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Educated beyond their capacity

Earlier this week, the Boston Globe published an op-ed piece by a couple of philosophers who are trying to make a living using humor to introduce philosophy to the masses. They decided to turn their sights on President Bush in this column, seizing on his pronouncement that he will continue the ban on federal funds for stem cell research.

And they thought it would be extra clever to tie it in for his long-standing support of the death penalty.

Abortion, stem-cell research, and the death penalty are all valid subjects for debate. There are reasoned, sound, valid arguments on both sides, and it is entirely understandable that people of good conscience can -- and do -- disagree.

But that's not good enough for the worthy wits. They decided that Bush's stance was hypocritical -- he cited the "sanctity of life" argument, and since he allowed the death penalty to be carried out while he was governor of Texas, he's a hypocrite of the first order.

This is a remarkably superficial bit of reasoning for such highly-educated gentlemen.

Bush's position is perfectly consistent: he believes in protecting innocent life, from the moment of conception until the individual has reached the point where they have demonstrated their own depravity and committed such heinous deeds that they have earned the ultimate sanction. If one operates under a few widely-held tenets -- that life does, indeed, begin at conception, and that the state has the right to carry out capital punishment after due process has been followed -- then there is absolutely nothing hypocritical about Bush's stance.

In fact, by those same two tenets, the position of the good authors is the one that is truly incomprehensible. To them, the lives of the innocent can be sacrificed freely, for scientific research or the convenience of a woman -- but the lives of those convicted of the most vile crimes are sacrosanct. It's all right to kill people -- as long as they're not fully self-aware.

This argument also covers euthanasia.

I don't fall into either camp. I agree with Bush on capital punishment, but I have few problems with stem-cell research, support euthanasia within certain bounds, and am squishily pro-choice. But unlike those twits the Boston Globe gave a (rapidly-shrinking) platform to, I do not mock and deride those who disagree with me.

I can't blame them entirely, though. It's a lot easier to mock and snidely condescend at one's opponent than to actually rebut their positions -- that approach is too much like work to them.


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Comments (20)

But unlike those twits t... (Below threshold)

But unlike those twits the Boston Globe gave a (rapidly-shrinking) platform to, I do not mock and deride those who disagree with me.

...except for the fact that you derisively and facetiously refer to them as "those worthy wits", call them "twits", and personally attack their work ethic by stating without basis "that approach is too much like work to them." Other than that you do not mock or deride people.

Fair cop, Matthew. But befo... (Below threshold)

Fair cop, Matthew. But before I insulted them, I went after their arguments. In other words, I demonstrated their twittery first.

Not the greatest of defenses, but I'll stand by it.


Sanctity: the quality of be... (Below threshold)

Sanctity: the quality of being holy

So if you believe in "the sanctity of life", that would mean that you believe that life is holy, by definition.

If you belief in the sanctity of life, and believe "that the state has the right to carry out capital punishment after due process has been followed", that seems to say the life can be desanctified, be made unholy, by a declaration of a court of law.

I guess if you believe that, you are not being internally inconsistent.

I agree, Jay Tea. T... (Below threshold)

I agree, Jay Tea. The so-called philosophers hardly demonstrate their intellectual derring-do by choosing the easiest target out there. It's also appealing to the lowest common denominator to act as if their audience agrees with them that Bush is an idiot. I can't tell you how many people I had previously assumed to be intelligent and considerate who have disappointed me by behaving in the same way. Funny how those who indulge in reflexive Bush-bashing never realize they might by putting their proverbial feet in their mouths.

Just about *any* definition... (Below threshold)

Just about *any* definition of sanctity includes the ability to get desanctified. Or rather, desacrated.

Or could you find me some examples otherwise, Rance?

Now, a belief that *all* life is sacred and that no life should ever be taken is a consistent belief as well.

Not so with any belief system that believes it's wrong to kill those guilty of heinous murders but okay to kill others who never did anything to anyone except be inconvenient. (Which covers both abortion and euthanasia.

What about the sanctity of ... (Below threshold)

What about the sanctity of murder victims' lives? Isn't capital punishment an indication that we view the wanton taking of innocent life unacceptable? Consistent with a pro-life view on abortion and stem cells, I'd say.

Subject aside... using some... (Below threshold)

Subject aside... using something like this to popularize philosophy is beyond stupid, even if the example was a good one.

If the goal is to popularize something then the trick is to show how it relates to the largest group of people and make it interesting to the largest group of people.

And the people most likely not to have previously looked favorably on philosophy are the people most likely to respond badly to this subject. That's not broadening interest, it's narrowing it. It's hard to believe they weren't trying to be exclusive and weren't trying to sell exclusivity.

In other words... philosoph... (Below threshold)

In other words... philosophy is great but a whole bunch of us have been formally *un*invited.

This is a big, flashing neon, "We don't want *you*!"

Synova,Buildings, ... (Below threshold)


Buildings, i.e. churches, temples, etc. that are ritually sanctified by humans in religious rites can be desanctified the people.

The question is, if all life is sanctified by a supreme being, is it up to the courts to override that supreme being?

There are no hypocrites; th... (Below threshold)

There are no hypocrites; there are only misinterpreted positions. I know, this sounds heretical. Sorry. When someone is charged with the crime of hypocrisy it almost always is laid upon the threads of thought of the one bringing the charge. In this sense it is almost a straw-man argument.

Okay, someone bring up poor Sen. Kerry and the waxing and waning positions he took in the contrary political winds of the day. No building could have survived such flexing as his political positions endured. Still, he is no hypocrite. He is a politician. His words, as any politician's words, are meant to cement a following. That is, his objective is to stay on one track: the track to his political objective. Whatever is required to stay on that track will be done.

A charge of hypocrisy must be sustained by a charge of insanity; or, it must be explained that the hypocrisy is judged from a perspective foreign to the supposed criminal.

The philosophers give thems... (Below threshold)
Robert the Original:

The philosophers give themselves credit, of course, for almost everything going all the way back to Aristotle. The great debate is always if you are a member of the neo-pragmatic school with certain exceptions, and so on. Thrilled.

Hung Lo, the famous railroad worker of the 19th century, was known to often quote Confucius: "Never waste a railroad tie with a philosopher handy."

Earlier this week,... (Below threshold)
Earlier this week, the Boston Globe published an op-ed piece by a couple of philosophers.

The author description on their book indicates that they majored in philosophy, but I don't think they work as professional philosophers.

At any rate, philosophers are supposed to practice the principle of charity--the principle of interpreting one's opponent in the best light possible. Klein and Cathcart fail to do this with Bush and instead go for the quick kill. Pro-lifers endorse the principle that it is morally impermissible to intentionally kill innocent human beings. Hence a pro-lifer can endorse capital punishment while endorsing the above principle.

I get the idea that philoso... (Below threshold)

I get the idea that philosophy might be quite interesting and not at all what many people expect of it, which it that it's the next best thing to Womyn's Studies.

Which preconception this editorial can only enforce.

I get the idea tha... (Below threshold)
I get the idea that philosophy might be quite interesting and not at all what many people expect of it, which it that it's the next best thing to Womyn's Studies.

Alas, there are all kinds of stereotypes about philosophy, and most, if not all, are false. Just like any discipline, it has its esoteric side, but the basics of philosophy are the basics of rational thought.

Rance asked:The q... (Below threshold)

Rance asked:
The question is, if all life is sanctified by a supreme being, is it up to the courts to override that supreme being?

If one believes that the Supreme being in question is the one described in the Bible, yes, it is consistent. Check John 8:1-11 and Romans 13:1-7 (NT)

Genesis 9:6 (OT)
"Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man."
See also Exodus 21:12 and Romans 13:1-5

And before any sophists pull out John 8:7, the point there was te hypocrisy of the Pharisees, not the innocence of the adulterer or that she deserved no punishment.

Just another way of saying ... (Below threshold)

Just another way of saying it: If we are talking about God's (supreme being) laws (as referenced in SCSIwuzzy's post), we are not overriding anything, just sticking with the program. There is, in my opinion, a point in time that a life becomes unholy when acting in favor of a sinister purpose such as murder, even more so when the act is rationalized with no remorse. This act shows disregard for the sanctity of life that has been given.

Philosophy is the attempt t... (Below threshold)

Philosophy is the attempt to understand the nature of truth and knowledge.

These "philosophers" offer an argument so superficial as to entitle their students a full refund.

It's been my experience tha... (Below threshold)

It's been my experience that the self-conscious philosophers haven't held a candle to the unconscious ones, though there's been light from both.

Don't forget 'of existence'... (Below threshold)

Don't forget 'of existence', JA.

You know, I'm reading a rea... (Below threshold)

You know, I'm reading a really good book, its quite interesting. South Park and Philosophy. A few philosophy students and their professor write essays (each chapter) detailing philisophical ideas in South Park...it's very very interesting and a great read. As the South Park creators are slightly conservative and VERY libertarian, it comes out in their philisophical ideas.






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