that which is common to all nations and this law is what right reason dictates.’ The natural law is a reflection of the eternal law; it is a collection of precepts. These precepts are known innately, much as the first principles of the speculative intellect, that is, the principle of non-contradiction, the principle of identity. Among these first-known precepts are such things as the golden rule – do not do to another what you would not have done to yourself – or that God is to be obeyed. If the will is naturally bound to this law, it seems that this law must be naturally known by the soul. In fact, at one point in his writings, Bonaventure defines the natural law as an impression (impressio) made in our soul by the eternal law. So deep is this impression that God will punish wrongdoers, even those without the written law (i.e., the written Mosaic law).

Bonaventure posits that there is a threefold way in which the natural law obligates. These differing modes of obligation correspond to the threefold status of human nature: before the Fall (status naturae institutae), after the Fall (status naturae lapsae), and after the written law or the law of Moses (status legis lapsae). The written law makes the natural law obligation explicit. Under the status of fallen nature, this obligation is implicit in the two precepts of the natural law: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you. The obligation of the natural law under the status of created nature was both implicit and explicit. The precepts ordered to God obliged man explicitly: the precepts ordered to the neighbor obliged man implicitly. The precepts only unfolded after the multiple disorders that followed the first transgression.

The entire unfolding (explicatio) of the commandments of the Decalogue only came about after the first sin, on account of which the light of reason was obscured and the will disordered. Because of the multiple disorders of the fallen will, it was necessary to bind it through multiple commands. So, for example, it was only after the Fall that the wrong actions governed by the second table of the law became explicit. This is not to say that the natural law changed, but that it became explicit on these points.”[1]

– Christopher M. Cullen, Great Medieval Thinkers: Bonaventure

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] Bonaventure, Cullen, Pg. 104, 105

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Culture, Ethics, Philosophy, Political Economy, Political Philosophy, Politics

Anarcho-Capitalism & Moral Subjectivism

anarcho-capitalism-moral-subjectivismIn a recent article I examined the incompatibility of Catholic social doctrine and the Austrian school. I would like to further examine this topic by addressing how some of the followers of the Austrian school generally, and the Rothbardian anarcho-capitalist flavor specifically, argue on behalf of their views. Not only are the Rothbardian political philosophical views erroneous and unworkable, they are often championed by committing various logical fallacies. Maybe I am a glutton for punishment by way of sloganeering, false dichotomies, Utopian machinations, highly moralistic catch phrases and the like; but it is important to confront this vociferous subdivision of “liberty” lovers because these heretical ideas are finding their way into mainstream Catholic thought. The intention of my effort is to not only help Catholics rid themselves of this annoying little peccadillo of Rothbardian political philosophy, but to also convert non-Catholic libertarians to the one, true, Church. This can only happen, however, after successfully extracting the Rothbardian implant from the cerebellum of the neo-libertarians. Such an extraction will help to free people from the Rothbardian mind, so that the Christ mind can be the corrective lens by which the state, governing institutions, and the political economy may be viewed.

This brings me to a couple of articles perfectly exemplifying the need to prevent modern libertarian factions from infecting the beauty of Catholic social doctrine. The first article is titled, Anarchy as a Moral Imperative, and the second is titled, Why Being Classically Liberal is Wrong About Anarcho-Capitalism.

Let’s start with the alleged moral imperative of anarchy. This article is an impassioned plea for the reader to consider being logically and morally consistent when arguing on behalf of the existence of government, which should lead an honest thinker to become an anarcho-capitalist, or at least this is what the author, Chris Calton, would have you believe. He says,

“This is what I find when I discuss the idea of Anarchy with those people who despise government with every fiber of their being…up until the point at which I suggest abolishing the institution in its entirety.

‘That sounds awfully nice, but…’

‘…but it’s never going to happen!’

Why does this matter? If you agree that government by its very nature is immoral, then is it not worth acknowledging that the absence of this immoral entity is at least worth advocating.

Assume that I agree: anarchy will never actually happen in this flawed world of ours. This does nothing to show how a government is morally permissible. Good God, what if we applied this logic to every application of immoral activity? I believe that no matter what condition the world is in, murder will always occur at some capacity. But that certainly does not mean I’m going to advocate for its continuation as a moral defeat!

Most people, of course, hold what I believe to be a misguided – or even perverse – view that government is a moral necessity. For these people, a different argument needs to be made. But for those people who favor the cause of liberty, I want to make the plea to stop considering the morality of government as an afterthought.”

There are a few problems here; first, the government is not some alien entity that is made up of creatures unlike us. The government is a body of people that exercise their authority in various capacities, sometimes for ill, and sometimes for virtuous purposes. Complaining about the moral permissibility of a governing entity is not even a problem the ancap can avoid in their own societal construction of solipsistic, nominalist individualism. In any society, even the ancap model of society, there will be governing agencies. These agencies, whether a police force, a national defense, or a court system will be privatized. And yet, these private agencies will be “governing” based on the simple fact that law and order must be maintained for any semblance of freedom to prevail.

A significant problem for the ancap position is that it continually commits the fallacy of reification. The fallacy of reification is when an abstract belief, hypothetical construct, or theoretical model, is treated as if it had concrete or real existence outside of its abstractive usage, resulting in the mistaken view that said abstraction does or could take place in concrete reality. The ancap creates a model of society based upon unconstrained, abstract assumptions, such as “pure voluntarism,” and then mistakes these abstractions for possibilities in concrete reality, or the hope that these abstractions can be at some point in the future become concrete realities. The problem is that there is no such thing as “pure voluntarism,” or a “purely free market,” or a “society based on purely voluntary actions.” And by “purely” the ancap intends to mean that there is no coercive influence whatsoever in play when people choose to freely interact. One way to quickly show that this is utter nonsense is by the simple fact that there is no possible way to raise children that does not violate the purifying status of the non-aggression principle. Ancaps take the NAP to be the most fundamental, axiomatic, universally applied principle for a free and just society. However, the free and just society to remain free and just requires healthy familial structures, which necessarily requires an almost perpetual violation of this supposedly universal principle. In order to raise children, parents must by moral necessity interfere with the choices their children make so that they might become virtuous persons in the future. If the ancap seeks to dismiss with a flippant hand wave this component of concrete reality when compared to their immanentized eschaton, then they would be acting in an arbitrary fashion and implicitly recognizing the fact that the NAP is not a universal axiom embedded in the fabric of reality. If the NAP is going to be taken seriously, or provide any meaningful guide for social cooperation, it is contingent upon a mountain of requirements that must come prior to establishing said principle on society at large. Rothbard attempts to work these principles out in his book, Ethics of Liberty, and I will address the reductio nature of these positions below. But it is important to understand that even if the state were abolished, or eradicated, or dismantled, or dissipated according to future evolutionary progressive developments, the family will remain; and the family operates in concrete reality in opposition to the principles espoused by ancap political philosophy.

Another consequence of continually committing the fallacy of reification is a misplaced hope that human beings, once transformed by the principles of the ancap model of society, can some how transcend the fallen nature of the human person. Is it even remotely feasible to think that a private governing agency, informed by the principles championed by the Rothbardian anarcho-capitalist, is going to somehow alleviate itself from the sinful corruptibility of man? Can we be honest with ourselves and seriously believe that there won’t be collusion between agencies in the “free-market” to benefit their own interests rather than protect their “customers”? As if the dreaded “false flag” won’t occur if private agencies are the predominant mode of local and regional security? The complaint that Calton has, indeed, the complaint that all ancaps have is not actually against the “government,” or the “State.” It is against the corruptibility of human nature. This is a commonality they have with the progressive liberal – a Rousseauian hatred of governing institutions. On this view, it is the institutions that corrupt man and not man that corrupts the institutions. Since this is the case, on the inherited Rousseauian ancap view, man will increase in virtue when the institutions are eradicated and anarchic voluntarism is freely implemented. This is how you end up in Utopianism and irrational attachment to fantasy. As Rousseau famously said, “Man is born free, but everywhere in chains.” To this, the ancap gives a hearty, “Amen!”

The traditionalist, not so much.

Calton continues by imploring the objectivists, the classical liberal, and the paleoconservative to only think consistently about the morally perverse institutions of state,

“So this is for the Ayn Rand Objectivists. You who eloquently make the case against government violence in economic affairs to please stop advocating for the same government violence in the adjudication of disputes.

This article is for the Classical Liberals who rightly recognize that the free enterprise system is the greatest economic system conceived by man – stop trying to argue the case for some abstract definition of economic efficiency as measured by a flawed metric as justification for just a little bit of coercion.

This is for the Paleo-Conservatives who pragmatically work within the system (a practice I generally do not criticize), to stop making the collective case for ‘national defense,’ as if security is the one sacred cow that falls exception to the beauty of individualism.”

Calton conveniently forgets to mention the Austrians, such as Ludwig von Mises.

Mises argues in Human Action that anarchy is impossible (emphasis added):

“The anarchists overlook the undeniable fact that some people are either too narrow-minded or too weak to adjust themselves spontaneously to the conditions of social life. Even if we admit that every sane adult is endowed with the faculty of realizing the good of social cooperation and of acting accordingly, there still remains the problem of the infants, the aged, and the insane. We may agree that he who acts antisocially should be considered mentally sick and in need of care. But as long as not all are cured, and as long as there are infants and the senile, some provision must be taken lest they jeopardize society. An anarchistic society would be exposed to the mercy of every individual. Society cannot exist if the majority is not ready to hinder, by the application of or threat of violent action, minorities from destroying the social order. This power is vested in the state or governmentState or government is the social apparatus of compulsion and coercion. It has the monopoly of violent action. No individual is free to use violence or the threat of violence if the government has not accorded this right to him. The state is essentially an institution for the preservation of peaceful inter-human relations. However, for the preservation of peace it must be prepared to crush the onslaughts of peace-breakers.[1]

This is an important, yet subtle point often ignored by ancaps, that various Austrians are statists like the rest of us non-anarchists. I have significant and profound disagreements with Mises, but this point made by the modern Austrian fountainhead seems to be relatively obvious. Force is required to maintain peace against those who seek to destroy the institutional structures of ordered freedom. Voluntarism within the ancap construct may work well when safely protected in the structure of the theoretical model, but it is an impossibility in concrete reality.

One point that I find interesting is the idea that national defense is in scare quotes, while juxtaposed with the “beauty of individualism.” Since I have military experience, I will merely point out the ignorance of suggesting that national defense is not a collective effort to defend a national/regional territory against enemies foreign or domestic. In the military, individuality is subordinate to the collective whole, whether this is the team, squad, platoon, company etc. This is not a controversial position to hold regarding the necessity of such military institutions. It is the simple recognition that the individual person comes into a world that is bigger than, well, the individual. The individual is preexisted by their family, community, county, state, nation etc. There is a significantly larger reality than individual subjective preferences. Indeed, communal responsibility may at times call on men to sacrifice their individuality for a noble cause, such as the need to protect the continued existence of a way of life experienced by a people in a national stage against a foreign enemy. To put it in terms most children grow to understand, the world does not revolve around you and your demands.

Calton ends by stating that anarchy, rather than being a political philosophy, is a moral imperative. This is simply confused. Anarchy is not a moral philosophy, nor is it a collection of homogenous moral claims. It is, contrary to Calton’s suggestion, a political philosophy attempting to explain the best way to organize a society. This should be obvious, since various moral philosophies can inform the political philosophy of anarcho-capitalism. For example, an ancap could be a consequentialist, or a natural law theorist, or a deontologist, or even a nihilist. Indeed, anarcho-capitalism is not morally neutral, but to claim it is a moral imperative is mistaken.

The confusion, however, does not stop with this article. Calton attempts to persuade the reader that anarchy is a moral necessity, and to deny anarchy in favor of some form of government institution is “misguided” and “morally perverse”; while at the same time claiming that morality is subjective. He makes the case for moral subjectivism in his article titled, Why Being Classically Liberal is Wrong About Anarcho-Capitalism.

The first point I want to address from this article is the often repeated, “not every ancap is Rothbardian” or “not every ancap adheres to the non-aggression principle.”

Calton states,

“There are actually two misconceptions that should be addressed regarding this point. The first is the notion that subscription to non-aggression principle is necessarily an Anarcho-Capitalist requirement. With the rise of the Austrian Anarchists following the Ron Paul Revolution, this has become the majority of Anarcho-Capitalists today, but there are many consequentialist Libertarians who arrive at Anarchy for practical means. This point is only worth mentioning because rejection of the NAP is not in itself a rejection of Anarcho-Capitalism.”

This is a move often made by Austrians and Rothbardians alike; they require all points of view to be refuted or none of them have been refuted, or rather, nuance for me but not for thee. Ancaps will make little effort to recognize the nuanced views that can be found among conservatives, whether “neo” or “paleo” because on their view both of them intrinsically “statist.” But when discussing anarcho-capitalism, they are quick to point out the importance of nuance. Calton’s reference to consequentialist ancaps is entirely irrelevant, and oddly enough, for the very reasons he states — Ron Paul followers usually become acquainted with Rothbard (rather than David Friedman, for example) and Rothbardians are the majority of contemporary ancaps. Given this criterion, it would seem relatively obvious that most people critical of this political philosophy will wind up arguing against Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism, while any references to differing ancap views are red herrings. In fact, Lew Rockwell would agree with me,

“There are many varieties of libertarianism alive in the world today, but Rothbardianism remains the center of its intellectual gravity, its primary muse and conscience, its strategic and moral core, and the focal point of debate even when its name is not acknowledged. The reason is that Murray Rothbard was the creator of modern libertarianism, a political-ideological system that proposes a once-and-for-all escape from the trappings of left and right and their central plans for how state power should be used.”[2]

If you plan on engaging critically with libertarian thought, be prepared for the endless dodging that will most certainly ensue just as soon as any libertarian position has been shown to be philosophically problematic.

This defensive dodging maneuver looks something like this:

  1. Positions X, Y, and Z are shown to be either problematic, logically inconsistent, totally incoherent, or completely unworkable from the presuppositions of the libertarian political philosophical worldview.
  1. The typical libertarian response is not to show said criticism to be mistaken, rather, they want to know why you haven’t dealt with positions A, B, and C. Why haven’t these libertarian positions been adequately dealt with?
  2. Positions A, B, and C are then shown to be either problematic, logically inconsistent, totally incoherent, or completely unworkable from the presuppositions of the libertarian political philosophical worldview.
  1. The typical response will be to ignore these additional criticisms of said positions the libertarian brought to the table, and will want to know why positions D, E, and F have not been properly dealt with.

This defensive tactic goes on and on until you are back at the beginning of the critique and have to start all over again. All the while, the libertarian following their Rothbardian masters will plug their ears, close their eyes, and grit their teeth while their beloved ideology is once again demonstrated to be incorrect.

If this tactic doesn’t work, there is always the straw man fallacy that is readily available. If you aren’t a libertarian groveling at the feet of Jeffrey Tucker, or insert the name of any libertarian celebrity, that means you must worship the state, love big brother, hate freedom, ad nauseam.

The second point I wanted to address was the case made on behalf of Rothbard’s view on children and children’s rights. In Rothbard’s book, The Ethics of Liberty, he argues in favor of;

  • Abortion (Pg. 98)
  • Infanticide of normal and/or deformed babies by way of starvation (at least) (Pg. 100, 101)
  • The right of a child of any age and for any reason to run away from home whereby the parents cannot do anything but persuade their children to return home with them as the lawful guardians. (Pg. 103)

Calton would have us believe that this is no big deal, because the “more important point” is that in a, “Libertarian society, the existence of a free baby market would lead to less neglect than we actually see with legal protocols in place to prevent it.”

Now I feel better.

The solution to abortion and infanticide is a laissez-faire market where the free exchange of babies can take place unfettered by the moral restraints of government regulation. Never mind important philosophical questions of personhood and the morality of human trafficking; no need to examine those questions. We are supposed to be entirely comfortable with the outcomes of a suggested “baby market” regulated only by the individual actors and their subjective preferences when it comes to purchasing infants. Case closed. No further debate is needed because the often repeated “the market will handle it” mantra is the perpetual fallback for complicated questions in public policy. Moreover, there is not a shred of data offered to support the idea that the trafficking of babies on the free market is going to actually mitigate the evils that Rothbard argues should be legally permissible in the first place. How are we to know that children will not be bought for the specific purposes of the sex trade? How do we know that babies will not be purchased for the “advancement” of scientific research, where the babies are then deprived of their humanity for specific experimentation? To lazily chant, “the market won’t allow it,” which is the characteristic move made by the ancap, is to display a profoundly naïve view of the market mechanism, as well as an extreme category error when treating human persons at the same level of commodities to be traded on a whim.

Instead of philosophical speculation, let’s examine a real world situation. According to this article, these parents starved their 3-month-old child to death. They are rightfully receiving a harsh penalty for such actions.

On Rothbard’s view, the penalty levied against the parents for starving their 3-month-old son is a violation of their liberty, and their rights. You read that correctly. On Rothbard’s view, this is a not a violation of the child’s rights, but of the parents. Apparently the concept of a right to life escaped the mind of Mr. Libertarian. Rothbard would have you believe that the ethics of liberty requires that no legal punishment should exist for a person that starves their children to death; that an egregious form of child abuse such as this should go unpunished under the law. Moreover, who would represent the dead child in a court of law, given the fact that the child has no means to secure legal protection from a private law firm in the first place? Who would press charges against this kind of barbarism?

The ancap would have you believe that allowing evil actions such as this, is far better than paying taxes, say a tariff on imported sneakers. This tax is the real evil, not the murder of children in the womb or infanticide, as Rothbard argues in favor of in his libertarian ethical credo.

It is important to remember that this is not some ad hoc consideration, or an unfounded consequence of the non-aggression principle. Rothbard is working out what the consistent application of such a principle would look like for the broader society. To state that this is a point of disagreement among followers of Rothbard is to ignore the fact that the system is holistic in its nominalist metaphysical assumptions. To disagree with one point, such as the immorality of starving children to death, is to not only call into the question the entire ancap theoretical construct, but the nominally construed myth of moral neutrality necessary for seriously considering torture by starvation a right of parents. To put it bluntly, the entire Rothbardian apparatus collapses under the weight of its own reductio.

The third point needing examination is the claim that morality is subjective. I found this to be an odd claim to make given the moral grandstanding Rothbardians routinely exhibit. If morality is purely subjective, as BCL suggests and Calton agrees with, then their claims against the immorality of say, a communist or socialist political economy, are entirely arbitrary and merely an opinion with no basis in reality. The fervent distaste of taxation, aggression, force, coercion, and war strutted by vituperative ancap argumentation are merely suggestions broadcasted from a soapbox. Indeed, if morality is subjective, then their opinion of Stalinist communism is no different than a difference of opinion over ice cream flavors.

It is worse than that. If moral subjectivism is true, as Calton suggests, then there has been zero moral improvement throughout American history (or any civilization for that matter). The freeing of the slaves didn’t advance a superior moral truth than the pre-Civil War era; what took place was a forceful change in opinion. On this view, Lincoln wasn’t a tyrant, nor was Jefferson Davis, they had different opinions on slavery, and that’s it. In fact, they didn’t even disagree on the morality of slavery. Allow me to demonstrate;

Lincoln – “I think slavery is immoral.”

Davis – “ I think slavery is moral. “

We think they are in disagreement, but the fact of the matter is, if moral subjectivism is true, they are not even disagreeing. All subjectivism amounts to are the suppositions of an individual opinion. Lincoln dislikes slavery. That is his view. Davis likes slavery. That is his view. The slaves probably didn’t dig their slave status, but that is just their opinion as well. The proclamation of each moral claim is only addressing the view held by the specific individual, and not a condemnation of the other according to a reality that supports such a claim.

The fourth point I want to address is Calton’s blatant appeal to ignorance. Calton says, “In the strictest sense, it is true that there is no definitive evidence proving anarchism – but this is for the very same reason that there is no definitive evidence disproving anarchism: namely, there are no existing anarchist states (there have been small pockets of civilizations throughout history that could be considered anarchist, but they are difficult to compare economically to a modern, Western society).”

The argument presented here is the exact form of the appeal to ignorance fallacy.

  • There is no evidence to disprove X, therefore X.
  • There is no evidence to prove X, therefore ~ X.

This is incorrect reasoning. What a reasonable person should do, given the lack of evidence in either case, is to suspend judgment. Calton may have a hunch, but he certainly doesn’t have a claim to knowledge on this issue.

Calton proceeds to argue that there is a direct correlation between limited government and economic prosperity, but then incorrectly suggests that we should extend this correlation resulting in, allegedly, zero government with maximum economic prosperity. At least this is what the ancap would have you believe to be the case if they want to be consistent. Contrary to this view, however, evidence exists suggesting that “less government” does not always result in “more freedom.”

Francis Fukuyama calls this the “Fantasies of Statelessness,”

“There is in fact a curious blindness to the importance of political institutions that has affected many people over the years, people who dream about a world in which we will somehow transcend politics. This particular fantasy is not the special province of Left or Right; both have their versions of it. The father of communism, Karl Marx, famously predicted the ‘withering away of the state’ once the proletarian revolution had achieved power and abolished private property.”[3]

Fukuyama continues,

“The fantasy of statelessness most prevalent on the Right is that the market economy will somehow make government unnecessary and irrelevant…

Indeed, the kinds of minimal or no-government societies envisioned by dreamers of the Left and Right are not fantasies; they actually exist in the contemporary developing world. Many parts of sub-Saharan Africa are a libertarian’s paradise. The region as a whole is a low-tax utopia, with governments often unable to collect more than about 10 percent of GDP in taxes, compared to more than 30 percent in the United States and 50 percent in parts of Europe. Rather than unleashing Entrepreneurship, this low rate of taxation means that the basic public services like health, education, and pothole fillings are starved of funding. The physical infrastructure on which a modern economy rests, like roads, court systems, and police, are missing. In Somalia, where a strong central government has not existed since the late 1980s, ordinary individuals may own not just assault rifles but also rocket-propelled grenades, antiaircraft missiles, and tanks. People are free to protect their own families, and indeed are forced to do so. Nigeria has a film industry that produces as many titles as India’s famed Bollywood, but films have to earn a quick return because the government is incapable of guaranteeing intellectual property rights and preventing products from being copied illegally.”[4]

Finally,

“The existence of states able to provide basic public services cannot be taken for granted. Indeed, part of the reason many countries are poor is precisely that they don’t have effective states. This is obvious in failed or failing states including Afghanistan, Haiti, and Somalia, where life is chaotic and insecure.”[5]

Despite the counter-evidence provided from the Fukuyama texts, even if Calton were correct that zero government, or no state, would result in maximum liberty, it is merely a subjective opinion, and admittedly there is not one scintilla of evidence to support his correlation.

The evidence provided above also hints at something that ancaps routinely miss – the market is a product of culture. People are not hardwired to build a modern market mechanism to distribute goods and services according to the spontaneity of prices. If a culture has not developed the necessary moral code and correct political institutions, the market mechanism will not flourish at its most efficient or moral capacity. The ancap would have you believe the reverse of this is true, that culture is the product of the market, but history tells us otherwise.

Philosopher, Roger Scruton, has suggested that the endorsement of subjectivism means the person sanctioning the view is begging you not to believe them. In this case, Chris Calton is that person. Let us oblige his desire by rejecting his way of looking at the world, and ignore his mere subjective proclamation of an anarchic moral imperative.

 

– Lucas G. Westman


[1] Pg. 149

[2] For a New Liberty, Introduction

[3] The Origins of Political Order, Pg. 11

[4] Ibid, Pg. 11, 13

[5] Political Order and Political Decay, Pg. 52, 53

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Culture, Ethics, Metaphysics, Philosophy

Is/Ought & Public Policy – Updated

Is Ought and Public PolicyIssues concerning sexuality and gender identity are often assumed to be matters of science, rather than philosophical interpretations of science. This presupposition embedded in our culture rests upon an incongruous inheritance of Enlightenment theories of metaphysics, epistemology, and postmodern reactions against Enlightenment rationality. The metaphysical inheritance of the Enlightenment is the united natural philosophy of Descartes and Newton; the epistemological inheritance is significantly influenced by Humean causal theory; and the postmodern reaction to this universal rationalism is a reductive narrative subjectivism. These three philosophical variants significantly influence the modern concept of the human person.

Consider these passages from the textbook, Our Sexuality (original emphasis):

“Many writers use the terms sex and gender interchangeably. However, each word has a specific meaning. Sex refers to our biological femaleness and maleness. These are two aspects of biological sex: genetic sex, which is determined by our sex chromosomes, and anatomical sex, the obvious physical differences between male and females. Gender is a term or concept that encompasses the behaviors, socially constructed roles, and psychological attributes commonly associated with being male or female. Thus, although our sex is linked to various physical attributes (chromosomes, penis, vulva, and so forth), our gender refers to the psychological and sociocultural characteristics associated with our sex – in other words, our femininity and masculinity. In this chapter we sue the terms masculine and feminine to characterize the behaviors that are typically attributed to males and females. One undesirable aspect of these labels is that they can limit the range of behaviors that people are comfortable expressing. For example, a man might hesitate to be nurturing lest he be labeled feminine, and a woman might be reticent to act assertively for fear of being considered masculine. It is not our intention to perpetuate the stereotypes often associated with these labels. However, we find it necessary to use terms when discussing gender issues.”[1]

The textbook continues discussing gender identity,

“Gender identity refers to each individual’s personal, subjective sense of being male or female. Most of us realize in the first few years of life that we are either male or female. However, there is no guarantee that a person’s gender identity will be consistent with his or her biological sex, and some people experience considerable confusion in their efforts to identify their own maleness or femaleness.”[2]

Finally, a lengthy passage addressing sexual orientation,

“We begin this chapter with a discussion of the continuum and characteristics of sexual orientations. Homosexuality, bisexuality, heterosexuality, and asexuality are words that identify various sexual orientations. Multidimensional components indicate a specific sexual orientation and can include whether an individual:

  1. Engages in sexual behavior with men, women, both, or neither.
  2. Feels sexual desire for men, women, both, or neither.
  3. Falls in love with men, women, both, or neither.
  4. Identifies himself or herself with a specific sexual orientation.

The complexity and ambiguity of defining sexual orientation results from the varying combinations and degrees of these four components. For example, how much sexual attraction to and experience with the same sex can someone have and still be heterosexual? And, vice versa, how much sexual attraction to and behavior with the other sex can someone have and still be homosexual. Or, is everyone who does not consistently and completely meet these four components bisexual? Further, can someone who self-identifies as heterosexual but is sexual exclusively with same-sex partners really be heterosexual? Even scientists who do research about sexual orientation do not use consistent criteria in categorizing subjects according to sexual orientation. In some studies, subjects are included in the bisexual/homosexual category if they have had any element of same-sex attraction, behavior, or self-identity. In other studies, subjects are not considered homosexuals unless their sexual behavior, attraction, and self-identity have been consistently with the same sex since puberty.”[3]

The text proceeds in similar fashion, introducing the studies of Alfred Kinsey to justify various spectrums and fluidity of sexual orientation.

For better or worse, this is where the conversation begins when discussing gender identity and sexual orientation. So understood, the contemporary obstacle every Catholic must overcome is not primarily scientific; rather, it is the metaphysically assumed Cartesian/Newtonian mechanistic naturalism, the so-called is/ought dichotomy prevalent since Hume, and postmodern subjectivism. These three pillars of modernist thought embedded in the understanding of the human person are lurking underneath the surface of the textbook passages referenced above. Most strikingly obvious is the Humean is/ought dichotomy. This view claims that we cannot derive what we ought to do ethically from the is of nature; that is, there is nothing intrinsically discoverable in the natural order that can point us toward, or bring us closer to the teleological ought of the good or the good life.

This problem, however, does not begin with epistemology or even moral philosophy; rather, it is a problem that has its roots deep in the soil of a specific metaphysical understanding of reality. A primary reason for the is/ought problem prevalent in epistemology and moral philosophy is based on the mechanistic metaphysical world picture popular since the Enlightenment. The mechanistic understanding of the natural world casts aside the notion of formal and final causes that were so vitally important for the classic understanding of an organic, rather than mechanistic, view of nature. For the classic mind, inherited by the Patristics, and perfected by the Medieval Scholastics, nature is imbued with telos. The rejection of the Scholastic synthesis resulted in the reformulation and ultimately the denunciation of a teleologically infused natural order. When telos is no longer a central feature of a metaphysical understanding of reality, appealing to human nature can never point us toward proper ethical behavior. On this view, human nature is simply a brute fact, so to speak, and we can either appeal to some sort of utility maximization, categorical imperatives, or a will to power. However, the utilitarianism of Mill and the deontology of Kant were shown by Nietzsche to collapse into a nihilistic will to power. Therefore, to choose the Enlightenment project’s attempt to replace the telos of virtue and the divine commands of the Decalogue ultimately result in the transvaluation of all values, which finds its social expression in political liberalism.

Another important factor to consider regarding Hume, is that the is/ought dichotomy is based on the notion that causal interactions are merely patterns of sensory impressions. The causal features of the natural world are loose and disjointed, rather than reliable, substantive powers connected in the organic classical sense of metaphysical reality. For example, we experience the pattern of event B following event A, but we can never “prove” that event A is the cause of event B because this “proof” is only based on past experience. There is nothing in our experience that says event C could not follow event A. The only sensory input available is the pattern previously detected. If this understanding of nature is accepted, it would make sense to disregard natural law theory because there is no ought that can possibly be derived by the is of nature since there are only disjointed patterns.

How do Catholics proceed at this point in the discussion? Catholic moral philosophy is often a combination of natural law, virtue ethics, and divine command; how are we to overcome this issue we face in the age of confused modernist and postmodernist assumptions about reality?

I maintain that the first step is to properly recognize that the point of rhetorical stasis is not in the realm of science, or even at the level of ethics, as I previously hinted above. The debate is more fundamental; it is metaphysical and ontological. It is metaphysical in the sense that theism as a foundation will point us in a different direction than modern atheism. Moreover, it is metaphysical in the sense that the Catholic understanding of the hierarchic structure of nature combined with the Aristotelian acceptance of formal and final causes allows for an organic comprehension of a natural created order imbued with logos, telos, and a recognizable derivative ethos. In addition to the metaphysical component of the Catholic world picture running contrary to the modernist model under examination, ontology plays an important role. The being of created reality is important for understanding its relation to that Being which is Being itself, the “I AM” who creates and sustains the being of existence at ever moment. These classic metaphysical views inherited by and reformulated by the Catholic Church differ drastically from the mechanistic metaphysical world picture, as well as the flattened modernist ontology of naturalistic mathematical physics. We can also say that the classical theism of the ancient world and Medieval Catholicism differs significantly from the deistic concept of theistic personalism that has been popular since Newton, although it has only recently received this catchy title.

These fundamental differences are what we will run into quite often in contemporary debates concerning almost every topic under discussion. Now let’s see how these theological and philosophical differences may result in a different approach to public policy.

Let’s consider the dust up over bathroom laws and the treatment of transgendered persons. Within the causally mechanistic pattern detection outlined above, it may be perfectly sensible to think that gender dysphoria is something that should be tolerated and accepted as a normal state of affairs within the disjointed nature of human experience. After all, if this view of the world is true there is no biological is that should dictate a gender ought. This is evident from the textbook passage above. Moreover, there would be no psychological is that should direct us towards any teleologically orientated moral ought concerning this dysphoric state of affairs within the mental faculties of the transgendered person. So understood, it would seem completely reasonable that public policy should be shaped by these truth claims about reality. The legal code should enshrine this reductionist subjectivism into law.

But what if this view of reality is false (which is exactly what I am contending)? What if the correct view of reality is much older than the innovations of the Enlightenment and the deformation of postmodern narrative subjectivism? What if nature is organic and connected rather than mechanical and disjointed? Well, this changes things a bit.

If reality is organic and connected, we most certainly can derive an ought from an is, and the teleologically infused natural order can become a dependable guide towards ethical norms and the pursuit of the good life. Natural law and virtue ethics all of a sudden become realistic, if not entirely accurate, moral persuasions guiding individual, communal, and state conduct concerning economic transactions, jurisprudence, and public policy. This public policy would include a recognizable biological is connected to a gender ought. Person’s suffering from gender dysphoria would be encouraged to seek professional psychological assistance in order to overcome their identity crisis, rather than pushed to sex change surgery. Rather than being used as political props by the sexual revolutionaries and secular progressives, transgendered persons would be encouraged to seek psychological help before they mutilate their bodies with hormone treatment and surgical procedures. Instead of allowing children to maintain the incorrect belief that they were “born in the wrong body” they should be helped to understand reality correctly, and shown that they are simply confused about their so-called gender identity.

It becomes quite clear, given these explanations and examples, that metaphysics and ontology greatly influence moral persuasions, which also influence politic philosophy and public policy. Unfortunately, we live in a society entirely uninterested in these fundamental questions and continue to debate at the surface of the issue.

 

– Lucas G. Westman

Originally published May, 17th, 2016


[1] Crooks & Baur, Our Sexuality 12th ed., Pg. 111, 112

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid, Pg. 248

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Ethics, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Theology

Good Without God?

Good Without God?When it is said that morality does not “come from religion,” but comes from us, that it is a human artifact, so to speak, an underlying misunderstanding is taking place. Moreover, I am unaware of a serious “religious” thinker that has denied the human aspect of morality.

The Catholic perspective is that morality is associated with our human nature which is grounded in our very being, and that this “groundedness” is received from another, namely the Being who is being itself or the “I AM WHO I AM.” Morality, then, is indeed discovered “in us” but when an internal discovery of this magnitude is found the human person immediately recognizes that their soul is participating in something that is infinite and necessary, rather than finite and contingent.  It follows then, that because we are not the source of our own existence and being, the moral code we discover by nature and revelation is also not our own making.

So the claim that morality is not “religious” but human is to misunderstand what is meant by the religious grounding of our being and source of morality.

 

– Lucas G. Westman

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Ethics, Philosophy

After Virtue & The New Saint Benedict

Alasdair Macintyre Quote“It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead – often not recognizing fully what they were doing – was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters as this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another – doubtless very different – St. Benedict.”

– Alasdair Macintyre, After Virtue

 

– Lucas G. Westman

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Catholic Bioethics, Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Uncategorized

Debating Abortion & Public Policy

Debating Abortion and Public PolicyWhen debating the legality of abortion with an atheist there is often a rhetorical sleight of hand that takes place. Instead of framing the debate as a disagreement on the moral and legal treatment of the unborn child, the issue becomes a conflict between secularism and religion. The atheist may argue that the pro-life position held by a Catholic, for example, is an illegitimate political position in our country because such a position “establishes” the Catholic Church’s view on life and forces that view on people that are not Catholic. This in turn is an establishment of religion and results in the violation of the 1st Amendment of the Federal Constitution.

Francis Beckwith captures the essence of this rhetorical tactic in is book, Taking Rites Seriously, Pg. 5:

“Colb reframes the philosophical dispute as a conflict between ‘religion’ and ‘secularism.’ By arguing that the ‘religious’ view is counterintuitive to the secular understanding, Colb need not go any deeper in assessing the prolife case. For ‘secular’ is presented as virtually equivalent to ‘deliverance of reason.’ The implication is clear: the differing views of the nature of the embryo are not two contrary accounts of the same subject – each the result of rational argument – but rather, each view is about a different subject, one religious and the other rational.”

In fact, this is the exact argumentative tactic David Silverman makes in his debate with Dinesh D’Souza. From the 50 minute marker to about the 56 minute marker, D’Souza and Silverman argue about abortion and the principles of legal “establishment.” Towards the end of the interaction Silverman says something like – it is illegal to force the religion of anti-abortionism on non-adherents.

This argument by Silverman is completely mistaken.

Being pro-life is a moral point of view that can be religiously motivated or even completely atheistic. Advancing this moral perspective through the democratic process, if successful, would only be “establishing” a specific moral view on a specific topic. Let’s say the pro-life position won the day largely due to the Catholic vote, and women could no longer have abortions in this country. Does it follow that women are now forced to go to Mass on Sunday? Does it follow that women are being forced to attend RCIA and join the Catholic Church? Does it follow that women must now pray the Rosary everyday or receive a fine from the appropriate governing authorities?

What if the pro-life position was successful because the Muslim demographic successfully entered into the democratic process? Would we all be forced to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca? Would women be forced to wear burkas? Must we all pray five times a day and study the Koran?

What if the pro-life position was successful because the secular cause for life won the day at that ballot box? Would a liberal protestant have to stop going to church on Sunday? Would liberal Catholics have to renounce the Blessed Mother Mary? Would Muslims be forced to never pray again? Would orthodox Jews be forced to cease wearing a yarmulke?

Obviously, none of this follows. It is bogus to argue that advancing the pro-life perspective is forcing religion onto non-adherents. Modernist sophistry is unlimited when attempting to silence the pro-life cause.

 

– Lucas G. Westman

 

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Culture, Ethics, Philosophy, Theology

The Perfectibility of Human Nature

EucharistThe perfectibility of human nature is only possible with divine intervention. The Incarnate Christ is the intervention needed to redeem a fallen human race. The sacrifice of the holy Mass, by partaking in the Eucharist, is how we are united to the propitiatory sacrifice of the Cross. The Real Presence of the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ in the Eucharist, when consumed, unites our imperfect being to what which is perfect being, indeed that which is perfect Being itself in the Triune God. This participation furthers our justification and sanctification. The sacramental means of perfection finds its end in the beatific vision. All of this is initiated by, and only possible through divine intercession. Man does not possess the power to perfect himself outside of the grace of God.

When God is rejected, the fallen nature of man remains in need of an appropriate remedy. Our distinctly rational and teleologically laden consciousness recognizes the need for a process of perfectibility. When the divine is not recognized as the source of atonement, man must raise another means for their salvation. What is offered in our technocratic era is the monstrosity of a statist bureaucratic panel of “experts” and scientific tinkering with human nature.

When the true remedy of a fallen humanity is rejected for “scientifically” devised Utopian machinations, the only thing standing in the way of a technologically perfectible humanity is the gospel itself. In a quasi-Marxist sort of way, the gospel is viewed as an enemy of “progress” because it blinds the human person from their actual nature; rather than created being participating in the divine source of finite reality, man is evolved being participating in the blind, non-teleological forces of physics, chemistry, and biology. So understood, the manipulation of nature via bureaucratic scientific mandate inevitably becomes the “god” of culture.

Must I point out the evil, tyrannical regimes fixated on social eugenics in order to manipulate the evolutionary process?

I say all of this to introduce this article by Richard Weikart:

“What is the Goal of “Moral Enhancement”?

Savulescu’s project of moral enhancement never defines its goal. He often uses vague terminology implying moral progress, such as “better,” or “human welfare,” or “human well-being,” or “benefit.” However, he rarely indicates what any of these terms might mean, or what we might be progressing toward. In one article he observes that, “from our human perspective, happiness and flourishing are primary goals.” But what constitutes happiness and flourishing? In several venues, he has sidestepped this objection by arguing that moral enhancement is congruent with a variety of ethical philosophies, including utilitarianism, desire fulfillment theories, and deontological ethics.

I must admit that I am still left scratching my head. According to his account, morality is the product of biological evolution, and he seems to agree with most biologists and evolutionary psychologists that these are mindless, purposeless processes. If a non-teleological process produced human morality, then how can we find a measuring rod for morality outside of nature that allows us to prefer “moral” behaviors to “immoral” behaviors? Savulescu insists that we can “liberate ourselves from evolution,” but it is unclear where we can acquire the moral fulcrum to do that.

Savulescu has no objective grounds for choosing which specific behaviors to favor. Like many evolutionary psychologists, he discusses the evolutionary advantages of various altruistic behaviors, but he rarely mentions that selfish behavior, wars, racism, atrocities, rape, and many other kinds of immorality are also a natural part of human history. Indeed, there are evolutionary explanations for these kinds of behavior, too. If both selfishness and altruism have evolved simultaneously, and both have benefitted individuals in the struggle for existence, why should we think that one is superior to the other? Indeed, some biologists have insisted that selfishness is every bit as important as altruism in advancing the well-being of individuals or species.

What if these biologists are right? What if making our children more selfish would help them in the struggle for existence and human flourishing, providing them a healthier, happier life? In that case, according to Savulescu’s own teaching about designer babies, we would have strong moral reasons to genetically engineer our children to be more selfish. Savulescu thinks that increased cooperation is preferable to selfishness, but how does he conjure up a rationale for it, since he seems committed to a naturalistic understanding of the origin of morality?

If we examine other moral characteristics, we run into the same problem: what grounds do we have for preferring one over the other? For instance, in one article Savulescu notes that compared to men, women have a lower tendency to harm other people. Because of this, he suggests that “we could make men more moral by biomedical methods by making them more like women.” Even if this sexist version of evolutionary psychology proves to be accurate, why should we prefer female empathy to male aggression? Why assume that empathy will lead to greater human thriving and welfare than aggression?”

Here is the rest of the article – Can We Make Ourselves More Moral? 

 

– Lucas G. Westman

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