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Normative Ethics

Scott Sauls on the Core Issue in Abortion

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I believe that the core issue in the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate is whose rights matter most. Is it the rights of the mother or the rights of the infant in her womb? I believe that the answer is yes. … Pro-life advocates allege that pro-choice is not an accurate term, because only one person in the equation gets to choose the destiny of all people in the equation, namely the mother. She has one hundred percent of the decision making power and the infant inside of her has no decision making power, no voice, and no ability to defend her/himself. The idea that a woman should have jurisdiction over her own body also breaks down, because roughly fifty percent of infants in utero are female who have no choice over what happens to their bodies. ¶ Pro-choice advocates allege that pro-life is not an accurate term. This is precisely the concern that an abortion provider voiced to me just one week ago. He said, “As I see it, the so-called pro-life position only applies to one kind of life. After the infant is born, pro-life people tend to disappear from the picture.” He went on to say that over sixty percent of women who come in for an abortion are alone and live below the poverty line. Rarely has this doctor seen or heard a “pro-life” person express any concern whatsoever for her life. … If we don’t show deep concern for both mother and child, … then our religion is lopsided. Until we become both/and on this issue, our religion is not true.

Emily Gould on How To Be Not Evil

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The good news is that “Big Bang Theory” is just bad, not evil. Aside from Penny’s unintelligence being played for “laughs,” the show is relatively progressive in its treatment of gender. In one of the episodes I saw, Penny and Amy and Bernadette are involved in a subplot where Amy, in an attempt to scientifically study something about friendships, tries to pit the friends against each other. In the course of this plot they have several conversations about work, thereby ensuring that the show passes the “Bechdel test” (female characters must talk, to each other, about something other than men). ¶ There aren’t any hot wife/schlub husband jokes, both men and women are seen to be nerds, and there isn’t anything overtly horribly racist going on, except the show’s mostly-whiteness and Raj’s “funny” accent. And the theme song, by the Barenaked Ladies, provides a brief history that begins with the titular “Big Bang” and goes on to cover concepts like Neanderthals using tools; it would not be compatible with a theory of the universe that takes the Bible literally. So that’s something, at least.  There’s hope for America yet.

Paul Stark on the Humanity of the Unborn

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Before deciding how we ought to treat the unborn — a moral question — we must first be clear about what the unborn is. This is a scientific question, and it is answered with clarity by the science of human embryology. ¶ The facts of reproduction are straightforward. Upon completion of the fertilization process, sperm and egg have ceased to exist (this is why “fertilized egg” is an inaccurate term); what exists is a single cell with 46 chromosomes (23 from each parent) that is called a zygote. The coming into existence of the zygote is the point of conception—the beginning of the life of a new human organism. The terms zygote, embryo and fetus all refer to developmental stages in the life of a human being.

The Wisdom of the Christian Faith

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Although typically separated, philosophy and New Testament theology are mutually beneficial for the understanding of the distinctive wisdom that guides Christian thought and life. The Wisdom of the Christian Faith fills a major gap in the literature on the philosophy of religion. It is the first book on the philosophy of religion to be authored entirely by philosophers while directly engaging themes of wisdom in the Christian tradition. The book consists of all new essays, with contributions from John Cottingham, Paul Gooch, Gordon Graham, John Hare, Michael T. McFall, Paul K. Moser, Andrew Pinsent, Robert Roberts, Charles Taliaferro, William Wainwright, Jerry Walls, Sylvia Walsh, Paul Weithman, and Merold Westphal.

Thomas Oden on Abortion and Individualism

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I was sincerely committed to liberalized abortion legislation at the time. It was a hotly debated issue in the late sixties in Oklahoma. Abortion became a watershed issue for me when I finally recognized that huge numbers of lives were being destroyed in the interest of individual choice. In the midst of all the rhetoric about freedom came the embarrassing awareness that I was condoning a moral matrix in which innocent life was being taken. That was a shock. It still is. This realization produced a loss of confidence in a whole series of liberal programs I had struggled for. Abortion was such a fundamental moral challenge to me that I could no longer find myself easily associating with people and programs who continued to do what I had been doing for so long — that is, asserting individualistic choice when it involved the loss of life under irresponsible conditions of sexual unaccountability.

What’s Wrong?

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Is abortion morally permissible? Is it wrong to hunt animals for sport or to slaughter them for food? Should human cloning be permitted? Is torture ever justified? Now in a second edition, What’s Wrong? Applied Ethicists and Their Critics presents a thorough and engaging exploration of these complex questions and twenty-four other contemporary ethical issues. Employing a unique approach to teaching argumentation, editors David Boonin and Graham Oddie open each chapter with an influential article that takes a strong stand on a particular issue; the essays that immediately follow offer objections and critical responses to the arguments put forth in the featured selection. This format helps students learn how to better engage in debates because it illustrates how philosophers argue with each other. Featuring a new section on applied ethics and ethical theory, the general introduction to this second edition also describes strategies for understanding and evaluating the different types of arguments contained in the readings. Detailed part and chapter introductions — streamlined in this edition — enable students to see precisely how the arguments presented in the various writings are related to one another. Questions for Consideration and updated and expanded Further Reading Lists are included at the end of each chapter. Featuring more than eighty readings organized into five parts — killing, sex, the family, race relations, and the state — What’s Wrong? includes seminal essays by prominent philosophers alongside work by newer voices in the field. Addressing five new cutting-edge issues — overpopulation, campus hate speech codes, hate crime laws, torture, and global warming — the second edition includes fifteen new readings. Ideal for courses in applied ethics/contemporary moral problems and introduction to ethics, What’s Wrong?, Second Edition, can also be used in critical thinking courses that emphasize philosophical argumentation. ~ Product Description

Timothy Keller on Concern for This World

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Christianity, therefore, is perhaps the most materialistic of the world’s faiths. Jesus’s miracles were not so much violations of the natural order, but a restoration of the natural order. God did not create a world with blindness, leprosy, hunger, and death in it. Jesus’s miracles were signs that someday all these corruptions of his creation would be abolished. Christians therefore can talk of saving the soul and of building social systems that deliver safe streets and warm homes in the same sentence. With integrity. ¶ Jesus hates suffering, injustice, evil, and death so much, he came and experienced it to defeat it and someday, to wipe the world clean of it. Knowing all this, Christians cannot be passive about hunger, sickness, and injustice. Karl Marx and others have charged that religion is “the opiate of the masses.” That is, it is a sedative that makes people passive toward injustice, because there will be “pie in the sky bye and bye.” That may be true of some religions that teach people that this material world is unimportant or illusory. Christianity, however, teaches that God hates the suffering and oppression of this material world so much, he was willing to get involved in it and to fight against it. Properly understood, Christianity is by no means the opiate of the people. It’s more like the smelling salts.

A Non-Theist’s Case Against Abortion

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The Secular Web is currently hosting the Carrier-Roth Debate in which Jennifer Roth argues that an ethical case can be made against abortion without reference to God or any other supernatural entity. It is telling that neither disputant attempts to justify the intrinsic worth they assume for human persons. If each party just grants that humans are inherently more valuable than rocks and trees, the crucial issue has been missed: the question of what it is that makes anything valuable. William Lane Craig presses this very issue in a new article in Paper Trails, “The Indispensability of Theological Meta-ethical Foundations for Morality.” There is also philosophical confusion in the debate about what constitutes personal identity and other problems, but there are also many highlights in this exchange. Whether or not Roth is successful, it is refreshing to hear concerns about abortion outside of the religious community. Apart from condemnations of clinic violence, ethical considerations are conspicuously absent from virtually every pro-choice website, from Planned Parenthood to Protect Choice. Teenwire is about as close as you get with its swift dismissal: “Abortion is a touchy subject with a lot of people. Remember that this is your body and your decision… You have a right to end an unwanted pregnancy if you feel that it is the wisest decision for you.” Considering this, The Secular Web’s substantive discussion is especially commendable.

Don Eberly on Morality and Politics

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But politics cannot begin to put the conecting tissue back in society. It is ill-equipped to reconstruct traditional moral beliefs. The best policies cannot recover courtship or marriage, make fathers responsible for their children, restore shock or shame where it once existed, or recover legitimate social authority to institutions that have been hollowed out by a pervasive ideology of individual autonomy. The vast majority of moral problems that trouble us cannot be eradicated by law.

David Bagget on Ethical Dilemmas and Intuitions

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Sartre employs … examples like a young soldier deciding whether to go to war or to stay home and be his mother’s consolation … to show the difficulty of making certain ethical determinations, and writing like this in conjunction with the widespread use of what Christian Hoff-Sommers has called “dilemma ethics” — moral dialogue focused on trying to decide the “hard cases” — have contributed to the notion that the whole field of ethics is colored grey. The old certainties are gone; ambiguity wins the day. Everything is up for grabs when it comes to questions of morality. ¶ Despite the common nature of such views, most decisions in ethics are not fraught with ambiguity and tensions between commensurate competing commitments. As is obvious from clear examples of moral behavior, the vast majority of people’s moral intuitions remain intact and quite strong. Perhaps ethics are too often thought about in terms of the peripheral dilemmas and occasional ambiguities, overlooking and thereby skewing our perception of the vast intuitive area of agreement that actually obtains both across diverse cultures and throughout the centuries of human history. Perhaps morality has to be seen at its best, or at its worst, for it is then our intuitions are felt the strongest and distinctive features of moral facts most clearly apprehended, with no ambiguities or heart-wrenching dilemmas to cloud our vision. Eventually those dilemmas have to be accounted for as well, but the suggestion here is that they are not the proper place to begin.

Shelly Kagan on Morality vs. Law

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But there is something else normative ethics should not be confused with: the law. Determining what people morally should do is not the same thing as determining what the law says they should do. For the law may permit someparticular act, even though that act is immoral; and the law may forbid an act, even though that act is morally permissible, or even morally required.

John Stott on the Unborn Child

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The popular euphemisms make it easier for us to conceal the truth from ourselves. The occupant of the mother’s womb is not a ‘product of conception’ or ‘gametic material’, but an unborn child. Even ‘pregnancy’ tells us not more than that a woman has been ‘impregnated’, whereas the truth in old-fashioned language is that she is ‘with child’. How can we speak of the ‘termination of a pregnancy’ when what is terminated is not just the mother’s pregnancy but the child’s life? And how can we describe the average abortion today as ‘therapeutic’ (a word originally used only when the mother’s life was at stake), when pregnancy is not a disease needing therapy, and what abortion effects nowadays is not a cure but a killing? And how can people think of abortion as no more than a kind of contraceptive, when what it does is not prevent conception but destroy the conceptus? We need to have the courage to use accurate language. Induced abortion is feticide, the deliberate destruction of an unborn child, the shedding of innocent blood.

Is the Human Person a Substance or a Property-thing?

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In an era where the defence of human rights is prominent, a fundamental question is who counts as a human person and, more specifically, when does human personhood begin and end? The answer to the question at both ends of the spectrum requires metaphysical reflection in three areas: 1. What is a substance and what is a property-thing?; 2. What does it mean to be a human being?; and 3. What does it mean to be a human person? In this paper, we will address these questions in order to lay a metaphysical foundation for ethical decision-making concerning human rights at the edges of life. While the implications of this analysis extend to a variety of ethical issues, we will limit our application to the ontological status of the unborn, and argue that zygotes, embryos and fetuses (hereafter referred to synonymously) are fully and equally human beings, and consequently, human persons. We shall not address the abortion question directly, though we trust the implications of the arguments presented will become obvious.

Humanness, Personhood, and The Right to Die

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A widely adopted approach to end-of-life ethical questions fails to make explicit certain crucial metaphysical ideas entailed by it and when those ideas are clarified, then it can be shown to be inadequate. These metaphysical themes cluster around the notions of personal identity, personhood and humanness, and the metaphysics of substance. In order to clarify and critique the approach just mentioned, I focus on the writings of Robert N. Wennberg as a paradigm case by, first, stating his views of personal identity, humanness, personhood, and the relations among them; second, offering a comparison of a view of humans as substances (understood in the classic interpretation of Aristotle and Aquinas) vs. a view of humans as property-things; third, applying the metaphysical distinctions surfaced in the second section towards a critique of Wennberg.

The Euthanasia Debate: Assessing the Options

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In Part One of this series I examined two central aspects of the euthanasia debate. First, several important background concepts in ethical theory were explained. Second, the main features of the libertarian and traditional views of euthanasia were set forth. The libertarian view, advocated by philosopher James Rachels, states that there is no morally relevant difference between active and passive euthanasia. Moreover, Rachels says, it is biographical life (which includes a person’s aspirations, human relationships, and interests), not biological life (being a human being), that is important from a moral point of view (see Part One, p. 13). And if passive euthanasia is morally justifiable in a given case, then so is active euthanasia, since there is no relevant distinction between them.

The Euthanasia Debate: Understanding the Issues

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In June of 1990, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a 63-year-old retired pathologist, was charged with first-degree murder after he helped an Oregon woman with Alzheimer’s disease commit suicide in June 1990. The charge was dismissed in December 1990. (Michigan has no law against suicide.) In October of 1991, Marjorie Wantz used a suicide machine devised by Kevorkian to take her own life. Kevorkian also assisted Sherry Miller in an act of suicide by pulling a mask over her face so she would inhale carbon monoxide from a tank. Miller’s veins were too delicate for a needle involved in Kevorkian’s suicide machine. The police found both bodies in a cabin 40 miles north of Detroit. Miller was incapacitated by multiple sclerosis and Wantz suffered from a painful pelvic condition. Neither condition was life threatening.

The Life and Death Debate

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This work is an introductory treatment of issues and options in social and bioethics which center on the end of life. Moreland and Geisler have attempted to simplify and summarize various end-of-life topics without being simplistic or caricaturing different viewpoints, even though the authors’ own viewpoints are made perfectly clear. A comprehensive bibliography, glossary, and subject and author index make this a valuable textbook as well as a resource for further study. The major purpose of this book is to make the reader think more clearly and deeply about the important issues discussed between its covers. Beginning the work is an essay that introduces the dilemma of ethical decisions. The following chapters separately discuss the situations of abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, suicide, capital punishment, and war. The discussion concludes with a chapter of practical and theoretical guidance for making ethical decisions. A glossary, subject index, author index, and selected bibliography for each chapter make this a valuable text. This important work will not only appeal to experienced philosophers, but also to students of moral philosophy, theology, and ethics. ~ Synopsis

Rev. Jesse Jackson on Abortion

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There are those who argue that the right to privacy is of [a] higher order than the right to life … that was the premise of slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private and therefore outside your right to be concerned. ¶ …In the abortion debate, one of the crucial questions is when does life begin. Anything growing is living. Therefore human life begins when the sperm and egg join… and the pulsation of life takes place. From that point, life may be described differently (as an egg, embryo, fetus, baby, child, teen-ager, adult), but the essence is the same. ¶ …What happens to the mind of a person, and the moral fabric of a nation, that accepts the aborting of the life of a baby without a pang of conscience? What kind of a person and what kind of a society will we have 20 years hence if life can be taken so casually? It is that question, the question of our attitude, our value system, and our mind-set with regard to the nature and worth of life itself that is the central question confronting mankind. Failure to answer that question affirmatively may leave us with a hell right here on earth.

Michael Tooley on Infanticide

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One reason the question of the morality of infantacide is worth examining is that it seems very difficult to formulate a completely satisfactory liberal position on abortion without coming to grips with the infanticide issue. The problem the liberal encounters is essentially that of specifying a cutoff point which is not arbitrary: at what stage in the development of a human being does it cease to be morally permissible to destroy it? It is important to be clear about the difficulty here. The conservative’s objection is not that since there is a continuous line of development from a zygote to a newborn baby, one must also conclude that if it is seriously wrong to destory a newborn baby it is also seriously wrong to destory a zygote or any intermediate stage in the develpment of a human being. His point is rather that if one says it is wrong to destroy a newborn baby but not a zygote or some intermediate stage in the develpment of a human being, one should be prepared to point to a morally relevant diffference between a newborn baby and the earlier stage in the development of a human being.

Michael Tooley on No Moderation on Abortion

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One of the interesting ways in which the abortion issue differs from most other moral issues is that the plausible positions on abortion appear to be extreme positions. For if a human fetus is a person, one is inclined to say that, in general, one would be justified in killing it only to save the life of the mother. Such is the extreme conservative position. On the other hand, if the fetus is not a person, how can it be seriously wrong to destroy it? Why would one need to point to special circumstances to justify such action. The upshot is that there is no room for a moderate position on the issue of abortion…

The Hippocratic Oath and Declaration of Geneva

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I swear by Apollo the physician, and Aesculapius the surgeon, likewise Hygeia and Panacea, and call all the gods and goddesses to witness, that I will observe and keep this underwritten oath, to the utmost of my power and judgment.

I will reverence my master who taught me the art. Equally with my parents, will I allow him things necessary for his support, and will consider his sons as brothers. I will teach them my art without reward or agreement; and I will impart all my acquirement, instructions, and whatever I know, to my master’s children, as to my own; and likewise to all my pupils, who shall bind and tie themselves by a professional oath, but to none else.

Nor shall any man’s entreaty prevail upon me to administer poison to anyone; neither will I counsel any man to do so. Moreover, I will get no sort of medicine to any pregnant woman, with a view to destroy the child.

Further, I will comport myself and use my knowledge in a godly manner.

I will not cut for the stone, but will commit that affair entirely to the surgeons.

Whatsoever house I may enter, my visit shall be for the convenience and advantage of the patient; and I will willingly refrain from doing any injury or wrong from falsehood, and (in an especial manner) from acts of an amorous nature, whatever may be the rank of those who it may be my duty to cure, whether mistress or servant, bond or free.

Whatever, in the course of my practice, I may see or hear (even when not invited), whatever I may happen to obtain knowledge of, if it be not proper to repeat it, I will keep sacred and secret within my own breast.

If I faithfully observe this oath, may I thrive and prosper in my fortune and profession, and live in the estimation of posterity; or on breach thereof, may the reverse be my fate!