Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Consent "Plus"

In my last blog post I addressed the issue of harm.  Many people argue that an action should be considered moral if it does not harm anyone else.  I provided the example of two Peeping Toms to demonstrate that lack of harm, in and of itself, is insufficient to determine the morality of an action.  A similar concept that often arises hand in hand with the harm principle is that of consent.  Under this principle, an action is morally permissible if all parties affected by it give their knowing and voluntary consent.

The same question is properly asked of this alleged justification that was asked of the harm principle: “Is consent in and of itself sufficient to render an action morally permissible?”  As with harm, an example illustrates why this question clearly must be answered in the negative.

No Harm, No Foul

I am sure you have heard the expression, “No harm, No foul.”  If an action does not hurt anyone, then it is no big deal.  Don’t sweat it, so to speak.  Sometimes this expression is used somewhat playfully, like in a pick-up basketball game when someone gets accidentally knocked to the ground but rises unhurt.  No harm, no foul.  But other times this principle is used in more significant moral contexts.  It is often referred to as the “harm principle”: A person is free to behave in whatever manner he or she chooses so long as the behavior does not harm anyone else.  While the actual phraseology of “no harm, no foul” rarely appears in these moral arguments, the concept remains the same.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Basic Logic of Coherence

I am not sure I could devise a better example of blatant logical error than what I recently read in the article linked below.  To make it worse, it occurs in two consecutive sentences, making the flaw all the more obvious.  Here is what the author said:

“Organizations that seek to curtail the rights of any demographic should be disbanded, ridiculed or lose their tax-exemption status.

“I believe that the right of people to live in a manner of their choosing, self-evidently excludes any right to prevent others from living how they choose.”

For those of you who still do not see the problem, it may help to reverse the order of the sentences and offer some brief commentary.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Dangerous Meme

Unfortunately, it is all too common for people to simply repeat something that they once heard without first investigating whether it is true.  When we are talking about our friends and neighbors, this is called “gossip.” But when people engage in this type of behavior in the intellectual marketplace, unfortunately very few folks are willing to respectfully call them on it, leading to more misinformation being spread and accepted by the masses as the truth.

This is how political campaigns are run or ideological drives are pushed.  Start an overly simplistic (and usually misleading) slogan and spread it all over the internet.  Before too long, everyone believes it is true.

I recently came across a similar phenomenon in a discussion on a Yahoo! News article with a gentleman named “Ryan.”  Ryan proposed, without offering support, that “science tells us” that “something can come from nothing for no reason.”  The first question that occurs to me when people make comments like this is what they even mean by “science.”  Science is a discipline, not a person.  In fact, it is a collection of multiple disciplines.  A discipline cannot “tell” us anything.  It cannot speak.