Anti-Abortion as a “Cheap” Moral Position

, member of the United States House of Represe...

, member of the United States House of Representatives. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A moral position comes with a price, or more accurately, prices. After all, the cost of holding a position is one thing and the cost of actually acting upon that position can be quite another.  There is also the matter of the cost of professing a moral position—after all, one might hold a position that is kept secret or profess a position one does not actually hold.

This, of course, assumes that a person can hold a moral position while not acting upon it—something that seems not only intuitively plausible but actually likely in many cases. For example, a person might hold to the view that s/he should help others in need, yet drive past someone in need because it is, for example, raining a bit too hard. It might be objected that a person who does not act upon a moral position does not actually hold that position, but this seems analogous to laws: it is one thing to have a law on the books and quite another to actually enforce it.

The price of a moral position can also vary considerably from person to person depending on the specifics of their situation. For example, the cost of holding and acting on a moral position supporting free speech is very low in the United States and rather higher in China. While the general notion of costs could be discussed at great length, I must now turn to discussing the main concern, namely being anti-abortion as a “cheap” moral position, specifically in the United States.

Obviously enough, the cost of holding to and acting upon an anti-abortion moral position will vary from person to person. In some cases, the cost could be very high indeed. For example, imagine a young girl living in poverty who has been impregnated by rape and is also morally against abortion. For her, the cost of acting upon her position could be very high indeed. In other cases, the cost could be fairly low. For example, a wealthy man who has no children could almost certainly hold and act on the anti-abortion position with far less cost than the girl in the previous example. It is also worth noting that the cost of a moral position can also be a cost inflicted on others. For example, while the man in the second example might pay little personal cost for his position, if he were an influential politician and acted on his position to create laws, then the cost of his position might be high for others. For example, if he saw to it that abortion was outlawed in all cases, then the girls and women affected could pay very high prices indeed for his moral position.

In the United States, there is almost no difference between men and women in regards to their views on the issue of abortion (and most American favor the right to abortion). What is, however, rather interesting is that the politicians and pundits who most actively claim an anti-abortion position are men. For example, Paul Ryan and Todd Akin have gotten considerable attention for their professed views on abortion.  Naturally, it is worth noting that in the United States women are still in the minority when it comes to holding office or being a national pundit.

It is also interesting, but hardly surprising, that those who take the anti-abortion view tend to be social conservatives or religious (or both). For people in these categories, the cost of their position varies considerably.

For example, the Catholic Church takes a strong stance against abortion. However, the Catholic Church pays a price for this position in that Catholic charities provide aid and support to girls and women who seek help from them. As such, the church is clearly willing to bear at least some of the cost of holding and acting on the anti-abortion moral position. To be specific, they are unwilling to push the full cost of their moral position onto others by simply telling them “no abortions, but you and the child are on your own.” Rather they say “no abortions, but we will help you in your need.” Obviously enough, the Catholic Church can still be criticized for its position, but it would be wrong to fault them for their charity. Unfortunately, some people take the anti-abortion position but want to get it on the cheap.

As noted above, many of those who hold to the anti-abortion position are social conservatives. It is thus not surprising that they also tend to be fiscal conservatives and thus typically oppose social programs aimed at helping those in poverty or need. Republican VP pick Paul Ryan, for example, is well known for embracing Ayn Rand’s economic views regarding these sorts of altruistic (or “collectivist”) programs. He did, however, attempt to distance himself from Rand in some philosophical matters. After all, Rand was not known for her theism and was a clear supporter of abortion rights (which are consistent with her other views).

While many women are in the position to have children without undue hardship, there are also many women and girls who are not in such a position. For example, girls in the lower economic classes are generally ill able to bear the cost of pregnancy and raising a child. There is also the matter of the cost of an unwanted pregnancy in terms of a person’s life plans. For example, an unwanted pregnancy can put an end to hopes of an education or career. There is, of course, also the matter of pregnancy inflicted by rape and the potential costs to the victim.

As might be imagined, cutting or eliminating social programs in accord with the conservative ideology would mean that the women and girls in question would bear the costs of the anti-abortion position of those holding to the conservative position on abortion. As such, it would seem that the anti-abortion and anti-social support views of the conservatives would entail that the women and girls would bear the cost of these views rather than those holding to the views.

These views are, of course, generally cheap for the holders in question. After all, people like Ryan and Akin are unlikely to be in a situation in which someone close to them is experiencing an unwanted pregnancy and also lacking in financial support.  As such, they can hold to their view with little chance of having to pay a meaningful or significant price. It is, in effect, a free moral stance for them. However, for the women and girls who experience an unwanted pregnancy and lack adequate means of support, the cost would be rather high indeed if the anti-abortion and anti-social support views became the laws of the land.

One interesting (and ironic) way to characterize the approach of social and fiscal conservatives who are anti-abortion and anti-social support is as engaging in ethical parasitism. That is, they are holding to moral positions while expecting others to pay the cost of these views. A less harsh way to put it is that they are living on ethical subsidies: the costs of their moral views are subsidized by other people who would pay the actual cost, should those views be imposed upon the country. Since I am opposed to such free-loading, I am morally opposed to these moral welfare kings who are unwilling to pay for their own ethics.

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49 Comments.

  1. There is something intuitively foul about the idea of forcing your opinion on others without having intimately experienced the consequence of your ideals first hand.

    I don’t know if it’s a complete lack of empathy or what, but it’s an interesting, albeit not new, concept. Reminiscent of anti-equal marriage arguments….

  2. Ben,

    It could be a lack of empathy. However, I could be very charitable and consider that perhaps people who wish to impose on others sometimes have not really reflected about the matter. So perhaps it might not be a lack of empathy, but a lack of consideration. Of course, that assumes that if they reflected on it, then they would have empathy-which might not be true.

  3. Mike,

    You’re right, perhaps I’m not giving the benefit of the doubt and I’m assuming some malign intent.

    In the case of the influential politician, I do assume, and I think it should be a safe assumption, that they have reflected on the issue carefully. They don’t, or shouldn’t, get elected because of their whimsy.

  4. How about as an analogy those who are very warlike, very enthusiastic about sending other people and other people’s sons to die in a war, in which for one reason or another, they will not fight themselves nor will their children nor the children of people of their social class?

  5. Swallerstein,

    I like that analogy.

  6. Ben,

    While charity is…charitable, you are right to note that the politicians should have reflected on the matter, even if they did not. After all, they would certainly seem to be morally obligated to act as the representatives they are supposed to be and this would require considering the interests and needs of all their constituents.

  7. Swallerstein,

    That analogy also fits. Interestingly, it was once something of a matter of honor for the upper classes to fight in their own wars. In the United States, we had a long tradition of military service by the people who would be president. Of course, we also have had a long tradition of people being able to avoid service by having the right connections and wealth (such as people hiring substitutes in the American Civil War and people getting college exemptions for Vietnam).

  8. This seems an unbalance discussion of “costs”. The “cost” of an abortion is modest to the one killing a human being. It is infinite to the human being who is being killed. By that logic the Holocaust could be made to appear entirely logical, in as much as it made the assets of a prosperous minority more available to the larger German population. All one must do to take advantage of this logic is define away the humanity of a politically disenfranchised minority.

  9. I have often thought that any right to lifer should be required to take and bring up any baby that the parent(s) of were denied the right to abort.

    If they value unborn life so highly, it’s up to them to put their money where their mouths are.

  10. Mike,

    one can wonder if someone who states something concerning ethics is not in any case saying something very costly, at least at the following level :

    — when stating some ethical position, someone does not only speak on her own behalf, but speaks in the name of the generic individual living in the whole social body.

    I mean : when somebody says one shan’t steal, or that one should vote, this somebody acts as a moralist who says that in the case everyone would steal, or everyone would abstain to vote, there would occur a lot of problems.

    Thus, this has some cost, even if you have nothing to do with burglary or are not prone to political anarchism. This has the cost of incarnating the truth of the social body into one ethical maxim.

    When somebody plays the ethical language game, that person intends to embody a social truth into one sentence or maxim, and this sentence does have the cost of a general ethical sentence, which is the cost it means for the whole social body.

    And an ethical costly sentence could very well be total cheap for the one who says it, but nonetheless remains dear to society as a whole.

    — This was said in defence of your adversaries. I agree with you on the whole, but here I wanted to play fair with the critical viewpoint (an attorney of the devil, as they say sometimes)

  11. Mike Lab. would not see himself as an abortion extremist but that is what he is in terms of the American population who are by no means in favour of abortion on demand at any time during the pregnancy. Mike would not be for regulating the provision of abortion under any circumstance leaving it entirely up to the choice of the woman. Perhaps with ‘kitten’ Tooley and ‘pond’ Singer he would progress a little past the time of actual birth. I don’t know if he’s that extreme, perhaps he’d like to clarify. Most people do not see the issue as a cut and dry application of a principle but feel an increasing unease about abortion as the pregnancy proceeds. It is apparent that abortion extremists on the Tooley end of the scale, like Mike, would not give up a single abortion for any reason whatever, sex choice, going on holiday, getting married and I wouldn’t fit into my dress etc. It also saves the life of the man in a lot of cases.

    As to getting off lightly, nobody gets off more lightly than the supporters of abortion on demand. Think of all those children that might be born and the demand for services. Big savings on your tax dollar, enough to start a new war with. Black women have proportionately more abortions and they represent more of the costly underclass and there’s a bonanza as far as the crime rate. Freakonomics tracked that.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legalized_abortion_and_crime_effect

    But of course this is just a political post from a extreme partizan position which likely does not represent the bulk of Democrat voters merely the hierarchy of the party.

  12. Leo Smith writes- “I have often thought that any right to lifer should be required to take and bring up any baby that the parent(s) of were denied the right to abort.”

    “If they value unborn life so highly, it’s up to them to put their money where their mouths are.”

    Yes, Leo, it is surely true that the vast cost of supporting a huge population of European Jewry has been greatly reduced by Germany’s wisdom. Additionally, you have shown yourself to be among those who see each additional person in a population as a burden to be avoided, as well as revealing no particular favorable opinion of the proposition that a human being has any right to exist at all.

  13. Lee,

    Even if you don’t believe that another human is a burden on society as a whole, you could certainly accept that in the case of a fetus that a woman feels the need to abort, that that fetus would be a burden to that woman.

    It is a burden that the woman believes she cannot handle, for whatever reason. Leo’s point was that if someone is going to force a burden onto her shoulders, that perhaps that person, then, should be the one who shoulders the burden and not the woman.

  14. Sheesh Lee, who poked a stick in your hole?

    As for “no particular favorable opinion of the proposition that a human being has any right to exist at all.” very well, let’s take that one on.

    You tell me where it is provable that anyone has any right to anything: Ive been looking a long time and I never found it… I’ve only found man given rights written into law by the common consensus of the people.

    Of course if you have a hot line to God, pass me the number and I’ll check it out..

    BUT until then, if people want to force their decisions on other people, I reckon its only fair they take the responsibility.

    But I guess you feel that its not about fairness, only about your own sense of moral indignation eh?

    Nothing makes people so ruthless and unpleasant in forcing their ideas and ideals on other people as the sense of being on the moral high ground. As the democratically elected National Socialist party of Germany demonstrated. And the Ayatollah Khomeini. And Osama Bin Laden. And Stalin.

    All in one way or another “with guns in their hands and God on their side”.

  15. Lee Jamison,

    You do raise a point worth considering, namely the cost to the entity being aborted. Obviously, the entity is killed and this would be a rather high cost. However, there are the usual questions as to whether or not a zygote (or more advanced entity) can be truly said to bear the cost. This is, of course, the usual main battleground over the general matter of abortion.

    As you note, to accept a principle that allows for killing runs the risk of that principle justifying an expanding circle of killing. However, there is a long distance between allowing abortion and engaging in genocide of the sort that occurred in the Holocaust. It certainly seems possible to morally justify abortion without accepting genocide.

  16. Guys – Just a reminder that we operate under a strict principle of charity here. Please strive to maintain high standards of civility, etc. Thanks.

  17. Leo Smith,

    On the one hand, that is a fair point. If someone professes to value life and to use this as to argue why women cannot have abortions even in the case of rape, then they would seem obligated to act on those principles and show that they value life.

    On the other hand, a moral commitment might not require such a degree of sacrifice. For example, the fact that one is opposed to letting murderers walk free does not entail that one must convert his/her house into a prison to house them.

  18. Escape,

    Reasonable points. As you note, a person can endorse a moral view while sharing the costs or putting the costs on others and do so legitimately in some cases.

    However, there does seem to be a meaningful distinction between sharing the costs (such as the cost of law enforcement) and holding a moral view that imposes all the costs on other people.

    But, perhaps a case can be made why women who are impregnated by rape should be the ones to bear the cost of the moral view that forbids abortion in all cases. Alternatively, the matter of costs can be said aside and it can be contended that abortion would be inherently wrong to a degree that forbids even considering the impact on the women involved. I would not, however, venture to make such an argument.

  19. Michael Reidy,

    I am not an abortion extremist. If you look at what I have written elsewhere on the matter, I regard it as a morally significant act. I would prefer that there were no abortions-that is, that all pregnancies were wanted. As such, I am a proponent of sex ed, birth control and a just society,

    I have never argued for the view that gets cast as “abortion on demand”, assuming that means that abortions are always acceptable no matter what. If you don’t mind, please avoid accusing me of a position I do not hold-especially when you acknowledge that you do not know my actual position. It is hardly fair to attribute a position to me, especially what is often a straw man position.

    I certainly don’t advocate abortion as a means of preventing crime. As I noted above, I would prefer a world free of abortion. But not because women are denied any right to chose. Rather, I advocate making the world such that unwanted pregnancies do not occur. That way there would be no abortions while women would have the freedom to chose when they became pregnant. While this sounds like science fiction, birth control certainly has moved us in that direction.

    As you note, all Democrats would not advocate abortion for crime control anymore than all Republicans support eliminating choice.

  20. Pro-choice is actually a pro women position. It does not tell the women to go out and abort. It only gives them the liberty to decide what is right for them – civil liberties. I believe we should see this whole abortion issue in this light and nothing more. I hardly hear people saying they are pro-abortion they say they are pro choice. The woman is allowed to choose.

  21. You have a very good idea: a moral position must involve some obligation, an obligation has a cost (whether financial or otherwise), and over time a cost becomes an expense. I would point out that a cost sometimes buys an asset or a thing valued.

    To widen your idea: a moral position involves costs to, and might create value or benefit for, oneself or others. Ideally a moral position should create value for oneself and others. And — this is your point — a moral position that creates (psychic value) for me at a cost to another is a bit smelly.

  22. Mike Lab:
    What I am talking about here is a matter of constructive eugenics. The Freakonomics paper pointed this out and of course a lot of people are upset about this because it does have a negative connotation. Once you know that supplying a certain facility eg. abortion on demand , has a certain effect i.e. the elimination of a likely troublesome group of people then this is a clear case of constructive eugenics. To put it succinctly; if you vote for the means you vote for the ends. The early 20th.century proponents of birth control and abortion such as Margaret Sanger were keen on eugenics. It was a commonplace and accepted notion world wide and was particularly popular in America. This is part of the historical record.

    However Obama is doing his bit to keep down the black rate of abortion which is 57% of pregnancies. If the man can’t ‘keep his snake in the cage’ then you can keep the man in the cage. The very high rate of incarceration for blacks has not so far appeared on any ‘to do’ list of your leader. Does he care?

    But there is also positive eugenic abortion for conditions that are spotted in the womb. Call it quality control. Some conditions are serious and some are not so serious. The grisly details of late abortions when some these conditions become known I will spare you. Put the kitten’s head in the bench vice and wind her up Tooley. Your leader regards the limitation of this as a thin edge of a wedge that would roll back Roe and Wade. He thinks this because he’s a lawyer who like philosophers operate on thoroughgoing principles as though human moral intuitions operated like geometry or algebra. The harping on the hard case of rape pregnancy is a symptom of this. The philosopher and the lawyer feel that once the principle of abortion is accepted then it follows that it must be accepted in all cases whatever and for any reason. It is a narrow view and does not reflect the norm. The person that is for a legal ban on abortion in the case of rape and the person who is for partial birth abortion e.g. Obama are at the opposite extreme ends of the spectrum on the issue. That makes them both in ordinary parlance extremists.

  23. if you vote for the means you vote for the ends.

    So by voting for – say – armed police, you vote for shooting suspects innocent or otherwise?

    Methinks a course in logic would not come amiss.. :cry:

  24. Leo:
    Thanks for your reading. Yes it does some within the field of possibilities that an armed police force will occasionally shoot people and errors will be made. It’s a cost benefit analysis. The eugenic dividend is much more of a certainty or an unavoidable consequence.

  25. Right: so we do a cost benefit analysis of abortion.

    The cost of pro life is wrecked lives, broken homes, and unwanted children who probably end up in prison. And the cost to the taxpayer of looking after them when their parents palpably cant or wont.

    The benefit is another supposedly precious life on the planet, which is already full.

    If a resource is plentiful, its cheap. Live people are plentiful.

    So I say if that life is so precious to you, take it and bring it up in whatever moral way you consider right. Because the parents wont.

    Don’t impose the cost of doing that on someone else who doesn’t share your ideology. That’s fascist.

  26. Perhaps I don’t understand your post/title. Is being pro-life inherently “cheap” (which isn’t a word I think fits well: maybe irresponsible sounds better to me). Or it is just that certain politician don’t want to face the hard consequences of their positions, whether it be on the deficit, crime, abortion, or whatever. It doesn’t have to be cheap. So, the topic would seem to be that politician want to pretend there is a free lunch, which isn’t a surprise, or really a question of ethics.

  27. Don,

    Mike’s argument is that it is “cheap” for a politician to hold an anti-abortion ideal because they typically do not have to bear the emotional or financial “cost” of their position.

    Whereas the woman who is in the unfortunate position of desiring an abortion, for whatever reason, and anyone else involved, are the ones who have to pay the price of someone else’s ideal.

  28. Leo writes:
    The cost of pro life is wrecked lives, broken homes, and unwanted children who probably end up in prison. And the cost to the taxpayer of looking after them when their parents palpably cant or wont. ………So I say if that life is so precious to you, take it and bring it up in whatever moral way you consider right. Because the parents wont..

    I see that you welcome the downstream eugenic dividend. An honest if chilling partial solution to crime.

    There are many people who would be happy to adopt children if they could get them. I have some already so I’ll stand aside and respect their greater need.

  29. ..unless they get voted out by those women, in which case its an expensive option.

    BUT of course the average person who tends to want an abortion either isn’t voting age, or doesn’t vote anyway…or isn’t even on the electoral roll.

    Politicians of the venal sort do not take positions on anything out of deep moral conviction, they take them on the basis of electoral popularity.

    Ride that gravy train boys, why dontcha.

  30. Michael. Please don’t put words in my mouth. I understand your need to construct an emotional narrative that is congruent with your overall worldview, but it ill becomes you to break the laws of logic and critical thinking to denigrate someone who takes an opposite position for reasons of pragmatism: namely the social cost of abortion is less than the social cost of no abortion or illegal abortion. There is no evidence whatsoever that in countries such as my own (where abortion is if not routine, is certainly available in cases of genuine need) is ever used to select the characteristics of offspring. Quite the reverse in fact. Parents who care deeply about their children don’t have abortions by and large, even when they probably should.
    All the evidence is that its not a question of ‘get rid of that baby’, its get rid of the baby. Whatever it is.

    Raising eugenics is a total red herring: An emotional handle used when logic doesn’t win the argument, and not appropriate here.

    I am sure there are many people who would be only too happy to adopt children from deprived mothers of ethnically uncertain backgrounds and skin colors and bring them up as good Christians in the White suburbs. Perhaps you should start putting them in touch with all the single mothers that would otherwise seek abortion. They will willingly give them up for the price of a fix, I am sure.

    Start by setting up an online site to see how many you can attract and then compare them with the total number of unwanted babies born . Do make it clear that they undertake a lifelong commitment to raise these children at their own expense. And this is the only way they can justify a ‘pro life’ moral stance.

    Any less action smacks of hypocrisy.

    No need for any change in the Law at all, is there? The problem solves itself by the compassion of and generosity of the would-be parents and their excellent adherence to the moral standards they are so keen to ram down other people’s throats.

  31. Ronado,

    You raise a good point about the terms used. While there is a tendency to cast pro-choice people as pro-abortion, that seems to be presenting a straw position (not to say that there might not be a few people who are pro-abortion). It seems reasonable to think that people who are pro-choice would actually prefer a world without abortions with only wanted pregnancies.

  32. Boreas,

    Good point. If a position just gives me the feeling of, for example, righteousness while at the same time imposing costs on others-then that matter should be given due consideration. It might turn out to be warranted (after all, most of us fell righteous about being against murder and murderers sometimes pay for this-but justly so in at least some cases).

  33. While I am aware of the correlation and can see the causal connection, I would not endorse abortion as a means of crime reduction. I would prefer other methods of producing the same reduction (such as improving access to birth control, better social support systems that provide for greater opportunity and so on).

    Voting for a means that is used for an end does not seem to entail that one has voted for the ends. After all, what is used as means for an end might be done contrary to the end that the voters are informed of.

    Merely being pro-choice does not entail that one endorses all the ends to which abortion might be put. After all, being in favor of gun rights does not entail that one is committed to accepting anything people might do with guns.

  34. Don,

    I apologize for not being clearer. Being anti-abortion need not be a cheap position, hence it is not inherently so. For example, a person who is anti-abortion that gets pregnant via rape and decides to keep the child would not have a cheap moral position-it would have a high cost for her. Likewise, an anti-abortion person who donates generously to charities that provide assistance to women and girls who cannot afford the medical expenses and other costs of pregnancy would not have a cheap moral position.

    I do distinguish between pro-life and anti-abortion, although “pro-life” is generally taken as the same as being anti-abortion. Being pro-life, however, would seem to require more than just being against abortion. Rather, it would seem to require supporting principles that are actually pro-life, such as the obligation to care for those in need and who will suffer or perish without help.

    I also distinguish between pro-choice and pro-abortion. Someone who is pro-abortion would be in favor of abortion. A person can be pro-choice, yet prefer that there be no abortions (that is, that all pregnancies would be chosen rather than unwanted). Today, the pro-choice position does require accepting allowing abortions, but partially because of the lack of 100% effective birth control and the fact that rape still occurs.

  35. Merely being pro-choice does not entail that one endorses all the ends to which abortion might be put. After all, being in favor of gun rights does not entail that one is committed to accepting anything people might do with guns.

    It seems to me that if I vote in favor of any measure, be it abortion or gun rights, I have to take responsibility in some sense for everything that measure entails.

    It seems in bad faith to say that I am in favor of, say, bombing city X, but am in no way responsible for civilian casualties, since bombing cities always or almost always entails civilian casualties.

    It is my responsibility also to inform myself of the possible consequences of my actions and of the measures that I vote for or support.

  36. Note: the first paragraph in my last comment is a quote from Mike’s comment, which I neglected to signal as a quotation.

  37. OK. But almost all political positions are “cheap,” aren’t they?

  38. Good point. Sorting out the extent of responsibility can be a rather complex matter. After all, a person might do her homework regarding a vote, yet not know all the ways that what she votes might be used or misused. Or what a politician might do.

  39. For example, I might vote for Obama because the only alternative is Romney, yet it would be odd to say that I am responsible for what Obama does.

    Also, in the case of supporting choice, a person would seem to be able to support choice, yet be opposed to using abortion as a means of crime control. To use an analogy, I might support the existence of prisons, but be opposed to for-profit jails and judges getting bribed to find people guilty to keep the prisons stocked.

  40. Don,

    True-in general, politicians do not take positions that are personally costly. There are, of course, exceptions.

    I am more focused on the moral aspects of the matter, though.

  41. Mike:

    It seems to me that a person is responsible for being aware of what politicians are up to. There is no excuse for any illusions.

    Now, I’m sure that you can imagine a thought experiment in which Obama morphs into the ghost of Nixon, but in the real world an informed voter should have some sense of who Obama is and who Romney is, without illusions, without buying the campaign rhetoric and slogans, without believing that the impossible is possible.

    With regard to your second comment, let’s say that I vote for Obama as the lesser evil and therefore, better than Romney, which in fact, would be my option if I were a U.S. voter.

    Now, when I say that I am responsible for Obama, it is evident that I am not the only person responsible for what Obama does during his second term, that Obama has more responsibility for what he does than I do, even though I voted for him, as did millions of others, but yes, from my point of view, I am responsible for my vote and for what ensues from it.

    That is, I voted for Obama knowing who he was and what represents (I have no excuse for not knowing who he is and what he represents) and I have to live with that.

    I always could have abstained or voted for my dog or for a third party candidate.

    Now, if I vote for my dog instead of for Obama and Romney is elected, then I am responsible for having contributed to having elected Romney and for whatever policies he puts into effect.

    If I support the existence of prisons, to continue with your example, I support real-world prisons in my country (not theoretical prisons in a book) and if the existence of prisons in my country involves corrupt judges, then I am responsible for supporting corrupt judges.

    Once again, if I support prisons, I should be aware of the corrupt judges, if they do exist.

    Otherwise, I am responsible for closing my eyes to reality.

    If I opt for some measure, I opt for whatever that measure entails in the real, imperfect world.

  42. Due to a partisan political view a person may be reluctant to find any fault in a major policy of their leader. However when you know that the results of what you do have a large negative component and this is a constant consequence then you have to take responsibility for those as well as the good that you initially intended. For instance you may think that it is a good thing that the USA is less dependent on imported oil and decide that surplus corn ought to be turned into ethanol. Fine but then as grain that might have been food is diverted world food prices begin to increase rapidly. The conjunction between the two is clear and unmistakable. Now you didn’t intend that this should happen but it does. It’s no use saying I want only the good results of my policy, the other parts I didn’t intend so I’m not responsible for them. The moral thing is to change what you are doing so that this unintended but now seen to be unavoidable consequence is obviated.

    By the same token one might also take the view that market forces are applying a correction and mass starvation must be accepted so that an influential political element of your electorate is happy. That’s a win-win.

  43. Swallerstein,

    “Now, if I vote for my dog instead of for Obama and Romney is elected, then I am responsible for having contributed to having elected Romney and for whatever policies he puts into effect.”

    Just to be clear, you are saying that you are responsible for Romney’s being elected because when it comes down to it, it’s a Romney or Obama choice, correct? Not because simply voting for anyone other than Obama, entails that you are responsible for one particular other options?

    Although, perhaps if you write in your dog, you’ve certainly waived your right to complain about whomever actually is elected. :grin:

  44. Swallerstein,

    Where does my responsibility end for everything that I support or vote for? What I mean is, I agree that as a voter and a supporter I ought to know as much as possible about what it is that I am supporting. That’s how we make educated decisions.

    But at the same time, there are certain things I feel would take a lot of time and commitment for me to unearth. The system of corrupt judges for example. And this is just one area. We make a lot of decisions about what/who we support. There comes a point where we have to turn to others for our information, hence the existence of the media, politicians and representatives.

    But then we are supposed to research them as well? It almost seems then, like we are out of options. We can’t do the research ourselves, so we appoint others to do it for us, but then it turns out we can’t trust them so we have to the research ourselves. But we don’t have the time to do that, and then don’t, therefore we shouldn’t vote for, or against, anything?

    But if we don’t vote for people or bills or amendments, then, as you say, we would be responsible for the outcome anyway. I seems like a “damned if you do” sort of situation.

    Perhaps I’ve slippery sloped your argument here, but it seems like a legitimate concern to me.

  45. Ben:

    I’m not sure that I entirely understand your first question, but yes, the election is between Obama and Romney. No third party candidate has real possibilities of being elected and every voter (as well as everyone who does not vote) is responsible for knowing that or responsible for not knowing that, that is, responsible for their ignorance, ignorance being no excuse in this case.

    As to your second question, the other day I called a plumber to fix my kitchen sink. Being occupied with loftier matters, such as conversing online about philosophy, I paid no attention to the new faucet he was installing.
    As you can imagine, he took advantage of my lack of attention to install a low quality, cheap faucet, which is already leaking.

    Now it is true that I had “better” things to do than to pay attention to the faucet (and I’m no expert on plumbing supplies), but I am responsible for knowing that most plumbers (here at least) will take advantage of one’s inattention to install low quality plumbing material.

    So too with politics. I, like you, have other priorities than following politics in due detail, but if I don’t follow politics in due detail (and I often don’t), then I am responsible for the fact that elected politicians will take advantage of our ignorance to take measures which have nothing to do with our needs, interests and ideals.

    The day only has 24 hours and I set my own priorities and I am responsible for setting my priorities.

    If my priority is learning philosophy or following online ratings on beer quality or
    developing perfect abdominal muscles, then I’ll have less time for studying politics, but life is made up of those hard choices and I have to accept responsibility for which priorities I opt for.

    Now, there is a limit case, that of our time and even if I dedicate all my waking time to studying politics, some things will escape my attention.

    I am not responsible for the fact that the day has only 24 hours and that I need to sleep and to eat and to go to the bathroom, etc, if that is your point.

    However, it well may be that being an informed citizen requires sacrifices in terms of my life style and time and if I am not prepared to make those sacrifices, then once again, I am responsible for the fact that my ignorance allows politicians to pass measures that are not in my best interests or do not represent my ideals.

  46. I forgot to check the box for notifications of follow-up comments, so I am late to respond to a couple of good reactions to my comments above.

    To Ben Myers-Petro I would respond that there is always a burden to another human being in accepting the value of any person. Yes, that burden can seem unbearable to a particular women in a particular situation. But, as is noted one comment below in Leo Smith’s response, it is the judgement of society, expressed in the mutual pact of law, that human beings possess any value at all. That value differs in different societies. In mainland China, for example, case law has set the value of a rural peasant at one fifth of the value of of a city-dweller.

    My Western sensibility finds the Chinese valuation of a human or a second child to be a horror. The sensibility for which I argue is fairly simple. A fetus that could reasonably be expected to live outside the womb should have the right an infant would have not to be killed, or neglected to death, without due process of law in their jurisdiction. A fetus that could not be reasonably expected to live outside the womb should be treated with no less respect than we would require of a veterinarian in the handling of a mammal in a given jurisdiction. If you would object to euthanizing pet animals by having them cut to pieces and suctioned it seems more than passing strange to accept that sort of behavior with any other mammal with an intact nervous system.

    Mike, Your answer was thoughtful but it does raise the issues both of how we decide when we accept someone into the human “club” and who will make that choice. The answer of those who “legalized” abortion was that we have a purely fiat command placed on the people that essentially defines what a human being is under the eyes of the law. Surely you can understand how many would believe that was a reflection of surpassing hubris on the part of just seven people.

  47. Lee Jamison,

    You do raise an excellent point regarding the matter of defining moral status. While I am pro-choice, I certainly recognize the moral seriousness of the matter as well as what is at stake.

    Since I take a quality based definition of person hood, I am inclined to hold that the zygote is not a person. It does, of course, possess potentiality and this certainly is relevant to its moral status. However, I do buy into the stock argument that the interests of an actual person count more than the potential interests of a potential person. I do, however, accept that there are moral limits even here.

    I would, of course, prefer that there were no abortions at all. As such, I am for sex education, birth control, and economic justice. To me, it makes moral sense to take steps to ensure that unwanted pregnancies do not occur and that the economic system is fair so that women will not be pushed by economic necessities that result from an unfair system.

  48. Philosophers and philosophy should learn that there is a difference between ethics and morals. In the States, no company (GE, Aramark, etc), EVER talks about business morals. But they do have strict business ethics policies for the employees to sign off on, This is because ethics, in the business world, can be whatever you set those standards to. For most companies, it comes down to hours of training and classroom attendance that basically says, if we get sued because of you, you agree that you will be fired. Morality is seen as more of the absolute standard, Since language usage determines usages and definitions, I suggest more attention be paid to how the usage of morality is being presented.
    As to whether or not the “moral” (ethical position to my mind) may be cheap, but when speaking of the price one pays for that right–as was noted in the country of China, the price is anything but cheap.

    Was not Socrates called The Philosopher, because he accepted hemlock before he would run off, to avoid his death sentence on falsified charges? He died for expressing what he saw as truth, and would not save his own life, which he could have done easily. (the accusers held positions of “cheap morality,” as did the Roman emperors and Hitler, and Stalin, to name a few, who killed many Christians who were willing to die for beliefs, because it represented pure moral behavior.

    I worked in the medical field for 40 years, and have seen many things in the operating room. I have observed abortions first-hand, and watching the vacuum curettage process, and the hands, arms, legs, torso, and head hit the bottom of the jar, one is forced to admit what is there is certainly human.

    The prime right of all humans is the Right to Live–for without that, there are no other rights. You can justify anything, from infanticide, to euthanasia of the old. etc., etc.

    Abortion is supported by American liberals and politicians, who see that it is easier to pay for an abortion, than it is for 18 years of the public assistance (the dole).

    In the States, our figures show more people would rather not have abortions paid for, in opposition to the statistics that were quoted. It reminds me of the old adage “figures lie, and liars figure.”

    Part of today’s problem with philosophy (and I am not referring to the author of the article, is that we have many intelligent and smart philosophers, but very few wise ones.

    Since philosophy is based on questions, and not answers, we have many educated philosophers who are true to the political ebb and flows of life, as opposed to giving people something to sink their teeth into.

    Just a few reflections my friends.

    Tim

  49. Ethical subsidies and moral welfare kings « Close to the Edge - pingback on November 1, 2012 at 8:48 am

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