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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Argument from Marginal Cases: A (Very) Brief Response

I submit that the general consensus is that there is no morally relevant property that all human beings possess. It is precisely this consensus that gives Singer’s Argument from Marginal Cases its force. The particular problem seems to be that attempting to identify any such universal property automatically precludes certain human beings (e.g., newborns, the mentally handicapped, etc.). However, it seems to me that there may be a property that is had by all human beings (but not had but non-human animals); that property is being made in the image of God. If the Christian worldview is correct (i.e., if there is a God and if we – human beings – are made in His image), then it seems that there is a universal property had by all human beings. Therefore, the Christian can, in this way, render innocuous the force of Singer’s Argument from Marginal Cases. I say all this to point out that since the Christian position is one that is philosophically respectable and defendable (though admittedly, not full-proof), the Christian response to Singer’s argument is one worthy of consideration.

7 Comments:

Blogger jes said...

John. As an Atheist, I must admit, I hadn't thought of your position. However, there is still a question of treatment here. If your response were true, though it undermines the integrity of the argument, does it undermine the position it supports? I don't think so. As PETA puts it, (I know, PETA!) dominion grated in the bible is not tyranny. The animal rights movement wants to suggest that the way we treat animals is tyrannical in nature. Thoughts? -jb

3:11 PM  
Blogger jes said...

uhhh, dominion *granted* sorry.

3:12 PM  
Blogger jes said...

Also John, the other question is this: is being created in God’s image a morally relevant property. I know that sounds like a dig on Christianity, but it’s not. Hear me out...

It seems that Gods rule is what dictates our morality, (for the Christian) NOT that we were created in his image. So while there are differences in the properties of animals and humans, like, say, genetic material, that difference isn’t morally relevant. Perhaps creation in God’s image is a property like one of genetic make-up?

And on the flip side, it seems that simply being created in God’s image wouldn’t be enough in some hypothetical cases. If a colony of aliens, specifically not created in God’s image, but similar to humans in terms of capacity for language, social interaction, ability to reason, capacity for pain, thoughts, desires etc, came to earth, wouldn’t we extend these aliens rights? I cannot see why not BECAUSE they are like humans in all morally relevant respects.

So, while being created in God’s image may be a property of humans, perhaps it’s relevance is not one of moral concern in this case.

Thoughts?

4:38 PM  
Blogger ydfyce said...

Metaphysically I find this problematic, not only because the notion of God is problematic, but also because the image of him is... For the most part, because God is a him, insofar as Adam was created in the image of God... Eve being subsequently created from his rib... TO make matters worse, the well-known Adam and Eve myth isn't the only creation myth in the Bible. The first of he 3 myths has the image of god as being both male AND female, which destroys any particular person as being made in the image of God.

To make matters worse, there are any number of human beings that are markedly different looking. Those who are conjoined, those missing finger, limbs and so forth. Are thos people not created in the image of God? Whose to say? Assuming we're able to swallow the conceptual paradox of God, the notion of "his image" is no walk in the park...

Jes' point I think serves as well. It's hard to see how being made in the image of God is a morally relevant property.

I think the path to take, if we wish to take a religious path, would be that humans, and only humans, are related to Adam, who ate from the Tree of Knowledge which cannot be said of any other annimal. This is morally relevant, if for now othe reason, because (under Christian Mythology) this is the only reason we have knowledge of any kind; including moral knowledge... The problem here is that, if nothing else, it's a philsophical consensus that we cannot rely on the existence of God as a premise in any sound argument.

8:20 PM  
Blogger John Parra said...

I want to make it clear that because I support the Christian position and specifically the notion that being made in the image of God is (or at least may be) a morally relevant property had by all humans in no way suggests that I support the wantonly cruel treatment of non-human animals. I say this, Jes, in response to your first comment, and I sincerely hope that it finds you well.

Before I attempt to provide an account as to why I think that being made in the image of God is (or at least may be) a morally relevant property had exclusively by all humans, I would like to provide a response to the comment posted by Ydfyce. According to Ydfyce, the notion of being made in the image of God is a metaphysically problematic one. Ydfyce seems to assume that being made in the image of God has something to do with the notions of gender or physical phenotype. This assumption leads to the obvious problems that Ydfyce points out. I will first (briefly) consider the gender interpretation. If being made in the image of God means (in some sense) sharing God’s gender, and if God’s gender is male (as it is traditionally, though perhaps not uncontroversially conceived), then it seems that females (as traditionally, though perhaps not uncontroversially, conceived) do not possess the property of being made in the image of God. Or, if being made in the image of God means (in some sense) sharing God’s gender, and if God’s gender is both male and female, then it seems that neither males nor females (as traditionally, though perhaps not uncontroversially, conceived) do not possess the property of being made in the image of God. Arguments like these seem to suggest that the gender interpretation is (at the very least) a problematic one. I will now (briefly) consider the physical phenotype interpretation. If being made in the image of God means (in some sense) sharing God’s physical phenotype, and if, as Ydfyce points out, human beings possess radically different physical phenotypes (e.g., conjoined twins, missing limbs, etc.), then it seems either that God possesses all the possible physical phenotypes (which is problematic because no single human being possesses all the possible physical phenotypes, which obviously precludes all human being from possessing all the possible physical phenotypes) or that not all human beings possess the particular physical phenotype possessed by God (which is obviously problematic because not all human beings possess the same particular physical phenotype and therefore cannot be said to share the particular physical phenotype possessed by God). Either way, it seems like the physical phenotype interpretation is (at the very least) a problematic one. These arguments, or arguments like them, lose their force precisely because they assume a particular (and, quiet frankly, biblically unjustified) interpretation of what it means to be created in the image of God. I am not aware of any sound and well respected biblical interpretation which suggests that beings made in the image of God means sharing (in some sense) sharing God’s gender or physical phenotype. The biblical interpretation of God is such that God is conceived as (in some sense) genderless (despite the use of pronouns like “Him”) and immaterial. Therefore, what I would like to suggest is that the kinds of objections raised by Ydfyce present no real danger to my position.

I would like to now respond to the comments posted by Ydfyce regarding the moral relevance of being made in the image of God. Ydfyce agrees with the line of reasoning presented by Jes that being made in the image of God is not a morally relevant property (whether or not it is had exclusively by all humans). According to Ydfyce, if we (theists) are going to take any “religious” approach to this issue, the only approach they can take is one which asserts that the only morally relevant property had exclusively by all human beings is the fact that all human beings are descendents of Adam. Again, according to Ydfyce, this is a morally relevant property precisely because “under Christian Mythology” Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge and that this is the only reason human beings have knowledge of any kind (including, of course, moral knowledge). What I would like to first suggest is that it is unclear as to why being a descendent of Adam who ate from the Tree of Knowledge is a better candidate as a morally relevant property than is being made in the image of God (I, for one, am inclined to think that it is not a better candidate). Ydfyce certainly offers no arguments to justify the claim that being a descendent of Adam who ate from the Tree of Knowledge is a better candidate as a morally relevant property than is being made in the image of God. Finally, Ydfyce’s claim that “under Christian Mythology” Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge and that this is the only reason human beings have knowledge of any kind (including, of course, moral knowledge) is, without any reservation, false (despite the use of the term mythology). A reading of the first few chapters of Genesis in no way suggests that the only reason Adam had knowledge was because he ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; in fact, the biblical account is quite clear in showing that Adam had knowledge before he ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Therefore, what I would like to suggest, once again, is that the kinds of objections raised by Ydfyce present no real danger to my position.

At this point, I would like to respond to the comments posted by Jes regarding the moral relevance of being made in the image of God. It seems Jes claims that, according to the Christian, it is God’s rule that dictates our morality, not that fact that we were made in God’s image. I will take this to refer to what is known as the Divine Command Theory of Morality, according to which the moral status of any act is determined by the commands/prohibitions made by God (or at least something along these lines). Jes goes on to suggest that maybe being created in the image of God is not a morally relevant property just like having a certain genetic material is not a morally relevant property. I would like to first express some confusion. I see no contention between the claim that, on the one hand, God’s rule (commands) dictates morality and the claim that, on the other hand, being made in the image of God is a morally relevant property. When I suggest that being made in the image of God is a morally relevant property, I am not suggesting that being made in the image of God dictates morality. It seems to me perfectly compatible to say that God’s commands dictates morality and that being made in the image of God is a morally relevant property. Is it not possible that God commanded that (or made reality and human beings such that) being made in the image of God is a morally relevant property? I say this not to suggest either that this is or is not my view, but to suggest that these two claims are perfectly compatible claim. So, I am a bit confused as to the impact that the claim made by Jes that it is God’s rule that dictates our morality, not that fact that we were made in God’s image is meant to have. It seems to me that this claim is, in some sense or another, irrelevant.

Still, the suggestion made by Jes that perhaps being created in the image of God is not a morally relevant property just like having a certain genetic material is not a morally relevant property is one worthy of consideration. I will, therefore, consider it and attempt to provide a response to it. I would like to suggest that being created in the image of God is not like having a certain genetic makeup. Having a certain genetic makeup, as Jes suggests, may very well not be a morally relevant property; being made in God’s image, however, is. The Christian position holds that God is, by His very nature, Perfectly Good; He cannot be otherwise. His nature is, in this way, the standard of goodness; or, if you prefer, the standard of moral worth. Entities other than God have moral worth relative to his nature, for there is no standard of moral worth independent of God’s nature. Obviously, God has moral worth in virtue of being who He is – Perfectly Good This is not particularly informative. However, what I want to suggest is that being made in the image of God has something to do with sharing in God’s Perfect Goodness, and this is informative. Therefore, my claim is that human beings have moral worth in virtue of sharing in God’s Perfect Goodness and that human beings share in God’s Perfect Goodness in virtue of being made in His image and that the property of being made in God’s image is had exclusively by human beings. If this is correct, then even a colony of aliens, despite being similar to (most) humans in terms of possessing the capacity for language, social interaction, reason, pain, desire, etc., would not have moral worth in the same way that human beings do, for the simple fact that the aliens were not made in the image of God; and, even if we did extend these aliens any rights, it would not (obviously) be in virtue of their being made in the image of God. Of course, and I want to make this clear, this is not to say that it is hence morally permissible to treat aliens (or non-human animals for that matter) in any way that human beings so choose.

Therefore, I retain my claim that being created in the image of God is a property had exclusively by all human beings and that this property is indeed a morally relevant one. As I held in my original post, the Christian can, in this way, render innocuous the force of Singer’s Argument from Marginal Cases; and, since the Christian position is one that is philosophically defendable, the Christian response to Singer’s argument is one worthy of consideration.

I would like to express my thanks to those who responded to my post. Your comments provided me with an opportunity to think more carefully about this issue, and my humble hope is that it has done the same for you.

3:20 PM  
Blogger ydfyce said...

John,

To briefly respond…

“Ydfyce certainly offers no arguments to justify the claim that being a descendent of Adam who ate from the Tree of Knowledge is a better candidate as a morally relevant property than is being made in the image of God.”

To be fair, I offered an argument as to why “being descendant from Adam” is a morally relevant property (the one you responded to). Couple that with the problematic nature of the Image of God approach, and the argument there, if not explicit, is certainly implicit. But to make this more clear, and likewise respond to your comment I suggest that being descendent from Adam seems more tangible and useful for your purpose because his eating for the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (if not the origin of knowledge simplicator) seems to be the origin of knowledge of (well) good and/or evil. As such it seem highly morally relevant as it marks us (humans) as being the only kind of creature with moral knowledge, which is self-evidently important to being an ethical agent.

To your other responses, let me confess confusion. The property ‘Being made in the Image of God’ (hence forth ‘B’) is vague, so I assumed the most literal of interpretations given that no others were offered up. So I’ll now utilize the one you have offered up, namely that this involve the “sharing in His perfection.” I’m not so sure that humans are the only one’s who share in God’s perfection (even if they fail ipso facto to be created in the Image of God). Animals, being created by God, would seem to adopt some part of his “perfection” insofar as He made them; or to use your words, they seem to “share in His perfection” in light of that they were created by the perfect Him. They seem to equally share in God’s perfection, since He can’t be other than perfect, and hence all of his actions, including the creation of gnats and horses, would be perfect. Since these horses and gnats are the product of this process, they seem to prima face involved in that perfection to some extent.

Obviously what it means to “share in God’s perfection” will have to be something above and beyond simply being created BY him, as we can see that that leads to a contradiction, but it is hard to see what it could possibly be, given largely that people are far from ‘perfect’ (reasonably construed). I have a fear that “sharing in God’s perfection” will have to cached out in terms of other property’s like, ‘having free will,’ ‘having rational capacities,’ or ‘having agency.’ Very quickly this will turn out to be circular, insofar as we’ll be defining morality in moral terms.

More to the point, I suppose, the notion of ‘perfection’ (even as you describe it) is interchangeable with “virtuous”, “moral” and having “moral worth” (to quote you). If this is so, as you seem to make it, then your articulation of B is done in moral terms, and thus your theory is circular (it defines morality in moral terms).

Lastly, I still am not sure how you can utilize the existence of God as a premise to an argument. If we could, the Mental Causation discussions that have raged for the past 400 years could be easily answered…

(oh, and this is Chris… didn’t mean to confuse everybody with the pseudonym… force of habit when creating web accounts)

6:48 PM  
Blogger jes said...

John,

You will have to forgive me if my comments are confusing. I am at work (I don’t have a computer at home) and often times I have to quickly mix in philosophy with day to day asset management. The results can be confusing for everyone involved.

Cut to: Jes, why does this cash report have a brief analysis of what constitutes morally relevant properties?At any rate:

Here is my concern. A being alike in every way to humans except for being created in the image of God, for the Christian, would not only not be human, but would lack moral worth. It seems to me that the property of being created in the image of God only means that we are human. In other words, being in created in the image of God, more so than a property of humans, is what it means (for the Christian ) TO BE human. Being human then, is not a property and would NOT escape Singer’s argument.

However, if we still maintain that being created in the image of God is a property of being human, I am still confused to how it is a morally relevant property.

It seems that for a property to be morally relevant, there needs to accompany with it some sort of guidance about action. For example, humans have the property of feeling pain. This property dictates lots of actions which depend directly on the idea that humans share this property. This is what makes pain morally relevant. On the flip side, the property having two legs is not morally relevant. There is nothing about having two legs that would dictate my moral behavior in any way.

What action does having the property being created in God’s image, dictate. Certainly, the commandments of God are given out of consideration for other properties humans share, (pain, autonomy, mental anguish etc). But what moral acts (against humans, to keep things simple) are permissible or impermissible because humans have the property, being created in God’s image? It seems every act we view as a moral one is permissible or prohibited because it embraces or violates some property that humans have (that they may have BECAUSE they are created in God’s image), but those acts are permissible or not because they violate properties we can identify as being separate from the property, being created in god’s image. And, those other properties can be shared by animals and aliens alike.

To go farther, this property does not seem to be morally relevant because it has no bearing on how we treat those things NOT created in the image of God... from the dogs and cats to advanced alien population, as you said (I think) yourself. That is, these animals are morally relevant enough that we should not be permitted to treat them as we please. So why cite the property of being created in the image of God in the first place? We can’t use that property to gauge how we treat animals.

Am I embarrassing myself? Am I missing something vital. Please let me know if I am.

-jes

2:58 PM  

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