Monday, June 14, 2010

Truthiness gets a boost from Ziganto

In "The Poetry of Humanity," Lori Ziganto sings the praises of an 84-year old Australian "who has stopped an estimated 160 suicides at a cliff in Australia." Ziganto refers her readers to this news story for the details.

I'm obviously not going to argue with her about this. (Neither would anyone else, though Ziganto would have you believe differently, I think.) The man, Don Ritchie, obviously "shows us the best of humanity." To this day, he "remains available to lend an ear, though he says he never tries to counsel, advise or pry. He just gives them a warm smile, asks if they would like to talk and invites them back to his house for tea. Sometimes, they join him."

No, what I want to take issue with is the following paragraph in her post:
It is pretty simple. Humanity itself is simplistic at it’s [sic] very core. But we, in our “enlightened” states, now tend to try to over-think and rationalize all, instead of just embracing gut instincts and our hearts. We’ll create massive bureaucracies, full of “experts” to solve every little possible problem. Mr. Ritchie knows the basic truth: You gotta try and save them. It’s pretty simple.
This sounds wonderful, I admit, and it plainly works in Ritchie's situation. But we can't rely on "embracing gut instincts and our hearts" alone, because it ain't sufficient. Consider the following situation:
A doctor who believed that abortion was wrong, even in order to save the mother's life, might nevertheless consistently believe that it would be permissible to perform a hysterectomy on a pregnant woman with [uterine] cancer. In carrying out the hysterectomy, the doctor would aim to save the woman's life while merely foreseeing the death of the fetus. Performing an abortion, by contrast, would involve intending to kill the fetus as a means to saving the mother. 
Notice that the edict, "You gotta try and save them" isn't very helpful in this situation. If a hysterectomy is performed, the woman will live but the fetus will die; if a hysterectomy is not performed, the fetus may live and the woman may die.

The gut instinct that we ought to preserve life is good. But to reduce all of our moral thinking to gut instincts is exactly the wrong course to take. We live in a complicated world, and our moral thinking ought to reflect that fact.

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It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. ---W.K. Clifford

Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear. ---Thomas Jefferson