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A Note

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It’s a teaching day, so I’m not really writing this.

But–please note, there were TWO PARTS to my fundamental option statement.

Every human being is infinitely valuable, AND THEREFORE no human being can be treated as a means and not as an end in himself.

That second part will eliminate most of the things JD and Robert are worried about.

Written by janeh

October 17th, 2012 at 5:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

8 Responses to 'A Note'

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  1. Well, if you’re not really writing, I’m probably not really replying–but Part 1 raises distinct problems, and saying “but my Part 2 doesn’t address those problems” really isn’t an answer.

    Mind you, if you just stated your axiom as “No human being ought to be treated as a means and not as an end in himself” you’d have a respectable and comprehensible axiom. It’s the attempt to justify it with Part 1 that gets you in trouble, and it is not the nature of axioms to require justification.


    17 Oct 12 at 12:28 pm

  2. OK, I’ll admit that “infinitely valuable” is a phase that annoys me. If true, it would be impossible to set priorities for allocating scarce resources

    I suggest that “A person’s life is the most valuable thing that person can possess” is not the same as “I should treat another person’s life as infinitely valuable to me”.

    Robert, I am familiar with “No human being ought to be treated as a means and not as an end in himself” but I’m not at all clear as to what it means or how to use it to make decisions.


    17 Oct 12 at 5:54 pm

  3. jd says: “Robert, I am familiar with “No human being ought to be treated as a means and not as an end in himself” but I’m not at all clear as to what it means or how to use it to make decisions.”

    It means that you may not be ordered to give bone marrow, or that extra kidney, to someone who needs it, no matter how rich or needy they may be. You are not a means to someone else’s life or health. This holds for adults. It even holds for easily renewable items like blood. You can’t be forced to give blood to benefit someone else, even though donating is of no harm to you, and may be life to that other person.

    Apparently, though, it’s perfectly legal for parents of a sick child to conceive, bear and raise to “old enough” a second child for the purpose of donating body parts or substances like bone marrow to hopefully cure the first child. Not moral or ethical, in my view, but legal, parents being the decision makers for minor children. :/

    A woman isn’t the means for bringing a fetus to term unless she herself decides that’s what she wants. My cut-off for decisionmaking in this area is different from many other folks’. I think that once a fetus is viable outside the womb, it ought to be saved, not killed or allowed to die. Before that, abortion should be a private matter between a woman and her physician. As medical science advances, this viability is a moving target. Eventually, we’ll get to the point where the entire pregnancy is possible outside the body, and then we’ll have to make new determinations, because not every pregnancy is wanted.

    Someone can’t be required to bear another person’s child (ala The Handmaid’s Tale) by law. But the religiously-meddling types want to force women to bear children regardless of the woman’s own desire, making them a means for the fetus, not an end in themselves. It’s the highest irony that the best way to minimize abortions is to provide sex ed and cheap, available birth control, but they don’t like those either.

    “infinitely valuable” is a worthless designation, especially as you start examining the properties of infinity. Each part of infinity divided is itself infinite. Thus any single life has the same worth as any number of other lives. It gives you nowhere to go in making decisions or taking action.

    “More valuable than anything material, or anything not human” is a value you can work with. Infinity, not so much.


    17 Oct 12 at 6:55 pm

  4. Ya gotta laugh. As an aside, this discussion about “infinitely valuable” obviously hinges on the definition of infinity, or at least on the meaning of “infinitely” in this sort of context. Definitions are important as you’ll see.

    Down here in Oz there has been a political war going on for the last few years which has heated up over the last week or so with a war of words between the Prime Minister, a woman, and the Leader of the Opposition, a man who, the Prime Minister claims, is a misogynist. Now, said man has obviously been happily married to the same woman for many years and they have three grown daughters all of whom obviously love him dearly and vice versa.

    When it was pointed out to the PM that “misogyny” is clearly defined as someone who hates women, and that the evidence did not support her claims, there was much tooing and froing from her supporters suggesting that it also meant someone who demonstrated a deep prejudice against women. According to them this was fundamental to the Opposition Leader’s personality.

    Now, the Macquarie Dictionary prides itself as being Australia’s very own native dictionary. It’s based at Macquarie University in Sydney, a distinctly second tier school that doesn’t often trouble the scorers in the university stakes. There’s a book to be written on the history of that dictionary and the litany of circular arguments used to establish it as the dictionary of reference for the Australian Government’s Style Manual in lieu of the former longstanding standard, the Concise Oxford.

    So, whatever, it was no surprise when the committee managing this camel of a dictionary decided that Humpty Dumpty’s rules applied when a PM representing their political views used particular words. If the current dictionary definitions didn’t fit the PM’s usage well, no problem, we’ll just change the dictionary to fit. (Had it been the other way around, the makers of the dictionary simply would have howled that the Opposition Leader – a Rhodes Scholar, incidentally – was so ignorant that he didn’t understand the meaning of “misogynist”.)

    See the story and it’s implications here. For those who think these things matter, Andrew Bolt is a conservative who is detested by the left, so close your eyes while reading the story: http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/macquarie_to_publish_dictionary_of_gillard_english

    Conservative or not, the facts speak for themselves.

    Definitions are not definitions unless they are politically sanctioned.

    We live in a weird, weird world, and Americans who fear that they are living in a political nut-house should take heart. It could be worse; they could be living in Australia.


    17 Oct 12 at 9:06 pm

  5. People as means:
    “Whether nations live in prosperity or starve to death interests me only in so far as we need them as slaves for our culture: otherwise it is of no interest to me. Whether ten thousand Russian females fall down from exhaustion while digging an anti-tank ditch interests me only in so far as the anti-tank ditch for Germany is finished.” (Heinrich Himmler)
    –clear, straightforward and to the point. I don’t personally see “people must be treated as ends in themselves and not as means to an end” as an improvement on what Jesus called “the first and greatest commandment,” but it’s workable enough.

    My quarrels generally come from limiting it. If you restrict “ends and not means” to organ transplants, abortion and formal legal slavery you have clarity, but not much help in the day to day. Not many people want my blood marrow, but a whole bunch of people regard me primarily as someone they can take things from, and many of them hold political office. The brutal truth is, taxes and regulations shade imperceptibly into slavery, and since we must tax and regulate to a degree, the political application of “ends and not means” is messy. There are honest disagreements and compromises instead of the moral clarity of an abolitionist crusade.

    A pity in some regards–but then crusades also tend to test the “ends and not means” principle.


    18 Oct 12 at 7:51 am

  6. Robert, I remember reading an article about human rights which had a comment “Consider a young woman kidnapped and forced into a brothel. To say that her rights were violated does not really capture the evilness of the situation.”

    To say that Hitler, Stalin, and Mao used people as means to an end doesn’t really catch what was wrong.

    Since the nasty topic of abortion has been raised, I will ask if we should force doctors to perform abortions or pharmacists to sell morning after pills.
    More generally, anyone working for pay is being used as a means to an end while working. I find it difficult to apply “ends not means” to problems of everyday living.

    As for regulations, I want the government to be my servant doing jobs which I can not do myself. When it tells me that I’m not allowed to eat fast food, then I become the servant instead of the master.


    18 Oct 12 at 4:35 pm

  7. No, working for pay is an exchange. I give you a certain amount of my time and effort and you give me some money.

    A draft? Not so much. Forced pregnancy? No. Forced abortion? No. But exchanging time for money? How is that being used?

    I put taxes in the same category since we do have representation. I give you some of my money and you give me some services.

    Cathy F


    20 Oct 12 at 1:24 am

  8. Uh, Cathy? If you meant taxes as an exchange, it’s no such animal.
    A) I may not be getting anything at all for my taxes. Or it may be worse than that: I may be getting things I don’t want. Blacks in the segregated south paid taxes which suported the enforcement of Jim Crow. I pay taxes for “equal opportunity” designed to keep me and mine out of certain jobs and schools.
    B) I have no choice. “We” may have representation, but “I” pay the tax. If the franchise removes the compulsion element from taking what I make and save, it does so for a draft, forced abortion and forced pregnancy as well.

    The difference between work for hire and taxes is exactly the difference between prostitution and rape. No, we can’t get by without taxes: but let’s not pretty them up by making false moral claims on their behalf.


    20 Oct 12 at 8:11 am

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