Monday, 18 February 2013

Two kinds of sacrifice



Norm has an argument by Eve Garrard in favour of legalising voluntary euthanasia, with strict controls. Go and read it, but in brief the argument is this: voluntary euthanasia is justified in at least some cases; legalisation might lead to undue pressure being placed on other people for whom voluntary euthanasia is not justified, and who would not otherwise seek to end their lives; resisting legalisation for the sake of this group involves sacrificing the legitimate claims of those in the first group; such a sacrifice should not be made, and the problem posed by the second group should be dealt with by strong regulation rather than by an outright ban on voluntary euthanasia.

The most obvious problem with this argument is that it takes as axiomatic something which is in fact strongly contested, namely that "There are good reasons for permitting some cases of voluntary euthanasia, grounded in the desire to prevent terrible suffering, and respect for autonomous choice". But for many people (not for me, admittedly, but that's for another time), that does indeed go without saying, and so I'm more interested in looking at the way the argument works later.

Garrard says that an outright ban on euthanasia for the sake of the group of people who may otherwise be unduly influenced to end their own lives involves "sacrificing" those whose suffering can't be relieved, and who do really want to end their own lives. She says that sacrificing some for the sake of others in this way is not something we normally permit in healthcare.

There's an illicit argumentative move here, I think, and it's in Garrard's use of the word "sacrifice". When we talk of someone being "sacrificed", we normally mean that they are being killed for the sake of some sort of greater good. But other things can be sacrificed - given up for the sake of a greater good - too: aspirations, desires, cigarettes, all sorts of things. Most would agree that even if the word "sacrifice" is appropriate in both cases, sacrificing a person isn't the same, or as serious, as sacrificing a desire. Banning euthanasia may involve sacrificing the legitimate desires of a particular group of patients, but it doesn't involve sacrificing those patients themselves; on the contrary, it involves keeping them alive. The confusion between different uses of the word "sacrifice" is what allows Garrard to say that in healthcare we don't normally permit the sacrificing of some for the sake of others, and to imply that banning euthanasia is inconsistent.

In any case, of course, sacrificing some for the sake of others is something we permit in healthcare. Decisions about which patients to treat first when resources are scarce, and about which life-saving but expensive drugs to allow the NHS to prescribe, are made all the time. In those cases, the decisions which are made may well result in the foreseeable deaths of patients. A decision to legalise euthanasia would certainly result in the foreseeable deaths of patients. Keeping euthanasia illegal would foreseeably result in patients suffering, but not in their being sacrificed.

Two kinds of sacrifice



Norm has an argument by Eve Garrard in favour of legalising voluntary euthanasia, with strict controls. Go and read it, but in brief the argument is this: voluntary euthanasia is justified in at least some cases; legalisation might lead to undue pressure being placed on other people for whom voluntary euthanasia is not justified, and who would not otherwise seek to end their lives; resisting legalisation for the sake of this group involves sacrificing the legitimate claims of those in the first group; such a sacrifice should not be made, and the problem posed by the second group should be dealt with by strong regulation rather than by an outright ban on voluntary euthanasia.

The most obvious problem with this argument is that it takes as axiomatic something which is in fact strongly contested, namely that "There are good reasons for permitting some cases of voluntary euthanasia, grounded in the desire to prevent terrible suffering, and respect for autonomous choice". But for many people (not for me, admittedly, but that's for another time), that does indeed go without saying, and so I'm more interested in looking at the way the argument works later.

Garrard says that an outright ban on euthanasia for the sake of the group of people who may otherwise be unduly influenced to end their own lives involves "sacrificing" those whose suffering can't be relieved, and who do really want to end their own lives. She says that sacrificing some for the sake of others in this way is not something we normally permit in healthcare.

There's an illicit argumentative move here, I think, and it's in Garrard's use of the word "sacrifice". When we talk of someone being "sacrificed", we normally mean that they are being killed for the sake of some sort of greater good. But other things can be sacrificed - given up for the sake of a greater good - too: aspirations, desires, cigarettes, all sorts of things. Most would agree that even if the word "sacrifice" is appropriate in both cases, sacrificing a person isn't the same, or as serious, as sacrificing a desire. Banning euthanasia may involve sacrificing the legitimate desires of a particular group of patients, but it doesn't involve sacrificing those patients themselves; on the contrary, it involves keeping them alive. The confusion between different uses of the word "sacrifice" is what allows Garrard to say that in healthcare we don't normally permit the sacrificing of some for the sake of others, and to imply that banning euthanasia is inconsistent.

In any case, of course, sacrificing some for the sake of others is something we permit in healthcare. Decisions about which patients to treat first when resources are scarce, and about which life-saving but expensive drugs to allow the NHS to prescribe, are made all the time. In those cases, the decisions which are made may well result in the foreseeable deaths of patients. A decision to legalise euthanasia would certainly result in the foreseeable deaths of patients. Keeping euthanasia illegal would foreseeably result in patients suffering, but not in their being sacrificed.

Two kinds of sacrifice



Norm has an argument by Eve Garrard in favour of legalising voluntary euthanasia, with strict controls. Go and read it, but in brief the argument is this: voluntary euthanasia is justified in at least some cases; legalisation might lead to undue pressure being placed on other people for whom voluntary euthanasia is not justified, and who would not otherwise seek to end their lives; resisting legalisation for the sake of this group involves sacrificing the legitimate claims of those in the first group; such a sacrifice should not be made, and the problem posed by the second group should be dealt with by strong regulation rather than by an outright ban on voluntary euthanasia.

The most obvious problem with this argument is that it takes as axiomatic something which is in fact strongly contested, namely that "There are good reasons for permitting some cases of voluntary euthanasia, grounded in the desire to prevent terrible suffering, and respect for autonomous choice". But for many people (not for me, admittedly, but that's for another time), that does indeed go without saying, and so I'm more interested in looking at the way the argument works later.

Garrard says that an outright ban on euthanasia for the sake of the group of people who may otherwise be unduly influenced to end their own lives involves "sacrificing" those whose suffering can't be relieved, and who do really want to end their own lives. She says that sacrificing some for the sake of others in this way is not something we normally permit in healthcare.

There's an illicit argumentative move here, I think, and it's in Garrard's use of the word "sacrifice". When we talk of someone being "sacrificed", we normally mean that they are being killed for the sake of some sort of greater good. But other things can be sacrificed - given up for the sake of a greater good - too: aspirations, desires, cigarettes, all sorts of things. Most would agree that even if the word "sacrifice" is appropriate in both cases, sacrificing a person isn't the same, or as serious, as sacrificing a desire. Banning euthanasia may involve sacrificing the legitimate desires of a particular group of patients, but it doesn't involve sacrificing those patients themselves; on the contrary, it involves keeping them alive. The confusion between different uses of the word "sacrifice" is what allows Garrard to say that in healthcare we don't normally permit the sacrificing of some for the sake of others, and to imply that banning euthanasia is inconsistent.

In any case, of course, sacrificing some for the sake of others is something we permit in healthcare. Decisions about which patients to treat first when resources are scarce, and about which life-saving but expensive drugs to allow the NHS to prescribe, are made all the time. In those cases, the decisions which are made may well result in the foreseeable deaths of patients. A decision to legalise euthanasia would certainly result in the foreseeable deaths of patients. Keeping euthanasia illegal would foreseeably result in patients suffering, but not in their being sacrificed.

Two kinds of sacrifice



Norm has an argument by Eve Garrard in favour of legalising voluntary euthanasia, with strict controls. Go and read it, but in brief the argument is this: voluntary euthanasia is justified in at least some cases; legalisation might lead to undue pressure being placed on other people for whom voluntary euthanasia is not justified, and who would not otherwise seek to end their lives; resisting legalisation for the sake of this group involves sacrificing the legitimate claims of those in the first group; such a sacrifice should not be made, and the problem posed by the second group should be dealt with by strong regulation rather than by an outright ban on voluntary euthanasia.

The most obvious problem with this argument is that it takes as axiomatic something which is in fact strongly contested, namely that "There are good reasons for permitting some cases of voluntary euthanasia, grounded in the desire to prevent terrible suffering, and respect for autonomous choice". But for many people (not for me, admittedly, but that's for another time), that does indeed go without saying, and so I'm more interested in looking at the way the argument works later.

Garrard says that an outright ban on euthanasia for the sake of the group of people who may otherwise be unduly influenced to end their own lives involves "sacrificing" those whose suffering can't be relieved, and who do really want to end their own lives. She says that sacrificing some for the sake of others in this way is not something we normally permit in healthcare.

There's an illicit argumentative move here, I think, and it's in Garrard's use of the word "sacrifice". When we talk of someone being "sacrificed", we normally mean that they are being killed for the sake of some sort of greater good. But other things can be sacrificed - given up for the sake of a greater good - too: aspirations, desires, cigarettes, all sorts of things. Most would agree that even if the word "sacrifice" is appropriate in both cases, sacrificing a person isn't the same, or as serious, as sacrificing a desire. Banning euthanasia may involve sacrificing the legitimate desires of a particular group of patients, but it doesn't involve sacrificing those patients themselves; on the contrary, it involves keeping them alive. The confusion between different uses of the word "sacrifice" is what allows Garrard to say that in healthcare we don't normally permit the sacrificing of some for the sake of others, and to imply that banning euthanasia is inconsistent.

In any case, of course, sacrificing some for the sake of others is something we permit in healthcare. Decisions about which patients to treat first when resources are scarce, and about which life-saving but expensive drugs to allow the NHS to prescribe, are made all the time. In those cases, the decisions which are made may well result in the foreseeable deaths of patients. A decision to legalise euthanasia would certainly result in the foreseeable deaths of patients. Keeping euthanasia illegal would foreseeably result in patients suffering, but not in their being sacrificed.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Sensibility

Sensibility refers to an acute perception of or responsiveness toward something, such as the emotions of another. This concept emerged in eighteenth-century Britain, and was closely associated with studies of sense perception as the means through which knowledge is gathered. It also became associated with sentimental moral philosophy.

One of the first of such texts would be John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), where he says, "I conceive that Ideas in the Understanding, are coeval with Sensation; which is such an Impression or Motion, made in some part of the Body, as makes it be taken notice of in the Understanding." George Cheyne and other medical writers wrote of "The English Malady," also called "hysteria" in women or "hypochondria" in men, a condition with symptoms that closely resemble the modern diagnosis of clinical depression. Cheyne considered this malady to be the result of over-taxed nerves. At the same time, theorists asserted that individuals who had ultra-sensitive nerves would have keener senses, and thus be more aware of beauty and moral truth. Thus, while it was considered a physical and/or emotional fragility, sensibility was also widely perceived as a virtue.

Originating in philosophical and scientific writings, sensibility became an English-language literary movement, particularly in the then-new genre of the novel. Such works, called sentimental novels, featured individuals who were prone to sensibility, often weeping, fainting, feeling weak, or having fits in reaction to an emotionally moving experience. If one were especially sensible, one might react this way to scenes or objects that appear insignificant to others. This reactivity was considered an indication of a sensible person's ability to perceive something intellectually or emotionally stirring in the world around them. However, the popular sentimental genre soon met with a strong backlash, as anti-sensibility readers and writers contended that such extreme behavior was mere histrionics, and such an emphasis on one's own feelings and reactions a sign of narcissism.

Samuel Johnson, in his portrait of Miss Gentle, articulated this criticism:

She daily exercises her benevolence by pitying every misfortune that happens to every family within her circle of notice; she is in hourly terrors lest one should catch cold in the rain, and another be frighted by the high wind. Her charity she shews by lamenting that so many poor wretches should languish in the streets, and by wondering what the great can think on that they do so little good with such large estates.

Objections to sensibility emerged on other fronts. For one, some conservative thinkers believed in a priori concepts, that is, knowledge that exists independent of experience, such as innate knowledge believed to be imparted by God. Theorists of the a priori distrusted sensibility because of its over-reliance on experience for knowledge. Also, in the last decades of the eighteenth century, anti-sensibility thinkers often associated the emotional volatility of sensibility with the exuberant violence of the French Revolution, and in response to fears of revolution coming to Britain, sensible figures were coded as anti-patriotic or even politically subversive.

Maria Edgeworth's Leonora, for example, depicts the "sensible" Olivia as a villainess who contrives her passions or at least bends them to suit her selfish wants; the text also makes a point to say that Olivia has lived in France and thus adopted "French" manners. In addition, the effusive nature of most sentimental heroes, such as Harley in Henry Mackenzie's The Man of Feeling, was often decried by literary critics as weak effeminacy, helping to discredit sentimental novels, and to a lesser extent, all novels, as unmanly works.

Monday, 22 November 2004

Debunking Intelligent Design Creationism

Debunking Intelligent Design Creationism
Excellent review article by Paul R. Gross:
Not one of the ID claims is sustained, let alone proven, in the massive output of ID to date. Most of the claims are shown to be simply bad science. The expository style of WIDF is for the most part respectful of the authors and claims analyzed. It is therefore very remarkable that those
presumably qualified ID authors should have committed themselves, and to some extent their academic careers, to a relentless, public elaboration of soft claims, bad arguments, and plain mistakes. One can only guess that they are driven by motivation and sincere feelings other than simple dedication to doing the best possible science.
Read the whole review. I haven't read Why Intelligent Design Fails, so I can't recommend it; instead, I'd happily lend anyone my copy of Robert T. Pennock's brilliant Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism, which is the most readable, sustained demolition of contemporary creationism I've come across.

I've come across more theologians who don't "get" evolution, or who simply don't recognise that ID isn't a legitimate scientific option, than I care to admit. One of the many pet academic projects I'd love to pursue, but readily admit I'll probably never get around to now, would focus on "mainstream" Christian theology's failure to recognise that creationism is a real threat, because of its resentment of the atheism of many prominent evolutionists - I heard one Church of England bishop say in a seminar I attended, "I've got nothing against evolution, but Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett just go too far".

Mike Gatting: anti-apartheid hero


There are all sorts of good reasons why England shouldn't be touring Zimbabwe, but Mike Gatting is perhaps the least qualified person to advance them. Still, he advances them anyway, in this Observer article. Gatting doesn't just say the tour is wrong: he says it's worse than the rebel tour to South Africa he led in 1990. "That may sound hypocritical" - yes, Mike, it does - "but the circumstances then were very different. When I signed up for that 'rebel tour' it was in the knowledge that change was already under way in South Africa". He goes on, "I'm not going to pretend that knowing changes were afoot was the main motivation for going" - no, the wads of cash waved in his face probably made more of a difference - "but it did help to persuade me and I'm sure it was a major factor in influencing the two black England players who signed up". Some of Mike Gatting's best friends are black.

Gatting goes on to claim that "Another big difference between my situation and that of present captain Michael Vaughan is that he has the full backing of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB)". That's a difference, yes, but it's one which places Vaughan in a more difficult position than Gatting was in - for Vaughan to decide not to go would be a brave and right decision, but it would still place a great strain on the England team he leads, and possibly threaten his position as captain. Meanwhile, Gatting's decision to lead a tour harmed English and world cricket. It helped to undermine sporting sanctions against South Africa, as well as weakening the England team available to play real test matches.

The article reaches a pinnacle of self-justifying absurdity with its conclusion:
In the event, our tour was cut short when the organisers reached an agreement with the ANC that, in return for its cancellation, the political representatives of the black majority would help to fast-track the process of South Africa's readmission to official international sport. I can't see anything positive like that coming from this week in Zimbabwe.
So, his tour was justified because "the political representatives of the black majority" made important concessions in order to get it cancelled (this somewhat undermines his description earlier in the article of President F W de Klerk, who "was happy to speak to us and reassure us that he was not opposed to the planned tour", as "the leading reformer").

It's interesting that Gatting has managed to interpret the 1990 rebel tour as a vital blow in the struggle to end apartheid. But it's hardly evidence that his views on the rights and wrongs of England's tour of Zimbabwe should be taken remotely seriously.