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An excellent article put up by Francis Beckwith titled, “Dignity Never Been Photographed” (link goes to a PDF file). In the article he argues that philosophical materialism (empiricism) not only doesn’t allow for the belief of human dignity, but is counter-intuitive to human dignity. He also doesn’t simply make these claims and attempt to make logical jumps in order to validate these claims, but instead quotes from Harvard University’s Steven Pinker’s article, “The Stupidity of Dignity.”

I hope to offer up a review of Beckwith’s article soon, but think for a moment on what the world would look like if we didn’t believe that humans were intrinsically dignified. This would mean that we would be only as valuable as what we do, our value would be limited to our contribution to society. Is such a world survivable or plausible?

Al Mohler has posted an excellent article explaining an op-ed from the Times [London].

The Op-ed says that even though a fetus is a human person, for the sake of feminism we must be allowed to kill the fetus. While openly honest, one must wonder if the writer took her beliefs to their logical end. For instance, should men who don’t fully embrace feminism be killed for the sake of feminism? Should male CEO’s who make more than their female counterparts be hung from public squares and made an example of?

While equality for women is a vitally important issue, it does not trump the issue of life. The right to live trumps all other rights. If we lose the right to live, if our right to live is trumped by another right, then we have no rights. If we have no life, we have no rights. If we have no right to live, then we have no rights to claim.

Let me say upfront that I understand this article it not a proof for Christianity. Rather, I am explaining that if one cares for the weak in society, then one must adopt the Judeo-Christian worldview. Likewise, if one is a naturalist, one must not care for the weak or, at the very least, admit that one is contradicting one’s naturalism in caring for the weak.

Within Western culture a great divide has grown between the metaphysical views of materialism and supernaturalism and such a divide has slowly impacted how Western society treats its weak.[1] The vast majority of lawmakers in Western culture, regardless of religious claims, operate under a materialistic worldview. Such a worldview lacks a proper justification for absolute morality and in many cases justifies the extermination of the weak. The Judeo-Christian worldview alternatively, provides the best justification for an absolute morality that protects the weak. The Judeo-Christian worldview best fits with what humans know a priori to be right, namely that a society should take care of its weak rather than bring them harm.

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ABC put forth possibly one of the most biased reports I’ve seen in quite some time. Starting with an emotional appeal, the article reveals its bias in a most blatant manner, “But under a new law in Oklahoma, women like Casteix, who have been sexually assaulted, will be forced to undergo a second trauma. The law requires them to undergo a sonogram, and depending on the state of pregnancy, it could be a transvaginal one, which involves insertion of a wand.” The article goes on to bury the other side of the story, placing it on the third page, a page that most readers wouldn’t get to.

Journalistic integrity (or the lack thereof) aside, it is true that the law doesn’t allow for exceptions in abortion or incest. Considering that 93% of abortions occur for social reasons (with only about 1% occurring for rape or incest), there’s little reason to include a caveat in the law concerning rape and incest. Regardless, such a caveat is, logically speaking, unnecessary.

When abortion proponents bring up rape and incest as exceptions, they are often using fallacious reasoning. They are making an emotional appeal in order to support the act of abortion. Not to sound completely callous, I do have sympathy for someone who has been raped and then been left with a pregnancy as a result of that rape. Such an event is tragic and if the family or private organizations cannot help such a woman, I believe the government has a moral obligation to help her. Whether that be through paying for her counseling, paying for her healthcare during and after the pregnancy, or providing adequate and safe housing, the government should take care of her if her family or private organizations fall short.

Regardless, if a fetus is a human person (even if certain capacities haven’t been fully realized) then whether the fetus’ creation was intentional, an accident, or the product of a forced sexual act becomes completely irrelevant when discussing the rights of the fetus. Whatever the paternal contributor did has no bearing on the rights of the fetus. Looking at the issue logically (which one must do when determining the morality of an issue) whether or not a pregnancy was caused by rape is completely superfluous. If the fetus is not a human person or has yet to obtain personhood, then whether the law allows the caveat of rape and incest is irrelevant; the law is arbitrary and unnecessary. If, however, the fetus is a human person, then no caveat for rape is needed because the fetus is still a human being.

Before we bring in the victimhood of the mother (which is legitimate, she is a victim in the case of rape and incest), we must also realize that the fetus is also a victim. The fetus will eventually become an infant, that infant will become a child, that child will become a teenager, and that teenager will become an adult. In all those processes, that child will most likely grow up without a father and/or knowing that he is a product of a rapist. This causes quite a bit of guilt and problems on the part of the child. Just as the mother suffers so too the child suffers.

Another aspect to consider is the moral status of being a victim as opposed to being a victimizer. One must consider if it is better morally to be put into the Gulag for refusing to spy on one’s neighbors, or if it is morally better to spy on one’s neighbors and put them in the Gulag in order to avoid the same punishment for one’s self. Most ethicists and even laypeople will agree that, morally speaking, it is better to be a victim than to be a victimizer. When we look to the issue of abortion, specifically in the case of rape, though the woman is in the morally better position by being the victim, when she seeks an abortion she actually becomes a victimizer; though a victim of rape, she shares the moral equivalency of her rapist when she seeks an abortion as she is murdering a human person.

Such harsh terminology might make some uncomfortable, but before having an emotional response, it is better to truly evaluate what was just said. If the fetus is a human person, then to terminate that life is the equivalent to murder. After all, we hardly ever say that Stalin “terminated potential votes,” but rather that he murdered millions of people. We don’t say that a rapist had “involuntary sexual intercourse,” but rather that he raped a woman. We use such terminology because (1) such terminology appropriately describes what occurred and (2) certain words have emotional connotations. Thus, when we look to abortion, we see:

1) An innocent human person (the fetus)

2) The killing of the innocent human person

Killing an innocent human person is almost always called murder. When a woman, who is a victim of rape, seeks to kill the fetus that is the result of rape, she engages in murder. Though she will always be a victim of rape, she becomes a victimizer when she seeks an abortion, which makes her just as immoral as her rapist. This might be a hard pill to swallow, but it still remains true.

In conclusion, whether or not a pregnancy is caused by rape is completely irrelevant. If the fetus is a human person, then no caveat for rape or incest should be allowed (life of the mother, however, does remain a legitimate caveat that people can voluntarily consider). A human person is still a human person, regardless of how he came into existence.

By J. Borofsky

The other day I came across this post and found it quite interesting. What was more interesting was one of the comments given by someone with the handle of “Operation Counterstrike”:

Yes, abortion is homicide. But abortion on demand is JUSTIFIABLE homicide.

If something is inside your body, then you’re entitled to have it killed. No exceptions. Even if it’s an “innocent” person. If you were inside my body, then I’d be entitled to kill you, and if I were inside your body, you’d be entitled to kill me. In fact if ALL the people in the WHOLE HUMPING WORLD, including the innocent ones, the pregnant ones, and the unborn ones, were inside your body, then you’d be entitled to holocaust them. That’s part of the meaning of the word “your” in the phrase “your body”.

This is really a sophomoric version of Judith Jarvis Thompson’s “body ownership” argument. Though he approaches the argument in a childish and immature manner, it is a real argument. I offered up the following as a response:

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By: J. Matthan Brown

Also posted on: Truth is a Man

Since the rise and dominance of metaphysical naturalism in both science and philosophy, many academics have rejected the traditional Judeo-Christian understanding of the soul.  To be sure, substance dualism–the view that both immaterial and material substances exist–is not a popular position amongst contemporary philosophers of mind.  However, substance dualisms’ fall from grace is not entirely due to naturalistic philosophy.  Another reason for its failure has been its persistent association with Cartesian dualism.[1]

The linkage between substance dualism and Cartesian dualism in contemporary philosophy of mind is unfortunate for two reasons: (1) most philosophers believe Descartes arguments have been soundly refuted, and (2) the Cartesian form of dualism exhibits significant conceptual difficulties.  It seems, then, that it is not substance dualism, per se, that modern philosophers find repugnant, but its widespread Cartesian formulation.

Thankfully, while Christians are committed to some form of substance dualism, they are not necessarily committed to a Cartesian view.  As Eleonore Stump explains, Cartesian dualism is hardly the only game in town for orthodox Christians:

As a matter of historical fact . . . it is not true that a Cartesian sort of dualism has been the view traditional espoused by all major monotheisms.  Aquinas, whose views surely represent one major strand of one major monotheism, is familiar with an account very like Cartesian dualism, which he associates with Plato; and he rejects it emphatically.[2]

Unbeknownst to many, Aquinas proposed a form of substance dualism significantly different from both Plato and Descartes; one which naturalistic philosophers may find harder to refute.

This paper will introduce Thomistic dualism, compare and contrast it with the Cartesian view, and offer several reasons why Christian philosophers should favor this form of substance dualism above the Cartesian model.  It will accomplish this by: (1) outlining Descartes understanding of the mind and the body and posing two formidable difficulties facing it, and (2) outlining Thomistic dualism and explaining how it better addresses the problems facing the Cartesian view.

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By J. Matthan Brown

Also Posted on Truth is a Man

In my recent post Abortion and the Philosophy of Mind I made this comment:

“In all of the debates raging over the status of the fetus I have yet to come across material which articulates the connection this issue has with the philosophy of mind.”

I am happy to report that I’ve found an excellent book which deals with this very issue from a dualist perspective.  The title of the book is Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics by J. P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae.  I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in an articulate account of the nature of human beings, the philosophy of mind, and bioethics from a Christian perspective.

I shall write more on this subject myself in the very near future; until then, please enjoy this great book!

Dealing with Intrinsic Human Value

Prelude | Essence and Potentiality | Definitions | What is human? | Intrinsic Value of humanity | Of fetuses, infants, disabled, and others (Part a) Of fetuses, infants, disabled, and others (Part b) | Functionalism and Utilitarian ethics revisited | Conclusion


I feel that before moving on to see if humans have intrinsic value, we must first discuss some of the issues and terms surrounding this series. This requires us to move into the field of metaphysics and ontology, which can be confusing because we’re dealing with concepts that often cannot be known, but it is one field we must traverse if we have any hope of dealing with the intrinsic value of human-persons.

Essence – a term that describes the nature of a thing; a thing is what it is because of its nature.

An example of this is that we can know the difference between a rock and petrified dung; though the two can sometimes look similar, we can know that the two are different. Why is this? It is because each one has a difference essence.

This is because the essence is what makes a thing what it is. We cannot know an essence in a comprehensive manner; rather, we can experience the essence and describe the attributes of the essence, but we can never comprehensively grasp the essence of any one thing.

So when we speak of an essence, we are discussing the nature of a thing. The term “species” can, at times, be synonymous with “essence.” We know that humans are different from cats, cats different from cows, and cows different from giraffes. Each individual being in each specie group will be difference (we’ll get to that), but all draw from the same essence in their categorization.

Now, some would argue that “essences” simply do not exist, that we made them up as a way of classifying species. However, common sense would negate this argument. If there were no essences, then we would look at everything as an individual or as a whole. Thus, we would either approach each object in the world as being totally separate and unrelated to all other objects – no matter how similar – or we would view everything as being the same. Conceivably, a rock would be viewed as being the same as a human, or a tree being the same as a water buffalo.

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By:  J. Matthan Brown

(also posted on Truth is a Man)

In all of the debates raging over the status of the fetus I have yet to come across material which articulates the connection this issue has with the philosophy of mind.  This strikes me as odd, because one’s theory of mind is inextricably tied to one’s anthropology.  More to the point, one’s theory of the mind will have a dramatic impact on how he views the fetus.

The most pertinent topic in the philosophy of mind relating to this issue is the so called mind/body problem—which deals with defining what a mind is and how it relates to the brain.  Philosophers tackling the mind/body problem usually fall into two camps: dualists-those who believe both immaterial and material substances exist–and physicalists—those who believe only material substances exist.   In more common language, dualists believe human beings have a soul and physicalists do not.  In relation to issues regarding the fetus, the question boils down to this: if souls exist, does a fetus have a soul?  And how does this impact the abortion debate?

How one answers the mind/body problem will not only have a dramatic impact on how he views the fetus, but on how he views a full grown human being.  This is because one’s theory of mind reflects his general ontology of the human being.  For example, if one adheres to a physicalist theory of the mind then he believes that a human being is nothing more than matter and energy—the hapless byproduct of billions of years of evolution.   Under this scheme, human beings are not endowed with any special or unique importance or value-our existence is just a brute fact of nature.

In contrast, those who hold to some form of substance dualism—that both material and immaterial substances exist—believe human beings have a soul.   If human beings have a soul, this entails the existence of a transcendent immaterial being—namely God.  In natural theology, this forms the basis for the so called Argument from Consciousness which has recently been reformulated by J. P. Moreland (Consciousness and the Existence of God, Routledge Studies in the Philosophy of Religion.)   If the argument from consciousness is sound, then God exists; and if human beings are a special part of his creation, it stands to reason that human beings have a purpose—a reason for existence–and that they are inherently valuable.

So we see how foundational our theory of mind is to the status of the fetus.  If the fetus is merely matter and energy, and God does not exist, then the fetus has no intrinsic or objective value or importance.  But, according to the physicalist scheme, this is true for the full grown adult as well.  In essence, there is no ontological difference between a fetus and a full grown human being under the physicalist perspective—both are simply matter and energy and neither one possess intrinsic value or dignity.

However, if substance dualism is correct, then there is a strong possibility that God exists.  If God exists, man has a purpose and is intrinsically valuable.  Like the physcialist, the dualist theory does not delineate an ontological difference between the fetus and a full grown adult.  Both posses a human soul, both are made in the image of God, and therefore, both are intrinsically valuable.

It becomes obvious that the position one holds on the status of the fetus and abortion is inextricably tied to ones theory of the mind.  If a fetus is simply matter and energy then it is ontologically equal to a full grown human being—that is, it possesses no intrinsic value or dignity.  As such, there is no objective reason why abortion is wrong—and for that matter there is no objective reason why the killing of a full grown human being is wrong either.

Conversely, if the fetus is made up of more than matter and energy—if it has a soul—then it is ontologically equal to a full grown human being.  More importantly, if a fetus has a soul, it has intrinsic value and worth—and this is true of the full grown human being as well.  Accordingly, there is an objective reason why abortion is wrong; because it is the killing of a human being; the destruction of a life endowed with the same value, dignity, and worth of a full grown adult.

Dealing with Intrinsic Human Value

Prelude | Essence and Potentiality | Definitions | What is human? | Intrinsic Value of humanity | Of fetuses, infants, disabled, and others (Part a) Of fetuses, infants, disabled, and others (Part b) | Functionalism and Utilitarian ethics revisited | Conclusion


I’m putting this forth from a discussion I’ve been having on my previous post. I’m putting it in this format mostly because I think it’s easier to display my arguments, rather than crunching them into a little reply.

I stated in my previous post:

Anything that has within its nature to be something, even if not actualized, is still that something

That is where the opposition began, specifically this comment:

But surely you don’t think that $5 is actually the same as $10 simply because if you invest $5 it can become $10. If a potential human being is an actual human being, then shouldn’t potential money be as good as actual money?

So, before going on to refute the idea that we don’t have an essence, or that we make our own essence, let me first define what I mean by my statement.

I will use “essence” and “nature” interchangeably, but a very simple definition of what both essence and nature mean is this; “the thing that makes a thing what it is.” In other words, we know the difference between a bear and an apple because both have different essences. The essence is the ding an sich (thing in itself). It is what makes that one thing unique from other groups (there is also a species essence and personal essence, one dealing with the necessary aspects of a species while the other deals with the accidents of the individual, but that is for another time).

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