Re: Peace be upon her

1

Did he get that job at Princeton because they like his ideas on killing disabled babies?

*sob*

I don't know Singer's work all that well except that he seems to be immune to repugnant conclusions.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:08 PM
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McMegan is a jackass.

Moving on:

I give Singer credit for following through on the first principles of utilitarianism. That he does not then make the leap to thinking that maybe strict utilitarianism is flawed strikes me as almost sociopathic.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:11 PM
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making my way through the article

He is the man who wants me dead. No, that's not at all fair.

I am the token cripple with an opposing view.

it's not going well so far


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:12 PM
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That's just it. Like I said, I'm not an expert on the guy, but if he honestly thinks that the only reason anyone would disagree with him is that they're under a religious delusion a) he's got another think coming and b) that strikes me as a point in favor of the religious delusion, to be honest.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:13 PM
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That he does not then make the leap to thinking that maybe strict utilitarianism is flawed strikes me as almost sociopathic.

having read a couple of his books, this is not, to my memory, accurate


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:14 PM
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4: I don't see (a) and (b) as necessarily particularly compatible; if he's wrong about the reason's people disagree with him then it does not follow that the beliefs he ascribes to those disagree with him would be laudable.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:15 PM
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5: having not read any of his books, if that's true, good. I've read interviews where he's said things I find quite startlingly misguided, but maybe he's simplifying his own ideas in an unfortunate way.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:16 PM
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Keep reading. The article is interesting.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:18 PM
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Thats good, because I wasn't saying that one followed from the other.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:18 PM
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That he does not then make the leap to thinking that maybe strict utilitarianism is flawed strikes me as almost sociopathic.

having read a couple of his books, this is not, to my memory, accurate


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:19 PM
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i'm hesitating to write my interpretation of his position, because, honestly, i don't think i can remember it accurately enough. But he makes distinctions between different kinds of utilitarianism and argues, i think, for something called preference util. and against all others.


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:19 PM
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It is a really good article, in particular how she discusses her feelings during the talk and the difference between his conclusions and his manner.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:19 PM
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11: which I think is something like privileging a particular variety of conscience entity's self-expression of preference, right?

(You know who could totally answer this? Beyerstein.)


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:21 PM
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Also, the article prompted me to wonder if Singer discussed adaptation effects in connection with preference satisfaction and the (surprisingly high) SWB of people with disabilities. Is Rob ever around?


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:21 PM
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We need rob on this, but 13 is basically right. Preferences count, but only preferences of persons, and it's defining the latter that's the problem.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:23 PM
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14: why surprisingly? Didn't Kahneman show that able people routinely overestimate the negative impact of various incurred disabilities? That, among other things, seems to point (to me) away from a utilitarian measure of preference (especially when you're talking about other species) as anything other than a reflection of biases.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:24 PM
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13 should have said "conscious".


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:25 PM
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The other problem is that how negative a disability is, on utilitarian grouds, depends in part on how accommodating society is of the disabled generally and disability in particular. This isn't the 'it's not really a disability argument', just the narrow claim that someone's genuine preferences might change if their environment did.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:28 PM
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Surprising, Sifu, because people have a well-documented tendency to discount adaptation effects in predicting SWB, which is why those results are so interesting.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:28 PM
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18: this is an important point in right-to-die contexts as well. Choices aren't in vacuums, etc.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:30 PM
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19: right, okay.

20: so given how omnipresent context is, and the basic impossibility of escaping it in one's own reason, does Singer's (I guess preference utilitarian?) approach to (I guess) ethics really get you anywhere?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:34 PM
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still reading, there are distractions. I'm taking issue with a few things, and I think this gets at them:

I have been sucked into a civil discussion of whether I ought to exist

Either I or the author is misunderstanding Singer. I don't recall any arguments that one "should" terminate disabled babies...just that one can, morally, terminate any baby that is not a person.


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:35 PM
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God, could McMegan's blurb have been written in a more irritating and condescending way? But the article about McBryde Johnson's meeting with Singer was fascinating.


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:36 PM
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I'm not very much a fan of Singer nor of utilitarianism in general but I'm always shocked and saddened by how grossly critics misunderstand him and attribute views he doesn't hold to him. There's plenty to not like in his actual views (which are not that complicated) without having to distort them like is done in that article. (At least what I could get through of it- it was so distorting and bad I couldn't read the whole thing. I'm sure she was a passionate advocate for many good things but this was a really bad account.)


Posted by: matt (not the famous one) | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:37 PM
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I don't like Singer much, and for me he makes me wonder whether philosophers in their present state really should try to be public philosophers, but the "he wants to kill me" argument is bogus, and it's used all the time by anti-abortionists.

Any of the following could have led to my non-existence: infanticide, abortion, birth control, abstinence, and even a missed plane connection. Our coming-to-be is very chancy before it happens.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:39 PM
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21b: I don't think it's a specially hard problem for Singer in particular, but I'll have to wait until after I eat a sandwich to say why.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:39 PM
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What does SWB stand for? "Standard while/ with?"


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:39 PM
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"subjective well-being"


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:40 PM
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Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.


Posted by: Auto-banned | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:41 PM
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"subjective well being"-- basically how much you find your life groovy.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:41 PM
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God, could McMegan's blurb have been written in a more irritating and condescending way?

Check out her other posts, I'm sure you'll rapidly find something even more irritating and condescending.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:41 PM
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Sex w/ B.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:42 PM
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Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

A cause of low SWB.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:42 PM
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The article was fascinating. My reading of it was that the author basically conceded that she could not counter Singer's position logically, and that the only tools that she had in her arsenal were emotional appeals. These took two major forms, the implication that Singer was an amoral monster (of which the example in 22 is a prime example) and the shame that most people feel in her presence (a trap that Singer deftly avoided).

Of course, if that reading is true, she did commit a major tactical error by meeting with him.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:43 PM
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26: I await the completion of your sandwich.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:43 PM
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Right. I thought that it was something like that on a pre-verbal level, because I've heard the term before, but I couldn't remember the elements of the acronym. Thanks.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:43 PM
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He is the man who wants me dead.

I wasn't impressed.

Under that theory, choicers want the non-disabled (otherwise known as the abled or normal people) dead too.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:44 PM
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Hi, I'm here.

Singer's preference utilitarianism is often misunderstood, and his views on infant euthanasia are misunderstood even more often. This is actually very weird, because his views are as simple and consistent as everyone says they are. But somehow people keep turning them into other simple consistent views because they get so freaked out by the ideas he's dealing with.

Some clarifications: Singer is a preference utilitiarian for all sentient creatures, however, when a creature is also sapient (i.e. a person), preference utilitiarianism morphs into interest utilitarianism.

Thus dogs, cows and babies are morally significant in that their preferences must be taken into consideration. This does not give them a right to life. In particular, the replacement thesis holds for them. If you kill and animal and replace it with an animal that is just as happy, you have not done anything wrong.

Adult humans and probably most adult great apes require deeper moral consideration, in that they effectively have a "right to life". This is, of course, one of those fake utilitarian "as if" rights. Still, the replacement thesis does not hold for "people." Here the thing that makes you a person is sapience, or even more specifically having a sense of yourself over time.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:47 PM
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I saw him in action (on stage and over dinner) around the time he was basically ceasing to be a philosopher with a research program and starting to become a public figure occupying a particular niche in an unproductive controversy. It wasn't just that his opponents were out to misrepresent and caricature his views (although often they were), it was also that his own views solidified into a fixed set of arguments, almost like talking-points. The result was he would respond to wrong-headed caricatures and more serious questioning of his point of view in much the same way -- i.e., by reiteration of the basic points.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:47 PM
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A vegan sandwich is always helpful before discussions of Singer.

I flipped through his animal rights book, but since it all seemed to derive from his version of utilitarianism, which I found unconvincing, I wasn't motivated to do more than that.

I agree with Putnam that "normative" discussings should be "thick", though I would thicken them in several dimensions Putnam doesn't mention. "Clarification" of ethical reasoning always seems to involve simplifying it with assumptions which are themselves not well-grounded, so you end up with a GIGO problem -- rigorous argument on the basis of assumptions whose truth is unknown or unlikely.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:48 PM
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Here the thing that makes you a person is sapience, or even more specifically having a sense of yourself over time.

Which is why Lindsay Beyerstein won't eat dog or octopus.

Thanks for the explanation, rob. I still think his utilitarianism vastly simplifies the ways in which we could or should consider other entities to be similar to ourselves, but (hah!) like I'm going to argue with a thread full of philosophers about it!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:50 PM
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Pwned, sort of.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:50 PM
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Ok, I think some of this has been covered, but I will reiterate.

Singer feels infanticide is acceptable because the infant is not yet a person. This actually has *zero* to do with the quality of life of disabled people. Adaptation effects of the sort Kahnamen discusses are not important here. Anyone can be killed in infancy, and this decision would be no different than the decision to abort, or for that matter, not have sex.

Johnson's article is great, but she is deliberately misrepresenting this part of Singer's thinking.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:50 PM
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I think that ethics will always be implicated in some form of gut thinking, subjectivity, convention, "emotional appeals", etc.

The Socratic game of pushing someone into an emotivist corner by forcing them to defend everything they say is bad enough in Socrates' hands, and much worse in the hands of a standard average philosopher (or economist).


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:54 PM
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When I chatted with Lindsay on her blog about utilitiarianism, she admitted that by her principles she shouldn't eat cow, pig or chicken either. (Especially pig.) I sympathized, because by my principles I shouldn't eat cheese, but I do.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:54 PM
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by my principles I shouldn't eat cheese

Because of rennet? It's amazing how many vegetarians don't know about rennet.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:56 PM
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You are what you eat, and who wants to be broccoli? In an ideal world I would only eat people, and they'd have to be people I admired.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:56 PM
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I think that ethics will always be implicated in some form of gut thinking, subjectivity, convention, "emotional appeals", etc.

See I don't understand why this is wrong. Fundamentally ethics should be grounded in human's ability to understand other beings as sentient, which ability is a function of social cognition, which is fundamentally an emotionally driven process. To abstract it out it seems (to me) is more than likely (if not inevitably) going to lead you down some very strange corridors you don't need to go down.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:58 PM
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||

I actually came here because I had a request. Does anyone have a ecopy of John Cale's "Sanities" they can email me or link to or something?

I'm supposed to be writing a little thing on The Watchmen, and a misquotation from that song is the penultimate epigraph of the comic.

|>


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 12:58 PM
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oh, no, rennet is not the issue. Almost all cheese since about 1990 has been produced using chymosin from a genetically engineered yeast.

The issue is the quality of life for dairy cows and the inevitable link between the dairy industry and the veal industry. A milk cow must produce a calf every year to keep lactating, and a good portion of those (like, all the male ones) are sold for veal.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 1:01 PM
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There's nobody here I admire, so you need not fear me.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 1:05 PM
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49: It's just "Watchmen," says my Absolute edition.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 1:09 PM
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a good portion of those (like, all the male ones) are sold for veal.

mmmm, veal.

One of my favorite restaurants in Cleveland had an entire menu page devoted completely to various preparations of veal topped with foie gras. The all-evil meal!

Also, why can't you eat goat or sheep cheese?


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 1:10 PM
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It's just "Watchmen," says my Absolute edition.

I don't think that's the misquotation he meant.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 1:10 PM
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good, rob backs me up that she's misrepresenting Singer. And she makes what seemed like a dozen subtle little rhetorical moves* to emotionally bias the reader against Singer. Further, reflecting on my own personal experiences as well as what I know of the situations of some, say, cancer patients, I find her position that people should be prevented from choosing assistant suicide, because that wouldn't be beautiful, to be real ass.

*I've quoted a few, here's another: any spokesman chosen by the opposition is by definition a token. But even if I'm a token, I won't have to act like one. And anyway, I'm kind of stuck. If I decline, Singer can make some hay: ''I offered them a platform, but they refuse rational discussion.'' It's an old trick, and I've laid myself wide open.

Of course there's no evidence that Singer wanted to set a trap, or would've used it that way.


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 1:21 PM
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I hadn't heard of Johnson before, but a commenter at McArdle's mentions this Slate piece in which she defends Congress's treatment of the Schiavo matter.

Johnson and Singer are similar in that they reason from first principles that I don't share, and thereby arrive at conclusions that I find absurd. But they are both interesting thinkers, and the world is a richer place with folks like them in it.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 1:21 PM
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so, for now, major "boo" on this article.


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 1:22 PM
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It's amazing how many vegetarians don't know about rennet.

Indeed. Before she went to full-on veganism, my sister went through a stage where she was vegetarian but would only eat cheese made with non-animal enzymes. This made things surprisingly difficult for her, almost as difficult as veganism itself.

Almost all cheese since about 1990 has been produced using chymosin from a genetically engineered yeast.

Almost all, but not all, and the frustrating thing is that very little cheese is labeled with the source of its enzymes. So while most cheese you eat is not, in fact, made with animal rennet, you can rarely be sure.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 1:25 PM
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Yeah, the Schiavo thing is annoying. There's a difference between being killed and refusing treatment.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 1:25 PM
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good, rob backs me up that she's misrepresenting Singer.

The thing that I found interesting about that article is that rob's explanation of Singer wasn't really different from the understanding I got from Johnson's piece - though it was different from what Johnson was trying to convey. She struck me as a classic unreliable narrator - one who litters her subjective impressions with enough actual facts that you can dope out the reality.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 1:26 PM
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Ok, that was a dumb reaction to her first point, because it's the second point, but still, the response is unconvincing.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 1:26 PM
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Isn't there something like antabuse that you can take so that you vomit up rennet cheese?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 1:28 PM
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I'm surprised by this rennet talk, because, whenever I've had occasion to check (whether buying for a vegan or for kosher* purposes), I've always seen the answer - and it's usually been rennet.

Unreliable anecdata, I guess.

I refuse to eat cheese made with the bodies of the euthanized disabled, no matter what Peter Singer says.

* Generally I'll just buy whatever's labeled Kosher, but it's prompted me to look around.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 1:32 PM
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I'm surprised by this rennet talk, because, whenever I've had occasion to check (whether buying for a vegan or for kosher* purposes), I've always seen the answer - and it's usually been rennet.

My anecdata against yours, I guess. In any case, not an issue for my sister anymore.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 1:34 PM
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I would only eat the bodies of healthy, fun-loving, athletic, sexually-attractive people with IQS over 120 and good personalities.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 1:34 PM
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And humanely slaughtered while thinking that they're on the way to the party of their life.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 1:34 PM
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If we take nothing else from the article, remember that "NAZIs played with their children" has replaced by "peter singer holds the door for disabled people"


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 1:41 PM
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for a second, I was thinking 67 was touch too snarky and impolite. Thank you, John Emerson.


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 1:42 PM
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58: I'm surprised it was that difficult, since an awful lot of cheeses have always been made without rennet (due to supply problems, nothing to do with vegetarians). It's not something I've ever found difficult, really.

Lot's of vegetarians either don't know, or tactically `don't know' about rennet, but it's hardly the only non-obvious one. Particularly in this age of massively processed foods, you'll get a lot of things like gelatin additives to processed yogurts etc. Luckily in that case it's usually not to hard to find real yogurt, which always tastes better anyways. If you're into faddish low-whatever diet constraints it'll be hard though. There are a lot of non-obvious additives to these highly processed products, which is more generally concerning than non-vegetable sources for a lot of people.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 1:46 PM
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I should have read further back ... 50 is exactly the problem for many people who dislike the dairy industry reasons other than the simplistic (and usually straw-man , ime) black-and-white animals source vs. vegetable source foods.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 1:50 PM
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AAAAAHHHH!!! Emerson's at my door holding a knife with an evil look in his eye and a napkin tucked in his neckline!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 2:00 PM
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71: Who is he there for ?


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 2:01 PM
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Me. He's trying to flatter me. And my cat, who has excellent vision that Emerson has been craving.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 2:03 PM
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I would never eat cat. Also, I'm not sure Heebie is fun-loving and athletic enough. Also, fear gives the meat an off-taste. You want happy people.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 2:08 PM
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55:

Yes, the exchange about taking care of the irreversibly unconscious person was the weakest point of all. The idea that we as a society should pay people to take care of an individual with no hope for recovery because it "could be profoundly beautiful" is a)in the eye of the beholder and b)really silly.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 2:09 PM
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I had assumed, from my passing acquaintance with disability-rights activists, that the big concern with Singer's approach was the assisted-suicide-plus-killing-the-nonsubjects thing would play out really badly for the disabled in the real world. That is, there would be huge pressure from doctors and particularly insurance companies for people to get rid of their disabled babies or kill themselves if disabled.

That seems pretty likely--over on Alas, A Blog I've read a bunch of essays by a paralyzed woman whose insurance has tried over and over again to put her in situations where she would, pretty much, die. (I can't find 'em, don't have time, busy at work oddly enough) The insurance wouldn't pay for enough new respirator tube thingys, or for a person to help in clearing them out during the night and so on; they wanted to put her in a place where she wouldn't have adequate care or assistance to get out of bed. (These were really scary essays--she and her family believed that she might just end up dying from clogged breathing apparatus while they were fighting the company.)

I have trouble with Singer on animal rights for totally separate reasons, but my problems with him on disability issues (and I've only read short essays, not whole books; I'm a loser) are because it seems silly to reason in this very abstract manner on such an important topic when we have genuine real-world reasons to believe that it would play out very badly.

Sure, if we lived in the dirty-hippie post-revolutionary utopia where everyone had everything they needed and some theoretical none-the-less-unhappy disabled person wanted to kill herself, yes, that's fine. But unless we're taking actual concrete steps to get there it seems actively counterproductive to spend so much time advocating infanticide and assisted suicide.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 2:09 PM
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We create meaning in our lives in part through the obstacles we overcome. It's clear that the infants who should be strangled at birth are not the disabled (plenty of obstacles to create meaning there), but the healthy genetically fit trustafarians. And Emerson could eat them.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 2:13 PM
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If I understand Emerson correctly, he would feed them to the hogs, which he would then feed to bright, happy attractive people.

Which he could then eat.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 2:15 PM
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A fun-loving, happy, attractive, athletic, high-IQ trustifarian could be eaten directly.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 2:18 PM
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with a nice chianti.

but I wouldn't plan your future dietary needs on that, JE. Very limited supply.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 3:16 PM
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the big concern with Singer's approach was the assisted-suicide-plus-killing-the-nonsubjects thing would play out really badly for the disabled in the real world.

I think this is right, and I think that a basic problem with Johnson and Singer trying to talk about this is that she is approaching the issue (any of the issues, really) from a very concrete, pragmatic, real-people-and-life-and-death-consequences place. And he (and his audience?) is talking about abstractions and theories and philosophies in an invented perfect world.

Neither kind of argument is very convincing if you only care about the other one.


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 3:32 PM
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Johnson's article is great, but she is deliberately misrepresenting this part of Singer's thinking.

I'm not sure she is. It's a little complicated. He doesn't think that any one is under a moral duty to murder babies, or that one should, but he is saying that had her parents decided her life would not have been worth living, they could have killed her as child. He doesn't 'want her dead', but he's also saying, it would have been fine if they had killed you, because you were not yet a person.

And here's where it gets a little hairy. We could all kill our babies and be completely ethical. But we're not going to kill our healthy babies, most likely, so his principle ends up meaning, in practice, that it's fine to kill disabled babies.

I think the quality of life stuff comes in when you ask the next question: how much of a sense of self does a person have to have for it to be wrong to kill them? What struck me as a little bit strange about the article is that if I understand Singer correctly, Johnson isn't someone who would be lacking that sense of self. Which doesn't mean she can't find his argument abhorrent, but it doesn't seem like it would apply to her personally.

On the other hand, Singer seemed to accept that criticism, rather than responding 'but I think all babies can be killed, not just ones like you' with the debate over multicultural stuff, so I'm not quite sure I've read him right.

Frowner makes a very good point up thread: it seems that one possible consequence of his view is that there's no ethical duty to provide, e.g., for the care of disabled non-persons, which would mean that a lot of families would be forced to euthanize simply due to feeding tubes not being covered. (But pets would have to get insurance.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 4:06 PM
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I haven't followed this issue, but some disabled spokespersons have pointed out that once assisted suicide becomes normal, not just insurance companies but also family members will often be in a position where they have a heavy interest in someone else's suicide.

It reminds me of the legalization of prostitution case in which it was rumored that and unemployed woman getting money from the state was being pressured into prostitution by the employment service, since she couldn't get any other job, but could get that one. Under certain circumstances, legalization can be one step away from obligation.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 4:18 PM
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Reading interpretations of Singer always reminds me of discussions about why people should have to pass a test to be able to vote.

It's sort of possible to intellectually grasp the impetus behind the philosophy -- wouldn't it be great if everybody who voted was informed! Wouldn't it be great if (whatever it is that Singerites want)!

But in the actual world that we live in, voter tests have a long and ignominious history, so long and so awful that I am perfectly comfortably assuming that anyone who seriously advocates* them is racist and classist among other things.

(*Seriously advocates meaning "continues to support them even after it is gently pointed out that we don't really have a good history of that sort of thing in the US")

Similarly, the actual history of how we have treated people with disabilities, and how we have framed "disability" itself, makes me perfectly comfortable assuming that anyone who seriously advocates Singer-esque viewpoints* is either willfully ignorant of history or willfully blind to the reasonable consequences of what they are advocating.

(I haven't read anything of his recently enough to claim that I know his precise views.)

I am sure it comes as no surprise that I barely survived philosophy class.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 4:19 PM
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Fishing for a compliment, Witt? That just makes you more wonderful, of course.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 4:23 PM
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83: Velle/man makes an argument along those lines. A society in which the right to die is taken as enshrined is one where people will correspondingly not get the support they need if they don't want to die, and feel pressure to choose death.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 4:26 PM
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Don't trick me into agreeing with Vell/eman, Cala, you sly but glamorous monster.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 4:27 PM
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Can I ask a stupid question? Why do you guys always Google-proof academics' names when you are talking about their work?

I can understand why you would do it if you were talking about something personal or gossipy, but so what if someone vanity-Googles and finds out that their work was being discussed? Wouldn't that be a good thing?


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 4:29 PM
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86 is, at the very least, not generalizable. I.e. this statement is not generally true: A society in which the right to X is taken as enshrined is one where people will correspondingly not get the support they need if they don't want X, and feel pressure to choose X. Try X = free speech.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 4:31 PM
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I have made some malicious comments about Vell/eman, Lei/ter, and others, and the weenies here in the philosophy biz are worried that association with me will destroy their careers and their very lives, because phil professors are proud and unforgiving.

Or perhaps for some other reason.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 4:34 PM
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inds out that their work was being discussed

This time.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 4:34 PM
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I can't imagine a situation in which person B has a strong material interest in having person A to excercise his free speech.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 4:36 PM
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91: ?? Granted I don't operate in the academic world, but aren't the principles basically the same as in the political world? 'Tis better to be discussed and disparaged than never to be mentioned at all?


(It occurs to me that future generations may struggle with the etymology of "dissed" -- was it disrespected or disparaged? Ah no -- dispreferred!)


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 4:41 PM
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93: unless one is on a hiring committee.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 4:44 PM
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I think all babies can be killed, not just ones like you

Singer often sugar-coats his positions in public settings. Also he's a) not very thoughtful about why we should care about preferences, b) glib on the general complexity of morality, and c) unable to comprehend sources of moral disagreement. All this makes him unlikable despite his basically good-hearted animal rights work.


Posted by: baa | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 4:52 PM
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Mostly, I feel bad about trashing academics here where the format doesn't lend itself to doing justice to ideas with any degree of nuance. It seems like it would confirm the worst stereotypes of the blogosphere if someone followed a link here and saw himself being trashed. And no, I don't think academics are like politicians; they're incredibly thin-skinned, in my experience.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 4:53 PM
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96: Thanks for the explanation. I see where my confusion came from; on my worst day I don't think of critiquing someone's work as trashing them. To me, trashing is personal -- saying someone is a slimeball or a cheat, maybe.

I also tend not to say stuff on blogs that I wouldn't be perfectly comfortable saying to someone's face, which maybe isn't such a common way to operate.

Anyway, I get it, and I don't think I've disobeyed this policy in the past Oops! Um, only in 84 in this very thread.

OK, back to work.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 4:59 PM
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I think the quality of life stuff comes in when you ask the next question: how much of a sense of self does a person have to have for it to be wrong to kill them?

Vell-man's got a series of papers on his webbage, under the general title "P-rsons in Pr-spect", about stuff like this (I've only read the third, which seemed to have a mostly sensible take on the so-called non-identity problem, amid some other typically odd positions).


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 5:16 PM
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For many academics, the line between the work and the self is very fuzzy indeed. To critique the work, therefore, is to critique the person. Not me, though. Because if the above were true for me, I would no longer exist: no work = no Ari. Fortunately, my sense of self is far more tied up in my ability to get my puppy trained. And that's going well.


Posted by: Ari | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 5:17 PM
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Huh. I thought the reason we Google-proofed academics was that we already had too many of the fuckers commenting around here.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 5:24 PM
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I thought the google proofing was partly an identity protection thing. I generally don't google-proof outside of here and my personal blog.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 5:25 PM
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In academic blogging, I've sometimes held off on offering serious critiques on some academic articles - already published articles, I should add - I've seen discussed on other blogs because it wasn't clear what my purpose would have been. To come off as trashing - though that's not how it would have been intended, it could for reasons others have already given in this thread have been taken that way - some junior academic not in my field just because it looked like they misread Edith Wharton? Does that help anyone?


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 5:29 PM
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I always try to nuance the motherfuckers to death, but they get huffy anyway.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 5:30 PM
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I thought the google proofing was partly an identity protection thing

Yeah, this too. Who is this Cala who knows my work?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 5:34 PM
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I am a famous internet crank who gives everyone else a bad name. And I delight in this reputation of mine. Bwahahahaha....


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 5:39 PM
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Fortunately, my sense of self is far more tied up in my ability to get my puppy trained. And that's going well.

Is he flinging his poop?


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 5:41 PM
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A society in which the right to die is taken as enshrined is one where people will correspondingly not get the support they need if they don't want to die, and feel pressure to choose death.

So he argues it's best to take away peoples' autonomy because, on the macro scale, they're just not prepared to handle it.


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 5:44 PM
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I feel bad about trashing academics here where the format doesn't lend itself to doing justice to ideas with any degree of nuance.

I got your nuance right here, Ogged.

I'm just real distrustful of any arguments that end in me giving up some autonomy.


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 5:48 PM
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The pressure to die thing is very real. You get to a certain state, you are obviously making your caregivers life extremely difficult. This creates all kinds of pressures even if the caregiver is not an awful person actually suggesting you die.

On a practical level this is a very tricky thing to leave to individuals. Hospices almost offer a form of assisted death -- at least they make it more comfortable and they are sort of "death-accepting" in a way hospitals are not -- but it is an institution making these decisions.

Assisted suicide would make somewhat more sense if there was much broader, richer assistance with caregiving in this society.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 5:51 PM
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I googleproof mostly because who wants one of the first hits under their names to be a bunch of maroons making cock jokes while misrepresenting their arguments?

107: Wow, case in point!

Seriously, been a while since I read the paper, but I think he argued that assisted suicide (in particular) was fine ethically, but should be officially illegal and officially un-enforced, so people wouldn't feel unduly pressured to end their lives out of a misguided sense of being a burden when they weren't.

I am not sure this works as a compromise once we factor in lawsuits.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 5:52 PM
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'the illegality officially un-enforced.'


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 5:53 PM
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107: No, once suicide is regarded as unproblematic, there's a risk that burdensome people in weak bargaining positions will find themselves encouraged to exercise their right by those who will benefit from their doing so.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 5:55 PM
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The pressure to die thing is very real.

If I'm ready to move on and tired being a burden and my bodily dysfunctions, why is that not a valid choice? My family history is such that this is a concern to me.


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 6:03 PM
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Suppose you're not ready, and you're costing your heirs thousands every month, and your heirs don't really like you much?

Waiting for someone to die is not purely hypothetical. Right to die puts a new twist into it.

I am basically in favor of right to die, but the pitfalls need attention.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 6:08 PM
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112. I understand this already goes on.

People will behave badly, and we all agree that we, as a society, don't try to completely control this. There has, for me, to be a very compelling reason for everyone to give up some autonomy because a few will make bad choice.


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 6:09 PM
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Suppose you're not ready, and you're costing your heirs thousands every month, and your heirs don't really like you much?

I can try to empathize with other people on this, but, as for myself, as far back as I can remember I have been curiously (and apparently very oddly) nonchalant about death. I am, however, cheap.


Posted by: Michael | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 6:12 PM
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While I think it's a bit more than behaving badly, I think there's something weird about driving a wedge between what someone has a right to do, and whether that's legally permissible.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 6:22 PM
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106: You're a good egg. That's why I can't quit you, PGD.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 6:31 PM
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109: Seriously, been a while since I read the paper, but I think he argued that assisted suicide (in particular) was fine ethically, but should be officially illegal and [the illegality] officially un-enforced, so people wouldn't feel unduly pressured to end their lives out of a misguided sense of being a burden when they weren't.

I am not sure this works as a compromise once we factor in lawsuits.

Assuming this is an accurate recap of the argument, it seems on its face tolerable. The difficulty with lawsuits would be that an illegal act that's officially (?) unenforced leaves room for suits against those who assist in the suicide, I take it. Which is among the problems we have now.

It's certainly the case that a more robust caregiving society could alleviate the not insignificant pressure on families caring for the disabled.

There are a couple of choices in avoiding the problem with lawsuits: continuing to consider assisted suicide unethical, verboten, very strongly dispreferred; or making it legal, but instituting some sort of signed testimonial requirement, complete with a trained third party mediator/counselor to meet with both family (and other relevant parties) and the suicidee over a period of time, who then signs off* on the uncoerced nature of the decision. Much as women seeking abortions go through now, at least last I knew.

* This is problematic, and invites lawsuits against the mediator/counselor, I imagine.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 6:40 PM
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I know you philosopher types like to ponder things in the abstract, but if you're interested in how issues with assisted suicide play out in practice, there's the Oregon experience.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 7:06 PM
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We want you to die, Jesus.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 7:22 PM
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I guarantee it'll happen, John. Happy now?


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 06- 5-08 7:24 PM
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