In putting together my last post, I was beguiled into rereading some ancient (almost three years' old) W4 history in the form of the comments on one of my posts about infanticidal ethics.
You see, I had chortled a bit over the extremely mild discomfort suffered by the ethical advocates of infanticide when their views became known and the ordinary folk were upset. Worse, in that same brief post, I had implied that the article in question should not have been published. Worst of all, I had done so on the basis of representative quotations from the article without having read the whole thing.
This was too much for one of our commentators, who accused me of undermining my philosophical bona fides.
Quoth commentator Grobi:
You call yourself a philosopher, Lydia? Then try to behave like one. What about READING the article and rebutting its arguments? Philosophers always have defended counterintuitive (and sometimes morally outrageous) claims. Plato approved of eugenics and infanticide, Aristotle advocated slavery, Schopenhauer (and nowadays Benatar) wanted to phase out the human race, some philosophers even tried (and still try) to argue for the immorality of homosexual acts - which, in my humble opinion, is almost as silly as defending the moral permissibility of killing newborn babies. Nevertheless, the mentioned philosophers and their arguments are without a doubt worthy of discussion.
My first response was to defend the idea that, in fact, moral heinousness in conclusions can be a ground for non-publication in a journal, which seems as if it shouldn't be all that controversial a position, yea even for philosophers. Since when are philosophers supposed to have abandoned the reductio ad absurdam? Or is it only in ethics that it doesn't apply?
I also pointed out (both in the thread and later, after getting hold of the entire article, in a separate post) the deceptiveness of the authors and of their editor in implying that they weren't actually advocating public policy.
At the point in the thread at which I got hold of and read the entire article advocating infanticide, I wrote this:
Grobi, I have just read this article, word for word.
If your sneering demand that I read the article was meant to imply that in some way, shape, or form the authors' complaint of misrepresentation is justified, I can only say that it is you who are disgracing philosophy.
If anything, the quotations thus far given do not give the fullest flavor of their clear, unequivocal, and outright defense of infanticide, which simply means that their complaints of misrepresentation are not mere whining and that even the word "sophistry" hardly does justice to the depths to which they have gone. By complaining that they have been misrepresented, they have lied. Neither more nor less. As anyone who reads the article will see.
As for "rebutting" their "arguments," I note that they assert that one is a person and possesses a right to life only if one can subjectively value one's life and have subjective aims. This is not argued for but asserted as a premise of the entire article. Why in the name of all that is good should I or anyone else accept such a premise? (Obviously, the authors assume they can get away with it because it, or a premise much like it, is accepted among their bioethics in-house peer group, for which they explicitly state that they were writing.) So "rebutting" the article's "arguments" involves simply pointing out that they are all based on an incredibly tendentious, not to mention false premise for which the authors do not even attempt to offer a serious defense. End of rebuttal. And this is philosophy? When I think of the work I and others put into real works of philosophy...
It is quite true. The idea that Giubilini's and Minerva's article was philosophically worthy of publication is a joke. Their entire original contribution to philosophy took the form of arguing from a strong form of what Wesley Smith calls "personhood theory" to the conclusion that infanticide should be allowed not only when the baby is suffering greatly or is expected to suffer (which would be bad enough) but also for more trivial reasons concerning the desires and convenience of "real" persons, aka the adults in power over the newborn child. The idea that this is some new discovery that needed to be published is quite simply laughable. So is the implication that some sort of deep arguments were involved in their article which any real philosopher would have to furrow his brow to rebut. If it took professional philosophers several decades to figure out what any sharp college pro-lifer with decent worldview training under his belt could have told you--that if newborns are not real persons with a right to life, then they can be killed for the convenience of others, not merely for more (allegedly) weighty reasons--then maybe we should hire the sharp, pro-life college students to teach our well-paid ethics courses instead.
I also made some suggestions about how this sort of philosophically murderous trash can be countered without treating it as respectable:
Christian philosophers and departments of philosophy at Christian schools need to learn to treat this material with the contempt it deserves. You see here in the comments of Grobi the attitude we are up against: In essence, oh, how gauche you are, how unphilosophical, how ridiculous, for saying even so mild a thing as that this article should not have been published on the grounds of moral heinousness.
As a well-published philosopher myself but not an ethics specialist, I think that I bring an unusual perspective to this discussion. On the one hand, if some kind of "philosophical in-club creds" matters, I'm not just a layman. On the other hand, because my areas of specialty, though impeccably hard-edged and tough-minded (epistemology, probability theory) are not ethics, I have the layman's license to treat this sort of thing with contempt. I do not swoon at the name of Michael Tooley, who evidently invented the concept of "personhood" the authors are so ably (?) wielding. I do not care two hoots about the fact that "ethicists" have been sitting around for forty years in their grubby little rooms using their grubby little two-bit, made-up definitions to come to their nasty little conclusions about infanticide.
Now, I think this kind of spine and this kind of toe-twitching (with the itch, metaphorically, to kick the authors' arrogant derrieres) definitely need to be grafted into any Christian philosophers who need it.
For example: While it is legitimate in philosophy departments at Christian schools to discuss these views, solely because (horrific though it is) they are prevalent, it is important to communicate to students that their prevalence and the prestige their proponents have garnered tell us nothing about their truth. We are allowed to greet them with contempt and horror. "This idea leads to infanticide" should be a reductio ad absurdam of the idea. We are not obliged to treat these ideas with respect, just because they have a "literature" and are "mainstream" and the like. This whole elitist version of the bandwagon argument has got to go.
So if nothing else, I would like to see these authors and the field they represent seen, explicitly, as an enemy and as full of wise fools who use their IQs to justify evil. Not as a "field" with "discoveries" and so forth. And I would like to see philosophers willing to think of it and speak of it that way without being intimidated by people like Grobi into fearing that they are going to lose their Philosopher's Badge by so doing.
It is, I think, useful to consider that we can teach about bad ideas and how to respond to them without thereby giving currency and respectability to those bad ideas. There are ways of doing this in the classroom. Christian schools, in particular, should consider how to do this, and so should Christian philosophers who teach at other schools.