On the justification of being and non-being

Discussions that deal with moral issues. Key questions in ethics include: How should one live? What is right (or wrong) to do? What is the best way for humans to live?

On the justification of being and non-being

Postby Mr Warum on April 28th, 2011, 11:25 am 

"Values are intangibles. They are, in the final analysis, things of the mind that have to do with the vision people have of "the good life" for themselves and their fellows." (Nicholas Rescher) [1]



The purpose of this article is to approach the ethical essence of creating and terminating life, with special emphasis on the question of justification of ‘life’ as an overriding basic value.

Life appears as a meta value in, for example, the biologism represented by sociobiologists, in most utilitarian theories and in the philosophical statements of R.M. Hare, among others. My objective is not to find historical reasons for this; rather, my purpose is to examine the underlying assumptions through which life has been derived as a value over non-life. The subject has been mentioned in passing in the discussions on abortion and euthanasia in the past few years, but without focusing on the actual core of the issue: why should life be justified as a basic value over non-life? Or why should this not be done?

Some might find similarities between the view’s of Finnish thinker Pentti Linkola and the observations I present below. However, this represents a vicious false illusion. Pentti Linkola’s apocalypticism and utopia on the extinction of the human race is not an argument for the non-value of life as such; it is rather a clear argument for the intrinsic value of life, even if this requires the extinction of one dominant species. Linkola’s views do not question life as an intrinsic value – or if they do, this implication is highly subtle.



Biological world-view and religious naturalism


"The time has come for ethics to be removed temporarily from the hands of the philosophers and biologicized." (Edward O. Wilson) [2]



When Edward O. Wilson published his works Sociobiology: The New Synthesis in 1975, it caused a storm of protests. Humanists, for one, criticized the sociobiological world-view. The most central and forcefully criticized argument in the publication was that the genetic, inherited differences in people are the primary reason behind cultural structures as well as the position of an individual in the social hierarchy, as opposed to random historical factors which were often presented as the cause.

On the other hand, a new sociobiological movement was formed and it inspired a field known as evolutionary psychology. The movement strove to portray itself as a scientific one, and rationalized many phenomena as products of natural selection and therefore as inherently good.

Sociobiology hit the mark on many accounts. It is likely that sociologists, psychologists and much of the whole (academic) world have not taken into account to a sufficient extent the role of genetic heredity in the human mental structures, in the political and cultural conventions of people, and in the very foundations of social structures as a whole.

Wilson’s leap from biology – or biological evolution – to ethics and the field of moral argumentation is nonetheless a daring one:



”...Many philosophers will respond by saying, But wait! What are you saying? Ethicists don’t need that kind of information. You really can’t pass from is to ought. You are not allowed to describe a genetic predisposition and suppose that because it is part of human nature, it is somehow transformed into an ethical precept. We must put moral reasoning in a special category, and use transcendental guidelines as required.

No, we do not have to put moral reasoning in a special category, and use transcendental premises, because the posing of the naturalistic fallacy is itself a fallacy. For if ought is not is, what is? To translate is into ought makes sense if we attend to the objective meaning of ethical precepts. They are very unlikely to be ethereal messages outside humanity awaiting revelation, or independent truth vibrating in a nonmaterial dimension of the mind. They are more likely to be physical products of the brain and culture. From the consilient perspective of the natural sciences, they are no more than principles of the social contract hardened into rules and dictates, the behavioral codes that members of a society fervently wish others to follow and are willing to accept themselves for the common good. Precepts are the extreme in a scale of agreements that range from casual assent to public sentiment to law to that part of the canon considered unalterable and sacred." [3]



To this, my response is that "ought" is the will, desire or intention of a being, and in this sense it truly "is". From this intention of a being, or from the normative attitude of ”should”, no obligation can be drawn. This is purely analytic. The issue is very simple if, generally speaking, the normative attitude of "ought" is a product of the brain and culture and it is required in order to maintain human life; the occurrence of this attitude is common amongst the living. No evolutionary process can even give a probable estimate as to why life would be a value over non-life.



However, Wilson is admittedly correct in stating that, when assessing the possibilities and ethicality of actions, one must consider what is possible and what is not. But to assess life as a value over non-life, there is no material produced by the rational mind or empirical data (during, for example, the evolution of billions of years). Among evolutionary biologists, organized religion has often been seen as a contemporarily meaningful adaptation of natural selection. In the modern world, however, the popularity of religion has decreased. This has been seen both as an advantage and as a handicap; a fruitful phenomenon for the scientific world-view, but also the risk of falling into a meaningless spiritual void. Religions have responded to the spiritual needs of people and, even if they were to disappear, the need for sacred narratives remains. Wilson sees this both as a problem and as a challenge for the future.



"If the sacred narrative cannot be in the form of a religious cosmology, it will be taken from the material history of the universe and the human species. That trend is in no way debasing. The true evolutionary epic, retold as poetry, is as intrinsically ennobling as any religious epic. Material reality discovered by science already possesses more content and grandeur than all religious cosmologies combined. The continuity of the human line has been traced through a period of deep history a thousand times older than that conceived by the Western religions. Its study has brought new revelations of great moral importance. It has made us realize that Homo sapiens is far more than a congeries of tribes and races. We are a single gene pool from which individuals are drawn in each generation and into which they are dissolved the next generation, forever united as a species by heritage and a common future. Such are the conceptions, based on fact from which new intimations of immortality can be drawn and a new mythos evolved." [4]



The end of the last sentence is especially intriguing: “new mythos evolved.” However, regarding life as an axiomatic, dogmatic value can hardly be regarded as a new idea.


Unlike Wilson, Georg Henrik von Wright, as an analytical philosopher, does not render himself guilty of a naturalistic fallacy. His set of values is nonetheless similar to that of Wilson.

"The battle for survival – "the will to live", as Schopenhauer would say – is the natural biological basis for all valuation. In the animal world below human, this aim is simply "evaluative action". It is only on the human level that this action is given the form of grading from good to bad.

Individuals – even those that are not human – may also aim at the opposite goal: death and destruction, due to some other objective. When this is done to advance one’s own group, it is an act of self-sacrifice. This is not regarded as an irrational act. It may even be admired and accepted. However, struggling for the sort of goals that lead to the self-destruction of a species is irrational. Considering its biological basis, we also label it as perverted or unnatural. These are conceptual observations, not sets of values or scientific truths.

Instead, the conception of the natural conditions of human and animal survival is scientific – and so, therefore, is the view of what one can or cannot do to nature if existence is to be secured. In this sense, one can state that science explores the boundaries within which rational life is possible. Crossing the boundaries is purposeless self-destruction, an unnatural act of irrationality." [5]



According to von Wright, then, the biological – natural – basis for all valuation is the battle for survival, the will to live. With regard to life preservation, unfavourable action can be regarded as irrational in so far as this natural biological tendency to preserve life is rational, as defined. von Wright’s own value preferences are in accordance with general biological tendencies: in other words, in favour of preserving life.





Life and non-life – abortion and euthanasia


Now, let us take a moment and touch upon one of the most interesting value ethical debates of the past few decades: the discussion on abortion.

In the last few years, the justification of abortion has been one of the most central questions in value ethical discussions. Among the most noted abortion debate openers has been philosopher R.M. Hare. Hare’s basic premise is the principle of life preservation which cannot be breached with abortion. The concept of 'a potential person' lies at the core of Hare’s argumentation. He states that a foetus, or even a newly conceived egg cell, is a potential person, and therefore an abortion would be a crime against this potential human being.

At the same time, arguments have been made against euthanasia (and for it) by stating that life preservation is also a value overriding the will of an existing person – even in the event that this person personally wants euthanasia.

What is common to all these instances of debate is the underlying assumption of life as something desirable as such, and most of all, as a self-evident value.



According to Hare, our duty – assuming that we are happy that our lives have not been terminated at the foetus stage – is not to terminate the life of a "potential person" living to see its foetal stage. [6]

Not taking a stand on whether or not Hare abuses the concept of "duty", one must take into account three important aspects.



1. The assumption that we are happy to be alive at the moment does certainly not cover all living individuals, even if most living individuals consider their life to be a positive thing.

2. Even if happiness about life were to be a universal viewpoint, it cannot be used as an argument in concluding whether or not abortion would have been a better choice with regard to happiness. Hence, one cannot know whether it is better to be than not to be.

3. A noteworthy aspect is also the fact that bringing about life – which in this case, if successful, means creating a self-conscious human being, a person – does not mean merely bringing about life. It is somewhat rational to assume that a forthcoming conscious person will come to die one day. Furthermore, whether or not this is a shift back to the state or non-state which prevailed before the person, there is no clear knowledge of the nature of this shift beyond the fact that the human being ceases to exist as a biological organism. Bringing about life is also a necessary condition for its ending – or termination.



Hare’s argument therefore is that life is likely to be a better state of affairs than the lack thereof. What a bold and peculiar argument! And one that should be used to justify obligation towards a potentially forthcoming individual.

Having said that, it is somewhat evident that our naturalistic attitude drives us to investigate the questions of existence in a highly biocentric manner, with an emphasis on the (presumed) value of life and by perhaps regarding it as a “given value.” And yet: why has this reasoning not been taken to its natural conclusion by comparing the relation of life and non-life and the arguments and circumstances in which it is justified to value one over the other, if either?

In the viewpoint represented by Hare, sperm is not yet a potential person – even though it can be seen as one if potentiality is defined in a broad sense. Therefore, it does not possess the rights of a potential person. Following Hare’s model, one does not have the duty of “giving” life to the sperm. But what about the right to do so? If a human being does not have the duty of giving life to sperm in the form of human life, does one have the right to do so? Hare does not approach this question.



As stated, a sperm is not a potential person in the sense discussed by Hare, and therefore our related actions are not directed at a person or a potential person. In other words, our actions towards the sperm are relatively insignificant to it.

Having a child is an action in which decisions are made concerning an individual’s life. The act of having a child has an object, a potentially forthcoming human being. This individual should not be perceived as a person, however.

My purpose is not to imply that the object as a person exists at the moment of conception, but having a child affects an individual’s life: the object of this action is a child to be born, and that child usually fulfils the criteria of a person. Therefore, it can be concluded that the act of having a child has an object, but this object is not a person at the moment of conception.

Hare’s hypothesis is that life itself is a value, the creation of which holds no ethical problems, whereas the prevention and especially termination thereof holds several.

Biocentrism is of course our naturalistic and natural attitude which has developed during evolution, but it does not imply anything about values as such.



Let us compare this argument with another question on existence, the termination of life.

Let us assume that an adult human being seems to outsiders in their right minds to be willing to die and to clearly and unambiguously state “Kill me!” Is this sufficient justification for killing this human being?

Juridically surely not, but what about ethically?

In my opinion, NO. I believe that a vast majority of people hopefully agrees with my view (even though this is no basis for justifying the value of the action).

Nonetheless, in the above example case, the actor has more information on the tendencies of the object of the action than in the example on bringing about life – i.e. in the active deed that aims at creating a new human being, a child. Hence, there is some information available on the desires and intentions of the object of "mercy killing". As for the object of conception, there is no information available on the desires of the (forthcoming) individual. This is also true in the likely case of the (intended) object of the action not existing yet. The fact that it is impossible to have this information when creating new life (having a child) does not change our diverging epistemic attitudes in any way.

Hence, we cannot know whether it is better to be than not to be.



Is there an object in the act of having a child (in this context, let us forget the existing environment, possible future relatives, the social security system, society)? Certainly: the sperm and the egg cell. But is there an object as a person when having a child (not yet at the conception stage) – such as a three-year-old child usually is – for example? My claim is that there is one.



The basic argument is as follows: we have no moral right to cause something that radically changes the existence of another individual or – to be more precise: from non-existence to existence or vice versa (in other words, from a non-individual/+ non-existence into existence or vice versa is also regarded as a change here), or to directly affect the existence of another human being if it is not possible to hear this individual in the matter.

Such arguments have been made concerning the act of having a child that one cannot affect something that does not exist. Is this argument justified?



An example

When planning a statue portraying American rock star Bruce Springsteen, the statue does not exist at the moment of planning. Were the statue project to become successful, however, the statue is the object of the action (or one of them). The statue existed as an object, even if not as an actual and existing one, as early as the brainstorming and planning stage. The participants and executors of the statue project can be justly seen as actors responsible for the execution and act of acquiring the statue. The situation is fully analogous to that of knowingly having a child.



It is true that the individual does not exist at the moment of conception. The individual also does not exist without the act of conception. Therefore, even though the act of conception is the reason or one of the crucial reasons as to why an individual, fulfilling the requirements of a person, will later be born, this person does not exist at the time of the act – in fact, not even as a potential person (Hare). Can we therefore talk about "true causation"? (Note: if we cannot talk about "true causation", the oft-mentioned concern about future generations and, above all, the moral claim to do something for a better life for the yet unborn future generations – actions to be taken to preserve the Earth in a more viable state, perhaps – is completely absurd.)



My argument is that Hare’s viewpoint is unfounded.

The object of the action is a potentially forthcoming person, in similar manner to sperm and an egg cell. Even though it is a fact that, unlike the egg cell and the sperm that exist at the moment of executing the act – the attempt to have a child – this person does not exist nor will s/he perhaps ever exist (the conception may not be successful, a miscarriage may take place, or other complications may prevent childbirth), the act is to be assessed in connection with the object of the act (the forthcoming human being) and the potential person.

However, as the person materializes, the individuals behind the act of conception hold central roles in the creation chain of the person. These individuals are therefore, in both good and bad, responsible for the emergence of a certain person.



What about ending life? I will not discuss active or passive euthanasia here, nor killing in self-defence or at war, nor an accidentally caused death, nor killing someone in a permanent coma.

The topic concerns the murder of a human being, that of a sovereign individual that can be defined as a person in the strictest sense of the word.



I shall not discuss the criteria for defining someone as a person more closely here – whether it is a question of a certain level of complexity in a nervous system that manifests itself as consciousness or of some undefined spiritual factors in our world of perception. My premise is that a great number of philosophers have answered the question to a sufficient extent as regards my example. In this context, I shall make the simplifying assumption that a human being is a ‘person’ as of its birth, regardless of its age and phase of development.



Drawing an analogy between the murder and birth of an individual may seem excessive.

However, the decision of creating a person (having a child) is, in a way, more radical than the decision to end a life, since a successful act of creation does not only cause the birth of a person but is also likely to cause, even if indirectly, the death of this person – or to cause a "death" in which the person dies as a perceivable human being but maintains the status of a person, the value/non-value of which is not known. The latter part of the sentence admittedly contains strong metaphysical speculation but, in my opinion, it is useful to also mention this perhaps rather hypothetical possibility concerning afterlife even in the argumentation of those against euthanasia. The action doubly changes the existence status of the forthcoming individual, though the causal motif is not as strong as for ending life as it is for creating it. The moral dilemma results from the fact that we have no knowledge concerning afterlife.

In other words, the question is whether being is a better value than not being? Or, more precisely: being in this world or not being in this world.

The moral justification for the action can be examined from the point of view of the actor’s motif. Having said that, the question of motifs is morally relevant only with regard to the responsibility of the performer of the action. When trying to have a child, most potential parents aim to do good and they wish that life would be a good thing for the forthcoming child. In the case of most murders, the motifs of the actor are hardly similar – rather, quite the opposite.



When discussing responsibility, we must assume that the actor/s is/are subjects who know what they are doing, i.e. that they aim to cause the given consequences (childbirth, ending life) and that they know what means to use for this purpose: in other words, they have the appropriate epistemic attitude [7]. A death resulting as a side effect of a bar fight or from reckless driving by a drunken driver is not a murder, and therefore also not an intentional attempt at ending a life. On the other hand, a child that is conceived ‘by mistake’ in casual sexual intercourse is not the consequence of an intentional act of having a child. In the following, let us confine our examination to a conscious, intentional act.

One can argue that, when someone is murdered, it means knowingly ending the life of an existing person, whereas the act of having a child is not as irrevocable. Furthermore, a death caused by a murder may itself cause great suffering. Also, the human being that is murdered usually does not want to die, or at least not to be murdered. If s/he did – if the individual wanted to be murdered – the one performing the murder usually never does this act motivated by such an altruistic attitude (in order to fulfill the wish of the one hoping to get murdered). This is, of course, a very important difference with regard to having a child.

Even after conception, one is able to change their mind and prevent the birth of a conscious person by having an abortion. This is also an important difference between these two actions. Creating life (having a child) must be examined as a whole, however, which contains not only the conception – which is basically still a phase during which it is possible to cancel the life of the forthcoming human person – but also the whole period of pregnancy. In case the intention of having a child is successfully completed, a conscious person will be born and this person is equally valuable when compared to the 'existing person’ being murdered in the previous example. This person is to be taken into account when having a child, equally to the object of murder in the murder example. In both cases, the act is directed at a person.

(It is certainly clear that both acts (having a child and committing a murder) also affect the environment, but this examination is focused on the relationship between the acts and their objects.)

This, of course, does not mean that the acts of committing a murder and having a child would be of equal value. To begin with, the motifs are usually reversed, as stated above. However, why would it be a morally better decision to shift from non-life to life than from life to non-life?



When successful, a murder is irreversible. As a justification for not placing the birth of a living individual morally on the same line with ending a life, one could argue that once born, a human being may willingly depart from life if s/he deems it necessary to do so.

The possibility of suicide of course exists. Once born, however, a human being is highly unlikely to have the sufficient skills to commit suicide before the age of five – often, in fact, not before turning ten or even fifteen. When this wish arises and the individual aims to fulfil it, surrounding people strive to prevent the suicide almost without exceptions if they only can. Furthermore, a vast number of highly retarded people exist who, due to their condition, will never really be able to commit suicide.

One must in any case consider the possibility of having to live a perhaps highly agonizing period of life before suicide, due to a choice – that of creating life – for which the individual him/herself is not responsible. And most importantly, not even suicide guarantees that the individual will achieve the state or non-state where s/he “was” before the decision of having a child was made. (Be it complete non-existence, for example.)



All this must seem completely absurd, but rational argumentation does not produce significant results in making an ethical distinction between creating life and creating non-life. Intuitively, a normal sane individual will consider creating life as the unquestionably more ethical option. This is a natural and naturalistic attitude, which I myself also hold. In my opinion, a murder is an act of extreme wrongdoing towards an individual, regardless of how painlessly the murder is performed (euthanasia requested and well-founded by an individual is a different case). Having a child, in my view, is not even closely on the same line with regard to ethical acceptability.

Our mission, nonetheless, is to analytically compare or to try and compare the relation between life and non-life, and the creation thereof, with an ethical point of view. That which is finally our choice of values is beyond this rational comparison.







Utilitarianism and the best possible world


Let us conduct a thought experiment and assume that life in general is a better choice for a foetus or sperm than non-life. Let us further assume that this is not true in all cases. If we assume, however, that there is a right – in some cases even a duty – to produce human life, what results is suffering for at least a certain part of humankind. If this is accepted in the name of the "common good" or greater total benefit, the individuals who have come here to suffer have no intrinsic value – at least not in the Kantian sense. In other words, they are used as instruments for a greater end. Consequently, if we stick to the utilitarian viewpoint, a “person” is no normative absolute that cannot be overstepped. The utilitarian outlook expressly causes that a ”person” – in practice, “persons” – ought to be used as instruments for the greater good. This can surely be – or at least ought to be – self-evident to Hare as well.



The inevitable unwanted consequences of actions – the side effects – are an unavoidable consequence of life. This results in a situation where some people will suffer fates that are in no way good or enjoyable. The practical truth is that some people will get themselves used as “test animals” in discharge chamber experiments, or raped by wolfhounds, to mention just a few examples. In other words: we know that creating life inevitably results in unwanted consequences.



Surely, one can state that non-life can be an even worse fate than the two examples above. If this were to be true, it might not result in the duty of producing as much life for the Earth as possible, but it would undoubtedly be a supererogatory – a Mother Theresa-like – act. Therefore, it is a considerably immoral deed for social workers or anyone else to persuade potential heroin addict mothers to use contraception or even to terminate their pregnancies! The epistemic state of people being as it is, we cannot plead to the value of creating life with such speculative arguments.



What about the counterargument to the fact that the same applies in reverse?

We cannot regard furnaces and brain pressure test chambers as barriers to banning life creation, as it is also speculative to assume that these phenomena are worse than non-life.



What is the correct answer to the foregoing? One attempted answer could be this: by definition, non-life does not enable any experiencing and therefore also not suffering. To this argument, one can of course comment that no definition given by some creature tells anything about the matter as such. This is surely true, but it is equally true that this is not a case of definition randomly given by some local creature: rather, this refers to the fact that it is a pure analytic truth that non-life cannot contain experiencing, as experiencing is logically enabled by life and life only.



It can be further argued that what we call non-life is in fact not that: it is possible that before turning into a human person, there is an entity that truly lives but in a form that is not evident to humans. Consequently, one could express the same argument that this non-human life ”can be an even worse fate than the two previously mentioned fates” (those of a test animal in a brain pressure chamber and the rape victim of a wolfhound). This is a very speculative and perhaps unrealistic statement, but I do not deny that this would in theory be possible, nor do I deny the characteristic similarity of the counterexamples I have presented.



Finally, what can we say about this side of the matter? The answer is strikingly clear. Even if it was the case that we cannot say anything about the supremacy of life or non-life – even in the case that all the world’s current and forthcoming human beings were to experience the fate of those two! – there is an important, fundamental difference between having a child and not having one (as this is finally the focal issue here): not having a child leaves things as they were. Let us assume that unit A is making a decision on whether or not to have a child.

In case A does not have a child – and the consequence of this choice is that a greater bad will take place than in the event of A having a child – A will still not have actively influenced the occurrence of this bad.

Let us now assume the opposite: A has a child, and the consequence of this choice is that a greater bad will take place than in the event of A not having a child. In this case, it is unquestionably clear that A has actively affected the materialization of this bad.

Or?

What would you say if the act of having a child was changed into committing a murder?

The debate on euthanasia has also evoked an aspect to this question, one that is not very popular, however (in fact, it is often regarded as inhuman): If a so-called bystander sees that someone (for example, individual X) REALLY suffers and that there is no foreseeable consolation or escape, is the bystander obliged to help the individual die or – if s/he is not able to express his/her will – to murder the individual?

Perhaps yes, but the nature of this obligation is different from that in the case of having a child. When having a child, the potential parents have a crucial role in the events taking place. If a bystander truly is a bystander, s/he does not have a part in X’s sufferings. A bystander may nonetheless be obliged to alleviate the suffering.

The example above encounters the same dilemma as our earlier example on the two miserable ones: one cannot truly know?

In practice, this is no problem in the case of a deer having jumped onto the windscreen and then lying suffering on the highway, one-eyed but alive. The duty of a respectable and exemplary citizen is to “put the deer out of its misery”, though we cannot truly know in this case, either.

One aspect is shared by the two miserable ones, the suffering deer, and the human being suffering with no real chance of escape. They are all creatures whose suffering is perceived, and they all belong to the sphere of life.









This cannot be it!



In terms of common sense, the conclusions we have reached are absolutely absurd.

The gut feeling of many is: ”This cannot be it!”

This reaction is fully understandable.

This is also the case with the undersigned.

Having said that, this natural reaction cannot be regarded as a valid argument, be it as regrettable as it may.

Let us give Pentti Linkola another chance, however:



"It is logically absurd that a part – private life – is important and meaningful, but the whole – life in its entirety – is insignificant and dispensable". [8]



The fact that private life is important and meaningful, which is also my view, is a state of affairs (or, to be more precise, the state of affairs affecting as the viewpoint of a certain creature), which is in relation to a state of affairs within another sphere of life. Regarding these values as ”good” is in some cases of course rational, but not unambiguously logical as such. One could even argue that life in general has value over non-life. Rational reasoning does not give any support to this argument.

A Linkola-spirited argument to this could be: "Only what is can have value. Non-life cannot have value."

A possible response could be: "Maybe so, but similarly only what is can have non-value."





References

1 Rescher, Introduction to Value Theory. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N. J. 1969, 1-19

2 Wilson 1975, 562

3 Wilson 1998, 249-250

4 Wilson 1998, 265

5 von Wright 1992, 194-195

6 Hare, Abortion and the Golden Rule. Philosophy & Public Affairs 4, 1975, 201-222

7 von Wright, Determinism and the Study of Man in Juha Manninen and Raimo Tuomela (published): Essays on Explanation and Understanding. D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht - Holland, Boston - USA 1976, 415-436

8 Linkola 1989, 168





Literature

Rescher, Nicholas, Introduction to Value Theory. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N. J. 1969, 1-19.

Wilson, Edward O., Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Cambridge, Belknap 1975.

Wilson, Edward O., CONSILIENCE. The Unity of Knowledge. New York: Alfred A. Knopf 1998.

Hare, R.M., Abortion and the Golden Rule. Philosophy & Public Affairs 4, 1975, 201-222.

Published also: Hare, R.M., Essays on Bioethics. New York, Clarendon Press Oxford 1993.

von Wright, Georg Henrik, Minervan pöllö: esseitä vuosilta 1987-1991. Helsinki, Otava 1992.

von Wright, G.H, Vetenskapen och förnuftet. Ett försök till orientering. Helsinki, Söderström 1986.

von Wright, G.H, Determinism and the Study of Man in Juha Manninen and Raimo Tuomela (published): Essays on Explanation and Understanding. D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht - Holland, Boston - USA 1976, 415-436.

Linkola, Pentti, Johdatus 1990-luvun ajatteluun. Porvoo, WSOY 1989.
Mr Warum
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Re: On the justification of being and non-being

Postby owleye on April 28th, 2011, 11:49 am 

The sort of post that one might read in one's leisure time, having a list of such essays and books standing in the way. I'd read both of the Wilson books years ago and found them interesting, though not from its being able to tell how we should conduct ourselves in the world. If anything they only informed me about a different way to examine how our behavior is influenced by our genetic heritage. Wilson, as I saw it, was not directing his attention toward ethical concerns, but rather in trying to get biologists and other disciplines on the social fabric of life, where genetics should have more of a say than it is currently getting.

What comes out of this kind of research may or may not be of interest to ethicists at these early stages, but I don't believe it warrants moving ethics into the rank of science, just yet. In any case, I'm going to put off reading all the material posted on behalf of the this topic unless it can be put forward in more digestible chunks.

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Re: On the justification of being and non-being

Postby Lomax on April 28th, 2011, 1:19 pm 

Hello Mr Warum,

My first concern is that this

Mr Warum wrote:Life appears as a meta value in, for example...most utilitarian theories


is certainly not true. Classical utilitarians take happiness as the sole meta-value and preference-utilitarians (such as Mr Hare) take satisfaction of desires as the sole meta-value. In fact there is a crossover between ethics and biology - bioethics - of which the biggest name is Peter Singer: a pro-choice, pro-euthenasia preference-utilitarian, and a student of Professor Hare's at Oxford.

Ayn Rand did take life as a meta-value (and thought she could logically prove its status as such) but I don't take Mrs Rand seriously.

I call this into question:

Mr Warum wrote:On the other hand, a new sociobiological movement was formed and it inspired a field known as evolutionary psychology. The movement strove to portray itself as a scientific one, and rationalized many phenomena as products of natural selection and therefore as inherently good.


because evolutionary biology is rather inspired by evidence than values, or any kind of "social Darwinism".

Also, I don't know anything about Mr Wilson other than what's in this thread, but I can tell you that he has missed the point of the naturalistic fallacy altogether:

No, we do not have to put moral reasoning in a special category, and use transcendental premises, because the posing of the naturalistic fallacy is itself a fallacy. For if ought is not is, what is? To translate is into ought makes sense if we attend to the objective meaning of ethical precepts. They are very unlikely to be ethereal messages outside humanity awaiting revelation, or independent truth vibrating in a nonmaterial dimension of the mind. They are more likely to be physical products of the brain and culture.


The fact that some agent a thinks, for purely natural reasons, some value v, does not imply that v can be vindicated by purely naturalistic enquiry. Rather, the psychological and meta-ethical theories are seperable.

In fact, supposing Mr Wilson's view to be accurate: then I think we could derive a contradiction from naturalism. We should have to suppose that both my view "abortion is alright" and Swiss_Guard's view "it is not the case that abortion is alright" are both objectively true because they both follow from genetic and environmental factors.

(In short, I agree with your response to Mr Wilson.)

My only concern with von Wright's view is this bit:

In this sense, one can state that science explores the boundaries within which rational life is possible. Crossing the boundaries is purposeless self-destruction, an unnatural act of irrationality.


I don't know why he slips in the word "purposeless"; perhaps it was a sincere error. But some people give their lives in order to achieve the things they value, not the opposite (think: soldiers, martyrs, willing scapegoats, etc).

Long story short, I agree with your basic view. But you took nearly 6,000 words to say it. Owleye's right - if you want more people to read what you put, you need to be less verbose. I feel like alot of what you said could have been summarised in a fraction of the space.
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Re: On the justification of being and non-being

Postby Mr Warum on April 29th, 2011, 2:23 pm 

Lomax wrote:Hello Mr Warum,

My first concern is that this

Mr Warum wrote:Life appears as a meta value in, for example...most utilitarian theories


is certainly not true. Classical utilitarians take happiness as the sole meta-value and preference-utilitarians (such as Mr Hare) take satisfaction of desires as the sole meta-value.



Happiness or satisfaction of desires - I assume - are possible only in life.
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Re: On the justification of being and non-being

Postby Lomax on April 29th, 2011, 2:29 pm 

Mr Warum wrote:Happiness or satisfaction of desires - I assume - are possible only in life.


Yes, but it doesn't follow that life is the meta-value. To say so would be to justify happiness in terms of life, not vice-versa.
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Re: On the justification of being and non-being

Postby Zin5ki on April 29th, 2011, 6:01 pm 

Hello Mr Warum. Thank you for sharing your essay with us.

Mr Warum wrote:To this, my response is that "ought" is the will, desire or intention of a being, and in this sense it truly "is". From this intention of a being, or from the normative attitude of ”should”, no obligation can be drawn. This is purely analytic. The issue is very simple if, generally speaking, the normative attitude of "ought" is a product of the brain and culture and it is required in order to maintain human life; the occurrence of this attitude is common amongst the living. No evolutionary process can even give a probable estimate as to why life would be a value over non-life.

The identity of normative conditions with non-cognitive human attitudes is something I would certainly like to endorse. (Indeed, this is the view held by many of those who, like me, became overly enthusiastic about metaphysical naturalism during their formative years.) Moore's Open Question, amongst many obstacles that appeared during the twentieth century, alas prevents me from being able to assert this position without taking extreme caution.

On an related note, your standpoint in this respect deepens your disagreement with Hare to a metaethical level.
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Re: On the justification of being and non-being

Postby Lomax on April 29th, 2011, 6:12 pm 

Zin5ki wrote:The identity of normative conditions with non-cognitive human attitudes is something I would certainly like to endorse. (Indeed, this is the view held by many of those who, like me, became overly enthusiastic about metaphysical naturalism during their formative years.) Moore's Open Question, amongst many obstacles that appeared during the twentieth century, alas prevents me from being able to assert this position without taking extreme caution.

I'm pretty much a non-cognitivist (although I'm non-confident about it) but I'm wary of Moore's argument. To quote a friend of a friend (who probably doesn't even know I exist):

The 'naturalistic fallacy' is the fallacy of disagreeing with G.E. Moore about whether some property can be given a reductive definition. One proves that an opponent is guilty of this fallacy by professing one's own ignorance; this is known as the 'Open Question argument'.

For example, if a chemist proposes that salt can be reduced to sodium chloride, one can expose their fallacy by asking: "I know this shaker contains salt, but does it contain sodium chloride?" The fact that this is an 'open question', as you do not know the answer, demonstrates that salt and sodium chloride cannot be identical after all. For if they were, it would be equivalent to asking "I know this shaker contains salt, but does it contain salt?" and even Cambridge philosophers know the answer to that one.
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Re: On the justification of being and non-being

Postby Mr Warum on April 30th, 2011, 1:46 pm 

Lomax wrote:
Mr Warum wrote:Happiness or satisfaction of desires - I assume - are possible only in life.


Yes, but it doesn't follow that life is the meta-value. To say so would be to justify happiness in terms of life, not vice-versa.



Maybe our definitions of "meta-value" are different.

How you define the concept of "meta-value"?
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Re: On the justification of being and non-being

Postby Lomax on April 30th, 2011, 1:54 pm 

Mr Warum wrote:Maybe our definitions of "meta-value" are different.

How you define the concept of "meta-value"?


Ah ok. Well I take it to be an item of the meta-ethical code; a value which doesn't derive from others, but rather stands a foundation from which to infer the others.

Is that what you meant?
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Re: On the justification of being and non-being

Postby Mr Warum on April 30th, 2011, 2:35 pm 

Lomax wrote:
Mr Warum wrote:Maybe our definitions of "meta-value" are different.

How you define the concept of "meta-value"?


Ah ok. Well I take it to be an item of the meta-ethical code; a value which doesn't derive from others, but rather stands a foundation from which to infer the others.

Is that what you meant?



Yes, at least sort of.


Back to my first post.
I have to add that personally I think that many ethicists assume "the value of life" as "given", without questioning. For average John Doe (sorry the cliché) it is even more so.
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Re: On the justification of being and non-being

Postby Lomax on April 30th, 2011, 3:28 pm 

Agreed. The excellent Peter Singer has a book called "Rethinking Life and Death" which might interest you.
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Re: On the justification of being and non-being

Postby Mr Warum on April 30th, 2011, 5:39 pm 

Lomax wrote:Agreed. The excellent Peter Singer has a book called "Rethinking Life and Death" which might interest you.


Thank you for recommendation. :-)
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Re: On the justification of being and non-being

Postby Mr Warum on June 12th, 2011, 1:46 pm 

I have shortened the first post for this thread.

For my point of view debates from abortion (is it right or wrong) are small details. Something very irrelevant when we are speaking of questions of (giving) life and terminating it.

If you have an opinion of abortion, you should read this.


Utilitarianism and the best possible world


Let us conduct a thought experiment and assume that life in general is a better choice for a foetus or sperm than non-life. Let us further assume that this is not true in all cases. If we assume, however, that there is a right – in some cases even a duty – to produce human life, what results is suffering for at least a certain part of humankind. If this is accepted in the name of the "common good" or greater total benefit, the individuals who have come here to suffer have no intrinsic value – at least not in the Kantian sense. In other words, they are used as instruments for a greater end. Consequently, if we stick to the utilitarian viewpoint, a “person” is no normative absolute that cannot be overstepped. The utilitarian outlook expressly causes that a ”person” – in practice, “persons” – ought to be used as instruments for the greater good. This can surely be – or at least ought to be – self-evident to Hare as well.



The inevitable unwanted consequences of actions – the side effects – are an unavoidable consequence of life. This results in a situation where some people will suffer fates that are in no way good or enjoyable. The practical truth is that some people will get themselves used as “test animals” in discharge chamber experiments, or raped by wolfhounds, to mention just a few examples. In other words: we know that creating life inevitably results in unwanted consequences.



Surely, one can state that non-life can be an even worse fate than the two examples above. If this were to be true, it might not result in the duty of producing as much life for the Earth as possible, but it would undoubtedly be a supererogatory – a Mother Theresa-like – act. Therefore, it is a considerably immoral deed for social workers or anyone else to persuade potential heroin addict mothers to use contraception or even to terminate their pregnancies! The epistemic state of people being as it is, we cannot plead to the value of creating life with such speculative arguments.



What about the counterargument to the fact that the same applies in reverse?

We cannot regard furnaces and brain pressure test chambers as barriers to banning life creation, as it is also speculative to assume that these phenomena are worse than non-life.



What is the correct answer to the foregoing? One attempted answer could be this: by definition, non-life does not enable any experiencing and therefore also not suffering. To this argument, one can of course comment that no definition given by some creature tells anything about the matter as such. This is surely true, but it is equally true that this is not a case of definition randomly given by some local creature: rather, this refers to the fact that it is a pure analytic truth that non-life cannot contain experiencing, as experiencing is logically enabled by life and life only.



It can be further argued that what we call non-life is in fact not that: it is possible that before turning into a human person, there is an entity that truly lives but in a form that is not evident to humans. Consequently, one could express the same argument that this non-human life ”can be an even worse fate than the two previously mentioned fates” (those of a test animal in a brain pressure chamber and the rape victim of a wolfhound). This is a very speculative and perhaps unrealistic statement, but I do not deny that this would in theory be possible, nor do I deny the characteristic similarity of the counterexamples I have presented.



Finally, what can we say about this side of the matter? The answer is strikingly clear. Even if it was the case that we cannot say anything about the supremacy of life or non-life – even in the case that all the world’s current and forthcoming human beings were to experience the fate of those two! – there is an important, fundamental difference between having a child and not having one (as this is finally the focal issue here): not having a child leaves things as they were. Let us assume that unit A is making a decision on whether or not to have a child.

In case A does not have a child – and the consequence of this choice is that a greater bad will take place than in the event of A having a child – A will still not have actively influenced the occurrence of this bad.

Let us now assume the opposite: A has a child, and the consequence of this choice is that a greater bad will take place than in the event of A not having a child. In this case, it is unquestionably clear that A has actively affected the materialization of this bad.

Or?

What would you say if the act of having a child was changed into committing a murder?

The debate on euthanasia has also evoked an aspect to this question, one that is not very popular, however (in fact, it is often regarded as inhuman): If a so-called bystander sees that someone (for example, individual X) REALLY suffers and that there is no foreseeable consolation or escape, is the bystander obliged to help the individual die or – if s/he is not able to express his/her will – to murder the individual?

Perhaps yes, but the nature of this obligation is different from that in the case of having a child. When having a child, the potential parents have a crucial role in the events taking place. If a bystander truly is a bystander, s/he does not have a part in X’s sufferings. A bystander may nonetheless be obliged to alleviate the suffering.

The example above encounters the same dilemma as our earlier example on the two miserable ones: one cannot truly know?

In practice, this is no problem in the case of a deer having jumped onto the windscreen and then lying suffering on the highway, one-eyed but alive. The duty of a respectable and exemplary citizen is to “put the deer out of its misery”, though we cannot truly know in this case, either.

One aspect is shared by the two miserable ones, the suffering deer, and the human being suffering with no real chance of escape. They are all creatures whose suffering is perceived, and they all belong to the sphere of life.
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Re: On the justification of being and non-being

Postby mrmcbubbles on December 24th, 2011, 5:26 pm 

if life itself were the more fundamental value, how then could people commit suicide when suffering life becomes too unbearable?
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