Dogmatism at the Journal of Medical Ethics

Dogmatism at the Journal of Medical Ethics February 29, 2012

The Journal of Medical Ethics has posted an article defending infanticide.  After the young authors received a lot of hate mail, the editor, Julian Savulescu, ran an editorial comment posted on the JME blog.

Here’s an excerpt from the editorial:

Many people will and have disagreed with these arguments. However, the goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view. It is to present well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises. The authors provocatively argue that there is no moral difference between a fetus and a newborn. Their capacities are relevantly similar. If abortion is permissible, infanticide should be permissible. The authors proceed logically from premises which many people accept to a conclusion that many of those people would reject.

Of course, many people will argue that on this basis abortion should be recriminalised. Those arguments can be well made and the Journal would publish a paper than made such a case coherently, originally and with application to issues of public or medical concern. The Journal does not specifically support substantive moral views, ideologies, theories, dogmas or moral outlooks, over others. It supports sound rational argument. Moreover, it supports freedom of ethical expression. The Journal welcomes reasoned coherent responses to After-Birth Abortion. Or indeed on any topic relevant to medical ethics. [my emphasis added]

The critique of the article strikes me as low-hanging fruit so I won’t address it here; I’m sure it will get plenty of press elsewhere.  What I’m interested in is the editorial position, which strikes me as a kind of microcosm of the liberal assumptions of contemporary Western academia.

“The Journal does not specifically support substantive moral views…”?  Really?  Isn’t (academic) liberalism a substantive moral view, of the sort that might be stated “listen to all arguments, regardless of how morally offensive they are”?  Later in the same editorial, Savulescu opines, “More than ever, proper academic discussion and freedom are under threat from fanatics opposed to the very values of a liberal society.” His assumption, shared by many academics, is that modern Western liberalism amounts to a kind of “morality-free zone,” a position from which academics can critique other (read: conservative, or Christian, or Muslim, or indigenous, etc) moral positions which do not fit their ideology.

I find that the dogmatism of Western liberalism is remarkably similar to the old dogmatism of Western Christendom. Of course the JME promotes one moral view over others. Of course it supports a dogma over others; it is either naive or inauthentic to claim otherwise. The JME accepts arguments that are “based on widely accepted premises.” Which ones? What about, for example, the widely accepted premise that God became a human being in Jesus Christ? Or the widely accepted premise that God spoke directly to the prophet Mohammed?

The claim that the JME–or modern academia, for that matter–is morally neutral is absurd. The JME makes moral claims as much as any religious group does. UCLA and Ohio State make moral claims no less than Brigham Young or Catholic University of America. The most fundamental type of moral claim is the one that says “we think this idea is worth talking about.” The JME, in publishing an article supporting infanticide, has done just that.


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  • muldoont,

    The bold text struck me as well, though probably for different reasons.

    However, the goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view. It is to present well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises.

    I cannot fathom in what way the advocation of infanticide is reasonable. It’s a proposition that, no matter how you look at it, is inherently unreasonable and, I would argue, idiotic. The law cannot understand or apply a formula in which humanity is no longer a static condition. There are no degrees of humanity, but if someone were to formulate a measure, it would naturally beg the questions (a) [W]hy? and (b) [W]hy not this instead? It would be an endless philosophical exchange that could never be legislated, so for that reason I suggest it’s a totally unreasonable discussion.

    • muldoont

      I’m reminded of a question I read some years ago–maybe someone can help me– the gist is “why I should care more about the destruction of a people more than hurting my own finger?” At root ethics is not reasonable; an ethic always rests upon a statement of value, a love of something. And what makes the study of ethics hard is that people love different things. At least Christian ethicists can argue about which love is closest to what God loves.

      • Perhaps from someone who had been reading David Hume?

        It is not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger. It is not contrary to reason for me to chuse my total ruin, to prevent the least uneasiness of an Indian or person wholly unknown to me. It is as little contrary to reason to prefer even my own acknowledged lesser good to my greater, and have a more ardent affection for the former than the latter. (Treatise of Human Nature 2.3.3)

        (Hume himself doesn’t think any of these things are right, but he wants to claim that it is the passions, not reason, that make us think so.)

      • That’s a very good point. Perhaps it would have been better if I said the discussion is fine but the conclusion is unreasonable and idiotic, especially if the authors were attempting an argument they think could be legally applied, which is what I understood the purpose to be based on the “widely accepted premises” remark.

      • muldoont

        Brandon, thank you–I was thinking of Hume. Yes, the issue is the relationship between the passions and reason.

  • bill bannon

    For a time, the ancient Stoics brought this abortion mentality to include not only infanticide but a father having the right of capital punishment over his children up to the age of 15 at which age the child was seen finally to be fully rational in Stoic terms. St.Jerome made the mistake of over admiring Seneca (“our Seneca”/ from “Against Jovinianus”) in sexual questions while not noticing that Seneca believed in infanticide. For Stoics, sex was for procreation only, not expressive of love… which became Jerome’s position.
    Roman law restricted “patria potestas” ..father power…as time went on but one finds it again in the modern mafia godfathers….and frankly in some Italian Popes like Sixtus V who wanted those using contraception executed…a ruling overturned by his Italian successor to the Papacy.

    • muldoont

      Bill, I appreciate your points–but for the sake of clarity let’s keep the focus on the metaethics, i.e. the foundations of the JME’s argument about liberalism, rather than debate the morality of infanticide.

      • Rodak

        @ muldoont —

        If you want to argue that “any well reasoned argument” can be labelled as unsuitable for discussion, then you would need to establish criteria by which to determine what topics are not suitable for discussion, and why, and what authority would be equipped to make such determinations for all individuals in a pluralistic society.
        The proposal that a fetus has rights because it is a person (or potential person) comes from the Pro-Life side of the issue. Since current law severely limits fetal rights, then it is reasonable to argue that a live birth which would have been aborted had certain medical information become available prior to birth has the same kind of limited rights raises plausible moral issues. This article examines moral questions. It does not come from a “no morals zone,” it merely expresses a moral point of view with which you (and most other people) would violently disagree. Not to discuss such ideas is more dangerous than airing them, in my opinion. This is especially true if one sees a growing danger of euthanasia becoming the law of the land.

      • muldoont

        Rodak, I take your point. But let me clarify: I am not saying that the JME was wrong to publish the essay. I am in favor of one of the Western Liberal doctrines, namely that more speech is better than closing off speech. What I object to is the false assumption of Western liberalism that it is a morality-free zone. I want, in other words, the JME to name its doctrines rather than pretend it is above them (unlike the unwashed superstitions of the world like Catholicism). I believe that if Western liberalism and Catholicism were on a equal playing field, Catholicism would eventually emerge as the more robust, because its epistemic presuppositions are more definsible.

      • Andrew

        It seems to me that the assumption of Western liberalism being above limited moral considerations is the only claim that it has to superiority. It is the only claim that is has to any uniqueness. This belief in its own objectivity is necessary for its worldview to have any perceived value, and has been an important factor for its great progress in many areas, in particular the physical sciences. For defenders of WL to acknowledge the limitations of this assumption might be more honest, but would also seem to me to be suicidal for the philosophy as a whole.

        In other words, I think the editors of JME are wrong, but I don’t expect any better from them.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    tmuldoon,

    I am loathe to put people on the spot, ’cause I believe mostly you get nothing good backing a guy up against a wall. But, here goes, can you give me three ways in which Western liberalism historically is similar to the dogmatic thrust of Western Christendom.

    ps. here is what I would not enjoy as an answer: something like “Liberalism has beliefs just like Christendom.” I would not enjoy such a response because such beliefs are closely related to notions of immutability, which was, and to some extent still is, central to Christendom. The difference then being that there is some greater ease of change.

    hint: there are some good potential responses in Taylor’s The Secular Age, but not exactly in the direction you are going with it.

    • muldoont

      Let me give it a shot.

      1. Western liberalism (WL) and Christianity (C) both rest upon unprovable assumptions. For C, it’s the usual suspects about articles of faith/dogma. For WL, it’s ideas like “freedom as autonomy, i.e. the ability to do anything one chooses, is always good,” and “science is the only method of achieving truth.”
      2. WL and C are both total visions of how to live: they give rise to ethics. C has its moral theology. WL has a more-or-less Stoic/natural law vision of ethics: “all men are created equal” (cf. the findings of the Nuremberg trials after WWII)
      3. WL and C have competing eschatologies. C has the vision of the New Jerusalem, as in the Book of Revelation. WL has a “progressive” eschatology, i.e. the world is improving as time goes on due to the rise of science.
      4. Bonus: WL and C have soteriologies. C has Christ. WL has science.

      Truncated ideas for the sake of brevity.

      • grega

        For the sake of brevity – I like that you give Science so much credit and see Science as being in the center of WL – not a bad spot indeed.
        In case you have not noticed plenty of catholic scientist – it is not an either/ or at all. It is not a competition.
        By the way I find the article in question rather unimpressive – perhaps logical in a naive kind of way but utterly unscientific.
        We certainly will never settle the Abortion question in any scientific court – such issues have not much to do with Science really in my view – roping in Science is just a lame excuse for some to avoid the moral harshness of the choice at hand.

      • muldoont

        grega, granted. If I were to expand I’d really be talking about epistemology and not science per se. I wholeheartedly grant that Catholics have a robust appreciation of science. Frankly, I think we established the epistemological ground for the rise of science (i.e. the world is knowable; it is possible to make truth claims that originate in the senses, etc.).

      • Peter Paul Fuchs

        tmuldoon,

        Well, I’m impressed. I have to say that I don’t think I much like your worldview, and I suspect you don’t like mine. But I have to be honest that your responses have often impressed me. Just being honest….for you know , it’s the peacemakers that are blessed, But please note that I am affirming here a general cultural view, which I assume you know you are too. Obviously the your summaries might work as a view as a broad observation, but hardly represent the highest development of the ideas for “liberalism” .

        So, I think you have a case. But then the question is how much. So let’s be specific on your points:

        1.Many in liberal societies may take freedom to mean that you can do what you want. But that notion is hardly or remotely in the genesis of “liberal” ideas on freedom. In fact the more precise critique of such ideas in extremis would be almost in the opposite direction. Namely that liberal individuals, knowing nothing but their own freedom in a fearful Hobbesian world, would be more susceptible to accepting a tyranny. In fact the genesis of liberal ideas for most of society is in notions of benevolism and the rise of good manners as a desideratum for gentlemen. Gentlemen are very circumscribed by manners, and it is because of that they are recognized as individuals. That, tmuldoon, is the cultural genesis of the liberal individual. How it came to be, as it is in our anti-culture, doing what the f— you want, is a mystery. I hate so-called pop culture, so someone else will have to parse that one.

        2. It does make some sense to say that WL is indebted to Stoicism and its notion of law in the cosmos, I will agree. But in fact Christianity at the highest levels was influenced by the same notions at this period, via Lipsius. Lipsius’ influence is somehow now glossed over a lot, but it clues us into how it is that the was a sort of meeting point between, as you say, WL and C.

        But even if that is the case it does not answer how different they are in terms of the acceptance of science. Now let’s just stipulate from the start that religious people nowadays can be just as smart and scientific as anyone else. They might even be quite orthodox. But that is because the scientific viewpoint is basically accepted. To board and airplane, use a computer, or a phone is to accept it. It was not thus once. And I am afraid here the historical record is very unkind to religion overall. Perhaps modern religionists are showing in some ways that there need not be a bifurcation. But the old ones hardly showed that. Quite the opposite. This fact has important ramifications for understanding Liberalism. In this light, it is essentially a point view that seeks to not have its view of reality circumscribed by religion alone. It is true that for some it came to mean also the rejection of religious answers per se. But there is hardly anything in the works or even lives of great scientists to indicate such a view. That should tell us a lot, and here is perhaps the bone I have to pick with religionists the most. In this sense Liberalism is NOT a creed, for it seeks at least to to be utterly hamstrung by creed in investigation. Very few of the originators went further than that, to say that the don’t need any religious answers. The fact that some later did, and that many do today by pop-culture de facto blankness is not an indictment of Liberalism. It is an indictment of industrialisation or technology, or something like that — see the Frankfurt School.

        3. This is your weakest point. Here is the way to see the weakness of it. Simply compare the percentage of religionists who believe in wild and apocalyptic eschatology to the percentage of “Liberals” who might believe in the science based promised land you hint at. The first group will be huge, the second quite tiny. There is a good reason for this. Skepticism about human affairs goes well with a liberal view. Perhaps unfortunately. But at least it saves it mostly apocalyptomania. There is hardly a check, by contrast, on the religionists from craving the end time. And proof of this is that the Catholic Church, which used to be blessedly free, more or less, from that mania is not a hotbed for it. How in the world? That’s entropy!

        4. The bonus point is better. A lot of people, and ironically even religionists, will believe that science will save them. Especially in health
        matters. It is now pretty ingrained. I am personally quite suspicious of science (medicine) in this arena. But that is another story.

        tmuldoon, we may not see eye to eye. But at least you have reasons for what you believe, and a rationale for the arc of your faith. I want to honor that. That is what produced the worldview expressed in Kennedy’s wonderful speech on religious matters. It is clear in Mr. Santorum, that there is another type of Catholic religionist who sees the matter from a point where there is no rationale that even allows for the freedom we all benefit from. That dark figure is a great goad to some sort of dialogue.

      • muldoont

        PPF, I appreciate your generous tone–thank you. And while the narrow space here does not admit of long comment, allow me at least a word or two that perhaps we can pick up another time.

        1. I think WL assumptions about freedom are ultimately tautological, or perhaps a case of wanting to have one’s cake and eat it too. I think it’s impossible to ground freedom in anything less than God; without God, freedom looks a lot like neural processes and the illusions created by them. Enlightenment theism (like in Jefferson) saw this necessary connection; later WL thought allowed God to fade away, leaving the Hobbesian mess you allude to. God is dead; all things are permitted.

        2. The larger problem is the WL bias against religion. WL is a creed with doctrines, but since those doctrines don’t look like Christianity a WL proponent can charge a Christian of illiberalism (superstition) while remaining blissfully unaware of his own biases. A WL has unprovable first principles as much as a Christian does; the challenge for each is not to critique the other based on his first principles, but rather to ask what those first principles are and ask whether the other has a coherent system of thought based on them. (On this score, I think Christians will have the upper hand: we’ve been examining first principles for a heck of a lot longer. And frankly I think many WL proponents aren’t even aware they have first principles.)

        Don’t get me wrong: I live and work in a WL world, and there is much to admire. More humbly, what I hope for is a more self-reflective WL, rather than the often unreflective, naive version that hypocritically proposes (as the JME does) that all dialogue is good dialogue. WL’s often miss their own prejudices.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs

        tmuldoon,

        Personally and existentially, I happen to concur with your view that freedom makes no sense outside of ambit of meaning grounded in the Divine. But the way you put it, which is again quite on-point in a very impressive way, is just in the end a little circle-the-wagons sounding. It makes some philosophical sense to say that there must be , societally, an horizon of cosmic coherence for most people to live their lives in an un-anarchic way. But that seriously begs the question: whose horizon?

        I know I sound like Johnny One-Note on the Thomistic issue for Catholicism at this point. But there is a deeper reason. Catholics, and especially smart Catholics, are so mothered on the warm bosom of Thomism (a strange irony given how utterly cold it is at least in style) and the idea that it can handle dialogical necessities with the non-Catholic world, that they are at once very clever sounding and apparently utterly clueless at once. And the adoption of and development of the viewpoint by very bright and bold Jesuits in very exotic locales created the false impression of its usefulness. (the real sense of its exoticism is better gauged for real life by places like Goa, the odd museum in which digby has highlighted in these pages) Am I getting warm? In fact this set-up allows almost no possibliity for real commonality with others, because they will not, and really have to reason to, accept the premises of it. This seems to be a bitter pill for Catholic intellectuals.

        This state blinkers the ability to really grasp the flexibility and authenticity inherent in other types of thinking. To say that WL has unprovable first principles is true but trivial. What you fail to notice is that it represents a vantage point in which unprovability is not such a horror. It is a horror for you, I get that. WL, culturally speaking , is grounded in the assumption that “better” is more desirable than “worse”. It does not need to be proved. If we can agree on it in a decent fashion, then it is better. A more modest, and humble, and beaitudinal viewpoint, it would seem. Further, that this does not impede one bit personal religious searches of a much more profound and certain nature.

        With respect, what you seem to be defending is a rather pre-set and cosmically prim sense that vast amount of human suffering is to be looked past because of ultimate meanings. This is the real crux of our argument here. I understand that palliation as a cosmic ethos in an intellectual sphere, or in a societal desiderata is not what entices a mind used to incense and amazing trans-substantiations. But if you want to give WL a fair shake, you will have acknowledge that is all it is. Palliation is not kind of creed, and it would seem ridiculous to argue it is. It has one huge advantage over orthodox Christianity. It is rather unbothered by change, and it is much more unlikely to reject a compassionate compromise. Not a good match for the jock Pantocrator at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception that I used to see all the time when I was at CUA. But quite a good match for the Marginal Jew.

      • muldoont

        PPF, I agree that Catholic intellectuals are much too Thomist. But I think they retreat into it precisely because of the limitations within a WL society, i.e. one that prizes rationality and ignores the possibility of sacramentality (i.e. the presence of God in all things which we discern not through reason but through the eyes of love). I don’t consider myself a Thomist; I react against it in many ways. (This, after having written a master’s thesis and a good chunk of a doctoral dissertation rooted in Thomas, so your point about being nurtured in it is well taken.) I consider myself more in line with his contemporary Bonaventure, as well as the mystical/ascetical tradition that really has very little patience for rationality. It’s a strand in Catholic thought that is all but lost in the contemporary academy because of its obeisance to reason, and Lord knows no academic wants to be called unreasonable!

        So as a matter of fact I’m a huge fan of unprovable first principles, sorta like the way you can’t prove the girl loves you back but you take the chance of love anyway. Faith is like that; in the face of it, reason is a silly little tool.

        And in non-Thomistic fashion, I’m less concerned about meaning in the discursive sense. But I’m deeply interested in the way love works, and that is (in my experience) infinitely flexible.

  • The most fundamental type of moral claim is the one that says “we think this idea is worth talking about.” The JME, in publishing an article supporting infanticide, has done just that.

    I strongly disagree. It seems to me you are calling on the journal to suppress ideas. It may be fine for the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly to confine its contributors to staying within the limits of Catholic bioethics, I see no reason for the Journal of Medical Ethics to do so. Publishing a journal of philosophy seems to me to require being open to any argument that is well reasoned and grounded in contemporary thought. It’s interesting to note that “pro-lifers” are in fundamental agreement with one argument of the paper, which is that if abortion is permissible on the grounds that an unborn infant is not a person, then infanticide is permissible, too. This is an argument pro-lifers have been making for decades. As I have said elsewhere, many pro-lifers are actually gleeful over the publication of this article because they think the authors are correct . . . provided you accept their premises.

    It seems to me a journal can remain neutral on a controversial topic and need not endorse a particular philosophical approach. No doubt there will be responses published by JME that will strongly disagree with the article in question. If JME is somehow endorsing the idea of infanticide by publishing a paper that advocates it, it seems to me they are then opposing infanticide by publishing a response that condemns infanticide. So they both advocate and oppose infanticide. That makes no sense.

    • muldoont

      David, you are correct. I am not, in fact, opposed to the JME publishing this article. (I agree that in the long run their publication of this piece will be of great value to pro-lifers, myself included.)

      I am more interested in the fact that it and many other academic venues pretend moral neutrality when in fact they are always morally engaged agents. And as morally engaged agents, they have responsibility to people to be transparent in their moral advocacy.

      “We stand for intelligent argument.” Who disagrees with that? What I want to know is what else they stand for. Do they stand for human life? Does their role as a journal reflecting on the medical profession commit them to stand for human life? (Would they publish a thoughtful, well reasoned article advocating genocide?)

    • Mark Gordon

      Darn it! My over/under on your defense of the JME – and, by extension, the authors of this piece – was one hour. A little slow on the keyboard this morning, David?

      Look, if the JME were to publish a “well-reasoned” article making the case that, say, homosexuals fail to meet some arbitrary definition of personhood and therefore ought to be eligible for extermination, I doubt you would be defending the JME’s hermetic neutrality. Which is part of Tim’s point: liberal when it suits you; illiberal when it doesn’t.

      • muldoont

        Mark’s got my point.

      • Mark,

        I think you overlook part of the editor’s statement: “However, the goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view. It is to present well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises.” The widely accepted premise in this case, or so it seems to me, is that abortion is not the killing of the human person. The authors’ conclusion that the same criteria used to rule out the personhood of an unborn infant also apply to a newborn infant is so much associated with the pro-life view that many people (myself included) suspected this paper to be a hoax perpetrated by pro-lifers.

        The editor also points out there is nothing particularly new in what the authors say about infanticide. They cite Peter Singer, whose book Practical Ethics, which discusses abortion and infanticide, is widely used in college courses. I know Singer is widely loathed by religious people, but he is not an obscure figure and his ideas have been widely disseminated.

        I can’t believe that a paper that argued “homosexuals fail to meet some arbitrary definition of personhood and therefore ought to be eligible for extermination” would meet the criterion of being “based on widely accepted premises.” If you can come up with a well reasoned article based on widely accepted premises that homosexuals fail to meet some arbitrary definition of personhood and ought to be eligible for extermination,” I challenge you to give a brief sketch of it here.

        In short, the editor doesn’t say there are no standards whatsoever. He is upfront about the philosophy of the publication, and the “handling editor” in his piece makes it clear that although he doesn’t agree with the authors’ conclusions, this was subjected to peer review and it met the same standards as other papers he has published.

        It seems to me the campaign being waged against the journal and the paper is more about pro-life politics than standards for ethics journals or the authors’ conclusions. So far, the only commenter who has actually read the paper appears to be Charles Camosay over at Catholic Moral Theology, and he says (in part):

        While I certainly agree that some have offered arguments about why we would consider neonatal children as persons and (some) prenatal children as nonpersons (related to the “breath of life” or heartbeat or brain-development or some such) I must agree with the authors of this article in their conclusion that such arguments fall short. Especially if one is not ready to offer the right to life to another animals that breathe and have a heartbeat and have a brain, then I’m not sure what’s going on in this move except a certain kind of unjustifiable speciesism.

        Of course, he does not agree with the authors’ premises and so he does not agree with their conclusions, but I interpret him to be saying that the authors have reached a correct conclusion based on a widely accepted premise—that is, that if abortion really isn’t the killing of a human person, then neither is infanticide shortly after birth.

        Some major pro-lifers are arguing that all the authors have done is taken the pro-choice position to its logical conclusion. It is, for example, a pro-life argument I have come across more than a few times that if it is suspected that an unborn child has a genetic defect, why not rule out abortion, wait for the child to be born, and kill it if it does indeed have the defect. Pro-lifers claim that this would be a logical argument on those who accept abortion, so it is difficult for me to understand why it is outrageous for the authors of this paper to actually make what is a very similar argument.

      • johnmcg

        Pro-lifers claim that this would be a logical argument on those who accept abortion,so it is difficult for me to understand why it is outrageous for the authors of this paper to actually make what is a very similar argument.

        Hmm, why would it be outrageous? Maybe because it literally argues for the acceptability of killing babies rather than a hypothetical reductio absurdum of an opposition argument??? Just throwing it out there as a possible reason.

        Here’s my question for your David. Whenever the pro-life movement does anything in opposition to allowing the pro-choice position to gain consensus, you are quick to lecture us about how wrong we are to do so and that we should shut up and worry about other things.

        Now, you are saying we should calm down about the pro-infanticide paper because all it is is an argument from the generally accepted pro-choice premise?

        So, what should pro-lifers do? What should those opposed to infanticide do? Just sit back and shut up? Live as pro-life ourselves and hope other people will notice and catch on?

      • David,

        You wrote: The widely accepted premise in this case, or so it seems to me, is that abortion is not the killing of the human person. Widely accepted? Even among pro-abortion advocates like yourself there are wildly divergent views on when personhood attaches to a fetus, with only a very small minority who claim that the birth canal contains some magic portal into which a non-person enters and a person emerges. The notion that a child in the immediate pre-partum stage is not a person is not “widely accepted,” or even widely suggested, Peter Singer notwithstanding. And there we have it: the editors, in their wisdom, will be the arbiters of what is and what is not a widely accepted premise, and therefore what is and what is not permissible for discussion. Tim’s point is that to pretend that judgment is neutral is a farce, a liberal fantasy.

        In the Middle East, there is a widely accepted premise that Jews are part-monkey. Imagine an Egyptian medical “ethicist” submitting a paper to the JME suggesting that Jews ought to be barred from blood donation for fear of passing along Simian immunodeficiency virus. In the United States there is a widely accepted premise that Barack Obama is a tyrant. Imagine an “ethicist” writing a speculative paper on the moral responsibility of medical personnel to assassinate the tyrant should the opportunity avail itself in order to staunch his depredations. It is inconceivable that the JME would accommodate itself to “premises” like these, even though they are arguably much more widely accepted than the notion that a child at birth-plus-or-minus-one-day is not a person. And thank God for that. But the murder of infants is deemed to be a worthy topic for consideration and discussion? That’s a moral judgment.

  • Rodak

    @ muldoont —

    What you say are the top five articles of the “liberal dogma” and what makes each of them intrinsically immoral?

    • muldoont

      Rodak, have a look at my reply to Peter Paul Fuchs above and let us know your thoughts.

      • Rodak

        @ muldoont —

        I don’t know that it’s true that Western liberalism can be compared to Christianity as though they were two sides of the cultural coin, so to speak. That said:

        1)“freedom as autonomy, i.e. the ability to do anything one chooses, is always good,” is certainly not univerally held to be true by liberals; and I would argue that “science is the only method of achieving truth” is not either. Science does not strive for “truth,” but to establish fact. An isolated fact is not a truth–it just is. That said, I believe that most Western liberals would say that art and music, among other things, express truths in a way similar to the way religious intuition may be said to express (or recognize) truth.
        To speak of a “liberal dogma” at one moment and of “freedom as autonomy” in the next seems to me to be a contradiction in terms. How does one adhere “freely” to a uniquely subjective “dogma?” How does one practice the kind of situational ethics of which liberals are constantly accused, if one recongizes any kind of “dogma” at all? At bottom, I don’t accept as valid your premise.
        As for your third point, it is the liberals who are predicting the end of life as we know it, due to man-made global warming, and calling for such things as the outlawing of the internal combustion engine and the burning of fossile fuels.
        Certainly “classical liberals” would not hold your first two points as true. I think you must be using “liberal” in its contemporary, vernacular sense there. Classical liberals might well be guilty of your third point, but contemporary liberals, by and large, are not.

      • muldoont

        Rodak, you make good points. I’ve just clarified my points above: I’m really interested in epistemology rather than science. Classical liberalism is empiricist and simply cannot admit of the possibility of truth originating in a non-empirical source (e.g. God). That is an unprovable assumption and is a foundation of classical liberal dogma. (It’s not all that different from Aristotle’s critique of Plato.) I think Plato was smart and understood a lot of things; I say the same of Aristotle. Many liberals (classical and modern) can’t even imagine Christian theology being anything more than superstition because of their truncated epistemology.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs

        Well Plato and Aristotle may have been surpassingly smart indeed. But there grasp of how the world works, based on current scientific notions, was of course, famously non-existent. Somehow, i get the feeling that with your quite reassuring sounding rhetoric is some basic desire to ignore that simple fact. It has implications for how we see contemporary problems as well. The whole notion that life “starts” at one point or the other is very vexed by more ample scientific viewpoints. But if one is taking Plato and Aristotle, and Tommy A. as guides, then somehow the tendency is to see it as more clear than it is. Of course, even by modern standards an argument can be made to support your view. But many more can be made to reject it. In a pluralistic society how can you in good conscience militate for women to be controlled merely by a view that you are partial to, and has no dispostive value?

  • I’m pleased they acknowledge that there is no difference between a fetus and a newborn.

    • Yeah, yay for small victories, eh?

    • Julia Smucker

      I once read someone pointing out the chilling irony, in response to a similar defense of infanticide, of the line of reasoning by which it’s only OK to say there’s no difference between the humanity of a fetus and a newborn if you agree with killing them both.

    • Rodak

      @ Agellius —

      Don’t you realize that the whole basis of this article’s reasoning is that the gate swings both ways? If you want to say that a fetus has the same right-to-life as the born, and if the fetus can be destroyed (under certain circumstances), then (under the same circumstances) what is your basis for banning the killing of the born? That is a logical flaw in the Pro-Life argument that is ultimately very dangerous as a rhetorical tactic.

      • Rodak:

        A logical flaw in the pro-life argument?? I agree there is no basis for banning the killing of a newborn, if killing a 9-month-old fetus is allowed. Banning the one while allowing the other is logically inconsistent. But pro-lifers are not the ones advocating that it be legal to kill *either*. It’s the “pro-choice” premiss that presents the danger.

        Yes, I realize the gate swings both ways. That’s why I think (and hope) this article may shock some people into realizing the horror of abortion.

  • John ODonnell

    I take it that the Journal is stating that medical ethics should not be based on faith statements such as God became human in Jesus. That is a faith statement since it cannot be proven or disproven; we simply accept or reject it. Ethical decisions are made within a moral world view. Some world views may be hooked to the idea that there is a God who became human; some are not. Discussion of specific ethical dilemmas that are meant to be informative can only take place if positions are grounded on premises that can be assessed according to evidence. Otherwise, we are simply stating positions with no way to mediate them. That doesn’t advance understanding.

  • Mark Gordon

    The claim that the modern academy is morally neutral is as absurd as the claim that the market is morally neutral. Both are liberal fantasies.

    • muldoont

      bingo.

    • Julia Smucker

      Exactly what I was thinking. The modern presumption of (nontheistic) objectivity is alive and kicking.

    • Rodak

      @ Mark Gordon —

      What the academy claims is that it has a duty to protect academic freedom. That is, in itself, a moral belief. It is not the same thing as moral neutrality. What academic freedom proclaims is that no point of view–moral or otherwise–will be dismissed without a hearing, provided that the point of view is seriously presented and defensible in a peer review of disciplined scholars.

    • muldoont

      Rodak, you are correct. What I see, however, is that the academy can often be disingenuous. Choices are made at every stage what constitutes a matter “worthy of hearing.” There are plenty of issues presented by disciplined scholars that are not given such a hearing in many academic fora. There are biases that become evident when studying (for example) patterns of who’s hired and who’s not; what’s published in a journal and what’s not; what awards are given for what kinds of contributions; what kind of endowed chairs valorize what kind of research; what University publications highlight and what they tend to ignore; and so on.

      • Rodak

        @ muldoont —

        Perhaps. But that is not a matter of academic policy, but of its failure to faithfully practice it. I dare say that no large institutional entity is without its failures. That intellectuals tend to be liberals (in the contemporary, venacular sense) is hardly news. The Mammon-worshipping materialists of the consumer culture have been sniping at the “egg-heads” since time immemorial, and the traditionalist conservatives have been pointing pious fingers at the soul-less secularists for just as long. Both groups have, however, benefitted greatly, overall, from the presence of academics (and artists, who also tend to be liberal) in their society.

      • Mark Gordon

        You really need to read Chris Hedges’ “Empire of Illusion.” One of the illusions he pierces is the notion that there is some fundamental tension between the “egg-heads” of the academy and the “Mammon-worshiping materialists of the consumer culture.” In fact, the modern liberal academy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Corporate State.

    • grega

      Mark,
      last I checked all people engaged in the ‘modern academy’ are human beings.
      As such -while you may not agree with their choices – at least consider that they are all very much aware of ethics and morals – indeed one can find plenty conservative and liberals who find Abortion under certain circumstances morally fully acceptable.
      The issue here for JME is indeed not morals but a rationale debate of a ethical/moral issue. Morals perhaps reshape slighltly around such a debate. Most of us are quite capable of nunances – killing another human is never acceptable – yet as a people we reserve the right for exceptions such as: selfdefense – just war – capital punishment.
      And that is exactly what we are talking about regarding topics like Contraception and Abortion. I think Tim in his desire to pin one on folks he does not care for in the first place is overshooting a bit here – no big deal really.

      • Mark Gordon

        … last I checked all people engaged in the ‘modern academy’ are human beings.

        But are they human “persons” and therefore ineligible for extermination? Maybe we should explore that in a JME article.

        Seriously, you think it’s “no big deal really” that the murder of infants – just stop and think about that … the murder of infants – is an ethical/moral issue for discussion? My God in Heaven. Have mercy on us.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    And proof of this is that the Catholic Church, which used to be blessedly free, more or less, from that mania is noW a hotbed for it.

    bad typing!

  • Rodak

    @ Agellius–

    The logical pitfall is this: A fetus has the same rights as a newborn. A fetus can be legally destoryed under certain circumstances; therefore a newborn can be legally destroyed under certain circumstances.

    That makes it dangerous to the new-born to make the fetus equivalent to it in the sight of the law.

    • Rodak writes, “The logical pitfall is this: A fetus has the same rights as a newborn. A fetus can be legally destoryed under certain circumstances; therefore a newborn can be legally destroyed under certain circumstances. That makes it dangerous to the new-born to make the fetus equivalent to it in the sight of the law.”

      I’m not sure what you mean by calling that a “logical pitfall”.

      Let me put it this way: I understand that the authors of the article (though I confess I haven’t read it) are arguing that a newborn infant and a late-term fetus should be treated the same under the law, since there is no scientifically discernible, essential difference between them. I agree wholeheartedly. There is no logical pitfall here. The logic is perfect.

      Those who have a logical pitfall, if anyone, are pro-choicers, who despite the fact that there is no essential difference between a late-term fetus and a newborn baby, nevertheless want them to be treated differently under the law, insisting that one should be protected by law and the other should not.

      Seeing how inconsistent this position is with logic and the facts, I’m can’t advocate having it enshrined in the law. I can’t embrace falsehood in the hope that it will save the lives of newborn babies, while throwing late-term fetuses under the bus.

      Call me crazy, but I still have enough faith in my fellow men to believe that if both must be treated equally, they will choose to protect both under the law, rather than allow both to be killed. Some few loonies might rather have newborns be legally killed, than give up the right to abort late-term fetuses. But I think the vast majority would be horrified at the idea (as they were at partial birth abortions).

      Therefore, I think the more widespread the idea becomes, that there is no scientifically discernible difference between a newborn and a late-term fetus, the better the chances of late-term abortions being outlawed.

      • I agree with you, 100%, that “late-term” abortions ought to be outlawed, but the question will always arise, “What is ‘late-term’?”

        Let’s just get off this “scientific kick” and admit that, by setting a limit of, say, six months of gestation as “late term,” we are making an arbitrary, unscientific decision based on TRADITIONAL MORALITY, and that we are doing it in defense of human life, and “science” be damned! Otherwise, the “liberals” who defend “Choice” will come right back at us and insist that we prove that there’s a difference between a seven-month-old fetus and a one-month old one, and the only thing we’ll have to offer is that it LOOKS different, and, apparently, behaves differently in the womb–but that won’t be an argument sufficiently “scientific” to suit them.

        As an aside, I’d like to add that I think that this article may be satirical, and offered to the Journal in the same spirit that Swift offered his “Modest Proposal” for publication; it does more damage to the “pro-choice” argument than anything I’ve previously heard of: it offends against common, traditional human decency–which may be what it was intended to do.

      • Thales

        and admit that, by setting a limit of, say, six months of gestation as “late term,” we are making an arbitrary, unscientific decision based on TRADITIONAL MORALITY, and that we are doing it in defense of human life, and “science” be damned!

        Pro-lifers don’t have to say this. It’s scientific to say that a six-month-gestation-entity is a human being.

  • So, what should pro-lifers do? What should those opposed to infanticide do? Just sit back and shut up? Live as pro-life ourselves and hope other people will notice and catch on?

    johnmcg,

    Pro-lifers, in my opinion, should respond with the best arguments they have to what
    Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva say in their paper. They should not criticize the journal for publishing the paper, they should not attempt to whip up a frenzy, and they definitely should not make threats against the authors’ lives. Also, opponents of infanticide who are pro-choice should respond with their best arguments.

    If anyone should be offended by the paper, it is those who support the right to abortion but who are appalled at the idea of infanticide, which I am quite sure is the case for the vast majority of those in the United States and the UK who support abortion rights.

    • @ Digbydolben —

      Swift immediately came to mind for me, too. But, actually, I think not. I know for a fact that what the article proposes happens all the time. It may even be routine, although currently extra-legal. Most of the old ladies of both sexes are envisioning the snuffing of perfect, pink grinning infants. Actually, what is being proposed is eugenics–the allowing to die of radically deformed live births where late-term abortion failed, or which would have been aborted earlier, had the defects been discovered in time. As I said, this is done all the time. Currently, however, medical professionals take a grave risk in doing what the parents want done. If the Church would assume the expense of caring for all such infants as are rejected by their parents for the full span of their lives, this would certainly take of much of the pressure for the law to move in the direction of infanticide. Has this been proposed?

      @ Agellius —

      The pitfall is that while logically both arguments are equally true, since statute law is currently on the side of the Pro-choicers, using that argument would seem to threaten trending public opinion toward infanticide as described in the article. I don’t understand why you can’t seem to see this.

  • Maybe because it literally argues for the acceptability of killing babies rather than a hypothetical reductio absurdum of an opposition argument??? Just throwing it out there as a possible reason.

    johnmcg,

    I don’t think pro-lifers are making a hypothetical, reductio-ad-absurdum argument when they equate abortion and infanticide. They are stating their sincere belief that the moral status of a fertilized egg, an early embryo, a late-term fetus, and a newborn child are all the same, and that killing any one of them is murder or its moral equivalent. To say, “Okay, now these pro-aborts have really gone too far—they’re advocating infanticide” doesn’t really make a great deal of sense to me. In their view, abortion and infanticide are morally equivalent.

    Now, if this were more than an academic paper—say it was a government program—then there would certainly be cause for alarm, because it would mean more people (the unborn and the newly born) were actually going to be killed. But it’s only a paper, and it says nothing that pro-lifers have not said thousands of times already. It advocates exactly the opposite of what pro-lifers do, and so obviously pro-lifers will condemn what it advocates. But there are no groundbreaking new arguments in it.

    I may have made this point already somewhere, but it seems to me that when Robert George says this— “So there we are. Who will raise their voices against this madness? Plenty of conservatives will, of course. Will liberal voices be raised? I hope so.—he’s trying to make political use of the paper, not critique it. He’s trying to imply that people who may be pro-choice are not opposed to infanticide. He’s trying to intimidate liberals into joining his crusade.

    • Thales

      I don’t follow your comment, David. You say: They are stating their sincere belief that the moral status of a fertilized egg, an early embryo, a late-term fetus, and a newborn child are all the same, and that killing any one of them is murder or its moral equivalent. Exactly. But it’s important to note that the pro-life argument doesn’t stop there — it then goes on to say “and since we all generally recognize that infanticide is morally abhorrent, then perhaps abortion shares a similar moral abhorrence.” The force of the pro-life argument is founded on the recognition that the murder of a post-birth human being is morally abhorrent. In other words, the pro-life argument is not “abortion is similar to infanticide, therefore infanticide is okay”; it’s “abortion is similar to infanticide, and since we all instinctively know that infanticide is horrible, then maybe abortion is too.” So it is a type of reductio-ad-absurdum argument. Of course, once you lose your sanity and no longer recognize that infanticide is horrible, then the pro-life reductio argument loses all force.

      I also don’t follow your comment about George. He’s trying to intimidate liberals? I don’t see that. Here, you’ve got some liberals who have lost their sanity and are actually advocating for infanticide, and it seems to me that George is sincerely hoping that there are some liberals who have retained their sanity and who will denounce the infanticide-supporters.

      • I am repeating myself, but here’s the argument:

        1. Life (personhood) begins at conception.
        2. Aborting (say) an 8-week-old embryo is murder, because it is killing a person.
        3. Killing a newborn child is equally murder, because it is killing a person.
        4. If you find it permissible to kill a person as an 8-week-old embryo, there is no reason why, logically, you wouldn’t favor killing a newborn baby. They are both persons with the same moral status.
        5. Consequently, if you approve of abortion, you must approve of infanticide.
        6. If you don’t want to be charged with approving of infanticide, you must stop supporting abortion. Abortion and infanticide are inseparable.

        That is not a reductio-ad-absurdum argument.

        For those who believe life begins at conception, the only argument against this paper would seem to be: “It is illegitimate to attempt to draw a line at the point where life begins. There is no choice but to say life begins at conception.” I am not saying that, at least from the point of view of pro-lifers, that this is not a good argument. I am saying it would seem to be the only argument against this paper, since pro-lifers can’t say, “We think you have drawn the line way too late!” Pro-lifers can’t argue that there is a better place to draw the line (say, at the end of the first trimester), because pro-lifers believe that drawing any line is illegitimate.

        What is interesting to me is that in everything I have read about this paper, nothing that I have found engages the authors’ arguments and attempts to refute them. Perhaps that is largely because the “pro-life” argument against the paper has already been made thousands of times: Life begins at conception, so you can’t any identify any point in pregnancy and childhood where killing the fetus or child would not be murder.

      • Thales

        David,

        No, that’s not how the argument goes. And your Step 6 makes absolutely no sense to me. Your Steps 1 to 5 are fine: they are the steps that establish that there is a moral equivalence between an abortion and infanticide. And then the actual step 6 of the argument is “But it’s insane to think that infanticide is morally permissible; therefore, maybe abortion is not morally permissible.”

      • Thales

        David,

        I think you’re getting confused because you think the pro-life infanticide argument tries to prove when human life begins. That’s not so. It’s an argument about human life at later stages, namely, late-term fetal development. It’s an argument that goes “regardless of when life begins, don’t we all agree that a newborn baby infant is a human being with full human rights and that it’s morally questionable to kill it? If so, then perhaps a pre-birth entity at the same age and development is a human being with similar human rights and it’s morally questionable to kill it.”

        Once you’ve made that argument and it’s been successful — that is, once someone acknowledges that late-term abortion is morally questionable– then pro-lifers can make additional arguments, drawing the line for when full human life begins earlier and earlier. But all of that comes after the initial infanticide argument.

        I think you’re getting confused because you think that to respond to this paper, pro-lifers have to prove that life begins at conception. That’s not so. It’s not necessary to know when full human life (with all its attendant human rights) begins in some entity in order to declare with absolute certainty that some other entity at a later developmental stage has human life. We can have a debate about when night ends and when daytime begins: (Is it when the sun rises? Is it when it starts getting light? And if so, how light? How do we measure “lightness”?) But even if we can’t come to a definite conclusion about when daytime begins, we can declare with absolute certainty that when the sun is high in the sky at noon, it’s daytime. The beginning of full human life is similarly difficult — but that doesn’t mean that we can’t declare with absolute certainty that a 6-month infant baby is an entity with full human life.

    • johnmcg

      David,

      Pro-lifers aren’t proposing that infants should be killed; this paper is.

      And I sometimes wish Prof. George would be a little less partisan, but isn’t this what people always do in politics when something gets taken to an extreme. Aren’t people on the same side asked to condemn the overreach?

      Weren’t pro-lifers called on to condemn the murder of Dr. Tiller? Weren’t those on the right wing implored to soften their rhetoric after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords? Haven’t some people used the suicide of gay teenagers from a few years ago to push forward the cause of same sex marriage? Isn’t Vox Nova filled with selected quotes from GOP politicians or pundits, along with some commentary about how this is telling about what lies at the heart of the movement?

      Prof. George likely did not “critique” the article because he considers the conclusion obviously repugnant. Since, as has been noted, the paper proceeds from a premise Prof. George and most pro-lifers do not accept, there is no point in engaging it further. You are correct that pro-lifers and the paper are in agreement that the fetus and the newborn are of close to equal value. The disagreement is over what that value is, and the paper proceeds from the assumption that the value of the fetus is negligible, which pro-life people obviously do not accept. No further engagement is really necessary from the pro-life side.

      The paper does present a problem for pro-choice people who do not accept the conclusion. They do accept the premise that fetal life is not of equal value to unborn life, so it seems to me that they would be the ones who would need to seriously engage with the contents of the paper.

      Now, I think that what Prof. George think is that when pro-choice people engage in the arguments of the paper, they would be forced to re-examine the pro-choice premise that it relies on, and perhaps reject it. Since Prof. George sees the pro-choice position as leading to the killing of many innocent human beings, this would be a good thing. You may reject this as “political use;” I see it as trying to move the culture.

  • Along the lines of what Mark G. and MuldoonT have been arguing — this may be obvious but maybe it’s worth saying anyway: Suppose two scientists had submitted an article arguing that, given that there’s no essential, scientifically discernible difference between a newborn baby and a late-term fetus, and since it’s illegal to kill newborn babis, late-term abortions should also be illegal. I strongly suspect such an article would not have been published.

    Quite possibly now that a paper in favor of the converse position has been published, and the journal has received some flak over it, they might publish such a paper. But before this incident happened, between the two, the paper that was actually published was the only one that had any chance of being published.

    • @ Agellius —

      Such an article probably wouldn’t be published. First of all, late-term abortions are already illegal, except under certain circumstances. Secondly, such an article would not propose anything that hasn’t already been thoroughly discussed. Journals publish innovative ideas; they don’t endlessly reiterate old ones.

      • Thales

        First of all, late-term abortions are already illegal, except under certain circumstances.
        “except under certain circumstances” = legal in certain circumstances

  • Excellent post, Tim! I’m all for fostering continual dialogue between a plurality of competing arguments and truth claims, but pluralism isn’t non-commitment or wishy-washy relativism. It presupposes there’s truth, even this truth cannot be reduced to any one ideology, outlook, or worldview. Pluralism presupposes judgment. And, of course, this journal is making a judgment about truth, even if it pretends otherwise.

    • brettsalkeld

      Yes. Nicely done, Tim.

    • muldoont

      well said.

  • Matt Bowman

    Absolutely right. Journals like this would never run an article proposing homosexual attraction as a psychological disorder, or racial supremacy as genetic, or any other discrimination against groups of persons other than the preborn, because they oppose the views morally.

    • Whether or not homosexuality is a psychological disorder or one “race” is genetically superior to another are not questions of ethics in general or medical ethics in particular.

  • Widely accepted? Even among pro-abortion advocates like yourself there are wildly divergent views on when personhood attaches to a fetus, with only a very small minority who claim that the birth canal contains some magic portal into which a non-person enters and a person emerges. The notion that a child in the immediate pre-partum stage is not a person is not “widely accepted,” or even widely suggested, Peter Singer notwithstanding.

    Mark Gordon,

    First, I wouldn’t call myself a “pro-abortion advocate.” If I were in the position to give advice to pregnant women, the only time I would advise abortion is in the case of a life-threatening pregnancy, and there I would have no hesitation. On the other extreme, there are abortions I would not hesitate to condemn—for example, abortions (in our society) for sex selection.

    I think it is widely accepted, in contradiction to Catholic teaching, that from the moment of conception, a person is present. I think most people who do not believe personhood begins at conception would probably consider that somewhere in the second or third trimester, a developing fetus is indeed a person. Probably very few would say that a fetus is not a person one minute before birth but magically becomes one upon being born. So I would say the authors are discussing the widely accepted view that conception doesn’t mark the beginning of personhood, and they are arguing about where the line ought to be drawn. It’s a perfectly legitimate question for those who believe personhood doesn’t begin at conception to ask where it does begin, so it is not the authors’ topic that is objectionable, but rather their answer. (I certainly don’t agree that personhood begins after birth.)

    And there we have it: the editors, in their wisdom, will be the arbiters of what is and what is not a widely accepted premise, and therefore what is and what is not permissible for discussion. Tim’s point is that to pretend that judgment is neutral is a farce, a liberal fantasy.

    It is the job of journal editors to make decisions. There are three options. (1) They make themselves arbiters. (2) They publish everything submitted. (3) They publish nothing. I don’t believe the editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics claimed to be “neutral.”

    In the Middle East, there is a widely accepted premise that Jews are part-monkey.

    I can only imagine that the editor was speaking about widely accepted premises among ethicists.

    If a journal editor could write an exhaustive treatise on what a specific journal would or should publish and what it wouldn’t or shouldn’t, journals wouldn’t need editors. Editors rely on their own judgment and the judgment of reviewers. I am sure if we had something more than a blog post from the editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics on their editorial philosophy, it would answer some of the charges being made here. But I really don’t believe either editor that wrote a defense of publishing the paper was claiming some kind of “anything goes” attitude in their editorial selection process.

    • I think it is widely accepted, in contradiction to Catholic teaching, that from the moment of conception, a person is present.

      I have to assume that this was a typo. Even you and I don’t agree that a person is present from the moment of conception, which is Catholic teaching.

      It is the job of journal editors to make decisions.

      I know. I spent many years as an editor. Editors make decisions all the time, and many of them involve moral judgments. The decision to publish this paper was such a judgment, not about publishing generally, but about the worthiness of this particular article.

      I don’t believe the editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics claimed to be “neutral.”

      But he did! The editor claimed that the JME does not “specifically support substantive moral views,” which amounts to a declaration of moral neutrality (Think: Switzerland does not specifically support either the Axis or the Allies). Moreover, at the head of this thread you claimed neutrality on the JME’s behalf: “It seems to me a journal can remain neutral on a controversial topic …” Tim’s entire point is that the claim is bunk, a liberal fantasy, the sort of thing that editors of journals like the JME tell themselves and others in order to perpetuate the myth of their Olympian detachment. In truth, the very decision to publish a piece like this already represents the taking of one side over another.

      Last, you wrote: I wouldn’t call myself a “pro-abortion advocate.”

      I do apologize for having mischaracterized you. It was an honest, and I would argue completely understandable, mistake.

      • I have to assume that this was a typo. Even you and I don’t agree that a person is present from the moment of conception, which is Catholic teaching.

        It was a typo, but I am surprised to hear you don’t believe a person is present from the moment of conception. Perhaps I am more orthodox than you. My position would be that if what I was taught in Catholic school is correct—that a soul is “infused” at conception and when it leaves, that is death—then personhood begins at conception. But this idea of the soul is something I find incomprehensible.

        Moreover, at the head of this thread you claimed neutrality on the JME’s behalf: “It seems to me a journal can remain neutral on a controversial topic …”

        Neutral on a controversial topic is not the same as neutral. I will admit, though, that it may be somewhat of a stretch to classify approval of infanticide as “controversial” rather than “fringe.”

  • muldoont

    My bottom line before I sign off on this (good) thread: I don’t critique the JME for publishing the article. It will help the pro-life cause, but more broadly academic journals should encourage more dialogue, not less.

    I do critique the JME (or at least its editor) for being naive about the moral universe in which dialogue takes place.

    I *may* also critique the JME’s editor for being hypocritical about dialogue. I am not certain whether the JME would publish articles by those who argue for the re-inclusion of some forms of homosexual behavior in the DSM, or the immorality of all forms of sterilization as counter to the Hippocratic oath, or the immorality of medical forms of contraception. I do not have enough evidence whether such hypocrisy exists, but suffice it to say I have doubts.

    I propose that Western liberalism, which provides the philosophical presuppositions of the JME (in its editorial statement), and, by extension, of much of the modern academy, must become more sophisticated in its understanding of the epistemic and moral principles upon which its notions of dialogue can be built. Western liberalism is a creed and perhaps even a religion, or at the very least it shares features common to other religious traditions.

  • Rodak

    “I believe that if Western liberalism and Catholicism were on a equal playing field, Catholicism would eventually emerge as the more robust, because its epistemic presuppositions are more definsible.”

    @ muldoont —

    I think not. Catholicism once held the whole field. If its epistemic presuppositions were so impregnably superior, Catholicism would have held that field. But instead it first lost ground to the Reformers whose reforms it would not accept as defensible and ejected them, rather than admit the merit of their protests. Next, it lost ground to the Enlightenment. If the real estate held by the Church is not equal to that held by the Protestants, the secularists, and the Western liberals some of whom fall into both of those camps, it is precisely because it cannot compete in the realm of ideas. There is intellectual freedom throughout the Western world. Nobody is suppressing the Church by any means other than free competition. If the Church would work in good faith with the Protestant world, rather than speaking such words as “Calvinist” as though it were equivalent to “Satanist,” perhaps some progress could be made. But that won’t happen so long as the Church lays claim to owning an exclusive franchise to definitive interpretation of the Christian message.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs

      Rodak,

      tmuldoon is a bright bulb, but he is like a guy who has invested in a wobbly company. If he he tips his hat on the company’s weaknesses he loses value. When he says that Catholicism’s premises are more defensible he knows very well, because he has read St. thomas, that this means simply that they do not need to be defended. Since all of Thomistic rationality defers to revelation as the ultimate mien by which things must be made intellectually congruent essentially what he is saying, is that the most defensible thing is that which you have decided beforehand not to defend. The HOly Office and other enforcements is just a pragmatic detail. Thank God people like this will never have power again.

  • Here, you’ve got some liberals who have lost their sanity and are actually advocating for infanticide, and it seems to me that George is sincerely hoping that there are some liberals who have retained their sanity and who will denounce the infanticide-supporters.

    Thales,

    Robert George’s ploy has worked with you. You assume, simply on the basis that two individuals have published an article advocating infanticide, that they are liberals! Since when did approving or opposing infanticide become the criterion by which it is determined whether a person is a “liberal” or a “conservative”? And further you seem to feel that a great many liberals are “insane.” It’s all about polarization. Conservative = good, liberal = bad.

    • Thales

      Ugh, David, I’m just using “liberal” and “conservative” as short-hand. I’m making no broad proclamations of “conservative=good, liberal=bad”. I’ve got no problem acknowledging that there are plenty of “conservative” positions that are “bad”: love for war; considering the human only as an economic commodity; support for torture that demeans the human person, etc.

      But the fact is that on this issue, supporting abortion and thinking that the fetus has a diminished moral value is a “liberal” position. That’s not an insult — everyone recognizes that’s the case, whether you’re for or against abortion. By logical extension, if you are an abortion supporter and take that same reasoning and thereby conclude that the newborn also has a diminished moral value, that is also a “liberal” position. In fact, I’d wager that the authors of the article themselves would classify their own position a “liberal” or “progressive” one, instead of “conservative.”

      Finally, I never said “many liberals are insane”. I said that liberals who advocate for infanticide are insane. Anyone who advocates for infanticide is insane. You disagree?

      • I only have time to make one point. Pro-lifers very frequently make analogies between the Holocaust and the current abortion situation. Were Hitler and the Nazis liberals?

        I think it is quite true that there is greater support for abortion among liberals than conservatives. But I would be careful about claiming that being pro-abortion is an “intrinsically liberal” position (if that actually means anything). Also, I would note that right-wing libertarians are also frequently pro-abortion (or at least opposed to government interference in abortion).

        Anyone who advocates for infanticide is insane. You disagree?

        Yes, I disagree. I find the idea of infanticide abhorrent, and I think almost everyone else does, too, which is why I don’t find the paper frightening. I don’t think the authors will convince anyone. I understand that even Peter Singer has pulled back from his earlier positions on infanticide. But I certainly don’t think one has to be insane (in the sense of psychotic) to advocate infanticide. I am not sure I would want to have anything to do with people who advocated infanticide, although I do think Peter Singer, whatever his current views on the subject, is a decent and compassionate person.

        I am more inclined to think that anyone who believes an all-loving, all-merciful God tortures people in a fiery pit for all eternity are insane than people who promote the kind of infanticide advocated by the paper in question.

      • Thales

        David,

        Were Hitler and the Nazis liberals?
        No. Were Hitler and the Nazis conservatives? I see even less evidence for that. So let’s not try to place our present-day notions of the liberal/conservative divide onto Nazism. It won’t work. (As for the analogy between the Holocaust and abortion, it’s used because of the similarity in the minds of pro-lifers between the great numbers of human persons killed after the denial of their human dignity and personhood. You can disagree about the validity of the analogy. That’s fine, and that’s a discussion for another time.)

        As I said above, I used the “conservative/liberal” language as a short-hand. I know that these are usually inaccurate descriptions, but sometimes they’re helpful for generalizing. And I’ve got no problem acknowledging that there are plenty of “conservative” positions that are “bad”: I’ll admit that “right-side” people can wrongly dehumanize persons with homosexual inclinations, or dehumanize persons in wartime.

        The fact of the matter is that “left-side” people are the ones who are advocates for late-term abortion (and so dehumanize the late-term fetus). And now you’ve got 2 people (the article authors) who see no moral problem in late-term abortion, who then make a logical argument and extend this to infanticide. Every “right-side” person who is opposed to late-term abortion is obviously opposed, by extension, to infanticide. So they’ve already taken a position in direct opposition to this article and to infanticide in general. The challenge is for those who are advocates for late-term abortion — call them “left-side” people, or call them whatever other name you want — the challenge is for them to also stake a position in opposition to this article advocating infanticide, and to explain a distinction for why the logic of the authors shouldn’t be applied to newborns.

        Re: my use of the word “insane.”

        Perhaps I should have been more clear with my language. When I say anyone who advocates for infanticide is insane, I’m not saying they’re psychotic. I’m instead saying that the position they’ve staked out is so completely outside that of any normal, sane person; I’m saying that the conclusion they’ve reached and are firmly holding onto is so entirely unreasonable, so completely outside the bounds of reason of any normal, sane human being.

        It’s possible for non-psychotic human beings to reach completely and absolutely unreasonable (i.e., insane) conclusions. I think “it’s okay to kill a baby” is one of these completely and absolutely unreasonable conclusions. Another one is “it’s okay to gas innocent people because they’re Jews.” Another is “it’s okay to rape 11-year old girls.” I just finished reading Jaycee Dugard’s biography — she’s the one who was kidnapped when she was 11, held for 18 years, raped and sexually abused, and gave birth to 2 girls by her captor. Fascinating story. I recommend it. One very interesting thing in it is that her male captor had a logical argument for why he had to kidnap and rape her, that Jaycee felt unable to logically refute for 18 years: namely, that he had a sexual problem that had to be alleviated, and that Jaycee was helping him, and that without her help, there would be much greater harm done to a large number of people. Now I’m not saying that this last example is the equivalent to the infanticide authors — it’s not, and her captor was most likely psychotic, and I think in some ways thinking “raping an 11-year-old is okay” is even more insane than advocating infanticide — but my point is that people can make what they think are logical arguments and reach completely unreasonable conclusions (like, “it’s okay to kill babies”). I think, however, that the proper response to when you get to a completely unreasonable conclusion is to stop, and reevaluate your argument, because you’ve messed up somewhere either in the logical steps leading to the conclusion or in the initial premises.

        I am more inclined to think that anyone who believes an all-loving, all-merciful God tortures people in a fiery pit for all eternity are insane than people who promote the kind of infanticide advocated by the paper in question.

        Really? That the thought “if you’re evil on earth, you’ll be punished in the afterlife” – a concept most (every?) culture has shared in human history is more unreasonable and more irrational than “it’s okay to kill babies”? I guess we’ll have to disagree on that one.

      • Thales

        Sorry, I messed up the italics. Everything should be reversed (I was trying to italicize David’s quote).

    • I take it that the assumption is not that they are liberal because they advocate infanticide but that they are liberal because they advocate abortion. And Thales’s comment clearly does not imply that a great many liberals are insane but only that liberals who advocate infanticide have lost their sanity.

      I think a better argument is that ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ are next door to meaningless when we are dealing with something on international scale, as this is; at that level they can, at most, indicate loose analogies.

    • johnmcg

      If someone earnestly published an article that proceeded from the premise that waterboarding was acceptable, and proceeded from there to conclude that there is no reason we should prevent the brave men of the CIA from using tools like the rack, or limb removal to get vital information to save a city, do you think it would be valid to conclude this argument was coming from the political left or the political right? And would it really be dirty to say that those who propose the allowance of limb removal have lost touch with their sanity?

      The pro-choice perspective, that fetal life does not have significant value, is largely associated with the political left. Two researchers have proceeded from that premise to the conclusion that killing of infants should be acceptable.

      I suppose it is metaphysically possible that the authors of the study and the JME publishers are part of the political right, but I think it is vanishingly unlikely.

      What I want, and what I suspect Prof. George wants, is for members of the political left to see the implications of the assumptions they have accepted, and reject them. If they fail to do so, then I don’t see why it’s such dirty pool to note that, and use that as a basis to consider their trustworthiness.

      It’s not conservative = good; liberal = bad. It’s infanticide = bad. Prof. George is offering “liberals” an opportunity to distance themselves from infanticide. It’s not his fault if they pass it up.

    • johnmcg

      To take another example, in the past couple days, Rush Limbaugh has said some monumentally stupid and offensive things about the Georgetown law student who testified in favor of the HHS Rule.

      I have no doubt that many “liberal” commentators will confront “conservative” commentators, most of whom would never engage in this type of rhetoric, with Limbaugh’s words and challenge them to defend or condemn them. Some will hint that Limbaugh’s misogyny is what is truly driving the case against the mandate, and that all this talk about religious liberty is just a thin veil.

      Would those in favor of the mandate be wrong for taking Limbaugh’s statements to try to move public opinion in their direction?

      • Rodak

        @ johnmcg —

        It’s just as likely that society’s misogynists are using religious liberty (which they don’t really give a damn about) as a veil for their hatred of liberated women. Given the almost universal use of contraceptives by all types in this society, I would say that this is actually the more likely circumstance: religion as the smokescreen.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs

        johnmcg,

        Robert George’s American Principles Project and National Organization for Marriage has engaged in far worse, easily refutable calumnies against gay people making Rush Limbaugh’s words look tame. This earned them the extraordinary signification of a “Hate Organization” from the Southern Poverty Law Center. Their defense against it is in line, also, with Limbaugh’s defense of himself, no different. When and if people like George put themselves in situation where they are actually accountable to others, then I will take them seriously. Otherwise, they are all on the level of a fat guy sitting in a radio booth in Palm Beach.

      • johnmcg

        I could also write that all the “left”s talk about individual rights and self-determination is merely a smokescreen for their hatred of children, but where would that get us?

  • Anne

    “I *may* also critique the JME’s editor for being hypocritical about dialogue. I am not certain whether the JME would publish articles by those who argue for the re-inclusion of some forms of homosexual behavior in the DSM, or the immorality of all forms of sterilization as counter to the Hippocratic oath, or the immorality of medical forms of contraception. I do not have enough evidence whether such hypocrisy exists, but suffice it to say I have doubts.”

    First, my apologies for coming late to this discussion, but frankly it took me awhile to digest what you were saying and why. Actually, I’m still wondering why.

    You say neither the subject of the article in question (which apparently claims infanticide should be legal since abortion is) nor the fact that an academic journal published it are the problem, but rather the “hypocrisy” of the journal’s liberal editors who say they’d publish any well-reasoned argument, including one making the case against both infanticide and abortion. I don’t get it. Really. It seems to me you’re looking a gift horse in the mouth, and trying to punch his lights out for having the gall to stand there looking at you.

    This may not be the best of analogies, but the point is I don’t get the hostility to a couple editors who offer to publish both sides of a controversy. Even if “liberalism” were all you say it is, I don’t see how this particular instance proves it.

    These editors have not only offered to publish what they’re willing to refer to as a “well-reasoned” argument against abortion and infanticide (admitting by implication that there are such things), but they even call attention to the logical connection between the two. What they’ve done may, in fact, be the best argument against your hypocrisy claim.

    Really, if this is hypocrisy, I wish there were more of it on both sides of the political and philosophical aisles these days. What we need are many more well-reasoned arguments, and several fewer attempts to get at the historical, philosophical and theological roots of everything that could possibly be wrong with the other side.

    I’m sorry if I’m taking out on you my frustration with the lack of reasonableness so in evidence in the public square these days. I guess it just struck me that you’re doing something like that in this case.

  • Thales

    David Nickol,

    I know you read Mirror of Justice, so you’ve probably seen this, but I thought I’d link to it to: Robby George has a post on infanticide and the “madness” of advocating for it, along the lines of what I was thinking when I said it was “insane”.

    http://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2012/03/at-the-catholic-moral-theology-site-charles-camosy-notes-that-mirror-of-justice-has-been-all-over-an-article-which-recently.html