Pet pills, “ASD”, sexual morality, exclusion, and a fairytale

and not all five in one post, but each in its own, as I run 5 more posts from What sorts from roughly mid-2008 to early 2009.

Is your dog on Prozac?

Autism spectrum research and disability language alternatives

PZ Meyers on the enhancement of sexual morality: a modest proposal

The ethics of exclusion, the morality of abortion, and animals

A fairytale for my grandchildren

The ethics of exclusion, the morality of abortion, and animals

[This post is the fourth in our new series of Thinking in Action posts, the series being devoted initially at least to discussion of talks at the Cognitive Disability conference in NYC in September.]

Here is a question from Adrienne Asch, together with a response from Jeff McMahan, following Jeff’s talk at the Cognitive Disability conference; Adrienne’s question followed directly on the heels of Naomi Scheman’s question, the subject of the previous post in this series.

[A full, unofficial transcript for this video clip, as well as a poll for you to participate in, are available beneath the fold. If you are having trouble playing the video above, the full transcript is provided at the end of the post, and you can also try Youtube directly by clicking right here, which for some will be more accessible.]

So does simply asking questions like “In virtue of what does human life have moral value and significance?” somehow express an ethics of exclusion? Asch seems to imply so, in part because it is asking us to draw a line between those that have some property, and those who lack it. Above the line are those with full moral status, and below it are The Rest, others who are thus excluded from full moral consideration, at least insofar as we consider them in and of themselves. If that is right, then even those who give very different kinds of answer to the question–such as those, like Naomi Scheman, who appeal to the relationships that people form a part of in their answers–still express this ethics of exclusion, at least at some level, even if they deliver an answer to the question that is more inclusive.

Asking the question as Asch has asked it—“Jeff, what is the purpose of this effort? If it is not the ethics of exclusion, I don’t know what it is.”—invites the personal response that McMahan gives to it. That response comes only after audience members are reminded that pro-choice views about abortion, popular with the politically liberal, express a kind of ethics of exclusion. I suspect that many of the disability theorists and activists in the room, perhaps influenced by Asch’s own work, don’t need reminding about this, at least when it comes to selective abortion on the basis of the results of genetic screening for “defects”. (See, for example, Adrienne Asch, 2003, “Disability Equality and Prenatal Testing: Contradictory of Compatible?”, Florida State University Law Review 315: 318-346–get this and thematically-related articles right here). McMahan got into this, he tells us, through thinking about the morality of abortion, and what it was about fetuses that made some people think that they should not be killed, while those same people were perfectly happy allowing all sorts of animals to be killed, and in some cases, eating them. McMahan’s answer is meant to provide an alternative to the answer that Asch herself seems to proffer. Where Asch sees an ethics of exclusion, McMahan sees the pursuit of abstract philosophical inquiry–albeit inquiry with real-world oomph–wherever it leads.

While one might see Asch and McMahan’s answer as alternatives, one need not; there is more than a grain of truth in each answer. Continue reading

What are the deep facts about our moral status?

[This post is the third in our new series of Thinking in Action posts, the series being devoted initially at least to discussion of talks at the Cognitive Disability conference in NYC in September.]

What are the deep facts about our moral status? Have your say in a poll at the end of this post!!

Jeff McMahan and Peter Singer have posed the following question, both in their talks for the Cognitive Disability conference, and in their past work: In virtue of what does human life have moral value and significance? They have been especially interested in answers to this question, which are easy to elicit from common sense, that appeal to the properties that human lives embody (e.g., human beings have certain cognitive capacities). They are also both interested in challenging those who would give such answers to think harder about the ways in which we disvalue non-human animal life. More specifically, both Singer and McMahan are skeptical of the coherence of views, including property-based views, that value all forms of human life more highly than all forms of animal life. This is chiefly because not all non-human animal life lacks value-conferring properties, and because not all human life comes with those properties.

There were several especially interesting questions that arose in the question period following McMahan’s talk, one from Naomi Scheman, the other from Adrienne Asch; I’ll comment on just the Scheman one here, and on the Asch question, and the following interchange with McMahan, separately. Here’s the Scheman question (a full transcript of what she says is available beneath the fold):

The clip can be found in podcast #36, the question and answer to Jeff McMahan’s talk (and final podcast on the page), from around 35.45 – 39.00 at the conference website. You can also view it directly at Youtube if you are having trouble playing the video clip above by clicking right here.

Scheman is saying many things here (including things about thought experiments and analogies that I found confusing), but I want to focus on just two of them. Continue reading