Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Section 28, Nick Clegg, the state, and education

Thinking about Nick Clegg’s recent remarks has got me thinking again about Section 28.

For centuries, education has been a bit of a battleground. Long ago, the Jesuits, recognising just how powerful a tool education could be, apparently said “Give dme a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” Hence the question of who educates children, and how they do it, has always had the potential for great controversy. The Dutch even had a schools war.

Over the years, parents have often been in disagreement with teachers about what their children are being taught, teachers have often been in disagreement with school authorities, and school authorities (who, in past centuries, were often religious bodies) have been in disagreement with parents. Naturally, two of these groups have often formed an alliance the third.

Which brings us to Section 28, one of the most emotive educational battlegrounds in recent British history. The problem arose in the 1980s because several people were concerned that some teachers and school authorities were involved in teaching children that homosexual behaviour was normal and harmless - a proposition that many parents did not wish their children to be taught. The state, in the form of central government, felt that such parents had a legitimate grievance, and stepped in by passing legislation.

That legislation said:
A local authority shall not -
(a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality;
(b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.
What this actually meant was a matter of some debate. The government issued a statement which said “Section 28 does not affect the activities of school governors, nor of teachers. It will not prevent the objective discussion of homosexuality in the classroom, nor the counselling of pupils concerned about their sexuality,” which came as a bit of a surprise to some, who hoped that it would affect the activities of school governors and teachers.

So - what is a libertarian to make of section 28? It seems to me that there are five questions to be asked.

1) Libertarians believe that central government should not curb the freedom local government, unless local government is using its freedom to infringe the freedom of individuals. Did this legislation do so? It seems to me that central government was definitely curbing the freedom of local government. But was it merely stopping local government from doing something that local government should not have been doing?

2) Libertarians believe that central government should not curb the freedom of schools and teachers. Did this legislation do so? It seems to me that the answer is “probably not.”

3) Libertarians believe that central and local government should not take and use tax-payers’ money except for the defence of individuals and their property. Is the promotion of homosexuality a legitimate use of tax-payers money? Here, much depends on how one defines “promotion of homosexuality”, but I think that the answer is “No - the promotion of homosexuality is not the business of government.”

4) Libertarians believe that the education of children is basically a matter for their parents, rather than for state. Was Section 28 merely supporting the right of parents? The answer to that might be “yes.” Parents were never likely to be asked by local authorities (or local authority schools) what they wanted. (And what if parents wanted different things?) But since the government declared that Section 28 did not affect the activities of school governors or teachers, it did not actually affect the balance of power between schools and parents.

5) Libertarians believe that laws, particularly prohibitions, should only be passed when necessary - so was this legislation really necessary? The answer is that while it was not necessary, it was, broadly right in that it was designed to prevent a branch of the state from using its powers (with regard to the education of children, and to the spending of taxpayers’ money) in a way that libertarians would consider improper.

In other words, Section 28 did not actually say “You shall not teach that homosexual behaviour is normal and harmless.” But even if it had, it would have given schools (and teachers) three options. They could either teach that it was abnormal and / or harmful. Or they could teach that it existed, but make no value judgement. Or they could simply not mention homosexual behaviour in the course of lessons. (The latter was the course of action taken by the schools that I attended in the 1960s and 70s. In fact, nothing much was said about the rights and wrongs of any forms of sexual behaviour, even in English classes.) Which means that Section 28 gave schools and teachers far more freedom than Nick Clegg’s proposals to make it mandatory for maintained schools to teach that homosexual behaviour is normal and harmless.

I’m left wondering what all the fuss with regard to Section 28 was about. It was, it seems to me, neither what its friends hoped nor its enemies feared. It was, from a libertarian point of view, hardly a terrible piece of legislation. But it did nothing to take power over education away from the state and hand it back to parents, and it did nothing to stop tax-payers’ money being spent on questionable projects.

And as such, it must be viewed as a waste of time - a mere symbol for culture warriors to get worked up about.

73 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Young Mr. Brown said...

And another thing that gets very hard stares is advertising in the comments section of this blog. Very bad manners.

Stuart said...

Thank you, very informative post.

indigomyth said...

I am afraid I must disagree with you on some of what you say here, YMB. (I bet that comes as a complete surprise!)

//2) Libertarians believe that central government should not curb the freedom of schools and teachers. Did this legislation do so? It seems to me that the answer is “probably not.”//

See, I think it did, because it put into law a set of parameters to limit what could be said about homosexuality. For example, it prevented liberal and pro-gay parents from sending their children to be educated in a liberal environment, despite the fact that they paid taxes.

Try putting it this way. Imagine that the law had said

//A local authority shall not -
(a) intentionally promote Christianity or publish material with the intention of promoting Christianity;
(b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of Christianity as a pretended religious belief. //

It seems to me obviously true that b) would be a violation of the rights of parents to have their child taught what they want about Christianity.

Granted, the strength of the law maybe misunderstood by both critics and proponents, however, it still caused a great deal of consternation among teachers, and made them wary about what to teach.

It seems to me that the best system would be a voucher system to pay for schools - that way parents have ultimate choice. And they ought to be able to send their children to any school, teaching any curriculum they want. Therefore, I cannot see how Section 28 was anything other than an invasion and limitation of that.

I agree it was completely unacceptable for liberal local governments to force pro-gay education onto the children of critical parents. However, this law made it impossible for pro-gay parents to send their children to pro-gay schools. A far better law than Section 28, would have been a law mandating that schools only taught what the parents who sent their children to that school, wanted.

Now, even if no parent wanted to send their child to a pro-gay school, at least the option is there.

I hope this makes some sense.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Hi indigomyth.

Thanks for that comment.

I'm not totally convinced. You say "it put into law a set of parameters to limit what could be said about homosexuality", and "However, this law made it impossible for pro-gay parents to send their children to pro-gay schools."

I still reckon that since the government, within a week, issued a statement that said "Section 28 does not affect the activities of school governors, nor of teachers,", that schools and teachers should have taken that clarification at face value - and that any initial consternation would have been assuaged, and schools and teachers would have felt they had a fair amount of freedom.

"For example, it prevented liberal and pro-gay parents from sending their children to be educated in a liberal environment, despite the fact that they paid taxes."

In a sense that may be true (though they did have the option of private education or home education). BUT even if Section 28 did prevent maintained schools from being basically positive about homosexuality - it was still possible for parents to have had their children educated in a fairly liberal environment in state schools - albeit with no reference at all to homosexuality - and taught their children what they wanted them to know about homosexuality in their home.

To put it another way - how much time would the average socially liberal parent think should be spent teaching their children about homosexuality at school? Not much, I suspect.

It's a bit like sex education. How much sex education should kids get in school? I got none at all. (which didn't stop me getting passing both O level and A level biology!) My parents told me about the birds and the bees when I was in primary school, and there was plenty of information available in books. My parents were not concerned about the fact that the school didn't teach me where babies came from, because they had told me.

Does the same argument apply to teaching Christianity in school? To some degree it does. I think that it is the job of the parents to do that sort of thing, and as long as the school isn't hostile, I don't think that parents have much ground for complaint.

That said, there is scope for spending hours and hours teaching kids at school about Christianity. I really find it difficult to envisage schools managing to spend more than a couple of hours teaching kids about homosexuality, but then that might just show my lack of imagination.

And they ought to be able to send their children to any school, teaching any curriculum they want.

Absolutely any curriculum? Obviously if there are enough parents who want a certain curriculum, fair enough. But if only 1 or 2 families want a certain curriculum, one runs into practical difficulties.

A far better law than Section 28, would have been a law mandating that schools only taught what the parents who sent their children to that school, wanted.

I agree completely. In fact, I think we are pretty much agreed about most of the issues concerned, but it's always interesting to have a friendly chat about our differences.

indigomyth said...

YMB,

I agree with you //that schools and teachers should have taken that clarification at face value // however, I believe that they did not. Now, that may be a failing of the interpretation of the law, rather than the actual law itself, however the ethics behind the law of itself make it illiberal. A law that can be so easily misinterpreted (by both pro- and con- sides) is clearly a law that either needs extensive clarification, or complete removal.

Since parents do not have time to teach their children the things that they want, in the way that they want, it seems correct that they be allowed to send them to schools where they can be - an extreme example of where the teaching of a particular system of thought is paramount is in madrassas.

//Absolutely any curriculum? Obviously if there are enough parents who want a certain curriculum, fair enough. But if only 1 or 2 families want a certain curriculum, one runs into practical difficulties.//

Of course, you are correct. It would be on the basis of the ability to fund said institutions. Members of groups that are too small to afford an entire school, may have to look at home schooling and the like.

It is an interesting topic. A law recently passed in Lithuania regarding the "promotion" of homosexuality in schools.

Stewart Cowan said...

Parents send their children to school to learn how to read and write, do maths, science and learn languages.

Section 28 became necessary because, like you say, some councils went beyond their remit and started promoting unnatural sexual practices as normal.

We need it back!

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Albert said...

Just wondering YMB, about:

3) Libertarians believe that central and local government should not take and use tax-payers’ money except for the defence of individuals and their property.

On face value, that seems to mean that local authorities should not use taxes for education at all, except for those parts of education that directly touch "the defence of individuals and their property." So 3) seems to me to be false as it stands.

I'm also interested in the suggestion that Christianity and homosexuality can be put on the same logical level. The Human Rights Act 1998 said "the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions" (Part II Article 2). Is liberal teaching about homosexuality either a religious or a philosophical conviction? If it is, then presumably so are traditional views of homosexuality and Clegg's position seems to violate a human right. If it isn't then Indigomyth's argument seems to fail.

indigomyth said...

Albert,

//Is liberal teaching about homosexuality either a religious or a philosophical conviction? If it is, then presumably so are traditional views of homosexuality and Clegg's position seems to violate a human right. If it isn't then Indigomyth's argument seems to fail.//

I would say that it is quite clearly true that liberal teaching about homosexuality is a philosophical conviction, as much as white supremacist and neo-Nazis views are philosophical. In what way would you argue that it was not a philosophical conviction?

You are correct to point out that traditional views on homosexuality are likewise philosophical and/or religious, so you are right when you say that Clegg's position violates a human right (as understood from a libertarian perspective).

indigomyth said...

And my argument would only fail if it was based on the idea of human rights as outlined in the Human Rights Act 1998 - it is not, therefore could not be fouled by its definitions.

Albert said...

Hello Indigomyth,

In what way would you argue that it was not a philosophical conviction?

I carefully didn't, because I didn't know which way I would go on that one! I suppose if one were to try to construct such an argument one would say that "philosophical conviction" being on the same logical level (it appears) as "religious conviction" refers to the framework within which a view is assessed, rather than to the individual opinion itself. So a Catholic parent can ask for a Catholic education, but they cannot then ask for their child to be taught that homosexuals are demons, because that violates the religious framework (the clear teaching of the Church) within which individual judgments are made.

If so, then if homosexual behaviour is to be shown to be "normal and healthy" then one needs to show this within the philosophical framework adopted by the parents. It's here that I'm wondering what that would look like on secular liberalism. Arguments about homosexuality tend to get into questions of what is natural, and secular liberals typically deny the category of "natural", but if that category is denied, then I'm left wondering what content is left to the word "normal". This is a genuine question - I've only been thinking about it since last night!

Clegg's position violates a human right Quite, and I think YMB has demonstrated that Clegg's position is therefore a good deal more bigoted than Section 28.

my argument would only fail if it was based on the idea of human rights as outlined in the Human Rights Act 1998

My point would be to do with whether placing homosexual convictions on the same level as Christianity is a kind of category mistake. I'm not arguing that it is - that is the point I would raise for discussion (see above).

indigomyth said...

Albert,

Thank you for the response.

//then I'm left wondering what content is left to the word "normal". This is a genuine question - I've only been thinking about it since last night!//

I think most people use the term "normal" to describe the majority situation. So, on this definition, homosexuality is not "normal" since it is not the majority situation. However, were we to say a "normal" society is one with homosexuals in, then I think that would be accurate, as most civilisations seem to have had homosexual individuals, and in much the same fashion that it would be decidedly abnormal for a human civilisation to not have murderers and thieves, so it would be abnormal for a civilisation to not have homosexuals. On this definition, there is not really a moral judgement (being anti-slavery might have been the minority position, and therefore abnormal once), merely a description of the prevalence of a particular thing within a society/civilisation. Of course, Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton would be abnormal, in their intelligence, however, that would not make their intelligence evil.

I am afraid I can't really help on the issue of "normality" as it relates to good and evil, since I cannot really see the connection myself, and usually ascribe to the definition of normal given above.

indigomyth said...

I also do not really think the "naturalness" of homosexuality is a relevant point. It is natural for humans to be violent and aggressive, and it is natural for animals to commit infanticide and murder, so I am afraid any recourse to "natural", as with "normal" baffles me entirely. Who would want to be "normal" or "natural", when normality is comman, and natural is brutish?

Albert said...

Thanks Indigomyth,

I agree with you entirely on the question of "normal". It's a vacuuous term for Clegg to use: it pretends to be making a moral statement, while in fact saying nothing moral at all.

I disagree on the question of "nature" however. What you describe as "nature" I would call "instinct".

While this conflation may work for non-rational beings like animals (which act according to instinct), I think that what is natural for rational beings like humans is more than purely instinct, it involves reason. We are able to use reason to choose. In particular we are able to choose whether and how to follow our instincts, and how to integrate competing instincts. Our nature includes reason (at least in principle!) and so natural behaviour will be reasonable, not merely instinctive. It's at this point that if Clegg is saying anything meaningful at all (which perhaps he isn't) it is hard to know what a secular liberal framework within which to say homosexual behaviour is normal would look like.

A further question in relation to Clegg is that he said homosexuality is healthy. Assuming he is talking about homosexual practice, this causes me to pause. Which homosexual practices are healthy? All? It would be gravely irresponsible to give such a blank cheque to school children.

Personally, I would say that at least some sexual acts commonly engaged in by homosexuals are unhealthy (and are just as unhealthy if engaged in by heterosexuals). But again, in the end, to speak of "healthly" is to speak of nature, for "health" surely relates to the flourishing and not to the damaging of nature. So again, I'm left wondering what any of these words mean in Clegg's secular liberal mouth.

indigomyth said...

Albert,

//Which homosexual practices are healthy? //

Well, lesbian relationships have dramatically less incidence of disease then heterosexual ones. It is a source of amusement to me that if parents really wanted to keep their girls safe, then the ideal options would be either to teach them abstinence, or lesbianism!

With regard to anal intercourse (I hope YMB does not regard this as unnecessarily gratuitous), it is quite obvious that this is an activity of high risk, and to teach children otherwise is irresponsible. However, I would argue that just because rugby is more dangerous than chess, does not mean that we should stop people playing rugby, merely because of its increased likelihood of harm.

//But again, in the end, to speak of "healthly" is to speak of nature, for "health" surely relates to the flourishing and not to the damaging of nature//

Not always - look at males spiders that get eaten my females during copulation! Not very healthy for the individual!

Albert said...

Good points Indigomyth,

Lesbians also tend to be less promiscuous than gay men - my guess is that they may be less promiscuous than heterosexual women too (either point challenges the orthodoxy of the view that gay promiscuity is because of social prejudice against them).

I would argue that just because rugby is more dangerous than chess, does not mean that we should stop people playing rugby, merely because of its increased likelihood of harm. and I would agree. If the immorality of gay sex is to be demonstrated, it must be done on other grounds (though the various kinds of damage done during anal sex as compared with vaginal sex may be used as further evidence that such practices are unnatural).

The question however is whether Section 28 was wrong and Clegg was right.

As far as I can see the debate is coming down more in favour of Section 28 - at least if one must choose between the two. As you say, to teach children otherwise [that anal sex is anything other than a high risk activity] is irresponsible.

Incidentally, thank you for saying that. It's not often one encounters such honesty from those who (as I take it you are) are supportive of the pro-gay agenda. It does not seem for example, to be something Clegg is terribly worried about, despite the fact that he hopes to impose his view that homosexuality is healthly on my children (thereby depriving me of my right to teach my children, and possibly depriving them of their right to know the truth and not to be taught falsehoods).

Not always - look at males spiders that get eaten my females during copulation! Not very healthy for the individual!

Good point! But I suppose it isn't actually natural for the male individual itself to be eaten (just as it isn't natural for animal young to be killed by parents) but that somehow it serves a wider "natural" good, that of the species for example (presumably male spiders are nutritious). Joking aside though, I doubt this counter example would play well in the human sphere where human rights are involved!

indigomyth said...

Albert,

//As far as I can see the debate is coming down more in favour of Section 28 - at least if one must choose between the two. As you say, to teach children otherwise [that anal sex is anything other than a high risk activity] is irresponsible.//

I suppose if I had to choose between Clegg's position and Section 28, then I would go for 28, but it would be an unpleasant choice. I would prefer to support the wording of the legislation that was talked about earlier, about a general rule that schools must obey the will of the parents, without actually specifying what that will ought to be.

I do not consider it the business of the state to prevent teaching children irresponsible things - I sincerely believe Creationism is a an absolute load of codswallop, and to teach children it as fact is to teach them lies, fairy tales and nonsense, and to deny them the true majesty of the natural world. However, I support the absolute right of Creationists to delude their children, if they so wish. I consider it absolutely vile, yet I still thing parents ought to be able to do it, because it is their right as parents.

I am supportive of the pro-gay agenda, in as far as libertarian philosophy permits me to be - gay liberation is merely human liberty. I consider such terms as "gay rights" to be nonsense - gay people have the same rights as everyone - the right to body autonomy, freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of belief, etc etc. Like, I do not consider myself to be "pro-black" or "pro-Semitic" or "feminist", I am merely pro-human liberty, which covers all the human race.

//Joking aside though, I doubt this counter example would play well in the human sphere where human rights are involved!//

Perhaps not. But maybe a more relevant example would be polygamy - a widespread human custom, still practised to this day. That would seem to be both normal in certain areas, and also natural, in that it accords with both our animal instinct, and with certain strains of philosophy.

Or an even more interesting example - genital mutilation, like male or female circumcision. Practised in many civilisations, yet not performed in nature. Are we to conclude that circumcision is natural for humans? If so, does that make those of us that are not circumcised, unnatural? It would seem that what is natural, must differ from person to person, for if what is natural is universal, then we are left in the situation where either those that are circumcised are unnatural, or those that are those that are not circumcised are unnatural.

indigomyth said...

Or a third example - human sacrifice. A very popular activity, engaged in by quite advanced civilisations - not even, I would argue, a particularly instinctive act, but rather a reasoned one. The sacrifice of human life to the gods, to win favour, or offer thanks. Perhaps what is natural in one generation, is unnatural in another? But then, that would mean that "natural" and "unnatural" would be useless ideas for discerning right from wrong, moral from immoral (unless you construed your morality to merely be in relation to the current ethical system, rather than one to apply for all times, in all conditions".

//But I suppose it isn't actually natural for the male individual itself to be eaten (just as it isn't natural for animal young to be killed by parents) //

I would say that it is natural. For how can something that happens in nature, be not natural? What other agency could it be that causes these things to occur? If all things that occur in nature are of natural cause, then all things that happen in nature, must be natural, for they have no other architect. The same way it must be natural for a termite to build a mound, so a male spider must be eaten, Therefore, infanticide must be natural - indeed, it is a dominant instinct - male lions that take over prides will kill any cubs, to ensure that their offspring are given the priority. In this instance, it would be very very unnatural, and unusual, for the male lion to allow the cubs to live. I am happy with nature being red in tooth and claw.

//though the various kinds of damage done during anal sex as compared with vaginal sex may be used as further evidence that such practices are unnatural//

Does that mean that rugby is also unnatural, for the damage it inflicts on the body?

Albert said...

Thanks Indigomyth.

I think we are largely agreed on homosexuality - there are no gay-rights, there are just human rights, which being inalienable are held by people regardless of their sexuality. Consequently, unjust discrimination, violence etc. directed towards homosexual persons because they are homosexual is gravely wrong and clearly condemned by the Catholic Church. Though the fact that homosexuals have proper civil liberties does not mean that homosexual behaviour is morally licit.

Although I defend parents' rights regarding the education of their children, I would also wish to include the common good. This would prevent parents from requiring that their children be taught (for example) that they should commit atrocities against their fellows for some reason or other. The rights of parents to educate their children are limited by rights of others not to be harmed by their children. Likewise, the children themselves have rights not to be harmed by their parents. I don't expect you would disagree with any of this. The difficulty of course is who decides over the hard cases.

As a Catholic, I am probably more opposed to creationism than you, because as well as it being bad science, I believe it is bad philosophy, bad theology, bad exegesis etc.

I think that polygamy violates nature because it gravely hinders one of the natural goods of marriage - proper friendship between husband and wife, while polyandry denies (in practice) the father a right to know who his children are, and the child the right to know who his father is.

Regarding circumcision I think that an act can be natural in itself, but not therefore obligatory. So, it may be natural to eat both fish and meat, but it is not therefore morally obligatory to eat both fish and meat. I think life is full of occasions in which we are genuinely able to choose. Accordingly, if circumcision is natural, it doesn't follow that those of us who are not circumcised are unnatural. What we cannot do morally is engage in acts which are unnatural.

I don't think human sacrifice is natural because it deprives an innocent human being of his right to life, which is unreasonable.

Although it is natural for a lion to eat (say) a sheep, it is not natural for the sheep to be eaten by the lion, since being eaten violates its nature - it prevents it from being a sheep.

Accordingly, I think what is natural applies differently to different creatures. It would be natural for a lion to kill a human being but not for another human being (all things being equal of course). The human being commits murder (an irrational act, which violates the murderer's rational nature) the lion does not.

Does that mean that rugby is also unnatural, for the damage it inflicts on the body? Not necessarily. I did not say that the damage done during anal intercourse made that act of itself unnatural. I said that the naturalness of the act would have to judged on other grounds. However, if other grounds could be found, the damage done could act in support of that conclusion.

indigomyth said...

Albert,

//Though the fact that homosexuals have proper civil liberties does not mean that homosexual behaviour is morally licit.//

Though your Pope does say that homosexuality is not a human right, which is a statement in direct violation of human liberty - if people own themselves, then they are the only ones that can say how their bodies can and cannot be used, therefore, if they wish to engage in homosexual acts with a willing partner, then it is their absolutely fundamental right to do so. The same as it is a fundamental right to drink alcohol, take drugs, and sleep with prostitutes - these things are rights, because they stem from individual human liberty, and self-sovereignty. Your Pope denies these things when he claims that homosexual activity is not a right. He also does not believe in the absoluteness of free speech, and the catholic church supports (or tacitly supports, by not condemning) limitations on speech that "promotes" homosexuality, or shows it in a positive light. Out of curiosity, do you support the banning of hate speech, swastikas, neo-Nazis propaganda?

I believe in the total absolute of free speech, and free expression, therefore condemn all restrictions on it.

//Consequently, unjust discrimination, violence etc. directed towards homosexual persons because they are homosexual is gravely wrong //

Perhaps, however I am opposed to anti-discrimination laws, because they remove the fundamental human right for people to choose who to assemble with. It is not the duty of the state to decide what is and isn't "just" and "un-just" discrimination. It is utterly perverse to me that the BNP is being forced to accept non-white members. Indeed, I would go as far as saying that unjust discrimination is an absolute right!

//Although I defend parents' rights regarding the education of their children, I would also wish to include the common good.//

I disagree. I do not really like the popular idea of the "common good", because it is, by necessity, communitarian, rather than individualist, and I am a cast-iron individualist. I think if parents wish to send their children to hard-line madrassa then they should be able to - once the children enters society, they need to respect other peoples liberty - if they do not, then they ought to be imprisoned, or executed. The children are not longer children, and are adults that must be held utterly responsible for their actions. If parents knew that their children were certain to be executed if they did wrong, then they would be more inclined to teach them civil conduct.

//What we cannot do morally is engage in acts which are unnatural.//

Ahh, we come to a major point of disagreement. I think people can, and should, do things that are unnatural, because what I find what is natural to be unpleasant. Moreover, I believe that the state has no business preventing people from doing "unnatural" things, including, but not limited to, homosexual activity, drinking, gambling, taking drugs, and killing yourself.

//I think that polygamy violates nature because it gravely hinders one of the natural goods of marriage//

But that is denied by many millions who are in polygamous marriages. Would you force them apart, merely because they do not meet your standards of "happy"? That hardly seems very liberal to me?

//I don't think human sacrifice is natural because it deprives an innocent human being of his right to life, which is unreasonable.//

Is it unreasonable? Is an unreasonable act, unnatural? Surely we would not be natural humans if we did not act unreasonably? Does acting unreasonably mean acting unnaturally? I would say most certainly not!

indigomyth said...

//Although it is natural for a lion to eat (say) a sheep, it is not natural for the sheep to be eaten by the lion, since being eaten violates its nature - it prevents it from being a sheep.//

Again, I do not really understand in what way you are using the term "natural" - we still have not pinned down a meaning. I am using the term "natural" to describe purely what does occur in nature - on this basis it is perfectly reasonable to say that it is natural for a sheep to be eaten by a lion, because it occurs in nature. You seem to have added something to "natural", where the very "nature" you are discussing falls short of your definition? I would say that it is very natural for a sheep to be prevented from being a sheep, wouldn't you?

//the human being commits murder (an irrational act, which violates the murderer's rational nature//

But the human also has a instinctive nature, so he does not violate that. Indeed, if we construe a rational nature and an instinctive nature, then it may very well be the case that the rational nature frequently overrides the instinctive nature - the reason why you do not punch someone (a natural instinctive act) is because of your rational nature (your natural faculty of reason). So it seems that in many cases, you act unnaturally, either violating your instinctive nature, or your rational nature. And, of course, since human reason takes many forms, it is possible for one to act both instinctively and rationally, at the same time. For example, I would strongly argue that flying planes into towers is a rational act, and a natural one, since it accords with a form of rational nature. The same as mass genocide is a rational act, since it requires planning, and is not merely instinctive. However, it is also instinctive because it satisfies a sense of hatred - in that respect I suppose genocide is one of the most natural, rational acts there is. But I would not say such things are good!

You seem to be using "natural" in the sense, almost, of one of Plato's Forms. Whereby you are describing the nature of something with reference to its incorruptible "nature", or Form. Therefore, the Form of a sheep, is to be a sheep, the destruction of its "sheepness" by being eaten, is destruction of its Form, and hence nature. I do not have such a definition of nature - I would more hold to the idea that it is natural for Forms to be destroyed!

Albert said...

Indigomyth

Though your Pope does say that homosexuality is not a human right...He also does not believe in the absoluteness of free speech, and the catholic church supports (or tacitly supports, by not condemning) limitations on speech that "promotes" homosexuality, or shows it in a positive light.

I think I need sources to respond to this, for the simple reason that the Catholic Church has a slightly different understanding of rights from secular models. I'll happily pick up these points if I know exactly what was said and when.

I am a cast-iron individualist I am not, because I do think individualism which excludes the common good does not accurately describe human nature.

Moreover, I believe that the state has no business preventing people from doing "unnatural" things The fact that something is unnatural does not of itself give the state the right to prevent it. Therefore, I would not necessarily think it right for the state to force polygamous couples to separate.

On nature. Firstly, a clarification: as a Catholic, I am if anything a follower of Aristotle rather than Plato. I accept your definition of nature as what does occur in nature but it is not only that, for there are plurality of entities/species and therefore a plurality of natures. "Nature" can be used, as you use it, simply to describe the whole, but it can also be used to describe individual entities. The natures of these entities are in conflict with each other, what is natural for one species (lions eating sheep) is unnatural for others (sheep being eaten by lions).

For things to act according to their natures, their actions must be ordered and integrated so that each part of their nature properly functions. For complex beings like us this is, well, complex. It requires that the lower parts of our nature (pure instinct) be ordered by the higher part (reason). If this is done both the lower and higher parts flourish. If on the other hand, this is not done, the lower parts conflict with each other and the highest part of our nature (reason) is violated. Therefore the kinds of irrational actions you call natural because they stem from instinct, are in my view, unnatural because they violate integral parts of our nature.

Accordingly, acting unreasonably is acting unnaturally.

On which note, a happy feast of St Thomas Aquinas to you!

indigomyth said...

Albert,

//For things to act according to their natures, their actions must be ordered and integrated so that each part of their nature properly functions.//

Ahh, but how do you determine "proper functions"? Is that merely looking at the natural world, and deciding what is and is not proper, based upon your own opinions and beliefs. For example, the actions of a dog may appear unnatural to you, for they appear out of character for that of a dog. However, if you were then told that the dog had rabies, your new knowledge would alter your perception of the naturalness of the dogs actions - the dogs actions become natural, because they are the natural actions of a dog-with-rabies, rather than the natural actions of a dog-without-rabies. So, I agree that different animals, and humans, have different natures, however the shape of that nature alters in accordance with the circumstances and pressures placed upon the individual - so what may be natural for one person, may be unnatural for another (as you pointed out earlier). In that respect, it could be argued that it is natural for some people to be homosexual, and therefore natural for them to act according to their homosexual urges, because that would be in accordance with their nature.

For example,
//The natures of these entities are in conflict with each other, what is natural for one species (lions eating sheep) is unnatural for others (sheep being eaten by lions).//

Could it not be part of the nature of sheep to be eaten by lions? That is the natural order; could it also not be an important aspect of "sheepness" - like having four legs, fluffy wool etc, could not the aspect "eaten by lions" be applied to sheep - so a sheep that is eaten by a lion is no less violating its nature, because its nature includes "being eaten by lions"?

//Therefore the kinds of irrational actions you call natural because they stem from instinct, are in my view, unnatural because they violate integral parts of our nature.//

But I would say that they do not, because human nature is to be occasionally irrational. It would be an unnatural human that did not act irrationally at times, wouldn't it? If you use the definition of natural that you put forward, then no human can ever be truly "natural" because all humans act irrationally at times. I would also argue that there is much to be said for David Hume's thesis that "reason is the slave of the passions", and that what appears to be rationality, is merely a veneer over the surface of emotions and instincts that guide us.

//For things to act according to their natures, their actions must be ordered and integrated so that each part of their nature properly functions//

Why? What if their nature is to be disordered?

Albert said...

Indigomyth,

how do you determine "proper functions"? Is that merely looking at the natural world, and deciding what is and is not proper, based upon your own opinions and beliefs. No, it relates to ends as judged by reason. The end of an eye is sight, it would be unnatural for me to pluck out my eye and play table-tennis with it rather than seeing through it. The proper functioning of a whole nature requires the integration of different aspects of that nature towards its final end.

the dogs actions become natural, because they are the natural actions of a dog-with-rabies Yes, on your definition of natural, but remember my definition is slightly wider. It is obviously natural for the dog with rabies to behave so, insofar as it is nature as a whole which is the cause of the behaviour (the dog isn't possessed by a supernatural agency for example). But it is clearly a corruption of the dog's nature, for there is no nature "dog with rabies" only the nature of dog and the nature of rabies. When the two come together it is the nature of the latter to corrupt the former.

it could be argued that it is natural for some people to be homosexual, and therefore natural for them to act according to their homosexual urges What would that argument look like?

Could it not be part of the nature of sheep to be eaten by lions? No, because then it would be natural for the nature to corrupt itself, which is absurd.

human nature is to be occasionally irrational. It would be an unnatural human that did not act irrationally at times

I think this follows if one limits "nature" as you do to simply "what actually happens". As I've said, I don't accept that limitation. If that limitation is acceptable it would be impossible for there to be any unnatural behaviour, and if so, then the word "natural" simply tells us X happens, it tells us nothing at all about the moral significance of X. If that is that case then either there is no morality, or morality is entirely divorced from human nature. I don't accept either.

If you use the definition of natural that you put forward, then no human can ever be truly "natural" because all humans act irrationally at times. Exactly, which is why we need a Saviour, not to save us from ourselves, but to enable us to be truly ourselves.

I would also argue that there is much to be said for David Hume's thesis that "reason is the slave of the passions", and that what appears to be rationality, is merely a veneer over the surface of emotions and instincts that guide us. This is self-defeating isn't it? For if reason is the slave of the passions then it is the passions and not reason that makes you think that. In which case it is unreasonable for you to think that and you have no reason to think that.

What if their nature is to be disordered? I don't think such a nature could exist, for it means that it is the nature of something to undermine itself which I think will lead to a contradiction. Instead, I think you would have to say that there are competing natures.

There is an interesting point in all this. Contemporary culture thinks religion is irrational, but it is me that is arguing for reason and you that is arguing against reason.

Good discussion by the way. I hope you're enjoying it too!

indigomyth said...

Albert,

//The end of an eye is sight, it would be unnatural for me to pluck out my eye and play table-tennis with it rather than seeing through it. The proper functioning of a whole nature requires the integration of different aspects of that nature towards its final end.//

What about the eye of a blind fish living in cave? Is that natural? Or the eye of someone congenitally blind? Are they unnatural?

//When the two come together it is the nature of the latter to corrupt the former.//

So, does that make that corruption natural?

//What would that argument look like?//

One could argue that it is natural for people to be homosexual, because it is the product of influences over the individual while they are growing up, or possibly genetic factors. It may also be the case that it is an evolved tendency, be it genetic or behavioural, much like non-reproducing ants are an evolved section of that species.

//If that is that case then either there is no morality, or morality is entirely divorced from human nature. I don't accept either.//

Ahh, you see, I do, to a certain extent. I see humans as a savage race, and morality has little to do with either their reason or their instinct. I suppose that is the essential root of the difference between us - I view humans as being animals first, and "rational" a very far second (if at all), you seem to see them differently.

//In which case it is unreasonable for you to think that and you have no reason to think that.//

Not really, because that is only the case if you consider "passions" to be irrational. We are getting to the stage where the definition of "rationality" is up for debate. For example, belief in God seems largely irrational for me, yet would undoubtedly seem rational to you. People have different standards.

//I don't think such a nature could exist, for it means that it is the nature of something to undermine itself which I think will lead to a contradiction. //

What about the essential fabric of space/time, which is considered by many theoretical physicists to be chaotic and to conform to no "observed" rules?

//Contemporary culture thinks religion is irrational, but it is me that is arguing for reason and you that is arguing against reason.//

Ahh, but you are not sourcing your argument in religion - you are sourcing it elsewhere (logic). I am not so much arguing against reason, but merely that humans are not reasonable - I really believe in logic and reason, but not logical and reasonable humans. I believe in rationality, but not that most humans have a rational nature (or one that affects them anyway).

//Good discussion by the way. I hope you're enjoying it too!//

It is interesting. And refreshing.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Hello, Albert and Indigomyth.

That's an interesting discussion you've been having. I think I'll just stay out of it.

Albert, since you addressed your initial comments to me, permit me to respond by thanking you for them. They were very helpful.

Regarding your first point:

3) Libertarians believe that central and local government should not take and use tax-payers’ money except for the defence of individuals and their property.

On face value, that seems to mean that local authorities should not use taxes for education at all, except for those parts of education that directly touch "the defence of individuals and their property." So 3) seems to me to be false as it stands.


Quite right. Libertarians indeed believe that education is not the business of the state, and that taxes should not be used for education.

However, libertarians generally take the view that if taxes are being used to fund education, then education should mean education and not indoctrination.

(My working definition of indoctrination is that it is teaching things that are not agreed everywhere, always and by all.)

Albert said...

Indigomyth,

What about the eye of a blind fish living in cave? Is that natural? Or the eye of someone congenitally blind? Are they unnatural?

I think we can usefully distinguish between two meanings of "natural". There is the broad meaning which simply means something that is caused to exist or occurs without without supernatural agency, or without the interference of a personal agency. Then there is the narrower meaning of natural which refers to the qualities of a particular substance.

So with regard to blindness, let us suppose the blindness is owing to X failing to develop. An eye specialist would regard this condition as natural in the first sense. However, he may still say "X should have developed naturally, but as it has not done so, we will have to put an artificial X in." In this way we can see that being blind is unnatural in the latter sense - at least in the sense that nature has been frustrated from developing as it should. This may not apply to the fish if the fish is by nature not sighted.

does that make that corruption natural? in the latter sense no, corruption (by defintion I would have thought) violates the nature of a particular thing, but yes, corruption is entirely natural in the former sense.

One could argue that it is natural for people to be homosexual, because it is the product of influences over the individual while they are growing up, or possibly genetic factors. It may also be the case that it is an evolved tendency, be it genetic or behavioural

I have no difficulty in agreeing that the origin of homosexual orientation may be natural in the broad sense of that word. But what I was asking you for was an explanation of how you got from it could be argued that it is natural for some people to be homosexual, to therefore natural for them to act according to their homosexual urges. I don't see that you've done that, and I would worry that by the path you have chosen you may be about to commit the genetic fallacy. The point being that I cannot see what the moral significance is to homosexual behaviour of being able to identify the possible origins of homosexual orientation.

Moreover, I would like to ask you whether you agree with Christian registrars being dismissed after 20 years of service because they in conscience cannot preside over Civil Partnerships. If someone is to be enforced to do such a thing, we need a morally significant reason for doing so. At the moment, the secular gay lobby (not the same thing as gay people) seems willing to (a) trample upon conscience and (b) act simply as an amoral power, irrational power.

Albert said...

Not really, because that is only the case if you consider "passions" to be irrational. I don't think that interpretation is consistent either with Hume or what you said before.

We are getting to the stage where the definition of "rationality" is up for debate. For example, belief in God seems largely irrational for me, yet would undoubtedly seem rational to you. People have different standards. But surely we are talking about "reason" as a principle and faculty, not about the rationality of individual judgments.

Ahh, but you are not sourcing your argument in religion The distinction is a difficult one, for part of my confidence in reason is my faith. Part of the loss of confidence in reason in modernity is owing to the loss of faith.

I am not so much arguing against reason, but merely that humans are not reasonable Indeed not, but you do think it is natural for humans to be unreasonable. To me that means it is good for humans to be unreasonable - though as we are not agreed on the use of the word "natural" that may be the problem.

Ahh, you see, I do, to a certain extent. Which do you accept? That there is no morality or that it is divorced from human nature?

And refreshing Good word, in my experience most secular liberals are closed to any discussion of this question, and simply resort to abuse. All of which tends to confirm the worry that the much of the movement is an irrational, unjust power-bid.

Albert said...

Thanks YMB, I'd often wondered about that. Presumably you don't think that the state has a responsibility to provide at least basic healthcare/nutrition for the poorest people either. Would that be right? New Labour must be a nightmare for you!

What is the state's responsibility?

education should mean education and not indoctrination. (My working definition of indoctrination is that it is teaching things that are not agreed everywhere, always and by all.)

That wouldn't leave very much though would it? You wouldn't be able to teach evolution on that basis, or that the outside world is real.

indigomyth said...

Albert,

//In this way we can see that being blind is unnatural in the latter sense - at least in the sense that nature has been frustrated from developing as it should. This may not apply to the fish if the fish is by nature not sighted.//

But, who knows how something ought to develop? That requires a judgement - a value system in which to project the idea of "natural" on to something that exists. In the case of the blind fish, it is natural for it to be blind. How do you think evolution occurs? If we take your meaning, it must occur by unnatural steps? To go back to the blind fish - it evolved from a sighted fish, but its eyes have ceased to be used. Would you call the first fish to loose its sight "unnatural"? Or another example, if a human is born with 6 fingers on one hand, that would be called by you "unnatural" as it ought not to have developed according to the normal (common) system of things, yet if that trait became dominant and widespread it would be "natural" because it conforms to your preconceived notions of what is natural and unnatural. What about people with short-sight, as I have? Would you consider that to be an unnatural development? Yet my eyes are intended to be short-sighted – I have the genes for short-sight, therefore it is the intention for me to be short-sighted. There is no other meaning that could be derived from that. I was not “meant” to have normal sight, I was meant to have short-sight. I am not of the same type of being as someone without short sight, therefore I am not corrupted from what I am. If there is a Form of Indigomyth, it is a Form that includes within it the parameter of “having short-sight” - the corruption of that would be unnatural. Indeed, the wearing of glasses may very well be the violation of my true nature! You see your latter version of your definition is steeped in preconceived ideas, which alter depending on ones perspective, and degree of knowledge about something.

//The point being that I cannot see what the moral significance is to homosexual behaviour of being able to identify the possible origins of homosexual orientation. //

Because the acting on the behaviour is the natural outcome of the inclination, it being natural for humans to act on their desires. The action is justified as being called natural, because it is called for by the orientation. I am essentially arguing that it is the nature of homosexuals to be homosexual, and therefore, any homosexual actions they perform are natural, because they are natural for them as individuals with homosexual inclinations – their nature is one different to those that are heterosexual. Just as it is natural for a lion to kill a cub, but it not be natural for a man to kill a child, so it is natural for a homosexual to engage in homosexual activity, but not for a heterosexual. To put it another way, we are not talking about the example of the rabid-dog, whereby the rabies may divorce the “dogness” from the dog, we are rather talking about the “fishness” of the blind fish – in essence, one can regard homosexuality as the latter (as a trait that is natural for that particular class on individual, for it has developed naturally, and represents no deviation from “intention” much as sterile ants have evolved), rather than the former (a corruption of the nature of the creature). What I am saying is that your perception of what is “natural” and “unnatural” for human activity, is rather limited to your own perceptions (or, in less charitable words, wrong). But I am afraid we have strayed to far from territory that I can comprehend – when we start regarding “natural” and “unnatural” as terms divorced from nature, I rapidly begin to loose understanding. For me, it is no more unnatural for people to be blind as to be sighted. All that may be said is that A is blind because of X,Y and Z. I do not presume what nature ought and ought not to be or do. I am perfectly comfortable declaring murder, rape and theft to be natural actions – it does not make them right.

indigomyth said...

//Moreover, I would like to ask you whether you agree with Christian registrars being dismissed after 20 years of service because they in conscience cannot preside over Civil Partnerships. If someone is to be enforced to do such a thing, we need a morally significant reason for doing so. At the moment, the secular gay lobby (not the same thing as gay people) seems willing to (a) trample upon conscience and (b) act simply as an amoral power, irrational power. //

I do agree with the decision. The simple moral reason is because it was her job, that she refused to do. No other moral reason is required. To be blunt for a moment, if I had a job, and it was demanded of me to rape babies, I would refuse to do so, however my employer would be entirely within their right to fire me for not doing what they asked. The same as it would be perfectly permissible to fire someone if they refused to serve someone of a different race. I am a libertarian – I am opposed to all state anti-discrimination laws. Employers ought to be free to hire and fire who they want, using whatever basis they choose. I care not a jot about employee's consciences – they are employed, paid by someone to do a job. If their conscience forbids them to do that job, they deserve to be fired. Ladele decided her conscience was more important than having her job – and she suffered the consequences. An entirely moral outcome, I would have thought? If I am the owner of a business, what authority do you, or the church, or the state, or any lobbies have to say what constitutes a “morally significant” reason? The morally significant reason? How about “because I, the one paying your wages, say so”? Ladele was not forced, she had no violence used against her, she was not threatened with imprisonment, in no sense was her liberty curtailed. This is not like in Nazi Germany, with people being shot or imprisoned for refusing to cooperate with the extermination of the Jews – where was the gun point at Ladele's head? Where were the prison bars? There were none. I fail to see how she has been harmed – she chose to refuse to do her job, and she was fired. I genuinely do not understand the reason why many Christians are supporting her? It baffles me.

//simply as an amoral power, irrational power.//

Would you consider it acceptable if you regarded it as a moral power? Do you think the state should legislate against vice? Would you approve power if it was wielded by your own Church?

indigomyth said...

//Not really, because that is only the case if you consider "passions" to be irrational. I don't think that interpretation is consistent either with Hume or what you said before. //

Hmm, perhaps. The difficulty arises because all these words lack a definition that we have in common.

//But surely we are talking about "reason" as a principle and faculty, not about the rationality of individual judgments. //

But how can one assess it as a principle or faculty, if one does not know what it looks like in individual judgements? How does one decide a principle of reason, without looking at individual judgements?

//Indeed not, but you do think it is natural for humans to be unreasonable. To me that means it is good for humans to be unreasonable - though as we are not agreed on the use of the word "natural" that may be the problem. //

Well quite.

//Which do you accept? That there is no morality or that it is divorced from human nature? //

That it is divorced from human nature. For example, I believe that violence and authoritarianism are natural human urges, the desire to control others, and destroy that which is distasteful. However, that does not stop me condemning it as wrong. I have no interest in pretending that the nature of humanity is essentially good and wholesome – it is not, and those that peddle that lie do great damage.

//Good word, in my experience most secular liberals are closed to any discussion of this question, and simply resort to abuse. All of which tends to confirm the worry that the much of the movement is an irrational, unjust power-bid. //

Well, I consider myself to be a secular liberal (though not the definition of “liberal” as commonly misused). Perhaps you mean secular socialist? I am secular. I believe people ought to be able to do whatever they want with their bodies, believe whatever they want, say whatever they want, and to not have the state interfere.

//is an irrational, unjust power-bid//

Would you consider it acceptable were it a rational, just power-bid? I would argue that a “power-bid”, the desire to control non-violent people through violence, is never acceptable?

Do you think it acceptable that the Catholic influence in Italy has made it illegal for women to receive sperm donations from unknown men? If so, why? Is that not enforcing a particular conduct onto an individual? Why is it right for the Catholic church to dictate the terms of conception, but not “secular liberals”? Do you believe in a free society, or a society governed by the rules of your faith?

indigomyth said...

Albert,

//X should have developed naturally, but as it has not done so, we will have to put an artificial X in.//

I would say that in that case, the specialist is either wrong, or using imprecise language.

indigomyth said...

Albert,

I know you fielded this question to YMB, but I couldn't resist

You asked:
//What is the state's responsibility?//

To defend individual liberty, by punishing those that aggress against other people. To defend the freedoms of people - freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of belief, and body sovereignty.

Albert said...

Indigomyth,
[Because this is so long, I’ve made an editorial error, my comments are now in italics, yours are not – sorry for any confusion!]

But, who knows how something ought to develop? That requires a judgement - a value system in which to project the idea of "natural" on to something that exists.

The judgment is drawn from the function and the form of something. You don’t agree with me that it is natural for a human beings to see through their eye-balls rather than pluck them out and use them for table-tennis?

In the case of the blind fish, it is natural for it to be blind.

Exactly, because the eye, in a dark cave has no function, it has become obsolete, it has no natural purpose, unless it has been co-opted by another part or function of the fish.

How do you think evolution occurs? If we take your meaning, it must occur by unnatural steps?

Certainly, in the narrow sense, that’s why they are called mutations – the failure of a nature to duplicate itself properly. In the majority of cases these mutations cause the nature to fail, only when the environment is right will they be successful.

Would you call the first fish to loose its sight "unnatural"?
Yes, and in 99% of cases it would be profound disadvantage and such a fish would not likely survive – it’s nature had failed.

Or another example, if a human is born with 6 fingers on one hand, that would be called by you "unnatural" as it ought not to have developed according to the normal (common) system of things,

Did I say nature was about “normal” or common? I agreed that all human beings are irrational at times, that it is normal for them to be irrational, but I made it clear I regarded that as unnatural. By the standard or form and function, I cannot see any reason to regard having 6 fingers as unnatural.

What about people with short-sight, as I have? Would you consider that to be an unnatural development?

I’m short-sighted too, it’s a failure of my nature to perfect itself, as evidenced in the fact that it is a damn nuisance, especially when I lose my glasses – which I use to “correct” my poor sight. The whole language of correction implies a standard that ought to have been met. Do you think there is no such standard? If so, why do you think you are short-sighted? Short as compared with what?

Yet my eyes are intended to be short-sighted.

“Intended”? Intention belongs to will and reason. I didn’t have you down as believing in Intelligent Design.

I have the genes for short-sight, therefore it is the intention for me to be short-sighted. There is no other meaning that could be derived from that. I was not “meant” to have normal sight, I was meant to have short-sight. I am not of the same type of being as someone without short sight, therefore I am not corrupted from what I am.

That word “normal”, again implying you recognise a standard you are failing to meet. In speaking of your genes you haven’t given me a reason to think you are a different form, type, or nature from others, all you’ve done here is identify where the failing arises.

If there is a Form of Indigomyth,
Why should I accept there is such a Form?

You see your latter version of your definition is steeped in preconceived ideas,

No, your response is just demonstrating that you haven’t got my point, on the contrary, as some of your statements have shown, you are attributing to me a position I have already rejected.

Regarding homosexuality: Because the acting on the behaviour is the natural outcome of the inclination,

What does this mean? Acting is behaving.

natural for humans to act on their desires.

Albert said...

natural for humans to act on their desires.

And how does a human being judge which desires to act upon and which to resist?

The action is justified as being called natural, because it is called for by the orientation.

What do you mean by “called for”?! Anyway, the point is that when there is more than one appetite and reason too in an individual, rightness of behaviour cannot be got out of orientation. For attending to one appetite (e.g. eating an unnatural amount) may prevent the natural functioning of other parts of the nature.

I am essentially arguing that it is the nature of homosexuals to be homosexual

And I have argued that that definition of “nature” is inadequate.

we are rather talking about the “fishness” of the blind fish – in essence, one can regard homosexuality as the latter

Not so, because the latter is an activity of a rational agent, while the former is neither.

particular class of individual,

I don’t accept that “homosexual” is a particular nature, I think people with homosexual orientation are just people and part of the problem of our society is that those who claim to reject the category of nature to allow (morally) homosexual behaviour, re-impose it to justify homosexual behaviour.

when we start regarding “natural” and “unnatural” as terms divorced from nature, I rapidly begin to loose understanding.

That’s odd, that’s just what I thought you were doing: isolating “homosexual nature” from the whole nature and calling that natural.

I am perfectly comfortable declaring murder, rape and theft to be natural actions – it does not make them right.

What does make actions right or wrong?

I do agree with the decision. The simple moral reason is because it was her job, that she refused to do.

It wasn’t actually her job, they changed the job from what she agreed to do. Now what makes “that she refused to do” her job a “moral reason”? It is very unclear to me what you mean by morality. Throughout you have used moral language and implication and yet, it is unclear what you mean by morality.

To be blunt for a moment, if I had a job, and it was demanded of me to rape babies, I would refuse to do so,

Good, but why?

however my employer would be entirely within their right to fire me for not doing what they asked.

So there’s a moral justification for the employer and yet he has no moral responsibilities is that what you mean?

I care not a jot about employee's consciences

And yet you do use the language of morality for the employer. Are you not saying that the person who has power can just do what he likes and the person without power cannot. If so, why bring morality into it?

what authority do you, or the church, or the state, or any lobbies have to say what constitutes a “morally significant” reason?

By what authority did you judge the behaviour of the employer to have a “moral reason”?

The morally significant reason? How about “because I, the one paying your wages, say so”?

That’s not a morally significant reason, that’s just an assertion of power.

Ladele was not forced, she had no violence used against her. I fail to see how she has been harmed.

I take it you’ve never had to choose between your conscience and your job, your home and all that goes with it.

Albert said...

I genuinely do not understand the reason why many Christians are supporting her?

Perhaps because they think it is not up to the state to impose moral opinions and behaviours on its people. Moreover, I think there is a wider worry that a large part of society is being increasingly excluded from being eligible for certain jobs. This is going to create unjust distinctions: those with no moral opinions or whose moral opinions coincide with those the state holds this week can apply for any job, those with moral convictions cannot and at any moment may lose their jobs if the state issue a new dictat.

Would you consider it acceptable if you regarded it as a moral power? Do you think the state should legislate against vice? Would you approve power if it was wielded by your own Church?

This is too vague to answer. I believe the state can act to prevent someone harming another, but not to impose religious or moral beliefs beyond that.

But how can one assess it [reason] as a principle or faculty, if one does not know what it looks like in individual judgements? How does one decide a principle of reason, without looking at individual judgements?

Well there are apriori principles for example, like logic, these enable us to “see” reason at work.

That it [morality] is divorced from human nature.

In which case, “nature” is morally insignificant, so why do you think we have a “right” to bodily autonomy?

I believe people ought to be able to do whatever they want with their bodies,

Where does this "ought" come from? Why should I accept it?

believe whatever they want, say whatever they want, and to not have the state interfere.

But what if what they want to do limits the freedom of others?

Would you consider it acceptable were it a rational, just power-bid?

By definition a “just power-bid” is acceptable.

Do you think it acceptable that the Catholic influence in Italy has made it illegal for women to receive sperm donations from unknown men?

Yes, because I believe a child has the right to know who his father is.

Is that not enforcing a particular conduct onto an individual?

It is preserving the freedom of the child to have his or her rights against those who would unjustly deny them that freedom.

Do you believe in a free society, or a society governed by the rules of your faith?

This argument belongs to reason not faith.

I would say that in that case, the specialist is either wrong, or using imprecise language.

So you don’t think the development of X is natural.

[The state’s role is] To defend individual liberty, by punishing those that aggress against other people. To defend the freedoms of people - freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of belief, and body sovereignty.

And where do those moral rules come from? Why do they justly apply to the state’s duties?

indigomyth said...

Albert,

//The judgment is drawn from the function and the form of something. You don’t agree with me that it is natural for a human beings to see through their eye-balls rather than pluck them out and use them for table-tennis?//

Seems to conflict with

//“Intended”? Intention belongs to will and reason. I didn’t have you down as believing in Intelligent Design. //

Is not function the language of intelligent design? An eye does not have a "function" in the same way a chair has a function - we may safely say what a chairs function is because we may ask the designer - an eye has no intelligent designer (from an evolutionary perspective) and therefore cannot be attributed a function. These sorts of discussions are hindered by our language.

I cannot say if it is natural for a human to pluck out their eyes, and use them for table tennis. They are doing it, so I presume a natural cause.

//Short as compared with what? //

As compared with different eyes. It is still possible to compare things, even if they are of a different nature, or intention. Much as you can compare the speed of a bed, with the speed of a car, even though one is designed to move, and the other is not.

//That word “normal”, again implying you recognise a standard you are failing to meet. In speaking of your genes you haven’t given me a reason to think you are a different form, type, or nature from others, all you’ve done here is identify where the failing arises. //

I was using the word "Normal" in the sense of common - in the the common way eyes operate is in way A. But the genes I have are what I am - they describe my nature, what I am? Am I not different from other people? Therefore is my nature not different?

//What does this mean? Acting is behaving.//

An error on my part. It should have read "acting on the inclination".

indigomyth said...

Albert,

//And how does a human being judge which desires to act upon and which to resist? //

Commonly, by weighing up the negative personal consequences of an action, against the amount of pleasure that will be received. The desire to rape may be strong, but the knowledge of punishment may act as a deterrent.

//For attending to one appetite (e.g. eating an unnatural amount) may prevent the natural functioning of other parts of the nature. //

But I do not accept the idea of any other definition of natural, than that which occurs, so it makes no sense to me to say that doing something will prevent the "natural" functioning of another part.

//I don’t accept that “homosexual” is a particular nature, I think people with homosexual orientation are just people and part of the problem of our society is that those who claim to reject the category of nature to allow (morally) homosexual behaviour, re-impose it to justify homosexual behaviour. //

Well, then we cannot agree. Because I view every person as individual, and having an individual nature, and therefore the actions that are natural for them are different for other people.

//That’s odd, that’s just what I thought you were doing: isolating “homosexual nature” from the whole nature and calling that natural. //

I do not think I was. I was saying that homosexuality was a product of nature, and that it was natural to be homosexual and engage in homosexual activity. I was not isolating it, merely specifying one particular attribute of one type of person, and describing the naturalness of that attribute for that individual.

//What does make actions right or wrong? //

There are more philosophers and theologians than stars in the sky that have tried to answer that question. I have no definitive answer - I identify right and wrong simply by whether or not something causes violence to other people.

indigomyth said...

//It wasn’t actually her job, they changed the job from what she agreed to do. Now what makes “that she refused to do” her job a “moral reason”? It is very unclear to me what you mean by morality. Throughout you have used moral language and implication and yet, it is unclear what you mean by morality.//

Yes, but if they changed her job, it was still her job, just changed. If we regard her job as being that which is specified in her contract, and her contract changed, then her job changed. She was acting under the assumption she was performing her old job, when she actually had a new one. It is her error - she made a faulty assumption, and it bit her.

//Good, but why? //

Because I do not think it is right - it violates their bodies. I cannot go into a lengthy debate about libertarian ethics - there are many fine books on the subject.

//So there’s a moral justification for the employer and yet he has no moral responsibilities is that what you mean? //

He has the moral responsibilities that he agreed to in the contract - beyond that, no. And, as far as I am aware, Ladele's contract did not specify an "if you don't like this job, then you don't have to do it, and we won't fire you clause".

//And yet you do use the language of morality for the employer. Are you not saying that the person who has power can just do what he likes and the person without power cannot. If so, why bring morality into it? //

Because the employer holds power morally - it is their money, they own it, and can do with it as they wish. Ladele had the power over her own body, and she refused to perform CPs - very well done for for standing up for her conscience. However, what you want is for Ladele to have power over her employer, and their money, in order to be able to compel them to pay her for not doing her job.

//That’s not a morally significant reason, that’s just an assertion of power. //

Yep. A voluntarily entered into power relationship - one that was quite agreeable to Ladele when she started working. She accepted it, perhaps she should accept the consequences. When you voluntarily submit to a power dynamic, you consent to what results from that.

//I take it you’ve never had to choose between your conscience and your job, your home and all that goes with it. //

Never. She was not "harmed" in the sense of having her freedom curtailed, was she? And, how is it violence to withdraw your money from someone? That is a pretty broad definition!

indigomyth said...

Albert,

//Perhaps because they think it is not up to the state to impose moral opinions and behaviours on its people. Moreover, I think there is a wider worry that a large part of society is being increasingly excluded from being eligible for certain jobs. This is going to create unjust distinctions: those with no moral opinions or whose moral opinions coincide with those the state holds this week can apply for any job, those with moral convictions cannot and at any moment may lose their jobs if the state issue a new dictat. //

Then they could go and work in the private sector.

//Perhaps because they think it is not up to the state to impose moral opinions and behaviours on its people.//

Hmm, do you also disagree with anti-discrimination laws which force the BNP to accept non-white members? What about Hate Speech laws? Do you think that a B&B owner should be allowed to discriminate against Irish and Blacks? I do. If you really believe it is none of the states business, then you should to. Or the current ban on members of the BNP in the police? Do you support that? Is that also forcing people to act against their convictions?

Also, I would have thought that if the state is employing you, then it DOES have the right to force to act the way it wants. If the duty of the state is to provide services to all of society, then how can the state possibly employee people who refuse to serve certain sectors of society? Let is not forget, Ladele's wages were paid by homosexuals as well as heterosexuals? Do you not think that it is a supreme arrogance of her to turn round, and refuse to serve them? Much as a private employer has the right to force its employees to act the way it wants - to not swear for example.

//those with moral convictions cannot and at any moment may lose their jobs if the state issue a new dictat//

Ahh, so it is a selfish impulse - they do not want to loose their jobs, and therefore think that they should be allowed to do whatever they want? It rather reminds me of those fools that claim that immigrants are coming over here and taking "our jobs" - as if they somehow have a right to the jobs of a particular employer!

indigomyth said...

//I believe the state can act to prevent someone harming another, but not to impose religious or moral beliefs beyond that. //

I broadly agree - however with some caveats. Boxing is harmful, yet I do not think the state should prevent that. Anal intercourse is harmful, yet I do not think the state should prevent it. Smoking is harmful, but I do not think the state should stop that.

//In which case, “nature” is morally insignificant, so why do you think we have a “right” to bodily autonomy? //

Because I own it. Again, I cannot go into depths with this. This is getting ridiculously long!

//But what if what they want to do limits the freedom of others? //
Such as? And, even so, they should be allowed to talk about it, shout it from the rooftops, hold marches about it.

indigomyth said...

//I believe the state can act to prevent someone harming another, but not to impose religious or moral beliefs beyond that. //

I broadly agree - however with some caveats. Boxing is harmful, yet I do not think the state should prevent that. Anal intercourse is harmful, yet I do not think the state should prevent it. Smoking is harmful, but I do not think the state should stop that.

//In which case, “nature” is morally insignificant, so why do you think we have a “right” to bodily autonomy? //

Because I own it. Again, I cannot go into depths with this. This is getting ridiculously long!

//But what if what they want to do limits the freedom of others? //
Such as? And, even so, they should be allowed to talk about it, shout it from the rooftops, hold marches about it.

indigomyth said...

//By definition a “just power-bid” is acceptable. //

In which case, I would argue that there can be no just power-bids.

//Yes, because I believe a child has the right to know who his father is. //

Why? How can a child have a right which restricts the liberty of its parents? That causes a conflict in rights, which is an unworkable situation – a right is, by its nature, ought not to be violated. So a parent either has a right over their own body, or they do not – you are arguing that they do not, and that another person (a child) has a claim over their body. That is utterly abhorrent to me.

//It is preserving the freedom of the child to have his or her rights against those who would unjustly deny them that freedom. //

What freedom is being protected? How can knowing your father be described as a “freedom”! Freedom is surely freedom from violence, freedom from being forced to do something? The child's freedom is not reduced or inhibited one single jot by not knowing its father – there is absolutely no right to know who your father is. What is the child being forced to do, that restricts its freedom? Could you describe what you mean by “freedom”, because it is clearly a definition that I have never, ever heard? I am afraid I literally do not understand the meaning of the sentence you write above – it is a totally alien concept to me, that somehow it is a right for a child to know its parents, a freedom no less!!


//So you don’t think the development of X is natural. //

I do think the development of X is natural. But I also consider the different development of X to also be natural.

//And where do those moral rules come from? Why do they justly apply to the state’s duties? //

From logic and reason. From the principles of self ownership. For self ownership is the only logical possibility. Either you own yourself, or someone else owns you, or you are owned communally. The second option is just despotism and authoritarianism, the third is just communism, and results in the logical flaw that if everyone owned everyone else, then no one would be able to do anything, because they would have to consult everyone else to get approval. I suggest you read Murray M. Rothbard, “The Ethics Of Liberty”.

indigomyth said...

//Perhaps because they think it is not up to the state to impose moral opinions and behaviours on its people.//

And yet you say

//It is preserving the freedom of the child to have his or her rights against those who would unjustly deny them that freedom. //

So you do think it is acceptable to impose moral opinions and behaviours on its people, provided it is done for the children, of course.

indigomyth said...

A thought,

How do you know that an eye is meant to see? By observing that many eyes do see?

But how do you know that a short-sighted eye is meant to see like other eyes? If we observe the form of an short-sighted eye, would the form not indicate that the eye was "intended" to be short-sighted? So if we extrapolate natural from form, we can only conclude that a short-sighted eye is "naturally" short-sighted - its form is its nature, and since its form is short-sighted, its nature is to be short-sighted.

You argue that we can discern what is natural by observing form and function, yes? In that case, does the form and function (as in the way it operates) not tell you that a short-sighted eye (x) is intended to be short-sighted? It is only by comparison with a non-short-sighted eye (y) that you can see a difference - however that still does not tell you that x is incorrect, because you cannot demonstrate that x was meant to be like y. Like comparing the eye of an eagle with the eye of a man - the eye of a man is not "meant" to be like the eye of an eagle. So, I say, x is not meant to be like y, because they are different. The form and function of x is that it is naturally short-sighted, and that it is its "nature" to be so.

Albert said...

Indigomyth,

This is getting ridiculously long! We are agreed on one thing! At 10 o'clock last night, I was about to post saying I would have less time over the next few days, so could we try to reduce this to the discussion of individual principles, rather than toughing it out over particulars (which veil the principles at stake). Unfortunately, you'd already started. So here's my attempt to rationalise this a bit:

Moral theories: I have tried to articulate a moral theory based on human nature. I cannot really find meaning in any moral theory which by-passes what we are, but that is exactly the moral theory you want (though it remains opaque to me). You’ve tried to undermine my natural ethics by saying that function is linked with intention. I don’t think this is true. We can discern function without knowing an intention, because sometimes we discern intention from function – indicating our knowledge of function can stand without intention. For a long time, scientists thought the appendix had no function, now they think it does have a function. Do you think such language is meaningless?

Of course, in arguing from nature, from empirical evidence, I realise that I will never be able to corner an opponent in a logical contradiction. That is obvious. There will always be logical space for an opponent to avoid my conclusion. The problem of induction is a problem for all empirical argument, a determined solipsist can always avoid the conclusion that the outside word is real, a determined sceptic may doubt that the world was made more than five minutes ago and a determined opponent of science can always critique the best scientific conclusion in the same way. There is no logical way of showing these people they are wrong. The question is, are they reasonable? To be honest, if you cannot say that eyes are for seeing, not for plucking out and using for ping pong, then so much the worse for your philosophy.

Then there is the question of your moral philosophy, what makes actions right or wrong. You say “I have no definitive answer.” As Copleston said of Russell “If one refused to sit at the chess board and make a move, one cannot, of course, be checkmated.”

But then you say “From logic and reason.” That is an interesting distinction, how do you distinguish reason from logic? What I mean is what is included under “reason” here?

Albert said...

You continue: “From the principles of self ownership. For self ownership is the only logical possibility. Either you own yourself, or someone else owns you, or you are owned communally. The second option is just despotism and authoritarianism, the third is just communism, and results in the logical flaw that if everyone owned everyone else, then no one would be able to do anything, because they would have to consult everyone else to get approval.” But what’s so wrong with despotism on your scheme? What’s so wrong with no one being able to do anything? Why put it in terms of ownership anyway? You speak, for example, of ownership of your body (an idea I find singularly misplaced) what do you mean by saying you “own it”? why should I accept the anthropology underlying that? Why should I accept that you "own it" at all? Surely you are, after all, going to have to appeal to a doctrine of human nature to support it.

And from what you’ve already said, that doctrine seems to me to be inadequate, for it isolates the individual from others in a way that fails to recognise the mutual interdependence of all humanity. There are no isolated individuals. As persons we are who we are because (among other things) of the choices and relationships we have formed and the forms of mutual dependence each of us relies upon. It is part of the concept of being a parent that they are in relationship with that child. When a child makes a claim of rights over the parent’s body, you say that is abhorrent to you, but as I see it, the atomising of the parent from the child, is an impoverishment of the parent, a failure to acknowledge that being the parent of that child is part of the very person that parent is. Do you think that children do not have the right to be fed by their parents?

Further, you say: “I identify right and wrong simply by whether or not something causes violence to other people.” Again, I am unclear by what is meant by violence here, for you also say “Anal intercourse is harmful” but you don’t think it is necessarily immoral. So how do I distinguish between doing violence to someone rather than doing harm? Why should I accept that doing violence is wrong? Do you ever think we have obligations to each other? if so how and in what circumstances?

indigomyth said...

Albert,

//We can discern function without knowing an intention, because sometimes we discern intention from function – indicating our knowledge of function can stand without intention. For a long time, scientists thought the appendix had no function, now they think it does have a function. Do you think such language is meaningless? //

To a large extent, yes. Most of our language developed in conjunction with the idea that the world was intelligently designed – that each part had a given function and purpose. I do not think that language accurately describes the true state of the universe. The appendix performs an action – that is not a function, because it is merely what it does. Much as a stone falling into a pond, does not have the “function” of making ripples, it is merely the thing that happens. And, that is what I see in the natural world – not function in the way that applies to human constructs, but rather merely that which is done. So, the function of the kidney is not to clean the blood, it is merely the action that it performs – as the stone makes the ripples, but it is not the function of the stone, so a kidney cleans the blood, but it is not its function as such.

//The question is, are they reasonable? To be honest, if you cannot say that eyes are for seeing, not for plucking out and using for ping pong, then so much the worse for your philosophy. //

I say that some eyes see. I say that others do not. I say that some eyes have different capabilities to others. But, I cannot say that any one of those situations is more or less natural than any other, merely more or less preferable based on individual will and desire.

//But then you say “From logic and reason.” That is an interesting distinction, how do you distinguish reason from logic? What I mean is what is included under “reason” here? //

If I believe that Allah will induct me into Paradise if I kill 300 people, then it is reasonable for me to kill 300 people. The belief of the individual dictates the reasonableness of the course of action. It was reasonable for the Nazis to kill 6 million Jews, because it was in accordance with their philosophy. The conclusions of the genocide flowed logically from the premises of racial superiority. Of course, I do not believe that the premises were correct, or moral, so do not believe that the conclusions were correct or moral.

//But what’s so wrong with despotism on your scheme? What’s so wrong with no one being able to do anything? Why put it in terms of ownership anyway? You speak, for example, of ownership of your body (an idea I find singularly misplaced) what do you mean by saying you “own it”? why should I accept the anthropology underlying that? Why should I accept that you "own it" at all? Surely you are, after all, going to have to appeal to a doctrine of human nature to support it. //

Yes, but it is a facet of human nature in the terms that I use the term “natural”. People feel and think that they own their bodies, therefore it is natural for them to do so. It is a natural inclination of humans to feel self-ownership. I own it because it is mine – I reside in it, and it is no-one else's. This is axiomatic. I can't reason it to you. I haven't seen any logical, natural or rational reason to think otherwise.

//And from what you’ve already said, that doctrine seems to me to be inadequate, for it isolates the individual from others in a way that fails to recognise the mutual interdependence of all humanity.//

It doesn't forcibly isolate them. It merely asserts that each individual can do as they wish with their own bodies, and if they choose to enter into mutually consenting agreements with other people, then that is their right. I fail to see why individualism denies mutual interdependence?

indigomyth said...

//There are no isolated individuals.//

Yes there are. Every single person is an “isolated” individual. They have their own minds, their own thoughts, their own relationships. Indeed, Aquinas talked about how it is nonsense to talk of a collective mind. Indeed, I would go further and say that to be recognisably human is to be an isolate individual. They may enter into mutually consenting relationships, but that does not deny their total individuality, but reinforces it.

//As persons we are who we are because (among other things) of the choices and relationships we have formed and the forms of mutual dependence each of us relies upon.//

And this conflicts with individualism how? So you are formed partly from your interactions? That does not mean that anyone else owns you, does it? If you commit a crime, it is solely and completely your individual fault. Indeed, your mentality is similar to the current social opinion, where individuals are not responsible for their own actions, and can blame their parents, or their teachers, or society. Indeed, justice requires, demands, individualism. People are individuals, they culpable for their own actions, and in order to be culpable they must be considered in isolation.

Do you think that slavery is wrong? If so, why? The essential point is, do you believe that I own you? Your body? If you do, then why do you think it wrong for me to in-slave you? If I own you, why can't I torture you for my own pleasure? It is my right, as you are my property.

//Do you think that children do not have the right to be fed by their parents? //

Not really. Parents ought to be able to abandon their children at the door of the nearest adoption agency. Children have no more a “right” to be fed, then anyone else in society has a right to be fed, or nursed, or cared for. The fact that they are is not because it is their right, but because people like to do that – and more often than not, it is out of a sense of duty.

//Further, you say: “I identify right and wrong simply by whether or not something causes violence to other people.” Again, I am unclear by what is meant by violence here, for you also say “Anal intercourse is harmful” but you don’t think it is necessarily immoral. So how do I distinguish between doing violence to someone rather than doing harm? Why should I accept that doing violence is wrong? //

//So how do I distinguish between doing violence to someone rather than doing harm? //

By whether it is consensual. Punching someone on the street is harmful, but punching someone in a boxing ring is merely violent. You see the difference? The primary focus must always be on the nature of the relationship, and whether is is consenting. Ask the person if they want to have what you regard as “violence” done to them, if they consent to it, and if they say “yes”, no harm is being done. Another example – I think female genital mutilation is violence, but is not necessarily “harmful”, if done consentingly. If a women choose to undergo FGM, then that is her choice, and I may believe that violence is being done to her, but that my opinion is irrelevant, because she owns her own body.

//Do you ever think we have obligations to each other? if so how and in what circumstances?//

No obligations other that those expressly agreed. I do not have the obligation to give you money if you are starving to death – it is my money, and I can choose to spend it how I want. I may want to give you my money, but that is my own choice, driven by my own feelings. It is not an obligation.

indigomyth said...

Albert,

//Why should I accept that doing violence is wrong?//

I suppose that violence, mutually consented to, is not wrong. Boxing is violent, but not immoral. Would you agree?

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Albert said...

Indigomyth,
Sorry for being tardy in replying – I don’t have as much time to devote to this at the moment.

I still think the real issue is over general principles. Perhaps I can state a few positions you have now taken:

1. You do not believe the function of eyes is to see rather than to be used for ping pong.

2. You do believe that it is reasonable to kill 300 people if Allah says he will induct you into paradise if you do so.

3. You do believe that a parent has the right to leave his own child to starve to death.

I think most people, encountering the scepticism of 1, would be surprised by the confidence of 2 & 3 (I don’t think you’ve addressed my argument that we can and do know function without knowing intention BTW). This list reminds me of something that Bernard Williams once suggested: perhaps there is something about ethical understanding that makes it inherently unsuited to be explored through analytic philosophy alone, and this is why your system is coming up with such odd conclusions.

With regard to 2 I would say that if reason sanctions such an abhorrent position, then I would say there is little point in reason evaluating morality at all: there could be no moral philosophy. I would say the behaviour in 2 would be totally unreasonable and therefore I believe moral philosophy is possible.

With regard to 3, I’m still unclear how you make this a moral position. You say “People own themselves” but admit you cannot find any reason for arguing for this conclusion (why then does the scepticism of 1 not kick in here?), except that people “feel and think that they own their bodies”.

Perhaps it would help to set this up as a syllogism:

4. People feel and think they own their own bodies.

5.

6. Therefore, a parent has the right to leave his child to starve to death.

My question, I hope is clear: what are you going to put in 5? (by all means fill out 5 underneath as necessary)

indigomyth said...

Albert,

Thanks for the response.

//I don’t think you’ve addressed my argument that we can and do know function without knowing intention BTW//

I do not think we can - we can only describe what actually is occurring.

//With regard to 2 I would say that if reason sanctions such an abhorrent position, then I would say there is little point in reason evaluating morality at all: there could be no moral philosophy. I would say the behaviour in 2 would be totally unreasonable and therefore I believe moral philosophy is possible.//

Because the conclusion extends logically from the premise, provided you accept the premise. Now, I hold the premise to be utterly immoral and wrong, however that does not alter the fact that conclusions derived from it can be reasonable and logical.

//You say “People own themselves” but admit you cannot find any reason for arguing for this conclusion (why then does the scepticism of 1 not kick in here?), except that people “feel and think that they own their bodies”. //

I haven't admitted that - I said that there was no logical alternative, given that the other options result in unworkable conclusions. They result in outcomes that cause violence to the individual. People feel like they own themselves, therefore permitting them to own themselves makes them happy, and since happiness is the ultimate goal of life, it stands to reason that maximisation of individual freedom would be the most reasonable conclusion. This is why I mentioned David Hume - the reason extends from the passions (in this case, the passion to be free).

4. People feel and think they own their own bodies. - and that is the only logical conclusion, by the process of elimination of all alternatives.

5. Therefore, they do, because no-one else does. They inhabit it, it is their property.

6. Therefore, a parent has the right to leave his child to starve to death.

I do not understand what the confusion is - I am merely recognising what is the only conclusion, a conclusion that coincides with both reason and individual emotion. Could you come up with an alternative, which satisfies both reasonable and emotional reactions?

The concept of ownership it simply just IS. Again, I cannot break it down any further - people do not like to be enslaved, individual liberty is the antithesis of slavery, therefore it is correct. It is so basic a concept to me, that people own themselves, that I can't really explain it. If you really believe that you own me, then fine. But then, you are nothing more than a proponent of slavery.

---

1. You do not believe the function of eyes is to see rather than to be used for ping pong.

I think it is utterly incomprehensible that anyone could think, for the smallest amount of time, that somehow they were more qualified to say what was natural or unnatural, in any regard, then nature itself. So, to cut to the chase, if a male spider is eaten during mating, then it IS natural - and I can't see any way of it being not natural. The function of the spider is to be eaten - it is its natural function. Or, to take it back to the original point, if a penis is inserted to the anus, or is used in homosexual intercourse, than that is the natural function of that organ - it is how it is used. Your conclusions are function are clearly wrong, and are ignoring the fact that, well, these thing ARE being used in a natural setting, therefore, their function MUST be to be used as they are being. Function is merely how something is being used, not what you think it is for.

indigomyth said...

Or, in short, if your conclusions about the natural functions of things, organs and the like, are contradicted by nature itself, then your conclusions are wrong, not nature. If you conclude X about organ Y, but nature demonstrates Z about organ Y, then Z is the truth, not X. So, the natural function of a sheep is to be eaten - it is the natural sequence of things. Indeed, my way of looking at things is purely scientific, and empirical - it requires no conjecture about what "function" or "intention" is, because it merely describes the world as it is. I have yet to read a science book, medical book, or technical paper that called infanticide in animals "unnatural".

indigomyth said...

Albert,

I found this interesting introduction to individual liberty that may help:

http://www.cato.org/pubs/journal/cj28n1/cj28n1-3.pdf

However, I would say that Human Rights are foundational - they rest on nothing, because they are basic, axiomatic. You ask why you should respect them? I can answer in two ways - you ought to, because they are the right things to do. The second reason is because if you don't you will get hurt - either directly, by being punched in the face for trying to take away someone's freedom, or indirectly, by the fact that Free Societies are beneficial to the individual - it encourages development and a general increase in happiness and health (the utilitarian argument).

Someone who requires additional reason beyond "it is the right thing to do", are not usually moral people, and are merely acting so to achieve some personal goal.

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Albert said...

Thanks Indigomyth. Sorry for the delay: I’ve had a very busy week. In case you are still checking this page:

Because the conclusion extends logically from the premise, provided you accept the premise. Now, I hold the premise to be utterly immoral and wrong, however that does not alter the fact that conclusions derived from it can be reasonable and logical.

Perhaps we’ve lost the thread here. I was asking you for a definition of reason as opposed to logic (the distinction was yours). As far as I can see you have just given me a definition of logic, in which case there is no difference between reason and logic. But if that is the case, there can be no discussion, for logic only deals with propositions, so the rationality of propositions cannot be assessed by logic alone.

I haven't admitted that

apologies, I’d misunderstood.

4. People feel and think they own their own bodies. - and that is the only logical conclusion, by the process of elimination of all alternatives.

5. Therefore, they do, because no-one else does. They inhabit it, it is their property.

6. Therefore, a parent has the right to leave his child to starve to death.


This is not a valid syllogism as there is no middle term. The problem is that you try to make 4 into an argument by itself, by adding to the premiss the very point you need to prove.

Nothing follows from the fact that people feel and think they own their own bodies, unless one links this with another premiss. It is not a “logical conclusion” that they do, for no conclusion follows logically from only one premise. It may be that the other alternatives seem undesirable, but that does not of itself make them illogical or morally wrong. This was precisely the point of my setting this up as a syllogism, to see how you move from one step to another. Accordingly, you have not successfully defended you abhorrent conclusion(6).

But by all means, set up your own formal argument, so that the logic of your position and the assumptions on which it rests are laid open.

It’s rather interesting that YMB hasn’t commented. As a Christian Libertarian does he wish to defend:

6. Therefore, a parent has the right to leave his child to starve to death.

I think the language of ownership is misconstrued in any case. But the alternatives you give are false, for someone who thinks that a child has rights over his parent (e.g. to be fed) does not thereby become a tyrant or a communist. I think most people would regard the suggestion as preposterous.

Perhaps you could answer a few questions, please:

8. Do you support abortion?

9. What if a mentally ill person A didn’t feel and think they owned their own body, but felt and thought it was owned by another mentally ill person B, who did feel and think they owned A’s body?

10. What happens when people are unconcious?

I continue to think your doctrine of “nature” is too narrow. It contrasts okay with “supernatural” but you seem to think that “unnatural” has no meaning. Is that correct?

indigomyth said...

Albert,

In answer to your questions;

8. I support decriminalisation of abortion - I hold that it is the right of the mother to dictate how her body can and cannot be used, and therefore the infant is in violation of that right if it stays within the mothers body, and the mother has absolute right to use violence against the unwelcome tenant. Abortion is not my preferred option, but it is a permissible action.

9. Well, it depends on what basis you determine "mentally ill" - though I would be inclined to let them do as they wish. If they are under that belief, then I see no reason to stop them - rather as I see no reason to stop someone committing suicide if they so wish.

10. When people are unconscious they are still people - they still have the rights inherent in them. So aggression against them is immoral. If the unconscious person is draining my life from me, however, even if no fault of their own, I have the right to kill them (as I would a fully conscious person). Therefore there is no conflict between supporting the decriminalisation of abortion and asserting the rights of a sleeping man - one is, by the act of being in the womb of an unwilling women, violating her, the other is violating no-one. Abortion is violence in defence of individual liberty over the tyranny of another entity.

//It contrasts okay with “supernatural” but you seem to think that “unnatural” has no meaning. Is that correct?//

Not really - I hold that some natural things are good, and some are bad. But then, to the extent that humans are a product of nature, all things humans do are natural - so I do not see the meaning of "unnatural" no.

Earlier you said that
//those who claim to reject the category of nature to allow (morally) homosexual behaviour, re-impose it to justify homosexual behaviour. //

There are those that do that, yes. However, since I do not accept natural or unnatural as being moral positions, am not concerned by the outcome. What I find interesting is that even were I to accept the postulate that what is unnatural is wrong, it still would not follow that homosexuality was wrong, because it is not, by scientific examination, unnatural.

Essentially, there are actually two obstacles you have to overcome in order to "win" this argument, (in the wider sense, not narrowly here) - you have to first demonstrate that homosexuality is, actually, unnatural, and then show that unnatural = morally bad. Now, this debate has been more concerned with the second (and more interesting, in my opinion) point. But since I hold neither of your positions to be true (that homosexuality = unnatural, and that unnatural = bad), your objections to it are far removed from my frame of reference - one shaped by science, research, evidence and experimentation. What most homosexual activists have fixated on is the first of your ideas (homosexuality = unnatural) - which I think it has been conclusively shown to be natural, in the sense of existing in nature. For most people, including me, that is the only logical definition of "natural" - what more absolute standard than nature, can "natural" have! Your reason!?

indigomyth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
indigomyth said...

//But the alternatives you give are false, for someone who thinks that a child has rights over his parent (e.g. to be fed) does not thereby become a tyrant or a communist. I think most people would regard the suggestion as preposterous.//

I believe that they do - someone that asserts that a child has a right to have their parents finances after they are dead, even if that was not their parents wishes, are being tyrannical. The fact that most people believe it is irrelevant - most people believe the ludicrous lie that "all men are born equal", when they are manifestly born unequal in every regard.

And you still haven't explained how it could be construed as a "freedom" to know who your father is? All "rights" for me, are rights to be free - you seem to have a different approach?

//I was asking you for a definition of reason as opposed to logic (the distinction was yours). As far as I can see you have just given me a definition of logic, in which case there is no difference between reason and logic. But if that is the case, there can be no discussion, for logic only deals with propositions, so the rationality of propositions cannot be assessed by logic alone.//

I apologise for my faulty response. Reason, rationality, logic - like a maelstrom they whirl around me. It is getting quite confusing. I think reason extends from the passions, and logic extends from those reasons. So the logical action of flying into a tower is based on the reason for believe in Allah, which is based upon the passion of wanting Allah to be so.

//Nothing follows from the fact that people feel and think they own their own bodies, unless one links this with another premiss.//

Unless one thinks that what people think and feel is all that counts? It certainly would seem that way to me. And there will be those that feel that others ought to be enslaved - but they are violating those rules, are they not? They are not considering how the slaves think and feel. This is where the notion of a Golden Rule is based - a rule for all people. If one feels that they wish to kill you, and you do not wish to be killed, then, by their killing you, they would ignore what you wish, so they would be ignoring "what counts". Indeed, their initial desire, itself, ignored the idea that what people think and feel is all that counts.

Passion = feeling you own yourself

Reason = there is no higher authority than you (the other premise you pointed out was missing in my earlier answer), therefore what you feel is all that matters, therefore you do own yourself (you are your own master)

Logic = therefore, a child cannot demand that I feed it, for it has no claim over my body.

I would sooner that a million children die in the streets, than the state use violence against those with money to force them to help.

//But by all means, set up your own formal argument, so that the logic of your position and the assumptions on which it rests are laid open.//

Please go to the link I provided - there is a wealth of information on the internet all about self-ownership.

Albert said...

Thanks Indigomyth. I read the article. I’m in a large measure of agreement with you.

10. When people are unconscious they are still people - they still have the rights inherent in them. So aggression against them is immoral.

What do you mean by saying they are “inherent” in them? The basis of the claim that people have rights is that they “feel and think” they own their bodies. But an unconscious man does not feel and think he owns his body, therefore the claim that he owns his own body is without foundation (as yet).

Why if the child has no rights over the parent, does the parent have rights (e.g. to educate them) over the child?

Reason = there is no higher authority than you (the other premise you pointed out was missing in my earlier answer)

Thank you, I think we can now make a valid syllogism:

11.Every person has authority over his body
12. No person is under external authority
13. Therefore, no body is under authority external to the person
(every a is b
no a is c
no b is c)

The trouble is that it was 12 that I wanted you to prove. Where has this premise come from? As far as I can see, you supply what is lacking with this premise with:
what people think and feel is all that counts. This leads to:

14. Every person feels and thinks he owns his own body (=every person has authority over his body)
15. What people feel and think is all that counts
16.Therefore all that counts is that people own their own body.

But if we move from here to the proposition “Parents may justly and morally leave their children to starve to death” then we may doubt 15 (and therefore doubt 12). Or we may accept 15 (and therefore 16) and conclude that 16 means we have a duty to ensure people own their own bodies, and since this is impossible for a child starving to death, we may argue that it is immoral for a parent to leave his child to starve to death.

If I must defend my reference to the child’s freedom to know his father with reference to self-ownership, I would do so along these lines.

indigomyth said...

Albert,
//What do you mean by saying they are “inherent” in them? The basis of the claim that people have rights is that they “feel and think” they own their bodies. But an unconscious man does not feel and think he owns his body, therefore the claim that he owns his own body is without foundation (as yet).//

Ahh yes, but other people do. Also, their thought exists before and after unconsciousness. That is why is is a "right" not merely a feeling - because it translates out of the body. A concious man thinks he owns himself when he is asleep, therefore the ethic can be based on that also. The whole point of it being a right, extended from passion, is that the right is something more than the passion, and therefore does not require continuous concious experience of that fact. Indeed, you would not even have to go to the lengths of an unconscious man, were this otherwise. Someone preoccupied with other activities are not in the action of thinking and feeling they own themselves, yet they still do, making unanticipated murder of them immoral, even if they are not actively considering their own self ownership.

//Why if the child has no rights over the parent, does the parent have rights (e.g. to educate them) over the child?//

Because the child is property of the parent. They made it, they mix the child with the sweat of their brow - indeed, were it the case that non-biological parents raised a child, and the biological parents suddenly interceded and wanted to assert ownership, it must be said that ownership belongs more to the non-bio parents, as they are the ones that have spent time raising the child. You build a house - you own it. You build a child - you own it. However, as a house does not build you, so a child does not build you.

//But if we move from here to the proposition “Parents may justly and morally leave their children to starve to death” then we may doubt 15 (and therefore doubt 12). Or we may accept 15 (and therefore 16) and conclude that 16 means we have a duty to ensure people own their own bodies, and since this is impossible for a child starving to death, we may argue that it is immoral for a parent to leave his child to starve to death. //

I am afraid I do not see how a starving child does not own their own body?

You say that //16.Therefore all that counts is that people own their own body.// I do not see how this is incompatible with starving to death? I see starving to death as a confirmation that people own their own bodies. How could it be otherwise? If I am starving to death in the street, how am I not in complete ownership over my own body? You say it is "impossible", I say the exact opposite - the action of starvation is entirely compatible with self-ownership.

To conclude that I have an obligation to feed a starving child, you are assuming that the child has a right to be fed by me. But in that assumption you are saying that the child owns me and my action, to the extent of feeding them. To affirm that would be to deny the original axiom, which is that everyone owns themselves - that is a logical contradiction. If I own myself, it means a child does not, and it means they cannot dictate my actions. However, if you argue that somehow it is a "right" for a child to be fed, then they start to have control over me, and I cease to own myself. If that is the case, then the premise that "individuals own themselves" is wrong, and therefore the reason that I am obliged to help the child does not exist. So, one must either accept that the individual owns themselves, and that it is not a right for a child to be fed, or that individuals do not own themselves because children can own them, and dictate other peoples actions (by demanding food them). But if you accept the latter, you cannot accept that people own themselves, because you have denied that in your conclusion.

indigomyth said...

Albert,

//If I must defend my reference to the child’s freedom to know his father with reference to self-ownership, I would do so along these lines.//

Then my same points as made above apply. By asserting the "right" of the child, you asserting the "right" for the child to control the parent - that denies self ownership, and therefore denies the very premise you are using to support the argument that a child has the right to know their parent.

So, I do not see how a child has the right to know who their parents are?

indigomyth said...

Albert,

I am sorry to have to be a bit of a damp squib, but I really cannot continue this dialogue, as fascinating and challenging as it is. I do have an entire life away from my computer!!

So, I shall have to bow out at this stage, but since it is very impolite to abandon a conversation without hearing a response, I look forward to your reply.

Thank you for a most stimulating conversation. And thank you to YMB for being a gracious host of my feeble ramblings.

indigomyth

Thomas said...

Albert,

Sorry to do this, but I was just considering your reply, and I recalled this -

//Or we may accept 15 (and therefore 16) and conclude that 16 means we have a duty to ensure people own their own bodies//

and I could not remain silent. How does it follow from 16 that you have the right to expect me to defend you? Why is it your right to dictate to me that I MUST help you? Are you not again asserting ownership over my body, for your own gain? I may choose to help you, out of my own desire, yet that does not mean it is your right to have me help you, does it?

Based on this bit of reasoning, you are actually supporting an interventionist foreign policy, that would see the nations armed forces going to war to "free" all the suppressed peoples around the world? Is that what you favour? Indeed, your reasoning would have it down as a dereliction of duty to be a conscientious objector in times of war, because, after all a CO is not helping to ensure "that people own their own bodies."

N.B. I would also point out that it is not that we are ensuring people own their own bodies - they own them whether or not that right is recognised. What I would like is for other people, like you, to recognise that other people own their own bodies, instead of trying to control them with violence, as you seem to desire.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Albert

Presumably you don't think that the state has a responsibility to provide at least basic healthcare/nutrition for the poorest people either. Would that be right? New Labour must be a nightmare for you!

You are quite correct. I have, over the years, gone from being an enthusiastic supporter of the welfare state to not actually believing in it. In practice, I don't have a big problem with a state safety net, but in theory, I don't think it should be there.

What is the state's responsibility?

Basically, the maintenance of the rule of law, protecting people from attacks on their person and property. While providing transport and communications infrastructure is not technically the duty of the state, I don't have a big problem with state involvement therein.


That [i.e. teaching only what was agreed everywhere, always and by all] wouldn't leave very much though would it? You wouldn't be able to teach evolution on that basis, or that the outside world is real.

Technically, nothing at all is agreed everywhere, always and by all. But some things are so uncontentious as to be agreed by the vast majority of people today, and a good majority over the past 100 years.

Teaching evolution? Simple enough. One just teaches "the majority of scientists believe . . ." - i.e. it is a theory, not a proven fact.

Teaching that the outside world is real? I don't recall any of my teachers ever telling me that!

Young Mr. Brown said...

Albert,

It’s rather interesting that YMB hasn’t commented. As a Christian Libertarian does he wish to defend:

6. Therefore, a parent has the right to leave his child to starve to death.


I didn't comment because, in my semi-hibernatory state, I hadn't read it! But the short answer is "No, I don't wish to defend it."

I take the view that to leave a child to starve to death in most circumstances will amount to a deliberate decision to terminate the life of that child. I would see that as deliberate aggression against the child, and hence something which should be a (serious) criminal offence.

Young Mr. Brown said...

Indigomyth,

It is my great privilege to be a host to the conversation between yourself and Albert.

I'm also glad to know that you have an entire life away from your computer. I was getting worried.

I sometimes think that the more life I get away from my computer, the better.

Albert said...

Thanks Indigomyth, it's been a good discussion which I've enjoyed, and learnt a lot from. Though probably it is time to call it a day - but thank you for all you've taught me.

As you will expect, I expected you to make the move that you did, and as you will also have expected, I already have my answer (such as it is), just as I expect you already have your answer to the answer I would give (if you see what I mean). However, as you've been gracious enough to offer me the last word, I shan't so ungracious as to take it (except by way of reply to Thomas).

Thomas:

How does it follow from 16 that you have the right to expect me to defend you? Why is it your right to dictate to me that I MUST help you? Are you not again asserting ownership over my body, for your own gain? I may choose to help you, out of my own desire, yet that does not mean it is your right to have me help you, does it?...What I would like is for other people, like you, to recognise that other people own their own bodies, instead of trying to control them with violence, as you seem to desire.

All I did was indicate two possible responses to Indigomyth, I did not subscribe to either, but was tacitly relating to something Indigomyth had already said about the role of the state. Therefore, the charge of violence is misplaced, unless you are making that charge against anyone who is not a total pacifist.

As for how it follows from 16, I didn't say - I was, after all, merely indicating paths that could be followed, and where premises would have to be supplied. To get an idea of where the discussion could have gone next, you might like to read this article. It may also help to recall that we were addressing the duties (if any exist) of parents to their children, not of perfect strangers to those in need.

Thanks YMB for your hospitality. There is a wider question to be had about the moral obligations of individuals, rather than the duties and powers of the state. One of the things I learnt from this discussion and from others, is of the moral importance of stressing the free response of individuals rather than leaving it all to the state.

Teaching that the outside world is real? I don't recall any of my teachers ever telling me that!

I assume you went to school before they were filled with health and safety education!

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