Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

The Ethical Question

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Considering my track record on Saturdays lately, I think it’s going to be interesting to see if I can get this thing written and posted without blowing it up at least twice.

So, anyway, let’s see what I can do here.

Robert says he saw the ethical question as peripheral.

I see it as absolutely central, and it was the ethical question–not the present health care proposals–that I was talking about in yesterday’s post.

Robert also says that the ethical principle applies to him as a Christian, but he doesn’t see what it has to do with me.

That implies that such a principle is valid for  Christianity and for no other moral system, and with that I absolutely disagree.

The idea that every human being is of infinite moral value and, simply by existing, imposes on each of us an obligation to be concerned with his well being is just as central to humanism (in its original forms) as it ever was to Christianity.

A number of interesting questions come out of that fact–and it is a fact.  One of those questions is why contemporary humanism has abandoned not only the principle, but the understanding of what it means to be “human” that it was founded on.

James Schall, one of the people I’ve referenced here a few times in talking about the idea of the university and the place of the liberal arts, says that the “problem with atheistic humanism isn’t that it’s atheistic, but that it’s not a humanism.”

And he’s got a point.  Whatever is going on with the Council for Secular Humanism and most of the other humanist groups these days, it isn’t humanism as historically understood. 

And that brings on the question of whether humanism as historically understood not only began as a Christian movement as a matter of historical fact, but could only have begun as a Christian movement.

That’s where it gets a little tricky.  It’s certainly true that the principle has not arisen in any society except those that are Christian, but it’s also true that the principle did not arise in Christendom until Thomas Aquinas “Christianized” Aristotle.

Aristotle was not enough.  Averroes–the Islamic scholar Ibn Rshd, who wrote in the Iberian peninsula in the early Middle Ages–came to the conclusion that there was the truth of philosophy and the mythology of scripture (in his case, the Koran) and never the twain could meet, since scripture was written for the ignorant and stupid, and only the wise and educated could understand the real truth that was Aristotle. 

And the last thing Averroes came up with–or could have come up with–was the idea of the infinite worth of every man.

So, in the absence of trying to untangle these strands that make up what is properly humanism–Christian humanism and non-Christian humanism–I’ll leave that particular question until later.

I’ll just say that not only do I consider such a principle to have something to do with me, it was the principle on which I was raised and the foundation of the humanism I learned from people who did not believe in God, never mind in Christ, and couldn’t have.

My interest in that principle at the moment is of another kind altogether.

No matter where it came from, I think a solid majority of Americans accept it.  I think they accept it without ever thinking about it, or having thought about it.  They’re convinced that this is right and true.  They don’t think about why they’re convinced that this is right or true.

Does holding such a principle mean that you have to be in favor of a government-run health care system?


In fact, it MIGHT mean that you have to be against it.  That’s a matter of the practical reality of running such a system, and not the subject of this post.

But what holding such a principle does do is to make some forms of arguing about such a health care plan look better or worse than others.

The uninsured patient who’s losing his house because of the medical bills, or who’s losing his life because he didn’t go in to get a colonoscopy, or whose life is being shredded because his child is dying of leukemia is the seven hundred pound gorilla in the middle of the room.

His situation has to be addressed.

You don’t want a government run health care system?  Fine.  Tell me what you do want that will fix this problem.

The Obama initiative is coming closer to success than the Clinton proposal did because the Obama people have kept the focus directly on the seven hundred pound gorilla–

And the opponents have been talking about everything from fiscal responsibility to fascism (sorry, but most people watch television, and Obama’s face on a poster with a Hitler mustache over a swastika is what they’re seeing a lot of these days)–

But they haven’t been talking about the seven hundred pound gorilla. 

No, I don’t think Nancy Pelosi gives a damn about the ethical question.

But the majority of Americans do, and at the moment, only the Democrats are making even any pretense of addressing it. 

The opposition is off on a different subject entirely, and no matter how important that subject may be, it cannot substitute for addressing the moral question first.

I wish somebody would try.

Written by janeh

March 20th, 2010 at 7:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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