Particular Interests of Mine

I have put some of my favorite posts on the first page, but I soon realized that there were a lot of favorites and a lot of categories and areas that I have an interest in.  Also, some of my posts took a while to load and that seemed annoying when anyone wanted to get to my site.  Thus, I have decided to put this post on the first page so that this will be the ultimate signifer which will point to some of my areas of interest.  These are projects that I’ve been thinking about or something that I found really insightful.  I will update this as interests continue.

Aesthetics

Animals

Benatar: Better Never to Have Been

  • In part one, I went through Benatar’s argument on why coming into existence is a harm.
  • In part two, I went through Benatar’s argument on just how harmful coming into existence is.
  • In part three, I went through Benatar’s anti-natalism.
  • In part four, I went through Benatar’s “Pro-Death” view of the abortion debate.
  • In part five, I went through Benatar’s argument on why the humans should become extinct.
  • In part six, I went through his concluding remarks which entails certain objections and Benatar’s replies, suicide, death, religious views, and optimism vs. pessimism.

Economics

Education

Ethics

History of Philosophy

Living and Dying

Logic

Love, Sex, Marriage and Relationships

Middle East

Politics

Religion

Vegetarianism

The Will

Posted in Anti-Natalism, Benatar, Book Review, Economics, Education, Epicurus, Ethics, Friendship, Locke, Logic, Love, Marriage, Middle East, Monogamy, Politics, Polyamory, Relationships, Sexuality, Single | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Continuing to Believe in Falsehoods

An article about two months ago in The New Yorker is about how and why people believe in false things. Specifically, how and why someone continues to believe in false things even if that person was shown evidence that the belief is false. As an example, there are many people who believe vaccination contributes to various problems and disabilities such as autism. However, these people were given various facts from science and stories showing that vaccinations are not only helpful, but that there was a scientific foundation that vaccinations do not cause these problems.  These facts were given to those who already believed that vaccinations were problematic. The results were quite revealing: none of those people changed their minds. If anything, those people were more emphatic about how vaccination causes problems. Why is this? Why do people continue to believe false things even if they are given evidence to the contrary? It has to do with your identity, an understanding of who you are with the world around you.

Not all false information goes on to become a false belief—that is, a more lasting state of incorrect knowledge—and not all false beliefs are difficult to correct. Take astronomy. If someone asked you to explain the relationship between the Earth and the sun, you might say something wrong: perhaps that the sun rotates around the Earth, rising in the east and setting in the west. A friend who understands astronomy may correct you. It’s no big deal; you simply change your belief.

But imagine living in the time of Galileo, when understandings of the Earth-sun relationship were completely different, and when that view was tied closely to ideas of the nature of the world, the self, and religion. What would happen if Galileo tried to correct your belief? The process isn’t nearly as simple. The crucial difference between then and now, of course, is the importance of the misperception. When there’s no immediate threat to our understanding of the world, we change our beliefs. It’s when that change contradicts something we’ve long held as important that problems occur.

This study also dealt with political ideologies such as climate change, Obama’s birth certificate, or “death panels” in the latest Health care debate.  One can show evidence to the contrary and the people even acknowledge the new evidence, yet “strongly held beliefs continued to influence judgment, despite correction attempts—even with a supposedly conscious awareness of what was happening.”  Given a choice between being right or having a coherent identity, we’d rather take the coherent identity.  “False beliefs, it turns out, have little to do with one’s stated political affiliations and far more to do with self-identity: What kind of person am I, and what kind of person do I want to be? All ideologies are similarly affected.”

Why is this tied up with our identity?  When it comes to knowledge and beliefs, we form a web where all of these beliefs cohere together.  Some of these beliefs you can easily discard once you find out they are false.  Other beliefs, however, we keep even if shown falsely because if we discard these strong beliefs, then our identity, worldview, and our story of how we see our self shifts radically.  Think of it this way.  Suppose you believed that an acquaintance’s favorite food was ice cream.

Ice creamLater on, you find out that the belief is false…

Belief Gone

…because someone corrects you and says that it’s actually cheesecake.  You find this source reliable.  Thus, you quickly change your belief from “x’s favorite dessert is ice cream” to “x’s favorite dessert is cheesecake” with ease.  There really isn’t a problem with this change of belief.

Cheesecake

But now let’s do something more risky.  Suppose that your best friend are out at a restaurant and you order some food.  You have been friends with her for since elementary school and you know the ins and outs of her.  You feel confident that you know her well and that she knows you well.  Indeed, you treat her like a sister.  She orders a dish and you notice that what she ordered is a vegetarian meal.  You ask her why she ordered that particular dish when there were many other options that you considered better.  She replies that she is a vegetarian, and that has been for a long time.  In fact, she’s dismayed that you didn’t know this because she’s always ordered vegetarian meals for quite a while.  So your original belief was like this…

Eating meatYou are shocked by this because all this time, you thought she ate meat.  You begin to think back at the moments when you two did hang out.  You never really noticed what she ate or ordered because the meal was just something you don’t remember.  But, still, you find it surprising that you never knew this.

Broken thread

Now this is a bit riskier than knowing an acquaintance’s favorite dessert, so it restructures your self a bit, but not greatly.  Notice that the entire thread is gone.  You can replace this belief with ease, but you still find it surprising.

Vegetarian

But what about something that is more central to who you are?  When we think about who we are, our environment and worldview constitute our own identity.  When we see that those things are questioned, our identity is questioned too.  To illustrate, suppose you found out that you were adopted and you never knew that until now.  Suppose that your friends aren’t really your friends, but are actually part of a cabal trying to spy on you.  Or suppose that you are deeply religious and that you’ve had these convictions for a long time.

08 - Religion

You live your life with these beliefs as part of your background of living, and you find no reason to question them.  All of the sudden, you learn about various problems of those religious convictions.  These problems could stem from taking a philosophy class, learning about other religions, experiencing friends or family members who do not share the same religious convictions, or perhaps you somehow came across some information that gave doubt to those religious convictions.

09 - Hole

All of the sudden, those religious beliefs are under scrutiny.  Suppose also that those sources are reliable.  In fact, religious beliefs are typically so central to one’s identity, that questioning them makes people out of place, confused, our a total breakdown of the self.  Their worldview must be reoriented because religion was so central in how they see the world, the truth, and how the self fits into all of that.

10 - Bigger Hole

Why can’t you quickly change your beliefs “The religion of X is true” to “The religion of X is false/questionable/not accurate” as easily as changing the belief about your acquaintance’s favorite dessert?  It is because the former informs your selfhood, your identity whereas the latter does not.  The center of the web is gone.  You cannot just simply replace a center with another center; you’ve got to rebuild it through your own experiences, worldview, and reason.  Eventually, however, this new core belief will re-center you, and thus your identity.

11 - New View

As soon as you have a sense of who you are, with a new worldview, you begin to see the world differently, and other people differently perhaps.

12 - Bigger View

As time goes on, you begin to regain a sense of who you are slowly but surely.

13 - Bigger View

Our identities are not “things” that we have, but they are constituted by our culture, our environment, and our upbringing.  Without those things, we don’t have an identity.  Our identity seems to be so sacred to us that we’d do anything to make sure that our identity is ordered rather than fragmented, even if it means having false beliefs.  Otherwise, we lose our sense of self, and we become lost.  It almost sounds worse than being physically lost because this sort of “being lost” is something that is with you until you can figure out who “you” really are.

14 - Completed ViewI picked religion because that is the easiest example that I think most people can relate with in terms of identity crisis.  But again, you could replace it with something else that would unstable your identity and sense of self.  The point is this: we hold on to certain beliefs, not necessarily because they are true (although we hope they are), but because getting rid of them questions our sense of who we are, and that seems to be scarier if we got rid of that.

In many ways, we can get this.  In other ways, this seems troubling.  How can we be sure that the beliefs we have are true but also get a sense of who we are?  The article didn’t talk about how to resolve this, but it does give a tone of despair that people are reluctant to give up false beliefs, not because the beliefs are important, but because one’s identity, in virtue of beliefs, is not something that can be bargained.

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Sex and Expectations

Philosopher Neil McArthur asks an interesting question which is the title of his essay:  “Should We Have Sex Because Our Partner Wants To?”  McArthur is asking whether one has an expectation—maybe even obligation—to have sex with one’s partner just because they happen to be partners and one of the partner wants to have sex.  At first, this sounds like a demand or even forceful sex.  Before we make huge assumptions with this, let’s check out his argument.

  1. “We expect our partners to do something they may not want to do”.  (McArthur uses remaining monogamous as an example, but you could substitute something else less grand, say, watch a movie with your partner even though your partner does not want to watch this particular movie).
    1. We expect monogamy a two-way street.  Likewise, we expect that if our partners always picked a movie that you didn’t want to see, then the relationship is one-sided.  To even things out, you get to pick a movie even if your partner may not want to watch this particular flick every once in a while.
  2. Being part of a relationship means that partners will do things that they may not want to do (at least, at that moment?)
  3. Being part of a relationship means that you have certain expectations (obligations?) to do things that partners may not want to do (at that moment?).
  4. Doing things that you may not want to do, yet are expected (obligated) to do is to make sure the relationship is evened out.  (McArthur says that “monogamy is owed to us.”)
  5. Sex is one of those things that a partner may not want to do (at that moment).
  6. Thus, sex is one of those things that partners are expected (obligated) to do in order to make sure the relationship is evened out.  (McArthur is assuming that the sexual drives of the partners are not even.)
  7. Having an evened-out relationship shows that you care and that you (and your partner) are satisfied.
  8. This includes particular expressions of the relationship, such as sexual satisfaction.
  9. Therefore, “[y]ou should care as much about making sure your partner is sexually satisfied as you care that he or she gets that satisfaction from you.”

And this means having sex with your partner even if you sometimes don’t feel like it.  To be clear, this doesn’t mean you have to say “yes” every time.  It means that you must make every effort to satisfy your partner as best as you can in good faith.

Now, this seems intriguing, but is it valid.  One could push back and say that this seems to go against consent, so perhaps 3 is questionable.  McArthur gives an example to back up his argument:

Imagine your partner says to you: “I sometimes find having dinner with your friends to be kind of an errand. Some nights I do it not because I enjoy it but because I want to please you.” Um, okay. So what? “Well,” he says, “I think this raises a major gray area when it comes to consent. I’m not sure I’m really consenting to having dinner. Isn’t it kind of like you’re kidnapping me? And kidnapping is, you know, a crime.” Your partner’s mistake here is that he’s failed to distinguish between being forced to do something against his will, and not getting to do exactly what he wants to do all the time. Having dinner with your partner’s friends is kind of like being kidnapped. It’s also kind of like being a mature adult who occasionally has to do things that aren’t the exact things you most want to do at that exact moment.

In other words, 3 holds because this is not nonconsensual; rather, there’s a different between coercion and doing something you don’t want to do all the time.  The example is to replace “sex” with “going out to dinner with partner’s friends” in premise 5.

Here, we must be careful.  After all, what makes coercion different than “do[ing] things that aren’t the exact things you most want to do at that exact moment?”  I think McArthur may be on to something, but he needs to spell this out.  Coercion has to do with going against one’s will or being forced.  Doing something that you don’t necessarily want to do at that moment can mean that you prefer to do something else.  Or maybe it can mean doing an action that you aren’t too crazy about, but you will still do it to make the other person happy.  When it comes to relationships, we all make sacrifices now and then, but where is that line?

Continuing on, perhaps one can reply that the analogy doesn’t work because:

A. Sex is special; dinner is not that special.
B. Men have had special privilege to women’s sexuality.

McArthur dismisses A saying that hardly any of his readers won’t believe it.  Perhaps given his readership, but worldwide?  The specialness and sacredness of sex still seems to be popular, or at least it holds a powerful sway.

As for B, McArthur states that this is indeed a problem, and that we should be very careful to fight against patriarchy.  The way to do that, he says among other things, is to “contribut[e] to the happiness of the partners within that relationship.”  Again, this seems correct, but it could be spelled out.  How can we make sure that both partners are happy?  Obviously pleasure isn’t enough, but there must be a sense of flourishing or well-being in both partners and/or the relationship.  I don’t have a full-fledged account, but I would say that some characteristics of a flourishing relationship is where the people involved are continuing to grow instead of being stagnant, the people involved still see themselves and their partners as willing to sacrifice to make their partners happy (what philosophers have sometimes called “robust concern”), and that the care for each other is continuous and not taken advantage of.

Perhaps one more counterargument: if there is a huge discrepancy, why not get out of the relationship?  McArthur performs a reductio by responding this could be about anything.

Your partner likes “Supernatural,” and wants you to watch it with her every Tuesday night. End the relationship! Your partner loves sushi. You’re not crazy about it, but he wants you to take him to a Japanese restaurant every week or two. End the relationship! Ideally, both partners should want sex at the same time. But ideally, both partners should, I guess, also like the same movies, want to hang out with the same people, and end up simultaneously eating the same piece of spaghetti from opposite ends of the plate, leading to constant, adorable, mid-noodle smooches. If that happens, great. But, if it doesn’t, we need to be prepared to cope.

Negotiation is a big part of relationships, and that includes negotiating sexual matters.  By entering into a relationship, you are sharing yourself and that includes depending on them (somewhat) for your happiness.  McArthur says, “when you enter into a monogamous relationship with someone, they are, by definition, placing their sexual happiness in your hands. That’s a trust we should all treat with the respect it deserves.”

One premise that seems off-putting (if my account is correct) is premise four.  This premise makes it sound like a relationship is a business deal.  Perhaps I’m looking to much into however.  After all, all relationships have a give and take, which is just the nature of relationships rather than suggesting that “it’s all business.”

I hope I have carefully reconstructed McArthur’s argument and have given some constructive thought to this interesting essay.  This is, of course, an essay and I think the beginning of a good journal article once a few spots are clarified.

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The Science of Soccer

The World Cup is upon us again.  I don’t follow soccer, but there is a really cool scientific study about the effects of the panel shape of the soccer ball while it’s in flight.  It has full graphs and illustrations such as: 

I can’t read it, but I’m sure someone out there will be fascinated by it.

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Study on Free Will shows that People Base Free Will on the Mind, not on the Soul

Most people argue that free will exists, but the main reason it exists is because of some metaphysical criterion, namely a soul.  However, a new study recently came out that many people attribute free will not to the soul, but to one’s mental capacity.  Thus, many people believe that free will is not a metaphysical concept, but a psychological one.  How does one measure this?

In the first trial, 197 demographically diverse Amazon Mechanical Turk volunteers considered the rule-breaking actions of a randomly assigned character or “agent.” That cast included a normal human, an “akratic” human with an inability to use his thoughts to control his actions, a cyborg with a human brain in mechanical body, an artificial intelligence in a human body, and an advanced robot.

Participants read about the agent and seven transgressions of varying seriousness and then rated the blame the agent deserved for each. Then the volunteers answered questions about the agent’s capacities, such as their ability to choose and to form intentions, and whether they had a soul.

The results showed a clear difference between having a soul and having free will. Volunteers generally said each human agent (normal or akratic) had a soul, but only said the normal human had free will. Meanwhile they resoundingly said the cyborg with a human brain had free will but generally did not believe it to have a soul.

When it came to blame, people judged the normal human and the cyborg (the two with a mind that had the ability to make choices) most harshly. The akratic human (despite having a soul in the estimation of most), and the entirely artificial robot received the least blame.

Statistically, the capacities that most predicted whether volunteers said an agent had free will and should be blamed for wrong actions were the ability to make a choice with intentionality and being judged as free from control of others. Having a soul was a poor predictor of being seen as having free will or meriting blame.

The notion of the soul, at least applied to free will, isn’t used that much.  Moreover, people may attribute free will to non-humans, such as robots.

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Responding to the Shooting in California

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard of the violent shooting in California a few days ago.  Apparently, a young man named Elliot Rodger was very frustrated that he was not popular, couldn’t get involved in a relationship, and considered his height and his parents’ divorce as devastating events in his life.  Perhaps the biggest thing was his frustration with women:

“My orchestration of the Day of Retribution is my attempt to do everything, in my power, to destroy everything I cannot have,” Rodger wrote.

“All of those beautiful girls I’ve desired so much in my life, but can never have because they despise and loathe me, I will destroy. All of those popular people who live hedonistic lives of pleasure, I will destroy, because they never accepted me as one of them. I will kill them all and make them suffer, just as they have made me suffer. It is only fair.”

With this, many people took to twitter to discuss this, noting that Rodger had tried to use the Pickup Artist Techniques to pick up women.  He failed.  Constantly being rejected, he couldn’t take it anymore and this attitude seemed to have contributed to his instability to go on a violent rampage.  A lot of men have responded by saying not all men do this.  In reply, people have taken to twitter, articles, and even a tumblr reflecting about this whole tragedy.

Note: personally, I found the tumblr insightful, disturbing, enlightening, and shocking.

UPDATE: Another great article commenting on gender norms and men “trying to get laid.”  If you are trying to get laid but don’t care how, then the problem is with you.

SECOND UPDATE: An article indicating that mental illness, not misogyny, should be the foundation for why Rodger acted the way he did.

THIRD UPDATE: However, a very good article responds that the mental illness seems to be a non-sequitur.  Rodger’s misogyny is still paramount to his actions.  Part of this isn’t the individual actions, but of the culture that we create.

More than that, it seems that his misogyny was a very compelling motivation.  Indeed, some people in the PUAhate claimed him as a hero!

Another note, here’s an interesting story of someone saying that he’s not a misogynist, but….  Really compelling.  Moreover, another good article that’s all around good about the Rodger’s case and his misogyny.

Posted in Culture, Gender, News | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Let’s See What’s in the News Today (May 18, 2014)

Children

Economics

Ethics

Gender

Love

Philosophy

Science

Sexuality

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Students in Lecture-based Classes Perform More Poorly Than “Active-based” Classes

This seems obvious, but now we have some science to back it up.  In many engineering, science, and math classes, active-learning has increased grades, sometimes half a grade from an A- to a B+.  From the article itself:

Freeman and his co-authors based their findings on 225 studies of undergraduate education across all of the “STEM” areas: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. They found that 55 percent more students fail lecture-based courses than classes with at least some active learning. Two previous studies looked only at subsets of the STEM areas and none before considered failure rates.

On average across all the studies, a little more than one-third of students in traditional lecture classes failed — that is, they either withdrew or got Fs or Ds, which generally means they were ineligible to take more advanced courses. On average with active learning, a little more than one-fifth of students failed.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a similar study happened within the humanities.

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Making Your Priorities Pop

When you make important life-changing decisions, it can be hard to calculate what you should do.  All of the options seem daunting and the details of those options seem incommensurable.  There’s an interesting site that helps weigh those options in mathematical detail: Something Pop.  The site promotes making decisions better.  From the website:

“A few years ago, I was trying to make some big life choices and each option seemed less clear than the last. I did some math. It let me step back and compare not only the options on the table, but also all the backup plans I kept shelved for a rainy day. It’s not just for jobs though. We make decisions all the time, big and little. This helps you make them better, by making sure you know where your priorities lie, and how your options do.”

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Let’s See What’s in the News Today (April 22, 2014)

Children

I used to puzzle over a particular statistic that routinely comes up in articles about time use: even though women work vastly more hours now than they did in the 1970s, mothers—and fathers—of all income levels spend much more time with their children than they used to. This seemed impossible to me until recently, when I began to think about my own life. My mother didn’t work all that much when I was younger, but she didn’t spend vast amounts of time with me, either. She didn’t arrange my playdates or drive me to swimming lessons or introduce me to cool music she liked. On weekdays after school she just expected me to show up for dinner; on weekends I barely saw her at all. I, on the other hand, might easily spend every waking Saturday hour with one if not all three of my children, taking one to a soccer game, the second to a theater program, the third to a friend’s house, or just hanging out with them at home. When my daughter was about 10, my husband suddenly realized that in her whole life, she had probably not spent more than 10 minutes unsupervised by an adult. Not 10 minutes in 10 years.

It’s hard to absorb how much childhood norms have shifted in just one generation. Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ’70s—walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap—are now routine. In fact, they are the markers of good, responsible parenting. One very thorough study of “children’s independent mobility,” conducted in urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods in the U.K., shows that in 1971, 80 percent of third-graders walked to school alone. By 1990, that measure had dropped to 9 percent, and now it’s even lower. When you ask parents why they are more protective than their parents were, they might answer that the world is more dangerous than it was when they were growing up. But this isn’t true, or at least not in the way that we think. For example, parents now routinely tell their children never to talk to strangers, even though all available evidence suggests that children have about the same (very slim) chance of being abducted by a stranger as they did a generation ago. Maybe the real question is, how did these fears come to have such a hold over us? And what have our children lost—and gained—as we’ve succumbed to them?

I found that something was missing from the great liberal texts that I once enjoyed reading.  They didn’t seem to be talking to me anymore.  They were talking to ‘man’ – a single entity who thought and acted only for himself, a human being who had no life-altering commitments to another human being.   I wanted the liberal texts to tell me how important my new, all-consuming job as a parent was – but it wasn’t there.  Suddenly as a parent I felt shut out of these political discussions of freedom and rights – like I was on the outside, looking in.  The focus in liberalism was all on the freedom that the individual enjoys as a rational, fully developed adult.  There was no mention of how the individual comes develop his rationality.  That part, and this is extremely important, was taken for granted.

That’s when it began to dawn on me:   In our society, we value ‘the individual’.  We value individual rights and individual freedom.  Yet, we do not seem to value the process of raising ‘the individual’.  We seem to think that will happen naturally, without much thought or effort on the part of anyone.  So, we do not value ‘the individuals’ who raise ‘the individual’.  Those of us who raise ‘the individual’ are invisible, unimportant.  This is what I call the ‘liberal paradox’.

Education

Gender

Relationships

  • Up for Polyamory?—”We put so much emphasis on a partner being everything—that this person completes you—and when that doesn’t happen it creates a lot of pressure.”

Sexuality

Will

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How to Test Whether Life is Worth Living (Test Five: Pre-existence Test) Along with Objections, and Conclusion

In part one, I went through Smuts’ article on certain tests on what makes life worth living. I went through Camus’ Suicide Test and showed Smut’s argument on why it fails.

In part two, I went through mainly Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence Test and showed Smuts’ argument on why it fails.

In part three, I went through the third test motivated by Cicero and Hume called the Extra Life Test and showed Smuts’ argument and my thoughts as well.

In part four, I looked at the fourth test motivated by Bernard Williams which he obtains from the Book of Job where the test asks that one’s life does not have worth if one prefers not to have been born.  Smuts responds to this test and I have given a few objections to this test.

In this final post, I look at Smuts’ own test, called the Pre-existence Test, a few objections with Smuts’ responses, and final concluding thoughts.

Not my image

Here is the formula:

Pre-Existence Test (PET): Life L is worth living for person P iff a benevolent caretaker with foreknowledge of the facts about L would allow P to live L.

This has the advantage from previous tests in that PET can account for objective criterion. That is, PET does not matter on whether P wishes to have been born or not, but whether P should have been born.

PET asks us to imagine a benevolent judge who has the relevant facts and information about P’s life where P has a worthy life and that P doesn’t resent living L.  Being benevolent also means that P would not be used as a means to reach some cosmic end.  At the same time, PET could allow an afterlife.  In other words, living one’s life may be miserable, but an afterlife may be valuable.  Or living through miseries may potentially be soul-making possibilities for P.  The point behind this is not to defend an afterlife, but to show that P’s life is continuous with P’s afterlife.  In other words, P living one’s life L is the same person P while she is living an afterlife.  The point is to show that this takes care of the problems regarding personal identity that previous tests had, specifically parts two and three.

As a way to show PET, Smuts’ uses what he calls the “pre-crib test:” “Imagine looking down at your infant child in his crib. Think of all the things that you want for the child: close friends, a good education, an interesting career, and the like. These are things that contribute to the child’s welfare. The crib test is designed to hone in on welfare considerations” (p. 14).   With this test, we can suppose an ideal evaluator that can apply PET.

Notice, again, that this does not tell us what makes life worth living; rather, this is a general way to track the general extension of the concept.  In other words, “[t]he test captures the idea that a life worth living is a choiceworthy life” (p. 14).  So far, I see a couple problems.

Problem 1: An interesting side note here.  If Smuts is correct, this entails what to do about birthing children, having children, or aborting conceptuses.  After all, if someone is pregnant and one can foresee that the future child will not have a worthy life, then not only is abortion permissible, but one ought to abort the conceptus because a benevolent caretaker would not allow that being to have a life.  Smuts argues that it doesn’t because “PET has the virtues of an infanticide test while avoiding concerns about the morality of infanticide and abortion. Morally, PET is akin to a counterfactual contraceptive administered by a well-informed guardian” (p. 14).  However, I think it goes much further than that.  When it comes to abortion, the morality behind the issue is that one elects to have an abortion because either one does not want to have children at the moment, and/or having a child would be ruinous to either the parents’ lives or the future child’s life.  Moreover, one who elects to get an abortion chooses to obtain one.  With infanticide, the issue is trickier because that it is more morally problematic, but I think the issue could apply.  I understand that infanticide has more complexities because the cultural beliefs and that the practice has to do with helping the child die now rather than letting the child suffer later, but the point is is that the same principle applies: better to get rid of this being now rather than later so that the future child (and perhaps parents) don’t suffer.  But with Smuts’ PET, the test does not suggest that one can opt to obtain an abortion or perform infanticide.  It seems much stronger than that: one ought to get an abortion or perform infanticide and the “ought” means that one does a duty rather than simply making a choice.

Now, the test itself does not say that if life is not worth living, then one ought to kill or get rid of that possible life.   But how far does this benevolence go?  If one can see that suffering is happening (since the caretaker has enough foreknowledge of the facts, according to PET), then the caretaker ought to do something to get rid of that suffering.  Of course, it comes down to whether it’s in the caretaker’s power to get rid of the suffering.  But notice that PET suggests that the caretaker would allow P to live if P’s life is worth living.  Taking the contrapositive: the caretaker would not allow P to live if P’s life is not worth living.  Thus, there is still a connection between PET and whether one ought to receive an abortion or perform infanticide.

Problem 2: If the parents don’t want the child because they feel that the child’s life would not have much worth as opposed to a better time to have the child, this puts a strange view of applying PET.  If the parents have the child now, then they would view the worth of that child’s life pretty low.  If the parents have the child later, then they would view the worth of that child’s life pretty high.  Let us assume that this is also objectively true.  Applying PET, having the child now would have a less worthy life, and so it seems that it is more allowable to not allow that conceptus to live.  If the child later would have a more worthy life, then it is allowable to let the conceptus to live.  There is a sliding scale here: the more worth the child has, the more allowable it is to let the conceptus to live.  Worth can have ups and downs, and it is comparable to other things that have worth.  But can allowability?    It’s obvious that we can say that X has more worth than Y, but does it make sense to say that X is more allowable than Y?  I don’t mean in the clear since where X is allowable but Y isn’t.  There are things that have a clear black and white answer.  What I’m asking is does allowability have this variability where X is more allowable than Y?  Suppose a couple is ready to have a child, yet they would be more ready if they waited.  This would suggest that it is allowable to have a child, but it would be more allowable if they waited.  Does this make sense?  It’s possible, but this does give a strange view of allowability.

On the other hand, Smuts does suggest that PET sets a standard where if one passes the bar, then the benevolent caretaker would allow P to live L.  Presumably, if one does not pass the bar, then the benevolent caretaker would not allow P to live L.  This would keep the worth having different measures yet allowability to be either a clear yes or no.  Still, asking whether allowability having a clear yes or no, or whether is has different measures is worth asking because it could effect PET.

Objection:

There are a few objections that Smuts discusses, but I’ll handle one of them: the Borderline Problem.  It’s obvious we can think think of cases of life worth living and what it consists of.  We can also think of cases of life not worth living because of what these lives consist of.  But what about the not so clear cases?  If so, this suggests that worth comes in degrees.  Certain activities such as collecting rubber bands or writing handwritten copies of War and Peace have lives that have less worth than those lives where the people can accomplish good ends.  Yet, these lives are more worthy than a life where a person lives a life in pure agony and despair.  Yet, lives where one pursues one life collecting rubber bands or writing handwritten copies of War and Peace seems to be a wasted life.  Yet, is this still a life worth living?  What would PET say?  Specifically, what would the benevolent, ideal caretaker say?  This is hard to say, and there is a definite grey zone here.  Between “live worth living” and “lives worth avoiding” is a between grey area: “lives worth neither.”  Obviously, the benevolent, ideal caretaker will consent for P to live a life worth living, and would not consent for P to live a life worth avoiding.  But would the benevolent, ideal caretaker consent for P to live a “life worth neither?”  We don’t know.  More importantly, if the caretaker avoids the issue, this is equivalent to saying that the caretaker would not let P have L anyways.  Thus, this is a forced option.  Perhaps what this suggests is that the test is forced into two options, but since worth comes in degrees, the test forces worth into options to be carried out.  To escape this, we need a reason for the caretaker to exercise the decision to consent or not to let P have L?  But for this to work, we need a theory of worth and a theory of what makes life worth living, which is what I have been saying throughout these past posts.

Overall, the test is instructive in that it is not meant to give us an account of testing out lives worth living, but to construct an objective theory of worth.  What’s interesting is that the test is meant to be a heuristic rather than a final say on the worth of a life.  What this whole article is to give a starting point for some criteria on a theory of worth.

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