When a Faulty Conclusion Leads to a Final Solution

In a Zenit piece this week, Father John Flynn reports:

Euthanasia is not only on the table for the elderly. There is increasing pressure for it to be practiced on newborns who suffer from illnesses or are disabled. The United Kingdom’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecology proposed that “active euthanasia” should be considered for sick babies, the Sunday Times reported Nov. 5. The proposal came in a submission made by the college to an inquiry being held by the Nuffield Council of Bioethics on the issue of prolonging life in newborn babies.

Its submission received support from John Harris, a member of the government’s Human Genetics Commission and professor of bioethics at Manchester University, the Sunday Times reported. “We can terminate for serious fetal abnormality up to term, but cannot kill a newborn. What do people think has happened in the passage down the birth canal to make it OK to kill the fetus at one end of the birth canal but not at the other?” he asked.

This parallels the discussion on ABC radio National’s Philosopher’s Zone.

There we find the discussion about the definition and purpose of philosophy. The panel decides that there are in fact two distinct goals of philosophy which lead in opposite directions. David Braddon-Mitchell (Senior Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sydney) said:

So if philosophy is an activity, it could be an activity with two goals: one could be improvement; the other could be in some sort of vaguely objective quasi-scientific sense, truth. And those goals aren’t the same goal, so it might be two very different activities, both of which are legitimately called philosophy. And I actually think sometimes philosophy goes wrong when people confuse those goals. They believe they’re the same goal, and so they have constraints on their truth-directed activity, by ‘It’d better be good for me to discover this truth’, and they have constraints on their it being good for them activities, which is they’d better be constrained by what’s objectively true.

Braddon-Mitchel then proposes Michael Tooley as an example of one who sees philosophy as a search for “truth” and then proposes answers to the question of how to live on the basis of that “truth”:

Michael Tooley, in a paper about abortion and infanticide, which defended the view that infanticide is perfectly OK provided the kids are young enough not to have their own conception of their plans and so on in the world. That paper’s got terrifically good arguments in it, and there’s an enormous literature complaining about it and issuing kind of denunciations of it, but very few really good considered responses to the argument.

Well, yes, “terrifically good arguments”, based on premises that are totally faulty. In an (totally oversimplified) nutshell, the argument goes that since it is okay to kill unborn babies right up until the time they are born, it makes no sense to say that is not okay to kill them afterwards. And that is a perfectly watertight argument as long as the premise — that it is okay to kill unborn babies — is true.

The fact is that we, as Christian philosophers, do not grant what the panel on the Philosopher’s Zone proposed, namely that there are two goals to philosophy. It is our firm conviction that there is no contradiction between objective, absolute Truth and what is good for me/society/humankind. They are one and the same thing. If, by asking the question of “what is true?”, we come to a conclusion which is completely unpalatable (and not merely inconvenient for my own personal preferences, desires or “freedom”) — what a friend of mine would call the “Uugh Factor” — then we ought to be re-examining our premises and argumentation. And so the conclusion that it is morally licit to kill newborn babies should make us re-examine the argumentation upon which we have reached this conclusion — even if it comes up with the inconvenient truth that it was wrong in the first place to affirm the morality of abortion.

At least we can thank people like John Harris and Michael Tooley for one thing, and that’s pointing out how ridiculous it is that our legal system makes a distinction between human persons on the basis of which side of the birth canal they’re on. There at least they have shown a ray of true reason and logic.

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