Monthly Archives: November 2021

Death Only by Choice

“Every death is regretable” is certainly not true. For many suffering in a terminal illness, death comes as a blessing. A peaceful passing away after a life well lived is desirable. Also, unfortunately, there are people who cause so much misery that their death is a reason for celebration.

However, in a situation focused on preservation of life, such as an ICU, it is true. There is regret about the failure to attain the goal of preserving life. More generally and rather vaguely, it expresses truly the thoughts and sentiments of the medical community whose focus is on preserving life. However, the belief fully expressed is “Every death is regretable as a failure of medical techniques for preserving life.”

For instance, consider a surgeon called in to operate on a patient he does not know. If the patient dies in surgery, he regrets his failure to save the life.

Even more generally and vaguely, it is true about society as a whole when society takes on the perspective of a medical community as it has during the COVID-19 pandemic. Society as a whole is forced to adopt a medical perspective by being compeled with lockdowns, face masks, social distancing etc. to participate in controlling spread of the virus. The world-wide restrictions develop a sense that the whole world is a place for protecting health, if not actually a hospital.

From this medical perspective “Every death from COVID is regretable” truly describes the societal belief. When the medical perspective is taken COVID drops out, shortening the belief to “Every death is regretable.” For the medical perspective does not regret death only from specific causes. Death is regreted as a failure of techniques for saving life.

I have read statements of government officials that not a single death from COVID is acceptable.

Long term imposition of the pandemic restrictions along with much else in our soceity leads to taking a medical perspective on human life a dominating perspective. Medical services, pharmecutical products and insurance for using them are major factors in our economies. It is the scientific way of looking at at life. The whole world is like a hospital. From this dominating perspective there arises the belief that every death is regretable as a failure of science.

Putting together this belief that every death is regretable as a failure of science with the confidence that every death is scientifically preventable, we confront the aspiration of the medical perspective that a regretable situation is to be eliminated. But eliminating death is not regretable. Even if scientific techniques develop to a stage at which brain death can be indefinitely delayed, that leads to lives not worth living. Nature sees to it that deaths are to be desired.

Does not, then, the medical perspective aspire to a contradictory situation of desiring what is regretable? No. There is a way out of the contradiction. For deaths which are not failures of scientific techniques for saving lives need not be regreted. Deaths by choice need not be regreted..

The aspiration of the medical perspective is to have death only by choice. But to bring about deaths by choice requires acting on the intention to directly take a human life. Intentionally taking a human life is in direct conflict with the Fifth Commandment “Thou shall not kill!”

So, with respect to my previous posts on how we deafen ourselves to Divine Commands, this post points our that adopting what I have called “the medical perspective” leads us toward not “hearing” the Fifth Commandment.

Philosophical Analaysis as Ignoring the Voice of God

I concluded my previous post with a promise to examine my personal recognition that it is a mistake to characterize abortion as anything that overrides thinking of it as stopping a human life. I made the promise because I conjectured that making a moral mistake is thinking of a situation in some way which obscures what it truly is. Fulfilling the promise is part of developing a divine command moral theory. For I am assuming that making a moral mistake is not hearing the command of God and that hearing the command of God is recognizing a situation for what it truly is. So, I will be commited to holding that, on some occasions at least, recognizing the truth, even the truth of empirical claims, is more than an empirical fact. It is a command from God.

I can recall clearly the occasion on which I came to recognize that abortion is fundamentally the intentional stopping of a human life. About forty years ago, I was teaching an introductory course in moral philosophy at Ohio State. I remember the classroom: 143 University Hall. The course focused on moral problems. In the two weeks, six classes, on abortion, we worked through the pros and cons of abortion. We speculated about various theories on what made someone a person, when life began and, of course,brooded over Judith J. Thompson’s famous essay comparing pregnancy with being involuntarily hooked up to a world class violinist for nine months.

In the last two decades of the twentieth century, a professor, at a secular university, could be neutral about the morality of abortion. I sensed, though, that it would be considered inappropriate to profess that abortion was intrinsically immoral.

Furthermore, the resources of philosophy are inadequate for constructing a proof of abortion immorality. The way is always open to shifting to consequentialist moral reasoning. The shift to consequentialist moral reasoning is strongly supported by the numerous “trolley examples” whose main thrust is to show the moral irrelevance of an intention to directly take a human life. For trolley problems see Trolley Problems. Abortion needs to be understood as directly intending to stop a human life in order to condemn it.

After the first week, I realized that the purpose of any abortion is to stop a human life in the womb before it is delivered and becomes a bigger problem than it imposes in the womb. When I realized that all of the discussion was to justify direct killing, I became ashamed of what I was doing. I dropped the discussion of abortion and dealt with other moral issues. Going forward, I did not request teaching moral philosophy classes and took on a greater burden of teaching boring introductory logic classes.

What was it like to come to this realization? I want to call it hearing the command of God. But there was nothing spectacular: no intense sensations or feelings. Cetainly, no sense of a booming voice of God. I simply realized that I morally ought to accept the second premise for the following moral syllogism.

Directly taking a human life is wrong under all circumstances and for whatever purpose.
Abortion is directly taking a human life.
Hence, abortion is wrong under all circumstances and for whatever purpose.

My realization was that I ought no longer allow essentially unending philosophical pros and cons stop me from taking the above syllogism as a having the strength of a mathematical proof. All sorts of fascinating, but unresolvable, philosophic issues can be raised about the syllogisms. Some of the issues concern notions of the role of intentions, whether utilitarianism is the correct moral theory, issues about personhood, rights of woman, beginning of life, personal identity. For me, there was the realization that the moral permissibilty of abortion was not a philosophical question. I commanded myself to stop philosophizing and look at the facts. The fact I confronted is that abortion is directly stopping a human life.

Yes, the command was autonomous. I gave it to myself. But the presentation of the fact in response to which I commanded myself was given to me by the moral commander as the fundamental fact beneath all of the other ways of characterizing the pregnancy.

For me, a way of making a moral mistake is not to respond to the facts about which I am raising all sorts of philosophical problems. Philosophical analysis of a fact is not observing it and. most importantly, not believing it as the truth.

Hearing a Command of God is Not a Fact for Psychology or Sociology

My philosophical project is to develop a moral theory in which fundamental moral laws are commands of God. This requires an account of how divine commands are heard or more generally received. I conjectured that I might get insight into how we hear God’s commands by investigating how we deliberately suppress hearing a divine command – deafening ourselves to the voice of God. These would be cases of moral obtuseness. See Pregnancy is Not Sexual

The practice of accepting abortion seems a very widespread practice of moral obtuseness. Millions, perhaps now billions, of otherwise tolerably decent human beings agree that the moral permissibility of abortion is to be determined by utilitarian calculation. And, as the facts show, the way costs and benefits are determined almost all, if not all, are considered morally permissible. They do not recognize abortion as stopping a human life. There is no doubt that some abortions solve very nasty personal and social problems.

I have now, though, come to think that my conjecture on how to develop an account of how we hear divine commands by exploring how people deafen themselves to divine commands is philosophically misleading. It is philosophically misleading because it leads me to complex empirical investigations. How people become insensitive to moral issues are very interesting psychological and sociological questions.

I have speculated why people are insensitive to the immorality of abortion. I was insensitive to its intrinsic evil for a while. One of my speculations is that people regarded pregnancy as somehow a matter of sexual morality. But is that true about people’s thought? Another speculation is that people think of pregnancy as a medical condition; by virtue of being a medical condition it can be dealt with according to utilitarian reasoning. Yet, a third speculation is that being physically connected to the mother’s body leads people to think that the child belongs to the mother to do with it as she sees fit. But the effort to make these speculations precise and then to investigate whether or not they tell the truth about a moral mistake made by a vast number of people is irrelevant to the philosophical task of giving an account of making a moral mistake.

For a divine command moral theory not hearing a divine command and making a moral mistake are the same. I have to give a non-empirical or conceptual account of what a moral mistake is rather than going off on the sociological task of explaining how people actually think when making a moral mistake.

I will start, in my next post, with my personal recognition that it is a mistake to characterize abortion as anything that overrides thinking of it as stopping a human life. Perhaps avoiding a moral mistake is thinking of a situation in anyway which obscures what it truly is. I’ll face the philosophical challenges to holding that recognizing the truth, even the truth of empirical claims, is not an empirical fact.